Archive for the ‘My World’ Category

Wild Sagebrush Buttercups on the hillsides of our farm - weeks ahead of normal. Soo cheerful! When these come out, we know we've made it through the cold time once again.

Wild Sagebrush Buttercups on the hillsides of our farm – weeks ahead of normal. So cheerful! When these come out, we know we’ve made it through the cold time once again.

Greetings, all.

Another post and dash – or maybe a dash and post?

I have been terribly guilt-ridden about neglecting this blog these past few months, but I am still hoping the situation is temporary.

We are in the throes of an incredibly early spring – at least three weeks ahead of normal! – which means that the pressure is on to get out into the garden. As we operate a small perennial nursery, this means that all of the digging and dividing which generally starts early April is suddenly crucially time sensitive, starting right now, as plants are bursting out of the ground and growing inches per day.

In the meantime, all of the normal greenhouse chores are accelerated as well, what with the work being quite literally doubled. The days are much too short for everything I need to pack into them, and I won’t even go into the complexities of this being something of a re-start year after a two-year sabbatical from the nursery, or the brand-new greenhouse still being finished with the propagation house bursting at the seams with things ready for the transfer to the growing-out house. And then there’s the new partnership with a retailer in the city (“no pressure” – ha! – it seemed like such a grand idea last fall…well, it still seems like a win-win scenario, but I’m getting a bit jittery with this new learning curve) and an important tomato plant order from the market garden down the road.

And look - beautiful Hepatica! My daughter was out with the camera today, capturing our early spring.

And look – beautiful Hepatica! My daughter was out with the camera today, capturing our early spring.

What else? Still involved in a major way with our regional performing arts festival, with events running through March, April and May. A rewarding involvement, but definitely time consuming at a time of year when the hours are extra precious.

A few health issues, with family members and myself, sobering reminders of how quickly our physical equilibrium can be set a-rocking.

Well, after all the above, you might be excused for thinking I’m complaining, but I’m really not. Just explaining why the book posts have come to an almost complete stop. I’m still reading for a stolen hour at night, mostly old friends and nothing too challenging – Elizabeth von Arnim, J.B. Priestley, O. Douglas, Elizabeth Goudge, D.E. Stevenson, and an eclectic selection of short stories from a serendipitous boxful of 1960s’ Argosy magazines found in a local thrift store.

Life certainly isn’t boring. And it’s mostly full of good stuff. Just a wee bit over full right now…

Snowdrops are a borderline-hardy plant for us, but we treasure our small colonies and rejoice when they burst through the protective cover of last autumn's fallen leaves. A far cry from the vast drifts of milder climes, but in their quiet way a reminder of other beloved gardens we've visited, real and literary.

Snowdrops are a borderline-hardy plant for us, but we treasure our small colonies and rejoice when they burst through the protective cover of last autumn’s fallen leaves. A far cry from the vast drifts of milder climes, but in their quiet way a reminder of other beloved gardens we’ve visited, real and literary.

If anyone wants to keep up with my other life – the gardening one – I do occasionally post snippets of personal stuff on our nursery website/blog – http://www.hillfarmnursery.com. Though right now I’m mostly updating the plant lists, getting ready to post the year’s offerings and adding descriptions and photos to the pages.

I promise I’ll come back to posting book things at some point, because I do miss that so very much. Many thanks to the rest of you for providing me with lots of food for thought; I try to keeep up with reading your wonderful posts, and though I’m not commenting much I sure do appreciate all of your words!

The first Hellebore of the season - here in central British Columbia the Christmas Roses bloom in March and April!

The first Hellebore of the season – here in central British Columbia the Christmas Roses bloom in March and April.

 

And one last glimpse of my spring garden. This heather came from one of my mother's friends, with a bit of an interesting backstory - it was smuggled to Canada tucked into her purse from a visit to Austria many decades ago - before the current security inspections in airports made such horticultural transgressions too fraught with potential trouble to attempt!

And one last glimpse of my spring garden. This heather came from one of my mother’s friends, with a bit of an interesting backstory – it was smuggled to Canada tucked in her purse from a visit to Austria many decades ago – before the current security inspections in airports made such illicit horticultural importations too fraught with potential trouble to attempt!

 

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Today stretches before me as a day of great endeavour, for it has been cleared of all other minor duties – painting those cupboard doors, for example, and cleaning off my desk in preparation for getting at my tax papers – in order for me to finalize the last few seed lists.

As most of you who have frequented this space know by now, I am something of a gardener, and I am chief operater of a small old-style plant nursery – meaning that we grow the plants ourselves, most from seed, versus acting as a retailer for plants grown by larger wholesale enterprises.

The seed lists, therefore, are of immense importance, for they are where everything starts, and the yearly process of chosing what to try has as much agony involved as ecstasy, mainly because there are so many things out there that we want to try, and we must remind ourselves to be practical and go with tried and true – and saleable! – with only a modest breaking out into tricksy and obscure little alpines from faraway countries, and quite frankly weedy-ish wildflowery things which have an exceedingly limited appeal to the public at large, who mostly just want a petunia or a geranium, and who are often already the tiniest bit bemused at the concept of the perennial plant, let alone the biennial – these last two being my staple in trade, with a handful of annuals showing up on my tables, but seldom anything as immediately familiar as a marigold.

My goodness. I am running on a bit. Sentence-wise, and otherwise.

So. Today. Seed lists. They will be done. Most are long since sent and received, but this last crucial lot will fill in the gaps, and I intend also to do a bit of gambling, gardener-wise, by ordering some things I know I likely won’t succeed with, but will get much quiet enjoyment out of attempting.

What a great pleasure then to read the words of a gardener from the past, as she describes her own thought processes while listing her wished-for seeds.

Violet - by John Farleigh - from A Country Garden by Ethel Armitage, 1936

Violet – engraving by John Farleigh – from A Country Garden by Ethel Armitage, 1936

The following excerpt is from Ethel Armitage’s wonderful 1936 A Country Garden, illustrated with engravings by John Farleigh. One of my most treasured “working library” posssessions, a pleasure to read, both for the information it contains regarding English country gardens of its era, and the writer’s highly individualistic voice, which resonates so strongly with me, sharing as we do our relative stage of life and our common occupation, though separated by eighty years. Here she is, on March 9, 1935.

9th. The much debated and discussed seed list has at last been got off, though it was not completed without a certain amount of difference of opinion.

Unfortunately, the world has progressed since those happy days when the choice of flowers was limited, and the belief still held that every seed sown was absolutely certain to come up, and all that was needed for the perfect garden was a nice broad riband of virginia stock backed by canary creeper growing up pea sticks.

Now we ponder over all the beautiful South African annuals, wondering if our soil is too cold for them; think we will try our old favourites, Shirley poppies and sweet sultans once again, as there have not been many slugs about recently; feel it is really scarcely worth while having giant sunflowers as there is no room for them, and no stakes strong enough to hold them up; decide not to raise delphiniums from seed, as the last time we did so all the drab ones flourished, while those we felt sure would be of a heavenly tender indescribable blue all got devoured.

But we agreed to have a packet of Collinsia again, a plant which hails from North America, having been called after Collins, a naturalist. We saw it for the first time growing in the school-children’s gardens. It is one of the prettiest, neatest and most reliable of annuals, and has the charming sobriquet of ‘Chinese houses’, and even looks quite appropriate in the rock garden.

Then blue pimpernel is hard to do without, and blue phacelia is almost a necessity, as is also blue nemophila, and of course neither mignonette nor night-scented stock can be omitted.

The rock garden needs ionopsidium, as well as the nice little Sedum coeruleum.

And so the list goes on increasing, until it grows to such large dimensions that when the little packets arrive, one is appalled at their number and can only hope a place will be found for everything, and they will not be left lying on a shelf in the potting shed until it is too late to do anything with them at all.

The greatest joy ever given by an individual seed packet was one which cost a penny and contained a solitary banana seed, which, when planted, actually came up and in time grew into a very fine plant. It had, of course, to be kept in the greenhouse, where for many years it was the pride of the place, though never a banana did it produce. But all hope of this miracle happening was not abandoned until the plant became too large for its surroundings and had to be cast out, which drastic deed was the cause of many tears and of unutterable, though temporary, despair.

We are now too old to plant banana seeds with the idea of getting any fruit from them, or even to entertain any hope of getting our oranges from the pips we have ourselves saved, or plums from stones that have been thoroughly sucked before planting. We have to content ourselves with things that give a quicker and more certain return, like the homely wallflower and the steady-going Sweet William.

 

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANovember. Here it is, and well on its way, too.

I cannot remember another period of time in my life when I have been so abstracted, so unfocussed, so just not there mentally. Things are coming from too many directions. And my reading has been what you might expect: abstracted as well. Ah, well, this too shall pass.

It’s been a great year, all things considered. A nice balance of (mostly) work, and (too infrequent but most enjoyable) play. But the busy-ness shows no sign of abating any time soon. I’m not even looking forward to snow, because the outside projects are due to continue regardless. Our best friends are our big tarps, covering construction projects in between working bouts.

What have I been reading? Nothing too exciting, mostly re-reads. Mamma, by Diana Tutton of Guard Your Daughters fame. Lafcadio Hearn’s The Romance of the Milky Way, from 1905, “studies and stories” from Japan. A whole string of O. Douglas tales. Reginald Arkell’s Old Herbaceous. Most of Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons, until I misplaced it. Monica Dickens – Joy and Josephine (ho-hum) and The Angel in the Corner (better). Ethel Armitage, and a host of other vintage British garden writers, combining pleasure with work, as I plug away updating our plant nursery website’s pages, in preparation for the too-soon-coming nursery year, which gets underway mid-December with the slowest-to-sprout perennials being optimistically seeded and subjected to their various germination-triggering temperature requirements – long warm, long cool, warm-cool-warm, cold-cool, cold-warm, very hot…

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So, instead of a book post, here’s a seasonal poem. And not the one you’re thinking it will be, from that misleading post title.

I’ve been worrying away at Rilke in the original German, keeping a volume of his collected works on my bedside table and wishing I had the self-discipline to actually study the language in an organized manner. Maybe next year!

In a slightly uneven English translation, here is one of my favourites, especially that third stanza. November, indeed.

Autumn Day

Lord, it is time. Let the great summer go,
Cast your long shadow on the sundial,
And over harvest fields let the winds blow.

Command to ripen the final fruits;
Grant them two more burning days,
Bring them to fullness, and press
A last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who has no house, will not build now.
Who now is alone, will remain alone,
Will wake, read, write long letters,
And will the alleys up and down
Walk restlessly, in wind-blown fallen leaves.

Rainer Maria Rilke, circa 1902

 

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Greetings, all.

I’m still here.

Or rather, I’m back again.

Two weeks or so ago we took an ambitious road trip in our little vintage sports car down into Washington state, where we joined an eclectic group of like-minded old-car people for a three-day road rally into parts unknown. (We received the navigation instructions and route book on the morning of the start – it was all a mystery as to where we were heading before we started.)

Well, my goodness. What an amazing three days that was. We went up into the mountains, and down into the badlands, and skirted four volcanoes, getting up close and personal with Mount St Helens, navigating the stunningly beautiful, intricately winding road up to the Spirit Lake viewpoint, well within the 198o “blast zone”. Back down the mountain, then along the incredible Columbia Gorge, and into the sagebrush-and-fossil-beds northern interior of Oregon.

We were moving much too fast to do much of what we saw credit. But it was wonderful. We hope to go back, this time at a more leisurely pace.

I don’t have very many pictures, as both cameras we brought along developed strange glitches, so I’m including only the tiniest sampling of our journey down below.

Back home now, and immediately into the Next Big Project (after the Great Roof Replacement of 2015) – building a new propagation greenhouse for our small plant nursery business. We’re racing the weather on this one, with just a few weeks left before the chance of snow. My daughter and I are almost finished pouring the concrete foundation (and we’re pretty proud of ourselves regarding this ambitious job, though both very sore in the muscle department right now) and we start on the framing this coming week, if all goes well. Hoping to be under glass (or, more accurately, glass-like polycarbonate panels) by snowfall.

Books. What have I been reading? Let’s see.

The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald, because we drove down the Olympic Peninsula on our way to the rally start in Tacoma, and I thought it would be fun to read something set in the region as my hotel room book. Terribly racist in pieces here and there, but I avert my eyes at those bits and embrace the rest with pure enjoyment. Still funny after the tenth (maybe more?) time around.

The Unlit Lamp, by Radclyffe Hall. Thank you to the person who recommended this – it definitely trumps The Well of Loneliness, though it’s equally as heart-rending. Maybe more so, because I actually liked the protagonist of this one. Mostly. Features a truly horrible father and a sweetly grasping vampire mother, whose parental misdemeanours put us firmly on the side of their hapless daughter.

Sarah Morris Remembers by D.E. Stevenson – went on something of a DES reading binge a little while ago, and determined to add a few more of her hard-to-find titles to my slowly growing collection. This one arrived all the way from Australia, and I’ve enjoyed it greatly, which is lovely, as it is one of the author’s last few books, some of which are decidedly sub-par. I was tempering my expectations, but it did not disappoint.

All the Day Long by Howard Spring – one of the few books I purchased in my travels – found in Hope, B.C.’s always rewarding Baker Books. It will be placed well up on my “best books of 2015” list – more later. Right up there with the other Spring book I discovered a year or so ago, The Houses in Between. Loved it just as much as the other.

What else…rather a hodgepodge of female-featuring fiction, these seem to be.

Peacock Feathers by Temple Bailey. Can we just call it a period piece and move quickly on? Not great. I may say more. I probably should, as Temple Bailey was something of a phenomenon in her time. We’ll see.

The Old Gray Homestead by Frances Parkinson Keyes. Her first book, published way back in 1919, and also a strongly dated period piece. I’m constantly wavering on Keyes. Her books always start out so well, and then she drops the ball. Or goes on for far too long. This one was quite tight, but full of goofy implausibilities. (I feel a scathing review a-brewing away.)

Bethel Merriday by Sinclair Lewis. Definitely off of this writer’s B-list, but even his B-list is pretty good reading. A cautious nod of mild approval. (Main Street it isn’t, though.)

Onward.

For those interested, here are a few glimpses of our journey.

Into the blue - leaving the mainland for Vancouver Island, end of the first day of our journey.

Into the blue – leaving the mainland for Vancouver Island, end of the first day of our journey. This was where camera number one started going weird – note the shadow running  through the image. It got much worse.

And on another ferry, leaving Victoria, B.C. for Port Angeles, Washington, on the car ferry Coho.

And on another ferry, leaving Victoria, B.C. for Port Angeles, Washington, on the car ferry Coho. (And yes, those clouds weren’t joking. Once landed, this was a top-up, peering through a misty windshield sort of day. But it got better!)

Random image from our 15 hours or so in Tacoma, Washington. We skipped out on the group dinner and walked down to the Tacoma Museum of Glass, stopping to admire the immense Chihuly glass sculptures along the bridge over the highway on our way to the harbour side.

Random image from our 15 hours or so in Tacoma, Washington. We skipped out on the group dinner and walked down to the Tacoma Museum of Glass, stopping to admire the immense Chihuly glass sculptures along the bridge over the highway on our way to the harbour side. Locals apparently call this one “the shishkabob”. It was massive, rather like a stack of pieces broken off an iceberg.

"Start your engines..." Here we are getting ready to set off on our rally. That's us, the little blue Spitfire hiding between the Beamer and the Bug.

“Start your engines…” Here we are getting ready to set off on our rally. That’s us, the little blue Spitfire hiding between the Beamer and the Bug.

Above Spirit Lake, Windy Ridge Lookout, Mt St Helens. It's hard to capture the impact of the scene in context with the surroundings. This looks like nothing more than a pretty alpine lake, but we're surrounded by ash and rock deposits, and the silver stumps of thousands upon thousand of trees destroyed in the 1980 volcanic eruption.

Above Spirit Lake, Windy Ridge Lookout, Mt St Helens. It’s hard to capture the impact of the scene without the context of the wider surroundings. This looks like nothing more than a pretty alpine lake, but we’re surrounded by ash and pumice deposits, and the silver stumps of thousands upon thousand of trees destroyed in the 1980 volcanic eruption. This used to be a flourishing green forest, and Spirit Lake was once 200 feet lower than it is now. The silver along the edge of the lake is not rocks, but the skeletons of massive trees, piled up like driftwood.

Chasing the sunset, coming through a section of the Columbia Gorge. We stopped to take a quick break just a few miles from our evening stop at The Dalles, Oregon.

Chasing the sunset, coming through a section of the Columbia Gorge. We stopped to take a quick break just a few miles from our evening stop at The Dalles, Oregon.

Into Oregon. Wind farms, wheat fields, and Mount Hood.

Into Oregon. Wind farms, wheat fields, and Mount Hood.

Fast forward another 500 miles and several days of travel - here we are more or less back in home country, at Spences Bridge, B.C. Only 5 more hours till home! Day number 8 in the tiny car, and we're pretty well ready to stop moving.

Fast forward another 600 + miles and several days of travel – here we are more or less back in home country, at Spences Bridge, B.C. Only 5 more hours till home! Day number 8 in the tiny, rough-riding car, and we’re pretty well ready to stop moving. Time to get back to all of the things we temporarily set aside. But it was grand.

 

 

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Reading My Way Into Autumn

Hello, all!

Still here, I am, silence on the blog notwithstanding. It’s been ridiculously busy, but a breathing space appears to be developing, as we’ve finished the heavy lifting-scary heights segment of our most recent home improvement project, putting on a spanking new roof.

xxx

The view from up top. (Note the little satellite dish which keeps us connected to the online world.) Still not quite sure about the roofing colour choice, but I guess we’re stuck with it now – it’s supposed to be good for forty years, and I suspect I will be long gone before it needs replacing. (At least, I sincerely hope it outlasts me, even if I live well into old age.) Next project: painting everything on the outside of the house, and installing quite a bit of new wood siding. (This new roof thing is rather like painting one thing in a room – everything else immediately looks tired and shabby.)

My reading has been mostly late at night and decidedly escapist. Re-reading the ever-amusing Margery Sharp (Cluny Brown, The Innocents, Rhododendron Pie)  and Dodie Smith (I Capture the Castle), some rather fascinating memoirs (Lucy Irvine on a desert island, Noel Streatfeild in her childhood vicarage, Edward Abbey in the Utah desert – respectively Castaway, A Vicarage Family and Desert Solitaire), the slightly shocking adult version (sex! and lots of it) of Streatfeild’s juvenile favourite Ballet Shoes, The Whicharts, Winifred Holtby’s The Land of Green Ginger, among others. I have abundant opinions on all of these, so hoping to sit down to a round-up post quite soon.

the well of loneliness radclyffe hallCurrently plugging away at Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, and finding it so aptly named. (The heroine has just shot her beloved horse – sob! And she’s on blighted infatuation number three or four, and it’s not going at all well in her life in general on every front.)

Mary Renault famously wrote her own lesbian drama The Friendly Young Ladies in not-so-gentle mockery of Hall’s rather dreary tragedy, and I am finding myself increasingly in sympathy with Renault’s rejection of the melodrama of Hall’s portrayal of “inverts” and “the third sex”. I shall soldier on; the Great War is looming, and we’re heading off to Paris. Perhaps things will start pepping up for poor, conflicted Stephen Gordon, love life wise? (Though I rather fear not.)

I’ve been staying close to home and reading from the shelves, but an upcoming excursion into new territory (Washington and Oregon) mid September may well prove rewarding if all goes well. We’ll be travelling the back roads, so will be watching for those promising “Used Books/Vintage Books” signs which so often reward investigation. You never know what will turn up in the most unlikely places!

More soon.

Happy end-of-summer reading, everyone.

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In my garden. Double tiger lily, early August morning.

In my summer garden. Double tiger lily, early August morning.

A slightly surreal moment yesterday when a friend mentioned in passing that he had been reading the blog. He smiled as he said it and gave a nod. It sounded like he felt that was a good thing, but it took me totally by surprise and left me momentarily at a loss for an appropriate response. I murmured something about not posting much these days, he replied understandingly with a “Yes, summer…” and that’s where it ended.

I have mixed feelings about knowing that people I know In Real Life are also familiar with My Online Life. Not that I’m hiding anything, dear friends and neighbours, but knowing you are reading these posts does give me pause. I wonder why?

My husband reads many of my posts, usually over my shoulder as they’re being tapped out in the early morning and during daytime tea breaks. I’ve overheard him telling people about my blogging, which I must confess makes me cringe as if this were something to be ashamed of, to be hidden.

In Real Life I am secretly, painfully shy. I’m the appreciative listener at social gatherings rather than the holder-forth. It’s recently become rather trendy to self-identify as an introvert, and our socially awkward tribe has been getting some positive press, but all cute Facebook questionnaires and celebrity confessions aside, there are those of us who think better in solitude, and who enjoy the slower but possibly more forgiving process of communicating in print rather than in think-on-the-go face-to-face chat. (Before the internet we kept journals. And wrote letters. Well, I guess we still do, though the media has changed.)

Writing about my reading gives me great pleasure, and I hope reading these posts gives something of the same degree of pleasure to all of you. It’s good to feel that one is a small cog in the vast machinery of this ongoing bookish discourse, sharing an interest with (mostly) unseen others.

Moving on…

The doomed rudbeckia and plume poppy in the under-the-eaves flowerbed just before the ladders moved in.

A few of the doomed rudbeckia and plume poppies in my under-the-eaves flowerbed just before the ladders moved in. Early August, 2015.

Half of the roof is now off our house. Three large tarps are keeping the rain from pouring in, and of course it has been raining just enough to keep things interesting.

This is the summer’s Great Big Project, changing our roofline to something more extreme to allow for better snow slide in winter, and replacing the aging metal sheathing with newer, better cladding which should outlast our time in residence. (Unless of course we both make our centuries aging-in-place, at which point I expect that these sorts of worries will be capably dealt with by others in our lives.)

It’s a massive job, and in our consistent tradition of never hiring anything out that we can do ourselves (and this covers all aspects of our lives except for things such as medical and dental visits, and haircuts, and removing/replacing tires from/on wheel rims, which my husband can do but absolutely hates so we patronize a tire shop for that particular job) we are plugging away all by ourselves.

The two of us with the priceless help of our absolutely wonderful nineteen-year-old daughter have to date built 58 roof trusses, have removed the old roofing and rafter sheathing, porch pillars and roof and rafters, and eaves and soffit and miscellaneous other stuff (there are certainly a lot of pieces in a house, as daughter rather redundantly pointed out with frustrated passion during one of her countless trips up and down the ladder), and are now in the process of putting it all back together.

We’re weeks and weeks behind when we’d hoped to be finished because of course that’s the way these sorts of things go. We’ve had to accommodate “real” work (you know – for wages), all sorts of weather, and various other pressing issues. (Including some marvelous travelling-for-pleasure, so it’s not all been “poor us” by a long shot.)

And now with a quarter of the trusses up in place, we can at last truly visualize the finished project.

It will, when done, be wonderful. No more scary sessions shovelling snow off the darned thing, no more leaks.

I should really be documenting this project in photos, but I haven’t yet taken a single one. I should remedy that, because once this is over it will all be a blur, as we move inexorably on to the next thing on the project list.

Ah, well. Onward and upward. (Quite literally. Did I mention my desperate level of discomfort with heights? Confronting that fear on a daily basis; I should come away from this episode a better person. Or something! 😉 )

Happy summer, all.

Russian yellow hollyhocks, rising sun. Early August in my garden.

Russian yellow hollyhocks, rising sun. Early August 2015.

 

 

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A week ago we set off on a journey to the mountains, travelling in our old blue sports car north to Prince George, then east towards Alberta. Down the Icefields Parkway from Jasper, and continuing through Banff National Park through Kootenay National Park, fetching up in the village of Radium Hot Springs, where we spent several days in exploring the surrounding roads and countryside, and participating in an all-British get-together and vehicle show hosted by the Calgary MG Club.

It was a wonderful trip, and we were sorry to have to race for home to be back for workaday obligations. (That whole earning-a-living thing can be a real drag, don’t you find?)

We stopped here and there to botanize by the roadside – the wildflowers are in full early summer glory – and to take a few pictures. Here is the merest glimpse of what we saw.

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta.

Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta.

Mountaintop Thistle, Cirsium sp., Jasper National Park.

Mountaintop Thistle, Cirsium sp., Jasper National Park.

A glimpse of the dauntless Little Blue Car, Jasper National Park, Alberta.

A glimpse of the dauntless Little Blue Car, being looked over by a curious raven, Jasper National Park, Alberta.

Mountain Bluebells, Mertensia alpine, Jasper National Park.

Mountain Bluebells, Mertensia alpina, Jasper National Park.

The turqupose blue water of Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta.

The turquoise blue waters of Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta.

Vermillion River, Kootenay National Park, B.C.

Vermillion River, Kootenay National Park, B.C.

Western Red Lily, Lilium philadelphicum, Kootenay National Park.

Western Red Lily, Lilium philadelphicum, Kootenay National Park.

Sinclair Canyon, just outside of Radium Hot Springs, B.C. - a staged shot of the Spitfire in action.

Our cherished ’71 Triumph Spitfire in action, coming through the gap at Sinclair Canyon, just outside of Radium Hot Springs, B.C. (Vintage convertibles are more fun. Though on occasion one flirts with hypothermia, especially when pushing the whole must-keep-the-top-down thing a bit more rigorously than is sensible.)

 

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Well, now. May 2015 has followed April 2015 into history, pretty well unrecorded by me. Here’s hoping June will be the month I get it all back together. But it’s not looking all that good, my bookish friends, for the following reasons.

#1 – We’re about to start tearing the roof off of our house. And then we will be replacing it, with a newer, better roof. New trusses, more insulation, a much steeper pitch (no more shovelling it off in winter – hurray!) and superior metal cladding. Also two more skylights (hurray again!) to brighten the gloomier corners. The downside is that our satellite dish will be coming off for the duration, which means that we will probably have no internet service for the time of the project, unless we can prop it up somewhere where it can still receive a signal. Won’t know until we experiment, so if an even more total online silence ensues it might be for this reason.

#2 – Road tripping. All work and no play makes Jack (and Jill) a dull boy (and girl), so in the midst of our construction we will be heading off into the mountains on a driving trip in our little Spitfire convertible. We’re aiming for the Jasper-Banff parkway right through the heart of the beautiful Canadian Rockies, with a side trip into the Kootenays and Selkirks. Winding mountain roads, beautiful scenery, and a meet-up at the end with a group of like-minded Little British Car people. Fingers crossed for sunshine!

Fingers also crossed for an actual book post soon. I’ve been writing them in my head, just not quite making it to the computer with them.

Onward and (quite literally) upward!

Bye for now.

The road beckons! Looking down the bonnet of the Little Blue Car.

The road less travelled beckons! Here’s to the special joy of looking down the bonnet of the Little Blue Car…  (Don’t be too terribly envious, though. We travel with a full tool kit, and the very real possibility of rather more adventure than we want. One of the less-publicized aspects of long-distance driving in a vintage car.)

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Right now I envy single-minded people who accomplish their tasks with minimal fuss. My own default mode this spring seems to have settled into doing “many things haphazardly” versus “one thing well”. And the poor book blog has suffered for it. The longer I put off posting the harder it is to sit down and focus. It doesn’t help that I’ve reorganized my little office area to place my desk beside the windows overlooking the garden and the bird feeders, with the river rolling along most picturesquely and distractingly in the background.

My devoted dog has taken to settling himself down on the garden path where he can make maximum eye contact with me whenever I glance outside. If I turn my head his way, he perks his ears and cocks his head and looks meaningfully towards the porch door, and if I so much as change position in my office chair he leaps to his feet, plumy tail waving madly – “Marvelous! She’s coming out!!” If I turn back to the computer screen he stands there hopefully, tail wagging slower and slower, until at last he gives up (for the time being) and subsides back into his canine version of Patience-on-a-monument, head resting on paws, eyebrows furrowed just a bit, eyes patiently pleading. Needless to say, one can only disappoint the poor fellow so many times before giving in and going out, and then it’s all over for any thought of working up a book post.

"Just look into my eyes...You are starting to feel an overwhelming urge to come outside....You will stop in the porch and fill your pockets with dog treats..."

“Just look into my eyes…You are starting to feel an overwhelming urge to come outside….You will stop briefly in the porch and fill your pockets with dog treats…”

This misty, moisty morning the dog in question is sprawled out blocking my office doorway, peacefully sleeping and occasionally twitching in his doggy dreams, all the while quietly emanating a faint but persistent aroma of Springtime Barnyard, reminding me why I don’t particularly hold with Big Fluffy Farm Dogs In The House, no matter how sweet their personality is.

Well, as I appear to be trapped here for a bit, perhaps I should take advantage of the temporary quiet in my world to slap up a blog entry of sorts.

First book on the stack, here we go.

party line out on a limb louise baker djOut on a Limb/Party Line by Louise Baker ~ 1945/1946 ~This edition: Peoples Book Club, circa 1946. Hardcover. 376 pages.

My rating: 8.5/10 for the 2-book compilation, for sheer nostalgic enjoyment.

A good-natured pair of days-of-my-youth memoirs by Louise Baker published in an omnibus version. The first, Party Line, centers around the personality of a small California town’s telephone switchboard operator, Miss Elmira Jordan.

It was like putting oneself in the arms of a comfortable providence to relax in Miss Elmira’s efficiency.

Telephones were something of a luxury in Mayfield and their installation was limited enough for one operator to handle the exchange. That power behind the communication system was Miss Elmira Jordan, an aging spinster who loved her work. She regarded her profession as a calling – no pun intended. Had she been so inclined, Miss Elmira could have resigned her job and, with a few threatening letters to launch the enterprise, retired to a luxurious life of blackmail. But nothing so base as avarice would have uprooted her from her stool at the Bell Telephone Company…

Miss Elmira has her finger on the pulse of Mayfield, and her story is intertwined with that of all of the other inhabitants of this microcosm of 1920s-30s American small town culture. Mostly amusing and occasionally genuinely poignant. The author pens a loving memoir of a person and a place – and, incidentally, her own young self – without lapsing into sentimentality.

And as you will see if you read on, there was a fair bit left out in this memoir concerning the writer herself, no doubt to allow the main focus to remain on Miss Elmira.

Here’s a peek at the Table of Contents. If you find this at all intriguing, this book is for you.

party line table contents louise baker 001

The second memoir comes as a bit of a shock, detailing as it does on the very first page a major life-changing event in the author’s personal history, not even hinted at in Party Line.

From Out on a Limb: (Click the highlighted link to take you to an online version.)

I became a minor celebrity in my home town at the precocious age of eight. This distinction was not bestowed on me because I was a bright little trick like Joel Kupperman, nor because I could play the piano like a velvet-pantalooned prodigy. I was, to keep the record straight, a decidedly normal and thoroughly untalented child. I wasn’t even pretty. My paternal grandmother, in fact, often pointed out that I was the plainest girl in three generations of our family, and she had a photograph album full of tintypes to prove it. She hoped that I’d at least be good, but I didn’t achieve my fame because of my virtue either. My memorable record in the annals of the town was the result of mere accident.

Completely against parental advice, I took an unauthorized spin on a neighbor boy’s bicycle. It was a shiny red vehicle that I admired inordinately but thoroughly misunderstood. I couldn’t even reach the pedals. However, I started a perilous descent of a hill, yelling with giddy excitement. At the bottom, I swung around a corner where I entangled myself and bicycle with an oncoming automobile. As part, apparently, of an ordained pattern, the car was piloted by a woman who was just learning to drive. Her ignorance and mine combined to victimize me.

A crowd gathered. Strong arms lifted me. I had a momentary horrified clarity during which I screamed “Mama!” as I got what proved to be a farewell glimpse of my right leg…

Yes indeed, Louise Baker was a child amputee due to the aforementioned 1917 accident, and her penning of this particular memoir was apparently commissioned by the US government to provide inspiration for combat-injured World War II soldiers as they began to return to “normal” life.

Kirkus in 1946 sums it up:

A debonair autobiographical account of a girl with one foot in the grave, of the particular problems of a uniped which in no way kept her from leading a round life. She was eight when she lost her leg, and acquired 17 dolls and a spoiled disposition which was spanked out of her when she returned from the hospital. Despite her handicap she managed to roller skate, swim, play tennis; she went to Europe alone, married, briefly, a professor, reported for several newspapers, taught, and eventually met the right man and went to Arizona. There she wrote Party Line (1945). This is a humorous and good humored approach to a loss which was only physically crippling. The book should have much to hearten amputees, without the more obviously inspirational quality of Betsey Barton’s And Now To Live Again.

Baker’s account of life as a “uniped” borders on just a bit too perky and positive, but she points out the negative aspects of her physical state often enough to keep it real. For example, a unique sort of pitfall in Louise’s young adult social life was the persistent appearance of men who were attracted to her because of her amputation; these “amputee devotees” are apparently not as rare as one would think, and the phenomenon is a recognized “disability fetish”. Who knew?!

Louise Baker wrote at least one more fictionalized memoir, 1953’s Snips and Snails, an account of life as a dorm matron at an exclusive Arizona boys’ school.

These memoirs were easy reading, with enough substance backing up the playful tone to justify tucking this book onto the keeper shelf, alongside similar personal accounts by Betty MacDonald and Rosemary Taylor.

 

 

 

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Well, golly gee, what has happened to the month of March?! It has been RACING past and I am feeling more than a little breathless trying to come to terms with April looming only a few days away.

To my great shame the poor old blog has been terribly neglected lately. I’ve been reading some fantastic stuff (and some not so great stuff, too) and I do so wish to write about it all but everything else seems to be bumping my typing time.

I’m still here, though mostly in spirit versus in any sort of a practical way.

A proper post soon – I promise! And I’ll update the header picture to something more seasonal, and maybe do some long-overdue tweaking to the sidebar stuff.

Happy Spring, everyone.

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