Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Miracle and The Season

Three weeks of cable TV, and I have caught up on all the made-for-TV Christmas movies that were ever made. The good news is that watching cheesy movies is the best way to wrap gifts. The bad news is that it can get late real fast. On the weekend, two nights I stayed up until 2 am. A little slow start to the next day. But it is the season for being weary so off to the shops I went. Everyone is buzzing.

This week has been full of surprises arriving on my desk in the mornings. Parties and gatherings. A lot of fun!

I stopped by to visit my friend Heather and and her daughter Madison on Monday evening after yoga and a yoga feast. The snow was falling most of the evening, and when I went to leave, there was enough gathered to haul out the brush. I could feel the nudge of the earrings as they rubbed against my winter jacket. These earrings are a gift from my mother that I received in September. Ever since I got them, I haven't worn any other earrings. Life is just simpler that way. They are silver, cut in such as way that they sparkle; round hoops where the end snaps between two protruding wires. Light, dresses up any outfit, and works well with my dark hair.

All was perfect until the cold weather came, and they started hooking on my silk scarf and then the collar of the jacket. A couple of weeks ago, when I looked into the bathroom mirror, I only saw one. What happened to the other? The next morning when I went out to the car, there it was on the floor. Back into my ear. Happy again.

I was wearing these earrings when I went to yoga, then dinner, and then Heather and Madison's. I felt a tug on my ear when I was cleaning the driver's side window. I lifted my hand to my ear and it was gone. I looked down and there was nothing but fluffy snow. One thin-hooped earring in a lot of white. And it was dark. I looked around, and then hoped that it fell inside of my jacket.

I couldn't imagine how I could ever find it. Unless.... I searched throughout all my clothing and the car. But it was gone. Gone. I was surprised by my disappointment. I thought about that earring and where it could be. I thought of calling Heather but I knew it would do no good. No, no one could help me. I told myself that this was a lesson in non attachment. But I was still sad.

In the middle of last night, I had a brain wave; I would go look on the street during the daylight, right where I parked two nights before. As soon as I got out of my car, I saw immediately the vastness of my problem. The snow plows had come by in the last couple of days and there were heaps of snow on the side of the road. This is a needle in a haystack, I thought. I will have to wait until spring. I shuffled my feet in the snow, but felt the fruitlessness of that massive pile.

I turned back to the car and looked down, more automatically then anything else. Out of the left corner of my eye, I saw a sparkle. I blinked my eyes. And moved forward. I saw a curve; the rest was caught in the slush and mud. It was indeed my earring... It was totally intact, though it must have had many cars ride over it.

I understand that tales of Christmas Miracles are about dreams coming true. And in a way that is true for me. You see, in my day time, I was certain that my earring was gone forever. But during the night, I had persistent thoughts and dreams about where it could be. And I just followed through with that idea, no matter how far fetched it seemed.

I am not sure if this is TV movie material. But having my first Christmas miracle, that is cool.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A World of White

This is what we woke up to this morning...

Everything was enveloped in white, and there is nothing like a blue sky to show it proud. My travels today were by foot, around the neighbourhood where I caught the perfection of the morning.

I also spent some of this day doing Canada's national winter sport - shovelling. Since I park in the back lane, I have plenty of work to do. But that's not really my troubles. My trouble spot is at the entrance to the back lane, more than a half block away. When the plow clears the street, it creates a bank of snow (hmm... what is that called?) that I usually barrel through - you might be surprised at what the Civics can do. The trick is to get rid of the snow bank before the next round. Which is apparently on Tuesday.

Perhaps it was all that white that inspired me to create my first batch of ice cream. It also could be that I am on Day 21 of being gluten-free.

I found a recipe in a summer issue of Chatelaine. (Apparently that is the month that most people make ice cream. Go figure.) Orange-Vanilla Ice Cream. The ingredients include orange zest, lime juice, orange-flavoured liqueur and vanilla bean. I have never bought vanilla bean before; it was promising right from the store. The fragrance was intense. Once I cut the bean, which does in a way look like a bean, I was to scrap the seeds off its pod. This was another first. And nature has made yet another perfect delectable.

Now, I have done the first taste test - I had to wait 5 hours. All I can say is yum! With this, who needs pasta?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle sounds like a place nestled in the Scottish highlands. But there it is sitting in the heart of Victoria. On my second last day in the capital city, my friend Katherine and I visited the castle that once upon a time sat in the midst of 28 acres of land with a man-made lake. What grand style to spend a rainy day in November.

Building of the massive home was started in 1887 for Robert Dunsmir and his family. Robert had accumulated a good deal of wealth from coal and the railway on Vancouver Island. Robert died before the castle was finished but in 1890 his widow, their 3 unwed daughters and 2 orphaned grand children moved in.

What I found out that caught my attention:

  • Robert's wife, Joan, lived in the castle for nearly 18 years. And no one has lived in there since that time.
  • The castle has been a hospital, college, music school, and now a "must see" attraction.
  • The stained and leaded glass windows are spectacular.

When I asked the young woman at admissions what was the biggest surprise about the castle, she said that for her it was that it was a prefab house. Prefab? The interior oak panelling was from trees in Arkansas that were fabricated in Chicago and shipped in 5 railway cars to Victoria. And it is beautiful...

My favourite room (to my surprise!) was the dining room. The beautiful wood and furnishings create a warm and welcoming environment:

There is much more too... For more info, click here:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Under the Sea

The iffy part of travelling during November when you live in the mountains is the weather. Inevitably during the 8 or so hours that it takes to drive to the coast, I have seen rain, snow, sleet and clear skies - in all the seasons. But in the winter, the floodgates open. Rain in the valley can mean heaps of snow on the passes. To avoid all that, an hour flight to the coast feels like The Great Escape and Happy Days, all rolled into one. It seems like a great solution.

The problem is that if the clouds decide to settle in, there is no getting out. I don't often fly out of here during the winter; the percentage of iffiness is high. But this year, I was going to a conference. Having a provincial conference, in a province full of mountains, during November is an iffy proposition. But that's when they planned it. For days ahead of my November 3rd departure date, I scanned the weather. It looked good. It looked bad. The morning of the day began with clouds close to the lake. Not a problem since in my 16 years I have lived here, I have seen the pattern. The sun comes up and away go the clouds. And that is what happened on this day. The weather was incredible - all the way to the coast - and beyond! The conference was held in Victoria, which meant two flights for me - the last one was 12 minutes long. It couldn't have been more perfect!

Those of us who live here know what could have happened. Drive to the airport, the flight has been cancelled, drive home, come back the next day, etc. etc. etc.

It was a triumph indeed that I was in Victoria!

After the last day of the conference (stimulating, cool, intense), I decided to walk back to my friends' home in James Bay. I walked along the inner harbour in the drizzle - the clouds rolled in the day after I got there - I spied the Undersea Garden. Open. In my general theme of doing something new every day, I decided that somehow being under water seemed fitting. Soggy was the sentiment of the day. The extra bonus was the Live Dive Show was scheduled for 15 minutes after I got there. As I descended into the murky depths, which is technically 15 feet beneath the top of the ocean, I realized that I don't like murky depths. I don't like deep water. It is all a bit freaky to me. Are there any fishermen in my blood?

What is in my blood is curiosity, and that pushed me forward. There were fish everywhere. After watching them for a while, I realized that they were watching me. There isn't really a lot fish can do in their undersea aquarium; I am not sure that there is a lot for them to do anywhere but there they were edging against the glass with one eye staring straight at me. They were close. Inches away. I think we found each other equally compelling. I followed their cue and just kept moving on.

The diver's name was Dean. He talked about the fish, crabs, starfish, wolf eels and the stage stealer - the octopus.

Two days later, I was talking to a family friend, Dustin, who had heard a podcast about Octupi from Stuff You Should Know (SYSK), a very cool website. I tuned in and learned this about octopuses:

  • They are mollusks.
  • Their arms are nearly all muscle.
  • They have blue blood and 3 hearts.
  • Octopi are the kings of camouflage - to see a video of how quick it happens, click here.
  • These creatures have 19 distinct behaviours, which adds up to a lot of personality.
As I was leaving the Undersea Gardens gift shop, a young man was sitting outside the door.

"Are you the diver?" I asked.

"One of them," he said.

I asked him how he got the job (forever the employment counsellor); he told me his story. I was wondering how attached they became to the animals they followed around the tank every hour. "Do you name them?"

"No, not really. One of the former guys named the previous octopus."

"Really? What did they call him?"


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fall 2010 in the Kootenays

"September is the new October," I heard on the weekend. Indeed, it feels like the weather has been much more agreeable in this month than the last. The sunshine had a lot to do with it. Most of October has had sunny days. Fall in the Kootenays always has a spectacular component. Lots of colour - in the sky, in the trees lining the street and at the tops of the mountains as the first snows fall. For a gal from the flat land, the long drawn out fall is still a novelty, even after 16 years. The prairies would have a lovely season as well, if it weren't for the wind. When I lived in Winnipeg, I would watch the leaves turn golden, some drifting to the ground, and then inevitably one day the wind would arrive, and swoosh - all the leaves were on the ground. I suppose the upside of that phenomenon is that you can rake the leaves all in one day, and that chore is done.

Last Sunday (the 17th), I travelled out and about. Here's what I saw....

I had my first frost two days ago, and the mornings are very cool. Tonight when I went for a walk, I dug out the gloves. Winter is approaching. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy the beautiful trees!

What's happening in your part of the world?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

University of Victoria's Claim to Fame

Victoria is famous for its inner harbour, temperate climate, large retiree population, architecture, and provincial capital city. It also is the home of the University of Victoria which has gained fame for its.... rabbits. And they are a problem. Over several decades, the feral rabbit population has grown on campus. They are every where...


And close...

How many are there? Doing a population count is not that easy; it costs a lot and requires it would be pretty invasive. Where did they come from? Over time they have accumulated because owners have abandoned them on the U of Vic lands; many are descendants of those original rabbits.

It's a big enough of a problem that the University has developed a long-term management plan to deal with them. Officials at the University want to impress upon the would-be feeders that the animals are wildlife.

But what do you do when a little being is just so damn cute?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Those Canadian Lakes

Honestly, it wasn't looking that great. Once we turned north on Highway 6 on our way to Twin Lakes Beach, there was nothing but clouds. The fascinating part about travelling on the prairies is that the clouds are spellbinding. For one thing, you can see them all, except of course, the ones that are over Australia. And then, you can see weather approaching for miles and miles. The original plan was to go to Birds Hill Park, home of the Winnipeg Folk Festival and an 80-acre artificial lake. The bonus of this provincial park is that it is 24 kilometres from Winnipeg,

Gerald, my sister's boyfriend, decided that we needed to go to Twin Lakes Beach, a much longer drive, but the water and sand are great. As we were driving after turning north, I looked to my right where Birds Hill Park lies, and there was blue sky, no clouds. He could not be averted from his decision.

We arrived about 2 in the afternoon, and set up our space - the only ones along this strip. I figured others had been scared off by the clouds. There was a thin strip of blue to the north. An hour later, the skies were looking better, and the sun peaked around the clouds. It was HOT! Perfect. Here's what unfolded.....

And that was my last beach day in Manitoba. It seems Gerald has a knack for picking days to go the beach. If you are thinking of an outing, I would suggest that you consult with him.

Three days later, I was back in BC. I got off the plane and it was 32 degrees, too late for the beach. But the next day after spending time with the lawn mower, I headed out to Six Mile along the shores of the Kootenay Lake. It was the most spectacular day...

And that was the beach part of my vacation - 5 beaches in two weeks! There is nothing like those Canadian lakes!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Manitoba Beaches

So, here's the connection with Weather and beach days on my vacation - if I plan for one, and there are many choices when you live in Manitoba, the land of 10,000 lakes, then the weather won't co-operate. This summation comes after plenty of experience. I am on Day 13 of my Manitoba summer vacation and today is the 6th official day I have planned to go to the beach. And it's looking sketchy. Again.

When I went to bed last night, the forecast said HOT sunny day, with a temperature of 28 and a humidex of 39 degrees. That is uncomfortable enough in the city that all you want to do is dash from A/C to A/C; indeed the malls seem to be quite busy. My sister called late last night and suggested a beach day - I am all over that!

I woke up this morning much later than I would have thought, which I would certainly appreciate on any other day since the drapes in my mother's home are white but today it was definitely less bright. I went immediately to the window and gazed upward, and then to the computer. Clouds and the forecast said thunderstorms! Highly entertaining and cool to view when you are in flat land but NOT conducive to the beach. In fact, it can be a bit unnerving to be swimming during a thunderstorm.

Beaches are the places to go in Manitoba on hot, humid days, and they are one highlight of a province that shines in the summer. They are a must for summer vacations in Manitoba.

So far on my vacation, here are the Manitoba beaches that I have visited:

Grand Beach

Grand Beach is on the shore of Lake Winnipeg, which is the biggest lake in Manitoba about an hour's drive north of Winnipeg. This is very popular for city dwellers. The appeal is fine sand, lots of water and amenities such as food and flush toilets.

Rocky Lake

Rocky Lake is about 40 minutes north of The Pas which is about 6 to 8 hours north of Winnipeg. This is where my brother has a beautiful beach-front home. I didn't actually immerse myself in that lake because of the aforementioned issue with Weather.

Clearwater Lake

Clearwater Lake was my stomping grounds when I lived in the north. It is 25 minutes north of The Pas, and is the second clearest lake in the world!

Here I am enjoying that natural spring fed water. And it has fine sand with many sandbars, very cool for kids and a happy place for parents who can be less on guard for their youngsters.

Twin Lakes Beach

Twin Lakes Beach is on Lake Winnipeg, a lake that is parallel to Lake Manitoba about an hour's drive north of Winnipeg. Sandy beach and less populated that the bigger lake, it is on an isthmus, which is a natural land formation between two bodies of water.

Well, the sun is now coming through the window. I am going to check the forecast.... You just never know...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer in the Kootenays

The immersion has happened. A slow start to summer and then the sun has come out in full force. Now it is 45 minutes until the sun sets and it is 33 degrees outside. The best place to be - the beach. Or perhaps in the garden. The tomatoes are taking off, and yesterday I ate my first cucumber. In the midst of the new tomato patch is...

Many people have a Garden Gnome but I have a Garden Cat. It would seem that lying on wet dirt might not be ideal for a cat, but this one is happy.

During the long weekend at the beginning of July, I headed west to my friend's new home on one of the San Juan Islands. What is intriguing is that Victoria, BC is more south than Lummi Island. I drove through Canada heading west as a significant number of lower mainlanders were heading east; it was Canada Day so I got to see a lot of celebrations. By the time I got to Oosoyoos, it was time for the parade, so we had to detour. I followed the pack through the back streets, and found myself at the back of one of the floats - the Shriners' Band was on a trailer being towed. So the fellows and their instruments didn't get a spill, the truck had to go slow - real slow. Another float joined the mix, and I realized I was in a parade. Which is hardly the speed you want to be going if you want to get to the coast. Parade Speed. I was relieved when they finally turned off to join the rest of their kind, and I resumed my speed. Canadians were celebrating in abundance, so even though I never got to see the fireworks since they happened when I was already in the US, I had a good sense of Canada Day.

The island is inspiring with all its lushness. Here is a picture from the deck of BJ's new home:

We spent the next few days hanging about eating strawberries, raspberries and drinking green smoothies. I met up with Ryan and Julie in Mt Vernon, where we had some grand pub food and saw one of the best food co-ops in the land. I celebrated an early birthday, with a wondrous assortment from Sephora. And I saw Toy Story in 3D!

I decided to go back via the US to avoid border lineups. The day was grey and rainy as I headed out; once I got over the mountains, this was my view:

Nothing like those wide open spaces. I travelled on July 4, as Americans were celebrating their birthday, so I got to see a lot of excitement along the way. I didn't actually see the fireworks because the time they happened, I was in Canada.

Somehow it seems a bit puzzling how I could be travelling in both Canada and the US on the July long weekend and not get to see any fireworks.

Four days after arriving home from the Pacific Northwest, Aimee and Josh arrived for a 2-week vacation in the Kootenays. I chose a picnic for my birthday; Josh made Potato Salad and Egg Salad, both with bacon. Josh has a knack for putting bacon into dishes... Yum! (Isn't there a Food Network show about that? Perhaps he has a new career ahead.) Kokanee Park was the picnic choice. When we got there, there was a little sun and a little cloud. And then there was a little wind. And then a lot of wind. And then...

We decided to abandon our idea... and headed for the car, which was quite lonely in the parking lot...

The birthday dinner was a feast, thanks to the Great Chef Josh and the Best Sous Chef Aimee..

The menu: Coconut Shrimp, Mongolian Beef, Baked Garlic, Salad, and for dessert Homemade Caramel and ice cream.

A few days later, we went to one of the favourite beaches on the West Arm of the Kootenay Lake - Six Mile Beach...

After a few days, Josh was back in the kitchen with his newest creation:

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie

The best!

It has been a fine launch into summer. And I haven't started my holidays yet!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Touring in Creston BC

Creston is about one and a half hours from Nelson but on a snowy day, it could be many more. It's the Pass. Also called the Kootenay Skyway (never heard that before I read the sign), the Kootenay Pass is the "highest section of maintained paved all-use highway in Canada." It is high. The elevation is 1,775 metres.

Though it can feel mighty far away, Creston is a part of the same school district as Nelson. And Creston is where my nephew lives. And this year he graduated. That is how I landed in Creston on June the 11th.

Here's the graduating class. He's the tallest one:

His dad (my brother) arrived via Cranbrook airport, which is an hour east of Creston, and the closest airport that has pavement. I drove my one and a half hours. We met at the Valley View Motel - we could have stayed at the Mountain View Motel but I get a lot of views of mountains and not that much of valleys, and since I was making the decisions, that's where we landed. In fact, in Creston there are many other choices but if you are promised a view, well, there is no need to search any further.

Besides my nephew's home, Creston's other claim to fame is beer. And specifically Kokanee - the beer out here. Columbia Brewery began brewing Kokanee in 1959; it is 51 years old this year. Apparently, it's British Columbia's best selling beer. Kokanee has been made famous from its commercials, featuring Sasquatch whose name is Mel. The commercials feature the Kokanee Ranger who has been unsuccessful in hunting and catching the Sasquatch who is stealing all the beer.

With such fame in the vicinity, visiting the Columbia Brewery was a must. My brother and I donned our safety goggles and went to see the operation. Technically, we saw the bottling operation because we were late. What we learned was that bottles are filled and capped at the rate of 700 bottles per minute. And cans of Kokanee are filled at the rate of 1,100 per minute.

Here are the bottles on their way through....

What's the wet stuff on the floor? And can't it be rescued?

At the end, we got a sample taste. When I passed, I was offered a box of orange juice, which they called "children's beer." My brother chose Kokanee Gold and he was smitten. As for me, in true employment counsellor style, I was taken by the names of the different jobs there. Brewmaster. Labeller Operator. Packaging Manager. Tour and Retail Coordinator. Packer Operator. Foam Candler. This last guy keeps an eye on the bottles after they are capped to make sure they have just the right amount of foam. Very important job.

We ate at Stavros Restaurant, Jimmie's Bar and Grill and A Break in Time. (All recommended - they all have Kokanee Gold, FYI.) On the way out of town the next day, I got a tour of the Creston Museum, dubbed as one of the best small museums anywhere - I agree! I also stopped at the Kingfisher Used Books - also very impressive for a small town.

All of that in 15 hours (including 3 hours driving my brother to Cranbrook airport and returning). Gotta make hay while the sun shines.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kaslo May Days

Since 1892, the long weekend in May has been a gathering time for celebrations at Kaslo May Days. I have been in the Kootenays since 2004, and never attended one of those parties. This year I decided enough was enough. The 3-day festival features many fun-filled, family-centred, world-class competition and people-packed activities. I realized when I was asking people along the street where the parade route was, that I have never spent the long weekend in May actually in the Kootenays. This is usually the time to head out into the world, with the days of snow-packed roads behind us; those journeys were often to the coast to visit my daughter (and occasionally - Ikea), but now she is seeking her fame and fortune on the prairies.

And so I picked the third day of the festival for many reasons; I couldn't attend the whole weekend (that garden), and there were two highlights I was excited about: the parade and the May Pole Dance. The Dance has happened every year since 1923, an event not to be missed.

I figured it was the event happening here when I was driving up to Kaslo, usually an hour drive with few cars on the road. When I was nearing Kaslo, there was a line of 10 vehicles. The excitement was building. Here's the welcoming:

It turns out you don't really need directions to the parade route; it pretty well covers the downtown. But what is most thrilling about this parade is that it goes around the town - twice! And the crowds gather. Here are some highlights:

There were 3 bands - a bagpipe band, the Samba band (from Nelson) and musicians who accompanied the Grans to Grans (see picture above), a group of Grandmothers who raise money to help the Grandmothers in Africa who are caring for their grandchildren because the parents have died from AIDS. There are more than 220 Canadian groups of women who are supporting the program; this includes the Kaslo group as well as one in Nelson.

At the parade, I spotted Frida Kahlo:

And this woman... Yep, she is hoola hooping...

The other highlights were: the entire fire department, the entire police department, and the entire ambulance service.

After the second passing, we were off to the May Pole event. Children from the Grade 1 (and some Grade 2) class were the chosen ones; the audience was full of former dancers, and other enthusiasts.

Here they are:

I walked around the grounds, had a hoola hoop lesson, and ate Verna's perogies for lunch. (Not as impressive as my mother's.)

While I was wandering around, I heard many tales of the first two days of May Days. And I realized, I am not sure that I can say that I have truly attended the event when I didn't see the Logger Sports.

Which brings me to this - there is always something to look forward to in life.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How does your garden grow?

Mine, unfortunately, is looking quite bare. The weather has been abysmal, giving us a good deal of entertainment (if you like such events) with its rain, and then sun, and then rain again (and apparently snow on the mountains). The good news is that this gives time for the forest firefighters to get their training. The bad news is that the long weekend in May is garden planting time. Three days full of outside work. And today was Day 1 of 3.

It was cool this morning, so I decided to do the laundry first. I hung it outside on the line, so while I puttered in the garden, my clothes would get that fresh air smell. I noticed that the sun wasn't shining so I did my puttering inside the house, attacking that pile of shredding. When I went to the kitchen, I heard an unusual sound from the stove fan. I looked outside, and saw raindrops on the sidewalk. I ran out and got my clothes off the line; they were now wetter than when I put them out there.

The plan of gardening was retreating from my agenda.

I looked out at my backyard at the mass of dandelions. In addition to planting my garden, my plan is to get rid of them. Last year I began the process by making sure that they didn't spread - I plucked off their yellow heads before they went to seed. One day when I was hunched over the lawn, one of the young boys in my back lane watched me for a long time. "What are you doing?" he said finally. "I'm making sure these plants don't make any more." He paused and was quiet for quite a while. Then, from my stooped position, I heard him say, "You will leave some behind, won't you?" I was definitely not seeing his delight.

This year's process began last Saturday after I went to Nelson Farmers' Supply and bought a new gadget for removing dandelions. On the way home, I stopped at the coffee shop, and picked up my favourite - a Dairy Dandy Latte. Interpretation: Dairy means milk. Dandy means Dandelion Blend, a coffee substitute that is by far the very best: I have tried them all. Dandelion Blend is a great liver helper!

Later when I was using my new tool and found out how skookum it is, it occurred to me that I was experiencing a bit of a mind-bending situation. I am paying nearly $10.00 for a small container of Dandelion Blend, and I was loading up my trash barrel with the same plant.

It got me to thinking about gardening, and how it is like that. In one place, I am doing all I can to make the grass grow, and in the other (specifically at the edge of the garden near the fence), I am constantly trying to pull out all those roots to get it OUT of the garden! If the grass could talk, or think for that matter, it would say, "What the heck? Make up your mind!"

I am feeling more settled with my opposite actions with dandelions. And indeed, I have new appreciation for the yellow flower head because they are keeping my bee amused. I noticed the bee several weeks ago as it was checking out the flowers on the prune tree, and thought, "Perfect! My cucumbers are going to be so happy." Now the trick is that I have to keep that bee amused until the cucumbers flower, which is some time away, so I went to the garden centre and asked about bee-loving plants.

Bees like yellow. Which explains my bee's fascination with the dandelions. So I can't be too hasty in getting rid of them. (I would be more than optimistic if I thought I could dig them all out of my lawn any time soon. Those weeds have taken over the back yard.) I asked the gardeners at the centre what else the bee would like - heather and lavender they suggested. The heather has been planted; the little kitten from across the back lane is finding the peat mulch that sits around the heather quite enthralling.

When I transplanted the flowers into their pots on the patio, I noticed that all the flowers are - well, yellow. For the bee.

"How do you know it is one bee?" my co-worker asked. You know, well, the fact is that I just know. A gardener knows these things.

Last week, too, I decided to remove all the dead plants that hang over from the neighbour's yard. We have honeysuckle, wild roses, and bamboo, thanks to them. And a lot of dead foliage. This was quite the task, and as usual, the rose bush protested. (Note to self: wear long sleeves when pruning the rose bush.) Underneath all those plants was a lot of mint. Time to move on - apparently borage is good for attracting bees. My friend Randi brought me a plant and I decided that it would be perfect in snuffing out the mint.

My upstairs neighbour (the landlady) has this thought about gardening, "My idea of gardening is putting one invasive plant beside another and they can duke it out." Sounds good to me.

So now, that side of the yard has been dug up and cleaned up, and the view of the rock wall is stunning. Well, I can't quite see it all because of the pile from doing all last weekend's clean up, but once it gets hauled away, I will. And I have new garden space - the rock wall apparently will be perfect for tomatoes and cucumbers.

Except, the plants for the bees are on the other side of the yard.

Back to the gardening plan. If it ever stops raining.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Isla Mujeres in Pictures

I arrived home from Isla Mujeres 3 weeks ago today. It was shocker coming home, between the Denver experience, the temperature here, and leaving behind the mellow pace of the island. Curiously, the adjustment coming back home was more jarring than the adjustment arriving in Mexico. Since my re-entry, I have tried to duplicate some of the food (to varying degrees of satisfaction), printed photos (the first time since I got the digital camera in 2004), and appreciated many times spending my vacation on Isla Mujeres. Here are 14 days in pictures:

The Sun: Since living in the mountains, I have developed much gratitude for sunrises and sunsets. (We don't get them here.) Below is a sunset.

And a sunrise.

You're thinking that there isn't much difference between a sunrise and a sunset?

After the sunrise, I went for a walk along the east side of the island. I found this very enthusiastic islander, who was lying on his balcony when I walked by. He peaked his head through the star-shaped openings.

It looks to me like he is used to having his picture taken. The shot was perfect.

On another walk-about town, I found this fellow hanging out in front of the graveyard.

Isla Mujeres was originally a fishing community; it now has a population of 14,000 people without the visitors. Some stories I have heard say that when Cortez came to the island, there were only women as the men were fishing, and that is how the island got its name. Other stories say the island was named because the island had a ceremonial centre devoted to Ixchel, the Goddess of Fertility.

According to Kathryne who has a website celebrating life with food - Food Musings - there are 95 restaurants on the island. I sampled 22 of them. Interestingly, Kathryne lives in Winnipeg.

Here is my favourite meal, garlic shrimp, from Seso Loco's. The shrimp were grilled with vegetables, rice and the best tasting potatoes I have ever had. During my stay, I had 5 meals of garlic shrimp.

And what draws us here...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Xbulu Ha

What a delightful find this was! A well-kept secret indeed on Isla Mujeres. And for some of the tenants, they would like to keep it that way. I met vacationers from this year who have booked their rooms for the next year. Specific rooms. One couple had to change their vacation times so they could get the room they wanted. The two front rooms have windows facing the ocean. These are popular. There also is a balcony area in the front of the hotel that also faces the ocean. This is the view from the balcony:

Here is a view looking the other way from the balcony sitting area, a view of the breezeway:

The balcony is where the guests gather mostly at the beginning of the day, and after the beach. Social central.

The hotel rooms are on the second floor, accessed by stairs in the middle of the building. Looking at the following view of the hotel, the centre is the entry into the building; the restaurant is on the right side - tables spill over into the middle area during restaurant hours. There are offices on the left side, including a dentist.

When I booked my room, the manager, Gabriel, reserved Room 4 for me; this room is in the central part of the hotel area. There are a total of 10 rooms, 4 of them that have kitchen facilities. All rooms have satellite TV, a/c, refrigerator, wireless Internet, and a private bathroom with hair dryer. The first morning, I met Lupe, who very thoroughly cleaned our rooms every day, and was extremely helpful when I needed sunblock on my back. She was cleaning Room 6; people had left that morning. I liked the room; though it was almost a duplicate of #4, it had an extra set of windows. I asked for a change.

And that is how I ended up in the room at the back of the hotel. Quiet. Nice breeze coming in the window. View of palm trees.

Here's where I stayed for 13 days...

Our hosts (Gabriel, Lupe, Alfredo, Selina) were very gracious, helping me with language issues. One day, I had a conversation with Lupe's 7-year-old son who spent a good deal of time teaching me the Spanish word for frog. No matter what I said, I just wasn't pronouncing it right. Perhaps one day he will be a teacher, inspired because of the extreme need to teach foreigners Spanish, all because of one woman who just couldn't say "rana."

Several days after I arrived, we had a guacamole lesson for all the guests. Gabriel, his wife Selina, and their 2-year-old son Max, showed us the traditional way of making the best appetizer. The secret I discovered was being in Mexico. There you get all the best ingredients - perfect avocados and limones that we can't find in Canada. The best part was - NO cilantro. Really, the best part was the tasting. Yum!

As we ate our guacamole and drank free beer, we told stories, and learned more Spanish. A new word everyday. This day, we learned the word, "sede," which means host. I was reading the news headlines that morning, and found out something was happening in Cancun.

So let's say you are planning a journey to Isla Mujeres, and let's say you are thinking of staying at Xbulu Ha. Where do you begin in pronouncing that one? The name comes from the Maya. Here is a try at the phonetics: esh-boo-loo h-a.

I remember a conversation with another guest. They said to me, "If you found this place, I would say you did pretty good." I agree.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What Happens in Denver

The skies were a brilliant blue when I woke up on Tuesday morning, the kind of day that is inspiring and full of possibilities. My flight was later in the afternoon so I had some time to linger on the island. After two days of blustery weather, a regular pattern it seems, the wind was calm.

I went to the East side of the island, which I could see every morning from my hotel room.

Then off to breakfast. I decided on the Hidalgo Cafe after a lovely review from Wendy and Paul. There I sat with Chris who shared a table with me and was on her way to the beach. I chose a ham and cheese crepe:

Note the glass of orange juice to the right. I had a hard time choosing between sweet or savoury so I had both. My second crepe was apple and cinnamon. Both were amazing.

I went off to Adriano's studio, having made some fairly vague arrangements for 10 am. Adriano is a night time kinda guy so the early morning arrangement was not favourable. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. He decided that the piece of art needed another layer of paint on it; it had a strong smell when I picked it up. What is it, I asked. Fibreglass. Not quite what I imagined. He packaged it up.

A couple of other stops (a half litre of orange juice for the road), and some good instructions from Gabriel on my transportation to the airport. My journey to the airport went well! Despite some definite language issues, confusion about my departing terminal (all of the other occupants of the bus got off the bus in one location - not mine), and a rather insistent cab driver who wanted to offer me a "good price" to the airport. After checking in, I went out into the Yucatan sunshine and drank my Starbucks and orange juice.

On the plane, I sat with two "Spring Breakers," young women who spent the last week in Cancun, and they told me of their many adventures. During the last couple of hours of the 4-hour flight, we watched our free TV. Looking back, I can see the clues of what was coming ahead. The weather channel was focussed on Denver.

During our descent, we had the next clue. A gigantic flash of light outside our window, and our lights went out. All was quiet. There was white all around us - clouds, snow, fog. We landed. The captain came on the speaker system to tell us that there would be a delay in disembarking because of a backlog in planes. He also told us that the flash was lightening; it hit our plane. We sat on the tarmac. My seat companions and I contemplated what this might mean to our connecting flight - our waiting was cutting into the time we needed to be at the next gate. An hour passed.

Out of the plane, we rushed to customs. Wait in line. "Where have you been? How long have you been gone?". Wait, wait, wait for luggage. Recheck luggage. Catch train to next terminal. Find gate. The plane has been delayed until 12:29 am. 2 l/2 hours.

I find Jimmie's Bar and Grill, one of the only places open in Denver airport. I order caesar salad and a chicken panini. The caesar salad is the best that I have ever had in my whole entire life! I calculate the number of hours since my crepes - 13.... I pack up l/2 of the panini and go back to the gate. The flight has been delayed to 12:43 am.

I look out the window.

10:45 pm: We wait. Quiet. Announcement: "Flight 38 to Spokane has been cancelled. Please proceed to the customer service desk to rearrange your travels." I hear the Frontier agent talk to another passenger - there is another customer service area being opened.

11:15 pm: I find the end of the lineup between Gates 42 and 44. All flights have been cancelled coming into and leaving Denver. I hear an announcement: "For passenger information, there are blankets and sleeping pads by baggage claim." I meet Justin who is trying to rebook on his computer. K is on his way to Seattle. Sierra is going home to Portland; she spent the last 5 hours on a bus from Boulder to Denver, normally a one-hour ride. We inch forward. We place our bags on the ground. The woman ahead of me studies. "How can we turn this into an opportunity," we laugh.

12:30 am: My feet are tired. I decide to sit on the ground, as do my companions. Some people lie down between the infrequent moves forward.

1:15 am: A woman comes by and says that there are more customer service agents in another part of the airport. We send a scout. The woman ahead of me says, "I don't know if I am ready to go to another ticket counter. I feel committed to this one." Indeed we have a lot of investment here.

1:30 am: Our scout returns - nothing any better than what we have now.

1:45 am: We see the front of the line, and the customer service agents. They look tired. Hair askew.

2:30 am: "Next please." This is for me. "The next flight to Spokane is at 8:35 am, but it is all booked. I can put you on standby. The next guaranteed seat I can give you is 9:35 pm - 19 hours away." The other choice is buying a ticket on another airline. I take my two boarding passes - for the standby and for the evening flight. I am 7th on the standby list.

2:35 am: Sierra's next guaranteed flight is 8 days away; she is 44th on standby. I hear about a woman who is getting married in Las Vegas the next day, and cannot get a flight. I call the hotel reservations; there are no rooms available within an hour of Denver airport. I hear later that people who did have hotel rooms could not find transportation to get there.

3:00 am: I sit on the airport chairs - ones with arms. Other than upright, there are no other positions to sleep on these. I find a spot on the ground between two benches, place my head on my backpack full of square objects. I open my carryon bag. A waft of fibre glass reaches my nose - I decide not to use the beach towel in there. Besides it is sandy and salty; too stiff for a pillow.

4:05 am: The trio on the bench beside me wake up. And start talking. I get up and move to another spot. This is my pattern until 6 am. There are people lying everywhere. Babies. Children. Old people curled up together. Others walking, some reading, and some with their computers and cellphones plugged into receptacles.

At 6 am, the airport comes more alive. I look at the schedule; Spokane to depart at 9:50 am. I go to Hudson's News; I buy a book, Sudoku, pen, and emery boards - a couple of broken fingernails since I left Cancun - just because I feel terrible doesn't mean I need to look it. I find Sierra again, and we talk about our night. Spokane is delayed again. We are told that the plane will be in at 10:35 am, but no problem because it will be empty. I talk to many people - Jan is from Nelson. A woman is on her way to meet her fiancee's family in Spokane; she keeps them posted by cell phone.

At 11:45 the plane arrives, full of passengers, one who is quite rowdy. We have to wait for the police to escort him off the plane. I ask the Frontier agent where I am on the standby list. I am #6.

At 12:15 pm, they begin loading the plane. There are many, many people getting aboard. Disheartening. They call a man's name. I am now #5. The agents scramble with their computers. At last, an announcement, "we have spaces for standby. We are figuring out how many."

Rawson... Patricia.

I leap out of my seat, tears welling up.

Once we get in the air, the view of our world shifts. Sun shines. Joyful passengers! I sleep all the way to Spokane. I am alert when I get there; driving home seems doable. I shop, and leave Spokane at 5:30 pm.

I arrive home at 8:15 pm. The cat is very happy. Me too. I change into my pajamas. The clothes I shed have been on me for 36 hours. I tally up the number of hours that I spent in Denver - 17 - all of it waiting. The next day at work, Christine asks me how would I rate myself for how I did?

An A. Definitely.