Saturday, December 31, 2011

Riding lessons.............Part I

Hope you're ready for this post.  Caution: graphic images of crazy women riding bareback!  

I promised to share with you the rudiments of bareback elephant riding.  No sissy, comfy howdah chairs for Paula and me in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  No climbing aboard mile high pachyderms via platforms.  We opted for the real thing - a day at Patara, a working elephant farm where we 'owned' our elephant for the entire day and miraculously lived to tell about it! You will laugh........elephant riding is definitely less elegant than horseback riding, no butt-snug jodhpurs and polished to a shine riding boots, and whispering "giddy up" into one of those huge ears doesn't move one of these beauties.

First, I was thrilled to meet my elephant's 4 month old grandson................the most adorable little guy who loved being around people. There were several babies, and many females were pregnant. Patara's breeding program has been very successful and they have not lost an elephant in 10 years. It was easy to see this farm is dedicated to saving and raising healthy elephants - there are NO circus acts or performing of any kind.

It was an amazing feeling to be able to cuddle up on a baby elephant.

 My elephant was named Mokasuop and her mahout was Theo who had worked with elephants at the farm for 4 years.

Preparing Mokasuop's snack of bananas and sugarcane treats.

Before sharing all that elephant love, we were shown how to feed our elephant.......they are eating machines and keep going all day long until they've consumed about 300 lbs of vegetarian deliciousness.  This made me feel exceptionally close to Mokasuop, my lovely gal being vegetarian like me, and even helped when it came time to do her daily 'health check' which included squeezing her fresh poop to make sure she wasn't dehydrated.  I could not have done that part if she was a carnivore!

Brushing vigorously to remove grit, accumulated during the night sleeping on the ground, from an elephant's hairy skin, is necessary before bathing - however balancing on rocks to reach her back was not easy.

Mokasuop's daily bath I left to my mahout......I did not have a swimsuit or change of clothes.....and to be honest I was more afraid of leeches, and other nasties possibly lurking in the muddy waters, than getting wet.

Getting ready to ride a squeaky clean elephant.

Traditional 'mahout' garb

To prevent chafed legs - elephants are wiry creatures - we added the loose 'fisherman's pant' to our traditional woven cotton tops, over our regular clothes, kicked off our footwear, and whoopee, it was time to get on our elephant. 
Now these are not pretty pictures coming up. Remember no steps, no stirrups, no cranes!  There are three ways to mount an elephant -
  • Have it pick you up with its trunk and deposit you gently on its back.......only thing is you end up facing backward and then have to turn around which is quite difficult. 
  • Give the command for your elephant to lift its front leg, climb onto its raised foot and clamber up the leg.  I may have chosen that way, but for some reason I never could determine, mine wouldn't do this one.
  • What sounded best to us was have our elephant lay down and climb aboard.  Sounds simple but isn't.  An elephant on the ground is still huge - tall and wide - and as soon as you're halfway on they start to get up before you can even get your leg over! 

The rope was not much help, in fact I found it a hindrance because..............

.............the rather large knot got caught between my legs making it really difficult to pull myself up to sweet Mokasuop's bristly, knobby head!  Altogether I was a sight to behold and can only caption this photo with the words, "Hail Mary, full of grace"........and, because I refuse to be the only foolish looking first time elephant rider, here's Paula, my cohort in crime, looking just as silly.  How we laugh at ourselves now watching the video version on the DVD we were given at the end of the day!!!

 So here I am at last, up on squeaky clean Mokasoup's very wide neck, knees bent to grip, bare feet behind her ears to steer, ready to ride.  

What was it like, how did I do?  

TO BE CONTINUED:  Come back for the rest of the story.......a rocky ride to the waterfall, and a delicious picnic.


Meanwhile, here's to the New Year......may 2012 be one of good health, great happiness, and many blessings for each one of you, my dear readers.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mosaics from the mountains................

.....brown paper packages tied up with string lace....these are a few of my favorite things.

Many of you already know the incredible mosaic/furniture painting artist Penny at The Comforts of Home in the western North Carolina mountains.  She is such a sweet, talented lady, and her home is not only beautifully styled and decorated, it also houses her Lavender Hill Studio where she creates amazing art. Fortunate to have visited her there a couple of times, I'm hoping to return again before too long. Penny will also be opening a booth in an antiques mall in Hendersonville, NC early in the new year, and there her mosaics, painted furniture, and lighting creations will be available. 

On arriving home from Virginia, I was greeted by a parcel on my front porch. Recently, while checking Penny's ETSY shop here, I fell for this gorgeous French mosaic on vintage silver tray/cheese server.  Do you ever buy yourself a special Christmas gift?  Well that's what I did!

I've decided to display the tray on a stand so I can enjoy Penny's art rather than lay it flat........and it's right here in the dining room where I can look at it while blogging, which of course is often as I've still so much to tell you of my recent trips!

This is perfect...............I love cows, a great Camembert is one of my favorite cheeses, blue and white china/vintage silver - perfection, and the Normandy area of France is still near the top of my travel wish list as I've yet to visit that area.

Thanks Penny - I'm thrilled with my purchase and can't wait to see the beautiful creations you design in the coming year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Warmth of home.................

Sometimes it just feels the right place to be at the right time.  

Winter days at home, especially these few between Christmas and New Year, are so enjoyable. Last year they were different as we had a tremendous snowfall on Boxing Day.

The garden on December 26, 2010
This year, returning from the road trip, I just want to relax for a spell before getting motivated and energized enough to get on with a plethora of projects needing to be done with the start of a new year. No special 'resolutions' just jobs to be done.

Waking to a beautiful fiery Winter sunrise - this image caught in the upstairs guest room window - starts the day well.  Even though chilly, the promise of sunshine means a wonderful day chores beckon!

Speaking of the garden, it's in need of some major TLC after being gone so much lately..........or, how about we just call it a 'secret garden' for now, making its overgrown and under-weeded persona sound a wee bit more romantic.  At least the grass is green, and look who came to visit on Boxing Day morning before we left town, the harbingers of Spring!  Can the robins think Winter is over before it has even begun here in North Carolina?

Meanwhile, looking forward to some days in the kitchen - love making soups and stews - and I have a couple of new cake recipes I want to try.  Warmth from the oven, and the fireplace, perhaps a tall mug of hot chocolate.......yes, I'm ready for Winter now.

What are your favorite 'rights of Winter'?  Are you curling up under a throw with a new great book? Are you out walking in your new Christmas boots, or perhaps planning a big New Year's Eve party?  Let's keep closet cleaning for later....enjoy something really wintry right now.....before we know it, Spring will be here!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

History lessons.................

Following a quiet Christmas, Bob and I decided to take a little road trip.  We've been like ships passing in the night these last few months so needed a couple of days to get fed up with one another again - just kidding!

We've always enjoyed traveling by car, stopping to see things you miss from the the air.  Historic markers to be read, battlefields to wander through, museums to make one stop and ponder......just revisiting life as it used to be.

Yesterday, Boxing Day, we drove north to America's Historic Triangle in Virginia - Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.  

 The sun was shining and casting long shadows in the late afternoon. In 1781 the Battle of Yorktown ended the Revolutionary War right here. Of course being English I had to be nice and bite my tongue now and again!

Today it rained most of the time.  Indoor pastimes were the most enjoyable.........museums with movies, a cozy Colonial Williamsburg coffee shop, and a good restaurant for dinner.  

We'll be back on the road tomorrow and heading home because there's really no place like there?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Coconuts and Pagodas.................

View of the coconut palms outside our hotel room on the Perfume River in Hue, Vietnam

Song Huong (Perfume River) was once perfumed in Autumn as the flowers from orchards upriver fell into the water giving it a pleasant aroma.  Nowadays, the water is anything but floral smelling as it used by locals for laundry, bathing etc.  The river bed is dredged for sand and sold to cement manufacturers - perhaps this causes the unappealing murkiness.

Of course the rainy day didn't help matters.....everywhere was somewhat grey and dull until we made our first stop at the citadel of Phu Xuan where the city of Hue began its existence in 1687 and assumed the role of capital city of southern Vietnam in the mid-1700s.  More than a century later French forces encircled the city, the Vietnamese lost the battle to keep their homeland, and a colony was born.  Even in the rain the beautiful colors glowed, especially the terra cotta walkways

Thien Mu Pagoda (Heavenly Lady Pagoda), built 1601.... of the oldest and most religious buildings in the country, built between the river and a pine forest.

What about the coconuts?  The following images are from the visit to the Mekong Delta area our second day in Saigon. 

I had no idea that the coconut was such a important part of the Vietnamese economy.  The southern province of Ben Tre is called 'the land of the coconut' and cultivation is being expanded.  Named the most useful tree in the world, all parts of the palms and nuts are used, from food to roofs!

We were offered the younger green skinned ones to drink the milk through a straw while traveling along the river in a motorized sampan...........

Here coconut candy is being made by hand.......

.....the offered samples were quite tasty, though very sweet.

The packaged candy, attractively labeled, is very popular.

Amazing coconut palms....just be sure to wear a hard hat when walking beneath!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas is here.............

Blessings of the season.  
May your Christmas be merry and bright....

............and the coming year bring you good health, prosperity, and much happiness.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thai Umbrellas Part II...............

The Bo Sang 'Umbrella Villagers' have been making umbrellas for over two centuries in this village just east of the beautiful city of Chiang Mai!  The art has been handed down through a small number of families.  This typical agricultural village became involved with the introduction of Saa - a paper made from the bark of the mulberry tree - combined with dedication and inherent arts and crafts skills.

This is one of my favorite images - it reminds me of the ballet.

Besides Saa paper, umbrellas are made in silk and cotton, many adorned with hand painted northern Thailand images of scenery, flowers, animals and birds.

I thought the black and white umbrellas just fabulous - unfortunately they were large and would not fit in my luggage.  Now of course I'm kicking myself for not shipping some back!

This gentleman was working on a custom order - such a beautiful color, wonder where they were to be used.

There are literally thousands of umbrellas for sale, all hand painted and so pretty.  I did manage to bring back a few small ones for some special little girls in my life.

Gorgeous pinks................

..........heavenly blues and sunny yellows.  I wanted them all!

Couldn't resist being the center of attention for a minute during the umbrella factory visit. Hey, after riding an elephant the previous day, this was easy!!

All the people at the village were truly dedicated to their work producing these vivid pieces of art.  The steps are tedious, their hands showed scars from years of repetitious motions, but pride in their beautiful creations was it should be. 
A beautiful place to visit in Thailand.