…and it was a good thing

xpKel5bnTr2K54PxaS%E7Q.jpgI was thinking the other day about morning routines – probably because mine has undergone another change. For most of the past two years my morning routine was to get up at six and do my writing before the busy-ness of the day took over. I felt I was at my reflective best just as the sun was rising

...and it was a good thing.

There were years before that when I would get up just as early,  put on my sneakers and go for a run before showering and heading off to teach school

….and it was a good thing.

I remember at other times starting my day with a yoga routine and a half hour’s meditation. I felt warm inside and out while this was part of what I did each morning

…and it was a good thing.

2yBL0i2GRuKh7ijpJRrumwThere were summers when I rose early to work in the gardens before the heat of the day made it too uncomfortable to be outside

…and it was a good thing.

For many years I wrote in a journal first thing in the morning. Three pages each day filled with dreams and ramblings

and it was a good thing

fullsizeoutput_a24.jpegSince March, I’ve been getting up early to practice calligraphy and brush lettering. It’s been exciting to learn a new skill and meet up virtually with others who are as passionate about hand lettering as I am

and it was a good thing.

These morning practices were all perfect at the time. They were how I needed to start my day.  And they changed as my life changed. Some I go back to from time to time, but mostly I try and stay open to the next best way to start my day.

How important is it to you to have a morning routine? If you have one, does your routine change with the seasons or does it stay pretty much the same? Just wondering…

 

 

 

There Are Times Like This

I’m back! I didn’t take an intentional break from this blog, it just happened. It’s the first time since starting to write here that I haven’t posted at least once a week. It feels as if I’ve neglected a best friend.

The end of June saw us madly getting our country property ready for a three week trip to Europe to visit family. I realize I like to write more reflective pieces and being in pre-departure chaos was about as far from being reflective as it gets. I know  that shouldn’t have stopped me from writing. You might have liked seeing some of the chaos in my life – makes it a whole lot more real!

Getting ready to leave on a trip at the end of June in this crazy, intense climate means that gardens have to be planted, lawns mowed, outdoor furniture painted and repaired, and the pool systems checked. It also involves enlisting a small army of people to come and take care of things while we are away.

You might think from the above that we’re super organized and maybe even a little smart, but this has only come about from a whole series of disasters in the past. We returned one year to a green pool that took the whole rest of the summer to return to its original blue and be swimmable.  We have also returned to gardens that were so overrun with weeds that I wanted to weep.

Since I didn’t take you along  with my words, I thought I would share some pictures of our adventures this last month.

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We started out in the UK but quickly winged our way to Menorca for a family beach holiday.

The days were full: swimming, playing in the sand, going to the wading pool. In between, we tried to catch glimpses of the World Cup soccer matches and make some delicious adult food.

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This paella made by my son-in-law was by far the hit meal of the holiday.

Back in the UK, where it was nearly as hot and dry as Menorca, we found shade and quiet amongst the huge, old-growth trees at Kew Gardens.

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The twins looking at “stuff”.

As these things go, our time together came to an end. We left with heavy hearts… and very tired bodies.

We returned home to flower gardens that had completely changed their colours and a vegetable garden rewarding us for the long days of work in June.

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…………….

Sometimes I wonder how we got so lucky.

 

 

 

Finding Your Place in the World

My place on earth is where I know most of the birds and the trees and where I know what the climate will be right now… and where I have spent enough time to know it intimately and personally.  (Gary Snyder)

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I’m never so aware of my place on earth as when I go for evening walks. The  sun is usually just beginning to set over Pinnacle Mountain as we make our way up the steep hill to the plateau where there are views of the Green Mountains to our south and Pinnacle to the north. This is big sky country made all the more noticeable by the expanse of fields that the road dissects.

Our walks are all different and all mostly the same, if that makes any sense. We talk about the trees that are blooming, we remark that it is early to see daisies making their first appearance in the ditches, we remember that we haven’t heard the night hawk yet  this year, and we watch for the bobolinks flying over the field to see where they have built their nests and pray they’ll have time to raise their young before the field gets cut. We feel the warmth of the last rays of the setting sun and notice the breeze has picked up from the west bringing in tomorrow’s weather. And so it goes – all different and all mostly the same.

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Some nights we run into our neighbours just above us and share news of our children or our gardens or mutual friends who are traveling in distant parts of the world. Other nights we might stop and talk to the farmers on our road who are still busy draining fields, making ditches, and cutting brush. We reminisce about the time the calf  fell in the well or the farmhouse that used to stand on the old foundation at the corner and where they raised thirteen children before the house burnt and the farm ran into hard times. It is these shared memories that remind us our connections run deep.

Gary Snyder, the poet I referenced at the beginning, talks about just these types of experiences. He describes community as diverse people who live in the same place and who are tied together by their inevitable association with each other and their willingness to engage in that over a long period of time. What I know for certain is that I come home from these walks feeling a whole lot more connected – to everything and everybody.

And that’s the gift of finding your place in the world.

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Ginette’s Columbines

7iXzXlbXRgSMoTqoyFoz9g.jpgIt was the early seventies and we found ourselves with little money and few skills living in an old house at a fish hatchery. What we didn’t have in skills we made up for in enthusiasm. There was nothing more exciting to us at the time than growing our own food, heating with wood, and embracing a simpler life more connected to nature. We  weren’t alone. There were a whole slew of  like-minded people  looking for the same thing who found their way to this mountain valley at about the same time. Many built rustic homes or bought cheaper run down farm houses, raised bees or became carpenters. Some enterprising individuals learned to bake bread commercially and apprenticed on farms.  One couple even opened a health food store. Potters, bakers and fledgling farmers all became part of the country lifestyle revival.

Our unpaved, winding road was a scant mile from the US border. It was the rare car that passed during the week but it became busy on Friday nights and again on Sunday  when Montrealers made their weekly trek to their country homes in the mountains to the south of us. When our daughter was born, I pushed her pram on this road many days. My walk took us past the two established old farmsteads on our road that were lived in by people who were probably around the age I am now. Their own children were grown and gone by then and they had stopped raising animals but were still growing their own vegetables and cutting their own wood.

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This was the first house I would pass on my way up the road.

 

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This house belonged to Ginette and her husband Malcolm. The house had been abandoned for a number of years when this photo was taken.

We became friends the way you do when living a quieter life in the country. We would stop to chat on our walks if they were outside and would share news of the comings and goings.  They gave us tips, shared seeds, and told us stories of living here in the winter when money was scarce and times were hard. There was something very comforting to me about driving by their lit homes on a winter evening.

Fast forward forty years and my husband, now a real estate broker, had Ginette’s house for sale. I went with him one day to visit the property and noticed columbines growing under the old maples. I carefully dug up a few and relocated them to my garden about two kilometres away on another dirt road. They’re blooming now. These flowers have become the holders of the stories.  They talk of time passing, of people passing, of rural life then and now. They’ve become  the witness bearers and the time keepers…and they’re still blossoming.

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Seven Things I Learned in Seven Days

People who have been following my blog since the beginning have seen a few of my Seven Things I Learned in Seven Days posts. It’s always fun to look back over a week and think about what happened and what was learned. So here goes – the newest edition of Seven in Seven.

  1. You can’t drink just one glass of Rosé. No, not possible. It’s probably something I already knew, but I rediscovered it last week when we opened a bottle on Monday evening after a particularly gruelling day. A chilled glass of rosé with an olive or two + good company = a perfect evening.2013-06-24 18.19.01 2.JPG
  2. It’s really hard to improve on Mother Nature’s flower combinations. (It doesn’t stop gardeners from trying, however.)

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    Ajuga and wild strawberries.
  3. Learning to take responsibility for yourself is probably one of the most important (and hardest) life lessons. People and corporations need to become better at this. I have spent the better part of the week  insisting a major corporation accept responsibility for their defective part. It’s an ongoing saga. I’ll let you know how this turns out. It reminds me of a story from a long time ago about a country boy I knew who received a letter to appear in court. The letter started out with the words, “Person’s name vs. the Queen.”  I remember rolling with laughter when he asked me what kind of a chance I thought he had.
  4. There’s a line in calligraphy known as the universal line of beauty and is the backbone of many letters. I’ve been practicing this line for months now and still am not able to do it justice, but I just loved learning that it had such an awesome name.IMG_2256
  5. I have had this quote in front of me for the better part of a month now and thought I would share it with you. It goes like this: It’s about being fearlessly and relentlessly true to yourself.   This sounds to me like bravery and feels like truth.
  6. You can’t beat the taste or appearance of organic fruit. I paid (a lot) extra to buy organic strawberries this week and when I got them home and removed the plastic packaging (more on that later), I saw this. Just wow! And they tasted as good as they looked. There are certain fruits and vegetables that are much safer to buy organically and strawberries are one of them.IMG_2242
  7. I loved watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with my kids when they were growing up. What’s not to love about a man who embodies kindness? This meme made my day. IMG_2233

 

Enjoy your week everyone!

Ticks, Lyme, and Changing Habits

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Except for an occasional visit from a black bear or a face-off with a coyote in the woods, we live in a wilderness area with very few dangers. That is, until now. Who would have thought our biggest fear would come from an insect so tiny that it’s barely visible? There’s an “inquiétude” lurking in the air these days about being unfortunate enough to cross paths with the black footed deer tick.

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These fairly benign looking insects are the carriers of Lyme disease. People who have contracted Lyme will attest to the fact that their worlds have been turned upside down because of it. To receive a proper diagnosis and get the subsequent treatment can take years.

Lyme disease has moved into southern Canada and those of us living in rural areas are very aware of its presence here. Government protocols suggest keeping your body covered, tucking your pants into your socks, and spraying deet on any exposed skin. This might make sense if you are on a wilderness mission of sorts, but we country dwellers have gardens to plant and lives to live. That said, my husband and I and our closest neighbours have all had ticks in the last few years. We  got our little freeloaders doing everyday things around the house: weeding the gardens, mowing the lawn, trimming grasses and trees. In all but one case, they were discovered the day of and were safely removed before they could inject us with the bacteria. My husband did not discover his as quickly as the rest of us and developed the stereotypical bull’s eye rash. He was prescribed a round of antibiotics and has had no further symptoms.

So what is one to do? I think it comes down to living with a little more awareness. My husband and I frequently visit an area in Mexico where people share their space with scorpions. When we’re there we never walk in sandals except on the beach or the stone paths. We shake out our clothes and shoes before putting them on and  never reach for anything without being aware of what our hand is touching. We’ve never been stung, but it takes just one moment of inattention.

I usually dress sensibly when I am gardening or going into the woods but fairly frequently find myself wandering off path without really thinking much about it. I do wear a  baseball cap when I know I’m going to be in tall grasses or a woodland area and I always shower when I come back inside. I discovered my tick while I was in the shower. (I thought I had some earth stuck to my stomach and when soap didn’t remove it, I quickly got out to investigate.)

I’ve noticed some herbal tick spray remedies making the rounds on the internet these days.  The most popular one recommends 20 drops of lemongrass essential oil and 20 drops of eucalyptus oil ( Eucalyptus citriodora) to be combined with 4 oz. of water in a spray bottle. It is safe for humans and animals and can be sprayed on exposed skin or clothing. Last year I  purchased a pre-made bottle from our herbal store in town. It has a longer ingredient list but does contain the eucalyptus from the above recipe. The trick for me is remembering to use it.

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It’s not easy to change lifelong habits when it comes to moving about outdoors. Information campaigns have made people very aware of the potential danger, but what takes time is developing new practices to keep ourselves as safe as possible. For my part, I will be making my own herbal spray, hoping it will help to act as a deterrent. It will have its place in the entranceway along with my baseball cap and sensible shoes.

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Have a fun and safe summer everyone.

Long Walks, Short Walks, Walking Alone, Walking With Others

I have been procrastinating again, some might say obsessing. It happens to me when I am avoiding something – a task that I don’t want to do, an emotion that I don’t want to feel. Often it’s the combination of the two. The problem with procrastinating is that the source of the procrastination does not go away. It takes a whole lot of energy to avoid things and this blocked energy usually  always ends up somewhere in my  body screaming for attention.

This  is where walking comes into the story.  In one of my first blog posts from a year ago I wrote about taking long walks. I started it with this quote from Brenda Ueland.

I’ll tell you what I have learned myself. For me, a long five or six mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day.

I went on to write:

I walk through all kinds of emotional landscapes. My angry walk is heavy and staccato like – each step an exclamation point. On fearful walks, I am alert to everything around me, fine tuned to all sounds and possible dangers. Sad walks are slow and watery as if I am willing the sky to descend and share the sadness with me. The road is my 3D journal. It holds the energy of my life and documents all its passages.

There is something that happens on long walks. With each footstep I come closer to something elusive that seems just out of reach. Sometimes an idea arrives on a wind current, sometimes it’s a knowing of the next right thing to do and sometimes it’s words that were stuck that spill out and have me scrambling to catch them before they disappear again.

………

 I’ve been walking again. It’s the very best way I know to keep the energy flowing.  I thought I’d take you with me this morning on a short walk to the mailbox.

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This time of year I like to walk through the field to get to the road. You can see the naturalized daffodils on the right of the path.
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The field enters the road right here. If you look up, you can see the willows and poplars are budding out. The leaves won’t be far behind.
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The woods are coming to  life again. I have to stop myself from detouring into the woods to check out all the new growth.
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Here we are. Not a bad view for a rural mailbox. 
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Our black lab used to always stop at this swimming hole on our way back.  You can see a marsh marigold blooming in the upper left hand corner. 
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Back into the field and a walk alongside the brook brings us back home.

Aah…   Feeling better now?

 

 

 

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“D” is for daffodil

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“D” is for daffodil

I watched helplessly last spring and summer as our resident chipmunk systematically pillaged EVERY SINGLE ONE of my more exotic bulbs.

He did not like the daffodils.

And that’s why it’s the one bulb every gardener should have in multitude in their gardens. It comes in an endless number of variations: short ones, tall ones,  white ones, peachy ones, single blooms, double blooms… and the list goes on.

fullsizeoutput_844It’s also the first cut flower to make its appearance in these parts. Dust off those vases!

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Sunshine in a vase.

As much as I love to see these beauties make their appearance in the perennial flower beds there is something I love even more about coming across them in unexpected places.These plants are native to meadows and woods in southern Europe and North Africa so maybe it’s that they just look more at home in a natural setting like this

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Whether you come upon them naturalized in the woods or nestled between later flowering plants in the perennial border, they are excellent harbingers of all the joy in store for us this flowering season.

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The Waiting Place

The Waiting Place….for people just waiting

Waiting for a train to go

or a bus to come , or a plane to go

or the mail to come , or the rain to go

or the phone to ring , or the snow to snow

 or waiting around for a Yes or No

or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

(From: Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss)

I love Dr. Seuss. But, I think he might have oversimplified the Waiting Place. I’ve been in the Waiting Place since after Christmas when my mother became sick and died. I waited in her hospital room every day while she was transitioning from this life… (to another?) And every day since her passing, I’ve been waiting to see what my life will become without the responsibility (and pleasure) of caring for this person who was the focus of so much of my attention these last six years. While I’ve been waiting, I’ve been taking care of business, travelling, and pursuing my creative interests, but it’s been waiting none the less. I think this is the nature of transitions. It’s that place between what was and what’s to come. Dr. Suess calls this “a most useless place”. Here’s where I disagree. I think it’s a difficult place, but not a useless one. Change rarely happens overnight or on a pre-determined schedule. His words do, however, carry a fair warning. There’s a danger of getting stuck in the Waiting Place. Sometimes we forget that we’re only meant to be there temporarily while our systems are  adjusting  and preparing for the change to come.

And the change will come.

One morning we’ll  wake up and realize that it’s spring. The robins who’ve been waiting too are suddenly singing at dawn with their newly found purpose. The  recently frozen ground cracks and the first shoots appear. The ponds unthaw and running water is the background melody again.

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All in the right time. The waiting somehow makes this so much more exquisite.

Agua de Jamaica

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I’m not sure how I missed this drink. I was probably busy trying all the different flavoured margaritas. Mango, anyone? Tamarind? Passion fruit? Classic?

This was not my first visit to Mexico, but it was the first time being introduced to what has become my new favourite drink, agua de jamaica  (pronounced hah-My-kah).

It turns out, jamaica, or hibiscus, is an infusion that is served either hot or cold and is popular all around the world. It is made from the the calyces (sepals) of the roselle or Hibiscus sabdariffa flower.

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I bought bags of jamaica from the little tienda where I was staying for 12 pesos for a 100g bag. It’s available here in health food stores and speciality shops or can be purchased online.

I wasn’t quite expecting the beauty of jamaica when it was first served to me icy cold on a sweltering afternoon. The deep magenta/maroon colour was just so rich and appealing.

Not only is agua de jamaica beautiful, but it’s also thirst quenching and full of Vitamin C.  It’s slightly tart so is often  served with some sugar or honey added. This drink will certainly “up your iced tea” game in the summer, so I thought I’d include a recipe of sorts. This will make about 8 cups.

Agua de Jamaica

Ingredients:

4 cups of water

1/4 to 1/2 cup dried jamaica flowers (hibiscus)

1/2 cup of sugar (or to taste)  *I used less because I rather like the tartness.

Another 3 or 4 cups of water

1 lime thinly sliced

Optional:  1/2 cinnamon stick, thinly sliced ginger, a few allspice berries.

Directions:

Add:  4 cups of water and 1/2 cup of sugar (or to taste) to a saucepan of water. If you are wanting to add some of the optional flavouring ingredients, now is the time to do so. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and bring the water to a boil. Once boiled take the pan off the heat and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of jamaica flowers. Cover and leave to steep for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Strain the infusion into a pitcher or jug. You can leave this concentration in the fridge and add the additional water when ready to serve or you can do so now. The recommended amount of water to add to this concentrate is 3 to 4 cups depending on the strength you desire.

Serve: Pour into glasses over ice cubes. Add a slice of lime and your agua jamaica is ready to be enjoyed.

If an individual serving of  hot or cold jamaica is desired,  put a pinch of jamaica in  your teapot, add boiling water, and steep for about five minutes. Strain and add sweetener.

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