Thursday, August 18, 2016

Goodbye Brain

Before I begin, I love all of my sisters.  There is one though, with whom I share a brain, and it is the eve of her departure.  I am a bit sad to say the least.  I would feel sad if any of my sisters were leaving and they were the last to leave, but I am particularly sad for this departure...this year.  It signifies the beginning of the end.  The end of another magical, mystical, summer at the shore.  The end of long nights spend playing cards, watching the Olympics...or trash TV, doing the dishes after a delicious meal or just hanging together.  It is the end of having someone who "gets me" around whenever I need/want.  There aren't many people who just get you... look around.  She is the other half of my brain..the end of my sentence, the yin to my yang and since we live apart most of the year, being together for a month has been awesome!

Tonight we met on the beach, after her hellish day of cleaning, packing and detaching.  The clouds were perfect, the breeze was cool and sweet and the sun was setting.  She is a beach person and this was her last hurrah!  We then high tailed it to the farmhouse to take in the rest of the sunset.  It was bitter sweet.  I noticed how far the sun has moved on the horizon and it reminded me that the end is near.  Before I know it, I will be the one having that hellish day/week of cleaning and packing and disengaging and there will be no sisters to say goodbye to me and no one will miss me the way I will miss her when she leaves.  It will just be the end.  So, goodbye Brain!  It has been another great summer!  Thanks for the memories!
It just won't be the same....

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Martha or Mary?

 Martha had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.’ And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken from her’ ” (Luke 10:39-42).

I realize this reading has deeper, more spiritual meanings but as a woman, wife and mother I revert to the simplest translation.... Martha is doing all the work and Mary is having all the fun.  I want to be Mary but find myself in the role of Martha many times.  It is a gift to be able to host gracefully, without stress or resentment and still be able to enjoy the "good part".  The trick is balancing both.

Afternoon lobster feast, enjoying the good part!
Every summer I am reminded of this story about Martha and Mary.  With a large family and so many friends and relatives around for the summer there is always the challenge to balance being a good host and enjoying the guests.  I tell myself I will not worry about doing "all the work", instead I will focus more on the people around me.  Every summer I inevitably have a Martha moment.  This feeling usually comes after a long day or longer night and is the result of too little sleep brought on by too much socializing.  I'm my own worst enemy.

We are lucky here because the communal nature of this place spreads the work load.  There are definitely times when the hosting duties fall heavily on one person or one family but there are also times when it is spread around and everyone has a chance to entertain and be entertained.  It is one of the things about this place that makes it so special.  Everyone is willing to pitch in and help with the hosting duties allowing everyone to enjoy good conversation and time together.

All the Marys and Marthas....Mikes and Jims of the shore.
It is easy on the host when everyone helps out.
There is never a problem enjoying the "good part" either!
I think of the lessons our children learn by being part of this dynamic.  They learn to share their fruits and pitch in by helping with the cooking, serving and cleaning because that is what everyone around them does.  They learn to sit and talk to people in a social setting.  They learn to take their turn being a guest and being a host.  We all want to sit and enjoy like Mary but there is no meal without Martha.  Both roles are important and valuable.  Balance is the key.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Simple Pleasures

July snuck by with only one blog post.  It's hard to sit at a computer and put together coherent thoughts if you don't first sit down at a computer.  These are the weeks that are made for family, friends and outdoor fun. While the world around us seems to have lost it's collective mind, here at Amherst Shore, Nova Scotia the days have been filled with simple pleasures and perfect weather.  It's no wonder I haven't spent time wracking my brain to come up with a great summer blog post.  I've been busy living a great summer.

No politics please, we are busy living a great summer!
One evening, back in July, I sat on our deck waiting for TJ to drive back from the airport and thought to myself how perfect it has been to be here, away from the television filled with bad news, controversy and politics. I've always said being here is like taking a giant step back in time to a simpler life.  Spotty Internet connections and cottages without televisions allow us to disconnect and just live.  How long has it been since you just lived?  I sat on the deck waiting and made a mental list of all the simple pleasures here that help bring us all back to life!

I look over the pictures I've taken so far this summer, relatively fewer than in past years, and they are photos of people playing games, the beach, sunsets, the natural beauty that surrounds us here and the smiling people we love.
Who needs/wants to sit at the computer with this outside?
The bird feeder outside my window is full of finches and a line of hungry customers waiting their turn.  There is a little squirrel who eats his evening chestnuts on our steps every day and seems totally unafraid of humans.  The hummingbirds helicopter back and forth to the feeder on the window like giant bugs.  There is the sound of cars on the nearby road, far away enough to not ruin the peace but close enough to let us know we are not alone.  These are the sights and sounds that surround me as I make my mental list.
get in line!

snacking on chestnuts
Simple pleasures are all around us here, from hanging sheets on a clothesline to dry in the breeze to picking fresh strawberries at the U-pick up the road.  Making a least at our house, involves first going out into the garden and harvesting the lettuce, washing it, tearing it and putting it in the crisper early enough in the day to be crisp by dinner time.  I take pleasure in watching the fields along the road change colors over the summer from bright green to dark green to light yellow to deep gold by the end of the summer letting me know the days of summer are coming to a close.  There is nothing more peaceful than sitting in the sun room with the windows open and the breeze blowing through the curtains and dozing off on the sofa while reading a book.  Simple pleasures of the shore.

The things we do with other people are simpler up here.  Most days begin with exercise either on the front lawn or on the road walking, biking, boot camping (not me but I've heard it exists) or inside doing yoga.  There is no trip to the gym and no fancy equipment.  Later, we all migrate to the beach to visit, walk on the sandbars, watch the kids play, and swim (again,not me, unless you call wading up to my knees swimming).  There have been days that we all want nothing more than to stay on the beach until night because it is so pleasant and peaceful.  Dinner can wait...right!?

There is also the annual bonfire and hot dog roast when we really do get to stay on the beach until night and no one really has to worry about dinner.  This year the evening was about as perfect as they get with clear skies, sandbars out and bugs non existent...which never happens.  There is nothing better than a hot dog roasted over an open fire sprinkled with the tiniest bit of sand!  Simple pleasures!
I love it when my husband cooks dinner!
One of the nicest afternoons recently was spent on the front lawn of a cottage playing bingo and celebrating 50 years of the Koolaid Kids at Amherst Shore.  This group of kids raises money every summer for charities benefiting other kids in the area.  While the kids at the beach are on their vacation they meet every Tuesday morning and have held various fundraisers over the years like walk-a-thons, the ever profitable bottle drive at the end of the summer (because we drink a lot!), kid auctions, selling liquid refreshment during our annual games weekend, and this year the lovely bingo coffee house afternoon complete with 50 years of trivia, fresh baked treats, and a giant koolaid pitcher shaped cake to celebrate 50 years of kids helping kids.  It was simple (except for the planners I'm sure) and enjoyed by all! 

"I-21".....what you say in an American bar!  "O-67"  the koolaid kids began in 1967!
Great job Koolaid Kids!

I've swept the floor, cleaned the table and countertops, emptied the dishwasher, picked and cleaned lettuce, made lunch, cleaned out the refrigerator, planned dinner and changed into my bathing suit while I have been working on this post...all the while determined to finish.  No wonder I haven't posted anything in a month!  Enjoy living your summer life!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Winter in Africa

I wanted to cry when we left Cape Town.  Through all of my travels I don't think I ever felt this way leaving another destination.  What was it about that place that brought tears to my eyes and left a hole in my overwhelmed heart?  I have been grappling with this question ever since we returned.  I thought I should not write about the trip until I sorted out my feelings.  I may never sort them out, so I'll write anyway.  It is one of the most interesting and beautiful places I've been.  Maybe the reason I was sad to leave was chances are I will never visit again and there is so much more I would have liked to seen and done.

I always thought of Africa as a warm continent.  Silly me!  Arriving the week of the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere proved me wrong!  I had planned for chilly and possibly wet weather but not cold weather.  We arrived to pouring rain and 5C/40F temperatures.  As if the weather weren't enough of a challenge, after 28 hours of travel we/TJ was challenged with driving on the left side of the road!  We carefully navigated our way out of the airport through the driving rain to our Airbnb apartment.
The view at lunch was breathtaking
The apartment was lovely aside from a few missing amenities.  I don't consider myself "high maintenance", I can tough it out most times but toughing it out on the vacation of a lifetime was not on my agenda.  We found out our apartment did not have heat, Internet or a hair dryer (maybe I am high maintenance).  I was still not feeling the love for Africa.  The temperature inside was only slightly warmer and less windy than outside!  No exaggeration!  I am sure it would have been lovely in the summer but it wasn't summer...not even close.  We quickly realized we had not packed enough fleece!  We both wrapped up in our warm clothes and the available blankets and took a little nap.

Just warming up!
After our frigid nap we just had to get out of the apartment to someplace warm.  What better place than a winery!  Through rain and wind and driving on the left we found the closest winery for a little tasting.  Delicious!  Scenic, probably....if we could have seen higher than mid mountain.  The main thing was it was heated!  Dinner later that night was lovely and even interesting thanks to the sommelier who gave us tons of recommendations for our wine country visit later in the week.  OK...I'm warming up to this place.  We slept in all of our clothes, under all of the blankets in the apartment, while watching our exhausted breath float into the air above us.

The next morning my very perceptive husband made reservations at a hotel with heat, Internet and a hairdryer!  We chipped the ice off our suitcases and moved on to warmer accommodations.

The itinerary for day was the Cape of Good Hope and Chapman's Peak!  Luckily, we woke up to sunshine!  I just knew things would look so much better in the sun and I was right.  The view was lovely and there was hope and anticipation in my heart.  We headed south and with every turn my eyes opened wider and wider with awe.  What a beautiful country!

Boulders Beach
Penguin beach
The day continued to get nicer and nicer and I got happier and happier!  I made TJ stop for scenic overlooks and photo taking.  I made him climb to the top of rocky cliffs and lighthouses.  He was always accommodating, even though he really does not like heights.  It was one of the best travel days ever!  We saw things I had only read about and dreamt of seeing.  We drove Chapman's Peak, one of the most beautiful drives in the world and arrived just in time for a beautiful sunset.  I was falling in love with each turn in the road.

Photo stop!

Let's hike up there!
The view at the top is always the best!

Obligatory tourist photo!
Traveling during the off season proved to be a good thing.  There were enough other tourists to make things interesting but not so many that we had to wait in a line for anything.  Unlike last year when we went to Croatia in the off season!  Off season = cold weather.  We are going to have to try to travel in the shoulder seasons sometime and experience moderate weather and crowds.

Chapman's Peak deserves it's own blog if you ask me but I'll spare both of us.  If you are Canadian, think Cabot Trail only shorter.  I can't thank my husband enough for doing all of the driving and missing out on every view because he was so focused on staying in between the lines and on the correct side of the road.  I think the reason he was always willing to pull over for a photo op or just to gawk at the scenery was to get a break from driving, which suited me just fine.
Definitely worth pulling over
We caught the golden hour

The next few days were just as perfect.  We went to the top of Table Mountain, went on a safari...and froze, drove through mountains, valleys and vineyards, and passed poor townships on the outskirts of the city framed by the ever present mountains on the horizon.  We visited lush wineries and tasted many delicious wines.  We ate tasty meals which cost us very little with the US dollar worth so much in this country.  Every day left me wanting more.
Isn't he handsome?!
I could post about 100 pictures of amazing scenery, it was just that beautiful!  If you want to see them click here!  We met many kind people along the way.  Every night we used Uber as our transportation to dinner, because really how much driving on the left can one man be expected to do?!  All of our drivers were fantastic!  We were also a curiosity as Americans, they all said they wanted to come to America.  This was different than most other countries I've visited.  Usually we are not looked on so favorably.  I admit, most of the people I talked to were in service roles... waiters, drivers, shop keepers, caddies, the people at the wineries and the occasional random traveler.  People were sincere,  helpful, smiling and happy to chat.

I found myself wishing I had not been warned about the dangers of the cities we visited.  I wanted so much to not be on my guard.  I tried to walk with trust and confidence and just enjoy taking in the sights.  It was difficult because TJ was on high alert most of the time which bled into my psyche.  I want to visit this country again someday and be safe and free to explore.  We were perfectly safe traveling through the national parks or hiking or visiting wineries,  I just wanted to be able to walk the city streets in the evening after dinner and that just could not happen, which is very sad.  There was so much more to see.

There is obvious disparity between the haves and have nots in South Africa.  Such a beautiful country on the outside but if you look closer there is crime, poverty, and struggle.  The people live surrounded by rich natural resources and beautiful landscapes and I wonder if they realize how fortunate they are to wake up in such an amazing place!  The townships at the foot of some of the most majestic mountains in the world are incongruent.  The country is evolving and still has a long way to go before things are right.  One thing that is indisputable, they live in one of the most breathtaking places I've have been blessed to visit.
Unedited panoramic view,
how could I not fall in love?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Meet Bill Murray

I have a new friend.  I'm naming him Bill Murray.  He is brown, furry and makes daily appearances outside my kitchen window.  He is a groundhog and I think I like him...for now.

Look at Bill, just chomping away at the weeds!
I can't help but smile every day when I see him in the yard.  He, and I assume he is a he, but he could be a she, is always munching away at grass and weeds.  If I could train him to eat only the weeds in the garden we could have a beautiful friendship.  He lives under the shed, which could be a problem.  I think he lives under there with and entire commune of small furry animals!  I saw a chipmunk run under there the other day.  I know the squirrels run under there from time to time.  Without Sadie to patrol our yard, it is an animal sanctuary.  Mice, groundhogs, chipmunks and squirrels.  Sadie would never have let them reside under that shed without constantly tormenting them and forcing them to relocate!
Here is Bill eating weeds near our bird feeder.
I am sad to say Bill's days are probably numbered here at the farmhouse.  As soon as he discovers all those beautiful greens in the garden TJ will slam him in the live trap faster than you can say, "Groundhog Day"  and cart him off to another weed ridden property far, far away.  In the meantime, I kind of like looking outside and seeing him scamper around the yard, rain or shine.  I guess I miss brown furry things in my yard!
In other wildlife sightings here at the farmhouse....we have seen several pheasants.  This one in particular walked the entire yard, and it's a big yard!  He was huge, I know he was a he because of his beautiful coloring, the poor girls get stuck with ....brown!
Pheasant outside of glass
On the opposite end of the bird spectrum, we have many hummingbirds.  It is a riot to watch a hummingbird try to drink out of a feeder while it swings in the wind!  Even funnier is to watch me try to take a picture of the swinging feeder and bird.
It took a lot of tries to actually get this one!
So while I am away, Bill Murray will be chowing down on dandelions and will hopefully leave the lettuce alone!
Speaking of being you read this post I will be in South Africa.  If all goes as planned this post will come out while I am living a dream come true...and how often does that happen?  I don't think I ever expected to go to Africa when I was growing up.  It was always a far away, very wild, exotic, country filled with vast lands where zoo animals roamed freely.  I have been looking forward to this trip for months!  I can only hope it lives up to my very high expectations.  The next wildlife photos on the blog will likely be lions and tigers and hippos!  Stay tuned for a chapter or two of my trip to South Africa!  Cheers!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Lessons Learned on a Rainy Day

Three gray, cold, rainy days in a row and I'm beginning to wonder...."what was I thinking?".  I am here, against my better judgment, much earlier than usual and my hesitations are coming true. I feared it would be cold, I feared it would be dreary, I thought it might be buggy and wondered if it would be wet.  All of the above!  Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side.  Although I don't know how it could be any greener than the wet, deep, spring grass up here that desperately needs mowing!  I decided yesterday morning there must be a few lessons I can learn from these solitary days inside.  Other than, don't come to the shore in early June!

I learned how to make a fire in our wood stove.  I also learned that when you get down to the hard, round, wet logs at the bottom of the wood pile it is harder to get the fire lit.  This taught me that waking up to a cold house in the morning is no fun and to layer up before coming downstairs.

I have learned there is no limit to the amount of time I can waste on the Internet.  My ability to sit is the only thing that limits my wanderings on the world wide web.  One thing leads to another and in the blink of an eye and hour has passed and my numb backside insists I get up and do something productive.

I have noticed birds don't like to eat in the rain. My usually popular bird feeder has been idle over the last few days.  The finches and doves are probably hunkered down in their little nests watching Netflix too!

The rainy days have made me realize this house is starting to feel like a place I live and not a place I vacation.  As I sat in the living room last night, watching Netflix, I had a glimpse of what my future could look like when TJ retires.  We have been heading this way and it gets closer and closer every year but last night I looked around and it was just all so familiar.  I've stayed here enough that it feels like a home.  This may not seem like news to you but it is to me!

I learned that everyone else is in the same boat as me and they probably aren't enjoying these rainy days either.  I tend to forget that everyone else around me is stuck inside too!  Luckily we all live so close and manage to get together enough that we break up the isolation of the day.

The rain is teaching me to have patience.  It can't rain forever...right?!  The sun will come out eventually and as soon as it does my mood will instantly change and life will be breathed back into my sluggish body.  All I need is a day that looks like this....
and all will be right with the world!
So I will take these rainy days and try to do all of those "inside" jobs while the clouds hang low in the sky.  I know eventually the sun will shine again and I will not want to be inside cooking, cleaning, crafting, surfing the Internet or watching Netflix.
Meanwhile, I am taking this break in the clouds as a sign!
Tomorrow is going to be a nicer day!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Of Mice and Man

No matter how neat, clean and organized I leave the farmhouse at the end of the summer, the first week back is spent doing those same things again to get the house to feel, look and smell like a home.  This year, TJ came up a week earlier than I did and took care of a few little things like planting the garden and cleaning up mouse droppings.  Having a big old house that may or may not be air tight, located in a large field, is like posting a neon sign on the basement door that says, "Welcome field mice!  Food, water and bathrooms available....please come in!".  We have begun our all out assault on the mouse population.  So far the population is down five mice.  The little furry friends did not do much damage this winter but they left their little signs scattered about and it would be nice to rid the house of them...asap!  TJ's morning ritual now includes checking the traps and disposing of the little varmints before I come down for breakfast.  I think we need a basement cat!
One man's playground
During his week of bachelorhood TJ planted the garden and lived the spartan life he dreams of back in Houston.  He is a man of few needs.  Give him a large plot of dirt, a shovel, some sunshine, a few hundred seeds and seedlings, some food and a few beers at the end of the day and he is happy for a week the entire summer.  I won't say the house was a mess when I arrived but I wouldn't say it was neat and clean either.  He tries... I know, but the man is closely related to the Peanuts character Pigpen.  His level of clean is a far cry from mine as are his household priorities.  If left to his own devices he would happily live in a place that resembled a junkyard.  He is a gatherer of stuff and projects.  He uses the stuff and leaves it right where he finishes.  He starts doing a project and sometimes he finishes and sometimes it stays in a state of suspended animation for weeks, months or years.  He is never without something to keep him busy though!  A busy husband is a happy husband.

The garden wasn't the only thing to get planted last week.  One of my favorite things about spending the summer here is being able to enjoy all of the flowers.  We planted the flower boxes that sit on our deck all summer and provide me with joy every time I see them.  We are trying to plant enough different plants around the yard with varying bloom schedules so we have a constantly changing floral display.  The tulips were still blooming when I arrived and after today's storm they are naked, one week of tulips and poof...gone.  Never fear, the lilacs are about to burst and the lupins are close behind.  Yes, I do love the flowers up here!
A truck bed of possibilities!
The other thing that provides me with joy is the ever changing sky!  Last week was a banner week for sky watchers like myself.  We had clear skies, cloudy skies and most things between.  The cloudy sky may have been the most interesting!
A storm is definitely coming!

"Are those funnel clouds, Dorothy?"

and then there were a few clear nights!
All in all, the first week was a good one....unless you are a mouse!
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