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Archive for the ‘Geography’ Category

Well it seems like the press has been beating down my door and begging for more!  Thank you for your compliments on my writing and for having confidence in me to continue.  I admit, I’ve been up against a writer’s block lately, but today I will attempt to scale that wall and the only way to do something is by starting with the first step.

I had a wonderful holiday weekend.  How about you?

Sunday morning Yim and I got up early, packed a picnic lunch and headed north to Butler County.  We hiked a 3 mile loop, Kildoo Trail, in McConnell’s Mill State Park before heading east to the South Shore of Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park.  There we laid our blanket in the grass and enjoyed deli sandwiches, cantaloupe, blueberries, strawberries, nectarines and sparkling mineral water.  After lunch we took the plunge into Lake Arthur and swam for a while.

Leaving the park we passed a sign next to an old barn and farm-house that read “Garage Sale”.  Woohoo!  Why not go to the first garage sale of the season in Butler County?  Yim found two roasters, sized large and medium, priced to sell separately.  He bargained for the set, the seller dropped her price and away we went with roasting pans perfect for the winter holidays or a family meal.  Zia will be envious!

On the drive home we took the secondary road through Zelienople and parked to take a stroll up and down their main drag.  Lucky us, we discovered the The Strand, which is where we will be next Friday night!

Back at home, Lord Mycol was finally rested from his hard work the night before and he was able to join us for our cookout.  We had grilled steaks and corn-on-the-cob.  There was no dessert because I’d been too tempted earlier and pulled over for a Dairy Queen dipped cone.  Sorry, Lord Mycol!

On Monday, having entirely enjoyed our Sunday, we got back down to business.  We pulled out the ladders, the scrapers, the wire brushes, the primer, the hammer and the screwdriver.  We put on our gloves and began to work.  One window and one door are scraped, cleaned and primed and ready for caulking.  Two other windows are now scraped and cleaned and ready for primer.  It was a good amount of work to accomplish before the thunderstorm shut us down.  No matter, though, as it was time to wash up and have an early dinner.  We had a lovely salad with our meal made with our homegrown lettuces and radishes, simply dressed with olive oil and salt; delicious!

What a fantastic weekend!  I am so excited about June, as I have a list of goals as long as I am tall to get started towards and the weather has promised to behave just the way I like it to.

What are your goals for the season?

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Remember the garden that Yim and I planned?  Well, we got it started, and Yimmy called me tonight with the most incredible news: WE HAVE SPROUTS!!  I can’t believe my own excitement, but it’s true; I am so happy over our little radish and lettuce sprouts already.  As Tuesdays are our gardening days, I would have been out on the land with him today, but alas, Lord Mycol and I both had dentist appointments.  What good is good food if you don’t have good teeth to chew it with, right?  Also, the day was mostly drizzly, and with the early crops in, there isn’t much to do until the weather turns.  What I do want to get done before week’s end is sow a second crop of lettuces in planting boxes at the Estate.  If I time succession sowing properly, we could have fresh salads every week for a good bit of the summer.  Secondly, I want to get out to Yim’s and put a protective net over our plot so the varmints don’t bite our little shoots off at the quick.

Last month all we had of a garden was a bag of seeds.

And a plot of land.

Then, on March 30th we finally broke ground.

Digging up the sod was harder than I expected.  Yim vocalized what was going through my head when he asked, “How many times do you think we’ll ever have to start a garden from scratch again?”  I said, “At least once more.”

We filled the wheel barrow with the clumps of sod and Yimmy hauled them to the corner of the yard where we are creating a compost pile.

He said that by the end of the day he estimates we moved about a ton of dirt and grass.

I use the term “we” loosely, since Yimmy is way stronger than me and able to work at least twice as fast.  Note the size of the plot he has cleared compared to the smaller one on the right, which is the area I was working. Eventually, we got it done.

By the end of the day we thought we’d be exhausted and sore.  On the contrary, we were exhilirated and our muscles were warm and loose instead of tight and tense.  Our garden plot measures about 10 x 15 and it is too small!  We want more, more, more.  The problems we’ve run into are rocks and shade.  Little did we realize that less than 6 inches below the surface in some areas there is a shelf of sandstone or shale.  It is easy enough to shatter with the pick-axe, but then you are left with 2 inch pieces of rock by the dozens throughout the soil and just when you think you could rally the patience to sort it all out by hand, you realize there is another shelf of stone another inch further down.  The shade problem is something we are anticipating.  See the shadows from the tree?  Well, the tree has no leaves as of yet, and so the garden plot gets plenty of sun.  Come summer, that tree will be full of foliage and maybe our little vegetable garden will be strained for sunlight.

The solutions are simple.  We did the best we could to rid the soil of stone to a deep enough level for our roots.  We are planning carefully which crops will go where, depending on the nature of the ground.  We called someone to come see about trimming or removing the tree before it starts to shade our crops.  And for expansion, we are going to build an above ground box-garden on the other side of the yard.  Since hot weather crops won’t go into the ground for a bit, we’ve still got time.

Believe it or not, our small garden area boasts the shallow, rocky spot, a rich, loose, digable area, and the far end is very clay-ey with tendrils of the tree’s root system reaching over for more moisture.  Spending the day in the dirt, digging with my spade, pointed my mind to thoughts of my grandfather.  When I felt frustrated over the difficulties of ripping into the grass’ root system and the rocks, I thought of Tata and everyone in Roccacinquemiglia or anywhere else, for that matter, who had no choice but to try to work the land they were given, despite the conditions, because it made the difference in whether they would feed themselves and their families or not.  The soil in R5M is filled with large, heavy rocks that had to be dug out and removed.  I have always admired my grandparents for their lives, their lifestyles, and what they’d endured.  Working for merely one day in the garden I share with Yim, because I wanted to, not because I had to, was enough to remind me of the virtues of a slow and peaceful life, without the stress of do or die, that makes a frugal farmer a wise man and a role model.  To be outdoors with the birdsongs floating in my ear, the breeze in my hair, the sun on my back and the sweat on my brow, working side by side with a man who wants this just as much as I do; that is joy.  We hardly speak while we work and I suspect it is because we are both consumed with thoughts and memories of everything that is good now, was good then, and was good before we ever were.  I watched a terrible Italian game show with my grandfather once.  Beautiful, full-breasted women paraded onto the stage in bathrobes and one by one they dropped their robes to the floor.  The camera lingered on their nude bodies before they climbed aboard massage tables to get rubbed down by female massage therapists in white clinical jackets.  My grandfather said that people who worked from sun-up to sun-down in a field never needed a massage; only people who sat at desk jobs all day needed massages.  And that is how his mind worked.  He focused on the truly shocking.

To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch the renewal of life — this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do. — Warner

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Inventors are a strange breed of people.  They tinker in their cellars and brood over schematics, too engaged in their own thought processes to care much about interacting with the rest of the world.  So one can only imagine what a Norwegian inventor might be like.  I know one myself, technically he’s a co-inventor, and today’s post is dedicated to him.

To help you understand the Norwegian, I have gathered some indisputable facts for your perusal.  For instance, it is important to realize that Norwegians are steeped in age-old culture, which makes them smell like old cheese.

Speaking of cheese,

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Leif Garrett, Norwegian-American cheese.

But seriously, speaking of cheese, my favorite Norwegian inventor, Thor Bjorklund, invented the cheese slicer.  So now you finally know who cut the cheese.  Bjorklund’s invention was revolutionary in maintaining Norwegian old-world views.  In Norway, “any form of elitism is likely to meet strong criticism.”  This is a concept of Jante Law, which dictates that the Big Cheese stands alone.

Norway also gives us the author Knut Hamsun.

Hamsun is the author of one of my favorite novels ever, Hunger, inspired by the, ahem, “delectable” Norwegian dish, smalahove.

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So let’s get to the man this post is really dedicated to, my favorite Norwegian co-inventor, Dag, who will be portrayed by the Norwegian-American Walter Mondale.

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The question is, are you still considered a co-inventor if your partner is a clone?  Anyway, this man came to America, married my best friend, and then took her to Norway.  And together they produced three outstanding inventions:

The Lindy.

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The Emil.

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And the Mila.

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The original patents have not been disclosed in an effort to secure their integrity.

So, in celebration of Dag, Norwegian co-inventor and thief of friends, whose birthday is today,

Happy Birthday, Dag!

Gratulerer med dagen, Dag!

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When I was in high school I discovered the real difference that warmth and sunshine could make in my life.  Growing up in the city, I lived in a huge, drafty house built a hundred years before we moved in.  Nights between October and May were spent under so many layers of blankets that I couldn’t roll over under the weight.  To this day I can go to sleep and wake up eight hours later in the exact same position.

Then I went to boarding school my freshman year of high school.  And there was warmth.  I spent a lot of time after that thinking of ways to stay warm once I graduated.  The short story is, I went to live in San Diego for three years before moving back north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  The long story is for another time.  But since moving back I have closed my eyes more than once in the dead of winter, to imagine myself lying in the sand, half naked, with the sun toasting the surface of my skin, as a balmy breeze drifts over me.

In the summertime I feel energized and strong.  Even though when we reach August I start to feel a little anxiety over the eminently approaching winter season, I am able to convince myself that it’s no big deal.  This is false, of course.  This is the talk of “summer muscles.”

In November I will start to think about flying south in January or February, but the holidays provide just enough distraction so that I start to rationalize with myself that I could buck up and survive without falter, save my money, and maybe even embrace the weather.  And when February makes me shiver, I begin to regret my fear of flying, metaphorically speaking, and start to look for opportunities to GET ME OUT OF HERE.  Seriously, people, you must try to understand that cold weather HURTS me.  I am obviously too weak to fight the chronic pain of it.  After all these years of being told to “put another sweater on” to no avail, for the love of God, if you love me you will understand my burden.  Enough said.  (Until I address poor circulation, low blood pressure, and what the acupuncturist did.)

Enter 2008.  It was February.  I was heartbroken.  (See “On Time and Love“)  This is when it is good to have great girlfriends who will hang out with you while you pick up the pieces.  And, as promised, a cure for the winter doldrums. . .

One of my favorite pastimes is beach camping.

From the beaches of Assateague to Puerto Rico, I have enjoyed the merging of outdoor living with my favorite outdoor location.  For adventurists who love the ocean and are more impressed with nature than a mint on their pressed pillowcase, beach camping is an ultimate vacation.  In 2008 my friend Alison told me she wanted to return to the Florida Keys for a camping trip.  In my wretched state it was music to my ears.  We made plans to fly out in April.

Although I often travel without a plan because I get excited about feeling as free as possible, Alison assured me that it’s best to make reservations in the Keys.  Even when camping.  Especially when camping.  The Florida Keys are a hot spot for RV’ing fishermen who are devoted to spending their vacation time fishing the blue waters.  And don’t forget that each key is narrow and small, limiting accommodations.  There are only about 100 miles from Key Largo to Key West.

So, Alison and I flew into Miami and rented a car.  We had packed our luggage wisely, I with the tent and lantern, she with the headlamps and lavender mist for inside our shared sleeping quarters.  Incidentally, there are approximately 65 miles between Miami and Key Largo which can be enjoyed driving with the windows wide open and Luther Vandross belting “Never Too Much” as you sing along.

Alison made reservations at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo and Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon.  We spent a day at Bahia Honda, touted as the “Best Beach in the Continental U.S.”, and although we did not bivouac there, we did mooch on their facilities.

There is a lot of snorkeling to do in the Florida Keys and Alison is an ocean lover of the aquatic variety.  There are two types of people who love the ocean.  The type that loves it from within, i.e. Alison, Yim, etc., and the type that loves it from without, i.e. me.  All I wanted to do was lie in the hot sand and warm my bones, but Alison is such a good friend and when she begged me to go snorkeling with her I acquiesced, on the condition that she sing karaoke with me later at the Caribbean Club.

From Pennekamp we made arrangements to board a boat going 7 miles out to snorkel the Banana Reef.  There were about 25 people going out that day.

I should mention here that I am not a fan of horror movies because they are generally unbelievable and therefore do not frighten me.  I don’t mind a good scare, though.  When I saw the preview for Open Water, I made a point of seeing it because my worst fear ever is to be in water that I cannot see below the surface of.  And that hosts other living creatures.  And that is too deep for me to touch my feet to the bottom.  And that movie scared the crap out of me.

So many things happened in my life when I was three, but one of them was that I stepped off a sand ledge in the Atlantic while camping on Ocracoke Island and when I realized I was under the water with the fishes, fishes that I could see!, I had to quickly learn how to swim towards the light to save my skin.  This is why when I was 15 and wiped out while water-skiing (hey, alliteration) I panicked while waiting for the boat to swing back around for me because I saw an enormous dead tree log floating waaay over by the bank of the lake and was able to convince myself that it could possibly be a Loch Ness Monster.

When snorkeling 7 miles off the coast, the guides advise you to stay with your partner.  Seven miles off the coast the waters were colder and there was a damn cloud, the only cloud in the sky, right above us, blocking the sunshine.  My bikini and a life jacket were not enough to keep me from shivering with goose bumps.  When someone said, “Hey, there’s a shark,” I did not care that it was a 6-7 foot lemon shark swimming deep below us in the reef.  My eyes confirmed what my ears heard and I turned and high-tailed it back aboard our boat, leaving Alison alone and up to her neck in sharky waters.  I was the first one back to the boat and I had to wait another half hour, at least, before the guide signaled everyone else back.  I am a land creature.  I do not require breathing apparatus on terra firma.

Alison did sing karaoke with me at the Caribbean Club.  We sang Madonna’s “Cherish” and Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”  Alison did not run off the stage.  Later in the week we would return to the Caribbean Club to witness a rehabilitated manatee being released back into it’s natural habitat.

My favorite place in the Keys was Curry Hammock in Marathon.  The camp facilities were pristine and the beach was peaceful.  Beaches in the Keys are narrow and sometimes a bit rough to walk on, but the sand is nearly white, the water is shallow and warm a long way out, and the wildlife is amazing.  At Curry Hammock we got kayaks from the park office and paddled out around the key.

If you are quiet and patient the wildlife will reveal itself to you.  Manatees and sharks, jumping fish, cranes and other birds of Florida can be seen.  Alison and I took the kayak into the cave created by the low growing tangle of the mangroves that grow so thick, only slivers of sunlight shine directly through.  I felt like an explorer in the rain forest.

Lastly, we drove down to Key West and toured Ernest Hemingway’s house.

We ate fantastic food and drank salted margaritas while listening to live music outdoors.

We stumbled upon a street party celebrating freedom of expression . . .

And athletic abilities . . .

We stood in a crowd and watched the sunset, just like Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines (R.I.P.) did in Running Scared (cue Michael McDonald!).

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And then we enjoyed the buskers performing on the waterfront.  I bought 2 great pieces of silver jewelry in Key West, a ring and a cuff bracelet, as souvenirs.

So there they are.  The Florida Keys: cure for the wintertime blues.  And for heart-ache.

So we went in April, which is technically spring.  And Hemingway killed himself anyway, but he was a severe case.

Oh, what the heck:

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I’ve been going to Flagstaff Hill most of my life.  When we were kids we’d go on summer nights, covered in city dirt after running and playing all day long, and watch the free movies projected on the outdoor screen.  Troops of people carrying blankets and children, pulling dogs along on leashes and toting anything that would carry the drinks, headed along the curved sidewalk towards the hill.  Before dusk college boys played Frisbee and the music of the late ’70’s blasted through the amps.  When the sun settled, so did the people.  Groups of friends and families shared blanket seating in the grass.  When the darkness came and the movie started, an herbal aroma wafted past our noses.  Whoa.  We saw Rollerball there.

Flagstaff Hill evokes memories that are part of the essence of who I’ve become.  The memories of going there with people who knew more than I did and were smart and funny with their words, and seeing young people who were older than me and watching them laugh, play, and love, wearing their clothes and hair in a way that was so ‘now’, then.  The memories of going there and feeling exciting but safe, romantic, fun.  It was cool, because of the crowd it attracted, and still so familiar it felt like my own backyard.

It is the backyard of two universities.  During any semester when the weather is good, the hill is crowded with dorm-dwelling co-eds.  They use the hill for outdoor studying, picnic lunches, or sunbathing on their days off.  I’d read a text or two on the hill when I was a student.

Flagstaff Hill is across the street from Phipps Conservatory, and from it’s mount you can see “the cloud factory” that Michael Chabon made legendary.  Just beyond that you can see the Carnegie Library and the Cathedral of Learning.  This is a cultural landmark.  Lovers can lie on their backs at night and gaze at the stars and the lighted skyline and feel smart!

In the summer when I was ten years old, I rolled down the great hill, over it’s green grass flocked with white clover, my arms stretched over my head, making like a log.  I was stung twice in the armpit by honeybees.

Any winter that graced us with heavy snowfall warranted a trip to the hill with our sleds.  This winter was one of those, and I shared my love of Flagstaff with Yim and his boys.  Another beautiful day on the hill.

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The Art of Suffering

Last year I wanted to go to NYC and see the exhibit “Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night” at MoMa.  Unfortunately, we missed it and since then I have been periodically checking art museums within a reasonable radius for exhibits I might like to see.  Recently, Yim and I were able to plan a day trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art for the exhibit “Paul Gauguin: Paris, 1889”.   We brought along Yim’s son Nicholas who is an aspiring artist.  We primed ourselves and Nicholas on Gauguin’s biography and artwork before going.  The exhibit was worth seeing and I was interested to learn details of Gauguin’s life that I had not known before.  Paul Gauguin was desperately troubled.  His health waned at the hand of alcoholism and the contraction of syphilis.  He suffered financial losses and depression.  He tried to kill himself.  But failed.  It’s almost as if he were the embodiment of  Cleveland, Ohio!
Since I had originally wanted to see the Van Gogh exhibit I was glad to learn that Paul and Vincent knew one another.  Some of their works look as if the two were holding hands while painting.  One of my favorite Gauguin paintings is At the Cafe.

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Obviously the same place as Van Gogh’s The Night Cafe, which I love equally.

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One of my favorite phenomenons of the world is how groups of artistic people find each other, feed one another’s creative geniuses, develop a name for themselves, i.e. “impressionists”,  and then go down in history together.

Gauguin tried to escape his Cleveland and eventually laid to rest in French Polynesia, but before he died he spent time in Martinique, which is now on my life list of places to go.

I do not, however, recognize a need to return to Cleveland ever again.

But is is worth it to watch another video about Cleveland:

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Winter Walk

Snow storms are the best part of winter.  Peppino and I just took a two hour long walk and it was exhilarating.  Itchy thighs are a reminder of my childhood, when going outside to play was something we just did, regardless of the weather, because we craved it.  (I wonder if this itchiness is the kind NieNie talks about with her grafts?)

As a child in a grown-up body, going out on a day like today seems a bit forced, but afterward I always feel great, like I am alive!  I’ve been told that the Norwegians go outside everyday, no matter what the weather.  Ever since I heard that I have tried to make it my practice as well, mainly because I struggle so desperately every winter to endure the darkness and the cold.  I figure it might be easier to bear if I reversed the roles and took from winter rather than letting winter take from me.

So, Peppino and I carried our umbrellas because in the beginning the snow was sleety.  We talked about frustrating injustices, new-found energy, and planning for the future as we made our way to a half-way point and coffee shop lattes.  Once upon a time we talked over our drinks and through our smoke about moving to France together.  “Over our drinks and through our smoke, to Paris, France we go…”

Now that I am home the flakes are the size of quarters and flying around in the air like the flakes in a snow-globe.  I wish I had someone to play with some more!

The other great part about winter weather and coming in from the cold is hot soup.  I made this hot and sweet vegetable and tofu soup the other day and was able to heat up a bowl on the stove after our walk.

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