Steam heat

We’ve been living in a regional sauna lately — heat warnings most days this month. I go out as little as possible when the weather’s like this, mainly for groceries and to water our drooping garden plants.

By late August I’m longing for cool autumn weather — which looks like it’s still pretty far away — so for this post I’ll share some photos I took on one of the rare rainy days a couple of weeks ago, up at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. My brother and I spent some time strolling Hendrie Park, until the rain became torrential, lightning flashed and thunder boomed all around us. We felt sorry for the two wedding parties there that day!

Just looking at these photos makes me feel cooler; I hope they affect you the same way 🙂

Widespread cloud cover took the edge off the heat while we walked the pathways.
Magnificent rust-toned sunflowers nodding way over my head
I like the contrast of these fluffy Teddy Bear Sunflowers with their huge shiny leaves
An explosion of colour against cool green leaves
Dragonflies welded together in a mating dance landed briefly by this crimson water lily
These soft creamy day lilies reminded me of sheer lacy curtains waving in a summer breeze
Spot the Monarch butterfly
Pale lavender roses epitomize coolness
The stormy sky reflected in a pond shortly before the rain blew in

Wherever you are, I hope you’re keeping cool while this month burns its way into the history books.

Choices in difficult times

Is it just me, or does this cloud look like a balloon animal?

I needed another stress break today, so I went on an impromptu trip to one of my favourite places that’s appeared in my blog several times, the botanical garden at the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls.

One of our neighbours has two dogs, one of which hates being outside if all its people are inside. It’s a dog thing – some don’t mind being outside in the yard, but the majority I’ve seen only want to be out if their humans are as well. When dogs are stressed, they bark until the stress is relieved.

The barking went on for over forty minutes; this had been going on all week, every day throughout the day. Today I’d had enough and went over to speak to the family. I’d planned to talk to the parents, but they weren’t home, and I chose to speak to the son about the issue. I was polite, but angry.

I was at my wit’s end; we’ve had ongoing issues with this family since they moved in. Things like repeated trespassing, damage to the adjoining fence by the son over a year ago that the father promised to fix but still hasn’t, and other issues I won’t list here.

What I should have done, though, was ask the son to put the dogs in the house and to have his parents contact me.

These are challenging times and we’re all feeling the strain. Even though the world is making great progress against the coronavirus, we’re not out of the woods by any means; we can just see the outer edge of the trees. A lot of people have lost loved ones, lost a job or a business, been affected by political issues. We’ve all struggled to stay sane in general.

The father came over to our house later in the day and asked that in future if something’s bothering me I should be speaking to them, not the kids. That’s a fair request, and it’s the choice I should have made.

Everyone is irritable, as much as we try not to be. All we can do to mitigate that is try to be as considerate of others as possible.

Be nice to the store clerk, keep an appropriate distance from others in public, drive responsibly – be a good neighbour, which, although I had good reason to be fed up today, I didn’t do the best job of either.

I read an article the other day that complaints about neighbours have escalated in the Ottawa region in the past year, and I’m sure other communities have experienced the same thing. Our region also holds quite a few tourist attractions, where we’re still having issues with visitors misbehaving – sometimes, sadly, those visitors have lost their lives doing risky things.

We’re all stressed, and looking for ways to blow off steam in the craziness of 2020-2021, but let’s try to do it respectfully, and safely.

I had an issue that needed addressing today, but I could have handled it better. The whole situation bothered me so much that I had to get out of the house for a while. I relaxed as soon as I started walking around in nature. The gardens were busy today, but everyone was calm and considerate; nature is a great way to chill out. I’ll share with you some of the peace and beauty I found, as at least a virtual stress break in case you need one too.

One of the pretty paths to stroll
This was labelled as a ‘Blackberry Lily’, although the name seems odd so I’m not sure
I need this for my Halloween garden!
Several crab apple trees dot the gardens, all full of fruit
The paths at the gardens are so serene to walk
These strange plant bodies are near my favourite pond; they weren’t labelled, but they look like roots of some kind?
Quite a few frogs croaking in the pond
Lots of these pretty blue flowers in the water
A blue jay enjoying his crab apple
No idea what this tree was, but it was lovely
A pretty pink flower shows off its interior
Still trying to find out what this podded plant is – does anyone know?
Beautiful juxtaposition
Unidentified statue by the rose gardens
Shrub rose
I was sitting on a handy branch on the interior of this tree to take a break from the sweltering sun
I loved the layered mix of colours in these beds
Detail of the beautiful veining on the canna leaves
A cheerful honeysuckle flower

All photos are by me and all rights reserved.

Reflections

Apologies, folks — I was busily working on the final handful of chapters of my first novel and neglected to post my blog last night!

It’s now been about nine months since I took that first step in creating a book out of the ideas floating around in my head for years. I embarked on the NaNoWriMo November event last fall just to see if I could actually put together the first 50,000 words of a book. For many years there was one thought that held me back: what if I put a lot of time into a writing project and it goes nowhere. In other words, could I actually produce something cohesive to begin with, and see it through to completion?

The answer to that, of course, is that I would never find out if I didn’t try. So last fall I decided that I’d make the attempt — one month wasn’t too much to devote to it, and if I didn’t get anywhere, at least I would have given it a shot. But if I did get somewhere…

I joined one of the NaNoWriMo writing groups; there are hundreds of them in all kinds of configurations, for like-minded writers to chat and support each other. Mine was a small group, comfortable for sharing ideas and questions, and for cheering each other’s progress.

I had a very rough outline for the first novel of what will someday become a published trilogy, I hope — just the Inciting Incident, a few key points of the protagonist’s journey, and the climax. On November 1st I began writing.

When you announce your project on the NaNoWriMo site, your profile allows you to record your progress towards the ultimate goal of having written 50,000 words by the end of the month. I calculated how many words I’d need to write each day (on average) to achieve that goal — to me, that would be a measure of whether I could produce an entire book. And every day, I stuck to it.

You receive badges for a variety of milestones, including whether you write every day, and I wanted that badge to appear, because it meant that I was staying on track. Some might dismiss this approach as gamification, and it is, but as a novice novelist, I found it to be a great motivator.

Soon I had one full chapter under my belt, then a second, then more and more. As I wrote about my protagonist and the challenges she was facing, the story began to flesh itself out. More and more ideas kept popping into my head: what’s going to happen next, how will she react, what if this twist took place? The garden of my book kept growing, often in ways I didn’t anticipate.

My protagonist has taken me along on her journey, not the other way around. One of the things I discovered, and have enjoyed the most, is that the characters in the book have to a large extent taken on a life of their own. They are complete beings in my head, who often say and do things that surprise me, and that’s been one of the things that has kept me writing — I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next!

I can’t speak for everyone who’s tried to write a novel, but for me there’s only been the odd day or two of what I might call ‘writer’s block’, and that’s just been when I wasn’t sure how the next scene should start. When that happened I let the story stew in my head for a couple of days, and soon an idea would pop to the surface.

Our subconscious mind is powerful, if we give it a chance to participate. My best writing has come when I let it flow instead of trying to force it into submission.

My biggest problem, to my mind, has been the flood of ideas, not the lack of them. The novel has become so much larger than I expected. Each chapter sows a bumper crop of possibilities, and very often I have to consider whether that patch of unusual but interesting flowers will add to the story or detract from it. Usually I include them anyway, figuring I’ll leave the weeding and pruning to the first edit.

So in a week or so, after months of challenging but really enjoyable work, I’ll be typing the words “The End”. I plan to uncork a split of champagne. After decades of jotting hundreds of ideas, writing and discarding, and numerous aborted starts, I will have finally written a book. Whatever else happens from there, I will be able to check off that item on my bucket list.

Of course I hope to publish it, even if I decide to take the self-publishing route on Amazon. I think I’d like to try and find an agent, though — but that’s still months away. First, I’ll post to my NaNoWriMo group that I’ve finished it. Then I’ll put the book aside for a month, as per the organization’s instructions — we are to just leave it be for a while. I have a few other things to catch up on in the meantime (like weeding my actual garden in our backyard).

In September, instead of going back to school, I’ll be hauling out the book and doing my first edit: I’ll read the whole thing en masse, and fix things. I’m sure I’ll be tweaking some of the wording, and I’ll spot discontinuities — something I wrote in one chapter that either doesn’t match or wasn’t followed up on in a subsequent chapter. Hopefully there aren’t too many weeds, mostly beautiful flowers.

Once that’s done to my satisfaction, I have a crew of enthusiastic beta readers who are eagerly, I’m happy to say, waiting to read the book and give me feedback. I’m really looking forward to that part — I hope they enjoy the story, but I want to hear what parts of it aren’t working. I’ll need to know where the story might fall flat, where a scene doesn’t make sense or is hard to follow, where the plot has bogged down or dropped the ball, and certainly if the climax is exciting enough. After I review their feedback and make the necessary changes, I hope to have a book I’m proud of, one that will attract an agent.

While all this furious writing has been going on, my hubby and I have gotten our second vaccination, as have most of our friends. The second shot left us a little under-the-weather for two to three days, but nothing that wasn’t manageable, and now we’re confident that we can hold up well against any bugs.

The fact that the world’s researchers were able to come up with a viable vaccine in such a short time is almost miraculous. By contrast, researchers have been trying to develop a vaccine against malaria for decades. I know a lot of people worry about the short timeline, which necessarily means that testing was minimal, but in Ontario alone the number of cases has dropped from over 4,000 a day in April to less than 200 a day now. That’s a massive decrease, partly enabled by the lockdown to contain the spread, but in greater part because of the vaccinations.

In a week or so, I’ll be able to go to see the new Jungle Cruise movie with friends. Our little movie group hasn’t been able to get together in over a year. I consider us all very lucky — we lost one Christmas out of the pandemic, and spent a few months holed up in our homes. Aside from unrelated illnesses, which surely were a challenge during the past year-plus, those of us who took the precautions have stayed safe. Now we can begin looking ahead again, cautiously for now, until Covid-19 becomes a historical footnote, like smallpox.

I dream of finishing my complete trilogy, and maybe one day signing a copy for you in person at Comic-Con, where we can safely shake hands and chat. Wouldn’t that be a fabulous denouement to this grand writing adventure I’ve been on?! For anyone who’s had a long-time dream and been too afraid to start it — too worried about whether they’re worthy, or have the stamina/perseverance, or rich-enough soil to germinate their idea — there really is only one way to find out. You’ll likely surprise yourself with the result!

As always, all photos are by me unless otherwise stated, and all rights reserved.

Celebrating bees

We tend to take these busy little workers for granted, and many people are afraid of them (with good reason, for anyone who has an allergy), but in their tiny unassuming way they’re one of the most important creatures we have on our planet. Without their pollination of plants, we’d have a lot less to eat. Today’s post is in honour of World Bee Day.

It’s challenging to get a good photo of a bee. You need a lot of patience to try and catch them hanging around in one spot long enough; they do live up to the saying ‘busy as a bee’. I’ve tried many times; the photo above is one of my best, but I have plenty of photos that are as fuzzy as their little bodies.

I’m lucky enough to not be allergic, so I really enjoy watching bees zip around from flower to flower. I was stung many times as a child — we lived on a farm in northern Ontario that had an extensive patch of wild blueberries across the road and up a hill, and my mom and I would go picking as soon as the berries ripened. Sometimes we emerged unscathed, but I remember quite a few times when we fled back to the farmhouse sporting a few welts. My mom was a nurse, so she kept a ready supply of vinegar around to make compresses for the stings. The berries, and the adventure, were worth it 🙂

At my home now we have several plants that the bees love to visit: a pink spirea in the front, a pea bush in the back that fills with yellow flowers in the spring and is a favourite of area bees, and a big linden tree also in our back yard which, in years when it blooms, spreads its wonderful fragrance through the air. The huge bumblebees really love the linden, and there’s something about their drowsy buzzing that makes the world feel perfect for a while. We are proud bee supporters!

There are many plants available for home gardeners that invite bees; if you’re worried about having them around, as far as I’ve observed every summer, they’re really not interested in us at all and we’ve never had an issue — except when our late dogs each caught one in their mouth and learned that wasn’t such a good idea :/

You can learn much more about bees and World Bee Day at the Food and Agricultural site of the United Nations, and you too can “Bee Engaged”.

Photo by me and all rights reserved.

Blossom time in Niagara

This week we’re celebrating blossom time in the Niagara region, which is Nature’s sign that spring has truly arrived.

Every May fruit trees all over our farmlands cover themselves in gorgeous flowers. The blossoms don’t last long, and the timing is tricky if you want to see them — like fall colours, it’s all dependent on the weather. This year, with plenty of mild weather, sunshine and rain showers, the blossoms have arrived right on cue, and I thought I’d share them with everyone who can’t come and see them in person during the continuation of the pandemic.

Our sublime May light makes the blossoms look almost incandescent — rows of glowing colours in orchards, lining our parks, and dotting our city streets.

In the photo below, cherry trees line the fringes of a historic site called McFarland House, built in 1800, and the thick showers of pink blossoms contrast strikingly with nearby red maples also flaunting their best spring outfits.

The resplendent clusters of pink flowers pop against the trees’ craggy grey-green bark.

I believe these are Japanese flowering cherries; here’s a closeup of the blossoms and new leaves for anyone who might have a better idea than I do.

It’s not just fruit trees that are livening up our landscapes; here at Queenston Heights in Niagara Falls, vibrant tulips are showing off their best colours. This historic site, which commemorates the first major battle in the War of 1812, is also the southern terminus of the Bruce Trail, the famous hiking trail that runs for 900km (about 560 mi) from Niagara northward to Tobermory on the shores of Georgian Bay.

I’m partial to variegated tulips…

…but all of the flowers were putting on a grand display of their lush petals and intriguing variety of reproductive configurations.

Niagara Falls also boasts quite a pretty 10-acre lilac garden.

The garden is free to visit; you can spend an entire morning or afternoon there, inhaling the wonderful perfume of the flowers…

,,,and admiring the different varieties. There were a handful of us getting some outdoor exercise on a lovely day, although rain was on the horizon.

I loved the pretty variegated leaves on this shrub.

Turning back toward Niagara-on-the-Lake, I found numerous pink-strewn cherry orchards…

and white apple orchards lining the roads.

Clusters of white apple blossoms were bursting out on all the branches, their sprays of delicate pistils making them look like lace.

Even the other trees are sporting froths of bright new leaves. I love this time of year, when the air is fresh and invigorating, and the sunshine begins keeping its promises.

Heading to the Fonthill area, numerous farms are studded with the stubble of last year’s corn stalks.

Even though the region is starting to drown under the weight of wineries (over seventy in about 700 square miles), if you take the time to wander the back roads you can still find pretty farms tucked away.

In fact, a leisurely wander is the best way to see the region’s spring beauty when you have a chance. You might even spot some of the area’s wild turkeys searching a field for lunch. There used to be one that patrolled an intersection near where I live, stopping traffic for the better part of an hour as it strutted up and down the road. (If you’ve never seen one for yourself, they’re huge birds, up to four feet tall and rather ornery.)

Hiking trails abound; this section of the Bruce Trail is twinned with a trail project in South Africa, surprisingly enough.

Even here the trails were luminous in the afternoon light.

At some time in the future, when life has returned more closely to normal, you may want to visit the Niagara Region in the springtime, when it shows all of its prettiest colours. In the meantime, I hope you have some lovely areas to explore and let Nature work her magic.

Spring fever

We’re having an early spring here in southern Ontario — a relief after what seemed like a long, dreary winter lurking around our homes. Over the past few days I’ve been out documenting any signs of spring, and for everyone who needs a virtual dose of sunshine and fresh air, here are some of the treasures I came across.

Trees on a local farm are coming into bud, creating a reddish haze in the orchard
At a large pond, dried reeds languish in the dark water
A Canada Goose keeps lookout atop its log island
Plump red berries hang temptingly atop a waterside shrub
These Bufflehead ducks were hard to take a clear photo of — they really zipped around the pond (male with a full white ‘shawl’ top left, two females with white cheeks lower right)
The bushy head of one of our most invasive weeds, Phragmites, glows in the afternoon sun
Painted Turtles warm up on a log
Fishing ducks
Tiny grape hyacinths have started spreading at our local botanical garden
Beautiful white crocuses
A lone clump of daffodils, my favourite flower
A bee making the most of some Coltsfoot
A rainbow of crocuses carpets the ground beneath a wide tree still waiting for its leaves
I loved these pretty Variegated Crocuses
Paved pathways wandering through the grounds wait for the return of visitors…
…as does this shady rustic gazebo
Vivid school of goldfish in one of the ponds
Clusters of snowdrops popping out
Fuzzy catkins bursting out all over some of the trees
Even a few tulips breaking ground

All photographs are by me and cannot be used without my permission.