Gear review: Arteck HB030B Bluetooth keyboard lightens up my travel life

The Arteck HB030B Bluetooth keyboard weighs less than my favorite mobile input solution, the Logitech K780, but it also has backlit keys, which the K780 lacks.

My Arteck is light, and it lights up, thus doubly lightening my travel life!

Bluetooth keyboard Logitech Arteck compare - 5Please pardon that little bit of inane wordplay. I can’t help myself sometimes.

Arteck HB030B Bluetooth Keyboard: At a glance

  • Connects to (pairs with) one device at a time
  • Suitable for use with iOS, Windows, and Android devices
  • Rechargeable lithium battery uses standard micro USB cable (included)
  • Backlit keys
  • Frustration Free Packaging consisting of a sturdy cardboard box sufficient as a case for my travel use; zero plastic garbage
  • Weighs 214 g or ~¹⁄ 3 lb
  • 9.7″ x 5.9″ x ¼” or about as small as a useful keyboard can get for adult sized hands
  • $20 (US) retail

Why buy another keyboard when I love my Logitech K780?

I bought my Arteck from Amazon in April 2018 for $19.99. That makes it noticeably cheaper than my K780. I paid $75.90 for the Logitech in 2017.

The Arteck HB030B weighs 214 g, simply annihilating the Logitech’s 863 g. In a one bag travel scenario, shaving off 649 g—75% of the heavier K780’s total—can make an appreciable difference to my carrying comfort.

I use a Bluetooth keyboard paired with an iPad Pro as an alternative† to a weightier, bulkier, less flexible laptop. The Arteck keyboard together with my iPad weighs in at 59% of the K780 + iPad Pro combo.

Here are some more visuals to show the difference in size between my two portable input devices.

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Velvet Burger restaurant, Riccarton, Christchurch, NZ

Carnivores who find themselves hungry on Riccarton Road in Christchurch, New Zealand, should consider stopping in at Velvet Burger. I know that I will return if I’m ever back in the neighborhood.

This might be where I confess that my husband believes our elder son was built entirely from hamburgers based upon my eating habits during my first pregnancy.NZ Food Velvet Burger - 3

NZ restaurant Velvet Burger Riccarton Chch - 2Velvet Burger does offer a Vege option, and their fries—both potato and kumara sweet potato—looked pretty darn good, but I would think being around so many meat eaters might be less than appealing for the Vegan set.

Eat down the road at exclusively vegetarian Dux Dine instead if you are offended by sharing space with the omnivores.

Gluten free buns were available for an extra charge.

Here’s my Velvet Lady chicken burger, sliced in half because I wasn’t sure I could finish it. I ordered it without bacon.

NZ Food Velvet Burger - 2nz-restaurant-velvet-burger-riccarton-chch-3.jpg

If I eat here again, I’ll order from Velvet Burger’s list of Mini menu items. A 3/4 size sandwich would suffice for me.

The bun for the regular Velvet Lady was nearly the size of a luncheon plate and a bit flatter/thinner than I’m used to back home. It had the mild taste of other New Zealand white sandwich bread I tried. I suspect they use less salt in the baking, as a rule, but I don’t have the supertaster skill set to say this for sure. The bun had no seeds, which is what I prefer.

Velvet Burger offers vege, chicken, pork, and lamb burgers.

For the traditionalist, of course, they offer beef patties, too.

NZ restaurant menu Velvet Burger ChCh Beef Pork

Menu Velvet Burger beef pork

You’ll order at the counter, then take a seat with your little numbered flag to help the staff find you when your order is ready.

As with most New Zealand cafes, drinking water was self serve and both glasses and larger refillable bottles were available to take to your table. It’s an easy nation in which to stay hydrated without increasing your carbon footprint.

The restaurant wasn’t crowded when I stopped in during the early afternoon. Though the finishes weren’t overly plush, there was no din such as one finds in some industrially styled public spaces. Both booths and tables were available.

Restrooms are tucked away in the back hall. They were clean, and there were several. No complaints here.

I happened upon Velvet Burger when I went in search of the bus depot. I wanted to find my bus stop first to be certain of its location, then eat a late lunch before heading into the suburbs to meet DH after work. You’ll find this Riccarton restaurant very convenient for a quick stop before boarding public transit in Christchurch.

Barcelona 2017: B&B Wine & Cooking in El Pla del Penedès, Spain review

Attempting to wrangle every thought I’ve entertained about a week long trip to Europe would result in my posting about it after weeks if not months passed. Instead, I’ll try to focus rather narrowly on little slices of the journey. Knowing my propensity to go on and on and on, this might also keep my posts to a digestible length for the digital age.

Foodie fantasy outside the city of Barcelona

Here’s a not-so-secret secret: I’ve avoided driving in any nation except my ownokay, I’m ignoring Canada. Forgive me, neighbor to the north! But your roads are so similar to my own, and I can bring my own trusted car. It doesn’t count.

On this, my most recent trip to Europe, I faced a conundrum. Hire a rental car, or give up a much anticipated trip?

Barcelona 2017 B and B Wine Cooking car Renault Espace - 1

Renault Espace, felt like the largest car in  Spain

I rented a car. I hated almost every minute of driving the lovely but oversized Renault Espace in even small cities like Vilafranca del Penedès and Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, but it did provide me with the means to reach a really sublime rural experience: a mother and son private cooking class with the owner at B&B Wine & Cooking in El Pla del Penedès, about 45 minutes outside of Barcelona.

Background: civil unrest in Catalunya & a nervous husband

Barcelona 2017 Vilafranca Catalan flag - 1

Monument in Vilafranca with Catalan flag flying proud, NOT the national flag of Spain

My husband, whom we might politely describe as “travel averse,” was trying to dissuade me from joining him in Barcelona with DS2 at all. DH was near to canceling his own appearance at a really interesting conference. Why? The Catalan independence movement, and media depictions of dissent and violence that were widespread in the months leading up to our trip.

Back in the spring, when I found a reasonable* coach airfare to join DH on this jaunt to Spain, I immediately invited my children to come along. Shocking no one, my little guy opted to miss a week of school and join us; to my chagrin, my punk teen decided he would rather stick to his usual academic routine at home and demurred.

Though I find myself pondering whether someone could have switched DS1 at birth** for my rightful child, I do sort of understand the teenager’s desire to assert his independence by doing something—anything!—different from what his parent suggests.

Beyond the city limits: choosing an experience

So there were three of us headed to Spain in the early winter of 2017. We would be staying in the heart of Barcelona for the four nights of the conference. After that, DH booked his ticket home at the earliest possible moment. To save over $1000 each, DS2 and I needed to stay over until Saturday.

Barcelona 2017 B and B Wine Cooking outside flowers

Spain flowers even in winter

Originally, I’d booked accommodations in the medieval center of Girona for the parent-child short break. Girona is about an hour north/northwest of Barcelona. Trains, while available, aren’t super convenient to that village, however. There is no city-traffic-avoiding route back to BCN Barcelona International Airport during morning rush hour without a private car. Parking in old Girona is also not known to be convenient.

While I was keen to visit this ancient town due to its beautifully preserved Jewish quarter and its being the setting for a great series of medieval mysteries, it turns out that the world has discovered Girona because Game of Thrones has filmed there. That’s a little too much pop popularity for me to visit El Call right now.

DH, fearing he would leave and then a transit strike—or worse, total civil unrest!—would leave his wife and child at the mercy of a rioting mass of Catalan separatists, wanted me to make a plan better suited to last minute changes and further removed from the politicized masses.

I booked a rental car from BCN for the morning of DH’s departure. This option provided us with freedom of movement in the face of taxi strikes or to flee more serious unrest in that unlikely event. I then found an intriguing bed and breakfast outside the city in which DS2 and I would spend our final two nights in Spain.

As an aside, I never felt unsafe in Barcelona or the surrounding region. Except possibly while negotiating the narrow, winding exit from the airport parking garage in an SUV the size of a semi, but you can’t blame that on politics.

Catalunya: experiencing hearth & home

One of the ideas I’d entertained for making the trip to Spain a pleasure for both myself and my younger son was a cooking class.

barcelona-2017-b-and-b-wine-cooking-class-mom-with-kid-e1517158098792.jpg

We (helped Marta while she) made that paella!

Yes, it’s true, any regular reader knows that I’m not typically an enthusiastic cook.

That said, I am an enthusiastic student of what makes other people—and other cultures—tick, and it is hard to place a finger on the pulse of Catalunya without discussing food. These are people who love to eat, who know how food really ought to be, and who seem to enjoy sharing all of the same.

I’d entertained the notion of this class in Barcelona, but the timing wasn’t working out quite right. Plus, if I’m honest, I would rather visit a nice, dusty history museum any day, whereas my son was hoping to stay in the hotel watching his favorite cartoons in various languages.

What did pop up when I started researching lodgings outside the city of Barcelona, but within a radius of about one hour, were farm- and winery- based experiences.

Penedès, if I’m getting this right, is the heart of the grape growing region that produces some the world’s best sparkling wines, or cava, as it’s known locally. At least one person with whom I spoke implied that champagne is basically just a French knock off of Catalan cava!

I won’t take a position in the subjective argument of “best” or the historical question of “first,” but I can tell you that it is easy for a non- aficionado to learn about and experience great sparkling wines in Penedès, even with a child in tow.

Barcelona 2017 B and B Wine Cooking street sign

Signpost guides the way. Take the narrow dirt track to the right around the cluster of houses.

So I booked the B&B Wine & Cooking in El Pla del Penedès and hoped for the best. It had good reviews on Trip Advisor, but was mostly an unknown. I chose to use Hotels.com for booking, just in case any of it was less than legit, but, in the end, have nothing but good experiences to report from Penedès.

BandB WineandCooking Cava welcome - 1If I return, next time I will book directly with the B&B. When you do, they guarantee you the lowest room rate and give you a free bottle of cava as a welcome gift.

B&B Wine & Cooking, El Pla del Penedès

This bed and breakfast is family friendly. I’ll start there, because so many B&Bs in the USA are fussy establishments that seek to insulate their guests from such inconveniences as children and telecommunications. This is not that. Continue reading

Barcelona 2017: One week family stay at Hotel Catalonia Ramblas

Attempting to wrangle every thought I’ve entertained about a week long trip to Europe would result in my posting about it after weeks if not months passed. Instead, I’ll try to focus rather narrowly on little slices of the journey. Knowing my propensity to go on and on and on, this might also keep my posts to a digestible length for the digital age.

Home away from home: Hotel Catalonia Ramblas

We didn’t choose our Barcelona hotel. It was selected by the organizers of the conference where my husband was speaking. Sometimes, these choices are a disappointment, but something to put up with graciously. After all, I’m tagging along at little to no cost for lodging in an expensive city.

Hotel Catalonia Ramblas was not one of those disappointments. We were incredibly comfortable there as a family of three.*

Barcelona Ramblas hotel bed - 1Often, location is the single biggest factor in how a hotel stacks up. Hotel Catalonia Ramblas is in a prime location just two blocks from the heart of Barcelona, the Plaça de Catalunya. Leading downhill toward the Mediterranean from the Plaça is the famous La Rambla pedestrian thoroughfare.

It’s hard to beat a hotel location this close to two of the must visit sites in a city.

This is also a major shopping district. The grande dame of Spanish department stores, El Corte Inglés, is an imposing presence across the street. Which street? With more than one location near the Plaça, you can take your pick of all clothing to the south or housewares and toys, etc., to the northeast.

You’ll find anything you might need within an easy walk of Hotel Catalonia Ramblas, including access to public transportation and the starting point for popular tours.

I saw internationally recognizable brands as well as shops with a Catalan flavor everywhere along the Carrer de Pelai, home of Hotel Catalonia Ramblas.

My bank has an agreement to waive fees with a group of other large, international financial institutions, and the ATM I needed to avoid paying fees was mere blocks away.

Location? Check!

Two’s company; three’s a crowd?

We had what I believe was a standard room (i.e, not a suite), albeit perhaps an oversized one since it included a sofa bed for our son at one end. I know there are suites with private pools(!) available in this hotel, but I didn’t investigate any other room types.

Refer to the first paragraph: I was in residence as a beggar, not a chooser.

Barcelona hotel entrance corridor - 1One entered our room from the public hallway into a short corridor with doors at both ends; the bathroom entrance opened from this corridor to one side.

Barcelona hotel bathroom glass door - 1The bathroom employed a frosted glass door, but the presence of the additional wooden door between the private hallway and the sleeping space meant no early morning light pollution when one family member rose early to go to work while his spouse and child lazed about for hours’ more sleep!

I dare you. Just ask my opinion of glass walls in double hotel rooms. These rooms are designed to be shared by more than one person who might have very different schedules. My thoughts aren’t positive.

Entering the bedroom from the hall, the closet separated the bathroom from the sleeping space. This no doubt added some sound insulation. I found it easy to sleep through DH’s early morning routine.

One section of the closet had shelves, including a pull out with electric kettle and instant coffee/tea things; the other two thirds offered standard hanging space. Three thick blankets and an extra pillow were at hand in the closet, proving themselves very useful as we experienced a rare run of freezing days during our week in Spain.

You might notice from my photos facing toward the closet that the pulls on the closet doors could serve as makeshift hooks; I kept our light and dark laundry bags there so my family knew where to put soiled clothes.

The main bed(s) were two oversized singles pushed together in the European fashion. I didn’t bring a tape measure, but I’d judge that each of these was closer to an American double/full size (54″ wide) than our twin (36“) beds.

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An introvert cruises with Carnival & finds room for everyone’s idea of a good time

Carnival: fun for all, all for fun?

I knew going in that I was not a good fit for the typical Carnival Cruise Line demographic. Carnival bills itself as sailing “the fun ships.” Frankly, I’m not sure I’m an easy match for any commercial demographic slot, but easygoing party animal perhaps least of all.

I am an unabashed introvert. I don’t like crowds, and I don’t like noisy environments. I don’t listen to popular music, I hardly watch TV, and I’m not “fun” in an obvious way. I don’t participate in most of the activities I see online listed as features of Carnival itineraries.

So I came to my first cruise, aboard the Carnival Glory, fully aware of all this, but willing, for several reasons, to go along for the ride.

Childhood fantasy of The Love Boat

First and foremost, I’ve wanted to experience an ocean cruise since I was a very young child watching The Love Boat with my mother. I yearned to travel even then.

Oh, how romantic cruising seemed, hearkening back to the halcyon days of ocean liners plying the seven seas. Glamorous evening wear? Officers in uniform? Exotic ports? Yes, please! Thirty years later, I finally made it to sea with my own little one in tow.2012-carnival-cruise-saint-john-nb-canada-1.jpg

Low prices and good value

Another simple reason I opted for a Carnival cruise, in spite of reading descriptions that made it sound like the least appropriate line for me, was simple economics. Carnival Cruise Lines sells a mass market product at a value price.

After taxes, I paid $83 per person per night, and that was for an ocean view stateroom, not the cheapest inside cabin. This departure left from a city near my home, making it all of $3.50 in tolls to get us to the port, plus 10 miles’ worth of gas, wear, and tear on the car. A four night voyage from my home port was a very inexpensive way to try cruising.

Testing the waters

Finally, I wanted to take a short, inexpensive voyage with my youngest son because I have big plans for grand, trans-Atlantic adventures… but my little guy has been known to get motion sick.

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Book review: “From Anna” by Jean Little

I read incessantly as a child, and I read some young adult fiction working in a bookstore as an adult (between my professional career as an engineer and becoming a full-time parent.) Then, I was the mother of a child who read far above grade level, but was still emotionally too young for some kinds of content, so I read many more children’s books in a newly critical way.From Anna by Jean Little cover

I found Jean Little’s From Anna (written in 1973) at our local library in 2012, read it, and shared it with my son. It appears to be out of print as of this writing (2017.)

It is an incredible statement from me that I believe this might be the most moving children’s book I have ever read. I finished it in just a few hours and loved everything about it. I had to hide my raging enthusiasm for it lest my son rebel and refuse to read it. I think this novel is a valuable read for every child.

The plot is straightforward: a German family decides to leave their homeland as the Nazis rise to power in the 1930’s. The youngest child, Anna, has an undiagnosed problem. She is almost blind, but no one realizes it. Her family loves her but assumes she is as stupid as she is clumsy since she fails miserably at school and in her household chores. A family connection to Canada opens a door for them to emigrate. After this huge transition, Anna’s disability is discovered and she finally gets an appropriate education where she can feel safe to come out of the protective shell she’s kept herself in all of her short life.

The reasons I loved this book are so much more than the plot.

The story is written very naturally, yet every word is well chosen. For example, I have struggled to appreciate German culture due to the legacy of the World War II and the Holocaust. Early in the story, before I cared about the characters, the lyrics of a song beloved by Anna’s family are presented: “Die Gedanken sind frei.” I was brought to tears reading the English excerpts in the book. Here’s a link to the full text and translation, Thoughts are free.

A family who would sing this song in spite of the very real dangers of doing so is one I will enjoy visiting in a novel. I care, desperately, about human freedoms. Knowing what would soon happen in Germany made this moment in the story achingly poignant for me. It also serves as a valuable reminder that dissidents persist under the most tyranical regimes, and the atrocities of a culture’s leadership should never be allowed to eclipse the good that inevitably remains, however deeply buried.

The child, Anna, is drawn realistically. Her family is good and loving, but they completely fail to understand her. She is treated unfairly, and the novel recognizes this without vilifying anyone. Her father loves her. She might even be the favorite of all five children. His love isn’t enough to solve Anna’s problems.

Anna is stubborn and grumpy and imperfect, but the reader sees why this is so and likes her in spite of it. Unlike some children’s books, there is no sugar-coating the experiences of a child with real problems. It recognizes that life can stink, even when a good person lives surrounded by other good people who love her. The failures of Anna’s family members in the story are noted, commented upon, and then forgiven. Anna herself comes to terms with her family in a very believable way, providing a beautiful role model for the child reader.

Share this book with your children. Read it yourself. Tell everyone you know about it, especially if they have a child with any special needs. I loved it.

*Adapted from my August 9, 2012 Amazon review of From Anna, by Jean Little