Posted by: ktzefr | July 15, 2014

Honey Bees, Weeds, and Wild Things

IMG_8767When I was growing up honeybees were the bane of my existence.   I was always getting stung.

For eight months of the year I wore shoes.  I always had school shoes and church shoes, but my every-day summer “shoes” were the soles of my feet.  They required a fair amount of scrubbing before going to bed at night, so they toughened up over the summer.  Though I timidly walked on dirt and gravel paths in May, I could practically run on rocks by August.

Honeybee on Honeyvine Milkweed blossom; Photo:KFawcett

Honeybee on Honeyvine Milkweed blossom; Photo:KFawcett

But the honeybees got me.  We had a yard full of clover with pretty white flowers the bees loved.  When I ran through the grass and disturbed them, the bees struck back.  I pulled out stingers and complained  during the swelling and healing and itching process.  It was not fun.

I don’t go barefoot in the weeds anymore and I’ve grown to appreciate the bees.  When I was a kid I didn’t know these tiny critters were such a big deal.  But they contribute substantially to our economy.  Honeybee pollination adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States alone.  They’re vital to keeping fruits, nuts, and vegetables in our diets. 

Honeybee on Daisy; Photo:KFawcett

Honeybee on Daisy; Photo:KFawcett

But over the past few decades their numbers have dwindled significantly.  They aren’t thriving like they did even ten or fifteen years ago, and their demise has been blamed especially on pesticide overuse and a reduction in natural forage places. 

The wild things need weeds.  Not crab grass or poison ivy, but weeds that flower.   White clover and dandelion and goldenrod.  Honeysuckle.  Wild violets.  Morning glory. 

Honeyvine Milkweed in bloom; Photo:KFawcett

Honeyvine Milkweed in bloom; Photo:KFawcett

We don’t use pesticides on our yard so we have all kinds of wild stuff.  The honeyvine milkweed appears every spring beneath the holly bushes and twines its way up and across the tops and blooms in July with clusters of tiny white flowers that release a sweet scent.  For a long time, the honeybees had almost disappeared from our yard.  But this vine suddenly grew one spring and the white clover took root on the lawn and the bees appeared as if by magic. 

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Here are five fun facts about honeybees:

1)  Bees collect 66 pounds of pollen per year, per hive.  That’s a lot of pollinating!

2) Honeybees are not native to the US.  They were brought by the early settlers from Europe.

3)  It takes two million blossoms to make a pound of honey.

4)  Royal jelly is the substance that turns an ordinary bee into the queen bee.  It’s made of pollen chewed and mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in nursing bees’ heads.  The bee chosen to be queen eats only this royal jelly and grows to one and a half times larger than ordinary bees and lives forty times longer.

5)  Research is being done in numerous places to study this royal jelly as many believe it can be used to treat various diseases and retard the aging process.

For more information about honeybees, check out the Back Yard Beekeepers Association.  Of, if you’re thinking of letting your lawn-that-looks-like-a-green-carpet go to weeds, have a look at Nancy Gift’s A Weed by Any Other Name: The Virtues of a Messy Lawn, or Learning to Love the Plants We Don’t Plant. 

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | July 10, 2014

Coffee House Notes: truths, lies, and laughs

On the overhead TV last week — World Cup soccer; today — the children at the border.  Excitement, worries, laughter, tears, camaraderie, rivalry.  It’s all there — both times, both places.

At the table next to me — four ladies a little-past-middle-age studying Spanish.  They meet here regularly for conversation after class over Mediterranean salads and coffee con leche.  One late arrival orders and brings hers to the table.  “Tengo mucho hombre!” she says.  She has obviously meant to say, “I’m very hungry” (or, literally in Spanish, “I have much hunger”); she has actually said, “I have many men.”  Hombre with an “o” is man; hambre with an “a” is hunger.  No one at the table notices the error; they’re in agreement.  They have many men, too.  They will have fun travels south of the border.

In the best spot, a corner window overlooking the fountain — a teen with a laptop has no interest in the view.  Drafting a resume, perhaps, or writing a novel about stuff that goes on in a coffee shop.  Drinking a four dollar cup of coffee.  When I was in college I drank hot tea.  It was twenty-five cents.  And I used the teabag multiple times.  Boys didn’t type much in those days either unless they wanted to be newspapermen.  But girls had to type to get a job.  Shortly after college graduation when I was looking for work, I recall someone asking if I took shorthand.  Seriously?  Why did I go to college…or WTF?  Today’s shorthand is easy — BTW, IMHO, LOL, etc.

Away from the crowd — a new mom is feeding her infant.  I can tell because she has a fancy cape draped over one shoulder and she keeps looking down and smiling.  In the “old” days we used cloth diapers, blankets, scarves…whatever worked.  She’s speaking baby talk.  The good thing about baby talk, as opposed to a foreign language, is that you are free to make up words.  Zooby, popadoodle, kitchy kitchy are all okay.  Made-up words can mean anything, and the babe’s coos indicate that he/she clearly understands. 

Behind the counter — two new people, older teens, a boy and a girl.  On everyone’s mind: cute, but can they make a decent latte?  We “regulars” have gone through new people before.  We want things done the way they’ve always been done.  Change gets harder as you get older.  A “regular” who lives in the building has just ordered her special the way she likes it.  We’ll see.  Before sitting at the table, she turns to an acquaintance and says this: I was wondering when they were going to get a pretty blonde girl in here.  Big smile.  Then a remark about leotards.  Girls wearing tight leotards everywhere.  I have no idea what that means, and I can’t quite picture loose leotards.

Outside, under the umbrellas — two men with a stack of papers between them.  Papers.  How quaint.  Generally, they would be fiddling with and exchanging i-somethings — Pads or Phones.  At the next umbrella, a very pregnant woman sits alone nursing her coffee.  She looks distracted, as if she is a million miles away, either in space or time.  Lying on last-year’s beach, perhaps, or running through the tall grasses of childhood. 

Carry outs — a young woman in very high heels and a very tight skirt runs in to pick-up the coffee order.  One coffee?  Back out the door again with a super-sized cup in one hand and an iPhone in the other, texting with her thumb.

Back to the table next to me — one of the ladies is going to Peru in the fall.  Machu Picchu.  Of course, they won’t be hiking; she’s not the hiking type.  But she’s prepared to be “immersed” in the culture…with Fodor’s and Frommer’s and an old article from Travel and Leisure.   I turn around in my seat.  “Neruda,” I say.  “Read Neruda’s poetry to get the feel, the real emotion, of that part of the world.”  She stares at me as if I have three ears. 

Okay.  Time to go home and mop the kitchen floor. 

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Posted by: ktzefr | June 27, 2014

Friday’s Fone Fotos

I have decades worth of photographs — on albums and slides and disks and jump drives.  It still amazes me that the photos taken with my telephone are a zillion times better than any of the old stuff.  The old saying that a photograph is worth a thousand words has always been true, but we also used to say that a photo never truly captured or measured up to the real person, place, or thing.  Nowadays, however, I think  it may be almost possible.  Here are four of my recent fone fotos.

Earlier this month in the British Virgin Islands…  Machioneel Bay at Cooper Island BVI is one of the best places to watch the sun set.    I took some good “zooms” with my real camera, but I thought this fone foto wasn’t bad and shows the way everything, except the sun, turns blue right before dusk.

Sunset, Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett

Sunset, Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett

My first daylily of the summer bloomed today!  Last year the deer nipped off every single bud and I got no flowers.  Thus far, the critters haven’t discovered the daylily patch this year.

Daylily; Photo:KFawcett

Daylily; Photo:KFawcett

On a recent morning walk at Great Bay, St. Thomas, in the USVI – the heliconia in bloom.  I love all the varieties and colors of these flowers.

Heliconia, St. Thomas; Photo:KFawcett

Heliconia, St. Thomas; Photo:KFawcett

Early morning, St. John, USVI…  The Virgin Islands National Park is my favorite place to hike or stroll or do just about anything.

Virgin Islands National Park; Photo:KFawcett

Virgin Islands National Park; Photo:KFawcett

 

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Posted by: ktzefr | June 23, 2014

5 Quick Facts about Yerba Mate, Brazil’s tea…

Real tea drinkers look to India for Assam and Darjeeling leaves, Sri Lanka for the “champagne” of Ceylon teas, and China for some of the world’s best black, green, white, and oolong brews. 

What about Brazil?  Though several South American countries grow and produce black tea, most of the leaves, including those grown in Brazil, are primarily used for tea bag blends.  Our neighbors to the south, however, have mate which is considered by many to be as strong as coffee, as healthy as tea, and as tasty as chocolate.  Personally, I don’t think anything is quite as tasty as chocolate, and the health benefits, too, are iffy. 

 

5 Quick Facts…

– Yerba mate comes from a shrub in the holly family that is native to South America.  The leaves are dried, chopped, and ground for brewing. 

– The drink is usually sipped from a hollow gourd through a bombilla (a metal straw — traditionally silver). 

– The Guarani people (one of the largest indigenous groups in South America) are believed to be the first to cultivate the plant. 

– Some claim that it relieves stress, eases depression, stops headaches, and treats various other ailments.

– The leaves contain vitamins and minerals, amino acids and antioxidants.  Despite the notion, however, that mate is called an “herbal” tea, it does contain caffeine.  It also contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known to be carcinogenic.  (Tobacco smoke and grilled meat also contain PAHs.)

 

I doubt too many soccer fans will be interested in trading their beer and pizza party for a mate-sipping get together to watch the World Cup, but just in case…

The Tao of Tea sells several varieties of mate, all 100% organic (note: “organic” does NOT mean the caffeine and PAHs, etc. have been removed).  Three types, Brazilian Green Mate, Roasted Mate, and Chimarrao are all from farms in Southern Brazil.

I’m a “real” tea drinker, so I’m not switching to mate, but food is another story.  Check out Smithsonian Magazine’s five great Brazilian dishes that are perfect for a World Cup party.

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Posted by: ktzefr | June 17, 2014

On Machioneel Bay…Solar Power and Seagrass

One morning a few days ago I was sitting in the shade of a seagrape tree on the beach at Machioneel Bay, Cooper Island when a big boat pulled alongside the dock. This was unusual. Most of the boats off shore were catamarans, yachts, small motor boats, and dinghies.  Though big ferries transport locals between the larger, more populous towns of the British and US Virgins to work, school, shopping, etc., they don’t stop at the smaller islands.

At Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett

At Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett

This was a field trip.  The boat was full of kids.  They came ashore laughing and talking and generally having a good time with a few adults supervising in the background.  I learned later that they came from the Bregado Flax Educational Centre on Virgin Gorda.  One of the teachers, Lyn Weekes, had brought his environmental science students to see the sustainable projects in action on Cooper Island.

photo-1This is a tiny island with a lot of interesting things going on, making it a great place for a school field trip.  The Solar Power Array here provides 75% of the energy consumption. A Bio-Reactor treats waste water and recycles it for garden irrigation. Some fruits and vegetables are grown on island, and they use organic amenities in the cottages. There’s LED lighting, furniture made from recycled teak (including reclaimed fishing boats), and the mosquitoes are zapped electronically instead of being drowned in pesticides.  We also had a resident lizard that stayed with us the whole visit, pacing back and forth by a small opening in our window screen, zapping any mossies that had managed to elude the electronic traps.

Machioneel Bay, Cooper Island; Photo:KFawcett

Machioneel Bay, Cooper Island; Photo:KFawcett

There are more than 40 islands and cays in the British Virgins, and Cooper Island lies alongside “wreck alley,” a popular scuba diving site.  Just off the beach there’s good snorkeling for those who enjoy swimming with the fish.  Others who don’t want to get wet can still check out the marine life by viewing the online video from two underwater cameras that are part of an ongoing project to study the seagrass beds and coral reef. One of the densest areas of seagrass in the British Virgins is just off this beach. The grassy beds help improve water quality and provide habitat for sea turtles and  many species of fish.  All the data is being recorded at Ocean Classrooms’ headquarters in Boulder, Colorado where students are able to study a wide variety of Caribbean fish species right from the classroom.  

Bright lights make night viewing also possible.  Check it out…

http://www.cooperislandbeachclub.com/research-project/

I was still on the beach when the kids headed back to the boat to return to their school.  I remembered my own field trips on the yellow school bus, the places we went, the shared experiences — so far removed in time and place and possibilities from this island-hopping excursion.  And yet…the voices that leaped across the water, the laughter, and the obvious camaraderie among friends seemed entirely familiar.  

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Posted by: ktzefr | June 13, 2014

On Dads and Books and Memories

Charles and Luverna Pickard, 1934.

Charles and Luverna Pickard, 1934

I think of my dad sometimes in bookstores.  But I don’t recall ever going to a bookstore with him.  When I was growing up in Eastern Kentucky we didn’t have shops that just sold books.  We bought paperbacks at the Rexall Drug. 

I think of my dad sometimes in bookstores because he liked to read and learn and tell stories.  He often exaggerated in the telling the way writers exaggerate in the writing.  His tales were larger than life, at least larger than our lives in that isolated patch of the Appalachians. 

When my brother, sister, and I were in school, my parents saved money to buy a set of encyclopedia.  We didn’t have a lot of extra dollars for non-essentials in those days.  We had no inside bathroom, and we all rode around squeezed onto one seat, or in the back, of a GM truck.  Money was earned and/or saved by doing our own gardening and keeping cows and pigs and chickens.  Mom and Dad also ran a country store.  But my dad thought a set of encyclopedia was essential and he made as much use of the books as we did, perhaps more, as he carried A-B or G-H or M-P to the store with him each day to read just for fun.  He’s the only person I’ve ever known who read the encyclopedia for fun.

A few years back I was coming out the door of Borders Books and suddenly stopped.  It was December, a few days before Christmas.  The day was sunny and bright and cold.  A blue-silver sky.  Lots of happy people.  A mix of traffic hum, car horns, and jingle bells.  When I had opened the door to leave the store I was struck by this thought: I must tell Dad about the book!

I don’t recall either the title or the type of the tome in question.  I don’t recall why I thought he would have been interested in it in the first place.  I don’t recall much of anything else from that day, nothing before or after that particular moment.  But those brief few seconds are vivid in my memory — this first impulse to share info with him about some book and then suddenly remembering that my dad had died more than two decades earlier.  But for a moment in time he was as alive in my mind as he had ever been…and then he was gone again.   

Often in life we are asked or expected to be specific about our feelings.  We must feel this way or that, be for or against something, decide to love or hate — see the world in black or white.  But gray areas abound, different shades and intensities of gray abound.  And, in addition to the gray areas, there are also times when even extreme emotions run together.  Times like these when joy and sorrow are so intertwined the two are impossible to separate and you can’t feel one without the other. 

Here’s wishing all the dads in my blogosphere and beyond a happy father’s day with much joy and few sorrows.

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Posted by: ktzefr | June 10, 2014

The BVI in Bloom: What I saw on my morning walks

Blue seas, white sails, lots of green…misty Tortola in the distance.

IMG_3161

Our cottage in the trees…

Cottage, Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett
Cottage, Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett

The palms full of coconuts (above) and the sea grapes full of grapes (below)…

Seagrapes; Photo:KFawcett
Seagrapes; Photo:KFawcett

Gardenia just off the front porch…the bush was huge and full of scented blossoms.

Gardenia in bloom, Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett
Gardenia in bloom, Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett

Trumpet trees along the trail…

IMG_3213

A gull scanning the water for breakfast…

Seagull, Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett
Seagull, Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett

I got a pretty view through the trees…

IMG_3203

and did a careful shimmy around the rocks…

IMG_3210

My favorite blooms — the bougainvillea…

Bougainvillea, Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett
Bougainvillea, Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett

and the always amazing flame trees!

Flamboyant trees, Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett
Flamboyant trees, Cooper Island, BVI; Photo:KFawcett

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Posted by: ktzefr | May 30, 2014

Friday’s Fone Fotos

The first two days this week were hot.  I was getting summer stuff out to wash when I picked up a pair of shorts and felt something hard in the pocket.  Candy?  Coins?  No.  A seashell!  A great talisman, a good luck charm.  And it fit perfectly with a photo that’s been on my phone since last summer at the shore.  I figured I’d eventually find a place to paste it. 

shell

I have the shell.  Now, I just need to feel the sand in my toes.

Meanwhile, it has rained off and on most of the week.  But between the many showers and a few torrential downpours I’ve walked.  And, in brief moments of sunshine, the neighborhood blooms look amazing.  Here are just a few photos from my phone…

Clematis; Photo:KFawcett

Clematis; Photo:KFawcett

 

Peony; Photo:KFawcett

Peony; Photo:KFawcett

 

Iris; Photo:KFawcett

Iris; Photo:KFawcett

Happy weekend!  Here’s to finding something special in your pocket and having the time to enjoy the flowers.

 

Posted by: ktzefr | May 27, 2014

Green Eggs and Bacon

Green eggs!  Were my eyes playing tricks?  I held the carton under the counter-top halogen lights.  I held it under the bright grow lights of the Aerogarden.  I held it in the natural light.  The eggs were still green.

Not neon or forest or Easter egg green.  To be precise, the eggs had only a hint of green, like the palest mint or mist-off-the-sea.  

The bacon was almost crisp, the toast buttered, the blueberries and jam already on the table.  I needed a second opinion.  My husband took one look.  They’re green, he said.

Green Eggs and Ham ran through my mind.  So many things in life remind me of books.  Books remind me of life.  But I had never seen real green eggs that hadn’t been purposely colored.  Was this anomaly due to some insecticide?  Herbicide?  Moldy chicken feed?  I’ve seen pale green mold the exact color of the eggs.

I broke one in a measuring cup.  Unlike the green-yolked eggs in the Dr. Seuss book, these yolks looked perfectly normal.   Richer looking, actually, with intense orange yolks.

We ate breakfast.  Green eggs and bacon.

Later, when I started to toss the empty egg carton into the trash I saw a label on the inside, so I peeled it off and read.

Pete and Gerry’s Heirloom hens lay beautiful pastel colored eggs with deeply flavored yolks.  These heirloom breed Ameraucana hens are cared for on very small family farms where they are fed a rich diet of whole grains, marigold, and alfalfa grasses.”  Alfalfa green!  I can imagine that color on a label in a box of crayons.  I can also now envision marigold-colored eggs.

I did some research and learned that the hens originate from the domesticated hens of the indigenous people of Chilean Patagonia.  They must be kept outside in order to produce eggs, as they cannot survive at industrial chicken farms.  The pretty egg shells have a range of colors and are a valuable identifier, a sign of free range quality, though the special genes of these hens have more to do with the shell color than does their diet.  They can’t be faked.

In Chile they are referred to as the Blue Egg Chicken or Araucana, a name the Spaniards gave to the local Mapuche people and to this region of the country.  In the powerful 2010 earthquake the blue egg chicken farms were badly hit.  In 2012 a forest fire further devastated some of these areas.  Now, they are trying to reproduce more of the hens and develop more commercial sales of the eggs. 

It’s such fun when some small thing, like breaking an egg, unearths a history or a story that spans across continents and time.   

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Posted by: ktzefr | May 23, 2014

Birds and Blooms and Raccoons

Quince blossoms; Photo:KFawcett

Quince blossoms; Photo:KFawcett

A hummingbird whispers above the feeder.  Every year I hang the plastic flowers and wait.  Sight of the first hummer of the season is always magical.  He sits on the edge of the feeder, taking long sips, looking up and down and side to side — scanning the surroundings for other birds, protecting his territory.

Ruby-throated hummingbird; Photo:KFawcett

Ruby-throated hummingbird; Photo:KFawcett

It doesn’t matter that there are two feeders or three.  He does not like to share.  When another bird stops by he dive-bombs it, chasing it away.  I watch him fly up and sit on a tiny dead branch of the dogwood tree, guarding the feeder from a bird’s-eye view.  He does not know, cannot know, that the supply of sugar water is endless, that it’s ok to share, that I could feed a whole flock of hummers, preparing them all for the long trip south next fall.  But there is a bit of wisdom to be garnered from the hummer: he knows that if you don’t guard the sugar water, someone else will take it.

Speaking of thieves…One night last summer I heard a noise that sounded like dishes rattling on the back porch.  It was a warm night, the jasmine in bloom, sweet scents drifting through the open window. 

When I flipped on the light a raccoon looked up at me with curious, watery eyes.  He had his head and front feet in the ceramic frog pond.  This must have been his regular watering hole, but I had emptied all the water to get rid of the mosquito larvae.  When I opened the door he went scurrying off into the dark. 

Later, he came back to drink the sugar water from the hummingbird feeders.  I discovered his muddy paw prints all over the plastic flowers the next morning.  So, I had to start moving the feeders inside every night.  For several nights thereafter he kept coming back.  I saw his tracks on the back porch.  One night, about a week later, he jumped up on the railing and left his mark — the digested remnants of dinner.  He didn’t know that marking his territory wouldn’t do any good.  It would not magically make the feeders reappear. 

But his antics started me thinking about life and how we all occasionally find ourselves on the losing side of a frustrating dilemma, being slow to accept the fact that no matter how loud or intense the discussion, or how sad, passionate, or needy the circumstance, the sugar water will not be forthcoming.

Here’s to a SWEET, long weekend!

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