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Where We Live by John Silveira and Richard Blunt. Photos and commentary from Oregon and New England.

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Archive for the ‘Grand Celebrations’ Category


Mother’s Day at Tomasso Nature Park

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

In the late 1980s a local airport located in Plainville, Connecticut decided to expand its runway. Building the extension required the filling of four acres of wetlands along the Pequabuck River, which runs through several towns in the area, including Farmington. This, unfortunately, would destroy a major portion of a vital wetland area. To mitigate the loss of the wetlands, the town of Plainville turned an adjacent sand pit into a four-acre wetland by meticulously removing the wetland soil, vegetation, and animals from the construction site and transporting them to the current location in the nature park. To say that the area survived all of this and thrives to this day would be an understatement.

There is an abundance of wildlife living in Tomasso Nature Park: the eastern painted turtle, common snapping turtle, northern water snake, great blue heron, Canada goose, northern rough-winged swallow, raccoon, white-tailed deer, muskrat, and more. The park is also filled with a wide variety of vegetation common to a healthy wetland area. Footbridges were built to help visitors cross streams and wet areas. Plenty of benches and large rocks are available to visitors while exploring the park.

My first visit to this park was in November last year, two days after the park had been closed for the winter. I returned early in March when it reopened, but the snow and cold of Connecticut’s long winter made exploration difficult. Also, to reach the park I had to walk down a paved path alongside a fenced hazardous waste area on one side and a housing complex on the other. This short walk made me wonder if a nature park could really exist in an area like this. However, I returned in warmer weather a few weeks later to find high grasses and wildflowers swaying in a gentle breeze and dozens of painted turtles sunning themselves on rocks, lily pads, and stumps in man-made ponds. As I walked down the short entry road, several swift-flying birds caught my eye, as they as they seemed to vanish into a sand-like embankment near the waste dump. Later I discovered that they are rough-winged swallows tending their nests dug tunneled into the sand bank. I knew then that this park was going to be a rewarding discovery.

After entering Tomasso Nature Park, it took me only 20 minutes walking at a comfortable pace to go completely around the park. But this walk could have easily taken much longer had I paused to enjoy the many varieties of birds and other wildlife moving freely around the park. Another feature that I liked was the absence of crowds that I often find in other nature areas. I could actually hear and identify several different bird calls during my short walk.

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When I returned home after my last visit to the park, I called my daughter Sarah and shared my experience with her. She suggested that we visit the park with Mom on Mother’s Day if the weather was nice. My wife, Tricia, has an arthritic condition that is sometimes aggravated in cold weather, and this past winter made some days very uncomfortable her. She likes to walk with me when I visit parks, but not during the winter cold. The visit to Tomasso Nature Park would be her first of the warm weather season.

Below: Sarah and Mom enjoying the scenery and warmth of the sun.

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Tomasso Park’s crab apple trees were in bloom.

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Below: the largest pond in the park

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All of the interesting or unusual trees in the park have identification tags.

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This Tree-of-Heaven is our favorite.

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Below is the swallow nesting area located near the entrance to the park.

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Rough-winged swallows were tending their nests.

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It would not be a wetland area without Canada geese.

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Sarah and Mom are both teachers in a local school system. As we left the park, they promised to return again and bring some of their students back on a nature walk. This year, Mother’s Day was a huge success.


October is Balloon Month In Albuquerque

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

The photographs of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta portion in this post were taken by two of my lifelong friends, Mike and Jane McLaughlin. We grew up in Dorchester, one of Boston’s largest neighborhoods. After successfully raising two children and managing rewarding professional careers, these two exceptional folks are now retired and are engaging in one of their lifelong passions — world travel. We grew up in a housing project in one of Boston’s largest neighborhoods in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a great place to live, especially for folks with young children. The stark-looking red brick buildings in this development were furnished, well built, safe and comfortable homes to about 400 families. Most of these families had a parent that was a member of the military during the Second World War. Friendships were easily made in this diverse area, and many of these friendships are still alive and doing well today. Some of the housing projects that were built in Boston during the 1950s were built in areas that made them seem more like prisons than housing development. This development was built in an attractive residential neighborhood that was surrounded by an expansive open park and wilderness-like playground. Most of its attractions were in easy walking distance for an average 8 to 10 year old. If transportation was necessary, safe and reliable public transportation was always available.

Below are a some photos of our old neighborhood. The first three were taken with a Kodak Brownie 127 camera that Santa Claus left under my Christmas tree about 60 years ago.

This is where we called home.

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Below is Scarboro Pond. It was created along with two other ponds as part of Frederick Law Olmsted’s master plan for Franklin Park, the largest park of the Emerald Necklace. This pond is surrounded by 500 acres of open and wooded land, and is an easy half hour walk from Franklin Field. Here we enjoyed fishing, hiking, and picking wild blueberries in the spring and summer. During the winter, the many hills of the golf course and the wooded areas were great for coasting (snow sledding). All of this was free.

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Below is Franklin Field, our most frequented playground. Because our neighborhood was so ethnically diverse, we were exposed to a worldwide variety of sports activities on this still active open field, including ice skating (in the cold months the Boston Fire Department flooded large portions of the field), baseball, tennis, softball, basketball, bocce ball and cricket. We were never able to fully understand cricket, but these games were fun to watch. We also had fun trying to mimic the unique accents of the British, Haitian, Trinidadian and Jamaican players as they bantered with each other during the game. We were also amused by the retired men, who constantly argued while rolling a huge ball down a narrow dirt strip. Like cricket, we never quite understood bocce ball.

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Houghton’s Pond

Houghton’s Pond is a spring-fed kettle pond located within the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, Mass. This, by far, was our largest and most challenging play area. The 15,000 acres of wilderness-like woodlands that surrounded this popular swimming area was, to us, like being in the wilds of Maine or Alaska. During one warm and sunny day during February school vacation, a group of us (which I think included me, Mike, his brother Ed, Bobby, Buddy and Kenny) loaded a bunch of crude camping stuff into a Radio Flyer wagon and headed for the Blue Hills. The walk was a little longer, but still manageable. Well, everything went great until the sun went down when radiation cooling gripped the area at the high elevation. I don’t think that details of the kind of night we weathered is necessary. You would think that this experience would teach us a lesson on winter camping, but we repeated this adventure the following year with better equipment and a slightly, I repeat, slightly, better outcome.

When adventures like this come to mind, I can understand why Mike and Jane look forward to their next travel adventure. These adventures are much wider in scope, but the anticipation and excitement is the same. Don’t tell Mike that I said this, but I think the February thing was his idea.

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This is only a sampling of the rich and rewarding environment that this neighborhood offered its residents during the 1950s and 1960s. Boredom and inactivity were nonexistent at Franklin Field during this time.

Alaska Adventure

Mike and Jane in Alaska with Mt. McKinley (the high one) in the background. I love this photo, because it reminds me of my own cross country motorcycle trips during the 70s.


A favorite author of mine states in his work; it is time to “bring on the bear,” Which in this case is the main subject of this post.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Mike and Jane were visiting friends in Arizona. Their next destination was the balloon festival in New Mexico so they headed down Arizona State Route 89A, just south of Flagstaff into Oak Creek Canyon, a smaller cousin to the Grand Canyon, to Oak Creek Vista, an overlook with a spectacular view of the canyon. This canyon is known around the world for its spectacular scenery with colorful rocks and unique formations.


The Balloonist’s Prayer

May the winds welcome you with softness. May the sun bless you with its warm hands. May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter and sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

The City

The first Spanish settlers arrived in New Mexico around 1540 headed by General Francisco Coronado. In 1706, King Phillip of Spain granted a group of later settlers permission to build a new city on the banks of the Rio Grande. These colonists chose a spot at the foot of the mountains where the river made a wide curve. This spot provided them with abundant water and plenty of hard wood for construction and fuel. They named the new settlement La Villa De Alburquerque after a prominent Spanish duke. Over the years the first “r” was dropped, leaving Albuquerque spelled as it is today. Being religious people, the first thing they built was a small adobe chapel, which later collapsed in 1792, but was rebuilt in 1793 and named San Felipe de Neri. This adobe chapel was built in a section of Albuquerque called Old Town, a popular shopping and tourist destination which consists of about 10 blocks of historic adobe buildings grouped around a central plaza (a common feature of Spanish Colonial towns). Today, Albuquerque is a major city with a diverse population, with its cultural traditions being part of everyday life. The Balloon Fiesta is still an infant when compared with this rich history. But I am sure that it will continue to be a popular event well into the future.

The Fiesta

The Balloon Fiesta began in 1972 to highlight the 50th anniversary celebration of a local radio station. The radio station manager asked the owner of Cutter Flying Service, and the first owner of a hot air balloon in New Mexico, Sid Cutter, if he could use his balloon as part of the festivities. Twenty one other balloonists were invited to attend the celebration in an attempt to break the world record of 19 balloons assembled in a rally. Unfortunately, bad weather prevented several from attending. So, the first Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta began with only 13 intrepid balloonists. Today, it is the world’s largest hot air ballooning event. For nine days during the first week of October,  balloons begin their assent over the city just before dawn breaks. This is the Dawn Patrol; it serves to give other balloonists information about wind speeds and direction at different altitudes. The Dawn Patrol is followed by the National Anthem, and the first Mass Ascension of the day. This is one of the most spectacular events of the fiesta. All of the participating balloons are launched in waves, coordinated by launch directors. The sight of several hundred balloons in the sky is a breathtaking sight for both first-time visitors and veterans. Another popular event is the Special Shapes Rodeo. Many non-traditional uniquely shaped balloons are launched at the same time. Photos of two of the most famous shapes, the milk cow and the stagecoach, are shown below along with other innovative balloons. These balloons are also featured in the Glowdeo, a nighttime event that features all the special shapes balloons illuminated by their propane burners, standing static without taking off.

Other events include: The Fiesta Challenge, where balloonists attempt to drop a marker closest to a target. The Challenge Gas Balloon Race, where special long-distance gas-filled balloons are inflated and launched. The winner of this contest is the balloon that travels the farthest. Balloons competing in this race have traveled as far as the East Coast.

Nearly 750,000 visitors attend this event every year. If you would like to join the fun and experience a vacation to remember, this year’s Fiesta will be held October 4th thru the 12th.  I am planning to be there with my wife, Tricia, and Ginny Lee (my camera). I hope to see you at the Fiesta this year!

















Great Times Never Forgotten—Mardi Gras–75–76–77–78

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

In  December of 1856, six New Orleans businessmen gathered at a local restaurant to establish what is known today as a “carnival secret society”. The plan was observe the day  before the Lenten season( Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras) in a fashion that they felt would have a wider appeal than the localized celebrations held in the Roman Catholic Creole community. They adopted the name “Mistick Krewe of Comus.”  On Feb 24, 1857,  this first secret society “Krewe” of Carnival presented the first Mardi Gras parade with mobile, decorated floats.  This parade, with it’s marching bands, and rolling floats became so popular that a second parade was planned the following year. This second parade, for the first time, attracted thousands of out of town visitors to New Orleans to celebrate Carnival on Fat Tuesday. Since the first event, Mardi Gras  has only been cancelled only 13 times. The last cancellation was a result of the police strike in  1979. The other cancellations were war related: Civil War, World Wars One and Two, and Korea . In the beginning Mardi Gras was somewhat of an elitist celebration. Over the years it has been transformed into one of this nations most diverse institutions. Every year it offers a rich and diverse cultural experience to all of it’s spectators and participants

One of our favorite family vacations , when we can afford it. is Mardi Gras. We are fortunate enough to have friends in New Orleans that are gracious enough to let us stay with them when we head south to celebrate Carnival.  Mardi Gras is billed as the the “Greatest Free Show On Earth,”  and draws hundreds of  thousands  visitors every year. This is in spite the fact that the City of New Orleans spends little or no money to promote it. Also Mardi Gras is one of the few  entertainment venues  where the entertainers foot the bill. By tradition and law Mardi Gras parades can not be sponsored by any corporation. Carnival clubs( Krewes) are chartered as non profit organizations. They raise money for costumes, float decorations, and throws, (beads, cups and doubloons tossed to parade watchers,) through dues to members and various fund raisers throughout the year. Friends that live in New Orleans tell me that only administrative function performed by the city of New Orleans is issuing parade permits to applicants. It is still a mystery to me how the parade times and routs are coordinated. The only parade restriction that I am aware of  is the ban on parades in the French Quarter. This ban was established in 1973 because city police and fire officials felt that the large floats and the crowds that gathered to watch them, rendered the narrow streets unsafe.

I have been attending this wonderful party since the the mid 70s. In my attic I have several shopping bags full of throws from almost every parade except one. I have yet to be fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of what I consider the ultimate Mardi Gras prize–a Golden Nugget. These are beautiful, hand crafted coconuts that are usually handed, instead of thrown, from the floats of the Zulu parade. Over the years there has been a proliferation of law suits from people alleging injury from coconuts being distributed from these floats. In July of 1988 the Louisiana Legislature passed, and the Governor signed into law, the Coconut Bill.This legislation excluded coconuts from liability for alleged injuries when being handed from Zulu floats. My resolve is to receive of the treasures on a future  visit to this grandest of celebrations.

Our family Big Easy visit was canceled, this year, by the 34 inches of snow that mother nature dumped on the east coast on Feb 9th and 10th. Unfortunately, the blizzard also forced a plan change for this post. I have decided to share, with you, some of our favorite times in years past as we celebrated Carnival on Fat Tuesday. Most of what you see here is repeated in refreshed fashion every year during Carnival, and presented in grand fashion during Mardi Gras.

The French Quarter


For twelve days and nights the streets in and around New Orleans are alive with magnificent float displays like this.




The masks worn by the krewe members on this float indicate that they are members of the Living Jewels Secret Society.


The streets of the French Quarter are filled with folks wearing custom made costumes like the one in this picture. These costumes are usually made of the finest of material and often hand crafted by the owner. The diversity of costumes is endless. Elaborate costumes like these are the property of the wearers. They are not sponsored by any company or organization.




This is one  example of the Family nature of Carnival in the Big Easy. There is fun for everyone.


Talented musicians often travel through outdoor cafes to entertain diners


Where else can you find a sword swallower/fire eater on the street at 6:30 in the morning. Tricia (crouched down on the left in the first photo) on was terrified that he was going to cut himself.



The Cafe´Du Monde is a famous coffee shop, in the French Quarter featuring beignets, a deep fried pastry served in threes with powdered sugar. These delightful treats are served with a cafe´au laÍt. This coffee with milk delight treat blended with chicory, which adds more than just a little flavor boost . It is here that many Mardi Gras celebrants including the Blunt family start the day’s party.


Meet our Mardi Gras Hosts

My wife Tricia (on the right) stands, on a cold morning, with our Mardi Gras hosts of 1978, my long time friend Joe and His wife Michelle.


The best way to experience Carnival is with good friends. You have already met Joe, in the center. On right is another friend from Boston Jeanie. On the left is one of Jeanie’s  close friends.


Quenching that big thirst after an exhausting morning of parade watching


My friend Joe loves to travel the Louisiana back waters and, on a few occasions, he invited Tricia an I to go with him. I found these water ways to be inviting, and quite, and the fishing is great, when you know what to fish for. Joe knows it all.


bThis was the third time Tricia lifted an empty crayfish net from the water. As you can see, she is not happy. After listening to a few tips from Joe, her net started to fill.


An above ground New Orleans cemetery. Living below the waterline  of a big river does call for creativity.




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