I am innocent…


Last weekend was my daughter’s 21st birthday trip. I had offered to take her on a trip somewhere fun…you know, like Vegas, New York, or New Orleans. Nope. Not my kid. She wanted to go to Salem (Massachusetts, outside of Boston). Even the customs official on the way home thought that was weird.

She wanted to go because I’ve been there a few times before, as has my best friend. My daughter is also the one who goes to all those scary Halloween Haunt things, so it kinda makes sense. Fun girls road trip!

Birthday trips aren’t supposed to be educational, but I think she learned some things while we were there. Between psychic readings, souvenir shopping at the “Harry Potter” stores (Remembering Salem and Wynott’s), and the pirate museum.

I think it’s a fascinating period in Puritan history, but my daughter didn’t know why Salem is filled with all kinds of witchy stuff. It’s where the Witch Trials of 1692-93 took place.

witch dungeon salem

It’s great when places bring history alive, and at the Witch Dungeon we heard the story about two young sisters who were messing around with a fortune telling game. You can imagine that this would be bad for the girls if they were caught. The younger of the two saw something completely terrifying, and immediately went into a state of shock. She couldn’t move. Their parents called the doctor, who couldn’t explain her condition, except to say she must have been bewitched.

witch dungeon salem

The little girl was sent away, and later came out of it. It was Puritan Massachusetts, with a lot of rules, and very little excitement. Mass hysteria ensued. The rest of the girls in Salem wanted the same kind of fuss made over them, and mimicked the same “symptoms”. Things like this don’t just happen. Someone had to be responsible. Picture a Jamaican immigrant named Tituba, a healer who also practised voodoo, working in one of the girls’ homes. Her husband made “witch cakes” for the girls. Four years earlier a woman named Goody Glover had admitted to afflicting children. Maybe it was still fresh in their minds as a valid explanation.

Over the 18 months the witch trials took place, 150 people were imprisoned (until the prison was at capacity),  19 were hanged on Gallows Hill, and one man was pressed to death.

Why some were accused:

  • Pipe-smoking beggar woman
  • Being an aged cripple
  • The neighbour got sick and died
  • Selling to the natives
  • Stepping in a mud puddle, without getting wet
  • A child said so

We had an evening tour on the anniversary of Bridget Bishop’s hanging. Sure, it’s a little creepy standing at the witch memorial on that exact day. Because they were prosecuted and executed as witches, no one knows exactly where these people were actually buried. There are stones like this to remember each of them outside of Burying Point, Salem’s oldest cemetery.

bridget bishop salem

When you know the history of the trials, the memorial is a quiet place of community and reflection. It always makes me sad.

Maybe it’s because of recent events.

Maybe it’s because they didn’t have to die.

Maybe it’s because had my daughter, my friend and I lived during that time, we would have been accused too.

…or maybe it’s because, ultimately… we are scared of the things we don’t understand.



Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks…

My mother loved baseball. I remember helping her set up the television on the backyard patio, so she could sit outside and still enjoy the games. She loved Kelly Gruber and John Olerud, and every year had a scorebook so she could track stats all on her own.

A bunch of folks from work were at the Jays game against Tampa Bay last night. There’s really something about watching the local boys play. Well honestly, in my case, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the actual game. I was having too much fun talking and joking around with the people I work with. The expression on the boss’ face pretty much covers what we’re like on a daily basis.

Photo courtesy of Merel van der Wouden

I did notice the Jays played an abysmal game, losing 12-2. We got to see Paredes’ first at bat. His was one of only five hits (the entire game). This is what it looks like when someone bats 1000.

It was a night of fun and bonding over peanut shells. Since you asked… something about a bunch of nuts with nuts. Just assume “nuts” as in “crazy”, and not, you know…

Photo courtesy of Merel van der Wouden

Baseball…a game of skill, statistics, and teamwork. The only thing that could have made it better would have been an open dome at the Rogers Centre. Oh, and if I had taken video of the guy a couple rows in front of us. HE was utterly entertaining!

Take your best shot…

It’s still the birthday weekend, so in addition to some wine tasting, it obviously makes sense to go to a shooting range the next day. Right? Right?

I have to say I was a little apprehensive about firing a gun, any gun, even at a target. What if I made a complete idiot of myself and miss every time? What if I can’t hit a target to save my life?

I had these visions of sitting in a classroom with 20 other people, learning the safety regulations and proper handling of a weapon. Not so, but a healthy respect for something that can potentially take a human life should still be had.

Silverdale Gun Club (www.silverdalegunclub.com) is an awesome place to learn. You must wear the appropriate safety equipment that are issued to you when you arrive. The instructors have a sense of humour, but business is business. You learn how to properly handle a gun before you’re allowed to fire.

Today we had the Basic package: 20 rounds with a 22 cal, 20 rounds with a 9mm and 10 with an AR-15 rifle. 


The 22 is my personal favourite of the three, though my friends preferred the other two. 

The most frightening thing today, was how GOOD we all were. SCARY good. I’m so unbelievably thankful the ladies are my friends, they’d be frightful enemies.


Thanks to Silverdale and our instructor Ken for an amazing experience!

(and if you’re interested in going to a shooting range…be careful and stay safe!)

1 Wine, 2 Wine, 3 Wine, Floor…

It’s my best friend’s birthday weekend, so the girls are celebrating in style. Nothing quite like visiting our favourite Niagara vineyards for a sip, or two, or three…

First stop ended up being Forty Creek Distillery. No other whiskey drinkers, so the stop was pretty much just for me (and a pee break) before continuing on.

It seemed like we were visiting the vineyards in alphabetical order: Angel’s Gate, Aure Estates, Creekside, Featherstone, Hidden Bench, Honsberger Estates, and Organized Crime.

I think I bought the last four bottles of Gewürtztraminer from Featherstone about 3 years ago. Soooo disappointing that they haven’t made any since. All went well anyway, since I found 11 bottles of wine along the way. 

Angel’s Gate has an awesome Icewine and Pinot Gris.


Aure Estates has the only Gamay in the Niagara region. 

And Creekside had a Gewürztraminer from 2013. They only made 90 cases.

We tasted a few wines at almost all of them and found some new favourites. We also made some new friends along the way.   


Addendum: These are NOT all mine!

More shenanigans coming up tomorrow!

Ein Bier Bitte…


I had every intention of writing every day that my son and I were in Germany, but there was so much to do and see! If you have a look at the tourist sites you can get a clear idea of the overload of options we had.

Instead of writing about all the things to do, I thought I’d share all the things to EAT!

My son was super excited about having his first legal beer (legal age is 16 in Germany), and his first authentic schnitzel and strudel. There was a little bakery near our rental in Berlin. The server there was only too happy to sell him the last ones in his shop. The beer was from the Imbiss right next door.


I was looking forward to having a currywurst again. It’s usually a bratwurst with a curry ketchup-type sauce. It’s to die for! Especially when you find it served with bratkartoffeln at a patio restaurant on Cora-Berliner Straße.


On one of our days out we went over to Alexanderplatz, the Rotes Rathaus and the Berliner Dom. We needed sustenance during all of our walking around. My son’s response to what he wanted to eat was either schnitzel, or pasta.

The Piazza Rossa (piazza-rossa.com) accommodated.


We were spoiled for choice, but decided to save the Alt Berliner Wirtshaus (www.altberliner-wirtshaus.de) for our last night. It’s a good thing we did, because we could hardly walk the 50 steps to the apartment.

I opted for the Alt Berliner “Kaiser Wilhelm” Grill Plate which had a slice of beef, pork, a sausage, giant meatball and bacon on a bed of bratkartoffeln and mushroom cream sauce.


Of course, Germany isn’t just known for schnitzel and beer. It’s also about the sweets. There are three places I seem to always go back to, because they’re worth the trip.

The one place is a cafe on a boat at Övelgönne Museumshafen (Klein Huis Gastronomie). It’s a demand stop when you have a look at all the old museum ships in Hamburg.


Then there’s the Bardowick Windmill Cafe (Meyers Windmill Bardowick). I’m pretty sure that next time they’ll know to just slice a huge piece of marzipan torte for me. I’d say, “make it two”, but the portions are enormous. That’s one of those coffee cups that holds two cups at once. You get the idea.


My favorite place though, and I’m pretty sure they know it, is the Nemitzer Heidehaus (www.nemitzer-heidehaus.de). This place is owned and operated by Heike and Dirk Mandel in Trebel. Dirk roasts their own coffee, and Heike bakes the most delicious creations in the kitchen. I gave them the heads up we’d be visiting, and I’d be having the Mandel torte. Mandel because of the almonds, not because of the last name!


All this really makes me hungry….

A Chinese ghost story…

The intent was to go to the museum and see the inside of the parliament buildings, but instead I wandered around downtown Victoria again.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Chinatown in Toronto, but it isn’t as colourful as this one in Victoria.


In Chinatown is a fascinating little alley, Fan Tan Alley.  It was originally a gambling district with restaurants, shops, and opium dens. It’s considered a tourist attraction now, with loads of little shops including a record shop (always trouble for me), barber shop, art gallery and cafe. (The opium dens are gone)


It also happens to be the narrowest street in Canada, only 90 cm (35 inches) wide at its narrowest spot.


I walked by this little alley a couple times on my first day here, but had to take a wander through. It was a bit of a nail biting walk, because I had been told the ghost of a murderer haunted it.


The story goes something like this…

In 1889 a 17 year old Asian man named Chan Ohan fell in love with a woman, Yao Kum, when he saw her sitting at her window. Yao worked and lived as a prostitute. Chan worked for the American hotel, making beds and cleaning rooms.  After seeing her sitting there day after day and talking to her, he shared his passion and love for her.


One day, he proposed marriage to her. Yao told Chan she couldn’t leave, because her owner would find her and kill her if she did. Chan tried to give her a vial of poison and told her to put it on the meals of her master and his wife, so she and Chan could be together. Yao realized Chan was serious, but he was penniless and she was trapped in her life of ill repute.  She also knew the penalty for murder, and told him to go away and never come back.

Chan felt publicly humiliated. He crept around the buildings with a friend and spied on her. One night he and his friend prowled near the window where Yao always sat, the friend grabbed Yao by the hair, and Chan cut off her head with a butcher knife. Chan ran away through all the little alleyways and escaped through the back of the hotel. He passed by the hotel owner, Tommy Burnes, as he fled.

Chan missed two days of work. Tommy saw a poster for a $150 reward “Wanted for murder in Chinatown.” It described Chan perfectly. Tommy went to the police who found Chan hiding in a coal bin, his clothes covered in blood, in the hotel’s basement. Chan was arrested and jailed, and then hanged himself with his shirt in his prison cell two days later.


After his suicide Chan was not afforded the same Chinese rites that ward off demons and ease the spirits of the dead. In encounters, people typically hear footsteps approaching, and then see Chan’s ghost passing through the alley with bloody clothes and a butcher knife. He pushes people blocking his way without seeming aware of them, and then fades away.


To the west coast I go…

I’ve been to a lot of cities across Canada, but never this far west. I find myself in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia.

Victoria is one of the oldest settlements on the Pacific Northwest, by the Brits in 1843. Wikipedia says it has the second oldest Chinatown, next to San Fran. The Salish Nation was here thousands of years before that.

It could also very well be the rainiest place I’ve ever been.

Through the raindrops I have managed to see some beautiful spots and take some photos. Guess the bonus to all the rain is how green everything is. The flowers are even in bloom! (and trust me, after -35 Celsius a couple weeks ago at home and the latest Snowmageddon, this is wonderful)

The BC Parliament building. Home to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. Final cost to build… $923,000. That little gold dude on top is Captain George Vancouver (Vancouver Island, Vancouver BC, Vancouver WA, and Mount Vancouver are all named after him). Apparently someone once tried to steal his statue by helicopter.


In front of the parliament building is a statue of Queen Victoria. Yes, the city was named after her.


Everyone has told me that I should have tea at the Empress Hotel. It was built between 1904-1908 and has hosted many notables, including Shirley Temple, Prince Edward in 1919, and King George and Queen Elizabeth in 1939.


Honestly, I’ve never seen so many totem poles! I could take pictures of all of them, because they all tell a story. This has been my favorite so far. It’s the Kwakiutl Bear Pole, carved by Henry Hunt of the Kwawkewlth Indian Band in 1966, to commemorate the centenary union of the colonies on Vancouver Island and the mainland.

Perhaps the most spectacular place I’ve been (so far) is Beacon Hill Park. The park was named for the two beacons on Mount Beacon. The western most beacon had a triangle (blue) and the other a square (green). If the sailor could see the square through the triangle he was on Brotchie Ledge, which meant trouble. The almost 200 acres was originally set aside as a protected area by Sir James Douglas, governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island in 1858. In 1882, the land was officially made a municipal park and given its name.


A leisurely walk through the park, and then along a hidden pathway you can find sets of wooden stairs to take you down to the rocks and ocean view of Horseshoe Bay. The rocks were glaciated about 10,000 years ago.


On a clear day you can see the mountains of Washington state.


After the stairs you have to navigate all the driftwood that has washed up. It’s slippery, and treacherous, but oh so worth it for this view….


It was a big day of walking (about 20 km), so time for a little break. More pictures to come!


The soup nazi…

Most people can’t hear the words “mulligatawny soup” without thinking of the soup nazi from Seinfeld. “No soup for you!”

It always makes me think of this restaurant my aunt and uncle took me to in Salzwedel, Germany. Chinese buffet restaurant, owned by a man from India. The combination works, don’t ask me how.  I don’t remember anything else on the menu.

One of his soups was this mulligatawny. To. Die. For. My taste buds remember, so I’ve kind of been obsessing over this. For six months I’ve been trying to find a recipe that’s close.

I found this one:

2 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium celery rib, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tsp. mild or medium curry powder
1 large, green apple, diced (skin on)
2 tsp finely grated lime zest
2 tbsp fresh lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 tbsp honey
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 cup water
1 cup cooked white or brown rice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
1 (14 oz.) can coconut milk
Salt to taste

Combine the first 14 ingredients in your slow cooker. Cover and cook on the low setting 5 hours. Stir in the rice, cilantro or parsley, and coconut milk. Cover and cook 10 minutes more. Season the soup with salt and serve.

It needs a little work to match the taste perfection I had before, but this is quite yummy too. Not bad for a first shot at it!


Ich bin ein Berliner…

Well, actually no I’m not from Berlin. But I am going there, again. This will be my third time there. Vacation is booked for April. Yes, prepare yourselves for future touristy photos!

It will be my son’s 18th birthday, so we’re going on a mother/son trip. He’s never been to Germany, so I get to play tour guide. I’m so excited!! Flights, hotel and even the local transit cards are booked.

Berlin Wall 1987
The last time I was in Berlin was in 1990. It was also the year the wall came down. I had been working in Flensburg that summer, visiting family on weekends. When the work contract was done my aunt and uncle asked me where I would like to go. There were only two places were on my list, Lübeck (home of Niederegger marzipan, which is AMAZING!), and Berlin. I wanted to see the difference from when I was there three years before.

Berlin Wall 1987
We went for a walkabout, and I still remember my uncle saying, “stop, stop!” and how much it confused me. “Look down,” he said. I happened to be standing exactly where the wall had once been. Goosebumps!

(not the happiest of faces, probably because of the bad hair)
After the wall came down there were, of course, the usual complaints about how the governments of both halves of the country managed the reintegration of citizens. Families were reunited after decades of separation.

Berlin Wall 1990
I didn’t find out until years later that our family roots (on my mother’s side) were from an area that became East Germany.

Berlin is a city that is absolutely rich in history. Founded in 1237, it became the capital of Prussia in 1701, the German Empire in 1871, then the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. The city was divided by the Allies (USA, UK and France) and the Soviet Union under the London Protocol of 1944. East Berlin belonged entirely to the Soviets. It was too difficult to maintain West Berlin as the capital under a rotating Allied government and surrounded by Soviet territory, so West Germany’s capital was moved to Bonn in 1949. The nation’s capital unified again in Berlin in 1990.

In 1963 Kennedy gave a speech on a platform in front of 450,000 people:

“Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!”… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”

jfk berlin
Source: findingdulcinea.com
I want to give that sense of deep culture to my son. He’s been to Montreal and parts of the U.K. Now it’s time for Germany.

Maybe he’ll become a Berliner too.

Auld Lang Syne…


Everyone knows the song “Auld Lang Syne” by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). We all sing this song on New Year’s Eve when the clock strikes twelve, the ball drops or the fireworks go off. But what the heck does it mean?

The first verse and chorus are understandable, but if you have a look at more verses, you know the song isn’t English. No wonder people don’t understand the phrase “auld lang syne”.  Translated, from the original Scots it was written in, it means “old long since,.” To us English folks, it has more the meaning “like old times.”

Source: blogs.loc.gov
Just like everyone else I was singing this too, but why do we sing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s?

According to vox.com: “One reason a random Scottish folk song has come to be synonymous with the new year is that New Year’s celebrations (known as Hogmanay) loom unusually large in Scottish folk culture — so much so that Scotland’s official website has a whole Hogmanay section, which notes that, ‘Historically, Christmas was not observed as a festival and Hogmanay was the more traditional celebration in Scotland.’

Source: budgettraveller.org
That’s because the Scottish Reformation brought to power followers of a Calvinist branch of Protestant Christianity known as Presbyterians who didn’t really care for Christmas. Indeed, in 1640 the Scottish parliament went so far as to abolish Christmas vacation ‘and all observation thairof,’ citing its roots in ‘superstitious observatione.’ When theologically similar Puritans briefly ruled England as a result of the English Civil War, they also attempted to suppress all Christmas celebration. But Presbyterianism put down deeper roots in Scotland, leading Hogmanay to displace Christmas as the number one midwinter celebration.

The end of one year and the beginning of the next seems like as good a thing to celebrate as anything else, so Scottish-inflected New Year’s celebrations — including the sentimental and appealingly nonspecific ‘Auld Lang Syne’ — came naturally to the English-speaking world.”

So the Scots like a good party, but why do the rest of us sing it too?

Source: my.telegraph.co.uk
“From 1929 until 1976, first on radio and then on television, Americans tuned in to the New Year’s Eve broadcast by Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians, a big band act led by Lombardo, a Canadian whose parents immigrated from Italy. By the mid-70s, Lombardo’s broadcasts began to face serious competition from Dick Clark’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” which was positioned to attract younger viewers and emphasized the rock element to contrast with the Royal Canadians’ big band tunes. But for decades, Lombardo owned December 31 — even earning the nickname “Mr. New Year’s Eve” — and every single year he played “Auld Lang Syne” to ring in the new year.” (also from Vox)

Music and culture around the world are influenced by American movies and television, so the whole world saw people singing “Auld Lang Syne” on New Year’s. “An 18th-century Scottish ballad thus became a mid-century American television ritual, and from there became a worldwide phenomenon — even though almost nobody understands the song.”

Sing it with me, and remember to sing the chorus after every verse. Here it is in its entirety:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne*?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.