Thursday, August 28, 2014

End of Summer Blossoms in My Neighborhood

We are still a month away from the start of fall season but already the signs of it are showing up. The end of Summer is here for sure when the schools in the area have started or are about to start, the ads for school supplies and clothing are in full swing and the crops at the local pick-your-own farm are tomatoes and peaches with apples not too far behind.

Pink flower

Yellow Swallowtail butterfly feeding on a flower

The weather is changing, the mornings are getting cooler and the days are a little less humid. The biggest change though is in the vegetation, the tree leaves are losing their beautiful green color but the last of the summer blossoms are still giving us wondrous beauty.

Pink flowers -end of summer blossoms

My latest wanderings have been walking around my neighborhood area to photograph nature's beauty. There are several neighborhood gardens I enjoy watching throughout the year especially in the spring and summer.

Red daisy like flower bed

Even the butterfly bush in my backyard has been a source of happiness for me; it has been feeding a few swallowtail butterflies, many moths and several bumblebees. It is lovely to see.

Yellow Swallowtail butterfly feeding on a Butterfly bush

Monarch butterfly feeding on a Butterfly bush
A beautiful monarch butterfly feeding on my backyard butterfly bush. 

Did you know butterflies feed on nectar to obtain much needed water, sugar for energy, salt and minerals needed for reproduction. Some butterflies need more salt than what they can get from the nectar they drink so they land on humans attracted by the salt in human sweat.

Butterfly on a men's forehead

It was a very hot and humid day, perfect conditions for this butterfly/moth to get the extra salt it needed. As you can see from my husband's expression this happened quite unexpectedly to the amusement of the rest of us. I was glad I was able to take a quick photo before it flew away.

Is nature changing in your neighborhood?

I hope you have a great end of summer in your neighborhood, make it Fabulous!

If you enjoyed the photographs, share with your friends and like on Google Plus. Thanks.


Here are more photos I have taken. Enjoy. 

A crape myrtle tree, a good year for them in my neighborhood. Blossoms come in several colors; pink. red, white. I have seen them all, very beautiful.

Not sure what this one is called, I wish I did also very beautiful.

Bumblebee feeding on a yellow flower
Taking pictures of flowers and their pollinators is challenging and fun.
I am so glad I was able to get this one.

Bright red daisy-like flowers

Pink wildflower

Yellow wildflower

Butterfly feeding on a pink wildflower

A large salmon color daisy-like wildflower

Sunday, August 17, 2014

End of Summer, Time to Harvest Peaches and Tomatoes

The weather is nice and comfortably warm, there is a soft breeze in the air, and such was the day on a recent trip to our local farm, Larriland Farm.

View of Larriland Farm

Yes, summer is ending; it is time for picking tomatoes and peaches.

Photo of a tomato still in the vine

Photo of a peach hanging from the tree branch

Throughout the summer, my husband and I (kids are grown and gone) visit the farm to get whatever is available for picking. We enjoy picking blackberries, blueberries, plums, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, you name it, we have been there for them all! Though blueberry picking is one of my favorite crops, check out my post Blueberries, Blueberries Oh My!

A girl picking peaches from a tree

People holding onions just harvested
My husband made a wonderful onion soup from freshly picked onions. Yum.
But on this trip, I found myself pondering the reasons why I enjoy so much coming to the farm. The reasons became obvious as I munched on a peach that I had just picked right off the tree, but none of the reasons included a desire to become a farmer.

View of crops at Larriland Farm

Here are my reasons why I enjoy going to the Farm

  • The open space, the open air, a feeling of peace, a feeling of goodness and health.
A woman amid a flower garden at Larriland Farm

  • The families with their children letting everyone know that they got a good blueberry or asking how to pick one or better yet "why are blueberries blue?"
Family picking blueberries
The not so small children amongst us picking blueberries

  • The conversations you overhear, you would not believe what you hear! On a certain occasion it was a conversation worthy of a bartender. On another occasion it was a parent-teenager discussing college preparations, something I could relate to since I had gone through that stage with my teenagers.
  • The workers are so friendly and young.
  • The dogs, the tractors, the view.
  • The petting zoo, the store full of deliciously looking fruits, vegetables, canned goodies, and homemade delicacies ready for purchasing.
A stand full of fresh vegetables at the store- Larriland Farm

  • The flower garden with beautiful blossoms ready for picking and attracting so many different kind of bugs and butterflies, it is a great spot for picture-taking.
Woman sitting in front of yellow daisies

Photo of a large yellow daisy

  • Last but not least, the sampling while picking. There is nothing like eating a peach, apple or blueberry right from the tree branch or bush. Yum, yum.

Again, on this trip we harvested peaches and tomatoes and they were absolutely delicious. Of course, I have to tell you that we have our own home vegetable garden but our tomato plants never seem to be as prolific as the farm's plants and never ripen as quickly either, we are still waiting.

Basket full of peaches, tomatoes and cucumber

Yes, we picked quite a few peaches and tomatoes so you might wonder what you can do with them all before they go bad. Well, I was hoping you asked, so here are a few of the things we did with our fruit loot.

Foods to make with Peaches and Tomatoes

  • I made peach juice using my regular blender; it was soooo good and healthy.
Blender with peach juice
You don't need an expensive blender to make delicious and nutritious juices. 

  • Then my husband made a peach cobbler that was to die for, seriously, he is a wonderful cook.
  • I made a tomato with cucumber salad, a dash of salt, pepper, olive oil and you are good.
  • My husband made tomato soup, his first time and I have to say that it was way better than any can soup I have ever tasted, Campbell soup should talk to him.
  • He also made a tomato based bruschetta with tuna fish, the tomatoes were huge so why not. Very tasty.

Basket full of peaches

I hope I am making you hungry. I encourage you to visit your local farm or at least buy fruits and vegetables and other produce from your local Farmers Market. You will feel healthier and happier knowing that you are helping a farming family continue the tradition so next year once again you can enjoy fresh and healthy produce.

And the Farm gods were watching me because just recently I ran into this movie called Food Inc., and wow (!), it is a MUST watch, I had no idea of what is going on. At about the same time a local magazine featured three other farms nearby that offer meats, chicken and other healthy products and after watching the Food Inc. movie I am definitely going to visit them.

To find a Farmers Market in your area check the USDA website for a listing of local farmers markets.

In the meantime, I am enjoying the tomatoes and peaches. Next are apples! I hope to see you at the Farm.

Wishing you all Happy Travels in your neighborhood.


Monday, August 4, 2014

The Panama Canal, an Engineering Challenge

To say the Panama Canal was an engineering challenge at the time of construction, is a gross understatement. This became obvious during my visit to the Miraflores Locks while vacationing in Panama.

View of the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal

To watch humongous cargo ships go through the locks is also a sight worth seeing.

Cargo ship ready to go through the Miraflores Locks. Panama Canal.

Facts about ships passing through the Panama Canal Locks

  • As the ships goes through the locks, there is only 2 feet of clearance on each side of the ship, this is real close to the edge.
  • Ships are assisted by an on-land buggy making sure the ship does not ram into the sides.
  • The ship sails on its own power through the locks; they are not being pulled nor pushed through it.
Here is a video showing one of the ships I witnessed going through the locks.

  • When the ship enters the Panama Canal, they go through 3 series of locks.
Panama Canal Profile showing all the Locks in the canal.
  • The purpose of the locks is to raise and lower the ship from sea-level to the inland lake level which is 85 feet (26 meters) above sea-level and then back down to sea-level.
  • The entire process of raising or lowering the ships from sea-level relies only on gravity which is the amazing thing. The picture below shows the start of the process as shown in an animation at the museum. 
Figure showing a set of Locks - Panama Canal
  • Each lock drains or refills in 8 - 10 minutes so the announcer said at the Visitor Center, he even added that it drains faster than your home bathtub. I don't know about that but considering the amount of water each lock holds, 8-10 minutes is amazingly fast. Notice the ship level on the water on the pictures below.

Cargo ship waiting to go through the Miraflores locks - Panama Canal

Cargo ship at the lower water level ready to go through the Miraflores locks - Panama Canal

Some Facts about the Canal

  • The canal is 50 miles (80 km) long as compared with sailing around South America which is 8000 miles (12,875 km) in additional travel.
  • A ship takes about 8 hours to travel the entire Canal.
  • The total number of ships that traveled through the Canal in 2013 was 13,669 which average to 37 ships per day, a very busy canal. 
Map showing location of Panama Canal

What to Expect during your visit to the Miraflores Locks

  • It costs $15(USD) per person to enter the Visitor Center at the Miraflores locks. This however also allows you to enter the museum, see a film documentary, and access to the viewing area to watch ships going through the locks, not a bad deal.
  • The viewing area has 3 stories, I suggest you watch the process from at least two.
  • Allow an entire day for your visit. The scheduling of the ships going through the Canal can change without much notice. Although the canal runs 24-7, ships are only allowed to go through the canal in one direction at at time. This means all the scheduled ships going from the Atlantic to the Pacific could run in the morning schedule and the ships waiting to go in the other direction, Pacific to the Atlantic, run in the afternoon, except that morning starts after midnight and afternoon starts after all the morning ships have cleared the canal. So we arrived at 9am and the morning ships had already gone by, we had to wait until 2pm to see the first ship going by in the other direction. However it was worth the wait and besides this gave us a chance to see the documentary movie and take our time seeing the museum which is very interesting.
  • The visitor center also has a variety of places where you can eat and sit inside where you will appreciate the air conditioning and shade from any rain because it downpoured while we were waiting and then it abruptly stopped, typical of the tropics.

What you will see in the Panama Canal Museum

Your entry to the Visitor Center includes entry to the museum.
  • History
 I really enjoyed the museum because the history of the canal has been well documented and represented.
  • Bugs
The museum has samples of some of the bugs the early excavators of the canal found in the jungle. Let me first say, they are huge!! I mean they were HUGE! I am not used to seeing bugs this large and I can assure you that I would not have wanted to see them live even if not all dangerous because I am sure there were plenty of dangerous ones. After all, countless of people died while working on the canal mainly from diseases. I think if you ran into one of these things live, it would give you nightmares for many days. I did not enlarge the photos and I wish I had placed something near them to give you an idea of size because they were huge.

Bug sample at the Panama Canal museum
Bug sample at the Panama Canal museum

Bug sample at the Panama Canal museum
Bug sample at the Panama Canal museum

  • Simulator
The museum has a very neat simulator of a ship going through the canal with you on bridge. This simulator offers unique views of the surroundings as you by the locks; it is a very neat feeling. Check out my recording of the simulator experience.

  • Expansion
The museum also shows information about the current expansion of the canal scheduled for completion later this year, 2014. One the main reasons for the expansion is to allow bigger ships to go through the canal. Here is a picture showing the comparison of the size of ships. We are talking MEGA-ships will be able to go by, don't you think?

Figure showing comparison of ships that will be able to go through the new canal expansion.

Interesting Historical Facts about the Panama Canal

  • The Panama Canal was the second of its type when work began in 1880. The Suez Canal was the first canal in the world, completed in 1869.
  • The French built the Suez Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps was in charge of the construction. It is for this reason that he felt building the Panama Canal could be done easily and without many problems. He envisioned a sea-level canal connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.
  • History shows after 20 years of digging, the French failed to build the canal while in the process many people died from diseases. The French (Ferdinand de Lesseps) grossly underestimated the difficulties of building a sea-level canal in a very hilly jungle terrain. South America is very mountainous with one of the spines of the Andes going through Panama. At its lowest point the terrain is still 360 feet (110 meters) above sea-level. So his idea was to dig it all up, level it and dig a trench that would be at sea-level connecting the oceans. After all, the thought it was just a matter of digging; however digging a trench in sand is not the same as digging a trench in a hilly jungle.
  • Panama was part of Gran Colombia (1810-1830) instigated by the US Panama began a revolution seeking its independence from Gran Colombia (granted in 1903) and then gave the rights to the US to build the canal the French failed to accomplish.
Map of Gran Colombia

  • The US did finish the canal in 1914 and this included having perpetual control of the canal and its immediate area which over time caused a lot of tension and anti-American sentiment.
  • In 1977, the US signed a treaty with Panama starting the process of handing over complete control of the canal to Panama by 1999. The treaty also established the canal as a neutral zone even during time of war and both countries agreed to defend it.

In summary

I can say visiting the Panama Canal is worth it. It gave me a greater appreciation for the effort it took to achieve such an engineering challenge. You got to love those engineers then and now. I am very glad I went to see it.

I hope you enjoyed this post as I enjoyed sharing with you my visit to the Panama Canal. Please like this post in Google Plus and leave me a comment or question.

If you are planning of going to Panama in the future, read this post A few things to know when visiting Panama.

Wishing you Happy Travels in your neighborhood.

Vilma L-Anderson