Friday, August 31, 2007

Meet you at the Games!




We're off to the 2007 Games

to do the things we love;



listen to music,



watch the athletes,



visit some cuties,



do a bit of dancing,



eat some good grub,



maybe a wee dram



and celebrate our heritage

and our 19th wedding anniversary.


Hope you all have a lovely, long weekend!





Thursday, August 30, 2007

School Daze

I know that many of you have children who started back to school this week; I’ve been reading about shopping trips, menu planning, and carpool arrangements on numerous spaces. We, on the other hand, are 2-1/2 weeks into the new school year & I must say, I am looking forward to the light at the end of this long tunnel. I’ve been running on the back-to-school wheel for 18 years, & now I only have one more to go, when Sam starts his *gulp* senior year next August.

Our school district has a serious identity crisis, or maybe a case of multiple personalities, so every couple of years brings a new adventure for the students & parents. First there was the standard uniform policy, which half of the elementary school adopted (made dressing easy, but shopping for the right size was a bear); then there was the move to year round schools- Sam’s was one of them with a multi-track schedule (which incidentally I loved); then there were three charter schools & a new K-8 magnet school for science & technology (I managed to get a inner-district transfer for Sam this one) that were all using personal laptops in the classrooms (ouch!); now with dropping enrollments, many of the year rounds are switching back to traditional schedule & the district decided last year to adjust the start/end dates to two weeks earlier. When you throw into the mix three new schools in the past 4 years, a new town five miles away without a high school, & six private schools, you will understand that buying supplies is no easy task.

As I said earlier, I’m no greenhorn when it comes to back-to-school craziness; I know the basics that the kids need, which I stock up during the spring & summer, & dressing a teenaged boy is pretty simple- jeans, shorts, t-shirts, polos, socks & tennis shoes. This year we got off easier, since Sam doesn’t have to take gym anymore & he can wear flip-flops or slip-on deck shoes all day, I don’t have to get anymore tennis shoes for a while & I can hold off on jeans until it gets cooler. I sprung for a new scientific calculator & a messenger backpack the week before school started (purchased in another town who didn’t start until this week) & sent him off confident he was fully supplied.

I should have known better.

Now, Sam has 5 classes (English, US History, Geometry, Chemistry, & Computer Animation) & is a TA for last year’s math teacher, so I figured two binders would be plenty.


Three of his teachers want 1-inch (minimum) dedicated binders (which means he will be carrying four around all year, in addition to books); one wants them to use only blue ink pens (of course, I bought 3 packages of black) & five colors of highlighters; another wants a bound notebook in addition to the binder & everyone to carry a stapler (she doesn’t want to share her’s, I guess); & evidently, the calculator isn’t sophisticated enough for someone. So, despite all my efforts, I had to brave the hoards & buy school supplies the first week, since there were grades/extra credit points on the line.

I weighed my options carefully: Wal*Mart was out- no way was I going to attempt those narrow aisles & discount prices; Staples was usually quieter, but the cost higher; that left Tar*get, the drug store (good prices, but random selections), or another trip out of town before Friday morning. I sucked it up, put on my body armor, grabbed Sam to run interference, & headed to Tar*get.

It was like a scene from an old movie, where hundreds of women storm the department store & do battle over the sale table; there were fifty parents, with shopping carts, stuffed into four aisles; children of various ages charged in & out of the rows, alternately grabbing things, screeching &/or whining to their parents to get this one, & throwing things either 1) at the cart, 2) at the approximate shelf it came from, or 3) at their siblings, friends, or random people standing nearby. I tell you, my fingers itched to snatch one of the little darlings baldheaded, particularly since my scathing looks & audible comments were rolling right off their Teflon hides; Sam, knowing how much I abhor unruly children, kept sneaking glances in my direction to see if I was about to blow like Mt St Helen (I did not- rumblings & steam only). We abandoned the cart & tag-teamed the necessary aisles- either Sam slipped in & out with his lithe, wiry frame, or I just bulldozed my way through- & then treated ourselves to Starbucks & a bag of Oreos (double-stuffed will placate the most vexed soul).

Sam has set out a pretty ambitious schedule for himself this year; in addition to school, karate, & tennis, he has joined Key Club (a service organization), FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America- strange choice for an aspiring engineer- must be a bunch of cuties!) & has co-founded a new club, called XMA (eXtreme Martial Arts) with his friend Matt- they plan on teaching mixed styles & forming a demo team to do various events around the area. On top of that, he is going to be starting driver’s ed in September & is still looking for a part-time job. I’m a little leery of all the activity, concerned that his studies will suffer, but I’m glad to see him engaged with others & involved in wholesome fun- so unlike his sister at this age. Besides, I found that last spring, when he started on the tennis team & was practicing everyday, that his grades actually improved from the previous quarter. Also, he seems to like all his classes & teachers this year, & I don’t foresee too many struggles, except for the normal ones with English. And best news of all, we learned a few weeks ago that Sam passed both portions of the mandatory high school exit exam on his first try; the grades in language arts weren’t stellar- only 5 points over the minimum- but good enough to eliminate that particular pressure for the rest of high school. Yes, it looks like an interesting year ahead for all of us; as long as balance is maintained, I think it will be a good & memorable one.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I think a Scabble dictionary would help...

Even though I wasn’t tagged for this meme, I decided to give it a whirl; I look at it as a challenge, since my middle name is so long.

“Here are the rules: Players, you must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your middle name. If you don’t have a middle name, use the middle name you would have liked to have had. When you are tagged you need to write your own blog post containing your own middle name game facts. At the end of your blog post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.”

E: Eclectic- aptly describes my decorating scheme

L: Longing to travel abroad, preferably Great Britain

I: Italian is the language I would most like to learn

Z: Zinnias- I would like to plant them out front next year

A: Apple Hill, near Sacramento, is one of my new favorite seasonal destinations

B: Bees seem to be finding their way into my crafts, photos, & I think my roof L

E: Eight is one of my “lucky” numbers

T: Tearooms are my favorite place to have an elegant meal

H: Home is where I want to concentrate my creativity this year

I won’t tagged anyone, since I invited myself to this party, but if you want to give it a try, let me know.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dirty Little Secrets

As I’ve said before, I am not a Domestic Diva; housekeeping historically falls low on my list of priorities (as witnessed by the piles of paper & clutter surrounding me). Most of my adult life, I have searched for ways to bring the order & cleanliness I crave into my home, & have made good progress through my path to Simple Abundance & the gentle proddings of FlyLady. Although I have noticed that my attitudes towards home-caring have shifted in the past couple of years, I still don’t like to vacuum, dust, or clean toilets. This being said, I’m going to share a little secret with you: no, you need to come a little closer- I have to whisper this…

I love to do laundry

SHHH! Don’t shout it out like that- & no, I’m not weird! I find doing laundry very satisfying (as long as I’m not having to it by hand with a rock & a stream like my sister); thanks to the modern innovations of automatic washers & dryers, I can have sweet smelling, fluffy clean clothes & towels anytime. I love to shop for laundry supplies, checking out all the new scents & looking for new products; I even enjoy ironing, as long as it isn’t hot outside & I don’t have a huge pile to do. I even got excited over this meme a found in my wanderings- I honestly can’t tell you where I saw it, but the author wasn’t picky about the credit.

There are no rules for the meme. Add, subtract, change questions, tag whomever you choose (or not), credit me, don’t credit me, whatever. I’m just curious about your laundry!!”

1. In your home, who does the laundry? We all do, but Sam & I do the majority.

2. Do you sort your laundry? Most definitely.

3. If you sort, how many different color/fabric type groups do you sort it into? I sort into a minimum of 4 types- whites, darks, lights, & towels, but will separate out “special needs” garments, like sweaters, uniforms, or new fabric.

4. Do you hand wash anything? Wally the Washer gets a real workout around here; I hand wash very little- silk items, handknits- most everything goes into the machine, delicates into those mesh bags & “Gentle Cycle”

5. Are there any articles of clothing that you send out to be cleaned professionally? Very little- satin, kilts, or suits

6. If you have any clothes cleaned professionally, is that drycleaning? Or regular laundering/pressing? Just dry cleaning- I wouldn’t pay anyone to do my regular-type laundry because I enjoy that.

7. At home, what detergent do you use? Any detergent additives that you regularly use? I like using liquid detergent, like Kirkland Free & Clear or a new brand I just found at Cost*co called Ecco. I also use White King Water Softener in every load, since our water is so hard here, & occationally will add Borax to extra dirty stuff (like Chris’ uniforms- gas, oil, grey water, blech)

8. What whiteners/brighteners do you use? I only use Oxiclean, Borax, & water softener- bleach has been banned from my house (too many clothes ruin by Chris using bleach to clean everything- besides, the cats go crazy over the smell & I’m afraid they would actually drink it!)

9. Do you use any fabric softeners? Yes- I use fabric softener sheets; I’m not picky about the brand & will buy generic, as long as the scent is nice & not overpowering.

10. How do you handle stains? . The first thing is to pre-treat- I have a couple of products I like, such as Z’out or Shout Gel, but also use liquid dishsoap. Then I’ll wash it as normal & treat again if necessary.

11. Do you use different water temperatures for your different loads? Yes. Whites and towels get hot, light colors are washed in warm, dark colors & delicates go in cold.

12. Do you use a tumble dryer, or do you hang your clothes to dry? I use Drake the Dryer for almost everything; even tennis shoes get the dryer treatment with the handy-dandy rack that came with it. I like the theory of line drying, but the reality with the Central Valley air quality is everything ends up stiff & smelly L

13. In your home, who folds the clothes? Sam, mostly; then I refold my clothes & towels because I like them “just so” J

14. Where do you fold your clothes? (i.e., in the laundry room, at the kitchen table, etc.) Either in the living room while watching tv, or on my bed.

15. Who puts the folded clothes away? Sam takes the clean laundry to the appropriate room, & everyone puts away their own clothes.

16. Do you have a certain day of the week you consider ”laundry day”? Yes- everyday! Seriously, I do a load a day (per FlyLady)

17. About how many laundry loads do you do per week? I’d say 7 to 10 loads a week- 2 or 3 loads of towels (there is a lot of shower taking around here- the guys both bathe twice a day & even though I only bathe once a day, I like a fresh towel every other day) at least one load each of darks, lights, & whites, then a load of Chris’ work clothes & a load of miscellanous, like dishtowels, car washing towels, throw rugs, cat blankets, etc.

18. Do you iron? Only when I have to; I like to iron, but it is inconvient to do- the only area is the kitchen & the guys or cats always seem to be underfoot. I purposely buy clothes that need little or no ironing, because it just gets put off.

So, now you know my dirty little secret- or clean little secret- or clean little pleasure…whatever- you know what I mean. Oh, and before you ask- no, I won’t do your laundry for you- not unless you want to fly me there & feed me well- but I guess we could negociate…

Monday, August 20, 2007

This is the kind of thing that interferes with my blog-time

Now that my world traveling is over for a while, I’ve been trying to settle back into my routine- well, as much of a routine as we ever have around here. It’s been a little difficult, because as I mentioned, we have had an unusually hectic schedule, even for this over-extended family.

ÿThe first week back to work was not only the first of the month (a notoriously busy time in the accounting gig), but also saw the return of the NCUA auditor & the arrival of the Workers’ Comp auditor. Now, I’ve been doing this long enough that I don’t get freaked out of audits- I’m a rule-follower by nature & don’t take shortcuts with my work, so I don’t feel there is anything to worry about. My boss, on the other hand, is a perpetual worrier, the type who apologizes for everything regardless whether she had any involvement in the first place. The fluttering, dithering, excess of lists & checklists, & just general aura of guilt she was exuding whittled away my vacation refreshment in record time- I’m now counting the days until my next one (116 as of Monday)

ÿIt was a real treat to be able to meet a blogging friend for the first time- especially since she was my first blogging friend! Cara from In The Sweeney House mentioned in her blog that she was leaving to visit her best friend, who lives in the SF area- hey! I live in the SF area, sort of; a series of emails followed & what do you know, we were only going to be 30 miles apart. We arranged to meet at a new-to-me teashop just a couple miles from where she was staying; Cara, her friend Pam, & I enjoyed a pleasant couple of hours sharing tea, sandwiches & conversation. Here is a picture of us in the gift shop of Englund’s Tea Cottage

ÿThings have gone from bad to worse with my daughter; I won’t go into all the ugly details- I don’t need the stress. The condensed version: she defaulted on her loan & overdrew her account significantly; since her account is at my place of work & my name is still on it (I opened it for her 10 years ago) I had to cover the debt in order to avoid being written up for “financial irresponsibility”; she made a surprise visit to the house- while I was at work- & left in a hurry when Sam told her I was on my way home; we’ve since discovered that several things are missing, including my new camera; she is not returning my phone calls (no big surprise) but has been texting Sam, basically trashing me & encouraging him to “stand strong & fight back” since he is “a better person” than I am; & the icing on the cupcake, a collection agency & an attorney have been leaving messages for her on my cell phone & at the house. Verdict: we’re done. Very done. If she ever contacts us again (unlikely in the foreseeable future), she will be told not to show up again without a passably authentic apology, a clean drug screening, & cash in hand to cover the $1950 we’ve shelled out on her behalf in the past six months.

ÿLast weekend was packed full of fun; Saturday, we had the grand opening of our newest branch- to promote the event & drum up some new members, Sam & several other teenagers were hired to hang bags full of gifts & marketing material on 400 doors surrounding the new facility. I supervised one group, driving along with the bags in my trunk; Sam walked away with an easy $30 & all the pizza he could eat. That evening, we had dinner with my family to celebrate Chris’ 45th birthday & to say goodbye to my sister, who was heading back to Kauai on Monday. As we were leaving, Mother handed us a huge bag of apples from her tree & a card for each of us; when we got home, we found that she had given us $600- she said it was “a little something to help replace what was lost”. Good woman- nutty, but very kind. Sunday was the annual Ravenswood Ice Cream Social; all three of us worked the event- the guys dishing ice cream & decorating, & me giving tours for 4 hours straight. It was a gorgeous day & the final count was around 1200 visitors for the day; some of our friends from church came at our break time, so we were able to sit & visit for awhile, before I took them through the cottage. Towards the end of the day, our good friends from dance, Sam & Tracy, came by for the tour & invited us over for dinner after we were done. We had a great dinner of flank steak, taboli salad, & grilled vegetables from their garden, before heading home for a well deserved rest.

ÿThe Pleasanton Highland Games are coming up Labor Day weekend, so we are in full rehearsal mode; the adults are practicing Monday & Friday evenings & the youths had an Adjudication Camp the week before last. The only problem- it was held from noon to 4:00 everyday. In Livermore, 22 miles from here. And Sam doesn’t drive. Oy! I drove him over on my lunch break & picked him up after work, hauling tuckus back to town for karate, quilting, &/or choir practice. By the third day, I decided it’s time for Sam to start driver’s education, even if I have to pay for the full school!

ÿMy passport finally arrived- after 16 weeks. The trouble makers across the street- they of the “nasty rap” & twice weekly loud parties that go on until 2 am- have packed up & moved out. And lastly, this arrived while I was in British Colombia:

After doing one of the Great Pretender’s photo games, this one about our favorite childhood toy, I started thinking how much I loved my Crissy doll; I cruised E*bay for a few weeks, when I found this lovely curly haired Crissy (known as a Swirly, made in 1973). I couldn’t resist- I invited her to come live with us (at a very reasonable cost) & she now sits with me while I sew. Laugh if you will, but she makes me smile.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Yes, I promise- The Final Chapter


My last full day in British Colombia was simply delightful. After a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, toast with jam, grilled mushrooms, a pot of green tea, I was ready to devote my day to the outdoors.

One of the things that I embraced on this solitary adventure was dressing for my own comfort & not for “style”. My costume most days was crop pants or comfortably baggy jeans, polo shirt, sport socks & my walking shoes (what a great investment!), a hat or visor, & my sling backpack with knitting, camera, notebook, tissues, sun block, & the ubiquitous lip balm inside.

My first stop was Beacon Hill Park, right off downtown Victoria; it is a pleasant urban oasis, with paths, gardens, ponds, playgrounds, a small children’s farm, & sports fields. I spent about an hour strolling around, enjoying the cool quiet & watching the mother ducks with their chicks. This group was having great fun playing hide-and-seek among the lily pads,


carefully supervised by Mama, who kept one eye on the little ones,


and the other on me. I also enjoyed watching these two friends, sharing some conversation & a few peanuts.


The rest of the day was spend at the world famous Butchart Gardens; I was surprised how many people filled the park- the crowds would rival most amusement parks in the US- but, with the exception of some poorly supervised children, everyone was quietly soaking in the beauty. I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account of the 11 hours I spent here (yes, you read that correctly), just a few highlights & impressions. First of all was the smell; everywhere you went, there a sweet, green flavor to the air. Second was the sheer amount of color that jumps out at you- it just can’t be experienced through photographs. Lastly was the vast variety, of plants, of terrain, of artistic vision- no area was anything like the previous or the next.

I explored for about four hours before having afternoon tea at the Dining Room Restaurant, the family’s former residence. I was served a lovely meal on the veranda, overlooking the Italian Garden;


my server was graciously kind not to remark on my taking pictures of everything- the place setting, the menu, the food, as well as the view.



Afterward, I explored the rest of the gardens, stopping to watch a group performing “The Wizard of Oz” in Waterwheel Square & picking up some gifts in the store, before going out to the car for a little rest. Around 7:00, I went back in to take some photo of areas that had been jammed packed with people all day, & then went over to the Concert Lawn to see a performance of the Marc Atkinson Trio. Later, I went back over to watch Ross Fountain dancing in the lights & enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate before heading back to my lodgings.

I packed & took all my belongings out to the car that night, leaving only my clothes & toiletries to use in the morning, since I had reservations on the 10:00 ferry the next morning & didn’t want a repeat of the earlier trip. In the morning, I was up & ready early, so I had time to chat with a woman from Australia who was also traveling alone (for 12 weeks, lucky thing) & we shared breakfast, stories, & photographs. I left by 8:30 & made such good time on the road that I was able to board the 9:00 ferry! I spend the entire time on deck, as it was another gorgeous day, & took some great photos along the way.

Sorry to disappoint Jane, but the return to the airport was spectacularly uneventful; I arrived way early, returned my car, checked in & went through customs (a loooong wait), then had 3 ½ hours to read, knit, & wander around. The only noteworthy event of the trip home was flying past Mount St Helens- even from 20,000 feet, the destruction was wide-spread & obvious, even after more than 20 years.



Arriving back in San Francisco, I had another 1 ½ hour wait for Chris, who was stuck in some nasty traffic on the San Mateo Bridge. We were home by 8:30 pm & were smothered in feline affection, as well as demands for food, water, & an explanation as to my whereabouts for the past week. Some things never change!

Forgive me for the length of these last few posts; I really did not intend to take up two weeks with this tale. There were just so many impressions, so many stories that I had to share, & I’m afraid my guys weren’t particularly interested in hearing them, since I ran off alone J.

The past couple of weeks have been very full, & I will get around to sharing the highlights, but I’ll leave you with this:



This is the “End of Summer” swap package I received from my friend Mitchowl ; this was sponsored by the Great Pretender & it was great fun! Mitchowl nailed my habits- uh, I mean hobbies- & supplied some great goodies for me to indulge with- Thank You!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Houses, Gardens, and, OH, my aching feet!

The last leg of my journey was the portion that I most anticipated; in addition to exploring a lovely city that I have been hearing wonderful things about from friends & family for 2 decades, I was going to be able to spend 2 ½ days fulfilling only my own needs, preferences, & interests. Any parent, particularly any mother, knows what a luxury this is; the nature of the job is to find balance & compromise between the various personalities that make up our families, & more often than not, a woman will subjugate her own wishes in the pursuit of peace & harmony.

The 1-½ hour ferry ride from Vancouver to Victoria was actually quite nice once the rain stopped. I divided my time between the top deck taking pictures (we had been told on departure that Orcas had been spotted that day in the strait, but I had no luck) & sitting inside with my knitting, being careful to avoid the multitudes of people reading the new Harry Potter book. I had been briefly tempted to buy it, but was put off by the $45.00 price tag; so I kept myself to myself, as to not let envy to color my mood.

Once hitting solid ground again, I headed straight for North Victoria to Hatley Castle on the grounds of Royal Rows University. Well, maybe not straight; this is where I took my second wrong turn of the trip, zigging when I should have zagged & ending up taking a tour of a couple charming little towns five miles away from my goal (I think my night at the BC version of the Psycho Motel took a bit of a toll my normally impeccable sense of direction.) My decision to visit here first was a delightful little piece of serendipity; I had been online just before I left home & chanced upon a site devoted to garden tours of Victoria. The gardens were featured & there was a brief mention about available tours of the Castle. Well, that’s all it took- what else does a house museum docent do on vacation but tours other houses?

I have to say up front, this was my favorite stop of my entire trip. Even under grey skies, magnificence of the manor & grounds took my breath away; photographs just don’t do it justice. I had just missed the current long tour & had to wait about an hour until the next short one, so I went downstairs to visit the museum (which was quite interesting) & gift shop, & then wandered out to the gardens. I am not exaggerating when I say that when I walked inside the gate, the beauty in front of me brought tears to my eyes. I stood there, awed by the magic & whispering to myself: “It’s like a daydream”; I have never been so affected by a place before. One of the gardeners, a man about my age, was working in a flowerbed near me, & he smiled as he watched my reaction; he told me that the favorite part of his job was seeing the wonder on the faces of visitors & I told him he was a blessed man to be able to spend his days in Eden. The next 45 minutes melted away as I explored the Italian garden next to Manor, taking photos of the flowers, statues, bumblebees & hummingbirds, & was startled back to reality when my cell phone alarm went off, reminding me of the tour I had paid to take. After being guided around the front of the Manor & instructed on the history of the property & the family, the group was taken through the rooms on the first floor; the second floor is in use by the administration of the University & the third floor is only seen on the long tour. It is a lovely facility, with beautiful woodwork & stained glass windows; evidently, a few of the rooms were used in the filming of the second X-Men movie (Sam recognized them, but I didn’t pay enough attention during the film) Afterwards, I went back outside to visit the Rose & Japanese gardens- lovely despite being partial stripped by the previous two weeks of rain- then wandered through the meandering paths back to the Italian Garden. I only dragged myself away because of the rude noises my stomach was making, but I’ve already promised myself to go back someday.

I drove into Victoria to find my lodgings for the next two nights. I was fortunate to have discovered Craigmyle Guest House, a very reasonably priced bed & breakfast inn located right next to Craigdarroch Castle (my #2 must see on this trip) The inn is comfortably shabby, in the fashion of an small English guest home, & while the owner is a rather…uh…crusty ex-pat from Liverpool, the man can do a mean fry-up breakfast! My room was small, which was fine with me, with an ensuite bathroom & comfy bed; the only drawback was it was on the third floor- & naturally there is no elevator. Hauling my large rolling suitcase, backpack, purse, knitting bag, & pillow (yes, I travel with my own pillow- no matter how hard the bed, I can be assured I won’t end up with a stiff neck!) up two flights of narrow stairs- with Mr. Personality encouraging, but not assisting me- was no mean feat; I found myself in need of a short nap.

After an hour’s rest, I followed the steps out of the back patio up to Craigdarroch Castle. This is by far the most glorious historic house I’ve ever been privileged to see; it is four stories of full Victorian splendor, with the family’s belongings nearly fully intact (very unusual in my limited experience) Again, photographs don’t do it justice; I was stopped cold by the “Oh My!” entrance & spent some time chatting with the gentleman docent stationed there. I already knew of the connection between Craigdarroch & Hatley Castles (father Robert & younger son, James) but I was surprised to learn that there was a connection to a grand house in my part of the world, Dunsmuir Mansion in Oakland; it was built by the nere-do-well older son, Alexander, for his then mistress, & hosts one of our favorite Highland Games, which we had attended just the week before. I spent an enjoyable couple of hours exploring the castle, positively drooling over the incredible stained glass panels in almost every room, & spending money in their nicely stocked gift shop.

That evening, I drove down to the Inner Harbor area for a little sightseeing; British Colombia in situated far enough north to remain light well past 9:00 pm. I was too late to go inside any of the buildings, such as the Empress Hotel, the Parliament Building, or the B.C. Museum, but took some nice photos & added them to my “Must See” list for next time. I poked around some of the shops, went to dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory, & I got a little giggle while I was waiting for my meal. Naturally, I was wiling away the time working on my shawl,

occasionally glancing around at my surroundings, when I noticed the print on the wall right next to my table:

How nice to have some silent knitting companionship.
I returned to my lodgings for the night, fixing myself a cuppa & settling into the lounge to do a little reading to the sounds of some classical music. An older German couple joined me for a while, sharing some of their wine & adventures of the day, before we all retired for the evening; with all the walking & wonder of the day, I slept soundly (the glass of wine & four ibuprofens helped a bit) & awake ready for the next adventure.

Final chapter: Butchart Gardens

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

All by myself

Still waiting to regain control of my time- really must speak to the Universe about scheduling three months worth of important events in a 10-day period- but I found a little space to continue the Canada Saga.

I have to say that in the 6 years or so that I’ve had regular internet access & began booking all travel arrangements online, I’ve been quite fortunate- you are essentially “buying a pig in a poke”, so you need to trust in the honesty & integrity of the vendors. I haven’t been bitten by the small print, been charged more than the quoted price, or ended up with questionable lodgings; that is until this trip.

After leaving the Chinese banquet & my family, I drove down to the motel I was staying at that night. A steady rain is falling; I’m driving along a dark, fairly deserted city street at 11:00 pm, looking for the address. At last, I see a neon sign, hanging crookedly on the post, three letters missing, & randomly blinking; I’m thinking “Please, Lord- not that one!”, but of course, that is my destination. I pull into the dimly lit parking lot, past rows of little cottages & a huddled group standing by one door passing a bottle around, & stop in front of the office. As I sit in my car, still dressed in my party finery & keeping my eye on the silent drinkers, a mist starts to rise from the ground; I begin having doubts about staying here. I stayed there for nearly 5 minutes, carrying on a spirited mental debate:

This place is creepy

“You read too many novels”

No, it really is sinister

“It’s just the rain & the mist- in daylight, I’m sure it’s perfectly respectable”

Pfft! Look at the winos

“Well, they are minding their own business”

Yeah, until you get out of the car

“This is silly- it’s 11:30 & I need some sleep”

It’s the flipping ‘Bate’s Motel’ without the gothic mansion

“I’ve already paid for it & I’m not looking for another place this time of night!”

Who cares? I can sleep in the car

At this point, I see the shadowed outline on a man, looking out the office window at my car; it is time to (pardon the expression) “piss or get off the pot”, so I screw up my courage & go inside. I have to admit I nearly bolted when a rather tall, thin, effeminate looking man, with a crew cut, came out of the back room, calling back across his shoulder “I’ll be right back, Mother- we have a customer”; but Scot’s stinginess won out over too many late-night “Creature Features” & I checked in. Norman- uh, I mean, Mason gave me a $10 discount because Expedia had booked me for a double instead of a single bed, & offered to carry my bags into my cottage since I was “all alone”- I politely declined & practically ran out of the office. I’m not proud of it, but once I got my stuff in the room, I triple locked the door, moved a table in front of it, propped a chair & my suitcase up against the closet, & slept with the light on.

I had to get up very early in the morning, as I needed to be at the ferry by 8:30 & I wasn’t certain what the traffic would be like driving through Vancouver. After taking the quickest shower of my life, with the shower curtain drawn all the way open, I threw my things back into the car & virtually peeled out of the parking after leaving the key in the drop box. It is a good thing I allowed an hour to travel 15 miles- the traffic wasn’t heavy on the surface streets, but the 3 bridges I had to cross were all one-lane in the direction I was headed & had horrible bottlenecks. I also took one of my rare wrong turns of the trip- I was headed the wrong direction on a road with no exits or turn arounds- I had to drive nearly 7 miles before I could get off the highway & backtrack, all the time hearing my internal clock ticking away the minutes. Oh, did I mention it was still raining buckets? I made it to the ferry landing right at 8:30 to claim my reserved spot & was the Very…Last… Car loaded, all the time needing to find a restroom in the worst way.

As soon as my car was secured, I scurried off to find relief, some breakfast, & a seat inside. The first two were easily remedied; the last was a no go, except one seat next a man smelling strongly of onions or another in front of a family with 4 small, screaming children. I decided to take my chances on deck & headed outside; I found a sheltered area on the sixth level, pulled up the hood of my raincoat & drank my tea. As soon as the boat started moving, the rain began to ease & sky became lighter; by the time we were three miles out, little patches of blue sky were peeking through & the rain had ceased. I stood alone at the aft railing & watched Vancouver disappear into the mist, then went inside to make myself comfortable before starting the next part of my adventure.

Next time: Houses, Gardens, and, Oh, my aching feet!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Vows, Gondolas, & Jellyfish

The wedding day dawned bright…& rainy. Again, not heavy, drenching downpours; merely intermittent light drizzles, with tantalizing tastes of blue skies & sun, just enough to raise hopes. I joined my aunt & uncle for breakfast at 8:00, along with a couple of other wedding guest, & we were treated to a lovely meal of fresh fruit, homemade bread, blueberry/banana pancakes, & wonderful chocolate filled croissants.

Since I didn’t need to be at Edgewater until 1:30 (a last minute rehearsal with brother B- who made just in time for dinner the night before) I enjoyed a leisurely morning reading & napping before getting dressed for the celebration. I showed up promptly & we quickly went through the set one last time before heading to the dining room. As I arrived, the decision was made to move the wedding inside, so there a flurry of activity going on; I wisely found an out-of-the-way seat inside the lodge. While others ranted, ran around, & generally freaked out, this is what I did:

Every so often, someone looking frantic would wander over, have a seat to catch their breath, & get caught up watching this lace shawl form itself on my needles; each person would eventually walk away calm & quiet- I like to think this was my contribution to the day (beside singing, of course.)

We sang our songs, some people actually listened, & then the ceremony started (on time, no less!). Once the bride walked past, I elbowed my way through the crowd of standing guests to take my seat with the family, so I was able to witness everything up close. I’ve put several shots in the photo album “Canada Trip” (at my MSN space- see above right), but I wanted to share my two favorites here.

This is “Reverend” Mike, my brother’s friend from college & the wedding’s the officiator; I think he is quite fetching with his bouquets. Actually, he is providing an important service; in Canada, a marriage commissioner must attend each wedding & “signing the documents” is a part of the ceremony; Rev. Mike is assisting the bride & her witness while they sign the certificate. This is my favorite photo of the day:

I love the huge smile on my brother’s face, while his serenely smiling bride looks on; it was a funny, touching day & well worth the hassles to get there.

The reception was wonderful, with great food (salmon or pesto-stuffed chicken), humorous toasts, shared memories, & lots of music & dancing. The weather even cooperated long enough for the pictures to be taken outside by the lake, while the guests snacked on hors d'oeuvres & searched for a peek of the glacier on the mountain. The festivities broke up around 11:00, with the “younger” crowd heading down to Whistler Village to party into the wee hours, while the wiser ones toddled off to sleep.

Sunday morning, after another delicious meal (Eggs Benedict & almond paste filled croissants) I checked out of Cedar Springs & drove over to collect my sister for the ride back to Vancouver. The lodge had been filled by the wedding party, so the dining room looked like a family breakfast (except for the assorted hang-over’s); while H packed up & I enjoyed another cup of tea, D told us that he had arranged for anyone who wanted a little adventure to take the Gondola ride up Whistler Mountain. H & I decided to take up the challenge & headed into the village; the was a huge mountain-biking event going on that weekend & there were hundreds of riders- from 8 to 80 years old- barreling down the mountain side, covered in mud.

It was a 20 minute trip up the mountain, traveling through the low-lying clouds & intermittent sprinkles; arriving at the top (but not the summit- that was closed due to weather concerns) we were greeted with some remaining snow & a pretty brisk, cold wind. We walked about a half mile up the trail, which was about all I could manage, given the altitude & my wonky knees/hip, & surveyed some of the interpretive displays & construction plans for Whistler, which will be hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics. On the way back down, we saw several wedding guests & family members heading up the mountain- turns out we were the first ones out the gate that day.

The drive only took an hour & a half this time, so H & I had some time to do a little exploring before we had to be at the wedding banquet being held by W’s extended family. We found Queen Elizabeth Park & spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering around the gardens & paths in the drizzle, even stopping to witness the tail-end of another wedding.

Then, it was off to the last official event of the weekend, the traditional Chinese banquet, hosted by the bride’s father. It was literally 12 courses, each table being served by a single waiter who dished out small portions to every person; there was soup, fruit, salad, crab claw puffs, noodles, rice, duck, pork, fish, even jellyfish with vegetables (I tried a little piece, which had the texture between a gummy worm & a pickle). The funny part is that every dish that was brought out, the waiter made a big ceremony of arranging it just so my step-dad could take a picture. I lost track of every dish, particularly when the toasts started- wine, brandy, & Grand Marnier flowed freely as the couple, the families, & the ancestors were all toasted… in Chinese. Yep, after “Hello, thank you for coming” the rest of the evening with conducted in Chinese- W’s father’s primary language- so W served as interpreter for the whole group. Mother gave her only speech the whole weekend, translated for the others by one of the younger boys, when she presented D & W with a little gift- a blue & brown baby outfit, which followed the wedding theme of “Mountains & Water”. No, they were not making any announcements, but speculation began before they even said “I do” as to how long before there is another family member, myself included.

Thus ended my time with my family- three days of parties & eating, with no arguments, hurt feelings, or disasters. Must be a record.

Next time: All by myself