Nelson: “Big City” in a Scenic Small Town Atmosphere

And for those who don't get enough "swaying" in the RV, there is whitewater rafting in Nelson!!

And for those who don’t get enough “swaying” in the RV, there is whitewater rafting in Nelson!!

The room is swaying.  It’s a pleasant room, and I have to say, for a campground ladies’ shower area, it passes the test.  But it won’t stop moving…but that’s not its fault.  It’s the 17 year old motor home shocks that make us “float” around highway corners, rather than “grip” the asphalt.  And that shower, with all the nice water pressure, felt so good.  So I can ignore the ship-deck feeling the last day of driving in the RV along BC highway 3A has induced.  If I try really hard.

this view is only PART WAY back the 33' length of our RV interior...

this view is only PART WAY back the 33′ length of our RV interior…

We are in Nelson (population 10,532), which fans up from the banks of the West Arm of Kootenay lake along the mountainsides in the heart of the Selkirk mountains.  The streets are literally carved along the hillsides, and the 100+ year old homes have substantial foundational work to keep them upright.  The street side of the house might be one story, but the backside down the hill is most likely three stories.  I have to say there is a certain “creative” flair to Nelson’s building code.  Very charming, character, turn-of-the-century homes have rusted bicycles attached to rooflines, with vines growing over them.  Or verandas have up to three ancient upholstered couches on them, spilling over to the lawn area where some table/chair combos from a fast food chain may be plonked.

But they are somehow artfully displayed, with well-tended landscaping that is pleasing to the eye.  If not chaotic to the psyche.  One has to appreciate the creativity that made this happen.  Every alternative therapy one can think of seems to be housed in many of the homes that share the periphery of the historic “Baker Street” downtown corridor.  And more than one medical doctor has his/her practice linked with at least half a dozen of these therapy professionals, presumably to offer clients a “one stop” experience.

...urban AND pastoral view from our "downtown" campsite

…urban AND pastoral view from our “downtown” campsite

Nelson was founded on the discovery of silver at nearby Toad Mountain, which lead to the city’s incorporation in 1897.  It became a transportation hub with the construction of two railways which supplied the local mining activity and developed the city as a transportation and distribution hub for the new province of British Columbia.

Downtown’s  chateau-style civic buildings of granite were designed by Francis Rattenbury, who is more famously known as the architect of Victoria’s provincial Legislature, and the Hotel Vancouver and the Provincial Courthouse in Vancouver.   Many of Nelson’s prominent buildings, which proclaim their date of construction on their cornerstones date to the early 1900’s, by which time Nelson boasted several fine hotels, a Hudson’s Bay store and an electric streetcar system.

The town’s immigrant history is still evident…English immigrants planted lakeside orchards, and Doukhobors from Russia tilled the valley bench lands. During the Vietnam War, many American draft dodgers settled around Nelson. This influx of liberal, mostly educated young people had a lasting impact on the area’s cultural and political demographics.

It all works.  And I like it.  There’s not a chain store to be seen…barely a neon sign.  There are at least ten independent, good coffee shops and nary a Starbuck’s to be seen (yay).

Independent breweries galore and my husband pronounced the Nelson Brewing Company’s “Wild Honey Organic Ale” flashback-inducing  “10 out of 10” to his tavern-dwelling youth in Quebec.  We will go home with a case.  🙂

Perhaps there were one or two along the highway, but in Nelson I didn’t see one restaurant that qualified as “fast food”.  I have never been in a small city that was so oriented to quality food.  Each food shop had really interesting, good food, and none of them competed with the other.  The range of good ingredients to cook with in Nelson for the home chef is absolutely amazing.

Yay...I found good coffee!

Yay…I found good coffee!

Nelson is very “chill”.  I am a self-confessed foodie, and one of my current favourite cookbook authors hails from the kitchens of Nelson’s local ski hill, Whitewater.  I had held off buying her (Shelley Adams) latest cookbook, because I wanted to buy it in Nelson. I was expecting a bit of a Shelley Adams mecca…maybe even a bit of the local grocery store having a “Shelley Adams” corner where I could buy her newly mass-produced salad dressings.  Oh no…her presence in Nelson is very unassuming and I think she’s a bigger deal in my ‘hood in a large Canadian urban centre than she is in her home town.  I kind of had to hunt for her book.  And I like that too.

And that makes me appreciate Nelson even more.  To me, that’s what part of being Canadian is.  We know who we are.  We’re comfortable with how we’re awesome.  We don’t need to broadcast it, and if you choose to discover it for yourself, well, that’s great.  And if you choose to think otherwise, we don’t really care, and we don’t hang our national identity on being top dog or you appreciating what we know is good.  But all the same, we are awesome….but you have to go looking for it.  You have to bring a bit of yourself to the table.  Because we don’t expect to be “the best”, to be the “most beautiful”, and so we don’t force it.

Slocan River Morning "Float"

Slocan River Morning “Float”

But parts of Canada are “the best” and “the most beautiful”…just like other nations have parts of them that are the best and beautiful.  We don’t ask you to notice the natural beauty of Nelson’s  lake and the mountains.

cruisin' in the morning...

cruisin’ in the morning…

You have to hunt for a company that will take you on an awesome ride down the Slocan River…they’re not advertising in your face in the tourist areas.

We had three days in Nelson, so that isn’t enough to do it justice.  But it was long enough to appreciate that if you cruised through it quickly you could put it in a box and label it.  There are ways in which you could describe Nelson has “hippie-dippie”…too alternative, too granola.  But that does the city such a disservice.  I think the people of Nelson have a unique BC city…in many ways it has the best of two worlds…a LOT of amenities and services of a large urban centre with the outdoor recreation and natural setting of a beautiful interior small town.  And neither has spoiled the other.  They coexist in wonderful harmony.

Just like our campground…it’s the only place in my research for this trip where a City operated a very decent campground right in the heart of a urban place where we could walk to absolutely everything we wanted to see, eat or do.  No navigating a 33 foot motor home on curvy, narrow streets to cause more fingernails to be chewed, breath to be sucked in involuntarily, or eyes closed because I just couldn’t stand to see what was around that corner…phew.  I might be in love with Nelson just because of that.P1660936P1660948

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

RVing to Okanagan Wineries

So here’s my best solution to feeling stressed riding shotgun.

She is oblivious to all potentialities and trusts her owner’s driving explicitly. Such is the peace of the zen existence of the family pet.DSC00374

I’m working on finding my groove. I’m getting there…

Visiting some wineries helped. Road 13, as I mentioned, was our first stop. The current owners have been producing wine since 2003 and renamed it (for its location, it’s on “Road 13”) from its previous incarnation as Golden Mile Cellars. In all four of our stops, we were particularly interested in what wouldn’t be readily available in our local liquor store, and found a couple of interest there. It’s been a good decade or more since I’ve visited any Okanagan wineries and I’ve noticed they have really “upped” their game in terms of marketing and packaging the “winery” experience. Road 13 had built this castle-looking building for their tasting room.

Then it was on to Burrowing Owl who boasted a guest lodge with a swimming pool, again perched high on a hillside, overlooking their vineyards. This time we got smart and left the RV in turn-around area near the truck loading zone at the back of the cluster of buildings. It was hot and sunny and the tasting room would be boring for the kids, so we wandered into the winery restaurant to see if the kids could sit and have a cold drink while we shopped. Gervase was VERY unimpressed with the reception or lack thereof and not happy to be told the kids couldn’t sit there unless we were going to order lunch. We love their wines and bought some bottles, but left feeling a bit disappointed with the whole experience. Burrowing Owl seems a bit full of themselves…the winery has been producing wine since 1998 and is still lead by founder Jim Wyse.

Then down near Osoyoos, practically at the Canada/US border we stopped at a small winery, Young and Wyse Collection. This place was very interesting to us…note the name connection with Burrowing Owl! After 10 years of working at Burrowing Owl, the family winery, longtime winemaker Stephen Wyse and his partner Michelle Young decided to start their own winery and this year is their 17th vintage. They only sell from the winery, restaurants, and select retail outlets… none of their product is available in liquor stores. We thought most of what we tasted was fantastic and the small, homey atmosphere in the tasting room was a lot of fun. Now the RV is heavier with the purchases you see Gervase happily toting…

Gorgeous Osoyoos!

Gorgeous Osoyoos!

DSC00300

Carrying his case of wine back to the RV...

Carrying his case of wine back to the RV…

DSC00308 DSC00310 DSC00365

Then Nk’Mip (pronounced Ink Meep) was a whole other experience. We had headed there with the intent to go horseback riding, but it was mercilessly hot and Shannon decided against it. The Osoyoos First Nation has taken marketing their winery experience to a whole other level…it’s a resort with campground, horseback riding, resort accommodations, restaurant, tasting room and cultural centre. Some marketing genius has turned that whole thing into a huge money-maker. It was hopping!

One of the great things about this RV, I’m learning, is the flexibility it affords. Everything is with us. A conversation with the fellow behind the tasting bar at Nk’Mip lead us to a cute little beach in Osoyoos to cool off. No going home to get the swimsuit and towel because we just decided to do this…it’s all here with us. Very nice!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Note to Gordon Lightfoot: “Carefree Highway” is not so care-free in a 33 foot Motor Home

Our decision to rent an rv for this trip was not made a long time ago. Eager Europeans (for the most part) long ago reserved their “normal” sized motor homes for their rocky mountain Canadiana.

When we started looking, the only one my husband could find was a 17 year old, 33 foot, “land barge” with separate queen sized bedroom, living room and bathtub. It’s not that I disparage folks who regularly “rv” around North America…it’s just that I am laughing at myself for doing this. It’s fairly out of character. This motor home is the size of a bus. It costs $400 to fill up the gas tank. It just seems so “indulgent”… so “much” …such a giant monument to consumerism and excessiveness.

The Land Barge

The Land Barge

But here we are…

I like to camp. While I’m not what anyone would call “hard core”, I do believe in camping in a tent, in staying in provincial or national parks and being outside and in nature. I do believe in being comfortable in my tent… but the core purpose is to be somewhat removed from all the suburban comforts of electricity, running water on demand and certainly air conditioning!

Our neighbor’s “living room”

As I was planning this trip, I was dismayed to find out that our rv is too big for most provincial parks. So I had to adjust my expectations and look for “RV resorts”. Essentially these are gravel and/or grass parking lots for rv’s and 5th wheels that park side by side and hook up to electricity, sewage and water services. So far, they also feature a swimming pool, communal laundry facilities and tonight’s version also has mini golf. And people who clearly “live” here for the season.

So that’s the general scene. We drove to Kelowna to collect our rv. The “briefing” for how to operate and drive this thing was a good hour and a half. I wasn’t freaked out about us driving this until now that it’s real and I see it. I can feel my anxiety like a low grade humming in my brain…which I’m trying to hide.

We hop in, me riding shotgun, to go to a grocery store before we leave Kelowna. I quickly realize I’d rather be one of my suitcases packed away in a cupboard and NOT seeing anything that’s going on. Every muscle in my body is tensed…we take up the entire lane and it feels like my husband is going to shear off every street sign, pedestrian, or –gasp-cyclist that goes by on my side of the vehicle.

It feels like we are riding a box rail car balanced on an ice skate. The old shocks are rocking the RV back and forth with creaks and groans that make me feel like we’re going to roll over every time we turn a corner. I lean into the middle of the vehicle…my husband just confided he is doing the same…like THAT’s going to do anything to rebalance us in the free roll around each corner that my overactive imagination is generating. But I can’t help it. I am trying not to jump and suck in my breath every time we come close to another large vehicle coming the other way or second guess how far my husband is swinging out around each corner so our back end doesn’t bounce over the curb.

Co-pilot in position?

Co-pilot in position?

Our mission is to get to Oliver before dinner. We do. But I slither to the ground once we pull in and I am so grateful …even if it turns out we did take out a post in the campground by taking a corner too tight. A kind neighbour guided our first backing up experience, like an experienced ground crew, nestling a jet up to the terminal gate.

The next day is winery tour day. Our first stop is “Road 13” Vineyard which is up a windy narrow hill road and into a dead end parking lot that is too small for a 33 foot motor home to do a three point turn in. On two sides of it are cement walls and on the third is the winery building. Omgomgomg…both of us are freaking out. The only option seems to be to back down the windy road and that’s not much of an option. The reality of driving this excessively-large vehicle is sinking in. I go into the winery building to ask if he can turn around in part of the vineyard. Meanwhile, my husband has parked beside the cement wall and figures a solution will present itself after we taste wine.

Smart man. It does! A small tour bus has shown up while we’re sampling, and the driver kindly directs Gervase in how to back into the vineyard without taking out the vines. We are so grateful for the kindness of strangers and are realizing that this is going to be our theme while moving in this monstrosity…it’s not just driving, it’s anticipating how to get it out of whatever you’re planning.

“Can we buy groceries?” becomes “Can we find a grocery store with a very large parking lot and at least four empty car spots that we can fill?” Listening to GPS lady turn us around after making a wrong turn is a less trusting experience because she takes you down roads for cars, not roads for Kleenex-box shaped camping monoliths. One “U turn” route took us down a one lane back road that had the driver and co-pilot both praying for no oncoming traffic.

While my husband now considers himself Bernie the bus driver, riding in the RV is not a relaxing experience by any stretch of the imagination and I am absolutely dreading being asked to help with the driving! Leaving Osoyoos today for Christina Lake along highway 3A had us climbing a series of switchbacks.

Bernie the Bus Driver

Bernie the Bus Driver

Again, I am leaning into the middle of the vehicle because I’m on the “downhill” side and it feels like there’s no ground beneath us (and my leaning into the rv will help us not roll down the mountain as the tires leave the highway…NOT). Normally I knit during car trips. Gervase noticed a lack of knitting today. “Oh,” he said to my reply, “you’re still driving with your eyes.”

Yah, actually I’m still driving with my eyes…and every muscle in my body.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Universe Has a Plan

And I shouldn’t mess with it. As events of this morning unfolded, I realized my wickedness from the night before has caught up with me. 🙂

I can tell I’m about to go on holidays…I know this mental space. I micromanage things I shouldn’t, I race around trying to fix-at-the-last-minute all the things I should have dealt with earlier (getting the van serviced, getting the dog groomed so she won’t be too hot in our unusually hot and dry rain coast summer…), and I forget where I put my “to-do” lists (yes, plural…I keep rewriting them because I keep misplacing them).

It’s not pretty in my head today. I realize this as I am on hold via Bluetooth, trying to register my son for a swimming lesson we were waitlisted for….while driving on the TransCanada Highway to take him and his best friend to sailing camp which is 20 km from our house, and for which there’s a chance we’re going to be late. Being late makes me “mental” and even though I’ve learned all the outward behaviour of being “chill” about schedules, what goes on inside me is very far from chill.

Anyway…the swimming lesson. The 24 hours I was given to claim the lesson spot is going to expire within minutes and while the muzak is playing and I’m feeling stressed because my cell phone always drops calls in this part of the world, my husband is beeping in with his call. “But if I leave my spot in the phone queue maybe my son will lose his chance for this lesson which he loves?” And there aren’t a lot of things he loves besides his computer time, nintendo ds or tv…all of which I hate. So I stay with the queue.

“But why is my husband calling me?” Then it dawns on me. The van is supposed to be at the garage at 9am. He had said he’d take it. The clock on the dashboard reads 8:51. I’m supposed to be in his car.

I’m in my van.

And the nice fellows at the garage, who squeezed in their crazy customer who pleaded with them to try to fit in the van today had been very clear: They needed the van by 9…the 9:30 I had suggested was not going to work for them.

This is only ONE event from this morning and as I write this, it’s still what any of us would call “mid morning”.

Those of you who know me personally are likely having trouble concentrating on the description of my morning because “wicked” is not a descriptor you’d use of me. I have heard things like “Martha Stewart’s illegitimate daughter”, “kind”, “thoughtful”…not wicked.

I don’t think my friends in the ‘hood can even begin to visualize the mischievous part of my personality. But it’s there. Oh, and it was having fun last night.

My husband had been up on the roof after dinner, trying to sort out something in the house that required my paying attention to it and then calling out through the open window to him whether there was any difference. So I suppose that got me thinking about the roof. And it’s been hot. And when he was done, he left the ladder there where it was easy to access.

“I’m going on the roof!” I call out.

I’ve never been on our roof, and we’ve lived in this house 11 years. So this announcement intrigued my husband, who I invited up with me. As we were surveying our street we noticed a man and a woman walking around the corner onto our street. They were noticeable because they were wearing matching colours and were carrying something. They would confer at the end of a driveway and then go up to the front door, or not, depending on what their clipboards told them.

“Canvassers” said my husband.

The blue was an unusual shade…a recognizable shade of blue. In Canadian politics, there are currently three national parties of any significance and each is associated with a colour. The orange of the New Democratic Party, the fire-engine red of the Liberal Party of Canada, and this particular blue…it’s the Conservative Party, which is also the party in power.

But a federal election is looming…by October 19th…and I’m not supporting the “blue” party. Not a snowball’s chance in hell. I don’t know if it was the novelty of the roof, but after the clipboard people decided they would come up our driveway, I figured they were fair game.

Ding Dong.

I hang over the roof, staring down at their “C” insignias on their blue shirts. “Hi” I smile at them charmingly, even though I am struck by the incredible irony of them, on my doorstep, announcing they are with Andrew Saxton’s “campaign” (their words, not mine) on the very same day Canada Post delivered “Andrew Saxton, MP: Your Guide to More Tax Cuts and Benefits” which was produced and distributed from his office with MY money. Yours too if you live in Canada.

I get that politics is a game-especially the campaigning part of politics…and I’m sure “my” party did the same things when they were in power. And I highly respect anyone who is willing to stand for public office. But I am emboldened by them showing up like this…today of all days. All bets are off people…if you’re going to do stuff like that, then I’m going to waste your time. We have a nice chat and I don’t tell them what I really think. I may have even stretched the truth when they asked if Andrew could count on my support.

I can hear the sharp intake of breath from my friends as they grapple with their disillusionment. How can this be the person they know? 🙂

The canvassers are going to send Andrew by sometime so I can waste his time too.

And despite my morning, I am not contrite. But I did take a lovely box of scones to the fellows at the garage before I sat down at the computer…because that’s what Martha would do.

Well, she would have baked them, and if I weren’t busy being crazy-person, I would have too. Although sitting and writing has calmed me…maybe I can get back to preparing for our upcoming RV trip.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Boston: It Could Still be a Great Canadian City

DSC00125Boston. It should be part of Canada. I don’t think Bostonians would really mind. They like hockey. They have snow. They use “sorry” like we do. They’d assimilate quickly.

Have you ever noticed that? To me, “sorry” should be reserved for when an apology is required. A real apology…one that conveys sincere regret, an intention to do better, and an acknowledgement of what was “wrong”. But in addition to apologies, Canadians use “sorry” to get attention and to avert a problem. So do Bostonians!

A stranger bumps into us on the street. “Sorry”. A stranger asks us for the time, “Sorry [for disturbing you], could you tell me the time?” At a busy attraction, the kids adjust their positions such that it looks like we’re going to leave…a Bostonian moves in to see if the spot is available then apologized when she learned we weren’t leaving. In the middle of an in depth “family” discussion on the street where we were in someone’s way…”Sorry…can you move please?”[when we were in the wrong, but trying to avoid a potential conflict with us]

DSC00131I think we’d become even more polite if Boston were part of Canada. We’d learn to say thank you for everything…a door held open, a space made open in a busy venue. I think we’d be less aggressive drivers, too. And if we saw anyone standing on our city’s streets staring quizzically at an open map, we’d learn to always ask them if we could help them figure out where they were going. And if a child was arguing loudly in public for more gum we’d offer him some of ours. And we’d always tell each other “Have a good one!!”

And really, if events had unfolded a little more positively, we wouldn’t have let Boston get away. Actually Boston could be responsible for the beginnings of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Yes, really. Back in the late 1600’s, the French had a monopoly on the Canadian fur trade. But there were a couple of entrepreneurial voyageurs, Radisson and Groseilliers who for some reason, really, really wanted to trade furs in Hudson’s Bay.

I don’t know why, but they went to a well-heeled group of business types in Boston who agreed with them that the future was in Hudson’s Bay furs. Go figure. In 1663, the expedition set out with the backing of Boston money. Unfortunately the speculative venture ran into ice pack in Hudson Strait. So that all ended, but it caught the attention of the Boston-based English Commissioner George Cartwright, who brought the two to England for more financing…which eventually led to King Charles granting the Hudson’s Bay Charter in 1670 and lots more exploring.

DSC00152So, we Canadians and Bostonians have shared history and if they could just work a little HBC history into their own fabulous “Freedom Trail”, our historical ties would be set. Boston has this great red brick trail through the downtown core that we’d all like. With the audio guide downloaded into your mobile device you can join the throngs of other tourists who tramp along the 2.4 mile trail from Boston Common, learning about the events leading up to and following the War for Independence.

Plus, with annexation, we’d have access to Boston Cream Pie. I know, we’d get Parker House rolls and Clam Chowder as well but it’s dessert that really matters in life. We need a national dessert and I think this is it. It isn’t really pie…it’s white sponge cake with vanilla custard between the layers and chocolate glaze over top. I dragged the family to the origins of “The Pie” , so you can see its current-day incarnation. DSC00164The hotel has a colourful history…take the story of how the Parker House roll was invented…there are a few variations, but they all involve an angry pastry cook throwing unfinished rolls into the oven, which created their dented appearance.

Famous and infamous guests have included John Wilkes Booth (assassinated Abraham Lincoln ten days after his Parker House stay), Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Homes Sr., Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Charles Dickens lived there for two years. DSC00109JFK announced his candidacy for Congress there and his friends threw his bachelor party there. Ho Chi Minh was a baker and Malcolm X was a busboy. If those walls could talk!!!

Boston. We could use another nice city on the East Coast. I think we should annex it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time Travel: Cape Cod Style

DSC00324Twenty years, at least, is the length of time this part of Massachusetts has been on my radar. A bucket list item. The trouble with bucket lists is that with anticipation like that, it’s hard to separate out expectations. It’s not that Boston and Cape Cod are “less than” or “more than” I expected. Just different.  Now that I’ve been there, I wonder what it would have been like twenty-five years ago.

DSC00298Cape Cod was more different than I thought. The image of Cape Cod in my mind comes from magazines and movies. Magazines like “Gourmet”, “Bon Appetit”, and Martha Stewart’s “Living”. That part of Cape Cod certainly exists. Places like Hyannis port are like [insert name of ritziest waterfront neighborhood you know] and places like Truro, where we stayed, are like [insert name of nice upper middle class neighborhood you know]. Graying cedar shingle shake homes with white trim nestled prettily in lush greenery…ubiquitous. Sprawling waterfront mansions on great swaths of white sand beaches predominate certain neighborhoods. Private beaches, private tennis courts, private yacht clubs. It is a comfortable place and the people in it are comfortable…there’s no homelessness, no poverty, no infrastructure aimed at hardship. This is a vacation place. Not one ramshackle looking house anywhere.

JFK’s family had been vacationing in their Hyannis port home since 1928. When he was president in the early 60’s, he created a national park out of most of the remaining seashore and halted all development. At least this is what we were told, and judging from the development, it seems true enough. In Cape Cod, homeowners appear to own their beaches. So where mansions predominate, there are signs posted conspicuously “private beach. keep off”. This was kind of shocking to me. So many parts that are off-limits. Even the richest person in my part of the world can’t own their own beach below the high tide line. So it made sense to me that Kennedy did this, otherwise, there’d be no beach left at Cape Cod to go visit. As it is, there are many, many parts of the coastline to explore along the scorpion-shaped tail of land and sand that is Cape Cod.IMG_20140722_201105

So that’s the second part of Cape Cod…undeveloped wilderness. Sand dunes, scrubby trees, hiking trails, nature preserves, state parks, and historic lighthouses. Really amazing beaches that any pictures don’t do justice to.  White sand, bluffs, pounding surf.  Pristine clean.  There are wonderful bike trails.  It’s possible to bike most of the length of Cape Cod on the “Rail Trail” which is a easy, flat bike and running path along a former rail line.

The third part of Cape Cod was kind of hilarious to me. I’m not quite sure what was meant by Kennedy “halting all development” but from what I saw, it’s like most of the commercial development was frozen in time. Perhaps it is protected as a heritage of some sort because most of it is still operational in an “authentically updated” sort of way.

One night we took our kids to a drive-in movie. Yes, really. It was proudly advertised “as it was in 1957”.   DSC00331IMG_20140721_195501Another day my youngest wanted to go to mini golf. Again, signage “family operated since 1954” and looking like a freshly-painted version of what it must have looked like then. Cottage-type motels and cabins along the road with easily-identifiable 1950’s and 1940’s architecture. I can’t think of any other place in the world like this…preserved and protected, but operational, 1950’s and 60’s kitsch. Another night no one felt like cooking so we went and got burgers from a very busy restaurant take-out window.

It’s like a part of Cape Cod is a living museum and those of us who go visit, can also partake of a lifestyle that may have existed fifty years ago. It’s like a vacation to another place, but in a way, also a vacation to another time.  And I can’t help but think, if I’d come here twenty-five years ago, I think it would have looked quite a bit the same.

And after we partake of this 1950’s holiday spirit, we all go back to our tasteful and very well-appointed Martha Stewart vacation homes. What is it she says? It’s a good thing. Cape Cod is a good thing.  And if it stays as it is, that’s a good thing too.DSC00339

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

See? I didn’t even realize there were photos!

DSC00091 DSC00092So I just posted my blog and my husband said “Did you post it?”

“Yes”

“Did you post the photos?”

“You took photos??? I had no idea!!”

“Yes! I had a feeling this was a big event.”

Good grief.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

It’s Important to Wear Clean Underwear Because You Never Know What’s Going to Happen…

11:45 pm and way past my bedtime.

In truth, I had been asleep, but now I stand in my hair-standing-on-end, be speckled state on a Boston sidewalk.

You might recall from an earlier blog that my eye glasses NEVER go out in public. But here they, and me, are…along with all the other guests of “The Eliot” hotel. And two fire trucks and several firefighters, some stressed-out looking hotel staff, a woman with an oxygen mask over her face, several of us in jammies, and a May/December couple who were the last people out. They didn’t make eye contact with anyone…and were very overdressed for the occasion…and moved very quickly away from the rest of us who huddled together.

I had pulled on some jeans and a sweatshirt (yes, it might even have been one with WRITING on it).

Those of you who know me know I do not sleep. Ever. I am the queen of dead-of-night prowling, going to the gym at 5am when I can’t sleep anymore, and listening to endless podcasts in the dark. I’ve even been known to bake in the middle of the night. When I don’t do that, or IF I don’t, then I tend to solve all the crazy problems of my life and that is never pretty.

So it is worth noting, that on this particular night in Boston…standing on Commonwealth Avenue…during this mild state of emergency, I am practically dead asleep. My whole family was up before me, they heard the robotic evacuation announcement through the hallways and were almost dressed and out the door before I had my feet on the floor.

So I’m not exactly sure what’s happening.

And this strange-looking couple has caught my eye and my imagination is busy making up a story about them. Like “hello!” if they were real hotel guests with luggage and who stay more than one night (or part of the night?), they would have normal clothes to put on. Like me. Or that nice elderly couple who are sporting the hotel’s dressing gowns over their jammies. Not an evening gown and a formal suit and tie.

They didn’t have any other clothes to put on. Hmmm. This is not a cheap hotel. Wow. Dating’s expensive in Boston.

…p.s. we were all fine…some sort of Co2 sensor had malfunctioned.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Have you Ever Noticed How Much People Wear on Themselves?

NY Yankees HatBoston. Wicked Smaht. A few fun facts to illustrate the point…back in the day of the thirteen colonies. You know… pre-1776 and all that, Massachusetts literacy rate was 88%. Too bad today’s fashion wasn’t in fashion in 1761…they could have read each other’s chests.

We’re visiting in the summer, but during the academic year here in the land of Boston College, MIT and of course Harvard, and the thousands of other centuries-old institutions of higher learning, the population swells by 240,000. In the summer there are still lots of t-shirt advertisements for these venerable enclaves. I’m not snobby about this…my children’s souvenirs will be worn by them back home and everyone will know where they’ve been this summer.

Our hotel is around the corner from Fenway Park (Pahk). Today is game day and the Red Socks are facing the Kansas City Royals. The Socks are the defending World Series Champions and today it’s 80 degrees and sunny. And we are planning a long day of “extra” walking.

These ideas are linked by the reality that my 13 year old son is sporting his blue New York Yankees baseball hat. Not really because he is such a fan, but because he loves that city and he’s been lucky enough to have purchased that hat during a game in Yankee Stadium. Even though he lives 3000 miles from that venue.

But I am thinking that for a city whose baseball team only broke their 80-something year losing streak in the last decade, my son’s attire might be considered sacrilege.

Why? I am expecting at least a comment. From someone. Perhaps someone on the “T” who is wearing a t-shirt with big socks printed on it. Why do they do that, I wonder? Who wants to wear shirts that have laundry on them? And there are lots of them. Why? And they’re all red. Ohhhhhh….it slowly dawns on me after I’ve also spotted several others wearing KCY t-shirts and “Kansas City Royals” hats.

It’s not that I’m stupid. I know who Ian Hanomansing is. I can forgive my 14 and 13 year olds blank looks. But as I hiss in my husband’s ear “Yes it is!!” I begin to doubt myself. I glance across the subway car isle where he is sitting very unassumingly in his red plaid shorts. I confess it was those plaid shorts that first caught my attention. I am trying not to be caught “glancing” (‘cause I’m so cool and so what if a national Canadian journalist is sitting RIGHT there?) but I lean into my husband’s ear for the convincing argument “Look at his t-shirt insignia!”.

It’s the CBC logo with the Olympic rings.

Nailed it. Which proves my point…a lot can be said about what you wear.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You Don’t Know What You Got ‘Till It’s Gone

Image

Joni Mitchell was right.  As this applies to my kitchen-less state, at least.  Being Canadian, turkey was on the menu this past Thanksgiving weekend.  So I left town in order to find a kitchen in which I could cook one.  And I find myself remembering things that I used to cook in an oven.  What comes to mind first is not turkeys.  It’s kids’ birthday cakes.  

I swore at my previous dual fuel [insert brand name here because I don’t want to disparage this company’s good name but it’s two words and one begins with “J” and the other with “A”] range in my head so many times.  Because I don’t really swear. 

But I hated that thing with a passion.  And I don’t use that “h” word much either.  But now it’s gone and I cheered it’s departure with great gusto.  But maybe now I kind of miss it?  I’m not sure…

Every time one of my children’s birthdays rolled around I have been determined to make them whatever cake they chose out of the nice birthday cake books and magazines I was fool enough to keep with my cookbooks. 

It’s important to note, at the outset, that while I am an energetic baker, I am not necessarily the most competent at kids’ birthday cakes.  They actually stress me out quite a bit. 

The kids all think my creations are neat, but I’m just glad we’ve past the stage of the mommies staying for the party…because now anyone who could pass “real” judgment on these birthday cakes is never invited!!

Each year my children pour over the pictures weeks in advance…debating between the teddy bear’s picnic made out of fondant, the race cars on an asphalt track, tropical fish aquarium, or the gumdrop candy mountain.  None of these are simple sheet cakes, but 3-D extravaganzas.  

But all cakes pale in comparison to the fateful year of the “Castle with Fantasy Village” (above) that my daughter wanted.  That was the time I did NOT swear-in-my-head at my range because I was too busy swearing-in-my-head at everything else cake-related in my kitchen…

It all started because I thought I was so smart.  So prepared.  So organized.  

Knowing that creating a cake castle with surrounding village would take some time, I baked the 8×8 inch square base of the castle, the loaf tin cakes from which the cylindrical turrets would be cut, and the giant muffin-shaped village buildings in advance.  I froze them.  A one-and-a-half by two foot foil base would hold it all.  A trip to the candy store secured a variety of confections to decorate roofs and simulate windows.  All was ready. 

The night before the party I set to work with my bowls of fantasy-coloured butter cream.  The “vision” for the castle was a chocolate cake square base with four pointed-roof  turrets on each corner of the square.  Each village building, in the picture in the nice magazine, resembled six inch-sized mushrooms, with enticing candy-coated roofs and miniature doors and windows. Winding between the village buildings and castle was a rock candy pathway. 

Quite charming…any little girl’s dream.  Is it possible the photo had been photo-shopped?

Icing the base of the castle was ok.  Cutting out the five inch cylindania out of the loaf tin shapes and gluing them together with the pale yellow butter cream to create turret-like cylinders worked just fine. 

Then the trouble started.   I thought crumbly cake pieces would be easier to ice if frozen.  I didn’t realize icing doesn’t like to stick to frozen cake.  It prefers to stay on the nice warm knife, thank you very much. 

Drats!!  Now what?  In order to convince the butter cream to leave the knife, I had to scrape it along the delicate constitution of cake which my other saran wrap draped hand cradled gingerly in the air. 

Anyone who’s iced cakes knows that having cake crumbs in your icing is not a desirable outcome.  There were so many dark brown specks in the pale icing that it looked like skin disease, not a confection to delight an eight year old and her friends! 

Walk away, I say to myself.  Unfortunately I didn’t listen.

Part of me believes if I just “try harder” things will work out.  It doesn’t.  I grit my teeth and clench my jaw through the other three “turrets” with similar results.  Who am I kidding?  It looks so bad I can’t even rationalize: “they’re children…they won’t notice”.  Oh yes they will.

To make matters worse, the top of the castle base has a slight slope to it.  It isn’t perfectly flat and the turrets do not want to stay put in their corners. 

So I use a very complicated and never-to-be-replicated system of wooden toothpicks to get the ugly turrets to stay in place.  Phew!  But really, they look absolutely awful and it’s getting late.  I have icing all over the place. 

So I focus on the little village and that goes comparatively well.  Almost charming.  But they kind of make the disease-skinned castle look even worse if that’s possible.  I look at the amount of candy on the non-castle part of my daughter’s stupid birthday cake (oh…was that an outside thought?)  and have an epiphany.

I will “attach” pastel coloured sprinkles (coloured sugar) to the sides of the turrets!  How?  They are vertically in place and I am NOT undoing the toothpick systems. 

Think, think, think.  I unroll more saran wrap and drape it over my hand.  I pour a liberal amount of sprinkles into my palm.  I quickly “shove” my hand against the side of a turret and most of the sprinkles fall onto the cake base…the counter…the floor where I’m standing. 

I’m almost afraid to look, but enough sprinkles have stuck to the vertical turret to cover up the yellow and brown skin disease.  I’m past caring about the mess I’m making and finish crystallizing all the turrets and plop their icing covered paper cones on top to complete the look. 

I’m so happy, but I can’t relax.  The kitchen is a sprinkle and icing disaster.  And the cake!  How, exactly, am I going to get sprinkles off  cake and village parts where they’re not wanted?

As I am vacuuming my kitchen floor with  my very powerful vacuum it comes to me. If I take off the attachment and hold the metal tube ABOVE the cake, it will suck up the sprinkles!  

Oh, I’m brilliant.  So I start sucking and it’s all very satisfying…holding the hose a couple of inches above the cake, only the loose sprinkles are going in until… OMGosh!!!  Like Icarus and the sun, I got too close.  Or rather the vacuum got too close. 

Suddenly a large chunk of the castle base disappears, leaving a gaping brown crater.  For a second I stopped breathing. 

Now what? 

I turn off the vacuum and pace back and forth.  And then it comes to me.  Kids love icing, right?  This part I can conceal and the kids will never know.  More icing is better. 

But I never could have served one of those pieces of half-cake, half-icing to one of the moms.  How on earth would I explain that???

My daughter’s birthday is in January.  Maybe there will be a new oven by then and together we will create another birthday cake masterpiece…or disaster. 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment