Monday, August 17, 2009

Where I'd Like to be Next Spring

For awhile now I’ve wanted to get over to the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, so when my friend Jenny called and suggested we get out of the house this is where I suggested we go. Jenny liked this idea, so on Saturday we each left our respective homes and headed down to the gardens with the goal of arriving before the morning heat came full on. We didn’t quite make it but the time waiting for her to catch up with me was spent familiarizing myself with the macro controls on my camera, a Canon Powershot A570 is.

What the manual told me was that I had a setting for foliage under the Special Circumstances mode and that if I pressed the control that looked like a tulip I’d get macro mode which would allow me to get within 2 inches of anything I cared to shoot. I was delighted to discover that macro mode was available on foliage mode, it isn’t in some modes, so my camera pretty much stayed on foliage settings the entire morning.

That’s the entrance to the gardens, taken while I was sitting there waiting for Jenny to arrive. The gardens are wheelchair accessible and we are looking at the ramp to the main entry way. Then I turned around and saw this gorgeous bougainvillea.

After Jenny got there, we paid for entrance and headed out into the gardens where I promptly found something to photograph, and discovered I had to change batteries. I gritted my teeth because I knew I should have switched them out and recharged the old ones before we left. Fortunately I always carry a charged set in the case. The problem this created was a possible limit on the number of images I could take while exploring the park. I recently read that doing preview mode on a digital camera quickly uses up your batteries so I decided I’d avoid that as much as possible. And off we headed to the rose garden.

The garden had tons of roses in all colors, but the one that caught my eye was this one. This is a trumpeter rose. I was enchanted by the variety of shades it showed on the same bush. You might think I’d be taking pictures right and left as I wandered, and if I’d been sure of my resources I would have. But since I didn’t know how long the batteries would last I took the best shot I could in each of the gardens and left it at that.

You could tell the gardens had been feeling the heat. San Antonio is on stage 2 water restrictions because of drought so we can only hand water if we want to do it daily. Watering by sprinkler is only allowed once a week. So there were volunteers throughout the gardens with hoses in their hands.

Because it was so hot and dry the prettiest sections of the gardens were the parts with plants native to Texas. And since it’s heading into autumn the butterflies are starting their migration although that probably won’t be in full swing till September. Even so, there were plenty of them fluttering around the garden and I tried to catch one. Those darn butterflies are fast and difficult to catch with their wings open. So I took exactly 2 shots and decided to give up thinking I’d been unsuccessful. When I got home and uploaded the pictures I found that while I’d been focusing on one butterfly, another had snuck into the shot and it was showing open wings. So here you go!

I guess that guy in the bottom of the shot wanted his 15 minutes of fame. LOL These look a bit like monarchs but their colors aren’t as bright as I remember monarchs being so I’m thinking it must be a different variety or perhaps a close cousin. A few steps further along, I came across this plant.

I really liked the laciness of the leaves and the airiness of this pretty flower. If I ever learn the name of it that will go on my list of plants for future gardens.

By this time the garden was heating up and I wanted to head for the cooler parts of the gardens. Those included a walk around a small lake on the property and a stroll through the climate controlled gardens kept inside buildings. On the way there we strolled through the area that the gardens use to hold summer concerts. And just at the entrance to the lawn there is the beautiful wisteria arbor. I took the following picture of the entrance to it.

It’s amazing how green this is as late in summer as we are and with hundred degree heat almost daily. But when I owned a house one of the plants in the garden was a Texas Wisteria so I think this might be covered with that variety. Then I went over and sat down on that bench on the right and took this next shot.

Isn’t that circular framing fascinating with those vines hanging off of it. This is where I intend to be next spring when the wisteria blooms. Wisteria is a beautiful bluish lavender bloom that has a very short season and I’m so looking forward to when those circles of vines will be strewn with gorgeous flowers.

After we sat there and rested for a bit we hit the lake and fed the ducks.

There are benches through out the gardens and I was sitting on one when I took this. None of the duck shots I took turned out well so I’m storing them for later study to see how I can improve my technique. From here we headed to the climate controlled gardens because it was no 11:30 AM and I wanted to see the air conditioned gardens I remembered from my last visit. Sure enough they didn’t disappoint!

These caught my eye because they were up above me where the man made waterfalls were coming from. They are gorgeous but I’ve no idea what they are called. If you know a name for them please leave it for me in a comment. One thing you’ll be able to tell from the pictures I’ve taken here is that red is my favorite color.

There’s a pathway through this garden. It’s very necessary because the place looks sort of like what I imagine a jungle or rain forest might look like. Plants are everywhere and very close together, pile one on top of another. There were several varieties of orchids, most of which were up high but there was one that was hanging down and had placed itself conveniently against a light colored background. Jenny spotted that one so it is thanks to her that I have this shot.

The intensity of color here has me wondering how hard orchids are to raise.

Before we left this cool and enjoyable area I noticed one more really intense red bloom. Jenny told me a funny story about her 3 year old granddaughter’s interpretation of what the stamen was. Seems the child thought the flower was “using the bathroom.” LOL Weird stamen or not, this color is intense.

Notice the white flower behind it? I know that if I had a faster shutter speed I’d have had a better chance of getting that flower in focus which was what I had hoped would happen. But I’m not that good with the elaborate controls my camera gives me. A smart photographer and blogger once said, take your camera out and use one control at a time till you get really good with it. I think that is what I need to do. Even though the white bloom is blurry I still like the color contrast.

The next few climate controlled gardens were desert, bromeliad, and the fern glade. These were not as physically comfortable as the previous garden so we didn’t stay long. It was in one of them that I learned what a tea plant looked like. I’d never seen one and the sign in front of it informed me that there is only one type of tea plant and that what you purchase. Whether it is black, green, or orange pekoe is all a matter of processing. The tea plant isn’t in bloom. I don’t know if it DOES bloom. But here is what provides our wonderful morning refreshment if you’re a tea drinker.

After this I headed to the water gardens because 1) they are beautiful and 2) Sandi has one and I wanted to share some of the flowers I knew would be there with her. So here are the water lily pictures. I took four of them, one of them a close up of the blooms that weren’t open but I hoped would be soon.

There’s a stepping stone pathway across the water garden and that’s where I stood to take this one. The next two I had to walk around the edge of the pond trying to stay off the lawn as much as possible because there wasn’t a designed trail but merely a place free from most grass that I think was created by visitors who wanted to get closer to the flowers just like I did.

Here’s flower number two. I shared this one with Sandi by email but I’d taken more than one shot of it and this one seems to show the flowers better although the other one has a better placement. It’s below. What’s your feeling about that?

For this one there was very little that I could do to avoid the obvious pond controls in the shot. However, I liked the bloom because it is on a much taller stem than these others have been.

It was a very awkward angle that I took this from. I stood at the very edge of the water and then just put the camera in my hand and held it out as far as I could towards the plant and got this next one for my efforts.

I couldn’t begin to tell you what made such a difference but my arm is about two and a half feet in length and I zoomed in as much as possible with a small prayer as I snapped the photo.

Now it was 12:30PM, the temperature was about 100 degrees, and we were both hungry and tired. So we discussed where to go for lunch on the walk back to the garden entrance. We decided to eat at the Carriage House, which is the garden restaurant, because I said if I had to drive anywhere I’d drive home.

On the way towards lunch I got two more shots. The first was this native plant, which once again I don’t know the name of. But purples and lavenders are my second favorite color so here’s a pretty shot of something I see a lot in the xeriscape gardens around here.

We even have some in the church garden.

I was feeling all sentimental when I took this last picture. It is of a plant my grandmother had in her garden when I was a child, although not this color. Which is why I took it!

Grandmother’s pomegranates were red in color. Just like the ones we are all pretty familiar with. I didn’t know that these lovely fruit came in orange and perhaps other colors. I also loved the bright red flowers that were growing next to and below it on the other side of the wall. What a nice image to close out my trip to the gardens with!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip with me. I also hope I get the chance to go again soon. I know I’ll be there next spring. Got to see that wisteria in bloom. Blessings!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dibs of This and Dabs of That

Sunday was a lovely day! It is has been my favorite day of the week since I started attending both morning services. For most of the time I’ve been at Church of Reconciliation I was a regular at early service (8:00 AM). Then I joined the choir and my attendance switched to late service (10:30 AM) because the early service is a contemplative service and doesn’t usually have music. When I conferred with my priest about my function as a verger in training he suggested that since I was the verger with the most early service experience that should be my area of focus. This was just great with me because there were friends I’d made at early service that I missed when I attended late service. So these days I head to church early, aiming to be there by 7:30 AM, so that I can be helpful if anyone needs assistance and step in to take over a role if the person who was assigned to it is absent and no substitute was arranged for. This is the function of a verger, to help things run smoothly.

The past few Sunday’s our newest member of altar guild has been arriving early and setting up when I got there. This gentleman is very nice and helpful. He says he’s still in training so that is why he has been doing the setup every Sunday. That fits in with my feelings about pre-service setup. There have been enough changes to the way we do things now, thanks to our wonderful associate rector, that I need to practice and remind myself how things go and what is different between the two services.

On Sunday I also ran into my verger/instructor who cleared a few misconceptions up about the way things were supposed to go in my training. The verger trainee who is most fully trained was there too and they are both going to send me necessary documents so that I can complete the sheaf of pages necessary for Robert, our rector, to read and sign off on when he returns from Sabbatical at the beginning of October. At that time we all want to be ready so that he can do an induction ceremony during one of the services.

Not long ago I finished my taxes which I’d filed an extension on when I was looking for some paperwork. I never found the paperwork but it wasn’t critical to the return so once I got the desk cleared off, for the umpteenth time, I did them online using the Turbo Tax free online software and efiled for free too. My refund hit my account in 2 weeks and on Saturday I went grocery shopping at WalMart. It was a lovely time and I over loaded the cart with good things. I’ve taken to using the store brands since they cost less money. My goal when buying groceries is to have each meal cost as close to one dollar as possible. I think I did a pretty good job of that and my pantry and freezer are over stocked with good things to eat again. Plus some snacks. I plead guilty on the snack thing as I bought a package of Oreo type cookies but they were store brand ($2) and I put them in the freezer and am only having them in 3 cookie increments. That's what the package says is a serving size and I’m sticking to it. I also got some of those mini cups of ice cream so that I can have a dessert which is portion controlled. Yay for Blue Bell who puts these things in bags of 12. That will last me several weeks before I run out.

The book I’m reading lately is Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore. It’s non fiction which has traditionally been hard for me to keep on reading after an initial endeavor. But this book is speaking to me in ways that have a lot to do with my need for understanding the concept of soul and its growth plus Moore uses mythology to illustrate his points and his story telling is like someone explaining a parable. It was the explaining of a parable that brought my belief in God to completion and I think this is working the same way. Instead of reading fast I find myself reading a paragraph, sometimes just a sentence, at a time and enjoying the meaning I’m discovering there. As a child I read all of Bullfinch’s Mythology and also Edith Wharton’s book on the subject so it delights me to find this excellent story teller using the story of The Odyssey and the story of Persephone's abduction to illustrate loss, searching, and journeys of discovery.

A couple of weeks ago I held a de-flea day. I went to the vet and got some Frontline Plus for my boys, a couple of pills that get rid of all the fleas on them in 30 minutes, without hurting the cats, and a huge can of carpet spray that kills fleas in just a few minutes and has a residual effect. After coming home and using all of the above my desk is now my own again for the most part. The boys still like to be close to me but they no longer feel they need to leave the floor to be comfortable and free of biting pests. I got this done early enough that Hyrum's ruff is saved for the summer. In the past the dermatitis he gets from flea bites generates enough scratching and grooming measures that it is thinned out by the time he feels comfortable. That might be cooler for him but it looks awful. His ruff and thick coat are a couple of his most attractive features and it takes a long time, almost a year, for that gorgeous fur collar to grow back in. So I’m very happy with this turn of events.

On the scrabble playing front, Sandi and I’ve are still using to play scrabble online, but we are now using their National Scrabble Association (NSA) game rooms and rules. This makes the game more challenging and fun. By NSA rules we each get 30 minutes at the beginning of the game. Your clock counts down from whatever is left on it when it is your turn to play. If you are slow and end up using all of your 30 minutes before the game is over you lose 10 points for each minute or part of as you and your opponent strive to complete the game. That drastically changes the scoring and speeds things up a bit. I discovered that I need to memorize the 2 Letter Word chart for the game. Apparently, serious scrabble players memorize quite a few charts and word lists. Or at least that is my impression. So I went online and found a table of 2 letter words and also some lists of 3 letter words. It’s the uncommon ones that you have to work on. Those are often the ones that get you the most parts. I’m not very good at playing by NSA rules yet. I get stuck in one word mode too frequently, looking for some place to play it. I also need to practice my word on word building skills. You can make much bigger scores by running a word right alongside of another word already played than you can by branching off perpendicular to that word and using up valuable open space on the board. While researching this I discovered that there is a NSA Scrabble club in town. Going to a meeting might be something nice to do and if they have training sessions there I might gain some added skills that would be of good use. Right now my rating is dropping and I’m at a loss as to how to bring it back up. Sandi’s is on the rise and she has achieved intermediate level according to

That's it on the personal news front. I hope you all have a good week and don’t expire in the horrid heat we’ve been experiencing down here in south Texas. If you’ve gotten any rain of late please send it my way. Cheers!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Eating to Live

“Eat to Live” that’s what my Mom brought me up to do. If you are asking yourself what that is, it’s making making healthy food choices when you eat. Have I always done this? No!

During the course of my marriage my ex taught me how to “live to eat.” The results of that was that I, who had NEVER needed to diet (In fact, at 5’8”and 117 lbs., I needed to put on weight.), gained so many pounds that before my marriage ended I’d gotten up to 197. It didn’t help that I was going into menopause at the time we got married or that I had a job that kept me up all night and asleep all day. My ex was a sedentary couch potato who was a better, if not healthier, cook than I was. He eventually developed Type II Diabetes, although not while we were together. I consider myself lucky to have avoided that dreaded disease.

Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to diet. It doesn’t mean you have to avoid your favorite foods either. It does mean you should make the effort to eat them in moderation and as often as possible make healthier choices if your favorites aren’t good for you. If you don’t believe me on the healthy choices thing just ask Sandi. That post, her last post in December of 2008, is about how her making one bad choice almost landed her in the hospital. Making healthy choices doesn’t have to be hard. It does mean you need to know what healthy choices are, exhibit a little self control from time to time (This gets easier with practice!), and provide yourself with options at the dinner table so you don’t suffer feelings of deprivation.

I do my choosing by portion control, picking low sodium foods, and trying to avoid fat. I’m not perfect at this by any stretch of the imagination. Breads and crackers are my downfall. Get a package of cinnamon graham crackers around me and watch the pounds pile on. But I try my best not to keep the things I know will cause a weight gain in my pantry. And yes, that includes cinnamon grahams.

I wean myself off of bad choices if I learn I’m making them. I did this with milk in my marriage. He wanted whole milk. I discovered you could bake with 2% milk so I suggested this. We agreed it would be better and the change in fat wasn’t significant taste wise, so after 3 or 4 weeks of drinking that we were adapted to a lower fat milk. Then I suggested low fat or 1% because I needed the extra calcium in my diet and it was a better choice. For some reason when you reduce fat in milk the amount of calcium you get is increased. He agreed again so it was another step down. Then a few months later we went down to skim milk. This worked really well till his sister came for a visit. When she called our skim milk “chalk water” he immediately wanted to go back up to a higher fat content version. We did for a while and then went back down again. LOL You can probably guess from all of the above that eating healthy was a constant battle during our marriage. He was doing most of the cooking and would always be adding a little extra this or that into the food to “make it taste better.” As soon as our marriage ended the weight started dropping off and I went down to 145, a healthy weight for me.

I’m 155 pounds these days and I know I could easily drop the extra 10 pounds if I would exercise regularly. I still retain some of that couch potato habit I gained during my marriage, although it’s actually more of a desk chair habit as I spend most of my time at the computer these days. I’m working on the exercise thing. For some reason I find self control with exercise harder than with food. Oh well, resolutions are as easy to make as they are to break and all I have to do to get back on track is make a new one and I’ll work at it for a few days which is better than none at all. But enough about me.

The reason I started this now pretty long post (It wasn’t intended to be that, honest!), was to share a website that shows you how to make those healthy food choices by providing you with the info you need to make them. It’s Eat This, Not That! a page sponsored by Women’s Health magazine and also Men’s Health. They cover a full range of food choices and places where you might need to make them like eating out or the convenience store aisle. I’ve been following them through Yahoo, and then Google reader. I’ve found reason to share their articles with friends and family. You might find some of their info handy in the grocery store or at your favorite fast food restaurant. Their Best & Worst articles cover everything from gender health to sex. And there are lots of better choices for kids mentioned too. I hope you’ll make the time to check them out. Maybe it will help you make different choices the next time you hit the grocery store. Bon app├ętit!