Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Little of This and a Little of That

Yep I've been doing this and that and then some.  In fact it's been a little crazy as you can imagine getting ready to go away for so long.  

I'm about half packed now.

and am making my way through my to do list.

One of the things I wanted to do was make a sleep shirt out of hubby's old dress shirt.  I thought the cotton material and larger, longer size would work well in Bangladesh.  I wanted something that would be cool and comfortable.  So I cut the sleeves and collar off and sewed a hem on the raw edges.  

I don't think I will be winning any fashion awards, but it looks like it may just do the trick.

As an aside:  I found two different Robin's egg shells over the past few months as I was out walking Juno and was struck by how different the shades of blue are.  They both are lovely blues, but I had no idea that Robin's eggs could vary that much.

By the way, the guest posts are coming in fast and furious and I'm really excited to share them with you.  Lots of fun things to look forward to this summer!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Brain is Full

My brain is so full that I thought last weekend was Father's Day.  Yep, I gave my husband his present and everything.  Before I tell you what I gave hubby, let me tell you why my brain is so full.

The book I write all my lists and notes in for planning the summer trip

Most of my faithful followers will know that I have had a busy spring, what with getting ready for our eldest son's wedding last month and getting ready for my upcoming trip to France, Bangladesh, and India.  

But that's not all.  I've also been:

- visiting the hospital as my father just had major surgery.  He is doing well, thankfully.

- planning William's summer. The plans are yet to be finalized, but they involve him going out to Manitoba Pioneer Camp as a cabin counselor.

The new duffle I ordered from L L Bean.   If my name was Lucy Lydia Bean, it would even be monogrammed.

driving an extra 2 hours most days to get Kate to and from her summer job.  Jobs are in short supply around these parts this year and the best Kate could find was working at Canada's Wonderland.  She's enjoying the job and I'm enjoying chatting with her in the car.  She will be off to university in September, so we grab the moments when we can.  

- oh, and it's the end of the school year, so I've been busy finishing up reports and attending parent meetings, etc.

That might seem like enough to do, but there's more.  Here's where hubby's Father's Day gift comes in.  

On April 19th a wonderful thing happened to our family.  The phone rang. One of my husband's three sisters was on the other end.  That may not sound like much, but my husband was adopted at the age of four. He had not heard from this sister in over fifty years.  The sister who phoned had been adopted with one of my husband's two brothers.   So, with one phone call we had an instant new family, a new sister and a new brother (who that same evening also got in touch with hubby), along with nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles.

It has been an exciting emotional journey meeting the various new relatives and getting to know them and their families.  There have been phone calls, emails, and visits and it is strange and amazing and fascinating to discover similarities and bonds between the siblings.

One of the biggest surprises (and thrills) was seeing some baby and toddler pictures of my husband.  We didn't have any photos from when he was very young.  It is delightful to see him when he was a toddler with his five siblings and his parents.  Along with the pictures there have been many stories, so many stories - some happy, some sad, but all of them wonderful to hear for the first time. It is breathtaking suddenly to have his early life and his ancestry fleshed out (more about his fascinating ancestry in another post).    

The two photos I gave hubby for Father's day

As for hubby's Father's Day gift - I had two of the newly found photos of him and his siblings and parents scanned and restored and framed (you can see them above).  He loves them -- and has had an extra week to enjoy them, thanks to me!

Happy Father's Day, hubby - for real this time!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Thank You Lawrence Hill

Today was Malcolm's convocation from the University of Waterloo and we couldn't be prouder.  

It was a lovely day and it was fun to spend it with Malcolm and Christie celebrating this important event.  

While I was on the edge of my chair for the two minutes Malcolm was on stage - totally soaking up the moment.  See there he is on the left with the green stripe on his hood in the photo below (don't you love all the colourful academic gowns and caps and pudding hats).

However, I've been to a few convocations in my day so when it was time for the keynote address I settled in to my tune-out mode - oops did I just admit - until I heard who was giving the speech.  It was Lawrence Hill, the author who wrote the wonderful novel The Book of Negroes.  He was given an honourary degree by the University of Waterloo and then he talked to the graduates about the importance of volunteer work and what he gained from volunteering in west Africa with Crossroads Canada and the importance of books and literature.  It was a wonderful speech, an inspiring speech, and one that had me awake the entire time.  So all I can say is that you saved me, Lawrence Hill.  Thanks to you I actually enjoyed this convocation.

Lawrence Hill giving the keynote address at the convocation

After some photos we went out for lunch.  Waterloo is a big Mennonite area so we went to a restaurant that had good home-cooking, including traditional Mennonite dishes and plenty of low German being spoken.

They're all laughing because I made them clean up the table and hide the ketchup bottle under the table

Congrats to our boy for all the blood, sweat, and tears (well actually I'm not sure how much blood was really shed) that went into completing his Honours English Bachelor of Arts degree.  And if you haven't read The Book of Negroes you should get on that right away because it is not only well written, but is engaging and well researched.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Three Tips for Landscaping a New Subdivision Garden

It is hard to believe, but we have lived in our present house for ten years this July.  When we moved in, the backyard was empty - our own personal prairie grassland.  A dead bush that looked like a tumbleweed blew down our street one day so I put it in the backyard to help complete the look.  If we were going to have a prairie in our backyard then we should at least have a tumbleweed.

Our backyard (June 2011)

The spring after we moved in we bought a wooden climber from a friend.  The climber was a big hit and was used continuously for years. Sadly those days are gone, although the climber is still there hidden by the bushes and trees.  A couple of years after we got the climber another friend gave us their heavy-duty swing set, which originally had two children's swings on it, but now has our garden swing

Backyard in the same view as the first photo (spring 2002).  The wood in the back right corner is the soon to be climber.

Rear of the house (spring 2002).  Note the "tumbleweed"  against the fence on the left.

It seemed very daunting to create a beautiful, useful, fun space out of our bleak barren backyard.  How were we going to make an impact there without spending a fortune?  We needed some shade stat, but how were we going to accomplish that without bringing in mature trees.  I looked in my garden books and on-line for some advice and there was surprisingly little information out there about how to make a bare subdivision yard look nice as quickly as possible without spending a fortune.   

So these are some of the best tips I discovered and they were very helpful to me so I'm passing them along to anyone else faced with a bare backyard.

Tip #1 - Look at where your neighbours have trees and line yours up on the same side.  It seemed counterintuitive, because you would think you should spread the trees around, but what it does is give you a sight line of greenery and makes your yard seemer greener faster.  This is the view we have out our dining room garden doors so I love that it is a wall of greenery.

A swath of greenery created by planting trees and bushes on our side of the fence to fill out in front of our neighbour's tree.

The extra height gained by planting our garden under our neighbour's roses (which you can see above and growing through the fence) helps create a more mature looking garden.

Tip #2 - Plant some fast-growing trees and bushes as well as some long-term ones.  Bushes and trees like pussy willows are not usually featured in garden plans that you see in magazines and books, but they definitely serve a valuable place in a new garden.  You want  a mix of fast-growing and long-term plants so that you get some immediate shade, but in 20 years or so when the fast-growing plants are finished your long-term trees and bushes are ready to take over.  

The willow just past the swing has grown from a twig to a sizable bush in about eight years and casts a nice area of shade.

Tip # 3 - You want to make the garden beds wide enough and with nice gently curved edges so that they look interesting.   Even garden beds along a fence, unless you are making a really formal or modern garden, look better with some curves to them.   A great tip I read was to use a garden hose to mark the shape of the new garden beds.  The hose doesn't bend easily so will only create undulating beds with a nice gentle curve.  Lay the hose along the edge of where you envision your garden should be until you are satisfied with its shape and then cut the sod there.

Newly built flower beds (July 2003)

Back garden beds (June 2010)

We had one flower bed that was a rectangle about seven feet long and three feet wide.  This is not a good dimension for a garden as it rather looked like we had just buried someone back there.  We referred to if fondly as our coffin garden.  To fix this problem we widened the bed slightly and rounded one end incorporating a couple of bushes so there was some height making it more interesting and less graveyardish.   

By making the garden beds a minimum of three feet wide, but hopefully more like four or five feet, you create a space wide enough that you can plant bushes away from the fence.  Nothing looks worse in a few years to see mature bushes all misshapen because they were planted too close to the fence.  The wider garden beds also allow plants to be layered in front of one another to make a more interesting arrangement.

Anyone else have some tried and true garden tips for the new home gardeners out there?

Linked to Wow us Wednesday at Savvy Southern Style

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?

Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,

River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside--

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown--

Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pear and Apple Custard Tarts

Recently, I tried a recipe from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario's spring magazine, and, while it didn't end up looking quite as pretty as the inspiration picture, it was delicious.

Here's the picture, from the magazine, that caught my eye.  Isn't it pretty?  Isn't it tantalizing?  I read over the recipe and thought, how hard could that be to make?  Well it was in fact a little more difficult than it seemed - but, oh so worth it!

Here's the recipe (by Nancy Midwicki)

Tart Shells:
8-10 sheets phyllo dough
1/2 cup (125 ml) unsalted butter, melted (although I just used margarine because I'm fancy like that)

Fruit filling:
2 Granny Smith or Macintosh apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 firm pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 tbsp (25 ml) fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup (125 ml) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1 ml) ground cinnamon
pinch salt
1 tbsp (15 ml) cornstarch
1 tbsp (15 ml) sweet butter (again I just used margarine and it tasted fine)
1 can (14 oz/398 ml) Devon custard

Assorted edible flowers
Fresh mint sprigs
Confectioner's sugar for dusting

1.  Peel, slice, and core fruit and cook in a pan with lemon juice, sugar, salt, and cinnamon.  Simmer until tender, but firm.  Add cornstarch and, when thickened, gently stir in butter until melted.  Cool
2.  Melt butter and brush each phyllo sheet evenly.  Place another sheet on top (this is where an extra set of hands sure came in handy) and repeat four times.   Cut each stack into four parts and trim the squares into rounds and gently fit into a large buttered muffin tin.  Repeat.  Always cover remaining phyllo dough with a damp tea towel to prevent drying.  Cool unbaked tart shells in the fridge for 15 minutes (although between you and me, I was so excited to have the phyllo cut and into the muffin tins that I forgot to put it in the fridge to cool and it baked just fine).  Bake in 325F (165C) oven for 8-12 minutes until golden.  Cool.  
3.  Just before serving, place tart shells on plates and put a spoonful of custard in the bottom of each.  Repeat with fruit mixture.  Top with more custard.  Garnish as desired.  

The hardest part of the recipe was dealing with the phyllo dough.  If you've used it you will know what I mean.  I had never used phyllo before and boy is it thin and tears easily.  I had Kate help me and together we managed to get four layers buttered and cut and put into each of the sections of the muffin tins.  I only broke out into a sweat a few times and didn't utter any bad words so all was good.

The apple and pear mix was straightforward and really got my mouth watering as I love cooked fruit and the combination was delicious.

We had friends over for dinner whose eight year old daughter helped me assemble the dessert.   I didn't have any edible flowers or mint sprigs, so we dusted some icing sugar on top to make them pretty.  My assistant was very helpful.

She was in charge of the icing sugar dusting.

And she took her job very seriously.  

The tarts definitely got a 10 on the yummy scale!!!