Life in the country

Location: Newcastle, Ontario, Canada

Born in Toronto, a degree in Psychology at Carleton in Ottawa, ran a photography business for 10 years from a studio in Parkdale, Toronto, apprenticed with a stained glass artist, and, and, and...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Needing a good kick start....

Late fall, 2005:

Unfortunately, this blog is fighting with current life. When I was entering posts in the winter I had the incentive of seeing and writing about the summer while deep in snow. But going the other way, where now we are in early summer, writing about fall and winter past is a bit of a losing battle. But not fair for the reader by a long shot.

I recognize another aspect in my extremely tardy writing. I do believe I like life here in Newcastle. The adjustment, for the most part, has been made, the quandary of whether we had made a huge mistake or not, is settled in a positive way and I am happy, we are happy. Starting this blog was contrary to my nature. To put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard and finish not one, but repeated posts was not in my repetoire of skills. Procrastination, doing things 90% and stopping is. And here, its seems, my true nature seems to be imposing itself. But I have benefited immensely from this blog, it was therapeutic, especially at the onset, and may continue to be so but on a lesser scale as this dare I say the traumatic change in our lives turns out to be a good thing for us. I battle with my innner nature of starting projects and then letting them gather dust. I have received such positive feedback and support from readers that it does make me want to rise out of my flaws and do this site some justice. But I may bring it to current time so that I am fed by the daily highs and lows when life is fresh and easy to recall.

Finnie's cart always was filled with some poor doll or animal pushed at great speeds across the floors, often to crash into the wall to gails of laughter.

But let's go back to the fall of 2005. Hardly nasty, we could not get summer to give its final bow and exit stage right. We ate strawberries in November and flowers bloomed late into October or later still. I took some pictures one frosty morning in November and a rose was still in bloom, albeit rimmed like a salted margarita, with frost. We were gently escorted by the sun and warmer temperatures to the snow ballroom of winter.

November sunflower and a margarita rose, while raspberries were dressed with frost and the color of swiss chard was breathtaking. It was also our first viewing of a male buck. We routinely saw a female and two grown offspring. Finnie outside in all her colors in November. And the stroller in our forest, Finnie asleep inside.


Waking one morning in late december to the grounds deep in snow did make us aware of change. It was lovely, quiet and deep. Think Robert Frost.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here,
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer,
To stop without a farmhouse near,
Between the woods and frozen lake,
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake,
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep,
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

-- Robert Frost

Having sucked so deeply of the past summer, we actually felt excited to experience winter and lots of snow was wonderfully different. It is so clean here, in Newcastle. In Toronto, it was mostly of the slushy, brown sugar variety and gone so quickly. Owen and Finnie learned that this snow, in our field could be sampled, and they concluded it sweet and delicious. The breadth of it across our wide expanse was so beautiful, unmarred and unbroken. I hesitated to step out in it and blemish its perfect skin. But step out we did, to make snow angels, well me, Owen and Finnie to hesitant to get wet, and toboggan through our "front forest" a smallish but long stand of trees, mostly linden and pines, some spruce that I had cleared a pathway through. We joked that it was for the city folk that visited that couldn't get up the energy to go to the forest proper but still wanted the feel of a forest.

We had our first Christmas, almost, in Newcastle, aside from a crucial few days in Kingston to see my family. But days on either side felt very festive and wintery.

Our christmas wreath, or one of them, while outside snow filled the crevices of our land. But in the morning we would play the little carousel at breakfast. It conveniently had four figures riding the horses, soon to be Me, Tim, Finnie and Owen. The kids would joyously call out themselves when the came around.

The snow was not to last. We had some nasty blows, actually welcomed and waited for but most of the winter was fairly green and dry. Temperatures rose and dived so a rink would have been a frustrating experience. I say that but laziness may, and only may, have played a role. That made winter something to kind of get through. It was dark in the mornings and afternoons. We couldn't get enticed outside as much as I hoped we'd be and we rode through it. It wasn't excessively hard, or brutal, especially after last winter, but it lacked allure.

I had brought in six large pots of Lemon Verbena and one of rosemary that all went in the basement under grow lights in the hopes of keeping them alive till next spring. Odd reality of being able to pick a fresh lemon verbena leaf and rub it between my fingers to get that fragrant lemon scent whilst in the dark and cold of the basement in January. They seemed to take to their temporary homes quite well, dropping some leaves but new ones also emerging. Odd.

We ate jam made from Rhubarb from the spring before and ate pesto from basil in the vegetable patch. Nice links to the warmer sister of winter. We lived and waited for what came next. More snow, hopefully, for Tim to take his new cross-country skies about the perimeter of the field and into the forest. He always came back from the handful of times he got the chance, more awake and invigorated than I had seen in a long while. Winter should be winter, summer should be summer, ok?

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Present day, so out of context with the nature of this blog but I've been stymied with updating this blog so maybe its ok to break from tradition.

I'm driving home tonite, from work, its raining and the road has been graded so there's the thrum, thrum of the tires over the uneven surface. I'm listening to CBC's Tapestry where a man with the nicest calmest voice is taking about a book tour he's on, I guess about meditation as he's talking about that. In fact he's trying to cajole all the listeners into a meditative state and he's doing one of the best jobs of it I've heard so far. I think its kind of funny, as I'm driving and need to kind of pay attention although he says driving can be a form of meditation. I get that. I like driving. Alot. But tonite, at this time, this man's wisdom is a backdrop to my thoughts of two of my dearest friends. Both are hurting and making my heart bleed with a desire to just fix their worlds.

Just before I left work I was talking on the phone to one of my oldest friends. One that will always be part of my soul. She is stretched so thin with her baby toe in a date a couple of years ago when her relationship with her husband soured and her fingertips in a date not too far in the future where courts will have a say in her life and how it continues and her children and her house and her dignity and her pennies and her everything. It is too much for her tonite. She has so much she has to do but she has no faith right now that everything will be ok. As much as I try to tell her what I TRULY, truly think will be the outcome she comes back as if I am a child not listening. Can't I get that her life is going to be levelled that she will have nothing? I don't. I do get how much she would like to stop this, stop finding the strength, stop fighting altogether and just sleep with her children tucked tightly beside her, for two years and a day.

While I am talking to her, trying to calm her so that she can sleep and I can not worry about her for the rest of the night, I see the light come on the phone. A message. After I get off the phone, having heard the pitch of my friend's voice not quite so feverish, I check the other message. This time from an equally dear and important friend. One who goes back a time as well. He is reeling in the pain of loss. He is so strong and brave but the wound is so fresh that he cannot keep the bits all neat inside him. He has heard a DVD that my husband Tim has put together of images I took at the wake of his mother. The most beautiful of music to accompany it, the Stabat Mater. To hear this music is to feel an epiphany everytime. Too gorgeous to be merely instruments beautifully played, there is also some internal instrument that is strummed perfectly. But although the images are of largely smiling people the mere fact that so many of them came to pay tribute makes this a tough watch for the family. I feel a wrench when I think of my friend and his family and what eloquent sadness they must be feeling.
Earlier, crossing the road to get to her, I had run the DVDs to his wife while she sits in traffic that is stalled, while it rained. No chance to talk just a transfer. She is most likely the absorber and echoer of his thoughts and feelings at this time. Careful to not intrude or need much but having to be wary of his needs. Really to just be there. Tricky position.

I can't help but also think of them at the hospital on two occasions for the births of their children. I can't help but think that to think of those most impossibly wonderful occurences must put some perspective on the sadness. I also think that you can't battle to reduce the sadness, merely walk through it and perhaps be consumed for a bit is all he can do. But it seems so well, achy, to have two of my friends going so intensely through two of the tougher of life's lessons. I cannot fix them, as I'd like, I cannot really even help much, perhaps like my friend's perceptive wife, only be there and hold fast to the world that spins them so tremendously roughly. I cannot but notice that, ironically, the intensity of their difficulties seems inextricably connected to a very vibrant awareness that they are living, unavoidably.

My heart goes out to them tonite. They will be ok, I believe, I hope.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

As the leaves turn...

September, 2005:

Trees in the forest with their true colors showing.

The demise of summer, the onset of autumn. This had previously been my least favorite season as I had felt summer only brush once or twice upon my arm. Perhaps because of choices I had not taken advantage of summer before, or was too busy with work to dive into the loveliness of the warmest season but in any case, fall always caught me by surprise, taking down the leaves and dropping the mercury before I had been consulted. So I resented fall not for what it brought but what it took away.

I have a friend that dives intensely into any season, through sports, and because she has ekked its worth out only looks forward to the next season and what changes in equipment it brings. I seemed to be always waiting for summer to start and didn't see that it was there before me.

But here, in Newcastle, where the outdoors are so much closer to us, we did not miss a bit of what summer brought us this year. That being so, when fall did slowly arrive, I was ready for it, a bit eager for the change, and only mourning the end of greeness and growth in a minor ache of a way. That was tempered though with the trepidition we had for the upcoming winter. The previous winter had knocked us flat with the enormity of change and upheaveal. We were tense and onguard for another tough cold season. But I also was aware of what the gentle spring and summer had given us. Kind of a layer of healing to protect us emotionally and affirm our decision to have moved here.

We had been given a true summer. Hot, dry and long so we could not mistake its appearance. Tracking the growth of plants had made me aware of its cycle and kept me daily connected to the minute changes that occured in the trajectory to fall. And autumn was docile, if not in denial. It did not feel like fall for the longest time and summer held on tenaciously in a seeming oblivion to its inevitable impermanence.

Toad on walk along Wilmot Creek.

Spider closeup.

To be quite honest, the spring is the wonderous season, where everyday was a gift of change, where something was that wasn't the day before, where the bright green was not properly in the color spectrum but a hue all its own, luminescent.
I am absolutely a person that needs constant reinforcement and rewards for my efforts. Sadly, I know this immaturity has a tight grip on me. I do hold out a hope that the gardening might teach me a patience and reward in merely doing rather that needing my efforts cause some visual change or occurence to be satisfied. Zen and the art of dirt and plants.
But summer does not reward in the same way as spring. There is the final fruits of labour in the form of grown, edible vegetables and bright flowers and there is the maturity of the gardens that look full and replete and more mature than their one summer of being. But I guess I like the magic of spring. Probably more grateful as it follows winter and the change from that season to spring is more dramatic than spring to summer. I also like to start projects and am not always good at the follow through so again, spring is the idea and start of a project and summer is the manifestation.

The flower garden at its maturity.

The vegetable garden ignoring the fact that summer was ending.

This fall was also the beginning of the real world for me. I went back to work part-time in mid-september. Hadn't been at work for a year and a half, from the birth of Finnie. Was desperately keen to be making some money as we were in short supply but very nervous about my abilities after that big a break. Owen was to begin Montessori and Finnie would be at a friend's house on days I worked. Those last two changes went beautifully with no major transition issues for the kids and I was so so so glad that this was positive for them.

Our Monarch on Owen's finger.

On Owen's first day of school I suggested he bring in a monarch chrysalis we had found in the field. We had watched it do nothing for what seemed to be weeks but as Owen's first day approached the chrysalis went from bright green to clear, showing the black of the butterfly inside. Lo and behold, the butterfly made its appearance early in the day and all the children got to see this amazing transformation. Owen suitably proud to have been the perveyor of this nature lesson was secured in his first day that this school could be fun and he belonged there. When I picked Owen up from the school the butterfly was drying its wings. We let it go in the school yard then regretting not bringing it back to our field, put it back in its container and brought it home with us. I hoped it would use our field in its migration path, although I know not how this process works. Unfortunately, after leaving it on a bush close to the house, the next day I found its half eaten beautiful body in the grass. Ah, cruel she is. Not even a single flight and when I think how far some of them fly, it seemed unfair.

I had had sleepless nights trying to resolve a good homecare situation for the kids when I returned to work. Most people I had talked to could take care of Finnie but weren't able to pick up Owen at the Montessori and therefore they were not going to be together in the later afternoon. One sleepless night I landed on the idea of someone I had recently gotten to know a bit and felt she had to be the answer. Turns out she was receptive to my idea that she take care of my kids and it could not have been a better arrangement. Now Owen and Finnie would be together in the afternoon and they also had her children to play with. My friend was completely and totally into taking care of all our two families children and was more gentle and patient a mom than I could ever be. I was given another gift in her decision to help me with my kids when I was at work.

So alot of changes but thankfully summer did not rush away. We could still put the kids in our chariot and bike ride down to the marina or, our favorite local spot, the Bondhead cemetery, where we would spend weekend days lolling on the grass or walking amongst the stones reading of people's lives.

Closeups of a face and a stone kiss.

Closeup of Tim's shoe while lolling.
Approaching the year mark, we were more ingrained in the community, more at ease with the change and enjoying some of the changes this move had brought.

Finnie finding humour in something.

Tim and I ripped down plaster and lathe and wood boards to insulate the kids' rooms before snowfall.

Our own butterfly in our field, with his caterpillar sister in the distance..

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Gingko trees and mother nature

Fallen apples from our sole tree.

August, 2005:
As if there are not enough things to take care of, I've gotten into root hormone. Not literally but keen to try it on any cutting I make. Heck, I'd even try it on a weed cutting to get a sense of magic. I mean, it doesn't seem right to take a grown plant, cut a bit off, stick it in this powder and voila, new roots. What would this do on a cut on me? If I cut off an arm by accident in the forest with the chainsaw should I have this by my side to kick start a baby arm in its place. Seems devilish, as if I signed somewhere I shouldn't have and can't remember. But heck, since I guess I've signed away my soul I might as well play.

So I do, with dogwood cuttings from the back pasture, boxwood cuttings from my little bushes, some plants still in their store pots a friend just bought and so on. It even goes with me when I travel. So when we packed up the kids and headed to Tim's Uncle David and Aunt Marilyn in Baie-D'Urfe, it was in my pocket.

Now, David and Marilyn are the real rooting hormone. People that make you feel always welcome, that seem to make you realize how much the simple process of living is the key to living life full. I get the sense that if one were ill at ease of unsettled that that would pass with some time at their place. Nothing direct from them, just them expanding to envelop you and then for them to continue as they were and for you to find yourself healing by doing the same.

Flowers from Marilyn's garden.

Garden at MacDonald campus.

But ill at ease were the flowers in Marilyn's garden...the flowers seemed to know I was up to no good as they moved away as best as they could when I approached. Her garden is wonderful, quintessential. Wraps around her backyard in kidney patches, lush layers that flucuate with color and smells.

From Phyllis' garden.

I was given permission to cull a few and did, cutting quickly then dipping in the hormone then putting the stem in already prepared tiny holes in fresh soil. A bit of a terrarium was made by taping plastic containers over the top to keep the moisture in. The main hope for success was some ginko shoots I found on a walk in MacDonald College, behind their house. I came across an old ginko tree and at its base, fairly flourished mounds of young ginkos. Now I don't know how they grow so it was dubious at best but what a thought, to be able to bring a gingko tree to Newcastle and have it successfully develop roots and survive on our land. I hoped but secretly knew I was asking even too much of this potent hormone. Hilary joined me in this attempt, taking hers back to Edmonton. What a coup that would be. But I think there was a lesson there. If it was so easy we couldn't possibly properly enjoy our efforts. They didn't succeed, although some hydrangea bush cuttings did, as well as some Black-eyed Susans and a few others. Mostly it was a fun experiment.

The gingko holds some extra meaning to me as Tim and I used the leaf's image on our wedding invitation, its two halves melding into the stem. Coincidentally, after we had decided to do this we bought a boatload of salmon, for our wedding dinner, from a friend's uncle's sushi restaurant called Gingko! It seems so prehistoric a tree, like cycads that to be close to one is very satisfying.

The gardens back home were past their peak but still lush and full. At this point I was adding anything I could so that next year I could extend the flower garden and take some of these late planted flowers and transplant them to the new garden.
I am not great at extrapolating a garden so that at any given time there are blooms. I needed to learn more from Marilyn and Tim's Aunt Phyllis about this. Both accomplished gardeners that quietly create rich places for the eyes and nose.

And finally, Owen turned four this month, to the sight of balloons being released into the sky to mark the event, with notes attached. No responses yet but he's only four. Maybe when he's an adult someone will come forward with a shriveled bit of rubber balloon and an old, hastily written note to remind him of this day.
Images from Owen's party.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Eating daisies...and ice cream.

Late July, early August, 2005: If Finnie's theory of trying everything once, also applied to vegetables, we would be encouraging this eating of Black-Eyed Susans. I suspect they are bitter to taste. Not so ice cream. Again, funny how you don't need to entice children to eat sweet things, even when they had never tasted them before. They just know that they want it, some extra sense that wears off with time to connect kids with sugar.

Everything was so verdant at this point, even a little tired, like a play that has gone into its fourth season. Still unmistakedly beautiful but mature is maybe what I'm looking for. I read what I'm writing and think I sound ungrateful. Really we had ekked so much out of this summer that having it still here was surprising to me. Usually there is so much to take me away from experiencing summer that I blink and the leaves are falling from the trees. So to notice its many nuances might be understandable with our daily scrutiny.

One morning in early August I did look closely, with a macro lens at things in the garden. Like undersea diving or snorkelling, looking closely gives one entrance to another level, another place co-existing with the world one normally rambles about in. Too easy to take neat pictures but so easy to forget your surroundings when you dive so deep that you bump a spider's hindquarters.

I was harvesting zucchini's the size of baseball bats, almost really. I know, they should be harvested earlier so they taste better but to a first time food gardener it was buckets of fun to bring in vegetable that we could theoretically eat that rivaled the kids in height. I was actually stressed by this part of gardening. We are not massive eaters of vegetables and I am not a superb cook so to see so much edible stuff looking at me as if to say, well, you grew me, what did you think was going to happen? was daunting. Zucchinis became zucchini bread, shaved and frozen zucchini for later, stuffed zucchini and I still was not on top of it. They laughed at me and grew faster to send me into a tizzy.

I swear, I would see a 6-inch zucchini before bed and the next morning its size could only be accounted for if it had eaten a rabbit that night. And we had beets. As said earlier I was planting the seeds for them going, I don't like beets why am I doing this, but like some unalterable idea of what a successful gardener grows, I planted them anyways. Confronted with my past actions in the form of dark red, purple beets I plucked a bunch, washed them, peeled them and cut them into bit-size pieces. Put in the oven with salt and butter they were delivered onto our astonished tongues as more than delicious. Couldn't stop eating them. So the learning year put another check beside my chart.

At the beginning of this post I alluded to Finnie's aversion to green healthy things. Owen too. But this is important. Give the kid a chance to go into a garden and pluck and eat snap peas and you would not be able to convince him that these were the same item that later lay on his plate, cooked. Environment and control are so vital to a child deciding to try something. And the novelty of being able to eat something outside that grew outside. So, next year I will teach them to cook them so they see the same item come to the plate. Maybe it will work, or I'll just leave them in the veggie patch during the day.

I won't do scarlet runner beans again. I mean the flowers are great and I had read some nifty ways to set up archways so that you could walk under the bean vines amongst the orange blossoms. But we didn't like the taste and I planted too many so in the end, they just stayed on the vine. Same with a white cucumber I tried. We couldn't get past the white color. Probably tasted the same as green ones but couldn't convince us they weren't dangerous. Yellow pear tomatoes were another thing Owen loved to eat outside so maybe one plant next year but more likely the plum tomato as I'm a bit squeamish around tomato innards and the plum is less gushy (technical term.)

I wouldn't plant both swiss chard and spinach again as we used them for virtually the same purposes. Hilary showed me how to slowly cook swiss chard in only the water left on the leaves after washing. Again, a great taste discovery.

Now my gardening time was being hampered by cooked or preparing or storing food. Nice feeling to be filling a freezer with stuff we'd grown. Like pesto. I NEVER got tired of plucking basil leaves, dropping them in a food processor with olive oil, garlic, almonds or walnuts, salt and zap instant incredible smell. This had to be balanced with the smell of the basil though. I loved it but Tim thought our cats had peed in the kitchen. Bet if he had harvested it it wouldn't have smelt bad to him. Connections to smells mean so much. Unknown origins can mislead the nostrils to some nasty assumptions.