Don’t Eat That Ackee, Eve!

I’m fascinated by nature, and very much so when I’m traveling. The sight of a unique plant, or spotting unfamiliar wildlife, is always exciting!

IMG_3069

By the looks of the markings on this yellow bird, I believe I captured sight of a Jamaican Oriole while recently in Jamaica. Even from the first hours after our arrival there on a recent trip, I was in awe of the thriving bird life and all of the beautiful songs they presented…

IMG_3071

This hearty bird hopped about in the foliage so constantly (in search for seeds it appeared) that I could hardly get a proper picture of him. Only a few photos from many offered more than a flash of yellow…

IMG_3077

Though Indian Peafowl are kept in the U.S., to see this fella dancing about a potential mate (a peahen that fled from him into the bushes) was such a treat. Look how handsome he is! On several evenings, we noted a peahen taking safe perch for the night upon a thatched roof. It looked quite the comfortable nest…

IMG_3085

Hey little dude! Hunting for some juicy bugs? Carry on!

IMG_3057

Though Northern Mockingbirds can breed in Northern Illinois, they aren’t regulars. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen (or heard) one in the wild. In Jamaica, they are everywhere and their songs are simply incredible!

IMG_3090

Tropical flowers grew abundantly, their colors so vivid! They invited an army of hummingbirds to drink of their nectar…

IMG_3088

And when I saw this fruit ripening in a tree, my first thought was of how delicious it might be to pluck one down and take a bite! Any tropical fruit so pretty must taste divine! Good thing I didn’t follow my instinct…

IMG_3089

This, is the ackee (not to be confused with the acai berry), the tree of which migrated from Africa to Jamaica (most likely upon a slave ship) in the late 1700’s. It is the national fruit of Jamaica. However, to pluck it down and take a bite could prove fatal. At the very least, you would become very, very sick…

Akee

[Photo Credit: DocTaxon]

In order to eat of the fruit, it must first be fully ripe (splitting open on its own) or bad things will definitely happen. The fruity flesh is then to be removed away from the skin and seeds (these carefully discarded lest your beloved pet or child grab hold of the remnants and put them in their mouth). Next, the fruit is to be boiled for at least 5 minutes, or bad things yet could happen. The water is to then be immediately discarded, the fruit rinsed and then boiled a second time, because if not, bad things could still happen…this is one dangerous fruit!

IMG_4605

I therefore had to take a walk on the wild side and eat some. Ackee and saltfish is a traditional Jamaican dish. I had it for breakfast one glorious sunny morning to the sound of rich birdsong. With each bite, I had to wonder if this was like taking the risk of eating toxic puffer fish? I mean, what if the cook didn’t boil my ackee twice?

Just kidding! I wasn’t scared at all. What did it taste like? Like fish and fruit, looking like scrambled eggs masquerading on my plate. A little spicy, a little fishy, a little sweet. I liked it!

IMG_4606

Handsome on the other hand had pancakes made from a unique grain that morning. Fish for breakfast wasn’t quite to his taste, though he did take a nibble of my ackee and saltfish to see what it was like…

IMG_3117

How I love to travel, and how I love nature! However, I am ever being reminded to control my urges to simply grab out, or pet that cute insect (I think I was raised a little bit wild). Not everything is innocuous, some things are quite dangerous indeed. For instance, when I admired strands of cherry-looking berries hanging from one tree, a local said not to touch them, for the juice will burn the skin of your hand. Yikes!

Nature must be respected

IMG_3108

Of course, I still swam but a few feet away from a puffer fish while snorkeling in the shallows. He watching me, me watching him (terrified he might bring out the spines but too fascinated to swim away). And of course, I still had to get up close to this enormous insect nest, unable to live without knowing what was in there (I’m an entomologist in my heart)…

IMG_3107

But the point is, look don’t touch! Remember Eve of the Garden of Eden who grabbed out for that fruit? Nope, not every fruit is as sweet as it looks. Unless perhaps, you boil it twice!

Here is hoping you are enjoying your adventure today!

My Grandma’s Garden

My grandma lives in Southern Illinois, in a house that used to be a rural school house! She still has an outhouse standing in her backyard, which she uses for storing her garden tools. This time of year, I’m betting her garden is already beginning to wake, for Southern Illinois is far warmer than Northern Illinois…

img_0620

My grandma has always had a green thumb, producing plenty of healthful veggies and planting many beautiful flowers. I spent a great deal of time running around barefoot as a child through her garden when she lived up north. I was never concerned about snakes or ticks because that didn’t seem prevalent. In the warmer climate where she lives now however, I’d be more cautious in the garden. My grandma however, isn’t scared of anything…

img_0626

She has some beautiful grassland and woodlands just beyond her property. Frequently her wild and protective sidekick, Sally the dog, likes to run off for a spell into the field. I recall hearing a story about Sally coming back with a rotten deer leg in her mouth, snatched from a carcass and brought home like a trophy. Gross! Dogs will be dogs!

img_0647

In Southern Illinois, there are fox, coyotes and common forest animals. However, my grandpa had me quite shocked as he shared news of growing populations of bobcats and sightings of cougars (mountain lions). These animals are stealthy and rarely seen, but it had me a little nervous sitting out around the campfire eating s’mores one evening. My ears were perked for the distant growl of a fierce cat…

img_0649

There’s nothing like a beautiful countryside, the bees buzzing and grandma’s chickens clucking and fussing. They eat ticks, which is great! And what fresh and delicious eggs these free range birds produce!

img_0623

Reviewing these photos of grandma’s beautiful flowers and green, I can’t wait for spring to arrive and the sweet season of summer…

img_0619

Isn’t her mirror hung outdoors on the side of an outbuilding such a quaint scene? Upon closer look, there’s a little fellow who lives behind the mirror…

img_0645

A skink! A skink is a species of lizard that has a thicker neck and shorter legs. But for real, how long is that back toe? If you try to grab a skink’s tail, it falls off so that the lizard can make its escape. I wouldn’t try that though. Though not poisonous, they bite. I’ve never been bit by one, but I have been chased by one…

img_0646

True story. I went camping with my best friend and her family in Turkey Run State Park in Indiana when I was about 14. There were lots of skinks, which I’d never seen before, and I was curious. I spotted one on the ground on the trail and tried to get close to observe it. It didn’t run away, it held its ground and gave me the skink eye (tee-hee). He had a very proud stance. This was a courageous little lizard. And then, it ran toward me. I screeched and ran away, and it chased me. I was literally turning my head back as I ran, watching the skink continue its pursuit. I honestly thought it would bite me. I ran like the roadrunner…

img_0622

God bless grandmas, and their gardens, everywhere! And here’s wishing you many beautiful days with nature, and special glimpses of wildlife (from a safe distance)!

We Are All But Buds And Berries

Some autumns ago, just as the leaves were turning and the summer was fading away, I went on a forest walk with a gathering of my family. It was the perfect day, and there simply isn’t anything so pleasant as a nature walk…

cimg1439

These particular woods have a sprawling forest of pine trees that I am very fond of. I’ve always appreciated the lack of thick underbrush there, and the soft crunch of pine needles underfoot. And of course, the fresh scent of pine. I ran through that wood often as an itty bitty little

cimg1433

On this particular family outing, I carried along a basket and scissors to cut wild flowers and other natural decorations. I decided that I wanted to make a forest wreath to place upon my head, for no particular reason but that it would be a pleasant activity…

wreath

With wire and floral tape ready, I snipped up flowers, plants and berries, and bound them together into my wreath. It took far longer to construct than I expected of my whimsical craft, and I was dismayed at how much of the dried bits, seeds and petals fell away as I worked. This also caused a bit of sneezing, for I and hay fever are bound in this life…

cimg1444

But the time spent working with such little snippings of nature, while chatting the time away with my closest, made a memorable afternoon. I thought the wreath turned out lovely, as fragile as it was. The circlet didn’t last for long, quickly falling away bud by berry. But I suppose that that was a reminder to cherish each precious season, and those that I love, for we are all but buds and berries…

A Moment With Nature

Greetings green frog, or are you bullfrog? I wish you well about your day…

IMG_2749

IMG_2741

Dearest water lily, you make me smile! You lift my heart, as I go on my way.

IMG_2740

Well met, lovely blossom! Aren’t you divine? How happy I am, to see your blush…

IMG_2738

Good day, painted turtle! How you stretch your neck! I see you are in no rush?

IMG_2748

Good morrow fellow, relaxed I see? Has anyone ever remarked on your ears? Goodness, oh my, don’t mind my saying, but how very big they be!

IMG_2746

Eeehh my, you frog! I’d made a mistake! At first I took your face, for that of a snake!

IMG_2736

Oh pretty white petals, how pure you be, and so sweetly yellow too! You lift my spirits and make me smile, as your countenance was made to do!

Here’s wishing you many moments with nature, to relax your mind and uplift your spirits!

In A Tizzy For Tulips

Something very valuable just bloomed in my front yard. Or at least, if it was the year 1637 and I was living in the Netherlands…

tulips-1208206_1280.jpg

If I had a time machine, I’d snatch my tulips and zoom back in time. Riches would await me, and you’d see me sumptuously dressed and painted into one of the scenes on Rembrandt’s canvases…

book-1325088_1280

…for once upon a time during the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age (when Dutch achievements and advancements were making them the rockstars of Europe), there was a bizarre economic bubble.

Economic bubble: When you’re selling something worth a small sum for a lot of cash. Eventually the situation gets out of control, there is a crash, and everyone is financially ruined.

tulip-1290983_1280

At the height of what history has now coined tulip mania, some of these precious tulip bulbs were being sold for what it would take most regular folks to make in ten years. What?! Yes, a single tulip bulb in exchange for what you earned in a decade.

food-1216731_1280

Once when I was living in New York City, in the early evening in the spring, I spied a man stealing tulips planted by the city along the sidewalk. I was looking out over my balcony and had a clear view.

In the darkening light of dusk, the man physically laid down along the sides of parked cars when other pedestrians happened to walk by. He was hiding. When they had passed, he’d pop back up and clip some more tulips. He had quite the bouquet before making a run for it. I was both speechless and amused. And really grossed out; you do not want to lay down on a New York City sidewalk.

basket-703077_1280

Perhaps the man was Dutch and from the 17th century. He’d hopped into a time machine to zoom ahead in time to steal his fortune.

Tulip mania. Proof that real life is stranger than fiction.

Bringer of Peace

This beautiful creature was right outside my window early yesterday morning. He saw me, but didn’t fly away. I wondered if the dove wasn’t sick, as I’ve seen pigeons puff up and disregard people when they are (and doves are of the pigeon family). But it was just the cold, and this little perch was actually perfect for soaking in the rising sun.

IMG_2267

We frequently have lovely sets of doves in our yard. They nest in our neighborhood and often peck around for seeds in the grass. I stop and listen to their cooing. Doesn’t this beauty look so soft and precious?

IMG_2272.JPG

Unfortunately, we’ve had none of the fine April weather I’ve been hoping for. We’ve been having random snowfalls, which instantly melt in the sun, and then dump down from the next cloud, and then melt once more. One minute white, ten minutes later, all green again. Pretty odd, and chilly too! This little guy was waiting it out in the sun until the snow melted, which it did.

IMG_2276.JPG

He was resting on this little vine trellis. I love how these baby green vines are peeking out, soon to uncoil, climb and burst to life. These vines try to climb up the window in the summer, they are very hearty.

IMG_2277

The snowy path to our little secret garden…

IMG_2278.JPG

Where the shockingly bright green plants and the birdies are all having trouble deciding whether it is spring, or still winter…

IMG_2279.JPG

And the daffodils are quite sad in the snow (though they continuously perk up again as soon as the sun hits them)…

IMG_2275.JPG

But as for that dove…they say when one sits at your window, that they are bringers of peace. It is a reminder to your spirit to be still and forget your stresses. And don’t we all constantly wrestle with our inner worries and stresses?

I’m sharing the dove at my window with you, to bring you peace. Don’t let your stresses speak louder than your joys and comforts, for with every winter you weather, spring will come. A little birdie told me so…

That old April Adage

Here was that precious white bud that I found in my front yard, the only of his kind…

IMG_2208

And here it was a few days later, so pretty!

IMG_2217.JPG

Only he wasn’t able to stand up and was fallen in the grass…

IMG_2218.JPG

So as much as I’d rather have left him to bask in the sun…

IMG_2220.JPG

He brightened my bedside table, and bloomed instantly under my lamp. I was actually able to see his petals moving, and it only took a few minutes to fully open. I thought flowers’ openings each morning took far longer than that, but this little guy’s response to bright light was quick! I was fascinated!

IMG_2223.JPG

The daffodils too were finally opening up. How cheery are their yellow and orange faces!

IMG_2221.JPG

But it soon turned rainy and chilly, so I made roasted potatoes…

IMG_2225.JPG

And turned on the fireplace, which Tiddo cannot resist!

IMG_2229.JPG

Was this a smile or a sneeze? And look at those claws! Where’s the clippers!

IMG_2246.JPG

I digress, but don’t you think he should win an award for the handsomest whiskers?

IMG_2148.JPG

And an award for best lounging pose? I don’t know why I thought it was so funny, but when I came upon him sitting up like this against the pillow, I had a good chuckle.

We stayed pretty cozy despite the rain and chill. But I was not expecting to wake up to this this morning…

IMG_2252.JPG

The world outside is gloomy and lightly covered in snow, and it keeps falling…

IMG_2250.JPG

We must change the April adage…it must now say, “April snow showers bring May flowers.”

My poor little daffodils! Should I hurry out and clip them, bring them inside to put in a vase and enjoy what is left? Or do you think they’ll weather this unexpected snowfall?

Here’s wishing you a wonderful day!

Good Morning! Good Day!

How lovely the start of a new day! Today, mine includes…

IMG_2194.JPG

A golden sunrise just outside the window…

IMG_2201

And a friend to watch it with…

IMG_2199

Even if he is more interested in the waking birdies than the sunrise…

IMG_2208.JPG

A sweet little bloom in my front yard. What a pretty white flower it will make. I think it’s waiting to open up when it’s not so chilly, brrrrr….

IMG_2209.JPG

And these yellow darlings too, I can’t wait!

IMG_2207.JPG

A hot cup of coffee (or three) and a bright kitchen view…

IMG_2212.JPG

Another one of my odd breakfast concoctions (and some people thought I’d never learn to cook…HA-HA-HA!!!)…

IMG_2213.JPG

And time spent working on my new adventure, the very best way to start the day. A magical world awaits!

Here’s wishing you a blessed and beautiful morning, and a day filled with good things!

Spring Morning Walk

Hey there handsome…

IMG_2165

Welcome back friends…

IMG_2166

Good morning darling buds…

IMG_2167.JPG

So happy to see you, precious friend…

IMG_2171.JPG

The sun shines for you, little flower…

IMG_2177.JPG

Well hello there ladies!

IMG_2180.JPG

How I’ve missed you, green…

IMG_2182.JPG

How pretty you are!

IMG_2183.JPG

Come on out, you sturdy blooms…

IMG_2186.JPG

Your delicate purple petals make my heart sing today…

IMG_2170.JPG

So glad I stepped out to visit you all, before I was on my way!

A Garden Swan

We are blessed to have the Chicago Botanic Garden just a short 15 minute drive from our house. There are many gardens within the garden, illustrating different kinds (greenhouse, fruit & vegetable garden, Japanese garden, etc.). There is even an aquatic garden! I enjoy all of the gardens, but I really do love the English Walled Garden. It is filled with vine covered trellises, potted pretties and wooden benches, within a small walled garden (just the place to take a seat at any season to enjoy the outdoors).

CIMG1343

We’ve picnicked in the gardens, sat mesmerized by the birds. I’ve stuck my face into a few dozen rose bushes, chased after bugs…but I didn’t pick any flowers, that would be rude.

Garden.JPG

When I awoke to snow this morning after we had a glorious day yesterday (sunny and 45 degrees!), all I could think about was the spring that is to come. Even though we’ve had one very temperate winter, I am particularly looking forward to spring and summer’s warm days once more, and walks with my honey in the garden!

CIMG1397.JPG

The gardens host many wonderful birds, including swans that float majestically over the man-made lakes there, which spout glorious fountains. If I had a big estate with a lake, I’d own lots of swans and I’d give them each a name, and they’d follow me around the yard on my walks. I’m eccentric like that. I’d talk to them and tell them how pretty and handsome they were, just like above.

CIMG1398

Swan fun facts!

Swan couples mate for life. (Very sweet, I’m guessing that the male swan must bring the lady swan delicious algae to eat, gives her beaky kisses and tells her that she’s beautiful…the key to true love, of course).

People often believe that swans do not fly, but only swim around their lakes and ponds. However, they do fly (some of the largest flying birds), but need a long runway (at least 30 yards) to run before they can get off the ground. They can fly up to 60 miles per hour!

Swans sleep as they float in the water, or standing on one leg on land. (Just one…no shuteye if it is two legs.)

Swans get sick when they eat mold; stale bread is one thing, but don’t toss moldy bread to a swan. (They haven’t invented birdie antacid tablets yet).

Swans are very, very smart. (Like Santa Claus, they remember if you’ve been naughty or nice! So don’t go near their nest or throw them moldy bread, give them their space…and tell them they’re special, they like that.)

Here’s wishing you a day as lovely as a garden!

The Island of St. Lucia

Last spring, we visited the island of St. Lucia and took an amazing walk through the jungle. The plants were incredible!

IMG_0449.JPG

This is a Pink Torch Ginger, considered a highly beloved flower. It can grow to be up to 15 feet tall! This one was just a little taller than me.

IMG_0451.JPG

IMG_0452.JPG

What I find remarkable about tropical flowers is how big, strong, colorful and oddly shaped they can be. Looking at some of these made me imagine for a moment that I was on another planet. The landscape and plants are just so different from what I’m accustomed to. I imagine that is how people who have never seen snow feel when they see a snowy landscape for the first time.

IMG_0460

IMG_0533.JPG

What I also found incredible was how abundant the fruit was! Everywhere you looked, there were mangos, papayas and fruit that I have never seen or heard of before. I took note of a sign that read beware of falling mangos and breadfruit and proceeded to be a little paranoid that a mango would fall on my head. That would be unpleasant.

IMG_0469.JPG

Loved the blue-green color of this unique flowering plant!

IMG_0463.JPG

IMG_0468

I’ve seen ferns unfurl from the ground but never growing into plush, soft trees. The branches weaved on the trunk and were fuzzy. The leaves looked as soft as cotton. There was a little green snake in its branches that mesmerized me.

IMG_0445.JPG

I couldn’t get over the enormous hummingbirds flying all over the place. They are apparently some of the world’s largest. They looked more like blackbirds than the itty-bitty hummingbirds we see at home. Their long beaks appeared useful in getting nectar from such big tropical flowers.

IMG_0527.JPG

We were having such a lovely time, until handsome suggested that we climb one of the local mountains…the Grand Piton. I would share photos of me at the top of that mountain, but I look like I’ve just narrowly survived torture. I had no business climbing that mountain. It was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. At least a hundred times, I breathlessly gasped “I’m not going to make it.” The running joke has been to try to get me to admit I’m proud I made it to the top and that it was worth it…I’ll never admit it, I frown when I remember that harrowing climb.

IMG_2213.JPG

On the mountain, I saw a giant slug nearly as long as my foot. Awesome! And I saw several elusive mongoose bounding around (introduced to St. Lucia to control the snakes). I’m a sucker for wildlife.

IMG_0424.JPG

We also took an incredible catamaran ride and I saw flying fish for the first time. I couldn’t believe my eyes! They jump out of the water, spread their fins and catch the wind. They can really fly a distance and even turn directions! I pondered whether a local fisherman had ever been hit by a flying fish out in his boat…that would be worse than a falling mango.

IMG_0383

There were nesting seabirds altogether in several trees with their fuzzy-headed young. That was a special sight! We also went snorkeling and the coral and tropical fish were so unique…I again felt like I was in another world. The only fear I had were the jellyfish. Was I stung? Oh yes. The jellyfish always get me. Their touch is very distinct, like burning, electric, bee stings. I may have said some curse words…but I was under the water, so only the jellyfish heard.

IMG_0542.JPG

IMG_0529.JPG

St. Lucia is a stunning island! The people were so welcoming, the tropical waters amazing, the jungle incredible. The local food was delicious and the wildlife inspiring! And though I will never step foot on another mountain, I’ll admit it was an unforgettable experience…in that, my poor heart muscles will never forget the memory!

An Autumn Poem

Today I took an autumn walk…

IMG_1579

The flowers made me forget the clock!

IMG_1580

The pinks, they blushed for all to see…

IMG_1583

And the yellows, filled my heart with glee!

IMG_1709

The robins gobbled plump juniper berries…

IMG_1699

IMG_1724

There were fresh smelling pine cones and fallen cherries!

IMG_1712

IMG_1726

The roses were so moving, they danced…

IMG_1713

And the bright fall leaves, they shook and pranced!

IMG_1719

That adorable squirrel had rather fuzzy ears!

IMG_1734

And these vines and leaves, they’ve crept for years.

IMG_1644

That seagull dove right at my head…

IMG_1664

And his friends thought that was funny!

IMG_1591

The ducks were having a pleasant swim…

IMG_1590

This drake was with his honey!

IMG_1630

All was well until the gulls swooped in,

and said “Give us all your money!”

IMG_1603

The three foot fishies, they frighten me…

IMG_1617

Summer swims bring nibbled toes, you see!

IMG_1736

I could go on and on with this nature talk…

IMG_1732

Let’s just say it was a berry beautiful walk!