Monday, December 31, 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fingerless Mitts


Fingerless Mitts

Fingerless mitts.  What is their purpose?  If the office is too cold, they’ll help warm your hands and leave fingers free for the keyboard or paperwork.  If the bedroom is chilly, they’ll warm your palms and wrists while you read in bed.  Perhaps, they’re just for comfort or just for fun.

Whatever their purpose, I’m knitting fingerless mitts.  As with all my knitting projects, I follow a simple pattern and fingerless mitts are relatively easy.  I knit for pleasure not for production of works of art.  Plus I am unable to focus on challenging patterns without becoming enmeshed in mistakes, unravelling yarn and trying again, only to throw the over-knitted yarn away in the end.  Simple is better for me.  Then the knitting feels happy and comforting.

I bought some interesting yarn called “Twelve” because it combines twelve different kinds of yarn into each ball.  When knit, the variations create intriguing patterns in an otherwise plain mitt. The picture on the free pattern made the finished products look like fun.  And indeed the first pair of mitts was fun to knit.  They’re not supposed to be the exact copies of each other; I liked that.

The second pair was less fun because the balls of yarn were not consistently made.  The spots where the twelve different kinds of yarn joined each other were thin, too thin and broke easily, which created lots of cutting and repair work on the yarn.  Even worse, when one mitt was completed, close inspection showed that the knitted yarn had given way in some spots and was unravelling creating holes and gaps.

I wondered if I would have enough yarn left to complete the second pair.  I unravelled the holey mitt and saved what I could of the yarn; the yarn that was sturdy enough to hold together.  After a bit of swearing and re-knitting and pulling on the yarn to ensure it would hold, I managed to get two pairs of fingerless mitts made from the balls of yarn.

I should have shopped at my regular yarn shop which always stands behind the products it sells.  I should have made a larger fuss about returning the faulty yarn to the other yarn store where I purchased it.  I should have warned people about the pitfalls of buying yarn from a chain store just because it’s cheaper…oh wait, I am doing that.

What about the mitts?  I like the pattern.  I like knitting.  I’ll get better yarn from my favourite wool shop and make more.  I’m sure that the mitts I’ve knit will hold together.  Well, I’m quite sure. Kind of sure…

OK, if you receive mitts from me for Christmas, give them a good going over and return them to me if they are coming to pieces. Unlike the chain store, I’ll stand behind my work, allow you to return the faulty gift and I’ll knit you another sturdier pair of fingerless mitts.

Merry mitts to you!

Photo and words are copyright Carol Steel.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Washer Died

 

The Washer Died

The washer died.  On Saturday, of course.  Just as we were about to begin a week’s worth of washing.

Why?  Appliances die on weekends when repair calls would be more costly.  How do they know?

We waited until Monday to call for help.  The repair person came, took a look and within five minutes was tsk-tsk-tsking.  The washer was ill, expensively ill.

We bought it 8 years ago, the newest front load, high efficiency type we could afford.  It has worked well, (fairly well) until now.

However…

Though it is supposed to save energy by spinning the clothes into a dryer state before finishing the wash cycle, it takes much longer to wash the clothes.   The front load washer requires special laundry detergent; “He” = high efficiency but this doesn’t cost any less than regular detergent.  It is difficult to add clothes to the washer once it is going without getting my feet wet; front opening remember.  Yes, I am supposed to be able to set the controls to allow this but the washer doesn’t always co-operate.  The controls are computerized and somewhat finicky, you see.  And the repairs to this wonder of a washer are expensive, prohibitive, and ridiculous.

To repair our washer would take a four hundred dollar replacement part, and three and a half hours of labour, bringing the bill to over eight hundred dollars.  Is the easy solution to buy another washer?  Yes and no. 

Just before Christmas is not the best time to purchase a new appliance.  Dissatisfied with the front load options, we wonder what else is out there; less complicated and yet would wash the clothes.  But wait, I’m not ready for a ringer washer or a washboard; I want the luxury of throwing the clothes into something that will do the work for me.  Also, there is the issue of appliance re-cycling and adding to the waste at the landfill.

I asked the repair expert what he would buy, if he needed a washer.  Usually a good question, yes?  No.  He said he didn’t know.   He reiterated that front load washers were expensive to repair and didn’t seem to last as well as simpler models. 

Well, where could we buy a simpler model?  Again, he didn’t know.  The one he would recommend hadn’t been manufactured for over 6 months and he didn’t know of any place where we could find any.  I felt my stomach knot as visions of unwashed laundry piled up in my head.

He suggested we try to find a re-furbished top load washer with direct drive and named a couple of brands he’d rarely ever had to repair.  Hmmm.  Where would we go to find such a thing? 

After he left, we sat down with the phone and the yellow pages and started calling appliance repair locations and appliance stores.  Gary likes to do plenty of research before he purchases anything, particularly anything costly.  Armed with a list of possibilities, he left in the car, set off on the adventure of tracking down a re-cycled washer.  Within three hours, he’d located one, called me for a quick consult and purchased it. 

These folks will take our ailing washer and refurbish it so that it can be re-sold and will not end up in landfill, a bonus for us.  They’ll deliver the new-to-us washer this morning; all for less than the price of the replacement part on the old washer…something of a miracle?  Yes, indeed.

The washer died.  We’ve discovering that sometimes the old stand-by is better than the latest must-have new thing.  I don’t like having to buy a replacement appliance because the one I have is too costly to repair.  This isn’t good for our finances or good for the environment.  The experience has been a reminder to be cautious about the enticing hype and the temptation to buy the newest version of any item.  It's a timely reminder especially at this season of the year.

And, I’m looking forward to being able to wash clothes again.

Words are copyright ©Carol Steel.

The image is 1902-04, a young woman washing clothes in a wooden basin on a washstand with a washboard and a wringer, from John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.  The image is now in the public domain because its copyright has expired according to the Australian Copyright Council (ACC).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Waking Early



Waking Early

It’s dark.  It’s always dark when I wake in the mornings.  I am a light sleeper, waking easily to the chirp of a cat walking by and saying hello in the night, hearing the clink of the mailbox as the paper is delivered, listening to the back-up beepers on the garbage truck, noticing the ruckus in the sounds of my bed mate snoring. 

Even when there aren’t sounds to wake me, I wake up at all hours.  The cat snuggles too close to my head for comfort.  I need to visit the bathroom.  My thinking is traveling too quickly to allow sleep.  I wake up easily.

I like the darkness.  I like the softness of being unable to see beyond my window panes, the feeling of being surrounded by woolly night, cradled in the arms of unseen possibilities.  There is a sense of the unknown and of being in a cocoon of darkness, of excited wonder at what the new day will bring, uncover, tear open and reveal.

Even if it is too early and still dark, I’ve learned to get up and begin the day rather than to stay in bed and fret about not sleeping.  And there are advantages to being awake before anyone else.  The house feels peaceful, softly lit with every creature asleep except for me. 

If I step outside, I appreciate the night and the darkness.  The stars shine brightly.  I can see them better without the light pollution of cars going by.  The moon is lovely, ethereal and round, misty and comforting of late.

The early morning allows space for my own quiet self to begin the day slowly, with silent meditation and fragrant coffee, with focused attention to every detail…the lights of the city sparkling through the darkness, the neighbours’ homes all asleep except one, the welcome cosiness of that one neighbour’s lit windows, the changing sky as sunrise tips the edge of night from black to indigo, then blushes into dawn.

It’s dark.  It’s early.  It’s peaceful…a good start to my day.


The words are copyright ©Carol Steel.  The photo is used with permission from Wikipedia commons images.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Miracles

 
 
There are two ways to live:
you can live as if nothing is a miracle;
you can live as if everything is a miracle.
 
Albert Einstein

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rub-a-Dub-Dub



Rub-a-dub-dub little man in a tub...

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday...he's actually having a bath in the sink, the perfect sized tub for him.  Gary is holding him so he doesn't slip while I take pictures.  I think he looks so much like Grampy Richard here.  Sweet boy!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hanging Outdoor Lights


Hanging Outdoor Lights

Last week, we hung Christmas lights outdoors.  The weather was unusually warm for late November, short balmy days still full of heat.  Surprising. 

The warmth drew us outdoors to begin decorating though we won’t turn the lights on for a while yet.  On the veranda, we placed the bushy evergreen wreath with twinkly white lights; on the pergola, we spread thirty-six feet of rope lights, all in white, all securely fastened.   At the front door, we set up two small evergreen trees covered with tiny white lights.  On the Fat Albert Blue Spruce, we can see from our kitchen windows, we spread out five sets of LED lights in red. 

But five sets weren’t enough.  Fat Albert Blue Spruce has grown; my, how it has grown.  So off we went to the hardware store in a panic.  Would they still have the same lights this year?  They did.  We bought two more sets and laid them among the tree branches, then turned them on to take a look.  Hmmm, not quite right, still too many bare spots.  We went off again to buy one last set.  There, finally full and lush with lights, the tree was looking good.

Today is more like real November weather, cold with bitter wind and a hint of snow in the air, just a hint.  All day the wind has rattled at the windows, buffeted the walls and sent dry oak leaves shooting straight up the sides of the house.  And the wind has thrashed the Fat Albert, unsettling the red lights.  The erratic gusts have redecorated the tree; lights now hang like garlands or have fallen to the branches below forming nests of red bulbs.  Not damaged, just different

Tomorrow, if the wind settles, I’ll drag out my small step stool to extend my height, and my stick with a bent nail on top to extend my reach.   I’ll begin again to nestle the red lights into the tree and corral the strings which are trying to escape, on wings of wind.

Hanging the Christmas lights outdoors often takes more than one attempt each year.  The winter wind entices anything that tries to stay put or tied down, whistling and singing “Come with me.”

Yet, some years, the twinkling lights are just as wonderful when they are hung by the wilful wind.

 

Words and photo are copyright © Carol Steel

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Creative Writing Class


Creative Writing Class


“Do you belong to a writers’ group?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s a closed group,” she replied.  “For serious writers,” she added, slowly emphasizing each word.

I understand the concept of a closed writers’ group for writers who have been listening to and critiquing each other for a period of time, a group whose form and format are set, a group which is working well.

But the words “For serious writers” pinched at me.  She could just as easily have said, “My group is for real writers like me; something you are not.”  I wondered how she came to this conclusion. 

She knew so little about me or about any of the others; all of us going down the stairwell with her, after the weekly writing class we all share.  The moment I had admitted to writing a blog, she discounted me and my writing abilities. 

A common reaction, it seems.  Not the first time this has happened.

There is no attempt to read said blog or to discover if any additional writing is done.  It’s simply, “Oh, you write a blog,” followed by dismissive comments or dead air.  Myopic?  Condescending?  Oh yes!

Indeed there are bloggers who write about situations of little interest to anyone but themselves, but aren’t there also many writers doing the same?  So what?  This doesn’t mean they aren’t serious about writing.  Or that they don’t write in other formats besides the blog, or that they are without talent.

What does it mean to me to be a serious writer?  Well…

I write each day, usually 3 to 4 hours or more.

I re-write and edit constantly.

I share my writing with others to gain feedback.  A writers’ group is a good place for this.

I take classes, workshops, courses to learn new skills, to reach an audience, to obtain feedback, to fuel my creativity.

 I publish the work, when I can.

I write every day.

I seek feedback even when it’s uncomfortable.  I listen and pay attention.  I take everything in and don’t defend my writing.  I re-write and re-write.

I chase the truth.

I write horrible first drafts and work on them until they’re better and occasionally good.

I write every day, every day, every day.

I am serious about writing; about learning everything and anything I can to improve my work.  I consider myself a serious writer.

To my classmate:  Perhaps you could be less hasty in dismissing what is happening around you and in discounting the other writers around you, those people who are attending the same classes as you.  And allow a new idea to rise.    

You are in a classroom of serious writers.  Otherwise, why would we be there?

And pay attention:  Bloggers are serious writers, too.

 

Photo and words are copyright © Carol Steel.

 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Grandsons



Visitors.  We've had visitors.  Two of our daughters came to see us, accompanied by portions of their own families.

Over the weekend, we spent time with our youngest grandson (7.5 months) and our oldest grandson (14.75 years).  We're fortunate to have eleven grandchildren, six boys and five girls.  With their families' busy lives, we don't see any of our grandchildren as much as we would like, so this visit was a special treat for us.

It fascinates me to see the youngest and the oldest grandsons together.  Despite their age difference, they have physical and personality traits in common.  They share blue eyes, fair hair and skin, large heads and strong hands, healthy appetites and tons of physical energy. 

Already evident in the youngest is a propensity for studying the face of the person talking to him, an attentive sensitivity to the environment around him, an easy and frequent smile, and a gentle presence; all of these are characteristics shared with his older cousin.

It is easy to note their differences but it is more fascinating to see their similarities.  They are kin; they are family.  And it was such delight to see each grandson, to enjoy a visit with some of our family.

Thank you.  It was thoughtful and generous of you to come. 

And again, thank you.

Friday, November 9, 2012

In November

 
 
In November

When October's flames
die down
to the ash of November,
the trees lift bare fingers
to scratch at the sky
and reach to rip open
the pillows of cloud.

The snow feathers fly,
white down
soft, now soft 
in layer on layer.

And Earth heaves a sigh,
as she pulls
the covers
up to her chin.

Words and photo are copyright Carol Steel.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Look Deep

 
 
Look deep into nature,
and then you will understand
everything better.
 
Albert Einstein

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Scharlachglut Roses

 
 
It's cold in New Brunswick.  Not as cold as it will be later in the winter, but cold enough.  The daytime temperatures are just above the freezing point; night times are just below.  Yet look at what continues to form new buds, to burst into bloom, in the front garden.  Amazing hardiness!  Such determined gifts of loveliness, in a landscape that is turning to the greys of November.

Photos and words are copyright Carol Steel.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Sunday Supper


 
 
 
We were invited out for Sunday supper.  What a wonderful treat it was!  The appetizer was created from cooked and pureed fennel, with Pernod and creme fraiche added to lobster.  The dish was garnished with lobster oil and fresh tarragon with fennel fronds.



 
 
 
Because I am allergic to shell fish, my appetizer followed the same recipe but had salmon and was garnished with tarragon oil.  It was delicious, mouth watering, delicate and decadent.
And then...

 
 

 
 
 
the main dish was a dry brined organic chicken cooked on a bed of root vegetables, subsequently used for the gravy base.  The gravy was extraordinary and will require its own separate post to describe.  We had homemade pesto squash gratin, local potatoes enhanced with roasted garlic brown butter and parmesan, dressing with sage and onion, sausage and miche campagne.  There were carrots and peas and edible flowers.  So beautiful, so utterly delicious.
 
But wait....then we had molten chocolate lava cakes with homemade caramel sauce, candied pecans and whipped cream, accompanied by chilled Warre's Optima 10 port.
 
It was a luxurious evening spent with family who are superb cooks.  Thank you Kyla and Mark.  We enjoyed ourselves so much, we may never need to eat again.
 
My computer is being finicky and will not download the photo of the molten chocolate lava cakes.  They were so good and so pretty, but sorry, no pictures.  Photos and words are copyright Carol Steel.
 
 
 
 
 
 


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Thank You

 
 
Thank You
 
for your wonderful gift basket
with Mourvedre wine and handmade bread,
for two kinds of homemade soup,
(carrot, and minestrone with chicken),
for carrot cake and raspberry shortbread cookies
both from Tony's Pastries.
 
It was lovely to see you,
even if only for a short time.
I was overwhelmed with your kindness
and your thoughtfulness.
 
Many thanks for this Sunday surprise. 
 
 
Words and photo are copyright Carol Steel.
Tony's Pastries is located at 137 McLaughlin Drive in Moncton.
If you haven't been there
to the bistro and patisserie,
you are missing one of the delights of this city.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Perspective

 
 
 
Perspective
I had an appointment for today at 2pm to consult with the oncologist…finally.  It should have happened two weeks ago but they “lost my paperwork.”  Today at 1:30 pm I received a phone call postponing the appointment until tomorrow morning.  “Sorry for the last minute cancellation,” she said.
I asked about whether they were doing the markings and set up tomorrow too.   “Oh no,” she said, “that will be sometime next week, if we can find a slot for you.”
 “Oh and then I’ll begin the radiation?”
“Well no, then we’ll have to see when we can fit you in to begin sometime in the next month.” 
I wondered why, and felt a little sorry for myself; sorry that obtaining treatment would take so long and be so vaguely planned.
Then I remembered.
I have a home, un-burnt and un-flooded.  I have electricity and heat.   I can do laundry and can drive where I want to go.  I don’t have two hundred year old Black Oaks falling on my roof while I wait over a month for a tree company with a crane to come and cut them down.   I have fresh food.  I don’t have to worry about the temperature dropping outside and my pipes freezing.   I have Medicare which will pay for all or most of my treatments, whenever they happen.
I’m a lucky woman.
It helps to keep the problems in perspective. 
Photo and words are copyright © Carol Steel


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Resilience and Courage

 
 
Today I was going to write about birch trees.  I've been watching how they hang onto their small gold leaves longer than other trees in autumn.  I was going to write about how birch leaves look like tiny hands waving; about how their leaves turn colour more slowly than others--but I'm not going to do that--not much anyway.

Today, I want to acknowledge resilience and courage.  Yesterday and on into today, storm surges, electrical outages, fires, heavy rains and enormous storm damage have ravaged the northeastern parts of the United States, particularly in the New Jersey and New York areas.   My heart goes out to folks whose homes were swept away by flood or fire, to folks who lost power and water and sewer services, and who will be without them for days to come.

I am especially concerned about my daughter and her family living in New York.  Their home is on high ground so they are lucky, above the danger of storm surges, though not immune to excessive rainfall and winds.  The huge trees they lost fell away from their house, with no loss of life or damages to homes.  They have no power but are still so lucky.

The next few days in New Jersey and New York will be filled with many stories of resilience and courage, as people help others who weren't so fortunate.  Everyone will be dealing with the after effects of Sandy.  Those who are able to wave their hands and say, "We're OK," will be able to assist those who have endured greater losses, those whose lives have been stripped bare.

My thoughts are with the millions who, with resilience, must face losses, and clean ups and rebuilding.  And my thoughts are with those first responders who, with courage, will be there on the front lines of the disasters bringing help and hope.

I wish them all the best as they deal with enormous clean up and repair tasks.

To my daughter and family, I'm sorry that you are going though this and I send love.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Changing Seasons



The changing seasons burst with drama in New Brunswick.  One week ago, the leaves were red, orange, yellow, and still on the trees everywhere I looked.  Now half the leaves lie on the ground, edges curling, turning brown and rust; the fragrance of damp earth and leaf compost in the autumn air.

Often autumn means time to mulch the leaves, to mow for the last time, to trim the garden’s dying tops, to bring in the lawn furniture, put away the lawn swing, cover the less hardy roses and wrap the magnolia.  Autumn means completing chores and preparing for winter.




But these last days of fall are full of gifts, not just work.  A sheltered outside corner and one remaining chair make a peaceful break for coffee and time to read, as I sit warmed by the sun. 

The last of October and early November paint a different colour palette, in shades of grey; the stones and rock wall show again, tree trunks come out of hiding.  Stark tree branches display silhouettes of black arches against a blue sky.  Spruce and fir and pine show off myriad tones of green and the larch dances gold in the damper areas.  The rich smell of the earth, the gently decomposing plants, the soon-to-be-resting shrubs all fan a faint musk to the breeze.

The sound of birds is different now from summer bird sound.  The “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” of Black-capped Chickadees, the buzzing rising “zzreeee” of Pine Siskins, the “jay-jay-jay” of Blue Jays and the raspy “ka-squawk” of Ring-Neck Pheasants predominate.  Red squirrels scratch over the pavement and crunch through the dry leaves as they seek and hide their treasures.
 
 
 
Small children walk by our house on their way to the playground or to school. Sometimes I listen to the bubbling voices calling out in astonishment. “Look at this red leaf. Oh, look at this dark orange one. I can use this piece of rock to chalk on the road. Hey, look, a worm. A ladybug. A pheasant. A feather.”   Every small thing is a source of wonder for them. Every puddle is a realm of delight.

How much of the changing seasons do we miss? How many delights do we pass by on our way to complete the chores? How many wonders are right in front of us? How much over-the-top beauty goes unnoticed?

Stop a moment, breathe, see and hear, fill your heart. Don’t miss the show.

The changing seasons burst with drama. 
 
Photos and words are copyright Carol Steel.