April 27, 2012

Post Earth Day Ponderings

Our women's quartet was invited to perform at a mini film festival on Earth Day. The two films were being shown at the local United Church, which has wonderful acoustics. We performed four songs first, then the thought provoking film Spoil was shown. We performed one more and then we all watched a lovely little short called Gratitude which left us in a hopeful mood. After the short, we had some time for discussion and then we proceeded into the hall for home-made cookies and tea. I had seen an Earth Day display on a large free-standing bulletin board in the foyer and ventured out with my cookie to read the various postings Several of the postings were quotes I had read before, but a few were poems by Scottish poet Robert Montgomery. I read one, and then I read them all.

Before the short film, we sang a song called 'The Simple Life'. But before we had begun, I had to pull myself together. The film Spoil, which is about a group of world-class photographers who gather at Hartley Bay in the Great Bear Rainforest on the West Coast of British Columbia to document, and thus show the world, what will be at stake environmentally should the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline project be allowed to go ahead and oil tankers negotiate the hazardous waterways in the area. The film had been very moving and disturbing and thus, emotional. Marilee introduced the song with a few quiet words: "It's time to apply the K.I.S.S. principle in our world: Keep it Simple, Stupid." I was at a loss for words, or more accurately, lyrics to begin the song, but somehow we rose to the occasion.

A cottage small is all I'm after
Not one that's spacious and wide
A house that rings with joy and laughter
And the ones you love inside

'The Simple Life' is a cute song from a film of the 1940's. And while it rang true for the occasion, I ventured out into the hallway looking for something more, something deeper. I found it in this short poem by Robert Montgomery, who routinely hijacks advertising billboards for his installations:

The desire for simplicity is strong in me. I wish more people felt that way because I believe if we all just stopped the somewhat blinding drive to aquire more of everything, and simply appreciated the good of what we have, if we purchased for quality and lastingness rather than trends and financial convenience, if we took more time to smell the proverbial roses and ponder the wonder of the created world of which we as people are a beautiful and ancient part, we would all be happier and our land use decisions would be wiser and from a place of stewardship rather than theft for short term gain. 
More of Robert Montgomery's work can be found here.

The photo above is of the extremely rare 'spirit bear', and is by Canadian photographer Ian McAllister, one of the photographers featured in the film, Spoil.

I will now step down from my soap box to wish you a Happy weekend.

April 20, 2012

Now they're Jamming in Heaven

Not only am I pressed for time this week, what with working at the annual Tulip Festival and rehearsing with the women's quartet for our upcoming performance at the local Earth Day mini film festival, I am typing with less fingers due to a sprain in the middle finger of my right hand which is now taped to the ring finger. Needless to say, this post will be brief.

I will take the opportunity to pay tribute to a musical gift to the world, Levon Helm, who died of cancer in New York City yesterday afternoon. I grew up with Levon and The Band as part of the general soundtrack of our family life. We listened to their records and sang their songs with harmony on the chorus at get-togethers in our home, and around the campfires of our youth, as so many people did. Levon's voice is forever recorded in my heart, and I can still hear his, as well as the voices of all the people I knew who sang the iconic song 'The Weight':

 Take a load off Annie.
 Take a load for free.
 Take a load off Annie,
 and put the load, put the load,
right on me.

The following video is a performance by The Band of 'The Weight' from the film/documentary The Last Waltz. Levon Helm was the drummer, one of the main vocalists, and the only American in the Canadian band who backed up Bob Dylan before becoming their own act.

May you live on forever in peace and continued harmony with all the greats who have gone before you, Mr. Helm.

(This is my 150th post.)

April 13, 2012

Gardening with a Small 'g'

I am what I call a small 'g' gardener living in a town full of Big 'G' gardeners. Agriculture is one of the mainstays of our community and the evidence is to be found in the home gardens, the community gardens and the parks all around me. When we'd first moved here from the wilds of Vancouver Island, I phoned my mother and cried, "Mom, I'm living in a place where everyone seems mainly to care about their lawns being perfect. What am I going to do here?" She assured me I would find my kind, and I did, but in the meantime I had to pull up my socks in the lawncare department. At least it gave me something to do before I found employment.

Just what defines the small 'g' gardener? The small 'g' gardener thrills to see the bulbs she planted haphazardly around the place flowering in March and April, but by mid-April she notices the weeds springing up in the cracks of the driveway and in every bare place in the garden. She focusses on the daffodils and tulip buds and thinks 'success!' But when her Big 'G' gardener friend points out the buttercup and dandelions and says, 'You'd better get to those before they take over,' she sighs, 'I know' before she goes inside and finds something more attractive to do.

The small 'g' gardener loves the idea of gardening. She even likes to work outside in the blossoming fragrant months of April and May, and enjoys picking rhubarb and raspberries in the early hours of sunlit dewy summer mornings. Picking slugs, however? Far less appealing. She is motivated enough to plant and weed the garlic patch and harvest the mint for drying, but it is her husband who babies the raspberry canes which thrive under his care. Working together, the small 'g' gardener and her husband plant their few containers of tomatoes, cucumbers, flowers and herbs on the south facing deck off the kitchen. This is the co-operative gardening she doesn't mind. Left to herself, she's not sure those containers would make their way out of the shed year after year.

The small 'g' gardener wishes, truly, that she cared more. She wishes it meant everything to her to grow her own food, but she has to face facts: unless the produce shop shuts down and the farmers market ceases to exist she will just not see the point. Why grow her own food when all those other people, those Big 'G' gardeners, do it so much better than she ever could? She knows people who, as winter comes to a close, just cannot wait to get their hands in the earth. Somehow the small 'g' gardener has been born without that gene. Every day when she walks her daughter to school she passes the impeccable garden of the Dutch-born couple around the corner. That couple are out there every chance they get, pruning, weeding, planting, mowing, trimming, harvesting, dead-heading, manicuring, and smiling their beautiful Big 'G' gardener smiles. Little 'g' smiles back, eternally humbled but ever admiring their handiwork - because she loves pretty gardens planted with the skill of an artist painting a picture, or an architect designing a cathedral. She reveres people who are born with the enviable green thumb. If gardening had a varsity squad, she'd be its cheerleader. "Go team go!" she'd shout from the sidelines waving her tri-coloured pom-poms. "2,4,6,8, who do we appreciate? Gardeners, gardeners, rah, rah, rah!"

Somehow, however, the enthusiasm of the small 'g' gardener is not enough to turn her thumb from the dullest, quietest shade of green. She simply hasn't got the talent for the big leagues, nor the necessary drive. Small 'g' will carry on, however, keeping up appearances for the sake of peace in the neighbourhood and her own self-respect. She will get out there with her trowel and her weed bucket, her gloves and hat, and wage war on the driveway invaders. She will trim the cedar shrubs and give the boxwoods their biannual haircut. She will plant the front flowerbed with impatiens because the slugs leave those alone and they do look very pretty. She will make somewhat of an effort with the buttercup because, let's face it, they are winning, and water the container garden when needed (although it will be her husband who remembers to water twice on hot days). And she will not hate working in the garden, no, but she will also not absolutely love it.

Such is the fate of the small 'g' gardener. I've learned to live with it.

The photo above is of the last of our 2011 Roma tomatoes. They were quite respectable.
Happy weekend to all you gardeners, big and small.

April 7, 2012

Easter Traditions, Then and Now

I remember once sitting in the living room with my parents sometime over the Easter weekend while we listened to the entire recording of Handel's Messiah. I'm not sure if that was a yearly tradition or not, but it left an impression on me. Now I like to turn on CBC Radio while I am cooking breakfast on Easter morning and tune in to The Messiah with all the other people listening across the country. It's a good, unifying feeling of joy and celebration while maple flavoured bacon sizzles in the pan and the scrambled eggs cook up light and fluffy. We have bacon and eggs every Easter morning, and my family looks forward to the meal, but it is the beautiful braided Easter bread that is the crowning glory of the white clothed breakfast table.

Every year, For as long as I can remember, my mother has made her family-favourite Easter bread. My mom is an excellent bread maker and I have good memories of sitting in the kitchen watching her knead the dough - thump thump thump - as she turned the dough over and over with her capable hands on the yellow formica topped kitchen table. She generally made a large batch of sweet dough and after decorating the braided bread with white icing and brightly coloured jelly beans, would deliver a few loaves to close friends. We still had plenty left over for Easter breakfast, though, and it was always a big treat sliced and slathered with sweet and slightly salty butter. 

When my boys were little I asked my mom for her Easter bread recipe. She gave me the original booklet from which she had first learned the method; the booklet had probably come free of charge with a bag of Robin Hood flour. Every year since, I have made Mom's Easter bread, and it has become an essential part of the Easter celebrations in our house. I make two loaves and they are both gobbled up in as many days. Easter bread is not terribly filling and being white bread, it becomes stale fairly quickly. Fortunately, it never lasts long enough in our house for staleness to be a worry.

The first rising (I love punching down the dough)

Ian insited on putting his copy of Ben Hur in this photo
of the braided dough ready for baking

Golden baked loaves. They smell sooo heavenly.

Iced and decorated for Easter morning

I made our Easter bread today, and this evening, our youngest is decorating eggs. When I was growing up, Holy Saturday was the day for egg decorating. I, the youngest would do my best not to smudge the colours on my eggs, while my sisters, especially my sister Pauline created objet d'art with theirs. A local shop also sponsored an Easter colouring contest each year, and Pauline often won First Prize. I could only gaze in wonder at what she could accomplish with a set of pencil crayons. We had a beatiful collection of eggs which decorated the sideboard or the table for the Easter season.  My girls have made some beautiful creations over the years, and my eldest brought home one she had made by tying a piece of patterned silk around an egg before boiling it for several minutes in vinegar water in her cooking class this week. The pattern transferred itself onto the egg throughout the process which made for a very pretty result.

The egg on the left was boiled tied in patterned silk, while the
other was decorated with felt tipped pen by my youngest daughter

On Saturday night, our family would attend the Easter Vigil at our Cathedral. With the lights dimmed and the scent of incense sitting heavily in the air, I would generally fall asleep on my dad and sometimes he even carried me all the way home. Easter morning, we children rose and sought out our stash of chocolate and jelly beans. We always had a large, flat Peter Rabbit, and my brother and I would attack the ears first. We even had a type of Easter treasure hunt once. We had clues that we had to follow in order to reach the hiding spot of our cache of treats.

As a family now, we attend whichever Easter mass works for us because my husband is usually very busy during any holiday period at the hotel where he is employed. He even used to dress up as the Easter Bunny on Easter morning and hand out chocolate eggs to all the children staying at the hotel for the holiday. This year we opted to go to mass early Sunday morning, when our eldest girl will be singing in the choir. For several years I hid plastic eggs filled with little chocolate eggs and other candies in our downstairs for my own children. Each of our four kids was assigned a colour of plastic egg. They had to find only their colour. Eventually, they got too old for that (or my skills at hiding just could not keep up to their skill at finding) and for the past few years I have simply filled a basket or similar container with brightly coloured Easter grass to make a nest for their treats. I make one for their dad, too, so he doesn't feel left out.

We always get together with friends for an Easter supper, generally of baked ham, scallopped potatoes, salads and of course, luscious desserts and wine. This year, with the weather being so beautiful we will shake things up a bit. We are going out to our friends' farm where we will gather with some other families and go for a long walk followed by an Easter Tea (which our host says will be supper disguised as something easier). We often shared our Easter supper with friends when I was growing up, too, if I remember correctly. Easter was always the most important celebration in the year and many of the traditions I grew up with I have carried on with my own children. Taking the rich and meaningful moments of our childhoods and adapting them to our own families is what tradition is all about. And barring that, we make our own.

A joyful and very happy Easter to all!