They Shall Not Grow Old – a WW1 Documentary

They Shall Not Grow Old is a 2018 documentary produced by Peter Jackson which debuted last year on the BBC on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of November 11 1918.    Now available for viewing in North America, the film  was created using original WW1 footage from the Imperial War Museum’s archives.   Most of the video has been colorized and transformed with modern techniques and sound effects to better reveal the soldier’s experiences, rather than the sped up blurred clips of vintage newsreels.   Intended to be an immersive experience of “what it was like to be a soldier”, the film crew reviewed 100 hours of original film footage and 600 hours of interviews from over 200 veterans to make the film, including audio from 120 of them talking about their war memories.   The director Peter Jackson,  dedicated the film to his British paternal grandfather who fought in the war.  The title was inspired by the line, “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old” from the 1914 poem, “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, which is often quoted on Remembrance Day, especially the famous fourth stanza.   The poem was written in Sept 1914 in the early days of the war when the first deaths were being reported…..there would be millions to follow.         

The Movie Trailer

Note:  I have not actually seen the movie yet, but have it on reserve at the library.   

I have blogged before about my Uncle Charlie WW1 Vet.   Like many of his generation, he never talked about his war experiences, other than being gassed and convalescing for six months with the Spanish Flu before being shipped home, but I have tried to reconstruct his war journey through his WW1 memorabilia.    (link – Uncle Charlie WW1 Vet)

Poppies - AMc

Being the faithful library patron that I am, the staff requested one of my mother’s paintings (above) for their Remembrance Day display.   I spied this book on the shelf and skimmed through it.   It’s quite gruesome in parts, so not for the faint of heart – but that is the reality of war. 

A Broken World: Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great WarA Broken World: Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great War by Sebastian Faulks

A collection of of personal WW1 diaries and letters, this book is an an unforgettable read for history lovers. Lest We Forget.

 

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Welcome to Downton – A Movie Theatre Review

Downtown Abbey

At the risk of sounding like an old fogy, it’s been years since I visited a  movie theatre – 22 to be exact – the last movie I saw at “the show” as we used to call it, was Titanic.   Yes, the year was 1997 and those actors are now middle-aged.   There hasn’t been a movie since where I felt I could not wait the minimal few months for it to come out on DVD, or it isn’t even called that anymore – become “available for home theatre viewing.”

So it was with much anticipation that I awaited the opening of the new  Downtown Abbey movie.   For stalwart fans of the Masterpiece TV series it was like coming home again, for it’s been three long years since we last had a glimpse of the Crawley family and their downstairs servants.   (See my Febrary post – Downton Abbey Revisited for more on their famous world.   Ah, the food, the fun, the fashions….)

Downton Abbey

The old Cineplex theatre where Titanic last sailed, has been torn down and a new multiplex Cineplex built, as that was the most requested addition according to a recent mall survey.    As the average box-office movie-goer is now a teenage boy who is into Marvel/Star wars movies, that’s probably who they surveyed.   No one I know goes to the movies anymore, so we have only ourselves to blame for the dearth of watchable movies.      

We decided to attend the noon matinee on the opening weekend, thinking the crowds would be fewer, and they were as when we walked in there were maybe fifty people at most.   The set-up reminded me of an IMAX theatre, an enormous screen with the seats facing downwards, but at least no one could obstruct your view.   I remember the last time I was in an IMAX theatre, decades ago for a Grand Canyon documentary, definitely not a good idea for someone who doesn’t like heights.   Speaking of heights, I wondered why almost everyone was sitting near the top.    We soon found out, as wow – that surround sound is certainly loud.   Even my mother, who denies being a bit deaf, thought it was way too loud.   As she was unable to climb higher than five rows up we stopped there, and had a lovely conversation with the lady in the seat behind us, who had recently had knee surgery and also found the stairs a chore.    Although there was a space below to store her walker, these places are really not designed for the handicapped…..steep uneven stairs, a long reach to the side handrail, and an elevation requiring a sherpa to achieve.    I watched the people coming down afterwards, mostly an older crowd, and everyone was navigating slowly as if coming down off Mount Everest. 

The seats were fake leather, non-tilting and horribly uncomfortable – gaming chairs really.   They must have surveyed their 15 year old target audience. 

The lights dimmed – therein followed thirty minutes of previews – lots of dark intergalactic forces at work on the planet these days, plus one unappealing Christmas rom-com staring nobody I knew.   I didn’t know they still made rom-coms, but Meg Ryan would not be caught dead in a silly green velvet elf suit.   The only one I was remotely interested in was Judy, and I can easily wait the three months to see Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland, which I’m sure will be an Oscar-worthy performance.   Most younger people would not even know who Judy Garland was, nor maybe Renee Zellweger either. 

At least ticket prices are still reasonable…..$9 for a senior and $11 regular.  Big boxes of popcorn were $9 but small ones were $7 so you might as well spring for the larger size.    And what a variety of hot foods available, my lord – poutine at the movie theatre?   I happen to think poutine is a code word for future heart attack, but hey the target audience is invincible. 

Oh yea….I was supposed to be reviewing the movie. 

The Movie:   (no spoilers here)

There’s a big difference between writing a weekly series with an ongoing storyline and having to construct one from scratch in such a way that people tuning in for the first time are not hopelessly lost.   There were lots of intro scenes establishing the background and introducing the characters.   This probably accounted for the slow first half – I glanced over and my mother had fallen asleep, (1:30 pm is her usual nap time), but when I nudged her awake, she said she was just resting her eyes.   My eyes were sore too, as I found the screen way too close even from five rows in the midsection and wished we were higher up the mountain.   Where is a sherpa when you need one….

The characters seemed somewhat subdued.   It took them awhile to don their familiar roles, which is to be expected I suppose as when you are playing someone weekly it’s easy to slip into character again.  They were rusty – not Mary or Violet though.   Although everyone had a story, some were larger – Mary, Tom, Thomas and Daisy.   Daisy really seemed to be coming into her own.   Maybe they should give her a spin-off series?    Some characters barely had a part – Cora, Robert and Mr. Bates, and Henry just showed up at the end leaping of a car in time for a ball, although for a tall skinny guy he does leap well.   The plot line seemed thin and weak to me – but then I’m not really a monarchist.   It’s hard to get too excited about a visit from the King and Queen when they couldn’t even be bothered to make an appearance the past six years – much ado about nothing – but I suppose for the time period, serving king and country and all that.  Perhaps I am unfairly comparing it to the fast-paced series where scenes seldom lasted more than a minute or two and you were constantly left in suspense, wondering how things were going to turn out.  This ending was preordained.           

The sets and costumes were lavish as usual, as Julian Fellowes is one for details, but perhaps a wee bit less extravagant than usual.   As I had read it cost 1 million pounds/dollars to film each episode of DA, I wondered if  having already dismantled all the sets (except for Highclere), they had to make do.  Big box movies have a budget too.   If the substitute rooms didn’t seem as familiar or as opulent then maybe I have just watched too many episodes and know that the place settings would never be that close together for a formal dinner with the King and Queen, where Mosley makes a speech…..oops small spoiler.   The table did seem rather crowded. 

Will we get a sequel?   We could – there were a few unwrapped hints, Edith’s comment about missing her job, Tom’s new romance, but I suppose it depends on how much money is made.  

Most newspaper reviews have rated the movie a three star, but of course to DA fans it’s a five star.    I would tend to agree with both of them.  While I enjoyed it – it was good, not great.    Actually, I think I enjoyed any of the two hour spectacular Christmas specials more, except of course the one where Mathew died, a tragic ending so unexpected it made some people tune out permanently.    So don’t feel bad if you don’t have access to a mountain near you, you can easily wait until it comes out for home viewing…..and you can save on the popcorn too.

Overall, while it was slow to start, it picked up speed and finished with a grand, if somewhat sad, flourish – leaving us wanting more.  But there’s a small part of me that wishes he had just left them frozen in time at Christmas/New Years 1926 where everything was wrapped up neatly with a big bow.   

Postscript:  My apologies for not commenting on anyone’s blogs this past month.   Real life has interceded with the Cold-From-Hell (me), plus my mother was hospitalized for a week, she’s home now and on the mend, but I have not had internet access so I have not been able to read here at all.   

 Downton Abbey

 

 

The Harvestfest Supper

A few weeks ago I attended a harvest-fest supper prepared entirely from  locally sourced food.    Such meals have become commonplace the last few years due to the popularity of the 100 miles, fields to forks, organic food movement.    At $40 a ticket, it wasn’t cheap, but this annual event helps promote the local farmer’s market and also gives the community college culinary students some practical experience in food preparation and presentation.    (for the book review which inspired this post – see Part One: The Literary Salon – Eating Local).

I’ve now become someone I said I never would be – one of those people who  takes photos of their meal while eating and posts them online.   May I be excused for the less than stellar quality of the photos, as I was so hungry that I sometimes forgot and took a few bites, plus I was trying my best to be discreet with the cell phone, although I suspect from the odd looks I received that some of my table mates thought I was a reporter for the local paper. 

The Venue:    

The event was held outdoors at a local farmers market, which is basically just a large slab of cement with a roof overhead but open to the elements on all sides.   The first year it was held in late September and they had to bring in space heaters and put up screens to keep the wind out.   After a whole week of rain, we were hoping for a warm sunny day and thankfully the weather gods smiled on us.    It was actually a bit too hot, we didn’t need any of those layers I threw in the car.   This was the third year for the event and the date is picked to coincide with the harvest moon, which was mid-Sept this year, and what a stunning moon it was on Friday the 13th.

Harvest Moon  Harvestfest

Harvest Moon courtesy of the Weather Network.

The doors opened at 5 pm with a cash bar and some music playing on the sound system, as there was a band later for dancing.

They had decorated with cornstalks and large pots of mums and bales of hay around the base of the roof pillars, a festive fall touch.  

Harvestfest Decorations

The Presentation:

The presentation was well done for an outdoor event.  The  tables were laid with white linens and china with a red accent color in the napkins and chairs. 

Harvestfest Table

They even had matching party favors, as each place setting held a red candy apple with a tag promoting the October play at the local theatre, a cute idea.   

Harvestfest Place Setting Candy Apple There were twelve settings per table,

Harvestfest table

which was a bit too cramped in my opinion, as the meal was served family style and there was no place to set the bowls down while trying to take a portion, and those bowls were big and heavy.   It was awkward.        Harvestfest squash in bowl

Ten at a table might have been better, or buffet style.   They really didn’t have enough servers for our table either, maybe someone had called in sick?   300 tickets were sold, and there was a big lineup of people waiting to get in when the doors opened.   

Scarecrows

The hungry mob…

I was lucky and got my tickets on a cancellation the month before, otherwise I might have been one of those scarecrows in the park across the street.

The food tents were off on the side, facing away from us, so we were not able to see any of the fast-paced cooking action like on Master Chef.   The ticket price was initially only $30, but they upped it to $35 last year and $40 this year.  (I imagine next year it will be $45 – as just like in an auction the price increases to what the market will bear).   All of the food prepared came from the weekly farmers market, or was sourced locally within a 100 mile radius, including the beverages.   

The Happy Hour

Two local craft breweries and two Ontario wineries were represented, with Pelee Island Winery just squeaking in at a 95 mile radius.    It was hot, so the beer was flowing as you can see from the tabletop pictures.   Unfortunately, we had a few extra guests at the table, attracted by the brew. 

wasps

Uninvited guests…

 The wasps descended for happy hour, stayed for the the appetizer and then suddenly departed, just as the sun was setting behind the buildings.    It must have been their bedtime, or perhaps they were off to another venue (see more on the Merry Band of Wasps in last week’s blog).   We sat at a table with a group of people who all knew each other, and the row across from me had to eat with the sun in their eyes.   Next time we’ll know which tables get the best shade.   It was so annoying that I went to the car and brought back a sunhat.  I came prepared for all weather.  

Now you might be wondering – why is she dragging this out, lets get to the food.    I’m cleverly but somewhat cruelly procrastinating so you can imagine the whole experience of sitting and smelling the irresistible aroma of food cooking for over an hour, while constantly swatting at wasps and shielding your eyes from the setting sun, with absolutely no hope of any dinner conversation due to the din of the crowd. 

Finally, the opening speeches –   two political figures were there, our provincial member of parliament and our federal parliament member, (we’re having an election this fall, they need to see and be seen) and as well as introducing all the VIP’s the MC thanked the exhaustive list of sponsors.  They announced they had Epi-Pens on hand if anyone got stung – medical preparedness is always appreciated.    Eventually grace was said, and a proper grace it was too, fit for a Harvestfest meal, not that Bless us Our Lord standard we used to mumble when we were kids.    

900 words in and not even a sign of a bread crumb…Ah, here it comes.

Harvestfest Buns on Table

The butter was properly chilled, although not in those little foil packets that you sometimes get in fancy restaurants, although it didn’t stay cool long.   The buns from a local bakery were good – soft and doughy.   It’s a new bakery in town so I’ll have to check it out.   The bread rated an A but I was starving by then so stale crackers would have rated an A. 

Finally, the menu.

Harvestfest menu

 The Appetizer 

Harvestfest Salad

The Garden Fresh Mixed Greens Salad with Berries and house-made Balsamic Dressing – was delightfully fresh, however the dressing was a bit too plain and vinegary.   I always think this type of berry salad goes nice with a raspberry vinaigrette such as the bottled house blend I buy from a local restaurant, but then it has spoiled me for all others.    There wasn’t any soup offered this year, although other years they had a choice of homemade potato or tomato.   I love soup, even in summer, so I was disappointed, but still A for the appetizer.

The Main Course

Harvestfest Dinner Plate

A few minutes of silence while we dig in before critiquing…

The Meat

Roast Pork Loin stuffed with Apples, Spinach, Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese.

Harvestfest Pork Loin

It’s difficult for me to judge this as I’m not a big fan of pork loin.   I can eat it but I’d certainly never order it in a restaurant.   The traditional apple pairing was okay and I know caramelized onions are trendy, but I didn’t think they added anything special to the dish.   I couldn’t see much spinach, or taste the  goat cheese so they must have been subtle touches.   It was served on an enormous heavy platter and although it was pre-sliced there was nowhere to set the platter down while you wrestled a piece onto your plate, so I ended up with more than I wanted.   My consensus, just okay, although everyone else liked it, and the guy beside me took seconds.   That’s the thing with family style, they did replenish if you wanted more.   There was a short delay before they brought the rest of the meal so they were definitely struggling with the serving. 

Tender Chicken Breast with a Bacon Portabello Cream Sauce.

Harvestfest Chicken

Good old chicken, no matter how you dress it up, it’s the staple of catered meals everywhere.   It was tender as promised and the Portabello cream sauce was excellent, although I couldn’t taste the bacon.   (A plus).      

The Sides

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Pave with Parmesan Cheese 

Harvestfest Potatos

I had to google to see what a Pavé  was –  “A flat piece of food, usually meat, cheese or bread.  Pavé is French for a “cobblestone.”   When used in a food context, it refers to a square or rectangular flat piece of food or dish.    I guess this qualifies as it was a layered dish of potatoes cut into triangle wedges for easy serving.  

Potato Pave Harvestfest

It’s always a dilemma how to serve potatoes in a manner which keeps them warm but not gluey, and it was certainly a cut above a few potato puffs.   It was tasty, although I didn’t notice the Parmesan cheese, but then I can’t taste the difference between Yukon Gold potatoes and regular old spuds either.  As I’m Irish and never met a potato I didn’t like, I’ll give it an A, but you really can’t get too excited about potatoes.  

The Vegetables:

 

The roasted squash was one of my favorite dishes, so flavorful.  You never know with squash, it can be good or it can be bland and watery.   The cauliflower and carrots were tasty too.   Both were plain, not doctored up with anything, so the flavor came through – they stood on their own, a testament to good soil.  (A plus). 

Harvestfest Plate

The meat portions were generous – it was certainly a lot of food, and checking around, a fair bit of wastage, as people who had stuffed two rolls in (you know who you are), could not finish their meal.   I was full but not overly so, because wisely I had saved room for my favorite part.  

The Dessert

I had been craving a piece of cherry pie and had heard so much about The Famous Pie Lady.      

Harvestfest Pie and coffee

Although the crust was good and the filling plentiful, I‘m not sure how you can make a cherry pie without sugar?  There should be a law against it.   It was so sour I couldn’t eat more than a few bites.   As there was lots of pie leftover, I decided to try another kind when I went to refill our coffee cups, hoping no one would notice – plus it would be a shame to waste the leftover pie when things were wrapping up.   There were lots of choices. 

Harvestfest Pie

This time I grabbed a slice of apple pie.   Um….interesting – apple pie with no sugar, plenty of fruit and cinnamon though.   The apples mid-Sept are hardly ripe enough for pies yet, but  apparently sugar is now the new evil.   Maybe I’m spoiled, having grown up on a farm where homemade apple pie was a fall staple, and many people today just don’t know what good pie is.   But the guy beside me was disappointed in his pie too – pecan.   I didn’t ask why.  Should I try the lemon meringue – no, that would be piggy, so I gave up, secure in the knowledge I had a backup plan stashed in the car.   The pie was the disappointment of the evening.   (C plus) 

Plan B – B for Backup Dessert

Luckily I had stopped at the town’s grocery store before the event and bought a cherry pie from their in-store bakery.   I’ve had it before and it’s a perfect balance of sweet and tart, and I consoled myself with the thought that if I was still craving a piece later I would cut into it, instead of freezing it like I had intended.   Certainly the pie was a let-down especially for a dessert diva like me.    

After Dinner Speeches

The M.C. introduced and thanked all the chefs and cooks (who came out of  hiding in the side tents), raffled off an auction prize (a catered dinner for six which went for a bid of $410), thanked absolutely everyone again from the bowl makers to the man in the moon,  

Harvestfest Moon  Harvest Moon

sorry for the tree in the way…

and then introduced the band. 

Harvestfest Band

The Music  

The band was the house band from the local summer theatre which was currently showcasing a country music production, so they kicked off with Sold – The Grundy Valley Auction song, which is good in a cheesy way, as a cheese course is always nice after a meal.   Then Bad Moon Rising (CCR) because it was by then, (see above).   Then Old Time Rock and Roll – Bob Seger (okay), then they started to deteriorate into Billy Joel and two other songs I did not recognize, but then I am not up on the current stuff.   The band gets an A, as they were trying for a little bit country, and a little bit rock and roll.  The crowd was mostly an older one, the baby boomer set, and there were people up dancing as lots of beer had been imbibed by then.   I always admire couples who are first on the dance floor, especially when it’s at the front with everyone watching.   Let’s give the dancers, an A too, just like Dancing With the Stars.  

Overall, it was a good meal, except for the pork and the pie, but those were influenced by my personal preferences and expectations.   I had been expecting a turkey and beef dish, (as per the first year), not two white meats, plus a lot of people can’t or don’t eat pork, even though pulled pork is all the rage.   Was it worth the price?  Maybe.   The fifty dollar per ticket meal at the swing dance last year was better, with a portion going to charity, but even it went up to $75 this year.   I guess food prices are increasing overall.   Did they make a profit or just cover their costs?  I don’t know enough about the catering business to say.   Thirty dollars, as per the first year, might have been a more reasonable price, especially in small town Ontario, considering this was not a charity event, and I expect most of the cost of the decorations, party rentals and band would have been covered or subsidized by the sponsors. 

The Backup Meal 

I had been craving a roast beef dinner, which I got the following week when I took my mother to the monthly seniors lunch at the same retirement home I mentioned in my Woodstock Revisited post.   We had a garden fresh salad with ranch dressing, a nice tender slice of roast beer, mashed potatoes with a tasty gravy, diced turnips and a decent piece of apple pie – all for $10.   The portions weren’t huge as it was for seniors, but it was enough, and they do a nice turkey dinner too, although the rest of the meals can be hit and miss.   That’s the thing with restaurant reviews – a good meal may surprise you anywhere!  (Hey, I wonder if I could get paid for this?) 

Thus ends my short career as a restaurant reviewer.   I did have a piece of that bakery cherry pie the next night, warm with vanilla ice cream, but I froze the rest.    The apple in the candy apple was so sour I couldn’t eat it, but I took a few bites for nostalgia’s sake, as I’m sure it’s been fifty years since I had one the last time I went trick or treating.   

It might be fun to host your own Harvest Moon Supper sometime, there’s another one coming up October 13, and the apples will be riper by then too.   I think I would prefer caramel apples for the party favors, and maybe some butternut squash soup for a starter.   I also saw an advertisement for a Full Moon Boat Party cruise with a band on board, which I’ll file away for next year.   I’m sure they’ll be playing Neil Young’s classic – Harvest Moon.  

 

   

 

The Literary Salon – Eating Local

(This months Book Review may motivate you to eat healthier…..or you may just crave a piece of cherry pie.) 

A few weeks ago I attended a Harvestfest supper prepared entirely from  locally sourced food.   Although I had intended this post to be a restaurant review of that meal,  it grew too long so this will be the literary review for the month.      The books discussed here are older ones but they inspired me to try and eat better.   If you’re not into books, please feel to skip right over to the main menu.   (see Part Two for The Harvestfest Supper).

Harvestfest menu Many of us have the desire to eat healthier, but in today’s fast paced world it’s becoming more difficult to do so, hence the arrival of all those companies who will conveniently, albeit for an outrageous price, send you weekly pre-measured food preparation parcels – voila, supper in 30 minutes, as if a grown person wasn’t capable of going to a grocery store, buying food and preparing it just as quickly.    Perhaps there are fewer left-overs, but aren’t leftovers a good thing and would you really enjoy all those recipes they send?   As well, a large percentage of debt-ridden people eat out several times a week, a major hit to the family budget, and now you don’t even have to go out as those grub-hub apps will deliver the meal right to your front door.  And then there is the ever present lure of fast food restaurants so conveniently located along strip malls everywhere.   No wonder we have all forgotten how to cook, or in my case never bothered much.     

For many years eating local was the standard way of life.   When half the population lived in a rural environment you ate what you grew or raised.    My mother says that in her early married years, she only visited the grocery store for a few staples, which she bought with the $8 twice weekly cream check.   My father had dairy cattle so cream, milk and butter came from the cows, meat, chicken and eggs were all raised organically on the farm, and a large fruit and vegetable garden supplied canned goods and jams over the winter.    Self-sufficiency without delivery – although the breadman and milkman did make home deliveries.   

Things started to change in the mid-60’s with the arrival of processed food.  For an understanding of this shift in food production, I found a series of books by author, Michael Pollan to be excellent reads.    His 2008 book, In Defense of Food, is famous for it’s mantra, “Eat Food, Mostly Plants.  Not Too Much.” and “Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize”. 

In Defense of Food: An Eater's ManifestoIn Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Simple words that changed my eating habits ten years ago when I first read this book, or at least made me stop and think first. Don’t eat anything your Grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Also wise words. This book provides an interesting history and peek into the multi-million dollar processed food industry – what started out as an attempt in the fifties to make food better and healthier and last longer, has backfired so that we now have transfats, plasticizers and softeners in our bread and fast food burgers which never decompose. Certainly an eye-opener – you may never eat the same way again.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four MealsThe Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 

In his 2006 book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he discusses how food scientists thought they were improving food stability and palatability by adding chemicals and preservatives and such.   And while no one would argue that organic vegetables don’t stay fresh as long and bakery bread does tend to grow mold after a few days, if you look at the long list of unpronounceable ingredients on a box or can in the grocery store, it does seem strange to want to manipulate food from it’s natural origins to a more chemical state.   

Perhaps their intentions were good, and Tang orange crystals did supply the astronauts with vitamin C (although I remember it as tasting rather artificial), but starting in the 60’s the processed food revolution had begun – with snack foods, frozen TV dinners, cakes from boxes and fast food burgers – and there was simply no stopping it.   It was convenient and it tasted good – who cared if it was good for you.  

Like many farm women, my mother was a wonderful cook, of the plain meat/potato/vegetable type and we had plenty of homemade cakes, pies and cookies.     So while I may think I grew up eating healthy nutritious meals, and most of the time I did, by the sixties we also had penny candy and weekly trips to McDonalds on grocery shopping days and Saturday night treats of potato chips and pop (usually Coke) while watching Hockey Night in Canada.  Of my poor student days I have absolutely no recollection of what I ate, (did I eat?) other than residence food the first few years which was so bad I lost ten pounds.    Once I had an apartment with a kitchen we still never cooked but ate cheap meals like beans on toast, (never KD though), grabbed yogurt and grilled cheese from the student cafe, and drank endless cups of mostly vile donut shop coffee.   Our idea of splurging was an occasional trip to Bloor Street – Swiss Chalet (chicken), Steak and Burger (tough steak but warm apple pie) and Mr. Submarine (still the best subs IMO).   When I started working I had to contend with decades of hospital food, some of which used to be quite good when it was prepared from scratch, (I remember our cafeteria serving Seafood Newburg in the early 80’s before the discovery of cholesterol), but which eventually turned into those cook, chill and reheat meals which are now standard hospital jokes – if you’re well enough to complain about the food, you can go home.    I usually brought my lunch, except for the soup – as they always had some kind of homemade soup, probably loaded with salt.    After I changed jobs I was often too busy to eat, and lunch would be chocolate milk or half a sandwich grabbed in the staff room, and I would arrive home at night ravenous and eat whatever was in sight.    BTW, the invention of microwaves in the 80’s was a godsend, as then you could quickly reheat leftovers. 

Now that I’ve thoroughly scared myself with a review of my poor dietary habits over the years, I resolve to do better.  The Michael Pollan books have made a big influence on my food choices.   I read food labels now.   Buy as little processed stuff as I can and generally try to eat better, except for deserts, in moderation.  And isn’t that the more sensible way – everything in moderation.    It’s why diets don’t usually work – if you crave something, eat it, a small portion.   I craved cherry pie the other day, so I had a piece and froze the rest. The French way of eating, including lots of walking, is based on this principle.  As eating is one of the pleasures of life, why deprive yourself.  

Recently they have changed Canada’s food guide to emphasize fewer meat and more plant sources of protein, but I wonder how practical that is – are you really going to get people to eat more tofu, legumes and nuts?   It is accessible or affordable?    Maybe – those vegetable burgers seem to be very popular, but aren’t they just another form of manipulated processed food, fried on the same greasy grill as the meat ones?  

I’m certainly more of a foodie now than I used to be, but in moderation, not like those food network shows which drive me crazy with their pretentiousness – it’s just food folks – no need to have a melt down over a slightly burnt creme brulee when half the world is starving.    But I have become more selective in my eating habits.   When I eat something now I want it to be nutritious as well as delicious.  As we get older we worry more about maintaining our health – and as the saying goes, you are what you eat.  If you are in need of motivation – check out the books.  

Enough of the discussion, on to Part Two – The Harvestfest Supper.    As Julia Child used to say, “Bon Appetit”! 

 

The Adventures of Mr. Vole and the Merry Band of Wasps

(Don’t be scared, it’s just a harmless little children’s book followed by a discussion on the creative muse – based on a true life story).Vole cartoon

Mr. Vole was on a mission to dig up every bulb in the Home Owner’s garden.  He didn’t eat the bulbs although once in a while he had one for dessert, but took them back to his home under the deck.   Mr. Vole was a vegan and there was lots of other food to eat in the garden, although he was sad the lettuce was done.  He had watched the squirrels storing them up for winter and thought it was a great idea.  He pictured himself with a big fat tulip bulb and a cup of hot cocoa, in his cozy den while the snow piled up on the deck above. 

Although he was a vole, he had a lot in common with moles, as he loved to dig.   He was fast at it too.  He was big and fat like a mole too.   Sometimes he would dig up a bulb just for the sheer joy of spreading all that dirt on the sidewalk and annoying the Home Owner.   She would get the broom out and sweep up, and a couple of hours later he would dig it all up again.   He could tell she was annoyed, but that was part of the fun.    The Home Owner was retired, so she had lots of time to sweep.   She lived on Easy Street and fancied herself quite a gardener so there were lots of bulbs around too. 

swarm of bees wasps

Mr. Vole wasn’t the only one annoying the Home Owner as one day a Merry Band of Wasps moved in above the deck.   They were busy building their hive which was tucked up under the siding in a hidden spot.   Their constant droning and swarming was annoying sometimes, and he could see why the Home Owner came out and sprayed them with something smelly.   While a few fell suddenly to the ground, the net effect was just to increase the sound of the construction noise – as then they were angry and the buzzing grew louder.   Things quieted down at night when they were all tucked up safe in their nest above deck, and he was able to sleep soundly below deck in his.   

Some summer nights there were loud parties in the neighborhood, with bonfires and hotdogs, and he liked to stay out late on the deck and listen to the music.  He was a big Bruce Springsteen fan.    The wasps would join him, as they were always up for a “jam” session.  With their constant buzzing, they learned to harmonize quite well and made good backup singers, but he was more the lead singer type.    Sometimes the wasps had too much “hard cider” from the fallen crabapples and couldn’t keep their dance moves straight and what’s a boy band without dance moves, but they still had fun.      

One day the Home Owner boarded up all his nicely dug holes and he had to build new ones, which didn’t take long.   It was a big deck, with lots of sides to dig under. 

Boarded Up Deck

Sometimes she had company over to show off her new kitchen, and the wasps ended up spoiling the party.    She made desserts and they loved anything sweet, so they hovered around making a pest of themselves and waiting for the crumbs.   

Party on the Deck

One night, she came out very late in her PJ’s and tried to duct tape the opening of the wasp nest.   Big. Mistake. Lady.   The next night she came out and ripped it all off, as those sneaky wasps had found an inside venue to play in.   

Things continued on in this manner for several weeks.   One day a man showed up wearing a spacesuit with a huge hat with netting over his face.   He meant business.   Mr. Vole had noticed the car with the Pest-Bee-Gone decal on the side and quickly ran around the corner to warn the others.   He climbed up on the railing and shouted as loud as he could –  MayDay MayDay!  (It was August, but they knew what he meant).   One of the worker wasps darted inside and soon the whole swarm had exited and flown away, with the Queen B (not Beyonce) in their midst, protected on all sides by her entourage.    He saw the man in the suit spray some not-exactly-fairy-dust inside the hole but they were already safely away. 

BeeKeeper Guy Pest Control 

Mr. Vole decided he had better move on too.   Although he hated life on the road and would miss his cozy home under the deck, it was too dangerous to stay any longer.   The Merry Band of Wasps were so grateful he had warned them that they told him about a mansion nearby, and he quickly found “new digs” under the deck of a larger house, one with younger owners and an in-ground swimming pool.    He was now into rap music, like everyone else.  The young owners worked long hours to pay for the big mortgage and were never home so he could cool off in the pool, a cold beverage in hand.

pool chair

 Soon he was the one hosting parties on the deck every night.   The wasps were keen on anything Drake, but the Queen B had departed for a solo gig.  They played together so much they got better and better, and the very next spring he decided to take the show on the road.   The wasps were excited about a world tour, but he wanted to stay closer to home.    He could see the marquee now – his name in flashing neon lights.  (When you’re famous you only need a first name).   Onward to Fame and Fortune (and only pink tulip bulbs in the backstage rider please).  

 Voley (in big letters) and the E-Street Wasp Band (in smaller letters).   

Coming soon……to a neighborhood near you! 

The End

(If you want to know the real ending, see the postscript below.  Warning – not for the faint of heart).

Discussion on the Creative Muse:   

It’s a curious thing what can spark the creative process.   I find it interesting to read biographies of famous writers, to see where they got their ideas from.  Did they spring fully formed from thin air, or was it a gradual process, a thought here and there scribbled on a napkin in a coffee shop and laboriously reworked for years, or maybe a combination of both.  The whole creative process is a fascinating subject.  

And what a wonderful thing it must be to be able to create a whole world out of nothing but your imagination – like J.K. Rowling did, not just once but seven times.    Do writers have a more vivid imagination than other people?   Are worry-worts more likely to be creative, having spent so much time dwelling in the world of “what if.”   What makes one person more creative than others.  Genetics?  Practice?  Or are we all creative beings, in one way or another?  Can creativity be learned, or even analyzed or is it something that just is?

My children’s story was inspired by a number of things.  Firstly, my frustrating “critter woes” this past August, and secondly by fellow blogger Linda’s tales of Parker, the squirrel in her neighborhood park, and our subsequent discussions of children’s books and the children’s television shows we had watched as kids.  (see Walkin’,Writing’,Wit and Whimsy for Parker’s guest post). 

Squirrel - AMc

The Famous Parker as painted by my mother…

 In the eyes of a child, all animals are God’s creatures, great and small.   It’s only adults who consider some of them vermin – a nuisance to be disposed of, of which I admit I am guilty as charged.       

Sometimes a visual aid can spark an idea.   While I was searching the basement for my old Seventeen magazines for the Woodstock blog, I came across a children’s book I used to read to my young niece when she visited the farm in the summers.     

The Adventures of Mr. Toad (3)

It was a Walt Disney abbreviated version of the children’s classic, The Wind in the Willows, and in the manner of small children everywhere who find a particular book fascinating, we would have to read it over and over again, night after night, until I’m sure I had the whole thing memorized.   I don’t know what was so appealing to her – perhaps it was the gypsy-cart, or the motor car or the general reckless behavior of Mr. Toad who was always being rescued by his friends.   Certainly as a city child, those rodent-type characters were not anything she would have encountered in real life.   They weren’t even anything I ever encountered on the farm, as we had dogs and barn cats whose job it was to “take care of things like that”.

I’ve never read the full version of Wind in the Willows so don’t know how it compares, but there were more chapters and adventures in the original, as the Walt Disney book is a very condensed thirty or so pages.   The copyright having expired, I suppose I’ve taken the liberty of adding another chapter, although the main characters in the book were Mole, Rat, Toad and McBadger, plus the Weasel Gang.    It was written in 1908 by Kenneth Grahame (link), initially as a series of bedtime stories for his young son, and was inspired by his childhood spent along the river banks in England.    

The Adventures of Mr. Toad

Flipping through the book that day, it was this fireside scene which helped me imagine my visitors, the vole below deck and the wasps above, all cozy in their respective nests.  While I was entertaining on the deck I was also thinking about how my guests were unaware of all that unwanted company down below. 

Perhaps Ally of The Spectacled Bean’s catchy title, It’s a Party in the Parsley about caterpillars, inspired the deck party?   Definitely I was thinking about music, and my subconscious mind must have recalled reading Daisy Jones and the Six earlier this summer, and their struggle over whose name came first on the billing.   But perhaps the true spark came from lying awake listening to the music from a street festival one holiday weekend, so loud I could hear the words of the songs from blocks away, long past midnight.   I’m sure there was some Bruce Springsteen involved, and doesn’t that rap music often sound like a whole lot of droning going on! 

I may have been thinking about children’s books, because I had been hearing lots of buzz recently about Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers (movie trailer below).   What wonderful children’s programs we had back then.   As a Canadian child I grew up watching Romper Room (Do Bee and Don’t Bees), Captain Kangaroo and a show called The Friendly Giant, who always placed miniature chairs around the fire for story time – here’s a chair for someone to curl up in and another rocking chair, before he asked you to look up, way up, and see the Friendly Giant.    How calm and measured their voices were – so soothingly and reassuring to a small child.   It looks like an interesting movie, but now the song “It’s A Beautiful  Day in the Neighborhood” is stuck in my brain!    

Creativity is a strange and wonderful thing.   Who knows what goes into any creative idea – it’s a mishmash of things we’ve heard or seen or remembered all jumbled up in our minds, and hopefully something beautiful or at least somewhat entertaining comes out of it all.   The most important thing is to pay attention, write it down and have some fun. 

PS   I had such fun with this, I’m now working on a fairy tale, Once Upon a Kitchen Reno…

 

The Real Ending: 

(not for the squeamish, but useful information if you ever have to deal with a wasp nest in your siding).

I’ll spare you the details of the vole’s demise as I could not watch.  (My grasscutter whacked it over the head with a shovel).   I have not seen any of his brethren lurking about, although the Pest Control man warned me there might be more as they reproduce like rabbits, but his company did not deal in voles.   The bulb digging has stopped, but I’m hoping for a Polar Vortex Winter in case there are more.     Should you have voles, HappyHauteHome has an informative post on How To Get Rid of Voles in Your Yard or Garden. 

If you have a wasp nest in your siding call the exterminator right away.   Do not tape up the entry hole as they will just find another way out and into your house.   Wasps can chew through drywall and crawl up small spaces beside radiators and hot water heating pipes.   Do not waste time buying useless sprays from the hardware store which will not reach the area involved and only have contact but no residual action.   As the wasp nest cost $170 to spray with pesticide powder, I delayed until after Labor Day weekend thinking I could save money and do it myself, but it had grown so large over a mere three week period, that I have been stuck with the smell of decaying wasp larvae in my bedroom for weeks.   The smell is so bad I’m still sleeping in the spare bedroom.   Apparently this putrid odor is normal, especially if it’s a big nest.   As the guys cleaning the mildew off the siding alerted me to the problem on Aug 16, I was surprised it got that big so quickly.  (By the time they got to Woodstock they were half a million strong.)   It smelt like dead rodents, to the extent that I wondered if the Vole Brothers had somehow managed to crawl into the space between the wall and the floorboards to party with their Waspy friends, although that would be impossible, wouldn’t it?  (I’m in need of some reassurance here).   I’m at a loss for what to do now as the exterminator advised me to just wait, as tearing up the floorboards or drilling into the wall trying to find the nest would be an expensive proposition requiring a contractor and most would not be interested in such a small job.   Nor is it covered by insurance, although it would be if the nest has pushed the insulation aside and the pipes freeze.   I can only hope that the weeks of unseasonably hot and humid weather we have been having will help accelerate the decaying process and it will be over before I have to turn my hot water furnace rads on. 

The strangest thing was a few nights after I had quarantined the bedroom trying to air it out, there was a Hoot Owl outside the window – who, who, who. 

Owl

I’m going to a Hootenanny…

If it hadn’t been 2 am I would have gone out and tried to get a picture of it, but the sound was enough to identify it.   The Wikipedia people say Hoot owls prey on small animals so maybe they wanted a midnight vole snack (or maybe The Who was attracted by the foul stench and just dropped into Woodstock Revisited)!    It’s certainly not a pleasant way to end the summer, and I hope never to have a repeat performance so I’m going to caulk silicon all around the house as an ounce of prevention.    Has anyone else had problems with wasps or voles this year? 

PS.  I went to a country musical theatre production this past weekend – lots of square dancing and fiddle music, which got me thinking – there could be a book sequel at that hootenanny…

 

 

 

                                                 We’re with the band…..

 

 

 

Plein Air Painting

          Last Wednesday I joined a group of local artists for a plein air painting session.    They meet once a week during the summer, always at a different location, (garden, park or water view), paint from 9:30 until noon, then break for lunch and social hour – and show and tell if you wish to participate.   I did not, as my mother is the artist in the family.   I was only there as the driver and unofficial brownie-baker.   I never took art in high school, can’t draw a straight line and have no desire to learn.  The few times I have attempted to paint I sit there with a clenched jaw, frustrated that the end result does not in any way resemble the vision in my head.    My mother on the other hand, finds it pure bliss, and paints almost every day, although she has no formal training.   Still, plein air painting looks like fun, if you enjoy dabbling with a brush.  

Plein air is the act of painting outdoors.   Artists have always worked outdoors, but in the mid-19th century, the en plein air approach became more popular as painting in natural light became important to groups such as the Barbizon schoolHudson River School, and Impressionists.      In Canada, the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson are examples of en plein air artists.    (Wikipedia source)

The invention of a portable box easel which held paint and palette, as well as the availability of paint in tubes, made this outdoor activity much more convenient.   Previously oil paint was made from pigment powders mixed with linseed oil.   As there was no photography to record a scene, if you wanted to paint a landscape you either conjured up the image in your head, or went straight to the source, be it harbor, garden, or field of wheat.   

Monet

Impression, Sunrise – Monet

For the Impressionists, like Monet and Renoir,  it was all about the Light.  How the play of light affects and influences a painting was important to them, especially if you were lolling about in the south of France where the light is reported to be particularly inspiring.   Imagine a sketching tour there!  

Monet painted his famous Haystack series (25 paintings) after visiting a wheat field near his home at all hours, seasons and weather conditions, in order to capture the effect of different variations of light. 

Haystacks - Monet

Haystacks Series – End of Summer – Monet

Below is my favorite Renoir painting – a testament to natural light, shade and color – plus it looks like a fun outing.  

Luncheon of the Boating Party - Renoir

The Luncheon of the Boating Party – Renoir

No problem getting your friends to pose for hours if you ply them with enough food and drink and a boat ride down the Seine.

The Group of Seven were Canada’s first famous artists, painting outdoors in Algonquin Park in the early 1900’s.   They would often take summer tours where they would do preliminary sketches in the great Canadian wilderness, then return to their studios to finish the work over the winter.   

The Jack Pine - Tom Thomson

The Jack Pine – Tom Thomson

Our Canadian summer is almost over.   It’s cooler now in September and nice weather can no longer be depended upon.   This outing was the last of the year and an add-on for a session which was rained out earlier.   

Germain Park Garden

While not Monet’s famous garden,

Bridge-over-a-Pond-of-Water-Lilies - Monet

Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies – Monet

the park we visited is known for it’s gardens.   I here to photograph the flowers, which are at their fall peak. 

Germain Park Garden

We arrive a bit late, as it’s a fair drive from home, and I’m not an early riser.  These artists are all morning people, but I suppose it’s cooler then for painting in the summer.    Today is overcast with a cold north wind, so we are all bundled up in sweaters and jackets.  It’s a large park, basically deserted at mid-week, and the painters have already scattered along the paths and picked their solitary spots.  

Zen Garden

There’s a separate Zen garden with a tranquil waterfall but no one is painting there.    Maybe it is too Zen?

Zen Garden

I wander around the flower beds admiring the fall colors, 

fall flowers Germain Park

and stop to visit with several of the artists, marveling at their talent. 

Plein Air Painting

Fall Flowers - mums

Most of the artists have been painting for years, but some, like my two friends, are relative beginners, 

Plein Air Painting still learning the tools of the trade.

Watercolor and oil are best for painting outdoors, as acrylic dries too quickly in the hot sun.

At noon they break for lunch, (brownies anyone?) in a spot sheltered from the wind,

Plein Air Painting - lunch

and afterwards, show and tell.   They pass each painting around the circle and I’m totally intimidated by then. 

Plein Air Painting

 And also grateful for that thermos of hot coffee.  

One of the artists points out a white squirrel which frequents the park, so I pursue a picture, although I only have the zoom lens on my cell phone, so it’s not the best pixel-wise.  

white squirrel

White squirrels may be albino (with red eyes), caused by a mutation of a pigmentation gene, or they may be a very rare variant of eastern gray squirrels.    He was a strange sight – and definitely an antidote to all that color.  

After lunch, I’m in desperate need of a nap.  All that fresh air is so tiring – makes you sleep like a baby – maybe I will dream in technicolor? 

Fall flowers - Germain park

PS.   Although it was an enjoyable day, I think I’ll stick with my writing gig for now.   

A Garden Teacup Craft Party

Making a garden teacup is a perfect excuse for having a group of friends over and a nice way to spend one of the last summer-like afternoons on the deck.  You can have a tea party after, and best part is they can brag about what they made.   Think of it as having the guests make their own party favors!    

tea cup craft

Teacups were once the sign of a civilized age and household.    I remember my American aunt coming up for visits in the summer and one of the first places she would want to go would be a china shop to add to her collection, because tea cups were used back then, not just for show.    I cringe now to think that I once gave my sister a bridal shower where everyone was asked to bring a tea cup as a gift – I thought it was a good idea, as she already had everything else.   My mother had a set of good china, white with gold rims, which she used for holiday dinners, but she didn’t have enough matching teacups, so out would come the fancy teacups for coffee, tea and dessert.  Each one would have a different pattern, color and style.   Even the guys would drink their coffee in them, and what grandchild wasn’t pleased to be served a milky brew in a real china cup just like the grown-ups.    I have a few of these special ones left, which I would not part with as they hold memories as well as tea.

Teacups

Although I still occasionally use tea cups, and have a very pretty set with a matching teapot, I know I am in the minority.    We are a mug society now.

We all have teacups collecting dust – they may be a collection we have inherited from our mother or grandmother, but even if you live like Downton Abbey, there are only so many tea cups you can use and the thrift shops are full of donated cups.   So this simple and inexpensive craft is a nice idea to put them to good use.  

Tea cups (3)

 Garden tea cups can hold a tea light, birdseed or water for a mini bird bath.   I have seen the birds enjoying mine on occasion after a rainstorm.  I have also given them as small homemade gifts.  I made two for a friend who was retiring and loves to garden, a stop and smell the roses pink one, and one with the bluebird of happiness on it.    Now that they have been popular for awhile you can find them at art and craft fairs everywhere, but I bought my first one in the gift shop of an art gallery several years ago.   It was expensive at $25, but I fell in love with it as it was so pretty and blue, my favorite color. The woman selling it very kindly told me how to make my own – for a lot less money. 

tea cup craft

These are the craft supplies, and price-wise it works out to be less than $5. 

craft supplies for teacups

You can have your guests bring their own special teacup, or supply them with ones from a thrift shop, or donate some of your own.   I buy long half-inch diameter copper rods at the hardware store, and because I am a frequent customer there, one of the employees cuts them for me in the length I desire.  I use a 12 inch length for planters, and longer ones for placing in the ground among the plants. tea craft project

I also buy matching short half-inch ends the same width as the rod which will be glued onto the bottom of the saucer to hold the rod.  

craft supplies for teacups

Using a piece of rough abrasive paper (grit cloth as below) or sandpaper, rough up the bottom of the saucer in the middle, and also the same area underneath the saucer.   This makes the glue adhere better.

sandpaper cloth

This Goop glue was recommended to me, but you can use any kind which bonds china or ceramic. 

Super goop

Using a Q-Tip apply some glue to the bottom of the teacup and place it in the centre of the saucer, wiping up any excess glue around the bottom rim.   If you wish you can also glue a tiny teaspoon on, as an added decoration, but I found they tarnished quickly as most are silver.   These can be found at thrift shops for pennies.   Let it set for a few minutes – perhaps go and put the kettle on for your tea.    

Turn the bonded teacup and saucer upside down, and apply the end piece to the bottom of the saucer with a bit of glue, and set the whole thing aside for the rest of the afternoon.   Leave it upside down, preferably for 24 hours.  The next day you can insert the copper rod and turn it right side up and place in your planter for the birds to enjoy.    

teacup craft

While it is setting, you can continue on with the food and beverage portion of your tea party.    This craft takes very little time, perhaps thirty minutes at most, depending on how long you spend roughing up the china and waiting for it to set. 

patio party

After the tea party…

See how the late afternoon shadows are slanting as the sun loses it’s warmth. Summer’s over, but at least everyone has a lovely souvenir to take home as a memory of a fun party and something useful for next year’s garden. 

PS.  Continuing with our September theme, this is the craft portion of Arts and Crafts (because wasn’t that always one of our favorite parts of back to school).   See Plein Air Painting next week for the arts portion.

A Colorful End to Summer

I was looking at my big fat beefsteak tomatoes the other day and it struck me how very green they were, so I thought I would do a photo essay of  summer ending – by color.   Color my world –  just like we used to back in grade school, with the big 64 pack of Crayolas.   I just happened to have a box with my craft supplies in the basement and they have the same waxy smell I remember.  

Crayola crayons

The Crayola company first began selling crayons in 1903 and since then they have made over 200 distinctive colors.  (Wikipedia link)  Although many of the original colors are still around, I believe they are a bit more inventive with the names now, so I’ve decided to help them out, (see brackets).

The very green tomatoes.    (Lean Green Tomato Machine, because what tomato plant isn’t this time of year)

green tomatoes

The purple clematis is blooming.   (Purple Rain, as in the Rock Star Formally Known as Prince).  

purple clematis

The neighbors yellow Black-Eyed Susans nodding hello over the fence, (so very Mellow-Yellow).

Sunflowers

The orange tones of fresh summer fruit – melons, nectarines and peaches. (Fruit Salad Palette)  

Ripening tomatoes.   (Red Hot Salsa)   

Red tomatoes

The Last of the Pinks.    This  Dipladenia was the best plant I bought this summer, water and drought resistant (we had both) and no deadheading.  It’s still hanging in there as if it was in the tropics, which it felt like some days.  (Caribbean Dream Pink).

Pink flowers

The first bouquet of fall flowers – yellow and green and pink.

Autumn bouquet

White for the clouds of late summer, towering and cumulus, but looking fall-like.    (Cumulus Cloud White)

seagull and clouds

Blue for the water and sky and sailboats.   (The original Sky Blue can’t be beat).   

Sailboat

And beige for the sand and the last trip to the beach.   (Sandblaster Beige)

beach towel

Let’s say goodbye to the last (Psychedelic Sunset) over the lake.   

Sunset over the Lake - AMc

The first signs of fall are already here – the sound of crickets at night, sometimes on the hearth – the first drift of wood smoke in the air – the maple tree with it’s leaves dipped in paint – that first chilly morning when you have to reach for your chenille housecoat and it’s not because of the A/C – and that dreadful/wonderful/your pick pumpkin spice which saturates the season! 

Class dismissed – put the crayons away and go outside and play while the sun is still high in the sky!      (Sky High Blue-Green)

seagull

apples

PS.  Red for the apple for the teacher and for the harvest coming in at the farmer’s market.   Speaking of farmer’s markets, I’ll be doing a restaurant review soon on a locally sourced Harvestfest Dinner (link) – so get your forks ready to join me.   I hear there will be pie – as in (Very Cherry Red)!    

Harvestfest Pie and coffee

 

The Literary Salon – Quiet – A Book for Introverts

One of the most common remarks that I read from bloggers on here, is that  she/he is an introvert.   Writers tend to be introverts, with a few exceptions, Hemingway being one, but then maybe he was just an extrovert when he’d had a few too many.   Writing requires introspection, and some peace and quiet.   Your mind be busy and your thoughts multiplying faster than you can get them down, but outwardly you are silent.   Although this book is not a new release (it was a best-seller in 2012 and won numerous awards), I thought it would be a good selection for this month’s literary salon, if only to provide food for thought as summer is winding down and our noisy busy lives resume.        

Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – by Susan Cain  –  2012 

QuietBookCover

Publishers Blurb

“At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts–from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.”
About the Author:

A self-proclaimed introvert, Susan Cain is an honors graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School and spent seven years working in corporate law for prestigious clients, then worked as a negotiations consultant before quitting to become a writer.   In addition to her two best-sellers (Quiet 2012 and Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts 2016), her writing has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications, and her TED talk on the same theme has been viewed over 23 million times.  She is co-founder of the Quiet Schools Network and The Quiet Leadership Institute.    All in all, a very impressive resume – it tired me out just reading about all her accomplishments, and this is just the shortened version – although she attributes all she has achieved to being an introvert.  I did note that it took her seven years to research and write the book.  

My Goodreads Review:

 

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an introvert, I really enjoyed this book, especially the last chapter which was addressed to schools and teachers, but then I was the child whose otherwise stellar report card always included the derogatory comment, “Joni fails to participate in class.”  Vindicated – Introverts now Rule!

Why I Liked The Book:    (see review above) 

It’s been so long since I read this book that I can’t remember specific details about it, but it made me feel that introverts were finally being heard and valued for the first time, in a world which basically worships extroverts.  Most of our public leaders, CEOs and politicians are extroverts – anyone who can talk a good game is often successful, justified or not, in a world which often values style over substance.    These are the people who take up all the space in the room, grab all the attention and never lack for anything to say.    But do they ever stop to listen?   Introverts tend to be the best listeners, and often make the best bosses because they listen, ask questions and weigh all the factors before they decide or speak.  They tend to observe and remember things about others, and usually make great conversationalists, a rare trait in this all-about-me world.    They are often creative souls as creativity requires solitude.    Introverts are generally undervalued in today’s society, so I enjoyed reading a book which pointed all that out and felt a certain degree of vindication.  (Not to knock extroverts though, parties would be dull without them!)    Here’s a Wikipedia link with a breakdown of the chapters and principles involved.

Introverts would much  rather stay home and read a good book than go out to a social event, but usually enjoy themselves when they do.   The would rather have a good conversation with one person, than many superficial ones at a crowded party.   They enjoy their own company, and like being with others,  but usually need alone time after socializing, in order to recharge.  

I’ve always been a quiet person, a result of genes, being a middle child and growing up in a fairly isolated rural environment.    I was a quiet kid who turned into a quiet adult.  I might have gone into journalism as I love a good story, only I and others (like the high school guidance counselor) thought I was too quiet.   (But then they ruined my plan of being a girl detective too!)    

I was a details person, as quiet people often are, and was well suited to my career where for decades I had a comfortable level of interaction with people.   Working forced me to become more extroverted, and I was good at it, (no one would know as I can talk for hours if I have to, it’s an Irish thing), but it can be exhausting being an introvert in many jobs today.    Like many work places, mine was eventually subject to downsizing, staff cuts and quotas and my enjoyable job turned into a stressful one, where I was under constant pressure and seeing way too many people – as those Facebook memes say, it was too peoply out there.   I like people, in small doses, but after a day of people in big doses I would come home so overstimulated and drained it would take hours to decompress.   I needed lots of down time.  (I suppose if you are an extrovert who works at home all day you might want to go out at night and see people, but I have to wonder if the author’s change of careers was precipitated by her marriage and raising young children – those little cling-ons require lots of energy).   Plus there is a level of rudeness and impatience in society today which was not there in my earlier working years.  So if you ask me what I miss about not working, it’s the people, (most of them quite wonderful), but then again, it’s not.    If you’re an introvert, you’ll know what I mean. 

Introverts often have an easier time with retirement, as they are used to spending time alone, content in their own company and many retirement activities – gardening, reading, painting, are solitary pursuits.   I guess if you are an extrovert you fill your schedule with volunteering or run for public office or travel the world on bus tours.   While no one wants to be lonely or turn into a hermit, it’s nice to have a balance between the two which is consistent with your level of introversion or extroversion whatever it might be.   (People who fall near the middle of the spectrum are called ambiverts). 

Do they still make kids do public speaking in school?  It was always a dreaded activity for me.   Oh, I could write the speech, but my voice is soft and I can’t hear you would be the usual comment.   Introverts do not like being the centre of attention, hence the dislike of public speaking – hard to avoid unless your speech is so boring the audience falls asleep!    I would hope that teachers are better trained now to value introverts as well as extroverts.   As for those report card comments, it was always the word – “failed” which bothered me.  As if failure to raise your hand and participate was a crime, instead of merely being the innate personality trait it is, belonging to that of a quiet soul.       

PS.  As this is an older book, libraries may have a copy.   It’s a fairly long but interesting read, but if you lack the time, here’s a link to the author’s TED talk.

Upon re-watching the TED talk again (20 minutes), I highly recommend it – some very excellent points, especially about solitude and creativity.    I especially liked that it opened with the author talking about social activity in her family being everyone all together in their comfortable corners, reading their books.   Obviously she grew up in a family of introverts, but her talk/book also has an important message for extroverts trying to understand their introvert spouses (opposites attract!) and children.    

 

 

 

 

 

Woodstock Revisited

They say that being a senior is just like being a teenager again, only you have more money.   You have no responsibilities, don’t have to work and can stay up late and party all night, if you wish.    While many of the today’s younger seniors may remember Woodstock, you definitely know you’re getting older when a local retirement home holds a Woodstock 50th anniversary night and you agree to go because your neighbor has free tickets and it would be a shame to waste a nice meal.   My mother agrees to go with us, although neither of us really remembers Woodstock.   My neighbor has more recollection of it, but I feel like I missed the whole hippy era, as at almost 13, I was just a bit too young and by the time I was old enough to peace out, disco had arrived.    While I remember much of the music from the era, I was more into the clean-cut Monkees than the Beatles, who had by then morphed into those long haired dudes strolling across Abbey Road.    My mother was a forty-something housewife back then who only listened to our music because the radio was on in the morning while we were getting ready for school, but I’m sure the station got changed as soon as we left for the bus. 

For those of you younger folk who may be unfamiliar, Woodstock was a famous music festival held on a dairy farm in upstate New York in Aug 1969, which attracted almost half a million young people and which became a symbol of the hippy era.   It rained over the three days, people camped and slept outdoors in the mud and listened to music and generally a peaceful groovy time was had by all.   Surprisingly there was no violence, considering the size of the crowd, but then the mood was mellow-yellow.      

Woodstock

Peace, Love and Fame!

(The couple in this iconic photo of the era, which first appeared on the Woodstock album cover, got married a few years later and are now seventy years old.   In a recent interview they said they didn’t even recall the photo being taken because they had just woken up.  Here’s a link to more on their story.)

 Woodstock had a music lineup of some of the best rock and roll groups of the time.   A friend of mine has a copy of the original festival poster, with the band playlist.   She was on her way to the show with a group of friends, complete with camping gear, when for reasons she doesn’t remember, they turned around and came back to Canada.   Most likely it was due to the negative publicity at the beginning – the drugs, the rain, the traffic, the lack of washroom facilities etc.   As she later went on to work in the music industry, she recalls it as one of the regrets of her life.   Here’s the playlist. Woodstock poster (2)

Of the groups who played, I only remember Creedence Clearwater Revival CCR (Bad Moon Rising), Blood Sweat and Tears (And When I Die), Janis Joplin (Me and Bobby McGee), Jefferson Airplane (White Rabbit, Somebody to Love), Santana (Evil Ways), and Sly and the Family Stone (Hot Fun in the Summer Time).    While I recognize some of the others, (Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Jimi Hendrix), I don’t recall what they sang, so Linda over at Walking,Writing,Wit and Whimsy (who has a great Woodstock post), shared this link with me,where you can check out the songs each band played at the venue.    https://www.woodstock.com/lineup/     The site also has some great photos and videos, and man do those kids look young, as do the performers.   Of course that was in the day when we didn’t trust anyone over thirty.  

Many of the musicians who were asked to play, turned it down, (The Doors, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Chicago, The Moody Blues, Simon and Garfunkel) and have expressed regret, including Joni Mitchell, who went on to write this famous song, after seeing the news clips on TV.   

I was surprised to read that the music went on so late,  but being out in the country there were no noise bylaws, although I’m sure the neighboring towns weren’t too thrilled about the sudden descent of half a million hippies.   John Fogerty of CCR, remarked that most of the fans were asleep on the muddy ground by the time they went on at 3am, so he played to one guy way at the back, who was flicking a Bic lighter.   (Wikipedia link)

Imagine hosting that kind of party today, half a million people united by music, singing in peace and harmony. 

Not likely to happen – there’s too much violence in the world now.   The organizers of the 50th anniversary bash ended up cancelling.  (Sorry Jay Z and Miley Cyrus, no soggy fields for you, although I’m not sure why you got invited in the first place).   There will never be another Woodstock.     There was however a smaller anniversary gig held in Bethel Woods, with performances by Arlo Guthrie, John Fogerty and Carlos Santana, who were all there at the first one – what a trip that must have been for them to play again at the same site so many years later. 

But back to my Woodstock party….

So maybe it was a good thing the retirement home stepped in to fill the void – keeping the flame alive for all us aging hippies.  (I believe they are called hipsters now if Taylor Swift lyrics are correct). 

This particular retirement home is a bit of a white elephant, the product of a poorly developed plan hatched by some company in Toronto where the rest of their buildings are located and fully occupied.    It opened several years ago, and fewer than 25% of the units are rented.   I’m not sure who it’s actually marketed for, as many in this small town could not afford the high prices, most seventy somethings would want more space (the apartments are very small), and the over-eighty crowd who might inhabit such a place, might need some medical help of which there is none available.   But I give them A for effort, as they are trying hard to fill it up.   One of their marketing ploys is to offer community events and free dinner tickets to anyone who might have expressed even the slightest bit of interest.  (My friend went to a yoga class there.  They even sent my mother a Christmas gift in the mail – a puzzle of one of her art works).   They host monthly theme nights, Roaring Twenties, Casino, Neil Diamond, and while older people in the community might support the events, it seems no one actually wants to live there.  

There is a big atrium, like in a fancy hotel, wasted space, but it’s supposed to be a social area.    A perfect spot for a sit in or a love-in or at least a free buffet with some folk music.     

I have a hard time deciding what to wear, and have to visit the basement and unearth a few old Seventeen magazines to refresh my memory of the clothes of the era.   I found the magazines in the attic when my mother moved off the farm.   They’re from 1970, the summer I entered high school, when I must have been worried about looking hip, although why I don’t know, as we wore uniforms, other than the first Friday of the month which was Dress Up Day.   

Seventeen Magazine

Dig those blue tinted shades!

Back then, Seventeen magazine came in the the big twelve-inch size format, like Life and Look magazines.    The ads alone were a trip down memory lane.   We seemed to be consumed with lightening our hair (Sun-In, Lemon Go Lightly), darkening our tans (Coppertone, Johnson’s Baby Oil, Sea and Ski, Noxzema), and wearing blue eye shadow (Bonne Bell, Yardley, Max Factor).   

But back to the fashions, and the all important question, when Jupiter aligns with Mars will you be dressed for it?

Seventeen Magazine

You will if you sew your own threads!

That song was far out – Aquarius – by the Fifth Dimension. 

In the fashion pages, we wore bell bottoms, embroidered peasant shirts and gauzy skirts, mini skirts, maxi skirts, tie-dye, leather sandals, headbands, love beads, rose or blue tinted granny glasses and anything with fringe.

Seventeen Magazine

Model Susan Dey before The Partridge Family and L.A. Law

And don’t forget the flower for your hair, preferably a daisy.   

The song San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) was written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas,to promote the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.    It also gave birth to the flower-child movement and the phrase flower-power.  

At age ten, I remember being annoyed when my first pair of bell bottoms got caught in the spokes of my bike, but later being quite envious of my grade eight teachers mini skirts and especially her long black maxi coat.  By high school short skirts were all the rage even in Canada, and my mother, who made our navy uniforms, made them short, but we still rolled them shorter, until the nuns caught you out.   By grade eleven she had given in, but it does make me cringe now looking my high school year book that they were that short.   I believe the nuns had given up by then too.   One year hot pants were in, but not part of the uniform.   The nuns would have fainted at that.    I had a pair I wore under a matching mini dress.   By grade twelve we were allowed to wear navy pants, but nobody did as jeans were in, wide and flared by then. 

But back to party prep….(which as I recall was often the best part of a night out). 

I found a pink cotton embroidered shirt, last worn fifteen years ago, in the back of a closet, and piled on some beads and bracelets.    As luck would have it, I had also found a suede necklace with a peace symbol at an outdoor craft show the weekend before, a bargain at $10.   

Hippy outfit Woodstock

Finishing touch, some dangling feather earrings.   I had a problem with my gold chain headband, as I have bangs and it did not sit quite right.   Alas, I did not have any bell bottom blue jeans, faded or otherwise, as in this famous Cat Stevens song, so regular skinny jeans had to do.  (How is it that I now own only one pair of jeans, which I admit haven’t been worn in two years, and seemed a bit snug, but isn’t that why yoga pants were invented). 

The residents really got into the spirit of the evening.   There were prizes for best costumes and I got some great ideas should I decide to resurrect my hippy costume for Halloween.    Daisy chain headbands, flowing caftans, ponchos, embroidered jean jackets, with most of the guys looking like cool cats in their bandannas.    Obviously, many of these people had lived through the era, and had a better idea than I did.   Someone had tie-died some white sheets to hang as a backdrop behind the stage.  As my only memory of tie-dye was a blue and white t-shirt which came out uneven, I had no idea it could be so colorful. 

Woodstock - Tie-DyeUnfortunately, after Bad Moon rising, the musician/guitar player wandered into the wrong decade and stayed there, as I’m sure Tequila Sunrise and Margaritaville were not played at Woodstock.   His final nod to the sixties was Love Potion Number Nine, when really it was Diovol I needed, as the food was – well the polite word might be – institutionalized.   Can you dig it?   No I could not, and this is coming from someone who ate hospital food for years way better than that.   Unlike the original Woodstock, no drugs were allowed, well at least no psychedelic ones.   Although marijuana is legal now in Canada and they are even trialing it in nursing homes for pain control (don’t get me started), there was none in evidence.   Thank God, smoking inside buildings is not allowed.   

As parties go, it ended fairly early, but I was tired (one of the disadvantages of getting older is you can stay out all night but you don’t want to), and this hippy-chick was happy to go home to my nice comfy bed and grateful I did not have to sleep out in the mud with half a million other people.   While not quite as exciting as the first Woodstock, it was a fun happening.    Maybe they can do it again in another fifty years and  invite the Rolling Stones – they’ll be 125 and on their final world tour. 

PS.  In these strange and tumultuous times, maybe we need to be reminded of those famous slogans, “Make Love, Not War” and “Give Peace a Chance.”  

PS.  Do you remember Woodstock and the hippy era?   Do you remember any of the fashions and music?    

PS.   I think we had much better music back then, a lot of which is still listened to today.   I may be showing my age, but I have a dislike for much of the current music scene, especially rap, which I feel is totally lacking in lyrics and melody.   I listen to classic rock, oldies but goodies stations, and even the really old classics like Sinatra and the Big Band era.   Younger readers, how do you feel about your generation’s music versus the older stuff?    Do you think it will have staying power?    I read recently that Drake has now surpassed the Beatles record of eleven number one hits in a single year/album, but I could not tell you one single song Drake song, or Beyonce or Justin Beiber for that matter  – I guess I have turned into my mother and just change the station!