Category Archives: Things to do on Vancouver Island

Rainy Day Cookie Picnic

Last week, as we got closer to the end of January, it felt like Little Man and I hadn’t been outside for any run around time in forever.  Having grown up in a semi-arid desert, I still tend to be a bit cat-like going outside in the rain.  Meaning it’s not my favorite thing.  This day, however, I had had enough.  It wasn’t raining (yet) so I bundled Little Man and myself up, grabbed his scooter and my bag full of empty egg cartons and headed off into the drizzle.

As we started off down the road, Little Man scooted alongside of me and commented that there was an awful lot of drizzle.  It had, in fact, turned from drizzle into a light rain.  By the time we’d made it up the hill to the house with the egg stand outside their fence, the light rain was a little less light.

Around this time Little Man started asking for a snack and I told him that we could have the cookies I’d brought with me for a snack when we got down the other side of the hill to the little lake.  He thought that was a great idea and declared that we would have a cookie picnic in the rain.  So empty egg cartons deposited, and new full egg cartons retrieved ($3/dozen for local farm fresh eggs… yup!  No need for eggs from the more… questionable sources of the mega stores for us), we were off down the road again.

Little Man imagined that we were going over a waterfall as we walked downhill, tracking whatever villain was supposedly rampant that day.  We had also picked up our neighbor’s friendly dog for the walk.  She often chaperoned us on our walks in the neighborhood, and Little Man considers her to be his dog.  Or at least a dog on loan when we go for walks.

Finally at the little lake, we sat down on a tree trunk bent into a perfect bench for the two of us, water soaking into our pants but neither of us cared.  Then cookies in hand, we sat on our sodden tree, gazed at the water falling into the lake, and chatted about camping thoughts for when the weather warms up a bit.  For this mom, it was a perfect rainy day cookie picnic.

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Our selfie reflection in the lake.  I love seeing Little Man’s Pooh Bear head and the dog paws on the dock as well.

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Our Rainy Day Cookie picnic.  A toque goes a long way to making it OK to sit out in the rain.  🙂

The Sheep Are Out Again… Wait, What?

The very first meal that we ate in this house inspired the name of this blog, the sheep are out.  I won’t retell the story here, but you can read about it in the first post that is linked here.

Whadda ya lookin' at?  Can we get back to our snack now?

Whadda ya lookin’ at? Can we get back to our snack now?

Since that time the sheep have gotten out a couple more times, generally their short-lived freedom being spent nibbling and pooping (lots of pooping) in the garden.  There’s also been a loose horse in the front yard, munching by the basketball hoop, as well as various and a sundry other wildlife.

Running with the bulls… I mean the sheep…

So when Dave came bursting into the living room last night after just having put Little Man to bed and said that I needed to look outside, I flew to the front door.  Outside I was greeted by a group of sheep munching away around Little Man’s sand box.  They looked a bit chagrined that their late night snack was being interrupted.  Luckily Dave was doing the sheep herding and steered them down the driveway rather than the shorter distance through the garden (which I likely would have done without thinking about the consequences) since it would have been destroyed.

Wait for me!

I have to say that Dave is becoming a quite proficient with his sheep herding, much better than our first night here back in 2013.  Hopefully the sheep don’t take this as a challenge to up their game.  Until then, the sheep were out, but are now… noisily… back in their pens.

A Red Wheel Barrow

So much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.
-Poem by William Carlos Williams

I first read that poem in high school and promptly forgot it.  It was nearly 10 years later, after university as I worked in the “real world” that I decided I liked the ivory tower better and wanted to go back to graduate school.  Only after starting graduate school would I remember the rainwater glazed wheel barrow.

I was in Turkey for my first archaeology field season when Williams’ wheel barrow came to mind.  Maybe it was the pastoral setting with sheep, goats and turkeys rampaging across the golden countryside.  Maybe it was the horizon dotted by slow moving tractors harvesting grain that would feed most of the country.  Or maybe it was the fact that I’d discovered how intensely, mind numbingly boring archaeology can be at times.  I’m not sure what the impetus was, but I was in immediate need of poetry.

Don’t get me wrong, I love archaeology, but there are days when you’ve come across nothing, nothing, nothing, but more dirt, nothing to get your mind working on anything.  It was one of those mornings where I’d found nothing but more dirt… again… that I found myself quoting poems memorized in high school.  Emily Dickenson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.”  Random Shakespearean sonnets.  And what bugged me was that I couldn’t remember the one about the wheel barrow and the chickens. It just seemed to fit somehow, but I couldn’t remember the words and there was no wifi for miles and miles.

In fact, not only was there no wifi, but there was no electricity, no running water, no cars at the village across from our excavation site.  My favorite thing was to watch as the donkey drawn cart come trundling over the hill, dangling with plastic bowls, metal pots, children’s toys, and other paraphernalia that the local villagers might want to purchase.  Often on those same days we would see the ice cream donkey hoofing it over the hill.  The donkey was led by a young boy and had two large, orange, insulated drink containers strapped to his sides, both filled with the local ice cream that is blended with pounded orchids giving it a distinctively gummy texture.  It’s an acquired taste.  At the time I didn’t know that this was not the glorious rainbow sherbet that just the mention of caused my parched mouth to water.  When I finally gathered up the courage after weeks of excavation to get some ice cream from the lad… I ended up burying it in my back dirt pile the minute he was over the hill again.  Maybe it was just his local batch, but it had the overall flavor of what I can only imagine old tires must taste like.

My garden plot needed a bit of elbow grease, especially with the amazing kale finally going to seed after a mild winter.

My garden plot needed a bit of elbow grease, especially with the amazing kale finally going to seed after a mild winter.

What brought all of this to mind was me digging in the dirt of my garden patch.  After our relatively warm winter, my plot had begun to look rather… what’s a polite word for it… scruffy… unkempt… bordering on embarrassing.  I hacked away at the clumps of stubborn grass and filled my borrowed red wheel barrow to the rim twice with fluffy, green toupees to dump in the pig pen.  The pigs seemed to have fun tossing them in the air.  Or at least I think they are having fun.  They might have been vehemently stating that fluffy, green toupees of grass are not delightful pig snacks.  Just to be sure I brought them some wonderfully wilted vegetable scraps later.  Those pigs have long memories.

Getting the kale out was the easy part.  That grass toupee was obnoxious.

Getting the kale out was the easy part. That grass toupee was obnoxious.

But that brings me back to the wheel barrow, glazing rain water and chickens.  So much depends upon…  Still makes me smile.  As I swung my scythe of doom for weeds (aka a borrowed hoe that I likely should not be swinging like a scythe) poems from high school streamed through my mind.  Foremost has been the white chickens by the red wheel barrow.  Though in my mind this is followed by a curly haired little boy chasing the said chickens amid much cackling from boy and chickens.

The grass toupees are gone, and I've moved the parsley and chives to their

The grass toupees are gone, and I’ve moved the parsley and chives to their “new” garden plan locations.

Let the gardening games begin...

Let the gardening games begin…

The Reckless Abandon of Sunshine on Easter

Growing up in Southern California, our Easter egg hunts were always outside in the gloriously warm sunshine.  In fact, there was often a bit of hurriedness to our egg collecting fueled by concern over finding all of the chocolate eggs before they melted in the sun.  Here on Vancouver Island we’ve learned that early Spring time might be cool and sunny, or it might be dreary and wet, or it could be any number of different temperatures and dampness factors changing every quarter hour or so.  It’s best to be prepared for anything, and simply to enjoy whatever weather comes your way.

While Easter dawned sunny, it was still quite frosty in the shade and a good jacket was required.

While Easter dawned sunny, it was still quite frosty in the shade and a good jacket was required.

We all enjoyed bunny bum pancakes.  The tail is made from a dollop of butter topped with shredded coconut.

We all enjoyed bunny bum pancakes. The tail is made from a dollop of butter topped with shredded coconut.

Little Man decided that his bunny heeded eyes and a nose as well.  I think he was just lobbying for more chocolate chips, but it worked.

Little Man decided that his bunny needed eyes and a nose as well. I think he was just lobbying for more chocolate chips.

We were mentally prepared for just about any kind of weather for this Easter, while having all fingers and toes crossed for sunshine since we were having five families over for a lunchtime potluck and egg hunt.  We knew that we could all crush into the house and have the egg hunt downstairs if need be, but it would be so much nicer outside! In the end, we were blessed with one of the most beautiful Easter afternoons that we’ve had in years.  While it wasn’t So Cal warm, we could be outside without jackets, sunglasses were needed to not be squinting into the dazzling light, and the grass was dry enough for the kiddos to roll around with reckless abandon.  It was fantastic, and we hadn’t even gotten to the food yet.

The kiddos are diving into their Easter potluck feast.  Ears and sunglasses abound.

The kiddos are diving into their Easter potluck feast. Bunny ears and sunglasses abound.

After the kiddos got to run around a bit, we gathered them together on the back deck to get them started eating and then the adults joined in.  Our table was overflowing with food.  We provided pulled pork sandwiches, a green tea punch, and a chocolate cake for dessert.  Our friends also contributed a seven layer dip with chips (they did it as a five plus two layer dip, thoughtfully leaving the two dairy items on the side for those with dairy intolerances), a sun dried tomato pasta salad, Easter Bunny white chocolate bark, stuffed potato skins with cheese and bacon (some graciously set aside for vegan cheese), black bean dip with veges, a Thai peanut broccoli salad, and other Easter treats.  To say the least, no one left hungry and even the adults looked like we could all use an Easter nap.

Our amazing Easter spread!  Pulled Pork sandwiches, coleslaw, dips, chips, salads, Easter treats, it was a wonderful lunch.  See below for recipes for the things that we brought to the table.

Our amazing Easter spread! Pulled Pork sandwiches, coleslaw, dips, chips, salads, Easter treats, it was a wonderful lunch. See below for recipes for the things that we brought to the table.

Please ignore the messy kitchen, and focus instead on the handsome pastry chef and the amazing cake he is decorating.

Please ignore the messy kitchen, and focus instead on the handsome pastry chef and the amazing cake he is decorating.

Yes, indeed...  A chocolate cake layered with homemade chocolate rice crispies and topped with a chocolate coconut frosting that tastes better than chocolate mousse.  Life is tough.

Yes, indeed… A chocolate cake layered with homemade chocolate rice crispies and topped with a chocolate coconut frosting that tastes better than chocolate mousse. Life is tough.

Before we could get to napping, however, we had the Easter egg hunt.  After the adults finished eating, we sequestered the kiddos in our living room with the curtains drawn while half of the adults went outside to the front yard to hide the loot.  Each family brought filled eggs to share, so the front yard glittering with plastic eggs.  Then we released the hounds… I mean the kids… to fill their baskets.  Since some of the kiddos were older and faster than the others, we had a parent-led redistribution after the egg hunt to be sure that everyone had a good collection of booty.

Release the hounds... I mean the kids!

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Then the kiddos and adults got to play in the sunshine or wander over to meet the pigs, sheep and chickens at our landlords’ farm.  The trees were blossoming, the kids were laughing, the sheep were bleating, and it was one of the best Easter moments I’ve had in a long time.

If you want to share in some of the food we had for Easter, here are recipes for those items that we brought to the party.  The recipes for this post are a bit different since I was “in the party prep zone” when cooking and completely forgot to take any pictures while I was making the food.  Doh!  If there are any steps in the recipes that are hard to follow since there aren’t any pictures, or you simply aren’t sure about something, please send me a comment at the end of this post and I’ll get back to you asap.  Have fun!

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Fluffy Whole Wheat Rolls

Gluten Free Rolls – this recipe is not my own.  I followed the directions for soft rolls made with a Challah dough from the Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  If you are getting into gluten-free baking, I highly recommend this book.  It makes the best tasting gluten-free bread that I’ve found to date.  Their bread has great texture and mouth feel without being grainy, and without using an obscene amount of corn starch.  Love it!  Click here for a link to recipes for rolls from their book.

Carolina Style Coleslaw

Chocolate Celebration Cake – This recipe is also not my own, but came from Jamie Oliver’s excellent Comfort Food cookbook.  The main differences for what I did was that I used spelt flour instead of all purpose, and I used an organic, puffed brown rice for the home made chocolate crispies.  I also used the same Chocolate Coconut frosting that I wrote about with Little Man’s birthday cupcakes from school.  Next time I think I’ll triple the frosting batch so that I can have some between the layers as well.

Any of these items (or all of them) would make for a fantastic outdoor picnic.  In fact, we will likely do a smoked version of a pulled pork sandwich for an outdoor party later this August.  I’m also toying with making cupcake versions of the chocolate celebration cake…  Stay tuned.  I hope you all are enjoying sunshine!  Our sunshine just went away for a couple of days, but I’m already plotting more outdoor fun as soon as the sun is back.  Or we’ll likely go outside to play in the wet anyway.  We’ve been cooped up inside for too long as it is.

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cake 4

An Eagle and the First Blossoms of Not-Yet-Spring

We were greeted by an eagle and the first blossoms of Not-Yet-Spring when Little Man and I went for a walk/bike ride the other day.  The sky was overcast and everything was deeply wet, but the paths were passable with only the occasional puddle of awesomeness to splash through.

Little Man tooled around on his balance bike, and has gotten quick enough that I now need to wear appropriate shoes so that I can jog along behind him.  He skidded through a couple of muddy areas, fish tailing and whooping, and kept on going while I slogged through in his wake.

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We heard the uproar of birds before we saw the eagle loop over the treetops above us.  Little Man called out that there was a “bald eagle,” and I think I saw enough of a white head and tail feathers to agree with him.  Later we would hear sea lions, but not be able to track them down as the wind shifted and carried their barking to different parts of the path.
20150211_100203 (2)Lastly we tracked down various fairy houses along the trails.  A posted sign described the different ecosystems of the park, and Little Man had a good time noticing the ocean ecosystem, the forest ecosystem, and the fairy ecosystem.  The number and placement of the fairy houses has changed since my first post about them (A Week On Our Own: Day 2), and its fun to keep exploring to see if we can find more and some have moved.  At the “Give a Little/Take a Little” fairy house, Little Man exchanged some leprechaun gold for a sparkly pink jelly bracelet that he promptly declared to be a “beautiful Power Ranger bracelet,” and had a wonderful time all day “transforming” it into a ring by coiling it up tightly.

I didn’t have our camera with us, so I made due with the camera on my phone.  While officially still Winter, it’s been a mild one for us here on the island.  This was the first tree that I’d seen actually blossoming, and in our yard there are mystery bulbs sprouting everywhere.  Our farmer-landlords’ garlic is looking good too, as are our Dinosaur Kale plants that have kept doggedly at it since the summer.  Though our winter has been mild, February isn’t over yet, and I try not to think about Spring too much in case something changes.  It was in February and then again in March of last year that we woke up to a huge snow dump after all (I Woke Up To the Snow and Embracing the Snow).

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As we walked along, skidded out, and laughed our way through our beautiful but overcast surroundings, I couldn’t help but wonder at the gorgeous surroundings that will likely make the basis for his first long term memories.  Life is good.

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First Sunflower

There are many things that I’m learning through our first year of having a real garden, and the over arching bit of knowledge is that if there is a rookie mistake to make with a garden… I’ve made most of them. Making the plot too large, over planting, watering at the wrong time of day, watering the wrong parts of the plant, planting tall plants that block sun light and water from shorter ones, and the list goes on. But I’ve been lucky that the garden is amazing and I’m having a blast feeding ourselves and extended family from our garden, as well as trying to figure out how to save our harvest for the upcoming months when the garden will be but a dream for next season. It’s been eye opening to realize how much I care for that little plot of ground. A plant suffers and I’m obsessed with figuring out why. Is it wrong that I’ve already started dreaming about next year’s garden? Probably…
In the meantime, we are moving fast to keep up with the plants and trying to be creative to make our favorite greens delicious for our 3 year old. Oy! I welcome any ideas.

20140728_153514For today I want to share the pictures of our first blooming sunflower. This one was right at my eye level when it bloomed, and I’m 6′ tall. The rest are all well over my head, which means they are of dinosaur proportions for Little Man. That is part of my inspiration for the garden for next year… a dinosaur part of the garden for Little Man to play in… We’ll have to see how it works out next spring.

CenterI love these flowers.  Not only do they dwarf me, but it’s one of those things where I’ve seen pictures of them for as long as I can remember yet I’ve never had one of my own.  I’ve seen them in bouquets and in the distance, but not growing in my own yard.  I love the bumble bees that dance around centers, and the way that the petals glow when back lit by the sun.  Now I’m starting to wonder if the seeds of this variety can be eaten…  Hmm, now I know my homework for the evening…

Retro Sunflower

A Week on Our Own: The End

I am so glad to have gotten to the end of this week!  It was a great week all together, full of fantastic accomplishments, reuniting with good friends, and some awesome Mommy/Toddler time.  It was, however, also a long week of single parenthood (Much love to all the single parents out there!  You’re amazing and don’t ever forget it!), a week of feeling like I should be somewhere else, and a lot of laundry… a lot of laundry.

Day 6 for Dave was spent jaunting from one airport to the next, each one a bit more disappointing than the last.  For Little Man and I the morning was spent at the Hazelwood Herb Farm in Cedar, and then a lot of cleaning… a lot of cleaning.

The Herb Farm was by far the bright spot for both of our day, and it’s finally convinced me that I’m trying to rush Spring along a bit too quickly for Vancouver Island.  The minute the temperatures got into the high teens in Celsius (that’s 60s… I think… in Fahrenheit…) I feel like I should be out in the garden planting something.  Except that it’s still pretty cold at night, and the ground is still pretty cold, and nothing that I want to plant (peppers, basil, etc.) is ready for that type of temperature.  This became very clear to me at the herb farm where they sell the types of plants that currently do good at this time of year.  Little Man and I came away with some great herbs (oregano, thyme, chives, and sage), as well as celery.  I’ve never tried celery in my garden (or container box) before, but I thought that it might look like a great dinosaur forest for Little Man.  So like for most things, including parenting and gardening, I’m learning that a little patience goes a long way.  But right about now, I’m really impatient for Dave to be home!!!

Day 7: Homecoming!!!

Welcome Home!Dave finally made it home this morning.  Little Man has been counting the number of breakfasts he had to get through before Daddy would be home, so this one he ate with relish and was constantly glancing at the door expecting Daddy to come waltzing in the minute his food was finished.  Not quite…  But after breakfast and the crazy dance of getting myself and my toddler ready for public appearances, we finally got the long awaited text that the ferry was pulling in, and then we were off to the car.

It’s always good that I give a buffer zone of time just for the process of getting the few meters (Canada-speak there… Did you catch it?) from our front door to our car.  This time it was the two farm dogs that caught Little Man’s fancy, but then he had to go say “hi” to his lady friends, the chickens.  At that point the little bitty “not dog,” as the farmer calls him, was running with him, Little Man took the opportunity to make a mad dash across the farm towards the sheep pen and his favorite hill at the back of the property.  Eventually the dogs and the toddler were corralled and we got to the ferry terminal just before Dave made it out of the building.

The rest of the day was a blur of Daddy and Little Man cuddles, nap time for all, and much playing.  You could almost hear the “reunited and it feels so good” chorus as the two of them raced around the yard, Little Man “cutting the grass” with his toy lawnmower and chasing his dad.  I have a feeling that the upcoming week will be one of recovering from exhaustion and gearing up for more dissertation deadlines, but at least we’re all together and now there are two of us to clean up toddler messes.  And there’s the awesome sign, too.

Checking the fluids to ensure the mower runs smoothly.

Checking the fluids to ensure the mower runs smoothly.

Lots of toddler cackling here...

Lots of toddler cackling here…