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Gunter and I first landed on Turkey’s shores in the summer of 2007. We confidently left Pacific Bliss “on the hard” in Marmaris Yacht Marina. The following spring, we returned to Turkey for the final leg of our sailing circumnavigation. While touring Istanbul, I was surprised to learn that tulips and St. Nick both originated in that country.

That spring, Istanbul was alive and glowing, in a festive mood. The city was celebrating its annual tulip festival, and colorful blooms were everywhere. Istanbul, with its bridges across the Bosporus Strait, straddles the two continents of Europe and Asia. After enjoying the city for two days, my husband Gunter and I took a ferry trip to view the city from the river. It was a sun-splashed Sunday. We spent hours relaxing and chatting about Turkey’s past and its hopes for the future. Much of the conversation centered around the peoples’ love and respect for Atatürk, a charismatic leader, military genius, and celebrated reformer who modernized Turkey. “He made Turkey a secular country,” our said proudly.  “As a result, Turkey will never be like the other Muslim countries; in fact, we look forward to joining the EU.” The future for Turkey looked as rosy as those tulips fronting every landmark from the Blue Mosque to the Aya Sofya.

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We ordered coffees, and while we waited for them, our guide changed to another topic, the legend of St. Nick. “Did you know he came from Turkey?”

“I had no idea!” I replied. “I thought the Saint might have come from Russia. Our own legend is that he and his elves and reindeer live at the North Pole.”

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“I know your popular image is of the big belly, the white beard, and his reindeer, but that depiction came from your Coca-Cola ads in the 1930s.  Here’s the real story: Centuries before the Ottoman Empire, St. Nick got his start as a fourth-century bishop in what is now Turkey. He was born a rich man’s son, but he took his inheritance and gave it to the poor, supposedly dropped down chimneys. Poor people in Turkey are very proud; they would not have accepted gifts if he had just handed them to him.”

We all take a sip of our Turkish coffees while we listen intently. “Mainly, St. Nicolas helped the children and gave them gifts.”

“Where in Turkey did he come from?” Gunter asked.

“There is a statue of him with children in Demre, a town in Southern Turkey, and the old Byzantine Church of St. Nicholas is there.  Lots of Russians go there, but it’s not big on tourism.”

Reportedly, the Islamist government of President Erdogan has worked hard to promote the country’s Ottoman history, but he has repeatedly ignored Turkey’s rightful place in Christian history. I don’t expect the current government to promote the St. Nicholas story.

This Christmas of 2016, I look back on that Turkish Spring of eight years ago. And I fear for Turkey’s future. Turkey is overwhelmed with problems—frequent terror attacks, huge populations of Syrian refugees, and mass arrests and incarcerations after a failed coup. All this makes the country dangerous and drives tourists away. I don’t know whether I’ll ever visit Turkey again, but the country and its people will always hold a special place in my heart.

A very merry Christmas to you and yours!

 

What a coincidence! I have two framed Egyptian papyrus prints on the walls of my home. And now I have Egyptian papyrus plants in my Rain Garden at Northern Bliss.

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The papyrus plant is a reed that grows wild in marshy areas around the Nile River. One of my favorite excursions when I visited Egypt during our circumnavigation was our boat trip down the Nile River. How I loved to see those papyrus plants swaying in the breeze! During a cultural show, we learned the process of making paper from papyrus. First, the inside of the stalk was peeled into long strips. Then these strips were spread out in two layers, one horizontal and one vertical, and pressed and dried to form a sheet. The sheet could be used by itself, or individual sheets could be joined end-to-end to form a roll. Natural gum held the sheets together, so no glue was required. A roll was usually about one foot in height and could be up to 100 feet in length.

I never knew that papyrus was offered by nurseries in the USA until I built my Rain Garden at Northern Bliss. I had researched the process in sustainable landscaping books and websites and diligently followed the instructions using native Wisconsin plants with deep roots. All of the natural flowers worked well in heavy rains except for the blazing stars planted in the center, the deepest part. They just drowned.

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So the following spring I decided to try something else. But what?  Dale, my gardener with Lake Services, just happened to notice a group of tall papyrus plants in the back of a pick-up truck leaving a nursery. He stopped the driver to ask questions. And then we considered our options: Papyrus is a non-native plant, but because I’d seen it growing wild in the Nile, I knew it had to have deep roots to soak up excess moisture in my Rain Garden. But, because it’s a tropical plant, we’d have to replace the three plants every spring.

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We went ahead and I certainly don’t regret it. This year, we’ve had lots of rain and the system works: My Wet Lot drains like it’s designed to do and the three King Tut papyrus plants stand tall and majestic, swaying in the breeze─just like their ancestors did in the Nile.

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You’ve already taken your big summer vacation, but now, towards the end of summer, your family may be asking what’s next. Many small towns across the USA tend to hold special celebrations towards fall, just as the temperature begins to drop. These festivals feature a wide variety of themes and often include parades, entertainment, and lots of food. If you take the time to attend one of these events, you won’t be disappointed.

Here in Wisconsin, we are in the lull between the county and state fairs. State fairs tend to be huge events that span a week or more and sprawl over many acres. You end the day with aching feet, too tired to think about the long drive home. So why not attend a county fair instead? That’s what my husband, Gunter, and I did this year. A few weeks ago, we enjoyed the home-town flavor of the local Polk County Fair in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. This fair brought back thrilling high school memories of walking the midway hand-in-hand with my boyfriend’s ring around my neck. We were going steady and sat dangerously close on the Ferris Wheel and crushed tight on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Later my steady hit the jackpot and, with a flourish, he handed me the huge teddy-bear he won as his prize.

I pointed to the grandstand, “Wow, that looks so much smaller now!” I explained how, as a pre-teen, I’d modeled in front of those bleachers as a participant in 4-H, an organization country kids joined. I wore tight white slacks made of “white duck” and a red-and-white handkerchief blouse I’d sewn myself. The day Gunter and I went to the fair, the “demolition derby” was the main event; we sat on wooden bleachers cheering for drivers to destroy their opponents’ cars by crashing into each other until they could run no more.

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On the trek back to the field where our car was parked, we stopped every so often along the livestock buildings to pet a calf, a llama, or a goat.  The top winners would go on to the State Fair.

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During the summer and fall seasons in Polk County, one can find a celebration of something almost every week-end. With a lake every four miles and many rivers between them, concerts at the overlook,” usually a village park, are common. You can search the local papers to find fishing tournaments; tractor and lawnmower pulling contests; soapbox derbies; car, truck, motorcycle and tractor shows; brew fests, wine tastings, rib fests, and fish fries; art exhibits; movies under the stars; Monarch festivals; quilting shows; and so much more.

My favorite celebrations are the annual town festivals, replete with marching bands, parades and coronations of all sorts from Cheese Queen to Pumpkin Queen. Amery has the Fall Festival; Centuria, the Orchard Festival; St. Croix and Taylors Falls, Wannigan Days; Osceola, the Pig Roast; Milltown, the Pumpkin Festival; Luck, Lucky Days; and Clayton, Cheese Days.

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Next year, consider celebrating America’s birthday in a small town, the kind of place where everyone knows each other as a neighbor, not just on social media. We celebrated in unincorporated Wanderoos, where the main street is only six blocks long. We stood to watch the parade until a resident offered us chairs he took from the village park! I’ll bet you that won’t happen in the city.

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

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We arrived at Northern Bliss, our Wisconsin lake home on June 4 this year—too late to see the fiddlehead ferns unfurl, too late to see the tulips and daffodils bloom, but just in time to see the trumpeter swans swimming along White Ash Lake, goslings in tow. My heart sang for joy!

Because of a mild winter leading to an early spring “up north” this year, the landscape is already dramatically lush. I marvel at the many shades of green: blue-green and lime-green hostas, dark-green spruce, and pale-green shoots of new growth. Talk about “50 Shades of Gray.” Here we have 50 shades of green! And green is all about de-stressing, slowing down, and letting go. It’s the color of life, nature, harmony, renewal, and energy.

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I agree with John Burroughs, who said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.” While the green palette soothes my soul, the song of newly-arrived finches tickles my ears, the feel of warm soil running through my fingers connects me to the earth, and the heavenly scent of budding flowers brings me peace. I wet my lips and taste the freshness of the country breeze rustling through the treetops.

What happens to your body in the presence of green? Your pituitary gland is stimulated. Your muscles become more relaxed, and your blood histamine levels increase. That leads to a decrease in allergy symptoms and dilated blood vessels. In other words, green is calming and stress-relieving, yet invigorating at the same time. The color green has been shown to improve reading ability and creativity. Aha! That’s gives me just the excuse I need to spend some time in that inviting hammock reading a book!

For a related blog, visit Soft Focus.

 

 

Life stands before me like an eternal spring with new and brilliant clothes… -Carl Friedrich Gauss

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It’s springtime in the Northern Hemisphere and signs of spring flourish everywhere. I’ve just completed a spring “fresher-upper” of our San Diego condo. New paint does wonders! The most challenging part of the project? Re-hanging about 100 pieces of art and photography. We completed that task last week, just in time for Easter celebrations. I wore a new spring skirt to church, ivory-and-black with butterflies dancing at the hem. At home, I positioned bright yellow daffodils in every room.

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We have three blue-green eggs hidden in the hanging geranium plant on our patio. With the mother chirping and flying back-and-forth, I am fearful of disturbing the bucolic scene. But it’s wonderful to know that she is there and will take good care of her chicks.

Did you know that you can renew those New Year’s resolutions you failed to keep? Yes!! Spring allows you to start over again—it’s a season of hope, of new beginnings, and of second chances. Two of my resolutions didn’t work well together. I combined a huge writing goal with the desire to shed ten pounds. Sitting at the computer for hours on end defeated the weight goal; I gained instead. So now I’ve joined Weight Watchers® and this time, I’m serious.

With worldwide terrorism dominating the news, these words by Madeleine M. Kunin are comforting: “When all the world appears to be in a tumult…the seasons retain their essential rhythm. Yes, fall gives us a premonition of winter, but then, winter, will be forced to relent, once again, to the new beginnings of soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.”

Spring is also a growing season, and in all of nature, there’s a built-in desire to grow, to improve, to make it better, to make a difference. Above all, growing is my goal for the rest of the year, and I trust that it’s yours as well.

  

“Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” —George Santanaya

Hey! I do believe that the climate is changing all the time, and has for centuries. My parents told me about the pronounced warming trend in the 1930s. And I’m old enough to remember those cold days in the 1970s when the predictions of a new ice age were dire. These were the messages on the magazine covers then:

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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

It’s a good thing I’m not trudging the politically correct campuses of today. I’d probably be marching to a different drummer; I’d be marching on behalf of the 1/3 of the world who still don’t have electricity, or the 783 million people do not have access to clean water, or the 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Think of what that could do for the impoverished! Rich nations of the world: put your money there, where it will make a difference now—not in 2100.

“The world is barely half a degree Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it was about 35 years ago.”  Wall St. Journal, Your Complete Guide to the Climate Debate, Nov. 27th, 2015.

Earlier this year in Paris, scientists gathered to discuss a phenomenon called the global-warming hiatus. “Between 1998 and 2012 humans pumped unprecedented quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but the average global temperature barely rose. Why?” asks The Economist. Special Report. Climate Change. November 28, 2015. Key points of climate science are settled, but questions and uncertainties remain.

“On a global scale,” the WSJ Guide continues, as scientists keep confirming, there has been no increase in frequency or intensity of storms, floods or droughts, while deaths attributed to such natural disasters have never been fewer, thanks to modern technology and infrastructure…Arctic sea ice has recently melted more in summer than it used to in the 1980s, but Antarctic sea ice has increased, and Antarctica is gaining land-based ice, according to a new study by NASA scientists published in the Journal of Glaciology. Sea level continues its centuries-long slow rise—about a foot a century—with no sign of recent acceleration…”

According to Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, “ The (emissions) cuts on the table  in Paris, then, will leave the global economy, in rough terms, $1 trillion short every year for the rest of the century—and that’s if politicians do everything right. If not, the real cost could double…At best, the emissions cuts pledged in Paris will prevent a total temperature rise by 2100 of only 0.306F…” Gambling the World Economy on Climate, WSJ, November 17, 2015.

Does this make sense? I say, spend the money on the third world now.

Villages built of coral. Traveling around the world by boat, I had the opportunity to mix with islanders where they live. They taught me a lot about how they “use” climate change initiatives to gain funding from the western world. During the U.N. Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009, the Maldives government made an eye-catching plea for climate change action by holding the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting. Although I admire the cleverness of the Maldivians, here’s the real story: these islanders are indeed hurtingnot because of climate change but because of coral mining. Yes, they mined their own fringing coral reefs to use as construction material for cool, gorgeous courtyards and homes! “Our parents did not know that practice would damage the reefs forever,” an Uligan Island schoolteacher explained to me. “They thought the reefs would grow back, like trees.” Now at high tides, the ocean surges over the damaged reefs and fishermen must use expensive diesel to travel to more distant islands to find reef fish.

The formation of a coral atoll. During the 21st Conference on Climate Change happening now, new focus will be on rising seas flooding the Marshall Islands. It appears that the role of reefs in protecting islands and way islands sink during atoll formation is not well understood.

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“This animation from NOAA shows the dynamic process of how a coral atoll forms. Corals (represented in tan and purple) begin to settle and grow around an oceanic island forming a fringing reef… if conditions are favorable, the reef will continue to expand. As the reef expands, the interior island usually begins to subside and the fringing reef turns into a barrier reef. When the island completely subsides beneath the water leaving a ring of growing coral with an open lagoon in its center, it is called an atoll.” NOAA

Fringing reefs that surround an island are sometimes referred to as house reefs. These are the reefs that islanders depend on not only for food, but for protection. They protect coasts from strong currents and waves by slowing down the water before it gets to the shore. They are also called barrier reefs because they provide a barrier between the ocean and the shore. Fares are outlying low reefs that provide a second layer of protection for tropical islands.

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The Carteret Islands

First global warming refugees—or not? The Melanesian Carteret islanders have been touted as the first global warming refugees; they were forced to evacuate the entire island and most of them have been relocated to Papua New Guinea. But what is not reported is the back-story: (1) The Carteret islands consist of a base of coral that sits atop an extinct volcanic mount. In the usual geological course of events first proposed by Charles Darwin, such islands eventually subside due to weathering and erosion, as well as isostatic adjustments of the sea floor. An atoll will gradually sink; the sea doesn’t rise. And if the sea did rise due to global warming, it would have risen evenly throughout the entire Pacific Ocean. The entire Melanesian island chain would be seeing a rise of the same level—measured in millimeters or centimeters. (2) These islanders may not want to go back to Papua New Guinea, but that is where most of them came from. For they have already been refugees once. Political refugees, they escaped Bougainville to avoid the fighting there. (3) Along with their wives and children, the men loaded into their small boats packages of dynamite, to get an early start on their food reserves. As they dynamited their fringing reefs to kill the fish and provide quick meals, the underlying coral crumbled. A fissure was most likely formed in the reef, because eventually the one reef became two. The incoming tidal waves now breach the reefs, gradually eroding the shoreline, swamping the islander’s beloved banana and vegetable gardens. A man-made problem? You bet. But this is one problem not caused by global warming. It sad that islanders who are confronted by a very serious problem appear to have been exploited by the “cause” of global warming.

No easy solutions. I have talked with simple islanders as well as government officials, and I find that no solutions are easy. In the name of environmentalism, it does no good to simply gloss over the day-to-day problems most locals face—just to survive. By all means, help them out. Now. The good news is that concerned people around the world are finding—and acting upon—creative ways of protecting and saving our wonderful world for future generations.

For further information, refer to my series of essays called The Enlightened Enviromentalist at my sailing website.

A few weeks ago, Gunter and I visited the Southern Minnesota German town of New Ulm. “As a German, you’ll love seeing a statue of Hermann right here in the United States,” our bed-and-breakfast hostess encouraged. After exploring the charming village, we drove to the park on the hill and to view the 102-foot monument overlooking the city. I’d never heard of Hermann. Now his story, as well as that of the monument, and the town’s German history, fascinates me.

Example of German Architecture in New Ulm

Example of German Architecture in New Ulm

Hermann led Germanic resistance fighters against the Romans, defeating them in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 A.D. Now a symbol of German patriotism, Hermann had been a slave chieftain named Armnius the Cherusci; (He was much later re-named “Hermann” by Martin Luther). He turned against his masters and led a ragtag army to victory over three Roman legions, thereby saving Germania from conquest. Rome was out, thanks to Hermann the German.

New Ulm was settled by a large contingent of Germans in the 19th century, and they decided to model the Hermann statue after a similar one near Detmold, Germany. So, Hermann the German has brandished his Teutonic battle sword over New Ulm since 1897.

Hermann the German Monument, New Ulm, Minnesota

Hermann the German Monument, New Ulm, Minnesota

New Ulm’s 32-foot-tall rendition of the warrior is the third largest copper statue in the United States (after the Statue of Liberty and Portlandia in Portland, Oregon). The monument features Hermann atop a pedestal above a cupola supported by ten columns. A spiral staircase winds around a 70-foot-tall center iron column up into the cupola. We walked around the ironwork surrounding Hermann. That’s as close as we could get. He’s been refurbished and protected, but that’s another story. After enduring a century of harsh Minnesota winters, a freak windstorm that sheared off one of his helmet wings, and sharpshooting by pre-teens during World War II who, with their older brothers off to war, wanted to “shoot a German,” Hermann was suffering from battle fatigue.

Nearby Flandrau State Park, on the Cottonwood River, had yet another story to tell. The park was originally developed in the 1930s as a job creation project to provide a recreational reservoir. The WPA (Works Progress Administration) built several structures in a rustic styles designed to reflect the ethnic German heritage of New Ulm. Ironically, the WPA barracks were reused during World War II as Camp New Ulm, one of the nine Minnesota camps housing German prisoners of war.

About 160 German POWs arrived at Camp New Ulm in June of 1944. Mostly members of the Luftwaffe, they ranged in age from 18-25. The POWs primarily worked in the nearby town of Sleepy Eye at a cannery, which paid the rent on the camp. After the harvest season, prisoners worked at a poultry processing plant and brick and tile factories. Small groups were hired out to local farms, unguarded, as short-term farmworkers.

The location of Camp New Ulm outside a town with a strong German heritage was a lucky break for the POWs. Many locals still spoke German and were sympathetic toward the prisoners (and hoping in many cases for news of relatives and the old country). German-speaking church officials held Lutheran and Catholic services in the camp and handed out donated reading material. Although the guards warned civilians that they were not to have contact with the POWs, food was slipped over the fence, cannery workers shared ice cream and beer, and more than one young woman waded across the river at night to flirt at the camp. POWs out on weeklong farm details fared best of all, often partaking of home-cooked meals at the family dinner table.

Prisoner Helmut Lichtenberg, who had become friendly with a farm family he’d worked for, arranged to slip out of camp and spend much of a weekend with them. Mindless of the severity of the infraction, the farmer and his mother-in-law drove Lichtenberg into camp Sunday afternoon, where they were stopped by guards. Lichtenberg was punished with solitary confinement; the Americans were ultimately fined $300 each and lectured by the judge. Their testimony indicated that other prisoners undertook such forays, but they were not charged. This became the camp’s one and only documented escape incident.

For recreation, the POWs enjoyed a clubhouse with a fireplace and library, a camp store, a sports field, and a workshop where they made their own furniture and sporting equipment. They were allowed to swim and fish in part of Cottonwood Lake. Further entertainment included newspapers, radios, and weekly movie screenings. Some musical instruments were gathered, and locals came to listen and sing along to Sunday afternoon concerts. It was not a bad life!

Camp New Ulm closed in December 1945 and all of the internees were eventually repatriated to Germany. One of the former prisoners later immigrated to the United States, however, settling in Wisconsin. The camp remains in use as the state park’s group center.

View from Hermann Heights, New Ulm

View from Hermann Heights, New Ulm

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