Category Archives: Travel

San Francisco!

I am here!

I am heading to a creative retreat in Calistoga, lead by the fabulous Andrea Scher, and Laurie Wagner (who I am sure I will have amazing things to say about afterwards!)

But first, Japantown, sushi, and treats.



And a little hotel selfie, while I’m at it.


And a little art journaling, which I haven’t done in ages.


Today I head to Calistoga to meet about 25 other women, for some dancing, writing, photography, painting, and lounging by the pool! Oh, and I bought my first bikini ever for this trip. Yep, that’s right, I’m going to show off this wrinkled post-baby (twins plus one) belly! It’s about time.


Weekend in Santa Ana: Journal It! party

It was a whirlwind trip to Santa Ana this weekend, but I had a blast! Many months ago, I told Jenny (Doh, the author of Journal It! and many other titles) that if she was going to have a book launch party for Journal It!, then I would be there. I loved contributing to this book, and I am so proud to show it off.


After a morning walk, admiring the local fruit (WOW!), we set up at Jenny’s studio CRESCENDOh. Lynn Richards and Stephanie Ackerman also set up tables for the night.


It was a wonderful night- I met some amazing people, and especially enjoyed meeting some of the people I follow on Instagram. I sold 5 paintings and traded one with Jenny. I had a great time painting the whole night; it was meant to be a 20 minute demo, but I couldn’t resist finishing the entire thing! It was a little different from my weekly Gorilla House live art battles since I was the only one painting, but it was still lots of fun! Here’s the final result! The painting is on display and for sale at Studio CRESCENDOh.

photo by Cynthia Shaffer

photo by Cynthia Shaffer

Click here to see Jenny’s blog post about the party.

Here are the photos from the night. This is my first time trying the gallery thing for photos. Click on the first and it takes you to a slideshow. Pretty nifty!

Japan: The Food! Part Four (Finale)

To see Parts 1, 2, and 3, click here! To read all my posts on Japan, click here.

We continue the food journey of Japan in Kobe, where we once again got lost because of the really lame map in our guide book. We were attempting to find a gyoza (dumplings – that’s all they serve) restaurant, with very little success. This kind man offered to help us, and after calling the restaurant multiple times, and wheeling around in circles for about 10 minutes (hey, even he was lost), we eventually found it. Not really worth the effort, but as good as gyoza can be, I guess. Kind of a dive, though.

JP looks unimpressed.

The real reason for being in Kobe was to try Kobe steak. Oh, yeah, baby. We had a reservation at the restaurant recommended in our book, and made sure to find it ahead of time. It wasn’t too hard to find, but we had about an hour to spare before our reservation, and it was chilly out, so we stopped at the local Victorian-style Starbucks.

Finally, time for dinner.


I cannot express just how amazing this meal was. We sat right in front of a grill, watching the chef cook during the whole meal. He was methodical, and precise with every movement. Each little onion ring was flipped individually. Mesmerizing.

Started with a salad and raw scallops.

Then… time for the steak. He only cooked part of it at first, then cooked vegetables, then the remainder of the beef. Perfectly done, melt-in-my-mouth tenderloin steak. It was the best meal of my life. I’ve never had a steak that comes even remotely close to the tenderness, and the amazing flavour of this one. That’s saying a lot because I live in Alberta, home of Alberta beef, which is pretty darn good.

I want to keep talking about this steak, but I really don’t have anything new to add!

So, on to the subway station, where we spotted this gem. From super-delicious to none-to-appetizing (just goes to show how much packaging affects our decisions to buy food!):

That night, JP wanted a little snack, so he went to pick up a banana at the local 7-11. Here’s what he found (there’s no shortage of packaging in Japan):

Finally, to conclude my food posts of Japan, I will end with my birthday dinner at The New York Grill, in Tokyo. This is the restaurant where scenes from “Lost in Translation” were filmed, and easily our most expensive meal ever. It was pretty posh! The food was amazing, and I decided to treat myself with Japanese steak again; it wasn’t Kobe beef, but from a different region of Japan – still freakin’ amazing.

Before dessert, I informed the waiter that it was my birthday, and asked if I could please have some candles with it. I was really pleased that he used two candles: they look like the number “11”, same as my birthday!

I chose the brownie sundae.

Japan: The Food! Part Three

To see Parts 1 and 2, click here! To read all my posts on Japan, click here.

When we were in Osaka, we wanted to eat some of the locally popular okonomiyaki, which are thick, savoury cabbage “pancakes”, filled with meats or seafood, and drizzled with a sweet sauce and mayonnaise. Following our Frommer’s “Japan Day by Day” book, we went looking for a restaurant called Takonotetsu.

Let me just say, that while our guide book is certainly beautiful to look at, with great photos, glossy pages, and fairly decent write-ups, the maps suck. Seriously, they suck. It was really difficult to determine where exactly the dot on the map was supposed to be in real life. There are very few street names on the map, and even if there are some, we couldn’t always find them on the streets. So, we went walking where we thought we would find this restaurant, and walking… and walking…. We finally found someone who had a cell phone and could help us find this place! Once again, people were so helpful! This guy actually went out of his way for at least 10 minutes to walk us to the restaurant.

Yes, that’s right. It took 10 minutes, because that’s how bad the maps are in our book. Argh! So, we get into the building, go downstairs, and the first thing we saw was a little taste of home, in a weird way:

Then a few more paces and our helpful guide informed us that we had a arrived. The restaurant he had brought us to was named, “Pizza Ball House.” Um, ok, thanks. Remember, we were looking for “Takonotetsu”. Our guide left, and JP and I decided we would try it since we didn’t feel like walking anymore, and besides, it looked like they served the same kind of food. Turns out, we were at the right place, but the name Takonotetsu is only written out in English on the menus. The food was really yummy, but we should have tried the okonomiyaki, too, because we didn’t really get a chance to after that – that’s what the ball shapes are for on the griddle. They are balls made from octopus, ginger and scallions, with a special sauce.

As we were walking to our hotel, through the train station, we came across a humungous underground marketplace. It was insane! I couldn’t get over the range of food and the amount of money people would lay down for confections! People were lined up out the door for chocolate covered rusks (and they weren’t cheap!!). There were cute character cakes,

really pricey gift boxes (this one is over $300!!),

amazing salads,

and fill-your-own sushi trays, with individually wrapped sushi pieces!

This place blew my mind, and we knew we would return the next day to get food for our train ride to Kobe!

There is still more…
To be continued!

Wordless Wednesday: Tokyo

(For more Japan posts, click here. So now this post is officially not wordless.)

Japan: The Food! Part Two

To see Part One, click here.

OK, I admit it; when it was time to eat breakfast in Japan, we totally cheated. The idea of having rice and miso soup (not to mention all the things we didn’t recognize) first thing in the morning just didn’t cut it. Luckily, there is no shortage of French bakeries, so we were able to find croissants easily. This was a typical breakfast for us in Kyoto (that’s yogurt, by the way):

During our stay in Kyoto, we decided to have lunch at Izusen, a famous shojin-ryori (Zen Buddhist monk cuisine) restaurant, located on the grounds of Daitoku-ji, a sprawling Zen temple complex. Talk about complex: we got lost trying to find the restaurant. We were *this* close too, when we turned around to try a different direction! Eventually we asked someone for help. One thing I will say about people in Japan is that they are extremely helpful! There were a few people who bolted away from us as quickly as they could, presumably because they spoke no English, or we were really scary looking. But for the most part, people went out of their way to help us.

We arrived at the restaurant, and there were plenty of tables outside, in a beautiful garden. When we stepped into the restaurant, one of the women working there ran over and, with a worried look on her face, said “Japanese restaurant!!!!” We tried to explain that we were aware, and we wanted to eat. When she asked, “Inside/outside?”, I don’t think she meant it as a question, because when we said outside, she kept saying, “Inside/outside!!!” Eventually I said, “Inside,” hoping it would calm her down, and we could proceed to lunch. Then J.P. stood on the wooden platform with his shoes, which was a big no-no, and she freaked out a bit. After removing our shoes, we were seated. On to the meal…

We were seated on the floor in a tatami-mat dining room with sliding doors: exactly how I pictured restaurants in Japan (although it’s the only one we went to that was like that!) An elderly woman brought us English menus, but the only English on the menus was the word, “vegetarian”. Good thing too, because I’m not sure I’d be so adventurous if I knew there could be strange body parts involved.

After we ordered (set menu – no idea what was coming), the first couple bowls started to arrive. There was this gelatinous stuff, with a powdered coating and a toothpick. I found it odd, and difficult to put in my mouth politely, but strangely addictive. J.P. couldn’t stand the wiggly texture.

Some plum liqueur (umeshu) was served, and a few more bowls of food. At that point, the server laid the bill on the table and we assumed that meant we were done. Um, still hungry here!! I told J.P. not to worry, that if this was indeed the end of the meal, we could still hit the French bakery outside the grounds of the complex. Thankfully, that was not the end. In fact, there was plenty of food, some recognizable, like the tempura and miso soup, but most of it strange, beautiful, and tasty (except for the green gelatinous thing – different from the gelatinous thing at the beginning of the meal!) Almost everything I ate that I didn’t recognize tasted different, or had a different texture, from what I expected. It was a fun meal.

When our meal was done, the bowls all stacked nicely into each other (which we found out by watching a couple next to us)! How perfect!

There is still more… much more. To be continued!

Japan: The Food! Part One

For my 40th birthday this year, my husband surprised me with a trip to JAPAN! I knew I was going somewhere, but I didn’t know where until the night before. We just returned a week ago – it’s hard to believe it’s already a memory. I have so much to write about, but I will start with the food. For us, travel is always about the food.

Our first day in Tokyo, we went to the Tsukiji Fish Market. It was unlike anything I have ever seen before – I didn’t even know what half the stuff was!

Even though our book suggested getting sushi at the market (“what could be fresher?”), we were chilly and decided to get a bowl of ramen noodles from a very busy stand.

This little place even had a write-up in the New York Times!

As far as I could tell, the cities we visited only had beverage vending machines (with the exception of two: one ice-cream machine, and one snack food, both in a subway station). These beverage vending machines were everywhere, even in little alleys, making it really easy to find water. We did try some of the other drinks, but it was almost impossible to know what it was going to be unless there was a picture of fruit on it. There were even alcohol and cigarette vending machines.

Whenever we stay in hotels, we seem to get a craving for chocolate. I can probably blame the minibars for tempting me, and the fact that I will almost never take anything from a minibar because it’s so outrageously expensive. Needless to say, we made several trips to the local 7-11, but the chocolate bars left something to be desired.

There was not a huge amount of selection, but Japan does seem to have a bit of a love affair with Kit Kat. There were all kinds of flavors of Kit Kat: green tea, dark, regular, some weird one that I never tried and had no idea what it was, white chocolate with Oreo-type cookie, and even strawberry (which tastes like strawberry Pocky).

Kit Kat became the official bar of the trip, and I made it my mission to find the best priced green tea Kit Kat to bring back home.

There were lots of these little cookie/cake places around. I’m not sure what they actually are, but they are usually made fresh (the smell is amazing), they look cute, and they are filled with something chocolatey-ish. We tried one and it was kind of like a not-so-good waffle, and mega disappointing. In fact, many of the baked goods were disappointing, except in the French bakeries, of which there were many – we are still wondering why!

There were so many “fast food” stands, with many things that I had no clue about. I gave one a try and it was pretty tasty. It was a deep-fried rice/sesame batter with some semi-sweet stuff inside.

That’s it for now… but there’s more, much more.

To be continued!!