Friday, December 29, 2006

Merry Christmas from Azeroth and Other Holiday Miscellany

Okay, it's even a little festive -looking in the video game I play, so Merry Christmas from the World of Warcraft to all my gamer friends out there---you know who you are!

You will probably recognize me as blue-skinned Zalli the Troll who just happens to be riding a reindeer down the cheery holiday-lighted streets of Orgrimmar, but you may not recognize me as quickly in the green Santa-gnome disguise. Clue : I spent some time in the gnomish Wonder-volt Christmasinator machine.

Hey, all you folks who don't play, you may just disregard all of the above. :)

I was following a conversation in the general chat on this game the other day and one fellow was claiming that no girls played this game, even if they played female characters. "Just remember", he said. "GIRL means Guy in Real Life."

He is so wrong. Just wanted to clarify that.

In other news, I discovered the true meaning of holiday joy is when your friends arrive bearing a Cartload- of -Delicatessan -Food -and -Mead....

Yes, Tai and Chris can be my houseguests for the holidays any old time if they are caring to bring

* ice-wine and brandy
*three varieties of mead
*blackberry wine and Baileys
* four or five different kinds of cheese
*olives, pate, artichoke hearts, and pesto
*pita and bagel chips
* and (MY Favourite by far) red hot chili peppers stuffed with feta cheese--you've got to try these, they're amazing!

We had been planning on going out for lunch but after half an hour quaffing from various bottles and munching away on the delicacies nobody needed any more lunch. Mmmmmm!

Oh, and for my friend Pol who asked about my kitchen, the renovations are coming along nicely. We have to add some detailing still,but you can see the general look in the background.
Oh, and just for interest's sake, I've noted some differences on how guys and girls wrap presents, as witnessed at a holiday staff party.

In the first photograph here, we see a gathering of typical female wrapping techniques, what with lavish bows and curly ribbons and such. For instance, the big Victorian-themed gift bag is a present from me.

Next we see a gift wrapped by a guy.

*reeling back, hand across eyes to protect from tape glare*

Note how the vast amounts of scotch tape insidiously trap the present inside a barricade of stickiness and newspaper designed to foil even those who don't mind ripping into a package with tooth and nail. Or heck, even scissors. Yes, even the bow was carefully covered for maximum effect.

Heh, points for effort though. And recycling newspaper.


Here is my living-room taken the day after Christmas. I LOVE the red colour of my walls especially at this time of year.

And I'm ever so pleased with our new reading-lamp (seen at the left). Those "natural light" bulbs are much more pleasant for reading books under. I plan to spend lots of time sitting nearby it in the New Year.

We got some great new books as gifts!

It's a tradition at my family's house that after Christmas dinner is eaten, we all open one last present and it is always a book. In my family, books are much appreciated gifts!

This year I got a lovely little book called Italy: a Capricious tour by Barbara Hodgson. It's one of those delightful books of anecdotes: historical, artistic, architectural and biographical that you can open at random and enjoy each page its opened to all by itself.

Jeff got a book by Rafael Sabatini, my mom got a book on cathedrals, and my father got a book of watercolour paintings on the history of the city of Vancouver. Delicious choices all!

As well, we now own a copy of Italian for Dummies --we have about four months to learn it!


Now my favourite part of this season is all the friends who suddenly appear in town to visit!

I spent some time with my old friend Blackcrag (who is moving to Ottawa soon) and I even got to see my Heather L. unexpectedly.

The six of us (Kim, Shawn, and Zoe were there too) spent a good couple of hours hanging out at the local Tim Horton's yesterday: coffee, bagels and conversation!

Friday, December 22, 2006


Last Saturday we braved the dark and stormy night and travelled south down the Island Highway to meet up with our ten-year-old nephew (who was bouncing with excitement) and his dad for a Family Christmas Outing. We went to an enormously well-done live Nativity pageant.
There was Mary and Joseph and the whole crew of wise men and a real baby (looking beautific with his Sesame Street soother under soft lighting), piles of straw, shepherds pushing sheep around, kids in Middle Eastern bathrobes and headresses cuddling goats, and even a donkey or two.
The Roman soldiers skulked around in fine cantankerous Roman boogeyman form, harassing the citizens of Bethlehem and threatening to eat children's pet rabbits and such--ah, the Romans do have a bad rap in this little story, don't they?
I'd expected all this, but I'd heard by word of mouth from my enthusiastic nephew (who went to this event last winter) that this particular church put a little more effort than was usual into the Nativity project. Apparently, they start building the site in August.

Once past the place where Mary and Jesus are, you follow signs to "Bethlehem" and emerge into narrow "streets" mocked up quite cleverly with faux stone buildings and lined with wooden stalls. There was apparently over two hundred costumed people creating this show.
You could watch various artisans at work like the potters, spinners, and candlemakers....

Or watch the blacksmith working away at an anvil, watch soap-making demonstrations, beat a little bowl out of copper, sample spices and fruit, and eat freshly-baked bread dipped in honey from a clay oven....

There were carpentry shops, stalls hung with jewellry or baskets, mosaic-makers and fish-mongers. It was crowded and the ceiling was hung with cloth awnings and wooden signs in Hebrew...
There were several "buildings" where you were able to peek in candle-lit windows and watch people pretending to go about their daily lives cooking in their kitchens or eating meals. It was really quite evocative.
I really quite enjoyed myself as I wandered around munching on pomegranates and candied ginger, petting the sheep, and chatting with scribes and masons and broom-makers.

There was also a slave auction called "Saultheby's" (umm...) and a place you could lock your kid up in the stocks (yep, more fun with the Romans).

It was fun way to spend a couple of hours anyway--and when you funnelled out of the Nativity scenes and back into the church you get hot chocolate and cookies and a wee bit of evangelical singing. I may not be Christian but I can appreciate the time and effort that went into all this. Apparently it's an annual event, on for four nights each year in Parksville. I recommend it.

Could be an inspirational way to spend a December evening for my friends of the Society for Creative Anachronism persuasion!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Spider Girl Decorates

The trick to buying a Christmas tree is to get someone you know who is less than eight feet tall to stand next to it so you can use that person as a sort of measuring stick.

Otherwise you will end up eyeballing the perfect tree at the tree-farm and optimistically guess that it will fit into your house like my mother-in-law did, with a merry time following as you try to fit it in your truck to haul home and then painfully squeeze it into your living-room.

Sawing various lengths and limbs off the perfect tree then follows as pine needles drop all around on the carpet.

Now, sawing is great exercise but, forewarned by his mom, I got Jeff to stand next to the tree when it was our turn to pick one. Then I took a picture of him while he grinned and called me a camera geek.

It's such a great little tree. It was the first one I laid eyes on--twelve dollars! I was very happy at the price! (Some years we've left the tree selection a little late and ended up paying through the nose for the left-overs).

Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, having a fresh live Christmas tree is the best part of the season, It is making our house smell beautiful and I put on the Barra MacNeil's Celtic Christmas album on this evening and sang along as I hung the ornaments.

Then the power went off (a common occurrence in these parts lately).

No matter.

I lit some candles and finished the job by candlelight.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

London Photos

Outside, the slush is softly falling and the weather is gently miserable.

Inside it's warm and comfortable, and the cat is slowly and comfortably melting into her cushion by the fire. You want comfort? Try petting the warm fuzzy kitty belly that belongs to my black cat Colby. She will in return grab your petting hand with both front paws and then try to lick it to death.

What to do on a lazy indoor evening? Why! Look at old photos of course. In the old days that would mean rifling through some disorganized albums or perhaps digging through a box of dog-eared polaroids from the back of the closet. Now it means sifting through my computer looking for ones to put on my blog.

Flying back from our safari in East Africa summer before last,we made a week-long stop in London.

At the time, the only photos that people asked to see upon our return to Canada were the ones with lions and elephants in them, so I never got to printing the ones from London (one of my favourite cities!) Mostly what people asked me about our time in England was about the hospitals I had to visit (two of 'em) after my henna burn incident in Zanzibar--that's why my arm is bandaged in the photos. But that was only a very small, uncomfortably oozy part of my visit there.

(Recommendation: If you're ever needing medical help in London, try going to St. Tommy's--its right across the river from the Parliament buildings and has an amazing robotic pharmacy!)

Here are some pics from a marvellous day in Jolly Olde England--I highly recommend the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. It's fabulous! It's free! You could spend the whole week there. (You want dinosaurs? It's got dinosaurs!)

Also, just down the street is the entertaining Museum of Science and Technology (also free, as so many galleries and museums are in London), and in the same neighbourhood is the Victoria and Albert Museum which seems to hold all the art and trinkets that the gigantic British Museum couldn't fit in its attic.

There was one day when it POURED rain while we were there, and with the combination of travelling via the Underground and our museum-going, I think the only time we saw daylight was when we splashed through the puddles to eat some Italian food at a little restaurant.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Holiday Parties and Tickets Bought

It seems the holiday socializing season has started, kicking off with Alicia's birthday party ( lots of kids,dogs,relatives, and a lavish homemade Thai food feast partially pictured here) and continuing through this week and the next with staff parties, potlucks, preschool festivities, and a trek to Parksville this weekend to see a live-animal Nativity scene with our ten-year-old nephew.

Alas I will most likely miss this year's pagan Solstice celebration out Merville way (for the first time in years!), but I'm sure I won't let the season pass by without a bonfire at some point, or at least lighting a lot of candles to celebrate the returning of the light at the darkest part of the winter.

(And it's REALLY dark around these parts lately! In some neighbourhoods the power has been off for three days now after two wind-storms *bang* one right after the other took trees and power wires down together. And ANOTHER storm with gusts of one hundred kilometres predicted for tomorrow afternoon!)

Anyway, the Merville Solstice event planners usually schedule it right on the Solstice, but for some reason they planned it early this year and I'm plum out of town that night!

I console myself that one can't do everything after all.

And on that note, due to a very purposefully small Christmas shopping list, I've so far managed to have very little stress about the season. It's the only way it should be.

I've also decided to skip sending out Christmas cards to obscure relatives who I'm sure have forgotten who I am---aunties and cousins, prove me wrong!

In lieu of the Christmas-card formalities, I've been going through my address book and reconnecting by telephone with all those people I really want to keep in touch with. I've had some great conversations. How do I lose track of these fantastic people?


Aside from party planning and having long phone calls, my mind has been taken up with a different sort of holiday planning.

Jeff and Tai and I have been spending a lot of time emailing Italy lately, hammering out hotel reservations at frustrating lengths and searching for an apartment in Rome for the last week we will have there in May.

The nine hour time difference makes the emailing process a long drawn-out one and, word to the wise, if you're ever planning a holiday in places like Rome and Venice it's never too early to start booking accomodation. Time and time again, we've thought we'd found a likely place in our price range only to be told, mi dispiace, that they are are already booked full already.

However, I think we may actually have gotten a few things confirmed. I'll post pics of our apartment if it's a definite thing.

(Note: My brother Adam left for Nicaragua yesterday. He is the champion of budget travel and doesn't mind a dirt floor or sleeping in a hammock. He once rented an apartment in the Honduras for something like thirty dollars a month and that rent was split between three people. He figured his sister was just not looking in the right places for a cheap sleep in Rome and did some research on my behalf. His conclusion: Damn, it's expensive in Italy!)

We DO have our air tickets booked. There was a last minute scramble to change some flight itineraries when our travelling partner Pol decided that three weeks was just too long to be away from her home and family (both financially and emotionally). I'm glad she's coming for the first two weeks anyway, and she will fly home from Firenze while the rest of us stay on for a few more limoncellos.

I'm really looking forward to staying in Rome for a whole week. The first time I visited Rome I stayed a gut-wrenchingly short two nights and I didn't see half of what I wanted to see! (Well, actually I saw some of those other things but I was travelling at the speed of light at the time, hanging out a tour bus window. That's the trade-off of a tour: you lose some personal freedom in exchange for all the annoying trivia of where to sleep and how to get places taken care of. At least once this week, I quietly wished all we had to do was show up for a pre-packaged holiday. But then the moment passed.)

Hmmm...upon reflection, I actually stayed three nights in Rome, but I'd arrived at nine o'clock at night at the airport and spent most of that first evening alternately stumbling around my hotel's neighbourhood in the throes of jet-lag looking for a telephone that would accept my calling card and trying to get the key to work in my hotel door. Ah, memories!

But I knew that one day I'd return to Rome (having thrown a coin in the Trevi fountain it was practically guaranteed according to tradition) and get a chance to see more of it.

And some of the favourite things again! How could I not have a second visit to the Cappucin monks' crypt on the Via Veneto to see the chandeliers made from humanbones again? Skull-bones are stacked in mandalas, and the old monks themselves, centuries old and resembling dried shoe-leather, are propped up around the place. You have to see it to believe it.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Diets That Work: Voodoo and Divorce

Two unusual diets I Have Been Made Aware of Recently:

1) The Voodoo Curse Diet: I recently attended a meeting (which got a little side-tracked because of this revelation) where I met a sweet lady who was beside herself with anxiety because she believes herself to be under a curse.

Originally, she simply sought a local doctor's second-opinion about her unusual skin allergies during a visit to her native Phillipines. The local healer gave her fabulously expensive skin ointments and convinced her that a jealous co-worker in Canada who has long hair was maliciously sticking pins in a doll to harm her.

Upon return to Canada, her allergies have not improved with the ointments and she has realized that every single one of her co-workers has long hair.

Weight loss due to voodoo stress: thirty pounds in two months!

2) The Non-Amicable Divorce Kick-Boxing Diet: Another woman I know has dropped almost seventy pounds after a nasty divorce. Six months later, she is a cute little (four foot eight) kick-boxing dynamo, hanging out at martial arts studios for "stress relief". I sense that it's not the big rubber punching bag she's really kicking... I'm rather proud of her!

Here is the diet I am on: The-Eat-Sensibly-and-Exercise-Regularly Diet

Pounds lost in a month: One.......sigh. Why do drastic painful diets always seem to be the ones that produce results?

(Not that I'm considering either of them).

Here's the other Diet I'm working on: The Make Your House Lose Weight By the New Year By Chucking the Junk Out the Door in Frustration Diet

I think my closets and basements could stand to lose a couple hundred pounds.

For instance, for a start, here are four bags of clothes from our closets that are waiting in our garage for the nice charity clothes-drive truck to arrive.

I recently spoke with a friend who implied it would be nice to be able to blithely chuck out junk without a second thought like I did....

A-HA-HA-HA-HA! (If I'd been drinking root-beer when she said that, I'd have been snorting it through my nose).

You see, I do have junk and I do find it hard to get rid of things. It's just not always plain when you walk into my house because it seems fairly tidy. But don't open all the closets, m'kay?

I'm grateful that I have a nice big house with a big basement and lots of closets. She doesn't. I hope I made her feel better that she's not the only pack-rat in her circle of friends.

But room for it or not, the clutter is really bugging me lately, so it's time for a House Diet, no excuses.

The Excuses:

a) I've been collecting things to sell at my flea-market for some years to fund my annual trip to Europe. And I think I've done pretty well after seven years of converting Crap-to Culture.

But I think I'm almost done with that means of income now because free-lance gardening and odd-jobs have the potential to make as much money without the clutter-collecting and I think I might need a break from the flea-market. (Not saying I'll never to it again with Brand-New-Fresh-Junk).

But darn it, it's hard to put an item in a box for the Goodwill when you say to yourself, "This could be worth two dollars at my garage sale!"

b) I've been storing a lot of things from the daycare where I work at my house, but I've decided I'm going to bring most of it back to the storage place there. If it's at my house, the children aren't using the toys/craft supplies anyway. And if we simply have too much stuff at work, then maybe it's time to let some of the broken/non-used things go anyway. Puzzles with missing pieces will never be anything other than frustrating.

Also, I asked around--nobody else is willing to take some of the daycare stuff to their houses either, so I don't feel too guilty. :)

So really, with those two excuses gone, I should be able to blithely chuck the junk from at least those two areas. Hopefully.

What was it that my friend Tai called it? Ah yes, maybe I've been suffering from CHUCKAPHOBIA !

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Snow Days in Lotus Land

"People get excited about snow around here", commented my co-worker who has recently moved to British Columbia from Ontario.

That was on Tuesday, after a weekend snowstorm closed all the schools down on Monday.

Yes, we do get excited on Vancouver Island when it snows--so excited that we both also had days off work on Wednesday and Thursday when a second blizzard dumped a second foot of snow on top of the first fourteen inches.

Not that Jeff and I weren't "working" after a fashion. I don't want to touch another shovel for a long, long time.

It's pretty and sparkly in the sunshine. It looks nice on the trees. But it's damn heavy and the next house I buy will have a shorter driveway.

Also, next time I hear of inclement weather on the way I will make a beeline to the grocery store BEFORE the snow-storm so I am not stuck in a slow,winding, grueling line-up of grocery carts with tempers fraying all around when the roads are finally clear.

And alas, although I like the IDEA of snow, it has wreaked havoc in my garden, burying my shrubs in an icy embrace, pulling my climbing hydrangea off of its trellis, and cracking off major branches on my lilac tree. I can see other places in my yard where there is probably more snow damage, but I'm waiting until after the snow melts before I investigate.

I've heard that snow is a good insulator and you can actually damage plants more by trying to get all the snow off them. Yeah, that's it. (Really I'm just scared to find out how bad the damage is--I've been watching the news and the Butchart and Van Dusen public gardens are hurting too.)

So anyway, here are some pictures of my week in the snow. And also a few pictures of the beaches of Zanzibar (and my feet in warmer times) for a little contrast. Helps me feel less chilly as I write this. I was there during the African winter. It's much nicer than ours.

Though, durn it all, we're not supposed to get snow like this around here! They're predicting more flurries on the way.

And although we're not as freaking cold as places like poor Calgary, I can still see icicles forming on my neighbour's house big enough to harpoon someone.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Places to Stay in Rome

This is a post mostly for Tai and Pol's benefit (they are the two friends that will be travelling with Jeff and I to Italy this Spring), but anyone up for a little vicarious trip planning is welcome to make a recommendation.

Basically, when we arrive in Rome the first evening (first two evenings actually), we'd like to have someplace already booked so we can have somewhere to dump our luggage immediately so we can put our jet-lagged feet up and have a glass of wine without worrying where we're going to sleep.

So here I am at home, having a Snow Day off work and surfing the Internet looking for suitable Roman guesthouses.

I found a website called and found these places. What do you think? Any other suggestions?

Hotel Gea di Vulcano

Hotel Angel

Hotel Andreina

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Does Anyone Else Worry About Losing Photos?

Once upon a time a friend of mine travelled in France and took many, many precious photos of her time there. She was researching a book at the time and so the photos, as well as being souvenirs, were valuable in other ways too.

She returned home, jetlagged but happy, and her digital photos were promptly downloaded onto her computer. The very next day her home was broken into and dastardly thieves made off with her computer.

*POOF!* The photos were gone forever. No discs or copies had been made.

When she related this story, even though it was some years after it happened, my heart gave a tragic lurch for her loss.

Oh, photos are so precious to me! I am probably the most camera-happy person you're ever likely to meet that is not actually a photographer by trade.

But I've been realizing I haven't been as careful as I should have been with some of my photos. Although I copy my travel photos onto disc right away, my day to day pictures are not always backed up, and recent computer problems have underlined the possibility that I could easily lose some before I get around to sharing them.

I'm just so glad I made physical copies of some of my favourites (or emailed them or put them on my blog) because it seems they have gone *POOF* on me. One was from a night at the Crow & Gate Pub two years ago and I'm just thanking my stars that all my friends have a copy besides the one hanging on the inside door of my kitchen cupboards.

(That's the best place to have photos if not actually on your your cupboards. You open the door to grab some cereal and there are your favourite people smiling at you.)

Anyway, I was talking to Kim today about taking so many photos and forgetting to share the ones that don't always make it to the relevant blog posts. Time passes and I say to myself: 'oh, I already wrote about that event', or 'that happened two months ago so everybody already knows about that' and I don't get around to showing the pictures to anybody.

They are lost in my computer's picture file vortex forever.

So, my long-winded point here is that I want to share these pictures (and others I'll be posting soon in random re-cap posts) so that all my dear friends who care to have some of them can right-click and nab themselves a copy.

Then when Spider Girl's computer goes bye bye next time, she won't work herself into such a froth. :)