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naramata-blend

Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.

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writely2015

The making of a meadow

It took only 10 weeks from planting to transform a bare patch of poor soil to a magical meadow alive with bees and birds in a Naramata, British Columbia, Canada garden.

From sceptic to meadow evangelist and more literally from septic to sun kissed field of beauty our making of a meadow project has been one of the most satisfying garden projects we have ever undertaken.

Our 2,500 square-foot traditional lawn that was watered, fertilized, aerated, and mown and mown and mown was the victim of a total failure of our old septic system. According to https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/lawns-into-meadows-growing-a/9780998862378-item.html Owen Wormser, lawn mowing itself is a major source of pollution. Greenhouse gas emissions from mowing, along with fertilizer and pesticide production, watering, leaf blowing and other lawn management practices, were found by a University of California-Irvine study to be four times greater than the amount of carbon stored by grass. Lawns are an expensive, time-consuming ecological catastrophe.

Work being done to instal our new septic system and field gave us the opportunity to try something new rather than re-plant our lawn. That’s why I call this project from shit to shinola.

Step one

Plant a cover crop of rye grass to keep down the weeds and to fix nitrogen into our poor sandy soil.

We planted a cover crop of annual rye grass in the fall and kept it mowed to prevent it from going to seed.

Step 2

Till in the rye grass in early spring.

If you aren’t starting with bare ground you need to carefully remove all of your lawn grass as it will compete with your wildflower seedlings. This could mean lots of back-breaking shovelling or rent a turf cutter.

Step 3

Rough up the soil with a rake

Step 4

Seed

We chose a number of wildflower seed blends from westcoastseeds.com

Here are the seed blends we chose for our project:

Pacific Northwest Wildflower Blend that includes Baby Blue-Eyes, Bird’s Eyes Gilia, California Poppy, Blue Flax, Blanket Flower…

Southern Prairies Wildflower Blend with Dotted Gayfeather, Greenthread, Hoary Vervain, Five-spot, Tidy-tips…

Hummingbird Wildflower Blend with Four O’Clocks, Lemon Bergamot, Scarlet Sage, Phlox, Wild Petunia…

Knee High Meadow Blend with Baby’s Breath, Black Eyed Susan, African Daisy….

Biodiversity Blend which includes basil, Bishops Flower, Lupin, Borage, Chinese Aster, Ox-Eye Daisy, Yellow Mustard…

And for good measure and because we like her… The Dr. Bonnie Henry Pollinator Blend which is a mix of Cosmos.

With regular irrigation to get the seeds going, here are the results of the first 10 weeks of our glorious meadow.

Week 1

It only took a week for tiny shoots to emerge.

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5 and 6

Flowers!

Week 7

Chinese houses

Week 8

Our bees are getting happier and happier

Week 9

Poppies are making an appearance
We had to add some art
and a fountain for the birds

Week 10

When is the last time you sat having a coffee and experienced your lawn for an hour? Our meadow is alive with scents and colour and insect and bird activity. As a gardener I get a lot of pleasure out of a perennial bed planted up with 20 or 30 plants. Imagine two or three thousand flowers in an ever-changing tapestry of colour all ready for my camera lens. This is how a meadow evangelist is born.

Meadows offer a unique opportunity to help the planet from our own yards. They support many of the wild things that keep our ecosystems healthy and store carbon. Imagine sitting in a meadow and listening to the hummingbirds zooming from flower-to-flower, hear the background buzzing of the bees and watching swallowtail butterflies lighting here and there while the flora aroma engulfs you. Make room for some wildflowers, remove some or all of your unused lawn. If just a fraction of the existing lawns in Canada were turned into meadows, the ecological impact, especially on threatened pollinator species, would be immediately significant. All the preaching aside…it’s beautiful!

10 tips to keep your bits while swimming the chilly English Channel

The Challenge

After being part of a successful 6-person relay swim crossing of the English Channel (2016) with my team the Crazy Canucks I want to feel the butterflies and pebbles on an English beach one more time with sights set on France. I’m going back as half of a 2-person team. Sounds doable right? Half the Channel (we swam 50 km in our 2016 relay) and at my age in 2023 at 66 I feel like I will be biting off just enough to chew.

After some intensive research it looks like there is a good reason duos are quite rare. All the “ins” and “outs” of the one-hour shifts are a mind game and a shiver fest. All the helpful advice about ditching the duo for a solo aside, I have gathered 10 great tips to share from the some of the top open water swimmers in the world that will help anyone attempting a solo or relay open water challenge in chilly waters.

The Wonderful Mentors

Marilyn Korzekwa

In her 60s, named after famous Canadian swimmer Marilyn Bell, here are just a sampling of Dr. Korzekwa’s accomplishments:

  • 1st to complete Lake Ontario from south-to-north and north-to-south
  • 1st Canadian Triple Crown swimmer which includes the English Channel, Manhattan Island and Catalina Channel
  • Planning a second attempt of the first crossing of Lake Nipissing in 2020
Photo from Marilyn Korzekwa, Santa Barbara Channel

John Myatt

Ice king, John Myatt, is a father of three from Britain who has come back to swimming in the last decade after a long hiatus. Here is a sampler of John’s claims to fame:

  • Gold medal winner of the 45-49 age group at the Ice Swimming World Championship in Murmansk, Russia in 2019 (1,000 metres in zero degree water)
  • Half of a two-man English Channel team in 2015
  • Two-way, two-man English Channel relay in 2018 (22 hours, 49 minutes)
  • Currently planning a very challenging yet-to-be announced solo English Channel crossing
John Myatt on ice

Lynne Cox

American Lynne Cox is arguably the best cold water, long distance swimmer the world has ever seen. Her most famous swim was the 2.7 miles in the Bering Straits, 350 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska where the water temperature ranges from 38-42 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps the most incredible of cold water swims, her 2 hours, 16 minutes from Little Diomede (USA) to Big Diomede (USSR) astonished the physiologists who were monitoring her swim. It marked one of the coldest swims ever completed.

Lynne Cox
  1. Staying Warm

Warming up is tough. Go below, get dry and in a sleeping bag and drink lots of hot calories. Bring at least three sleeping bags per person in case they get damp. Buy them cheap in England and throw them out. Forget grease, just enough Vaseline to prevent rubbing. Grease will keep you clammy in your sleeping bag. Bring lots of swim suits so you can get in a dry one. Maybe a hair dryer if you’ve got electricity on board. Cut your hair short so it dries fast. You may need one support staff dedicated to keeping you in hot food and drink. — Marilyn Korzekwa. (Hard core Marilyn re cutting your hair…my hair is short but my partner Jan is in the process of growing her’s long…)

2. Acclimatize to the cold

I would definitely acclimatise to the cold as the thing is with a two person relay your not really fully recovered or warm going back in and that did take its toll. My top tip would be to build up to eventually swimming 6 x 1 hour with 30 minute breaks and feeds as when you get that extra half hour on the boat it will be amazing and you’ll enjoy your swim alot more and have the confidence knowing you have done it virtually all in training. — John Myatt

3. Trust your partner

As your a two-person team you will definitely want that trust in each other on the day knowing you have done all the hard work. — John Myatt. (Here is where keeping your bits comes in. Jan and I know that if either of us wants to call it quits the other will be strongly discouraging this idea. Just having someone counting on you can make all the difference when the chips are down.)

One plus one equals more than two

4. Don’t let age hold you back

I think you don’t need to be limited in your thinking by your chronological age. I think it’s great to tackle these swims at any age. If you’ve done the preparation and you are in shape it comes down to your mental fortitude. — Lynne Cox (I do think there are some concessions you need to make in your training which should include good rest days that will help in recovery. I will be 66, Jan will be 61.)

5. What to eat and when

All of your feeding can be on board during your one-hour off. Eat whatever you like. Hot chocolate, hot Maxim, hot coffee, latte, Perpetuem (a Hammer nutrition product, comes in two flavours that I particularly like- orange vanilla and coffee latte), tea with lots of honey or sugar, soup. I find pb and jam sandwiches easy to digest. Chocolates, eclairs, cake, etc. Potato chips are good for nausea. — Marilyn Korzekwa. We didn’t feed in the water during our hourly swims even when doing the two- way, I don’t think there is a need as you can get more nutrition down you on your hour out of the water. — John Myatt

The Channel was fickle during our 2016 swim. We had periods of relative calm but strong winds and waves nearing France.

6. Curb your enthusiasm

In January 2017 I was smashing out 14k on a Monday in the pool feeling like I was invincible and with in a short space of time I developed three major shoulder problems that lasted for 18 months, it was a hard path to my start line but I got there in one piece by changing my stroke and training habits and respecting that sometimes less is more, your body needs just as much rest as training, well in fact a whole lot more rest, never neglect that. — John Myatt

7. Fat or fast

The general answer to, “Should I put on weight to swim in cold water?” is that if you are very slim you better be fast. If you are a slower swimmer a little extra padding will help to keep you warm. It is also universally advised to do lots and lots of training in cold water. Another expression I’ve hear is “eat your wetsuit” or add a bit of jiggle to replace the insulation your wetsuit provides. With our June swim window, Okanagan Lake will be suitably chilly in the spring, even colder than the Channel, which will be ideal. (Jan doesn’t know it yet but I think we will be dipping in the lake (with wetsuits) all winter the season before our swim.)

8. Train smart

You should do a trial 34 k swim of Lake Okanagan in late May. It will work out the kinks, help you learn what you like, refine your schedule and give you immeasurable confidence. By April, you should be each be swimming 20 k a week. — Marilyn Korzekwa

Inevitably it’s all about making it to the start line in one piece, if you get any niggles ease back and seek a way to deal with it, either through physio stroke analysis etc, you just have to protect yourself and not force it and it will come with consistency. — John Myatt

Train in all types of weather and include some night swims, I would add.

9. Don’t fear the jellies

When I was swimming half way back from France on our second leg the light was shining down in the water and I could see the purple/ blue hues from the jellyfish bioluminescence and it was the most wonderful sight I have ever seen, the stings were nothing, a lot less than a stinging nettle. The culmination of the cold 11c water at night and the stings were the perfect tonic in waking me up and getting me to the finish. — John Myatt (Sounds a bit hard core John! I did get stung on our six-person relay and although it hurt at the time a little vinegar poured on the sting helped immediately. Although unpleasant, the jellies are a lot less scary than sharks which we thought a lot about on our Catalina Channel relay…)

10. Enjoy the ride

It’s all about the hours and hours of training and the camaraderie that brings. Once on the Viking Princess and out there in the Channel, It’s also about trying to take in the beauty and not letting the enormity of the task override the possibility of drinking it all in.

Leap of faith – Diving into the English Channel

“You’re a land animal trying to swim,” says Paul Sereno, University of Chicago Professor. “You’re what we call a secondary swimmer.”

Jan Johnston and I in April in Skaha Lake

Elaine

Your deposit has been received £1000.00. We have secured your position (1st swimmer 19th June – 2nd July 2023) with the non-refundable deposit.

Thanks

Reg (Reginald Brickell, Captain of the Viking Princess II)

With that innocuous looking email, Jan and I are leaping into the English Channel as a team of just two very early in the Channel swimming season. Why does a Channel swim start with securing a boat? Why so early? Why 2023?

There are only seven boats accredited by the Channel Swim Association to pilot swimmers across the storied English Channel from England to France. With the knowledge that the success of our Crazy Canucks relay of six people in 2016 in pretty rough seas was in large measure due to our excellent pilot, choosing Reg and Ray Brickell and the Viking Princess II was a given. As the Brickells’ are much sought-after respected pilots we have to book three years before our swim and coming all the way from Canada it is important to secure a first swim on the tide position. This is key as we may run into weather that will delay our swim and we will get the first shot on that tide.

Our end of June slot was the only first swim position open for all of 2023 and we booked immediately when Reg opened up his booking for that year. What does June mean? The bloody cold English Channel could be very bloody cold (14C).

“It’s a state between a dream state and an awake state,” says famous open water swimmer Lynne Cox. “Maybe we can call it sea-dreaming. The rhythm of swimming lulls your body — which, well trained, seems to keep moving on its own — and your brain is allowed to go wherever it wants.

Here we are in 14 C degree water on a sunny April day

To swim the English Channel has been described by many as the Everest of long distance swimming. “As an open water swimmer, the English Channel is the pinnacle,” says Jan. “I want to be part of that.” I’m looking to up the ante from the six-person team I was on in 2016 as far as I think I’m capable of pushing it. (I will be 67 in 2023. Jan will be 61). Knowing my swim speed and having a pretty good handle on my abilities and mental toughness, a solo swim although tauntingly tempting seems many hundreds of strokes too far.

From the Channel Swimming Association record book

Of all the teams that attempt the Channel, teams of two are pretty rare. The official record shows only 33 duos have made the England to France crossing until 2019 as compared to 483 six-person teams. I guess the thinking is you might as well do a solo if you are going to do that much swimming…

Jan and I (Crazy Canucks II) will take one-hour turns dodging jelly fish while our boat captain dodges cruise ships and freighters in the world’s busiest shipping channel. It will take us anywhere from 16 to 18 hours (very estimated) so 8, 9 or even 10 swims each with a total of 50 kilometres of swimming. It took our Crazy Canucks team 13 hours and 47 minutes to complete the task in 2016.

That smile is why Jan is an ideal team mate. She is up for anything, willing to suffer in the cold and as upbeat as she looks in this photo.

Here is Jan with my brother Dean in a much kinder ocean as we complete the first Canadian relay crossing of the Catalina Channel in 2019.

The beginning of our boat trip to the our relay start at Catalina Island.
The French finish of our 2016 English Channel Relay… a bit of a different beast.

Here I am with Ray heading toward shore in the dingy to start the English Channel crossing for our team in 2016. Some of our swim will be in the dark which is actually less scary than the all-night swim of Catalina (sharks).

Bring on that leap or dive of faith. Here is hoping the pandemic will be over, we will stay fit to train and we experience the rush of it all.

“Who needs psychedelics,” says Lynne Cox. “when you can just go for a swim in the ocean.”

Spreading the love – Artisan jam vs. store bought

And a story of how not to make money…

Raspberry jam from our farm-picked raspberries. From farm to jar in one day with only four ingredients.

Jam is a treat and although made from fresh berries it’s hard to argue that it is “healthy” as sugar is an important ingredient. If you are going to indulge yourself a bit, jam made from organic berries picked at their peak, pure cane sugar, freshly-squeezed lemon juice and fruit pectin is better for you than store-bought brands and you sure as heck can taste the difference.

Do you ever get a chemical after taste from store-bought jam or a gummy, overly sweet taste?

Fruit, never mind the raspberries you think you are buying, is often not even the first ingredient in store-bought jam. Look out for ingredients such fruit syrup (concentrated juices from less expensive fruit such as apples, pears or pineapples), high fructose corn syrup which is cheaper than pure cane sugar (now this is an ingredient you should avoid at all costs), natural flavours (which can be a whole lot of things that have nothing to do with raspberries) and citric acid which is made in a lab to substitute for lemon juice.

We grow our raspberries with a whole lot of care, no pesticides and only organic fertilizers.

I will let you in a little secret. I make absolutely no profit and do not even cover my costs when making jam with raspberries from our farm and selling it for $7 (Canadian) a jar. Hence…spreading the love.

I haven’t been able to find new jars that sell for less than $1 each

The jars, lids and rings cost about $1 each although to find that price now I have to search for sales as these prices go up every year.

I love my labels designed by calligrapher http://Kathyguthrie.com and printed by http://Stickerapp.com

My labels, not including the one-time design cost, are about 25 cents each. (They would be slightly cheaper if I ordered in larger quantities.)

Each jar has a pint of fresh-picked organic raspberries from our farm which I would sell for $5.

The fresh lemon juice is also an expensive ingredient.

I make my jam in a copper jam pan I ordered from France. The jam heats more quickly reducing cooking time and preserving more flavour in the copper pan.

So with the cost of the ingredients, jars and labels adding up to my sale price I have not yet added in labour which includes sterilizing everything, meticulously cleaning work surfaces, making multiple small batches to control the quality and electricity to make the jam and boil the water in the canner. In addition time is spent marketing and distributing the jam which I often deliver.

Some batches of jam are made even more special with some artisan vodka. Get this…This Slowpoke Vodka made by http://Legenddistilling.com is made from our raspberries so the jam is like raspberry flavour squared.

Why do I make and sell jam? I love making jam. The smell of a simmering pan of raspberry jam is my favourite scent in the world. I like it that we have developed a bit of a following (and a wait list) and local bed and breakfasts, lodges and neighbours appreciate how great it tastes and have an inkling of what goes into making it. As cheesy as it sounds, it truly feels like spreading the love.

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…” The Secret Garden

It’s been unusual. A cooler and wetter spring…a pandemic that kept us a home. Our secret garden has been the beneficiary. Here is a bit of a photo essay on the effects of perfect growing conditions and lots of attention in our Naramata, British Columbia, Canada garden on the summer solstice.

“I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.” The Secret Garden

The purples seem more purple this year…

The pinks more pink…

And we’ve had time to sit and enjoy it all unfolding.

With our pals who are allowed in from time to time…

Just outside the garden walls is our raspberry farm just days away from harvest.

The farm has never looked so tidy. One hour-long spray with round-up would have dealt with all the grass and weeds that invaded the rows but we don’t spray or use chemicals so it was a 160-hour job completed over four months. On hands and knees with a garden fork… It should be easier to maintain going forward with minor attention. It looks great but more importantly the raspberry roots now have less competition for nutrients, water and space. It’s going to be a bumper crop.

Hot cross buns to make us all a bit less well…cross

These lovely spiced buns are easy to make in just a few hours.

Traditionally served on Good Friday in the UK, they are a spring treat that will fill you kitchen with yeasty, spicey aromas and are wonderful with a large pat of butter, just out of the oven.

Makes 12

Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 egg yolk

Topping

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Glaze

  • 1/4 water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
A mixer makes this recipe easy but it can be done by hand also.

Directions

  1. Proof the yeast in two tablespoons of warm water.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, the proofed yeast, orange zest, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom at low speed until combined.
  3. In a small saucepan, heat milk and butter over medium heat until a food thermometer registers 120 to 130 degrees or until the butter is melted and the milk begins to froth. With mixer at low speed, add milk mixture to flour mixture. Increase mixer speed to medium, and beat for 2 minutes. Add egg and egg yolk; beat at high speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add remaining 2 1/2 cups flour, beating until a soft dough forms.
  4. Using the dough hook attachment, beat at medium-low speed until dough is smooth but sticky… about 8 minutes.
  5. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place dough in bowl, turning to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes.
Before rise
After rise

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Punch dough down; turn onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into 12 pieces. Shape each into a ball and place 2 inches apart of prepared pan.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

To make the crosses

For topping, in a small bowl, whisk together flour, 1/4 cup water and oil until smooth. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small round pastry tip. Pipe a cross over each bun.

Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. While baking prepare the glaze.

Mix 1/4 water and 1/4 sugar in a small pan until just boiling. Brush the glaze on the buns. Serve warm!

8 remarkable women to read about whose stories will enthral, move and inspire

These women have gone through some stuff you and I likely never will but we can go along for eight amazing rides and if you are lucky arrive at the end a bit braver, stronger, more self-aware. You might just tackle a Reine de Saba, Julia’s first French cake or swim the English Channel (with a team) like I did. Two of these fine women actually did change my life. Your reactions may not be as dramatic but I guarantee their stories will have an impact.

  1. Beryl Markham

“Around Beryl life was never dull. Like a comet passing through the firmament she lit up all around her. None who came in contact with her could fail to recognize the genius of a truly remarkable person.”

Everyone has heard about the American aviator, Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, but Beryl Markham was pretty amazing and much less feted. She made history in 1936 as the first person ever to fly the Atlantic solo, in the other direction, from England to North America. Check out West With the Night and Straight on Till Morning by Markham’s biographer Mary S. Lovell. Or for a compelling recent historical fiction memoir I recommend, Circling the Sun by Paula McClain. Much of her life was spent flying in Africa and spending some reading time in her company will make you feel like an adventurer and explorer in the days when the world seemed a much bigger place.

2. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Anne was the author of more than two dozen books but she is best known for two dramatic experiences when she was in her 20’s. One was blissful, one anguished. There were reflected in the title of a volume of her diaries, Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead. She met and married Charles Lindbergh, who was the first to fly solo across the Atlantic making him at the time, the most famous man in the world. The second experience came on the evening of March 1, 1932 where the Lindbergh were at home with their 20-month old son, Charles Jr. and a nurse, Betty Gow. The nurse looked in now and then on Charlie as he slept in his crib.

“At 10 Betty went in to the baby, shut the window, then lit the electric stove, then turned to the bed; it was empty, and the sides still up,” Anne wrote. The Lindberghs were soon enveloped in the horror of the kidnapping, the discovery of the baby’s body 10 weeks later and the long investigation to catch the kidnappers.

I poured through the five volumes of her diaries that chronicle the birth of the paparazzi that hounded the famous couple and her own flying exploits. She learned to navigate, to operate a radio and to pilot a plane. In 1930 she became the first woman to get a glider pilot’s license in the US. That same year she was co-pilot and navigator when her husband broke the transatlantic speed record. Her first book, North to the Orient is a fun historical read as well although I loved the diaries.

Her life and love, was not without controversy. Lindbergh campaigned to keep America out of World War II. He also gave a speech in Iowa in 1941 in which he warned Jews of retribution for being among the leading “war agitators”. In her diary volume called War Within and Without, she said she experienced profound feelings of grief over what her husband had said.

In her later years, Anne discovered that Charles’ long trips away from home gave him the opportunity to have two other wives and more children… the plot thickens.

I loved the diaries for the history, her vulnerability, strength and mundane things like the enjoyment of the gardens she cultivated in England and France. Lindbergh fostered his wife’s feminism and in helping her to stand on her own two feet, created so much independent that it almost separated them. They are fascinating reading. I started with one of the diaries and haunted our used book store until I had read all five.

3. Lynne Cox

A pioneer of open water swimming, the description of Lynne Cox’s story in Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by USA Today cracks me up. “What emerges here is an athlete whose determination is so fierce that it seems almost exotic. She is fit. She is focused. She is Lance Armstrong with body fat.”

Here are some of her amazing achievements – At the age of 16 she set a new world record for an English Channel swim. She was the first to swim the Strait of Magellan. She narrowly escaped a shark attack off the Cape of Good Hope and was cheered across the 20-mile Cook Strait of New Zealand by dolphins. She swam the Bering Straight and went for a mile long dip in the Antarctic, dodging icebergs.

A lover of adventure non-fiction, I’ve found many of the stories gripping but the telling of the tales a bit uneven. Many adventurers are better at clinging to mountains or running white water than they are re-telling their tale. Not so Lynne. I love her writing. She is an extraordinary athlete in the niche sport that has captured my passion but she also has the gift of describing her efforts so well that even non-swimmers can almost feel the cold water and absorb the experience.

I also recommend Grayson and her newest book, Swimming in the Sink.

Lynne gave our team advice when I asked her about comparing the English Channel (which our Crazy Canuck’s team did in 2016) to the Catalina Channel which we knocked off in 2019. She was right and I am her biggest fan.

4. Julia Child

Here is where you may think I’ve drifted off theme from my daring-does women. But far from it, Julia paved a remarkably courageous, strong and pioneering path of her own that changed the face of cookbook writing and cooking shows on what was then a new medium, television.

Start with My Life in France by Julia and if you are blown away by her humour and spirit as I was plunge in deeper with biographies. Dearie by Bob Spitz and Appetite for Life by Noel Riley Fitch will help fill your hunger for more joie de vivre and Julia.

Once you understand her purpose and the years and drive it took to bring the pleasure of French cooking to America, then it’s time to crack open Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volumes I and II and try your hand at some of the recipes. I highly recommend Boeuf Bourguignon, her French bread recipe (although it is 21 pages long) and finish off with a chocolate cake to end all chocolate cakes, the Reine de Saba.

5. Clementine Churchill

Her life story is so much more than the woman behind the man kind of tale. A great way to plunge into the life of Clementine is through her own words. Winston and Clementine, The Personal Letters of the Churchills edited by their daughter Mary Soames is a fascinating look at more than 60 years of the famous couple’s life. If you are into history it’s great. It’s also very romantic. Their loving relationship unfolds in all its sadness, tenderness and joy. It’s a real partnership and of course we all know Winston can write. Well, it turns out Clementine can too.

Here is just a little snippet:

3 August 1929

“My darling one,

It was not without some melancholy twinges that I watched the figures of Diana and Sarah disappearing on the quay. All departures from home – even on pleasure are sad. The vessel drifts away from the shore and an ever-widening gulf opens between one and the citadel of one’s life and soul. But most of all I was distressed to think of you being lonely and unhappy and left behind.”

6. Isak Dinesen

The cover of my 1938 US First Edition

Born in 1885, Isak Dinesen was the pen name for Baroness Karen von Blixen, and the period of her life that most fascinates is her time in Ngong Hills in Kenya. Coles Notes version… she ran a coffee plantation, caught syphilis from her husband, returned to Denmark for the cure, came back to Africa and had a long-term affair with Denys Finch Hatton.

During this time in Africa she went on safari, flew with Finch Hatton in an open cockpit plane over stunning scenery and recorded life in in poetic prose. My favourite lines include the first of the book, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the North, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you’d got high up, near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.”

And these, which send shivers up my spine, especially when spoken by Meryl Streep in the movie version of Dinesens’ book titled Out of Africa…

“If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?” 

And this gem…

“Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.” 

Wow, right?

Karen was one interesting lady. Good thing she could write so we could still learn about her.

7. Lucy Maude Montgomery

Here I’m diverging again from my theme. It’s not the author that inspires as much as the ahead-of-her-time character of Anne Shirley. But of course it’s the author Lucy Maude Montgomery that gave us Anne. The first in the series of books is of course Anne Of Green Gables, written in 1908, yup 1908.

Written for all ages, it has been considered a classic children’s novel since the mid-twentieth century. Set in the late 19th century, the novel recounts the adventures of Anne Shirley an 11-year-old orphan girl, who is mistakenly sent to two middle-aged siblings, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who had originally intended to  adopt  a boy to help them on their farm in the fictional town of Avonlea on  Prince Edward Island in Canada. The novel recounts how Anne makes her way through life with the Cuthberts, in school, and within the town.

Since its publication, Anne of Green Gables has been translated into at least 36 languages and has sold more than 50 million copies, making it one of the best selling books worldwide. Montgomery wrote numerous sequels, and since her death, another sequel has been published, as well as an authorized prequel. The original book is taught to students around the world.

So what’s the big deal?

Anne is timeless, particularly for young girls. She’s smart and independent. The fact that she is very opinionated, strong-minded, and doesn’t just shut up and meekly do what she’s told puts her outside of her own time.

I have a lovely collection of old editions of the Anne stories and love to dip into them.

“I am frankly in literature to make a living out of it,” Montgomery said. The P.E.I. native did just that and left inspiration for many many girls along the way.

8. Diane Stuemer

The Voyage of the Northern Magic, A Family Odyssey is about a four-year voyage around the world told compellingly by the mum and wife Diane Stuemer. Diane and her husband Herbert, entering middle age, with a comfortable home and three boys under 12 did what many of us muse about but of course never do… they sold everything and took their family to circumnavigate the globe in a 40-year-old boat.

The book is gripping. Storms at sea, pirates, waterspouts, lightning strikes, broken water pumps, masts and radios and 34 countries and 35,000 nautical miles. It’s all made more poignant because of Diane’s health. The trip was started following her brush with cancer and she dies at the age of 43 not long after the Northern Magic pulled into port for the last time.

Diane, emotions brimming at the end of the family’s voyage.

Embarking on a crazy adventure solo is one thing, bringing your family along for the ride is something different. Reading about how they managed and grew as a unit from a mother’s point of view is inspiring as are all the friendships, connections and charity work they poured themselves into along the way. Weirdly, one of the books saddest moments for me was when the stray cat they picked up along the voyage ended up overboard.

Over to you. I would love to know if you take up any of my suggestions and what you think.

The Owl looked up to the stars above

I may be athropomorphisizing but this little Great Horned Owl swoops into our garden, finds a perch and sits and enjoys the sunset until it’s too dark for me to photograph her.

These photos were taken in three different sunset sessions in October, November and December in our Naramata yard overlooking Okanagan Lake.

Here is a little poetry to go along with my art… a favourite often recited by my dad…

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

BY EDWARD LEAR
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea 
   In a beautiful pea-green boat, 
They took some honey, and plenty of money, 
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note. 
The Owl looked up to the stars above, 
   And sang to a small guitar, 
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love, 
    What a beautiful Pussy you are, 
         You are, 
         You are! 
What a beautiful Pussy you are!” 

II 
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl! 
   How charmingly sweet you sing! 
O let us be married! too long we have tarried: 
   But what shall we do for a ring?” 
They sailed away, for a year and a day, 
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows 
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood 
   With a ring at the end of his nose, 
             His nose, 
             His nose, 
   With a ring at the end of his nose. 

III 
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling 
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.” 
So they took it away, and were married next day 
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill. 
They dined on mince, and slices of quince, 
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;  
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, 
   They danced by the light of the moon, 
             The moon, 
             The moon, 
They danced by the light of the moon.

Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)

Christmas granola — the perfect homemade gift

Five good reasons to switch up your traditional homemade holiday gifts from cookies to granola.

  1. It couldn’t be simpler to make and your kitchen will smell like orange, cinnamon and toasted nuts and coconut for days.
  2. It’s the perfect gift to go low- to no-waste by buying ingredients in bulk with your own containers, sourcing local like my neighbour’s walnuts, and packaging in use-again Mason jars labelled with easily washed off http://www.wineglasswriter.com Wine Glass Writers.
  3. Granola has a longer shelf-life than cookies and it’s filled with healthy ingredients like nuts, seeds, grains and dried fruit.
  4. It’s amazing as a breakfast cereal or sprinkled on yoghurt.
  5. Invite over a group of friends and make a really really large batch (like 64 quart jars), put on some Christmas tunes and drink a little wine or cider.

Christmas Granola recipe

Ingredients for six cups of granola (just multiply everything for bigger batches)

  • Four cups quick or old-fashioned, uncooked oats
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts or a combination of all three
  • 1 tablespoon wheat bran
  • 1 tablespoon wheat germ
  • 1/4 raw unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup of local honey
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups dried cranberries
Ingredients for many batches of this recipe and some of the jar decorating supplies.

Easy baking directions

Pre-heat oven to 350 F. (We also used our wood fired oven. If you are lucky enough to have one… fire it up to pizza-baking temperature or very hot, burn down the coals and then remove and cool to about 180 C… basically the temperature you would use to make bread.)

Use your oven or if you have one, granola bakes well in a wood-fired oven.

Mix all the ingredients together except the dried cranberries, (which are added after the granola is toasted) in a large bowl. Spread the granola onto cookie sheets or other suitable baking pans.

Bake for 40 minutes stirring the granola every 10 minutes so it toasts evenly. The granola should be a nice even toasted brown colour when its done.

Cool and then add the dried cranberries and mix.

Decorate your jars

Cut squares of a Christmas fabric to cover your jar lids, tie on some greenery or berries with raffia and label the jars with handy dandy Wine Glass Writers. Christmas scents will hit you as soon as you open the beautiful re-useable containers.

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