California Road Trip Getting from Part 1 to Part 2

My mother sent the following erroneously to another email account so it should theoretically be Part 2, and we can consider it Part 1.5.

Eugene to Palm Desert

We are in Palm Desert. We are doing this journey not only to celebrate Paul’s [my uncle’s] birthday, but to search for the holy grail of wine and beers. We are very dedicated to our mission. Eery day, after we get to our hotel and disembark from the car (which does  8-8.3 liters per 100km), we immediately head to a brew pub where we get samplers plus the only food that goes with beer, nachos.

In Eugene,Oregon, we stayed in a very mediocre hotel. Its saving feature was its proximity to 6 brewpubs. We picked the one called the Steelhead Brew Pub. Excellent beers and great T-shirt for Marek. We walked back to our hotel. The hotel offered free breakfast but, after one look at the antique bagels and danishes, we decided to eat at a bagel bakery that offered fresh items.

Next we headed towards Redding, California, with a lunch stop in Ashland, at a Mexican restaurant where O [that’s me…my Polish name is ‘Olenka’] and I had dinner the year of M’s [that’s my brother, Marek] wedding. No change to the food, very good, or to the decor, very orange.

It was so wonderful to arrive in Redding, where the sun embraced us and the warmth took us in its arms. Our hotel was a Fairfield Marriott. The manager welcomed his guests with beer and wine and soups with rolls . All this was served between 6-8pm. We partook in the beer drink ,but we still had our mission to fulfill.

So we headed to Woody’s Brew Pub started by a young man with the name Wlodarski. Polish grandparents contributed to his gene pool. We loved three out of the six in the sampler. In Nova Scotia, the samplers were the size of a thimble. In the USA, the samplers are a good healthy size so we can really get the full flavors. However they had no t-shirts smaller than xl; the x’s just kept increasing.

The next day we had a very good hotel breakfast and headed south. Salida was our destination. On the way we stopped at an olive oil tasting place in Corning. We left with a box of 6 olive oil bottles and 4 balsamic vinegars and I would have bought more but dad said”and where are we going to put the wine”. Sadly, he was right and, with a sigh, we left.

As we were driving I spotted a huge sign advertising wine tasting promoted by Gnarly Head old vine zin. We had to take the detour to the tasting. A very handsome and outstandingly personable man helped us taste some superb wines. We bought 2 bottles, although we could have bought more but “where are we going to put the bottles” ruled out any extra bottles.

I think we should rent a moving van then we can fit all the bottles we would love to buy. Next time we will drive our 4Runner. It has more capacity.

Today we drove to Palm Desert.

Part 1     Part 2

beer, nachos, Steelhead Brew Pub, Eugene, Oregon, Redding, California, Ashland, Corning, Salida, Woody's Brew Pub, Gnarly Head, Old Vine Zinfandel, Old Vine Zin

California Road Trip Part II

Palm Desert

Palm Desert is such a pretty town but strange.  The majority of habitants are only part time dwellers. When I asked what percentage of the people in this town live here on a permanent basis, I was told about 20 per cent. The rest are seniors with the median age being about 75.

It is so strange to walk into a restaurant, look around and see a reflection of your aged face. This face can be plainly old or “glamorous.” To see an old face framed by a mane of blond hair, with enough make up that a drag queen would be proud is an amusing sight.

I remember once reading a science fiction book where the old people were put in just such a town only to be eliminated after a period of some months.

The actual town consists of enclaves of fenced and secured houses or condos. These secured places are often called clubs. These have at a minimum, a golf field. Often the clubs have tennis courts and, of course, all these gated communities have swimming pools.  All the enclaves are meticulously maintained. The entries are artistically landscaped with desert cacti and plants, and sculptures; the most expensive clubs have ostentatious displays of water fountains and cascades.

The streets are very clean. The bigger roads have landscaped  medians featuring a variety of cacti,  from round pillow-shaped to agaves to  spiky tall cacti. And of course, palm trees. The outside of the fence of the gated communities is also landscaped and maintained.

Such perfection in a town is unnerving. It is a Disneyland for seniors.


Among the many things that to me seemed odd or unusual about Palm Desert are the lawns; specifically the lawns in the golf areas. The grass is not only without weeds but is of such a vibrant green emerald color that it leads me to believe that a group of cards from Alice in Wonderland, brush and paint in hand go to every golf course to paint the blades of grass in green.

Another oddity are the bus stop benches. They must have been designed by an award winning architect since they are pieces of public art, each different from another and each designed in an unconventional form. It is easy to spot these bus stop, partly because of the unusual design, and partly because no one is waiting at these bus stops.

Are there buses in Palm Desert? Yes. In the three days that we stayed in Palm Desert, we saw a bus, once. Sort of like the elusive desert road runner.

One more thing to mention about this unreal place: for all its tennis courts, golf, spas and other places of rejuvenation and well being, no one walks. Very early in the morning, there may be the few eccentrics who go for a walk but, after 7am, they all disappear. I realize that after 11am it does get hot, but til then you ‘d think more people would be walking around. People are either shopping where it is air conditioned or eating or home. All these places are air conditioned.

I have a hunch that the entire city is under a germ and dirt free dome. It seems as real a town as Velveeta is to cheese.

Part 1.5     Part 3


California Road Trip Part I

Introduction: My parents are driving down to Palm Springs for my uncle’s 70th birthday, and have taken the liberty of expanding the trip into a wine and craft beer tour in order to help my brother source some potential new beers and wines for his store in Calgary, Point McKay Wine. My parents are, of course, Very Sad that they have to do this Difficult Work, and are taking one for the team.

My mother is sending back the occasional email update, and I have received her blessing to share her whimsical reflections on the trip. With no further ado, I warmly introduce you to Part 1:


As we drove through the growing area from Redding to California by way of highway 99 and I5 I noticed something odd with a few orchards. Skeletal trees with branches raised in supplication stood in a patch of land of about 5 acres. But just next to this dry acreage, new plantings were budding green and people were busy tending the plantings. On the other side of the dry lot were mature trees in full green splendor.

To me, it looked as if the irrigation was turned off that one dry patch of land. I looked around at the hills that were not cultivated and they were covered with green vegetation. And yet, I remember when we drove through that same area in the seventies and eighties, that same hilly area was yellow in color.

So, why did a farmer turn off the water from one patch of land and not another? All the orchards are irrigated along the ground, not sprayed from the top. The farmers have a very efficient way of watering their crops. Were some farmers paid to turn off the water? Was that one particular patch of trees chosen because the trees were too old and not producing enough crop?

The news on the TV choose one of the few dry patches with the dried up trees to show the dire lack of water but the TV avoids showing right next to the dry area, the cultivated green areas which are more abundant.

We did stop to buy some almonds, those nasty almonds that drink so much water. And I say keep on drinking the water dear almonds.

Part 1.5

California almond groves


The Yemen Conundrum

Yemen, Houthi, President Hadi, Mansour Hadi, Shiite, shia, Sunni, Wahhabism, Saudi ArabiaI’m a bit perplexed at recent reports that the US will be providing intelligence and logistical support to a coalition of Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia. The rebels in Yemen are of the more ‘moderate’ (and I do use the term ‘moderate’ loosely in this context, as I’d likely be stoned by one side as much as by the other, in these orthodox countries) Shia variety, to the Saudi’s Sunni. In the past few weeks, I’ve increasingly come to the conclusion the conflict in the Middle East is really a theological civil war between Sunnis and Shia.

What perplexes me, however, is that the US is allying itself with the very branch that spawned Al-Qaeda and ISIS/ISIL. It’s no secret that there is some illicit link between the Sunni militant groups and the Saudi leadership, which in and of itself subscribes to Wahhabism, a fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam.

Shouldn’t the US be staying out of the Yemeni domestic conflict and shouldn’t the US be hoping that the Houthi Shia rebels win? There’s a good chance that the third party in the Yemeni conflict, an off-shoot of Al-Qaeda, likely has some ties to ousted President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, at least to some in his party.

I suppose the US has to, on paper, support the Saudis, as the Saudis sort of own them, at least in OPEC terms. However, relations between the two are not so tight, given the purported slight to Obama when he was left hanging when trying to shake hands with some Saudi dignitary, and then the new King Salman turned around and left with his entourage, leaving the President of the United States awkwardly standing with his wife, trying to figure out what to do next while saving face.

It seems that Yemen is becoming a pit fight between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.

Vancouver: Then and Now

Four score and seven years ago,buntzen lake rainforest port moody
This land was filled with trees.
The deer‘s soft tread
Upon the path a pitter-patter lead,
And leaves came tumbling after.

Now this land is filled with streets.
The thud of boots clinks with iron cleats
And the clack of stiletto heels
Echoes in dark alleys and congeals
Amidst the shattered darkness.



Tourists come to gawk alike at that what was and that what is:
Mountains, seas, and forests tall,
Climbing rocks, and scaling walls;
Ogling the improvident and impoverished
And secretly feeling better for being more polished.

Russia Doing More Probing Than a Proctologist

Between Russian jets over the Baltic and Western European airspace, and this inappropriate flirting with Guam, I am reminded of the scene from Alien where the creature is about to birth itself from someone’s chest cavity and you can see the skin being pushed and stretched.

This probing by Russia does not bode well for anyone, particularly in light of Putin’s comments about his consideration of the use of nuclear weapons over the Crimea annexation.

“Reuters Exclusive: U.S. asks Vietnam to stop helping Russian bomber flights ” –


On the niqab…

Is it okay to wear a niqab or burqaOn the niqab, I’m with Quebec – and with Stephen Harper – The Globe and Mail.

The niqab debate is interesting. A bit in tune with my earlier theme of ‘how far we’ve come,’ I think most Canadians are comfortable with the hijab but, at least for me, the niqab (and burqa) crosses a social line and is fundamentally offensive to women.

I am fully supportive of day-to-day freedom of expression in terms of clothing: people should be able to wear whatever they want (note that I do think that people should wear clothes). I do, however, believe that people should respect the secular nature of our government. When you are dealing with government matters, in terms of the judicial, legislative, and executive process, you need to be open to, and respectful of, the values of our secular government, which values the transparency of an individual’s identity by way of facial recognition.

I had an excellent debate about this issue what a good friend of mine, M-, who suggested that my perspective about having a face uncovered during such things as court proceedings or citizenship ceremonies, was linked to security. She’s right. Being able to see someone’s face is critical to proving their identification.

It could be argued that, as government-issued identification usually makes one look like they’ve been arrested for heroin possession, the person in front of you might not be the person in the photo id that you are holding, and certainly there have been cases of this sort of identity fraud associated with passports. Having said that, we still rely on our sense of sight to confirm someone’s identity.

Someone’s cultural sensibility, under the guise of religion, has no place as a justification for wearing something like the niqab or the burqa when dealing with a governmental situation where identity needs to be confirmed. As Canadians, we bend over backwards to accommodate people’s cultural practices; however, all such accommodations need to be tempered through our cultural lens. People emigrate to Canada because they want to have a life that they believe will be better than the one left in their home countries; they embrace our culture and values. I would argue that, as our values are secular, new Canadians need to embrace those secular values as well.

Not all religious practices can be condoned under the auspices of our Canadian ethos: polygamy, child brides/grooms, female circumcision, etc…The latter list is not condoned by (most) Canadians because those religious practices inherently are based on forcing an individual to do something against their free will, whether through indoctrination or intimidation. The wearing of the niqab and burqa toe that line of indoctrination. You will not convince me that a women born and raised within a fundamentalist religious movement wear the niqab or burqa of their own free will; the issue is not unlike that of those women born and raised within a polygamous religion, an issue that we find it a lot easier to condemn than that of religious attire.

I am the first person to defend the individual’s right to freedom of religion in the day-to-day. If someone wears the niqab or burqa in their everyday life, I’m not happy about that, because I do not believe it a choice that they have, but will respect it.

When someone wants to deal with a government issue that requires identification, they should then respect the Canadian ethos and show their face to the requisite authority (regardless the gender).

How Far We’ve Come

hawaii rainbowMy family recently came together to celebrate my father’s birthday and, as there were three smart phones in the vicinity of the table (there were only six of us), just about every topic of conversation was followed up with some googling of information on the phone. We covered the gamut of the blue-black/white-gold dress (for the record, five out of the six of us saw the white-gold, and only my mother, the token artist in the group, saw the dress as blue-black; my mother is clearly deranged and has no idea of the colour of anything at all), the origins of blue as a colour (a modern concept of the past few centuries only; apparently Homer had no concept of blue and describes the sea as wine-coloured) and, as I’m sure you can sense the segue here to the next topic, one of our favourite family topics at the moment: my brother’s liquor store in Calgary, and my not-quite-two-year-old niece helping him out.

A gay couple came in to the store one day, and I can’t remember how this even came up, but we were wondering who were the first gay couple to wed in Canada. Naturally, I googled the question to see if we could find the reference and a photo of the couple. The first gay couple to be legally married in Canada were from Ontario, and wed in 2003. Thank goodness for the wealth of useless trivia on the internet.

The thing that struck me right after this segment of the evening’s conversation, was how normalized we were in talking about same-sex marriage. I can remember when the issue first came up, back in 2001, and how uncomfortable I was initially thinking that the word ‘marriage’ should be reserved for heterosexual marriage, notwithstanding the fact that I had several close gay friends. A good friend of mine and I had a whole debate one evening about the issue of same-sex marriage: “It’s just a word,” she said. “Exactly,” I’d argue back, “Why not use ‘civil union’ instead?”

Same-sex marriage was legalized, life went on, and the dust of provincialism settled.

I’m glad to say that my opinion has completely changed on the subject, and I am firm supporter of same-sex marriage. I went to two of my dear friends’ marriage in Hawaii last year, where, by good fortune, same-sex marriage was legalized the month before their wedding on Oahu (they would have had an exchange of vows, otherwise, and would have held the actual marriage in Vancouver).

It was great to hear the discussion at the table though, because my family is somewhat representative of an average slice of the cross-section of the country. To hear everyone discussing same-sex marriage in the same vein as though we were discussing the merits of the mandatory wearing of seat belts (the fact that some people still don’t, just boggles the mind), was very satisfying.

It is very reassuring to know that seemingly controversial topics, which can tread a moral ridge, can work themselves out through a positive social process and become, simply, how things are in our society.

Should You Follow Your Passion?

I’d still argue that following your passion is important, because you need a spark of that passion to light (in a positive way) a rewarding career for yourself. Shakespeare wrote “to thine own self be true,” and so we should be.

Finding Purpose


“‘Follow your passion’ is dangerous advice.” – Cal Newport

It seems like everyone has become fixated on their passion. We are no longer satisfied settling on a career for the sole sake of monetary gain. Searching “how to find your passion” on Google Trends is evidence of this cultural phenomenon.

This post probes deeper into the idea of following your passion and considers a better path to achieving career happiness. In order to follow your passion without the danger of severe disappointment, it is helpful to understand how your passion works.

So why is “follow your passion” bad advice?
First of all, it assumes your “passion” is a specific thing inside of you, waiting to be uncovered and acted upon. In fact, it is the other way around: our passion is a byproduct of doing great work. InDrive, Daniel H. Pink makes the case that career happiness comes…

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Mulletspotting, the distant white trash cousin to trainspotting, used to be a favourite pastime of mine when I lived in Calgary back in the day. This video clip from Jimmy Fallon, of Hugh Jackman and Jimmy sporting the ‘business in the front, and party in the back’ look just made my Sunday morning today, so I’m sharing the video and hope it gives you a bit of a smile.

I don’t know about you but mullets seem to be a rare breed these days, save on the occasional female hipster, soccer/football star, and refugee of the 1980’s, but even the latter are a dying breed.Even in small town North America, the refuge of the mullet, one is hard pressed to find the majestic coif.

My personal favourite was one spotted in the early 2000’s, in Calgary. A gentleman in a vintage mustang pulled up next to me at a traffic light, and he sported a magnificent specimen with at least a six inch ‘party’ length (is there some sort of way to equate the length of the mullet in the back to something else? just a thought), lovingly permed, that he took opportunity to carefully comb for the duration of the traffic light, with a comb kept expressly for that purpose in the car’s visor.

Have you seen a mullet lately? Send in a photo and I’ll post it below.