Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A Day for Ducks and Cake, and Then the Sun Shone

On Sunday morning the rain poured down and the wind blew. It was a wild day. Not a good day for the outdoor birthday party we had planned. Instead, we met under the shelter at Goldstream Park, built a fire in the wood stove there, wore gloves, and listened to the rain drench the forest. A pair of Common Mergansers were not bothered in the least and drifted on the river.

It was a Covid birthday, second time around for my husband. Last year we held a Zoom party, this year, his 65th celebration, we managed to see family face to face. He's a star and the best husband in the galaxy! I made a mirror glaze cake and won't be doing it again. It might look pretty, but I don't like eating the texture of the glaze at all. 

Little Miss Iris showed up in her yellow boots and a matching "muddy buddy". She splashed in the puddles, enjoyed the ducks and loved the balloons we brought for the party. 

Most of the photos I took were terrible because of the gloom under the shelter. Still, we had a great time together, and Tim felt well celebrated. 

Yesterday we woke up to a frosty clear morning. In the afternoon I spent some time in the garden. Red shoots of peonies are sprouting like crazy and I look forward to the blooms in a couple of months. This year, since I have more time to spend in the garden, I'm taking control of the lemon balm and feverfew that come up throughout the beds. I love the way they fill in gaps, but they can be bullies and just take over. 

The candy tuft is blooming, such a bright white, and behind it the grape hyacinths add colour. 

Our case numbers are rising dramatically and we have further restrictions for the next three weeks. Fortunately, our provincial guidelines have always been looser than other places in the country - hair salons and stores have been open since last spring after the initial shut down. However, now restaurants may not serve food indoors (takeout and patios are still permitted), gyms are closed (mostly), and the ski resort town at Whistler has been closed. High time for the latter, I say, for people from across Canada were coming to ski. 

But let us think of happier things, like tiny purple blooms on the rosemary bush and bright sunny days. This morning I'm going for a walk with my daughter along with Iris and Cora. This afternoon I'll sew and perhaps work in the garden for a time. 

Wishing you a day filled with beautiful moments.


Friday, March 26, 2021

Friday Favourites and What I've Read Online


Are you familiar with Wendell Berry's "The Peace of Wild Things"? 

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

It's a good poem for our time, and one I thought of yesterday when I walked beside the pond with my grandchildren. A number of wood ducks swam amongst the much greater hordes of mallards, all quacking and splashing and diving with no care beyond who on the shore might have a bag of bird seed and thus become their new best friend. 

Spending time with these dear little people (grandchildren, not ducks) drove home to me again some of the loss of this pandemic. Felix started Grade One in September and I've spent no real time with him since last summer. So I was very surprised when I heard him reading out loud in the living room, smoothly, with confidence. When did that happen? While I sense the loss, there is great reassurance that the children have continued to grow and learn and even thrive in the midst of the world's chaos. 

I love the longer evenings when we can walk after dinner in the light. Garry Oak trees are slow to leaf out and I don't mind for I find their twisted branches more interesting in silhouette than in leaf. 

It looks to me as if the branch is reaching out with bony fingers to pat the moon on the head. Not a planned photo, but fun to see when I looked at it later. 

The next full moon is Sunday, but according to the weather forecast we won't be seeing much of it. Rain and wind are on the way for that day. We had planned an outdoor family birthday party, but have had to revise our plans considerably. I will be so happy when we can gather indoors and all sit around the dining room table. It's been far too long. 

Besides spending time with the grands, I've planted seeds both indoors and out. The tomato plants are up (indoors) and every day I check them and brush them gently with my hands as I've read that helps to strengthen them. I took a load of books and a few clothes to the thrift store and am slowly working on spring cleaning. 

I've linked below to some things that I've read online recently and thought you might find them interesting, too. 

Wool and moths - I ordered the moth prevention product mentioned in the comments (kritterkill1 on e-bay), and they've just arrived from the UK. Let's hope they work! I've done some mending of cashmere this winter!

Drinking cocoa - Apparently, sales of drinking chocolate have skyrocketed during the past year. Recipe included.

Be inspired - Agatha Christie's everyday inspirations

Have a good weekend everyone! Enjoy this last week of March. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A Bit of This and That on a Sunny Tuesday


First of all, thank you for your many kind thoughts and wishes regarding my last post. My voice is back and my throat healed. I'm still careful not to speak too much, but that's not too difficult when I'm home alone most days. Best of all, I'm sleeping through the night - isn't sleep such a wonderful gift? After a solid 6-8 hours I wake up with energy and a bright outlook on the day. 

On a grey and somewhat drizzly Sunday we took a walk. Curving pathways and overarching growth create an air of mystery and anticipation. Although the woods look dull and lifeless, a closer look reveals that much is happening. 

The yellow flowers of mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape) are some of the first to add colour and cheer to the woods. In summer, dark blue berries form. The First Nations peoples used the roots, bark, and berries of the shrub for medicinal purposes. Although the berries are extremely tart, they make a delicious tasting jam. 
The plant is native to North America, and the botanist David Douglas took plants to Europe to use in English gardens as shady ground cover. Plants have certainly traveled around the world, sometimes for the good, other times not so much. 

Another early bloomer is the June Plum (oemleria cerasiformas), also called the Oso Berry. The leaves emerge from the stem tips and often stand at attention, while the blooms droop downwards in clusters of creamy white and green. Small fruits appear, but although edible, they are quite bitter. Like the mahonia, many parts of this plant are used by the First Nations for medicinal purposes. 

Our Iranian friends celebrated the Persian New Year (Nowruz) on the weekend, at the time of the Spring Equinox. They brought us a traditional decoration of a plate of sprouted greens, along with delicious candies and a bottle of rose water. In the weeks leading to the celebration, it's customary to do a "house shaking" - a thorough cleaning of all corners of the home. 

For Christmas, one of our granddaughters asked for bits and pieces of fabric, lace, and ribbon - "not big pieces, just small ones", she said - along with peg dolls. I had so much fun going through my stash to present a box of materials to give to her. Now during Spring Break, she created a Castle of Love and a set of characters to live there - King, Queen, Princess, and the Queen's twin sisters. Boxes, toilet paper and kitchen paper rolls, tissue paper, and a lot of imagination went into this creation. My daughter sent me the photos. 

Yesterday afternoon I was just about ready to pull on my wellies and do some gardening when the heavens opened and a very cold rain doused my enthusiasm. Later, I wandered around looking at the emerging plants and making all kinds of plans in my head. I stopped to admire these primroses, so perky in spite of the rain. 

Today I'll be baking a cake for a birthday later in the week, and doing a little shopping. Two grandchildren will be coming over for the next two days - although it's Spring Break for them, their parents need to work. I'm so looking forward to some concentrated time with them, something I haven't had since summer. I am weary of this pandemic and will be so very glad when we can gather together indoors as an extended family.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Five on Friday: A Castle, Blooms, and some Stitching


The other day I watched five fat robins in a tree from my bedroom window. They flitted from branch to branch with lots of cheerful chirping. A pot of spring bulbs beside the front door is filling out nicely. Hyacinths, daffodils, and scilla are in bloom just now, with tulips leafing nicely. Sunny, but cool days have been the norm until a few light showers fell overnight. 

This week I arranged to meet my eldest daughter and her daughter, Sadie for a walk around the gardens at Hatley Park. It was the day I usually take Iris, so along she came, too. Unfortunately, we were there in the morning, but were told the gardens didn't open until noon. There have been a lot of schedule changes due to the pandemic. However, there were plenty of paths to wander along, and we will visit the gardens another day. 

The girls are having a snack on a bench in front of Hatley Castle, home of Robert Dunsmuir, heir to his family's coal fortune. About the building of the castle he said, "Money doesn't matter, just build what I want." The lavish construction was completed in 1908 with an exterior of local stone and an interior with oak and rosewood paneled rooms, huge fireplaces, specially made light fixtures, and teak floors. The extensive gardens employed 100 gardeners. 

Dunsmuir was not a pleasant man, from the sounds of things - he ruled his empire with brute force, fiercely stamping out any attempts to unionize, and neglecting safety for his employees. For every million tons of BC coal produced, 23 men died, at a time when the North American average was 6 men per million tons. 

The castle and grounds are now home to Royal Roads University, and previously served as a military college. 

I've been out pottering in the garden, tidying beds, pruning rosebushes, and thinking about changes to be made. Tim built a new L-shaped raised bed in a corner of the garden that I hope to fill with flowers for a cutting garden. The apricot tree displays a few flowers; I hope the pollinators show up in time!

I'm taking part in a scrap challenge for the month of March. Very informal, it's just to deliberately sew with scraps or small bits of fabric leftover from other projects. I'm making a few mini quilts for the grandchildren to use as doll or stuffed animal blankets. There is something very satisfying about sewing these little projects. Tim often has to do email in the evenings, and since I no longer have marking or planning to do, I stitch. 

On a personal note, I damaged my vocal chords and throat when I choked on a miniscule piece of food this week. It's quite painful, and my voice is mostly gone. The doctor assures me that the inflammation will all settle down on its own, so I'm avoiding irritating foods and trying not to speak too much. I overdid the talking yesterday and am paying for it today. 

This weekend I hope to work outside again, clearing out garden beds and clipping all the dried hydrangea blossoms to make way for the new growth. Spring is such a hopeful time of year. Wishing you a wonderful weekend. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Mid-March: Daffodils, Baking, Babysitting


Last week I bought two bunches of tightly furled daffodil stems from the grocery store. They didn't look like much when I put them into the vase, but in a day or so they opened up into a cheerful, bright bouquet. 

There are fields of daffodils in our area and the growers fear that much of the crop will be lost due to lack of pickers. Normally, foreign workers do the picking and not as many have been allowed into Canada this year. A callout to locals wanting work resulted in just a few replies. It's hard work, cold and backbreaking, to cut daffodils. 

Daffodils brighten up my garden just now, but mostly the tete-a-tete variety. I hate to pick them and deprive myself of the view from the kitchen window. 

Sourdough bread loaves cool on the counter. You might notice that the far loaf has the end cut off. The two of us each had a warm slice slathered with butter. Is there anything better? 

When feeding sourdough some is discarded. I hate throwing it away, and so does The Zero Waste Chef. Here's a recipe using the discard to make waffles. The sponge rises overnight, so on Saturday morning we enjoyed fresh waffles with blueberry-peach compote that I'd preserved in the summer. The waffles above are destined for the freezer and are easy to pop into the toaster for a quick treat. 

As the days lighten (isn't it wonderful?) I find myself craving more vegetables and fresher tastes. I made a cucumber-tomato-onion-jalapeno chopped salad that kept well in the fridge for a couple of days. The dressing is sour cream with minced garlic, lemon juice, fresh parsley, and salt and pepper. Easy.

My maternal grandmother died when my mother was not quite 16. She had 10 children - my mother was the eldest and the youngest less than a year old. The bowl above is one of two that remain from her dishes. I have two plates, as well. My mother recalls going with her father to the store to purchase this "breakfast set" as a Mother's Day present for her mother. It's made by J & G Meakin of England, probably from the very early 1940s. 

The gold is worn and the dishes have been well used, no wonder, with 10 children! 

My grandfather later married his deceased wife's sister, and she is the one I remember as my grandmother when growing up. 

I've made this recipe twice since I found it in the latest issue of My French Country Home magazine. Roasted carrots and radishes (I added some beets) on a spread of yogurt, topped with toasted almonds, lemon zest, and green onions (I used chives as they are coming up in my garden). Yum!

While in a thrift store I found this little pink purse. When I brought it out Iris' eyes lit up and she knew just what to do with it. Perhaps she is saying, "Nana, let's go shopping - I spilled something on my dress." 

In the cul-de-sac where we live a plum tree is bursting with blossom just now. White froth and blue sky make things feel very hopeful and spring-like. 

Today is Sunday, 3.14 - pi day, so I baked a pie. It's cooling on the countertop. It's a Kentucky Derbe Pie, a recipe given me by a friend many years ago. Rich with pecans and chocolate, a little slice goes a long ways. 

Wishing you all a very good week ahead. 

Monday, March 08, 2021

A Little Escape


Campgrounds are open in our area, with precautions in place, and they are already full. We took our little Escape trailer (caravan) to Nanaimo for a week of rest and relaxation. I confess that my expectations were very low. I didn't want to be cold, and wasn't certain how comfortable the trailer would be. I need not have worried - it was warm and cozy. We enjoyed mostly good weather with chilly mornings, a bit of rain, and some lovely sunshine. The view above was our view for 5 mornings - high tide where the Nanaimo River estuary meets the sea. 

And this was the afternoon view at low tide (from a slightly different angle) where the river and sea curve their paths through the mud flats and grassy banks. In the distance several large cargo ships lie at anchor, perhaps awaiting loading at one of the local sawmills or pulp mills. 

The river estuary is home to many, many birds. On a gravel bar, a group of young bald eagles, watched over by an adult, were tearing at some unknown prey. A very brave crow looks like it is scolding the impassive eagle who looks as though he could make short shrift of the saucy crow. 

Early signs of spring were everywhere. Tiny unfurling green leaves, catkins, and even early pink rhododendron blossoms acted as harbingers of the season. 

We took a number of hikes during the week - twice to the Cable Bay Trail and Joan Point to see the current at Dodds Narrows. Once at slack tide when boats can safely pass, and once when the current raged. We sat on a rock with our thermos of hot tea and watched the water boil and churn. Several groups of sleek sea lions had a wonderful time riding the current, then diving and swimming upstream again to do it all over again, just for fun. You can just see the head of one sea lion in the photo above. 

Out of the main channel, this quiet cove looks almost tropical. Don't be fooled - the water is extremely cold, and a sharp wind made us glad for gloves, wind-proof jackets, and toques. We saw a Great Blue Heron standing motionless on the rock there. We were as quiet as could be and watched him for some time, but then he caught wind of us and lifted off with a slow beat of his wide wings to a more remote perch. 

We read books, ate well, drank tea, and came home rested. This week is also a vacation week for my husband, and we were planning a trip to the mainland to see my parents, but the restrictions are still in place and we are staying home. 

I'm looking forward to catching up with my blogging friends over the next few days. 

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-...