Sunnylands Labyrinth, Rancho Mirage

A Guest Blog by
Teri Petrzalek

Background Information:

Sunnylands is the 200-acre estate outside Palm Springs of Walter and Lenore Annenberg. In 2001 they created a trust fund to “address serious issues facing the nation and the world community.”  A 25,000 square foot, Mid-Century marvel, this peaceful oasis is set in the center of a 9-hole golf course. The property is now used for retreats as well as high-level summits. Former President Obama met Chinese President Xi Jinping.  Other dignitaries include the Reagans, Prince Charles and Margaret Thatcher. The work of the Foundation is committed to sustainability, Global Cooperation, Democratic Institutions and Global Health and Food Security.

Teri in Sunnyland Labyrinth

A hint of Thyme.

A visitor center was constructed at the entry and with it several breath-taking garden vignettes. As we toured the gardens, the tree-lined path around the great lawn opened to a clearing which contained a labyrinth. The 7-circuit path was wide and separated by low plantings.

To finish reading this guest blog, go to 1080 Labyrinth of Recovery and Laughter. 

Food In Alaska

cold day.

At the Iditarod Start

Food in Alaska is just plain fun!  The Last Frontier state has one of the most ethnically diverse area codes in the country.  English, Irish, Scottish, German, French, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, Polish, Filipino, Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, African Americans, Laotians, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Native American, Italian, Mexican and Russian are among the many groups of settlers.  Alaska Natives with their several family identifications make up even more diversity.

And, as the spring 2018 issue of “Bake From Scratch” magazine points out, each cultural group brought its own type of food which has since fused into uniquely Alaskan fare. I sampled lots the few days I was in Alaska this winter.  Some from different cultures and some from the subsistence foraging that is part of being Alaskan.

First Friday Art

Art on a wall

My daughter and son-in-law hosted me for a fun Fur Rondy-Iditarod time in March. At a charming downtown restaurant, we enjoyed the wall art being prepped for “First Friday” when art galleries and restaurants feature new art, stay open for music and sometimes introduce new dishes.  Tomato bisque and roll and grilled cheese sandwiches hit the spot on a cold and grey late winter day.

 

After walking off the lunch we hit Wild Scoops for their truly Alaskan sourced ice cream of “wildly” exciting flavors. From the micro-creameries to the harvested berries they boast ingredients from Alaska in generous Wild Scoops portions. We then wandered through the Alaska Museum to walk off those calories.

On the morning of the Iditarod, the first order of business for Brian and me was the stop at the Fire Island Rustic Bake Shop. This truly family affair of making traditional and specialty breads, muffins and scones using organic ingredients was a delight to see and smell. Lines out the door gave a clue to the popularity and was worth the wait to select a roll and coffee for the walk up to the Ceremonial Start.  We saved a muffin for Nancy who was working at Campbell Creek Science Center where the Ceremonial Start ends at the Campbell Airstrip.

While not particularly “ethnic” the hotdogs for sale by vendors at the downtown Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod had long lines waiting with numerous sauces and spreads to tempt the taste buds.

A trip to New Sagaya market was an eye-opener.  So many choices from so many countries and cultures within each country.  We snacked on interesting appetizers while we sipped great coffee. Poke – Hawaiian for slice or section – can be both a fish salad and an appetizer. We ate aku a raw oily tuna.  Well, it was OK to try – once. Mochi is a round rice ball.  Kind of soft and squishy.  It had a subtle sweetness. Mike Barnes, Chief Operating Officer, accurately boasts, “NEW SAGAYA DOES WHAT NOBODY ELSE WANTS TO DO…WE GO THE EXTRA MILE.” Indeed, they seem to!  Friendly, knowledgeable and the store is well-stocked with about any diverse food customers could want.

Bear Tooth Theatre Pub

Waiting for the movie to start.

The Bear Tooth Theatre Pub is a “have to visit” place to eat and sample craft beers while watching first run, indie and foreign films. Broken Tooth Beer served there is just one of the best! And the pizzas are loaded with great locally sourced toppings on a crispy yet substantial crust.  And, the popcorn…of course!  Have to take it in. The background is that a few “fresh-faced college friends” concocted the idea of The Theatre Pub in the late 1990s. They gave up lucrative careers in computers and law when craft beers were coming of age and have been going strong since.

 

Not only did we eat out, but also, Nancy and Brian prepared wonderful meals at home.  Most Alaskans forage and they are onto this one.  They’ve had great adventures halibut fishing, picking berries and making jams and chutneys. Brian has plans for fall hunting and fishing expeditions.  Meanwhile, they served elk and moose from previous trips, halibut tacos, Dutch Babies with their jams, and salmon from a neighbor.  One friendly fact about Alaskans I learned is that if someone offers to help or offers food, say, “Yes. Thank you.” Alaskans mean it when they offer.

Alaskans I met are genuinely friendly and use organic and local products as much as possible.  Always, the dishes are infused with a truly Alaskan personality – We are Glad you are Here!

Mini-Binoculars Will Travel

TRAVELING WITH BINOCULARS

Disclosure: Years ago we were asked to serve on the Alpen Optics Birding Pro-Staff and periodically we receive optics to test. Following is a report on using mini-binoculars while traveling.

In October we enjoyed a 1600-mile, 12-day clockwise loop around Washington State.    After picking up our rental car at the Spokane airport our journey took us through deserts, mountain passes, the Olympic rainforest, and even across Puget Sound on a ferry.

We enjoyed spotting new bird species, sea lions, jellyfish, Roosevelt elk, and a host of other wildlife. Good thing we brought along binoculars! We wouldn’t dream of traveling without binoculars and use them constantly. Even when we trek to New York City we tote along a pair. But, for this trip, they presented a dilemma.

We wanted to avoid checking baggage on the plane to save cost and the possibility of a lost suitcase.

Hoh Rainforest

Rich with compact binoculars.

Delta Airlines limited us to a small suitcase that we could carry on the plane. Squeezing nearly two weeks’ worth of clothes and supplies into these packs was a challenge. It became obvious that we couldn’t fit in our full-size binocs. Mini Binoculars to the rescue! Our Alpen Wings ED compact binoculars easily nested into a hiking boot that we tucked in the pack.

For all around general binocular use, and when we’re traveling by car, we always use full-size binoculars. They fit our hands well, provide a bright image, even at dawn and dusk, and their field of view is wide. Their downside is bulkiness.

Many optical companies sell high-quality compact binoculars. Go for quality. Inexpensive models are nearly useless. Here are the pros and cons of mini binoculars:

PRO

Compact binoculars are handy because they are small. They easily fit in a glove compartment, purse, or jacket pocket and take little space in a suitcase. Mini’s are ideal for travel. Quality ones have clear optics.

Having a pair of mini binoculars handy is always better than not having binoculars.

CON

Mini binoculars have a limited field of view and are rarely as good in low light situations as their full-size cousins. We find them a little harder to use and hold than full-size models and would never choose to use minis for long viewing sessions or if we went on specific birding excursions. But they are invaluable when size and weight are limited.

The best solution is to have two pairs of binoculars. One full sized model for general use and minis for travel and convenience.

Total Eclipse of the Sun 2017

Even though clouds and rain dominated the central Midwest on Monday, August 21st, we took in and enjoyed our Eclipse Trip 2017. We drove major roads to SW Iowa and cut over to smaller state and county roads where the views were more intimate and traffic less.  Rolling hills of the Iowa Southern Drift  added variety for the eye and pastures and unmowed roadsides softened the landscape, providing habitat for pollinators and birds. This is a very low population area of Iowa.  Only about 7000 people live in the entire county and Bedford, IA, has been losing population since the 1930’s.  You can buy a house there for $25,000.

Our campsite at Lake of Three Fires  near Bedford, IA was surrounded by other eclipse seekers. Set on fingers of ridges, the campground would normally have been empty on a Sunday night, but on the solar eclipse eve, campers kept streaming in.  All quiet. All intent on finding a good location to view the upcoming eclipse.  Met many folks from Minnesota had braved I-35 and I-80 traffic and a terrifically scary and strong lightning storm that blasted through southern Iowa and lit the sky all night. One fellow pulled in at 4:00 a.m. The night brought a chorus of coyotes, a lone owl hooting and an amazing lightning show to the north.
Then, the rain. But, that did not deter any of us. We scattered across NW Missouri and doggedly drove toward clearing skies, finding a small window in Maysville, MO. The rain stopped, clouds thinned and we set our chairs up on the lawn of the county courthouse along with a bunch of other folks. Eclipse watchers clustered about along gravel roads, in farms, and in small towns.
We were able to see the sun on and off through thin clouds. While we had only glimpses of the sun itself as the moon “took bites out of it”, the experience and the surrounding activities were fascinating. The day gradually darkened and then just at totality it went black!  Street lights came on.  Nighthawks appeared in the sky and chimney swifts circled chimneys. Pigeons roosted on the roofs. Bats briefly fluttered about. People donned their glasses, chatted, and “oohed” and “awed” exclaiming loudly, “I can’t believe this!”  “How cool is this?!”  And, finally, one woman joked, “Why are we all so surprised?”
After a couple of minutes it got  lighter rather quickly and we hopped in to car for the 270 mile drive back home.

It was one fun trip and a lovely diversion from the regular fare of “news” that we are subjected to daily.

More anon. Enjoy this short Splice video of our trip.

Odessa Water Trail

Canoe Front

A picture perfect day to canoe.

On a splendid late July day we packed up food, loaded the canoe, paddles and life jackets and headed out to explore the Odessa Water Trail. It’s one of Iowa’s several water trails and part of a larger system of water trails in the Midwest.  What a blast!

Two hours south of Cedar Rapids the The Odessa Trail in Louisa County offers a way to explore backwaters safely. It winds through two wildlife management areas. The map we picked up at the Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters  ensured we would not get lost in the maze of channels that form the meandering floodplain. Tucked in the inner elbow below Iowa’s bulge with the “Father of Waters” this refuge, managed for waterfowl and wildlife, encompasses 6400 acres and sports three tails ranging from an easy three mile paddle to a moderate 4.5 mile cruise to a 6.5 trek that can extend to 17 miles!

The Refuge closes from mid-September to January first to accommodate migratory waterfowl.  Other times it is open to boaters, canoeists and kayakers, fishermen, and birders. Hiking and bicycling trails line the main islands, but those adventures could be dicey in high water and just plain buggy in hot weather. A campground is conveniently located near the Odessa Wildlife Unit Headquarters. 

This day was just right.  High pressure kept winds down, the sun was warm, but the air cool, especially for July.  Sunscreen, long sleeved shirts and hats  kept the sun’s rays at bay. Mid summer is quiet for bird life after their busy nesting season. Still we heard and saw a variety of songbirds and kept annoying a Great Egret and at least two Great Blue Herons. They would nervously watch us approach then with a loud squawk lift off and wing a few hundred yards down stream. Only to be annoyed again, when we approached. We did watch a heron catch and swallow a fish.

Along the banks frogs of all sizes croaked and leapt into the murky water. Lots of fish were rising up, but Rich decided not to wet his line, and rather studied the trail map carefully as we floated and paddled. Partway down, we pulled in for lunch balancing snacks in the canoe as the day drifted by.

It was great to try out one of Iowa’s many water trails. Check out the link to the National Park’s National Water Trail System. And, enjoy the short videos and photo gallery below. Go Outside and Play!

Great Egret Flies Off Click this link to see.

Great Blue Heron fishes.

May in Northeast Iowa

May is about the most exciting month to travel and camp out in Iowa.  We took in the Driftless area of Iowa and Wisconsin where we learned more about mounds at Effigy Mounds National Monument, ate at funky Café McGregor, took in Starks and Cabelas in Prairie du Chien, and entered our favorite forest over the “Forest Road” into Yellow River State Forest.

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Enjoy this photo journal of our stay.