Archive for August, 2008

West to Monticello

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Thomas Jefferson, third President of the US, built his home at Charlottesville in 1772, and called it Monticello. He thought it was paradise… and it is still today, in its forested, mountaintop (260 metres) setting from where we could get wonderful views west and south.
The trip west was once again along a highway which was edged with verdant green trees. How awesome this highway must be in the autumn.
The road continued on and on and on, nothing seemed to change, except that sometimes there was a lot of traffic passing us – and at other times, there were gaps. A few days ago we installed a GPS system in the car; when we type in the destination, the GPS unit tells us everything we want to know about getting there. When we deviate from the route we’ve planned, the machine recalculates the route and tells us how to get back on course.
So unchanging was the scenery, Mary and I were beginning to wonder what lay beyond those trees. So we exited the motorway, crossed it, and looked for a road in the same direction. We soon found a concrete (paved) road stretching off forever, but here we could see cattle
grazing, horses occasionally, crops, houses and best of all gardens.
In fact, we passed a sign saying Mary’s Garden Plants, so had to go in and meet Mary. A great discussion about plants and insects – particularly butterflies ensued. We bought several of her plants to give to Linda, our host for the night.
Our GPS got us to Monticello but there was not much time to spare. We gave up on plans to see inside the house, but explored the garden in the late afternoon heat – and what a beautiful garden it is too.
Earlier in the day we had come across the delightful settlement of Williamsburg, best known for its university or college (William and Mary) and also the historical village recreation which not only entertains but explains another part of US history.
We arrived at Linda Marchman‘s, just outside Charlottesville, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner with our hosts – we’re all geared up to spend some time with them tomorrow morning exploring Charlottesville and local wineries. If only there was more time!

Chincoteague and south

Friday, August 29th, 2008

There is a wide range of accommodation available in Chincoteague. I stayed at Cedar Gables Seaside Inn, which overlooked the water on the eastern side of the island. It was very up market, modern but designed in a classical manner. The bed was comfortable, and wonderful services.

Through a miscommunication, Mary stayed elsewhere – the Channel Bass Inn. Her hosts, David and Barbara, were delightful people, showing a great interest in Mary, where she had come from, what she was doing. Barbara was English and had added her touch to the garden and the afternoon teas that the inn served.

Both of us were fortunate in the range of foods offered at breakfast time. We couldn’t have been better catered for.

Then we were off to see the wonders of the Chincoteague Wildlife Reserve. The Eastern Shore of Virginia, and the islands such as Chincoteague and Assateague are on the Atlantic flyway for Monarch butterflies, shorebirds, waterfowl and others that nest in the north and migrate south for the winter.

There are different areas – salt marshes, pine forests, and the specially-developed freshwater impoundments on the refuge are nesting places for a huge variety of birds including various plovers, gulls, terns, geese, herons, and ducks. There is even an eagle’s nest which can be watched from the comfort of the well-designed visitors centre.

Chincoteague is a really charming little centre, lots of shops, everything you could want, but quaint little antique and second-hand book shops, curios etc – we could have spent hours there. Many of the houses are historic and all of the buildings have a charm of their own.

With Tracy Lovell, from the Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission, we had a beautiful meal at Bill’s Seafood Restaurant that night – highly recommended. I wish I could have spent weeks here at Chincoteague. But we had to move on!

Leaving Chincoteague we continued our journey south, finally reaching the amazing tunnel/bridge complex which crosses the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel has been considered a modern engineering wonder for over 43 years. Crossing over and under open waters where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, it is a direct link between south-eastern Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula (DELaware plus the Eastern Shore counties in MARyland and VirginiA).

If we had ‘gone round’ it would have added another 95 miles to our journey – well worth the $12 toll.

Following its opening in 1964, the Bridge-Tunnel was selected “one of the seven engineering Wonders of the modern world. Construction of a parallel crossing opened to four-lane traffic in 1999.

It was amazing to drive over this and see the bridge snaking ahead of us over the sea.

On the other side we pulled into an ‘economy motel’ for the night, and we will get to Charlottesville via Monticello tomorrow. We’re still having fun!

Monarch Teacher Network, Canada

Friday, August 29th, 2008

I forgot to say… they also have MTN in Canada (and soon, NZ and Peru). You can read about Monarch Teacher Network Canada here.

Cape May to Chincoteague

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Sad to leave Cape May, we would have loved to have spent more time there exploring the delightful gardens and seeing all the Victorian houses. They have been well restored, it is a fascinating place. I love the way that American communities do not have fences on their boundaries – nothing say THIS is mine and THAT is yours – so that your plants can fall into their garden, and theirs yours too. Here in Cape May the butterfly or wilderness gardens spilled into the roadway, giving the area a delightfully natural look.

Cape May is a popular holiday destination for those who love Nature. There were plenty of families around – this was the last week of the long summer school holidays. We found a Dusk Market and bought our dinner, chicken in a bun with cole slaw and squeezed lemonade for me, very cooling. Talked to the locals, friendly people.

We were interested in the motel we stayed at – some of the motels advertised ‘efficiencies’ and we are not accustomed to what these are. Evidently, it is an open plan motel room, no side-rooms. But this motel had two beds, a bathroom, a TV, table and chairs, and a fridge. Nothing to cook with, boil water even. Strange! No cuppa for us that night. No breakfast the next morning.

We had a last look around at some more delightful gardens, and then boarded the ferry for the 1-1/2 hour cruise across the Delaware River, chatting to a charming couple from Virginia, a retired golf pro. They had been north to Atlantic City for a gambling weekend.

I decided to buy a GPS to make our navigation easier. It would be useful in finding schools when I get back to work, one doesn’t waste petrol these days by getting lost! Once we had it installed and working, it was very useful taking us to Chincoteague. It didn’t like it when we went off course to explore the northern end of Assateague Island though. I was determined to see some of the wild ponies and we got up real close.

We enjoyed the trip down here, through more verdant tree-line roads. We still have not seen any “real” farms yet – mostly horticulture and orchards. Over here “farmers” means (to a Kiwi) market gardeners, orchardists or horticulturalists. We did see a few corrals/fields with horses in them, but I doubt these were real horse farms.

Last night we met with Tracey from the local tourism commission, and had a delightful dinner with her. The fresh fish to die for – if you come to Chincoteague make sure you eat at Bill’s restaurant, the food and service was fantastic.

During the day we saw some fascinating birds and also a large (Monarch-size) lemon butterfly – but know nothing about them. Today, in Chincoteague, we’re going to learn more about the wilderness of the area. That will be fun!

Don’t forget to check out the photographs.

Cape May

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Erik took us to the Hertz rental car depot. It was a grubby portable home, the offices were grubby and the car was grubby. Amy spoke so quickly it was hard to understand, but mentioning various sums of money it seemed that our account had not been fully paid as we were led to believe. She showed us to the little green Ford Focus and, guided by Erik, we set off across Washington township for the main road south.
Erik waved us goodbye. It wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated, driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. With Mary navigating we negotiated the traffic, not sure if this was a freeway or expressway, but keeping pace with the other vehicles seemed to be a good ploy rather than dividing the mph by five and multiplying by eight to see what pace we were going.
Through acres of greenery we drove. On both sides of the road verdant trees grew – oak, liquidamber, maple perhaps. A few more months and the colours would be glorious… and then they would be bare throughout the winter.
Behind the trees lay we knew not what. Could it be wilderness? Or farmland? Jersey was the ‘garden state’ which meant that vegetables and fruit were grown around here. We didn’t imagine the gfarms had much in the way of livestock.
It was an easy journey through to Cape May, which proclaimed it was a city. I had agreed to talk to Cape May children at 2pm at the library as part of their ‘Catch the Reading Bug’ program. We found the library and met an interesting group who later told me they enjoyed my talk; they were pleased to learn things about NZ they hadn’t previously known. Some of them had known nothing.
The town was packed with tourists. Mary and I drove down to the beach and enjoyed the view of the Atlantic and the cooling seaside breeze. There were plenty of Monarchs, egglaying and nectaring – also on several occasions we saw a large lemon-coloured butterfly, about the size of a Monarch.
Many people had planted habitat – it was great to see. Beach houses had colour-filled gardens to the edge of the road, no fences separating the habitat. This was something we notice about US gardens – very few have fences delineating their boundaries. Lots of colour Buddleias – and the tree that was flowering to perfection was the Crepe Myrtle.
Mary is a great companion, identifying so many plants that I don’t know. I particularly love to hear ‘stories’ about plants, their history, their relationships, their latin names.
A sign proclaimed that a Farmers Market was being held in Cape May; we found it and bought our tea – barbecued pork in a bun, cole slaw, and sweetcorn. Yum! I topped mine with a freshly squeezed lemonade from a lemonade stand. We sampled summer fruit and found our way back to the car.
We checked into a small motel, having bought our breakfast needs, only to find the unit sported a fridge, a TV and beds but very little more – no kettle, no cutlery, no plates or bowls. It looks like we’ll get breakfast on the road tomorrow.

Nooooooo Jersey

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

Where have the last three days gone? The people have been so hospitable to us… We have:

– Gone out for dinner at a ‘Clam Bar’, tasted the local beer, clam chowder and various seafood delights.

– Been taken on a tour of Philadelphia, seen the Liberty Bell and where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed. Learned a lot about the history of the USA. Philadelphia is the capital of Pennsylvania, on the Delaware River and northern edge of NJ. Many NJ people commute in to Phily for work.

– Met an Australian and Julia Roberts’ younger sister, who didn’t know that Richard Pearse – a Kiwi – was ACTUALLY the first man to fly in the world.

– Seen the beautiful city centre.

– Visited the Reading Terminal Market, where we savoured various foods. My choice was a turkey “and two sides” – roast turkey with mashed potato, roasted peppers, gravy and cranberry jelly. And of course the local beer. Mary had a roast beef sandwich.

– Eaten many more local foods that night at dinner, with the guests from Peru and an exchange of international good humour, all at Paula and Brian’s home.

– R&R with Joyce and then Kris and Eric

– Visited the home and garden in the woods of a 90+ WWII vet, and learned so much about nature from him… he has probably forgotten more than I know. A wonderful hour or so in his garden. (See the photos)

– Dinner at Blue Carolina, where we had firstly a salad, and then tasted the mix of smoked meats – turkey, ribs and wings. And another beer for me!

Thank you Joyce, Paula and Brian, Kris and Eric, Bob and Carol for your wonderful hospitality, and all the other fantastic, generous and kind people we have met. We have so enjoyed our visit. It’s been fun, we have had a lot of laughs.

And now today we’re off in our Hertz rental car to drive south to Cape May.

Please take a look at our photographs,


Monday, August 25th, 2008

Some of you are asking for photographs – so I have uploaded a selection to My login is NZMBT – it used to stand for the MB New Zealand Trust, but now it’s “NZ Mesdames Butterflies Travelling” I guess! But to make it easy, you can just click here to get there!

Monarch Teacher Network

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

This has been the most wonderful three days. The people, about sixty of them, training together have shared fantastic experiences using Monarchs in their classrooms – from pre-school right through the primary school (they talk in grades, but I can’t get my head around it).

There were also two teachers from Peru, where they will be introducing MTN when they go back home, at their school and further afield.

There was a huge range of ideas to share on getting children involved with raising Monarchs, learning about milkweed and of course assisting in the migration. Much was made of their relationship with Mexico, and the ways in which American children can be made aware of children growing up in Mexico. The feedback from the teachers, talking about their experiences working with children was awesome.

At most of these schools Monarchs are raised and released. School is just about to go back for the new school year, and the children will benefit from the experiences and inspiration the teachers have just gained. Some children will be encouraged to make handcrafted Monarchs during an art activity and send them via mail to a sister school in Mexico. In a few months, after the winter, the Mexican children will send similar Monarchs back north.

Some classes make quilts, decorating individual squares, and send them to Mexico. Others have parades and invite the community to get involved. Gardens are planted for the Monarchs – and other birds and butterflies too. The Monarchs are the catalyst, the great ‘trigger’ of this environmental awareness.

Many of the teachers explained how there could be some reluctance among older children, or the tougher boys, to be involved with butterflies – but how after they see the pleasure that the other kids in the class are getting from the activity, they get involved too. It just takes one caterpillar wriggling into its chrysalis, or one butterfly unfolding itself and drying its wings… And this was evident at the course, when someone watching the wildlife in the cages we’d made, called out “Pupa alert” and everyone instantly crowded around the table to witness another emergence.


We learned how to make great desktop ‘cages’ for caterpillars, and gathered fresh milkweed and critters from a piece of land, probably ten acres, across the other side of the road. We learned to look carefully at a plant and see what other wildlife was using it as a host. The milkweed community is a fascinating ‘structure’ – we can learn so much about biodiversity from this most ancient of plants.

Mary and I have seen how lucky we are not to have milkweed beetles and milkweed bugs in NZ. Also, we’ve been warned about poison ivy and poison oak as we trip around outside. We’ve been amazed at how noisy the cicadas are, and revelled in the summer heat over here. But the sun doesn’t seem to burn…

It’s the height of summer here in the northern hemisphere. Around here, New Jersey, there are many deciduous trees, lush and green, properties are mainly unfenced, and one gets the impression as you drive around that you’re on the outskirts of a city, sort of like you’re leaving Cambridge and about to get into a rural area… but the landscape doesn’t change. One minute it’s residential, then light industrial, residential again, light industrial, a shopping centre, more homes… Very few fences. No farm animals, occasional vegetables or orchards. Cars are very much like they are at home – a wide range of different makes and ages.

Peaches and summer fruit are to die for. Last night we ate at a ‘clam bar’ and enjoyed their clam chowder and other fresh seafood. NZ mussels were on the menu too. Their beer was great, but one was enough.

The people have been so hospitable, it’s made our stay so pleasant. Everyone we meet has been so kind and helpful. Many have apologised for their international reputation, saying ‘what must we (the rest of the world) think of them’. They don’t talk politics, although it’s top of mind on the news of course with the elections so close.

Today (Saturday) we are off to Philadelphia to look around that city, and see such things as the Liberty Bell.

I have taken lots of photographs, and will upload them to, user name NZMBT, when I get a better connection. Right now I’m using the wireless connection of ‘someone around here’, but it doesn’t let me do too much…

Monarch Teacher Network Day 2

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

This has been full on, but a fantastic learning experience. I don’t have time to write up my blog, but fortunately the local newspaper published a story and some photographs on line.

You can see that here:

Courier Post

Monarch Teacher Network, Philadelphia

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Mary and I flew across to the other side (of the USA) at night, and arrived about an hour before our MTN course.

Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies” was being held at a teacher resource centre run by EIRC in Gloucester county, near Philadelphia.

The three-day course is half over, and already we have gained a wealth of knowledge… we are about to go out to see some school butterfly gardens.

More later…