Conkers, Brights, Shiners, Cheggies, Obblyonkers,Cheeses

 

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Gawd, the Brits have the best words for EVERYTHING! In the American midwest they call them buckeyes. Not to be outdone by the Brits, they have even come up with a peanut butter and chocolate candy made to look like the nut – also called a buckeye. In this part of the world we just call them chestnuts or, if we’re being really fancy, horse chestnuts.

There’s something about chestnuts that take me back to a simpler time – not necessarily a better time, but simpler. Sometimes I wonder if these times were simpler just because I was a child. My parents might have a very different story to tell.

IMG_0285Drilling holes in chestnuts to make necklaces or to play conkers is stored in my memory bank in the same file as wild bicycle chases playing  “cops and robbers” and games of hide-and-seek lasting long after dark with the neighbourhood kids.

These games seemed to have met the same fate as the chestnut trees in North America. At one point, 25% of the forest here in the Appalachian range was comprised of chestnut trees.  In the early 1900’s a chestnut blight ravaged the forests and now there are very few old specimens left.

I have had two chestnut trees play a role in my life. One was in my hometown watched over guarded by an old lady called Mrs. Moody. (I couldn’t make up a better name if I tried.) The other is a lone surviving tree by an old foundation up the road from where I live now.

I feel the same way about the chestnuts as I do the bats that also got decimated by a fungus. There are now only two bats on our road which swoop over our heads on evening walks when in my childhood the air was full of them.

I’m wondering if I’m hanging  onto these memories because it’s a good thing to wish for survival of a species or if it’s just hard to say goodbye to what once was.

 

The Crickets Sing a Song of Sadness and Change

“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.”  (From Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White)

The crickets I captured today on video seem to have an urgent message for you.

 

I think they may be telling you to  put down whatever you’re doing and enjoy these last days of summer.

 

 

Ruthie’s Clothesline

 

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My friend, Ruthie, takes pictures of her clothesline and it says as much about her as any selfie could. From this picture, you might have surmised that Ruthie is a colourful person, living a fairly relaxed lifestyle in the country. And you wouldn’t be wrong.

I began being curious about clothes and how they can tell our stories better than any photograph after reading an article in  The Book of Life called The Serious Business of Clothes. The article ended with this line, “Our wardrobes contain some of our most carefully written lines of autobiography.” After reading this, I decided to write my autobiography around different clothes I wore throughout the years.

I began my autobiography  with the first article of clothing that I remembered being truly excited about. Here is my recollection:

“I can still see them resting in the cardboard box with the cellophane lid. It couldn’t have been a better gift if the prince himself had delivered them. My six year old hands trembled as I carefully lifted the first one from its tissue paper nest. The sunlight shone on the sparkles in the clear plastic and they whirled and danced inside. Magic.

Tentatively, I slipped both feet into the glass slippers and inched my toes under the white elastic band with the pink and chartreuse flower embroidery. I took my first hesitant steps trying to adjust to the pressure under my arch that supported the kitten heels. There was something about those heels that caused me to hold my head a little higher and move with a grace I hadn’t known before. There was power in those shoes.

I grew up in a very masculine household with an energetic father and two brothers. My mother was British and wore “sensible” shoes. This was one of my first remembered experiences of what it felt like to be a girly girl – a princess, if you will. And I loved it!

In the spirit of Ruthie’s clothesline as self portrait, I decided to take a self portrait of my own. Since I began my autobiography with a story of shoes, I thought it fitting that my updated self portrait  be of shoes. I tried a few combinations, as you can see.

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It’s not as easy to take a self portrait as you may think. I’m liking the relaxed look of Ruthie’s clothesline  more and more after my experiments this afternoon.  My self portrait might be considered interesting, but relaxed, no. And that just about says it all.

 

*The Book of Life is the “brain” of the School of Life co-founded by modern day philosopher Alain de Botton. It is a gathering of the best ideas around wisdom and emotional intelligence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Metamorphosis

One day he is there in his caterpillar body hanging from the lip of the glass jar that has been his home for the last two weeks, and then he is not. It’s a death of sorts and has me feeling mournful for his loss this morning.

IMG_0092You can see him attached and suspended in the J position.

He had been acting differently for about three days. He stopped eating and moved to the top of his glass jar. He stayed in a horizontal position there for a day or two until he suspended himself yesterday.

This is the scene this morning.

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Lack of appetite and failure to move are maybe the first signs a death/transformation are imminent for caterpillars…. and for humans too. Can’t help but think of the similarities. I am wondering if in the last three days he had been sensing that some big change was about to happen. Certainly his body was giving him signals.

I find myself trying to imagine the organic shiftings that are happening within the chrysalis at this moment: cells rearranging themselves, tissues dissolving and reforming. On the outside all looks quiet. He has pulled himself in and shut out the world. His home for the next two weeks this beautiful yellow/green orb with gold dots sprinkled around the top.

This is the universal story of  death/rebirth coming to you from a glass jar on a screen porch. We are now in that quiet place, removed from the world, encased in a protective shell, waiting on the work of  forces far greater than anything we could ever dream possible.  It’s a miracle really.

 

 

 

Fences Make Good Neighbours

I have been thinking a lot about boundaries lately. Mostly because we have a new piece of land that borders on a neighbour to the southwest and our new full time neighbour to the north.  Boundaries are never really an issue until they become one and I suspect this holds just as true for property boundaries as for personal boundaries. In the spirit of being respectful of boundaries, we have decided to discover ours.

There is an old saying about fences making good neighbours, so this seemed like a logical first step in discovering our boundaries. We have had no need for fences on our land since we have lived here because we do not raise animals, but in years gone by people put up fences to demarcate their land whether they were raising animals or not. We have discovered pieces of the old fence over the years and yesterday decided to follow one of these lines to the end point which separates our land from the land next door.

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About seventy-five to a hundred years ago the fencer on our land used the trees growing in the woods as fence posts and tacked the wire to all the trees which lined up (approximately) with the boundary. As trees will do, they grew and as they grew the wire became embedded in the centre of the tree. To find our boundary we had to look for old pieces of wire coming out of large trees like this one, or look for it in dead or fallen trees on the ground.

As it turns out, our boundary is not at all where we thought it was.  Can’t help but wondering if this is the same problem with personal boundaries. Humm….

We marked all of the trees along this one line.

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When we got to the uppermost point, we discovered two things. Our neighbour to the north has become as interested in boundaries as we are. He has marked all the trees on our new tract of land that borders his property with the same orange ribbons. He is making hiking/ski trails and doesn’t want to be cutting trees on any land that is not his. (He’s a great neighbour!)  We also came across a wildlife camera belonging to another neighbour who has been hunting on our land for years. It’s strange to be this far back in the woods and see so many signs of human activity.

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Our boundary marking/discovering has been far from an exact science, but it sure does feel good to have a clearer idea of just what land we are supposed to be stewarding. And, more importantly, what land is not ours to be making decisions about!

I have come to understand that fences do make good neighbours, something our ancestors were very clear about. And we have all the old fence wire to prove it.

 

Rescued!

Two weeks ago I found a monarch caterpillar on the back of a milkweed leaf in the field across from our home. He was so tiny he was barely noticeable. What a difference two weeks can make. Here is the same caterpillar yesterday.

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When I brought this little guy home, it was as an experiment in raising a monarch. I have only seen a few monarchs these last couple of years and know the survival rate of the larva in the wild is less than 10%.  I was  feeling optimistic about them returning here in greater numbers when I saw that milkweed had taken hold again in the wild edges of the fields.

Little did I know when I started this experiment that it would turn out to be a rescue mission. Here is a picture (taken two days ago) of the same spot where I found the monarch caterpillar.

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The farmer had left the field fallow all summer and this past week he decided to harrow it. My caterpillar, and any of his siblings, would have lost their chance to continue on into future generations. Meanwhile, my rescued one should be making his cocoon any day now, if his size is anything to go by.

This is not a new or unusual story. Farmers plow their fields and wildlife  gets destroyed in the process. (I’ll tell you about the plight of the nesting bobolinks next spring.) What this does do, however, is recommit me to leaving the borders of our field wild so that we don’t play a part in the demise of any vulnerable species struggling for their survival.

 

Summer Collapses Into Fall

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It’s undeniable. The shift has occurred, or the collapse as Oscar Wilde writes. All of the other seasons seem to creep in around the edges, but not fall. The leaves on the trees are green – and then suddenly they’re not. One day we’re swimming, the next we’re wearing polars and searching out a sunlit place to have our morning coffee.

There’s a poignancy to the fall. Smells and sounds are intensified and nostalgia runs deep. The crate of apples at the back door, the muskiness of freshly raked leaves, and the honking of the first geese to fly overhead is the stuff of poetry.

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Even the clouds hang differently in the sky at this time of year: they are lower and heavier and seem to blanket the landscape.  And the chillier nights have fog snaking into the valleys waiting for the weakening sun to burn it off a bit later each day.

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Fall is the last act of the seasonal play. Lucky for us, we all get to be actors in this final scene. For me, that means enjoying every mouthful of fresh produce while it is still available.

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And spending as much time outdoors as possible.

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Perhaps it’s knowing that the end is in sight that makes this last season all the sweeter. There’s no more looking forward, there is only now. And now is very, very generous.

Enjoy this transition to fall everyone!

 

EEK! My Caterpillar Is a Teenager

A few blog posts back, I wrote about finding a monarch larva and promised an update. He was very, very tiny when I found him, barely noticeable on the furry back of the milkweed leaf. That was when he was just a baby. And then there is now….

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Eek! My  caterpillar is a teenager. He is “eating us out of house and home,” his room is a mess, and he doubles in size every day. Did I mention he is naughty? The other day I found him on the inside of the water container that keeps the milkweed fresh.   I never see him moving, but I sure do see signs that he has been crawling about.

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We’ve added a forked branch for a chrysalis to hang on in case he gets any ideas about becoming an adult and leaving home. This is like parenting on fast forward. Remember when you were just getting comfortable with one stage and they moved on to the next? Same thing.

For now, he is in his glass home resting and I will just content myself with that until the next big change.

 

Three Simple Kitchen Tools

We had family visiting last weekend and I was appreciating once again how well the kitchen works. It is not the biggest kitchen nor the most modern, but it is well equipped and functional.

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I have a great selection of knives within arm’s length, the onions and garlic sit in baskets on the counter, and the olive oil and vinegars are an easy reach away. For me, when it comes to cooking, it’s about easy access to all the major kitchen tools. And by this, I don’t mean fancy electric machines. I thought I would show you this morning the three tools I reach for the most often when I am cooking – the ones I can’t do without.

The first is my Santoku kitchen knife.

IMG_3063.JPGThis one is a Henckel 7 inch and is lightweight and always sharp. These knives come in different qualities and at different prices. You use a knife every day, so I would recommend buying the best quality one that you can afford. (That said, I have used cheaper knives that also seem to work just fine.) This Santoku seems to satisfy most of my cutting needs. My advice is to find a knife that works for you. There are many great knives out there, but it has to have a comfortable grip and be the right weight for you. When you find your knife, you won’t look back!

I use this Japanese Benriner mandoline every day.

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It lives in the drawer below the counter and is simplicity itself: small, portable and easy to clean. I bought it years ago at a Chinese grocery store (Kim Phat for those who might be reading in the Montreal area), but you can order them online at Amazon. I know there are lots of fancier ones on the market, but again I return to my theme of simplicity. They come with multiple blades, but I seem to only use the slicer and it can be easily adjusted for thicker or thinner cuts. I use it to cut cucumbers, onions, radishes, fennel and anything else that requires thin slicing. I also use it to slice potatoes for scalloped potatoes and cabbage for coleslaw. It comes with a plastic guard that really does need to be used, especially when you get near the bottom. The blade is sharp! They come in two widths. The one I have is the narrower of the two, but when I upgrade I will go for the little wider one.

The last simple tool that I use often is this rasp that I bought at Lee Valley Tools years ago.

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It has become a bit dull over the years. This is a testament to how often I use it. Grated parmesan on the rasp is light and airy and you’ll find you don’t need as much as when grating on the regular box grater. Bring it to the table after and allow people to grate their own. It is also a super zester for lemons and limes and makes quick work of ginger and garlic. (If you are interested in purchasing the rasp, I have included the link here.)

Voilà, three simple tools that you might not be able to live without either.

I am wondering if you have a kitchen tool you can’t live without? If so, why not share it in the comments. Maybe I’ll find a new favourite!

 

Well Lookee Here!

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I found this little guy on the last leaf of the last milkweed plant I looked at on my walk Friday. And I almost missed him. He looks quite impressive in this photo but he is actually very tiny, about the length of a dime.

He is now living on the screen porch in a fish tank with a fresh supply of milkweed leaves but has not ventured from the leaf where I found him. The edges of the leaf have been nibbled on both ends, so I know he has been moving about.

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It takes a monarch about a month to go through the stages from egg to adult – egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) and adult. My newly found larva has a lot of growing to do in a very short time. And I am a bit worried. I have discovered that like all good ideas I bluster upon, it can be more complicated than it seems at first. For instance, I read that monarchs are usually raised in mesh cages for air circulation and that the milkweed leaves should be placed in water to prevent them from drying out. I don’t have a mesh cage, but I did place cheesecloth on top of the tank so that he can’t escape but still has a supply of fresh air. I have added a new sprig of milkweed and placed it in some fresh water. We’ll see… I’ll keep you posted.

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