Saturday, November 23, 2019

Slow Weekend

Outside my window the birds are mad for the suet and seed that was recently replenished. A small Chestnut-backed Chickadee peers around the corner of the feeder to keep watch over the much larger bird on the other side. 

In turn, the woodpecker peeks shyly at me, not wanting to reveal too much of himself. 

The red accents on the House Finch caught my eye and I snapped a quick photo. Only when looking at it later on the computer did I realize that two other birds, perhaps female House Finches, are in the photo as well. 

A Northern Flicker perches on the highest, wavering branch of the cedar hedge. Skies are grey today with rain in the forecast, and possible freezing rain. I'd much rather have snow. 

It's not nearly 5 pm yet, but the lights are all on. I just finished watching another episode of The Crown, Season Three. Have you been watching? I find this season much more introspective and thus, assumes motivations and thoughts of the Royal Family. However, I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I rarely watch television during the day, so I'm feeling very indulgent on this quiet and dark afternoon. 

We've been away quite a lot recently and it's so nice to be at home. I went to a craft fair this morning, did several loads of laundry, made granola, and the house is filled now with the scent of simmering turkey stock. I read on Jean's blog, Delightful Repast, about making the gravy for turkey dinner ahead of time. I'm planning to cook a turkey for Christmas (we celebrated Thanksgiving in October), and it will be such a time-saver to have the gravy made ahead. I find it always a last minute thing to do, when the kitchen is full of people and activity. It's certainly smelling good just now.

Christmas preparations are beginning slowly here - I have a few gifts purchased and a few others in the works. There are lingering roses in the garden, and bright berries. Leaves are mostly fallen although the tree across the street from us has plenty of gold left on it. One late creamy rose blends well with other garden finds to make Autumn in a Teacup. 

My goal for the next week is to do at least one little thing each day to prepare for Christmas. No decorating quite yet, but there is stitching and baking and writing to do. 

For all my American readers - I wish you the joy of family and friends as you celebrate Thanksgiving Day. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Catching Up

A few weeks ago I attended a Pro-D conference for language teachers. They had a draw for a prize and package and to my immense surprise, my name was drawn. This past weekend Tim and I caught a ferry to Vancouver. Included in the package was one night at the Hyatt Regency. Our room was on the 29th floor, with a wonderful view of the North Shore mountains. Well. Our view was completely obscured by rain that fell during most of our stay. The view across the street, of the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, was pretty nice, though. 

I'm not crazy about heights, but it was fascinating to watch (for a short time) the traffic moving on the streets below. This was during a lull in the rain. 

Our package also included VIP tickets to Cirque du Soleil's "Luzia". We were treated so well. Before the show we enjoyed Prosecco and hors d'oeuvres in a private room. On our way into the show we were handed bags of popcorn, and our seats were excellent. During the intermission we went back to the private room for dessert, and received a little gift bag. I felt quite spoiled by it all. 

The show was jaw-dropping. I've seen quite a few Cirque shows on DVDs (we show snippets in our French classes), but to see the performance live was a completely different experience. The grace and strength displayed by the performers is truly mind-boggling, and the crowd was gasping and awe-struck many times. The theme and costumes were all so artistic - I really can't say enough good about it all. 

We had a relaxing morning in the hotel since the heavy rain convinced us to not walk along the water as we had planned. Instead, we drove out to Steveston and found a little place for breakfast. The rain stopped and we took a short walk along the harbour front before heading to the ferry. 

By then it was all blue skies, puffy clouds, and brilliant sunshine. I went out on deck to take photos in Active Pass, where ferries often pass each other. 

These ferries are our connection to the mainland, and are part of the highway system. It's a pleasure (usually) to ride them, too, although some people complain about the time it takes and the costs (which is not cheap!) I enjoy the ride because I can read, eat a meal if need be, or just sit and watch the scenery pass. 

Home life is full of the daily routines that make up much of one's schedule. I find much satisfaction in preparing good food, keeping the house tidy (I do the dreaded jobs first - like cleaning the bathrooms), and puttering around. I bake every week, but don't often take photos of it - these are some ginger sparklers (chewy, not crisp) that were made awhile ago. There are none left, and I'll be baking something else this week. 

Are you thinking about Christmas yet? I've pulled out Nigel Slater's "The Christmas Chronicles" and read a snippet or two each day. I made a stocking for our newest grandchild, and have begun making a few simple Christmas gifts. I'm trying to be realistic about the time I can devote to that, but my yearning usually overtakes the practical. 

This past weekend in Vancouver is actually the second in a row that we've been away. During the previous weekend we visited my parents and siblings in Abbotsford and Chilliwack. We took a short walk on the Vedder River Canal and spied this heron perched in a tree, eyeing the river for salmon. 

 Closer to home we've seen a variety of birds in our garden, at the feeder, including a Northern Flicker. He's much larger than the usual House Finches, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Sparrows that usually visit. 

Between travels near and far, and a busy teaching schedule, I've neglected this blog, and have not read or commented as much on others as I would like. I'm hopeful that I'll have a more settled routine going forward. Thank you to my faithful readers and commenters. I appreciate each one. 

How about you? Are you thinking about much? Planning for the holidays? Do tell. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Madrid and Window Shopping

Our tour director asked me which city I preferred, Barcelona or Madrid. They are both beautiful, with much to offer in the way of culture, architecture, history, etc. Barcelona is vibrant and has a more casual and touristy feel. Madrid is also vibrant, but perhaps more elegant and serious. I enjoyed both cities, but I would like to take more time exploring Madrid some day. 

While we were there we visited the Prado museum. No photos were allowed inside, and the outside is nothing special. There are some wonderful works of art inside, though. I particularly like Velasquez' "Las Meninas" for its interesting perspectives and the variety of stories that could be told about the painting. While in Barcelona I visited the Picasso Museum during some free time and saw Picasso's interpretation(s) of the same painting. Loved the contrast. 

There were also a number of Bruegels that I enjoyed, especially since I saw several of his paintings in Vienna during our summer trip. I like scenes of everyday life with the details that must have seemed so commonplace long ago, but are interesting and strange to us in the present. 

I spent some free time in Madrid wandering the paths of the El Retiro Park, where royals once went to spend time away from court life. It was shady and cool under the trees and I enjoyed a bit of solitude, something rare on a school trip. 

We visited the Royal Palace in Madrid. It's currently used only for state occasions and is a large complex, of which we saw a very small part. The entrance hall is stunning, with golden light pouring in from the bull's eye windows. Again, there were very few areas where photos were allowed, so I didn't take any. 

However, I was so, so tempted to pull out my phone and surreptitiously snap a few in one room. Our guide kept pointing out the ceilings with their ornate paintings and saying who painted this or that. He offhandedly mentioned the HAND-EMBROIDERED silk wall coverings in the rooms. Now they were gorgeous! So beautifully done. The Chinese Room, so-called because of many Chinese porcelains and decorations, had vines and flowers all over the walls, stitched with a variety of threads thick and thin so that the stitching stood out 1/4-1/2 inch from the walls. And these are large rooms. Room after room was covered with hand-stitched silk. Never mind the paintings, I thought, just think of the many, many women who spent their lives, one stitch at a time, creating this magnificence. They are the ones who should be honoured. 

In the palace gift shop I saw this pretty silk scarf and bought it for myself. It's soft and bright and I love the way it sets off my often grey/black clothing. 

Here are a few shop windows. The accessories are so beautiful, and burgundy is a strong theme for this autumn season. It might be called merlot this year, but it's all rosy hues.

Here's the grey/cream/black basic wardrobe style that I love, and then add coloured accessories. 

So that's a wrap for Spain. I saw and did much more, but it's time to move on. And I have not yet finished posting about our trip in the summer. Hey ho, we'll see what happens. 

I hope your week is going well! Thanks for visiting. 

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Butchart Gardens in November

I had a mid-week birthday last week.  It was a lovely day, with cards, best wishes, and phone calls. Tim and I celebrated on Saturday by going out for breakfast together followed by a wander around Butchart Gardens. I had expressed a wish for another annual pass. 

The Gardens were not very busy in the morning and it was lovely to stroll, backtrack, and to stop and gaze as we wished. Although the leaves are thinning on the trees, there is is plenty of colour left.

Although the sun burned through the morning mist quickly, it was cool in the shade and we were glad for jackets and scarves. A few summer blooms remain, framed by the golds and reds of autumn. 

Flowers bloomed mostly in sheltered spaces, overhung by other plants that protected them from the recent frosts we've had. The fuschias look like jewels - crisp and glowing in the autumn light. 

We looked up, way up at the Sequoia tree, one of a pair guarding a pathway. The seedling was planted in 1934, the year my father was born. They are both going strong!

One of my favourite spots in the garden is the stone path across a pond in the Japanese Garden. I love how it curves so beautifully. Of course, I have to step across it each time, even if the path we take doesn't require it. 

There is a large cedar hedge with a "window" cut into it, with a beautiful view of a cove and the inlet beyond. 

Preparations for Christmas are beginning, with garlands adorning some of the pathway rails, and a series of large decorated balls hanging from a roof overhang. A friend of mine used to work at the Gardens and she said that the staff work hard all of November to prepare for December's festivities. 

These Three French Hens are enjoying tea in front of a wire Eiffel Tower. The Tower is a bit hard to see in the daylight, but at night, in December, it's well lit. The theme throughout the garden is the Twelve Days of Christmas and it's fun to look for all the characters. 

And so begins another month. We're enjoying mostly clear skies, dry days, and stunning sunsets. I worked in my own garden after returning from our outing. Dahlias have been lifted and I tidied some of the pots, pulling the old summer flowers, planting bulbs deep in the soil and winter pansies on top. 

How is your month starting out? 

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