Monday, January 21, 2019

ROBBLOG #764- Brrrrr?


Islanders sometimes ask- why did you move here from Ontario?

"We retired"- we say and add, "but the number one reason is the weather".
Now to be sure, The Cowichan is not tropical.
Yes we have palms and bananas and lots of green in January and February but-
It's not Hawaii and it's certainly not south Florida.
It is a Mediterranean climate- not unlike London and area in England, giving this area of Vancouver Island and south to Victoria- British Columbia's capital, the best we have in all of Canada.

There is snow at times on the island especially up island in the Courtney/Comax area on a mountain called Mount Washington. There can be snow a bit further north in Campbell River too.
Flakes can fall in the Nanaimo area and sometimes in Ladysmith about 25 minutes north of us but rarely here and if it does, it's gone as quickly as it came.
A picture is worth a thousand words...


I do not miss this scene one bit. In fact it looks a bit surreal.
25 to 30 cms and more snow fell in many parts of the east- and cold?
Fuck yes!
-25 to -30c temperatures and lower!

A friend in Ottawa texted me that she had to go out of the house Sunday to do some grocery shopping.
She didn't want to go. I wish I could have held her hand and told her she'd be fine. Cold but fine as long as her car started and she could find a parking space with all the snowbanks about.
Ottawa was the coldest capital city in the whole, wide world on Saturday and Sunday wasn't much better.
Take heart.
January is almost through.
I hated it when someone said that to me back in Orillia, Ontario.

Here on the Island, this was my Sunday January 20th on top of HighRock Park summit in Esquimalt not far from the Pacific Fleet Naval Base in Victoria. My face is lit by the 4 pm sun.
Pacific & Mountains behind me (Jan 20, 2019)
Pacific Fleet Naval Base just out of photo top right

January Sun setting from atop High Rock in Esquimalt
Now look, I am not saying there's room for all of you Easterners.
There simply isn't and many of you would never give up the East what with work, families and homes. I am not suggesting all of you do but what I am saying- if you are ready in your life for a change, a great change, this might be the place.

If you are flush with funds, the idea of living six months of the year in Ontario, New Brunswick or Nova Scotia and then six months in Trumpland might just be the ticket. For us it wasn't a consideration. The insanity that is America these days is just not worth it and this move west has been well received both by us and the new people we have met- many of them Ontarians.

Many Islanders want to keep this climate and this "place" a secret and wouldn't appreciate me telling you all this but look- you won't hear about it on TV or in the newspapers.
Did you read one story over the weekend about how nice it is here with 8 or 9 degrees, green grass, ocean and no ice and snow on the roads?
I'll bet you didn't because the only thing that makes weather news this time of year across CANADA is how fucking cold it is and how it just keeps snowing and snowing and snowing.

We have tulips and daffy's pushing through the earth. Snowdrops are out and today I saw many rhododendrons in bloom already and Heather- purple and white, in huge, colourful, flowering bunches. We are just a few weeks away from cherry blossoms.

So, keep this stuff just between you and me and don't think about moving here when you're in the middle of an Ontario or Quebec June or July because you won't and the reality of winter- like the photo further up this page, will be a distant memory.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

ROBBLOG #763- An Island Primer...of Sorts


An Island Primer...of sorts.

From time to time Easterners- who are tired of -30c temperatures and 20 or 30 cms of snow, e-mail me to ask how the Mister and I are fairing here on this Island. I try not to brag about 11c temperatures and warm January sunshine but at times I just can't help it.
Does it feel strange?
To be in CANADA and not freezing our collective asses off in January?
Yes.
It does feel strange sitting in Muskoka chairs in front of our house- Palm Villa, in shorts with coffee in hand chatting to neighbours as they pass by walking their dogs or just out for a stroll.
It is different than an Ontario winter.
Very different, this "Island Winter".

We are adjusting well. 
The winters are so easy although this past month has been wetter than last year. That being said, we are in a long run of mostly sunny days until the end of the month.
Daffodils are up 6 inches and Camelias and more are blooming or almost blooming.
Last winter we saw more sunshine but maybe Mother Nature will make up for it this month.

Cowichan Plantings
Duncan- in the Cowichan Valley, is the place to be for weather here on the Island. We have a Mediterranean climate much like you’d find around London in England. It’s why we have Palms and banana plants and Magnolia trees. Twenty minutes up island in Ladysmith and certainly Nanaimo- about 50 minutes away, the weather is somewhat different. There's a greater possibility of cooler temps, rain and some snow but even that doesn’t stay long.

Back in December we could see snow on Mount Prevost which is visible from our back yard and Lanai.

Victoria can be a few degrees warmer but it's usually windier too being on the southernmost tip of the Island. Just before Christmas we were down over the Malahat to Victoria to see the Egyptian exhibit at the Royal Victoria Museum when it was 14c and sunny.

Oddly enough that is the day the windstorm struck and we arrived home in the Cowichan powerless for 14 hours- we were lucky. There were fallen trees and branches everywhere. Locals say they have never seen a wind storm like it. Talking about storms, we don't have thunder and lightning here but I guess it balances out when we have an earthquake warning. Our earthquake kit is in the front hall closet, close to the front door. The big one is nigh, so we hear. Of course "nigh" could mean a few hundred years from now- or not!

A house in Nanaimo. Bet you thought Florida!
During these "winter months" many people are in shorts when it’s 8 to 10 c and sunny. Brave souls even sport flip flops! Even on wet days it’s mild enough to sport a pair.
Shorts- not flip flops.

Winter coats? 
Nope.
We layer clothing with a tee shirt, a hoodie or sweatshirt and a light jacket on top. We have never worn our winter ski jackets or winter boots. Light gloves? Occasionally.
There was some wet snow mixed with rain a week ago in the morning but the day ended up at 10c.
So, if you want to get away from snow and below zero temps this IS the place to be. Never a -20c or -30 temperature to be found. Barely below zero on a couple of nights.
Now, if you still want to ski where can a winter enthusiast go?
Hell comes to mind but seriously, Whistler on the mainland is popular but driving two hours north to Courtney/Comax you'll find Mt. Washington. That’s where "winter bunnies" go- and multiply, here on the island.
Friends in Orillia, Owen Sound, Ottawa and Washago have told us Ontario is in a "cold snap". That means it's colder than a witch's tittie, whereas I am in shorts and planting bulbs in our south garden.

An Island Neighbourhood on the Pacific Ocean
Just on the fringes of the Cowichan sits Ladysmith, a pretty Victorian town. Google it.
Ladysmith is built on a steep grade up to the edges of a mountain. Real Estate is a bit cheaper there.
Look for the Ladysmith BC website.

Here in Downtown Duncan there is a profusion of small shops- no chain stores. Duncan and North Cowichan- where we actually live, is about the same population as Orillia and area back in Ontario with the population in the neighbourhood of 75,000- give or take a thousand.
There is a native Casino here with slots only- we believe. Maybe gaming tables. We haven’t been.
It can't hold a candle to Casino Rama, however.

Nanaimo- up island past Ladysmith on the Trans Canada One, has a much larger population of  135,000 plus- with all the national chain stores and malls to choose from plus a big Costco.
Travelling in the other direction down Island there's Cobble Hill, Arbutus Ridge and Mill Bay. All are smaller communities but quite nice and right on the Ocean. We are 10-15 minutes from the Ocean at Maple Bay and the Salt Spring Ferry at Crofton.

Comparing real estate prices between the Cowichan and Victoria, Sidney or Saanich, we would win the "cheaper" sweepstakes- if there were such a thing. We would have loved to bought a home in Sidney but we couldn't find the same amount of house we have here in the Cowichan in size- and price point, in Sidney that we could afford in our retirement. Saying that, our house has gone up over 100,000 dollars in value in just a year. That's a good return on the dollar, eh?
Boats are in the water year round
So how do we fill our days here on the Island?
Well, we exercise walk every day- rain or shine. We have coffee with neighbours and friends. We go out to dinner- nothing too fancy though. At Christmas we had an Open House with more than 50 people. Most of the people we had met on the Island over the past year and 5 months. Island people are very friendly and most helpful with many Ontario and Alberta folks in the mix.

We have a younger couple from Woodstock living next door. They arrived on the Island a month before us. Several other Ontarians live here in our neighbourhood and in neighbourhoods close by. Back around Hallowe'en we met a lady a few streets away who was born in Orillia at Soldier’s Memorial Hospital. That's hard to find even when you live in Orillia.
Over the years there I'd talk to people who would say- "Yup, lived here in Orillia my whole life!"
"Oh, and born at Soldier's?"- I would ask.
"No."- they'd say, "But I've been here since I was 5 years old."
"But not born here then..."
I'd insert quickly- "That's a shame."
To find out more about our Island just Google "North Cowichan" or "Duncan"

Maple Bay with Salt Spring Island in the background
To get a true feeling for the place we now call home on Vancouver Island- if you even have the slightest desire to move here, I'd advise you to come out in January/February to get a true feeling for an “Island Winter”. If you're driving over from the mainland make sure you make a reservation on the appropriate ferry sailing- especially in the summer months or you may never get here!

Finally- just so you know, Vancouver Island is an Island surrounded by Pacific waters and there is no bridge from the mainland. You have to drive here by ferry or fly in an airplane- or swim over.
It's just that simple.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

ROBBLOG #762- January on the Island


Trees and Christmas decorations are all packed away in the cupboard under the stairs.
New socks are stuffed into already bulging sock drawers in my dresser.
I've made room made for new shirts in an equally over-stuffed closet.

It must be January on the Island.
I have made a mental note to go through my closet and send shirts that I no longer wear to one of the plethora of thrift shops around Duncan. I mean this is a new house and my closets are already bursting! Well, I am such a fashion horse you know.

I have to admit outside of living year-round in Hawaii under a tropical sun, Vancouver Island is hard to beat. This Mediterranean climate never ceases to amaze me. It is January but it sure doesn't feel like it.

We have had a lot more rain this December than the day after day of sunshine we experienced last year.
You know what?
I don't mind it one bit. All I have to recall is -20c temperatures, windchills of minus 35 and 25 to 30 cms of snow falling in a few hours and I snap back to "Island Reality".
January is indeed starting off damp and windy. We got many calls and texts when the windstorm just before Christmas Day hit the national news. We had no power for 14 hours but many Islanders had it much worse. Islands like Saltspring waited longer to have hydro service restored and had much worse damage.

No, I'll take this weather any day as long as we don't get blown to kingdom come!
No snow.
Mild days with temps in the 7 to 11c range. Mild overnights with temps around 4c.
Right now, we are seeing winter colour from Heather- both pink and white, as well as Camelia,
Winter Jasmine and Oregon Grape.

I have a pot of Primulas I bought last January that are blooming in their pot on a table next to the Muskoka Chairs at the front of the house. A Boston Fern sits in a heavy, red-coloured urn near the front door.
Try that back east!
Hostas are up about 8 inches and Tom's Lillies are all showing signs of green. A pair of evergreen clemantis are trailing over the arbour in our back yard with huge buds about to bloom.
New buds are on a couple of rose bushes and I can see welcome new growth on our lavender bushes and palms. We may still get a nippy night or two but these evergreen plants- like the palms, can take it!

Arbutus trees look like this year round.
It plays with your mind that this is the first week in January.
It seems it takes a long while to erase the memories of cold, Ontario January days. I wake up some mornings and think- Ugh! January.
Then, when my groggy brain awakens a bit more, I think- Oh right! The Cowichan on Vancouver Island. Mediterranean climate. No miserable, biting cold.

We do get some frost on the rooftops if it dips below zero but it's been a while since that has happened what with 4 or 5 degree lows overnight.

It is still strange not to see rack after rack of fake, fur-lined winter parkas in the stores. Even at Mark's in Canadian Tire there are just a couple of racks. People do travel to the mainland and maybe even up to Kamploops at the head of the Coquihalla, so there is a need for winter wear yet I have had no reason to take out my winter ski jackets from their dry cleaning bags. That's how they came to the island.

I have to laugh when I see ice scrapers and brushes on the Home Hardware flyer- occasionally. I don't think they sell many of those with the Island edition of the flyer.

Over Christmas, one never sees toboggans or sleds in stores. I am sure very few kids wake up Christmas morning finding Santa has left then with a brand new, spanking red sleigh. More likely a red bike with matching helmet or roller blades or skateboard. I may have said before that the island does offer sledding and snowmobiling but one has to drive to Courtney/Comax which is about two hours drive away from us in Duncan.

Magnolia Trees are Evergreen
Three hours away up island- to Nanaimo first then, left- or west, people flock to Tofino to watch the surfers or at least the gigantic Pacific waves during January and February. That's as far west as you can get in this massive country of ours.

I has shorts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It was about 8 or 10 degrees with brilliant sunshine. Today I saw a fellah in Winners wearing shorts and flip-flops- not an unusual sight but probably from Alberta. Nobody bats an eye. It's the Island!

Car Wash Plantings
I still vividly remember knocking loose huge chunks of salt-laden ice from up under our van's wheel wells. Kicking with all your might, the blocks of ice stayed put or at least fell off with part of your vehicle still attached. Taking your vehicle to a car wash on a day when the temperature managed to stay above freezing was a regular winter pastime. Here, we don't have to wash the van that much but if winter showers have left some dirt residue along the side, we slide over to the car wash to give it a rinse and a polish while admiring the flowers planted next to the paved boulevard leading us into the wash bay.

Tom says to me yesterday- "With this rain and milder temps, maybe we'll have to cut our grass by the end of January and not mid-February like last year."

Truer words...