Thursday, October 29, 2020

When Memories Rise


Days alternate between sunshine and cloud, and just a few faint drizzles of rain this week. The pattern of the week varies little - at school by 8:00 where it's go, go, go until I walk out around 3:30, a little surprised at the world outside. I've stopped listening to the radio going to and from school, instead, I sing out loud. Old hymns, children's songs, whatever comes into my head. It's lovely and calming, and I don't feel like I've missed a thing. 

Less and less blooms grace the garden these days, but last weekend I made a wee bedside bouquet with a few pansies and snapdragons. 

A sudden drop in temperature meant a change to winter bedding - a duvet and blanket, with a light quilt at the end of the bed ready to pull up should one of us feel chilly in the night. Now the temperatures have moderated and we throw off the duvet, even with the window open. 

This week is my birthday. Do you find that on special days during the year, memories rise and you indulge in a little nostalgia? I've been thinking about the birthday parties my mother put on when I was young. One year, a party wasn't mentioned - I must have been 10 or 11. I left for school feeling a little let down, and even worse, when I arrived at school, my three best friends whispered secrets and rather ignored me. I felt sad and rejected. After school, I trudged home and practiced piano. My mother was preparing a special dinner for the family for my birthday. When the doorbell rang, she asked me to answer it and there stood my three school friends with big smiles on their faces. "Happy birthday," they cried out. I was very surprised, but I remember still feeling a little miffed for a few moments. Soon, however, that passed, and we had a wonderful time together. 

My mother frequently iced cakes with a 7-minute frosting that she beat on the stove to billowy soft and sweet peaks, almost like marshmallow. And candles. Always candles to blow out after the singing of Happy Birthday. Wonderful memories. 

Margie wanted to see my new Rockport rainboots - here they are. They are great for walking, even when it's not raining. 

During a rainy day last week, I watched the black-eyed juncos on the feeder. The rain didn't seem to bother them at all as they vied for space with house finches and a couple of goldfinches. No rainboots needed here!

On these quickly darkening evenings the string of lights on the mantel creates a cozy glow. I cut a few branches from the lilac bushes as I've been admiring their leaves from my kitchen window. How pretty they are. 

Tomorrow after school I'm going to have tea with my daughters for a little birthday celebration. Then, a quiet evening at home. I'm so looking forward to this weekend, especially the extra hour as we move the clocks back. I have no plans and that's quite a lovely thing. 

How about you? Any plans? 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

An October Hike


Our unusually warm and sunny days of early October have turned into unusually cold and mostly sunny days of late October. Frosty mornings mean warm coats and gloves, and the occasional scraping of ice from the windshield. How beautiful the sunshine is, and how glorious the colours. 

One of my favourite autumn poems, by George Cooper, begins with 
"October gave a party
The leaves by hundreds came,
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves by every name."

It was a party out in the woods today. Crisp and cool, very cool in the shaded forest, but out on the rocky ridges where the sun shone boldly, there was warmth. 

We hiked up and down, but mostly up, until we reached Holmes Peak, overlooking the Saanich Inlet. Here on the ridge we enjoyed the view, and some dark chocolate. 

We came across a hand-carved swing, placed there in memory of a loved one, and a delight for young Sadie. It made me a wee bit nervous as falling off on a forward swing might mean a tumble over the cliff. 

Naturally freshly peeled arbutus trees have such a beautiful pale green colour. The trunk on the left is smooth and bleached by the sun. 

Leaved branches form high along the trunks and reach for the sun, with bright berries that glow against the blue sky. 

It was such a beautiful afternoon, talking, laughing, enjoying the scenery. A gentle wind ruffled the water and provided updrafts for the crows and eagle we saw. 

This morning, from my bedroom window, I watched skein after skein of geese or ducks streaming eastwards from the Sooke Hills. They were a long distance away, dark lines and shapes stretching against the pale sky. It was magical.

Times like these, observing and being in nature, provide relaxation and respite, and a lovely change of pace from the week. And so begins another week, the last in October. Whether you have snow or sun or rain or wind, I wish you the enjoyment of the beauty of this season. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

A Weekend in October


There's a sense of quiet that comes in autumn as the earth settles into slumber. Colorless skies and a bit of rain today contributed to the quiet feeling to relax me. After the busy days and weeks of the school start in September, things have settled into a rhythm. I am more than halfway through the 10 weeks of full time teaching and am pleasantly surprised at how I'm doing. Workdays are busy, but on weekends I make an effort to disengage from thinking about classes and students, and focus on rest and preparation. 

Do find that you think about food a lot? I do. I enjoy preparing meals and planning, but sometimes it seems that food is on my mind more than it needs to be. I have found that preparing a few things ahead on the weekend makes the weekdays much easier, and we eat more healthily, too. To that end, this weekend I spent a few hours in the kitchen and made two trays of Roasted Enchilada Sauce with more of our garden tomatoes, Granola with Almonds and Honey, Butternut Squash Curry, a double batch of meatballs, and a Greek Style Roasted Mushrooms. You can click on the links to the recipes. 

These are not complete meals, but they give me a head start on dinner time. I like to make enough for Tim to take to work the next day for lunch. I usually take soup or a salad. I used to plan meals more deliberately, but now I just keep a general idea in my head.

On Saturday afternoon I went shopping for a bit. I've been looking for a pair of waterproof boots that are a bit stylish to wear for walking. This was my third expedition and I'm pleased that I found a pair of Rockport boots that fit the bill. Once home, I made a cup of tea and settled in for some reading - a book I found in the thrift store - "The Evening Chorus" by Helen Humphreys - dealing with the grief of war (WWII) played against the natural world. A quiet read for a quiet day.

This afternoon Tim and I went to Butchart Gardens and wandered around the gardens. It's beautiful throughout the year and now coloured leaves dot the green background. 

The dahlias are still amazing in a variety of colours and shapes. 

We ended our walk with a cup of hot chocolate (and a muffin for Tim), sitting outside in the cool afternoon air. Home again, filled with contentment and the anticipation of an evening of reading or watching a bit of television. And so ends another weekend in October. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Friday: Celebrating October


Here we are in the middle of this month that bridges summer and winter - weather-wise, if not on the calendar.
After our heavy rain last Sunday, Monday was gloriously sunny and just right for a hike. We drove a short ways and parked at the base of Horth Hill for a hike that took us through the woods and along a ridge with beautiful views.

Looking up all was blue sky and trees reaching upwards. Our forests are mostly coniferous and predominantly green year round. 

Looking down bright moss mingles with the leaves of maple and other trees. Soon those brown leaves will rot and crumble into soil, enriching the forest floor. 

Light filters through the foliage, sometimes barely reaching through. The undergrowth is often sparse due to the lack of light, and tree trunks bare until quite high up as they reach towards the sun. 

After climbing a little, we walk along the ridge and catch glimpses of the island-dotted Salish Sea. I really can think of no better way to spend an autumn afternoon in October. 

"Listen, the wind is rising and the air is
wild with leaves.
We have had our summer evenings, 
now for October eves."
Humbert Wolf

Darkness comes much earlier now. This week, we are losing just over 4 minutes of daylight each day. I placed a string of lights on the mantel that add a cozy glow to our evenings. 

Today after school I did a wee bit of garden cleanup as our green bin was empty and tomorrow is the pickup day. I tore up the last of the zucchini plants, and the green bean vines. The zinnias and a few dahlias are still going strong, so I clipped a bouquet for the kitchen table. 

How are you enjoying these fleeting October days?

Sunday, October 11, 2020

A Rain-washed Garden and a Thankful Heart


Sunday evening of Thanksgiving weekend. We traditionally celebrate together as a family on Sunday, leaving Monday for relaxing. This year, because of the pandemic, we planned an outdoor event with appropriate food. Alas, the rains poured down and we moved the celebration indoors, taking precautions. 

We met everyone at the door with a squirt of hand sanitizer. It struck me how quickly the children have become used to this new reality - they automatically held out their hands and rubbed in the sanitizer. We assigned bathrooms to various families and rather than towels, paper towel was available for drying. 

We stuck with our original outdoor menu. There was crab dip and crusty bread, chips and seven-layer dip, and individual bags of chips for starters. The main course consisted of a wonderful roasted sweet potato, roasted brussels sprouts, and spinach salad, and hot dogs. Grilled, not roasted on sticks over a fire. Served on china plates with linen napkins. It was quite the dinner, unlike any Thanksgiving I can remember. For dessert there were pumpkin pie tarts with dollops of whipped cream, and individual jars of cranberry cheesecake. A strange menu for strange times.

I snapped photos of each family group, and then a few impromptu ones. All of the grandchildren are delightful, but Iris is the star of the show, beloved by all. Here she is being read to by her mother. 

At school we are encouraged to have the windows of classrooms open for good air flow (and to wear sweaters). I recently came across the German practice of Luften where windows are opened, even in winter, to air out the house. So midway through our get together I opened doors and windows and let the rain-washed air blow through the house for about 15 minutes. How fresh and lovely it was. 

Later, after everyone had gone home and the house was quiet, I looked out the window. All the rain intensified the green shades in the garden and the quickly ebbing light seemed to call me outdoors. I pulled on some shoes, grabbed my camera and took a few shots of lingering roses, zinnias, and hydrangeas. 

Once indoors again I lit a candle and watched the light slowly fade outside, dulling those brilliant greens. The blurriness of the photo indicates the lack of light. I was reluctant to turn on an indoor light, preferring to stand and watch until darkness fell. It didn't take long.

I have no plans for tomorrow and that's a delightful feeling. Perhaps a walk, perhaps some stitching and reading. A little cooking? We'll see. There's nothing like the blissful satisfaction of a Sunday evening with a Monday holiday.

I'll close with a prayer that my daughter found in her Simply in Season cookbook - it's most appropriate for Thanksgiving.

Delicious Creator God,

I taste your glory in the tangy crunch of a crisp apple,

I taste your glory in salty tears of emotion.

I taste your glory in cool, clear, life-giving water.

I taste your glory in the heavy sweetness of dark chocolate.

Your glory flavors the early peas and new lettuce of spring,

the raspberries and sour cherries of my backyard,

the mealy goodness of new potatoes and butternut squash,

it steeps in my tea and bakes in my peach cobbler. 

For the nibbles and feasts of your glory and for my taste buds,

I give you thanks.

Friday, October 09, 2020

A Cozy and Thankful Weekend Ahead

Today marks the halfway point for my most intense Spanish class. In one month my workload will drop in half. It's been so very busy, compounded by the new reality we live in, and I've tried to just take it one day at a time. Now, ahead of me is a three-day weekend, with Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday. 

I stopped off for groceries on the way home today, and then dashed out to the garden to clip flowers before dark, and before the rain begins this evening. A few dahlias, some zinnias, a couple of roses, hydrangeas, and feverfew combined to make pretty bouquets for several rooms. 

I bought a simple crewel stitchery kit a couple of years ago and decided this was the time to begin stitching it. It won't take very long and I'm so enjoying pulling wool through linen. A cup of tea to hand makes for a relaxing respite. 

I pulled a good amount of beets and some carrots from the garden and roasted them in a covered dish until tender. After peeling the beets the vegetables sat in the fridge for a day or two until I decided what to do with them. In the end I just tipped them into a flat casserole dish, crumbled blue cheese over top, and heated everything through in the oven along with a chicken I roasted. The sweet vegetables were deliciously offset by the sharp blue cheese. I'll be making this again. 

 More of the flowers I clipped, along with some current reading material - the UK Country Living for October that I've been saving for this weekend, and a collection of stories by Stella Gibbons who authored Cold Comfort Farm. I've not read the novel and I intend to as soon as it comes available in the library. 

We're holding plans loosely for a Thanksgiving celebration. Our original thought was an outdoor hot dog roast, but the rain might just change that idea. Whatever we do will be unconventional in these strange times - and not a sit down turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Still, we have much to be thankful for, family, food, homes, and lots of love. 

Wishing all of my fellow Canadians a very Happy Thanksgiving weekend!

Monday, October 05, 2020

A Walk Along the Beach


When I get out of bed in the morning, I always pull open the curtain to see what the day is like. Lately, the garden is a misty place and I can barely see to my neighbour's house due to a combination of fog and wildfire smoke. This weather has a dulling effect on me, making me feel tired and lethargic. After a Saturday of doing a bit of housework, meeting friends for coffee at an outdoor cafe, and little else, Sunday was much the same. We participated in church online, read books, and I stitched a little. Finally, we decided to drag ourselves outside for a walk at Island View Beach. It was just the tonic we needed.

You can see that the lingering fog and smoke (it's hard to tell which is which these days) obliterated the horizon.

We watched this jaunty young California Gull stepping smartly along the water's edge. I think he looks very cheerful. The dull day didn't seem to bother him at all.

How odd the light was - sort of brownish. Island View Beach is on the east side of Vancouver Island and there are many smaller islands just offshore, between us and the mainland. The perching place of these gulls is not an island, per se, but a rock that is visible at certain tides. It's a "chunky bit", so named by Tim's sailing instructor from years ago and we've adopted that term. Chunky bits are important to avoid when boating.

I'm always intrigued by the driftwood structures people build at the beach. This was a large one, with plenty of room for four or more grownups to sit in, or a half-dozen children. They are most often built by adults of many ages - a fun way to be creative on the beach, somewhat like Lincoln Logs or Lego for grownups. 

The hawthorn trees are loaded with berries just now, and the berries seem darker to me than in other years. Soon the birds will be devouring them. 

We returned home, refreshed by our walk. There's nothing like getting outside to clear away the cobwebs. 

On Sunday evenings we eat a light meal, preferring to have our main meal at noon. A cheesy jalapeno dip with fresh vegetables and crisp tortilla chips is something I make from time to time. This one is cream cheese, 3 or 4 finely minced jalapeno peppers (seeded), and grated cheddar cheese, all mixed together, then baked for 20 - 30 minutes until bubbly. I like the crusty edges the best. 

Another week begun. This evening (Monday) I went out for a walk just before 7 pm, and by the time I returned around 7:45, the light had faded and only the narrowest line of red edged the Sooke Hills. Tim had the curtains closed and the lights on, such a welcome sight to come home to. 

Wishing you a good week ahead. 

Thursday, October 01, 2020

October Feast - Five on Friday


Welcome October - my favourite month of the year. It lies between summer and winter: cool enough to wear sweaters and not so cold or wet as to require heavier gear. Sunny golden days intersperse with a few darker, rainy ones. Thanksgiving is towards the beginning, and my birthday towards the end. As Anne of Green Gables once said, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." It's a veritable feast for the senses!

1. On a recent sunny afternoon I took a walk and found lots of cyclamen blooming in clumps along the wooded path. Their colour isn't typical of autumn, but how pretty that pink is in the sunlight. Such a beautiful sight. 

2. Maple leaves glow red and yellow before they fall to dry and curl into brown crispiness that crunches when stepped on, or rustles in the wind. When caught by a passing car the leaves scuttle, dry and rasping, across the street to pile up in drifts that are perfect for scuffling through. Other autumn sounds include the honking of geese as they trail in ragged V formations across the sky.

3. October cooking fills the house with delicious smells to whet the appetite. The gentle fragrance of a steaming cup of tea is a wonderful complement to Applesauce Muffins. Savoury beef stew, redolent with red wine, browned beef cubes, and lots of vegetables. Warming White Chicken Chili, put into the slow cooker before I leave for work, provides several meals for the two of us. Soups and stews are accompanied by buttermilk biscuits, toasted sourdough bread, or savoury zucchini loaf for meals that fill and satisfy. 

4. On a sun-filled Saturday, a salad composed of roasted red winter squash, sweet cherry tomatoes, crunchy grated carrots, and crisp lettuce, with a sprinkle of dried cranberries for sweetness, some sunflower seeds for more crunch, and a blue cheese dressing created a combination that tasted good on so many levels. 

On a Friday or Saturday evening I've been popping a small bowl of popcorn for myself (Tim's not crazy about popcorn), and enjoying the salty, buttery corn taste. I also like it with some butter and cinnamon sugar. 

Cinnamon and cloves, freshly grated nutmeg and cardamom add so much warmth flavour to baked goods during this season. 

5. Let's not forget the touches of autumn - the chill against my skin when I head out the door in the morning, the smoothness of home-grown winter squashes, the wet dew on the grass, and the sometimes surprising feel of unseen cobwebs across my face. There's the feeling of wind and rain, of sunshine on my back, and of snuggling under warm covers at night. 

This morning, on the way to school, the sun rose red and fiery in a fog and smoke-clouded sky. I stopped on a rise to capture a quick photo with my phone, around 8 am. 

How are your senses awakened to autumn? 

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