Monday, February 28, 2022

A Bit of History


In the 1760s Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, extended an invitation to Mennonites living in Prussia (Poland) to take up farming in the rich lands of Ukraine. Mennonites were of Dutch Anabaptist heritage, adhering to pacifism and adult baptism. Catherine enticed them with promises that they could keep their language (German), build their own schools and churches, and be exempt from military service. She also granted them large parcels of land to boost national food production.

The Mennonites flourished in Ukraine. Enormous and prosperous farms contributed to Catherine's vision to modernize Russia. Although the Mennonites kept themselves apart from the fabric of Russian society, they contributed economically. 

As new rulers took the place of Catherine, the rights granted to the Mennonites were gradually eroded. Some families left the country in the 1870s and settled in parts of Canada, the USA, Mexico, and South America. After the Russian Revolution after World War I, the fabric of their society was torn apart. Many, many Mennonites emigrated, and among them were both of my grandfathers. My grandmothers, also Mennonites, were born in Canada, from families who had left earlier. 

In the 1970s my maternal grandfather took a trip back to the Ukraine to see his former home. After more than 50 years, there was little left, although he recognized the place where his family's home once stood. Once again, the Mennonites had moved on. 

Although the Mennonites didn't integrate into the fabric of Ukrainian culture, there are bits and pieces gathered through the years that have remained. Food traditions are one. Vareniki (also known as pierogi), borscht, holupchi (cabbage rolls), and other dishes are ones I grew up with, and make today for my family. Ukraine was good to my forefathers and mothers, and I stand with her in these desperate times. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

Friday Favourites


My heart hurts for the people of Ukraine who are at the mercy of the ego of a crazed old man. And yet, the sun shone brilliantly this week in spite of frosty mornings and light snowfall overnight. The tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte daffodils are blooming without a care in my garden. How cheerful they look. 

The sun poured in through the corner window in the dining room, adding warmth, light, and strong shadows to the room. I'll have to move the plants once the sunny days become the norm, because the heat will be too intense. My home is peaceful. I watched a short video by a woman with two school aged children as she and her family drove away from their home. Her voice caught as she said, "And this is our home."

Snow overnight and the bird tracks make me smile. I can do little about the situation in the world, but I can pray, and stand with the Ukrainian people. Lord, have mercy. 

Bookstores, new and used, are irresistible treasure troves. Our local used bookstore, Russell Books, has a wonderful on-line store. I've been ordering some books through them, books that are out of print, or hard to find. The book on the bottom -The Columbia is Coming - is a bit of local history about a mission boat that traveled up and down the west coast, providing health care, passenger service, weddings, and much more. There are a couple of books about the Yukon. We have a small collection of local history books and are continuing to add to it bit by bit. 

Do you enjoy rummaging through used bookstores? I'll leave you with this thought...

"Secondhand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack."  (Virginia Woolf)

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

A Bit of This and That


The pot I purchased as mere green shoots has grown to foot-high stalks with streaky dark pink tulip heads now beginning to dry and thin like fine old paper. I have them in the entrance hall and pass them throughout the day, often reaching out to touch them gently.

As Brene Brown writes "I don't have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness. It's right in front of me, if I'm paying attention and practicing gratitude."

Monday was a holiday for Family Day. We didn't see family, as some sickness is keeping us apart these days and we are all just being careful. 

A few apples from our trees, picked last fall and stored in the refrigerator, needed to be used up. I baked an apple cake using this recipe. I think I added an extra 1/2 cup of flour as I was doing something else while baking. Although a bit dry, it still tasted very good. There is a bit of glaze on the cake, but because of the dryness I made some caramel sauce to serve with it. Yum. 

With the few apples left over I cooked up some applesauce and froze it. 

One night I made falafel. Rather than round balls, I made flatter cakes and served them with tzatziki, radishes, pea shoots, tomatoes, and lettuce. Oh, and quick pickled onions. It's the first time I've made falafel and found it quite easy. 

Memories are stirred by all of our senses - sights, sounds, tastes, touches, and smells. These memories triggered by senses act as reference points in life. So much passes through my mind and is stored there, and most of it is never retrieved. How wonderful it is that a small bit of stimuli such as a crisp bite of hot falafel and the contrast of crisp vegetables instantly brings to mind the image of Tim and I sitting side by side in a crowded cafe in the Marais in Paris, watching a livestream of the wailing wall in Jerusalem on a television in the corner while we ate our lunch. 

The clippings of pittosporum (mock orange) that I brought into the house are now blooming, with a faint citrus scent. They are a welcome bit of greenery these days as winter has let us know that he's not done with us yet. Early on Monday morning, while it was still dark, I heard rain in the gutters, and fell back asleep. We got up a bit late and I was shocked to pull back the curtains and see snow on the ground! The wind howled around for a couple of days, and it's very chilly out there. Winter's last blast, perhaps? One can hope.

Are you waiting impatiently for spring or content with winter lingering a bit longer? 

Friday, February 18, 2022

Five on Friday: Things I've Been Pondering


1. Goodbye hedge. Our back garden is hedged in on two sides with very tall cedars providing a green wall seen in the blurred background of the junco. Unfortunately, roots have invaded the vegetable beds and the flower beds just in front of the hedge, making them very difficult to work in. After discussing the pros and cons, Tim has cut the back hedge on the north side down to stumps. Next he will pull the stumps out. Our garden is much lighter now, but not as private. After the stumps are gone and new dirt laid down, the fun begins. What to plant?

2. Our soil is acidic because of all the rain, and doubly so because of the hedge. I suggested rhododendrons because they are evergreen and also flower. Last Sunday we wandered through Finnerty Gardens, part of the University of Victoria, where rhodos abound. I didn't think we'd find any blooming yet, and was so pleased to find a few bright pink buds. In a couple of weeks it will be stunning. We're thinking of a clumping birch tree to anchor the bed, and rhodos in the back, along with hydrangeas and some of the perennials that are there already.

3. Beautiful hellebores were blooming under the rhodos. 

Do you remember chain letters? How annoying they were - promising this that or the other thing if you followed the directions. I'm afraid that I broke a lot of chains. But lately I've been mulling over how something I read in one book leads me to another and to another and so on, and how rewarding it is. For example, I'm reading Laura Pashby's Little Stories of Your Life, and in it she mentions Ross Gay's The Book of Delights, which I ordered from the library and am now reading, too. And that led me to think about the practice of writing, and how I want to be more faithful in writing regularly. Not just here, but in my personal journal, and a couple of other projects. Each piece of nudging is a link in a chain. Where it ends is up to me. 

4. On Wednesday morning I looked out of my window to see the fat round moon glowing in a soft pink-streaked sky. I was up early to drive to Ashley's to watch the girls while she went to physio. I caught glimpses of the moon, so pale, drifting among the trees as I drove. I've been holding the grace and beauty of that moon close this week that has been tumultuous in several ways. 

5. I've run across some lovely words from other people this week and will leave you with a few of them.

"Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake."

Sir Francis Bacon

"Some journeys take us far from home. Some adventures lead us to our destiny."

C. S. Lewis

"We need joy as we need air, we need love as we need water. 

Maya Angelou

I hope for a good weekend for you all whether you are in the midst of storms physical or spiritual. I hope you have  something beautiful in your mind to hold during these troubled days. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Mid-February Sunshine


Sunny days in February are pure joy. There is always the possibility, more likely than not, that winter will blow at least one more blast before retiring to let spring have her day. I spent some time in the garden on Saturday, chopping off some little weeds in the vegetable beds before they take hold. Spikey bulb leaves thrust upwards through dirt and dry leaves, and a few crocuses opened their lovely faces to the sun. There is mesh visible in the photo above - I covered my fall bulb plantings with it to keep the squirrels from stealing them. It seems to have worked. 

I'm into my third week of teaching. It's going well, with lovely students. I'm not accomplishing much else, though, between lesson prep and marking. 

In addition, our youngest daughter has severely injured her back and is struggling mightily with intense pain. It's difficult to get going in the morning, and she's not sleeping well, so caring for two active little girls is difficult. Last week I was over for four mornings helping out. Her back will improve, with time, but it will take awhile. She's on medication for pain, and is seeing a physiotherapist, as well. I have to admit that when this happened I wished I had not taken on this five-month teaching contract, but it is what it is.

More crocus blossoms in the pot beside the front door. 

Ashley and I were talking about books via Skype this evening. I thought of one of my older books that she might enjoy - Gabrielle Roy's Where Nests the Water Hen. Have you read it? It's a gentle story of a French-Canadian family living in the wilds of northern Manitoba, and was first published in 1950. I plucked the book off the bookshelf and read the first chapter, charmed once again by the main character Luzina who, "disposed people to become aware that they had reasons for happiness." What a lovely trait. 

On my walks with the little girls last week, this was the scene as we crossed the footbridge over the lake. It was cold, but with a blue sky and clear still water, the sight filled me with happiness. We always stop to pick up a few rocks along the path and throw them into the water. 

Patience Strong writes, "While it is February one can taste the full joys of anticipation. Spring stands at the gate with her finger on the latch." 

Are you feeling like spring is near in your corner? 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Valentine's Day and a Giveaway Opportunity


Last year at this time I was newly retired and had time to bake all of these lovely treats for Valentine's Day. Not so this year, although I did manage some sugar cookie hearts for the children. 

A cousin of mine lives in Wales. Ironically, just as she moved away from the Island with her young family, we moved to the city she had just left. Teresa has been able to indulge her love of tea and teaware while living in the UK, and has a website Bring Back Tea Time, where she sells beautiful china tea sets, and other tea accoutrements. 

Teresa is holding a giveaway, for those who sign up for her occasional newsletters. There are 10 gifts to be won, including tea cups, silver spoons, a book, a tiered stand, and other things. The giveaway items can be seen on her Facebook page (Bring Back Tea Time). She will ship anywhere in the world. While at her website, take a look at some of the beautiful things she has. 

In one of her past newsletters, she featured the above Paragon teacup and teapot, along with some fun ideas for Valentine's Day. 

A mini cupcake and a large cup of tea make any day feel special. 

Don't forget to sign up for the newsletter and giveaway!

Thursday, February 10, 2022

An Indoor Garden and Mental Dawdling


Little by little the light grows. I walked into the living room one morning this week and what I saw had me reaching for my camera. I can feel my spirits lifting as the light increases. We have enjoyed above seasonal temperatures and days without rain. Winter could have a last hurrah, but for now, I'm enjoying the bright days. 

I want to surround myself with green and growing things, although I need to be patient for gardening season is not quite here. Tim pruned the blueberry bushes last weekend, and I brought some of them indoors, along with sword fern, cotoneaster, fluffy weeds, and what I think is pittosporum or mock orange. 

A pot of "Pleasure" tulips found their way home from the grocery store and are beginning to reveal their pretty pink, white and yellow blooms. 

I'm reading Flower Diary, by poet Molly Peacock - a biography of artist Mary Hiester Reid. Mary and Molly's stories are woven throughout the book. Each chapter begins with one of Mary's paintings, and her story is revealed through interpreting the painting. It's interesting and lyrical. On page 102, Molly talks about the long process of creativity, where ideas can simmer in the background for years before bursting forth. She writes, 

"Mental dawdling is fostered by waiting. Enforced stillness leads a person to attend more closely to the senses: sniffing the metal smell of petrichor before the rain, then hearing the ping of raindrops on a windowsill. Close attention, being present in the present, paradoxically allows the past to bubble up." 

My attention was caught by "mental dawdling". Dawdling is often used in a negative sense - "don't dawdle" - but taking time to allow one's thoughts to mature and ripen before surfacing into consciousness is not a bad thing at all in this day of spewing out unformed thoughts and opinions to all and sundry. A little mental dawdling can be a good thing. 

A little indoor garden on the table in the front hall makes me smile when I pass through. Indoor gardens, dawdling, - are you doing any of these things these days?

edited to add: I've had to enable comment moderation for all comments due to increasing spam. 

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Comforts of Home

A few weeks ago, Mary of A Breath of Fresh Air, showed us her favourite chair and suggested we do the same. I am just now getting around to it. In the evenings I love to curl up in this blue brocade chair (bluer than it looks in this photo), sometimes with my feet under me, sometimes with my feet on the pouf. 

There is a soft cashmere shawl to wrap around myself for a little more warmth, if needed, and a pillow at my back. Most chairs are too deep for me to sit comfortably without a pillow. I read here, and stitch, with a cup of tea on a small table beside me. 

My Christmas Cactus, given to me by a friend 10 or 12 years ago, is blooming now - there is just a glimpse of it above the chair. I think it's a February cactus, for it tends to bloom this time every year. 

I bought a white poinsettia for Christmas, and a few weeks ago all the leaves began falling off. The white "flowers" are really modified leaves, or bracts, and the actual flower of the plant is very nondescript and small, found in the center of the bracts. I clipped stems of the bracts and placed them in water, like a cut flower. They have lasted and lasted. 

We've had a relaxing start to the day, and I'm puttering at the laundry and tidying up. A pot of soup simmers on the stove. No rain today, but cloud cover dulls the sky. I'm off now to fold a load of laundry and put the clean sheets onto the bed. 

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

A Morning Walk


Mornings are frosty these days, and I put on my down jacket and gloves to go for a walk. Along one of my routes, a naturalized garden shows off the seasons. Today cyclamen provided such a welcome relief from browns and greens. 

More plentiful than the cyclamen were the early crocuses, pale stems ending in faint lilac buds that remained tightly closed in the cold. 

One homeowner has this large collection of bird houses mounted on a wall facing the path. We've seen a number of nesting birds there, but usually not this early. I heard the chipping of a sparrow and looked carefully at the birdhouses before I found him. He's in the pink house on right edge of the photo. 

In the same garden creamy catkins hung like earrings from slender branches. 

Nearing home, I stopped to admire my neighbour's snowdrops. She has a lovely bed full of them. 

I'm beginning a new routine once again, back at school in the afternoons. The teacher hired to fill my position as a Spanish teacher is unable to continue this semester. The school looked for a qualified replacement, unsuccessfully. So I said that I could fill in for this second semester. I have two classes, in the afternoons, mostly students I've taught before, and am enjoying being with them again.

I worked hard to develop the Spanish program at my school (it's an independent school), and I don't want to see it fail. There are costs - time with my little grandchildren is curtailed, and I am not as free as I was. However, it's just five months and then I will definitely be done. Today was the third day of class, and I'm a wee bit tired. To be expected, I know. And I also know that I'll get used to it once again. 

Morning walks will be a treat to enjoy as I adapt to this new schedule. 

Living Alongside Medieval History

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