Friday, October 19, 2012

Fall Farewell to Vancouver Island

Cordova Bay

The entire time we've been in Victoria, we've had sunshine. Very unusual this time of year, but what a gift it has been. We've been able to explore so much more of the outdoors in this area than we expected.  Now though, the change has arrived.  The crispness of fall is in the air and the colors of the trees are changing.  The island views are misty gray scenes in the distance one minute and clear the next.  The squirrels in the yard are gathering more nuts to store away and they're eating all the plums that the wind knocks from the tree in the backyard.  Now that the rain has begun, the dogs don't want to go out in the yard to do their business.  (Yet, when the leashes come out, they are out the door in a flash, rain or not!)  

We've a few more days here before we head south to warmer weather. Our plans are to spend a couple of weeks visiting family and friends before we head off to Australia and New Zealand.  We're excited about seeing each country and having the opportunity to learn more about them.  In Australia we'll be three weeks on our own, exploring the east coast area from Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef in the north to Melbourne and the wine country in the south.  Then, it's over to Aucklund, New Zealand to house sit into the new year.  Before leaving New Zealand, we'll be taking a trip to the South Island to view its spectacular scenery.  

We will have many wonderful photographs and stories to share along the way and we're planning to teach you some good old Kiwi and Aussie slang.  So, don't forget to lob in now and again for a chinwag and a corker.  We promise, it's gonna be a beaut.  G'day mates!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Murchie's or the Empress...Umm, Murchies!

The blends are so enticing we wish you could take a whiff!

People say you shouldn't miss tea at the Empress Hotel when in Victoria...well, we say you shouldn't miss tea at Murchie's Tea and Coffee.  No, it isn't the's not a $60 per person high tea event.  But Murchie's story is a rich part of the history of British Columbia, its roots older, and you can enjoy a fine pot of the same blended tea enjoyed by Queen Victoria for a mere $2 a pot!  Throw in a couple of their delicious scones and you'll be glad you made the choice.

John Murchie got his start in the tea industry working with Melrose's of Scotland in the 1850's.  He was a young boy when he was charged with delivering tea to Queen Victoria while she was in residence at Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands.  As he became familiar with the types of teas the Queen preferred, and his own knowledge grew, he began experimenting with the blending of green and black teas.  The recipe for the Queen Victoria Blend at Murchie's is the same today as it was when he created it then.  Mr. Murchie immigrated to Canada in 1894 and founded his company, delivering tea to customers and passing on his experience, and eventually his business, to his son.

While the blending of green and black tea may seem ordinary today, at the time John Murchie was considered a rebel and criticized for taking this unorthodox step.  However, his blends have withstood the test of time and have remained favorites of customers for over a century.  In 1993, Murchie's Tea and Coffee was granted its own Coat of Arms by the Chief Herald of Canada honoring 100 years of quality tea making.

Scales, bins & tins are all part of Murchie's charm.

Murchie's Tea & Coffee is located at 1110 Government Street in downtown Victoria.  You can also order off the website here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wine Whine

Make your own wine in 28 days

Wondering around the supermarket, we discovered home wine making kits for sale, along with bags of corks and cases of wine bottles.  Unusual we thought, not something we'd ever seen for sale in a grocery store.  Then we noticed that most shopping centers and strip malls have a least one business that caters to the home wine maker.  Our curiosity was piqued, why is home wine making so popular when the island has a selection of wineries and wines to choose from?  Do Canadians, rugged individualists that they are, just prefer their own home blends?  Our first trip into a liquor store to buy wine answered our questions.  Wine and alcohol are shockingly expensive in Canada because they are heavily taxed.  However, if you make your wine at home, you pay much less tax.  The situation has created a whole cottage industry related to home wine making and home vintners across Canada.

The local wineries are just about ready to harvest

We attempted to find out the tax rate on wine, but it varies greatly depending upon its source.  For instance, a tourist bringing alcohol into the country is allowed one liter per person.  If you go over that limit, and bring in another $8.00 bottle of wine for example, you will pay an additional $8.69 in taxes!  Businesses that import wine and alcohol are taxed at an ever higher rate. Curiously, the more expensive the bottle of wine, the less tax percentage you will pay. (Umm... wouldn't someone who could afford that expensive bottle be in a better position to pay the tax then someone buying that $8.00 bottle?)

Locally produced wines don't seem to be any less expensive than their imported counterparts.  If this is due to taxes or just premium pricing, we couldn't determine.  Whatever the reason, we've been reluctant to try many Canadian wines because of the cost.  If we are going to spend so much on a bottle of wine, we're going to buy something that we are familiar with and know we will enjoy.  That's too bad...but we're probably not the only tourists that make that choice.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Immerse with Josie Schneider

One of the truly great things about house sitting is meeting new people and making new friends.  This happens not only in person but also over the internet as we connect through our blog to individuals with whom we share common interests.  That's how we met Josie and Conrad, two fellow house sitters with lots of experience.  They've been there, done that, and have the tee-shirt, so we were thrilled when Josie agreed to be our very first guest interview.  
Thank you Josie!
Josie & Conrad 

How did you get your start house sitting?
Three months after meeting my future husband Conrad, he asked me to go on a trip to Australia with him. How could I say no? Australia! The trip not only cemented our relationship but also revealed to us that we are extremely compatible travelers. While staying at a lovely B&B in Alice Springs, we met a Romanian woman who was house sitting in Australia. We were fascinated by the concept and knew immediately house sitting was for us. I started researching right away, then a year later, answered posts on house sitting websites. Two years after the Australia trip, we were actively house sitting. “How did we get so lucky?” That’s what we kept saying to each other with permanent grins on our faces!

What has been your favorite house sit so far?
That’s an impossible question to answer. Every home and situation is so wildly different. How can you compare a luxury home in Copenhagen to an off-the-grid mountainside cabin in Spain? You can’t. I’m an experience junkie. I’m going to immerse in whatever the situation has to offer, whether it’s figuring out how to use all the fancy gadgets in the gourmet kitchen or how to navigate around a craggy cliff to pick the ripe prickly pears from a cactus.

Tuscany House Sit
 What was the length of your shortest house sit and your longest house sit?
Shortest: 10 days in Tuscany. The arrangement went like this – work for 3 days harvesting olives in exchange for 10 free days in a private apartment attached to the grove owner’s home. Longest: 1 ½ years in Baltimore, Maryland. We were contracted, (yes, we have a contract for each house sit. It’s important), for 11 months, but the homeowners were in a bind, so we stayed longer to help them out. We like them. Felt a kindred spirit with them, so our new found – and lifetime – friendship with them dictated the long stay. It was too long, though. We got very itchy feet to be on the move again!  On the positive side of the long house sit, though, is that we got to reconnect and enjoy relatives that live in the general Baltimore area. That’s why we took the long house sit to begin with – and I recommend this as a perfect reason to house sit. Get an assignment near relatives. How perfect! You get to spend extended time with loved ones and have your own “home” to go back to each night.

What was your most unusual house sitting experience?
Living "off-the-grid" in Spain
The house sit in an off-the-grid home in Southern Spain was not only the most unusual, but the one we talk about the most. Everything about our 6 weeks there was foreign and life-changing. Conrad and I lived through an experience there that only we can understand – the good and bad. It bonded us, too. It was that kind of experience that you know you’ll never repeat, and you can never quite explain fully to others. I write about it a lot on my blog, but still, Conrad and I are the only ones that fully get it. I think it’s why we talk about it the most of all our house sits. We were changed there.

What would you say makes a house sit a "great" house sit vs. one that is just okay?
You must do your due diligence up front. I can’t stress this enough, especially for us older folks. Here’s what I mean – By ensuring all the features are good before you pack your bags, the house sit will be a good one. Have your criteria mapped out before you even start applying and then follow your criteria as you evaluate each possible assignment. Do you feel comfortable with the homeowners? Is the home in the right location? (some can be very remote, for instance) Will you need to rent a car? Does the cost of living fit with my budget? (Copenhagen busted our butts! It’s extremely expensive)  Everyone’s criteria are different. Write yours down – and don’t skip this step. A well-planned house sit is a good one. A badly planned house sit is a huge waste of your time and money, not to mention the missed opportunity to change your lives by traveling well.

When you are searching for a house sit what are the key elements you look for in the ads?
I go by feel. That’s my short answer.  By the wording, the types of things the homeowner chose to  photograph, how analytical they are – all these nuances speak to me. I know right away when I read a posting if it’s for us. Right away.  Having said that, there are definite things that are a turn-off to me. Incorrect spelling or grammar, (except by non-English speakers), apathy, unreasonable demands, (like I must take care of three dogs plus pay the utilities), disorganization.

 A question that we are often asked is the one that begins with "what if..." What if the house is a mess, the dogs difficult, what if it's not what you expected...any advice for those unexpected situations?
Anyone who asks that question is not a good candidate for house sitting.

What has been the most difficult aspect of house sitting for you?
There really are none. But one thing I fantasize about is to bring all of our kids and grandkids to a house sit with us – for maybe a week or two. We want to share the incredible experience with them. We miss them while we’re away. Thank goodness for Skype!

What "sage advice" would you give to the novice house sitter?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Leave behind the usual chatter that accompanies our daily lives – that chatter that keeps us from thinking large. Open up to everything new.

What is the best part of your lifestyle as a house sitter?
Conrad and I know it suits us perfectly. We’re both vagabonds at heart and don’t require many of the standard cultural stuff that our friends and family find necessary. (Actually, some of our family thing we’re downright nuts!) So when we’re house sitting it’s like we’re free to explore everything. The burdens of “rules” are not imposed on us anymore. We’re pioneers charting our own course. We are avid political science junkies and can spend days discovering what makes the townspeople tick, for instance. Or why poverty is defined differently in different areas of the world. We look for the reasons and definitions of how people live the way they do. House sitting allows us time to immerse.

Josie Schneider is a writer, blogger, and author of "The House Sitting Book".  You can find out more from Josie at her blog here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Thanksgiving Canadian Style

Our niece Katie and her daughter Nolie (who is Canadian/American)
 show off their own garden bounty.

We were surprised to find out that Canada celebrates a Thanksgiving Day.  Being Americans we tend to think of it as our special day.  After all, we're the ones with Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims, right?  Well, a Googling we go...

Turns out the Pilgrims were not doing anything novel when they held their famous Thanksgiving bash.  Native peoples had been holding such events long before those partying Europeans arrived in the New World.  Festivals of thanks were held to celebrate the bounty of a good harvest before America or Canada made them "official government" holidays. 

So what about Thanksgiving in Canada?  According to the w.w.w., refugees fleeing the civil war in the United States brought the custom with them to Canada.  Since 1879, Canada has held a Thanksgiving Day each year, but on varying dates with differing themes.  It has only been since 1957 that the official Canadian Thanksgiving was created when Parliament proclaimed it "a general Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed" and decreed the event would occur on the second Monday in October each year.  

Is the Canadian Thanksgiving any different from the American version?  Well, other than that soccer football thing...nope.  Turkey with all the fixings, pumpkin pie for dessert, and an after dinner loosening of the belt buckle makes pilgrims of us all.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Butchart Garden's Million Flowers a Year

overhead shot of Butchart Garden's Quarry Garden with visitors
The Quarry Garden
(The chimney in the far fight corner is the only surviving part of the original cement quarry.)

Over 100 years ago, Jenny Butchart looked out over the remains of her husband's ugly limestone quarry pit and envisioned a garden paradise.  Today, Butchart Gardens is a National Historic Site and one of the world's most spectacular gardens.  With seasonally changing plantings, there are over a million bedding plants installed each year - that's one for every visitor!  

postcard style of three views within the Butchart Garden's Quarry Garden
Plantings within the Quarry Garden

While Jenny Butchart may have been very much the Victorian era lady, early photos of her hanging from a Bosen's chair installing plants along the high quarry walls attest to her active role in creating her personal garden of Eden.  Her husband, a collector of ornamental birds, filled her ponds and gardens with colorful wildlife.  Together, they christened the garden estate "Benvenuto" in welcome to all those who would come and enjoy their garden wonderland.


Postcard style 3 views of the Butchart Garden's Italian Garden
The Italian Garden

Postcard style 3 views of Butchart Garden's Asian Garden
The Asian Garden

3 views of fall color at Butchart Gardens
Fall in the garden

B & W portrait of Jenny Butchart, her gardening records and the greenhouse
Jenny Butchart, original gardening records, and the greenhouse

3 phases of the Ross Fountain at Butchart Gardens
Phases of the Ross Fountain

It may be fall, but the garden is still blooming!

For more information visit Butchart Garden's website.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Panoramic Views from Mt. Douglas

Cordova Bay

Mt. Baker
Mt. Douglas is the highest point on the Saanich Penninsula and we'd been told the views from the top were spectacular.  The 360 degree panorama takes in Cordova Bay with snow capped Mt. Baker in the background all the way around to the Strait of San Juan de Fuca with the Olympic Mountain range as a backdrop. Spectacular?  You bet!

Looking out to the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Range in Washington
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