Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Squirrel Pantry

The other day, I lifted up the black plastic sheet that covers our pile of top soil...

... only to discover that a squirrel had transformed it into his pantry!

(Had he made it his nest, too?! I fearfully peered under, half expecting to be attacked by a mother squirrel protecting her nest of young.)

Dozens of black walnut tree seeds had been dropped through a hole in the plastic!

(Hopefully he wasn't planning to move in!)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Broken Pottery

Pottery breaks - it's inevitable!

I was sad to lose this piece - but discovered (by doing a Google search of "broken pottery") that there are a lot of uses for broken dishes!

Some use broken pots for mosaic work... and others for making jewelry. Even for birds' nests!

I like to re-use and re-cycle, but I don't think I have enough time to take on another hobby at the moment! Perhaps I could add it to my garden?

(Or should I simply say goodbye and throw it out?!)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Awake in the Night

For years now, I wake up after five hours of sleep. (This usually occurs between 2 and 4 am.)

As much as I want to sleep (knowing I'll feel tired later on), my mind doesn't let me. Ideas come - thoughts more lucid than at any time during the day. I'm tempted to get up and write them down, even though part of me wants to stay in my warm bed and fall asleep again.

Years ago I read an article by a sleep expert advising that we shouldn't toss and turn in bed, sleepless, for more than 20 minutes. Instead, we should get up and so something boring - to lull us back to sleep. So I started to follow this advice, getting up and reading, sometimes doing laundry in the wee hours of the morning, forcing myself to stay awake until the clothes are out of the dryer. Then I often go back to bed and fall asleep again for an hour or two.

But recently I read something that is making me question my early morning routine.

In her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor mentions how sleep habits were different before the invention of electricity, before people could switch on a light to banish the darkness. When it got dark, people went to bed.

It appears that sleep researchers are now interested in knowing if we have lost something by no longer lying quietly in bed for a couple of hours each night before falling soundly asleep - and later, in the middle of the night, when we wake up in the dark.

Are these times of rest as important to the sleep cycle as times of sleeping? Do we need to rest in the dark as much as we need to sleep?

It occurs to me that the only people these days who experience the natural rhythm of day and night are people who go camping far from the city - and they probably take flashlights with them.  Living in harmony with nature and natural light and dark - is this one of the reasons why people find camping out so enjoyable?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

How to Spend My Time?

It is, I know, a luxury to be able to choose how to spend my time... That is one of the joys of retirement!

After summer gardening season is over, as the weather turns cooler, I again turn my attention indoors and look around me for things to occupy my time for the next five months - until spring arrives. There is, of course, no lack of things I could do!

You don't have to do anything, Terry reminds me... But I like to keep busy. Doing things gives me joy. I try to maintain a Benedictine balance of doing about 6 hours of work a day and allowing myself the freedom to rest, read, and do whatever the rest of the time... I don't want to be bored... Boredom, to me, brings on melancholy... and I don't want to go there.

I have been knitting all summer. This colorful afghan is almost done - and I still have lots of yarn to keep me busy all winter during those quiet times when I want to sit and listen to a talking CD. (I'm not much for television.)

I am also trying to complete a few quilts I started a few winters ago...

Organizing my desk - and my study - is one of those thankless, endless tasks I do every few months... so I plan to do that. Perhaps I should do some serious clearing out, like getting rid of an old computer or two... Making drastic decisions like that is hard for me!

As I look at these piles of books I don't think I'll ever read again, I wonder about starting an online book store...

Looking at all my options, I realize that being my own boss - and deciding what work to assign myself - isn't an easy task!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Flattening a Water Color Painting

Last year in a botanical art class (where we drew and painted produce from the fall harvest), I painted this Savoy cabbage surrounded by a few Brussels sprouts.

I remember struggling with the many veins on the cabbage leaves. I never felt I had captured the exuberance of the fresh plant with its leaves spread wide!

But I persisted - until the shadows around the vegetables messed me up. I recall trying to lift off some of the grey color - and discovering the meaning of "staining" colors. (One of my watercolor instructors had told us to be aware of staining and non-staining pigments, but I hadn't really paid attention!)

Why? I had wondered.

Because staining ones can't be lifted off or lightened!

I remember asking my instructor what I could do. Would bleach work?

Sometimes you just have to let go and call it an experiment, was her reply.

So I placed the  painting on the piano - where I could see it - and have enjoyed it there ever since.

I recently wondered whether - failed experiment or not - I should frame it. After all, I enjoyed looking at it! But it was wavy. I hadn't wet the paper to stretch it before beginning to paint on it. (Another lesson learned!) Could it be done now?

My neighbor Mary, who does more watercolor painting than I do, had once straightened a painting after it was done by brushing water on the back... a light coat. (Not the recommended technique.)

She then covered it with paper and flattened it with books. Why not give it a try?!

In the end, it isn't perfect! (There is a tiny wrinkle at the bottom of the paper.) But it's better than before. Now, at least, I can actually frame it.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dividing Potted Plants

I often put several small plants into one pot. I find they grow better that way.

A while back - several years, I'd guess - I planted a tiny palm tree in the same pot where aloe vera and another very sensitive plant (whose name I don't remember) were growing. If the soil becomes to dry, the sensitive plant droops - a reminder to water it.

They have grown well together. All have thrived. So now I need to separate them to avoid crowding.

I decided to dig out the aloe vera plants... (They have multiplied). I put them, together with the water-sensitive plant into a new pot.

Then I filled the pots with fresh soil and watered them. I hope they survive... (Changing environments can be hard on them.) I'm wondering if I chose a good soil to add to each pot. Miracle Gro claims that plants will grow twice as big in this soil...

I want them healthy - but I don't want them that big!!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Contented Cardinal

Cedar hedges attract vines and insects... and birds!

I wasn't sure if leaves from the Virginia Creeper were turning red... so I took a second look.

But no - a contented cardinal was resting on a comfortable branch.

Perhaps she had a nest nearby. Have her young grown up ... and flown away?

Maybe she is pausing to enjoy a new carefree phase of life - "empty nest"?!

(There is so much I don't know about the birds and animals around me!)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Appreciating Pottery

I encouraged my daughter to study art, registering her in pottery classes when she was in her teens.

Now that I've begun to do pottery, I have a new appreciation for some of the fine work she did at the time - like this hand-built pitcher... with its diver handle!

(Did she make it around the time she was taking diving lessons as well?! I recall her struggling with doing a head-first backwards dive into the water...)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Who Comes Up With These Great Ideas?!!

A few days ago, I noticed a horse drawn wagon moving down our neighborhood streets.

Who could that be?!

Then I remembered that Starwood Nursing Home - where my mother lives - had planned wagon rides as one of their activities for the month...

What great idea - for those who can get up on the wagon!

Who comes up with these great ideas?!!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Reflecting on St. Benedict's Rule

I've read a lot of Benedictine books since discovering Benedict's Way several years ago.

One I've just started reading, called St. Benedict's Toolbox, is making me think:

"Benedict... stresses the importance of being in a community and not living either in isolation or as a wanderer," the author (Jane Tomaine) writes.

I'm not really a wanderer... but I do like to wander (if traveling can be called such...) And before planning my retirement, half a dozen years ago, I collected a file of information on teaching overseas, something I thought would be fun to do. There is still a lot of "wanderer" in my spirit!

"Benedict emphasized living together in one physical place and remaining solidly faithful to that place and to the people in that place," she continues.

We moved to Ottawa 35 years ago as a one-year experience: Terry planned to do a one-year program at St. Paul University. Then we were going to leave. But we found work here, bought a house, raised a family. Yet I never considered Ottawa our "permanent" home, and I still don't, even though we've lived here longer than we've lived anywhere else. Should I readjust my thinking and try to view Ottawa as my permanent home? Montreal (where we met and were married) is still my favorite Canadian city... And with children in Toronto, we sometimes think of moving there...

Permanence hasn't ever been part of my thinking... Should it be?!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Autumn Joy!

There aren't any new flowers in my garden these days...

So I appreciate the ones that are still hanging in - like the tall pink Japanese anemone, the brown-eyed Susans,  and the sedum that are now turning red.

Aptly called  "Autumn Joy," they brighten the flower beds, bringing joy to me... and to the bees that are crawling all over them... lingering over each last summer flower.

(You may have to click on the picture and enlarge it to see all the bees!)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Montreal-Style Smoked Meat

Montreal is known for its smoked meat sandwiches.

And Schwartz's Deli on St. Laurent Street is Montreal's best-known place to buy it.

Strange as it seems, Terry and I had never been there, so this last visit to Montreal, we headed over...

It was well-worth the effort! A simple sandwich of smoked meat and mustard on rye bread... Delicious!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Weekend in Montreal

Last Friday we headed for Montreal...

... a sentimental journey to the city where we lived when we were first married.

Though it's only two hours away by car, we haven't been there all summer.

It was good to be back!


Walking around, you never know what you'll encounter!

This time we passed a photographer doing a photo-shoot.

Saturday morning we took an early morning stroll in Old Montreal, by the harbor.

At that time of day, there aren't many people out.

But we did see a lot of birds, enjoying the early morning peace and quiet.

Seagulls and pigeons, wondering - perhaps - what the day would bring!

(Later in the day, it brought rain!)

On Friday, we had talked about doing a dinner cruise on the St. Lawrence River - something we've never done...

But Saturday's clouds and rain deferred our plans for another time.

Hopefully we'll be back again soon!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Some Thoughts on Marriage... After 37 Years!

On September 17, 1977, I thought I understood marriage!

(Yes, today is our 37th anniversary...) But after all these years, I still don't feel I have all the answers, which is why I am always interested in other people's "secrets of marriage success."

I look around me at successful - and faltering - marriages, and it is apparent that marriage is more than two people living together. It is a seed that is planted with great hope for a healthy mature "plant." But like all plants, a marriage needs to be consciously tended by both marriage partners to fulfill its true potential.

How is it tended? By paying attention to its needs! Those needs may be different at different times. Perhaps more time together doing fun things... Perhaps simple kindness and appreciation. As I see men and women visit spouses in my mother's nursing home, just being there for the other person counts for a lot, too.

Early in our marriage, we had friends in their 30s who had married at age 18. They had gone to university together and, seven years later, they were expecting their first child.

What is your secret of success? I asked him.

Doing things that draw you together, not things that pull you apart, he quickly answered.

Parenting is a phase of life that can create stress as parents differ in their parenting philosophies. This can happen at any stage, but perhaps occurs most noticeably when children are teenagers. (Perhaps its the culmination of many years of not agreeing...) One couple I know - who are no longer together - had radically different aspirations for their children. He viewed hard work and a disciplined lifestyle as essential. She wanted their children to be popular and have fun. Once, when talking to one of them, Terry commented: You need to come up with a plan that works for both of you.

Planning requires communication. I remember occasions when I didn't agree with Terry's parenting approach and he would say: You're supposed to back me up.

Well, then you have to ask me beforehand and hear what I think, I replied. If I don't agree with you on this matter, I not going to pretend I do.

Communication is essential! It can diffuse anger that builds up when a person doesn't feel listened to or understood. Here I think of advice given to us early in our marriage by a couple who are still together: Don't discuss anything controversial after 10 pm or when you are tired.

We have tried to keep that rule throughout our 37 years.

Simple kindness should also not be underestimated - treating your spouse the way you would like to be treated.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Suddenly... Summer is Gone!

The Farmer's Almanac predicts an early winter this year - was a comment I overheard in the summer. (I never have been a fan of the Almanac - because of comments like this!)

I don't believe it! I told myself. Summer wasn't that extreme. (We hardly had to use the air conditioner...)  Surely summer will gently merge into fall - and fall will slowly become winter... Our first snow will arrive... maybe around December 15th. (In time for Christmas.)

But suddenly, around Labor Day weekend, cool weather hit! Evenings became chilly... leaving me scrambling to find warmer clothing! (A fluke, perhaps?! Summer can't end that suddenly, that soon, can it?!)

But cooler weather has continued ever since!

Leaves are beginning to fall - and we go out bundled up.

I don't know how it is in the rest of North America, but here in south-eastern Ontario, summer is definitely gone!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Gone Fishing!

When my father owned a garage (in the 1940s) we lived upstairs, in a small apartment on the second floor. He worked long hours, but he was expected to be "on call" the rest of the time. I remember my mother's annoyance as customers, wanting to buy gas when we were having supper, would yell upstairs: Could you just come down for a minute? I need some gas...

(I wonder if this still happens, if your home is right next to your work...)

This sign - that I saw in quiet St. Andrews By-the-Sea, New Brunswick is the opposite extreme!

But I guess, if you live in a waterfront town, some days you might just want to go fishing!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Seeking Simplicity

I have just finished reading The Pelee Project, the account of a Toronto woman's search for sanity and personal peace after being in a serious car accident and recognizing her busy life was out of control. She decides to take a 3-month winter sabbatical on Pelee Island, a place she discovers while on vacation. Busy in the summer, it is permanent home to only about 200 people the rest of the year.

At the end of the book, the author, Jane Christmas, comments on what she has learned about simplicity. She writes:

Simplicity does not come in a neat little box. It means more than cutting back on material possessions... or slowing down. Simplicity... comes from within. 

Yes, paring down material possessions is part of the game - but only if you feel unnecessarily burdened by them...

Hmmm. Looking around, I see lots of "stuff," some of it useful, some of it sentimental.

Shaking his head, Terry often comments that when he was 20, all his possessions fit in the back seat of his Datsun! (I recognize that you have to be at least 25 to know what a Datsun is!) How did we accumulate so much?!

Yes, we do have a lot of stuff - much of it accumulated over the past 30 years. At times I admit that we have "too much" - but we still use a lot of it. What should we get rid of?!

Jane Christmas's words - "if you feel unnecessarily burdened by them" - is, I think, the key...

As I think about paring down possessions yet again (We are always accumulating more!)... that is the question I plan to ask myself: "What books, clothes, furniture, etc.... burden me in this room, this closet?"

Hopefully I'll have the courage to take it from there!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ground Hog Neighbors

I'm always fascinated to discover that I'm living among wild animals, even in the city.

In a shopping area in my neighbourhood, I recently came across this family of ground hogs. We used to see groundhogs in a field near our house - until a large parking lot was built, ruining their tunnels.

I'm glad to see we haven't managed to totally eliminate them! They remind me of the persistent strength - and diversity of nature.

But I wonder how this family of three (or more) survives, surrounded by buildings and a busy road. What do they eat?!

They have managed to dig tunnels - a safety net against enemies. Will the property managers continue to allow them to co-exist here, ruining the lawn?

I hope so! I'd rather see them here, independent and strong, than in a zoo!