Sunday, May 30, 2021

Welcome, Abby!

We have someone new in our lives. 

Abby on the Couch
This is Abby, who has come to live with us. She is a Standard Schnauzer, and she's 5 years old. Did I mention cute? She's very, very cute. And, characteristic of Schnauzers, she's a girl who knows her own mind.

Abby in Backyard
She has been with us for less than two weeks, but has already settled in. In the photo above, Abby is hanging out by the fishpond in our backyard.

Playing with Boomerang

A Drink at the Pond


She loves to play fetch with the squeaky bacon-scented boomerang that my son and his girlfriend gave her. Keep-away is another exciting game. She has met my two grandsons, who were delighted that likes to play fetch.

Oliver on Dog Bed

Rest at the Summit












She is a wonderful walking and hiking companion. We have a network of off-leash trails right outside our door. She has already discovered all the best place to get a drink or wallow in the mud. 

Yesterday, Abby and I climbed Notch Hill and had a nice rest in the shade when we reached the summit.

Our cat, Oliver, has taken over Abby's dog bed. But she's okay with it.

Rob with the Pets
Although Abby hasn't lived with a cat before, it looks like Abby and Oliver are quickly becoming pals. 

Wherever we go, she likes to jump in the car and come along.

A Walk on the Boardwalk

We are delighted to welcome Abby into our life.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Continuing Saga

In my last post, I wrote about how a section of our back retaining wall collapsed last autumn. Throughout the fall and winter, we worried about how it could possibly be repaired, and whether we would find anyone to do the work. We called some excavating companies, but they were not available or willing to do the work.

In October, the owner of a local excavating company came and looked at the fallen wall and said he could do the work but he was very busy. The earliest he could come would be in March. 

In February, we hired someone to demolish the shed and remove several more sections of the fence. Larry from the excavating company said he'd stop by at the end of February, but he didn't, and we couldn't get in touch with him. And then late in the afternoon of March 12, a Friday, Larry dropped by. He apologized, saying he'd been extremely busy, but he could start the job next week or the week after. 

That weekend, we dug up all the shrubs and small bushes that were in the section of the yard where the equipment needed to work. We set a few of them aside to be transplanted back into the yard later. The rest we gave away. Our friends D & G recently moved into a new house nearby and wanted to do some landscaping. They came over and helped us dig up shrubs, and took lots of them home for their garden.  

Early Monday morning, we looked out the window to see an excavator being unloaded onto our front lawn. The front lawn would serve as a staging area for the equipment, soil, drain rock, and large boulders for the new wall. 

The Excavator at Work

Excavator Tracks
It was fascinating to watch Jody, the excavator operator at work. The first thing he did was use his bucket to dig up the remaining trees and two large bushes and set them aside. We phoned D & G again, and they came over again. We sent them away with two more car loads full of trees and shrubs. We kept four of the trees aside to transplant back into the yard later. 

This photo shows the narrow area along the side of the house where the excavator came through to the backyard. The light coloured sand in the lower right corner of the photo is the location where the shed used to sit. It was built on a base of large concrete composite pavers resting on compacted sand. 

Jody used the excavator to dig down along the edge of the steep hill to create a wide, flat platform all along where the middle section of the retaining wall used to be. Soil from the backyard as well as the rocks from the old retaining wall went over the edge of the hill.

Once the earth platform was created, Jody and his assistant Parker built a new wall using huge rocks. The load of rock was deposited in our front yard, and then Jody brought over a bulldozer (skid-steer) and used its bucket to bring the large rocks around to the back. Jody laid down a row of rocks using the excavator, while Parker directed the rock placement from below. It was amazing to see how precisely he could place each boulder with the bucket and thumb. 

Old Wall Meets New Wall
Once the first layer of boulders was in place, they back-filled the area behind them with drain rock. They also put down geo-grid, which is held in place by the second layer of rocks, as well as by the garden soil that they replaced over the drain rock. 

Parker hand-built the connector sections between the old part of the drystone wall and the new wall. The remaining part of the platform where the new wall is now serves as a path along beneath the wall.

We did not have to tear down the gazebo or the fish ponds! In fact, the goldfish seemed completely unperturbed by all the work going on around them. Presently the gazebo is serving as a tool shed, as we no longer have a shed.

New Wall and Path
As you can see, the slope of the hill below the wall is very steep. 

The whole job of rebuilding the wall and cleaning up the work site was finished by Friday. Yes, that's right. It took only 3 1/2 days in total and cost less than half as much as Larry had quoted. We are very happy with our new wall.

Of course, the story isn't over. There's lots still left to do.

We will need to have a fence built along the top of the new retaining wall and at the side of the house. Without a fence, the deer will come into the yard and eat everything in sight. Although the landscaping at the front of the yard is deer-resistant (plants the deer don't like to eat), the backyard plants are not.

We would like to have a shed, and we need to re-landscape a big section of the backyard, and repair the damage to the front yard. We want to get some plants established on the steep slope below the wall.

The Backyard After the Wall was Finished

Before the excavating company left, they covered the areas where they had worked with topsoil, and left us some of the load for our future landscaping. Our first task was to replant the trees and shrubs that we had set aside.

Replanting Trees

It is a tremendous relief to have a new retaining wall in place. We are thankful that we contacted Larry when we did, because all of the contractors are extremely busy this year. There are a lot of new houses being built, and also lots of people are renovating. All of the tradespeople are fully booked. 

Look for another installment on this topic. In it, I will tell you about the fence, the landscaping, and the slippery slope. . . .

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Wall Went South

This is a story about a wall. No, not that wall. 

Last fall, the retaining wall across the back of our property failed. Throughout the month of September, a lot near us was undergoing site preparation so that the new owner could build a house there. We reside in a very rocky, rugged, hilly coastal area, and so for three weeks we lived with the noise and vibrations caused by heavy equipment and a rock-breaker nearby. 

Fence Falls Over the Edge
The week that that the rock-breaking stopped, on a wet stormy day, we looked out the window and noticed that our fence had a sag in it. Our fence was built along the top of our retaining wall. Rob went out and inspected and saw that a few large rocks were bulging out of the wall and pulling the fence down. 

Thinking that the vibrations of the rock-breaking had loosened our wall, I immediately called our house insurance agency. But it was a Friday, and no agents were available to take my call. 

In heavy rain over the weekend, a section of the rock wall began to collapse. The collapse pulled the fence apart, and two sections of it went down the hill. 

The only thing that seemed to be keeping the fence from tumbling all the way down the steep hill was that it, and the big chunk of concrete it was attached to, was hung up on a small tree, part of the natural wild vegetation on the hillside. 

On Monday, I managed to reach an insurance agent, who transferred me to the insurer, who transferred me to someone else, who transferred me to someone else. I spoke to people in Toronto, in Calgary, and who knows where.

Fence Gone
Eventually, the company sent someone local out to have a look at the failed retaining wall. We waited to hear about the results of our claim.

In the meantime, the heavy rain continued nonstop. More of the wall fell away and the rocks rolled down the hill. Rob went out and dismantled the pieces of fence -- a dangerous job as large rocks and chunks of concrete loosened from the wall teetered precariously above him. 

A month after the event, we received news from the insurance company that they would not cover the cost of repairing the retaining wall.  

We began phoning excavation companies trying to find someone to come and repair the retaining wall. We knew it was going to be very challenging to repair for a couple of reasons.

  • The slope beneath the retaining wall is very steep
  • There is no access route for equipment to the retaining wall from below 
  • There is no access to the backyard for heavy equipment from the front of the house, either, because the house extends almost all the way across the width of the lot. A deck on one side stretches out almost to a large cedar hedge, and a fence and shed block access on the other side of the house.
Looking Over the Edge Down the Steep Slope

Fortunately, we own the land below the retaining wall, all the way to the road below. It has been left in a natural condition, so we didn't have to worry about damage to other people's property or to any landscaping below. Also, fortunately, our house is built on solid rock and is far enough away from the retaining wall and steep slope that we weren't worried about damage to the foundation of the house. 

However, the entire backyard is a beautiful garden. The previous owners were avid gardeners, and one of the reasons we were so attracted to this property was because we loved the landscaping. 

Around the end of October, we found a local contractor who said he could do the work. He came highly recommended by two friends who both have engineering backgrounds. However, he was very busy and said he couldn't do the repair until March. 

He said the shed and more sections of the remaining fence would have to be dismantled to get the equipment in. 

We were worried that as we waited throughout the winter, more of the retaining wall would fall away. We have ponds and a gazebo, both quite near the edge, and feared that we would lose both in the repair process. He said he thought he could reconstruct the wall without taking down the gazebo or ponds.

View From Below the Collapse
Meanwhile, we had one of the rainiest winters on record. Throughout the winter, we watched more rock go down the hill.

The Shed

I dug out several small shrubs and perennials from the area of the garden above the collapsed wall and transplanted them to other places in the yard. We left some shrubs and all the trees in place because they were too big for us to move. Also, we hoped their roots would help hold the soil in place until it was time for the excavator to come.

In early February, we hired someone to come and dismantle the shed and some sections of fence. I felt sad to lose a perfectly good garden shed. It seemed like such a waste. However, it needed to be taken down so the equipment could get into the backyard. 

I was also sad that we would be losing much of the beautiful garden in the backyard. 

The Beautiful Garden in October

On a rare sunny day last October, I took this photo of the back garden with all its colours. 

So, how does this story end? Did the contractor show up in March? Was it possible to repair the retaining wall? Did the fishpond have to go? To be continued...

Monday, January 25, 2021

Author Interview: Liesbet Collaert

Liesbet with Kali and Darwin
  Today I am happy to bring you an interview with the writer, Liesbet Collaert. Liesbet has recently published her travel memoir, Plunge. It is a fascinating account of ten years that she spent living on a sailboat and exploring parts of the world that most of us only dream of. 




You have spent most of your adult life travelling throughout the world, and you describe yourself as a nomad. In what ways is your nomadic life different from a typical western lifestyle?




The beauty of a typical western lifestyle, in my opinion, is the stability, comfort, and familiarity it offers. You know what to expect, you have neighbors/friends/family/ colleagues around, you easily find products in your grocery store, you have favorite restaurants, trails, outings, hobbies, and your planned activities usually work out.


Life on the road, or the water, as a nomad is insecure, unfamiliar, and rather challenging because of these reasons and others. Yet, the adventure and freedom make it worthwhile. My husband and I love that novel feeling of each new place, have learned to be flexible, and keep our expectations low or non-existent. We are self-contained, fix issues ourselves as much as possible, and don’t rely on people. We figure things out as they come and enjoy discovering unique locations, cultures, foods, …


Another big difference are the amenities everyone takes for granted: running water, unlimited electricity, reliable internet, a washer and a dryer. Each time I stay in a house of relatives, I embrace my hot, pressurized shower, the space in my room (I can walk more than one step before I bump into something), the fact that my computer can stay plugged in, and the real bed. If there’s a comfortable couch, I might never leave! 😊


Your memoir, Plunge: One Woman’s Pursuit of a Life Less Ordinary, spans about a decade. Why did you focus your memoir on those ten years in particular?


That’s a great question, Jude! I knew so little about writing books that the first time I ever considered this project, I didn’t even know that my kind of story was called a memoir. One of the first things I learned about that genre is that it covers a “slice” of your life. I wanted that particular “slice” to have a definite beginning and end. It seemed most intuitive to start with how I met my now husband, Mark, a life-changing, somewhat crazy occurrence that led to a new adventure. And, I finish the memoir when that adventure ended. Coincidentally, this period encapsulated ten years: my tumultuous thirties. In the epilogue, I leave the door open to the next adventure…




Briefly, what is your book about?




Plunge encompasses the ups and downs of a life less ordinary in the tropics. The story is about a 30-year-old nomad who seeks adventure and freedom at sea, but finds herself at odds with love, work, immigration, weather, and health as she navigates the world and her relationship.


The book is written in a unique voice and seamlessly intertwines travelogue and introspective, so the reader is immersed into each new scene, physically as well as psychologically. The story takes place in the present tense to accommodate this effect and incorporates foreshadowing, flashbacks, and cliff hangers, like a novel.




In your book, you present an account of the nitty-gritty experiences of life aboard a sailboat, and well as a close-up view of your romantic relationship. Can you talk about the challenges of writing about such personal material?




Most people who know me (including you, Jude) are aware of my straightforwardness and urge to be myself. My memoir had to be a fair representation of this. The two major factors that define my personality and feelings are my lifestyle and my relationship. But, how do you pull the reader into these situations? How do you make them understand what you go through?


This is only possible by allowing them inside your head and by being totally (some call it “brutally”) honest. Therefore, I touch on the good and the bad in my relationship; the strengths and the flaws in my personality. While lots of memoir authors struggle to put those moments and factions down, it came easy to me. Maybe because I hope that – just like in real life – people will take me the way I am; true to myself and others, while sometimes being a bitch.


I also mention discriminating elements about my spouse. He knows this; he was the first one to read my book. He also knows about my desire to tell the truth. His reaction when others ask him about those parts in Plunge: “It all happened. I was a jerk sometimes.” While it might put some people off, this “raw honesty,” most readers have complimented me about my voice and the themes touched upon and, whether they admit it or not, they can relate to many of the situations.


Liesbet and Mark on their Catamaran



As a regular reader of your blog, Roaming About, I recall posts in which you mentioned the frustrations of combining a writer’s life with a nomadic lifestyle. Please describe some of the issues you faced on the boat, and now while travelling around in your camper van.




These issues pretty much boil down to those differences between a nomadic lifestyle and a typical western one, described above. While we have solar panels to provide electricity to my computer and we can usually go about five to six days on our fresh water tank, I am never as productive as I would be in a house or a room with unlimited electricity, reliable internet, and a desk.


Problems often occur, whether they are weather-, dog-, errand-, or camper-related. Distraction abounds. And there is the fact that I live together with a husband and 60-pound furry creature in an 80-square foot (7.5 m2) metal box on wheels. Even when we decide to “sit still” for a while so I can write, edit, or promote, I struggle with not being available to my family members and feel guilty about hogging our one table, stressing out, and not partaking in walks. Finding a balance between my work and our “leisurely” lifestyle is a goal for 2021.




What did you find were some of the pros and cons of self-publishing?




Self-publishing is hard work! You need to be determined, patient, focused, and dedicated to make it happen. The process is time consuming and frustrating, especially when you are new to all the different steps (and there are many). You also need to pay for professionals upfront, so it’s more expensive than going the traditional route. And, I still feel there is less prestige than when “having a publisher.”


However, there are many pros. The first one: pulling it off quickly. Sure, I focused 100% on getting Plunge published this year, but the actual time involvement from the moment I received my final cover design to holding a proof copy in my hands was two months. My husband was a big help and we did all this from the road. Another positive of being self-published is that you hold all the strings. Decisions are yours, you can make corrections easily, offer discounts, work hard on promotion – or not, and it’s a huge accomplishment!




I imagine that you plunged into learning a lot of new skills when you went the self-publishing route. Can you share one specific example of something you learned?




The formatting process! Who knew there were so many decisions to make? Font style and size, spacing between the lines and towards the edges, placement of the page numbers (top, bottom, left, right, middle), kind of section breaks, order of the photos, where to hyphenate words at the end of the line, how about the chapter titles and table of content?




One reason I love reading memoirs is the chance to absorb an inside perspective about another person’s life. Can you share an insight with readers that came to you about yourself, your life choices, or your relationship, as you reflected on this period of your life in the memoir?




Yes. Because I wrote Plunge in the present tense, I wanted to mentally transport myself back to my thirties. In doing so, I realized how spoiled I had been in my twenties – I basically did whatever I wanted – and how, during the course of this story, I “grew up.” My experiences aboard our 35ft catamaran Irie made me realize I don’t always get what I want, that there are two people in a relationship, and that adventure comes in many different forms.




Do you have a new writing project on the horizon?




I have many ideas, but have not started anything new yet.




Is there anything else you’d like to add?




I want to thank you for your thoughtful and insightful questions, Jude, and for featuring me here today. I hope your readers will get a chance to read Plunge and that it entertains, inspires, or affects them.


Liesbet and Jude in 2018

I'm pleased to feature this author interview here on Dr Sock Writes Here today. I initially met Liesbet through blogging, but in 2018 I had a chance to meet her and Mark in person when they came to Vancouver Island and stayed with us.


I greatly enjoyed reading Liesbet's book. It gave me an inside scoop on some of the joys and challenges of the sailing lifestyle, and reminded me of the many of the important life decisions One makes in the decade of their thirties.  


To read more about Liesbet’s adventures and her writing life or to purchase the book, click here:


For more info about Plunge:


To buy on Amazon:


Liesbet’s alternative lifestyle blog:


Liesbet’s sailing blog (2007 – 2015):


Liesbet’s Amazon author page:









Sunday, January 17, 2021

Leaving 2020 Behind

Rock Formations at Jack Point
Each year as the old year rolls into a new year, I usually take some time to reflect. I am not a believer in New Year's resolutions. But I do like to look back at the year we have just had and think about the highlights and low-lights, and take note of any big changes. 

Often, I'll also spend some time thinking about the upcoming year. Although I've been known to write out specific goals organized under categories such as "Writing," "Art," Family & Social Life," "Health," and so forth, with numbered subheadings and bullet points, sometimes I simply write a general statement about my hopes for what the year might hold. 

But this year as the old year waned, I found did not want to revisit 2020 and the pandemic experience. Of course, we're still in the middle of it. 

And as I tried to think about 2021, not a single goal floated into my mind. Who knows what's going to happen next with respect to COVID-19? And for that matter, with American politics, systemic racism, and climate change? The experience of living through this pandemic for much of a year has served as a reminder that my personal control over the future is quite limited.

But although I might have thought I spent the entire year fretting about daily new cases of COVID or staring at screens, the photos in my camera tell a different story. I have written about the first half of 2020 here. This post covering July-December completes my account of 2020.

The summer started badly with the death of our beloved old dog, Kate. 

Summer Camping

Tree House

In the summer, the daily new case rate here was down to single digits, so public health relaxed some restrictions. We were able to go on some local camping trips. We especially enjoyed a short camping trip to Malcolm Island with one of my daughters. 

Our original destination was closer to home, but, once the campgrounds were allowed to open, everyone had the same idea and campsites were hard to get. Malcolm Island, near Port McNeill, is one of our favourite places and we had a lovely grassy site just across the road from the ocean. My daughter pitched her tent beside our camper.


Bere Point Hike
Whale-watching Blind


 Trip to the North

Near Lilloett
During the last half of August, we made a trip to northern British Columbia to visit family and friends. We were in our little house on wheels -- our truck and camper.

After spending several days visiting our northern grandchildren and their parents, we continued on to Terrace, a small city in northern BC where we used to live.

Although we didn't see everyone we would have wished, it was so wonderful to connect with a few family and friends.

Ferry Island
Watson Lakes Hike

We also revisited some familiar hikes and river walks. Unfortunately, almost the entire time that we were in the northern part of the province, the weather was rainy and cold.

We left Terrace and spent several days in Smithers, visiting my brothers and celebrating one brother's special day with him and his family. 

Always the intrepid hikers,  we did a mountain hike to Crater Lake, braving rain, wind, and sleet. This was in August!

Crater Lake Hike



We returned to Vancouver Island via an overnight ferry from Prince Rupert. Despite the pandemic restrictions, it was still a beautiful trip. We stayed in a nice stateroom with a porthole that framed the view.

Although usually during the summer months, BC Ferries runs a large ferry through the inland passage, because of the reduced number of travellers, we went on a smaller boat this time. For safety, we spent most of the trip either outside, or in our stateroom. The food service on the small ferry was very limited. 

Around Home

In the early part of the summer, I took an all-day introductory kayak course. After that, I began to look in earnest for a secondhand sea kayak. You can read about the results of my search here

I continued to do many walks and short hikes in areas nearby. For example, we did countless walks at the Parksville Community Beach, where I snapped this sunset photo one evening with Rob.
Oreo Tarts


I tried out some new recipes, including these yummy tarts recommended by Donna at Retirement Reflections. I also have made the winter squash salad described in Donna's blog post -- yummy as well.

We have lavished attention on Oliver, our sole remaining pet. In this photo, he is wearing some jewellery made for him by my grandsons. 


One of the unexpected joys of this pandemic has been spending more time with my two grandsons. Childcare options have been greatly curtailed because of the pandemic restrictions. I have been providing  part-time childcare while my daughter has worked and gone back to school. 

Fall Becomes Winter

As daily cases rose over the fall, more stringent restrictions were put in place again. Because of my child care role, I still see my grandson's family. However, we can no longer see anyone else, except outdoors with physical distancing. 

At Thanksgiving, we met at Neck Point for a family hike, as we couldn't all gather for a big dinner.


We continue to explore trails and shorelines near home. I sometimes meet with friends for physically -distanced hikes and walks. For example, I met up with Deb who blogs at The Widow Badass for a hike to Jack Point recently. 

Deb and Petroglyphs
Rob and I celebrated New Year's Day by hiking the trails at Moorecroft Park. It was rainy, of course.

As I look through my photos and share them with you, one thing becomes very clear. Although it has been an unusual year, and a difficult year, life went on. My life was mostly filled with joy. And that joy took the form of friends, family, and nature.