Saturday, December 22, 2012

A year in review

We didn't quite know exactly where our trip would take us this year when we departed from Calgary  in January, 2012. For example, we had intended on two or more months in India only to discover it was basically impossible to get a Indian travel visa on the road. Over the year we visited 12 countries; Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, Bhutan, Italy, France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, and the USA. On the map, the countries in red are ones we've travelled to this year and the countries in green are ones we travelled to previously, some like USA, Japan and Indonesia we've been to more than once! (Our travel list before this trip includes: Antarctica, Falklands, South Georgia, Cuba, China, Egypt, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, India, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, French Polynesia (Bora Bora & Tahiti), 1 night Germany, and 1 night in Singapore. All 7 continents, and a total of 29 countries to date.)

These are 10 highlights of the year:

1.) Surfing: J practiced daily and learned how to surf in Bali. While he completed this amazing accomplishment I spent time soaking up vitamin D while reading.

2.) Epic trekking: Our first foray into hiking was our plan to trek up to Everest base camp. Sometimes you get wrapped up in the excitement and the fact that no one is there to stop you, and you do something stupid. This was one of those moments. Once booked I decided to look up the trek and I realized there was no way in hell I would make it out alive with out an expensive helicopter evacuation. After spending some time throwing up in the bathroom, while J was asleep, I had to admit that I could not do the trek. It was a dream of J's so I was very disappointed to cancel, but he agreed swallowing our pride was the least objectionable option. We settled instead on trek up Annapurna mountain range. I had no idea I could survive an epic 50 km hike (with over 2000 meter height gain) in the Himalayas, Nepal. The hike was more physically demanding than anything I have ever done! Although I am not sure I would tackle it again, I am impressed I made it. We also hiked up to Tiger's Nest Monastery in Bhutan, which is impossibly perched 3100 meters up, on the side of the mountain. The views of the unspoiled countryside and the ornate temple were breathtaking. Thankfully no donkeys were needed in either trek. The guides in both treks were very relieved when I successfully made the ascents. I recall our guide in bhutan telling me afterwards, "I did not want you to lose hope but I did not think you would make it!"

3.) Isle of Capri: It has always been a dream of mine to go to the Isle of Capri, as I was named after it. What a gorgeous island with interesting architecture surrounded by deep blue sea. I totally stocked up on stuff with my name on it including postcards, a necklace and of course "I Love Capri" t-shirts for the family.

4.) Copenhagen biking: We spent about three weeks in Copenhagen, Denmark, the most bike friendly city in the world. We picked up two second hand bikes, which we named Finn and Juhl, and spent our days riding all over the city. It was so relaxing and made me feel like a kid again.

5.) Building bikes: We worked 7:30am-5:00pm Monday-Friday for four weeks to complete our two frames.  I am surprised that I enjoyed bicycle building as much as I did. I learned to braze and the experience of putting together such a project taught me a lot about management in general. After literal blood, sweat and tears, if anyone steals my bike there will be hell to pay.

6.) NYC: The goal of NYC was to live as New Yorkers for two months and boy did we accomplish that! We loved our little 5 story walk up apartment in the Lower East Side, surviving the Sandy Hurricane and the end of the world,  the amazing vegan dining and shops, copious museums and art galleries, movies, shopping, the Leonard Cohen concert, wandering the streets, and spending time with friends.

7.) Food: We have enjoyed the most amazing vegan food from all over. We were also fortunate to attend the Vegan Fest in Italy, where we also met a new friend, Kristin, of the great travel blog: Will Travel For Vegan Food.

8.) Art: We've enjoyed countless museums, galleries, antique shops, architecture, and public art. One of my favourites was the Joan Miro museum, Barcelona. We also spent hours wandering the The Centre Pompidou, in Paris, and snapping photos of worldwide graffiti. We bought an annual pass to MOMA NYC, as it paid for itself with our visits, visitor passes and museum store discounts. We have explored amazing architecture, to name a few; Petronas TowersGreat Buddha of Kamakura, Sagrada Familia,  Eiffel TowerNepal Great Stupaduomo square cathedral,  Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Tiger's Nest Monastery.We even picked up a few treasures along the way; an antique sculpture in Denmark, a vase in Toronto, two paintings in Las Vegas, two Shafford cats in Tucson,  a rug in NYC, and a few pieces of costume jewelry.

9.) Accommodations: Starting from our tiny room in Tokyo, we have stayed a variety of dwellings including; apartments in France, Spain, Denmark, and the USA, a rocking hostel in Malaysia, a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, and a tent on the USA road trip. We've had both a few nice luxury hotels with pristine bathrooms and also sparse, unheated tea houses. We've also encountered some questionable bathrooms.

10.) Nature: We have seen some spectacular natural sites such as Uluwatu cave beach in Bali, Mount Everest, Annapurna mountain range, Paro Valley Bhutan, the Grand Canyon, volcanic scenery and blue lagoon of Iceland, blue grotto in Isle of Capri, ocean view in Kamakura (Japan), Venice river,  the red vistas of Sedona, Yellowstone geothermal areas, We have also seen countless critters; birds (including puffins), cats, lizards, and many monkeys.

As we review our trip in our last few days in NYC, we feel so grateful for the experience. We are looking forward to coming home and eventually planning our next travel adventure. You can check out the year's photos here: My flickr & J's flickr.

"We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again-to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more." Pico Iyer 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Wandering in the footsteps of others

We had another lovely friend, Chris, visit us here in NYC. We went back to MOMA and also The Guggenheim Museum. At the Guggenheim we checked out the Picasso Black and White. As time goes on I like Picasso more and more. We've seen examples of his all over the world on this trip! The exhibit is of course in the wonderful Frank Lloyd Wright building. He is one our favourite architects. In addition to Picasso, I thoroughly enjoyed the Asterisms exhibit by Gabriel Orozco. It is a large installation of found objects, carefully arranged like a human bowerbird nest. Of course we also checked out more delicious vegan dining.

We checked out a super funny and intelligent comedian, Jamie Kilstein that I randomly heard about on twitter. We spent another fun day with our friend Enki (and talented photographer) at Prospect Park, a 585 acre park in Brooklyn. It was nice to be such a green space in the middle of NYC. We all went to MOMA PS1 Museum, up in Queens, NYC. The building was great and while the current exhibits were not of my particular taste it was neat to see some different more contemporary modern art. A highlight was actually outside the museum; a building across the street covered in amazing graffiti. We attempted to go to the Intrepid: Air, Sea and Space Museum, but it was closed until at least December 21, 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy damage. We did walk around the pair to view the aircraft carrier and the Enterprise space shuttle. From a distance we could also see a concorde plane.

A favorite museum was the Tenement Museum, which "tells the stories of 97 Orchard Street. Built on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1863, this tenement apartment building was home to nearly 7000 working class immigrants." Access to the building is by guided tour only. We went on the Hard Times Tour; "Discover how immigrants survived economic depressions at 97 Orchard Street between 1863 and 1935. Visit the restored homes of the German-Jewish Gumpertz family, whose patriarch disappeared during the Panic of 1873, and the Italian-Catholic Baldizzi family, who lived through the Great Depression." The tour was terrific! We walked through the two different restored apartments imagining how the families lived, their struggles and daily lives. The German family had to survive through the patriarch disappearing, leaving the mother the sole care giver and provider for her three children (a fourth passed away. She ended up becoming a seamstress, working from her small apartment. In the Italian family's apartment they had a recording of the, now adult, daughter describing her experience living in the apartment. Their triumph over adversity sure put my own worries into perspective! The museum experience was enhanced by our previous watching of episode one of the seven part series on history of New York city, called New York: A Documentary Film. 

The history experiences spurned me on to get to the New York Public Library, to research my granddad who was a New York City police officer (patrolman), in 1905 to at least 1910. I had intended to spend some time at the NYPD Museum and archives, but sadly they sustained significant damage during Hurricane Sandy as are closed for an indefinite period. I received some great tips of where to search at the library from a librarian online and I was able to get a free visitor library card. Via the library, I was able to access the old microfiche rolls for the Police Special Orders records for 1905, 1906 and 1909 (1907-1908 are not available). We sent four hours each pouring over the rolls and made it through 1905, 1906 and half of 1909. Much of it was quite boring with details such as officers sick days, vacation days, transfers, appointments etc. 

However, there were interesting records of some officers misdeeds and subsequent punishments. Some misdeeds included not feeding the horses, not showing up for patrol or leaving early, being found in a liquor store or saloon while on duty, not being found at home when supposedly sick, sitting while on the job, speaking in an insolent manner to supervisors or citizens etc. Thankfully my granddad did not show up in any of those reprimanded! However, I did a learn a few facts of his appointments, duties and locations. I also found out he got a raise in 1906 to $900.00/year. I was also able to access the site via the library for free (which you can also do so via Calgary Public Library). I was able to find my granddad in the 1910 census, locate his address and view his apartment on google maps street view! The next plan is to go take a photo of his apartment. I was also able to access the newspaper archives and found an article from 1906 detailing the award my granddad received for saving a man who was drowning.  It's been fun playing family detective and I plan on putting all the information together in a family timeline booklet. 

It has been rather surreal to wander the streets of NYC and wonder what my granddad saw and felt a 100 years ago...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Daily life in NYC

We are now well settled into our fifth floor walk up apartment in NYC, Lower East Side, near Chinatown. Evidence of Hurricane Sandy's devastation is no longer visible in our immediate area. However those in other areas of New York City, such as the Rockaways and Redhook etc, were much more severely impacted and are still recovering.

We picked up some cat food for one charity and made financial donations to: NYC Foodbank, and Friends of Firefighers.
If you want to donate, these, and many other charities, are accepting donations online to help those impacted with the long term recovery needs.

We joined many other excited New Yorkers at a vegan election night party. It was exciting to watch this historic moment in real life. I hope Canadians can become more passionate about our politics and make informed choices and participate in the democratic process. We also voted, by mail, in the upcoming Calgary Byelection. If you live in this riding please check out the Calgary Centre, whose goal is to engage constituents in electing a progressive member of parliament.

We walk several kilometres a day exploring the streets of NYC and snapping photos. We also have monthly metro passes and use the subway for long jaunts. I prefer our area, Lower East side, and Brooklyn to midtown and uptown. We've enjoyed amazing vegan meals from a variety of restaurants. It seems nearly every local corner store has vegan offerings as well. So far our favorite meal has been from Blossom, but we also enjoy the nearby Teany Cafe, especially their extensive vegan desserts. We love the sushi from the all vegan Beyond Sushi. We are also nearby the vegan show shop, Moo Shoes, where J found a few new items.

We recently had our lovely friends, Lori and Ken, stay with us for a few days. We toured coffee shops, checked out the The Warhol Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum, spent an afternoon at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), and attended the unique and interactive Sleep No More show.

There are lovely antique and vintage stores here. We attended NYC's largest antique event, the Pier 94 Antique Show, where we spent four hours viewing the 500 vendors. We picked up two sets of vintage flatware. We also saw Brooke Shields, shopping in the vintage clothing section, and even more exciting, Gary Sohmers, from the Antiques Roadshow. We also had a fun time at the Hell's Kitchen Antique Garage, a weekly flea market, where we picked up a unique 20 foot long vintage Amish rug, to hang in our living room. We've also checked out several other artist and flea markets in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The weather has been cool but pleasant in NYC and no snow! We've taken advantage of this and spent a day wandering the Highline Park, and surrounding area. The park is a unique narrow, elevated space, built on an old railway track, with spectacular city views. I'm also enjoying my new book; Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants. I do love all creatures and I enjoy watching the rats scampering around in the early evening in the subways and parks. The squirrels here are also not shy and are like little rodent monkeys. Other than these, the most unique wildlife spotting was a cat carry a giant cockroach in its' mouth.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The lights go out in the city that never sleeps

As everyone is aware hurricane Sandy sent her wrath to NYC and exploded an electrical substation, on October 29, 2012, sending Manhattan, south of about 40th street into darkness. Our hotel, and the apartment we moved into today are both in this area. We are entering into the 4th day of no power, no Internet, no hot water, no heat, no subway, no cell service, no traffic lights, and no fresh food close by. Our well stocked emergency bag is at home but we did manage to pick up two headlamps, candles, snacks, etc. I wish we had our crank radio with us so we could stay in the loop! Everyone should keep a well stocked emergency bag, including three days of easy to prepare food. Check the Government of Canada's Get Prepared site, out for tips.

We are very very grateful we still have running water as some don't and we've seen people doing their laundry in fire hydrants! The day after the storm we took a 12 km walk and surveyed the damage. There were cars floating in an underground parking lot under the FDR over pass, uprooted trees, ripped off signs, destroyed fences and scaffolding, busted lawn furniture, garbage strewn about, and piles of debris including large hunks of wood from destroyed docks thrown up from the river.

We spend our days making the 3.5 km walk over the bridge to Williamsburg, and eat great vegan food at Food Swings, and Bad Burger. As well, there are lovely independent and vintage shops to browse. Today J lugged over our laundry to the closest working laundromat.

New Yorkers are a kind and resilient bunch! Folks are helping out neighbors, businesses are doing their best to be open with what they have, and every business we've been to, in other areas with power, have no problem with folks charging their phones etc. We've heard stories of people giving away free perishable food items. For us it is an uncomfortable inconvenience but for families, the elderly, and people trying to get to work it is much more serious. I fear with ongoing climate change extreme weather will become more common. A relevant article on the issue; It's Global Warming Stupid. Consider they ways we can individually make better choices to protect the environment and elect officials who will do the same.

To check out my photos see;

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, October 15, 2012

Vegas Baby!

After departing Phoenix we arrived in Las Vegas. We had been to Vegas several years ago and had not been that impressed with the strip. At that time we did enjoy a day trip to search for aliens near Area 51, and visited the The Hoover Dam.

However this time we enjoyed the city more and stayed a week. We started out at the Vdara Hotel, after booking a deal via Priceline. After a few days we decided to switch to the Wynn Encore, after learning that they offer vegan menus at all their restaurants! (Check out an article on it here; Las Vegas: Vegans, get ready for a feast.) We were not disappointed with the food. Awesome entrees, appetizers, deserts and even bread baskets with vegan spread. It is wonderful to see companies being inclusive of vegans and recognizing that we are also a worthwhile market.

We gambled a little bit, walked up and down the strip, spent time in the pool and checked out Cirque De Soleil's Zumanity. The show was hilarious, and rather naughty, with all of the usual amazing cirque acrobatics. My favorite is when some poor sap in the front row gets pulled into the act (as long as it is of course not me!) J did get a face full when a busty performer squeezed through the aisles. I laughed so hard I cried.

We also spent some time off the strip checking out the great antique shops and picked up two amazing paintings from the terrific Patina Decor. We also enjoyed vegan donuts from Ronald's Donuts and vegan brunch from Pura Vida.

Now we are continuing our trek north with our next stopover in Salt Lake City.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Awesome Arizona

On our way to Tucson, We spent a few days in Phoenix staying at the super fun and great value Clarendon Hotel. We spent time checking out the abundant antique shops and viewing the marvelous midcentury modern architecture. We also found awesome vegan dining. Our favorite for lunch and dinner is Green Restaurant, full of amazing vegan comfort food. Next door is the awesome Nami, with vegan soft serve, bakery items, breakfast bagels and weekend brunch. From the Nami website; "The idea for Nami was born from our infamous organic ice cream treat- The tSoynami. A tSoynami starts with our homemade tsoft tserve, then we stir in all sorts of goodies like cakes, cookies, chocolate, peanut butter and just about anything you can think of, we’ve dozens to choose from. Then we thought, why not bake all of our favorite vegan treats here too. Then, yet another light bulb pops up – who doesn’t enjoy an organic, shade grown cup of coffee with their sweet treat- so voila. NAMI was born, your one stop shop for the good stuff in life." Delightful!

Next we headed down to Tucson for our four week bicycle frame buying course via Bohemian Bicycles. We had great accommodations which included a sweet menagerie of nearby critters. Two kitties, two doggies and a sweet tortoise added extra joy to our trip. I can't wait to adopt a cat when we return! When we weren't building bicycles we had a bit of time to check out the local sites. We ate regularly at the vegan Lovin Spoonfuls Restaurant, which has a great menu of vegan comfort foods and bakery items. We had our weekend breakfast at the vegetarian Sparkroot Cafe. Terrific coffee! We also had great vegan sushi from Yoshimatsuaz.

Besides great food we checked out the many antique stores and our favorite was Copper Country Antique Mall. We also took a trip to Biosphere2. "Biosphere 2 is an Earth systems science research facility currently owned by the University of Arizona since 2011. Its mission is to serve as a center for research, outreach, teaching and lifelong learning about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe. It is a 3.14-acre (12,700 m2)[1] structure originally built to be an artificial, materially closed ecological system in Oracle, Arizona (US) by Space Biosphere Ventures, a joint venture whose principal officers were John P. Allen, inventor and Executive Director, and Margret Augustine, CEO. Constructed between 1987 and 1991, it was used to explore the complex web of interactions within life systems in a structure that included five areas based on biomes and an agricultural area and human living/working space to study the interactions between humans, farming and technology with the rest of nature.[2] It also explored the possible use of closed biospheres in space colonization, and allowed the study and manipulation of a biosphere without harming Earth's." (source; It was vey interesting to see and to contemplate 8 scientists living inside for two years! If these glass walls could talk...

We took a trip out to the Titan Missile Museum. From their website; "The Titan Missile Museum is the only remaining Titan II site open to the public, allowing you to relive a time when the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union was a reality. The Titan II was capable of launching from its underground silo in 58 seconds and could deliver a nine megaton thermonuclear warhead to its target more than 5,500 miles away in less than thirty minutes. For more than two decades, 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States stood "on alert" 24 hours a day, seven days a week, heightening the threat of nuclear war or preventing Armageddon, depending upon your point of view." It was surreal experience to be so close to something that could have wiped out part of the planet. We learned that the missile was a tool for MAD: Mutual Assured Destruction. The premise of MAD is to act as a deterrent via a catastrophic counter attack should the enemy attack. The vintage machines were very interesting. Peering down on the 110 foot Titan from the viewing area was eerie.

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." - Mother Teresa

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Biolite Camping Stove Review

We recently received our Biolite Camp Stove, and took it camping to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and a few stops in between.We used the stove to boil water, make espresso, roast vegan marshmallows, and cook up other vegan camping delights.

We were extremely impressed with the compact, but hot, fire output if this unit. It only uses small sticks, which we easily collected or splintered off of a log. The design is ingenious, using a small fire powered fan to keep the flames full of oxygen and burning steady. But wait there's more! The stove actually does charge small electrical devices. I charged my iPhone whenever a good fire was going.

Biolite is a great camp stove and a great addition to our Emergency Preparedness Kit.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Evolution of Valerie

I can't believe it but four weeks have passed already and we have successfully built our bicycle frames! Before the course I didn't know my down tube from my bottom bracket and now I can braze them together! Alex (Flashdance) has nothing on me.

But before you think it's all fire and glory there is a lot of math and strenuous metal filing involved. I've never considered the amount of calculations and angle considerations that go into a bike to ensure a safe and comfortable ride. The process starts with making a life size drawing of your frame. With all the use of protractors and rulers, I had flashbacks to high school geometry but at least I finally found a use for it. Then the bicycle measurements are inputted into a computer bicycle CAD program to make a diagram. This becomes the bicycle bible to refer back to repeatedly during the building process. As they say measure twice and cut once!

I learned extensively about types of metal, what makes metal stronger and weaker, different tubes and so on. I had no idea there was so much to consider. I also had no idea there was a market for the Tube and Pipe Journal. Filled with this new found knowledge, and due to the uniqueness of my bicycle frame style, I chose a beefy down tube and used a manual machine to bend my top tube.

Then there are the lugs/sleeves. "Lugged steel construction uses standard cylindrical steel tubes which are connected with lugs, external fittings made of pieces of steel (sometimes stainless steel) which fit over the ends of the tubing. Before assembly, the builder cuts the tubes to the desired length and precisely mitres[1] their ends, providing a tight fit. The end of the tubes are inserted into the lugs and subsequently brazed with a silver or brass filler metal. The lug greatly increases the strength of the joint by distributing the molten filler metal over a larger surface area via capillary action.[2]" source: Cast lugs can be purchased but due to the complexity of my frame I had to design and hand cut four bi-laminate sleeves to make the joints.

Next we moved onto brazing, "a metal-joining process whereby a filler metal is heated above melting point and distributed between two or more close-fitting parts by capillary action. The filler metal is brought slightly above its melting (liquidus) temperature while protected by a suitable atmosphere, usually a flux." Prior to brazing, the tubes and lugs must be carefully cleaned to ensure they will braze together properly. You don't want to fight with your flux because you left a bit of sharpie marker on your lug/sleeve! Then depending on the type of brazing you clean and prepare either a silver or bronze rod (filler metal). Each joint is joined with a lug/sleeve, or fillet and items like cable guides must also be brazed on. I really love brazing and I am getting a better feel for the size and type of flame, distance and metal response rates.

After your tubes and lugs/sleeves are brazed it's on to the glamorous work of sanding and filing, and then more sanding and filing. Each bit of filler metal that spills out of the lug and each lump in the fillet braze must be filed and sanded smooth. It makes it highly motivating to become a better brazer! I have never had to take ibuprofen for cramped up hands before I built a bicycle.

After this experience no matter what a quality custom frame costs I bet it's a bargain compared to the labour involved. Now the frames await custom paint and will be shipped to us when complete. I am excited to see Valerie when she is all dolled up and matching Myrtle. (If you are just joining me on this blog, Myrtle is my vintage 1964 Dodge Travco motorhome). I chose the name Valerie as it reminds me of Valmobile, the scooter that was an option with a Travco motorhome.

We were able to accomplish this awesome project due to the very well equipped shop, full of every tool imaginable, the comfy onsite accommodations and the amazing skills, knowledge and magic of the instructor; Dave Bohm. That and copious amounts of sanding.

Check out the magic yourself at Bohemian Bicycles.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Keeping in touch abroad; traveling with an iPhone

Prior to leaving on our one year trip I called my current Canadian cellular provider to explore options for cheap data roaming acces while traveling. Essentially there was nothing to match my needs and since I am on a contract I still needed to maintain my contract. The staff person helped me bring my plan down to the lowest level possible, essentially keeping my cell number, but no services, which got my charges to about $15.00/month.

It has been my experience that it is easier to get "pay as you go" contract-less iPhone plans everywhere else in the world, than it is in North America. I also find we have some of the worst rates as well! Knowing these issues, we invested in an unlocked iPhone 4s. "The unlocked iPhone includes all the features of iPhone but without a contract commitment. You can activate and use it on the supported GSM wireless network of your choice. The unlocked iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S will not work with CDMA-based carriers. If you don’t want a multiyear service contract or if you prefer to use a local carrier when traveling abroad, the unlocked iPhone is the best choice. It arrives without a micro-SIM card, so you’ll need an active micro-SIM card from any supported GSM carrier worldwide. To start using it, simply insert the micro-SIM card into the slot on your iPhone and turn it on by pressing and holding the On/Off button for a few seconds. Then follow the onscreen instructions to set up your iPhone." (source; The iPhone 4s also has an amazing camera, which has been my only camera on the entire trip.

Prior to leaving on your trip make sure you also have you iPhone sim removal tool (the little metal stick), as it is remarkably difficult to remove the sim with out it (I can vouch from experience that a paper clip or a pin did not work). Once you are in your destination you need to find a distributor with iPhone micro-sims and "pay as you go plans". We didn't bother seeking out a micro-sim card in Japan as we were not there long. As well in Bali we didn't bother either as we were in one spot with free wifi. (You can always turn your data roaming off, or switch to airplane mode and turn on wifi, and just use wifi when traveling. However there is more flexibility with having cellular access).

Once we arrived in Nepal we sought out a micro-sim and plan as we knew we would be there for a while and the wifi at our accommodations was often unreliable. We purchased a Ncell sim card, and cut it down to make it a micro-sim, as iPhones are rather uncommon there. In Nepal you must provide a passport size photo, government identification, finger prints, and fill out a form to purchase a sim card. (In fact nearly every country we travelled to required identification but no where else require fingerprints). We then just purchased top up cards when needed and were able to use cellular data.

I generally just get data plans, with basic calling, when traveling. My main uses for the phone when travelling are; GPS maps, Internet, Happycow vegetarian food finder app, language translation and currency exchange. Of course you can get plans with different talk and text packages. In France we used Orange Mobile, in Italy; Vodafone, Spain; Orange Mobile, and in Denmark; Lebara. All worked well and made traveling much easier and were quite affordable (I estimate under $10/week). Having a cell phone was very helpful in Venice when we needed to call our B and B operator to be let in the door!

But what about keeping touch with people back at home? I found the easiest and most cost effective answer was Skype. With a $3.00/month Skype subscription, I can call any cell or land line in Canada and USA, even while I was overseas . Generally most of our accommodations had free wifi, but it is also possible to use the Skype service over a cellular data plan if the signal is strong. The first step is to download the free Skype iPhone app, and set up a free Skype account. You can also use Skype for free to make calls from your computer, lap top or iPhone to a other similar device, but the plan I purchased allowed me to call regular phones. This is very handy when trying to keep in touch with folks like grandma, who do not have a computer or folks who mostly use a cell phone (no more waiting by your computer for a Skype call!)

Just before arriving back in Canada, at the end of July, I called my Canadian cellular provider and had my old plan reinstated, so when we landed I had full cell/data access. Now what about the USA? When we first arrived in the USA last month there was no "pay as you go" contract-less micro-sims and plans for unlocked iPhones. (Some telecom providers had options but only if you had one of their phones). So for the first month I got an expensive 30 day data roaming plan from my Canadian provider, for $100.00 that provided 500gigs of data. After a few weeks Straighttalk, came out with "pay as you go" plans and micro-sims. They are available exclusively via Walmart. However, no Walmart we visited had the micro-sims! So we ordered one online and it arrived in few days. I opted for the $60.00, thirty day Unlimited International Plan, which provides unlimited long distance, unlimited text, unlimited local calls, unlimited web/data. I was also able to choose which city my cell number would be from, so I picked NYC as we will be there the longest. The quirky thing about buying it online is I could not figure out how to use a Canadian credit card, so I used PayPal instead. The other issue was I was ubale to manually change my APN settings, which is needed for straight talk (I never needed to do this for all the other micro-sims I used ). I researched it online and found others had used this free app; Unlockit, so I followed the instructions and used it too! I just need to purchase a new plan every 30 days. So far the plan has worked well. I will hang on to the micro-sim and use it on future trips to the USA!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, September 10, 2012

Building a little friend for Myrtle

I first became aware of the Valmobile Folding Scooter when I saw it listed in a Travco Brochure of Optional Equipment. If you'd like to learn more about them, I previously wrote a longer blog entry about these little gems.

Since I am not likely to find a Valmobile any time soon I have decided to build a bicycle in homage to the Valmobile, for Myrtle. I plan to use design elements from both vehicles as inspiration for my bicycle design. This week I started the bike frame building course via Bohemian Bicycles, along with my husband. Dave Bohm, the artisan and mastermind behind Bohemian Bicycles builds amazing custom bicycle frames as well as providing courses on his craft. My husband was the one initially drawn to the course as he has a keen interest in bicycles (and rebuilding motor homes) as well as heaps of mechanical and design skills. Since I am also smitten with bicycles, and willing to learn some new skills, I decided to take the course with him!

I am looking forward to learning the engineering behind bicycle mechanics, choosing component parts, and of course welding and fabrication! Truth be told I've had a not so secret interest in welding ever since watching one of my favorite eighties movies Flashdance. (I own the movie on DVD, and the soundtrack on cd, cassette tape and vinyl.) It's my Flashdance moment with hopefully more welding and less dancing in a leotard. Check back for future updates on my progress and for now check out a Flashdance trailer;

The Valmobile photo was used with permission and was photographed by Chuck Schutz as found posted on his Flickr stream.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


We've spent a lovely week in Sedona, Arizona. My favorite activity was spending the day at Slide Rock State Park. The park has a terrific swimming hole with a natural water slide. The water is a bit cold but once you are in you quickly acclimatize. The rocky creek floor is very slippery so I highly recommend good water shoes such as Keen Hydroguide sandals. J has these shoes and I promptly commandeered them for the river adventure. I have the amazing Keen Waimea H2 flip flop sandals, that have been all over the world with me, but in the moving water I was afraid they'd slip off. Check out the Video of J sliding down the rapids.

We also spent some time walking around Bell Rock, site of one of the four Vortexes, in the Sedona area. "A vortex is the funnel shape created by a whirling fluid or by the motion of spiraling energy. Familiar examples of vortex shapes are whirlwinds, tornadoes, and water going down a drain. A vortex can be made up of anything that flows, such as wind, water, or electricity. The vortexes in Sedona are swirling centers of subtle energy coming out from the surface of the earth. The vortex energy is not exactly electricity or magnetism, although it does leave a slight measurable residual magnetism in the places where it is strongest." Source; I didn't feel any particular difference in the area but the scenery was very majestic. I felt a much deeper spiritual connection when I hiked the 10kms around Uluru, in Australia.

We also spent a day swimming at Grasshopper Point. Unfortunately the signage is not that clear from the parking area, so I spent a good thirty minutes hiking around in just my swimsuit and sandals. I would recommend putting your shorts over your suit before venturing down, you look less conspicuous when you pass hikers. Once we located the area the water was quite cold but after the unintentional hike it was refreshing. J, of course, decided to jump several times from the surrounding cliffs and I of course did not. (And unlike the Iceland Incident, I remembered to turn on the go pro video camera when J jumped). Check out the video here:

During our week we managed to find some decent eating options as well. We started most days with breakfast at Heart of Sedona Coffee, which has at least one vegan bakery item daily, generous smoothies and great coffee. We enjoyed vegan hotdogs from Simon's Hot Dogs, and vegan pizza from Picazzo's. We also picked up vegan snacks, smoothies, baked goods and salads from New Frontiers Market.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, August 30, 2012

USA Road Trip

We started our USA road trip on August 15, 2012 with our first overnight at a campground near Great Falls. We spent the next two nights camping near Bozeman. From there we travelled to Yellowstone National Park, and camped for three nights. We saw Old Faithful Geyser but I was actually much more impressed with the other less famous geothermal sites. In particular I liked Midway Geyser Basin, with its' rich colors and steaming pools. The geothermal areas also contained bubbling mud in varieties of colors called mud pots. We did some walks throughout Yellowstone enjoying the scenery and wildlife. We saw bison, elk, bald eagles, herons and assorted small rodents and birds.

We traded in camping for three nights at the lovely Little America Hotel, a slightly retro hotel in the heart of Salt Lake City, Utah. The hotel was a green oasis, with a lovely pool. We enjoyed the fun antique browsing and awesome vegan food in Salt Lake. My favorite restaurant was City Cakes & Cafe, a place with amazing vegan baked goods and coffee, plus light meals.

After Salt Lake we camped at Mather Campground at the Grand Canyon National Park. The campground was well priced at $18.00/night and located very close to the Grand Canyon rim. We were also very pleasantly surprised at how well stocked the nearby general store was with vegan products. The Grand Canyon Was an amazing sight! We went on a few walks along the rim and watched the sunset. We also loved the nearby viewpoint of the Little Colorado River Gorge, located on the Navajo Nation.

We have travelled over 3000 kms and are now in Sedona, Arizona for a week. Check out my latest photos at:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tesla Roadtrip

During our brief time back in Alberta we drove Joanie, our 2.5 Tesla Roadster, to Edmonton and back. We stopped halfway in Red Deer to visit friends and family. We had intended to charge off of a friend's 220 volt/30 amp compressor plug, however it had a twist lock receptacle and that is the one adapter we don't have! (We ordered the complete adapter kit from Tesla.) However, we plugged in to a standard 110 volt/15 amp plug-in for about 6 hours. We made it to Edmonton with 90kms of range to spare. We would have made it to Edmonton with out the midway charge but since we were already stopping to visit, we wanted to be on the safe side!

Once in Edmonton we had a great visit with more family, browsed the massive Old Strathcona Antique Mall, and drove around. We also had great vegan meals from; Padmanadi, Noorish, & Sweet Mango. We were able to charge via my sister's 220 volt/30 amp dryer plug, by running the cord through the basement window. Once it was fully charged on range mode we maintained the charge using 110 volt/15 amp overnight for the three nights we were there.

On the way back we stopped overnight to visit in Red Deer and charged on 110 volt/15 amp. We easily made it back to Calgary. The total trip was 714 kms, used 115 kilowatt hours, and cost $7.00.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Canadian re-entry

We arrived in toronto on July 30, 2012 for a four night stop over on route to Calgary. We fit a lot in during our few days! The first stop was to stock up on a few our favorite magazines; Vegnews, Bust, Wired, Intersection, & Atomic Ranch. I really missed magazines!

We checked out the Picasso special exhibit at the fabulous Art Gallery of Ontario. It was great to check out the exhibit as it has 147 pieces from the National Picasso Museum in Paris, which was closed for renovations while we were in Paris. I find as I age I appreciate Picasso more. He has a much wider repertoire than I first thought, including a variety of painting styles, sculpture, block printing, drawings etc. My favorite piece was the emotionally charged painting; Massacre in Korea. "Massacre in Korea is a 1951 expressionistic painting by Pablo Picasso which is seen as a criticism of American intervention in the Korean War.[1][2][3] It depicts the 1950 Sinchon Massacre, an act of mass killing carried out by North Koreans, South Koreans, or American forces in the town of Sinchon located in South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. Although the actual cause of the murders in Sinchon is in question, Massacre in Korea appears to depict them as civilians being killed by anti-Communist forces." source:

In addition to Picasso, the AGO has several other permanent and special exhibits including a fabulous collection of works from the Group of Seven, which I adore! "The Group of Seven — sometimes known as the Algonquin school — were a group of Canadian landscape painters from 1920 to 1933, originally consisting of Franklin Carmichael (1890–1945), Lawren Harris (1885–1970), A. Y. Jackson (1882–1972), Frank Johnston (1888–1949), Arthur Lismer (1885–1969), J. E. H. MacDonald (1873–1932), and Frederick Varley (1881–1969). Two artists commonly associated with the group are Tom Thomson (1877–1917) and Emily Carr (1871–1945). Although he died before its official formation, Thomson had a significant influence on the group. In his essay "The Story of the Group of Seven", Lawren Harris wrote that Thomson was "a part of the movement before we pinned a label on it"; Thomson's paintings "The West Wind" and "The Jack Pine" are two of the group's most iconic pieces.[1] Emily Carr was also closely associated with the Group of Seven, though was never an official member. Believing that a distinct Canadian art could be developed through direct contact with nature,[2] The Group of Seven is most famous for its paintings inspired by the Canadian landscape, and initiated the first major Canadian national art movement.[3]" source: It was a wonderful way to re-enter Canada by enjoying iconic paintings of breathtaking Canadian landscapes.

We also enjoyed a few meals from the terrific vegetarian restaurant Fresh. Fresh is my favorite vegetarian restaurant in Toronto and they also have some good cookbooks. We had a fun meal at the Hogtown Vegan as well. In between eating, we spent a lot of time walking, 7 to 10 kms a day. We checked out some amazing antique shops on Queen Street West, full of midcentury modern items, industrial design and some fun vintage science items. If the colorful, vintage tapeworm scientific poster had been cheaper it would totally be hanging in our our spare room. We did pick up an exquisite art deco glass vase at a bargain price, but I am not looking forward to lugging it home in carry on!

Check out my photos at;

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Icelandic Whirlwind

We have become so used to taking our time traveling that it seemed like quite a jam packed week in Iceland! We started the week by checking out the local free English paper (as we often do while traveling) to get the inside scoop. The paper is the Reykjavik Grapevine and covers news, social commentary, events, politics, music etc. (It is quite similar to Calgary's free paper: FFWD Weekly.) I enjoyed learning about the fun stuff happening in Reykjavik! We found out about this cool little park which was an unused building lot, taken over by community and transformed. The park is dubbed The Heart Garden. We hung out there and listened to a great DJ, watched the skateboarders, graffiti artists, kids playing and folks generally having a good time. The vibe was terrific and the park has made a lively public space. The park is aloud to exist with both the blessing of the city and the owner of the currently unused lot. (Sadly the much lower key Potatoes for the People project on a vacant lot in Calgary was quickly shut down).

We rented a car and spent the first three nights in Reykjavik, which is a super fun, vibrant city. We did well finding vegan food and we especially enjoyed our lunch and vegan carrot cake from a place called C is For Cookie. There are a few vegetarian restaurants and many regular places have vegan options. Sadly I also saw whales on the menu in a few places, but on the flip side I also saw whaling protest ads in the local paper. We spent our time in Reykjavik walking the streets, checking out the buildings, window shopping, hanging out in Heart Garden, and day trips. I also picked up some beads made from the local lava rock to make a necklace.

One day trip was to check out the impressive Strokkur Geysir, which erupted every few minutes. Along the way we stopped for a walk through a Lava field, to view one of the many pretty water falls. We took another day trip to go snorkeling in the very cold waters of Silfra lake, between two continental plates. Because of the extreme temperatures it requires the donning of rather cumbersome dry suits, complete with warm liner, mitts and hood, and then your own long undwear. (This was the second time we had to buy long under wear on our global adventure, the other being for our Himalayan hike in Nepal). The waters are pristine with visibility of 100 meters or more. There wasn't any visible animal life but there was unique geological formations and long, colorful, spaghetti like algae. I found the experience a little nerve-wracking as the suit limits your ability to move about freely. You need to practice a bit to roll around accurately. I am glad we did it but it's likely a one time deal; I prefer the ease of warm water snorkeling. Check out a tour company video of the adventure below:

We spent the next two nights in a rural hostel about 300 kms from Reykjavik. We spent time watching iceberg bits floating out to sea, viewing puffins, and other birds, checking out more water falls, going on some nice walks and a tour of the The Geothermal Energy Exhibition at Hellisheiði Power Plant. On the way to the puffins we encountered a little lamb who had got himself on the outside of a Texas Gate, (after wriggling through a space in the fence) while mommy was on the inside. Now I have learned that there seems to be just as many sheep in Iceland outside of fences as within them, but this little guy wanted to be back with mom. So I grabbed the little fella and carefully negotiated the Texas gate to reunite him with mom. Who knows how long he will stay put. I spent the rest of the day covered in sheep fuzz.

We were supposed to spend our sixth night in a small town on the way back to Reykjavik but the address was rather confusing so we ended up way past the town. At that point we thought we might as well continue to Reykjavik and stay an extra night there (we already had our seventh and final might booked there). We were not prepared for how booked up everything would be! After going to several hotels and guest houses, and contemplating spending the night in the car, the wonderful folks at the tourist office helped us out by phoning around and found us a spot. It was a lovely hotel, but a bit more money than we had intended. We call this the "idiot tax" which is when our screw up costs us some extra money. However, we were very grateful to not spend a chilly night in the hatch back!

The extra day in Reykjavik ensured we has lots of time to check out the Blue Lagoon hot springs. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis.[1] The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 37–39 °C (98–102 °F). The Blue Lagoon also operates a Research and Development facility to help find cures for other skin ailments using the mineral-rich water/ (source wikipedia). The water is a unique color, surrounded by lava rock, and unlike any hot spring I've seen at home. It was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon. Tomorrow off to Toronto!

As always you can check out my photos here;

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, July 20, 2012

Farewell to Denmark

We are on our last few days the Denmark portion of our trip. It's been wonderful to explore the city on our second hand bicycles. We have been able to travel to all of Copenhagen's nooks and crannies. We pedal to our favorite bakery, lunch spot, grocery store, to take in a movie, watch the river go by, and just glide through the picturesque streets. I feel a sense of childhood freedom riding a bicycle.

We also ventured out to Malmo, Sweden by train. Traveling by train and metro has been so convenient and enjoyable in Europe. We spent the day wandering the streets, having lunch at a Chinese vegan buffet at Vegegarden, and checking out the Malmo Moderna Museum and a Swedish design centre.

We took the train out to Louisiana, Denmark to see the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Once we arrived it was supposed to be a short walk to the museum. After walking for a rather long time we concluded we must have missed the museum. I moaned about the lack of signage and declared I would be making a complaint if we ever located the museum. We had no choice but to retrace our steps to see where we went wrong. After backtracking for 20 minutes or so there was the museum turn off, plainly marked with a large sign. How did we miss it? Well I was so busy, transfixed by the slugs and snails on the sidewalk that we walked right by the entrance. Ah well the extra 45 minute walk was good for us.

Once we finally made it, the building and exhibits were worth it. Unfortunately there were no vegan options in the cafe for lunch, but I came prepared with purse snacks. We ate our snacks outside, and admired the Alexander Calder sculpture and mobile, against the backdrop of the sea. The grounds of the museum are lush and are as much of a display area as the interior. The building has lots of bends and corners, with windows framing beautifully the natural and manmade.

The exhibits were an eclectic mix including Nordic design, local and international pieces, multimedia, and more traditional mediums. It was very interesting to see the architectural models of houses and buildings. I adore the simple, natural lines of Danish design. I was also blown away by the urban planning video exhibit, shown in a circular room, in which you stand in the centre. The set up made you feel like you were in the spaces being described. It so clearly and profoundly explained ideal urban design and why it is so important. It emphasized things like spaces that encourage spontaneous lingering, foster a feeling of an urban living room. Spaces with lots of detail, small signs, appropriately sized public areas, provoking all the senses, where the indoor comes out, people centric not car centric. The video exhbit was by Gehl Architects and you can see excepts here: I look forward to reading the Jan Gehl book, Life Between Buildings.

The museum took me on a journey through beauty, hope, and brutality. One 3D installation, Five Car Stud, was extremely disturbing. "It represents a group of white men castrating a black man as his white girlfriend watches. The figures are life-size mannequins wearing masks, illuminated by the headlights of four cars and a pickup truck." In the exhibit you walk through the dimly lit diorama, in the midst of the horrific torture. I left with tears streaming down my face and a heavy heart. I wonder how we can be so cruel. If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. - Mother Theresa

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Copenhagen, Denmark

I really did not know what to expect of Denmark, but I have been pleasantly surprised. I did not realize it is such a small country either, with just 5.5 million total population, of which 1.1 million live in Copenhagen. I read the Copenhagen Post, the weekly English newspaper to follow local politics, events and news. So far every Danish person we have connected with also speaks English. This has been very helpful as I find the Danish language very hard to understand and read. I spend a lot of time reading ingredient labels and decoding them on my iPhone translator app. Before this year trip I never fully appreciated how isolating it can be to not speak the local language.

Copenhagen reminds me a bit of a European Portland. We are staying in a cute fourth floor flat in the eclectic neighborhood of Norrebro. We found our flat on the awesome vacation rental site Airbnb. People of all ages, genders, sizes, shapes ride bicycles here and there is excellent cycling infrastructure including bike lanes, bike parking and places to buy used bikes or rent bikes. We opted to pick up some cheap used bikes that we hopefully can either sell back or donate when we are ready to leave. We have been biking about 1-2 hours a day.

The vegan food has been quite food here too. We have had awesome vegan sushi and lots of flavorful meals at the three different raw restaurants. With our kitchen we are able to cook at home and have found tofu and other vegan staples at the health food stores. I've been regularly adding reviews and photos to the listings on the Copenhagen section of Happy Cow, an international guide for vegetarian restaurants and businesses. However, restaurants and grocery stores are the most expensive I have experienced in Europe so far.

One day when we were biking around we randomly ran into a Tesla Store! It was great fun checking out the cars and chatting with staff about our own tesla roadster. We were invited to attend their WWF - World Wildlife Fund celebration later that evening. The event was great fun and it was neat to see more cars and celebrate Tesla's donations to WWF.

I absolutely adore Danish design and I have not been disappointed by the offerings in Copenhagen. We have browsed through several antique stores, thrift shops and flea markets coveting the many amazing vintage designs. We visited the Dansk Design Center, which had a special exhibit on innovative product and building materials, such as packing material made from mushrooms, fiber optic fabric, pathways made of recycled shoe soles and so on. Portions of the exhibit were hands on so we were able to really explore some of the diverse materials. The permanent exhibit housed examples of everyday Danish designs through out the years such as; dinner ware, furniture, electronics, fabrics and so on. We also checked out a terrific Finn Juhl exhibit at the Danish Design Museum. Finn Juhl (30 January 1912 – 17 May 1989) was a Danish architect, interior and industrial designer, most known for his furniture design. He was one of the leading figures in the creation of "Danish design" in the 1940s and he was the designer who introduced Danish Modern to America (source: Wikipedia). The museum also held a robust collection of other designers.

In addition the Danish Design Museum had a display on the INDEX: Design to Improve Life, which states "We Inspire by showing people how their personal lives and the lives of people around them can be improved by Design to Improve Life. We do this through INDEX: Award and INDEX: Award Exhibition, showcasing the positive outcome and effect of the world’s best examples of Design to Improve Life addressing issus such as HIV/AIDS, scarcity of potable water, terrorism, sustainable transportation, elderly care, etc." It was neat to see winning designs such as, LifeStraw, a very unique water filtration device, or YellowOne Needle Cap, which turns an empty soft drink can into a safe depository for dirty needles.

To check out my photos see: and to see J's go to:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gorgeous Gaudi & Marvelous Miro!

We arrived in Barcelona last week and are staying in a little apartment, with our dear friend, across the street from the impressive Sagrada Familia church, by architect Antoni Gaudi. We have seen a lot of amazing buildings and churches on our trip but this one was the most breathtaking. The interior ceiling is amazing. The construction of the church began in 1882 and still continues today. The construction was hampered by the loss of Gaudi's building plans in a 1936 fire. However notes, models, published plans and photos, still exist and have guided the construction to this day. Once the church is finally complete it will have will have 18 towers: 12 dedicated to the apostles, 4 to the evangelists, one to Jesus and another to Mary.

We also visited Casa Batllo, a huge house built in 1877 and refurbished and redesigned by Gaudi in 1906. The building is privately owned and the owners have generously opened it up to the public. The entrance fees assist with the maintenance of this lovely building. Everywhere you look there are functional and beautiful design elements that are far ahead of their time. The building is in an organic art nouveau style with elements of nature emulated through out. The role of light is highlighted with the well placed windows and use of glass. The tiniest of details, such as door handles, are beautifully designed.

We spent a day walking through Parc Guell, also designed by Gaudi. The park was originally an (unsuccessful) housing project but is now a park for all to enjoy. The park is full of of Gaudi structures and two houses designed by other architects. Gaudi lived onsite from 1906-1926 in one of these houses, built by Francesc Berenguer, which us now the the park museum full of furniture and other items created by Gaudi. The park was very busy and up a steep hill. It was well worth the taxi ride up, rather than a sweaty trek.

The other artistic highlight of Barcelona is the expansive Joan Miro museum. Ever since I saw his 1924 painting "The Birth of the World" at MOMA in NYC, Joan Miro has been one of my favorite modernist artists. The Barcelona museum did not disappoint. The lovely museum building, designed by Josep Lluís Sert, wonderfully houses the diverse Joan Miro collection, as well as exhibits by other artists. I was amazed by the variety of Miro's work including large scale textiles, paintings, drawings, murals, sculptures, mosaics etc. The museum also had two informative video presentations.
I enjoyed getting to know some of Miro's early, realism work, such as The Farm.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see the amazing mercury fountain, created by another of my favorite artists, Alexander Calder. Calder was commissioned by Spain to build the sculpture as a tribute to the rich Spanish mercury mines. It was to be displayed at the 1937 world's fair. It was mesmerizing to watch the surreal looking mercury sparkle as it leapt, pooled and slid down the sculpture, as if by magic. Of course we now know that mercury and it's fumes are toxic, so the sculpture is housed behind glass. To check out a video of it in action see below (although it does not adequately capture the in person experience)!

For me Joan Miro's modernist work is the reduction rather than the abstraction.
It is the essence of the world, the line, the spine, the elements, the building blocks. It makes me feel a deep sense of interconnection with humanity and the universe. Often art is thought of as a modern human creation but I see art has universal and timeless. I also see examples in nature all around us; fractals, colorful bowerbird nests, or the the intricate sand piles made by burrowing crabs, to name a few. When Picasso gazed upon the ancient cave paintings at Lascaux he declared: “We have invented nothing…" The caves rediscovered in 1940, house amazing paintings that are estimated to be 20,000 years old. Even more amazing, in 1994 The Chauvet Caves, were rediscovered also containing amazing paintings estimated to be 30,000 to 33,000 years old! The chauvet caves were the subject of a wonderful documentary titled "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"/. You can see the trailer below.

The artist is a receptacle for the emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web. ~Pablo Picasso

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, June 8, 2012


We decided to leave Plum Village after the first week of the 3 week retreat, as it was not what we expected. We have arrived in the charming seaside town of Biarritz, near the border of Spain. We have a lovely apartment overlooking the sea and will be here for a week.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Preparing for Plum Village

From June 1, 2012 to June 22, 2012 we will be attending the The Sciences of the Buddha, A 21-day retreat for Buddhists and Scientists, at Plum Village, in the south of France. We are very much looking forward to deepening our meditation practice, learning new information, meeting new people, seeing our friend who is joining us, and enjoying the all vegan meals. During the retreat I do not expect we will have access to internet.

From the Plum Village website; "In the beautiful setting of Plum Village, from the 1st until the 21st of June 2012, with Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Sangha, scientists and Buddhists will practice sitting together, walking together, and sharing their experience and insight with each other. The practices of mindfulness and concentration can help scientists to be better scientists and in this way, Buddhism can act as a source of inspiration, suggesting directions for future investigation and discovery. Conversely, we will explore how insights from science can be useful, not only to develop technology and improve our material comfort, but to reduce the suffering of individuals, families, and society. This retreat will bring a lot of joy and confidence in both traditions as we find out that good science and good Buddhism can be much and do much for the wellbeing of the world."

Plum Village is led by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thây). From the Plum Village website; "Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a poet, a scholar, and a peace activist. His life long efforts to generate peace and reconciliation moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. When not travelling the world to teach “The Art of Mindful Living”, he teaches, writes, and gardens in Plum Village, France, a Buddhist monastery for monks and nuns and a mindfulness practice center for lay people."

For some Buddhism is a very religious practice and for others, such as J and I, it is more of a philosophical practice. I was drawn to Buddhism as many of the foundational teachings fit with my own beliefs. If you are curious about Buddhism, check out the resources below.

To learn about The 4 noble truths, 5 main precepts, Eightfold path, and a basic overview of Buddhism see:

I have found great comfort and knowledge in meditation and several contemporary Buddhist books and magazines. I found the secular, Mindfulness Mediation course, taught by Dr Speca via the University of Calgary's continuing education Department to be extremely helpful. from the course website; "Based on an approach that is thousands of years old, mindfulness meditation is about being fully awake and present in every moment of our lives. Access powerful inner resources to cope with life's challenges, calm the mind, relax the body, and cultivate insight. Benefits, including improved mood and reduced stress, depend upon establishing a personal routine. Components include: meditation, gentle hatha yoga, relaxation, group discussion, imagery and breathing techniques. Topics covered include mind/body interdependence, balance in the autonomic nervous system, and effective coping strategies." If you are interested in learning more about secular mindfulness check out this terrific website: " is the leading website dedicated to giving voice, inspiration, guidance, and connection to all those who want to enjoy the proven benefits of mindfulness practices and to create a more mindful and caring society."

My favorite Buddhist magazine is Shambhala Sun.

These are some of my favorite books by Thich Nhat Hanh;
Being Peace
Peace Is Every Breathe: A Practice for Our Busy Lives
Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism

If you would like to learn more about the teachings in Plum Village, You can download free copies of Mindfulness Bell Magazine. From the magazine website "The Mindfulness Bell is a journal of the art of mindful living. To be mindful means to dwell deeply in the present moment, to be aware of what is going on within and around us. Practicing mindfulness cultivates understanding, love, compassion, and joy. This practice helps us to take care of and transform suffering in our lives and in our society. The Mindfulness Bell is an inspiration and teaching resource for those practicing mindfulness in daily life. Each issue features a recent teaching by our teacher, Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bon Voyage Paris, Bonjour Bordeaux

Paris has been jam packed with site seeing, art, walks, movies, and terrific food.
We've been fortunate to have lovely vegan meals at the following places: the best falafel I have ever had from Maoz, delicious traditional style French food (and the best chocolate mousse) from Le Potager du Marais, great veggie burgers and desserts from Saveurs Veget Halles. The Paris Lovinghut, an all vegan international chain, remains my overall favorite. We met an absolutely lovely staff person and he is actually Canadian, from Quebec! They also have a small grocery section where we picked up some of the amazing, gourmet, award winning, vegan cheese made by Vegusto.

We have managed to do other things beside eat amazing food. We bought metro day passes and have been exploring the city. We visited The Catacombs of Paris. The Catacombs are an Ossuary, which is site to hold skeleton remains, often when burial space is limited. The catacombs were created in the 1700's after a large Paris cemetery was closed to do health concerns. Skeleton remains were transferred to the catacombs up to 1860. To gain entry to the catacombs you descend 20 meters down a narrow, curved, stone, stair case and arrive in dark tunnel system beneath the city. The stair case down is 130 steps, the length of the walk through the tunnels is 2 Kms and there is another narrow curved stair case, with 83 steps up at the end. The tunnels are dark, with minimal lighting, and a bit wet and slippery in areas. As water dripped from the ceiling I suddenly thought how yucky it would be to get hit in the face with water steeped in old bones. Of course at that moment a large drop fell on my lower lip. I scrubbed my face with the inside of my shirt for 10 minutes. Thankfully, due to the solemn nature of the space, I had my mouth shut. The tunnels lead to the ossuary area that hold the remains of about six million people. The bones and skulls are stacked neatly in piles lining the walls. I was disappointed when one tourist started moving the bones around, even though a sign in several languages, states it is forbidden to touch them. When he was confronted by a guard he actually started to argue! Such disrespect!

There is so much art in Paris! We have been to many museums. The extensive modern art collection at The Centre Pompidou is almost overwhelming. I saw great pieces by some artists I love including; Jackson Pollock, Joan Miro, Max Ernst, and Alexander Calder, to name a few! We also enjoyed the free exhibit of the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art City. We were delighted to stumble across the The Museum of Art and Inventions. Amazing examples of technology through out the the years including bicycles, flying machines, cameras, and so on. We also explored Cité de l’Architecture Museum (architecture museum). I was most impressed by the recreation of one of Le Corbusier's mid century two story flats. The Le Corbusier living room very much reminded me of our own living room! Of course we also went to The Louvre, the largest museum I have ever been too. Its' collection of art is huge with a lot of religious examples. We glimpsed the Mona Lisa, as it is hard to see her through the crowds, the roped off area and bullet proof glass. It is interesting to see but I don't get all the fuss. I have seen many other works of art that I prefer more.

Speaking of art I prefer, we went to a terrific exhibit at The Grand Palais Museum called Animal Beauty, which explores images of animals in art. This article Animal Beauty at the Grand Palais in Paris, gives you a sneak peek of some of the work. I had no idea Van Gogh had a painting of a stuffed bat. There was also a toad by Picasso. The exhibit reminded me of the contemporary and very moving photography project Elderly Animals, by Isa Leshko. Check it out online.

To check out some of my recent photos see My Flickr stream.

Today we have just arrived by train for a weeks stay in the historic city of Bordeaux.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad