Category Archives: appreciation

Chocolate heaven

Heaven’s plate!

Remember the song “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan? Well, a visit to Adorable Chocolat in Shediac, New Brunswick, is a chocolate lover’s version of knocking on heaven’s door.

I spent a couple of days with #DoreenPendgracs of #Chocolatour fame this week. She wanted to visit a chocolatier that she’d heard of from Shediac and needed a ‘tour guide’ who knew the area. Naturally, I volunteered – and I am SO glad I did.

I picked Doreen up at the Moncton airport Tuesday afternoon and we had a leisurely drive to Shediac. When we arrived the weather was perfect – the sun was shining, there was no wind to speak of and barely a ripple in the water!

Shediac is, of course, famous for its lobster. Sadly I’m allergic to shellfish so Doreen resisted indulging while I was with her, but I hope she was able to get some to take home with her next Monday.

We roamed around the town, getting our bearings. No visit to Shediac would be complete without the requisite photo with the world’s biggest lobster!

 

When a Prairie girl visits the Maritimes, she needs to see a few traditional things – like lighthouses and fishing boats at the Pointe-du-Chêne wharf. We enjoyed exploring what there was to see.

Pointe-du-Chêne wharf

 

Lighthouse on the Pointe-du-Chêne wharf

 

Doreen enjoying the view from the Pointe-du-Chêne wharf

Then we headed off to Cocagne to meet our hosts for the night – Mathieu, Ginette and their two delightful children, Florence and Louis – and Pudding, the guinea pig. The conversation was, of course, all about chocolate. Spending time with Doreen is an education in the finer points of all things chocolate. Ginette, co-owner of Adorable Chocolat, the shop we’d be visiting in the morning, is passionate about chocolate and there was a lot of lively discussion between the two, and the rest of us, about various chocolate blends, sources of cocoa beans, recipes and methods. We sampled some bars of chocolate that Doreen had brought with her from chocolatiers from Mexico and Ontario. I was utterly fascinated as I had no idea how complex the world of a chocolatier could be.

After a lovely dinner en famille, we headed off to bed for a good night’s sleep. You want to be rested for this experience.

In the morning we loaded the car and headed back to Shediac for a tour of Adorable Chocolat and the opportunity to sample what, in my opinion, is the best chocolate I have EVER tasted.

The shop and café are on Main Street in Shediac. If you are heading to Parlee Beach you’ll have to pass right by!

Ginette Ahier et Frédéric Desclos – master chocolatiers

Ginette and Frédéric welcomed us to their shop and we spent a delightful two hours with them. I learned that sampling chocolate is a lot like sampling wine: you take a small ‘sip’ and let it melt in your mouth so the ‘notes’ or layers of flavour have a chance to reach the taste buds on the roof of your mouth and the back of your tongue. In some you can sense a fruity aftertaste; in others a hint of anise. It was intriguing to say the least.

As our hosts prepared each sample, they first asked us to figure out the flavours and then explained how they chose the various blends of chocolate from sources around the world. This is not your average candy bar. The chocolate here is a sensual experience.

Tasting their premium “Scorpion” bars – both milk chocolate and dark (my favourite) – is an adventure in pleasure. As the chocolate melts in your mouth the flavours saturate your senses and fill you with joy!

#DoreenPendgracs sampling Scorpion chocolate- a happy experience.

Premium bars in both Milk and Dark chocolate. This milk chocolate is nothing like the commercial candy bars you may be used to. It’s AMAZING!

The shelves of the boutique are filled with goodies to delight your senses.

And the delicate macrons each filled with a different and tempting flavour…

Doreen and Frédéric discussing the fine points of chocolate creation

Frédéric perusing his recipe collection

We were sad to leave our new friends at Adorable Chocolat but I know that I, for one, will return.

Merci beaucoup, mes amis. Je suis impatient de visiter bientôt votre boutique.

Also posted in BLOG, Canada, New Brunswick, photography

Winding down in Ireland

We spent our last two ‘working’ days at the charming Old Ground hotel in the beautiful town of Ennis. After our last, and stimulating, official workshop with #GerardCollins we boarded the bus for a final tourism jaunt that included the amazing 8-mile long Cliffs of Moher , a visit to the Burren and a stop at the Poulnabrone Domen – an ancient portal tomb, surrounded by faerie trees. A magical day indeed and we were lucky to also enjoy clear skies and sunshine.

Atop the cliffs people were strolling and cattle grazed – hopefully with enough sense not to plunge over the edge to their deaths 700 feet below.

Cliffs of Moher

 

Very narrow roads through the Irish countryside.

One of many occasions when we were grateful for Patrick’s driving skills. This stretch was relatively flat with no serious drop-offs, but there were times when the sea was below us as we crept past oncoming buses or trucks.

After the Cliffs of Moher we headed to what was described as a lunar landscape of the Burren – well named. It reminded me of the area around Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia.

And then it was off to the Poulnabrone Dolmen. I’m a huge fan of the #Outlander series by #DianaGabaldon. Although her stories were set in the highlands of Scotland, I could imagine mystical characters touching these portal stones or witches dancing in the moonlight around them.

The stones date back to between 4200BC and 2900BC and no doubt possess some mystical qualities.

On the grounds there were also faerie trees. One of our number, Ann Brennan, was researching faerie stories for a children’s book she was working on. She pointed out one of the famed trees and left tokens of crystal and food for the faeries who blessed our visit. On our way back to Dublin the next day Patrick pointed out a spot where a major highway had been diverted around a faerie tree, so strong is the belief and respect for the traditions.

FaerieTree

 

#AnnBrennan telling faerie tales before placing tokens beneath the tree.

Continuing on with my tree fetish, I had to capture some shots of the way the branches grow in these mystical trees – perfect spots for faeries to climb, hide and keep an eye on things.

And so our adventure came to an end. We had a dinner back at the Old Ground Hotel that night and early the next morning headed back to Dublin. Once again we passed miles of dry stone walls and scenes typical of the Irish countryside. A final dinner was held in downtown Dublin followed by each of us reading something we’d written. The open sharing of experiences was amazing considering what a widely diverse group of people we were. There was a phenomenal amount of talent displayed that night – each piece read leaving us yearning to hear more from each reader.

Dry Stone Wall. Notice how the stones are placed to allow rain or snow to drain through, not stay to freeze, expand and destroy the structure. Clever builders those old craftsmen.

 

Farewell Ireland. I will miss the lilt of your people’s language and laughter, the sense of the mystical and magical that emanates from your very soul. I return to my ‘real’ life forever changed, for the better, I hope.

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Continuing on to Ennis

Jane Simpson greeting one of the ‘locals’.

Those who know me know I’ve been a horse-crazy person my whole life. Somehow, on this trip, I failed to scratch my equine photography itch except as we were leaving the Celtic Crystal spot. Right next door was a Connemara Pony breeding farm so I managed to catch a few shots.

New foal hiding behind his dam – a little camera shy.

 

We stopped for lunch in Galway City and had a chance to wander around the streets. At this point the cold / virus, whatever it was, that I’d been resisting for days really took hold so I made a beeline to a pharmacy right after lunch. Other group members managed to capture shots of the amazing street performers that seemed to be everywhere. Sadly I missed out on most of that – but that’s ok. I’m not really a ‘city’ person anyway.

Our next break came at Coole Park en route to Ennis. It was formerly the home of dramatist and folklorist Lady Gregory who entertained famous writers and cultural icons of her time. There’s an “Autograph Tree” (a Cooper beech) in one of the beautiful gardens featuring carved signatures from Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and many others who spent time there. The 1000 acre park was developed by Lady Gregory’s husband and forebearers as a nature preserve and arboretum. The species of plants, trees and wildlife have inspired numerous literary and works of art. I could have spent all day there – but the bus was leaving for the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis.

A remaining corner from the original house on the estate before it was ceded to the Irish State in 1927.

I am, and have always been, fascinated by trees. Wandering the grounds of Coole Park I was totally intrigued by the scenes unfolding before me, any one of which would have made a wonderful setting for a book or movie.

Textures and faces revealed in the bark of this ancient tree.

Segments of the park were originally separated by stone walls like this.

I indulged my fascination with trees, their shapes, colours and textures. In the ones below I could imagine those long, skinny split branches as legs of an acrobat standing on his head, legs waving in the breeze.

There could be creatures here in these dark woods, reaching out to snag unwary passersby.

The urge to climb this tree and perch high in the branches to see what magical armies might be marching toward us was almost overwhelming. Such amazing settings for stories, folk tales and to stir the imagination.

Brave blossoms forcing their way up to the light and air through tiny crevices in the rock walls!

 

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Onward to Ennis

We left the town of Cong after touring the Abbey and exploring the side streets, not to mention a bit of shopping! Then our tour took us through Connemara – surrounded by mountains, punctuated with lakes and bogs. Patrick, our driver, educated us all on how peat is harvested, dried and used, the beauty of the many lakes, and farming practices in the area.

I was totally amazed by the endless ha’penny fences. According to Patrick, centuries ago children were paid a half penny a day to clear stones from fields. They were then used to make these dry stone fences delineating fields and pastures, primarily for sheep. An amazing craft, the fences are built with no mortar and constructed in such a way that any rain or winter snow won’t remain between the stones to freeze and destroy the structure. Mile after mile we saw these perfect, straight and strong fences and were astounded.

Ha’penny fences in Connemara.

Patrick then offered us an opportunity to diverge from our itinerary and visit the Celtic Crystal showroom to experience a demonstration of glass carving. We quickly agreed that this would be a terrific idea. The crystal creations are all created freehand by trained and experienced glass cutting craftsmen. No patterns or templates are used in the manufacture of these individual pieces.

 

 

We watched in fascination as the craftsman took a simple blown-glass bowl and began to cut the patterns, all by ‘eye’, into the crystal. It takes eight years of intensive training and practice to become so skilled in this delicate operation.

The Claddagh design

Irish Harp design on a portion of the 3′ high crystal cup

3′ high hand carved crystal cup.

 

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Winter Sunday Sunrise

For many people winter isn’t the most joyous of the seasons. I can be one of those, whining about the cold, the ice, the aches and pains. But, since I have no choice to to head out every day for the benefit of my canine companion Harley, I’m working on retraining myself to see the beauty in all of the seasons.

We walk early in the morning, usually just before or during sunrise. Normally I take a camera, or at least my cell phone with its camera, when we walk. Today, unfortunately, I forgot to take either with me when we set out for our daily stroll down Mulberry Lane. In hindsight, it wasn’t unfortunate at all. Mulberry Lane runs between two large hayfields and the view in any direction is quite lovely. Sometimes the openness of the area is a detriment – like when the wind is blowing a gale across those fields, whipping any available snow into a frenzy that stings cheeks, eyes and fingertips.

Other times, like today, the air was exceptionally warm for late February and the fog lay heavily over the fields, obscuring both sights and sounds. For once we couldn’t hear any traffic on the nearby highway. Our view consisted of the tops of trees poking above the low lying fog clouds. So quiet, so peaceful, it made our pre-dawn walk a joy to the senses.

Once we got home I rushed to get my camera set up on the deck to capture what was left of the most eerie but pleasant feeling from our morning’s endeavours.

 

Sunny winter sunrise in Picadilly, NB

 

Winter sunrise on the hills of Picadilly, NB

Needless to say my constant companion was close at paw to oversee my efforts.

I can barely remember a time when my shadow wasn’t present for everything I do.

Harley watching sunrise

Every day is a gift, meant to be enjoyed, each moment appreciated for what it is.

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Why celebrate? Why not celebrate!

Last Sunday was our friend’s birthday. Chester McMackin turned a youthful 84. So, Judi and I (and Lola in spirit!) decided to celebrate the occasion with our Facebook buddy – face to face rather than keyboard to keyboard. We got together at his favourite coffee spot in Hampton and shared stories, laughter and, of course, cake!

With twinkling eyes and the lilt of laughter in his voice, Chester regaled us with tales of his childhood and more. In other words, life in general.

His dramatic reading of the cleverly written (and dictated by Murphy the horse) tribute from Judi, accompanying the lovely framed portrait, had us and everyone else in the establishment in stitches!

And then the cake appeared – chocolate upon chocolate – causing the recipients (us) to ooohhh and aaahhhh appropriately in anticipation of the sweet delight – such are our peccadilloes.

Armed with a potentially lethal weapon, Chester divided the booty among us – and the party continued!

Not to be outdone by the ladies’ gifts to mark the occasion (framed photo from Judi, fresh homemade shortbread cookies from yours truly!), Chester presented each of us a treasure trove of fudge to take home. Who could resist?

Yep, it was a very good day. We wish our buddy “Chesterkins” a very Happy Birthday and hope we can all celebrate many, many more!

 

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Making friends – making smiles

I met a new friend today by happenstance. One of my friends on Facebook shared a link to this artist’s blog and it totally resonated with me. I posted a response to her #makeamakersmile blogpost, and she responded to me. We share a philosophy and a deep appreciate for art and landscapes, although we work in different media.

costa-flower-_l2h0700

Do check out her blogpost at https://www.janehunterart.com/blogs/news/make-a-maker-smile. While you’re there, poke around on her website. I hope you’ll enjoy her creations and perhaps even make a purchase. Who knows, this could become an international movement! Meanwhile, here on this side of the Atlantic pond there are many artists as well, several of them living a stone’s throw away. With the madness of Christmas gift giving upon us all, why not give a hand crafted item, book, image, painting or whatever that will be sure to delight the recipient and support a local artist as well.

Also posted in BLOG, Christmas, photography Tagged , , , |

Coping

Everyone has his or her own way of coping with loss or drastic change. For me it means grabbing a camera, putting a leash on the dog, and going for a walk on a country road just to stretch and breathe slowly, letting the stress out with each deep breath.

Last vestiges of fall foliage

Last vestiges of fall foliage

Sometimes if you take the time to peek into the ditches you’ll find remnants of the amazing fall foliage colours the Maritimes are famous for – and it will make you smile in spite of yourself.

Not letting go

Not letting go

And at the edge of the road a loan leaf clings to the naked branch of a bush, its comrades blown away by the last strong wind.

After two weeks of travelling in to the hospital to sit with my mother, brothers and sisters while her life ebbed away, and another week of frantic activity after the not-unexpected 6:a.m. call, the hubbub has slowed and the exhaustion has set in. When you are sad it is hard to get motivated to bundle up against the cold and go outside, but Mother Nature offers solace, encouragement and the rejuvenation needed to keep coping and moving on.

 

Supermoon (Beaver moon) Rising

Supermoon (Beaver moon) Rising

Last night I had intended to go out and set up my gear to capture the rising of the Supermoon over the local hills. One of the side effects of grief and attempting to cope is the inability to remember things properly and motivate yourself in a timely way. Instead of preparing, I sat down and ate dinner with my husband, only realizing after the fact that I’d missed that moment of the moon appearing over the crest of the hill. The best I could manage was a quick snap of it rising rapidly through the naked tree branches across the road.

Supermoon setting

Supermoon setting

My alternate plan, since I’m an early riser anyway, was to get out this morning and capture the giant orb setting over the Town of Sussex to the west of us. Mother Nature played a cruel joke on my plan and hid most of the moon behind cloud cover, showing just enough to taunt me!

Look closely and you'll see the lights of Sussex at the bottom of the photo.

Look closely and you’ll see the lights of Sussex at the bottom of the photo.

Everyone has different coping strategies. For me it will be more walks with Harley and perhaps a camera over my shoulder too. It’s been a long several months and no matter how prepared for someone’s death you think you are, you aren’t. A death brings out the best in some people, and the worst in others. Hopefully those who cope by striking out against others will find their way back to those who support each other in coping with the loss of the linchpin that held it all together.

Also posted in Autumn, BLOG, caring, death, emotions, Fall Foliage, family, New Brunswick, photography, rural living lifestyle, seasons, writing Tagged , , |

Farewell to a brave soul

Marjorie (Butland) Snow 1933-2016 RIP

Marjorie (Butland) Snow
1933-2016
RIP

My mother passed away this morning taking her brave soul to wherever such souls go. Like the rest of us, she wasn’t perfect. But she tried her best to be a good person, especially in the face of tragedy after tragedy throughout her life including the loss of a baby to SIDS, an adult daughter to an accident, her first husband to an accident, a beautiful grand daughter to illness, her second husband to cancer, her own mother and two sisters, friends and relatives, and repeated battles with her own cancer. Through it all and much more she just kept going, doing her best. And what more can one ask of anyone?

She left a legacy of family members across the country – four generations at last count.

There were many moments of joy too. The thrill of finding a daughter given up for adoption 42 years previously. The delight in the marriages of her grandchildren. And later on the birth of her great, and great great, grandchildren – populating the country from coast to coast! In the 24 years that I’ve been a part of this family I’ve collected a few photos at various event. Many are just snapshots grabbed with a point and shoot camera or a cell phone, but they are just a few of the tangible memories of laughter and smiles I will carry in my heart. Rest in peace, Mum.

https://youtu.be/Z7KBvXSY0bc

Also posted in BLOG, family Tagged , , |

Giving Thanks!

hampton-hills-web-copy

This is the week-end to give thanks in Canada, and we have much to be thankful for. Fall foliage in New Brunswick is always lovely, but some years are more spectacular than others, and this year is one of the latter. Every where you look the hills are dotted with a patchwork quilt of brilliant colours – deep reds, vibrant golds and everything in between. This week-end will probably be the peak of the season for foliage because once the winds and rains arrive, the dying leaves’ tenuous hold on the trees will be ripped away and they’ll fall to the ground.

ragweed-seed-head-web-copyEven weeds that are beginning to shrivel up in anticipation of winter offer beauty for those willing to look.

weed-seed-head-web-copy

weed-head-web-copy

And left over bits of timothy and grass seeds are hanging on – ready to start new growth next spring.

timothy-web-copy

seed-head-web-copy

And still a few plants and their flowers continue to thrive giving us more reasons to be thankful. I wish everyone a thoughtful and happy Thanksgiving!

weed-flower-web-copy

 

 

 

Also posted in BLOG, New Brunswick, photography, seasons Tagged , |