Sunday, June 29, 2014

Lessons in Organic Gardening


 
One of the first new plants I added to my garden after deciding to try this organic garden experiment was a single dill plant that I saw for sale at the local market. I stuck it in the ground with some fresh new soil and watched proudly as it quickly grew to a couple of feet in height.
 
Then one morning I noticed lots of bright yellow aphids covering the stems. I might have been tempted before to grab the bug spray and put a stop to them, but I've never sprayed any of my herbs. I instead tried to wipe off (and squish in the wiping) as many of the little rascals as I could.
 
Each time it seemed that I might be winning the battle, I would suddenly find lots more aphids. Then one morning when I went out for my usual routine, I noticed three ladybugs and a small praying mantis on the dill. I finally had reinforcements!
 
For the next little while, the good guys seemed to be advancing on the bad guys, so I left them to do their job. Then one day I noticed a bunch of strange-looking black and orange critters all over the dill. No more ladybugs and no more praying mantises and only a few aphids, but what what going on now?
 
I carefully went over the plant and picked off each of the 10-12 critters along with the piece of branch he was sitting on, placing them in a small box that was handy. I set the box in the patio intending to 'deal with' them before I went inside, but I forgot all about them.
 
The next morning when I went back outside, most of them had climbed out of the box but were still nearby. I began to gather them up to get rid off (squish) them, when I realized that something was nagging at the back of my brain. Could these critters be baby ladybugs?
 
I went back inside to consult the internet and, sure enough, they looked just like the baby ladybugs in the pictures. Relieved that I hadn't killed my babies, I went back out and sprinkled them back onto the dill plant. I wanted all the ladybugs I could get!
 
After a few rainy days that kept me inside, I again went out to check on my babies. These things definitely weren't changing into ladybugs; they were now twice the size they had been and looked very much like caterpillars and were eating the plant, not the aphids.
 
Once again, I picked all the caterpillars off my dill by cutting the bit of branch they were on. I stuck them into a bottle in preparation for anihilation, but, once again, I got curious.
 
Back on the internet, I searched for photos of caterpillars that like to eat dill. My very own critters came up in one of the first photos. It seems that I had captured a bunch of developing swallowtail-butterflies-to-be!
 
I was hoping to use the dill for some pickles, but I also was excited by the idea of growing a crop of swallowtail butterflies to pollinate the rest of the stuff I had growing. Of course, one plant isn't enough for all the pickles I hope to make, and the squirrel that showed up a few days earlier had eaten the tops off all the cucumber plants anyway, so I carefuly removed each caterpillar from the bottle and returned it to the dill plant.
 
The caterpillars and caterpillars-to-be are all doing fine. The dill plant is still trying to grow faster than they eat. I don't see any more aphids, so I guess that battle is won for now.
 
I hope I'm right and they will become swallowtail butterflies, and I hope they stick around and enjoy my garden. I'm sure this has been only the first of many such experiences as I learn to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. Next time I will do my internet research before removing the critters in question. And may the good guys continue to win!

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Note to My Readers

I know, I know... I haven't been keeping up with my blog for a long time. I'm sorry, but I guess my priorities have just changed.

I began work in November for a quilt competition in Mexico City. It was probably the most time-consuming quilt I've ever made. At the same time, I was working on hand-piecing and hand-quilting a quilt for a very special (to me) baby in Japan. The good news here is that the quilt made it from Mexico to Japan, and I won the "Judge's Choice" award and a new sewing machine. (No photo today but I will write about the quilt and contest soon.)

As soon as I'd finished the quilt - and before the competition - I began digging out and throwing out or moving almost all the plants in my garden. I loved the Jungle look I had going, but so did the bugs. As they say here in Mexico, I had a "plague" of scale insects. All the healthy "Jungle" plants are now in my various patios, but I had scale on just about everything else and nothing seemed to help. We trimmed tree-like bushes back to 2-3' bare branches with no leaves for the scale to hide on, and everythig else is down to  bare ground. I'm bringing in new top soil and planning to replant with herbs - both the culinary types and the smell-good types. I'm also planning to expand my beds to make room for a few Heirloom vegetables in between the other stuff. Growing season is pretty much year around here. We have just entered the hot, dry season. In mid-June, the rains will come and will bring cooler weather. That seems like the best time to plant.

And that will be good timing, too, because am I leaving in two weeks for what has become an annual long vacation. I had thought I'd stay closer to home this year, but a good friend invited me to join her trip to London, Greece, and Turkey. An offer I couldn't refuse! Adding a week of shopping time in California, I will be gone for 6 weeks. We have rented an apartment in Athens and she has arranged a couple of home exchanges in Tinos, Greece, and Ortakent, Turkey, so we will be in hotels only in London and Istanbul.

Finally, I want to explain that I have had to start approving comments before posting them. Unfortunately, I am being inundated with comments that are not much more than outright commercials or links to other sites. I am sorry if you are one of the people who has commented this way. I do not have the time to check out all of these links, so I will automatically mark any linked comment as spam.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Heathcare Mess, Part 1

I've been thinking a lot about this health care mess we have gotten ourselves into. I had huge hopes for universal healthcare, but it all just looks worse and worse as time passes. Many people in the US are quick to blame President Obama, but he didn't cause the problem. It has developed over many years, and it is going to take some serious changes from everyone to fix it. Maybe the Obamacare problems will be the kick in the butt that the US needs to straighten it all out.

I have some ideas that might help; you may have some of your own. No one is going to get anything done unless a real conversation gets going and we all accept that we have to make some changes in the way we live our lives. Everyone is to blame: insurance companies, hospitals, drug companies, doctors, and the rest of us who use their services.

The first thing we have to do is to recognize and accept some unavoidable truths:
  1. We are all going to die sooner or later.
  2. We have a lot of control over our health.
  3. We make a choice every single time we put a bite of food in our mouths, lift a drink to our lips, and plop down on our butts in front of the TV or computer.
Death is an inevitable part of life. We are all going to die whether we like it or not. There is no way out of this one.

A few days ago I read an article about the number of people who expect doctors to do everything possible to delay the end, even though that "everything" is outrageously expensive. Even though it often does no good. Even though it drags out the miserable painful illness of a person who is beyond being able to make that decision. That is crazy! Who wants to live longer if that time is spent in pain or without consciousness? And who is going to pay for that expensive treatment?

We all have a lot of control over our health. Very few of us can use the excuse that we don't have the knowledge required to stay healthy. There a thousands of books and internet sites with all the information anyone needs. There are libraries for those who can't afford books or the internet. Who can say they don't have the time or the interest to find out what they need to know? What can possibly be more important than maintaining good health? How many times do we need to be told that the majority of our health problems are brought on by our lifestyle choices?

We make choices every day that affect our health. Food is the fuel that powers our bodies. Some fuel is good, high octane stuff that is good for us; some fuel tastes good but offers almost nothing to nourish our bodies. What do you choose to eat? Is it healthy fuel or is it junk food? And what are you doing to keep your body strong? Are you getting enough exercise? Or are you sitting around in front of the TV or computer every chance you get? Little by little, we have slipped into such an unhealthy lifestyle. We don't get outside and move enough. We don't know anymore what to eat or when to stop eating.

I would like to see everyone able to afford the healthcare they need. However, I believe that we have to take some very harsh actions to make people take responsibility for their own healthcare. I hear people complaining that they don't like the changes that are coming about with their insurance. As hard as it may be to accept, the only fair way to do it is to make people pay according to their lifestyle choices:
  1. If you smoke, you should pay more for insurance.
  2. If you drink or use drugs, you should pay more for insurance.
  3. If you are overweight, you should pay more for your insurance, based on your weight.
  4. If you expect doctors to do everything possible to extend your life, you should pay for it.
  5. If you choose to have children, you should pay for maternity coverage.
Does this seem unfair? Look at it this way: Why should non-smokers pay extra to cover smokers? Why should people who eat right, exercise, and do whatever possible to stay healthy pay for those who don't? Why should everyone have to pay when someone chooses to have a baby?

Insurance should cover us for the things over which we have no control. Even those who try very hard to stay healthy will still get sick now and then, and some of us will have major medical problems, but why not do what we can to stay healthy and save the doctors for when we really need them?

So what do you think? Do you have anything constructive to add? Any ideas that might help? I'd love to get a real conversation going here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Kindred Quilters Fabric Arts Group Exhibition



I have been very busy this week getting ready for and then participating in my art quilt group's show and sale yesterday. We held it in the beautiful garden of one of our members.



Although the small group has been together for about 2 1/2 years, I just joined this summer. We share ideas, try out new techniques together, and generally inspire each other at our weekly meetings.



The eight of us have very different interests, ideas, styles, and methods, but we enjoy getting together, throwing many possibilities into the mix, and seeing what we come up with.



Although there had been rumors about the existence of our group, this was our "coming out" party to let the expat community know who we are and what we do. We had a great turnout and a very positive response from those who came to see our work.



They will be hearing much more from us!



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Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Artist Inside All of Us

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."                                  - Pablo Picasso

Throughout my childhood and into my teen years, I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to paint and draw, to take photographs, to work in clay, to play a guitar and to dance ballet. In my spare time, I wanted to try just about every crafty fad that came along. A high school counselor suggested that I focus on something reasonable like teacher, nurse, or mommy.

Teaching and nursing didn't appeal to me much, and then my parents told me there was no money to send me to college. I got married, had three kids, stayed home and took care of them and the house, and in my spare time I dabbled in just about every crafty fad that came along.

Many years later, I was 40, divorced, the kids were all in school and beyond, and I paid my own way to college. Staying home and taking care of the house and kids didn't pay very well, so I figured I'd better get serious and prepare myself for a career.

I loved every class I took, but I didn't allow myself to take a single art class; I had to be reasonable and serious. Fortunately, just as I was about to graduate, I came up with the idea of opening a quilt shop. I finally found a job that let me make a living in an art-related job.

I loved it! My customers and I became a quilting community. We shared ideas. I taught classes, but they taught me things, too. We all inspired each other to take on greater challenges all the time. When the problems of running a business took away the joy of the art, I sold out and moved away.

Near my new home in Washington, I joined a co-operative art gallery. Although I was the only quilter of the group, we all shared ideas and inspiration. The painters and the photographer and the stained glass guy and I were really all doing the same thing; we just used different materials to do it. That was when I realized the value of belonging to an artist community.

Of course, there are artists' communities all over the world. They offer creative environments that support the work of artists. Some are informal groups, some are organizations that provide short term residencies in small communities, and others are whole towns, like Sante Fe or Taos, New Mexico, that are full of galleries and art museums.

My uncle once took me to see some apartments in Long Beach, California, that had been built specifically for artists. Each apartment was a studio with a generous work space as the focus, but also included a kitchen, a bathroom, and a sleeping area. I would have loved that, and I was seriously tempted, but I was literally on my way to my retirement in Mexico when this happened.

I hadn't done any quilting for a few years, but I recently became involved with a fiber arts group. All of a sudden, it is as if I have come alive again after a few years of drifting along. Most days, I am in my studio for five or six hours. Inspiration is coming to me much faster than I can complete projects. I can't figure out what I was doing with my time before this.

Actually, this whole Lake Chapala area is one big artist community. It seems like almost everyone finds the artist inside of them once they retire here. We have theater groups, musical groups, writers, painters, potters, photographers, weavers, jewelry-makers, quilters (of course) and people creating all over the place. It turns out that once we retire, that artist inside of us has another opportunity to come out and express itself. Maybe this is what they mean by second childhood.


PS - It has been almost 20 years since I graduated from college and barely a day goes by that I do not regret that I didn't allow myself to major in art or at least take some art classes.










Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Demise of Lonely Planet As We Have Known and Loved It

 
In 2007, I took a wonderful trip to the Andalucia area of Spain. During an earlier trip to the US, I had purchased a Lonely Planet book for that area, but I later decided to add a week in Portugal since I was going to be right next door, anyway. I had an ancient LP for Europe on a Shoestring, so I figured that would do for my short time in Portugal. In some ways, it was fine; in others, it was useless. I vowed to never again travel without an up-to-date Lonely Planet book. 
 
I'm a budget traveler and always will be. I don't believe in wasting my hard-earned money on expensive hotels and meals. Besides, I travel to meet people and try to understand how and where they live. I want to stay where they would stay. I believe that luxury accommodations separate travelers from the locals. Besides, traveling on a budget allows me to stay twice as long or travel twice as often.
 
Lonely Planet was founded in 1972 by an Australian couple and was aimed toward backpackers and budget travelers. The books told all about a place (and still do.) It helped us figure out which budget lodgings were comfortable and which were ratholes. It helped us find a decent meal at a reasonable price.
 
When I went to Italy with girlfriends a couple of years ago, I taught them how to use a Lonely Planet book. First, I read through and decide where I want to go. I mark all those pages with tabs. Then I read some more and figure out what it is I want to do in those places. I highlight the good stuff. Next, I consult the maps and hotel information. I decide where I might want to stay, carefully considering the hotel's location in relationship to my mode of travel and to what I want to see while there.
 
If you are a planner, you can make a reservation. If you're more laid back, mark the four or five hotels that seem to suit you best and take your chances when you get there. Generally, I don't make reservations; I never know when I'll run into a fellow traveler who will tell me about some wonderful place I didn't know about. If I'm tied to reservations, I might miss out.
 
By the time I've done all my research, I have bunches of tabs sticking out in all directions, some marking where I want to go, others marking where I hope to stay or what I want to see. The book is also marked up with lots of highlighters in different colors.
 
The best part happens when I get to my destination. Those big books can be very heavy, so I (gasp!) cut the book apart as I travel and carry only the section relevant to where I am that day. If done carefully, the binding holds each section together so I'm not leaving a trail of pages behind me. After three weeks of traveling all over Italy, this is what my book looked like:
 
 
After Italy, we planned to cross over to Croatia because my friend really wanted to go there. As a birthday present, I had purchased a Lonely Planet Croatia for her Kindle. I was excited to see how it would work in an electronic version. I kept thinking of how nice it would be to not have that weight to carry in my luggage.
 
It worked just fine if all you wanted to do was to sit down and read the book cover to cover. The all-important village maps were so small that they were useless. And forget the colorful highlighting and tabs on the pages. The electronic process was horrible! OK, so her Kindle was a really old one - one of the very first. We figured that was the reason for the problem.
 
Now we jump forward two years to my trip to Provence. Now I have an iPod Touch. It is smaller than the Kindle but I know how to enlarge photos and type, so I thought an electronic version would work fine. Once I arrived in France, though, I realized that I had the same problem finding a particular village I wanted to visit. I thought they'd all be listed in a table of contents. Nope. I could enlarge the maps, but once I did, I could only see a tiny area. After struggling for a couple of weeks, I broke down and bought a real book as soon as I found one in English.
 
I was staying in an apartment the entire time and eating at home, so I hadn't even paid much attention to the dining and lodging sections. Once I had the book, I began paying attention. Gone are the budget hotel listings. Room prices seem to average between 100 and 300 Euros per night. Restaurant meals tend to cost as much as three or four nights stay at a typical hostel.
 
Of course Europe is expensive, especially to someone who lives in Mexico, but there are many budget options that are not listed in the book. Hostels have almost disppeared from its pages. No more picnic suggestions.
 
So what happened? It seems that Lonely Planet was bought out six years ago by BBC Worldwide. The founders kept 25% of the company, and presumably some control, for awhile. But they finally sold the rest to BBC a few years ago. Then, this year, BBC sold to Kentucky millionaire Brad Kelley's NC2 Media. Apparently, BBC pledged to keep things the same, but the changes are obvious, and I have also heard that many employees were laid off. BBC took a huge loss when they sold. Personally, I think that's what they deserve for ruining a good thing.
 
They claim that their target audience has changed from budget travelers to the mainstream and affluent audience. The problem with that is affluent travelers use travel agents. They are too busy working to spend hours pouring over a book to decide were they want to stay. And dining? That's why they have a concierge in those fancy hotels. 
 
I say Lonely Planet made their luxury bed, so let them lie in it. They won't get any more of my money.
 
Sorry about the rant, but thanks for reading, anyway.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Adaptability

I read somewhere that the happiest people are those who can adapt to the changes in circumstances that life throws at them. Apparently, it is the ability to adapt to those changes without stress that counts. It makes sense to me. The Buddha said that one of our sources of suffering is trying to hold on to things as they are and refusing to accept that everything changes, whether we want it to or not.

Of course, things are changing around us all the time, and there is little we can do to stop them. Our kids grow up and move out. We get married and then, often, divorced. Our parents grow old and die. We change jobs, change homes, and change friends. Getting through life is much easier if we are able to accept these changes and move on. I think the secret may be to file the fond memories away in our hearts, and then jump right in to find out what other adventures life has in store for us.

Twelve years ago, when I first retired, my plan was to spend a year traveling all over Asia. It was an ambitious plan - Japan, Korea, Shanghai, Taiwan, the Philippines, Bali, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong - but I had been looking forward to it for a long time. A few weeks after I arrived in Japan, the bombs went off in the nightclub in Bali. Then the US State Department began issuing warnings to Americans traveling in Islamic areas of Asia. To put it bluntly, I chickened out.

I had, by then, realized that I really liked Japan, so I just decided to stay there, maybe even get a job teaching English for a year or two. After traveling around for the first three months, I rented an apartment in Osaka and settled in and had met quite a few friends. I was ready to go to work when I realized out that something was wrong with my mother. So after six months in Japan, I said goodbye to my new friends and flew home to Portland, Oregon.

Mom had diabetes and couldn't seem to figure out what she was supposed to be doing to manage it. But there was more to it. My mom was only 70 and had always been very intelligent and independent. Why did she need me there? I leased an apartment in Portland while she stayed at her house in a tiny coastal town a few hours away. Then she got a pancreatic cyst. We decided that maybe we needed to live together, so we bought a house outside Portland. Two weeks after moving in, we found out the cyst was really cancer. She died at home two months later.

As you can see, life threw a lot at me during that first year and a half after retirement. If I had focused my mind on all the things that were going wrong, I could have been pretty miserable. I didn't get to see all of Asia that I wanted to see, but Japan was lovely. Then I missed the spring cherry blossoms in Japan, but Portland was just full of pink and white cherry blossoms when I got there. My apartment was delightful, but our house was even better. Mom truely believed that she was going to be with my father and her parents, so she almost looked forward to her death. I was able to resell the Portland house at my full asking price in one week, and I was soon on my way to Mexico, which was what I had planned for after the Asian trip.

Fortunately, the past nine years have been much calmer, but not without unwanted and unplanned for changes. While I was in France last spring, I found out that the best girlfriend I have ever had in my life was leaving Mexico and moving back to Florida. Then I learned that Mexico had changed their immigration laws and I would never be able to nationalize my car. I liked that Honda and thought I'd drive it the rest of my driving life. But even these changes haven't turned out to be that bad.

Patty ended up renting a house in Leesburg, only 30 miles east of Terry's brother's house, so we will be able to visit now and then, and last Sunday, she and I talked on the phone for an hour and a half, just like the old days. And thanks to Skype and Vonage, there is no reason we can't continue that quite regularly. I hired someone to take my car north of the border for me and sell it, quite easy and painless. When I couldn't decide what Mexican-made car I wanted to replace it with, I realized that I really did not want a car. The buses run about every 10 minutes and cost me only about 30 cents. I figure I'm saving a ton of money on gas, insurance, maintenance, registration, and depreciation. That will easily cover the cost of an ocassional taxi or rental car. I'm really enjoying walking around the villages rather than driving on cobblestones and trying to find a place to park. And I've always had a bike, but now I have more excuse to ride it. Also, my former carport is now a new patio right inside my front gate!

One more huge change... before she left, Patty got me involved with an art quilting group that she had joined. Quilt guild politics and lack of selling opportunities had led me to just kind of give up on my old quilting passion. My new quilting friends have re-inspired me, and I'm now look forward to spending five or six hours in my studio every day. And that, essentially, is my excuse for not posting to this blog for the past five months. I will try to improve -- I promise!