Sunday, February 21, 2021

Beacon Hill Park on a Sunday Afternoon


Late this morning we received a text from our daughter-in-law inviting us on a "rain or shine" walk in Beacon Hill Park. We agreed with alacrity as meeting outdoors is what's recommended these days. There was a sharp wind, but most of last weekend's foot of snow has disappeared, other than piles of it due to plowing or shoveling. 

In the flower beds the earliest flowers are blooming - primulas in bright shades of yellow, purple, and white, and the hellebores are magnificent. In our own garden they are not nearly this far along so I admired them greatly.

How surprised I was to see a couple of peacocks standing like statues in a bed along the path. They barely moved when I stopped to take a photo.

As we continued walking we saw many more peacocks and peahens. Such a brilliant blue colour. And the detail of their headdress is amazing. We saw at least 40 of them, especially near the bandshell where a number of them perched on green benches as if waiting for a concert to begin. 

Moving along the pathway, we stopped to watch ducks in the water. Lots and lots of ducks, mallards and wigeons, and they all came running at the first glimpse of birdseed. Five great blue herons perched like grumpy old men in a tree above the pond, motionless other than for their feathers blowing softly in the wind. 

The grandchildren ran ahead and climbed trees and rocks, fed ducks, slid down playground slides and ziplines, and used up far more energy than we adults. Such delight.

How perfectly lovely it was to come across these prunus blossoms, a sign that spring is well and truly on her way. Hooray! 

We ended our walk at the iconic Beacon Hill Cafe where ice cream has been served for over 25 years. The children stuck with the traditional fare, while the adults opted for coffee or in my case, hot chocolate. A warming end to a windy, but fun walk. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Travel Memories - Godollo


Rudbeckia in full bloom at Godollo
Rudbeckia in full bloom at Godollo Palace

Are you in a heat wave or a cold snap? I thought we could take a little trip to the town of Godollo, just 25 minutes from Budapest today. 

The summer of 2019 was blisteringly hot in central Europe. In a bit of serendipity, the double booking of our first vacation apartment had us eventually finding a really lovely brand new and air-conditioned apartment southwest of Budapest's city centre. We thoroughly appreciated the coolness after walking many miles each day around the city. 

Every day during our stay we walked several blocks toward the Danube to catch a yellow tram into the city. It was a straight line to the centre and we became quite comfortable with it. On our last full day in Hungary we booked an excursion to Godollo, a home beloved by Sissi, also known as Empress Elisabeth of Austria during the late 19th century. Godollo is one of the largest examples of Hungarian palace architecture. 

As we waited for the tram we chatted about our day and when the bus arrived, hopped on without a thought. 

But wait, this tram had newer seats and looked different. Were we on the correct bus? When the tram took a turn up Haller Street instead of going straight, we knew we were not. At the first stop we hopped off. This was the only day we had a deadline to meet - our tour. Tim pulled up Google maps and we decided that we could walk quickly and avoid waiting for another tram. We did make it to the tour bus on time, in fact, in plenty of time.  

The bus to Godollo contained both English and Spanish speakers, with a guide for each language group. The strongly accented "English-speaking" guide was so difficult to understand that we decided to go with the Spanish-speaking group. (We both speak Spanish, although guides look at us and try to shoo us into the English group wherever we go.) Our guide was very knowledgeable and shared interesting stories and information about the palace, a summer residence for the Austrian royal family, and about Sissi's life. Like Marie Antoinette, Sissi found the public scrutiny of palace life in Vienna difficult and she often retreated to Godollo where things were simpler and she could ride her beloved horses.  

The palace is beautiful and filled with light. Construction began in 1733 in the Baroque style. The public area of the palace comprises just 23 rooms of this vast complex. During the second World War the palace was used to house Soviet and later, Hungarian soldiers. During the excessive cold of the winter of 1945 flooring was removed and burned for fuel. In Vienna, American soldiers did the same to the Schonbrunn palace. It was a desperate time.  

Our tour director led us up these stairs to the first floor location of the tour. No photos were allowed at this point, but there are various photos around the internet if you are interested. 

After the tour we wandered around the extensive gardens. Did I mention how hot it was? This statue of Empress Elisabeth highlights her tiny waist. She was obsessed with her appearance and reduced her waist, after having four children, to 20 inches, with the help of corsets and extreme dieting. Her hair was a source of pride and she often complained of headaches because of the weight of it piled into braids on top of her head. Her beauty regimes were interesting and often bizarre. You can read more of them here

Although excessively interested in her looks, Sissi also played a role in the political sphere and influenced (or tried to influence) her husband Archiduke Franz Joseph I to consider the rights of the Hungarian people, and helped in the formation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In the end, after 44 years as Empress, Sissi was assassinated in Geneva. 

Before going to Budapest, I read The Accidental Empress and Sisi: Empress on her Own, both by Allison Pataki. These are fictionalized accounts of her life, but with many details taken from history. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Snow Days


Snow has fallen for two days, at times lightly, at times heavily, with fat flakes that splat against the window. I don't know the official accumulation, but in our garden there is at least 12 inches. Children (including our grands) are ecstatic: snowmen and snow-forts appear on many front lawns. Hills, even slight ones, bear evidence of gleeful sliding and trudging back up to do it all again. On my walk today everyone I met had a big smile and commented on the gorgeous snow. I know there are those who detest snowy days, but I believe they are huddled in their homes and not out enjoying it. It is treacherous to be driving - with so few snow days each winter, our area is not equipped with sufficient plows and removal equipment. People stay off the streets as much as possible. 

I find the snow incredibly beautiful. I love the way it transforms the landscape into something magical, blurring hard lines and reducing colour to contrasts of black, grey, and white. There's great conviviality as everyone clears off sidewalks and driveways, and takes time to lean on a shovel and converse with the neighbours. It's a jolly time. 

I'll leave you to enjoy these snowy scenes from walks taken in the past two days, and a few from my garden, accompanied by some favourite snowy day quotations.

A snow day, literally and figuratively,
falls from the sky
and seems like a thing of wonder.
Susan Orlean

Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting in
on silver-toed slippers of snow
And we, we were children once again.
Bill Morgan, Jr.

Out of the bosom of the air,
out of the cloud-folds of her garment shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare
Over the harvest-fields forsaken
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.

But now she loved winter. Winter was beautiful "up back" - almost intolerably beautiful. Days of clear brilliance. Evenings that were like cups of glamour - the purest vintage of winter's wine. Nights with their fire of stars. Cold, exquisite winter sunrises.
L.M. Montgomery

Snow was falling, so much like stars
filling the dark trees, that
one could easily imagine
its reason for being was
nothing more than prettiness
Mary Oliver

And since it's Valentine's Day, what's better than coming home to a cup of tea and a pretty cupcake (created by a daughter) to savour in front of the fire. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Five on Friday: Chilly Days


Living on the west coast, I really can't complain about cold temperatures. Family in other provinces and regions would laugh themselves silly at our bemoaning temperatures just below freezing. Be that as it may, it's much colder than normal, with a wind that drives to the bone. 

Late Wednesday morning I looked outside to see fat flakes of snow drifting down. The snow flurry continued throughout the afternoon, but only a light coat remained on the ground overnight. I took a turn around the garden and found this first anemone drooping in the cold, but such a rich colour that contrasted beautifully with the bit of snow. 

During the night the wind rose and I awoke in the wee hours with it howling around the corners of the house. The breeze from the open-just-a-crack window was fresh indeed! 

We have a Meyer Lemon Tree growing in a sheltered spot. It's covered for more than half the year, and a string of old-fashioned Christmas lights (the ones that emit heat) are wound about the branches and connected to a timer that comes on when temperatures read just above freezing. The lights cycle off and on during the cold weather. This is our second lemon tree, and in its second year, so quite small. We uncovered the first one too soon one spring and unexpected cold temperatures killed it. Tim put an extra covering over the tree this week as a bit of extra protection. 

Indoors, there's been a little sewing. Some experimentation with the new serger, and continued work on a red and white four-patch quilt. I gathered a collection of scraps and stitched up a new pin cushion with a matching scissor keeper. The embroidery scissors were a Christmas gift from our youngest daughter and her family. Such a pretty pair, and so sharp and pointed. I love using them. 

There's been considerable reading, as well. I discovered Cynthia Harrod-Eagle's novels set during World War I, and raced through all six of them. They are easy-to-read, and give a picture of life in England during those terrible years, and of the weariness of the war that went on for so long. "Raisin Wine" is the story of one of our Governor Generals and I'm just beginning it. The others I've not yet begun. "Jedidiah Days" is about living on an island that we hope to visit this summer in our boat. 

Sometimes it seems there is a dearth of good reading material and I can't settle to anything. That is NOT the case lately, as I've found so many good books to read in my library. They have to be ordered online, and after I get the email notice of their arrival I pop in to check them out. "The Thursday Murder Club" by Richard Osman was good, although not as good as some of the reviews indicated. A good premise for a book, though. 

One of my co-workers gave me a vase of purple tulips on my last day of teaching. They've been in the front hall and are now done, but I love the way the colours intensify, and the petals thin like aging skin, and curl and twist so artistically. Tomorrow they will go on the compost heap. 

Tonight again the wind races up and down the street with great gusts. Tomorrow night and into Saturday snow is in the forecast. We'll see how much we actually get. I hope enough to cover the ground and make everything pretty for a day or two. 

Is is spring-like where you live, or is winter having a last blast? Or perhaps you are in the southern hemisphere and enjoying the last days of summer. 

Monday, February 08, 2021

Monday Musings: A Walk to Tod Inlet


I went on a lot of extra walks last week.  On Wednesday I got to carry little Cora in a wrap on my front while walking with her older sister Iris and my youngest daughter. Walking with a 20-month-old is a lesson in curiosity. Rocks, plants, and mud puddles are all fascinating and require serious study before moving on. Especially mud puddles! 

On Thursday afternoon I walked with my eldest daughter and her daughter. Lots of talk about books and reading ensued. 
On Friday I walked with a friend on the loop around the airport - 10 km. Lots of talk about life, make-up, retirement, travel, and more. 

On Thursday morning I started out on a walk with a friend, but she was called away shortly after we started, so I carried on alone. The path to Tod Inlet is an easy one and follows a creek that feeds into the inlet. At this time of year it's full of water rushing noisily downwards over boulders and fallen logs in a  hurry to get to the ocean. 

The forest is a million shades of green with moss of all kinds covering trees, rocks, and dirt with softness. 

Here Copper Wire Moss (pohlia nutans) grows like patchy hair on a bald rock. 

I was completely alone at the Inlet and utter peace enveloped me. I watched a gull duck and splash through its morning ablutions. Two white sailboats turned slowly on their anchorages. A black crow cawed overhead and two pairs of Common Mergansers drifted aimlessly about the inlet. 

This inlet, now so quiet, was once the site of immense industry as Portland Cement was manufactured on what are now the grounds of nearby Butchart Gardens. Docks and loading facilities here at the inlet were the means of transporting the cement to market. All that's left are a few crumbling building foundations, and these cement pilings.

I love the lines of these pilings and the way they have weathered over the years. I take photos of them almost every time I come to the Inlet. They are an intersection of nature and human industry, and a reminder of how quickly nature reasserts itself when left alone. 

On shore many of these old pilings, never used, rest in long rows, becoming more and more covered by moss each season. Children clamber over them and walk along their length. This tree began as a small shoot between two of the pilings and as it grew more insistent with age, began shifting the angle of the pilings. In the battle between static and dynamic, dynamic wins every time. 

Fluffy seed pods will soon be replaced by tiny bright green leaves as the seasons cycle again. The tides ebb and flood, winter ends and spring appears. Walking in the natural world is life-affirming and restorative. As the world heaves in turmoil, creation steadies me. Soon it will be time to plant seeds and garden, then water and weed and harvest, and so we come round again, in the grace of God. 

For this week, there are more walks planned, but also other things - baking and sewing. Reading, too, and I will soon share the books that have kept me company recently. Have a wonderful week. Stay warm and cozy as I see there are many places with frigid temperatures just now. May you see the beauty of each day. 

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Finding a New Normal


Last Thursday was my last day of classes and Friday I cleaned out my desk. There was a socially distanced morning tea where my colleagues said lovely things about me and had me in tears. There were flowers and gifts.

Gifts included a beautiful freshwater pearl bracelet (I got to choose it), along with a gift card for an afternoon tea outing once restrictions lift. I plan to take my daughters and daughter-in-law. I handed in my keys at the end of the day and that, of all things, made it final. I walked out of the school and felt a little bit lost and uncertain. 

My students also said goodbye. They want to know who will teach them Spanish next year. I don't know, but I assured them it would all be just fine. One young woman has struggled with anxiety for a number of years. For awhile, a couple of years ago, she could only attend my class - French, at the time. This year she is doing better and has been in my Spanish class. A few days before classes finished she brought me a gift - these handmade soaps. When I thanked her, I told her that I would give her a hug if it wasn't for Covid, and she impulsively stepped forward and hugged me. 

Another student is from Korea. She came back after class and spoke to me. Just before saying goodbye, she straightened up, put her hands by her sides, and gave a deep bow. I was honoured.

It's the memory of these students that will stay with me. They come and go from course to course, and I've had the privilege of contributing to their growth in very small ways. They've taught me how to be firm and fair, and merciful and encouraging. I will miss them. I chat with former students in the grocery store and the gas station. Surely, being a teacher is the very best job. 

On Saturday night Tim and I went out for dinner. Only households are permitted to sit together in restaurants just now, so it was just us. We walked along the water before dinner and the lights reflected in the still blackness like stars.

On Sunday there was a Zoom party with our children. While I opened a card, Tim went out to the garage and brought in a big, beautifully wrapped box, with a smaller gift on top. It was a serger, something I had talked about getting once I retired and had more time to sew. It's a lovely machine, and I've been watching Youtube videos about it and reading the manual.

I feel very spoiled and celebrated. Then, on Monday, I spent the day writing report cards. Down to earth again. They are finished now, and it's time to think about new routines. I'm not in a rush, but I do want to feel productive. I look forward to more time with family once restrictions lift. Until then I'll content myself with walks outside and Skype calls. 

In the meantime, there are books to read, projects to sew, and flowers to enjoy. Today was my first real day of retirement - Tim wants to work for a few more years - so I was home alone. I went for a short walk, read, drank tea, and organized some things. Tell me, if you are retired, how did you find a new routine?

Friday, January 22, 2021

Five on a Sunny Friday


Outside my window today the sun is shining mightily. It's chilly, too, with a bit of early morning frost. Now, late in the afternoon the light is so welcome and energizing. I bought a handful of tulips recently and have enjoyed watching them open. As they matured petals dropped one by one until there were more on the table than on the flowers themselves. 

I am reading "Miss Benson's Beetle" by Rachel Joyce, and 
"Rising Strong" by Brene Brown. Two very different books that both address the issue of getting on with life after difficult experiences. I'm not very far into either book.

A recent weekend walk took us through woods so green and fresh with the sound of trickling water everywhere. Ferns and ivy flourish in this climate. The ivy is invasive, brought here by homesick English settlers in years past. In many places it chokes trees to death. Volunteers come and cut the ivy from the trees, and pull great long strands of it to discard. I still find it pretty, in spite of its destructiveness. 

Our walk took us to a small church surrounded by an old graveyard. I've written about this place before and the old headstones that speak of many who came from England, Scotland, and Ireland to make a new life in Canada, settled, and died here. Snowdrops are another plant brought from Europe and unlike the ivy, they are not invasive. Instead they bloom in gardens and cemeteries, and in far out-of-the-way places where homesick women planted them to remind them of home. 

A Downy Woodpecker visits our feeder from time to time. He prefers the suet to the sunflower seeds and his head swivels back and forth so quickly that it's hard to get a clear photo. 

Colder weather, and perhaps some snow is forecast for this weekend. I would love to see snow cover the ground for a week or so, but we'll just have to wait and see what happens. I have exams to mark and a few lessons to prepare for next week, so that, along with a little laundry and cleaning will keep me busy for the next couple of days. What have you planned for the weekend?

Sunday, January 17, 2021

A Bit of Spontaneity Does the Soul Good


Late Sunday morning the sunshine streamed into the house, warming the living room, casting sharp shadows. It was just too beautiful to stay indoors. We packed up a quick lunch - crackers, cheese, pickles, cucumbers and red pepper strips, plus sliced apples and chocolate. We made a thermos of hot tea and off we went to French Beach, along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. 

The sunshine was mostly obscured by light fog and the wind off the water made us very glad for scarves and jackets and gloves. 

Our thermos of tea was most welcome, too. The thermos is old - Tim bought it in high school, but it's sturdy and works well, and accompanies us on most outings.

Along with a first aid kit, two small rectangles cut from an old blue camping sleeping mat are permanent residents in Tim's backpack. We placed them on one of the many driftwood logs tossed up onto the shore and sat ourselves down, protected from the damp cold. Comfort!
Our lunchtime entertainment was the spectacle of two gulls perched on a log in the heaving water. I almost got seasick watching them. Up and down they went. Sometimes the log disappeared entirely and sometimes the birds themselves were hidden by waves. Up and down, up and down. They drifted closer and closer to shore and finally alighted from the log just before it came ashore onto the rocky beach. 

The woods are wet after all the rain we've had, with many muddy sections on the trail. My eye was caught by the tiny crystal beads clinging to the delicate ferns. 

The beach was strewn with logs of all sizes, tangles of kelp and seaweed. This clutch of small rocks nestled in a driftwood log was placed there by the waves, perhaps for safekeeping.

On our way home we stopped at a place new to us - Sheringham Point Lighthouse. It's been deemed surplus by the government and was destined for demolition until a group of concerned citizens took it on as a preservation project. There is a small park and a short looping trail, as well as a trail down to the lighthouse. A wild and beautiful spot. The lighthouse keeper's house was demolished, but a volunteer told us that they have the original plans and hope to rebuild a replica one day. 

We arrived home not too long before dark, tired and oh, so happy for our hours in the outdoors. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Suspended in mid-January


We're halfway through January. How has it been for you? I feel like I'm in a waiting room, but I don't know exactly what I'm waiting for. Or perhaps I'm waiting for a number of things - the end of the pandemic, retirement (2.5 weeks away), sunshine - things that I can do nothing to hurry along. At the same time, I'm content and go through my days with a smile on my face. I'm just drifting along, suspended on the current of time.

We've been walking most nights. We eat dinner, clean up, and Tim does email for an hour or two, then he gets up, opens the front door to check the weather, and suggests a walk. We've walked in some steady rain this week, squelching on muddy trails that are hard to see in the dark. A few times we've seen glittering stars shining through the trees. I sometimes dislike the idea of putting on raincoat, boots, and hat, but once I'm outside, it feels good to move and I return home feeling quite virtuous! 

Soft fairy lights still glow in the evenings here, creating comfort and coziness. I've finished three books this year so far, and began the fourth last night. The book most recently finished is "A Fifty-Year Silence" by Miranda Richmond Mouillot - "Love, war and a ruined house in France," in which she tells the true story of her grandparents, Jewish refugees from France. The story is like a puzzle that Miranda puts together, trying various pieces to see if they fit, without having a picture to go by. Fascinating.

Storm after storm has blown in across the Pacific bringing lots and lots of rain. On Tuesday night wind arrived, too, battering the house with loud gusts that woke us from a sound sleep. We did not lose power as our lines are underground, but others did. Because the ground is so saturated just now, many trees fell and damaged cars and houses. Today, all is calm and there are a few patches of blue sky that we must enjoy before the next storm arrives.

Tea-drinking, reading, stitching, and walking are about the extent of my activities beyond the daily routines of teaching and home-keeping. I'm thankful for technology so I can stay in contact with family. Tell me, how are you putting in these mid-January days? 

Beacon Hill Park on a Sunday Afternoon

  Late this morning we received a text from our daughter-in-law inviting us on a "rain or shine" walk in Beacon Hill Park. We agre...