Friday, April 28, 2006

blue skies, daffodils & hyenas

Here's the intriguing pathway leading from the drive to my daughter's front door.

Granddaughter Kaylee at the park last windy Tuesday.

Sunny days, blue skies, cool breezes...I can't believe how much I'm missing my own spaces to muck around in, my walks with my dogs. That sounds very ungrateful, actually, and I don't mean that at all. What I feel is like I'm spinning my wheels because this is my daughter's house and I can't very well start turning her garden upside down just because looking at the space gives me ideas, can I? So I'm restraining myself.

The gardens in the suburbs here are all green lawns and acid green maple flowers and shocking yellow forsythia in bloom. In a few gardens, daffodils and tulips are making a show.

My thoughts are wandering around in the questions of what memories are. As I try to recollect my childhood for the stories and essays I'm trying to write down about Ethiopia, I'm curious about what actually happened and what I was told happened. Did the hyena actually stay outside the walls of the compound or did it sneak inside? It did sound as if it was laughing its eerie laugh right outside my bedroom window! As an adult, I realize how protected my childhood was, and yet the extent to which my parents were actually not able to protect me -- as any parent realizes the real limits of parenting, trying to protect children from the "dangers" of the world and growing up, and preparing them for life and living.

In reading an article in an old O magazine, the question of avoiding the dangers of the world vs being willing to risk living has made me rethink this old problem. I think there is great potential in trying to write about my hyenas as a metaphor for my life.

Monday, April 24, 2006

still awol

I am still cooling my jets at my eldest daughter's home, trying to be patient about the time it's taking for my car to be repaired. At least, we now seem to have agreement that it is under warranty!

Son-in-law and I are suffering through a cold. I'm at the stage where I almost feel normal, but the voice is gone!

The biggest bonus to all this is the wonderful time I have had with my daughter and her family. But I do miss my own digs and dogs! Thank gods and goddesses for a housemate who I know is doing a great job looking after the beasties!

The other day, my granddaughter stayed home with me instead of going to her great-gramma's. We went to the park in a bitter wind. (She goes alternate days to junior kindergarten.)The day was sunny but so cold we came home after only a short time. But we had some adventures on the way. Here's the story we wrote about it together (minus the potty-mouth words that granddaughter was soooo tempted to include. At this stage in her life, potty-words send her into fits of giggles and she wants to include them everywhere!!)

"Kaylee went to the park today with Gramma. Teddy stayed home.
Kaylee found a bird's nest.
Kaylee found a ball.
Kaylee found a broken tennis ball.
Kaylee found a dandelion.
Kaylee found a red piece of glass.
Kaylee found a big dirty glove.
Kaylee found a little mitten .
Kaylee found a pink balloon in the mud.
Kaylee found a plastic grocery bag.
Kaylee saw a redwing blackbird.
Kaylee saw some feathers.
Kaylee can do yoga.
go go, granny! go go"

Saturday, April 22, 2006

running away

I have run away for a few days. No, actually, I have been at my eldest daughter's house due to its location, closer to my paying job. Since my car is still out of commission -- it will apparently need a whole new motor!! -- it has just been easier to negotiate the trip to the paying job by staying with my daughter. And thank-goodness for that!

It strikes me again how often there are benefits to be found around every seemingly horrible trial. My stay here has been a treat in many ways: lots of opportunities to chat with my daughter, my son-in-law and my granddaughter, playing in their urban garden (an interesting contrast to our rural garden out in Kawartha Lakes).

The stress must be getting to me however, despite all my efforts to stay positive in my outlook. I now have a cold. I was feverish most of last night, sore throat, achy... Ugh!

Monday, April 17, 2006

playing in the garden

Lovage, not looking at all like it could possibly grow to 4 of 5 feet in height, as it will.

Some cheery crocus.

Some more crocus with a hellebore in the background.

Why do we take pictures of crocus? I'm sure everybody has crocus. I take pictures of my crocus because they are in my garden and when I look out the window or walk about the gardens, they give me such a thrill! As I said to Mike the other day, I wonder if we can't breathe in colour, you see, because when I look at these first cheery blooms, I take a deep breath or two and I'm sure I inhale the colour, too. It has to be possible to inhale colour because it does seem to have such a refreshing effect on me!

Since returning from Vail, I seem to have spent my gardening-time raking up leaves. Masses of them collect in certain places, even though we raked and raked last fall. We are after all, surrounded by forests and the dry leaves do blow about. We will run over the remaining leaves on the lawn with the lawn mower, but we need to have it looked at first. It has been refusing to start.

This weekend, the weather has been wonderfully mild. I spent all day Saturday in slow motion however, reading, musing, muddling about. I also slept for several hours in the middle of the afternoon -- that and I'm far from being an early riser! No gardening at all. Imagine!!

But the last two days I've spent playing in the garden. Yesterday, I mostly tidied up. That in itself is very satisfying. The bluebells in the bed by the greenhouse got weeded out and after I teased out their roots from the oregano, I replanted that. That was my more back-breaking day.

Today I did some seeding. Better late than never? Ah well, I figure when I do get around to doing these things, it's plenty soon enough.

Let's see, I put in seeds of chervil, mild and spicy mesclun mixes, dill, cilantro, calendula, clary sage, tall telephone pole peas, early wonder beets, golden beets, nasturtium and baikal skullcap.

It worries me a little that the birds might dig up the peas...there are a lot of black birds about but I'm hoping they are preoccupied with the pile of sunflower hulls where the bird feeder was this winter past. There are also lots of nuts from the many trees around the place.

The asparagus I put in last year is coming up nicely, but we won't eat any of that yet. Gardeners are the eternal optimists -- content to wait for another year or two before enjoying that asparagus, and quite certain that if we don't, someone else will! The two types of garlic, 'Inchelium Red' and 'Music', that I planted last fall are both growing well. The lovage, lemon balm, French tarragon, tansy and absinthe are also showing some green, as are the clove pinks and several varieties of thyme, including woolly thyme, T. 'Bertram Anderson', T. 'Elfin', and T. 'Silver Posie'. The pink verbena, the Russian sage, the lavenders and a new clematis I put in last year look promising.

I tidied up the raspberry patch, hands full of prickles as a result. Anybody know of a way to get them out? Some of the prickles are so fine they're almost hair-like. Doing the dishes didn't help as I had hoped it would.

Here's a daring bit of craziness: I transplanted some hollyhocks (I know, bad idea because of the massive taproot!) Of the four, three were new seedlings that hadn't flowered yet last year, so I'm optimistic--ever optimistic.

I've given up trying to be the perfect gardener: I'm just me. I thoroughly enjoy myself, getting quite sore and stiff, barely remembering to drink, daydreaming along, absorbed in my tasks, finally noticing: hey, the sun is going down. Maybe the dogs and I should eat or something!

The lack of pesky insects makes gardening at this time of year a real joy. I did notice some solitary bees and bumblebees around the crocus blossoms, but that's about it. Hallelujah: no black flies, no mosquitoes yet....

There had been a lot of birds about all day but I had not paid them any attention. Mourning doves murmured to each other back and forth across the garden. A woodpecker hammered at something, tock-tock-tock, far off. Robins gurgled and sang. Flocks of blackbirds chirped, clucked squeeked and chittered. Then, a sudden bang-whoosh, the blackbirds went silent and a ragged flock whisked itself southward into some trees. Then a small falcon-like bird swooped off northward. It was a miss. Such life and death drama happening right beside me and I had my head buried in the dirt!!

It was warm enough this evening to eat my supper out on the deck. As I enjoyed my meal I noticed several juncos were about and the everpresent flocks of blackbirds. A pair of Canada geese honked and honked then took a short flight from the cornfield eastward to the pond. Then a pair of cranes, all awkward long legs, neck and wings, landed elegantly in the cornfield and promptly became invisible! How do they do that??

A long soak in a warm bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil is great for getting the kinks out at the end of the day.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

perils of seed catalogues, etc.

Linn, at the optimistic gardener writes beautifully about a lethal disorder that plagues many gardeners such as me. It has something to do with a tendency to order way too many seeds combined with forgetfullness....Those are the symptoms, anyhow. What to call this disorder or what it's cause might be? Idiopathic, no doubt, but lethal nevertheless, at least to many potentially beautiful seeds and seedlings. Ah, me!!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


It seems these days that customer service means: you should get x (someone else) to do it. I've just had three of the most frustrating days, trying to deal with Canadian Tire, Kia Roadside Assistance and Kia Customer Service.

This should not be a surprise to someone as cynical as me...I'm really trying to change that, actually, to have an attitude of optimism and positive thinking. On my spiritual path I have come to believe that what one's focus is, is what one attracts, like the woman who goes from abusive relationship to abusive relationship. She has complained about the abusive men in her past so much the universe is responding with: "You didn't like that last one? Wait 'till you see this one. He's really, really bad!!"

But I have to be honest, it's hard to be optimistic and positive, when so many people you hold near and dear shower you with all the negativity. Everybody seems to expect (and quickly tell you about everybody else they know who has the same negative thoughts, experiences and opinions) that dealings with corporations like the above will be full of frustrations and fine print, complications and hidden costs. And then, when you deal with people whose job it seems to be indeed to find ways not to deliver service you've been led to expect you should receive (advertised, warranties, etc.) and who are also very busy making sure you are shunted off to someone else as quickly as possible with the not-at-all- sincere "I'm sorry you feel that way" and "I'm sorry we cannot help you", you do start to wonder if customer service has been grossly misnamed.

All that aside, there are the few gems who keep my spirits up, Mike in particular, who assured me again today that I'll get through this too. Thank-you and hugs&kisses to Mike! Thanks for helping me stay sane!

In the meantime, I'm going off to read and study how to change my thinking to more positive vibes. Any props and suggestions you may have on how to do that are most welcome!!

last Friday in Vail


At Euroopan reunalla, I read a funny bit about the discomfort of a more reserved Finn in a foreign milieu where the use of terms of endearment like "darling" or "sweetheart" is commonly used in exchanges between virtual strangers, like between cashier and customer in a grocery store. I found myself laughing aloud in recognition of a fact of life that faces any traveller to foreign parts. I wish my abilities were up to translating Kafkakoski into English...

Since I arrived in Canada at a young age, I have to consider myself as essentially Canadian. My forays into the manners of Finland made me realize how un-Finnish I am. For example, many years ago, a cousin who came to meet me in Helsinki and accompany me to my uncle's house shook my hand, vs a hug which might have been exchanged between Canadian family members, even family that are pretty much strangers--first surprise. I had just arrived from France where kisses on the cheek are often a part of a greeting between people--second surprise. Then, he raced off for our bus, his long strides requiring that I practically run to keep up. Somehow, I didn't feel comfortable taking his arm, which I certainly would have done with almost any Canadian man--third surprise.

An unsmiling, solemn entertainer is not unusual in my memories of Finnish musical performers, for example. In contrast, we have the misunderstandings and prejudices toward, as I've been told, the laughing and singing ways of the Karelian refugees in the rest of Finland during and after the war years.

It is sad to have to comment on that. I would hope that these differing characteristics only be a source of amusement and interest vs divisive judgments on the various characteristics of diverse peoples. Yes, when I travel, I have often put my foot in it. But I hope that my sincere goodwill is understood despite my faux pas, as I try also to understand visitors and new-comers to Canada.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Molly strikes again

Remember how I started thinking that Molly had finally given up on porcupines? Well, I should have known better when I saw her barking at that dead one -- was it yesterday?

I went out for a quick walk after supper, at dusk today. We were nearly home when Molly took off, bulldozed her way through a lundy fence and started barking and worrying a critter in the field on the other side. I knew immediately that it was the porcupine I had been seeing on and off near the large maple and oak. And I knew immediately that Molly had gotten too close! The sun had set and the light was fading fast, but even in that poor light I could see that Molly had a faceful of quills.

I got about half of the smaller quills out on my own, but it took over an hour. Ann helped me with the rest. I held Molly down and Ann pulled out the larger quills that had begun to work themselves in quite deep into Molly's nose and upper lip -- always on her left side. With Ann's help, we had the rest out in about 10 minutes.

Molly went outside for a break afterwards, lying flat out on the gravel in the driveway. I was so sure she was utterly exhausted that I didn't even worry when I saw one of our landlords' vehicles go past. Ann, who was outside for a look at the moon, said Molly took off like a shot after the car. What ever are we going to do with her?

While the other two dogs are car chasers too, they seem to have a bit more awareness of things around them and give up the chase pretty quickly. Molly however is so single minded in the chase of one tire that she is unaware of the other wheel coming up behind her. I think the only solution for now is to keep her tied outside. Let's hope and pray the leash never breaks.

As to porcupines! Well, I see we might have another adventure or two yet. We must try to avoid the hours of dusk and dawn for our walks. That might help.

Monday, April 10, 2006

more Vail pictures

Our sunburned faces:

My nephew and sister

nephew's snowboarding bear

away in Vail

My brother, sister and nephew.

My nephew and my sister.

Me and my sister.

What a holiday! Such contrasting experiences! I was treated to a week of skiing in Vail, Colorado, with my sister, one of my nephews and one of my brothers. I returned home yesterday.

Being my first visit to Colorado, I was peering out the windows of planes, shuttle buses, and gondolas the whole time, trying to drink in the views. Of course, in the dark, on the trip from Denver up to Vail that first evening, it was hard to see anything but the blowing snow and the "icy road" warning signs in the mountains.

I am not a sophisticated traveler -- in case anybody ever had that mistaken impression of me! I get completely enraptured and thrilled by new landscapes. I'm hardly ever jaded, even by the routes I drive every day nearer home!

Even on the return journey in the wee hours of Saturday morning from Vail to Denver, with frost on the windows of the bus, while most of our ski group slept, I had my camera out hoping to snatch a quick photo of the country we passed: treed valleys, snow on the mountain peaks, rushing rivers, then lower down, colourful striated patterns in the cliff faces, strange rock formations, mine-tailings falling down a mountain side beneath the small dark mouth to a mine, trailer-parks perched between the highway and the wall of a mountain, houses atop dusty rocky soil on a scrap of flat land in narrow valleys.

Not able to capture a single photo, I did nevertheless enjoy glimpses of horses in a steep mountain pasture, a deer staring at the passing traffic, many prairie dogs standing at attention on top of the mounds of soil around their burrows and tumbling tumble-weed caught up in the snow-fences stretched alongside the highway. Looking back westward from Denver, through a shocking amount of smog, I could see the line of purple mountains with their snowy peaks running north and south, seemingly forever. Not much spring growth had started yet: some fresh acid-green on willow trees in town.

In Vail, spring bulbs were pushing upwards in the flower beds around the resorts and condos, but the blossoms had not opened out yet. The aspen trees on the upper slopes were bare, but lower down, dotted with their grey catkin-blooms. Dog-like prints of an occasional coyote meandered in the snow between the pine trees and bare aspens on the slopes. Robins down in Lionshead and Vail Village were a familiar sight, but magpies were a new amusement for me.

A little boy, not yet three, tortured his mother with his busy-ness on the gondola ride down-mountain one afternoon, licking the backs of the seats, restlessly squirming in and out of the space between the backs of the seats and the glass of the gondola, on mom's lap, off mom's lap... Not toilet-trained yet, his mom said they won't take him in ski-school.

Too bad. I sympathize with mom, remembering my own kids and granddaughter at the wonderful and terrible age of 2.

I ask the little boy: "Can you see the trucks down there?" (The highway becomes visible once the gondola is about 2/3 of the way down to Lionshead.)


"Can you see the skiers down there?"


"Can you see the flag down there?" (The stars and stripes, to be sure, are fluttering at the other end of the stone bridge over the river.)


"Is 'no' your favorite word?"

Mom: "Yes." Child: "No!"

Cold nights turned the slopes into scary icy stuff in the mornings. As the spring sun warmed the day, the lower slopes turned into sticky thick slush by noon. Late Wednesday and Thursday, snowstorms came through. Friday morning, 9 inches of amazing powder on the slopes finally made me into a convert to skiing! Visibility was not so good as the snow continued to blow around in the morning, but the sensation of gliding across that powder was almost like being weightless!

Having almost no prior skiing experience, I took lessons for the first three days. Still not without a lot of fear and also perhaps suffering a bit from altitude sickness, my legs turned to rubber more and more quickly on Thursday and Friday, cutting my skiing day shorter and shorter. Even getting into the hot-tub on Friday was no longer the soothing relief it had been after the first few days of skiing -- it just made me even more lightheaded.

It just has to be said that everywhere around Vail, the service was exceptional! It really didn't matter if it was the hungover homesick young man chatting with me on his way to work up at one of the restaurants in the morning, the young men manning the chairlifts, the guides or the ski instructors, they were all unfailingly helpful and kind. No matter how clumsy or fearful I was, everyone was encouraging. I even have a huge ugly bruize on my left hip from a very undignified fall at the bottom of a chair lift which still makes me laugh! To think of the attendant jumping to my aid and actually lifting me up off the ground onto my feet/skiis again! And, oh yes, I don't need to admit to anyone, do I, that I have a huge --and sadly, unrequited-- crush on both my ski instructors, Jan and Kelly?

On my return home yesterday afternoon, after lots of hugs and kisses for Misty and Molly, I set out on a long walk around our fields and woods. (Ann likes to walk down by the lake around Millionaire Row and had set out with Tasha before I got home, leaving my two dogs home -- Misty and Molly have to be leashed down there and behave very badly, making walking all three dogs there a nasty chore.)

It was amazing to hear the spring peepers in full froggy-chorus already down by the pond. We also scared up a pair of ducks, but I didn't get a proper look at them.

A pair of red-tailed hawks circled lazily overhead for a while near the pond today. I could hear some more ducks gossiping irritably in the watery edge of the pond that extends into the trees, but couldn't see them. Flocks of blackbirds keep up a noisy chatter in the trees around the house and barn. Robins still flutter off in small flocks, apparently not paired off yet to breed and nest.

On our walk today, Molly started barking at something in a cedar thicket. When I went to investigate, I found a dead porcupine, stiff, dead a while. Molly kept well back, a yard or more. Maybe at last, she has remembered to keep away from porcupines!