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The Cottager is technically Irish, so with St. Patrick’s Day falling on the weekend, it seemed a good time to invite the neighbours in. Everyone brought something, and it was a fine meal with lots of laughs on the side.

We started with a cheese plate featuring marbled Guinness cheese. Very pretty and mild. Andy made soda bread, which arrived warm. I made a dip with corned beef, dill and cream cheese.

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Next up was two types of barbecued sausages, served along with brown onion gravy, green salad, and colcannon, a traditional potato dish with cabbage and bacon mashed right in.

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Then there were two great cakes. I made Nigella Lawson’s dense Chocolate Guinness cake – I’d make it again, but I would try it in a tube or bunt pan another time as it sunk a bit in the middle. It has a cream cheese icing that makes the cake resemble a glass of Guinness.

My neighbour, Margaret, made a fabulous Bailey’s cake that apparently starts with a yellow cake mix but took it to another level. When I get the recipe I’ll post it.

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New record for posts in one day. Notifications filling your inbox? Getting annoyed?
Just read this before you get all up in my grill.

Got into Praha, as we euro- sophisticates like to call it- around 1 and bused into the centre. Found the Mosaic hostel/hotel after the usual comical errors that see you dragging your pack around long after the fun is gone. Total chaos at check-in. A group of eight Spaniards were engaging in a dramatic altercation in the lobby. I felt so unconcerned. Until it was my turn. Seemed they were having problems fitting all the bodies into a finite number of rooms. Wanted to give us a double with a cot instead of the twins we’d booked. Naa- unnhhh. Upgrade!

We now have a very deluxe room on the top floor with terrace, high tech lights, auto blinds, magic smoked glass at the touch of a switch, rain shower, plasma, sound system, fridge. Ya, don’t mess with me!

So, still waiting for AB, I go out for a look about, realize I’ve eaten little all day, and choose a quiet tidy place with a schnitzel special for 260 crowns. I’m no math whiz but I’m on fairly solid ground that this is between 10 and 12 Euros. Beer is a bit steep at 60, but people have to make a living, right?

First course is soup. Creamy potato soup full of dill and hard-boiled eggs. Strange texture combination, but this is why we travel. Not bad really. Schnitzel is less appealing. Overdone, tough. A few fries and a tired bit of salad. You win some-you lose some. And then the bill comes.

A two part bill. First part is a cash tape showing 260 dinner, 60 beer and 20 “cover.”. That’s what some places charge for bread or perhaps in this case my cutlery. Ok it’s a buck. Then I see the hand written note that says “with service your bill is 412 crowns.” Like I said, not a math whiz but how did 320 become 412? So I pick up the cash tape and go into pay. “where is the other part of the bill” says the cashier?
“This is the bill” say I, staring her down, “You don’t decide service, I do.”

“I am service. You have a problem with me?”
“I’ll pay this bill, and then I’ll think about your service”
So she gave me all my change and after thinking about her service for a moment or two, I left.
Lesson one: don’t read your tourist guide book in the restaurant, even if you are bored eating alone.
Lesson two: don’t mess with me.

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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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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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Spring in the Kootenays: High water and lupins

I believe it’s good – every now and then – to push “Pause” and do an all-points inspection of yourself and your life. When actually forced to do this, about a year ago, I came to the conclusion that a personal retreat was in order. I have latched on to current events and dubbed my retreat my “Jubilee Year Celebration.”

It isn’t easy to pull this off. It required planning. Cottager came on board right away. My employer agreed, last November, to allow me eight weeks leave on an income averaging arrangement. I want to give my full attention, through this period, to the things that really matter to me.

So the first thing I did was make a visit, along with my sister, to my parents in the Kootenays.  We stayed five days, helping out a little bit around their property, but really just enjoying their company. Our usual visits involve husbands, children and pets and can seem rushed or chaotic. It was so pleasant to just hang out.

The second thing I did was make some quality time with my own family. It’s hard, with both urchins in school and working, but we did it.  We spent a night in a hotel near Seattle; visited the Woodland Park Zoo (we’re all bonkers for animals); had great Mexican food, and went shopping at the Outlets.  These are four things we all enjoy. Along the way we had a lot of laughs and some great conversations.  My guys are just amazing men.

And today I’ve moved on to Stage Two, taking up residence at Keats View Cottage for the next month in order to pursue personal goals which never seem to find time and space in my day-to-day life.

These goals fall roughly into two groups: Creativity and Wellness.

My creative goals include indulging a desire to immerse myself, however briefly, in a creative writing process.  Sub goals are to make a small quilt and to work an hour or two in the garden each day so as to move beyond simply trying to beat back nature.  Quite honestly, the quilt may just be wishful thinking.

On the wellness front, I aspire to get 8 hours of sleep each night, exercise, eat well, and make a daily practice of stress-reduction techniques. It’s a tall order, but I like tall things, and I am determined to give this a try.

Follow along and I will let you know how it goes.

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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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Vegetable soup, foccacia and cowboy cookies

What a week!  High demands at work and at home:  Travel organizing, charity events, social planning, costume making and a hundred small fires to put out. How to recover?  Shopping doesn’t work for me. I get into the kitchen and whip up some soup, bread or sweets.  And today, since it was such a crazy week, I made all three.  

First a double batch of vegetable soup – please admire my awesome Lee Valley kettle! Next, my friend Gillian’s superb foccacia, and finally, these super easy Cowboy Cookies.  I like this recipe because all of the measurements are round :  1 cup of this and 2 cups of that.  Also, it makes lots.  Not the five dozen advertised, but lots.  Even better if you add butterscotch chips instead of chocolate, but today, alas, I had none. 

The recipe suggests these cookies need 8 to 10 minutes in the oven. In my oven they take 12 minutes to achieve perfect doneness.  I use a standard cookie scoop but I suspect “Bonniebelle” makes a smaller cookie, which would account for a shorter cooking time and a higher yield.  Do try not to overbake! 

Outside it is dark and really rainy. Inside we have good food and cats to comfort us.

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