Friday, April 30, 2010

April Flower "Catalog"

I have a hard time remembering the names of plants... so I decided to create a monthly "catalog" of the flowers blooming in my garden... Hopefully I'll get the names right!

In early April - the very first blooms I saw were scillas.

(Thanks, Mary for looking it up when I mis-named them!)

Not long afterward, the flowers of the ivy plant a neighbor gave me appeared... I'm not sure what kind of ivy it is.

But it grows so well it's slowly taking over my back flower bed!

Then the yellow daffodils... (Don't know why they seem to be facing down...)

And the yellow star-shaped flowers called tulip tarda... Also called Tawdra Tulips

The weeping cherry tree (Prunus Snow Fountain or Snow Fountain Cherry) started to bloom...

Mid-April the tulips bloomed...

It has been an amazing month!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pepper Works!

Last spring, I was disappointed when squirrels ate off the flowers on about half of my tulips. So I hunted for a solution on the internet. I don't remember where I read it, but someone suggested sprinkling pepper or paprika on the flowers to deter the squirrels.

So this spring I gave it a try...

And it works! But the pepper or paprika needs to be applied daily, before the tulips bloom (or it may be too late)...

Tulips don't last that long - so it's nice when they aren't chewed off the stem the very day the flowers open up!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Do I Need a Veggie Garden?

My ancesters - on both my parents' sides - comes from a long line of farmers... which may be why I have this inner compulsion to GROW THINGS!

The past few years, I have been content to grow flowers - perennials - which come up by themselves, brightening my spring, summer, and fall. They are hardy enough for our Canadian climate, so they require very little care - though I do have to separate them and divide them from time to time if they overcrowd plants nearby.

But recently, checking out a gardening blog I enjoy, I began to wonder whether I should start a vegetable garden again, too.

It brought back memories of my own "gardens past"...

When our children were small, we did have a vegetable garden - in part, to show them how veggies grew. It served its purpose: They have fond memories of eating peas and lettuce we had planted. But it never did produce much - too much competition from squirrels and rabbits!

But I do remember picking green beans all summer long one year. (One of my gardening neighbors still reminds me of that amazing year.) But there are other less-fond memories too: corn snapped off (by squirrels) just as the heads were ripening, tomatoes and zucchini with chunks chewed out of them.

At some point - with local veggies sold at farmers markets all summer long - having my own veggie garden didn't seem worth the effort and frustration...

Do I really want to bend down for hours again...?

Maybe I'll just admire other people's veggie gardens - it's a lot less work!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

You Can't Say That!!

One of the surprising things I encountered in Israel was the normalcy of asking: "How much did that cost?" or "How much do you earn?" - questions that are taboo in Canada...

Later, as a teacher of English to newcomers, I had to explain what one could and couldn't politely say in Canada - as taboos are not the same in all parts of the world...

One gentleman from Colombia laughingly mentioned that in his country telling people they were fat wasn't taboo. (He had tried it in Canada and met with an icy response!) In his country, a woman might not like to hear that she appeared to have gained weight, but telling her wasn't taboo. (Perhaps people were less uptight about their weight and body image there, the class suggested.)

The subject of taboos always brought on a lively discussion.

I was reminded of all this because the other day, with all the excitement of tree-cutting and re-roofing on our street, my husband had gone over to watch.

"The roof job only cost $5000," he commented on his return.

"Did you ask?" I asked.

"No, Rob [our neighbor] just told me," he replied.

"Do people usually talk about the cost of re-shingling a roof?" I asked. "Is it the same as telling someone how much you paid for a house, a renovation? Or a car?"

My husband had to think for a minute.

"Well, it depends on what kind of friends we are," he replied. "If he was a really close friend, I might tell him what I paid for my car."

It was hard for him to define what was "appropriate."

The subtleties of language extend far beyond what words - and sentences - really mean!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hard to Believe!

I was just browsing through some old pictures, and came across this one taken six years ago, the year I planted my "new" flower bed... (The tree looks so scrawny!)

The flower bed has expanded every year - partly because the plants have brown bigger - and last summer it looked like this...

Last fall, I expanded it again... And this spring I covered it with wood chips...

I wonder what it will look like this coming July!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Non-Veggie Lover's Salad

Truth be told, I'd rather eat bread (pie, cake or cookies) than veggies... And I mean, for my main course, not just for dessert!

But I'm supposed to eat more veggies.. I know they're good for me and as a type 2 diabetic, I would be better off if I substituted veggies and fruit for most of the carbs I love to eat.

So I try to eat a lot of veggies every day. At lunch, I often make a large salad... but I try to make it less salad-like by adding fruit and nuts. Here's what I do:

I buy containers of greens and pre-washed veggies that are easy to deal with. (Why make it harder than it has to be?!) I fill the bowl with mixed greens and cut up the other veggies - carrots, cauliflower, broccoli florets... So the salad is full of vegetables and healthy.

Then I add 3-4 tablespoons of nuts. Here I have almonds and pecans.

I top that with berries or fruit. Here I have added some frozen raspberries and blueberries, 4-5 tablespoons. I then add a tablespoon or 2 of balsamic vinegar - no oil.

I usually let it sit for 10 minutes, so the frozen fruit gets a chance to thaw.

I really enjoy the mix of tastes - nutty, fruity, balsamic sour - and I almost forget I'm eating a bowl of bland veggies together with the nuts and fruit which give it flavor and color.

Sometimes I add mandarin orange slices, bits of avocado, chunks of cheese or meat. In fact, I do whatever I can to spice it up, and make it taste a little different every day.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Me? A Shopaholic?

I'm not a shopaholic when it comes to clothes, shoes, or makeup. But I do like to buy books. And I have a SERIOUS PROBLEM resisting cute kitchen items when I see them - mugs in particular!

I don't know why it's so important for me to drink out of a particular mug - but it is! I have my favorites. The color and design of the cup - as well as the coffee in it - contribute to my sense of contentment when I sip my morning coffee!

I do get tired of using the same dishes day in and day out! I envy my Jewish friends who have two sets of dishes - one for meat meals, another for milk - and then two more sets for the week of Passover! I guess there's no reason why I couldn't have several sets of dishes as well - but lack of cupboard space does limit my purchases!

I've stopped buying small electric gadgets, as I've run out of counter space... But whenever I go into a kitchen supply store, I could easily buy one of everything there! (Even though I have no place to store it when I get home...)

Nowadays, when I go shopping - I justify my purchases (like these cute little tomato and onion holders I bought yesterday) by telling myself that my kids would like them - if I don't use them - and the extras I bought will make cute hostess gifts!

(Like all "addicts," I find good excuses for what I do!)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Buying More Books!

Last Saturday and Sunday, our public library held its annual Mammoth Used Book Sale - an event not to be missed!

I had a list of books I was looking for - but of course, I didn't find any of them! But I did get a number of books I wasn't looking for! Here's the pile I brought home! - among them a few gems!

I spent a lot of time in the religion and biography sections, searching unsuccessfully for books by Madeleine L'Engle and Glenn Clarke (a well-known writer in the 1920's whose books are no longer in print)... But instead, I came away with biographies of Bill Clinton, Walt Whitman, and John Wimber. (I'm always interested in reading about the lives of interesting people.)

I also picked up a few poetry books, like Leaves of Grass, and the complete works of Thomas Hardy... as well as a German grammar text and a Jewish Prayer Book...

Also Simple Abundance Daybook by Sarah Ban Breathnach, which I remember looking at years ago, when it was new...

But my absolute favorite so far is George Foreman's Guide to Life... (I got it because Terry and my sons like boxing...)

However, I may not part with it! Each (short) chapter combines the wisdom of experience with interesting life anecdotes. An easy book to read, it still offers lots of food for thought. (I'm already half way through it!)

I especially appreciate his comments on parenting - on embracing change - and on taking advice from others. George Foreman has a lot of wisdom to share!

The book sale is a great way of sharing books with readers like me who rarely use the public library...because they always end up paying fines for overdue books.

This way, I pay a dollar or two before I read the book - and once I take it home, I have as much time as I need to finish it. Then, when I'm done, I can always donate it back to the library's next annual book sale!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's a Little Boys' World Out There!

I remember when my sons were small - how they loved to watch large machines in action... Actually their father loved to take them so that he could watch, too!

So yesterday - when I heard big trucks rumbling down the street, I went out to investigate...

They had come to cut down a neighbor's dead tree. I should have gone over to watch - my husband said it was quite fascinating, how the robotic arm ripped off the dead branches, then picked them up and dropped them into the back of the truck... (They did have to cut down the trunk, however...)

Then turning, I noticed a large crane busy at work in the nearby soccer field...

A little farther own the street, roofers were busy at work...

And of course, there is the ongoing road construction at the end of the block!

What a pity there are no little boys around to enjoy it! It would have been EXCITEMENT OVERLOAD a few years back! My sons and their friends would have been rushing back and forth so as not to miss any of the action! It would have been a RED LETTER DAY!!

But it wasn't entirely wasted. The handful of retirees in the block - myself included - did enjoy stopping for a while to watch!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More Spring Changes

There are so many signs of spring in our neighborhood! (Even though they say it's three weeks too early...)

When I went outside yesterday morning, the dome that covers the nearby soccer field all winter was coming down!

Later I watched while workers rolled it up and put it away. Putting it up - and taking it down - takes a full day.

Admiring our Prunus Snow Fountain / Snow Fountain Cherry tree - in full bloom - I noticed that it had attracted some of the largest bees I have ever seen!

I tried to get a close-up... (There should be a bee somewhere in the center...) This reminds me of the Where's Waldo? pictures my son used to love in kindergarten!

Hmmmm... My husband is probably right - I may need a new camera... Perhaps one that allows me to do extreme close-ups!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Marriage Differences

I think I have discovered the cause of much marriage duress: We are attracted to people who are different from us. ("Opposites attract.") Yet, once married, we are surprised when we don't see eye to eye!

This is true in my marriage as well!

Over time, I have come to realize that I am a big-picture person, given to impulsive purchasing - I really hate to shop unless I intend to buy something. And I usually make sure I do! Terry, on the other hand, is a "details" person who likes to weigh all the pros and cons. Then he hesitates because he wants to be 100% sure before he gets anything.

We have (eventually) come to accept these differences in each other but it took a long time. In our early years together, our different approaches caused us both a lot of stress - as we puzzled over how "strange" the other person's shopping habits were! But I think we have come to accept our differences - most of the time! And we end up making wiser purchases because of his fastidious research. But we don't always shop together! I am happy to have him do all the research he needs... alone. Then - when he knows which item is the best value - I will go with him to buy it... This works for cars, washing machines, fridges, cameras (which we are currently researching) - even groceries! So grocery shopping takes much longer with him than with me, but he never comes home with damaged boxes or tins, as I sometimes do because I don't bother checking - I pick up the item I want and head for the check-out...!

An example of our difference in approach occurred when he and our daughter (who also likes to check every detail before purchasing) went out to buy a piece of computer equipment she needed. They weighed the pros and cons of each item, again and again, but neither of them could make the final decision. Finally our daughter broke the stalemate by saying: What would Mom do?

They immediately knew which to buy, and bought it!

I think that the key to getting along in spite of our differences - is appreciating our differences!

But this, of course, is easier said than done... And it takes practice!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Construction in our Neighborhood

Predictability is undervalued by most of us... But I'm beginning to appreciate it more, as our neighborhood undergoes changes... and stretches of road that were there last week now no longer exist!.

The end of the street that leads to our house (in our normally quiet neighborhood) is being dug up by city crews replacing the main sewer pipes. The neighborhood is built on rock - so from time to time whistles warn of approaching dynamiting - we hear a boom - and for a moment or two the house shakes. (This happens several times a day.)

So at times I feel as if I am living on an island where earthquakes regularly occur, and I wonder if I'll be able to drive out of our dead-end street...

Why is this happening?!

A series of flooded basements a few years ago - our own included - caused the city to re-evaluate our neighborhood's drainage system. The neighborhood - created in the 1950s outside the then-city limits - depended on ditches to absorb most of the rain water. But the storm sewer pipes that were put in later to collect water from manholes on the main roads fed into the regular sewer system. And old the system couldn't hold it all in big rain storms.

Now they tell us that we will be getting a bigger state of the art storm sewer system - and it does look good. But I'm disappointed that we still won't have two separate systems like most neighborhoods do (one for street water, the other for domestic water)... Too expensive, City Hall tells us... My feeling is: Do it right the first time!

Most days I just hear them dynamiting. But on Saturday, they weren't working, so I went over to look around...

This round pipe with a hole on top might be the future manhole, when the road is filled in again.

These recycled tires are mats that cover the ground when dynamite is set off to break up the rock.

Roads are blocked - and unblocked - as the construction crews move through our neighborhood.

Driving out - and then back in again - is a challenge. Which roads will be blocked?! What new section of the road will be torn up? Which part filled in with crushed rock?

Which maze will lead back to our street?!

This construction is expected to last all summer...

It's chaos like this that makes me appreciate our quiet predictable norm!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The "R" Word

My generation is struggling with the "R" word - RETIREMENT. Also known as "Freedom 55" in Canada - a term coined by advertisers in some popular bank ads a few years back. Or "elderhood" - a new term mentioned in an article in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen! We are struggling to define a stage in life that is evolving, as people live longer, leave jobs, yet are searching for meaningful ways to spend their time, without the stress that comes with full-time work...

I recently read an article where a (semi-) retired writer (who still contributes articles to various newspapers and magazines) referred to RETIREMENT as the "R" word, suggesting that baby-boomers are afraid to say that they are RETIRED because they don't want to feel old!

Perhaps that's true! I was older than (Freedom) 55 when I stopped teaching - but, in my mind, I wasn't retiring - I was transitioning into another "job" - at home - doing things I enjoyed.

The transition has gone smoothly, and I keep busy... blogging, gardening, cooking, quilting - creative endeavors I really enjoy. (You may have noticed that I omitted the word "cleaning"!) Occasionally I take my mother to see a doctor - but, thankfully, she is doing well right now. Yet I'm surprised that I haven't "found the time" to take a painting class or to begin volunteering on a regular basis - things I thought I would do in RETIREMENT.

But, the reality is, I'm really happy - and BUSY - in my new "career" as a housewife! - for lack of a better word!

So as I watch Terry ease into his own new phase of life - "Freedom 55" (or whatever he chooses to call it) - I realize that, although I'm not sure what to call what I do, I have developed a routine I am very happy with. I get up early, have a quiet time alone - reading, reflecting, praying, drinking coffee... Then I have breakfast, put a load of washing into the machine or run the dishwasher, write a blog or two, have lunch. Go to Curves, often stopping to do some shopping on my way home.

Sometimes I work in the garden, other days I quilt... Occasionally I vacuum and dust. Then I make supper, clean up, and go for a walk... By then I'm ready for bed...

I don't feel RETIRED - I feel as if I'm living life at the pace life was meant to be lived!

In fact, I'm not sure what RETIREMENT means! But for me, it means a process: a change...

And maybe one of these days, that change will allow me to empty the shelves in the basement where I keep all "teaching" materials... in case I ever need them again!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

New Morning Coffee

Quite a few years ago, I received a coffee maker for Christmas from one of my kids...

But it was a new system - so I put it away for "special days"... and of course rarely used it! (Morning coffee habits are hard to break.)

But, in my new resolve to use what I have... not waiting for special events...I have started to enjoy a cup or two of "cafe latte" every day...

So (in the microwave) I first warm a quarter of a cup of milk in a mug... (That warms the mug as well as the milk.) Then I push the button for a cup of espresso.

And enjoy my treat!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Retirement - Phase 1

Terry retired a couple of weeks ago and is entering phase 1 of retirement: sorting through the boxes of stuff he brought home.

He may decide to go back to work, some time in the future, teaching social workers instead of being one, so he doesn't want to throw away his resources. But for now, he is sorting through them, organizing.

One cute item caught my eye - it is useful for parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, babysitters - for anyone, in fact, who deals with toddlers:

Toddler Property Laws

1. If I like it, its mine.
2. If it's in my hands, it's mine.
3. If I can take it from you, it's mine.
4. If I had it a little while ago, it's mine.
5. If it's mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
6. If I'm doing or building something, all the pieces are mine.
7. If it looks just like mine, it is mine.

(It does bring back memories!)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Taking Plants Outdoors

It may be too early, but I've done it!

Every October I bring large pots of plants indoors for the winter, where they survive until the spring, when I take them out again.

(I say survive because I sometimes forget to water them for several weeks, as they are tucked away in various corners of the house - Out of sight, out of mind! - And in some places, they don't get a lot of sun. So they don't usually grow very much over the winter.)

This year spring came early, so I took them out a few days ago... They really belong outdoors!

We haven't had frost for a while...Hopefully the veranda will protect them if the temperature does go down overnight.

They don't have any blooms yet. Maybe I should do what one of my friends does: stick plastic flowers into the soil amid the green leaves until the first blooms appear.

Flowers (even plastic ones that look real) have a way of cheering me up!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Talk Nice"

I had three rules I insisted on when my kids were small:
  1. No hitting.
  2. No put downs.
  3. No foul language.
A fourth rule I wanted them to follow - Be kind - was harder to enforce! I could stop my kids from hurting each other physically, but that inner generosity of kindness was harder to draw out. (And I really didn't want them to be hypocrites! I wanted it to come from the heart. Which may be why I didn't always demand they apologize to each other...)

My brother and I used to insult each other when we were growing up - it was considered normal among siblings - so I developed great skill in cutting put-downs... But this wasn't something I wanted to see perpetuated in my family - or in myself, for that matter!

I was reminded of all this the other day when Terry commented: There is no room for discussion if you insult people.

He was referring to insulting comments made by politicians. But then I thought about the cutting remarks I occasionally want to hurl at city hall (via their telephone hot line), and it made me think...

Our current issue, excessive on-street parking - by college students wanting to park all day for free - has jammed up our quiet dead-end street so that last winter snow-plows couldn't get down it. Access to the only fire hydrant at the end of the block was also hampered. (So I don't think it's unreasonable to demand a change...)

In exasperation, I requested that a sign be put up indicating that city bylaw mandates a 15-meter "turn basin" remain free of cars, so that vehicles can turn around at the end of the street. Cars are not permitted to park within 15 meters (48 feet) of a dead end, but traffic control officials refuse to issue tickets unless there is a clear sign.

But when the city workmen came to measure the sign location the other day, they marked it at 10 meters (32 feet) instead of 15 meters! So I called the city to inform them (aka complain).

Can't you guys do anything right? I wanted to say. Have you noticed that in our neighborhood everything has to be done twice before it gets done right?!

But... would that be kind?!

If I want to live in an environment where kindness prevails, I guess I have to start with myself... (and that isn't always easy!!)

(Is there a course somewhere on the art of complaining politely?!)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pepper for Tulips?

The tulips haven't bloomed in my garden yet, but they are almost ready...

Last year, whenever they bloomed, some annoying squirrel would immediately snap off the flower. I went to several gardening websites for suggestions about solving this problem... One recommended sprinkling pepper flakes around the plant.

So I did it yesterday - and will probably continue regularly - and see if it works.

(Maybe I should take out my pepper mill - and add black pepper too!)

I'll let you know if any of my tulips are "decapicated" - like they were last year!

Monday, April 12, 2010

"For the Long Haul..."

I have always wondered why some marriages work, while others flounder... What are their secrets of success...?

So I ask...

Two comments I remember came from young women who had been married for about ten years when I was still single.. (Both are grandmothers now - still married to the same husbands they had back then!)

"What is the secret of a happy marriage?" I asked my friend Ann. She was a role-model for me. I loved being in her home - from time to time I babysat her baby daughter - and I admired their family dynamic.

"Well, there are good years and bad years," she replied.

"You mean, good days and bad days," I corrected her.

"No, good years and bad years..."

(Mmmmm... It looked so easy from the outside...)

Another time I was discussing marriage with a minister's wife, a former beauty queen who had married a handsome football player - who then became a minister. They were such a beautiful couple, fun to be with, I couldn't imagine them having marriage difficulties. So I was surprised to hear her say...

"If I didn't believe God was part of our marriage, I would have walked away long ago - when we had our first major disagreement. But I believe that God brought us together. So, instead of leaving, I prayed..."

(So even happy marriages have their ups and downs...)

A third comment I remember came from a university professor friend who had married very young (when he was 19 and his wife 18). For the first 10 years of their marriage, they had traveled and studied... in Canada, the US, and overseas. Then - when he was completing his PhD.- they had their first child.

"A lot of young marriages don't survive," I commented to him. "And education often drives couples apart, as they develop new interests. How is it that you two have maintained a strong marriage?"

"Well, we consciously make decisions that bring us together," he replied.

(I was astounded at the maturity they must have had, at such a young age...)

Is there a simple "secret of marriage success"?

I'm sure there are many factors that contribute to a long, happy marriage, but one thing stands out to me: All three had a "big picture" of their relationship and viewed marriage as a commitment (as Terry would say) "for the long haul..."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Walking Near the National Gallery

I have never taken a horse-drawn buggy in Ottawa, but I think it would be a lovely way to see the downtown sights.

The weather was perfect last weekend, so we headed downtown...

Others were enjoying the sights from a different perspective, in a horse-drawn carriage...

But we, like them, saw the National Gallery, perched on a cliff above the Ottawa River, the border between Ontario and Quebec.

And the giant spider in front of the Gallery (with the Parliament Buildings behind it in the distance).

Like them, we passed by the Mint, a building that resembles a well-guarded palace.

We admired the cathedral, across the street from the Gallery, looking up...

And then... looking back... on our way to have a cafe latte in Byward Market!

It was a gorgeous day!