Category Archives: Travel

Party Party!

We threw two parties during our stay in Ottawa, and as I’ve given up on a chronological account of our doings in the Great North Strong and Free, I’ve decided to show you a virtual good time, and introduce you to more fam and friends.

Daddy had a  Bon Voyage party in the works when we arrived: our old and dear friend Betty was doing the Generous Grandmother thing and taking her granddaughter Alison MacKay to London for a week. I’ve known Betty since I was three years old and grew up with her daughters Catherine and Elizabeth. (Catherine and her husband Ian are Alison’s parents.) Elizabeth is married to Michael, and they decided to tag along, to spend time with Michael’s mother, who lives there, and do a swing of the northern cathedral towns, heavy on York. Alison was a no-show because she had a science project to finish up.

Daddy was doing some minor fussing about a decorating theme, and whack job that I am I said “Oh boy! Have I got an idea! I’ll make garlands of tiny paper airplanes!” Any opportunity to fold paper, right? So I spent a day and a half making 86 planes from foil wrapping paper then — and this is the tedious bit — sewing them individually to form garlands.  They looked pretty if I do say so myself. In the entrance to the dining room:

On a wooden statue we call Gian Carlo: He’s almost five feet tall and used to stand on a stairway in Harrods.

Now let me make the introductions. Here’s Betty, the guest of honor, being pinned with a corsage:

Lou, Elizabeth and Michael:

Cathy and Ian:

Daddy bought five fabulous ribs of beef for the occasion, and told Lou: “You have only one job today: cook that roast perfectly.” No pressure, huh? He did, of course:

The second affaire was Thanksgiving dinner — for non-Canadians, Thanksgiving in the Land of Ice and Snow is held in early October. The leaves are nearing the coloric peak, and it’s great to get a couple of months between the Turkey Holidays instead of just one, as we do here. My brother Ian, his ever-bubbly wife Hilary and their son Miles drove up from Montreal. The food is familiar to every American, and as I love it all, it was no labor to stuff the bird and cook up the cranberries. (Ed. note: Yes, half the men mentioned in this post are named Ian.)

The Junior McArthurs:

Ian, whose appearance and mannerisms more and more resemble Bruce Willis’s, owns a catering company with Hilary. Miles , my only nephew (or niece) on the McArthur side is one of my fave peeps in the whole wide world. He’s in his first year at nursing school.

My sister Julia is a fun-lover and a party animal. She’s eternal sunshine in a world of many  low pressure systems.

Two pretty birds in one shot! Hilary’s hazelnut torte was divine.

With so many willing hands around, the cooking and cleaning up for both parties was a snap. The noise level could get pretty high, but I bet you wouldn’t have cared. I wish you all could have attended both nights.



Filed under Drink, Food, History, Holidays, Home, Travel

Walk, Talk and Party Like an Egyptian

We’re home at last after alarums and excursions with Homeland Security and my green card. That’s another story, long and expensive: I’ve so much to recount about our Ottawa visit that I’ve decided to work backwards from our stay in Toronto last night with my cousin Cort, his fabulous partner Susan, and his daughter, my first cousin once removed 7th grade  Lauren Margaret.

Cort is some kinda gee whiz financial guy in Toronto, Susan is a brilliant interior designer, and Lauren is a pretty, sharp kid. We stayed at their house in TO last night on the homeward drive, and that house on Glen Drive should be in Relais et Chateaux. Susan designed it, and Cort made his cooking bones in college as a line cook at The Keg. His poussins rolled, his wine cellar rocked, and much, much fam business transpired which I won’t relate, because….you know.

Cort and Susan throw a big Halloween party every couple of years, with a theme. It’s King Tut this year. Cort has made a papier mache masterpiece — yeah, Cort and I have a lot in common beyond a passion for food and wine. Check this out:

Can you freakin’ believe this masterpiece, crafted from wine boxes, newsprint, a cheap mask and some paint? Or this mask, from a  a balaklava and some papier mache?

(Note Viking six-burner in the background.)

We were having so much fun that I forgot to take pix of the poussins. But a big cousinly thank you to Cort and Susan for last night, and I have much more to report.

(Can you believe that sarcophagus?!!!!!)


Filed under Drink, Food, Free, Home, How Cool is That?, Into the Mystic, Paper, papier mache King Tut, Travel

Daddy’s ‘Hood: A Walking Tour

After two days on the road it felt good to stretch our legs and walk a few blocks in my father’s Ottawa neighborhood, aka The Glebe. My mother used to say she had the worst house on the best street in Ottawa. The family home is large and modern which sets it apart from the other houses on Clemow Avenue. They’re old and fricking enormous. Gigantic. I snapped some shots so that you can get a feel for the atmosphere.

The Lebanese Embassy (see the teeny cedar of Lebanon above the door?) is a few houses down. It’s mid-sized for this street.

The Cameroon Embassy is across the street.

Here are some random maisons in the two block hike to the commercial street, rue Bank.

The architectural style is Edwardian Robber Baron.

Here’s Daddy’s parish church, St. Matthew’s Anglican. It’s larger than St. James, the Episcopal cathedral in Chicago.

I spotted this on a telephone pole. Carlos seems to  be having second thoughts.

This fine store received my mother’s custom. Lou renamed it Big Bucklands.

All squirrels in these parts are black.

Thank God there’s a handy frite wagon a few blocks down Bank Street!

Le menu. I’ll get my poutine fix before we go home.

I love NiCastro’s, an Italian specialty food shop. The cheese counter is flat-out fab.

It’s almost dinnertime, so I should offer to help my sister Megan. One of the wonderful things about this stay chez Daddy is seeing — and tasting — how good a cook she’s become. Everyone: “Yay, Meg!”


Filed under History, Home, Into the Mystic, Travel

Gift from a Stranger

An unexpected package from a friend  marks a red letter day. That padded envelope or box from Amazon, just because your buddy has seen a book he thought you’d like to read, or music she knows you’ll love, or food from his kitchen or her trip to Greece — well! It’s only slightly  less wondrous than  a new baby or a loved one’s  recovery from a grave  illness.

Let’s push up the wonder factor: the gift comes from someone you’ve never met, or spoken to.

That person lives in Japan.

The gift is intricate and beautiful, and she made it by hand. It’s fashioned from scraps of kimono silk. If I’d known that such a lovely thing existed, it would have been at the top of my Christmas list. I marvel every time I look at it, which is daily, and think “That lovely woman spent a long time making this, and she gave it to me!

The lovely woman who sent me this gift via my daughter is what my grandmother would call a “connection” — a friend or family member of someone in your own family who isn’t related to you. She’s the mother of my son-in-law’s sister-in law Kei. (Got it?)She’s the daughter of a post-war Japanese Prime Minister.She  took a shine to my daughter when Honor and John were visiting a friend in Japan — they stayed with her in Tokyo and she  introduced them to Kyoto and its high refined cuisine.When they left she gave Honor “a present for your mother.”

I don’t even know what she looks like, but I can show you her daughter and granddaughter Hana.

Kei’s in black and white in the front row  — Hana’s in flower girl attire at her aunt and uncle’s wedding. (Kei had a baby sister for Hana last week, Juna Michael.)

Here’s the bouquet of  silk tulips:

She painstakingly sewed them, stuffed them, wired them to the silk stems and leaves, and sent them to the United States as a gift to a stranger. Here’s some detail:

To send a handmade gift, or one lovingly chosen, to a friend : that’s love. To send one to a stranger: that’s class.


Filed under Art, Cool Japanese Stuff, Home, How Cool is That?, Needlework, Travel

Kir Royale: A Tale of Two Birthdays

I had a lovely birthday yesterday – flowers from my father and sisters, cards, Facebook greetings, emails from buddies, a phone call from my daughter with the news that my present is in the mail. For his part, my husband has volunteered to take me to the local swanky greenhouse for a spending spree on some annuals to fill in the midsummer blanks in my garden, and he turned out a swell Bun Thit Bo Xao for dinner – aka a Rice Noodle Bowl with Beef.

But the fizz in the evening came with bubbles, as it often does, via the bathtub, blown through a plastic gizmo, or my favorite bubble delivery system: a cold bottle of something. Last night it was an inexpensive (but French) blanc de blancs, tinted a mysterious hue by a tiny splash of crème de cassis: a Kir Royale.

Fizz and black currants:two of my favorite things. My fondness for the bubbly shouldn’t need explanation — if it does I mourn for you. Black currants aren’t the fruit fave of the U.S.A. , but they can kick the ass of all those supermarket staples: navel oranges,  strawberries, kiwis, Red Delicious apples — the usual sickly suspects.   Black currants and their deeply delicious byproducts — sirops, creme de cassis, fruit jellies and jam — aren’t exotic or unusual in Europe or even Canada. We need a Black Currant Council here in the States!

That “deeply”  I used before “delicious” wasn’t lame alliteration, though I have a soft spot for lame alliteration. Black currants are all about deep: the color, the flavor, the scent. I suspect they’re bursting with antioxidants and vitamin C, but if they had the food value of Cheetos  I’d still love them. ( Yum —Cheetos! )

Creme de cassis is almost black, sweet, intense and 44 proof. I used up the last of the best cassis I’ve ever tasted last night, cassis I bought from the man who made it, two years ago on my birthday.

Oh, that I could buy a bottle here. I tasted a sample straight from the hands of its maker, a charming French Canadian farmer in the village of St. Pierre on L’Ile D’Orleans, a locovore and gastronomic wonderland about fifteen minutes north of Quebec City. We were there because my fairy godfather, who’s my real father, gave us two nights in the Chateau Frontenac Hotel for my birthday and Quebec City’s 400th anniversaire. Quebec City may be the most beautiful city in North America, but that’s not what I’m writing about today. Back to the farmer in St. Pierre, one of L’Ile D’Orlean’s six enchanted villages.

I could see his black currant bushes where his farm started to slide into the mighty St. Lawrence River. He also did a nice line of his own raspberry and strawberry liqueurs and sirops. Down the road we found the pate lady, the confit duck man, (with actual ducks running to meet our car)the cheese maker, the boulangere, (Who said “Quel bon Papa!” when I told her of Daddy’s gift) and farmstand after farmstand of berries that looked plucked from a medieval tapestry.

The whole island’s magic: eighteenth century churches and houses, every view a river or mountain view, parish graveyards where the stones list the same twenty-odd family names from 1735 to yesterday.

Don’t take my word for it: before the French got there the native Hurons called it The Enchantress.

I bought a new bottle of creme de cassis today because I think I’m going to hook up again with my old boyfriend Kir this summer — he slipped away from my life when I was in my early twenties. But I know for a fact that it’s not going to be as good as it was two years ago with that gentilhomme in St. Pierre.


Filed under Drink, History, Holidays, Into the Mystic, Travel, Twenty bucks

Up in the UP

We’ve spent the last week in my late father-in-law Joe Rovai’s house on Lake Au Train, which lies about three miles from Lake Superior between Marquette and Munising. The rest of our family unit included Mary and Patty, Lou’s sisters, Patty’s husband John, my daughter Honor and her husband John. We gathered for a memorial service for Joe at the tiny mission church he’s attended in Au Train for forty-odd years, and to tackle the dismal chore of emptying out the contents of a ninety one year life.

The citizens of the UP proudly call themselves Youpers, and revel in their stereotypes. Here’s an example on a postcard, available in any gift shop:

They love their hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, and waterskiing. They eat pasties and drink beer. They talk a little funny — most Americans would say they talk Canadian (they end sentences with eh? more ofter than any Canadian I know) but to me the accent resembles that of the citizens of the province of Newfoundland — Newfies. And like the Newfies, they are the most generous,openhearted,openhanded, salt-of-the-earth folks you’ll ever meet. While I was walking in Munising with Honor and John the vibe was southern (although the temperature was decidedly northern) because passing strangers would say “Hi, how are you?”

Honor and John were looking for WiFi ,unavailable in the Hiawatha National Forest. When you run the largest tennis blog on the internet it sucks to be away during Wimbledon, but they came for Grandpa’s service anyway. May I mention here how much I love them? And John found WiFi in a second-hand bookstore/cafe and pulled up the stats at At 11:00 am on the 24th of June 67,000 people were signed on to their site. Um, I’m gonna have to try harder here.

It sure is beautiful up there:

This is a view of the lake from the Casa Rovai.

Lake Superior at sunset.

The business with the bank, the lawyer, the appraiser and the realtor was work for the siblings and brother-in-law-John. But cleaning up and cleaning out the house was a Herculean task, that involved all of us over the course of a week. Joe kept every family photo from those of his parents to those of his grandchildren from last year’s Christmas cards. Going through those picture took forever, because of the “Oh, that’s Nonna! What year do you think it was?” Or “What year was it we took that trip to Colorado? ’63?’64? ” “God, those bridesmaid’s dresses were ugly!”

We came away with photos, twelve Limoges Bridal Wreath dinner plates, unused extension cords and dropcloths, odds and ends and lots of pix. When we arrived there  the cleanup and cleanout was intimidating, but working together we got it done. Then we sat down and talked about how terrific the house looked. Lou built it forty years ago, and it’s no rustic cabin, it’s a sophisticated house. It comes furnished, all appliances, an acre on a gorgeous lake with a patch of sandy beach and good fishing.

Speaking of fishing, my son-in-law John patched together two rods and reels from Joe’s tackle box , bought worms, and hit a neighbor’s dock or got up early and took the neighbor’s rowboat out onto a dawn-misty lake. His Dad took him out fishing when he was a kid in Kentucky, and he comes from a long line of Vietnamese fishermen. I have to mention that it rarely got above sixty degrees while we were there but John didn’t care and went for a swim. His in-laws started to have doubts about his sanity.

In better circumstances John might have decided to stay a week longer. He loves to fish. And he loves to play blackjack. The first night we were together we ate dinner at the Chippewa casino in Christmas, a town a few miles down MI 28, mostly in memory of Joe,who whiled away many the hour there at the nickel slots. It’s wittily designed on a Christmassy theme, the food’s good and Lou finally got to play blackjack, Here are snaps from dinner:

My sister-in-law Patty and her husband John.

My son-in-law John and my sister-in-law Mary.

Here’s a random shot of Honor drinking a Molson in the evening .

Honor John and Lou all won at the blackjack table that night. Two nights later they lost most of it back.

As for restaurants, ummmmm. The casino’s food was the best. But I have to say the ambiance was terrific at all of them, although I don’t think that there’s a restaurant in the UP that doesn’t serve baked potatoes in foil. You know what I mean. He’s a pic of a place called Foggy’s — low key, a bar with babies out with their parents, Tigers/Twins on TV and lots of fish mounted on the wall.

It was an intense week, but getting through it with family and grabbing every opportunity to be cheerful makes it another great memory.

Three bedrooms, two baths, two kitchens, two magnificent fireplaces lakefront property with the best neighbors — if you’re interested, let me know.


Filed under Into the Mystic, The Great Outdoors, Travel, Worth it anyway

Hangin’ With Lloyd II: Alarums and Excursions

Oy. It wouldn’t be a few days with a friend without a minor household disaster and a few embarrassing D’oh! incidents that will get dragged out in conversation for years to come.

It was lovely. Lloyd was sitting at the kitchen table and I was browning a stuffed pork loin chatting about his magical experience watching snow fall in Glacier Park as he ate breakfast on the Empire Builder. He’d been inside the house for about ten minutes. Then we heard falling water, a torrent, a veritable Niagara of noise in the general area of the laundry room. Yup, two inches of water on the floor, in the litter box, on the furnace. It poured from the ceiling light fixture, which indicated that something very very bad was going on in the upstairs bathroom.Inexplicably, one of the washbasin faucets had popped off and water was being flung around the bathroom. I guess I’m glad the house has superior water pressure.

Of course it took Lou what seemed like hours to turn off the water because the knobs seemed welded to the pipes. Of course, he had to remove the door of the vanity. Lloyd and I spent the next fifteen minutes spreading towels on three rooms worth of flooring while Lou stemmed the flood from the faucet. It didn’t get properly repaired until after Lloyd left — no wiggling the hot water faucet lest you conjure another deluge. We brushed our teeth in the powder room. As I said, oy!

One day we got up,mistakenly,an hour earlier than we needed to in order to make a train to Chicago, and yes, we missed the train. Damn parking in downtown Wheaton.

On Michigan Avenue I was so mesmerized at the sight of a gentleman hailing me a cab (it’s been years, and Lloyd’s technique is excellent) that it took me awhile to realize that the folks yelling “Sir! Sir” were trying to get Lloyd’s attention. That horn honking behind us was the taxi  waiting at the curb. We felt like rubes. The taxi hailer told me:” That’s two things that would never happen in Manhattan. No one would have told us about the cab, and even if he had, someone would have nabbed it before we got there.”

And, oh yeah,I told the house guest that his laundry was probably dry. He went to fetch it only to tell me that I’d never moved them from the washer before I punched the dryer’s on button. I’m going to blame the scintillating dinner table conversation.

On to the excursions, in Cliff’s Notes format.

Millennium Park  never fails to push up my endorphin levels — the glittering embrace of the curves of The Bean, the people watching, the kids paddling barefoot in the fantastic fountain, the flowers, the breeze off Lake Michigan.

Here’s a picture of  half the fountain John took last November:

Chicago’s a free music town. Listening the a Mozart String Quintet and gazing upward at Tiffany’s largest dome at the Chicago Cultural Center is one of the best uses of an hour I can think of.

Choral Evensong at Saint James Cathedral (Episcopal) made me weep, crusty old atheist that I am — the words and music of my childhood.

The highlight of my Loop Architectural Tour is always the amazed expression on a friend’s face when I walk him into Frank Lloyd Wright’s lobby of the Burnhum and Root Rookery Building.


And as far as I’m concerned, Daley can be mayor for life because of the gazillion  or so tulips that transformed Michigan Avenue into a botanist’s fairyland.

Lloyd’s visit recharged some of my battery levels, and gave me enough material for a longish Alice Munro -style short story . I think I’ll call it Friend of my Youth. Thanks, Friend.


Filed under Born in Chicago, Free, HeeHee, Home, Music, Travel