Life is often a kaleidoscope of events, images, thoughts, duties, happy moments, gentle touches and even not-so gentle touches, scary moments and unforgettable moments. At the end of the day, these bits and pieces somehow come together like a continuous giant puzzle. This puzzle has no ending in sight—merely additional pieces that fit somewhere in the giant picture. I see my walks in the same light.
As I move down neighboring streets and beckoning lanes, I know there may be something phenomenal around the next curve.
Perhaps, an impressive entrance
or intriguing piece of garden ornament
It always lifts the spirits when a plain gate offers Oriental lanterns. . .
Or the stone birdhouse perched on its own wall
A ritzy Elf’s home complete with teeny barbecue, mailbox and teeny lawn chair
Or a miniature windmill on a quiet neighbouring street.
Strolling through the Village, the Oak Bay Artists have each contributed their version of the Covid Hearts to liven up the planters and boulevards. Here are two examples:
The unexpected treasure of a bi-plane made from strips of coco-cola cans–suspended from a tree. . . .
An artistic “Welcome” and “Farewell” at the foot of a homeowner’s entrance to his home.
BUT sometimes there is absolutely nothing but an enjoyable walk. . . .
My part of Victoria must have an enormous amount of book lovers. No matter which walking route I randomly choose, there are usually one or two free-lending libraries tucked in a corner of someone’s drive-way or on the edge of someone’s property. These are libraries that encourages people to leave a book and/or take a book. And, in my neighbourhood, there are many readers who enjoy a good story and don’t mind searching for one.
In my walking jaunts I’ve noticed that some free libraries are set up in certain areas by a local organization. But there are many others that were crafted by interested neighbours who want to share their love of books. I like the unique libraries that are entertaining and eye-catching such as the Snoopy above.
Other free lending libraries are colourful, may be a replica of the Owner’s house or simply an inviting book cupboard filled with possible “treasures” for browsing readers.
These are a few examples of more free libraries to entice book-lovers to stop and browse for a minute or two.
Harry Goldman and Walter Young carefully carried their big mugs of dark roasted coffee to Charlie Swanson’s corner table, already covered with sections of the daily newspapers. Charlie hastily pushed the newspapers into a wobbly pile to make room for his coffee-mates.
“Well, you two are early today,” he greeted them with a smile.
“I just came from a visit to my doctor and decided I needed a large cup of caffeine,” declared Henry.
“Uh-oh,” Charlie commiserated. “Was this the visit where you found out you had to stop eating whatever it was you enjoyed and eat more of whatever it was you detested?”
“Not quite, Charlie, but very close,” Henry sighed.
“I noticed you only got coffee this morning and skipped your Apple Danish,” Walter added sympathetically.
“Is that why you refrained from getting your Almond Croissant?” Henry smiled. At that moment, Muriel Long and Charlotte Pickles plonked their cups of cappuccino along with a side plate containing two dark chocolate fudge brownies beside Henry. The ladies each pulled up a chair from an empty adjacent table and made themselves comfortable.
“Would anyone like a piece of our fudge brownies?” Muriel offered. Henry reluctantly shook his head. Walter sipped his coffee and eyed the brownies, then slowly shook his head as well.
“Charlotte and I just finished our energetic class of Golden Zumba at the rec centre. Our instructor is someone my granddaughter’s age and very good at getting all the senior ladies revved up and moving!”
“That’s why Muriel and I are building up our sugar reserve since we danced it all off in the class!” Charlotte laughed as she took a bite of her brownie. “More for us to enjoy since all of you refused our generous offer.
“Henry was telling us about his doctor’s appointment this morning,” Charlie explained.
“Oh no,” the ladies chorused in sympathy. “Is this where you get that dreaded news that you have to stop eating. . .” Muriel began, but was interrupted by Henry’s huge sigh.
“I always thought that ‘retirement’ was our Golden Years, you know, like those cheezy commercials we use to see when we were still working,” Walter commented.
“I know what you mean Walter,” Charlotte agreed. “I bet far too many retirees end up with health problems that takes care of the rosy picture of a carefree retirement life.”
“So, my friend, what joys do you have to cut to prolong your life?” Walter bluntly asked. Before Henry could spew forth the list, Muriel interrupted.
“Is this a low salt/no-salt diet? Or is it no red meat and no breads and no. . . .”
“Oh my god,” Charlotte exclaimed, “what’s left to eat that’s palatable?”
“Not much” Henry said glumly.
“Now, it’s not that bad,” Charlie pointed out. “The best thing to happen would be you’d lose a few pounds which is always good for the heart. A visit to a reputable dietician would set you on the right path with the kind of herbs and seasoning you can use that’s not salt and other sources of protein that doesn’t have to be red meat. But you have to remember one thing. Cutting back on certain foods doesn’t mean never eating them again. It just means you eat it occasionally like once a week instead of every day. You’ll probably notice a drop in your grocery bill as well as a boost in energy but you’ll be too busy to worry about snacks and bad eating habits.”
“Even I can live with that,” Muriel murmured. Charlotte and Walter both nodded their heads in agreement. Henry thought about Charlie’s wise words and voiced his opinion. “It’s the thought of giving up so much of what I enjoy, but small amounts rather than an excess is a good start. I like the idea of consulting with a dietician as that would steer me along the right food paths.”
“Nikki can walk you three times a day,” Walter grinned mischievously–Nikki being the Goldman’s energetic cockapoo.
“Oh my, Henry–you’ll be a healthier, thinner person in a few months,” Muriel encouraged cheerfully.
“I read this article in the Huffington Post about all these people who switched to a healthier lifestyle and after six months were able to reduce the amount of meds they had to take daily. That alone would be a great incentive to live healthier,” Charlotte reported to her coffee-mates.
“Well, we’re all here to cheer you on, Henry.” All his coffee friends lifted their cups in a toasting motion, sipped the last drops of their coffee and made moves to gather their things to leave. Charlie packed up the sections of his newspapers he wanted to keep and bundled them into his shopping bag. He paused and spoke, “Retirement is still fun but who said it would be easy? Life moves along its own mysterious path with its usual bumps and pitfalls. I suspect it’s to ensure a person enjoys what he/she has and not get too complacent about it.”
Giving them a jaunty wave, he gave his usual parting, “Enjoy your day, my friends,” then added impishly, “remember to ease up on the red meat, the salt, the pastries and all the other good stuff. . . . .”
” Good coffee is a pleasure. Good friends are a treasure.”—-Anonymous
I blame it all on John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson–may as well throw in Jason Robards Jr, Clint Eastwood and Jimmy Stewart too. All these super Hollywood stars played memorable roles in the Old West tales.
Hubby and I are avid Western fans. The setting has to be the the Old West with the cavalry, cattlemen and train robbers. Throw in a few gun-runners, Commancheros, Apaches or Commanches plus a wagon train guided by Ward Bond with one of the feisty new settlers being character actor Edgar Buchanan, who is either a doctor or a dentist or saloon keeper. We don’t like modern Westerns–too much convoluted angst. The old West had it but it was much more fun fighting cattle rustlers and gunfighters among all that tension.
We have been watching a lot of movies during the period of self-isolation and staying safe. Two of our fave movie channels, Turner’s Classics and Silver Screen have been tossing out old Westerns like they were cleaning Granny’s attic. Hubby and I have been watching so many that we know our character actors and like the old stars who play the leading roles.. We had already seen many before but after a lapse of 1-2 years, the movies appear familiar but still enjoyable. This is what we’ve concluded watching these wonderful Hollywood and Italian westerns such as Fort Apache, The Searchers, High Noon, A Fistful of Dollars and Tombstone, naming a few. 1) Old Westerns are the best. “Old” meaning a setting in the old horse and buggy days with crooked, greedy ranchers pitted against the “little guys.” The land and water rights are the biggies. Stage coach robberies, gunfights and crafty saloon gamblers are all part of the excitement. 2) The little guys always win especially when Clint Eastwood, William Holden, Gregory Peck or Sam Elliott are fighting on your side. 3) There’s always a beautiful woman who is either the daughter of the rival big rancher who loves the son of the little rancher or the daughter of the little rancher who loves the son of the big rancher. In the end, love wins especially if the good guys are led by Clint, Val Kilmer or Jason Robards Jr. 4) If you have seen “Tombstone” starring Val Kilmer, Kurt Russell and Sam Elliott, then watched it again a few years later—did you spot Charlton Heston playing a cameo role of a character called Henry Hooker? Hubby and I have watched this classic western a number of times and still didn’t recognize the star famous for “The Ten Commandments.” 5) “Tombstone” is considered a classic western because it has endured. Others that falls into this category are Clint Eastwood’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “For a Few Dollars More,” “The Last of the Mohicans” with Daniel Day-Lewis, “High Noon” with Gary Cooper, “Major Dundee” with Charlton Heston and our all-time favourite, “Once Upon a Time in the West” with Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and Jason Robards Jr. Just check the website for the greatest “Hundred Best Westerns” and these would be among the top of the list.
Now I’m sure you’re asking yourselves—what exactly did I learn from the old western classics? First of all, the Villains may wear white stetsons and the heroes black ones, but the good guys win 99.9% of the time regardless of what colour hat they wear or how ratty it looks. The beautiful woman doesn’t always get her man as we witnessed in at least 3 of John Wayne’s westerns–he rode off alone at the end.
The westerns made by Sergio Leone were realistic with grey, dreary towns, harsh survival with only the hardiest and most determined surviving. And, like Oriental movies, Sergio’s had an elaborate story plot that eventually worked out in the end. This was seen in Clint’s spaghetti films also directed by Sergio Leone as well as “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Attitude gets you somewhere. Charles Bronson in “Once Upon a Time. . .” played a stoical character with few words; had a poker face when confronted with trouble; played a haunting melody on his harmonica; could outshoot the villains and got the lady in the end—-well, I think he did as it sort of faded out with the credits rolling but he was heading back to where he had left her.
History is supposedly depicted in these classic westerns—the fall of the Alamo; the fight for Texas statehood; the Earp Brothers against the Clantons at the O.K. Corral; Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday—how much is really true? Whatever grains of truth are in these movies, let me say they make entertaining stories and in western movies, that’s what counts.
I think Mother Nature is an awesome being to have such a conglomerate of living beings inhabiting this Earth and navigating its many obstacles each and every day.
My neighbour has a bird feeder on her patio. It gives her great enjoyment to watch the many species of birds come to nibble their meals congenially. This particular feeder only allows smaller birds to find their way to the trough, so my neighbour would only need to fill the feeder once a week. Bigger birds cannot access the feeder. One day she spotted a Papa Robin, Mama Robin and Baby Bird flying about the feeder. It was obvious the parents were too large to grab any seeds. A few minutes later, Baby Bird was able to flutter his wings to the little railing outside the feeder, settle on it and begin grabbing beakfuls of seeds—seeds he dropped to the ground to his waiting parents. Several beakfuls later, Baby Bird managed to feed himself, then flapped down to the ground where they all flew off together. My neighbour laughed as she continued her story. “I only fill the feeder once a week but since the bigger birds figured out how to get the seeds, the feeder was empty after 3-days. The other day, I went out to my patio to enjoy my morning coffee and all these little birds were lined up waiting for me to refill the empty feeder. I tried to ignore them but there were all these tiny eyes watching me and against my better judgment, I refilled the feeder. Now I ask you—who taught these little blighters to put the guilt on me to feed them and who taught the bigger birds to use the smaller ones to get them seeds?”
Didn’t I say that Mother Nature is amazing?
Many people in my neighbourhood have a “deer” story or two or three or. . . .My building has a fabulous garden that serves a supremo buffet for any deer. Last year there were a pair of young deer who were taught by their Mom to walk to the crosswalk, look both ways for cars and then cross the street—actually, they barely got to the other side before they nimbly jumped over the rock wall, nibble their way across the lawn and work their way to the back where the tastiest ornamental bushes are. Nothing is guaranteed “deer proof”. whatever that is. The young teen-agers looked out for each other and proceeded to test-taste the camellias and the rhodos; munched on the pansies, lavender, daisies and bachelor buttons; tried the cone flowers and thoroughly enjoyed the roses carefully avoiding the the thorns. I don’t think anyone ever told these deer that some things were not good to eat. I suspect that being teenagers and away from parental control, they were enjoying everything that was supposed to be bad for them.
When Hubby and I had our house, the strip of lawn between our house and the neighbours, had a large ornamental bush that burst into tiny green leaves and tiny pink blooms by early spring. We named it the “Condo Bush” because, from our breakfast table, we could watch the many tiny wrens build their nests somewhere inside the vastness of the dense bush. We never knew how many families of wrens lived in there but one day, two curious robins decided to investigate and within 30 seconds, a massive flock of tiny birds had chased the intruders away. The survival instincts had kicked in when it came to protecting their families. And, somewhere along the way, the commune of tiny wrens had learned about “safety in numbers.”
Across the street was another neighbour’s house that had a humongous prize-winning rose bush outside her large living room window. This bush just dripped large lush red roses by mid June. We were walking past when a large male deer with spectacular antlers and his dainty doe ambled across the neighbour’s lawn. The big buck went right up to her large picture window and carefully scrutinized the interior. Satisfied there was no one home, he nodded to his mate and both proceeded to nibble at the bounty of delicious red roses before they moved away to check out another garden.
I guess this is another “bird” story but this time involving a seagull. Grandparents and their little grand-daughter were spending a fun time at the Marina. They had stopped for lunch on the patio deck and were obviously enjoying every moment with each other. Grandpa dipped a French fry into the tiny cup of ketchup and popped it in his mouth. The toddler watched wide-eyed. Grandpa dipped another French fry into a bit of ketchup and passed it over to his granddaughter. Before she could take it, a watchful seagull flew low and without pausing, snagged the French fry in his beak, leaving behind a feather. He flew up to a tree and shared his “catch” with his mate.
While on one of my strolls through the Village, a tabby cat with black, reddish brown and cream coloured markings, appeared beside me. He had obviously injured his left hind paw as he was gingerly limping on he grassy boulevard, heading in the same direction I was. Suddenly, out of one of the wide driveways, Jonah, the neighbourhood’s large St. Bernard went over to the tabby cat, nudged it with his nose and then crouched on the ground. The tabby paused and then, as if doing it all his life, jumped lightly onto Jonah’s strong back and allowed himself to be transported to his own yard, three houses down.
Like humans, birds and animals have a strong sense of survival. Like humans, birds and animals develope strong bonds of friendship—friendships that exists between the unlikeliest of friends. We can learn a lot observing the animal and bird kingdom around us. The bonds of family and friends; caring and sharing; safety and survival exists even there. As I said at the beginning, Mother Nature is an amazing and awesome being. . . .
Friends I’ve known most of my life are the ones who really tell it like it is—especially when it’s something I don’t want to know or having my faulty reasoning crushed.
Respecting the social distancing, we sat at either end of this long bench and sipping our respective take-out cups of caffeine, I remarked glumly, “I’ve got to seriously lose some calories. Note that I didn’t order a monster cookie to go with this coffee.”
Raising an eyebrow, my coffee buddy replied, “Girf Friend–I think it’s more than a few calories. I figure it’s at least a hundred-thousand or more.”
“Where did you get that amount?” I yelped in dismay, nearly snorting the coffee up my nose.
“Well, we’ve been self-isolating for quite a few months now—only going out to do errands, getting groceries and stuff, right? And in those times, neither of us have been meeting for coffee or lunches like we use to. If our daily diet comes to 2000+ calories and we’re not physically active–you know, like river rafting or mountain climbing, we fill that gap with munchies and. . .”
“But my munchies have been very healthy. . .” I interrupted. “I’ve switched to veggie chips and high-fibre, low-salt snacks.”
“Are those the veggie chips with sprouts and kale in it?”
“Yes and they’re delicious,” I replied defensively.
“Only after you devoured a bag before reading what veggies were actually in it,” my coffee buddy laughingly pointed out.
“Well, okay. . . ” I slowly admitted, “once I read the part about sprouts and kale; it did turn me off. But the other flavour was roasted cauliflower and spinach, which is even worse!”
“And how exactly did you know that?”
“Had to eat a variety of veggies, so I tried a bag,” I mumbled.
“Uh-huh, I rest my case,” my best friend declared with a grin.
“I could still get a monster cookie and share half with you–that would only be half the calories for both of us.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s another of your illogical reasoning but for half a monster cookie, I can overlook that,” my buddy chuckled.
And that’s what we did to reduce our calories. Tomorrow, we’ll do better.
I consider myself very fortunate living in an area where there is such great walking routes. No matter which direction I choose to wander, there will always be something new or inspiring or whimsical to admire and smile over.
A fairy door at the base of an old oak tree and a banjo birdhouse is not a normal sight to see.
My walking route always includes gardens–after all, Victoria is known as the “City of Gardens.” Not only are there colorful and spectacular blooms but often unique or unexpected “gems” often showcase the flowers. One of my favourites was the unexpected three little dwarfs who cheerfully “claim” to hear nothing, say nothing and see nothing. . .
I enjoy viewing garden ornaments that are striking. A number of garden enthusiasts appreciate the mysteries of the Orient as evidenced below.
My walks may start with a beckoning road that promises an escape from an ordinary experience–at the very least, an adventure that may end with a pleasant encounter of some kind. . . .
It may involve steps to get up a steep hill—with the added bonus of seeing at the top, a house with a domed tower room. . . .
And further along, there is an artist who made her wall very special with her extra pottery plates.
And always, on every corner, in every yard—even in a crevice on a stone wall, something blooms and thrives.
I promised myself, after a walk that had so many attractions, there had to be a reward at the end—and thanks to my California friend, Eva, that’s planting some very special seeds. . . . .
Honestly, I thought I was one of the few humans who actually enjoyed peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. Don’t you think it’s very ho-hum to slather peanut butter onto fresh bread and slice bananas or strawberries or drizzle honey or smear jam on top? Everyone who likes peanut butter enjoys these combinations.
But there is a goldmine of great combinations right in your cupboards or fridge. Mind you, I used the sliced sweet pickles on my peanut butter even though a few insisted the dills gave the peanut butter that extra boot to the upper levels of gourmet eating. However, I’m not convinced as I thought my version had that special kick too.
Did you know olives worked the same? I’m not sure what kind as another foodie pal insisted the fat black ones with no stones and sliced in halves were excellent. He’s reserving his opinion on the stuffed green ones on his peanut butter.
I have it on good authority that peanut butter and crispy bacon makes a superb sandwich. That grabs my taste buds and I’m eager to try that next. Another foodie pal tried it on top of his hamburger in a bun and proclaimed it elevated his lowly burger to superior heights even though no one else in his family wanted to try this.
Going online brings you all kinds of nuggets including a peanut butter and sweet onion sandwich as well as a non-traditional peanut butter and jelly with Doritos in the middle.
I wanted to know what other food combinations “normal” people eat at home, especially the house-bound ones making use of their “emergency” supplies. How about Frosted Flakes with cheese or chicken nuggets in ice-cream or mango with chili peppers?
Reading down the list, I decided my peanut butter with pickles was pretty tame compared to what other foodies tried and liked. However, when it came to chocolate, I promised myself one thing. I would never, ever insult phenomenal dark chocolate by serving cold meatballs with melted chocolate, Parmesan with chocolate or beetroot with chocolate.
Now I’ve really worked up a hankering for peanut butter and chocolate. I guess it’s time to dive into my emergency stash of dark chocolate peanut butter cups to remind myself that chocolates and peanut butter is one of the best combinations ever besides peanut butter with sweet pickles. . . . .of course.
Stay well and be safe my Friends. Enjoy whatever is tucked in your emergency cupboard.
Okay, I want everyone to know that I heartily approve of writers adding a preview peek of their next book at the back of their last book. I only approve because this stops certain Readers from accidently dropping the book and accidently landing on the ending of the book. With the addition of a preview excerpt, the Reader–who wants to sneak a peek at the ending–would have no excuse when he/she falls on his/her proverbial nose to deny any such intent.
Now that I’ve totally messed up everyone’s mind, let me explain.
During the suggested staying-at-home period of the coronavirus alert, I have been able to tackle the books I had put aside for “when I have time.” Well, like the rainy day fund, this was the time to read my way through some familiar and unfamiliar authors. My first choice was one I thoroughly enjoyed–a meaty historical Elizabethan epic novel by Ken Follett titled, “A Column of Fire.” It was immensely satisfying, historically well-researched and satisfied my blood-thirsty soul for an excellent story. Sneaking a peek at the ending was impossible because the writer provided pages and pages of research sources covering the last years of Mary Tudor’s Catholic reign, followed by her half-sister, Elizabeth the First’s long Protestant reign. Elizabeth may have had a “Golden” era, but when it came to religion, it was a very turbulent and violent period where friends and acquaintances could change in a blink of an eye.
After that blockbuster novel, I decompressed by tackling a few light mysteries. There was no need to sneak any peeks at the endings as these entertaining books were devoured quickly with satisfying conclusions. I enjoyed Diane Kelly’s “Dead as a Door Knocker” the first in a series about realtor Whitney Whitaker’s misadventures; Vivien Chien’s “Egg Drop Dead,” another in the Lana Lee series and my favorite author, Nora Roberts writing under her J.D. Robb moniker on her futuristic homicide cop, Eve Dallas. In the 2060s, Eve dealt with unusual homicides still caused by greed, passion or revenge. After enjoying “Salvation in Murder,” I was heartily glad I could still eat doughnuts, chocolates and french fries with no trace of any soy–unless like Eve, you were married to a multi-billionaire and could afford the real thing.
Now I was ready to hit James Rollins “Sandstorm.” I had read it before but this is one of those books you can read again and see it with new eyes. I have always thought of James Rollins as part archeologist, historian and anthropologist. Many of his books are crafted so realistically using archeology or anthropology and some history that it draws the Reader into the story and holds him there. The unbelievable becomes believable and logical. Peeking at the back of the book for the conclusion didn’t work because James added the tantalizing opening chapter of his next book there. “Sandstorm” was another well-crafted adventure/thriller that I couldn’t put down. During this period of staying at home, James Rollins kept me totally immersed in his story.
It felt good clearing out some space in my vintage bookcase. I needed to find some new books to fill the gaps. My local bookstore, Bolens offered online shopping making it convenient to browse the bookstore via the computer. Checking out some favorite authors as well as new ones, made it hard to resist purchasing anything and when the shopping cart rolled by, I obliged by tossing in a book. At this point, I tell myself I’m supporting the book biz and celebrating writers–in actual fact, I am keeping my fingers crossed and praying hard that the Public Libraries will re-open soon before my rainy-day piggy bank empties!
Meanwhile it may not be just a coronavirus keeping us safe at home–take good care My Friends– stay well and always be safe during these uncertain times.
During this time of social distancing and self-isolation, Hubby and I have discovered a few things. The first is that we can still make each other laugh and we still genuinely love each other in our own ways. The second is that we are responsible adults–actually bonafide grandparents of four–and hey, we can break every rule we ever made regarding kids and mealtimes. Now that was a real revelation and a cause for celebration during our second month of “snugging-in.”
One morning we ate leftover spaghetti for breakfast and another morning we enjoyed leftover pizza. For lunch one day, we both felt rather blaa-ah about lunch food so we both devoured some warmed-up blueberry muffins and a bowl of strawberry ice-cream. This was totally amazing. We were killing any serious food plans and thoroughly enjoying every moment. Last week we both had a relaxing day and neither of us felt like a meat-potato-veggies dinner–instead, we opted for a thinly sliced ham and egg sandwich with a side of tossed greens. There were even days when we were both happy with home-made soup and crusty bread.
No kidding, going for the unconventional meals and completely changing when to eat it is utterly freeing. I think my Mom and Grandma would be envious. In their days, this just wasn’t done, but now it’s my time and we’re doing it!
In case you think we’re missing the food train in not having the correct balance of carbs, proteins, fibre and what-have-you—trust me, the rest of the week’s meals are perfectly calculated. However, it’s perfectly acceptable in eating whatever you want a few meals a week. After all, what better way to eat up leftovers that doesn’t have to be solely for lunch or dinner?
As my disclaimer, just remember I am not a nutritionist—I’m merely that person who loves dark chocolates and have a passion for mini-doughnuts, both out of reach due to temporary closures of their makers. Perhaps a number of you are already topsy-turvying? Hubby and I are late-comers to breaking eating traditions. AND remember, breaking meal traditions makes any mealtime fun and unexpected. What’s for breakfast at your house? We’re having leftover spare-ribs and apple pie. . . .