Accidental photographer

I’m not an accomplished photographer. I have taken photos I like, but I’d be the first to admit I’d never win a prize for my compositions. I’m always especially pleased when photos I’ve taken come out, well, better than my usual. A few weeks ago, I found myself in San Francisco with extra time to explore the city. I’ve been there so may times I wasn’t interested in going to the usual tourist attractions. I was thrilled when my friend, whom I was visiting, suggested we explore Civic Centre. Someplace I’ve driven by but hadn’t yet had an opportunity to explore.

CivicCenter0City hall, built in 1915, is a beautiful example of classical American Architecture. The ornate dome is one of the tallest in the U.S. Brides love the venue; nearly 2,000 weddings take place in City Hall each year. Get this, in 1954 Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio were married there. The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake severely damaged the building, which San Francisco voters spent $300 million to restore. To protect against future earthquakes, a genius base isolator system was installed below each support pillar. Wicked cool engineering makes it so, in the event of an earthquake, the entire building, which is separated from the ground, can sway up to 27 inches in any direction.

CivicCenterCorinthianInside there are dramatic vignettes. I’m not sure why it’s called Classical American Architecture, maybe because the outside looks kinda Federalist and the inside is bedecked in what looks to me more like Neo-Classic. I’m neither an expert or aficionado when it comes to architecture; regardless, it’s still a beautiful building, inside and out.

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(In case you haven’t guessed, I’m quite proud of the Corinthian column photo.)

Across the plaza sits the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, where I had had the pleasure of visiting a couple of years ago. The permanent collections are exquisite and well worth another visit.

ChineseDragon

I was particularly enchanted with the exquisitely crafted dragons. What’s not to love about mythical creatures who continue to capture the imagination of millions of people all over the world?

I’m glad I had an opportunity to look around the Asian Art Museum once more; otherwise I would have missed this guy. (Another photo I truly like.)

Quintessentially Québecois: Wednesday

Previous: Quintessentially Québecois: Tuesday
From the beginning: Quintessentially Québecois: Sunday

Wednesday we took a ferry across the river and walked around Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu. There are many independently owned ferries dotting the Richelieu River shoreline.

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The capitan encouraged us to exit the car to better enjoy the view.  A fellow traveler asked me if I wanted him to take my photo. Well, I guessed he said that from his actions, as he was speaking in French.

IMG_0684The village is charming, and we lucked out because there was a fiber artist working in one of the shops in which we had wandered.  It looked like she was weaving, but she explained that she was braiding. We learned fingerbraiding or finger weaving a Ceinture fléchée, a traditional French-Canadian “arrow sash.” From Wikipedia:

In Quebec, this wool sash was used by men to tie jackets around their waists to prevent the cold from creeping in.

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Our docent spent quite a while chatting with us about the history of  Ceinture fléchée. She spoke only French, and I was glad my host was a willing and deft translator.

Her fingers swiftly worked the fibers and the design unfolding did, indeed, have an arrowesque design. Apparently, French Canadian traders learned finger weaving from the Native Americans.

Okay, so I must confess that for a moment there, I really wanted to learn how to make one of the beautiful creations. My fingers itched to figure out how she was fingerbraiding, yet somehow I managed to refrain from indulging my desire to buy yarn, dash back to the house, and then begin to make my very own L’Assomption sash. Somehow, I kept myself in check.

Debeur_BistroDeLaRive-600Wandering lovely villages is thirsty work. We wandered into the Bistro bar de la Rive to rest our tired feet and quench our dry throats. Wow, that was poetic, wasn’t it? Truth is, I was enchanted with the idea of sitting on a terrace with a scenic view of the river and sipping something a tad bit stronger than lemonade or tea.

BistroSaintLaurantRiver_kHappily, Bistro bar de la Rive made real my picturesque fantasy. I would like to relate how I spent time leisurely sipping my amber ale. Nope, I sucked my beer down like there was no tomorrow. I can’t say I was in any way bothered by this because before I reached the bottom of my glass, it began to sprinkle. We moved from our spot to one better sheltered from the elements, where we could watch the scenery change from realism to impressionism. The warm, rainy interlude lasted until we were ready to mosey.

By the time we returned home, I was well and truly tired. Maybe it was jet lag, who knows? Happily, I was able to vege on the couch while my host made dinner.

Ever have one of the meals where the sauce is so amazing, you want to smother it all over you body? How does bell peppers, onions, tofu, and coconut milk go from ordinary to abso-freakin’-lutely amazing? Clearly, there was wizardry at play. Ask me if I had seconds. G’ahead, ask. Yes, yes I did.

Next: Quintessentially Québecois: Thursday

Quintessentially Québecois: Tuesday

Previous: Quintessentially Québecois: Monday
From the beginning: Quintessentially Québecois: Sunday

IMG_0672I awoke to the sound of rain. It was early, and as I was on vacation, I decided to roll over and return to sleep. I woke up several hours later, remaining in bed to read a little while. When I heard other members of the house stirring, notably the cat meowing to come in for breakfast, I made my way out to the kitchen.

We ate oatmeal for breakfast, garnished with slivered almonds and dried apricots (delicious!). It’s a relatively simple addition, yet my taste buds were doing the happy dance.

The morning was filled with assorted tasks and a gaming session, we played Fireboy and Watergirl.  The game’s theme music reminded me of a game I knew my kids had played. Upon my return, I asked my son what other game had a similar soundtrack. “Mom, we used to play Fireboy and Watergirl.” Oh, so that’s why the music sounded so familiar!

PorchIn the early afternoon, we walked to the village market, which is a few blocks away. Part way into our walk, a motorist gestured and gleefully pantomimed something to us, which we couldn’t interpret. We scratched our heads and shrugged our shoulders, momentarily perplexed. Shortly after, we felt a whisper of mist. No big deal, what’s a little mist? A few steps more, and the mist turned to rain. Should we turn around and go back home? As we were at the halfway point, we decided to take our chances. What’s a little rain? Seconds after deciding to forge ahead, we were walking through a torrential downpour. Thankfully, it was a relatively warm rain, not quite as warm as a shower, although for a moment there I thought if I had brought soap… We took refuge on a neighbors porch until the storm passed. Huddled in the corner, the only dry spot, we laughed and marveled at the intensity of the storm.

What, you may ask, was so important to acquire at the market? Strawberries! Yes, we willing to brave the elements, and become soaked in the process, to buy ripe, ruby red strawberries. Truthfully, when we started out, the sky was clear.

Evidently, we survived the storm; else I wouldn’t be writing this post. It is a treasured moment, one that brings a smile to my lips whenever I recall it.

Did I spend time wandering around the market? Yes, of course! I walked up and down the aisles, looking for regional delicacies. The walk back was uneventful. However, there was a huge puddle I kinda wanted to splash and stomp around in, like a kid trying out a new pair of galoshes. I mean, what the heck, I was already soaked through, why not? I refrained, barely.

We spent the afternoon talking, brainstorming, and taking copious notes on the ideas our conversations had sparked. Generating ideas is hungry work, and there were strawberries calling our names. We topped the strawberries with yogurt mixed with honey, almonds, and dark chocolate. Okay, it was more of a dessert than a late afternoon snack. I’m positive there’s an adage out there about eating dessert first, isn’t there? So, we were simply following Ernestine Ulmer’s advice!

After our dessert-like snack, my host treated me to a Tarot reading. He’s quite talented! If you’ve spent any time poking around my blog, you may have noticed I have long nails. I mention this because I had a difficult time picking up the cards I had selected from the cards fanned out on the table. At the beginning of the reading I slid a few cards to the table edge and then turned them over. However, had I continued with this method, I would have mussed the evolving spread of cards. I resorted to pointing to the cards I wanted, and my host/Tarot card reader turned and then placed them for me. I must confess, for the few moments spent selecting cards I kinda enjoyed being the girly, damsel in distress, and I couldn’t have asked for a more courtly knight in shining armor. (I will detail the reading in a follow-on post. Stay tuned!)

Time flew. Before long, my host was making dinner.  We enjoyed pork loin cutlets with sweet potatoes and zucchini, which my host had artfully arranged on our plates. Sadly, I didn’t remember to photograph our meal. I wonder if my host/chef, would recreate our meals, and then send me photos. Too much to ask? Indeed. Sigh.

We touched on many topics during dinner. The wine paired with our meal loosened my tongue, as if I need much prodding, and I geeked out over interactive eBook ideas. I’m guessing I didn’t bore anyone too much with my plunge into nerdiness, as I didn’t notice glazed eyes, excessive fidgeting, or snoring emitting from slacked jaws, (the usual reaction I get when I geek out, so I generally refrain).

During dinner, we very lightly and very briefly touched on religion. Dane Cook’s Atheist Sneeze popped into my head, and I thought it might be a fun thing to watch. We did, and it was. We talked a moment about comedy writing, timing, and how well written and performed Atheist Sneeze is. Of course, we couldn’t stop at just one routine! We spent about an hour viewing some of his other YouTube offering, none of which I had seen before.

Alas and alack, the hour was late and the bed beckoned. As I crawled into bed, I noticed a complete lack of tension. Apparently, I had successfully left all my worries behind. Ahhh, so this is what it feels like to be stress free.

Quintessentially Québecois: Monday

Previous: Quintessentially Québecois: Sunday

I had forgotten to turn off my alarm for the week, and we were rudely awakened at 6 am. I jumped out of bed and quickly disabled the setting for the rest of the week before returning to bed for another couple of hours. Isn’t sleeping in one of the pleasures in which one on vacation indulges?

For breakfast, we had orange juice, Quinoa pancakes, and coffee. Our repast was delicious. There’s something particularly authentic about having Canadian maple syrup while in Canada. After washing up the dishes, we took a walk in the village.

On the banks of the river, we saw a muskrat. He was so cute!!!! The song Muskrat Love kept playing in my head, the version sung by America.

In a small park local fiber artists had yarn bombed a tree. What fun! There were even small, cleverly crocheted birds decorating the branches. I loved knowing my fellow fiber enthusiasts were close at hand.

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We spent the afternoon enjoying a bird watching boat tour. We saw a bald eagle in flight, he was quite majestic! We saw an immature one in flight, too. Sadly, I wasn’t quick enough to snap photos of either bird.

IMG_0637The tour guide spoke mostly in French. Happily, my hosts effortlessly translated for me.

The couple sharing our boat were definitely bird enthusiasts. They graciously lent us their binoculars whenever there were birds of interest to view. IMG_0642We watch a bird eating a fish up in a tree for a bit. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny with a cooling breeze.

I had made the mistake of not bringing sunscreen with me. I was burned to a crisp by the end of our tour.

I had the pleasure of visiting Cégep de Sorel-Tracy. The campus is lovely, and I enjoyed wandering the empty halls, not unlike a specter of lessons past. I resisted the urge to do something remarkably silly. If there had been an open lecture room, perhaps I would have drawn on the whiteboards. Maybe I would have written “Help! I’m being held prisoner behind this whiteboard!” backward. Then again, I’d be writing in English, backward, how amusing would that be? Alas and alack, the rooms were all locked.

We stopped at a grocery story on the way back to the house. I don’t know why, but I get a kick out of wandering around grocery stores, especially in far away places. I like to see what’s similar, what’s different, look at the various brands, examine the different types of packaging and labeling. I was tickled to have had lots of time to indulge my rather odd predilection.

IMG_0660That night we dined on duck a l’orange, served with whole wheat couscous, roasted turnips, and asparagus.

Seriously yummy!

I helped make the turnips (yay, me!). Here’s what I remember of the recipe:

Cubed, tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, and a pinch of sugar. Roasted in the oven until tender.

I have no idea what other spices might have been used, or the oven temperature. Hmmm, maybe I’ll need to take another journey to further research these mysteries.

Next: Quintessentially Québecois: Tuesday

Quintessentially Québecois: Sunday

This year I flew to Québec for my annual migration in June, the week before my 50th birthday. I took an 11:30 am flight instead of my usual 7 am departure time. I liked not getting up at the butt-crack of dawn, yet I felt I was imposing on my host for arriving so close to midnight. The flight was easy, only slightly delayed because of an electrical storm. It took a while for the baggage to make it onto the conveyor belt, something about not wanting the crew to be electrocuted while they were unloading everyone’s belongings. Safety and all that, n’est-ce pas?

This year I had the distinct pleasure of being picked up at the airport instead of catching a cab. Don’t get me wrong, cab rides can be quite enjoyable. Yet, there was something extra special having someone waiting for my arrival, and the hour-long drive to our destination was sprinkled with witty repartee, laughter, and comfortable silences. While I was staying in Saint-Ours, I would like to point out that I did not see any bears, sainted or otherwise.

We arrived at what was to be my home for the week, and I was quickly settled into bed — it was well past midnight when we pulled into the driveway. There was one small flaw in all the plans and preparations I had made for my trip: I forgot to disable the work alarm on my phone. Yup, you guessed it: my wake up tune warbled at 6 am, arrgh! I quickly silenced it, and then promptly turned over and went back to sleep.

Next: Quintessentially Québecois: Monday

Adventure Time Kitty: Homeward Bound

I march to the ticket counter with my bags in tow, slightly conflicted. I had enjoyed my week in Montréal, and I secretly wished I could vacation there for another week, or maybe a month – heck, I fantasized about moving there. Yet my heart, rather those who fill my heart with great joy, are waiting for me in San Diego. Yes, my son and two daughters were eager for my return. How do I know? Simple: The increased number of texts and phone calls. Oh, and the following phrase typed or recited with each call or text: “When are you coming home?”

Images of their faces and remembrance of fun times we’ve had together danced through my head as I placed my bag, heavy with souvenirs for my family, on the scale where it is weighed, tagged, and then disappeared. I don’t give it a second thought. I have faith that it will be at the correct airport at the correct time.

I go through the motions every traveler must when flying. Shortly before boarding the plane, the announcement that we must forfeit our carry-on bags, as the flight was overbooked, squawked over the loudspeakers. Whatever, I think as I let the attendant tag my bag and whisk it behind the counter. I still have my shoulder bag with all the necessary accoutrements for air travel:

  • 20140823_114211Apple
  • Ear buds
  • Hazelnut butter sammy on sprouted grain bread (seriously yummy!)
  • iPad
  • Knitting (which I totally ignored because I made a stupid mistake and I don’t know how to fix it. Humph!)
  • Smart phone
  • Trail mix
  • Water

You know, the essentials.

I board the plane and settle into my seat. The first segment, from Montréal to Toronto, was short, however, the flight was about 10 minutes late landing. No big deal, flights are frequently late. The customs gig was a bit confusing. My bag checked at the gate was on the conveyor belt, but my bag checked at the ticket counter wasn’t. It took me a while to realize that the ticket-checked bag would be waiting for me upstairs, in US customs. Well, that’s different, as before my bag was waiting for me to take it to Canadian customs. No worries. I followed the signs to asile 7. I found customs and waited there for my name to appear on the marquee. It never showed up. I stuff down my panic, as it was moments away from the time to begin boarding my San Diego flight.

I explained my plight to a staff member, who directed me to the ticket counter. Adam, the guy at the ticket counter, did everything he possibly could aside from flagging down the plane I was supposed to be on and carrying me on board. Alas, I missed my flight. There were several moments there when I entertained the idea of bursting into tears. A good cry is cleansing, n’est pas? I didn’t, yay, me! Adam worked his magic, to include hunting down my bag, arranging for a complementary hotel room, and making sure I understood all the special instructions he gave me.

I thanked Adam for delaying his dinner break, and for making sure to at least book me on a flight that got me to the West coast – specifically, San Francisco. Yes, it arrived at around midnight and yes, I couldn’t catch a flight to first LA and then to San Diego until after 6 am the next morning, yet just knowing that I was traveling in the direction toward my ultimate destination made me feel better. The fact that this flight, too, was over booked, and that they ran out of meals before getting to me, didn’t faze me. After all, I had brought sustenance with me. I was good to go.

I made it to San Francisco, where the airline couldn’t locate my bag, find a hotel in which I could spend the night, or locate the flight Adam had booked me on (it was cancelled, go figure). However, they did give me a $15 meal voucher. I know, I know, I might have pitched a fit, but how could I, when several of the airline personnel worked diligently to solve all my travel problems? Plus, they were nice, and laughed at my silly jokes.

While there are several eating establishments to choose from, they were all closed. Except for Subway, my least favorite, yet only choice. Truth be told, food at an airport Subways in the middle of the night when you’re pretty darn hungry is this side of outstanding. After eating, I found a place to curl up on the floor and catch a few zzz’s. There are two important things to know about sleeping on the floor at an airport: It’s cold and hard. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure that I napped, because when I awoke, it was closer to check-in time.

After boarding the plane to LA and situating myself in my chair, I promptly fell asleep. I awoke upon touch down, no matter how skilled the pilot, there’s that jarring thud when the wheels hit the pavement, and asked my fellow passenger if I had snored. He claimed that I didn’t, bless him. I had visions of myself sawing wood, and drooling out of the corner of my mouth. Glad to know that didn’t happen.

I was happy to be in an airport where the eating establishments were open. I had enough time to score a latte and something that passed for breakfast before boarding the plane to my final destination. Prop plains are small, but the personality of our flight attendant was enormous. She was a riot and I had a good time bantering with her.

I saw my hubby and my youngest daughter (she’s so cute!) waiting for me at the baggage carousel. I swept my daughter into a ginormous hug and smothered her with kisses. She was a good sport about letting me maul her for a whole 22 seconds before pushing me away. Okay, okay, I’ll behave. (At least she held my hand.) The good news is that I arrived in one piece with my sanity (mostly) intact. The bad news is, my bag didn’t. We made a lost bag claim, and then my entourage took me home.

It took a couple of days, but my bag did arrive, and I was able to (finally) bestow upon my family members their gifts from abroad.

Next time I go somewhere, I’m going to present proper offerings to the gods of travel. You know, just to hedge my bets.

Adventure Time Kitty: Thursday in Montréal

Previous: Wednesday in Montréal

Thursday came too fast. I wanted the week to crawl by; alas, time marched on without a nod toward my wishes. It was definitely a morning for coffee at Second Cup, my new favorite coffee place. I struck up a conversation with a fellow coffee aficionado, and we spent the morning chatting and laughing. I learned that he reads Tarot cards, and that he just so happened to have his deck with him. Hey, opportunity knocked, so I accepted his invitation for a reading.

I know that there are all sorts of taboos surrounding Tarot cards. But really, it’s just an interesting way to examine where you are in a particular point in time. After I shuffled the subset of major arcana cards, he spread them out and had me select seven and place them in a particular order. We ended up with the following layout:


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G: The Lover

E: Emperor, F: Chariot

B: Judgement, D: The Devil, C: Temperance

A: Justice

 

Order: Card Position Description
A: Justice How people see you Someone who takes care of business, who can run things, sometimes too harshly (the sword).
B: Judgement One of your qualities The capacity to judge in the right way, without wickedness but without indulgence
C: Temperance One of your defects
Giving too much energy to take care of people, trying to be the mom of everyone
D: The Devil The Happy Medium (the advantages you can take from both B and C) Knowing when it is time for you to become “selfish” (to take care of yourself by allowing you earthly pleasures)
E: Emperor & F: Chariot The Straight and Narrow (where D might lead you) Domination, conquest, coming back home with confidence and strength
G: The Lover Your Secret Weapon (your emotional center of gravity) Love! Embracing people in true and honest caring

The one thing that struck me about the Devil and the Lover cards, is that they look as if they have minions. When I think of minions, I think minionof the movie Despicable Me. Heck, yeah, I totally dig those little dudes! They’re so cute.

I think that the spread was informative, and the reader’s interpretation was insightful and interesting. I can’t help but want to sum it all up and glean a greater meaning, but that’s just wasn’t in the cards (that was punny). Instead, I took a look at how others see me, and as long I as come across as fair and non-judgmental, then I am satisfied that I’m where I need to be at this point in my life.

My new, Tarot reading, coffee drinking buddy and I parted ways with a promise to keep in touch. Want to know something cool? We truly are keeping in touch. We’ve tossed several emails back and forth between us. It’s nice when you make a new friend during vacation, and they become an integrated part of your real life.

Despite my two soy lattes, my stomach was in great need of sustenance. I could have made breakfast, but I chose to hustle everyone out of bed and out into the general direction of food and shopping. Indeed, shopping day was upon us! I needed gifts to bring back to my munchkins and my hubby.

There’s this trick I learned when I visited Hawaii many years ago. My island host taught me to shop for souvenirs at Longs drug store, because the prices were 1/3 less maplesyrupthan the tourist stops. There isn’t a Longs in Montreal, (aren’t the out of business?) but there were drug stores of similar caliber, which did indeed carry things like Maple Syrup.  Just for the fun of it, I did a price check at a nearby pharmacy, and compared that price to the local market, a touristy place, and the airport. You can guess that the airport was astronomical. Roughly, it was 6$ at the pharmacy, 8-9$ at the store and the tourist place, and 16$ at the airport — for the same size bottle! Looks like the trick my island host taught me for buying souvenirs works in other parts of the world, too. After the Price Is Right experiment, we walked a few blocks to Cacao 70. Oh, yet another place where the 20140821_135614hot chocolate is decedent. I loved the look and feel of the place. I ordered a fruit, yogurt, and granola bowl.

I was expecting something appetizing, yet I was served a mast20140821_141251erpiece.

They drizzled chocolate on top! Seriously yummy. From the tart yogurt mixed with sweet honey, to the fresh sweet-tart berries and just ripe bananas, to the crunch of the granola, each bite evoked a new taste and texture sensation.

After enjoying a healthy and satisfying breakfast, it was off to the mall. Yup, I wanted to go malling – I had gifts for kids to buy. There’s no way I could go home empty handed.

I had such fun in the t-shirt shop. The owner, a sweet man of Asian descent, helped me find the styles I liked in the sizes I needed. He had a great laugh and made sure I was well taken care of.

I don’t know exactly why, but I was jonesing to look around in Canadian Tire. So we did. It’s kinda, maybe, sorta like Sears, but not exactly. There’s only so much shopping one can do before [this] one gets shopped out. Time to head back home and do that packing thing.

In no time, I was packed and ready for tomorrow’s trip back to San Diego. If it were’t for the magnetic pull of my family, I could easily have stayed in vacation bliss for a decade. Maybe longer.

NextHomeward Bound