Thursday, May 21, 2020

It's Friday - A Short Boating Excursion

 "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." Kenneth Grahame (Wind in the Willows)

Last weekend, as restrictions began to ease, we launched the boat and spent a quiet and relaxing couple of nights on the water, just an hour away from home. The weather alternated between rain and cloud, cloud and rain, with a very few patches of blue sky here and there. On Friday evening, before the weather worsened, we hopped into the dinghy and toured along the shoreline. It was very peaceful until the Canada Geese decided we were coming too close and honked loudly to warn others of our proximity. 

This was our view the next morning. Still, with soft rain falling. No matter, we were cozy and dry, and enjoyed a good breakfast and cups of tea and coffee long into the morning. There was no rush to do much of anything. 

When the rain eased we stirred ourselves and took the dinghy to shore, beaching it on the sand and tying the painter to a driftwood log before setting off on a hike through the forest. 

We stopped and watched a variety of wildlife, including this group of fat seals lounging on the rocks. A pair of seal pups had enough of the inactivity. They played together like a pair of young boys, splashing and wrestling. The repeated whacks of their tails on the water echoed far. 

A pair of oyster-catchers poked along the inter-tidal zone with their long red beaks. From the boat that evening we watched seven river otters fishing for their supper. Down they went into the water, then up into the air with their catch wriggling until - gulp - down the gullet it went. Over and over the sleek otters dove and rose until, satisfied, they melted away into the dusk. 

This pair of geese appear to be having a disagreement. The one on the left was quite vocal as he/she marched off in the opposite direction. 

In 1958 Portland Island was given to Princess Margaret, our Queen's sister, to commemorate her visit to our province. She returned it in 1967 and it is now a park. But long before then First Nations peoples had a village here. In the mid-late 1800s Hawaiians settled here, planting orchards and gardens. There is little that remains, but in the abandoned orchard a pair of bright goldfinches caught my eye. 

Weathered pieces of sea glass always catch my eye and I pick them up to add to my collection here at home. 

We returned home on Sunday, with Monday a holiday here to commemorate Queen Victoria's birthday. I worked in the garden most of the day. It's starting to fill out and soon we will be enjoying more homegrown vegetables. The first strawberries are turning red and I did eat one luscious ripe juicy fruit. 

It's been another week of distance teaching. Students will have the option to return to school as of June 1, but it's unlikely that many of those in the high school will choose that option. 

We're looking forward to some family time this coming weekend, including a visit from our Vancouver people. Little Miss Iris is coming and I can hardly wait to see her. She's almost one and so much fun via Skype! Seeing her in person will be so much more fun! 

Have a great weekend, friends. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

This and That on a Wednesday in May

Outside my window the sky is filled with huge clouds, mostly billowy white, and a few more ominous dark patches here and there. After a warm weekend more seasonal temperatures, still very pleasant, rolled in and brought some welcome rain. Soft rain, soaking into the ground and refreshing all the green and growing things, like the Columbines. 

From my kitchen window I see the white and pale blue against the greens of hedge and hydrangea standing out like stars in the dusk. There are so many beautiful flowers that I find it impossible to choose a favourite. They all take the stage for a time and I admire and applaud them even as they move off to let another blossom have her day in the limelight.

I'm finding my days settling into a routine - in the morning I check to see if students have submitted any work. Teenagers are notorious for sleeping in and staying up late, and I can verify that by the time some of the assignments are handed in. It's long after I've drifted off to dreamland. Sometimes, students are barely awake for 11:00 am online sessions. 

I worry about some of them. Little engagement. Careless work. I fear that they will lose this course. I contact parents to see what can be done, and sometimes hear nothing back. Principals and counselors get involved, but some students really struggle with the lack of personal engagement. 

Throughout the week I work on assignments that will be posted on Monday morning at 8 am. We are running a mostly asynchronous schedule, so other than short online meets throughout the week (one or two per class), work is done independently. 

A few years ago these yellow poppies strayed into my garden of pinks and blues. They keep to themselves mostly, in a small bed, so I've let them settle there and a few more bloom each year. They are such cheerful folks and nod their bright heads when I pass by.

I ordered a new cookbook for myself - Patisserie at Home by Will Torrent. I'd like to practice a little more finesse in my baking. This was my first project - a version of Gateau St. HonorĂ© - baked over the weekend. Baking is a way to relax these days, that and working in the garden. I took this to our Mother's Day gathering and didn't bring any of it home. The little caramel hats on the profiteroles were the best part according to some tasters. 

A tiny bouquet from my garden, for you. The teacup is Tranquility by Royal Albert, and reminds me of a dear high school friend who chose this pattern for her wedding. She passed away two years ago and I like to think of her when I use this teacup. 

Time to think about making dinner. Baked turkey patties, I think, with some couscous, a green salad, and zucchini sauteed with onions and garlic. 

What's happening in your world these days? 

Friday, May 08, 2020

A Friday Five in May

Outside my window the sky is streaked with a few thin clouds that will soon blow away with the strong breeze that has trees and flowers tossing their heads. The forecast is for a beautiful weekend, with temperatures reaching the mid-20s (Celsius). 

I expect that the wind will tear away the almost-ready-to-fall tulip petals. With that likelihood, I went out with my camera to capture the last of these gorgeous flowers. 

There's a glimpse of that blue sky. Is it just me or has this been an exceptionally beautiful spring? Everything seems fresher and lovelier and more vibrant. I revel in the beauty of the world. 

Last weekend, Tim and I took a drive down to Clover Point and went for a short, but brisk walk. The wind was sharp and chill. This gull faced into the wind, flapped vigorously, and went nowhere; he just managed to stay aloft. 

Our province, and particularly our Island, has passed relatively lightly through the Covid-19 crisis. I say relatively because there have been deaths, but our hospitals are mostly empty and positive cases are fewer each day. The restrictions here have not been as strong as in other places - we are encouraged to get out and walk, garden centres are open, some retail stores remained open, we are not wearing masks (unless we want to), and social distancing is mostly respected. 

We can begin to gather with our close loved ones, and are encouraged to keep our circles tight. In mid-May provincial parks will be open for day-use, and more retail stores will open. These are slow measures, and I respect the care that our provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, is taking. There will be no gatherings of over 50 people until there is a vaccine, or herd immunity has been achieved. In other words, for a long time. We will all have to adjust to a new normal. 

Rhubarb is flourishing these days, and to that end I baked a Brown Butter Rhubarb Cake. The recipe is on Jean's Delightful Repast blog, and is one I make every year. It's not too sweet, with a bit of tartness, and a lovely buttery flavour. Perfect with a cup of tea. I confess that I had a piece as my breakfast the other day. 

In the parade of flowers that is Spring, the tulips are nearing the end of the route while the lilacs are front and center. This bouquet adorns the dining room table and fills the main floor with fragrance. 

I'll leave you with one last blithe tulip at the start of this Mother's Day weekend. We are gathering with our family for the first time since March, and oh, how I am anticipating that.

A blessing for you today, prayed from my heart:

"May the day never burden. May the dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises. May evening find you gracious and fulfilled. May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected. May your soul be calm, consoled, and renewed." 

Monday, May 04, 2020

Biking, Baking, and Sight Seeing

Last year, 2019, was a busy travel year for me. There was a three-week trip to Central Europe with Tim in the summer, and a trip to Spain with my students in early autumn. My last blog post about our summer trip was a tour of Clam Castle. Let's pick up there for a bit of escapism this morning. 

Our floating hotel of 130 passengers next stopped at Spitz, Austria. It's a delightful way to travel. I open the curtains and voila, the view has changed. After visiting the breakfast buffet (I do love the cold cuts, cheeses, and breads) Tim and I both chose to go on a bicycle tour. 

After strapping on helmets and trying out our bicycles, we followed our guide along the river path, through villages, along cobblestones (bumpty bump), and to the medieval village of Durnstein, home to a Franciscan Abbey, part of which is seen above.

What a fun day we had. Another highlight! There were many of them. Our guide was fantastic, very knowledgeable about the history and culture of the area. She pointed out the village where she lived, across the river. We cycled through terraced vineyards where grapes have been grown for centuries. 

In Durnstein we took a longer stop to explore the village. It was filled with tourists (like us), but very charming. I think we deserve some tea and cake after all that exercise, don't you? My that piece of custard cake is large. I would have been happy to share it with one or two of you. But I did manage to eat most of it on my own. Good thing there was more cycling to do.

In the castle above the town (mostly ruins), Richard the Lion-heart was once held captive. That man really traveled around. I wrote about Les Andelys, a fortress he constructed, when we were in France. 

Since we had to climb up from the river to the village, we have to descend to return to our bicycles, here through narrow, arched streets and steps. The modern touch of a garbage can bolted to the wall keeps things much cleaner than in medieval times. 

Our floating hotel cruised while we cycled, and we caught up with her in time for a late lunch. I'm always ready to try new tastes - like a cold pineapple soup that was both sweet and tart. Very delicious. 
We spent the afternoon on the boat: destination Vienna where we arrived as dusk fell. Our dock was near the international finance district, where modern architecture dominates. 
For dinner that night, my journal tells me that I ordered a pumpkin strudel with a creamy sauce that was also delicious. 

In the morning I signed up for the Vienna Insider's Tour while Tim went on a city cycling tour. My excursion began with a walk to the metro station, a metro ride to Schwedensplatz, and then a walk through the centre of town to a small cooking school - Andante. Old buildings and new mingle here in relative harmony. Vienna is vibrant, with much to observe.

The cooking class began with a glass of Prosecco. In the morning. The others thought it quite humorous that I declined, saying I couldn't drink alcohol without food. I would have been one dizzy mess. 

We learned how to shape a variety of breads - Mohnflesserl, Handsemmel, Salzstanger, and pretzels. After they baked, we enjoyed them with delicious butter, and then I did have a glass of Prosecco. We were a group of 12 and enjoyed sitting around the table chatting and snacking. 

You might remember that my three eldest "flat grandchildren" traveled along with me. They were very happy to play with the dough and were great about not flinging flour too wildly. They especially enjoyed the freshly baked bread, and were happy when the bakery packed up the rest of the baking to take back to the ship for lunch. 

Apricots and cherries. Soon that season will come around again. I'm glad we traveled last summer, for this year is looking very different. 

I hope you've enjoyed this look back with me. There's more to see and do in Vienna, and I hope to compose a post about that soon. Meanwhile, there are digital assignment to grade, and students to email/call. Outside, the pink rhododendron is in full bloom and we're expecting rain a bit later. How are things in your world today?

Friday, May 01, 2020

Five on Friday: Paying Attention

I did a quick reconnaissance of the garden this morning - there is so much growth just now - and the Mountain Cornflowers are having their heyday. I'll let them go, but they are crowding other plants, like the roses, and will have to be severely pulled back soon. They self-seed, so I know I'll see them again in a few weeks. I love them because of their feathery blue petals and that entrancing and precise webbing on the calyx. 

We often walk in the evenings, especially now with the light lingering until almost 9 pm. As we arrived home in the gloaming recently, we noticed a small greenish bird hopping in the front flower bed. I had never seen such a bird before and tried to take a few photos with my phone. The bird hopped furiously, trying to stay ahead of me (and succeeding), and finally disappeared into the lavender, but not before we saw a very orange tuft sprouting from his head, as if he were having a very bad hair day. 

I looked in my trusty bird book and identified him as an Orange-Crowned Warbler. That orange tuft ruffles up when the bird is flustered. I did a quick watercolour sketch later. The birds apparently nest on the ground and I wonder if there is a nest in the lavender. 

The first radishes. Aren't they lovely. It always amazes me that from tiny black seeds come these gorgeous red and white edibles. I've been snacking on them lately, and there are plenty more to come. Radish greens are edible, but can be strong-tasting. I'm planning to make some radish leaf pesto and see how that tastes. 

I baked bread yesterday. The angle of the photo is not by chance - there are two slices missing from the loaf in the back. Eating that first crusty slice of freshly baked bread with butter is such a treat. Tim adds a little honey to his slice. 

We followed the rainbow on last night's walk. It was ahead of us all the way, and at one point Tim noticed the other end curving over houses and trees just behind us. How beautiful the world is. Spring has never been my favourite season - too capricious for me - but this year I am delighting in it. April, in spite of the world situation, has been filled with sunny days and little rain that has made the earth sprout such amazing and colourful growth. I just can't get enough of it. 

Now the lilacs begin. Such a delicate, haunting scent, evocative of simple homes and homesteads in remote prairies or clearings where women of long ago planted a lilac bush beside the door, something pretty in a hard existence. Now the homes are abandoned, disintegrating into the ground, but often the lilac remains, a silent memory of times past. 

Other things are growing in my garden. I will need to provide support for the snap peas soon; the upright poles are in place for me to add the string. Beets and spinach finally decided to make an appearance, along with another seeding of lettuce. In the house my tomato seedlings are coming along well. The strawberries are blooming their little hearts out and we look forward to fresh sweet berries in a few weeks. 

Rain will fall over the weekend, so garden time might be spotty or not happen at all. If so, I'll sew, or read, or stitch. There are no grand plans for the weekend, and each day slips quietly by. Are you settling into this quiet life as I am? My mood varies, but I am mostly content. Is your garden delighting you? Oh dear, this is more than Five for this Friday. I lost count awhile back. I'll do better next time.

Take care, stay well. 

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-...