Monthly Archives: April 2013


zipwire-routeMap of ZipWorld, from
The red is a short training zip wire, the green is the jeep trail around the quarry
to the launch platform, and the blue is the mother of all zip lines back to the car park.

The longest zip wire in Europe, at just over one mile, has recently opened at ZipWorld in Northern Wales. The hubby and I are booked in for this little adventure, weather permitting, on the bank holiday next Monday. The wire is stretched above a disused portion of the world’s largest slate mine, Penrhyn Quarry, and after the slate rim drops away, riders fly nearly 700 feet above the lake at the bottom. We’re told we will reach speeds up to 100 mph as we descend over 1200 feet–thankfully windsuits, helmets, and goggles are provided! The entire trip down the wire lasts about 55 seconds, which I predict is going to be simultaneously the longest and shortest near-minute of my life. Friends keep asking if I am scared, especially after hearing that I have never zip-lined before. I’m not sure what I should be afraid of, to be honest. I’ve never really been scared of heights, so that part doesn’t bother me, and I’ll just be sailing along a wire, not free-falling, so I’m not bothered by that part either. I have full faith that the company has tested and retested its equipment (customer deaths can’t be good for business) and that the staff do everything in their power to be sure the experience is a safe one. The only thing that worries me slightly is being able to breathe with the wind rushing in my face at 100 mph, but I figure it’s such a short ride that surely I can’t actually pass out before the end.

I also fear that the scenery is going to rush by so quickly that I won’t be able to fully appreciate what’s around me–I’m hoping there is an optional helmet cam to capture the ride so I can play back the DVD in slow motion later! I won’t be taking any photos from the wire, but if I survive Europe’s longest zip wire, you can be sure I’ll write about it Monday evening!


Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Challenges




Yabusame is a traditional Japanese martial art in which a mounted archer rides at full gallop, releasing arrows from his bow along the way. It is said to showcase the highest level of skills to which a samurai warrior could aspire, for he had to be both an excellent horseman as well as an exceptional marksman. Today’s yabusame ceremonies preserve the ritual and customs of ancient Japan for the younger generations, rather than demonstrate the might of an army of warriors in order to maintain peace in a feudal land. They are staged along a 279-yard gallery down which the horse runs at full gallop. When given the starting signal, the mounted archer, wearing traditional samurai costume, aims his arrows at three small cedar plank targets along the gallery, spaced 77-yards apart. The entire length of the course is run in approximately twenty seconds, and after each archer has made his run, the entire company returns up the gallery single-file to collect its arrows. Yabasume ceremonies are held in various locations across Japan throughout the year…the above photos are from the April 2009 demonstration at Tsurugoaka Hachiman-gū, a sacred shrine in Kamakura.





For The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture, I chose this photo from the Kecak Dance at Uluwatu in Bali, Indonesia. The dance, performed primarily by men, is still a very important part of Balinese life, and from what we understood from our tour guide, all Balinese boys learn the Kecak dance from a very early age; it is a matter of pride to perform in the local village’s dance, and even more so to perform in a sacred place like this world-famous temple.





Xylitol Lime Mint is my husband’s favorite chewing gum. We discovered it when we lived in Japan, and so far, that’s been the only place we’ve found that particular flavor. We left Japan with half a dozen 100-count tubs in our household effects. We coerced friends who left Japan a year after us to send us half a dozen more before they moved. One of my husband’s coworkers recently traveled to Japan on vacation, and we begged her to put as many as she could in her suitcase on the return journey. My husband made an unexpected business trip to Japan a couple months ago, and he loaded up his suitcase as well. Another coworker is transferring to Japan this summer and we’ve informed her that during her three-year posting, she will be receiving periodic requests to send more gum.

Turns out Lime Mint gum has more going for it than just a fresh, clean flavor and a tendency not to get hard even after eight hours of constant chewing. Its key ingredient, xylitol, is something of a dental health miracle. Xylitol is a natural sweetener, occurring in most fruits and vegetables, but derived for commercial purposes mainly from corncobs and beech trees. Its chemical structure is different from other sugars, which enables it to inhibit bacteria in the mouth from adhering to teeth and gums, therefore reducing the incidence of cavities (by up to 70% according to some studies). Xylitol also appears to help in the remineralization of enamel, making teeth stronger over time. Researchers urge consumers to “strive for five”–using xylitol toothpaste in the morning, using xylitol rinse or chewing xylitol gum after breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and brushing with xylitol toothpaste again before bed.

The benefits don’t stop with oral health. Xylitol has a lower glycemic index than sucrose (7 as opposed to 87), so can be a good alternative sweetener for diabetics. It contains 43% fewer calories than sucrose, so also makes sense for those trying to lose weight. When used as a nasal spray, xylitol inhibits growth of bacteria in the nasal cavities and sinuses, thus reducing the incidence of upper respiratory infections. Some studies even indicate that when xylitol spray is used daily, asthma sufferers notice a significant decrease in the number of asthma attacks.

So, as a former 3rd grade teacher who frequently made students spit out their gum (all the while hoping they would not notice the piece I was chewing), I wonder how long it will be before some enterprising student gets a doctor’s note saying he must be allowed to chew gum in school for health reasons?

NOTE: While xylitol may be a wonder substance for humans, it is highly poisonous to dogs. Even the ingestion of a couple pieces of xylitol-sweetened chewing gum can cause a surge in insulin in canines, creating a dangerous drop in blood sugar levels in as little as 15 minutes; larger doses cause severe liver toxicity within 24 hours. Both conditions can quickly be fatal, so it is vitally important to keep all xylitol products out of the reach of Fido.

*Information in this posting was gathered from and


Posted by on April 27, 2013 in Challenges





Mom and I were in Staffordshire for a quilt show today, and while we were so close, we decided to head up to the pottery district of Stoke-on-Trent. There are several companies headquartered in the area, but I specifically wanted to go to Wedgwood. Not to look in the museum. Not for a factory tour to see how the famous china wares are made. Not to buy dishes in the outlet shop. No. We went because I wanted tea. Tea? At a pottery factory? Yes. Wedgwood sells the best English afternoon tea I’ve ever tasted.

I was first introduced to this tea a few years ago when one of my Japanese students travelled to England as part of a package tour to the UK (all of the Japanese tour companies bring busloads of eager shoppers to the potteries); she brought me a pretty Wedgwood-blue tin of loose afternoon tea as a souvenir. Back then, I was only drinking Lipton or Japanese green tea, so my tea palate was not very refined. Plus I was a bit intimidated by tea that was not already prebagged. Once I discovered that the 100-yen store sold disposable tea envelopes into which I could put the loose tea leaves to brew, I made my first experimental mug of English afternoon tea. Wow. So much better than Lipton!!

Since moving from Japan to England, I’ve tried all kinds of different tea, as well as different brands of my two favorites, English breakfast and English afternoon tea. I’ve yet to come across an afternoon tea as tasty as the Wedgwood tea, so when my tin was empty, I set about trying to replace it. It is not stocked in any local shops, so when my grandmother visited last summer and wanted to visit the pottery outlet stores in Stoke-on-Trent, I was sure I’d find it there. No such luck. So I emailed Wedgwood to ask whether there were any shops licensed to sell their tea in my area or if they had an online shop where I could place an order. No reply. So today’s trip to the actual Wedgwood Pottery (as opposed to the outlet shop) was my last great hope.

At last, success! I now have two tins of afternoon tea safely tucked in the cabinet, and my husband’s permission to make another trip to the retail shop before we move back to the States in August if Wedgwood doesn’t offer the tea online when they roll out their new and improved website next week. Life is good! Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for a cuppa.

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Posted by on April 26, 2013 in Challenges, How It Is, True Life




ver·di·gris [vur-di-grees, -gris] noun: a green or bluish patina formed on copper, brass, or bronze surfaces exposed to the atmosphere for long periods of time, consisting principally of basic copper sulfate. (from

I took my mom to Blenheim Palace today, and as we wandered around the grounds of one of England’s prized treasure houses, I noticed the green patina gracing many of the metallic surfaces. That got me digging through the rest of my photos from our travels throughout the UK in the past eighteen months, looking for more verdigris.


Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Challenges, Observations, Photography






Unacceptable. Unattractive. Unbecoming. Uncivilized. Unclean. Uncouth. Undesirable. Undignified. Ungentrified. Unglamorous. Unhygienic. Unorthodox. Unpalatable. Unrefined. Unsanitary. Unsatisfactory. Unsavory. Unseemly. Unsightly.

His behavior leaves a lot to be desired, but I’d love to have this cheeky little gargoyle in my garden!


Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Challenges