Monday, January 30, 2017

January in a Garden

I had a few hours free on Friday due to the semester changeover at school. I get together with my girls fairly often for tea, but rarely with my son. So I arranged to pick him up at his office and we went for lunch together. It was fun. I hope to do it again. 

After lunch, since I was out towards Butchart Gardens, I stopped by for a walk. Alternating sun and clouds made for interesting photos; some drab and dull, others imbued with faint winter sunshine. 

There was very little in bloom, so I focused on the architecture and decor of the garden. Above are a pair of bronze herons in the star pond.

A graceful figure in the Italian Garden pond.

Also in the Italian Garden, but in a curve of the hedge, is a statue of Mercury. It was interesting to see, later, when I went through the display in the house...

this invoice, from Italy, for that very statue, dated March 12, 1927. The interior display runs for only a few months as it takes space from the restaurant and tea rooms. They are not as busy in these months. The artifacts on display change slightly from year to year, so I like to see what's there. 

A view into the Italian Garden through an arch in the hedge. Mrs. Butchart's conservatory/sun room is seen in the top window.

In these months of fewer visitors, I like to go against the flow of traffic and visit the gardens backwards. Do you find that you see things differently when you view them in a different order? 

These stepping stones, with the red bridge beyond, are one of my favourite places. All the curved lines and tangled branches juxtapose nicely. 

There were a few things blooming, such as this witch hazel tree. Its blooms look like a bunch of ribbons gathered together in little bouquets. The red entrance arch to the Japanese Garden is in the background.

During these quieter months, the Blue Poppy cafe is turned into a Spring Prelude Garden, filled with winding pathways, flowering bulbs, and lots of orchids. I can never quite decide if I like orchids, or not. Do you?

No question about the tulips - they are such cheerful flowers, especially in these vibrant shades. 

A little path lined with daffodils was the cheeriest thing, all bright and golden. I exited into dull grey spatters, but the golden hope of spring stayed with me as I drove home, windshield wipers flapping back and forth. 

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

No Pretty Pictures

Blogging experts say to never put up a post without a photo. Well, I'm doing just that. I'd like, instead, to tell you a little story. It's a story that hasn't ended yet, but a brand new chapter has begun. I can't give you names and too many details in order to protect the characters, but this is a true story. 

A Canadian archaeologist and her husband spent quite a lot of time on digs in Syria. While there, they built relationships with the local people. Hardworking, honest people who wanted only to make a decent living for their families, to sit around a table with friends, to educate their children, to laugh and eat and drink. In peace. 

Then came war. A war that ripped the fabric of Syrian life apart. Safety and security disappeared. There were no more archaeological digs. Food became scarce, safety illusory. Horror grew.

The Canadian couple began the refugee process for this family of several grown siblings and their dependents. One by one the families are coming to Canada. To relief from war, from fear of bombings and brutality.

In November I wrote a post about helping our daughter and son-in-law finish a basement suite. 

I'm so pleased that today, in that tiny two-bedroom suite, lives a beautiful little family. A father, a mother, and two small, very small, children. They have peace. They are surely homesick for what they once knew. They feel alien. They need to learn English and will begin classes in a few weeks. 

When it snowed, the father took his little daughter outdoors and she was enchanted, playing and laughing as snowflakes fell. 

Our children came home from work one day this past week to find that their back yard, once full of lumps and potholes, had been dug and smoothed, and is ready for grass seed. The young father and his brother, also newly arrived to Canada, want to work. They need something to do. And so they did this. 

Our daughter visits the young mother and her children; she goes down for tea and they communicate in broken English, lots of sign language, and plenty of smiles. 

I am proud, oh so proud, of our children, all of them. Our other children have donated generously to help refugees. This pair has given time and space and money to help provide a refuge for refugees.

During the second World War, there are many stories of Christians helping Jews. But there are also stories of Muslims hiding Jews

This is not a political post. This is a post about people, real people who are grateful, so very grateful, for a chance to build a new life with their children. 

"I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me." Matthew 25:35

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Five Beautiful Things

The world seems so full of divisiveness and disrespect these days. I've decided to stop reading a lot of news and focus on the beautiful things in my week. 

Number 1: This lovely pair of mallard ducks on Rithet's Bog last Sunday. How calm they are. How unworried. How elegant.

Number 2: A female mallard flashing her blue under feathers as she grooms herself. Is this flirtatious behaviour? Do the male mallards find themselves attracted to these hidden feathers just as human males were once tantalized by the glimpse of a shapely ankle?

Number 3: A small collection of spoons. Each one tells a story. The one on the left is a baby spoon given to my husband by his paternal grandparents long ago. The shiny gold rose-topped spoon was part of my grandmother's collection. And so it goes. I like handling pieces of history in my home. 

Number 4: The kindness of fellow bloggers is beautiful. When I showed you the pile of squares I'd cut to begin my Granny Square quilt, blogger Barbara, from Cornwall, sent me a packet of fabrics from her collection. They will be perfect in my quilt, and I'll think of her often, and tell people, "That piece came from England." Thank you, Barbara.

Number 5: One small patch of snowdrops hides in a corner in my garden. After work today, I ventured out to see if they were blooming. And they were! Tight buds yet, but with a little more time they will open their delicate drooping bells.

What's been beautiful in your week? 

Linking to Five on Friday, hosted by Amy of Love Made My Home. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Cultural Mix

Last spring I watched the Great British Bake Off via Youtube, and got all inspired to bake some British treats. Our trip to the UK last summer continued to fuel that obsession interest. The classic Victoria Sponge is one I've tried to replicate, but I've had a hard time finding a good recipe for the sponge. They turn out tough and chewy rather than tender. 

I've discovered that recipes that work in one country, with one set of ingredients, often don't work quite as well in another. I know that when we lived in Texas and Ecuador, my baking efforts required serious tweaking before I was happy with them. 

This Victoria Sponge is definitely not the classic. Instead of a sponge cake, I used a recipe for a Yogurt Cake (Gateau au Yaourt) that I've made for years. I baked it in two round cake pans and got two thin layers of cake. The raspberry jam is homemade from last summer, and made for a very delicious result paired with a cup of Lady Grey tea. 

A happy partnership between three cultures: British, French, and Canadian. Sometimes it takes global effort to be successful. 

Any recipes for Victoria Sponge that you've had great success with?  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How Green is Your Garden?

Saturday morning view from the breakfast table. Robins, sparrows, juncos, chickadees. Twittering, chirping, flitting. A fat robin pulls a long worm out of the lawn. Sunlight angles across the garden. One bald eagle glides across the hedge.

How could anyone stay indoors on such a lovely day? I abandoned thoughts of laundry and housecleaning, pulled on boots and gardening gloves, and spent a contented few hours cleaning out garden beds. 

There's life in those beds! Worms a-plenty to feed the birds and aerate the soil. Sharply pointed hyacinth leaves thrust upwards towards the light. Delicate, star-shaped moss clings to the rock wall. And the greatest surprise - one unfurling hydrangea leaf. 

It's early days yet, but these signs of the season to come hearten and encourage me.

I pulled all the beets and carrots that I'd sown late last summer. The most slender carrots I roasted whole, along with beets, peeled and cut up before popping into the oven for an hour or so. Delicious, garden-fresh sweetness.

Sunday's skies were not quite as pretty, but the rain held off and we walked around Rithet's Bog. Not many signs of spring there, but a harmony of browns and greys.

And lots of Mallard Ducks paddling around. There's still a spot of two of ice and several ducks waddled across, rather than swim around. It was a busy place today.

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Bit of This and a Little of That - Five on Friday

Today's five will be quick. 
1. Another photo from our beach walk last Sunday. I find the arrangement of detritus washed up by the waves endlessly fascinating. 

2. Progress on the Granny Square quilt. Playing with the various combinations of fabrics is probably my favourite part. I don't think any two squares will be the same. And some, in the end, may not make it into the final quilt. 

3. Recent reading. A Country Road, A Tree is a fictionalized account of Samuel Beckett's experiences during World War II, in France, working with the Resistance. It also focuses on his writing and how he distilled his words. I really liked it. Belgravia and Heirs and Graces were both enjoyable, quick and fairly predictable narratives great for relaxing reading in the evening.
I discover many of my books through recommendations on other blogs and others' reading lists. How do you decide what to read?

4. The grape ivy on the piano. I think I enjoy my indoor plants most in January. I love the green freshness they provide. This one needs repotting. 

5. More reading, in my favourite spot in front of the fire. I discovered Britain and take it out of the library from time to time. It fuels my desire to return to the UK with stories of places that seem wonderfully interesting. 

Linking with Five on Friday, hosted by Amy of Love Made My Home. I'll be reading the posts later today - now I'm off to work!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Beach in Winter

According to the weather historians,this stretch of cold weather (just below freezing) is the longest in 30 years. Temperatures dropped in early December and haven't really risen to normal yet. 

There's been little precipitation, accompanied by clear, sunny skies.

On Sunday afternoon 9 of us took a walk to Witty's Lagoon. 6 adults, 3 small children. The forest floor gave off the damp scent of earth and of trampled pine boughs tossed down by the wind.

The Littles pretended they were horses along the path - "walk, horses, walk," then "gallop, horses, gallop," followed by "rest, horses, rest."

Once on the beach, a distant clump of rocks shone golden as the sun sank lower and lower. Gulls wheeled and cried, their white breasts and wings glinting silver as they caught the light. 

In the distance, across the Strait, the high mountains of the USA's Olympic Peninsula rose out of blue mists.

Ducks squawked, swam, dove and flew.

The beach in winter is just as much fun as it is in summer. There were sand castles, rocks thrown, trenches dug. Sticks gathered, stories told, and laughter.

The gear of a winter beach might look different than summer's. No swimming suits or sun tops. Instead these hilarious hats, one a reindeer, one a cat, both worn with careless elegance and sweet individuality. 

We missed the Vancouver couple, and wished they could have joined us. Our DIL, in the brown jacket, brought along a thermos of hot tea. When I commented on what a great idea that was, she said that she had seen her MIL (yours truly) write about it on her blog. HA! On this walk, I brought nothing. In the photo of the two couples, I caught the guys chewing on cookies. Hope they don't mind.

The weather forecast is for a warming trend, perhaps to 7 or 8 Celsius, accompanied by rain. I'm glad we got out to enjoy the sunny cold on this Sunday afternoon.

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Five on Friday: In and Out

My photography mojo has gone the way of the dodo bird lately. When we walk, it's dark. We've not been out for a proper hike since Christmas. Perhaps we'll remedy that this weekend. Yesterday morning I wandered through the frozen garden to see what I could see. 

First was my potting bench. Just looking at it made me long for spring and the pleasant work of gardening. 

2. There are a few sad roses, frozen and drooping, that bloomed after the autumn pruning. Poor things. As soon as the weather warms a little I'll be out there with my clippers. 

3. The Cotoneaster seems to thrive in the cold. Brilliant red berries are a lovely sight from my window - they are the only colour in the garden just now.

4. Once indoors again I started cutting 3 inch squares from my overflowing scrap basket. I have an idea to make a Granny Square quilt. My supply of white fabric is depleted, so I won't begin sewing until I can replenish that. January seems like a good month to begin a project, don't you think?

5. The red and white in the china hutch is still making me happy. I took out the bits of pine that were dropping needles everywhere. Looking at the photo now, I see a tea cup and saucer purchased in Germany while on a trip with my sister and mother, a silver jug found in a thrift store, a soup tureen given to me by my mom, and a polka-dotted café au lait bowl that I purchased at a Matisse exhibition in Vancouver a few years ago. I like having stuff that inspires memory.

Linking with Five on Friday, hosted by Amy of Love Made my Home.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

On a Tuesday in January

The wind is whipping around the corners of the house this evening. I went for a short walk this afternoon and brrrr, it was cold. Perhaps it's the restless wind that's affecting my mood. I can't settle to much. So I wandered around with my camera for a bit. Not much inspiration there, either, but I did snap this paperwhite bud beginning to form. The earlier bulbs I started are long, 18-20 inches tall and beginning to straggle. These are much shorter, perhaps because they are on the windowsill where it's colder. I don't really know, but I'm enjoying them nonetheless.

We had an appointment at 5 pm this evening and I wanted to have some dinner ready to go when we got home afterwards. This sausage and pepper pot came together very quickly. No real recipe - sauteed sausage (I used polish sausage, sliced into rounds), sauteed peppers (4), onion (1), garlic (2 cloves), a can of diced tomatoes and some frozen green beans. Served over elbow pasta and sprinkled with asiago cheese it made for a fast and satisfying dinner. 

Do you have any recipes that come together quickly after a busy day?

I snapped this photo from a magazine; the December issue of Country Homes and Interiors. I thought the rustic branch with the red heart berries so pretty, and suitable for almost any season, including Valentine's Day.

The wind continues to clatter all around, but the fire is cozy. Perhaps I'll pick up my slow knitting project, or make some more hexies. Or perhaps I'll just and dream. It's one of those evenings.  

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Craigdarroch Castle

 In the late 19th century, Robert Dunsmuir, a Scottish immigrant to Canada who became wealthy via Vancouver Island coal, built an impressive mansion on a hill overlooking the ocean in Victoria. Today, Craigdarroch Castle offers a glimpse into life as it was in a colonial outpost during the Victorian era. 

We visited the house shortly before Christmas to hear a presentation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, done by a single actor. We toured the house before and after the performance.

The rooms were elaborately decorated for Christmas, particularly the fireplace mantels. 

I particularly enjoyed the dining room with the linens, crystal and silverware. I asked the guide about the china pattern, and was told it was earthenware. 

The blue and white pattern is very pretty with its gold trim. I also learned that leaning over too far to snap a photo will trigger an alarm. Oops. 

These sweet teddy bears in a daughter's bedroom caught my eye. I can just imagine a little girl placing them carefully together to keep company while she was off doing other things.

Sadly, the house passed out of the family about 20 years after it was built, serving as a military hospital, a college and a music conservatory before becoming the property of the city of Victoria and restored as a museum. 

It's an interesting glimpse into the life of an entrepreneur who had the wealth to create something of the Old Country here in the New World. High society was alive and well in the colonies. 

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life.  

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Five on Friday: My January World

The flicker of candlelight adds a glow to dark and cold evenings, a glow I crave these January days when I go to work in the dark and often return in the dark. What is it about candlelight that so entrances?

It's chilly out there! Jack Frost creates intricate beauty during the night, etching, sculpting, outlining in ice. 

Just before Christmas I was in a consignment store in Oak Bay purchasing a china teapot lid for my mother. Hers broke several years ago and they are difficult to replace. In the shop Good Things, I found an entire teapot, with the spout chipped, for less than what it would cost to order a lid from a replacement company. So I bought it. The shop was busy and the line up for the till passed by a book case filled with treasures. Good planning, I think. I found Susan Branch's Vineyard Seasons on the shelf and didn't think twice about picking it up. Her illustrated pages are so layered and interesting that I always find something to study in them. 

Most of the Christmas decor is gone, but I leave the beaded garland around the dining room chandelier up until spring. And the red dishes in the china cabinet until Valentine's Day. A bit of glitz is welcome in the winter, don't you think?

Tea and chocolate by the fire is so very cozy. This first week back to school seems to be stretching out interminably although it's only 4 days. I'm looking forward to the weekend and don't plan on accomplishing a whole lot. Maybe some reading, some sewing, perhaps some knitting. A bit of laundry. Lots of gazing into the fire, and watching candles flicker. What are your plans?

Linking these 5 glimpses of my January world with Amy's Five on Friday linkup. 

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