Bar’s Closed

Photo courtesy of Bjorn Larrson.

An alternative to driving the long way around from Ancona, Italy to Patras, Greece, is to go by car ferry.  On the day we wanted to make the trip, many years ago, third-class tickets for the “Mediterranean Sea,” were sold out, so we had to buy first class. After waiting in line for hours, our VW van was crammed aboard into one of the last available spaces, a cubbyhole with a low ceiling and steel walls on three sides.

Three days later, when it was time to unload, this cubicle became an oven. Temperatures soaring over 100 F. and the chaos of impatient passengers and disorganized unloading practices had us nearly suffocating on the engine exhaust of cars started way too soon in the closed-in car deck. (In those days in Italy, there were no safety regulations such as we have in Canada nowadays.) An overeager passenger in dire need of driving lessons backed up his trailer at a weird angle behind us, making it impossible for us to move. Trapped in the scorching cubicle I felt like a chicken in a slow cooker.

But let me backtrack two days. Long before the unloading fiasco, we learned that paying first-class prices didn’t translate into first-class service.  Because of having first-class tickets, we had to take our meals in the first-class lounge. We put on the best of our jeans and T-shirts and took a seat at the end of one of the long empty tables in the middle of the room. The waiters leaned their shoulders together and muttered something to each other. Then one of them asked us to join a couple at a small corner table. We regretted spoiling their privacy at this secluded table, but it wasn’t our doing. We said hello. No response. Mrs. Ageing Princess dropped her eyelids, smoothed her long white silk gown, and stuck her nose in the air, up and away, presumably to draw fresh uncontaminated air on her farther side.  Mr. Heir-to-the-Throne shot his cuffs from his tuxedo and patted her hand consolingly, making no effort to control the twitching of his upper lip and nostrils.

We directed our attention to the meal—served to their royal highnesses first, and watched the choicest morsels being loaded onto their plates. The swarthy waiter then came to our side of the table. I didn’t know whether to cry at the inadequate dinner of tired leftover bits he tried to serve us, or laugh at the way the tiniest remnants of French fries kept slipping from the fancy tongs he was obliged to use. So much for first class.

“I think you need to go refill the platter first,” my husband said. I watched as the waiter returned to the kitchen. At first I’d been annoyed that he tried to give us the dregs of the platter, but now that I saw him being jostled out of line at the kitchen pass-through window, I wondered if this explained his sparsely laden serving tray.

After that day, I watched the swarthy one at mealtimes. The other waiters scolded and bumped him, treated him abominably. On the second and last night of the trip, the grand finale after our meal was a surprise. The lights were suddenly shut off and the waiters filed out carrying plates of flaming Baked Alaska. Like soldiers on review, they stood, proudly displaying the Bombe Alaska. The diners applauded politely and the waiters extinguished their fiery platters, blowing out the last of the dying flames —all except our swarthy waiter. He blew on his flaming dessert in increasingly frantic puffs, eventually slapping at his scorching sleeves.

“Uh-oh,” I said. “He’ll be in the doghouse now.” And sure enough, the suave-looking head waiter grabbed the unfortunate’s burning plate, hissed something as he swept past him, and the two disappeared into the kitchen. “Poor guy! He’s getting an earful now.”

The next morning, before we had both eyes open, we were rousted out of our beds, told to pack and get ready to disembark. No showers, no breakfast—grab suitcases, leave the cabin. Sure enough, land was in sight, but it would be a while before the tug could maneuver us into the harbour.

“I’ll get us a cup of coffee while we wait.” I found our swarthy waiter friend wiping down the bar in the lounge.

“Can I get a cup of coffee, please? I’ll pay.” Other meals had been included in the ticket price until now, but I could see that they wanted to clear us out and further meals would not be included in the fare.

The waiter snarled at me, “Bar’s closed!”

I took a step back. “Wow!” The cycle of mistreatment would perpetuate itself. He was getting ready to move up in the pecking order.


*Note – Both of the ferries travelling between Italy and Greece (the Mediterranean Sea and the Mediterranean Sky) are no longer in service. The “Sea” (later renamed Mediterranean Sun)  was dismantled and the “Sky” was sinking at the wharf in Athens and so was towed across the bay to sink in a more private (out of the way) place.

You can see the “Mediterranean Sky” lying on its side in the waters of Eleusis Bay, near Athens behind the island of Salamis. Just click the link for a satellite view of it.,+Greece/@38.0242441,23.4880591,687m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x14a1ae4c9ab8d99f:0x400bd2ce2b97e50!6m1!1e1?hl=en

Patras, Greece

Ancona, Italy

Big and Black

In the spring of the year, I’m always a bit nervous of letting my dogs, Emma and Ruby, out into the backyard in the early hours of dawn. I like to wait a little longer until more of the neighbours are up and around. Why? Because this is the time of year when we sometimes have visitors in the yard. Black bears have wandered through here several times over the years, and two weeks ago a raccoon was wrestling with my birdfeeder at 1:30 a.m. Cougar sightings are also the topic of conversation from time to time. Although I’ve never seen one in our yard, I’ve heard reports of them being very close by.

So this morning when my usually quiet Emma barked, I ran to see what was up. She seemed afraid to go near the fence and as she backed up,  she did her “I’m not afraid of you” bark. But her tail told the tale. She was afraid.

She was barking at something in the same place where, a few years ago, I had called one of our previous spaniels away from a black bear who was sitting just on the other side of the fence.

I hurried to call both dogs into the house and then went out to investigate.

Later, I made her pose for this picture, but she still kept her eye on the fence.


I scanned the woods on the other side of the fenceline, looking for raccoons, cougars, or black bears, and then I saw it. Sure enough it was a big black….


At first I thought it was a tent, but on looking more closely, I assumed it must be a load of firewood, covered with a black tarp.


Emma still isn’t convinced that it won’t do her harm.

Wood and Water

One of the perks of having company is having an excuse to be a tourist in your own territory. Normally, I don’t go visit the waterfalls near Qualicum or Cathedral Grove, the forest of huge trees at MacMillan Park. It has been two years since my last long-term guests were here and I had a reason to make this wonderful combination trip of wood and water.

I parked the car and before we even started our walk, I looked up and saw two interesting sights. A huge arbutus tree (on the left) showed off its beautiful barkless trunks and evergreen leaves. To the right, a burl had grown on a Douglas fir. Because a burl has a lot of knots and gnarly growth patterns, it is often cut into slabs and used as a top for a small table. The knots in the grain make a beautiful design and you’ll see these tables lacquered or varnished to give the table a high-gloss finish.


But follow me down the path into the woods and let’s go see Little Qualicum Falls.003




From the middle of Vancouver Island, when you drive from the east coast of the island to the west coast, you’ll come to Cameron Lake, a very deep lake next to a winding road that can be treacherous in the wintertime. Little Qualicum Falls is a camping area on the east end of Cameron Lake and if you wind your way beside the long, long lake to the other end of it, you’ll come to MacMillan Park (or more commonly called Cathedral Grove by the locals).

One of the trees in this park is over 800 years old. A sign says that when Columbus came to North America in 1492, this tree was already about 300 years old. It is taller than the famous leaning Tower of Pisa.


The trees cling to any grip they can find to keep their feet firmly on (and in) the ground, so watch your step.035But sometimes in a big windstorm, some unfortunates may topple and their roots will reach up, wondering where the ground went. This tree root has been filled in by sandy soil from the blowing dust of many years, and possibly tamped down by many a footstep. I would guess that the footsteps have been made, in large part, by  children needing to go up to see the lizard-like creature face to face. Do you see him standing up on the right of the sand-filled roots?029Last but not least, I must show off my very sweet 93-year-old mother-in-law as she investigates the hollow cedar tree. If she went into the hollow of the tree, she would disappear inside – it is that big.


The Cathedral Grove trees never fail to impress.

Aliens in the Woods

At the quilt show, I saw one quilt that gave me goosebumps. Seriously, the hair on my arms stood up and a shiver ran over me. Do you see the aliens in the woods in this quilt? One is more prominent than the others (he must be the leader) but the more I looked the more I found. If you don’t see him, try looking at the section I cropped and posted below the picture of the whole quilt.028

Look for his right eye near the middle of the quilt in one of the darker pieces. Once you see his eye, you’ll see his mouth. Look around in the bigger quilt above and find him there. You may see others like him here and there. Wherever you see an eye, you may find the rest of the aliens. I just had another look at the quilt and my goosebumps came back. This quilt is beautifully done but it creeps me out. I could only have this hanging on my wall on a hot day to cool me off with the shivers.

028aDid you see the aliens? They’re everywhere, aren’t they?

The Love-Hate List

Thanks, Lynne at, for the love-hate list challenge.

Here are ten things I dislike very much:

1. insincerity

2. liars

3. braggarts

4. gossips

5.people who slip into “my” intended parking place when I have my blinker on and am waiting for someone to back out

6.saying goodbye to people I love

7.people who talk on their cell phones or who text while driving

8. TV ads with put downs or that teach kids that bad behaviour is funny or okay

9. the increase in volume of TV ads that come on during a show that is at a normal volume

10. unhealthy additives in our food

Ten things I love:

1. reading

2. writing

3. when someone buys my books

4. seeing a new plant pop up in my garden

5. seeing a new and colourful bird at my birdfeeder

6. beautiful quilts

7. Joni Mitchell’s songs and poetry

8. watching my dogs’ antics

9. hearing an owl in the fir trees outside my house at night

10. seeing old friends and getting together with them for lunch

Those are my ten likes and dislikes. What would you add to a list like this? Can you think of one new thing for each list? Why not share it?

Quilts with Appliqué

At the quilt show I saw over a hundred beautiful quilts, but of course I can’t load on 100 photos, nor would anyone want to look at that many, so I chose some of the quilts that appealed to me the most. I happen to love appliqué and one-of-a kind quilts made from someone’s imagination. Not all of these quilts are unique, but many are. To see some of the special features up close you may have to click on the photo to magnify it.

The eagle quilt has two features that I found interesting. One is that the tip of one wing is loose and actually flying off the quilt. The wing feathers are individual pieces of fabric. For the back feathers, a lot of quilting (sewing on top of the material) gives the impression of feather shapes. The second special feature is in the quilting itself. Notice how the surface of the water has waves sewn into it. The water that is closer to us has the waves wider apart and then as we look at the distant water, the sewing lines are tighter and seem to make a ripple in the water.


This one is an African village done with typically “African” print fabric. The background is pieced together with small squares, but then the village and its people are cut out of separate pieces and sewn on top (appliquéd): Each of the dresses and bodies of the people are cut out and stitched on top. I liked this one because it reminded me of a Brueghel painting, African style.


Anything from the sea is all right by me.


The beauty of appliqué – you can put your cut out pieces anywhere you want. These fish are “out of the tank.” It makes them look as if they are just arriving to join the others. Lots of action here.


The shaping of the moose, making it appear to be 3-D, is done with various tones of brown. Each piece is sewn on separately. A lot of work! And look at the many tree trunks sewn into the background.


My favourite little birds. Quail and their babies. Each piece done separately and stitched on.


I had a close look at the turtle at the bottom of the quilt. It’s odd-shaped sections are sewn on top of the lighter green. The jellyfish are extraordinary with streamers of fancy threads sewn on with yet other fancy threads.


In case you’re a landlubber, I put in one quilt that shows a land-based scene.Once you start looking, you’ll see more and more things that you might have missed at first glance. How many hedgehogs do you see?


Sewing Machines

Making quilts was once thought to be an activity for old ladies, but that is changing. Younger people are getting interested in quilting too. In the old days, usually the quilts were practical—made for bed covers or for wrapping up in to keep warm. Nowadays quilts are more artistic and some are only meant to be displayed on a wall.

At the quilt show in Parksville on Vancouver Island last weekend, a friend and I admired many quilts of various styles and types. Most were newly made but, pictured below in the heritage section, are three quilts made in a very basic, old-fashioned way, with much of the sewing done by hand. One of the quilts was made 125 years ago. The old quilts had a lot of hand sewing on them, but there were early models of sewing machines on display to show what quilters might have used from the early 1900s on.




This Singer from 1912 was operated by turning the wheel by hand. This was awkward because it left the seamstress only one hand to hold pieces of cloth together and guide them under the needle.


Later Singer models used a long belt around that “drive” wheel and another wheel under the machine. The belt was driven by a rocking action by the feet on the treadle. Hence, your treadle sewing machine. Who needs a treadmill when you have a treadle sewing machine? And it leaves your hands free to guide the fabric.084

Then came the electric machines. Heaven! This Bernina is quite basic, but this company still makes one of the finest sewing machines available. They have the latest, fanciest machines you could wish for, and models for all levels of sewing abilities and needs.085

These two Singers below are the kind you turn by hand. If you can’t find the second machine, it’s tiny, brown, and tied to the handle of the old wagon next to the washboard.


And for serious quilters, we have the quilting machines that allow a lot more room to the right of the needle for that huge quilt to be passed through the machine. There are also commercial grade long arm quilting machines, but most home quilters find a way to work with a regular sewing machine. Take your choice.092In the next post I hope to show you some of the more modern quilts we saw at the quilt show. Many were amazing and all were inspiring.