Tuesday, December 27, 2016

On the sex life of the Holly

Most gardeners know that Ilex or holly needs a partner - another holly tree or bush, to have them both produce those gorgeous red berries so popular in winter, when everything else is bland and grey.

Several years ago, a horrific ice storm took one of our holly bushes, not to mention many limbs from our maple tree and a few other arboreal casualties. OK, the maple is self pollinating, and I made sure that the fruit trees, I planted, were as well. However, the hollies weren't.  I wasn't sure which holly had died. Yes, it was the one on the right, but was that the male or the female or as they are known at the garden centre - the prince or the princess.

Every spring when a few blossom would appear on a couple of twigs, I promised myself that I would find time to take a cutting to the garden centre and find out if my bush was either male or female. I needed to know whether to buy a prince or a princess to replace the one lost. Time, of course, was never found and the mystery of the sexual identity of my holly bush was never solved, even though, I was sure it was female, because of the blossoms.

This year to everyone's surprise, we have red berries on the mystery bush!! Eureka, a transgendered holly or at least, a bi-sexual one.

I never cease to marvel at the inventiveness of nature. It makes its own rules and is never swayed by mores imposed upon it. It changes, as needed, to accommodate the situation and it gives us pleasure in the most infinitesimal ways.

Holly, by the way, is sacred to the fairies and is said to protect man from evil. It is an ancient plant with mystical powers. Well, it magically transformed itself in our garden. Please share any holly stories you may have.

The picture - a holly sprig on the sacred bush. We place a piece of holly at everyone's place setting on Christmas day. I prefer it to tinsel.

Have a jolly, holly day!!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Amo, Amas, Amat...

...I love, you love, he/she loves....Well, it is that time of year, when everything else fades in the magic of lights, music, family, friends and good cheer.

I couldn't resist posting, on another knitters thread, this link to a site that lists the conjugation of the latin verb, amare - to love, in all its many tenses - intense. Here it is -


Just in case you needed a bit more of that love or another variation, be it - conditional, subjunctive, pluperfect or yes, future perfect :)

I always marvel at the fact that some languages have very few or no tenses at all, for their verbs. They live, for the most part, in the eternal present. On the other hand the English language has one of the most complicated, dare I say twisted, network of verb structures known to man.

It must have something to do with the angst of the English. Or as Macbeth said -

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly;

Well, maybe not that quickly, when you consider all the time taken to ponder the nuances of what's to be done. Would the deed or event, be done imperfectly, never quite finishing or would it be done so completely that it would be considered pluperfect, a sort of uber perfect. Then again, would it be done conditionally or horror of horrors, subjunctively - whatever that may entail!!

No wonder the Brits are often considered a somewhat sedentary culture. Yes, they have produced prodigious writers and scholars, but they aren't really know for their actions - very little, beyond a few wars, actually "got done" over there. However, a lot got pondered!!

But I digress. Let's get back to the Love - amore, amores, which is a masculine noun - surprise, surprise and the ablative plural is amoribus - it is also the dative plural. So it begs the question did all love really start with a date on a bus?

I'll leave you to ponder that. The picture? Just cooking up a bit of silliness for the holiday :)

Monday, December 19, 2016


.....The Ugly Christmas Sweater!! Please, let me explain!!

Sometime in mid-November, my youngest was telling us about a planned Christmas party at his work. There was to be a "Secret Santa" gift exchange and an "Ugly Christmas Sweater" contest. He loved the concept of the ugly Christmas Sweater!! (In my heart, I wept - how did beautiful Fair Isle motifs, in red and green come to this, sigh!)

Nicholas (Yes, named after St. Nicholas) also loves clothes, in all their finery. He has taste, I might add, and the ugly Christmas sweater is the antithesis of this taste. He mentioned the "ugly Christmas sweater" last year, as well. To him it's a clothing joke and he wanted to have one, just for the fun of it!! This year, he started describing, what he considered ugly - "I just want to put a mess of something right in the middle of the sweater!!"

I rose to the occasion. Yes, there are things in knitting that some consider ugly - chunky acrylic yarn comes to mind. I knew I had inherited some chunky acrylic from my mother's stash, and it was actually in red and green - what could be more perfect. Clearly someone else had started and then abandoned an ugly Christmas something, a long time ago.

On 8mm needles the project would be quick. It would not only feed my need to design "costume," but it would also be a challenge, to make something "ugly" in an amazing way, if you know what I mean!!

Together, we decided on a Christmas tree in the centre of the sweater, which could be decorated with jingle bells and flashing lights - I love song and dance!! Somehow ugly was starting to be a lot of fun!!

I found the yarn, which was still bright and cheery and I also found my 8mm circular needles. A quick read of the yarn label gave me the gauge and a measurement from an old sweater gave me the width. I cast on in red. After the first skein, something didn't look right - It was way too big. I am a loose knitter, but really.

I ripped it out and started again. This time I had done front and back and grafted the shoulders together. Nicholas tried it on - too small. Ugh. The journey was becoming ugly as well. However, this time I had gone too far. I wasn't ripping it out again, so I decided to cut a steek from the underarm to the bottom of the ribbing on both sides of the sweater and insert two green panels. It worked - sort of. I attached the panels with red saddle stitching to make them look, as though they were an intended aspect of the design - more lies that knitters tell themselves!!

The sweater finally fit in the body, but it was now too short. Well, it might have always been too short, but I hadn't noticed, in my horror of its being too small in the first place.

I could add some tabs that tapered and held a jingle bell, maybe. No, not fancy enough. Finally I picked up the bottom edge and knit another band of ribbing, this time in green and added tabs of red with gold jingle bells attached. Ugly is starting to come together!!

I added epaulets in green at the shoulders to give the side panels a little more presence and I decorated the epaulets, giving them a little more presence, because of the highly decorated ribbing. It never fails. Somehow you can't just add a little something here and there - you have to add a lot of everything everywhere to make it all work!!

Several trips to the dollar store netted lots of tiny, gaudy Christmas decorations and my husband found some flashing lights at another dollar store near his work. I love family projects.

I knit a Christmas tree in garter stitch, sewed on a dozen or so decorations and stitched the tree to the front of the sweater. The battery for the flashing lights could be slipped into the bottom of the tree and activated later. I've got my fingers crossed that the battery actually works and the lights will flash!!

Finally an "Ugly Christmas Sweater" tastefully executed such that all the mistakes were incorporated into the design, ;) the design works, the sweater fits and my out of pocket expenses were less than $10.00. My son will now go to his Christmas party as a cross between one of Santa's elves, the nutcracker and maybe the little drummer boy.

I'll let you know if he wins!!

Have a Merry Christmas!!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Canadian - eh?

Or maybe that's ech! Nothing makes me feel more Canadian than a blizzard that starts about 3:00pm on a workday afternoon - just early enough to coat the roads with a slick of ice, before it's time to even think of getting home.

This is when a thirty minute commute turns into a three hour gut wrencher through blinding white outs in a crawl of cars, trucks, and buses. Not to mention the pedestrians, if you can even see them camouflaged in black and white or worse, white and white.

This time I was the pedestrian and I was walking faster than the cars were travelling, even though I was battling the wind in my face, which blinded the eyes, but didn't, fortunately, freeze the lashes - we are ever thankful for small mercies!!

Blizzards are the dark side of a white winter, sigh!!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Fine Art of Escape

Art is a great healer. It takes the mind and the heart from the troubles of the day to a different space, a different time, a different world. Maybe that's why so many artists seem so "spaced out," most of the time -  they are someplace else.

I have been doing some fibre Art lately, namely needle felting. Here is my first attempt.

I need to go there, now!!

On the morning after a great American tragedy, I have begun another retreat. Here is a work in progress.

Today and for sometime to come, I will create places that nurture the soul. Through Art, Peace and Love shall prevail.

Have a healing day!!

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Pizza as performance Art!!

My husband is away for a few weeks, so I have to hold down the fort. However, I have decided to make it a productive two weeks. That is to say, I have decided to clean out the fridge, which also includes the freezer.

Why can this not be done when my husband is home? Well, he's picky, likes to have "proper meals," not particularly fond of left overs and I could go on... but not tonight.

So to date I have managed to use up some leftover cornmeal in a cornbread with pulled pork. I don't think that my husband has ever had cornbread - polenta, yes - cornbread no.

There were a few other suspicious looking packages in the freezer, which, when thawed, were used with pasta - that great dinner escort service!! Yes, they were identifiable. I think one of them was Haddock :)

However, there were still a few things left, that may have been there since the Ark. Most notably, there was that pepperoni which costs $6.00 and I was damned, if I was going to throw it out!!  Well nothing says pizza like pepperoni, so I decided that we would have homemade pizza for dinner. Here's how it went.

1. I had a package of yeast in the cupboard. I know that they have found yeast in Egyptian tombs, so I was sure that mine would still be OK.

2. I had already bought some prepared tomato sauce for pizza - usually against my principles, but, if the yeast was really prehistoric, then, why waste time and money making a "proper tomato sauce"?

3. I thawed the pepperoni, bought pineapple, for my daughter's side of the pizza, and some mushrooms. Fortunately everyone loves mushrooms.

4. I made the dough and left it to rise. Waiting for dough to rise, is a little like waiting for Godot - somehow it never happens. So, when it didn't, you know rise, I had to get inventive. Finally I cranked up the volume, so to speak, by putting it in a very slow oven. It worked.

5. I thought there was just enough dough for 1 pizza, - obviously the Egyptians never made pizza. However my daughter thought that we really needed two pizzas. I cut the circle in half and proceeded to make a circle from a semi-circle. Euclid must never have used dough for geometry - just a little too malleable, for the rigidity of his math. I needed an Escher!!

6. With much pulling and prodding we got the crust into the circular pan and worked it into a "sort of" circle.

7. My son took over grating the Mozzarella. Clearly my slices were not fashionable enough.

Finally the "pies" were oven ready and the oven had stopped smoking from the last accident that went in there. Why we have smoke detectors, when they spend most of their time off the wall!!

It might have been a quiet, even artistic 15 minutes of texting their dad with photos of the pizzas in progress had the neighbours not decided that it was Guy Fox night, as far as they were concerned and all Hell broke loose. Our door was open because of our smoke and their back yard was ablaze with bonfires and fireworks!! Every time a firecracker exploded, I thought it was the oven and we were doomed!!

Now, I know that I will never be a stage manager - getting recalcitrant actors to perform - dough, taming pyrogenics that work overtime - oven, working with prima donas - neighbours and still having to put on a performance - pizza for dinner - not for me.

Give me a Shakespearean sonnet over Taming of the Shrew and I am a happy camper.

Have a great day!!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Ashes to ashes...dust to dust....

.......Well maybe not. Last week my brother-in-law passed away. Death is always very sad. It can be ameliorated by age or circumstance, perhaps, but it is still a parting, an emptiness, that only the one who has passed, can fill.

It helps, though, to focus on the positives. I am happy to say that he was a good man. Although, he never married, he did look after his immediate family - brother, sister, nieces and nephews, when called upon, and he did create opportunities for the family to "come together," after their mother had died.

He was also very successful in his life's work, which involved computers from their early development - late '60s early '70s. OK, he wasn't an Alan Turing, but he did know several of the very early computer languages and worked with multinational corporations in Europe, Africa, Britain and Canada, developing "computer systems" for libraries - he was also an avid reader.

I am not sure that knowing computer languages makes you a linguist but my brother-in-law was also  fluent in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. Scottish Gaelic was a language he was mastering, just before his death - not exactly a "dead" language, but it might have been a calling home.

Ironically, although, he was a linguist, he was not a conversationalist. Small talk bored him and he found people with small minds insufferable. Fortunately, he tolerated family. Needless to say, making conversation, at times, was a challenge. I often resorted to discussing the intricacies of a language to keep the conversation going, as it were.

For example, "in gaelic does the verb come first in the sentence and if so, does it explain the unusual sentence structure of those who speak it."

Such as - "So, sleeping, is it, that you'll be doing."

Alas, I have digressed. I need to get back to the ashes and the dust. However final it may seem, Death is a work in progress for the survivors. There are lawyers, government agencies, funeral directors, florists, friends, contacts etc., etc., to be notified.

There are the books, notebooks, keepsakes and curios of the deceased to be attended to and then there are the ashes. My brother-in-law requested cremation. Easy enough on paper, however, put into practice, this is how it went.

Ben is centre back

1. There are three crematoriums in Edinburgh - two are operational and one is closed for renovations. Remember Death is an industry.

2. There is a waiting list. Even in the afterlife one cannot escape the proverbial British queue. You may die in an instant, but it will take fourteen days to bury you.

3. Then there is the burial. Some throw ashes out to sea or strew them in a favourite public place. Still others keep the spirit on a mantelpiece or in a top draw. In fact, I can say "hi" to my mother, whenever I reach for my comb - she lives in my top drawer.....oops maybe I shouldn't have said that!

I had mentioned to my husband, if he had trouble finding a final resting place for his brother's ashes, he might think of  having them buried in the plot with his mother and father in Blantyre. Now, this is where things got really tricky. My husband said that, that particular cemetery was closed and although both his mother and father were there, there were several other people buried in the plot, as well, whom nobody knew.

Now, I ask you, do you know with whom you will be spending eternity? It may not just be a case of ashes and dust. There are all these other considerations and all the skeletons, so to speak, that come out of the woodwork. Death is not for the faint of heart and it takes more than a certificate to say you have gone. In fact, if you think about it, you could literally hang around for a long time waiting for the powers that be to sort it out.

A little macabre, perhaps, but celtic humour tends to the dark side. It's a way of coping, let's say.

The picture - the family together, minus one nephew, on Christmas in Barcelona, 2012. He was loved!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Santa Barbara

Our last two stops before heading home were Santa Barbara and Marina Del Rey - polar opposites!! Santa Barbara was beautiful. We could walk from our inn to the beach and beyond to the pier. The buildings were low-rise, adobe-style, with palm trees everywhere. No one had built on the beach side of the road, so there were beautiful views of the sea, a sense of open, uncluttered space, and a certain tranquility that comes from harmonious city planning. Thank you St. Barbara!!

We could also walk from the pier right up to the shops on the main street, which were very festive. The only flaw was the interstate highway that might have cut the town off from the beach, had someone not built an underpass. Somehow, no one had considered keeping the old road as it was - a two lane passageway and building the annoying freeway somewhere less annoying - alas!!

Still with all the beauty around - flowers, flowers and more flowers, trees, sunshine and architecture, that blends into the scene, rather than "screams" to be noticed, Santa Barbara is a jewel of a city. Its mission is one of the larger ones in the area and a beauty as well. The grounds are gorgeous with, quiet cloisters, cobbled work areas and a garden path that is edged by the stations of the cross - harmony in nature creating harmony in the soul.

On the other hand, Marina Del Rey is basically a series of marinas flanked by high rises and edged by asphalt. We set out to walk to the pier only to lose our way in a wasteland of parking lots, storage areas and weedy fields. It was typical of the LA area, though - poor planning, car dominant, and not a sidewalk in sight - so sad. There was no need to leave our hotel. There was no place to go. Fortunately we were flying home the next day!!

The picture above? The best of Marina Del Rey - sail boats, shakers of old salts and a sunset.

Have a great day

Monday, September 12, 2016

On a Mission....

We ended our trip to San Francisco with a drive along Highway 1 to LA. We took our time and stayed at a few pretty places along the way. Carmel was our first stop. Again, years ago, we stayed here for an overnight. It's hard to resist streets of lovely boutiques, great restaurants and quaint inns, all leading down to the sea. This time, however, we decided to visit the mission.

Sometime in the 1700s, Spain sent missionaries to California, to establish churches for the purpose of converting the indigenous people to Christianity. Today there are twenty-one missions in California. Many are still operating as Catholic churches, some house elementary schools, others sponsor retreats and still others, preserve what was, in museums.

One could easily make a holiday of a week or two simply by visiting all 21 missions. We missed the original mission in San Francisco - this, of course means, we have to make another trip!! However, in case we may not get the chance, Carmel made up for it. Gorgeous gardens, adobe cloisters and a beautiful church, captured a time that, unfortunately, has passed. Still on a lovely sunny day, with a warm breeze, one can imagine the peace, harmony and order of a congregation dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of colonial life.

Never underestimate the power of the spirit, housed in the relics of the past - it lives and leaves its mark on the souls of the passersby - we are all one!!

Our next stop was San Luis Obispo. I chose it because it sounded like an interesting place. "Sound" being the operative word - Never travel with a linguist - they will take you to places you wish you had never heard of. Actually, over the years the name SLO - San Luis Obispo has come up on my radar too many times - articles in newspapers, magazines, the odd broadcast or podcast has mentioned its quadrants. I had to go there.

Well, "tick," I don't have to go there again. My husband took to calling it San Luis Abysmal. Well it really wasn't that bad. It was just a very typical west coast city. You needed a car. The shops all closed at 6:00pm. There were a few restaurants, more bars than you would care to count, and the mission was a "drive past." Sorry there were no gardens, it was in a nicely treed neighbourhood, but there really was no sense of history. There was something too suburban about it.

The nicest thing about SLO was where we stayed. It was a converted motel that looked like a slice of Provence!! It was called the Le Petit Soleil and was the one piece of magic in a rather mundane urbanscape. I have been to Provence, many times and I swear that this was the closest place, in North America, to Arles or Avignon, that I have seen. All the signage was French, the decor was influenced by various French artists and the courtyard was an oasis of potted plants, armoires, bistro tables and cobblestones. The fact that no one said "Bon Jour" or the staff struggled with basic French pronunciation could be overlooked. They may have been taken for students studying in France!!

More on our last two stops - next post.

Have an amazing day!!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sunny Sonoma.....

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a side trip to the wine valleys. Years ago we spent a week or so travelling through both the Sonoma and Napa valleys, staying at lovely inns, buying lunches from famous delis and picnicking in vineyards, with a bottle of wine. Decadence, thy name maybe, California.

This time we had just a day, so we had to be organized -
1. We rented a car - very easy and quite cheap!!
2. We got out of San Francisco - not so easy!
3. We got lost - very easy - do it all the time!
4. We back tracked to the road my husband said we should have taken and I said, "Don't be silly. Sonoma will be signed posted." - not!
5. We found Sonoma - finally.

Sonoma is a beautiful place. It has the last mission in California, San Francisco Solano and it has a wonderful square at its centre, surrounded by hundreds of shops, delis, and cafes. We bought sandwiches at the same deli we had visited over thirty years ago and we got directions to the first winery, we had ever been to, in California, Buena Vista.

The winery, itself had made some changes, but not enough to make it unrecognizable and the picnic area was still there. We bought a bottle of Rose´, after tasting a few and ate our delicious sandwiches, on a sun-dappled patio - perfection. With nothing left to eat or drink, we sussed out another winery, a difficult task, as there are over 100 in the area, and arrived at the Berziger Family Winery, just as a tour was starting.

I baulked a little at the $25.00 per person cost for the tour, but since it was almost a private tour - there was just another couple, from New Zealand, on it, I gave in and was so glad I did. Berziger is a very unique winery in many ways. First, unlike many vineyards that are laid out in flat fields, the Berziger estate is set on several significant hills, which makes it incredibly picturesque. Secondly, the vineyard uses not just organic farming methods, but an earlier form of agriculture known as, bio-dynamic farming.  Companion planting is one principle we saw in use. There were rows of olive trees between the vines, and borders of brilliant flowers, to attract the bees, throughout the farm.

All the weeding is done by sheep, which are kept on the premises, along with a herd of Scottish cattle, for fertilizer. Our tractor drawn carriage, stopped occasionally at fields, here and there, for us to sample wine, from those particular grapes and we ended our trip by inspecting a cave that had been hollowed out of a small mountain to house and age the wine, without refrigeration. Care had been taken in every step of the wine making process to ensure that resources were used frugally, nothing was contaminated with chemicals, and the wine, of course, was perfect!

After the tour, we spent some time in the tasting room, sipping wine and discussing, John Steinbeck, who wrote extensively about the Salinas valley to the south.

A literary end to a literally perfect day.

Have a good one!!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sunny Sausalito....

I mentioned in an earlier post about biking across the Golden Gate bridge and coasting into sunny Sausalito - made even sunnier with lunch and a tasting tray of local beers.

My husband not only bought the lunch, he also bought tickets to return to San Francisco by ferry, bikes and all. Apparently, there is a package tourists can buy, that rents you a bicycle to bike over the bridge and sells you a return ticket, to bring both you and your bike back, by ferry. What could be easier!

Hence, pictures of the bridge from the ferry, as we sailed once more into the cloud of SF and "good-bye" to a brighter and warmer view of the city, from our perch in Sausalito. Sigh!

All things considered, I'm glad I didn't have to cycle back over the bridge at the end of the day, after a few beers. However, seas and docks, being what they are, meant that we boarded the ferry very easily over ramps to a large room where we parked our bikes and sat or went upstairs for a better view of the crossing.

Disembarking was not as easy. We had to leave the ferry from an upper deck, which meant, we had to carry our bikes up seven or eight stairs, before reaching the exit - ugh. Fortunately, there was a gutter for the bike, at the side of the stairs and a very strong seaman to give you and your bike a lift halfway up. The rest was, literally, up to you! I'm never sure what I'm capable of until, I'm forced to do it. "Tick," made it!!

Have a wonderful day!!

Thursday, September 08, 2016

A window on a Monday

OK, it's Thursday, but I promised you a poem from Aimless Love by Billy Collins and here it is. It's longer than most poems I read, but it says so much about the everyday - Not just every Monday

Life through the slats

Monday - Billy Collins

The birds are in their trees
toast is in the toaster,
and the poets are at their windows.

They are at their windows
in every section of the tangerine of earth-
the Chinese poets looking up at the moon,
the American poets gazing out
at the pink and blue ribbons of sunrise

The clerks are at their desks,
the miners are down in their mines,
and the poets are looking out their windows
maybe with a cigarette, a cup of tea,
and maybe a flannel shirt or bathrobe is involved.

The proofreaders are playing the ping-pong
game of proofreading,
glancing back and forth from page to page,
the chefs are dicing celery and potatoes,
and the poets are at their windows
because it is their job for which
they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon.

Which window it hardly seems to matter
though many have a favorite,
for there is always something to see-
a bird grasping a thin branch,
the headlight of a taxi rounding a corner,
those two boys in wool caps angling across the street.

The fishermen bob in their boats,
the linemen climb their round poles,
the barbers wait by their mirrors and chairs,
and the poets continue to stare
at the cracked birdbath or a limb knocked down by the wind.

By now, it should go without saying
that what the oven is to the baker
and the berry-stained blouse to the dry cleaner,
so the window is to the poet.

Just think-
before the invention of the window,
the poets would have had to put on a jacket
and a winter hat to go outside
or remain indoors with only a wall to stare at.

And when I say a wall,
I do not mean a wall with striped wallpaper
and a sketch of a cow in a frame.

I mean a cold wall of fieldstones,
the wall of the medieval sonnet,
the original woman's heart of stone,
the stone caught in the throat of her poet-lover.

A many windowed world

I spend a lot of time looking out of and into windows. I wonder about the people who live beyond the windows I see, when I pass by and I wonder about the people who pass by my windows. The pictures are the views from various windows in the apartment we rented in San Francisco. It was in Chinatown and I wondered what aspect of their culture created these scenes from my window. Or was it just the close quartering of a big city, built precariously on, up and over mountains.

On the outside looking in

Have a poetic day!!

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The first and maybe the last...highway!

One of our "must do's" after leaving San Francisco was to drive the Pacific Coast Highway. This is the iconic Highway 1. It actually begins somewhere in Washington State and travels down, on the very edge of the Coastal mountains, to somewhere south of the Big Sur, where it levels out and coasts, as it were, through, Ventura, Malibu and other surfing paradises to end up in the spread of LA.

I say that it maybe the last highway because of the breathtaking cliffs and the killer drops!! Careening around double or triple "S" turns, one has the feeling of an amusement park ride, which is self directed - go too close to the edge and you drop into the sea. Never do this with a suicidal maniac!!! My husband was driving. Fortunately, he is not a risk taker - well, he married me, but that's an aside.  I knew that I was in good hands, but I was on the edge of my seat, seat belts not withstanding, the entire time.

OK, we were the wimps. The deal is that you should actually drive this highway in a Mustang convertible, with overdrive. Many were, so much so, that I started to call it "Mustang Alley." We, however, had rented a sedate grey Nissan. This may have saved our lives. I couldn't imagine racing around those bends, at top speed, in a fiery red Mustang with attitude. I am not of the "you only live once group." There were, however, many, who were! They were the "cats," living out their nine lives!!

The drivers, though, were not the only risk takers. There were also the bikers - cyclists, not motorcyclists - who were peddling up and down, and in and out, these challenging curves, on a small slip of pavement, that framed the edge of an all too narrow two lane highway. The "tour de France" types, I knew were OK. They would make it. But I have to mention a family - mother, father and toddler (in a bike seat) struggling up significant inclines on a breath of pavement, that separated them from cars, which might have to move over, at any time, to give room to a huge RV coming the other way.

There are times like this, that I believe in God!!

I was also humbled by the cyclists who had "hand bicycles." That is, they were powering their bicycles with their hands, rather than their feet - an accommodation for amputees. They were a small group of male and female cyclists - young, fit and extremely courageous. When the wheels of a massive cement truck came within inches of a young woman in the group, I held my breath! Would that I could have been half as brave!!

Highway 1 is a different world. It is not for the faint of heart and it is there to show us what can be done, with a lot of motivation, a lot of courage and did I mention nerves of steel!!

Have thrilling day!!

Monday, September 05, 2016

Painted Ladies defined.....

This summer, we decided on a holiday to San Francisco, because my daughter wanted to go there. My husband and I had been before, but that was well over thirty years ago, so it was time for another visit. Usually when we travel in a group, each of us decides on one thing that we really want to see or do and we make that a priority on our "must see and do" list.

Hence, my husband got to see a baseball game. We biked across the Golden Gate bridge - my daughter's choice and I got to see the "painted ladies." I had always presumed that everyone knew what the painted ladies were. I know the term is often used to describe prostitutes, however, it was not these painted ladies that I wanted to see. My daughter, as it turned out, was not familiar with the term and thought that I was dragging them to see some obscure painting in a dull art gallery - boring. However, once we got to Alamo Square and she realized what the phrase actually meant, she laughed hysterically.

The painted ladies, of course, are the beautifully decorated houses dotted here and there all over SF. The classic collection, however, is this row of seven or eight houses neatly arranged on a street facing Alamo Square. They have been photographed many times and I just had to see them. They are the "stuff" of fairy tales - doll houses, in a way, framed in gingerbread, painted like candy and lovingly cared for. I know that a house itself doesn't always make for a happy home, but I wouldn't mind giving one of these a try :)

There were others too, all with the defining features of houses in SF - vibrant colours, bay windows and obvious fire escapes.

I also loved the striking murals on some of the inner city buildings - stunning architecture as a canvas for stunning art.  In fact, the city itself is an art gallery, with painted ladies a significant part of the collection!!

Have an awesome day.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

San Francisco and the vertical grid!!

I like cities with streets that form a grid. That is, the streets cross each other at right angles, so you have a very predictable lay out and getting lost can be easily corrected, if you know what I mean.

Lombard St
Toronto is based on a grid system and so is San Francisco. Unfortunately, for San Francisco the grid is vertical, rather than the expected horizontal. 

Yes, we did walk up and down a lot of streets, while on vacation here. However, I sighed a lot more. It's difficult to imagine, let alone actually walk, uphill at a 55ยบ angle for five or six blocks, before reaching the top and, of course, our destinations always seemed to be either at the top or just over the hill - go figure!!

Fortunately, public transit in SF is very accessible. We rode the iconic cable cars, whenever we could get on one, took trolley buses to out of the way places and caved to cabs only, when everything just got too much!!

Luckily, we had rented a small apartment in Chinatown, which not only came with transit passes, it also happened to be right on two cable car lines, one down to Fisherman's Wharf and the other to Market Street. It was a convenient location, even if we had to hang onto the outside of a cable car or two, because of the crowds. Once, though, we were able to ride one that was totally empty except for the driver and the ticket taker - bliss!!

If riding public transit is tricky in SF, renting a car and trying to get out of the city is even trickier. I'm glad my husband was driving, because I'm not sure I could have driven up or down any of those hills, being a passenger with vertigo was enough. Maybe that "laid back" attitude attributed to the locals has actually been cultivated as a result of the physical ups and downs of life, which has then conditioned them to deal with life's emotional roller coaster. Just a thought :)

In spite of its challenges, San Francisco is an amazing city. It could just be a little warmer and a little sunnier - wearing flowers in your hair is optional!!

Have an awesome day!!

Saturday, September 03, 2016

City Lights, a book store and a way of life

I do like bright lights and a big city. After all, I was born very close to the downtown area of Toronto and although you may be able to take the person out of the city, I don't think that you can ever take the city out of the person.

Perhaps this is why I gravitate towards crowds. Although, I'm not a gregarious person, I do like the hustle and bustle of crowded cafes, restaurants, streets, and shops. Give me the chaos of a market and I'm at home!!

Every once in a while, though, I like to retreat to a quiet book store, perhaps or leafy park. City Lights Book Store, in San Francisco, was one of these retreats. Jutting into the throng of Columbus Street, City Lights offered a hushed silence within a myriad of small rooms all insulated from the fray by walls of books. Co-founded by the poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and frequented by Ginsberg and Kerouac, to name a few, City Lights was the womb, so to speak, of the beat generation - poetry, its mother tongue and antiestablishment, its guiding philosophy. I went in to feed my soul!!

I bought "Aimless Love" by Billy Collins, a poet I read often and have even posted poems of his in this blog, from time to time. The title of the book, I thought, was appropriate, as a comment on the beat generation, which had rejected the establishment and created their own society based on Peace and Love.

Flower Power in San Francisco

Although the "summer of love" happened almost fifty years ago, there are still too many leftover hippies, remnants of the beat generation, sleeping in the streets of SF.  I saw them walking aimlessly though alleys or idling on street corners, wondering, perhaps, what has happened. These were the ones who believed that a person could live on love alone. That if they just thought Peace and Freedom, everything would work out. I know, though, looking into their faded eyes, their mangled grey beards and tattered clothing that everything has not worked out for them.

It's very sad to think that all their high hopes and lofty ideals have come to nothing. Unfortunately the freedom to just "be" is not "free." It comes at the price of discipline, focus, and a lot of hard work, directed towards a goal. Love, I think, should never be aimless - more on Billy Collins poems later.

Have a focused day!!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Death by Water Bottle Cage.....

In addition to lists and puns, I do like the odd challenge - "odd" being the operative word. Nothing too daring, but something a little unusual and just a bit beyond my grasp, so I have to stretch - but, not too much.

This is why I found myself on Fisherman's Wharf, in not so sunny San Francisco, renting a bicycle to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. Well, it wasn't really my idea, but when the challenge was proposed, I thought, "why not." My daughter, you see, wanted to go the San Francisco. She graduated with a bachelor of community design (BCD) from Dalhousie and has decided to visit all the cities that were studied as examples of good community design in her courses. San Francisco was one of them.

She is also a baseball aficionado and wants to watch games in all the iconic baseball parks. As a result, we have been to Boston - Fenway Park, New York - (the old) Yankee Stadium and now San Francisco and (the new) Candlestick Park. Yes, it's not actually called Candlestick anymore - too bad, but the view is still awesome - right out over the bay and the boats still hover in the water just outside the park, trying to catch the fly balls that sail, as it were, out from right field!!

But I digress. We need to get back to that bike rental place on the wharf. Fortunately, the bikes were all the right size. They had helmets, of course, for the riders and water bottle cages!! Now you have to know that, although every one presumes that a water bottle cage on a bicycle is convenient, the positioning of them often is not. I hadn't realized just how inconveniently placed mine was, until I tried to dismount, suddenly. Yes, I almost impaled myself on the cage, which, fortunately, didn't have a water bottle in it, at the time, or things might have been a lot worse!!

Needless to say, there was no time to go back and change the bike, so I had to manoeuvre my body rather delicately up over and around bottle cage, bicycle seat and whatever else was in the way, to protect myself from losing my virginity for a second time!! All this I had to do while negotiating throngs of walkers - with or without dogs, other cyclists - many of whom decided to stop at whim, mindless of anyone else in their path, and, of course, the odd stroller or three - one actually had several children and a dog attached - alas!

Fortunately, once we were clear of the pedestrian clutter, we had only two significant hills to climb, before we reached the bridge. The walking/cycling path on the bridge was busy, but not as busy as I knew it could be later in the day or on weekends. In fact, the actual biking itself was not that strenuous, it was all the other flotsam and jetsam that one had to navigate, while keeping the lower part of one's body away from the ill-positioned cage.

There were, however, stretches of pure bliss over the bridge - well worth all the hassles - and the coasting downhill into Sausalito was epic!!. OK, I was terrified, because it was a very steep hill with a narrow bike path, that was actually just the shoulder of the road, but the cars were few and kind, so I made it in one piece, even if everyone behind had to slow to a crawl :)

More on sunny Sausalito and the return journey later!!

Have an awesome day!!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Let's Play Ball!!

I'm not what you would call a sport's person. The only physical activity I do, apart from gardening, is biking. I don't play, or even watch, tennis, golf, soccer, etc. and you would never catch me in a hockey arena. However, I do like baseball. To me it's a sport, that's more mental then physical. That is,

An old picture of the Dome

1. It has statistics. I think that it has more statistics than any other sport, I know. Well, the very few I know, anyway. I remember once, a long time ago, having an announcer quote a statistic for the number of times a pitcher's hat fell off during an inning. Now that's detail!!

2. It has history. My father always watched the world series. I knew that I could spend time with him, if I watched too. This is how, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees were, for a time, the only teams I ever cared about and our favourite was always the Dodgers.

3. Unlike hockey or football, it's not a body contact sport. It's more about speed, stealth and timing. I love seeing a well played "double play," a speedy stolen base, or a surprise snaring of a line drive. Plus, nothing matches a running dive or jump for a fly ball, that could go out of the park, except for a well placed glove.

4. It has rules, in the sense, that Chess has rules. Where to stand, how to swing, when to run and when not to run, fair balls, fouls balls, etc. these are the building blocks of the game. Break a rule and you are penalized. Know an obscure rule and you could win!

5. It has science. I have to believe there are more unique pitches in baseball, than shots on goal in hockey or soccer. Fast ball, curve ball, sinker, slider, or the maverick knuckle ball all push the boundaries of objects in motion. When hit, these pitches are further influenced by air pressure, wind, altitude and several other cosmic forces.

No, give me the subtleties of baseball, anytime, over the endurance of soccer, the rough and tumble of football or the noise of hockey.

CN Tower at night

Last night, we went, as a family, to the Roger's centre to watch the Blue Jays play the Kansas City Royals, winners of last year's world series. It was an evening of classic baseball. On a warm summer night, we had great food - popcorn, hot dogs, beer, exciting baseball - lots of hits, some amazing catches, home runs, double plays and nail biting tension, when Kansas City tied the score, late in the game. Fortunately, the Jays won before an ecstatic crowd of nearly 40,000.

Yes, for me, anyway, Baseball, especially at the dome, though we have been to Fenway Park and the original Yankee Stadium, is a great outing, particularly when the home team wins. Do I dare dream of another world series with the Jays in contention? Got my fingers crossed.

Have a great day.