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What a flurry of writing! There is a reason of course. I have just waved Cottager off on his flights home and have FOUR hours to burn here at Toulouse airport before my own flight to Prague. Four hours and free wifi and a lot of stuff to catch up on means one achy iPhone index finger and stares of amazement from the Frenchman sitting opposite me.

Why Prague, you ask? Because I’ve never been there and neither has my current work-spouse, AB. So we agreed to meet there today and spend a few days wandering about before she goes off to Russia to visit another colleague of ours who is on assignment there while I go to Paris to visit a former colleague and my previous work-spouse AJ.

Does that make sense?
If you aren’t clear on what a work-spouse is you can get up to speed on-line. Try Wikipedia.

Really have to stop now or will get an RSI. Cottager took the iPad home, you see. More (short) posts from Prague.

Thanks for the great holiday Cottager! Travel safe, my dear.

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In France, everyday starts with a trip to the bakery. Even in little Colombiers there are two. My favorite pastry is pain aux raisins. It is never exactly the same at any two bakeries but it is always delicious and usually still warm from the oven. When you enter the bakery it is considered correct to greet everyone with a murmured “Mesdames, Messieurs” unless one of these is missing or is present only in the singular in which case you must adjust this greeting.

In other words, you have to do a quick inventory of the number and gender of the folks in the room, and then speak rationally in another language and all while still half-asleep and wholly overcome by the smells in the bakery, which cause your mouth to flood with saliva.

And now it is suddenly my turn to order. Everyone leans in to hear what this weird tall lady will say…

All my pronunciation practice deserts me in that moment and instead of ordering a big loaf and two raisin pastries (approx phonetic – gro pan ay de pan o ray san) I order a pregnant bread and two breads with reason (approx phonetic – gross pan ay de pan o rays -on). I believe I only imagine a hiss as the words leave my mouth.

These delectable items are presented to me notwithstanding my gaucheness. The bill is two euros seventy or about CDN $3.50. You probably thought France was expensive? Only to my self- esteem.

Here are specimens of pain aux raisin from the two local bakeries. The rectangular one is from the bakery around the corner. Cottager preferred this one. It had raisins and that fake green fruit one puts in Christmas cake. I preferred the one from the baker at the Newport – the swirly one. Flaky warm and sweet. So good. Worth any humiliation, really. To get both in one photo I had to sneak back through town with the goods after my visit to the second baker. I hope you appreciate my efforts.

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Having a good time at Port Moody Legion’s Club 119

Some new goals emerged from my summer sabbatical:  Simplify, spend time with friends and family, dance more.

In keeping with these goals, I decided to celebrate my birthday by having a small Fur Ball – a party with dancing and benefiting two animal – related organizations whose efforts I appreciate and wanted to support. Keeping it simple meant keeping it local and accepting the offers of friends and neighbours to contribute to the refreshments.

I contacted the local Royal Canadian Legion – #119 Port Moody – and they generously offered me free use of their ‘lounge’ area for the night of my choice.  There was a band playing great covers – Mustang Sally, now baby! – and free use of shuffle board and pool tables.  Cheap drinks; friendly faces – a great retro vibe.

About 3o friends showed up to mingle over drinks and games.  Later in the evening, a bit of dancing broke out.

Thanks to everyone who turned out and for your generous donations.  Cheques are going out tomorrow to Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association and Gibsons Wildlife Rehab Centre.

Our legions are struggling these days, and they deserve our support.  Its a great place to have an easy-to-organize get together with friends.  Better yet, join and/or volunteer. I’m thinking about it.

Simplify, enjoy your friends and family, dance every chance you get.

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I was back in town for a few days to proudly watch my Biggest Urchin receive his high school diploma, and Cottager and I took advantage of a break in the really disappointing June weather we’ve been experiencing to get out for a ride on the PoCo Trail.

Tents and a hive of activity in the community garden area of Colony Farm Regional Park attracted our attention, and we stumbled on to loveliest festival I have attended in a very long time. In cooperation with Metro Vancouver (formerly GVRD), the Public Dreams Society was hosting their fourth annual Midsummer Fête.

No rumbling chip vans or carnival rides here. It was like falling through a rabbit hole into a gentler time: Whimsical costumes, quirky activities, un-fraught people and a lovely, pastoral setting. This is an event worth putting on your calendar. Not to be missed.

My favourite part was a performance by the Legion of Flying Monkeys. These folks know how to have fun. They sang about their annual Clown Parade, held in Gastown each December.  I looked it up to find participation is by invitation.  Dear LFM:  Please invite me to be in your clown parade!  I sing loudly and occasionally on key. Deep in my heart, there is a clown desperate to make itself known to the world in a safe and supportive environment.

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Cool costumes and unique art installations abounded.

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The OWL rehabilitation society had a saw whet owl and a golden eagle on display.

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We played croquette.  The balls were furry and had eyes (hedghogs?) and the pleasant pheasant pictured explained that we had to choose a course through safe wickets or past predators (herons and coyotes) Cottager played it safe and was victorious.

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Younger visitors made straw dolls by stuffing onesies.

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When I arrived at the cottage two days ago, I found a Steller’s Jay – the provincial bird of British Columbia – resting on my deck. She fluttered to the railing and watched as I ferried multiple loads from the car to the cottage.  Her feather’s were puffed up and she was hunched over. She looked at me as if she knew help had arrived.

I quickly put out some bird seed and my new Valu Village find – a bird bath.  She had a few bites and drank a considerable amount of water, then hopped down and strolled towards my shed.  Her mate took over her spot at the feeder.

Not a very happy bird

“This bird can’t fly,” thought I.  So I called the Gibsons Wildlife Rehab Centre.  This volunteer- run organization sent Barbara Lee Fraser along within an hour, by which time Stella had made her way into a tree. We lured her down with peanuts and suet, and Barbara proceeded to herd that bird through the front garden and into the wilderness that is my backyard, waiting for the right moment to drop her net.

Before long Stella was safe in her arms and then in a transport cage on her way to Rehab.

I called this morning for an update, and it seems she has some puncture wounds under her wing, and they are cleaning them  frequently to prevent dried blood from gumming up her feathers. She can’t fly yet, but they are hopeful she will.

The volunteers at the Centre are also concerned about the colour of her feet, and are conducting tests today to see if she has a fungus problem.  It seems she is receiving very good care.

When she is ready to be released, she will be returned to Keats View Cottage to rejoin her mate, who is staying very close. I bought a bag of peanuts on the theory that males of many species can be distracted from their troubles by food. It seems to be working.

I don’t know for certain that Stella is a gal. The folks at the rehab centre tell me it is difficult to determine gender of a Steller’s Jay, but they are calling the bird Lisa in my honour.  It’s very sweet, but when she comes home it will get darn confusing if there are two of us with the same name, so Stella it shall be.

Please keep your cats inside and consider making a donation to the Gibsons Wildlife Rehab Centre to help them continue on with their excellent work.  I know I will.

Stanley Kowalski is staying clean and fit in anticipation of Stella’s return

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Hi There!  Happy New Year!

This month marks the 4th Anniversary of my first post. A good time to rethink or retool.

It’s been a terrific four years of making improvements at Keats View Cottage, and along the way we’ve made good friends and great memories.  We’ve even started to make a bit of money through summer rentals, which is icing on the cake.  That damn quilt, by the way, still isn’t done.

We’ve answered some important questions: Is the Gibsons area where we’d like to spend at least part of our retirement years?  Yes, and I think we will start to shift operations over that way within the next five years or so.  

Do we need a bigger/grander place?  No, simple really is better — though the lightly insulated walls and single pane windows of the cottage may be a little too spartan for a place where we hope to live at least 50% per cent of the time, year round. 

We sometimes take a long walk around nearby Hopkins Landing, wondering if a future home isn’t waiting quietly for us in that neighbourhood. We also sometimes talk of rebuilding on the Keats View property, but I feel overwhelmed when I try to think of what would be involved:  Instant decision fatigue.   

And then there is this blog.  160 plus posts and just shy of 50,000 visits over these four years. It remains a treasured record of our efforts and achievements, and a repository of photos, recipes and ideas, both good and questionable.  

But now that most of what we planned to do is done, it is increasingly rare that something blog-worthy comes along. I don’t think anyone really cares to know that I am busy cutting back the bamboo again . . . and, like every year, contemplating bambooicide.  Having done our best to acentuate the place’s natural charms and make it comfortable, we reach a place of diminishing returns for big, interesting projects.

The urchins are near grown now and they talk of coming to the cottage more than they actually do, as their school work, social lives and hobbies  increasing engage them.  So we are in a transitional time. We can’t drag them along, and we can’t really leave them for more than an occasional night, so our cottage time is somewhat limited at the moment. When we do get there, we try to do less, enjoy more. 

If everything goes to plan – and it may very well not – I will spend the month of June at Keats View, on a self-funded sabbatical to work on a personal project.  It is a very happy thought. I love the long days of June, and would be very happy to spend an hour or two a day working in the garden, instead of 10 hours over one weekend.  

Meanwhile, I plan to reduce my blog posts to about one per month.  Rather than scratching my head to come up with some fresh content or feeling guilty about great gaps between posts, I’m making it official.  When there is something worth writing about, I’ll write.  Check back in early February for my annual special Valentines Day recipe  – The Food of Love – It is a recipe worth having, I assure you. 

I encourage you to click the “follow” button.  That way, you will be alerted when I do post, and won’t have to waste time checking back. Since my posts will be so infrequent, you need not fear being inundated with alerts!  

Thanks for sharing our adventure.  And please stop by again.

Looking forward to spring at the cottage

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Early morning lights from the Langdale ferry terminal (right) and Soames Hill (left)

Every six or eight weeks, or so,  Cottager and I get up very early on a weekend morning and head over to the cottage, alone and without any particular purpose. Sometimes we stay over night and sometimes we return on one of the last ferries of the day. Usually we park near Horseshoe Bay and walk or bike over.

Since we get up very early midweek, you’d think this would be the last thing we would want to do, but its absolutely wonderful!

We are up around five and on the road by 6.  We stop to grab a Starbucks coffee – the only time I have one anymore, so really a treat.  It is lovely driving through dark and near deserted streets to the ferry terminal. Once there, we wait for the ferry to appear, as if by magic, in its berth. On board, the other passengers are mostly young sports teams and more ‘seasoned’ travellers like ourselves who know the pleasures of an early start. 

The Queen of Surrey is redolent with the smell of the All Aboard breakfast, and maple syrup in particular. The bathrooms are scented with a vaguely tutti-frutti deodorizer I never smell anywhere else.  The most unlikely things can become dear to us when we associate them with pleasant events!

Just before eight a.m., the crew call “Sixteen” which signals arrival announcements.  The lights of Langdale and the silhouette of Soames Hill appear in the semi-darkness.

Since this early ferry is rarely busy, unloading is a breeze.  If we have our car, as we did on this recent visit because we were moving some furniture, we pull into our driveway at Keats View Cottage about 5 minutes after the ramp is in place.  We unload, light a fire, turn on the baseboard heaters and make ourselves a hot breakfast — usually waffles or omelet – and on the table within half an hour. 

And then the rest of the day is entirely at our disposal: Read; nap; work on projects, watch a movie; walk into town… Unless the weather is truly bad, I head out to the garden, because I never seem to get enough fresh air in a normal week largely divided between home and office.

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