Sunday, 19 June 2016

Ready, set, grow!

It's been about a month since I potted my containers and I'm amazed at how quickly everything is growing in.  Perhaps I shouldn't be as we've had lots of rain over the past few weeks.  Lately the rain has been part of a thunderstorm and yesterday was no different.

About 2 p.m. yesterday the clouds came rolling in.  I sat outside for a hour or so watching it get closer.

I should have been mowing my little bit of lawn, but I didn't.  I wandered around the back deck and took photos of my plants instead.

A week or so ago, I thought I might lose my pansies.  We'd had a bit of a heat wave (which for us means temps near 30C/86F) and although we'd had rain, this 10" pot didn't retain the moisture as long as the rest of the pots.  But they bounced back after a good soaking!

The gaillardia and osteospermum are two of my favorite flowers.  The gaillardia (aka blanket flower) are just starting to bloom.  Normally yellow or orange in colour, I particularly like this pink variety.  Most everything in my containers are either pink or purple....perhaps it is the 10 year old girl coming out in me. :)

 I have three containers of geranium on the top deck and thought I had purchased three of the same color and variety.  This one is a surprise as it has the dark purple centers with a just a slight pink edge.

The other two (one pictured below) have more pink than purple.  In the container are blue/white lobelia and a silver trailing plant, dichondra.  The latter will apparently bloom in spring but I haven't seen any yet.

The only vegetables in my garden are my tomatoes.  I have two plants and both have fruit on them already.  This particular one has four, one that is already almost eating size.

In the background, you'll see the one full deviation from my pink/purple colour scheme, the marigolds.  My mom taught me that marigolds are a good companion for tomatoes as they attract the pollinators and repel pests.  It appears to be working!

I wasn't out very long before the rain hit.  I was under the overhang of the sun room checking my photos when I heard spat, splat, splat of large drops hitting the deck.  Within seconds it was coming down hard, and sideways so I was getting wet too.  There was a bit of lightening and thunder too, but it soon passed us by.  Later I chatted with my brother, who lives about 50 kilometers north and west of us, and they had no rain at all.

I haven't talked to him today, but we had another storm last evening which I suspect didn't pass him by. I kept an eye on the radar while watching television and by about 9 p.m. the storms were getting close.

My son and I headed out to the sun room, opened up all the curtains, and settled in to watch.  At first, we could see flashes of lightening to the west but in less than 10 minutes it had closed in and the sky lit up every 30-60 seconds.  Two of the cats stayed out with us (Sami and Saku) while Sasha found a hiding spot indoors.  The clap and rumble of the thunder was definitely loud and closely followed the lightening.  We were definitely in the midst of it.

So I shouldn't have to water the containers for a couple more days.  (Maybe just the pansies).  Mother Nature is doing just a fine job of nurturing the plants, providing the necessary sun and moisture to keep everything growing, and I get to be lazy!

Before I close this post, I can't forget it is Father's Day.  My Dad left us in September of 2008 at the age of 98, this photo was taken a few years earlier.  I still miss him very much.

To all the fathers out there, whether with us in life or memory, Happy Father's Day!

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Looking ahead

Boring and routine.  That pretty much describes this past 7 days.  I always cringe when I feel this way because in my experience that's about the time that all hell breaks loose in my life.  I don't think that is the case, but one never knows entirely what lies ahead.

Rather than a weekly wrap-up(since there's really nothing interesting), today I'm looking forward to what's ahead - it's much more exciting.  As you know, I'm nearing retirement and I love to travel. I got bitten by the travel bug in 2007 when I took my first overseas trip to the Caribbean with a friend.   More recently, I've been spending more time travelling out to Vancouver Island where I plan to retire. While travelling can be an expensive proposition I'm always looking for good deals and ways to reduce my costs.

This is what is in the works for the next 9 months.  I probably shared some of this before, but I thought I'd put it all in one post....if I'm boring you, sorry, you may want to read someone else's blog!
January 26, 2015
In mid-September, I've got a trip planned to Parksville, B.C. for six days.  I'll fly into Nanaimo, pick up a rental car and drive up to Parksville.  It's about a 45-60 minute drive depending on the route I take.

To save on costs, I used AirMiles to book both my flight and car rental.  Total cost for taxes and fees if $130. Just recently I booked my hotel at a 20% discount.  I splurged a little bit, in that I've booked a room with a kitchenette. It's costing me an additional $10/night but I like the idea of being able to buy a few groceries for breakfast and lunch rather than eating every meal at a restaurant.  The hotel will cost me about $700 so for six days, with some additional costs for fuel, groceries and meals, I would expect the daily cost should run me about $150-$175 a day.

I'm so looking forward to this trip!  While I'm there I'll visit my cousin B and her husband G in their new home.  They moved just a couple of weeks ago from their RV into a park model home on an acreage.  I've seen photos of their new place and it looks fantastic, with lots of windows, so the home is bright and cheery.  I'll also get to visit with my uncle G, the last remaining relative of that generation.  And while I'm there I'll also be looking for a place to stay for next March.  More on that later!

When I get back from this trip, I've got a short business trip to Ottawa for a conference at the end of September.  My co-worker from the Saskatoon office will also be attending, so I'm sure we'll have some fun while we're there. Since our travel costs, hotel, meals and flights are covered, the only additional costs I could incur would be if we go shopping. ;)

My friends K, J and I have recently booked a cruise for the end of October.  K and I had talked about doing a cruise in late November or early December.  After some research though I realized that flights at that time of year were more than I would be willing to many early Christmas travelers perhaps.

So I started trying earlier dates, looking for trips on the Regal Princess and found this re-positioning cruise.  The ship is moving from New England to the Caribbean for the winter cruising season.  Re-positioning cruises are often the less expensive option.  In addition, K and J have Elite status with Princess, while I'm have Platinum, since we've all sailed with Princess in the past.  This provides us with some additional perks including free Internet minutes, soft drinks and some alcohol.  They also get free laundry which we almost always use at least once during a cruise.

Initially it was going to be just K and I, but none of us have been on the Regal which is the sister ship of the Princess Royal pictured here.  We did a TransAtlantic sailing on the Royal back in the spring of 2014.

We'd booked a mini-suite to share as the costs of a balcony room and interior cabin shared equally would be more expensive.  Just last week, K and our travel agent L contacted Princess to check the pricing as they were offering a sale since we originally booked.

She called me last week to say that she'd made an executive decision on our behalf.  With the new prices, we'll each save $200 on our cruise, though our deposit of $90 per person is now non-refundable.  That's okay because we definitely plan to be on that ship!  For the 10 days our price is approximately $1650 per person.  Our flights have been booked for $430 per person flying into LaGuardia and returning from Fort Lauderdale.  It always amazes me that we can fly to and from the States for less than what it will cost to fly return to most locations in Canada!

We always fly into the port city the night before the cruise to ensure we don't miss the ship.  A few years ago, I learned how important that is, when our flight to Houston, via Denver was so delayed we ended up diverting to Toronto, spending the night in the airport to catch an early morning flight to Houston the following day.  We were there in plenty of time, but had we not left the day before we'd have been flying into Cozumel to catch the ship the following day.

Flying in the day prior, means we need a hotel, which I've booked using AirMiles. The Best Western Plus is located in Queens not far from the airport.  It offers both a free shuttle from the airport, as well as a free continental breakfast.  We're paying $50 in taxes for the hotel....a steal for a New York hotel! While we'll have the cost of a taxi ride, about $50, to the Brooklyn terminal, the savings from the shuttle and breakfast are more than adequate to cover the additional cost.

In total the 10 day trip should cost me around $250-275 per day including spending money.  This is a little higher than I might otherwise be willing to spend but most cruises would run in this range just for the cruise itself (or higher depending on the size and location of the stateroom).  Part of the reason for the higher cost is the current exchange rates for US dollars, as we have to add about 30%.  K tells me I may have to raise my per day estimate....I say our dollar has to improve!

The third trip currently scheduled is planned for March 2017.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm planning a leave of absence from work, which combined with two weeks of vacation will allow me to be off for a total of 7 weeks.  My plan is to drive out to Parksville the last week of February, spend a month on the island, and then return to Regina via the States.

I've been doing lots of research looking for potential rental suites for March through VRBO (vacation rentals by owner) and local listings.  I have an idea of where I would like to be based on my previous trip in January 2015, but as I plan to have my vehicle with me, I'm not as concerned about the proximity to Parksville.  I'm trying to keep the cost within the range of $1100-1300 per month and it appears to be quite do-able. While I'm out there in September, I'll try to visit a few of the possibilities before making a final decision.

There will obviously be additional costs associated with this trip, including gas, meals and lodging along the way.  I expect it will take me three to four days to make the nearly 1900 kilometer drive, and I'll have ferry costs to transfer the vehicle from the mainland to the island.  (I'll admit I'm a bit nervous about the ferry as this will be a totally new experience for me).

K has already agreed to fly out at the end of March to spend a few days on the island and then drive back to Regina with me.  Our plans are rather loose at the moment but the idea is we'll head down to Washington State as I'd like to visit some of the tulip festivals there.  Beyond that, I'm not sure how much further eastward we'll go before turning back to the north.  Since she's retired and I'll be on vacation, we''ll won't be in a huge rush.   If you have any ideas for us, please feel free to share!

When I look over the plans I've made, I recognize travel isn't inexpensive.  I never lose sight of the fact that I'm very fortunate to have a good paying job that allows me this opportunity.  By setting aside a little money every paycheck and half the rent I get monthly from my son, the trips I have planned will be almost fully paid for before I leave home.  All that will remain will be the costs of discretionary purchases, such as souvenirs, tips, excursions, and other sundry items.

As you've seen I also rely on AirMiles a lot.  I have an AirMiles credit card as well as a the AirMiles card.  I use my credit card for most purchases, paying it off every two weeks, and use vendors who offer AirMiles as frequently as possible in order to double dip on the points; as a result I earn a good amount of points each year.  It used to be these points never expired but that has changed so any unused points expire after one year.  I guess that means I must  continue to travel!

So, while this past week might have been mundane, I have sufficient excitement planned for the next several months to keep me motivated and moving forward.  I've always been goal-oriented, and now that my career is coming to a close, I've set my sights on my outside interests.

Are you looking forward to something at work, at home, travel or another opportunity?  What motivates you to get through your regular routine?

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Weekend Wrap-up

It's been a beautiful weekend here in Saskatchewan.  Thursday we had a thunderstorm roll through in the evening.  It didn't immediately bring any rain, so I stayed out on the deck, watching the clouds swirl  and cross over the sky.

I've been trying to capture lightening and had my camera set to continuous shooting.  I still didn't manage it!

Friday morning I had my nails done, got a haircut, and did a few errands.  I spent the afternoon doing housework before going out to dinner with friends.  The wait staff at the restaurant are getting to know our preferences, and the one who served on Friday even knew who was with whom.  The menu is rather limited and the food can be my Caesar wrap that night, but it does provide the opportunity for us to get together without worrying about reservations.

On Saturday I did some yard work and picked up a few groceries before heading out to my brother's farm for the afternoon. This photo was taken part way down the hill to the valley.

There was a lot of flooding this spring, so much so that trees on the floor of the valley drowned.  Between the flooding and the influx of worms, it's been a tough spring for the foliage.

On a happier note, I got to meet Anna, their new to them dog.  Poor girl, she's only 3 years old but has been through a lot.  I'm don't know why but she was given to a farmer by her first owner, but didn't do well there as there were four or five other dogs.  She ran away, and when found my brother was able to contact the first owner, and through him the farmer.  Neither wanted her back so she came to live permanently with R and his family.

He would tell you she isn't the smartest dog, and is afraid of a lot of things.  I can't say as I blame her!

She is afraid of the cats, with the exception of Puddy (the mother of the Hollywood and Puddy Junior and my Silas and Shady).  Apparently when Anna is napping in her bed in the dining room, Puddy has been known to curl up and sleep with her.  While I was there, Puddy wandered in between Anna's feet and around her...Puddy is a tiny cat but she has no fear.

Recently R has been boarding horses at the farm.  This is KitKat; she was quite upset that her owner took Cinder out for walk and left her in the pasture.  She ran back and forth calling out to the other horse.  Neither are broke to ride and the young lady who owns the two is working with them.  She says Kitkat was a rescue horse so it may take longer for her as she is rather nervous still.

This is Abraham the minature donkey.  He was part of the farm when R and P bought the place in 2003.  R tells me he is about 18 years old.  He's a sweet boy, but rather noisy when he wants attention.

Apparently he is "in love" with two of the boarding horses.  Currently there are six horses (2 belonging to R, the rest are boarded by two young women).  There are two pastures, once near the barn in the home acreage, and another across the road.  The two horses Abraham loves are currently in separate pastures.

But this doesn't stop Abraham as he simply steps on the lower wire (the top two are electrified), ducks his head and walks through the fence.  He crosses the road and climbs through the fence on that side.  He had gone for a walk with Cinder (one of his love interests) so was wondering about the yard enjoying the fresh mown grass.

These two goofs are my niece and nephew with the dogs.  Anna,(obviously) on the left,

Gracie in the centre and Nikita on the right. Gracie actually belongs to the neighbour down the road but spends most of her time at R's.  She loves giving kisses and chasing birds.  She's a bundle of energy.

Nikita belongs to the girl who boards horses and is only a year old.

It was a wonderful afternoon of visiting, we had BBQ burgers for dinner along with salad and vegetable and ice cream for dessert.  I don't get to spend very much time with the kids - they're both so busy with activities - so it was wonderful to hang out for awhile.

Sunday I got my laundry done and not much else.  I spent a good part of the afternoon out on the deck reading.  I finished "The Quiet Game" by Greg Iles.  I've read three of his novels now but in the wrong order.  This was the first of the three but while there were events that I'd read about in the other two, this book provided the details.  I'll be looking for more of his works as I quite enjoyed the stories.

Have a great week everyone!