Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More Flowers

It is a beautiful breezy spring day here Amongst The Oaks. This morning I watched a hummingbird taking a bath. First it flitted amongst the sprinklers. Then it wriggled around on the wet leaves, but I must have startled it because suddenly it flew away. Maybe it was embarrassed about having its picture taken just out of the shower.

I also took some more photos of flowers. The Lord of the Manor calls this the Headache Rose because we bought it just after he recovered from his first migraine headache. He seems to have gotten over them, but the name has stuck. I think its real name is Melody Parfume.

This rose is called Evelyn and it smells heavenly. It's a David Austin rose.

Next are some irises, but I don't know their names. The peach colored one smells like, well, peaches sort of. Or peach cake.

This rose is called Julia Child. We got it because we admired the chef, but we've grown to like the rose too. It's another David Austin rose. I guess I'm old fashioned, but I prefer the ruffled, old world look of these roses over the hybrid teas. And with their small petals, they seem to do well here in our summer heat. I hope you all have a happy day too.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

April Blooms

Lots of flowers are blooming in my garden now.
Here's a rose named Americana.
Here's one named Secret.

Here's an old one named Peace. It was here when we bought the place 11 years ago.

This is a large bellflower that reseeds itself every year. We enjoy watching those huge black bees visiting it; they end up covered with pollen.

This is Jupiter's beard. It self seeds too; in fact it's almost a weed. It sprawls across the front walkway impeding foot traffic. I fills in between the roses nicely, but I have to be ruthless with the seedlings.

This is an iris called Beux Arts.

This is a climbing rose called All Ablaze. It seems much happier now that it's got a trellis.

And here is the Queen of my garden; Double Delight. I have several of these because it looks beautiful, smells heavenly, and makes a long lasting bouquet. Maybe it should be called Triple Delight.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Brittany Spears

I saw Brittany Spears yesterday. She was in town with her boyfriend Aspara Gus. Here they are. Aren't they cute? They were here to celebrate the Asparagus Festival. We are darn proud of our asparagus here in San Joaquin County and rightly so. It's the best asparagus on the whole planet because it's grown in the highly fertile peat soil of the San Joaquin River Delta. Ages ago this was a boggy delta with seasonal fluctuations of the water level. Around 1850 the first levees were built and by 1870 bountiful crops were being harvested on many islands, but flooding was still a constant problem. When the steam powered clamshell dredge was introduced, larger levees were easily constructed and by 1920, virtually all of the swampland was reclaimed. In the 1930's a 26' deep channel was dredged for ships. It basically followed the course of the San Joaquin River and opened the fertile San Joaquin Valley to ships from all over the world.
The asparagus growers had an educational display. Here is a sample of some premium spears. Isn't it beautiful? They also brought in some soil and "planted" some so folks could see how asparagus grows.

It's a fun day out with music, arts and crafts, cooking demonstrations, and plenty to eat and drink. But the real reason to attend is this:

Deep fried asparagus. They use these huge tender spears and then slather it with garlicky parmesan cheese. It's positively heavenly!
So if you think you need some, run on down to Stockton this Saturday or Sunday. I can't guarantee you'll see Brittany Spears, but I guarantee you'll eat some mighty fine asparagus.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Guilin and the LongJi Terraces

This day turned out to be the most memorable day of the trip for me. We left our hotel early in the morning for the 50 mile ride to the LongJi Terraces and the village of Ping'An. The village is accessed via a ticket office, a minibus ride, and a ticket checking gate. It sounds touristy, doesn't it? Yet, it isn't a Disneyland type mock-up, it's real village where real people live and grow their rice, and go about their business. A lot of them now make their business the tourists, but the village is still a fascinating example of traditional life.

At the minibus parking lot, women were trolling around with postcards, bracelets and embroideries. This one in particular latched onto me trying to sell me something. I told her "Later", and scurried up to the gate, glad to be shed of her.

This new prosperity is helping people; we saw two new homes being built as we climbed up to "Seven Stars" where lunch had been arranged. The buildings jut out over the hillsides and are all wood with no nails used in the framing. However, the roofs are dark grey clay tiles, and the homes have modern windows.

All construction materials must be carried up the hill or salvaged from old homes like the roof tiles. Here are windows being carried up. Notice how the pole is bending under the weight? Glass is heavy, but these people are extremely strong and hardy. Every excursion involves thousands of steps up and down the hills.

In fact, everything comes up the hill on foot. And if a tourist feels they can't walk up, the locals will carry them up in a sedan chair. For a price, of course.

While walking up we saw many interesting activities: farmers working the rice terraces,

the Yao women washing their famously long hair,

sticky rice being cooked in bamboo,

strange foodstuffs,

and cute little kids.

We finally made it up to the top where we caught our breaths, enjoyed lunch at (believe it or not) a hotel, took in the view, and pondered this amazing culture.

And my little friend back at the parking lot? Yes, she found me. And yes, she sold me a bracelet and some postcards. And she seemed quite smug about it too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


We said goodbye to Beijing, drove to the airport and boarded our flight to Xi'an. Our arrival on April 6th coincided with Qingming, or Grave Sweeping day. While driving to our hotel in the dark, we saw people gathered around little fires on the street corners. Our guide explained these were offerings to ancestors and consisted of fake money and luxury items made of paper. The Chinese believe a happy ancestor is a helpful ancestor. If a family can't actually travel to their grave sites, these offerings on street corners (selected for their good feng shui) will still appease the ancestors.

Morning found us at the Terracotta Warriors. It was fascinating to peek into Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum where thousands of soldiers, horses and generals stood at attention. When they were found in 1974 they were all broken because thousands of years before, the First Emperor's tomb was raided and burned by his successor, Xiang Yu. But they have been restored and beautifully housed in a wonderful museum complex.

In the afternoon we visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, where we lit incense with lots of Chinese tourists. If asked, 95% of the Chinese will tell you they have no religion, but it doesn't hurt to cover all your bases, eh? In fact, we heard a lot about superstition and feng shui on this trip.

One could also buy a wooden prayer card, write your wish or prayer on it and hang it on this board next to the big gold Buddha. One wish we saw again and again in China was for world peace. I'm sure it was written somewhere on this board. We also sat with the laughing Buddha for a while enjoying this peaceful garden and listening to the birds.

Our third day we visited the Shaanxi History Museum where we saw fabulous examples of bronze and pottery figures, gorgeous glazed vases and dishes, and beautiful calligraphy and coins. After the museum we had Hot Pot for lunch. What fun that was. Each diner has a little pot of broth heated by Sterno with which they cook their own food. The meats are thin slivers so they cook rapidly. The veggies were beautifully fresh and the dipping sauces were fabulous.

We also visited the Great Mosque while in Xi'an. It was built during the Tang Dynasty about 2700 years ago. Islam was brought to China via the Silk Road and is still practiced here. The street market surrounding the Mosque was particularly interesting for its street foods.

I have no idea what all those great looking, great smelling foods were because we'd been warned not to eat street food and we were still full from lunch. That afternoon we again boarded a plane for our next stop: Guilin.

Monday, April 21, 2008

New Neighbors

While we were in China, new neighbors began moving in. We found mud all over our front porch and this up in one corner. Swallows make mud nests, but this nest has grass and twigs too, and swallows usually nest under bridges in large colonies. Finally, one morning I saw the newlyweds scooping gobs of mud from my front flower bed and flying back and forth adding to their home. They were grey with white bellies and darker heads. I had no idea what they were.
After some research, I believe they are Black Phoebes. We've never seen them here before, but aren't they cute? They have a pleasant call and this charming little tail-bobbing thing they do, and they seem quite brave flying close to us and tolerating the door opening and closing.

It seems like we see a new bird species nearly every year. I wonder if it's global warming, cleaner habitats, or just more careful looking on my part. Whatever it is, I like these charming little birds and hope they stay here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Our first attraction in China was Tiananmen Square. It was a crisp Spring day with lots of Chinese tourists there. In the new China people have time and money to travel and they make the most of it. We saw tour after tour obediently following the flags, umbrellas, and giant flowers held aloft by their guides. Keeping our group together, however, was like herding squirrels. More than once our guide had to ask, "Where have you been?"

After walking under Mao's giant portrait and through the huge red doors, we entered the Forbidden City. It's good luck to touch the gold knobs on the doors. There are usually 81 knobs because 9 is a lucky number and 9x9 is super lucky.

The Forbidden City is filled with fascinating vistas and exacting restorations of the original buildings. After we left there we went to the old section of town where the courtyard homes called hutongs remain and rode rickshaws into the labyrinth of alleys. They are still preferred by the residents over the ubiquitous apartment buildings. They offer a quiet respite from the hustle bustle of this city of 15 million. Cars simply won't fit through the alleyways, so bicycles, motor scooters and rickshaws create the only traffic.

The government arranges for local families to feed lunch to the tourists. So we arrived at the appointed time, squeezed our group of 14 into a tiny room, and got the best lunch of the whole trip. The food was so fresh and beautifully prepared. The shrimp were delicious and the jasmine tea flowed like water.

The second day we drove from Beijing to the Great Wall at Badaling. The wall is a restoration on the ruins of the original, but even this wall is awesome, steep and worn. Though there was snow lurking in the shady spots at the parking lot, the exertion required to climb the wall quickly made us shed our jackets. There were lots of tourists to make "friends" with; the Chinese seem to love taking photos with American tourists.

In the afternoon we toured the Summer Palace. I can see why the Empress preferred it over the Forbidden City; it's so peaceful and cool and has plants and trees and birds. The long corridor offers a weather proof place to walk and contemplate Kunming Lake.

Our last day in Beijing we toured the Temple of Heaven and saw the Panda bears before heading to the airport for our flight to Xi'an. I think we were about the only foreign tourists at the Panda house. The Chinese people LOVE them and ooh and aah at the slightest movement, which doesn't happen very often because they are so sluggish most of the time. We managed to catch this cute little one just lolling in a tree.

Tomorrow it's on to Xi'an and the Terracotta Warriors.