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A Trip To Wine Country

My friends and I have taken wine tours to some of the wonderful wineries here on Vancouver Island in the past, and we will do that again some day. But we recently decided to try the Okanagan, specifically Oliver B.C., for a change.

Wine not?

After some months of planning, we headed out in late September for a 5 day trip to the interior. We initially had some concerns about ongoing forest fires on our route, especially around Hope and Manning Park.

As we travelled though these areas, it was quite sobering to watch the helicopters fly back and forth with their buckets of water suspended below. And the smell of smoke was definitely in the air when we got out to stretch our legs a couple of times along the way.

I remember at one point looking far up on the side of a mountain from the car window and actually being able to see flames. Yikes.

Once we got past the smoke and fires, the drive through the southern interior was beautiful as always. The slow change in geography between the dark, green forests of the coast, and the dry grass and blue/grey sagebrush of the Okanagan, is something I always enjoy.

We stayed at a guest house on the outskirts of the town of Oliver, run by an elderly couple . It used to be a bed and breakfast until, as the woman told us, she decided she was tired of making breakfast all the time.

As they gave us an initial tour of the unit, which was more or less stuck in the 1980s décor-wise, they pointed out a couple of things:

You had to hold the toilet handle down until it completely flushed. Because otherwise, it wouldn’t.

The temperature was kept low at night because the lady of the house liked it cool. Her husband suggested we might need blankets in the evenings.

Then he looked us over and decided only one of us was skinny enough to require a blanket.

Only one of us was skinny enough. We’re still laughing about that one…

But in spite of a few other idiosyncrasies in the place, it was perfect for us.

The large property had chickens and grape vines, lots of fruit trees and a huge vegetable garden. We were given fresh eggs and invited to pick our own grapes and plums, as much as we wanted.

The morning sun came up behind a ridge of mountains behind the unit, and we could watch it rise as we sat with our morning coffee on a little deck. For the entire time we were there, the weather was perfect.

We booked two winery tours; the first one on a private mini bus, and the second one was something a little different: an e-bike tour.

On the mini bus tour, we had a wonderful driver and tour guide who was originally from Portugal, and who knew everything about wineries and wine making. It was an ideal introduction to the area, and definitely an education.

We travelled to four wineries that day and later decided that four was too much. The first couple of places gave us at least 6 or 7 wines to taste. Even if you only take one sip of each, you begin to lose your ability to distinguish them after awhile.

Well, that’s the story I’m sticking to anyway.

When it came to the e-bike tour, I have to admit I was pretty nervous in anticipation of it. I got on my old bike at home a few times before the trip, just so I could remember what it felt like.

You know the expression “it’s just like riding a bike”? We might have to reassess that simile.

Our e-bike tour guides for the day were another couple, probably in their 50’s. They were careful to get our measurements beforehand so the bikes were a good fit, and gave us lots of instruction as to how to use them.

We practiced riding in the parking lot before we started off in earnest our our wine tour. The husband took the lead while his wife took up the rear.

Shifting gears and e-gears took some getting used to, but I quickly decided the “e” part helped a lot.

We went a little faster than my liking and worked hard at keeping up with each other. But we took plenty of breaks and, of course, spent considerable time wine tasting at 3 different wineries this time.

It was another perfect day and a wonderful trip.

Wineries everywhere around the world are facing a changing climate these days, and the Okanagan is no exception. Rainfall patterns are different, and grapes are very susceptible to temperature changes. We heard plenty of stories along the way.

In light of these changes, wineries are learning to adapt. As am I.

So if you see a wobbly older woman on her new (used) e-bike, making her way home from the grocery store, watch out for me, eh?

I’m trying to get skinnier.

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A Cozy Heat Pumped Christmas

At this very moment, I am trapped in my living room. There are sheets of plastic covering door ways and on top of our furniture. Drills and saws are squealing everywhere, and muffled shouts are flying from one guy to another.

They are carpenters, electricians, installers, inspectors and duct cleaners. All in my house at varying times. All wearing masks, of course.

I can’t work in my basement studio or office because of the equipment, cables, tools, bits of garbage, and large sheets of metal strewn everywhere.

The dust is flying as carpenters drill and saw through the old lathe and plaster to install a new duct behind the walls.

And then there is the noise. I have to wear my noise cancelling headphones to muffle the sound of the old ducts being cleaned. Apparently they should have been cleaned more often. The occasional swearing I’ve heard from the guy cleaning them confirms that.

It’s an invasion in every sense, but it’s all for a good cause.

We are finally getting a heat pump installed.

Over the years, we’ve had all kinds of renovations, installations and repairs done on this old house. It was built in 1938, and didn’t even have insulation when we first moved in 32 years ago.

It had an oil furnace which is a lovely kind of heat, but over our first winter here we nearly froze to death. The heat just seeped out of the walls and windows and the cold blew back in. During one particularly cold stretch, I remember sitting on the floor of the living room in front of the lit fireplace, holding my infant daughter tightly because we were chilled to the bone.

Eventually we replaced the old cardboard that was tacked under the roof in the attic with real insulation, and had more insulation blown into the exterior walls. Later, we installed new double-paned windows.

It all made a big difference.

But last June when B.C. was overwhelmed with that blasted heat dome, we had to sleep in the basement of our house to stay cool enough. Our electric fans were useless, and air conditioning units were out of stock everywhere.

And that’s when we heard about this magical new thing called a heat pump.

Now don’t ask me to explain all of the technology behind it. But, essentially, it works as both a heater and an air cooler, depending on the time of year, with much more efficiency built in.

Wikipedia says: “A heat pump is a device used to warm the interior of a building or heat domestic hot water by transferring thermal energy from a cooler space to a warmer space using the refrigeration cycle, being the opposite direction in which heat transfer would take place without the application of external power.”

Did you get that?

All I care about is that it is more energy efficient, better for the environment, and over time, it will save us money.

The best news is that there are grants for heat pumps available from the federal and provincial governments, and you can even apply for them from some municipalities. It is quite the process to get these grants, including house inspections before and after the installation and all kinds of paperwork, but I don’t mind the effort to help mitigate the cost.

Ssshhh. It just got eerily quiet in the house. Have the workers gone for coffee? Lunch? I’m taking a chance and sneaking a peek down in the basement.

Oh dear. It’s a disaster area. I should have just stayed away.

There have been a number of interesting items found under shelves and inside the old ducts over the last couple of days. A golf ball, two dice, an old key, an eraser, some ancient door hooks, an ice cube tray, plus a lot of dirt and dust. And a partridge in a pear tree.

Wait. An ice cube tray?? Well, at least they didn’t find any dead mice.

The best Christmas present this year will be a cozy, heat-pumped house.

And they’re back. With the squeal of a drill and the pounding of a hammer, I can hear the workers have returned. There seems to be an argument erupting between two of the guys about something. Here comes the swearing.

Now where did I put those darned headphones?

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I Wish It Would Rain

I remember as a kid sitting and playing outside my house one summer day, when I felt a small drop of rain on my shoulder. And then another on my head. I decided to sit there and let the whole rain storm come and go, feeling every drop of it. Eventually I went inside the house, completely soaked but happy. The memory of that very personal rainstorm has always stayed with me.

There are dozens of old, popular songs about rain out there. “Here Comes The Rain Again”, “Rainy Night In Georgia”, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”, “I Love A Rainy Night”. One of those titles is sure to give some of you boomers an earworm.

A lot of the time, rain songs are about sadness or loss. We often think of rain in a negative way, for example, when an event gets “rained out” or “it rained on my parade.” It never rains but it pours.

Over the years I’ve heard both locals and tourists complain about the rain here on the west coast. I like to refer to it as the “wet coast”. Well, we live in a rainforest, what do you expect?

My Dad always hated the rain, but then he had to drive a bus in it for 40 years. People laughed at him “So why the heck do you live on the west coast then?”

People who move out here from somewhere else in the country usually have to acclimatize to our weather, especially during the winter. It isn’t always about the rain itself, but the endless grey days we have to endure. It just makes the winter feel longer and darker.

Ah, yes. Rain. The good ol’ days. It almost seems sacrilegious to complain about it any more. The fires are raging, the harvests aren’t happening, the cows have no hay. If you surf the web, watch the news or read the paper, you know all the bad stuff going on because of our drought. These days the skies can just as easily be filled with smoke as with clouds.

The other day, I received an email from my cousin in Denmark, and in it she complained about the endless rain in her country this summer. There have been flash floods in Europe, in Venezuela and even in Tennessee. If there was only a way for them to send some of it here!

Looking out my window right now, there is cloud cover and the possibility of rain in the forecast this afternoon. If it begins, I will go outside and sit there and feel every drop. I’ll appreciate it like never before.

I have vowed to myself to never, ever complain about the rain again.

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Lost In Space

It was the middle of February 2020, just before COVID-19 changed everything. My husband, daughter and I were at a luau in Hawaii, celebrating my daughter’s birthday.

Just after the outdoor show began, an hour or so past sunset, somebody at our table pointed to the western horizon. “Look at that!” Flying low in the sky was a series of lights in a straight line. There were maybe 10 or 12 of them. We’d never seen anything like it. Were they birds? Were they shooting stars? Was it the second coming? What the heck??

We asked some of the hotel staff “Have you ever seen this before?” No, they all answered. We watched until the string of lights slowly drifted out of sight.

The next day our astronomer friend, who was also visiting Hawaii at the time, gave us the explanation. Only a few days before, SpaceX had launched 60 Starlink satellites. What we saw were a few of them still following each other in the same orbit. Eventually, they would drift apart and orbit on their own.

When I think of it now, it seemed like a strange omen. We didn’t realize then that this would be our last trip for a very long time.

Just the other day, May 4th, known as “Star Wars Day”, SpaceX launched another 60 Starlink satellites. A string of them were visible in the night sky here on Vancouver Island for a short time.

There are roughly 6000 satellites orbiting around our little blue planet at this time, with more coming. Some of these satellites are not even operational. Space junk.

They float along with lots of other bits and pieces like old bolts, equipment fragments, fuel sludge and paint chips that have been orbiting for years. One of the main concerns is the possibility of collisions with important working satellites.

The International Space Station is constantly adjusting direction in order to avoid this space junk. At a high velocity, even the smallest bit can do great damage.

Environmental issues, it seems, are not just confined within our atmosphere. Believe it or not, there are “space debris experts” out there trying to sound the alarm and to come up with ways to safely remove space junk before something catastrophic happens.

Why, at the very moment of this writing, there is a 10-story, 23-ton piece of rocket about to crash to earth, with no one knowing for sure where it might end up. Alert the “space debris experts.”

It could splash harmlessly into the ocean, but it could also smash into a populated area. Some of it will burn up on re-entry, but not all 23 tons of it.

Back in 1969, I remember watching the blurry image of the first step onto the moon. I was at my best friend Shirley’s house and we watched this incredible event on her black and white TV. “The Eagle has landed.” Looking at the moon that night, I was amazed to think that people were actually up there walking on it.

Now we’ve got NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance roaming the red planet, looking for past signs of life. The technological advances in space exploration have been astounding, and we keep learning more and more, not only about our solar system, but also about our home, the earth.

And, as my astronomer friend would point out, a lot of that technology and research has also benefited us as individuals too.

Oh, oh, watch out!

Phew…

Just figure out a way to get rid of all of that space junk, will ya?

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Electric Avenue

When I was quite small, the family car, an old 1938 Chrysler, finally gave up the ghost, and we went for 4 years without a vehicle. New cars were expensive and my Dad, a bus driver, had a mortgage to pay and not much else left over after that. We pretty much walked or took the bus everywhere we needed to for those four years.

Finally, around about 1966, my Dad bought one of the first Toyota Corolla’s in Canada. It cost him $2298.00. And, as he recollected in his memoirs, that was with a radio included!

One of our first road trips with the new car was a drive to the BC interior. Whenever we stopped for gas, the gas attendant would stare up and down the car in wonder. The Toyota looked nothing like the North American vehicles everyone was used to at the time.

Dad loved that car and drove it for many years.

Fast forward to last year, February 2020, when my daughter became the first in our family…well, the first of anybody we know, actually, to get an electric car. She’s had her red Hyundai Kona for almost a year now, and it’s been a learning experience, but not a difficult one.

With the recent announcements by GM that they will be building electric vans at their plant in southern Ontario, and President Biden revoking the Keystone XL Pipeline permit, there is a feeling of change in the air. Literally, I suppose.

Gas vehicles won’t disappear overnight, of course. And hybrid vehicles will help the transition for many. But more and more people are lining up to buy electric vehicles these days.

Still, change can be slow. One of the concerns many people have is the number of charging stations across the country, and the other is the length of time it takes to charge, even for a fast charge. More and more infrastructure is being built across Canada, with many gas stations also providing EV charging stations now, but it’s a process. And you won’t find EV charging stations yet in many smaller communities.

Charging up certainly isn’t quite as quick as gassing up. While she was waiting for her Kona to arrive, my daughter plotted out where all of the charging stations were in and around the city and on the Pat Bay Highway. Then it came down to figuring out how to use that charging time effectively. Like plugging into an EV stall at the mall and getting her grocery shopping done at the same time.

When she comes to visit us, she plugs her car into a regular outlet outside the house. In an 8 or 9 hour visit, she can only get a 10-15% charge. As an example, she uses that much charge just driving to and from work for one shift out at Swartz Bay.

At the mall, with what is called a Level 2 charge, she can get the same charge in about 2 hours. With a Level 3 charge, it’s two or three times faster than that. Of course, that all depends on the size of the battery too.

Me, well I still have my 2004 Mustang GT convertible. It’s a gas guzzler, but it’s pretty nice. I love to put the top down. When it isn’t raining, that is. And it has a V8 engine, so you can hear me coming from many blocks away.

Ford came out with an electric vehicle called the Mustang Mach-E but it looks nothing like a Mustang to me. So I have refused to purchase it, in protest. If they ever make an electric Mustang that looks like a Mustang, I’ll be first in line.

I don’t drive a lot. I work from home, so typically, I get in the car once or twice a week, if that. Some might say I don’t even need a car considering how little I drive. But I can’t let go of my Mustang. Don’t make me!

The car also has to be plugged in when I’m not using it. Just like a lot of muscle cars, the battery drains when it’s sitting there for too long. So I have a battery maintainer that I attach to it to keep the battery charged.

In which case, I guess you could say I DO have an electric vehicle, no?