Friday, August 17, 2007

Americans and their pets

I just read a very eye-opening article in BusinessWeek Magazine entitled The Pet Economy.

August 6, 2007 BusinessWeek Cover Picture

Here are a few "fun facts" from the article:
  • Americans now spend $41 billion a year on their pets
  • The yearly cost of buying, feeding, and caring for pets is in excess of what Americans spend on the movies ($10.8 billion), playing video games ($11.6 billion), and listening to recorded music ($10.6 billion) combined.
  • 42% of dogs now sleep in the same bed as their owners (up from 34% in 1998)
  • PetSmart is rolling out new "pet hotels" inside their stores ($31/night) that feature private suites, raised platform beds, TVs airing shows from Animal Planet, "bonebooths" where pets can take calls from their owners, cats get live fish tanks to watch in their rooms, and many other "luxury" features
I'm not here to poke fun at this because I'm as much to blame for this trend as many other Americans. I don't buy designer clothes for my cat but I do buy Iams food and keep him well stocked with toys, catnip, and an assortment of things for him to sharpen his claws on. One day I do intend to buy him a really fancy cat tree, I just haven't seen any for sale in Italy yet. What can I say? Pumpkin is part of the family!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Marina di Ragusa & Lago Dirillo

On Saturday Les & I drove down to Marina di Ragusa, a beach town on the Mediterranean Sea, and joined hundreds, maybe thousands of Sicilians for a day at the beach. We staked out a piece of sand, laid down our beach towels and headed for the water. The Mediterranean was warm, calm, and clear. As we looked down at our feet we occasionally saw a small fish wander by. We'd cool down in the water and then head back to the sand to dry off and lay in the sun. After a lunch of paninis and iced tea we cooled off in the water once more and then decided to move on. Unfortunately we didn't take any pictures at the beach. We didn't want to risk someone taking off with the camera while we were in the water, nor did we want to have to take turns babysitting the camera so it stayed in the car.

After the beach we spent a of couple hours at a local shopping center. Shopping helped us work up an appetite again so we picked up some bread, cheese (I was ecstatic to find Gruyere Swiss for the first time here, one of my favorites!!!) salami, olives, nectarines, and a bottle of iced tea. We set off toward home hoping to find some place beautiful to enjoy our feast.

I spotted a dam in the distance so off we went in search of the lake. We found Lago Dirillo, a reservoir out in the hills. We walked down towards the water and found several fisherman dotted around the edges of the lake.

A fisherman

The edges of the lake were quite steep but we managed to find a somewhat level place to throw down a beach towel for our picnic. After our lovely meal we walked around a bit and I took a few pictures using my telephoto lens and new tripod.

Lago Dirillo

Hills in the distance

Les & I with the lake in the background...happy, tired, and sunburned

I was a bit nervous taking these pictures. You can't tell in the photo, but the hillside drops off next to me and drops down into the lake. You could see the rocks beneath the surface of the water for a few inches but then the water appeared to be a very deep green a few inches out so you know it got really deep really fast. It creeped me out. I kept envisioning falling or having my camera and tripod, teetering on rocks, get bumped and seeing it slowly disappear into the green...anyway, enough of that not fun thought! The camera didn't fall, nor did we!

Our picnic on the edge of the lake was a wonderful end to a wonderful day. I think the beach and swimming in the sea is the only reasonable way to enjoy the heat of Sicily. Hopefully we'll make it back again soon!

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I'm in the middle of reading a very good book called The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. In chapter five he talks about wonder and how modern society has lost touch with being wowed by things that may have amazed us or taken our breath away as children. Brennan Manning quotes Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel near the end of his life saying "never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me." Recently this has been my prayer also. We can live our lives waiting for the next big thing or let the little things in life take our breath away.

On the way home on Tuesday evening Les & I decided to make a short detour and see if we could find a way up to the remains of a castle that we pass nearly every day. This picture was taken as we were driving past last November:

We took off on a nearby side road hoping to find a way up, but no such luck. Lots of little roads to houses, but the most promising roads were gated. Others just didn't look passable for our has AWD but isn't exactly meant for serious offroading.

We drove for a bit through the beautiful countryside and this is where we turned around:

Gorgeous, huh? Just a little dirt road leading through rows of olive trees. It took my breath away and I had to catch the moment before it passed. Here is a close up of the olives:

"Dear Lord, grant me the grace of wonder. Surprise me, amaze me, awe me in every crevice of Your universe. Delight me to see how Your Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not His, to the Father through the features of men's faces. Each day enrapture me with Your marvelous things without number. I do not ask to see the reason for it all; I ask only to share the wonder of it all."
~Joshua Abraham Heschel


For the past two weeks Les has been volunteering for the DEFY (Drug Education For Youth) day camp. I was hoping to be the unofficial camp photographer but the stars didn't align quite right and I only made it to the camp the first day.

Those of you that know me know how pleasant I am early in the morning. It wouldn't have been good for me, Les or anyone else for me to leave the house with him at 5:45AM and since we only have one car I wasn't able to join up later in the day. Luckily Les takes good pictures too and took my camera with him most days. He got some great pictures of the rest of the camp.

I did get several great shots that first day though. Here is my favorite:

I love that I captured the kids mid-air running up the stairs. Oh to have that kind of energy...and did I mention it was 116F that day? Needless to say I didn't make it up those stairs quite as fast as they did.