Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Four Hours and a Camera

Note:This slide show is best viewed Full Screen--click the double window on the task bar above and beside the words "Make a PhotoShow".

This is a photoshow that I put together from pictures that I took on a visit to Longwood Gardens last weekend.
I first visited Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1967 and took along a small box camera which greatly frustrated me. I still go to roam the gardens often and there is always the constant camera (with many updated models later)  that frustrates me because I want pictures that make me want to jump inside and live in them. It is such a privilege to live so near this treasure of nature, we visit often and take many, many pictures. Then we want bigger and better cameras. 

The gardens make a great subject so I can work on lighting and shutter speed and composition. I think I need an SLR with 18 plus megapixels. My little 12 megapixel Nikon fits nicely in a purse, but has limitations. I'm still learning and the greatest challenge to me is to hold a camera still and half depress the button to take a picture so I can see if the camera will focus properly before continuing to take the picture. The professionals get a tripod permit but I dislike taking that much equipment. I'm visiting to enjoy the scenery as well as to take a few photos. So I compensate by leaning on the nearest tree.

The gardens have a great variety of lighting situations which challenge a photographer to try to coax the best result from any camera. Beyond the challenges of the camera itself, photography composition takes great artistic talent that doesn't seem part of my practical nature. I recently saw a photo of a row of white orchids taken on a white background and the purple markings in the center leaped off the photograph. I would never have imagined a white background to have been so effective. Composition is a great challenge to the non-artists. I love flowers so any picture of a flower in focus makes me happy.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rest in Peace

I see that after 1,500 undisturbed years, archaeologists have sneaked a camera into another ancient Mayan Tomb. It certainly dispels the notion of "final resting place." Nothing is final. Modern civilization has plundered ancient tombs around the world. I question how valuable it is to loot yet another tomb. If they have dropped a camera into it, how far behind is a tourist bus with hundreds of hot, bored vacationers listening to Mayan tour guides telling them that their ancestors were a peaceful nation who loved Mother Earth and prayed for successful crops? Yes, the ancients produced art on the stone walls as a tribute to their dead, but do we really need to see it? Is nothing sacred? In this country, it would require a court order to enter a grave site that is less than two hundred years old. Do we value our more recent ancestors more than the ancient ones?


I can understand the quest of archaeologists to study civilizations of the past and understand how mankind has developed thereby building their professional creds. How many tombs do we need to study?  It seems that the answer is if we find one, we will break into it. The discovery of such a treasure trove will undoubtedly make a feather in the cap of an ambitious archaeologist and provide fodder for another Indiana Jones movie. It will produce more articles on Wikipedia so researchers can write more scholarly articles about the supposed lives of the ancients.

I am leery of the treasure hunters who just want to find anything valuable in tombs so they can sell it and profit. Naturally, I imagine they would argue that removing gold, jewels and valuables from tombs is a legitimate enterprise. Why should valuables gather dust in an ancient tomb? Why should ship wrecks house tons of gold and jewels? There is a museum waiting to display those gold coins and mummies so we have some place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

More questions than answers and it leads me to wonder where I would want to park my bones. It is a question that we all face and some of us have definite decisions and for some of us no decision is our decision. I can think of one person who knew exactly where she wanted to be buried and her wishes were fulfilled. I know another person who couldn't decide so the children decided on a final burial location. I know someone who chose cremation and ashes to be scattered on a golf course. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." It made me wonder who was on the eighteenth green of the U.S. Open.

I don't think most people in this country still have the same reverence for the dead that the ancients displayed. As populations explode, we have to make more practical arrangements for disposing of those "dearly departed" folks. Now I will find spam from a funeral home in my e-mail telling me that I need to reserve a spot for my bones and pay them five thousand dollars forthwith. I'm not such a control freak that I even care what happens to my bones, certainly not enough to pay anyone five thousand dollars so I get the final decision in the matter.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Christmas in June

My passion for lighthouses can be found on various shelves and on walls around my house. When my grandchildren visit, they like to collect the little figurines and look at them. They are fascinated by the notion of someone walking up the steps into the structure and climbing to the top. 

This little Christmas decoration caught my eye years ago and was added to my collection. When I put it on display this past season, I haven't been able to put it away. When the grandchildren come to visit, they expect it to be on the window seat so they can plug it into the wall plug and turn on its interior lights. 

My grandson likes to take his dish of goldfish crackers to the window seat and look at the lighthouse. He walks his tiny fingers up the front steps and pretends to walk inside the lighthouse and up to the top. His pretend activities make me wonder what he is thinking and how he imagines himself inside the lighthouse.

Since both of my grandchildren are fascinated with climbing up and down a spiral staircase that we have in a back room in our house, I think they have imagined that it is how one would climb to the top of a lighthouse. When they play with the figurine, they will then go to the spiral steps and climb up and down. I wonder if they imagine how it would look from inside the lighthouse.


The latest lighthouse we visited was in Cape May, New Jersey. This beauty looked so serene and 217 steps later, I considered it a monster. 

The view was worth the climb. This is the southern point of New Jersey. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry is a local attraction that takes people and vehicles across the Delaware Bay to Lewes, Delaware in either direction or round trip if you have the time. They will even host your wedding if you're so inclined. Birthday parties also are possible.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cutting, and cutting, and cutting

Walking on an outdoor track that snakes around a soccer field in my township is a favorite activity. Today had  a beautiful morning with low temperatures and humidity. My walk was marked by the cheering birds and disturbed by the roaring yard-wide lawn mowers that were cutting around the soccer field while blowing dust and dirt everywhere. As I drive around my neighborhood, it is obvious that there is too, too much grass being tended in this area from April through October. Lawn mowers roar everywhere and there are acres and acres of grass growing around public properties and private properties that seem to need constant cutting. Thousands and thousands of gallons of gasoline are being used to maintain manicured lawns, fields and everywhere I look. Why do we need to maintain so much grass? Yes it is pretty, but so are trees and they give more than they take. 

I'm all in favor of xeriscaping with rocks, native plants, ornamental grasses, ground covers and islands of no-mowing zones. It is encouraging to see lawns removed and replaced in an environmentally-friendly landscaping that does not require pesticides, fertilizers, excessive water usage, and gasoline for mowers and trimmers.


Living in the woods is a choice we made when we bought our property. We didn't clear our land of trees to build the house. We cleared only enough for the house, and driveway. We have a small strip of grass around the house and it  requires only about one or two gallons of gas from the end of April to the end of October to cut it. We have a lot of the ground cover pachysandra on our property. It requires no maintenance other than controlling where it spreads if we desire to do that. Pachysandra requires no fertilizer, no watering, no cutting and it isn't tasty to the white-tailed deer that live in our woods.


We have rocks placed in strategic spots and islands of beds of this prolific plant. If a new bed is needed, it is so easy to transplant. All that is needed is to pull up a handful of it including roots, and move it elsewhere to bury it under a little soil. A little water for the first season is enough to get it started and it will do the rest. It fills in and needs no further TLC. It seems to not mind lots of leaves from the trees on it during the fall, and steadfastly endures the snow. By April each year, it has perked up and started blooming the tiny white blooms it puts out in the spring.

I'm giving a lot of thought to further eliminating lawn areas near our house and substituting with mulched walks and gravel covered beds or beds with more ornamental grasses and ground covers. We have so many rocks around our yard that our friends have dubbed us "Boulder Acres".

Friday, June 10, 2011

Not a Native

With our annual July 4th Independence Day celebration on the near horizon, I've noticed that it is a big deal in this region. I was born in Florida, so I'm not a native of Pennsylvania, but since I have lived in the region for 44 years, I tend to take it for granted. I'm like the New Yorker who has forgotten about the Statue of Liberty. Specifically, I live in southeastern Pennsylvania near Philadelphia, and when someone asked me about the area, I said I live in the Northeast, or as some would say, The Mid-Atlantic States--South of New England, north of the Carolinas. I appreciate many things about my adopted state.

The weather is very tolerable most of the time with few extremes. We hear a lot about the Delaware Valley relative to our weather with the Delaware River located to the East and the mountains to the north and west. It creates a little cradle that has fairly moderate weather.We have four seasons, sometimes a deep snowfall, but only a few tornadoes. We have no earthquakes of significance, only a few brush fires in the pine barrens of New Jersey, and the occasional hurricane that survives this far north brings diminished winds and some rains. I have no complaints about our weather and wouldn't move because of it. Many other places have worse weather and disasters that are hard on the population.

The senior population finds pluses in the low state income tax and no taxes on pensions. We like to shop in nearby DE where there is no sales tax. Property taxes vary by area. In the 'burbs, the school taxes can be steep. Seniors can find the best medical care available in the country in this area. Colleges and universities are numerous and some offer either free or discount classes that seniors can attend. College students can find the best college education in their own back yard.

The crime rate isn't zero, but the bank robberies are few and the gangs and illegal drugs aren't a big consideration in the 'burbs. There is crime everywhere, but common sense goes a long way. Walking alone at 3 AM isn't advisable anywhere. There is public transportation, but in this particular sprawling metropolitan area, people tend to drive their own vehicles unless heading to a sports event in Philly, or heading to nearby N.Y., Baltimore or D.C. Major commuter lines are available and link the routes between D.C. and Boston. We don't use public transportation because it is time-consuming and inconvenient for us.

There are many major league sports teams in Philly for anyone who likes that kind of thing. A major international airport is south of the city and within thirty minutes driving time for us when we travel. Other major airports are also available within driving distance. The Atlantic coast is as close as an hour or two driving time along N.J., Delaware and Maryland beaches. Atlantic City is an easy drive any time we want to gamble or see the beach or a major entertainer.


A tourist could find many sights of interest. The historical Independence Hall of Philadelphia where our country's Declaration of Independence was crafted and signed is pretty high on the list of important places to visit. The historical area of the city contains the Betsy Ross House, an Edgar Allen Poe house, Elfreth's Alley and Christ Church where the famous Ben Franklin is buried along with four other signers of the Declaration of Independence.  The nation's historical development produced commemorative places like Gettysburg battlefield, Valley Forge and assorted other battlefields. The predominate architecture of the region is "Early American".

One industrious village of note called Batsto Village lies in the pine barrens of Southern New Jersey and it played an important role during the American Revolutionary War. At the time, it produced "bog ore" for iron works along with a number of other successful businesses. It is maintained as a museum village with working artisans doing glass works, pottery, iron making and lumber cutting. Rumored to have harbored some spies (including Benedict Arnold) during that period of time in the middle 1700's, it is an intriguing place to roam and imagine life during the time.

A major attractive point of this area would have to be its easy proximity to places like New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. All are easy day trips by car. We have all of their benefits and none of their problems.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


The theme of "popular" was proposed by the It caught my attention because I detest the word and its implications of pleasing other people just to build one's ego. How needy can people be that they seek to be popular to other people? I feel very independent and conformity doesn't appeal to me. I think of the word in terms of human relationships rather than how the word is used in relation to other choices such as which products we choose to buy or which books we choose to read or which movies we choose to view. It is just a word that indicates many have made the particular choice so that something becomes called "popular".

Of course as teenagers, everyone wanted to be "popular" but it was a shallow goal. It was a temporary setting and wanting to be included is normal, but doing things to make oneself fit in can become the road to ruin. Anytime we compromise our own values, we aren't admired but used. Being able to make choices freely is what our country is all about. We don't like predetermined decisions forced upon us.

When I was a teenager, I liked to observe the confident people who seemed to have a goal for the future in mind and pursued it to the exclusion of the need to "run with the popular crowd". I admired those people who kept their own counsel and chose their own path. Those were the days before the independent thinkers became the targets of the bullies of the "in crowd". There is great pressure today to conform and fit into the norm of the particular locale. It almost seems like an effort to hold people back so the oppressors don't have to compete. In my opinion, people worry too much about what other people think. 

The dreaded class reunions are a lesson to all of us that the "popular" crowd doesn't necessarily deal well with life beyond high school popularity pursuits. I am speaking in generalities based on my own life experiences and I prefer not to get into the specifics of various relationships from my own teenage years. It just isn't even important enough to me to even recount those incidents. Needless to say, I never felt it necessary to pursue the concept of being "popular". I make my own choices for whatever reasons seem right to me, not because someone has determined that it is the "popular" choice. I have been accused of not being a "team player" and that is probably true. I march to my own drummer.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A New Generation

I observe the comportment (what an archaic term) of the younger generation under 20 due to my many years in education, no matter whether I see them in stores, at sports events, in airports, and this week on a cruise that sailed from Port Canaveral in Florida on the massive Freedom of the Seas.

It is very encouraging to see a little one coaxed through an hour at a dinner table without disturbing the other diners. The five to one ratio could have been a key. When a two-year-old is cuddled and encouraged by a set of parents, a set of grandparents, and a favorite uncle, it produces remarkable results. When she was happy and doing well, she sat at the table in a booster seat. If she got upset, someone quickly and quietly removed her from the room until she settled down before they returned to the table.

It is impressive when a sixteen year-old-arrives at a breakfast dining table sans parents,  politely introduces himself,  engages the adults at the table in mature conversation, and displays table manners to make a mom proud. Even when leaving the table, he shook the hands of the adults present at the table. Wow!

I probably shouldn't venture a guess for the reasons why the kids on board were so calm, engaging, mannerly and pleasant as we shared a vacation space. Ordinarily we would try to avoid excessive contact with youngsters on vacations but this experience was very positive.

On one occasion we were on an elevator with two teenagers who opened a conversation with us. I was impressed with their composure and ability to joke and converse with strangers. They were very friendly, poised and confident. 

The generation under 20 has grown up with "social networking" and technology so it wasn't surprising to see how at ease a five-year-old was with the large board interactive touch screens on each deck where they could search the screens for locations of the pool, theater, shops, dining, or the wave rider.

Certainly credit is due for the extensive youth activity program provided by Royal Caribbean (which also has a curfew for the youth) but I suspect the quality of parenting is to be commended. I would like to think that the input of dedicated educators played a role also in the behavior of youth that I observed during the week.

The minors on board seemed to have had many travel opportunities and were sophisticated by a great variety of cultural experiences in their young lives; some could switch languages with ease. The parents seemed to be from the upper socioeconomic and educational ranks and to have brought along their progeny with an enviable richness of experiences.

We were a bit concerned when we learned that we were booked next to a family of two adults and four "minors". Turns out they were late teens/early twenties young adults who occasionally were on their balcony and we could hear their relaxed, mature conversations. There was no loud, raucous noise, no drunken parties--just young people on vacation with parents.

It is a warm, fuzzy moment to observe that the younger generation has stepped up to the plate and many are more than capable of managing the world of today. At least some parents and educators have done a commendable job. It was a very enjoyable vacation.