Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.


February 2016

H is for Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

I’m pretty sure this hawk knew I was taking this photo this morning. I’m glad he let me.

This bud’s for you


I was going to entitle my post, In an English Country Garden, but I gave that idea the boot. Garden writing can gush. It’s unrestrained, fulsome, lyrical, effusiveness can get pretty barfy. The photos don’t lie though. Visiting this 2.5 acre walled garden at Loseley Park in southern England is like thinking you have created a masterpiece in your yard (my Secret Garden) but realizing it’s only a poorly done paint-by-numbers…in acrylic.


The stark walls give no hint of what waits inside

The garden is divided into rooms: rose, flower, white, herb and organic vegetable garden. We timed our visit just right, by luck not good planning. Every single rose on every one of its 1,000 rose bushes was open. Stating fact here, not gushing.


The little shack you glimpse in the background is the Manor of Loseley built in the 16th century. It was bought by the Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex and has been in the More-Molyneux family for 500 years.


Phlomis Russelania (Turkish sage)

IMG_4846If it looks like the gardens were deserted, it’s because they pretty much were. We were at Loseley for a piano recital by British pianist Emilie Capulet and the garden was ours for an hour in the early evening sun, perfect for photography.


A bench in the white garden, scene of much wedding photography
Sense and Sensibility mini-series was filmed at Loseley Manor
The scent of the roses was heady…not being smarmy, again fact


This is the pub we stopped for a pint at on our way…The Crown Inn in Chiddingfold

IMG_4788…show, don’t gush…

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Here are a few more photos in slideshow format…some are of the grounds and manor house…

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If you go, Loseley Park is south of Guildford, 30 miles southwest of London. The grounds, garden, tearoom and shop are open between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays in the summer. The house opens for guided tours from June to August.

My favourite fellow-blogger, Tara Dillard, used some of my photos from this post to illustrate a key point about garden design. Here is a link to her blog using my photos.

Secret Garden…If I show you is it still secret?

IMG_2826A labour of love. Lots of labour…lots of love. The Handyman built me an English secret garden over the past five years. I can’t wait for spring so I’m jumping ahead a few months.

Early mornings in the secret garden is the best time for a coffee while watching the hummingbirds.

As the Okanagan is so hot and dry in summer, the best way to re-create England was to do so in a contained area that could have heaps of compost and good soil and be efficiently irrigated. The soil is very sandy here so this step was key.

Our driveway is steep and curves making this delivery a challenge

My ultimate garden is one where you can shove your hand into rich loamy soil up to your elbow. I’ve been working hard amending the soil every year to keep it that way.

IMG_5415Handyman can do pretty much anything with some rental equipment. The garden is located on what was a hill. We, well…he raised it even more and levelled it before installing cedar fencing around the perimeter.


He built this round gate in the garage in the winter and installed it the first spring we were here. I’ve toyed with painting it to emphasize the roundness but am still deciding. It’s awaiting a latch of some kind as well.

IMG_4410Stuff grows like Jack’s magic beanstalk with the good soil, proper irrigation and the protection from the wind. I’ve never seen anything like it. After moving from Calgary with its challenging gardening conditions its hard to have any discipline or order. I have a tendency to plant some of everything so it’s an editing work in progress.

Here’s just a few more photos for now. I’ll revisit the garden soon when the bulbs start blooming.

The back gate is also round. You enter and come out the other side in your superman costume. This is another one of the Handyman’s inventions and used a bicycle wheel.
A pond is hidden behind the screen usually smothered in sweet peas. It’s a mecca for birds in the dry summer as well as racoons and a skunk family. The fence keeps the deer out.
The main round gate from the interior of the garden. This photo was taken before the garden was mature.
Foxglove Alba started from seed in the greenhouse. I have a collection of various foxgloves, all ordered from English seed houses.
Brick patio. Ladies head planter came from England from the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Wish I had a few more.
The wind chime made with silverware is from a good friend. I’m in the midst of surrounding the patio with a low boxwood hedge.

“However many years she lived, Mary always felt that ‘she should never forget that first morning when her garden began to grow’.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.


Looking in on the garden from one of its “windows”
The kid-sized blue chair was a garage sale find


“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?” … “It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…” Frances Hodgson, The Secret Garden.

You catch a glimpse of the tree fort from the central “window”. The top cabin has a good view inside the garden. All the thyme edging was grown in my greenhouse.

IMG_2831“The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.

A Julia Child Throw Down or 10 reasons to tackle a 21-page recipe with four ingredients

Don’t be intimidated, make Julia proud

Julia Child was the rocket scientist equivalent in the cuisine world. Every ingredient, every step of every recipe was researched, tested, re-tested for, “those who like to cook and/or want to learn, as well as those who are experienced cooks, including professionals,” Julia said as she slaved for years on her cookbooks. “So we have to keep the dumb debutantes in mind, as all as those who know a lot…” (I land somewhere in the middle).


As you can see, I’m a bit of a Julia Child freak

Her biggest challenge was the French bread recipe that takes up 21 entire pages in Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume Two. My throw down to you is to give it a whirl. Here’s why:

IMG_85071.You need Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume Two if you don’t already have it in your cookbook collection. You can’t claim to be into cooking without it.


2. You need a peel. It’s handy for pizza too.

IMG_86673. Bricks are cheap.

4. Julia and her husband Paul spent more than a year to perfect a French bread recipe that could be duplicated at home with American ingredients.  The couple used 284 pounds of flour to develop the master bread recipe in countless experimental batches.

IMG_86815. French bread has these four ingredients: Flour, salt, yeast and water. Julia and Paul experimented with fresh and dried yeasts, various flour mixtures, rising times and trickiest of all, how to get moisture into the oven to simulate a French baker’s oven and to give it the right golden colour and crispness of French bread.

IMG_86926. With the help of Professor Raymond Calvel, the head of the state run École Professionnelle de Meunerie in Paris, the world’s leading authority on French bread, they cracked the code. A brick in a pan filled with steaming water coupled with a pre-heated clay (or pizza) stone to cook the bread on were the winning techniques. Lucky me, with my new wood-fired oven, I just steam it up with a spray bottle and pop my loaves onto the hearth and no longer need the brick trick.

IMG_86827. The directions in Mastering Vol. II are unbelievably detailed and include little sketches of exactly how to shape the loaves.

IMG_86868. Julia and Paul did all the hard work and loaf burning for us. See my post…Things I lost in the fire…so we don’t have to. If you follow the supremely clear and detailed directions your loaves will turn out…perfectly.

IMG_8693IMG_86409. You will get so cocky you might even make brioche.

10. What better way to honour Julia’s legacy than bringing out three, golden, fragrant, perfectly crusty loaves that are even better than boulangerie bread. You can do this even if you are a dumb debutant. Pretty good bragging rights re the 21-page recipe as well.

Crushed in Naramata

Hillside Winery

With bud break just around the corner in the Valley, here is a fast forward to the grape harvest on the Naramata Bench to remind us of the fruits of all the work beginning to happen in the vineyards.

(Reprinted with permission of The Calgary Herald, here is a story I wrote of my first harvest in the Okanagan.)

The Okanagan’s annual wine grape harvest requires spirit and stamina

By Elaine Davidson

Crush. It’s not just what they do to the grapes. Think about it: ideally, fresh fruit on the vine should be on its way to being a delightful alcoholic beverage all in the same day. This means working literally day and night, under lights, clad in rubber boots, wet, cold and stained purple.

IMG_6142At Township 7 Vineyards and Winery on B. C.’s Naramata Bench, assistant winemaker Stephanie Norton Minnick told me she only had about two days off last year between Oct. 4 and Nov. 7.

“Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I worked 42 hours, catching a few hours of sleep in my car,” she recalls.

IMG_2223She told me this after winemaker Bradley Cooper had hired me on as a part-time worker, but it might explain why he chose me just a few months before the grape harvest. He was clearly looking for help of any kind, and unfortunately the sort of burly guy with winery skills he was really looking for was making himself scarce.

Which is how, newly moved to Naramata from Calgary and surrounded by vineyards, I found myself marinating in my new carpe diem life in wine country.

IMG_2228Like many in the Okanagan, Township 7 is a relatively small winery (set up to produce about 7,000 cases a year) that uses every centimetre of space to make more wine (12,000 cases in 2008).

Crush is often a family affair…Winemaker Bradley Cooper calls in some extra hands


So how does crush work? First, tend the vineyard–seven acres of Merlot, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris vines –for a year.

When grapes are ready, meaning they have achieved the perfect level of Brix (sugars, acids and pH), it’s time to handpick them.

De-stemmers, crushers and presses are set up in the morning, put through their paces for hours and cleaned every night.

Whites are then pressed and cold-settled overnight and racked to take the clear juice off the top and the solids filtered out, while reds head into the fermenters, where they have to be punched down three times a day, using a long stainless steel tool capped with a round plate. (The grape skins are punched into the liquid below to give the wine more flavour, colour and astringency.)

Either way, carefully selected yeasts are added (thrown) into the juice (called must).

So many fermenters are stuffed into the winery that some could only be reached for the punch-downs by walking a plank placed on the top. I declined this experience, although I am a good swimmer. When the reds reach the right Brix, they’re pressed.

Finally, reds and some whites are pumped into barrels; other whites are left to mature in steel tanks.


Grapes being dumped into the de-stemmer


“Despite all of the stress and hugely long hours, you do think that each load of grapes that show up may be the champion ones that win you awards,” Cooper says. “It’s the time you find out if all the measuring, testing and the numbers mean anything.”

IMG_6500I learned a lot of things, like the winemaker’s mantra, “It takes a lot of beer to make good wine,” that working well together in a crew can be hugely rewarding, the crush smells good–and the purple stains eventually come off.

Copyright: The Calgary Herald






“Wilbur no longer worried about being killed, for he knew that Mr. Zuckerman would keep him as long as he lived.” Charlotte’s Web

IMG_7093Anthropomorphism? I don’t think so.  Dudley the pig is definitely smiling in the sun on this spring-like day at Andy’s Animal Acres on the Naramata Bench.

All smiles in Naramata


I don’t blame them. If I was a critter I would want to live on Andréa Buyan’s little farm at 1154 Three Mile Road on the way to Naramata. I hesitate to call Andy’s a petting zoo. It’s more like animal nirvana. And it’s place for parents and children to learn respect for farm animals. “Kids spend so much time in the virtual world and there is such a disconnect between people and the source of their food that I feel I can help,” says Andy.  Many of her charges are rescues, all like Wilbur will not end up on a dinner plate and she works with many young volunteers who find the experience therapeutic. Lots of wins there. The animals come first with opening hours limited to four at a time and lots of fresh air, sunshine and room to roam at the farm.

I was particularly taken with the chickens. I feel I should name this series of photographs: Portrait of a Rooster, one, two and three.





IMG_7083Andy learned her animal husbandry skills during a 10-year stint at Maplewood Farms in North Vancouver. She turned her property from weeds and dirt to home for more than 60 farm animals over a period of eight years, opening to the public in the spring of 2013. A labour of love, it costs her more than $900 a month to feed all the critters and insure her business. Then there are vet bills, heating lamps, equipment….and “constant, constant, constant labour.”

IMG_7049There are some great rewards though.

IMG_7110And a whole lot of love on the farm.

IMG_7122IMG_7139It’s all fun and games until a goat jumps on your back.

Opening again soon on weekends, you can find out more by calling 250-809-5122. I’ll leave you with a few more photos.



The End


“The best of Vintage Erotica” or a weird segue to bears in my yard


Of the terms in my header…”vintage” is by far the most disturbing. I wrote my university thesis about Marian Engel and her novel, Bear, which is now mouldering in some unforgotten corner of the Mount Allison University library. Vintage? Really?

Engel’s Bear, is outwardly a novel about a sexual relationship a woman has with a bear told in a pretty explicit way. Inwardly, according to my brilliant thesis, it’s about a recurring Canadian literature theme of our complex relationship with nature. Like all Canadians, when we get a bit messed up in our heads,  we find some wilderness to sort out who really are and what matters the most.

The novel won the Governor General Award in 1976 and then sort of fell into obscurity. Along comes 50 Shades of Grey and voila, Bear is re-discovered and an imgur post about it went viral.

A blog reader sent me this link to a series of Bear covers re-imagined. I love this one by Kris Mukai…


By moving to Naramata I’m living that quintessential Canadian literature dream that began somewhere around 1852 with Susanna Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush. I’ve found the nature I’ve always craved and in a full-circle, coincidental,  ‘wee de wee de’ way, a ton of bears in the process, none of which I have gone near enough to touch let alone…

Our property is in the middle of a well-travelled bear super highway. On one side is a large treed acreage and on the other a creek that brings them down from higher country to look for food in late summer and fall.

Here is a small selection of the many photos I’ve taken in our yard.

This guy was pretty big


Mum climbed a tree to coax her cubs down when they got too scared


We saw this guy with the burrs almost every day last fall on our wildlife cam


I was talking on the phone on the deck when I felt eyes burning into the back of my head.

From the marge of Lake Lebarge to Via del Parione

I can picture my dad with a whisky in one hand and this tiny book in his other large hand giving us an oration of Robert Service’s infamous poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee. Wickedly humours, dad could recite most of tale by heart. It’s the story of the cremation of a prospector who freezes to death near Lake Laberge, Yukon, Canada, as told by the man who cremates him.


This very rare miniature book contains two poems: The Law of the Yukon and my dad’s favourite, The Cremation of Sam McGee. Once listed on ebay for $450 US, the book measure only 2″ by 1.5″ and was published in Toronto by William Briggs in 1913. Here is a link to the seriously fun short poem that is a Canadian classic.

Dad’s big hands coupled with the accompanying libations finally took a minor toll on the little volume. When I inherited it, several pages had come loose. This is how it ended up in the hands of a master bookbinder at Alberto Cozzi, Antico Laboratorio Artigianale at 35 Via del Parione near the banks of the Arno River, (across the street from an amazing coffee shop), in Florence, Italy.


If this well-known, fourth-generation bookbinder and restorer couldn’t fix my treasure, no one could. Stumbling through with my English and bad Italian and their Italian and bad English,  we came to an agreement that they would try to fix the book, the project made challenging by its size. It would be ready in three days, just before we were to leave Florence for Venice. Bene. Molte grazie.


Success. They used Japanese rice paper for the new front piece and the book is as a good as new. With more Italian and bad English they asked if the book was meant to be funny. They read it! Perfect.

IMG_2148This 1976 stamp, just about the same size as the book, was tucked inside by my dad or mum.

“And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of furnace roar; And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: ‘Please close that door. It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm — Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

Cheers dad. Thanks for the book.

Me and Big Blue Bobby McGee

I could have happily taken home all of these

It is in no way an exaggeration to say my heart beat faster and the hair on the back of my neck stood up as we entered the gates to the  Ardingly Antiques & Collectors Fair last summer in England. For a Canadian, antique collecting in a country where “stuff” is so much older than can be found at home,  just doesn’t get any better. In a spirit of show, don’t tell, here are some of the treasures encountered in its upwards of 1,700 stalls.

No, none of this collectable animal taxidermy came home with me although the little boar was tempting and cute (but sold). The dog in the case was pretty weird. It’s a rare breed but…

The birdcage in the reflection was really beautiful too

I wish had brought both of these mirrors home. One of my biggest left-behind regrets. I didn’t even ask their price.

IMG_4703Located in Southern England, 90-minutes away from Dover ferries, the annual fair attracts many exhibitors from Europe and the variety was pretty astounding. The prices were reasonable too.

IMG_4717It’s hard to get a sense of how big this chandelier was. You would need a big, fancy room to house it.

I like his hat.

IMG_4724This is right up my alley as I collect kitchenalia.

So many treasures. Such a small suitcase.

IMG_4744These came home with me: skates (who needs those in England anyway), trug, garden signs and my prized possession…the straw boater that came in its original Harrods’ box to add to my hat collection. I think I paid about 20 pounds for it. I love it that the owner’s name is on the inside hat brim…”B.W.G. Massey”. I hope he isn’t still looking for it.

IMG_4713This? did not come home with me.

I dream of returning and filling a shipping container. Big Blue Bobby McGee would look pretty darn awesome in my garden or maybe as a greeter in the tree fort. Maybe the English Channel swim is just a ruse to get back to Ardingly?

Our lovely English relatives organized the outing which included a stop at a pub, of course.


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