Lighthouse stripes help guide ships around the world

The United States has more than one thousand lights protecting ships and shores. There are the classic lighthouses, light towers, range lights, and pier lights. In the late 19th century, the Lighthouse Board assigned each lighthouse in the U.S. a distinctive color pattern. The paint pattern (horizontal or stripes) is the day-mark and the light sequence of the colors (white, black, red) is the night-mark. This differentiation in day-mark and night-mark helps mariners to recognize the specific lighthouses from others in an area as they sailed along the coast.

For example, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, received its famous black and white spiral pattern in 1873. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse protects one of the most hazardous sections of the Atlantic Coast. The area around the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Hundreds of ships have wrecked in this region because of the convergence the Gulf Stream with the Virginia Drift, a branch of the Labrador Current from Canada, making the waters treacherous.

The Bodie Lighthouse, also on the Outer Banks, has a distinctive horizontal pattern of black and white stripes. These markings distinguished it for mariners from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse 42 miles away.

Now that you know about the differences in markings keep your eye out for lighthouses as you travel along the coastlines.

OBX Bodie Lighthouse

The Best South Carolina Beaches and Hammocks

I grew up traveling down to Pawley’s Island, SC each year for a week with my family. This wonderful destination is home to beautiful beaches, great surf fishing, and the famous Hammock Shops. As the name implies, this is where you can find the original Pawley’s Island Hammocks. Not only can you buy a hammock to bring home, but you can also watch craftsman weaving the hammocks in an open-air shop.

I am on my third Pawley’s Island hammock. This last one is strung between two trees in a shady spot in my garden. It has happily been there for three straight years spending our snowy winters outside. I had grown up with cotton hammocks, but my last purchase was one made from “duro-cord.” Duro-cord is some kind of blended fiber, and I find it to be softer than the polyester hammock they sell. And, I know from past experience that the all-cotton hammocks do not last very long when left outside in the rain and cold. Since I like to plop down into our hammock at any time of the year, I want one that can stay outside and handle the wear and tear from the elements. Now I have a hammock that I can enjoy all year long, come rain or shine.


What an evening at the beach at Pawley's Island

Spring flowers and summer blooms

I have small dragons pushing their green claws through the soil all around my yard. At least that’s what the tips of daffodils look like to me.

I am one of those nuts that love botanical gardens, private garden tours, and garden shows. I really enjoy seeing how professional designers and backyard gardeners lay out their spaces. I enjoy seeing the plants they choose and how they mix them together so that there is beauty all year round. On a visit somewhere, I don’t remember where I saw that the gardeners had intermixed the daffodils with daylilies. That way when the daffodils were on their way out, the new growth of the daylilies were beginning and their growth would cover up the dying daffodil leaves. I have tried it in my garden, and it works beautifully.

Now, it is still winter, so the daylilies are nowhere to be seen but I can see green tips of the daffodils. Or maybe, they really are sleeping dragons beginning to wake up from their winter naps and poking their toes upward. You never really know in a garden.


A spring bouquet

Are frogs and toads the same?

I was wandering down by the edge of the water with my son. We were skipping rocks and having a great time. Then he asked me one of those questions that I had never really thought about… “Are frogs and toads the same thing?”

Now I knew that they weren’t the same thing. I have seen plenty of frogs and toads in the wild and in exhibits at aquariums, like the amazing poison dart frogs at the National Aquarium of Baltimore. But I had to confess that I did not know exactly what made frogs different from toads.

Here’s what I found out:

Do not need to live near water to survive
Have rough, dry, bumpy skin
Have a wider body
Have lower, football-shaped eyes
Have shorter, less powerful hind legs
Will run or take small hops rather than jump
Do not have many predators. (Lucky for them, they taste bad. A toad’s skin lets out a bitter taste and smell that burns the eyes and nostrils of its predators.)

Need to live near water
Have smooth, moist skin that makes them look “slimy”.
Have a narrow body
Have higher, rounder, bulgier eyes
Have longer hind legs
Take long high jumps
Have many predators (Sad for them, they taste good.)

Frogs and toads are very important to ecosystems. With frogs generally spending part of their lifecycle in water, and their moist skins are especially sensitive to pollution. We can all help to reduce the impact of pollution on frogs by preventing chemicals such as petrol, insecticides, detergents, and fertilizers from entering our waterways.

Fog on the water at Walnut Creek Park, Charlottesville, VA

find a rink near you and choose the correct skates

Ice skating is a fun way to spend an afternoon. In some cities, you can skate all year round and in others, rinks pop up for the winter holidays. One can also skate outside on a frozen pond but this takes a seasoned pro to know when the ice is thick enough to be safe. I have skated on a frozen pond and a frozen reservoir in a tucked away cove, but the ice has always been tested with a drill to measure the exact depth of the ice. Even with the ice depth tested, each person always skates with an ice hockey stick as a precaution – just in case the ice were to crack.

choosing your skates the first time

If you are a beginning skater or have a new skater with you, wearing figure skates until you have the basics down is a good idea. Figure skates have a long, flat blade that is pointed on the back with a toe pick on the front. Ice hockey skates have a rounded blade that is curved on both ends. I have often seen ice hockey skates being given to a new skater and have watched them fall backward over and over because of the rounded blades. If you have a new skater start with figure skates.

One other tip – a great way to start out as a new skater on the ice is to march – yes march! If you are taking steps up and down then you aren’t sliding out of control. You transition from marching steps to a gentle glide. From there, the gliding becomes skating.

A quick search on the term – “find an ice skating rink near me” – should locate a fun place to skate. Pack your warm gear and head out for a day of ice skating.


Find the best fall leaf color near you

The days are getting shorter and the nights a getting colder. Leaves on the deciduous trees are turning from their summer green to an assortment of yellow, orange and red. As the chlorophyll in the leaves begins to break down, the green color disappears and the pinks, browns, and yellows in the leaves begin to show.

Take a look at the Fall Foliage Map to get an idea of when the leaves will be turning and where you can go to see the best color.


A trip to the Orchid Garden in Singapore

Singapore is absolutely beautiful. I have been three times but I haven’t really even seen this amazing island country in Southeast Asia. Each time, I have been on a business trip with little time to explore the island. On my last trip to Singapore, I made sure to give myself an hour and to visit one small wonder in Singapore. It was the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The Gardens were amazing. To see orchids thriving and arranged in so many different ways was remarkable. To highlight how wonderful it is, the Botanic Gardens was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. The Gardens is the first and only tropical botanic garden on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. There are so many amazing gardens around the world, so this is quite a feat.

Look for a botanical garden in a city you are visiting and spend time enjoying the flowers and designs, you won’t be disappointed. Here a few to consider that I have visited:

Hampstead Heath, London, U.K

Jardin des Plantes, Paris, France

Singapore Botanic Garden, Singapore

United States Botanic Garden, Washington DC, U.S.

VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, British Columbia

Picking apples at a farm near you

It’s apple season and there are orchards and markets across the country overflowing with apples. There are pies to be made, apple butter to cook and harvest festivals to attend.

Before you bite into that next apple, here’s a bit about its history:

The apple tree originated in Western Asia, where you can sill find its wild ancestor today. Archeologists have found evidence that humans have been enjoying apples since at least 6500 B.C. After thousand years of cultivation, there are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples, resulting in a range of characteristics from color to crispness. Apples were brought to North America with colonists in the 1600s, and the first apple orchard was said to have been planted near Boston in 1625. Apples must cross-pollinate to develop fruit. With the large decline in natural bee populations over the recent years, apple growers usually bring in hives of pollinators to carry the pollen during the flowering season.

With apples being grown all across the country, there’s probably a festival near you. Find an orchard or festival and have fun!


Trail hiking and fishing in Virginia

One of the great things about the Charlottesville, Virginia area is the variety of outdoor activities that are available. We have mountains to hike, rivers to raft and beautiful state and local parks to explore. Walnut Creek Park is one of the many gems in the countryside that you should definitely visit. Walnut Creek is in Albemarle County, just a short 15-minute drive south of Charlottesville. You can rent a canoe, play frisbee golf on a large course or swim in the lake during the warm months of the year. There are miles of mountain biking trails for riding enthusiasts. The bike trails are also great for walking, but you do you need to pay attention and be ready to step aside when bikers are coming.

I have recently been spending quite a bit of time at Walnut Creek Park. The park is a great place to take a dog for an on-leash walk. You can walk through the woods on different trails that are tagged based on their difficulty. You can also walk on a lovely trail that winds its way around the end of the lake.

If you are a fisherman, you need to bring your rod and reel out to Walnut Creek Park. I have seen folks fishing from the sides of the lake, as well as from boats that they have launched themselves. You could also fish from one of the many canoes that are available for rent.

All in all, Walnut Creek Park is a great place to spend an hour or an entire day.

Fog on the water at Walnut Creek Park, Charlottesville, VA


Minor league baseball on a late summer day

It’s not too late to take an outing to a ballpark. Whether it is to see your local minor league team or a visit a major league’s stadium, the weather is perfect for a game of baseball. It’s not too hot, is not too cold. It is perfect.

My husband is a Detroit Tiger’s fan. A tortured fan, but a loyal one, nonetheless. We have been to see the Tigers, the S.F. Giants, and a few minor league games, as well. Now I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I do love the yummy food, the sweet treats and the time we sit together laughing about life and talking a bit about baseball, too. I think my favorite baseball park is the home of the Durham Bulls.

Recently, the whole family went on a weekend trip see the Baltimore Orioles. We spent the night in a hotel in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and the evening watching baseball. The tickets weren’t too expensive, because the seats were a little high up. But really, just how close do you have to be to home plate? I actually think we spent more on the food at the park, but we knew going into the weekend getaway that it was going to be pricey. And really, it was worth it, because there’s so much more to a baseball game than just watching the game.

So what’s the best weather for baseball?   Any weather – as long as your with family and friends.