An Ode to an Early Winter

Snow Day 

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,

its white flag waving over everything,

the landscape vanished,

not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,

and beyond these windows


the government buildings smothered,

schools and libraries buried, the post office lost

under the noiseless drift,

the paths of trains softly blocked,

the world fallen under this falling.

-Billy Collins-


I really like poet Billy Collins’ use of the word revolution here. The first major snowfall of the season is like that – a forcible overthrow. We went to bed in one world and woke up in a completely different one.

And just like that everything changed.

Winter has set in early this year and has left many of us reeling. The skies have been spitting snow almost continuously since the first snowfall and our lives have had to move indoors sooner than usual.


Four o’clock is now the end of the day. Street lights come on and people start thinking about heading home before dark descends and makes driving that much more difficult.

agh47mwqSVKprVo8m3z5GA.jpgWalks to the mailbox are now  along snow-covered and sometimes icy roads. Wise people wear crampons on their boots and have their ears tuned for any approaching cars. Snow softens and quietens things.


Deer that are on the move have to make their way through fields of snow. Not an easy task. They too will need to stay closer to home and hunker down on the coldest of days.

xRA4KS41SDmArP03hUbp3AIt’s really hard to describe the experience of winter to someone who is not familiar with it. It’s quiet and soft, harsh and dark, stunningly beautiful and invigorating, cold and cruel. It’s sometimes all of these things in just one day. It builds character, some might say. Certainly it forces us to dig deep. We have to find peace being with ourselves during long dark days and nights, unearth the motivation to get out and connect with others even when it feels hard, and discipline ourselves to keep moving in a season that often makes it difficult or uncomfortable.


Most children love winter, so maybe we can do as they do: build the snowman, lace up the skates, and clip on the skis.

Winter well my friends!






Seven Things Learned in Seven Days

  1. The first snow feels a bit like anticipating the visit of a crazy relative. The anticipation takes over your days and no matter how much you prepare you never feel ready. When the day finally arrives you feel strangely relieved – let the craziness begin!OQ3RYMf8ScWomgddXeja+w
  2. The general rule for feeding birds is: Do not feed when it might cause harm. I’m thinking all of our relationships could be improved by adhering to this “do no harm” rule. yB4lHOETQo+bI07B9yrsGw
  3.  The bulbs I buy each fall have been sitting in the entranceway for the past month and a half. They remind me every time I pass  that I have unfinished business to take care of before winter sets in. By some miracle, the bulbs I bought managed to get planted this weekend on a wildly, windy day that froze our hands. It felt appropriate somehow to be planting seeds for better times on a day like this.d0ZOEgwaReqpZL7BWYYieQ.jpg
  4. Seeing a cardinal at the feeder first thing in the morning on these darkest of days lifts the soul. Our cardinal only shows up briefly first thing in the morning and again at dusk. It’s as if his startling red is a gift only for the people who are aware of his illusive movements.  My goal from now until Christmas is to try and find the pops of red, wherever they may be.fullsizeoutput_bb4.jpeg
  5. I never tire of the first rays of morning sun flooding the landscape from the window where I write. Each sunrise seems more beautiful than the one that came before. How is that possible?k91LDUJqSVmQNx7Q1cRnDg.jpg
  6. New cookbooks are the very best purchase to start off the fall/winter season when we are drawn back inside and the fireplace and stove become the focus of our days again. The cornbread pictured here is from Ottolenghi Simple. The book should probably be called Ottolenghi Simpler because as delicious as it was it still took two of us about thirty minutes to prepare. My first introduction to Ottolenghi was walking by his shop window in London on one of my visits to my daughter. IMG_3432.JPG
  7. Questioning our beliefs is probably the single most effective practice to bring about change in our lives. Isn’t it strange that many of the things we have believed all our lives simply are not true?  I missed my chance? Is it true? People shouldn’t be angry. Is it true? I don’t know what to do? Is it true?




It’s Wild Out There…Feeding Birds and Other Things.

When we try and pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

                                                         John Muir


Eek, we have set something big in motion. It started out harmlessly enough. All I did was set up a bird feeder in the garden after many years of not having one. When the first few finches and sparrows showed up, I was thrilled. How great  to enjoy some life in the garden this winter.

And then…. I heard the first bird hit the window and remembered the general rule about feeding birds.

General Rule: Do not feed when it might cause harm.

The first thunk did take away some of the enjoyment. That bird was only stunned but I found a junco, who was not so fortunate, upside down on the deck a few days later. I certainly had to think about bird feeder placement and protection from the wall of windows that face out to the garden.

This glitch was followed by the invasion of the squirrels. We had seen the grey squirrel busy in the front garden most of the summer and the red squirrel from the woods next door was a frequent visitor.  But these resident squirrels were quickly joined by at least four others. They can’t eat the seeds from the feeder (hello new technology), but they are more than busy enough fighting over the seeds that escape the beaks of the chattering birds congregated above.


We have a small outdoor table that we haven’t put away yet and twice now a squirrel has scurried onto it and tried to climb the window. I’m feeling uncomfortable with all this action but my husband is, well let’s just say, more than uncomfortable. I know because he’s counting the squirrels now and letting me know as the population rises.

The finches and sparrows happily eating away were quickly joined at the feeder by chickadees and nuthatches and then the larger more assertive birds: jays, woodpeckers, and cardinals. The feeder is ablaze with colour and action these days. So much so, that as we were eating lunch the other day my husband spied a large hawk perched in the hemlock across the road eyeing the feeder. Imagine how lucky he must have felt seeing his food supply all  neatly gathered in one spot. This whole experiment wasn’t turning out to be quite as much fun as I thought it was going to be. Again refer to the general rule at the top of the page.

The thing is, as soon as we set up a feeder we tamper with the ecosystem. Birds that would normally be foraging now have a readily available supply of food and food availability  is a huge factor in bird population dynamics. Feeding the birds is a major ecological intervention and it’s important to be aware of this.

Birds congregate at bird feeders in large numbers and are in very close quarters. Because of  this, any diseases that may be present can easily be spread. (Think of how quickly flu spreads during winter months when we humans are all packed into close quarters.)

There are ways to help prevent the spread of diseases in birds just as there are in humans, but it does take a bit of an effort.  First of all, take down the feeders during the warm months and put them up again after the first hard frost. The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative also suggests washing the feeder with soap, water, and a mild bleach solution every two weeks during the winter feeding season. The new plastic feeding tube feeders are ideal because they can be easily washed. My Squirrel Buster wild bird feeder, made by a local company, has other great features as well. The seeds are tucked away inside so don’t get wet and busy bird feet  are not walking over their food supply potentially contaminating it.


Have I been deterred by any of these potential problems? Not yet. But I’m certainly aware that when we alter anything in the ecosystem we quickly find it attached to everything else.

Did I mention that you might also have some BIG surprises?







Words Like Birds


I sit at my computer watching the early morning sun gently spread its tentacles of light over the hilltops to the east and I wonder what clarity this new day might bring. What do I have to say that is interesting enough to interrupt your day?

I started out writing this blog with a mission statement of sorts. It read:

A blog about finding meaning and beauty in the simple things (and sometimes not so simple things).

I decided that the best way to go about this was to take you with me through the seasons:  out on walks, gardening, skiing, cooking…  And  finding in these simple, everyday activities the beauty and purpose that infuses a life with meaning.

It turns out finding beauty and meaning in the simple things is rather easy and fun for me. It’s the not so simple things that can send me seeking shelter. I haven’t been able to bring you along, for instance, on the deeper, longer transitions that make up a life.  Mostly  because these transitions are multilayered and deeply personal and it just takes time without words for the process to happen.

While I was in the place of fewer words, I closed my computer, took out my Japanese brush pens, and immersed myself in learning traditional and modern calligraphy. My interest in old and new scripts was stirred because of an article I wrote on this blog back in February, a month after my mother died, and I was sorting through old paperwork. I wrote:

I’ve been thinking about handwriting a lot these days as I sort through paperwork and personal items that belonged to my mother and father and grandmother. Their handwriting says more about each of them than any portrait possibly could. My father’s handwriting is large and flowing and my mother’s much more measured and cautious. I feel their presence as if they were sitting beside me when I see snippets of things they have written. It’s as distinctive and personal as any work of art. Which begs the question, what will we have lost when handwriting becomes extinct?


Isn’t it funny what happens when we get clear enough to ask a question? Answers come pouring in. You just might find yourself, as I did, moving in a direction that you could never have anticipated. I think about this often as I painstakingly study old scripts and try and practice the nuanced letter forms. I find it soothing. Maybe it’s also my way of coming to terms with the past and reclaiming old ways of making words beautiful and special again.


As the first snow softly falls this morning, I am back on my writing  chair allowing whatever words there are to come to me – much in the same way as the birds come to the feeder that sits just a few meters from where I write.


Writing is how I make sense of things and it just doesn’t feel good to be away for too long.

So for now, it’s my words and the birds that keep me company in the early morning hours before the world has awoken and complicated things. Maybe together we can make sense of just enough to spread a little more light and joy.

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.

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.

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.

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.




Sometimes I wonder how we got so lucky.




Ticks, Lyme, and Changing Habits


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.

IMG_2877 2

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.


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.


Have a fun and safe summer everyone.

“D” is for daffodil

“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!

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


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.









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.


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

Things That Go Bump In the Night

And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws. 

Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are)

Night noises can usually be explained when I’m at home in my own bed. That loud cracking that jolts me awake on the coldest of winter nights? The wood in the house getting a bit testy because of thermal contraction and expansion. The ruffling noises in the wall? Mice are in the insulation again. (I make a note to myself in my half awake state to buy a mouse trap or get another cat – which oddly seems like a good idea at two o’clock in the morning.) The distant rumbling sound? One of the few trains that ply the tracks in this mountain valley. Yes, all the night sounds are usually explainable and only a minor distraction.

Night noises here in Mexico take on a whole new level of urgency. On one of the first nights here as I was falling asleep, I heard a loud chirping/cackling sound coming from the bathroom, which just happens to be located about a foot and a half from where I sleep. My husband nonchalantly suggested that I get up to investigate. Was he kidding me? I keep  a flashlight beside me at night so that I don’t unwittingly step on a scorpion if I have to get up, but what good could that possibly do if I met this?


Or this.


Or this.


Or worse…

I lay there for awhile contemplating my options and decided that I wasn’t going to sleep anyway, so I might as well take a peek. Picking up my flashlight, I tentatively moved the curtain aside and….saw nothing on the floor, or in the shower, or in the sink. I’m breathing by now and the beams from my flashlight probe the walls. That’s when I see this.


Our resident gecko. Who knew a little-ish thing could make such loud, disturbing sounds?

Feeling calmer now, I decided to return to bed. I climbed in, turned off my flashlight and put it safely back under my pillow.

Let the wild rumpus start!

The Sap Is Rising


The first harvest of the season is underway here in southern Québec. The success of this harvest is dependent on the perfect combination of below freezing nights and mild days. We’ve had a few of those perfect days, but in the last week or so the daytime temperatures didn’t go above freezing. The sap flow stops on those days and the busy maple syrup producers, who are often farmers as well, continue on cutting wood, birthing calves, plowing driveways…  I think you get the picture. They’re very busy people.

Drinking the first sap is built into our DNA – at least my DNA.  Here are my parents circa 1948 doing just that.  My mother is recently arrived from England in this picture and obviously hasn’t purchased her Canadian “going out in the woods”  clothes yet.

old picture #30

We haven’t been to a “cabane à sucre”  this year to see the sugaring process in full swing,  but we did tap a lone tree not far from the house and stopped at it yesterday on our way back from a cross country ski to quench our thirst.


Another nor’easter has blown in today. It is snowing heavily now and the fire is lit. We’re staying close to home to wait it out. The trees will be waiting it out too. It’s like that this time of year.