A Domestic Diary

"We are what we believe we are."
C.S. Lewis

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Day After the Migraine

 On Friday evening I attempted to brighten up my black outfit with this Hermes scarf and some bright blue nail polish (on my toes).  I was just coming off a 24 hour migraine, and while the pain and nausea were gone I had that wobbly feeling of being slightly disconnected from my body.  It's a difficult feeling to explain to someone who's never had migraine before, but if you have (and I'm sorry you have) you'll know what I mean.
You might think I should have stayed home for a full recovery but we were visiting with friends at their home a few blocks away, friends who are quite literally world travellers and aren't here in Guelph with us very often.  I was so looking forward to seeing them.  Two of our other best friends were attending as well, and we ended up having the most interesting conversation.
Is started with this question: "what is the moment or activity when you are aware that you are experiencing bliss, the sheer joy of being alive?"  The answers were varied and interesting, from the obvious to the more philosophical and difficult to describe.  Strangely I had a hard time finding an answer immediately.  I often go through the world with a veil of anxiety clouding my perceptions, throwing off that veil can at times be blindingly good, shocking even.  But I have to allow myself to do it!
A day of productive work domestically, followed by dinner with my favourite people can bring the feeling.  MrBP calls it "an unusual feeling of well-being".  I often have the joy when I'm out walking and I'm just looking at the sky, the trees, feeling the breeze.  Winter weather gives me the feeling, oddly, as long as I've got the right gear so I'm not distracted by freezing my ta-ta's off.
Immersion in a great book can give me the feeling and always has.
I found the timing of this discussion interesting because even as I was sitting in the beautiful living room of my friends I was thinking ahead to the next morning with anticipation.  The day after a migraine is always one, for me at least, that brings clarity and joy.  It's like the cobwebs have been cleared away and I have a new appreciation for light, sounds, smells and just the joy of being free of pain.
 Experiencing the thrill of a new place can give me that feeling, especially when I'm with MrBP and some or all of the rascals.  I find the thrill of travel most beautiful when shared.
The Golem from Prague
 Just being cozy at home in the light of the afternoon, looking forward to dinner or seeing friends or heading out to a movie... it all brings the feeling.
When are you able to recognize the beauty of the world? Do you often get a glimpse of it?

In other news, MrBP's book club and my "serious" book club are both reading Jane Austen next month.
 I belong to two book clubs, one "serious" and one "fun".  One is comprised mostly of doctors and psychotherapists (and then oddly, me).  Surprisingly, that's the fun one!  Sometimes we hardly discuss the book for the chatting and laughing.
 I'm really enjoying my home this month, it's time to tuck in, clean up, de-clutter every cupboard and closet and generally prepare for the year ahead.

Speaking of joy, how about this picture of my rascals taken about a decade ago?  From tall to small:
Rock City, New York State
 These wooly dusters, one for ceiling mouldings and one for the wooden floors, are so effective and also pleasing to look at.  Not everyone finds joy in domestic tasks but I certainly do.  I'm not talking about piercing moments of bliss, rather it's a feeling of general satisfaction.
Wool duster things.
 This is the time of year to get into some major art appreciation, especially on a grey day.  My friend Pat painted this olive grove in France in such exuberant colours, it's one of my favourites.  It's in the kitchen so I get to see it often:
Painting by Patricia MacDonald
Pat is such a talented artist but don't take my word for it, you could check out her latest work on her blog right here.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry and Bright

The front porch.
 Wishing you a very happy holiday season with lots of good things, merry moods and bright lights!
 We found some sleigh bells for our front porch urns this year and for the door we went for a bit of boxwood with some colour.

We've had loads of snow for nearly two weeks and I've spent lots of time walking around the neighbourhood just enjoying the look of the houses covered in snow like a greeting card.
 Some houses, like the cottage above, look festive without even trying, while others get up to a bit more effort.
One of my favourite doors.
 This house, below, is perched on a hillside and I like the approach as it beckons with blue ornaments to match the entrance:

 Our church always looks like Christmas with the bright red door:
 But perhaps my favourite house is our own neighbour's porch with the swag of greenery entangled in lights:
Took this picture last night when we returned home from a party.
Merry and Bright!
Wishing you all a beautiful holiday.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Switching out to Festive

 It's been a cold, grey week here and I've already hauled out my parka for long walks.  Scout is a wintry dog who seems to love the cold weather and if anything we walk twice the amount in the winter.
This is a good thing as it is now the festive season and there will be eating and drinking.  I've been switching out and stocking up my house this last week, for me this is one of the best parts of the season.
Rustic star hanging in the kitchen window.
 I like to have a couple of easy recipes on hand to serve to friends or just to have available on a busy day.  Fruit desserts are probably my favourite, first of all they adapt quite easily to a gluten-free diet and they're also a lighter option in a season of plum pudding and chocolates.
I tend to have lots of blemished apples around from my organics box, and of course the Rascals won't eat them.  Never mind, they do well in a fruit dessert.
 I bought a huge bag of cranberries to work through and I started by creating a cranberry relish on the advice of our friend Stephen Andrew.
Stephen Andrew very wisely uses this relish for a cocktail involving gin and Sprite Zero, and it's basically a mixture of a 300gram package of cranberries, one cup of white sugar and an entire orange blitzed up in a food processor or blender.  I've been using mine to top off a bunch of peeled, chopped apples along with some giant pats of butter.  Bake at 325 until bubbly looking (about 20 minutes) before removing from the oven, topping with sliced almonds, and then baking for a further 5 to 10 minutes.
 The sliced almonds will burn if you bake them any longer, and they really do make the dessert, adding crunch and also a bit of protein, well you basically now have a health food dish:
Another easy thing to have around this time of year: buttered french lentils.
I like to saute a bit of garlic in a giant amount of butter for a couple of minutes before adding a cup and a half or so of green lentils.  
Quick saute, one clove garlic and 3 tablespoons of butter.

Add your lentils, get them covered in the buttery mixture then add 3-4 cups of water.
I can never get the amount of water right for lentils so I begin by adding less and then stirring in additional water as I go along.  I also add plenty of herbes de provence and a bit of salt and pepper.
 These lentils are a terrific side dish to any sort of baked fish, but you can also add roasted vegetables, whatever you have to hand, and serve them with some brown or wild rice.

I switched out my regular blue and white gingham checked dishes for the Christmas dishes this week:
 I have some Emile Henry baking dishes in a bright red that are ideal for cooking and serving.  My Staub pieces that I use year-round are green and they fit in especially well this time of year.  I just love these Christmas colours.

I've been trying for some increased cleaning activity around the house, cleaning the interiors of drawers and sideboards while I switch around dishes:
 That Method wood cleaner is the best, it smells of marzipan candy and has lots of good moisturizing properties.  Here in Canada our antique furniture can get very dry and splintery due to the central heating and air conditioning, a good furniture polish is key.

I set up a festive bar this week:
 I was planning to go in fairly heavy on the brandy and other festive libations but in the end I went for the basics, though I also have a couple of bottles of champagne stashed in the fridge.  I really wish Veuve Cliquot wasn't ringing up so costly these days, what's the price on a bottle where you live?  Here it's up over $70, what am I, a Rockefeller?
Le Bar
Not the bar of The Rockefellers. 
 We're going to a festive dinner tonight and I'm happily toting along one of those spendy bottles of champagne.  I'll be wearing this Brooks Brothers frock and some red shoes:
Enjoy your weekend Darling Tooties.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Old Girl

 Last summer we had a special visitor run into the garden, our old girl Pick.

We've had three dogs, the first a male Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever named Jake, chosen and named by our son for his 10th birthday.  Jake was a fine big puppy, the kids all loved him but he was Ole Rascal's dog, no doubt about it.
Jake picked up a virus from standing water, became ill and died within 24 hours, he was only a few months old.
We were so devastated for our pup and for our son, we could barely function for several days.
In desperation we phoned the breeder to talk about replacing Jake as soon as possible.  He told us there was a six month old female named Pick who was meant for breeding but in the end her stature wasn't quite right for creating the ideal shape of a Duck Toller, would we like to have her?
We drove out and picked her up and she became part of the family.
Our old girl Pick
 Pick was a great dog but she was a bit too smart.  I always thought she would have been a wonderful mother because she was so anxious, she knew everything that was going on and didn't do well to be separated from the kids or from us.  She needed lots of attention in the way of walks and just being talked to.  If not she would let us know she was unhappy by having a big pee on the stair rug.
We eventually adjusted to her needs and I really enjoyed walking her, she was one of those dogs that was great on her leash, didn't bark at other dogs or lunge at them.  She was lovely!
Six years after she came to live with us our youngest daughter became ill, and with the illness came many, many visits to the paediatrician.  Dr. Laszlo was a gentle doctor with the children, very caring and he was also an expert with allergies.  Every week he would ask me about the "allergy in the house" and if we had "dealt with it".   Little Rascal consistently showed signs of an allergy, mostly by way of a stuffy nose.
Finally he said to me "there's nothing for it, that dog is going to have to be put down."
So we dealt with it, but of course we knew that she didn't actually have to die!
We phoned the breeder and quickly found a kind couple who had a love of Duck Tolling Retrievers.  They had a male Duck Toller, I think Reggie was 10 at the time, and they thought Pick would be a wonderful companion for him.
So we very sadly said goodbye to Pick but we were fortunate enough to get regular updates from her new owners.
Pick and Reggie became best mates and loved to run and play together.  Reggie was quite a bit bigger than Pick and he loved to look out the window.  Pick was too short to reach the window so her new owner made her a little bench to stand on so they could look out together.  They would wander the fields and chase after birds and squirrels, all in all they were having a blast.
Then after 10 months or so their relationship changed.  Pick became very protective and almost maternal towards Reggie.  This was a puzzle to them and of course I put it down to the fact that Pick never did get to be a mother, a role I was so sure was her true calling.  Then Pick started growling at other dogs in the parks and on walks and wouldn't let them near Reggie.  Then she started sleeping right next to him, nearly on top of him, covering his body with hers.
The owners were suspicious and took Pick and Reggie to the veterinarian.
Reggie was sick with cancer and he only lived a short time after that.
Pick in our garden last summer.
 Our old girl picked up on the illness months before anyone had a clue and she nursed and comforted him during those last months.
He must have been in pain, and she knew it.
Well, obviously after losing Reggie to the horrible cancer Pick became precious as gold to her new owners, her loyalty to their beloved Reggie, the comfort she provided, and now of course she was the only dog left to them.
Our old girl has been very loved!
Seeing Pick last summer brought tears to me eyes.  She's such a smart, gentle animal who is still a bit anxious.  She had no time for Scout who is about four times the size of her and barked at her from the corner of the garden trying to get her to play.  She was having none of it!

Pick turned 14 last week and so she is having a long life.  We had an email from the owner and she is doing just fine. Bless you Pick Old Girl and may you have many more years.

Next week our Scout will be three years old and while she is a completely different sort of dog she has the same loyalty that our Pick does.
Definitely tall enough to look out the window.
She does well with long walks though sometimes I wish she were as good on her leash as Pick was, but she's a playful breed and when sees other dogs she leaps into the air with happiness.
She is a "hypo-allergenic" dog which is the reason we chose this breed, though seeing our Little Rascal around other dogs I think our daughter has in fact out-grown her allergy.
We've been fortunate to have these dogs in our life, they are truly a gift to the home, they ask for so little and yet give so much.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Rags at the Windows

The Sample
 MrBP's grandmother had a term for any sort of drapery or curtain, whether humble or fine: rags at the windows.  I imagine her saying it with her Austrian accent and I know just what she meant; sure they finish a room and can be really exquisite but really they're just a bit of stuff hanging there.
Ye olde dining room with the previous rags.
Out of the magic sewing room used by our trusty designer Julie our new drapery panels emerged last week, just in time for the holidays.
The new rags.
 They were fairly simple to install as we had sourced some wooden drapery rods near the end of the Big Renovation 2015.  The rods did have to be adjusted and moved slightly but it was quick work.
This is the kind of home renovating that is immediately satisfying.
Mixed with the linen upholstery on the dining chairs.
And the Hanukah pillow that features a menorah and weirdly, squirrels.
 The fabric is a linen-viscose blend that drapes really beautifully.  I wondered if the pattern would look a bit modern but I think the colour mix is perky without being too jarring.
 I'm happy to be rid of the gloomy dark silk panels.  They're stuck in the back of my car ready for the donate bin, hopefully they'll soon be someone else's treasure.
Print by Tammy Ratcliff

Existing drapery rods suit these rags better I think!
I love a bit of pattern and colour!  Happy Tuesday Dolls, I might try to bake up some kipfel today.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Santa's Workshop

 We spent the weekend setting up the house for Christmas even though it's not even December yet.  We've never sourced our greenery and tree so early but this year I really think we need a long festive season.  I won't be sorry to say goodbye to 2016 and I'd like to see it out properly.

 We bought this little Norfolk pine, is it not cute?  I wanted to find a smaller tree to decorate with  these painted eggs we bought in Prague in 2008.  I added some glittery red stars because red and glitter just looks like Santa.
Christmas Cactus

Hanukkah pillow.
 Our tree is a fir that is predicted to last 35 days, we'll see.  It's a bit risky to bring one into the heated house so early but hopefully if I keep it hydrated it won't look too sad by the 25th.

 I started some Christmas baking this weekend with Nigella's vanilla cake cooked in a bundt tin.  I've been looking for one simple cake recipe that smells and tastes delicious and is easy to whip up with ingredients found in the pantry.
Nigella's Spruced-Up Vanilla Cake
 This one seems to be a winner, it's a pound cake really, the link to the recipe is just above.
The only change I made was to substitute baking powder for the baking soda.
I hope your week is off to a brilliant start.  I'll be wrapping gifts and baking cookies like mad.  Any tips for Christmas music?  The only thing missing from my Santa's Workshop is the soundtrack.