Friday, April 30, 2010
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Today was an agricultural day. In the wee morning hours Jim and I mixed peat moss, vermiculite and compost into potting soil.(And when I say "Jim and I" I mean mostly Jim.) The ground wriggled and squirmed, still moving because the compost was packed with red worms wondering why they had been dislodged from their bin. Then (and this is the easy part), we planted baby plants: lettuce, beans, three kinds of squash (butternut, crooked neck, and zucchini), green and red peppers, and tomatoes. Yum! The plants are so little and cute and the beds are all neat and tidy and weed and fungus free!
Then I went out to my family ranch where today they are picking avocados in preparation for Cinco de Mayo. It's so beautiful out there with the mountains, the flowers, and the rows of fruit trees. I loved seeing the big bins of fruit. This year the avocado trees are so heavy with fruit that Raul, who does most of the work on the land, had to put in many support boards in to keep the branches from dragging on the ground. Because there was so much fruit on every tree the avocados grew to only about 3/4 the size we normally see. Every farmer has a big crop, so the price will be really low. Great news for the consumer! Not so good for the rancher. My cousin, Bob, made me pick the avocados I brought home with me. The picking pole is about 15 feet long, and it takes a lot of strength and coordination to cut the fruit off. I wasn't even on a ladder and I was so terrible at it that Bob complained that he'd be broke if he had to depend on me to get the fruit off the trees! I, and my painful shoulders, felt a new sympathy for the men who were working in the groves.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Monday, April 12, 2010
I set the alarm for 3:30 because we had to leave for the airport at 4:10 am. We traveled all day and as we pulled into my town, my alarm clock startd beeping--it was 3:30 am in Copenhagen. We had spent exactly 24 hours traveling from Copenhagen home. I am happy and exhausted.
Today started with a sightseeing tour of the city, which included then colorful and quaint waterfront area, the changing of the guards, the intertwined dragon-tails spire of the stock exchange, and many beautiful buildings, many of red brick with copper spires. In the afternoon a small group of us set off for Kronborg Castle, the home of Hamlet. Because I've had too many times when people have taken advantage of me, I have become old and skeptical. (My family will remember a certain Chinese restaurant.) Today my Grinch heart was melted just a little. On the train to Helsingbǿord, we met Jack, a New Yorker who has lived in Copenhagen for 40 years. He offered to show us around. As the crowds turned right off the train, we turned left and discovered a darling and colorful medieval village that, as Jack put it "coined the word 'quaint'." The narrow cobblestone streets led to a beautiful, but hidden church, built in 1616, and then to a convent with a peaceful garden. Without Jack we would have hurried past not realizing these treasures existed. He led us down a dirt path to the castle and joined us on the tour. The castles was a fortress guarding thee sound between Sweden and Denmark, and had beautiful tapestries and a lovely old chapel. In the labyrinth of a dungeon was a huge statue of a sleeping giant. The legend is that as long as the giant sleeps there will be peace in Denmark. T hen Jack showed us his favorite pizza parlor, where we warmed up from the biting Nordic wind. Here Jack shared how lonely he felt. The independent Danes don't accept him, and the Americans come and go. He spends each day trying to find kind deeds to perform, but that he hasn't had such a wonderful day for a long time. He thanked us profusely for letting him be our guide. He took all the stress out of our day--translating, bargaining, asking for group rates, and finding the right trains. He made no profit off of us, but we brought him joy by allowing him to make our day brighter. There are still kind strangers in the world, and I am deeply encouraged.
We spent most of today getting to Copenhagen by bus and ferry. The ferry was amazing and the kids really liked it because of all the stores and places to eat on board. Then, In Copenhagen we took a walking tour of the city and then had a lot of free time. The buildings are beautiful. The famous little Mermaid statue is visiting China right now, but we still got to enjoy the Hans Christian Andersen statue. We went in a lot of little shops and walked along the pedestrian street. Had dinner at a Middle-Eastern restaurant. I loved it , but many people thought the food was strange.
Weather.com had predicted rain on several days of our trip, but so far we've avoided it and had beautiful sunny days. It's rained at night, and it rained the whole time on our long bus ride today to Lübeck, Germany. It was great timing because we were warm and dry in our comfortable bus and spent much of the day sleeping. At our lunch stop on the autobahn we ate delicious German food including Apple Kuchen and Cherry Kuchen.
It was difficult to connect with my friends Hilli and Niels and their 2 year old son, Joschi, because neither of us knew the city. We're both on cell phones saying things like "I'm at this big round tower.." "Do you know where the big open square is?" "I'm looking at a McDonalds." until we found each other. We walked around the quaint medieval town with it's picturesque buildings and caught up with each others' lives. We had dinner at the little Hotel Trave. I fell in love with Joschi. He spoke German and I spoke English. We didn't understand a word each other spoke, but communicated quite well. Two year olds are very accepting of people who are different. I gave Joschi some books and he LOVED them. He made all these great delighted noises as I read him, and when I read King Bidgood's in the Bathtub, he imitated all the characters' facial expressions.
Lübeck is a darling medieval town in Germany with lots of history. The buildings are gorgeous! I'm a sucker for brick buildings because we can't really have them in California. I had a great time in this small town.
We are in Amsterdam now, and what stands out to me are the windmills and tulips and marijuana. The way each country uses its natural resources gives it character. In Ireland the farmers
Sometimes my students don't want to get involved in politics, or even register to vote when they are 18. Young and old here are very interested in politics. Before the war, the Dutch left politics to their government. They learned that you couldn't always trust the government to do what's right.
We went to a working farm where they made cheese and clogs. It reminded me of my family's farms in Ireland--small, family operations on beautiful land. It took about 3 minutes to make a clog from a block of wood, and only a little longer to sell a large part of their inventory to us.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
We are in Amsterdam now, and what stands out to me are the windmills and tulips and marijuana. Some areas of the city smell like my college days. Pot is not legal, but it is TOLERATED. Amsterdam had such a bad drug problem in the '60's that they localized all the drug dealing to one part of the city, and looked the other way when it came to enforcing drug laws. A "coffee shop" here means that they sell recreational drugs. Cafes are where you buy lattes. The way each country uses its natural resources gives it character. In Ireland the farmers cleared their fields of the many rocks, and then built fences out of them. In Amsterdam flooding is an issue so the Dutch have built dikes and canals, and use the water as fences to enclose their animals and delineate their property. It feels a lot like Venice to me. The canals are lined with daffodils and quaint bridges.
Sometimes my students don't want to get involved in politics, or even register to vote when they are 18. People here are very interested in politics Before the war, the Dutch left politics to their govt. They learned that you couldn't always trust the government to do what's right
The internet connections aren't great, so I'll have to add pictures later!
Sunday, April 4, 2010
We left LA Saturday afternoon, and arrived tired and happy in Paris on Sunday afternoon. We immediately took the train into the city and started sightseeing. We are six of a group of about 40 people from California and Canada. We explored the area around Port Clichy, including the Moulin Rouge and had dinner at a nice restaurant. (The chocolate eclairs were delicious and I ate two of them.) The kids love the architecture and are taking a million pictures. When they put their cards into the ATM and euros came out it was like winning the Lottery. One of them commented about how French money was so much prettier than ours, and it is. If they learn that other countries and cultures have much to offer, and that the way America does it is not always the best, I will feel the trip is valuable. Meanwhile we are all having a great time. We are tired already and it's only Day 2, but also eager to see and do everything.