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HAPPY HALLOWEEN

I hope those of you into this “spooky” day enjoy it to the fullest–especially all the little ones who are able to go “Trick or Treating”.

If you’re interested in one of the traditions of this time of year, the “Jack O’Lantern”–please click on the link below and hear Bernadette’s version. It is also a fantastic site for great recipes and the stories behind them. . . .Bernadette’s “New Classic Recipe” is one of the sites I am now following.

WISHING YOU ALL TREATS AND NO TRICKS – New Classic Recipe

DISTINCTIVE OCTOBER

I never thought of October being a notable month as I usually gravitated to April, May, June, July, September and December. But on my early morning walk yesterday, it struck me that October was quite an exceptional month too. Our Canadian Thanksgiving was especially meaningful this year as more family members could connect in person. I enjoyed the sight of towering yellow sunflowers reaching for the warmth of the Autumn sun. The bounties of the gardens yielding their harvest of corn, beans, apples, pears, melons and squashes makes October special. And of course, there are pumpkins—pumpkins of all shapes and sizes. Pumpkins carved and lit in such a spectacular fashion that in previous years, these unique pumpkins were part of a vast exhibit.

My early morning walk had me chuckling over the very creative Halloween scene one homeowner had assembled.

Want my head? You got it!

Other homeowners get very serious in creating scary scenarios in their front yard.

Remember the little red Elf’s door? How about a “Ghost” door instead? It is Halloween. . . .

Welcome Halloween Ghosts

I never know what fantastic scenes beckons my camera on this early morning, but October has proved to be just as colourful as the other months have been.

The rainy weather has encouraged an abundance of mushrooms, popping forth in many gardens. The ones below are huge, flat, creamy white with brown specks–perfect to photograph for this Halloween theme. And, let’s not forget Mother Nature’s colour palette at work in the gazillion leaves we eventually have to rake and bag in this month of October.

Wherever you are, I wish you a wonderful month of October–what’s left of it—-and a Happy Spooky-Fun Halloween. . . . .

ZEN ZINGER

A ferocious dinosaur conference on the sunny lawn. . . . . .

I had survived a very challenging week and needed to restore the Zen in my mental balance. No power -walks for 2 days didn’t exactly help restore the zippity-do-dah in my normal embrace of daily life. Finally, when projects came to a halt because of circumstances and the Labour Day long weekend, I grabbed the moment, took time to breathe deeply and once again seek out treasures of visual delights.

The Brighton Street home that had displayed a parade of dinosaurs in their driveway and then later, had them climbing up the small sapline in their front garden, now had a ferocious dinosaur conference on the sunny lawn. The sight of them was enough to bring a smile.

Further along, another home had brilliantly painted rocks, tucked among the plants and greenery–the colours and designs were extraordinary. . . .

I think part of the reason my power walks are so restorative is probably because I never know what may catch my attention. The sight of a mother deer and her two fawns, crossing a busy intersection, had my heart in my throat until they were safely across. A reprimand from its mother stopped an adventurous fawn from crossing back to the other side. It reminded me that even in the animal kingdom, there are always young ones who test their Moms and challenge the humans. . . .I can almost hear Mama Deer say, “Now stay together and don’t wander off on your own!”

And yes, these are the same mischievous twins seen in an earlier blog. . . .

Apple trees ready to be harvested–definitely a sign of Fall. Further along, one homeowner had a wild tangle of grape vines, twining itself along his fence and over his gate. Doesn’t he know he has a supply of grape jelly or even a couple of bottles of wine at his finger-tips?

Chick weed and sweet clover covers a lawn with not a deer in sight. Guess the thought of roses and other blooming delights are far tastier than good-for-you veggies and other salad greens.

My walking route took me back along Cowichan Street with the sight of a bunch of Fall crocuses tucked among the leaves and patches of bare soil.

And a few houses down, a creative gardener made a heart shaped frame, composed of small pebbles and filled with mini-cacti, nestled between tow small plants.

Turning a corner, who can stay serious when confronted with a cheerful geranium border? There is something about bright red geraniums that dares anyone to stay solemn in their presence. . . .

I can happily say I found my Zen as well as the Zippity-do-dah Zinger. A stroll around my neighbourhood had restored the energy I had missed in seeing all my visual treasures as well as discovering new ones.

JUST WALKING TO NOWHERE

My Readers are often amazed at the things I see on my many walks here, tthere and everywhere in my neighbourhood. “You couldn’t have seen this. . .or that!” they would exclaim. My theory is that in a car, a person can miss so much of the tiny, sometimes not so tiny things that are tucked away under a bush or hidden behind a wall of rocks or even in plain sight like the pair of fawns following their mom to the next garden buffet or one of many painted scenes on utility poles or awesome outdoor art on permanent display. It’s often the unexpected that falls along the walking route. And, I’m a great fan of the unexpected.

I’m often fortunate in meeting people who have a story behind their piece of sculpture or unusual mailbox that makes a home among their trees and flowers. The miniature yellow volkswagon mailbox reminds the owners of the many happy family times that transported them to campsites and holiday destinations. The mini-house and orca whale mailboxes differentiate two houses on a steep lane—one behind the other.

I’ve often stated that Victoria is a haven for artists, writers and photographers. On my walks to “Nowhere”, art is everywhere. You just have to focus and bingo, there it is. It can be an amazing mini-art gallery mounted by the side of the road or the simple way a flowering plant drapes itself over a worn weathered fence.

Or portions of a wonderful mural on the entire side of a convenience store. The mural is named “In the Trees” and was created by artist Caitlin McDonagh in 2019. This is only a small portion of this colourful mural.

Or even a smaller mural with “Thank you” in 30 different languages—covering the enclosure for the local eatery, the White Spot’s recycling and garbage containers.

I can’t imagine living anywhere else where my walks are always fascinating discoveries of visual “treasures.” And, it’s an absolute requirement to do this on foot—because, in a car you’ll miss so much. . . .something like this gem of a free-lending library tucked in the foliage or a pretty bouquet growing blissfully among the tall grass.

Happy Walking, wherever you are—I hope you encounter some visual treasures of your own. They are there. You just have to look and appreciate what you see. . . .

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. . . . . . . .

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. . . .

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.

THE SCALES

In these crazy and uncertain times of Covid, we all have special worries and thoughts that we try to stifle–mine is my scales.

I always had the thought that if anything drastic happened, my first instinct is to grab my Hubby and grab my scales. It would be a close race but both are easy to grasp quickly.

Hubby is special. But let’s talk about my scales, that have moved with me from place to place and suffered through my agonies from doughnuts, pizzas, chocolates, fresh baked breads, cookies stuffed with dried fruits and walnuts, cakes, pies, tarts—the list goes on.

It hasn’t been easy.

I’ve had my scales for decades—well, maybe not that many decades, but it served its purpose of displaying my sins in large numbers. The numbers goes up and eventually goes down. It all depends what was happening in my life at that particular time.

When I was working—that is, working initially as a blood bank technologist at a large and busy hospital–the sheer energy and medical emergencies were enough to curb anyone’s appetite. Lots of blood and messy accident scenes will do that. I was a feather-weight, but then, I was much younger then. I did my share of shifts and on-calls. At that time, Fate seemed to know I was new and nervous, so it seemed I worked 24/7 and had no time to eat.

I didn’t have the scales yet.

Fast forward through the quieter, calmer years–until we reach now. And my treasured scale.

It’s only a number I tell myself. After all, a power-walk, abstaining from the toasted fruit bread and eating lots of green salads usually worked in the past. However, the problem of getting older is that one tends to reason very logically the pro’s and con’s of doing all the above. I love my power-walks so that’s no problem. One has to sustain energy to do a power-walk so the toasted fruit bread is a perfect source to provide energy. As for salads, if humans were meant to eat greenery, then we all should have been rabbits.

For the past year—and I can track it to the beginnings of the pandemic—my trusty and accurate scales have only moved in one direction. Up. It could have been the grandkids who discovered it and did this jumping jack thing just to see the numbers leap, jiggle and skip. However, that was decades ago too. The scales no longer stayed at the number. It seemed to bound to the next line and then the nexst line until you looked to see if someone had added their foot on the scale too.

In my defence, I can only state that if we didn’t have to self-isolate and/or stay in our own small bubble, I wouldn’t have this scale problem at all. Google-search can burst forth with a ton of recipes if you’re idly searching for meal or dessert ideas. Pop in an idea and bingo, an avalanche of recipes appears on your screen. And in case the text recipes don’t make sense, the cook/chef thoughtfully provides you with the Youtube version so you can actually see the results. Unfortunately, being a dedicated foodies I have that talent of reading the recipe and knowing what it would taste like.

So my advice is this. Don’t step on any scales. In my case, it brings unwanted news. Find an exercise you enjoy–mine is power-walking or just a leisurely long walk. My brain tells me to avoid bakeries and coffee bars with their displays of goodies, but my feet haven’t caught on yet. All the walking routes go past delicious places.

Thinking positively, I’ve decided that as long as I’m feeling good, am staying healthy and keeping safe, the scales should be the least of the worries. Keeping to that positive note, perhaps by Spring, the numbers on the scale have dropped and moved in the other direction and that this pandemic has almost disappeared. Besides Winter is approaching and like the bears preparing for hibernation, humans need a source of extra fat to survive too.

As BC’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry often says: Be Calm, Be Kind and Be Safe.

AND toss out that darn scale.

KALEIDOSCOPE

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. . . .

just enjoying the peace and quiet from a hectic pace.