Friday, July 21, 2017

White Graphic Tee-Shirt, Two Ways, Two Days

I briefly considered rustling up a Five Things Friday post, but since I've scheduled Five Visits with Friends!! in the two days we're in Nanaimo, I'm going with a very short-and-sweet What I Wore instead.

Let's call this one Two Ways to Wear a White Graphic Tee, 'cause that would be following the advice that some sites like to dish out on How To Build More Followers.  . .

So here it is, with a little photo-bombing from Pater. In the top two photos, I'm heading out for a city walk, wearing the white t-shirt I bought last fall in Paris, the one that declares my identity to be that of a Flâneuse. I love it and so far have managed to protect it from wayward soya sauce and melting fudgsicles.  I took it for a walk last week with this longish denim skirt (by "Mother"). I love the skirt, in theory, but haven't been wearing it much and decided to make an effort to get it outside in the summer sunshine. Tucked the Tee, belted the skirt, entertained some doubts about how the tucking and the high waist and the high contrast between skirt and Tee emphasized my short waist. Then decided that I was going to embrace my short waist and just get out there. So I did, and it all worked out okay. . .  white Arizona Birks, a small cross-body M0851 bag I purloined from Pater long ago,  a gold bangle, and my H*****double-tour watch. . .
Another day, another city, another mirror-and-door combo, this time in the hotel room. Same Tee-shirt, but paired this time with a white J Crew skirt and left untucked (although some strategic positioning of not-quite-horizontal pleats might have happened).  Accessorized with my gold sneakers (Onitsuka Tigers), same watch, same bangle, and you can't see the cognac bag I grabbed for a day of visiting with old friends.

Off to meet another friend for coffee and then I'm having lunch with yet another. Before Pater and I head to another island to socialise with some of his colleagues and their partners. Honestly, I haven't been this social for weeks and weeks. I'm enjoying it, but suspect I will be in serious need of some hunkering down in a very quiet room when it's all done.

What about you? Where do you stand on white Tee-shirts (or graphic ones)? On tucking or not-tucking? On the luxury of visiting too many friends in too short a time? Or just a hello and a hint of what you're up to this weekend. Now I've got to run -- got friends to meet! ;-)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

We Thank You -- Wednesday Words from the Hopeful Wounded. . .

Ah, titles. . . .Sometimes thinking of yet another one just seems too much. Too much. Please excuse....

Thank you so much for your very kind, thoughtful, and supportive comments on yesterday's post. I know my sister-in-law read them as well, and I believe she took strength from knowing that people are moved and are sending encouraging thoughts and prayers.

Because I know that some of you also went to the GoFundMe site, read their story, perhaps shared it, perhaps even donated funds, I'm sharing the photo that my nephew's wife, Carly, posted on Facebook on Monday, along with her words of gratitude and appreciation and hope.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read our story, shared it with friends, or donated to help us. The amount of support we have received from family, friends, and members of the community has been overwhelming! Ryan has a big fight ahead of him, but he is more confident than ever that he can kick this cancer's ass! I am amazed daily by his strength, determination, and bravery.

I am forever grateful to everyone who has supported us in our time of need.

Carly, Ryan Schmidt and Adelyn Rose

I commented on Facebook about Carly's punctuation. Her mastery of the comma delights my English prof's soul, truly. I've taught academic writing to hundreds of students, and I've rarely seen any wield an Oxford comma so consistently and effectively.

As for me, I'm rallying, feeling considerably better (although I woke from the strangest dream this morning, with the words "The Great Depression" figuring significantly, ominously -- uh-oh!).  We've been indulging in some Netflix binge-ing, which I justify by watching with French audio and French subtitling -- Témoins (Witnesses) -- very good, if you can handle intense suspense. Ditto for the Belgian show La Trêve/The Break which we also watched in French.

Today, we're heading over to Vancouver Island, although not all the way to the little island where we used to live. Still, I have visits scheduled with good friends, and while I may have lost my voice by the time I come back, I know my heart will be full.

What about you? What are you up to? (And isn't that a good-looking family above? I get to meet that little baby on Sunday, can't wait!)

Monday, July 17, 2017

There's Bad News and There's Good News....

Good morning, Monday!

I realize that you're an understanding crowd, and that I don't need to be all upbeat, all the time around here, but I'm finding it particularly tough at the moment to write blog posts that I enjoy writing and you can enjoy reading.  I feel especially good about two last week -- the tour around Wendy's magical garden and the memorable dinner in Split -- but this has been a very tough week for feeling creative or for acting on any creative impulses. 

Not only has the seven-storey concrete construction across the street ramped up the noise level -- they're beginning to "sculpt"  (drill and polish and cut) the concrete they've poured over the past few months, and that constant sound is wearing. Closing the windows and doors helps, but given the sunshine we've been enjoying, that gets uncomfortable quickly, especially since most of our exterior walls are glass. And the discomfort has me really missing my island home, where summer was always the reward for winter's difficult logistics. 

Yes, I can remind myself, I'm not having to deal with stormy trips across the harbour for groceries. But that's only logic. Part of me grieves a beach whose every rock I knew. I think we're doing well in adjusting to the city, and we've been cycling and kayaking and going to farmers' markets and enjoying the library just across the street. But these last few weeks, I've been craving a kind of solace that is heavily coated with nostalgia, yes, that might never truly have existed, but that beckons from my imagination as tauntingly as any desert mirage. . . . 

All that pales, though, in the light of what's really hurting here. The primary cause that has all my extended family in shock; has us all going back to basics and trying to love the ones we're with in the moments we have in the seismic damage; rejigging those life principles, values, platitudes we live by, and so on. I alluded to this family illness week before last, here, but I couldn't say much then. I can tell you more now because the family of my nephew's wife started this GoFundMe campaign, which means the story is already public. There are details at that link, but the gist is that my "little brother"s son, my nephew Ryan, went to the doctor with symptoms about two weeks ago, the week before his first child was due to be born. He was almost immediately hospitalised for a week of pain control and testing and some radiation, then home for a few days before they were told that he has an advanced, rare (in adults, at least) form of cancer. His wife, Carly, determined that they have a few days together as family before Ryan starts whatever treatments are deemed necessary or helpful, delivered a beautiful little baby girl the weekend before last.

My brother and my lovely sister-in-law were here for a few hours on Saturday, and we had a pleasant lunch, toasting their status as new grandparents with Prosecco left over from toasting our newlyweds a few months ago. The emotional roller-coaster of that visit -- the absolute delight sharing the birth story, looking at the baby pictures, hearing my brother speak of helping with a 4 a.m. feeding, but then breaking down at the thought of what the future holds for these new parents and my beautiful new grand-niece. 

And then while we were visiting, my sister-in-law looked at her phone messaages and burst into tears, seeing that the news was public, with this campaign. I'd just given my brother and SIL the cheque representing what my siblings and I (and my kids) had collected to buy some breathing room for the young couple -- the mortgage still has to be paid, but Ryan is unable to work and it's not at all clear what income they might have from disability, etc., We're lucky we're a large family, and the amount would help for a couple of months, but of course this is a bigger circumstance than getting through the summer. So it's been reassuring and, even more, heartwarming, seeing so many people donate, seeing the funds mount so quickly over the weekend. But I think it was also a kick in the head, having to see it written out, so concretely. . . 

I'm not telling you about this, and posting the link, to solicit your contributions. As you'll see if you post the link, those funds are mounting quite quickly as is, and I know there are always many causes that clamour for our help in all of our lives. I'm just sharing it because the situation is dominating my mind and my emotions for the moment, and we're close, here, you and I. . . 

And I'm going to keep posting, but If the posts are picture-heavy or the prose is a bit flat, you'll understand, I know. 

Finally, sorry for the "downer," especially on a Monday, but sometimes, if you'll pardon the vulgarity, sometimes Shit Gets Real!  And it's not all negative news, is it, when there's a beautiful new baby girl in the world, and she's bringing so much joy to her wonderfully devoted new parents, and there are two brilliant, newly-minted grandparents flashing baby snaps at anyone who cares to have a look. . .  And a world of really kind people who want to help. The amount raised at GoFundMe has gone up by $500 in the time it took me to write this post. So that's it for now, and as they say, I'll see you when I see you. Hope you'll be back, and perhaps a bit patient with what I post in the next while. Wishing you a very good week.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Eating (Fresh) Pea Soup in Croatia. . . . A Special Evening

You might remember that while in Croatia, we spent a few days in Split with our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter who live in Rome, but flew over so we could all hang out.  Our time there was governed largely by the soon-to-be-Three (at my Happy Birthday, I going be Free, Nana!): If she wanted to go to the beach, why not go to the beach?; if she wanted to find a playground, there was generally one along the way, so that we could manage both a stroll to and through Diocletian's Palace and spend fifteen minutes moving from slide ladder to slide bottom to teeter-totter to swing. . .

Wandering through Diocletian's Palace, we marvelled that this 4th-century building -- as much fortress as residence, clearly, is still being used today, housing shops and restaurants, and comprising a good chunk of old-city Split

Naps were generally more hope than reality, but she would catch a few winks when being carted by her very patient (and strong!) Mama and Papa. And while she's not one for sitting still, we managed dinners at restaurants, in large part because Croatians are almost as charmed by children as Italians are, and because her folks, like so many parents, have a few food-ordering tricks up their sleeves.

Yep, still in Diocletian's palace. Can you spot my four ahead?

But our second night in Split, we miscalculated in our late afternoon ambling, and all of a sudden, it was 7:00, we were in the very pleasant, well-touristed area of Diocletian's Palace, and we agreed the restaurants there weren't the best for visiting with a very active kid. We had in mind a place we'd passed the previous evening, and we decided we'd aim in that direction for an 8:00 arrival.  Indeed, we pulled up in front of the restaurant about 8:15, Little Girl running off immediately to the playground just across the lane, the rest of us happy to see there was a table just adjacent to that playground. The table wasn't set yet, but surely we could prevail on our server to make it available, if only to keep the active kid out of his path. . . .

It would have been perfect, but sadly, the only work the server was doing, standing in front of the restaurant, was advising hopeful diners that "Something had happened in the kitchen," and there would be no meals coming out of it that evening.


Okay, so now it's 8:15, and by the time we pull The Active One away from the swing set it's almost 8:30, and although she hasn't registered hunger yet, we suspect that when she does, the need will be conveyed loudly, perhaps even vehemently. . . . And we've moved past the most obvious cluster of likely spots . . .

Luckily, we quickly come up with a Plan B, a restaurant closer to our temporary home, considerably more upscale and hence one that we were "saving" for the following evening, perhaps even one Nana and Granddad might have sent the recent newlyweds off to, keeping Little Girl home with us -- Restoran Dvor, which features a series of terraces working their way down alongside the path to the sea, each terrace dotted with settings of attractive white tables and lacy white chairs.

A well-dressed, well-behaved assortment of diners were settling in o their meals, a pleasant, convivial buzz of happy conversation, the irregular metallic percussion of cutlery on china, the occasional clinking of crystal all mixing with sounds from swimmers and Picigin-players on the beach below. There were a few young children, so Frankie didn't seem out of place, and she sat for a minute or two at her own seat, then scooted over to nestle on her mom's lap.

That didn't last too long, but first Nana, then Granddad, took her for a stroll down the path to the beach, and back up. (She squawked, squealed a bit, in protest at being taken away from Mama and Papa, but both Granddad and I know how to move quickly and explain firmly and distract convincingly. . . and then the lure of the beach . . . )

Back at our table, her next diversion was clambering from her chair to rustle the stones from the gravel carpeting the terrace. Throwing them was quickly declared a no-no, and that was a big disappointment (I began to understand why my daughter isn't a fan of eating out with this girl, but on the other hand, none of the other diners seemed to notice and our server struck up a parent-to-parent talk, comparing notes on Twos and Fours).  When Nana found a fine-tip marker in her bag, many, many small rocks were given primitive faces. . .

and we acted out little plays with the rock puppets. And we hoped that food would arrive before she got too fractious.

The food that arrived first, though, was my bowl of deliriously green soup adorned by pea sprouts dancing atop a soft egg. So much there to trigger a Child's skepticism.  Quite hot, as well, so before I offered her a spoonful, we played up the drama of blowing to cool it down. Then carefully moving the spoon to her lips, I watched her tentatively sip a tiny portion, then wrap her mouth around the bowl of the spoon to swallow the rest with a contended sigh. "Peas," she surprised me by declaring. I hadn't said what kind of soup it was, but the bright taste of the fresh vegetables obviously spoke for itself.

After that first spoonful, I could barely manage to get in a slurp or two before getting her next cooled-down mouthful ready. At one point, she said quite firmly, "Basta, Nana, basta." (Have I mentioned she's well on her way to bilingualism?) I thought she was telling me she'd had enough, but no, apparently -- as I found when I directed the next spoonful toward my gullet, this baby bird was telling her feeder that Nana had had enough. Leave the rest for Hungry Girl. . .

We lingered for another hour or two that evening, enjoying a beautiful bottle of Croatian red, and then a second.  Delicious course followed delicious course as the full moon rose in the sky, emerging from behind one tree, crossing over to hide behind another. Swallows swooped, hurling their fierce insect-eating cries all 'round us, and bats darted their dark ghosts through the twilight skies. We planned future visits and celebrated how much we'd enjoyed this one. And finally, Papa hoisted Little Girl against his chest and we wandered up the hill, and home. . . .

One of those memorable meals you tuck away, think about happily when distance rudely wedges itself between you and your loved ones.

And back at home, remembering that meal, I decided that I wanted to recreate that pea soup. Pater and I shared my first attempt last week, and we both agree that it was a success. I'll have to try it out on the grandkids here, to see if they like it as much as their Italian cousin, and I'm still playing a bit with recipes. But next week, I'll share the simple instructions I followed for my first batch, along with some serving suggestions and an idea for using up any leftovers.

And here we are, bottom of the page, so it must be comments time. Memorable meals in faraway places? Or eating out, with kids or grandkids? Or memories of Split, if you've been? Three-generation outings? Fresh pea soups you have known? Or just a wave, to let me know you were here. . . Always happy to hear from you. (oh, but may I just say -- if you comment at the Bloglovin' site, I may not see your comment and I'm very unlikely to respond to it. I'd much prefer that you click through to my actual website, if you don't mind)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wednesday: Pictures and a Few Words . . . How to Look at Hydrangeas

 I know that the colour of hydrangeas has much to do with the pH balance of the soil
 but I've no idea how many seasons it will take me to turn this shrub's blooms to a palette closer to
 my preferences.
 The pink does, believe it or not, seem slightly less garish than the blooms I cut last September . . .
 perhaps my emptying the spent tea leaves onto the soil as a top dressing has made a tiny difference.
 I suspect I'll have to take more concerted action, but we've been distracted by the scale infestation,
 and honestly, I'm very tempted to shovel prune this one, replacing it with a white lacecap, perhaps
 even an oakleaf like the H. quercifolia "Snow Queen" we had in the last garden. It can be a sprawler,
 though, and I see that there's a 'Sikes Dwarf' available that apparently does well in a container.
Meanwhile, though, I must admit that there's considerable beauty to be found in the unfolding, day by day, of the furled green balls into the very emphatic pink mopheads. . .

And finding beauty, and acknowledging it, seems particularly important these days. Right now in our province, British Columbia, thousands have been displaced from their homes by forest fires, thousands more are in small towns cut off from supplies because fires have shut down any access, and there is no relief expected from the weather.  Crises like these seem to arrive back-to-back, and we can become overwhelmed hearing about them, and trying to balance them against the personal crises we might be experiencing, as in my extended family. But as my very wise sister-in-law said, "All we can ever count on is the moment we're in. So we do our best, and we help where we can, and we still have to eat and sleep and keep ourselves healthy. And we make the very most of the moments, as they arrive, one by one."

Sometimes that means stopping to look at the hydrangeas. Even if they're not our favourite colour. . . 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wendy's Garden: Addendum from Above. . .

I'm delighted that so many of you are enjoying this first post in what I hope might be a series of peeks into various gardens. With various family happenings at the moment, I'm not only very grateful to Wendy for offering up her garden for our viewing, but also for her generosity in responding to reader comments (rest assured that I'm following the conversation from behind the curtain, though, and enjoying the engagement).

And when Ceri in Bristol wondered if we might be able to get an overhead view of the garden, so as to better comprehend the whole, Wendy pops a photo in an e-mail to me -- thank you! So here's that overhead view, and I'll also go back and add it to the original post. . .

Monday, July 10, 2017

Garden Visits: Wendy's, in York . . .

This is the first in a series of posts, in which I will knock on the gate of various gardens maintained by readers within our blogging community.  I've already finagled an invitation to a splendid English garden -- come on through with me, and I'll tell you how that came about and introduce you to the gardener. Some of you will already be on a nodding acquaintance with Wendy (of York) through her comments here and elsewhere in our virtual vicinity, but she's graciously agreed to tell us a bit more about herself while describing the stunning transformation she and her husband have made to their property over forty years.

 Can you imagine strolling through this beautiful garden?
 Let's wander a bit, shall we? And perhaps we could sit on the bench for a few minutes, and I'll tell you how this post evolved, and what I'm planning for the future in a short series.
 First of all, thanks to Patricia, another regular commenter (whom I had the pleasure of meeting for lunch in Ottawa last year) for wondering if Wendy might share some photos of her garden.
A flurry of emails went back and forth, I received photographs of this glorious space, and at some point one of those cartoon lightbulbs went on, right above my head -- I swear, I'm sure my husband must have noticed it flashing!
 So I came up with a list of questions, emailed them to Wendy, and she emailed me back her answers.

Before I share those with you, check out the Before photos taken some forty years ago.
Imagine transforming a space like this through four decades.  . .

Never mind imagining, though. Let's let Wendy tell us what it was like:

--> Thank you so much, Wendy,  for sharing your garden with us.  Could you give us a rough idea of where it is and what the gardening conditions are?
My garden is on the outskirts of York, a small city in the north of England. It is a temperate climate with annual rainfall of 24 inches or 600 millimeters. In area it is between a quarter & half an acre which is a pretty good size for the U.K. The front garden is quite big  but not as densely planted as we need a gravel area for parking .

Our garden has sandy soil -  dig down two feet & it's pure river sand. The soil was impoverished when we moved in & although years of manure & compost heaps have made a vast difference, there are some plants, like the acid & moisture lovers , which are only possible for us in pots. The plus side is that the soil is easy to work. I'm not sure we could have managed this area if it were clay soil. The back garden faces south so we appreciate the  trees we have planted. They protect our poor soil & cut the wind from the west.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I'm a retired public servant, hubby was an accountant in a chocolate factory & we struggled to keep on top of the garden whilst we were at work . We had lots of energy then but not enough time. We now have lots of time & just enough energy. Soon, I expect we will have plenty of time & no energy! We've altered a few things with that in mind. We have two dogs, Lurchers, & because of them we don't travel as much as we used to do but we were lucky enough to see a fair bit of the world when we were younger. We visited some fine gardens on our travels & in the U.K. we have a scheme where people open their gardens to visitors, charging a small fee for charity. So we  visit gardens in our area, big & small .

How long have you cared for this garden, and what did you bring to it in terms of gardening experience?
We have lived here for forty one years. We had a very small garden at our previous house but we enjoyed improving it. My dad was a landscape gardener, so as a child I would make miniature gardens & I've always loved plants. So much so I can't bear to cut flowers for the house. Whilst growing they are alive, once cut they are dying. I don't  buy cut flowers either & only cut mine if a storm is coming to damage them. Too much empathy?

I asked Wendy a series of questions about how she and her husband planned their garden, and then how they executed their plans, how they maintain the garden now. 
I'm not one for big, bright, showy plants, perhaps it's our cool northern light that makes them too much for me. I prefer interesting shapes & foliage. We have some quite unusual plants dotted around  -  Astrantias, Pratias & various Euphorbias. I like to have some subtle little plants that you need to search for in the border &  I prefer flowering plants with lots of small flowers like potentillas & perennial geraniums. 
The climbing roses are not straightforward, lots of tying in needed & they fight back. I don't like pesticides or chemicals so they get tatty as the year goes on but I love them in June when the center trellis is a mass of different roses. Old roses don't keep flowering but they smell wonderful &, along with the hawthorn & privet hedges, they are all we have from the previous owners . 
Scent is important so we have honeysuckles too. All the  pots need watering but hubby seems to enjoy that - I think he finds it therapeutic.

As you can see from the before photo, it was pretty much a blank canvas when we arrived. Very neglected. The old couple hadn't done any gardening for years. We did lots of rough sketches before deciding on a York stone terrace & curved path with island beds & lots of curves. I remember us laying out a hose pipe & cutting along it to make the beds. Once we'd laid out the ground plan it felt like our garden. 
We weeded & weeded - after seven years you break the seeding cycle & then it's much easier. Mares tails were a real problem but not now.  At one time we had more cottage garden flowers, herbaceous & annuals with annuals in pots too but we've gradually opted for an easier garden. More shrubs, more low ground cover with pots of sedum, sempervivum, ferns & hostas. 
We wouldn't have wanted a professional designer, we loved doing it ourselves despite the mistakes & there were plenty. We have no help with the maintenance. Hubby does lawns, hedges & serious pruning whilst I do most of the weeding & light pruning. I usually decide what goes where too :)  
In early spring we spend dozens of hours a week out there but in the summer there is less to do & hardly anything in the winter. We are always impatient for the garden to wake up so we can get going again. One day I'm sure we will need help but for now it keeps us fit, is cheaper than joining a gym & we love it . 

What frustrations or challenges do/did you face in the garden?
Our main problem is rabbits. We have laid chicken wire along the hedge bottoms which is sunk a foot into the ground but there's no keeping them out. They burrow in the light soil & kill plants from below as well as nibbling from above. We have gradually learnt which plants they dislike & protect vulnerable favorites with chicken wire. Lots of our shrubs have been  nibbled into umbrella shapes with rabbit proof ground cover around them. The dogs do chase the rabbits, scraping up the grass in the old orchard area, but they don't catch them.

What makes you happiest in the garden?
What I do like is the way some plants have jumped around to suit themselves. Things strike quickly in our soil & that's fine with me. They usually know best. Our cherry tree was originally a rose stake. We have at least thirty species of birds including woodpeckers & owls & we make food available for them all year. Lots of nesting goes on & we are inundated with baby blue tits just now. Hedgehogs, frogs, toads & foxes visit & we have had baby foxes playing on the lawn. There are nine  stone bird baths dotted around & they are usually all occupied. I also love the beauty of the stone areas after rain. 

And then I closed by asking Wendy if there were any questions she wished I'd asked.
My extra question - Does your garden hold any special memories?

Very much so. My dad, the landscape gardener had lots of ideas for us in the early days & gave us plants split from his customers gardens. I was always stubborn though, like him, & wanted it to be our own garden. I can hear him now telling me the cedar would become a nuisance & he was right. Some of the garden furniture & stone pieces were our anniversary presents to each other - better than diamonds for me. We also have three of our past dogs buried in the bottom part of the garden & I often have a little ' chat ' with them.

Again, thank you so much for the tour of your glorious garden, Wendy. No, no, don't get up, we'll find our way out (although you may have to chase a few of us out the gate if we linger too long. . . 
Wasn't that a brilliant outing? Shall I arrange another for you in the next few weeks? I thought it might be fun to learn more about some of my readers through a series of posts about their gardens. I have one possibility I'm crossing my fingers about at the moment. . .
And by all means, if you have a garden you think we'd like to see, and would be willing to share photos and answer my questions, let's talk. . .
Meanwhile, Wendy has generously agreed to answer any questions you might have and/or respond to your comments, although I'll be here to facilitate if necessary.  And I'd love to know what you think about this idea, the lightbulb Patricia switched on. . . Any interest? Over to you, now; open for comments...

EDITED TO ADD: After Ceri in Bristol wondered if we might get an overhead view of the garden so as to better picture the whole, Wendy generously responded by sending me this in an email.

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