Monday, April 27, 2020

Celebrations, Flowers, and Quotations

"Since love grows within you,
so beauty grows.
For love is the beauty of the soul."
St. Augustine
 On Sunday afternoon we celebrated a marriage in a new way. Friends and family lined the street of small Sidney-by-the-Sea to wave and cheer as the newlyweds drove by. They stopped and walked around the traffic circle at the end of the avenue. 

These days we have to find new ways to celebrate the special moments of life. The groom thought this wedding was perfect, for he is an introvert who dreaded the speech, the large gathering, and the dance in front of so many people. Instead, a quiet dinner with family, a simple ceremony with the same, and this short appearance to many who wished them well. 
"Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music - the world is so rich
simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls, and interesting people.
Forget yourself."
Henry Miller

 I was very surprised this afternoon when the groom's mother dropped off a beautiful arrangement of flowers at our home. They were part of the wedding decor held at their home, and she wanted to thank us for attending the street gathering. So very sweet and unexpected. 

"I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life
stimulates the creative mind."
Albert Einstein

 I took a walk this afternoon. The wind sighed in the trees and blew great drifts of pink petals along the street. In my garden a bee was busy among the Mountain Cornflowers now blooming in my garden. 

"...and work at your pattern - it will come out a rose by and by. Life is like that...
one stitch at a time, taken patiently."
Oliver Wendell Holmes
 My reading these days consists of familiar books, nothing very challenging. I just finished The Fairy Tale Girl and Martha's Vineyard: Isle of Dreams by Susan Branch again. Unique books in many ways and this time through I was struck by the way her creativity developed over years. It made me think of the things I long to do. Many of my dreams have come true, with persistence and hard work and time, and there are others that I hope to fulfill. 

"The essential elements of the romantic spirit are curiosity and the love of beauty."
Walter Pater
 It's blue and purple season in my garden. The first aquilegia or Columbine is blooming. She is so beautiful I can hardly tear my eyes away. I see her from my kitchen window dancing madly in the wind. 

"Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of
quiet in a crowded day - like writing a poem or saying a prayer."
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
 A small bouquet of bluebells and hyacinths came indoors with me and now sits on the coffee table wafting sweet scents my way. How I love flowers. It's hard to choose a favourite, and I've stopped trying to do so. 

"The perfume of the lilacs came in little puffs on the crystal air."
L. M. Montgomery
The first lilacs are opening. It's a richness of blossom just now, with more to come. 

I'm feeling very content this sunny and windy afternoon. I made a big dent in the marking for my classes (marking online takes me more time than on paper). I'm soon heading to the kitchen to prepare dinner and bake some brownies. This evening I believe I'll start another book. What will it be? Choosing is half the fun!

I'd love to hear what you've been up to lately.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Five on Friday

It's my dad's 86th birthday today. Happy Birthday, Dad! Here he is with my mom enjoying Christmas dinner at our place - is it only 4 months ago? How the world has changed since then. 

My parents are now staying at home, although they sneak out once in awhile against our advice. My father hates having nothing to do. He is always fixing or puttering in the garden. His volunteer workplace has closed, so he walks, reads, cooks with my mom, and plays games on his phone. The community where they live had a social distancing get together where everyone sat in their driveways and visited. 

You can't see much of my dad in this photo, but it typifies who he is - a loving father and grandfather, now great-grandfather - always ready to play with children. That's me in the red pants. He has a great laugh and sees humour in many situations. He has a strong faith that has carried him through difficult and joyful times. He's the best father a girl could want, and I'm so happy to call him Dad. 

After I finish my "teaching" for the day, I'm planning to sit down with this magazine. That bouquet of flowers looks so lush. 

A corner of my kitchen where I'm spending a lot of time lately. This week I made a sausage and kale soup that was very good. I'll have the last of it for my lunch today. When I was growing up my mom made cabbage borscht (no beets) often on Saturday. We often added a little evaporated milk to the soup at the table. Now I add a bit of cream - it rounds out the flavours well, I think. 

And in my garden a single anemone flower. I moved the corms and I hope they do better next year. Such pretty flowers. This morning I looked out to see a bunny up on its hind legs nibbling low branches of the blueberry bushes. Run away, bunny! Don't eat my blueberries! 

I went out and sprinkled some bone meal around as they don't like the scent. The difficulty with that is that it must be done every week or so to maintain the defense. 

Plans for the weekend? Haha, that's a bit of a joke, isn't it? Garden work, a bit of house tidying, and baking, and that's it for me. How about you? Are you doing anything that differentiates the weekend from weekdays?

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Daily Life

Outside my window the rain drips down, fine and steady. After several weeks of sunny skies and warming temperatures, the earth drinks in the much needed moisture. I sit on the couch, a mug of Yorkshire Gold tea beside me, and am curiously content to listen to the quiet patter of rain on the roof. 

My morning tour of the garden consisted of looking out the window and taking photos from the open door. The vegetable garden is coming along nicely. Those tall stalks of kale will soon be uprooted as they have provided us with greens most of the winter and are going to seed. I'm reluctant to part with them just yet, for the leaves are tender and sweet. 

A kale salad can be a tiresome thing to eat. I find that cutting the leaves finely, after removing the ribs, then adding a glug of olive oil and some coarse salt, followed by a gentle but thorough massage tenderizes the kale and makes it pleasant to eat. I've been adding apple chunks, sliced radishes, sweet red peppers, and sunflower seeds to the greens. The whole is tossed with a squeeze of lemon juice or a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar. For an added flourish, I add some blue cheese crumbles. The leftovers are equally delicious the next day for my solitary lunch. 

Another view of the garden from the house. Still lots of work to do out there. 

This morning I baked granola. Tim eats it for breakfast almost every morning, with yogurt and berries. It's very plain, just large flake oats, sliced almonds, and cinnamon all mixed with honey and melted butter, then baked and stirred every 10 minutes in the oven. The house smells wonderful, and combined with the rainy day, I'm feeling very content. 

Yesterday we had our house treated for carpenter ants so I needed to be away for 6 hours. The school said I could hang out there, so I packed up my stuff and off I went. I worked in a room alone, but managed a face to face chat (at a good distance) with several people during the day. It struck me how much more satisfactory it is to visit in person rather than via digital means. I also managed to finish my student reports. Hooray!

My piece of embroidery is coming along well. I read this article in the Atlantic that relates how many of us are taking up needles of various sorts these days as women have done for centuries. One friend I know (Pondside, who no longer blogs, but is on Instagram) signed a piece of needlework with her initials and "2020 in the time of Covid". A good memento of this time. 

Now I'm off to mark a few assignments that have come in, and prepare for two virtual "Meets" with my classes. What are your plans for the day?

Monday, April 20, 2020

Garden Time

Do you find that the days tend to blend together with little to differentiate one from the other? In spite of the fact that I am teaching from home and thus "working" five days per week, the days run into each other like boxes on the calendar. On Sundays we tune in to online church, but other than that, every day seems much like the one before. 

Time feels suspended as we wait for the end of this isolation and distancing, yet in real time life continues on as it always does. In my garden I can see the season unfold; first the snowdrops, then the muscari and daffodils, then hyacinths, and now tulips. Many of my bulbs were snatched by squirrels, I think, but the ones that survived stand with pride in the sun-filled days we are enjoying. 

Many years ago a friend gave me this book Time Began in a Garden. Emilie Barnes writes, "Garden time is time that involves itself in the moment, that passes each moment fully alive, that focuses on the soaring stateliness of trees and the minute scale of the tiniest blossom and insect. Garden time requires daily attention, but does not require that everything be done in a day."

In my garden, or walking outdoors, I rediscover that kind of time. A fat peony promises the soon revelation of ruffled flowers and sweet scent.

Bees were busy about the rosemary bush this morning. I watched a dotted red ladybug clambering about in the grass. Snap peas are up and I thinned the radishes. Strawberry plants are in bloom and we'll enjoy a good supply of berries if the slugs don't get them first. Our apple trees are just beginning to blossom. Life is bursting out. 

 Do you watch the Great British Bake Off? In Canada there is a spin-off - the Great Canadian Baking Show. It's very similar, with a baking tent, 10 contestants, judges, technical bakes and showstoppers. It's so lovely. Each baker does their best, but it's not cutthroat the way so many shows tend to be. Indeed, bakers help each other and cheer each other on. I've been re-watching the shows and was inspired to try one of the technical challenges - a Battenberg Cake. It was a fair bit of work, but enjoyable (except for spreading the jam on those cake pieces) and resulted in a not-bad cake. Not Star Baker quality, but delicious. A couple of hours puttering in the kitchen was a lovely reprieve from real life. Kitchen time is very similar to Garden time. 

In one garden bed, violets spread themselves green and purple under the roses. They are so pretty, and for now, they have remained in one spot, so I'll let them be. Their little faces are so pretty and I think them the dearest things. 

How are you feeling about time these days? Too much, too little? Does garden time seem like a good thing to you? Stay well, my friends.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Five on Friday

Fawn lilies shine like stars in the green woods where we walk in the evening. To see the yellow stamens one must bend low for they tuck their heads down and never look up. 

The light stays longer and longer and is so very welcome. We are in a stretch of warm sunny weather that feels almost like summer. My garden is thriving; snap peas, carrots, and radishes are growing well. I just planted beets, onion sets, and spinach. Strawberry plants are beginning to blossom. 

I am busy with teaching online. It is much less satisfying than the classroom. I miss my students, even the challenging ones. While I have a dedicated sewing room with a desk and a table upstairs, I wanted to be downstairs where there is more light and I'm closer to the centre of things. So we brought in an old table that we use outside and I scrubbed it up. At school I use a desk top to create my handouts, but at home I use a Surface Pro. We found an old keyboard and mouse that I enjoy using much more than the small keyboard that came with the Surface; it's much easier to use for typing the accents in Spanish. I need just the right height for videos and use some of my larger books to prop things up. The whole set up has been moved several times as I look for just the right light for video conferences and creating teaching videos for my students. This seems to work, in a corner of the dining room. I use that rice bag a lot as I spend a lot of time sitting and my back doesn't like it at all. 

In the woods the bluebells open, vibrant blue against green. The ones in my garden are a little slower. 

I've had a hard time settling into reading very much these days. My thoughts are scattered and I am easily distracted. I find that old books are comforting this is a selection of what I'm dipping into. The Quiet Center is a collection of essays published in Victoria magazine during its first 20 years or so, and there are many that I enjoy. 

Here is an excerpt from Meditations of a Beekeeper by Faith Andrews Bedford:

"In years past, as the crocus pushed eagerly through the soft earth, my honeybees greeted the arrival of the year's first flowers with excitement, diving into the deep cups of the blooms and covering their furry bodies with bright yellow pollen. Their buzzing echoed happily inside the purple chambers, and the blossoms shook. Each April, when the Andromeda bush by the back door was covered with delicate rosy panicles, the sound of the bees' quiet hum would greet our comings and goings. And as I snipped the tender new growth of thyme and rosemary, I would always find a honeybee or two already busy at work gathering nectar from her side of the herb."

In the woods an old apple tree blooms. Someone has cleared away the brambles and undergrowth that choked the tree, and now it's showing signs of life. It will be interesting to see if any apples grow from these blooms. 

These days roll on one by one. They feel odd in many ways, yet the garden grows as it always does, birds come to the feeder, and fawn lilies shine in the green woods. These things ground me. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven" said wise King Solomon. These days have their rhythm. The strangeness will end. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

A Different Kind of Easter

Easter Sunday evening. A quiet day at home. Church via the internet. Phone and Skype calls to loved ones and friends. At 7 pm we, along with several other households on our street, go out and bang pots and pans in support of our frontline workers. It's become a time to chat for a few moments, and to check in with each other. 

With the strange way we are all living these days, I wondered if I should just let tradition go. No, I decided, let's find new ways to celebrate. So on Good Friday I baked Paska Buns, an airy rich yeast dough with a hint of citrus topped with buttercream and sprinkles. It's a tradition from my Mennonite heritage. 

Tim and I delivered plates of Paska to our local families, along with a few Easter treats, and a large manila envelope to be opened only when instructed. We enjoyed a short visit on the porch of each home. 

Early Saturday evening we met via Zoom, the three Island households, and the one on the mainland. It was fun to see everyone together. The three older grands disappeared after awhile, then returned with costumes on - a butterfly, Superman, and a mermaid who later changed into a dragon. Little Iris clapped her hands and waved and tried to grab the computer. 

This is a corner of my unkempt garden. Our son had the idea of a virtual egg hunt, so Tim and I thought about it, and came up with a plan. I took five photos of our garden, and in each photo there are five eggs hidden. I put copies of the photos in the manila envelopes, and emailed them to the mainland. Everyone was instructed to open and look at the photos at the same time. Can you find the five plastic eggs in the above photo? There is one each of blue, orange, pink, purple, and green. It was a fun activity to do together. 

I spent much of Saturday and Sunday working in the garden. The weather is sunny and warm and some garden seeds planted a few weeks ago are finally sprouting. The first centaurea montana - wild cornflower - is blooming just now, with many to follow. 

This evening I made dinner for the two of us. Ham, potato gratin, carrot souffle, roasted asparagus, and a rhubarb cream cheese pie for dessert. As we sat across from each other at the table, we reflected that it was the first Easter ever with just the two of us. We've always been part of larger gatherings no matter where we were. 

As odd as this Easter is, it's made me think differently about the first Easter when Jesus' followers were utterly bewildered by the way their world had been turned upside down. Fear, uncertainty, confusion were part of their world. Then, the Resurrection - another topsy turvy event that rocked their world, but brought hope to life. 

I loved Queen Elizabeth's first ever Easter message, in which she said, "Life and light are greater." By God's grace we will get through this. 

I leave you with a little bouquet from my garden - candytuft, grape hyacinths, lemon balm leaves, and that one cornflower blossom that I recklessly clipped to bring indoors. 

Have a wonderful week! I'll be back to teaching on Tuesday, but hope to spend tomorrow working in my garden again. 

Monday, April 06, 2020

Food and Flowers

I baked a couple of loaves of sourdough bread. One went to my daughter and son-in-law. Thank you for your kind words and condolences on the loss of their dear mother. She was a friend to me and I will miss her. 

My sourdough starter is a couple of years old, given to me by my younger daughter. I've decided that it needs a name - so I'm calling it Betty. She never married and lived with her sister Mary, a nurse, also unmarried. Great-aunt Betty was a fabulous cook. I had the sisters over for lunch one day, and I'd made soup and rye bread. When Great-aunt Betty told me, "very well done, Lorrie," my heart swelled. 

Besides my great-aunt Betty, I also have an Aunt Betty who is very dear to me. 

I keep Betty, the starter in a glass jar in the fridge and she is forgiving when I neglect her for a week or two. She perks right up when I feed her and bring her into the warmth of the kitchen. 

Keeping Betty going requires a bit of waste, and I never like throwing away the discard after feeding, so when my daughter mentioned sourdough waffles, I thought I'd give them a try. Sunday morning breakfast was waffles with a caramelized plum sauce that I made last summer and found languishing in the freezer.

A friend contacted me about sharing some of my starter, so I set out a portion on the porch and she came by to pick it up. Sourdough is a great alternative to commercial yeast, which I hear is in short supply. 

In my garden a few bright, early tulips bloom. They were from a mixed bulb pot a few years ago. When the potted plants are finished blooming, I take them out of the pots and pop them into the ground where they bloom again the following spring. 

A yummy chicken dish, made with drumsticks, bacon, onions, peppers, and a hint of chipotle pepper made a very satisfying dinner, along with rice, butternut squash and a salad. 

Are you eating more these days? I find myself frequently hungry, but ask myself if I'm just bored or really hungry. Usually it's boredom or stress, so I try to assuage those feelings with a cup of tea or a glass of water. It doesn't always work. 

Beautiful blue scilla is almost done, but there are pockets still smiling brightly. How encouraging it is to have flowers blooming. I know some of you are still seeing snow out your windows, but spring is just around the corner. Take heart. 

My brain is getting a workout these days. I've learned so many new technology things for teaching online. Today I had my first virtual live meeting with my students and that went fairly well. It's a challenge to really connect with the students this way, and I hope that improves. 

How are you doing? Are you getting into a routine? Connecting virtually? Cooking a lot? Reading anything interesting? I'd love to know. 

Thursday, April 02, 2020

In the Background

Yesterday afternoon I walked under a row of cherry trees in full bloom. How beautiful they are, ruffled and pink, floating against the sky, and oh, so fragrant. I stood there for quite awhile, looking up into the blue, thanking God for such a wonder. 

The news of the day is dominated by the virus sweeping across the globe, but in the background, life and death continue as before. Babies are born, children celebrate birthdays, and people die. The rhythms of normal everyday life. 

This week my eldest daughter's mother-in-law passed away after a 6 week bout of cancer. The world's current situation has had a dramatic effect. 

It meant beloved family members could not travel to say goodbye.
It meant that the burden of care fell on her two sons and their families.
It means no hugs were given for consolation and comfort after she passed.
It means food was prepared and dropped off on the porch.
It means only 11 people at the burial, and hopefully a larger get together who knows when.

The reality of all this hit home to me on Monday night when my daughter phoned to ask a favour. She and her husband needed to speak with care workers and help with Jannie, but had no where to leave their 7 year-old daughter. Cristal set Sadie up in a room apart, logged onto Skype, and Sadie and I entertained each other while Jannie was attended to. 

That broke my heart. There were tears after I hung up with Sadie. Yet, I'm grateful for technology and the ability to connect in this way. 

In my garden the grape hyacinths stretch up to the sky. The daffodils are almost finished and the tulips just beginning. A pot of primroses sits on the porch. I am thankful. 

It's been cold here and the radish, carrot, and pea seeds I planted in the garden are slow to appear, but there, in the brown dirt, rows of tiny green radish leaves are visible from my kitchen window. A sign of hope.

I'll leave you with more of those gorgeous frilly cherry blossoms. They really are sensational. 

Tell me, how are you coping with the impact of this virus on everyday life? I'm so grateful for each one who reads my words and leaves a comment. Thank you, thank you. 

Of Spare Rooms and House Guests

  If you've ever read L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables , you'll remember the importance of the spare room. It was a long-...