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Home Sweet Home

I will never receive the Good Housekeeping Award of the year or the week for that matter.  I am not one of those people whose home you visit and everything is in its place and so clean you could eat off the floors.  Our house is cleaned when we know we are going to have company and we run around like mad the day before (even though we’ve had all week) cleaning toilets, vacuuming, dusting, polishing, washing, etc. but only those rooms where I know company will be – our bedroom is still untidy and could probably use a good air freshener to boot.

I don’t mean the house is dirty or crawling with germs and maggots overflowing the trash can – though my husband did ask me last week if there were maggots in the trash but it was leftover Chinese rice that I threw in and some of it stuck to the sides of the can, so I had to take it outside and hose it clean which it more than likely needed anyway.  Cleaned by necessity.

You can rest assured if I were ever to win the lottery, the first thing I would do is hire a cleaning lady or man – I’m not prejudiced – and a chef.  Namely because I don’t like to cook that much either – not after 40 years of doing it.  Of course my mom who had to make three meals a day and lunches for six kids and her husband had every right in my opinion to complain  about it…but never did!

If it wasn’t for my husband, I suspect the filter would never be changed in the furnace, the ducts would not be cleaned out and the light fixtures dispossessed of flies.  I just find that I am readily distracted from any chore I might be attempting by the phone ringing, checking e-mail, walking the cat, games on the i-pad – anything really that seems more interesting than the job at hand.

No, Martha Stewart need have no fear of being dethroned by yours truly!  She has drive and ambition and a whole crew to help her out, I am basically lazy by nature and a slob at heart.  Oh well!  Time to see if the Blue Jays are playing!

 

So many drinks, so little time!

In one of my previous lives or careers, jobs, vocations – whatever you want to call it – I was a bartender and I loved it, mainly because I got to socialize while at work, listen to great music, have a drink after shift and play euchre with the management for money at two o’clock in the morning – go home at 4 and get up at 10 am and start all over again.  Being younger, the long hours on one’s feet didn’t really bother me all that much.  Plus, I am not a morning person so getting up at 6 am or 7am was beyond my wheelhouse.

From the age of 21 to 45 I was in the hospitality business off and on with odd attempts at a “real job” as my mother used to say.  I banked my paycheque to pay the rent and bills and spent my tips; having a wise financial advisor at that time might have done wonders for my retirement, but alas I was not a saver.

I remember vividly how a well dressed older gentleman would come in to the bar and order green chartreuse and I thought it must be pretty good, otherwise why would you drink it, so after work one night I tried it and it was godawful (grotty) to put it mildly.  In those many years of working the bar I have tried many fancy concoctions and different types of liquors and liqueurs and below is a list of those I find offensive to the palate – just my personal dislikes – pretty much anything with licorice in it is at the top of the list as I can’t stand that taste but there are plenty of people out there who do like it.

Green and yellow chartreuse
Absinthe
Jagermeister
Ouzo
Pernod
Aquavit
Grappa
Scotch – no, I don’t care if it is single malt
Gin

 

Now some of my favourites:  Southern Comfort, Kahlua, Vodka, Frangelica, Dark rum, and Tequila in moderation.  Cheers!

 

A peek at a few of the many castles in Scotland

Today, I came across a box I had set aside with trinkets and guides and photos from when my husband and I took a month-long trip to Scotland.  When we returned to Canada, his mother who had emigrated here in the sixties remarked that we had seen way more of Scotland than she had in her lifetime!

It was a fantastic trip even though it rained most of the time – a lot like Vancouver that way so we were kind of used to it.  Besides, a lot of the castles and museums and galleries and pubs were indoor; so when it started to rain heavily we just popped inside and when we came out – it was still raining, who am I trying to kid!  Never-the-less a great trip which we hope to repeat again in the future.

One of the many things I had been looking forward to were seeing some of the many castles in Scotland – after a few weeks however, I was complaining about turning a corner and wasn’t there another blasted castle in front of us.  Lesson in this, be careful what you wish for, Ha! Ha!

I am going to break down our trip for the moment and just concentrate on some of the Castles we did see and which ones were worth the price of admission – some were free!  In the future, I would like to re-visit some of these castles and take photos with a drone as they are spectacular seen from a height.  When we first visited all our photos were on film, can you imagine, so we didn’t have the luxury of taking 15 shots of a castle and then deleting all but that spectacular shot that you did get by having a digital camera.

I’ll start with one of the nicest – and more a beautiful country manor than a castle.  We headed out from Glasgow down to Ayr which is about 45 minutes depending on who is driving – so a nice day or afternoon excursion.   Please click on link below for synopsis of castles we visited.  I hope you enjoy and that you will plan your own excursion over there as it is a beautiful country and the people may appear standoffish to start but are very friendly when engaged  – especially about their history and culture!  If you incorporate a side visit to Wales and Ireland – even better!

Castles of Scotland booklet

A little slice of paradise!

Looking for an exotic oasis of freedom with crystal clear blue waters, white sandy beaches, warm weather all year round and authentic, friendly locals.  Look no further.  You can do as much or as little as you like in the Cook Islands.  Still largely undiscovered by North Americans, the Cook Islands are like Hawaii was 50+ years ago only with all the modern conveniences.  Made up of 15 islands, they are a mix of coral atolls and volcanic islands abundant with marine creatures, both big and small.

You will not find row upon row of high-rise beachfront hotels and apartments nor chain resorts as there are no buildings higher than a coconut tree.  You will not find chain stores or McDonald’s, even a stoplight is hard to find.

The Cook Islands are named after Captain James Cook who visited the islands in 1773 and 1777.  By 1900, the islands were annexed as British territory and included within the boundaries of the Colony of New Zealand.  The Cook Islands government is a parliamentary democracy with its own executive powers and laws (became independent in 1965) but carry New Zealand passports.  A seafaring people, Cook Islanders consider themselves descendants of Polynesians from nearby Tahiti, who first settled the area about 1400 years ago.

English is the official language and is taught in school.  The common vernacular is Cook Islands Maori, also called Rarotongan similar to New Zealand and Tahiti Maori.  Dialects vary, and in the north, some islands have their own languages.  Cook Island Tribal Tattoos These Meanings Of A Polynesian Tattoo Will Seriously Impress You

The Islands total 240 square kilometres or approx. one and a third times the size of Washington, D.C.  Rarotonga is the biggest Island but is only 11 kilometres in length.  The main road which goes all around the Island is 37 kiolometres so you can circumnavigate the Island in an afternoon.  Scooters and bikes are very popular modes of transportation but it was the buses that caught my eye.  They run in two directions:  Clockwise and Anti-Clockwise.  A simple and efficient means of getting around with some very entertaining drivers who will fill you in on the folklore and history for free!


Some interesting facts on the Cook Islands

  1.  The major industries are agriculture and tourism.  Rarotonga receives nearly fifty thousand tourists a year.
  2.   black-pearl-variation-600x400The Cook Islands are the world’s second largest producer of black pearls.  Although they were named for the colour of the shell they are found in, the pearls come in hues of blue, silver and deep green.
  3.   The Islands are known for their wood carving, and many young people who live there are taught by older generations of wood carvers how to perfect those skills.
  4.   Rugby is the most popular sport followed by cricket and soccer.
  5.   Polynesian healers have used noni fruits for thousands of years to help treat a variety of health problems.  A cure all for the ages it is an important export
    Noni pulp
  6.   On Sundays the Cook Islands are buttoned up tighter than a clergyman’s collar.  Businesses shutter, the buses do not run and if you want a drink you’ve got to stick to your hotel.  Virtually all the people are Christian with 70 percent belonging to the Protestant Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) and 30 percent divided Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Mormon, or members of other denominations.  Everyone dresses up and wear intricate hats woven by hand.
  7. Though there are formal church cemeteries they are far outnumbered by private  burial plots on private land.  The spirits of ancestors live with everyone, are a fact of life, and nobody to be feared.  In some cultures, having a view on your parent’s grave from your living room window might be rather unsettling but it is commonplace here and treated with the utmost respect.  Family land runs from the coast to the inner hills of the island and cannot be bought or sold.  It stays with the family or is leased (one of the main reasons there is not so much outside development).  The large and sometimes opulent burial vaults found in front yards most often belong to the woman of the family who built the house.  Shoveling dirt onto a woman is a disgrace so the body is sealed entirely in concrete.  For sanitation reasons, this practice spread to everyone.

    burial plot in front yard.JPG

    Next time you are planning an exotic get away, give some thought to the Cook Islands – a little slice of paradise!  The Islands are renowned for its many snorkeling and scuba-diving sites

Is being Wealthy the same as being Rich?

Money symbolRecently I finished another book on financial planning and how to become wealthy that my boss passed on to me.  While it is a little late for me as I am now retired (working part-time) and far from wealthy – I consider myself to be very rich.  For those 25 years and under I’ll give you the gist of what I have read on the subject of making money at the end of this post…because while money is a factor it isn’t just money that makes one rich.

For instance, I love to travel and wish I had started much sooner in life because the experiences while travelling have been educational, entertaining and life sustaining – not always – sometimes it is a vacation after all where the purpose is to relax and get away from it all … and sometimes things happen that dampen the enjoyment, but that is life.

I had a discussion with some of my friends recently on the topic of what makes one rich and surprisingly most didn’t say money but things like health, family, having a child, creating art, being in a job/career they loved, being in love, and getting out.  Don’t get me wrong they all thought having more money would help but they aren’t obsessed with it and the societal pressures from advertising to buy, buy, buy – spend, spend, spend!  By the way when I said getting out I meant outside the house, either on some level of fitness, to take in an event, interacting with others in some form of sport or recreation, just getting fresh air or watching a beautiful sunset.

 

Many people, usually ones that realize late in life their aches and pains are going to be a constant part of their lives are happy they are still able to do things and have their health so they consider themselves rich.  Others get together often with their families not just for Christmas and Thanksgiving but for summer barbecues, winter “games nights” and think that family is very important and that they are richer because of the number and quality of their friends and siblings or daughters and sons, etc.  And some people are interested in art and architecture, creating something, music and history and get out to have another shared experience and feel richer for it!  just like Scotia Bank says … you are richer than you think!

And now for that little nugget of info I promised at the beginning!  Pay yourself first, put that money into an investment and through the miracle of compound interest – watch it grow!  In other words, have your employer deduct a certain amount from your pay check at source – that way you will never miss it and put into a separate investment and leave it alone for twenty years – you’ll be surprised what you have at the end of that time period!  Easy, peasy! Lemon squeezy!  Right!!!


 

“Song for Zulu”

Song for Zulu

This song by Phosphorescent is featured on their Dead Oceans Album and is on the soundtrack of The Spectacular Now coming of age movie from 2013.  It got a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes website and is considered to be a thoughtful and poignant representation of teen angst.  I, however, have not seen it.  I am just enthralled with the song, it calms my being and allows me to delve deep into my own emotions and heartbreaks and come out on the other side.  I play it whenever I am feeling down because it gives me hope.  It is painful and beautiful all in one!

It is also on the soundtrack for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from 2014.  Again, another movie I have not seen!

I believe music can help change your life.  Both my husband and I have a list of songs we want played at our funerals that meant something to us as a couple and independently.  This may seem a little macabre to some but we feel it will help our friends remember the good times shared and not the sadness in our passing.

Image result for death quotes Image result for death quotes Image result for death quotes

The message here – enjoy life, it’s the only one you’ll have!

Everything you need to know about Bagpipes and Bands

If you are a fan of bagpipes then the Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle has to be on your bucket list!

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

3 to 25 August 2018

If you have never experienced bagpipes it can give you goosebumps and cause your eyes to tear up with its mournful sound or it can sound like someone stepped on your cat’s tail and it is screeching for you to get the hell off it.  The bagpipes are one of those instruments you either love or hate.

bagpipe parts

The parts of a bagpipe are listed to the left but the main parts are the bag which you fill with air and then squeeze with your arm while blowing in the mouthpiece and covering the holes in the chanter (like a flute) to give you the notes and maintaining a hum through the drones while standing in a kilt*.

You do not start by playing the bagpipes as you will need to build up the stamina slowly in order to play more than a few minutes.

You will start with a practice chanter, which is a small oboe-like double reed woodwind instrument that is very affordable and quiet. You will begin by learning the fingering and grace-noting system required to play Highland Bagpipe tunes. This will take several months.  You can learn on your own but it is better to join a pipeband so that you can learn from others and improve.

Pipe bands consist of pipers and drummers, the number isn’t so important but you should have at least six pipers and a minimum of  two drummers and a bass to carry the sound you want.  You can have as many as 20 pipers or more and a solid line of tenor drummers and snare drummers but only one bass – that is the drum that usually has the band logo imprinted on it and the person is walking crablike sideways so they can see where they are going.

Cambridge Highland games

At competition level pipe bands are judged from Grade 5 through to Grade 1.   Moving to a higher grade requires a bagpipe band to consistently dominate their current grade, sometimes over several seasons. At present day, hundreds of competitions occur all over the world each summer as Grade 5 (the most amateur bands) through Grade 1 (professional-grade bands) compete in their respective categories for trophies, bragging rights, prize money, and prestige.

The World Pipe Band Championships is the most prestigious contest in the world. Every second weekend in August over 250 bands from a dozen or more countries gather on the Glasgow Green in the east side of Scotland’s second largest city. Combined with the other events the week proceeding, it is one of the largest annual Celtic festivals in the world.  Note:  When my husband and I were there, there was a band from Simon Fraser University in B.C. Canada that won.  It was pretty great!


 

Tartan samples

*A kilt is a garment resembling a knee-length skirt of pleated tartan cloth, traditionally worn by men as part of Scottish Highland dress and now also worn by women and girls. Tartan (Scottish Gaelic: breacan [ˈbɾʲɛxkən]) is a pattern consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colours. Tartans originated in woven wool, but now they are made in many other materials. Tartan is particularly associated with Scotland. Scottish kilts almost always have tartan patterns which represent the different clans (groups of kinship) under a chieftain.

You won’t be an expert on bagpipes after reading this but it should help you take your first gingerly step into the world of bagpipes and if you want to try out something a little less traditional there is the Red Hot Chili Peppers to listen to!

Impressions of Claude Monet

The paintings and sculptures of Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cassatt, Morisot, Pissarro and their contemporaries exemplify the Impressionist movement which began to flourish in the Paris of the 1880’s.  Likened to the glimpse out the window of a moving locomotive, these artists strived to convey light and movement and its effects on gardens, landscapes and vignettes of people; to get out of the studios and paint in the open air capturing the natural beauty of its subject.  For Monet this was key; it was the excitement of painting as directly as possible the visible, contemporary world that fired his imagination.

Though their paintings sell for millions of dollars now, when they had their first show in Paris the staid art society of the time scoffed and ridiculed them.  It is one of the ironies of history that their paintings were received with incomprehension and derision by many of the same sort of people who today find them so appealing.  Though Edouard Manet is regarded as “the father of impressionism” it is Claude Monet whose works are more familiar today.  His water lilies series alone are more renowned but Manet was also a master of the style and Degas’ ballerinas are superb.  You would be hard-pressed to say that Renoir was any less a painter than any of the others.  They all deserved and still do the accolades bestowed upon them then and now.

Since I have been following in the footsteps of my extremely lucky sister-in-law while she travels through Europe, I am focusing on Monet as she recently visited one of the towns in which he lived.

Less than 2 hours by train from Paris, Giverny is a village in the region of Normandy in northern France.  Impressionist painter Claude Monet lived and worked here from 1883 until his death in 1926. The artist’s former home and elaborate gardens, where he produced his famed water lily series, are now the Fondation Claude Monet museum. Below is a link to the organization.

http://giverny.org/gardens/fcm/visitgb.htm

If you are in France and have the opportunity to visit this quaint little village, I would recommend you go and see the inspiration for many of Monet’s masterpieces.  A great day trip from Paris.  C’est marvielleux!!

My older brother

Recently my older brother passed away.  He had been in a long term care home for seven years and had all his faculties until the end.  He had a sardonic sense of humour and I visited him regularly for all that time.  We got to know each other a bit better but he always considered me the scatter-brained sister who made lots of mistakes which he was quite willing to point out but I loved him because he was my brother and that is what family is all about.  You don’t have to agree with them or even like them all the time but you are there for them and vice versa.

I remember when we were all still at home and some of us believed in Santa Claus as children and we would all have stockings stuffed with various kinds of nuts and an orange or an apple, a few bits of candy and practical stuff like mittens or socks for the cold winter months.  We would draw names in our household and buy only one gift and everyone hoped that my brother would draw their name as he wrapped his small gift elaborately, taping and hiding coins and bills throughout and putting that small box into a bigger box like Russian nesting dolls (Matryoshka dolls) and when you were done, the rest of the kids could go through it all again and anything missed would become theirs so it was a very exciting game you didn’t want to lose and you felt special because he put so much time and effort into it.

Brothers can be a real pain in the ass at times but when they are gone, you really miss the sarcasm and the kindness shown, the teasing and laughter.  He was a book worm and having a conversation was sometimes awkward but when we played card games or board games he was very competitive and very good at trash talking.  May he rest in peace!

The Magical World of Jules Verne

If you are lucky enough to travel through France and have time to visit other cities as well as Paris and Versailles then I recommend Nantes, birthplace of the renowned author Jules Verne and Amiens where the “House with the Tower” is located and where he wrote many of his works.

Jules Verne is often described as the “father of science fiction,” and among all writers, only Agatha Christie’s works have been translated more. He is such a successful and popular author worldwide that many people forget that he was French.  Verne wrote numerous plays, essays, books of nonfiction, and short stories, but he was best known for his novels.

Part travelogue, part adventure, part natural history, his novels remain popular to this day.  You might even say that he was one of the first travel bloggers of his time.

Many of his novels have been made into movies, television series, radio shows, animated children’s cartoons, computer games and graphic novels.  

Jules VerneJules Gabriel Verne was born February 8, 1828 in the seaport of Nantes, where he was trained to follow in his father’s footsteps as a lawyer but quit the profession when he visited Amiens to be the best man at his friend’s wedding, he fell in love with the bride’s sister (and the city). And as the story goes, the rest was history – he died in Amiens on March 24th, 1905 of diabetes mellitus). Verne rests in the serene Cimetière de la Madeleine, beneath Albert Roze’s sculpture of him, which is titled “Towards immortality and eternal youth”.

After major renovation works, the “House with the Tower” in Amiens, where Jules Verne lived from 1882 to 1900, turned into a museum once again offers visitors a space where the imaginary world and the daily life of the author mix. This luxe 19th century mansion witnessed the success of the writer, who wrote most of his “Extraordinary Voyages” there.  The house reveals the personality, sources of inspiration and memories of Jules Verne and is well worth a visit if only for a small glimpse into the fertile machinations of his brain . Verne’s most famous and enduring novels were written in the 1860’s and 1870’s, at a time when Europeans were still exploring, and in many cases exploiting, new areas of the globe.  Exploiting cultures and land is still a popular pastime for many today!  Pity!

 


 

The first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus was named after Captain Nemo’s submarine in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Just a few years after the publication of Around the World in Eight Days, two women who were inspired by the novel successfully raced around the world.  Nellie Bly would win the race against Elizabeth Bisland, completing the journey in 72 days, 6 hours, and 11 minutes.

Today, astronauts in the International Space Station circle the globe in 92 minutes. Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon presents Florida as the most logical place to launch a vehicle into space, yet this is 85 years before the first rocket would launch from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Again and again, we find the scientific visions of Verne becoming realities.


 

In 2007 a combined art installation and steampunk amusement park on the site of a former shipyard opened.  Île de Nantes is a 337-hectare island in the centre of the city of Nantes, on Brittany’s western edge.   Les Machines de L’île is a 21st century mechanical wonderland where visitors can catch rides on twirling sea creatures – Participants can choose to ride on three levels of mechanical creatures: squid and crab on the lowest level, suspended fish on the second and boats and jellyfish at the top – a breathtaking juxtaposition of old, new – and weird.

The island’s biggest showstopper, however, is a 48-tonne mechanical elephant. The creature, which carries 50 riders, stomps the entire length of the park – from the entrance, across the shipyard and past an old warehouse to the carousel, before looping back to discharge passengers and wait for new ones. The wild ride takes a half hour.  When this majestic beast emerges from its steel cathedral, it is a moving piece of architecture that sets off for a walk. The passengers on board can see what makes the engine and moving feet tick. A machinist will welcome you on board, tell you about its life and set off its trumpeting. As part of the crew, this is an invite for timeless travel in the birthplace of Jules Verne.

Mechanical elephant in Nantes

Quotes from Jules Verne

I believe cats to be spirits come to earth. A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through.

Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.

We may brave human laws, but we cannot resist natural ones.

The sea is everything.  It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe.  It’s breath is pure and healthy.  It is an immense desert where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides.

The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence.

Either of these cities would be worth a visit but both would be fantastic.  Happy Trails!