Chill November

     November is a dreary month with nothing much to recommend it.   Bare trees, gray skies, and chilly temperatures with nothing to look forward to except perhaps the Black Friday sales (we had our Canadian Thanksgiving in October) and the jingling of distant Christmas bells.   This year we had several pleasant weeks of t-shirt weather with record breaking temperatures, followed by sweater-weather perfect for yard-work cleanup, but now we’re deep in the chill of November. 

Unlike their human equivalents, the snowbirds, who are stuck here in the wintry north this year, deprived of their annual jaunts to Florida, Arizona, and all places warm, the Canadian geese are honking their way south.

Honk if you’re heading south….

This photo is courtesy of Linda, who recently blogged about a Canadian Goose Convention. It has always amazed me how the geese can elect a leader (hopefully without all the current drama), adopt a flight plan (ideally bi-partisan) and wing their way south in a perfect V formation to a better place in the sun.   But knowing how cantankerous geese can be, I doubt it’s all smooth sailing.   Anyone who has ever sought to capture geese in-flight has eventually given up, as by the time their loud honking announces their presence and you whip out the camera, they are long past.   We do have some geese who overwinter here in a park, where an industrial plant ejects warm waste water into a nearby creek, but they are annoying creatures who deposit green goop all over instead of winging their way south like good little geese should.     

This painting “Chill November” depicting the annual migration of the geese against a frosty background, was painted by Canadian artist, Tom Thomson, in 1916-17. 

Chill November – Tom Thomson, 1916-17, oil on canvas.

After WW1 had ended, a group of local women, who had been part of the Red Cross volunteers raising money for the war effort, decided to form a committee, known as the Women’s Conservation Art Association. Their aim was to purchase art for a public gallery they hoped to open someday in the city.  After four years of war and with the Spanish flu still raging, perhaps they dared to hope for a brighter future?

Their focus was on acquiring Canadian art, and at the forefront of this movement was the now iconic Group of Seven, (see Wikipedia link), an association of male landscape painters known for their scenes of the Canadian wilderness, especially Algonquin Park.  Tom Thomson (see Wikipedia link), although often included in this famous group, knew several of the members but died tragically before it was formed.    There is much mystery and speculation about his death during a fishing expedition in 1917. The official report was accidental drowning – his canoe found adrift and his body 8 days later with a large gash on his head – but was it an accident or murder, suicide or revenge – the tall tales abound.  He was only 39 and as often happens, the mystique surrounding his early and sudden death only added to the value of his work.       

“Chill November” was one of the art committees first acquisitions in 1920.   Last spring I attended a hundred anniversary exhibit of the painting, which was accompanied by artifacts surrounding it’s purchase and a preliminary sketch on loan from another gallery.

Wild Geese – preliminary sketch for Chill November – Tom Thomson 1916

The small (8X10) preliminary sketch Wild Geese, was painted “plein air” in the summer of 1916 in Algonquin Park and served as the model when he painted Chill November in his studio in Toronto the following winter as was his custom, for the wilderness trips were not suited to larger canvases.

I like to picture Tom lying in his canoe on a dark and chilly afternoon, studying that V formation, as the geese pass overhead – maybe having a sip of whiskey from his flask, for he was known to have a drink or two…

Chill November, is a large piece at 34 X 40 inches. This is not the best shot unfortunately, as the lighting was soft in the gallery with the spotlights making it too dim for picture taking. The painting itself was sacred of course, as anything of artistic merit is, but as a history lover, what I liked most about the exhibit was the historical documentation of the purchase.

Here’s a copy of some of the correspondence, as Dr. James McCallum, a Toronto ophthalmologist and early patron of the Group of Seven, tries to steer the art committee, towards this particular piece.     

At that time, $600 was a fair bit of money to spend on one painting, but they did, and here is the cash ledger book recording the purchase, and incidentally not a bad return on their investment with today’s current value at one million plus.   

There was lots of other historical information on display including a booklet documenting how it was loaned out over the years, for it was a well traveled painting, plus information about the artists life.

He displayed no early artistic talent – his painting evolved from his job as a graphic designer and his love of the great outdoors. From 1913 on he spend his summers working as a fishing guide in Algonquin Park, and once a fire ranger, sketching on the side, occasionally sponsored by Dr. McCallum who owned a cottage on Georgian Bay. Predominately known as a landscape painter, he was well into his 30’s before he sold his first painting (1913) and in his short career produced 400 oil sketches on wood panels and 50 larger oil canvases. Known for expressing self-doubt, he would sometimes give away his sketches if someone admired them – one was recently unearthed in someone’s basement and sold for half a million. A turning point in his career came in 1914, when the National Gallery of Canada began to acquire his paintings, a recognition unheard of for an unknown artist. His love of color and broad brush strokes remind me of Van Gogh, although his subject matter was the wilderness – trees, skies and rivers.

Dr. McCallum’s history of first meeting the Painter of the North

He does look like a lumberjack in that picture, but he cleaned up well.

His most famous painting, The Jack Pine, an iconic image of the Canadian wilderness, resides in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. (Wikipedia link)

Jack Pine – Tom Thomson 1917

The women’s art committee continued to raise money and bought several other Group of Seven paintings, which along with Chill November, were part of the 25 pieces they donated to the city library in 1956 when they disbanded.  I remember going to visit the art room atop the main library branch, and being underwhelmed.   All the good stuff was stored in vaults for security reasons.

In 2012 the city finally got it’s own art gallery, to the tune of 9 million dollars worth of fund raising.  It was a case of either having a proper temperature/humidity-controlled environment or getting rid of all the art.  Much public complaining ensued about wasting tax payers money, especially when they renovated an old heritage building downtown, but with the aid of government funding and corporate donations plus a large benefactor after whom the gallery was named, they met their goal, a hundred years late. (They now number 1253 pieces in their permanent collection, many through private donations). There was a lot less complaining after the Beaverbrook Masterworks exhibit came through in 2015 (a major coup for a small gallery) and the public got to view the famous 13 foot high Salvador Dali painting, “Santiago El Grande.” – truly an awesome sight. Even those who haven’t had much exposure to art, can learn to like it, myself included.  

I had little interest in the art world until my mother started painting (age 87) and exhibiting (age 90), and even now I sometimes find it to be a strange and foreign land. (When I was in school you were either an “artsy-type” or a “science nerd”, now known as a “STEMi” but never both, now most colleges want a well-rounded individual). If someone had told me decades ago that I would be hanging around the fringes of the art world in my retirement I wouldn’t have believed them. I’m still puzzled about why one painting is worth so much, while another, much nicer, is not. Art tends to be subjective, while science deals in reality. Abstract painting seems to be very popular, but is the genre I struggle the most to appreciate and understand, as well as art installations which may be thought-provoking but sometimes just seem too weird. A trip to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York in my younger years, left me baffled over the display of a solitary three-dimensional fence post, similar to the weather-beaten ones on my parents farm. I recall taking a picture of it for my dad.  

So that brings us to the question – what place does art and culture have in lifting our spirits in troubled times, for 2020 has definitely been a year of gloom and doom.   If you don’t have art, music, books, movies, or whatever form of culture you happen to enjoy, aren’t the days all just the same – work, eat, sleep, repeat, with nothing to look forward to and nothing to soothe your soul. (Books are my preferred form, but lately while walking, I have Moonlight Sonata on endless repeat. It seems the perfect soundtrack for these gloomy November days).

What possessed those women one hundred years ago to spend their left-over funds on art?  They were war-weary, and pandemic-weary. Certainly, there were more worthwhile and practical causes to spent the money on, with returning soldiers unable to support themselves and the Spanish flu leaving many families without incomes.  Or did they feel the world needed some culture instead, a glimpse of hope for a brighter future?  Maybe they felt buying a piece of beauty was the better purchase, something to lighten their days and to last for always.  

Here is a letter documenting the turnout to view the paintings in 1920, (hopefully they wore masks).

The Library building was crowded and hundreds of people came to see the paintings….

Even if you’re of the opinion that Chill November is a rather gloomy picture, you have to admire it’s very Canadianness.  It’s the way the country was, a land full of wilderness….and geese on the wing!

What will be remembered of us, a hundred years from now?   Time will tell…..in the meantime – bundle up.  It’s chilly out there!  

#Maple Leaf Montage – Wordless Wednesday

Let your photo(s) tell your story. Autumn went out in a blaze of glory.

Autumn Blaze maple tree
Yellow maple
Fiery red
Orange crush
Yellow sunshine
The inspiration behind….
The painting……Autumn Trees
A magic carpet ride
A colorful montage
All the leaves are down…..
Crunch crunch on my daily walk…..
The glory days have passed us by…
A preview of what is to come….

#The Story of Pie – Wordless Wednesday

Let your photo(s) tell your story.

The Source – a trip to the apple orchard to buy six different kinds…because everyone has their favorite….
There’s nothing like a ripe juicy apple picked right off the tree…
Northern spies are the best for pies…
Perfect for peeling, my kitchen place mats wipe clean…
Time to bring out the plaid pie plate…
The end result, warm out of the oven….
The last piece, minus a bite…..
Even better with ice cream…..
The inspiration behind the painting…
Bushel of Apples
Jane Austen was right – two hundred years later!

The Last of the Pinks

I don’t bother with fall decorating outdoors as my pink Knockout roses (see link) are still going strong, and pink and orange (as in pumpkins etc) are not the best color combination in my opinion. It may be odd to see roses in October, but Knockouts are repeat bloomers and they’re usually in their 3rd bloom cycle in September with roses appearing right up until mid-November if we have mild weather. Although obviously not as abundant as in June, they do well considering that I have long given up all pretense of fertilizing and watering.

Fall is late here in my part of Ontario with no frosts so far and the trees just catching fire. The temperature today was 50 F (10 C) with another nice week ahead, with a few days in the 60’s, although there is already snow out on the prairies. While I would love to prune them now as I do my other roses, the timing is key, and so I wait and then curse in the spring and sometimes in December too as pink does not go well with Christmas decorations either! By then they are definitely the worse for wear especially when the rest of the yard has been tidied up but it’s much too cold too tackle any outdoor work. One year it snowed while they were still blooming, and that was a very strange sight.

More than a dusting of snow…

I’m presently busy with the art world, with mom’s exhibit opening next week and writing time scarce, so I thought I’d post a few pictures of them, in their final days of fall glory.

They often look scraggly this time of year, shooting off in all directions, but are almost the same height as the deck.

I took these photos on the sheltered side of the house as the colors are more vibrant in the shade.

The bushes at the front are fuller but more blowzy, the wind having knocked many of the petals off.

Photo taken Oct 20
By the garden gate – photo taken Oct 20.

I have other pinks in the fall – the odd hydrangea, a leftover dinner-plate hibiscus, but they are usually finished by the end of September.

Pink phlox

My phlox was especially lovely this year.

Unknown species but pretty in pink…

This flower in the side yard belongs to my neighbor, but I’m not sure what it is?

Photo taken Oct 20

The pale pink climbing roses on the front trellis are repeat bloomers too, so I don’t cut them back until they are finished.

The last rose of summer…
Burning bush blushing…

A definite sign of fall, this burning bush looks almost pink in the shade.

And that’s it – the last of the pinks until next year!

The Last of the Pinks – painting by Joni’s mother

#Fall Colors – Wordless Wednesday

Let your photo(s) tell your story. Not all the fall colors are on the trees.

A visit to an apple orchard…
A bin outside the grocery store….
My neighbor’s peppers….wouldn’t you like to be a pepper too!
Admiring the nursery stock while buying bulbs
A burning bush catching some afternoon rays…
Ivy creeping along the back fence…
Sumac on my daily walk…
Pumpkin spice and everything nice…
Cider House rules…because an autumn day calls for cider and donuts!

The Harvestfest Supper

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

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

The Venue:    

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

Harvest Moon  Harvestfest

Harvest Moon courtesy of the Weather Network.

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

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

Harvestfest Decorations

The Presentation:

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

Harvestfest Table

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

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

Harvestfest table

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

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

Scarecrows

The hungry mob…

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

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

The Happy Hour

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

wasps

Uninvited guests…

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

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

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

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

Harvestfest Buns on Table

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

Finally, the menu.

Harvestfest menu

 The Appetizer 

Harvestfest Salad

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

The Main Course

Harvestfest Dinner Plate

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

The Meat

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

Harvestfest Pork Loin

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

Tender Chicken Breast with a Bacon Portabello Cream Sauce.

Harvestfest Chicken

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

The Sides

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Pave with Parmesan Cheese 

Harvestfest Potatos

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

Potato Pave Harvestfest

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

The Vegetables:

 

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

Harvestfest Plate

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

The Dessert

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

Harvestfest Pie and coffee

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

Harvestfest Pie

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

Plan B – B for Backup Dessert

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

After Dinner Speeches

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

Harvestfest Moon  Harvest Moon

sorry for the tree in the way…

and then introduced the band. 

Harvestfest Band

The Music  

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

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

The Backup Meal 

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

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

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

 

   

 

Plein Air Painting

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

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

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

Monet

Impression, Sunrise – Monet

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

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

Haystacks - Monet

Haystacks Series – End of Summer – Monet

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

Luncheon of the Boating Party - Renoir

The Luncheon of the Boating Party – Renoir

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

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

The Jack Pine - Tom Thomson

The Jack Pine – Tom Thomson

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

Germain Park Garden

While not Monet’s famous garden,

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

Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies – Monet

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

Germain Park Garden

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

Zen Garden

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

Zen Garden

I wander around the flower beds admiring the fall colors, 

fall flowers Germain Park

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

Plein Air Painting

Fall Flowers - mums

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

Plein Air Painting still learning the tools of the trade.

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

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

Plein Air Painting - lunch

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

Plein Air Painting

 And also grateful for that thermos of hot coffee.  

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

white squirrel

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

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

Fall flowers - Germain park

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

A Colorful End to Summer

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

Crayola crayons

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

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

green tomatoes

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

purple clematis

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

Sunflowers

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

Ripening tomatoes.   (Red Hot Salsa)   

Red tomatoes

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

Pink flowers

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

Autumn bouquet

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

seagull and clouds

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

Sailboat

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

beach towel

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

Sunset over the Lake - AMc

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

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

seagull

apples

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

Harvestfest Pie and coffee

 

Bronte Country

Heathcliff is dead……again.    This is the third time I have tried to grow heather, but alas, it was not meant to be.   I have resigned myself to the fact that you can not grow heather in North America, there is a reason it is only to be found in abundance on the windswept moors of the UK.    Here is a photo of  Heathcliff (the-Plant-formerly-known-as-Heather), from last June, all healthy and blooming and alive.  

Heather  And here is a picture of him in September at his funeral.    

Heather

 I arranged a few red maple leaves around his skeletal remains, for a more poetic look, otherwise he might have been mistaken for a stringy birds nest which had fallen to the ground.    I had planted him in the same kind of poor rocky soil I imagined on the moors, and basically neglected him for the rest of the summer.   Heather likes full sun, (see care sheet), but the days were cloudy and melancholy and he took up drinking and drowned his roots in sorrow, (kind of like Branwell).    I must console myself though, that while we were not meant to be, he died young at the end of the rainiest season ever.   It was nothing personal, he just did not like our Canadian soil or climate.     

Heather

While doing some postmortem research, I discovered too late that heather likes well-drained acidic soil, and mine is clay and clumpy, so once again I had been lured in by a pot of pretty flowers.   I had thought they were more hardy souls (like lavender), who would grow anywhere.   Apparently there are many different types, and this  Better Homes and Gardens article says anyone can grow heather and heaths……well perhaps not the truly heartbroken gardener like myself who may never fully recover.         

Heather 

I have occasionally seen heather for sale in nurseries here in early spring, sometimes with pinkish flowers.   One July I bought some half-dead half-price specimens from the bargain bin.   I knew when I bought them they were probably beyond CPR, but they were only a dollar.   I planted them one week and dug them up the next.   My other futile attempt involved a specimen which the nursery clerk told me was the only heather they stocked.   It lived one short season, spread out a bit, produced 2 or 3 purplish blooms, then died off never to be seen again.   I knew it was not real heather because the foliage was too soft.    A friend who used to visit Scotland regularly, brought me back a piece of heather once as a souvenir – lucky for him the plant police did not catch him as smuggling plants is generally against the law.   I was surprised by how coarse it was.    I had expected from the pictures that it would be softer to the touch.

The moors must be beautiful in the summer and early fall, with all that heather blooming and the sky a bright blue, very Wuthering Heightish.  

Bronte Heather

Before Heathcliff, my only exposure to heather was from the window of an  tour bus in a downpour.   I was in Ireland in September where it rained every day – so why did my poor heather not survive?    The Irish heather (which was near a bog where they were cutting turf), was not nearly as stunning as the English heather in Downton Abby, the last episode of Season Five where they pack up the whole household and go grouse hunting at a castle on the moors and Mary and Edith meet their future husbands.    (You see, heather does inspire romance).   That was a beautifully filmed scene and inspired my mother to paint a picture called The Moors, which she included in her last art exhibit, (but then she has been known to paint shipwrecks from Poldark too).

The Moors - AMc

The Moors

 Victoria magazine is one of my favorite sources for inspiration, and in this past September issue they had a feature on Exploring the Bronte Legacy and the village of Haworth where they lived.  (September is always the British issue and there was also a Susan Branch picnic party in the Lake District for any Beatrice Potter fans). 

Victoria Bronte

Here are some of the pages, including the famous heather.

Bronte

We have Emily to thank for the popularity of heather, as we will forever associate it with her descriptions of the moorland in Wuthering Heights, as this quote attests,  “I have fled my country and gone to the heather.”   Although I have never been to England, I hope some day to put those words into action, as a literary tour is definitely on my bucket list. 

No wonder the Bronte sisters wrote such wonderful books, having that lovely vista to gaze at during their daily constitutional on the moors.  (Although no matter the scenery, I find that after a particularly fruitful writing session, a little walk can be beneficial for mulling things over).

Below, the steep cobblestoned streets of the small village of Haworth.

Bronte

Here’s the dining room table where they wrote their works of art and paced and plotted how to find a publisher, and no doubt discussed what to do about Branwell. Bronte

 The magazine article mentioned the 2017 PBS movie, To Walk Invisible, the story of the Bronte’s, which I watched and was somewhat disappointed in, although it is certainly worthwhile for any Bronte fan.   In truth I found the movie as dark and dreary as the moors must be on an overcast winter’s day.  There did not seem to be much joy in that household, but maybe I am confusing their rather bleak existence with that of the moors.     

I thought Charlotte and Anne well-cast, Emily miscast, and Branwell just plain annoying.   The movie ends with them walking on the moors after Branwell’s death, so it is not as depressing as if they had ended it later after they had all died.   But then their story is not a happy one.   I wonder if they would have traded their fame for more happiness and a longer life.   

This year is the bicentenary of Emily’s birth in 1818.   Here is Emily’s small and cozy room with a wonderful window view, as befitting a genius at work.  

Bronte

Emily remains the most puzzling one, so reclusive, yet the creator of such a  stormy and passionate tale.   No doubt she drew inspiration from her beloved moors but perhaps it’s very wildness was a reaction to their isolated existence.   She had a lot of time to think and imagine.   Her novel was considered dark and disturbing and somewhat shocking at the time, while Charlotte’s more conservative Jane Eyre was the more popular.    In the movie there was a scene where Emily was talking about where she got the idea for Wuthering Heights, but she spoke so quickly I could not follow, and I have since tried to research it to no avail.  Although googling did reveal plenty of theories about Asperger’s syndrome, as it seems popular these days to slap anyone the least bit anti-social with that label (think Doc Marten).     There are plenty of books about Charlotte, (see postscript), but not so many about Emily or Anne (who I think of as the forgotten middle child).    After seeing disheveled, weak, whiny immature Branwell it seems unlikely he could have been the muse for such a strong character as Heathcliff.    (But would any sane woman want a Heathcliff in real life?  All that anger and rage and jealousy just creates a whole lot of drama and angst, and wasn’t he a bit too possessive?  Somewhat stalkerish?  Better to marry someone more stable and level-headed if you want a happy home life, but I suppose if a wild passionate affair is your aim, then Heathcliff is your man).    

The movie contained nothing new, if you have already read such bio’s before, including the usual dose of family dynamics.   The ending was well done, three bright suns who were expected to dim their literary lights and walk invisible, in order to prevent embarrassment for the male heir of whom much had been expected, but little produced.   As for the issue of addiction so rampant in our modern world, that too is an age old question.  Their clergyman father could not decide whether to give in and supply his feckless son with drinking/opium money or just say no – the parent’s universal dilemma, to be an enabler or an enforcer of tough love?    In the end, it didn’t matter anyway –  TB won out.   Tuberculosis caused by a drafty old parsonage and those windblown moors.   Unfortunately, he took his two sisters with him.    

I have to admit the part I found most disappointing in the movie was the cinematography of the moors.   They must have filmed the outdoor scenes in  winter for there was no heather to be seen, just a bleak and brown landscape and overcast skies.   Perhaps they didn’t  have a choice, or more likely they wanted that gloomy depressing atmosphere, for it all looked as dull and dreary as a November day.           

Now that we are in late November, the weather has grown chilly and darkness descends early, and tonight the winds are howling and there is sleet against the windowpane.   The perfect night to settle in by the fire with a cup of tea, and re-read Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte’s masterpiece.  Although, I noticed that her name is not even on the cover of my 1984 copy, one of those classic editions with the fancy gold edging that are hard to find anymore.    

Wuthering Heights

I must confess, it has been a long time since that high school book report, and I cannot recall much of the story, other than it was a sad tale with a layered multi-generational plot.   But I do remember the descriptive imagery of those famous windswept moors, and the tragic ending of Cathy and Heathcliff, two star-crossed lovers who were never meant to be, but who remain immortalized forever between a marble and gilt cover.        

Postscript:   Most likely Charlotte, Anne or Emily never dreamt at the time that their books would still be bestsellers over 150 years later.    I wonder how those classics would fit into the Best Seller Code, which I will be blogging about next week. 

Postscript:  A goodreads review of  Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart 

Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery HeartCharlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This latest 2016 biography of Charlotte Bronte is well worth the read, even if I do wonder why Charlotte always gets all the attention. I enjoyed it so much, I bought a bargain bin copy. A good choice for fans, both old and new.

Bronte Country - AMc

Bronte Country

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chestnut Wreath

fall tree

Autumn is very late this year – the trees are just starting their annual decorating.   I remember gazing out at this tree when I was in grade eight, as my desk was close to the window.   While the teacher would be droning on about some uninteresting subject, I would be rejoicing in the glorious fall colors.   We used to play soccer in the field after school, kicking the ball around under a canopy of orange and gold.   It is still standing, although the other trees are gone, made way for a parking lot.    I still get the pleasure of looking at it when I walk, I think of it as my tree, even though we are both a bit the worse for wear after forty plus years.   

Chestnut trees are also a fall favorite of mine.   My grandmother’s farm had chestnut trees in one of the fields and every Thanksgiving (Canadian, so mid-October), my little brother and I, brave but ready to run at the first sign of a big dumb cow, would gather them up and then use them to build fields for his barn set  – what fun we had lining them up as fences for his toy animals.  As a young girl who was horse-crazy, their glossy finish always reminded me of a chestnut mare or the sleek racehorses we would see at the fall fair.    We have two giant chestnut trees in front of our library so when you go inside to pick up your books, you’d better beware lest you be boinked on the head by a falling chestnut.    Last year one of the librarians displayed a chestnut wreath she had made on the checkout desk.  She emailed me the instructions, but I was too late, so this year I was prepared and gathered up several baskets after the first windstorm. 

chestnuts

 First I shellacked them with a coat of  acrylic varnish to maintain the shine, as they will dry out quickly.    I raided my mothers art cupboard and used a spray can, which was quick and easy but you might get a more even application by painting it on.   I did this a few days ahead of time to let it dry.  

acrylic finish

straw wreath

Next I took a ten inch straw wreath, (but any size would do, I started small to experiment, but hers was quite large and impressive), and wrapped it tightly with some nice decorating tape.   Make sure any loose ends are secured with straight pins, as you don’t want it unraveling after the glue is on. 

wreath supplies

Then using the trusty old glue gun, attach the chestnuts in any pattern you wish.  I must admit my first attempt was not perfect, as I have too much spacing between some of them.   When collecting it is better to find chestnuts of different sizes and some with flat bottoms for odd spaces.   The librarian had filled in the holes in between with Spanish moss, but after googling I found others have used small acorns to fill up the spaces.    I prefer mine having the pretty decorating tape showing through.   

chestnut wreath

It could be hung up with wire, but is fairly heavy so a table wreath with a candle in the middle is a nice option.   I decided to place mine on a wicker tray and added some bows in the corner and some fairy lights.  

chestnut wreath

You could use this for a centerpiece for American Thanksgiving, and then swap out the bows for something Christmasy.    These are not the kinds of chestnuts you roast on an open fire however, as these are horse chestnuts, which are toxic to humans and animals.   (The difference is in the shells, smoother vs spikier and the point). 

horse chestnuts

horse chestnuts

Total cost – around $10 – $4 for the straw wreath, $4 for the ribbon (with Michael’s coupon), glue sticks, chestnuts free for the taking.   All told it took me less than two hours to make, so this would be a nice idea for hosting a tea/craft afternoon.  

Since the weather is cooler now and more conductive to baking, I made Date Nut Loaf, using the recipe from my farm cooking bible. 

date nut loaf

This is a quick and nutritious tea bread – buy the bite sized dates to save time.

If you are interested in more fall decorating on the cheap, check out last years (unpublished) blog, Autumn Decor, for some dollar store finds. 

Book of the Day:

For more decorating ideas and recipes, see the Susan Branch book – Autumn from the Heart of the Home (published in 2004), for typical New England (Martha’s Vineyard) fare, or check out her website and sign up for her free monthly newsletters….they are always a cheerful read.  

Autumn from the Heart of the HomeAutumn from the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a big fan of anything Susan Branch, this book one of my favorites. I re-read it every year to get in the mood for the season, for the inspiration, the decorating tips and the yummy recipes.   Let the leaves fall….it’s time to get cozy.