Basket List

Some people, especially as they approach the second half of their lives, make “bucket lists”. I, too, have a running list of aspirations – things I’d like to find, see, experience, accomplish, but they’re not particularly grandiose. No travelling to exotic lands, skydiving or climbing Mount Everest for me, oh no! Instead of a highfalutin bucket list, I keep what I like to call a Basket List (wicker, preferably), brimming with small whimsies, little hopes and dreams which are apt to change frequently. Right now, it goes something like this:

Hag stone from the Sea of Azov, Ukraine / CC BY-SA 3.0

1. Holey Stone
Also known as hag or adder stones, these small river or beach rocks have naturally-occurring holes made by wave action or friction with smaller pebbles. They are considered lucky and can be carried or worn as amulets for protection. A holey stone features in one of my favourite novels, The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley, and ever since I read it, I’ve been on the lookout for one of my own. Sadly, our local waterways don’t seem to produce the kind of motion necessary to create such holes, but every time I’m on a bank or shore, you can be sure I’ll be keeping an eye out!

Witch window in Irasville, Vermont / CC BY-SA 3.0

2. Witch Window
I might have a tough time seeing a witch window, unless I take myself off to New England. Also known as Vermont or coffin windows, these narrow windows are placed on the diagonal in a gabled wall. They are found mostly in 19th century farmhouses, almost exclusively in the state of Vermont. These windows were supposed to protect homes against witches, as it was thought they couldn’t fly their broomsticks through crooked windows. (Because, you know … they couldn’t simply use a doorway!) It’s also believed they may have been used to remove coffins from upper floors, thus avoiding narrow or winding staircases. A more realistic reason for these odd constructions is that they allow light and ventilation in upper storeys where there may not be enough wall space for conventional windows.

French macarons © Nicholas Halftermeyer / CC BY-SA 3.0

3. French Macarons
The sheer elegance of these smooth, delicately-hued meringue and buttercream confections (not to be confused with coconut macaroons) are something to admire, but I’ve yet to taste one. They come in such dreamy pastel colours of sunshine yellow, pink, lavender, pistachio, even chocolate! As soon as someone presents me with a small white box, tied neatly with baker’s twine, I’ll be having one … or two … or three of these for high tea!

4. Join-Up
No, I have no wish to enlist in a society or become an army cadet. What I’m talking about is the technique known as Join-Up®, in which a rider learns the body cues of her horse and teaches it to accept gentle authority, thus establishing a strong trust bond. I first saw it demonstrated by Monty Roberts, who developed this humane “breaking” process, in the television series, Martin Clunes: Horsepower. It was done so sweetly, I was enchanted. There’s just one small problem with this plan: I have to learn how to ride first.

European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) © Gaudete / CC BY-SA 2.5

5. Hedgehog
These adorable wee creatures aren’t native to North America, so I’d have to get myself to England or Europe to see Mrs. Tiggywinkle in her natural environment. I might even join up with one. And it would give me the opportunity to see #6.

So close, and yet so far! One day, perhaps, I’ll visit Cheat’s Lane, Coffee Yard or Black Horse Passage – just three of the 50+ snickelways of York.

6. Snickelways of York
I’ve been to York, England – once, long ago. My sister, a friend and I had planned our 3-week itinerary, focused mainly on ancient or medieval sites in England and Wales, for months in advance. Our visit to York did include the Jorvik Viking Centre, which was fabulous, and The Shambles, a picturesque medieval street of 14th century buildings. Oh, how I wish I’d known then about snickelways, those narrow passages winding through the city’s heart! Several of them are accessed by The Shambles; we must have walked right by them. If I ever return, I’ll be using my autographed copy of the comprehensive guidebook, The Complete Snickelways of York by Mark W. Jones, who coined the term “snickelway”.

7. Dig It
One of my favourite programs is Time Team. I just love Sir Tony, Phil Harding and his hat, and the sound of trowels scraping against stone. I’ve always wanted to participate in an archaeological dig. My husband has done it – sort of; for a university Physics & Archaeology course, he took some magnetometer and resistivity readings at old Fort York, where they found a buried sewer system. Geo Fizz!

This desire to dig up the past and find stuff is closely related to my fascination with beachcombing and my desire to take up metal detecting.

Fairy ring, Brisbane, Australia / Public Domain

8. Magic Mushrooms
The fairy ring is a circle of mushrooms, sometimes over 10 m (33 ft) across, caused by the underground spreading of their mycelium, the fungus’ vegetative, fibre-like growth. Legend has it that these circles are the site of moonlit elven dances, and that they’re dangerous to enter and thus best avoided. Once inside, mortals will be enthralled by the Wee Folk and transported to their realm, where time passes very slowly. If they escape, they’ll find they have not aged, yet everything and everyone they once knew has long since faded away. I’ve found partial fairy rings but never a complete one. If I do, you betcha I’ll be investigating – but, according to folk wisdom, I must run around it nine times, deosil (clockwise), to make it safe!

I also yearn to find bioluminescent fungi, which means I’ll have to venture out along with hordes of mosquito vampires into the night forest to look for their greenish glow. There are only about 80 known species of these light-emitting wonders, and some of them grow here, such as the bitter oyster (Panellus stipticus) and jack-o’lantern (Omphalotus illudens). Sadly, the glow is usually pretty faint and only happens for a short period of time under the right conditions, so the chances of actually finding one are about as great as being carried off to marry a Fairy King.




June’s prompt for Wild Daffodil’s Photographic Monthly Meet-Up is Sunlight. Let’s start with a sunrise:

A card-carrying night owl, I’m not usually up to catch the sunrise. I hit the jackpot, however, when I got up to see this beauty! Note the crepuscular rays. Lake Muskoka, Ontario • August 2016

Near the same spot on the same lake, this time on an afternoon in May:

Lake Muskoka, Ontario • May 2015

And now for something completely different (not really, I just love trees):

The 500-year-old Comfort Maple near Niagara Falls, believed to be Canada’s oldest sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Its trunk circumference is 6 m (20 ft) • Pelham, Ontario • June 2016

Smell this!

The Fragrant Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata) grows in abundance in the shallow bays of Muskoka. Its golden rays and intoxicating licorice aroma just radiate “summer sunshine” to me. Lake Muskoka, Ontario • July 2008

Odds and Sods

Really bad joke of the day (Mrs. Cobs, are you listening?): What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.

As an aspiring writer and longtime editor, I own several thesauri. A few years ago, I purchased Roget’s Super Thesaurus (4th Edition), a thick compendium that promised to be the thesaurus-to-end-all-thesauri. It’s okay, but my go-to reference volume is and always has been Webster’s New Thesaurus (Concise Edition), a worn and well-thumbed paperback. (To give you an idea how long I’ve had it, the front cover boasts “New for the 1990’s.”) This beloved volume may not have as many entries, but it always delivers when I’m seeking le mot juste.

I meant to get this post up at the beginning of the month. Regular Gillyflower readers will know that I like to blog according to a monthly theme. June might offer many possibilities theme-wise, but I can’t pick just one. So, let this month’s theme be, well, themeless. Anti-thematic. My posts will be a mishmash of miscellany, a plethora of potpourri, an omnibus of odds and sods.

The novel that I’ve been trying to write since 2010 has been languishing on hiatus for some time now. For the first few years, I worked on it furiously in my spare time, day or night, writing, editing, refining, writing, etc. But then the plot started taking on a life of its own, and I grew increasingly unhappy with the direction it was going. There were also plenty of periods of angst and self-doubt that I’m sure most writers experience: Is it good enough? Do I have the energy to finish this? Will anyone want to read it? I knew I needed to make serious decisions – and major rewrites – but by that time I was paralyzed with writer’s block, and so I put the story away and haven’t worked on it since.

Not long ago, I took it out again and started to read. Just the first few chapters, but I liked it. And I started editing again. I’m still not sure what to do with the problematic remainder, though. Perhaps, like Diana Gabaldon of Outlander fame (not that I’m making any comparisons between that Goddess and me), I might approach this effort as an exercise in how to write (or how not to write), with no other aspirations.

From the start, however, my goal has been to get published, so I’ve always guarded the work-in-progress jealously, not even letting my husband or family read it. I’d like to publish some excerpts on this blog, however – perhaps I’ll create a new blog dedicated solely to the book. But I’m leery of “giving away” this cherished work once it goes online. What assurances do I have that my material – if someone deems it good enough – won’t be stolen?

My sister, an avid nature photographer who posts her clearly-copyrighted, metadata-embedded images frequently on multiple websites, can tell you that she’s been the victim of intellectual/artistic copyright theft several times: by “friends” who’ve claimed her images as their own, by companies for their advertising, and by news outlets who refused to cease and desist or pay her when she complained. (One agency finally backed down and gave her photo credit, thank you so very much.) Signatures, watermarks and statements of copyright should and do protect our property, but of course there are legions of unscrupulous people who don’t give a fig about rules or ethics and take our stuff anyway. And by that time, it’s usually too late.

Perhaps I’m flattering myself when I think anyone would want to plagiarize my work. But I’m a cautious lass. Before I blog parts of my story, I’d like to hear from you. Are you concerned about what happens to your creative efforts once you publish them? What systems of protection have you put in place – and do you feel confident that they do the job?

Challenge: Unexpected (Part 3)

Marking the end of my Candid Camera Challenge is the third and final segment of “Something Unexpected”, a theme suggested by Samantha – and it’s a doozy!

Driving around a quiet, tree-lined residential neighbourhood, peering nosily – as one does – into yards and gardens, one would not expect to see a large, hand-carved tree house for gnomes, complete with arched doorway, lace-lined windows, functioning lantern and mailbox! And one could not be faulted for registering surprise upon encountering a trail of foot-high fairy doors lining the boulevard in the same area. But when one discovers not a fairy house but a veritable castle in a garden a few streets away, one would most certainly agree that this is entirely unexpected!

The garden in question is located on a corner lot of a modest 1920 bungalow with both Edwardian and American Arts & Crafts (also known as Craftsman) features. I have to admit that I have no photographs of this heritage-designated house. The reason is simple: whilst the home has architectural and historical merit, it’s what graces its garden that holds the most fascination! May I present:

In 1961, then-owner Joseph Kodors was inspired to build this fairytale castle for the amusement of his children. How very lucky they were for such an imagination-stirring gift! The story goes that Mr. Kodors modelled the structure after castles he typically would have seen in his native Poland. The castle, which is highly visible from the street, has mortared fieldstone walls, wood shingles, dormers and glass windows, copper-capped turrets with finials, a bell tower and an inlaid date stone. The “miniature” castle is far from small; with the tower spires it probably stands nearly the height of an adult.

The castle became so popular with the community that the property became known as Kodors House. Look closely! Can you spot the clock, an owl, the evil queen and her gnomish minions who seem to be imprisoning an innocent fairy? I long to see what’s on the other side, but once again I’d be trespassing. I shall have to be content with the thought that all aspects of this fairytale are equally enchanting!

Thank you to those who sent me themes for my May photo challenge. Whilst interpreting your suggestions, I had fun, learned a lot and made some wonderful discoveries!

Challenge: Unexpected (Part 2)

As my Candid Camera Challenge continues, I’m once again responding to Samantha’s prompt to photograph “Something Unexpected”. This second part is subtitled Fairy Trails.

I mentioned in my previous post my ongoing mission to photograph heritage buildings. One such foray led to the happy discovery of Haywoods Hollow, a fanciful gnomely affair. Another outing a few days later – to photograph this 1856 house built in the Regency Ontario Cottage style – yielded yet another unlooked-for discovery!

Before I even had a chance to snap a few pictures of the cottage, what did I spy at the base of a tree on the lawn but a little fairy door! Although it’s roughly half the size of the one at Haywoods Hollow, the bright red paint, brass knob and gnarled branch frame pay homage to its much larger cousin, and I’m wondering if the homeowners Wee Folk had that in mind when they erected it!

Of course I had to determine whether the door opens. Alas, it is shut fast, but I’m not surprised. I have heard tell that the Fae enter this realm – and allow humans a rare glimpse of theirs – only at their own capricious whim, not ours.

My journey of discovery then took me farther down the street, to find yet more interesting buildings, such as this Craftsman-style home built in 1914. And wouldn’t you know it – I swear the Little People are playing games with me now – another fairy door – and then another, and another – appeared, all nestled quite cozily at the feet of the trees lining the boulevard. In addition to the first, I spotted seven of them in a row, but I’ve no doubt there are more!

Just as I’m trying to learn the many types of architecture employed in the neighbourhood, I believe I’ve successfully determined the distinct styles used for these enchanting fairy portals. They are:

Artsy-Craftsy: Similar to that seen in early twentieth-century Human homes, this style is dominated by smooth, natural surfaces punctuated with rough-hewn wooden beams.

Cathedral: Soaring lancet arches typify this medieval Gothic form.

Pagan Revival: Elements such as feminine curves and subtle lunar symbols identify this bewitching cottage style.

Hampton Court: Also known as Early Cromwellian, architecture of this style is typified by leaded glazing, buckle-silver embellishment and a penchant for puritanical black.

Ontario Outhouse: Small ventilation windows serve as the sole adornment for this utilitarian style, seen mostly in rural outbuildings.

Woodland: Characterized mainly by earthy elements such as gnarled tree branch or driftwood framing and colours taken from nature such as apple red or forest green.

Dungeon Vernacular: Low, rounded arches reinforced with stout beams and heavy ironwork are typical features of this style, also known as Neo-Grimm.

Stickly: Sprouting from the Artsy-Craftsy movement, this bare-branches style is easily recognizable by its use of slender, straight twigs.

The best is yet to come … stay tuned for Part 3 of Challenge: Unexpected!

Challenge: Unexpected (Part 1)

A fascination with architecture and history has always prompted me to photograph old buildings, especially if they feature rare or quaint details or have a story to tell. As far as I’m concerned, a centuries-old moss-covered cottage would do very nicely to live in, especially if there are casement windows and a dusty attic and curlicue ironwork on the old wooden door. And how marvelous it would be to go to work each day in a building with a hundred years of history or more! I’m still working on the cottage, but last year I was fortunate to land a job at a heritage-designated church dating from 1880. It’s a beautiful, imposing structure with its original features and all the creaks and quirks (and possibly a ghost) associated with them!

On my daily route to and from work, I’ve noticed a few picturesque houses in old downtown Brampton that I’ve been meaning to document. Apparently, though, I’ve been missing out on so many more! There are dozens of heritage buildings lining the city’s 19th century streets, and I’ve finally started taking the time to explore the neighbourhood properly, armed with a guidebook and an official designation list. I’ll be posting about some of these adventures soon.

But first, allow me to continue my Candid Camera Challenge, in which readers suggest a subject (a scene, building, people, objects, etc.) they’d like to see on this blog during the month of May. Today’s challenge, something Unexpected, was issued by Samantha of CrystalCats. I’d already had a couple of ideas for this theme, but my recent search for historic buildings gave rise to three perfectly serendipitous – and completely unexpected – discoveries! This is the first one.

One day after photographing an 1867 estate house, I headed down the street, following a route I’d never taken before. As I rounded a corner, I found myself exclaiming in delight – and slamming on the brakes – when I spotted an unusual sight in one front yard: a curious fairytale creation named “Haywoods Hollow”.

This large, hand-carved house is by no means your average store-bought fairy door nailed to the base of a tree! Haywoods Hollow, which sits on the property line facing the sidewalk so it’s accessible to all, was carved by the homeowner from a large silver maple stump. About 12 years before, the talented “architect” had carved a face into one side of the living tree; he modelled it after one of the city’s founding pioneers, a Mr. Dale. Years later when the partially rotted-out maple was damaged in an ice storm and had to be removed, he asked the arborists to leave the seven-foot-high stump, partly to save “Dale” and partly to do more carving. The completed fairy house so delighted neighbours and passers-by that a contest was held to give it a name – and so Haywoods Hollow was born!

I had to examine the house for a while to take in all the details; there are even more at the back, but I didn’t want to trespass onto private property. Its main features are a bright red door with a fancy knocker (the door is sealed shut to prevent children from crawling inside), a shingled roof with chimney, and two lit, lace-trimmed windows. A metal lantern, a welcoming beacon for all nearby gnomes, glows day and night. If you look very, very closely, you’ll discover other whimsies such as tiny carved faces amongst the gnarled driftwood door frame (one is made from a peach pit). And, in order for the wee folk to receive their “tree-mail”, there’s even a little mailbox with its own street number: 17 ½. I’ll have to check to see whether it opens!

Judging from the colourful bits and bobs adorning the house (gnome ornaments, plastic flowers, etc.), it seems to be “the thing” for visitors to leave an offering for the wee folk. Naturally, next time I stop by, I’ll be sure to bring a little gift, too!

Challenge: Street Food

The theme for today’s Candid Camera Challenge was suggested by Cathy at nanacathydotcom. Thank you, Cathy!

Mmmmm … street food. Toronto, being so multicultural, offers an abundance of restaurants; so many, in fact, that if you dined at a different establishment every night, it would take a staggering 45 years to eat your way through the city!

But this is about those vendors – food trucks, stands, kiosks and carts – encountered whilst bustling along city streets, exploring ethnic delights at cultural festivals, and looking for a snack at exhibitions and fairs.

Bygone Days
In simpler times, street food consisted of a few basic choices – hamburgers, hotdogs and French fries – available from “chip trucks”. You could get sandwiches, too, especially from the vehicles catering to the lunchtime crowd at a plant or factory. There was one that came regularly to my husband’s workplace. Due to the sometimes iffy offerings (bad coffee and who-knows-how-old egg salad), it earned a variety of nicknames – the Gut Wagon, Gastric Distress Express, Botulism Buggy and Ptomaine Truck amongst them.

Once when I was about ten, my parents took me to the Binder Twine Festival, a harvest celebration held in Kleinburg, Ontario every September since 1967. The festival, named for the twine used to secure wheat sheaves, still features old-time farming and crafting exhibits, contests, and traditional 1800s homestead food. I still remember the taste of the sarsaparilla my mother bought me from one of the booths. Originally marketed as a health tonic, this drink tastes (from what I recall) like a combination of spicy, bitter ginger ale crossed with root beer. It was odd and delicious, and I’ve only ever had a chance to try it that once. Perhaps I should go the 2018 festival!

I remember an old street peddlar who operated a chestnut cart back in the ’80s when I commuted downtown each day to university. He always parked the cart, which was painted red and gold, at my subway stop outside the Royal Ontario Museum. Although I never sampled his wares, the aroma of hot roasted chestnuts was so enticing, especially on a frosty winter day. He’s long gone, but my sister – who frequents downtown far more often than I do – reports that those carts, while rare, can still be found. Nice to know the tradition continues.

My sister and I went to an Afro-Caribbean festival down by the lake one summer. There were vendors offering tie-dyed cotton clothing, wood sculptures and beaded jewellery, and food such as kebobs, pitas and grilled corn-on-the-cob sprinkled with bright red chili powder. I chose to sample a fresh coconut which the vendor hacked open with a cleaver before sticking in a straw. I was surprised that the water and meat weren’t sweet at all; I’m all about the sweet stuff, so I was rather unimpressed with this street food experience.

Food Truck Frenzy
For years when I was growing up, we made an annual family pilgrimage to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE, or The Ex) during its two-week run in late August. We’d plead with our parents to let us have cotton candy or – my favourite – candy (caramel) apples from the kiosks in the Midway, where all the games and rides were. The Food Building presented an array of meal choices, and you could get coupons for freebies at many of the booths. We’d hoard them and our spending money with care as we strategically planned our snack attack. Pizza, burgers and fries were our usual choices, but a Beaver Tail (deep-fried pastry dusted with cinnamon sugar) was a must. I couldn’t handle the outrageous novelty fare offered these days, such as Strawberry Shortsteak (steak sandwich topped with provolone cheese, strawberry sauce and icing sugar), deep fried chicken feet, Canadian bacon pickle balls, spaghetti doughnuts drizzled with chocolate ganache, butter coffee, or the infamous Cronut Burger, a beef patty between two croissant-doughnut pastries topped with maple-bacon jam – a confection which caused 150 cases of food poisoning at the 2013 fair.

Suburban Street Food
Because my home and work keep me in the suburbs, I hardly ever encounter the more unusual or exotic types of street food – or entire street food festivals – found downtown. Suburbanites like me do still have some choices, however. There are the ubiquitous ice cream trucks, those white vans splashed with enticing images of popsicles, cones and triple-decker banana splits. Whilst I have given them my custom on more than one occasion, I take umbrage at these trucks because of their signature songs broadcast loudly and incessantly to attract business. Does anyone else despise “Turkey in the Straw” as much as I do?

A boy and his dog

For this assignment, I chose to feature the everyday hotdog stand. There’s a nationwide chain of hardware stores that always seems to have one of these trucks operating in their parking lot. This week, I stopped by one and, after a token soft drink purchase, sweet-talked the operator into letting me take some photos. As I was doing so, along came a mother and grandmother to buy a treat for their young boy. The mom graciously allowed me to snap some photos and laughed when I remarked the boy needn’t worry about eating carefully – his dressed ’dog matched his shirt! Although he was more interested in his meal, his family seemed pleased with all the attention, and I was happy to get a few shots for this challenge.

Postscript: As I wrote this piece, an ice cream truck blaring Turkey in the Straw set up shop down the road…