Friday, December 27, 2013

The Christmas sneak thief and other stories

We had a fabulous Christmas in Vancouver with my brother and his family. The highlight for them was a surprise visit from his wife Laine's two brothers, who flew out from Toronto on Christmas day. They arrived with a suitcase full of gifts, just in time to join us for Christmas dinner.  It was a total surprise for everyone and Laine and her mother, who was visiting too, were so thrilled.

Here's the whole group.

There was a mystery though.  We couldn't find the tin of shortbread I'd packed to take over to Vancouver with us.  I'd made it specially to take to my brother as it's a family tradition.  The night before we left, Harry and I went out for dinner and came back to find that Geordie (the monster dog) had dragged the bag of stocking gifts off the kitchen table and torn things apart and eaten a whole package of dog biscuits.  Fortunately everything else was salvageable and I repacked the bag. But I couldn't find the tin of shortbread cookies.  Thinking I'd packed it in another bag we headed off, but it was not to be found.

It was only today, back in Victoria, when we were moving things around in the living room that I found the tin under the coffee table.  Somehow the sneaky dog had dragged it under there and made a valiant effort to open the tin.  Here's what it looked like.

Note the teeth marks and the distorted edge.  Amazingly he almost managed to get inside the tin, but not quite.

Fortunately, the tin remained closed so we can now share the treat with others.  But not with Geordie. He's in the dog house--again!

As it turned out, we didn't need to bring shortbread because son Jamie made a batch to share. And it was a lot prettier than mine, with pink swirls in some and green sugar on others. He's turning into the family baker.

Here's hoping your Christmas was full of love and joy, as ours was.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Five course dinner with wine pairing

My friend Liz and her husband Ritchie have started a wonderful seasonal tradition.  She invited three other couples to dinner at her house and asked each one to bring one course for the dinner, along with a wine pairing.  Liz assigned a category but that was all and so the meal was a surprise--but what a wonderful surprise. Here is her table, elegantly set for dinner.                                                                                         The wine pairing with each course is something that I've heard of but never experienced. It was fascinating and really pleasant to have a small glass of different wine to complement the food.
We began the evening with with a flute of Vouvray bubbles and a toast to all the chefs.  (See below.)    

I intended to take a photo of each of the courses but I was too interested in the food and wine to remember to do that.  So I'll just tell you what we ate. The first course was Miriam's  Middle Eastern soup with chick peas and chicken served with spicy cracker triangles and a lovely gently sweet Gewurstraminer to balance the spicy soup.

Next up was the salad course and Lynne and Bill served a Caprese salad, slightly warmed so the cheese was soft, served with a New Zealand Savignon Blanc. This wine had a grapefruit flavour the complemented the cheese.

My pasta course was a lemon and cream and herb linguini and I chose an Italian Pinot Grigio as a foil for the creamy sauce.  

Liz did the main course of beautiful scallops in a ginger sauce with couscous and pod peas, with a lovely California rose wine, called Chat on Oeuf to accompany it.  (The name is a take-off on Chateau Neuf and the bottle has a photo of a cat sitting on an egg.) 
For dessert Liz made individual souffl├ęs made with Saskatoon berry syrup, served with the same bubbly wine that we began with.  

The meal was leisurely and lovely, lasting about four hours in all as we had breaks between courses when the different cooks got up from the table to prepare or finish their dishes.  It was a wonderful way to spend an evening with friends.  But I wouldn't want to do it too often. Wine pairing is nice while you're doing it but can lead to drinking a bit more wine than you're used to.  I'm feeling less than tip top this morning.

Maybe we'll make it an annual tradition--and try to keep the glasses only half full.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Visitors from Japan

We've spent the last two days with a lovely couple from Japan.  Aiko (on the right) was a homestay student with us about eight years ago, when she came to Canada at age 20 to study English.  Now she is married to a sweet guy, Munehito (Mune for short) and they came on a whirlwind trip to Canada for their honeymoon.

We were so happy to be able to put them up for a couple of days and to see Aiko again.  I think the high point for Aiko was seeing Geordie and Maggie again.  When Aiko lived with us they were young dogs, aged four and seven, and they bonded so strongly to her.  For years whenever Geordie would see a young Japanese woman on the sidewalk he'd want to run up to see if it was Aiko.  Can you imagine the reunion? It was really special. 

Here's Aiko with Geordie on the pillow in the kitchen, and with Maggie in the back yard.

Aiko and Mune experienced some Canadian weather while they were here. Yesterday we walked across the road in the frost to Haliburton Farm to see the vegetables. (And here's the kale photo I promised. It's very healthy in spite of -- or because of -- the cold weather).

But this is what we woke up to this morning -- about three inches of snow. Aiko and Mune had so much fun taking the dogs out to the park for a playtime.   Mune loves dogs just as much as Aiko.  In fact they are planning to get a Border Collie puppy in the spring.  And they will be wonderful dog owners too. 
Even Maggie perked up and became puppyish with this young couple staying in our home. Here she is walking the the park with Mune.  You can see how the dogs are racing around in the snow.

And look at this! Maggie's actually leaping in the air with her Frisbee.

It was wonderful to welcome Aiko back to Canada and to meet Mune, but we're sad to see them go so soon. They are off to Vancouver for a couple of days and will then fly back to Japan.  We will miss them and so will our dogs.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bird spotting

This morning my friend Kath and I took the dogs for a walk across the road at Haliburton Farm.  On our way back we saw a pair of tiny birds flitting around.  I'd actually seen them before but not being a birder I didn't know what they were.

Kath identified them as a pair of Ruby Crowned Kinglets.  Here's what they look like. The photo is not mine, it comes from a website on bird identification by the Cornel Lab of Ornithololgy.  This is the adult male and he's really very tiny.  He and his mate are in constant motion, darting down onto the road and then up into the bushes, flicking their wings as they go.   Isn't he just the cutest thing?

When we lived in the city we didn't pay much attention to birds but up here on the hill there's much more evidence of bird life, especially across the street at the organic farm.  Tomorrow I'll show you what they're growing there now.  Hint:  it's a very trendy vegetable and the word begins with K.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

FInally finished

Just as we'd hoped, the upstairs apartment was finished in time for Sue to move in before Christmas. But it really was down to the wire.  We had to bring son Jamie over from Vancouver to help us with some of the sanding and painting and cleaning for the last few days.  Without his help we wouldn't have made it.  

Here are a few photos taken on Friday night as we were doing the final cleanup.  

And for contrast, here's one taken in early July when we were just starting.  The fridge is in the same place in the renovated kitchen shown below so you can see what a major change took place. Work included opening up behind the cupboards Harry's looking at to create a large laundry, storage room, opening up doorways and taking out a wall between the kitchen and living room.

The bathroom reno was an afterthought so I don't even have a "before" photo, but it's now very clean and contemporary and makes good use of  tight space.

It's been a long haul but we are pleased with the results and Sue is ecstatic. She's been having a tough time over the past couple of months with serious facial and jaw pain but we're hoping this living space upgrade will help set her on the road to recovery.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Little fishes, big fishes and beautiful seals

Check this out.  Here's a video of life in the ocean in British Columbia's north.  This is a lot to put at risk from an oil spill.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Still working on the upstairs apartment

The upstairs apartment is coming along... slowly.  We spent the weekend painting baseboards and closets.  The week ahead will move us forward big-time. Ben is tiling the bathroom and putting in the cork floor. Harry is finishing the closet in the downstairs hall and our pal Ritchie is painting the woodwork.  It always takes longer than you might think.

Harry and I spent Saturday and Sunday sanding, priming and painting trim and the insides of closets. We're hoping that it will all be finished by the middle of December so Sue can move in for Christmas. You can see from the photo that there is still much to be done. Today I made and posted a list in every room of the tasks that have to be completed.  There are quite a few of them.

But if things go well we'll have the washer/dryer, the dishwasher, the stove and the range hood installed, plus most of the electrical finished. Then all that's left is sewing it up.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

We were there, freezing our fingers off

On Saturday we went down with a friend to join this group of stalwart demonstrators at Victoria's Clover Point to tell Stephen Harper, Christie Clark and the Enbridge Pipeline people that we say NO. 

 No pipeline, no tankers, and no expansion of bitumen mining in Canada's tar sands.

Over 1,000 people stood in the cold wind and rain to make this point yet again.  It's far from over. This will be a fight to the bitter end.  Too much is at stake to succumb to bullying tactics and pressure from politicians and corporations. The people are speaking!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A dog's eye view of the world

I think this photo might have been a mistake. But it cracks me up.  This is what our dogs see when they walk into the room.  They don't see the tasteful colours we've chosen for the walls or the elegant accessories on the coffee table.  No, all they see is the ball.  Or the food bowl.  Or the piece of garbage that came in from the sidewalk on the bottom of your shoe.  

Geordie loves this ball because it squeaks and when he's too distracted to play with anything else, this will get him running around the back yard.

In the background here you see Maggie.  She spends most of her time on her cozy pillow in the kitchen but she still likes her breakfast and dinner.  And today she came to the park with us and ran around in circles with the Frisbee in her mouth.  Although she's had a couple more seizures since we've been home, she seems comfortable enough most of the time. So we are enjoying the time we have with her.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Inspired to drink green juice

I'm probably way behind in hearing about this,  but I just watched a movie called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, that extols the benefits of drinking fresh fruit and vegetable juice.  If you haven't seen the movie, it follows an Australian guy on a trip across America for a sixty day program of having nothing but juice.  On the way he meets a 400+ pound truck driver who also signs on. And looses over 200 pounds. Both of them also end up off all medications and feeling great.

Well, I'm not one to follow diets but I thought I'd like to try this experiment to see if it might help me with knee and hip pain from my osteoarthritis and at the same time lose a few pounds.

Today I got my juicer on sale and tried a juice of kale, spinach, celery, cucumber, green apples, lemon and ginger.  Just delicious.  The thing I liked most about it was the sense that enzymes and healthy nutrients were being absorbed into my body.

I think I might start with a three day cleanse, as featured here on Dr. Oz.  You have to work up to this one with a few days of eliminating heavy proteins and dairy and adding in hot water with lemon and ginger and herbal tea.  I think I can do this and I'd like to try.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Easing back into our life

It was a surprise to come home from Barcelona to full-fledged autumn here in Victoria.  A nice surprise.  We've had some days of bright weather that illuminate the golden trees.

We're over the jet lag now; it seems to take more of a toll each trip but we're able to sleep through the night now and are easing back into our life in VIctoria.

Maggie is holding her own; some days she's able to walk fairly well, other days not so much. But she seems comfortable enough and still enjoys her meals. So I think we still have some time with her.  

We've dived back into the renovation at Yukon Street, which had more or less stopped while we were gone.  It's going to be beautiful when it's done, probably in mid-December--just in time for Christmas.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Maggie's hanging in there

We are back in Victoria -- in the fog.  What a contrast from the bright sunny skies of Barcelona where the temperature, I kid you not, is around 27 Centigrade, or well into the 80s.  Our trip home was seamless except for the fog in Victoria that had us a bit worried about our flight in the little plane from Vancouver. But all was well.

Dear Maggie is hanging in there, able to eat and drink and do her bodily functions.  She can't walk well but is alert quite a bit of the time.  We are thinking that it may be days or perhaps a week or two, but not much more.

It's such a dilemma with our pets who cannot really communicate with us in words. We have to read their signals and keep in touch with their hearts and souls to know what is best.  I don't want Maggie to suffer needlessly, but I don't want to make a decision to end her life before she's ready to go.  How does one make this difficult decision.

Today Maggie wanted to come in the car with me when I went grocery shopping and when I took Geordie outside to play she wanted to come too.  She can't stand very well, she keeps falling over, but with the harness that the vet has fitted out for her she can sort of manage.

Our friend and house sitter Peggy was such a wonderful caregiver for her. I am so grateful for her love and compassion.  And thanks to Maggie for hanging in there until we got home.

Maybe when the fogs lifts my way will be clearer in this tough, tough decision.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A day of music and art -- and some sad news

The plan was to walk down to the old part of the city, see the cathedral and then visit the Picasso museum, but we got a late start because of some bad bews. We got an email from Peggy, who is taking care of our dogs, that our dear old girl Maggie is failing badly. We were hoping this wouldn't happen while we were away--but it did. Maggie is in her last days and I only hope she can hang on until we get back home on Thursday.

So it wasn't unti about 10:30 that we set off for the Cathedral. It's gorgeous, of course, but what delighted us was the cloisters where there is a pool and a gaggle of white geese.

By the time we got to the Picasso Museum it was afternoon and there was a huge lineup for tickets. Rather than waiting two hours we walked down the street to another art museum of contemporary European art. It had an amazing exhibit of figurative work, both two- and three-dimensional. Here is some of what we saw.

I think that figurative art is flourishing in Europe.

Lunch was tapas and sangria, then we walked home for siesta. Very Spanish, si?

Earlier in the day we had seen a poster for a free concert at the cathedral so in the interests of keeping busy and not dwelling too much on poor Maggie's condition, we decided to go. This meant another  walk down to the old city, but it was totally worth it. We didn't have any idea what a treat we were in for. The Millfield Camerata is a choir of about 25 young men and women who sang beautiful arrangements of religious music, from the middle ages to American spirituals. It tuns out that this is an award winning choir of teenagers from an English private school.

After the performance we walked back to the Picasso museum and there was no lineup so in we went. I enjoyed seeing the large collection of his early work from age 14 on. By the time we'd finished there my knees gave out from all the walking. It was all I could do to hobble to a restaurant for a light dinner. We had to take a taxi back to the hotel. 

Tomorrow is our last day here. We leave very early the next morning for our flight back to Canada. I only hope that Maggie will be able to wait for us.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gaudi's Casa Batllo

Aside from the floors and some of the walls, there's not a straight line to be found in this building. Welcome to imagination gone wild. Antoni Gaudi renovated an existing apartment building both inside and out using sinuous, flowing forms and brightly coloured mosaics. This is only one of his amazing works, but it happens to be the one we visited this afternoon.

Above you see a window overlooking the street. here's the same window from the inside showing details of the suble stained glass colours in the top.

This is the front room with a divider also echoing the circular glass design.

Here's the ceiling in the living room.

This is one side of the large llight well that brings natural light to interior rooms. It's tiled in blue with the colours deepening as they get to the top.

Another view on a different level, closer to the top.

This is the attic, very simple but still curvy.

And here's the rooftop with fanciful tiled chimneys

This building was commissioned by some wealthy people who wanted a unique house. I think they got one!  There were other modernist architects working in Barcelona arounf the turn of the century, but Gaudi was the most far out there. Each of his buildings is different, but they all have curves and mosaics and they are all works of art that go far beyond architecture.

By the way, there is an excellent film on this man's work, simply called Gaudi. It's worth searching out.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Barcelona is beautiful

I've always wanted to come to Barcelona to see the works of the famous aechitect Gaudi. But i had no idea that this city of almost two million people is so gorgeous and so liveable. It has 13 kilometers of Mediterranean beaches, a Medieval quarter and dozens of gorgeous plazas where you can get a reasonable glass of dry Spanish wine or an excellent coffee at a price way less than in Paris. That's not to mention the weather: on September 20 people are swimming at the beach and it's hovering around 23 degrees C or 74 F.

Today we took a tour on one of those hop-on-hop-off buses. This is something we've never done before, as we try to take public transit or walk around to explore new cities. I have to say I'm a convert, at least when it comes to a place with as much to see as Barcelona. Today we visited Barcelonetta, a beachy fisherman area, where I dipped my toes in the Med and then we had a fishy lunch in a tiny little neighbourhood bar/ restaurant. 

This cost us 8 euros and was preceeded by a plate of crispy sardines. My pleasant wine was 1.50 a glass!

We got back on the bus and hopped off at Sagrada Familia, the masterwork of Gaudi that is still  being worked on.  

The surprise there was that some kind of amazing festival was taking place. Behind the chuch the street was  closed off and people were gathered around watching a contest. A team of people dressed in blue and red gathered in the middle and 
made a circle of raised hands. 

Then others climbed on top to create a kind of tower. 

Then more climbed on top, and more, culminating with young children wearing helmets. Here's the completed tower with the last girl cimbing to the top. 

Once the tower is completed the children slide back down, followed by the rest.

It turns out this is a time-honoured contest between different teams, called castellers, that compete to make the tallest tower. There are nine teams in the city. Here's another team's entry. Isn't that amazing? I think this is a Catalan  tradition. 

We are learning more about this Catalan culture that dominates Barcelona. There is a strong separist movement here, in fact last night when we arrived there was a peaceful demonstration just outside our hotel. 

We've learned that the Catalan language is now used here in city notices, in the media and in the schools. There are Catalan flags hanging off many balconies. Yet the city is very international. The tour bus had the option of 16 different languages. 

Tomorrow we have another bus tour day. Who knows what treasures we will unearh.