Archive for December, 2008

The best bicycle calendar in the world

December 31, 2008

Yes, indeed, the International Bicycle Fund’s annual “Cycle and Recycle Calendar” is the best bike calendar in the world. 

Cover page of Bicycle Solidarity Calendar 2009

Cover of Bicycle Solidarity Calendar 2009

First, the “recycle” part.  The folks at IBF, who also offer awesome cycling tours worldwide and tons of other cool programs, stress that the calendar can be used again and again. For instance, I’m waiting to use my 2007 calendar again in 2018 and 2029. Of course finding it will be the challenge.

March 2009 page

March 2009 calendar page

The “Solidarity Calendar 2009” is a full-color wall calendar that celebrates the bike as an everyday transportation vehicle throughout the world. Months include remarkable photos of the bicycle as art and utility, along with bike-related captions, quotations and illustrations. It is a perfect gift for any bicyclist.  The 2009 edition conveys a bicycle culture without borders — from the roads of Vietnam, Cuba and the Philippines, to bicycle landscapes and lifestyles of Indonesia, Ghana, Peru and Japan.

October 2009 calendar page

October 2009 calendar page

This year’s calendar is published by Cyclo Nord-Sud, costs $15 (discounts for multiples) and proceeds support bicycling.  IBF is a nonprofit (based in Seattle), so your payment is even tax-deductible. Order before Jan. 7, as their office will go virtual for a few weeks — on two wheels, I’m guessing.


Flocking to Florida, and back again

December 30, 2008
Sign at Florida welcome center on I-95

Sign at Florida Welcome Center on I-95

Here come the Canadians – and the New Yorkers, Mainers, and more. While we generally try to avoid traffic, driving to Florida the weekend before Christmas, at the start of North Americans’ migration to warmer climes, put Wessel and me in the thick of things.

Ontario - Yours to discover

These snow birds leave it to others to discover Ontario

The most direct north-to-south route, Interstate 95, was filled with out-of-state cars, most bearing license plates from New York (“The Empire State”),  Ontario (“Yours To Discover”) and  Quebec (“Je Me Souviens”). But we saw a little bit of everything from up the East Coast and over to eastern Midwest. Cars were packed with luggage, packages, toys, kids, and dogs. One pickup, from New York, was towing four jet skis and a canoe.

Dachshunds Roxy (top) and Sabrina took a 12-hour nap in Diane's lap

Dachshunds Roxy (top) and Sabrina took a 12-hour nap on Diane's lap

We had a full car as well – two humans, two wiener dogs, two bicycles and a load o’ stuff in a two-door Honda Civic. Me being the alpha (bitch?), Roxy and Sabrina feel the need to be by my side at all times, so driving positions are aligned to accommodate loving on them. (Some would say this is wrong, but if loving them is wrong, I don’t want to be right.)

I often make the 12-hour trek from North Carolina alone, so having Wessel along to share the driving was a treat. We stopped at many rest areas, and, as always, Florida’s was the best, with its free orange and grapefruit juice.

Santa had some dowtime on the beach after Christmas

Santa had some downtime on the beach after Christmas

Many of the retired Canucks will be staying in the Sunshine State through early spring, and who can blame them? Last week, while it was frigid and snowy in the north, we were jogging along Indian Rocks Beach, bicycling, kayaking with manatees, watching nightly sunsets, and feeling the warm ocean breeze.

Me, I’ll be heading back to North Carolina on New Year’s Eve, and I’m sure I won’t be alone on the road. I will be alone in the car, however. Wessel flew home yesterday so he could hurry back to the office, whereas my office stays with me. Sometimes I use the great guidebook “Drive I-95” by Stan Posner and Sandra Phillips-Posner , which leads me to fascinating diversions along the way, but Wednesday it will be a straight-through trip so I can settle in at home before the ball drops. See you on the road.

Happy holidays, and my yearly card rant

December 19, 2008

In the mail, and now online, Americans love sending photo greetings for the holidays. Although the poses can veer to the goofy or boring, I like these a lot — WHEN it’s the whole family in the picture. But every year I get photo cards with just the kids on them — often from people in other states whose children I have never even met!

Happy holidays - Prettige Feestdagen from Q-Kitty, Diane, Sabrina, Roxy and Wessel

Happy Holidays - Prettige Feestdagen from Q-Kitty, Diane, Sabrina, Roxy and Wessel

Parents, I want to see your offspring. I really do. But I want to see you, too. You’re my friends, not the kids. Just as I’m sure you’re dying to see how my wiener dogs have grown, aren’t you also wondering about Wessel and me? Has my double-chin spread?  (In the photo, left, Q-Kitty does her best to cover it for me.) Is Wessel’s hair even longer? (Yes!) Will I ever stop coloring my hair? (I did!)

So, thank you my pal Amy in Maine for continuing the tradition of sending family photos with you, Clarke, and, of course little Eli. (My how he’s grown! Eli, I mean. And do I detect some gray hair? See? Who wants to miss out on that fun!) Alice, thanks to you, Greg, and Olivia, too, for posing together.

OK, rant completed. And truly, I’m thankful to anyone who cares enough to send me any greetings.

Joy to the world, and stuff.

Full sail ahead to Bermuda

December 18, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Nov. 23, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

Personally, I’d rather fly (or bicycle, if possible) to Bermuda. This was quite the adventure!

Dan Forster, Ulf Westhoven, John Fulghum, Bob Baldwin, Philip Kersten

Corinna Kersten and crew. From left: Dan Forster, Ulf Westhoven, John Fulghum, Bob Baldwin, Philip Kersten

WHO: Corinna, 38, and Philip Kersten, 41; John Fulghum, 42; Dan Forster, 46; and Bob Baldwin, 50, all of Nahant, Mass.; and Ulf Westhoven, 44, of Swampscott, Mass.

WHERE: Sailing from Bermuda to Nahant.

WHEN: A week in late June and early July.

WHY: “My husband had always had this as a dream, to do blue- water sailing, which just means that you’re really offshore,” Corinna Kersten said.

ONE AND TWO LEGS: Kersten’s husband, Philip, and Fulghum made the trip from Nahant to Bermuda and back, but Kersten, Forster, Baldwin, and Westhoven only sailed the return leg. The voyage home took 4 1/ 2 days at sea. Philip Kersten, who was captain and organizer, is a lifelong sailor and racer. The couple belongs to Nahant Dory Club.

GROUNDWORK: The group of 10 sailors met regularly for months leading up to the trip. “We had meetings about different things,” Kersten said. “For the medical one, we bought pigs’ feet and sliced them open and learned how to sew stitches.”

Philip and Corinna outside of St. George, Bermuda

Philip and Corinna on a warm-up sail around St. George, Bermuda

TRIAL RUN: The crew was sailing Tioga, the Kerstens’ 44-foot Alden, a limited series made in Rhode Island 30 years ago. Kersten began her leg by flying into Bermuda and then taking a short sail. “We sailed from St. George’s all the way around Bermuda to Hamilton. It’s very tricky because there are a lot of reefs. The Newport to Bermuda race had ended the day before and when we were there, they did a harbor race.”

Corinna at the helm

Corinna at the helm

NONSTOP CLOCKWORK: After clearing customs, they took off from St. George’s. They sailed the entire time, with two people taking three- hour shifts sailing, being on standby, and sleeping. “It took everybody a day or two to get into the routine. One person was seasick one day and three guys couldn’t eat for three days.”

Corinna enjoys a calm day after a storm

Corinna enjoys a calm day after a storm

A WEATHER THRILL: Though they departed under sunny skies, a forecast storm hit about 36 hours later. “My husband and all the other boys were excited, but I was a little nervous,” Kersten said. “The waves started to get bigger, it became windy, and we had hard rain and thunderstorms, but we could still sail through the whole thing. Everybody knew what they were doing, so it was still OK. We made it through the Gulf Stream, then everything turned out to be perfect again, blue skies, beautiful sunsets and sunrises.”

HAPPY HOMECOMING: Their first sight of civilization was a buoy off Nantucket. They reached Nahant around noon on the Fourth of July. Friends and family had tracked the crew’s voyage using a GPS satellite messenger system. “We had a big welcoming committee with all our kids, family, and friends waiting for us with champagne.”

Christmas tree trivia: who earns top star?

December 16, 2008
Santa knows the answer to the Christmas tree trivia question

Santa knows the answer to the Christmas-tree trivia question

So which US state do you think grows the most Christmas trees? That would be Oregon. But the red-ribbon winner might surprise you — my home state of North Carolina. Oregon harvests 7.5 million trees to our 5.5 million. Santa told me that while Oregon outsells North Carolina, we get a much higher return on investment, making us the top Christmas tree earner. I have yet to verify this, but Santa doesn’t lie, right?

You may wonder why Santa cares. Because his day job is with the NC state agriculture department. He was hanging out last weekend at Pop-n-Son Christmas Trees in Garner, NC, one of the 30 Christmas tree farms I visited this month while compiling research for my book “Farm Fresh North Carolina.”

Diane next to a Eastern red cedar that reminds her of her childhood

Diane soaks up the smells of Christmas past from this Eastern red cedar

Here’s what else I learned. A good 90 to 95 percent of all NC tree sold are Fraser firs. They’re shipped all over the country, including to the White House on many years, including this one. Apparently many Americans consider frasers to be the authentic Christmas tree. I beg to differ. I’m a fan of the lacey and softer Eastern red cedar. That’s because when I was growing up in these parts, my parents and I would tromp through the woods behind our house and cut one down at nature’s very own “choose-and-cut” farm. Getting permission from Mrs. Layton up the street was essential too, as it was her land. Now, some 35 years later, the woods and Mrs. Layton are gone, but, as they say, the memories linger.

A good 90 to 95 percent of all NC tree sold are fraser firs

Some 90 to 95 percent of all Christmas trees sold in North Carolina are Fraser firs

Frasers need about 2,500 feet of altitude to grow, so all the fraser farms are in the western NC mountains, while the cedars, pines, and other species are grown in other parts of the state. The mountains are home to about 200 (!) choose-and-cut farms, where customers pick their still-planted tree and the farm cuts it down for them. (Hundreds more fraser farms are wholesale only.) Many farms nowadays use a “shaker,” a vibrating contraption to shake the dead needles out and a “baler” to wrap up the tree in mesh for easy car carrying. What ever did we do back in the old days?

Man secures Christmas tree on car in western part of NC

A fraser fir gets ready for the ride of its life, and a decorated future

I visited 30 choose-and-cut farms, and didn’t even buy a tree. But I did take a lot of notes, get lost on mountain roads, and drink a lot of really bad instant apple cider. (Farmers, consider springing for the real stuff.) From late November through mid-December, about every other car in the mountains has a Christmas tree on the roof and a load of kids inside, dreaming of what Santa will bring. It’s a sweet sight.

High and dry in Venice

December 11, 2008
Gondolas moored nearby the Piazza San Marco

Covered gondolas moored near the Piazza San Marco

I was reading how Venice has once again flooded, and I feel so lucky that our visit there a year ago was relatively dry. We had rain and chilly weather, but no flooding. We saw the hip high rubber boots that people wear when it floods. I wonder if they rent them to tourists.

Heavy boat traffic in the Canal Grande

Boat traffic in the Canal Grande

Wessel had never been to Venice, and it was so exciting to see the astonishment on his face when we got off the train and started to explore. Nothing, but nothing, compares to Venezia. It was Thanksgiving day, and though the tourist count was low, the center was still crowded. I have no desire to be there in August.

Spaghetti and red sauce as Thanksgiving Dinner

Wessel relishes a traditional Italian Thanksgiving meal of spaghetti with tomato sauce in Venice

We had “Thanksgiving Dinner” at Osteria Kalia (5870A Castello, Calle del Dose. Tel. +39(0)41 528 5153), a reasonably priced restaurant just off the beaten path enough to appeal to locals. In fact, the menu didn’t have a lick of English on it. Wessel ordered spaghetti and red sauce with asparagus and I, already overloaded on starches, avoided pasta and had chicken and potatoes. Of course a little vino came with the meal, and we ordered a nice strong espresso to perk us up for more hours of walking. Even Wessel, with his keen sense of direction, kept getting turned around. That’s the pain and pleasure of Venice.

Venice covered with snow in 1987

Venice covered with snow in 1987

Other than that day with Wessel, my fondest memory of Venice was in 1987. I was living in Vicenza, an hour west. The big news on this February day was “neve” — snow. I hopped on a train, and after several delays reached a completely snow-covered Venice, a rare sight I was told. I ran into a woman I knew who was an art student there and she took me around. She was as enchanted as I was with the snow, and we didn’t get lost once.

Tampa’s Super Bowl antidote

December 9, 2008
The Weedon Island Preserve in Pinellas County sits just off a busy highway on the way to Tampa

The Weedon Island Preserve in Pinellas County sits just off a busy highway on the way to Tampa

While Clearwater and St. Petersburg beaches grab most of tourists’ attention in Pinellas County, one of the area’s environmental and cultural jewels sits just off a busy highway on the way to Tampa. So if you’re Super-Bowl bound next month, make sure to add Weedon Island Preserve to your agenda. Because you have to do something other than watch football and drink beer, right? (Don’t answer that.)

The Weedon Island Preserve offers two paddling trails

The kayak and canoe launch from where two paddling trails start

Situated along the shore of Tampa Bay, the park covers 3,700 acres of protected land set among mangrove stands and sabal palm. Wheelchair-accessible boardwalks and 3 miles of hiking trails with picnic areas lead walkers throughout the preserve while two water trails take paddlers around mangroves and over open shallow waters and seagrass and oyster beds. Kayak and canoe rentals are available, so you have no excuse.

The fishing pier is popular with locals, while visitors won’t want to miss the 45-foot observation tower. The last time we were there, with Wessel’s parents, they spotted an armadillo. Big excitement for them! The preserve also is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, and you’ll see birders wandering about with their life lists or whatever they call those things.

The Cultural and Natural History Center opened in the fall of 2002 and has an observation deck

The Cultural and Natural History Center opened in the fall of 2002 and has an observation deck

History and culture get their due here as well, at the beautifully designed information and exhibition center. Try to go when the center is open (hours below) because the exhibits are great. So are the restrooms and water fountains, though maybe those are outside of the center. Oops. I can’t remember. A permanent exhibit installed last year explores the watershed ecology and the island’s history, which included ancient Indian cultures and even Prohibition speakeasies, of all things. In May 2008, a 45-foot canoe buried for about 10 centuries was found buried in mud on the preserve. Archeologists are still trying to determine how best to excavate it. Of course they’re not telling us where it is.

The Preserve has mangrove swamps with tidal creeks

The Preserve has mangrove swamps with tidal creeks

Weedon Island rangers and volunteers run a lot of programs — hiking, bird watching, photography, canoeing, and more, and you don’t have to be a resident to partake. So get out from the behind the big-screen TV and stretch your legs in natural Florida.

Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center, 1800 Weedon Drive NE, St. Petersburg, 727-453-6500, The preserve is open dawn to dusk daily, while the center is open Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except holidays.

Returning to El Salvador, together

December 4, 2008

Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Nov. 9, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

Now this is the kind of girls’ getaways I’d like to see more of. What a wonderful family activity!

Allisa Whitman (left) and her sister Rachel Whitman surrounded by boys living in El Salvador.

Allisa Whitman (left) and her sister, Rachel, surrounded by El Salvadoran boys.

WHO: Allisa Whitman, 19, of Northampton, Mass., her sister, Rachel, 23, of Brookline, Mass., and their mother, Terry Phillips, 54, of Hollis, N.H.

WHERE: El Salvador.

WHEN: June (Allisa for three weeks and the others for one).

WHY: To volunteer with Epilogos Charities helping the people of San Jose Villanueva.

Allisa (left) and Rachel with Daisy Hernandez (center), community worker for the village in El Salvador that they visited.

Allisa (left) and Rachel with Daisy Hernandez (center), a community worker in San Jose Villanueva.

SENSE OF COMMUNITY: Mother and daughters had visited the village an hour south of the capital, San Salvador, before, but never together. The municipality has about 12,000 residents, many of whom live in mud or aluminum-sided homes. Through friends, the family learned of Epilogos, a New Hampshire nonprofit organization that works on community development issues. “We keep coming down because we meet people and keep connecting with them,” Allisa Whitman said. “It’s almost like home. This was first time I was there for an extended period of time.”

NOT JUST YOUR LIFE: “Although I’m used to going there, it’s still an overwhelming experience. It takes you really sharply out of your own life,” said Whitman, a sophomore at Smith College. “Although it takes you into a different world, you realize that people are all the same. Us three being there together was nice, and we could talk about everything we did and saw.”

Rachel (left) and Allisa teaching the children of San Jose Villanueva's Literacy Program

Rachel (left) and Allisa teaching the children of San Jose Villanueva

SCHOOL BOOSTERS: They worked with schoolchildren through a literacy program, helping students with coursework and also teaching some basic hygiene skills. “One of the other things we like to do is go to the ninth-grade class and talk to them about high school. Compulsory education goes only until ninth grade.” Epilogos provides scholarships for school, which costs about $150 a child. “That’s a lot to them. So we explain about the scholarships. A lot of time families feel they can’t afford to send kids to school not just for the costs, but losing them as workers. We try to show them how, if they get an education, they can do better later.”

HANDS-ON HELP: After her sister and mother left, Allisa spent the next two weeks at the health clinic. “I have an interest in medicine and I did a lot of things I couldn’t do if I was in the States,” she said. “I gave injections, I helped clean wounds, and I did a lot of observing.”

WORK AND WALLETS: “You can change some things with talk and work a little bit, but it’s money that really changes things,” Whitman said. “But I can take my experience in the clinic to help raise awareness.”

Thousands join us for mile-high run

December 1, 2008
Diane stays ahead of the pack

Diane stays ahead of the pack.

Wessel and I had a lovely Thanksgiving run in Denver. We’d planned to go alone, but then about 7,600 others joined us. We were in the Mile-High City last week visiting my longtime friend Kelley Griffin. Kel and I met when we worked together at the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass., some 20 years ago (ack). She’s now news director at Colorado Public Radio.

Earlier in the week, Wessel and I spied a park with a dirt running track during a drive downtown. Kel told us it was Washington Park, a city favorite for more than a century. “Wash Park” is pretty amazing. One of Denver’s nicest and largest (165 acres) parks, it has a 2.6-mile jogging path, several gardens, soccer fields, playgrounds, basketball court, horseshoe court, a lawn bowling green, 10 tennis courts, two lakes and a pond. Impressive! The best part for us was it was only a mile from Kel’s house.

Start of the Denver turkey trot

Start of Denver's 35th annual Turkey Trot.

We jogged over around 9:30 Thursday morning, and the closer we got the more people we saw driving or jogging up. Then we started to see people wearing numbers. Turned out it was the 35th annual 4-mile Turkey Trot, a T-Day fund-raiser for Mile High United Way. Runners of all ages and abilities were gathering for the 10:15 start. Luckily, we had just enough time to do our own trot around the dirt trail, passing runners and friends, and dogs of all breeds out with their humans for a stroll. (Of course the dachshund in a red coat was my favorite.)

Joggers wearing turkey hats

Festive trotters in turkey hats.

Around the time we completed the dirt perimeter trail (there’s a shorter paved inside loop as well), the runners were about to start. Even Mayor John W. Hickenlooper was there to cheer them on. As we watched from the side of the road, trotters kept coming and coming and coming. I read in the paper the next day that there were more than 7,600 of them. Some runners took it seriously, while others, sporting turkey hats and even turkey legs/feet, were more interested in the festivities.

Runners during the turkey trot

The things we do to make room for food.

We left feeling like we’d experienced a wonderful slice of Denver life — before trotting back home for our equally wonderful slice of turkey (and ham, stuffing, cranberry sauce, asparagus, potatoes, pumpkin pie, pecan pie ….)