Thursday, November 30, 2017

Bienvenue à Montréal!

A trip out of the country would not be complete without some form of goof up.  Usually, it is someone else, but this time it was me!  I mis-took my husband's passport!

We arrived at the airport, ready to board.  Up since 4:45 a.m., and a little groggy, I reached into my purse to get my passport, and voila!   I have my husband's passport.  The kids looks at me with panic.  (My kids are adults, 24 and 26.)  I am not thinking clearly, so I tell them to go board.  I tell them I will catch up with them later.  Then, I stand at the counter, with the most patient, kind #Delta Airlines employee ever, @CaseyKeating.  He gets on the phone and tries his best to get my flights changed and still get me to Montreal the same day.  After 20 minutes, I have new flights, with only and additional $4.50!  Thank you Casey @TLH @Delta.

I have three and half hours to find my passport and return to the airport.  I drive home all flummoxed about by situation.  When I arrive, I begin looking in all the "safe" places that I put things.  I cannot understand this situation.  I am a creature of very organized disorganization.  My passport and my husband's are always in the same location.  The secret places to lock things up and protect from hurricanes are predefined.  This is highly unusual.  I go through every book on the bookshelf, every closet and every drawer.  Nothing.  I call my husband.  He assures me that he handed me both passports (they are usually locked somewhere else during storms.)  Racking my brain, I return to the kitchen counter for a sip of coffee. 
Standing in the kitchen getting ready to resign myself to the financial and fun loss, I stare at the small brown and black leather backpack that Morgan and I bought in Paris.  I had only checked the back zipper pocket.  Yes, indeed, this creature of habit put both passports in the bag, one in each pocket.  At the airport, I had failed to check my bag thoroughly.   And waisted, I mean wasted,  four hours in the process.

Good news is that the next plane was on time and after getting to spend four hours at #LaGuardia, I was on my way to Montreal.  The preparation for the trip included researching fellow #Tripadvisor folks and other top things to do sites.  Also, I had spent some time researching the bus from the airport that goes directly downtown.  For $10 Canadian dollars, you can ride the bus all the way downtown.  Cabs and limos are $40-$50 dollars, but they will carry three or four people.  If you only have two, then bus it.  My kids had already taken the bus and assured me that it was easy and safe.  Get off on Guy street my daughter advised.  She also told me guy is pronounced ghee in Canada.  Helpful to know.
They had already been to dinner when I arrived.  My son went off to visit a friend, so daughter and I walked the six blocks to the  @Provigo grocery store for nutrition for the evening.  By this time, it was close to ten p.m. and I was glad to get some warm soup.  Our Airbnb apartment is nicely situated and we had a stove.  Some chicken broth, vegetables and warm soup was on the way.  It was good to have something healthy after a day of traveling.  The warmth was even better.

My first impression of Montreal is the welcoming atmosphere.  Most shop attendants and transport people will ask if you speak French or English.  They easily switch to both.  They also recognize an American "Bon JouR" from their own, bonjour. I think it is the irrepressible desire to say the "r".   It is nice to be able to speak a few words to let them know that you are willing to try.  The other thing to note, is that no matter where daughter and I went, the city felt safe.  The people who ask for money, do so in a polite and distant way.  It is always hard to pass those less fortunate.  In Europe and in Canada, people tend to give food, rather than money.  Young people offer their chips or their half sandwich.  One man, who looked as if he too could use help, gave the person with the open hat, his transport ticket.  In many ways, I feel this is productive.  In Bordeaux, France, we saw people leave coffee, milk, bread and cheese next to sleeping homeless in the streets.  I thought that very kind.

The streets are fairly clean and in order.  The walk-able downtown is easy to traverse.  The cobblestone streets are charming, but careful footing for the weak ankled is advised.  The underground is fabulous during the rain.  More on that later.

Our first full day, we went to the Musée Art Contemporain, оr the MAC, to see the Leonard Cohen presentation.  For those of you who do not know him, his site is still active beyond his life.  Canadians love their own famous singer, poet, author and rebel.  I do too.

Our lovely Airbnb apartment is downtown and very close to transportation.  It doesn't feel quite so close in 21 degree weather with wind.  But, it felt just fine at 45 degree weather and sun.  Moments from the Boulevard René-Lévesque, we were close to grocery stores, restaurants and subways.

Our second day it rained.  So, to walk across the city, we enter the underground city of Montreal.  It is an incredible underground maze of food and shopping.  There are attractions, entertainment and people watching galore.  I cannot attest to the summer months, but the winter drives people underground where  it is warm and you can walk and shop or eat.  The underground  actually goes for many blocks and attaches to the subway.  It behooves one to understand the streets and the metro, or you will surely be turned around below earth.  However, you will be turned around with some of the best international shopping you have ever done.  Someone told us that the only underground shopping better than Montreal, is Atlanta.  Born in Atlanta, I have some innate affection for the city.  However, I have to say that underground Atlanta  is a place of transition.  And that Montreal surely has much more to offer in terms of a network.  If you were born to shop, this is your city.

My daughter and i moved to the usual tourist spots, seeing the Biodôme de Montréal with the frogs and more importantly the penguins.  It seemed odd walking into the first area and seeing an alligator as a display.  But, of course, we are from Florida, home of the alligator!  I asked my daughter to tell me the difference between an alligator and a crocodile.  She rolled her eyes and said, "Please!" Oy vey, those Florida girls know everything!

  As she entered the river fish display, I asked about a weird looking fish.  She says that it is a sturgeon.  I look at her with wonder.  How does she know this?  Then, I look with admiration.  Does it matter?  She does know it, and she is right!

Does anyone know what Brady 12 means?

We proceed to the next area, out of the river environment.  To my surprise, we see penguins.  Not just one, but four varieties of penguins in this habitat.  The penguins are very fun to watch and better than the internet.  I promise.  If you take your kid to see them, this is what will happen.

 Can you imagine anything cuter?  Does it matter that he slipped under the ropes to touch a penguin face?  This was so terribly fun and I vicariously wished him on, to laugh, to touch and go under every rope for the rest of his life!

I wish I could tell you that I was a rope ducker, but the truth is that my husband and daughter are the rope duckers.  I am the rope administrator.  Perhaps that is why only now, I take chances!

  For now, think of those ropes and the ones you can duck under! 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Of Eleventh Grade again

Not very often one gets to go back to high school in a good way.  I for one, hated high school.  I dropped out of at least three.  Was invited to not return to Clearwater Central Catholic School.  Probably best that we parted ways.

Fast forward 44 years.  I am at a business meeting in Phoenix.  I am meeting a woman that I have seen once in 30 years.  She was my disco buddy in the seventies.  She knew how to dance.  I knew how to hang around her.  She was all grace and style, I was all hang around her.  But, I had a car.  So a new friendship was born of admiration and motorization.  Two catholic gals on the town.

I can tell you what beautiful looks like to me, and it may not be what it looks like to you.  My friend Karisa had the coal black hair with curls of Sophia Loren and a shape like her as well.  She had her Spanish mother's eyes and her Italian father's verve.  She was talented in acting and in movement.  I was good at geometry and reading.

Our young relationship was shrouded in family controversies.  We retreated as all young teen do, into our teen world of music and sharing.  Then, she married and moved away.  I went to school, and school and school.

I remember her writing about a house and marriage.  I had no clue.  I was pursuing a Master Degree and working at the All Important Legislature of Florida.  We disconnected.

Then, I had a conference in Phoenix.  I called her and she made time for me.  She was as delightful and warming and fun as I had remembered.

This is not a poignant blog.  This is a reminder to say that old connections can be refreshed.  Old friendships still live.  What a wonderful evening we had today.  We shared food and stories and walked the cactus walk.  She told me of birds and cactus and the feeders and the moon.

We aren't in high school any more, but for a few hours, we were that young and that beautiful.  We definitely will meet again.

of Livingston Montana and Married Life

And as if by magic (or Delta Airlines) we were transported from 96 degrees and humidity of the same at sea level, to the land of the arid mountains and smoky air at 4,200 feet.

We departed Tallahassee, Florida arriving to Salt Lake late at night their time and early in the morning our time.  We arrived to the downtown Hilton hotel, tired as can be and slept soundly till 8 a.m.  EST.  We arose and had a bite in the Hilton Executive Lounge, then strode off to pick up our rental vehicle.  Alas, the reservation was made for the day before we arrived, and now the same vehicle would cost six times as much.  Avis prices were crazy, and I am an Avis Wizard Member!!!

Upstairs to hit to see if they could save us.  And even more magic happened.  We got a Nissan four door truck for $200 less than our original reservation!  Thanks Budget!  After a forty five minute wait, we were off to the Hilton to retrieve our bags and start the drive to Livingston, Montana.

The google maps said a mere 6 and 1/2 hour drive through Utah and Idaho, then over to Montana.  The time frame did not include rest breaks or food breaks or road maintenance. The actual trip was closer to 8 hours.  Most of it was through valleys that paralleled rivers, or maybe, the roads were built next to the rivers... don't know the answer.  But, it is serious agricultural land.
 Cows, corn and silos everywhere.  Potatoes growing in neat rows, greenery a nice break from the dry mountains above.  The fires burning in several states make the view a smoky red color.  Still, it was a pleasant drive, rich in color and so different from where we live.

We finally arrived in Bozeman thinking we were close.  Close is never close enough on the last leg.  Livingston was yet another 30 minutes.  We arrived to a pleasant AirBnb accommodation, which had everything we needed.  We settled in, then walked the main drag in search of food.  We settled on a Mexican restaurant, which was not really what we needed after sitting all day, but it was easy and we were tired.

Up the next day and off to the fly fishing event.  The Flyfishers were gathering for the annual event.  The local high school provided the venue.  The rooms were afloat with Columbia shirts and Simms hats.  The land of sensible shoes and comfortable pants.  Fly rods bobbed in every back pack as people wandered in and out of the lobby.  We had registered for a couple of classes.  Mine was a casting class, learning the basics of the roll cast.  Must say the gals (and Frank) in my group were pretty good.  The instructor was very experienced and she kept things simple to make practice easier.  I was particularly good at the side cast, which is handy in Florida.  I enjoyed the time.  It is a lot standing and casting, but once you get something right, you get a little smug.  Casting on grass, and no fish in sight, you can sort of huff and puff about what might have been!

Class over, it was time for lunch and a big Montana nap.  The Fish Fest Hoot was the entertainment of the evening and the music was fun, the weather fine and the crowd very relaxed.

We sipped wine and beer, ate smoked trout and lamb, and swayed to the music in the street.  We also bought new boots and waders for me!  Dan Bailey was fab and my new boots were only $25!  Many a fly fishers dream, I might add.  I also got killer waders for less than $70 bucks.  Thanks to you Dan!

Next morning cooking class was the order of the day.  We got up and slipped out to Gil's to grab a pastry and coffee.  Hurried to class, as to not be late.  However, shouldn't have done so, as the instructor did not arrive for another half hour and then didn't start for another.  He was a large cowboy looking type with a well worn hat, a big mustache and a large belly.  He was teaching dutch oven cooking with charcoal, a camp style cooking.  He promised peach cobbler and cowboy eggs.

He read his instructions in a very deep voice, with authority they way one might talk when narrating a movie.  The recipes were all simple and he had the ingredients with him.  Well, most of them.  After reviewing the process, we all donned aprons and proceeded to begin the chores.  He insisted all eyes be on him, and all hands be on deck for prep work.  Coals in the chimney for warming, we proceeded to cut onions and beat eggs.  He forgot the peppers, so he had to leave us and the group of eight began chopping and beating eggs.

Then, he had everyone gather round him to take a bite of the same peach.  I did so, but very reluctantly.  Fortunately, I was  second.  He handed out peaches and we began cutting them for the oven.  There is a short distraction as the coals are poured onto the flat grill bed.   Butter slicing resumes and the mix is put on the peaches.  The butter was not to his liking so he took over placing the butter on the mixture.  The recipe would take 45 minutes and all of that would be listening to him regale us with his prowess in canning, smoking and bar b queuing.  My best take away was how little charcoal it takes to make a cobbler.  The heavy cast iron dutch oven with legs is a mighty grilling tool.  To be able to make desert at the same time as ribs, is simply freeing.   A very valuable lesson indeed.  Luckily, the class over, I found the little park where we assembled to be charming.

A very pleasant ending to a very different kind of morning!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Rising to the Occasion of the Return to Austin Texas!

Back in #Austin for the first time in a while.  Great city.  Weather is meh, mid February and very cloudy, but not cold!

Humidity makes me have big Texas hair.  Pretty sure that's why they tease it and stack it here.  Not much else to do with it.  Went to see the #Driskill and have the famous Batini.  Not so much on agave syrup.

Love the vibe though.  Walked back through the capital.  For all the unpleasant TSA officers, there must be 20 polite charming #TexasRangers to make up for it.  They let us in the Capital Building with the aplomb one hopes the President uses inviting his guests in for dinner.

The meetings were fine, and I am glad that I got to hear the updates.  But, secretly, I am just glad I got to walk Austin again!

If you need other assistance, check our my trip advisor page for detailed view.  And if you are a YELP user, just click on this link for my reviews.

Monday, February 6, 2017


I am the kind of mother who touched her children every night and prayed to god in heaven to make them smarter, braver, stronger, and better than the way they were the day before.
I asked that they be kind and direct and courteous and love their parents.
I asked to make them better at what they love and put music in their hearts in the morning.
I prayed to make me a better mother, but if only one prayer can be answered, I wanted god to care for them.
I am the kind of mother that wept when they failed.
I shook when they are on stage and I gasped when the spaces of breath are too long.
I am the kind of mother who waited patiently for them to figure out the math.
I am the kind of mother who said wipe it up, I’ll make more.  It doesn’t matter.  Breathe.
I am the kind of mother who explained boys don’t get it as fast as girls and that the pamphlet forgot to say ask permission to touch anyone under any circumstances.
I am the kind of mother who said you can save yourself for marriage.  It is always an option.
I am the kind of mother who said you will need your brother one day don’t talk to him like that.

I am the kind of mother who cries secretly, fearing their future and praying I did enough.

Friday, May 27, 2016


So happy to finally add another city to my passport!  Toronto.  Probably would not have picked it, but work picked it for me so here I am.  Got a few chuckles on the airplane when I asked how many people were coming here because of Donald Trump!

First impression is the city is the most integrated city I have been in - including NYC.  The people are from everywhere with languages abound.  The translators at the airport were from India, Korea, China, Brazil and Mexico. Most of the Canadian folks speak or understand French as well.   It is not just that they are here, it is that they are seemingly comfortable here.  I wait in the lines as the border folks decide that I need to have four interviews and three different passport verifications.  This afforded me the opportunity to hear the people from other country's have a translator for their answering the border questions.  I must answer my own questions as the lady speaks perfect English.  My French is not sufficient to try to communicate in a place where they REALLY speak French.  One day.

I finally shake free of the border people and and picked up by my fabulous UBER driver, Tradic.  He is prompt, has a nice clean car and tells me the highlights of my temporary home, Toronto.  He says the walk the edge of the CN Tower is a must for those with a bucket list.  He says it is the scary thrilling sensation of a high roller coaster, with the breathtaking experience of a jump out of one.  Except you don't really jump.  Sounds perfect for my daughter, not I.

We arrive at the AirBnb town-home that I have leased for the week.  It is a two bedroom flat on the fifth floor of a tall building near the Toronto Blue Jays store and the main tourist entertainment district.  The building is full of tourists and the sassy skateboard kids wheel up and down the sidewalk outside.  The day is full of families on the street enjoying the temperate day.  Strollers are everywhere.  There are women in every imaginable garb, covered head to toe or the tight mini skirts of the youth.  There are women of every color and size, dawning the look of their preference, but truly wearing the outfit for the outing.  The views reminded me of a Monet promenade.  They all seem so proud to be walking.

After I am in my building and unpacked, I walk to the grocery.  For my first night, I have decided to cook and stay in.  I have events for the next three nights, so this is my time to adjust.  I find the grocery on the map and head out.  It is only a mile and the walk will be good after all he plane rides and sitting.  Knowing that I am in a country that has green values, I have brought my cool NPR canvas bag for the shopping.  As usual, I am hungry, which means I buy more than I can eat.  I do however, keep it healthy by picking asparagus, fish and garlic.  I also pick yogurt and eggs for the morning.

On my way back, the sun starts to head to another part of the world.  I notice the street traffic turn from families to couples and groups of young people.  I am grateful to be an older person with a place to go.  Interesting aside, I have seen no obvious homeless persons.  At least not in the style of Tallahassee.  I hope that means that they have better options.  There are lots of people who may fit the bill, but no one is holding a sign asking for money.  Back to the streets, older couples walk together.  A few young females saunter alone with their backpacks firmly in place.  People aren't seemingly as concerned as I am, but it could be their city!

 After touring Italy and seeing so many people displaced, I am a tad sensitive to the homeless.  But again, that does not appear to be an issue here.

I open my windows to absorb the cool air and the noise and hustle of the city.  Young people are now moving quickly and yelling in tandem as they move down the street.  The sidewalks are a series of floating tattoos and fun and interest and laughter.  Cars honk as people respond to the noise. Sidewalks seem to shift like the ground covered with ants.  All together in fish school, then scattered as if danger lurked near.

I will probably not sleep well this first night.  But it is terribly exciting to be in a new place adding one more stamp tot my passport.  And I look forward to rising to the occasion of the meeting in Toronto.

Days past, and the conference is behind me.  Great speakers, especially Richard Florida and the CFO of the City of Portland, Ken Rust.  Truly inspiring speakers and leaders of their communities and professions. It was great to be able to walk to the convention center every morning with a Starbucks in hand and a nice breeze in my face.  The weather could not have been more kind. That night, we decided to grocery shop and eat in and rest for the next day.

Finally, it was time to see some of the City of Toronto.  Many attending the conference had come the week prior and had already seen the sights.  They were full of funny tourist stories, so I had a relative understanding of the normal tourist routes.  Thursday morning however, is dedicated to the CN Tower. Second highest tower in the world after Dubai. I was to  see the tower from the inside.  Morgan however, wanted to walk the edge.  And so she did.  Up way above where nose bleeds start, she edged to the edge.

In the afternoon, we first headed out to walk the area near the University of Toronto, or so I thought.  What we found was Kensington, the Haight Ashbury of Toronto.  Many shops, medicinal and otherwise.  The aura was one of the hippy freaky grad student, with coffee shops and gelato every block.  The people were attentive and their wares were exotic as the people. We particularly enjoyed the Blue Banana, where I ended up buying a special pair of socks for my HR Manager.  The sort of gift only one who tries to please all would appreciate.

We had a heavy lunch of Ontario pork, so we wanted to be a little lighter with the fare of the evening.  It was perfect.  We walked back to our flat and relished the lovely day and time in a new place.  Eight miles said the iPhone.  Not bad for one day!  The evening proved very fruitful with a walk to the restaurant Westlodge.  It is a quaint and funky bar and restaurant.  We opted to sit at the bar and chit chat with the bar tenders who were great.  They recommended a whiskey drink, which was very tasty.  We then ordered ala carte with Brussels' sprouts, beet salad and roasted cauliflower.  We walked back to the flat and went upstairs to look at the pool and look at the lake.  The Toronto Blue Jays stadium is our view and Beyonce concert is in full force.  The people move in big waves, as if the subway openings allowed the flow to happen downstream, which I am sure contributes just a tad.  The ladies are all in finery and the men seem to be far and few between.  The night promises to be late for them and over for me.

The next day,  we were off to explore a new area.  The Saint Lawrence Market promised to be fun with artists of food and of paint.  Almost every trinket or device you might want is here, in addition to rabbit, chicken, cow and pork.  The seafood comes with faces and without.  The building is obviously the old trade building re purposed to a fun inviting new age trade space.  Of course we bought chicken, pork belly, pastry, bread, cheese and sausage.  We also found olives and artichoke and of course the sun dried tomato with mozzarella cheese.  A feast of kings and queens had we.

We take our groceries home and then go out for a cocktail on the lake.  A big lake.  I am guessing it is Lake Ontario.

Once again, we are cooking dinner.  The basted chicken, asparagus and the  okra are divine.  The cheese is great and we have wine and beer.  Tired legs never felt so well fed.

We plan what to do on Friday and after I answer a plethora of work emails,  I wanted to see the distillery district and then find the top of the City at Casa Loma.  But this will wait till tomorrow.

 Au revoir for now. Isle of Lesbos

Friday, January 1, 2016

of the immigration to Europe

The other night I had a dream which is haunting me.  Haunting me to ask if this is this is just a dream or a possible reality.  The dream was about a website, life vests, and immigrants.

Few photos are as disturbing as the ones we see of the immigrants landing on the Greek shores of Lesbos or the Italian shores in Palermo.

These people so desperate to leave their homes that they risk their lives in rickety boats and flimsy life vests.  The disbelief on their faces when they realize that they made it.  The joy of seeing their children on a new dry land.

The burden is huge and the number that arrive is incredible, overwhelming.  The discussion in the United States about the Mexican American border pales in reality.  Building a wall may be our discussion, but building a way to cope and accommodate is Angela Merkel 's responsibility and compassionate obligation.  Europe struggles to follow her lead and make room for all.

It is also affecting so many other countries.  refugees-and-life-jackets-fill-the-shops is an article from the New York Times reflecting on the life jacket sales in Turkey.  In Lesbos, it is another matter.  

"Since the beginning of the year, the number of refugees and migrants arriving here and on other Greek islands has surged to full-scale humanitarian-crisis levels. Arrivals by sea have surpassed 107,000 through July, according to United Nations figures, eclipsing even the numbers of people reaching Italy. Most of those who arrive on the shores of Lesbos, a popular tourist destination just off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea, are fleeing the wars in Syria and Afghanistan and hoping to head deeper into Western Europe.  In June, 15,254 migrants and refugees arrived on Lesbos, according to the Greek Coast Guard, compared with 921 the same month last year.  But only squalor awaits them here. They arrive in a country that is deep in its own crisis, with an unemployment rate over 25 percent, banks not fully open and its government all but broke."

I have not seen this with my own eyes, but the photos are real, the photographers living in these moments are seeing it for me.

So, back to my dream.  What if, just what if, the life jackets that are so valuable on one side of the water could be valuable on the other side. 

What if we had an organization that was present when the people landed to take the jackets. What if they wrote a name or a phrase on the jacket that said how they felt making it across the water. The statement could be a brief thanks or a prayer or a name.

My dream was that the persons or organization could photograph the jackets. They could include the name of the person or their hands or a trinket or just a saying. The photo could be put on a website that allowed people to "adopt" the jacket before it is retired. The funds for the adoption could pay volunteers, local communities, and the immigrants.

This mess of jackets doesn't have to be the future.  Many people would be grateful to send $5 or $10 on social media to support the cause.  Families everywhere would gladly use their #VISA or #AMEX cards to pay the adoption fee.  Giant corporations like #VISA and #Mastercard could lend their support to the cause.  And somewhere there are brilliant programmers like #Anonymous that would help build a site for the process.  It was just a dream.  I woke up and it felt so real.  I don't know enough about #internationalrelief or #UNHCR or saving people.  I just know that life jackets are just that.  This pile and every other pile has done their job of protecting the person wearing it.

It just seems like we could make something more of it than an abandoned pile of the most risky event ever. It seems we could help Greece and Italy with the job they are doing. There are a plethora of volunteers on the shores that could also use the help. The WSJ article references many volunteers trying to raise money to go to Lesbos and help. They site that volunteers use is for individuals who want funding to go and help. Kickstarter is one. Very admirable.  I even considered this.  I would love to be a solid contributor.  I am not sure I would be.  I am not sure that getting money to go is the best use of the money.

But, I know that people want to connect.  Adopting something, like a life jacket, makes it yours; and even if it is a life jacket from a person, it will be a single person that risked their life that you can relate to on a one to one basis.

I can show you more pictures, but what I really want to know is if my dream is possible. I want to know if people that know me think it is real enough or if it was just a great dream.  I can find the resources, I can't find the hearts.

Let me know your thoughts.

and now the NYTs says this: