Whalechaser's Musings

No Matter Where You Go...
There You Are
Make the Best of It

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Another Beautiful Day on the Buffalo River

It was a case of "strike while the iron is hot" but in this instance the water was high and the threat of rain low with temps in the mid 70's...last one in is a rotten egg!

Any day on a river is great, but a day on the Buffalo is really special. See below
 Wipe that smile off your face and paddle woman!
 Smooth sailin' ahead, for a little while anyway...
totin' the kayak to the put in point
 Two old foggies paddling the river
 wildflowers in the forest, finally!
 and some more
 and waterfalls
Some people just refuse to paddle under general principals!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tucson, Arizona -- and other interesting things

A friend I met during a Road Scholar trip several years ago told me about this RV resort in Tucson and it sounded so interesting that I had to go and spend a little time there to see if I might not actually go there for a month or more during the cold winter months. This years visit was what I call an exploratory adventure. 
The Voyager RV Resort is rated number one by at least one rating agency and it does indeed seem to be a very well run establishment. It is made up of Permanent mobile homes and casitas; these are smaller mobile homes - one bedroom, bath and kitchen/living room with a pull in carport and a covered patio where one can sit and watch the world go by. The rest of the place is  open area for those land yachts to pull in and spend weeks or months on a pad and when the weather or the mood strikes, off they go to other adventures.
In addition to the living facilities the resort offers a multitude of activities to busy oneself during the day and evening. There is an onsite restaurant and bar --with lots of meet and greet activities and football parties. Then for the physically active there is pickleball, tennis, swimming aerobics, fitness room lots of varying exercise classes. Lots of folks ride bikes here, but if you are in to that, you have to bring your own. Other activities are crafts galore, including jewelry and silversmithing, woodworking, ceramics, several discussion groups, card and domino events and pool shooting for those interested. 
It all sounded great, but since I was staying only a week I found that it was hard to enjoy the activities since most were offered on a 4 or 6 week continuing series basis. Hardly worthwhile for a person staying only one week. So, while there was a lot to be enjoyed, I somehow didn't get the full benefit of it. I did spend the week enjoying all the sites that Tucson and the surrounding area had to offer and so you will be hearing no complaints from me. My little casita was very comfortable and private and allowed me to prepare most of the meals easily in the fully furnished kitchen.



I enjoyed a visit to the Colossal Cave which is  just east of Tucson and the tour was very informative. It is one of the few caves that has a constant temperature of 70 degrees -- I found that to be unusual, since all the other ones I have visited are usually somewhere around 40 or so.

The Sonora Desert Museum is a must see stop in Tucson, if you see nothing else. It is a walkable loop botanical garden - zoo and at each turn you see something else that is just amazing. There were animals which included fox, coyote, javalina, a variety of snakes, 2 separate bird aviaries and lots of cacti. They offered tours and videos as well so one could easily spend an entire day there, but I had other ideas. I timed my visit in mid morning so that I could escape and enjoy lunch at what may be the best Mexican restaurant in Tucson. 


On my other days of exploring I went to Sabino Canyon for a tour and hiking. It was one of the highlights of trip and I also spent an afternoon hiking with friends in the Sagauro National Park West on a five mile loop trail, which was also very nice, but it seemed longer and there were moments that we all thought somewhere along the way we must have made a wrong turn and were assuredly lost. But, in fact, we were always on the trail and really appreciated finding the end. While I saw a lot while I was there, I left quite a few things for perhaps another trip --the Pima air museum, Tombstone and several other interesting places.

Here are the photos
The best Mexican Restaurant that I found while in Tucson was Cafe Poca Cosa located at 110mEast Pennington Street, Tucson, Az. i actually went there three times. The first to discover
 Here I learned that each day the menu is created not once but twice. Generally 2 or 3 chicken dishes 2 beef dishes one fish and one vegetarian. Then you may notice that the bottom of the menu has a selection that is larger that the rest. This allows you to sample three of the chefs choice on one dish. I opted for the chefs choice twice out of my three visits and each meal was superb. The food was so good that I had to stop between bites and just savor the wonderful flavors.
On my first choice I got a cod fish sample in a robust clear sauce, a shredded beef dish and the vegetarian selection of the day. They were all fabulous -- oh you also get a great salsa and chips beans that alone would make a great meal, rice and tortillas. The beer was extra. Ha!
 On my third and last visit, I stopped for lunch on the Saturday before my early morning flight out the next day. I had just finished a week of volunteering at the Bird Sanctuary near Benson and was ready for some really good food. Charlie was my waiter and the first thing he said was "how are you doing today?" me. "well, not so good my phone has no cell service. I showed it to him and he insisted that I use his phone to call ATT to fix whatever the problem was. It required me to go out of the restaurant so I could hear the technician. Well, five minutes later I was all connected and happy as a clam. That is why he is standing there telling me about the menu with his Iphone in his hand. I was really happy to have my phone back in working order. It was a really good thing too, because, little did I know at the time that when I finished my meal I would find my rental car had a flat tire and I would REALLY need a phone.
Alls well that ends well. The flat was fixed in less than an hour and I went back to my hotel one happy camper!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Volunteering at the Oasis Sanctuary -- Somewhere near Benson, Arizona



As a part of my Southwestern sojourn this year, I decided to spend a week at an exotic bird rescue compound. The official name is The Oasis Sanctuary. Getting involved in things that touch my life is a natural for me and so, since I possess a cockatiel it seemed a logical choice. After scouring their website, which is quite robust and informative, I was ready to make the commitment. It took only a short email indicating my interest in volunteering and the specific days I would spend there. Within a day or two, the arrangements had been made and directions received. All that was left was the wait for my departure flight out of XNA.

They are located about one and a half hours southeast of Tucson, Arizona; half of the drive time is spent on a remote partly paved road. You lose cell service around the same time the paving ends. It is just part of the mystic. One could imagine that they are stepping out of civilization, but it isn't true. The facility has all the conveniences that one could desire: satellite TV, internet connection, fully furnished accommodations and a fabulous star show every night. If none of this appeals to you, there is also a fully stocked parrot library for your reading pleasure.

I arrived on a Sunday, late morning. Just in time for lunch as luck would have it. So I unpacked all the food I picked up for the week in Benson and selected something simple for snacking. I was too excited to think about an entire meal. The hour crawled by at a snails pace and ended with the staff meeting at the office/house to pick up laundry (this is an ongoing activity here) and delivery the folks to the staging area.

I got a tour of the facility while the staff jumped into the afternoons work activities. I expected to see exotic birds. I expected that a few would have names that the staff would know. I expected to see some damaged birds. And I did see all of that, but not quite that way.

The birds were housed in flight aviaries (where possible and no further injury could happen) there was one for macaws, female cockatoos, male cockatoos, ring-necks, cockatiels(ok, really, they call this one small bird aviary), African greys, quakers and lories. These aviaries were quite large and had lots of room for flight and places for the birds to naturally 'claim their territory'. They were also equipped with misting devices for cooling (and bathing) in hot weather, heaters and panels that could be opened to allow natural lighting during the day and closed to retain heat during the night. It was becoming quite apparent that the folks here had a very good system for caring for all 750 birds. The birds that had other issues and could not be kept with other birds were in smaller aviaries with few birds or in cages alone or with one other bird considered a mate.

As I toured the facility I learned that while the staff knew practically EVERY birds name, it was clear that I would not match that feat. Each aviary was designed for safety, bird comfort and feeding stations were specific to the breed and different in every case. It gave me great pleasure to see the care and compassion devoted to these abused and abandoned feathered creatures. I did see birds that had been abused and victims of their own self-destruction...feather picking. But most birds seemed well adjusted and quite happy and content to be there. Those that had violent histories are making the best of their remaining lives in smaller quarters. All the birds are greeted by name and examined daily for health condition.

The tour ended and there was not much left to the work day, so I got the job of giving showers to the birds in the barn, behind the food staging area. This is one of the loudest places in the facility, since most of the birds are macaws or cockatoos. I asked which ones liked to shower and was told the birds would let me know. That they did! Those not interested, just walked to the back of the cage. Those that enjoyed it, kept coming back again and again. One African grey came back five times! He REALLY liked it. That was a great way to interface with the birds and get comfortable with them. Comfortable is a relative term. These are wild birds and they can give quite a bite -- so one must stay alert and not provide fodder for aggressiveness. I am happy to report that I spent the week bite free!

During my week I was working in every area of the facility except for the male cockatoos...they are a little too feisty to allow anyone other than staff in. That was ok with me, I had a fabulous view from outside the aviary and could talk with them from my safe position.

The work day is divided into two main sections pulling the dirty food and water dishes, cleaning the stands and replenishing with fresh food and water. This is the morning activity. After lunch the aviary floors and cages are cleaned. The last hour of the day is spent closing the facility and doing a final check on the birds. Each day was a buzz of activity just to get it all done. If I did my nose counting correctly there were only 6 or 7 people on duty each day. So, yes, I pulled dirty dishes and dumped water, I scraped floors of bird doo and helped to hose it down, I brushed trays and wiped them clean for food replacement. I filled gallon upon gallon jug of water for the birds. One day I spent an entire afternoon washing vegetables and fruit which got processed to small pieces and added to food dishes throughout the week. On my last day, they let me feed one section known as Pumpkin (a converted trailer aviary of cages) all by myself! I felt like I was part of the staff. Every day I played with the birds and received so much love that it felt as though every day, all day I was receiving bird love therapy. This was a week of hard work that was so rewarding I would do it again in a heartbeat. I have never met a group of more dedicated and hard-working folks who truly love what they do.

And now...on to the pictures!

I am in my favorite spot -- the small bird aviary and the birds apparently like me too!
Staff member, Lily is preparing food for, I would venture a guess, the African greys. Each species gets a specific blend of seeds and veggies along with nutritional supplements.
Two little sweeties that keep each other company and guard the limb from invaders!
So this seems to be my favorite place, and I had four birds on me and two on the tray. They just can't get enough attention.
Staff member, Amanda sharing some love in the Lorie aviary.
The greys...they really are loving, even though those eyes are a bit piercing!
Cheryl showing a resident cockatoo some love

Okay, really, I think I spent too much time in the cockatiels aviary.

Joe, the Director, feeding the Macaws. Yes, all the bigwigs get down and dirty here!

Two paired Macaws enjoying walnuts together. They didn't need any help getting them open. Keep your fingers away!



Oh, and one last brave bird. There is a duck...named Dottie that has bad feet and wing issues which render it unable to walk, fly or swim. But -- this duck really has it made here. Twice a day a small pool is filled so Dottie can paddle around for 10 to 15 minutes, before being placed in a special lined cat bed so she is comfortable for the day. At night when she is placed in a special protected outside room, lined with towels and dishes placed just so she can eat whenever she feels the urge --she also gets socks on each foot, taped so they stay put, to protect her feet from errant mice that may happen by. Here is here picture just before bedding down for the night. With this pose, I would call her Rocky!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thanksgiving Dinner 2013

I decided to make a butternut squash galette, to serve with the leg of lamb that I was making for thanksgiving dinner. As you can see, I had a little help from Woody...he just loves to get into whatever it is that I am cooking. Truth be told...he loves veggies
After I baked the squash I compiled the galette...
that required a good pastry dough (read that as Pillsbury dough boy store bought)
a mix of ricotta cheese and roasted garlic as a first layer, then the squash mixed with roasted shallots and spices...
After folding it up, top it off with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and sprinkle the edges with some chopped fresh rosemary...an then into the oven.
Now, on to the leg of lamb. This baby marinated overnight in olive oil, garlic, thyme and salt and pepper. I did not use lemon, because I did not want any chemical cooking going on.
As you can see, the dinner was spectacular! The string beans were only boiled, and so were nothing to write home about, but everything else was really good!
Thankful for good friends, good food and good health.  What more could anyone ask?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Romdraculas -- Firenze

An odd title for a blog post I know, but it marks another of the miraculous and fabulous days that I spent in Florence, Italy this year.

 The background story...it was the last day of my Sierra Club trip. We had already hiked over seven miles in a small village, ridden many miles back to Florence and now we were all set loose to go and see whatever we wanted with our last few hours of the program. I latched on to two other single women and toured the Duomo Museum and then munched a sandwich while we decided what to see next. Our decision was confounded some because it was the last day of the 'Big Bicycle Race' and it was ending right here in Florence. Just as an aside, I think it was pretty amazing that several days before when we were in Lucca, Italy, it was the beginning of the Big Bicycle Race. It was like we interlaced our trip around it and it followed us like a bad dream, creating traffic issues and detours all around. 

But we agreed that we would go see Santa Croce. It was another cathedral, and Lord knows I had already seen plenty of them on this trip, but she was insistent that this one was special and so I tagged along. She was right it was special..it contains the crypts of too many to list dignitaries and famous departed folks. But that for me wasn't the best part. Here is the best part.

As we walked across the Piazza to the cathedral I heard this fabulous music. It just overtook me. It was being performed by a group named Romdraculas and was just so delightful that I bought the only 2 cds they had for sale. I would have gotten more if they had them. They were that good. So her is my gift to you. They have some of it right here on you tube for you to enjoy. So go on, listen, close your eyes and pretend you too, are in the Piazza. Ah just sublime! 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hiking to -- in Italy

I guess this is what happens when you wait too long to blog about your trip. You forget where you were hiking to, and what village you where in when you saw that beautiful whatever. So all I can say for sure is, this is still the Sierra club hiking trip in Tuscany. We had lots of great food, as you can see. The shops were really special and the grapes were ready for the pickin'. I had a wonderful time, even if I can't remember exactly where I was when I was having it.
I
I remember stopping for this shot...I just don't know where we were headed. The vineyards were brimming with luscious grapes
This shot was taken on the grounds of a cultural center that we toured and also had a lovely lunch of asparagus penne and apricot tart, see further down.


We were headed to an Etruscan burial cave on this particular hike.  Not many folks used this trail, we almost had to bushwhack.


These were a few dishes from our Agriturismo, they were all fabulous!



Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cooking Tour -- Florence, Italy

The cooking tour I signed up for on the Viator.com site was easily one of the best days of all 18 that I spent in the Tuscany area. What made it even nicer, is that I made all my reservations from the comfort of my home before I left. There was never a doubt about the tour being over-booked or cancelled. I actually reserved four tours this way and was very happy with each one. I did run the risk of having a rainy day, but that didn't happen -- so no worries! Because I got all four tours from the same agency, I got a nice discount on the last tour, which just happened to be the highest priced one, and so that made it all the sweeter.
OK, enough business talk and more tour talk!

We met outside the Santa Maria Train station and walked together to the Central Market.

If you have never visited a market in a European City then you are most definitely in for a treat. This is food selling at it's finest. The surroundings are not plush by any stretch of the imagination, at times you may actually wonder about cleanliness. Don't. Everything is just as it should be.
At these markets you get fresh, you get unusual and you get flavor-packed...then you have to do something with it!

This is a fresh ravioli shop.  Name it and they probably make it for you. You have to make the sauce and cook the ravioli...that was made...moments ago!


 If the stand that you are visiting does not sell absolutely fresh produce, bread, ravioli, meat or cookies, then chances are it sells the very best prepared food items.  This is Conti and here you can buy the absolute best balsamics, olive oils, ragus and crema's and other assorted condiments and accoutrements. I got so much stuff that when it came time to leave I had to tell them to ship it all to my home address, there was no room in my suitcases for all those goodies!


 I have heard from Europeans that the chickens there are 'yellower' than what  we have here in the states.  It looks like it may be true, but see, on the left are chickens like ours. On the right yellower chickens.  They also still have their feet -- which are definitely yellow!


 Meat markets. Lots and lots of meat markets.  All very expensive.  All very nice.


 Mushrooms of every conceivable variety. These flavor packed little morsels are so worth the cost, they can flavor and boost many dishes without being the star of the show.


 So we bought what we needed to prepare the meal and headed to the cooking school.  Which was very nicely appointed, very clean and efficiently laid out for five cooking teams.


I didn't see our chef actually buy these eggs, but look, they are dated. If it isn't fresh, it doesn't get used here.

 Here the folks I was working with were busily preparing the vegetables and the meat that would soon be our lunch...



 The chef explains how to 'throw' the meat so it has the right consistency and holds its shape.


 Here is the finished product -- baby meatloaf


 What is a meal in Italy without pasta? Not a meal!  We made the dough and took turns at running it through the hand turned pasta maker, in this case linguine.


 A couple in my group very proud of their creation: bruschetta!


 When we were all done playing with our food, we went downstairs to a nicely appointed dining area complete with wine racks, brick walls and vaulted ceilings to partake in the food that we made along with endless bottles of wine-- for those who partook. (that would be EVERYBODY!)


 First was the bruschetta and the pasta with vegetable sauce.

 Then the baby meatloafs

 Finally, the sorbet.  Yes we made fresh lemon sorbet!  It was so worth it!

When I got home I was asked to review the tour. I told them that it was one of the top five days of my entire thirty day vacation. Actually, it is almost worth going to Florence just to do this. Really. It is. true. Go. Have some fun!