My EPCOT day

How does one visit eleven countries in one day? Not easily. But what about a representation of countries—a circle of neighbors around a small body of water that just happens to find itself in Orlando, Florida?

Part of EPCOT (one of Walt Disney World’s epic theme parks) the World Showcase hosts this neighborhood of international places around its namesake lagoon.

With my family, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying WDW parks many times over the years, but this would be my first solo visit. Having only one day (roughly 24 hours) available on my timeline, I chose to traverse this particular park.

Why EPCOT? It always reminds me of a world’s fair, but with more permanent structures, and of course, Disney flare. And since I’m a big fan of fairs (and markets and festivals and Disney), this made my narrow-it-down-to-one-park decision a little easier. So I began my one day by stepping into the future…

The future

Extremely visible from just about anywhere in the park, Future World’s Spaceship Earth was my first stop. Since I wasn’t fast enough for Fastpass on this particular trip, I targeted this attraction early in the day so as to minimize my wait time.

I really like the ride through history, particularly as it covers the progress of human communication throughout time, beginning with the drawings of cave dwellers and ending with our prototypes and predictions for the future.

Near the end of the journey, each car’s interactive touch screen allows its travelers to make selections about how they might want to live in the future. Somehow my future self ended up in outer space, but the view of Earth was phenomenal!

For my next Future World stop, it was time to take flight. I made a beeline for Soarin’ inside The Land pavilion. Another very popular attraction, I noted the wait time for the Stand-by line to be 60 minutes. Knowing the wait time approaching noon would only lengthen, I walked into the entrance, preparing to spend a little “me time” on my phone.

Well, I did spend time on my phone—playing an online Soarin’ trivia game with about one hundred other line occupants. Wall screens invited passers by to complete the quick login process, then presented the teams with True/False questions like “The Great Barrier Reef is larger than the Great Wall of China.” Definitely a fun way to pass the time.

As luck would have it, the line operator was looking for a single rider to board immediately, so after raising my hand (and shouting “Me!”), I was routed to my seat. I prepped for takeoff, and up-up-up-and-away we went. Such amazing birds-eye views and music! The Great Wall, the Golden Gate Bridge, waterfalls, plains, all as they appear from above.

The world

I fit in one last Stand-by attraction for the day, this time in Norway. Part of the World Showcase, this Northern European land was my first country stop of the day. The attraction? Frozen, which sounded really good on an 86 degree Fahrenheit day. Another 60-minute wait, but under cover, and with plenty of charming movie décor to admire before boarding the boat ride.

Young movie fans (and their chaperones) will love hearing the songs and seeing animatronic figures from the famed story as they glide along, enjoying a little drop (and maybe a splash of water) at the end.

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A trip to any of the Disney parks wouldn’t be complete without a character photo op. The trick is to queue up to the meeting spot before the Disney celebrity arrives. In Great Britain, I found the line for Alice in Wonderland just beginning, so I quickly took my place.

So very charming, Alice chatted with each guest for a bit, prior to signing autograph books and posing for photos. Watching the exchange between Alice and her fans made time pass quickly as the line progressed. And then it was my turn! She and I had a fun discussion about the Red Queen before smiling for the camera.

At the host country, I timed my visit just right to find a theater seat for an animatronic, cinematic and photographic tour through my nation’s history: The American Adventure. Narrated by famous Americans Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain, the two took turns weaving our historical events via a chronological timeline.

Along the way, other famous Americans such as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas, cultural icon Rosie the Riveter and Native American Chief Joseph, added to the compelling conversations. Inventors like Alexander Graham Bell joined the group too.

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Ending with images covering more contemporary moments, celebrities and events of our time/my time, I found myself truly touched—a little choked up even—but inspired by the messages conveyed during this quick tour of American history.

My early dinner reservation was fast approaching. Eager to stop by each remaining country at least briefly, I made quick visits to the following:

    • China
    • Mexico
    • Canada
    • France
    • Morocco
    • Japan
    • Germany

I’ve had longer visits to these locales during previous vacations, but I was still a bit sad I couldn’t hang out this time—dinner called. Speaking of dining…

The cuisine

Just in case you were wondering when I’d get to Italy, worry no more. My 24-hour visit actually began the prior evening at Italy’s Napoli Ristorante E Pizzeria. Nothing like a delicious Quattro Formaggi (four-cheese) pizza and a glass of vino to make me smile! Excellent service too. I finished off my meal with a delightful tiramisu. Ahhhh…

Between my visits to Norway and Great Britain, I ventured back to Future World’s Fountain View Café. Disney and Starbucks teamed up on this venture, and came up with something fun for fans of both. I stepped outside on the terrace and found a table in the shade where I could enjoy my icy usual and a sweet treat—and a partial view of the fountain.

Toward the end of my day—my last dinner at the park—I returned to Great Britain, and entered the Rose & Crown Dining Room. (There’s a fun pub attached to the restaurant, as well as a fish & chips stand too.)

I’ve enjoyed their fan favorite here before, but this time, I decided on a Scottish inspired salmon dish. A grilled and lightly breaded filet on a bed of veggies and lentils—amazing! Truly delicious. I asked my server to pay my compliments to the chef. I ate every bite. But not to worry; I saved room for dessert: sticky toffee pudding. So heavenly! (And yes, I ate every bite of that too…)

The shopping

Along with the marvelous food, souvenirs are tough to resist here at EPCOT. I made most of my purchases in Italy and Great Britain, but found a fun pair of suspenders in Germany, and a few co branded coffee mugs at the Future World’s Fountain View Café.
And just in case you become concerned about the lack of available space in your suitcase, WDW resorts can help you ship the souvenirs home.

When I returned to the Port Orleans French Quarter Resort for the evening (a fun New Orleans themed WDW resort), I headed to the gift shop. The cast members inventoried my collection of goods, gave me my receipt, and I was good to go! My souvenirs arrived at home in excellent condition about two weeks later.

The fireworks

Have you ever had the chance to enjoy Disney fireworks? In a word: spectacular! I caught the show from one of Italy’s Venetian style bridges, but the event can be seen from anywhere in the park. What a wonderful way to end my day.

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No matter how many times I walk this park, explore the pavilions, or dine at the restaurants, I always leave mentally planning my next EPCOT visit. Conversations with World Showcase cast members—all native to the countries they represent —remind me how enriched I feel, experiencing different cultures.

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So, if you’re a foodie and a Disney fan who enjoys exploring future concepts, walking through fairs and experiencing a bit of wonder from other places, you just might develop a taste for EPCOT. I know I have.

J 🌎🌍🌏

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Hutchinson Island Zen

Ah, summer—today’s the first day! The very name of the season evokes a Zen feeling. What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Zen?” Meditation, relaxation, calmness? Vacation—a break from the everyday life? Associated with Zen Buddhism, this powerful three-letter word enjoys a positive place in our modern vocabulary.

It has come to describe people, places and things that equate to feelings of clarity and control, brought about by experiencing wonder, beauty and life’s simple pleasures.

These Zen moments can last just long enough for us to catch our breath, recharge our batteries and return to our daily challenges with a bit more energy—a fresher pair of eyes.

For me, Zen equals Hutchinson Island, on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. No matter what I have going on in my life, time spent here in this quite beautiful place always gives me the clarity and calmness I didn’t know I needed until I arrive.

While this locale is very vacation worthy (think long weekend or longer), sometimes I only have a day… but I’ll take it! Time to share my recent island Zen day with you.

Sea life

Cute and cuddly critters like puppies and kitties can give us that warm-and-fuzzy Zen feeling in our hearts almost instantly. But what about H2O critters? One visit to the Florida Oceanographic and Coastal Center’s stingray feeding program with melt your heart and calm your nerves quickly, as you learn how to pet and feed these entertaining rays.

Time for a pop quiz! Rays are a type of:

A) Fish
B) Dolphin
C) Shark

Answer: A) Fish! They’re just a lot flatter then your average finned swimmer. And these Coastal Center residents have their barbs filed down regularly, so there’s no chance for human visitors to be hurt.

My family and I have paid them many visits over the years, and we never tire of interacting with these amazing sea critters.

Along with the rays, rescued sea turtles and game fish enjoy ocean-fed pavilions and lagoons throughout the 57-acre property. The nature trail and visitors center—even a butterfly garden—and several hands-on displays help educate (as they entertain) patrons of all ages.

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Watching this facility grow over the years gives me a good feeling inside too. The employees are friendly, knowledgeable and dedicated to sharing what life is all about for their marine residents.

Past life

Directly across the street from the Coastal Center sits a modern museum with a flare for transportation: the Elliott Museum. Since their invention, classic cars from almost every decade are on display in a garage-type setting.

But before you happen upon these vehicles, you’ll find variations of bicycles as they evolved from styles of yesteryear, leading up to the most significant style of all: the precursor to the automobile. Sterling Elliot was the inventor and manufacturer of this pre-auto contraption. He managed to own quite a few patents, several having to do with modes of transportation. Many of his inventions greet you near the front entrance.

I enjoyed discovering those early bicycles and tricycles—many of their parts made from wood—as I made my way to the temporary exhibit: kites from around the world. I’d never thought of using these quiet, aerodynamic works of art to tell stories or share history, but show-and-tell they did.

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My price of admission to the Elliott Museum included entry to another museum a few miles down the road: the House of Refuge. So down the road I drove.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, walking into this structure was truly a step back in time. Located on one of the island’s backroads, the serenity of this area made it difficult to imagine the building’s once historical purpose: to serve as a haven for shipwrecked sailors.

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But the rocky beach was a reminder to me that the ease and success of navigation was largely dependent on the weather—and at what angle the shore and the ships met.

Beach life

Looking forward to dipping my toes in the sand, I headed north to Jensen Beach. Plenty of sand and shore awaited me, along with a very welcome ocean breeze. Time to stretch my legs!

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I start to relax just seeing this place from the parking lot. As I pass the Sand Dune Café (a nice walk-up by the way!) and head toward the water, I notice the most artful sandcastle I’ve ever seen: a sea monster of sorts 🦑, facing the ocean. Very impressive—kudos to the sculptor!

The monster facing the ocean. As I continued walking along the beach, I remembered some sage advice I hear often whenever I’m visiting the shore: never turn your back on the ocean. At least not when standing at its edge.

Ready for some refreshment and a little late lunch, I head a bit farther along the road to one of my favorite watering holes: Kyle G’s. Lucky for me, there was an available seat at the bar outside that included a perfect ocean view. James the bartender created a wonderful white sangria at my request. I enjoyed it very much, along with a delicious plate of fried oysters. My final Zen moment of the day.

Whatever your plans for summer, I hope you fit in a few activities designed to help you relax and recharge. Safe travels, and enjoy your Zen moments! J 🏖

 

 

 

Freeze-frame

A trail up high in the mountains is one thing, but a trail up high in the mountains—two yards off the ground—is something else. Like no other season, winter has a way of transforming a landscape. On a recent visit to Snoqualmie Pass, we discovered more than a new hiking trail; we discovered that trail elevation can be a seasonal thing.

The Ugly Scarf near Snoqualmie Pass
Me wearing The Ugly Scarf–putting it to conventional use–near Snoqualmie Pass

The snow

Part of the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, the Franklin Falls Trail (#1036) is accessible year-around, accommodating all skill levels. Beautiful any season, I’ve always wanted to visit this place, especially under facades of snow and ice. And now just happens to be the best time of year for such conditions, so, time to bundle up and head for the hills!

Our GPS options—always helpful—made sure we were there. And we were there. Well, close. We just couldn’t see the route to the trail’s parking lot—not even the trail head itself. A wall of plowed snow at least seven feet tall stood between our makeshift parking spot, us, and the way to #1036. Eventually we noticed a path of sorts (forged by ambitious snowshoers and other hikers earlier that morning) weaving its way up and over the icy wall. A starting point! So up and over we went.

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As the path continued, the compacted snow made for stable walking conditions, despite the fact we were several feet off the actual ground. As we walked, fluffy flakes quietly floated down around us, decorating the evergreens, contributing to this already beautiful wonderland.

The water

Running roughly parallel to our snowy trail, water flowed actively in the creeks. We could hear the Falls, even though they remained out of sight for the time being. Eventually our path reached ground level as we made our way under the sloping canopy of trees. Here we crossed small foot bridges over steady streams of moving water. Active despite the freezing temperature, the creeks went about their business, competing with the Falls—and falling snow—for our attention.

Arriving at the end of the trail (a little rocky and slippery the last ten yards), Franklin Falls was there to greet us in all its glory. Water pounded down, as snowflakes continued to do the same. And there was just enough level ground for us and about 20 other hikers to take it all in, as well as take photos without having to take turns.

The ice

What a beautiful site! But what truly fascinated me about the face of the Falls was observing the water that wasn’t moving at all: the ice. Like icicles that form on the eves of homes and buildings, water found a way to camp out for the season along sections of the rock wall. The freezing temps fluctuate in this part of the world just enough to allow Mother Nature the opportunity to treat the cliff face like a canvas, painting various rocks with broad brushstrokes of ice.

Heading back up the trail, we encountered more evidence of ice finding a place in the scenery. Exposed root systems of large trees near creek beds allowed for mini stalactite formations of frozen water—water that will need to wait a month or two for warmer weather before it can reach the creek. A true freeze-frame shot of stillness.

Nearing the elevated part of the trail —close to our starting point—we noticed evidence of human interaction with the landscape we didn’t see before: a solar panel secured to a tree, graffiti on a freeway pillar and a road sign that barely cleared the snow drift. But thankfully not litter.

Lots of people visit this trail throughout the year, and for us, all were friendly. Everyone seemed to enjoy sharing this winter wonderland experience as we passed each other coming and going along the trail.

I look forward to visiting this place again, perhaps in the summer or fall. Until then, I’ll just have to imagine the landscape as it would look like without its winter blanket. J ❄️

 

Odd things chocolate

Are you ready for some chocolate!?! It’s February, and that means two foodie-frenzy celebration days: Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day. And while chocolate will play a minor roll on the menu of most Super Bowl parties, chocolate will enjoy center stage come February 14.

So, time to visit a market! But for me, not just any market will do. When I’m looking for something unique from the world of chocolate, I head to the market: Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

Piggy banks

A city icon since 1907, the Pike Place Market receives over 10 million visitors per year, and is Seattle’s number one tourist attraction. Here you can find anything from produce to baked goods, fresh cut flowers to hand-crafted leather journals, even flying fish and giant piggy banks. Oh, and odd things chocolate.

Recently one Tuesday morning, I walked from Rachel the Piggy Bank to Billie the Piggy Bank (both located on the market’s main arcade level), then went in search of something different to enjoy at dinner time—a variation of chocolate not found on your average supermarket shelf: chocolate pasta.

Papperdelle’s Pasta of Pike Place Market was just setting up their selection of pastas for the day when I found the exact flavor I was looking for. I picked up both the gemelli and the linguine noodles—one pound each. And a friendly, helpful employee at Papperdelle’s made sure I had recipes to go with each type of noodle.

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By the way, it’s exciting to watch the market come to life. Shops and stands were preparing for the day, and the number of visitors was well under crowd level—for the moment.

Charms

Making my way to the north end of the market (near Billie), I found something else on my list: Market Charms. Specifically the panel featuring my family’s charm. (The market’s information booth employee kindly helped me with its location.)

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Very exciting! Part of the new MarketFront area, the charms face Elliott Bay, escorting visitors as they make their way through the stands of local artists and down the stairs to lower levels. It was there I discovered my next chocolate stop: Indi Chocolate.

Have you ever tried chocolate orange tea? After paying a visit to this heavenly smelling shop, I can say I have. Delicious! Perfect for a slightly chilly morning in Seattle as the weather was making up its mind, switching from rain to sunshine.

Alleys

If you’re done chewing your gum and wish to contribute to the artistry of the market, you owe it to yourself to swing by the Gum Wall of Post Alley.

You’ll find it just below the market’s main entrance, near Ghost Alley Espresso. While I don’t consider gum—chewed gum, no less—to be a common ingredient in works of art (especially when I step in it or grab the wrong spot on the railing for the subway stairs), this alley’s decorated brick walls are a thing of beauty. Oddly so.

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From the Gum Wall, Post Alley weaves its way along the east side of the market, cutting through streets and stands, a bit hidden, but not too difficult to find. Making my way north along the alleys, I found Gosanko Chocolate. A shop very near The Pink Door, I wandered in just to see what fun chocolate treasures I could discover.

And there it was. Chocolate on a stick, just waiting for a mug of hot milk! I picked up three flavors: peppermint, salted caramel and French truffle. (I couldn’t decide on just one…)

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As morning switched over to noon, it was time for me to make my way home. I always appreciate this special place, every time I visit. The Pike Place Market is a vibrant community with a rich history and an exciting future. Lots of oddly wonderful and yummy discoveries await.

Whatever you need for your Super Bowl or Valentine’s Day cuisine, you’ll find it here. For now, I wish you safe and pleasant travels, and all the odd chocolate you can enjoy.

J 😎🍫

On the lake

At the lake. By the lake. Along the lake. Lake shores offer us many ways to enjoy the day: parks for picnics and barbecues, soccer and softball games, family reunions and birthday parties, swimming, jogging and walking—with or without pets—and bird watching (along with watching other assorted critters). Lakeside restaurants offer spectacular views for the dining pleasure of their guests.

But what about on the lake?

The vessel

Marinas—many of them—offer more than just moorage. During boating season, you can rent anything from a canoe to a houseboat. And depending on the lake, many a watercraft are available to rent year around. If you or someone you know utter the words, “It’s a great day for boating!” On a semi regular basis, then you owe it to yourself (and your crew) to give it a try. And if you happen to own some form of water transportation, check the weather forecast and plan your outing!

The journey

On a very recent sunny day, we awakened our boat from its winter nap, fired up the engines and took it for a drive on Lake Washington. It’s like we had the lake to ourselves! January is decidedly the off season for boating, but it’s not off limits. So off we went. The lake, the bridges, the skyscrapers, the waterfront estates—and the mountains. All willing participants in the ever changing scenery surrounding us as we made our way to the southern part of the lake. Our destination? Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park.

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The destination

Established 1982, this beautiful waterfront park remains an exciting discovery for us: four-hour guest moorage, docks, sidewalks, restaurants, a covered open-air pavilion—even an interpretive walk that identifies various species of plants. All about a stone’s throw from the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington, Boeing and The Landing at Renton.

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The afternoon

Arriving about lunchtime, we parked our boat in guest moorage and made our way to Ivar’s Seafood Bar. Order in hand, we found a table just outside the restaurant facing the water. As we ate, seagulls cried, hoping for someone to share a bite. Students learning to sail practiced in the cove—their boat a rental from nearby. Families, joggers, walkers, and others taking a lunch break meandered throughout the park. We truly enjoyed our post-lunch walk. Time flew as it always does, which meant it was time for us to make our way home. Taking in the progressive scenery once more, I realized that it always makes me smile. I never tire of how Mount Rainier—its colors changing with the dipping sun—jumps out from behind the local hills, or how the buildings, homes and bridges are mirrored in the calm water of the lake.

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Do you know the difference between a boat and a ship? A ship can carry boats, but a boat cannot carry ships. To be honest, my favorite form of boating is a cruise ship. (So many ports of call, yet I only unpack once!) But for something less involved and more intimate, it’s tough to beat your own little vessel when it’s a great day for boating. J 😎⚓️

 

Wave meets rock

The melodic notes of wind chimes, the heart pounding roar of the Blue Angels flying over head, rain tap dancing on the pavement–all sounds that are music to my ears. But the one that always tops my list? When ocean waves meet the shoreline. Pounding against sand and rocks, waves crash like symbols in an orchestra, creating an odd combination of excitement and calm as I take it all in. The sound–and the view. I will never tire of this wonder. Sooooooo many places in the world can grant this amazing experience, but one location in particular has captured our hearts: the Oregon Coast. And one town in particular has become our favorite: Yachats.

My Zen place

Pronounced “YA-hots” we trek to this small town about once a year to take it all in. Oddly enough, winter is our first choice of seasons for such a visit. The Pacific Ocean delivers storm after storm, and the storms in turn deliver spectacular wave activity. Wind is a constant, but the rain is not. The weather can change here as often as the tides. We end up wearing our sunglasses more often than our rain gear. The coastline is rugged, but the trails are very walkable. Our daughter refers to Yachats as “my Zen place.” As a family, we’ve come to think of it as our Zen place too.

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Our return trips offer us the chance to enjoy familiar places, but we always look forward to discovering something new–something we didn’t get around to doing on our last trip.

Interested? Here are some of our favorite discoveries to date.

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For accommodations, the Overleaf Lodge & Spa is woooooooooonderful. This location commands one of the best ocean views in town. And each room at Overleaf enjoys this spectacular vantage point. Breakfast is included for all guests, and when you return from your day’s adventures, the spa is waiting to pamper. Just remember to make a reservation–both the lodge and spa are very popular.

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Hungry? Thirsty? Not to worry! For a small town (and even compared to large cities), Yachats offers some of the best eateries on our best-places-to-eat-anywhere list. Allow me to highlight just a few locations.

Seafood is a must when enjoying the coast–any coast. And here, you’ve gotta try Luna Sea Fish House. Not only is the food fresh, it’s excellent! So very tasty. I love the steamers (clams) and Dungeness crab, but everything on the menu is fresh and delicious. They also feature Oregon beer and wine–just enough choices to wet your whistle.

Still hungry, any maybe for something other than seafood? Yachats Brewing. Definitely more beer than wine options (as the name implies), but the menu! Wow–truly some of the best food we’ve had anywhere. Recently I enjoyed a butternut squash and feta cheese risotto that is at the top of my list of “best restaurant risotto ever.”

But what about coffee or tea? I would not go a day without my fix. Not willingly, anyway. Green Salmon to the rescue! The coffee, and tea, and hot cocoa/chocolate drinks are out of this world. Although their menu names call out several places in this world–places that have inspired the very tasty beverage options that take up the entire wall behind the register. Well, almost the entire wall. The menu features breakfast and lunch options too–locally sourced–that are just as tasty and wonderful as the exotic beverages.

Normally I choose a blended coffee or tea drink, but I did venture over to the cocoa side our last two days there. So glad I did–another “Wow!” rating from me. I truly enjoyed the Mayan hot chocolate. It reminded me of the hot chocolate scene in the movie, “Chocolat”. (And for the record, no, there’s no such thing as too much chocolate, even when used multiple times in one sentence…)

On the go, and in need of a very good drive-up coffee/tea/cocoa place? The Village Bean will help you out with that request.

We always have a tough time saying goodbye to our Zen place. Sooooo… what helps to ease the sadness? Planning our next vacation! And in the first month of this new year, it’s time for me to look ahead to upcoming trips, and to include a few bucket list items in our travels–a few places I’ve always wanted to visit, but just haven’t been. Yet.

My bucket list

  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Alcatraz Island (no, really!), National Park Service, San Francisco, California
  • Arches National Park, Utah
  • Carnevale, Venice Italy
  • The fjords of Norway

Yes, I have many more bucket list items then you see here, but I’d like to focus on these places for now.

New Orleans:

I’d like to have a drink at the Roosevelt Hotel’s Sazerac Bar, and a beignet at the Cafe Du Monde. And enjoy this historic place, a southern melting pot.

Alcatraz Island:

I lived in the Bay Area for two years, but never made it there. Time to go back, and learn a little more about this infamous former prison for the infamously notorious. Oh, and enjoy a little more of San Francisco while I’m there…

Arches National Park:

Having driven by this park not one, not two, not three but four times, it’s time to head up the hill and see–with my own eyes–the symbol that makes this national park so famous.

Carnevale, Venice:

There are many famous cities around the world that celebrate Fat Tuesday, but only one place where the masks and costumes are so elaborate–from head to toe. Add to that the lovely backdrop of canals in a fantastically walkable city, well… it’s time to officially add this one to my list.

The fjords of Norway:

By sea and by land, I would really like to take in the rugged beauty of this Scandinavian land-and-seascape.

What famous places and hidden gems are on your bucket list? Time to call out a few, and make your plans! Yes, schedules and budgets can (and do) play a somewhat limiting role, but with a little work, we can check a few of our items off the list. For now, I wish you safe and plesent travels! J 🗺

 

It’s winter!

Seasons greetings–happy Winter Solstice Day! Yes, today marks the first official day of winter, for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, which means

1. In terms of daylight, it’s the shortest day of the year.

Night and day

Here at latitude 47, solstice kicks off at 8:28 am Pacific Time, less than an hour after sunrise (7:54 am). Sunset happens at 4:19 pm. If you’re doing the math, then you know that means about 9.5 hours of daylight–barely enough to fit in a work day.

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At noon, the sun will be at its lowest point on the horizon–since the summer solstice–for this midday time slot, casting lengthy shadows. To be shadowless at this time, one would need to stand on the equator (a bucket list item of mine). And why is the sun so low?

Scientifically speaking, planet Earth is rotated to the point where the sun is directly facing the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere. This leaves the North Pole completely–and literally–in the dark.

Of course, the opposite is true for our southern hemisphere friends. That means the people of Christchurch, New Zealand enjoyed an early sunrise–5:44 am–with sunset several hours later at 9:10 pm. Yes, that means over 15 hours of daylight!

Sun and seasons

Up for a little True False quiz? “Regarding its orbit, today (December 21) the Earth is farthest away from the sun.”

False!

2. This time of year, the Earth is closest to the sun.

Our seasons–winter, spring, summer, autumn (fall)–react to the slant of our planet in relation to the sun, not Earth’s distance from the sun.

How ‘bout one more True/False? “In the northern hemisphere, moss grows only on the north side of a tree.”

False!

3. In the northern hemisphere, moss grows mostly (not exclusively) on the north side of a tree.

Because the sun is shining from the south, shadows–and shade–occur on the north side of things, including trees. This creates cooler, more humid, conditions for surfaces, therefore allowing moss to grow without significant exposure to the sun and heat. However, these conditions can apply to surfaces that face south, west and east as well.

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Percentage-wise, during my recent walks, I found more north-facing mossy tree trunks than I did south-facing ones, but I found enough mossy surfaces with southern exposure to thwart the myth.

Daylight and night-lights

For anyone preferring daylight to the hours between sunset and sunrise, this can be a frustrating time of year. And for anyone preferring sunshine to any of the other weather-related elements, well, it can be doubly frustrating. But take heart! First of all, as of tomorrow, the days are getting longer.

Yes, day by day, sunrise will be earlier and sunset will be later, which means more daylight. And while the weather depends largely on where in the northern hemisphere you reside, your chances of sunny days increases too. Although not for a few months.

Hang in there! One great thing about darkness it that it allows for electric lights (and natural ones like the Aurora Borealis–also on my bucket list) to be not only visible, but enjoyable. The sharp contrast of the light to the dark can be mesmerizing.

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December is a month filled with holidays, traditions and festivals around the world, and notably marked with strings of lights, candle displays, and even fireworks. So, enjoy the show!

Rocks and history

And speaking of festivals, Stonehenge–one of the world’s oldest and most popular monuments–hosts quite the celebration of both winter and summer solstices. People from all over the globe trek to this remote, famous location in England to witness sunrise or sunset (or both), and to enjoy the festivities. These attendees honor the history, people and cultures of this very special place.

One last quiz question. Who built Stonehenge?

  1. Romans
  2. Neolithics
  3. Vikings
  4. Druids

Answer: B–the Neolithics! These early native people of England began construction of Stonehenge in 3000 BC. The Beaker and the Wessex peoples also contributed, completing construction in 2000 BC. The Druids often receive credit for building Stonehenge, but they did not become a part of this celebrated place until about 200 BC.

Our visit to Stonehenge took place one October afternoon, absent the festival goers. We enjoyed ample time (and elbow room) to walk the grounds and marvel at this amazing monument. The designated pathway creates a gentle circle around the stones that allows for excellent views from many angles. This circular structure is a beautiful combination of natural wonder and human engineering. And plain hard work. No hydraulic cranes doing the heavy lifting in the BC world.

A return visit to Stonehenge is on my bucket list, so it only makes sense for me to time it with a solstice event, and to be caught up in the celebration.

What celebrations do you have planned for this winter? What activities or hobbies do you enjoy when the days are shorter and the weather is cooler? Between now and springtime, I’m looking forward to taking a few short trips and planning several more. And along those lines, here is my new year’s resolution: to create my official bucket list. Stay tuned for that!

Whatever you choose to do over the next few months, even if it’s just to enjoy a little downtime, I wish you all the best in the new year. J 😎