Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Sunday afternoon drive

Emma and I went for a drive this afternoon just to see what we could see on some of the back roads that are not on the Tamarac NWR.  The sun was shining, the skies were blue, and I just didn’t want to sit around the rig all day.  When I first signed up for this assignment, I was told it was in the north woods of Minnesota.  Well, yes, there are plenty of woods on the refuge, but much of the surrounding area is rolling prairie that has over the years been turned into farmland.


With no rain the last few days, the farmers are making hay while the sun shines.  It’s also now clearly visible which fields are growing corn and which fields are growing soy beans.  Because of the long and cold winter, it’s only been recently that the different crops have grown enough to be discernible when driving by the fields.  Most corn will be ‘knee high by the fourth of July’, but compared to other years things are a little behind.  Fellow volunteer Steve, from North Carolina, says that saying down south is ‘eye high by the fourth of July’.  Interesting.IMG_3650I stopped at a little cemetery along the way to grab a pic of this most unusual graveside monument.  I’ve never seen a stop and go light before as a memorial.  Then there is the butterfly too.  All sorts of things popped into my mind, but I’ll try to find out ‘the rest of the story’.


In our wanderings, we came across the Hamden Slough NWR.  The headquarters was ten miles down a dusty gravel road, and I decided to just go a short way down that road.  After all, today was Sunday and I knew no one would be working to answer my questions.  I’ll return on a weekday sometime.


I’ve heard the word ‘slough’ pronounced three different ways: slew, sluf, and slou (like in ouch).  I had to look it up in my dictionary when I got home.  The definition for the slou pronunciation seems to fit best in this situation: a place of deep mud; a hole full of mire.  I’m sure there are regional differences in pronunciation, but this is the one I’m going to use here.IMG_3653This brief bobolink sighting is the only thing I saw on my short journey into this refuge.  Who would believe there would be so many vehicles blasting down these gravels roads and obliterating the views with tons of dust?  Ugh!  I think I’ll wait until after the July 4th long weekend before I return for a calmer look at this refuge.

I’ve also got some updates on a couple of recent things.  Remember the mosquito traps that Merikay sent me?  Well, I had one outside my rig for several days before a storm blew through and knocked it asunder.  In that time, I continued to get bitten in the evening, and not one lousy mosquito was found inside the trap.  I’ll try setting up a couple of them again, but this time I think I’ll put some rocks in the bottom of them to help hold them in place.

Then there’s the matter of the new clock and watch.  The blasted minute hand on the new clock gets stuck on 45 seconds, and the expandable band on the watch is too big.  Uff-da.  I hate when my watch slides up and down my arm.  Of course, when I was in Wal-mart, I couldn’t find an ‘associate’ to open the watch holder to try it on first.  This is one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of Wal-mart.  I’ll be going back there next week to return both items. Baring teeth smile

I have to set my alarm for 5:30 in the morning tonight so I can stagger down to headquarters for the beginning of the loon and tern count this week.  I’ll give you the details tomorrow if I’m still awake…


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Whale Sharks, the Big Friendly Giants

I was always told that seeing a whale shark in the water with you will leave you awe struck and speechless. If you know me in real life, then you know that there are very few times that I am speechless, much to hubs disappointment (especially when he's trying to sleep). 
snorkeling with whale sharks oslob philippines
We made great time on our road trip and arrived in Oslob by around 9:30. As soon as you reach the small town, you're bombarded with signs leading to businesses that will take you out to see the whale sharks. I admit that it was a huge tourist trap but sometimes you just have to suck it up, put on your 'I love Cebu' T-shirt and fanny pack and join the other tourists in order to see one of the most amazing things I have ever laid my eyes on.
snorkeling with whale sharks oslob philippines
We first had to sit through a five minute safety and informational speech. They explained to us that each day they send boats out that throw small fish into the water to attract the whale sharks. This is yes, for the purpose of tourism, but also so scientists in the area can come tag them, study their behavior and hopefully use this information to protect them in the future. Around 12 o'clock, the feeding stops so the whale sharks will go back into the wilderness and hunt on their own, therefore discouraging dependency on the program.
snorkeling with whale sharks oslob philippines
They also explained (with diagrams I might add) that we must at all times stay at least four meters away from the whale sharks. If we did not adhere to this law we were warned that we could either be fined (about $50) or sent to jail for a few weeks. No problem we thought. Don't it. We had no idea just how difficult that would be until we got in the water with them. We headed away from the information tent and towards the water. As soon as we stepped foot on the beach, we could see fins stretching out of the water and towards the sky, along with massive shadows lurking beneath the surface. 
Technically a shark but getting the name because it's as big as some whales; these giants can get up to almost 12 meters (41.5 ft) long and can weigh more than 47,000 tons. Their mouth alone can reach up to 5 feet in length! But don't worry, they're filter feeders, eating only small fish, plankton and krill. The largest we saw that day was over 9 meters (29.5 feet) long.
whale shark, oslob philippines
We hopped in one of the small narrow boats that littered the water front, filled with people anxious for a glimpse of the infamous giants. We prepped inside the boat and donned our mask and fins as quickly as we could so we wouldn't waste a minute of our allotted 35 minutes in the water. Once we ducked under the water we knew what people meant when they said we would be in awe. We did not see just one whale shark, but nine gliding through the crystal clear waters, taking turns it seemed, to surface and gulp down the tiny fish the boats were pouring into the waters. 
As I was hanging onto the boat, readjusting my goggles, my feet dangling in the water, I felt a sudden jolt under my feet. Shocked and curious, I put my head down in the water and saw one of the massive beings swimming just inches under me. It had quite literally ran into me. See what I mean about it being difficult to stay far away? Panicked, I looked up to my tour guide to see if he had caught what had just happened. He let out a small chuckle and told me not to worry, it happened all the time. All they want is food and many times they pay no attention to the dozens of swimmers in the water around them. There were even times when I looked over at hubs and had to hurriedly motion for him to move out of the way because one of the whale sharks, mouth wide open, was just inches behind him, heading his way.
snorkeling with whale sharks oslob philippines
whale sharks oslob philippines
After spending every last moment we could in the water, we headed back for shore, not being able to wipe the childish grins off of our faces. On the way back home, the rain caught up with us as we rode the last hour in the pouring rain. Soaked to the bone as we arrived back at our hotel, smiles still plastered on our faces, the staff questioned us about how it went. It was the perfect ending to the perfect weekend getaway.
snorkeling with whale sharks oslob philippines
Have you ever or would you ever swim freely with this mammoth of a fish?

Linking up with  CarissaRachelLoganLeann, Molly

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Time stood still

Last night after I published my blog post, I put something back into one of the cabinets that is over the windshield.  As I shut the door, there was a loud crash on the dashboard.  For years I’ve had one of those round cheap big clocks stuck to the middle of one of the cabinets with industrial strength Velcro.  Well, it bit the dust last night.  When I got up this morning, both of my cheap Walmart watches had quit working… dead batteries I’m guessing.  Hmm.  Interesting that most of my time keeping devices crapped out within hours of each other.

I left the rig at some time this morning to head to town for my weekly grocery trip with a watch and clock added to the list.  First stop was the Saturday morning farmer’s market to pick up another delicious loaf of bread from the Fargo Breadsmith booth.  There was quite a line this morning, and they were out of my first choice by the time it was my turn, but I got a nice crusty loaf of rustic Italian bread.  Nothing much beats a nice slice of fresh crusty bread slathered in butter in my book.

When I was at the market two weeks ago, I got a nice bouquet of lilacs.  The lilacs are done now, but today a booth was selling peonies.

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Some of you may remember when I had Robyn and Dennis remove the Euro-recliner from my rig in March so I could put these drawers in instead.  Well, it’s the perfect place for a bouquet of flowers on top.  I can also use two of my little treasures.  The white runner on top of the drawers is hand embroidered in a southwest motif.  I picked up that little gem for $2 at a church bazaar in Deming, NM, a couple of years ago.  And the vase is really a jar for holding a celery stalk with water in your fridge.  It has been passed down from my grandmother, but I suppose she kept the celery in the ice box.  Winking smile  Someday I’d like a nice wooden set of drawers there that match my cabinetry.  I love having fresh flowers to smell and admire, and I’m so pleased that I now have a place to display them.

After I finished my chores in Detroit Lakes, I checked the mailbox out at the end of the road on the refuge.  There was a Netflix inside and two packages for me.

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The first package contained the Thunder Shirt that I had ordered for Emma to help her ‘weather’ noisy storms.  She is a real basket case with any thunder, lightening, or hail.  I’ve been very skeptical about this idea, but thought I’d give it a try.  The directions said to practice putting it on before there was any hint of anxiety in her.  It was also suggested to offer her a treat laying on the shirt before putting it on her.  You can see on the left what she thought of the treat idea.  She pushed it onto the ground.  I must say, she was certainly calm while wearing the shirt, and typically tried to avoid looking at me once she saw the camera.  Maybe this wild child should wear this shirt 24/7!  We’ll have to see what happens when the next storm comes along.


The second package was a surprise gift from my brother Carl and his wife, Denise.  It was a new hat for me.

                                                               BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!!


I noticed a zipper on the top of the hat, and thought perhaps you were supposed to put a bag of ice in it to keep your head cool during the summer heat.  Ha!  Not so!


Tucked inside is mosquito netting that can be pulled down to protect your face from nasty flying insects!  What a hoot!!  Sun and bug protection all in one neat little package.  I asked fellow volunteer Steve to take these pictures for me, and he about croaked when I pulled the netting out of the top of my head.


Okay Donna Cave-blogger, eat your heart out!  Let’s see you top this fashion accessory.  Smile with tongue out  Just picture it… this hat, my white socks pulled up having my long pants tucked into them, and steel-toed boots.  I’ll be ready for the fashion runway, and who knows… maybe it will help me sneak up on the birds.  Thanks, Carl and Denise, you made my day!


                                                                               THE END!!

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

Friday, June 28, 2013

Testing out my new purchase and a decision for the fall

The first reason I went to Fargo yesterday was to find a Best Buy store.  I finally reached the point where I wanted a much smaller camera for special circumstances.  I’m very happy with the two Canon Rebel SLR cameras that I have, but they are rather big and bulky to carry around.  I thought I’d be going on a wildlife adventure today at the refuge where it might not be the best idea to take my SLRs along.  Turns out that assignment got cancelled due to the windy weather, but is rescheduled for several days next week.


I wanted a camera that was compact enough to slide into the pocket of my life vest should I find myself out canoeing the sometimes unpredictable waters on the refuge.  This is what I chose.  It’s a Canon PowerShot SX280 HS, and when the power is shut down the lens and flash retract.  It’s small and compact, and a challenge for me to learn how to use.

I’ve always had a viewfinder to look through in all the cameras that I’ve owned in the last fifty years.  It’s hard for me to get used to looking at a screen with my arms extended rather than lifting the camera to my eye.


After charging up the battery overnight, I decided to give it a test run this afternoon when the overcast skies gave way to partly cloudy conditions.  I was rather pleased with this shot of tiny mushrooms in my front yard.  That’s a clover blossom on the left to give you an idea of how small these were.

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The pic on the left is with the new camera, and the one on the right is with my Rebel with the 300mm telephoto lens.  These cliff swallow nests are located under the eave of one of maintenance buildings.  The reason the photo on the right has birds in it is that I could stand further away with my Rebel and hold it stiller for the shot. 

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Once again, new camera on the left and Rebel on the right.  I like the shot on the right better, but I’ve got a bit of a learning curve with the PowerShot to learn how to use it best.


                                Landscape scenes seemed okay, but I missed my polarizing lens filter.


It didn’t do a bad job on this showy Lady’s slipper, but like I said, I still need to figure things out on this camera.  I must have hit some button wrong because no matter how bright it is outside, the flash always goes off.  I finally just covered it with my finger.  I’m going to have to figure that out soon.  Of course, the instruction booklet only covers basic setup to get the camera working.  That means I’ll have to look at the CD that came with it to further figure things out.  I’d rather have a paper book in my hands.

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Hands down here, I think I did better with the Rebel, and this was using the macro setting on the PowerShot.  I had expected the background to go more out of focus.  Overall, I’ll not be giving up my Rebels very soon, but the added heft of them probably helps me keep the camera more steady for shots.  I’ll keep practicing.  I do know that the PowerShot will have its place, and I’d much rather lose that camera in a possible tip over in a canoe or kayak than lose one of my big cameras.

I got an e-mail today from the volunteer coordinator at Bayou Cocodrie NWR in Louisiana.  This refuge is about 13 miles west of Natchez, MS.  Looks like that’s going to be my next volunteer assignment for this fall.  They have never had RV volunteers before, so I’ll be happy to break them in.  Winking smile

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I’ll leave you tonight with these pics of a mama loon with her three chicks on Pine Lake.  They were way off on the lake, but I’ve always wanted to see how the young get transported around on the back of a parent.

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy

BIG NEWS! Announcing the Snail Mail Collective

This blogging community can be pretty great. I mean, I don't want to give you a big head or anything, but ya'll (yes, I'm from the south, it had to come out sometime) are amazing. You are a large reason of why I continue this blog of mine. Yes, I love writing and documenting our world travels, but it is the connections that I have made with other bloggers that I love the most.

That is why I'm teaming up with one of the sweetest girls in blogland, Melyssa, from The Nectar Collective to bring you all an international package exchange. Our goal is to provide an avenue to connect and get to know people from all over the world by exchanging packages and postcards each month. This is a great way to not only meet people around the world, but to also learn about new cultures and make new friends! Interested in joining us? Read the rules below and let's get started!

Rules & Information

In order to participate in the Snail Mail Collective this July, please fill out this form. Filling out the form means you commit to actively participating and following the rules below.

1. You will be paired with one new person. We will do our best to make sure this person is from a different country, or at the very least, a different area of your country. We will strive for you to make international friends, but it's also nice to get to know the different parts of our own homeland.

2. Each month's gifts will have a theme. The first theme (for July) is to introduce where you live - what's special about it?

3. Each month, we will be taking sign-ups until the 7th day of the month. After that, the pairings will be posted on our blogs on the 9th or 10th of the month. Please check Lost in Travels or The Nectar Collective to find out who you're paired with.

4. You will have 72 hours to contact your partner (both partners must communicate together). If you're partner does not respond within 72 hours, please e-mail Melyssa or Chelsea.

5. You will have about two weeks to get to know your partner. After that time, your gifts must be sent by the 22nd of the month.

6. Gifts: Your present(s) should not total more than $5. We want this project to be affordable for you, so think small, but meaningful. Also, all packages must include a postcard (preferable) or a letter to your partner. Motivate them, tell them all the beautiful things you learned about them this month, and make them feel special! We could all use a little encouragement, especially from our new friends.

7. Once you receive your gifts, we highly encourage you to write a blog post about your experience. Share what you gave, received, and learned through participating in the Snail Mail Collective and meeting your new buddy.

8. At the beginning of each month, we will hold a link-up on our blogs (The Nectar Collective & Lost in Travels) where you can share and link-up your SMC blog posts. This way, you can see how people around the world interpreted the theme, learn about other cultures, and meet even more new friends.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I’ve been spelling Uff-da wrong!

Heavens to Murgatroyd!  How embarrassing.  I’ve been spelling this Minnesota exclamation Uf-dah, but I found out while playing tourist today that it’s really Uff-da, with or without the dash.  After only twenty years of using it, I stand corrected.

I was off this morning to Fargo/Moorhead for some shopping.  I’m not into shopping much, as my clothes can attest to, but I needed a city with big box stores, and Fargo, ND, is the closest one.  I’ll tell you tomorrow what it was I couldn’t live without.


Fargo is an hour and a half drive away, so I thought I’d stop in at the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center while I was there to find out what’s important to see in the area.  For such a huge building, that was a former grain elevator, the visitors center portion is really quite small, but they hand out free bags of tasty hot popcorn.  Score!  Smile  This is a good place to stop if you’re in the area for several reasons.


A couple of weeks ago, I ordered the movie “Fargo”from Netflix, since I thought it would be about this town.  It really wasn’t.  It was more about a bizarre murder/kidnapping thing in Brainerd, MN.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know that near the end, one of the bad guys kills his partner and puts his body through this wood chipper.  The scene in the movie zeroes in on the socked foot of the unfortunate partner.  Well, at the F-M Visitors Center, they lend you one of those winter hats to put on, and you can have your picture taken stuffing the poor guy down the actual chipper from the movie, don’tcha know.  I just couldn’t pass that up!   It turns out that the year they filmed the movie, there wasn’t enough snow in Fargo so they moved the set to Brainerd after the initial bar scene. 

_MG_8988Then when you step back outside, there’s a nice grassy picnic area surrounded by the Celebrity Walk of Fame.  It’s kind of a touch of Hollywood in Fargo-Moorhead.

73 Tamarac NWR, 20133Al Hirt was the first star to be inducted.  There are now 113 celebrities that have their feet and hands imprinted in 150 pounds of cement.  I didn’t recognize all of them, but got a kick out of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.  The Great Wallendas included footprints on a tightrope, and Meadowlark Lemon’s footprints were inside of a basketball hoop.  The one that tickled me the most was the barefoot prints of Myron Floren.  Do you suppose he practiced his accordion barefoot before appearing with Lawrence Welk?? 


After doing my shopping, I headed for the Hjemkomst Center.  (pronounced yem-komst… Norwegian for homecoming) Note the unusual white portion of the building.  It was constructed specifically to house the Hjemkomst Viking ship to preserve it after its journey to Bergen, Norway.


Inside the center was a beautiful mosaic tile collage that I’m afraid I didn’t do justice to with this photo. It depicted memorable moments in the history of the Fargo-Moorhead area with the important Red River coursing through it.

73 Tamarac NWR, 20134There are two major attractions in the center.  The first is the Hjemkomst.  Robert Asp built the Hjemkomst in a former potato warehouse in Hawley, MN, beginning in 1972.  In the summer of 1980, Robert Asp sailed his ship on Lake Superior.  He died of leukemia in December of that year.  In the summer of 1982, Robert Asp’s family and friends sailed the Hjemkomst 6,100 miles form Duluth, MN, to Berge, Norway where they arrived on July 19, 1982.  It’s impossible to get a total picture of this Viking ship in the museum as it’s more than 76’ long.  There is a very nice movie that details the story of its building and journey through the Great Lakes and across the Atlantic ocean.  What an accomplishment for a rather ordinary man.  It is a shame that he didn’t get to participate in his dreamed of journey.


The second thing of importance at the center is the Hopperstad Stave Church replica.  Guy Paulson began carving for the church in 1997, but the project took more than 5 years to complete.

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Stave churches were built at the end of the Viking Age in Scandinavia from about 950-1350.  Stave churches combined the native building traditions of the Norse culture and medieval Christian styles.  The church in Moorhead is a full-scale replica of the Hopperstad Church, built circa 1125-1150 in the town of Vik, Norway.  I had to ask what ‘stave’ meant, and was told it means that the structure is built with vertical wood posts.  Huge pine trees were used from the Itasca State Park area for its construction.  The carvings were very intricate and painstakingly done.  Such craftsmanship went into this replica. 

I really enjoyed visiting these few sights in the F-M area today, and would recommend them to fellow travelers.  I’ll leave you tonight with something that brought a chuckle to me in the Hjemkomst Center gift shop.


Some of you may remember when Jack came to visit me about a month or so ago, and we headed out on a couple of journeys to see the ‘World’s Largest’ oddities in the surrounding area.  We visited all three of these Roadside America locations.  Seems there’s a murder mystery series that takes place at these same locations.  Who would have guessed?  If I were a murder mystery fan, I might just read them. 

Thanks for stopping by… talk to you later,  Judy