Colourful Evenings

The closest I can come to experiencing some colourful evenings in my own version of Fifty Shades of Grey is by looking at the colour of the sky on any given day of this past winter. We’ve had what feels like about three months of fog, cloud, wind, and rain in various combinations and every possible shade of grey.

Suddenly we’ve had a few days of clearer skies.

I had forgotten how beautiful the clouds can be when a few rays of sunshine are allowed to reach them.

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Beyond my still “winterized” black walnut tree, I see a sky that looks as if it has been painted by an amateur watercolour artist. But what a lovely palette of colours the painter has.

??????????I feel hopeful that spring is just around the corner. If only I knew which corner it was, I’d run out to meet it.

Pets I Have Loved

As long as I can remember, my family has always had pets, whether they were gerbils, tropical fish, turtles, or cats and dogs. One of the first pet pictures I have is of Bobby and I’m sure he was a Heinz 57 breed. That didn’t mean we loved him less.

img728As my brother and I grew older, we still loved to pose with Bobby.

img726Our next dog was a collie type, but also Heinz 57. Her name was Trudy, but we didn’t have her long. I think she may have nipped someone and my parents found a home for her on a nearby farm. Here we are (my brother and two sisters) all sitting on the sidewalk by our house in the boonies. The sweet little girl on the far right is a neighbour.

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Then we had a shaggy mongrel dog who looked like a mop. We called him Mopsy and loved him SO much. On the picture below, where my sister is all dressed up for the Fall Fair parade, Mopsy is favouring one of his legs. He had tried to jump the fence when he was tied up and we weren’t home. He broke his leg and we felt terrible. But after some time in a cast, his leg healed. We had Mopsy for years, but one day he wandered up the street in the night to visit a bitch in heat and came home with a load of shot in his chest. He crawled under the shed and died. We were just heartbroken.

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All grown up, I still had pets. Our chocolate lab, Toby, had a litter of puppies, one of which our friends adopted. Nicky was supposedly the runt of the litter, but he turned out to be probably the best dog of the bunch.
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On our little hobby farm, I am surrounded by pets: the chickens, our chocolate lab (Toby), and my two lovely cats, Shorty (the lighter one) and Cowboy (the dark one). img571Here is Shorty.

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And here is Cowboy.

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We had a couple of other dogs who were not remarkable and I don’t have photos of them, but when Lily came along, she was our best dog up to that time. She was an English springer spaniel, who never gave up on retrieving a bird. Lily was an excellent bird dog, and a very sweet house dog. She not only enjoyed being petted, but she came over to give hugs. She would lay her head against my knee and sigh a real Valentine’s sigh. If Lily could have talked, we would have heard her telling us she loved us many times. And the feeling was mutual.

Lily, age 73

Lily looks a bit scruffy on the photos because she was quite old by this time (73 in people years) and she had Cushing’s Syndrome, a disease that attacks the adrenal glands and has many awful side effects. In the photo below, she had just been to the vet and I had her out on the sundeck where she liked to spend time. She let me dress her up as Lily the maid. I put the vacuum beside her and pretended she was helping clean the house. She would let me do anything with her. So easy going. So loving. She didn’t last much longer after these last days and I’ll always miss my sweet Lily.

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Then we got Ruby, the English springer on the right (below). It turns out she has some of the same ancestry that Lily had, and although Ruby was a monster puppy who put me through hell, she has redeemed herself many times over and is like another Lily – an excellent bird dog and a loving pet. To keep her company, we got a buddy for her – Emma on the left. She is an English cocker spaniel.

??????????Just behind Emma and to the right, you can see the evidence of one of her bad puppy habits. She likes to dig! But she is focused. Emma, is definitely a bird dog.

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Finding Love – Then and Now

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I’m always interested in hearing how people found their soulmates.

A hundred years ago (and still today in some cultures), the family sometimes arranged marriages for their children.

In small towns, people often find each other in high school. The girl/boy next door may be surprised to realize they are right for each other once they grow up. Yet others meet in small town colleges or at community dances.

Nowadays, in big cities, people find their life partners in the clubs or online, either in chat rooms or on dating sites.

I’m not saying people were happier in marriage in the old days, but it seems to me there are a lot of unhappy relationships nowadays.

The differences between oldtime and modern ways:

  • People met face to face — not image to image
  • They spoke to each other — not texting
  • They saw each other around town and knew of each other — not sight unseen, meeting for the first time out of the blue as a result of online dating or a chat room conversation
  • Families knew each other — whereas people who meet online don’t know anything about each other except what the person says.

In movies about people who find love in the city, often the new love interest can be good looking and end up having some unexpected flaw (like a history of violent behaviour, a personality disorder, or an STD).

Small town relationships often avoid these situations because people know each other, but the background of people you meet randomly in a bar, or a club, is often an unknown entity.

How to do your background checking without seeming to be doing detective work:

  • Get to know his/her friends, family, and co-workers.
  • Let the friendship grow slowly, without commitments.
  • Find out how long the friends have known the person.
  • Take time to get to know the friends of the friends and listen to what they say.

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In all three of my novels none of the “tried and true” methods applied when meeting men. The women have all ignored one of the rules—that of first getting to know their man—and they have landed in a mess.

Andrea, my character in The Wind Weeps, is a people pleaser. She thinks everyone is as kind-hearted, honest, and fair as she is. When a very attractive man tells her he can’t live without her, she ignores all the warning signs niggling at her brain,  and ignores the advice of friends and of people who know the handsome man. Stranded on the rough BC coast, she will pay a heavy price for her gullibility.

In Orion’s Gift, Sylvia is a hard worker who has an insecurity problem. Determined to take control of her life, she takes a big step towards getting out of a bad marriage, but before long, she meets another man who, smitten with her good looks, convinces her to give him a chance. The beaches of Baja and the carefree lifestyle it invites make it tempting to fall in love again. But will it be another mistake? What baggage does the new man bring into the relationship? And what about her own baggage? Can love survive excess baggage?

In Julia’s Violinist, Julia has three men in her life. She loves them all, and yet she seems to be blown about like a leaf in the wind. Fate dictates her life. But of one thing she is sure—her children come first.

If you want to experience romance and suspense with three distinct background settings, give yourself a treat over the Valentine’s weekend, and download one of my books. Better yet, download all three and get three times the thrill. Just click on the book cover images at the left side of this post.

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The Staff of Life

For many civilizations over hundreds of years, breads of various types have been a staple of diet, “the staff of life.” For as far back as I can remember, my mother baked bread. The whole family loved it. You know there is nothing quite like the aroma of freshly baked bread to start one’s mouth watering. It is especially comforting on a cold winter’s day.

Recently a friend passed on a bread recipe to me. He knew that I had followed my mother’s lead and had been baking bread for all of my adult life. He was right in thinking that I might appreciate the link to a good bread recipe (which I include here). Click on “bread” to view the tutorial on easy ciabatta bread.

In the photo below, you can see the freshly baked ciabatta bread waiting to be sliced by the very old bread slicing machine (also a meat and sausage slicer) that my family brought to Canada in 1953. It wasn’t new even then!

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I tried the bread recipe two days ago and the bread was so good that I made it again yesterday. Notice how the bread has holes in it. This is normal, from the bubbling of the yeast. It’s not a fancy cake-like bread, but more of a rustic bread, very moist on the inside with a crunchy, chewy crust. Delicious!

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But the air holes in the bread, and the fact that the bread was so similar to what my mother baked, brought back a memory I had forgotten about for more than half a century. I was about five years old and my mother had just taken a huge loaf of bread out of the oven. She  cut it in half and set the two parts on the counter to cool.

The steam wafted out of the center of the bread, filling the room with that mouth-watering aroma that most people find irresistible. Being very young, I certainly couldn’t resist it. I waited until my mother’s back was turned and picked a tiny crumb out of the steaming bread.

Oh, it was good! So good, in fact, that I had to have another little nibble. When my mother was busy elsewhere, I stole another little crumb. My mother was very busy that morning and so were my fingers. I thought if I only picked out the tiniest piece of bread no one would know. Unfortunately for me, my five-year-old brain hadn’t been smart enough to spread out the nibbles. I had continued to worry the same little hole in the bread, enlarging it until it was quite noticeable to my mother, but not, at first, to me.

When my father came home for lunch, my mother said to him, “We have a terrible problem. Look what has happened to our bread.”

I think my eyes must have gone wide and I expected a boom to be lowered on my head, but my mother continued talking to my father as if I was wasn’t even there.

“I think we must have a mouse in the house.”

“I seeeeeee…” he said. “Well, I think I have a mouse trap in the workshop.”

“Yes, we’ll have to set it up. I can’t have this happen to my bread. Imagine trying to cut that slice and serving it with a mousehole picked through it.”

I know they exchanged glances and smirks throughout the whole conversation and they must have had a hard time not to laugh at my red face.

I never picked at the bread again, but I will never forget its lovely flavour.

So if you want a taste of this irresistible bread, click on the link and give it a try. It’s very easy to make.

A tip from me: Maybe keep a mouse trap handy.

Good Wood

After we had the pin cherry trees taken down, and the tree cutters had put the small branches through the chipper and raked up the rest of the mess, we were left with several tree trunks to cut up, split, and stack for firewood. During the process, I was too  exhausted busy to run for the camera, but I did take some pictures after we were finished.

Here is the old splitter that three friends built with scrounged parts and their own labour.

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We put the bolts of wood on the splitter and broke them up into smaller pieces for the woodstove. Then, rather than use a wheelbarrow to move the wood to the woodshed on the other side of the yard, we decided to load the back of the pickup, drive over, and unload it. That was a lot easier than making twenty trips with the wheelbarrow for each of the several truckloads of wood.

Meet Ruby and Emma, the supervisors. Their jobs were to:

  • take big pieces of bark and get them out of our way, maybe giving the bark a good airing all around the yard before dropping the pieces here, there, and everywhere
  • help with the smaller logs, chewing them down to a more manageable size
  • inspect the power saw up close the odd time it needed to be started up
  • jump in and out of the back of the truck, testing our throwing skills as we tried not to hit them
  • help pack smaller logs closer to the woodshed, if not all the way there
  • challenge any bolts tossed over towards the splitter, barking at them if necessary to prevent them from rolling under the truck
  • test the soil by rooting under the newly removed bolts of wood, in case a mouse had been snooping around
  • remind the workers to wear the gloves they had momentarily put on the ground, by freshening them up with a tear around the yard, flapping the gloves vigorously
  • ride in the front seat of the truck when it was moving, the better to watch for stray dogs that might get under the wheels.

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The younger supervisor is in dire need of sprucing up her appearance, but the older one is setting a good example.

The finished product (until there is more room in the woodshed). The two sides of the shed are full and the overflow is waiting to dry out in the summer.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll throw another log on the fire. That fog has persisted all day, almost every day this week, and it brings a chill with it.

Quilting Fun

Everybody loves a quilt. They are cozy and comforting, cuddly and warm. That was how quilts used to be anyway. Now, in addition to those comfy quilts, we have quilting in artwork, wall hangings, placemats, clothing, purses, beach bags, and table runners. The sky is the limit when it comes to design.

Making a quilt used to be something that only grannies did, but recently it is becoming a very popular hobby among people of all ages. Granted, most of them are women, but at least we don’t have to be grannies to learn how to make quilts and projects using quilting.

I recently signed up for four lessons on getting started in quilt making. I had made three quilts before, but I knew they were clumsy efforts, and when my old, old, superold sewing machine packed it in, I bought a Bernina with all the gadgets needed for quilting. Trouble was, I didn’t know what to do with them.

The quilting course was perfect for getting me started learning how to do it right, and at the same time teaching me how to use the very fancy sewing machine I had bought.

The mug rug below with the red checkered pieces is made from an old work shirt, remnants of a pair of jeans, and the extra material from a pair of coveralls that were too long. It’s a “man’s mug rug.”001

The placemat below is also made by throwing bits of material together. This time the material was all new, but the pattern came out of my head. I must have been craving Chinese food because it looks to me as if it belongs in a Chinese restaurant.??????????

Below, is the starter quilt from my first sewing class. It’s far from perfect but it made me happy to learn how to put it together.??????????

Now that I look at these two mug rugs (below), it looks like the pink one is a bit skewed. It shouldn’t affect the coffee cup that will be placed on it. This is the beauty of being a beginner. No one expects perfection and there is always another mug rug to make for more practice.??????????

I love the idea of using old bits of material to make a new quilt. In the clumsy quilts I made long ago, I had pieces of blouses, skirts, and shirts that were too worn out to wear, but still too good to throw away completely. I felt better when I could recycle them.

Quilts have so much to say. I look at one of the old ones and hear a  scrap of blue shirt say to me, “I saw dolphins in Baja.”

Another shirt scrap says, “I chopped a lot of wood.”

Yet another, “I was your favourite shirt until that nail tore me apart.”

“I was a skirt you never liked because the waistband was too tight.” (Oof! Okay, I’ll go on a diet.)

“I was a fancy scrap your mother bought at Goodwill 40 years ago.”

Here is one of the old quilts I made and became unhappy with once I saw how poorly I had sewn it 30 years ago. I took it apart and did a major overhaul on it. I’m much happier with it now, in spite of the inevitable flaws that still crept in.

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I have extra placemats now, so drop by for lunch any time.

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 And the fun continues when I go for another sewing lesson next week.

Conditional Love

I love trees, but in the case of the pin cherry trees in our yard, that love is conditional. It depends on whether the trees are thanking us for the care and water we give them, or if they are threatening us. The pin cherry trees at the top of our driveway, where the power lines come down to the house,  hovered ready to fall on the power lines in the next big windstorm. My biggest fear was that I might have to deal with it alone when the captain was away fishing.

Today, the captain arranged for the tangled web of dead pin cherry trees to be removed. You can see what remains of the two trunks (on the left side of the picture) when the arborists were halfway through the job.

??????????They put the smaller limbs through their chipper and left the bigger pieces of the trunk for us for firewood. See the chips flying from the machine into the utility trailer?

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 But the bigger job was yet to come.Another pin cherry tree had become so wide and unwieldy that it couldn’t support itself on the small slope where it had first started to grow. Several years ago, in a humongous windstorm, the huge spread of densely feathered branches caught enough wind to rip half the roots out of the ground. After that, the tree leaned and began to die.

It was a beautiful tree at one time and the birds loved it, but it was becoming a hazard as the dead and dying branches broke in subsequent blows. It was time to take it out. It used to give us some privacy from the neighbours across the street, but we would have to sacrifice that in the name of safety.

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My hope is that the holly trees that were growing up in the same place will now thrive because they won’t have to share the sunshine, food, and water. In time they will grow into a new privacy screen for us – one that won’t threaten to fall on us when we walk by.