Friday, October 23, 2009

A River Runs Through It

Before the late autumn rains start in the Pacific Northwest we wanted to take one more trip around our picturesque Fraser Valley. This time we decided to cross the new Golden Ears Bridge and drive east towards the small town of Mission. It was a beautiful autumn day, sunny and quite warm, and, because there hasn’t really been much rain, the leaves are particularly marvellous this year. Beautiful deep shades of orangey-brown, ruby red and bright lemony-yellow stand out against the multi-green hues of a variety of evergreens.

Once across the bridge we usually head toward the main Highway Nbr. 7 or the Lougheed Highway as it is known. It's one of B.C. major routes following along the banks of the Fraser from Maple Ridge to Agassiz and the Harrison Hot Springs turnoff. Continuing east from that point you would eventually join B.C. Highway 1 at Hope before heading into the Fraser Canyon. Or you could make it a circle trip by crossing the bridge between Mission and Abbotsford and travel back west towards Vancouver by the much faster four-lane Route 1. Wouldn't matter which way you turned at that point; it's all beautiful.

However we didn’t turn right on Highway 7; instead we continued north through the hills and dales of Maple Ridge until we arrived at one of the oldest by-ways in the Fraser Valley, the Dewdney Trunk Road; another east-west route which takes you through the foothills and backwoods and ends in the small town of Mission. But before we got there, we discovered Stave Lake and its waterfall which has been used for many years to create hydro-electricity. Below the dam we found the spot we were looking for. A favourite fishing hole of the locals.
To our delight there were multitudes of salmon spawning in the shallow waters. It was an exciting and beautiful sight to see these awesome creatures whose God-given instinct had helped them fight their way up the Fraser with its strong currents and into this rocky stream to end their days in the place they were born. The one sad note was the fishermen who can’t seem to leave these magnificent creatures alone even in their final death throes.

How anyone thinks that landing a fish that has hardly enough strength left to perform the duty he must if the species is to continue, can be considered sport is beyond me.
But even so, the golden autumn day the woodland setting and the mystery of the salmon’s annual ritual acted together to make it a wondrous and unforgettable day.
* * *

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The "Eyes" Have It.

Last time I wrote about having some work done on my eyes. The healing process went fine but somewhere along the way I caught a nasty cold (not H1N1—I think anyone who lived through the terrible flu seasons of the 1950s may have built up a little immunity to that). But, bad enough to make life miserable for a few days. So I’ve been very lazy for the last week and a half, spending time in front of my fire, drinking the odd glass of red wine and catching up on some reading.

The eyes took a little longer to heal than I thought and looked pretty ghastly along the way. But now I’m very happy about them. They make me feel younger and my friends say they actually do make me look younger too. I never thought I’d resort to “plastic surgery” and I’m sure this is the end of it, but at this point I’m not sorry. Even my husband admitted the other day that they absolutely DO look better.
Warning: A friend of mine had the same proceedure and has had some trouble with the eyelids closing. So it's not as simple as I make it sound. My specialist had me sign a waiver which lets one know there can be problems. So like any surgery, weigh the pros and cons very carefully before you make up your own mind.
* * *

Now speaking about eyes—there’s a place in our beautiful Fraser Valley called Minter Gardens that is definitely a “sight for sore eyes” as the saying goes.

Two Sundays ago, on one of the last real summer-like days of the year, we made our way out to the eastern part of our scenic valley where the northern head of the Cascade Mountain Range begins. Here the gallant Fraser River ends its mad scramble through narrow canyons and gorges and starts a slow meander through the valley to the Pacific.

Centuries ago, a massive mountain slide swept over the area where the landscape begins to open up. Here, in an area overlooked by 7,000 foot Mt. Cheam, unique land formations left the area unsuitable for crop farming. But early settlers found it ideal for raising cattle and other animals. Tall native specimen trees added to the charm of the location, and thousands of wild geraniums, columbine, roses and bleeding hearts added a finishing touch.

As the Minter Garden’s brochure states, “It was this site that Brian and Faye Minter first saw on Christmas Day, 1977. The landscape was so unique, and the setting so picturesque, that an once-in-a-lifetime dream was born: to create one of the most beautiful gardens in the world! Their dream became reality in May of 1980.”

It took us about two hours to walk around the gardens which are striking in their beauty even in the cooler September weather. These gardens are ever evolving, and each season offers dramatic views of cool, quiet woodlands, gurgling brooks and waterfalls. There are beautiful topiary features, a rose garden and even a Japanese style garden.

Next spring will offer the blooms of over 100,000 tulip bulbs important from Holland. Then in April the rhododendrons begin their show of riotous colour amid huge cedar trees and rock wall terraces. The week after our visit, they closed for the winter. But they open again early in April, and if you’re planning a visit to B.C. during the spring and summer months, you really should include these gardens in your itinerary. It’s well worth the hour drive from downtown Vancouver and I promise, it’s is a feast for the eyes—sore or not.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Eye Opening Experience

When we are still quite young, we are taught to respect gravity. It’s a matter of life and death really. The same gravity that keeps us safely anchored to this earth will bring about our death if we put it to the test by jumping off a tall building or a high cliff.

Sadly, about two-thirds the way through our lives, gravity begins to turn on us. Slowly, unless we work at it, everything begins to head south—our tummies droop as muscles relax; something called dewlaps form under our jaw line; and even “the girls” start sliding towards our waistline.

The face doesn’t get away scot free either. The nose tends to get bigger and grow down; and in some people, the top eyelid begins to droop giving a “hooded” affect to the eye. A matter of hereditary, I’m told. This can not only be a beauty problem but a visual one as well as the peripheral eyesight is affected.

So after many years of determinedly stating there would be no “nip and tuck” for me—I was just going to grow old gracefully—last week I gave in and opted for an upper eye lid lift or what is technically called a “Blepharoplasty.” The actual procedure is not hard to take. You go into a very cold operating room and lie on a couch while some type of lazar equipment is moved above your head. Prior to having me lie down, they made some black marks over the eyelids where they were going to cut. The doctor pinched up the excess skin so I could see how much more visual area I would have. It looked marvellous. I was sure it would help my driving as well as give me a more youthful appearance.

My blepharoplasty was performed under local anethesia which was inserted by a needle into the eye brow area. To be honest, that was the most painful part of the whole operation. I was told I could open or close my eyes as I felt like it; it wasn’t going to make a difference to them. There was a fairly bright light above though so I kept them closed most of the time although I was able to blink.

During the actual procedure, the surgeon makes incisions along the line creases of the upper eyelid and possibly along the outer lower rim of the eye's skin. Fatty tissue is removed but not skin. These incisions often reach the outer corners of the eyes; in my case in the left eye as it drooped more than the right. The surgeon then divides the fatty tissue and muscle from the skin so that excess skin, fat or muscle can be removed. It was all over in a little under an hour and the surgeon was so pleased he had a picture taken which he gave to me the next day when I went in for a checkup. It was all nicely done up in a folder with the date of the procedure along with the names of the specialist and the technician. Not unlike those you buy of your cruise ship experience. I had to laugh a little at that.

Well the proof they say is in the pudding, so I was very anxious for the week to go by to see the actual results. I’ll let you know next week...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

This Could be a Joke but...

I want to thank Megan Bostic for nominating me for Kreativ Blogger Award. This is an honor. It's a way for bloggers to show other bloggers their appreciation and to promote each other.

Apparently there are a few rules that go along with getting this award.

1. Place the logo on the blog.
2. Link to the person who nominated the blog for this award.
3. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
4. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
5. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
6. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.

Here are 7 things you might find interesting about me.

1. I'm fairly good at public speaking but don't do it much anymore.
2. I was in all the drama competitions when I was in school--wanted to be an actress.
3. Physical education was the only course I ever failed and I still hate exercise.
4. I also hate talking on the phone. Avoid it like the plague. That's why I love e-mail but so far I don't text or tweet
5. I love the ocean and can't be away from it for too long.
6. I love red wine and wine tasting holidays.
7. I once shook hands with Britain's Prince Harry. He was still a little boy at the time.

I am working on my nominations for Kreativ Blogger:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Eye Surgery This Week

Had a small eye surgery on Friday. Things are looking pretty blurry right now so will "tell all" next week. Nothing serious--just a nip tuck thing. Well, they do say "vanity, thy name is woman." Guess they are right.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

America On Guard for Thee

A dangerous looking pair.
I may at some time have mentioned that the Canadian U.S. border lies eight miles directly south of where I live, on what they call the Coast Meridian Road. It’s about a half hour drive for us so we often opt for a day in the “States.” There’s a lot to do in beautiful Washington State and Bellingham is only fifty miles down the highway. We like to go shopping, eat a nice lunch or dinner by the sea, or even just to fill up with good American gasoline that is always cheaper than ours. (Although we have the most available oil of any country in the world right now—but go figure.)

Even though that crossing directly south of us is the easiest to access we don’t usual take it. It’s the major entry point on Interstate 5 between the two countries and the line-ups can be horrendous. So the other day—a beautiful end-of-August day—we decided we wanted to look at the shops in Bellingham’s Bellis Fair Mall and have an excellent seafood dinner down by Bellingham Bay. We started out early to drive inland to the crossing at Lyndon, Washington which takes us through lovely farming country on either side of the border—a much less crowded route.

It was a Monday and surprisingly the line-ups were huge even way out there in the “sticks?” So it took us over an hour to get up to one of the Inspection Stations. Our passports were ready, we answered the usual questions about where were we off to and how long would we be in the States. But, imagine our surprise and dismay when the officer said, “I want you to drive into the bay over there for an inspection. Someone will go through your car so it will take some time. You’ll get your passports back when you’re finished.”

Now we are seniors and our faces will attest to over three score and some years of living and our fair share of sunshine. My husband is greying and I have silver white hair. We really don’t look all that suspicious nor do we look like we could be a threat to anyone. But those border guards are big and brawny and they carry guns, so you don’t really want to mess with them. And the sign says that if you disobey there can be a $250,000 fine and up to ten years in jail. We’re not even sure we have ten years left.

We meekly pulled into the bay and with some trepidation, entered the building. Again there are line-ups so the wait until an inspector came to talk to us took quite awhile. I imagine that, if you are carrying anything suspicious in your car, you would begin to sweat. In fact, the fellow in front of us looked very worried and when questioned admitted he had been arrested before. “Right here at the border,” he confessed.

I’m not the most patient person in the world and am apt to voice my feelings in a fairly loud voice about supposed injustices. Looking at the counter and watching some Hispanic people being fingered printed, I said to my husband in a loud whisper, “I’m absolutely NOT going to be fingered printed.”

Pointing again at the signs about jail, he motioned me to “hush up.” I know the look.

Finally our turn came. The inspector was Hispanic himself and gave me a reassuring smile. “This is just a random check, ma’m,” he comforted me. “You don’t have to worry. Have either of you ever been arrested?” Fortunately we never have been; we weren’t carrying guns or marijuana—neither of us has ever smoked a joint actually—and we didn’t even have any liquor in the trunk. We were totally clean. I don’t know if they were disappointed or not. After a thorough search of the car, they handed back our passports and we were soon again on our way south. Still time for window shopping and an early dinner at Bellingham’s beautiful harbour.

But I can tell all you American’s out there. Those border guards are doing their job. You are definitely safe from an invasion by Canadian senior citizens.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

Hi there followers:

I owe you an apology. I have been exceedingly lazy these last few weeks during our British Columbia heat wave and, on top of that, somehow I got myself involved with Authonomy.

Authonomy is, as those writer's among you know, the website put up by Harper Collins for new writers to showcase their work. For some time now, I've heard a few of my colleagues on Facebook talking about it and finally gave in to it's allure. So I have seven chapters of my book, "The Huguenot's Destiny" posted there now and, in order to keep it moving up the chart, you have to keep reading and commenting on other writer's books constantly. Then they return the favour. As one of my very observant and intelligent F/B friends tells us, it's mostly about "patting each other on the back."

Even though I'm beginning to understand the game, I did have a couple of very nice comments which I'm taking at face value. One, because he is a member of the modern-day Huguenot Church and he wants to read the entire book. (Which is not a religious book, by the way.) Another was by a New York magazine editor and his comments sounded genuine enough.

Unfortunately, no sooner did my book start climbing up the ladder, than the whole website went down. I also have a habit of "killing" most of the forum threads I have ventured on to. I really should put up a warning label.

So that's mostly what I've been up to for the past couple of weeks. But I will be carrying on with my travelblog on my trip to the Okanagan and particularly my visit to my old hometown of Summerland in a couple of weeks. Please stay tuned. And in the meantime, welcome to summer in my small garden.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Vernon - Center of Northern Okanagan Valley

British Columbia is burning. There are 500 fires throughout the province at the moment. It has been so hot and dry everywhere for two months now, with record setting temperatures in many areas including Vancouver.

Sadly in spite of the pleas of the RCMP, we still see many places where people have unthinkingly thrown their cigarette butts out of the window of their car. One can’t help but wonder if their consciences will bother them when they see the weeping families standing in front of their burnt out homes.
Link: Terrace Mountain fire forces 2,500 to flee

The Okanagan Valley is one of the places where there is still a large, uncontrolled fire burning on the north west side of the lake, but nevertheless, it’s a beautiful spot to visit; so this week I’ll continue with my travel blog of the north Okanagan.

Vernon is the largest city in the North Okanagan Regional District and is the northern entry point for the valley. Coming from eastern Canada via the Trans Canada Highway #3, one turns south on Highway 97 at either Sicamous or Salmon Arm. Ideally nestled between the beautiful Swan, Kalamalka, and Okanagan lakes it is the oldest community in British Columbia's interior.
Our sightseeing in Vernon began with a step back in time to the late 1800s at the historic O'Keefe Ranch, founded in 1867 by Cornelius O'Keefe when he and his partner, Thomas Greenhow drove cattle from Oregon to the north end of Okanagan Lake.

At that time, huge cattle ranches occupied the valley, and ranch headquarters were self-contained settlements. By the turn of the century, O'Keefe and his partner owned 20,000 acres of prime land, and were driving cattle north to sell to the hungry miners in the gold fields. The property is still a working ranch and you can spend a good afternoon touring the outbuilding as well as the beautifully preserved Victorian home. It’s a great spot where kids and adults alike can experience the history and adventure of pioneer days. I’ve included a couple of pictures.
(If you go: The ranch is open daily 9am to 5 pm, May through Thanksgiving.)

The other interesting spot in Vernon we took time to visit on this trip was Okanagan Opal Inc., which is the first company in Canada to produce and market "Canadian" precious opal gemstones. You can visit the shop to see a wonderful variety of opal gemstones, available in many different settings, styles and colours or you can also arrange a trip to their actual mine site to dig your own opals!
View Dig Your Own Opals for more information.

(Next time we head south to the Central Okanagan Valley where we visit my old hometown of Summerland)

Inside of O'Keefe Ranch General Store

Always did like a cowboy

Library of beautiful O'Keefe Victoria home

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Visit to the Okanagan Valley of B.C.

Right: Okanagan Lake
Left: Coquihalla Pass
Centre: Merrit Valley
Just got back from a week in British Columbia’s hot spot—the Okanagan Valley (pronounced Ohk-a-NAH-gan). The Okanagan is the closest thing Canada has to a desert. It is actually a part of the great desert basin that extends north from Mexico and the United States. Near the south Okanagan city of Osooyos, there is a portion set aside as a desert refuge complete with tumbleweed and rattlesnakes.

So the Okanagan is very warm and very arid and, unfortunately, subject to summer wildfires when the forests are tinder dry. Three separate fires started the day after we left (looks suspicious I know but neither of us smoke). Happily, they are now under control and there were only about 9 houses lost although 15,000 people were evacuated for safety reasons.

Hot and dry as the climate is, with the help of irrigation the whole valley has been turned into a delightful region of vineyards and orchards. And with a chain of lakes stretching from the city of Vernon in the north to the U.S. border and beyond, it is a summer holiday paradise.

There’s an easy way to get to B.C.’s interior and that’s over Highway 3 which, even though it climbs to over 4,000 ft. at the Coquihalla Pass, is a four lane highway with speed limits over 100 kms. per hour. This extends all the way from our Fraser Valley to Kamloops or Kelowna making the trip an easy four hour drive. It’s scenic but not as exciting as the Trans Canada highway route that takes you through the Fraser Canyon and the tourist spot known as Hell’s Gate. We’ll visit Hell’s Gate next month but for the next couple of weeks come with me as we visit to the fabulous Okanagan Valley.

Perhaps the thing that long, narrow Okanagan Lake is most famous for is the prehistoric monster that people believe live there, named Ogopogo. There are records of sightings of this serpent-like creature even before the white man came to settle. Have to admit I've never seen him but here's a link to a little more information in case you do get to visit this unique area. If you happen to get a picture of your particular sighting it's worth some money, so make sure you try.

Next week: we visit Vernon at the head of Okanagan Lake

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer Arrives in the Fraser Valley

“Summertime and the living is easy; fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high”. So says the old Gershwin brother’s song. But life does seem easier in the summer, everyone is a little more casual and carefree and generally people feel better.

In summer something nomadic in my makeup takes over and it becomes almost obligatory that I take to the road. Fortunately for me, my husband is somewhat of the same mind and so, when the weather is warm and sunny, we often set forth on one of our explorations of the beautiful area in which we reside.

Living in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley there is ample opportunity for delightful one-day getaways. We are located in the southwest corner of B.C. bordered on the north by the coast mountain range, on the east by the Cascade Range and on the west by the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island. Following the 49th parallel the U.S. border cuts across the south of this whole area. In general the term, the Fraser Valley refers to that stretch of land surrounding the river downstream from the town of Hope to the ocean on the west and the U.S. border on the south.
As you can imagine there are many delightful places to explore within a day’s drive; everything from the large metropolis of Vancouver to quiet and charming seaside villages like White Rock.
Later this summer I’ll also take you on a circle tour that follows the famous sea-to-sky highway from Vancouver to Whistler; then travels through the coast mountain range on the Duffy Lake road to Lillooet; ending up in the beautiful and famous Okanagan Valley with its long, clear lake and grapevine covered hills; before driving the four lane highway over the Coquihalla Pass back to Vancouver.

But for today let’s head south to the border and the charming village of White Rock. Here one can dine “al fresco” in a great variety of restaurants overlooking the peaceful waters of Semiahmoo Bay; stroll along the two mile promenade beside the ocean; or swim at nearby Crescent Beach. With the sun on your backs and the smell of ocean in your nostrils, it’s all good.

If you’re driving in from the U.S.A. on Highway 5 take the first cut-off after the border. It’s a roundabout so keep to the left of the circle until you reach 8th Avenue going west. Follow it down the hill where it becomes Marine Drive. The next couple of miles are where all the action is. There’s lots of pay parking so be sure to stop to walk out on the long pier and take a look at the big, white rock that gives the town its name. It’s painted now, but even when it was first discovered, it was a beautiful, white granite rock. If it’s a sunny day you can’t miss Mount Baker with its beautiful snow covered peak as a striking background to this hillside village. The whole scene is all very reminiscent of France’s Cote d’Azur. I think, to just relax and have a nice meal, it’s one of the nicest spots on the entire west coast. Here’s a link to a live web cam: Enjoy.

Now that summer’s truly here, my blogs are apt to be a little spasmodic as I travel around in search of material. Bear with me and I’ll see you soon.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pets for the Elderly

They say cats have the ability to make over 100 different sounds. I believe that’s true. We have a cat—just a common spotted, tabby but she is a dear, little thing and we both love her and spoil her, I’m afraid.

Our cat is eight years old and she does try to talk. There are some words she’s pretty well mastered. When we meet in the morning, I say “hello” and she greets me back. Just as clearly as can be, she says “ha-row.” She certainly can say “no-oh.” As well, she can say my husband’s name—“Al.” She always says “Al” when she wants something. He’s the caregiver in our house. He feeds her and cleans her box and takes her to the vet. I just get to cuddle her. (It’s because I’m in remission from Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma—cancer of the immune system.)

She hasn’t learned how to say “Bet-ty” yet, although she does know who that is. She also knows “chicken,” “rabbit”, “squirrel,” “coyote,” “up,” and “outside.” I’m convinced that she is very clever and I’d love to know everything she thinks about, if only we could have a really long conversation.

They also say that a pet is very good for the immune system and will help you to live longer. I believe that as well. When I was going through six months of chemo, just having her sit on my lap, stroking her and listening to her purr took my mind off my nausea and certainly reduced stress.
From what I hear, a lot of retirement homes are bringing in pets for their elderly patients. I think that idea is “purfect.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fame and Deceit

My writer friend, Patti Brook had to put down one of her favourite horses this month. It was a serious blow to her, as she has been riding all her life and she and her husband run a stable in the New England equestrian circuit. She still cries when she thinks of it.

I met Patti on an on-line writing workshop and we have been on-line friends ever since. Although there are many ranches and riding schools in B.C., personally, I’ve only ever ridden once in my life. However, I do think it must be wonderful to be accomplished at it. My one and only experience was in Banff National Park. We were on a camping trip with two other couples and we girls decided to go riding while the fellows tried their hands at canoeing. The steeds we were given were almost in the “nag” category. Later when I showed the picture to a family with children, the little girl laughed and said, “That horsey sleeping.” She pretty much got that right, but it was definitely the best speed for me.

But I digress. Patti’s book “Fame and Deceit” was published this spring and, as an Amazon Vine reviewer, I did a review for it. I’m posting it here as I’m sure, if you follow the equestrian circuit, you will love this book. It’s the first in a mystery series about a horse trainer named Ike Cherney.

“As a protagonist, Ike Cherney is not easy to understand at first. He’s the type of man mothers warn their daughters about. Good looking, arrogant and as much a stud as the stallions he profiles. While testosterone flows freely in this fast paced novel, our hero seems to care more for the horses in his charge than any of his numerous female admirers.
But as he strives to turn the blue blooded horses on his employer’s stud farm into world class show horses and his stable of two-legged fillies keep on handing him problems, we begin to identify with him. First, Lisa, the one woman he may have truly loved, departs leaving only a note; then, Billie, his assistant trainer with a temper to match her red hair, starts coming on a little too strong; and finally the body of his newest conquest, is found floating in a nearby river. An autopsy reveals that she was two months pregnant and Ike wonders if the child could have been his. At this point we begin to comprehend this complicated man.

It’s not only the women in Ike’s life that give him trouble. He has reason to wonder if the owner of the stable is involved in something highly illegal and, as well, clergymen in the area are being murdered and the finger points to one of his women. “Fame and Deceit” is a well-written and exciting look into the fascinating world of breeding stables and world class horsemanship--a world with which both the author and her husband are totally familiar. With her inimitable writing style, it’s not only lovers of fine horseflesh who will enjoy this book.”
This is a very enjoyable book for light summer reading.

Here is a link to Patti’s website:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What Price Progress?

A new bridge across the Fraser River opens this weekend. It’s a beautiful thing to see, with its great towers reaching towards the sky against a backdrop of British Columbia’s magnificent snow covered mountains. In the evening just as the sun sets, the rugged peaks of one of those mountains glows a brilliant golden hue. From that phenomenon, the Golden Ears peaks of Mount Blanshard get their name. The provincial park is also called Golden Ears Park and, as the gateway to this park and the north shore mountains, this lovely, modern bridge is to be named the Golden Ears Bridge.

It all sounds very romantic and it will certainly shave time off a trip to the north side of the Fraser Valley but, as with much of modern technology, there is a downside.

Last weekend, the papers had a story about a couple who live just under the bridge on the north shore of the Fraser. He is a fisherman and has lived there all his life—inherited the property from his parents. For some reason, because their land wasn’t needed for the approach to the bridge, they weren’t bought out as most of their neighbours were. So there they’ve sat during the whole two years of building the thing; putting up with the noise of construction; refuse falling from the bridge onto their property; and now it seems that the noise of the traffic overhead will be unbearable. Finally the government has decided to buy them out. One would hope it is at a fair market value but, personally, having owned and lived on property that became designated as a road, I don’t expect they’ll get the real worth of their land.

And it isn’t just this couple that will suffer because of the bridge. Upstream about four miles, a ferry has been the “highway” in this locale for many years. Although it is slow and there are always line-ups, it’s a lovely way to cross the river and made the trip rather special. Now there are over forty people who will have to find new jobs because the ferry will stop operating. The government is doing its best and some will retire but there are a few who will have to relocate to other towns to acquire the same type of job.

There has been a great deal of growth and development here as happens everywhere. I note that, as long as one is not personally affected, we are usually happy about it. I, for one, will enjoy crossing that beautiful bridge with its magnificent view. But at the same time, I know there are always those whose lives are totally disrupted by the march of time and progress. It does seem to be unavoidable.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Holiday Warning

We've had a very hot spell this week in the metro Vancouver area, and I'm feeling a little lazy.So I'm repeating one of my earlier blogs. It's timely for the summer season as well.

In our travels abroad we have encountered many adventures but generally no real danger. However, there was a night in a mountainous region of Mexico when we threw caution to the wind and the ending could have been disastrous.
Our journey had taken us from the turquoise bay and curving, white beaches of Acapulco to the picturesque silver mining town of Taxco, perched precipitously on the slopes of the Sierra Madre Mountains. The views from our hotel were enchanting. After marguerites and lunch at the outdoor restaurant, we strolled along the cobbled streets enjoying our first taste of the real Mexico.
Absorbing the ambience of the main square or Xocalo, we stopped to listen when a handsome young Mexican in a small corner stall asked for a few “minutos” to explain the tour he was offering.
“Senor, Senora, have you seen the Yucatan flyers here in Old Mexico?” he asked. “We offer you an evening of fun and entertainment.” Here was something I truly was interested in. Without even considering the consequences, we purchased the tickets.
As promised, the taxi arrived at our hotel at six o’clock, just as the sun was setting behind the western peaks of the high Sierras. Night falls quickly in the tropics and, by the time we had travelled a few blocks through the town, darkness enveloped us. Soon we left all signs of civilization behind as the road wound higher into the surrounding jungle.
For the first time a sense of vulnerability hit me. I thought of people who had disappeared without a trace in other Latin countries. A man we’d heard about, living in a rented house in Puerto Vallarta, disappeared from sight along with his whole family one day, never to be heard from again.
No one at home knew of this new addition to our itinerary. Was this a trick? Were these a group of ‘banditos’ who would murder us high in these mountains hoping to get our money and our passports? Beads of sweat broke out on my forehead. I moved closer to my husband and took his hand. He smiled reassuringly at me but in the small glow of light from the dashboard, I noticed his face had taken on an anxious look.
Just as panic was about to overtake me, we emerged into a clearing in the trees. Besides the outside arena where the pole for the Yucatan performers was set up, there in the middle of this jungle hideaway was a large, round building from which emanated revolving coloured lights and loud music—a Mexican disco!
Well, the show did go on—we had our evening of fun and entertainment—but the lesson I learned that night in a Mexican jungle about using discretion when travelling will never be forgotten.

Sadly from time-to-time we do hear of these disappearances: a young girl on a vacation with fellow graduates disappears in Aruba; a passenger on a cruise ship to Alaska, after stopping at Victoria, B.C., is never seen again.
It pays to use common sense when travelling abroad just as it does in our own cities. There are areas in Vancouver that I would never walk through—day or night. So—just a reminder—over the summer holiday period, use discretion and stay safe.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Great Day with the Gauchos

On our last day in Buenos Aires, we were taken by Princess Tours out to the Pampas area of Argentina for a barbecue and folkloric show. Pampa is actually Spanish for plain, prairie or grassland which was somehow not what I expected. I thought it would be far more tropical but I kept forgetting that this part of Argentina is approximately the same latitude south of the equator as Los Angeles is to the north—just over 34 degrees. So basically it is a temperate, humid climate perfect for farming and cattle raising.
After almost two hours of driving, we arrived at the beautiful family-owned estancia or ranch where we would spend the day. The lands of this area have been taken care of by the gauchos for centuries, and the region is the centre of their culture, including music and dance. As the bus drove into the parking area, we were met with friendly waves by both handsome gauchos and lovely ladies dressed in native costumes; while the inviting aroma of a variety of meats cooking permeated the air.
Of course, there were Argentina wines—white and red—freely offered to all takers. Argentina is fast becoming as well known as Chile for its excellent merlots and cabernets as well as its signature grape, the malbec; a wine from Mendoza with tones of cherries, plums, blackberries and raspberries, and marked by peppery spice and licorice undertones. They have bright acidity, ideal to cut through the richness of Argentina’s famous red meats and enhance their character.
While we drank our wine or soft drinks and ate tasty empanadas, the gauchos displayed some of their fine rope and horse riding skills. They also offered stage coach rides around part of the estate to view the charming hacienda where the family resides.
Soon we were taken to a roof covered dining area where our delicious meal of barbecued beef, pork, chicken and sausages was served and the folkloric show of a variety of regional music and dances was presented. As in Mexico, each district has its own special dance as well as costume.
After the dinner and show, it was another two hour drive through the flat green countryside, back to the magnificent Hyatt Regency where Princess has billeted us for the four nights. Tired from the fresh air and long drive, we were grateful for our luxurious and comfortable king room in this modern 5-star hotel.
Buenos Aires is a beautiful city. With its wide boulevards and gracious architecture, it reminded me a great deal of Paris. In our tour of the city we saw the pink palace with the balcony made famous by President Peron and his vivacious wife, Eva—the famous Evita. Later we were taken to Evita’s final resting place, a mausoleum in the Recoleta Cemetery also reminiscent of French graveyards.
I really enjoyed what I saw of Argentina and would not hesitate to travel back to this land of diversity at the bottom of the Americas.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Last Tango for Marini

Just to prove that “nice guys don’t always finish last”, Kris Allen became America’s idol this week. As well, the countries newest sweetheart, seventeen-year-old gymnast, Shawn Johnson, won top prize on Dancing with the Stars.

I guess a lot of young people weren’t happy with the choice of Kris over Adam but from my perspective, being the old fashioned senior I am, I was totally happy that Kris won. He’s a little more “mainstream” and I much prefer his style of music.

To be honest with you, I’m not fussy about the term “idol” nor the adulation, bordering on worship that goes along with it. I just hope it doesn’t change Kris from the engaging and modest young man he appears to be. Of course, looking back I realize that our generation had our idols as well: Elvis Pressley and the Beetles were definitely in that category.

As far as “Dancing with the Stars” is concerned, I was rooting for the French actor, Giles Marini to win. So, of course, I was a little disappointed in the final outcome although Shawn is certainly a lovely young woman and has been dancing better as each week goes by.

But last Tuesday, Giles’ flawless performance of the Argentina Tango along with his dark, Latin good looks reminded me of our adventures in beautiful Buenos Aires. And a few weeks ago, I did promise to tell you about the time we spent in that elegant city prior to our South American cruise last year.

Argentina is the home of the tango which originated the back streets of Buenos Aires around 1870. It was created by the lower classes in response to upper class tyranny but many of the elite enjoyed it in private. At first it was only performed by men with men but later they would dance with prostitutes. At the time, it was considered much too sensuous for proper ladies.

However, around the turn of the twentieth century, the music of the Argentine Tango became popularized worldwide because of two idols of that time: Rudolph Valentino who made it a hit in 1921 in North America and Carlos Gardel, a French-born singer whose interpretation of the sensuality of the music was pivotal to it eventual success and acceptance.

Gardel travelled all over South America and the Caribbean making recordings of over 515 different tangos. He also made several films for Paramount Pictures which helped bring much attention to the dance. He probably would have become even more famous but he suffered an untimely death in an airplane crash on June 24, 1935. By then interest had become wide spread and the 1940s and ‘50s have been referred to as the Golden Age of the Tango.

Since then, tango has had periods of decline and resurgence but, in the past few years, it has been growing again, perhaps in part because of its popularity on Dancing with the Stars. Here in British Columbia, the Vancouver Argentine tango community has garnered such interest that in a four year period it doubled to its current size. I do feel it’s a little late for me to learn it but I never tire of watching it.

We especially enjoyed our evening at the historic El Viejo Almacen in Buenos Aires where we feasted on a juicy Argentine steak dinner in their fine restaurant, then crossed the street to the showroom for a fantastic evening of music and tango. In Argentina, along with Evita’s tomb, the tango has become a national treasure. Here’s a link to a variety of styles of the tango on youtube.

Next time we take you out to the Argentine pampas for a visit to an estancia complete with gauchos and a fantastic outdoor barbecue.

The above two pictures were taken in the tourist area of Buenos Aires where artists abound and you can get your own picture taken dancing the tango. That's me with the camera above.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Announcement for Writers

For all the winters among us, something exciting is happening on the QueryTracker blog.

It’s the second anniversary of this wonderful website that is so helpful to writers of all genres. Not only does it give us a data base of literary agents all over the world in the particular genre we’re trying to market, but it offers statistics about these agents and it helps us to organize and track our query letters.

For a new writer it’s a veritable gold mine and it’s listed on Writer’s Digests 101 Top Websites for writers. So click on the link below and learn how you can win a complete free website makeover.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Getting Real

Reality shows—you gotta love them. Many of them are so much more interesting than the sappy sitcoms and soap operas offered by the networks. It seems that May is the month when a lot of finals are held and winners proclaimed. Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice, American Idol, The Amazing Race and Dancing with the Stars all come to an end this month.

My favourite is Dancing with the Stars. The energetic dancers, the colourful costumes and the fabulous band music—all take me back to the great movie musicals of the 40s and 50s when stars like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire ruled the silver screen.

I’ve been watching this program since I first saw Mario Lopez, the dimpled Mexican charmer strut his stuff in Season Three. This year’s semi finalists are probably three of the best contestants ever. French actor, Gilles Marini; gold medal winning Olympic gymnast, Shawn Johnson; and Mellissa Rycroft, the Texas beauty TV’s bachelor so cruelly dumped in front of the viewing audience this last March, are all vying for the top honour—the mirror ball. It’s going to be a very close race since they have all taken top marks at least once or twice.

Speaking of winners—the writing contest that I’m so interested in winds up this month. The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards competition has been narrowed down to the three finalists. These books are: “Bill Warington’s Last Chance” by James King and “In Malice, Quite Close” by Brandi Lynn Ryder—both in General Literature and a fantasy novel by Ian Gibson entitled “Stuff of Legends.” There are excerpts on all three that anyone with an Amazon Account can read and vote for as their favourite. One vote per account.

Whichever book wins will be published by Penguin and sold on Amazon later this year.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Idol Talk

I never really got interested in the latest American Idol contestants until the night they sang music from the Rat Pack era. That was fascinating for me because that’s the music I grew up on. I remember being twelve years old and sitting in front of the radio in our living room and squealing over one of Frank Sinatra’s songs because I thought it was a cool thing to do. My mother quickly put a stop to that and told me “not to be so ridiculous.” But it was what the bobby socks generation did and I wanted to be a part of it.

Later, of course, television brought the ‘rat pack’ right into our living rooms and many nights were spent watching both the Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra shows—in black and white, of course. Variety shows were the reality events of those days and they were a great diversion.
One of the most enjoyable evenings of entertainment I ever had was when my husband and I flew to Reno, Nevada for a 25th anniversary treat. We drove up to Lake Tahoe to see Sammy Davis Jr. at Harrah’s and he was totally amazing. My husband gave the bellman a twenty dollars tip so we would get seated as close to the front as possible. Even though Sammy’s lungs were already giving him trouble, he sang every song in his repertoire. I remember his big smile with porcelain white teeth in his expressive black face and, of course, the sparkling “bling” he wore on almost every finger. The teeth and the diamonds were equally blinding when the spotlights were turned on him.

Anyhow, since I don’t usually like the raucous singing of this younger generation, I was not only surprised, but completely blown away by how well each of the four contestants did with the songs they chose. I was torn to pick my favourite, although I have liked Kris Allen since the beginning. In spite of Simon’s comment, I loved his rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight.”

But when Adam Lambert, came strolling down that staircase “a la Sinatra in the ‘40s and ‘50s”, it took my breath away. And it became extremely difficult for me to choose between the two of them. Now this week I note, Allison is gone—three are left—and what will happen to these talented young people after May 19th, we will have to wait and see. They’re all pretty deserving in my book.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Vancouver -- My Favourite City Ever

Whether it’s to live in; or to work in; or to visit; when they make lists of the world’s best cities, my home town of Vancouver, B.C. is pretty much always near the top. It happened again this week.

This doesn’t really surprise me all that much. I was born in this amazing city and for most of my life lived in Richmond, less than eleven miles from Vancouver’s city center. Since retirement, we’ve moved further out in the Fraser Valley but it’s still only a 45 minute ride either by Sky Train or automobile to where the action is.

Vancouver really emerged into the vibrant city it is today after Expo ’86. That was the year we invited the world to come and discover what our city could offer and the world came. When people saw this beautifully clean metropolis nestled in its unparalleled setting of rugged mountains and sparkling blue water, Vancouver suddenly emerged into a world class cosmopolitan.

Next winter she will once again be the center of global attention when she hosts the 2010 Winter Olympics. Because of this, the area has gained a few new venues and a new transit line on the high speed rail system connecting downtown with both the airport and the City of Richmond. Of course, we’re all hoping that it doesn’t leave us with a high tax bill.

But that’s all almost a year away. Now that spring is really here, there is much to do within the city itself—as well as the outlying districts—so over the next few months, I’m going to concentrate on showing you some of these interesting spots, both in the city and in the beautiful Fraser Valley I now call home.

By the way, as of June 1st, 2009 travellers from the United States to Canada and vice versa will require either a regular passport or the new NEXUS card to cross the border. The NEXUS is a card that will allow Americans coming to Canada and Canadians travelling to the States to enter each country with a minimum of trouble. It’s fairly easy to obtain and I would suggest you look up either the Canadian Government or the U.S.A. on-line sites which tell you how to obtain the card. Here from the Nexus website are the benefits for having a card:

“If you are approved to participate in NEXUS, you will receive a membership identification card to use when entering Canada or the United States at all participating NEXUS air, land and marine ports of entry.

Membership will enable you to save time by:
· using automated self-serve kiosks in designated areas at participating international airports;
· using dedicated lanes at the land border; and
· reporting to border officers by phone in advance of your arrival in the marine mode of transportation.”

I do have a passport but I still think that this would be worth looking into for anyone who crosses the border more than once or twice a year. So warning: if you’re travelling from or to the U.S.A. after June 1st; don’t leave home without one or the other.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Susan Boyle - You Go Girl!

Once in awhile a really talented person gets their fifteen minutes of fame. And with the planet now so instantly connected, it often leads to bigger and better things. It’s especially gratifying when someone deserving, who has long been overlooked, attains worldwide renown.

I’m speaking, of course, of the strange case of Susan Boyle who, only this month, managed to become a global icon in a very short time. Thanks in a great part to the phenomenon known as U-tube. Already she has well over 600,000 fans on Facebook. (Including me) Of course she’s not yet a senior, but still how Miss Boyle, now 47, escaped being discovered all these years is a puzzlement. She has one of the richest voices I’ve ever heard and her rendition of “Cry Me a River” has to be just about one of the best ever. It was even more delightful to watch her performance in front of Simon Cowell who usually is the very essence of cynicism. To see his facial expression change from mockery to amazement did my heart a world of good.

Susan Boyle, you go girl. I hope you win top prize, sing for the Queen and go on to have a marvellous career. You’re definitely a wonderful example to the rest of us older folks to never give up in going after our goals.

And now back to Betty’s travelblog.
Our second day of wine tasting took us north to the Aconcagua Valley. This is an area of cool, rainy winters; hot, dry summers and moist Pacific breezes. We were told irrigation is necessary for the wonderful growth we could see around us. Snowmelt from the soaring Andes flows into the river system and is diverted to canals that surround the valley. The result? Everywhere orchards and vineyards climb the slopes of the sere foothills.

We again visited three wineries in the valley and had lunch in another delightful hacienda style resort—a lovely spot where wealthy citizens from Santiago come for a weekend get-away.
Our final winery was the renowned Vina Errazuriz founded in 1870 by Don Maximiano Errazuriz, a son of one of Chile’s most prestigious 18th century families. Today, his descendant, Eduardo Chadwick is the sixth generation to be involved in the business. We spent two hours at this premium winery, climbing first to the top of their hillside vineyard overlooking the breathtaking panoramic view of much of the valley. After touring the beautiful gardens, we ventured into the coolness of the century old cellar. Here their finest wines are aged. We tasted three of their award winning appellations and declared their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon one of our favorite red wines ever. Feeling very happy with our two days on the Chilean wine trail, we returned to Santiago for an evening of fine dining and folkloric dancing at one of the cities’ fine restaurants.

Our five nights in Santiago were spent at the charming Plaza San Francisco, a boutique hotel in the centre of town. The king sized room was furnished in beautiful Spanish modern furniture and the elegant, marble bathroom was spotlessly clean. Given four stars by both Fodders and Travelocity, I can highly recommend it.

And I definitely recommend a visit to this amazing country at the bottom of the world.
(Coming soon: Buenos Aires, Argentina.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Day of Wine and Roses

First the roses: Congratulations to the Amazon top one hundred semi-finalists in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.
I've got a lot of reading to do. Only three of the excerpts I reviewed made the cut, even though I felt my choices all deserved either 4 or 5 stars and I would definitely want to read the full manuscript. However, this all leads me to believe that subjectivity plays a very important part in what gets picked for publication. In other words, there are probably thousands of very good manuscripts out there that are never in print and thus never read by the masses.

Now back to my ongoing travelblog of our South American tour.

* * *

Whether it’s the thirst quenching embrace of a chilled Riesling on a hot summer’s day, or the mellowed, fruity taste of a fine cabernet with dinner: as the Psalmist once stated, “wine makes the heart rejoice.” Even John Milton, that puritan poet of the 17th century affirms,” Wine; one sip of this will bathe the drooping spirits in delight beyond the bliss of dreams. Be wise and taste.”

Since both my husband and I are lovers of the grape, when I realized we would be spending several days in Chile’s central valley, I knew we simply had to schedule some tasting tours at a few of the countries great wineries.

Our tour company sent around the perfect guide for us—a transplanted wine affection ado from the province of Alberta, Canada. He arrived as a tourist in Santiago about ten years ago; fell in love with a Spanish beauty with whom he has a daughter; and has studied viniculture ever since. The two days we spent with him learning about the art of wine were fantastic.

On the first day we headed south to the Maipo Valley, a lovely spot reminiscent of California’s Napa Valley. Fruit orchards, vegetable patches and, of course, miles of vineyards line the winding two lane roads that etch the valley. Our first winery, the Perez Cruz family’s beautiful estate, was situated in the Alto (high) Maipo region. Here we sampled their Gold winning Limited Edition Syrah Reserve 2004. Red wine doesn’t come much better than this. Their new ultra modern storage area was outstanding and an eye opener as to how far wine making has come in this country.

We then headed to a small, private museum of wine where the owner showed us some of the original primitive methods used by the early Spaniards. Fascinating to be able to see the difference one hundred years has made to this art. The history lesson over, our tour guide took us for lunch to the perfect spot in keeping with the mood of the early settlers—an 18th century hacienda built in rambling ranchero style. Here, while we waited for our meal of mouth-watering wild salmon from cold South Pacific waters, we sat on a cool veranda and drank delicious pisco sours made with Chilean Pisco Brandy, egg whites, lemon juice and sugar. By now, we were beginning to wonder if our livers could keep up to all this, but didn’t feel like hurting our hosts’ feelings by refusing.

One final winery visit in the afternoon and then we were whisked back to Santiago and our comfortable city center hotel for the evening. Needless to say we slept very well that night.

(Next time – our final days in Santiago)