Monthly Archives: October 2016

BLOG POSTS THEME DAY—ANIMALS: HAVE YOU ANY WOOL? (Part 2)

By Yvonne Blackwood

I have always known the Irish for their quality wool. Irish woollen sweaters, hats, and scarves have been known to last for a long time. In fact, I recall someone once stating that you only need one Irish sweater—it lasts forever. I was therefore expecting to see a few sheep in the countryside as I explored ‘The Emerald Isle’ a few years ago. I certainly did not expect the vast population that I witnessed.

After spotting herds and herds of sheep grazing in green grassy meadows everywhere we travelled, I asked our comical guide (an Irish friend from Toronto) the million dollar question, “How many sheep are here in Ireland?” After he cracked up laughing, and coughed a few times, he said, “Ireland has 4.3 million people, and it has 4.3 million sheep—one sheep for each person!” Then laughter erupted again.

There are many breeds of sheep in Ireland, and I saw a few as we traversed the country, heading for County Sligo. We arrived at St Columba’s Church of Ireland, in Drumcliffe. William Butler Yeats’s grandfather was once its pastor, and the cemetery there is the final resting place for Yeats. (I will cover this in a subsequent article).

Scottish Blackface Sheep
Scottish Blackface Sheep

The church property was separated from the neighbour’s by a low stone wall, and just beyond the wall a herd of sheep grazed contentedly. I had never seen this breed of sheep before. Little black faces peered out from under bodies covered with long, stringy wool; they hardly seemed real! They are known as Scottish Blackfaces, and are the most common breed of domestic sheep in the United Kingdom. They are known to be hardy and adaptable, and their long coarse wool shields them from moisture and harsh winds.

Read our part 1 article at…

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THEME DAY—ANIMALS: HAVE YOU ANY WOOL?

By Yvonne Blackwood

One of the most historic places to visit in Turkey is Troy.  A city that existed over 4000 years ago, Troy’s present-day location is known as Hisarlik, near the province of Canakkale.

In 2014, I visited the archaeological site of Troy, the setting for Homer’s epic, The Iliada  place people once believed did not exist.

troy-wall
Original wall of Troy 1 &2 3000-2250 BC

It did exist, and there are good ruins to prove it. Archaeologists have excavated ruins which reveal that several cities—ten in total—were built in succession on the site.  As we left the site we came upon this beautiful creature—a sheep!

turkey-a-lovely-sheep

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there are  65.5 million sheep and goats in Turkey, making it the largest national herd in the Near East region. Currently, sheep and goats contribute 43 percent to the total, meat and 33 percent to the total milk produced in the country. Besides providing meat locally, Turkey earns foreign exchange from exporting live animals, their meat, and mohair.

There are several breeds of sheep in Turkey. The one in the picture appears to be a Jacob sheep based on its markings.

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LET’S STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES

By Yvonne Blackwood

The old adage, “Stop and smell the roses,” should be as poignant today as it ever was. God created a magnificent, awesome world for us human beings to live in, and He stocked it with every possible thing that we could need for survival. We are also assigned the number of years we are to occupy this earth.

According to the scriptures, our lives should last about threescore years and ten. Yes, yes, I know that we do not all belief this, but even if you don’t, take a look at our biology. You will observe that as soon as one approaches sixty (most of us) parts of our bodies begin to show wear and tear. But even more startling, sometimes the worn parts cannot be replaced or rejuvenated.

In 23 BC, Horace coined the expression carpe diem—seize the day! Life expectancy was shorter then, so he proclaimed that people should make the most of it. Later, in the 1600s, Robert Herrick wrote the poem, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.”  In it he advised them to:

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying; …Then be not coy, but use your time, And, while ye may, go marry: For having lost but once your prime, You may forever tarry.”

In other words, do not hold on to your virginity; throw caution to the wind and live.

The average life expectancy in North America was less than fifty in the years prior to the 19th century; now we can irrefutably state that we are living longer.  According to a 2014 article in USA Today, life expectancy in the USA is now 78.8 years. We no longer regard forty-five as middle-age, and we see a seventy year-old as fairly young. The improvement in life expectancy is a wonderful thing.

While this article is not necessarily advocating carpe diem, its purpose is certainly to encourage us to take time out to smell the roses. Take time to look around and truly admire and submerge ourselves in God’s creation.

In parts of North America, fall is a time when deciduous trees shed their leaves in preparation for the upcoming harsher winter weather. But before leaf-shedding takes place, a mystical changing of colour ensues. I took the opportunity to travel with two companions a few hundred miles to parts of Northern Ontario last week, simply to see the changing colours. Driving for miles and miles through roads surrounded by trees with leaves of yellow, orange, red, burgundy, brown, and colours in-between, intertwined with green-leaf evergreens, provided a spectacular view. We kept shouting, “Look over there! Look over there!”

fall-reds-0968

 

 

 

 

As I devoured the scenery, I said to my companions, “I wonder how many people ever have time, or take the time to do a trip like this?” We debated that maybe not many had done it, that most people were too busy with work, and home, and children, and all the other activities that are a part of life. We contented ourselves that we are the lucky ones. We are retired. We have time on our hands. But were those the reasons why we embarked on the road trip? Categorically NO.

Although retired, we are busier now than when we worked full-time! We help out with babysitting our grandchildren, we sit on demanding Boards and Committees, we do charity work, and we are involved with our individual interest groups. Free time is at such a premium for us, it took some juggling of schedules to arrange the trip. We went on the trip, driving miles and miles for several hours, because we appreciate what the creator has made for us; we wanted to see more of His work in action. We wanted for a few hours, at least, to stop and smell the roses.

fall-colours-lake-0982

Do you have a favourite fall photo to share?

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THEME DAYS—ANIMALS: IT TASTES LIKE CHICKEN!

By Yvonne Blackwood

I love to spend time at the zoo looking at animals that are both indigenous to my country and ones that come from all over the world. Some animals are downright fascinating, but there is a specie that I do not view this way—reptiles. While many folks like them and even keep some as pets, I view them as ugly; they send chills up my spine, and I am afraid of them.

You can imagine my horror when while touring the picturesque Grand Cayman Island a few years ago, iguanas kept popping up everywhere—running across the grass, climbing trees, gathering in groups as if holding meetings, and slithering into water at a marina.

IMG_1956

A genus of omnivorous lizards, Iguanas are native to Central America, South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. They are herbivores, and can grow to as much as 6 feet long, including their tails. They possess a dewlap—a row of spines running down their backs to their tails—and a tiny “third eye” on their heads.

The blue iguana, native of Cayman, has become an endangered specie. It eats a variety of plant material but prefers fruits and flowers over leaves and stems, and is therefore important on Grand Cayman as a seed disperser. The green iguana, native to South and Central America, has also become an endangered specie because people hunt and eat it—the meat referred to as “chicken of the trees!”

img_1955

Green iguanas were brought over as pets to Cayman, some time in the 1980s. They have multiplied significantly to become such a nuisance that culling has taken place under the organization of the Department of Environment in order to control the population which is estimated to be about half a million on Grand Cayman.

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THEME DAY—LANDSCAPE: WILL IT GO ON FOREVER? (Part 5)

By Yvonne Blackwood

As I complete the final installment of my Theme Day-Landscape blogs about fascinating waterfalls I have visited, you would have noticed that the ones previously mentioned are not the “mother of all falls.” They are nothing like Victoria Falls or Yosemite Falls; they wouldn’t even rank in the top-ten. Notwithstanding this, they all have an allure that captures one’s imagination because they are unique. I would be remiss, however, if I wrapped up the series without spotlighting one that is easily the most famous waterfall in North America, and certainly one that begs the question; will it go on forever?

niagara-fall-from Skylon tower

This powerful, awesome waterfall is none other than Niagara Falls. Straddling the international borders of Canada and the United States, Niagara Falls consists of three different falls—the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls, and the Horseshoe Falls. While the first two are situated on the American side, the Horseshoe Falls is in Canada. It tumbles 188 feet into the Niagara gorge, and ranks as the biggest one by volume with a whopping average peak flow of 225,000 cubic feet or 6,400 cubic meters per second!

niagara-falls-full-force

It is also the Horseshoe Falls that attracts most of the crowd to the area, and I dutifully take all my visitors from abroad to see it. Not tucked away in the bushes like the falls I previously wrote about, Niagara Falls is one of the easiest to access, and you can view it from different angles.  Although I have visited Niagara Falls many times, I can’t help but be awestruck by its sheer size and volume every time I see it.

Which is your most fascinating waterfall?

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TIPS AND TRICKS ON HOW TO MAKE SUPURB TEA

By Yvonne Blackwood

tea-557448_640

I have searched and searched, compared notes, and have finally garnered the best information about making tea. Some people will say making tea is not rocket science; I say it takes tea science to brew a good cup of tea!

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of proper tea brewing let us quickly review how the four types of teas produced from the Camellia sinensis bush are processed. This is important since you may be making tea from either one of these types.

White tea: the newest shoots of the tea bush are picked and allowed to wither dry. If the weather condition is poor, the leaves are placed in a dryer with very low heat and a mild tumble. Leaves are not rolled, or shaped like the other teas.

Green tea: the young tea leaves are picked and wilted for a short time, then heated by placing then in the sun or in a cool airy spot to pull out additional moisture, and to stop any enzyme activity. Finally, the leaves are rolled.

Oolong tea: the same basic process as green tea occurs, except the leaves are wilted for a longer period, then mixed up to bruise them which initiates enzyme activity. Finally, the leaves are pan-fried, then rolled and dried by heating them at a high temperature.

Black tea: the first two processes mentioned above are followed, but with a slight variation. The tea leaves are withered, then rolled several times. This rolling process breaks up the cells and facilitates more enzyme activity. The leaves are then air-dried at high temperature. The increased enzyme activity in Oolong and black tea causes some of the phenol molecules to convert into larger molecules, and this produces more subtle flavours.

For more details kindly view our post The Three Amigos…

Let’s Make Tea

 The first and most important ingredient in making a great cup of tea is the raw tea. Whether you are using loose-leaf tea or a tea bag, if the raw material is not of a good quality, your tea will be lousy. It also goes without saying that, even if you buy expensive tea, if you do not brew it correctly, it will be lousy too.

The second important item is your utensil. It matters not how intricate and expensive your teapot or tea maker is (we will cover this in another article) it must be of a quality that does not affect the brewing process. In other words, it should be there to facilitate the brewing, not impinge on it.

The final item is the actual brewing process which covers five key areas:

  1. Water: Good tasting water is required; if your water tastes funny, your tea will too.

Great water should have about 150 parts per million (PPM) of balanced mineral content. In places where the water is hard, a diligent tea shop will usually use a good reverse osmosis filtration system and a calcium carbonate cartridge to input the correct amount of mineral content into the water. You can do a similar thing at home by using a water pitcher with a carbon-filter to remove excess mineral and contaminants like chlorine from your water. Either too hard or too soft water has an impact on tea. If the water is too hard (has too many minerals) it will remove extra astringency from your tea and you will have a harsh brew; if it is too soft it will not extract sufficient polyphenols which provides astringency, good taste, and ultimately health benefits in Green Tea and Black and White Teas. Finally, you need to use freshly boiled water because it releases oxygen. According to the Chinese (the tea kings!) water that is boiled is “dead water”. Tea will never be the best if you use re-boiled water.

  1. Temperature: The perfect temperature depends upon the tea you are using ( hence the refresher information stated at the beginning of this article). Boiling water (212°F) should be used to prepare Oolong, Black, and Herbal teas. These teas are tough and require very hot water to break down the leaves in order to release the flavour and antioxidants. On the flip side, if you are brewing more delicate teas—white, or green—slightly cooler water should be used. Delicate tea will taste overly bitter or acerbic if the water is too hot, or it will be weak and flavourless if the water is too cool.
  1. Amount of tea: The amount of tea you use per cup is important since too much will make tea bitter while too little will make a weak cup of tea. The amount considered ideal is one teaspoon (about 2 grams) of most tea leaves, to 8 ounces of water. For larger mugs, a bit more tea leaf is required. Again, be reminded that the type of tea you use may require variations to these guidelines. For example, you will need to use about two teaspoons of large open leaf tea like White tea or some Oolong teas. Of course, you can vary this based on your taste preference.

4. Brewing Time: If you allow tea to brew for too long it will turn bitter. The general guideline is about 3-5 minutes for most black teas. Oolong and White teas can be steeped for a similar time, however, they can be steeped a bit longer, and still taste wonderful.

If you have not been following these guidelines, try them out and let us know if your tea tastes better.

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THEME DAY–LANDSCAPE: WILL IT GO ON FOREVER? (Part 4)

By Yvonne Blackwood

It is tall, it is skinny, and it is fascinating. While visiting Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, located on the exotic Island of Tahiti, our tour guide took us to see the Vaimahutu Falls. Tumbling 295 feet over a cliff into a pool below, it is an amazing waterfall. I was unable to find much information about this waterfall, but it reminded me a lot of The Akaka Falls in Hawaii. Vaimahutu Falls is a bit more accessible though, and we were able to get close enough to take pictures as the wind whipped spray onto our faces.

wamuta-falls

 

 

 

 

 

 

viahamutu-flals-3-papeete

Tell us about your favourite waterfall.

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