Wednesday, 27 June 2012

how does your garden grow?

Just a little eye candy of beautiful flowers from my garden.

The yard at my new house is lovely. It had been professionally landscaped at some point before we bought the house, but had been let go a little by the previous owners. I've been working hard to bring it back--pruning, moving plants and shrubs, cleaning up the weeds, etc..., and adding to it. I am rehabilitating the vegetable garden soil; it is very compacted and depleted of nutrients. I am adding perennial flowers in order to add some colour, as the yard is mostly trees and bushes. It is a slow process. The first summer we lived here, I was pregnant with Remy. The second summer, he was a little baby. The third summer I was pregnant with Savianna. And now, I have a very active toddler and a little baby. But I'm doing what I can, and learning a lot in the process.

I love the way that working in a big yard like this, with such a variety of plant life affords an intimate view of the rhythm and pulse of the cycle of seasons. I have flowering shrubs, I have coniferous trees and shrubs, I have fruit trees, I have perennial flowers, and a small vegetable patch (this year it is small- next year it will be fabulous!) People who deny that climate change is a reality don't spend time working with plants, dirt and bugs. Their ignorance reveals that they have no first hand evidence of the changes that have taken place even in the last five years. I see bugs now that I've never seen before. I see drought even when we have rain. I see unpredictable frost patterns. I see a lack of pollination due to the disappearance of bees, thanks to pesticides and herbicides. If the bees disappear, we are in big trouble folks. They are the vital element of our food supply.

Sometimes while I'm working the garden, I consider my comparatively meagre ability to produce food, and then realize that I do grow enough apples, pears and raspberries to last the winter. With a little effort, I could produce more. I grow enough tomatoes to last till late fall, and can freeze the rest for sauces. And I wonder what sort of impact people could have in terms of reducing pressure on food growers if everyone grew even just a few vegetables and fruits? If we all grew even just a month's worth of produce, imagine the positive environmental impact that could have, imagine how the pressure on our food demands might be relieved a little. Plus, we would be preserving and passing on a valuable skill- knowing how to grow and cultivate your own food- understanding that process of life.And experiencing the joy of growing your own food- taking that little seed and ushering through germination to produce bearing. There is nothing so yummy as peas eaten while standing in the garden.

And of course flowers are lovely, and essential to environmental and psychological well-being...
Here are a few of my early-blooming beauties!


xo Jo

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

genetic imprints and other family musings

Here's a picture of me as a baby in 1969. My aunt Loraine is holding me, and my maternal grandparents are sitting on either side of her. My mom is sitting on the floor.

Here is a picture of my daughter Savianna from a couple of days ago:

I think the resemblance between us is striking. We have the same sticky outy ears. We have deep set almond shaped eyes. Sometimes when I gaze into her face I have this weird uncanny feeling. I used to experience that with my son too. I could never quite figure it out, why when I gazed into my child's face I would experience both an unsettling and comfortable feeling. I would simultaneously say to myself, I know you, I've always known you, I recognize you as you, new, my baby, but I also feel that we have met before- the "always known you" part is the part that unsettles: the flashes of images of other family members- my brother, my cousins, my parents and grandparents. These are faces that I have gazed at all my life, that are as familiar to me as my own. And here those family features appear fleetingly, uncannily, again in this new little person. I feel the same rush of uncanny familiarity when I look at the images of my mom, my aunt and grandparents in that photo.

I just finished watching hundreds of short 8 mm home movies that my uncle had converted to a DVD, most of which were filmed between 1959 and 1965, of my dad's family: my paternal grandparents, my great Baba and Gido, my uncles when they were in their teens and early 20s, my dad. Even a couple of brief images of my mom when she was about 19, and of my maternal Grandma. At times it was emotionally overwhelming. 

My mom was just a kid and the traces of her now are evident then- fresh faced, smiling, pretty, optimistic, fun loving and funny. There is a sense that that time in everyone's life was good. It hadn't been marred by too many terrible losses yet. The future was unfolding in a welcoming way before them, as her generation came of age in the less trying times of the late 1950s and 1960s.

In the movies, my Granny Lena Armstrong was about the same age as I am now. It was a rare and precious gift to peek, if only for a brief, silent moment, into that era, that time in my family's life before I was born. I was also able to see my Grandad, who died a few years before I was born. I had never really seen many pictures of him before, and so I was overwhelmed by this rare opportunity to get to know him. The emotional effect of what I saw on those movies was contained mainly in a couple of brief scenes with my grandparents: seeing them interact, smile at one another, dote on each other with little touches of a hand to an arm, a quick glance, obviously in love- dancing at what looked like a New Year's eve party, and sharing a loving kiss. I had never thought of my Granny in that way before, as a loving wife. I knew she was a romantic at heart, but this was a side of her that had pretty well faded away by the time I knew her. Because my Grandad died relatively young, that phase of her life was over before I was born, but not long over, and part of the melancholy, almost perpetual widowhood I had come to associate with my Granny's personality may have been more accurately attributed to her recent mourning. For, in these movies. she smiled a lot. She was very poised. Apparently she practiced walking with a tray and books on her head, and as a result, she walked like a queen. By the time of my earliest memories of my Granny, she had been suffering ill- health in the form of repeated heart attacks. She was quite stationary and fairly weak, fragile, needing constant medical supervision and medication. Nevertheless, she lived to be 96. Not bad considering she had somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 heart attacks, non- Hodgkin's lymphoma and an inoperable brain tumor. But for whatever reasons, and perhaps this has more to do with her generation and the expectations of social behavior, these rare intimate moments are rarely played out for grandchildren. It was that intimacy that caught me. I wept for a moment as I gasped at these ancestors, young, vibrant and in love.  

I don't know this side of my family as well as I could, or should. I feel a little closer now. I see the shared genetic footprints- the shapes of eyes, the mannerisms, even the eccentricities. I experienced a certain devilish mirth to see that one of my Granny's peculiar habits of wearing a turban had started at least that early in her life and continued through the 80s, and probably for a time into the 90s. I giggled a little at that, as that little eccentricity opened up a flood of childhood memories in Saskatoon.

I only wish there were a few more movies, a few more private glimpses into that world so that I could linger just a little longer in the footprints of that era. My Granny passed away on September 21, 2011.

xo Jo

Monday, 25 June 2012

quinoa kick: coconunt quinoa cucumber raisin salad.

I love quinoa. I can't really get enough it. I make it a lot since my son doesn't eat meat and I enjoy a mainly vegetarian diet.

I also love coconut. So I decided to marry the two in a harmonious blend of yumminess.

This is what I came up with:

Cook the quinoa in a can of coconut milk, plus whatever amount of water you need to thin it out and to cook it for long enough that the quinoa will be cooked.

add cucumber, raisins, and Thai basil, salt and pepper to taste.

This is a salad that has a slight Thai/Vietnamese hint of flavour to it through the coconut and basil. The raisins perfectly complement the coconut milk.

  xo Jo

Sunday, 24 June 2012

today I am orange

Is there any other colour that can make your mouth water quite like the colour orange?

The color orange was named after the fruit, not the other way around.   Before then, the English speaking world referred to the orange color as geoluhread, which literally translates to “yellow-red”.

One usually either loves orange or hates. I myself am and orange convert. I used to loathe orange. It actually seemed to almost repel me. And now I love it. LOVE IT. Especially burnt versions of it, but even pylon orange is a soothing sight to me now.

What changed? I don't know. Perhaps I opened myself up to orange's optimism, its powerfulness and sociability, its power without being overwhelming. 

And then there are orange's strange cultural associations:

The Orange Men, William of Orange, orange Pekoe (which has nothing to do with oranges). Orange is used to signify safety and danger, and gluttony.

It is a comforting colour for many- the colour of sunset, fire and citrus. It can also be earthy despite the neon version of it that may first come to mind.

 xo Jo