Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sweet Narcissi

Fresh from the garden, these narcissi remind me how delicate and varied their beauty is. Softer and more dainty than the cheerful bold daffodil, they come in endless varieties. I only just began planting them a couple of years ago, but plan to add different varieties every year.

I just learned something interesting that I hadn't known about daffodils before. I was reading a book that mentioned that it's better to keep daffodils in a vase by themselves as they tend to kill off anything else that is placed with them. I may have to sacrifice a few blooms of something to see if this is true. Beware the Dangerous Daffodil!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Multiple Patterns

I am always amazed at the endless patterns on leaves. Almost as many variations as there are varieties of plants. Even early in spring, when there isn’t much up yet in the garden I can see speckled, mottled and striped patterns on leaves. I don’t know what purpose these markings play in the life of plants, but they are a source of endless fascination.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pocket Full of Posies

Following up on the theme of less is more from yesterday’s post, I thought I would make some tiny arrangements with the very first flowers to bloom in my garden this spring. Armed with scissors I went out into the garden to see what I could find, and was rewarded with blooms that have appeared seemingly overnight: some creeping phlox, periwinkle, scilla, forsythia, grape hyacinth and William and Mary.

Using some expresso cups in a fresh looking spring green colour, I made three. The cups are just a little larger than an average egg cup and each arrangement measures about three inches across. They make the sweetest little posies and look great grouped together. But I am going to split them up: one for the bathroom, one on my bedside table and one for the kitchen table.

They make wonderful gifts too. Who could resist one of these sweet wee posies? Small in size, large in charm.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pussy-footing Around

Look at this charming arrangement. Less is often definitely more. It all started when I gave a bouquet of pussy willows from my garden to my friend M. (You might recognize the polka-dot ribbon from Friday's post.) This bouquet was sweet but it became a vignette with M.'s clever addition of her sweet wee iron birdie.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Down the Garden Path

I found this small vintage tablecloth at a church rummage sale. The price tag: $3.00. Made of soft linen, each corner is hand-embroidered with a lovely garden scene. Three of the corners are show the same garden, the fourth has a larger scene, as pictured in the middle image.

I love the hollyhocks, the bird bath, the three wee birds pecking at something on the ground. I wonder who chose these colours from their embroidery silks, threaded their needle and pulled the thread back and forth through the design, knotting it and trimming each end? Was this one of many projects they completed or the only one? It is a sweet innocent design, the perfect cloth for a tea party for two in a summer garden.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Colour of the Sea

The colour and patina of these bottles are exquisite. The old glass has an iridescence, a pearlized sheen to it. They would look wonderful in front of a window with the sun shining through them. Three of the four are marked: one says ”This bottle is the property of Eug Mirault, Ottawa”; the second “H.H. Sugarman, trade-mark registered, Ottawa“ with an image of what looks like a dog, perhaps a bulldog; the third “Florida water, Murray & Lanman, druggists, New-York”.

So far my research shows that Eugene Mirault was listed in the 1909 Ottawa City Directory, his business listed as aerated water manufacturer in the name index. In the street index, "mineral water" follows his name. He has the same listing in the 1923 Directory.

Hyman H. Sugarman is identified as a peddlar in the 1909 Ottawa City Directory. In 1912 he is listed as a soda water manufacturer.

There's a lot more information available on Murray & Lanman's Florida Water. Turns out Florida water was introduced on Valentine's Day in 1808 by Robert Murray. Brother Lindley Murray succeeded Robert and took David Trumbull Lanman as a partner in 1835 under the name Murray & Lanman. It wasn't until 1858 that the firm became D.T. Lanman & Kemp. So my bottle must date somewhere between 1835 and 1858.

And what was Florida water? It was the company's most popular product, an orange-scented toilet water for both men and women, also used as a skin toner, cologne, and aftershave. Florida water is apparently still sold today.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Perky Polka Dots

Half the fun of giving a gift, for me anyway, is in the presentation. I usually start with a theme, perhaps a colour, and go from there. In this particular case, it all started with some red and white gift wrap that I bought knowing that my dear friend R. is partial to red. Next I remembered some black and white polka dot ribbon I already had squirreled away. A trip to my local crafts shop turned up the perfect polka dot boxes as well as some wee red paper bags. A quick trip down another aisle yielded some red and white gingham ribbon. Once home I punched a few star-shaped breathing holes in the red bags destined to hold flower bulbs.

Put it all together, tie a ribbon onto the Spanish garden tub, and what have you got? A very cheery gift! R. tells me she had as much fun undoing this gift as I had assembling it!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

By the Sea

There are two beaches I remember from my childhood. The first was York Beach, Maine where my family went for a week or two every summer. I remember searching for shells all afternoon, lobster dinners and buying salt-water taffy in one of the shops along the boardwalk. The other beach was in Torquay, Devon when we would spend summers in England visting my grandparents, aunts and cousins. On the beach in Torquay I would look for beach glass, the smell of seaweed strong in the air. By the beach there were public terrace gardens filled with palm trees, so temperate is the climate there.
At night, thousands of little lights would glow among the plants.

I love the sea and walking along the beach, but I don’t exactly live near the ocean. Maybe that’s what led me to create a miniature beach to keep in our bathroom. I started with a small glass whose colour and rippled surface reminded me of ocean waves. It was a thrift-shop find for 49 cents. Next, I filled the glass with some fine white sand available from a craft store. Gathering together some small shells, a tiny starfish (smaller than my pinkie fingernail) and a miniature piece of driftwood which I found on a river’s shoreline I arranged them in the sand. Presto, an instant beach scape that brings a little bit of the ocean close, all year-round.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pixie Home

Doesn’t this spot look like the perfect place for the entrance to a pixie home? When my son was younger, he and I would go looking for such entrance ways. He, like me, has a fascination for the world of elves, and fairies and other wee folk. It is such a fine thing to have an imagination that allows for the possibility of such creatures and their abodes.

When I was a little girl I was drawn to all those lovely English illustrations of worlds in miniature. Whether it was Cicely Mary Barker’s charming watercolour illustrations of flower fairies from one of her “Flower Fairy” books (the first was published in 1923), or children’s books with depictions of the interiors of mice homes with their match-box beds and sewing spool tables, I loved the sweet images and the imaginative minds that could conceive of such an anthropomorphic world in miniature.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Morning Pages

For something close to 8 or 9 years, I’ve lost track exactly, I have been writing morning pages as Julia Cameron suggests in her hugely popular book, The Artist’s Way. She urges people to write three pages a day, every day, first thing in the morning in order to empty themselves of all the issues that can hang around and cloud their day. First thing in the morning was never ideal for me — the household was just too busy getting ready for school and work. So for a time I wrote them upon arriving at work. After a few years, my morning pages became lunch pages. I would bring my notebook with me to a cafĂ© on my lunch hour and write them then, with a coffee or in the winter a hot chocolate at the side.

At first I used regular school notebooks but gradually chose a fancier journal type to write in. When I brought a digital camera, a photo was glued in each day to accompany my entry. I noticed that my morning pages were becoming less stream of consciousness and more blog-like. Without realizing it I was heading towards blogging. And now that I am blogging I am finding that my morning pages have become very irregular. Probably because blogging is too similar to what my morning pages had become.

It might be time for me to get back to the real purpose of morning pages, to write without editing myself, to get onto the page all the issues that I’m facing at any particular time, to create a place once again where I can puzzle things out, or at least free my mind to get on with other things and hopefully, as Julia Cameron intended, to encourage my creativity in ways which may have become blocked.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Marble for My Collection

As a kid, I was quite the marble collector, quite the player too. So it wasn’t surprising that I gravitated to the marble seller’s table at a Sunday flea market in a city I was visiting for the weekend. He regaled my sons and me with a brief history of marbles and explained how they are made. He even showed us a rare marble that is worth $1200.

I did come home with a marble, but it wasn’t that one. It was a reject from the assembly line. Something must have been slightly off because the marble ended up not round but oval. It only cost $3 and I love the mix of caramel and burnt toffee, the burnt orange shades and the lovely aqua swirls. It’s every bit a collector’s item as the more expensive one the marble dealer showed off to us.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pastel Pansy Paradise

The first plants have hit the garden centre, but only the hardiest. Among them were these sweet pansies in the most gorgeous soft shades imaginable.

Pansies, also used to be known as Hearts-Ease and Love-in-Idleness, meant “love at first sight” in the Victorian language of flowers.

It has long been known that the juice of a wild pansy dropped into the eye of a sleeping person will cause them to fall in love with the first person they see. – Traditional

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Anyone at Home?

Walking along a woodland nature trail with my friend S. today, she noticed this tree a short distance off the path. We took a closer look and marveled at the beautifully shaped opening against the rough texture of the bark. Just how does an opening like that get there? Did a branch once connect to the tree at that point? If not a branch, then how was the hole shaped? Surely some animal, maybe a porcupine, lives in it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Random Attraction

Enjoying a good thrift shopping spree from time to time is one of my little pleasures. It’s like a treasure hunt — you never know what you’ll find on any particular day. Sometimes I go and find nothing, usually I spot at least an item or two of interest, and more often than not I discover all sorts of things so that once I’ve done combing the aisles I have to carefully sort through everything and decide if I really want or need each piece — even if the price is really low. Because really, just how much room does anyone have to keep filling with new old stuff?

Once I’m done, my shopping cart is often filled with items that somehow work together aesthetically. Subconsciously I must have had some theme in mind. Usually it’s colour. While I haven’t set out to look for certain colours, at times what ends up in my cart blends together as though I had deliberately made each choice with that in mind. I guess I am attracted to certain things on certain days without being aware of it.

That happened recently. I went off to a fabric store to buy some fabric to make a duvet cover and found some in a lovely warm pink that just happened to be discounted. After that I went off to one of my regular thrift shops and trolled the shelves. Into the cart went a set of vintage floral sheets and pillow cases, a painted striped container, and a metal Victorian-like planter. Half an hour later I was ready to go through the cash and sure enough, to my complete surprise, my cart was filled with a gorgeous blend of pinks, corals, and creams. I honestly didn’t realize there had been a pattern in my random attraction to various items. What a delight to bring it all home, spread it out and look at it all together.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Going for Baroque

Judging from this winter’s crop of fashion magazines, ruffles and lace seem to be making a comeback. Which got me thinking...

Take a vintage lace doily. Fold over the top third. Gather together at the top. Sew a few stitches to keep the desired shape, and voilĂ ... a lace jabot to pin on a blouse. Keep in mind, the bigger the doily, the larger the jabot. Try lace, eyelet or embroidered doilies for different looks.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Letters from the Heart

At one time people used to send handwritten letters. In fact there were so many letters delivered through the mail, some people even had mail slots in their doors that were specifically labeled “letters”. What a magical sounding word. Email may be great for instant communication, but oh what we have lost in terms of aesthetics. Imagine for a moment slicing open an envelope, hand addressed to you, a letter written on beautiful heavy coloured paper stock with a fountain pen in the most beautiful shade of peacock blue. Imagine too that the stationery carries the slight scent of rose water, or lavender perhaps. Now imagine that the person that has taken the time to write you this letter is someone very dear to you. Are your senses overloaded yet? Yes, we have definitely lost something very special in this age of emails and texting.

Admit it, doesn’t your heart lift just a little on the rare occasion when you find a letter in your mailbox, not a bill or a flyer, but an actual letter? Maybe it’s time to return to some of the time-consuming but oh so satisfying ways we used to do things. Letter writing should be one of these. What a treat to bestow on someone you care about.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Own Backyard

Right now, my backyard (top photo) is not a pretty sight. But give it a few months and it will transform itself as it did last year (lower photos). What a difference a season makes. If only I could transform myself so dramatically in such a short time!

“When I was a young teenager and wanted to be a writer and couldn’t wait to leave home and go on the road in search of adventures to write about, my mother said, ‘There are stories in your own backyard.’

“‘Ha!’ I said. So I left home, went on the road, had lots of adventures, and eventually, 25 years later, the first book I published took place in the backyard of my childhood. Ha!”

(Dayal Kaur Khalsa, children’s book writer, on writing)

Looking out at my own backyard, I wonder what lessons it holds for me. What can I learn by paying close attention to it? What does my garden tell me about myself, for I have shaped it into what it has become. I am there in every leaf and bloom.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Basketful of Spring

At this time of year, even though the calendar says spring, outside the garden still has to wake up. What says spring more than spring blooms? Since it will be some time, before I’m picking tulips, daffodils and hyacinths from my garden I have to turn to another source. Luckily I am able to pick up small pots of spring flowers for reasonable prices at my local grocery store.

Carefully selecting for colour, I found the most beautiful creamy yellow and pink tinged tulips. I was thrilled to find a gerbera whose colours echoed the tulips and came across some creamy yellow daffodils and a gorgeous fragrant blue hyacinth. Once home, I took the blooms from their tiny pots and repotted them in a larger plastic pot, then placed the pot in a beautiful large oval basket woven with twine. In went some pussy willow branches from my garden and as a final touch I added moss. The result: a breath of spring! And best of all, this gorgeous basket of blooms wasn’t just for my enjoyment but to give away to someone else.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Minor Adjustments

I made a few adjustments today to the display I arranged on our mantle yesterday. I switched the vase I had put the daffodils in to a small jug in the most scrumptious colour. The jug was a happy thrift shop find. I had bought some polka dot candles in the shape of eggs in the same shade as this jug as well as some in spring green a few weeks ago and was just waiting for a way to use them. I added the candle eggs to the bowls and presto, an improved display, not as "au natural" as it was but more colourful and fun.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Display

I wanted to create a nature-themed Easter display this year. The starting point was a couple of pieces of tree bark that I keep for various purposes throughout the year, some moss and some wee speckled eggs from Loblaws. I would have liked everything I used to be totally natural, but since I don’t have access to real speckled eggs, I had to settle for these stand-ins. I brought out some bowls I have in natural colours and gathered together a bunch of daffodils, pussy willows and a nest made from dried vines. Taking care to vary the heights, I gradually filled the mantle with my selections, moving things around until everything seemed to look right together.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Earless Bunnies

Since the boys were young I have created an Easter “tree” with home-grown pussy willow branches and Easter-themed ornaments each year. The ornaments were tiny painted plaster bunnies, eggs, wee carrots and all things spring. Over the years more and more of the bunnies have become earless. Oops, I guess they were dropped on the floor too many times! The wooden painted eggs have fared better. I thought about changing the decorations this year to pretty pastel ribbon bows or hand-coloured eggs but I’m not sure I want to deviate from tradition just yet.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Easter Cookies

Easter is coming quickly... and what would Easter be without cookies? Rather than find the answer to that question I will have to start baking. Last year I baked two shapes: Easter eggs and Easter bunnies. The bunnies were made with a vintage cookie cutter I found at a church bazaar. As I started to decorate the cookies, I was inspired to use royal icing in a new way. To begin, I laid down the usual smooth icing base but then, rather than piping on the extra details, I suddenly thought why not paint them using a small paint brush and watered down food colouring? This was the result. Not bad for my first attempt. I will learn how to improve on this technique the more I use it. It certainly increases the possibilities. Using a brush one can render ideas in much greater detail than what you might achieve with only a piping bag and tips.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

One Step Forward, Three Steps Back

One step forward, three steps back. That’s what it feels like today. When I started this blog on March 20th, just 19 days ago, it was the first day of spring. Outside there were signs that indicated maybe, just maybe spring was here. The photo I used that day was of snowdrops, in bloom under the birch trees in our front yard. There was no snow on the ground. Pointy sharp tips of spring plants were starting to pierce the soil. Promise was in the air. This morning the same patch of ground is now under snow. Snow. Nothing to stress over, certainly. But for those of us who live through winter after long winter, one shouldn’t underestimate the effect that extending winter for an additional period of time has on our psyche.

We are tired of dressing in sensible boots and multiple layers. We don’t want to scrape ice and snow from our windshields another time. We long to be pottering about our gardens, putting things right. We want to be raking up the leaves that protected the flower beds, trimming back dead foliage, checking on certain plants to see if they made it through the winter. We ache to be able to sit outside again and sip a cup of tea or savour a mug of coffee while reading the paper.

On Monday when we woke up to a snowfall, it was not too bad. You could see that the snowflakes were melting as they touched down. Yesterday, it snowed a little harder and began to accumulate, still it was nothing to get concerned about. But now, a third day with more snow ... and with more on the way tomorrow, one wonders when spring will truly be with us.