Sunday, December 31, 2017

A New Year's lesson

Some people like to keep their Christmas decorations up for weeks after the event. Not me. The decorations you see in this photo -- in preparation for last week's Christmas guests -- are all gone now. 

Even our favourite part of this Christmas -- our mangy little tree -- is now in the compost. We called it Spelacchio, Italian for "baldy" or "mangy," the name given to the sad specimen of a tree that went up in Rome's central square this year. It caused quite a stir because it began losing its needles immediately. The Italians, who have a certain style, weren't impressed.
To replace the red Christmas tulips, which are now decorating the compost heap, I brought home this bouquet. The colours sang of spring.

The mangy little Christmas tree, the mantelpiece greenery, the bird and the bear on their respective little perches, the red-haloed lights – gone, all gone. Even the last of the Christmas edibles has been tossed or frozen.

I’m not a particularly prompt or meticulous housekeeper, and the Christmas trappings had only been around for a week, so I was wondering why it felt so urgent to get the house aright for Jan. 1. Then I remembered mom’s preparations for the new year when I was growing up. The house would be cleaned, we’d have baths before going to bed (no small effort in a plumbing-free house in the dead of a prairie winter), and we’d all put on fresh pyjamas.

New year; fresh clean start.  Six decades later, the lesson lingers.

Tree boughs with red balls and other decorations gave the living room a festive air a week ago.

This is one of my favourite decorations -- a seagull on some pilings, with a net to one side, a rope on the other, and a couple of tiny seashells. It tends to get hidden when put on a tree, but its intricate details -- mostly of "real" materials, intrigue me. I pack it away carefully.

Another favourite: a little bear sits on a child's wooden block with a drum. I got several of these beautifully made decorations at a craft fair many years ago.

This is my friend Linda's little knitted figure from last year; I thought the colours and shapes worked perfectly with a Christmas card from my Auntie Eve in Montreal. I will keep the card so I can pair the two up every year.

Another decoration from the craft fair. I think I have a thing about birds -- I notice they show up in my decorations a lot.

And, two more. The doll is made of some paper-like material, and the bear is of felt. Not a lot of plastics went into these figurines.

Another look at my spring bouquet. After a month of red and green, I'm ready for a change.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas at three: unicorns, bunnies, princesses

The setting for my grandniece Emi's Christmas at our place in Dunbar. Her little chair sits right beside a blazing fire.

It's the first Christmas Emi has really understood about opening presents and the surprises that lurk inside.

Clearly, it's something she's happy to learn about.
Christmases can lose their zing after you’ve reached a certain age, when gifts can amount to a predictable round of pyjamas, books and sometimes. . .even kitchen appliances.

But when you’re three, if my grandniece Emi’s Christmas is any example, it’s a whole other world. There are unicorns that light up when petted. There are pink bunnies with sparkly necklaces that double as bracelets for your own little wrists. And there is gear to transform you into the princess you secretly know you are – chiffon-overlay nightwear with snowflake sparkles; shoes with blue-flashing heels, and silver-edged capes that flow behind you to mark your royal progress. Sometimes the adults – who for some reason start showering you with these exotic gifts at this time of year – can surprise you in other ways too.

 Here are some photos, taken by John unless otherwise noted, of Emi’s Christmas:

Emi shows me the unicorn, sent to her from Quebec by her Granny Betty. Petted in a certain way, it lights up and bursts into music. Emi was intrigued enough with her new toy to bring it over to Christmas dinner.

My friend Linda shows off the "blinged-out bunny" she knit and decorated for Emi, with Emi's penchant for sparkles in mind. Emi's first move was to take off the necklaces and give her parents two each to use as bracelets. 

After dinner, when Emi crawled around under the table, Linda gave her one of those surprises that a three-year-old doesn't expect.  Linda slipped down from her own chair and joined Emi on the floor. 

"I used to do the same thing when I was your age," Linda tells her. Emi is delighted. 

Emi and Linda have a little discussion on the floor.

Papa Etienne watches unperturbed as the little incident plays out. 

About a month ago, when I asked Emi's mom Aya what her daughter wanted for Christmas, the answer was unequivocal: "A cape," she said -- like the one worn by Emi's favourite character, Princess Elsa in the Disney movie Frozen. At the Disney store, the closest I could come was chiffon-overlay Frozen pyjamas, with a little detachable cape. Since it obligingly snowed before Christmas, I photographed Emi's gifts outside in keeping with the Frozen theme. 
This pair of Princess Elsa slippers, with heels that flash blue light, was Emi's consolation prize for the lack of the bigger cape I knew she wanted. They looked great in the snow in the back yard.

A  week before Christmas, I was in another toy store for another purpose altogether when I turned around and saw a hooded cape, edged with silver, staring at me. It's not a Disney product, but the colour was right. I was over the moon.

On Christmas Day, Emi's face shows she likes the sleepwear, which she insisted on trying on immediately.

But the cape, ah, the cape! She put it on and immediately stood in front of John to get herself photographed in it. 

Here she is, in full regalia. She's got on her new pyjamas with their little cape. Over top, she wears the big cape, which drags slightly on the floor. The princess shoes were a huge hit, even though they are way too big. Notice the rubber bands over the instep.
Emi at the Christmas tree, with the blue light on one heel flashing. The shoe lights are powered by batteries, which papa Etienne, observing his daughter calmly, will have to replace when they die. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mellow December

Last year's winter shocked us Vancouverites into thinking we'd somehow been shifted to another part of Canada altogether -- a place of early snow, lots of slippery ice, then months and months of more snow. This December, we're back to normal. While relatives back east were reporting on their early snowfalls and frozen lakes, we were scraping up the last of the fall leaves, planting winter pansies, and enjoying long stretches of fog that transformed our world into the setting for a mystery novel.  I admit to snow in the last few days, and a cold snap that won't quite go away, but I'm expecting that we'll be back soon to our usual mellow coastal winter. Green grass, early spring buds, and yes, rain.

I like the mystery that fog added to this little birdhouse duplex on someone's boulevard.

And it makes this peeping person even more of a surprise.

Birdhouses, lanterns and ornaments add to the tree's silhouette.

In a nearby park earlier in December, a pile of leaves awaits removal.

At about the same time, this delphinium in my back yard thought it was warm enough to start on its spring growth.

And winter pansies were blooming by my back step. 

Some days of sunshine brought out the beauty of fall grasses like these.

A closer look at the grasses.

Between the spells of sunshine, the fog kept coming back. From the south False Creek seawall, my friend Linda looked toward West End towers shrouded in mist. 

Meanwhile, Christmas decorations started appearing partway through the month. Some householder cornered the market on polar bears and decked his house and trees with them.

In the foreground, a bear on top of the laurel hedge, while in the background, his buddies climb up over the front porch.

Another look at that bear lineup on the roof.

On the ground, candy canes and a bear on a bear.

I'm not sure what these white berries are, but en masse, as they were in front of this house, they made a nice display.

And, with our recent snow, I have taken our bird feeder out of storage and put it to use again in the back yard. The birds were delighted.

A friend visiting on Saltspring dropped by our place there this week and took this photo of our snowy deck.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Mr. Darcy's secret

Anyone trying to entertain a cat knows how hard it is to find toys that work. Here are some of the things we've tried over the years, including a grey wind-up mouse, feathers on a stick and a purple bow from a chocolate box.

The long fluffy snake? Meh. The wind-up grey mouse that ran in semi-circles? Boring. In our long history of trying to entertain our cat Mr. Darcy, we found balls, feathers on sticks and laser pointers were similarly ho-hum. Small toy mice and shoelaces evoked more interest, but it took a gift bow from a Purdy’s chocolate box to finally reveal the secret.

The bow itself, small, light and multiple-layered, was easily battable into corners and under couches. But what elevated it into another category altogether was its attached elastic cord. Cord that wriggled and skittered and waved unpredictably with every toss; it was its random flopping that fascinated. After years of experimenting, we finally knew the ingredients of a successful Mr. Darcy-toy.

This is a partly successful toy; light and flexible.

This is a more successful toy, with an extra ribbon tied on.

Which leads to the little pink mouse I bought at a pet store recently. It has four ultra-long spindly legs ending in outsize felt pads like Mickey Mouse’s clodhoppers. It has an equally long spindly tail; in total, five appendages to flop and flail. Mr. Darcy has shown his appreciation by knocking it down the stairs once and under the couch regularly.

The pink mouse, with its many movable parts.

When I found this toy – in the midst of the gift-giving season – I thought about how I knew down to the nth degree what would delight my cat. How many of us, I wondered, know what would give our “real” gift recipients a thrill equivalent to four floppy legs and a tail?

Mr. Darcy stalks his mouse. . . 

and moves in for the kill.

Oh what fun to toss it into a corner; Carol will extricate it later.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


Beneath Mr. Darcy's feet is something really, really interesting. His interest in the dining-room heating vent was the first clue.

The truck you really don't want in front of your house.

One of these pest-control guys -- and I won't say which one -- semi-panicked when he saw what was under our dining-room floor.

All fall, as I’ve sat on the living-room couch poring over books for a university project, I’ve been hearing unusual noises. “Ping!” something would go, mutedly from the direction of the adjoining dining room. Or “rustle, rustle,” then silence. Neighbours, I thought, they sound so close they might as well move right in. Or I blamed it on my new fridge, with its infinite repertoire of odd whines and beeps. “It’s trying to make ice cubes,” my partner John has told me, “it’s making those noises because we won’t let it.”

Then our cat, Mr. Darcy, began hovering over the dining-room heating vent. Sniffing, inquisitively.

John pooh-poohed my verdict of critters until the night something danced a jig on the heating pipes right under his feet. “Critters,” he said.

It’s not like we didn’t know there was potential for trouble. A 1930s house with a foundation-less dining-room extension: What could go wrong? (When we bought  the house 40 years ago, the room was tilting so alarmingly that we called in the house-raisers to level it with concrete blocks.) Over the years, we’ve deliberately not noticed the gaps beginning to yawn between the ground and the bottom of our favourite room.

All of which led to a pleasant young man from an “eco-friendly” pest-control company looming large in the doorway of our little house last week. John took him downstairs and somehow squeezed him through the tiny door into the problem area. From my usual perch on the couch above, I could hear him moving around. Then came a squeak of semi-panic. “Ewww, ewww, rats, rats! They’re all over the place, there must be 10 of them in here!”

Maybe a young man in the pest control business shouldn’t panic over rats, I thought, but I didn’t see him again before he went, leaving behind six traps and a recommendation for the installation of a wire mesh barrier. But when he returned this week to finish the job, he was a bit sheepish. It was just the surprise, he said. The rats were running over his feet and between his legs and he couldn’t help himself.

Meanwhile, I’d been hearing some new noises from my spot on the couch. “Snap!” something went sharply one evening. Then twice again. We could have left it, but John is of a curious disposition, and couldn’t help himself either. Down he went to the underworld, emerging with a bucket of three (quite large) dead rats, which he buried in the back yard, complete with their traps.

On Monday, the young man and an assistant dug a trench around the perimeter of the dining room, installed wire mesh to prevent further burrowing and set more traps. One more rat emerged (and died) while they were working.

 I’m still listening, but Mr. Darcy has given up on the heating vent, and the neighbours and fridge  have gone remarkably quiet. I'm hoping the six remaining rats have found another place for the winter.

The problem: A nice hole, well used, for whatever wants to crawl  under our dining room.  

The solution: Wire mesh dug down a couple of feet and attached to the wall.

The trench in progress. . .

And the wire installed.
The trench on the west side.

And the wire installed.

The workers' gear.
This black box, safe for kids and pets, contains a trap intended to lure any remaining rats on the property. The workers left several outside and under the house.

And Mr. Darcy, relaxing. What, was I supposed to catch those rats?