Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An Untraditional Christmas

My family loves Christmas.    Over the years, our traditions have become like a finely oiled machine.  Driving around looking at Christmas lights (especially as soon as the person coming home for Christmas has just arrived from a long journey), perogies (the recipe that my mother created and cannot be duplicated), my sister's Christmas cake (that she has perfected), and like many others - the feast, the tree and beautifully wrapped presents.

The family is scattered now so Christmas has become the tradition of following the one who works in retail.  Aimee has to work both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day so her mobility is restricted.   Three months ago she moved to Victoria so this is where I have come to spend Christmas.  The complication is the other child who is spending Christmas with his "in-laws" and will join us on Boxing Day. 

We have decided to have Christmas on the 27th. 

Which means that Aimee and I are hanging out in Victoria on Christmas Day - not doing Christmas things.  

Except we aren't doing them alone.  In Starbucks, Aimee lined up for the coffees while I secured a seat.   There was a lineup for the hour we were there. 

We had decided to go out for Chinese food for our Christmas dinner.  After 15 phone calls with the only one restaurant with the worst reviews open, we decided to go out and see what was happening.   We did find a Burger King which was pretty busy; Aimee said if we went there, we would have been the only ones employed.  But really our palates were set on Chinese food. 

We went into China Town; there were a few restaurants open but not as many as I had imagined.  One that told us there was no room.  Reservations only is what the sign said on the door.  I went inside.  Do you have a reservation? they asked.  No.  Sorry, she said.  Can I make one?  She looked at me.  8 o'clock.  Yes, I said. 

It is time.  Ready for Christmas dinner....

Friday, December 21, 2012

The 14th Bak'tun

Today is the beginning of the 14th bak'tun, a time measured by the Maya.  If we were the ancient Maya, we would be having grand celebrations and would be admiring the new faces on our pyramids. We would see new inscriptions the scribes had etched into stone monuments, on the walls of the ceremonial centres, and books dedicated to this memorable time.

The astronomers would be watching the sky carefully and advising the scribes what they see.  The planetary alignments would be as much a part of their records as who the rulers are.

The Solstice is one of my favourite days of the year.  It is a marking point.  It is the end of pendulum.  It is a time for looking at where we were and a time to look at where we are going.  It is an internal time.

In the Kootenays, pyramids dot the landscape - in the form of hills of snow.  From Wednesday night to Thursday, there was an accumulation of 31 cms snow in my back yard.  The local ski hill has a base of 255 cms.

Morning - December 20th - my front stairs
In a practical sense, what this means is that there has been a lot of shovelling going on.  Sweeping the snow off the car created a snowbank.  And there is simply no place to put all that snow.  Snow only piles so high. 

When I look down at the laneway, I can see that getting out of my cozy parking spot might be a possible.  When I look up the laneway, I doubt that I will be able to get back in.  I have decided to make my life simpler and walk.  And my car will sit.

I don't mind.  It helps me look at the world in a fresh way.

The Maya had a good point.  We need to look at the world differently. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Red Tablecloth

If I am lucky, I can catch an idea when it is born.  It reminds me of seeing a falling star.  It only happens when you are looking for it.  

Yesterday, I was sitting at my dining room table, covered with a beige patterned table runner and four complementary green placemats.   The idea landed with a definitive tone.  I wanted a tablecloth. 

That I was contemplating a tablecloth on a quiet Saturday afternoon, I would not have seen two days earlier.  An out-of-town friend was coming to visit for the long weekend.  As is a habit of mine when guests are coming, I was cleaning the house, selecting menus and organizing in ways that nobody else would notice.  Except me. 

On Friday morning, I got a text message.  “Severe weather warning in Southern Alberta.”  Southern Alberta was the only route between my friend and I.  We watched the weather channel and looked up the road conditions.  We agreed.  The snow storm kyboshed the visit.

As I percolated the news, I thought of my next 3 days.  Except for theatre tickets, I had cleared the decks for the visit with my friend.  In a life of full-time work and many interests, a weekend with no plans just never happens.  As the ideas of what to do began cascading in my mind, I heard the voice of another friend, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!” What if I didn’t make any plans?  What if I just let my day unfold with going from one inspired moment to another?  A novelty.  I can work with that.

I sat at my computer.  My email deposited an notice from the library telling me that a book I requested had arrived.  The tablecloth idea happened right then.  Which brought me downtown, strolling down the streets at a pace that I can’t seem to find in a regular day. 

The tablecloth is red, not matching my blue Japanese pottery but then blue on red is striking.  This red is bright and cheery, just what is needed as the nights are increasing and the sun is hid behind clouds.  I never would have bought it had my plans not changed. 

My table looks stunning.  Every time I stop and admire, I see an important metaphor for my life.  When plans change, a whole new world of possibilities arise.  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Travel Packer

Winter descends
After nearly 18 years in the Kootenays, I am still awestruck by fall.  The expanse of time that the leaves take to turn colour and flutter to the ground.  The array of yellows and greens and reds.  And ever present green.   Warm fall days with clear skies slide into increasing cloud and rain.   When the clouds clear and mountains are revealed, I look up.   Each week, the line of snow creeps down the mountain side.  And one day I will wake up and see a blanket of snow everywhere.  When I saw the snowfall warning last week, I didn't really believe it.  November is our arrival.  Up on the mountain passes, it is a different story - snow falls earlier up there.

Perhaps it was all wishful thinking.  My snow tires on in the shed.  I have my appointment set to put them on - November 1st.  No snow before then, thank you.

I am never too hasty to get on my snow tires.  I certainly would if I was taking a road trip but now I can have the indulgence of "winter denial."

It is probably that state that piqued my interest in the latest BootsnAll 2012 Indie Travel Challenge prompt for week #39 on Travel Packing.  Not even snow on the ground and I am thinking about getting out of here.  I will settle down but it is always a bit of a shock.

Over the  years I have changed by packing style.  It had to happen.  Pulling a huge suitcase that flopped on its side on a cobblestone street and then lugging it up 2 flights of stairs was enough to send me out to the luggage department.  Large luggage was out - I learned it was easy to exceed the weight limit.

Finding the right combination of luggage was a trial.  Layovers meant walking around airports.  I grew weary of heaving a heavy computer (even Macs can be substantial) bag over my shoulder.  A carry on with wheels solved that issue.  Because I also travel on Jazz Air Canada regional flights, the wheeled luggage doesn't easily fit under the seat.  I bought a computer case that I carry on the plane when the bag is Sky Checked.

I usually travel at Christmas.  Bright wrapped packages sit alongside socks and t-shirts.  Though I now have a new appreciation for carry-on luggage, clothes and gifts need more room.  I bought a medium size suitcase from Winners.  A couple years later, after seeing a broken wheel assembly on my suitcase in the luggage carousel, I was convinced that I am a frequent-enough flyer.  I chose Travelpro.   "The choice of flight crews and frequent flyers."  I found a half-price sale at The Bay. 

My present amount of luggage is 3.  Usually 2 of 3 travel with me depending on where I am going. 

When I went to Mexico in 2007,  I packed all my luggage in carry on - 3 ounce bottles and all.  I brought a collapsible duffel bag in case I found a treasure that had to come home with me, but I didn't use it.  Buying silver for gifts reduces the need for space.

No Baggage Challenge intrigued me when I first saw it in 2010.  Travel writer Rolf Potts has figured it all out.  Clearly, he sees no necessity for a flat iron.   

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Photo of the Week - Clover Point Park - Victoria, BC

Sunset from Clover Point Park
This 10.39 acre park is largely asphalt - perfect for windy days when you just don't want to get out of your car.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Catching a Ferry - The Elusive Tsawwassen

Aimee has officially made the move to Victoria, settling in to a lovely apartment in Cook Street Village.  I have come to spend time with her over the Thanksgiving weekend.  Which is more than I can say for her furniture and more importantly, her bed.  The moving company has told her that her belongings should arrive in about a week.  In the meantime, she is on an airbed and I am on a foamy.  Reminds me of those days when the only furniture we owned was a deep freeze, a gift from my mother-in-law who believed in the value of preserving food.

Looking around this room, there is something charming and imaginative about a space with no furniture.  Possibilities.

The weather in BC these days is inspiring!  Sunshine and lots of warmth.  I didn't see one cloud in the sky all the way from Nelson to here.  We will take it.  After such a soggy spring/early summer.

The pointy fingers of winter are reaching out.  The morning I left, we had our first frost.  Not a hard frost as people like to say.  On my way down from the Bonanza Pass at 10:30 am, I noticed the road was wet looking; eventually I caught up with a truck that had a sign on the back - "De-icing in progress.  Stay back 35 metres."  I am not ready for ice anything.  The winter tires are tucked in the shed back home.  The days can fool us into thinking summer is going to stay but when that sun goes down, it is different story.

I was surprised at how many RVs I saw on the road, especially heading out of the lower mainland.  Opportunists.  Go while you can.   I try to avoid long weekends on BC roads; there is so much traffic and I don't like following anyone or having anyone follow me.  Which is tricky on windy roads with few passing lanes.   My frustration with the traffic was trumped by the gorgeous scenery.  Leaves are turning; the sky is blue.  Nature is showing off for us all.

I reached the lower mainland in mid-afternoon, stopped in Chilliwack where a store clerk told me that it would be 4 to 5 hours longer.  What route do you take? I asked.  She had no shortcuts.  Take Route 10 from Highway 1.  Through Langley.  Which is an important point for what was about to happen down the road.

Once I got off the Freeway, I noted the green sign, an straight arrow at the top, the words BC Ferries and a picture of a boat.  I saw them again and again as I zigzagged my way to the Georgia Strait.  Then I saw a sign that said for Surrey to take the right lane and Langley go straight ahead.  Remembering the store clerk, I didn't follow the line of traffic turning to the right.  Surrey is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada so it makes a lot of sense that people would be headed there.

And then I was in downtown Langley.  Offices and shops and coffee joints.  Something was wrong.  The U-turn that I did in the middle of the street was the next clue that I was no where near where I needed to be.

I backtracked.  Having remembered my map, I knew I that Route 10 was where I wanted to be - that is until I could get to Highway 17.  I found Route 10 and headed towards Surrey.  The familiar Ferry signs reappeared.  All was well.

Back in a pile of traffic, keeping my eyes peeled for the signs.  I didn't want to miss anything.  I looked at the clock - it was about 55 minutes until the next ferry left.  I followed the truck that was merging left.  I saw a small sign showing the right exit - it had a picture of a boat on it.  If you have been to the lower mainland, you would know that there are lots of boats.  A marina, perhaps?

The merge left veered to the right and around a cloverleaf.  I saw a sign - Surrey, next 4 exits.  Surrey?  Straight ahead of me was Mt. Baker.  I was going back in the same direction I was on the freeway.

Mt Baker in my rearview mirror

The next sign I saw was the highway notification.  I was on Highway 99, heading south.  Heading towards - Seattle.  I decided to take the next exit.  White Rock.  I found a pullout and pulled out the map.  White Rock, although on the Georgia Strait, has no access to Tsawwassen.  The map was pretty useless for figuring out how to get me back.

I did a U-Turn at the next lights.  When I saw my next options, I decided Vancouver made a lot more sense than Seattle.  Heading north.  An overhead sign said that Highway 17 was 10 minutes ahead.  Highway 17?  My Highway 17?  Ten minutes later, I read the exit sign - BC Ferries.  Yes!  I got in the right lane.  And so did everyone else.  And the traffic stopped.

The time was 6:45.  Would I make the 7 o'clock ferry?  Was the next one at 9?  Data plans - this is the moment that they were created for.  But I don't have one.  I have a paper map that has rip marks in the fold lines.  I inched my way with everyone else to the very-short stop lights.  Agony.

Finally it was my turn.  And we all sped down Highway 17.  The overhead sign said, "Swartz Bay - One ferry sailing wait."  All of my 7 o'clock dreams fizzled.  The next hope was the bottom part of the sign that said the 8 o'clock ferry was 46% full.  I didn't even know there was an 8 o'clock ferry.  I would have known that if I had a data plan.  If I had a data plan, I wouldn't be doing a happy dance like I was in the car right then.

At the ferry terminal, I got in my queue.   After I paid, I couldn't help myself from asking the cashier, "If I would have been 30 minutes earlier, would I have got the 7 o'clock ferry?"  That seemed to be the amount of time that I took for my "detours."

"No," she said, "it was full early."   I never thought of how I would feel if she said yes.

So, if I hadn't got lost - twice - I would have been sitting in a ferry lineup.  Motoring around the lower mainland or waiting.  Which would I pick?

And what did I learn from my misadventures?  If I came that way again, would I do the same thing?  As I was thinking about what I needed to know so I didn't need to repeat this incident, I realized that I have actually done this route before.  A few years ago.  And I didn't get lost. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Photo of the Week - Carnevale - The Venetian - Las Vegas

In August when we were visiting The Venetian, we came upon some interesting foliage.  There were two who looked like this:

And then they started moving....

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Pas Centennial

Welcome Home.  The greeting was at the end of a long journey.  In many ways.  This was the town where I grew up, where my parents moved early in my life to find work that the south couldn't offer.  I can see now that I was one of those teenagers who couldn't wait to go out and see the world.  I moved back.  Several times. And then no more.

What did I expect going back to a town I left 37 years ago?  Would I recognize anyone?  

The Pas Centennial Parade Float

The Pas' 100th celebration of its incorporation centred in the community complex.  Headquarters.  When we walked through the doors, we could see pockets of people.  Like many years ago, my best buddy Sheila and I spent the day together, checking what was happening around town.  In the middle of the reception area, we stumbled upon her two sisters, one who lives in The Pas and one who lives in Alberta.  You can't really tell who will be the ones that leave and who will be the ones that stay.  

I gravitated to the wall of photos, seeing a lot of faces I knew long ago.  "Patricia Rawson, is that you?"  I was impressed.  When she said her name, I couldn't connect the picture I had of her in my mind.  And yet she did.  

A few other people gathered around; they were all from my graduating class.  Our chat was brief.  Too brief.  I would like to have asked them what happened in their lives, where life led them. 

The crowd grew.  I recognized friends of my parents.  My uncle and aunt.  He was with one of his two daughters and her daughter.  Explaining relatives to people can get complicated fast.  The granddaughter was now 23; I had never met her before.  How does that happen?   

We wandered to the souvenir table; I picked up a picture book of the 100th centennial.  Paris Cafe, Gateway Drugs, Cambrian Hotel.  All gone now.  In fact when I drove down Fischer Avenue, so much is gone - the park where my sister was pushed off a slide and landed on the ground with a misshapen arm, the shop where every September we went and got a new pair of shoes for the school year, the store where my dad bought his clothes.  

What isn't gone...

As my family moved away from The Pas, my visits became infrequent.  But always when I came back, I stopped at the lake.  Clearwater Lake.   This is where I brought my children for vacations.  Of anywhere in the north, this is where part of my heart resides. 

Coming home.  What happened for me during the homecoming was a connection between the past and now.  Reunion.  With family, school mates, dear friends, grown up children I babysat, ex-relatives, my nephew and his family (and now I am a great aunt!).  

We drove back to Winnipeg through The Bog.  We found a picnic table alongside an arm of Lake Winnipegosis and ate Saskatoon pie.  Around the table sat my mother, sister and daughter, my travel companions for our northern adventure.  So much of who were are has roots in the north, so much of our history.  I wonder about home. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Photo of the Week - The Venetian - Las Vegas

"Where are the Gondola rides?" I asked.

"Inside or out?" the bellman answered.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Photo of the Week - Rocky Lake

Rocky Lake, Manitoba - north of the 54th parallel.

At this latitude the sun is visible for 17 hours, 9 minutes during the summer solstice and 7 hours, 22 minutes during the winter solstice.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Photo of the Week - Bonanza Pass

The Bonanza Pass, also known as the Blueberry-Paulson, is the mountain pass in the Monashee Mountains in BC.  On the east side is the Kootenays and on the west is the Boundary region. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Photo of the Week - Coastal Redwoods

Coast Redwoods at Muir Woods, California

Coast redwoods occupy a narrow strip of land approximately 750 kilometres long and 8 to 75 km  wide along the Pacific coast.  The most southerly grove is in Monterey County, California, and the most northerly groves are in extreme southwestern Oregon.

This native area provides a unique environment with heavy seasonal rains - 2,500 millimetres. Cool coastal air and fog drip keep this forest consistently damp year round. Condensation from coastal fog accounts for a considerable part of the trees' water needs.  Several factors, including the heavy rainfall, create a soil with fewer nutrients than the trees need, causing them to depend heavily on the entire biotic community of the forest, and complete recycling of the trees when dead.

The thick, tannin-rich bark, combined with foliage starting high above the ground provides good protection from both fire and insects, contributing to the coast redwood's longevity. The oldest known specimen is about 2,200 years old.

 An estimated 95% or more of the original old-growth redwood forest has been cut down.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Finds in San Francisco

Being away from home offers two of my favourite opportunities - time to explore and stumbling upon treasures.  Sometimes I have an idea of what I might want, of stuff I can only find in a city or that has more choices than I could find in my small-but-trendy hometown.

Monday's search was for paper and cupcakes.

Julie and I ended up on Fillmore Street after her web search.  The Paper Source is one inspiring place to hang out; it is one of those places that leaves me a bit dizzy after an hour or so of visual stimulation - so many items I have never seen before.  I spent a lot.  The surprise was that most of what I bought was not paper; it was cloth ribbons.

And that's what happens.  I never know quite I am going to find.  And life is like that.  Really.  If you think about it. 

Which leads me to our next search.   We caught the bus to a cupcake place on Union Street.  Had the cupcake store been open on Mondays, we wouldn't have gone to seek out the next one on the list.  Had we not decided to walk down Fillmore instead of Steiner we wouldn't have found the shoe store.  The shoe store where Julie found 2 pairs of Italian shoes.

We walked to the second cupcake shop, Julie looking down admiring her new purchase which she decided to wear.

The iPhone led us down a few blocks.  We turned a corner and scanned the buildings.  I am always a bit amazed at seeing a place after seeing it on Google Maps.  Like it won't really be there.  The surprise is in the fact that I never know what a place is going to look like, not really.  I looked to my left and there it was, an array of pastel colours gleaming at us behind the glass counter.  Susie Cakes

I chose one coconut and one lemon.  Julie chose chocolate mint and vanilla with pink icing.

As I was eating my cupcake with crumbs all around me and sticky fingers, I had a few thoughts about my intrigue with these sweet treats.

On one hand, cupcakes make a lot of sense - buy only one item instead of a whole cake.  I don't have to be fully committed to my "cake."  Cupcakes are a popular indulgence, perfect for cosmopolitan cities where calories are tracked.  My grandmother would be astonished that there are whole stores devoted to cupcakes, that they even have their own name - cupcakery.

But what separates one shop from another?  Here's what I have noticed.  Red Velvet cupcakes, whose key ingredients are chocolate, red food colouring and cream cheese frosting are faddish.  So are minis.  At most places I can find chocolate and vanilla cupcakes topped with various flavours of icing - lemon, coconut, vanilla.  It certainly doesn't stop there.  Miette Cakes in San Francisco offers “Old-Fashioned” – a bittersweet chocolate cake with Italian meringue and candy-coated peanut.  Mission Minis offers small bite-sized cupcakes in 10 different varieties. 

To top it off, cupcakery stores are visions of colour and the epitome of esthetics.

And yet....

The magic of cupcakes is a delicate matter.  They can have too much frosting.  Or too little.  Too dry.  Too boring. 

Perhaps it is all about the quest, of finding the pinnacle. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Photo of the Week - Kangaroo

I have a dream.  I have had a dream for a long time.  I would like to go to Australia.  I am not sure of when the seed was planted.  It has followed me much of my life and though I have saved money several times specifically for this adventure, life has intervened. 

It sits on my to-do list and the more I experience the world, the more I think I need to go there.  Here's my reasons:
  • No matter how many wines I have tried, my favourite is an Australian Shiraz.  Eaglehawk to be precise.  Perhaps you think that I haven't tried enough wines.  Perhaps you think that I haven't given BC wines enough of a try.  Last week when I was in Kelowna, I tried 17 types of wine.  And none matched the Shiraz.  If Kelowna's wine tours are grand, I think Australia's will be spectacular.
  • There is an Australian Shiraz that shares my name - Rawson Retreat.  Looks like some of the ancestors have made it there already.  Which means if I go to Australia, I could see it as a family reunion.  I hope they aren't the branch of the family that had to leave town if you know what I mean.
  • Australia has it all - beaches, cities, country, a most unusual rock - Uluru - and animals that we just don't see on this side of the globe.  That pretty much matches my style.
Which brings me to the photograph.  If you can't get to Australia, bring some of it here.  The kangaroo above  lives close to Kelowna.  The owner told me that it was really a wallaroo which is somewhere between the size of a kangaroo and a wallaby.  Apparently there are about 60 species of kangaroos, all residing on one island.  Clearly, I have much more to learn.

This fellow (could be a female) lives with about 10 others on Kangaroo Creek Farm

Last Sunday, I ambled alongside toddlers to the outer edges of the grassy area where the kangaroos were nibbling on grass.  Some of the children had branches of leaves that grabbed the kangaroos attention.  Focussed on their lunch, the kangaroos were nonchalant as we pet them.  I approached one and opened my hand so it could see I had no harmful intentions.  And then it decided that I looked edible and bit my finger. 

I was bit by a kangaroo.

How about that for a first?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Photo of the Week - Cuba

Hibiscus growing by the side of the road

Sunday, February 12, 2012

First Time Cuba

Plaza de la Catedral, Havana
The server places the refresco importado (Coca Cola) in front of Margarita and Heather.  I have la limonada (lemonade), which is fresh, tart, not too sweet and far better than anything I could have imagined.  We have spent the morning exploring Havana.  Our first time in Cuba.  Margarita is our tour guide, a teacher who helps Cubans learn English.

This is the hottest we have been since arriving in Cuba 5 days ago, our first time away from the cooling winds off the Atlantic Ocean.  We are staying in Veradero, 135 kilometres to the south of Havana, in an all-inclusive where having fun and relaxing is the prime activity.  Cubans have reminded us that this is their winter and indeed I see many with long pants and closed-toed shoes.  Most days I wear capris, short sleeves and sandals. 

We are lucky.  The weather for our vacation has been full of sunshine and temperatures from 26 to 28 degrees Celsius.  Other Canadians who have come to Cuba this year have had rain and cold weather. 

Our intention today was to catch a bus from Veradero to Havana; we went to the bus station at 7:10 am.  The cost is 10 pesos for the one-way trip.  When we got out of the taxi, a man with bulging chest muscles enveloped by his Canada t-shirt approached us.  They offered to take us to Havana for 15 pesos each; they promised it would only be 1 hour and 45 minutes.  The buses take much longer.  Our consideration was short.

The car that got us to Havana was a 1976 Jetta with black windows.  There are few cars on the road.  Especially when I think of home.  The cars that were made in the United States pre-date the time that the US put an embargo on Cuba – 1960.  Cubans are very handy with caring for their possessions, a matter of necessity being the mother of invention. Most of the cars are full of passengers; Heather notices that the drivers are men.  On a previous excursion into the country, the tour guide told us about Cuba’s national sport – hitchhiking – and that is what we saw along the route.  When we got to Havana, our taxi driver made us an offer.  He will take us back to Veradero at the end of the day for $20 pesos each. 

Margarita decided that double-decker bus is the best way for us to see New and old Havana.  We got off the bus at the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, considered to be the oldest stone fortress in the Americas.  Inside we found treasures retrieved from sunken ships, replicas of old ships such as Columbus’ three, and weapons used to defend Cuba. 

View of Old Havana from the Watchtower
On the second floor, the attendant offered us to go to the Watchtower, which is up a spiral staircase.  I say yes!  I ascend alone.  At the top I see majestic views of Old Havana.  I wished I knew more about architecture.  Back on the street, we find our way to the Plaza de la Catedral.  In the centre is a café.  It is here we have chosen to sit before the rest of the tour.

We ask Margarita many questions about life in Cuba, about how the money system works (there are two types of money in Cuba), education (education is free), healthcare (there are a shortage of supplies), where she goes to vacation (Veradero).  This is a conversation that winds its way throughout our day. 

Behind me I can hear the four-man band playing.  Live music is a fundamental part of Cuban life we are discovering.  Three adorned women have set up stations on the edge of the plaza with two chairs, a table and a doll.  “They help you with your future,” Margarita tells us. 

A woman supervises the washroom inside.  She hands me four squares of toilet paper.  A dish with coins sits on the table beside her.  Margarita has advised me the amount of the tip.  I put in my 10 cents beside the $1 and $2 pesos.  When I come out of the stall, my coin has vanished but the others have remained.  I figure she doesn’t want to encourage my kind of tip.

When I return to the table, we decide to walk to La Bodeguita del Medio, famous for being the birthplace of the Mojito and the celebrities who have hung out there.  The walls are covered with signatures of the famous and not so famous.  The place is packed.  “Would you like to see inside?”  I nod.  Margarita steps into the restaurant and leads us around the tables, into the back and out again.  I am impressed with her confidence.

Bronze statue of Ernest Hemingway at La Floridita
Back on the street, Margarita suggests that if we want to see El Floridita, it is close.  El Floridita is another restaurant-bar, famous for daiquiris and for being a favourite spot for Ernest Hemingway.  Margarita asks if we want a daiquiri.  I can see the place is busy.  “Not for me,” I say.  Again, she offers to show us the place. Again, she breezes inside. In the left corner of the bar, there is a bronze statue of Ernest Hemingway.

There is a lot to see in Old Havana.  The buildings are mesmerizing, some in disrepair and some having been restored over the years.  I see hotels and restaurants and bars and apartments on the upper floors.  What I do not see is places to buy clothing or food.  Along one street, we find a place next to a bar that sells ron (rum). 

We wind our way to the train station where we have agreed to meet our taxi driver at 6 pm.  With many more blocks to go, we hire a taxi for $3 pesos.  He lets us off close to a restaurant.  Outside the restaurant, the maître d tells us that this is the best food in Havana. 

The food is great, one of the best meals we have had in Cuba so far.  The price is surprisingly high.  That’s the way it is in Old Havana. 

Heather watches the time.  We leave the restaurant at 10 minutes after 6.  Margarita is not concerned.  “He will wait.”  I wonder how she knows that.  She shrugs her shoulder and leads us down the street to the train station.  The taxi is not in front.  We walk through the train station and down the block.

“Where are we going?”  I ask.

“To meet the driver,” she says.

Around the corner and down another street, we find a line up of cars.  Our taxi is in the middle, our driver waiting for us.

And this is how we learn about Cuba time.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

How I spent my Christmas vacation

"Where are you going for Christmas?"


"Don't forget your winter jacket.  After all, it's not called Winter-peg for nothing."  

Talking about Winnipeg brings out the joker in everyone.  What will be remembered about Christmas 2011 is that it was not typical prairie winter weather.  Most days the temperature was above freezing and where was the snow?  

We canned the idea of sledding or cross country skiing and got down to the business of origami.  Which fit well with our sleeping schedule of bed at 3 am and up at 11.  What I found out on my winter vacation that it isn't too hard to fill the hours between midnight and 3.  

Ryan brought his book on unit origami.  Also called modular origami, it is the paper folding technique of using more than one piece of paper to create a larger more complex structure which may be a tetrahedron, cube or other shapes.  

Here is some of the paper folding we did:  

And here are the instructions:

What I learned was that if you want to make a cube, you need 6 of these.  And then to put them together, you need a Ryan.