Monday, September 26, 2016

BUTTERFLIES ALL AROUND: New Butterfly Pavilion, Natural History Museum, Los Angeles

A Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, a California native species
Butterflies are nature’s jewels of the air. When I was a child, one of our many family hobbies was collecting butterflies–searching the meadows and fields of Minnesota and Wisconsin in summertime for monarchs, fritillaries, white and yellow sulphers, mourning cloaks, and more, catching them in our butterfly net so we could see them up close. It was always a special thrill to find a swallowtail with its elegant wings.
Inside the Butterfly Pavilion at the Natural History Museum of LA County
Last week, I made a special trip to the new Butterfly Pavilion at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, to see some of the same species of butterflies again, as they flitted from flower to flower inside a large enclosed outdoor exhibit. Butterflies were everywhere--on the flowers, clinging to the netting, resting on the ground and flapping through the air. All of the more than 30 species of butterflies in the exhibit are native to North America and many live in California. Large illustrated cards are available to carry around and identify the species.
 The back side of the card illustrates some of the interesting facts about the shapes, sizes and colors of the butterflies in the exhibit:
  • For some butterflies, bright colors and patterns help males and females find one another.
    A Julia Longwing butterfly, male
  • Colors can sometimes help butterflies blend into their surroundings and hide from predators.
    The pattern on the Malachite butterfly's wings mimics sunlit leaves
  • A few butterflies taste really bad. Predators remember bold colors and avoid them.
    The Monarch, a native in California, depends on milkweed plants for breeding
  • Some wing patterns look like large eyes of other larger animals and “fool” potential predators.
    the White Peacock butterfly has several eye-spots
    To see the butterflies, you must reserve a ticket for timed entry. I visited in the middle of the day when the pavilion was warm and full of sunshine and the butterflies were busy feeding at the various flowers. After 30 minutes, the museum staff shooed me out so the next group of people with timed tickets could come in. I would have liked to stay longer--the thrill of seeing butterflies up close never goes away.
    The Butterfly Pavilion is located outside the south entrance of the Natural History Museum. It is a permanent structure that will be open seasonally. This year it will be open for one month, September 16 - October 16, 2016. For directions and parking, click HERE.
South Entrance of the museum

Monday, September 19, 2016

LONDON CANALS, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Canal and Towpath, Regents Park, London
My friend and fellow children's book writer, Gretchen Woelfle, has spent the last several months in England. She is also an avid and accomplished cyclist and sped around London on the network of towpaths along the canals. Here is her report of some of the sights you can see along the canals.

Ask people about London waterways, and they’ll know the River Thames that snakes its way through the city from west to east. But there are over sixty miles of canals that flow through the city, relics of the 18th century Age of Canals, when thousands of miles of canals propelled the Industrial Revolution all over Britain. A team of horses could pull 1000 lbs. of cargo along rough roads in a day.  They could pull 50,000 lbs. by water.
By 1850, 4800 miles of canals linked mines, textile mills, factories, and agricultural centers to seaports throughout the country. Commercial canal traffic only ended after World War II.
Limehouse Basin
Today the Canal & River Trust maintain 2000 miles of canals in England and Wales for our recreational pleasure. In London they are found hiding in plain sight, often below street level in east, west, and north London. Google maps will direct you to the entrances to towpaths along the Regent’s, Grand Union, and Docklands Canals, and the River Lea Navigation route.
Operating the locks
Traditional narrow boats, wider barges, and quirky sorts of watercraft ply the waters today and crews work the locks by hand. You’ll see hundreds of houseboats moored temporarily or permanently along the canals. In late August we met a family of four who had spent five weeks cruising from Liverpool to London, and were heading to a winter mooring before returning to their earth-bound home.
Other people live aboard year-round – cheaper than London rents.  Piles of wood on top of some boats fuel wood-burning stoves in winter.  A few have solar panels. Many miles of London canals are in populated areas. But some boats moored in industrial west London are far from roads or shops. How do they get groceries and water home? 

Waterside Cafe
The canals are vehicle-free routes for bicycle commuters. They are also scenic routes to stroll. Guided canal walks, canal festivals, and boat rides are further ways to explore canal lore. Pubs, caf├ęs, and parks bump up against the towpath. (We saw one cyclist knocked into the canal, bicycle and all, by a careless pubster standing on the towpath.) There is even a bookshop barge that presents live music on its roof.
Concert on the water
Regent’s Canal cuts through the zoo. The Camden Locks join Camden Market, with stalls of clothing styles unchanged for decades. A food court fills the air with delicious aromas and reflects the global society that is London. We rode along the Grand Union canal during Notting Hill Caribbean Carnival and heard the bands loud and clear. 

Camden Locks
The Canal Museum, originally a nighttime stable for horses that pulled the boats, contains a narrowboat with typical house furnishings, as well as a gallery of photos and films of the canals in their working days. Painted pottery favored by boat dwellers is on display along with tools used in the trade. 
My favorite part of museum is the oral histories told by men and women who grew up on narrowboats. The shop carries an impressive library of books on canal life as well as nostalgic memorabilia. The museum offers guided walks and boat tours.

Warehouse turned into a workshop
The canals provide a colorful slice of London life past and present, from parks and mansions to council flats, abandoned warehouses and untamed nature. They also provide a refuge for birds, aquatic life, small woodland critters, and humans who want to retreat from the buzz of urban life.

For more information see:

Monday, September 12, 2016

CYCLING COAST to COAST in ENGLAND: from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

My friend and fellow children's book writer, Gretchen Woelfle, has spent the last several months in England. She is also an avid and accomplished cyclist. Here is her report of a trip she made across England on her bike..
There’s something to be said for small countries like the UK. (NB: Don’t tell a Brit it’s small.) They can create things like a 14,000 mile National Cycle Network, a brainchild of nonprofit group Sustrans (sustainable transit, including walking).

In July a friend and I cycled 136 of those miles across the north of England on the c2c route, from Whitehaven on the Irish Sea to Tynemouth on the North Sea, through beautiful landscapes and the Pennines: a range of challenging uphills and thrilling downhills.
The Lake District
We booked with Pedal Power Cycle who customized the journey to our liking. We choose to do it in four days and Pedal Power arranged our accommodations (3 hotels, 2 B&Bs), carried our luggage onward, and provided bikes and maps.

Yankee Invader
Whitehaven, the starting point, was a site of a bungled invasion during the American Revolution. John Paul Jones, a Scot in the Royal Navy switched sides (GB’s Benedict Arnold?), landed at Whitehaven on April 23, 1778, rowed ashore with fifteen men, and spiked the cannons overlooking the harbor. They planned to burn hundreds of ships anchored there, but ran out of fuel. Some sailors went into town to find some, got waylaid in a pub, and didn’t return until nearly dawn, at which point the town was alerted and Jones and his men fled the scene. In 1999 Whitehaven officially pardoned Jones for the debacle.
Day 1, 31 miles, cycling tradition has you dip your back wheel in the Irish Sea, which I did.  Then we took off along a bike trail along an abandoned rail line, through woods and along sheep pastures. Sustrans has installed artwork every few miles: sculptured route markers and whimsical cutouts. Then on to country roads, through four rain showers, up one very steep climb with welcome tea and tea bread (fruitcake) at the top, then a whirl down to the town of Keswick and a hearty dinner at the Dog & Gun pub.
Trail Signage

Whimsical Sculpture along the trail
Day two, 49 miles, through the utter gorgeousness of the Lake District –which could inspire one to write poetry if one were so inclined. More steep hills, more delicious downhills, to an 18th century coaching inn in the country. I felt no shame dismounting and pushing the bike up some of those hills.
Day 3, 28 miles, and the hardest day yet. Into Northumbria, steeper hills, more rugged countryside, lunch in a pretty village, flower show in a medieval church where a young woman climbed into the tower to fix the clock. Blessed cup of tea at the highest (former) train station in England, then a blissful gradual downhill along the old rail bed, over stark moors with sheep gazing and gazing unperturbed. Evening ended at The Fleece where our team did not win the pub quiz.
Rail Trail
Day 4, 27 easy miles into Newcastle-upon-Tyne, lunch at a 15th century pub on the river, one more rail trail to Tynemouth and the North Sea, into which I dipped my front wheel, and bid farewell to my trusty steed/cycle. Finally a van ride to our luxury riverside hotel and a superb vegetarian meal at The Herb Garden.
All in all, an exhilarating ride, glorious landscapes, dramatic skies, and ample justification for having a slice of decadent cake – Victoria sponge, lemon drizzle, etc. – every afternoon with my tea. I’m checking out Pedal Power’s Coasts and Castles route that wends its way to Scotland.

For more information on hiking and biking routes in the UK: (see walking and cycling inspiration page) customized self-guided cycling tours
Searching “walking and cycling holidays UK” will give dozens of options for guided and self-guided tours.

Monday, September 5, 2016

FOUR DAYS IN NEW YORK CITY, Guest Post by Paige Arnold

Love sculpture in New York City
A week ago, my granddaughter Paige (age 10) spent four days in New York City. Paige has a new camera and enjoyed photographing the sites of the city.  Here is a report of some of her favorite parts of the trip. 
I recently went to New York City for four days with my aunt and my mom. I stayed in Manhattan, not far from Washington Square.   It’s very different from where I live in California, but in a good way.   

Gramercy Park
I like it because you can walk in any given direction and you will find a Starbucks.  I also like that you can just stick out your hand and yell taxi to hail a taxi (you can go everywhere with those things).  I like how there are so many parks.  In New York there are a lot of pigeons but also a lot of other tiny birds too. 
The Laundress and the Little Prince in Greenwich Village
One day we walked to Washington Square and from there to Greenwich Village.  I liked Greenwich Village because it was very calm and the little shops looked very tiny, neat, and cozy.  There was lots of window decor.  There was a shop there called The Little Prince and it was almost engulfed in plants. Next to it there was a shop called the Laundress.  From there we walked home.  

The Flatiron Building
There are lots of apartments in New York so it is sometimes hard for you to find your apartment never having seen the outside before.

The pastrami shop
Another day , we rode the subway to Central Park, but before going to Central Park we went to a pastrami shop, and that was where my mom found out that in New York pastrami is just dry meat a third of a foot thick, sandwiched between two pieces of dry bread with nothing else. Then we walked to Central Park.  
Alice in Wonderland statue, Central Park
Mime in Central Park
There were about thirty or more stands where someone would draw a portrait or caricature of you for ten dollars.  There was a street show that was hilarious.  The people running it really knew how to coax people into giving them five to a hundred dollars.  There were many things to take pictures of.
New shoes from the Nike store
On the third day that I was there, we went shopping a lot.   Everything in general was more expensive than in California.  It was like money was worth less.  There were lots and lots of things and stores to choose from.  One of the only stores that had about the same prices as there are in California was Uniqlo.  Lots of the stores had mannequins holding and wearing tennis equipment because of the U.S. open tennis tournament hosted by New York.

The Brooklyn bridge at dusk
We also went to Brooklyn that day.  We went to a place called DUMBO.
Under (the)
View of Manhattan from Brooklyn
We walked under the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge.  There were many opportunities to take pictures, especially of the bridges. 
At the American Museum of Natural History; Megaloceros was the largest deer to have ever lived
Another thing that I enjoyed in New York was when I did something called SoulCycle.  It’s a class where you are on a stationary bike and are pedaling for 45 minutes with an instructor telling you to stand up, or sit down with or without weights.  It is very hard but worth it. 
In New York there are lots of people that cross the street when the hand has stopped blinking, but most only do it if there are no approaching cars.  I was very sad to leave New York and I hope anyone who goes there has a great time like I did.
At Gramercy Park again