Tuesday, December 27, 2016

On the sex life of the Holly

Most gardeners know that Ilex or holly needs a partner - another holly tree or bush, to have them both produce those gorgeous red berries so popular in winter, when everything else is bland and grey.

Several years ago, a horrific ice storm took one of our holly bushes, not to mention many limbs from our maple tree and a few other arboreal casualties. OK, the maple is self pollinating, and I made sure that the fruit trees, I planted, were as well. However, the hollies weren't.  I wasn't sure which holly had died. Yes, it was the one on the right, but was that the male or the female or as they were known at the garden centre - the prince or the princess.

Every spring when a few blossom would appear on a couple of twigs, I promised myself that I would find time to take a cutting to the garden centre and find out if my bush was either male or female. I needed to know whether to buy a prince or a princess to replace the one lost. Time, of course, was never found and the mystery of the sexual identity of my holly bush was never solved, even though, I was sure it was female, because of the blossoms.

This year to everyone's surprise, we have red berries on the mystery bush!! Eureka, a transgendered holly or at least, a bi-sexual one.

I never cease to marvel at the inventiveness of nature. It makes its own rules and is never swayed by mores imposed upon it. It changes, as needed, to accommodate the situation and it gives us pleasure in the most infinitesimal ways.

Holly, by the way, is sacred to the fairies and is said to protect man from evil. It is an ancient plant with mystical powers. Well, it magically transformed itself in our garden. Please share any holly stories you may have.

The picture - a holly sprig from the sacred bush. We place a piece of holly at everyone's place setting on Christmas day. I prefer it to tinsel. The picture doesn't do it justice, but you get the idea!!

Have a jolly, holly day!!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Amo, Amas, Amat...

...I love, you love, he/she loves....Well, it is that time of year, when everything else fades in the magic of lights, music, family, friends and good cheer.

I couldn't resist posting, on another knitters thread, this link to a site that lists the conjugation of the latin verb, amare - to love, in all its many tenses - intense. Here it is -


Just in case you needed a bit more of that love or another variation, be it - conditional, subjunctive, pluperfect or yes, future perfect :)

I always marvel at the fact that some languages have very few or no tenses at all, for their verbs. They live, for the most part, in the eternal present. On the other hand the English language has one of the most complicated, dare I say twisted, network of verb structures known to man.

It must have something to do with the angst of the English. Or as Macbeth said -

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly;

Well, maybe not that quickly, when you consider all the time taken to ponder the nuances of what's to be done. Would the deed or event, be done imperfectly, never quite finishing or would it be done so completely that it would be considered pluperfect, a sort of uber perfect. Then again, would it be done conditionally or horror of horrors, subjunctively - whatever that may entail!!

No wonder the Brits are often considered a somewhat sedentary culture. Yes, they have produced prodigious writers and scholars, but they aren't really know for their actions - very little, beyond a few wars, actually "got done" over there. However, a lot got pondered!!

But I digress. Let's get back to the Love - amore, amores, which is a masculine noun - surprise, surprise and the ablative plural is amoribus - it is also the dative plural. So it begs the question did all love really start on a bus?

I'll leave you to ponder that. The picture? Just cooking up a bit of silliness for the holiday :)

Monday, December 19, 2016


.....The Ugly Christmas Sweater!! Please, let me explain!!

Sometime in mid-November, my youngest was telling us about a planned Christmas party at his work. There was to be a "Secret Santa" gift exchange and an "Ugly Christmas Sweater" contest. He loved the concept of the ugly Christmas Sweater!! (In my heart, I wept - how did beautiful Fair Isle motifs, in red and green come to this, sigh!)

Nicholas (Yes, named after St. Nicholas) also loves clothes, in all their finery. He has taste, I might add, and the ugly Christmas sweater is the antithesis of this taste. He mentioned the "ugly Christmas sweater" last year, as well. To him it's a clothing joke and he wanted to have one, just for the fun of it!! This year, he started describing, what he considered ugly - "I just want to put a mess of something right in the middle of the sweater!!"

I rose to the occasion. Yes, there are things in knitting that some consider ugly - chunky acrylic yarn comes to mind. I knew I had inherited some chunky acrylic from my mother's stash, and it was actually in red and green - what could be more perfect. Clearly someone else had started and then abandoned an ugly Christmas something, a long time ago.

On 8mm needles the project would be quick. It would not only feed my need to design "costume," but it would also be a challenge, to make something "ugly" in an amazing way, if you know what I mean!!

Together, we decided on a Christmas tree in the centre of the sweater, which could be decorated with jingle bells and flashing lights - I love song and dance!! Somehow ugly was starting to be a lot of fun!!

I found the yarn, which was still bright and cheery and I also found my 8mm circular needles. A quick read of the yarn label gave me the gauge and a measurement from an old sweater gave me the width. I cast on in red. After the first skien, something didn't look right - It was way too big. I am a loose knitter, but really.

I ripped it out and started again. This time I had done front and back and grafted the shoulders together. Nicholas tried it on - too small. Ugh. The journey was becoming ugly as well. However, this time I had gone too far. I wasn't ripping it out again, so I decided to cut a steek from the underarm to the bottom of the ribbing on both sides of the sweater and insert two green panels. It worked - sort of. I attached the panels with red saddle stitching to make them look, as though they were an intended aspect of the design - more lies that knitters tell themselves!!

The sweater finally fit in the body, but it was now too short. Well, it might have always been too short, but I hadn't noticed, in my horror of its being too small in the first place.

I could add some tabs that tapered and held a jingle bell, maybe. No, not fancy enough. Finally I picked up the bottom edge and knit another band of ribbing, this time in green and added tabs of red with gold jingle bells attached. Ugly is starting to come together!!

I added epaulets in green at the shoulders to give the side panels a little more presence and I decorated the epaulets, giving them a little more presence, because of the highly decorated ribbing. It never fails. Somehow you can't just add a little something here and there - you have to add a lot of something everywhere to make it all work!!

Several trips to the dollar store netted lots of tiny, gaudy Christmas decorations and my husband found some flashing lights at another dollar store near his work. I love family projects.

I knit a Christmas tree in garter stitch, sewed on a dozen or so decorations and stitched the tree to the front of the sweater. The battery for the flashing lights could be slipped into the bottom of the tree and activated later. I've got my fingers crossed that the battery actually works and the lights will flash!!

Finally an "Ugly Christmas Sweater" tastefully executed such that all the mistakes were incorporated into the design, ;) the design works, the sweater fits and my out of pocket expenses were less than $10.00. My son will now go to his Christmas party as a cross between one of Santa's elves, the nutcracker and maybe the little drummer boy.

I'll let you know if he wins!!

Have a Merry Christmas!!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Canadian - eh?

Or maybe that's ech! Nothing makes me feel more Canadian than a blizzard that starts about 3:00pm on a workday afternoon - just early enough to coat the roads with a slick of ice, before it's time to even think of getting home.

This is when a thirty minute commute turns into a three hour gut wrencher through blinding white outs in a crawl of cars, trucks, and buses. Not to mention the pedestrians, if you can even see them camouflaged in black and white or worse, white and white.

This time I was the pedestrian and I was walking faster than the cars were travelling, even though I was battling the wind in my face, which blinded the eyes, but didn't, fortunately, freeze the lashes - we are ever thankful for small mercies!!

Blizzards are the dark side of a white winter, sigh!!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Fine Art of Escape

Art is a great healer. It takes the mind and the heart from the troubles of the day to a different space, a different time, a different world. Maybe that's why so many artists seem so "spaced out," most of the time -  they are someplace else.

I have been doing some fibre Art lately, namely needle felting. Here is my first attempt.

I need to go there, now!!

On the morning after a great American tragedy, I have begun another retreat. Here is a work in progress.

Today and for sometime to come, I will create places that nurture the soul. Through Art, Peace and Love shall prevail.

Have a healing day!!

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Pizza as performance Art!!

My husband is away for a few weeks, so I have to hold down the fort. However, I have decided to make it a productive two weeks. That is to say, I have decided to clean out the fridge, which also includes the freezer.

Why can this not be done when my husband is home? Well, he's picky, likes to have "proper meals," not particularly fond of left overs and I could go on... but not tonight.

So to date I have managed to use up some leftover cornmeal in a cornbread with pulled pork. I don't think that my husband has ever had cornbread - polenta, yes - cornbread no.

There were a few other suspicious looking packages in the freezer, which, when thawed, were used with pasta - that great dinner escort service!! Yes, they were identifiable. I think one of them was Haddock :)

However, there were still a few things left, that may have been there since the Ark. Most notably, there was that pepperoni which costs $6.00 and I was damned, if I was going to throw it out!!  Well nothing says pizza like pepperoni, so I decided that we would have homemade pizza for dinner. Here's how it went.

1. I had a package of yeast in the cupboard. I know that they have found yeast in Egyptian tombs, so I was sure that mine would still be OK.

2. I had already bought some prepared tomato sauce for pizza - usually against my principles, but, if the yeast was really prehistoric, then, why waste time and money making a "proper tomato sauce"?

3. I thawed the pepperoni, bought pineapple, for my daughter's side of the pizza, and some mushrooms. Fortunately everyone loves mushrooms.

4. I made the dough and left it to rise. Waiting for dough to rise, is a little like waiting for Godot - somehow it never happens. So, when it didn't, you know rise, I had to get inventive. Finally I cranked up the volume, so to speak, by putting it in a very slow oven. It worked.

5. I thought there was just enough dough for 1 pizza, - obviously the Egyptians never made pizza. However my daughter thought that we really needed two pizzas. I cut the circle in half and proceeded to make a circle from a semi-circle. Euclid must never have used dough for geometry - just a little too malleable, for the rigidity of his math. I needed an Escher!!

6. With much pulling and prodding we got the crust into the circular pan and worked it into a "sort of" circle.

7. My son took over grating the Mozzarella. Clearly my slices were not fashionable enough.

Finally the "pies" were oven ready and the oven had stopped smoking from the last accident that went in there. Why we have smoke detectors, when they spend most of their time off the wall!!

It might have been a quiet, even artistic 15 minutes of texting their dad with photos of the pizzas in progress had the neighbours not decided that it was Guy Fox night, as far as they were concerned and all Hell broke loose. Our door was open because of our smoke and their back yard was ablaze with bonfires and fireworks!! Every time a firecracker exploded, I thought it was the oven and we were doomed!!

Now, I know that I will never be a stage manager - getting recalcitrant actors to perform - dough, taming pyrogenics that work overtime - oven, working with prima donas - neighbours and still having to put on a performance - pizza for dinner - not for me.

Give me a Shakespearean sonnet over Taming of the Shrew and I am a happy camper.

Have a great day!!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Ashes to ashes...dust to dust....

.......Well maybe not. Last week my brother-in-law passed away. Death is always very sad. It can be ameliorated by age or circumstance, perhaps, but it is still a parting, an emptiness, that only the one who has passed, can fill.

It helps, though, to focus on the positives. I am happy to say that he was a good man. Although, he never married, he did look after his immediate family - brother, sister, nieces and nephews, when called upon, and he did create opportunities for the family to "come together," after their mother had died.

He was also very successful in his life's work, which involved computers from their early development - late '60s early '70s. OK, he wasn't an Alan Turing, but he did know several of the very early computer languages and worked with multinational corporations in Europe, Africa, Britain and Canada, developing "computer systems" for libraries - he was also an avid reader.

I am not sure that knowing computer languages makes you a linguist but my brother-in-law was also  fluent in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. Scottish Gaelic was a language he was mastering, just before his death - not exactly a "dead" language, but it might have been a calling home.

Ironically, although, he was a linguist, he was not a conversationalist. Small talk bored him and he found people with small minds insufferable. Fortunately, he tolerated family. Needless to say, making conversation, at times, was a challenge. I often resorted to discussing the intricacies of a language to keep the conversation going, as it were.

For example, "in gaelic does the verb come first in the sentence and if so, does it explain the unusual sentence structure of those who speak it."

Such as - "So, sleeping, is it, that you'll be doing."

Alas, I have digressed. I need to get back to the ashes and the dust. However final it may seem, Death is a work in progress for the survivors. There are lawyers, government agencies, funeral directors, florists, friends, contacts etc., etc., to be notified.

There are the books, notebooks, keepsakes and curios of the deceased to be attended to and then there are the ashes. My brother-in-law requested cremation. Easy enough on paper, however, put into practice, this is how it went.

Ben is centre back

1. There are three crematoriums in Edinburgh - two are operational and one is closed for renovations. Remember Death is an industry.

2. There is a waiting list. Even in the afterlife one cannot escape the proverbial British queue. You may die in an instant, but it will take fourteen days to bury you.

3. Then there is the burial. Some throw ashes out to sea or strew them in a favourite public place. Still others keep the spirit on a mantelpiece or in a top draw. In fact, I can say "hi" to my mother, whenever I reach for my comb - she lives in my top drawer.....oops maybe I shouldn't have said that!

I had mentioned to my husband, if he had trouble finding a final resting place for his brother's ashes, he might think of  having them buried in the plot with his mother and father in Blantyre. Now, this is where things got really tricky. My husband said that, that particular cemetery was closed and although both his mother and father were there, there were several other people buried in the plot, as well, whom nobody knew.

Now, I ask you, do you know with whom you will be spending eternity? It may not just be a case of ashes and dust. There are all these other considerations and all the skeletons, so to speak, that come out of the woodwork. Death is not for the faint of heart and it takes more than a certificate to say you have gone. In fact, if you think about it, you could literally hang around for a long time waiting for the powers that be to sort it out.

A little macabre, perhaps, but celtic humour tends to the dark side. It's a way of coping, let's say.

The picture - the family together, minus one nephew, on Christmas in Barcelona, 2012. He was loved!!