Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Alphabet 2014

A for Appendix, a small body part that I had totally ignored until this year, when it turned nasty and had to come out.

B for Beans, by the bushel, a bumper crop.  We delivered baskets to the Food Bank in Shediac.

C for Craft projects, the ones I completed and those in a drawer labelled "works-in-progress."

D for Dead birds, washed up on the beach.  Plastic pollution or pesticides or lack of food????  There were too many of these.  

E for e.e. Cummings who wrote the poem/prayer of gratitude that I have framed on my desk and committed to memory.

F for Fisher Folk, our good Acadian neighbours who offered help when we needed it.

G for Garage Sales and the joy of treasure-hunting.

H for Hotel Geulzicht, the castle near Maastricht where we stayed in March.  A very charming place.


I for I Ching a source of daily inspiration and sound advice.

J for Jelly, made from the fruit of our backyard apple tree

K for Kumihimo braiding, and the intrigue of spiral design.

L for Lavender the plant that thrived in our sandy soil, giving me a season of fragrant garden work, a calming influence and many sweet dreams.

M for Margaret MacMillan whose book "Women of the Raj" describes the life of British India memsahibs.  (My great-grandmother Lucy Ridley belonged to that group.)

N for Nick Nutting, my son the chef, whose hard work and creativity earned him an award for the best new restaurant in Canada   2014 was his year!

O for Oliver, my adorable one-year-old grandson.

P for Pesto, a summer blend of basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts that adds flavour to winter pasta.

Q for Quilts new and old, displayed at the annual Port Elgin N.B. Lupin Quilt and Craft show.

R for Remembrance, as this year marked the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.

S for Sachets, created with shibori dyeing technique

T for Tock, an old-fashioned game that's still played here in N.B.  I found this board at a local thrift shop and had to ask the cashier what it was for. She was an avid player and explained the rules to me.

U for Utrecht, where I toured the amazing Rietvelt Schroder house, built in 1924.

V for Victoria, my beautiful four-year-old granddaughter, now a preschool student.

W for Wanderlust, an urge that I have been working to control. I'm pleased to say that we have remained in the same location for three years and have started to put down roots in the community.

XXX  for Amsterdam, where I watched a fearless workman cleaning windows high up on a canal house.

Y for Yarrow, the magic weed that heals all wounds.

Z for Zoetrope, a word added to my vocabulary after reading a newspaper article about my ancestor's Christmas in Wales. In the Monmouthshire Merlin 1870, it was reported that the Banks girls of Risca entertained children at a fancy fair with a zoetrope.

 Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering Great-Uncle Fred

Frederic Mason Ridley was born in Lucknow, India in 1890 to thoroughly British parents Matthew Ridley (employed as Superintendent of Parks and Gardens) and his wife Lucy (nee Hodgson).  In those days it was common practice for children of the Empire age 5 and up to attend boarding schools in England. Fred and his seven siblings were sent off to Dunheved College in Launceston, Cornwall, and somehow coped with prolonged separation from parents, lengthy train trips and rough sea voyages, bouts of homesickness and anxiety that were considered necessary parts of growing up as British colonial subjects. They became good letter-writers.  Living outside of India during the formative years was thought to be better in the long run; to ensure good physical health, a decent education, solid moral values and an elevated social status.  A set of strict Victorian guidelines clearly divided the privileged Britons (us) from the Indian population (them) and good parenting meant instilling a sense of superiority in young minds.

"If children were educated in India they were deemed likely to acquire cultural traits such as a "chi-chi" accent that increased their resemblance to mixed-race persons.  Furthermore, boys later found themselves ineligible for the higher sectors of state and commercial employment for which examinations in Britain were long crucial criteria for entry..."

"Leaving the subcontinent enabled children to benefit from exposure to Britain's climate, culture and schooling provisions, factors that, taken together, inculcated highly coveted forms of cultural and career competence connoting whiteness and respectability."       
  -  Elizabeth Buettner, "Empire families: Britons and Late Imperial India"

WWI recruitment poster

Raised in an era of expansive British colonialism, when individual acts of sacrifice and service were essential to the making of an empire, Frederic Mason Ridley was prepared to answer any military call of duty.  When it came in 1914,  he was living in Leeds, West Yorkshire with his widowed mother and two older siblings and was employed as an electrician.  (His father Matthew had died in 1904 in India of kidney disease, just prior to retirement, according to an obituary published in the Kew Guild.)  

Fred Ridley in the cavalry, 4th Dragoon Guards (Royal Irish), Tidworth, 1914
Fred Ridley, with his stiff upper lip, flawless English accent and excellent equestrian skills acquired on the polo field, was no doubt an asset to the battalion.  He fought in Belgium and France, joined the Machine Gun Corps, cavalry division and rose from the rank of Private to Sergeant. He was awarded medals honouring his service:

This combination of three WWI medals was dubbed "Pip, Squeak and Wilfred"

 Most impressive is the fact that he survived the Great War.

A certificate from Hawarden, Wales dated September 21, 1918  records the marriage of Frederic Mason Ridley (soldier) and Lilian Kathleen Haswell (schoolteacher).

 As far as I know, Fred and Lilian did not have any children.  Fred Ridley died in Hawarden, Wales in 1944, age 54.

Fred during happier times at home in Lucknow, India

Friday, October 24, 2014

Brief October

Wheat field - Cap-Pele, NB, October

Autumn Movement
I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, 
       the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things 
       come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go, 
       not one lasts.
- Carl Sandburg, 1918
Woods - Cap-Pele, NB, October

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Apple Man

Francis Peabody Sharp saving apple seeds, Woodstock N.B. 1901
This is a photo of an old man who is at home and content in the autumn of his life.  Sitting in a favourite rocking chair surrounded by the fruit trees he has nurtured, comfortable amid a clutter of barrels and farm implements, he cuts ripe apples and puts away the seeds.  He is preparing for future seasons of growth and harvest that he knows he will not live to see.

Growing apples was a life-long passion for Francis Peabody Sharp (1823-1903) the N.B. orchardist who pioneered cross-pollination and grafting techniques.  From the 1840s when he began experimenting with scions from the U.K. and Maine, Sharp's personal mission was to prove that apples could be successfully cultivated in the cold heart of New Brunswick, in a province where the idea of planting apples had previously been dismissed as a fruitless pursuit.   By 1890, the vast orchards he established were exporting 18,000 barrels of apples to the U.S.annually, and selling another 7000 locally.   The F.P. Sharp Orchards and Nursery had developed into a booming business, the largest fruit-growing company in Canada.  

In 1882 two of Sharp's colleagues - Charles Gibbs and Joseph Lancaster Budd - professors in the specialized study of pomology took a trip to Russia to research and collect specimens of hardy apple varieties.  Sharp was invited to go along, all expenses paid by the U.S. government, but did not join the expedition.  He  received 50 samples of the 350 varieties brought back from their travels and developed thousands of new apple varieties:  New Brunswick, Crimson Beauty, Peabody Greening, Munro Sweet, Woodstock Bloom.

The apple empire fostered by Sharp fell apart after 1890 as bad fortune and poor financial management destroyed the business.   The introduction of McKinley's tariff on goods entering the U.S. made the cost of exporting Canadian apples prohibitive.  A devastating fire destroyed the Sharp farmhouse and orchard in 1892 and in the same year his son Franklin, the man who had been groomed to take over the business, died of consumption.

 Despite those trials and tribulations, in 1901, at age 78, Sharp was still saving apple seeds.

"My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough,
But I am done with apple-picking now."  

from "After Apple-Picking" by Robert Frost

Monday, September 1, 2014

St. Fiacre

Today is the feast day of St. Fiacre, an Irish hermit who lived in France during the 7th century.  He was renowned for healing the sick with herbs and is the patron saint of gardeners.
Saint Fiacre
stained glass, Notre Dame Cathedral

Seeking a peaceful refuge suitable for a life of solitude, he asked St. Faro, the Bishop of Meaux in the Seine-et-Marne region of France for a tract of land.  The Bishop agreed to grant property to the devout hermit, but specified that he could only have as much land as he was capable of plowing in one day.  Fiacre walked through the fields touching the ground with his staff and the earth was miraculously cleared, broken, weeded and furrowed.

Fiacre built a chapel on the site and planted a garden in honour of the Virgin Mary.  He selected flowers and herbs that symbolized the life of Mary - roses, marigolds, peonies, lilies, morning glory, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and lavender - initiating a plan for Marian gardens that has evolved into a longstanding tradition.  The throngs of pilgrims who visited Fiacre's church and garden required accommodation, so he built a hospice for travelers.  His own housing needs were satisfied by a modest hut in the forest, a retreat where he fasted and prayed.

Fiacre dispensed herbal remedies to the sick and was credited with curing many ailments.  Although he treated patients of both sexes, he strictly forbade women from entering the chapel.  He died on August 18, 670, but his shrine in St. Fiacre-en-Brie and the cathedral at Meaux continue to attract faithful followers seeking healing.  There is also a holy well and shrine named for St. Fiacre in Kilkenny, Ireland.  A bottle of water drawn from this well is believed to be a protection for seafarers.

At the tail end of summer, having enjoyed a season of great gardening,  I pay tribute to St. Fiacre by making herbes salees.  The Acadian settlers of N.B. developed this method of salting fresh summer herbs to preserve them for winter use.  It is a no-fuss recipe:  just mince the greens (chives, thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, basil, oregano, whatever you have on hand) and add coarse salt.  Store a jar of the herb mixture in the fridge for two weeks to cure.  Herbes salees is a savory garden seasoning that adds flavour to roasts and fish dishes, stews and soups.

Merci, St. Fiacre

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


He is always at his post waiting for me when I go out to tend the garden first thing in the morning.  As I head towards the vegetable plot a big black crow perched on the wire delivers a warning to his family members - Caaw! Caaw! Caaw!    Roosting in the branches of a tall spruce tree, the adults and fledglings in the flock take heed and stay where they are.

The sentinel crow pays attention as I do my chores - weeding, hoeing, raking, picking.  He quietly watches my movements, noticing when I stop to sample the cherries, test the beans and pluck some lettuce leaves. Two hours pass, the rows are weed-free, my basket is full and I'm ready for a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal.  From the kitchen I  hear the clarion call: it's time for the birds' breakfast.

We've strung shiny aluminum pie plates in the garden, but the crows are not afraid of flashy round moving objects.  We installed a life-size scarecrow, but they know it's not human.  We added a wooden owl, but they figured out that it's a harmless decoy, not a threat.  Crows are smart creatures, endowed with superb hearing and eyesight, and a brain that's capable of high-level information processing.  They are territorial, communal and omnivorous.

Over breakfast, I tell Robert that the cherries are still a little too sour for harvesting, that if we held off for a day or two they would be at their most desirable stage -  dark burgundy, sweet and juicy.   This will be an exercise in delayed gratification, I reason, a worthwhile waiting game.  I recall the abundance of last year's harvest and the pie that followed....

The crows are not as particular as we are about sugar content or colour and have no problem devouring under-ripe fruit.  During the time it took me to eat my Shreddies, the flock finished off a summer feast.   Plenty of pits littered the ground, but not one cherry was left on the tree.

Alex Colville, "Seven Crows" acrylic polymer on hardboard, 1980,
Owens Art Gallery, Mt. Allison University, Sackville, N.B.
Alex Colville painted this haunting image of crows based on a nursery rhyme: 

One crow sorrow
Two crows joy
Three crows a letter
Four crows a boy
Five crows silver
Six crows gold
Seven crows a story never to be told. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Strawberry Time

News from the strawberry fields of Quebec is not good.  Crops in the southern region of "la belle province" have been devastated by viruses that are spread in the field by visiting aphids.  Mild yellow edge and strawberry mottle are diseases that have crippled plant growth and reduced fruit yield by about 50%. Cloning of sick plants in Quebec nurseries has created a dismal season for farmers who rely on berry sales for income.

In our province, despite recent wild, stormy weather, strawberries are still abundant, healthy and ripe.  I took a drive to Shemogue N.B. yesterday to buy fresh-picked fruit at Jakobs Energy Fruit Farm.  The rural property located on Route 15 was purchased  by a German couple two years ago, and their work has gradually transformed fallow fields into productive ones.

Roadside signage for Jakobs' Farm

Mrs. Jakob at work

The Jakob boys help with farm chores and fruit sales

Flats of fresh-picked berries delivered from the field

A few boxes of berries will be used for jam - a  pleasant reminder of July's bounty on a cold morning in January.  I use an old-fashioned recipe from a 1948 cookbook written by co-owners of the Anderson Hotel in Wabasha, Minnesota.  The popularity of their grandmother's cuisine prompted them to compile 500 of the hotel dining room favourites for publication.  Jeanne Hall pays tribute to her grandmother's kitchen prowess in the book's foreword.  

"What cooking she did and how she loved it!  I think that is why she decided to buy herself a hotel.  Cooking was what lured the traveling man - the piece de resistance of hotel income in those days - and cooking was what Grandma loved the most and did best.  And because the news of really good food travels far, her dining room with the Famous Dutch Kitchens soon became known all over the state of Minnesota and in the neighboring states as well.  Grandma's chicken and dumplings and apple cream pie were justifiably popular then, as they are now, though her recipes today are followed  by other cooks.  For her Hotel Anderson is now in the third generation of family possession.  It still serves home-cooked meals inspired by a woman who loved to cook and who loved to have people "eat hearty" and who thought there was no substitute for butter."

Mother Anderson knew what she was doing

The ingredients for Mother Anderson's perfect jam are just fruit and sugar - no Certo required.   The overnight resting period allows the jam to thicken properly.  I am convinced that this is by far the best way to make fruit preserves.  

Simple and delicious

Thursday, July 10, 2014

World Cup Soccer Braids

I am not an avid soccer fan, but FIFA World Cup games have been an excellent source of television entertainment this summer.  The attraction for me is a combination of beautiful things at the periphery of the beautiful game: the stunning scenery and boisterous atmosphere of Brazil, the colourful costumes and painted faces of fans, the proud line-up of players marching onto the field with local children in hand,  the national anthems that are almost impossible to sing,  the graceful slow-motion shots of airborne bodies colliding, close-ups revealing moments of intense frustration, absolute joy and if you can read lips, swearing in a variety of foreign tongues.

Robert grew up playing and watching soccer in the Netherlands, so he kindly explains the rules of the game to me as play progresses.  I do have a hard time being attentive during the uneventful parts, when the ball is dribbled back and forth without shots on goal or brilliant headers or dirty fouls.  When the game lacks luster, (or teeth marks) I work away at a Japanese craft that produces braided cord.

The thrift store in Shediac happened to have a bag containing all of the supplies - cord, a circular loom, jewelry findings - which I purchased on a whim, without knowing anything at all about kumihimo.   Informed by experts on the internet, I can now offer instructions for weaving a spiral braid necklace, a practical strategy for surviving dry spells in World Cup soccer.   This is so simple that you can keep weaving and never miss any exciting action on the field.

Use cord or embroidery thread in 4 colours

A circular kumihimo loom
Cut 4 strands of each colour in lengths measuring one yard
Tie the ends in a simple knot
Insert cords through the center hole of the loom, add a weight to the tied end

String 16 cords into slots on the loom with two strands of one colour positioned
opposite two strands of the same colour (e.g. 2 red north, 2 red south)

Move the right hand cord to the bottom of the loom, insert to the right of the pair -
 ( just like a soccer kick from one end of the field to the other)
Move the left hand cord up to the top left, re-creating a pair of the same colour.
 Rotate the loom counter-clockwise and  repeat the two basic moves - right down, left up.  

By half-time you'll have a good length of cord growing from the underside of the loom.
When you're at the end of your rope and the game is over, you'll have a necklace length spiral cord.
 Remove the braid from the loom and weight,  bind ends with sewing thread and snip off the tails.

Add coils to the ends and attach a lobster claw clasp

Completed FIFA necklaces

This video shows the basic technique for kumihimo.