March 7

March 7, 2010

What’s going on here?  Blue sky completely covered over with white things.  I’m not used to this.  No rain or anything like that, but just a general cloudiness all round.  Ho hum.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

I have become a fan of Flavia de Luce!  Flavia is the protagonist is Alan Bradley’s new novel The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  She’s immensely intelligent, witty, a budding scientist, innocent, naive, energetic and to top it off, one of the most determined sleuths to come along in a long time.  Don’t let the fact that she’s only 11 years old put you off.  She also happens to love poisons and makes a few of her own in an old chemical lab in the attic of the family’s home, Buckshaw, a multi-winged, sprawling old thing somewhere in England.  I don’t remember if they locate Buckshaw in the novel, but I know there is a Buckshaw in, or around, Chorley in Lancashire.

Now, Lancashire is very important to me and to my family because that is where the paternal grandparents came from.  And Chorley is important if for no other reason than Chorley Market where you can buy some of the best sweaters in the world for about £3 which is about 5 or 6 Canadian Dollars.  I still have a couple from when I was there with the family in 1995.

Back to Flavia. Flavia will win you heart.  She lives with her sisters Daphne and Ophelia and their reclusive Father (her Mother was killed in a climbing accident when Flavia was only one-year-old).   One day, Flavia finds a dead body in the cucumber patch.  To the normal person, this would be quite a traumatic experience, but as she says, ‘I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t.  Quite the contrary.  This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.’

What follows is a great read as Flavia goes about trying to discover the identity of the dead person and why he has ended up dead in her garden.  Alan Bradley does a masterful job in finding the voice of an 11-year-old.  While bumbling along and making lots of mistakes, she is at the same time extremely insightful and you know that this young lady is going to have a very successful career at whatever she decides to do.  And I hope that Alan Bradley will give her a long career as an unofficial sleuth.

Even when it's cloudy there are bright things in the Garcen

Even when it's cloudy there are bright things in the Garden

With this dreadful weather we’re having, there won’t be much work in the garden today so I am back to the renovations in room 8 which I have given myself a deadline of Sunday coming to have completed.  So I’ve got casings to make, one door to rebuild, stained glass to put into the door, sealed glass unit to get for the door, hang the stained glass in the bay window, finish the moulding around the Jacuzzi, re-hang the door to the patio, and a couple more things that I am sure will make themselves obvious once I get to them.  Makes for a busy week.

Go to Albion Manor Bed and Breakfast Victoria Home Page.

Breakfast and the ‘Other’

There is nothing like breakfast to start the day. Especially if it is a nice gourmet specialty like the one that Don prepares. Also breakfast can help you to know about culture. About how groups of people that we call nations reflect their idiosyncrasy in the way they prepare and eat their breakfast.

In my first visit to Japan many years ago I felt in my skin. or I should say in my taste. a cultural shock when I encountered my first real truly Japanese breakfast in the wonderful city of Nikko. I don’t remember now what did I have but I do remember that after I finished I have to run to find a bakery and buy a nice sweet something. That is how unsophisticated I was at the time and I am glad to say that that would not be my reaction if I happen to experience the same situation today.

This is another example. In a few days I will make for breakfast a “tortilla española” (Spanish omelet). To be sure that I did a good job I phoned my mother for proper directions. I explained the situation and the very first question that came out of the other side of the wire is “A tortilla for breakfast?! You have been too long in Canada son!” (That is a first experience for her in breakfast cultural differences).

I pointed to her that here in Victoria in a Bed and Breakfast it is ‘normal’ to have this kind of food to start the day and that for a change I wanted to do something Spanish for my guests. Then she replied, “If you want to do something Spanish why don’t you made nice toasts with olive oil and rub some garlic on top with a pinch of salt?” (And that would be the first breakfast cultural difference for my guests!)

The situation can get very picky with this issue. Asparagus and lettuces I can use in my ‘tour de force’ dishes. What about Broccoli? Or carrots? Definitely not! What makes a vegetable a breakfast friendly vegetable?

So it can be an important issue especially if ones noted that we are talking about the first meal of the day and we want to start nicely the day. Don’t we? But to me the most interesting thing about culinary differences is that actually it happens and it makes this world a bit more interesting to live and experience.

March 6

March 6, 2010

What’s with the sun?  There’s more of it today.  A person could get used to this.  Fernando and I did a big spring cleaning on the yard today, getting rid of a lot of rubbish.  Not the general kind of rubbish, but just the kind that a big garden can generate.  And it is amazing how quickly it can generate it.  Why do things grow like that?  Can’t they just grow to the size that I want and then stop?  Why should I have to prune the willow tree 3 times a year?  And the mock orange, and the buddleia, and the wisteria, and the grapes and the… and the… oh, I’m tired.   Three trips to the recycling depot.  Thank goodness it’s free on Saturday.   And I did manage to get the wisteria pruned.  And some other odd bits of cleaning.

And Fernando continues his ceiling painting.  We may become the Sistine Chapel yet.

River of Muscari?

River of Muscari?

This was a bag of bulbs labelled ‘A River of Muscari’ and contained about 50 bulbs.  However, I think that to create a river you would want to have about 250 bulbs.  Chalk this up to experience and things you have to know when you have big garden.  I have known for some that there is no point planting just one of anything.  You need at least a dozen of anything, except perhaps bushes and trees.   Tulips are better by the hundred.  Day lilies by the trio, minimum.  At least a dozen lilies of whatever variety.  Hostas, peonies, all those things.  I bought only one of each of the tree peonies last week.  Hopefully they will grow to a sufficient size to justify their oneness.  However, I usually get multiples of rhododendrons and even roses.

It’s a big garden!

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March 5

March 5, 2010

Sun.  What more need saying.  This is Victoria after all.   I love this cartoon from the Times Colonist which I took great pleasure in sending to the family back in Alberta.  I had to change the text a bit, but the essence is the same.  We Victorians like to gloat about the weather, just a bit.   Who can blame us when it is such a beautiful day.

Perfect Spring Cartoon from the Times Colonist

Perfect Spring Cartoon from the Times Colonist

I have seen the cartoon in various other versions, but all with the same gist: it’s nice out here in Victoria and it’s snowing in the east.

Slow progress in room 8 with the new doors and general fix up.  I find this is the way things generally work out here.  It is so easy to get distracted, with the phone, guests arriving, having to go to meetings or appointments, doing the shopping and an endless list.  Every time the phone rings with a guest wanting information, I find myself wandering around afterwards wondering what I was supposed to be doing.  I have really to make a concerted effort to get it finished.  The room has been out of commission for too long and it is one of our most popular rooms.  I have given myself a deadline of next Sunday to have it completed.  That should be long enough given the amount of work that has to be done.  It’s just a question of getting it done.

And I have the additional chore of having to get out into the garden to get the new plants into the ground, the primroses and tree peonies, although I think the tree peonies will have to go into pots.  I will probably put them into the new bed that we are planning for the very south side, right along the hedge and that bed won’t be ready until later in the spring.  I will have to get the maintenance company to remove the sod: I’m not prepared for that amount of work right now.  There are other more important things to be done, like preparing for the summer.  Booking are a bit slow right now, but I am optimistic that they will improve as the season goes on.

Rip van Winkle Daffodils

Rip van Winkle Daffodils

More daffodils.  Don’t you just love them.  This is Rip van Winkle, one that I tried unsuccessfully in Vancouver.  It is quite low, about 8 inches, and the heavy rains in Vancouver tended to be very hard on the poor thing.  The shape of the blossom, with all its little tendrils, tends to hold water and the additional weight then pulls the whole stem over and that’s the end of it.  Here, in sunny Victoria, the rain, while occasional, is not the problem that it is in Vancouver.

Go to Albion Manor Bed and Breakfast Victoria Home Page.

Scenic Drive to Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens

It is difficult to add any more to what has already been written about Butchart Gardens: they are spectacular but what’s more, they can be enjoyed at any time of the year whether it’s mid summer or mid-winter.  Obviously there is more to see in the summer but you won’t be disappointed by visiting at any time of the year.

One thing I often tell guests when they are deciding whether or not they should visit Butchart Gardens: visiting Victoria and not seeing Butchart Gardens is like visiting Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower.

The fastest way to get there is up highway 17 going towards the BC Ferry terminal at Swartz Bay.   Turn left when you see the signs.  The following map though is the scenic route from Albion Manor Bed and Breakfast which is located in downtown Victoria to Butchart Gardens.  The scenic route winds along the coast, through some very lovely, expensive neighbourhoods with lots of trees and gardens, and up through lovely countryside.  The trip will take about an hour, probably less, depending on how often and how long you stop along the way and there are lots of places where you will want to stop and enjoy the scenery.

When you get up to Butchart Gardens, you will want to take the opportunity to visit the Butterfly Gardens and Church and State Vineyards, both of which are close by.


March 4

March 4, 2010

Lovely sunny day today, another of many that we have had in the past little while.  It looks like it is going to be a loverly March.  I wonder if our old prairie saying about March lambs and lions holds true on the coast.   Time will tell, but I’m praying that it won’t become too horrible.  We went to a few nurseries yesterday to look at flowering trees.  I want to see them when they are in flower so that when time comes to plant around the new pond we will know what kinds of trees we want.  Still no decisions, but I know that we will want lots of flowering things.  While at one, I found some new peony trees, of which we have 2 in the garden.  One flowers beautifully on the east side but the other was doing really badly under the willow so I moved it in October to the cottage garden.  I am happy to say that it seems to be doing really well right now.  I am also happy to say that we have 2 new tree peonies, Kinkaku and Shima-nishiki pictured below.  These photos aren’t of the new ones, but photos that I got on the internet, but this is what we have to look forward to.  How many years?

Tree Peony Kinkaku

Tree Peony Kinkaku

Tree Peony Shima-nishiki

Last night we went with some bed and breakfast friends here in Victoria, Ian and Anne and Dave and Sharon to The Mark Restaurant.  You can read more details about the meal in our restaurant section under ‘Fine Dining’.  With all of us being b&b owners, I guess it is not surprising that a large portion of the evening was taken up talking b&b business.  Luckily we were the only ones in the restaurant because I am sure it would have been hilarious to any other diners listening to 6 grown adults talking about the relative merits and problems associated with ironing sheets, something that is close to the hearts of all b&b owners.   We did manage to spend some time talking about F’s and my trip to Spain and London, Dave and Sharon’s recent travels to Turkey and Portugal and Ian and Anne’s upcoming cruise on the Mexican Riviera.   And we talked a lot about b and b politics, about marketing, about breakfasts, guests, inn-sitters and all the many subjects that preoccupy us daily.   I was afraid that Fernando was going to leave.  I guess the thought of the coming meal kept him in his seat.  I think everyone drank too much which is easy to do when the company and the surroundings are so agreeable.

Albion Lawns with Morning Dew

Albion Lawns with Morning Dew

The lawns in the morning look as though someone has just watered, or as if it had recently rained.  With the sun coming up from the east, they sparkle with the dew drops.  It’s quite magical- but a bit hard on the shoes tramping to the Un-named Room for coffee.  The storage room has long been known at the Un-named Room.  When we first moved into the bed and breakfast here in Victoria, getting to know all the different places was a bit of a challenge but at least they all had some description that helped identify them: the bedrooms, upstairs, downstairs, laundry room, furnace room.  The storage room wasn’t a storage room at that time; it was more of a junk room.  In the beginning, for the first couple of days, it was called ‘Frank’s Room’ after one of the previous owners.  In that we didn’t want to have anything around to remind us of them, we knew that this couldn’t possibly be allowed to continue, but what with the exhaustion of the move and getting the business up and running, neither of us had the inclination or imagination to give the room a name.  ‘The Junk Room’ wasn’t right: we didn’t want to have the work junk associated with our new home and business.  A couple of other names were tried, ‘That Room’, ‘The Box Room’ until Fernando started calling it the ‘Un-named Room’ and such it has been called ever since.

Go to Albion Manor Bed and Breakfast Victoria Home Page.

March 3

March 3, 2010

Ah the sun. That’s what we like so much about Victoria: we get a lot of sun. According to the local Gonzales weather station, we get 2,223 hours of sun annually while (Vancouver gets only 1928 and Seattle even less than that) making Victoria is one of the sunniest places in British Columbia, and we get more sunshine than most other cities in Canada except those in the southern Prairies. And you can see the benefit in the city’s plentiful and lush gardens. We have to grow drought-tolerant oak trees for heaven’s sake! And where else in Canada, except maybe in central BC will you find banana and palm trees?

To go even further, Victoria gets only approximately 26 cm (10.2 in) of snow annually, about half of what Vancouver gets. Most winters will see no snow at all. When snow does fall, it rarely lasts long on the ground. Victoria averages just 2–3 days per year with at least 5 cm (1.97 in) of snow on the ground. Again the Gonzales weather station: ‘One of the most striking features of Victoria’s climate is the distinct dry and rainy seasons. Nearly two-thirds of the annual precipitation falls during the four wettest months, November to February. Precipitation in December, the wettest month (109 mm/4.3 in) is nearly eight times as high as in July, the driest month (14 mm/0.55 in). During the summer months, Victoria is the driest major city in Canada.’

More Daffodils in the Albion Manor Garden

More Daffodils in the Albion Manor Garden

I was able to track down perennial primroses yesterday and when I found them I realised that I already knew about them. In fact we have some in the garden. What I was hoping to find though was plants with flowers similar to the annual primroses. Those I didn’t find, but the ones I got will be very beautiful and will help to fill in some area that need a bit of spring brightness. Well, many areas need a bit of spring brightness, but some accents here and there will be beneficial.

I went last night to see The Pacific Opera Victoria production of Capriccio the final opera by Richard Strauss. It is subtitled A Conversation Piece for Music. The libretto is by Clemens Krauss. It was first performed in 1942 in Munich, which would have been right in the middle of World War II, a fact which puts a somewhat different complexion on the piece. Simply summarized, the plot is a long discussion about which is more important: words or music. The production runs for 137 minutes without intermission. It was a long slog. I am no expert in opera by any means and there were elements that I really enjoyed about the production. The set was quite functional although, as a designer, there were things about it that I would have changed. The costumes and lighting were both perfect although there was a problem with reflections when the down right door was opened. Fabulous singers and Timothy Vernon’s orchestra was stupendous (although I continue to object to orchestras that ‘warm up’ in front of the audience, filling the theatre with the screeching and squawking while we are waiting for the performance to begin. I noticed with pleasure when seeing Don Giovanni in Jerez, Spain while Fernando and I were there in January, that the orchestra refrained from this. There was the brief tuning before the conductor arrived and then they launched into the production. If you want to warm up, don’t do it on the stage. I think Mr. Vernon might have dressed up a bit a well.) But who can sit through a discussion of the relative merits of words over music, or vice versa, with all the esoteric twists and turns that such a discussion would take for 2 hours and 13 minutes, in German, without a break. It is ridiculous. At the very least, it’s mean.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed it, even though I nodded off occasionally and I defy anyone to tell me that most of the audience didn’t do the same at some point of other.

Go to Albion Manor Bed and Breakfast Victoria Home Page.

March 2

March 2, 2010

It’s cloudy again today that we had rain overnight- nothing serious but just enough to freshen everything up so that this morning the air is bright and clear and there is a sprinkling of rain on everything.  There is a bit of sun right now and it looks like it is going to be a lovely day.

Gargoyle and Hyachinths in the Albion Manor Garden

Gargoyle and Hyachinths in the Albion Manor Garden

Hyacinths.  I just love them.  The scent fills the whole garden and it is wonderful to walk in the areas where they are growing to catch a whiff of them.  We have them in several colours in the garden, but these Delft Blues are the earliest to bloom.  Next year there will be more of them in many more colours.  I find the bulbs a bit expensive, but that’s the way it is if you want to have these beauties in the garden.

The garden gargoyle is by Derek Rowe at ArtForm Sculpture Studio here in Victoria.  Fernando and I got the piece, which is titled Charming Charles at a local auction which is where we got the majority of our purchases.  I’m not sure how much Derek charges for them from the shop, but we paid $125 for it at the auction, which I am very happy with.  It’s a great addition to the garden, a real character.  We are thinking of putting him on top of the Cottage when we redo the roof this fall.  That way he’ll be looking, should I say glaring, down at the driveway and greeting all guests as they arrive.  Maybe not the right greeting, but I am sure most people will find him more amusing than off-putting.

I continue with the work in room 8, renewed doors, repaired mouldings, new stained glass, hanging the doors properly and installing mouldings around that doors that are in keeping with the rest of the house.  In short, just the ongoing improvements and upgrades and have been going on for over 4 years now and which will probably by ongoing for the next 4 years.  Or forever, whichever comes first.

Go to Albion Manor Bed and Breakfast Victoria Home Page.

March 1

March 1, 2010

Mostly cloudy today and I don’t think the sun will be making a showing of any kind.  It is probably exhausted and taking the day to recover after the outstanding hockey game yesterday in which Canada put the Americans in the deserved place, which is second.  Second to Canada, whose game this is.  It was a nail biter from the beginning and I actually contemplated not watching because I was so tense.  But from the moment that Jonathan Toews got the first goal, I knew I was hooked.  Besides, he’s so cute.

Johathan Toews

But when the Americans tied the game in the finals seconds of the third period, my natural pessimism told me that I shouldn’t watch the overtime.  I switched to some now-forgotten other program, but just coincidentally switched back just as the puck was being dropped again.  And I tensed and I twitched and I groaned fearing that they might score.  It would be been a knife to the national pride.  Despite all the gold and medals we have won and the love and pride we feel for all those wonderful athletes, it all comes down to hockey, our national game.  Who would we be as Canadians if we didn’t win the men’s hockey game?

Sidney Crosby and Steven Nash

About 150,000 people filled the streets of Vancouver after the hockey win.  Even here in Victoria, the downtown was rocking with excited fans well after the game had finished.

Olympic Crowds

Sports, they say, is the simplest form of theatre.  You have the protagonist and the antagonist, the hero and the villain, and the classic tale of who will succeed, or in the case of sports, who will vanquish.   In both you have various acts (periods, halves) building to a conclusion and a denouement although in the case of Sudden Victoria (or Sudden Death as it was known when I was a boy) the denouement is reduced to the cheering of the crowds and the joy of the players.

You have various characters each with his own personality which is revealed slowly as the action proceeds.  In both there is, at times, indescribable tension.  In sports however, there is no subtlety.  Just the action.   And of course there is no text.  Which is not to say that there is no spoken word on the ice or in the arena.  There is.  None that you would want to read a second time though.  The text is a secondary player to the action and the characters, the very opposite of the theatre where spoken word is of utmost importance for describing what is going on.  In the theatre, the words are needed to create the characters and the action.  In sports, characters and action is all there is.  There are the obvious variations of this theme, but they are just that, variations.

Having said all that, I will go back to working on the new door I am building for room 8 which is waiting patiently for its first coat of sealer.  I want to get it to the glass shop tomorrow so that they can make the sealed unit.  I am going to take them the whole door because I have discovered that they hole for the glass is not square- the joys of working on an old house.

Primroses on the Front Steps

The primroses are starting to look a bit fades and worn around the edges but there is nothing that brings colour as much as they do.  These are in small pots on the front steps.   I want to find out if you can get perennial versions of these more colourful annuals.  We have perennial primroses at the front of the Manor, but they are, although a lovely, a bit ‘pink’ for my liking.  Another item for the to-do list.

Go to Albion Manor Bed and Breakfast Victoria Home Page.