Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Random Thoughts at the End of January


This is not my patch of snowdrops, but my neighbour's, and as it adjoins our driveway, I enjoy it to the full. I think it's getting a little crowded and may ask the owner if I can divide a few clumps and move them over to my own garden patch to augment my tiny cluster. 

A light skiff of snow fell in the night, surprising us this morning. I went out early to capture some photos - above is an allium seed head spikey with ice and wet snow. 

Winter has been quite mild here, but sometimes February gives us another blast just to remind everyone that winter is not officially over. Happily, we reached the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox just yesterday meaning that daylight hours will increase noticeably. I also read that the sun will no longer set before 5 pm until next November. Let's just ignore that and enjoy the lengthening days and coming spring/summer. 

Hellebores are emerging from the ground. I poked around in the garden this morning and found this trio of blooms looking rather shivery. 

First published in 1987, Victoria magazine inspired me in so many ways. I loved reading it in my jungle home in South America, but that's a story for another time. I kept many of my favourite issues, and others collected for me. This month I pulled out January 1994 and re-read Phyllis Theroux's essay "On Keeping a Journal." Here are a few quotes that I find myself nodding to in agreement.

"There is no right or wrong way to keep a journal. The mind of the writer inevitably imposes itself upon the style."

"Some time ago, a friend of mine showed me a large trunkful of journals that had been written by his mother, the dutiful wife of a career diplomat. While she was alive, no one, not even her husband, knew they existed. Perhaps, I thought, one of the reasons she kept a journal, as she kept to her diplomatic rounds, was to remind herself that she existed, too."

"...the pages of one's journal are where the least self-conscious and most eloquent (although not necessarily most polished) voice is first found, which is why so many writers often keep one."

I've kept a journal since about 1989, with periodic writings before then. I don't write every day - it's not a diary. I'm opening those journals these days in writing my family's story, and there are things that make me laugh out loud, and others that make me weep. One thing that I wish I could tell my younger self is to be kinder to myself. 

Do you keep a journal? Or a diary? Do you go back and read your past writings? 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Pockets of Coziness


In the still dark morning, the faint scent of wood smoke sometimes drifts in lightly on a cold breeze through the cracked open bedroom window. Two of our neighbours heat their homes with woodstoves, such a lovely even heat, and the scent is evocative of north woods cabins and homes in the northern interior of BC where I grew up. (My sense of smell now comes and goes.)

I walked this morning, twice around the bog where placid ducks lined the path or drifted on the still water. Muted colours, grey skies, and gloves on my hands are reminders that it's only January and very likely to get colder before spring comes. In fact, a cold front is moving in over the weekend.

Anne Youngson, author of Three Women and a Boat, included the phrase "pockets of coziness" when talking about houses. It's evocative of homes that welcome, of warming soups and stews, of glowing fires, and of reading while wrapped in a soft shawl, of hot tea and fresh bread. After being outdoors in the chilly air, walking into a cozy home is a contrast that delights.

I've had a fairly unproductive few weeks, taking advantage of the quiet season to spend slow days at home doing little beyond the regular necessary tasks, choosing instead to read and putter. 
This week, however, in a spurt of energy I made a list of some things I'd like to accomplish and worked towards that. When I saw that Seville oranges were available, I added making marmalade to the list. It's a meditative process, slicing all the peel into thin slivers, then stirring for many minutes, swirling the golden mixture in a figure eight pattern over and over again. Time for thinking or for just staring out the window. 

I started a hand sewing project - a Japanese rice bag, komebukuro. First I pieced scraps of linen and cotton and now I'm adding patches and hand stitching similar to sashiko. It's coming along nicely, but I'm in no hurry as I poke the needle down and pull it up, stitch by stitch. 

These are some of the pockets of coziness I'm finding in my home - how about you? 

Friday, January 20, 2023

A Garden in Winter


You might think I've lost the plot with the contrast between the post title and the first photo. Orchids do not bloom here in January, in spite of having the mildest climate in Canada. But they do flourish indoors at Butchart Gardens, where I took myself for a treat one recent afternoon. 

In the weeks after Christmas, one of the restaurant spaces at the Gardens is converted into a "Spring Prelude", complete with emerging bulbs - daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips galore, along with more exotic blooms and even a koi pond. Walking into the space I was greeted with a warm humid blast of scented air that even I perceived, with my diminished sense of smell. 

..."gardening begins in January with the dream."
Josephine Nuese

I thought this idea very attractive - the broken sphere on a pedestal with a pitcher plant and ferns inside. New ideas for my own garden often come when I wander in other gardens, and January is indeed a time for dreaming about gardens.

Once outdoors again, I wandered through all the paths admiring the bones of the garden unhindered by the lush blooms to come. I took note of how the roses are pruned and each plant heaped with rich compost. A gardener tied the long long stems of climbing roses to the arches that will be covered in blooms in a few months. 

Then to the Japanese Garden, one of my favourite spaces. It never used to be so, but I have come to love the constant flow of water throughout the space, the lush mosses, and the sense of tranquility here. The red bridges (there are two or three of them) are striking against all the green. 

In a few more weeks, rhododendrons and azaleas will flower here, adding more colour to this lovely space, but for now, I am content to step along the stones in the quiet colours of January, dreaming of garden days to come. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Of Carrots and Walking by the Sea


Carrot soup, bright with ginger and garlic, on a January day is a dish to savour. I made a big pot of it on Saturday and froze some for the future (maybe for the day when my kitchen will be out of commission due to the renovation). 

Prior to making the soup, however, I picked the last of the winter carrots from the garden, brushing off the soil, cutting and throwing the tops into the compost bin. The carrots are misshapen and of all sizes, but oh, how sweet they are, full of crunch and juice.

This sky during our Sunday afternoon walk along the water looked ominous, but no rain fell. The huge container ship, 300 metres in length, ran into trouble out at sea and put into port for needed repairs due to a "rudder malfunction". In the lower part of the photo a tiny harbour ferry - I call them jelly bean boats - is dwarfed by the huge ship, but bravely bounces along the water. 

Closer to shore the clear green water looked almost tropical, but I wouldn't be the one to venture in. Many people had the same idea as we did, for the walkway was almost crowded at times, with everyone enjoying the mild weather. 

I was at the nursery the other day and picked up some seeds - zinnias, poppies, snapdragons among others. At this point the colorful packets are merely inspirational, but I hope to start seeds indoors in a month or so. Meanwhile, the viburnum is blooming, and spikey bulb leaves are poking upwards in places, giving hints of blooms to follow. 

This morning's sky was pink in the east and now, a few hours later, a wide stripe of pale blue is sandwiched between thin cloud layers, boding for a pleasant day for an afternoon walk. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Of Thinking Ahead, Reading, and Hyacinths


January has been very grey, not cold, but dull. On Sunday, I walked around the bog and took few photos because nothing caught my eye, until, almost at the end of my walk, I turned around for one last look and caught the sun peeking down, illuminating reeds and bullrushes and changing them to gold. I'm so glad I turned.

These solitary days at home are good for thinking and I've been doing a lot of that, examining my life, and pondering the year ahead. It's a year of great change as my husband will retire in a few months. In some ways, his retirement will have a greater effect on me than my own retirement a year or so ago. Our first plan is a major kitchen renovation.

For this year I want to take a lesson from Henry Miller's words,

"Develop interest in life as you see it;
in people, things, literature, music - 
the world is so rich,
simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls,
and interesting people."

I've met so many interesting people (you!) via blogging and hope to continue writing and posting here at least once each week. I am filled with immense gratitude for those who read my scribbles and comment or email me. Thank you. 

Here today, the single amaryllis I planted is blooming, pure white and very tall. I may have to tie the stalk to the staircase to keep it from falling over. It towers over me when I walk past it, and I admire it most while descending the stairs. 

Regarding reading: I finished Louise Penny's latest Gamache book A World of Curiosities. I found it not as pleasurable as some of her other books. There was intense darkness and unmistakable evil portrayed in this book, with disturbing scenes. Armand and Three Pines were lovely, as always, and I won't say more for fear of spoiling the book for anyone who wants to read it, but I'd be curious to know what you thought of it. 

A book I'm dipping in and out of is Little Stories of Your Life by Laura Pashby. I started the book early last year and have not made much progress with it. There is much to think about, and right now I'm thinking about why I am drawn to certain things and not to others. I've not arrived at any conclusions other than the old adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 

Back in November I had a cold and a cough that persisted for a couple of weeks. I tested negative for the C-virus, but since then my sense of smell is greatly diminished and I often smell odd scents, like exhaust. Negative tests are notoriously unreliable and my conclusion is that I did have a very mild case of the virus. 

Blue and white, light, and fresh green growing things have always attracted my eye. Hyacinths, with their glorious scent, are some of my favourite spring flowers, but with my sniffer being out of whack, I am sad that I cannot smell them at all unless I bury my nose in the blooms. Odd, no? I hope my sense of smell returns soon. One advantage is that I can chop onions without my eyes tearing up! 

This has been a rather scattered post, and I'll stop here to prevent further blathering. 

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Five on Friday: Reveling in Quiet


Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

The quieter days of January are welcome after a busy festive season. December was busier than usual, and in looking back, we had at least two events on our calendar for each weekend of the month - usually hosted here, occasionally elsewhere. That's a lot of social engagement for this introvert. 

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts,
as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees,
that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.
Robert Louis Stevenson

Today has been a mixed bag of weather. For a few moments I admired the pale sunlight washing the living room in delicate light, throwing shadows onto the furniture and walls. Now, however, wind moans about the house, dark clouds scud across the sky, and rain will soon follow. 

I'm back to continuing my writing project after a month away, and was happy to get right back into the rhythm. 

The days are short. The sun a spark hung thin between the dark and dark. 
John Updike

January is a good month for reading, curled up in a comfortable chair with a warm shawl around one's shoulders and a cup of tea alongside. 

I recently finished The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks, learning much about the business of keeping sheep, and of the farmers' connection to the land in the Lakes District of England. 

I've just begun Louise Penny's latest A World of Curiosities and am looking forward to getting deeper into the story. 

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand 
and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.
Edith Sitwell

Above is a photo of the dinner table at my parents' home last week. I've added a watercolour pencil effect to the photo. I just love my mom's china and remember her collecting it over the years when I was a child. My mother enjoys setting a beautiful table, something I enjoy, too, having learned it from her. 

Good food is very often, even most often, 
simple food.
Anthony Bourdain

After the delicious indulgences of December, it's time to get back to more simple eating. Today a pot of vegetable soup simmers on the stove, to be accompanied by good bread and a bit of cheese. The other day I used up a solitary beet, a few carrots, mushrooms that were past their best in a roasted vegetable medley to which I added some leftover chopped deli ham and feta cheese. 

Five quotes that reflect January quiet to me, and five photos with commentary. On that note, I wish you all a good weekend. I know that I am looking forward to a quiet one. 

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Another Year Begins


Walking is my favourite form of physical activity, and the two of us began the year with a walk to Tod Inlet. These stairs reminded me of the new year - we climb each step, one at a time. There is shadow, there is light. We can't see too far ahead, but we carry on, day by day, step by step. 

There have been some very high tides - King Tides - although not today. Still, the water was very high, covering the old mossy cement pilings that usually stand high above the water. The water is always green, reflecting the coniferous forest surrounding the small inlet.

Several groups of brave people took a plunge into the chilly water today - they are much braver than I. 

Doesn't it look as if the gull is coming in for a landing? I laughed when I saw this. 

The mostly green/gray landscape is enlivened by a few bright berries still remaining on the bushes. 

Tea in the wild. We take squares of thin dense foam to sit on. They make such a difference. No more wet bottoms. The little snack containers were a stocking gift. They screw together, are made from recycled material, and are seal tightly. Young Iris was helping her mother choose who was to receive the different colours. Iris insisted that Bop (aka Grandpa) get the pale pink ones, and she would not be dissuaded. It's quite a compliment, her mother said, because pink is Iris' favourite colour. 

Two different ferry rides, one to the mainland, and one returning home. What a difference in colour! We enjoyed a good visit with my parents and dinner with all of my siblings. 

We arrived home yesterday afternoon, went for a walk with friends, and spent a quiet evening with just the two of us. We went to bed before midnight, but fireworks kept me from sleeping so I got out of bed and watched the fireworks taking place downtown from my bedroom window. They rose high in the air, exploding light in beautiful colour. 

I wish for you all a year filled with love and joy, and a deepening sense of who you are and of your place in this world. Happy 2023!

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-...