Saturday 31 May 2014

"It's How You Look That Counts"

The cabbage soup diet is going around my facebook page again.  I remember it well from several decades ago, also the banana diet, raw foods diet, the grapefruit diet...yes, there have been quite a few not even counting all the doctors' diets.  This made me think of Billy Bob Thornton and what I read about him a few years back, that he only eats green foods.  He's always very thin in photos (haven't seen him in any movies lately) and I wanted to give a dinner party at the time and serve only green foods but I chickened out.  I realized you could do it though.  Just recently I read a comment by a star about her eating habits claiming she fasts one day a week; she picks a day when she will be busy and will have lots of distractions from food.  I wonder how that would pan out over time.  You really don't want to send your body into starvation mode whereby it starts to hoard the fat, yeah, you really wouldn't want that!
I have a family member who runs and cycles for exercise and he is quite faithful to this even after many decades.  He is also almost religious with his diet. In fact, I'm thinking he would be very close to living the raw foods diet because he is so careful about everything he puts in his mouth.  At a gathering where there was the most wonderful spread of food, I watched him eat only the raw broccoli and cauliflower washed down with a club soda.  He is very thin; I think gaunt.  I know several times he's been asked if he was okay because he does not look well.  He would look much better with about ten extra pounds on his body, but he says his doctor has nothing but praise for him and his marvelous checkup test results.  It makes me think; do you have to look like you're starving to be in the best shape you can muster?  And this makes me think of another star; do you remember when Billy Crystal used to joke "It isn't how you feel that counts, but how you look"?

Friday 30 May 2014

My Top Three Growing Mistakes

What was Paradise?  But a garden,

an orchard of trees and herbs,

Full of pleasure, and nothing 

there but delight.

                 William Lawson

I have just about all my little seedlings planted in the ground.  I am increasing the numbers each year and this time round had a hard time deciding where to plant it all.  I mentioned I had tremendous luck with the Vessey seeds with so many sprouting but what a good problem to have.  I was especially pleased with the marigolds.  They are a great little flower and have such staying power, will keep on flowering till the fall with care and deadheading.  I also have sprouted an abundance of morning glories, enough to cover two fences this year.  All the butterfly flowers, shasta daisies, asters and bee balm also sprouted well.  It should be quite colourful if all grow and bloom.  Time will tell.

The vegetables are trickier.  I needed to find spots that suited individual growing needs and this is harder.  It would be best if I could corral them all in one garden plot but the side garden where I've planted vegetables before is not in full sun as some require.

I've learned at least three things about vegetable growing that I hope to get right this year.

#1 From planting pumpkins last year I discovered the vines needed a lot of space to spread out, so this year I have to put them somewhere else where they have room to grow and not tangle up so badly and try to make a run for the woods.

#2 I always seem to plant things too close together, especially tomato plants.  I've learned the hard way to put the cages on earlier and not try to fit them on later.

#3 While potatoes are growing, they need a lot of water.  It took a while for me to figure out just how much they required...quite a lot.  If it wasn't raining, they had to be watered.  I think my minuscule crop suffered because I didn't know this.  (I have a tendency to think that if plants are in the ground, they don't need as much watering as, say, the potted things.)

I must have read this information but, surprise, didn't retain it.  Oh well, now another growing season and a chance to get it righter!

Thursday 29 May 2014

Quiet Country Lanes and Bluebird Hanging

I was just thinking about a fact of life about living off a side road which is itself off  another country road.  It means we do not have much casual traffic down our way, perhaps accidental sometimes and certainly no body at the door.  The door bell has never been rung since I moved here.  No Avon lady, pizza guy, or any solicitors of any kind to come knocking.  Hubby says a political candidate did come to the door once since he has lived here.  And another time we had two hunters knock at the door wondering if we had seen their beagles; they had let them out a couple of properties away and they took off following a scent.  All this gives us some reassurance regarding the safety of our dogs.  We think neither of them have any sense of traffic and they have gotten out onto the road a couple of times, so luckily the lack of cars is in their favour.  Yes, it is very quiet and peaceful here, that's for sure.

Here is the bluebird hanging I am working on in between other stitching.  I think I will add a wing to each, maybe mix and match the material; I will try that with a couple and see what it looks like. 
Yesterday I spent all my sewing room time tidying.  I don't know how it gets so messed up; watched two episodes of Dr. Phil on Youtube on my laptop, that's how untidy things were.  I should say I listened rather than watched. 

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Davids' Teas and My Day These Days

Very Large Block T which includes the Z

At Davids' Teas you can have your pick of all kinds of amazing teas; I can't believe the flavours they are infusing into tea leaves these days.  Far cry from the time of only Tetley or Red Rose orange pekoe and the way my grandparents kept the old black teapot brewing at the back of the stove all day.  Now you need the water at a certain temperature and the special tea bags they sell at David's to put your leaves in to steep or a little tea ball for the same purpose.
I told you we liked the creamy Earl Gray with vanilla that we had for our English tea at the spa.  I was able to find it at David's and buy some for my daughters and myself.  I am feeling indulgent to brew my own little pot in the afternoon and enjoy a large cup.  The smell of it is heavenly and I think I like the aroma better than the actual tea. 
I have been working in the garden most days for the mornings.  I had forgotten how much time is spent on your knees when planting and weeding.  Last night I wondered why my shoulder felt sore; at first it crossed my mind I was having a heart attack since hearing how women experience heart attack symptoms in a completely different way from how men do and heart disease is on the rise for us.  Then I remembered I was using the pick axe to break up some sods in the morning and concluded quite sensibly that that was the source of my achyness so crisis averted.  I now have almost all of my seedlings planted.  Still have a couple of trays of late bloomers in the greenhouse.  So far, so good; everything looks like it has transplanted well.
I am spending the afternoons in my basement sewing room.  I have put together the appliqued blue birds into a hanging and now have to decide what else to do with it.  The birds look a little lonely and bare so I think I am going to have to add twigs and leaves.
I used to feel a little sad when my sewing time was over for the day, but now I look forward to my cup of special tea and relaxing watching the trees fill in. 

Tuesday 27 May 2014

What Was Paradise? But a Garden...

This is the Large-Flowered Trillium and it is definitely the showiest flower growing wild on our land.  We have several just beside the patio door and at this time of year you can glimpse a field full of them when out for a drive.  It is no wonder it is Ontario's provincial flower.  So pretty and though they begin as snow white, they become pinker with age which adds to their loveliness.  My daughter has one in her front yard that is a very deep violet, almost red and it stands out like a sore thumb amongst the sea of white.
I am surrounded by lovely early blooming flowers here and I wish I could bring them inside for a bouquet but I've found they don't last long enough especially the trilliums and violets.

Here is a close up of the beautiful White Trillium, Ontario's Provincial Flower.

A view of the front garden...there's another bird feeder and the concrete bird bath.  I will fill that when the weather becomes hotter and the land is drier.  I'm amazed by how quickly the trees have filled in.  Nature seems to behave according to some deeply embedded unseen calendar; it all opens and blooms and changes colour in turn.  Amazing.  I live in awe of this.

Crochet Update:  I have about 50 of those granny squares made and I still have one more ball of wool, so I will keep going.  I love how fast crochet works up; it is a most instantly gratifying craft.

Stitching Update: I am working my way through the bees and butterflies in my blocks.  Not moving along as fast as the granny squares that's for sure.  I'm also finding I can only stitch in daylight these days despite my efforts to find good lighting at night. 

Monday 26 May 2014

The Season To Be a Botanist

I tramp through the woods every day, sometimes both dogs with me and sometimes Rex only; then he acts like a little kid running up and down the path (I imagine happily) till he settles down for the walk.  He is very loyal and can be trusted off the leash, the complete opposite of his doggy sister.
It is the season when I wish I were a botanist, even an amateur one.  So many things have come into bloom along the trail, seemingly overnight and I would like to be able to put a name to them.  I know I found names for some before but have forgotten.

A pity I took this picture before they became very plentiful.  It is Wild Columbine and I love how delicate and droopy the flower is.  You have to get up close to see just how beautiful its parts are.  I now notice them everywhere as the reds seem to have darkened and capture more attention.  I tried to grow columbine in a front flower bed, but only managed to get a few half-hearted sprigs to bloom.

This one is a little easier to identify, surely it is a member of the violet family.  I've been encountering them for several weeks now and admiring their colours...many hues from pale violet to deeper blue and all shades in between.  Though there are over a hundred woodland violets, a very common one is the Dog Violet which I'm supposing this is.  All of mine are five petaled and have a heart shaped leaf just as the book describes the Dog Violet.  What a pretty flower to grow so abundantly in the wild! It makes for the most beautiful carpet under and around the trees. 

This is a very simply shaped flower, blooming close to the ground and there are copious numbers of them all over our woods.  It is Yellow Wood Sorrel and I read that the flower closes up at night (I probably will never be in the woods at night to test out that theory).  The bright yellow colour is consistent throughout the groups and is very cheery. 

Sunday 25 May 2014

Passionate Piecework and Miss Marple's Shawl

This magazine, Piecework, is another of my favourite needlework magazines.  Published bimonthly, it is always full of interesting articles and projects.  I like how it is international in scope so you can read about embroidery in Poland or tatting in Australia.  This issue, "September/October 2010" is one of their most popular.  It contained ten articles all featuring projects that were inspired by literature.  Crafts of all sorts have long been mentioned in novels of course and the women's 'work' frequently written about often took the form of fancy needlework or plain sewing of one form or another.  The articles in this issue include references to the work of Jane Austen, Agatha Christie,and Rose Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) among others.  I borrowed this copy from the library and it is well-worn; I'm going to look around to see if I can get my own for future use.
I did make a copy of a featured pattern to knit, advertised as a shawl of the type that Agatha Christie's Miss Marple would have knit.  The famous sleuth often used her knitting as a way to appear busy in public and yet be keeping an eye on some suspicious fellow or event unfolding.  I read the pattern with interest and though a lot of rows to track, seemed like something I could tackle successfully. The pattern uses stockinette stitch with a little openwork, sounds doable.  It was a reprint from Weldon's Practical Needlework, that wonderful series of books published in the late 1800's and still much in use today. Each volume featured knitting patterns for creating many garments of clothing for all members of the family.  They are a little like looking at history; I can't help but imagine all the women throughout the years who followed these patterns and knit a vest for their husband, or a bed jacket for themselves or socks for the whole family. 
Anyway, reprints of all the volumes are available on Amazon and the first one costs about twelve dollars. 

Saturday 24 May 2014

Real Live Mating Ball

Snake in the grass

I know nothing of snakes.  It is one of the creatures not generally found in Newfoundland though growing up I heard rumours of grass snakes and sea snakes being around, but I had no personal experience with either.  Last year in April in the back yard, I had the opportunity to get up close and personal with not just one, but dozens of snakes.  I observed what I learned afterwards was a snake mating ball.
 It was a beautiful day, one of the first truly warm days of spring.  I was hanging clothes on my line and it happened a snake caught my eye.  Then I could see other garter snakes emerging from all directions but all gathering on one rock.  In no time there were hundreds of snakes all writhing and coiling around each other; I was fascinated and I called hubby to come look.  He took one look and headed in the opposite direction, while I continued to watch something I had never seen in my life before.  After a few minutes I could see the snake meeting was breaking up; snakes began to move away slipping through the grass and back down into the various openings in the rocks.  I watched till the end when they all had disappeared all the while wondering what was it all about.  When I came back into the house, I looked it up on the internet and on Youtube I found a video of the exact happening I had just was called a snake mating ball.  I guess a female garter snake had emerged from the winter den, emitted her special aroma and immediately all males in the area smelled her and attempted mating; apparently only one lucky fellow gets the prize though scientists are not entirely positive about that.  I said to hubby imagine how lucky I was to have been out hanging up clothes just at the time a real live mating ball occurred.  Lucky, he scoffed, I'm not sure I'd call that luck. 
Imagine seeing anacondas doing a similar thing.  They behave exactly the same way, all the males wrapping around a female and each other in what is called a breeding ball.  Now that would be something to see!

This little guy was in front of the greenhouse, then slid inside to keep me company for awhile.  

I love his markings; the design along his body is surprisingly intricate.  

Friday 23 May 2014

"You won't believe HER eyes" and Block S

Here is the Block S, another of the larger blocks.  I have seen this stitched with green apples instead of red and it looked quite nice.  There are a lot of leaves in this project, so hence a lot of green and I would not have thought of adding more green, but it worked out well.  It is always interesting to see how pieces can look good when finished though there might be doubts here and there along the way.
A few years ago the traveling exhibition of certain works of the artist, Renoir, made it to Ottawa.  The National Art Gallery put on the display and it was definitely one of the more popular events they've hosted.  I remember the advertising included bus sized posters all over town featuring one of Renoir's female subjects along with the slogan, "You won't believe her eyes." 
I spent a happy afternoon strolling the exhibit and the advertising lived up to its slogan.  I'm not sure what kind of skill is needed to paint human eyes, they are so complex.  I imagine it requires the greatest of skill to make them come alive on canvas, but that is what Renoir achieved.  Over and over in portrait after portrait, the eyes were amazingly alive and vibrant, even after all these years.  It was often the first thing you noticed and all around me people were murmuring the same thing, look at those eyes.  I can only imagine the practice, the patience, the talent required to achieve such mastery, but then he was Renoir. I chatted with one of the guards who told me he found the eyes so real, he could feel them watching him and one of the other guards had told him he thought they followed him as he moved around. 
However, one of the more interesting things I learned from joining a tour was that even Renoir made mistakes and had to change his mind in the middle of a piece to make something work for him.  By x-raying his canvases, experts can see where he ran into problems trying to make an arm or shoulder or a foot look natural.  He often had to paint out aspects of bodies, change the stance or limbs and in one case he had to paint over an entire dog to make the scene work the way he wanted it to.  These underpaintings prove that even Renoir  had  to 'unpaint'. 
I guess we can take a small comfort from learning that all artists struggle during the creative process, even the great ones.  Whatever doubts you have along the way, the finished product won't betray them.   

Thursday 22 May 2014

Charles and Camilla: My 2 Cents Worth


This is a photo of the Royals when they were here in Canada in 2009.  It is Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla.  They were here in 2012 and 2014, too.  Though the tour in 2012 was considered a success, their visit in 2009 was poorly received; it was politely reported later that the crowds were reserved in their reactions to them.  In fact, in some areas hardly anyone showed up to see them.  This was something new in terms of Canadians and our love of  royal family tours. Generally our reaction is always o.t.t., over the top, to quote an English phrase, with the norm being over-enthusiastic Ensign waving crowds showing up in all sorts of weather to catch just a glimpse of one of them.

I thought about this and wondered a bit about why the cool reception for Charles and his bride.
I happened to be in the crowd at the War Memorial ceremony the year they toured in 2009.  I was close enough to watch them emerge from their town car and observe the looks on their faces.  Charles was smiling broadly and immediately approached the crowds for a word or two.  I watched Camilla and the only word of could think of to describe her face was displeased.  She smiled stiffly at the other dignitaries and ignored the couple of people in the crowd who called her name.

 Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, 2009 More

  I couldn't help myself; I had negative thoughts about her.  From the look she maintained on her face, I could imagine her thinking  'well, here I am in the colonies; one must grin and bear it I suppose'...that sort of thing. An older wheel-chair bound lady in front of me said loudly to her companion, "She doesn't look very happy to be here, now does she?"  Exactly my thought.  My friend couldn't get over how old Camilla looked whereas we agreed Charles looked marvelous, smooth-cheeked and robust.  Later I read reports that described her appearance as frosty so we weren't the only ones reacting like that.
I remember well the fiasco that was the marriage of Charles and Diana.  I was sad for her and unhappy with him and the notion of him continuing a relationship with his mistress after his marriage was disappointing, to say the least.
  Later when circumstances evolved and he was able to marry that mistress, I probably should have been happy for her.  We're about the same age and it could be seen as a coup for an 'older' woman to finally get her prince plus it seemed to be the culmination of a genuine love story.  However, I could not forget all the unhappiness surrounding their relationship especially the hardship it caused a very young Diana, and I wasn't alone in those sentiments.  Maybe that was the way most people felt back then but like most things, time has helped soften those sentiments.  I keep reading polls that suggest the public are feeling more receptive to Camilla and she is more admired generally, though still not enough to ever be called Queen.   

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Eating Thai Food and Block Q

Here is Block Q of my Gardener's Alphabet.  I was surprised to see I had completed the butterfly thinking I had left all bees and butterflies till the end.  I wanted to stitch them together and enjoy that final touch.  I like how there are so many bees throughout the project highlighting their importance in any garden.  I was so happy to read recently that scientists think they know now why so many bees have died in recent years.  I am carefully eyeing each of these blocks as I photograph them; amazing how much can be overlooked, a leaf here or a stem there that got missed during the initial sewing. 
Back to trying to clean up my diet this week.  I'm usually pretty good but strayed a little with a few restaurant meals and outings (doesn't take much!) in recent weeks; there is just too much tasty food around!  I'm sipping water with lemon slices and ice cubes and keeping the evening meal simple.
I should tell you about a restaurant hubby and I went to last week.  It is a Thai Buffet but with a difference.  You order from a menu and they bring the food to you.  If you don't eat all of the dish you can be charged extra.  Each dish is a single serving size and the food was wonderful.  I had suishi, coconut shrimp skewers, calamari, seaweed salad, salmon, and hot and sour soup.  It sounds like a lot but really the servings were small.  Oh yes, I did have the fried banana and ice cream for dessert, again very small pieces, I swear.  This is making me hungry thinking of it as I write, yikes. 

Monday 19 May 2014

Beating the Blues

I am wearing leggings which make me feel confused about my lower body.  They make me feel thin and fat at the same time.  Fat because they make my thighs look bulgy and thin because they slim my calves and looking down towards my feet in sneakers makes me feel almost athletic. 

Truth is I am feeling a little down lately and I am doing what I know to do about that...redouble my exercise efforts.  The best thing is that I am able to do my bit of workout out doors these days and I love looking at the trees, birds, sky, etc. while I put myself through my paces.  I have a chipmunk that joins me from the sidelines and sits immobile watching me.  I now bring one peanut in a shell for him which he secretes in his cheek but stays to watch the show.  I am surprised how easily he seems to be trained but really I guess it is about the food.

 I have one of those tiny ipod devices called a Shuffle and listen to music that runs at 130 beats; in fact I don't think I could do the exercise without the music. My daughter gave me the Shuffle about six years ago and what a great gift it has been.  I have walked many miles with those ear phones sounding some great 'get you moving' type music in my ears. And I do believe moving your body like that has therapeutic value; I always register a better mood afterwards.

I am pleased with my stitching these days.  I finished the last block of the Gardener's Alphabet and am now ready to tackle those bees.  In the evenings I am crocheting my little circle in the square granny squares which I'm happy to report I can do now without thinking.  Perfect for t.v. viewing.

Here is my Block R...


Sunday 18 May 2014

Saturday Night and Feeling Sad

"You can always hold my hand if you need to feel steady."

                                             Mrs. Hughes, Housekeeper, Downton Abbey

Most of us by this stage of life are carrying around hefty sized baggage.  That special wonderful optimism we could muster so easily in youth has dissipated.  What would it take now to lighten our spirits the way just thinking about a day off or a night out could at one time.  Now is the time too when we feel the irreversibility of certain decisions we made along the way, totting up tears and losses and errors; sadness has its own weight.  Of course, I am only speaking for myself.  Perhaps you are traveling light minus regrets and losses and along with that, still possess the capacity for pure bliss.  I hope that is true for you, I really do and of course, you have my envy.  If only you could be here tonight to hold my hand.


On to other topics of is Mrs. Mourning Dove, or perhaps it is Mister's shift, I can't tell; I'll assume it is Missus and in this photo she is sitting on her nest in the fir tree.  It is close enough to the house, I am able to watch her from my kitchen window.  I mentioned before mourning doves make pitiful nests and this one is no different.  Standing under the tree branch and looking upwards, you can clearly see her body through the nest, that's just how flimsy she has put it together.  How it will hold eggs and little bird bodies, I don't know. 

Saturday 17 May 2014

Above My Head and Under My Feet

Above My Head

So many Canada Geese are flying through these parts, the sky is filled with their familiar v-shaped flocks all headed further north.  They are a magnificent bird and spend time in the areas' shorn corn fields feeding on old roots and seeds.  According to the numbers doing this, there must be substantial nutrition in what is leftover from the corn crops.  While feeding there is always one goose on look-out duty for predators and they take turns doing this every five minutes or so.  At sunset they head to any body of water to spend the night; they have learned they are safer from coyotes or other animals by being surrounded by water.  I am sad to learn they are such a nuisance further south of us in the U.S.  I do understand though how they become a problem when hundreds descend into one park in a small town and that action has to be taken to get rid of them.  But it's too bad it has to be like that.

Under My Feet

Here is a forest floor view of trout lilies, a very common yellow wildflower here in Ontario.  The spaces between trees become carpeted first with their familiar rather splotchy leaves that have an odd waxy look to them and before long, the starry trumpet-like bright yellow flower opens up.  They are a true sign of spring and I am so happy to see them.  I took this photo last week on a tramp with the dogs and there are many more of them around this week, just a matter of days later. That is one of the wonders of walking in the country; though every day tracing the same route, there is always something different to note or examine.  I just love it.

Friday 16 May 2014

Company Town Pretensions

The small city I grew up in could be termed a 'company' town.  It had flourished mostly because of the presence of the Bowater's Pulp and Paper Mill. I'm not sure exactly why but such communities usually wind up with the inevitable perceived layers to their society mostly having to do with which area of town you lived and that in turn often reflected what your father did.  This unfortunate aspect to life there happily missed me completely; it is only in looking back that I can pinpoint certain things and know they served as subtle examples of the supposed strata and the difficulty in bridging it.
I remember one not very subtle example.  In grade seven, Protestant children were brought from all areas of the city to attend one common junior high school.  There were four classes of about forty children per class all in grade seven.  We were not mixed up though and each remained in the same class we had entered the school in.  This meant that I got to stay with the same children I had basically gone to school all my life with.  None of the classes mixed for music or phys. ed or art either, and we each had designated areas of the playground to use during recess and lunch break.   
That year all grade sevens took part in group i.q. tests.  We had forgotten about doing that when one day our teacher told us she had an announcement to make. She reminded us of the i.q. tests we had taken many months before and with a big smile she told us the student who scored the highest of all the grade sevens in the school was in our class.  We all glanced at Derek. He was the one who always came first in class; myself and another girl usually jockeyed for second and third place.  I can just imagine our teacher's pride in the staffroom for this fact meant that it was not a lawyer's, doctor's, or manager's child who was first.  If it was Derek, it meant the son of a taxi driver had the highest i.q. 
I look back and contemplate all this with much bemusement.  Oh and Derek became a lawyer, by the way. 

Thursday 15 May 2014

Trollope, Hayder and Dubow

I have been reading; I know I mentioned not being into a really good book but as a compulsive reader I have to find something to keep scratching the reading itch so the search is never-ending.  I finished Joanna Trollope's A Soldier's Wife and enjoyed it. I've read most of her books, by the way.  I returned it before I got to take a photo.  I just finished two other books and here they are...

What was on my night table...

They were very different reads, to put it mildly.  Mo Hayder is a somewhat prolific British author and the only other book of hers I've read, Pig Island, I didn't care for at all.  It had a gross-out factor that put me off totally.  A friend told me to give this one, Gone, a try and I'm happy I did.  It is a good police thriller and if you, like me, enjoy reading the procedural, investigative aspects of police work, then you will enjoy it too.  It follows the typical harried, sad inspector who is working round the clock to catch a child abductor. The kidnapper is someone who is brilliant and it is not till the book is almost done that the police figure out the real motive for his actions. Kind of clever, and nothing gross.  However, the book is long and probably could have used some creative editing to shorten the length. 
The book I finished just before Gone was Indiscretion by Charles Dubow.  It is a first novel and is very well-written.  I loved the character development and also the voice of the narrator who guides us through the story.  Marriage is always a good subject for books and this one does not disappoint.  And too how people in a good marriage cope with infidelity makes for interesting reading.  I stayed with the characters to the end just to see how it would all work out.  I was also captivated by the descriptions of the lives these wealthy people were living...the food, clothes, travel, etc.  I wondered if the author's intent was to point out that even wealth cannot shield you from loss, sadness and misery in this world. 

Wednesday 14 May 2014

So Happy With Vessey's Seed

As you can see, the daffodils did open despite being snowed and rained heavily upon.  They are amazingly resilient like so many of the very early spring flowers.  I also got into the greenhouse and planted all the seeds that need a head start indoors.

I used Vessey seeds this year and I am so happy with them.  After just a few days they have already sprouted which is like instant gratification.  Now the job of keeping them watered properly begins...the heat really builds up in that small space and bakes and dries the soil quickly.
I have moved all the geraniums into the garage to begin hardening them off and preparing them for their summer home in the outdoor pots. They did marvelously well this winter.  I also took in the ivy and that has grown very well during the long months and is also in the garage now getting acclimatized to the temperatures.  
Around here we use the twenty-fourth of May as a marker for when to plant seeds directly into the ground.  That date is quickly approaching; hopefully the weather will finally be co-operative. 

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Crocheting With Mikey

I showed you the latest wool I am working with...a pink, cream and brown variegated wool from Loops and Threads called Impeccable.  The colour is named Neopolitan and I do like the feel of its texture.  I was struggling to find a pattern mainly because I did not want to use the classic granny square design to work with again so soon.

You won't believe how many tries I made only to ravel them back again.  I tried crochet tutorials on Youtube and didn't seem able to follow them correctly; I tried a number of books from the library and really couldn't follow their directions.  I am just not that familiar with crochet terms I guess.   However, yesterday I happened to find another 'new to me' crochet tutorial on Youtube and right away was able to follow along and complete a square.

Here are a couple of rejects...

And here are the first six of my new  "circle" granny squares...

They are not quite as perfectly square as I would like them but once sewn together, they will fall in line.  This pattern is found on a Youtube video called "How to Make Granny Squares with Circle Centers" and the instructor is Michael Selleck.  He has many videos featuring crocheting tutorials under the heading "Crochet Along  With Mikey". 'Mikey' is a very practiced crocheter and his videos are very clear and step by step.  I had to keep stopping and starting the video to make sure I was doing the counting correctly, but other than that, was most pleased with having stumbled across it. I know it is basically granny squares again, but I do like the circle center, a little variation.  I also feel with Mickey's help, I might be able to tackle more patterns.  Apparently there is a whole channel on Youtube devoted to crocheting. Possibilities are endless; we shall see.

 Anyway, now I have my hands back into wool and have something to do while watching night time t.v. Last night it was episodes of D.C.I. Banks and Veep

Monday 12 May 2014

Nature's Best Builders

There is a lot of building going on as I write this.  It seems every bird I've seen lately is trailing hay or has sticks in its beak.  I guess they are rushing to make up for lost nesting time.  The first photo above shows a nest in the wood shed perched on top of a piece of wood.  Not a great spot because predators (barn cats from the farm next door) can easily reach this.  But what to do?  Perhaps this is a juvenile mother bird to choose such a precarious place for her nest.  I'll be keeping an eye on it. 
The next photo shows a much more successful perch for a nest and as you can see it has been a most popular site. This is what the robins over the drainpipe have managed to build; looks like a triple decker nest  now.  A robin's nest has been there since I came here and before we get a chance to clear it out, another one is sitting.
This is the phoebe nest, another triple decker.  They seem to favour this light which is directly above one of the garage doors in an out building.  They pluck insects from the air as their main diet so I think the location in the open and the light attracting flying insects suits their purposes well.  There has been an Eastern Phoebe nest here for many years.
Another robin's nest; this one is on the light by the patio door.  The dogs coming and going does not seem to bother the birds at all.  There has been a nest here every year since we can remember.  In fact all the lantern type lights around the house have had nests at some point.  Last year I counted seven nests attached to the house in one way or another.  For years now the pretty rosy house finches have had a nest over the bow window in the front; it is deep in an alcove and there is no way of getting a photo which is too bad as I'd love to get a good look. 
Though slow to start, I'm  hopeful it will be a good nesting season after all.

Sunday 11 May 2014

China Owl and Spa Day

The sweetest sounds to mortals given

Are heard in Mother, Love and Heaven.

                         William Goldsmith Brown

It is Mother's Day, 2014.  I am so ignorant I'm not even sure it is a celebratory day in other countries.  It sure is in North America.  I'm certain many mothers were treated today to gifts, outings, and restaurant meals to show they are loved and appreciated.  I had such an experience today myself.  I received a gift in the form of a ceramic owl shaped in such a way to form a bird house. It was suspended from twine all ready for hanging outside.  It will definitely be the swankiest bird house on this property when I figure out where to put it.  It is a beautiful teal colour which I understand is one of the colours of the year. Much appreciated.
I also got to go to a spa, be served an English tea and then have a massage, my third in my life.  The tea was very special; I've never seen such pretty china patterns and I had a kind of tea I'd never tasted before, Earl Grey Creamy with Vanilla.  It was delicious.  The massage was great with the lady telling me afterwards she was able to work out several knots I was carrying in my shoulders.  For some reason, stress with me rests in my neck and shoulder area. I came home feeling very light and relaxed, certainly a good day. 
They say a mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child.  As mothers, we know just how deep our feelings for our children can plunge, don't we?  And as a grandmother, I'm finding my feelings towards my grandchildren are even more tender somehow, something I did not think possible.  Perhaps it is a product of aging and feeling more sentimental about life and the people around me; perhaps it is the appreciation of the idea of family and having people to love and love me back despite all my failings.   

Saturday 10 May 2014

Do Birds Get Headaches?

"Hey little bird, please be alive."
  A bird banged hard against the side window, wouldn't you know a window without the whirligig protection.  I heard the noise from the kitchen and I ventured to the front door to have a peek.  I've read that when a bird hits a window, you should let them sit undisturbed for an hour or so before intervening.  I looked around and sure enough, a little sparrow was sitting on the ground. He was very still but I could see it was alive. He was a white-throated sparrow, the only one of his subspecies I had been noting for several days at the feeders. The white-throated sparrow stands out from the usual song and fox sparrows because of the splotch of brilliant yellow just over his beak. I checked on him from time to time and after an hour and half it had flown up to the lowest branch of the birch tree. So good, I knew it could fly okay.  However, when I went to bed that night, he was still sitting in the same position, unmoving but somehow clinging on.  I was unsure then if I should do something.  I do have children's fishing nets and a butterfly net so I thought I could catch him without too much trouble.  We have a Wild Bird Sanctuary here in Ottawa and I've had to use their services in the past so I had it in mind I could take him to them.  They have incubators, and heat lamps and special cages for bird care and well know how to care for injured birds.  However, we are reminded to let nature take its course so I went off to bed thinking to myself, little bird, please be alive.  I went to the window first thing the next morning and no sign of my little bird on the branch.  I glanced at the ground and there he was, pecking away under the feeder seemingly fine.  I've kept an eye out for him and spy him from time to time among all the juncos and goldfinches.
 I wonder though do birds get headaches because you would think a thunk like that would definitely hurt. 

Friday 9 May 2014

Pigging Out South of the Border

"Pig out'
 Does anyone use that phrase anymore?  I used to hear people say it all the time mainly when they had overindulged with some food or other.  The food would be something decadent or fast food, greasy, sort of forbidden.  Sometimes people would deliberately plan to pig out.  I feel a little like I did that yesterday.  We went across the border into the U.S. and as always, stopped to have supper in a restaurant there called Vinn's.  It is mainly a bar and has as decor multiple t.v. screens, most showing sporting events and one streaming some kind of continuous bingo game.  The rest of the decor would best be described as haphazard, interesting chintz valance curtains and a floor worn so thin you can no longer tell what exactly the flooring was meant to be.  The servers are all women, all very friendly, the kind of women you think like to tell jokes and can take one.  Daily specials are written in black marker on a stand alone dry-erase board and are really good deals.  For instance, you can get a lasagna, Greek salad and garlic bread meal for six dollars, hot turkey sandwiches for four ninety-eight, all-u-can-eat fish fry for five dollars.  All the food is served on paper plates and there are paper towel rolls standing in the center of each table. And oh yes, the helpings are ample. Vinn's is a very popular place and you have to get there early, by 5 p.m. in order to get a seat.  We just made it and I ordered my usual...chicken wings and onion rings, and in this way I come to the 'pig out' part of my story.  When we first went there several years ago, I ordered a dozen wings.  They were so good but with fries and onion rings, I wound up having to take some home with me.  The next time I ordered ten wings and found that was still too many.  I have learned that I can comfortably eat eight and along with some onion rings and fries, I leave satisfied but not too, too full. The onion rings are so good, I could make a meal on them, and I think you know by now that while my food tastes are a bit eclectic, they do not run to fast food.  So that will show you how good they are.  Dinner for four, with a Guiness for hubby, was about $35 total.  Ooo, now my mouth is watering talking about it.         

Thursday 8 May 2014

Crabapple Hill's A Gardener's Alphabet

I am getting so much enjoyment from this project. The beautiful A Gardener's Alphabet from Crabapple Hill Studios.

I realized my photographs were not showing you just how pretty these designs of Meg's are.  I went into my file and did some close-up cropping to give you a better idea of how the colouring and stitching blend together.
 This is a very enjoyable project and not at all difficult...trace the designs, colour them with crayons, heat set with your iron, and then backstitch all the outlines. I should point out that the embroidery floss used is Seasons, a usual six strand floss, but it has a noticeable sheen not found on other brands.  I love how each piece is worked separately so you can take it with you, always a plus for a project with me.

For my wooly projects, I still am at sea about my pretty variegated wool; I have tried a dozen different crochet squares and none of them seem to suit.  Honestly, some of the designs are definitely over my head; I wish I knew someone who could crochet.  I just need a little instruction...

Wednesday 7 May 2014

What Will I See and Bird-Saving Whiligigs

As the train approaches Montreal, it slows down as it drives past endless backyards. I'm a little reluctant to look at them.  Besides the privacy issue, what will I see.  Will I glimpse something that once seen cannot be unseen.  I don't want to see tied-up dogs or abandoned kittens or even the sagging, bedraggled back decks littered with prams and appliances.  You might think I am exaggerating but I have to tell you that once on a bus tour in Bermuda, yes, Bermuda, I saw something in a back yard I wish I had never seen.  I have a friend who had a similar experience in Cuba; like me to this day she cannot get the image out of her mind.  Fragile flowers I guess we are. 

On more mundane issues...I have replaced some of the whirligigs on the front windows.  I think I showed you a picture of them back in November.  I found them at a dollar store and they are the best thing I have found to prevent the birds from banging into the windows, something I have not had happen since putting these things up.  It's a good thing we are in the country though; I think they would not pass any suburb by-laws these days or at the least, brand us as crazy.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Partially Passionate and Poppy Block

Young people are so often told to figure out what they are passionate about in order to plot their pathway to employment.  The problem with this is that in my experience so many young people could easily name all the things they were definitely not passionate about, but would draw a complete blank about the other. I empathized with this because I'm sure many of them would probably be like myself...someone who enjoys many things but nothing in a' heads above the others' way.  I joke that I am a jack of all the needlearts but a master of none. (Yes, I  know that is a geeky thing to say.)  I think I have a certain amount of creative energy in me, and all my life I've been trying to sort out exactly how to employ it.  You might say, if  I haven't figured that out by now, it's not going to happen.  But somehow, a part of me seems to still be striving to find my arty niche, as it were.  I wonder how many  people are like me...notes for a novel in the bottom desk drawer, partially finished water colours resting in a bedroom corner, ideas on napkins and in specially purchased scribblers ever hopeful the right pen or paper or wool or embroidery thread will make the difference between thought and fruition. 
I am not lamenting that fact, I understand appreciation is as important as creativity and I enjoy an abundance of that.  I've come to love the process too of whatever it is I am making, be it a cake or a scarf.  Less emphasis on the finished product and more consciously enjoying the moments of planning and creating.... I believe this sentiment from Anotole France...
"If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads."
I have the body, but lack the will to really, really buckle down and challenge myself.  Okay, I probably should have ended this with the quote...eeek, but you know what I mean.

Here is my block P which is also a very large one and I loved worked with the rosy/orangy colours in this...

Poppies are also a favourite of mine; anything that is so hardy and can withstand the cold is to be admired, right.

Monday 5 May 2014

Sugar From Trees

"Now that print is dead, maple syrup is officially the greatest thing made by trees."

                                             Rachel Sanders, BuzzFeed Food

I was just reading that though the maple syrup production this season was delayed by several weeks due to the weather, it was still a good maple syrup year in the end. When I think about maple syrup, I think of sponge toffee and pancakes, such happy thoughts.  Here in eastern Ontario, maple syrup is a big enterprise involving the tapping of thousands of trees for some family businesses.  There are also a lot of people who tap a few trees in their backyard and try to get a liter of syrup just for the fun of it.
 Last year we went for lunch at a sugar bush restaurant at the height of the maple syrup season.  Where we were seated by a large window, we had an excellent view of the syrup lines from the trees.  The clear plastic of the tubes enabled us to watch how the sap was running through the lines.  I was surprised by how fast it was flowing, sometimes in a rush like a river.  Amazing.
Did you know it was probably a squirrel that helped people discover maple syrup?  Legends vary among indigenous people about how it was discovered and some of their stories involve a squirrel.  Scientists have observed squirrels biting bark till the sap runs, waiting for it to coagulate, then returning to the site to lick the syrup.  They chose only sugar maples and did this particular behaviour only at the time of year when the sap is running. In this way they were able to validate the often told legend about the little boy watching a squirrel biting a tree till the sap ran and him tasting the sap and finding it delicious.
I consider maple syrup one of the rare very special flavours in the world.  I prefer the lighter versions, a little less sweet but still that undeniably unique flavour.  Nowadays, you can find maple syrup flavouring in so many items...bacon, sausages, cakes, candies and cookies.  If you want to learn some more interesting uses of maple syrup, Rachel Sanders has a great online entry at BuzzFeedFood called 57 Magical Ways to Use Maple Syrup.

And here is my Block O...


Sunday 4 May 2014

Northern Flicker and No Book Blues

Just one more quote about books, this one by P.J. O'Rourke I came across...

"Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it."

I guess that's why you should keep War and Peace with a bookmark in it by your bed...that's a book I have never read, by the way.
Sorry about the fuzzy quality of the first photo but I wanted to show how at ease this Northern Flicker has become on the front lawn.  Usually they are very shy birds, but this one has become a regular visitor and is comfortable foraging with the robins now.  I love how the second photo shows that brilliant yellow stripe along his wing feathers.
On my walkabout today I saw the first snakes of the season.  Two brightly striped garter snakes slithered through the grass.  What I really noticed was the absence of any flying insects...not a mosquito, butterfly or bee yet.  Perhaps there has not been enough warmth in the air to draw them out. Even today it is cool and I needed my warm vest on.  I heard on the radio that even the real gardeners have not begun any garden digging I don't have to feel too badly I haven't.  I left any seeds that said on the package to plant right into the garden and they are still waiting. 
I don't have a good book or even a mediocre one to share with you.  I have tried to read about four books lately and couldn't stay with any of them.  Disappointing, as all are part of my compiled reading list which means they are award nominated or winners or library recommended. At one point in younger days, if I started a book I would feel compelled to finish it whether I liked it or not.  Not these days...just can't do that anymore.
But why can't I get 'into' a book these days.  I guess it is me and where my head is right now, a little unfocused!


Saturday 3 May 2014

Libraries...A Life-long Love

"Reading makes me feel I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person...reading is bliss."

                                                           Nora Ephron

One of my grandmothers would always come and stay with us whenever there was a parent sick or she felt her help or presence was needed for anything.  This was a great comfort to the family as she was what would have been described as a "strong" woman back in the day.  In her suitcase she would always have Turkish Delight bars, gum and a Bobbsey Twin book for me.  I read the whole series and just loved Nan and Bert.  I also read all the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton before moving on to Cherry Ames, the nurse stories and Trixie Belbin.  My friend and I would save up  the eighty-nine cents to spend at Stedman's (the local five and dime store) on a certain Trixie Belbin book that we loved and would take turns re-reading it.
 Of course the library played a big role in my early reading career.  In Corner Brook where I grew up, the library was housed in a building with the most important name...the White House.  This had been originally built as an American USO building and opened in 1944.  Edgar Bergen and his puppet Charlie McCarthy were just one of the famous American acts that performed there to entertain troops.  Anyway, by my time, those days were long gone and the town now operated the building as a hall for dances and various community functions with part of it designated for the city library.  I loved the long windows and the creaking wooden floors.  I had a particular love of all the little drawers in the wooden cabinets that housed the library catalogue. So old-fashioned now.  This was definitely the start of my career as a library nerd.  
All of my life, I have used books to help me deal with life's experiences...whatever was happening to me.  I depended on  Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care for advice as a new mother; I relied on my library of books for entertainment, advice and wisdom, especially when I lived in places that were considered isolated. I still turn to books and my library time to soothe me and help me refocus and relax.         

Friday 2 May 2014

At Sixes and Sevens and Block M

My thinking could best be described as diverse this morning, though scatter-brained is probably a better description.  You know what I mean, one of those days when nothing is flowing and even pouring myself a cup of coffee seems to entail effort.  As I glance about the house, everything seems to be in need of attention all at the same time.  Hubby says there is a funny smell in the fridge; all the windows need a good outdoor cleaning which is my job.  On my way to empty the kitchen scraps in the compost, I noticed the bird houses we had bought last year to put up early in spring this year. I think that time would have been last week or perhaps even earlier. While I was spying the birds at the front feeder, I glanced about the living room and realized the aquarium needed cleaning again. That's a touchy job because water has to be poured, treated and brought to the particular temperature our little fish friends enjoy.  So much for my bragging about keeping the house clean in just fifteen minutes a day.
But really, I'm not complaining, and I mean that.. I'm still mindfully grateful I have the physical strength to get these jobs done.  A walk with the dogs through the woods will sort me out.
Perhaps I'm a little out of sorts because I don't have anything on needles (or hook) just now and I've spent a bit of time searching out a new pattern but can't settle on anything.
Here is the wool I'd like to use next...
 It is  Loops and Threads Impeccable and is a pleasing colour combination of brown, pink and cream. Each colour variation is not that long so I'm not sure I like how the finished look of these squares has a spotted quality to it, with the brown dominating.  I did not know you should check out how long the runs of each colour are when using variegated wool and then choose a pattern to suit.  I'm still figuring out this stuff.  It is lovely wool though with a soft quality to it and I'm eager to settle on a project to start using it.

And here is my Block M which also includes N...

  This is one of the larger blocks in the whole project.  I loved working on a morning glory design as I grow them every year along the fence by the driveway.  They are hardy and I enjoy their many bright colours.