Friday, June 26, 2020

Summer's Arrival

Summer. The mere word evokes sunshine and freedom. This strange school year of 2020 ended on Wednesday with a socially distanced ceremony and cap toss. It was complicated, but the students were pleased. Reports are finished and my dining room has been returned to its normal look minus the books and desk of the past few months. Today I took on the unenviable task of cleaning out the Home Ec room refrigerator - we had done it very quickly at the beginning of the pandemic - but there were still many items that went into the garbage today, followed by a good scrubbing.

As a child, I took swimming lessons in the summer. My younger sister and brother and I rode our bicycles 3.5 kilometres to the park where took lessons. If the lessons were early, oh how cold that water felt, and what courage it took to jump in. On hot days (and there were many) we stayed at the park with a packed lunch and spent the afternoons alternately swimming and relaxing in the shade before pedaling home and getting hot and sweaty again. Often our friends joined us on their bikes.

Summer days were meant for adventure. Up and down the hills we rode our bicycles, free as the wind. If we found a newly asphalted street we felt like we'd hit the jackpot. It was so smooth and quiet, unlike the rougher, older streets. Other days we biked to the edge of our subdivision where railway tracks snaked along the hills. Crossing the tracks we left our bikes on a wide shoulder and hiked into the dry sagebrush-covered hills, up narrow canyons where tiny creeks trickled. We clambered up steep paths that now make me nervous to think about. How fearless we were. 

Sometimes my mother would make a picnic dinner - deviled eggs, cold cuts, cottage cheese, pickles, and bread - and all five of us would pile into the car with our swimsuits and towels. Riverside Park had huge trees and cool green grass. There was a pool, but we often swam in the cold, fast-running Thompson river. How pleased I was when I could swim all the way to the dock that defined the swimming area. Shivering and panting I caught my breath on the dock before braving the cold and current to swim back to shore. 

On the hottest of days I hunkered down in the relatively cool basement, reading for hours and hours. My parents purchased a set of encyclopedias, black with red bands. Along with them came a set of children's books with various coloured volumes - poetry, mythology, fairy tales and more. Then there were The Adventures of the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, The Wizard of Oz, Little Women, and the Reader's Digest. At the end of Grade 3 our teacher, Mrs. Simard, had us count up the number of A's in our language arts workbooks and gave a prize to the student with the most. That was me, and the book was Eight Cousins, by Louisa May Alcott. I read and re-read the story. I finally discarded the book just a few years ago as it fell into pieces. 

Summer time seemed to both slow down and speed up. In my memory there was immense freedom, and time to think, explore, and play. As a teacher, summer still holds much of the same magic - a variety of routine, more freedom to choose what to do, and time to play and create. Just now my mind is rather blank, and I like that. It's time for a bit of a break. There are nebulous plans, but nothing too urgent. Yet I know that summer days are fleeting and it's best to not wait too long to do what I want to do. 

Summer days - how do you feel about them? 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Garden Time

Late last week I had had enough of cajoling students to turn in their work, and of marking less-than-stellar assignments. I turned off my computer, collected my camera, and drove 15 minutes to Butchart Gardens. 

Very few people were there. Tourism is in the basement this year, as it should be. Paths are designated as one-way only. I looked down at the Sunken Garden and thought about how Jennie Butchart, faced with an unsightly abandoned cement quarry near to her home, had the vision to transform the ugliness into something beautiful. What dreams she had. How hard she worked. 

Jennie's husband wasn't so much enthralled by flowers as by rare birds. One year while the couple were traveling in Europe, Robert Butchart got word that two of his prized wood ducks, imported from Germany, had been attacked by a bald eagle and were no longer. Since the couple were already on the continent, Robert thought that a detour via Germany to collect replacement birds would be a good idea. Jennie protested, saying that they would miss their boat back to Canada. However, Robert insisted and the couple had to make alternate arrangements for their return. As it turns out, the boat they missed was the Titanic. 

As I walked along the paths, stopping frequently to admire the views, tension dropped away. 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."

I'll leave you to enjoy the garden photos, with some collected garden thoughts along the way. 

"Gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas." 
(Elizabeth Murray)

"God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures." 
(Francis Bacon)

"Most garden dreams thrive on hope - for what is a dream but imaginative hope? And gardeners, as a group, are the most hopeful people I know." 
(Emilie Barnes)

"Perhaps, after all, our best thoughts come when we are alone. It is good to listen, not to voices but to the wind blowing, to the brook running cool over polished stones, to bees drowsy with the weight of pollen." 
(Gladys Taber)

"Above all, I must have flowers, always and always."         (Claude Monet)

"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." 
(Marcel Proust)

Enjoy your day, dear friends.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Re-visiting Budapest

Will we travel again? I sometimes wonder how far in the future that will be. In the meantime, let's re-visit Budapest, Hungary, as it was last August. We arrived on our floating hotel to our last stop on the river cruise. I can't recommend Avalon Waterways enough. Small groups, great guides, wonderful accommodations and delicious food. So lovely.

Budapest is part of the former Soviet Block as evidenced by some of the buildings and the history there. 

From our ship we walked a couple of miles to our Air BnB - a new, very clean apartment in a modern high rise. Our view looked towards the river and overlooked brick one or two-story factories from the turn of the 19th century. Most were abandoned; a few still in use. A lot of building was going on - we counted 18 cranes from our windows. 

Each morning of our stay we walked a couple of blocks to catch Tram #2, touted as one of the most scenic tram rides in Europe. It follows the Pest side of the Danube River and gave great views of the Buda architecture on the other side of the river. 

We took several walking tours of this beautiful city. Much of the city was turned to rubble during World War II and was rebuilt during the Soviet era. Our guides told us that many of the buildings look like authentic rebuilds on the outside, but the insides are bare white walls. 

The market was a fun place to wander through. We picked up paprika (smoked, hot, and sweet), and I've enjoyed using it this year.

On very hot day we took a tram (not #2) to City Park. At one end of the park is Millenium Square, built in 1896 to commemorate 1000 years of Hungarian history. The statues ringing the square feature famous kings and chieftains. On top of the central column stands a statue of the Archangel Gabriel holding St. Stephen's crown. 

The square is massive and was used during the Soviet era to hold great choreographed marches and later, demonstrations.

After several days of walking miles and miles, we took a Spa Day at the Gellert Baths. Built in 1918 these thermal baths comprise a complex of outdoor and indoor pools of various temperatures. The architecture is stunning with tiles and mosaics throughout. We ate lunch at the restaurant on the patio and spent most of the day trying out the pools.

The Hospital in the Rock was another interesting, but sobering sight. On the Buda side of the river, the land rises steeply. In the rock is a 10 kilometre cave system that was developed into a hospital during the second World War, and then again during the 1956 Revolution. Later, it became a nuclear bunker. The tour opened our eyes to some of the harsh realities of medicine during war. 

One warm evening we wandered along the Danube towards the Parliament building. Opened in 1902, the building is the largest in Hungary. It is magnificent, especially as dusk falls and lights twinkle on. 

Budapest is a friendly city, with many parks and green spaces interspersed with grand boulevards and immense buildings. It's not likely we'll return there, but I'm very glad we have seen this beautiful city. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

At Home in June

"It was June, and the world smelled of roses." 
Maud Hart Lovelace

June. The month beloved of poets, gardeners, students, and perhaps most of all, teachers. By the end of next week papers will be marked (on line), reports given (on line), graduation ceremonies finished (in a physically distanced manner), and summer holidays will begin. For many, this summer will look very different from others. Travel is limited. Summer camps are mostly cancelled. 

This week I was in a store queue behind a woman purchasing tents, sleeping bags and mats, and a variety of back yard activity equipment. "We can go anywhere," she said, "so we have to make being at home fun." Such a good plan. 

I love being at home. Even as restrictions ease I'm not going out much more than I have in the past months. 

June is strawberry season, sweet and juicy. I attempted a "Fraisier" last weekend and was half-pleased with the attempt. I'm planning another one for this weekend and know what to do to improve. The taste was wonderful; the appearance lacking. 

We invited four friends over to share an antipasto platter light supper (along with dessert) on the patio last weekend. It was so lovely to be together after four months.

"It is the month of June,
The month of leaves and roses,
When pleasant sights salute the eyes,
And pleasant scents the noses."
Nathaniel Parker Willis

I'm in awe of the roses this year. June has been a cool damp month and the roses have flourished. Bloom after fragrant bloom appear. I cut bouquets for the house and for friends. I look out the window and my mouth curves upwards at the beauty. 

Pots of herbs sit on my windowsill and countertops. Mint is lush and green and I pick handfuls of it to stuff into pitchers of water in the fridge. Rosemary, basil, dill, oregano, thyme, and parsley flourish. June is filled with fragrance. 

This morning, before sitting down at my computer to mark and report, I picked a small bowl of ripe raspberries and just a few blueberries. The season for both is just beginning. How luxurious it is to wander outside and pluck delicious berries. 

The sun is shining today and a little breeze ruffles the leaves outside my window beckoning me to leave the house. So I shall. 

What delights your heart these June days?

Friday, June 12, 2020

Five on a Rainy Friday: Roses and Rhubarb

Mid-June. Outside my window the raindrops fall. I'm wearing jeans, a t-shirt, a light sweater, and socks. The socks are a nod to the weather, normally I go barefoot from May to September. I can hear the faint chirp of birds outside, along with the tumble of the dryer inside. 

The above photo is of Boscobel, on a non-rainy day. She's giving me great delight.

I stepped out into the garden for a few minutes for some mint, and went back for my camera. Gertrude Jekyll, and Secret, below, are blooming in the rain. 

My reading is not very exciting. I don't have the mental energy just now for anything challenging or very exciting. I'm re-reading Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher, and found her words about the beginning of the Second World War applicable just now -

"Afterwards, in retrospect, Judith was always to remember the war as being a lot like a long journey in an aeroplane...hours of boredom interspersed with flashes of pure terror."

I don't know about the terror aspect, but I fear this Covid-19 will be a long journey that is often boring and uncomfortable. And I say this from an Island deemed free of the virus. Restrictions still apply. 

Our border with our friends to the south, where many of my readers live, is closed. We are becoming quite appalled by the way a few people think that the border doesn't really exist. We've heard about boaters coming up to explore our waters as they always do during the summer. We welcome them, but I'd just like to tell everyone to stay away for now. Washington State has many, many more cases than BC - with more new ones every day. 

It's almost lunchtime here. I'm going to have some cucumbers, red peppers, and cottage cheese with pickled onions, sunflower seeds, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Followed by a square of dark chocolate for dessert. And probably another mug of steaming tea since it's a chilly day.

Being out in my garden fills me with deep content. We're enjoying fresh strawberries, not many, but enough, and last night I picked the first small bowlful of red raspberries, the perfect mix of tart and sweet. We enjoyed them with our breakfast this morning. The feverfew lightens up the dark corners of the garden. I let it grow to fill in spots, and it's easy enough to yank out where it's not wanted. The peonies, as you can spot, are bedraggled in the rain and dropping their petals like mad. 

In the kitchen I've been making rhubarb syrup for a thirst-quenching drink should the weather decide to warm up. The big jar is in the fridge, but the smaller ones are sealed and headed for the basement storage shelves. 

When we were in Europe last summer it was hot, hot, hot. I normally drink only water, but the cold "lemonades" they served were wonderful - not too sweet as we often make drinks in North America, but refreshing and tart. I'm attempting to make my own concentrates this year, with seasonal fruits. I think blackberries and raspberries will be delicious. 

There are lots of recipes on the internet if you do a search. I adapted a Rhubarb Syrup one to be heavier on the rhubarb and lighter on the sugar. 

There is a glimmer of light across the sky just now, behind the clouds. A good reminder that Light is always present, even on the darkest days. 

Weekend plans include some gardening, some housecleaning, a bit of baking, and getting together with friends on Sunday. How about you? Any plans? Are restrictions easing in your area? Happy Weekend, my friends.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Here and There

"Daisies are the friendliest flowers" says Meg Ryan's character in You've Got Mail. This past weekend we went hiking and walked through fields of daisies. It looked as though an artist had taken a paintbrush and spattered white paint over a grassy green background. The daisies and grasses bent and swayed in the wind. The beauty of it filled my well. Several deer enjoyed the daisies, as well. How still they stand once they noticed us. So watchful. 

There was also a stroll through a marina where Small Fry floated next to the dock. This beautiful wooden boat was someone's pride and joy long ago and the current owner is taking good care of her. 

At home in my garden the snap peas are flowering. It's been a cool few weeks and the garden is poking along. I'd pick these flowers and arrange them in a vase if I didn't want the peas they will soon produce. 

John Cabot is blooming with vigor, and there are many many more buds to open. Promises for later. 

I've been drying herbs - oregano and bay leaves. Some I dry in the oven with just the oven light on; others in the dehydrator. The other day I needed a bit of dried parsley for a recipe and put the sprigs between paper towel in the microwave. That was fast and easy, but probably not doable for any great quantity. 

I picked a fist full of daisies and arranged them with a few garden fillers - lavender, feverfew, and ferns. They make a cheerful display on the coffee table. I recently read a couple of quotes about the scent of daisies - one said, "She smelled of sun and daisies" and I thought "Ew" because daisies, as friendly as they are, do not have a pleasant fragrance at all. 

I'm counting down to the end of school. Just a couple more weeks. I've handed out final assignments and am beginning to write reports. I will be so very glad when this strange school year ends. Students and teachers alike are weary, more so than normal because of Covid-19, I think. And no one knows what September will hold - I feel for our administrators who have been told to plan for every stage. 

What's blooming in your gardens? Do you find it a place of solace? I do. Cares fall away as I weed and pray and think. 

Friday, June 05, 2020

Five Things Close to Home

Hooray for strawberry season! Now that Iris has gone home, I'm letting other people (like Tim) eat the strawberries. To be fair, there were just a few ripe when she was here. I picked a cereal bowl full of them the other evening, and there are more today. 

However, I'm feeling very Mr. McGregor-ish these days because the BUNNIES are eating the ripe berries. They take bites from the very juiciest red ones and leave the evidence in plain site. Such cheek! Last night I was busy with my netting and covered the berry plants. It will take a bit more effort to pick them, but at least we will enjoy the berries we've grown!

I had a physio appointment this morning and since the office is directly across from the Bog, I took along my camera and went for a walk after the treatment. The Bog was empty of people for the first 30 minutes. There have been cougars sighted lately, and so I picked up a sturdy stick and walked with vigor, letting my stick trail in the pathway or swish the grasses. Making noise tends to scare off animals. 

Daisies bloom in clumps among the tall grass. In some places the grasses wave about my head, and arch over the pathway, creating flowing, wispy tunnels. 

I caught a glimpse of two deer in a clearing just off the path. They stood silent, still, watching me very carefully. My first view of them was through the waving grasses and the photos taken there show clear grass and blurry deer. Just a few steps forward and I was able to get a clear shot of the deer, still so quiet and motionless. 

While walking up the street to our home, I admired my new rosebush - a David Austin Boscobel - pink with just a hint of peach. She's a small bush now, but valiantly producing fragrant roses. There is another new rose beside Boscobel, also a David Austin - Falstaff. He's not quite as ready to bloom, although there are buds forming. 

Into the house to admire the peonies on the dining room table. The light streams in from the corner windows in the evening, when this photo was taken. What's not visible in the photo are the piles of papers and school materials. Just a few more weeks and all that will be cleared away. 

Now it's time to get to work marking assignments and preparing the same for next week. From my window I see puffy clouds and patches of blue. If I am diligent about my work there will be time to spend an hour or so in the garden this afternoon. 

Happy weekend!

Monday, June 01, 2020

And Now It is June

Monday morning. Blue sky and puffy white clouds. The roses are beginning to bloom. This, however, is the peony's time to star. I'm always amazed at how those tightly packed fat globes open into elegant ruffles. Most of my peonies are the dark pink ones, but I planted a pale pink and a white one last year. The white bush is not producing flowers this year, but the pale pink one has a few. It seems to be later than the dark pink ones. 

I had a vase of peonies on a table. While I sat quietly reading one day I heard the softest plop and looked up to see the petals falling in great clumps. There's nothing gradual about a peony. They burst into full bloom in a day and fall in a minute. 

I've not indulged in quiet time for reading for an entire week. No, I've been much too busy playing with Miss Iris. Here she is in the dress I made for her, on her first birthday party celebration. Her actual birthday is later, but she was in town, so we celebrated. 

We are gathering together as family these days. We had a most lovely time on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The older grands ran around the garden, played with water, and blew bubbles. We grilled meat and everyone contributed to the meal. It was simply grand!

It wasn't just ONE special girl's birthday celebration. No, indeed. The almost 8 year old and the almost one year old shared the party. Aunt Katie made the cake and it was a beauty - can you see the ombre effect in the layers? The almost 8 ate her cake with much more elegance and grace than the almost 1, who has not had sugar in her diet, and found it quite pleasant. 

I had lots of Nana time over the week plus that they stayed with us. Miss Iris's parents had business to attend to and we worked around my teaching schedule for childcare. What fun we had. I introduced her to my roses, pulled marigold petals from her mouth, and she clapped with glee when the Japanese bell sang by the fig tree. The first few strawberries ripened and oh, my - she gobbled them down in a flash. 

She was very engrossed in listening to Grandpa sing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm", but looked up when I walked in with the camera. 

They left yesterday. The house is quiet. The domestic machines are humming with laundry and dishes. The high chair is back in the storage room, and I've deemed it safe to put a vase of peonies on the coffee table. There are no little hands to play with it just now. 

I prepared a lot of meals, but took no photos. Before the guests arrived I made some Orange-Thyme Shortbread, sprinkled with sea salt. It's very hard to eat just one of these sweet, savoury, and salty morsels. 

And now it is June. I'll be at school for three half days this month, supervising a classroom of 10 students or less. I'm looking forward to seeing the students face to face. Graduation is the 24th of June and we're still not certain how that is going to look. I'm learning to hold all plans very loosely. 

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-...