Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.


February 2016

Bad naked

IMG_6105How can this, which is so beautiful it has a colour named after it…

IMG_6266…turn into this?

I saw the first robin in the yard today getting ready to nest and make its alien babies once again. This is last year’s hatch, conveniently located on our deck to make photography easy.

IMG_6205I mean really. Grow some feathers.


7 Swim stories almost as weird as Kevin Costner’s gills in Waterworld

IMG_43901. S.S. Eating Disorder

In the swim zone with thoughts drifting in and out like a slow moving current, I pass a sail boat anchored in the bay at Manitou in Naramata. I casually note the vessel’s name and swim on. “Mmmm, odd name for a boat…The Bulimia.” After a day of reflection I make it my mission to swim closer to The Bulimia for a confirmation check of the unusual name. “The Bohemia”…makes more sense.

IMG_44092. Cats and Rats and Elephants

A swim alongside ducks is pretty common here. We note each other’s presence and do our thing. An eagle flying over and making off with a duckling a foot away is not as common. Despite the mother’s efforts to shield her remaining fuzzy kids, the eagle made a second pass and then there were five. Circle of life right?

Swimming on a hot day at Manitou can bring other hot creatures to the beach for a dip. It’s not uncommon to see horses wading out from the dog beach for a paddle around. No eagle worries there.

Weirdest of all. A woman arrives at the Penticton beach with cat in her arms. Both head out into the water for a short dip and the cat seems pretty OK about it. I stuck around to watch it being towelled off before they packed up and headed for home. The cat looked cooler and still pretty OK with it.

IMG_84853. Sunnies

The summer of 2015 I could have opened a used sunglasses shop. I found six pairs of sunglasses on various long swims in the lake. Many were found beneath the buoy most used to anchor floaties filled with wobbly-pop drinking sun-tanners. My new Maui Jim’s retail for $269.00 US. The rhinestone beauties went to my sister-in-law. Another pair ended up back in the lake. Circle of life right?


Ironman Canada start in Penticton

4. An argument for skin

Conventional wisdom is to hydrate well before the long day on an Ironman course and pee while swimming to save time before hopping on your bike. Never having practiced this, a tri friend gave it a go during the race. “No problem, made it happen. Then I started envisioning my body covered in pee and literally freaked out. I grabbed my zipper and peeled my wetsuit half off to rinse myself. It’s impossible to put back on in the water. Long, awkward swim.”

Another bud, Crazy Canuck team member Jaime put her wetsuit on for the first time on a 30-plus degree day. As my daughter aptly described wet suiting up as, “like putting on a dolphin,” a red-faced, sweating Jaime did the Ta Da dance after the epic struggle. “Hey Jaime, You know the zipper is supposed to be in the back right?”

5. Disturbia

Swimming blithely along, a search and rescue boat pulls alongside and attracts my attention. “We’re searching for the victim of a fatal boating accident. Please be aware of the search boats in the swim area.” As I answer, “OK, sure,” my thoughts go to the deep, weedy area I’m just entering. I’m not really worried about the boats.


6. Great balls of fish

Swimming in the ocean in the Kailua harbor in Kona, Hawaii is cool but for us Canadian shark-worriers…it’s a bit daunting. Imagine our surprise at coming upon a fish ball, or bait ball. It’s a large, teeming mass of fish that swim in a tightly-packed formation for less than 10 minutes in a kind of last-ditch measure to protect themselves from predators. Well at least the fish near the centre of the ball. “Mmmm fish ball… predators…sharks.” The experience notched up a level when a snorkeler emerged from the very centre of the ball beside Crazy Canucker, Al.

7. It who shall not be named

“I guess you know why I asked you to give me a call,” I said.

“I’m in,” says Chris.

“That was easy,” I say.

“What do you need me to to do?” Chris says.

The fifth member of the Crazy Canucks relay team making a bid to cross the English Channel this summer telepathically knew what the call was about and signed up without a qualm.

Well maybe a few qualms…”The swimming itself is perhaps not the challenge. It will be the weather conditions, the dark, seasickness and nerves. But it will be a blast!”

Chris spent summers at a cottage in the Gatineau hills of Quebec and swam down the lake with canoe escorts. He and his family still spend time at the lake and swims now circumvent the entire lake. A triathlete, he has raced in many events including numerous Iron distance races. He says, “In the past couple of years the ‘swim only’ bug has bitten and he has completed some four and five-kilometre open water races.

Making his home in Canmore, Chris will have no problem getting in some cold water training … once the ice on the mountain lakes melts in June.

This cider house rules

IMG_6983The Naramata Cider Company is making some magic. Miranda and Del Halladay have found a way to distill the essence of summer in this special part of Canada’s Okanagan Valley into a refreshing, sparkling drink best sipped resting in a hammock.

The couple who founded Elephant Island Winery in 1999 have been trialling cider since 2005 and felt ready to open the sister company in 2014 to get in on the ground floor of an exploding craft cider movement. The Naramata Cider Company is the first cidery on the Naramata Bench in British Columbia, so well known for its many wonderful wineries.

“Our craft ciders offer a richer, more diverse experience for visitors to the area,” says Miranda. “It allows us to create something else great from what we grow here. When you look down on Naramata you see a quilt made up of vineyards and orchards with all the pieces weaving into one another. We have added another agricultural element to that tapestry.”

She says the Naramata Cider Company is perfect fit with Naramata’s special status as a member community of Cittaslow International. Born from the slow food movement, Cittaslow’s main goal is to promote the philosophy of Slow Food to local communities and governments, applying the concepts of eco-gastronomy to everyday life.

Elephant Island’s cherry trees are being pruned today in the background in preparation for spring. The winery, overlooking Okanagan Lake, is home to Naramata Cider Company.

Made from either apples or pears, it tastes lovely. As I’m not a tasting expert, I’ll defer to someone who is. The Vancouver Sun’s noted wine critic Anthony Gismondi describes the Naramata Cider Company’s Dry Apple Cider Rest Easy as: “Effervescent with spicy, ginger, light floral, grassy cooked apple aromas. Dry, light, fresh style with good bubbles. Flavours are light with green apple and grass with a bit of lees. Elegant, but very simple…” He had me at effervescent.

Crushed, pressed and bottled in Naramata, the company produces dry pear cider, dry apple cider and cider maker’s (Del) select which was a limited production of apple meets blackberry this past season. Production is growing from 7,000 litres in June of 2015 to 20,000 litres beginning this April.

Some of those litres will be sold in single-serve bottles this year in addition to their current 750 ml bottles and others in a new type of recyclable keg made by Petainer.

Del explaining the benefits of these new kegs for the on-tap market

There are now about 25 licensed producers of cider and apple wine in British Columbia and half have been licensed in the past two years. What’s the big deal?  It’s all about the craft that is going into making them, says Miranda. Gone are the days of sweet, syrupy “alcopop” so-call ciders that are made from concentrate with added sugar and artificial flavours.  According to noted wine writer and critic John Schreiner, so much care goes into making these new craft ciders that they are as complex as wine. An added benefit is cider’s moderate alcohol content of seven per cent and the fact that they are gluten-free.

This tank, cooled by means of glycol, is where the bubbles happen. Pear cider is being injected with CO2 before its ready for filtering and bottling.

Miranda says the cider’s branding is a fun way to tell the story of Naramata.

IMG_6975For example, we have a peacock that calls Naramata Village home. “We love it…especially when it’s chasing the blue recycling truck down Robinson. Another reason to slow down and appreciate the joy.”

Castanet used my blog post. Check it out here.

Rattlesnake Island Swim…can rattlesnakes swim?

P8100004Yes indeed they can, but rattlesnakes are small potatoes when you think of the island’s key resident, Ogopogo, said to inhabit a cave beneath the island. Swimmers participating in the unique 7-kilometre out-and-back swim that loops around the back of Rattlesnake Island or the one-way 3-kilometre swim across Okanagan Lake from Rattlesnake Island to Peachland, British Columbia, Canada,  have never reported encounters with Ogopogo but rattlesnakes abound.

IMG_6948Plastic snakes that is. Each swimmer takes home one of these coveted reptiles if they finish.

Organized by The Across The Lake Swim Society, Rattlesnake Island Swim, is one of the most beautiful and unique open water swims in Canada. Never sponsored,  advertised or promoted, the race has been growing in popularity over its 20-year history by word of mouth.


It’s a challenging swim for a few reasons. Currents and swells can mean more people end up swimming the race than the number that started it. The 7-k swimmers are required to have a kayak, canoe or stand-up-paddleboard escort and in rough conditions paddlers have ended up in the drink and have had to be helped by safety crews.

Many swimmers with inexperienced paddler guides end up swimming farther than the 7-k, some as many as 3-k more. It’s tricky to handle the currents and winds at the slow paddling pace of a swimmer while aiming for the almost invisible island, which blends perfectly into the surrounding landscape. The more serious swimmer/paddler duos use GPS to help plot the shortest course around the island.

The more you race Rattlesnake, the more you learn how to race it. It’s hard to compare times from one year to the next however, as conditions change in this narrowing stretch of  beautiful Okanagan Lake. The average time is about 2:30.

Most of the English Channel team swam the 7-k Rattlesnake Island Swim in 2014

Swimmers are required to wear wetsuits and wear a swim buddy, which is an inflatable marker that can also be used to buoy you up if you get into trouble.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe swim, which takes place August 6 this year, is well organized with lots of safety boats and personnel and includes orientation sessions which are great for first timers.

Here’s John getting ready for the 2014 Rattlesnake Island Swim. “I won’t be needing this thing for the Channel.”

John says his decision to join the Channel team was pretty spontaneous. “I said yes before thinking. But its great bucket list material.”

He swam on a team beginning at age five until he was 15 and then “retired” to take the sport back up again when he was 45. At 50 he used his swimming skills to help him complete Ironman Canada. “I’m swimming more than ever now and ‘escaped Alcatraz’ earlier this year.”

John says he’ll be very embarrassed if he gets seasick. “I’m going to have to dig a little into my background for this swim. My family are commercial fishermen on British Columbia’s west coast and I did that for awhile before becoming a petroleum geologist in Calgary. My scuba diving background and experience on ocean-going boats will be helpful I hope.”

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Charles M. Schulz

IMG_6941In the spirit of share the chocolate, share the love here are some Valentine’s dinner tablescape photos. The roses, rosemary and lavender are from my greenhouse.


Librocubicultarist or love between the covers

IMG_6909I’m a librocubicultarist and its OK. I read in bed. Lots of other places too but reading in bed is the ultimate for true bibliophiles. The Handyman has given me the most perfect valentine’s gift that I can’t take to bed with me or anywhere else really and that’s OK too. I have a work-a-day back-up copy. (I wonder if there is a latin name for reading in the bathtub too?)


Ta da. This is an unread princeps, or first edition (American) of my favourite book.

I love books about adventurous women. Out of Africa is a memoir by the Danish author Baroness Karen von Blixen writing under the pen name Isak Dinesen. First published in England in 1937, the year before my American edition, about the 17 years she spent in Kenyan running a coffee plantation. (The 1937 British edition has the same richly illustrated dust jacket as mine has.)

“I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early morning and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.”

I  opened the brown-paper package from John W. Doull, Antiquarian & second-hand books bought & sold in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and smelled my treasure. There is a word for that too: Bibliosmia, the act of smelling books, especially as a way of getting a ‘fix’ from the aroma of old tomes.

True confessions. My love for Out of Africa was born after my first viewing of the movie, which to my horror (30 years, really?) celebrated the 30th anniversary of its release last year.  My favourite actor Meryl Streep was Karen and Robert Redford, Denys Finch Hatton.

IMG_2129Hopelessly romantic, the movie takes liberties with the book’s emphasis on her day-to-day life in Africa (although nothing was really day-to-day about it) and spins it into a moving love story filmed on location. Who can forget the sweeping scenes of Kenya from the air or Redford tenderly washing Streep’s hair on safari.The love story really happened but the book has a much more restrained telling of it.

Before I gush on even more, I’ll leave you with some of Karen’s words after her heart-wrenching departure from Africa:

“If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air on the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”

10 weird questions asked about our English Channel swim



  1. Is this a new race? I’ve never heard of a swim in the Channel.

Locals think we are talking about swimming in the Okanagan River Channel, a seven-kilometre-long man-made channel connecting Okanagan and Skaha Lakes. It is filled with people on floaties, often with beers in tow, every hot summer day and is only five-feet deep in many places. “No, we are swimming the English Channel, also called simply the Channel, hence the confusion. It’s the body of water that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the southern part of the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. We will swim at its narrowest point of 32.3 km in the Strait of Dover.”


2. You wear a wetsuit right?

No, just like the first woman to swim the Channel, Gertrude Ederle, we will wear bathing suits, caps and goggles. Gertrude was slathered in blubber from baby dolphins, mainly because she was allergic to the salt in the water. Today’s solo swimmers can buy Channel Grease from Boots Pharmacy in Dover. It’s made from the sap of an Amazon rainforest tree. Us relay guys won’t need it with our one-hour stints in the sea.

3. So, you find the biggest bathing suit you can to keep warm? One with legs?

Nope. And they are called swim costumes. “A standard swim costume shall be of a material not offering thermal protection or buoyancy and shall be sleeveless and legless. Sleeveless shall mean the costume must not extend beyond the end of the shoulder onto the upper arm and legless shall mean the costume must not extend onto the upper leg below the level of the crotch.” So basically we are talking speedos for the guys.

4. What day is the race?

It’s not a race as in a mass start all on one day, although times are meticulously recorded by an independent observer of the Channel Swimming Association. Swimmers head out throughout the swimmable period, which is pretty much July to September, according to weather and tides.

5. How do you know where you are going?

Swimmers don’t have to worry about that. You are escorted by one of eight Channel Swimming Association pilot boats. We will be in the capable hands of Reg Brickell, whose father also piloted Channel swimmers. We will swim alongside, (without touching) the trawler, Viking Princess and when at sea Reg has the last say on our safety.

6. Lots of people have done this right? It’s not that big a deal?

If we make it, we will be among a pretty elite club, even as a mere 6-person relay team. My admittedly dated 2011 record book shows only four Canadian relay teams have made this swim. I know of one other that swam it two years ago as they live at the other end of our big lake and I’m sure there have been a few others since. Half our team will be 60 in the year of our swim so that will be cool too. Touching wood, fingers crossed, rabbits foot…


7. What will you do when you get to France? Holiday?

After the lucky last swimmer on the relay team walks or crawls on the French shore above the waterline somewhere near Cap Gris Nez, we hop in the dingy until we hit deep enough water to board the Viking Princess and motor for Dover. Although we all have to have our passports onboard, we aren’t allowed to stay in France. It’s tradition to take a pebble from the French beach with you as a souvenir.


8. It’s only about 32 kilometres right? You can see France on a clear day right?

Strong currents and tides mean you swim a lot further and a typical swim looks like an “S”. In fact, the slowest ever successful swimmer took more than 28 hours to complete the swim. She ended up swimming 70 kilometres as she pushed well off course by strong tides. We don’t want to beat that record.

9. Aren’t you afraid of the deep water?

No. We are all used to swimming “in the deep end” and have lots of deep lake swimming away from shore experience. But, we are afraid of the cold water, jellyfish, swimming in the dark at night, being in the busiest shipping lane in the world, not the cleanest water to swim in, getting seasick either on the rocky fishing trawler or in the sea while swimming, letting our team down by not swimming hard enough to get through the currents and the biggest one of all… Getting to England and not being able to even attempt the swim if the weather is too bad during our swim window (July 26-August 1). Rabbit foot, touch wood, salt over shoulder…

10. Why are you doing this?

Because it’s there? Speaking of Everest… About 3,000 people have climbed it and less than 1,000 have swum the English Channel solo. We all have our reasons. Here’s the story of Crazy Canuck team member Charlie:

Charlie, warming up after our 15-degree 2-hour test swim in Skaha Lake in the fall


“I’m swimming the Channel because of a combination of things. You twisted my arm and I was dropped on my head.” More seriously she talks of the amazing English Channel history and that swimming on a relay team seems a “doable” way to be a part of that amazing story.

Charlie is an athletic goddess in my eyes. She holds the Woman over 50 records for both Ultraman Canada (2011) and Ultraman Australia (2015) among other achievements. Enough said.

“My biggest challenge is with the cold water. I’m sure I had some mild hypothermia after our test swim. My brain was pretty fuzzy and it took forever to get into warm clothes. It should be OK though as it’s only an hour at a go and the Channel will likely be warmer than our test swim was.”

She says she also looking forward to adding our names to the walls of the White Horse in Dover and celebrating with a pint.







5 key things I’ve learned about baking


FullSizeRender1. The Internet is so your friend. After offering to show my love for a niece by baking all the desserts for her wedding, I learned how to really bake. It became my mission to up the ante enough to feel proud of my gift to her. I took an intensive online course given by noted Vancouver Pastry Chef Marco Ropke. I made almost all the pastries, European cakes and cookies in the course over the course of six months. The instruction, more than 10 hours of video and clear recipes were amazing. I also communicated with the Chef and got answers to my questions…mainly about sourcing ingredients.

This Dobos tort was one of my first projects on the course.

2. I’m always asked to bring dessert to dinner parties. That’s OK by me. I get to try something new and fancy and we don’t have to eat all of it.


3. If you are serious about learning to bake you have to get right back on that horse when you fall off and you will fall off a lot. Even experienced chefs and bakers have failures. I try to analyze why the cake didn’t rise and have another go. In the case of macarons, there were multiple attempts and I’m getting close.

IMG_40034. Don’t mess about trying to make your baking less fattening. Use real butter, good chocolates and rich cream. It is all about the ingredients. I don’t see the point in indulging in a treat if it is only so-so. Let them eat great cake or have a carrot. There is no in-between.


5. Five Paris Brest pastries (a cream puff type affair) is too many to eat in one session, the Handyman says.


Haute decor

I was decorating and antique shopping at about this stage of the tree fort build.

Tree fort under construction

And started buying things for the cabins at about this stage.IMG_3610The laminate flooring is a tree fort upgrade that elevates it from splintery plywood and it has been easy to clean. The roof overhang keeps any rainwater from coming in the screen windows and ruining the floor.IMG_3675The second cabin, added a year after the first, is designed as more of an adult space. Kids can sleep in the upstairs cabin futon with parents not too far away.

Adult tree fort cabin ready for guests

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Here are some more pictures… The decor is evolving still. The adult cabin, dubbed “The Nappster” will get drywall and paint eventually. Its guests have also recommended roll-up bamboo blinds to help with the moonlight. A back deck addition is planned for this summer.



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