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.

Posted in appreciation, BLOG, Canada, New Brunswick, photography

The ups and downs of Mothers’ Day week-end

I wandered down the card aisle in my local store last week and suddenly realized that, for the first time in 67 years, I have no mother to buy a card for. That realization hit me like a sledgehammer.

The woman who chose to be my mother when I was just four months old passed away in 1988.

She chose to be a mother – my mother.

The woman who gave birth to me and stepped back into the role of mother for me in 1992 passed away last November.

She gave birth to me – and became my mother, again, in 1992 – giving me the sisters and brothers I’d always wanted.

Instead of two mothers, now I have none.

I became a mother in 1973 and learned what an overwhelming, but totally fulfilling, role that was and remains until the day you die. Your baby remains your baby no matter how old they are, how grown up, married or even parents themselves, you still hold that tiny infant in your heart.

I was so young!

It feels strange to be the oldest generation in my family. I did find a lovely Mothers’ Day card for my daughter-in-law. She’s the mother of my two grandchildren and deserves recognition for that role for sure.

Mothers’ Day carries a lot of emotional baggage – not just for me but for many women out there who are affected by the constant reminders: those who’ve lost children; those who, for whatever reason, didn’t have children; those who are pregnant but not by choice; those whose children have abandoned them; those who were abused by their mothers who should have protected them; and so many more.

Perhaps we should celebrate the day for the concept of motherhood alone – for we wouldn’t be here at all if we hadn’t had mothers, would we?

 

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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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On the road again…

At this point I was beginning to think Willie Nelson’s song was our theme song as we piled into our bus to say goodbye to Sligo and head off to Ennis. Our driver, Patrick, was a marvellous man who regaled us with Irish lore, history and not a few jokes to keep us interested and amused en route.

Our first stop was in the charming town of Cong, County Mayo. Famed as the location for the film “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, I was far more intrigued by the remains of the local Abbey. I couldn’t resist shooting the amazing stone structures, much of which is still standing in a beautiful park-like spot.

Town of Cong, abbey ruins

Apparently the abbey was originally built in the 7th century, destroyed in battle (several times) and rebuilt each time, the latest being in the 13th century. The stonework and detail totally intrigued me!

 

Mary’s Rock

One friend asked me to bring home a pebble from some place that intrigued me – and so here it is, Mary’s rock – from the Abbey in Cong.

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Insanity in Ireland

Did I mention that, in addition to staying in a castle, we spent a night in a former insane asylum? Oh yeah. Now known as the Clayton Hotel, the building served as a Victorian era asylum in a prior incarnation. Most of our group reported suffering through uneasy, if any, sleep that night and several felt eerie experiences. It is the one place where I felt no urge to take any photographs. When we left the next morning we noticed that, right next door, the more modern psychiatric facility had been built. Go figure!

Statue of William Butler Yeats

On the way to Sligo, after our tour of Lough Gill, we stopped at Drumcliffe, under the Benbulben Mountain, to visit the grave of poet W. B. Yeats.

Yeats’ epitaph

 

Benbulben Mountain

 

Benbulben Mountain

From there we headed to Sligo… and the asylum for a night.

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Magical time in Ireland

Spring arrives earlier in Ireland than it does here on Canada’s east coast. The flowers were beginning to bloom and the trees had fresh leaves – no doubt providing hiding places for all of the “little people” that the country is famous for.

Trinity College Library, Dublin

No trip to Ireland would be complete, for a writer, without a visit to the famous Trinity College Library. Standing in that massive hall gazing up and beyond over the thousands of books displayed was not unlike a religious experience. Did these authors share the doubts that we neophyte writers feel? Probably. But to see so many books of such historic significance was awe inspiring. I could have just sat there all day soaking it in.

Grafton Street

Just around the corner from Trinity College modern life exists in the vibrant centre of the city. Local residents and tourists alike roam the streets shopping, listening to street entertainers, hustling from place to place and, of course, dropping in to one (or more) of the ubiquitous pubs! Life in Dublin isn’t all about history!

Sligo

After five days in Dublin, attending workshops, site seeing, getting coaching from #GerardCollins and writing we headed out for a tour of the west country. The first stop was in Sligo for a quick walk about and a pub lunch. Narrow streets, ancient buildings and charming people made for an interesting, if short, time.

Sligo

 

17th century Parkes Castle on the banks of Lough Gill

An intriguing site to roam around and explore. Once we’d done that we headed out for a tour of the Lake aboard the #RoseofInisfree – known as the subject of several poems by Yeats.

The thatched-roof blacksmith’s shop within the castle walls.

 

Parkes Castle as seen from the lake.

Thank goodness for photos that allow us to remember at least some of what we saw on our whirlwind tour of western Ireland!

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April on the Emerald Isle

What a month! I spent the last 10 days of April in Ireland, the Emerald Isle! And there they really have spring. In the ten days between April 20th and 30th the trees went from buds and tiny leaves to full blown foliage.

I went to Ireland with a group of writers for a retreat called #GoandWriteIreland led by #GerardCollins. Aside from the opportunity to see some of #Ireland and experience the culture, it was a chance to improve my writing under the guidance of an experienced author and teacher and to spend time with like-minded people.

Immersion into the culture began with our arrival at the airport in Dublin. The country is bilingual Irish/English with the original Irish (Gaelic) taught as part of the public education system to retain and revive the language. At the airport, and as we found out later, throughout the country, signs are posted in both languages.

Bilingual sign at Dublin airport

We spent our first five days at the #ClotarfCastleHotel – an impressive structure created from the ruins of the original castle.

One feature that I particularly liked was the castle’s “art trail”. According to their brochure, “Art is not an afterthought…it’s an immersive journey that will help you unlock the story of one of Ireland’s most unique castle hotels…carefully curated collection brimming with curiousities and waiting to be encountered.” The hotel commissioned local artists, including photographers, to create works that reflect the culture and history of the region.

Castle ruins and remains of churches, abbeys and other structures are everywhere in Ireland. Just behind our hotel there was a graveyard with inhabitants that had been buried as long as 300 years ago and as recently as a very few years ago – a strange counterpoint between the old and new.

I wandered there several times seeking peace of mind and wondering about the stories captured in the walls and tombstones. Some commemorated the burial of whole families, while others were ostentatious in their singularity.

The roof on the chapel is long gone, and you are barred from entry to certain sections – no doubt for your own safety. But still, it must have been impressive when it was whole.

And from the churchyard the castle was visible – overlooking all around it all the way to the harbour and the Irish Sea.

 

 

Posted in BLOG, photography, seasons, spring, writing Tagged , |

Spring has sprung – at last!

It seems, of late, that it has taken much longer for spring to arrive. It’s as if the seasons are all about a month behind where they should be. But, that said, it’s a delight to have windows open, the sun radiating real warmth that soaks into you, and birds singing on every branch.

It wasn’t too long ago that the fields were swathed in snow and ice and branches barely showed above the banks on the roadsides. Now, when Harley and I go for our morning strolls, it’s a joy instead of a chore – for both of us. Now, if you look closely, buds are swelling getting ready to burst forth with leaves and flowers and the scents of the season. Spring truly is a time of rebirth and everyone’s mood reflects that. Walking down the street I notice that people are walking more lightly and with energy, smiling greetings at each other – no longer brief and gruff as winter winds drive the cold and damp into one’s bones.

In four days I’m off to Ireland on a Writer’s Retreat with author and workshop leader, Gerard Collins. He’s attracted an interesting group of writers to participate in the event from novices to experienced and published authors themselves. It should be a fascinating adventure and hopefully I’ll finally take the plunge on developing at least one of the book concepts I’ve been tossing around for eons. I’ll try and keep you posted from the Emerald Isle if I can. Meanwhile, get out, breathe deeply and enjoy the burgeoning spring that is just around the corner.

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Posted in BLOG, Canada, New Brunswick, photography, seasons Tagged |