Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sunday Scrambled Ramblings

Suddenly all the sky is hid
As with the shutting of a lid,
One by one great drops are falling
Doubtful and slow,
Down the pane they are crookedly crawling,
And the wind breathes low;
Slowly the circles widen on the river,
Widen and mingle, one and all;
Here and there the slenderer flowers shiver,
Struck by an icy rain-drop’s fall.

~James Russell Lowell, "Summer Storm," 1839

My, oh my.  Rain, rain and more rain.  Another rainy day in the neighbourhood.  So far we are about half way through June and my area saw 53 mm of rain not including today, whereas throughout the May we've managed only 14 mm until the very last day.  And the forecast calls for another four days of rain this week.

Oh well, so far the garden seems to like all this fabulous moisture. Vegetables are growing like crazy, I swear I can stand and watch them grow.  Strawberries, juneberries and raspberries not so much, these little darlings would appreciate a little more sun and heat.

Hopefully July will bring more balanced weather.  The really perfect combination would be the rain by night and heat and sun by the day.  The life is rarely perfect though and that's ok.  Whatever Mother Nature has in store for us we'll buy.  We don't really have another choice.

Have a wonderful start to the week my friends!


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday Tea Talk: Qianjiazhai Old Growth 2012 Sheng

Up in a tree 
Fairies sit to have their tea. 

With china cups and china plates 
They eat their dainty fairy cakes. 

The table cloth is cobweb lace, 
A name card sits at every place. 

A warm moss upon the floor 
Just inside the small oak door. 

Wouldn't you just love to be 
Invited to a fairy's tea?

- Author Unknown (to me at least)

I think it would be amazing to have a tea and cakes with fairies, don't you?

It's sheng for me again my friends and this one has been in my tea cupboard since 2013. It's  Qianjiazhai Old Growth 2012 Sheng from Verdant Tea and I have only a little bit of it left. Maybe another two cups worth, that's it.

I remember the day that I first got it.  It was my very first young sheng and I had no clue what I'm in for.  I took generous amount of leaves, dumped it into the teapot and steeped them for 1 minute.  The result was a little more bitter than I care to admit.  I diluted the concoction and took to the internet to figure out what I did wrong.

Well, as I found out, young sheng can take only very short steeps before it turns bitter.  Instead of steeping it for 1 minute, I should have steeped it for about 5-10 seconds.  Quite a difference! Once I did that, the tea was simply amazing and I fell in love with what sheng had to offer.

Now it's been two years since I've tried this particular sheng and I was curious to see if anything has changed about it.

The dry leaves had a pleasant sweet vegetal aroma.  None of the smokiness I usually associate with young sheng but I figured maybe it will come out during steeping time.

Like I said, last time I was steeping this tea for only 5 seconds. Since couple of years have passed I figured I could allow for a bit more.  I steeped this time for 15 seconds.

Just about right.  The taste was smooth, complex and not a tiny bit bitter.  The smokiness I usually associate with young sheng was there, but not as much as I experienced with other shengs.  Now that I remember, this tea was never very smoky to start with.  The smokiness ,which I happen to be crazy for, I first discovered with my second sheng purchase: Master Han's 2013 Sheng Puer also from Verdant Tea.

That's it for my pleasant afternoon with an old friend.  Now back to building a compost bin out of old pallets.  I'll tell you all about it on Monday. :)


Friday, June 12, 2015

Friday Kitty Corner: Does your cat scratch around the food bowl?

“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.” 
- Leonardo da Vinci

Hello my dear friends and happy Friday! Yet another weekend is upon us and I couldn't be happier. Just less than two weeks left until the end of this school year and just over a week until summer solstice.  Yay!  Exciting times. :)

So what about them cats?  Why do they scratch around their food bowl?

 Not every cat does that but Hercules surely does.  After he finishes his food he'll scratch all around his food bowl as if he was trying to bury the leftovers.  Sometimes he'll give just few scratches and other times he'll stay there for couple of minutes scratching from each and every side several times over.  Now there is something worth noting.  He doesn't do this every time and he does this only to his wet food bowl.  I've been trying to figure out whether this activity is connected to a particular wet food or maybe how he feels about the particular food but there appears to be no common denominator.  To a mere mortal such as myself, this appears to be completely random.

I think this activity is instinctual.  In the wild cats try to hide/bury the leftover food to protect it from scavengers. Today's domestic cats, even though they don't need to do this, may have retained this innate behaviour from their ancestors and some demonstrate it to our amusement.

Now, I did say some cats do not do this.  Oliver never, ever scratches around his food bowl.  


Wednesday, June 10, 2015


“Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It'll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they'll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields... and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?” 
- Sam Gamgee, The Lord of the Rings

Hello my dear friends and happy Hump Day!  Oh the quote above stirred up some amazing memories of long nights spent with Frodo and Sam travelling through Middle Earth.  Every summer I pull out the DVDs and re-watch this amazing trilogy.  Looks like I'll be doing it again soon... I've got an itch to scratch.

Today it's a rainy one in the hood again but this time we got the works together with thunder and lightning. Actually we've got it all.  The sun, the thunder, the lightning and the rain.  One moment is sunny, one moment it thunders and then it pours before the sun comes out again.  Mother Nature cannot make up her mind but whatever comes our way next, the garden is sure to love it.

Speaking of the garden, the long awaited time has arrived and the strawberries are beginning to ripen. Every morning I come out and there are presents for me in the strawberry patch and every day there is more and more.  And these presents are sweet, oh so sweet. Thanks to the weather we've been having, the warmth and the sun, the strawberries are extra sweet this year.

This is a third year I'm growing strawberries and it's a first year that they've been really sweet.  The past couple of years the spring has been less than ideal and I guess the lack of sun and warmth manifested itself in lack of sweetness in the fruit.  I'm glad we finally caught a break.

And what comes after the strawberries?  Juneberries! 


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Nibble in the big tree

“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” 
- Ralph Ellison

Hello my dear friends and happy Tuesday to all.  It's a rainy one for us here in Southern Ontario and that is simply great.  After a very dry May, the rain is great.  All the plant life around me loves it.

The kitties and Nibble maybe not so much.

Ah little Nibble. For the last three days Nibble has been spending most of his days up in the big locust tree.

It's been a little nerve wrecking at first to let him do that but he was becoming seriously dissatisfied with spending most of his days in the cage. Watching him trying to chew his way out of the cage every waking moment of the day was a little more than I could handle and so I decided to give him that freedom he so desperately wanted. Who am I to decide what a squirrel needs?

Over the last couple of weeks he's been progressing quite well. He learned how to crack nuts, got himself addicted to peanuts for few days, discovered sunflower seeds, got himself addicted to those and finally discovered strawberries and juneberries. And he grew, oh he grew and with his physical size grew the appetite for the great outdoors.

That is why this past Saturday we allowed him to explore up in the big locust tree in our yard.  Oh my goodness, if I ever had any doubts that he can navigate the branches of the big tree these doubts were gone right there and then.  I've never seen Nibble move this fast.   He was born to live in the trees.

All fun aside, don't worry, he is not ready to leave us just yet.  Every time I let him out to play in the big tree, I leave his cage somewhere close to the trunk.  I prop the cage's door so that he can go in and out but anything bigger than him cannot.  Nibble goes up into the tree, stays there for several hours and when he's had enough he comes down and goes inside his cage.  By himself.  No kidding.

I know the day will come when he'll be ready to move on and he will not come back.  That will be a sad but victorious day.  Squirrels are meant to be free.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sunday Scrambled Ramblings

“Sunday is the golden clasp that binds together the volume of the week.” 
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Hello my dear friends and happy Sunday to all.  I'm having a late start to the day and loving it.

It surely is a gorgeous morning in my neck of the woods. That's very refreshing because this past whole week the nights and mornings left much to be desired.  It's been quite chilly and my peppers have not been loving it, not one little bit.  I lost two cayenne peppers so far and one sweet bell pepper looks like it's going to quit on me too. 7°C nights are simply not acceptable.

The upcoming week looks very promising though. Nightly temperatures of 15°C or over, daily highs mostly in upper twenties with some rain and sunshine.  Tuesday night we are expecting only 11°C but I think we can live with that if it's only one night.

Today Angel and I have an exciting day in store.  We will build a small, two step ladder to climb the first big branch of our Crimson King maple tree.  I have everything ready and I think that will be a fun little project.  I love working with tools.

Now I'm going to finish my late morning tea and watch Nibble perform acrobatics up in the big tree for a little bit.  Oh yes, his exercises have progressed to a new level and he is doing great so far.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Saturday Tea Talk: 2011 Wild Mountain Green Puer

Steam rises from a cup of tea
and we are wrapped in history,
inhaling ancient times and lands,
comfort of ages in our hands.
~Faith Greenbowl

Oh glorious Saturday, how much I love you so.  Sleeping in is great, simply great, no question about it.

Lately I've been on the sheng kick again.  This whole week I've been indulging in my stash of raw puer, which is sitting patiently and aging in my bedroom cabinet upstairs.  Many more kicks like that and I won't have much to age.

That's why when Saturday morning came along and the question of what will I be sampling today slipped into my mind, the answer was clear: sheng!  More sheng please!

Sadly the stash of raw puer never tried samples that I've accumulated over time has been brought down to just one.  I had one last sample of sheng puer left to try and this one was from Mandala Tea sent to me back in 2013: 2011 Wild Mountain Green Puer.  I can see that the sample was broken off of a larger brick in a careful manner which makes me happy because that means that most of the leaves I received were left intact.

The dry leaves had a pleasant, smooth aroma of vegetables and forest.  That is one great combination.

Most of the time when I steep raw puer it's pretty simple.  If it's a very young sheng, the steeping time has to be very short or it will turn bitter.  1-2 year old sheng first steep is usually only 10 seconds long tops.  Older shengs, for example 10 year old sheng, can be steeped for much longer, anywhere from 1 to 4 minutes.  My dillema today was how long do I steep 4 year old sheng?

I went with 30 seconds and I think I hit the jackpot.  The resulting soup was light golden brown and the aroma was simply lovely.  Forest, wood, flowers and grapes were just some of the notes I picked up.  Yummy!

Taste wise it did not disappoint either.  The tea was smooth and pleasant tasting and just at the border of bitterness.  It didn't taste bitter but I did get the slight astringency in the after taste, telling me that my steeping time was just about right.  I love when this happens.

My second steep was just about a minute long and yielded darker golden brown colour with the same exquisite taste.  This time, in addition to yummy notes of vegetables, wood and grapes, I also picked up some apricot.  I wonder what another steep will bring.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Friday Kitty Corner: Meet Little Alaska

“A kitten is, in the animal world, what a rosebud is in the garden.” 
- Robert Sowthey

Hello my dear friends!  It's Friday, weekend is here and I hope it's finding you all in great spirit and health.

We have a new addition to the family and last weekend I finally got to meet her.  Her name is Alaska and she is 12 weeks old.

One of my twin daughters, Mina, decided to get a companion for Leo, a handsome 3 year old male cat who was feeling a little lonely.  You see, Leo was raised together with Oliver but when my son moved out and moved in with us, Leo lost Oliver, his only companion.

Alaska is such a sweetheart.  She is very friendly, purrs a lot and if you're lucky to catch her, she practically melts in your arms.  I'm in love.

I was trying hard to get some good pictures of her during the weekend but it wasn't easy.  When she was awake she was always on the move and hard to catch on camera.  I finally found her fast asleep on the kitchen chair, no doubt exhausted from all the fun and games.  She couldn't resist a snooze and allowed me to take as many pictures as I wanted.  Except for couple of times when she woke up, there was really only one pose. :D

I'm very happy that Mina took the plunge and got little Alaska.  First of all, who wouldn't be happy to have such a little darling around.  I hope Mina brings her back for visits frequently.  Second of all, Alaska's visit was a great test to see how Hercules would react to a girl kitten.  My son Derek could be moving away in the fall and if that happens he'll be taking Oliver with him.  That means Hercules will lose his best friend and only companion.  I've been watching Hercules and Oliver play outside this spring and they've been having so much fun.  They love to wrestle and chase each other around the yard.  If Oliver goes, Hercules is sure to feel lonely.


In the event that Oliver does move away, I've been thinking of getting Hercules a new companion and this time I want this companion to be a girl cat.  Before Alaska, we had only male cats in our family and maybe it's time to get another girl.  I was a little worried about how Hercules would react to a female kitten but I didn't see anything this past weekend to cause me any more worry.  Hercules was very welcoming and gentle with little Alaska.  It looks to me like the coast is clear and we shouldn't have any real problems.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Thursday thoughts

“Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author's words reverberating in your head.” 

- Paul Auster

Reading is beautiful but reading outside is pure bliss.  Now that the gorgeous weather is back with us I can resume one of my favourite late spring/summer activities: lying on the blanket in my yard and reading a book.  It's maybe funny that I'm dedicating a whole post to this topic but this is so special to my heart that it deserves a special mention.

There is something so delightful about being outside, totally immersed in the exciting adventure amongst the pages of the book while birds are singing above my head and bees are buzzing in nearby flowers. It's also no surprise to me that I'm making stronger, more profound connections with my books and their characters while engaging in reading outdoors.

Currently I am reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  It's a sad and very thought provoking book. It makes me reflect on life and fills me with gratitude for what I already have and what I'm able to give to my children.  It's important to never forget that our carefully crafted lives, the world we've built around us is not as permanent as we think and can be gone, wiped out of existence in a blink of an eye.

How about you?  Do you like to read?  Do you like to read outside?  In your yard?  In the park?  On the beach?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Photo Wedesday: Frogs and toads

“Photography is a love affair with life.”
- Burk Uzzle

Good afternoon my dear friends and happy Wednesday.  We have got ourselves a middle of the week already and I hope this week is treating you all good.

One of the things that I love so much about the country life is all the wildlife that we get exposed to. Sometimes in the summer it seems like there is not a dull day in the neighbourhood.  Every day there is a possibility of something exciting happening, a new critter to be seen and a new friend to be made.

Just few days ago I was relaxing in the yard when I saw Hercules tracking something near the honeysuckle berry bush.  I took an interest and went to see what it was.  To my surprise and a delight it was a small toad!

Our property is not located near the water so we don't see frogs or toads that often in our yard. That's too bad because I love these creatures.  Our neighbours on the other side of the street however, are backing into the swamp and they get it all: the frogs, the toads and the summer concerts.

Oh, how much I love these delightful concerts.  One of my favourite things to do in the summer is to take the night walk and listen to the frogs croaking.  Music to my ears.

Of course everything has a down side and the downside for my neighbours is that they also get more mosquitoes than we do. 

Of all the thousands of photographs that I have, only few of them are of frogs or toads.  As a matter of fact I have pictures of only two separate individuals: a toad and a frog.  When I go hiking I always look out for the frogs (or toads) but they don't like to have pictures taken.  By the time I notice one, it's either already gone into the brush or it's hiding in the water.  Couple of years ago I happened to catch a sight of one that was sitting still on the side of the trail.  That was my lucky day.

The frog was kind enough to give me few moments and several frames of frozen expression before it promptly jumped into a nearby stream.

Whether frogs or toads, I don't have enough pictures of these intriguing creatures.  Next time I'll go hiking I'll keep an eye out.  Maybe I'll get lucky again.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Full Strawberry Moon

Was that right, or
Maybe a rose moon
Shared that night in June
Hovering behind
A curtain of mist
Humid air
On my lenses

Stare at our satellite
See the face in orange
And dusty rose
Full moon, new blood
Across the miles
Seeing it together
Though apart

- Raymond A. Foss

Today we are welcoming sixth full moon of the year, can you imagine that?  Sixth already, oh my!

Full Strawberry Moon, after midnight June 2, 2015
Already last night the moon was 99% full and lured me outside after midnight to indulge in its beauty for just a little while.  The night was cool but not cold, the air was still and the world around was illuminated brightly.  It was purely magical.  Of course I grabbed a camera and promptly snapped an image.  I'll tell you though, no picture can ever match the beauty of the real thing.

June's full moon is called a Full Strawberry Moon which to us is very much self explanatory these days.  June after all, is the month when the strawberries fruit around world.  What is interesting is that it wasn't always that way.  Today's well known garden variety of strawberry is native to American continents and resulted as an accidental cross of Virginia wild strawberry with Chilean wild strawberry only few centuries ago. In Europe, for example, wild strawberries were not very much known and not even cultivated until 1300s. It is not surprising then, that in Europe June's full moon was called a Full Rose Moon to signal the blooming of roses.

I don't know how about you but strawberries are one of my favourite fruits and I'm waiting anxiously until the ones in my garden reach their right size and turn red. They are still quite young, only 2-3 years old but already last year we had a nice harvest. I'm hoping for the same or more this year.


Monday, June 1, 2015

June already!

"What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfilment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade."
- Gertrude Jekyll, On Gardening

Welcome to the new week and a month of June my friends!  I can't even believe I'm saying that. Somehow half of the year has almost passed us by already, but when?  Was I having too much fun to notice?  Probably. :D

As much as I love May with all its beautiful flowers and sunshine, June makes me squeal with excitement just as much.  It's the time of the early summer harvest!

Let's see what I can expect in the month of June in my garden: strawberries, raspberries, juneberries, honeysuckle berries, green beans and cucumbers.   That is fantastic.

Strawberries, raspberries, and juneberry tree have all flowered in May and have been growing the fruit for  couple of weeks now.  Honeysuckle berries are already turning blue and green bean plants are already growing tiny little beans.  It's the cucumbers that surprised me last night when I went to check the state of the garden after this weekend's explosive wet weather.

The cucumbers are sporting beautiful yellow flowers, with the promise of delicious crunchy and juicy cucumbers so near in the future. Oh yes, once these flowers bloom and get fertilized, the cucumbers grow really fast.

Now, if we could only get the temperatures back to where they used to be.  Yesterday we never got above 7°C (44.5F) and today we are holding at about 11°C (51F).  That is not good for anything that's not lettuce, kale or brussel sprout. Things are hopefully looking up though, according to Environment Canada, tomorrow we are going back to 20°C (68F).  That's still below seasonal but I'll take it.