Thursday, July 30, 2009

Titan -The Orange Moon on Saturn

Recently I watched a program on the Science Channel, SciQ, called Titan – a place like home? This was a report of an exploration of a moon on Saturn to learn about the moon and life. The description for the program reads; Titan is believed to have an atmosphere very similar to that of Earth nearly four billion years ago, just as life began. Could Titan hold the key to the origins of life?

Don’t get too excited about Titan just yet or pack your bags for an excursion.

Titan is one of the moons on the planet Saturn, actually, the largest moon, according to the report. It has an orange glow which captured the interest of scientists for some years now, since 1980 when it was first discovered. As a result, scientists of the European Space Agency built the spacecraft Cassini and attached the Huygens that would land on the surface to report back the findings. The exploration, which costs multi millions of dollars, revealed pictures about the surface of the orange moon, Titan.

Titan - A Place Like Home?: Cassini - The Need for Speed -
The Cassini-Huygens was programmed to align with the planets to be able to get the bounce it needs to reach Saturn in the distance. This alignment is not expected to occur again for 600 years. The spacecraft accelerated with the gravitational pull of Venus and got two boosts via earth and ‘flung’ to Jupiter. The craft lined up with Jupiter and got a sling shot effect, to gain a final “almighty push towards Saturn.” Isn’t that cool!

The Huygens landed on Titan in January 2005, sniffed and tasted the atmosphere and took pictures and samples of the surface. Here is another outstanding happening. The Huygens could not send its report directly back to earth because it did not have a strong enough signal. It beamed the data to Cassini. The Cassini then sends the information to the European Space Agency center for analysis. Talk about a super highway relay!

The pictures revealed that
Titan landscape have some similarities with the earth in terms of the landscape but has carbon-based chemicals throughout. It is said to have a bizarre form of water – ammonia based-, liquid methane, rocks made of ice, a lower freezing point and, a smoke like haze in the atmosphere and cryovolcanoes or ice volcanoes.

So we are still with the age old question and the challenge for scientists to figure out how life began. The finding here is that most things are there, similar to earth but no proof that life exist there.
Another challenge for the scientists is to figure out how to expand the amount of time humans can spend in space without sustaining the type of damage astronought get. At this point humans can not endure more than one year in space because of the significant and irreparable bone loss the astronauts suffer. This loss is attributable to lack of usage of the limbs.

For life as we know it, it seems earth still rules! I am not sure that Titan is like home but it is very interesting.

Maybe it’s not the big bang but creation?!

Check out the program on Discovery Science, SciQ.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Cactus Pear Taste Test - Mystery Fruit

The Plaza Chronicles
As I took my stroll in The Plaza today, I observed these little purple and dark red and green things, in a box next to the oranges, mangoes, strawberries, plums, watermelons etc. I moved closer to the box to check them out. Oh, what is this?! Oh wow! I don’t think I’ve seen these before, or if I had, I never really paid much attention to them. Of course I had to buy it to try it. After all, I did promise to check out the various fruits, know to me and unknown, now, and let you know about it. So here goes!

Can you believe that this prickly plant with such beautiful flowers brings a very nice and delicious fruit? Well it does. First enjoy these pictures from Wikipedia and then I will tell you all about the product.

Cactus Plant with fruits

Cactus bloom

Bloom turns to fruit

Opuntia or Cactus fruit, is from the prickly cactus that looks like a paddle with spikes. The cactus grows in bunches of paddles with spikes and brings beautiful flowers that then turns into the fruit. The needles on the cactus and on the fruit can cause some damage although the ones on the fruit are not as long or hard. Fortunately when you buy them in the market the needles are usually gone or not as pronounced or dangerous and can be removed easily. Cactus pear is grown in the Northwest regions, Rockies, as well as Mexico. The fruit is also found in the Europe, Mediterranean countries as well as Italy, Australia and countries in the Middle East as the cactus grows well in that climate. There a few varieties and they are available from late spring into early fall and vary in color from green of course as they grow then to deep purple, wine or yellow orange color ready to eat.
This is a dynamite little plant that is used in several dishes; both parts are edible, the paddle and the pear.
The paddle like cactus or nopal, is used as a vegetable and can be cooked as a main or side dish. The fruit or the pear which has several names, I guess depending on where you are, is known as tuna, Indian fig or of course cactus pear. There are many cool dessert recipes that you can make with the fruit. Cactus pears are found to have many medicinal uses including treatment for diabetes, cholesterol, and support the immune system. It is also work as an antioxidant. It is also used in cosmetics, hair products, and for food coloring. This dynamo plant is often used as a fence to keep critters out, for example.

I bought a deep purple cactus pear.
I peeled it to reveal a real deep purple inside. I cut it into wedges and bit into a piece. It was slightly sweet, soft smooth with lots of little seeds. At first it reminded me of tapioca pudding, not the taste or color, but the consistency or texture. It also reminded me of pomegranate, again not the taste or the appearance, well maybe the color, but the seeds. It has lots of little seeds covered with a layer of pulp. The taste wasn’t otherwise distinct to me. It was easy to peel and to get at the meat of it. I enjoyed it but I didn’t find it memorable. The deep purple is said to be the sweetest variety, but this one wasn’t very sweet,but ok.

There are many cactus fruit recipes available for deserts and wines, jams and vegetable stew and other dishes.

Have you have cactus pears before?
What is your favorite one?
Do you have a favorite cactus fruit dish or recipe?
Please share with us your thoughts, ideas and recipes. any or all of the above that you have on cactus pear.

I think this had been the craziest and interesting mystery fruit yet on my excursion for The Plaza Chronicles.

Appreciation to for creating the nutritional value chart above.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Milestone in blogging

50+ Posts
Well, it may not be much or near as much as some of you or even most, but I have actually reached a milestone in blogging. I have made over 50 blog posts since I started. It is quite astonishing to me to see the number 50 on my blog summary. I still look at it with hesitation as if it is not really that many.

As you might have read in my welcome on the side bar, I started the blog in jest as a way to do my rants and share my daily events, even if I am by myself. It was sort of a daunting task as I hadn't had much exposure or interactions with blogs, per se. My interest was aroused after reading one of my regular magazine subscriptions and it made reference to blogging and the various platforms etc. I promptly got on line, typed in one of the URL they listed and it was quite inviting and seemed simple. I followed along and voila! Live, Love, Laugh was born. I had no clue what I was getting into or doing but I looked around and followed what I thought was good. I am sure that I still haven't scratched the surface of what blogging is or ought to be, and what I can still do with it for my fun, rant and prosperity.

I am still on the hunt for ways to change my template, very basic stuff, to understand what SEO is, building traffic, monetizing, links, page ranks etc., etc. All of the things that will make my blog take off, in the way some of you have experienced, are still illusive to me. I am still searching and trying to follow along but it is hard, if not tricky but I am diligent. I am open to hand holding and tutoring.

I am resolved to stay with it, to learn as much as I can and thereby get to the place where I think I belong in the blogosphere recognize and appreciate the effort. I have more than a long way to go, and I am going. I am quite encouraged by the recent turn of events. I received my very first award from Lilyarbee. It means a lot to me as it comes from a link friend. I was also acknowledged by another very good friend of her site, agentpx and I appreciate it as much. I therefore also made another friend. Looking all around and seeing the many awards on some sites, I was beginning to feel discouraged as no one was sharing. I realize that I am a relative newbie so I have to earn my wings. I am ok, now. Thanks Lilyarbee!

As I said, I am going to keep at it as I have lots of things to do, people to see and things to learn. I thank all of you who have visited, chosen to link and favor my blog. You have told me to stay so I will grow this milestone even bigger. I am a risk taker and love a good challenge so count on me. Keep coming back to Live, Love, Laugh, read, leave plenty of comments and feedback and link, link, link for the beauty of the bolgosphere.

Yay! 50+ and it doesn't feel old!! Any ideas for a celebration, guys?! Let me savor this milestone in blogging!

A special thanks to Life's free treats, chrysalis dreams , thoughts from along the broken road, Someday I'll Get There. They were my very first faves. I have learned a lot. Thanks for being trailblazers. You also get my Favorite Blog Award 2009!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Favorite Blogs Award 2009

Yippeeeeee! My first Blog Award! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
This Favorite Blog Award was awarded to me by one of my blogger friends Lilyabee at Theraphy Home Blog who graceously shared it with a few of us. This is a pass it on and it feels so good! This is the chain. Lil got the award from one of her frequent visitor and blogger friend. He recieved the award and passed it on to her. Check him out with me at This was awarded to DedeAndro by AgentPX and Code Of Blogging, both their URL indicated below and please try to visit them to get to know them too:

Remember I said that this is a pass it on, so I will too! Read on.
~~~~Begin copy~~~~
This is the easiest and the fastest way to:
-Make your Authority Technorati explode.
- Increase your Google Page Rank.
- Get more traffic to your blog.
- Makes more new friends.

The rules is very simple as follows :
- Start copy from “Begin Copy” until “End Copy” to your blog.
- Put your own blog name and link.
- Tag your friends as much as you can.
My blog is "Live, Love, Laugh with philly5113" and my link url is:

I would like to pass on this Award to my following favorite bloggers:

delightful caribbean recipes; buck creek fjords, midori-life, dr-funspace, the grarden fairies,breakingmindset, life's free treats, non traditional students, dragonflykisses butterflyzoo, molliehubenak, someday i'll get there and Yours next.

I do have some people on my link lists, and if I forget to mention some of you, please also feel free to grab this Award and pass it to anyone even if they've already received it.

~~End Copy~~

Congratulations to all. And thanks for being special and for making my blog a fave!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The By Passed Stations along the way

All board - not!
Have you ever stopped to think about or just wonder about the stations that some trains by pass along your route? Some trains go by at top speed, others not so fast; the so called express trains? Are you at one of those by passed station stops? You have to wait for the specially routed trains that stop every 8 to 10 minutes or less, like the local underground or subway. Well, I guess that is your subway, the rail mass transit for your commute.

My recent travels along the rail road Northeast Corridor on one of those express trains got me thinking about this. As we began our departure roll, our conductor announced that the train will not make a series of stop along the way to the end of the line. My first reaction was, ahhh geez, so many stops? I thought this was an express train!
As I thought about the announcement again, I wondered how the folks along the by-passed stops feel as they watch the trains go by, waiting for their turn to get on board. The by passed stops I guess are like being off the beaten path, the ‘tweens; in between the ‘notable’ or major stops. These riders must have some ill feeling against the by-passers and I guess the folks in the major stops might object to pulling up in the 'little town' stops, slowing down their ride.

I don’t ride the trains along the North East Corridor often; I actually haven’t in years, until this trip. I know that when my train has to make a lot of stops along the way, I see them as a burden. It is like slowing down because of traffic or at the stop light or change in speed as you move through the small towns or residential areas.
Taking the subway or the local bus can also be miserable but I understand that the mass transit has to serve everyone.
I often wonder why there aren’t more express trains and buses especially for folks who ride long distances on the same line. I am sure that the operators have a different take on this. Every person represents a fare to them so every rider is equally important to the operation.
I don’t care about the rest of the line most of the time, just my segment where I get on or off. I know that might not be lucrative enough to support the rail business or might not be sensible. But hey, I’m thinking about my travels separate from everything else, probably even reality! I want to do what is right for the community, the environment and my life so mass transit is good all around. I just want to get to my location quickly and safely too.

I have love for my fellow man. I can be in that off the main stop, the by passed location, at one time or another so I should be supportive. I guess there is no right or wrong or less important stop because of the location of your city along the railway. It is important that everyone gets to go where they want to and mass transit is available to make it happen.
So does your station matter? Maybe in some things of life stations matter but perhaps not the train station stops, as long as they stop!

A question for you.
For those of you, who usually get bypassed, please opine.
How do you feel or what is your comments or thoughts about the stations along your route, perhaps your by-passed station. Can you suggest a better alternative? Maybe we can start a petition to get something changed or improved.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Free Thinkers, Self Reliance or Robots? What's your kid?


The other day my son’s science teacher called me to say that he would not be able to take the state exam because he did not complete his labs. The exam was scheduled for the next day. We got into a discussion about the requirements of the class, the assignment schedules and lab requirements. This discussion went on for about 3 or more minutes. Granted about 3 weeks earlier, I received a letter from the Lab Teacher informing me that he was missing several lab assignments and need to complete them before the end of the term. I shared the letter with my son and directed him to follow through with the teacher. I spoke to my son a few days later and he said he contacted the teacher and did the work. I bought it.

My question to the Science Teacher was this; why are you telling me this now, at this time of the day, after school hours, given the schedule of the test. I think that my question rattled her because she thought she was doing a good deed, and she was. You could hear her shuffle on the phone. I told her that we got the notice earlier and he went in and completed the labs. Well, talk to the Lab Teacher, she said, because this is what he told me today. She promptly passed along his name and contact information on to me and ended the call.

If this information was to inform an action, what could be done at the 11th hour? Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the heads up. The issue is this, why wasn’t this call made sooner so that corrective action could be taken or at least put everyone on the same page. Isn’t this the purpose of the phone call? I was grilling the boy to prepare for the exam believing that he satisfied all of the requirements. Ultimately this is the boy’s responsibility to follow through but since this is a partnership between, teacher, student, parent, why not give information so that something can be done about it, timely.

Maybe I didn’t ask him the right questions earlier when we talked about making up the labs. Was he relying on someone to raise the alarm or did he believe that he was getting a break by doing only the labs that the teacher provided?

I was visiting one of my favorite blogs, Breaking Mindset, the other day and read a post there that reminded me of this situation. The piece entitled, Should we do our part was posted on 6/14. The post was a commentary on the reliance on divine being to intervene and help to resolve problems. The writer contends that some folks rely on divine intervention as security and partially rely on duty and responsibility for themselves. She asked the question, divine reliance or self reliance, where should one stand. She asserts that free thinkers do not rely on a divine being to make things happen for them but on a sense of duty and responsibility. She wrote that our reliance on others has led us to the mess we have in the world today. Accordingly, she states, this reliance on the external is an unfortunate habit because divine reliance makes us robots.

I thought about this post and my situation here. This boy waited until the teacher reached out to say something before he did what he had to do. In speaking to him again about the matter, he knew that he was still missing work even after the make up attempt. In fact he said when he tried to ask The Lab teacher about the other lab assignments but he dismissed him. So despite knowing that he was missing some work he relied on the actions of the Lab Teacher and was satisfied with his response, or thought that he got a break (divine intervention). He further relied on me to ask the questions and push him along. Well it is my responsibility as a parent, to push him along but he didn’t take responsibility to satisfy the requirements. Did we create a robot here? Did he rely on us to 'tell him' what to do and did just that?

So here’s the question; do we create robots when we ‘micro-manage’ our kids, well some kids. Is self reliance or duty to self determine our level of development and success or achievements? An interesting paradox! Sorry no solutions here. I don’t think that we rely solely on divine intervention, even the most pious, but we have faith and hope that if we summon the help, internal and external, it will get us through. And hey, the more the merrier! No doubt there are folks who rely heavily on the Gods and maybe that works for them. Maybe to each his/her own.

I think the teacher attempted, to reach out to me to kick the boy in the pants to be responsible and to take conscious action in his personal development. So its the external coupled with duty and responsiblity. - so no independent thinker here?

My lovely boy is attending summer school as a result of his failure to follow through – self reliance and duty. He has to bear the consequences for his action or inaction in this case. Maybe next year he will accept and behave responsibly to his school and personal needs and requirements.

Thanks Miss Science Teacher and Mr. Lab teacher for your assistance, support and cooperation.
C’mon kid, get with the program!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Plaza Chronicles 3 - Mystery Fruits

Can you name this fruit?

I made my noon-day trip to The Plaza just to catch up on the happenings, see what’s new and grab a bite to eat. I usually walk through The Plaza, buy and eat lunch and then shop before going back to work. Somehow, most days, I feel like a butterfly. I land in one spot to eat, usually the same area, and then have to leave prematurely, shop then sit again before leaving.

Today again my lunch spot was invaded by vagrant who was in the mood to strip, it seems. I was enjoying this spot, watching a family eat and feed a little toy dog soft tacos. This was a nice cool spot with a canopy of leaves and covering on the side by a bus stop. Because of this invasion and display I decided to move, again prematurely.

I walked around to see what there or what was missing. Some of the fruit vendors were missing but many other vendors of interest was there. I walked around and ended up in the front of The Plaza area by the busiest fruit stand. This kiosk is located right on the corner of the busy intersection. Two bus lines pick up and discharge passengers right in front of it. This spot opened a few months ago before the weather changed and as many vendors converge. They served fruits in containers, ready to eat, whole fruits and other items as available and would withstand the weather. Now they have spread their goods all around the cart – all 4 sides. Today the variety of items was staggering – whole pineapples and cantaloupes and coconuts were added to the generous supply of other smaller seasonal fruits. Let’s see what I will find today! Hmmmm, I see something interesting. They look like mini limes. I will certainly try them. Do you know these fruits?
My second seat became available, right behind this cart as two people left. As I walked towards the spot with my container of mystery fruit, another person was also heading in that direction with a container of mixed fruits. We sat together. We exchanged niceties and began a conversation about the items being sold in The Plaza, the economy, and life in the big city. As we talked she told me that she is retired, 2 years now, and is 68years old. We watched and commented as the vendor replenished the fruit supply with grapes, red and green varieties and freshen up the piles of other fruits. We continued our conversation and my company explained that with the cost of living these days, and her limited income, she supplement her food costs by going to the food pantries. She visits two of them regularly. She said the pantries provide quality foods and that help her quite a bit.

So anyway, back to my fruit. I bought a container of Ganepas. These little green balls are also tropical fruits and is a popular summer item. You can buy them on a bunch, like grapes or in a container. The green skin is not edible. It is not very thick either. You can crack it open with your fingers and then put the fruit in your mouth and remove the meat from the seed. The seeds are also not edible.
The fruit inside is an opaque, peach-ish color
on a big seed. It is mostly seed which as I said before is not edible. Pop a Ganepa into your mouth, roll it around to remove the flesh and enjoy. This is a very interesting taste; sweet, tart and different and can leave a film on your tongue. You can chew it or discard it because by then the flavor is gone. I am not sure what to equate the taste to, well it’s like some other exotic fruit with a unique taste.
I guess I will have to keep trying these different and unique fruits in The Plaza to find one similar in taste to this one and tell you about it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Tour of Duty: The kitchen

Last weekend got me thinking that we should have scheduled a stint in the kitchen as part of the things we teach our children. We should have them shadow us, learn and practice dinner preparation during the early teen years. Now looking back, I think that would have relieved some of the angst I felt last weekend.

So this is the thing. My daughter is in Argentina and she wanted her July 4th foods. You know the things we gorge ourselves on for the celebration; fried chicken, BBQ, mc and cheese, potato salad, need I go, on! Argentina is not; well where she is, there is no fried chicken or ‘American fare,’ unless she makes it. So what is a strong, red blooded American girl to do? She prepares her own feast. Hence my dilemma! This is MY dilemma, not hers, by the way. She planned along with me and was fully prepared to take this on.

So she will be …….come on you know this! Yeah she is making fried chicken, Mac and cheese and potato salad. We’re not from Texas but we go large. She will be making all three her self, by herself for the first time. I gave all of the directions, ingredients and everything to do the job. I cautioned her too many times to watch the stove, the knife etc. My daughter humors me! Y’all know I’m a worry wart – especially when it comes to my kids. They always prove me wrong, thank God! But I can’t help wanting to make everything go nice and easy for them.

My issue is this; breakfast is big for us so she can hold her own with a good hearty breakfast, lunch/brunch etc. Dinner on the other hand, well, that was me. Reservations or the local fast food restaurant was their thing. Well burgers, salad, grills etc they could handle but making a full meal like this, no! So this is a first and a big one and she is far away with the phone and email, I gave her all the tips I could via electronic medium and hoped for the best.

The message or lesson here is this; we know that these days will come so we have to prepare them. Insist on scheduling a few sessions in the kitchen to work on meats and other big items where it takes several steps and processes if they are not willing to volunteer. They may find themselves far away from home and have the need to eat something that is not readily available in the stores and we will have regrets. The kids think differently, by the way.

I was visiting Life's Free Treats, one of my favorite blogs yesterday. She had a recent post, “Some Thoughts on being a MOTHER” which really hit home with me. One key point of her post on mothering is this; do it to the best of your ability. I so agree with her.

Some of you may say, wean the kids already, or get a life! Yeah you’re right but I still think that I can be helpful and want to be helpful, not interfere, but helpful. It is kind of late for us now but maybe we can work on the grand’s.

By the way – as I said my kids generally prove me wrong when I fret about them. She said the meal was a big hit. She got rave reviews from her friends! Why do I worry, huh?!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Word beads number 3!

As I looked at the word beds sentence acyclic for this week it immediately reminded me of the Ocean Spray cranberry commercial. The words cranberry and immersion just took me there. I thought I would try to work with these words because of the connection to my latest focus on fruits. I have been writing about fruits in The Plaza Chronicles the last couple of posts so my Intuition tells me that I am on the right track with this string of words. I have also added the mystery fruit post to the mix to highlight a rare or ‘different’ fruit than I usually see or eat. Cranberries are not that unusual though, but they resemble some other fruits so it could work as a mystery fruit. In this case it would be, distinguish this fruit.

I like cranberries and add them to many dishes even outside the holiday seasons and various juice blends is a staple in my house. I actually like the Ocean spray commercial, the one below, where they are harvesting the cranberries for processing. My favorite part is when the two men immersed in cranberries up to their thighs, one holding a bag of sugar. The man with the bag of sugar pours it into the cranberries and the juices are supposed to be all natural. He ended up emptying the entire bag of sugar into the berries as he tried to explain or identify the area that was still ‘natural’. When you see the commercial, your will be flabbergasted at the sight of sugar being added to the “natural” juice. The interaction between he two men and the parody of sweetened juices works to make the point, they don’t add sugar.Like a child I can see cranberries as beads that can be strung around the wrist or neck, not acyclic, but like a bracelet or necklace. What a lovely site. Don’t use them while wearing white though or you might be in for a big surprise. Remember the wordbead list is underlined here and linked to the dictionary as on the catchword site.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Life's Irony

Life’s irony
My parents used to say to us, when they were displeased or if they found something we did funny, silly or punishable, “just wait, you’ll see”, Or “your time will come, don’t worry now.” I never understood what was meant by those statements at the time. Another favorite or popular idiom of theirs was, “be careful what you sow ‘cuz you will reap it”.

Well, as time goes by, these sayings or proclamations about retribution for our actions or behavior comes to pass. One by one, as my children grows; I see several things from that era exhibiting themselves through my children. As they happen, I remember clearly when I was the purveyor of some of these actions and they make me smirk. I told you all of that to say this. Ahhh yes, life's irony!

I was having a conversation with my daughter about her tuition and fees for a summer course she decided to take. During the conversation about paying for the course, I said to her, OK let’s do this together. How much can you contribute? I asked her this question since she has a summer job. She paused, looked at me and said, “This is for my education.” I said yeassss! The she said, “sooooo, why do I have to pay for it, that’s your job.” I froze, jaw open without getting the words out. I then closed my mouth and said ok, and walked away.

You may wonder why that reaction. Well, I actually had a similar situation with my father soooo many years ago. I was asking for about money for allowance. I had a flash back to that scene right then and there. In my case, my father tried to encourage me to get a part time job like my siblings. My come back was, “why should I do that and go to school full time? It’s your job to support me”, I said. Well, that was the end of that conversation. My father looked at me and walked away to the other room. I stood there, in the same spot for about 2 minutes.

My Mom looked out at me, she was in the kitchen, and we were in the dining room. Oh yeah! She said. “You wait and see. You can find something to do to make some extra money.” We never had that conversation again. I found something to do. I took on sewing projects for my sisters and friends for cash. It was fun for me because this was my hobby. I just didn’t sew for others or made money doing it. This craft served me well for a long, long time.

So word to the wise! Be mindful and be careful you could re-live those childhood moments of insolence or challenge, a serendipitous replay of youthful ramblings that you pulled off or got, got for. Like my parents, I guess, I didn’t expect that response from my daughter. I also wasn’t sure how to respond in the moment, ‘lovingly.’ I guess this explains my father’s reaction and my Mom’s response.

Yup! She’s right, I didn’t really wait for it, of course I didn’t know what my Mom meant at the time, but I certainly reaped that one and I’m not sure I like the feeling. Its payback time. Watch out y’all, be ready.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How will you travel bus, train or car?

My weekend ride to Jersey got me thinking about local travel and modes of travel in the city. Getting to or from point A or B is a must, how we do it, given several factors, makes a difference. There is a difference in cost to you, personally and the vehicle; your cost which include anxiety and frustration from traffic congestion, crazy drivers, no parking and parking tickets, pollution and the vehicle operating costs. Then for the vehicle, also your cost, is the ever rising cost of operating the vehicle; fuel cost, wear and tear and upkeep, insurance and pollution. Depending on where you live and what you do regularly, operating a vehicle might be the only sensible thing to do to get from point A to/from B.

Some of us have options and can make about modes of travel. I do a lot of driving back and forth to work and other activities – living. When I don’t have to drive, I try to get ‘there’ without paying attention to the road; the hustle and bustle of traffic and crazy drivers. I take the train, bus or subway and get a little exercise in the process. Taking long trips can also be a chore for me. If I am going alone and without much load/luggage, you bet I’m going mass transit, if it is available or if it makes sense in terms of availability and travel time.

Mass transit is not perfect, far from it. It has its own set of challenges and can also be very frustrating but it could be a good option. Some folks insists that it is better to use own transportation because it is faster, more comfortable and safe from vagrants. You can relax, stop if you like, for as long as you like, listen to music, talk on the phone, etc, etc. The time and the convenience are huge, but weigh the cost/value in the long run.

As I said earlier, If I want to chill out but get to point B or A, I may hit the bus stop or the subway/train station. It’s easy, relatively cost effective and does the trick. If I have to travel long distance, say a weekend visit for example, how I choose to go will depend on where and when I am traveling.

Mass transit is ramping up to get our attention and they are doing a great job. Why with double-decker trains and buses, and other expansions and improvement to the transit systems nationwide, we have several nice options to choose from. I was so taken with the double-decker trains only to find out that this is actually a re-introduction of them in some places. From my quick and sloppy research I see that the double-decker trains have been in business since the 1940’s, maybe earlier. The London Transport double-decker trains operated for about 22 years, retiring in 1971. I didn’t check to see if they were the first or only outfit operating at the time. (sloppy research). I see that in many other countries however, they have been operating and still going strong. Our Amtrak has a few in their fleet as well.

Today we are seeing the resurgence of them here. A new low cost inter state special run trains, Acer just came on the scene, and other commuter lines. We’ve known of and appreciated double-decker tour buses in the city. I know in London, England, those red double-decker buses are as famous as Piccadilly Square. Many countries around the world are also using double-decker buses as well for commuters from the UK to Canada, Malaysia to Japan, Germany to Ghana and many other countries.

Here in my fair city, we use double-decker buses as tour buses and now more and more we are seeing them for interstate travel as well, but they are different colors. I also found out that double-decker buses were the way to go along Fifth Avenue up until 1953. Unfortunately they tried to return them to the fleet in the 1970’s but they didn’t catch on. They are trying again though. I haven’t been on a double-decker bus for regular travel yet. I still think of them as sightseeing buses. How will you travel?

Driving saves time – it is quicker; less stops and delay from passengers getting on and off. You also go directly to your destination, not passing your destination point, in some cases, only to go some distance away then find your way back. So the lack of movement and freedom, extra time back to the destination, slow downs from stops to pick up and discharge passengers and limited space, driving might seem like a better alternative. The cost in terms of fuel and tolls, wear and tear on the driver and vehicle as well as the environmental factors are greater considerations for a solo trip, but maybe more beneficial for a group to take private vehicle.

Mass transit works out because it is like a carpool. You get better economy with a group. The cost of the ticket, relaxation with personal entertainment, stress free travel; no struggle through traffic, crazy driving, watching for speed traps, less pollution etc. This works for me!

I guess it all works out if you think in terms of your health and wellness; your psyche, and the benefits to the environment. The environment plays a major role in your quality of life- health and wellness- not to mention preservation of our world. Mass trans - 'it' when you can, for the good of it all. So, how will you travel, bus train or car?!

Check out these beauties!

British Double-decker bus
New York City Double-decker
NY Times photo, 5th Ave, 1953.

Inside the coach
Double-decker commuter train

Yellin photo, NJT
Alaska double-decker

Belgium double-decker train
Double decker in Japan

Megabus interstate travel
NYC Sightseeing tour bus
For more information on these photos or for more details on double-decker buses and trains visit

Monday, July 6, 2009

My Weekend Outing on a Double Decker Train

Penn Station at Trenton,NJ.

Have you seen the new double decker train’s on the New Jersey Transit Lines? I didn’t even know they had these multi level trains until this weekend. I traveled to the Garden State this weekend to visit family. I was going alone or just two of us on this trip so I didn’t want to drive. The train was the next best option for this trip, so we went for it. I like the trains but haven’t used them in years.

When the kids were younger, we did a lot of travel by Amtrak along the North East corridor. The kids loved it. The trains were a good value then and took us closer to our destination than the buses. Of course driving was the most convenient but it was too tricky for me traveling long distance by road with the two young ones. On the train they had my undivided attention and the trains had all of the conveniences we needed. The trip to the station and the train ride with the kids was an excursion all its own.

We got the outbound train as scheduled. It was the regular old run of the mill train that we used to take back in the day. It cost a whole lot more now, and that did not go over too well with us. It was fine though, all things being what they are. The train was clean, comfortable and traveled at a nice speed. The stations where we boarded and exited were renovated and looked quite welcoming. Despite the crowds in the station, the train car wasn’t crowded but then again it was a very long one. We left the station on time and arrived at the destination on time. This was very good.
On the way back we were in for a big surprise. We had a new double-decker train. Wow! I did not know they existed. We looked at the train with glee and quickly chose an entryway. I thought to myself, I have to get pictures. The train was almost ready to depart when we boarded so I thought I would take some shots when we got into our station. We were going to the last stop on this train. And as usual, I forgot to take pictures even though we were the last ones to get out of our car.

So to tell the story, I did an internet search to see if I could find some photos to show you. You know a picture paints more words than I have time for. In looking for pictures, I realized that there were quite some publicity and events about the trains and the launch that just passed me by, last December. There was even a mishap cause by the height of the train that led to some major delays on the rail system. I vaguely remember a story about this but didn't pay attention to the details. Thanks to you I’ve learned a few things about the train and how the folks feel about them and the NJT. Thesee trains are said to be more roomy and carries more people than the old model trains even thought they had a row of 3 seat on one side of the aisle.

We got on the train with the excitement of kids. Where do you want to sit? Upstairs or down stairs, we asked each other. Upstairs won out! We went up the 4 or 5 steps and took our seat. It was a very nice ride. It seems to have good shocks, we remarked, because the car didn’t rock and roll as much as the outbound train did. Maybe because it was still new and in factory condition.

I like this idea of making trains to accommodate large groups of people comfortably, on each schedule. Since the move is toward increasing the utilization of mass transit, it is very good that the transit authorities are making the vehicles more appealing and comfortable for the passengers. You bet we will use it again, and again. Just hold on to the cost per ride, it pinched!

NJ Transit information and train picture sources.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Can you name this mystery Fruit?

Name this fruit

I visited my cousins this weekend. We haven't seen each other for over 8 years. They invited us over and as I wrote last week, we need to include family and friends into our lives more. here's my chance. In this case we haven't visited for quite some time so to be true to the comments, we went. Even though we have had conversations about visiting, it just got lost behind all of the everyday goings on of life. We had a great time and realized how much we've missed out on. This was trulya treat!

As we sat around visiting, I saw my cousin fumbling around with this little brown thing between her fingers. I watched as she cracked the object by pressing it between her fingers, pulled some of the fruit off and put it in her mouth. I asked her what it was and she said Tamarind. Wow Tamarind, I said. I haven't seen this in years. She offered me some and I gladly accepted and took them home.

This was very good and timely for me.

As I put together the Plaza Chronicles, I thought I would include a segment or a post called mystery fruit or vegetable. I thought of doing this because I see a few items that are unique or rare or new to me and I thought I would share and perhaps discuss with you. So this is a real excellent opportunity to get this idea off the scratch pad.

So I arranged my fruit on a plate for the shots and did some Internet research for details for you. This is a picture of the flowering of the fruit and other pictures from wikipedia.

Like the mangoes I wrote about recently, tamarind is a tropical fruit that has many uses. Tamarind is originally from East Africa and was introduced so many years ago to India and has become known as the Indian date. It is widely available in the tropics. The tamarind was also introduced to the Egyptians and Greeks in the 4Th century and the Greeks named it finger.
Tamarind is said to belong to the bean family and looks something like a snow pea but thicker with the 'bean' much bigger. When ripe it is dark brown and the pod becomes hard but can be cracked easily with your fingers. The bean has a thin covering which is the meat of the tamarind and covers a hard black seed.

Tamarind is eaten when dry or ripened to a dark brown color and can be sweet, and sour and is quite acidic.
It is eaten right out of its shell or made into a paste and can be reconstituted with water. Tamarind is used as spice to flavor many dishes and also made into drinks, including Asian specialities. The leaves are used for medicines and the fruit also has other uses including some household chores. Fortunately, the ones I got from my cousin were very sweet, not at all tart or sour.

Tamarinds are available now in many stores and in the farmers markets or organic food stores. I like it straight out ot the shell! You may be enjoying it in some of your favorite dishes or drinks or jst like me, natural. If not you should try it too, its great!

For those of you who know the tamarind and have a special or favorite recipe for it please share it with us.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Have a fresh bowl of fruit for snack instead

The Plaza Chronicles 2!

Today I planned to take pictures for you at The Plaza where I spend time these days to enjoy the weather during my mid-day break. I wanted you to see what makes it unique and wonderful to visit and just sit around. Earlier I showed you the beautiful mangoes I had from the plaza. Now that all of the seasonal fruits are in full bloom and available at several carts, you have to see the place. Well, guess what? I forgot the camera. I don’t seem to do well with taking the camera along.

So anyway I was trying to figure out what to do today to complete this plan. Do I buy a cheapo camera or maybe just delay the shots until Monday. I was leaning towards next week to get the pictures and talk about fruits and vegs in the Plaza until I went through an email from a listserve. I encountered this awesome display of fruits and vegetables in a report I just read. This suits me fine and is exactlly what I was interested in and needed to be reminded of. The author, Judy, invites sharing so I will do just that.

I think adults, especially ones with grown children or children out of the home, need to be reminded and refocused on the priorities and importance of eating sensibly. The report also provided tips and instructions about having the right stuff around the house in handy places. I personally need to do this because I reach for anything and everything in sight to out in my face as I get home in the evenings. Indeed the remedy for that is not to have all the junk around, period.

As you know I have been talking about the need to loose weight. It is really essential for me at this point but I am still only paying lip service to it. Well, I’ve been cutting down on the sweets and eating more fruits but I am still over indulging on everything else. I really need a swift kick to get going full speed ahead.

So as I read this particular email from Food and Health Communications, I found the solution to my picture dilemma of the morning. This email covers some points I wanted to make and needed to hear. The report is intended for parents with young children, and the entire family, and focus on healthy eating and fitness. Thanks Food and Health Communications for this guidance and direction. It is very timely!

Below is a section of the report written by Judy. The newsletter was circulated on the listserve because Judy just completed Part 3 of a 3 part report and study about nutrition and physical activity in children. Please check out the report to learn more. They also have this great widget that you can obtain. You can see a copy of the widget here on the side bar.

Here is a copy of a portion of the report, copy and paste.

Above is a beautiful photo of summer tree fruit I just shot with a new camera for an online food photo class that I am taking. I wanted to post it for you here to show how just a little bit of effort – to make healthy food accessible and attractive – will have everyone in your house eating better. All we did here was to rinse the fruit and arrange it in a bowl. While I would store it in the refrigerator, quite a bit disappeared while the bowl was on the counter!

Stock up on seasonal produce items that have great eye appeal and good prices. This means fresh fruits and vegetables!

Seasonal fruit
Now is the time to stock up on more fruit and less packaged snacks! Or to visit a farmer’s market to spruce up the daily routine and keep everyone interested and excited about new ingredients and healthy eating. It is best if you prepare the fruits so they are ready to grab and eat in the refrigerator.

Use this checklist – and change up the items you buy each week to keep it fun/fresh/new:

____ cherries

____ berries

____ peaches

____ plums

____ melons

____ mangos

____ grapes

____ nectarines
Seasonal vegetables

– Tomatoes, corn, zucchini and potatoes can be used all week in a variety of meals and dishes. Plan meals with vegetables as the star. Keep baby carrots on hand for snacking.

Put the healthiest food items in the easiest “see and reach” spots in your pantry and refrigerator.

We recently configured the refrigerator to have yogurt, baby carrots and fresh fruit on the most visible middle shelf. Juice and water are the easiest to reach drinks. And there are plenty of leftover meals and ingredients for healthful snacks on hand.

Buy less “junk food” and store it out of site or in hard-to reach places. Eventually you will find yourself eating less of it and buying less of it over time.

Fruit Snacks – Chiquita has a selection of Fruit Bites, which are bite-sized pieces of fruit in a snack type bag. They look like bags of packaged chips and cookies, but they contain fruits like grapes and apple slices and are just 40 calories per bite. The wow factor with kids makes the price worth it and we are wondering if it will eventually help convert them to more fruit for lunch, snacks, and on the go treats?

Yogurt - Yogurt is another great choice to help get enough servings of milk foods and the portable containers and wonderful flavors help them get eaten!
Whole grain cereals- Use these to top fruit treats or to put on top of baked fruit cobblers and yogurt. What a great and healthy way to add crunch and whole grains to your diet!

Yeah, we can and will all benefit from these ideas. Check out their website to see all the wonderful pictures of fruits and vegetables at

This is a great site and newsletter with loads of information on fitness and nutrition with very useful resources for parents and teahers. Check it out! I am so happy that the report came to me today. I have bookmarked it and will returnn to it often.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A conversation about families

The Plaza Chronicles

As I sat in the Plaza at lunch time, enjoying the beautiful weather, watching people come and go, shop, greet others or just sit and eat lunch, I was joined by a male bus driver. I sat there to enjoy the weather - some fresh air outside of our glass dome I call work place - by myself. The Plaza is also a hub for several bus lines. The bus operators hang out on the benches in the plaza for lunch or just to stretch during their break between runs. I wanted to just tune out for a minute.

After about 10 minutes in this spot, my second spot for the period, the driver came over with his food and said, “I am going to share your table." Sure, I exclaimed. He opened up his container, poured his soda in a cup over ice, glanced at his watch and proceeded to pray over his food. At the end of his prayer he turned to me and said "I was raised this way.” I said, “Very good, it is very nice that you not only remember that but you practice it.” With that said, we got into a conversation about families, the activities, raising kids, expectation and the breakdown of the family as a unit today.

We went back and forth exchanging ideas and thoughts as to why this is so, while he ate and watched his watch to monitor his time. We even discussed the weather and the rainy states and family times like the summer picnics. So what’s wrong with the family as a unit? Why are families not together, they don't do things together and relationships so strained? We both recalled the fun and the frequency of our family get-togethers and visits on weekends, not for a special occasion, but because we are family. We enjoyed seeing each other, exchanged ideas, made plans and just relax and enjoy each others company. Sometimes a scolding or a “straightening” out or two occurred, lovingly.

We didn’t come up with any answers this day as to why the breakdown but we certainly threw around some ideas or reasons we thought were some causes, some we’ve used and accepted as excuses.

As he left, I though more about the discussion and realized what a blessing it is to get together with friends and families. It really is so special to be able to spend time with family and friends. I remember how powerful it was when we had 3 sometimes 4 generations of my family in one room/house and the fun we had, even if you were the one on the hot seat. No matter what was going on or who had issues, we would walk away feeling good, some getting some things they needed or a new view on things and life. Some of us were just happy to be able to relax and watch the kids interact with the relatives, learning their history and learning life lessons. I miss those days.

My family is now all over the place and the elders are leaving us one by one. We just fall into the easy route of the occasional phone call or occasional and sometime accidental visit and the special celebrations and traditional events.

When my kids were younger it was always a joy and pleasure to go to grandma’s house for the weekend. Everyone converged on grandmas’ house on the weekends, even long time friends come by to hang out. We even did a lot of things together like going to the park, vacations, shopping together or for each other and freely and willingly shared so everyone was involved. It was great and we admired and enjoyed the majesty of the earth and our world. It was a blessing!

We need to find the blessings in sharing, encouraging, spending time with each other, together, in person again. Rekindling the sense of belonging, the family unit that supports, encourages, love and forgives. I implore all of us to return to family and start living again. Invite or contribute to others, the single, the loveless, the lonely, and the old and be a part of the rebuilding of our community for posterity.
Find the blessings in sharing
Find the blessing in giving
Find the blessing in loving one another
Find the blessing in lending a helping hand
And your life will be enriched
Your life will be a blessing
You will be blessed!

Coming together, caring for each other, about each other is an action that keeps on giving. That is a blessing!