What I’ve Learned from Traveling to 25 Countries

Reblog: These tips are great and worth remembering!


With 25 countries and nearly 25 years under my belt, I have a few loosely spun travel philosophies that undergird any trip I take. Of course, each person is different—everyone has different tastes, priorities, expectations, and personalities. Nonetheless, I truly believe this set of broad travel rules can enhance anyone’s travel experience, be it a brief foray in a new city or an extended excursion across a fresh continent. Read on, take it in stride and apply what works for you!

What I’ve learned from traveling to 25 countries:

  1. Be flexible

Travel is unpredictable. Trains get cancelled, flights get missed, things get stolen or lost—that’s just the nature of the beast. A successful traveler has to relinquish some power over their journey to fate, and go with the flow.

Here’s an example. Our trip to Peru a few years ago was all plotted out—train and bus tickets purchased, hostels booked…

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While you peruse the pictures of the Orchid Show at the  Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, you may enjoy listening to the beautiful Romance for Piano and Violin, op. 11 by Dvorak.

These pictures were taken on March 22, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri using my Samsung Galaxy 5.

20160322_093552The orchid family is one of the largest families of flowering plants.


All orchids have three petals and three sepals.


The two uppermost petals are often distinctive and brightly colored.


The lower petal is called the “labellum”. It is highly modified and used as a landing place for pollinators.


In orchids, the male and female reproductive organs are fused together in a column.

20160322_093741Despite these shared features, orchids are very distinctive in their size,

20160322_093844 color,


and even fragance!

20160322_093928Of all known plant species in the world, about one in twelve is an orchid.

20160322_094003There are about 25,000 species of orchids

20160322_094030and new ones are still being discovered.

20160322_094055Many species of orchids in the wild are threatened due to over collecting.

20160322_094106Scientists are assessing the conservation status of plant species throughout the world.

20160322_094206They are also working to recover endangered plants in their native habitats and prevent their extinction in the wild.

20160322_094226Since the introduction of tropical species into cultivation in the 19th century, more than 100,000 hybrids of orchids have been produced.

20160322_094245Orchids are perennial herbs that lack any woody structure.


Orchids have very specialized pollination systems, so the chances of being pollinated are often scarce.


Some orchids have only one flower, while others have many.


A study in the journal Nature has hypothesized that the origin of orchids goes back farther than originally thought.


An extinct species of bee was found trapped in amber from 15-20 million years ago.


This bee, called proplebeia dominicana, was carrying pollen of a previously unknown orchid on its wings. This find is the first evidence of fossilized orchids to date, and shows insects were active pollinators of orchids then.


Orchids are “cosmopolitan”, occurring in nearly every habitat except glaciers.


Tropical habitats contain the most diverse species of orchids.


However, orchids can be found even north of the Arctic circle and in southern Patagonia!


North America has 20-26 genera of orchids.


Europe and temperate Asia have 40-60 genera.


Compare these to the number of genera in tropical America: 212-250 genera and


tropical Asia 260-300 genera! Tropical Africa has 230-270 genera.


A majority of orchids are perennial epiphytes, which grow on trees or shrubs in the tropics and subtropics.


Some species are lithophytes which grow on rocks or very rocky soil.


Other orchids are terrestrial and are found in grassland or forest habitats.

20160322_094756Some species of orchids lack chlorophyll, so they are unable to photosynthesize.


These species obtain energy and nutrients by parasitizing soil fungi.


The scent of orchids is frequently analyzed by perfumers to identify potential fragrance chemicals.


The other important use of orchids is cultivation for enjoyment of the flowers. Most cultivated orchids are tropical or subtropical.20160322_095033

Many orchid societies and clubs have been formed worldwide.


These societies encourage cultivation and collection of orchids. Some go further by concentrating on research and conservation.


The dried seed pods of one orchid genus, vanilla, is commercially important as a flavor in baking, as well as for perfume and aromatherapy.


The underground tubers of terrestrial orchids are ground to a powder and used for cooking, such as in the hot beverage in Arab countries, salep, which is considered an aphrodisiac, and the Turkish frozen treat dondurma.


On Reunion Island, the dried leaves of the Jumellea fragrans are used as a flavor for rum.


In Australia, some orchids of the group Gastrodia produce potato-like tubers, which were consumed as food by native Australian peoples.


Wild stands of these plants can still be found in the same areas of ancient aboriginal settlements.


Orchids have been used in traditional medicine to treat many diseases and ailments.


Orchids have been used in China as a source of herbal remedies since 2800 BCE.


The orchid is the City Flower of Shaoxing, China.


Two species of “Cattleya” are the national flowers of Venezuela and Colombia respectively.


Singapore and Costa Rica also have species of orchids as their national flowers.


The earliest instance of orchids in European art were Mediterranean orchids depicted on the “Ara Pacis” in Rome.


Many orchids are difficult, if not impossible, to grow.


However, hundreds of hybrids can grow in a sunny windowsill or under lights.


Orchids prefer a 12-hour day all year round and require a high intensity of light.

20160322_095437Most orchids bloom once a year. Once it flowers it remains in bloom for six to ten weeks.


Easy orchid varieties for beginning growers: Cattleya, Phalaenopsis, and Paphiopedilum,


South and east-facing windows are the best place for orchids.


Depending on the type of orchid, they can be happy growing in peat moss, fir bark, dried fern roots, sphagnum moss, rock wool, cork nuggets, stones, lava rock, and coconut fiber.


Information used in this post was obtained from a sign about orchids at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, Wikipedia article Orchidaceae  and Gardener’s Supply Company article How to Grow Orchids.


Colors Yellow and Red

For Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge: Colors Yellow and Red, I immediately thought of seasons. In the spring, flowers are often red and yellow – I have red tulips and yellow daffodils in my garden, for example. Here are examples of red & yellow in tulips and orchids:

F-09 inside an open tulip





In the summer, if there has been a lot of rain, we get lots of mushrooms:


Autumn is always a great time for colors like yellow and red.


Shades of red,yellow and orange

One of the few ash trees left in our area


Brilliant autumn maple which greeted us at Apple River Canyon State Park.

Brilliant autumn maple which greeted us at Apple River Canyon State Park.

Gold is almost yellow so I’m including this picture taken inside the Basilica of St. Louis.

Finally, at the top of my blog is a beautiful sunset over the Baltic Sea, with brilliant reds and yellows.

WPC: Abstract

When does a picture look like something other than what it is? Or like nothing at all in particular? Here are my interpretations of this week’s weekly photo challenge: abstract.

banana peel

banana peel

Mystery picture: What is this? soap

dried up soap


I posted this before under a “mystery photo” series. Scary bony hand? No, it’s the reflection of a drinking glass on a table.


thighs in jeans

A spreading stump/root system - what does it look like?

A spreading stump/root system – what does it look like?

Word(s) of the Week: Nyctophilia and Nyctophobia

How would you feel if you were in this scene?

How would you feel if you were in this scene?

Nyctophobia (also called noctiphobia or scotophobia) is defined as an abnormal fear of the night or of darkness. A person with this fear may be characterized as nyctophobic. Here is how the night might sound for one who suffers from nyctophobia:

Scary Sounds from a night in the wild

Am I nyctophobic? I’m not afraid when I’m in my house in the dark, but I am afraid to walk outside in the dark . In some countries, like the U.S., this may be considered normal, since women are susceptible to being attacked at night. I don’t like dark parking lots either, for the same reason.

empty parking lot

Is the last car in the parking lot yours?

Is the last car in the parking lot yours?

This word is pronounced: nick – toh – FO – bee-ah. It’s origin is from from Greek nukt- + phobia.

Conversely, the opposite of nyctophobia is nyctophilia: This is a preference for the night or darkness. It is also called scotophilia.

night sky thru treesPeople who love the night may hear it like this:

Beautiful night sounds

I love the night when I feel safe: in a natural setting, perhaps, where I may hear the crickets, frogs and night birds.I love being in a rural area where I can look up and see a canopy of stars and galaxies.

night in tent

Camping in a tent with these sounds enveloping me can be very soothing. Also, you can download 30+ minutes of night sounds like the sample above to play at home when you want to go to sleep at night.

To find out if you tend toward nyctophobia or nyctophilia, watch the following video of the full moon with night sounds by Tall Sky YouTube videos, filmed in 2011.

Tall Sky


How does this scene make you feel?

How does this scene make you feel?

Note: All photos were downloaded from Google images using search categories: scary night, empty parking lot at night, peaceful night.

Risk: My doodles and other “time wasters”

Michelle W. challenges us to take a risk. So here goes.

I have always loved to draw and got pretty good at it. These days, I have so many other things on my plate that I don’t have time for serious drawing. I doodle – I can’t help it. Some of these doodles come out OK. I also like to color, now that coloring books are all the rage. Here are some of my artistic endeavors.

Doodle-back of envelope 8-1-15

Doodle on the back of an envelope – I drew this while waiting on the phone to talk to someone (multiple times!) at the Healthcare marketplace.


Doodle of a half-slurped smoothie

Doodle of a half-slurped smoothie

Doodle-woman in hat

Doodle-woman in hat (inspired by the hat I wore on the 4th of July 2015)

Fish doodle and The Thin House (both 2015)

Coloring pages:

Medium: "True to Life" crayons with tri-color tips.  Done 11/22/15.

Medium: “True to Life” crayons with tri-color tips. Done 11/22/15. (From coloring Book “Floral Designs”)

Medium: markers. Completed: 11/22/15

Medium: markers. Completed: 11/22/15 (From coloring book “Floral Designs”)

Only 5 colors were used in this coloring page; medium: colored pencils

Only 5 colors were used in this coloring page; medium: colored pencils, finished April 2016 (From “Floral Designs”)

Claire and Jamie from Outlander; medium: crayons

Claire and Jamie from Outlander (“Outlander” coloring book); medium: crayons (finished April 2016)

Although I have “time wasters” in the title of this post, most of these were done while doing or waiting for something else. I can color while talking to people and find it’s helpful when I’m nervous and don’t want to say something I would regret later. Coloring is relaxing and I love experimenting with colors.

WPC: Dinnertime

When I saw that the Weekly Photo Challenge for this week was “dinnertime”, I immediately thought of the time we made kedgeree.

I first heard of kedgeree in a book I was reading and looked it up to see what it was. It turns out to be a British dish with eggs and fish that seemed relatively easy to make, according to the recipe. My daughter – who is always eager to cook and try something different – and I decided to make it for our family one night. We couldn’t cook it at our house, however, because we were having our downstairs rooms painted; there was a lot of dust and the painters’ equipment everywhere.

So I invited my sister’s family to have dinner with us, which we would cook, under the condition that we cook and serve it at their house.

Kedgeree made by Katy and Tam

Here is the recipe we used:


By John Torode

Prep: 10 mins Cook: 35 mins Plus chilling
Moderately easy
Serves 4

A hearty brunchtime meal or for dinnertime!

Nutrition per serving

  • kcalories506
  • fat14g
  • saturates3g
  • carbs71g
  • sugars3g
  • fibre2g
  • protein28g
  • salt1.71g


  • 300g undyed smoked haddock fillet, skin on – if haddock not available, use any other whitefish
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 300ml milk (some recipes substitute water)
  • 4 eggs
  •  handful chopped coriander (note: In the U.S. use cilantro – it’s the same thing)
  • handful chopped parsley

For the rice

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground coriander/cilantro
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 300g easy-cook long grain rice, rinsed under running water


  1. For the rice, heat the oil in a large, lidded pan, add the onion, then gently fry for 5 mins until softened but not coloured. Add the spices, season with salt, then continue to fry until the mix start to go brown and fragrant; about 3 mins.
  2. Add the rice and stir in well. Add 600ml water, stir, then bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, then cover for 10 mins. Take off the heat and leave to stand, covered, for 10-15 mins more. The rice will be perfectly cooked if you do not lift the lid before the end of the cooking.
  3. Meanwhile, put the haddock and bay leaves in a frying pan, cover with the milk, then poach for 10 mins until the flesh flakes. Remove from the milk, peel away the skin, then flake the flesh into thumbsize pieces. Place the eggs in a pan, cover with water, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Leave for 4½-5 mins, plunge into cold water, then peel and cut the eggs into quarters. Gently mix the fish, eggs, parsley, coriander and rice together in the pan. Serve hot, sprinkled with a few extra herbs.

Easy, right? Well, the main problem we had was that we couldn’t find haddock anywhere in metropolitan Chicago in February unless we were willing to pay a large sum. However, my husband, who did the research on this, found some good fish suppliers and was told that any whitefish would do. Haddock is a fish common in Europe, because it lives in the east coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean; it’s a rarity here in the U.S. So we substituted.

Note that I have used italics in the recipe wherever substitutions were made.

There are a lot of other recipes for kedgeree online, including Jamie Oliver’s supremely healthy version. I would definitely make it again, maybe trying a different recipe.

Some members of the family were skeptical at first, but found the kedgeree to be quite good and we did have a little leftover for lunch the next day.

WPC: Future

The theme for this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is future. We can’t actually photograph the future, only the anticipation of it. Some things that make me think of the future are: weddings, babies and children, and the plants of spring.

Right now, the future that is occupying my thoughts is that of spring. The greatest reminder I have that spring is on its way is my garden:


Snowdrops – the first flowers of spring – came up early this year, in early March!

Tulips, violets, and my hardy daffodil (which survived a small blizzard last Friday night!)

Last year, in my family the theme was “babies.” I had two pregnant nieces and two others with children less than a year old. This picture of my happy, expecting nieces standing together clearly portrays anticipation of their future as mothers:

Preggie nieces

Recently I have been to quite a few weddings, which are a celebration of the future, of hope for happiness and prosperity (L-my niece Julia and her new husband Adam, R-my good friend Sandy and her groom Steve):

And when I was at those weddings, there were little children among the guests, someone’s children and grandchildren, another sign of the future:

Old age can sometimes evoke the future also: when an elderly person can no longer manage their living circumstances, their future lies in less independence and needing more care.

My mother’s future as well as nostalgia of the past is portrayed in this picture of her sitting in her empty apartment, as she was being moved to an assisted living facility. What was she thinking about at that moment? Her past or her future?

Mother facing the empty shelves


Haiku for a diffident daffodil

I planted daffodil bulbs three autumns ago, because I love these beautiful yellow flowers that make their appearance in early spring, bringing hope of warmer weather and growing things.

Since then, the daffodil plants have pushed up out of the ground and I get excited when I see their leaves. Last year I only had one daffodil bloom. This year…will there be two?? Not so far. My one yellow daffodil brightens an otherwise still dull garden. It braves all the nasty weather that follows its appearance: wind, rain and even snow flurries, graupel and hail, all of which we’ve had since April started!

So I wrote a haiku dedicated to my daffodil.


Doughty daffodil
undaunted by storms and cold;
Spring’s daring herald

Word of the week: Graupel

We have had some weird weather here in Chicagoland lately. It’s unseasonably cold for April, and last Saturday the weather changed about 10 times! When I looked out the window at 3 pm, it looked like blizzard conditions, with the light snow whirling madly against strong winds. But at 5 pm, two hours later, the sun was shining!

The ground is too warm now for snow flurries to stay on the ground long. Especially when those snowflakes were not really snowflakes – they  were actually graupel!

Most people who live in areas with cold, snowy winters and volatile springs are probably familiar with graupel, even if they’ve never heard the word – I never had, until Monday, when my stepdaughter told me about it. She gets a daily email  with an unusual word and its definition. It just happened to be appropriate for these last few days of strange weather.

Graupel is precipitation that is formed when water forms around a snowflake and freezes. Similar in appearance to hail, it is distinguished by the fact that it is not solid like hail. If you squeeze a piece of graupel between your fingers, it will disintegrate, because only snow is inside. Since hail is actually a solid bit of ice, it will not disintegrate when you squeeze it.

graupel vs hail


Wikipedia gives this scientific explanation of the phenomenon:

Graupel, also called soft hail, snow pellets, or “grail” is formed when supercooled droplets of water are collected and freeze on falling snowflakes, forming 2-5 mm of rime. …

rime ice-graupel

Under some atmospheric conditions, snow crystals may encounter supercooled water droplets. … Contact between a snow crystal and the supercooled droplets results in freezing of the liquid droplets onto the surface of the crystal. … When this process continues so that the shape of the original snow crystal is no longer identifiable, the resulting crystal is referred to as graupel. Graupel was formerly referred to by meteorologists as soft hail. However, graupel is easily distinguishable from hail in both the shape and strength of the pellet and the circumstances in which it falls. Ice from hail is formed in hard, relatively uniform layers and usually falls only during thunderstorms. Graupel forms fragile, oblong shapes and falls in place of typical snowflakes in wintry mix situations, often in concert with ice pellets. Graupel is also fragile enough that it will typically fall apart when touched.

graupel diagram

The National Weather Service/NOAA has a chart describing different types of precipitation. For graupel to form, surface temperatures should be 45 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Cloud temperatures are mostly below freezing with some portion colder than 15 degrees Fahrenheit. It usually occurs when the lower atmosphere is very unstable.

When you see graupel on the ground, it may remind you of the dessert “Dippin’ Dots”:


In fact, one “Idaho Dad” has a blog post for “Graupel Delight”!

graupel delight

Origin: The origin of the word graupel is from German, according to dictionary.com: 1885-90; < German; diminutive of Graupe hulled grain. However, its actual origin is probably from Serbo-Croat krupa; related to Russian krupá peeled grain.

Because of English speakers’ tendency to  create verbs out of nouns, I began to use graupel this way: Instead of “It’s snowing!” or “It’s hailing!” I could be more specific by saying, “It’s graupeling!”