Thursday's Child: Buskerfest, Toronto

Thursday, August 30, 2012

This month, I’ve been writing about the trip Andrew and I took in July to Colorado and New Mexico.  But today I’ll tell you about a day we spent in Toronto last weekend at Buskerfest.

My cousin Wendy was visiting from California, and I gave her a list of things we could do when she was in town.  She cheerfully chose Buskerfest without really knowing what it was.  The weekend festival was a display put on by street performers, musicians and artists.  In case you're wondering, Wendy is the one not dressed in copper in the above photo.

Of all the acts we saw, Fireguy was the standout.  Imagine juggling two flaming batons and a bottle of champagne.  Then to raise the stakes, imagine doing it while balanced on three stacked skateboards, six feet off the ground.  Add in a little humour, and you'll see why we were alternately laughing and gasping throughout the show.

Hula hoop spinning was attempted by several members of my family, with varying levels of success.

We walked as far east as the St. Lawrence Market, a great destination in itself.  Some of the best cheese, meat, baked goods and seafood in Toronto are sold here.  We bought bagels for breakfast the next day.

We rounded out the day with street art, and henna tattoos for all of us.  We'll go back next year! 

Winner of the final August giveaway

Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Congratulations to Jess, who has won a copy of The City's Son!  Jess, I'll be in touch about sending you the book, sometime in September after its North American release.  And thanks to everyone for your comments and tweets.

Thursday's Child: Destination: Santa Fe

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Destination: Santa Fe, New Mexico

When we visited: July 2012

Why to go:  Santa Fe is the second-biggest art market in the United States, next to New York. 

What to see

There is so much to see in Santa Fe, but we decided to devote our time there to visiting the galleries.  Since we were browsing for art rather than buying, we asked our bed and breakfast owner for a list of great galleries to see, and followed his advice.

Nedra Matteucci was less a gallery than an art museum.  We admired the beautiful art we saw as we gasped at the prices (six figures, or higher, weren’t uncommon).  The highlight of Nedra Matteucci was the beautiful sculpture garden in the back of the gallery.  The sculptures, the waterfall and the gorgeous array of trees and flowers made us feel like we were in someone’s exquisite private garden.

From here, it was a short walk to the Canyon Road galleries.  Canyon Road is home to over 100 galleries, specializing in folk art, Russian art, modern art, native art  and much more; everything you could possibly want to browse (or buy) is somewhere along here.

Where to stay:  
We stayed at El Farolito, a charming bed and breakfast that’s about a ten-minute walk from the centre of town, the Santa Fe Plaza.  The Plaza is an exciting district, full of galleries, boutiques and restaurants, but at the end of the day we loved walking home to the quiet residential area we were staying in.  The breakfasts were delicious, and our room was nicely decorated in a southwestern theme.

Where to eat:  If you’ve read my other travel posts this month, you’ll remember that we ate very well on our trip.  So well that, by the time we reached Santa Fe, I wasn’t actually hungry any more.  Which is why we loved La Boca so much.  This little restaurant served the most perfect tapas, delicious but small enough that they felt like a snack.  We enjoyed it so much the first night that we returned the following evening; both times it was busy enough that we couldn’t get a table, but we were happy to eat at the bar.  Try the grilled artichoke – it was incredible.

A Winner, and a Final Giveaway

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Congratulations to Angie, the winner of Uncorrupted, my giveaway prize for last week.  Angie, I’ll be in touch soon to make arrangements to send you a copy.

For my third and final giveaway this month, I’m giving away a copy of The City’s Son, by Tom Pollock.

Two things I should tell you about this book:

1.  I haven’t yet read it, as the North American release date is September 8.
2.  As you might guess, I’m related to the author.

Re point 1: Although I haven’t read The City’s Son, I have no hesitation in recommending it and suggesting that you rush out and buy a copy. Not just because I want to see the author do really well, but also because I was lucky enough to read the manuscript for one of his other books (not yet released), and I think he’s an excellent writer.  I can’t wait to read this one.

Re point 2: Yes, Tom is my cousin by marriage.  And although we’re separated by an ocean, we go back a long way.  I have vivid memories of him visiting Canada as a seven-year-old boy, and having a deep discussion about candy: his favourites, my favourites, and whether there were any intersections.  Later, I remember visiting his family in London when he was a young man.  As we stood in line for the London Eye he talked about music, and I realized he is as hip as I am not.

So I’m thrilled to offer a copy of The City’s Son to one of my readers.  Once again, this contest is open to all of my readers.  If you want to enter, be a follower of my blog and leave a comment below.  And you’ll receive an extra entry if you also tweet about the contest and let me know in a separate comment.  You may enter until midnight (EDT) Monday, August 27 and the winner will be announced on Tuesday, August 28.  

Thursday's Child: Destination Taos, New Mexico

Friday, August 17, 2012

Destination: Taos, New Mexico 

When we visited: July 2012

Why to go:  We knew we were in Taos when, within five minutes of arriving, we heard someone use the phrase “Jungian archetype” in conversation.  Taos is a small town filled with galleries, shops, and an abundance of New Age ambience.

What to see:

Taos Pueblo is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the residence that has been continually inhabited for the longest time in the United States.  Built nearly 1000 years ago, the pueblo is constructed entirely of adobe. Originally, the buildings were accessible only through the roof (by ladder) to assist the natives defend against invaders.  

San Francisco de Asis is one of the loveliest churches in the US and a National Historical Landmark.  If you think you've seen it before, you probably have, as a subject of either a photograph (Ansel Adams) or a painting (Georgia O’Keeffe).  

Just northwest of Taos, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge is one of the tallest bridges in the country.  The Rio Grande lies 650 feet below (see the view in the photo above).  There must be something about that height that makes people nervous; in the short time we were there, we saw both a lens cap and a pair of glasses come calamitously close to going over the edge.

And one of our favourite stops in the area was Arroyo Seco, a village located just east of Taos.  We loved its tiny galleries, the mercantile and Taos Cow ice cream shop.  

Where to Stay:  
We were happy with all the places we stayed on this trip, but if we had to choose a favourite, it would be Casa Gallina, an enchanting bed and breakfast just outside of Taos.  It was close enough to town that we could drive there in a few minutes, but in every other way it felt as if we were in our own world.  Our balcony had chairs and a hammock, and another covered sitting area near our front door featured a second hammock.  Our room was beautifully decorated with work made by local artists, and the New Mexico evenings were cool enough that we could open the windows for a lovely cross-draft.  Our host, Richard, was friendly and very knowledgeable about the area, helping us get all the reservations we needed and pointing us in the direction of several sites that we might otherwise have missed.  We prepared our own breakfasts with freshly-laid eggs and produce from the garden, and whatever else we chose to pick up at Cid’s, the local grocery store.

Where to Eat:  El Meze is a tiny restaurant located just north of downtown Taos, and is superlative in both food and service.  At our request, the waiter took us through each of the dishes and gave his recommendations.  The seasonal starter of Spanish-cured ham, Manchego cheese and white nectarines was breathtaking, and the rest of the meal (fresh pasta with vegetables, almond semifreddo) was equally good.  The backyard view over the Sagre de Cristo mountains was gorgeous.  And when one of us accidentally left our VISA card there the owner came back the next morning to retrieve it for me us.

We also had a terrific meal at The Love Apple, an even smaller restaurant that serves organic and locally-grown food.  Not being overly hungry that night, I ordered a simple salad, and it was as good as salad can be when prepared with the freshest and most delicious ingredients.

A Winner, and Giveaway #2

Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Congratulations to Kittie Howard, who won Poetry Pack, my giveaway prize from last week!  Kittie, I’ll be in touch soon to make arrangements to mail you a copy.

This week’s prize will be a copy of my friend Carla Sandrin’s debut book, Uncorrupted.  Carla and I first met about ten years ago through our mutual friend, Trish.  When we realized that we all loved to write, we formed a writers’ group so we could work together. Trish and Carla have been a huge part of my success, and now I’m excited to tell you about Carla’s book.

Uncorrupted tells the story of Clare McTavish, a young woman whose atheist mother has just died.  However, the more Clare gets to know about her, the more she realizes there is much more to her mother’s story than Clare ever knew.  The story ranges in locale from downtown Boston to the slums of Kenya, and includes both a romance and an international scandal.  But, at its core, Uncorrupted is about the power of good to overcome evil.

I would love to give a copy of Uncorrupted to one of my readers, and this contest is open to everyone, regardless of where you live.  Just like last week, if you want to enter, be a follower of my blog and leave a comment below.  And you’ll receive an extra entry if you also tweet about the contest and let me know in a separate comment.  You may enter until midnight (EDT) Monday, August 20 and the winner will be announced on Tuesday, August 21.

Destination: Colorado Springs

Thursday, August 9, 2012
Destination: Colorado Springs, Colorado

When we visited:  July 2012

Why to go:  Directly off the major highway leading southbound from Denver, Colorado Springs is home to two of the most beautiful landscapes in the southwest – Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods.

What to See:  The highlight of any visit to Colorado Springs has to be a trip up Pikes Peak.  At 14,110 feet, it's one of the highest elevations we've travelled to.  Even after spending a couple of days in Denver to acclimatize to a higher elevation, we were warned to take it easy going up. 

The other warning we received was to take warm clothes.  I felt ridiculous, putting on my capris and carrying a sweater as I left the hotel in 91 degree (F) heat.  But I’d read that there can be a 30 degree temperature difference between the base and the peak, and that sounded pretty cold. 

The drive up is a bit white-knuckle, as some sections of the road have nothing between it and a free-fall to the base.  But the view is so stunning that it’s easy to see why it inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write the words to “America the Beautiful”.  From the peak, the scenery unfolds for miles and miles in every direction.

And I was glad for that sweater, as the temperature had plummeted to 52 degrees – nearly a  40 degree difference! 

After leaving the peak, we stopped at several overlooks on the way down for more pictures.  At the final one, we had the good luck to meet one of the firemen who had fought the catastrophic forest fires that burned so much of the Colorado Springs area earlier this summer.  It was incredible to see the landscape through his eyes.  From this lower elevation, he pointed out a red line of fire retardant that had been dropped from a plane.  On one side of the line, the vegetation was completely burned out; on the other side, it was green and fertile.

As if that wasn’t enough, we next drove to the nearby Garden of the Gods to see the beautifully sculptured sandstone rocks.  Eerily lovely, the red cliffs thrust into the blue sky, providing an unforgettable panorama.

Where to Stay:  We spent a night at the lovely Cliff House in Manitou Springs, just west of Colorado Springs and on the doorstep of Pikes Peak.  The room was quite small, but we didn’t care as we spent virtually all our time in Colorado Springs outside.  And although the staff was all young, the service was amazing!

Where to Eat:  Because we arrived in town around noon and almost immediately left for Pikes Peak, I had pre-ordered picnic lunches from the Cliff House.  We ate them partway up the peak, and enjoyed a hearty lunch with an awesome view.  And continuing what was working, we had a delicious dinner on the Verandah of the Cliff House.

Thank yous, and a month of giveaways

Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Today’s post is a compilation of thank yous to other bloggers for books I’ve won and blogging awards I’ve been given, and the first giveaway of several planned for this month. 

One of the first writing blogs I discovered, and still one of the best, is Literary Rambles.  It’s a great source for information on literary agents.  I’ve followed Casey (and now Natalie, too) for longer than I’ve had a blog of my own.  In addition to weekly agent spotlights, Literary Rambles features author interviews (see my interview here) and book giveaways.  I recently won a copy of Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris – thanks Natalie and Casey!

Jemi Fraser is the author of another fabulous writing blog, Just Jemi.  A few weeks ago I won a prize on her site that I was thrilled about – a copy of the Emotion Thesaurus by Becca and Angela of The Bookshelf Muse.  This book is an incredibly helpful tool for writers; in their own words; it “explores seventy five emotions and provides a large selection of body language, internal sensations, actions and thoughts associated with each.”  Thanks to Jemi for passing along this amazing reference book.

I also want to thank some bloggers who have given me blogging awards.  I’m very grateful to everyone who reads my posts, and it means a lot to me when someone chooses me for an award.  Many thanks to the following people who have selected me lately:  

And now, as promised, the first of several August giveaways.

I started reading Angela Felsted’s blog shortly after I began my own.  From the beginning, I was impressed with the beautiful way she had with words.  The poems she posted on her site were intriguing and accessible, and made me want to read more.

She and several other writers have published Poetry Pact, and it’s a terrific collection.  One of Angela’s poems, “A Jar of Fireflies”, is so evocative that you’ll find yourself dreaming of summer twilight.  Jessica Bell’s “Once” is beautiful and moving, and I hear something new every time I reread it.  And “The Stolen Egg” by Lydia Kang is a paragon of brevity.

There are many more beautiful poems in this collection, and I’d like to give a copy to one of my readers.  If you want to enter, be a follower of my blog and leave a comment below.   I’ll give you an extra entry if you also tweet about the contest and let me know in a separate comment.  (Sorry, this week’s contest is open only to readers with an American or Canadian address.  Because the book is just available in the U.S, an American winner would receive a new copy, while a Canadian reader would win my very gently-used copy).  You may enter until midnight (EDT) Monday, August 13 and the winner will be announced on Tuesday, August 14.

Thursday's Child: Destination Denver

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Destination: Denver, Colorado

When we visited: July 2012

Why to go: Denver is the gateway to the beautiful state of Colorado, and a lovely city in its own right.  

What To See:  

We wandered around the Latimer Square area, which is adjacent to the newly revitalized LoDo (Lower Downtown) section of Denver. Among many interesting shops, the real standout was the Tattered Cover.  I have a weakness for any good independent bookstore, and Tattered Cover is one of the best in the country.  I immediately fell in love with its eclectic collection of new and used books.  I normally don’t care for used book stores, because the books are often treated like commodities, stuffed on the shelves in the most economical way.  Here, they were curated as lovingly as the new books they shared the shelves with.  In the picture above, I’m reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes.  I was half-done the first story when Andrew asked if I was ready to leave.  Sweetly, he agreed we could stay until I finished it (the story, not the book). 

Also to do – see a Rockies’ game.  Or two.  We bought tickets for the evening game months ago and got great seats a few rows back from the first base dugout.  On our second day in the city, Andrew asked if we could go to another game.  Sweetly, I agreed.  Word to the wise – if you’re attending a day game at Coors Field, choose a seat in the shade.  I’ve never been to a ball game before where the seats next to the field empty out in favour of the covered seats at the back of each section.

Where to Stay:

We stayed at the lovely Castle Marne Bed and Breakfast, just southeast of the downtown core. This beautiful old B&B had tons of character, from the thick stone walls to the peacock window on the landing.  It was located on a quiet residential street just to the west of Denver's City Park.  We loved being out of the busy downtown area, and a 20-minute walk and a free shuttle took us to the centre of LoDo.  Breakfast was served at a communal table, where we had the chance to meet the others staying at Castle Marne.

Where to Eat:

I have two recommendations, one for a gourmet meal and one for a fun meal.

1.  Fruition:  Four words for this restaurant:  Eat Here.  Book Early.  The food and the service were unparalleled.  If I went back again, I’d order exactly the same thing – melon and arugula salad, Columbia River Sturgeon, and lemon meringue pie.  This was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

2.  Denver Chophouse  We ate here before the night game and liked it so much, we came back for lunch the next day.  Andrew is still raving about the pork, and I loved the portobello mushroom sandwich.  If you eat here, ask to sit in Shorty’s section.