Loving New Zealand

Looking down over Queenstown, New Zealand

Every cliché you’ve heard about New Zealand is true.  There really are more sheep than people, the hills really are that green, and the water really is that clear.  New Zealanders are warm and friendly, epitomized by our hosts Pauline, Danella and Jo.

All the stresses of delayed flights and airport checks fell away with Pauline’s first embrace. I’ve been ensconced in a warm cocoon ever since.

Here’s what we’ve been up to since my last post Three Days in Dunedin.

Pauline organized a thrilling ride on a four-seater motor bike known as the trike. There are only seven of them in the world. Our charming guide Andrew met us at the city center known as the Octagon and graciously put up with all our picture-taking.  We maneuvered through town, then along the harbour and into the hills for a breathtaking view.  I should mention that we were also part of the view, as tourists waved and stared at this fascinating trike. I now have an inkling of what it must be like to be famous. Complete strangers smiled and waved and took pictures of us along the way.  What fun!

We were on the road for nearly an hour, wind in our hair, smiles on our faces, laughing much of the way. Experience Dunedin just celebrated their first anniversary. You can see some closeup shots of the trike on their Facebook page.

Back on terra firma, we stopped for lunch. While the others stayed on for drinks, Pauline organized a visit to her chiropractor to help with my gathering pain, the result of too many hours sitting on the long-haul flight. Did I mention the warm cocoon?

We rounded out the day with a walking tour of the University of Otago (Māori: Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo). Danella has worked at this beautiful university for a decade.

Danella at University of Otago

Danella the trooper, still recovering from a broken leg

I inadvertently set my camera to manual, so many of my photos turned out dark and grainy. Here are a few to give you a flavor of the place.

University of Otago

Clock Tower University of Otago

If you want to see how a real photographer does it, please check out Laurie’s post University of Otago.

The following morning we were off to Wanaka (rhymes with Monica). We caravanned in two cars for the five-hour journey with several stops for lunch and photographs along the way. Steven is a CB radio enthusiast so he rigged the two cars with radios. We were in regular communication between cars, alerting each other for stops and other practical matters. There may also have been some singing in the round, just to keep things interesting.

As if!  It’s all interesting and wonderful. I’m like a mum with a new baby, constantly gushing at the wonder of it all.

I’ll share details of Wanaka and Queenstown in a future post.

Above Queenstown

You can catch up on the start of our journey by reading Three Days in Dunedin, followed by The Drive to Wanaka.

Blogging Babes in New Zealand

Pauline: The Contented Crafter

Laurie: Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things

KPB: Boomdeeadda

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, Unless The Camera is in Another Room

hummingbird on top of fountain

From the archives: Anna’s Hummingbird perched on the fountain, September, 2016

You’ve probably heard the expression “A picture is worth a thousand words.” I looked up the origin of the cliché this morning as I watched a hummingbird splashing about in the bubbler atop our fountain. The concept isn’t new, but the expression is only about one hundred years old.

BB (Before Blogging) I would have enjoyed the hummingbird experience for what it was: a gem of a moment that I might have missed if I hadn’t looked out the window at just the right time. Ten minutes earlier, as I watered the indoor plants, I mused that I really should get out there with the hose and top up the fountain.

Instead, the receding water slowed the fountain pump allowing the tiny bird a chance to sit in the bubbler and spin in a circle while splashing its wings. Pure joy!

AB (After Blogging) I’ve realized that I want to share these special moments with you. Our global blogging community fits neatly into another cliché; “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

On the subject of gifts, I’m traveling to Oregon next week to spend time with blogger Marlene from In Search Of It All. We’ve connected for years through our blogs, then graduated to emailing, Facebook, phone calls, texts and finally our first face-to-face.  I can hardly wait to give and receive the in-person hug we’ve been trading virtually for years.

In March I’ll be traveling again, a trip two years in the making: I’m off to New Zealand, where my friend Pauline of The Contented Crafter and her two daughters will host three blogger-turned-friends from Canada and the US. It’s a trip of a lifetime.  I still can’t quite believe we’ve pulled it off.

While I hope to capture photos worth a thousand words, I know I’ll be gathering incredible memories with special women. I’m looking forward to sharing more of them with you.

 

Puerto Vallarta: An Exquisite Time Away

We’ve just returned from a three-day getaway to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. What an exquisite place! Mike traveled there on business earlier in the week, and I followed Friday and stayed through the long weekend. We flew home late Monday night.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

View from the balcony of the Westin Hotel, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta sunset

Puerto Vallarta sunset the evening I arrived

After our protracted recovery from the flu, this trip was exactly what the proverbial doctor ordered.

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

We walked along the beach, read, took naps, and explored the grounds of the gorgeous resort hotel.

We enjoyed fruity drinks with our tortilla chips and guacamole in the casita facing the sea. San Jose has a heavy Mexican influence, but it was still fun to enjoy a dish that originated in Mexico.

 The name is derived from two Aztec Nahuatl words—ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (sauce).

Tropical cocktails with a plate of tortillas and guacamole

Tropical cocktails with a plate of tortillas and guacamole

I’m always intrigued by the local wildlife, like this clever black bird, called a Great-tailed Grackle. He seemed to know that he could swoop in for a chip, after they cleared the dishes.  He knew not to approach any of the tables with guests, but as soon as the dishes landed on a clearing tray, he made his move. Once he claimed the chip, he flew into the rafters, hopping and chirping from row to row.

On Saturday night, we ate a spectacular, five-course vegetarian meal at Café Des Artistes by Thierry Blouet. Their website describes it as

” French cuisine with Mexican inspiration. More than 25 years being the gourmet tradition in Puerto Vallarta.”

The Café Des Artistes is carved into the hillside and sits above Old Town, the heart of the city.  The main floor is a bar, with the upper two stories featuring open-air dining under the trees. They seated us on the third floor surrounded by towering bamboo and ancient trees. From there we could look down on the garden terrace.

I could go on and on about this place, but instead I’ll sum it up in one, long sentence: Dining in Puerto Vallarta with the man I love, sitting under a canopy of trees wearing a sleeveless dress with live music playing while enjoying a full-course vegetarian meal, served by a charming and devoted team of wait staff who delivered a story about each wine pairing left me breathless.  What a night!

After our meal, we walked along the strand in Old Town Puerto Vallarta before heading back to the hotel.

Three days passed quickly. We hope to return for a longer stay, to experience whale watching, snorkeling and other local activities when we have more time.

Our hotel was an easy walk to the harbor filled with boats and lovely vistas, and of course we couldn’t help but price the local real estate.  It never hurts to look, eh?

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures of our trip highlights.

Turtles sunning themselves in a pond next to a Japanese restaurant.

The hotel cat name Mitzy

Some of the brilliant colors of Mexico

Con afecto, Alys.

 

 

 

Celestial Seasonings Tea and Tour

Celestial Seasonings Tour Center

Celestial Seasonings Tour Center

We toured the Celestial Seasonings factory in Boulder on our recent visit. The tour is free and includes the opportunity to sample several hot and iced teas. It was raining the entire time we were there, making it all the more delicious. There is nothing quite like hot tea on a rainy day, especially when there’s a fun tour in the mix as well.

Celestial Seasonings Tea Room Samples

Tea Room Samples

Celestial Seasonings Rooibos Madagascar Vanilla

My current favorite, and an award winner too * Celestial Seasonings Rooibos Madagascar Vanilla

I grew up drinking black tea, mostly Red Rose Tea, a Canadian brand dating back more than a century. My dad drank tea, so of course my sister and I wanted to drink tea, too. Mom on the other hand drank black, instant coffee. [Shudder].

Over the years I switched from black tea with milk and sugar to tea with just sugar. Then Celestial Seasonings came along in the seventies, and I was an herbal convert.

The tour guide pointed out that 80% of what they produce is not actually tea, but an herbal infusion.  It’s all “tea” to me, and I’m happy to consume green, Jasmine, Rooibos, also know as redbush, and vanilla flavored herbals.

As factories go, Celestial Seasonings is small. They have a simple assembly line, along with pallets of herbs and spices stacked floor to ceiling. I also loved the fact that the equipment used for packaging the tea dates back to the forties. They essentially recycled an assembly line once used for packing cereal. There is one special room set aside for peppermint and spearmint. The mint is quite potent, and would quickly infuse all the other ingredients if stored together. The moment you walk into the room your eyes water and your sinuses open. It was quite an experience. It’s no wonder mint tea is so good when you have a cold.

One of the things I liked when the teas first hit the market, were the pretty designs on the package along with an inspiring quote. Sleepy Time was the first of two herbal blends, and remains the most popular around the world.

Celestial Seasonings original art department

Celestial Seasonings original art department

Celestial Seasonings origin story

Celestial Seasonings origin story

The “ticket” for the tour is a twin package of tea bags. There are several urns of brewed tea in the tea room. You’re issued a small ceramic mug when you walk in the door, and you’re free to sample as many and as often as you like. The tea room is also an art gallery, featuring several of the artists who’ve designed the clever packages over the years.

Celestial Seasonings original art work

Celestial Seasonings original art work

You can pose with the Sleepy Time Bear, or nip in to the mythical scene from the original packaging.

Sleepy Time Tea Room

Yours truly in the Sleepy Time Tea Room

Like any self-respecting enterprise, the factory tour exits via the gift shop. You’ll get no complaints from me, though. They sell art, greeting cards, tea of course, herbal lotions, and postcards.

Celestial Seasonings gift shop window

Celestial Seasonings gift shop window

It was a perfectly wonderful afternoon in every way.

From their website: Celestial Seasonings was founded more than 40 years ago with one goal: to provide delicious, high quality teas that are good for our customers and good for the world.

We think it’s important to share with you the steps we take to ensure that our teas are of the highest quality, deliver the great taste you expect and are produced in a way that protects the Earth’s natural resources. Celestial Seasonings and our parent company, Hain Celestial, stands up as leaders on important topics such as GMO labeling, sodium and sugar intake and animal welfare. We want to offer the best products and help our consumers make the best choices for themselves and their families.

We call our sustainability story “Blended With Care: From Seed to Sip”, and we’d like to take you through it in eight steps – from the farmers’ fields to your teacup. You can read more on their website.

So are you a tea drinker? Please let me know via the poll below.

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Colorado Postcards

We’ve just returned from a beautiful, restful and enjoyable trip to the state of Colorado. Our friend Claire remarried in a lovely outdoor ceremony 70 miles north of Denver in a place called Fraser (population 1,200) near Winter Park. Winter Park is a major destination for skiers during the winter months, but at this time of year the area is sparsely populated and peaceful. The population nearly triples during the winter. I’m not a skier, but I can appreciate the adventure and beauty that Winter Park has to offer.

We spent the morning of the wedding in the village at Winter Park, riding the gondola and enjoying the vistas before driving to nearby Fraser.

Winter Park Village, Winter Park, Colorado

Winter Park Village, Winter Park, Colorado

What a unique wedding! The ceremony took place outside with cool weather and a few thunderclaps but no rain. We sat on long wooden benches, covered with beautiful sections of old quilts.  Claire’s daughters walked her down the aisle.  I’ve known them since they were young girls and have enjoyed watching them grow into bright and warm young women.

The groom and several guests wore kilts in honor of Jame’s Scottish heritage. After the ceremony we enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres in a wonderful old barn, outfitted with more quilts and artifacts from the old west.  The reception followed in a nearby canopied field.

Fraser Wedding

Fraser Wedding

The drive to and from Winter Park took us through the breathtaking Rocky Mountains. We stopped mid-drive at the Continental Divide. The Divide extends along the Rocky Mountains. According to Wiki, “Drainage water west of the Continental Divide flows to the southwest via the Colorado River and the Green River into the Gulf of California.”

Colorado Rocky Mountains, Berthoud Pass Arapaho

Colorado Rocky Mountains, Berthoud Pass Arapaho

It was a treat getting out of San Jose’s hot, dry summer for several days. We enjoyed cooler temperatures, a few unexpected thunder claps, a light rain and warm sun. Perfection.

The day after the wedding we headed to Boulder, Colorado, a two hour’s drive away. Mike booked the most amazing room at a vintage hotel built in 1909. What a nice surprise! The hotel is full of old-world charm, with carved wooden banisters, original tile floors and a few artifacts from the day. Even better, it’s in the heart of downtown Boulder, walking distance to fun shops and unique restaurants.

Boulderado Hotel, Boulder, Colorado

Boulderado Hotel (with Mike)

Alys and Carmen collage

With my friend Carmen. Our high school yearbook photos, 1977 and in Boulder, Colorado, 2017

One of the highlights of our time in Boulder was the chance to see my friend Carmen. I haven’t seen her in 40 years! I posted about our trip on Facebook and she mentioned that she lived close by. She drove from Colorado Springs to meet us for brunch, followed by lots of catching up.  We had a wonderful time.

On our last day in Colorado, we drove to Denver and spent hours at the Denver Botanical Gardens. I’ve been to many botanical gardens over the years, and this is by far my favorite. If I lived locally, I would visit again and again. I took over 225 photos while we were there, and I barely scratched the surface.  We enjoyed cooler weather for most of the day and a bit of rain which I loved. We lunched outside under a tree while it rained, enjoying a hearty, vegetarian soup.

Denver Botanical Gardens

Denver Botanical Gardens

While it’s always great to travel, it’s good to be home.  The boys took care of the house and the kitties while we were away, a first for the two of them together.  It made traveling a breeze.

My youngest son starts his senior year next week, so we’re happy to have had this time before the onslaught of college applications and the like.

Wish you were here!

How Many Bloggers Can You Fit In a Phone Booth?

That’s a trick question. Phone booths are largely a thing of the past.  Wouldn’t it be fun to try though?

Instead I did the next best thing. I packed my bags for Washington, D.C., Virginia and New York and met with bloggers everywhere I went.

After an extraordinary 48 hours in Atlanta visiting The Carter Center and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, I flew to Washington, D.C.

Another airport, another flight delay. No matter. I sustained myself with chocolate and a large bottle of water along with the knowledge that Laurie would be waiting at the airport.

Laurie behind the camera

Laurie is a women’s health practitioner, a biker, an extraordinary photographer and an all around wonderful person. She’s quick with a laugh, sharp and funny. I admire her involvement in her community of Radford, Virginia and all she does to improve the lives of others. If you’re not already following along, please check her out at Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things.

My sense of direction is abysmal, so though we made it to the hotel courtesy of Google maps, it took us another twenty minutes to sort out the maze known as Dupont Circle. I knew that our hotel was in the same building as Starbucks (it wasn’t) and I knew that we were so close. Good grief, it’s a wonder she’s still speaking to me. I find it uncomfortable being directionally challenged. Thanks to Laurie, we made it.

Kelly, who blogs at Boomdeeadda and Kelly’s Korner already had the wine chilled. She arrived from Canada earlier in the week to visit with Julia. Kelly and I became fast friends through our mutual blogs nearly five years ago. We’re kindred spirits who love to travel. This holiday marks our seventh visit, even though we live in different countries, hundreds of miles apart.

Kelly in Times Square (Kelly’s husband treated us to a Broadway play called Waitress)

Saturday we joined Julia of Defeat Despair, and her son Matt for lunch in Old Town Alexandria. Julia’s been through a difficult time this past year with the loss of her husband, Jeff after a long illness. He died  a few months after he retired. Kelly and I planned to visit Julia in the spring after things were more settled, but life continues for her on a difficult path. I’m glad we could see her.

Old Town, Alexandria: Laurie, Matt, Julia, Kelly and me

Arlington Cemetery with Julia and Kelly

On Tuesday,  Julia took us to see Jeff’s grave at Arlington Cemetery.  It was beautiful and sobering, and we all abandoned pretense and gave in to our tears.

Alexandria, Virginia: Lisa, Laurie, Kelly and Me draped in Pauline King’s Scarf design

Lisa of Arlingwords joined us for a glass of wine, dinner, and a romp through Old Town, a place filled with beauty and history. I love the brick buildings, some of them nearly 300 years old. What a testament to building practices of the time. Tulips were up everywhere.

Tulips in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia

Lisa lives in Arlington and works for the State Department in DC. Lisa participates in the The Arlington Food Assistance Center’s (AFAC) Plot Against Hunger project. Some of the produce she grows helps supplement groceries for community members in need.

We spent five days dividing our time between Arlington, Alexandria and D.C. before boarding a train for New York City. Joe is an incredible photographer. He blogs at The Visual Chronicle and Monochromia. He’s an all around nice guy, who welcomed us to New York, greeting us at Penn Station. Joe and his lovely wife Terry hired a cab to our hotel, then waited in the hotel bar while we settled in.

Grant Central Station, New York: Terry, Joe, me and Kelly. photo credit: Patricia Fogarty

The Rare Bar & Grill Murray Hill, Affinia Shelburne Hotel, New York, NY. Patricia, me, Kelly, Terry and Joe. Photo credit: Patricia Fogarty

Joe invited Patricia to join us, and join us she did. We wandered around Grand Central Station and enjoyed watching Joe and Patti, both photographers, compare cameras and snap pics.

Joe and Terry treated us to a round of drinks, then later took us to dinner at a fabulous place called Eataly (think Eatery + Italy). We dined on amazing pasta, browsed the shops and got to know each other over dinner.

We’ve all said it before and it’s worth saying  again: how about this big, beautiful world of blogging? My heart is full.

The Bloggers

Alys at Gardening Nirvana, California

Joe at The Visual Chronicle New York

Julia at Defeat Despair, Virginia

Kelly at Boomdeeadda and Kelly’s Korner, Edmonton, Canada

Laurie at Life on the Bike and Other Fab Things, Virginia

Lisa at Arlingwords, Virginia

Patricia (Patti) at Nylon Daze,  New York

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While I Was Away

Traveling is a wonderful treat.

So to is the homecoming.

While I ponder how much to share about my visits to Atlanta, Virginia, DC and New York (no one wants to plod through someone else’s holiday pics) I do want to share my garden’s amazing transformation while I was away.

Being gone for nearly two weeks as spring got under way gave me the unique opportunity to see everything with fresh eyes.  What a treat! Will you come have a look?

I’m gradually reading through your blogs, so please bear with me. I’m looking forward to catching up.