The Library Book

 This months literary salon pick is a non-fiction book titled, The Library Book, penned by Susan Orlean, a long time staff writer for The New Yorker.   With those credentials you know it will be good, and I must say this was one of my favorite reads this summer.   But then the library has always been one of my favorite places, especially during the COVID crisis when their curbside pickup has been a real lifesaver – transporting me to another world for awhile.   

Jane Austen quote re libraries 2 (2)

(Quote by Jane Austen)

While I do not have my own library at home, just random bookshelves, I’ve been a proud library patron since the age of seven when we took a class trip to our newly opened village library.  Although small in size with just two rooms, a children’s section and the adults side, I thought it the most marvelous place and was excited to have my own library card.   I could already read by then, having started with the Dick/Sally/Jane books, but here were shelf after shelf of books, each with a different story just waiting to be told.      

Jane Austen quote re library 2(4)

(quote Jane Austen)

As a quiet middle child I could always be found somewhere with my nose in a book.   My mother would take me and my younger brother to the library every Saturday (after his hockey game and penny candy treats), and I would stock up on books for the following week.   The library was one of the few buildings in town with A/C and I can still recall the blast of cool air which hit you when you entered the vestibule, plus the distinctive musty smell of books.   The librarian, an older woman named Mrs. Sekritis sat behind a tall circular desk, and she would often comment on my choices as I grew older.  While our little library stocked picture books for children and adult fiction for grown-ups, the selection for Young Adults (if that genre even existed back then) was limited – perhaps only L.M. Montgomery (I read the whole Anne series) and Louisa May Alcott (like many girls Jo was my heroine).   And so I read the classics way too young, Dickens, the Brontes, whatever sounded interesting on the book jacket.  Occasionally, when I would come across a YA book, I would find it fascinating reading about kids my own age, so different from my rather isolated life growing up on a farm. 

I still get the majority of my books from the library, as I read so much it would be too expensive to buy them all, and our small local  library is excellent at ordering in anything you might request, plus the librarians there are all such wonderful people.   I seldom visit the larger downtown branch where the service is impersonal and the reserve lists long, except to browse the large print books (easier for reading outside with my aging eyes) of which they have a better selection.   But whichever branch I visit, I still consider the library a sacred place.       

But back to The Library Book.

The Library Book - Susan Orlean

Goodreads/Publishers Blurb:

On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?       
 
Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.
 
In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.
 
Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.
 
Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.   
 
Discussion:   
 
As mentioned on the cover blurb, this 2018 book is a little bit of everything – true crime, history, biography and first rate journalism.   The story of who lit the fire is fascinating and interwoven among the various chapters.  She delves into the history of library fires over the years from ancient Egypt to the famous book burning of the Nazis in WW2, plus the destruction of thousands of books in wars including recent ones like the Gulf war – a list of the lost libraries of the world, so many words destroyed forever.  She covers biographies of  librarians, a different breed who must love people as much as they love books and the future and expanded role of libraries in our communities as beacons for the homeless and social services centers, as well as branching into art, music and technical programs such as maker spaces.   (Even our small branch has a technical support person on staff but I’m not sure I could listen to that annoying 3D printer all day).   I was aware of the history of the Carnegie libraries, but not the reason behind it.   As a young boy Andrew Carnegie couldn’t afford the $2 fee for the local lending library, so he spent the last third of his life giving money away, funding a legacy of 1700 libraries for future generations of readers.   In much the same way that Bill Gates spent a decade funding literacy in third world countries.   If you want to change the world, books can help, one mind at a time.   Introducing your child to the pleasure of books and reading is even more important now in this time of COVID, when education seems so perilous. 
 
And lastly I loved this book for it’s perfect prose, here’s a sample from page 309. 
 
“The library is a whispering post.  You don’t need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen.   It was that affirmation that always amazed me.  Even the oddest, most particular book was written with that kind of crazy courage – the writer’s belief that someone would find his or her book important to read.   I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect these books and manuscripts and preserve them.  It declares that all these stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past and to what is still to come.  I realized that this entire time, learning about the library, I had been convincing myself that my hope to tell a long-lasting story, to create something that endured, to be alive somehow as long, as someone would read my books, was what drove me on, story after story:  it was my lifeline, my passion, my way to understand who I was.  I thought about my mother, who died when I was halfway done with this book, and I knew how pleased she would have been to see me in the library, and I was able to use that thought to transport myself for a split second to a time when I was young and she was in the moment, alert and tender, with years ahead of her, and she was beaming at me as I toddled to the checkout counter with an armload of books.  I knew that if we had come here together, to this enchanted place of stucco and statuary and all the stories in the world for us to have, she would have reminded me just about now that if she could have chosen any profession in the world, she would have been a librarian.” 
 
and another excerpt from pg 93 
 
 “In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone has died is to say his or her library has burned.   When I first heard the phrase, I didn’t understand it, but over time I came to realize it was perfect.  Our minds and souls contain volumes inscribed by out experiences and emotions; each individuals consciousness is a collection of memories we’ve catalogued and stored inside us, a private library of a life lived.   It is something that no one else can share, one that burns down and disappears when we died.  But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it – with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited – it takes on a life of its own.”
 
And so we read on…..
 
Postscript:  I was moved recently by this video which fellow blogger Annie (AnnieAsksYou) posted, so I’m going to share it here.   It’s a short clip of congressman John Lewis, who died recently at the age of 80, accepting the 2016 National Book Award for young people’s literature for March, his story of the civil rights movement.  As a young black teenager in 1956 he was denied the privilege of a library card as the library was for whites only, but he had a teacher who encouraged him to “read my child, read.”     
 

#Pandemic Picnic Table – Wordless Wednesday

Let your photo(s) tell a story.

The scavenger find….

The paint…
The end result….
The pandemic picnic table is now ready for….
The Guests!

PS. Although we’ve been having glorious weather lately, once the yellow-jacket wasps descend in September outdoor entertaining is basically over for the year. The slightest morsel of food or drink convinces these persistent visitors to overstay their welcome.

The paint is Lowe’s Valspar Seasonal Exterior color-matched to Michael’s Americana Decor chalkpaint in Serene Blue. Although it has a turquoise tint in different lighting, it’s actually more blue like the paint photo. I like the way it appears to change color depending on the time of day and amount of shade versus sun. I have an old blue and yellow beach umbrella to fit the center hole once I scavenge an umbrella holder.

A Waterfront Walk

In an attempt to hold onto summer for as long as possible, I’ve been walking along the waterfront recently.  While none of these parks are close enough for my daily constitutional, they are more scenic options when I want to add a few extra steps to my exercise routine or work off some calories from the fall baking.   Plus a change of scenery is always good, never more so this pandemic year.  

Centennial Park - Sign Great Lakes Waterfront Trail

Our first park was designated in honor of Canada’s centennial year, 1967, and occupies prime real estate along the bay – a handy venue for all those nearby condo owners.

Centennial Park

Strangely, on this beautiful late Friday afternoon there are few people around.Centennial Park - flowers

Just a few seagulls preening for a photo-op.   The flower beds in the park grounds have been sadly neglected this year due to the cancellation of most maintenance services, but the urns are still pretty.

Centennial Park - Seagull

This Diva let me get real close…Centennial Park - Seagull closeup

until she got annoyed (see Wordless Wednesday) and flew away. 

There’s a fountain where you can stand in the mist and get cooled off.  Centennial Park - fountain

And a cute garden bench/sculpture for the little ones. Centennial Park - Bench turquoise

If you follow the long boardwalk all the way around, there’s a boat ramp and a small marina on the other side of the bay, with an over-priced outdoor restaurant where I had one of the worst meals ever and never went back, despite the scenic view.

Centennial Park - Marina and  restaurant

The big yacht on the right is mine…..someday…..

There’s a tour boat which offers lunch and sunset cruises up and down the river, although not this year.  Centennial Park - boat - Duc du Orleans

Let’s hop over to the Beach Park now. While it may be unusual to have a beachfront park in the middle of a city, a few forward-thinking city founders, aided by a very generous donation from a rich benefactor back in the Great Depression, ensured that beach access would be available to all, not just those lucky enough to own a house with their own private beach. Of course at the time of the purchase, the park was at the edge of city development. In addition to the 3000 foot stretch of sandy beach, there’s a hundred acres of trees with walking trails, a children’s animal park and a small inland pond perfect for winter hockey. (We may return here later this fall for a leaf-peeping tour.)

This is a picture of the beach in the 1950’s before the parking lot was paved. Sadly there has been so much erosion from high lake levels in the past few years, they may have to un-pave the parking lot to salvage some of the sand.

Canatara Park - Birch tree

I was upset to see that half of my favorite birch tree had collapsed onto the ground, it’s roots uplifted by the pounding waves.

Canatara Park - rocks

There’s so little beach left at this end of the park that they’ve installed a new row of arbor stone to try and prevent any further erosion.

The groynes are all under water now, but the sailboats were out, and so were the kayaks. Canatara Park - kayaks

In my younger years, many a summer weekend would be spent under a beach umbrella with a book and a cooler of snacks and beverages.

Let’s go further up the lake to a place I blogged about a few weeks ago in On The Waterfront. While the dance pavilion may be long gone, you can sit in the gazebo or on a park bench and admire the view.

We picnicked in this park every summer Sunday when I was a kid, but the beach is washed away now and the waterfront shored up by expensive arbor rock.  Brights Grove beach

The road in front of it is so narrow, Brights Grove beachthat I wonder how long it will be before it’s closed and people won’t have access to their property.   The waves were so wild during the winter storms last year they were lapping at the porch of my favorite house.  Brights Grove Park - house

Switching venues now to the park where the river meets the lake.

Bridge park

The darker blue water denotes the deeper shipping channel used by the Lakers – the big freight boats.

Bridge Park - sailboat

This area is lined with park benches where you can watch boats heading out into the lake. It’s always a popular spot because of the refreshing lake breezes even on the hottest summer day, plus the chip trucks and ice cream parlors nearby.

Let’s follow these tubers downriver to the marina. (Note: tubing is a dangerous sport due to the swift current here but people do it anyway.)

Bridge Park - tubing

This larger marina has berths for sailboats during the season. If I was ever fortunate enough to own a waterfront condo I wouldn’t want one with three floors though, even if I could tie my boat up out front.

I wonder if the condo owners ever worry about the high water levels, which is even more of a problem downriver. So let’s visit our last park downriver – unfortunately it was an overcast day.

The clouds get in the way…..

There are small strips of parkland here and there along the river road, with lots of ancient willow trees lining the banks.

Downriver park - willow tree

In some places the water level is so high the grass around the tree trunks is  swampy, and it’s only a matter of time until they are washed away too.  Many of the docks are almost level with the water now, surely a worry for the homeowners. 

Downriver park - sunflowers

These cheerful sunflowers are announcing fall….

My mother enjoys going for a Sunday drive along the river and looking at all the big houses, but we hardly ever see anyone sitting outside. I wonder if people who have waterfront property really appreciate it?

I’ve always felt a sense of calm being by the water, probably the legacy of two sets of water-dwelling ancestors. I could sit for hours with a coffee and just enjoy the view. Unfortunately the only park close enough for me to visit on a regular basis, is overrun by a gazillion Canadian geese, year round. The constant aggravation of having to watch where you step and/or clean your shoes is not worth the trip, although I did visit last March to take a picture of the two resident mute swans. They need to relocate some of the population and train the rest of them to migrate south like good little geese should.

I hope you have enjoyed this waterfront tour as we say goodbye to summer for another year.

My favorite picture even if there are clouds in the sky!

Peach Galette

The expression “life is a bowl of cherries” translates to life is wonderful or things are going very well. For the sake of simplicity, let’s change this slightly to “life is a bowl of peaches” so I have something to write about this week and can experience first hand how truly wonderful this new block editor is supposed to be.

Peaches in a Blue Bowl

This months recipe is a peach galette. Galette (from the Norman word gale, meaning “flat cake”) is a term used in French cuisine to designate various types of flat round or free-form crusty cakes, with a combination of sweet or savory fillings. A fruit galette is a French tart made with one flat piece of pastry that is wrapped around a fruit filling. Being free-form it’s easier than pie and for those of us not adept at making rich flaky pastry, a store bought pie shell is perfectly acceptable. The aim is to make it look rustic, like something you would serve under the shade of a tree in Provence.

Photo from Victoria Magazine July/Aug 2018

As my favorite vendor is no longer at the Farmer’s Market, I made the trip to their farm to pick up a box of peaches for making jam. I’d ordered ahead and specified over-ripe seconds as I had already sanitized the jars in the dishwasher that morning. As in years past, the seconds were a bargain at $10 for a big box of peaches.

Canning Peaches

Except….I’d already paid for them and the clerk had put them in the trunk of the car before I realized they were small, cold and nowhere near being ripe. Where were their usual big juicy peaches? I might have gone back in to inquire but the storefront was crowded and there was absolutely no attempt at social distancing. (How much effort would it take to mark the floor with tape and only let so many people inside, especially with the higher COVID numbers in some of these agri-food areas?) So I grumbled and left and five days later they were starting to spoil and get soft and spotty on the outside while the insides were still not quite ripe, but cut up they were, and two batches of freezer jam produced, with extra sugar to make up for the lack of juicy peachy flavor. It hasn’t exactly been a stellar year for most fruit here, with everything behind due to the cold late spring and snow in May.

After making the jam I still had 24 peaches left so a small peach crisp was created and then some peach trifle, both with good results and more sugar (but no pictures as I forgot before they were consumed), and then the “piece de resistance”, the famous French galette, and there were still a few left over for eating. It was the box that kept on giving…..even if it wasn’t a vintage year.

Now the head chef (moi) was not above borrowing a recipe from another source, said source being the Lifestyle section of the local paper, so here’s the recipe.

The filling called for 5 peaches cut in half, pit removed and sliced, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp flour, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon and ground ginger. I doubled the sugar but it still could have used more. I left out the ginger as it had expired in the last decade. I made this at my mother’s and her spice rack is suspect and her oven temperamental, but she enjoyed peeling the peaches as it reminded her of life on the farm and canning every summer.

The Tenderflake deep dish pie crust I bought, did not look any too deep to me, as by the time the fruit was piled in the middle,

there was not much pastry left for crimping the border.

The pastry is folded over the fruit, aiming as I mentioned, for the rustic, not too perfect look.

The finished product was not pretty, the filling having bled a bit around the edges, and gotten rather burnt in spots while trying to brown the pastry, having to be scraped off by a kitchen knife before any photo-ops ensued. Plus the lighting in her kitchen is not good at all, not flattering to anyone, least of all a French galette. It did however taste better with some French vanilla ice cream.

It was by no means a Michelin five star job, but the best I can say is I tried and the end result was certainly rustic. Maybe next time with apples? The same can be said for the block editor. It’s certainly doable – but do I want to do it? I think I’d rather stay with the classic.

(This is the first post I’ve drafted in block and I seem to be using a hybrid of block and classic, with things popping out at me and the draft itself shifting from right to left to center for no discernible reason. If it was closer to Halloween I’d swear it was haunted.)

On The Waterfront

      Last fall I attended a museum exhibit called On The Waterfront, where they displayed a number of old photos and postcards of the waterfront from days gone by.   I thought I might share a few of these, for those interested in history and vintage memorabilia.      

Grand Bend Beach Beauties

In this postcard, we see swimmers enjoying the beach in Grand Bend in the 1920’s.  One hundred years later, it remains a popular beach resort, but my how bathing suits have changed, although these may have seemed daring in the flapper era.  

On the Waterfront - Grand Bend Dance Pavilion

Imagine paying five cents for a dance – if you ran out of money, you were done for the night and maybe went for a moonlight stroll instead! 

Many of the waterfront amusements then involved dance halls or pavilions which attracted people for the nighttime entertainment, as much as the beaches did during the day. 

On the Waterfront - Dance Pavilion - Stag Island

My great-grandmother lived across the river from this resort and dance pavilion.  One of my father’s earliest memories was of hearing the music floating across the water while being babysat – with the probability of a cookie and a reassurance that his parents were not too far away.   Built in the the early 19th century, it hosted parties coming down river on  steamships to attend the dances and stay at the hotels and cottages.  Long torn down, it is now the site of a private clubhouse with a beautiful wood floor which would make a perfect dance floor. 

On the Waterfront steamship

Before there were bridges and motorcars, you, and your horse and carriage, could also hop on the ferry to get to the party.  

On the Waterfront - Ferry with Horse

Fast forward to the Big Band era…

Kenwick on the Lake

Care to jitterbug anyone?

When my parents were dating in the late 1940’s, they attended the Big Band dances at this venue on the shores of Lake Huron.  Opened in 1946, it had an outdoor dance floor, as dancing under the stars was very popular back then.   It attracted big name bands such as Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, Louis Armstrong, and Glen Miller who played to crowds of up to 3,000 on weekends.   My mother recalls going for a hamburger and a Coke at a nearby diner after the dance – hamburgers were 25 cents, a sum they could barely afford. 

Moonlight Serenade – by Glen Miller and his Orchestra

Kenwick Pat Boone (4)

By the 1950’s as musical tastes shifted, it attracted the likes of rock and roll’s Bill Haley and the popular crooner Pat Boone.  I’m certain my parents did not attend this crowded Pat Boone concert, as I was born a few days later.    

By the 1960’s when we used to picnic in the park there on summer Sundays, there was nothing left of it but some broken cement from the dance floor and a few crumbling walls.  Now, it’s a tennis court, with a historical plaque marking the site, although a few years ago they held The Simply White Dinner (link) there, and dancing under the stars resumed for one enchanted evening. 

When we see pictures of young people congregating on the beach this summer, partying and having fun in the midst of a pandemic, it seems crazy, but youth is ever optimistic.   Although, looking back at these old photos, it does seem a much more romantic time.  Perhaps music and moonlight never go out of date.       

 

 

August

      August has always been the most depressing of months to me.   Summer is already half over and the threat of cold weather looms in the distance, heralded by chirping crickets, cooler nights, and heavy morning dew.  Those hours of evening lightness are no more – it’s dark at 8 pm, a warning of much worse to come.   A bit melodramatic maybe, but hey, it’s Canada, we live for summer here.     

      It starts with the clouds.  You may wake up to a flawless blue sky, but soon those big puffy August clouds come rolling in, spoiling a perfectly nice beach day.     

seagull

Oh, they’re pretty in a way – it’s best to look at things from Both Sides Now.  (Musical interlude – Joni Mitchell wrote this song on an airplane looking down at the clouds, although it was first made famous by Judy Collins.  I find the lyrics gloomy, but then it’s become such a strange world, I really don’t know life at all….) 

Then you start to see the odd tree branch dipped in paint.  There’s a big maple tree on the main street which always starts to turn in early August.

fall leaves tree

Then there are the back to school ads, a perfect dilemma this pandemic year, although some kids may be looking be looking forward to returning and seeing their friends.   Classes don’t resume here until Sept 8 after the Labor Day holiday weekend.   

While the stores may beckon with fall clothes, I really can’t justify shopping for anything but essentials when there’s nowhere to wear it,  but just being in a store for some hands-off browsing cheered me up immensely.    

It hasn’t been the best of summers, with my health issues in May/June (my favorite time of year), the hot humid weather, July’s multiple catch-up appointments and the isolating pandemic solitude.   The normal distractions which might bring joy – street festivals, summer theatre, concerts – have all been cancelled.   

Plus, August is my birthday month, which is depressing enough, as I’m wondering how I ever got to be that age?

Yes, that age.   (BTW, Paul McCartney wrote that song when he was just 16, but it was not recorded until the 1966 Sgt. Pepper’s album, the year his father turned 64.  The lyrics reflect his view of old age – gardening, grandchildren, an annual vacation on the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear….but even that is out this year.)      

I remember my father when he turned 65, saying he wished he was 16 again and looking at him and thinking, you’ve got to be kidding, they’re paying you to stay home!   Yes, it’s nice to be retired and collecting the old age pension but it also means you’re old!   While I wouldn’t want to be 16 again (too much angst), my stress-filled 30’s are looking pretty good, and someday I may look back and wish to be my current age.  I know I should be grateful to be still alive, relatively healthy and COVID-free, when so many are not.  (End of whining). 

Although it may feel like summer has slipped away without much in the way of enjoyment, there are still a few weeks to relish the rest of the season.  Here are a few things to love about this time of year.

A trip to the Farmer’s Market is always fruitful…. 

Plums yellow

Plums, peaches and nectarines.

Peaches

The glads for sale are a riot of color but the pinks are still my favorite.  

glads

It’s melon season.

Watermelon

melon

And tomato season.

Tomatoes

And cherry pie season.

Cherry pie

And let’s not forget corn on the cob, slathered with butter for those lucky folks who can eat it.  

corn on the cob

The new ice cream place is doing a booming business, although they don’t have gelato.   Does anyone really need all those weird exotic flavors when chocolate reigns supreme?

chocolate ice cream cone

Note these are mostly food related, but it’s mostly healthy food and food can be enormously cheering!    You can walk off the ice cream and cherry pie with a stroll On The Waterfront. (see future blog)

seagull water beach lake

and watch the boats go by.

water boats lake

Having the beach to yourself on an August day can be a reflective type of solitude,

waves canatara

with only the annoying screech of seagulls to interrupt your thoughts.  seagull

You can go beach-combing and gather enough shells,

seashell wreath (4)

                                               The Inspiration…

to make a souvenir of summer! 

The Beachcomber - AMc

                                                     The Beachcomber

PS.  WordPress congratulations me on my third anniversary of blogging (once a week, Wed/Thursdays, 154 posts, 84 new followers give or take a few persistent vitamin sales people).  This was posted in the classic editor but I’m wondering why the photo captions are no longer centered?  And why I can’t shrink photos?  And where is the word count so I don’t ramble on?  I couldn’t post video either?   It seems like some of the basic functions are gone.   Onward and upward to the dreaded block editor, eventually, but for now I’m enjoying these last days of summer.        

 

        

Lemon-Aid

During a particularly trying time in my life, a summer filled with stress and drama, I bought myself a lemon tree. 

Lemon tree

They were half price by late July, so I also bought one for my mother.  I had read in Oprah magazine that was the thing to do to cheer yourself up, a reminder of the old saying – when life hands you lemons make lemonade.  (Oprah was always keen on the visual stuff).  Of course, the photo in the magazine showed a smiling model beside a waist-high plant covered with big lovely lemons.   Being optimistic, I expected that’s what I would be getting eventually, with some TLC.      

lemon tree in pot (2)

I might also have been inspired by one of those posts which circulate from time to time on Facebook, a real estate ad depicting an abandoned Italian castle you could buy for cheap (it might even have been free) if you were willing to spent millions restoring it – an enormous stone monastery-like building which came with it’s own lemon grove.   It was the lemon grove which appealed to me – I already owned a building which required extensive renovations.    

Italian castle with lemon grove

I’ve never seen a lemon grove, but it must be lovely.  I’ve passed orange groves on my way to Disneyland as a child, but never paid much attention.  We don’t grow lemons here in Canada, our winters are way too cold to grow any kind of tropical fruit outside of a greenhouse.  While my southern readers might be amused at my nativity, I had high expectations of being able to pick my own fruit.  I envisioned making lemon cake from scratch using my own homegrown lemons.  

Lemons

Photo by Ryan Baker on Pexels.com

My plant did smell heavenly – I placed it outside in a sunny spot, and made sure it got watered and fed regularly, and it rewarded me with fragrant flowers right on schedule.   By fall when the nights started to get cooler, I brought it into the garage, and went they got downright chilly, it was brought into the house and placed in a sunny spot by the big front window.  With such a prime view it should have been happy.   By then it was covered with small green dots, which grew to the size of big green olives which then shriveled and dropped off one by one.   My mothers did the same, so I know, it wasn’t anything personal, it just wasn’t able to adapt to the change in conditions.  (It’s not like I expected a bumper crop or anything, but could not one or two of them have reached lemon-hood?)                  

Ah well, the best laid plans sometimes go awry, but I could just as easily buy shriveled-up lemons from the grocery store in the dead of winter if I needed to.   If you’re looking for a moral/life lesson instead of food, this has definitely been the year for way laid plans and being adaptable to change, but if you are looking for recipes, I don’t have any to share this week because although I’ve tried multiple lemon recipes, with mixed results, nothing was worth bragging about.   

blueberry lemon loaf

                                     Just-okay blueberry lemon loaf

I could never seem to get the right proportion of lemony flavor no matter how much zest I used, so I don’t bother experimenting anymore as I found an excellent Lemon-Curd Cake at the grocery store which can’t be beat.  (sometimes the easy way out is the best….)

It has lemon curd in the middle so it’s in the frozen dessert section, which is a bonus as it keeps well and you can just slice off as much as you want, for company or not.   Sometimes I add more lemon curd on top for an extra dollop of lemony goodness.  Mackays lemon curd

However, while lazing on the swing recently, reading the June issue of Victoria magazine,

Victoria magazine summer

                                      Such a pretty cover….

I noticed a culinary feature on lemon and lavender,Lemon and lavender - Victoria

And the lemon and lavender scones looked very tempting.   Plus I just bought some creamed honey at the Farmer’s Market.  They also sold a lemon-flavored creamed honey which I may get on my next trip.     

Lemon and lavender scones  Victoria - Victoria

              Lemon and lavender scones drizzled with creamed honey

And then there was this lemon tart – although decorating it with dried roses and sprigs of lavender does seem a bit over the top, my August garden yields plenty of both.

Lemon tart - Victoria

         Lemon tart decorated with lavender sprigs and dried roses….

So many lemony-good recipes, so much time to experiment this summer, so yes, my own lemon grove would definitely come in handy.   Best to pick up a couple of lottery tickets when I go to the store to get some lemons….  

lemon grovel

                                                        Limoneto

PS.   My apologies for the somewhat deceiving title, see the Victoria magazine website for a recipe for lavender-lemonade. (link)  

#Summer Storm – Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday – let your (photo)s tell your story.     Summer storm over the lake.

storm clouds Janice K.

Storm warning….shelf cloud

storm shelf cloud - EJ two

An artistic piece of driftwood.

Summer storm over the lake - EJ

An eerie sight….

Summer storm over the lake - EJ

but I do love turquoise…..

storm - lake after the storm- EJ

After the storm…all clear

(Photos not mine – they belong to a friend who rented a cottage, but are too good not to share.)

The Corona Diaries – Part Two

As Jane Austen famously said, “Where shall I begin?  Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first.”

Jane Austen quote re nothings

(Jane was writing to her sister Cassandra, who fortunately saved 160 of her letters, for they tell us much about her life in the early 1800’s.   Unfortunately, she destroyed the majority of the correspondence, reputed to be in the thousands, after Jane’s death, likely to protect her reputation.   Jane’s witty and barbed comments make for amusing reading now, but may not have if you were the subject of her satire.)  

Caught up in the minutiae of her daily existence, Jane probably felt there wasn’t much to write about – much like my life at present.   First there was the spring that wasn’t, then the summer that wasn’t and I’m sure the rest of the year will be more of the same.   It feels like things are in a holding pattern, but this is the new reality of living in the time of COVID.    

I started the Corona Diaries in May (link to first installment), back when the pandemic was still fairly new, with the intentions of recording a personal history of life during lockdown.    Here’s a recap of what’s happened in the not-terribly-exciting months since then.

THE SCAVENGER’s MISTAKE: (otherwise known, by the grass-cutter, as that damn table….)

Table patio

Before plastic surgery to fix the sagging side…

May 21 – While out for my daily walk I noticed a discarded table put out for pickup.   It was at the end of a driveway along the river McMansions, so it was of high quality, solid cedar wood with a hole in the middle for an umbrella.  (I live at the poorer end of town but like to walk there for the shade trees).  Now, I’ve been known to scavenge the odd thing or two on garbage day.  It’s truly amazing what people will throw away, like this corner picket fence, which ended up sheltering my rose bush from the snow plow,  

Corner Picket Fence

They threw out the $300 arbor too?

and a wrought iron cart which found new life in my garden after a coat of paint.  

Lime green spray paint

Lime green spray paint

Nobody seemed to be around but I noticed my mother’s grass-cutter doing a lawn nearby with his riding lawn mover, so I waved him over and enlisted his help in carrying this perfectly good table three doors down to his truck, and then later from his truck to my back yard.   I did hesitate, because I remembered “The Summer of the Patio Stones”, but that was ten years ago and my back had been fine since and he proclaimed that it wasn’t very heavy and I didn’t want to be a wimp and I really wanted the table.  I could envision it painted light blue under my shade trees, and a Jane Austen tea party in progress sometime in the COVID-free future. 

table outdoors Pininterest

(photo sourced from Pinterest)

 (Maybe Serene Blue, like this chair I painted in chalk-paint?)

Was it worth it?   

Jane Austen illustration

No! No! A thousand times No!   I spent a miserable month with back pain, living on Tylenol Arthritis around the clock.   As I could not sit or lie down comfortably, there was no blogging done and little computer time.  I could not even focus on reading, so I lay on the couch like a tragic heroine from a Jane Austen novel (possibly the overly dramatic Marianne Dashwood, from Sense and Sensibility) and felt sorry for myself.    Well, at least it isn’t COVID, I thought, trying to cheer myself up.       

A COVID TEST IS MORE PAINFUL THAN YOU MIGHT THINK:  

By early June I was dealing with a couple of other health issues, one of which involved a fever – intermittent low-grade when the Tylenol wore off.  Despite a fever being such a rare occurrence for me that I can’t remember ever having one, even when I had the H1N1 flu, I was not worried about having COVID – fever, headache, fatigue and some abdominal pain, but no chest, SOB or cough and I could still taste and smell food.    

Coffee beans

Any day you wake up and can smell the coffee is a good one…

On Day 4, after doing the COVID assessment test online and speaking to as assessment nurse, I booked an appointment at one of the drive-through testing centres – way more painful than I thought.   It’s supposed to hurt the nurse said, when I complained, it means you got a good sample.  It felt like he scraped the inside of my nose for ten seconds.  I had to pull over on the drive home to see if it was bleeding.  It wasn’t, but it hurt for about half an hour more.   Luckily, the test results were available online within 48hrs – negative. Well, that was a relief.

A few more days of misery ensued, in which I suffer from both back pain and mystery illness, which seems to be getting worse.   On Day 7, I started an antibiotic and felt much better after 48 hours, so likely not COVID as the response to the antibiotic was so quick.    

Still, there was that nagging worry, reinforced by a nurse who said, everyone presents differently and my neighbor who casually remarked, how do you know you didn’t test too early?   Is that the kind of thing you say to an already paranoid person?   So, I got retested on Day 14, mostly for peace of mind so I could visit my elderly mother whom I had not seen for several weeks, and it was negative too.   The second test hardly hurt at all, a mere pinch, by the exact same tester. 

Whatever I had was certainly strange and unusual, as I never get headaches or fever.   While I was not sick enough to go to ER, and felt well enough to drive the fifty minutes to the testing center, what if you weren’t?   It’s definitely not ideal for someone to be in the car with you, especially if there is a long wait time.   If the tests only have some degree of accuracy,  depending on viral load and whether you are testing too early or too late, is a negative test a positive reassurance or a false one?   Even antibody levels may not be all that reliable as they are reputed to wane quickly after a mild case.  Ten days seems to be the critical time period for many patients, where you’ve either recovered or end up in the hospital on oxygen.   If my antibiotic response was just a coincidence at the ten day mark, and I did have a mild case where did I catch it?   I had been at the hospital lab a few days before for thyroid blood-work, the grocery store and the hardware store where the teenage clerk sneezed behind the plexiglass before shoving my receipt into the bag.   So many unknowns, it’s mind-boggling.  At any rate, I slept a lot and was lethargic for another few weeks but am now back to my regular low energy-normal and grateful to be recovered from whatever it was, plus the back pain had departed by then too.       

With the back pain/health issues/general lethargy/hot weather, there was no daily walking, no gardening and no flowers bought at all, as I couldn’t even lift a watering can.    Also no table painting, or other painting projects, or deck cleaning or window washing either, and certainly no house work!  Freedom 55 in a sense…it was a month of nothing.    

THE VICTORY GARDEN WAS A BUST:

My total Victory garden expenditure was $8 – for three types of lettuce and one tomato and cucumber plant.   The cucumbers were stunted, tough and full of seeds, but I still have hope for the beefsteak tomatoes.   I harvested two of the lettuces, the third unknown variety was so bitter even the rabbits wouldn’t touch it.   I prefer romaine but couldn’t find any, nor asparagus which I had wanted to get started this year but I was able to harvest my rhubarb for the first time.   When I went to pick more, there was a nest of baby bunnies underneath the rhubarb leaves.  As there was a lot of rabbit fur lying around and I’m not into sharing with the wildlife, I left the second crop for them.  They eventually hopped away, but next year I need to replace the fence.  

rabbits baby bunnies

Poor little things sheltering in place…

We had some pleasant days in June, perfect for reading outside on the swing, but I had nothing good to read, so I looked at pretty pictures in Victoria magazine.   (I collect the back issues, as I find them inspiring.  In my next life, I would like to work for this magazine.) 

Victoria Magazine

And then Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!  Hallelujah! 

THE LIBRARY REOPENS

June 9 – the Library reopened for Curbside Pickup and I got 6 books the first week.  They brought them out to you in a little paper bag to minimize handling, so I now have a collection of paper bags to recycle.   I miss the librarians, but it’s too hard to chat through a mask through a car window.  I was still too miserable to read then but am back to reading one book a week.  

Library books

It was like Christmas in July…

STRAWBERRY SEASON

June 21 – I had recovered enough by strawberry season to drive an hour to a  farm to buy a flat of berries to make two batches of freezer jam.  Normally I would go to the Farmer’s Market, but it’s overcrowded at the best of times.   I took my mother along for the drive, as she needed to get out of the house.  She enjoyed the drive through the countryside and remarked how green everything was, and I felt guilty for not getting her out more often, but where exactly is it safe to go when you’re 94?   She misses going out for groceries.  At least she still lives in her own home.  Imagine all those seniors confined to the same small room in nursing homes for months on end, and the amount of cognitive decline.   The retirement home we had toured last year, ended up with ten COVID deaths this spring and it was one of the better ones.   

                                (pioneer provisions for the winter)

HAIRDRESSERS SHOULD BE DECLARED ESSENTIAL WORKERS:

June 26 – I was reunited with my hairdresser.  We were both happy – I was happy I could see out of my eyes again, and she was happy to be out of the house, but as I was her only client for 2 ½ hours (cut and color) she can’t be making any money.   The price went up by $10 to $75, but I would have paid much more.   They’d only been open a few days so she did have to remind the other stylist not to come near the sink with her client while I was rinsing, and informed two customers, who walked in ignoring the sign, that masks were required.   No more waiting room – you stay in your car until they come and get you.  I do appreciate a strict business owner.      

PORCH VISITS RESUME:

On July 1 Canada Day, I was well enough to receive my first porch visitor, (unless you count the bunnies).  I brought out my blue Moroccan dishes and served key lime pie, chocolate chip cookies and a pineapple punch. 

It was good to entertain again, even if not at a table.   We sat on the deck, socially distanced, for four hours, as it was a perfect summer day, warm with a nice breeze.    The remainder of July was so hot and humid you couldn’t even go outside, let alone entertain there.   We’ll meet again someday, when it’s cooler… 

(This song by Vera Lynn, who died recently at age 94, was popular during WW2 and could be our new COVID anthem.) 

THE WEATHER:   (every diary should include a good dose of complaining about the weather.)

Since then hot and humid has ruled the day.   The majority of days in July were over 30 C (90 F), with humidex often close to 40 C, and not much cooler at night when the mosquitoes reigned.   Two weeks of no rain meant I had to lug the garden hose around one evening, thus ensuring several itchy nights.  What did we do without A/C?    We wilted like Jane Austen heroines…..

Jane Austen quote re hot weather

 SHOPPING RESUMES:    (sort of….)

Speaking of inelegance, I’m still schlepping around in my yoga pants and t-shirts.   I haven’t dressed up once this summer or been fun shopping, but I’ve expanded my repertoire of stores to include Michael’s (framing, but still out of canvas boards), the hardware store (home of the sneezer and special lightbulbs), Winners (had to use the washroom, one of few open) and the Dairy Queen (twice, once with my mother who enjoyed the treat), where the  young man making my milkshake told me he liked my mask with the paw prints.   (I didn’t even know they were paw prints, as it’s reversible).  But horror or horrors, a visit to the Beauty Boutique revealed that they were out of Estee Lauder Night Repair, a product I have used for over thirty years.  (Thankfully that face mask hides wrinkles too.)   In common with so many  other things, once it’s out of stock, it’s out for months.   Lesson learned, I scooped up the last eight boxes of my favorite Yardley English Lavender Soap at Dollarama, and noticed a lot more bare shelves since my last visit there in March.    I also popped into Reitmans to check on my missing (capris) order, before they go bankrupt, but I didn’t try buy or try anything on, although I saw some cute summer face masks.    I resisted as summer’s already half over, and surely we won’t be dealing with this next year? 

I’m still being cautious, mask and gloves and disinfectant, but am not as paranoid about going out as I was in the early days.  I still hate grocery shopping, even more so now that the hot humid weather makes the mask more suffocating, but I’m going weekly now to take advantage of all the fresh summer produce, instead of every 3 weeks.   I speed walk through the aisles during the off hours and try to avoid the nose-wiping-with-hand/nose-blowing-but-failed-to-disinfect cashiers.   I know it’s allergy season, but medical-me is horrified by these things. 

THE GREAT MASK DEBATE:

We can turn to Jane’s wisdom again for advice on this thorny topic.

Jane Austen understand quote (2)

An adaptation of Jane Austen…

Perhaps the matter can be simplified into two camps – worried pessimists (I’m sure I’ll get it and die), versus sunny optimists (the odds are against it and I’ll live).   This debate has been settled recently by city council finally mandating mask wearing indoors in public spaces, with the inevitable protest ensuing outside city hall.

TO EAT IN OR OUT? 

I’m tired of cooking and eating the same old thing.   We’ve had takeout a few times but have not been brave enough to visit a restaurant patio yet…likewise dining in when that happens.   One, it’s way too hot, and two, you can’t convince me (see above scenes) of the safety, when so many people have hygiene fatigue.   Many of the pop-up patios seem crowded, and being surrounded by ugly wire fencing, barrels and a few potted plants in some parking lot is not my idea of an appealing atmosphere.   Now I might be tempted if it was more like Paris, with bistro tables and a red awning, or something with a water view.   

coastal living table

Coastal living photo

THE NEW VIRTUAL REALITY:   (or think like a millennial)

July 16 – The museum curator emailed that my mothers art exhibit is still on for this fall, and she’d like to hang it earlier than planned.  I’m surprised, as I had assumed it would be on hold until next year, but as we’re going into Phase 3 they are planning ahead on having galleries and museums open soon.  (This is a 3 month show we had committed to last summer, as these things book up well in advance).   I had already completed most of the prep work back in January and the paintings are finished, but I still need to do some framing and art cards, after the curator makes the final selection.  (There is only space for 25 out of 40 paintings so I’m glad it’s not me choosing).   Of course, thinking like an old-fogy, I can’t imagine anyone going to a museum right now, but she assured me that if we have to lockdown again in the winter, the exhibit will go virtual.   Spoken like a true millennial!   So, that’s something for my mother to look forward to – although there won’t be an open house, she might even get more exposure online.    (For readers unaware of my mother’s amazing story, she started painting again at age 87 after she gave up driving.   I entered her in a gallery contest for local artists and she was one of three selected, so she got to show her work for the first time at the age of 90. This will be her third exhibit since then.)

We have been lulled into a false sense of security here, not having had any COVID deaths or hospital admissions since June, and relatively few active cases.  We were down to 5 cases, but recently climbed to 25 as more things reopen, but it is still manageable with testing and contact tracing.   All of the nursing home outbreaks are over as well and visits have resumed.    While things may be better stats-wise, it could flare up again at any moment.  The very  randomness of this virus is the scariest part – once it stealthily enters a place, one case can become ten and then a hundred and soon it’s snowballing out of control, and now the dreaded back to school decision is looming and with it cold and flu season not far behind.  

DOMINOES  

July –  All spring, appointments have been falling like dominoes, one after the other.   I’m now in the process of standing them back up again – hearing, vision, dentist, medical tests.   A trip to the hospital’s ambulatory care for a minor skin procedure was so efficient it should run that way always.   (Absolutely zero waiting – screened, registered, escorted to room, doctor there two minutes later).   I’m trying to take advantage of this little lull to get things done, as it’s better to get all these appointments in now before the next wave hits….because we know it’s coming.  

waves  The Second Wave

Finally, if we have to go into lockdown again, after enjoying this bit of summer freedom, remember Jane’s words of wisdom….

Jane Austen Quote re staying home 

Dear Readers:  Thank you for still reading…..next week’s blog will be much much shorter, but Jane may be making more guest appearances in my blog, for she really has a quote for everything!  

(All Jane Austen quotes and illustrations sourced from:)

Jane Austen Wit and Wisdom book