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?"