Thursday, April 19, 2018

Every Year is More Beautiful

Spring has shown her sweet side in the past two days. Sun mixed with cloud, no wind to speak of, and gentle warmth that pours like honey onto my head.

We walk, late afternoon or early evening, through house-lined streets where tulips and daffodils nod their pretty heads and airy riots of pink cover bare branches. 

Along the path through the woods creamy fawn lilies (Erythronium) shine like stars. Only by crouching low do we see the details of stamens and pistils. She's a shy flower that charms and entices the passerby to take a closer look. 

Miner's Lettuce (Montia Perfoliata) grows in these woods, too. An edible plant, its crunchy sweet leaves and stems make a fine salad. I pick just one round leaf from a plant growing on a steep bank, tucked into a tree stump where I know a dog wouldn't have graced with his presence. 

We stop to admire the magnificence of a magnolia tree in bloom for a few moments. 

"Everything is blooming most recklessly, if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of night," wrote Rainer Maria Rilke. Rather than shrieking, I rather think it would be music, a harmony of richness, tentative at first, then swelling into fullness. 

Returning home, I notice the rhododendron in the front garden that bloomed not at all last year is getting ready to put on a show.

How quickly the days and weeks and months pass. Term three is ended; one more to go. I love my job and interacting with students, but I'm pulled homewards, too. When I arrive home there's never enough time or energy to do the things I'd like to do. I know it's a matter of adjusting expectations, but I want it all.

John Burroughs wrote "I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read and all the friends I want to see." I'd like to teach for two more years and then retire. Again. 

In my garden the blueberries are forming flowers, each one, if pollinated, and watered, will grow into a round fat berry that will roll into my bucket with a little tug of my fingers.

A little patch, very small, of violets has seeded itself under a rosebush. I hope it spreads a little more each year. 

I feel a little blue just now, for no reason in particular. I've been thinking about people I love who are hurting, and of the uncertainty of life. I find some comfort in Tolkien's words, 

"The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater." 

Rosemary in bloom in the late afternoon sunshine. 

I've always found the book of Psalms comforting. David wrote so honestly about his feelings. He whined, complained, grouched, despaired, and then turned towards his God. "All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you" he writes. How comforting to be known.  

What a rambling post this has turned out to be. It's like a rather aimless walk. I'll close here with a question for you. When blue days come, what do you do? 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Gardening Weekend

Saturday. Cloudy skies with a few sunny breaks, but no rain. And certainly no snow or ice as was the case in the east. I put on wellies, gardening gloves, and my old fleece jacket. Garden cleanup was the sole task on my list for the day. 

In the morning I snapped the tulips on the left; a few hours later, the same tulips on the right, opening to the faint sun.

The last of the winter garden vegetables. Kale was beginning to go to seed, and the carrots were becoming a bit hairy, but everything tastes just fine. Tim spread compost after I weeded and cleaned out the bed; he helped with the last bit of weeding, too. My fingers were sore from all the pulling. 

After a hot shower I relaxed with a cup of tea, a piece of chocolate, and a new Country Living (UK). Small treats like this are a fine reward for a day of hard work. Of course, looking out the window and seeing the garden beds tidied is in itself, also a reward. 

The "novelty" tulips purchased a week or more ago are aging beautifully: petals curling slightly, colours intensifying, and texture becoming silky. 

Do you like dates? The edible kind, I mean. On Sunday afternoon I made an Easy Date Cake and then a cream and caramel sauce to go alongside. How good it was warm from the oven. 

Easy Date Cake

2 cups chopped dates
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour

1. Grease and flour a 13 x 9 inch baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Pour the boiling water over the chopped dates. Add the baking soda and let cool for 15 minutes or so.

3. In a mixer, beat the butter until creamy, add the sugars and beat well. Add the vanilla.

4. Stir in the date mixture. The batter will look quite thin and watery. 

5. Add the flour and stir well. Pour into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes. 

Cream and Caramel Sauce

1 egg yolk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup heavy cream

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, whisk the egg yolk, brown sugar, water, and butter until melted and smooth; bring to a boil while whisking continually; boil one minute. 

Add the salt, vanilla, and cream. Heat but don't boil.

One more garden beauty - the first Centaurea Montana popped out over the weekend.  Isn't she a beauty? 

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Alert Bay

As we boarded the ferry for our 40-minute ride to Cormorant Island, three snowy peaks drifted in and out of our sight line, sometimes obscured by another island, then visible again as we made headway. I've not been able to discover their name, but they made a stunning backdrop for a day of exploration.

Alert Bay is a small community of 1200-1500 people on Cormorant Island. The Namgis First Nation has the largest population (600-750 people), with the remainder composed of the Village of Alert Bay and the Kwakwaka'wakw Tribes. Alert Bay is named for the Royal Navy ship HMS Alert which conducted surveys in the area around 1860. 

The island is a quiet place in the off season, and becomes busier once the tourism season begins. We had hoped to visit the U'mista Cultural Centre, but it was closed. We wandered through town, glad for our layers of clothing as a sharp, cold wind blew across the water.

We admired the handiwork of the many totem poles throughout the village. The older poles have lost their colour, and I found them more evocative, standing tall after years of exposure to harsh weather.

A piece of land near the water held many large logs and showed evidence of work, however, no one was present during our visit. I placed my foot on the edge of this yellow cedar stump to give you an idea of the size of some of the trees.  

A stop sign, with the word in both English and Kwakwala fascinated me. I'm happy to see the traditional languages revived. There are two elementary schools in Alert Bay, and older students take the ferry to Port McNeil. 

Christ Church (Anglican) was built in 1879. Regular services are still held there and I thought the building so pretty with the gingerbread on top and around the bell tower. 

In 1929, with direction and help from the federal government, a residential school was constructed. Here First Nations children were taken from their families and not allowed to speak their native languages. The school building, later used for other purposes, fell into disrepair and was taken down a few years ago. A plaque of memorial remains. 

We visited Alert Bay on Good Friday and I found it interesting that the people who greeted us with "Good Friday" or "Happy Easter" were mostly from the First Nations. Are they able to dissociate the wreckage of the residential schools from the message of the gospel?

In 1909, two Englishwomen began a hospital in Alert Bay that served a vast area of small populations. The modern hospital there today pays homage to these early medical workers with a display in the front lobby. Our neighbours were born in this hospital, and their children. Their parents were Finnish immigrants who lived on a nearby island that I'll write about in my next post.  

Fishing and logging were, and continue to be the main industries in Alert Bay. The building above was constructed as a saltery, where fresh salmon were salted and mild-cured before being sent to Victoria. Today, the building is almost derelict, but is used as a net loft, where fishermen hang their yards and yards of nets for mending. 

Above the village is a small ecological park with a board walk. The sun poured down in this space and we enjoyed respite from the wind. This swampland was created by the damming of a small river to create a freshwater source for the saltery. The trees killed by the dam stand like ghosts, with long tangles of moss draped in and around their branches. Bald eagles soar overhead, and the raucous calls of crows fill the air. 

Salal is a native plant that grows all over the coast. I have never seen it grow so tall as here in these northern rain forests. It was well over my head, and Tim's, too. The trails were tunnel-like in their narrowness with tall walls of salal. 

We disturbed a pair of wood-ducks courting in the pond-side growth and they paddled off in a hurry. The ecological reserve is a quiet and peaceful place. 

As we left on the ferry, we both said that we'd like to return one day when more things are open. It's a fascinating bit of our country's history that we'd like to explore. 

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Spring Puttering

"Nothing is so beautiful as Spring
     When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush...
    The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
    The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling."
                                                                                                   Gerard Manley Hopkins

Spring is not my favourite time of year. I enjoy each one of the seasons, but Spring is too capricious and moody: one day smiling with sun, the next sullen with a chill wind that drives like a knife. Still, I cannot deny the absolute delight of seeing green shoots and flowers emerge from the brown earth. Blossoms in the rain are as equally beautiful as those in the sun. 

All the fresh newness outdoors inspires me indoors to putter. I looked up the meaning of the word today: busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely, casual, or ineffective manner

Today I've been puttering. It's been leisurely and casual, but I hope not ineffective. 

Puttering goes alongside housecleaning for me. The house hasn't been dusted since before I left for Mexico. Taking everything off of mantels and tabletops in order to dust is a perfect opportunity to put things back in new ways. Above is the result of the living room mantel putter. 

The kitchen mantel is narrower and I have a hard time finding things to fit. I've been craving greenery and need to replace some of my houseplants. Today I went out into the garden and clipped whatever I could stick into water - rosebush leaves, trailing vinca, and a cornflower getting ready to bloom. The light is rather dull today with grey skies threatening rain and the clear glass with greenery brightens things a little. 

You might remember my "Her Ladyship" mug I received for Christmas. For Tim's birthday last month, I looked for the matching "His Lordship" mug, but Murchie's said they didn't have any more. 
What to do?
I spied the Chauffeur mug and since he usually drives when it's the two of us, I purchased it. He thinks it's quite funny. And I confess to thinking about Lady Sybil and Branson in Downton Abbey! 

I finished reading The Nightingale on our short trip last week, and re-read the ending again this week. It's the story of two sisters in France, during World War II. A lovely, sometimes heart-wrenching story. 

Before I left on my long trip last month, I went outside to take a photo of the back of the house (bottom left). Tim was planning to do some major puttering while I was gone. He replaced the sliding glass doors with a single door with a large window, and installed a new window in that blank wall to the left. This is all part of the ongoing kitchen renovation that is going to take years rather than months. The fireplace was the first step. The window and door are the second. 

There is still finish work to do around the inside of the door and window and that is being worked on in his free time. As well, we will paint the outside once it's warm enough. This project has made a huge difference in the amount of light in what was rather a dark room. I like having the table right up against the window.

There used to be a white lattice railing around the deck, but that was removed last fall. The new deck is in Tim's shop, waiting for a stretch of good weather for installation. After that there will likely be a long hiatus in renovations. 

It's been good to get back to home cooking again. Since halibut is in season, I pan roasted a filet and served it over roasted tomatoes from our garden (roasted and frozen last summer), with sauteed kale picked fresh from the plants that are bursting with green leafiness. 

Yesterday morning, while sitting at the table by the window, I spied a flash of colour in the lemon balm stalks that need to be cut down. This Finch, probably a House Finch, stayed long enough for me to change the lens on my camera and take quite a few shots. There must have been something delicious on those dry stalks.

Speaking of the seasons, Gladys Tabor writes, "Who can say which is the most beautiful? Each has its own charm, each bestows its own blessing, and we welcome each in turn...There is a security in knowing that spring follows winter and summer comes after spring...I wish all my friends, everywhere, the joy and sweetness of spring." 

Whether you are reading this in the midst of a late snowstorm, or perhaps in early autumn in the southern hemisphere, I wish you joy.

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life.  

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Road Trip #2: Elk Falls and Sayward

Vancouver Island is 460km (284 mi) long, and is about 32,000 square kilometres. (In comparison, Wales is about 21,000 square km.) Most of its 800,000 or so residents live in the southern half of the island. We've lived here for 16 years and have never traveled far "up Island" as the locals say. 

Before I was asked to go to Mexico with the school, Tim and I planned a little vacation up Island. After I returned from my trip, I spent one day doing laundry and catching up before we left again. I did not drive!

Our first stop was just before the town of Campbell River, to visit Elk Falls. Thundering water rushes and falls steeply, creating a mist that one could almost shower under. Elk Falls is also the site of a hydro-electric project providing electricity for the Island. I was amazed to see that the pipes carrying water from the lake above the falls to the hydro plant were made of wood! Long boards are banded every 6-8 inches with metal cords for 1.8 kilometres. Completed in 1947, the pipes are going to be replaced soon with an underground system.

There is a wonderful trail system along the Campbell River, including a suspension bridge for viewing Elk Falls and a dizzying platform that extends over the falls. Skunk cabbage is in bloom these days, brightly visible and unmistakably odorous, as well. 

A few salmon berry bushes showed early blooms and unfurling leaves.

Robins are everywhere these days. They run around in packs, landing to feed wherever they can before heading further north. 

As we followed the trail downwards, turbulent water quieted to calm. 

We spent one night in the town of Campbell River, and enjoyed a very good Greek meal at a local restaurant. The next day was rainy. We drove to Sayward and Kelsey Bay, two adjoining very small communities where logging and fishing are the main industries. 

Three of these little yellow tugboats pushed heavy logs and log booms around in the water, reminding me of dogs corralling sheep. They spun and twirled, danced and bobbed expertly.

A friend recommended the Cable House Cafe, a unique building wrapped in old logging cables. We stopped to take a closer look at the building, but the cafe was still closed for the season. 

There is so much abandoned equipment in the forests here - even in remote, boat access only, areas. On our boat travels, we often find the forest swallowing up tractors, cables, spare parts and more. It's probably more economical to leave stuff from a logging show there than to pack it out. I console myself with the fact that most of it is metal and wood and will eventually break down, unlike plastic. 

Our next stop was Port McNeill, where we stayed 3 nights in a lovely AirBnB overlooking the water. We watched ferries go back and forth (this one needs a clean-up) and admired the snowy mountain peaks of the mainland Coast range.

In my next post I'll tell you about two very different islands we visited, via the ferry seen above. 

Meanwhile, here's a bit of forsythia in the rain, from my garden today.

How is spring coming along in your corner? 

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Road Trip #1: to Mexico

My last post, written almost 3 weeks ago, mentioned that I was heading to Mexico with a group of students and staff to construct homes for needy families. I'm back now, after sharing the driving of 4887 kilometres (3037 miles) there and back. It was a long, long drive. In the above collage are some of the sights seen along the way. We drove the I-5 from the Canadian border at Bellingham to Tijuana, Mexico, and then a few hours into Mexico. 

Such varied scenery - crossing from our Canadian island into Washington State's rainy forests to Oregon's snowy mountain passes, foggy lakes, and down onto the vast California valleys where dry river beds and irrigated fields tell of the lack of water. Then through the crazy maze of Los Angeles and San Diego traffic, over the border and into Mexico. Here, too, bridges over dry waterways told their story. 

There were 39 of us all together, and we divided into 3 teams to build 3 houses. The students were fantastic, working hard and challenging themselves to do new things, with results that they can be proud of. I loved watching them interact with the Mexican children who came around to watch. Scraps of lumber were made into simple robots. Older boys wanted to help build and were given a hammer and nails and shown what to do. The students brought balls and played soccer in the dusty streets and shared small treats and toys with the children. I did a lot of translating when needed, but the universal language of acceptance and kindness went a long way.

I have many thoughts about my experience, but I'm still mulling things over and don't quite know how to put them into words. The expression "grinding the faces of the poor" keeps coming to mind. Our global economy is so complex and so unfair. I wonder about my role in it, and how complicit I am. 

I arrived home late (very late) last Monday. The next day family came over and we celebrated Tim's birthday. Katie made the cake. We were going to order pizza, but I decided that I had eaten enough fast food on the trip and cooked a roast beef dinner. I confess that I woke up that morning with lots of spunk, enough to get plans rolling and the groceries purchased, but around 11 am, my energy dissolved into exhaustion and never came back. Dinner was served with help from Tim and my children, and we had a good time. 

While I was gone, spring arrived to my garden. These spots of colour are so welcome and pretty. I wandered around and said 'hello' to all my plants and welcomed the new growth. 

I was home for two nights and then Tim and I took off on another road trip. I'll tell you more about that later. I've missed my blogging friends and look forward to reading your posts and catching up soon. Happy Easter!

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

On a Quiet Evening

My bag had to be at school this morning, along with my sleeping bag, so that the vans could be packed. We will be driving, in 4 vehicles - 3 large vans and a small bus - for three long days to Mexico. I have a little tote bag and my pillow to take tomorrow. 

As part of the team of chaperones and drivers for this trip, I had to get my commercial driving licence. That meant a computer knowledge test (which I failed the first time because I didn't study enough about engines and torque and shifting), plus a driving test that included a vehicle inspection. That I did pass. Then, I needed a medical sign-off from my doctor assuring the licensing office that I was of sound mind and body. Also passed.

In a recent conversation with a friend, (actually, with more than one friend), she expressed both admiration and not a little horror that I would do such this - both go to Mexico and get my licence. To summarize what my friends said: "I've decided I'm too old to do things that are out of my comfort zone." 

My response is that I never want to feel so old that I'm not going to challenge myself. I am cognizant of my age and I won't be attempting foolish behaviour, such as bungee-jumping, but I'm not willing to stagnate. The students will have a day at Six Flags on the way home, but I won't be riding any roller coasters, thank you very much. 

I don't consider myself particularly adventuresome, and I often have to push through fear and worry to do the things I do. I pray. I trust God. I ask for strength to do whatever it is I need to do. 

On this quiet evening at home, I'm pondering a lot of things: a friend from my high school days is dying, and an uncle is also declining. Life is indeed uncertain, and all too short. Even as I write these words, I push away fear and uncertainty, entrusting my days and this trip to God's hands.

How do you feel about new experiences? Do you find that you sometimes have to acknowledge fear and then decide to not let it stop you?

Several weeks ago I mentioned a sewing challenge - 6 items in 6 weeks. I did finish. Tim took photos of me on Sunday afternoon when the sun shone beautifully warm. Yellow is out of my comfort zone, but I made the vest reversible in case I wanted to push myself a little. 

The family who live nearby came over on Sunday afternoon for a casual dinner. I've been wanting to try Brenda's Sour Cream Lemon Pie ever since seeing it on her blog. It was delicious and a big hit. Those pretty blue napkins are from my cousin from Wales who was here on a short visit and stopped in for breakfast on Saturday morning. They are from the Burleigh Pottery makers in England. 

The weekend's warmth and sunshine has dissolved into cooler temperatures and drizzly rain. I'll be at the school very early tomorrow morning as we plan to catch the first ferry off the island. The house is clean, there are some meals ready for Tim, and there's nothing left to do. 

I may not be able to blog much (or at all), but I'll look forward to reading your thoughts on my return.