22 December 2006

For a little Christmas break...5 things you don't know about me

Tired of wrapping, cleaning, baking, shopping, decorating? Then it must be time for a game of internet tag! My friend Charmian Christie who is the outdoor adventure expert at Nomadik, an outdoor living site, tagged me to post five things that aren't commonly known about me. So while the laundry is washing, the floor is drying, and the cats are watching bird television...here we go.

1. I have a secret desire to be emperor of the universe, at which time I will ban minivans and SUVs, vinyl siding, black Christmas trees and Celine Dion. Oh yes, and of course, goutweed!

2. While I enjoy a yearly feed of Fundy lobster on my birthday, which is tomorrow, my favourite food in the whole world is cod cheeks and tongues; preferably with a side of fiddlehead greens, washed down with a Wolf Blass white wine and followed up with something chocolate for dessert. If someone ever develops chocolate cod tongues, I'll be in big trouble. (Charmian, wearing your cook's hat, I can hear you shuddering from here.)

3. Although some readers know I've shipped out as a freelance sailer/writer with the Canadian Coast Guard on more than one occasion, I also used to be a volunteer firefighter--the first female member--with the Canning Volunteer Fire Department. Seemed like the right thing to do after I had the department come to visit and deal with a chimney fire I was having.

4. I believe that visits to spas should be weekly rituals covered by the Canadian Health care system (Medicare). We'd be a far happier country of relaxed, toned people with great skin, hair and nails, and the Harperites wouldn't have a chance with us. Though can you imagine little Stevie Harper at a spa getting a pedicure--or better yet, a FACIAL? Damn, I wish I could draw cartoons!

5. One of our 8 3/4 cats is the smartest cat on the planet; he can open cupboard doors with his polydactyl front paddy paws and is planning to take over the universe. Maybe he'll abolish Celine, SUVs, and etc for us. As well as dogs, of course.
Yes, we have 8 3/4 cats; Nibs is an amputee!

Now, it's time to draw someone else into the game....let's see...Ami, author of The Birth House and Cynthia, over at Tsukismom....you're it!

21 December 2006

No snow, but lotsa wind!

Time now for something completely different.

We live in Scotts Bay, a tiny community at the end of the North mountain in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley. We're technically not in the Valley, but rather on the mountain. Our community is also on the upper Bay of Fundy, known far and wide for the world's highest tides. If you look at a map of Nova Scotia, on the left (west) side of the province, there's a comma of land projecting out about halfway up the province. Looks like an appendix. That's the Cape Split peninsula, and Scotts Bay is nestled in the cove of that peninsula. Our tides are truly dramatic, coming in over miles of mudflats and causing the boats at the wharf to rise and fall as much as 30 feet between tides. At low water they sit on mud; at high water, they're almost flush with the top of the wharf.

We get a regular dosing of nor-west winds during the fall and winter, normally about the time lobster season begins in mid October. The boats are hauled up on dry land here for the winter now, however, and here's a good reason why:
The boats normally are moored on the leeward side of the wharf, where it's somewhat calmer, but waves are smashing up and in some cases over the wharf on days like this. Good thing we build things tough in Nova Scotia.
These were taking at not-quite highwater a few hours ago; here's how we're bringing in solstice, winter, and the longest night of the year.

Of course, to really appreciate the contrast, you'll need to see photos at highwater when it's calm; and also at low water. Suffice it to say there's no dust down around the wharf today; and my hair still smells like salt water. Nothing finer--so long as we're not out on it, on days like this.

Days like this I'm very very glad, however, that my other half doesn't fish any more.

20 December 2006

They said there'll be snow at Christmas...or at least Christmas roses

We have our live, green balsam fir Christmas tree up and decorated, and while we don’t go overboard with the interior décor, the house looks happy. A wonderful poinsettia, deep wine in colour, makes me happy just to look at it. Thankfully, it’s genuinely wine-coloured, not dyed like the hideous blue, purple, gold and other hideous “fantasy poinsettias” that are being flogged by some merchants. Yes, I know I grumbled about that earlier; well, I’m gonna grumble again.. Blue poinsettias rank right up there with black Christmas decorations in my book of yuks. I’m all for developing interesting new plants via genetics, but not through faking it—or through the ‘tastes’ of some supposedly-trend setting fashionista in Milan, Toronto or downtown Chibougimou.

Sorry if that last sounded curmudgeonly…as much as I love the Christmas season, I do get appalled, sometimes by the commerciality of it all. Last week I was observing this woman in Canadian Tire. She’ll never see fifty again, yet she was trying desperately to look thirty-something; black leather plants, tight red jacket, 4 inch spike heels on her red leather boots…clutching a pile of black and white Christmas decorations. I mused aloud to the cashier ringing in my purchase about the lemminglike behaviour of some people, and she said she’s had customers go through with hundreds of dollars worth of decorations in some new colour—be it bronze, turquoise, purple, lime green or yes, black—and she said to me, “Do they have any idea how many hungry people that money would have fed?”


Well, I love the colours of the Christmas season—red and green, some gold and silver tossed in for good measure…a little blue is okay, but in lights and ornaments only, puh-leeze.

Can anything beat the natural beauty of holly? Ours are doing very well, though I suppose I should prune them a bit. The female plant has a lot of competition during the summer from two overly-enthusiastic clematis that are scrambling up the arbour beside the holly, but it still manages to produce some great branches of deep red berries. The purple barberry, too, is heavily laden with brilliant red berries, and the multiflora roses still are holding quite a few of their tiny red hips.

Today, our garden is in a state of suspended animation, as we had a good hard freeze the past couple of days. Perfect time for me to spread the evergreen boughs I cut in the woodlot last week. Because we have so much in the way of gardening, only the tenderest of plants get covered here, or things I’m not quite sure about yet. We get so many freeze and thaw cycles, and that’s not good for plants, hence the mulching. So the blue poppies and corydalis, the geums and perennial potentillas, the lavender and a few newer shrubs, are all resting gently under their mantle of fir and spruce boughs.

But there was a surprise awaiting me when I went to cover the blue poppies near our line of spruce trees. I had just written in my email newsletter that finally things had stopped trying to flower…but wonder of wonders, the hellebores have decided that they are Christmas roses, rather than Lenten roses, and their flowers are formed and trying to open.
Now, I’m not sure which ones I have here; the three larger plants came from Springvale Nurseries, and I’m giving them the ol cold-test treatment. They’re probably orientalis hybrids; one was red, one rose and one greenish-white when I bought and planted them. There are also several other smaller plants tucked in here and there around the yard, including one that Kingstec landscape instructor and plantsman extraordinaire Jamie Ellison gave me (and I forget the species!). Here’s hoping that these plants manage to make it through; they’re certainly looking fine despite the variations on a theme of weather.

Finally, a few thoughts about the approaching holiday.

As I wrote in my newsletter, one of my favourite Christmas songs is by Greg Lake, formerly of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Called “I believe in Father Christmas”, it starts out, “they said there’d be snow at Christmas/ they said there’d be peace on earth/ but instead it just kept on raining/ a veil of tears for the virgin birth…”

It’s a lovely, if haunting song, especially if you’ve ever seen the video. This song was released in the early 1970s, when the Vietnam war was casting a veil of tears over the world, and the video shows Lake playing his guitar and singing in a desert, possibly in Israel. Between verses there is an instrumental sampling, which is part of a piece by Sergei Prokofiev, called the Troika movement (Lieutenant Kije Suite, for a long-forgotten soviet movie.) At the end of the song, the troika repeats twice; in the video, there is a barrage of images from war; missiles falling on land; tanks firing; planes and helicopters unleasing their own barrage; then it seques to a soldier, returning home to his joyous son.

Why does this strike me so poignantly? Well, between our Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, and our neighbour’s soldiers there and in Iraq…I’ve written before that I have no easy solutions, and I don’t like our people being over there; but since they are they I support them, and I hope that somewhere, sometime, there will come a solution so that there genuinely is peace on earth.

As the song finishes… “I wish you a hopeful Christmas, I wish you a brave new year. All anguish, pain and sadness leave your heart and may your road be clear…”

Merry Christmas, everyone.

11 December 2006

The season of giving, part 1

It’s that time of year again…when we’re rushing around, madly trying to decide what to give as Christmas gifts to those near and dear to our hearts. Let’s see, we’ll start with a black Christmas tree and lots of black and white decorations, followed by a blue poinsettia…

I’m joking, of course. You already know my opinions on the latest trends in Christmas décor.

What to give as gifts? Well, in my world, of course, almost all things gardening are treasured gifts, both to give and receive. I wrote about some of them in my latest Chronicle Herald column, but that will only be online until next Sunday, and of course I couldn’t include everything that I thought of, or every photo. Mind you, I don’t have a say in which photos get published. So here are a few more suggestions, plus a small bit of self-promotion, which I hope readers will understand. More on that anon.

First off: If you live in or near a city that has a Lee Valley store, there are almost infinite numbers of choices there for great gardening gifts. There are tools of every possible sort, including my absolute favourite, the Korean ho-mi digger.
I LOVE this digger. It acts rather like a tiny plow when you drag it through soil, and it’s marvelous for loosening compacted soil, removing weeds, even digging furrows for dropping seeds in. However, as column readers will remember, it doesn’t handle being run over by a tractor lawnmower at all well. Here’s hoping my better half remembers that he owes me one…

Went into Topiary, a store for gardeners when I was in the always-irritating city of Halifax last week (irritating because of the greed of the parkingnazis in the downtown area, among other things), where I spent a delightful time, selecting gift suggestions to offer others as well as doing a little Christmas shopping. Topiary is a great store, with all sorts of delightful ideas for gardeners. I especially like that they have plenty of wonderful garden art, but also lots of birding ideas; as birding and gardening tend to go hand in hand. My longsuffering spouse ‘bought’ me one of James Chadwick’s metal crows (seen here perching on top of a birdseed wreath, almost too pretty to put out for the birds); I bought it as a business expense but told him he could ‘give’ it to me early. He’s not getting off that easy on the digger, however.

Speaking of birds, if you’re a birdwatcher/birdfeeder, I can highly recommend
For the Birds Nature shop in Mahone Bay. I ordered a gift for my longsuffering spouse from Kelly and Brian via their tollfree number, and it arrived THE NEXT DAY; it’s a perfect gift, too, and while I’m only about 90 minutes drive from Mahone Bay, I knew I wouldn’t have time to get there before Christmas. If you do visit the shop, it’s a delightful place to browse, but you can also browse online and find all their treasures; they offer free shipping, and as noted, it’s FAST!

Here’s my bit of self promotion. As some readers know, I wrote a gardening book last year. The Atlantic Gardener’s Greenbook has received positive reviews and feedback from those who have purchased it—or received it as a gift—and if anyone is unhappy with it, they haven’t let me know yet. You can purchase the book directly from me (so I’ll actually make more than a few pennies from the sale—an ongoing problem that book authors find with royalty payments). You can contact me directly at jodi at bloomingwriter.ca (substitute @ and remove spaces) for details.

Most of us find ourselves with dry, cracked skin during the gardening season—even those gardeners among us who wear gloves when working outside. Is there anyone who can actually work in the garden with their gloves on all the time? I can’t do it, especially when thinning seedlings or planting small plants. So my hands invariably get dirty beyond belief, along with calloused, scratched, full of prickles, and so on. However, I slather on some of Naturally Nancy’s protective cream before I put my gloves on, or before I venture out without gloves (I regularly misplace my garden gloves, but usually find them again—at least, one of them). Nancy is a Nova Scotian landscaper who used to be plagued with terribly dry, cracked hands; so she developed a cream for herself using beeswax from her father’s beekeeping business. The cream worked so well, people began asking for it. It’s used for countless other purposes besides dry garden hands, but you can take my word—it does work. It’s unscented too.

Now, I’m not sensitive to scents, and my favourite scent in the world is lavender—real lavender, that is, not the artificial perfumes developed by so many businesses. That’s why I was so excited to discover Beach Lane Lavender about two years ago. They’re also Nova Scotian owned and operated, and their lavender products, including lip balms and skin creams, are glorious—and truly lavender. I get their Maritime men’s aftershave for my dear other half, and he loves it too—not too flowery, but clean-scented and great on his delicate skin.

A final thought for today. Instead of mailing out Christmas cards this year, I’ve decided to give a gift that really matters. We spend a fair bit on Christmas cards and postage, to say nothing of the time spent writing notes, addressing envelopes, and mailing these out; I’d rather do something that will help someone else. So I’ve decided to purchase meaningful gifts from World Vision; instead of sending cards. 35.00 buys two rabbits; 50.00, two hens and a rooster; and these go to people in developing countries who need our help more than my friends need cards from me. Unlike some charitable organizations that pool their monetary donations even though they say you’re buying X with it, World Vision does genuinely use my donation to put the gifts I purchase into the hands of those who need them.

The only thing not to give as a gardening Christmas gift?

Goutweed, of course.

07 December 2006

Taking "Blue Christmas" one step too far...

Be warned: this is a bit of a rant.

I’ve seen it all, now.

I thought my friend Alice was joking when she told me she had seen blue poinsettias in wallyworld, the bigbox bully that is trying to decimate small town Canada, having already pillaged small town America.

Blue poinsettias? Oh, she must mean silk ones. I’d already seen tacky black artificial poinsettias, to go along with the incredibly ugly black and white Christmas décor that someone deemed trendy for this year. More on that later.

But no, her email seemed to indicate REAL plants.

So, ever the intrepid gardener in search of the real dirt on such things, I girded up my loins, sallied forth into the commercial wilderness that is between Kentville and Wolfville, and waded into the throngs of unwashed masses eager to spend their last dollar on plastic junk from Wallyworld. (Why IS it so many people don’t bother to shower, wash, or use deoderant—and then go out in public?)

And there they were. Not only blue poinsettias, but a sickly mauve coloured crop too. Most of them half wilted, obviously traumatized by having been offloaded in a chill gale of Nova Scotia wind before being stuffed into a lightless, airless, overheated department store.

Oh, my. Are we approaching botanical Armageddon?

They’re absolutely hideous. Well, that’s my opinion. Apparently there are people who think these are the next best thing to wonderbread. Why, is beyond me. These aren’t genuine, genetically blue flowers; they’re dyed with some sort of floral dye to give them the colour. And not just available in blue, oh no. You can get gold, (for the harvest season, no doubt) lilac, fuchsia, green, and gawdknows how many other colours. Hey, probably even BLACK for the goth celebrants.

Now, I am a fan of new colours in plants when it’s due to breeding, crossbreeding, and so on. After all, who more than me loves the new echinaceas, or searches for the deepest purple or most brilliant gold foliage in shrubs and perennials? And I have loved the new advances in poinsettia colours; the deeper burgundies, the bicolours and marbles, the lemon-chiffon, the variegated leaves…

But these blue and other-hued poinsettias look ghastly; especially so when some benighted floral ‘designer’ decides to tart them up further with glitter or iridescent spangles. Doesn’t this look like something out of a dollar store clearance bin?

Okay, maybe I’m being harsh. Chacun on son gout, we all say. Fair enough; if someone wants a blue poinsettia, they can fill their boots.

But wait, there’s more. These blue poinsettias in a bigbox store in a Nova Scotian town—they were at least grown in Nova Scotia, right?

Wrongo. They are labeled “Product of Ohio.” Talk about pouring salt into the wounds. We have a fantastic nursery here in the province that grows huge numbers of poinsettias. That wholesales to all kinds of other nurseries and stores. And yet wallyworld buys its from an Excited State and hauls them up here to die in Nova Scotia?

Steady, jodi, steady. Deep breaths, girl. On to something else while I’m in my grinch-like mode.

What braintrust decided that we needed BLACK Christmas decorations? I don’t mean décor celebrating African heritage. I mean the colour black. Black ornaments. Black silk flowers—including, surprise surprise, poinsettias. Black table runners, swags, tinsels, probably even lights? Even black Christmas TREES! (Artificial, thankfully, so far—no sprayed balsam fir or scotch pine trees to be found so far…) It seems to have been a European trend which some designer-diva decided needed to be imported across the ocean to sully our shores. Paired with white, of course, for the tres chic, avante garde look. Oooh, lah lah. Pass me my glass of black champagne, darling, while I deck the halls with black holly with white berries.

Oh please. I was willing to go with the introduction of copper, bronze, purple, turquoise into the Christmas colour palette, though some of the more neon colours make me cringe. I saw a tree decorated in peacock colours that appealed to me as a curio, but not as something I’d want sitting in my living room for two weeks.

But black? The only things black and white I want to see at Christmas is licorice allsorts, and penguin-themed items like calendars and coffee mugs. Not ornaments, not trees, and definitely not poinsettias.

What’s next? Tied dyed Christmas trees? Orange-foliaged Holly shrubs with neon pink berries?

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