Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Late Summer Musings

The rhythm of my years has been governed by the start and end of school for a very long time. My own schooling, followed by a few years off, then the schooling of our children, and my return to teaching have ingrained in me the thought of new beginnings come September.

However, before a beginning there must be an end, and so, to end the carefree days of summer, we took a short boating trip last weekend. After anchoring our boat in Annette Inlet on Friday evening, we ate a simple supper of soup and salad, read our books, and soaked in the peace and quiet. Later, I awoke in the darkness of early morning to hear the lovely soft sound of raindrops on the roof. Light rain fell for several hours and the clouds remained grey all day. 

After lunch, the rain eased up and we went exploring. I've long admired kingfishers and have despaired of capturing them with my camera. They are jittery birds who dart from perch to perch with a sharp chit-chit-chit to evade anyone coming close. I was thrilled when this handsome fellow remained in place long enough for me to get a few photos.

We walked through an abandoned orchard, now part of a provincial park, where apple and plum trees were loaded with almost-ripe fruit. This pretty doe stood under an apple tree, perhaps waiting for fruit to fall. Although the flies were terrible if one stood still, they didn't bite, but were highly annoying.

Cloudy skies mingled with remnants of wildfire smoke lent a melancholy air to the atmosphere. Grey skies, grey water. Landscape photos were not at all satisfactory, so I focused on the details. The golden grass speaks more of autumn than summer.

The path wound around the head of a small bay out along a narrow peninsula, through damp forests to rocky outcroppings covered with dry grass and weathered wood.

The trail to the light beacon is an old sheep trail, and I believe that sheep still travel it occasionally today. This bit of sheep's wool caught in a branch lends credence to that idea.

False dandelion seeds, perhaps a cat's ear, are ready to abandon the stem and sail away. 

Maple leaf samaras, called helicopters by children and adults alike, are almost ready to twirl downwards. 

Back at the meadow and abandoned orchard dozens of hawthorne trees are showing off their red berries. We were there once, in the spring, when every tree danced with pale pink flowers where bees were having a party. Here is the result of that party - food for birds for the winter. 

As the season changes, so does my schedule. No more days of getting up with several choices of what to do, or the choice of doing nothing much. I started back to work on Monday although the students don't return until after the Labour Day weekend. It's busy and exciting as we prepare for students next week, and I'm glad we had this quiet weekend beforehand.

Does the end of summer spell a change in schedule for you? 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Towards the End of Summer

The weather has changed. In the morning, heavy dew beads the grass. Spider webs grow ever larger. I cling to summer, but she is slipping from my grasp, her face turned away as if no longer interested in me. 

The marine air moving in has cleared some of the forest fire smoke from the city. This photo was taken on Sunday, before the smoke thickened, stinging eyes and throats, and causing health officials to warn against outdoor exercise. 

Last night was particularly bad as the marine air pushed the smoke from further north down our way. Around bedtime it smelled as if the neighbourhood was on fire. I read a notice that fire officials asked people not to call unless flames were visible. 

This morning I can see faint bits of blue behind the haze, and I am thankful. I can breathe deeply without smoke catching in my throat. However, the situation has not changed with regards to the fires themselves. We desperately want rain. A few sprinkles are in the forecast for the weekend, but not the long dampening wet that is needed. 

Apples are falling from our two trees. Yesterday I made applesauce and canned it for the winter. 

In my garden, tomatoes ripen red and round on the vines. Once bitten, a burst of sun-flavoured sweetness fills my mouth, better than candy. I roasted a tray of these little ones yesterday and could hardly stop from eating them all before dinner.

The green beans are nearly finished, but I continue to pick one or two slender green zucchinis every couple of days. The butternut squash is growing fat and yellow. 

In a burst of energy yesterday, after processing the applesauce, I decided to make a double batch of salsa. I purchased roma tomatoes from the market and began chopping - first dipping the tomatoes into boiling water so that that the peel slipped off without effort. Onions, green peppers, jalapeƱo peppers, garlic, herbs and spices simmered long and slow. At 10 pm, with all the salsa in jars and lids on, I stopped and put the remaining jars in the fridge to process this morning. 

Concord grapes slowly colouring.

My grandmothers and their mothers before them preserved food for the winter. My mother still does, and she taught me. There is a deep sense of satisfaction in practicing this art. It connects me to my past, and to the seasons. Preserving food is something humans have done forever. When I prepare food myself, I know the source of the ingredients, and exactly what has gone into the product. In addition, is there anything prettier than rows of canned fruit, tomatoes, jams, pickles and more on shelves in the basement?

I prefer to eat seasonally - fresh strawberries when local ones are available, otherwise frozen. A tomato tastes like cardboard in January and can't compare to one in August, so why bother?   

Our neighbour's thornless blackberry vine hangs heavy with fruit on our side of the fence. They must be picked at just the right moment, too soon and they are sour, too late and they turn to mush in my hand.

Perhaps it's the back-to-school feeling, but once the end of August comes, I feel like autumn is knocking at the door. Still, September is a beautiful month of crisp mornings and sunny days mingled with rainy ones. Next week I begin work again, the students begin classes after the first weekend in September. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the summer that's left. 

Do you preserve food? Is summer drawing to a close where you live?

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

Sunday, August 19, 2018


Dahlias might not be blooming in my garden yet, but they are beautiful in Butchart Gardens. We visited there this weekend with my parents who came over from the mainland for the weekend. 

The fountain danced. Watching the water wave back and forth almost made me sway in unison. The sky was covered with high smoke that obscured direct sunlight and cooled the temperature dramatically. 

Zinnias are so cheerful. Rows of them stood, stalwart and colorful in a wide border. 

My parents. Saturday was my mother's 82nd birthday. We brought a picnic to the gardens, and enjoyed it at one of the tables provided, then wandered through the flower gardens before settling ourselves down on the sloping lawn for a view of the weekly summer fireworks show. Music, humour, a story here and there, and plenty of booms and sparkles marked the 30 minute spectacle. A fun way to celebrate a special day with my mom and dad. I am so thankful to God for my parents and for their presence and guidance in my life. 

For Sunday lunch the celebration continued with two of her grandchildren and their families (our son and one of our daughters), along with three of her 17 great-grandchildren. Yours truly is in the background. Dinner outside, under another dull smoke-filled sky, was fun and festive. 

Mom loves lemon flavour, so I baked a lemon cheesecake. There's a tart lemon glaze under the raspberries, plenty of whipped cream, and candied lemon slices to decorate it. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

August Break 13-17

August 13: last year

Not last year, technically, but in March of 2018, I gave Tim a gift card for Wild Birds Unlimited because we'd been talking about getting a feeder for our garden. Finally, this past Saturday, we went out and chose one. That's almost last year, isn't it? We've been watching House Finches and Sparrows flitting about the feeder and emptying it at a tremendous rate. There's plenty of other food around at this time of year, so we'll be cutting back on how often we fill it. They still come around on their foraging route and we'll give them more food come winter.

August 14: I love...

where we live, so close to the ocean. While walking with a friend this morning, we both commented on how lovely the sea smells, invigorating and fresh. 

August 15: cat

I don't have a cat, but there's a black one in the neighbourhood that sneaks through the hedge whenever I'm working in the garden. She has a bell to let birds know she's coming. So many birds are killed by outdoor cats. I'm on the birds' side. 

If I had a cat, I'm sure she would enjoy the deck as much as I do - it's a lovely place for afternoon or morning tea. 

August 16: longing

I'm longing for hopes to be fulfilled. 

With much less intensity, I'm longing for my dahlias to begin blooming. I planted them late and they are just forming buds now. I watch them every day to see how they are coming along. In the meantime, the hydrangeas and sunflowers are providing material to fill the vases. 

August 17: #real life

Real life is sweet summer peaches, juicy warm freshly picked tomatoes, cool mornings that transform into hot afternoons, weeds that grow faster than anything else, and roses that keep on blooming.

Are you looking forward to the end of summer, or hanging onto it as long as possible? 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Summer Saturday

On Saturday morning, the two of us went for a walk along Victoria's Inner Harbour, a scenic place that was surprisingly busy. Dragon boat races kept to one half of the narrow entrance while float planes landed and were escorted by Harbour Authority boats. Pleasure craft large and small left in a single line after one race moved out of the way. The little harbour ferries (we call them jelly-bean boats) bobbed from stop to stop. 

The tide was extremely low. In the shallow bays the banquet table laid for a siege of herons, several squabbles of seagulls, and a herd of geese. The birds waded and watched, then with darting flashes of beaks into the water pulled up all sorts of delicacies and enjoyed them with gusto.

The temperatures were cool over the weekend and are supposed to rise again this week. The blue sky in the photo might be the last we see for a bit as smoke haze from the wildfires colours the light pinky-orange and obscures the blue. There are over 600 wildfires burning in our province just now. We need rain - drenching rain.

Our son called just as we were concluding our walk and said that he and his family were at "Victoria's Largest Little Airshow" and thought we would enjoy it. So off we went to ooh and aah at the aerial acrobatics of model remote controlled aircraft. 

Once home again, we puttered around the house. I picked a basketful of produce from the garden. Gathering what's ripe is a daily delight, and necessary to avoid overly large vegetables. These beans went into the freezer, after blanching. 

There will be green beans on the menu for dinner tonight, along with that zucchini. What shall I do with them? How do you like your green beans? 

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

Thursday, August 09, 2018

August Break 7-9

August 7: Five Facts About Me

Oh dear. Do I go deep or shallow? Perhaps a mixture, I think, for this is supposed to be a "break." Here goes:

1. I am learning to be content. I'm more contented now than I was even 5 years ago. 

2. Blue and white will always be my favourite colour combination. 

3. I often push through fear to do the things I do. I've discovered that the worry often precedes the event/activity/project, and once I attend/set off/begin, the fears evaporate.

4. Being bored never happens. 

5. Curiosity often motivates me.

August 8: sky

Endlessly changeable and fascinating. 

August 9: happiness is...

Another tough one to nail down. Different things make me happy at different times. I think this is true for all people. It can be elusive, and like the sky, highly changeable. 

My family brings me great happiness. When they are doing well, I am happy. The converse is also true. 

I'm happy in my garden, even while pulling weeds. 

Teaching makes me happy. Interacting with teenagers can be challenging, but I find them fascinating and funny. Their lives are ahead of them and I'm happy to have a minuscule part in preparing them for adulthood. 

Reading. Hearing my grandchildren calling out "Nana." Cooking and eating. Laughing uproariously. Hugs. Playing jokes. Hiking. Holding hands. Sewing. Pink roses. Writing. Drawing. Being with friends. Sleeping. Swimming. A cold glass of water. Hydrangeas. The list could go on and on. 

The light is harsh in this photo - it's blazing hot outside today, but this "Secret" rosebush is outdoing itself in blossoms. I've clipped a few for the house and there are plenty left. It's one of the things making me happy today.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

August Break 2-6

August 2: ground

I don't drink coffee, but my husband does occasionally, mostly when there's company. Our children all drink it, so there's always some Fair Trade coffee here. Ground, not beans. 

August 3: skin

This took some thought until I realized that almost everything has skin, from people and animals to vegetables and fruit. I've been admiring the butternut squash in my garden, pale green with white stripes. They are growing larger almost visibly in the heat we're experiencing. 

Apple skin can be red, green, yellow and many shades between. One of our apple trees is loaded this year and the apples have begun falling. So...

I made the first batch of applesauce. Our grandchildren love it with oatmeal for their breakfast, and our son and his wife make batches of it to last the winter. They ran out this year and bought some from the store. The children hated it, saying it didn't taste like "real" applesauce. Nana came to the rescue and handed over some from her pantry shelf. You'll notice there's no skin in the applesauce - that went into the compost. 

August 4: bookshelf

There's a bookshelf in every room in our home, except for the bathrooms and laundry room. I try to keep the books weeded out, but it's hard. There are a number of books I've not yet read and sometimes feel guilty about that. Recently I read this article that speaks about the value of unread books in reminding us how we always have more to learn.

I've recently read two books I've enjoyed very much. One is The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, a wonderful tale spanning the years of change and development in China, told through the story of a young girl growing up in a remote village. It's a multi-layered story of grit and resilience, and of openness to change, as well as valuing tradition. And, it's about tea! 

The other book is Missing, Presumed, by Susie Steiner, a mystery featuring Manon, a lonely and desperate police detective. It's grittier (but not gruesome) than the book above, and if you enjoy mysteries, this might be one for your list.  

August 5: crush

I took the easy way out for this one - crushed garlic, a vital ingredient in so many dishes. I read recently that the Queen hates garlic and has banished it from the royal kitchens. 

August 6: spacious

Looking at the sky gives me a feeling of spaciousness. That infinite blue of summer. Here the pole beans are climbing upwards and have completely covered the 6 foot trellis. 

I picked the first handful of green beans yesterday, simmered them in salted water until barely tender, drained them and dumped them over a selection of grape and cherry tomatoes, halved, from the garden. Then, a scatter of sliced basil, a drizzle of olive oil, and a grating of Parmesan cheese. The perfect lunch.

What's happening in your world? Read any good books lately? What are you eating on these hot summer days? 

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Coastal Inhabitants Then and Now.

The Broughton Archipelago is a maze of channels, islands, islets, narrow twisting passages and very few people. However, it is not completely uninhabited. During the first three-quarters of the 20th century, First Nations villages and European settlements were found in much greater numbers than currently. Most of the European settlements were on floats, not on cleared land, and I'll write about them in another post. For today, I thought I'd tell you about some of the First Nations peoples who have lived here for thousands of years.

We visited New Vancouver, also known as Tsatsisnukwomi, which means "Eel grass along the shore." The village is currently occupied by members of the Glendale family, whose grandfather wanted his family to live traditionally, and to not lose the old ways. There are 8 homes, a variety of outbuildings, a dock, and a Big House, seen in the bottom right photo above. A young woman gave us a tour of the village, and told us her family's story. We were permitted to enter the Big House where ceremonies occur such as potlatches occur. The sweet fragrance of cedar filled the building. Regalia and special carvings are kept there and she explained each one's significance.

On Village Island, within sight of Tsatsisnukwomi, is the empty village of 'Mamkwamlis, also known as Mamalilikulla. Here one can see the tangles of blackberries and salal bushes encroaching upon the old buildings. Along the foreshore, remnants of the stilts that once supported houses weaken with each rise and fall of the tide. 

M. Wylie Blanchet, author of The Curve of Time, was a widow who explored this area in the 1930s with her 5 children and a dog. If you can find a copy of her book, you're in for a fascinating read. There's another book called Following the Curve of Time in which Cathy Converse retraces Blanchet's travels. It's also excellent. 

We spent another pleasant morning exploring the Burdwood Group, a cluster of small islands and rocky islets between Raleigh and Hornet Passages. It's a popular place for kayakers with a number of white shell beaches where First Nations peoples once harvested clams. The white beaches are composed of millions of fragments of clamshells. 

The top right hand photo shows a culturally modified tree. A strip of bark is taken from the cedar tree for traditional basketry and other handicrafts. The trees continue to survive. There's a rough trail across the island that gave us a bit of exercise. 

We saw five bears during our trip - always at low tide on rocky beaches. The bears turned over great rocks with a toss of their front legs looking for sea creatures trapped underneath. Fascinating to watch from the safety of the boat. I wrote about an encounter with a mother bear and her cub while hiking a few years ago, and I had no wish to relive the experience. We did very little hiking on this trip. 

I'll leave you with a photo of wildflowers - fireweed and tansy ragwort, bright spots of colour against the unending green forest.

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

A Bit of This and That

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