A Good Home

Miss Claire

Ever had an older friend who dazzled you with her independence and unique style?

Claire White was that person for me in my teenage years. 

Widowed young, children now grown, she lived alone, grew flowers and herbs, read tea leaves and tarot cards, and was unlike any other woman I had ever met.  She had an ear for the divine and an eye for magic.

Miss Claire became my mentor.  She both supported and challenged me, an extremely rebellious girl living in a town that was the staid and stultifying British heart of Jamaica. Her house and gardens were my second home, especially when I had tested the system and its traditions one time too many.

Years later, I wrote about her in my first book, A Good Home.

Blog photo - Miss Claire and me

I helped her to complete her own book and publish it. And later still, I visited her as she struggled with dementia. Despite her memory loss, the love and respect between us were as strong as ever. As were her elegant manners mixed with that sense of mischief that was the quintessential Miss Claire.

I never was able to visit her again before she died, but her spirit is part of mine.

Thanks for loving me, Miss Claire. And for challenging me each time I needed it.

~~

This post is dedicated to caring mentors, and to Andrea Stephenson at Harvesting Hecate, who also has an ear for the divine and an eye for magic.

 

A Good Home

Days Like Today…

My queendom for red bee balm blooms today!

Blog Photo - Garden - Bee Balm Splendour
Photo Credit: H. Grange

It’s one of those grey winter days here in my part of Canada. If this keeps up, I shall have to write a soliloquy to A Grey Day in Winter.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this picture by Hamlin Grange.

I hope my blogger friends are having a good day, no matter what the weather.

 

 

A Good Home, Cold weather dreams of gardening, Garden

Ciaran’s Irish Garden

It’s February and a gardener’s thoughts turn to spring.

Not because we expect it any time soon – this is Ontario, Canada, after all — but because it’s at least another two months before flowers start popping up from the soil.

So – courtesy of Twitter — I head to Ciaran de Buitlear’s garden in the south of Ireland where flowers are already blooming.

Blog Photo - Ciaran garden - Hellebores spotted

In fact, Ciaran’s first crocus bloomed weeks ago, while we in the frozen north were enjoying snowdrifts, and I got a serious case of garden envy. 

Blog Story - Ciaran first Crocus - Spring has officially sprung

Then came the daffodils and hellebores.

Blog Story - Ciaran Daffodils blooming

Ciaran says he loves gardening in part because it’s “very different to the day job of working with databases in the cloud for large insurance companies.  I think gardening is very Zen.   It is like a meditation but without the stillness, and also gets you fit (and there are flowers).”

Blog Story - Ciaran Early Spring flowers

His love of gardening began in childhood.

“I gardened as a small child with my mother.  I only recalled this recently when I saw episodes of BBC ‘Gardeners World’ nearly 50 years old.  I remembered watching them with my parents as a small child.”  

Ciaran is passing on his garden love to his own children. While his partner Fiona “does not have green fingers”, sons Zack and Sam love to help out in the garden. 

Blog Story - Ciaran's son Zack will grow sunflowers, carrots etc

“They do weeding, grow plants from seed, like to make things out of wood for the garden.  Zack can spend hours in the garden helping me. Sam is 11 now and can get more stuck into computer games than the garden sometimes but he still does help from time to time.”

Blog Story - Ciaran and Fiona sons reading 

The family’s garden is not huge, but it’s prolific. Last fall alone, Ciaran planted 500 bulbs around this tree.

Blog Story - Ciaran garden - just planted 500 bulbs

He grows many favourite plants.

Blog Story - Ciaran ferns

“I love ferns — freshness, greenness, kind of other worldliness, they are so magnificent in spring.

Blog Story - Ciaran Japanese maples

“Japanese maples – they look great from up close and far away.  The leaf detail, different colours and textures of foliage, the way they act as foils for other plants.”

Pots are also filled with spring flowers:

Blog Story - Ciaran Spring flowers in 3 pots

And there’s a greenhouse to help protect tender plants till it’s time to put them out in the garden.

Blog Story - Ciaran Greenhouse 2

As gardeners know, it all takes work, but a garden is a gift that keeps on giving.

Blog Story - Ciaran and garden supplies

The hellebores are blooming in different colours.

Blog Photo - Ciaran garden - Hellebores deep red

But in the weeks ahead,  hosta will unfurl, hardy geranium will bloom, flowering vines will put on a  show, as will the roses in the de Buitlears’ garden.

“You can never have enough roses, all kinds (but not the ones you have to spray).  I treat them well, feed the soil with well-rotted manure every year. If they do not thrive, I yank them out (this rarely happens).  Long flowering season, lovely blooms, use as cut flowers, colours!

“Then there are coneflowers, rudbeckia, agapanthus, allium… I could go on and on and on…   I guess I am a plantaholic.”

Aren’t we all? Thanks for sharing your garden, Ciaran. It brightens up a northern gardener’s soul. 

 

 

Memoir-Writing, Teaching Writing

Birgit Ohm’s Book – One Way Ticket

My husband and I had the pleasure of attending a special book launch recently.

It was special because the author, Birgit Ohms, is one of my writing students.

Blog Photo - Birgit signs book1

Birgit’s book, One Way Ticket, begins when she is a teenager, leaving her family and homeland to study art abroad. Soon after, she meets her future husband, and embarks on a life of adventure, luxury — and trouble. 

Blog photo - Birgit books

We follow her from Europe to the USA and Canada, as she tries to reconcile her husband’s extravagant gestures and her quiet panic of knowing something is terribly wrong.  (I won’t reveal more here.)

Blog Photo - Birgit Book launch photo and name

A talented fashion artist and illustrator, Birgit wrote and illustrated a children’s book in earlier years, but this is her first book for adults.  Also interesting: English is not her first language, and she is physically disabled.  Birgit uses a wheelchair and her hands don’t work properly, but she writes on her iPad with a commitment and discipline that many writers lack. She inspires me.

Blog Photo - Birgit signs book closeup

I started coaching writers at BOAA — the Bowmanville Older Adults Association (for people 55 and older) a few years ago, and have learned that if a person can tell you a tale or a good joke, they can be taught to write. 

But one of the most interesting things about this work is the privilege of observing how each person’s writing develops.  Of the writers I’ve coached, everyone has a different style, a different approach to storytelling.

Memoir-writing requires all the skills needed to write a good book. But, in the right context, memoir-writing is also a means of reflection, healing and growth for the author. 

Blog Photo - Birgit and Isabel

It’s all been moving to witness. And Birgit’s book launch on Sunday was one of the highlights of this journey.

Blog Photo - Birgit Book launch - gathering 1

Birgit told me on Sunday that when she started my course, she would not have believed she’d be at her own book launch, signing her own book, 18 months later. But it took me only a short while to realize that she had the trifecta of attributes needed to write a book.

Blog Photo - Birgit's Book on Amazon

She reveals the world around her, and the world inside her, with an unfiltered honesty and impressive attention to the telling details. As a result, she draws you into a scene so skillfully, you feel you’re right there. Second, Birgit listens to criticism and uses it to improve her work. And third, she writes unceasingly, always turning in successive chapters on deadline. 

Blog Photo - Birgit Book luanch gathering 2

And now we celebrate Birgit’s triumph. All of us who have taken this journey with her – her family, friends, co-writers at BOAA and I, the teacher — are overjoyed for her.

Blog Photo - Birgit signs book 3

Congrats, Birgit!