Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shades Of Purple And Blue

Yesterday was one of the most miserable days this month. It was dark and gloomy with pouring rain coming down for most of the day. According to the forecast, we should be seeing more rain today that will probably last until this evening. Bleh... I feel like crawling into bed and staying there until March.

Thank goodness for all the photos I took in my garden this past summer. They come in handy on days like today; they are a reminder that there are better days ahead. Eventually...

This week it’s all about blue and purple, two colours that I love.

There is a promise of sunshine tomorrow. Here’s hoping...

Words Of Wisdom

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How Much Would The 12 Days Of Christmas Cost?

Ever wondered how much it would cost to present a loved one with a gift from the items mentioned in one of the most popular holiday tunes, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’?

A lot...

Here’s the breakdown for 2011 (US$):

A Partridge in a Pear Tree: $184.99
Two Turtledoves: $125
Three French Hens: $150.96
Four Calling Birds: $519.00
Five Golden Rings: $645
Six Geese A’Laying, $162
Seven Swans A’Swimming: $6,300
Eight Maids A’Milking: $58
Nine Ladies Dancing – $6,294.03
10 Lords A’Leaping $4,766.70
11 Pipers Piping – $2,427.60
12 Drummers Drumming – $2,629.90

(From Wikipedia)
“These figures are maintained by the U.S. bank PNC Financial Services, which has been tracking the cost of the items in the popular Christmas carol since 1984. They compile both a "Christmas Price Index" and "The True Cost of Christmas." The "Christmas Price Index" is calculated by adding the cost of the items in the song. The "True Cost of Christmas," however, is calculated by following the exact instructions in the song (buying a partridge in a pear tree on each of the twelve days, buying two turtle doves from the second day onward, for a total of 22 turtle doves, etc.) for the complete set of 364 items.”

Below are the figures since the 80s.

Pretty amazing, huh? I guess those Lords A’Leaping are out of the question...

Pop into Wikipedia for more info.

Check out PNC’s Christmas Index site

Tasty Tuesday – All-American Beef Stew

There’s nothing like a warm, hearty meal on a cold day, which this stew is perfect for.

All-American Beef Stew
8 Servings
Prep: 40 min.
Cook: 1-3/4 hours


3/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided
2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
4-1/2 cups water, divided
1 large onion, halved and sliced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 bay leaf
4 medium potatoes, cubed
6 medium carrots, sliced


- Place 1/2 cup flour, seasoned salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and shake to coat.

- In a Dutch oven, brown meat in oil in batches. Remove and set aside. Add 4 cups water to the pan, stirring to loosen browned bits. Add the onion, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, garlic, sugar, salt, paprika, allspice, bay leaf and remaining pepper. Return beef to the pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour.

- Stir in potatoes and carrots. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes or until meat and vegetables are tender.

- Combine remaining flour and water until smooth; stir into the pan.
Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Discard bay leaf.

Source for recipe and photo can be found here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Favourite National Geographic Photos – Part 2

Below are my next 15 favourites from National Geographic’s 2011 annual photo contest...

This city is surrounded by

Strange but cool photo

Little eyes peeking from the sides

Another of my top favourites. I love owls, especially white ones!

This is so funny...a monkey sneaking a look from between the statues

Looking cool...

Parental love...

Looks like an apocalyptic scene

So cold that you can see the bird's breath as he sings

Another 'love is in the air' photo

Great camouflage

Gorgeous colours. This would make a great poster.

Nice photo of a bird in flight

One little lone tree in the midst of all that winter scene

Peek-a-boo...I see you...

(Visit NGM’s web site to view many more entries, and to upload your own:
National Geographic Photo Contest 2011

Favourite National Geographic Photos – Part 1

National Geographic is having its annual photo contest, and I just had to go over to their site and take a peek at what the editors’ favourites are so far. While I was there, I selected many a few photos that really ‘spoke to me’ that I’d like to share with you. My intention was to pick my top ten, but because it was very difficult to choose from so many beautiful photos, I ended up – so far – with 30 favourites! Oh well...

Below are the first 15 photos. The rest are featured in part 2 of this post...

(Visit NGM’s web site to view many more entries, and to upload your own:
National Geographic Photo Contest 2011

An absolute favourite of mine

Hanging on for dear life

Love is in the air...

Very cool photo of an owl flying with a look of determination on its face

I really like underwater photos

He he he...too funny!

Beautiful winter scene

So adorable!

Very serene scene

Looks like a scene in a video game

Very cool pic

I don't know what it is about it, but this photo really speaks to me

Very impressive picture!

This photo also speaks to me

Runaway hat...


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lovely Lilies

“Bread feeds the body, indeed, but flowers feed also the soul.”

The lovely Lilium ‘Navona’

Is it too early to wish for spring? Sigh...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Getting Houseplants Home Safely

When transporting plants, there are actually two types of weather conditions that can severely injure newly-purchased plants as you relocate them to your home – the harsh, freezing temperatures of the colder months and the sweltering, intense heat of the warmer ones. As soon as your new plant is out of the sanctuary of the store, precautions have to be taken to make sure that it gets through the trip home intact – if you want a plant that lasts longer than the ride to your house.

Below are some useful tips that will minimize the potential harm caused by the two unsympathetic extremities – hot and cold – and help get your houseplants home safely.

Ways to protect new plants against the cold:

- Wrap the plant completely before taking it outside. Insist on paper wrapping at the cash register, which is a much better insulator than plastic.

- Put the entire, insulated package (paper-wrapped plant) in a bag. Double-bag if it’s very cold or windy.

- If paper wrapping is not available and you have to buy the plant, bundle it up with a few plastic bags. The padding from plastic bags is not as shielding as paper but it’s better than nothing.

- Inflate the outermost bag by blowing into it, and then tie it shut tightly to trap in the warm air.

- In sub-zero weather, warm up your vehicle before you put your plant inside.

- If you set your plant on a cold floor or chilled seat, put a layer of insulation such as newspaper, cardboard or bag underneath the pot.

- If the ride home is a long one, open up the tightly-sealed bag a little for ventilation.

- Avoid transporting your new plant in the trunk of your car; it’s generally too cold in there.

- Position the plant carefully so the foliage does not touch the windows; the cold of the glass can burn the leaves.

- Make sure that the plant is also secure in its spot. You don’t want it to topple over during a sharp turn, which will break leaves or stems and scatter soil all over your car!

- If you buy a very big plant, consider making alternative plans if your car is too small to accommodate it. Don’t leave part of the plant sticking out the window like you would with a piece of wood from the hardware store.

- Don’t put a plant in the open-top rear cargo area of a pickup truck no matter how well-wrapped and insulated it is.

- Always make your plant purchase your last stop of the day so you don’t leave it sitting in a cold car while you take care of other business.

- If you are taking a plant home by foot or public transportation instead of by car, you run a huge risk of killing it when the weather is freezing. Consider taking a cab, getting a ride from a friend or shopping on a milder day.

- When you finally arrive home, leave your plant in its wrapping (make sure to open it slightly for ventilation) for about 15 minutes. This will allow your plant to gradually adjust to the room temperature of your home.

Some of the tips above may seem a little extreme but even a few seconds of exposure to sub-zero weather can cause severe damage to a ‘tropical’ plant. Don’t take it for granted that everything is fine just because your new plant does not react immediately to the exposure of cold weather. While some plants will show signs of cold injury quickly, others may not show any signs for several weeks after purchase. So why chance it?

In my opinion, it’s always better to shop for plants when the weather is more agreeable no matter how you are traveling, be it on foot or by car. Houseplants are available all year and picking them up on milder days will give you a better chance at taking them home alive and well.

But if you just have to have that plant, make sure you bundle it up! Brrrr, it’s a cold world out there!

When It’s Hot, Hot, Hot!

Although many people will be quite vigilant with their new plants in the winter, most won’t pay attention to the summer months. It’s easy to put little thought to transporting newly-purchased houseplants during the sunny and warm season when you’re so comfortable. If you’re comfortable, your plant should be comfortable too, no? Not quite. The summer time can be just as deadly because of this lack of vigilance. That’s when people are more reckless.

In the summer time, the temperature inside a car parked in the sun can be fatal, producing enough heat to do in the toughest plant very quickly. But because it’s warm outside, it’s assumed that the new plant is not in any danger of damage. Houseplants are left in a sealed vehicle while the buyer runs errands or attends to other business, sometimes for extended periods. Be just as wary in the summer as you are in the winter. If you leave your new flora in your car’s sizzling temperatures, chances are you’ll come back to a cooked plant!

Transporting Plants Safely in Hot Weather

- Select plants that have been recently watered (the soil should be moist). If the plant is dehydrated, it will be unable to deal with the heat.

- If you are determined to pick up a specific plant but the soil is too dry, ask that it be watered thoroughly before you purchase it. A reputable greenhouse and reasonable store owner will accommodate this valid request.

- Shade the plant from the rays of the sun in your car. Sunlight shining through the glass can burn the foliage. Place the plant on the floor of the car or cover it to keep it from baking.

- Never place your new plant in the trunk of your car; the intense heat can kill it.

- Don’t leave your plant in a parked car while you tend to other business; the temperature will rise to lethal levels and cause devastating results.

- High winds can be extremely harmful. Don’t place a large plant in the back of a pickup truck, standing up, where it’ll be beaten by the blustery weather. Lay it down on its side, cover it to protect it from the sun and secure it to keep it from being tossed around during the drive home.

- Like above, do not allow large plants to stick out your window to avoid wind damage.

- Just as you would in cold weather, consider making alternative plans if your car cannot accommodate a large plant instead of letting foliage stick out the window.

- It’s just as important in the summer to make your plant purchases your last stop of the day so you don’t leave your new houseplants sitting in an overheated car.

Whether you are taking a new plant home during the coldest or hottest days of the year, putting in that extra effort will make the transition for your plant easier. How you transfer your plant from store to home is very important during the two toughest periods of the year.

Give your new plant the chance to get home safely with you. They’ll reward you with vigorous growth if they’re given the chance at a healthy start.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tune Time - Knockin' on Heaven's Door

This song was written and performed by Bob Dylan for the soundtrack of the 1973 film Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. It reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Guns N' Roses recorded a studio version of it in 1990 for Days of Thunder's soundtrack, which was later slightly modified for the 1991 album ‘Use Your Illusion II’. Released as the fourth single from the album, it reached #2 in the UK singles chart. I like Bob Dylan’s version, as well, but slightly prefer this one.

Today's Trivia - Geography (Part 2)

This week’s useless but interesting information is all about geography. My knowledge in this topic is considerably weak; hopefully, along with you, I’ll learn something new today.

(This is part 2 of 2)

- San Francisco and Melbourne, Australia are both known for mild and fast-changing climates, and they are identical distances from the Equator.

- Scientists recently discovered that Florida and Hudson Bay in Canada are getting about 1 inch closer every 36 years.

- Some references list Arlington, Virginia, as the smallest county in the US. It is 26 square miles in size. Arlington was ceded to the federal government by Virginia to form part of the 10 mile square District of Columbia, but it was returned to Virginia in 1847 as the federal government considered the land unnecessary. Now it is home to the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, and Washington National Airport.

- St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest city in the US.

- Sunny and just-barely-tropical Rio de Janeiro is about 25 miles farther from the equator than Hong Kong.

- Tehran, Iran, with its scorching summers, is located on the exact same latitude as relatively mild Tokyo, Japan.

- Ten states were named for famous Europeans: Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia. Washington is the only state named for an American hero.

- Tennessee adjoins eight other states. Maine touches only one state, New Hampshire. Alaska and Hawaii share borders with no other US states.

- Texas has 254 counties, more than any other state. Delaware has the fewest, three. Two states have no counties, at least technically. Louisiana uses parishes instead. Alaska has 16 boroughs and municipalities, though these political entities include only a small fraction of the state's landmass.

- The 1st US zoo was built in Philadelphia, PA, in 1876.

- The 49th Parallel, which makes up the long and straight US/Canada border in the west, is about 120 miles north of Estcourt Station, Maine.

- The abbreviation 'ORD' for Chicago's O'Hare airport comes from the old name 'Orchard Field’.

- The Arctic ocean is the smallest and shallowest. It is mostly covered by solid ice, ice floes and icebergs.

- The Atlantic Ocean contains more salt than the Pacific Ocean even though it is smaller.

- The border between Canada and the U.S. is the world's longest frontier. It stretches 3,987 miles (6,416 km).

- The city of Rome was built on seven hills. They were Palatine, Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, and Aventine.

- The city of St. Petersburg, Russia, was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, hence the name, St. Petersburg. But it wasn't always that simple. In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, Russian leaders felt that Petersburg was too German-sounding. So they changed the name of the city to Petrograd -- to make it more Russian-sounding. Then, in 1924, the country's Soviet Communist leaders wanted to honor the founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir I. Lenin. The city of Petrograd became Leningrad and was known as Leningrad until 1991 when the new Russian legislators -- no longer Soviet Communists -- wanted the city to reflect their change of government.

- The coldest temperature ever recorded on earth is -89.2 degrees Celsius (-128.5 degrees Fahrenheit) at Vostok, Antarctica on July 21, 1983. That all-time low broke the previous world-record minimum of -88.3 °C (-126.9 °F), set on August 24, 1960, also at Vostok.

- The earth’s surface contains 196,950,711 square miles (510,100,000 square kilometers).

- The Eiffel Tower was built specifically to be shown at the World’s Fair in 1889.

- The entire country of England, with over 50 million residents, is a wee bit smaller than the state of Louisiana.

- The first city to reach a population of 1 million people was Rome, Italy in 133 B.C. London, England reached the mark in 1810 and New York, USA made it in 1875. Today, there are over 300 cities in the world that boast a population in excess of 1 million.

- The flag of the Philippines is the only flag that is flown differently depending on the state of the country. The flag is comprised of one blue part and one red part. If the country is at war, the red portion is flown on top. If the country is at peace, the blue portion is flown on top.

- The Fresh Kills Landfill was a 2,200 acre (890 hectares) landfill in the New York City borough of Staten Island in the United States. The landfill was opened in 1947 as a temporary landfill, but eventually became New York City's principal landfill in the second half of the 20th century, and it was once the largest landfill in the world.

- The Great Lakes are Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Superior, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

- The Great Lakes are the most important inland waterway in North America. All the lakes, except Lake Michigan, which lies entirely in the United States, are shared by the United States and Canada and form part of the border between these countries.
The Great Lakes contain 6 quadrillion gallons of fresh water, one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water. The Great Lakes are the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world.

- The Great Lakes have a combined area of 94,230 square miles - larger than the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Vermont combined.

- The Hollywood sign was first erected in 1923. Conceived as a real estate ad, it originally read Hollywoodland. The sign stands 50 feet tall, stretches 450 feet across, and weighs 450,000 pounds.

- The hottest temperature ever recorded was in El Azizia, Libya. On September 13, 1922, it reached the sizzling temperature of 136 degrees Fahrenheit.

- The incredibly remote island of Tahiti is slightly east of Anchorage, Alaska, which is slightly east of Hawaii. In other words, Hawaii is closer to the 180° longitude the International Date Line is based on than is Tahiti.

- The international telephone dialing code for Antarctica is 672.

- The Jordanian city Amman was once called Philadelphia.

- The largest body of fresh water in the world is Lake Superior.

- The largest desert in the world, the Sahara, is 3,500,000 square miles.

- The largest US city in area is Juneau, Alaska, which covers 3,108 square miles. Los Angeles covers only 458.2 square miles.

- The longest railway in the world is the Trans-Siberian Railway or Trans-Siberian Railroad, built 1891-1916, a network of railways connecting European Russia with Russian Far East provinces. It is 9,288.2 kilometers (5,787 miles) long and spans 8 time zones.

- The Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii is the largest volcano on Earth. It rises more than 50,000 feet (9.5 miles or 15.2 kilometers) above its base, which sits under the surface of the sea.

- The name “Canada” comes from the Indian term meaning, “Big Village.”

- The only continent without reptiles or snakes is Antarctica.

- The original name of Los Angeles was El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles del rio Porciuncula, translating into: The Village of our Lady the Queen of the Angels of the Porciuncula River.

- The Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal is farther East than the Atlantic entrance.

- The Pacific Ocean holds 46 percent of the world’s water. It has approximately six sextillions of water. The Atlantic holds 23.9 percent, the Indian Ocean holds 20.3 percent, and the Arctic holds 3.7 percent.

- The Pantheon is the largest building from ancient Rome that survives intact.

- The river Danube empties into the Black Sea.

- The San Diego Zoo in California has the largest collection of animals in the world.

- The smallest county in area is Hawaii's Kalawao County. This former leper colony is only 13 square miles. It has no state roads; the only land access is by mule trail. It is closed to outsiders except by government permission. It is also the second least populous county with about 100 residents. Only Loving County in Texas has fewer people.

- The smallest island with country status is Pitcairn in Polynesia, at just 1.75 square miles.

- The smallest state has the longest official name: Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

- The surface of the earth covers 196,950,711 square miles.

- The tallest monument built in the US, the Gateway Arch, in St. Louis, Missouri, is 630 feet tall.

- The Vatican City (formally, the Holy See) is the smallest country at 109 acres, or about 1/6 of a square mile. Monaco is next with about 368 acres, a little over one half of a square mile. It is the smallest member of the United Nations.

- The Vatican's Swiss Guard still wears a uniform designed by Michelangelo in the early 16th century.

- The water in the Great Salt Lake of Utah is more than four times saltier than any ocean.

- The wettest spot in the world is located on the island of Kauai. Mt. Waialeale consistently records rainfall at the rate of nearly 500 inches per year.

- The world’s deadliest recorded earthquake occurred in 1557 in central China. It struck a region where most people lived in caves carved from soft rock. The dwellings collapsed, killing an estimated 830,000 people.

- The world’s largest statue of a mosquito is a roadside attraction in Komarno, Manitoba, the Mosquito Capital of Canada. Sculpted in 1984, it is made of steel and has a wingspan of 15 feet. It’s also a weathervane, swiveling in the wind. (Only in Canada...)

- The world's highest railway is in Peru. The Central Railway climbs to 15,694 feet in the Galera tunnel, 108 miles from Lima. Tourists take it to get to the ruins of Machu Picchu.

- The world's longest suspension bridge opened to traffic on April 5, 1998. The 3,911-meter (12,831-feet) Akashi Kaikyo Bridge is 580 meters (1,900 feet) longer than the Humber Bridge in England, the previous record holder.

- There are more than 100 national parks and historic sites in Canada.

- There are some two million lakes in Canada, covering about 7.6% of the Canadian landmass.

- There is only one continent that holds no deserts. That continent is Europe.

- There is only one state in the United States that’s name is only one syllable. That state is Maine.

- Thirty-one states have a Washington County. It's the most popular name for a county.

- Three states were each once part of one of the original 13 colonies: Maine (Massachusetts), Delaware (Pennsylvania), and West Virginia (Virginia).

- Virginia extends farther west than West Virginia.

- Walt Disney World, located in Orlando, Florida, covers a massive 30,500 acres. That’s 46 square miles and makes it twice as big as the island of Manhattan.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

First Snow? Oh no...

I woke up this morning to this horrible sight:

Ugh...snow already? I really wasn’t prepared for this. As far as I know, it wasn’t even in the forecast. I do remember them (those weather people) warning about freezing rain. But not snow...sigh...

Anyway, it’s here, so there’s only one thing to do: post photos of garden flowers!
(To give the people hope...)

Somewhere under the snow is my beautiful garden...sigh...

Even Mocha doesn’t look impressed.

Isn't it amusing how expressive cats can be?