Saturday, February 13, 2010

Winter Olympics - Day 2

Now, you have to remember that altho I am not much of an athlete, I do really enjoy watching sports, especially the individual sort - like most of the Olympics. I'm all for the importance of being part of a team and I think one learns a lot from that, but I really prefer seeing folks compete one on one. That's a big reason I love the Olympics - winter as well as summer. Today we got three sports about which I know little, but which I watched off and on all afternoon and evening. Today was ski jumping, short track speedskating and free style skiing. Oh, I forgot. There were early rounds of the luge.

Ski jumping: This one is pretty straight forward. The competitor climbs a zillion steps up a small, medium or large hill. S/he then sits on a narrow seat until it's his turn and then he pushes off and slides down the ski jump - no poles or anything for balance - and then jumps off the end to land 90 to 100 meters down the hill (that's a horizontal measure) after a "fall" of 100 feet or so. Today it was men, but I think women do this, too, later in the week. It's lovely to watch, rather like flying. But you know it's hard down there on the ground. All it takes is a slight mistake and one could land on his butt, but today no one did. Still to come: the long hill.

Short track speedskating: This one really should be a no brainer, but it isn't. Six or eight people racing around a track. First one across the finish line wins. Then you watch them to it. Oh, did I forget to mention that they are racing on skates, which means as the speed picks up they lean way over. Sometimes I don't know what keeps the skates from just sliding out from under them - and sometimes they do. Apollo Ono came in second, not fourth, because the guy in second place going into the finish slid out and into guy number three. This one they race at many distances (extra laps) so we will see lots more of this. Women do it, too, so double the fun. Tonight the prince and princess of the Netherlands were there with their children to cheer on their team. The orange didn't look at that good on them, either.

Free style skiing: Tonight it was the women doing something called mogels. The idea here is that someone has scattered small jump ramps part way down a medium sized hill and then has built a bunch of tightly packed snow bumps (mogels) all across and up and down the hill. The idea is that the skier comes down the hill and jumps over two of the little jumps. While in the air she does a flip, or a twist, or some other fancy move. She then lands and goes in between all the little snow piles until she comes to another ski jump where she does a trick and then finishes up down the hill. Points are awarded for degree of fanciness in the jump and overall speed down the hill. One can fall down and then pick up, but they always lose too much time when that happens. They can also totally wipe out and not finish the run. This doesn't look as dangerous as some other events, but there's certainly the potential for accident on those little jumps and many people fell on the mogels. Men do this, too, later in the week and with higher jumps, I think. This is definitely a sport where the competitor with the strongest glutes win.

Luge: This is the dangerous event of the night. Someone has borrowed the Space Mountain roller coaster track from Disney and covered it with ice. Then people who look like they have normally good sense lie on a little sled (on their backs going feet first) and slide down the shoot. The men were reaching speeds of 90 miles per hour tonight. They are going so fast that they control their drift from side to side with tiny move of their feet. The smallest mistake can be disastrous. Folks, ice is hard. No bad accidents tonight, although several have crashed and lost their sleds, but this is where a young man died yesterday. They have shortened the run for competition and that is lowering the speeds. They are only half way finished with that competition. More to come tomorrow.

Fashion notes: The skiers were dressed in colorful skiing clothes, with scarves, heavily padded suits and gloves - just what you would expect to find at your favorite ski slopes anywhere, but better fabrics. Reminded me of sorority rush, tho with small groups of women dressed exactly alike jumping up and down hugging each other.

The lugers, skaters and jumpers though, are in the speed business and there is a huge difference. Tight, form fitting, sleek suits of space age materials rule here. Bright colors with team designs, but painted on. You've got to be fearless to participate in these sports and not bashful, either.

On to pairs skating tomorrow. Life is good.

Bok Tower and Gardens

Can you believe we had the opportunity to visit not one, but three, botanical gardens in our 10-day trip to Florida? The second on our list was the Bok Tower and Garden - a national historical site - in Lake Wales, Florida.

Although we went on a cool, overcast day it was a delightful place to be. Built originally in the late 1920's the trees and shrubs are mature and full - a big contrast to the newly opened Naples Botanical Garden that we saw earlier in the week. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., this garden has the feel of the big stately garden grounds - like the Biltmore Estate or Central Park - but in this setting a very different sort of vegetation. It does come complete, though, with sculpture and a moat with swans - as any proper formal garden should.

We were there in Camellia season, but it was also interesting to see azaleas in bloom. In Central Virginia we get camellias in November through March, but the azaleas don't start blooming until April, so the two don't normally overlap. In this setting, tho, they are very complementary. And I loved the juxtaposition of the deciduous shrubs with palm trees and Spanish Moss.

As you can see from the map, there are large lawns and planted areas surrounding a lake and the tower itself. The tower is located on the highest point in Central Florida. It is situated in such a way that it is completely reflected in the lake at its feet. [I suspect that has more to do with the way the lake was sited, but they describe it in terms of the tower. Good PR there.] The elevation here is actually something near 300 feet - which for most of us is nothing, but in Florida is quite remarkable. The gardens spread around it on three sides, but on the fourth side the land actually falls away sharply creating a shelf only a few hundred feet behind the tower and giving the visitor the impression of standing on a cliff looking down on the town far below. It's an optical illusion, but a nice one.

The large planting areas included many camellias and azaleas, but also orange trees and various palms and Youpon holly. But there were also beds of annuals [well, at least where I live] and some gorgeous big agaves. These do not grow at all in my zone, so I am always fascinated by them.

There was also a variety of statuary. Some if it was "traditional" bronze figures, but the best, to my eye, were modernistic sculptures of flowers. These were scattered around the flowering beds that surround the education center.

The Tower itself is interesting. Over 200 feet tall, it is built of native stone and marble with gorgeous mosaic windows at the top. It contains a wonderful carillon, which is played frequently. When we were there they were celebrating its anniversary, so there were live concerts every afternoon and we were there in time to hear one. Other days they have recorded concerts. And, when the days are longer they have them in the evening as well. We did not stay to meet the carilloneur, but we could have! [They are doing some repair and renovation, so you can see scaffolding at the top.] If one has the appropriate level of membership (financial support), one can go into the Tower, but we were only poor travelers on the road, so we were satisfied with an exterior viewing.

An historical note here. Mitchell remembers his grandparents and aunt driving from Virginia to Florida in the 1940's to visit the Tower and Gardens. They made many trips to visit gardens, so this is not a big surprise. It was a surprise, however, that as we were driving from Naples to Orlando, when he spotted the sign he started looking for the tower. And, it was he who pushed to go see it.

One final note. I think it's always wonderful to find an idea that one might use in one's own garden and I found a great one at Bok Tower. It's not one I can use in my climate, but Elizabeth has a new house and is working on her landscaping, so I think she might want to give this a try. At the entrance/education building there is an enclosed courtyard with sidewalks around it and a garden in the center. Along the walks - and I suspect to dissuade walking into the garden - are "walls" made of plants. They have strung "air plants" together with wire and suspended them at one-foot intervals along the walk. The plants are staggered and they have used several different types of plant. I actually didn't know that air plants came in so many varieties, or grew so large. That's one of those zone things again! If you live far enough south (or perhaps west) that bromiliads will make it through the winter, or if you can figure out a way to shelter them, this might be a good idea for you, too.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Opening Night

There's nothing like the Opening Ceremony of an Olympic Games! Pageantry, the ridiculous to the sublime is always there. Tonight is no different. In no particular order, and filled with my biases, here's what I am seeing:

Apparently one's ticket came with a white wrap to wear in the stadium so that the impression to us out here in TV land is that it's all snowy. A nice touch - at least until that guy in the front section wearing yellow- I mean bright yellow - took off his wrap. [Update: Turns out each seat contained a kit with the wrap, a light and a drum stick - all nicely packaged in a drum-shaped box that can be used for audience participation later in the evening.][Updated update: Ninety minutes into the programs they finally told us that the director plans to use the ponchos as a part of the canvas. It's working. This is dazzling!]

Canadian National Anthem - Unlike our US anthem, this one is actually singable. It's lovely, stirring and it brings tears to one's eyes the way it is written. So, why, oh why, did they choose to have it tarted up like we do ours for baseball games? Just sing the song. There should be a law that requires all national anthems to be sung as written.

The parade of nations is always fun. Since the advent of digital photography (actually, it was probably the advent of small, fast cameras) the athletes are taking as many photos as the broadcasters. It's kinda fun to watch them "watching" us. Wonder what they are photographing?

Azerbaijan - See them pants! Oh, oh. The Czech Republic is in the competition, too. You be the judge. Who gets the gold for outrageous pants?

Bahamas, Ghana, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Pakistan, Portugal, Senegal, Taiwan, and Tajilistan - One athlete each. You gotta admire that!

Georgia - A standing ovation for the team marching with black armbands and missing their dead comrade. They look sad and grim. Winning a medal won't replace their friend, but I hope they do.

Great Britain - According to the commentators, the birthplace of curling - everyone's new favorite winter sport.

Iran - Imagine! A female is carrying their flag. She's a ski jumper and the first woman to compete in a winter Olympics.

Jamaica - The bobsledding team didn't make the cut this year. I had read that they actually were doing pretty well in pre-Olympic competition this year. Somehow it was always fun to root for them. I will miss them.

Napal - They have the only non-rectangular flag in the world - it's a swallowtail and very pretty.

United States - Great looking jackets this year. Some years you wonder "what were they thinking?", but these are great with nice knit hats - in all very attractive.

Canada - Wow! What a great scarf. if the US could just add the scarf to our jackets, it would be perfect.

Red and blue just look "right" with white. At least 1/2 of the countries were wearing some combination of these colors. Made it hard to tell who was who! Made us more one big group, and ain't that the goal of the Olympics. Pretty girls everywhere. Either exercising outside in bad conditions is good for the looks, or the cameramen are selective.

Interesting (at least to me) fact:

Of the 82 countries competing this year, 38 have never won a medal of any kind. Love of sport certainly does engender a stick-to-it-ivness. Imagine all those years of hard work with the payoff being to set a new personal best and to have the opportunity to compete against the best in the world - even knowing that you really don't have much chance. That's why we need to support sports in our schools. Our children need to learn that.

And, now for a tour of Canada.

Wouldn't you love to have free-reign to create your own extravaganza that millions of people will watch? Tell the story your own way? Complete with blowing snow and very nice special effects, I'm learning a bit about our good neighbor to the north. Donald Sutherland playing the role of Charlton Heston. Wonder what all those American actors are doing involved in this? Oh, they're from that part of America! Who knew?

Hoe down meets Irish step dancing. I won't even try to describe it, except to say they had sparklers on their tap shoes! Made me long for Miss Annie's dancing school.

I've died and gone to heaven - Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" sung to perfection by K.D. Lang - all the verses. For me, they could almost close the games now.

And, finally the moment we have all been waiting for.... [drum roll, please] who gets to light the Olympic Flame? It's The Great One - Wayne Gretzky! but he is sharing the duties with a para-Olympian and two other Canadian sports stars. Oops, we're having one of those pesky equipment malfunctions and the caldron didn't rise quite right, but these guys are troopers and pulled it off anyway.

Well, it's done now. The games of the 21st Winter Olympiad are off and running. You know where I will be for the next two weeks - glued to the tube. Here's to two weeks of good performance and good sportsmanship, to the spectacular and the elegant, to good spirits and good luck. Let the Games begin!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bad Boys

What is it about bad boys that causes otherwise bright, talented women to lose their reason? to throw caution to the wind and set aside their brains?

Today's "news" was filled with the John Edwards video and the madame who supplied Tiger Woods with .... er, companions. Embarrassing as all this attention is to these men, what about the women who are left in their wakes, having to deal with the fallout that was not directly of their making. Does Elizabeth Edwards really need for us to know if John took his girlfriend "home" to their marital bed. She probably knows the answer to that already and wasn't planning to share it with the rest of us. Likewise, Elin Woods doesn't need an accounting of how many women at the time Tiger requested, or how much dough he blew on that pastime.

But cast a wider net. Both Hilary Clinton and Monica Lewinski were bright women. One spent 30 years in the shadow of Bill (and perhaps running things from behind the scenes) and the other threw away a promising career and left herself marked for life as one of a long line of Other Women. The list of politicians who have been caught in honey traps is endless, but what of the women who fell for them and threw caution to the wind? From Fanny Fox to Gennifer Flowers to Monica, there are too many of them to list - or count.

Charlie Sheen is the current bad boy of Hollywood, apparently able to attract one woman after another to his boyish charm and edgy reputation. But he is just the latest in a list that goes back to the 1920's. So what is it?

Do we want to walk on the wild side? You know, fly close to flame and try not to get our wings singed? Show our girlfriends that we are daring and edgy; that we have the nerve to date a bad boy. We all have dated at least one - haven't we? Mine was an older boy in high school - a senior, with at car, who lived nearly on the wrong side of the tracks. What was my mother thinking? Truthfully, she didn't have a clue about him or she would never have let me walk out the door with him - much less get in his car. Lucky for me, his interest died before I could get into any trouble!

Are we so flattered by the attention that we just ignore all those warning bells?
Surely all these women who date men who are married, public figures know that there is no way to keep it a secret. Or, that married men almost never leave their wives for the Other Woman - unless the affair becomes public. And then only rarely.

Are we avoiding commitment, too. I had a friend years ago who only dated married men. She had plenty of dates, but wanted nothing to do with entanglement, so she could just enjoy the good times and walk away. Wonder how that worked out for her?

There are no easy answers. It's all the of above and many more things. All this relationship stuff is just too complicated. The most important thing is that we need to start putting ourselves first. Looking at our own strengths and talents, appreciating ourselves and not defining ourselves by the men in our lives. We need to be proud of our accomplishments and expect the good boys to come to us and just let all those bad boys go off on their own.

These are all educated, bright and talented women who could have done better. It somehow seems unfair that the dirty laundry is hanging out in their front yards.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Guest Garden - A Baby Bot!

Do you ever tour a house that is under construction? You know, you walk thru the studded walls and see where the tub is and look at the rest of the plumbing - "here's the master bath" - or "look at the view where these windows are going!"

Touring the newly opened Botanical Garden in Naples, Florida is a lot like that. Open less than three months, it is easy to see the potential and it's very pleasing in its current state. The bones are great and some parts are already spectacular.

In a very smart move, they have put the children's garden at the front of the garden. You enter thru that tunnel of sawpalms into a fun and interesting area with a tree house, silly gardens, a butterfly house, waterfall and a winding path that takes one thru areas that represent both geological history and the various environments of Florida. [A little learning stuck in with the fun.]

The path winds thru little gardens and ends at this little "cracker" house, which represents the one-room homes of the early 1900's. In January all the blooms happened to be pink and lavender - to match the paint job! It was charming. Behind the house is a garden full of everyday items used as planters - wading boots, a toilet, a sewing machine and all manner of yard junque. All sure to engage and please the younger set, and in many ways this is already the most "finished" part of the entire project. A smart way to draw the younger set, who will bring their children and stay to enjoy the rest of the garden.

The "big" areas right now are the Brazilian Garden, which is filled with bromiliads - literally thousands of them - from Brazil and the Caribbean Garden with plants from other South American countries and islands. Here one can see how young this garden is. All of the trees (palms) and plants are small. In a year when they have grown and filled in, the area will be drop dead gorgeous, whereas right now it's only interesting. Unfortunately, I did not have a way to collect the botanical names, so you either have to go yourself if you see something that you really like, or contact Marie over at 66 Square Feet for help [she is great on proper names!] I can only show you a few that I found particularly nice.

As you can see, the variety is endless. There were only a few in "bloom", but imagine it in a couple of years. It will be marvelous!

The centerpiece of the Brazilian Garden is a large water feature, complete with tropical water lilies. They were not in bloom yet, but also show a lot of promise for the future. You can see in the distance a lovely mosiac at the top of the waterfalls.

The final area that is currently open is a pavilion and walkway out into a swamp - remember that we are only a few miles from the Everglades here. Along with the "Beware of Alligators" signs are native grasses and bog plants. There is also a bocce court - perhaps in acknowledgment to early Italian settlers to this area.

Two new areas that are still under construction will showcase plants from tropical and sub-tropical Asia and native plants for Florida - including demonstration gardens. They will continue into the water plants and wetland areas that fill the southern half of the state and much of Collier County.

You can see here how sparse the growth is right now. In a city where palms and native grasses grow wild and thick, there is too much open ground here. In a year, it will be filled in and the plantings lush like they are in their natural habitat. I can hardly wait to go back in a few years and see how this garden grows!!

Home, Sweet Home!

Is home ever nicer than when you return from a trip? I think not!

Mitchell and I have just spent a wonderful 10 days in Florida - warm, mostly dry, entertained, spent time with wonderful friends - all the good feelings of a winter vacation. And the Central Virginia to which we returned is covered in snow, slush, and ice - three things I really loath - and yet we were delighted to finally get here this afternoon. It feels so safe and sane to be back in our normal nest.

Travel - at least by air - is no longer fun. You know all the problems - to catch an 8:30 flight this morning we had to get up at 5:00 and be at the airport at 6:00 to return the rental car. Then the strip search at security.

Unfortunately, Mitchell had a knee replaced a couple of years ago. Apparently along with his discharge from the hospital, he was put on the "Suspected Terrorist" list. I wasn't aware that titanium and plastic joints are considered lethal weapons, but apparently so. We can deal with the fact that he sets off the metal detector, but you'd think that 10-inch scar on his knee might key them in that he's not actually carrying!

Several long waits at the gates and a bit of anxiety about whether or not we would get seated on our flights, and finally we were in the air and actually headed home. It seems that the airlines still sell 55 tickets for every 50 seats.

The heavy snows in the mid-Atlantic over the weekend didn't help the situation, since they left lots of other folks stranded and vying for seats on the planes that were running.

So eleven and a half hours later (it was,after all, nearly three hours of flying time!) we are back to home sweet home in time to start a new week tomorrow. A wonderful vacation, but an excellent home coming!

Note: Finally solved my problem of uploading more than one photo so I will update It's My Garden in the next couple of days - lots of Guest Gardens on this trip.