Monday, 31 March 2014

Sort of Serendipity

I've had a day of it as they say.  Lots to think about and mull over.
 It started this morning when I went to my lawyer's to update my will.  Her office is in a very old brick building and while waiting in the vestibule, I looked at the ceiling which was one of those tiled with a big clear plastic tile covering the fluorescent light tube.  I noticed what looked like material a mouse would gather for a nest in one corner and while pondering this, a rat walked across the thing.  No mistaking the feet and long thick tail.  I felt I should say something to the tiny receptionist; after all this was almost right above her head! I said I think I just saw a mouse or a rat up in the light and she said, oh we hear noises from up there all the time, calm as you please.  She didn't seem bothered at all and didn't even slow her typing to glance up.  Oh well. 
Talking about your will is an odd activity.  Some people really don't want to tackle it at all but I like to have these things sorted out as much as I can.   
 I left there and went to purchase tickets for a little trip I'm taking.  While the agent was busy with the calendar and choosing seats, I saw a book and notebook on his side of the counter. I nodded at the book and said are you studying.  To which he answered no he was writing out a poem for his sister.  I had to say what a nice thing to do, and then he said well, she's in the hospital dying with cancer.  Would you like to read the poem?  I stood there in the middle of the depot reading a poem from a book with a title saying something about the absolute divinity of God.  The poem was very long but summed up was about what a long and arduous journey life can be but God is right there with you all the time, watching and guiding; it was a very well put together piece and not what I had expected.  I handed it back, and said so I guess your sister has belief.  And he said oh yes, she was looking at dying like she was going home.  I said I guess that would be a help and praised him for being such a good brother.
I've been thinking was that a bit of serendipity that I went right from talking about my death to talking about the ticket agent's sister's death. But I guess it is not a happy coincidence which I think serendipity implies.  Simply a coincidence then.  Or was it something more? 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Best Yellow Cake Recipe Ever...from Marcy Goldman


You can guess from this photo that our in-house ban on homemade desserts has lifted.  Hubby would finish his evening meal and glance about with dissatisfaction and then proceed to raid the kitchen cupboards for something to assuage his sweet tooth.  And the weather has been so dim and gloomy I have had to get back in the kitchen whisking eggs and melting chocolate to lift the spirits.  I do love it all from the moment I tie on my apron till I set the glass top on my tiered cake plate with a lovely cake resting there all ready to be cut into.
I've been following Marcy Goldman for a few years now.  She is a master baker and has published a number of cookbooks that I love.  Her recipes are well tested, easy to follow and, for the most part, incorporate ingredients that are readily available.  I love her tips and anecdotes that accompany the recipes as well.  She has a website called BetterBaking.com and a blog you can follow.


The recipe I used for my cake is from this book The New Best of Better Baking.com and is called Moist and Mellow Yellow Birthday Cake or Cupcakes.  I have found basic yellow cakes often lack real flavour and can be dry.  This is the best recipe I have found for a wonderful light but very good tasting cake.  You won't be disappointed if you try it.  I iced the cake with Marcy's recipe for Master Brownie Frosting because hubby likes chocolate so much.  He was most pleased.
This cookbook is available at amazon.com for as little as fifteen dollars used or perhaps you can check it out at your library. 

From the oven... I haven't a clue why one is so much darker than the other or why one edge of the layer on the left rose up so much that there was a nice crunchy edge that had to be pared off (and eaten- the dogs loved it).  I guess just another reason I am not a master baker. 





Friday, 28 March 2014

Winter Sighing and Another Great Quilt Book

The Creek Trail Last Week

Winter's dinginess is everywhere, exposed today because of the slight rainfall that followed last night's snowfall. In reality it is still bleakly winter wherever I look, lifeless, no sign of a bud or leaf for encouragement. Not a pussy willow to be found.
 In fact, just the opposite, daily snowfalls are occurring even as we so want this season to end and the next to begin.  I guess just because we are saying we want it gone and wishing it done doesn't help.  It seems the whole country is feeling the same way...winter weary, I mean.  But I guess if this is our nation's current big worry, the weather, than really we don't have it so bad.

I wanted to show you this great book I found two years ago at a rummage sale.  It is the Better Homes and Gardens 101 Quilt Blocks and Borders.  I love it as the patterns are all full size and there are endless suggestions for how you can work with each block.  Everything is laid out in an easy- to- read manner and the book opens like a big workbook. 
Here is a page open so you can see just how effective the pattern diagrams are.  I am so happy with this book and given it more use than many others that were far more costly.  I think I like it because I don't have to fiddle around with enlarging patterns. If you can find it, I would recommend you add it to your quilting library.



Thursday, 27 March 2014

All About Our Shepherd, Rex

Rex, beside me in his dog bed, his smell wafting across my nose from time to time.  Is it stale cheesies or fresh corn chips? I can't really tell but I do not find it unpleasant, in fact I kind of like it.  He reminds me a little of the Big Bad Wolf in Red Riding Hood.  Those over-grown canines of his in that well pronounced snout are fearsome when I do glimpse them.  His slightly wolfish appearance aside, he does have beautiful eyes the colour of liquid caramel and his coat is the perfect standard for the German Shepherd breed of coal black back turning to reddish tan fading into blond underbelly.
It was written rather snootily in the book for this breed that a good Shepherd should never look common, and I think Rex does have a certain noble look about him.  It's not just us who thinks he is quite handsome; our vet and everyone who sees him all agree he is a beautiful example of his breed.
His value to us is first as a companion and second as a guard dog.  Wherever I am in the house, I can feel his eyes on me.  If I get up to move, he moves with me.  In fact, I have to be careful to keep him in my sight because I have almost tripped up in him.  When I go to the bathroom, he lies in wait in the hallway for me and usually his habit the last thing at night and first thing in the morning is to make his round to each side of the bed to check on us. He barks whenever a strange car comes up the lane or he hears an unusual sound.  He will especially bark at men, a trait we think was trained into him by his early training as a guard dog. 
Another interesting habit he has is to check out all packages brought into the house.  This includes grocery bags, parcels, new clothes, etc.  He has to give them all a good sniff...we joke about him sniffing for bombs.  We've seen him come into the house from outside and head straight to the new item.  I think he must carry our household inventory in his head.
I am disappointed that we have not been able to teach Rex to retrieve; he will fetch a ball but won't give it up to run for it again.  However he will run along with Murphy back and forth as she retrieves her balls.  He seems to enjoy this form of parallel play very much and is just as eager as she is to get outside for playing and walking.
I worry that he is not getting enough exercise.  He has an ample enclosed area, almost four acres, but usually only sprints at the odd squirrel or bigger bird.  I don't think these occasional bursts of energy are the kind of exercise he really needs.  We always trust him off leash for walks every day and he does sometimes run enough to pant, but not overly. 
Rex was almost two years old when we got him so it has been a process for him to learn to be a household pet; only now does he seek out pats and rubs and beg for treats.  However, his loyalty in the form of constant vigilance with us has been there right from the beginning.
He is a food thief; he once ate a steak and another time an entire chicken casserole (in the days before I understood the length of his reach!), but we love him very much and trust him to help keep us safe. 

Rex On the Creek Trail

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

At the Shops

At the new Bay...I say new because The Bay is being gradually reworked into a much more upscale type store with all the sales people sleek and urbany in head to toe black; I've read they have their sights set on attracting a new upscale type clientele to match it. Not exactly me who was there to check out a new thermos for hubby's coffee.  A woman passed by wearing a dark gray, full-length fur coat. She was about my age with silvery blond hair wrapped around her head and had a striking scarf tied in a small bow at her neck.  She left in her wake the most beautiful perfumy aroma.  That is how a woman should smell, I thought and I couldn't resist trailing her a little to see what would attract her attention.  As I did I could just picture her home, the walls, the art work, the lack of 'vulgar objects', a phrase I once read  Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor called pillows with needlepointed sayings on them.  Anyway, she wound her way confidently right to the gift registry department where a sales person immediately leaped up to greet her.  Of course, I thought, that's the place for her as I continued on in my search for housewares. 
Yesterday I was at the Walmart, a store I hold mixed feelings about (more about that another day).  I was being checked out by a young girl who had a massive amount of hair all wound up in tiny braids; she must have had a couple hundred of these plaits and I just had to say to her how much I admired it.  I would have liked to have stared at it more and seen how it all got tucked up so neatly.  She told me it took her friend six hours to do it for her and it would keep for several months if she took good care with it.  I have to say she seemed pleased I noticed it.
By the way, I found the thermos I wanted at Walmart.  

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

McEwan's Sweet Tooth

                                               What's on my night table...


This is English author, Ian McEwan's latest novel, Sweet Tooth.  I will tell you McEwan is one of the few authors I make a point of reading whatever he publishes.  I have read all his work to date and looked forward to this one.  I had a mixed reaction to this book and if you haven't read any of his books yet, I would suggest you do not start with this one. 
McEwan has proven in his other work that he is a master of the English language.  His stories are always praised for being well-crafted and this book is also well-written and I guess you could say well-crafted.  The protagonist is a female, Serena, and we begin by following her through a description of her parents and early schooling and to the  point where she is recruited by MI5.  Much has been written about how this novel is actually stories within a story and in fact I found this is true.  Serena's adventure as a spy become another 'story' of her life. Her feelings for another character develop into a love story.
 I had two particular problems with this book; one was I did not care for Serena and I didn't care particularly what happened to her as a result.  Another was that I found some of the writing and events too cute or too pat for true believability.  Sections of the book I found almost annoying and I had to push through those parts to keep reading. Overall, this novel was disappointing for me as I had waited quite a while to finally get to read it.

Oh my, maybe I am becoming too critical in my older age....

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Still a Marshmallow World and Bird News

Snowy Backyard Today

I just got in the door.  I took the dogs for a walk up the trail and after all the fresh snow...15 cm since this morning, everything looked Christmasy and magical.  It was a little plodding underfoot and even the dogs stuck to the imprint of the trail. It is the kind of snow that has a stick to it and would make  wonderful snowballs or a snowman.
I read the local town paper earlier and I am always pleased to learn of all the local happenings.  It is one way to keep up with the occasions; last week it featured all the Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers, this edition featured St.Patrick's Day celebrations.  I noticed all the photos were of happy seniors who seemed to enjoy getting into the whole St.Paddy's Day theme...sporting green kerchiefs and eating bowls of Irish stew.  This year for the first time a gluten free version was also served.  It seems most of these things are run by the churches; maybe that was why there were no photos of green beer being drunk. 
I'm most interested in a birding column called Nature's Way which always provides information about birds in our area.  I learned two things from this week's column.  DNA has not just affected the criminal justice world but has had ramifications in the birding world as well.  In categorizing birds for inclusion in bird books, until now they have been organized according to their evolutionary history with the most primitive birds in the front.  The advent of DNA testing has resulted in significant changes for a few of my bird friends.  In particular, it appears falcons are not in the hawk family; they are actually more closely related to parrots and songbirds and in future books will take their correct place with them.  I think it is interesting how much ornithologists had gotten right without this scientific tool at their disposal.
I spent most of the morning in the kitchen; I'll share my efforts with you tomorrow.      

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Naming of Rooms

I call the room where we take off our boots the porch.  Hubby calls it the mudroom.  Ours contains our washer and dryer so doubles as a laundry room.  I'm not sure if there is a snazzy name to cover both those uses. Similarly, I still call the outside deck or step the bridge. This is a direct result of where I grew up. Different parts of the country have devised their own system for the naming of rooms.  My grandparents never called their outside buildings sheds, they always referred to them as stores.  Back in England, such structures were also called back houses.
I read real estate ads and I enjoy the way realtors have changed the names for certain rooms.  Living rooms are seldom called that anymore; more often they are described as great rooms and from what I can tell, this description has nothing to do with the size of them.  Similarly bathrooms are often called spas and old-fashioned rec rooms are now games rooms or theaters. The master bedroom is now the master retreat.  But kitchens are still called kitchens even though sometimes they are described as chef's or gourmet and a pantry is still called pantry.  Did you know the least used room in the house is the dining room?  On average it is used just four times a year.  Seems like a good argument for multi-purpose rooms.
I still think fondly of the old t.v. show, The Golden Girls.  They introduced me to a new name for the back patio..."out on the lanai" was where they often took someone to talk privately or to get alone time to mull over some problem or other.    

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Shaking Off Hurry-Up Habits

Having a slow start to this day which has a most familiar March look about it.  Monochromatic just gray/white set against the darker gray of the trees surrounding the house.   Earlier I was thinking of what I could accomplish before 8 am in my working life, which is a time that is still very much alive in my mind.  Now it seems a bit of a challenge to get only me showered and fed by that time.  I think I was addicted to the urgency of it all back then, maybe a bit of a workaholic.  After so many decades of living by the hands on the clock, those hurry-up habits are hard to relinquish.  Now I have to keep reminding myself to slow down, that I can take the time to stitch or read in the middle of the day or even watch a movie if I want to; that if I don't get some chore or other done today, I can just as easily do it tomorrow.  Of course, being me means I still enforce pressure on myself sometimes about appointments and obligations, but I notice that too is easing.
 When choosing retirement, I worried about what I would make of the state of empty time that stretched before me. How would I cope; without the clock what would I ever accomplish?  Turns out, it was all fine for me. For look at me now, here I am enjoying a slow start to this day, sipping coffee and writing, something unheard of for a weekday morning back then.

I'm also keeping an eye on the birds.  The day of calendar spring, here's nature's sign at my front feeder. 


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

"Me Versus Food" and Big Brother

Another book by Lionel Shriver, this one Big Brother.  I don't think I have ever read another novel where the main topic is food and like all of Lionel's books, this one too gave me lots of food for thought, no pun intended.
I'm afraid you are going to think I am obsessed with food.  I do spend many hours of the day not thinking of eating, but yet, it is a fascinating topic for me, I confess.  I believe our relationship with food is far more complex than anyone has ever figured out.  In Lionel's book, one of her characters sums up this complexity in a simple thought....eating something, but not very much is the never-ending, daily, hourly challenge. But why is that?
I've read that Karen Blixon (Out of Africa) had no appetite for food; when someone would remind her to eat, she would nibble a few grapes.  Perhaps, as suggested, she really had no appetite for food, or maybe, she had discovered that it is actually easier to eat nothing at all than it is to eat just enough.
I dream of eating the perfect, portion-controlled meal...meat the size of a pack of playing cards, a mere handful of salad, a quarter cup of peas.  But my appetite wars with this picture.  I don't have a bowl big enough for the amount of salad I would need to eat to feel really satisfied. I have to work at fooling myself in a way, choosing with care the food I do eat that will leave me sated.
I always know from one day to the next what I am making for supper.  It is never a chore for me to go to the freezer and pick through to find what I 'm thinking of cooking. Like so many women, cooking is a creative outlet, but it is one fueled by my enjoyment of food and desire to eat. 
I'm told that in very old age, our appetite for food is the last appetite to go.  When I was younger I thought my desire for food would lessen with age, but I think the opposite has happened.  I now have much more time for shopping, planning and preparing meals than when I was part of the working world so it seems I'm according food a bigger focus in my days.
So 'me versus food' continues.  But back to Lionel's wonderfully written book.  This novel, like all her work, explores relationships...husband/wife, siblings, family.  In Big Brother she tackles our relationship with food in modern society and obesity is a constant, grim character in its own right.  I found this story fascinating and thought-provoking. As always, I am looking forward to the next book from this very brave author.     

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Nurturing My Inner Nature Nerd

April just cannot come fast enough this year.  Maybe it is my age, but I seem to have far less patience with the cold temperatures.  Yesterday we took the dogs for a walk and used the small creek that crosses our land; it was much smoother and easier on the feet than the trail and was still completely, utterly frozen.  It was minus twelve so we had to bundle up with down jackets, mittens and hats with ear flaps...not exactly a fashion parade.  The dogs loved it especially all the fresh scents; we kept exclaiming about all the tracks in the snow, perfectly intact, and tried our hand at identifying them. Many, many birds had crossed the creek, a raccoon or two, coyote, mice, but not a sign of a human.
This creek balloons in spring and becomes  swampy in one area by summer's end.  There it is a haven of frogs and tall ferns and the occasional gray heron can be sighted probing it's banks.  It is tricky to walk there because the edges become so over grown and tangled with grass you can't tell where exactly the land ends.  I've gone over my boots several times trying to get close with my camera. So at this time of year it is a bit of treat to be able to walk all over the area and get a good look especially at all the trees on the opposite bank as well.  I had my eye out for apple trees since several grow on the house side of the creek.
I can amuse myself endlessly with these thoughts of nature; I am riveted by a bird sighting or a strange animal track in the snow.  The idea of a whole realm of little living beings going about their business mere yards from the house is awe-inspiring to me.  And so yet again, I feel thankful for this time and place far from office buildings, and traffic fumes, and malls, a niche where I can satisfy my inner nature nerd to my heart's content.   

Monday, 17 March 2014

Wonderful Dinner in a Wonderful Home

It feels a little magical to be driving at night down first one country road, turning off to another, gradually wending our way into the woods and then finding the unmarked single lane path to follow, turning a corner and there it is-our friend's cottage. And like the house in the tale of Hansel and Gretel this one is all-inviting, gleaming glass and warmly lit, every outside light glowing in the near dusk. 
This house is our friend's own design and every single item in it from the floor up was chosen by her.  It is small by today's standards, with three bedrooms, one of which doubles as her den.  Her kitchen is an eat-in kitchen with her large dining table a foot or so away from the peninsula and her cook top stove...this is all the better for easily serving guests right from the stove.  Her living room has large, almost floor to ceiling windows on three sides and it is a defining feature...what gives the house a true cottage feeling. 
But also it is something to do with the colour scheme she has chosen, soft pastels in ice cream flavours, as well as all her collections everywhere you look.  All her shelving is open both in the kitchen and the eating area and endless assortments of dishes and memorabilia are on display.  They are remarkable because most represent years of enjoyment searching out just the right item for each collection. Many of the things are vintage and add a nostalgic charm to the overall feel of the house.  I can remember some things...casserole dishes with bright red cherries and orange/red strawberries painted on them and milk glass tea cups, for instance, from my own childhood.
But too, there are many pieces, large platters and heaps of serving dishes which reinforce the idea that a serious cook lives here.  Dinner does not disappoint...a velvety soup, roast leg of lamb with all the trimmings, followed by a pumpkin custard pie that is delicious.  Our friend possesses such ease in the kitchen; one of those people who can cook with all the guests gathered round, the way you think the professionals could do. It is an unself-consciousness that I admire very much, a comfort level I could never reach.  Though I love having people in for dinner,  I have to have at least half the meal made beforehand before I can relax and enjoy it all.  
On the drive home, I can picture our friend in the calm and peacefulness of her sweet woodsy cottage.  I think about her lovely things all nestling together on their lace-lined shelves.  There is a poignancy to it too, for who could love it like the one who put it all together.  No one, really. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

More Blue Birds and Three Favourite Sites

Here are the other appliqued birds making up the six in my little Blue Bird project.  Today I reviewed several tutorials offered online on Youtube just to reassure myself that I was stitching properly.  I am constantly amazed at the wonderful array of useful information available with a few clicks on the computer.  Watching these people sharing their expertise is informative and inspiring but I do have to remind myself  that they are experts in their fields with many years of experience so of course, all their pieces are going to be efficiently and skillfully done. 
I want to take the time to share a few of my favourite online sites that specialize in needlework.  Here are three of them.
1. Needlepointers.com offers tutorials, videos and lots of free designs for an array of needlework.
 2. Haftix Patterns at cross.stitch-patterns.eu also offers many patterns most of which are free for downloading.
3. Bucilla Needlwork has an online catalogue to browse and they also have free patterns to download.
Most sites that offer free designs want to clarify that they must be for personal use only. I love these freebies and while I may not download any I often use the ideas in some of my own designs.  


Saturday, 15 March 2014

City Outing and Appliqued Blue Birds

Lollygagging here this morning, mostly in front of the window with its view of the bird feeder...I saw a junco which I have not seen in awhile; also see two robins further down the garden combing a tiny circle of exposed grass at the base of the tallest fir tree.  The male cardinal is back again and such a flashy fellow he is especially amongst the chickadees, vireos and downy woodpeckers.
Yesterday we made one of our rare trips into the city; this entails frequent stops and facing down many lanes of traffic.  I keep advising hubby to drive like an old man instead of the racing car driver he fancies himself to be.  Sometimes he even listens but his old competitive instincts aren't to be denied just yet.
We had to get him to an appointment at one of the big inner-city hospitals and as always, parking is a challenge.  The parking garage at this one reaches to five stories and we had to wind our way to the very top to find a space then make our way down all the flights of stairs to cross a road to the entrance.  I have a distrust of parking garages born of too much t.v. and movie viewing where so many bad things occur in them.  This one did nothing to dispel those thoughts...old, grimy, poorly lit; a haven for some criminal activity of one sort or another, for sure.  I always feel a little relieved when we exit as if I've escaped something or other.  I could also legitimately grumble about the parking fees you have to pay for all this too, but I won't today. 
Afterwards, we went to lunch at a tandori restaurant nearby.  It was buffet style and I filled my plate with food that I couldn't put a name on.  It all tasted delicious and the homemade naan bread was especially good.
We made it home without further adventure and with enough light left in the day for me to work on my latest project.  I really want to improve my applique stitch so I thought simple shapes would work well to practice on.  I chose birds as a subject and picked out my prettiest blue prints; they show well against the white tone-on-tone material I used for the backgrounds.  I have six completed and here are three of them.
I am enjoying the stitching and trying my best to keep everything even and tiny.  It seems like a springy kind of project; I have no idea what I will do with these but I'm confident I will think of something. 
 
 

Friday, 14 March 2014

Elusive Shut-Eye

"When I want to go to sleep, I must first get a whole menagerie of voices to shut up.   You wouldn't believe what a racket they make in my room."

                                                                                                                        Karl Kraus

I never have a problem slipping past that line and into deep sleep at the start of night.  I can fall asleep regardless if the lights are on, radio or t.v. playing, windows open or closed, or partner snoring; an ability that makes me an especially good roommate, I think.
No, falling asleep is not my problem; staying asleep, however, is.  Once I wake, it can take some time before I can return to a sleeping state. Occasionally when I have to go to the bathroom, I try to make it quick, keep one eye closed to attempt to fool myself into thinking that I am still sleeping.
This middle-of-the-night time is not always wasted time for me.  My mind wanders; I do ponder life's mysteries in ways that I never do when awake, sometimes I even have a thought or two worth recording.  (It is always fun to read these the next day). Now and again I can make real headway reading my current book... time well spent.
Periodically, though it is totally meaningless meanderings that this brain of mine seems determined to track. The worst is when I start in on the middle-of-the-night worries.  Why must they always be the darkest?  Maybe it has something to do with that old saying that the darkest hour of the soul is three in the morning.  But what is it about daylight that denies these worries their intensity, that flattens those spikes of fear and anxiety, that dials back the thinking to whatever normal is? 
Sadly for me, no matter how much sleep I've missed in the night, as I've said before, I can't nap during the day.  Now hubby is different, he can wake up in the morning sometimes already looking forward to having a nap.     

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Microwaving Library Books

I've never been afraid of books, what is in them or on them.  There are people out there who are fearful of what may be on them.  In particular some people won't use library books because they are afraid of the germs they may be carrying.  Murphy has twice chewed up library books, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.  Truthfully, despite all the hype, I was not that impressed by Wolf Hall, but I did like The Sense of an Ending.  Both times I said to the librarian I wasn't sure why my dog would suddenly choose these certain books (out of all the library books I have around) to chew up when this is not something she normally does. Both ladies said something like well you never know what people might have gotten on those books.... and left the rest to my imagination. 
I've read that you can microwave books to sanitize them, though I've never tried.  I've also read you can bake them in the oven to kill any germs; I'm guessing the way my mother used to bake soil to ready it for indoor plants.
No I've never worried about germs from library books; my worries are much more high-faluting than that.
For the record, Murphy has cost me with this book-chewing; it's a twenty dollar charge each time which I think is very fair and a small price to pay to support my on-going book addiction. 
  

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Knitting Another Shawl

This is Lion's Brand Homespun in Regency and Mixed Berries.

                                      Here is what is on my needles now...

 I've reposted the photo of the wool I've been using because my photos of the shawls just do not capture the colours nor how lustrous this particular wool is.  Just above is my latest attempt at another shawl and this one is a simple prayer shawl pattern.  I am using the lovely pink and purple Mixed Berries Homespun. I cast on 80 stitches and am knitting in garter stitch till I reach the length I think will comfortably cover the shoulders.  I plan to crochet an edge around it to prettify the overall look. 
The forecast was correct; it is Arctic white everywhere again because it has been steadily snowing most of the afternoon.  No signs of spring to be glimpsed from any of my windows today.  This is Murphy, our Black Lab; she is just back from a walk and is a little tired.  Right after I took this picture she lay down in front of the stove and took a nap. Her 'dog's life' is a pretty good one, I think.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bird Talk





First Purple Finch of the Season





A treat for me to see this little male at my front feeder this morning, and when I stepped outside, all kinds of bird songs and chatters from  the trees greeted me.  We are moving into spring in spite of the forecast for five to ten centimeters of snow tomorrow. 
They finished a major bird count for this area and I read the results with a little trepidation.  I don't want to know there are fewer robins, or nuthatches or the numbers of finches are down.  I always fear the worse.  I really want them all to be out there happily pecking, winging and singing and nesting or whatever. 
What I can't bear to think of birds is that there are killers amongst them.  They seem so tiny and fragile.  It is this very fragility, the biological fact of possessing hollow bones, that enables them to achieve their greatest feat-the ability to fly.  No, I don't want to think of any of them as killers. 
I showed you a photo of the two ruffed grouse that have been daily visiting the oldest tree in the back yard.  I love watching them. They are so fattish-looking and heavy, they actually wobble and bend some of the thinner branches they sit on.  They are so homey in appearance too, their colours the colours of old wood, certainly nothing flashy at all.  But it works so well for camoflage which I guess is nature's point. 




Taken through the kitchen window

Monday, 10 March 2014

Secretly Liking a Beatle

I have two music playlists, one is for my exercise workouts and the other is for the car.  I have selections from the Beatles on both.  I just realized there had been an anniversary marking fifty years since Beatlemania.  I took an online quiz to test my knowledge of the fab four and realized I did not know that much about them, especially their pre-Beatle years.
I was twelve years old when they had their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Like most households in North America, we too tuned in.  Who could forget the images of all those shrieking, sobbing girls.  I think we were stunned to see such a reaction and I know my parents couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.
I had a better inkling because all the girls at school were talking about the Beatles every time we got together.  One of my classmates told us she had played her record of I Want To Hold Your Hand over and over till it began to melt; another said she had sung the words over and over till she got a sore throat and couldn't make a peep.  All my friends had picked out a favourite Beatle though I think most of them chose Paul. I don't know why but I just had to be different; I told everyone I thought they were unattractive and I didn't like any of them.  This was simply not true because I secretly liked John and I credit him with starting my liking of dark-haired, smart boys.
One of my favourite songs was written by a Beatle, George Harrison...While My Guitar Gently Weeps.  I play it in the car and still love its sweet words and melody.
I heard this story years ago; a man was in a record shop and overheard one teenager say to another, 'hey, I didn't know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings'.  Hard to believe because I'm sure it is understood that the Beatles had the most effect on popular music of any band before or since.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Island Life

 This book had been on my reading to-do list for some time before it worked its way through the library hold section and onto my night table.  The description of it and the fact that it had been long- listed for the Orange Prize made me want to read it. 
Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg is a good book.  What initially appealed to me, a story about living on an island, a young woman among people who were native and speaking a different language, accompanying her husband who felt he was on a mission to 'save' these native people with his particular brand of Christianity, all were themes that struck chords in my own past life.  St. Kilda, off the coast of Scotland, proved to be a wild, interesting setting and I think proved to be a character in the book as suredly as the people themselves.  I was not totally emotionally empathizing of both main characters, but just enough to make me care about them and want to know what would happen to them. 
Here is a photo of our aquarium with two of the three fish in sight; you can't see it but they are doing well.  I am finding there is much more to maintaining a healthy aquarium environment than I ever knew...water temperature, filtering systems, aeration, kinds of food.  It is a bit of a science.  Hubby has estimated we have about four inches of fish in our fifteen gallon tank and could add another inch or so.  I'm afraid to chance it, though.


Saturday, 8 March 2014

World Famous Pancakes

Last Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday.  In my native province it is celebrated as Pancake Night, another one of those calendar customs that share religious roots but evolve into something quite different over time.  It seemed we all had pancakes on that night and for extra fun, my mother would put money in ours, pennies, nickels and dimes.  This would have been back in the sixties and change like this was rare for us children to have and much coveted as a result.
I continue the practice and always try out different recipes (minus any money).  Here is the pancake recipe I have been favouring lately.  It is from Gwyneth Paltrow's book My Father's Daughter and I'm sorry about the photo; I'd already frozen my extras by the time I thought of getting a photo.  This recipe can make about 3 dozen pancakes, depending on the size you make them, so it is great for a crowd.

Bruce Paltrow's World-Famous Pancakes

3 cups flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp plus 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
3 cups buttermilk
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled plus more for cooking
6 organic large eggs
Up to 1 cup milk, as needed to thin the batter
Real Vermont maple syrup, warmed for serving

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Whisk the buttermilk, butter and eggs together in another bowl.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, whisking just enough to combine, small lumps are okay.  Let the batter sit, covered, overnight.  The next morning, heat up your griddle or nonstick pan and slick it with a little butter.  Add enough milk to the batter to thin it to the consistency you like.  Cook the pancakes, flipping when bubbles appear on the surface of the uncooked side.  Let cook 2 - 3 minutes more, then remove and eat with lots of syrup.
The first time I made them, I did not have buttermilk and did not let the batter sit overnight.  I soured my milk with a little vinegar and used that instead and I mixed the batter in the morning and it sat all day.  I used our local maple syrup, of course, too.  Anyway, the pancakes were quite good and I have been making this recipe for the past year.  This time I did let the batter sit overnight and used real buttermilk and liked the result even more.  

Happy Pancake Making!

Friday, 7 March 2014

Oh, For No News

"Just once how I'd like to see the headline say,
Not much to print today, can't find anything bad to say"

Each time I remember to tune into the news, there it is again...another war, well, not exactly war, but a conflict, coup, uprising, people fleeing, refugees, etc.  It is disparaging how this seems to just keep looping around the globe; as the curtain lowers on one drama, it is rising on another.  Is it all just the same despicable story told and retold time and time again? 
I was just beginning university when a million people in Biafra were dying from famine or war; I remember thinking  at the time everyone knows what's going wrong there, why aren't they just fixing it.  What blissful naivety that seems to me now to think there is a "they" that can simply fix world problems.
I've read that people over sixty shouldn't read the news.  I'm starting to understand and believe that.  It is certainly not helpful to me to have to think about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the Syrian Conflict, or the Ukraine crisis, or the effect of melting ice on polar bear survival or the unbelievable depth of ill treatment women and children suffer around the world.... In fact, these things are downright upsetting to me.
The news, it is mostly a grim business and I'm not sure what my role even as listener should be.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Long, Hungry Month of March

Where I grew up, in the old days, this month was often referred to as "the long, hungry month of March".  People would have to delve into the far reaches of their cellars to get the last of their winter stores.  And not just people would be finding their food scarce, all the creatures, those roaming the land or those hiberanting would be growing continually thinner at this point of the season too.
In our time, long winter days bring a different kind of problem.  We on the contrary have been feeling fuller with each passing month.  Hubby is convinced his middle is puffier; I admit to feeling a little sluggish which may or may not have something to do with my ample hips and thighs.  As a result,we decided to cut back on our more decadent desserts and try to limit our portion sizes.  Baking is one of my favourite past times so that will be hard for me; eating whatever I bake is one of hubby's favourite past times so he thinks it's a tossup as to which of us will suffer more.  But our pact may not last.
Last night I presented hubby with his after dinner treat, ten grapes and a piece of cheese.  He eyed this dubiously; that cheese is our good stuff, I tell him, aged fourteen years.  Still long faced, I remind him he still has some chocolates left from the very large box he got for Christmas. Instant happy face.  
 
Lunch time, being good....
...pita with almond butter and banana and blood oranges.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

American Patchwork and Quilting Magazine...A Favourite




"The enjoyment of quiltmaking should not come just from the end result but from the process of getting there."

                          Lynette Jensen




Today I want to share with you my favourite quilting magazine, American Patchwork and Quilting.  I enjoy their regular columns which always include tips from readers, stories from quilting women, a little fabric/thread/quilting history and an overabundance of inspiration.  The 'projects' department is a major section of each issue and includes designs both easy and more complex.  There are also full sized patterns included in each issue to go along with the projects.  I always find something that I know I could successfully attempt myself. 
This magazine has been on the go since 1993 and they really do pack a lot into each issue.  They have also gone online with a website called AllPeopleQuilt.com.  I have happily incorporated several tips I read in the back issues, like using a thick pot holder to press out small blocks and always stopping sewing at a point where everything is a go for the next session....bobbin full, etc.  Yes, I guess some of us need to be told these things.  One of their issues showed all-time favourite patchwork blocks; I was curious to see which ones my mother had used and sure enough, I recognized a number from her work.  It is interesting to think of quilting women as part of an international community and it seems they've been that way for many decades. 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Hope, That Thing With Feathers

Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.

                                                                 Joseph Addison


I tried gambling once in my life.  I was on a cruise and for an obvious reason, you had to pass through part of the casino to get to the main dining room.  Enroute to have dinner one night, I decided to put a loonie in one of those pull down sort of machines (I think the kind that have given rise to the expression 'one armed bandit'). The speed at which I lost my money astounded me...mere nanoseconds.  I then understood how people managed to lose entire fortunes in casinos; at my rate of loss, the house could be gone in less than an hour.  It reinforced my notion that gambling to try to make money made about as much sense as people smoking cigarettes to cure their breathing problems like they actually did in the old days. 
I've always thought it was my unwillingness to part with my hard earned money that kept me from gambling.  But no, I now realize I am missing an essential ingredient to become a gambler. I am not a good hoper.  I know the house always wins and I would hold no hope that I could ever beat those odds.   A gambler, on the other hand, always has hope; he always believes his luck will change and he holds steady to the hope that the next minute will bring him better fortune.  Gamblers must be the best hopers in the world.  Seems a shame all that  hope couldn't be directed in a more positive direction somehow. 
Two of my birding friends are ancient symbols of hope...the dove and the swallow.  The swallow became so because it was often the first bird to be seen at the end of winter and the start of spring. We could sure use a swallow now...still wind chill warnings and no hope of spring in sight...yet.    

Monday, 3 March 2014

Maudlin Monday=Long Thoughts

"Have in me the strong loneliness

of sunless cliffs,

And of grey waters."

         Ezra Pound

Here it feels like a maudlin Monday in March.  I'm indulging myself with some long thoughts this morning.  I was thinking about how I am a bit of a chameleon in that I can take on the colours of wherever I am set down.  In my present form, I am white-haired, trying my hand at gardening, loving big dogs and taking long country walks.  It has been a process to shake the sense that I am not just visiting, that I won't stand up one day and say to my host, thanks so much for having me but I must be on my way. 
I think part of this thinking is due to the fact that my family moved around a bit when I was growing up; we lived in five different communities.  I moved twice during high school.  In my first marriage which lasted almost four decades, I lived mostly in places where it is understood you are passing through, where there is a strong sense of transiency ( though I hasten to add, a wonderful life can be lived in any of those communities if it is your choice). 
 However, for awhile there I thought perhaps I was one of those people who is meant to be permanently mobile.  And I have always had a strong sense of the positives about such a lifestyle... besides all the wonderful experiences of different places and people, it has made me independent with an ability to embrace change, qualities not to be underestimated.
And now, present time,  I've landed here in this country place.  Like a plant, most likely a weed, I am taking my nourishment where I find it and I am finding a good life for myself here.  The closeness to nature, the birds, the woodsy walks, the hubby and his cups of tea, are all sustaining.  As I sit in the big leather chair and hoist my cup of coffee and eye the birds at the feeder, I must admit it is plentiful and peaceful. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

"Old Age Ain't No Place for Sissies" Bette Davis

The signs are there and they are gathering.
It's not that my face is growing more wrinkles, it is more that the texture itself is changing.  In certain lights, my face, neck and the backs of my hands show all the cross-hatching that skin achieves if it lasts long enough.  All the topical applications in the world won't change this particular aspect of human bodily frailty.  Errant hairs, certain body murmurings, an unsteadiness at times...all tiny reminders cropping up it seems right out of the blue.  When did they start to make the print in telephone books and on menus so small?  When did I acquire such trepidation climbing on the top step of the 3-step stool?  When did driving at night seem to be more of a challenge?  Car headlights have definitely gotten brighter and more glary.
I remember my grandfather coming home from the hospital and asking seriously, since when are they allowing teenagers to be doctors.  I laughed at the time, but now I get it.  Suddenly it seems like kids are everywhere managing things, running the world, and of course, not doing it very well. 
Dylan Thomas wrote about how old age should burn and rave at close of day.  So no, I'm not burning or raving and I'm not even particularly vain, but I am attempting the usual countermeasures, hopeful that something will prove a neutralizer to time, I guess.  Slathering on the retinol creams and standing on one leg when I brush my teeth to improve my balance, staying off step stools, limiting night driving, using a magnifying glass to read pill bottles...and oh yes, one more biggie, never ever looking at my face in the car mirror in bright sunlight; that is a real downer.
I watched All About Eve on Netflix the other night and was interested to see how Bette Davis' performance stood up; she really was good and I remembered her famous saying about aging.  I think she got that right too.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Orchids and One Food That Qualifies As Medicine

For Valentine's Day hubby surprised me with this lovely orchid.  I'm not impressed with that particular holiday and he knows this but thought I would enjoy the challenge of keeping an orchid alive.  The instructions are very specific...lots of light but no direct sunlight and I must feed it three ice cubes once a week.  It came with tiny hair clips holding the flowers upright and attached to the main stem.  I would like to see what would happen if I removed one but I'm afraid.  Gosh, hope I don't kill it or at least not for a while.
I'm deliberately showing you this flower today to cheer myself.  We have just had three days of frost bite warnings and today it is dark and gloomy and snowing.  About ten centimeters are forecast by tonight.  Though the calendar is steadily moving us towards spring, the weather is surely not.
Some time ago I told you about a busy day when I put a whole chicken into my slow cooker and left to run errands.  Here is the soup I made.  Many years ago I would watch Martha Stewart's t.v. show and jot down recipes; this chicken soup recipe was one of them.  She had a guest cook, as she often did in those days, and this woman made the simplest soup I had ever seen.  The recipe consists of the whole chicken, a container of chicken broth, chopped carrots, turnip, parsnips and potato.  The chicken is boiled first for about 45 minutes, most of the bones removed, the vegetables added and a few simple seasonings such as salt and pepper while the vegetables cook through.  It is the kind of chicken soup that would hearten you if you felt sick and I have made it often ever since.  The secret to this soup is in the broth and to get good flavour  you have to start with a good chicken.  I don't think you would have the best success if you use a utility type chicken. 
There are not a lot of solid examples of food as medicine but chicken soup actually has some research backing its value; I believe in its goodness.