The Lavender Blues

It’s been a bountiful year for lavender.   I don’t remember ever seeing so many buds on my plants before – the bees are certainly rejoicing!  

Lavender

Lavender is an easy-care perennial, sun loving but can tolerate some shade, does well in drought and poor soil – exactly my kind of plant.  I have about twelve bushes but admit the ones in the shady back yard,

roses and lavender

are not as lush as the ones in the sunny facing front.  Lavender

I’ve grown lavender for years as the fragrant smell has always appealed to me.   It’s inexpensive at $5 a pot, and once established, it’s beauty can last for years.   I usually plant English lavender as it is the more cold-hardy species.  My few attempts at growing French lavender were not successful as it did not survive overwintering here in our Canadian climate.   I also prefer the sweeter English lavender smell, whereas the French has a sharper Rosemary-like scent.   French lavender has a longer bloom time and a darker purple flower.  Someone brought me back some from Provence once and while it was nothing at all like mine, it would still be lovely to see someday. 

Lavender field in France

(Colors of France photo)

These photos from my garden show the progression of color with the season, from the palest shade early on, 

roses and lavender

Lavender

Lavender

gradually darkening to a more vibrant purple. 

Lavender

In certain lights it can take on a blue tone,

Lavender

but the softer light of early evening really makes the purple color pop.   

Lavender

Usually by the end of July, the buds are dried out but there are always a few spears still growing in September.  Cutting them back is supposed to encourage a second flowering – I’ve never tried this but might this year as it is so abundant.   While some people like to harvest early for best fragrance and dry their lavender bundles upside down, I prefer to enjoy the beauty of the plant and and strip the dried buds off later.      

Lavender in a Blue Pot

If you don’t have a garden, a pot of lavender is a nice alternative.  

Lavender

Lavender has long been known for it’s calming fragrance.   Add a few drops of lavender oil to the bath water after a stressful day for instant relaxation.   

Lavender Spray

Lavender Pillow Spray

For sleep-inducing properties, use a lavender spray or tuck a lavender sachet under your pillow.   I often give sachets away as presents and one year my cute little 5 yr old neighbor insisted on taking one home for her shift-worker dad.   Lavender can also be used in cooking, adding a subtle fragrance to baked goods like cakes and cookies.   While I’ve never baked with it, I used to  drink a brand of lavender flavored Earl Gray tea before I gave up caffeine. 

Earl gray Lavender tea

One year I tried to make my own lavender oil, with disastrous results.  There were two methods suggested – the first extracting the oil with oil required  steeping the leaves and flowers in a crock of olive oil and repeatedly pressing, straining and adding more buds every 24-48 hrs, repeating the process 6 to 8 times.  The second method, solvent distillation, which involved extracting the oil with alcohol to make a tincture, sounded much easier.  They recommended ethyl alcohol, but if you couldn’t find it, vodka was acceptable (but not rubbing alcohol).   For a non-drinker like me this required a trip to the liquor store where I was surprised to find even the smallest bottle of vodka cost $20.   The lavender buds were soaked in the alcohol in a jar, in a process called maceration, meaning steep or rest, an old pharmaceutical term I remember from my school days, as in the extraction of a drug by allowing it to stand in contact with a solvent.   The jar was placed in a dark cupboard, with instructions to agitate it once a day.   I missed a week while I was away unexpectedly, but it just looked darker and murkier.  After several weeks (2-6 wks), you drained the liquid off by straining it through a cheesecloth filter and froze it in a suitable container.  The lavender oil was supposed to congeal on top of the alcohol, which does not freeze, and could then be scraped off and placed in a glass bottle.   I ended up with about 3 ml (half a teaspoon), of a strong lavender-like but somewhat foul smelling brown liquid, not enough to fill even half my dropper bottle, which eventually got thrown out during one of my cleaning binges.   My advice – drink the vodka instead and just buy a good quality essential oil.   Some products have fake lavender scents, but I’ve found this to be one of the better brands, and at $12 it’s reasonably priced.       

Lavender oil Now

Storing a lavender spray in the fridge to spritz on a hot summer day is a refreshing trick. 

Lavender mist spray

The calming scent of lavender soap can help you pause and relax while performing that all important frequent hand-washing activity. 

Lavender Soap

 It’s nice to scent your drawers with a lavender sachet.   Wedding favor bags from the party store are great for this purpose.  

Lavender sachets

Lavender sachets

I admit the lavender bushes aren’t quite as pretty when the season is over and they’re brown and dried out, but the smell is still lovely, especially after a summer rain.

Lavender harvest

My lavender is almost ready harvest.   With such a bumper crop this year I may have to hire help!   

Book of the Day:

The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected BlossomingThe Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming by Jeannie Ralston

Visiting a lavender farm has long been on my bucket list, preferably one in Provence but even here would do.  For those who dream of living such an idyllic life, a memoir of the reality by a New York city writer who moved to Texas with her National Geographic photographer husband to start a lavender farm.   I read this when it was first published in 2008 when I was interested in making scented products.   As I recall, they lasted about ten years, including time to get the plants established, before they gave up and moved to Mexico.   (Rating 3/5 stars.)        

Song of the Day:  (and Source of Blog Title)  Lavender’s Blue                      

This song is stuck in my brain after watching a Disney movie last week (2015 Kenneth Branagh version).   I always liked Lily James as Rose in Downton Abbey and she did a credible job  as Cinderella.   Okay, I wasn’t really watching it, but it was on TV while I was editing photos.   An old English nursery rhyme/folk song from the 17th century, it seems faintly familiar.

And last but not least, one of my mother’s paintings:

Pears & Lavender -AMc-Aug/17

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The French Touch

Paris Victoria and Journal

We cannot always have Paris, but we can all have a touch of Paris in our homes.   I was surprised when I looked around my humble maison, (which more resembles a B&B), how much of a French influence I have in my surroundings, but they are small touches, understated, like the French themselves, where less is more.    The French way of life is one of order, elegance, proper routine and a good dose of perfectionism – of course this might just be a myth perpetuated by smug French women!    (The Victoria magazine cover Oct 2000 is just so French – I collect the back issues and the annual French edition is always inspiring.  This years French edition is in May/June).

Victoria Magazine French Edition

Victoria – May/June 2018 French Edition

A favorite flea market sign from Winners, in my front hallway.  (Note B&B wallpaper as I have not finished renovating the house yet, although the outside is done, but I don’t mind the wallpaper so it may have to stay).Paris Flea Market

My first and only attempt at stenciling hangs in the dining room, (don’t look too close, you really have to glue those stencils on well). Paris Sign

Who doesn’t love lavender.   I have lavender everywhere, in bowls, sachets, vases, soap….

 

Paris hatboxes and journals….

 

A special Renoir journal for jotting down blog ideas.

 

A silk scarf a friend brought me back from Paris many years ago, in my favorite color blue. Paris

And of course no aspiring Parisian would be complete without a navy striped boat neck sweater, (and some red lipstick).Paris striped shirt

HappyHauteHome, (check out her elegant blog on the modern French country home) posted about a French provincial home for sale, which looks like my dream house, but until I win the lottery, I will just have to be content with my petite accents.    To be French is an attitude, a state of mind, oui?

What blog would be complete without une recommandation de livre.

The French way of life is a call to pay attention, an appreciation of all matters large and small, including food, which is to be savored without guilt or worry.   I can smell those fresh baguettes already.    French Women Don’t Get Fat.

French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for PleasureFrench Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable read, this book certainly provided a different way of looking at eating, for pleasure and without guilt about calories or cholesterol. I think I’ll go for a long walk to the boulangerie….like the French do!

After reading so much about their chocolat chaud, I decided to try making my own.   I added four squares of Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate (but any good dark chocolate would do), to a bit of water and microwaved it well until it melted into a nice chocolatey gooey mess, then a few teaspoons of sugar and the milk, and microwaved it again until hot.  Um….like drinking a chocolate bar.   Maybe best to add  only add two squares……  

My only venture into French cooking was a failed attempt at beef bourguignon which I ruined by using a cheap red burgundy, despite the advice of the LCBO clerk that I should trade up to a better vintage.  She was adamant, I did not listen.   I hadn’t shopped at the liquor store for years (other than an annual trek at Christmas to buy rum for the pudding), and was horrified by the wine prices, when I only needed a cup and a half?    The best that could be said for it was that it was edible….if you were very hungry and very poor like Hemingway in his early days.

One day while shopping at a very expensive bakery ($55 for a birthday cake – let them eat Betty Crocker!), I spied a lovely tray of pastel macarons, and even though they were $2.50 per cookie I decided to splurge – totally tasteless.    If this is what Proust was going on about with his French madeleines, I think I’ll pass. The best part of the cookie by far was the turquoise color.   It’s good to try new things sometimes, if only to find out what you don’t like.   I do like crepes though, my favorite tea shop used to offer an excellent chicken and mushroom crepe until they closed due to a rent increase.   On my farewell visit I asked the owner for the recipe, and she said just make a basic roux, so I did, but my roux was thick and pasty from too much floor.   Julia Child I am not, so I will need to try again as I do miss the tea shop.  We have no need to fear the cream filled calories of France however, as gardening season will soon be here and now that spring has sprung, we can walk it off.     Next week we will be in Italy, along the coast, bring sunscreen.   Until then enjoy the spring flowers.

Muguet du bois,

Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley

 

 

 

 

Counting Sheep

Tick tock, it’s three o’clock…..do you know where your mind is?  It’s not asleep, and you’re tired of sheep…..

The Sheep Dog - AMc - 2017

The Sheep Dog – 2017

Anyone who has ever encountered the insomnia monster at some point in their stress-filled lives please raise their weary heads.    You know those dark nights of the soul where all the angst in your little corner of the world converges on your poor befuddled brain in an agony of what-ifs, and you even start to worry about worrying.

Okay Book

Worry Journal

After a few nights of this nonsense, you’re waaaaay overtired, much too tired to sleep and then you start to worry about never ever sleeping again, and how are you going to function the next day on two hours sleep when it’s already three o’clock and all you’ve done is toss and turn for hours, and it’s already starting to get light just as you nod off and the alarm clock shrieks from across the room, and you rise feeling like something the cat dragged in.    Whoever invented daylight savings time should be fired.    It’s bad enough that it’s getting light earlier in the morning, and the returning birds are twittering up a storm because they’re all excited about spring, and I’m excited too but I just don’t want to spring forward.   As a former shift-worker, I’m not the best sleeper anyway.  My circadian rhythm has been irreversibly damaged by years of flipping between days and evenings, but that lost extra hour seems to throw my delicate system all out of balance.   Like many people I sleep better in the winter, when we can all hibernate like the bears in their caves which are warm and dark, no black out curtains needed.   Now that I’m retired sleep isn’t as crucial as it used to be, as I don’t have to get up in the morning, or if I do I don’t have to be as alert as when I was working, but the world does not function on a 2-10 am sleep schedule.   The world is full of morning people.   I used to be one of them.  So it was with great interest that I read The Sleep Solution by W.Chris Winter.    What would a blog be without a good book, so here’s some bibliotherapy for insomniacs.

The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix ItThe Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It by W. Chris Winter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good read for anyone who struggles with insomnia or shift work. The author is a neurologist and sleep specialist physician. Not sure that I learned anything new, other than we sleep more than we think we do, even during the worst night of insomnia, because sleep is an inborn instinct, which is nice to know when you are trying to muddle through the next day. Nobody dies from lack of sleep, (unless I suppose you are in a car accident), and you always do manage to get through the day. It was an interesting perspective, and certainly lessens the worry associated with getting to sleep, which can be a vicious cycle. It’s a bit scientific but written in a humorous style which makes a dry subject entertaining ie it did not put me to sleep…..although I might have had a short nap on the swing…

The key advice I got out of this book is, a) your body craves sleep, it is a basic human drive, so we do sleep more than we think we do even on a night when we swear we didn’t sleep a wink, and b) we always function the next day.   This is a simple concept, but somehow reassuring, and helps to break the worry cycle which is the worst part of insomnia, the worrying about not sleeping.  Take the worry away, and you can sleep like a baby, well not quite, but it’s a refreshing idea.   Of course, the book delves into the usual sleep hygiene routines, exercise, limiting caffeine, nothing new there, as well as chapters on sleep apnea, shift work etc.  The author says no one ever died from insomnia, but that’s where I disagree.   Studies show that accident rates are always higher in the week after the daylight savings shift, as are heart attacks.   They have also shown a link between insomnia and obesity, diabetes, dementia, addiction and cancer.  The WHO has now labelled shift work as a probable human carcinogen.   Lack of sleep decreases natural killer cell levels by 75% according to some reports.  (It’s enough to make you get that worry journal out!)  Unfortunately, we have become a sleep-deprived society.

Meditation can be a useful tool to promote sleep.  I once took a six week meditation class and while I did not have any luck meditating (lack of practice), a more experienced classmate told me she could nod off after five minutes.   I was impressed, but she had been meditating for years.   What did work for me was a meditation tape.   The best part of the class was the melodious voice of the instructor, so I bought her CD, and listen to the insomnia meditation (13 minutes), if I’m having trouble winding down.   Or if I wake up too early (those pesky birds), I will put it on again with my ear buds, and get a couple more hours of deep restful sleep.  (Why is the most restful sleep always towards dawn?)   The tape is almost like a form of hypnosis, her soporific voice counting to ten and then back down again is so relaxing, and there is music in the background, so it’s like a lullaby for grownups.    One day in class she suggested we chose a special song so our bodies would learn to associate that song with relaxation.     She played, Shenandoah by James Galway, and I left feeling like a jellyfish.   I never listen to that song in the car however, driving while a jellyfish would not be a good idea.

Speaking of music, the song Count Your Blessings from White Christmas, is a lovely visual aid to falling asleep, when you’re tired of those stupid sheep…..seriously, has counting sheep ever worked for anyone?     (I apologize for the Bing Crosby again but I grew up on his music).   Old Bing just might have been the inspiration for those gratitude journals which were all the rage.   I tried a gratitude journal once but found it only made me worry about losing my blessings, but it may work for some (more optimistic) people.

If you struggle with insomnia it’s good to have a bedtime routine, so your body knows it’s time for sleep.    A cup of tea and a snack is a relaxing way to unwind.   Bedtime snack

TV and electronic devices can be overstimulating, so turn them off an hour before bed, especially those bright blue light cell phones, which I’m sure will some day be found to cause eye damage.   Low lighting is restful.   Reading is good, unless it’s a suspense novel you can’t put it down.   I jot down a few lines in my five year diary as a summary of the day.   Reading a few pages of an inspirational book can also be a reflective way to end the day.   

There’s something about the smell of lavender that is so calming.  Spraying the room with lavender pillow spray can become a sleep routine association and this can work well if you travel and are staying in hotels rooms with stale air.

Lavender Spray
Lavender Pillow Spray

A more portable option is putting a lavender sachet under the pillow for sweet dreams.

Lavender sachets

Lavender sachets

Lavender also reminds me of France, a country that has an appreciation for all things lovely, and that is known for taking long lunches mid-day, with plenty of expresso after you are fed and rested.   Try and get lots of sleep, because we’ll be spending April in Paris.   Unfortunately, jet lag is a whole other story….

Quote of the Day:

“Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”
(William Shakespeare, Macbeth)

What are your secrets for getting to sleep on those dark nights of the soul?

Lavender and Pears

Pears & Lavender -AMc-Aug/17

Lavender & Pears – Aug 2017

         There were pear trees on the homeplace and every year my father would make pear marmalade.   At least he said he made it, but in reality I think he just collected the pears and helped my mother peel them.   This was during the late seventies when I was away at school so there was no witness to this event but as in his later years when he used to vacuum the dog hair from the carpet and called himself a regular Molly Maid, I suspect it was a bit of an exaggeration.   For a decade or so, my mother made peach jam, pear marmalade and three fruit marmalade.  I remember taking jars of it to university in the fall and having it for breakfast in my dorm if I didn’t go down to the dining hall.   I didn’t go home very often as it was too far away, but one year when I had been in hospital with a kidney stone they brought me a fresh supply – it was like a taste of summer in February, and much better than the store-bought stuff.    I don’t know the difference between jam and marmalade and preserves, but it was all boiled down on the stove.

Pear Marmalade

Pear Marmalade

I made it the old-fashioned way last year with two $4 baskets of pears and it was good, but having learned my lesson from the peach jamfest, I decided to stick to the freezer jam recipe from Certo Light – less work and still good flavour.   Only it wasn’t good flavour.  There wasn’t a recipe for pear jam on the package insert so I used the one for peaches.  The pears were overripe, (I had gotten distracted by preparing for a tea party for the Group of Seven Art Ladies) so basically the whole mixture turned to mush.   I added too much pectin, and not enough sugar, so it came out very gel-like.   Basically, it was edible, but barely.  I stuck in the freezer anyway, but it will probably end up being thrown out.   I much preferred last years, but it was ore time consuming.  

       You can buy quite lovely jam at the farmer’s market for $5 a jar.   The stand owner told me it is made from the juice and pectin, as they make it year round and you can’t get fresh fruit in the winter, but the taste is quite good.   I buy the crabapple jelly, but there are all kinds of exotic flavours like gooseberry jam (we had an old gooseberry bush too, which would produce one or two berries a year), Saskatoon jam, red current jelly, plum jam etc.   When I was at the museum craft sale last Sunday there were several tables selling homemade jams and jellies – hey let someone else do the work!   I think that’s why my mother quit canning. 

Lavender harvest  

The lavender harvest is in…. sixteen small mesh (party store) bags.  I placed them on the harvest tea table as party favours but they are quite lovely for lingerie drawers, or tucked under a pillow for sweet dreams. 

 

Song of The Day:  A Partridge in a Pear Tree – click here for music link                                                      – Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters

Sorry, but it’s the only song I could come up – may I be forgiven for reminding people that it’s only 3 months until Christmas.