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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hester Young - Author Talk

Hester Young spoke last night at the Princeton Public Library


I know Hester is not yet a household name, but if the next two books in her planned trilogy are as good as "The Gates of Evangeline" is, it will be.

Hester spoke about spending seven years writing her debut novel, but now that she has a contract for three books (more if things go well), she has had to really focus on writing. Book two will (hopefully) come out next fall.

Even though her book only came out the day before and only a handful of people would have had the chance to read it, the audience asked great questions. Hester lives in New Jersey, but went to Louisiana with her husband and two small children to do on-site research, and visit family who made a serendipitous move to that area after she decided that would be the setting of her debut novel.

Her novel features premonitions that lead the main character Charlotte "Charlie" Cates to make decisions, and to solve crimes. She talked about personal premonitions, and one serious one her grandmother had that haunted her.

Though suffering from a cold, Hester read long passages from the book, that had I not already read it would have left me yearning for more. Her pacing is fabulous.

Both Hester and "Charlie" come across as women you'd love to meet at a coffee shop and chat the day away. I would love to get together with any of my friends who read the book and chat about it over some tea.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ashley's European Adventures

I am accepting that this is the closest to a blog post I am going to get out of Ashley about her trip to Europe. Blogging is my thing, not hers, not Don's. The following is  thank you she sent to people who purchased her artwork to help fund her trip to Europe:




Thank you for supporting me and my trip to Europe. I went to England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany , Austria, and Switzerland in 20 days. My favorite country was Belgium, and my favorite part was the homestay in Frankfort, Germany. Another highlight was singing "The Hills art Alive" on the hills of Austria, where they filmed "The Sound of Music." In one day we traveled through five countries (I had breakfast in Germany, lunch in Switzerland, drove through France, had a bathroom break in Lichtenstein, and had dinner in Austria). My least favorite food was the escargot, which I spit out instead of swallowing (it tasted okay, but I thought the texture was gross). My favorite souvenir was chocolate. I came back an inch taller and I took over a thousand pictures. I had an amazing time and got along well with everyone.

For a little bit more reading: Lessons Learned

Ashley's Beautiful Lengths donation

Last month Ashley reached the point she was ready to cut her long hair and donate it to a worthy cause. I was a bit apprehensive. Back when she was in first grade, she made the same proclamation, she was in tears the next day and insisting I "glue it back on!"



Ashley, first grade, before

Ashley, first grade, during

Ashley, first grade, after


We talked about it for months while the hair grew long enough to be cut. Ashley wanted to donate about 8, maybe 9 inches. Most of the places accepting donations for wigs want the hair to be closer to a foot. My sister, Melissa, told me about Pantene's Beautiful Lengths program. They only require 8 inches.

Back to Christine at Artistic Designs in Pennington.

Ashley, 8th grade, before
Ashley, 8th grade, during

Ashley, 8th grade, after
 Is it my imagination or does she suddenly look older?

Ashley admitted she does not miss her hair as much as she thought she would. She also said "in about a year it will be back to where it was before I cut it." So mature inside and out. Love this girl!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Rotary Friends

Back in the fall of 1986 I made one of the biggest, yet easiest, decisions of my life up until that point: I applied to be a Rotary Exchange Student. Each year my high school accepted one or two students a year. I often became friends with them, but promptly lost touch with them when they returned home.

I graduated from high school in 1987. A few months later I boarded a plane to spend a year as an exchange student at L'ecole Benedictine de Pays Notre Dame de Liege, in Belgium. I stayed with three host families -- who (for the most part) I have also lost touch with. In 1987/1988 the internet was fairly new. I had a friend named Michel who worked for a university and was able to connect me (via the internet) to make a phone call to my dad at work to thank me for some small favor I did. You guessed it, I have lost touch with Michel also, though he did visit me in New Jersey in 1989 or so.

On our most recent trip to Canada I reconnected with a few Rotary Exchange students. Thanks to the magic of a thing called FaceBook I am now back in touch with some of my Rotary friend.

Marlene and I met for lunch and a spin through the art museum. As she was a college student when I was a high school student, I think of her as my honorary big sister.

A few days later, I met up with Johanna for lunch in the Griffintown section of Montreal, and a spin through the Atwater Market. It turned out to be a beautiful day so lots of walking was in our plans, as well as lots of gabbing, and lots of giggling ("bottomless pants" is now a new expression).






On our way home from Canada we made a stop in Binghamton for (you guessed it) lunch and to catch up with Dana and his daughter, Sydney.




I'm grateful my parents gave me this opportunity. I'm hopeful through the magic of the internet, I'll reconnect with even more people from this pivotal stage in my life.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Upper Canada Village -- Time Travellers Camp (2015)

For the third year in a row, Ashley attended Upper Canada Village's Time Traveler's Camp. Unlike last year, this year they did not need jackets.

The camp runs from Sunday at 4 through Friday at 2. During the day, the campers dress as 1860's Canadian children and live lives similar to those of those children. They attend an apprenticeship (in Ashley's case she learned to make yarn, make a broom, and set type). At night they sleep in a modern house complete with running water. They also eat meals together and do chores (set the table, wash dishes, etc.). In the evenings they play games and have run of the village to themselves. 

We asked at the front desk where to find Ashley. They kindly told us to look in the print shop. The first year they gave us no such clues and we raced around the camp playing "where is Ashley?" That was also our first time at the Village and we had no idea where to look. They had her hard at work.

When she finished setting type, it was time for her to return to the cabin to make lunch. Or so we thought. We took this opportunity to buy lunch, only to learn she was playing games for the public to see. We missed that. Fortunately they played more games after lunch. 
While Ashley really made her lunch, Don and I finally took a boat ride on the canal. I say finally because every trip we talk about doing it, but we never do. We could see the United States from our ride. It was a slow cruise, a perfect way to enjoy the nice day. 


We found Ashley again in the school yard eating lunch. The first year she went to camp, this was her least favorite part -- eating lunch in front of tourists snapping pictures of them eating lunch. By now she is an old pro at it. We met the other family from New Jersey, all of the rest of the campers were from Canada. If they had a camp this awesome in New Jersey, we would send her to it, but if a historical sleep away camp exists within driving distance of our house, it remains a secret. 
From lunch they went to "school." First they line up girls on one side, boys on the other, and the teacher checks their hands to make sure they are clean enough to enter the school. They sit across the room from each other along benches. Lessons include singing "God Save the King," charades, reciting, and whatever else the teacher decides would be good. I like this picture of the teacher (also named Ashley) looking disapprovingly at Ashley and another girl as they are chatting when they are supposed to be doing their lessons.
By this point the sky was looking iffy. there was debate about having the campers play games inside or outside. It was hard to communicate with the parents (after all GPS tags and cell phones did not exist in 1866), so one group took one road, and the other took the other road. I found Ashley and her friends hanging out in front of the tavern watching a show. What do they teach these kids? Ashley is the one on the right wearing a snood. The week before camp she decided to cut off 8 inches and donate her hair to Pantene's Beautiful Lengths program, thus rendering it too short for the usual braid.

The sun peeked through, so they played their games outside. The games are all very innocent and involve running around and laughing. Made me yearn for a simpler time when all children were entertained this way.

The camp provides two costumes for the children to wear during their five days wearing period attire. The Loyalists received a third outfit to wear on Wednesday, but Ashley was in the other group this time (I want to say Patriots, but that is such an American term, I'm not sure if that is it). At the end of the week she was sporting a new cranberry-colored tee-shirt and already dreaming about coming back in 2016. As the camp only goes up to age 14, next year will be her last year as a camper. Watching her become too old for things is a great topic for a future blog post.














Le P'tit Train du Nord - Canada

Another reason we brought our bicycles to Canada was to ride Le P'tit Train Du Nord, a railway line that was abandoned in the 1980's. This was the first of two abandoned rail lines we rode on this trip. The other was in the Adirondack Mountains in New York State.


Le P'tit Train du Nord literally means the Little Train of the North, in this case it is a 200 kilometer (132 mile) stretch of abandoned railway that has been converted into a multi-use trail. From the Spring to Fall, the trail is used by bicyclists, pedestrians, (in some parts) roller bladers, runners, skateboarders, and maybe even unicyclists for all I know. In the winter the path is not cleared and is actively used by skiiers and other winter sport enthusiasts -- in other words, not me.

The path starts in Saint-Jerome in the province of Quebec and stretches to Mont-Laurier. The surface varies from fully paved to hard-packed crushed stone to dirt. They recently added a southern portion of the trail from Saint-Jerome to Labelle, which brings the trail closer to Montreal and more traffic.

We began in Saint-Jerome. After some initial reading of parking signs (which are all in French) we parked the car for the day and paid the meter. At this location there is a place to rent bicycles: "tandems, girafes, et remorques" included. Girafes? We determined that is what they call the one wheeled bike that attaches to the back of a parent's bicycle so the small child can keep up. Remorques are recumbent bicycles.  


We started our journey around 10 AM. Every so often we had to stop to cross a road. The further we were from Saint Jerome, the less often we had to do that. As you can see on this elevation map, it is a pretty flat path. According to the website, people can do all 200 kilometers (132 miles) in one day. Don and his co-worker Chris are looking into doing that next summer. I would drive them to the top early in the morning, and let them cycle back to St. Jerome. Meanwhile, I would park in St. Jerome and ride the distance that interests me (probably trying the southern route this time for variety) and hang out and wait for them. Not much different from this year's experience. I rode with them about 9 miles, then stopped in Prevost. Prevost was the first of many stops along the way that turned an old rail station into a rest stop for users of the trail. They have bathrooms, wifi, and a coffee pot. All the comforts of home.

After they left me, I went for a two mile round trip run as part of my duathlon training. After cycling, I felt as if I was going at a snail's pace. On the other hand, I find it more enjoyable to study scenes like this when I'm not whizzing by them on a bicycle.

Prevost was also my lunch stop. I picked up a pita from the mini-golf/restaurant on the road behind the Prevost rail station. My only challenge was getting an iced tea. I've learned, and accepted, that unsweetened iced teas do not exist in most places in Canada, instead I make a "Canadian iced tea," -- take a cup of hot tea and pour over a tall glass with ice cubes in it. It works beautifully for me. They were out of ice, so after lunch I went to the nearby Subway and made my iced tea (yes, even Subway does not have unsweetened iced teas). I happily sat at the Prevost train station reading "The Gates of Evangeline", and people watching while I waited for Don and Chris to return while they rode another few hours, turning at the 40 kilometer mark (25 miles). They sent me updates. 
They passed lakes, streams, lots of trees that will look amazing during fall foliage. They also passed a balanced rock garden (also known as cairns). As you can tell by my writing, it is hard for me to write about what I did not see and experience.

By the time they reached me, I only had 40 pages to go in my book. Argh. I put the book down and joined their riding.


The trip back we returned through the tunnel with graffiti (similar to the one in Gatineau) and a waterfall.





Along the path are signs with directions (in French, of course). This one is telling pedestrians to walk on the left, while cyclists ride on the right and dodge pedestrians walking on the left.


Back at our starting point in Saint-Jerome we went under the fancy arch. I popped into the "Veille-Gare," literally the old train station and saw a neat exhibit (completely in French) about the town of St. Jerome. My favorite part of that exhibit wer the old cameras, some of which I remember using in high school and college. Ah...technology. It has a way of making us feel old.



Biking in Gatineau and Ottawa

Now that I'm turning into a cyclist, albeit a slow one on a very girly bicycle, I seek ways to get out and ride. Friends told us about the awesome bike trails in Ottawa, so we brought our bicycles to Canada with the intention of going on a couple of long bike rides. 

Gatineau and Ottawa was the first ride.

Our first mistake was picking up a bike map. After our experience walking around Celebration, Florida for hours in the sun without a map, we thought this was a good idea. What I didn't realize, though, was the map we picked up from the visitor's center across the street from the Canadian Museum of History was a bike map for Gatineau only. It did not include the many kilometers of trails on the other side of the Ottawa River.

After stopping by Parliament to see the Changing of the Guard, we crossed the Ottawa River again (it was daylight, but I really like this picture) and cycled on the Gatineau side. The Gatineau side is quieter than the Ottawa side, it is also a little hillier and lends itself to mountain biking (I have a hybrid, so I was happy). Gatineau Park alone has 32.5 kilometers (20 miles) of trails, then there are more trails if you want to ride further. Some of the trails hugged the Ottawa River, there were places with public art on display (including this oddly amazing sculpture of plastic water bottles -- glad to see them getting some life after being tossed away, but would still rather they did not exist in the first place).


I liked riding through the tunnel with graffiti.


About 10 miles into our ride we decided to cross the Ottawa River again into Ottawa. They have the Big Loop traversing 35-40 kilometers (21-23 miles) along the Rideau Canal. Canals are flat. They were designed that way so the horses carrying cargo could do so more easily. Flat surfaces are nice for biking.



Crossing into Ottawa you pass a counter. This counter keeps track of how many bicycles use the Portage Bridge. This bridge, and the Alexandra Bridge (pictured earlier in this post), are the most pedestrian and bike-friendly bridges I have ever been on. There are lanes for cars, separate lanes for pedestrians, and a third set of lanes for cyclists. 

There were several types of bike lanes in Ottawa. Some were lines on a road with cars very nearby, but there were many others where the bikes were completely segregated from the cars, either by grass or a concrete median. Even someone as phobic as I am about riding in traffic could navigate the area.

There were also maps every few kilometers, which helped us to regain our bearings. 

It was also very scenic. The path passed many historic sites. Ottawa is the most photogenic city I have been to in a long time. The only "ugly" building we passed was the American Embassy. Many of the other buildings looked like something out of a European city, but within driving distance.

Within the day of our trip to Ottawa, Don said he could picture us living there. Ah, if only it was that easy to relocate to a new country. If only the weather was as perfect year-round as it was that day. If only ... well, it is nice to dream.