WordPress recently congratulated me on my five year blog anniversary, but it’s really been four years since I started blogging. The first year I didn’t post at all – I needed a rest from the stress of simply creating a website! It was a big step for me, a person who had not written anything in decades. I now have 206 posts – I’ve posted regularly once a week (Wed/Thurs) for four years, although I took a month break in the fall of 2019, which I don’t think anyone noticed.
It may seem strange to celebrate your blogging anniversary by taking a break, but I haven’t posted in a month. I keep meaning to. I have drafts started but the weather has been too hot/humid/rainy to get the pictures to go with them. How hard can it be to get sailboat or duck photos? Both have been scarce sightings this summer. I had to resort to my vault for this one.
Of course that may just be an excuse for not feeling motivated to write. Canadians like to complain about the weather – it’s either too hot or too cold, but I don’t ever remember a summer this horrible weather-wise. We’ve had weeks and weeks of never-ending heat and humidity with humidex readings so high it makes you not want to go out at all. Maybe the ducks just feel too listless and lethargic to go swimming.
Plus, I’ve had company for the month of August (lots of eating, barbecuing but no baking, talking and catching up – I’m rusty at the talking part), so my writing routine has been interrupted, and I can’t seem to find the time to get back at it. I tend to be a bit OCD about meeting my weekly deadline, but it’s amazing how quickly you can get out of the writing habit.
I’ve enjoyed blogging too much to quit totally, but I’m not going to attempt to meet a weekly schedule anymore – I’m aiming for maybe twice a month. But I’ll be still be here lurking and reading of course! In the meantime, those macrons in the heading photo look good. No turning on the oven in the dog days of summer!
PS. I hope you are able soak up the last days of summer. For musical inspiration, head over to Ruth Soaper’s blog for a slideshow of morning on her farm, Morning Has Broken. I’ve always loved that Cat Stevens song.
A lighthouse is a tower or building emitting a beacon of light on a dark and stormy night. Originally designed as navigational aids for warning of dangerous coastlines, reefs and rocks, or for marking safe harbors, they are largely ornamental now. Expensive to operate and maintain they have been mostly replaced by other electronic navigational devices and any remaining ones have been automated and no longer require a lighthouse keeper. Still, they have a certain romance about them – who doesn’t love a picture of a lighthouse?
As an important part of marine history, they make great tourist attractions. Canada’s most famous lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove attracts thousands of tourists a year. (link) You can explore on the boulders around the structure but despite the warning signs, a few people are swept into the dangerous surf every year.
Peggy’s Cove is an idyllic fishing village in Nova Scotia – it’s like stepping back in time.
Here’s another lighthouse from Prince Edward Island, as you can note from the red soil.
Although I live in the Great Lakes region, there aren’t many lighthouses around here anymore. There’s this one at the entrance to the lake on the American side.
And this smaller one along the river.
The odd shaped structure above, was moved to a local pioneer village/museum after it was decommissioned. While researching its history I was surprised to discover that my great Uncle Leo, was at one time (1948) the light-keeper there. I only knew Uncle Leo as an old man, bald and as deaf as a door-knob. When he came for a visit, the conversation would be a shouting match, music to a seven year old eavesdropping on adult conversation. He was also a house painter, and the official ringer of the church bell, so a bit of a jack of all trades. The maternal side of my dad’s family were known as river rats. Uncle Leo’s brother owned a cargo boat which made regular runs to Detroit, although not rum-running during Prohibition as they were strict religious folks. Another brother went down on one of the freighters in the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, which I’ve blogged about before in The Witch of November, a gale so furious that even the lighthouses were not of much help to the many ships which floundered and sank.
Maintaining the light and the log books was a meticulous business and the light-keeper sometimes lived adjacent to or on site in the larger lighthouses, with snug kitchen and sleeping accommodations on the bottom floor.
Here are a few more of my mother’s folk-art paintings, with variations in color scheme.
I’ve borrowed the title to this blog from the famous novel by Virginia Wolfe, (link) although I have not read it, or any of her other works, but I suppose I should some day, as it was rated one of the top classic novels of all time.
A more modern novel referencing light-houses is the best-seller The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. This was an interesting read if you missed it when it was first published in 2012. The setting is 1926 post WW1 Australia where a returning soldier takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on a small island off the coast, and later brings his new bride there. They are the sole inhabitants, with no visitors other than a supply boat which comes once a season to replenish their stores. After several years of isolation the grieving wife has suffered two miscarriages and a stillbirth. One day, a small rowboat washes up on shore with a dead man inside and a crying baby. Instead of reporting it to the authorities, the lighthouse keeper buries the dead man and is persuaded by his wife to keep the baby and pass it off as their own. Two years later when they visit the mainland on shore leave, and see the posters for the missing child, the morale dilemma ensues. The plot made for perfect book club discussion material. The author is an Australian lawyer, and this was her first published book. The 2016 movie did not do it justice due to miscasting and despite being filmed in Australia/New Zealand it failed to capture the descriptions and desolation of the windswept island so vivid in the book.
I can’t imagine being stuck in a lighthouse on an island for two years with no other souls around. Oh wait, after a rather solitary 17 months, maybe I can….but a safe harbor is now in sight!
I am finally fully vaccinated……but not without some drama.
I last wrote The Corona Diaries at the end of The Winter of Our Discontent, but you might call this installment The Promise of Spring which didn’t quite materialize, and hopefully not the start of The Summer Which Never Came?
It’s been a depressing several months, the weird and wacky weather, the long frustrating wait for vaccines to get us out of this mess, the hope for better days ahead, when they all seemed more of the same, and all the while the world was blooming with loveliness.
May and June are my favorite months, but somehow this year they got cluttered up with much delayed appointments – doctors, dentists, lab work, vision, both for myself and my mother. Then there were the maintenance things like car, A/C, computer and spring cleaning maid service. (I still can’t believe the earliest appointment is mid-August – guess we’ll have to live with the dust for awhile longer). Having received one dose of the Pfizer vaccine on April 20 I felt it was safe(r) to re-book some of this now and get it over with, but it seemed like every day when the weather was perfect for sitting outside there was something on. The rest of the time it was either too hot and humid, too cold or too rainy. So much for spring. Now after two weeks of drought, we’ve had two weeks of rain – so much rain that the backyard is a tropical resort for giant mosquitoes, one of which bit me on the leg resulting in several days of itchiness so intense I couldn’t sleep, so I’ve retreated inside again….like a hermit going back into it’s shell.
As there were um…..comments about the last post (A Reading Sabbatical) being too long, I shall spare you the drama (and accompanying word count) of the vaccine process, other than to say that I long for the days when they just lined us up for a jab with the needle.
Actually when I was in grade two in 1963 we were lined up for the oral polio vaccine, which was even better, as they dispensed it on a sugar cube. We never had sugar cubes at home so the sensation of that dry granular square in my mouth was such a strange thing that the memory has stayed with me.
After five months of lock-down, even I, the most contented of homebodies, have been enveloped in a cloud of gloom and doom lately. Now that I’m fully vaccinated and can go out, there’s nothing much to do – every outdoor summer event was cancelled months ago, including the fall fairs. We are now entering stage two of reopening, with the stages spaced at cautious three week intervals, assuming case counts remain low and vaccination rates continue to increase.
I’m tired of cooking, but with no indoor dining until August, I’d rather wait until my birthday when I can visit my favorite steakhouse, a place with tablecloths and candles and frigid air-conditioning, and be served a meal someone else has prepared and will clean up after.
Non-essential stores have reopened too, at 25% capacity and after the initial crowds disperse, I’m looking forward to some retail therapy, if only to browse and buy socks. I have a whole list of things which need replacing – things you have to look at in person not pictures on a website.
And I’m sure once I get a haircut next week I’ll feel better and be ready to face the world again with more optimism. My bangs have achieved Cousin-It status and it will be nice to be able to see through my new glasses. I haven’t had my hair this long since I was a teenager, and while I kind of like the hippy look, the darker graying roots simply must go.
I once read about a woman who took a reading sabbatical. She packed up a whole load of books and escaped to an isolated cottage in another country and read….and read….and read. Sounds like the ideal vacation to me, and having a whole year to do nothing but read would be like heaven…..and so it has been during the pandemic. Not that there haven’t been other things to do while stuck at home, but there’s certainly been plenty of time for my favorite activity.
When I was younger and in the habit of escaping the Canadian winter for a week down south, I would always tote a pile of books in my suitcase (this was in the days before e-Readers) and spend at least half of the time poolside with a good book, the other days being devoted to exploring whatever tropical destination we happened to be in. One vacation sticks out in my mind, a week on Turks and Caicos, long before it was developed, with five boring books and no way to buy more. The only shopping centre was a strip mall of offshore companies and one souvenir shop devoid of even a rack of paperbacks. For a reader, there’s nothing worse than being stuck on a tropical island with a bad selection of books. I don’t scuba dive/snorkel/can’t even swim, so after my daily walk on the lovely and pristine beach I was bored to tears.
I find other people’s bookshelves fascinating. When they’re interviewing some expert on TV about some matter of vital importance, I’m usually studying the bookshelves behind them and wondering what’s on them, and being envious if they are the nice floor-to-ceiling ones, preferably in white, which I can not install as I have hot water heat rads.
I average about one book a week, and start to feel antsy if I don’t have several in reserve, but this past year my intake has increased dramatically. I spent the first few months of the first lockdown working my way through my stash (18) of mostly non-fiction volumes from bookoutlet, but when the library reopened last summer for curbside pickup it was like Christmas in July!
I keep a book journal where I sporadically list the books I’ve read, usually just tossing the library slips in for later recording. I had intended to do a quarterly review here on the blog, but other topics got in the way, so while I’m not going to list or link to all the books I’ve read during the past year, or even make a best of the best list, here’s a sampling of some of them, with some (honest) observations.
I should note that when I used to do book reviews on Goodreads, before I started blogging, I rated everything a 4, with an occasional 3 or 5, because I only reviewed books I liked. If the book was boring or not to my taste I would not finish it and so left the skewering to other folks. This was partly in an effort to be kind, keeping in mind that the author had poured much time and effort into something which after all did get published, and partly because reading is so subjective. Just because I didn’t like it, didn’t mean someone else wouldn’t enjoy it. But every once in awhile a book, usually a much-hyped bestseller, would annoy me so much that I would pen a fairly blunt review…..so expect things to be a bit more judgmental here. I haven’t had the best selection this past year, not being able to browse the shelves of my local library or bookstore so I was more reliant on the publishers PR, which sometimes can be disappointing.
I love vintage fashion so I thought The Grace Kelly Dress would be an interesting read. Years ago, I read a historical fiction book about the designers behind Jackie Kennedy’s iconic pink boucle suit so I thought this would be something similar, but more of a three generational saga. It was not – it was a whole lot of drama about saying yes to the dress, and the lavender-haired multi-tattooed tech CEO millennial granddaughter eventually said no to her grandmother’s historic couture gown and had it cut down into a pair of trousers. (There I just saved you from a painful read). I don’t think the author intended to make a statement about the difference between the generations but that’s what came across. The 50’s were a much classier era, people had manners.
Separation Anxiety was a DNF (Did Not Finish) – it was on a recommended list but I found the plot so stupid (middle-aged woman facing empty nest “wears” her dog by carrying it around in a sling? – see cover photo) that I never even got past the first ten pages, other than to skim the ending and see she if she stayed with her lazy weed smoking husband. It was supposed to be hilarious and heart-breaking – it was neither. Sad, when the author hadn’t written anything in over a decade, that this is the best she could come up with.
Sophie Hannah had been recommended to me as a good mystery writer and as she has been appointed the heir apparent to carry on Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot series (I read the Killings at Kingfisher Hall) but not being a big AG or HP fan, I decided to try one of her own books. Perfect Little Children was a long disappointing read – you simply cannot have a murder mystery with only one suspect. I kept waiting for the twist at the end but there wasn’t one.
Every year I swear I’m done with Elin Hilderbrand and yet I find myself ordering her latest. Her characters are now middle-aged and they need to grow up and stop drinking, and driving, and she needs to stop killing them off in the last chapter. Troubles in Paradise was was the last of her winter Caribbean trilogy, but I’m long past the age where living in a tropical paradise would have any appeal to me.
In A Time for Mercy – John Grisham revisits the small southern town of his first book (which I’ve never read), 25 years later. This was a captivating read, but I find sometimes his endings just dwindle away – it’s like he’s done with it, reached his word count, and that’s that. I also read his Camino Winds – a murder mystery set on an island off the coast of Florida during a hurricane. Good descriptions of the hurricane, but again the ending kind of trailed off. The last scene was the middle aged protagonist celebrating in a bar with his buddies. (Female version of Elin Hilderbrand)
I’m a big fan of Lisa Jewell, but her novels can sometimes be disturbing. Invisible Girl was a good read, more like a murder mystery. She really knows how to pull you into the story.
The Talented Miss Farwell – about a small town bookkeeper who collects big time art – was an interesting book, unique in topic and plot line. It was certainly readable, but I’m not quite sure what the point was, and I expected a better ending. I enjoyed it for the view into the elite New York art world.
Elin Hilderbrand – 28 Summers – her annual Nantucket beach read. (see above) Corny premise – star crossed Lovers meet on Nantucket the same weekend every year for three decades? But they can’t be together the other 51 weeks because he’s married and his wife is running for President. It was such an unrealistic plot it was funny, and not in a good way. If it wasn’t for Nantucket I wouldn’t bother with her, but I’ve always wanted to go there.
The Guest List – murder at a fancy resort wedding on an island off the coast of Ireland – good characterization and suspense. A Reese Witherspoonl bookclub selection. I enjoyed this one so much I read her previous book The Hunting Party – set in Scotland.
Stranger in the Lake – murder mystery – Kimberly Belle was a new author to me, but I tried her other books and could not get into them. (see Pretty Little Wife comment)
I used to love Joanna Trollope, but she’s been more miss than hit the past decade – Mum and Dad was not one of her best. Drama about a British couple who are vineyard owners in Spain and their millennial aged children. Poor character development, stilted and repetitive dialogue (Are you okay Mum?) and really the parents were only in their early 70’s, not even old enough to really worry about yet. A lot of stuff about sibling rivalry and not much of a plot.
Hidden Valley Road – non-fiction book about a family of twelve children in the 60/70’s and six of the ten boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia. Decades later, the two youngest, both girls, collaborate with a journalist investigating a genetic link to the disease. An Oprah Book club selection, which I normally avoid like the plague, but this was totally fascinating. But then I like a good medical book and have had some exposure to schizophrenics through my work. Be grateful for a sound mind. The research was interesting, particularly the preventative angle. Not sure why they kept having kids when advised not to, but it must have been a nightmare living in that house. Both parents had died, so we do not get their POV.
Dear Edward was a library bookclub selection which I skimmed but decided I did not want to read, as it was about a 12 year old boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash which killed 183 people, including his parents. The world is depressing enough….
Mary Higgins Clark was the Queen of Suspense, and I blogged about her passing last year at the age of 93. (link) Piece of My Heart is the last in the series she co-wrote with Alafair Burke. It’s clear that even at her advanced age MHClark was the mastermind of the duo. This was so unlike the previous works that Ms. Burke must have finished this one mostly on her own, as it was as dull as toast, with little to no suspense.
The Midnight Library – by Matt Haig was good, but got off to a slow start, and I did not find the writing as a female protagonist quite believable. (In an author interview he remarked that he had made an earlier attempt from a male POV. He also said he was striving for something hopeful like It’s A Wonderful Life). Writing about parallel universes seems to be a popular theme these days, (who knows how many other dimensions are out there we might be currently living in. Some of them might even contain aliens!) I was close to abandoning it, but LA (fellow book lover and blogger of Waking up on the Wrong Side of 50), convinced me to stick it out and I was glad I did as the ending was worth it. Besides I love anything with a library in it.
Lean Out– by Tara Henley – I enjoyed this non-fiction ode to time-out so much that I blogged about in My Literary Salon. I seem to have had better luck with non-fiction this year.
Two of these were DNR or did not get even started. The weather turned too warm for Insta-Pot soup, and World Travel – the Anthony Bourdain book, written by his collaborator after his death but full of his own quotes, had so much swearing in it I found it offensive and merely skimmed a few chapters. I used to watch his tv show occasionally but have never read his first, Kitchen Confidential or any of his other books so I have nothing to compare it to.
When the Stars Go Dark – by Paula McLain of The Paris Wife fame – about a CA detective searching for missing girls, was good for her first attempt at a non-historical/murder mystery.
The Push was a riveting read – motherhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially when you have a deeply disturbed sociopath child. I’m still trying to figure out what I think about this book, so it would make excellent bookclub fare. As a first-time novelist, I wonder where she got the idea, but then we have only to look at the news and wonder what it would be like to be the parent of a child who commits a violent crime, even if she is only seven.
Pretty Little Wife – DNF – reminder – do not order anything with the wife/exwife/trophy wife as the murder victim/suspect/crime solver etc.
Anxious People – Sorry LA – I know you said to give it a chance, and I may someday but it was overdue and I had to take it back. By the same author as A Man Called Ove – which I loved and which Tom Hanks is re-making as a movie….I enjoyed the Swedish version.
The Listening Path – by Julia Cameron – a big disappointment which I blogged about anyway.
Keep Sharp – by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. I loved this book, it’s an easy read for non-medical folks, full of common sense advice but it’s scary to think the decisions we make in middle-age determine how well we live in old age. I may blog on this later. He has another book coming out later in the year – World War C – Lessons from the Covid Pandemic.
The Last Garden in England – library bookclub selection, a multi-generational story about an English garden. A good tale, but nothing much to discuss, character driven with the garden merely a background.
A Promised Land – presidential memoir by Barrack Obama – although it’s not pictured here. I read his two earlier books but they were slim volumes. I’m sure his time in the White House was interesting but 700 pages was just way too much detail for me. I got to page 200 and it was still the primaries, and I had to return it and besides, Michelle said it better and more concisely in Becoming. I’ve not heard too much about this book after the initial buzz, but there is to be a volume two. I like to read in bed with the book propped up on my lap and it was just way too heavy…..literally, it weighed a ton.
The Last Bookshop in London – this was a surprisingly good read for light historical fiction, but then I love anything with a bookshop. Set in WW2 England during the Blitz….you can imagine the rest.
The Windsor Knot – cute premise and title with Queen Elizabeth playing sleuth. It was a slow, not very suspenseful read but somehow I do not think the Queen would be amused. Not everyone’s cup of tea.
The Lost Apothecary – also a good historical fiction murder mystery, but then I’m biased towards anything with an apothecary, especially a female one, even if it was a place you went to obtain poison for your intended (male) victim. The 1800 London past woven into a present day story, with a surprisingly hopeful ending.
Biggest disappointing read of the year which I had been so looking forward to was Jodi Picoult’s – The Book of Two Ways. Book opens with married female protagonist surviving a plane crash. Does she go home to her husband and child or fly off someplace else? Waded through 400 pages on death doulas, AI, Egyptian hieroglyphics and archaeology, much of which was standard university lecture material and had little to do with the plot, only to arrive at a totally ambiguous ending. I guess if you live in a parallel universe you don’t have to chose between your responsible-but-no-longer-in-love-with husband and your sexy grad-school Indiana-Jones type boyfriend because you can have both? Or maybe you the reader gets to decide? The ending was just plain annoying. In the author notes she thanks her editor for making her change it as it was so much better, which only left me wondering what the original ending might have been. I’ve never known Jodi Picoult to write a bad book before so it was doubly disappointing. I found her last one, Small Great Things, (how someone becomes a white supremacist) a timely and outstanding read.
There were many other books I didn’t take photos of…..some the kind you can’t put down.
I particularly enjoyed The Pull of the Stars – by Emma Donoghue about an obstetrical hospital in Ireland during the 1918 Spanish flu, which I found riveting, both for it’s historical obstetrical detail (not advised for anyone pregnant but many of my friends were OB nurses) and for it’s depiction of the pandemic (much the same as today, masks, distancing, fresh air, but thank god no carbolic acid disinfectant). I was surprised by the ending, but after I researched the author it make sense. Only a well respected writer (the Room) could get away with no quotation marks around the dialogue, an odd feature which didn’t seem to distract from the story.
I love murder mysteries and psychological thrillers, if they’re not too gory and I have my favorite authors – One by One by Ruth Ware was excellent, the setting a snowy ski chalet in the French alps with eight co-workers. The End of Her – by Canadian author Shari Lapena who is consistently good also, and Grace is Gone – by Clare McIntosh. Woman on the Edge – by Samantha Bailey, about a woman who hands her baby to another woman on the subway platform before she jumps, was also an interesting read.
For historical fiction, The Book of Lost Names – Kristen Harmel – a WW2 saga about a female forger helping Jewish children escape, and The Paris Library -Janet Skeslien Charles about librarians working at the American Library in Paris during the Nazi occupation, – were both good reads.
I hope you have found something interesting here for your summer reading. I also have a link to My Literary Salon reviews on the front pages of my website on the main menu under Books.
It’s either feast or famine, and I have little out from the library at the moment, which has been the recent victim of a “cyber security incident” thus disabling the online reservation process. I hope they get it fixed soon, or we Readers will all soon be in withdrawal. I’m always up for a recommendation, so please leave any favorite reads or authors you’ve discovered in comments.
PS. 3000 words – and I was criticizing Obama? Maybe I’ll stick to a quarterly review in the future…
The Secret Garden (goodreads link) is a children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett about an orphaned girl who discovers a locked abandoned garden on her uncle’s British estate. First published in 1911, it has been made into a movie numerous times, most recently in 2020 with Colin Firth in a cameo role as the uncle. As I enjoyed re-reading Anne of Green Gablesso much I’m adding this one to my To Read list, and the movie also, as I’ve heard the cinematography is stunning, especially as there won’t be any garden tours again this summer.
After five months in lock-down we are slowly and cautiously reopening, with ten people allowed for an outdoor gathering in stage one, and the rest of the stages contingent on receiving second doses earlier than our scheduled 16 weeks apart. Although they are trying to speed things up, only 17% of the population have received two doses so far, and with the shot being only 30% effective against the Delta variant after one dose, I think my garden will be remaining secret for awhile longer. It’s a shame not to be able to share all the loveliness, so please join me for a tour of what’s new and what grew.
The weather has been weird and wacky all spring, an unseasonable hot spell the first of April, followed by a cold month, then hot and humid again in May, then cold with frost warnings at night, then hot and humid again and despite thunderclouds no rain for two weeks….and all this by mid-June! Most things in the garden bloomed earlier than usual and have already come and gone, (see Wordless Wednesday Peonies) or are past their peak. The roses (see Wordless Wednesday Roses blog) have become blowzy and even with succession planting I’m wondering what there will be left to look now that summer has officially arrived. Wilted hydrangeas perhaps?
Morning glories and zinnias if they survive the heat and the weed-wacker?
My lily of the valley, seen here peeking out from around the Dipladenia plant, was just starting to bloom but after being hit by frost the delicate little flowers turned brown overnight.
The daisies were particularly abundant this year and early as they are usually July flowers.
My regular Common Lilac bushes were duds flower-wise again this year, although they have lots of foliage. I was disappointed in these Bloom Again Lilacs too which I bought two years ago. The flowers are small and the bush spindly, without much greenery. They smell nice but I would not plant these again, as I do not like wimpy bushes. I like things which make a statement!
Prep Work: For me the fun is in the planning and buying, not the watering (I try) and weeding (I don’t). Whereas last year my entire garden expenditure was $8 (two tomato plants and some lettuce), this year I shopped, even if the selection was poor due to the yo-yo spring and the rationing by suppliers, the result of a lack of seasonal migrant workers due to COVID so one nursery owner informed me. I bought (but wisely) as I figured if I’m stuck at home I want pretty…….preferably in pink!
Nice hanging baskets were scarce and expensive so I did my own pots using vinca instead of my usual geraniums and petunias. I’ve never bought vinca before but it’s heat tolerant and looked bright and cheerful. Plus at $4 a pot and two per basket, it’s a cheap alternative if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty. (I’ve found those vinyl pandemic gloves very useful for gardening – just throw them away.)
I put some in my ceramic planter, where I would normally have wave petunias, also in short supply this year.
The navy ceramic planter came with a couple of matching pails which I couldn’t pass up. Winners/Homesense had a whole gardening line of the same pattern but the thing about that discount store is if you see something buy it, as if you go home and think about it it’s always gone when you go back.
Seeing this colorful pot of pink vinca from my kitchen window every morning is a nice way to greet the day.
The Subject was Roses: I had to replace one dead Knock-Out Rose from last year when I couldn’t find any stock and I transplanted three others with too much dead wood, so four pink Double Knock-outs went on my list. At $25 per pot these are worth it as they are repeat bloomers and provide beauty all summer. The double pink can be hard to find although there are always plenty of red ones. The ones I moved are doing poorly from transplant shock as they had been in for ten years so I’m not sure if they will survive. (For more on Knock-outs’ check last years post – link) I wish Knock-outs had a climbing rose, but they don’t and the nurseries were all sold out of climbers. I finally located some “John Davis” ones at a pop-up nursery at $8 per pot so bought three for in front of some bare trellis. They’re small and not quite the color I wanted but the other choice was a clematis and I wasn’t happy with that selection either, although I did buy one “The First Lady” a pale lavender, also $8. One upscale nursery had Clematis for $49 per pot! The prices have really skyrocketed this year, (supply and demand), things sold out early and it’s even hard to find bags of garden soil.
The plant in the blue pot above is an Italian Bugloss, a hardy perennial which can grow to four feet, so I planted it in front of a trellis. It likes sun and attracts butterflies. It appealed to me in the nursery because of it’s bright gentian-blue color (I’m partial to blue – see The Blue Garden) so I overlooked the fact that even at $16 it appeared scraggly and half dead from lack of watering. I try and add something new every year, even if it’s something I’ve never heard of. Later I saw it on a list of easy to grow no-maintenance perennial favorites in a gardening magazine.
I’ve discovered the name of this blue plant from last year which I did not remember buying but might have been from the annual horticultural sale. It’s a Virginia Bluebell and bloomed well this year too. It likes shade and blooms in late spring.
I bought two Lavender plants ($4 each) as you can never have too much lavender, although these were an organic Blue lavender instead of my regular English type. I planted one in front of a hole under the deck hoping the smell might deter the mice and/or other creatures from establishing an empire underneath, the other went in a blue pot until I can figure out where to plant it, probably to replace something which will inevitably die.
I had good luck with Dipladenias two years ago so I bought three pink ones ($7 each) for my pink recycled plastic pots. I’m always up for a bargain especially with annuals. They’re similar to a Mandevilla, are drought resistant and repeat bloomers, and give the the deck that tropical feel, like you might be on vacation somewhere exotic instead of stuck at home. They come in red and white too.
The lavender is blooming already too.
The Russian sage/lavender/pink knock outs make a nice contrasting mix.
Of course one cannot live on flowers alone, so the vegetable garden went in early too and seems to be thriving….four kinds of lettuce, some from seed and some seedlings, carrots, cucumber and pole beans, plus the everbearing strawberry plants if the birds don’t get them first.
And for the first time I planted brussel sprouts as they are supposed to be good for you.
Wish List: for when the end of July nursery sales come on, I’m looking for a rhododendron although they are hard to grow here. I tend to scoop up my perennials on the bargain table.
What I’m Reading: My (virtual) library bookclub is currently reading The Last Garden in England,(link) a three generational story about restoring a historic British garden. A light fluffy read if you’re a garden fan, although the garden was incidental to the story and I don’t think there will be much to discuss.
And last but not least, a study in pink, one of mom’s paintings.
It’s rhubarb season for those of you who are fans of this tart seasonal favorite. Two years ago, I posted a recipe for Rhubarb Lunar Coffee Cake, (recommended for hungry astronauts) and at the end I mentioned that I had just planted some rhubarb. Two years later I have enough of a crop to make my own rhubarb treats. I’ve already harvested twice this year as it got off to an early start and I was able to share some with the neighbors,
and make rhubarb scones.
In that post I also reminisced about our large rhubarb patch on the farm and how it had been there for decades.
Recently I found the photos of when we set up a rhubarb stand at the end of the driveway under the shade of a big tree.
We had a big homemade sign advertising our wares, 25 cents a bunch, similar to this one. It was a quiet country road, so we didn’t have many customers, just a few people out for a Sunday afternoon drive. The profits ($1) were spent on penny candy.
This is making me nostalgic for our dog, King. He was a blonde border collie, (not a Lassie dog like the TV show which was popular at the time but the same color), and I’ve never seen another dog like him since. He wasn’t a cuddly dog, a pat by a stranger was barely tolerated. He was a working dog. His job was to fetch the cows from the back field if they hadn’t come up at milking time (my dad had a dairy farm) and to supervise the children. He was very protective of us, and could be found wherever we were. He could tell time too, as my mother said he would sit at the west side of the house at 3:30 every day like clockwork and wait for the school bus. He was an outside dog and slept in the doghouse or in the barn if it was very cold. One of my earliest memories was of going to pick him out, (I was four) and he died fifteen years later when I was first off to university. He was replaced by the black and white border collie (Shep) in the picture above who was the dumbest dog ever. He was also an outside dog, but the white Samoyed (Ruff), my mother’s empty-nester pet, was allowed inside the house as were later a succession of Golden Retrievers (Fergie, Murphy and Co), who were friendly but annoying in the fact they needed endless attention. I’m also feeling nostalgic about those big old trees which used to line the country lanes before they were all cut down to widen the road. Many farms had horses out in the fields so a drive in the country was a pleasant and scenic experience on a Sunday afternoon.
Enough of the memories, back to the rhubarb, as you must be hungry by now. Today’s recipe is for Rhubarb-Walnut muffins, which I adapted from a local magazine. When I say adapted, well you know I sometimes don’t follow a recipe exactly, with mixed results…
I didn’t have any buttermilk and while I know you can sour milk by adding lemon or vinegar I didn’t have any baking soda either, so I just used plain milk and my premixed flour with the baking powder already in it. I halved the recipe, as what do I need with 2 dozen muffins when we’re in month five of lockdown. I also microwaved the diced rhubarb to soften it as I didn’t think it would cook in the 25 minute baking time.
Beat the brown sugar, oil (I used butter), vanilla, egg and milk with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and mix by hand until just blended. Add the rhubarb and walnut pieces.
Here’s where things got interesting. The batter seemed too runny so I added some more flour, and not quite sweet enough, so a bit more sugar. Just a few tablespoons, nothing measured, but I still only got ten muffins not twelve. Spoon into muffin tin.
Sprinkle the melted butter/sugar/cinnamon mixture on top.
Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.
They certainly looked pretty and turned out okay, but not great. But then I compare everything to my Rhubarb Lunar Coffee Cake, which is moist (from a whole cup of sour cream) and has a nice contrast between the sweet topping and the tart rhubarb. I found this topping skimpy and it had too much cinnamon plus I missed the brown sugar. I liked the chopped walnuts, as I’ve never added those to muffins before. The rhubarb sort of disappeared, not sure if I nuked it too long before hand and it disintegrated, or there just wasn’t enough of it. Next time I would add more rhubarb, and maybe some strawberries. They were better with some strawberry jam. I tend to be fussy with my food, but I gave some to my neighbors and my grass-cutter and there were no complaints.
The rhubarb patch is experiencing a third wave so after I have my cholesterol re-checked, (it was a spur of the moment decision so I didn’t fast, but we have been eating very well over the past year), I may make the Rhubarb coffee cake again. Muffins are portable, but that cake was great!
(949 words, about 700 if you eliminate the stuff about the dogs, kind of makes up for last weeks 3000 essay on LLM…..)