Monday, 31 October 2016

When your son is a culinary student...

Other kids are throwing Halloween parties with ordered-in pizza and bags of candy. My eighteen-year-old made two batches of profiteroles with blueberry jam and flattened triangular ham and tomato sandwiches with the crusts cut off...with rosemary-infused butter.

I see my work here is done.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Figured out where all the ground cherries went

So the way ground cherries work is, when they are ripe they fall to the ground and you gather them up, sort of like hunting for eggs beneath a very large hen. I have been watching all summer as the berries have clustered in their little Japanese-lantern paper wrappings. It promised to be a bumper crop. But surprisingly, they didn't seem to be ripening. I only found a handful of them lying beneath the leaves. I've been checking all summer, and zilch. So I figured they were just slow to ripen this year.

Well, frost hit and the bush withered and blackened, so I ripped it all out with a sigh. Better luck next year. Yesterday I finished putting the garden to bed (other than the kale and lettuce). As part of the annual routine, I lifted and stacked the wooden walkways that wander throughout the vegetable garden, so that they wouldn't rot under the snow. And guess what I found under the walkways?

Ground cherry paper wrappers. Dozens and dozens of them. Along with a few peanut shells. So it turns out the ground cherries were ripening and falling all along, but the mice were grabbing them before I could find them. Who knew we had mice? And who knew they were so fond of ground cherries?

Next time I will not make assumptions when things don't seem to follow the proper pattern. Though frankly, I don't know what I'd do about mice. Even if I wanted to poison them, I wouldn't want Brio or Maple to come across a poisoned mouse that has wandered away into the yard to die, because they're fluff-brained enough to consider it a snack. And somehow it doesn't seem right to kill a critter that's living in its natural habitat. I mean, I'm the one encroaching on its territory, not the other way round.

Besides, I can sympathize with their love of ground cherries. How can I get upset with them for a trait I share myself?

I fear I'm a lousy gardener. Between sympathy for mice and love of rabbits, I'm doomed to eating whatever paltry leftovers they leave me.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

One good thing coming out of the U.S. election...

If nothing else, all the kerfuffle in the media about the election in the States has reminded me of something: the sheer fact that people are allowed to have opinions and to hold debates and to vote for the candidate of their choice is an amazing, wonderful thing. People are allowed to speak up and argue and talk about what they believe is right. They're given a vote. We may not agree with our neighbour's choice, but we can celebrate together the freedom that allows it. We shouldn't lose sight of that one vital point.

Winter Arrives

Two days ago I was picking cherry tomatoes and ground cherries in my garden and hoping my last couple of zucchini would get a little bigger. Today it is snowing. I wore a sweatshirt to work this morning because it was just a bit chilly. Now the Arctic has descended and it's going to be a cold trip home. The sky has turned a sullen, lead grey, and I suspect that will be it for sunshine for a while. Time to get out the woolly sweaters and make a big pot of chili. They're predicting a long, hard winter this year, and from the way today looks, I believe them.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Narrow Miss

This morning I was crossing the street (in the crosswalk, with the lights) at 5:00, so it was still dark. The light was about to turn yellow, so my first impulse was to break into a jog, but for some reason after a step or two, I just stopped short in the middle of the street, can't tell you why...and a white car zipped by and missed me by a couple of feet. He was trying to make the light too, I'm sure, making a lefthand turn, and likely didn't see me at all. I know I didn't see him until he was right there. Another step or two forward and I'd have been mush. Glad I didn't break into a jog when I was about to. Glad my guardian angels were more alert than both of us were this morning.

Spent the commute this morning feeling grateful, and thinking about all the loose ends I'd leave behind if I were to die right now, and all the people who would need notifying, and what about the lesson I have to teach Sunday, and the garden still to harvest for the Salvation Army, and the rewrites of my next manuscript still half done, and...well, let's face it. I just don't have time to die right now!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Revisiting old friends

Every now and then, I like to dig out old favourite books and reread them. My husband doesn't understand this -- to him, you read a book once, or watch a movie once, and then you're done and never do it again. On to other things. For this reason he doesn't understand why there are certain books I purchase and keep, instead of just getting them from the library. But to me, if the book spoke to me, I want to revisit it now and then. If I found a person I liked, wouldn't I want to speak to them occasionally? Well then, it's like that with me and particular books.

Right now I'm indulging in The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley. I've read it probably four times, and I'll likely read it again periodically. It's escapist, I know, but especially on dark winter days, what better thing to do than escape? I also frequent the Martha Grimes mysteries, Laurie King, Robin and Rosamunde Pilcher, Alan Bradley, Louise Penny, and Charles Todd. Occasionally I throw in some Desi Kennedy gardening books, Barney Bardsley, or any of the multitudinous self-sufficiency and homesteading books I own. You know the ones -- they teach you how to build everything from an outhouse to a hammered dulcimer and how to do anything from making maple syrup to delivering a calf. If I'm ever stranded in the woods with nothing but a pocket knife, I'll be fine so long as I have those books with me.

My husband bought me a Kindle, but even if I'm reading a favourite author on the thing, it just doesn't feel the same. It's like meeting an old friend and finding them decked out in a tinfoil suit. Same person but odd presentation, and after a few polite words one might awkwardly excuse oneself from the conversation and plead urgent business elsewhere. I think with books, the clothes make the man, and there's nothing quite like the familiar, comfortable feel of the actual paper cover in your hand. There are old books I keep just because I like the feel of them against my palm.

The greatest thing about rereading these favourite books is that my memory is so poor, I honestly don't recall how the mystery turns out. It's like reading them for the first time, so I get to enjoy them afresh again and again.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A spending spree at Camilla Valley Farm

Today I took the day off work and hubby and I drove to Orangeville to the only weaving supply shop I know of. Beautiful autumn leaves, valleys of flaming maple trees, perfect sunshine, and just the right temperature for a drive.

Camilla Valley is a beautiful place, and all the colour practically punches you in the face when you walk into the shop. Shelf after shelf of cones of thread in such vibrant hues, every colour imaginable. It was like Aladdin's cave. Jewel-bright golds and blues and greens and reds. Bins and bins of handspun wool. Looms and drop spindles and warping boards and mills and packets of knitting needles and hand-held carders and rows of instruction books... well, it was a lovely place to visit, and the wooden counter with its antique till made me feel as if I'd stepped back in time. As if I were being initiated into something special and ancient and important. The shop is situated in a snug gray building on the beautiful farm, the most perfect spot, and I couldn't help thinking this woman has established for herself a beautiful way to earn a living. I wanted to plunk myself down and stay forever.

A hundred and twenty-something dollars later (who needs groceries, anyway?), I walked out with a bagload of thread and Texsolv heddles, armed and ready for the next stage of the adventure. All the way home, hubby and I talked about the ancient art of weaving and how the technology seems so overly complicated and fussy and daunting, and hubby came up with innovative ideas for simplifying it. Though I suppose there's something to be said for keeping the art alive in its original form (Texsolv regardless).

My generous new weaving friend Carole is going to help me wind the warp, which takes a couple of hours and sounds as involved as flying a 747. But it isn't something that can be learned from a book or Youtube video; it really is best to get the knowledge from another person, passed down hands-on.

At some point I am going to write a poem about the interweaving of threads, the interweaving of the lives of these generous women who have taken me under their wing to help me learn this craft, the intertwining of experience and kindness, and how it all magically works together to create something beautiful. I can feel the poem growing within me, a thread here and there, waiting to emerge fully formed. During the tangle of the process it's sometimes hard to see the big picture, but someday when I'm above the difficult part and looking down at the topside of the cloth, I'll see how the pattern all works out.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

A great day

Cool crisp air today with more summer than fall in the air. Took the roses from the pots flanking the front door and planted them in the side yard. Trimmed the sedum to the ground. Relocated a bush that was struggling for light. Emptied all the flower pots and stored them in the shed. Picked dry beans. Cut down the peonies. Wound up the hoses and sprinklers. Stashed my fake chickens in the shed. Hubby dug out three dead bushes from the Zen garden (this summer's heat wave took out a few things). Scooped poop. Pulled out the remains of the cabbages and cauliflower. Put blankets over the tomatoes and ground cherries to protect them from tonight's frost. Ran to Canadian Tire and Home Depot. Got the island for Son #3's basement kitchen (white with a butcher-block top). Took the dogs on a long walk to return a library book and discovered a new path home. Hubby threw together three dinners, two to freeze and one for tonight. Finished reading my book (The Undertaker's Daughter by Kate Mayfield - quite good). Took Son #3 to work. Answered a bunch of emails and sent thank-yous to the bloggers who reviewed my book this week. Prowled on for a while to indulge my real estate ad addiction. Started the next book, The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, which I've read before but it was so long ago I can't recall it; I only know in my notebook I wrote down that it was good. Now settling down to crochet for a while before dinner, and will likely watch TV tonight and crochet some more.

A perfect day. A productive day. How I wish I could do this kind of thing every day instead of huddling in my soulless, airless cubicle wiggling my fingers for a living.

Monday, 10 October 2016

A Wee Surprise for Son Number Three

Son Number Three (who is in chef school) has gone to spend the day at Son Number One's house (a decadent few hours of Magic cards, Warhammer, video games, and apparently homemade French onion soup). While he's away, my husband has blitzed his basement bedroom, cleared a corner, and installed a fridge and cupboard and a really cool oven, to give Son #3 his own kitchenette. The oven is one we have had tucked away in storage for years and Son Number Three hasn't seen it in action. It's an old double oven from a restaurant, and the oven doors rotate upward instead of opening downward like usual doors. The four burners are in a pull-out drawer that you can slide in and out to keep hot burners away from small children. Super unique. At some point we'll also install a movable island---likely from Ikea---which Son can take with him when he gets his own place someday.

The plan is to get him a nice futon couch and redo things in adult colours (he likes black, white, and red). Voila -- the gloomy basement will become a snazzy bachelor pad.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Canadian Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, a bit earlier than in the States because, well, our growing season tends to be shorter and the harvest is earlier. Though I'm not so sure that's true anymore. We're walking around in t-shirts up here, and they're building snowmen in Wyoming. But in any case, it's the holiday, and the whole family is coming to dinner. Hubby has been roasting the turkey early so that the oven is free to do the sweet potatoes, etc. Two orange-lemon meringue pies wait in the fridge. There's homemade grape juice to be brought up from the basement, and green and purple beans from the garden.

It's an appropriate time to stop and reflect on the abundance we enjoy and count our blessings. Top of my list is my faith and the Atonement. My husband and parents. My cool kids. My cuddly and faithful dogs. The country I live in. The peace we enjoy here. The teachers I've had. The ability to read. People who write so I can read. The beauty of nature, and the mystery of putting seeds into the ground and having food pop up. And tomorrow I'll be particularly grateful for the joy of having to squeeze in more chairs around the dining table, with people to fill them.

Autumn has always been my favourite time of year, with the cooler temperatures, the salmons and crimsons of the maple trees, the smell of wood stoves in the air as I walk the dogs. The cozy evenings, the hushed sound of a world blanketed in snow. The laden storage shelves. The taste of pumpkin pie and eggnog.

It is glorious enough to make up for the winter that follows.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Putting the Garden to Bed for the Winter

In between rainshowers I've been dashing outside to behead the catalpa trees, trim back the bushes, gather in the dry beans, pull out dead squash vines, cut cabbages, and check for late-ripening tomatoes. I've cut down the asparagus ferns for a second crop. I've started bringing in the lettuce seed heads and ground cherries. It's bittersweet, knowing this is the ending, even while relishing the thought of not having to weed for a few months.

A neighbour is putting in a new patio in back, and the contractor dumped a bunch of beautiful red bricks on the boulevard to haul away to the dump. With hardly any persuasion at all, he kindly drove a load over to our yard and dumped the bricks near my garden, where I have now built a nice little patio spot to hold a table and chair, so I can write in the garden. It was an area that got too much shade and not enough water anyway, so wasn't any good for growing vegetables. Free bricks are a pleasure to build with, especially these, which are old, solid, heavy, real bricks and not the crumbling modern ones you usually see.

I'd like to clear out the area around the composters and put landscape fabric and gravel down, to keep the thistles and wild strawberries at bay. And then it will be time to stack the wooden walkways and tomato cages under cover, clean and sharpen the tools and rotary lawnmower, take down the curtains of the gazebo, scrape autumn leaves as a mulch over the whole garden, and retreat to the house for the winter. Where bottles of apple pie filling and Roma tomatoes wait to entertain me for the next six months. :)

Monday, 3 October 2016

General Conference came at just the right moment

I know every time someone watches LDS General Conference, they say "Those talks were written just for me!" But this time they really were written just for me. Two days of lovely listening, and every word seemed to be just what I needed to hear. As I start to feel the annual slump into wintertime blahs, it was great to hear encouraging messages about finding joy no matter what our circumstances are, and to be reminded of how blessed I am. I'm going to print out some of my favourite talks and carry them with me in my backpack, so I can remind myself of the messages throughout the winter as I slog back and forth to work in the dark.

That's the hardest part of winter -- not the harsh cold or the snow or the freezing rain or even the boring routine. It's the dark when I get up. The gray cast of the days. The dark when I go home. I hardly ever get to see my own yard because it's pitch black by the time I roll home at 5:00. It's good to stop and remember that there is still light and peace in my life.

If any of you reading this missed any of the talks, please go to and watch or read the General Conference sessions. Whether you're Mormon or not, you will find comfort and encouragement in them.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Lessons (not) Learned

You would think getting skunked right in the face would slow Brio down, or at least humble him a little. Nope. He is charging right back out there, and as he burrows into the bushes, searching, you just know he is thinking, "That little stinker! I'm gonna find him and teach him a lesson!"

Saturday, 1 October 2016


Well, the inevitable has finally happened. Brio the Intrepid got too friendly with a skunk last night in the back yard and got it right in the face. My first clue was when I opened the back door to let the dogs in...and the aroma hit me...and then I saw Brio rolling in the grass, trying to wipe his face. Maple wisely had stayed out of it. But oooh boy, Brio!

I hollered for help and my husband and I gave him a good scrub, first with professional dog shampoo and then with a mix of Palmolive and vinegar. So now the house smells like skunk and vinegar. And the incense my husband lit. And wet dog.

You may not want to visit our house for a few days...