Tuesday 30 September 2014

My Blueberry Cake

Blueberry cakes are part of the traditional fare where I come from, Newfoundland.  Toward summer's end when blueberries became ripe, I would race to a nearby field and pick a container full.  That container could hold two cups of berries, exactly the amount I  knew Mom needed to make us a blueberry cake.  Her version was always yellowy cake on top of blueberries in the bottom of an eight inch square pan.  There was no icing on it, but sometimes she would give us a dollop of canned cream to go with it.  I have fond memories of the prettiness of the yellow of the cake against the deep blue of the berries, and the taste of those wild blueberries is now only a memory to me.  No blueberry I've ever bought ever tastes as good.  Anyway..I think every household had its own version of a blueberry cake and recipes abound.
Here is my recipe for Blueberry Cake.  It is easy, a very simple cake and you can use cranberries instead if you wish.

1/2 cup margarine                            2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar                                    1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs                                               1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup milk                                     2 1/2 tsps. baking powder
1 1/2 to 2 cups of blueberries (use a little of the flour to dust the blueberries)

Cream together margarine and sugar.  Add eggs and blend well.  Add vanilla.  Whisk together flour, salt and baking powder.  Add to creamed mixture alternatively with milk. Then fold in the berries.  This can fit into an 8 inch square pan or a small tube pan like I used.  Bake about 45 minutes in a 375 oven.   
I have used oil instead of the margarine and almond milk instead of regular;  I tried it with less salt and sugar but found it a little bland.
The icing is also a basic buttercream version of icing sugar, real butter, a pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, a little milk; the proportions of sugar to butter is to your taste.  I think I used 2 cups of icing sugar and 1/2 cup of butter. Hubby likes it so I guess that's the main thing...smile.

Monday 29 September 2014

The Sleep Room

 What is on my night table

I found this book in a roundabout way...looking up information on the internet about sleep.  I've mentioned before that getting a good night's sleep is often elusive for me.  It seems every day I read or hear how important our sleep is to us and I wish I knew how to sleep better myself.  I have never used any of the over the counter drugs available but I have thought about them at times; I can understand the temptation to try them.  A good night's sleep is renewing and invigorating and even necessary for longevity apparently, so I've heard.
Anyway, this is The Sleep Room by F.R. Tallis and after reading a couple of reviews I decided to check it out of the library and I am glad I did.  I found the premise very interesting.  It centers around the idea that prolonged deep sleep could result in a disintegration of personality allowing a healthier rebuilding or reconstruction at a later stage.  This would be helpful to people who have been through horrific events or endured abuse, etc.  I have heard of how different forms of dementia cause amnesia and people lose their bad memories and are able to become renewed, in a sense.  So the idea of a deliberate therapy to produce similar results was interesting to me.
The book tells the story of a young psychiatrist, James Richardson, who is hired to work at a facility that is undertaking this controversial new therapy.  At a remote location, Wyldehope Hall in Suffolk, England, there are six women who had been extremely mentally disturbed and are now being kept in a state of prolonged sleep.  Dr. Hugh Maitland, an esteemed psychiatrist, is in charge of this pioneering project.  He has dismissed Freud's talking therapy and believes he has found an amazing new method to treat mental illness. Immediately for James there are questions because not all is as it seems...
This is part ghost story, part psychological treatise, part exploration of the validity of drug therapy in treating mental illness and I found some of the parts more interesting than others.  I did find some of the supernatural bits suspenseful; I have to give the author credit there because those are hard to write well.  The story was engaging and kept me reading till the end.  That ending I did not like, by the way.  I also found some of the dream descriptions long and boring.  Otherwise, I thought it overall a literate book and worth reading.  And I am still intrigued by the notion of sleep, the quality of which can affect so many aspects of our lives.

Sunday 28 September 2014

Who Will Miss Us

She could set her clock by Mr. King who passed her kitchen window every day, a cousin of mine told me. He would go by at exactly 8:45 in the morning and return in the opposite direction at 4:45 in the afternoon.  She had never met him to speak to but knew he lived down the road and worked at the post office.  Mr. King, who was several decades younger than my cousin, passed by her window like this for many years.  She knew when she had not seen him for awhile that he was taking his annual two week vacation.  I could tell my cousin liked this, seeing Mr. King so dependably as she drank her morning coffee and ate her two buttered cream crackers.  Then it changed; suddenly no Mr. King in sight for a number of days till it prompted my cousin to ask around about him.  That is how she found out that Mr. King had had a heart attack and died.  My cousin was very upset about this, seemingly more upset than she'd been about the deaths of certain family members.  When asked, she said it was because she had always assumed she would have been dead long before him and what a shame for someone so young to die and he must have been in good health because he never missed a day 's work. I think it was because of the role he played in her day; living alone she had come to count on him.  The constant sight of him had become a kind of comfort to her.
I realized something interesting about this story...that Mr. King was being watched by someone he was totally unaware of, someone he did not know at all and yet, that someone was mourning and missing him.

 Meanwhile, I am stitching away on those felt ornaments.  Last night I watched House of Cards and enjoyed Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright's performances very much.  I don't know if it is returning but I hope so.

                                      The many feathered quail in redwork

Saturday 27 September 2014

Meat-eating and Marigolds

It was the sound of gunshots that woke us this morning.  Hunters taking advantage of a clear dawn and lots of ducks on the move.  That's as much as we know about it since hubby does not hunt and has denied hunting on this land, but yet would eat whatever someone else has shot.  I, having lived in places where people depended on hunting for food, possess a looser (for want of a better word) view about hunting.  We are both fervent animal lovers, but just as fervent animal eaters so it all becomes complicated, now doesn't it.
We had a heavy frost one night last week and it killed the morning glories, marigolds and daisies in one fell swoop.  Here are a couple of photos I got before their sad blackened endings...

  Not a great photo of the morning glories opened but you can see that their greenery achieved the purpose I had intended...helping disguise the wire fence in the driveway.  The blooms this year were large and all shades of  blues and violets mainly.

This is some form of giant marigold I didn't even know that I was growing really (yes, that's the kind of gardener I am!).  I had lots of the regular sized orange and yellows but then this bunch took off and actually outgrew the container I had planted them in.  It made the most beautiful bloom and was great for a couple of summer bouquets, and of course, being marigolds lasted many weeks and kept popping out new flowers. 
I would love to grow more of this next year but I've forgotten the name.  I'm sure though another look through Vessey's seed catalogue and I will spot it. 

Friday 26 September 2014

The Flu and The Stand

I just heard on the radio about many children having to be admitted to hospital for respiratory problems.  They were saying the return to school sometimes causes such a spike and of course, are advising the usual precautions.
It made me think of Stephen King and his book The Stand which I read several decades ago, when I seemed to have more of a taste for that genre of books.  That book made a lasting impression on me especially the part about how if there is going to be an apocalypse it will be in the form of a medical one.  In the book (if my memory is true) the medical crisis took the form of an air borne virus that caused influenza leading to the death of most of the world's population.  Later when Aids gained speed and was a daily news item, I remember a reporter making a reference to The Stand and wondering out loud was this perhaps the beginning of such a catastrophe.  But Stephen King or someone speaking for him made the point that Aids was transmitted in such a manner that it could be more or less contained.  It would take a virus that is airborne, and thereby easily transmitted, just like in The Stand to decimate the air breathing human population.
Every time I hear about a super bug or new drug-resistant strains of  viruses, I think about this possibility.  Maybe the Ebola news in Africa is adding to my concern; I really don't like the long incubation period that particular bug has.  You could technically be spreading this disease for many weeks before finding you have it yourself. 
I know I am a worry-wart of the highest order, but perhaps I  should remind you that science fiction writers imagined and wrote about many things often decades before such things were even an idea in some scientist's brain.
Oh, and a movie is in the current works for The Stand; it would have to be a very,very long movie, I'm thinking. 

Thursday 25 September 2014

Wonderful Keepsake Needlearts Offerings

I still enjoy going down to the mailbox and  picking up whatever counts as mail these days.  It is nothing like what I am used to.  I maintained during university and young married life an active pen pal correspondence and also wrote copious letters to friends and family.  Living in isolated communities, the mail was a true life line to our outside world and I loved it.  Nowadays, it has changed and there is little of a personal nature in what lands in the mailbox, besides a few bills that have not been switched to paperless payments.  I lament that change, being the old fogie that I am. 
I still receive a few catalogues which I love.  Keepsake Needlearts is one of them.  I always order a couple things a year from them.  Here is one kit I am eyeing...

It is a cross stitch kit of a painting by J.E. Liotard called Chocolate.  It is one of several projects from Russia offered in this catalogue and is a larger picture at 16 x 22 unframed.  I love how the folds in her skirt have been rendered into stitches.  And imagine  a time when a cup of hot chocolate would have been a rare treat. 

These are two needlepoint kits from England.  Lovely looking cottages and though a bit pricey, I imagine you would have these forever.  What pretty colours to work with, too.

More kits from England... useful ones in the form of  purse, coin purse and eyeglass/cell phone cases in kit form.  All needlepoint and cheery reds that I think would make you feel happy to work with.
There are also lots of  projects with American themes and several current "trendy" items...Elf on the Shelf, for instance, but I like how they have included more with an international flavour.
Needlepoint is a great past time and easier than counted cross stitch.  You just have to learn one basic stitch and follow the colours on your tapestry.  Of course, some projects are trickier with lots of colours to follow, but there are many, many that are straightforward and simple to complete.  I would recommend needlepoint if you want to try a stitching project that you can work on without needing much equipment or materials and that is not too hard on the eyes.
The website for this catalogue is www.KeepsakeNeedleArts.com

Wednesday 24 September 2014

The Seasons Go 'Round and Round'

Autumn has officially begun and as if on cue....

The Canada geese arrive from the northern regions making their way southward.  You can't tell from this much of the photo but this group stretched as far as I could see. And doesn't that sky look kind of autumny, reminding me of Halloween. 

Here is the other half of the same group.  I kept running outside with the camera and missing the chance of a really good overhead shot.  But you get the drift.  There have been strings of geese flying over constantly all morning.  You can't miss them because even if you don't see them you will definitely hear them.  What a noisy bird!
Last weekend there were over thirty fall fairs in and around the countryside.  Like I said just about every little community runs a fair at this time of year.  Piles of pumpkins have begun appearing at the various roadside stands. Lots of leaves have started their change of colours. The sedum is deep pink; I'm so grateful to that hardy plant for providing colour in the garden so late in the season.  Even the sumac have begun turning red.  Now we will begin to think about Thanksgiving which arrives in October for us in Canada. 
And so the seasons go 'round and round.'

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Embroidered Felt Hearts

My Christmas project proceeds...
I am continuing to work on the felt ornaments, on a good day, getting an hour or two in the afternoon and another hour at night.  The felt is, for the most part, enjoyable to use but I'm having a problem holding it in a frame to keep it steady.  I cut all the shapes first and some are too small for any of my hoops and I am accustomed to embroidering that way. It is interesting  playing around with the colours and different stitches. I love how each will be unique. 

And now I'm trying out some new forms using applique to make the tree and snowmen.  These are not finished yet and I'm still undecided about what to stitich around them. Perhaps Noel or Merry Christmas.  I no sooner decided I would stick with the hearts theme this year, when I realized I could do so much more with a rectangle or square shaped base.  As soon as I finish these, I will explore that. 

Monday 22 September 2014

These Days Are Numbered

  To-day was a small girl bringing
   China cupfuls of water and air
   And cages of robins singing,
   "It is positively no crime
   To have pleasure in Present Time."
                               James Reaney

More faint sun trying valiantly to shine and coupled with the cooler temperatures, there is a certain crispness to the air I imagine makes it fallish.  All quiet outside this morning again no birds.  Where are all my chatty chickadees gone?  Just a scattered silent sparrow and the raptor birds wheeling in the air high above me.
It is the time of year that makes me  start to think about getting that new duvet I talked about last winter but kept putting off till there was not enough cold weather to warrant the purchase.  Or perhaps an electric blanket; we would need one with dual controls because I could not stand it as hot as Hubby would need and he could not take the coolness I enjoy.
But meanwhile, in Present Time, we languish with a few more weeks of weak warmth to the mid-days. We can still take pleasure in no parkas and mittens just yet, knowing all the while, these days are numbered. 

Sunday 21 September 2014

Chef Cutis Stone's Breakfast Cookies

I am always keeping an eye out for different recipes for cookies.  Hubby loves a cookie with his daily tea and I'm not entirely satisfied with him eating bought cookies...the ones we used to call 'cardboard cookies' years ago.
This recipe caught my eye on oprah.com and I gave them a try yesterday.  Sadly the photo of them resting before baking doesn't exactly make them look mouth-watering. I made a couple of changes; I used pistachios and almonds rather than walnuts and, because hubby loves dates, I decided  to drape a date over the top of each cookie.  I guess that's the thing detracting from their beauty in the photo.  All that being said, after sampling the final product, hubby pronounced them 'filling' which in his vernacular means 'good'.
 So here is Chef Stone's recipe as it appears on www.oprah.com ....

Breakfast Cookies

Makes 16 cookies

2 cups walnuts                                               1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups rolled oats                                     2 tbsp ground flaxseed meal
3/4 cup whole wheat flour                             1 1/2 tsp finely grated orange zest
2 tsp baking powder                                      1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp  baking soda                                       1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, softened                     1/2 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups dates, pitted and chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line 2  baking sheets with parchment paper.  On a separate baking sheet toast walnuts til golden about 8 minutes. Let cool and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour,  baking powder, and baking soda.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter, sugar, flaxseed, zest, salt, and cinnamon until creamy.  Add yogurt and egg and beat to combine.  Add oat mixture and beat to combine.  Fold in dates and reserved walnuts.

Mound dough in 1/4 cup scoops on prepared baking sheets. Bake until golden, switching positions of the pans halfway through, 18 to 20 minutes.  Let cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

I gave one a taste and I think you could get away with slightly less salt; I like how with this recipe you could make substitutions for whatever you have in your cupboard at the time.  I'm thinking apricots, figs, prunes, etc. would probably all work well. 

Saturday 20 September 2014

Surviving a Splinter

As he sets his teeth against the pain, I squelch the urge to bring up the pain of childbirth.  Surely that is a pain that trumps all others. Anyway, as I watch his face contort some more, I decide, the heck with it and do mention childbirth.  He is not impressed.  Hubby has a splinter in his finger in the most awkward of places, the side of the ball of his right thumb.  It has been hurting for two days and looks swollen and red.  I'd checked it before but couldn't see anything so more or less told him to forget about it, but it is now tight with pressure and had ached all night so there must be something there.
We use the special light in the office; it is a wonderful combination gizmo...light and magnifier and I am finding it more and more useful.  Just the other day I bought a bottle of probiotic pills and the print was so tiny I had to use this lamp to read the label details. 
After soaking and probing and soaking some more, I do finally see a tiny bit of darkened something or other in his thumb.  Yes, a splinter is there and after a bit more working around I manage to grasp the edge and pull it free.  It is lodged in tightly and pulls a piece of skin with it on the way out.  I hold it up and we mutually admire it...it is huge in splinter terms; it's actually a tiny piece of wood and I believe him now when he said it had really hurt going in.  It has left in its wake a small gash in his thumb which we soak in tea tree oil and put a bandaid on.
This is one of the downsides of heating with wood; it is not the first time I have had to pry a splinter from one of our fingers.  I hate using the gloves all the time to handle wood chunks so I guess it is my own fault; he was busy cutting the day he ran into his. I used to have a silly notion about splinters; when I was little I thought if you left one in your finger, it could somehow travel to your heart or brain and kill you.  Probably I heard this from one of the kids on the street or at school.
Ahh, splinters, minor in the scheme of things, and especially compared to the idea that the wood pile might be a home for snakes...

And here, something completely different, the quail in redwork. 

Friday 19 September 2014

Hardy Autumn Asters

This is a photo of  the New England Asters I deliberately planted along the wire fence by the driveway.  It is a wild flower and visible at this time of year along the back roads and farm fields where it makes a purply show of itself.  I like this flower, another member of the dandelion/daisy family, for it's pretty blue to lilac to purple colours and the way it comes into bloom in the fall at a time when so many other plants are shutting down.  This plant has been changed by commercial growers to produce pink blossoms.  I haven't seen it but I'm sure it would be pretty, and probably hardy if it is anything like the original.

Here it is doing its best to obstruct the view of the ugly wire fence and this is more or less exactly as it can be seen in a field, in a wild clump. There is a little Sweet William peeking through there. I have not noticed many bees around it, but perhaps that is because they are very busy enjoying the sunflowers and morning glories that are also along this fence.
Such a flowering in all the woods and fields here in Canada in summer time and stretching into the fall.  Each month still brings new flowers into bloom.  I wish I knew their names but I do celebrate their beauty and I am certainly not complacent about how lucky we are to have such lovely things just growing wild all around us. 

Thursday 18 September 2014

Kate Atkinson's Life after Life

 I mentioned this book, Life after Life, by Kate Atkinson before when I spoke about the wonderful food described throughout the novel. I am happy to write about it in a little more depth today.  What a good book it turned out to be.  I loved the writing style and even copied out a few phrases that caught my attention.  I gave up trying to sort out the deaths, near-deaths, and rebirths as the novel unravels, and just gave myself over to the wonderful language Kate Atkinson seems to have at her command. The many witty phrases and ideas expressed in a sentence or two made me smile.  I liked the mother and her reliance on set phrases to handle situations (reminds me of myself); at one point she says to her daughter (and I'm paraphrasing here), we all feel peculiar sometimes, that's why we must think happy thoughts. As if it were as simple as that! So she is often reminding her family "happy thoughts", or "needs must", or  "think of things of beauty" as advice for coping with the downs of life.
I loved how this book, while being easy to read, had layers of deeper meaning.  For instance, we are shown different plot lines for the main character depending on if this or that had not happened. I think Ms Atkinson was showing how any of us could live a very different life if we are subject to different circumstances, as well as making the point that many of those circumstances are beyond our control.   I liked how this author revealed to us through the eyes of her characters that history, both in the big picture (think war, Hitler and such), and also in our day to day lives, basically depends on a series of what ifs.  And, there is always the notion, inherent in all the little stories and vignettes as we follow the family through a few decades, what a fine line exists between living and dying.
The main thing is how we cope; what do we rely on within ourselves to deal with what life throws at us- misfortune, death, love and loss of love. That is the most important point of all.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Murphy and I

Murphy and I walking that long country road.  I have to admit a dog is the greatest incentive for getting outside; whether I feel like it or not, having her look at me with those eyes pleading for a walk
and I find myself getting into my sneakers and off we go.  She really is a lovely dog and we often comment what a good pet she would be for children.  Besides her beauty, she has the energy to play endlessly and she is so gentle.

Mitzy, the cat, is still alive and well, btw.  We still have our full complement of pets...two dogs, one cat and three goldfish.  And yes, there are still signs that the mouse (or mice, eeek) still live behind the bookcase in the living room.  

Monday 15 September 2014

Monday, Monday

Just watching the bird feeder...several blue jays are having their way with it while two black squirrels and two chipmunks are underneath vying for falling seeds.  They all seem to prefer the sunflower seeds which makes me realize what a wonderful, versatile plant that is. I have a bottle of sunflower oil in my kitchen.  And to be so beautiful too when in full bloom.  As flowers go, it has it all.
I can see the slant of the sun is changing and its shine is already losing its robustness; this morning it is looking a little feeble, another marker of the season changing.  I think I am more aware of these subtle changes living in the woods, as it were.  Though I guess no one could miss the need for gloves early this morning when it was just three degrees!  Any minute now we will be having a frost overnight warning and I will have to rescue my geraniums, ivies, and coleus.  A family member came and cleaned out our chimney for us. After only one winter of use and being a new wood stove, we were happy to see it burned so cleanly it didn't really need the cleaning. 
I worked steadily on the felt ornaments over the weekend and I still think I am botching them up somehow.  Felt is a little tricky to embroider on; if you pull too tightly the thread will disappear into the welt and I have had to experiment to find the number of floss threads that show the best.  I'll show you my efforts tomorrow....
Meanwhile here is a lovely redwork goldfinch for you.

Sunday 14 September 2014

Two Frying Pan Breakfast

Being Sunday and all, it was a two frying pan breakfast. Actually it was more to do with the book I am reading than it being Sunday. I woke at my usual time around 6:30 and read for an hour and half and the book I was reading whetted my appetite for a solid breakfast.

 The book, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, chronicles the lives of members of a British family before and after the first world war.  The family do their share of eating and in particular, the breakfasts seem immense.  There is always toast, porridge, eggs of one kind or another, bacon, kippers, deviled kidneys(?); well, it all just seems so over the top hearty.  As I was reading, I became hungrier and then happily remembered we had bought peameal bacon at Costco and knew I would be serving it up  for our own version of a hearty breakfast.  And it was good.

Our conversation over bacon and eggs was just how did the English stay slim with all the hearty fare and endless cups of tea and biscuits.  But hubby said just how much fat is in one Peak Frean biscuit, anyway, which is to say, the English also know how to be happy just nibbling.  I know he is. 

A little Christina Rossetti for you....

All things that pass
Are wisdom's looking glass;
Being full of hope and fear, and still
Brimful of good or ill,
According to our work and will;
For there is nothing new beneath the sun;
Our doings have been done,
And that which shall be was. 

Saturday 13 September 2014

Fallish Saturday

Quiet as a church here this morning.  Hubby is nose deep in the Saturday papers and the dogs have taken to their beds for a nap after their morning walk.
Looking out the window, I would say it looks very fallish out there, dark gray clouds and the trees are being thrown about by high winds.  Said trees have many leaves already turning tawny coloured and the poor birch, which is always the first to give up its leaves, has carpeted the ground since just yesterday. Yes it is autumn, a season I love despite the fact it means that winter is not far behind.
I am assembling my material for a short project, making Christmas ornaments.

I've branched out a little with the choice of colours in the felt after seeing on Pinterest such beautiful shades used effectively for ornaments.  See the little heart with Love on it...I was trying for what  I thought would look like x's and o's around it, but I don't like the o's, so I think some unsewing will be in order.  Oh my.

                          A little wren in redwork, though none are to be seen these early fall days.

Friday 12 September 2014

A Good Year for Snakes (Among Other Things)

Living in the country has its uneasy moments too.
 I told you about the startling wasps' nest on the eave of the far wall of the house. I still go out to gaze at in a kind of horrified awe; everything we've read says they will soon be abandoning it so we will remove it then.  And I've talked about the possibility of being bitten by a tick.  
 I am now back to doing battle with the little mice that want to over winter in my kitchen cupboards so must remember to set the old traps each night.  I think the mice are getting wilier because I have caught just one and there are signs of more to be vacuumed up each morning, if you get my drift.  I have been using peanut butter but may have to rethink that as it doesn't seem to be doing the trick.
Hubby just called my attention to something in the garage.  This is the way we go in and out of the house and one wall is where we store our wood for the winter.  As I've mentioned before, hubby has been cutting off and on so there is a good head start on our winter wood supply already.  He showed me a very long sloughed off snake skin stretching amongst the wood stack.  Also, he pointed out a little snake face looking at us from beneath a piece of lifted bark on one of the wood chunks.  Normally this is not that big a deal, but his concern is that snakes have made a more permanent home in the wood stack.  We have both noticed this is a good year for snakes and they often are seen sliding around the open garage door especially on sunny days.  His real concern is that as we use up the wood and their home gradually disappears, where would the snakes go, especially if the snowy ground is still frozen.  Okay, not sure about that. Will have to give it some thought.
On a second thought,  I wonder will the presence of more snakes in the garage keep away some of the mice...but then, they are just garden snakes so maybe not.  
This morning, Murphy and I set out on what has become what I think of as an idyllic walk up the long country road in front of our property.  We didn't get far today before we had to hightail it back home.  The fields on both sides of us have been manured since yesterday.  For those of you who have not experienced this, I don't know how to describe it.  I have no idea what kind of manure is used but the smell is very intense and unpleasant.  The process must add needed nutrients back into the soil somehow because it is a common practice around here at this time of year.
 Murphy didn't like it one bit, no not because of the smell but because she lost her walk. It's supposed to rain tonight so maybe that will dampen down the aroma.  Fingers crossed.

Thursday 11 September 2014

My Danish Cross Stitched Pictures

It is time I showed you a few of my efforts from this summer of 2014.  Today I have photos of the cross stitch pictures I finished in August.  I already told you about this book from the Danish Handcraft Guild which features the designs of Gerda Bengtsson, Cross-Stitch Patterns in Color I just love them and thoroughly enjoyed working them out for myself on my 14 count aida cloth.  I hope to also work on her lovely flower patterns sometime in the future.

Picture #1 is a weather design and I love the umbrellas.  It is just a light rain though, perhaps a sun shower because there is a large yellow sun represented in the corner.  

Picture #2   This is a tiny Christmas scene with the old red brick church in the top.  The family are obviously choosing their Christmas tree.

Picture #3  What I really like about this one is the way a windy day is conveyed with just a couple of stitches placed here and there.  It is the same way talented artists can show movement with a few brush strokes.
These three little vignettes all show aspects of community life.  In the book there are also patterns for people skating, children playing ball, and men gathering wood.  If you like cross stitch, but don't want to take on a large project just now, these would be enjoyable designs to render.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Wasps Will Build Nests

A neighbour lived in a three story home that was over one hundred years old.  One summer he began to complain about the wasps buzzing around his upstairs windows.  He watched for a few days and thought he could see large numbers traveling to and from his attic area and became a little alarmed.  Being elderly, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that he attempted to climb his attic steps and open the ceiling hole; he could not remember ever having done so before.  But anyway, he didn't get very far; with only a corner of the board lifted he could hear a great roar of insects buzzing.

 What to do?  He finally decided to call the fire department and sure enough, the fire fighters did not mind at all coming round to his house to check out his attic for him.  The first fellow climbed the steps with great surety, lifted the latch with confidence, shone his big lantern light into the darkness and then almost fell off the ladder.  He quickly pulled down the latch and after regaining his breath exclaimed there was the biggest blinkety blink wasp's nest he'd ever seen in his life up there.

 They all went away and quickly returned wearing the kind of combat gear seen in movies.  I imagine the most junior of the lot had to enter the attic first and was made to brave the wasps' anger when he blasted the nest with the chemical insecticide that would be sure to deaden them.
 After they all took a turn taking pictures, the men left for the day and returned the next morning.  The nest had to be sliced into sections to remove it from the attic which was a bit of a shame because if it could have been kept whole, would surely have been an artifact worthy of public display.  The fire fighter told our poor neighbour the nest had been about six feet across and and took up the height of the attic which was about four feet high all attached to the wall next to a window and he couldn't even imagine how many wasps had been housed in it. Perhaps they had been building it for years.  Who knew. 

This is a long way round to showing you our wasps' nest just spotted on the far wall of the house.  There has always been a nest there and remnants of two or three can be seen along the eave.  Why they choose that area, we don't know.  It is the side with the least dog or people activity and closest to the woods.  Maybe it is a simple as that.

Admittedly not the excitement-causing size of the nest in my story but a fairly big one just the same.

I tried to get a closer shot, but there were a lot of buzzing wasps around and this is the best I could do.  I was intrigued by the waves of colour varying from white to dark gray in  the nest material. 
Now we are unsure what to do.  With the previous nests, all tiny in comparison, we have just left them alone and knocked them down when the owners departed for the winter.  This one, however, is so large it is hard to ignore.  I find myself drawn to it and have to go take a look and just watch all the busy wasps, a steady stream, coming and going. Imagine the effort it took to turn the minute bits of wood into enough of the papery substance to build this thing.  I'm in awe of that. 
I'll let you know what we decide to do. 

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Sunny September Morning and A Homemade Gift

Walking Murphy today and the only thing moving about are the farmers on their tractors.  Even the road traffic was just farm equipment being loaned around.  I can't tell you how good it feels to walk a long country road on a sunny September morning, with enough of a little breeze to make the leaves shiver and cool your face. 
Murphy is loving these walks too.  She sits obediently to have the leash attached ( not easy for an exuberant Labrador who has earned the nickname "Diva" because she likes things her way)  and sets out with such a look of determination as if to say, don't bother me now I have walking to do.  Isn't it amazing how our pets can seem to convey their feelings in just a few signals that we alone note. But then perhaps I am reading too much into those little signals I interpret as eagerness or enjoyment on her part.  No, I take that back.  I'm pretty sure she loves our walks. 

 Part of my birthday gift from a friend...one of the best kind of gifts, homemade.  In this case, blueberry and peach jam.  What a treat on toast.  I will have to get out the bread machine and make a loaf especially to enjoy with this.  

Monday 8 September 2014

Ticks and Bush Hogs

This is a photo of our woods trail taken  yesterday. It is quite grown over and needs the low brush cut back.  To tell you the truth, I've been more nervous walking there this summer than ever before.  I watched a documentary on ticks and read an article about how people now think tick bites can cause long ranging health problems sometimes lasting a lifetime.
In the video I watched how the scientists wore long  pants stuffed into socks and tall rubber boots because ticks can latch onto bare skin just as you walk by.  I was amazed at how many ticks they were able to collect by trailing a piece of cloth over the ground for a half hour.  Because an unfed tick is the size of a poppy seed, it is so easily overlooked unless you take the time and effort and know what you are looking for.  We have always gotten proper tick preventative medicine for the dogs from our vet.  They wear these necklaces that supposedly repel ticks and we have never had a problem.  I've never thought too much about myself and ticks but I did this summer because the article also identified Ottawa as a high risk area.  And I think our land, the borders of tall grass giving way to trees and forest, with water on two sides, is apparently the kind of breeding ground ticks especially enjoy. 
Our walking trail definitely needs a good cleaning to widen it again so we can use it without worry about picking up unwanted little passengers.  This has set Hubby off on a little research for something called a bush hog, which he says we really need to do the job right.  Just yet another thing I'd never heard of before.  Like I said, so much still to learn...

Saturday 6 September 2014

My Largest Sunflower

It is a shame you cannot tell from this photo just how large this sunflower is.  It is my largest at almost seven inches across.  It was also the first in the bed to bloom, and it looks like none of the others will come close to being this size.  I've enjoyed seeing the sunflowers progress from seeds in the greenhouse to lovely blooms helping to hide the wire fence. 

My vegetable garden did not fair well this year, despite the hopes I held for it at the beginning of the summer.  I was away from it for a month mid-season and I like to think that even though hubby did his best to water things, somehow it all missed me.  What I would have been doing differently I don't really know.  The month of July was unusually wet and cool which may not have helped. Insects devoured almost all the tomato plants.  The potato, pumpkin and beet bed was continually rummaged over night by animals; I don't know what exactly but suspect skunks and raccoons.  We know they are responsible for the hundreds of small holes in the lawns all over the property; each night they roam it looking for slugs.

Nothing ate the mint or the green beans.  But everything else was sampled enough to stop the growth.  I guess this is one of the downsides of not using any repellents and I will just have to learn what to do next year to keep the critters away.

The flowers fared much better, happily.  I am pleased with the geraniums, morning glories, ivies, daisies, and aforementioned sunflowers.   After three years of trying, I finally have lupines growing well; no blooms this year but maybe another year will do the trick.  They seem to have preferred the latest location I tried them...in a busy part of the garden amongst hostas and ornamental grasses and I think somehow the competition in that particular spot made them thrive.  After all, this flower blooms and spreads tremendously well in the wild in all kinds of conditions so maybe it is meant to have to fight for its place in the sun.

To help compensate for the garden failure, the perennials returned in great numbers; the coneflowers, sedum, hostas, columbine, sweet william, lily of the valley, poppies, astilbe, allium, and marigolds have all served to encourage me by their continued blooming. 

So much to learn still and always but the good news is I am not daunted by this year's very mixed results.  There is always next year.

Friday 5 September 2014

Time for Fall Fairs

You know you are in the country and it is autumn when all the fall fairs start.  It seems almost every little community host their own two or three day fair and most have been doing so for many decades.  Each year, it is more common to see lots of the downtown Ottawa city folks making the trek to the country side to take in the somewhat unique fair events.
Last Saturday we did just that...drove a distance to spend a few hours taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a real country fair. They all have barns with lots of domesticated animals and this one was no different...the cow and sheep barns were very popular with the children; adults seemed to favour the horse barn and the miniature horses, in particular, were a real hit.  We missed the sheep shearing contest and the milking contest.  I was interested in seeing the alpacas and donkeys. Both are popular on farms to help keep coyotes away from the livestock. 
There were also several buildings full of different kinds of chicken; I had no idea there were so many different types.  We took our time walking past all the cages and noting the beautiful feathers, colours, sizes of tail plumage, etc.  Baby grandson did not like the way the roosters would screech out their cock a doodles any old time just as you walked near them so we wound up hurrying through their section.
We had to examine all the tractors on display, some antique among the shiny new ones all lined up in one of the fields. We watched people trying their luck at all the games though we did not give them a go. Interesting how most of these seemed to be the same as when I was a kid, or perhaps variations of the same ones.  Your prize if you won was still a stuffed toy or doll. 
 Daughter and I were keen on visiting the vegetable and goods pavilion.  There we got to see the ten pound zucchinis and giant carrots, beautiful sunflowers with stalks the size of my arm, and an endless array of bottled vegetables, jams and jellies.  There was lots of breads, baked loaves, cakes and cookies.
The hand work section was disappointing with only a few entries in each division. Of the quilts only a few had been actually quilted. One lone cross stitched picture represented the whole embroidery category.  Someone told me that people are reluctant to enter their work because of the lack of security at these fairs. I guess there is a story that quilts go missing sometimes and with the hundreds of people walking through and no one keeping an eye out, it is easy enough to have that happen, unfortunately. 
I was happy to see the children had been invited to take part in the fair by submitting their hand made items on the theme of 'My World'.  This had produced a wide variety of responses...everything from simple crayon drawings to elaborate dioramas and posters.  It is cute to see children still incorporate painted macaroni and construction paper into their efforts. 
I did not go on the ferris wheel; I didn't want to test if I still have my fear of heights even though this one was not one of the super high ones you see.  I did go on the ride that flings you around in a circle; a little sentimental  moment because it was always my favourite ride at the fair when I was a kid.  I loved the ride but felt dizzy afterwards; I don't remember ever feeling dizzy like that when I was young. 
I guess we all have fond memories of fairs we enjoyed as children.  One of my grandsons has gone to his town fair each year since he was born, just as his dad has.  It's now a family tradition and that fair is now marking its 170th anniversary making it one of the longest continuously running fall fairs in Ontario.  What a fun piece of history!

Thursday 4 September 2014

Sunny Sunflowers

I drive past several sunflower farms on my way to one of my daughters.  I just love to glimpse them passing by.  The sunflower has got to be one of the happiest looking flowers and it is no wonder it is featured so much in stitchery projects, fabrics, and all manner of decor.  The opened blooms follow the track of the sun across the sky and I never had the luck to come upon this field when they were exactly facing the road.  Hubby pulled over one day so I could get as close as I could to take a photo and they were sort of facing me. 
Part of the daisy family, there are numerous varieties of sunflowers; in my photo  are one of the giant forms.  Sunflowers are found all over the world and provide food in the form of seeds and safflower oil.  I know the birds too prefer sunflower seeds of all I've put out for them; the feeder with the sunflower seeds is guaranteed to attract the greatest variety of birds. 

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Dog Walking 101

"Movement is medicine."    Clara Hughes

Another birthday gift...fancy new running shoes.  I still call them sneakers and have to mentally correct myself so I won't seem too behind the times.  These replace a seven year old pair that I bought in a T.J. Max for $12.99; I didn't realize just how much of a bargain they really were because they are still in pretty good shape all those exercise sessions later.  It's great to get new running shoes at the start of the school year as it were just like all the kids do; for me a small incentive to stay committed to keeping moving.
I have been trying to train Murphy to walk properly on a leash.  That would be for her to not strain at the very end and drag me along on the walk.  I guess it is terrible that we have not attempted to do this before now but with lots of acreage for the dogs to run around here in the country, it didn't seem that necessary.
 I've been watching videos on Youtube on how to train your bigger dog for walking on a lead and I have found them very instructive.  This is now week 3 for us and Murphy is doing very well.  I think  I told you she has a strong sense of smell and lets her nose lead her when outside.  This is also a problem on the leash.  It is hard for her to not want to head to whatever it is she is getting scent of (I don't really want to know what that might be!).  I keep a pocket full of treats, try to sound more firm in my voice than I really feel when correcting her, and practice with her daily.  The day we went beyond our property gate and out onto the road was a big one for us.  Fingers crossed she and I will achieve this goal; I love the idea of being able to walk our country road safely with her.   

Tuesday 2 September 2014

To Labour is to Live

My father used to always say to labour is to live.  I think he thought it was a quote from the Bible but I'm not sure about that. Here in Canada, we mark the first Monday of September as Labour Day and most people have a holiday from work.  Being retired it is no longer a bittersweet day, one that marked the end of summer freedom and a return to the work world. 
 While walking Murphy up the road on Monday, I  saw the farmers on both sides of us out on their tractors working in the fields.  I guess for them Labour Day was no day of leisure because a fine sunny day at this time of year is too good to miss a chance of working the land.  In fact, the tractor sounds were the only ones we heard that morning. It seems to be soya beans that are surrounding us on all sides and as far as my meager farming knowledge goes, it is growing quite well.
We have had several meals of fresh local corn and now the Ontario grown peaches are turning up at all the little stands. It is great to be able to eat food as it comes in season, especially if it grown in the area. Thanks to the farmers and their labour, we get to do just that.   

Monday 1 September 2014

Birthday Talk

Here I am in my birthday caftan.  It is very lively with red and orange poppies and sunflowers.  Though it is not slimming, it is very comfortable and because it reaches to the floor, I can't do certain things while wearing it.  Like housework...
                    So here I am back and another year older.  Birthdays are strange events at my age.
                    I don't really like them and not because they mark another year older; I'm glad enough
                    of the privilege to be doing that and so aware of all the people who don't reach my age.
                    So, no it is not about marking aging, it is more about disliking the attention.  You
                    know the blowing out of candles and opening of presents with all eyes on you.
                    That is a small complaint really.  I'm just much more comfortable when it is
                    someone else being feted and sung to.
                    But that foolishness aside, I do feel blessed to have people who want to give me                      presents and  bake a beautiful vanilla cake with raspberry buttercream frosting for me 
                    to cut.