Thursday, May 31, 2012

Finally the sun comes out...

It wasn't till partway through Thursday before we saw the sun. We had gone to the beach for a brief five-minute stay on Wednesday afternoon. It was cold and rainy and gray, which is why it lasted all of five minutes.

On Thursday morning, Eric did some golfing at the course near the house we were staying. Then we headed out for lunch at the Noodle Box (they're everywhere on the island and for good reason--it's fast food Thai and really good)! Then we made our way to Fisherman's Wharf for our whale watching expedition.

We got a little distracted on the way to our boat, when we discovered the six harbour seals that live beneath the dock. We bought fish at a nearby stand and fed them.

Then we got all suited up and into the boat. They gave us these really warm jackets, hats, gloves, and sunglasses to wear, and we needed them. It was a small, fast boat, and it was terribly cold from the wind. We wrapped ourselves up into blankets as well.

We drove out for a long time, but when we stopped, the cold trip out there was so worth it. There was a pod of about 20 orca killer whales in the area. It was just one after another of surfacing orcas. The kids were going nuts watching them. It really is quite an amazing thing to see them in their natural habitat so close to our boat.

One of the orcas even came out with his head straight up out of the water like you see sometimes on the nature channel.

On our way back, we stopped at a small cluster of rocky islands where elephant seals and harbour seals, California sea lions and Stellar sea lions live and sun bathe. We also saw two bald eagles on this little cluster of islands as well.

We were on the boat for five hours. It was a super long day and we slept well that night.

On Friday, we went to Beacon Hill Park to see the animals. Most impressive were the peacocks everywhere. But they also had farm animals and such.

Then we took a path down to the beach. There were the most beautiful little wild flowers everywhere. We had fun lacing them into the girls' braids.

We spent the next several hours in the sun at the beach. Portia got her capris wet. She just couldn't resist the waves. Bianca spent most of her time discovering things in the tide pools. She'd pull out interesting things and even found a small crab (see below). Eric and I sat on the rocks and admired the scenery. We noticed several sea lions swimming in the water near us.

We stopped to eat on our way home at the Sticky Wicket. That place had some interesting ceilings. Food was decent, but nothing to write home about.

Speaking of home, it was time to pack up that evening. We got up early in the morning, jumped back on the ferry (the ride was much more comfortable when the sun was out) and drove through the day.

We stopped at a hotel in Pemberton, Oregon for the night so the girls could swim in the pool. We met with some college friends in Boise in the afternoon on Sunday and made it back Sunday evening. It was too bad we had to leave Victoria just as the weather started cooperating. But still, we had a great time and wouldn't mind revisiting Victoria again in the future.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Castle

You can feel the British influence in Victoria BC. And the people who live there are proud of their connection with England. Like when we were in England, we visited a castle. On Wednesday, we visited Craigdarroch Castle. I liked the laid-back attitude of this tour, in contrast with the guided castle tour we had in England. We were able to explore on our own and ask questions as we went along--up four floors, then back down another set of stairs. The woodwork in the castle was amazing. There are still 17 fireplaces inside. The mantels and vintage tiles were cool to see.

The castle was used as a hospital for some time as well as a music conservatory.

Bianca counted at least five pianos in inside. They had an old Steinway that has the strings running the opposite direction. Guests "with ability" were allowed to play. Bianca played a song she's recently written that she'll be playing in her recital next week. (You can tell Portia's heard the song a lot because she sang along the whole time.)

We stopped at a local restaurant called the Shine Cafe afterward for lunch. Their specialty was Eggs Benedict and omelettes. Here's Bianca showing off the rhinestone dangly music note earrings she chose at the Castle Gift Shop as her one souvenir for the trip.

Gardens and shopping

The first part of the week was rainy and cold. I'm glad I had packed along all those winter clothes. Monday was odd as it was actually "Victoria Day" so there was a big parade that we didn't see, but we saw plenty of the marching bands as they were waiting their turn at the mall we were trying to shop at. But everything was closed. We next tried to go to Antique Row to do a little antique shopping, but everything was closed. We headed to the aquarium next. It was small and had quite a bit less than our aquarium here in SLC, but we needed somewhere dry to go while it was rainy and cold so it had to do. We had lunch at a Swiss bistro nearby, did a little shopping on the way home (I had to pick up a rain coat) and day one was a wrap.

On day two, we went to Butchart Gardens. I'd seen pictures of this amazing place and it really was quite stunning. Even despite the rain. They had complimentary umbrellas there, which the girls had a lot of fun with.

Because our kids are such good sports and don't complain about my unwillingness to take them on vacations with theme parks and rides (what I call "manufactured fun"), we let them have one ride on the rose carousel.

We did a lot of walking that day.

We even had high tea for lunch.

On our way home, we tried Antique Row again and were able to successfully go in some of the antique shops. I really wanted to bring home an antique relic from our trip to Victoria. There was a drop-leaf table that would have been perfect in my new house, but I knew there was no way we'd have the room in our car. I'd have to think about this.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Victoria B.C.

I felt irresponsible leaving for a week in the midst of trying to sell our house and remodeling the new house. Especially since I'm trying to take an active role in the remodels. Still, when Eric says he'll take some time off work, I jump at it because it's rare.

We left at midnight last Friday night, plucked the girls out of bed, then made their beds--as our house had to be "show ready" while we were gone. When I was a kid, I loved the feeling of being in the car, having all the things I needed in my own little space in the car, and embarking on a new adventure. I want my kids to feel that same way. So I prepared little presents for them that included a cute eye mask (Bianca got a brown bear and Portia an owl) to wear while they're sleeping in the car so the oncoming cars' headlights don't keep waking them, cat neck pillows so their necks don't bend all weird, and a little box of candy for the trip (Portia got Skittles; Bianca Twizzler bites).

It was a long drive. We made it to the ferry around 4pm the next day and headed over to the island of Victoria. It was a little chilly, but the trees and the sea were just gorgeous. We rented a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house on a golf course for the week. We went to the grocery store to pick up essentials for breakfasts and lunches. It's always fun to see what different kinds of things they have in the stores where we visit. Our favorites from Canada were the nacho cheese cheetos, the pickle-flavored Doritoes, and all the many, many flavors of herbal tea. I'm guessing it's the British influence that has everyone in Victoria drinking all that tea. Still, we loved it and came home with all sorts of fascinating flavors, like mojito, melon citrus mint, licorice, and chocolate mint.

Another thing we love to do is go to church. My family did this when we were growing up when on vacation and I think it's good for the kids to see how the church is the same no matter where in the world you are. We followed up church with a trip to The Empress (we wanted to have tea but the wait was too long). Instead, we had a really nice lunch at a sea food restaurant nearby. We ended our first day at The Soda Shoppe.

Bianca and Portia by one of the bendy trees in front of The Empress Hotel

Portia by The Empress

Bianca, my little tree hugger, with a Redwood

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Last day of orchestra

So, I won't do it again.

Bianca's viola teacher didn't want her participating in any orchestras. She was worried about Bianca getting lazy, not focusing on form and technique like she needs to, and getting back into bad habits. But I didn't feel like I could take it away from her. It was the only "fun" that she gets with the hours and hours of practice and lessons. Plus, the elementary-school instructor really prizes Bianca's talent and has the orchestra play Bianca's compositions. Not to mention that the orchestra is filled with Bianca's friends and classmates. How could I tell her she couldn't do it?

At our new school next year at Westfield, there is no elementary orchestra. This is a good thing. No more dilemma.

The Friday before Mother's Day was the end-of-year concert at Riverton Elementary. Bianca got to conduct her song one last time (I think it sounded better this time than at the Monster Concert). Sorry the footage is so bad. Just before they played the song, the instructor asked Bianca in front of her whole school and the parents why she wrote this song. Bianca answered that she had written for me for Mother's Day. I was wiping tears from my eyes as I tried to hold up the camera. My sweet daughter.

The instructor also gave out awards at the concert. The kids could earn different levels for knowing notes, key signatures and rhythms, circle of fifths, and composing songs. Bianca LOVES trophies so she aimed for the gold award again and got it.

I'm a little sad that this is the end of elementary school orchestra for Bianca. I'm sad that she won't be going to school with these kids again next year. I'm sad that Bianca won't get to see her compositions performed anymore. This elementary school orchestra is the reason why Bianca decided to start playing the viola in the first place. She wouldn't know what a viola was if it weren't for this orchestra. I'm glad she had as long as she did here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Monster Concert

Bianca's viola was possessed. I swear, some days it's hard enough to get Bianca to practice but when her viola seems to be making noises of its own accord, it drives her ears mad and, consequently, she huffs and puffs and whines instead of practicing. This, consequently, drives me mad. This happened the day before the big monster concert, for which her elementary school's orchestra has been preparing for the last four months. So yesterday, I picked Bianca up early from school, drove downtown where (fortunately) the new larger 13-inch viola had arrived at her viola teacher Roberta's house and then drove back to Copper Hills High, where the orchestras from the entire school district (about 12-14 schools total) were meeting together to practice and then perform later that night in the Monster Concert.

To make matters worse, as I was leaving to pick Bianca up from school, Portia told me her tummy hurt. What are you supposed to do when you know staying home would let your other child down? So, I grabbed a tupperware bowl and tucked it next to Portia's booster seat, just in case. Well, good thing I did, because minutes after I left, Portia filled it halfway up with vomit. Lovely, I know. Sometimes my life is just lovely like that. Portia proceeded to throw up the entire car-ride. But we made it to the school on time, grabbed Subway for Bianca's sack lunch, and I was able to get Portia home and safely tucked in bed for a good hour nap before heading back later that night.

The concert went well. Bianca was able to conduct a new song she wrote (called "Flying"), and she sure loved to be up there in front of everyone.

The rest of the concert featured popular music from movies, such as Harry Potter, Phantom of the Opera, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Bianca is quite enamored with her new viola. The sound is night-and-day from her last viola (not even considering the low rumbling sound it was making recently). Portia just lay in my lap with her "silky" the entire time. She was sick, but at least not throwing up anymore.

We stopped at Sub-Zero for ice cream after the concert with our friends, Liz and Tyson and their kids. I swear to make ice cream as a chemical reaction before your very eyes seems like a science project and dessert all rolled into one. The kids had a blast, Portia actually kept her ice cream down, and we headed home for the night. Not bad for keeping little monsters at bay, right?