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Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Jigsaw of Life

The Jigsaw of Life 

While house-sitting in this beautiful location in West Lorne, we've had time to complete a few jigsaw puzzles. Our hosts showed us about 30 different puzzles to choose from. We avoided the 1000-piece puzzles and went for the 500-piece ones - as these seemed less daunting!! That being said, we did progress to a 750-piece challenger towards the end of our stay. 

The first puzzle we finished (500-piece)
It's been years since we've attempted jigsaw puzzles and we only became addicted to them again as a result of frequent visits to our family in Ajax. From those visits, we have rekindled the fun of doing them - from the laborious initial sorting to the exciting placement of the very last piece. 

Those of you who also enjoy jigsaws, will understand the gamut of emotions undergone while solving them. It usually starts off with fervour and anticipation of completing the edge first. Then comes the obvious bits that are easy to identify and place within the perimeter. 

It doesn't take long to lapse into the frustration of looking for that one piece that will tidily complete an area -  it's usually found when you're not looking for it! And there's always a time when we begin to refuse responsibility - when we're convinced that their MUST be a piece missing. It can't possibly be our problem - it's someone else's! 

4 Seasons - we thought this one was neat!
We find that, to alleviate these mixed emotions, we step away from it at times, get involved in something else, and then come back to it later. We have often found that we locate that 'key piece' when we are refreshed - and when we come at it from a different perspective. 

Days Gone By - another 500-piece
And then...  there's that sky!!  That's when we have sometimes quietly cursed the creator of the puzzle - why so much blue, without any different hues or shades?  Not even a cloud or two, for a clue! It's the part of the puzzle that is usually left until last - and then it's a case of trial an error, testing every piece in all of the possible nooks and crannies that are left. 

Lo and behold, the point of no return is reached as you race to find the final few pieces that lead to the ultimate triumph! Oh, how the tension and excitement builds when you can see the end in view! Finally, satisfaction is reached and the picture is complete. 
A Moment in Time - our favourite (750-piece)

During our two weeks here, while we've been doing these jigsaws, I have found myself reflecting on how this experience is so much like life, itself. From cradle to grave, we repeatedly go through a similar catalogue of emotions - and often react in comparable ways.

We start off with excitement about future possibilities, applying ourselves willingly to reach the goals we have set for ourselves. Then, when things don't work out as quickly as we'd hoped, we fall into frustration, blaming self or others, complaining that we must be missing some skills or resources that are preventing us from reaching our target. We can even find ourselves in convincing mode - where we persuade ourselves that there is some grand design that is deliberately thwarting our path! 

Sometimes, we feel the need to step back from issues for a while, and come back to see things from a different angle. At other times, we find a solution in a different place from where we were looking for it. 

However, just like with the jigsaw puzzle, if we accept responsibility, and continue to apply patience, we begin to see light at the end of the tunnel and the fuller picture comes into view. When we finally reach our goal, we can look back and see that everything fits perfectly in its place and we can rest in the satisfaction of a job well done - until the next time! 

The jigsaw of life can be challenging at times, for sure; but if we change our approach and take life piece by piece, maybe we can actually enjoy the journey. By keeping the end in mind, accepting the ups and downs, and moving gradually towards whatever we have defined as an improvement in our current experience, maybe we'll discover the truth immortalized by John Lennon: 'Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans'.

You'll notice a 5th puzzle at the front - this was our bow to ease and relief  - 8 pieces each!!

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Monday, 27 July 2015

Port Stanley and Sparta - Two Places Worth a Visit!

Port Stanley and Sparta - Two Places Worth a Visit!

Our hosts, Dave and Flo, suggested Port Stanley as a day-trip possibility. We took up their suggestion last Thursday and were glad we did so. 

Port Stanley is a community in Central Elgin, located on the north shore of Lake Erie at the mouth of Kettle Creek. It has a large sandy beach (as well as a separate little one), a lifting bridge across Kettle creek, picturesque marinas and a variety of restaurants, hotels, and shops - all within an area easily traversed on foot. 

Timing is everything, and while we were nearby, the lift bridge opened to let a couple of boats through. We were surprised at how the traffic built up in the 10 minutes that followed, revealing just how busy this small town can be. 

Many of the buildings date back to the 19th century and have plaques attached to tell of their historical significance. This telegraph house, built in 1873, is now used as a bed and breakfast and, as the sign says, since the builder had been the telegraph agent for the community, it is fitting that it bears this name.

For those of you who are too young to remember telegraph communication - think of morse code, (sending message signals through a wire), and the old tradition of people in the U.K. getting a telegram from the Queen upon reaching their 100th birthday. For me, the telegraph brings back memories of a cartoon I saw a long time ago. I couldn't find it, so I borrowed an image and edited it so you'd get the picture...
We were drawn to a smaller stone edifice that was marked as a ''Fisherman's Kiln", and then noticed that it was attached to a building that had a mermaid on its overhang, probably once adorning the bow of a fishing boat. The cork kiln was built during the period of the fishing industry and was instrumental in drying the cork floats used for the fishermen's nets. 

As mentioned earlier, there are numerable eating places in the town and this patio and gazebo looked very appealing. 
The main beach was packed with sun-worshipers and several people swimming. We even saw a couple of would-be surfers catching the waves as they rolled into shore. We ate lunch at GT's Beach Bar and Grill while watching a patient dad teaching his daughter how to play beach volley-ball.

We rather liked the 'Little Beach' on the other side of the pier. If we were to go back to swim, that would probably be the beach of our choice. 
It's a lovely town, and well worth a visit. 


Just 14 minutes north west of Port Stanley is the small historical village of Sparta. Mark, in particular, was interested to see this - and was intrigued by the name. It was founded by Quakers who were eager to find a safe place from the War of 1812. Like so many pioneer settlements at that time, it started out with a grist mill, a sawmill, and a tannery. 

By the 1870's it was a thriving community of 1500 residents and probably would have grown into a large town had not the railway builders chosen to go through neighbouring St. Thomas, instead. As a result, Sparta shrank and St. Thomas grew. From our point of view, we're glad that it did as the village has remained a small settlement with many of its early buildings still standing and used for shops and homes... and therein lies its appeal to the modern visitor. We noticed a fair number of tourists while we were there, but it was never overcrowded (maybe because it was a weekday). The villagers proudly celebrated their bi-centennial in 2013.

We spent a while in Ye Olde Forge and Anvil (1827)- which houses a museum of artifacts from the period, including a printing press, a wheelchair, a commode, various blacksmith's tools, clocks, embroidery and quilts - to name just a few. The young man who was in attendance was dressed in period costume and was very knowledgeable about the history of the village. 

We didn't go in to the Eakins Store on the main intersection, but we were intrigued by some unique wind chimes that had attracted our attention. There were various beer cans suspended that were actually quite pleasant to listen to on this so-called 'Red Neck Wind Chime'!

Many stories have been recorded for posterity which, today, are the cause of much mirth. We liked the tale of the Drunkard's Path - telling of an event which would have been quite serious in this village at the time of its temperance days!!

It was in this small, tucked-away village that we had the answer to a question that had been strumming away in our minds since our arrival in this area, just a week ago. On various barns in the surrounding countryside, we had noticed large, painted squares that stood out for all to see. We had wondered what they were and why they featured so prominently in Southwestern Ontario. Here, in Sparta, we learned (from the sign above) that they were called Quilt Blocks. 
Thanks to the magic of Google, we found out that Barn Quilts are 8' square (and larger) painted replicas of actual fabric quilt blocks installed on barns. They draw attention to Ontario's disappearing rural landscapes, timber farm barns, and the family farm. 

Finally, before leaving, we had to visit the British Shoppe - A Bit of Brit - and, yes, we did partake of a little cake and a piece of chocolate to round off the day!


It was while we were in Sparta that we had seen the signs to the Steed & Company Lavendar Farm. 

If you missed that blog, you can see it here: 

Steed & Company Lavender Farm

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Friday, 24 July 2015

Steed & Company Lavender Farm

Steed & Company Lavender Farm
July 23rd, 2015

While visiting the quaint, historical village of Sparta, in Southern Ontario, we noticed a sign that drew our attention immediately. 

With such a distinguished name, we had to investigate!
We just knew that we had to check out my namesakes - and the Lavender Farm for which they are famous in the surrounding area. 

Having parked the car in the provided lot, the first thing we saw that charmed us was the sign inviting us to follow the pathway to the store and gardens.

The short path followed a cedar fence which took us to our first view of the lavender field, with its gentle scent that wafted towards us in the breeze. 

Stepping inside the store, we were met with a beautiful fragrance that left us in no doubt about where we were. On display is a variety of lavender products from soap to essences, culinary to potpourri - and a range of gift sets available to delight the eye. 

Instinctively I knew that the establishment would be overseen by a woman of elegance, and I was not disappointed. Suzanne was serving a couple of customers when we first saw her but, as soon as she was free, I introduced myself and told her that we shared the same last name. We fell easily into a conversation about origins and family histories and soon realized that, if we were related, it would be through several generations lost in the mists of time. Suzanne's ancestors hailed from Ireland, though her husband, Jim, did mention that he thought they may have sojourned in England for a time. It was such a delight to meet them both, and they made us feel very welcome.

The Lavender Fields were just gorgeous and I would like to have sat in one of the provided Muskoka chairs, or on the metal bench for a while. It would have been a great place in which to meditate in the subtle breeze.

Jim took time to chat with us
We came across Jim a little later when we found him out in the field pruning some tree branches on the perimeter of the property. During our conversation, we learned more about the locality, and discovered some of the reasons why they had moved into this area. He told us how they had made alterations to the house, which was adjoined to the store. It's a beautiful home, which is obviously lovingly-tended.

Harry Potter - a wizard of a dog!
Of special delight to us was the presence of Harry Potter, their treasured friendly dog, who quietly and happily allowed us to pet him. He followed us into the field and joined us while we were talking to Jim. 

As we left for the parking lot, we espied a few bee hives tucked away in the corner and realized that this was probably the source of one of the ingredients in their Lavender Honey Dijon Mustard, and Lavender Syrup.

If you are ever visiting Sparta, or the surrounding area, we would thoroughly recommend that you include this little jewel in its beautiful setting. You will receive a friendly welcome and leave with a sense of peace and tranquility. 

Alan - with Suzanne

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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Patsy's Prize Pub - a Tilbury Treasure!!

Patsy's Prize Pub - a Tilbury Treasure!
July 21st, 2015

Another perk of house-sitting is that it brings you within the vicinity of friends whom you have not seen for a while. 

This morning, we set off for Tilbury to have breakfast at a new establishment owned and run by our friend, Patsy. It's called the Queen's Head Coffee Pub - a British Restaurant situated on the corner of Queen and Prospect Streets. Patsy had told us of her venture and we knew that it had only been open for a week, but we were eager to go and try it out, while satisfying our desire to see our friend again. 

Jenn and Katy

The Coffee Pub is open Tuesday to Saturday for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. Serving iced coffees, specialist coffees along with a healthy yogurt parfait, fresh Belgian waffles, mini muffin omelets, (the breakfast menu) the staff greet you with a smile - and you can watch them prepare your fare, right before your eyes! Jenn and Katy add their own personalities to the ambience of the restaurant, while Patsy is as welcoming as ever. 

Patsy, with Mark

A delicious breakfast!

We chose fresh crepes with raspberry sauce, fresh fruit and whipped cream! The maple syrup added to the deliciousness of the experience, and the presentation was wonderful! 

There are several beers on tap, and the coffee is second to none, supplied by the Fire Roasted Coffee Company
The open door to the bank vault can still be seen

The building had originally been a bank, and the inner brick wall has been carefully preserved , with the vault - with its open door - now housing the supplies for the running of the restaurant. 

What we found appealing is the British memorabilia, which adorns all walls and window ledges. From buses to cabs, Union Jacks to road signs, it is unmistakably proud to associate itself with all that is authentically U.K. 

"Off With Her Head" - Poor Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard!!

Arsenal - my brother's favourite team!

Of great interest to me was the special place awarded to the Arsenal Football (Soccer) Team. This was the team that my brother supported, and to which he was devoted right up until he passed away in March of this year. (You may not believe this, but just over a week ago, I was chatting with him, in spirit, and asked if he could send me an unmistakable sign that he was aware of my thoughts about him. It didn't register at the time, but later I realized that he had totally delivered an answer to me - we had no idea that the coffee pub would feature his favourite team!!)

Anyone visiting, or passing through, Tilbury, will do themselves a great favour if they drop in to this homey restaurant - for a meal, or just a coffee or a beer. You won't be disappointed!!


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