Vancouver Island Adventures

Sunset @ Courtenay Marina

You can already imagine by the infrequency of my blog posts lately, that I must be having a fantastic time on Vancouver Island in British Columbia with my two sisters Faye and Betty (and her family).  We’ve had a blast in the past week!  When I first arrived, Faye and I toured around the Comox Valley for a few days while waiting for Betty to start her holidays, stopping in at some thrift stores and The Freakin’ Coffeeshop http://freakincoffeeshop.com/ for a ‘world famous’ cinnamon bun.  Betty had prepared all month, by cooking my favourites:  delicious Barley Soup, Sheppards’ Pie, and Cabbage ‘Rolls’.

Betty’s Barley Soup

Last Friday night we were in full VA-CA mode!!  Let me tell you abit about our adventures:

In Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley, there are berries, berries, everywhere!  Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries:  wild, organic, pick-your-own, or store-bought.  Plus cherries, apricots and veggies like new potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuces.  We enjoyed a Queen’s feast!  Faye and I stopped in at Best Berry Farms for certified organic fruit and Shamrock Lavender Farm http://www.shamrockfarm.ca/lav.html for a ‘Happy Vacation’ gift for Betty.

Comox Valley Deer

While driving around, we saw dozens of Vancouver Island Black Tailed Deer just calmly sauntering around without a care in the world, munching on grass on residential lawns or roadways.  A sign on the roadside “Expect Deer on our Roads” said it all.  These deer are unlike our Ontario White Tailed Deer (who dart out frantically in front of cars or away from people) :  the Comox Valley Deer live in harmony with the humans of the area, unafraid of anyone.  There are also many majestic Bald Eagles, especially in the Comox Bay estuary.

Comox Glacier *

We went up to the quaint town of Cumberland which is nestled at the base of the amazing Comox Glacier in the Vancouver Island Mountain range a few kilometers/miles from my sister’s place in Courtenay.  We visited my niece Brodie, who is a very talented singer/songwriter  just about to release her first CD  http://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/brodie.dawson  and http://www.reverbnation.com/play_now/song_1084611?utm_campaign=opengraph&utm_content=song&utm_medium=link&utm_source=facebook#!/brodiedawson

Brodie Dawson

We ate a tasty pizza from a new family run pizza restaurant in Cumberland www.riderspizza.com  before heading back down to the city.  The Comox Valley is an amazing place:  you can ski in the mountains at Mount Washington or hike right there in the  incredible Strathcona Park and a half an hour later you can be on the beach with a breathtaking view of the Comox Glacier to the west or the mainland Rocky Mountains to the east!  Like I said, AMAZING!!

Nymph Falls on the Puntledge River

Across the street from my sister Betty’s partner Rob’s house is the Puntledge River where glacial water flows quickly from Comox Lake to the ocean.  Brave people on inflatable tubes and rafts ride the white water  current down the river all day long..  We walked the trail beside the river and watched several ‘tubers’ having a blast.

Seal Bay Park

We ventured up Island to Campbell River, first stopping at Seal Bay Park for a little 3 km hike.  EVERYTHING is bigger in British Columbia!  Some of the old growth Douglas Fir trees are bigger around than my car!  We travelled along the road weaving beside the inside passage of the Strait of Georgia and stopped to view the Cedar tree Chainsaw Art displaying incredible statues carved with a chainsaw.  Then we arrived at Rob’s sail boat at the marina in Campbell River and stayed for a little visit on board.  Campbell River, at the 50th Parallel,  is a Native Community, like many other places on Vancouver Island.  The Native influence is everywhere.   Of course, we HAD to stop at the Thrift Store before heading back.

The 50th Parallel
Campbell River, BC

Chainsaw Art

We arrived back in Courtenay at 5 p.m. rush hour traffic………… or “Rush Minute” as Betty calls it since nobody rushes around for anything! LOL

Old Growth Douglas Fir stump

On my last full day, we went on a road trip (!!) to Victoria at the southern tip of the Island to pick up relatives arriving on the Clipper Ferry from Seattle, Washington, USA.  Normally a 2 hour drive, it took us over 8 hours!.  What a beautiful drive!  Ocean on one side and mountains on the other side!  The usual 45 minute drive to Parksville actually took us 5 hours because we stopped at every Thrift Store along the way as well as a bakery and a garage sale.  LOL!  We brought along a picnic lunch and ate at the Parksville beach.

Totem pole @ Malahat Summit

Almost at Victoria, we drove through the Malahat, a 25 km (16 mile)  mountain route which connects ‘Vic’ with the rest of Vancouver Island.  This section of the TransCanada Highway # 1  has sharp, winding curves which climb up and down the mountain pass through rugged, steep slopes.  There are several scenic rest-stop viewing areas with unbelievable vistas of the Saanich Peninsula, Saltspring Island, and Mount Baker in Washington State.  The ferry was on time and after a quick visit with my nephew Curt in Victoria, we drove back up to the Comox Valley, arriving home after 10 p.m.  Thanks goes to my sister Faye who did all the driving!!

Malahat Look-out

For this past week, we all stayed at Rob’s beautiful home – he was SO gracious putting up with the “Cluckin’ Triplets” as he called us.  LOL  Thank you SO much, Rob!  The weather was just perfect too with temperatures in the low 20’sC (70F) – and NO humidity or mosquitoes!

I write this as I’m flying over Lake Superior near Thunder Bay, Ontario.  It’s good to get home to see my kids who have been taking care of everything on the home front, but I’ll miss my Sistas Betty and Faye ’till next time………..

Sistas @ Campbell River, BC

* http://www.keira-ann.com

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Beautiful British Columbia

I am out on the west coast of Canada in beautiful British Columbia!  I arrived in Vancouver a few days ago to begin my visit with my 3 grown sons Robin, Taylor, and Marty and their “significant others”.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Gardens

We started off the day with a visit to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Gardens that I’d dreamed of visiting ever since Marty went there 5 years ago while living in Vancouver   (http://vancouverchinesegarden.com/ ).   This amazing garden, surrounded by a stone wall similar to the Forbidden City I guess, is located in downtown Vancouver and takes up about a city block.  It’s absolutely free to get in and once inside, you are transported to another world of giant bamboos, stone bridges and pathways, trees, ponds and plenty of large Koi, turtles, frogs, and birds.  It was a great respite from the summer heat that finally invaded Vancouver.

Rob and Marty holding A Gunnera Manicata leaf

Next we went over to the Queen Elizabeth Park   http://vancouver.ca/parks/parks/queenelizabeth/  to walk about the quarry gardens – don’t my kids know just what I love!!  We ended up at the Bloedel Conservatory where we had a breathtaking view of the city.  You cannot believe the variety of plants there including the gigantic Gunnera Manicata or giant rhubarb and hundreds of trees and plants – again FREE.  We celebrated the day with a tasty barbeque and Greek salad, all lovingly made by Jeannette.

Shannon Falls

The next day, we set out on a road trip for Whistler, home of the 2010 Winter Olympics.  The ‘Sea-to-Sky Highway’ took us along the Howe Sound inlet up to Squamish.  This fiord-like waterway became a beautiful green from the glacial waters which drained into it from the mountains.  Of course, my kids knew just where all the awesome spots to stop were:  our first destination was the incredible ShannonFalls where a majestic waterfall poured out of a mountaintop and gracefully crashed into the rocks below where we were standing.  The cool mist felt really refreshing on the unusually hot 28 degree celsius day.  After a quick pit stop in Squamish for a caffeine boost (not me) at Starbucks, we went on up the highway towards Whistler.  I was quite disillusioned to see all the big city giant corporate ‘fast food’ places in this previously peaceful ‘out of the way’ town of Squamish.  One of the drawbacks of the Olympics I guess…..

Brandywine Falls River Gorge

Up the road a ways, we turned off to stop at BrandywineFalls.  This time, we walked along the mossy forest path to the top of the falls and walked abit further along to watch the water cascading down to the gorge and on towards the ocean in the distance through mountain valleys.  A B S O L U T E L Y     A M A Z I N G !!!

Whistler

Soon, we arrived in Whistler, the little town that morphed into a tourist attraction itself for the Winter Olympics in 2010.  After a pita lunch, my son pointed out the main ski hills of Blackcomb and Whistler, the ‘Head to Head’ gondola ride, and some pricy accommodations.  We headed back to Vancouver, a 2 hour drive, and stopped along the way at a few viewing areas and a mountain called “The Barrier  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Barrier ”   –  many millions of years ago, a volcano erupted, the lava flowed, formed a dam for a lake, then the glacier melted leaving this precipitous cliff of unstable rock debris which can landslide down at any time with catastrophic consequences.  We watched some rock land-sliding as we stood there watching, so our visit was short!!

After arriving back in Vancouver, Robin cooked a delicious roast chicken supper with a side of potatoes, carrots, and onions topped with Mom’s gravy.  Then we took this supper to the beach to enjoy while we watched the kayakers, sailboats, swimmers, and paddle-surfers as the sun set over the ocean.   AAAHHHH……. What a life – it was pretty sweet.

Supper on the Beach

So now I’m waiting for the BC Ferry at HorseshoeBay, Vancouver to go to Vancouver Island to see my sisters for more adventures!

To be continued………

Lawn Tractor Repair

Well it finally happened:  my trusty old lawn tractor started acting……well, ‘old’.   I knew it was bound to happen any year now:  my ‘White Outdoor Products’ Canadian-made, 15.5 hp lawn tractor was going on 18 years old.  It’s been reliable and almost maintenance free all these years, except for a new battery in 2002.  But I have to admit, I sorely neglected her these past six years, even though I added oil and gas regularly.  When she began to be difficult to start a month ago, I decided that I had to pay attention to what she was trying to tell me.  So maybe my lawn tractor needed a new battery – easy fix, I thought.  I invested in a new battery with the correct amps and my son Darin installed it for me (he took the old battery – which apparently worked just fine – and gave me his dead lawn tractor battery to return for the refundable  ‘recycle fee’).  Great, I thought!  But next time I tried to start it, same thing.  Grrrrrr!!

 

Everything all ready to start

Okay, now it was time to roll up my sleeves and …………..check on the internet to determine what the possible problem might be.  I already figured that the obvious fixes were 1. oil change  2. fuel filter  3. air filter  4. spark plug  5. and maybe the solenoid.  Ehow and the Briggs & Stratton websites confirmed my ideas.  After purchasing the parts from Canadian Tire, I asked my 17 yr. old son Melvin if he wanted to help and learn.  It was great having someone strong who could remove seized screws and bolts easily without arthritic fingers.

First, we took the ‘bonnet’ off – the protective hood covering the engine front of the tractor.

New red Fuel Filter and Black Air Filter

With the engine manual in hand, we located the oil drain plug, fuel filter, air filter, and spark plug.  We unhooked the spark plug wire, removed it with a long socket, and then screwed in the new one.  Next we unscrewed the air filter cover and simply dropped in the new one.  Easy peezy!  Then we unclamped the fuel lines on the fuel filter and let the gas flow into a jug we had ready.  We finally got the old filter off, then replaced it with a new one, re-attached the fuel line, and re-clamped it together.

Cleaning up with rags and toothbrushes

While we had the hood off, we took old toothbrushes and rags and cleaned up the area abit.  I have to admit rather sheepishly, that I have NEVER changed ANY of these things in the last 6 years since it became my sole responsibility, even though the manual recommends an oil change and new air filter once a year.  Oops….  We left the messy oil change until last but we could NOT remove the oil drain plug.  We used every tool we had and all our (Melvin’s) strength but it wouldn’t budge.  So I had to concede defeat…………for now.  After re-connecting the spark plug, I fired it up and was disappointed that it still did the same thing!  Right then and there, I knew it was the solenoid.  Melvin had to go cut the neighbour’s lawn so I was on my own, after my lunch break.  I had a car once that just stopped working one night at 1 a.m. because of the solenoid quitting.  Back to the parts manual, I found out where the solenoid was located.  After a consult with Darin, I disconnected the battery and unhooked the spark plug again.  I removed the panel below the steering wheel easily.  The solenoid wasn’t so easy to remove – the nuts were on tight and the wires were so close there wasn’t much room in there.   But I persevered and disconnected the two nuts securing the solenoid to the tractor frame and one-by-one, removed the wires, re-attaching them to the new part as I went along.  I have a new-found respect for mechanics now.

Old Solenoid – little square gold part

 

Shiny new Solenoid installed

 

 

 

 

 

I installed the new solenoid, then re-attached the cover panel, hooked up the battery cable, re-attached the spark plug wire, then said a little prayer of hope for it to start.  VROOM!!   It fired up right away with no problems!  YES, I DID IT!   I threw my arms in the air like an athlete running across the finish line for a gold medal at the Olympics!  I have a few cuts and bruises on my arms and a very sore back, but it is a satisfying pain…….

Fixed and Ready to Go

Even though most of my 1/2 acre grass is brown and dormant because of the heat and lack of rain, I cut it for a test run anyway.  I kept apologizing to my faithful lawn tractor, for my neglect.  She had lots of pep like a new puppy – almost had to gear her down!  Thank you dear lawn tractor, for helping me all these years – I promise I’ll take better car of you from now on.

Now if I can only change your oil………….

 

 

Lazy Summer Day

Pond

This morning, I was cuddling our kitten after I awoke and looked out the window, as usual, checking to see if the Great Blue Heron was around the pond.  Lucky for me, and the pond fish, he’s been absent from the pond lately.  But then I noticed that there was something wrong down there:  the water level had dropped over a foot overnight!  Hmmmm.  After I hung out my laundry and ate breakfast, I got my ‘work clothes’ on and wandered down with my gardening bucket full of useful things, like my plumbing/pond tools.   I took a walk around the pond trying to assess the problem.  Fortunately, the pond pump was still working, as I have it sitting about  2 feet below the surface.  There’s always the threat of the pump burning out if the water level exposes it above where it can’t cool down or pumps dry.  Last year I had to buy a new pond pump, so I found an energy-efficient pump at Canadian Tire that was on sale for 50% off AND it was guaranteed for 3 years!   I unplugged the pump, then pulled it out of the water.   Funny, I was just saying to myself yesterday that I’ll have to pull out the pump and clean out the “goop” that gets sucked into the vents – I hadn’t done it for about a month, way overdue.  Oh ya, it was WAY overdue for a cleaning alright!!  It was quite plugged and not only that, the increased pressure popped a hose off the pump and THAT’s what was draining  the water out!  It must have just gushed out of the pond when the hose first came off in the wee hours of the morning!  I re-attached the hose, putting a clamp on it this time (I should have done this in the first place and I knew it – serves me right) and placed the pump back into the pond.  I backwashed for just a few minutes into my veggie garden since it’s been SO hot and my squash was needing a drink.

We had a big downpour of rain a few days ago and my 50 gallon rain barrels were completely full.  I dug every hose I owned out of the garage and attached them to my rain barrels and drained them into the 4,500 gallon pond to help fill it up.  I also put the hose from the house on a drip to slowly contribute water this afternoon.  Later today, I’ll shut off the house hose and wait for the rain that’s supposed to come tomorrow – all the rain barrels can empty into the pond and eventually it will fill up again……My raspberry patch is beside my pond, so while I was down there, I picked the raspberries.  I would have loved to post a picture of those delicious, plump, red raspberries, but alas, I ate them just as quickly as I picked them!  They were SO good!  I waited since last summer for that yummy taste.  I doubt if I’ll have enough to make jam at this rate!  But I just can’t help myself………

This afternoon it’s another scorching HOT day with temperatures in the mid 30’sC (mid 90’sF) plus humidex so it feels like 40C (102F)!  I shut the windows up early today – around 9 a.m.- as it was already starting to heat up.  I close the curtains in my bedroom and pull down the outdoor bamboo blinds ( I got brand new for $5.00 at a  garage sale)  that I have hanging on the porch to decrease the sunlight coming in my big picture window.   It seems to help along with the trees shading the house.  The A/C is set for 25 degrees celsius, so it only comes on occasionally when it’s brutally hot – and never at night, so far.  I have this ‘rule’:  when it’s hot outside and the A/C is on, I NEVER cook/bake inside.  Our furry, old Husky dog Yukon really appreciates  being cooler – he can’t deal with the heat anymore now that he’s 14 years old.  And he’s still losing his ‘winter’ coat….. all over the mudroom floor – with lots more to come out!

So this hot, muggy afternoon finds my two grown kids and myself  watching our usual summertime movie:  Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring.  It begins……….. we’ll eventually watch all three LOTR movies AND the special features/interviews.  It’ll likely take several weeks or even the month of July, then we’ll start on another series of movies……. while we get through the hot summer.

Pond Fish

 

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