Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Thoughts about traveling ahead, and a reflection on visiting Cuba last year

We've been traveling for many years.  We're exploring the world, basically, and reaching out to people wherever we find ourselves.

Yes, we're privileged to be able to do so. But I hope that we're taking our viewpoints and voice along with us.

The previous two winters, we visited Guatemala and Cuba.  This winter, we're going to New Zealand. The contrast will be informative.

In reflecting on our visit to Cuba (via various reminders), I came across a piece on my iPad that I'd written shortly after coming back, but never posted (there wasn't any really functional internet access during our three weeks there -- you bought govt. cards and sat out in the main plazas to get a wireless signal to use your cards), so the few Cuba posts and reflections were after we returned. 

Hmm, I just realized my Cuba thoughts are on my iPad.  These are my updated thoughts.

It's been about 2 months since we returned from Cuba, and I'm still musing about the trip.

The largest Caribbean island, Cuba doesn't disappoint with beautiful beaches, historic architecture, fantastic music, and delicious food.

But the mythology around Cuba (from here in the U.S.) and the tremendous disparity between the tourist experience in Cuba and the non-tourist economy continues to niggle at me. I was thinking about this again today (I'm feeling guilty about not sharing curated photos... yet).

 I can only compare it to the feeling I had returning from Tanzania some years ago, on a (budget) walking/camping safari, but one that turned out to be an experience that we had a driver/guide and a cook for both of us, as we were the only two on the trip. Unsettling.

And it was the only other part of the world that we've been to, that I felt the looming challenge that food availability could be.  In Tanzania, in a non-agricultural tradition, drought was decimating the grazing land that the Masai herders depended on;  I keenly felt the sense that one droughty season might be crucial for survival or not.

In Cuba, there is a minimal safety net;  the small stores for Cubans provide a variety of staples, very cheaply, with a subsistence ration provided each month.  But the staples were quite minimal:  white flour, sugar, rum, salt, cigarettes, cooking oil, dried beans, perhaps a few onions, and maybe some milk powder.

There were small "farmer's markets" in Havana, if Cubans had tourist dollars to spend, so they could buy a little bit more diversity of fresh produce available in February: onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, bananas, pineapples, carrots, and cabbage.  It wasn't particularly impressive.

The markets (indoors) focused for tourist dollars were equally depauperate.  Their offerings were an odd assortment of rum, canned imported goods (tuna, tomatoes, etc.), bottled water, soft drinks, coffee, powdered milk, and crackers/candy/cookies/chips. 

And there was nothing that we saw in our three weeks in Cuba that remotely resembled a "grocery store" in the sense we'd think about that in many parts of the world.

Nor was there a vegetable garden on every corner either.  Havana is ringed with small community/market gardens, but we saw relatively few elsewhere.

So, the wonderful paladares (private restaurants) and the casa particulares that we experienced are getting their food supplies from sources that aren't available to "regular" Cubans (or tourists), for that matter.  

Tourist money means that vegetables, fruits, and meats are serving these places, but what ever fresh foods are available are only available to those with have tourist income to spend (we saw long lines at some of the small produce places).


Hard to know what to make of all of this, but I do know that Cuba isn’t a paradise of organic vegetables!

Thinking about spring

My vegetable garden looks dreadful (all the normally hardy perennials and winter greens look like toast, except for maybe the thyme.). Perhaps the chives, garlic, and perennial leeks will resurge.

We’ll see.

About to leave for a month in the Southern Hemisphere, there’s not much to do except think that I’ll really need to tidy up the remnants when we get back.

Another cold front (with snow!) is pushing through, so although I’m happy to walk if it’s above 20°F,  gardening is another thing.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

The spirit of winter light

I’m not used to cold gray days in winter day after day.  Normally, in the Southern U.S., we have short spells of gray punctuated by sunshine — it may be chilly, but it’s frequently sunny.

So it was wonderful to have this evening’s winter light be so lovely, coming after two days of rain and another day of cold and gray.

evening winter light
It was a lovely end of the day looking out towards the west.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Looking towards spring

My raised beds in front don't look so good. Nor does the sedum bed.

The evergreen vignette to the left of the front door is delightful, as my gardening companion pointed out this afternoon  -- he's added more rhododendrons, dwarf conifers, etc. and it's quite nice.

The polar vortex temperatures last week took their toll (yet again, Facebook reminded me, as my blog feeds are my main FB presence).  I was whining a year ago about snow, losing herbs and overwintering greens, and linking to previous winters, while at the same time, delighting in my covered spinach beds.

I had an unbelievable crop of spinach last winter.

Colder weather is on the way again, after a lovely respite of balmy high temperatures (in the 50°s F) - amazing how nice that is compared to temperatures less than 10° F.

It's all pretty strange, actually.

We're off to Southern Hemisphere summer in less than 2 weeks.  The house will be lived in, so no worries there, but the garden.  Hopefully,  I'll be able to clean up the frozen bits before leaving....

This was my hopeful mix in the front bed last fall.  I think the thyme has survived, maybe not the rosemary. Nor does the Spanish lavender in the front porch box look promising.


We're still eating a bit of the collards and broccoli greens (or at least, their post-frozen remnants).

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Muffins on a cold day

I’ve been using this image as a test post, for various iPad blogging apps (hopefully all other test posts have been successfully deleted).  The apps all have their limitations, but this post now, is directly through Google’s Blogger interface on Safari on my iPad. (Yet another test!)

Google seem to have improved it a bit (as far as iPad behavior) from previous versions, which cut off photos, didn’t allow scrolling down, etc.  There are clearly still limitations.


whole-grain muffins
But, it’s a lot better than what it was!

These were muffins made from freshly ground whole wheat, with nuts and dried fruit.

I’m hoping to be able to post some thoughts about natural areas and gardens while traveling from late January to late February - my old heavy laptop will NOT be along....

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Winter light

A key feature of southern winters is the clear light.  It's crystalline and vibrant, in contrast to our soft, hazy summer skies.  The Southern Appalachians surround where I live, in the mountain city of Asheville, NC.  The Blue Ridge mountains are part of the Appalachians -- they're known for the soft light in the summer sky.

This is the essence of it.

winter view from the back porch

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Extreme cold

Now, we're wimps in the Southern U.S., but it's REALLY cold.  I'm saying good-bye to my perennial herbs in the raised beds up front  -- I should have thrown some frost blankets over them, but they're in front of the house (do I really want to look at frost covers?) 

Besides, we got home from Charleston late in the day, and I think the damage was already done.

A clean slate is not a bad thing, but I'll have to figure out what to plant in March that will look attractive, while we're gone in April.  Maybe I'll have to resort to cool-season annuals, if I can't get replacement herbs.


This was last year.  Effective, but not pretty.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Gardening, traveling, and New Year’s

A search on my blog posts for New Year’s brought a number of musings about winter vegetables,  traveling, and other thoughts. I’ve been writing posts since 2007, so I’ve had a lot of time to comment over the years.

This has been an unusual year, in a new pattern, as we’ve stepped up our traveling, and my vegetable gardening has become more focused, as a volunteer at a local community garden, in addition to my own raised beds. Juggling vegetables, and seasonal change-outs in my four-season beds is a bit more challenging, when we’re away for 3-4 weeks at a time.

Our natural landscape is flourishing. My gardening companion is a brilliant gardener, and we keep adding native plants to the forest below the house, the side areas that we garden with neighbors, and to the pollinator meadow in front. (I do garden in the front and side of the house! Pollinator plantings and vegetable/herb beds are my purview, and I’m consulted on everything else...)

Full moon festival in Hoi An, Vietnam
In the year ahead, we’ll be traveling, too, quite a bit. We embrace being citizens of the world, and are glad to be ambassadors for America and Americans, regardless of what our government is like at any point in time.

I love this image from the Full Moon Festival, taken in Hoi An, Vietnam, in January, some years ago.   

It seems to me to embody hope for the New Year.  Wishing everyone a good year ahead.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Cold weather

Brr, I thought it was cold this week (unusually so for the coast) as we’ve spent time in Charleston, SC from Christmas to this Saturday. It’s been even colder in Asheville — our HomeExchange folks have hopefully enjoyed their family time indoors!

But looking at the weather for next week. Ick. A low of 10°F will almost certainly take out my perennial herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, etc.). — a few years back, 15°F took care of them, not to mention the overwintering kale, collards, and chard that weren’t protected by frost blankets in those two years.

As I reflected at the time, it definitely gave me a clean slate for spring.

Hhrmph, I was hoping that my herb beds would be fine. I’ll toss my frost blankets over them Saturday night when we return, but I’m not hopeful.

Here’s a link to a hopeful post after those previous low temperature winters: https://naturalgardening.blogspot.com/2016/09/year-round-vegetable-gardening.html

I had wonderful spinach and other greens last year!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmases past

Sometimes it’s hard to improve on a reflection made, and written about in the past.

Facebook reminded me of this post, written two years ago.  The thoughts expressed then are equally true now.

https://naturalgardening.blogspot.com/2015/12/remembering-holidays-and-christmases.html

We’re in Charleston for a week this year, exchanging our house in Asheville for a lovely flat in a large historic house.

Winter blessings to all.
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