One Foggy Night

In a haunted wood one evening drear,
along the bank of a river clear,
I felt my cheek by cold lips kissed;
’twas no ghost, but November mist.

“November Mist” © 2017 Valerie Barrett. All rights reserved.

Of course I meant to publish this poem last month, but time has once again run away on fleet and ruthless feet!

I’ve written about my love of fog before. Sadly, fog is a fairly rare phenomenon where I live. A couple of days ago, however, I woke very early to a world blanketed by a dense and eerie mist, and captured this image.

A friend recently introduced me to the London Fog latte, a wonderfully comforting drink, especially for this time of year. Major coffee chains sell something similar, but few if any of them use the mystery ingredient – lavender – which gives this version its deliciously ethereal quality. The citrusy bergamot of Earl Grey tea combined with lavender, sugar, and foamy, vanilla-laced milk is like strolling misty wet cobblestone laneways in December whilst snugly wrapped in a herringbone wool coat and soft cashmere muffler.

You can make this recipe with or without frothing the milk. (Handheld frothers, whether manual or battery-operated, are available for less than $20.) When warming the milk, make sure it doesn’t scald or boil.

London Fog Latte (makes 1-2 servings)

• 1 Earl Grey tea bag
• 1 cup boiling water
• ½ tsp dried lavender flowers
• ½ cup hot milk (steamed or frothed if desired)
• sugar to taste
• ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Brew tea and lavender together for about 5 minutes. Remove tea bag and lavender (strain out if necessary). Stir in milk, sugar and vanilla. Enjoy!

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So Knotty!

Knots and knotwork – nautical, Celtic, Chinese “good luck”, practical and decorative – have always fascinated me.

One Christmas, I gave a handy little book, All The Knots You Need by R.S. Lee (Algrove Publishing, 1999), to the men in my life. I always intended to borrow a copy to teach myself some of the more interesting ones. Besides the overhand, granny and lark’s head knots, the only other practical type of knot I knew was the one we use to tie up our boat (known variously as the chain sinnet, daisy chain, monkey braid, etc.). Then I discovered paracord.

One of the most popular uses for 550 paracord is keychains and fobs. A variety of knots was used to make these examples, and I chose different types of hardware – rings, carabiners or clasps – according to how I thought these pieces might be used.

Parachute cord (a.k.a. paracord) is strong rope originally used as suspension lines for parachutes. It consists of a smooth braided multi-strand nylon sheath encasing a core (the kern) of twisted two- or three-ply yarns. Paracord comes in several different diameters, each measured by its minimum breaking strength, from 95 to 750 lbs. I often use black 95 paracord as a cord for pendants, as it is slender but durable, has a pleasing sheen, and can get wet without being damaged. 325 can be useful when you want jewellery that’s not too bulky. 550 paracord, at about 4 mm thick, is probably the most popular for practical and decorative applications.

Camping, hiking, climbing and survival enthusiasts will often carry a lanyard, keychain or bracelet made of several feet of loosely-knotted paracord that can be quickly unwoven when the need for some rope arises, but most crafters will make their items, such as the ones shown here, to stay permanently knotted.

Women’s styles, L to R: Double mandala knots with faceted glass bead, finished with a diamond stopper knot and tassel; Cobra knots form the body and wings of the dragonfly, with pony beads for eyes; Emperor’s snake knot with glass bead, diamond knot and tassel.

The ends of nylon paracord must be melted and sealed with a flame to prevent fraying. It takes a bit of practice to perfect, but once you do, experimenting with the dozens of types of knots and the things you can make is a lot of fun. You Tube is the place to go for instructional videos on anything from lanyards, keychains, zipper pulls, water bottle holders, pouches, dog leashes, walking-stick handle wraps, figures (animals and people-shaped “buddies”), bracelets, necklaces and even rings!

If you know macramé or Shamballa knotting, you’ll recognize some of these knots by a different name. A square knot, for example, is known in the paracord world as a cobra knot, and a length of cobra knots is called a Solomon bar.

The cobra knot, shown here in patterned paracord, is the most common of knots. Beads or jewellery components add interest.

These knots and weaves can be rendered with material other than paracord, of course. I’ve made a lanyard for a utility knife from thick, bargain-store poly cord, and am planning a project using cotton rope. But if you take up paracording, go for good quality material. Cheaper paracord doesn’t melt and seal as cleanly, and won’t hold up to as much use. Your local craft store will probably carry a few different colours, patterns and weights, but you can get far more variety online. I’ve purchased happily from Canada Paracord.

I made the keychains you see here as party favours for a recent family birthday get-together, customizing the design and type of knot for each recipient. I’ll share other paracord projects in upcoming posts.

Men’s styles: The monkey’s fist (top) is another classic knot, originally used at the end of a rope as a weight or anchor; snake knots form the chain, and the two cords are fused together. I made the fender design (bottom) for my brother, a boating enthusiast. This style weaves two colours in the round crown sinnet knot.

Falling for Riverwood

This tiny creek nestles at the bottom of a steep ravine near Chappell House. Oct 29 2017

The Riverwood Conservancy has quickly become my favourite local place to practice shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”). Since writing about my first discovery of this wonderful urban oasis, I’ve visited many times, usually after a long day at work, to rejuvenate and seek peace. In this post, I’ve included images from September and October. I look forward to experiencing what the property has to offer in all seasons.

Oct 15 2017

So far, I’ve followed new trails and enjoyed the deep solitude of the woods, meadows and riverside. I’ve taken dozens of photographs of the park, and I’ve sat on the back terrace of Chappell House, nursing a cup of tea and feeding the black-capped chickadees by hand. (I usually bring a pocketful of wild bird seed; these cuties are easy to coax to the hand.)

Back garden view of Chappell House, built in the Arts and Crafts style in 1919. In keeping with the artful nature of the park, I’ve given this photo a painterly effect. Sep 17 2017

The gardens, still so full of foxglove, Japanese anemones, hydrangea, monkshood, echinacea and roses in September, are drowsing now, awaiting the first blanket of snow. (We had flurries here the other night, but nothing stuck.) The volunteer gardeners, however, have ensured that shrubs and small trees will provide structural interest – and food for birds – during the colder months.

The Arts and Crafts-style gardens complement the house. In September, Japanese anemones provided vibrant colour. Sep 17 2017

On another part of the property stand the McEwan house and barn, the foundations of which date from 1850. There and in a new building, the Conservancy and Visual Arts Mississauga offer community programs for school children and adults. In the surrounding gardens, there is a raised-bed Sensory Garden featuring plants with different scents and textures, and the Enabling Garden invites disabled participants to pitch in and help grow an amazing variety of herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables.

Painting in the Visual Arts Mississauga building, where community art classes and gallery shows are held. Title and artist unknown. Oct 16 2017

It is from this area that several trailheads lead to more discoveries, including a grand allée of Norway spruce planted over a century ago to protect the fruit orchards (remnants of which can still be seen) from wind damage. Dotted around the woods are 19 “tree caches”, different species of trees marked with QR-coded tags. Scanning the tags with a phone app brings up a website with all kinds of interesting facts about each of the marked trees, some of which are quite rare.

Scanning the code revealed that this tree is a White elm (Ulmus americana), a rare species in eastern Canada due to the ravages of Dutch elm disease. Oct 16 2017

Each time I go to Riverwood, I have a little quest in mind. The Conservancy’s website hints at structures associated with the 1919 Chappell House, but doesn’t specify where they are. These mysteries eluded me at first, but, in best Time Team spirit, I followed obscure paths and paid attention to archaeological clues, and eventually stumbled across the original stone-lined swimming pool and paved tennis court. The pool is now fenced off for safety (not very picturesque, so no photos), and the tennis court’s remaining bits of broken asphalt are now home to moss, weeds and monarch butterflies – and Tai Chi practitioners. Both are a poignant paean to the privileged life of the early 1920s.

Oct 15 2017

I’ve enjoyed watching the autumn colours come into their glorious own. There’s a particular part of the forest that is incredibly peaceful, full as it is of towering sugar maples (one in particular is known to be over 250 years old), beeches, oaks, birches, evergreens and a number of Carolinian (southern) species. The squirrels and chipmunks are quite entertaining, and I’ve been serenaded by the calls of resident and migrating birds: blue jays and robins, woodpeckers, goldfinches, kinglets and sparrows. The other day, I spotted my first dark-eyed juncos of the season, which means only one thing: winter is coming!

The serene beauty of autum woods. Oct 29 2017

Steeped in Superstition

Tea as a beverage is thought to have been discovered in 2737 BCE by the Chinese emperor Shen Nung, a renowned herbalist, when some leaves from the Camellia sinensis tree fell into the water his servant was boiling. Tea-making and drinking has since become popular, fashionable, in many cultures revered and ritualized – and sometimes (as in my case) even addictive! There are bags and bags of lore associated with the consumption of this most royal brew.

Prosperi-tea:

An expensive import from Silk Road countries such as China and India, tea has always symbolized fortune, wealth and protection.

  • adding tea leaves to a potion or herbal sachet helps attract money
  • carrying tea leaves on one’s person is thought to protect against evil and misfortune
  • drinking hot tea incorporates all four elements: earth (the pot), water (brewing tea), fire (heat and steam) and air (the tea’s aroma)
  • to ward off evil spirits, sprinkle dried tea leaves on your front doorstep
  • accidentally dropping loose leaf tea is good luck for the woman of the house
  • unintentionally spilling a little tea water while making tea is considered lucky
  • to attract a new friend, make overly strong tea
  • a leaf or stem standing upright in your tea is a sign of good luck; this stems (ahem) from the fact that tea merchants, having trouble selling leaves with stems on them, started telling customers that upright ones were lucky!
  • to promote good luck, always stir tea deosil (clockwise)
  • undissolved sugar at the bottom of the cup means someone is sweet on you
  • throwing used tea leaves on the fire helps keep poverty at bay

Trouble’s Brewing:

According to folklore, if you don’t prepare, serve or sip your tea the correct way, you’re in for pots of trouble!

  • breaking a teapot is an omen of losing a loved one
  • pouring boiling water into a pot without tea leaves or bags brings misfortune
  • don’t stir tea inside the pot; it means you’ll argue with a friend
  • if the tag falls off the teabag while it’s in your cup, you will receive bad news or lose something within the week
  • two people pouring from the same teapot is very unlucky
  • never “be mother” (i.e. pour the tea) in another person’s house – it’s an insult to their hearth and hospitality and is generally a bad omen
  • you risk crossing love’s path if you put milk in your tea before sugar
  • stirring tea with anything but a spoon invites bad luck
  • stirring someone else’s tea means you’re stirring up trouble for them
  • emptying the teapot on the day a fishing boat sets sail portends tragedy for the fishermen (capsizing, drowning); crew who empty a teapot on board are “pouring away” all the fish they hope to catch and will come home with empty nets

Tea is for Tasseography:

Tasseography or tasseomancy (a.k.a “reading the cups”) is the practice of reading tea leaves for divination. A teacup with a light, unpatterned interior is best, and the method of preparing it for a reading is quite precise. There are dozens of interpretations for the shapes made by the remaining tea leaves – too many to go into here. But generally, it’s a bad omen if most of the tea leaves are left at the bottom of the cup; leaves spread evenly around the cup is a much better sign. Other prophetic tales tea can tell include:

  • forgetting to put the lid on the teapot can portend numerous events: the arrival of an ominous stranger, that you’ll be sent for, or a doctor will be required before the day is out
  • tea spilling from the spout while the pot is being carried means a secret will be revealed
  • bubbles around the edge of your teacup means you will soon be kissed; each bubble represents one kiss
  • bubbles in the centre of your cup signify money; the more bubbles, the wealthier you’ll be
  • if you can transfer the bubbles from cup to mouth without the bubbles touching the side of the spoon, you’ll soon receive an important letter
  • the more tea leaves that end up in your cup, the fuller your life will be
  • a single tea stem, known as a “stranger”, floating on the surface of your tea presages the arrival of a visitor; a hard, woody stem means the visitor will be male; if the stem is soft, female
  • a teaspoon dropped on the floor is a sign a child will visit the house
  • two spoons accidentally placed on the same saucer predict an imminent wedding, or that the drinker will marry twice or have twins with tea-coloured hair
  • when two women are drinking tea together, the woman who pours will become pregnant within the year

So next time you brew up that delicious pot of tea, mind the details — and good luck!

Turn the ill omen of a broken teapot (in this case, the lid) into something serendipitous! Make it into a vase or planter; if the pot is cracked, line it or insert an inner container before adding water or soil. Use as a rustic holder for kitchen utensils, cutlery, napkins, paint brushes, etc. Knitters, pop a ball of yarn into the clean, dry pot and thread the end up through the spout for an instant dispenser.

Regal

Long ago at a local zoo (using a basic camera with limited zoom), I photographed this very proud and royal looking male blue or Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus). With his flamboyant plumage in gemstone shades of sapphire, emerald, turquoise and gold, the peacock is a fitting subject for this week’s One-a-week Photo Challenge prompt, Regal.

Native to India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the Indian peafowl is associated with deities in Hinduism and Buddhism and was considered a royal guardian and a symbol of paradise in India, Babylonia and Persia. Ancient Greeks believed these birds were immortal, an idea adopted by early Christians who used them to depict eternal life. The ocelli (‘eyes’) of a peafowl’s train have come to represent the all-seeing god and the heavens studded with the sun, moon and stars. Although the strutting of the peacock to display his magnificent train is a sign of pride and vanity in some cultures, in others the bird represents creativity and joy, with the quills being a metaphor for a writer’s inspiration.

The peafowl was introduced to the rest of the world, first by the upper classes as beautiful and entertaining symbols of their wealth and status, and eventually to zoos. In the Middle Ages, peafowl were considered a gustatory delicacy. Plucked and roasted birds would be presented at the feast table redressed in their feathers as if to appear alive. Apparently, they were coarse, tough and bad-tasting and were thought to cause indigestion and ‘bad humours’. Ah, well, if one has the money…

The term for a group of peafowl is bevy, but also muster, party or – most appropriate – ostentation!

The peacock lends a royal theme to this rich display of colour, form and texture: opal, garnet, amethyst, onyx and smokey quartz gems, a peacock-hued bead necklace dotted with gold, sumptuous furs and fabrics, fine stationery and a peacock-painted china cup.

Rusted!

These two photos belong together because they were taken on the same day in the same place, and I couldn’t pick just one for this week’s One-a-week Photo Challenge prompt, Rust!

The images are of the tool shed attached to our family’s cottage, built in 1914 by my 18-year-old grandfather with guidance from his wheelchair-bound father, a former carpenter and jack-of-all-trades Who Knew Things.

The door’s hardware is original (its skeleton key is equally rusty!), and these old tools have been lovingly used by generations of gardeners.

Photographing the door was a challenge in itself, as the knob is closer to the eye (and camera lens) than the keyhole. Previous attempts resulted in either one or the other being drastically out of focus. Using advice from my photographer sister on dealing with depth of field, I managed to get this image. It’s not perfect, but I’m happy with it, and it’s a nice memento of a cherished place.

Please check out nanacathydotcom and Wild Daffodil for more rusty images!

In Her Finest Silver

Harvest full moon, 5:13 a.m. EDT Oct 05 17

“Awake, arise!” she whispered,
so I knuckled my eyes and looked to the skies
and saw her there, in white lace and silver resplendent,
and she smiled down at my sighs.
If ever I took a lover, I said,
’twould be she.

“In Her Finest Silver” © 2017 Valerie Barrett. All rights reserved.

 This month’s full moon rises just after sundown and sets at sunrise, making it the only time of the month, depending on the viewer’s latitude, that the moon is visible all night long. It is named the Harvest Moon because it’s the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, which occurred on September 22.

The October full moon is also named the Hunter Moon by some indigenous tribes because it was the time to hunt, to lay in provisions before winter.

Full Moon Rituals: Gaze at the full Moon in all her splendour, letting her cleanse and recharge you • Meditate in the light of the full moon • Burn sage to cleanse your home • The full moon is a time of abundance as well as release and letting go; give away old clothes or items you no longer need in order to create space for new abundance, or donate food to a food bank

Harvest Moon Diffuser Blend: 6 drops tangerine • 1 drop cinnamon • 1 drop clove

Acorn Magick: Acorns are a symbol of knowledge and foresight; ancient seers used to chew acorns when preparing for prophesy (do not consume, as acorns contain toxic tannins)  • Gathered during a full moon, acorns are said to attract faeries, bringing enchantment and good luck throughout the month • Place an acorn on a windowsill or your altar to promote wisdom and prosperity, or carry one (preferably one that’s been de-maggotized!) on your person as an amulet to banish loneliness