THIS AND THAT

My feet tend to follow laneways and byways and connectors that seem to pop up everywhere along my route–whatever route I decide to follow.

Oak Bay is an area that is filled with streets that begin as one name, but around that bend, it becomes another street altogether. Laneways, byways and connectors can quickly put an adventurous walker into a different neighbourhood.

A driveway is transformed into a parade of colourful dinosaurs.

A tiny rural corner can open into something very surprising.

These beautifully painted stones, carefully placed beneath clusters of sunny yellow flowers—-are these someone’s artistic and poetic nature striving to be heard. . or are these rocks a remembrance to a passing poetic soul.. . . .?

I enjoy seeing how people make their entryways totally theirs. This custom iron work with its colourful red tulips is one example.

A homeowner decided to make the corner boulevard, outside his front gate, part of his scenic garden. . . while others use ornaments and flowers to capture passer-by’s attention.

Just leaning over a stone wall can bring you a woodsy wonderland. . . . .

Or just beyond, a charming children’s playhouse

Sometimes a few steps to the left or a few steps to the right will bring a walker to some incredible gates. What is it about gates that implies “keep out” or “Welcome, do come in. . .”

Doors can be intimating too–but there are some eye-catching ones that makes you wonder who are the people behind them?

Homes are as diverse as their owners. It’s always fascinating to speculate on whoever lives there and the choices they made to make the homes theirs. Besides admiring their gardens, it does pay to look upwards too. . . . .

Summer is almost here but the weather has been perfect to explore the byways and laneways—-time to follow this connector back home.

A SPRINGTIME JAUNT AROUND MY NEIGHBOURHOOD

When I start my early morning jaunts around my neighbourhood, I often have no idea where my route will take me. I follow my adventurous feet and discover corners and areas I never knew existed. A cedar chip path, off a residential street, led me through a grove of trees. Who would have known this existed except for the locals who lived close by?

With this pandemic heading into its second summer, people have tended to their homes and gardens with much more attention. Some neighbourhood streets have undergone transformations that brings a cheerful ambiance to their area. One street had talented artists who painted utility poles to show that Life doesn’t stop because of a virus.

Some homes are unique in creating spaces with a welcoming hospitality. . . . . .

Some homes choose to have unusual ornaments mysteriously hidden behind the foliage or in plain view.

Others choose to have an eye-catching entrance to their home.

Palm trees always make an impressive entrance and Victoria can certainly boast of palm trees popping up here and there. After all, we are the Banana Belt of Canada, especially in the winters and springs.

My feet are now on the final hill and homeward bound. The magnificent magnolias, in their creamy whites and pale pinks unfurl their petals in the various gardens I pass. But, it’s the stunning deep pinks of the small magnolia trees outside the grocer, that captures my attention.

Almost home and a few specially crafted “free lending libraries” are spotted along the route.

Down a sunny path and I’m finally home—another fun walk to Nowhere. . . . . . . .

MARSHMALLOWS and . . . .

I bought a 5-pound bag of marshmallows the other day. I was at the checkout and it fell into my cart. I told the lady it was for the grandkids but she gave me such a knowing look–she may as well have done the wink-wink thing.

It wasn’t really 5 pounds, probably more like 2 pounds. These were definitely not your normal size marshmallows. I would describe them as marshmallows on steroids. They were huge.

Monster Marshmallows

I will confess I had a craving for some marshmallows. I actually pictured them smaller and dipped in dark Belgian chocolate. Somehow, I got the big bag of colourful ginormous ones that decided they wanted to come home with me.

After he stopped laughing, Hubby told me I was on my own with the monster marshmallows. And after I ate about 5 or 6 or 7–spread over 2 days–I had to figure out some way to use them up. I decided on a pan of the family favourite–the familiar Rice Krispie Squares made of rice krispies, marshmallows and a dollop of margarine.

The bonus of the whole project was a nutritious snack composed of puffed rice, melted marshmallows that were light, slightly chewy and not too sweet; a generous splash of pure vanilla flavouring and a dollop of margarine—low-cal, low sugar, low fat and nutritious as heck.

What could be better for a normal human? Maybe next time I could melt some dark Belgian chocolate into this mixture or even peanut butter. After melting these colossal marshmallows, the colours disappeared somewhere but the results were still delicious.

HOOLA HOOPING

Does anyone remember hoola hooping in your younger days?

It was a big thing when I was in my early teens. And it recently came back on the local news because a Victoria teen-ager broke the World’s Guiness Book of Records for swivelling his hips gazillion hours while simultaneously solving the Rubik’s cube gazillion times.

I remember doing the hoop way back when. It didn’t take a lot of swivelling—just the momentum to get it going and gravity to keep it up.

My big brother and younger sister were quite good at it. I wasn’t too bad either.

So I got myself an adult hoola hoop. What exactly is that? To begin with it has a weight of 3 pounds. Theoretically, as you swirl it around your waist, it’s supposed to whittle away the inch or two or three of excess pounds that have made a home there.

Huh—it seemed like a fun sort of exercise and I liked fun stuff when it came to any form of exercise.

The hoop came in a long narrow box that contained 8 sections—each one a different colour. By the time the hoop was fully and firmly assembled, it was a rainbow of colours.

The instructions for hooping seemed simple: (1) Press Sports Hoop tightly against the back of your waist. (2) Keep the hoop in the horizontal position before swinging out. (3) Swing out the hoop forcefully and horizontally. (4) Move your body in any direction against the hoop. (5) Keep your motion fast enough to allow the hoop to stay up.

Easy-peasy, right? Not even close.

First of all, I got steps (1) and (2) without any problems. I even got step (3) moving for half a second. I know the concept of step (4), but even though my brain was yelling “opposite” direction, my body moved with the hoop’s.

I was told that once you learned how to hoop, it’s like riding a bicycle—you never forget.

How the heck did I do it when I was younger? Okay, okay—a whole lot younger.

I dredged up the memory of my Big Brother telling me, “Don’t think about it, just do it.” And, so I did.

This time I followed steps (1) to (3) and when it came to (4), I just reverted to instinct and did it. By golly, I did 4 revolutions before I realized I was really hooping. And, just that second of celebratory glee caused the hoop to falter and drop with a thud on the floor.

I’m told that perseverance and patience are senior traits learned from years of experience. I don’t know about that but stubbornness is definitely in my genes.

And I did do 4 revolutions. If I can do 4 revs, I can do more.

Yesterday, I did 8 revolutions.

There is a definite learning curve to hoola hooping. I’m talking adults‘ learning curves, not little kids or teenagers. Adults have to learn not to question the thermodynamics or science of hooping. As for the “instructions”—honestly, it’s like needing detailed instructions on how to open a door.

I would rewrite the instructions for hoola hooping. Simple is best, right?

My instructions would read: “Don’t think about it. Just swing the hoop to get it going and let your instincts do the rest. Keep it movin’ and groovin’. Gravity keeps it up.”

Don’t be distracted. I find my crime-writing thoughts are quite random and could involve a problem that needs to be solved. One such problem was how to murder someone with a hoola hoop. Don’t even think this as it will seriously cause the hoop to fall to the ground.

I just noticed that there are a series of Cautions and Warnings on the back of the Instruction sheet.

I am so glad I didn’t read these first. My hoop would still be in 8 sections and still packed in its box. Today I can do up to 8 revolutions. Tomorrow, I will do more. And somewhere along the way, I’ll know how to “murder” someone with a hoola hoop.

Happy Hooping, Everyone. . . .

A Bountiful Early Spring

Some things happen by accident like this awesome photo I took of the cover of my notebook and a piece of fancy ribbon with a sprig of flowers that had adorn my favourite soap. That’s what I call my eureka moment; others might call it a moment of inspiration.

Other things happen because of plain dumb luck—luck that can fall either way—50% good or 50% bad.

And once in a while, the Goddess of Fate smiles because she’s feeling especially great and an unexpected once-in-a-decade gift falls in your lap.

A something that is totally random, totally unplanned.

I swear on a stack of mystery thrillers that when I take my wandering walks, I have no destination in mind—just a vague sort of route that my mind is still deciding upon—but my feet are already taking on the challenge of hills, rocky steps and a chip trail.

Absolutely no thoughts of snacks or food at all.

I love this cool, crisp early Spring weather. Everyone and their dogs seem to be enjoying the fresh air, blue skies and steaming cups of coffee.

Whoa–did I just say steaming cups of coffee? Smiling faces pointed straight ahead and to the left—the walkers’ preferred destination for that area—“Casey’s,” a neighbourhood bakery for fresh-baked pastries, home-made chocolates and hot coffee.

My good fortune was the discovery of Dark Chocolate Kahlua Truffles and hot Mini-Doughnuts, all served up by the baker-man himself.

It was worth those steep hills, rocky steps and chip trail. Now it was time to be homeward bound to share my “bounty” with my Hubby. . .as well as another round on the elliptical

THOUGHTS

THOUGHTS are very important to jot down, to remember, even immortalize for posterity. . .if you’re a writer or a poet or merely someone who simply want to remember and record those perfectly crafted words.

It’s especially important to capture those elusive moments of inspiration when it happens. In my case, this often happens between midnight and dawn–if it happens at all.

I keep my pen and notebook by my bedside table, handy to scribble my ideas on paper—in the dark–as the simple act of turning on the bedside lamp, usually breaks that fragile ribbon of reflective thought.

When the scribbles are examined in the morning, most times, the scrawls are indecipherable.

I admire people who can say things that are often remembered in books, speeches or wherever.

Confucius said, “Words are the voice of the heart.” I can relate to that. Here are a few more wise words from some well-known people and philosophers..

Marilyn Monroe was definitely not a dumb blonde. She has been quoted saying, “The sky is not the limit–your mind is.”

There’s always a bit of truth in oft repeated quotes. Winston Churchill had it pegged right when he addressed the epidemic of rumours during WW2: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” I liked the imagery.

As for gossip, Confucius had this to say, “The tongue must be heavy indeed because so few people can hold it.”

Winston Churchill could have been talking about our current pandemic instead of WW2: “Keep calm and carry on.”

And Barack Obama’s positive words could also apply to these difficult times: “A change is brought about because ordinary people do extraordinary things.”

I do enjoy quotes involving chocolates, coffee and doughnuts. I didn’t think of this one but I wish I knew who the “Unknown Author” was who must have loved doughnuts. “You need to understand the difference between want and need. Like I want abs, but I need doughnuts.”

Oscar Wilde must have been eating a doughnut to make this observation: “The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist sees the hole.”

Another quote I wish I had written but “Unknown Author” beat me to it: “Man doesn’t live by coffee alone–have a doughnut.”

Witty Fran Drescher spoke the truth when she commented: “Once you wake up and smell the coffee, it’s hard to go back to sleep.”

Amy Neftzger supports eating chocolates for she writes: “I’m pretty sure that eating chocolates keeps wrinkles away because I have ne ver seen a 10-year old with a Hershey bar and crow’s feet.”

Chocolate crosses all language barriers as Jann Bauer states: “When you don’t have the words, chocolate can speak volumes.”

Linda Grayson is best quoted for “There is nothing better than a friend unless it’s a friend with chocolates.”

Everyone has their own version of friendship and best friends. A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” explained it the only way he could: “A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.”

Heather Pryor wrote: “A true friend reaches for your hand and touches your heart.”

Walter Winchell was quoted as saying: “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

But Audrey Hepburn described it best: “True friends are families you can select”

Keep well and stay safe, my friends. Remember these words from Katherine Hepburn: “It’s not what you start in Life–it’s what you finish.” So keep jotting down your thoughts; maybe one day, I’ll be quoting you. . . .

HARD KNOCKS AND POSITIVE VIBES

Sometimes, Life suddenly hands you a few hard knocks landing you on your backside and wondering what just happened. I remembered my Grampa would shake his head, bend down to pick up his five-year old granddaughter, dust her off and say, “Remember to spit in Faith’s eye to make you stronger.”

I always wondered who the heck Faith was and how was she going to make me stronger. Years later, I found out Grampa said that to all his grandkids and he was referring to Fate, fickle Fate and not Faith.

After three days, the rain had finally stopped and there was actually a blue sky. And, if you stood on the right spot, the warmth of a February sun would hit your face. I wanted to push away for a short while thoughts of Covid-19; the plight of the homeless; the occasional confrontation of opinionated people who, under normal circumstances, would have better anger management control; local and world politics and the list goes on.

Armed with mask, hand-sanitizer and mindful of the 6 feet social distancing, I was on a mission to find positive things. Strolling down the street, the first thing I saw were the wonderful

painted rocks that still looked as freshly painted as they did last Summer.

A few houses down were the early signs of Spring—-clusters of Snowdrops nestled close to some Winter blooming Hellesbores.

I had passed a frisky Malti-poo and his owner, both cheerfully waving—the former with his tail and the latter with her gloved hand. I had also stepped aside for a ginormous Newfoundlander and his short owner.

But it was the sight of the colourful Rooster that made me laugh.

This was such an unexpected sight that you couldn’t help laughing—especially when it was masked and socially distanced with his skiis.

I was already feeling optimistic and positive when I spotted the Bride and Groom Frogs.

This was definitely a sign of New Beginnings and Spring.

I continued on my circuitous route that would take me past a few interesting store fronts. By chance I came across this eye-catching entry to a physiotherapist’s office.

I liked this—after all, purple is a terrific colour.

I had wanted to photograph the entry nook to a new perfumery that occupied an older house.

It was too easy to miss from a mere stroll along the sidewalk. One had to pause to enjoy the serene setting.
I love the unexpected and this was at the beginning of a long driveway that —in the Summer, I expect there would be more greenery but even in the Winter, this still held an appeal.

And tipping the winter woolie hat to the upcoming Chinese New Year, I have to cheat and include this Chinese gong, taken last Summer at the Nursery.

I felt much better and had a sense of accomplishment. I had found my positive vibes and chased away any negative thoughts–if only for a short time. With the pandemic still occupying our day-to-day lives, it’s really up to all of us to grab those moments of cheer whenever and wherever we can.

Keep well, my Friends–stay calm, be safe and always keep some sunny thoughts close by.

SINFULLY WINTER

Most places in my area—at least, the higher elevation places—get their fair share of snow in the winter. In my hometown of Victoria, winter usually means heavy rains, but once in a while, just to shake up the Locals’ smugness at driving with summer tires and preparing for the “Annual Spring Flower Count,” Mother Nature dumps a load of white stuff on the city.

Aside from visions of sleds, sleighs and snowballs, winter at my house means snuggling in with a pot of hot coffee, freshly baked cinnamon rolls or slices of lemon loaf. Delicious choices but after months of self-isolation and cookie tins emptied of festive Holiday cookies and mince tarts, I felt like rolling out the “big guns”—Dark Chocolate Fudgy Brownies–my weapon of mass cacao beans and calories. This is sinfully winter and massively destructive to New Year’s resolutions regarding diets, exercise and other good intentions.

I have a go-to recipe for my brownies, but in the excitement of actually making some, the recipe somehow got lost–buried in one of my many don’t-forget-where baking books. My other go-to source was a hunt on Google Search and what a treasure-trove that was!

Land O Lakes Fudgy Dark Chocolate Brownies

The first one I found was “Land O Lakes Fudgy Dark Chocolate Brownies,” a truly rich and fudgy dark chocolate morsel that had my mouth watering just reading the recipe. This recipe used dark chocolate chips, dark chocolate chunks and instant dark coffee or expresso. The link is: https://www.landolakes.com/recipe/18243/fudgy-dark-chocolate-brownies/ To make it even more sinful, I broke up pieces of Rogers 72% Dark Chocolate bar on top of the baked brownie as it was cooling on the rack. After the chocolate bar had melted, gently spread and swirl with a knife. Completely cool before cutting and sharing. Because I added a chocolate bar topping, I reduced the amount of sugar in the recipe.

The fun of researching dark chocolate fudgy brownies isn’t just to bake-and-snack, but also to discover other variations. Marissa Stevens (https://pinchandswirl.com/fudgy-dark-chocolate-beet-brownies/ ) caught my eyes because of the veggie, beets, added to her recipe, “Fudgy Dark Chocolate Beet Brownies.” I tried this recipe a month after the Land O Lakes one. I found Marissa’s version a moist brownie; no taste of any beets and quite chocolatey. Again, I reduced the sugar in the recipe allowing for the natural sugars in the beets and also for the melted 72% dark chocolate on top. Half my tasters commented they liked the moistness of this brownie while the other half preferred a slightly drier brownie. Everyone like the topping.

The Best Fudgy Homemade Brownies From Scratch made me pause. http://sweetannas.com/2013/10/the-best-fudgy-homemade-brownies-from-scratch.html Everyone claims a “Best” or “Greatest” to make their recipe stand out from the crowd. A few weeks after the beet brownies, I tried this one because the ingredients were all in my cupboard and fridge. And like the other recipes I reduced the sugar–in this case, from 2 cups to 1 cup. I substituted Fry’s unsweetened cocoa powder for the Dutch-processed cocoa powder in the recipe. I also melted a 72% Rogers dark chocolate bar on top when it was pulled from the oven. Cool completely before cutting. This dark chocolate brownie had a fudgy texture—not as moist as the beet ones but definitely a dark chocolate fudgy brownie that appealed to all my tasters.

If healthy can be attributed to dark chocolate brownies, I’ll toss in my neighbour, Anna-Marie’s version of her “Fudgy Dark Chocolate Strawberry Brownies made with nonfat Greek yogurt, maple syrup and whole wheat flour. Anna Marie’s recipe came from a blog called Amy’s Healthy Baking found at https://amyshealthybaking.com/blog/2015/08/02/clean-fudgy-dark-chocolate-strawberry-brownies/ The recipe was meant to taste like 72% dark chocolate and be extra fudgy. The samples each taster enjoyed mainly agreed with that description–2 tasters wanted another sample to confirm but there was nothing left.

So now you have 4 delicious sources for Dark Chocolate Fudgy Brownies. I added my dark chocolate bar to melt on top of my baked brownies just to be extra decadent, but this is totally optional as each brownie does produce a nice top of its own.

Diving into the first day of February and almost midway through winter, here’s wishing all of you delicious brownies with your coffee. Stay well and Stay safe.

Unmasking a Friend

This pandemic has brought out a few anomalies, but the one I marvel at most is when I can walk freely into a bank wearing my dark mask, my woolie hat and my big dark glasses without being stopped or having any eyebrows lifted. I marvel at this because only a year ago—pre-pandemic—the bank had a large sign at the entrance proclaiming that anyone entering had to remove their hat, their dark glasses and anything obscuring his/her face. What a difference a year made.

During this pandemic era—the talent we all acquire—to varying degrees, is the ability to recognize friends who are wearing masks. Eyes are very personable and are usually—note, I said usually –an identifying feature of good friends.

Laughing blue eyes danced above a mask with tiny black cats cavorting against a cream coloured background.

“Hello, my Dear Friend,” was the joyful greeting. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen you!”

“It certainly has been much too long,” I replied, at the same time thinking those eyes are familiar. Is that Betsy from my sing-along group?”

“Oh my, it’s been so long since I’ve seen anyone from our group. I feel like I’ve been let out of jail and this is my first day of freedom.” The merry blue eyes twinkled above her face mask as she carefully looked me over. A slightly puzzled look appeared briefly in her eyes and swiftly passed.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve seen anyone from our group,” I replied, desperately searching my memory for the name belonging to merry blue eyes who likes cats.

“There’s quite a few of us living in this area and I’m always surprised we don’t meet more of our group.”

“I’m only sorry we can’t enjoy a cup of coffee somewhere,” I replied regretfully.

“Me too. You know, I always thought our bird-watching group was safe. After all, we’re socially distanced and it’s all outdoors, so I couldn’t understand why this was all cancelled until futher notice.”

“Bird-watching? I’m sorry I’m not in your bird-watching group. I thought you were in my sing-along group!”

“You know, I thought there was something different about you, but I didn’t think it would be mistaken identity!” Merry-Blue-Eyes laughed.

“These darn masks makes it hard to recognize anyone including family,” was my amused answer. “Yesterday, I met my cousin for lunch. She was wearing her mask plus a new short haircut that was hard for me to recognize her. I was commenting on her “Audrey Hepburn” hair-do when I felt this tap on my shoulder and a familiar voice said, “Sorry, I’m late but parking is terrible here. Who’s your friend?” It was then I realized I had been chatting to a total stranger.

The blue-eyes were laughing when I told my “cousin” story. “Oh my,” she chuckled, “that is so funny. Now we both have another pandemic story to tell our friends and families.”

We exchanged names so that next time we saw each other in the Village, we would truly recognize a friend and recall her name. Margaret and I parted with a wave and a smile.

How did I know she was smiling? I knew because it’s all in the eyes. . .

To Lie or Not to Lie

“Next time I agree to do something that I don’t want to do, jump in and rescue me,” I told Hubby.

“What do you want me to do?” he asked.

“Tell them something, so I don’t have to do it.”

“I can’t lie,” Hubby said horrified.

“It’s not really lying—it’s a little white lie and they don’t count.”

“Lying is lying,” Hubby stubbornly insisted. “I can’t tell a lie.”

White lies are not lies,” I insisted. “They’re just a teensy untruth that doesn’t hurt anyone and. . and. . .,” I stumbled, quickly thinking, “not exactly lying because it saves face,” I finished triumphantly.

“Save face?” Hubby echoed. “Isn’t that what my Grandmother use to say when we were kids and did something not acceptable and. . .”

“Yep–my Grandma said the same thing. I think it had something to do with family honour and looking good.”

“If I remember correctly, Grandmother did tell some untruths which she reminded my brother and I that that wasn’t lying. I’m still not sure why when she does it, it’s a grownup thing and when we do it, it’s a lie.”

“That may be,” I argued, but we’re grown-ups now and we can do whatever.”

Hubby’s eyebrows rose to the ceiling and he sighed, “That is the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard. We maybe grown-ups, but a lie is a lie.”

“Okay, picture this scenario. You’re at work and your boss calls you into his office. He knows someone is pilfering the doughnut supply. He wants you to nail the culprit and post his picture on the Wall of Shame. You know who the culprit is and you don’t want to do this. You tell the boss you suspect there was a break-in and the thief was hungry. That’s why there were 1/2 dozen doughnuts missing.”

Hubby looked resigned because he knew where this was going.

“My question is—were you lying about the doughnut thief or would you classified this as a little white lie?” Pausing a bit, I pushed my point forward. “Little white lies are a necessity to keep a balance, a kind of peace, a bit of forgiveness to save face, producing a serene kharma, to. . .” I sputtered to a stop.

“I think this is more a matter of saving one’s dignity. Sometimes it’s a matter of diplomacy. If you asked me which dress looked better on you, I would be diplomatic with my answer. I wouldn’t resort to any little white lies.”

“If one dress made me look a sickly yellow and the other made me look like a ‘hooker’, you don’t feel you need to sugar-coat your answer?”

“No, because I know you would never contemplate a mustard yellow dress or pick an indecently trashy one.”

“If I wore a loose top that made me look 8 months pregnant, would you tell me?”

“Are you trying to tell me something?”

“Unless it’s an immaculate conception, a “mini-you’ is not happening. But you would tell me if I look okay before stepping out of the house?”

“Yes, I would. And because you’re my wife whom I love dearly, I won’t sugar-coat the fact that you look terrible. On the other hand, I would tell you if you look totally awesome.”

“Okay,” I said, adding softly, “I love you my Hubby. And, that isn’t a white lie but the absolute truth.”

“Okay then,” he replied, giving me his affectionate bear hug. In my heart of hearts, I knew that was the absolute truth, too.