Studies in Blue & White

Considering the number of photographs I’ve taken in which the subject is blue and white, you’d think it was my favourite colour combination or something!

The Blue Willow Tea Shop in Gravenhurst, Ontario has been serving traditional English High Tea since 2006. Their warm gingerbread smothered in maple syrup with vanilla ice cream is to die for!

Blackberries — quite possibly my favourite summer fruit, so flavourful and lucious!

Established as a fort in 1673, Kingston, Ontario, known as the Limestone City, is steeped in military history — and is one of the most haunted places in Canada! Its beautiful architecture offers many quaint and picturesque vignettes.

This VW Beetle, spotted on the streets of Toronto’s Bloor West Village, is one flirty bug!

Graced with wildflowers and beloved antiques, a quiet corner in which to read. What could be more sublime?

My city.


Nature in Blue & White

A week ago, we were immobilized in the freezing clutches of a four-day ice storm, during which we received every form of precipitation imaginable. Naturally, now that the sun has come out and we’re finally enjoying milder temperatures, I have been laid low by a vicious virus, making me a miserable and wilted little gillyflower indeed. To offset all that dreary drizzle, ghastly graupel, stinging sleet – and foul phlegm – here is a collection of images from a kinder version of Mother Nature, in the most serene shades of blue and white, plus some fun facts!

Clockwise from top left:

Forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides): The Greek name for this plant means “mouse’s ears” (for the leaf). Folk legends tell us that, when all the plants were being named and assigned their colours, a tiny flower whispered, “Forget me not!” and so it was named. The only colour left was a bit of pale blue, but the little plant happily assumed such a demure shade. In the Victorian Language of Flowers, the forget-me-not symbolizes faithfulness and enduring love, and it is often used to remember those who have died in war. ∗∗∗ Let us not forget those who were killed or injured in the senseless and tragic van attack in Toronto yesterday. ∗∗∗

Blue Jay feather: Did you know that blue birds aren’t actually blue? The colour we see isn’t the result of pigmentation but a phenomenon called structural colour. The feathers of “blue” birds are colourless, three-dimensional structures of keratin protein interspersed with air pockets. Light waves enter the feather and bounce back at different rates, colliding with each other. Red and yellow waves cancel each other out, but blue waves are reinforced and amplified, and this is the colour, often iridescent, that is reflected back to our eyes. The different shapes and sizes of keratin and air pockets produce the varying shades of blue that we see.

Northern Blue (Plebejus idas): Butterfly scales (and beetle shells) also use structural colour to produce blue, like the upper surface of this female Northern Blue butterfly’s wings. This species and its cousins (Spring and Summer Azures) tend to keep their wings closed when at rest, showing only greyish-white undersides, so it was a treat to see this cooperative specimen’s gorgeous colour.

Striped Squill (Puschkinia scilloides): A spring-flowering garden plant here, the Striped Squill is native to Western Asia (Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran) and the Caucasus. This perennial bulb was discovered in 1805 by a Russian biologist, Count Mussim-Puschkin. It is low-growing, naturalizes well and has a clean, spicy fragrance.

Larger Blue Flag iris (Iris versicolor): We were delighted to find this stunning iris growing at the lake’s edge at the cottage a few years ago, perhaps washed ashore by the waves or deposited by a bird or other animal.

Bluebead Lily (Clintonia borealis): Also known as Yellow Clintonia, this woodland plant produces glossy, dark blue fruits after the yellow flowers fade. Our 2.4 hectare island is home to an abundant colony, along with quite a few other native (and several non-native) North American wildflower species.

Violet Cort (Cortinarius iodes): In addition to documenting all the ferns, trees and wildflowers found on the island, we also keep a record of any fungi we can identify. I was excited to find this blue-violet species in a couple of locations about 10 years ago. The mushroom is blue-purple with a white stem when young and fades to pale lavender with cream spots as it ages.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata): Reviled by some for its loud, raucous call and bold behaviour (in southern U.S. folklore, it was thought to be the Devil’s servant), the blue jay is a member of the crow family, known for its sassy intelligence. Like squirrels, blue jays will often eat shelled or broken peanuts on the spot but will bury intact shells, which keep safely over winter. (Check your window boxes and flower pots in the spring for such food caches.) They are also curious thieves attracted to brightly-coloured or shiny objects. Blue jays can mimic the calls of hawks and even human speech; another vocalization, a squeaky “wheedle-eedle” used to communicate with each other, always sounds to me like a rusty gate. And, of course, my hometown major league baseball team is named for them, so what’s not to love? Go, Jays!

A Blue and White Love Affair

A little granite island on Lake Muskoka, home to tall pines, majestic oaks and maple, aromatic cedar, scrubby juniper and an active population of pixies, has been in my family since my great-grandfather purchased it in 1911. His son, my mother’s dad, built the sturdy wooden cottage a couple of years later, and other than the addition of a screened-in porch, the house has stood unchanged and resolute throughout the decades. My mother has spent every summer of her life there, as have her three children. Other branches of the family have also enjoyed it, and we all have rich and long-lasting memories of such a magickal place.

Over the years, for example, there have been three marriages performed at the cottage; one of those brides carried fragrant white water-lilies, plucked from a local bay, as her bouquet. I chose to be married in the nearby town of Gravenhurst and have our reception on the (now) 131-year-old Royal Mail Ship Segwun, an elegant and graceful steamer that’s been plying the lakes since the logging days. My sister held her wedding and reception on the same ship, which cruises past our island on every voyage. The cottage has also been the perfect location for honeymoons; on warm summer nights when the moon spreads her silvery splendour across silent waters while loons call out emphatic yet rather haunting encouragement, what could be more idyllic?

As far as I know, no children (human, anyway) have ever been born on the island, but a passel of kids has certainly grown up there. Along its wave-lapped shores, we learned how to swim, paddle canoes, ply oars and run the motorboat. We picked up frogs, crayfish and snapping turtles with naïve hands and caught our first pike in its waters. We ran willy-nilly down the sloping dock path at unstoppable speed, skinning our knees, and we swung to and fro and twirled around on the old rope swing, then got sick all over the dinner table. Clad only in wet bathing suits, we raced through the woods on scavenger hunts and spent idle afternoons in the hammock or perched on a favourite rock, devouring ripe blueberries, juicy blackberries and oh! so many novels. At night we fell, sunburnt and exhausted, into creaky wrought iron beds with lumpy mattresses and were lulled to sleep by the cries of distant gulls.

The cottage’s furnishings haven’t changed much since the old days, except the occasional coat of white paint (the porch rafters were given a distinct marine feel with the addition of lake-blue stripes). When the kids got older, however, we converted a no-longer-needed “bedroom” – a corner of the porch – into a quiet reading nook, complete with white wicker chairs, blue cushions and a view of the lake. From this north-facing aspect, the water is sometimes cobalt, calmly reflecting a sparkling summer sky, and sometimes it’s a dark, moody slate, with a whipped topping of whitecaps foreshadowing an approaching storm.

Like most summer places, the cottage has been the repository of household items the thriftier generations thought “too good” to throw away. Drawers and cupboards are jammed with all sorts of utilitarian bits and pieces such as dented pots, an ancient egg beater, a rusty ladle, heavy stoneware jugs, a chipped enamelware colander and umpteen different patterns of silverware. There’s even a 19th century zinc washboard hanging around, and each bedroom still has its original chamber pot – or “thunder mug”, as we’ve always called them.

All of these things carry their own memories and rustic charm. But there’s one group of items that has graced the kitchen cabinets for as long as anyone can remember: a mismatched collection of blue and white china. Among this classic transferware crockery, the nearest and dearest to my heart has to be Blue Willow.

The story of Blue Willow (or just “Willow”, as it’s properly known) is a popular and romantic fable involving runaway lovers, a secluded island and, sad to say, their doomed end. Despite this melancholy tale, I’ve always found it a cheerful experience drinking my morning tea and eating light summer meals from such classic and fresh blue and white ware. The fact that some of our pieces are at least 100 years old and still in use (we’ve only had to retire one cracked dish) attests to the family’s fondness for the “cottage china”. (There’s good reason this pattern is often used on-screen to evoke old-time hominess and domesticity.)

When I married, I chose the Blue Willow pattern as my own household dinnerware, and for years I scoured antique fairs for rarer, more unique pieces to add to a growing collection. To me, this pattern will forever speak of that little white house on that wooded island in that deep, blue lake – and I will always love them both.


Once again getting in just under the wire, this is my submission for the Photographic Monthly Meet-Up hosted by Wild Daffodil. This month’s prompt is Scale.

My interpretation is a chainmaille pattern called Dragonscale. I’d never tried it before, probably because it’s a rather daunting-looking weave that’s classified as intermediate in terms of difficulty. However, despite a slow start and some frustration, I did eventually get the hang of it, coming up with this sample piece made of green and silver anodized aluminum rings:

For this Dragonscale piece I used 14 gauge 3/8″ ID (9.9 mm) green anodized aluminum rings (A.R. 4.9) and 18 gauge 1/4″ ID (6.7 mm) silver anodized aluminum rings (A.R. 5.5) which worked perfectly for this weave. Gauge is SWG; supplies from The Ring Lord.

Dragonscale is a relative of the original European 4-in-1 weave used to make medieval chainmaille armour. Two sizes of rings are used to produce a dense yet flexible weave; I chose to go big for my first couple of pieces, just to see how they’d turn out. Some clever maillers make awesome accessories such as pouches and bracelets from Dragonscale, even reenactment clothing and armour. Inspired by some lovely Fairy Dragon Eggs crafted by Mrs. Cobs over at Cobweborium Emporium, I wanted to use this pattern to make my own version of dragon’s eggs. There are examples of egg-shaped Dragonscale pendants online, but there aren’t any tutorials to be found, so I had to fiddle a bit to figure out how many rings and rows I needed. I was able to make this blue “egg”:

Using the same ring sizes as the green sample, the egg is 4 large rings across and 12 rows high, with a few extra rings added at the top to create a more oval shape, plus a large ring as a hanging loop.

The finished piece is almost the size of a real chicken’s egg. To get the shape, I folded the squarish rectangle in on itself (the weave goes cone-shaped when you do this – and I almost did, too, trying to get this thing done). Then I “stitched” up the small gap at the back with a few extra rings wherever the existing weave allowed. The back isn’t as neat as I’d like, and the egg doesn’t quite taper to an oval at the top, but it’s a start.

The shape is perfect, however, for acorns and pinecones – all I need are the right colours, and I’m off to the races. I might carry on with the green sample, perhaps introducing other colours to make a small wall hanging.

And, just so I can weigh in on another type of scale for this challenge, here’s a photo of my brother – an avid fisherman – proving that holding a small fish up to the camera to make it appear bigger Just. Doesn’t. Work.

The April photo challenge starts tomorrow, and the prompt is Yellow.

Speaking of colours, my theme for this month is A Blue & White Love Affair. (I’m not so into yellow, just so you know, but I sure do love blue in all its beautiful hues, especially when it’s partnered with white.) Stay tuned!