An artist, of sorts.


My travel bud, Erin, and I were reminiscing about some of our many adventures and one in particular got us laughing. Well, it was more so her laughing at it since it was at my expense and well, I’m still reeling from the whole experience.

Picture it… the Montmartre district of Paris where all the artists come out at night like crickets on a Mississippi river bank. One of the women in our group was looking forward to visiting this area as she’d been there before many years ago. Not having heard of this area, I asked her what it was all about. She told me it was where the famous Sacre Coeur church was and it was the area where all the local artists hung out and many sold their pieces. Big woop, I thought. At this point, if I saw another boring church I was going to scream. I didn’t want to see any more churches… seen one, seen ’em all, and I had zero interest in seeing starving artists peddling their wares. I was more interested in sipping hot chocolate somewhere in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower, or hitting the shops on the Champs. Our group was heading to Montmartre and therefore, so was I.

Looky, looky, an artist doing a beautiful portrait of a girl. Imagine that. (courtesy of vigoenfotos.com)

We had wandered around the lovely cobblestone streets visiting the various little shops before coming across the “square” where many artists were roaming around with canvases in hand, offering to do sketches of random people. I sauntered around and watched several of the artists as they did sketches of various tourists who now dotted the area. Some weren’t bad, some were awful and some did pure magic.

I stood and watched one guy do beautiful portraits of a number of individual teenaged girls. I befriended the school group who turned out to be on a class trip from Alabama. I should point out at this moment that these kids were really outgoing and friendly, but certainly weren’t first in line when God was handing out good looks if you know what I mean. What amazed me was that the artist I’d been watching was turning out incredibly beautiful sketches of these not so great looking girls. Each one would see her finished product and just delight in the portrait. This guy was good! I stayed and spoke with several of the kids about their trip and where they’d been, and where they were going and school life back in Alabama compared to school in Eastern Canada. After the last girl was finished a number of the girls told me that I should get this guy to do my portrait. I didn’t want to. I saw that Erin had found a great table in front of one of the cafes and I was in the mood for hot chocolate, not a portrait. But then the artist started his selling technique and tried to talk me into getting my portrait done. I hesitated, but then finally gave in.

I’m stupid.

I stood still for about 10 minutes while this numskull sketched my portrait. I admit, I was actually starting to get excited and was looking forward to seeing the finished product. Several of the kids I’d spoken to were now watching the artist do my picture. They’d “ooh and ahh” as he finished one part, and they’d whisper to each other “it’s beautiful”, or “wow, he’s captured her eyes perfectly.” On and on it went. I watched him work under the stress of so many pairs of eyes watching his every move. The anticipation was killing me.

He finally announced it was finished, signed his name and ripped the sheet from his book. He turned it around for me to see.

This is what I was expecting….

I don’t look like this either, but at least he could have embellished a little!

This is similar to what I got….

This artwork itself is very good with great techniques/shadows/etc, however, no offense to the artist of this drawing, but if this were the finished product of my portrait I’d be screaming at this one too. (artist: Tom Richmond)

I nearly screamed.

It was awful.


My heart sank.

I was crushed.

I was hideous… like some sort of monster from a horror movie… some god-awful creature from the underworld. Okay, I’m getting carried away here, but it was a terrible drawing.

I knew it was awful when I went over to where Erin and some of the others were sitting. I rolled up the portrait like an old scroll. Erin was polishing off her creme brulee and said, “Oh, did you get one done? Let’s see it.”

I shifted my stance and decided to change the subject. “I think I’ll get a hot chocolate.”

“Let’s seeeeee it.” Erin urged.

I advised the others that it was awful and they sang out, “Ohhh commmmmme onnnn, it can’t be that bad.”

I opened the rolled up paper and showed them. They said nothing. Finally Erin, being as politically correct as she is, says “It’s… it’s really nice.”

“Its’ awful.” I said flatly.

“What’s wrong with it?” one of the women in our group said.

“If I look like this, I shouldn’t be allowed in public.” I advised. (Yes, I’m this vain.)  I was starting to get angry at the thought of the portrait. Afterall, why were all the other sketches of those other girls so beautiful? Why wasn’t mine as nice as theirs? I had no answers but I did have an awful portrait. This was terrible. What could have been a lovely moment to remember quickly turned into an event to forget. Ugh.

I was utterly disgusted and sour faced as we descended down the hill with the group…. wondering if I should take up residence as the Quasi Modo of the century at Notre Dame. (I wasn’t being serious, but hey, I was sour.)

Now, all this being said, I should mention that I shouldn’t really be criticizing anyone’s artwork because I cannot draw worth a lick. In fact, this is my own self-portrait….

’nuff said, right?

Once I got back home to Canada, I unpacked the hideous portrait and while contemplating keeping it, I just couldn’t bear the thought of seeing it again. I ripped it up… never to be seen again.

I should point out that two years after this incident, Erin and I visited Paris again, and even went to Montmartre.  Remembering the ordeal I suffered the last time, she smiled when we got to the artist area and said slyly, “Getting your portrait done again?”

I hate her.

Just kidding. We did have a good chuckle over it … although I think she was laughing slightly harder than I was.


Amy and her snail


I think God gives us kids so we remember to enjoy the simple things in life.

Pic courtesy of toprankblog.com

Amy is my 5 year old stepdaughter and she’s a real firecracker who is more so 5-going-on-25. She’s a bright little girl who likes the color pink, wearing sundresses and yet can be a real tomboy who isn’t afraid of any bug, monster, or getting dirty. She likes bugs. I do not. In fact, if I find a spider or other bug in the house, I get Amy to come and get it. She’ll pick it up, examine it closely and release it outside. Gotta love it! Just like last summer when we went for an ice cream and while she was sitting enjoying hers, a horrifying ugly flying bug landed on her arm. I was ready to jump up and down in hysterics and it wasn’t even my arm. Amy however, noticed the bug, brought her arm in closer to her face, stared at it intensely from every angle – perhaps committing it’s form to memory, and then flicked it off calmly… all while never missing one single lick of her ice cream!

On Friday after school she proudly brought home “Mrs. Slimy Panda”, the snail. In true 5 year old fashion, the name makes no sense. This snail wasn’t brought home on the end of her finger or in her pocket, but rather, in an actual mini-aquarium type thing. All the kids in her class got to bring home a snail and its own place to live. Why, I have no idea. Part of a class project I assume.

I was formally introduced to said snail Saturday morning when Amy came down the stairs to give me a closer look at her new friend while I was sipping my morning tea at the kitchen table. She looked somewhat sad and I thought Oh dear Lord, do not tell me this thing has died already.

“My snail needs to be spritzed with water, Janet.” she said. “He can’t dry out.”

She looked at me like this….

Yup… pretty darn cute…

I looked into the little aquarium… I didn’t see him. Anywhere. My eyes quickly scanned the items that WERE in there…I saw the rock, the leaf, the piece of chalk, the soil, the small piece of lettuce, the pop bottle top that serves as either a water dish or a pool – I’m not sure, but no snail.

“Uhhhhh….where’s the snail?” I asked, trying to conceal my panic and imagining she left it somewhere in the house… like the sofa, her bed, or *gasp*… my bed. She held the little cage up higher and said calmly and rather matter-of-factly, as if I should have known, “He’s on the roof.”

I got down to her level and peered up into the cage. Sure enough it was sitting upside down on the roof. I quickly grabbed a spray bottle and watched as she morphed into zookeeper mode. She removed the lid with precision placing it gently down on the table revealing the little snail going about its business, she lovingly tapped one finger on its shell in a petting motion, then directed the nozzle to the contents of the cage and gave everything a few doses of water as if she’d been doing this job for years.

The snail lives here…

“Snails can live for years you know.” she said as she put down the spray bottle and put her nose within an inch of the snail who was exploring the bright yellow roof of his cage.

“Is that so?” I said, watching carefully so that she didn’t get any ideas of letting him slide around on the table.

“Yup. And they hibernate as well.”

“Wow. I didn’t know that.” I tell her.

“Squirrels and badgers hibernate too, Janet.” she said, resting her chin on her hand and staring at the snail. “You have to be careful picking it up because if the shell breaks, it’ll die. There’s chalk in his cage because they like to eat it. But it can’t eat salt or it will die so don’t put any salt in here. And when they crawl they leave behind a trail of slime. It needs the slime so it can move along.”

This was more informative than watching a nature show. And if you think she’s smart, you should see her older sister.

“Ohhhhh” I said and looked in the little cage. A blue colored orb caught my eye. “What is that? Is that a blueberry in there?” I asked.

“Uh huh. They like blueberries so I put one in there for a snack.” she said confidently. I couldn’t help but smile. The blueberry was as big as the snail. A snack… hmmm… more like a lifetime supply.

The snail and its assortment of snacks…

I decided to take a seat in the room adjacent to the kitchen where I could still watch her adoration for this little creature and she could still delight me in her knowledge.

“I’ve studied snails for most my life.” she says.

I almost burst out laughing. “Oh yah?” I said.

“Yep. We’ve been studying them in class. I’m kinda an expert. If you need to know anything about snails, you can just ask me. And when I go to my moms house you can play with him while I am gone, I wont mind.”

At that moment, her father walks in toting a wrench or some other tool for the handiwork he was doing outside. “Oh Dad, if you need to know anything about snails you can just ask me, okay?”

He smiled and said, “Okay. Is his name Gary the Snail?”

“Noooo Daaaaad, Gary is the name of Spongebob’s snail.”

“Ohhhhh.” he responds.

“Do you have any other questions though?” she asks.

He was fiddling with something on the counter at this point and said, “Uhhh… what color pants does your snail wear?”

Amy slaps her hand on her forehead and says, “He doesn’t wear pants Daaaaaaad, he doesn’t have legs.”

“Oh.” he says smiling. “Does he have any shoes?”

She rolls her eyes. “Noooo, he doesn’t have shoes because he doesn’t have feet, Daaaaaaaad. Snails dont have legs or feet you know.”

He winks at me and says to Amy, “Then how can he dance?”

She sighs deeply and says, “They don’t dance either daaaaaaad.” She sounded like a teenager with her long drawn out “Daaaaaaaad” expression.

Kinda cute…

After a few seconds she picked up the snail and let him/her squirm around on her finger. The mere thought grossed me out and so I directed my attention to my cup of tea. My concentration was broken only by her giggles as she announced happily, “The snail won’t come off my finger!”  Gross. Like, ewwwwwwww. But she was in bug owner heaven. How sweet.

She thought for a moment and then discovered that the snail would likely willingly come off her finger if she got its favorite rock and enticed it with that. It worked like a charm.

Within minutes Mrs. Slimy Panda was back in its cage and Amy was all smiles.

Like I said, I think God gives us children so we appreciate the little things. Who’d have thought that a sticky snail could bring so much delight?


All things Eiffel Tower…


Anyone who knows me, has been to my house, or has spoken to me for even five minutes knows that I love Paris (the city, not the flaky, talentless hotel heiress) and I love pretty much anything with the Eiffel Tower on it…. coasters, mugs, frames, plates, art, keychains, pens, magnets, etc. I have numerous mini-Eiffel Towers around the house and if I could find a big enough one, I’d put one in my backyard. I’m not kidding. 

The Eiffel on my mantle…

France was the first place my bud, Erin, and I landed on our multi-city European trip a couple of years ago. As a result, seeing the Eiffel Tower was my first real feel of Paris and I instantly fell in love.

After landing at the airport, it seemed like an airport in any city… planes, customs, luggage. Even outside, it was like any city. The trip on the train to the outskirts where the hotel was, again, seemed like any big city. We didn’t see too much of anything that indicated we were in France.  We ditched our luggage at the hotel and our guide took us onto the subway. Even at this point, it didn’t seem like Paris, it was just another city.

Countless stops later, we emerged from the darkened subway station to the downtown of Paris. I was awestruck. So much to see and the architecture was just incredible. Our guide stopped us in front of a building and said, “Do you want to see something very beautiful?” We beamed with excitement. She led us around the corner of the building, and there, in all the early morning’s glory stood the Eiffel Tower.

Me and the Eiffel

It was truly a magical moment. I was standing in Paris, France. I was looking at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Like, holy cow. I couldn’t believe I was actually there. Now, that being said, some of you might be saying, “She got excited over a silly metal tower in the middle of the city??” And you’d be right, except it’s the freakin’ Eiffel Tower, not McDonalds… the Eiffel Tower has been a symbol of Paris to all of us earthlings for decades. When I envisioned Paris all my life, I’d pictured the Eiffel Tower immediately… nothing else. In fact, it was all I really cared to see when I got there. I didn’t give any thought about the Louvre, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Mont Martre.. pffft… I came to see the Eiffel Tower and here I was.

When talking to my sister one night before I went on the trip she said, “Oh wowww, you are going to be going to the Louvre when you are there.” I was like, “I sure am.” At this point I had no real idea what was in the Louvre, I mean I knew it was a museum and the Mona Lisa was there, but woop-dee-doo. Unless they sold makeup, I wasn’t too interested. “Oh the things you’ll get to see.” she said. My sister loves all things romantic, renaissance, victorian and historical. I like chocolate and makeup.

So anyway, back to standing looking at the Eiffel Tower I was speechless. Erin and I looked at each other and said, “NOW we know we are in Paris!!”

Suddenly it was like all the things I’d pictured about Paris had come to life. Everything was completely real and tangible. After numerous minutes of standing at Trocadero our guide told us we couldn’t come all this way and not go up the tower. We made our way to the base of the tower and were advised we could either take the elevator or the stairs. I was with my travel buddy, Erin, a.k.a “little-miss-fitness”.

“Come on, let’s take the stairs.” she said.

I looked up at this massive structure towering above us. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I said.

This thing is high!

“No.” she replied, smiling. (Erin is an amazing travel bud because she never ever gets cranky. Ever. EVER. We’ve gone on three separate Europe trips together, spanning some 30 days worth of travel and she’s never once, even for a split second been in a bad mood. She considers every moment when travelling an “experience”… whether it’s delayed flights, bad meals, bad weather, you name it, she’ll smile through it. So like I said, she’s amazing to travel with. And if you’ve ever experienced travelling with someone not-so-great , then you know how incredible it is when you get someone good.)

“You want us to walk up the stairs to the top? Are you freakin’ kidding me? Do you realize how high this thing is?” I said. There was no way I was walking up the stairs. No way.

“Yes, I know how high it is. Anyone can take the elevator, but isn’t it better to say that you took the stairs on the Eiffel Tower? You can say you actually walked up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower.”

She had a point. She won, and I hated it when she won. Before I knew it, we had started taking the stairs to the first level. I knew I wasn’t going to like this and I was right. Six or seven flights of stairs in and I was beat. My calve muscles were already strained, my back hurt, my hamstrings were burning with each step. At the top of each set of stairs you were greeted with yet another set of stairs. Erin hopped, jumped and danced up the stairs like this was a mere part in a broadway show. I really loathe her sometimes. (kidding)

As we ascended the tower, we met people on their way down. Jeez I wish I were them on the undoubtedly easier haul down the tower. They’d smile at Erin and give a thumbs up; they’d look sympathetically at me and ask if I needed first aid. I’d manage a breath and give them a forced smile, kinda like the smile you give someone when they ask you to try their cooking and you realize it’s absolutely disgusting as you take a mouthful but you can’t spit it out because they are staring at you in anticipation of rave reviews so you just smile and say “mmmm…it’s weeeally good and de-wi-cious” through the mass gunge in your mouth. Yah, well, that was my smile.

FINALLY, we reached the first level and boy was it worth it. The view was spectacular. Ahhh… I could get used to this place. Every angle was beautiful, from this side or that side. What a beautiful city!

View from tower… so pretty…

Erin circled the first floor snapping pictures from each side and finally came back around to where I was standing  gripping the side of the tower, too tired to move “Okay, time to hit the second floor now.” I looked at her like she was bonkers.

“You want to hit the 2nd floor today?” I asked. Now she looked at me like I was bonkers. “See, I was hoping we were going to camp out the night on this first level and then maybe hit the second one around mid-afternoon tomorrow.”

I was kidding of course, but thought I’d throw it out there. It didn’t work. I advised Erin that I’d just endured more exercise in the ascent to this floor than I’d had in the last 10 years and that I wasn’t even sure I was standing up because I couldn’t feel my legs except for the continuous Charlie Horse cramps that were going up and down my calves and thighs since the first flight of stairs. I don’t think Erin understands exercise related problems because well, she’s very active. She gets up at some rediculous time in the morning every day and goes jogging… even in the winter… in the dark. She doesn’t know the meaning of physical exhaustion. I had to think of a better excuse as to why I couldn’t do the ascent to the second floor. I know…. It’s against my religion to walk the stairs of foreign structures on Wednesdays in March. No that wouldn’t work. I know… I can’t walk up to the second floor of the tower because it reminds me of my beloved cat Fluffy who died while walking to the second floor of our house and it’s too painful to think about. Nah, not gonna work either. Erin may be an exercise-o-holic who doesn’t know pain, but she’s definitely sympathetic and knew I was serious about my super tired legs. She decided to go to the second floor by herself. What a trooper!

So even though the trek up the Eiffel Tower gave me sore muscles for the next three days, it was super worth it and is still my favorite thing in Paris, besides the food, the buildings, the hot chocolate and the people!

Me on the river boat cruise…. ahhhh….love this city.