Monday, May 31, 2021

and the month flew by


At the beginning of May we enjoyed lilacs and tulips. They are now past and new things have taken pride of place. Just now it's strawberries in the garden. I keep the plants mostly netted to avoid birds and bunnies snacking on them. We're enjoying their sweetness in the garden, straight off the plant, with our breakfast yogurt, with whipped cream, and today...

in a salad with avocado slices, a drizzle each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a few snips of chives picked at the last minute. Salt and pepper. Best eaten (as it was this evening) outdoors on a sunny patio. 

The little herb garden is lush and green and I've been drying oregano, parsley, and thyme. I kept track of usage this past year and a quart and a half of dried oregano leaves is what I use. It would be less if I crumbled the leaves immediately, but I find it very satisfying to rub the leaves with my fingers and to let them fall gracefully into whatever dish I'm making. The fragrance wafts up and I'm transported to my summer garden. 

Over the weekend we enjoyed part of our family's company indoors, seated at the dining room table for the first time since the pandemic began. It was pure joy to sit across the table from them and eat and visit. 
Thank you for the best wishes for my parents' anniversary. They had a good day and enjoyed dinner out at a restaurant together. 

A couple of years ago a flurry of yellow poppies arrived in a corner of my garden. They continue to appear each year and confine themselves quite nicely to that corner. It's a rather dark spot, and they add lots of cheer there. 

The peonies are blooming! How I love these flowers that bloom so briefly yet with such sensational presence. Extravagant ruffles, delicate scent, gorgeous colours combine in a wonderful package. Perhaps we enjoy them so much because of their short lives. 

For our second wedding anniversary quite a number of years ago, we bought gifts together. I chose this crystal vase that has held flowers in all of our homes from northern British Columbia, to Texas, to Ecuador, and now on Vancouver Island. When I use it I think of that hot summer day when we shopped together. Tim chose a pair of binoculars that he still uses. We stopped giving anniversary presents soon after, so these are special. 

June is on the horizon and much of it is planned already. Another lovely month to anticipate. Wishing you joy today and every day.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Friday Favourites: This and That


On a recent walk a line-up of turtles sunned themselves on a log. Curiosity led me to look up the collective noun for turtles. So here we have a bale of turtles, or a turn, dole, or nest of turtles. I think I'll stick with bale. What a interesting turn of phrase. Regardless, did you notice the one turtle who is doing his own thing and not falling in line with the crowd? 

One of our children had a large birch tree trimmed and I asked for some of the branches. I'm using them as trellis supports for my sweet peas, which are very slow. This was taken a week or more ago, and they are beginning to clamber up the poles. I like the look of white birch with its papery bark and light colour. 

"Sometimes I treat my day like a miniature treasure hunt, to look a little closer at this diminutive world." (April Cornell)

While hiking last weekend, Tim pointed out this lanky fellow hiding behind a tree branch. It's uncanny, isn't it? We had to stand at just the right angle to see the illusion. 

I thought this an apt book to read on a boat and enjoyed it very much. It's set on the canals in England and addresses interdependence, transformation of a life, and other weighty issues in a thoroughly engaging story. I loved it. 

On our boating outing last weekend I found a number of natural frames within photos. After the first accidental few, I began looking for them and taking "framed" images deliberately. It was a fun exercise. 

This weekend is my parents' 67th wedding anniversary. We had so hoped to go and visit them, but travel restrictions were not lifted as I'd hoped. Soon, though. And it's good to be able to speak with them on the phone frequently. 

One restriction that has been lifted is indoor gatherings. We have seen our children frequently, but outdoors. Now we can gather with one other household indoors and I'm looking forward to that! I'm going to set the dining room table for the first time in 15 months. Hooray! 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A Short Getaway: Tumbo and Cabbage Islands


In my last post I wrote about my longing to travel, especially to France. The culture and the history of Western Europe and the British Isles are astounding, but I live in an amazing part of the world, too. On this recent long weekend, Tim and I set off to explore part of it in our "hippie boat", as we call it. It's an old boat, imported from Sweden in the 1970s, and it's sturdy and reliable and completely lacking in glamour, but it allows us access to some incredible sights.

Once we push off from the dock, it's as if we leave our daily lives behind. All the things to think about drop away, for there is nothing that can be done about them while we're bobbing on the ocean. The essential ingredients for a good getaway are the two of us, the boat, good food, water (both salt and fresh), and land for hiking. Sunny weather is always appreciated and we had two days of that. 

Our destination was Tumbo and Cabbage Island Provincial Marine Park, about 3.5 hours at our 7-knot speed. From this little park we could see, far away across the Strait of Georgia, the ferry terminal and seaport of Vancouver (Tsawwassen). The islands are connected by a reef that is covered at high tide. We anchored in Reef Cove, a bit surprised at all the boats already there. It was a long weekend, and although we are still restricted to travel within our own health region, people just want to go somewhere, and with boating it's easy to be physically distant. I've written about this place before here

On Saturday morning we took the little dinghy to the rock where a yellow rope hangs down from a tree to mark the start of the trail. This island was home to a lot of dreamers over the years, as well as to the First Nations people who fished in these waters. Farmers and miners tried to make a life here, but in the end, the islands became parkland and are left to drowse in the sunlight, or to lie stoic against the wind and rain. 

We walked from one end of the island to the other, around the marsh and cleared farmland, then back along the trail to the dinghy. We take our time, stopping to look at interesting sights, to talk, and to admire the views. 

A long curving beach marks the south end of the island and here a large river otter made short work of a fish he'd caught. 

In the field an abandoned horse-drawn disc is left to rust. While we were talking about it, 

a deer leaped out of the brush and bounded across the field, not even noticing us. Something had startled him and we assume it was a dog for boaters bring their dogs to walk on the shore. 

Around the abandoned farmhouse, a huge rosemary plant threatens to engulf the structure. I think of the woman who planted rosemary there beside the kitchen door, and wonder what became of her. Several old wooden rowboats lie crumbling, nurseries for trees that have grown up through them. More witness to discarded dreams. After several hours of walking we return to the boat ready for a late lunch and a relaxing couple of hours with a good book. On this trip I read "Three Women and a Boat" by Anne Youngson, and thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Last time we visited Cabbage Island we noticed an eagle's nest high in a tree overlooking the water. It was occupied again this year by just one eaglet. We watched the mother swoop in and begin to feed her baby, probably with some gruesome thing we don't want to know about. Bald-headed eagles are quite common here, sitting in trees or swooping down in search of prey. 

In the evening we grill something on our little boat barbecue and watch the sunset over the islands to the west. It's truly relaxing and we never get bored. 

I know a lot of my readers explore their own backyards and write about them on their blogs. I always enjoy seeing the different ways of recreation we all experience. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Friday Favourites: Garden Promises and Books


May is the month when hope rises high in the human psyche. Capricious spring settles down a bit as she matures into summer. On our Island the grass is greenest now before the heat of summer turns everything brown. My own garden is exploding and next week I'll be pulling up rampant plants to give others some breathing space. 

Peony buds grow fat and round and will soon unfurl into lushly ruffled flowers. They are planted towards the back of the flowerbed and a couple of rose bushes have grown taller and hide them. I fear moving the peonies because they bloom so beautifully now, but I think that I'll be rewarded more by moving them to a spot where they can shine on their own. I've read that peonies are long-lived plants - even up to 100 years old. 

The raised beds in the potager are filling out. I always plant a row of cheerful marigolds at the front of each raised bed (there are three of them), for a spot of bright colour and also because they supposed ward off some vegetable-loving bugs. This is a good year for spinach and radishes and we've eaten lots of salads, and I've sauteed spinach and added it to other dishes, as well. Carrots, Swiss Chard, and beets are thriving. I asked my husband to set up the large trellis. One side will be for pole beans and the other for tomato vines. In the center I planted zucchini and butternut squash. 

While working in the garden yesterday evening, I spotted one ripe strawberry and picked it, then asked my husband to close his eyes and popped it into his mouth. Today there are more red berries and I plan on picking a few more tomorrow. They are very sweet and juicy with a flavour and texture far above anything that is imported from California or Mexico. The raspberries and blueberries are forming fruit, too, and it's always an exciting sight. Little Iris loves blueberries and I'm looking forward to picking them with her. 

You might notice a theme in the book stack. Since travel is limited this year, I decided to travel via books. On our library website I did a search for books with "Paris" in the title. France is the European country I've visited most and I am very fond of Paris. I only wish it were closer than an 11-hour flight. I've read the three books in the center of the stack and loved "Paris Letters" and "A Paris Year." I can't recommend "Seven Letters from Paris" as I found it rather trite. So, two more Paris books to read this weekend. Do you have a favourite holiday destination? 

It's the Victoria Day holiday on Monday - usually a major traveling weekend in Canada. However, this year, travel restrictions mean we all need to stay in our own regions. Our vaccination rate (for first doses) is increasing each day and we're hopeful that we'll have a "normal" summer. We are fortunate to live in a beautiful part of our province and don't have to leave it to enjoy ourselves. I am hoping that we can soon visit my parents across the Strait. 

Enjoy your weekend!

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Rhubarb, the First Rose, and Learning Something New


This year's first prize for a rose in my garden goes to an unknown floribunda. She surprised me today with this bloom and I noticed several others showing a bit of colour. I pruned her severely in the spring, and although she's not as tall as she sometimes gets, there are plenty of buds.

Rhubarb, either you like it or you don't. We do. Our rhubarb plant is huge this year and I pulled many stalks this week. Several years ago I learned that one should pull out the stalks rather than cut them, and that has solved the problem of the plant going to seed so early. 
I canned six small jars of rhubarb sauce for the pantry shelves, and also roasted rhubarb with frozen strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries from last year's garden along with maple syrup for a flavourful compote. I notice there are quite a few packages of strawberries left so I will make a point of using them up soon. Already green berries are forming on this year's plants! And who wants to eat frozen strawberries when fresh ones are available?

I had some leftover pastry in the freezer which I thawed and rolled out to make a skimpy crust for a rhubarb custard pie. We enjoyed it for dessert at noon, and each had a little sliver after a light dinner. The custard makes the rhubarb quite mild. A hint of nutmeg and vanilla add to the satisfying flavour. 

Our tenants have set out a little table of sweet red bell peppers to dry in the sunshine for the past couple of days. I was curious to know what they would do with dried red peppers. When I asked they said they would grind them to a powder to make paprika. Well. 

How is it that I was never curious enough to find out what paprika was made of? I did a little internet research and discovered that hot paprika is simply made from hot peppers and sweet paprika from sweet peppers. In some languages the word for bell peppers and paprika is the same. 

So that's my new bit of knowledge for today. 

After doing a bit of weeding this afternoon I clipped a rather wild looking bouquet from what's currently in bloom - pale violet columbines, dark blue cornflowers, and a few last stems of bluebells. Sprigs of lemon balm and vinca provided the green. 

It's been a beautiful weekend of sunshine and we've thoroughly enjoyed it knowing that a bit of cooler weather and some much needed rain are in the week's forecast. I have a walk planned with a friend and some sewing I plan to do. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Two Views: Cultivated and Wild


Many people have heard of Butchart Gardens, created from the lands surrounding the home of Robert and Jenny Butchart. Robert manufactured cement and there were large deposits of limestone on the site. In 1909, after the quarry was exhausted, Jenny expanded her vision to add the Sunken Garden to the property. Millions of people from all over the world come to see the gardens and marvel at its beauty. 

One highlight is the dancing water fountain, seen above through the tulips. What most people don't realize is that on the other side of that deep pond lies another park - the Gowlland Tod Provincial Park. Both Butchart Gardens and this park lie along Tod Inlet. 

Tod Inlet is a popular place for boaters, dog-walkers, and people wanting an easy stroll close to nature. Here one can see the crumbling foundations of the industry that provided the funding for Butchart Gardens. Old cement pilings, dock ramps, hydro-dam remains, and the outlines of the homes of the workers who lived and laboured on the site. One crumbling chimney stack is visible, both from the gardens and the inlet.

Now the inlet is quiet. People throw sticks for their dogs to catch. Boaters lounge on the water. And all around are tall trees reflecting in the water and casting green light along the forested shore. Herons pick their way along the mud flat at the end of the inlet at low tide. Kingfishers call and dart from water to tree. Gulls soar, bank, and land on the water. There are a couple of spots in the park where one can catch glimpses of the dancing fountain, but it's a natural place once again.

On Saturday we met our children and grandchildren at the entrance to the park for a socially distanced, outdoor walk. It was lovely, but we were all chilled after a couple of hours. Above is the first photo of all of our grandchildren together. They had such fun together; exploring and playing.

The next day, Sunday, Tim and I visited Butchart Gardens. The tulips are astounding! Huge swaths of colour fill the beds. In a few places the tulips were finished, in others they were at their peak, and in others they had yet to fully open. I love the underplantings of the clouds of blue forget-me-nots, and in some places the interplanting of white narcissi. So very lovely. 

Butchart Gardens is a National Historic Site of Canada, and is still owned by descendants (a great granddaughter) of the Butcharts. We received a letter from her last week, with complimentary passes to the gardens, because we are year-long pass holders and the gardens were closed for part of the pandemic. Such a lovely gesture. We, and I hope, many others, will be renewing our passes so as to help this lovely place survive. 

Two views, two visits. I'm glad we can enjoy both the wild and the cultivated. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

Friday: A Changeable Day in May


This morning I walked to the library to exchange books. A few blocks along I realized I'd forgotten to tuck a mask into my pocket, so I returned home. While there I also changed my jacket for the wind was sharp and chill. On the way home I took a slight detour along the Bog - a wonderful park area in the midst of suburbia. Those dramatic skies held their water until I got home and then let loose with hail and lashing rain. 

The song of Redwing Blackbirds filled the air. Bright flashes of red show when the birds fly, and they always seem to elude my camera. This one was on the path just in front of me and stayed long enough for me to get this shot. 

After the rain and hail the sun came out, diffusing warm light in the garden. Wild violets are somewhat invasive, but they have restricted themselves to just one area of the garden so far, so I let them be. 

This weekend I'm looking forward to spending some time with this magazine. After my long walk this morning (about 4 miles in all), I sewed during the afternoon, working on projects that need to be finished before I begin others. I have a couple of lap quilts to get to the long-arm quilter, a baby quilt to bind by hand, and a small doll quilt to quilt and bind by hand. I enjoy the hand stitching and don't find it at all tiresome. 

We've been enjoying the fresh salads from the garden with spinach, radishes, and herbs. A squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, and some salt and pepper are all that is needed to dress this produce. 

This weekend is Mother's Day - Covid-style once again. Contact with family will be minimal at best. Tim and I are planning a walk around Butchart Gardens on Sunday. I am so thankful for my own mother, and for all she is to me and the rest of her family. From her I learned to keep house, cook, sew, and love. She's a perfectionist and what she does is very well done. There have been many challenges in her life, especially early on, but she has demonstrated grace and faith throughout. 

Happy Mother's Day to those who will celebrate this weekend. 

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Garden Musings


Outside my window pale yellow and orange are fading into grey as the sun sets below the Sooke Hills. It's been a lovely day, sunny, but cool enough for a light jacket. I spent a few hours this afternoon in the garden, transplanting some tomato starters (into deeper pots) and setting a few hardier tomatoes into the garden under cover. 

Garden work is so satisfactory. I find that I must do fulfill my inside chores before going outside, for if I do not I will spend all day puttering in the garden. 

The fig tree is leafing out and I always think the new acid green leaves look like butterflies about to fly off, or old-fashioned nuns' caps like in The Sound of Music. 

I've attempted gardening almost everywhere we've lived, although I soon learned that it was fruitless to do so in the jungle. I once planted several rose bushes along the front porch. They did well for awhile, but then the leaf cutter ants came along and decimated the plant entirely overnight. Amazing creatures they are, cutting and carrying off pieces of leaves far bigger than themselves. 

Outside one of our jungle homes impatiens grew in a lush heart-shape around a group of trees alongside the drive. I loved seeing it from my kitchen and dining room windows, and mourned when it was regularly cut down by the maintenance crew. However, it wasn't long before it grew up and flowered once again, bright shades of pink, fuschia, red, and orange. 

This oh, so fat bee and his mates have been buzzing about the flowers lately. The rosemary bush is blooming and another sort of bee loves to congregate there. 

At another home, this time in the mountains outside of the capital city of Quito, I was able to garden more successfully. Lemon and avocado trees were already established in the garden and how we enjoyed them. Lemon trees are amazing for they fruit and flower at the same time. I learned there to plant judiciously, for everything grew year round and needed constant trimming back. There was no dormant season. 

Above, the wisteria is blooming on the garden shed. Just now as I walk to and fro with plants, shovel, clippers, and buckets, I catch a whiff of lilac here, and sweet wisteria there. It's such a lovely time to be out there. 

From inside my house yesterday I watched an Anna's Hummingbird alight in the lilac bush. They usually take off after a brief stay, but this one remained long enough for me to go get the camera and take several pictures. Even then he hung around for awhile. 

The usual date for setting tender plants out into the garden is after mid-May. With an eye on the calendar and the temperature, I started squash and cucumber plants indoors today. Already growing outdoors are carrots and beets, Swiss chard, radishes, red onions, and spinach. 

I have a new flower bed this year, and in it are cosmos and foxglove. I'll transplant zinnias and sunflowers as they sprout. Sweet peas are a favourite of mine and I started some seeds indoors and some out. Something came along and nipped the outdoor plants right off at the ground and left the green growing tendrils lying on the dirt. What could have done that? I've netted the ones that remain and they seem to be doing fine. 

What is it that is so satisfying about gardening? Being outside with a purpose is what I like - I'm not one to lie about in the sunshine. I do enjoy a cup of tea and reading a book in the shade, but I find that my eyes stray often to the garden beds and I'll soon get up to pull that weed that caught my eye. 

I know that many of my readers garden. What is it that you find fulfilling about gardening? 

Living Alongside Medieval History

  Several people have asked why we chose Leiden for our visit to the Netherlands. We've found it's easy to stay in the large cities ...