Thursday, December 27, 2018

Happy Holidays

This Christmas season, our focus has been on spending time with friends and family. So tonight I will offer a photo collage of some holiday moments.

New Forms Festival

Rob and I went to Vancouver to enjoy a show in the alternative art scene. The show, Nicolas Sassoon + False Witness, was co-directed by my daughter, who is a co-director of the New Forms Festival.

Wendy and Erica
Erica and Me

Eating, Drinking, and Making Merry

While in Vancouver, we had a great time visiting with old friends, as well as with my daughter and son.


Skating With My Grandson

We have discovered that one of my grandsons loves to skate. He is three years old and a total speed demon on the ice.

Hiking in a Wind Storm

What do you do when a powerful wind and rain storm knocks out the power? Why, go hiking, of course. Our power was out for a night and most of two days. As well as going hiking, we spent those precious daylight hours packing for our trip up north. The windstorm happened right at the winter solstice,  therefore coinciding with the longest night of the year. Nights seem extra long and dark when you have no electricity!

Christmas in the Snow

We have had a wonderful time visiting with our northern grandchildren. Who knew that collecting and stockpiling chunks of ice could be so entertaining!

Christmas Giddiness
My New Friend

Sleeping Angel

A Couple of Hours on the Nordic Ski Trails

Going Sledding

Dressed for Dinner

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Not My Usual Christmas Rant

Every year around this time, I write a blog post about Christmas. Often it is not a happy piece. It would be an understatement to say that I am ambivalent about Christmas.

I love being with family at Christmas. I enjoy cooking and eating the traditional turkey dinner. I like choosing special gifts for people I love. I like the pretty lights, and the woodsy smell of a Douglas fir tree in the house.

But every year, at some point I return home from the mall, after hours of being jostled by hoards of frantic hollow-eyed shoppers clawing through bins of useless consumer garbage looking for something for those hard-to-buy-for friends or family who already have everything. And I say, “This is it! I am not doing Christmas this year! No presents, no Christmas cards, no tree, no turkey! I resign!”

I reflect on the fact that in the hyper-capitalistic society that we live in, corporations will do anything to get my money, from tracking and stealing my digital data, to constantly flashing ads in my face, to building obsolescence into material goods so that it will be easier to compel me to purchase the same thing again and again, to insinuating that I am not a worthy person if I do not own X, Y, or Z. Christmas has become the ultimate consumer event, and every year I swear that I will not get duped into doing a consumer Christmas again. And then I do. Again. Because I want my dear ones to be happy. Because they might think that I do not love them if I don't give them stuff. Because it is easier to pretend that everything is just A-Okay -- if I don't notice or think about our global crisis, it isn't happening. La, la, la, la, la.

I feel despair that the human race seems to be unable to take the necessary steps to adapt in order to save itself and other living things on earth in the face of mounting evidence that global warming is leading us along a trajectory toward a peak extinction event. Some scientific models predict that it will happen around about the time that my future great grandchildren reach adulthood. That is not a very long time from now. Yet, despite knowing that we need to keep mean temperature gain to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, we actually *increased* our fossil fuel usage by 3% last year.

(Note: that is not a gain of 1.5 degrees from now that we are permitted. Mean global temperature already has risen 1 degree from pre-industrial times. So we have only half a degree left to go, or maybe 1 degree if we can accept the devastation that a looser goal of 2 degrees gain would entail.)

I am part of the problem. The one gift that I would most like to be able to give to my children, grandchildren, and future great grandchildren is the possibility of surviving and thriving on this beautiful planet Earth. A long and happy life. But every time I buy another piece of plastic, I am subtracting from their chances.


I didn't mean to rant about how Christmas has become a corporate money-making event with the sole aim of making a tiny elite even more powerful and extremely rich, at the expense of all future life on this planet. I was just going to write a couple of sentences about why I rant at Christmastime in order to get it off my chest, and then move on to happy thoughts.

Deep breaths. Happy thoughts.

We are travelling north this holiday season to spend time with our northern (adult) children, grandchildren, family and friends. Yay! Also, before beginning our travels, we had some really special moments with our southern BC kids, grandkids, and local friends.

Going North for Christmas

This year, Rob and I chopped our Christmas consumption down. With some dear friends and family, we have mutually decided that we will no longer exchange gifts. What we are doing instead is making time to spend more time with them doing fun things together -- which Rob and I can do now that we are both retired!

For those with whom we do exchange gifts, I have mostly chosen things that are artist-made, or edible/drinkable, or items of practical necessity, or educational, or gifts of experience, or donations to the most needy people on earth. So, I have still been able to have fun choosing special things for people, but have spent very little on consumer crap that imperils our future. Instead, gifts like these serve a double duty. (Confession: however, a couple of toys for the grandchildren do not fit these parameters.)

This week, we spent 29 hours camped in our dark house without power. A massive windstorm knocked out power to many parts of Vancouver Island and the lower mainland in southwestern BC. We were lucky as we have both a wood stove and a natural gas fireplace, so we weren't cold. Also, we are well equipped for camping, so we had a way to cook and MAKE COFFEE. Our power came back on, eventually. But, as of this afternoon, 70,000 people were in their 3rd day still without power.

Eating Dinner with Candles and a Headlamp

This is storm has been called unprecedented. It is the second extreme weather event that I personally have been impacted by in the last 6 months. The previous one was in August, during which Vancouver Island experienced a record drought, and huge areas of the province were engulfed by wild fires. Our home was not threatened, but for six weeks we breathed thick choking smoke.

Whoops. I'm heading back into rant mode. I need to find a way to start making a real difference to support global sustainability, beyond personally cutting back on shopping. That is one of my goals for 2019.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Art Show Update and Novel Newsflash

Since returning from our European trip (here, here, here, and here), I have had the chance to relax at home, socialize with friends, and spend some great moments with the grandkids.

Relaxing on the Couch, with Coffee

Sleep over at Grandma's

And, we had some great visits with friends and our northern family members throughout August, September, and October too, including a visit from blogging buddy Liesbet and her husband  Mark. I just haven't had time to write about everything that has been happening!

But, that is not what this post is about.

Art Update

This Saturday and Sunday, I will participating in another Studio Tour. As with last time, I will open my art studio and gallery, Notch Hill Art, to the public. I hope to see lots of new and previous visitors! I have blogged about it here
Art Show This Weekend!
 So, I have been busy preparing my studio. I have hung several paintings that I have not shown at previous Nanoose Bay Studio Tour events before. It should be a fun weekend!

Long Shadows

 Novel Update

Newsflash! I have just completed a first draft of my novel.  

It clocks in at 30 chapters and more than 100,000 words. I can’t tell you exactly how many words it is because I have written it using an older version of WORD that stops counting at 100,000. It is a somewhat lighthearted post-apocalyptic tale (if you can imagine that) crossed with a coming of age story.

I am excited about having completed the first draft! I have been working on this novel for about three years, although I actually had the original idea for it nearly 30 years ago when my second child was a baby.

My next step with the novel is to read the whole thing through, making small revisions to do with flow and consistency. Then I am going to give it to my beta readers. I am so happy that four people have offered to read it and give me feedback. They are all people who will present perspectives that I know will be very helpful.

During this past year, my writers’ group has been such a great support and source of feedback. I think that knowing that we will be meeting each month helps to motivate me to keep on working on the manuscript. Every month, I want to have something new to read at our meeting.

The other great thing about our writers’ group (besides the fact that they are wonderful people and good writers) is that we have started to go out to writing related events together, like readings and storytelling evenings. I love being connected with a bunch of likeminded writers.

Next month, I will be reading through the manuscript of one of my writer friends, and I am looking forward to that very much (AFTER the art show).

So, in summary, although I have been actively involved in a lot of things this past year, I have still managed to find some time for writing and art. Writing and making art were two priorities that I set for myself when I retired, and it makes me happy that I have persisted toward these goals.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Food, Beautiful Food

I love food. One of the best things about travelling is having the opportunity to sample new restaurants and different cuisines.

As you know, Rob and I have just returned from travelling in Portugal. We started in Lisbon, made our way north to Porto via Sintra, did a driving loop to visit three northern pousadas, and then returned to Lisbon.

While we were in Lisbon, we we went down to the Bairro Alto, the old downtown core of Lisbon, for dinner the first few nights. This is a picturesque area of narrow cobblestone streets, traditional architecture, clubs, Portuguese restaurants, and fado singers. The area is filled with tourists.

The restaurants here feature traditional Portuguese cooking, which I love. Rather than elaborately plated fine dining, the food is hearty in a "farm food" or "fisherman's food" kind of way, and menu items may be served "family style." This means that you order à la carte, and share with the table (the servings are large!). The photo below shows a rabbit pie that I ordered one night. It was fabulous!

Rabbit Pie
As a sea-faring nation, Portuguese restaurants offer many kinds of fish and other seafood on their menus, which made me happy. I ordered fish more often than not, whereas Rob indulged in all manner of meaty dishes. One of the most delicious dishes we shared while in Lisbon was an octopus salad (which I forgot to take a picture of, I was so intent on eating it).

I can't write about traditional Portuguese dinners without mentioning the appetizers that are laid out in front of you when you first sit down. They always set out olives, bread, and soft cheese, along with a variety of other tasty items. They only charge you for the ones you choose to eat, and you can ask them to take the rest away. Our Portuguese friends tell us that experienced diners wave away the couvers (I am not sure about the spelling of that), but Rob and I discovered so many interesting dishes that we didn't always send them away. We ALWAYS  kept the olives, as Portuguese olives are so much better than the ones you can get in North America. And so is the wine, but I am not going to write about the wine here, although we sampled quite a lot of it.

On this visit, we also spent quite a lot of time exploring the newer part of the city around the Parque das Nações area. This is the huge area where the 1998 Expo was held. It has all been developed into an area of public parks and public buildings, restaurants, museums, and so on, and also there is a huge shopping mall there. It was interesting to experience modern Lisbon culture and more contemporary cuisine in this area.

Although our hotel was near the airport, it was easy to get anywhere in the city via the Metro. Each day, we bought a daily Metro pass for 6,30 Euros, and with that we could ride anywhere on the Metro trains, and transfer to buses as well.

All of the pousadas and other hotels that we stayed in (except the little pension in Sintra) came with a full breakfast buffet. The three pousadas all offered spectacularly good breakfasts, and so did the Lisbon Marriott hotel, where we stayed on our last night in Portugal.

The pastries in Portugal are divine, and there were always many freshly baked pastries on offer for breakfast, as well as in every coffee shop. There are many regional specialties (which we did our best to sample), but I think my favourite is Pastel de Nata, an egg tart pastry that is considered to be the national pastry.

The photo below shows the breakfast table at the Pousada Viana do Castelo. Not only was the breakfast really good, but also it was a very beautiful dining room. The views out the windows over the city and ocean also were great, as this hotel is located on top of a mountain.

A Beautiful Breakfast Buffet in a Beautiful Room
The food was also good at the Pousada de Canicada-Geres. In particular, I enjoyed a really tasty gazpacho as my first course. Rob ate a cabbage and sausage soup, which he liked.

Possibly the Best Gazpacho Ever
Our dinner in the Pousada Mosteiro de Guimaraes was perhaps the most "haute cuisine" meal that we enjoyed. The first photo below shows us sitting at our table, and the next one zooms in on my chicken dish, which was as delicious as it was beautiful.

Dinner in the Historic Monastery in Guimaraes 
Beautifully Presented and It Tasted Delicious
I haven't mentioned the dessert buffet yet. Each pousada also offered a table groaning with the dessert selections, many being specialties of the area. How could we have room for dessert after appetizers, soup, and an entrée? Somehow, we managed.

If you are thinking of going to Portugal, one thing you should be aware of is that people dine late there (by North American standards). Most restaurants do not open for dinner until 7 pm, and more fashionable diners tend to eat even later than that. If you get hungry in the late afternoon or early evening, it can be hard to find any place open even for a snack.

On our first trip to Lisbon in 2011, we stayed at the Lisbon Marriott. We both remembered the breakfast buffets there fondly, and when we returned there on this trip, it did not disappoint us.

Kitchen at the Lisbon Marriott
We also had good dining experiences in Sintra and Porto. And I confess that I have dozens more photos of food that I have not included here. It is not only millennials who like to take pictures of their food ;-)

In Porto, we dined at outdoor restaurants along the quay each night. It was lovely to look out across the river at the twinkling lights, sipping wine and enjoying our dinners. I will leave you with a final photo of a dessert we shared in Porto. It looked even prettier before we started to eat it!

Orange Cake With Tangerine Ice Cream

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Ribeira District, Porto

We are no longer in Portugal. However, I wanted to write about our visit to Porto in northern Portugal. We went there after visiting Sintra and stayed for two nights in the Ribeira District. This is the old section of Porto along the Douro River. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is very picturesque.

We stayed in a hotel located right on Praça da Ribeira, the old town square down by the quays. We had an amazing view onto the square and the river. Because vehicles other than taxis are prohibited in  the old town centre, we had to park the rental car in a shopping centre parkade several blocks away, and parking the car there for two days was fairly expensive. However, that was balanced out by having very walkable streets with little traffic.

View From our Room

As you can see in the photo above, we had a great view from our room.

A Boat Tour on the Douro River

The first day that we were there, we went on a 50 minute boat tour up and then down the Douro, and saw the six bridges over the Douro that join Porto with the city across the river, Vila Nova de Gaia. It is said that the name of the country, Portugal, derives from the Roman name for this settlement at the mouth of the Douro, Porto Cullis, which may be a derivative of an even earlier place name.

Picturesque Porto Along the Douro River

From the boat, we were able to get a great view of the colourful neighbourhoods along the river, as well as the bridges, skyline, and many significant buildings and monuments.

Enjoying the Boat Tour

It was fun to be out on the water on the Douro River, after having been a longtime fan of wines from the Douro Valley. Also, I admit to being a bit of a geography geek. It somehow seems really special to actually see and travel on important rivers around the world. (I have been similarly awed by the Mississippi, the St. Lawrence, the Thames, and the Stikine rivers, to name a few.)

Walking Across the Dom Luis I Bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia

Later, we walked to the Dom Luis I Bridge and rode the funicular up to the top level of the bridge. This bridge, built by the same company that built the Eiffel Tower in Paris, has a lower level for cars, and an upper level, 60 meters up, for light rapid transit trains. It is possible to walk across the top level of the bridge, which we did. The views from up on the bridge were fantastic, and the height did not bother me too much, except I did hang on to the railing when the trains rushed by and everything vibrated.

Looking Down into Back Gardens From the Bridge

As we started walking across the bridge, we could look down onto the buildings, streets, and gardens on either side.

View of the Douro River From the Bridge

The photo above shows the view from the bridge looking downriver at the Ribeira quays (Cais da Ribeira).

Dom Luis I Bridge seen from Vila Nova de Gaia

I took this photo from the far side of the bridge, looking back at the bridge. If you look very closely, you can see tiny specks on the bridge. The specks are people, which gives some perspective of how high the bridge was.

View of Praça da Ribeira from the Bridge

This photo from the bridge shows the buildings around the square. Our hotel was the pale yellow one on the far right, next to the deeper yellow one. I can even see the windows of our room.

Visiting the Port Caves in Vila Nova de Gaia

After crossing the bridge, we rode the Telecabin (gondola) down to the river level and explored sections of Vila Nova de Gaia. This area is famed for its port cellars, or caves. Being on the north side of the river, the caves dug into the hillside remain consistently cool as is needed for aging the port, which can take decades.

The Boats that Tradtionally Transported the Port Down the Douro River

The photo above shows the type of boats that were used for transporting the port from the vineyards of the Douro Valley down to the port caves where it is aged, bottled, and then shipped all over the world. The port no longer comes down the river on boats, but rather by truck and train. The traditional boats (rabelos) are now used for racing on the river, each boat sponsored by one of the port houses.

At the Port Tasting

We did a tour and tasting at one of the port cellars. The photo above shows the three ports we tasted - from the right, a white, then a ruby and then a tawny port. As you may know, Port is a wine that is fortified with aguardente.

In Front of an Oak Barrel Used for Aging the Port in the Caves

The port is aged in barrels of different sizes, some very large. It was an interesting tour, and I enjoyed tasting three of the types of port made by the Calem port house.

Then we walked back across the bridge, this time on the lower level.

We were glad that we included a visit to Porto in our tour of Portugal.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Visit to Sintra


We have been doing a fifteen day tour of Portugal. After five days in Lisbon, we went to to Sintra for two days. The Vila de Sintra is a city in the municipality of Sintra, located in the Sintra Mountains on the west coast. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its historical importance. This area just north of Lisbon is also known as the Portuguese Riviera.

We stayed in a small b&b in the town of Sintra, and spent the first day exploring the area on foot. We hiked through the town past the municipal administration building, some large gardens, the National Palace Of Sintra (which served as the summer palace for royalty for a couple of centuries until the end of the 1600’s), and the Quinta da Regaleira (which unfortunately had just closed to visitors by the time we made our way there). The photo above shows a small alcove along the main roadway.

Near the Quinta da Regaleira, we took in the view over the Vila de Sintra. Looking in the other direction, through the arch behind us you can see the Palace of Pena on a nearby mountaintop.

Throughout Sintra, there were many stores catering to tourists. For example, these iron items looked interesting, although a little heavy to transport home via airplane in a suitcase.

Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors)

On the second day, we bought tickets for the “hop-on-hop-off” bus, and boarded it to take us to the Castle of the Moors on one mountaintop above the city, and the Palace of Pena on another nearby peak. It is also possible to hike up to the castle via a walking trail and then over to the palace, although it would be a long, steep route. The road was very narrow with many switchbacks to get to the top. We were amazed to see how the well the bus driver negotiated the narrow twisty road, and were glad we had left the rental car parked down below.

The Castelo dos Mouros was a military fort built in the tenth century during the time that the Moors occupied the Iberian peninsula. In this photo, you can see the keep.

From the castle, you get a good view of the Palace of Pena.

The views in all directions from the castle are amazing.

We climbed up and down many stairs as we hiked around the castle.

This photo shows the castle wall going from the keep to a second high point. I walked all along the castle wall, even though the ground fell away below in a rather breathtaking way. Rob took an alternative route to the far side. After exploring the castle, we hiked back out the road and hopped on the bus again, which dropped us off at the wall around Pena Palace.

Palacio Nacional de Pena (Pena National Palace)

Pena Palace is built upon the foundation of a former monastery on the site, and it incorporates many elements of the former building. It was built under the initiative of King-Consort Ferdinand and Queen Maria II in the mid-1800’s. It is considered to be the preeminent example of Portuguese Romantic architecture.

From the wall around the palace to the palace itself there was another long hike up a hill through the Pena Gardens. If we had been so inclined, we could have paid 3€ each and ridden up in a shuttle bus. But we walked, needing to balance some of the eating we had been doing with some vigorous exercise. We certainly achieved more than our 10,000 steps on this day.

Pena Palace is like a fairytale palace, and it is equally beautiful on the inside.

From the palace, there are fabulous views over Sintra and the mountains nearby.

The photo above is of a small niche in the interior. The wall mosaic dates from Moorish times. If you look closely, you can see that seashells were used in the mosaic pattern. Later, this space was used as a storeroom for the palace.

Some brave souls were doing the exterior wall walk. Not I.

There were elaborate carved details throughout the palace. Above you can see a representation of Triton, god of the sea. He was located on the exterior, just above the main entrance.

We were astounded and delighted with the beauty and history in Sintra. We are glad that we made it to this area during our time in Portugal.