Friday, November 30, 2012

Dear Paris, part 1

24 October 2012

Dear Paris,
I do believe we are off to a rather bumpy start...

It all started on a train. A very fast train and a last minute decision, as it does. I say last minute, but there was no choice really, to be so close and not go to Paris? That would have been a travesty.

So, I'm on this train excited and exhausted and overwhelmed just a little. I am reading this book I brought, it's a very sad book. As the train speeds through the French countryside the sun streams through the window. I have to put on my sunglasses because of the sun, and also so that the two pompous businessmen sitting across from me wont see me cry. Here I am - a plump, slightly quirky, middle-aged woman on a train crying because it has dawned on me that my much younger self's long time dream of going to Paris is finally coming true.

Now some of you may be saying to yourselves (much as a friend of mine said to me upon hearing my story) "tut tut, oh dear thing crying on a train in front of strangers behind sunglasses, must've been so embarrassing and awful."
Well friends, there is no need for that, yet. I assure you, just as it did in the very sad book I was reading, it got much worse. Unlike the book, we will all laugh about it later.

And just so you don't begin to fret too much, it also got better. Much, much better.

I arrived at the Gare Du Nord station in the afternoon, as I stepped off the train I found myself a little dizzy. I have a plan, vague and dodgy as it may be and I head towards the street. Alright, what I have is not so much a plan, but rather more a rumor of a place to stay. I've been told of an eccentric woman who speaks five languages, tells wild stories and lets rooms in a large old building. I have her name and telephone number written in my notebook. "Just call her when you arrive in Paris, tell her you are the cousin of so-and-so from Kansas, she'll remember. She always has a room, don't worry." What could go wrong?

In front of the station I call the woman. Yes, she remembers and she demands, "When do you want to come?" "Tonight? Oh no, no! I am full completely! I am so sorry."

Alright, Plan B. At least I had the foresight to research a couple of hotels near the station. Out comes the map of Paris, a vain search for street signs and no clue about direction. Suddenly I am not so confident about the few words of French in my repertoire and I find myself practicing them in a whisper to myself. I end up walking back and forth along streets until I spy one of the hotels in my notebook. With a sigh of relief I walk to the reception desk and ask for a room. The clerk shouts "All full!"

On the street again and my bags are getting much too heavy, I catch a glimpse of myself in a window - all wild haired, overburdened, glassy eyed and lost. How many blocks to the next hotel? I begin walking again in what I hope is the right direction, giving myself a wee pep talk, trying to keep my chin up... at this very moment the elastic on my knickers gives one last retiring moan and gives up the ghost entirely. So now I am trudging along the streets of Paris trying to keep my bags from tumbling to the ground whilst also attempting to keep my knickers from sliding down to my ankles and landing me face down on the sidewalk. As I shuffle along in humiliating convolution, I suddenly think of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and laugh. Which actually comes out more like a barking sob. I know that this is all going to be very funny later, but for now...

The second hotel is also full.

It is late afternoon. I sit down at the nearest cafe, having forgotten every word of French I know and simply point to the menu for coffee. It doesn't occur to me that I have eaten nothing all day. My impromptu Plan C is to sit here and watch the world go by until it is late enough for me to call the Engineer back home. I am tired, a bit homesick, I miss my family and my knickers wont stay up for nothin'. Why I did not think to discreetly remove the offending garment and slip them in my purse (it is Paris after all) rather than continue to wrestle with them, I can not tell you.

As I sit, I make the poor decision to continue reading my sad book. I don't think that helped. I reach in my pocket for The Lumberjack to keep me company, but he isn't there. I rifle through my bag, nothing! Oh woe is me, The Lumberjack is missing! This makes me feel quite tragic and even more dejected. I entertain the thought that perhaps he has gone off to Boulevard de Clichy and the Moulin Rouge in search of the thrill of a little can-can. I hope this is the case.

I finally get The Engineer on the phone and blubber my predicament. Bless him, he is on the internet looking for a hotel for me when the line goes dead. My pre-paid phone has just run out of minutes! Mad scramble to find a pay phone that takes credit cards in the noisy train station. Finally, I get details and directions - only just over a kilometer away, I can walk that. Ok, it's all going to be ok.

Armed with my notebook, map and a new determination, I begin the trek to the hotel. As the sky grows dark I am walking and walking for what seems a very long time indeed, getting lost a few times, doubling back on myself, looking again for the elusive street signs, struggling with my bags and those damn slippery knickers! I notice my environs turning a bit iffy and wonder where it is I've ended up. Finally, an hour and a half later I see my hotel, a discreet little building with a sweet red door. I walk in breathless, sweating and utterly exhausted. I sigh deeply with relief that the woman at reception speaks English because my brain can barely form a sentence in my native tongue let alone manage one in French. I am given the key to my room and take the tiny lift to the 3rd floor. I open my door and collapse onto the bed.

24 October 2012

Dear Paris,
You are crazy.

It is at this point that things begin to improve considerably. I promise that Part 2 is all about the love!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Last of London

Oh my oh my, what a strange time we are having! We have just gotten over the sickness and now we are in the throws of preparation for the big family holiday feast!

I am decidedly behind on all bloggy business, but that is life no? First I want to say a big hello and thank you to all the new followers, you are simply lovely.

Next, I will finally finish up with my London photos as these last shots were from one of my favorite outings. Picture heavy and few words to follow.

On Sunday morning before my workshop I went on an adventure with The Lumberjack to Columbia Road Flower Market, and what a wonderful time we had!

The flowers were gorgeous, the hawkers were cheeky, the atmosphere was divine and the air scented with Lilies and roses!

The Lumberjack amongst some knitted bunting of course. The little shops along Columbia Road were somewhat hidden behind the walls of flowers, but once you squeezed yourself inside the treasures were breathtaking. I could have easily spent a fortune on beautiful things and then again on having them shipped home. I limited myself to one teeny tiny keepsake that will always remind me of my time there. I also had the most delicious berry muffin and cup of coffee from a tiny hole in the wall, literally (ok, it was more niche than hole) if you find yourself on Columbia Road on Market day I highly recommend said hole in the wall for breakfast treats.

From Columbia Road we headed off to Brick Lane and perused the street seller's goods. Stopped and had a very nice chat with one of them. The Lumberjack was fiercely negotiating the price of a WWII leather map sack with the gentleman. When they had finally settled on a price the Lumberjack turned to me with his hand out, alas I had spent all my precious monies already which was a shame because it really was a very handsome map sack. The Lumberjack then regaled the seller with stories of his travels and adventures while I reminisced over the old pastille tins just like my grandmother used to have. I can still taste those black current pastilles if I shut my eyes a bit.

Then there was the food. Meringues as big as my head and goodies aplenty.

Then there was this guy! Blaring reggae music and dancing, loved him! I will always think of him as Mr. Spicy!

After that The Lumberjack wanted to hire a bicycle as he was tired of all the walking. What walking I ask you? You have been riding in my pocket the whole time! When he realized his boots couldn't reach the pedals that was the end of it and we hoofed it to Spitalfields Market, where again I could have spent a heap. Still, I did find something nice for my mother.

Oh what a wonderful day! One of my favorites of the trip.

Well that wraps up London for now. Next week the final chapter in my travel saga, Paris! What a wild time that was!

Since the Thanksgiving Holiday is upon us in the States, I wish to say how thankful I am for all of you.

Until next time my friends - be safe, be well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Time Out

Me, my girl, and the Buddha Cat have been feeling poorly so we are taking a little time out until we get back to our usual mayhem. See you soon and take care.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In The Kitchen with Lola - Banana Berry Applesauce Walnut Bread!

I thought I would take a break from my travel tales to share a recipe with you today. It was one of those happy accidents that come from a sudden necessity to diverge from one's original plan.

I had some over ripe bananas and a need to bake, but not enough banana to make my usual favorite banana bread. After hunting for recipes calling for 1 and 3/4 ripe bananas and ending up nowhere, I figured I'd just wing it and hope for the best. What else do I have on hand that isn't quite enough to make a tried and true recipe that I could throw in to make up something entirely new?

And so...

Banana Berry Applesauce Walnut Bread was born, and it is good!

While I didn't measure everything I wrote up a recipe immediately after tasting that should do the trick.

Banana Berry Applesauce Walnut Bread

Dry ingredients:
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3/4 Cup Sugar
3/4 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Salt
Aprox. 1 Cup Chopped Walnuts
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Nutmeg

Wet ingredients:
Aprox. 2 very ripe Bananas mashed (about 1 cup)
2/3 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/2 Cup Plain yogurt
2 Eggs lightly beaten
4 Tbs. Butter melted and cooled (you could use veg. oil as well)
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Frozen Berries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack on lower middle shelf.
Grease and lightly flour one large loaf pan or 2 smaller loaf pans and set aside.

Mix all the the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Mix all of the wet ingredients in another bowl.

Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Lumpy batter is good.

Pour the mixture into loaf pans and bake in oven for aprox. 40 minutes if using 2 smaller loaf pans and aprox. 60 minutes if using one large loaf pan; until you stick in a toothpick to the center and it comes out clean.
Baking times may vary!
Let the bread sit in the pan for 5 minutes then turn onto cooling rack to let cool completely or as long as you can stand it before cutting into it and gobbling it up!

And yes, it is a bit more cake than bread, but never mind that, it is delicious!

Happy baking!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Mind the Gap - Tales from London

Part 2

Now let's see...

I left off last week with The Lumberjack and I sitting at a rather wobbly table at Covent Garden discussing our plans and watching the world go by. As the sky turned dark and the market stalls began packing up their wares, the square filled up with evening crowds. Packs of pretty school girls in their uniform plaids giggled past, fashionable young ladies in furry vests, silver pants and impossibly high heels looking sour faced and impatient, A Hare Krishna band weaving in and out of the Jubilee market banging drums, clanging cymbals and chanting sing-song over a 'Madonna-esque' headset that amplified their voices across the square and it was all so vibrant and a little overwhelming for a weary traveler. I kept thinking I should keep myself awake just a tiny bit longer as long as I kept having moments of crisp lucidity in between the red-eyed bone tired stretches.

Soon though it was apparent that the only thing was for The Lumberjack and I to head back to the hotel and get a good night's sleep.

In the morning I met up with Kate from Harmony and Rosie for a little wander. We headed to Liberty of London. Oh my! Now I love me some Liberty and the store was packed with beautiful things arranged in the most lovely of displays to be sure, but what really struck me was the building itself. What an amazing sight to see.

Quite the feast for the senses. Still, we left empty handed. (I may have returned another day to pick up a few tiny things)

Then Kate and I decided that it was time for tea. We stopped into Neal's Yard for a cuppa. Hidden away in one of those secrety little courtyards that are so easily missed, was a most colorful oasis. Now this place would be right at home in Portland, OR I think.

We chatted away under an awning avoiding the rain and having a very nice time indeed, when too soon it was time for me to go and meet my publisher for lunch.

About this time The Lumberjack said that he wished to absorb a bit of culture and make it to a museum or two, so we parted ways.

I should confess to you that while I was in London, I did not do any of the things one should do. I did not make it to The Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, or one single museum. I suspect that The Lumberjack did not either, as I later found photographic evidence of his so called 'cultural escapades'!

A local pub

An Imperial Pint

Post Imperial Pint

Woolly Golf

The following day I met Jane aka Flaming Nora at Paddington station for a wild fabric based adventure to Southall. My one true regret is that I have no photos from this grand outing, for it was quite epic and a sensory experience I shant soon forget. Plus we had loads of fun! Jane has very aptly written about our first 'In Person Meeting' as well as our Southall extravaganza HERE!

Charing Cross Station

Having heard many a story about people getting hopelessly lost on the Underground, I was a tiny bit anxious about keeping my wits about me while riding around London. I needn't have worried, as I found the whole thing quite easy and felt like an old pro by the time I left. Although there were a few times that over-packed cars made for rides that were a bit sweltering and squishy.

And on that odd note, I am going to have to interrupt my rambling ways to attend to the household chores, there is much to catch up on still! There is more to tell if you haven't grown weary of it. Part 3 is next. Oh, and then there's Paris!

Have a wonderful day!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mind the Gap - Tales from London

Part 1

October 18, 2012

After a very long flight we began our decent into London, Heathrow. A quick peek out of the window and the sprawling mass of London below took my breath away. "I'm here" I thought to myself, "what do you know!" All I need to do is get through immigration, get my luggage, and find myself the Underground, Piccadilly Line to Covent Garden. Gripping my passport like a life preserver, I made my way - eventually finding the right que for foreigners and presented my identification to the surly man in the booth. "What's your purpose in visiting?" he growled. I replied in perhaps a much too perky voice, "To visit friends." To which he looked me up and down and asked, "You? What friends have you got in London?!" Now I know I was looking a bit rumpled and red eyed from my travels, but surely I looked like the sort of person that might have a couple of friends at least. He looked unconvinced, but did let me through in the end.

I was right proud of myself for getting myself and my luggage to the Underground and was soon clickity-clacking my way into London.

Then it was my wheelie luggage that was clickity-clacking across the cobble stones of Covent Garden and down the streets to my hotel. After a quick change in my very tiny, but satisfactory room, I knew that I must fight off the weariness and go take a good wander of my surroundings.

Covent Garden! Teaming with people, overheard snippets of conversation in at least a dozen languages, bits of blue sky and sunshine streaming; I have arrived!

There hapened to be an open air food market going on that afternoon, quite serendipitous as I was starving!

After finding a good people watching spot on the curb, I sat down and scarfed my Buffalo Mozzarella Panini in a most unladylike manner, whilst watching the hub-bub around me. Then it was off to walk the streets and alley ways near by.

I did a fair amount of window gazing, popped in a few shops, but mostly just tried to get my bearings and take in the amazing buildings around me.

I even managed to find a phone shop to buy a temporary phone for use while here, having discovered only a day before I left that my own phone would not work over seas. Alas, no instagramming for me in London!

After a good long ramble, my eyes dazzled and my ears buzzing, I decided it was time for another sit down. This time at an outdoor cafe with a glass of wine.

The Lumberjack agreed, so we sat and watched the evening coming on and discussed our plans for the following day.

Part 2 next week!