"" Writer's Wanderings: July 2018

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Milking The Cow

[April 2007 post. One of my favorites]

Okay, all you who have had farm experience can sit back and be prepared for a laugh now. While I grew up next to my grandfather's farm, the animals and fields were gone by the time I was old enough to appreciate them and learn from them. I've always wondered what it would be like to milk a cow.

Yesterday, our grandkids accompanied us to a large public farm in our area set up to let kids learn about farming. We adults learned a lot too. (Hubby is a city-boy). I didn't know there were so many different kinds of cows and that they each produce different kinds and quantities of milk.

Nancy was in line to be milked next and she was quite the lady walking up a couple of steps and into her milking station. We got a few quick tips on how to gently squeeze and pull and then lined up to milk the cow. I was the only grown-up but I pretended to be there for my grandkids. Our grandson started to back out at the last minute but he stayed for Grandma's sake and we each milked Nancy a little bit.

What an experience! Nancy was so kind to stand quietly and put up with our inexperienced hands. I didn't know until I saw the picture my husband took that I had my pinkie finger out. Hmmm. Maybe that's the formal way to do it.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Lanterns And Leopards, Oh My!

The Asian Highlands exhibit at our Cleveland Metroparks Zoo opened just before I was to have my surgery. With all the busyness at the time, we didn't get a chance to visit then. But as luck would have it, that worked out well because three little snow leopard cubs were yet to be on display. This past week, they were presented to the public. Needless to say the cuteness meter was on high.

I was still having trouble walking far but wanted to stretch as much as I could. We started out by taking the tram to the wilderness stop and walking up past the tigers to the Asian Highlands. The exhibits are still being finished up but it is quite nice. Two adult snow leopards were snoozing in the refreshing summer day. One was tucked back into a nook and the other was stretched out on a walkway that crosses over the pedestrian path. A great lookout spot where you could snooze and then raise an eyelid every so often to see what was going on.

The three cubs though were frisky and fun and we stood as long as I could and watched them play. I haven't heard if they will all stay or be exchanged with another zoo. It will be fun to keep an eye on their progress for as long as we can.

Along with the opening of the Asian Highlands, an Asian Lantern Display is set up from July 19 to August 19. The lantern displays are huge and impressive during the day. I can only imagine how magical they are in the evening. There is also a special craft fair and entertainment with the special evening ticket that you can purchase. It's very tempting but I may have to rent one of those scooters. Don't know that I'm strong enough just yet to walk the whole way.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Worry-Free Parrot Fish

[While I'm working on recovery with my knee replacement, I thought I would repost some things from the past.]

Diving in Cayman the other day, I couldn’t help but be amused once again by the colorful parrot fish of the Caribbean. They are brightly multicolored mostly on a turquoise blue background with a mouth that looks like a beak—thus the name parrot fish. They go along crunching on rocks and then excreting them. Know those sandy beaches you love? The parrot fish helps make them.

While this may seem like a mundane job, the parrot fish seems to be quite happy in his lot in life. With all that roughage, he’s probably not constipated which certainly helps his mood. When you see the parrot fish from the side, his eye looks bright and clear and his “beak” is shaped like a smile. Rather than swimming along, he seems to skip through the water making him appear carefree and happy-go-lucky. You can almost hear him singing, “Don’t worry. Be Happy.”

Ah, yes. The Caribbean. Even the fish are happy!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

An Adventure Of A Different Kind

Attitude and expectations are all important when you travel whether it be for rest and relaxation, exploration, vacation, or just journeying through life. The last one is the latest in my travels, a segment of my life journey. A while back it became obvious that the arthritis in my knees was going to be a major interference in my enjoying life as we do. There were some stop gap treatments but the obvious became more urgent and the timing worked such that two weeks ago I underwent a total knee replacement.

It has already been quite a journey and I am thankful for all those who knew what was going on and surrounded me with love and prayer. There were plenty of things to take me out of my comfort zone--I hate needles for one, but with the help of my doctor and the hospital staff I was well prepared to face it all. Just as if I were taking a long trip, we explored the procedure and noted all the things that we would probably face along the way.

Joint Camp was one of the more unique preparatory experiences. Bob was a bit disappointed when the nurse told him there would be no s'mores and camp songs. What we found instead was a wealth of information to prepare the both of us for what lie ahead.

With all of the detailed care of explaining what would happen the morning of surgery and for some time after, I was well prepared--as much as could be expected never having been through something like this before. Since we are all different in our approach to pain and are motivated in different ways for things like physical therapy, I tried to look at it as a new adventure. It would be difficult, no doubt, but I would look for the good things, the positive healing process, the people I would meet along the way, and above all, any humor I could latch on to.

There were lots of little gems of humor that I gleaned. I shared many on Facebook but the one that's been the best so far involved my caretaker, Bob. (By the way, he's been amazing and is becoming a pretty good cook.) When he finally got comfortable enough with leaving me to go downstairs to work his ham radio, he urged me to use my cell phone to text him if I needed anything. The cell phone I guess, has replaced the old fashion bell to ring from the sick room. So, one evening, I didn't really need anything but I did want to just send a little love note.

I chose the emoji with eyes made of hearts and sent it off. A minute later there were hurried steps coming up from the basement.

"What's wrong? What do you need?" Bob asked, a bit winded and with concern written all over his face.

"Nothing. I'm fine." I said, a little confused as to why he was so worried.

"Well, you sent me this picture and your eyes are all red from crying. You worried me."

"Honey, you need to put your glasses on. The emoji has hearts for eyes." Trying not to laugh, I added,  "I love you."

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Books For The Road - The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowan

Once in a while I find an unexpected gem. A while back I was looking to stockpile some reads but couldn't find a lot at the library that piqued my interest. Somehow I managed to run across an eBook sale of The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowan. I think it might have been one of those 99 cent deals or a little more. The premise sounded interesting and who doesn't love Tuscany so I bought it. When I finally got around to reading it, I was delighted.

It's one of those stories that goes back and forth with the past and present but in doing so this one reveals a great love that develops between a downed pilot of the RAF and his angel of mercy who hid him and kept him alive in the ruins of an old monastery.

The past love is discovered when the WWII pilot dies and leaves behind clues to his great encounter with his beautiful angel. One of the most mysterious clues to what happened is in a letter with a line that says something to the effect that "Our precious boy is taken care of."

As the daughter searches for clues to her father's past she becomes involved in the lives of the villagers where her father had been hidden She discovers some not so nice secrets of the past--some deadly.

It is an intriguing story, a nice romance, a little history and a surprising end result. By the way, expect to be tempted by great descriptions of Tuscan food.

A great book for the road!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Boost Your Summer Reading With This Countdown Deal!

All this week there is a special countdown deal at Amazon for my Casey Stengel mystery collection. The price starts out on Sunday, 7/22, at 99 cents! But if that passes you by, there is still time to get a discounted price. You need to hurry though. Each day that goes by the price increases by one dollar until it is back to the original price of $5.99.

Here is a description of the two cozy mysteries:

Among his beloved orchids, Mr. Popelmayer lay as if he'd gone down swinging. Casey and her detective friend, Max, discover more than one bizarre and exotic turn to the mystery of Mr. Pop's death. Did his daughter, Cattelya, or his son, Garo, want an early inheritance? Or perhaps his first wife has had her revenge. The answer lies in the Costa Rican Forest of Orchids.

A cruise. A bikini clad body. What next?

All Casey wanted was a relaxing cruise where she could visit with her daughter, the cruise director, but suddenly she finds herself in the middle of a murder at sea. Who would have guessed the beautiful young woman dead in the deckchair next to her had an enemy who would use her love of the sun to end her life? When Max joins Casey, what she thought would be a romantic ending to her cruise becomes an intense search for evidence. Somewhere among all the dermatologists holding a conference on board ship is a killer. Is it the victim’s doctor husband? Or one of his co-workers? And how does the shark expert fit into the puzzle?

Follow the link to a great read! Casey Stengel Mysteries

Friday, July 20, 2018

Grand Cayman - Green Shorts!!

We have been diving the East End of Grand Cayman since around 1996. There are at least 55 marked dive sites in that area. Originally we were diving with the East End Dive Lodge but when Hurricane Ivan wiped it out completely, we switched to Ocean Frontiers and now have been diving with them for 13 years. Several years ago they set out a challenge to their divers: Dive all of the 55 sites and receive a pair of their iconic green shorts.

They allowed us to count the dives we'd done with the Dive Lodge as well since they were recorded in our dive logs. Still there was always that one elusive dive, Old Wreck Head, that never seemed to be within our reach. The problem with the site is that the dive boat has to anchor. There is no mooring pin because of its location near the cut-threw channel where the boats go in and out of the area surrounded by the reef.

Because it is in that cut-threw area, there is also the danger of current, the anchor not holding if the wind and waves are strong and with all of that, the visibility reduced because of the motion of the water.

Wouldn't you know it--the time I decide not to dive because of my bad knees it the time the weather decides to cooperate to dive Old Wreck Head. Bob came into the condo all excited with the news that the weather was to be good enough to get to Old Wreck Head the next day. Did I want to try it?

Will a donkey or a mule not pursue a carrot on a stick in front of her? Of course I couldn't pass up the challenge. But would I be able to get back on the boat?

We went down to the dive center and I filled out all my disclaimer forms and signed up. Debbie assured me that the crew would handle my equipment. I could put my gear on and plop into the water from the swim deck and they would take the gear from me at the back of the boat before I had to climb the ladder. And if I couldn't climb the ladder? Would they tow me? She laughed and said there were lots of ways to get me out of the water and on to the boat--trust the crew.

I did. They were wonderful. And I did make it up the ladder, slowly, but on my own. Best of all back at the dive center we were rewarded with medals, champagne, a special cake and yes! our very own green shorts! Next year I'll return wearing my green shorts and sporting a new knee.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Grand Cayman - Butterflies And More Butterflies!

Our annual dive trip to Grand Cayman was a few weeks ago. This year my diving was limited since my knees are so bad. I was afraid I couldn't climb back up the swim ladder and they'd have to tow me back to shore. So I spent time in the pool and walked each morning to get some exercise. My first morning walk had me thinking I was back home with the cottonwood fluff flying around. But no! The fluff had wings and fluttered. There were hundreds of white butterflies everywhere.

This was unusual since we've been going to Grand Cayman for years now and never saw this before. Could it be that the hurricanes somehow carried the larva to the island? Did a ship maybe transport butterflies somehow? So many species are often carried unsuspected to places from other lands by way of transport vessels or even, dare I say, cruise ships?

Surely there was an explanation and my inquiring mind searched it out. They are called Southern White Butterflies and come mainly from Florida, the southern US east coast and the Gulf of Mexico. They are thriving on some of the plants of Grand Cayman but are in no danger, according to an expert in the field, of destroying gardens. The wild plant they like so much is called Bloody Head--Raw Bones and then they enjoy the nectar of several other plants prevalent in the Caymans.

They have been known to have large outbreaks of population and are somewhat migratory. They have spread as far as Patagonia in South America at times.

There was another explosion of the butterfly population back in 2005. It was due in part to the reduction of the bird population from  Hurricane Ivan. I don't recall seeing them back then but perhaps it was because we were diving in September rather than June/July.

No matter, the butterflies were a fun and pretty part of our visit. They reminded me of the clusters of blue butterflies we'd seen on Magnetic Island in Australia. Wonder if they're related?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Caribbean Chickens And Crowing Roosters

It's six in the morning Grand Cayman time. The rooster across the street has already begun his crowing. I'm not sure how early it began but it is incessant. I fall asleep but awaken over and over again to the crowing. I am amazed that we can be three stories up and across the street and still hear him as if he were right out the window.

Cayman, as do all the other Caribbean islands we have visited, has tons of free range or feral chickens--however you want to look at it. They usually greet us in the parking lot as we wait for our rental car. They sprint across the roads, sometimes with a line of chicks behind them. But this year is the first one I remember being totally annoyed by a rooster who obviously has so much to crow about that he has to do it all day. Thank goodness he has the good sense to clam up at night. Maybe he realizes he could end up in the Jerk chicken pot if he doesn't.

Sometime long ago we were told by someone that the chickens are left to roam because they help to cut down on the bug population. I looked it up and yes, there are chickens that will eat bugs but I can't help but wonder if that is the real reason the feathered beauties are allowed to roam. And there are beauties.

Some of the chickens look like they could be put into a county fair back home--after a little fattening up with something other than bugs of course. The roosters are picture perfect too. Red feathered heads and curled tail feathers all nice and shiny in the sun.

Somewhere in there behind our condo were at least two
vocal roosters.
And now it seems the rooster of my mornings here has a rival. There are times when I can hear more than one crow. Protecting their territory? Their flock? Or just flexing their vocal chords?

Monday, July 16, 2018

PIckleball --Play and Tour Around The World

Our Pickleball Costa Rica tour was a lot of fun. If you love the game of pickleball, you'll love the pickleball players. We haven't met a pickleball player or group that hasn't been really fun and nice to be around and play.

That said, combine the love of travel with the game and you have some unique opportunities to do something a little different. I was amazed to learn that there are a lot more tours around the world that are combining pickleball with touring. Italy, Spain, Hawaii are only a couple of the places you can choose from on the Pickleball Trips site.

There are a few other pickleball sites that offer trips as well especially when there are tournaments being played. Believe it or not pickleball is becoming quite a sport and is boasting professionals now who make money playing tournaments.

We have a long way to go before we could consider being professional. I think the pressure would take all the fun out of a game that is great exercise and a terrific way of meeting some very nice people. If you haven't given it a go, check out your local Y or go to USAPA Pickleball and find a group playing near you.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Costa RIca - More Pickleball, Great Dinner, Goodbyes

Our last few afternoons playing pickleball on our Pickleball Costa Rica tour were spent indoors at a rec center. Thankfully it was inside because there was usually rain--sometimes heavy.

Several times the local pickleball players joined us. Most of them were ex-pats living in Costa Rica. Someone brought a container of fruit punch and a canister of some type of soda that, under pressure, would foam the punch. Kind of like milk that gets steamed and frothed for a latte only this was cold. It was very sweet and we were told that it is a real treat for the kids at birthday parties.

Some of us broke play a little early and went back to the hotel to shower and change. Dinner was to be at a private home owned by an ex-pat couple who loved to entertain and the husband was a chef. Tony and Celeste had explained that the house was amazing--something out of House Beautiful. They were right on in their description.

The house sits on a mountainside and looks out into a valley. We arrived and were greeted by a trio of dogs patiently waiting for us to ascend the steps. Each step was decorated with different tiles. I almost hated to leave the garden area though as it was well tended and unusual.

Inside, we crossed a bridge just inside the door that was over an indoor swimming pool. We were in a huge area with bedrooms off to the side and a corner area where there was a green egg grill set up as if it were an outdoor grill area. It was then I realized that the roof overhead was a series of windows that retracted so the area we were standing in would be like an outdoor patio.

Moving further in, there was a sitting room to one side and a large kitchen in which our host chef was busy putting the finishing touches on our meal. Past the large banquet table we stepped out onto the balcony. The sunset was a bit iffy with rain clouds but still an impressive sight to view from their balcony.

The food was spectacular--Tuscan soup followed by chicken parmigiana, green beans, potatoes, and an apple pie dessert.

It was time to start saying our goodbyes. Several of us would return to the hotel and take a shuttle to San Jose for flights in the morning to avoid the early 3 AM departure for the early flights. Our shuttle was waiting for us when we returned to the hotel and we loaded up and made the 50 minute ride to San Jose.

Landing in Honduras

On our way home our flight took us to Honduras for a stop before continuing on to Houston and then Cleveland. We'd never been to Honduras before. I wondered if we could count that as a visit. Or not.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Costa Rica -- The Coffee Farm Part 2

Coffee. It's the fuel that starts a morning for many people. The coffee farm, Finca Edgar Fernandez, was a beautiful place. After our lunch and walk and squeezing the sugar cane, we settled in to hear how the coffee is processed. The farm does it the old fashioned way to show how it was done in the old days. Their beans are shipped off site to a larger processing place but we were about to get a treat experiencing the process first hand.

The green coffee beans turn red and white  (depending on variety) here when they are ripe and ready to pick. The beans are actually like a soft fruit with a seed inside. In order to get to the seed, the part that we want for the coffee, you have to smash the softer part on the outside.

Hulled beans.
A large old mortar and pestle was the place where the beans are smashed and then separated from the pulp.

I wasn't quite clear on how the beans are separated out once the hulls are removed but eventually they are set in the fogon or stove and roasted.

Next came the part we were to participate in--the grinding. Beans that had been previously roasted were put in a hand grinder and we were all invited to give it a few turns. Not an easy exercise but worth the effort.

When there was enough ground coffee, hot water was brought out from the kitchen and was poured over a large bag of ground coffee that dripped into a carafe. Sort of a manual drip coffee maker.

And of course the best part was tasting the coffee. It was delicious.

I hated to see our time at the coffee farm come to an end. Edgar and his family had been so gracious and we had learned so much as well as enjoying a wonderful lunch. It was time for some more pickleball with our Pickleball Costa Rica tour.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Costa Rica -- The Coffee Farm

It would be difficult to have to choose what was the most interesting part of our PIckleball Costa Rica tour but right at the top would be our trip to the coffee farm, Finca Edgar Fernandez. The area where we spent the last three days of our tour, San Ramon, is in the mountains. It is cooler than the area near the coast and at the beach and not nearly as humid. It is a perfect area for the abundance of coffee trees that grow there.

As we traveled through the area, we could see the shorter coffee trees growing beneath taller trees that give some shade to this variety of coffee that grows better if shaded. At the beginning of our Pickleball tour, Tony and Celeste, our hosts had given us each a bag of coffee from the area. It was giving our suitcase quite a good aroma.

I didn't know exactly what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised by a huge covered area with cloth covered tables and chairs set and ready for us to have lunch. Tony introduced the family that owns and operates the farm. Edgar and his wife did not speak much English but their daughter had taken off work in town to come and lead the tour. Her English was excellent. But first lunch!

Edgar's wife and I think it was her sister had cooked the meal for us. A typical Costa RIcan meal is called a casado and consists of a meat, a salad, rice, black beans, and fried plantains served with a fruit juice. Our hostess poured a lemonade made from their own lemons (not sweet but not tart--refreshing) and a nice pineapple juice. Our plates of food came out of the kitchen heaping with rice, beans, a salad that was like cole slaw, chicken with a delicious sauce, and my favorite, a fried plantain. Finally, a real Costa Rican meal and it was worth the wait.

After we finished our main dish, a plate of sweets was passed around. It looked a little like a fudge but tasted almost like a Bit O'Honey candy. Tony called it trapiche which has to do with the sugar cane. I think it twas made from pressing the sugar cane sometime in the process of getting the sugar. It reminded me of the pure maple sugar candy back home.

It was time to walk off some of our lunch. Before taking us into the coffee fields, our guide and her father showed us their bio-farm. I didn't understand all of the mechanics but somehow one pig was able to provide enough waste to be processed into methane to use to fuel their stove. There were also chickens and a cow and in the small barn we were shown a worm farm where the little critters were making compost.

Worms at work composting

There was a little stream from the house that somehow filtered through rocks and stones and plant roots that was able to remove cooking oils from the water and provide clean water for the ponds that they used to irrigate their garden. I wish I had taped all the explanation. It was fascinating.

We started on a path through some of the coffee fields. It's hard to call them fields when they are planted on the hillsides and under taller trees but it was a nice walk--a bit challenging for those of us with bad knees. Some of us went back down the way we came and a few others ventured on. The coffee beans were not ready for harvest yet. They turn from green to white or red depending on the variety. When it's time to harvest they hire extra help to pick the beans.

When we were all settled back at the tables, our guide began telling us about the sugar cane. Trapiche is also the word used for the process of squeezing the juice from the sugar cane. She brought stalks of sugar cane and cut them into manageable pieces and invited people to feed them through the machine that shredded them and squeezed out the juice. It didn't take long to fill a container.

As her mother strained the juice and put it into a dispenser, our guide explained that to get sugar, the juice would be put into large bins with a fire beneath them fueled by dried pressed sugar cane stalks. The juice would simmer until it was thick and then left to cool. Eventually it can be pressed into a mold and sold for use in baking and cooking. I'm sure the large refineries process a little differently to get sugar granules.
Processed sugar cane

We were invited to try the sugar cane juice. I don't know what I expected but it was pleasantly sweet--not overly sweet. Good, very good. I went back for a second taste.

Next we settled in to hear how the coffee is processed. But I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Costa Rica -- The Butterfly Farm

There were a lot of winding narrow roads in Costa Rica. In all fairness there were some nice highways too. But this day we were on the ones that wound around, up and down, and sometimes precariously--like the creek that we crossed on a bridge that barely went over the top. We may even have been fording the stream. I was in the back and couldn't tell. I could however see the road almost disappear at a spot where it had obviously washed away. Our driver was amazing though and got us safely through. All the bouncing and swaying was worth it. We arrived at the family complex of Jardin Mariposas La Paz.

Tony, of PIckleball Costa Rica , introduced us to the owner of the butterfly farm we were about to see. He led us between a couple of homes that faced the street. I'm guessing one was his mother's as he made reference to her garden. We stopped just outside of an enclosed back patio that looked to have a lot of plants inside. He pulled out a box and set it on the table and began to talk about his butterflies.

Changing from his job in tourism to raising butterflies was a risky proposition and one that required a lot of study. He seems to be doing well as he told us that he is shipping chrysalises all over the world. But back to the stages of the butterfly.

The farmer took us through how the eggs are laid on the leaves of plants after the butterfly has tested it for poisons. The plants in their back patio were obviously good host plants--butterfly approved.

The family members pitch in and hand pick the eggs from the leaves to place in containers where they can hatch into caterpillars. The caterpillars are then placed on the host plants that they feed from.

The caterpillars will grow into the stage that forms a pupa or chrysalis. Once they have transformed and completely been encased, they can be harvested and there is about a 15 day window where they can be sent to their destination to be hatched into a beautiful butterfly.

This butterfly looks like an owl when wings are spread.
Predators are scared away.

Once we were educated about the process, we were able to explore the butterfly house where the adult butterflies joyfully flitted from plant to flower to fruit. Tony had told us to wear our bright Pickleball t-shirts for this tour and the butterflies really loved them. Those of us with the shirts on attracted dozens of butterflies. I felt my shirt tickling my back as they landed and flew off again.

As we explored someone called out that there was a large toad in the plants at one end of the house. The farmer called out his thanks for the discovery. The toad was looking for a good meal. He would be removed as soon as we were done there.

The ride in the van over the winding roads had been well rewarded. We were all in awe and left amazed.

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