Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Arizona Renaissance Festival

If you're a Game of Thrones fan, doesn't she kind a remind you of Melisandre? Only she's not.  She's one of those street women!
 Calling ALL Arizona residents!!!  Here Ye Here Ye!!!  The Arizona Renaissance Festival is in full swing! I'm not one for street fairs or most fairs, but this one is special.  Have you ever read a medieval book and wondered what it was like to live during the times of Kings and Queens?  Today we take a trip back in time to experience what it was like to be a villager during the time known as Renaissance.
 I was a bit leary of it all.  I had never been, but I had heard it was a lot of fun.  After a weekend of hiking and exploration along the Riparian corridor of the San Pedro river, I wasn't sure what to expect.  Was this going to be another place of overpriced food and crowded with a billion people?  Well yes.  But surprisingly, the road trip up through the wildflower show along the highway and sunny bright skies made for a fun road trip.  And guess what?  The overpriced food and crowded fair wasn't bad at all!  Why?  Because there was a lot going on for different people all around the grounds.  It was around 22 bucks to get in, but you can pre purchase your tickets at Fry's Grocery Store for 18 dollars.  Parking is free at the event.  Just be careful around the traffic area as it can get congested.
 With an open mind, I saw a bird flutter.  Then 2!  What was this?!!  A bird show? YES! We were off to a good start. To make it even better, there were owls!!!  That's when I realized that the day was going to be a lot of fun.  And it didn't disappoint one bit.  We heard wonderful music, fantastic reenactments of a jousting competition, and excellent side shows.....just like they did back in the day when street performers were....well....street performers.
 What I enjoyed most was that there were times when I felt like I was in one of my books.....and I actually experienced the feeling of heckling others or watching street performers make a mistake here and there.  It was interesting and enriched my knowledge of the descriptions created in novels like the Game of Thrones.
 Color and design.  Everywhere you went, you could see unique signs and fabrics that would have been sold on the streets of the past.  I imagined villages along oceans or rivers where pirates, royalty, commoners, farmers, vendors, knights......all intermingled together.  And it made realize how complicated human society was back then.....and continues to be today.
 On a break between events and a little respite from the hot desert sun, we found a grove of shade trees where a harpist and a mound of grass awaited for us to plant our butts. If I could learn 3 instruments in my life, it would be the violin, Spanish guitar, or harp.  Why?  Because they're cool.:)
 There were acrobats, gymnists, comedians(like a pair of funny nuns), puppeteers, and plenty other performers to keep one's attention throughout the day. It seemed like fire was used often in a lot of the performances(which made for great photography).
 Barely Balanced performed and entertained crowds with their borderline adult humour and fire acts. They were very funny and made the audience laugh. One of the performers hails from my university!!!  Stevens Point!  What a small world we live in! And what an awesome place to learn stuff!
 The Fair will go on until April 1st and it's a great place to go with friends, family and loved ones.  Parents and Grandparents, while the event is family friendly, do check with performances before attending.  A lot of the talk is double entendre and will fly over your kids' head, but if you have a kid like my nephew Nolan, there may be a lot of questions:) But I have a feeling the fire will distract:)
 The shows will run throughout the day until 5 PM.  The gate closes at 5:45 and the crowds start filtering out at around 5 PM. There is a schedule for the day's events so that you maximize your visit.
 I liked the images.  I like the feel of it all.  But mostly, it made me glad I went.  Why have I never gone before?  I suppose when I hear the word "fair" I think BORING!  And if you're like me and hate FRIED FOOD or turkey legs, don't worry.  They offer other kinds of foods as well.  I had a delicious crepe, some raspberry mead, and taco salad during the day.
 There is a little something here for everyone.  For birders.  For gardeners. For history aficionados.  For people who like the Arizona sunshine.  I highly recommend this outing.  I had been secretly hoping for a pic with Twig the Fairy.  Upon our exit, she was standing there.  I watched as kids approached her.  It was absolutely adorable.  If you could have seen the children's faces......priceless.  In fairy character, she didn't speak.  But she did play her flute and it made me smile and think of Fairy Gardens and Fireflies. 
I did have my picture taken.  I'm a bit red from the sun so bring some sunblock.  I wore a hat all day, but I took it off for this picture.  What a way to end the day:)  And let's not even talk about the beautiful Arizona sunset on the way home! You can check that out below:)
The Renassaince Fair is around until April 1st on weekends. PS.  I have some exciting news.  My photography will be featured in a published book on UNESCO sites next year and I am truly honored to have my work featured.  To see those pics, you just need to visit the posts on my Coiba Island experience or The Forgotten Garden from last year. After the news, I popped open a bottle of Pinot Noir and poured myself a glass. Life is good. The adventure continues tomorrow....

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Ugh.  I don't like waiting until the last minute to get work done.  Last year was a deadly year for us here in Tucson with a historic freeze that would kill everything.  This year, it has been mild and I waited for awhile before making a decision.  An educated and experienced gamble.  But still a gamble nonetheless....
Our Summer Bougainvillea Bonanza
Landscapers, gardeners, plant enthusiasts......have you done this?  Well I will admit that this is the first time I've done this on our property.  I pruned our plants like Bougainvillea and Crape Myrtle back.  I wanted to get a head start and this winter has been a mild one compared to last year's killer cold temps.  The plan is to prune, fertilize, and clean up around the plant areas in a sequential manner.  Every weekend I've been outside working on planter areas adding little by little to the empty planters.  And it's all coming together quite nicely.
In winter, they look like this.
But it's a still a gamble.  If freezing temps arrive before the official March 15th date, I could possibly jeopardize my plants.....or will I?  The root systems on these plants are strong and have been around for years.  I think this spring is going to be an amazing one and I can't wait to see all the growth.  Last year our plants were stunted from the freeze and everything was delayed by about a month and a half.  Several never developed blossoms like the Jacaranda.  Thankfully, I saved the Jacaranda from death and this year it, along with my neighbor's Jac, will hopefully develop those beautiful purple flowers.  I'll have pics in early summer of these incredible blossoms.  For now, it's prepping for the big spring show.  Stay tuned for more in the El Presidio garden. So have you gambled in your garden? And if so what did you do?:)  Did it work?

In February and March, they look like this:)

Monday, February 27, 2012

La Loma Jungle Lodge and Chocolate Farm

The Red Frog and symbol of this island
On a trip this past summer to Isla Bastimentos in the Bocas Del Toro region, we stayed at the amazing La Loma Jungle Lodge and Chocolate Farm for a little pampering before heading out to the turtle conservation program on the opposite end of the Bocas islands.
This was a very positive experience for us and we had a great 3 day stay here. A couple things to note.  It's really hot and humid in this region.  Luckily, we had a breeze up in our cabin overlooking the ocean. And there are several cabins located up a steep hill.  Watch your step and take your time going up hill with your luggage.  But we had help and people helped carry our luggage up on our way up the hill.  The staff, owners, and guest staff are really kind people.  The owners were back in Europe for vacation, but we had their replacements Karen and Steve who did an amazing job keeping us occupied around the island.  Steve is a retired landscaper who has a great knowledge of rain forest trees and plants.  Karen is a scifi/fantasy geek like I am and we spoke about Game of Thrones amongst other things.
Our cabin was beautiful, private, and open to the rain forest environment.  We were able to read and hang out in our hammock on breaks.  This is really a great getaway for newlyweds or families.  It's also an excellent place for birding.  Listen to this one.  So this birder guy brings his family.  He has to do all the family stuff like go to the beach, bla bla bla, but when they turned their backs, he had his binoculars out spying on the trillion and one birds.  Clever man:)
Our showers were open to the world and I have to say......I loved it:)
This is one nice bathroom.  I felt safe and welcome on this cozy little forested island.  The Bastimentos National Park is located there as well.
Mosquito nets keep the bugs out and I slept quite well on this lovely little vacation.
Imagine yourself on this hammock(hamoca) taking a break from caving or swimming.
If you love native cultures or the outdoors, you'll love this visit.  The mangroves here are spectacular.
And if you're a birder, check out these Oropendalas from my open bedroom.  Their calls are unique and pretty strange.  They sound like something from outer space.
If you like gardens or growing your own food, all of it is made on the farm!  The meals were delish!
You will also have some amazing guides take you around the National Park and island.  Here we toured the Chocolate farm and sampled the fruit.  But the pic above is the only one I have of us entering the cave hidden in the lush flora.  There were a lot of bats!:)
And there was this dog that followed us all over the island and he was our magical guardian.  Sometimes he'd come out of nowhere!  Expect to see caiman, sloths, a billion birds, jellyfish, lots and lots of frogs, and a lot of critters.
While it may seem pricey at about 100 buck a person per night, sometimes it's just the break you need while backpacking through the rain forest.  And who doesn't like freshly made chocolate?!!!  You get to see it being made right there!  If you're heading to Panama and want a nice cozy getaway, I highly recommend this posh visit.  And if you are interested more in going to Panama, just head on over to the month of August on this blog for lots of interesting tidbits and fun.  Check this place out:)  More soon....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Taste of What's To Come

Greetings all,
I just wanted to answer a bunch of questions from readers real quick.  Things have been busy here....I mean really busy!  It's spring and I've discovered that I've had to schedule my life....not around blogging but around the million things going on here in Tucson.  I don't have kids so that's one less distraction in my life.  A lot of my gardening blogger friends have been wondering if I will be featuring more on the garden and spring here in the desert.  The answer is yes and they are already done.  They're coming soon....and more are in the works.
Maps of trails cover my desk and table.  Birding, Arizona events and hiking will be featured next month.  Some of the posts will have to be switched around to keep them current with activities around the state.   I also have updates from the El Presidio Garden.  The simple truth is that this winter has been mild and while I've been working around the property and gardens, not much has been going on....yet.  But it will be happening very soon as I believe spring has unofficially arrived here in Tucson. 
 Finally, I'll be answering some technical questions about my camera and the lenses etc. These will all be featured next month.  There is a lot of information to share and some photo shoots that I am truly excited to share with you all.  So while the garden has been in hibernation, the birding has been hot! And it has been fun playing detective on a lot of leads around town and other areas. The pictures you see today are from yesterday at the Renaissance Fair near Florence.  They actually have a raptor program within the festival that was cleverly intertwined with the theme of the Renaissance.  I'll have more information coming up on this show and several others.  One is on birding.  The second is on photography.  And the 3rd will be on the event itself.  PS.  This is an Eagle Owl.  They do not live here, BUT it was a great opportunity to work on my owl photography(which I have more of!!!:)  I'm learning the flight patterns for a better shot in midair, etc.  Incredible creatures and some wonderful captures of birds, Tucson, the garden, travel, and so much more as we approach the month of March.  Until tomorrow.....

Sine Qua Non

Translated "without which not". The sense is something like: This is the thing without which you will not succeed. It is an absolutely indispensible thing or condition.
Desert Mistletoe
.....or "most essential requirement".  When one or more of those things disappear in nature, the chain is affected.   Take for example the relationship between Desert Mistletoe and the Phainopepla.  The Mistletoe spreads by seed with the help of this bird and the bird benefits from the berries in the wild.

             You can't have one without the other.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hoo Am I?

Pull back from the outside....
And watch this morphos demonstrate color!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wings of Desire

Malachite Butterfly
I love butterflies.  I don't know anyone who doesn't.  One of the things I enjoy about them are the designs and color on their wings.
Once you've worked with butterflies after awhile, you'll find that most fall into general categories.  This is a Malachite butterfly.  Adults feed on flower nectar, rotting fruit, dead animals, and bat dung. Yum!
Emperor Swallowtail
Here in Tucson, we are home to a Swallowtail.....just not this one.  This one hails from Southern and Eastern Africa.
But you'll find them here at the Tucson Botanical Gardens on display from now until April 30th.
Think about starting your own butterfly garden.  In Tucson, we have a lot of butterflies that visit our gardens.  There's the Giant Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail, Cloudless Sulphur, Grey Hairstreak, Marine Blue, American Snout, Gulf Fritillary, Painted Lady, Queen, Sara's Orangetip and Fiery Skipper. 
It's easy.  Find the plants and the flowers and you'll discover a whole new world.  It's just like birding in your own backyard.  But instead of the birdseed, bring in plants that butterflies will love.  As it warms up, so will your garden as you add an extra "dimension" to your place.  Bird sounds, birds, fluttering butterflies, and lush green plants for lizards and crickets to chirp.....well you'll have an oasis for desert wildlife in no time!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rock Gardens

As I get back into the garden again, I thought I'd explore the idea of a rock garden.  This idea is growing in popularity and it's really a fun theme that requires very little maintenance once the set up is complete.  The expensive component is the rock used.  If you move to the desert, you may notice the lack of lawns and an increase of rock or pebble mulch.  Rock doesn't have to be boring and if organized properly, this garden can be the star attraction of your home or frontyard.  There are several ideas behind the general term, "Rock Garden".  When I think attractive, I think of the above pic.  Strong colored rocks mixed with agaves, aloes, grasses, cacti, several groundcovers like the ice plant, wildflowers, or succulents are excellent choices for this type of design.  Strong rock design with structural plants create a really bold statement.   Whatever you choose, remember to keep water similiar plants together.  For example, you may not want to put cacti next to succulents as succulents require a bit more water. Similarly, keep all sunny plants together in one spot.   Wildflowers look amazing in this kind of garden.
Japanese Garden
There's even a more sterile type of garden known as the Japanese Rock Garden.  Talk about low maintenance!  It's not the typical "rake your gravel" in the Arizona desert.  Instead, think of it as a way to add grace through elegant design around rock formations.  It's very zen and relaxes the body and mind.  It's not for everyone, but it is a unique form of rock gardening that is also gaining popularity in the Old Pueblo. No plants to very little plants are used for this design.  If a plant is used, it wouldn't be the focal point but off to the side away from the rock design.
Here in Tucson, we are very lucky to be able to choose from a great selection of structural plants. What do you think?  Do you have a rock garden?  Do you like this design?  Would you have one in your own landscape?