Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Planting In Spite of the Weather

Still Alive!

Just wanted to show that I have not killed the orchid yet, though the flowers grew quite a bit larger, they are looking a little less lively lately.  I will look up what to do for the next step so fingers crossed.  I've enjoyed its presence in my bedroom...it is the first thing I see when I wake up. 

It is a horrible weather day here...raining, wind howling around the eaves, cold and not a bird in sight.  I hope they have found somewhere snug to hide themselves as this is the forecast for the next five or six days.  I just refilled all the feeders because the conditions are still so cold overall and so little growth sighted, it would be slim pickings for any of the foraging creatures. The poor daffodils opened with optimism briefly but are looking so bedraggled now I'm not sure they will survive.  On a more positive note, on our outing yesterday, we did see buds beginning to open on one tree.

 My seeds from Vessey's arrived and I did get to set the ones you start inside...a month behind so we'll see how this all works out.
Monday, it was cool but the sun was shining and I spent a happy couple of hours in the greenhouse.  I have planted all the Morning Glory, Geum, Butterfly Flower and Daisy seeds.  Of the vegetables, I've put in soil all the different tomatoes and ground cherry. I'm really worried about any of the vegetables having enough growing time this year, especially if this cooler, wetter weather becomes the trend this summer.  

Hope it is warm and cozy where ever you are!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

More Bird Chatter





I took a couple of photos through the living room window and here is one of them.  It captured a little group of American goldfinches and really shows just how much brighter the males are than the females.  In fact, the males become a little brighter during this time of year...breeding season. American goldfinches are part of the perching birds grouping, a large group that includes swallows, larks, sparrows and many more. I find their bright yellow feathers cheery, and I guess that explains why I love spying them through my windows.

Here is another...



I have many birding books, most given to me as gifts, but also some I've found at second-hand stores.  Here is one I found and I could tell it had never been opened...the spine still stiff and each page pristine.
It is called Birds The Art of Ornithology by Jonathan Elphick and is a beautiful little book.  It chronicles the artistry of bird art down through the ages.  I guess since our ancestors began drawing the world around them, in the beginning on cave walls, birds have interested humans.  Many of the early explorers, great artists throughout time, and fledgling painters have succeeded in rendering on paper the birds they spied around them.  I love how so many of them also contributed to the scientific knowledge of birds through their drawings.

Here is page 188 showing an exquisitely detailed drawing of a shrike's nest and eggs.  There are many illustrations of nests and eggs throughout 350+ pages, and though quite a few are of more exotic (to me) birds, they are all so beautifully drawn I'm in awe.
I've read that birding is a disease that can strike anyone, anywhere and both genders with equal intensity; according to the numbers of people involved and supporting what is a billion dollar industry these days, it is an epidemic!  
 

Monday, 28 April 2014

Quilts Galore! Book and Chinese Coins

My quilt sandwich for Chinese Coins

This is sadly not a great photo of my attempt at another charm quilt.  By the way, a charm quilt simply means no two pieces used are the same.  Also some of  my favourite scraps did get repeated so I  guess this is a variation of a charm quilt.  One of my friends saw this and thought it really nice so it is a shame the photo doesn't capture the 'charm' of  it. I found my inspiration in a book published in 1990 called Quilts Galore! by Diana McClun and Laura Nownes.  I just love this book and it is one of the few I made a point of ordering so I could be sure to have it among my quilting resources. 

Here is the page of interest in Quilts Galore! The pattern is Chinese Coins which is a pieced design and a wonderful way to use up scraps of even small sizes.  In this book, the quilt is called Liberty Coins because it was pieced with Liberty of London fabrics.  They are attractively co-ordinated in the book but I did not have specially purchased and thereby, matching scraps for my project.  I did choose a similar colour theme and used browns and greens with the odd pop of the colour red.
I am recommending this book because it includes very clear instructions, large colour photos and template patterns of a wide variety of quilts, everything from crazy quilts to appliqued.  I like the way even a beginner quilter like myself can successfully use the patterns.

  

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Zoo Thoughts and Block L

Still fresh with that 'back home' and back to reality feeling.  I am definitely feeling Cinderella-ish today as the floors all needed a good cleaning.  With all the rain, our two big dogs tracked in a lot of dirt and I couldn't rest till I'd mopped them all.  Yes, I feel a little like I was at a ball but instead of dancing I did a lot of walking.  You can see right away why urban dwellers are thinner than us country folk.  Even going up and down all the subway stairs, standing enroute if it is busy and then walking wherever you have to get to gives a little bit of a workout.
 I did enjoy my trip...my favourite parts were the puffin and penguin watching at the Biodome and the star gazing accompanied by a light and music show at the planetarium.  
While at the Biodome, I had to push aside my concerns about the treatment and well-being of these animals kept in captivity.  They are housed in areas that supposedly replicate their natural environments and I watched many going about their business in a seemingly normal way. The ducks and fish, in particular, seemed fine.  I have my doubts though about the lone lynx who has a shelter perched as far from the crowd as they could achieve.  You can be sure his present life is nothing like his life in the wild was meant to be.
I saw many, many children as well as adults like myself enthralled with the sight of so many wild creatures.  I guess that is the positive aspect of zoos for, in reality, how many of us get to see such wildlife otherwise.  Hopefully, the zoo experience builds a respect and admiration of living creatures  which leads to that all important desire to protect and care for them too.

Here is Cinderella's Block L...

   

Saturday, 26 April 2014

To Montreal and Back

Remember when I told you about buying tickets for a little journey; well the last two days I was gone on that journey.  I did not mention I was leaving because I thought I would get to write to you while away.  However, it didn't work out that way because once there we decided to have a wi-fi free two days.  But I did think of you and this blog a lot. 
The trip was to Montreal and back with my grandson and his grandfather.  Montreal is our second favourite Canadian city and holds a sentimental place for me as I did live there while attending university and loved every minute of it.  It is a unique place with lots of ethnic cuisine, people of many cultures all together with the French and English. In particular, I always notice the women when I'm there.  They have such a notable style and wear beautiful clothes all with casual elegance.  I don't notice this in any other city I visit, and while there are stylish women in downtown Ottawa, it is not the same as the ladies of Montreal. This visit was no exception.  To suit the cool temperatures, so many women were suavely dressed in shawls and high boots, trailing long scarves and heavenly scents.    
We made the trip over and back on Via Rail. What is it about trains that we love.  It is such a genteel, relaxed way to travel, I just don't understand why it is not more popular.  Grandson loved every minute of the rides to and from, as I have to admit I did myself as well.
It was a great little break, my first in almost a year.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Belief, Inspiration and My Block K

 "I believe in God, only I spell it n-a-t-u-r-e."

                           Frank Lloyd Wright


 I realize now that my grandparents were only in their fifties when they started using sayings such as "God willing" or "if the good Lord allows".  These were usually said when we would have had a visit and were ready to depart and speaking of the next time we would see them. To them that age must have seemed old despite the fact that both were in wonderfully good health.  And I am also struck by how strong their faith was in God and how they so firmly believed their fate was in His hands.  Grace was said before each meal at their house, attending church services was a given and I never ever heard either of them swear. The Bible was read so much it could naturally fall open to my grandmother's favourite passages.  So this is the depth of belief I was steeped in, as it were.  But yet, I find myself today with a great big question mark just where that belief should sit in my heart. I'm really not sure how I came to this point...it seems I have travelled far from those churchy beginnings. Yet, where exactly am I?  These recent years when I do go to church, I admit to feeling inspiration but usually it is because I feel moved by the music or the words not by the story itself that brings us there.  Is that inspiration enough? Or as Peggy Lee sang "is that all there is".
Long thoughts this early morning, perhaps because it is a foggy, rainy one here in Canada's capital city.

Here is Block K....
  Something to my knowledge, I have never eaten.  Is it a fancy turnip?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Free Doughnuts and Block J

She sped up when she saw me just as I was about to enter the drive-through lane.  I had grandson in the back seat going to get him his doughnut treat, so luckily I was being extra cautious.  I was able to slam on the brakes and avoid hitting her as she beat me to the machine where you give your order (what is that thing called??).  It would have been enough of an incident for me to blow the horn or give some other signal that I was unhappy with what she had done.  However, I did not react; I've always thought reactions like that when driving rather childish. Grandson and I both agreed it was a close call though and he proceeded to give me a rundown on what this one or that one in the family would have done if this had happened to them.  Our turn at the wicket and I was told, the lady ahead of you said she had cut you off so she's paid for your order. I just caught sight of her as she turned onto the highway and I held up my hand in a wave of thanks; she waved back as she sped off.  Grandson was pleased...free doughnuts, he didn't have to spend any of his bank money. See I said to him, being nice is a good way to be; maybe she wouldn't have paid if I'd tooted or used certain gestures. He said he figured she was late for work and then proceeded to think of all the ways she could sneak into her building without anyone seeing her; what a good time for your secret power to be the one where you can become invisible, he concluded. Aren't nine year olds wonderful.

And here is my Block J...
  

Monday, 21 April 2014

Blessed with Birds and Shawl Finished

Mourning doves are back and still in mourning if their woeful coos are to be believed.  The poor things have landed on the watch list of endangered species and I think I have an inkling why.  Their nest building is sadly lacking in skill; a few twigs and leaves barely flung together so that an egg or chick could certainly slip through and apparently often do.  It is a rather sweet bird though, perhaps too passive for its own good.  At the feeder they will always give way even to the much smaller chickadees.  Perhaps another reason they are on the watch list. They are faring well here though; I have counted up to a dozen on the ground at a time.
 In the photo above I was able to capture some of the American goldfinches that are around in great numbers as well as one of the juncos which are also quite plentiful.  I think that is a white-throated sparrow happily pecking in amongst them.  I see a couple of white-crowned sparrows in the back yard which are a little more striking looking.  Yesterday I watched two cedar waxwings high in the birch tree; we always seem to have one pair around but not more. I heard and then saw an Eastern Phoebe.  They have had a nest for years over the light down at the garage building; it is quite tall now.  I will try to photograph it to show you later.  I read in the local paper that there was a concern about the male phoebes being here already because they are ahead of the insects that make up their main diet.  The late spring has been tough for so many creatures.

In other news...
 Another shawl is finished.  It took four balls of wool and half of another to crochet the edging all around.  It is a little heavy which I'm hoping will be a good thing when cool shawl-wearing weather returns.    

Sunday, 20 April 2014

An Author Who Goes 'Where Angels Fear to Tread'

What was on my night table this week....

You just know when you pick up a book by Joyce Carol Oates you are going to be in for a bit of a ride.  You do have to admire how prolific she is if nothing else, sometimes publishing up to four novels in a year.  As well, I often encounter her articles on all manner of topics published in various magazines and essay compilations.  What a command of the English language, as we used to say in the old days.  She is another one of the authors I have on my watch list and I think I have read most of her novels to date (with the exception of two concerning topics I find too repulsive to endure).  I thoroughly enjoyed Missing Mom and We Were the Mulvaneys, for instance.
Mudwoman is about a woman who has made it to the top...she is the first female president of an Ivy League university.  The title refers to the fact that this woman was abandoned as a small child by her insane mother who left her in a mudflat. She was miraculously saved and was adopted into a loving home provided by a Quaker couple.  This woman, our protagonist, is extremely intelligent and ambitious and by becoming university president she is really at the acme of her life and career.  However, despite having achieved so much, she is severely questioning her own self-worth and ability to fit in and belong.  I cheered for her so much in the beginning as we all want to see an underdog win; it would also be encouraging to think children who suffer at the hands of the adults raising them, can overcome this and make their way successfully in life.
However, we realize (and it wouldn't be a JCO novel if it didn't do this) very quickly that this poor woman is suffering horribly.  Her self-imposed isolation and subsequent loneliness are very much symptomatic of a woman on the edge of mental illness.
How could I say I liked this book?  But I did.  Something about the protagonists' endless questioning of herself appealed to me.  I felt badly for her and empathized with her sadness; her endless internal monologue was interesting material to me.  Is this the way a psychotic break feels? At times we are completely unsure if what is described is really happening or not. 
I had to read to the end to find out what happens to this poor woman, our heroine; I just had to.

And here is my block I....

I think it is my favourite block.  I love irises and I had a lot of fun trying to get the violet/purple colours look okay.  In fact, I did two of this block just to play with the colours. 



Saturday, 19 April 2014

Not Far From Pioneers

We are not that far from the time of pioneers here on this land, just one family before us.  The remains of a cabin-like house sit not that far from where this house is.  I walked the outline of the two rooms today, just a depression in the earth now.  Hubby was presented with a painting of the original structure and this is hanging in our hall today.  Straw was used to insulate the walls and it actually looks larger than I would have imagined.  I wonder though how they made a decent living.  As I've said we are on the edge of the Canadian Shield and a wide swathe of rock runs across the land; only a portion of it is arable.  I have not been able to find any berries, but there are three apple trees.  These appear ancient but still produce copious numbers of apples each fall.  Perhaps those early people trapped; from the tracks I see around our woods, there are numerous rabbits and porcupine.  And of course, there are lots of deer and turkeys. Flocks and flocks of ducks and geese fly overhead this time of year and again in the fall.  Okay, now I am thinking they probably did alright what with being able to take advantage of all these creatures, plus any crops they did manage to grow.  I feel better now. 

Here is my Block H...sorry I think I have it upside down!


Friday, 18 April 2014

Fish and Chips Day

When I was a child, I did not think there was anything good about Good Friday.  It always had a Sunday feel to it only even more morbid.  Though we had a day off school, we were expected to be quiet and ever mindful of what the day meant in the Christian calendar year.  Even the television shows broadcast on that day served to reinforce this.  They were usually sombre, sometimes consisting of  religious leaders discussing the events of that long ago day, and any movies shown had to be about the Bible or people from the Bible.  I guess they were not very interesting to me because I have a memory of it all being boring.  For supper, my mother would serve boiled potatoes and salt herring.  This would be accompanied by her homemade bread and lots of admonitions to "mind the bones".  She was scared to death we would get herring bones stuck in our throats.  I usually ate mine with a little vinegar and though we all liked herring, she did not serve it often.  I think because of the fear of those sharp little bones. 
This memory makes me smile.  Can you imagine all television stations dedicating all its programming to a single religious event these days?   Can you imagine serving children boiled potatoes and salt herring these days?
When I lived in St.John's, Newfoundland, Good Friday was a fish and chips day in a big way.  The city has numerous fish and chip shops, all serving homemade French fries with the fish.  It is always delicious and I've not eaten near as good anywhere else.  Some of these shops will serve hundreds of pounds of fish on this day and you usually douse the fries in the dark vinegar they still import from England.  In fact one of these shops sells bottles of the vinegar and if you are a regular customer, they give you free refills. 
Oh dear, another story making my mouth water thinking about it!

Meanwhile back in Ottawa, here are Blocks F and G...


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Bunnies and Peeps and More Alphabet Blocks

I just got in from going on a search for chocolate treats for some of the children in the family.  I wish I  was more clever and could think of interesting things to buy instead of the usual eggs and bunnies because I know they will get more than the usual quota of sugar this weekend, that's for sure.  Alas, I left the thinking about it a little late...
When I was little, for Easter, I would be given one of those flimsy straw baskets, the kind with handles that would bear no weight.  It always held one chocolate bunny, two eggs wrapped in foil and a few of those pastel coloured egg-shaped candies all perched atop brightly coloured, plastic straw.   I remember being delighted with it all and taking days to eat the bunny, always ears first.  I think the best treat these days is the Lindt Easter bunny, you know the one in gold foil with a scarlet tie around its neck but they are expensive.  I used to enjoy any chocolate covered marshmallow eggs but I find they are so sweet these days I can't eat them.  I don't know if they've changed or me.  I love Peeps, yes I know they are very sweet...too many and you could have a sugar coma situation, but I love their name, their cheery colours and I always reuse the tiny boxes they come in.  They make great holders for sorted buttons or pins.  I saw on Pinterest many imaginative ideas for using Peeps to make everything from cakes to muffins and they all looked like a lot of fun; I'm sure any child would love them.  I always think it is more special when items only appear at certain times of the year; it makes them even more of a treat.  I'm getting a little hungry writing about this...

Here is Block D  and E in my Gardener's Alphabet project...

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Hearing a Great Horned Owl

I catch myself in repose and my face has a look of permanent anxiety, I think it is my father's look.  I have to remind myself sometimes to smile and try to look less sombre.  Perhaps I'm wearing this face today because I woke early at about 5:10 a.m. (ah, the accuracy that digital clocks allow) to the sound of an owl hooting.  This is the second time in the last while this has happened to me.  He called till about 7 and I was awake and listening to his every hoot.  I had the sound well learned by then and was able to easily identify it at allaboutbirds.org/  All About Birds one of my favourite bird sites.  It was a Great Horned Owl I was hearing, only wish I could have seen him. I just read an interesting fact... he is the only natural predator of the skunk; having no sense of smell means the skunk's main defense is useless against an owl. I also found out that I was probably hearing two owls; they enjoy calling to each other in the night at this time of year.
Today I went out looking all over the property tramping as far as our land borders in one direction.  I kept looking at all the many dying trees with likely looking holes and cracks but did not see an owl.  I saw this robin roaming back and forth over the little space no longer snow covered, looking for worms, I suppose.



How I wish I had a photo of an owl to show you.  However, I did enjoy my walk and with all the bird activity and no new leaves yet, it is a great little window of opportunity to catch sight of who knows what.
Rex enjoyed a stick he found uncovered and I have to include him because his nose is out of joint about only Murphy making into the blog last week.




Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Crabapple Hill Studio's Beautiful A Gardener's Alphabet

I've been wanting to share this project that I began last fall.  It is the beautiful A Gardener's Alphabet designed by Meg Hawkey and offered by Crabapple Hill Studio. It is a quilt/wall hanging project consisting of 22 blocks in all and the designs are coloured with crayon and then embroidered in back stitch, running stitch and embellished with French knots.  I love alphabet pieces of any sort and flowers too so this combination appealed to me very much. I am now working my last block and I am almost sad about it.  It has been a very enjoyable project and I have loved the challenge of trying to make my stitching consistently uniform and neat. 
So here are A and B blocks completed.  I am pleased with my A block.  However, this is my second attempt at the B block.  I really didn't like what I did with the beehive the first time.  I fooled up the colouring and made it far too dark, which I couldn't undo, so I wound up cutting out and drawing and working a whole new block.  As I've said, I am certainly no expert and sometimes really don't like the way something of mine turns out. Then I have to scrap it and start over.  I messed up a couple of other blocks too and I'll show you that later.
I am sorry the photos are a little dark.  It was such a dark day today...rain and snow all day (yes, I said snow!), that I had to use the flash on my camera and even with that, it is still a bit shadowed, but I hope you get the idea of how great this project is.    


Monday, 14 April 2014

"Cooked" Dinner

My stove and pots and pans getting a workout....

Yesterday I made a 'cooked dinner' as I call it.  Back at the start of our friendship, in the days when a couple are getting to know each other, hubby found my use of certain phrases amusing and this was one.  Aren't all our dinners cooked, I remember him saying with a big smile.  He is used to it now and knows this means a meal with some kind of meat, usually beef, and lots of cooked vegetables and gravy to go with it.  I took advantage of Easter sales and bought a roast of beef at a good markdown.  It worked out well as was quite tender and made a good tasting gravy.
Another thing I have my own name for is this...a biscuit I make with meat which I call a 'crust'.  It is a plain biscuit that can be placed on top of the almost cooked meat for about the last 20 minutes the meat is in the oven.  My own recipe is as follows:
Meat Crust
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
almost 1/2 cup butter or shortening
1/4 cup milk or enough to hold the mixture together. 

You just mix all dry ingredients, cut in the butter and then add the milk.  Work this dough enough so it holds together, add more flour if you need to, and then gently place on top of the meat.  You can also put it in a separate plate to bake if you want to take your meat out to rest.  I usually up the oven temperature to 400 degrees for the crust to bake. 
As you can see from my photo, mine rose and fell down the sides of the roast but that's okay, it still tasted fine.  Hubby really likes this, I think because he loves anything the word biscuit can be applied to. 
No, nothing gourmet here but it tasted good and the best part was I made enough for left-overs the next night.  Yes, a good meal, a small pleasure enjoyed together. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Another Thing for My Idle Hands

This is a hopeful photo...I smile when I look at it because I have spent many happy hours there playing in dirt and watching tiny seeds sprout and grow.  Another way to keep my idle hands busy which means I keep my mind concentrated on happy thoughts. 
It shows my little greenhouse last fall when I did the final tidying. It has a wall of leaning windows and is attached to the side of the big barn.  As small greenhouses go, this one is fitted out nicely.  It has electricity so I can turn on lights, plug in a fan or the radio.  One wall is all shelving so there is lots of storage for all the gardening gear. It also has a laundry sink and running water which is very convenient.  
                                            Last summer... Barn with greenhouse on the right.

I have planted nothing so far.  I just put in an order for seeds which should be arriving any day.  There is still snow and ice blocking the doorway and the temperatures are only now high enough to risk plantings.  Of course with the wall of windows, the heat does gather in there so from here on in, it should be a go.  Checked my journal, and sure enough, I had started my first seeds in March month last year, so I am behind.  Perhaps Mother Nature will make amends by extending the warm weather into next fall.
April showers...after a lovely sunny day yesterday, today the whole area has a rain watch in effect with numerous flood warnings.
Hope it is high and dry where ever you are! 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Throw Your Windows Wide

It is a 'throw your windows wide' kind of day.  Bright sun and finally reaching a balmy 12 decrees C for us.  I do have one window cracked and it is letting a little of the outdoorsy scent indoors...here to mingle with the doggy aromas and leftover fire smells.  Not exactly a floral bouquet.
This is day one in the garden.  The snow has retreated enough to enable a good raking of the flower beds and I enjoyed the little bit of exercise it gave me.  I couldn't believe what I saw when I scraped away the old leaves and bits of snow; these perennials had already sent up some shoots, which had to have happened underneath a cover of snow.
Sprouts everywhere in each of the beds...I can only stare at this and marvel.
That small creek I was walking with the dogs not that long ago has broken out completely and is now racing with great force across our land.  No danger of flooding here but there are flood warnings for many parts of the region. So much of the terrain is traversed by numerous rivers and creeks all of them now widened by the melted snow and added rainfall from last Friday.  I guess each season brings with it challenges weather-wise.
The Canada geese have landed (surely this means spring is really here) and are paddling in whatever water they find; there are huge numbers of them all over as always. Yesterday I watched a skunk make its way along the ditch.  It looked thin and bedraggled; I think it must have had to stay in its den in hiding longer than usual what with the winter lingering on the way it did.  I heard on the radio that our spring is 3 to 4 weeks later than usual.  That would have had a detrimental effect on many of the woodland creatures, for sure.      


Friday, 11 April 2014

Things I Won't Think About Again

"Drag your thoughts away from your troubles...by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it."

                                                                                                         Mark Twain


The fifties are the youth of old age they say.  I guess that is why I didn't feel old at all then, in fact, I enjoyed how I felt about myself throughout that decade.   But now I'm in my sixties and I admit I feel a little different about the aging thing as I've talked about before.
As well though, I do recognize a freeing aspect to getting older...there are things I will never have to think about again...here are a few.

1. Spaghetti strap dresses. (Self-evident.)

2. High heels (same as #1)

3. Which shade blonde I am.  I used to always have highlights put in my hair. This became an issue for me during the summer months.  The sun always lightened my hair and I hated to get too light, never wanting to be a platinum blonde (not that there is anything wrong with that).

4. How wide my hips are.  I used to think my classic 'child-bearing' hips were almost too wide to get through narrow doorways.  I now think what a ridiculous notion that was and these days other than fitting them into clothes, I don't give them too much thought. 

 5. Polynomials, the table of elements and those i.q. questions about Train A leaving platform 2 at 3 p.m. and Train B leaving platform 4 at ....you know the ones I mean. I never want to think about those things again ever. 

6. Which political party is in power.  I've now seen them both over and over and the sameness about the issues that arise is disappointing.... I used to care a lot about that but no more.

7. Keeping all my clothes perfectly pressed and folded neatly in drawers.  I used to spend serious time ironing and carefully organizing everything just as if the Ironing Police or Drawer Inspectors or someone was going to come in and check out how I was doing.  Don't give that a thought anymore. 



 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Appreciating Beautiful Dresden Plate

This is one of my embroidered Dresden plate blocks I worked for what was going to be a wall hanging five or six years ago.  The pattern is called Susan's Dresden Plates from Crabapple Hill Studio.  It is really a very charming design and I loved working mine in dark pinks and light blues.  I did not use it for a hanging but sewed the blocks into two table runners which worked out well.  The orginal at the Crabapple Hill Studio site is worked in blues and the appliqued blocks are blues and yellows.  I think it is beautiful and really you could use the blocks for any number of projects. 
I am fond of this particular patchwork block...Dresden plate.  Both grandmothers and my mother have used it in their quilting projects.  It is a versatile design and there are several variations of it that can be used to suit whatever fabric you have available.  It looks good pieced in one solid colour or as a true patchwork, in many prints and colours.  Of course, it is a great way to use up leftover fabric scraps as well. 
What a wonderful idea to incorporate embroidery with the Dresden design.  At a local quilt show several years ago, I saw this very design used in a full double quilt.  It was presented to a young couple as their wedding gift from an aunt and was just spectacular.  It was the most oohhed and ahhed over quilt at the show and for several reasons.  The embroiderer had used creams, pale pinks and yellows, a very pleasing palette and it had been professionally quilted with the most amazing ferns and flower designs in the border.  I spent a long time looking at this quilt, taking in just how wonderful all the stitching was and generally totally in awe of its beauty.  I also had a real appreciation of all the work that had gone into it; that's something I think only other stitchers can really understand. 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Sneaky Household Habits

"The best time to plan my next book is while I'm doing the dishes."

                                                                                                    Agatha Christie


When I was young, the best compliment my mother could get in life was that her floors were so clean you could eat off them. Cleanliness was literally considered next to Godliness so I think most women of my mother's generation took their housework seriously. They even had their chores mapped out and aligned to which day of the week each had to be done.  And as my grandmother would say, it grieved them if they couldn't get it done then for whatever reason.  
I don't hold quite the same view about it all.  In fact, I always try to do my housework in a sly, sneaky way.  I don't really want to spend much time at it because I hold the view that I have better things to do with my time.  That may or may not be true, especially these days.
During my long weekly phone calls home, I usually dust the whole house.  Once I tried mopping the floor but it winded me too much and my mother thought something was wrong with me.  While I wait for coffee to brew or a kettle to boil, I ajax the kitchen sink or tidy the spice bottles.  If I am dressed and ready to leave (there's my punctuality thing kicking in) and hubby is not, I will give the kitchen backsplash an extra spritz and wipe or sweep the garage mat or tidy the recyclables.  I will only reorganize my cupboards if there is a good program on the radio that I can listen to while I go about it.
The really (and only) great thing about the lengthy commercial breaks on t.v. these days is how much can be accomplished during that time.  I can do my repetitions with my weights, goldfish can be fed, bookshelf tidied, windows shined, mats shaken out the front door, a load of laundry folded, or the linen closet sorted.  Then maybe the show is back on.
There are the occasional times when I will get a momentum going and do a complete clean through the whole house room by room; however this is more to do with company coming than strictly for cleanliness reasons these days.
On Pinterest I've read those lists telling you how to organize household chores efficiently; I was especially interested in the ones that showed how to keep your house clean in just 15 minutes a day.  I realized I was more or less already doing it just like they suggested.
And by the way, I certainly don't think doing housework is beneath me or any such thing.  In fact, hubby had a regular cleaning lady when I first moved in and it was my decision to let her go.  I figure as long as I am able to keep the house clean, I should do it.  It is yet another way to keep the body moving, albeit sneakily.   
   

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Growing Shawl and Spring...Better Late Than Never

This day dawned wet and windy.  It has been alternating between a drizzle and a downpour with everything looking dark and bleak; one of those days when you need all the lights turned on to cheer yourself a bit. The wetter weather began yesterday and I can see that the snow has taken quite a cutting.  My little creek is not walkable today just like that; scores of Canada geese have been flying overhead and my count of new birds at the feeders continues to climb.  The red-winged blackbirds have been visiting for several days and have been joined by a small flock of American goldfinches.  I now count about seven robins stalking the bits of exposed grass I guess eager for a worm or two.  Lots of mourning doves around too. Yes, definite signs of spring....better late than never!
I wanted to update you about the latest shawl I am still knitting.  The photo doesn't show quite how long it is but it is getting there.  I bought one more ball of the wool using my 50% off coupon at Michael's and I am thinking that might be enough.  While knitting last night I watched House of Cards and Call the Midwife, two albeit very different shows but ones we enjoy very much.   I always have a tear or two watching Call the Midwife, some of the story lines are very touching.  And House of Cards is interesting on so many levels; I find the husband/wife relationship particularly fascinating.  American politics is never boring that's for sure, both in fiction and reality.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Mom's Cheesecake

                                       The piece hubby got to bring home.

It was son-in-law's birthday last weekend and I received a special request...to make him one of his favourites...cheesecake, for the party.  It was one of those typical gatherings that families have.  Everyone pitched in to bring food for appetizers and desserts; daughter provided the main course-lasagna and salads.  The difference for us this year was that along with having a great meal and hearing all the stories and singing happy birthday, we got to take turns holding new grandson.  With two grandmas and an aunt in attendance, let's just say he did not lack for attention.
This is a very old recipe passed on to me from my mother who began using it in the late sixties when cheesecake first became a popular dessert at home.  It makes a 'real' cheesecake; I guess you could say New York style which means the cream cheese has not been mixed with Cool Whip or Dream Whip (which is also very tasty, btw).  The result is a dense cake, very rich in cream cheese flavour and some might say you would only need a sliver to be satisfied.  I like this one because it is not as heavy as other recipes that require five packages of cream cheese and it is not as fancy as some that include different cheeses.  Since son-in-law likes cherry topping, that's what he got.  I have made blueberry and raspberry sauces for this as well; I think blueberry is my favourite.

                Plain Cheesecake

Crust                                                                                Topping
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (or 12 crackers               2 cups sour cream
 crushed)                                                                         2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp sugar                                                                     1 tsp vanilla     
2 tbsp melted butter                                                       
Filling
3 pkg. (8 ounce size) cream cheese
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Make crust.  Combine and mix well all ingredients.
Spread over the bottom of a 9 or 10 inch spring-form pan.  Refrigerate.
Make Filling
In large bowl beat cheese till light.  Add eggs, vanilla, and sugar and continue beating until very creamy.  Pour into crust and bake for about 35 - 40 minutes.
Make Topping
Beat together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla till well mixed.
Remove cheesecake from oven, spread topping evenly over surface and return to oven for about 5 minutes or until set.
Remove from oven and run a knife gently around the edge to prevent the cake from cracking, cool in the pan and then refrigerate - the longer the better; overnight is best. 
Top with your favourite sauce or glaze.

 I've been making this recipe for several decades and always call it Mom's Cheesecake.  I wonder will there be a time when I can just call it mine. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Constant Craving for Choice


My mother says she can no longer send my father to the grocery store, and not because he is now in his mid-eighties.  It is because of the confounding array of items on the shelves and the way they continue to expand.  Take salt, for example.  I have two kinds right here in my tiny larder- kosher and plain table salt.  Daughter is "into" salts and keeps the little salt pig pictured above beside her stovetop where she stows her latest favourite salt. Our notion of even something as basic as salt is changing.  One time salt was just simply the ordinary Windsor boxed iodized white stuff, now there are salts available from many countries, some prettily coloured in hues of pink or green. 

I'm picking on salt but the same can be said of most things in the grocery store these days and hence my father's confusion ...look for tea, mustard, cereal, yoghurt, tomato soup, etc. and you will be faced with a dizzying array of options.

Perhaps I'm aware of this more so because of where I come from.  It was a place where fish was always cod and only cod.  Cheese was always the hard, orange cheddar cheese.  Tea was Red Rose; mustard would be the bright yellow French's.  This was most practical and trim-lined and grocery stores only needed to be the size of garages, not warehouses like today. You could send a child to do your grocery shopping in those days, if you had a mind to. 

I guess I'm a part of it too; it seems to be that all my folk are craving and demanding more and more choice and merchants are only too eager to satisfy those demands. But where will it end?  Just how big will grocery stores have to become...one wonders. 

Saturday, 5 April 2014

This Close To a Bear

April, almost a week done and spring is taking its own sweet time to arrive; it is creeping in which reminds me of the Carl Sandburg poem about fog moving in on cat's feet.  That poem, Fog, only had twenty-one words in it but remains a favourite for many and may be the piece Sandburg is most famous for (which is a little remarkable considering he won no less than three Pulitzer Prizes so has quite a body of writing).  Anyway, spring is certainly approaching with great care and trepidation just as the Farmer's Almanac predicted by the way.  
The land now has a typical March look to it ...you know that time when the ground can't decide if it is mostly snow or mostly mud.  It rained yesterday so the mud was winning for awhile and then it snowed so now we have slightly more snow again.
This reminds me of last year in March when I found the bear's den.  It was a warmish day that enticed me out for a tramp through the woods to the side  of the house.  I remember I was hoping for a sighting of a pileated woodpecker that favours those  trees.  I noticed one of the outcrops of rock a little low to the ground (we are on the edge of the Canadian Shield so have a fair share of rock on the property).  This rocky hole caught my attention because it was larger than usual and the few bushes in front looked trampled.  I had walked by this many times and wondered how had I not noticed such a hole before.  Perhaps the bushes had been fully grown then; perhaps the grass had sprouted enough to cover and obscure the opening.  I could see right away it would make a great den for some animal.  I glanced about and saw in the old snow nearby where it looked like something large had rolled around or lain down then several paw prints leading further into the woods.  I stood up as it hit me I was looking at bear prints; I glanced towards the house and realized I could see clearly into the den window from there.  To think that if I had been looking out at the same time as Mrs. Bear was looking my way, we could have seen each other.  I tried to get hubby to come out and look at my discovery but he really didn't want to think of a bear within sight of the house, even though we have never actually seen a bear here.
I'm thinking this outcrop is probably the one I stood on when I was on my turkey chase trying to get a photo of those surprisingly swift moving  gobblers.     

Friday, 4 April 2014

Well-Timed, Always

"Better three hours too soon than a minute too late."

                                          Shakespeare


Being raised by a man who was an army veteran meant being on time was always fifteen minutes early.  I have never needed an alarm clock to wake me and always wear a watch that tells time that is  five minutes ahead.  I think it could be said that I am pathologically punctual.  I do feel body reactions akin to anxiety and nervousness if I think I'm going to be late.  My father is exactly the same; he has always been so punctual the one time he was late, everyone panicked thinking he'd had an accident. 
My mother tells the story of having to wake me only once during all of my school years. That particular morning I was terrified I was late for school, and try as she might, I would not calm down.  She kept telling me I was just late getting up, not late for school.  I still remember the song that was playing on the radio as I flew out of the  house that day; it was Marty Robbins singing El Paso
It is fitting that during my younger years hurrying to get somewhere and worry about being late figured often in my bad dreams.  Other people dreamt of failing tests, I always dreamed about the panic of getting to them. 
It's a little ironic that much later in my life I lived in the far north where the people had a very different view of time and timeliness.  Time took on a whole new meaning in a place where there was no where to go- no bus, taxi,or train to meet; no rush hour traffic to beat.  Counting time would have been a waste of time.  Meetings could start and end without the pressure of how long they were taking.  At once freeing, it could also feel annoying sometimes.  Tardiness could never be taken personally in a setting like that.  It was good for me to live there and learn to adapt to life lived without the sense of the clock perpetually ticking.  It was just one of the many, many things I learned there.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

My Evening With Oprah

 Last May for my Mother's Day gift my daughter and son-in-law bought me a ticket to An Evening With Oprah.  Ms Winfrey included Ottawa on a tour around North America she was conducting at the time.  After giving up her daytime talk show, that was still the top rated show after 24 years, Oprah was feeling the need to reconnect with her fans.  I joined 20,000 of her closest friends, as she put it, at ScotiaBank Place for an evening of chit chat.  I loved every minute of it.  After watching Oprah for so many years on t.v., I did feel like I knew her.  She did not disappoint.  She began with a slide show showing photos of her rise to success from the humblest of beginnings with the message that if I can do all this so can you. She talked about children and the importance of protecting them; she talked about women and our need to be strong and maintain our support of each other.  She talked about books and the joy of reading.  She sang a song for us; her  singing voice surprisingly strong and enjoyable. She had the most inspiring wonderful quotes projected around the arena.  At one point she declared that her very expensive shoes were killing her feet, so she took them off and promptly gave them away to a young woman in the audience.  Her assistant rushed slippers on stage for her and she finished the rest of the evening in them. Leaving the building amid all those women of all ages, I must admit I did feel empowered; Oprah was right...what a force in the world women are.
I am a reluctant fan of most things and certainly not celebrities.  I'm not the jump up and down, hoot and holler, type of person.  But yet I have always admired Oprah and mainly for two reasons.  For her early years, she often did shows dealing with the rights and needs of children; she tackled many issues of child abuse head on and included experts in the field on her show at a time when this was not really being done. She continued to do these shows even when ratings were indicating they were not her most popular.  How could I, an educator and mother, not love that?  
The second reason is how she managed to boost the idea of reading nation wide.  By talking to authors and starting her book club, she gave reading an importance no one before or since has been able to do.  Many people who had never read a book began reading because of her influence.  As an educator and avid reader myself, how could I not love that? 
So there I was that night amid joyful fans, cheering and clapping too with a big smile on my face.  I dressed in pink with a purple scarf....Oprah's favourite colours. ( Actually I wore a pink boiled wool jacket with a pin in the lapel and with my silk scarf, I told everyone I was channeling Jackie Florrick, joke).
I would never have gone on my own, but I'm ever so glad I did.
  

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Gillian FLynn's Gone Girl

What Was On My Night Table

It is not often that I choose a book from the library's Express Read offerings because it means you have to read it in seven days.  If a book is at all literary I like to reread parts and linger over certain sections and generally take time to reflect on meaning and any bits and pieces of wisdom I can glean to apply to my own meagre life.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is definitely not in that category.  That being said it was a good book for the express reading part of it, reminiscent of what would have been called a beach book in the old days. 
The book opens with the scenario of a young man returning home on the day of his fifth anniversary and finding his wife missing.  As time passes and she does not show up everyone realizes the girl is truly gone and suspicions fall on the husband.  The first third to half of the book was hard for me to read.  I did not like the language or hip kind of way it was written; this seemed to settle down as the novel progressed or perhaps I grew more accustomed.  The structure of this book is what keeps people reading, I think.  It has twists and turns, some obvious, others not, that make you want to know what is really going on or going to happen, undeniably a good feature for a mystery book.  There are surprises so I'm going to say the novel is entertaining.
I did not care at all about the couple.  Narcissistic and sociopathic behaviour seem to be seen a lot these days in book, t.v. and movie characters. I guess it is disturbing that these qualities seem to be taken more and more for granted  but I think they should at least be portrayed in an interesting way; I'm reminded of American Psycho which I found intriguing and layered in many ways  because of what it was saying about modern day society.  The couple in Gone Girl reminded me of the young man and woman in the movie Open Water; remember them?  They were a similarly self-absorbed young couple who, in their case, get left behind by their scuba diving boat tour; they spend most of the movie floating in the ocean attempting to fend off sharks.  The movie failed I think because viewers could not muster enough empathy for the people involved.  I guess characters who are competitive, strident, and snarky with each other and overall the b word applies to just don't elicit sympathy.
 However after all that, if you want an easy read that is entertaining,  maybe something to take on holiday (to the beach) with you, then Gone Girl fits the bill.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Sharing the Road

The pavement on the roads is staying mostly dry these days.  A definite sign of spring.  Along with the dry pavement out come another sign of spring... the cyclists.  The road to our house is a winding two lane that flows through farmland and trees.  It is considered a 'pretty' drive and this has made it a favourite with the people who enjoy cycling.  Most of them look professional, all decked out with the proper suits, helmets and I'm sure the best of bikes.  They are Tour de France wannabees I'm thinking each time I see them.  As much as I admire their obvious fitness levels and devotion, sometimes their presence makes me uncomfortable.  I'm a little concerned trying to get around them and having to share the road with them.
 One evening I was driving home about dusk and encountered a long line of cars all moving like a caravan.  At the start were two cyclists riding side by side, seemingly oblivious to the line of cars now snaking behind them.  In the near dark and on two lanes with oncoming traffic, each car was having to use a very small window of opportunity to pull out and pass them. It seemed so dangerous to me; an accident waiting to happen was all I could think  and I was simply grateful that they had turned down a side road by the time it was turn to try to get by. 
There have been a number of tragic accidents here in Ottawa involving cyclists.  Meanwhile, there is a strong movement to share the main roads with bikes even in the downtown area which is very tight space-wise and often traffic congested.  As much as I want to support such a movement...so much good in it, I am so afraid for the bikers themselves.  It seems to be dangerous and I know I'm not the only driver who gets nervous sharing the road with cyclists.