Thursday, June 30, 2011

Remembering The Way It Was...

Gardening is art in progress...

Looking forward, wondering how to improve my flower beds, I forget how far they have come in the six years since I started to eliminate lawn and plant perennials in various parts of the yard.

This is how the area under the pine tree looked in 2005... (I must have just finished planting... I haven't removed the flower pots yet!)

This is what it looks like now... It has filled out a lot since then! I have added more hostas... (But I wonder what happened to the lilies...)

Even our front flower bed looked quite different in 2005.

This is how it looks this summer.

This is a side view of the same flower bed. I've added a lot of plants near the road.

Gardening requires patience... And inspiration!

I sometimes take pictures of inspiring gardens. Here is one from 2005. I have no idea where it is.

Here are two I took just yesterday, walking around our neighborhood!

"Rome wasn't built in a day" - as they say - and a garden certainly takes years!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I went to the Carp Farmers Market a few Saturdays ago...

And returned, with some popping corn ...on the cob.

The package had five cobs plus one paper bag, to use for popping the corn (in a microwave)...

(I assume the bag is re-usable.) I put the cob in and firmly folded the open end shut...

One and a half minutes on high, the instructions read... The corn was still popping, so I added 10 seconds more...

What color will the popcorn be, I wondered, since the cob was red?!

It's white... (and delicious)!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Creating a Butterfly-Friendly Garden

A while back I discovered that milkweed - one of the plants I usually try to eliminate from my garden - actually attracted monarch butterflies...

What other plants are butterfly-friendly? I wondered... So I went online to find out what I could...

The magazine On Nature had an article on plants necessary for butterfly larvae to grow... as well as host plants for adult butterflies...

It turns out that different butterfly species need different plants.

There also need to be flat landing surfaces for butterflies - not only on garden plants, but flat stones for basking in the sun. And shallow bowls of sand and water to drink from.

Hmmm. Attracting butterflies is a lot harder than I first imagined!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ice Cream Cake

Several family birthdays happen during the summer - so we often buy Dairy Queen ice cream cakes instead of baking.

This year, my daughter suggested we try a Martha Stewart ice cream cake recipe...

Typically, we didn't exactly follow the recipe
! (It would be fair to say that the recipe provided inspiration rather than directions!) Thin chocolate wafers (rather than chocolate sandwich cookies) separated two layers of ice cream, which had only a subtle differences in color (vanilla / vanilla streaked with caramel). Crushed cookie crumbs coated the top and sides of the cake.

The ice cream, which had to be slightly softened to create the cake, melted into the cookie crumbs, so our cake wasn't as attractive as Martha's. But having chosen good-tasting ice cream, the cake was delicious...

...especially with fresh strawberries!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mistakes that Lead to Growth

I have been reflecting on a sentence I came across in the book, The Rule of Benedict, by Joan Chittister.

Commenting on Benedict's ideal for a monastic leader, she writes:

Like Christ, this leader does not lead with brute force. This leader understands the leavening process... [and] gives people the opportunities to make the mistakes that lead to growth.

As I pause at that line, the teacher - and the parent - in me asks: What mistakes lead to growth?

Learning math, as a child, I made mistakes... But the mistakes I made were different every year, as I progressed from one grade to the next, and the math got harder... So the mistakes are different - more complex as I grow. But they built on the basics - so I can't forget the basics!

But sometimes I slip back and make basic errors... I write "here" when I mean "hear" or I think that 8 times 7 is 54, not 56... So I really do have to watch out for my known weaknesses.

But especially I need to be generous with myself and allow myself to make mistakes... (Why do I think that somehow I need to be perfect all the time! Why do I think that's even possible?!)

As a teacher, I remember students who were afraid to make mistakes... so they were immobilized, afraid to try, and consequently didn't learn...

So I, too, am the learner, and remnants of the child in me (the "oldest" child, who was expected to be perfect as an example to the younger) struggles to balance Jesus' command to "be perfect" with his admonitions to "love" and "forgive"...?

Perhaps I need to lighten up, realizing that I'm just a humble learner here. (Why, I don't even know the curriculum!)

Of course, I'll make mistakes. We all make mistakes... But if I maintain an eager spirit, willing to learn... my teacher (God) will keep me on track!

And as a teacher - parent - friend, I need to keep that in mind towards others, as well.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar?

I am trying to make my garden butterfly-friendly... but there is so much to learn!

I recently read that the larvae of monarch butterflies feed on milkweed. I have traditionally tried to eradicate milkweed from my garden, but now am letting it be!

Then today, while pulling out gout weed and cutting down thistles (which I hope aren't butterfly food!), I came across this caterpillar.

Could it be a butterfly larvae? I did a google search...

(None of my close-ups were clear... I don't know why!)

This flickr photo shows the caterpillar of the swallowtail butterfly. Is that the same one as mine? If so, I hope I haven't been pulling out the plants it needs to survive!

(And now that I look at the the picture again, I'm not even sure they are the same caterpillar! As I said before - there is SO much to learn... about nature, gardening, cameras...!)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Embracing Stability

When we were house-hunting years ago, I envisaged putting down roots - living in the same home long enough for my children to attend school with the same neighborhood friends from beginning to end.

My parents had enjoyed moving from one house to another, even within the same city. But, for me, the moves had been traumatic. From grades one to three, I changed schools three times - and then again in grade 8. I hated continually having to make new friends, always feeling like an outsider.

Stability is something we all need (though of course, it means different things to adults and to children).

Stability is one of the basic concepts in Benedictine spirituality: "The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in community."

I'm not a monastic, so I personalize this to mean: "The workshop where I am to toil faithfully at the tasks before me is the enclosure of my home (and job) and the stability of my family, friends and faith community."

Stability is not easy. It is easier, at times, to run away - or move away - when problems (or boredom) arise. But we need stability - and (equally important...) others need stability from us.

When my sons were in kindergarten, their teacher used to take the class for a walk in the neighborhood. I would sometimes see them walking past our house two by two, listening intently as she pointed out houses, cars, trees, driveways...

I asked her about it...

It is important, she replied, for children to see patterns in life - stable, recurrent patterns. Knowing that life has predictability is the basis of all learning.
So today, as I look at the day before me (gardening, cooking, blogging, talking to friends). None of these tasks seem all that important in the big picture of life. But perhaps, their true value lies in the stability I provide by simply being here, by simply being me.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Relaxing... at an OUTDOOR SPA

I'm not a spa person... Or so I thought - until I recently spent a day at a spa in the woods of Chelsea, Quebec, a 15-minute drive from Ottawa.

The day at the spa was a birthday gift for my daughter from one of her brothers, who invited me to come along.

Several Christmases ago, he gave us the gifts of facials, manicures and pedicures at a downtown spa. But this was very different. The focus of this day away was RELAXATION.

Why do I need that? I wondered... After all, I'm retired! Won't I be bored spending a day wandering from pool to pool (some hot, some cold) or sitting in a sauna...

I wasn't sure I could handle that much inactivity - or silence. (The spa requests that guests refrain from loud talking: silence, or whispered conversation only.) So I took a book to read (which I never opened!)

It was a truly relaxing experience!

My favorite places were the hot pools, especially this one with a waterfall...

And a Finnish (dry-air) sauna. I didn't even venture into the second (steamy) sauna that my daughter loved.

I also enjoyed relaxing in one of the outdoor fire pit rooms, where I sat and looked at the trees...

There were no distracting noises: silence... (I didn't realize how relaxing SILENCE can be!)

We had no mud baths or facials... or massages. (They have to be booked in advance, and we were too late.)

We did, however, enjoy a gourmet lunch.

Seven hours after we arrived, we reluctantly left... It had been a perfect day!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Insomnia (and Mid-night Madness?)

I often wake up between 2 and 4 am... and get up when my mind seems determined not to sleep.

I don't like to waste time, so I try to find something to do... usually it's something passive like reading... cup of coffee in hand.

But recently our electrical company instigated a "smart" way of calculating our electrical usage: There are peak hours during the day when it costs more - to discourage consumption and strain on the system. And overnight, from 9 pm till 7 am cheap electricity reigns!

So... I have begun doing laundry in the middle of the night when I can't sleep!

I mentioned my habit to my daughter recently.

She replied: My friend Natalie also suffers from insomnia. For the same reason - cheap electricity - she gets up and BAKES!

So - it appears that slowly - the Ontario electrical company is changing the housekeeping habits of Ontarians!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Discovering Skype

I first heard of Skype about 10 years ago when a student from Kuwait told me he spoke with his wife back home every day for free via the internet. I was amazed: Really?! Was technology really allowing us to do that?! Why had I never heard about it before?

Then skeptical: It seems too good to be true... (Is it legal?!!)

I didn't hear about Skype again for a few years... This time one of my sons mentioned talking to friends overseas... and seeing their faces as they talked... (Like a "picture" phone? I asked... Where you have to comb your hair before talking?!)

I still had a hard time imagining it...

But I recently saw Skype in action... as my son talked with his girlfriend in England, using the internet and a wireless computer...

There she was, an eight-hour flight away... and as they talked (and I talked to her), there was a pause of only about two seconds between questions and answers... (How fast are those waves moving?!)

I suddenly felt very out-of-touch with this modern technological world. It awes me... I don't understand it and it boggles my mind... (In that way, resembling my FAITH in God...)

And although my son has set up a Skype account for me, I still haven't tried it... (A little like the first time I used a computer... I feared that by pressing the wrong button, I would "break" it!)

But when I get over my fear, I'll find it hard to make "ordinary" phone calls again!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Plants that Didn't Last

I came across this gardening journal I started the year I decided to fill our front yard with flowers instead of grass.

The previous dry summer had damaged our grass - which I refused to water. Why not plant flowers instead, surrounding them with rocks to hold moisture in?

So in 2004 I planted a small tree - a snow fountain cherry (prunus snow fountain) and proceeded to surround it with flowers and ornamental grass.

As I look at the labels I kept, I am reminded that a number of plants I bought didn't survive the first few years - Maiden Grass, Blue Fescue and Japanese Blood Grass.

Also a delphinium plant. (Was the soil wrong? Or simply the location?)

But, as I look at a rough sketch of that first garden bed - I am reminded of other things too: Some of the daisies were the gift of a colleague, Soo, whom I haven't seen in years... (I'm not sure which ones - I bought some daisies as well.)

The garden has grown a lot over the years! Here's what it looks like this morning.

And yes, these pink flowers I was wondering about, are pink carnations, according to my map. I'm glad they're still around.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Spring Prayer (by Robert Frost)

All winter long, I wait for spring, and now that it is here, my mind is easily distracted: Weeding out the gout weed, I watch for bees that may sting me and focus on getting the task done, rather than enjoying the amazing beauty of the garden, HERE and NOW!

So I share this poem that reminds me to STOP and ENJOY...

A Prayer in Spring

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Orange Sponge Cake - A Recipe

I haven't posted many recipes recently, as I haven't been baking. But I recently came across this low-calorie sponge cake that looked interesting... (It's about 100 calories a slice.)

I found it in Anne Lindsay's Smart Cooking Cookbook, which appears to currently be out of print. I still prefer Terry's grandmother's sponge cake recipe, but this one - with its faint orange flavor - is a nice change.

Here's the recipe (in my words):

1. Separate 4 eggs and beat the whites until they stand in firm peaks.

2. Then beat the egg yolks together with
  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) of sugar and
  • 1/2 a cup (125 mL) of orange juice.
3. Add 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of baking powder and 1 cup (250 mL) of white flour to the egg yolk mixture and continue beating until it is well blended.

4. Fold the egg whites into the yolk batter.

5. Pour into an ungreased tube and bake for 50 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit (or 160 Celsius).

Turn the cake upside down to cool... I usually put it on a cup to help the cake cool evenly.

Carefully remove the cake.

The recipe suggests sprinkling a teaspoon or two (5-10 mL) of icing sugar on the cake instead of icing it. A glaze of icing sugar and orange juice would be nice too...

But we enjoyed it as is! For a stronger citrus taste, one could add a little grated orange peel to the batter.

If you like sponge cake, it's definitely worth a try. Enjoy!

Friday, June 17, 2011

An 80-Year-Old First Grader

I don't watch a lot of movies. (After going to one or two a week during my teenage years, I feel that I've seen them all!)

But I recently read about a movie I just had to see... "The First Grader" is based on the true story of an 80-year-old Kenyan man who - upon hearing that the government had instituted free education for all - decided to go to school.

His motivation? He wanted to read and understand a letter he had received...

Here is the trailer...

Most of us take literacy so for granted that we can't even imagine living in a world where the written word means nothing. The only time many of us experience the frustration (and humiliation) of not being able to read is when we travel to a non-English speaking country.

I loved the movie, not only because it was a teacher-student story or because I taught adults for many years. But also because there were hints of Kenyan history that I have vague recollections of hearing about in my younger years... So, for me, the movie was not only a celebration of human determination - and a reminder to appreciate the educational opportunities that came my way - but a link in my knowledge of world history.

And the real man who inspired the movie? Here is a You Tube segment about him.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Japanese Folded Cloth Bags

When I taught in an international high school, I was intrigued by one Japanese student's lunch bag. A red bandana (or perhaps a square towel), it was folded in a simple way to hold the student's lunch.

I asked him to show me how he did it, and this is what I remember:

(I am using a lovely silk scarf from Argentina to demonstrate the technique, as it is the right size, though I would never use it as a carrier...)

Put the lunch in the middle, then tie two opposite ends firmly together... (The knot I often use is: left over right, right over left... Is this a square knot?!)

Then tie the last two other opposite ends together. (These act as the handle.)

I was reminded of the bandana lunch carrier recently when I saw this Martha Stewart post showing how to make a Picnic Lunch Carrier out of a dish towel.

With my kitchen cupboards full of items I rarely use, I'm always happy to find more than one use for things I already have... like dish towels!

For anyone interested in making a folded purse, here's another idea I found for re-purposing a bandana or scarf.

More discoveries! Here is another video on how to wrap gifts using square cloths. I see it includes the lunch carrier technique I remember plus a few more, including the one (for carrying bottles) shown in the Martha Stewart post... I love it!!

What is Furoshiki cloth made of? I wondered... And discovered it can be silk (like my scarf above) as well as cotton... Furoshiki refers to the art of folding, I guess... A very handy skill!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Grandpa Skips!

My father was an agile man. The only person in the family who could do a head-stand, he was still able to entertain my children with this feat as he approached the age of 80.

(Unfortunately I have no pictures...)

He was visiting us one summer, when my daughter was 8 or 9, and he watched her and her friends play jump-rope, two girls holding the ends of the rope, while the third and fourth jumped in and skipped.

Eventually one of the girls had to go home, so my daughter asked Grandpa if he would hold the rope in her place, and he complied... (Strange, but I can't imagine him ever doing that when I was a child!)

After he had been turning the rope for a few minutes, it was time to change...

Grandpa, now it's your turn to skip, my daughter informed him...

So he did!

When he had finished and was turning the rope again, he asked my daughter: Does your Dad ever skip with you?

She looked at him in surprise... My Dad skip? Of course not, Grandpa, he's TOO OLD!

(Needless to say, this became his favorite "grandpa" story!)