Thursday, September 25, 2014

Early Fall Hygge

If I was to hand out a prize to the most hygge* season, autumn would be the clear winner. As I write this post I'm listening to Yo-Yo Ma play the Bach Cello Suites, the chickadees are at our bird feeder, there's apple crisp made for tonight's dessert, and the weather has cooled enough that I will soon be wearing my handknit wool socks again.

I love the feeling of having my freezer stocked up with fruit picked this past summer, and soon we will also have our meat order for the year. There are jars of jam sitting on top of my kitchen cabinets, a convenient place for storing things in a small cottage. There are also jars of dried plums and blueberries and soon, after my trip to Victoria this weekend, they will be joined by dried apples. Vancouver Island is known for growing some delicious heritage varieties of apples.

One of the features I enjoy about the fall season is the return to routine. I think routine has an undeserved reputation for being a bad thing. Yes, doing the same thing over and over again, day after day after day, is most definitely mind numbing. But I find great comfort in the small routines of home. From my first cup of tea in the morning to my bath just before I go to bed, my day is filled with familiar things that give me balance in an often unbalanced world. After a busy summer, settling into all of these rituals again gives me great joy.

Food changes with the seasons as well. I love the move from the quick meals of summer to the simmering stews and soups that are once again part of our dinner menu. With cooler days I don't have to worry about overheating the house if I use the oven to bake. Blackberries are a sign that the season is shifting.

What better way to use them than for a lovely crisp. I love how this recipe calls for making it in a cast iron skillet.

It's also the time of the year for putting the garden to sleep until next spring. The carrot, leeks and kale remain, but everything else has been harvested.

As we move into fall I look forward to rainy days spent sitting in the window seat, knitting and reading. I also look forward to the glorious days where the sun is shining and the light filters through the forest, highlighting things that would otherwise remain hidden.

Fall, for me, is a season of contentment.

*Hygge is usually inadequately translated as cosiness. This is too simplistic: cosiness relates to physical surroundings - a jersey can be cosy, or a warm bed - whereas hygge has more to do with people's behaviour towards each other. It is the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality, and contentment rolled into one.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

In Between

It seems to be a time of "in betweens" for me right now. In no particular order:


My friend has traveled far away to get medical help, and I'm in between reports on how she is doing. I can only wait, and hope.


We're in that short few weeks of time known here in Canada as Indian Summer. Not quite summer, not quite autumn. When I walk Fergus in the mornings I see this lone tree, an early adaptor to fall, perched on the rocky outcrop to the west.

This in between time of year is when the goldenrod is in full bloom. It's a reminder of what's to come.


Last weekend Alexandra was here, and next weekend my mom arrives. We will be going to Victoria for a couple days so she can spend some time with Lucy, then we'll be here at the cottage for a few days, and then I will drive her back to Spokane. But this weekend we are in between guests. I almost don't know what to do with myself.

Downton Abbey

I still feel sort of burned by season 3 of Downton Abbey, but did end up watching season 4 last year.  In the UK season 5 starts tonight, while those of us on this side of the pond are stuck in between seasons until next year. Except here's the most amazing thing. I don't have to wait.

Our friends from England, John and Gill, bought something called a Slingbox and connected it to their TV. Then I put the Slingplayer app on my iPad. What this means (and please don't ask me how it works because I haven't got a clue) is that I can now watch their TV. The app even has a remote control and I can record shows, or in the case of Downton, a whole series. It just doesn't get any better than that!


After I finished knitting my Tea with Jam and Bread sweater I had the itch to cast on a completely new project. Since I have three other fairly major projects on the needles right now I worked hard to fight of that urge. I ended up compromising by casting on a teeny, tiny project. One that would only take a couple of evenings, and also one that used nothing but stash yarn. I needed an "in between" project. Introducing...

Mr. Fox

Mrs. Owl

And my favourite, Hedgehog Jr.

To give you an idea of just how small these woodland creatures are, here's Hedgehog Jr. standing next to a blackberry.

I've been wanting to try some of the Mochimochi Land patterns for a long time. They didn't disappoint. I think these might be the cutest things I've ever knit. They were definitely the fastest!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Canning, Knitting, and a Visit

Alexandra was down over the weekend and we had such a nice time. She said she wanted to "can something" and so that's what we did. After considering the suggestions left in the comments here (thank you so much!), and a discussion back and forth on Facebook between the two of us, we decided on apple butter.

I searched through recipes online and came up with several that you do in the crockpot. I settled on this one because it didn't require a huge amount of time from start to finish. I liked the idea of leaving the lid off during the last bit of cooking. It worked great, although a word of warning if you use the recipe. It only took about an hour to cook down once the lid was removed, not the four and a half hours the recipe states.

While the apples cooked we drove down to the local u-pick blackberry farm. This is a brilliant place to pick blackberries because they are thornless. I'm very happy to pay a dollar a pound in exchange for not getting cut to shreds. Because this was a canning weekend we decided to make some blackberry jam.

We finished the jam and the apples were still cooking, so we then made a batch of pumpkin butter. I had baked the pumpkins early Saturday morning before Alexandra arrived.

I wish I could have also canned the smells in the house. Baked pumpkin, apples simmering in the crockpot, and sweet blackberry jam bubbling away on the stove - it was heavenly! 

In the midst of the canning we also managed to get some pictures of the latest project off my needles. I started this sweater in June, but then put it aside when the weather got too hot. Unfortunately, at least in terms of putting on a wool sweater for pictures, Saturday was another scorcher. I thought I was going to melt walking down to the creek, and maybe I'm just paranoid, but I'm quite sure people were staring at me. Small wonder. 

Tea with Jam and Bread, knit with Cascade 220 

I debated whether or not to include the pockets. I have a vest I made that has pockets that stick out on the sides and give the impression I'm a balloon being filled with air. It's not a look I am fond of. But since these pockets are on the front I decided to take a chance and put them in. I'm really glad I did. I think they give the sweater personality.

I'm super pleased with how it turned out, and I'm sure it will be worn lots this fall and winter. It was such a nice weekend in so many ways, but the very best part was spending it with Alexandra. It was so nice to see her feeling well, and in such a good place in her life right now. Her health issues will be a lifelong struggle for her, but she handles them with grace and courage. When she was little, and oh so sick, I used to worry about what things were going to be like for her as an adult. Slowly, slowly, I'm letting go of some of that worry. I think she's going to be okay.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

An Indoor Outdoor Post


Kellen and Anita were out this weekend, and Sunday afternoon found us hiking up the trail to Lindeman Lake. I have already done a post about Lindeman. Rebekah and Anton and I hiked there in July. But it is such an incredibly beautiful place I just have to show you some more pictures.

It seemed like the water was an even deeper shade of blue than before.

This time we walked clear to the end of the lake. It involved traversing this huge pile of jagged rocks.

The leaves were just starting to change colours.

This was probably my last big hike for this year. Maybe I'm just a coward, but I don't like venturing out in the wilderness on my own. (Teapot Hill is fine. It's close to home, there is no possible way I can get lost, and it usually has other hikers on it.) Alexandra is coming down on Saturday, but she doesn't want to go hiking. When I asked her what she wanted to do her response was "can something." I'm not sure what that something will be. She wants to can peaches, but the season is pretty much past. I'm thinking maybe zucchini relish or some kind of chutney.

Before I leave the topic of the outdoors, I have one more picture to show you. Here's Lucy, somewhere in the Rockies. This was taken a couple days ago, before Alberta got hit with four inches of snow. Yes, you read that right. Snow.


I've experienced a crafting outlier. This past Mother's Day Jay bought me a new Janome sewing machine. Well, to be more exact, I bought a new Janome sewing machine and suggested to him that he could count it as a Mother's Day gift. He is not a shopper, so was happy with that idea.

You're probably wondering why there haven't been lots of posts showing off all the items I've whipped up on my new machine. The answer is because there haven't been any. In fact, I didn't get up the nerve to get out the machine until a couple weeks ago. Sewing and I have a very uneasy relationship. When I finally did work up the courage to haul it out I decided I would start with something very simple. Cloth serviettes (napkins if you're American).

These might not be perfect. In fact, I'm sure any decent seamstress would cringe if they had a close look at them. But I don't care. After all, they are for wiping stuff like spaghetti sauce and curry off dirty faces and hands.

I'm not sure what I'll attempt next. Suggestions for an easy, practical sewing project, along with a suggestion of something fun to can with Alexandra, would be much appreciated. I hope you're getting a nice mix of indoors and outdoors as we move into fall!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Grace Notes

I had the most incredible experience this past Wednesday. Way back in early July I read in Louise Penny's newsletter that she was going to be in Vancouver in early September as part of her book tour. I felt a knot form in my stomach. I desperately wanted to go, didn't want to go by myself, didn't know who I could find to go with me...

Then I did something totally out of character. In spite of all the unknowns I purchased a ticket. To understand exactly what I had committed to you need to know that she was going to be speaking at a church in downtown Vancouver. Not the outskirts of Vancouver, not even in the part of the city right before you cross one of the bridges that take you into the downtown core. The function was going to be where the traffic is the worst, the parking is almost non-existent, and where it would take me at least two and a half hours to get to.

About a week after I bought my ticket my sister-in-law Lynn phoned and told me she had finally started reading "that author" I had told her to try, and that she was loving the books. Well, that author was Louise Penny, and I know a gift horse when I see one. In a matter of minutes I had talked Lynn into going with me.

We decided I would drive to her home in White Rock, and then she would drive the rest of the way since the church was very close to where she used to work and she knows the area better than me. I have to say, it was very nice to be a passenger and not the driver for a change. I also have to say it's good I have nerves of steel, because my sister-in-law drives like a bat out of hell.

Due to the bat out of hell scenario we arrived at the church a full half hour before the event was due to start.

I was shocked when we entered the church and saw it was already two thirds full. Clearly I am not the only Louise Penny fan. I took this picture soon after we arrived. More and more people kept pouring in the doors, and by the time she started speaking there were over 700 people in attendance. (My apologies to the anonymous man whose rear end is featured in this picture.)

I wish you could have been there with me. She was funny and humble and fascinating and entertaining and I didn't want her to stop talking. I wasn't the only one either. She was scheduled to speak for thirty minutes, then take questions. At the forty minute mark she suddenly checked her watch and looked shocked at the time. She said she better leave it there and move on to the questions, and as soon as the words were out of her mouth the most amazing thing happened. I think it was this audience's equivalent of an encore call. There was a collective groan from all 700 people in attendance. She looked shocked again, then pleased, then kind of shrugged her shoulders and kept on talking for a bit longer.

She talked about Grace Notes in her life, and how so many grace notes went into her getting her first book, Still Life, published. Then after it was published her agent committed her to writing two more in the series and she was filled with fear because she didn't know how she had done the first book, and didn't know if she could do it again. Wow, could I ever identify with that feeling. Her therapist told her that she was letting "her critic" write the book, and instead she needed to let her creative soul write the first draft.

Then she answered questions from the audience. Being a complete coward, of course I didn't raise my hand. But many others did, and both the questions and the answers were very thoughtful. Now here's the part I should be hanging my head in shame over. After the Q&A, it was announced she would be signing books at the front, and they asked those of us who wanted a book signed to please line up in the middle aisle. This is where all those hikes up and down Teapot Hill paid off. In spite of being in the back of the church, I ended up at almost the front of the book signing line. In my defence I will say I didn't push or harm anyone on my way there. I just moved very, very fast. I felt this was totally justified since it was already almost 9:00 and I had a two and a half hour drive home.

This doesn't have anything to do with the rest of this post, other than it has what could be considered a grace note in it. Karsten texted me this picture yesterday of their family at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park.

Here's their grace note. On the trail to the lake they encountered a grizzly bear. It was coming towards them with its nose to the ground, apparently oblivious to their presence. Karsten finally made some noise and it moved off the trail so they could pass. I have run into black bears many times, but never a grizzly. And I count that as one of my grace notes.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

In With A Bang

The calendar might say the New Year starts on January 1, but a calendar is a soulless being. It's never opened a new box of crayons, put on a new "starting school" outfit, or tried to keep from using a new eraser so it wouldn't get marred by pencil lead. I might be long past my childhood days of starting school right after Labour Day, and a few years past the start of a new homeschool year with my own children, but the sense of the the proper New Year starting at the beginning of September has lingered.

This year the first day of September rolled in with a bang. Quite literally. Early in the morning as I was sitting at my computer, cup of tea in hand, there was a huge thud. A bird had hit the French doors leading onto our patio, and judging by the sound it was going at full speed. I went over to the doors, almost afraid to look. There was no way a bird could have hit with that much force and still be alive. At first glance it seemed as if my worst fears were confirmed.

The little bird was splayed, with one wing sticking out at a funny angle and its legs stuck straight out. It was also struggling for breath. Almost sadder than seeing the little bird suffering like that, was seeing its mom sitting there waiting for it to get up and fly off with her.

I stayed inside, watching and hoping and despairing. There was no way the baby bird was going to make it, and I wondered if I should do the kind thing and put it out of its misery, but knowing that deep down I was too big of a coward to actually carry through with it. Then something amazing happened. The little bird sat up.

A few minutes later the mom flew off, leaving the baby bird stranded on our patio. She must have thought it would follow her, but it just sat there, looking quite lost. I decided to go out and see if I could encourage it, but it didn't help. That's when I noticed the Purple Poop. These birds had clearly been snacking in one of the nearby patches of blackberries. 

I thought it was a good sign that the bird's digestive system was working, and sure enough, a few minutes later it flew away and joined its mom. After hitting the glass so hard, I'm sure this little bird will never be the brightest one in the flock. I'm also sure we will never get the stains out of our deck. 

As long as I'm on the subject of birds, I might as well show you the swallows that have taken up residence in the rafters above the garbage dumpsters. Every time I go there I'm greeted by the sounds of their gentle chirping. I especially love how they all sit tightly bunched together, like best friends having a visit. 

Happy September!