No Day At The Beach

When something is not fun, the colloquial expression,  “It was no day at the beach” comes to mind.   Similar to “it was no picnic” or “not exactly a walk in the park” it denotes a situation which may be difficult to deal with – which is exactly what I discovered the first time I went to the beach this summer.   

I had not been earlier because of the kitchen reno and the hot/humid/rainy weather.   Although I can’t sit in the sun anymore I try and go at least a couple of times a year to take pictures and spend a relaxing afternoon with a book, but as it’s some distance for me, there never seemed to be a good day to pack up the beach stuff.    We’re lucky we have beautiful beaches here and very blue water, but the truth is we don’t take advantage of them as often as we should.

Beach  Canatara

Beach umbrella

Finally one day when I was running errands in town, (there always seems to be time for errands), I took a detour – as it was such a nice sunny bright-blue-sky- with-a-breeze day, it was a shame to waste it.    I thought I would sit in the car and enjoy a coffee and snack and watch the sailboats for awhile. 

sailboat race

 Except….

What the heck happened to the beach?

Beach chair

It seemed to have disappeared.     My usual spot, with the tree I usually sat under, consisted of a mere few feet of shoreline.

Beach

As the waterline was almost up to it’s roots, my beach blanket would have been swamped.

Beach

Before, you could walk out past the end of the groyne and still be in waist high water.

Beach

Now, the groynes were buried under water and considerably shorter. 

Beach

At least half of the stretch of sand was missing, although it was better at the other end.

Beach

There is still a strip of sand in front of the parking lot, where they have placed boulders to prevent people from driving on the beach, but the beach down below has eroded considerably. 

Beach

They have made some effort the past few years to protect the remaining sand by growing dune grass, but it was still a shock to see how much had washed away.   

Beach chair

The lake levels are about a foot higher than they normally are and beaches all along the Great Lakes basin have experienced erosion and flooding this year.   I shouldn’t have been surprised by the state of our beach, as driving down river earlier in the summer I noticed the same thing with the river level.  Some of the boat ramps were closed because the river water had come up over the breakwall and flooded the parking lots.

boat ramp

And some docks were under or near level with the water.   If I had expensive river or lakefront property I would be worried – another foot and the dock will just disappear.   

dock

The five interconnected Great Lakes make up the largest body of fresh water in the world.   Although they say their water levels rise and fall in a cyclic fashion according to the prevailing weather patterns, I have never seen the water so high here.   About ten years ago we were coping with the opposite – low levels exposing beaches and shipwrecks offshore which had never been seen before.   It seems it has become a world of weather extremes.   Although most of the problems with high levels and flooding in the Great Lakes can be attributed to the excessive rainfall this year, it does make you worry about global warming and the polar ice caps melting.   Here’s a link to an article from The Weather Channel with more information on potential causes. 

Beach

No matter what you may think about climate change, this sad sight, coupled with our brutally cold winters of late, and our prolonged rainy springs and hot humid summers, with all the torrential downpours and violent storms everywhere – it does make you wonder – are we ruining our planet?  

seagull

Hey what happened to the beach?

If things continue beaches may become a thing of the past, a relic portrayed in paintings and photographs. 

The Beachcomber - AMc

The Beachcomber

And life-guarding will become an obsolete occupation.

Beach and lifeguard chair

Perhaps it is not too late to take action?      

Postscript:    The Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation has been advertising for “Coast Watchers”.   These community volunteers help the Goderich-based centre monitor conditions along the Lake Huron shoreline and collect scientific data for a long term monitoring program.   Last year they had 130 applicants, whose job it is to monitor a specific stretch of coast line once a week, from May to October, and record data such as wave height, temperature and wind speed.   Another general observation group monitors for algae bloom,  significant garbage wash-ups or spills, and rare birds or a species at risk.    The Goderich-based centre was formed two decades ago with the goals of protecting and restoring Lake Huron’s coastal environment and promoting a healthy coastal ecosystem.  It’s volunteer Coast Watchers Citizen Science Monitoring Program has been running for approximately 15 years.  Training sessions are held every April. 

Sounds like a great idea.  Why be a weather watcher, when you could be a coastal watcher!

Postscript:  Have you noticed any signs of climate change in your corner of the world?

 

The Literary Salon – Beach Books Summer 2019

Beach umbrella

What makes a great beach book – any book with summer in the title.   Here’s my summer reading list (four read, two to go), and although only two of my selections qualify with respect to the title, they are all beach-worthy in one way or another.   

First place, as always, goes to Elin Hilderbrand’s annual summer release, Summer of 69.  

Summer of 69

Publisher’s Blurb:  Follow New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand back in time and join a Nantucket family as they experience the drama, intrigue, and upheaval of a 1960s summer.   Welcome to the most tumultuous summer of the twentieth century. It’s 1969, and for the Levin family, the times they are a-changing. Every year the children have looked forward to spending the summer at their grandmother’s historic home in downtown Nantucket. But like so much else in America, nothing is the same: Blair, the oldest sister, is marooned in Boston, pregnant with twins and unable to travel. Middle sister Kirby, caught up in the thrilling vortex of civil rights protests and determined to be independent, takes a summer job on Martha’s Vineyard. Only-son Tiger is an infantry soldier, recently deployed to Vietnam. Thirteen-year-old Jessie suddenly feels like an only child, marooned in the house with her out-of-touch grandmother and her worried mother, each of them hiding a troubling secret. As the summer heats up, Ted Kennedy sinks a car in Chappaquiddick, man flies to the moon, and Jessie and her family experience their own dramatic upheavals along with the rest of the country.   In her first “historical novel,” rich with the details of an era that shaped both a country and an island thirty miles out to sea, Elin Hilderbrand once again proves her title as queen of the summer novel.

Why I liked it:    Her usual fare, but anyone who lived through the summer of 1969 (sorry millennials), will find this book especially appealing.   I was the same age as Jesse the youngest of the siblings, so I could really relate to the story line, the fashions and the music.    I especially liked how she incorporated songs of the era as chapter titles. 

“For What It’s Worth” I think we had better songs back then.   I’d like to “Get Back” to that year on “A Magic Carpet Ride” as “Those Were the Days” my friend.   I was a “Young Girl” in ’69, a year when “Everybody’s Talking” about “Fly Me To The Moon”, that distant orb in the sky which was “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.    It was the “Time of the Season” for love and as we were “Born to be Wild” we were full of “Midnight Confessions”.   We didn’t need “Help” from “Mother’s Little Helper” or “White Rabbits” or have the “Summertime Blues” as it was a time of peace and hope.   For all it’s protests it was also a time of optimistic change, as politically “Everyday People” who had “Heard It Through The Grapevine” (as opposed to CNN or Fox), did not have “Suspicious Minds” and could look at issues “From Both Sides Now”.    Perhaps, “Someday We’ll Be Together” again, hopefully “More Today than Yesterday.”     Whew – I got them all in!   (How many do you remember?)

Instead of flying to the moon, let’s fly to Paris – One Summer in Paris – by Sarah Morgan

One Summer in Paris

Publishers Blurb:  To celebrate their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Grace has planned the surprise of a lifetime for her husband—a romantic getaway to Paris. But she never expected he’d have a surprise of his own: he wants a divorce. Reeling from the shock but refusing to be broken, a devastated Grace makes the bold decision to go to Paris alone.  Audrey, a young woman from London, has left behind a heartache of her own when she arrives in Paris. A job in a bookshop is her ticket to freedom, but with no money and no knowledge of the French language, suddenly a summer spent wandering the cobbled streets alone seems much more likely…until she meets Grace, and everything changes.   Grace can’t believe how daring Audrey is. Audrey can’t believe how cautious newly single Grace is.  Living in neighboring apartments above the bookshop, this unlikely pair offer each other just what they’ve both been missing. They came to Paris to find themselves, but finding this unbreakable friendship might be the best thing that’s ever happened to them…

Why I liked it:   I’m not a big fan of romance fiction, but was attracted by the title and the book jacket.    I’ve never been to Paris, the story line sounded promising and it had a bookstore in it.   Basically this book was pure fluff, albeit readable fluff.   I don’t think I’ll be reading anything more by this author, as she is traditionally a romance writer and it was a bit too predictable for me.   Plus there was actually very little about Paris or the bookstore in it, which just goes to show how we can get sucked in by marketing.     (I swear if I ever write my murder mystery I’m going to call it Murder at the Paris Bookshop even though it’s set in another country – guaranteed sales – but perhaps that title has already been taken?)    

Did I mention I’m a sucker for any title with a bookstore in it, so No. 3 is The Bookstore on the Corner – by Jenny Colgan.   

The Bookshop on the Corner

Publishers Blurb:   Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.  Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

Why I liked it:    I haven’t read it yet, but with a bookstore, how could it fail?  (I’m reserving judgement, see above).   (Edited to add:  Two chapters in and I’m loving this book – the main character, the humorous style of writing, the Scottish locale, it’s simply charming, and there are actual books in it!)  (Note after finishing:  I’m quite disappointed – two thirds of the way through this book turned into a Hallmark movie.   It was all down hill after the scene with Mr. Darcy wearing a kilt and carrying an injured lamb…..well those were actually two separate scenes but you get the drift….really I m much too old for this romance stuff.  Where is Jane Austen when you need her!)   

It’s summer concert season.   Let’s go back in time again, this time to the 70’s.  Based loosely on the rock group Fleetwood Mac, Daisy Jones and the Six – by Taylor Jenkins Reid was a selection of Reese Witherspoon’s book club.    I can already see the movie being made….now who will play the lead singers?

Daisy Jones and The Six

Publisher’s Blurb:  Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.
Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.  Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.   Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.   The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

Why I liked it:  Despite it’s great reviews I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book.   It wasn’t a subject matter that interested me, as I attended a Catholic high school and my recollection of the 70’s was not exactly sex, drugs and rock and roll.    But I ended up loving it – and it’s definitely one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year.  Basically it’s a love story, but not your typical one.   I even liked the unique interview format a la Rolling Stone, which surprisingly readable.  The book is pure fiction but the characters seemed so real that several younger reviewers on Goodreads believed it was a memoir about a real band.   Someone really needs to set those lyrics at the end to music.

Enough of the retro, here’s a psychological thriller to keep you in suspense during those nights when it’s too hot to sleep – The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient

Publishers Blurb:  Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.   Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.   Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….

Why I liked it:   I don’t usually like first person narratives, especially by male protagonists,  but this was very well done and overall an excellent book for a first time novelist.    Never even saw the ending coming – I am in awe of the brilliance.  

And lastly, because even the best of summers have to come to an end and real life resumes, a family drama – After the End – by Clare MacIntosh.

After The End

Publisher’s Blurb:  Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. They’re best friends, lovers—unshakable. But then their son gets sick and the doctors put the question of his survival into their hands. For the first time, Max and Pip can’t agree. They each want a different future for their son.   What if they could have both?  A gripping and propulsive exploration of love, marriage, parenthood, and the road not taken, After the End brings one unforgettable family from unimaginable loss to a surprising, satisfying, and redemptive ending and the life they are fated to find.

Why I liked it:   I haven’t read this one yet either.   I’m saving it for August, but it sounds like a departure from her usual crime suspense novels (I Let You Go, I See You).    We shall see….

There – a little something for everyone under the sun – Happy Reading!    

PS.   What are you reading this summer?

Beach pail

The Blue Garden

Although the white garden at Britain’s Sissinghurst Castle may be famous, I have always wanted a blue garden.   Although there is a certain romantic appeal to a vista of pale white flowers glowing in the moonlight, white simply does not make a statement to me.   I need color in my garden – pinks and purples and blues, perhaps a dash of yellow or red.    White is an accent color, seen only in a few daisies which came up from last years toss of a wildflower mix into a back corner.  My grandmother had a white snowball bush, and my mother had white spirea bushes along the front of the house – I cared for neither.  I did like the white apple blossoms on the crab-apple trees in our old orchard, tinged with a blush of pink and heady with fragrance, but their show was brief, one glorious week in spring.   No, it is color I crave and blue is my favorite color.   Although my garden is predominantly pink and purple (see last years The Color Purple and the upcoming Rose Cottage), my attempts at introducing blue into my garden have not been very successful.   Blue flowers may be a rarity in nature for a reason.

These are delphiniums from a Nova Scotia vacation so long ago that I’ve  forgotten the name of the small sleepy town where we stayed, other than there was nothing to do after supper so we toured the local botanical garden.  Certainly I was not into gardening back then, but the image of delphiniums against a picket fence was striking enough to warrant a picture, although my memory of the rest of the place is vague – I think there were roses past their prime? 

Delphiniums (2)

And this is my one solitary blue delphinium, which bloomed one year and was never seen again, nor were it’s pink and purple cousins.   The same thing happened with the lupines. 

blue delphinium

 A neighbor of my mother’s had a beautiful display of delphiniums a few years ago, five feet tall and waving look-at-me,  but he is a wonderful gardener.   I suppose I can’t expect a scene out of Downton Abbey, if I don’t put much effort into it. 

Then there was the blue rose, which came up a pale lavender/lilac at best.  What a marketing scheme that nursery tag was, a scrawny thing, it bloomed for a few seasons, producing exactly one rose every year.    I was so annoyed with it, that this year I tore it out when I was removing the dead Rose of Sharon beside it which hadn’t survived the winter.

Those pretty blue lobelia flowers in garden baskets look nice for a month or two at most, but do not survive the heat and neglect of July/August.    I’ve given up on them too.

blue flowers

I love the first sign of Siberian Squill in early spring, especially vibrant with the contrasting yellow of daffodils. 

Daffodils & Siberian Squill

There is a large swath of them growing wild along the river road and another neighbor has a lovely patch in her backyard, but I have never been able to find them in a nursery.    Maybe next year I will remember to ask if I can dig some up.  It’s another invasive species I wish would invade my back yard.    

Siberian Squill

Blue Hydrangeas are always lovely, but how many bags of aluminum sulfate have I bought trying to get them to go true blue.    I’ve had some some success with this bush near the side arbor, but only because the neighbor’s overhanging cedars make the ground naturally acidic.   Last year it was covered with blooms, this year there isn’t a single one and yet all the other bushes have plenty.   How do they decide which one is going to take a vacation?

hydrangeas

Last week I dumped some more AlSo4 on the rest, hoping all the forecast rain would wash it magically into the soil, and had some success.   At least they weren’t all lilac.   

blue hydrangeas

hydrangeas

blue hydrangeas

I had some luck with forget-me-nots this year, which a fellow gardener shared, somehow it hurts less when things don’t survive if they are free.    Of the donated bunches I planted last spring, one came up at the front of the house, and two small patches on the side bed.   This year I transplanted some more, hoping they will become invasive.   They reseed themselves once past blooming.

forget me nots blue

My Heavenly Blue morning glories are the good old dependables, except one year when they didn’t come up at all.    They are hardy souls and thrive on neglect once they get started, growing a foot a day in late summer.  I blogged about them here – link – A Glorious September Morning.

Morning Glory with bee

Blue Morning Glories

Blue Morning Glories

This year I planted them in front of two recycled trellises, hoping they will be more contained so I don’t have to spend three hours tearing them off the neighbor’s fences in the fall.   

Morning Glorious

Morning Glorious

I’m planning on checking out a blue clematis the next time I visit a nursery, but it must be blooming, so there are no surprises like the one I planted last fall which turned out a dark purple not the vibrant Jackmani I was expecting.    All future flowers must show their true colors before they are purchased!   

A few years ago a local garden tour brochure described one of the entries as the Blue Garden.    I was so excited to see it – and so disappointed to find there were no blue flowers at all, except blue planters, painted rocks and bits of blue ceramic garden kitsch.   I have a limited tolerance for most garden kitsch, no cutesy signs,  rusty iron figures or painted trolls are allowed on my castle grounds.    However I would like a cobalt blue garden cat to preside over my garden like Linda discovered at Walking Writing Wit and Whimsy.   It would provide the blue color I desire, a dose of whimsy and it wouldn’t need watering.   Forget the blue flowers, better to get a cat!  

Have I missed any blue flowers?  What is your favorite blue flower?

 

Pioneer Village

Victorian Tea China        Last month I blogged about a Victorian tea party I attended on the grounds of a local museum.    If you are a history lover, please join me for part two of the tour,  a visit to yesteryear.   

Moore museum collage

While the Victorian cottage is one of the original buildings on the museum site, there are many others.   Most have been moved to the site, including a one room schoolhouse, a small church and a log cabin from the days of the early settlers, as well as a local lighthouse.           

The 1919 church with the original pipe organ in the corner.

 

The one room schoolhouse.

schoolhouse

At the risk of sounding like someone from Little House on the Prairie, I seldom admit I once attended a one room schoolhouse.   It was located less than half a mile down the road from our farm, within walking distance even for a first grader, and was the same school my dad and all his ancestors had attended.   In 1963 the government closed all the remaining rural schools, and our parents drove us into town to the Catholic school until the bus system was started a few years later.  

What do I remember from my year and a half there?   Not much, as I was only six.   The big wood burning stove, so hot you could cook hot dogs wrapped in tin foil on top for lunch, schoolhouse

games of baseball for all ages at recess, getting the strap once (just a little tap on our hands) for talking in class and being made to stand in the corner with my cousin – much more humiliating.  schoolhouseThe teacher was always yelling and in a bad mood – can you imagine trying to teach 40 kids of all ages.   It may sound archaic, but I suppose it would be similar to home schooling now, with different age appropriate lessons.    As there were only three of us in grade one, myself, my cousin and an unkempt boy whose family no one knew, we did not get much attention, but I must have absorbed something from listening to her teach the older grades, as when we were given tests at the new school I passed with 92%.  (They thought we were country hicks who would have to be held back a year).   My new grade two teacher was pleasantly surprised and told my parents I was smart, a moment I remember to this day.   I always had a friendly rivalry with the boy sitting in front of me over who would get top honors, sometimes it was him, sometimes me, and as I went on to graduate from the University of Toronto, it didn’t to me any harm, although I admit some kids who needed extra attention were not as lucky.    

Compare this slate with the tablets of today.   I vaguely remember the sound of the school bell being rung.  

schoolhouse

At the one room schoolhouse the grade ones were let out half an hour early, and my cousin, who lived next door, and I would dawdle along, catching tadpoles in the ditches, playing in the snowbanks and making up fairy stories, the road being lined with beautiful trees, (channeling Anne of Green Gables here), and arrive home the same time as my siblings.    It seems I remember more than I had thought.   

Here is a picture of the class of 1934, with the school in the background appearing larger than I remember. 

schoolhouse dad

This is a log cabin from 1874, not a replica but an actual cabin moved to the site to preserve a part of history. 

cabin

My great-grandparents John and Ellen were married in 1870 and I try to imagine my Irish ancestors living in such a small drafty house during their early years on the farm.  The old white farmhouse I grew up in had two parts, the initial smaller dwelling and a larger addition with bedrooms upstairs to accommodate their growing family of nine children. 

This picture of an old stove certainly puts my complaints about the ongoing delays in my kitchen reno into perspective.   What my ancestors would have given for such modern conveniences as a stove you could turn on with the touch of a button.

cabin

Not too keen on the sleeping arrangements, a loft accessed by very steep stairs.    I remember my dad saying some of his uncles slept upstairs in the granary when it was new, which probably looked like this.  I imagine it was freezing in the winter, hence the quilts. 

cabin

Open concept floor plans were popular back then too!   We have an antique farm table dating from 1870, longer than this one.  

cabin

While most farms had large vegetable gardens, including rhubarb, and were mainly self-sufficient,

cabin

there were times you simply had to go into town for a few provisions at the general store,  

general store

and perhaps a new hat.

general store hats

The model train room, which boasts three large train sets, is always a hit with the guys.  

model train

 As well as the individual buildings, there is a large agricultural building full of old farm implements such as this cutter/sleigh.    We had one just like it and my dad sometimes took it for a spin behind the Clydesdales.

cutter sleigh

There is also a large exhibition hall, with a marine room and different display rooms and lots of historical archives.   It does seem strange that my Barbie/Skipper carry case has now achieved vintage status.   

vintage toys

I remember playing with this doll house too. 

vintage doll house

Several volunteers were setting up the loom for a display of weaving the day of our visit, a time consuming process.   There was no fast fashion back then.  

loom

And of course, I always enjoy looking at old medical exhibits, such as this infirmary,

infirmary

and pharmacy.   

pharmacy

The tools of my trade

Perhaps somewhere among those antique bottles is a clue for my (long neglected) murder mystery?    Agatha Christie used the knowledge acquired during her days as an apothecary apprentice when writing her books.   

When I think back to the changes in my profession over the past one hundred years – the invention of penicillin and antibiotics, vaccines, insulin – these are discoveries which saved lives.   In my student days pharmacy labels were prepared on typewriters, not as ancient as this one as ours were electric with correcto-tape.

typewriter

The last forty years of my career has seen the implementation of computers (a massive improvement for record keeping, drug information and drug interactions), clot-busters for preventing damage in heart attack and stroke, palliative care measures for end of life, improved chemotherapy, drugs for depression and mental illness, biologicals for autoimmune diseases, and more new drugs on the market than you can possibly keep up with.   When I think of the future – targeted chemotherapy, gene therapy, cures for diseases never thought possible – it is amazing the amount of change that can happen over the course of a century. 

One Christmas my father was given one of those autobiography books to document your life for the grandchildren.   One of the questions was what are the most important changes you have seen in your life as compared to that of your grandparents.  

“When my grandparents settled here the land was all bush.   Roads were Indian trails.  People lived far apart.   They had to build houses, barns, roads, clear land.   Walking and horses were the main modes of travel.   Machinery was crude or non-existent.   Since then tractors and combines have been invented.  Hydro, paved roads, cars, radios, toasters, tvs, micowaves, computers.   Household goods and furnishings have changed such as washers and dryers, refrigerators and stoves, air conditioning in summer and furnaces in winter instead of a wood stove.    My mother churned butter and we had an ice box and a root cellar for vegetables, an outhouse, no running water in the house and having to heat water on the stove for a bath.    Materials are softer now than the scratchy clothes I wore as a child.  You have toys now that we never dreamed of.   The biggest changes are education and modern schools, and medicines and childhood diseases.”

My father was a child of the Depression, and one of changes he recalled was hydro.  The farm didn’t get hydro until after WW2, 1947, and all of a sudden you had lights in the barn and weren’t milking cows by lantern light, and you could stay up late with hydro in the house.   Worth thinking about  the next time I grumble because the power is out a few hours due to a storm.   As to the future, he commented on computers and the internet which was just starting up.   In the twenty years since he died we now have – Google, Youtube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Skype, Instagram, Twitter, Siri, Spotify, Netflix, IPods, IPads, GPS, digital cameras and clouds which are not rain clouds, although we have plenty of those too!   We are now testing cars that drive themselves, robots and artificial intelligence.   It feels like something out of the Jetsons –  that old 60’s cartoon about a futuristic world which was very predictive.   Does anyone else remember the theme music?

What will the future hold?    Maybe someday my old 1986 DOS computer, currently residing in the basement, with it’s orange blinking screen and large floppy disks, will be on display at the museum, resting behind the electronics exhibit, along with a  Sony Walkman and a ghetto-blaster.

As a history lover, I feel it is important to preserve our heritage, and I hope you have enjoyed this peek into the past.  

Postscript:   My mother painted the log cabin (two versions), but she placed it in winter time, as my ancestors arrived here in late October, not expecting snow.   Is the lighthouse a beacon to the new world?    You can tell I’ve been hanging around the art world too much…

Postscript:  This is my 100th post.  I never would have imagined that!

 

Strawberries, Snakes and Jane Austen

Strawberries

It’s strawberry season again, but this year seems to be a washout.  Blame it on the rain and the lack of sunny days.  The local berries are just coming in but they are so sour I’ve decided to wait a week hoping we’ll get some sunnier weather.   The kitchen reno is still ongoing so I can’t bake a shortcake or make jam anyway. 

strawberry plant

For every one sweet one ripening in my little garden plot, there are two that make your mouth pucker.   Maybe that’s why the birds are leaving them alone?  And here I thought those plastic snakes I bought at the dollar store were working!    

snakes

This was a tip from another blogger last summer, as plastic snakes are supposed to act as a deterrent to the birds.   Walmart was out of snakes, so these are cheaper versions from Dollarama and the clerk told me they work so well they can’t keep them in stock.   They look more like skinny worms to me – and neon pink and blue?    Those birds must be color blind, but upon further research it appears birds have better visual acuity than humans and can see UV light and a wider range of colors.   I suspect they must be waiting for sweeter fare too.  

So I’ll leave you with a link to better days and last year’s blog, Strawberry Fields Forever, plus some Jane Austen.  

Strawberry Field

Flower Power

The only positive thing about this cool rainy spring is that I haven’t had to water anything…not even once.   Mother Nature has done it for me.   In fact it’s rained so much this past month that most of the farmers haven’t even been able to get their crops planted, the latest season ever as many recall.  It’s sad to drive through the countryside and see all those bare soggy fields.  The crop insurance has been extended a few days, but things are looking desperate, and the forecast is more of the same.  Let’s send out a few prayers for our farmers – because if they don’t plant, we don’t eat.   

I’ve been preoccupied with the kitchen reno, but here’s a recap of the best of the spring flowers, even if I’ve been too busy and it’s been too rainy to enjoy them.  

The hyacinths at the corner always make going to the mailbox a treat. hyacinths

These little purple violets scattered in the grass are always so pretty, especially if you ignore the weeds!  violets in the grass

The nicest thing about this picture, also taken near the mailbox, is the shade, which means the trees are finally leafing out.   TulipsI love the play of the shadows on the lawn. tulips

The squirrels dug up most of my tulips, tulips for lunch

so I really appreciate it when someone else makes an effort.   It’s always a treat to drive down this street and see this yard,  tulipsand this one. hyacinths spring garden

Last year I transplanted a few blue forget-me-nots from my neighbour – they were so pretty I hope they are invasive.  forget me nots

My only purchase earlier in the spring was a pink and yellow dahlia and a couple of bright pink begonias, my first for both types of plants.   I didn’t know what to do with them, and read that the dahlia had to be dug up in the fall so I just stuck them in bigger pots.  dahlia The dahlia has flourished, with many buds again, but the begonias got too water-logged.  dahlia

The lilacs finally bloomed, mine pale and anemic, so I enjoyed the neighbors dark purple ones which hang over my fence.   The bloom-again lilac was a few weeks later, but I was disappointed in it’s smell.   We’ll see if it lives up to it’s name.  

The lily of the valley was plentiful too, another invasive gift from a  fellow gardener.  lily of the valley

My 50 cent bargain iris from last years horticultural sale bloomed for the first time, all of them coming up purple, except for one ugly burgundy one I gave away as it didn’t fit the color scheme.    iris The second year for this fuchsia clematis.  My new one, planted last fall, is not out yet but as it is a Jackmanii, it may be later. clematis

Sometimes I’m not sure if things will bloom the first year, but the half-price peonies planted last fall burst forth a pretty pink.    peonies

When I finally got to the nursery again, these were my selections.  I’ve never had a dipladenia plant before (smaller than a Mandevilla), but it looks very tropical. garden flowers on tableAnd one can never have enough lavender.garden flowers on table

 I may pick up some half-price geranium pots if I can find any, but even the nursery plants are struggling this year.   Many look so pathetic no one would want to take them home, which is just as well, as man does not live by flowers alone.   I planted lettuce in early May and all the rain has made me the Lettuce Queen of the neighborhood.   Let us be grateful for homegrown salads!lettuce

The Literary Salon – Help Me

Help Me BookThis month’s literary review is about one woman’s humorous but perfectly disastrous journey through the world of self-help books.   

The Publisher’s Blurb: 

Marianne Power was a self-help junkie. For years she lined her bookshelves with dog-eared copies of definitive guide after definitive guide on how to live your best life. Yet one day she woke up to find that the life she dreamed of and the life she was living were not miles but continents apart. So she set out to make a change. Or, actually, to make every change.

Marianne decided to finally find out if her elusive perfect life—the one without debt, anxiety, hangovers or Netflix marathons, the one where she healthily bounced around town with perfect teeth to meet the cashmere-sweater-wearing man of her dreams—lay in the pages of those books. So for a year she vowed to test a book a month, following its advice to the letter, taking the surest road she knew to a perfect Marianne.

As her year-long plan turned into a demented roller coaster where everything she knew was turned upside down, she found herself confronted with a different question: Self-help can change your life, but is it for the better?

About the Author:

Marianne Power is a successful British journalist and blogger.  She lives in London, England.    She was a freelance writer at the time the book was written.

My Goodreads Review:

Help Me: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out if Self-Help Really Can Change Your LifeHelp Me: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out if Self-Help Really Can Change Your Life by Marianne Power

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marianne Power’s year long journey sampling the shelves of the self-help section is an enormously entertaining look at the self-help genre.    We’ve all read self-help books, except maybe those with perfect lives and non-dysfunctional families.    But are they…well…helpful?    We tend to read them and then toss them aside, so how intriguing to read about someone who spent a year road testing them.   I absolutely loved this book – it was brilliantly written, hilariously funny and when she spirals out of control into the depths of despair, painfully honest.   Not many people would be so revealing about their less than perfect lives and perceived flaws.  Fortunately, Marianne had her mother, so full of wisdom and sensible advice, to help her through her year of applied psychology.   I can just hear her mother sighing, “Oh Marianne, you’re fine, just the way you are.”   And she is.   PS.  I hope now that she has become a successful author, she makes enough money to pay off all her debts and buy a house.    

Discussion: 

I noticed this book on the Just New Releases shelf at my local bookstore, because pursuing the self-help section is something I’m long past.   When you’re older, you realize that your life doesn’t need fixing…. you’re happy to be still living, reasonably healthy and mostly content.   If I do pick up a self-help book it’s more likely to be one about living with gratitude or something practical like how to get organized – Marie Kondo I may be revisiting you before I empty out those kitchen cupboards! 

The book was so engaging, I just could not put it down.    I enjoyed her witty style of writing.   The chapter on angels was LOL funny, but then I grew up Catholic so I could relate.    

‘My guardian angel was a daily companion who got me through exams and my ever-present fear that a burglar would break in while I slept.  Every night I’d pray to her, turn off the lights, and then when I’d be practicing playing dead, (I figured murderers wouldn’t kill me if I was already dead in my bed), I’d imagine her flying over me, her golden wings flittering, like Tinkerbell.   She was pretty.  As all angels should be.’       

While I was aware of some of the titles and authors she explored, I had only ever read Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (which surely must be from the 80’s), and The Secret, (during my Gospel according to Oprah phase).   I knew of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and that Tony Robbins was a popular life coach but the chapter on his workshop was just too weird and cult-like.    Of all the books she mentioned, the one that seemed to resonate the most with her was The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.    She had tried to read it once but her therapist recommended it might speak to her now, as sometimes it’s a case of the right book at the right time.   I might check that one out as I tend to be a worrier and have trouble staying in the present.   (Edited to add – sorry to say but I abandoned Mr. Tolle at the halfway point,  although I did find him helpful those nights I had insomnia mulling over all  those kitchen reno decisions – it was so boring that after a few pages I was out like a light). 

She did see a therapist, and that brings up another issue about self-help books – many people turn to them because they can’t afford a therapist or a life coach and there’s only so many times your friends and family can listen to you moaning about the same old problems.   Not everyone has a wise sage of a mother dispensing sound advice, so to obtain nuggets of wisdom and fresh points of view from the pages of a book cannot be dismissed.  Discussions about how to live a good and happy life have been with us since the days of the Greek philosophers.    But is too much introspection a bad thing?   The last chapter sums things up nicely.  

Some Quotes:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”  (Socrates)

“All this thinking about yourself is not good for you.”  (Marianne’s Mum – Chapter 11)

 Is there a particular self-help book which you have found helpful?

A Victorian Tea

Every May 24th weekend one of our local museums hosts their annual Victorian Tea, complete with freshly baked scones, white tablecloths and fine china.   

 The May 24th holiday weekend in Canada is called the Victoria Day weekend, because May 24 was Queen Victoria’s birthday.   Older people may remember the schoolyard rhyme children chanted years ago – “the twenty-fourth of May / Is the Queen’s birthday; / If they don’t give us a holiday / We’ll all run away!”    Now many people don’t even know who Queen Victoria was, unless you watch the PBS TV show Victoria, but she was Britain’s longest reining monarch, although Queen Elizabeth surpassed her in 2015.   She became Queen at age 18 and reined over the British Empire for 63 years, from 1937 until her death in 1901, a period known as the Victorian era.   She married her cousin Albert, had nine children and survived 20 different governments and 11 prime ministers.   After her death, her birthday was made a federal holiday, which was eventually was moved to the Monday preceding May 24 because of the weekend.   Queen Victoria most likely would have approved as weekends were an invention of the Victoria era.   This May 24th marks the 200th anniversary of her birth in 1819. 

Victorian Tea CottageNote: the Union Jack (Canada did not get it’s own Maple Leaf flag until 1965) and the old fashioned lilac bush (see Lilac Time)

The Victorian cottage is one of many buildings on the museum site, whose mandate is to display our past customs and heritage.   Many have been moved to the site, including a one room schoolhouse, a small church and a log cabin from the days of the early settlers, but the cottage was part of the original grounds.   It is a small one floor dwelling, built in 1893,  which was used by a Detroit woman as a summer home until her death, when it was donated to the museum.    She was known as the cookie lady, for her kindness in treating the neighborhood children to sugar cookies on the veranda when they were passing by. 

Victoria Tea Cottage

 It consists of a good sized dining room, living room and  kitchen and two very small bedrooms.   

Victorian Tea

Victorian Tea Cottage

The inside still looks as it did during the time she lived there, floral wallpaper, quilts and all.  

China cabinet Victorian Tea

The problem with the Victoria Day weekend is that the weather is usually guaranteed to be cold, rainy and miserable, which does not deter the campers, as it is considered the unofficial start to summer.   It seldom fails, whereas the following weekend, the US Memorial Day is often quite nice.  Still, not one to let a bit of rain (or even forty days of it like this spring), get in the way of a good tea spread, I decided to attend.   The last time I was there,  it was miraculously a warm and sunny day, with a pleasant breeze coming off the river, and we were able to take our tea outside on the veranda, as opposed to inside huddled beside the stove.     It was such a fine day we lingered over a second cup.  

Victorian Tea cottage

Although the day started out warm and sunny, the forecast was rain by 3pm, (I’m quite serious about the forty days of rain), so we set out early and decided to tour the buildings first (my friend had never been there), as we could always sit inside later if it started to pour.   On our walk about, I noticed a big patch of rhubarb growing beside the log cabin and took some pictures which I could have used in last week’s Rhubarb Lunar Cake blog.  (It’s never too late to edit!)  

Rhubarb

There’s something so civilized about a tea party and the clink of china tea cups, shades of Downton Abbey.    Each small table was laid with white tablecloths, cream and sugar sets, crystal butter dishes, jars of strawberry jam and a colorful mixture of china cups and plates. 

Victorian Teat

 The servers, young and old, were dressed in the costume of servants of the day, complete with frilly caps and white aprons.   The wind was so strong, their aprons were billowing in the breeze and the tablecloths were threatening to blow away, so we decided to sit inside. 

Victorian Tea

The only occupant of the veranda was a bird nesting high up in the rafters, most likely anticipating left over crumbs.   

Bird nesting

 Even inside, with the veranda doors open, it was so windy that our vase of flowers blew over soaking the tablecloth, which they removed and replaced with one even more exquisitely embroidered.   Our server, a charming young girl of about ten, inquired as to our choice of tea and scones – raisin, rhubarb, orange or apple cinnamon.   

Victorian Tea China

 Such a difficult decision, but my choice is always the rhubarb – it was divine, light and fluffy, and I am still trying to get the recipe, a carefully guarded secret.    Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of it before it was consumed!   Victorian Tea Cottage

They make up to 400 scones for the day, using the cottage’s own wood-fired stove.  (Note the mirror at the top – I guess that was to check your appearance after slaving over a hot stove all day?)    The cost of the tea was $7.50 with donations to the museum fund, ordinary admission being $5, a bargain for the price.    

Exactly at 3 pm as predicted, the skies opened up and rained on our lovely tea party.   Oh well, there’s always next year…I’m sure I’ll be back.  

Postscript:   Easy rhubarb scones, only for truly lazy cooks or those whose kitchens are about to be torn apart.   Mix this, Rhubarbwith this, Rhubarb scones

bake as directed,  Rhubarb sconesand you get this.  Rhubarb scones

Enjoy with a nice cup of tea in a china cup!

 

 

Rhubarb Lunar Coffee Cake

Rhubarb

“Mission Control to Earthlings:  Volunteers needed to test Lunar Cake recipe.  Only rhubarb lovers need apply.”       

Rhubarb is one of those foods you either love or hate.   I never liked rhubarb until a few years ago, but then my entire culinary experience consisted of a very tart rhubarb pie my mother would make for my dad once a year.   We had a big rhubarb patch on the farm, and no matter how much sugar she used in the pie, it was so sour no one else would eat it.   The rhubarb patch was rectangular in size and was beside a row of red currant bushes, with one black currant and one gooseberry bush at each end.   Behind it, the odd spike of asparagus would appear in the early spring, these all being old-fashioned farm staples from a century ago.  Today they would be considered heirloom varieties.   Once established, those old rhubarb patches would live forever.   I would sometimes volunteer to pick the red currants, as my dad would get his very own red current pie too.   In retrospect those pies must have been something his mother had made, nostalgic reminders of childhood.   We just thought they were sour.

Rhubarb patch (6)

Because the patch was so large and prolific and had been there for many years, people from town would stop by and ask if they could buy some.   If you are a rhubarb-lover you always know where a good patch is.   We would see the same people year after year, so one day we kids had the ingenious idea that we would have a roadside stand and sell bundles of rhubarb for 25 cents –  a country version of a lemonade stand. 

The rhubarb stand lasted all of one Sunday afternoon.  There was little traffic on our dusty country road and we soon grew bored laying on a blanket under the big tree out front.    On the rare occasion someone did stop, we would run to the house to get our parents, because we had been drilled in school not to talk to strangers, even those innocent souls out for a Sunday drive.   (Makes sense right, well in the mind of a child).   I think we grossed 75 cents.  

rhubarb and dogs (5)

Luckily we had our guard dogs to protect us and the rhubarb patch!

Now as an adult, count me in as a rhubarb fan too.   I especially love strawberry-rhubarb jam, rhubarb scones, and most recently a rhubarb coffee cake, which I’ve made the past few years from a recipe a dietitian friend gave me.    This Canadian recipe is called Lunar Rhubarb Cake and was developed by an editor of Canadian Living magazine back in the 1980’s.   It was so good, it went viral before viral even existed, with everyone saying they got it from their mother, aunt, neighbor.   (A recipe which promotes sharing like that, is one small step for food-kindness).    According to the food column in the Ottawa Citizen, the name lunar comes from the appearance of the top of the cake, similar to the crater-like surface of the moon.   

Rhubarb

CAKE INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup butter (softened)

1 1/2 cup white sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour    

1 Tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup sour cream (you can use 2% if you wish)

2 cups chopped rhubarb (you can increase by 1/2 cup more if you wish)

1 tbsp. floor  

LUNAR TOPPING:

1/4 cup butter (melted)

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon  (I omitted this, as in my opinion cinnamon goes with apple pie, not rhubarb)

DIRECTIONS:   

Chop the rhubarb and toss with 1 tbsp flour.   Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.   Mix 2 cups flour, soda and salt together.  (I buy the premixed flour with the baking soda and salt already in it which is more expensive but saves measuring).   Alternatively add the flour mixture and sour cream to the creamed mixture.   Add the rhubarb to the batter.    Pour into a buttered 9 X 13 inch cake pan.    Mix the topping ingredients and spread evenly over the top of the cake.   Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the top is pitted and crusty and a skewer comes out clean.    (It was 15 minutes longer for me, as my oven always cooks slow).    Recipe serves twelve hungry astronauts.

Some versions of this recipe call for buttermilk or sour milk instead of sour cream.   The batter will be quite thick with the sour cream.  Rhubarb

The cake keeps well in the fridge and was incredibly moist even after a week.  It transports well too, should you wish to take it to a party in another galaxy.  I think it would work well with blueberries when the season arrives, because as we all know rhubarb season is way too short!     

Maybe if my mother’s old-fashioned rhubarb pie had a crumble topping we might have eaten it too, as the sweetness balances out the tartness of the rhubarb, similar to the popular combination of strawberries and rhubarb.  Although I’m not a huge fan of strawberry-rhubarb pie, mostly because of the pastry, I have made a compote by stewing equal parts of rhubarb and strawberries on the stove and adding sugar to taste.    It’s nice mixed with vanilla yogurt or ice cream or just eaten plain. 

Strawberry-rhubarb compote

I’ve been envisioning my own rhubarb patch in the backyard, so I bought home this last week, although it’s been too cold to plant it.   Rhubarb plant

Although eaten as a fruit, rhubarb is actually a vegetable.   While the stalks may be edible, the leaves are toxic to humans and animals due to a high concentration of the poison, oxalic acid.   It is a perennial which likes cooler climates.   Plant in full sun, spacing 3 or 4 feet apart in a row.    Patience is required as you can’t harvest the first few years until established.   Newer varieties last about 15 years.   You can also divide existing rhubarb plants (root balls) in early spring, so I might be on the hunt for an old patch down a country lane….

Flash forward to 2025 – mission accomplished….hopefully? 

Rhubarb   

 

 

  

 

 

Lilac Time

Our old white farmhouse was surrounded by lilac bushes, which were often out in time for Mother’s Day, an occasion we always celebrated on the farm with a big family meal which my mother prepared.   Looking back, it seems strange we made her cook on Mother’s Day, but then my grandmother always came over, so she probably considered it her daughterly duty, and was happy having all her kids home, even if it did mean we ended up doing two hours of dishes by hand in the days before the dishwasher.   Out would come the lace tablecloth and the good china, and the long farm table, dating from 1870, would be extended to its maximum length, with later another set up in the kitchen for the ever-growing collection of grandchildren.   Of course, this was in the days before going out for brunch became popular, which we tried occasionally but which was often a disappointment, restaurants always being so busy that day, and the kids not being able to play outside, where the lawn and orchard would be sunny with dandelions.    

Those old farm lilacs were common in the countryside, with almost every farmhouse (which back then only came in two types, white clapboard or yellow brick), sporting a bush or two.   But ours were special, as they surrounded the house on three sides.   If it was a nice day with a south breeze and the windows open, the smell was heavenly.    The fragrance would waft in through the kitchen and living room windows, and also the upstairs bedrooms, as the bushes were quite tall.      

lilacs 1 (3)

We also picked some to bring inside and put in vases, something I still do to this day.   Even when I was older, I would always take a bouquet or two home, wrapped up in tinfoil, to put on the kitchen counter.  

lilacs

After my father passed away and my mother moved into town, my sister brought her two lilac bushes as a house warming present.   They lasted about fifteen years and then had to be cut down.   I planted two lilac bushes in the corner of my yard ten years ago, and they are now starting to look spindly.  One bush smells like what I remember, the other does not.    Of course, they are late this year, like everything else, so these are pictures from last year.

Lilacs

There are over 2000 varieties of lilacs, according to the International Lilac Society, in a wide range of colors, sizes and blooms.    Common lilacs generally prefer cold winters, well drained soil and full sun.   They are low maintenance and require little watering, once established – my kind of plant! 

lilacs

My neighbor has the darker purple kind, which does not smell nearly as nice, but then maybe I’m just being nostalgic.

lilacs

All lilacs are lovely, (except those four foot Korean Dwarfs, my Miss Kim never bloomed once), but it is the old-fashioned kind I love the most.   While the nursery sold me the variety known as “common lilac” they certainly don’t seem as hardy as those old farm lilacs, which must have been heirloom stock, as they were still going strong at eighty years plus.   (Some varieties only last 10 to 15 years.)   The “common lilac” has the largest and longest blooms and the most fragrant flowers and can grow up to twenty feet.   Ours would be pruned back once in awhile when they got too tall, (only prune immediately after the spring bloom), but they were always leafy and full, and the branches made excellent spears for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a backyard bonfire.  

Lilacs

I was told my grandmother planted them sometime in the 1920’s when she was newly married, after the house was raised, a basement put under it and a veranda added.   She also planted a row of white spirea bushes beside them, so it formed a little alcove.  lilacs 2 revised I would sometimes take a book or magazine there and sit and read, sheltered from the wind, stopping once in awhile just to breathe in the scent.   Here’s the view, looking out. 

lilacs on the farm 1 (2)

Someone needs to cut the grass!

After my mother moved, the house and the lilacs were bulldozed down to make room for  more acreage – a sad fate after so many years of providing beauty.   I wish I had thought to take a cutting or two, but I was busy with life and not much interested in gardening then.       

Last fall, I bought two Bloomerang Lilacs on sale, a variety new to me, but then I’m always behind on the latest gardening trends.   (Here’s a link to more info.)   They are similar to the popular Bloom Again Hydrangeas, and will rebloom in the summer and fall after a short rest.  They will only grow to 5 feet, making them more like a shrub than a tree.   Mine seem to have survived the winter nicely and even have buds on them.   I like the idea of having lilacs for three seasons, as a week or two in May seems much too short.   

Lilac Bloomerang

This would make a nice Mother’s Day gift!

If you’re ever in northern Michigan in early June, check out the famous Mackinac Island Lilac Festival (link added to bucket list).   No cars are allowed on the island, but you can cross on the ferry and stay at the Grand Hotel (where Somewhere in Time was filmed) and tour via bike or horse drawn carriage – now that really is going back in time.   Visiting this lilac paradise is a nice way to welcome summer after a cold and snowy winter.  Here are a few pictures from Victoria Magazine, May 2000 issue. 

Victoria Lilacs 1 (2)

Victoria Lilacs 4 (2)

Happy Mother’s Day!

Lilacs - AMc

Farm Lilacs