Exploring the Tetons and Yellowstone

Monday, 18 September 2017
This wildlife in the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park is pretty amazing. James and I have been trying to get to more national and state parks this year and we really enjoyed this part of the country. (Obligatory photo by the sign below.)

James is fairly serious about wildlife photography and I get excited when I am able to capture decent video of creatures so we were up between 5 and 5:30 a.m. each day. It was chilly but we bundled up and hit the road before dawn. I drove and James watched for animals. 

During one outing in Yellowstone with a guide, we ran into this gorgeous female Grizzly. She was walking along the side of the highway. Look at those shoulders! We were lucky to get great lighting and she didn't pay much attention to us. (I shot this with a long lens so it looks like I'm closer to her than I actually am.)

On the same drive, as we were tooling along, I thought I saw a grey-ish four legged animal in the distance, we pulled over and sure enough - this gorgeous coyote was trotting along. It has such a gorgeous coat.

Our most rare encounter with an animal occurred in the Tetons. One late afternoon, we were able to locate this Cinnamon Bear (variety of black bear) in the area where locals believe it dens. It is an amazing red-ish brown color.

Something to be aware of when traveling there in the summer months is the absolute mayhem of people. Take a look at this group of photographers and tourists trying to get a shot of a black bear. Finally a ranger had to come out and tell everyone to move out of the road so people could drive through.

We preferred Teton over Yellowstone because it was much less crowded. Your best bet is to visit in May or September and avoid the summer crowds if possible. We hope to go back to visit in the winter time. 

End of Summer Update

Monday, 11 September 2017
I'm teaching again this semester at Northern Kentucky University and one of my students asked me to read one of her blog posts. This reminded me how much I love to share photos, videos, and experiences with others.

Our garden this year yielded Roma, Big Boy, grape, and cherry tomatoes, so last night I invited my parents, brother, and his girlfriend over for a homemade chili and cornbread feast. We sat by the fire, covered in blankets, and enjoyed an adult beverage. It is getting cooler in Ohio and I love it. We are especially enjoying our new backyard. The deck was rotting so we replaced it with pavers, new landscaping, and a water feature. We enjoy camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park so that was my inspiration. It sort of looks like a campground:

My next book is in the works. This time I'm writing about cooking classes that I've taken during travels and the existential lessons I've learned along the way. Staying up to date on my blog will hopefully help me with discipline when it comes to finishing the book. I even had some new photos taken for the author page.

We recently got back from a wildlife photography trip to Custer State Park where we were able to spend hours with a herd of mountain goats. They are so fun to watch. 

Thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you too.

First Book Signing (with a shaky hand)

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I worked hard to finish my book in as little time as possible after we moved back from Sri Lanka because I wanted people to be able to talk with us about it while it was still fresh.

Land of Spice and Heat, a Fulbright Scholar's adventure in Sri Lanka was published (in print) just last month. The digital version is available through iBooks and Kindle. You can order the print version on Amazon.com.

The book was published using the hybrid self-publishing company Pronoun.com, and we are called "indie authors" by the publishing team. You do not pay to have the book published and receive royalties when copies sell.

It is certainly an interesting way to publish but it is a lot more work when you do it all yourself. You serve as your own editor, marketing specialist, and designer. I designed the cover of my book myself using a template. Obviously this method bypasses the need for an agent and the pitch process to "traditional" publishers. The publishing company gets a cut when the books sell but if you can't get through the design process, there's nothing to publish. That's the incentive to produce a good product.

I learned of this option from one of my mentors at the University of Tennessee. He has used Pronoun for several of his books and I thought that his description of the service was ideal.

I hosted 50 people at my first book signing a week ago. The event was a success and even the reading and question-answer session went well. I was especially excited to see that those in attendance were actually interested (or they pretended to be) and asked several well thought out questions.

James held a photo exhibit during the event to display and discuss some of the pictures he captured of the culture and wildlife in Sri Lanka. They were beautifully presented on easels on the exterior of the event space and people viewed them while sipping wine and enjoying Sri Lankan inspired appetizers.

I made all of the food myself and the chicken curry seemed to be a hit.

The event played out even better than I had hoped for in. All but eight copies of my book supply sold and many guests wanted them personalized in the signing. I found out that when you sign books for people you get to talk and spend a minute or two getting to know them. Our guests were interesting people and I was thrilled to learn more about my community, readers, and why they are interested in travel and Sri Lanka. One gentleman even has a daughter in the Fulbright program. Small world!

My hand shook a bit while I signed books because it was a first, I was nervous, and also high on adrenaline for realizing a goal. One foot in front of the other. Let's find a way to realize what motivates us and practice compassion for ourselves and others along the way.

Hitting the ball around with pro Mike McDonnell

Monday, 10 April 2017
One of my favorite parts of visiting Napa Valley earlier this year (besides wine tasting at Domaine Carneros) was our croquet lesson with pro Mike McDonnell. He is the resident pro at Meadowood Resort and we enjoyed an hour of instruction on a day when we did not go wine tasting.

Can you believe how beautiful those grounds are? I would like to visit again for another lesson.

We learned that there are two versions of croquet. "English" competitive croquet with mallets that are square, and the Americanized "yard" version (can also be competitive) with mallets that have rounded edges. We learned the rules of the former.

Mike made the experience absolutely hilarious, interesting, and educational. James always seems to pretend that he doesn't really "do" sports but so far in our relationship I've come to realize that he is better than me at canoeing, corn hole, bowling, croquet... and the list goes on. I'm a competitive person and he fooled me into thinking I could win at life against him. Nope.

James was beating me during the game that Mike led us through and every so often our instructor would "tap in" and win the shot for me. Here's a great example:

I've always wanted to learn how to play croquet because you don't have to break a sweat, can enjoy a team sport, sip wine occasionally while playing, and play on the tournament courses throughout the world. Bucket list! 

Schramsberg - 13 cases ordered by Nixon as a domestic "champagne"

Friday, 7 April 2017

One of the other sparkling wines we decided to taste in Napa Valley (already being a fan) was Schramsberg. The winery was originally founded in 1862. It has been a winery for 150 years although it is interesting to note that it was not a winery every year since 1862. 

The Schrams were interested in hillside vines rather than valley or farm-like vines which is quite different from the norm in Napa Valley. In 1875, the family was the first to build wine storage in a cave (in the area) and in 2015 the winery celebrated 50 years of sparkling wine.

In 1965, the winery went through a second birth. The new owners loved champagne and sparkling wine and wanted to produce it. However, it is difficult to grow chardonnay or pinot noir in Napa Valley because it is too hot. Cabernet Savingnon grapes, as well as Bordeax, and Malbec grow easily here.

As our guide explained during the tour, Schramsberg sparkling wine was sold to the White House (13 cases) for special events in the Nixon era. The president wanted a domestic option for “champagne.” Barbara Walters apparently talked about the winery on the Today Show for seven minutes.

During the tour we learned that grapes that are low in sugar and high in acidity are best for sparkling wine. Also, who knew but the wire cage on sparkling wines and champagne is not for decoration. The little cage holds the cork in because there is a lot of pressure internally.

The riddling process (bottles are stored inverted and moved ever so slightly over time), which helps to process the yeast needed to interact with the grapes to create bubbles, is usually four to six weeks in length. It can take up to eight to 10 weeks. Sometimes it is done by hand and a person will come through and turn each bottle just slightly every day. Riddling can also be done with a machine. The bottles are put in large cages and moved each day. Mechanically riddled wine isn’t always perfect. Our wine guide explained, “We only walk as fast as the slowest bottle.”

Schramsberg does three sparkling roses: Brut Rose, J Schram Rose, and Querencia Rose. The Querencia Rose is $55 per bottle and the name is a Spanish word that means “Your love of the place you call home.” The proceeds of this wine go to educational foundations that protect farmland for vines. It has a nice pink color. More chardonnay, pinot noir… partially fermented then the skin is removed and the process continues. Winemakers only do a first press so the color comes from that. 10.2% alcohol.

Tasting at Domaine Carneros (Taittinger in Napa Valley)

Wednesday, 5 April 2017
Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley may be my favorite winery in Napa Valley (but I love sparking wine).
The house has produced sparkling wine since 1988, using the traditional method - just like champagne - but it cannot be called "champagne" because it is a place, not a wine. We tried several sparking wines.
We tried the Estate Brut Cuvee – “cuvee” means “blend.” It had aromas of lemon zest, grapefruit, golden hay, floral notes of delicate grape flowers. I really liked the subtleness of this blend.

The Blanc de Noir is a “white” sparkling wine from a “black” pinot noir grape. Luscious notes of honey, baked pear, toasted pie crust, and lime zest. This one was a bit too dry for me.
We both like the Brut Rose which had vibrant fruit floral notes of wild strawberries and hints of pear. James loved this one and thinks he can find it on wine.com. Although as we continued tasting, we decided to become members of the wine club because it is free to join, and we can get sparkling wines delivered to Ohio that we cannot get elsewhere.

I enjoy dessert wine rather than actual dessert so the Vermeil Demi-sec – pronounced “vehr – MAY” was lovely. This is a sweeter sparkling wine with aromas of orange blossom, citrus, baked pears and vanilla, with a long, creamy finish.
At Domaine Carneros, there are generous tasting options overlooking the valley. The views are lovely even though there is quite a bit of traffic noise.

Darwin's theory: those that adapt survive

Tuesday, 28 March 2017
The Galapagos are connected to Darwin because he began to develop his theory of Natural Selection after visiting the islands. On the ship, during our vacation there, we were treated to lectures on wildlife and other topics relevant to the Galapagos. Martin, one of the trained naturalists talked about evolution one afternoon.

Sally Lightfoot Crab hunts on the rocks.

He explained Darwinian Theory. The basic concept is that animals produce more offspring than can survive due to natural circumstances or happenings in nature. The stronger, most adaptable live. "Strongest" means that the animal survives, perhaps gets lucky, and he is the “strongest.” This was not what I thought the "Natural Selection" theory was based on. I thought that literally the "strongest" animal is the one to live. Not necessarily so.

Nazca Boobie chick waits to be fed.

Surprise - but Darwin was not a scientist. (Notes based on information from a Silversea publication:) He was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, showing an early fascination with the natural world. As a medical student at Edinburgh, he found that he just couldn't handle the trauma of surgery traumatic and decided to get his Bachelor's degree at Cambridge with the goal of serving the Church of England.

In 1831, Darwin joined the voyage of The Beagle as an unpaid companion and Geologist. This experience and more than 20 years of study led to his theory of evolution. He went to the Galapagos, visited 4 islands, and stayed on shore for 19 days.

Sea Lions lounge on the beach after going out to sea to feed.

Ultimately, Darwin's theory acknowledged: “The one most adaptable to change survives.” To expand with an example, it is interesting to note that the Galapagos Tortoises changed the shape of their shells over time to adapt to the landscape of the different islands. Read more about that here. 

Evolution is not directional. When do creatures change and adapt? They evolve when they struggle and suffer then, adaptation occurs. Changes in populations = evolution. Darwin's theory wasn't so much about man evolving from apes but instead he focused on slight CHANGES to the animal. Another example is how, over time, finches beaks changed to accommodate the food supply in the Galapagos islands. Their beaks have evolved so they can eat off the ground, in the trees, from cactus, seeds, etc.

Night gull sits on its nest during the day, preparing to hunt at night.

If an animal doesn’t adapt it is because it doesn’t have a need to change. Species are limited in the Galapagos because food is scarce. The islands are isolated, fragile ecosystems.