Archive for April, 2013

Dogs of the Tour du Mont Blanc

Posted on April 29, 2013. Filed under: France, Italy, Photography, Switzerland, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , |


We saw lots of dogs on our hiking trip on the Tour du Mont Blanc.  This guy above looking out over his domain was very old and lumpy, but fully in charge.  He took note of each visitor to Rifugio Bonatti and he checked out and approved of the herder dogs which came through with their men and cattle.  Even the young dogs in the herder group knew this guy was in charge at Bonatti.  It was very fun to watch!

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We saw herding, working dogs several times on the trail.  This group below stopped for some hiker snacks at the Col de Voza.  People hiked with their dogs too.  The fluffy guy on the right was resting at the Refuge Bonhomme after a long day on the trail with his owner.

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These 2 sweeties above were greeters at 2 different refuge snack stops and below is Bill at our return Auberge in Chamonix with the resident greeter, Orgient, who loves Beaufort cheese!  The owner told us that Orgient lets him know when an approaching visitor is new or returning by the particular kind of vocalization she makes.  Then the owner can very smartly say, “Welcome back!” even when he doesn’t remember the person at all.  Don’t dogs just always make us look smarter and more compassionate than we really are?!  All these dog sightings made us feel better about missing our own 2 canines back home.

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See Wildlife of the Tour du Mont Blanc, my post from yesterday for a photo of our dachshunds, Charlie and Hudson, if you wish!

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Wildlife of the Tour du Mont Blanc

Posted on April 28, 2013. Filed under: Exercise, France, Italy, Photography, Switzerland, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , |

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The three main animals you might get to see on the 105 mile trek around Mont Blanc in the European alps are:  the alpine ibex, the chamois, and the marmot.  We were happy to see all three, although at quite a distance.  The 2 photos above are ibex.  The close-up on the left is used here by the courtesy of Charlie Posnick (thank you very much!) and the one on the right is mine.  You will probably have to click on the photo to enlarge it on your screen to see the ibex walking along the ridge here above the refuge Bonhomme.

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Above left, trust me, are 2 marmots we saw.  (At the bottom of the ravine, about middle, and about in the upper right 1/3 of the picture, again, zoom in!)  These rodents can reach 2 feet long and 14 pounds!  They disappear into their holes pretty quickly so it was a thrill to see them even from such a distance.  On the right was probably the most thrilling as 2 chamois ran playfully above us on this hill.  Chamois are goaty/antelope- type animals with small curled horns.  I was proud of myself that I actually retrieved my camera fast enough to get them at all.  You can see the one against the blue sky at the left even at this size, I think.

Hudson and CharleHere are the two beasts I was most happy to see upon my arrival back home; our two dachshunds, Hudson and Charlie, or rather, sausage-dogs as the Brits like to call them!

Please note all photos on this site are either used by permission or are expressly owned by Mary McCluskey.  If you wish to use one, please ask permission.

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For the Love of Mountains on the TMB

Posted on April 28, 2013. Filed under: Exercise, France, Health, Italy, Photography, Switzerland, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , |

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What is the most important reason to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc?  The mountains!  You will be overwhelmed by them the first few days and then you have to remember to really look at them because they surround you all the time.  You begin to get a sense of how big they really are when you hike for 6 hours upwards and you have only gone a bit around one!  If you want to feel your smallness in comparison to the earth, hike into the mountains.  It’s humbling and utterly unforgettable.

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All photos on this site are used with permission or are the exclusive property of Mary McCluskey.  If you wish to use one, be polite and ask!

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Raclette in Les Contamines on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Posted on April 26, 2013. Filed under: Food Made Simple, France, Tour du Mont Blanc, Travel | Tags: , , , , , |

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Here we are after our first day of hiking on the Tour du Mont Blanc.  We are in Les Contamines trying to order raclette for an appetizer and fish for dinner.  Raclette is a type of French cheese that you heat up on a special appliance and then ceremoniously scrape off the melted cheese to enjoy with some boiled potatoes, various cold cuts of meat and bread.  We wanted to try it but we didn’t want to have it for dinner, but either the language was a problem or the restaurant seized a financial opportunity.  We don’t know for sure, but our friend, Bill, speaks French and ordered for us.  When 4 platters came and a huge wheel of raclette with an explanation that we could have as much as we wanted, meaning we could get another wheel if needed, we were splitting our sides laughing.  Then we tried to cancel our dinner order, but no, no, no, the fish was already being cooked.  Really?  Fish cooks really fast and it took another 1/2 hour for it to arrive!  Oh well, we had a cozy spot for the night with new friends after our first spectacular day of hiking.  We laughed it off and talked about walking out with that wheel of raclette on our shoulders!

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Above right is a man delivering 6 raclette to one of the refuges we stopped at for a snack. We did not order raclette!

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Simple Vegetable Sauté

Posted on April 25, 2013. Filed under: Food Made Simple, Health | Tags: , , , , , , |

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This was last night’s dinner, thought up on my dog walk after which I had to have a plan for a quick dinner because then I was going to be out the door for an appointment.  So here is the result:  sautéed veggies over quinoa with steamed mussels.  Not bad for 30 minutes total cooking time, eh?  I rinsed the quinoa (1 C.) and plopped it in a pan with 2 C. water. I added about 1 T. Penzeys Fox Point Seasoning Blend (salt, shallots, chives, garlic, onion and green peppercorns.) Then set it to boil on high, once boiling, reduced to low so it just bubbled away while I got going on the veggies.  It was a quick brush under water of about 4 large portabella mushrooms and then chopped big.  I threw those in my cast iron skillet with a little olive oil on medium high to get the pan hot.  Then I chopped an onion into slices with the grain and threw those in with the mushrooms.  At that point I added 3 slivers of butter throughout the pan,  several grinds of pepper and salt, and tossed everything with a bamboo tool.  Then I cleaned and sliced about 6 mini multi-colored peppers and threw those in too.  While that was going, I grabbed a package of frozen mussels in butter/garlic sauce which just required emptying the package into a small pot and heating for about 8 minutes total.

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Voilà!  This is a super healthy, nice light meal which can be made in about 30 minutes.  My husband commented that he thought he was getting a gourmet meal.  Little did he know how little time and effort went into it!

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Gearing Up to Have a Plant Sale

Posted on April 24, 2013. Filed under: Exercise, Health, Plants | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

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Having a plant sale is a great way to get some exercise outside and do some gardening really early in the season.  It motivates me to get the raking done, see which plants are already up, and do some dividing.  For the last 3 years my dad and I have had a plant sale at his home.  He sells off his many extra tomato and pepper plants he raised from seed and I sell off all my perennial divisions.  Every year we are astounded at how much money we make.  Last year was the most, I took in $350 and my dad did something like $250.  This is in only 2 days!  The pictures show my growing stock for sale.  I started with cushion spurge and pachysandra because they were some of the first plants up and also my sister has asked for a cushion spurge.

Plants - sale 2Next I added some daylillies, corydalis, and bleeding heart.

Today I started organizing on trays because I now have more bleeding heart and a whole tray of lamb’s ear.  At $1 or $2 per pot, the potential dollars are adding up and my garden beds are getting spruced up nicely as the nice days are beginning to be more often.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress!Plants - sale 3

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Martial Arts – Day 1

Posted on April 23, 2013. Filed under: Exercise, Health, Safety | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Health - Martial Arts 1

I have, just an hour ago, become a white belt at our local Karate place.  Don’t be too impressed because it’s the lowest level, but hey, I got a belt.  I did have to complete my first class to get it and it came complete with a little presentation ceremony.  I’m feeling rather fit and smart right now!  I can see that martial arts are a whole new world.  So far I like it.  I like the formality of the body positioning.  I like bowing to my instructor and my partner.  I really like learning to punch and kick.  I think my hips will get stronger and stay that way if I keep this up.  I’m signed up for 2 intro classes this week, after that I have to make a big financial decision if I want to continue.  That’s because it’s rather expensive.  This is all relative, of course.  What is strength,  fitness, and the ability to defend myself worth to me?  Quite a lot, actually, because if my body loses strength and I become vulnerable to attacks from within and without then what good does it do me to have saved a lot of money?

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Fresh Juice for a Superfood Snack

Posted on April 22, 2013. Filed under: Food Made Simple, Health | Tags: , , , , , |

Food - Carrot Juice

I’ve gotten lazy about juicing lately.  My beautiful Super Angel 5500 all stainless steel juicer is an amazing machine, but alas, it always seems like a big project to get it out, wash the produce, juice it and then clean the machine.  It has become especially hard lately because I’m so into smoothies and the blender is about 75% faster to use and clean.  Anyway, today I decided to try a different approach:  make less.  I used just a few carrots, 2 celery stalks, about an inch of ginger, and 1 apple.  It was fast to scrub up the produce, the juicing went faster and this made 2 small wine glasses for my husband and me.  It made the perfect mid-morning pick-me-up.  I really liked the zing of the ginger and, being a superfood, I know it was jazzing up my nutrition for the day.  After this I was ready for 2 1/2 hours of hard labor in the garden!

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My New Photography Umbrella

Posted on April 22, 2013. Filed under: Art, Photography, Plants | Tags: , , , , , , |

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I received my new photography umbrella the other day in the mail.  It’s white and designed to allow filtered light through.  I tested it with these scilla blooming in a flower bed I haven’t even raked of last fall’s leaves yet!  I’m pretty amazed at the effect.  For a modest $6 purchase, I have control, now, over harsh sunlight and I can block wind when it’s moving my subjects (plants.)  I can’t wait for some super up-close work with flowers in the height of summer because even a slight breeze wrecks the focus when I am just an inch away.  I put off this purchase, but I can tell already, it will be a game changer for summer flower photography.

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Shakespeare and Company, Paris – Having Fun with the Tourists

Posted on April 20, 2013. Filed under: France, Paris, Travel | Tags: , , , , , |

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We had to visit the iconic Shakespeare and Company on the left bank when in Paris.  The original location was popular with struggling writers and artists like Hemmingway.  To this day there are little cots here and there in the claustrophobic interior which are occupied by starving artists at night, or so the story goes.

We had a bit of fun with another tourist who was sitting in an upper room reading.  I told Bill to, “Sit in the blue chair, Hemmingway’s chair, and I’ll take your picture.”  The tourist, bless his heart, jumped up and said, “Excuse me, that’s Hemmingway’s chair?!”  We could have easily continued the scam, but we laughed and I fessed up to my active imagination.  I’m sure if the roles were reversed I would have reacted exactly the same way!

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It was a fun little nook to visit, and while in the neighborhood, we checked out the Abbey as well, owned by a Canadian, who purportedly gives away free coffee with maple syrup in it which is difficult to find in Paris.  Unfortunately, on the day we visited, the person in charge was in an animated telephone conversation the whole time we were there and we weren’t offered any coffee.  Oh well, as a book lover, it is just really nice to see these tiny spaces crammed full of books, books, books!

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