Saturday, February 28, 2015

Radioactive, Radioactive

Lest I have my face ripped off by fans, I'd like to start by saying, I really like the music group Imagine Dragons. This is by no means a reflection on the group or anything their music potentially sells. This says more about me.

I currently have an earworm. I suppose I should be glad that I've finally disposed of Carly Rae Jepson and Katy Perry (blog "Bugged by an Earworm", July 27, 2012). The earworm is caused by the song "Radioactive" which appears in a television commercial. Just in case you haven't noticed it's the latest trend for networks or providers to show ads twice during commercial breaks. The particular commercial with this song is one that is oft repeated. I suppose it's done so that you don't miss their sponsor in case you dared leave the room two minutes earlier.

When it comes to the "idiot  box", I have noticed that I have certain skills. I can have the t.v. on and fall asleep. I can have the t.v. on so that it might keep me company and drown out extraneous sounds while I do other things. When I was younger, I did homework this way much to the chagrin of my parents. I can have the t.v. on and partially watch or listen. I can have the t.v. on and absorb all kinds of trivial and useless information even though I'm not watching.  The t.v. rarely has my full attention although I do spend a lot of time with it on. I think it's a generational thing, the way my parents and more so, my grandparents used to listen to the radio. There were also many years where I neither had the time nor the inclination to bother with it. Somehow, this made me feel like an outsider, not knowing what everyone else knew. I didn't like that.

So when someone asks me whether I've noticed a certain commercial, my usual answer is, "No". Either I've PVR'ed a programme in which case I fast forward through commercials, or I just don't pay attention.

Having said that, I've always liked the tune of  "Radioactive" and have heard portions of it at least a hundred times of late. It's used as I said earlier in a commercial. I have no idea what the commercial is for so I can only guess that the ad campaign is a bit of a bust, at least when it comes to me. On the other hand, perhaps there's some subliminal effect that will have me singing this as I reach for something in a supermarket, a hardware store or a pet shop.    

Yesterday, I posted on facebook....the source of all irrelevant information.        

    I have an Imagine Dragons ear worm and I don't even know what the commercial is selling. If I were one of the twit generation, I would say, hashtag adcampaignfailure.       

A friend responded that she thought it was a car commercial. Hmmm... Come to think of it,  I do remember seeing tires. She then added that Hyundai uses the song Radioactive. Interesting, I thought.

Fortunately, I had purchased my car prior to the emergence of the hit song and now commercial so I can't say that I was in any way influenced.

It's a catchy tune and I'm glad Hyundai advertisers opted for the section of song where the words are  "Welcome to the new age, to the new age" rather than the part that mentions  ash, dust, rust and chemicals...."Whoa, oh, oh, whoa, oh, oh."

Friday, February 27, 2015

My Fantasy Life

I've had a fantasy. Yes, I'll admit it. It's nothing juicy. It's not even particularly interesting or weird. Some people create possibility boards and charts. My possibilities are all in my head. They're all up there like tiny bubbles ready to burst for my consideration. For example, I dream up prime parking spots and great ones appear. I surrounded myself with a longing for Paris and voilà. All my thoughts don't have to come to fruition to be pleasant and fulfilling. Some do. Some don't.

For some twenty years now, I have been driving past a little house in a town near here. It hasn't been in a weird, creepy, stalker kind of way. No, it's been more admiring, thoughtful, wishful. A few times a year when I was in that particular town, I'd check on "my" house. It once occurred to me to knock on the door and ask the owners to call me if they ever wanted to sell. That moment was fleeting. I wasn't certain that I wanted to retire and be responsible for a house. I noticed that the other homes on the street were newer, larger, and more stately. They were all on the west side beyond a large tree and did not appear to be encroaching on my perfect little place
I used to imagine myself living in this house. It's small. In fact, it's tiny and doesn't even have a garage...just a makeshift wooden carport that looks like an animal stall next to some open space.

I can't tell you what the appeal has been. I just always saw myself wearing a long, loose, flowy, flowered dress, giant apron, straw hat and carrying a trowel. I'm not that sort of person, but that's what I imagined. Further, I saw myself in the same outfit sans apron (not much room for a lot of varied clothing in that little dwelling), sitting on a stool in the yard, painting at an easel. I am not a painter, but in our thoughts, all things are possible aren't they? Wildflowers would adorn the yard and living space in the summer. I'd eat freshly picked berries at an outdoor picnic table while reading a book in the good weather. I'd be holed up next to the fireplace with a warm afghan, a hot chocolate, and a book in the winter. In my mind, the house had a fireplace.

After I married, I still drove by past the house from time to time...just not as frequently. Then one day, I saw it...a FOR SALE sign! I rushed home to check MLS and was thrilled to finally see pictures of the inside. Lovely, just as I knew it had to be. Not much in the way of square footage. In fact, a one room apartment in New York City probably has more space. It sold fairly quickly, at a price far too high for such a property, but I thought it was worth it. Someone else obviously loved it too.

I haven't thought about this little house for some time. Today, on a whim, I drove past. I was horrified! There it was, sitting innocently like Carl Fredrickson's house in the movie "Up".  It was overshadowed and almost swallowed by what can only be described as a hideous and gargantuan monstrosity. The larger houses were still off on one side and the site of the empty lot near the carport now had this.
Clearly, this was becoming someone else's dream. To me, it's a nightmare.

What can I say? All my little fantasy bubbles burst at the moment I saw this. My flowy, flowered dress disappeared, as did the easel, and the paints. The flowers in the garden wilted. The picnic table collapsed. The books were gone and the fireplace vanished. Now there's nothing left but a sad and empty space in my mind where there were once lovely pictures of an adorable little house and an imaginary life.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Letter to Air Canada Excursions

I must say, that our recent trip, booked through Air Canada was a pleasant surprise. I really have no complaints about Air Canada rouge service. The flights were on time. The price was right. No luggage was lost. Since I checked with, I was able to select seats which accommodated my hubby's desire for window and my need for aisle. The site identified two prime areas for seating and many less appealing locations on the plane. I selected the two spots in the exit row, so there was nobody next to us. Leg room was good, particularly since the seats ahead did not recline.

I have, however, written a letter to Air Canada excursions expressing my concern about the two day tour and the "hiking" expectations. Here is most of it.....

Air Canada Excursions
5925 Airport Rd.
Suite 700, Mississauga
Ont. L4V1W1

My husband and I went on an Air Canada vacation to Cuba from January 28-Feb. 2nd.  We enjoyed the trip immensely.

My problem is with the excursions as described in the pamphlet and by the rep in the hotel. I am writing to suggest this be clarified to guests in future.

Our one day trip to Havana was fine. It was pretty much as expected and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

We also selected an overnight tour to Topes de Collantes, also called “Rambo Trip” by some. It is described as follows –

        Spend two days exploring Cuba’s natural beauty. Day 1: Tour the cities of Cienfuegos and Trinidad. Day 2 – Discover the Guanayara Nature Park, a cigar factory and the Che Guesvara Mausoleum.

Additionally, our rep said that there would be “some” walking in the park and possible swimming.

Let me say that despite the long hours on the bus on day one (more bathroom breaks would be appreciated), and lunch which happened at 2 p.m., after we had been on the bus since 8:15 a.m., with only a brief city stop in Cienfuegos, the excursion was a good one. The cigar factory was nothing more than a man sitting at a table hand rolling cigars in Trinidad…interesting nonetheless. The hotel in the mountains was exceptional and the guides were first rate.

The problem occurred with the “walk in the park”. My husband and I are both seniors and are fortunate to be in excellent health and physical condition. Nonetheless, we had no idea what to expect and were given no prior warning to the degree of difficulty. This “walk” of many kilometres, goes down rocks, along makeshift hewn out steps, through crags, past caves, up steep, loosely carved, gravely paths, across narrow logs and so on and so on, for many hours. It often requires the use of both, hands and feet.  I think our trek took a total of about 4 hours. I believe it is somewhat treacherous for those who may not be too sure footed or fit. This was never made clear in any description or brochure instructions. Further, anyone who wanted to swim, was told to change behind a tree and that they “should have” worn water shoes and possibly brought goggles. They then had to leap into the cold stream and negotiate a number of small waterfalls. Needless to say, there are no facilities of any kind other than trees and the change room at the end of the swim which consists of a couple of hanging tablecloths.

As I said, it was a good excursion but needs some serious warnings.

I have written and included a blog about the excursion. Perhaps someone should take a look at it and revise the pamphlet description. Another suggestion would be to send the reps on the excursion so that they are familiar with what they’re selling.


I don't hope to gain anything by this. My wish is that others will not run into some of the problems that a few people in our group experienced. What's the expression..."praemonitus, praemunitus"? I will be anxiously waiting to hear back.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Birthday Cake for My Valentine

For years, hubby has been talking about his childhood birthday cakes. His mother always made him a German chocolate cake with cream cheese and toasted coconut frosting. I think I have it right but can't swear to it. One of our trips to Oklahoma coincided with his birthday. There was a search for the cake, but the best we could do was come up with German chocolate and coconut cookies. I pored over recipes in books and the internet, but none sounded quite right. We even asked his sister but she had no memory of such a cake. I was beginning to wonder how accurate the recollection was. Then, after inadvertently commenting about this cake to my European relatives, they provided me with a recipe. It appeared to be the exact cake that's been talked about over the years.

I copied the recipe all set to create this masterpiece for hubby's last birthday. He became suspicious and insisted he didn't want a cake. You don't need to tell me "not" to do something that requires effort without getting the expected cake.

Yesterday, I happened to flip through one of my notebooks and found what appeared to be a recipe. Hmmm...I wondered what it was. After a careful ingredient check, I realized, it was the German chocolate cake of birthdays gone by, so long, long ago. I checked google images for German chocolate cake in order to visualize the end result...unattractive at best , but hopefully it really does taste good.

I decided that today would be the day. With no pomp or ceremony, I would make this cake for dessert. The ingredients sound decadent. The calorie count is unfathomable. The recipe is slightly complex. Now if only I can keep hubby out of the kitchen. This will be the one and only time I attempt this creation.


2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. coconut extract
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease/flour two 9" round pans.


Combine sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a stand mixer bowl.
Using a another bowl, whisk eggs, milk, oil, coconut and slowly add this to dry ingredients mixing for 2 minutes. Stir in the boiling water. Pour into pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Use the toothpick test for doneness. Cool for at least 10 minutes and remove from pan.

Put icing/toasted coconut on each layer (recipe follows).


8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 cups icing sugar
2 tbsp. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. coconut flavour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup shredded coconut (sweetened)
1 cup sweetened toasted coconut

Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add confectioner's sugar alternating with cream. Add salt, flavouring, extract. Beat until smooth and spreadable. (Add sugar or cream if too thick or thin). Stir in coconut. Spoon toasted coconut over cake or in my case, I used it around the outside and also made a heart on top. My layers slithered a bit so I guessed I should have used more confectioner's sugar...too bad. It was as ugly as the ones on the internet. It's impossible to pipe coconut frosting...chunky. Oh well. It tasted good...light, fluffy, cream cheesy and chocolaty...not my favourite combination of flavours but nonetheless, good enough. Mom's cakes of long ago had apparently been more dense. I forgot that feature...hubby likes dense (no wisecracks please).

For the rest of the meal (before dessert) we had cholesterol reducing kale and cabbage salad with a poppyseed dressing. That was followed by an appetizer of baked stuffed clams, then lobster tails and a baked potato.

The Henkell Trocken was a nice sparkly addition to our meal.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Cuba from the Inside Out - Part 3b. - Day Two

We began day two of our excursion bright and early with a delicious breakfast at our hotel Los Helechos. We then loaded our belongings onto the bus and waited for our ride, a Russian army truck. This would take us down part of the mountain into the Guanayara Nature Park where we were to take a short nature walk and had the possibility of a swim before lunch. During our bumpy, breezy ride, we admired the magnificent scenery around us. The mountains were lovely, the vegetation was lush. From the royal palms, to the bromelia, the bananas, and the agave flowers, everything looked beautiful. The air was fresh.
After a rough and breezy half hour on the truck, we arrived at our destination. The guide began to describe the "walk" and was trying to discourage some lesser active looking people from going. I was becoming suspicious.
And so it began...5 kilometres of up, down, around, through, crawling, climbing, hanging on for dear life, edging, easing and jumping. The walk in the park became a four hour hike through some challenging terrain.  
Interesting cave enroute.

The "path" was a bit rugged.

There were many log bridges to inch across.
Look before you leap.
El Rocio waterfall.

 We arrived at a flatter area which had a scenic waterfall and a mountain stream. The guide mentioned that people could hop in and swim the rest of the way to the main pond. He also, said to keep shoes on and seemed annoyed that nobody was properly equipped with water shoes and goggles. I happened to have brought mine even though we weren't forewarned, but had no intention of going on this water adventure. Many more youthful and energetic types changed behind a royal palm and leapt in, screaming all the while at the cold, fresh, mountain water.
More pathway obstacles
More balancing acts

Swimmers negotiated these
Hubby finding his way.
Patient turkey vultures waited for one of us to drop.

As we trudged on, I realized that I hadn't been able to take as many photos as normal. We climbed down makeshift rock stairs and back up roughly etched out pathways. It was all I could do to hang on to my footing using both hands and feet. I was glad I hadn't carried too much baggage with me. I wondered as I saw these smaller waterfalls along the stream, how our fellow swimmer- hikers were making out negotiating the river.

Change rooms near the pond
Idyllic scene

After several hours, exhausted and dehydrated, we gathered up the rest of our troupe who had changed in the newly renovated facilities. We then reached our destination. Lunch, drinks and wc at last. Barbecued chicken was on the menu after our free welcome or should I say, survival cocktail.
Bbq area
Today's hatchlings, tomorrow's lunch

Lovely facilities with a campground
After waiting for several stragglers in our group,  completing our delicious family style lunch, we headed back on the trucks toward our awaiting bus. Would we repeat this trek? Absolutely. It was magnificent. The only problem was that we should have had more information and pre-planning.

Our last stop was to be Santa Clara and the famous Che Guevara mausoleum and memorial site. The museum was fascinating and moving. The monument and square were a truly lovely tribute to a man who played an integral role in the deposition of the Batista regime. Santa Clara was the site of the final battle of the Cuban revolution.    
Large tiled plaza using rectangles and squares to
demonstrate steadiness and strength...14 royal palms
for Che's birthday
22 foot bronze statue in the midst of the Ernesto Guevara
sculptural complex with his figure facing south
to reflect his vision of a united Latin America

Che's farewell letter to Castro
Che in the mountains on horseback

Complex was completed in 1988 with the help of Santa Clara volunteers who
contributed almost half a million hours of their time
After a second full day, we returned to our hotel, satisfied that we now had a greater understanding, appreciation and respect for these impressive people and their lives.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Cuba From the Inside Out - Part 3a. - Day One

We selected a two day excursion from the Air Canada brochure after hearing a description from the rep. It was called "Rambo Tour" also "Topes de Collantes Overnight" and was summarized as two days exploring Cuba's natural beauty. Day one would encompass a tour of the cities Cienfuegos and Trinidad on the southern and Caribbean side. Day two was a trip to a nature park (requiring a bit of walking), a cigar factory and the Che Guevara mausoleum. We soon learned that these tours are not alway as described.

Our bus trip began at 8:15 a.m. when we were picked up at our hotel.  This was followed by a long and bumpy, but educational ride through the countryside, with our first rest stop at about 10:45. I was overjoyed to see (after paying my tip) that the two cubicle women's baño had just that....two cubicles, no doors, no flushing. Two women were allowed to go at a time and were followed by a local with a bucket of water...interesting.  On the other hand, by now who could be picky? After a few more hours on the bus, we reached the south side of Cuba, the Caribbean side. It was lovely and warm.
Sugar Cane
Lots of horses

Here, we learned about the city of Cienfuegos, built by the French in the 19th century. Our guide explained that this is considered the most important Cuban city. It is a chief seaport and the centre of the sugar, coffee and tobacco trade. The downtown area contains over 300 magnificent buildings from the 1800's and became recognized by Unesco as a heritage site in 2005.

Arco de Triunfo
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
A theatre and college
 Might be a hotel...not sure
After a short visit to the cathedral and a quick look through the shopping area, we espied it. Must be the Cuban version of Timmies. We recognized it instantly by the lineup.  Not sure whether the troops were also anticipating coffee, trying to keep the line orderly or keeping an eye on the tourists.

Sadly, the half hour we were given in this city was far too short...all the rest of the people on our bus were in agreement. On the other hand, it was nearing 2 p.m. and definitely time for some lunch. We ate outdoors under a bamboo roof on our way to Trinidad. I believe the stop was called Los Almendros. The flies were plentiful, the food really wasn't, but at this point, nobody cared. The surroundings were interesting and scenic.
Dining yourself to what you can find
Welcome cocktail was a nice touch

"This is nothing, I've survived the Capilano Bridge."
Bamboo...grows almost a metre in 24 hours.

After lunch, it was on to Trinidad, a city that has been a Unesco heritage site since 1988. Founded in the 1500's by the Spaniards, this is a city rich with history. In the 1800's, the town's fifty six sugar mills were run at the hands of slaves. Nowadays, Trinidad's main industry is tobacco processing.

We went on a walking tour of the town and entered several museums including the Museo Nacional de la Lucha Contra Bandidos. It contained photos, uniforms, weapons and other items of male interest. Walking was challenging, on uneven roads made of stone that had once been used as ship ballasts. It all added to the town history and charm but did nothing for our aching soles. We spent much more time than was necessary in this particular city and even got to enjoy a power outage in the early evening (hence one good reason to carry a flashlight as mentioned in my tripadvisor review of Breezes Bella Costa).
Original steps where slaves were sold

Streets made with stones from ship
ballasts...good luck walking
Not exactly as even as cobblestone,
but fit for a donkey

OK, so it wasn't quite the cigar factory tour we envisioned
Hubby scores a freshly rolled freebie thanks to
his note/picture taking observant wife.

Bell tower of San Francisco de Asis. We climbed to
the very, very top on the scariest, most rickety,
decreasing in size wooden triangles we ever saw.
Watch your head!

The view of the Escambray mountains in background and the
city of Trinidad was almost worth the climb...almost. Now, to
get back down...the real challenge began.

A few more hours on the bus and on to the hotel. What a pleasant surprise. The bus chugged, and I do mean chugged up and around as it climbed into the heights toward Hotel Los Helechos, our gorgeous hotel in the Escambray mountains. Of course, I wrote a tripadvisor review entitled, "Better Than Our Veradero Resort". Wish we could have had more time there especially now that I see other traveller photos on the tripadvisor site.