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Birdwatching in Parksville

Recently, my husband and I took some time off and drove up to Parksville, just to get out of the house for a couple of days. The “housebound” effect because of COVID-19 had really been getting to us and we hadn’t been away since last February. We did have time off in the summer, but at that time we were a little hesitant to risk going anywhere else. So we stayed home and stared at each other instead. Yeah.

It wasn’t all that easy to find a place to stay in Parksville, which seemed odd, considering that it’s nearly winter. And this IS the “wetcoast”. Not exactly appealing, weather-wise, this time of year. But eventually, we did find something nice with an ocean view.

Just as “wetcoast” implies, it rained heavily on the entire drive up there. At times, the rain was torrential. Huge lakes of water collected in the middle of the highway. Sometimes we were hydroplaning. Big trucks sprayed the windshield so we could barely see to pass them. But even worse, cars coming toward us in the opposite direction would hit one of those highway lakes and completely swamp our car. We were literally on the edge of our seats all the way up there.

Somehow we arrived at our destination safe and sound, and excited to be somewhere different for a change.

I was especially looking forward to seeing the snowbirds. I’ve been hearing stories about how they are migrating west instead of south this year. Birds are so smart, aren’t they? They actually know to stay away from their usual migration spots in places like Florida during all of this COVID-19 stuff. Nature is amazing.

Check in time at the hotel was 5pm instead of the usual 3 or 4pm, and check out time was adjusted to 10am. These days, they try to allow for extra cleaning of the rooms, which is fine by me. The front desk was behind plexiglass and the staff were all wearing masks. At the desk, they had a box of “dirty” pens and then some “clean” pens for you to use to sign in. There is no housekeeping in your room for the duration of your stay, which is also fine by me. I mean, I don’t really need clean towels every day, or someone else making my bed and vacuuming. In fact, it felt nicer to know no one was going to enter our room while we were venturing out.

Guests are also encouraged to wear masks throughout the building, pretty much anywhere beyond your hotel room. There is a limit of two people in the elevator, but most of the time it was just the two of us anyway.

There is a pool, an exercise room and a hot tub as part of the facility, but use of any of those was pretty restricted. You had to book a swim, a workout or a soaking well in advance. The restaurant also had minimal capacity, and reservations were encouraged, but you could order room service at no extra charge. Nice. In fact, we did just that on our first night there.

It rained all night, but it was overcast and only spitting a little bit when we woke up the next morning. And by the time we headed out to take a walk along the boardwalk, the sun was breaking out. It was glorious. The tide was low and there were only a handful of people walking out on the beach itself, so we hopped over a few puddles and did the same.

I noticed lots of Canada Geese and seagulls, but I was really keeping my eye out for the snowbirds. I wasn’t sure what to look for. Are they white? Like Trumpeter Swans? Or maybe they’re more duck like?

After lunch, we decided to head out towards Englishman River Falls for a little hike. There were maybe a half dozen cars in the parking area there, and only a handful of people out walking the trails. Because of the recent rains, the falls were big and loud and spectacular. The moss hung green and dripping from giant trees, their canopies dark and cool. It was right out of an Emily Carr painting. We took our time and soaked it in.

Refreshed and at peace with the world, we headed back towards Parksville, to a local pub to sit for awhile. The pub had outdoor seating, but we chose to stay indoors where the tables were spread far apart. Staff wore masks and gloves and cleaned each table thoroughly when guests left. It all felt quite safe. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped off at a grocery store and picked up a few things to munch on for dinner.

It had been a great day. We took one last little walk outside along the beach before heading to our room. Still no snowbirds. There were the usual array of geese and seagulls and even some shorebirds. I listened carefully. Do snowbirds have a special bird call? Like with an eastern Canada accent? You know, like “oot and aboot”?

Nothing sounded out of the ordinary to me.

We were up early enough the next morning to sit in our room and enjoy the view one last time. A huge bald eagle landed on the beach and stayed there for awhile. My favourite bird. When he’d had enough and flew off, I finished my coffee, and we packed up and checked out. Heading back to Victoria on the highway, I spotted Mount Arrowsmith, and that’s when it hit me.

Snowbirds, Irene, SNOWbirds. They wouldn’t be down on the beach, they’d be up in the mountains, enjoying the snow, for pete’s sake.

Sometimes I’m so STUPID.

(Note: Now that we are being told to avoid all non-essential travel, it could be quite awhile before our next adventure. Back to sitting at home and staring at each other again…sigh.)

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Dear Diary – Is It Over Yet?

DAY 1 – I’ve been waiting so LONG for this day! I’m excited but cautious because, well, you know what happened last time. Four years ago my phone started pinging with news alerts at 2 a.m. the day after the U.S. election, declaring that The Orange One was now President of the United States. It’s been a nightmare ever since.

Today I feel a lot more hopeful. Giggly, even. They’ve been talking for months about this Blue Wave and I know it’s coming! I’ve got my glass of wine and I’m watching in anticipation as the polls begin to close! Woo hoo!

LATER: Okay, so the blue wave hasn’t happened yet. And the Orange One (let’s just refer to him as O.O. from now on) is actually winning in some states. How can that be? Who, in their right mind…? And why does every media outlet have different numbers? I don’t understand! I don’t understand!

Okay, Irene, calm down. There are all of those mail in ballots yet to count. This could take awhile. A long while. I’m going to bed.

DAY 2 – I’m proud of myself because I actually slept through the night. I turned all my electronics off and refused to let myself think about anything except what it would be like to win the lottery.

But somebody else was not getting much sleep last night, it seems. O.O. was apparently up in the wee hours declaring victory. There you go. Just declare it and it’s true, right?!

I’m going to stay away from the news and from social media until at least lunchtime today. Hear no evil, see no evil.

LATER: Okay, I couldn’t help myself and I checked into Twitter. I don’t get it! Where is this Blue Wave they’ve been talking about? It seems more like a trickle to me. A dribble, even. And now people are yelling “Stop the count! Stop the count!” Are you kidding me? That’s like not counting COVID-19 cases and declaring the pandemic over! Who would even think of doing that?

And the blue and red electoral numbers on TV seem to be getting stuck. What is this Electoral College anyway? Is it a place? Can you get an Electoral Degree from it? Where’s my wine?

DAY 3 – or is it DAY 4? All I know is that it has been days. It feels like weeks. And the dribble of numbers continues even though the big blue and red ones are still stuck.

Dribble.

Dribble.

The news outlets are getting braver about suggesting that Biden could win, but no one is declaring anything yet. Except O.O. that is. The mail-in ballots are “fraudulent”, tens of thousands of ballots were “illegally received”, thousands of votes were “illegally not allowed to be observed”,  “LEGAL TRANSPARENCY was viciously & crudely not allowed.”

Oh oh.

They are saying that Day 5 could be the Day Of The Decision. I’m exhausted. My nails are down to nubs. I have several bald spots from ripping my hair out. I’ve gone through all of the wine. I’m stumbling off to bed.

DAY 5 – I’m up at 6 a.m. even though it’s a Saturday. I’ve turned the TV on. OMG, still no decision. The counters are still counting. The observers are still observing. The news people are still yabbering and poking at those giant video screens, over and over again. And the blue and red numbers are still frozen. Will it ever be over? I already have a headache.

O.O. tweets “I WON THIS ELECTION BY A LOT!”

All of a sudden, there is news from Pennsylvania. Their 20 Electoral College votes have gone to Joe Biden. He becomes the president elect. And Kamala Harris the first female, and the first person of colour, becomes Vice President. I am beyond elated. Now there are people in masks, hollering and dancing and drinking on Pennsylvania Avenue. Right across from the White House. I love it. It’s only 9 a.m. but I think I might join in the toast.

I can relax now. I can breathe. My hair will grow back and my fingernails too. This is the calmest I’ve felt in 4 years. Oh, I know there will be trouble still. Maybe a lot of trouble. O.O. won’t go without a fight.

But dear O.O. – remember what you said not that long ago about another topic? “It is what it is.” Yep.

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Halloween 2020

Pictured here is Sam. Sam Boney. He’s looking a little perplexed because he isn’t really sure how to carve his pumpkin this year. Should he go for his usual scary face? Or maybe something a little bit more friendly? I mean, 2020 has been scary enough.

A lot of people are not really sure how to handle Halloween this year, but others are trying to be creative. At our house, we’ve already built a candy chute for the kids. A little PVC piping and some orange tape and lights to wrap around it, and voila! They just have to stand at the bottom of the steps, open their bags or buckets and we’ll send their candy down the chute. Perfect.

It has also been suggested that you can use tongs to hand candy out, or put the candy in individual bags. I can understand, though, how some people might not be comfortable handing out candy this Halloween.

We get an average of about 70 kids at our house every year. I really enjoy the tiniest trick-or-treaters the most. Sometimes you answer the door and they just stand there and stare at you with no idea what is going on. Some see the open door and start to walk right in. Others try to say “trick or treat” with little or no success. One time I opened the door to a little girl who simply said “Candy?” And their little costumes are the most adorable just because THEY are.

Then there are the “kids” who are a little past their expiry date. I mean, once your voice changes and you’re taller than me, maybe it’s time to move on. I actually had that attitude for years until a friend said “At least they’re out trick or treating instead of somewhere else causing trouble!” That gave me a new perspective. I now welcome kids of all sizes.

Sam and I are wondering how many there will be this year. I mean, we’re lucky in that Halloween isn’t outright cancelled, as it is in Los Angeles County, for instance. No gatherings, no haunted houses to visit. Now THAT would make Halloween night pretty eerie to me. You’re allowed to watch a scary movie at a drive thru, or decorate your yard, but no trick-or-treating whatsoever.

In BC, with some new protocols in place, we’ve managed to hold a provincial election without too many hiccups. So even if it looks a little bit different this year, I think those of us who want to can manage Halloween one way or another. At least I hope so.

Oh, and Sam Boney finally settled on a face for his pumpkin this year. It will be a happy face.

Grey skies are going to clear up
Put on a happy face!
Brush off the clouds and cheer up 
Put on a happy face!
Spread sunshine all over the place
And put on a happy face!
~ From Bye Bye Birdie, Lyrics by Lee Adams, Music by Charles Strouse

To all the kids and parents heading out there this Saturday, have a safe and Happy Halloween!

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October Storm

One day last week, I was in my basement studio finishing up a lesson with a guitar student. He started to pack his guitar in its case when POW!! There was a huge bang and the lights went out.

The wind had been blowing pretty fiercely all morning, so the power outage wasn’t really a surprise. But when we both walked outside, I could see that this was more than a blown transformer. The power lines to our house were almost touching the ground and the thingamajig holding those power lines to the side of the house was ripped right off the exterior wall. Oh, oh.

I texted my husband who had been working from home but who had gone in to the office to work that day. No response.

I looked for the number for BC Hydro and called them instead. I reported the issue and hoped for the best.

When I looked out and down the street, I could see lots of neighbours coming out of their houses, and I realized that this was a whole chain of events affecting us all. Just down the street, another power pole had snapped right in half and was hanging precariously above the street by the wires. The domino effect had yanked the power lines all the way up to our house, which caused the whatsit to rip off the house.

Someone had called the fire department and a couple of trucks responded. Firemen began to block off the roads, and I knew this wasn’t going to be over anytime soon. Using my phone, I emailed all of my students for that day and cancelled their lessons.

Having lived in the same house for 32 years, I can count on one hand the number of times that we’ve had power outages. It’s been many years, in fact, since the last one. I know that people living in rural communities or on the smaller islands go through this all the time, especially during our winter storm season, but I felt like a kind of a newbie at this. What do I do?

It was almost lunch time, but I didn’t want to open the fridge. I foraged for anything that I could find in the cupboards. I decided it was a good time to start gathering candles and flashlights, even though it was the middle of the day.

I went outside again to survey the situation and saw a young firefighter at the corner.

“I guess I get an extra long weekend!” I laughed. “I like your attitude!” he smiled. From our short conversation I found out that it was going to take at least 6 hours to get this mess straightened out. I went back inside.

A short time later a very friendly BC Hydro guy knocked on the door, and with a big grin he told me that because the whats-a-ma-call-it was ripped from the house, I was going to have to call an electrician to repair that before BC Hydro could repair the line. An electrician! I panicked. I called my husband again and was finally able to get through to tell him what happened.

He took it upon himself to get a hold of an electrician who could respond quickly.

My phone was about to run out of power. I got a text message from my phone provider that I had already used up half of my data for the month. And it was only day 2 of the cycle.

I have a battery booster that I bought for my car when it had a battery leak that my mechanic couldn’t figure out. Fortunately, the booster was fully charged, so I brought it upstairs from the basement. It has a USB connector and one of those cigarette lighter chargers, so I managed to find plugs and cables to plug in my phone and a couple of other battery packs. I was even able to plug my laptop in so I could do a little work.

I was feeling pretty good about my resourcefulness. The electricians showed up and set about fixing things. And then they handed me the bill. Gulp. More than thirteen hundred dollars.

The stormy day dragged on and BC Hydro worked continuously up and down the street repairing the wires and putting in a new power pole where the old one had snapped. It grew darker in the house so I lit up the candles. My husband brought home some fast food for dinner and we ate by candlelight. We took turns using the battery booster to charge things up.

Every now and then I would pop outside and look down the street where most of the work was being done. There were fewer and fewer trucks. Part of me worried that they’d just give up and go home for the evening. But they didn’t.

At 8:25pm, almost nine and a half hours after the power went out, the lights came back on. Sigh.

Thinking about the whole event, I decided to take note of what I had learned from the experience.

  1. I can be pretty resourceful when I have to be.
  2. There are never enough candles. Or flashlights. Or battery packs.
  3. When a BC Hydro guy comes knocking at your door with a big grin on his face, it isn’t necessarily a good sign.
  4. That whatsit thingamajig that holds your power lines against your house is actually called a mast.
  5. The character trait that serves you best in a situation such as this is called a sense of humour.
  6. The firefighters, electricians and Hydro people out there working for hours and hours in miserable conditions to get things up and running, are real pros. Thank goodness for them.
  7. When you don’t want to open the fridge for the white, you can always open a bottle of red.
  8. I’m nowhere near prepared for the Big One.
  9. Because, you know, it’s 2020.

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“Dinner’s Going To Be Late!” And Other Turkey Tales

The first time that I was invited for Christmas dinner at my boyfriend’s parent’s house many years ago, they had just bought this new fangled thing called a microwave oven. They were very excited about it. A microwave was supposed to cook things a lot faster than a conventional oven, so they figured why not cook the turkey in it? Brilliant!

Well, to begin with, the turkey was far too big to fit in the microwave. They ended up having to chop it up and cook it in pieces, one or two at a time. And oddly enough, the turkey didn’t turn brown as it cooked, but instead came out a hot, sickly white colour. In the end they had to stick all the parts in the oven to brown them anyway. Needless to say, as the evening progressed, the voices drifting from the kitchen rose in pitch as the discussion became more heated.

The rest of us just sat in the living room and kept our mouths shut. We knew better than to say anything, even though a giggle would occasionally escape our lips.

We didn’t eat until 9 or 10pm and, from what I remember, the table conversation was rather subdued. I don’t think anybody was even hungry by then, but we obediently ate what we could.

I was so very proud of the first turkey I baked just a few years later. It was a dark, dark brown, just like all the pictures. But when I stuck the knife into it, it more or less exploded like the Griswold turkey in the movie “Christmas Vacation”. My Dad was too polite to say anything, but nearly choked to death on his first bite. In my defense, the cookbook I was using never mentioned that you should cover the turkey for most of its cooking time. The bird was dry as a bone.

A few years back, I was just putting our Thanksgiving meal on the table when the lights went out. A power outage. We pulled out a few extra candles, lit them, and enjoyed a cozy turkey dinner by candlelight. It was actually quite wonderful. By the time we were ready to do the dishes, the lights came back on again. Great timing.

We were the lucky ones, however. We found out later that a lot of people hadn’t finished cooking their turkey meal by the time the power went out, which threw their dinner into chaos. Half cooked turkeys, raw vegetables, cold pies. And no gravy, I’ll bet.

Maybe a few of them found creative ways to use their barbeques and fire pits to finish cooking their meals. “Dinner’s going to be late everyone!”

A couple of years back we bought a used mini freezer and a mini fridge to have just in case we needed back ups for our regular fridge. We kept the two units in the basement, unplugged most of the time to save power.

When it came around to Thanksgiving last year, I bought the usual turkey and trimmings for our dinner. Our regular fridge was pretty full, so I thought I’d be really clever and I threw the turkey, which was frozen, the vegetables, dinner rolls and everything into the mini fridge.

Except there was one small problem. You’re thinking that I forgot to plug it in, aren’t you? Nope, I plugged it in alright.

No, the problem was that I had actually put the all of the food in the mini freezer, not the fridge. By the time I pulled everything out, the vegetables, potatoes, everything except the turkey was ruined. Rock solid frozen. And we were having guests too.

I panicked at first, but in the end, I went out and bought all new groceries again. The dinner went without a hitch. Phew.

I’m sure many of us have turkey tales, whether from Thanksgiving or Christmas. Maybe something went horribly wrong, or amazingly well. A surprise guest might have shown up, or a new family member joined you for the first time. Trying something new turned out to be a huge hit. Or a catastrophic failure.

Thanksgiving 2020 will force many of us to find new ways to be together while trying to stay far enough apart. There will be very different Turkey Tales this year.

In my little family, we have a Thanksgiving ritual. Before we eat our meal, we go around the table and take turns telling each other what we’re thankful for. This year, I think we will be most thankful just to be able to be together.