Viewing life through a wabi-sabi lens

wabi sabi the beauty of things whithered

Discovering a concept that describes an emotion your culture has no word for can help you make better sense of yourself and more able to cope with life’s stresses.

This happened to me several years ago when I learned about wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi (wobby-sobby) expresses things I’ve long felt but had no words for.

Wabi-sabi (not to be confused with wasabi – the green condiment with the strong pungency eaten with sushi) is a concept deeply ingrained in Japanese society and notoriously hard to explain.

I read somewhere if a culture has no word for something then it’s not considered important or significant. It’s not surprising there’s no direct translation of wabi-sabi into English. That’s because a wabi-sabi way of seeing the world is quite different from the way we typically see things in the West, especially when it comes to expressions of beauty.

wabi sabi dried sun flower

wabi sabi old barn

wabi sabi

wabi sabi dried flowerIt’s easy to forget ideas of beauty aren’t universal. In the West we lean toward Greek ideas about beauty, which focus on perfection – symmetry and proportion, glossiness, newness and freshness. Wabi-sabi shifts the balance away from perfection in favour of authenticity.

Wabi-sabi is a mind set, a way of seeing things but it’s also expressed in certain physical characteristics. Things earthy, modest, organic, rustic, simple, and things that bear the mark of time because they have been so well cared for are all beautiful and all very wabi-sabi.

wabi sabi aged utensils

wabi sabi

wabi sabi old church

wabi sabi

wabi sabi weathered basket

It helps to know wabi-sabi started out as separate terms.

In the 8th century sabi appeared in Japanese poetry and meant the beauty of things withered. Sabi celebrates the toll living takes on everything, and is expressed in the graceful aging of objects in nature as well as things made by hand from materials like wood, wool, clay and cotton. Autumn leaves, a fading flower, aged utensils and weathered wood are considered beautiful because they are authentic. At its core, sabi is about flux and the limited mortality of all things.

Wabi emerged in the 15th century as a reaction to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which was lavish, expensive and a means to show off wealth. The ceremonies mostly involved the ruling class and were extravagant affairs. Tea houses were gaudy and expensive imported goods were used. The wabi way of tea is the opposite; humble, quiet, and simple. Beauty exists in the modest and imperfect. Tea is served in locally fired bowls. Decor consists of bamboo and fresh flowers in weathered baskets. Hospitality, not pretension, is what counts.

wabi sabi

wabi sabi fading peony

wabi sabi

wabi sabi dried flowers

Now wabi and sabi are combined, interchangeable and shorthand for finding beauty in the imperfections of life and peacefully accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay. Wabi-sabi is often summed up in three truths:

nothing lasts,

nothing is finished,

nothing is perfect.

Maybe you find wabi-sabi too gloomy and grim a concept to adopt. Or maybe you’re like me and find it unshakable.

I see value in viewing life through a wabi-sabi lens. It’s a way of engaging with life that, although bittersweet, puts me at ease. Accepting life as imperfect, unfinished and transient actually feels quite freeing.

Yellow roses and a three-legged cat

 

yellow roses

yellow roses

yellow roses

yellow roses

yellow roses

yellow roses

Capturing the beauty of yellow roses as they fade helped me tap into peace and calm, which I really needed these past few weeks.

I was distressed about one of our cats; Archie wasn’t doing well and I feared the worst.

We adopted Archie from the Humane Society ten years ago. He’s such a lovely animal, terribly handsome with a most peaceful deposition. It’s an understatement to say we’re attached to him.

He’s our therapy cat. Anyone could benefit from being around him (except those allergic, perhaps). You look into his gorgeous green eyes, stroke his soft beautifully patterned fur, hear his roaring purr and you feel better.

Imagine our grief when we learned of a growing and painful bone tumour in one of his hind legs.

Amputation was recommended. It was expensive but it would put an end to Archie’s pain, which was growing increasingly hard to manage, even with heavy painkillers. It would definitely prolong his life. But a life with three legs? Was it the right thing to do?

Something the vet said put us at ease: a cat doesn’t look backwards to when it had four legs, it moves forward and adapts.

It’s been almost three weeks since his surgery. His recovery is a wonderful thing to assist and witness. Being kind and tender has been the trend around here. I’m touched to see those qualities shine in my husband and kids.

He slept a great deal the first week but now he’s more alert. We can tell by his ears – super perky! He gets out of his heated bed to eat and use the litter. His stitches are out and he doesn’t have to wear the dreaded cone of shame anymore, thank goodness. He even manages going down the stairs on his own. And he grooms himself! It’s a good sign because it suggests he’s not depressed.

Further on in his recovery, when his wound has healed and his fur has grown back in, I’ll post a video or two.

Archie’s going to get along just fine with three legs instead of four and that makes us positively giddy with happiness.

hind leg amputation cat

hind leg amputation cat

hind leg amputation cat

hind leg amputation cat

hind leg amputation cat

hind leg amputation cat

yellow roses

yellow roses

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coaxing paperwhite bulbs: an aura of spring in the dead of winter

coaxing paperwhite bulbs

With very little coaxing paperwhite bulbs will reward you with clusters of fragrant blooms in as little as four weeks. All you need is a container, a holding medium and water.

Soil is not necessary; paperwhites will happily grow anchored in either decorative stone, glass, pebbles or gravel.

paperwhite bulbs

paperwhite bulbs

planting paperwhite bulbs

I started my paperwhite bulbs in mid December, too late for Christmas blooms but perfect timing for flowers in mid to late January.

I chose white pots that belonged to my mother and small river stones for anchoring the bulbs. I decorated the top with moss.

The grande finale is obviously when delicate little white trumpets appear and release their characteristic heady scent. But I get great pleasure out of tracking the paperwhites’ growth until they flower. This poem sums it up perfectly.

coaxing paperwhite bulbs

paperwhite bulbs

coaxing paperwhite bulbs

Next year I’ll try something suggested by researchers at Cornell University: to keep paperwhites from growing too tall and spindly, and to prevent droop I’ll add a splash of gin (almost any hard liquor will do) to the water. It supposedly shortens the stems, lowers the center of gravity and prevents paperwhites from getting top heavy.

Here are guidelines on how to coax paperwhite bulbs. Best growing time is between October and January.

  • Place a layer of stones or glass to a depth of about 2 inches in a small vase or about 4 inches in a larger vase.
  • Place a layer of paperwhite bulbs close to each other, roots facing down.
  • Put a few stones or pebbles around and between the bulbs to anchor them. Leave the tops of the bulbs exposed.
  • Add water to just below the base of the bulbs. If the base sits in water, it will rot. If you are using a pottery vase, use your finger to measure the water level. Replenish when water level falls.
  • Put in a cool and dimly lit or dark place for one to two weeks or until roots have begun to take hold and green shoots emerge. Then move the pot to a bright spot.
  • Rotate the pot regularly to encourage even growth.
  • Four to six weeks later paperwhites should bloom, longer if in a room with less light.
  • After your paperwhites have finished blooming, gently pull the plants from the holding medium and toss them in the compost as they won’t flower again.
  • Wash and dry the stones and the container for future use.

paperwhites

paperwhites

This and that

wreath in window

Advice on how to be a good blogger often suggests your posts be timely; write about something in the social consciousness. For example, the Holidays are fast approaching. Now’s the time to inspire readers with gift giving ideas, a seasonal recipe or instructions on how to make your own gift wrap.

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for the Holidays is in the very early stages. I’m still seeking inspiration and slowly finding it here and there. While I conjure up more enthusiasm I’ll share with you five things that caught my attention lately:

1.this juice

carrot, oange and ginger juice

because it’s an elixir when I’m feeling less than vital – 3 carrots, 1 orange, 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger.

2.these candles

bees wax candles

because I love the smell of bees wax and how it burns.

3.these wee poinsettias

tiny poinsettia

because they’re precious and I’ve no space for bigger versions.

4.this food waste bag

saving eggshells for the garden

because it’s perfect for storing egg shells for the garden.

5.these shingles

turquoise peeling paint

because they inspire me to embrace imperfection.

 

Noticed elsewhere:

favourite colour palette lately
this is sure to kick start my Holiday spirit

Flowers in the home elevate mood

carnations, flowers in the home to elevate mood

I received much-needed emotional support this past week from photographing a bunch of grocery store carnations.

Displaying them about the house helped ensure my whole family reaped their mood-elevating benefits, too.

Handling each flower, cutting the stems and immersing them in water, and arranging them to be photographed draws my attention to colour, texture and pattern, to the softness of the petals and the particular green of the leaves and stems. It helps me recognize the beauty of flowers, which opens my heart to feelings of joy and love.

orange and pink carnations

orange and pink carnations

fkowers in the home to elevate mood

flowers in the home to elevate mood

I bought three bunches of orange and pink carnations for $20.00. A bit of baby’s breath was mixed in each bunch.

I like to break up the flowers and arrange them in separate vessels of varying sizes.

Place your bouquets in rooms where you spend the most time, and in areas where everyone can see them and benefit from their beauty.

Seeing them first thing in the morning is important since they help set your mood.

The kitchen is an excellent spot since it’s where we tend to gather before we start our day. Plus it’s most convenient room to change the water!

flowers elevate mood in the home

flowers elevate mood in the home

flowers elevate mood in the home

carnations, flowers in the home to elevate mood

flowers in the home to elevate mood

carnations, flowers in the home to elevate mood

 

Pink and orange carnations; flowers for the bereaved

 

pink and orange carnations

 

Michael leunig, selling violets, flowers heal

See that character selling violets? That’s me.

I’m not so naive to think looking at photos of flowers can repair the blow to the spirit you might be experiencing today, as the results of the US election sink in. Still, I offer you these pink and orange carnations, styled specifically with you in my mind.

Flowers to comfort the bereaved.

xo

pink and orange carnations
carnations
pink and orange carnations
pink and orange carnations
pink and orange carnations

Air drying chamomile, mint and sage

 

dried chamomile, tea

November arrived and I’m giving myself a pat on the back for getting the garden to bed before things freeze up.

Potted hostas are in the garage covered with a blanket. Pots of mint and catnip are safe in the ground until I retrieve them in the spring.

I hate to waste so I gathered the last of the chamomile, mint and sage, and I’m air drying them.

Air drying takes longer than using an oven or dehydrator, but it’s an easier method for preserving fresh herbs. Plus air drying means the oils in the leaves (wherein the flavour lies) aren’t depleted and you get more pungent herbs.

air drying herbs, chamomile

air drying herbs, chamomile

Any herbs still growing in your garden? Harvest them now and air dry them before it’s too late.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Remove only the healthiest blossoms and branches.
  • Lay chamomile flowers in a single layer on a flat surface and store in a container once thoroughly dry.

drying herbs from the garden, sage

air drying herbs, mint

bundle of sage for air drying

air drying herbs, sage

  • Cut mint and sage branches, give them a good shake and remove any discoloured or damaged leaves. Rinse in cool water and pat dry with a clean towel.
  • You can strip the leaves from the stalk and allow them to dry individually, laid flat on a clean towel.
  • Or, bundle four to six branches together, securely tie, and hang in an area free of dust, moisture and direct sunlight, with plenty of air circulation.
  • Hang undisturbed for 1 to 3 weeks. Bundles shrink as they dry so check every so often to ensure branches are secure and not slipping.

air drying herbs

air drying herbs, mint

 

dried mint leaves

  • You can also place bundles inside brown paper bags and hang to dry if dust poses a problem. Make sure to punch a few holes in the bag for good air circulation.
  • When leaves crumble between your fingers your herbs are ready to be taken down and stripped from the branch.
  • If using the bag method vigorously shake the bag and a give it a few squeezes. The bag is great as it catches all the dried leaves.
  • Store herbs in a tightly lidded container.

dried chamomile, tea

Beat the winter blues; visit a greenhouse

government of canada tropical greenhouse

I think I felt my psychological reaction to winter shift from acceptance to slight dread.

In preparation for the inevitable, I’m reviewing my list of ways to stay cozy and beat the winter blues.

Other than the usual items – dietary strategies, steam showers, naps, extra layers of blankets and clothing, etc – I’ve added to the list a visit to the Government of Canada Tropical Greenhouse.

A greenhouse, I recently experienced, is both a physical and psychological oasis in the dead of winter.

For starters, it provides you with a potent plant fix. Plants are proven mood enhancers and this heritage greenhouse houses more than 500 lush tropical varieties.

The building itself is a sight to behold. It’s a soaring web-like structure made almost entirely of glass and metal, a seemingly too thin separation from the realities of a harsh winter day. Yet inside you’re guaranteed the air is warm and humid. You can ditch your winter duds, close your eyes and be momentarily transported to somewhere tropical.

Here’s hoping there’s a greenhouse somewhere near you.

P.S. Planning your garden for next summer is another good way to get a psychological lift during the doldrum days of winter. Would you like some of my marigold seeds?

government of canada tropical greenhouse

government of canada tropical greenhouse

government of canada tropical greenhouse

government of canada tropical greenhouse

government of canada tropical greenhouse

government of canada tropical greenhouse

government of canada tropical greenhouse

government of canada tropical greenhouse

government of canada tropical greenhouse

government of canada tropical greenhouse

Marigold, the perfect fall flower plus a giveaway

 

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

It’s October and, while most of the garden is shades of solid greens, the marigolds are multi-shades of vibrant yellows, reds and oranges in stunning single and bi-colour patterns. In this growing zone marigolds start blooming in late June or early July and by the fall are really (as Beyonce might say) feeling themselves.

Marigolds are the perfect fall flower for colour palette alone but also because they thrive in spite of chilly temperatures and shorter daylight hours.

Before the first hard frost hits I’m cutting marigolds for vases and bringing inside potted marigolds so I can enjoy them for longer.

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

My very first plantings of marigolds were store bought but now I only plant from harvested seeds.

It was never my intention to harvest marigold seeds. It’s the blooms, at the height of their beauty, I can’t resist and I collect them by the basket full. I discovered the more I pluck, the more and more marigold blossoms produced. Magic!

October and while most of the garden is different shades of solid greens, the marigolds are multi-shades of vibrant yellows, reds and oranges in stunning single and bi-colour patterns. They start blooming in June and by the fall, at least in this growing zone, are really (as Beyonce might say) feeling themselves . Marigolds are the perfect fall flower for their colour palette alone, but also because they thrive in spite of this season's chilly temperatures and shorter days. The first hard frost hasn't hit this region yet and before it does, I'm bringing the potted marigolds inside so I can enjoy them just a little longer.

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

Inside the house I watch them dry and change colours – to mustard yellows, burnt oranges and burgundies. Then I discover seeds inside the pod, at the base of the blossom.

Now I always save the seeds. Saving seeds for planting draws my attention to how great nature is. It’s a comforting micro ritual – harvesting, sowing, planting, and enjoying marigold blooms.

dried marigold petals

dried marigolds

dried marigold petals

It’s trial, error and learning as I go. I read you only get viable seeds if you let them ripen on the plant before you harvest. Ooops! I didn’t know and I was plucking blooms long before they died on the plant.

However, experience tells me you can harvest early as long as you allow the plucked flowers to dry and you leave the seeds undisturbed to ripen in the pod. I’ve had very good luck growing seeds harvested this way. Still, I always assume not every seed will grow and I plant them extra thick. Lord knows I have plenty!

Would you like some marigold seeds?

marigold seeds

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

marigolds are the perfect fall flower

Type your name in the comment section and I will randomly draw five names and send you each a packet of seeds. Open to readers everywhere!

I hope you grow some marigolds and enjoy them as much as I do.

One final note: marigolds are not only the perfect fall flower but wonderful companion plants for your garden. They balance the garden’s ecosystem by repelling harmful insect pests like aphids and white flies. Even their roots are at work underground releasing into the soil thiopene, a chemical that repels harmful nematodes.

marigold seeds

dscf3582

 

This and that

suzanne-mccarthy.com

Hello readers. If you haven’t already discovered it yourself, I added a new page to my blog titled “Inspiration.” It’s a list of links to lead you to blogs I love. Who knows! Maybe you’ll find inspiration there, too.

Here are five things that caught my attention lately:

1. these hazelnuts

Porello hazelnuts

because they taste so fresh and good and a thoughtful friend recently gifted me two packages (from Italy.) I’m already on the second bag.

2. these crab apples

crab apples

because another thoughtful friend invited me to pick them from her glorious backyard tree.

3. this crabapple jelly

crabapple jelly

because I love food gifts (see items 1 and 2) and I will never get around to making my own. What about that colour!

4. this palo santo wood

palo santo

because this old house can smell musty sometimes and nothing refreshes it better, faster.

5. these marigolds

marigolds

because removing blooms keeps plants producing more and more. Plus the orange and yellows leave me spellbound.

Noticed elsewhere:

we all live in different ways in different places, according to where we are in time.

I always want to know what she thinks.

school teachers take note! using newspaper text to write a blackout poem.

this house has me feeling all the feels.

party decoration goals

such a beautiful effect