Category Archives: Life

I Gotta Crow About Kauai Chickens

A chick stopped to take a drink in the rainwater in a snorkel mask in the yard of the house where we were staying.  His mothers and siblings are just ahead.

A chick stopped to take a drink in the rainwater in a snorkel mask in the yard of the house where we were staying. His mothers and siblings are just ahead.

Clucking and crowing chickens, crashing waves and whirring helicopters are the sounds I’ll always associate with Kauai, the oldest of the main inhabited Hawaiian islands.

Every morning during our too-short visit to paradise, my husband and I awoke to huge waves crashing on the beach in the bay outside of our house and the crowing of roosters.

A mother hen and her chicks would make the rounds of the neighborhood several times a day. First, you’d hear the cheep cheep cheep of the chicks and then the occasional cluck of the mother as they pecked their way through the grass and bushes of the yard.

Helicopters were often crossing the sky to take tourists to view the many incredible sights, which have often been filmed for movies (“Jurassic Park,” is one example.) I’ve only been in a helicopter once — to fly over Maui almost 20 years ago. It was gorgeous, but I haven’t gotten up the nerve to get into a helicopter since. My husband and I did take a boat trip on this vacation. First time I ever got sea sick. (More about that later…)

Mother hens and their chicks were everywhere on Kauai.

Mother hens and their chicks were everywhere on Kauai.

Chickens were everywhere! Other islands have wild chickens, (A rooster showed up for my son’s beach wedding in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands) but Kauai has CHICKENS. On every trail, on the beaches, in shopping center parking lots, on the sidewalks outside of restaurants, in parks, in churchyards, every neighborhood, everywhere. They are gorgeous and colorful. They are descended from the Junglefowl that the ancient Hawaiians brought with them centuries ago. They’ve bred with other types of chickens that others have brought to the island, but have mostly retained the gorgeous Junglefowl coloring. The chickens have no predator, other than man and cats, so they thrive.  People say they aren’t good to eat, so they are mostly even safe from humans. There are mongooses on some of the other islands, such as the Big Island and Maui, which eat chickens and eggs. There are mongooses on St. John, too. But mongooses were never introduced to Kauai.

Here’s What I Wrote About The Mongoose in an Earlier Post.

Here are some of my chicken photos. Yes, I do like to take photos of chickens, maybe a little too much.

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Life, Natural History, Nature, Photography, Travel

Leawood Arti Gras Annual Art Show


Art, music and lively conversation  transformed the space into “Arti Gras” in the community room of Leawood City Hall, where I’ve taken yoga classes.

In the slideshow below are photographs from the  opening night gala on Feb. 21, 2014.   It was Leawood’s third Juried Art Show.  The opening night art show featured a Mardi Gras theme in decor and food.  The Dixieland Jazz Band “12th Street Revue” and magician Barry Nelson entertained the crowd. Another gallery featured children’s art. The Leawood Foundation presented the show, with the support of the Leawood Arts Council.

I went with my friend Lynn, a talented photographer.  There were many great artworks in the show I didn’t include in the slide show, partly because of reflections on the glass, but you can see all of the artworks if you click on the link under the slideshow.

Next year, plan to to attend so you can  enjoy the work in person. I’m thinking of entering some of my photographs for the 2015 show.  Watch this space to see whether I follow through with my plan…Lynn will give me a nudge or three, as will Sharon, a photographer friend who was at the show, too. I hope they also enter!

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To see the artworks in the show, click on Arti Gras 2014 Art Gallery.

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Filed under Art, Kansas, Kansas City, Life, Photography

Holiday Dinner Party Humor

Now that all of the holiday events are behind us, including that long stretch of food-eating extravaganzas from Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas parties through New Year’s Day buffets, we can now reflect on 2013 and resolve for 2014. Here’s a funny video about guests and their many eating quirks. Lucky me, I can eat almost anything!

I’m tacking on this 2013 annual report from WordPress.  The kindly people at WordPress noted that many of my top posts were not written this past year.  Rather than saying that I was lazy in 2013, they said this:  “Some of your most popular posts were written before 2013. Your writing has staying power! Consider writing about those topics again.”    Hope to see you all in 2014.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 36,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Filed under Diet, Food, Humor, Life

The Azalea Trail in Tyler, Texas

A Garden Along the Azalea TrailA Garden Along the Azalea Trail in Tyler, Texas, in April 2013.


Every spring, Tyler, Texas, bursts into bloom. Like floral fireworks. Everywhere you look are gorgeous flowering shrubs and trees, such as azaleas, dogwoods, redbuds and wisteria, as well as daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs. Tyler celebrates its Spring flowers with its Azalea Trail, which starts in mid-March and runs through the first week of April. In 2013, Tyler celebrated its 54th annual Azalea & Spring Flower Trail.

Tyler doesn’t stop with azaleas. Oh, no. Tyler is also the Rose Capital of America, the location of the Tyler Rose Garden, the nation’s largest municipal rose garden. The city hosts the Annual Texas Rose Festival each October, which I’ve been lucky enough to attend twice — so far.

Tyler is definitely the place to be for floral fanatics!

On the Azalea Trail, there are two marked routes: the Lindsey Trail and the Dobbs Trail, which includes the Azalea National Historic District, established in 2003, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Azalea Trail Gazebo

Click on the thumbnail photographs to see full-size photos. The last photo is of Texas Bluebonnets, the Texas State Flower, which are wildflowers that bloom at the same time as the azaleas. Links to the history of and information about the Azalea Trail and the Texas Rose Festival are at the bottom.

About the Tyler Texas, Azalea Trail, including lots of photos.

National Register of Historic Places in Smith County, Texas

About the Texas Rose Festival.

My Blog Post about the Texas Rose Festival.

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Filed under Gardening, History, Life, Photography, Travel

Of Elephants and Alcohol

Is this elephant dreaming of the delicious marula fruit as she eats grass at a game reserve in South Africa?

Is this elephant dreaming of the delicious marula fruit as she eats grass at a game reserve in South Africa?

I love fruit, but I’d never heard of marula fruit until a friend (Thanks, Anita!) introduced me to Amarula, a creamy liqueur made in Africa from fermented marula fruit.

Elephants like to eat the marula fruit, which when fermented makes a delicious drink when mixed with cream for humans, called Amarula.  Elephants will eat the fermented fruit, but it's a myth that they'll get drunk.  They couldn't eat enough to get inebriated.  The Amarula Trust promotes Africa elephant protection and social development in Africa.  This elephant sculpture is on display at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Fermented marula fruit makes a delicious drink when mixed with cream for humans in a liqueur called Amarula. Elephants will eat the fermented fruit, but it’s a myth that they’ll get drunk. They couldn’t eat enough to get inebriated. The Amarula Trust promotes Africa elephant protection and social development in Africa. This elephant sculpture is on display at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Elephants like to eat marula fruit and are Amarula’s symbol. Folklore through the ages told of elephants getting drunk on fermented marula fruit, but that tall tale has been debunked.  I don’t want to be a party pooper, but elephants couldn’t eat enough fermented fruit to get bombed.  According to a 2006 scientific study cited in Smithsonian Magazine, “Elephants do have a taste for alcohol, but when scientists sat down to look at the claim, they found several problems. First, the elephants don’t eat the rotten fruit off the ground. They eat the fresh fruit right off the tree. Second, the fresh fruit doesn’t spend enough time in the elephant to ferment and produce alcohol there. And, third, even if the elephant did eat the rotten fruit, the animal would have to eat 1,400 pieces of exceptionally fermented fruit to get drunk.”
Smithsonian Magazine: The Alcoholics of the Animal World.

Elephants like to eat marula fruit, but much of what elephants eat is not fully digested.  Here, some marula fruits have passed through an elephant.  The surviving marula fruits might be eaten by other animals or germinate into new trees.

Elephants like to eat marula fruit, but much of what elephants eat is not fully digested. Here, some marula nuts have passed through an elephant. The surviving marula fruits might be eaten by other animals or germinate into new trees.

While the elephants don’t get soused from fermented fruits, elephants are among the many species that enjoy the versatile marula fruit for its flesh and its nut, which is full of protein. The marula fruit and its nut have been important source of nutrition in Africa for eons. The fruit has eight times the Vitamin C of an orange, too. Among the animals that eat the marula fruit and nut are antelopes, including impalas, kudus and nyalas. Baboons, warthogs, zebras, porcupines, vervet monkeys, small mammals and even millipedes also feed on the marula, which belongs to the same plant family Anacardiaceae as the mango, cashew, pistachio and sumac. Browsing animals eat the leaves. Marula nut oil is also supposed to have rejuvenating effect on your skin, so the marula can give you a glow both inside and out. About the Marula Tree and Fruit. About Marula Oil for Your Skin.

While reading this post I recommend an Amarula cocktail, which has a mild creamy citrus flavor. If you can’t find Amarula, you can sip Bailey’s Irish Cream or Kahlua. Drink responsibly, of course!

Amarula.

Amarula.

Here’s My Recipe for a Wild Elephant, which is really a White Russia, replacing the Kahlua with Amarula:
2 oz vodka
1 oz Amarula liqueur
light cream

Pour vodka and Amarula liqueur over ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass. Fill with light cream and serve.
Serves one.
For other recipes. click on Cocktail Recipes. 

In a game reserve in South Africa, baboons congregate in and under a marula tree to eat the marula fruit.  Impala antelope stand under the tree to eat the dropped fruit.

In a game reserve in South Africa, baboons congregate in and under a marula tree to eat the marula fruit. Impala antelope stand under the tree to eat the dropped fruit. Click on the photo to get a better view.

The long-time belief that elephants and other animals get drunk on fermented marula fruit was popularized in the 1974 documentary “Animals are Beautiful People.” Some smaller animals can get drunk from fermented fruit, but people have claimed that the supposedly drunkenness of the animals from fermented marula was staged in the movie, after alcohol had been added to their food.  If so, that’s animal abuse. The narration is over the top, too, but the video does show the types of animals that eat the marula fruit. It also shows elephants shaking marula trees to knock down the fruit.
Scientific American: Do Animals Like to Get Drunk?
Drunken Elephants: The Marula Fruit Myth
About “Animals are Beautiful People.”

The marula fruit on this tree is not quite ripe.  It'll turn yellow.

The marula fruit on this tree will turn yellow when ripe.

Owls don't eat marula fruits, of course, but the branches make a handy perch. And perhaps some unsuspecting creature looking for fruit may become the owl's dinner.

Owls don’t eat marula fruits, of course, but the branches make a handy perch. Perhaps some unsuspecting creature looking for fruit may become the owl’s dinner.

Marula fruit is washed along with sand over a walkway after a rainy night at the South African game reserve lodge where we stayed in January 2013.

Marula fruit is washed along with sand over a walkway after a rainy night at the game reserve lodge where we stayed in January 2013.

I’m going to be party pooper again by listing this new Study from the Boston University School of Public Health that shows links of alcohol to cancer. Darn it!

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Filed under Animals, Drink, Environment, Life, Nature

Piano Man in Madison, Wisconsin

At the right, a young man plays an old piano sitting in a yard overlooking Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin.

While wandering the shores of Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin, this June, I heard ethereal piano music that seemed to be coming from on high. I tracked it down. On a hill above the lake shore, a young man was playing beautiful melodies on an old piano in a yard. Sadly, the piano seemed to be set out for trash removal when it still had some life in it. Not far away, an old mattress reclined against a tree, likely awaiting its final rest in a landfill. Although, the piano was missing parts and looked worn, the young man was able to produce lovely music from its keys.

The piano was manufactured by The Edmund Gram Piano Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is probably more than a hundred years old. I have a fondness for old pianos. I learned to play a piano that had once been in a dance hall in my grandparents’ hotel in Sturgis, South Dakota. When the hotel was sold, my parents brought the piano to our house in Kansas. My playing never approached the level of the music I heard this man play, but it wasn’t my old piano’s fault! (See link about the piano company at the bottom of the post.)

A young man plays an old piano that seems to be set out for the trash in Madison, Wisconsin.

A young man serenades a neighborhood with lovely music on an old piano in early evening in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Edmund Gram Piano Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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Filed under Life, Photography, Travel

Oh, Fudge!

Children are enthralled as they watch workers make fudge in one of Murdick’s Fudge Shops on Mackinac Island, Michigan.

“The perfect candle scent for Mackinac Island would be a layer of fudge-scented wax, then a layer of lilac, then at the bottom a layer of horse manure,” joked Joe, one of our carriage drivers on our recent (and first) trip to Mackinac Island, a beautiful island in Lake Huron just between Michigan’s Upper and Lower penisulas.

Unfortunately, we just missed lilac season, but we did see plenty of fudge shops and horses, when my husband and I visited in late June.   There are more than a hundred varieties of the Common Lilac on Mackinac Island, which celebrates lilacs with a 10-day festival every mid-June, which concludes with a horse-drawn lilac parade.  I’d love to return for that event.

Even though no cars, trucks or other motorized vehicles are allowed on the island, there’s a lot of traffic with horse-drawn carriages, people on horseback as well as hundreds of bicyclists and thousands of walkers.  (The island does allow one police car, one ambulance and some electric golf carts on the golf course.)

Here are some of the fudge flavors available at Murdick’s Fudge on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Butter Pecan, Plain Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Walnut.

Six fudge companies operate fudge shops on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Since each company seems to have at least two shops and some operate even more, that’s a lot of fudge on this small island. There are competing fudge shops next door to each other and some companies have opened fudge shops on opposite sides of the street — sort of like Starbucks Coffee. But, honestly, can you ever have enough fudge? There are as many as 15,000 tourists a day in peak season, so there is an enormous market for fudge. I bought fudge at Murdick’s Fudge. The Murdick Family opened its fudge shop in 1887, when sailmakers Henry and Rome Murdick came to Mackinac Island to make giant awnings for The Grand Hotel (the hotel was constructed in only 93 days!)

I bought the fudge for a gift, but I’m hoping the recipients will offer me a taste. (Yes, I managed to come home with uneaten fudge.) I’ve been known to preach (or even screech) about the dangers of sugar, but calorie counts don’t apply to any food eaten or bought on vacation, so I’ve been told. Even sugar is exempted. (Ok, even I don’t believe that.) But an occasional very small indulgence is good for the food soul. I’ll take a couple of extra laps around the neighborhood.

Mackinac Island, which is 3.8 square miles, has 80 miles of trails, if you want to walk off your fudge there. The entire island is a National Historic Landmark and 80 percent of it is Mackinac Island State Park. Initially, it was the second U.S. National Park, but the Feds later turned it over to the state of Michigan.

You can count at least three fudge shops in this photograph of a street on Mackinac Island, Michigan. You’d need four hands to count all of the fudge shops on the small island. The fudge shops are clustered conveniently close to where the tourists get off of the ferry. There are as many as 15,000 tourists a day in peak season. The fudge demand is enormous!

Here, the lovely cashier prepares my fudge purchase. I bought plain chocolate, chocolate espresso and chocolate cherry.

About Mackinac Island

Directory of Mackinac Island Fudge Shops.

History of Murdick’s Fudge.

Mackinac Island Lilac Festival.

Mackinac Island Lilacs.

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Glacial Speed

Margerie Glacier, Alaska Postcard postcard

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

We experienced a very hot summer in the Kansas City area with temperatures in the upper 90s and even into the 100s. Now, that it’s September, we’re finally getting some nice weather.  I was lucky enough to escape the heat for a week in July when I visited Alaska, where the locals jokingly complained about a heat wave in the 70s.

To cool myself upon my return to sweltering temperatures, I enjoyed some of my photographs of Alaskan glaciers.  Margerie Glacier (in photo above) is one of several glaciers remaining in what was once a single vast ice sheet covering the Glacier Bay area of Alaska. We often hear of the rapid retreat of glaciers, particularly in the past few decades. I haven’t thought of the rapid advance of glaciers being part of relatively recent history, but Glacier Bay, which is at the top of the Alaskan panhandle, is only about 250 years old. It was carved in the early to mid 1700s when a relatively dormant glacier began to move rapidly. Its movement was described as being “as fast as a dog could run,” according to the National Park Service rangers stationed in Glacier Bay National Park. Glacier Bay is the result of the climate in the Little Ice Age, which reached its maximum extent in 1750.

Click on this map of Glacier Bay National Park to see a larger view.

I’d always thought that glaciers moved slowly and steadily slow. The glacier scours the earth as the massive ice field moves forward inch by inch and then slowly retreats, leaving debris in its wake and in mountainous coastal areas a glacier carves a deep bay or a fjord, such as Glacier Bay.   I won’t be using the cliche “glacial speed” any more now that I know how quickly glaciers can Advance.

Margerie Glacier is stable. Johns Hopkins Glacier is actually advancing. Both are remnants of a much larger glacier.

The Tlingit people who lived in Glacier Bay before it was a bay had to leave the valley as that glacier quickly advanced. According to the National Park Service, the Tlingit’s landscape “is very different from today’s marine bay — it was a grassy valley coursing with salmon-rich streams and scattered forests. Looming in the distance, a great glacier sits dormant, pausing before the cataclysmic advance that will force these people from their homes around 1750.”

This section of a U.S. National Park Service brochure, shows the advance and retreat of the glacier that carved Glacier Bay in Alaska. Click on the photograph to get a larger view.

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Filed under Environment, Life, Science, Travel

Dog Doogity

This is my new favorite song. It rocks! It shows great views of the Seattle area. Plus the message is important, too. I know that I’m just preaching to the choir here, because you all pick up after your pets. But you’ll enjoy the song.

I love dogs. And so that everyone will love dogs, we need to make sure that scofflaws clean up after their dogs so the poop doesn’t wash into the water supply. My daughter and son-in-law’s apartment complex provides poop bags on posts with trash cans around the grounds. It’s a great idea!

Now, for a song about keeping cats safe inside and birds safe outside!

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Filed under Conservation, Dogs, Life, Music

Pure Water

People are always attracted to water. We hiked up the mountain to this cascade in Le Tigre National Park, Honduras.

(This post has been sitting in my drafts for a couple of years.  Now, that we’re on a “boil” order in my county in northeast Kansas in July 2011, I thought again of how we take our clean water for granted.  I wrote this about a visit to Honduras, where you can’t drink the water from the tap.)

It’s early on a February morning in 2007, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and already hot.  I don’t mind.  Back home in Kansas City it’s freezing.

Behind the courtyard wall, I wait at the gate, listening.  I’m an early riser so I volunteered to make the water bottle exchange.

“You’ll know when they’re coming,” my friend Michael told me the night before.  “They call out “Agua Azul, Agua Azul.”  He likes the sound of it.  “It’s like a call to prayer.”

Most societies and religions find spiritual and cleansing properties in water, so Michael is right about that.

Three large empty bottles sit on the driveway near the gate.  I hear the faint call, and I lean out to look.

I see a truck slowly rumbling down the steep incline of street in this affluent neighborhood in the capital city of Honduras.  The back of the truck is stacked with large water bottles.

“Agua Azul.  Agua Azul.

I wave my hand at the truck. A man darts to the gate, grabs the empty bottles and replaces them with full ones.  He hops back on the truck and continues his call.  “Agua Azul.  Agua Azul.”

Now we’ll have purified water for the next couple of days.  We go through it quickly, using it for everything that passes our lips. The water truck comes three mornings a week.  It saves the trouble of taking the bottles to the store. The house has running water, but it’s not purified.  We have to be careful not to drink it or even use it for brushing our teeth.  I keep a small bottle of purified water in the bathroom during my visit.

You can’t be careful everywhere, and on a trip to see the Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, some of us come down with horrible gastrointestinal distress.  I’ll spare you the details (worst diarrhea of my life!), but it was touch and go on the drive home.  Michael and Anita knew the roads and the rest stops, and thankfully, my husband is an Eagle Scout, prepared with supplies at all times, including a roll of toilet paper.

At home, we take pure water for granted.  But civilization has long been plagued, literally, with contaminated water.  Cholera is one disease spread by water fouled by bacteria.  People would often drink alcoholic beverages, rather than water, because they were less likely to get sick. Steven Johnson writes about a cholera epidemic in “The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.”

Hacienda San Lucas overlooks the Copan River Valley, where the early Mayans settled more than a thousand years ago. Maintaining pure water is always a problem wherever people gather in cities.

In Copan, we visited Flavia Cueva, who owns the Hacienda San Lucas.  Anita, who is with the U.S. State Department, had met with Flavia before on an official visit.  Local people and members of the International Rotary were working to improve the water quality. International Rotary is providing water distribution and health education to six remote villages in the area.

My water district at home, WaterOne, sends out an annual water quality report, summarizing what’s in the water and provides lots of facts, which are also available on the website.  WaterOne was one of seven utilities worldwide selected as a finalist for a global water award for its Wolcott Treatment Plant. We’re very lucky we don’t need to buy bottled water, regularly, although there is a run on bottled water now because of the boil order.

Here’s a copy of the story in the Kansas City Star about our boil order:


Raccoon Believed Culprit in John County Boil Order

By MATT CAMPBELL

The Kansas City Star

Posted on Fri, Jul. 01, 2011 03:57 PM

A raccoon appears be to the culprit in a water pipe rupture that led to a boil advisory for more than 400,000 water customers in Johnson County.
Officials of Water District No. 1 found the animal dead inside an electrical unit at the Hansen treatment plant on Holiday Drive in Kansas City, Kan.
Eric Arner, a spokesman for WaterOne, said the animal may have chewed into wires or just brushed by the equipment, triggering an event that will affect customers at least until 5 p.m. Saturday during one of the hottest spells of the year so far.
People in the WaterOne service area — which includes most of Johnson County but excludes most of Olathe — are advised to use bottled water or to boil their tap water at least two minutes before consuming it. Unboiled water is safe for washing and bathing.
Retail stores in Johnson County are reporting brisk sales of bottled water. People are buying shopping baskets full of it at the Lenexa Sam’s Club, 12200 W. 95th St.
“We’ve got plenty for today and two more semis were dispatched when we heard about this,” said club manager Eric Rector. “We should have more in stock tonight.”
The Price Chopper at 8686 Antioch Road in Overland Park was sold out by mid-afternoon. A new shipment was expected over the weekend but store management did not know when it would arrive.
The boil precaution is necessary because the pipe rupture led to a drop in water pressure, which may have drawn contaminants into the system. Officials are testing tap samples from across the 275-square-mile water district for safety. That process, and flushing any contaminants out of the system, takes at least 18 hours.
Arner said water officials noticed a sudden drop in system pressure at 7:20 a.m., which they later attributed to a raccoon that got inside the housing of one of the huge electrical switches that run the pumps. The animal apparently shorted out the switch.
“The pumps themselves are designed to trip off when there is any fluctuation in power so they don’t fry their circuits,” Arner said. “So when the power was restored in a matter of seconds or even milliseconds the pumps turned back on and created a water surge.”
Officials believe that surge caused a 54-inch pipe near the Hansen plant to rupture at a joint. Arner said the pipe should not have failed even with a surge and WaterOne is investigating whether there were any other factors involved.
Water officials were able to restore pressure throughout the system shortly after the pipe break but some areas may have less pressure than normal.
While most of Olathe is outside WaterOne, between 6,000 and 7,000 people in northwestern and southwestern areas of the city are affected, said city spokesman Tim Danneberg.

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Filed under Biology, Drink, Health, Life, Personal, Random, Travel