A Day in La Manche

La Manche 13

This past weekend, Mrs. Nice, Papa John, the Pie and myself braved the occasional clouds and drove about an hour south of St. John’s to La Manche Provincial Park.  For those of you off The Rock, while “la manche” is French for “the sleeve” (and is often used by the French to refer to the English Channel), instead of pronouncing it in French fashion, “la MAHnsh,” you say it Newfie-style: “la MANch.”  Just roll with it.

La Manche 30

Anyway, La Manche Valley, La Manche River, and the geographical area are teeming with various forms of wildlife and blah blah blah and it’s all very interesting and you can read a bit about it here.

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We went on a wee hike to see the river and the waterfall and the lilypads and whatnot and it was all very pretty.

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La Manche 2

BUT THE COOL PART was trekking along the trail that leads to the abandoned village of La Manche.  I don’t have any photos of the trail itself because I needed both hands and my full attention to keep my balance.

But then all of a sudden you’re in a ghost town!

La Manche 3

La Manche was originally settled by just one family in the 1840s as a seasonal fishing settlement.  For about a hundred years, this isolated little inlet community survived storms and resettlement efforts, fishing through the seasons.

c. 1900, from Newfoundland Salt Fisheries
c. 1960s, from East of Eden
La Manche 5
Taken Saturday (2013).

There was a suspension bridge connecting the two sides of the inlet and passing over the waterfall, and a school, post office, and wharves and flakes for drying fish.

One of the more original suspension bridges, c. 1952

The population never went above 55, because La Manche is really hard to get to — hence the efforts at resettlement by the government.

La Manche 16

The southern shore doesn’t get a huge amount of storms, in relation to the rest of Newfoundland, but when it does, they’re doozies.  High winds and rough seas would often force their way into the inlet, causing damage to the settlement, and often wiping out the suspension bridge connecting the two sides.  But of course the hardy folk who lived there rebuilt, every time.  As with most small fishing communities in Newfoundland, life wasn’t easy, but they did it.

La Manche Rock, c. 1930 from MUN MHA.
La Manche 9
La Manche Rock, c. Saturday. It’s quite large.

It all came to a head, though, in 1966, when a particularly vicious storm wiped out the bridge, the wharves, the boats at anchor, and most of the buildings in the tiny village.  Surprisingly, nobody died.  After that, the  inhabitants agreed to be resettled elsewhere.  At this point La Manche was converted into a provincial park area and the coastline section was designated as part of the East Coast Trail.

c. mid-1960s, from Geocaching.com

Now all that remains are the foundations of the houses and storage buildings that once were.

La Manche 4

It’s an interesting mix of newer concrete-and-rebar slabs built above the older foundations made of hand-hewn slate dragged up from the shore and anchored on solid bedrock.

La Manche 6

I think one can safely assume the slate chunks were hauled up from here.

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La Manche 12

This is the newest incarnation of the suspension bridge, opened in 2000 (they tend to fall down occasionally during storms).

La Manche 10

La Manche 19

La Manche 15

Mrs. Nice flat out refused to set foot on it. She’s that blue dot in the background.

La Manche 20

Here was as close as she would get.

La Manche 14

For more information about La Manche, you should check out the following:

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Department of Environment and Conservation: La Manche Provincial Park

Memorial University of Newfoundland, Maritime History Archive, Resettlement: La Manche

And, if you wanted to do some more research on Newfoundland’s Southern Shore communities, I have discovered this ROMANCE NOVEL set in La Manche.  No, I have not read it.  But I kind of feel like I should.


Scoff and a Half: Cod Fish Cakes, Rock-style

Fish Cakes 26

If you know anything about Newfoundland, you know that historically it has been home to one of the largest cod fisheries in the world.  So if you visit the Rock you can pretty much eat cod any which way you like.  Many here prefer to eat it salted (a traditional way to preserve it), and there’s a huge number of dishes surrounding this particular delicacy.  A favourite locally is fish ‘n’ brewis (pronounced like “bruise”), and is very popular amongst the hungover patrons of George Street.  It’s a breaded filet of salt cod, pan fried and topped with scruncheons, which you may remember from our toutons recipe.  It makes for a good “scoff,” or meal.

Fish Cakes 28

You can get salt cod pretty much anywhere on the eastern coast of Canada and through much of New England.  It’s a pretty popular way of preserving fish, so you’re likely to find it as well in markets in Russia, China, huge chunks of Europe, and more or less wherever else cod is sold.  You can also get canned salted cod from specialty shops and online.  If you can’t get salt cod (or you can’t be bothered to get some) you can use fresh cod or haddock or any other white fish as a substitute.  Just don’t go through the soaking step, and add a bit of salt to the recipe.

Fish Cakes 29
First you need about 1lb salt fish bits.  I don’t even question what the bits are, though it’s not all cod.  Just trust me on this one.

Fish Cakes 1

Dump those bits in a pot. Okay so it doesn’t look that appetizing. Just wait for it.

Fish Cakes 2

Fill the pot with cold water.  Bung that pot in the fridge overnight.

Fish Cakes 5

Next day, drain that salty, salty water, and fill it again with fresh. Put the pot on the stove and bring the contents to a gentle simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Fish Cakes 6

While that’s on the go, peel and chop up about 1lb white potatoes (this was 4 large ones).  Huck them in a pot and boil the crap out of them as well.

Fish Cakes 7

Drain the cooked fish.

Fish Cakes 12

Use two forks (or a potato masher) to break the fish up into fine little bits.

Fish Cakes 13

Drain the cooked potatoes and mash them as well.  Leave them aside to cool a bit.

Fish Cakes 11

Finely chop up a small onion (or half a large one) and drop it in a pan with 1/4 cup butter.

Fish Cakes 8

Cook on medium heat until soft. While I’ve got you moving, might as well do the hokey pokey.

Fish Cakes 9

Crack 1 large egg and beat it up and put it aside, together with 2 tablespoons savoury, and some salt and pepper.

Fish Cakes 10

Dump the onions in with the fish and give that a stir.

Fish Cakes 15

Same-same with the potatoes and herbs.

Fish Cakes 17

When the mixture has cooled enough that it won’t cook the egg on contact, dump that in as well and mix it in.

Fish Cakes 18

Use a spoon to scoop up a generous helping of the mixture and form it with your hands into a little patty.

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Roll the finished patty in about 1/4 cup flour (I used buckwheat so I could give some to Fussellette) and set it aside.

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This particular recipe made 16 fish cakes for me.

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Now you can wrap them up in waxed paper and seal them in something airtight and chuck them in the fridge, or freeze them.

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To cook, heat a couple glugs of vegetable oil in a pan and fry on medium high for 3-4 minutes each side.

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Flip when you get some nice golden-brown crispies on the bottom.

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Serve with fresh chives or parsley and a side of strong condiment, like dijon mustard, relish, or chutney.  Save a couple for the magical creation we will be having on Friday.  Stay tuned!

Fish Cakes 27

Treats Week: Salted Toffee

Salted Toffee 17

I know: after overindulging during the holidays, the last thing you want to think about is highly caloric treats.   January is time for moderation and abstinence.


Salted Toffee 10

We all of us know that this is complete hooey.

Even Gren knows it’s bull pucky.  And he’s a DOG.

Russian Potato Salad 11

January, and its evil-yet-slightly-shorter twin, February, are both miserable.  Have you looked outside recently?  Blech.  Don’t come to Canada in January or February.  If you do I don’t think you’ll stay long.

Salted Toffee 18

How do we survive this gray misery?  SUGAR.  And lots of it.  Personally, I need the calories to wade through waist-deep snow while my dolphin-corgi hybrid takes his evening constitutional.

So this week I will be featuring three easy treats that are each decadent in their own ways.  These will help you get through the worst of the winter.  And if you have the fortitude to resist them, then keep the recipes on hand for the next time the indulgences of the holidays roll around.

Today we’re going to make ourselves some glorious salted toffee.

Start by buttering a 10″ x 15″ rimmed baking sheet. Set that aside.

Salted Toffee 2

Preheat your oven to 350°F and plop 2 cups pecan halves (or pecan pieces) on a baking sheet. Not the buttered one. You’ll notice here I am using hazelnuts. I was out of pecans. But pretend they’re pecans. Stick those in the oven and toast them, stirring once or twice, for about 8-10 minutes.

Salted Toffee 4

Allow them to cool completely and then chop them roughly (saves you effort if you use pecan pieces instead).  Chop half of those up to fine little pieces, and set both the roughly chopped and finely chopped pecans aside.

Salted Toffee 6

In a large saucepan (because remember, sugar expands quite a bit when it boils), mix together 3 1/2 cups sugar, 1 1/2 cups butter, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 cup water.

Salted Toffee 1

Heat on medium until the butter is all melted, then increase the heat to medium-high and, stirring occasionally, let that mixture come up to 310°F on a candy thermometer.

Salted Toffee 3

Salted Toffee 5

Should take about 20 minutes or so.

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Remove from the heat and carefully stir in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (be careful, this is where it gets fizzy) and the finely chopped half of your pecans.

Salted Toffee 8

Carefully pour your hot toffee into a rimmed baking sheet and let it cool until it’s fully set, about 30 minutes.

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If you want your toffee pieces to come out even, you can score the toffee with a sharp knife after about 10 minutes of setting.  Make sure to wipe off your knife with warm water after each slice for easier cutting.

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While that’s cooling, chop up 12 ounces of chocolate (the darker the better) and melt it over a double boiler or heat safe bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water.

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Remove that from the heat and allow to cool a little bit (so it’s not molten) before pouring it over your set toffee. Smooth the chocolate down with a knife or offset spatula (honestly, it’s a handy item you won’t use often but when you use it, it will rock your cooking experience). Sprinkle the chocolate with your roughly chopped pecans and let it sit for about 20 minutes, until the chocolate has cooled but is still in a squishy state.

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Then sprinkle THAT with about 2 teaspoons fleur de sel (or coarse sea salt, if that’s what you’ve got).

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Chill the pan for about an hour, until it’s all set and lovely, then twist the pan to release the toffee and cut or break into pieces.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks or in the fridge for about a month.

Salted Toffee 16

Final Voting for Canadian Blog Awards

Hi Folks,

Please take a second to vote for me and any of your other favourite Canadian bloggers at the Canadian Blog Awards site.  I made it to the final round in “Best Blog about Arts, Crafts, Cooking and other Creative Activities” and “Best Food and Drink Blog.”

You don’t have to live in Canada or be Canadian to vote, and voting ends 1 December 2012.  You can vote from any of your devices if you really want me to win.  Just click on the image below or at the right of your screen and VOTE!  Thanks!

Gren says thank you, too.


End of Season Review: My Three Boat Tours

Mullowney's Tour
Our intrepid hero

As our chapter of Newfoundland living draws slowly to a close (our five years are almost up!), the Pie and I are trying to take any opportunity to experience the good things and the amazing things that this province, and the St. John’s area, have to offer.  And this summer, owing to the generosity of my law firm and some fortuitous Groupons, I ended up taking not one, not two, but THREE boat tours of the area, with three different companies.  So I thought, now that the boating tour season is almost over, I’d give you my opinion on the whole enterprise, so that if you’re in the area next spring and summer, you can decide if you’d like to try this experience as well.

C&P Boat Tour

But first an Ali-cized version of Newfoundland history.  As you may know, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has been the location of various fishing colonies from Portugal, France, and England (and a few others) for the past five hundred years.  Legend has it that the first Vikings to visit North America stopped here first, and that they could walk from their ships to the rocky shores on the backs of the plentiful cod in the water.  All that cod meant a lot of fighting over fishing rights, and after a few switches back and forth, England eventually won out (although France and Portugal still have their own interests).  Newfoundland became part of the Dominion of Canada after World War II, and here we are.

Imagine cod cushioning your feet from these jagged rocks.

In 1992, the cod fishery was so severely depleted that the government declared a moratorium on cod fishing — there simply weren’t enough fish in the sea anymore.  This resulted in thousands of fishermen losing their traditional livelihood.  If a Newfoundlander can’t fish cod, is he really a Newfoundlander?

Who says size matters?

Some enterprising fishermen came up with some new ideas about how to put food on their tables.  They converted their fishing boats into tour boats, adding seats and life jackets and taking out the nets and hauling equipment.  Tourism in Newfoundland began to thrive.  And from May to September every year, you can take a tour with one of these companies and see all the sites that Newfoundland has to offer — from the sea.  In May and June, if you’re lucky, you can sail up close to a massive ice berg as it makes its way south to melt.  In July and August you can sail alongside all manner of local whales as they, too, migrate to other waters.

O'Brien's Boat Tour
From whaling and codfishing to eco-tourism.

My first tour happened back in late June.  My law firm charted an Iceberg Quest boat to take us from St. John’s Harbour around Cape Spear to Petty Harbour.

C&P Boat Tour
View of the harbour, from the Narrows.

It was a calm and sunny afternoon as we pulled out of the harbour, but once we hit the currents of the North Atlantic, the swells got a bit higher and the spray off the bow was enough to thoroughly soak most of us in minutes.

C&P Boat Tour
Me and Mel, thoroughly soaked.

There were a few members of the party who had to make use of the barf bags on board.  I’m sure the open bar didn’t help.  I kept getting salt water in my rum and Coke (which actually didn’t end up tasting that bad). But those of us who had our sea legs had a great time.

C&P Boat Tour
Everyone had to have a Titanic moment.

My favourite moment of this particular tour was when we rounded Cape Spear, which is the most easterly point of land in North America.  And at that particular moment, I was more east than Cape Spear.

C&P Boat Tour
East-er than the east-est

We did catch a glimpse of a humpback whale off our bow, but it was gone before any of us got any good pictures of it. This is the dorsal of a minke who was too camera shy and gone before long.

C&P Boat Tour

There were birds all around us, though, and they were interesting too.

C&P Boat Tour

We pulled into Petty Harbour nicely sauced and just in time for dinner.

C&P Boat Tour

Chafe’s Landing is a restaurant just a few steps from the harbour and is rumoured to have the best fish and chips on the Avalon Peninsula.  And I’m here to tell you that those rumours are TRUE.  It was incredible.

C&P Boat Tour

We took a bus back to St. John’s as the sun set, all happy, salty, and full of good food.

C&P Boat Tour

While the staff were friendly they weren’t all that talkative with us.  Perhaps because this was a private charter they weren’t required to give us the rundown on the things we were seeing as we sailed around the Cape.

A particular benefit of Iceberg Quest is that they are the one tour company that sails directly out of St. John’s Harbour, so if you’re in town and you don’t have transportation, it’s the way to go.  I think that because it is directly out of St. John’s that the tour cost is probably quite a bit more expensive than those which operate outside of town.  Because the firm paid for it, I have no idea how much it actually cost. But the boat was flashy and shiny and big.

C&P Boat Tour

My second tour was with O’Brien’s in early August, and the Pie and I got a Groupon for a four-person pass at half price, which cost us about $120.  We took Cait and Jul and drove to Bay Bulls one morning for a 9:00 AM sailing.  As we left St. John’s and headed south, it got foggier and foggier, and by the time we hit Bay Bulls we could barely see ten feet in front of us.  Not to worry.  We were experiencing what is known as “capelin weather,” which meant we were in luck.  Capelin are tiny fish, about four or five inches long, that provide the main source of food for not only the cod, but many other species of wildlife in the area.  Capelin migrate through here in the summer, and are usually the most plentiful (like, you can scoop them off the beach with a shovel) after several hot days in a row followed by a cold, muggy, foggy spell.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

Despite the weather being the pits most of the time, Newfoundland is definitely beautiful, rain or shine, and we were quite taken with the shoreline emerging suddenly from the mist, and disappearing just as suddenly.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

Then we hit the mouth of Bay Bulls and saw a giant patch of birds, all feeding from the same place in the water.  This meant capelin, and so, if we were lucky, it also meant we might see some whales.  Then, not a hundred metres from where we were, we heard a humpback take a deep breath.  Then, a few seconds later, we smelled it.  Whale breath is not a pleasant thing.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

Over the next hour or so, we were joined by two more humpbacks, who were very curious about us and the other tour boat next to us.  Instead of gorillas in the mist, we got humpbacks in the fog.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

Justin, our highly experienced (and musically gifted!) guide, said this was the best year for whales he’d seen, and he’s been doing this for twelve years.  He was very good about explaining to us exactly what the whales were doing when we couldn’t see them.  You see this round patch of water?  That’s the whale’s footprint, essentially.  You get that sort of upswell when the whale makes a deep dive.  It sticks around for a surprisingly long time.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

Whenever we thought the whales would get bored with us and take off, they would surface again and just sort of hang out between our two boats.  It was truly incredible.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

O'Brien's Boat Tour

At long last we had to bid the whales adieu and keep to our schedule.  We headed a bit further out of the bay to Gull Island, which we smelled before we saw.  This area is an ecological reserve for seafowl and has the largest population of puffins in the entire world.  But it’s also home to a huge number of other birds, and we got to see them all.

O'Brien's Boat Tour

O'Brien's Boat Tour

O'Brien's Boat Tour

As we headed back to the Bay, we piled into the cabin for warmth.  When you sail through fog it tends to stick to you, so we were all coated with a light, salty mist, and our hands were so cold it made holding our cameras tricky.  But it was definitely worth it for such an amazing experience!

My third tour was actually just yesterday (because I’m writing this on the 24th of August), and I wrangled another Groupon package deal for four with Mullowney’s Boat Tours for $110, which was half-price.  Trav was staying with us at the time and so the three of us went.  I ended up giving the fourth ticket to one of the other passengers.  The highway to Bay Bulls is only one lane on both sides with little room for passing and we got stuck behind the slowest person alive on the way there, meaning that we arrived at Mullowney’s five minutes after 12:00 PM, the time the boat was supposed to sail!  We thought we had missed it entirely but fortunately, because I had made a reservation, the boat was waiting for us.  They had heard from other passengers that the traffic was bad and they stuck around until we got there, which was really nice.

Mullowney's Tour
Despite it being noon, Trav is not yet truly awake.

Today when we left Bay Bulls it was sunny and calm and absolutely glorious.  We had layered up in anticipation that we would get cold and we actually found ourselves to be quite comfortable, even a little warm, in our jackets.  Now, this is the North Atlantic, so for it to be this calm and quiet was extremely unusual.  If you do a tour, make sure to dress warmly.

Mullowney's Tour

It had been three days since any of the local tour companies had seen any whales, so we didn’t get our hopes up this time.  It is the end of the whales’ migratory season anyhow.  Because I wasn’t looking for whales, I got to focus a bit more on the sea birds around, and we had a great time laughing at the antics of the puffins, who are the most ungainly flyers I have ever seen.  The other birds regarded them with disdain, and chased them down for their fish.

Mullowney's Tour

Mullowney's Tour
Gull chasing a fish-laden puffin. Gulls are huge jerks, apparently.

Mullowney's Tour

Mullowney's Tour

Despite not seeing any whales, we all agreed that we’d had a great time.  Mullowney’s takes a bit of a different route from O’Brien’s, so the Pie and I got to see different sides of Gull island than we’d seen before, and it was nice to observe their habitat when it wasn’t shrouded in fog.  The pleasantness of the day alone made puttering around on the sea a true delight, and the companionship of our friendly young guide Alastair made for an entertaining trip.

Mullowney's Tour

Mullowney's Tour

I can’t say that I had anything other than a very pleasant experience with all three of the touring companies I used this summer.  The staff were all very friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable about both sailing and the areas we visited, and I know from speaking to several of the employees that the companies are not in competition with each other.  That makes for a much friendlier environment, and they help each other out when it comes to spotting whales and bergs and the like.

Mullowney's Tour

When you take a boat tour there’s no guarantee that you will see whales or ice bergs or any of the more spectacular things out there.  There’s not even a guarantee that the water will be calm or the sun will be shining.  But even if you don’t get the jaw-dropping experience of seeing giant whales or colossal ice bergs, you can still appreciate nature writ large as you sail past Newfoundland’s ragged coast line and you hear the cries of hundreds of sea birds all around you.  Any day you go, whatever you see, you are guaranteed to have an experience you won’t forget any time soon.

More on the boat tour companies in this post:

Iceberg Quest: http://icebergquest.com

O’Brien’s: http://www.obriensboattours.com

Mullowney’s: http://www.puffinswhales.com

Childhood Revisited on Vancouver Island


We spent a week on Van Isle after Krystopf and Atlas’s wedding.  It was really cool to show the Pie all the things I used to do when I was growing up.  I lived in Esquimalt, the town next to Victoria, for five years from 1990-1995, and it was definitely a memorable time in my life. We visited all the tourist-y spots in Victoria, and I took lots of pictures of the time we spent there (you can check out some of the photos here), but I’d like to focus more on one particular place we visited.


If you grew up in a military family, chances are you spent some of your time living on a military base somewhere.  That’s common enough.  Esquimalt is home to three such military bases: Workpoint, the army base, Naden, the navy base, and Dockyard, which is also a navy base.  Thing is, there were only seven houses in Dockyard, which is not open to the public, so the fact that I got to live there for five years was a unique experience.  And what a great place to grow up!  There were only three little girls on a top-security navy base and we had the run of the place.  How safe can you get?  Of course, it was the only place I have ever had a gun pointed at me (I walked a little too close to a US nuclear submarine one day and learned never to do that again), and the only place I have ever been forced into the back of a military police car (totally not my fault, I swear), but these things happen …

This is where my “arrest” took place. According to the MP who picked eleven-year-old me up, I was trying to climb a barbed wire fence. To break into the base. Where I lived.

My parents and I revisited the Dockyard in 2002, just after the horrors of 9/11, and it was a different place indeed.  The genial commissionaires at the gate were replaced by very serious soldiers holding AK-47s, and in my walks around the place I definitely didn’t feel that same sense of safety that I had as a child.  I think it was more that I was the outsider at this point.  This was no longer my home.


It seems that the schtick with the guns at the gate has only recently been removed, and we’re back to the genial commissionaires again, but even so, my dad had to get a special pass just for us to go and check the place out again.  Much of the base was under construction, and a lot of the operations there have been shut down since my time, but it was still so familiar.  As we drove around, my dad would talk about the history and use of the buildings we passed, while I would add my own anecdote about which battlements and cliffs and trees were climbable and which hidden places had the best blackberry bushes and apple trees.


The playing field behind our house where the Coast Guard used to land its helicopters (and take all the laundry off our line and put it on our roof) is now a parking lot.  The arbutus tree that the paratrooper landed in accidentally (and whom my dad rescued because he had the tallest ladder handy) has been cut down.  The student barracks with its secret tunnels (where we used to catch the cadets sneaking out for a drink) is now empty.  The deer are the same, though.

These pesky deer are so plentiful and so damaging that in Victoria they are considered vermin.

These tiny things are everywhere in the city, especially the base.  They swim across the harbour from the conservation area and eat all the plants.  Which I guess is why the base’s famous rose gardens are all gone. Even the ships are different, and the buildings mostly empty.

Those things have always been hanging in that window.

Some things never change, though.  This was my house.  It looks the same, except the garden is smaller.  My parents do love their gardens.


And directly across the street was the ocean, and this, Dead Man’s Island.


If you slid down the short cliff (now there are stairs built)  then you were on MY beach.  In the five years we lived on the base, I think I was at this beach every single day, rain or shine, or even snow (which did happen occasionally).


This fallen tree has been on this beach for as long as I can remember, though in my day it jutted out over the water and made for an interesting place to jump off into the frigid Pacific.


On a clear day you can see the Olympic Mountains, in Washington.

You can see the seal resting on a submerged rock in front of those exposed rocks.

And there is always stuff to be found, if you’re looking in the right places.  Like these tiny crabs I routed out from under a rock. They’re well-camouflaged.


And some bits and bobs of pottery and sea glass.  I still have some pieces I collected as a child.  You may remember I made some of them into my marine mobile a while back.


It was nice to play around for even a few minutes in a place where I had spent so much of my life.  We have lived so many different places, but this place is the one I remember the best, so it was nice to see it again.

The original wall to Dockyard, before it expanded.

On Monday I’ll have my final trip post for you, about the Pie’s and my adventures in a Smart Car.  Stay tuned!

How Not to Buy A Mattress

Image via beddingmaster.com

I usually cringe at airing dirty laundry (even if it’s not my own) in public, but this really takes the cake and has pretty much sucked a bunch of joy out of my summer.  So I will say this now, and for the record, that if you ever decide to buy a new mattress, never, ever purchase one from Nasafoam.  I will tell you the story here, because I’m feeling really, really vindictive right now.  Sorry about that.

You may recall me mentioning that the Pie and I had purchased a new memory foam mattress through a Groupon Deal.  It was $500 for a $1700 mattress, and as broke students, that struck us as a really good deal (you can see it here).  The question was, did they deliver to Newfoundland?  Many companies don’t, so I posted the question on Groupon’s FAQ page and received a response that to ship to Newfoundland would be $225.  You can see the posting here.  You will also note, for a later point I will make, that nowhere in the fine print does it say it does not ship to Newfoundland.

Anyway, we were happy with that shipping price so we bought the Groupon and submitted it to Nasafoam.  We typed in our information, everything, and then pressed the “submit” button.  Normally when you order something online you get some form of record of your transaction, whether it’s something you can print or something that is emailed to you later as a confirmation that you actually bought the thing.  Several days later I’d received nothing like that, save the “Thank you.  Your information has been submitted” that we saw after clicking the button.

So I emailed Nasafoam and asked for confirmation that I had actually submitted the order and asked for an ETA on delivery, as well as a final cost with taxes included.  I was told simply that “delivery will contact you with final cost.”  At that point, I left it at that.

A couple of weeks went by and I started to wonder when my mattress would arrive, so I emailed again, and was told that it would arrive in 2-3 weeks from the date of that email. That sounded good.  I started making preparations to renovate my office and all that jazz in preparation for my houseguests.

Spring Shuffle
Future site of my mattress. Oh wait, no, never mind.

Five weeks after the date of that email I still had no mattress, and I was starting to get a little cheesed.  So I wrote to Nasafoam and told them that I was cheesed, and demanded a final bill and a shipping estimate.  I got no response.  I emailed twice more with no results.  Then the Pie discovered that Nasafoam had a Facebook page.  On the page they were telling Groupon customers that the wait for a mattress was 4-6 weeks and at this point I was onto almost nine.  I posted this on Facebook and Nasafoam informed me that they had not been receiving my emails.  I have kept every one of their automated receipt emails so I know that is not true and told them so.  Eventually I sent another, slightly angrier email to every email address at Nasafoam I could find.

The response was unsurprisingly disappointing.  One email response told me that my order would be shipped in 4-6 weeks, which of course indicated to me that the person I had emailed my message to had not actually read it.  I responded of course that it had been nine weeks and received simply a “I see that!  Thanks!” answer to that.  The other response I received was a very frosty one saying, essentially, that they had told me delivery would contact me and that they had no control over when their delivery company would deliver any of their products.

Think about that for a moment.  A company has no control over the delivery of its goods?  What kind of crap company is that?

And of course there was no acknowledgement that I was upset (which I mentioned in a very polite way, of course), nor any final bill (which I had requested for probably the fourth time).

The next week I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.  I felt really good about this.

Nasafoam comes back with the response that I haven’t paid my final bill and that’s why they haven’t shipped.

I respond with the fact that they have not sent me a final bill.

They respond again to tell me I haven’t paid my final bill.  Which they have sent to my email address, so they say.  Which of course they haven’t.

I may have turned into Godzilla at one point in this process.  Also I know I definitely growled out “HULK SMASH” a few times as well.

Image (c) Marvel, via “Without Envy”

Rather than smash my head into the wall at the ridiculousness of this situation (and I’m in Portland at this time, mind you, so I’m using my dad in St. John’s as proxy while I try to type out all this nonsense on my smartphone), I suggest that my father call them with my credit card number and we can sort this out.

He calls.  The guy who answers, according to my dad, is an idiot.  He tells my father that  I apparently filled out the form wrong, and put in Nova Scotia as my mailing address instead of Newfoundland.  He had the form right in front of him, he said (which is nice for him.  I never got a copy of my order form).  I’d like to point out here that I have been working in the legal world for almost a decade and as such am an extremely conscientious form-filler-outer.  I do not make mistakes like that.  I double-check everything.  And the Pie was sitting next to me as I filled it out.  He also double-checks.  And, as I pointed out to Nasafoam, Nova Scotia postal codes start with B, while mine in Newfoundland starts with an A, and I sure as heck didn’t mess that one up.

Their response?  “Groupon is aware that we do not ship to Newfoundland.”

Really?  Could have fooled me.  I sent them a photo of the Groupon FAQ page where I asked them the shipping cost to Newfoundland.  Their response to that was just that I had made a mistake and should have been aware all along that they do not ship to Newfoundland.

And it just went on and on, response and rebuttal through the BBB where they simply ignored everything I said and made me look like the bad guy.  I pointed out their contradictions and blatant lies and they told me I was an idiot (or at least that’s how it felt to me).  The final verdict from the BBB was that Nasafoam was standing by their decision (to do nothing) and that they (BBB) were sorry that I was unhappy.  At least the BBB apologized. I’m in negotiations with Groupon right now to get my money back, and they’re being remarkably helpful, if a little slow, which has kind of renewed my faith in business.

When we returned to St. John’s, the Pie took a screen capture of the Groupon FAQ page where they give me the shipping quote for St. John’s and juxtaposed it next to the section of the BBB complaint where they tell me that I was “well aware it was for nova scotia only” (what? It was an Ottawa Groupon!) and posted it to Nasafoam’s Facebook page with a short paragraph about how not only did Nasafoam make us wait double the shipping time to receive our order but they lied to us and didn’t ship it to us at all.

The Pie’s graphic, with this commentary: “Nasafoam made us wait 11 weeks before telling us they would not ship us our mattress to Newfoundland. They also insist that we knew they only shipped to Nova Scotia but we were quoted a price to ship it to St. John’s, Newfoundland. They refuse to acknowledge any mistakes on their part and blame us entirely. Now a refund will only get us groupon dollars back and not our money back.”

Nasafoam deleted the comment and graphic the next day and closed their page to further posts.

Long story short, the Pie and I ended up sleeping on the floor while my parents were in town so that they could have our crappy old mattress.  The day after we returned to St. John’s we went to the lovely people at Cohen’s, and, for $600, purchased a similar memory foam mattress.  Add in $50 for delivery and they brought it right into our bedroom just a scant week later.  That’s it in that picture up there.  Isn’t it pretty?

Sorry for the venting here, folks, but I really hate it when people lie to me, especially when it’s a local Canadian business.  If you’re curious to know more about the crap that Nasafoam has put me through, send me a message and I can forward you our long and convoluted correspondence, together with the BBB complaint form (as I said, I keep meticulous records).  And if you’ve had a similar experience with some company who refuses to acknowledge any wrong doing, please feel free to rant in the comments below.  I’m ready and willing to listen.

Inviting Inspiration: Vintage Postage Stamps

Vintage Postage Stamps

I have here an envelope.

Vintage Postage Stamps

Inside this envelope are a bunch of old postage stamps.  Each one is valued at 5 cents.

Vintage Postage Stamps

Each one is from Canada.  And I’m assuming most of them date from the late 1950s through the 1960s.

Vintage Postage Stamps

Vintage Postage Stamps

Vintage Postage Stamps

Vintage Postage Stamps

I want to do something awesome with them, so maybe you can help me come up with some ideas.  I’ve seen a lot of things on the internet that are postage-stamp inspired, but the three most common projects that seem to turn up using the actual stamps themselves are these:

I’m not that into découpage, but this stamped table is intriguing (though I don’t have a small table at the moment).

Vintage Postage Stamps

This postage stamp monogram is also interesting, and the Pie and I do share the same first initial (heck, I could probably do ALL of the Pie’s initials with the amount of stamps I have — and he has two middle names).

Vintage Postage Stamps

I also really like the collage of postage stamps, framed and based on colour.  Though I feel like this might be better suited for a collection of stamps from all over the world, or one where I don’t have so many stamps of the same design.  But we shall see.

Vintage Postage Stamps

This one is my particular favourite, from 1956.  I kind of want to blow this one up to poster size and frame it.

Vintage Postage Stamps

Vintage Postage Stamps

Please let me know if you have any ideas!

The Atlas Blanket

Happy Leap Day!

The Atlas Blanket

As I said last week, I’m working on two blankets for two weddings this summer.  This one is for my eldest brother Krystopf and Atlas, his wife-to-be.  Depending on how you look at it, it’s going to be both easier and more of a challenge than the one I’m making for Doodle.  Easier, because it just involves knitting, and more of a challenge because I really hate/suck at knitting.

But there you go.

I bought these beautiful hand-dyed, Canadian-made wools at A Good Yarn downtown.  I had jewel tones in mind for this blanket (Atlas likes purple and blue), and Tanis Fiber Arts had exactly what I was looking for.  They’re just gorgeous, and totally worth the price.

The Atlas Blanket

Now, those are skeins, which means that I had to wind them all into balls before I could start knitting.  There is an art to winding wool by hand, but I haven’t yet perfected it.  Mostly I swear a lot as I constantly drop my misshapen ball-in-progress and it goes skittering off across the floor.  Anyway, these ones aren’t bad.

The Atlas Blanket

When you’re knitting with balls of wool, it helps to put the ball in a bowl while you knit.  This keeps it in one place, and not rolling all over the place and getting tangled.  You can even get special bowls designed for knitting, but I haven’t yet reached the apex of ability that means I deserve such a thing.

The Atlas Blanket

I know my limitations when it comes to knitting, so I’m keeping this as simple as possible, and hoping that the simplicity ends up equalling elegance when I’m through.  So I’ve got four colours, and I’m just doing two columns of alternating colours.  This one is green and turquoise, and the other one will be purple and navy.  Then I will stitch the columns together to form the blanket. (FYI, those panels are each 30 stitches long and about 36 rows tall.)

The Atlas Blanket

And I will offset my knit sides and purled sides so that it forms a patchwork when I’m done.

The Atlas Blanket

I will of course need to figure out something to do around the edges.  I’m open to easy suggestions (please no i-cord or anything like that).

The Atlas Blanket
But that’s what I got so far!

O Canada: Canadian Bacon

Peameal Bacon

Today is my dad’s birthday.  He’s 64.  Happy birthday Dad!  It’s also the 75th birthday of the CBC.  Happy birthday to a Canadian institution!

I’m going to finish off our O Canada feature month with a delicacy that was originally introduced to me by my dad, back when we were both quite a bit younger than we are now.

In Canada we call it back bacon, or peameal bacon due to its peameal crust.  You might know it as Canadian bacon.  And oh is it ever divine.

Peameal Bacon

There is no extra fat, no dripping, spitting, liquid pain when you’re cooking it.  Just solid bacony goodness.

You just slice it up thin and heat it in a pan — it’s pre-cooked!

Peameal Bacon

You can also cube it up and put it in soups and stews.  Marvellous.

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