Cool with warm sunshine and an opportunity to start work on the margins of the garden where the builders have not played. yesterday the pump was installed in the pond (albeit a more permanent power supply will have to be installed in a few week’s time). Today J started work on lifting potting up the overwintered lily bulbs and a toad (Bufo americanus) was found lurking in the stones around “Tony’s Bed”.
There is still snow in the garden where the shade lingers and there is that huge spoil heap, builders rubble and assorted parked excavators on the lawn … but beyond that we still have a garden.
There are also some early returning birds – the Red-winged Blackbirds and Grackles, of course, but they were accompanied in the garden today with late lingering Common Redpolls and even a small group of Pine Siskins who should be well on their way north by now. Spring is late.
Click on a thumbnail to see the pictures in all their glory:
Since its inception, most of the posts hereabouts have been about the garden and plants and stuff like that. As we head into spring you, dear reader, are doubtless impatient for more but this year we have planted builders in the lawn and you will have to be patient. Normal service in the garden corner will be resumed, but not for a couple of months … at which point it will be a lot of angst and redesigning and renovation about which we speak.
More about the building at http://sparroworks.ca/journal/renovations-2015/
We have lodgers … or maybe, I should say, squatters.
As you know, for years we have been aware of the presence of red squirrels in our loft and have tried to block off their entry holes when we have found them … always with care as we do not want to lock anyone in, especially if they have young.
So – the past few days things have started to warm up a little around here and a tentative thaw has set in, spoiled overnight by a minor snow dump, but dripping again nicely. Of course, when I say ‘thaw’ I mean +1C, not anything actually constituting warmth. nevertheless, the squirrels have been out and about for a week or two … and in the last few days joined by what are clearly a pair of rather new and junior squirrels, all skinny and shiny and chasing each other round and round at high speed. We have also been aware of critters in the roof wearing heavy clogs and it has become evident from tracks in the roof snow that the loft has made a very handy squirrel nursery since the new year.
But for a conviction, we need proof … and now we have it. The huge wodge of steel wool rammed into the gap in the roof last summer has been dislodged by busy little paws.
We do like squirrels, especially the cute red ones, the Sparroworks does not join itself with the Squirrelworks for nothing. Nevertheless – something will have to be done once spring arrives.
In 1946, George Orwell wrote the following in the London Evening Standard. I am with him all the way, and especially when it comes to the sin of putting sugar in your tea and the almost equivalent sin of not using skimmed milk:
If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points. This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
- First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
- Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
- Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
- Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
- Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
- Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
- Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
- Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
- Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
- Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
- Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.
Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.
These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.
(taken from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7)
I happened, by chance, onto the Facebook page of the Ottawa Camera Club, an exceedingly venerable group well past its centenary, where I found this delightful photograph of old-time nature photographers setting off for a ramble.
No lightweight digital cameras and high-tech weather proof clothing for them – hardy pioneers all.
Overnight we finally had a decent amount of fresh snow falling but today the temperature has gone up to around plus 4C and there is freezing rain – tonight it is forecast to drop like a stone to minus 17C
Freezing rain is, cannot be denied, beautiful on the trees (so long as its weight doesn’t break them, which it can) but the roads are worse than the proverbial skating rink. We really do need a decent snow dump without this mess so that the plants get a nice insulating blanket around them – sadly, I fear a lot of dead plants come the spring this year.
Climate change – ugh!
Squirrels are regulars in the garden of the Squirrelworks/Sparroworks HQ and at this time of the year they know there is food to be had if pnly they could get past the squirrel-baffles we have on the feeders. usually they cannot but right now we have one clever and athletic guy who has worked out that he can just make it with a big leap from the distant tree … made easier by the nearest feeder being this caged version with handy wires to grab hold of. So, this is where he wants to be …
Sadly (if you are a squirrel) we are cleverer than he is and moved the various feeders around so that now he has to grab hold of a small, tubular metal niger-seed feeder if he is going to make the leap worthwhile and thus far he has failed.
But he’ll be back, squirrels are good at perseverance if there is the possibility of food.