Shelter Point Whisky and Sasquatches

My husband returned from Vancouver this week having had skin cancer removed from his temple at the incredible Moh‘s clinic where he has already been a visitor a few times before. It feels kind of clubby there for him now and he likes to get the conversation flowing amongst the room of newbies. Poor guy removed his bandage the next day and found a patchwork of about 50 stitches. So today I suggested we do something fun to take his mind off his latest wound. We decided to drive up the highway to the Shelter Point Whisky Distillery.

Well – what a timely surprise! Tomorrow, having aged their thousand casks the legally required 3 years and 1 day, they can bottle their first batch of single malt. Can’t wait to try it. Brian, our tour guide, ran us through the process of whisky production and explained that until there is whisky to taste, there would be Vodka – their own Still Master triple distilled Vodka, in a variety of flavours. Vodka goes from the tank to the bottle and doesn’t require the subtle addition of cask flavours.

Not really being vodka drinkers it is ironic that we now have a litre bottle in our liquor cupboard. Still Master is distilled in copper pots hand made in Scotland from barley grown in the sea breezy farm land of Vancouver Island. We chose the vodka that hasn’t been infused with one of the delicious but subtle flavours they offer but the bare version which has it’s own barley imparted whisky flavour. We did buy a bottle of the chocolate infused for a gift too.

On the drive home I was thinking about how Jerry is full of conversational surprises.  A couple of weeks back, there was an item on TV about an island near Tofino and he says, “that’s where Alan and that other guy came across the Sasquatch nest.” Now I have been married to him for 32 years and with him for a couple of years before that and I don’t ever remember him mentioning a Sasquatch nest which is something I’m sure I would have remembered. And he wasn’t kidding – apparently it was pushed down underbrush in a circle with a diameter of about 10-12 feet and stunk unbelievably. And yes, there was excrement and fur that bore no resemblance to that of a bear. I know it was the seventies and the wild west but he’s sticking to the story and don’t even ask about the goat legged man of Stubbs Island.

I was thinking of how when he leaves to go anywhere, I automatically expect him to return at least once more for the items which he has forgotten. My husband  might come back for his phone, sunglasses, the required hat, paperwork, his list – forgetting these items or what I just told him is quite usual. But ask him to remember a joke he was told in grade 4 and there it is, punch line perfect. Ask him about one of Sherlock Holmes’ cases and he probably has an accurate answer. Ask him almost any random question that doesn’t have any bearing on our day to day lives and he ferrets out the answer from his subterranean mind vault with great alacrity.  Like the unexpected delight in a local vodka, he’s great at parties. Long may the Moh’s clinic keep him cancer free.

 

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Enter Title Here

What to blog … what to blog?
So many fascinating topics and so many useful words are at our disposal. The problem comes when you have to line them up in the correct order so that they will impart a meaning to someone; make a small emotional ripple in the reading matrix. Here are things that have crossed my free ranging mind this morning:

  • the beach
  • knitting wool
  • crab apple cider (non-alcoholic) stored in the heavy freezer
  • picking Queen Anne’s Lace at the roadside
  • the quality of drinking water
  • the dirtiness of my kitchen floor
  • why I still own a cat
  • if it is worth planning anything in the future

I could probably cast out a few pearly thoughts on any of these topics but I feel uninspired. If the muse doesn’t appear, musing withers away.

There have been galleries of muses both male and female since the originals who were the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. I think Man Ray’s muse, Kiki de Montparnasse has a name that positively shouts inspiration. Even the inanimate – leaves,the sea and post-modern architecture have inspired artists and writers. Some think they get closer to their muse in a drug induced state. Think of Wilkie Collins, opium addicted writer of the first detective novel, The Moonstone.

My sister-in-law has a personal saint/muse whom she calls, Chocolate Bob. When called upon, he always provides her with guidance to the perfect parking spot – not artistic I realize but supernatural guidance nonetheless. My artist brother has always been inspired by clouds. I’ve never identified my personal muse but it is worth contemplating. I know that to bid her come I only have to slow down and let my senses do the thinking for a moment. To look, listen, smell, taste and touch always sparks up a synaptic response in me worth following. Try it yourself.

Right now I hear:

  • a bird outside chirping angrily
  • leaves rustling in the wind
  • a plane high overhead
  • the clock ticking
  • the fridge doing it’s thing
  • a far away neighbour running a saw, I think

And suddenly, I am reminded of lying on my bed in Calgary when I was 11 or 12 hearing almost the same sounds and feeling very detached from a busy world and wondering if it would all change. Perched on the cusp of adolescence and about to move to another province, everything changed in the couple of years that followed but funny how those sounds embedded themselves together in my memory like a grain of sand. I could write something about that experience if I chose to and give it the title, “Pre-Teen Musings on the Future,” or maybe not.

That sums up the writing process for me. It is word game that starts with a sensory key and the memory of a scene, a word snippet, a buried thought. A wandering mind can be a handy tool for picking up bits and pieces that connect in some way and then lets the words arrange themselves. A word stitch here and one there can piece together a written tapestry that is available to hang in someone’s mind for inspection. What they make of it defines it’s artistic value.

Holiday Without a Plan

Sadly ,I am now on the last day of my month-long holiday. I feel refreshed, I’m having happy thoughts, I’m not moaning about work to my husband and I’m drinking Cinzano in the afternoon whilst enjoying sweet’n salty kettle corn in an uninhibited, face stuffing way. Aah, the hols!

Although we moved this month. Sounds easy but actually entailed sifting through twenty-three years of accumulated junk and family memorabilia – most of which is currently jammed into two storage lockers in no apparent order. Withdraw a box or bag and you’re just as likely to find my husband’s great granny’s plush Victorian photo album as you are a VHS copy of Mousehunt or a tool for making sausages. Actually this could be a fun activity for the late hours of a party.

So that took care of the first five days or so of the holiday. After that, we avidly did some work on our boat for a day and made big plans for getting her surveyed and out on the briny. Did I mention that while I was on holidays, my husband was not. This meant that the anticipated voyage did not actually leave the planning stage. Oh well, as my darling better-half loves saying, ” that leaves something for later.” Later was supposed to be last summer but due to government bureaucracy, my husband’s contract got extended for yet another summer. This, I’ve been promised, is the last so hopefully we aren’t too creaky to haul up the mainsail next summer for an extended voyage up the coast of BC’s mainland.(More on that later!)

The holiday progressed at an enjoyable summery pace for me anyway. Got to enjoy the new digs, go to the beach, entertain a few friends, make jam, sew a new sail cover and generally fool around with this blogging lark while procrastinating with the seminal internet task of uploading my manuscript as an e-book.

The great thing about a holiday where you don’t actually have to get up the energy to do all that cool stuff there is never time for during the working year, is that you don’t have to garner any energy AT ALL. You drift from day to day, from inside to outside, from snack to drink, from book to laptop, from stove to store and there is absolutely no plan to make you feel guilty about your non-adherance. I think this might be what retirement is like or could be. And the surprise is that it is a good thing. After all, given free rein, I got quite a bit done. I caught up with my paperwork which I hate and consequently put off and piles of ironing which, as you know if you’ve been reading my blog, I enjoy.

All fun comes to a grinding halt tomorrow. I feel like the condemned. For my last meal, I’ve chosen Chinese take-out from down the road. Maybe I’ll get a touch of food poisoning and have to take a sick day.

Tying the Leather Knot

Sounds like a kinky wedding doesn’t it? Now that Fifty Shades of Gray is coming to a theatre near you, sex will be in our collective cultural mind again – not that it isn’t always there anyway but sometimes some other topic manages to edge it out of the spotlight for awhile.

The wedding season is upon us and most people I know are either attending one or know someone who is. My friend is at her son’s this weekend, on a mountaintop in Golden and at the other end of the spectrum, my son and his girlfriend are over from Vancouver to attend a backyard wedding. There aren’t as many weddings for lovers in their twenties these days. They seem to be waiting until they are a bit older and wiser which might be why there aren’t as many weddings at all anymore.

Back to the leather part. My son brought his pants and shirt hoping that Mum would iron them for him. I made him work for it before I agreed to. (I secretly enjoy ironing. There is something in the whish of steam and a nice, crisp crease that brightens my day – weird, I know.) Then I offered him his Dad’s rather limited selection of ties to choose from. My second son was also along and jocularly pointed out the skinny black leather tie that I don’t think Jerry ever actually wore back in the seventies (he was square then, too). Well, much laughter ensued while they tried to tie the hip thing that my son had already worn to a couple of costume parties with great effect. Neither of them were able to tie it – bring in Dad who proudly displayed his skill.

My niece is visiting from Oxford with her husband next month. She found him via the internet last year and they had a low key ceremony in the U.K. which my sister missed by a couple of weeks. She was a bit downhearted, having had all those emotional, mother-of-the-bride fantasies stricken down in one fell swoop of international romance. She is hosting a small reception for them and I find myself as excited about attending as I would be a wedding. I have our gift purchased and my outfit picked out. I’ve even knit the dear couple pairs of matching socks to keep them warm back in foggy, old England.

The rarity these days of two people yoking themselves together for better or worse is worth celebrating.  It can be a rocky road, fraught with discontent, poverty, sickness but so is the single life so why not find a compatible person to navigate the rocky shoals with you.  Survival makes the good times so much better and it’s nice to know that someone has your back when you need it.

None of my children have married yet although the oldest is 30 – the age I was during my last pregnancy. But, they say that 30 is the new 20 (which explains a lot if I think of my twin sons being twelve now). I don’t know if I’m ready to be the mother-of-the-bride/groom yet but I hope they can all find contentment in permanent relationships eventually.  It is statistically proven that humans fare better while being married.

I’m just getting used to marriage myself although we celebrate our 32nd in a couple of weeks.  I see that the gift for this anniversary should be something that features “the semi-precious stone Lapis lazuli or a conveyance.” Perhaps I should combine the two and present Jerry with a lapis encrusted pair of roller skates?

Plum Jam

My choice today is a) make jam or b) write blog post.  Although I gaze across the counter at an enormous pot of thawing plums, a couple of boxes of Certo and a sink full of dusty canning jars, I choose b).

It has been awhile since I assembled all the necessary components of a successful canning session and this time, the challenge is on as most of my stuff is in a storage locker.  But I am determined to make this work; my homesteading ancestors made this work.  I refuse to move a freezer full of plums to one more residence – ours has been moved three times this past year and my boys are giving me increasing dirty looks every time I suggest they help out “with a few things.” So, my husband has been sent to pick up a ladle from a thrift store because I refuse to buy a new one knowing that there are at least four in the packed boxes.  I will manage somehow without a colander when it comes to pit removal (currently working on a plan).

But the plums!  Ooh la la!  They are a deliciously sweet and sour, rosy-golden variety I have yet to identify.  They are from the bumper crop our tree produced last year – the last year on the property where we had lived for almost 23 years. My Dad chose the tree when we first moved there, he being the real gardener, wanted to set up a few fruit trees for me right away. Over the years, the other members of the orchard were attacked by disease, deer and bear or never really produced.  This lovely bearer of clouds of plum blossom in the spring outdid herself by the end of many summers with branches that creaked with the weight of plump fruit.

Back in the days of running a busy home full of kids and pets, an acreage with fowl and small  livestock and flower and vegetable gardens (yes Dad, I did have a big garden one year) I found time to do pantry loads of preserving: peaches, pears and plums, salsa, pickles, jams, chutney, vinegars and tuna (once!). And then there were the veggie freezer packs and the chickens, turkeys, rabbits and sheep to process and freeze – not that I did it all myself. There was nothing like the smug feeling as autumn blew in that I was ready for any breakdown in the world order whether by war, martians, zombies, an arctic winter or financial ruin, that no matter what, I would be able to produce a five course meal and snacks!

Although I’ve made plum cakes, sauce and sorbet, the jam is just so good that the investment in time, burned fingers and kitchen mess is worth it. Hell yes, I’m jammin’!

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Update: decided to go big and quadruple the recipe in the big canner. Immediately, I accidentally flipped a drift off the tip of the sugar mountain with my wooden spoon, scattering the white poison over my counter and into the toaster. (Now toast smells like a sugar plantation.)  Then, a bit of sizzling and cracking on the element suggested that there was a small leak in the tiny chip on the bottom of the pot. In the old days, I would have ploughed ahead figuring that a 50/50 chance of the product working out was good enough for me. But not now. I have matured. I have learned from disasters of the past. (Jerry enjoys reminding me of my sloppy liver muffins – a failed attempt at fancy French mini pates.)
Dutifully, I divided the batch into four manageable portions that fit into the heavy bottomed pot that was available. I cooked, I sterilized, I sealed (4 times) and to my great joy, I wound up with 18 pints of beautiful, golden jam cooling on my counter.

Today, I’ve just made dilled beans.  I’ve  added an inspirational sprinkle of red pepper flakes to each jar. Tomorrow, I’m making dill pickles – 1 quart thanks to a cucumber donation from a friend’s garden.  In the pickling heyday, I wouldn’t have considered making less than 24 quarts in a session.  Now, small is beautiful.

p.s. Jerry forgot the ladle so I used a measuring cup for pouring  and just dove in with both hands for plum pit removal – a tactile experience I recommend.

 

Lavender, Wine and Woodchips

We just moved to a new place this month that is sort of countryish but not as much as our old place which was deep bush, and sort of urban as in it only takes five minutes to drive to one of the small Vancouver Island towns of Comox or Courtenay.  We like the relaxed feel of having other people living near but not hanging over the fence, beer in hand.

Last week I experienced the fun of trying out a couple of neighbourhood enterprises.  The first was a birthday surprise planned by my good friend, Sue, to a local Lavender farm.  Shamrock Farm lazes in the heat of the Comox peninsula, its rows of purple blooms abuzz with bees, some scampering goats working on the ingredients for the farm’s homemade soap and in the pumpkin fields, glimmers of orange ripening for Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en. Children, grannies, tourists had all appeared for the open house and were enjoying the sensory luxuries of this July day.  We crunched on lavender meringues and refreshed ourselves with lavender lemonade.  Who knew these things even existed? Certainly not the Superstore.

A couple of days later, my husband suggested that we try out the local vineyard, 40 Knots, on our way to Campbell River where he had to check on a boat (more on that later). The winery had just changed hands – new owners, Brenda and Layne have joined us from Fort St. John where the wine ripens in the store and not the field. We chose to taste the Summer flight which included everything from their signature “Spindrift Brut” (excellent!) to a pinot gris, rose and “Safe Haven,” a delicious port. Amidst the vines, under blue skies with wine rinsing our palates with a palette of subtle flavours, we could have been in the Loire or Sonoma valleys or the heat of Australia. But… and this is the great part – we were only about a mile from home.

On our way to the boat viewing, we stopped in to admire the work that had been created at the Shoreline Arts chainsaw carving contest in Campbell River. This is a sculpture gallery for the working person meaning there is no faffing about with the perfect block of marble or esoteric meanings. You take your hunk of wood and make it into something else. The surprise is that the results are so …. artistic. There were the usual eagles and sea themes, each a unique interpretation but there were a couple of unusual sculptures too: stairs to nowhere and my favourite, “Tongue Lashing,” an enormous mask that looked a bit like a Nori mask although I think it was a native design.  Amazing that there are so many people with so much carving talent who choose to go beyond the sunlight soap carving of a banana most of made back in grade one. It made me wonder what Michelangelo could have done with a chainsaw.

I had been feeling a little sorry for myself not having gone anywhere on my holiday our sailing trip having been cancelled, again. (More on that later too.) But those two wonderful days of local tourism gave me the kick in the martyr complex I needed. One just needs to wake up and smell the home-grown roses.

 

Who Needs Words?

I do, I do! I’m building my blog – remember?

Obviously, Scrabble and crossword enthusiasts are always on the prowl for words but did you ever consider that pets need them too.  I just walked our old dog, Oscar, the three blocks down to our rocky beach for his therapeutic dip in the ocean. If I wasn’t able to say, “come” and he didn’t know the word, he may still be snoozing outside the front door. He would never be able to show his stuff off if it weren’t for the verbal commands, “sit, down, roll over and jump” which are his equivalent of,  “open sesame” when it comes to comestible rewards.

But people …. words make our world go around.  Wars, cultural upheaval, murders, marriages, the list of a moments where a few words made the difference is endless.  There are trigger words that pack a punch like: “I do”; “Solidarity”; “Never surrender”; “fear not”; “out damn spot” and  “make my day.”

Although other forms of communication are effective (a hug, a frown) there is nothing like a mutually understood phrase or word.  “No,” was my personal favourite when actively parenting.  Lately, my adult kids’ has become, “really?” when I can pin them down for a conversation; as in, “I can’t throw those out because you never know when you will need 4 garbage bags full of rags.”  And I’ve noticed that my 83 year old Dad has found a special multi-purpose response to any situation in the word, “whatever”.  Shameful really when English has more words than any other language.

Some words just sound really nice.  My daughter had a friend who was going to give her kids names like “Umbilicus” and ” Chiffon” because they rolled off the tongue so nicely.

Tablets, scrolls, vellum tomes, chapbooks, encyclopedic volumes, newspapers, first editions, pulp fiction – bizillions of recorded words gathered from the past are available for humankind to ponder. No wonder that many of us feel the need to leave our two bits as a sort of autograph in earth’s yearbook. “Roses are red, Violets are blue, I better jot this down before I’m through.”  Leaving your, “I was here” graffito couldn’t be easier now that we have the world at our keyboards and so many of us are penning  a few chapters for posterity or maybe as aide-memoire. I’m in the process of trying to upload my own into the ether. (More on that later.)

Churning out words can be therapeutic, educational, remunerable, edifying – once again the list goes on. How wonderful that there are so many of them to play with… words, birds, nerds, Kurds, herds … Stop!