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.



Tidying up

tidying up space clearing

We get good mileage out of tidying up our homes in early December until early January. It’s a natural time to clean up to make room for invited guests and for decorations such as the Christmas tree.

Things get moved here to there and temporarily stored away to make room for new items, and it gets us thinking about our homes and the things we own. In this 1500 square foot house we’re (practically ) five grown ups, so this is a regular necessity.

tidying up space clearing

It happens in January when we remove the decorations, and look for space and a place to put new things. It’s a natural time for renewal and revaluation.

If I had New year’s intention it might be this: to strive for fullness with an impulse toward simplicity. I like how Leonard Koren puts it: “To pare down to the essence without removing the poetry.” Luckily, life provides opportunities to practice this.

tidying up space clearing

I’ve had plenty practice sorting essential items from useless ones; before we settled into this home we moved apartments four times in seven years. Not to even mention the several apartments I moved in and out of before we married.

Several summers ago, the five of us lived comfortably in a small apartment without our belongings for an entire month. After we returned home I looked around at what we owned and thought, “If we moved tomorrow would we take it with us?” I then packed several bags for the Goodwill.

tidyng up space clearing

Clearing my father’s home of his belongings was eye-opening and helped me reconsider my attachments to things, even the sentimental. With it came the comforting realization that you can have vivid memories without relics to conjure them.

When I was four our home burned to the ground and we lost everything. Even catastrophe offers an indelible moment; it was stuff and stuff is replaceable.


Fraser fir in da house!

christmas tree lights reflection

I don’t recall a christmas tree ever giving me this much pleasure.

In an effort to fake it till you make it we got our tree earlier than usual. My enthusiasm for Christmas was low and I thought bringing greenery into our home ASAP might help.

We bought the tree, a Fraser Fir, and I cleared a spot for it in the living room on the main floor, near the front door at the bottom of the stairs. We strung it with lights and there it stood for a week or so until a few teenagers and twenty somethings dressed it with a mish mash of ornaments and bulbs of various shades of blue.

frasrer fir christmas tree

fraser fir christmas tree

christmas tree ornaments

christmas tree ornament

If Christmas has a classic smell then the scent of evergreens is high on the list.

This tree is especially aromatic. Its uplifting scent greets your nose each time entering the house and when descending from bedrooms to the main floor first thing in the morning.

Not only is this tree fragrant and beautiful. Turns out we also chose put it in an auspicious location. One evening at dinner, I could see the tree in four different spots from where I was sitting, its image reflected off windows and mirror.

christmas lights reflections

christmas tree reflection

christmas tree

christmas greenery

Oven roasted pecans with maple syrup

oven raosted pecans

I bought raw grocery store pecans recently. Guests were arriving and I wanted something to nibble with our wine.

Once home, I discovered the pecans were ho hum both in texture and in taste; they were a chore to chew and rather bland.

Turning on the oven and roasting them transformed tasteless raw pecans into something remarkable, sophisticated and complex.

oven raosted pecans

oven raosted pecans

Roasting nuts in the oven is a treat for all the senses. It deepens the flavour of nuts. The texture gets delightfully crisper and they turn a beautiful darker shade. You might even hear them crackle as the bake. Your home will smell wonderfully fragrant, too.

If you serve to guests before completely cool, they become a tactile pleasure. “Hmmm, these nuts are still warm,” murmured one guest.

oven roasted nuts

oven raosted pecans

oven roasted nuts

Roast nuts plain or flavour them how you prefer. I gave mine a good splash of maple syrup along with sea salt and lots of pepper.

The thing to keep in mind when roasting nuts is they can go from not done to ready in a nano second. Check them, on and off, and move them around to ensure even roasting, especially if your oven has hot spots. Also, the nuts at the edges of the baking pan can brown sooner than the nuts in the middle.

These are great as a companion to drinks before dinner or as a snack. A small jar would be a great gift to bring the host of a party. They’re also great in a salad.


Oven Roasted Pecans with Maple Syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F or 325 degrees F if your oven runs hot.

Place pecans in a bowl. Drizzle with maple syrup, add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss well.

Spread pecans in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. I line sheet with parchment.

Place in oven.

Check after 5 minutes, stir or redistribute the nuts and continue roasting.

Check the nuts again after 3 to 5 minutes.

You know they’re done when there is a nutty smell in the air and the nuts are slightly darker.

Return to the oven if needed and check again after another 3 minutes.

Nuts rarely take longer than 15 minutes to roast, usually closer to 8 to 12 minutes.

oven roasted nuts


Inspiration found; an ornament exchange party

food, ornament exchange party

Next week we’re hosting an office party of 30 people in our home. I know what has to be done but I need inspiration.

One snowy evening last week I bundled up and headed a few blocks away for an ornament exchange party at Cindy’s. Inspiration found.

Every year in early December for the last ten years Cindy’s been welcoming about 20 neighbourhood moms into her home. I wrote about it here and here.

Having a camera makes you pay close attention to elements that make any gathering, not only a holiday gathering, a pleasure to attend – good lighting, good company, delicious food and drinks, a host enjoying herself. Comfort and joy.

outdoor christmas decorations, porch

Holiday cheer spills out of Cindy’s home and onto the porch.

simple decorating for the holidays

ornament exchange party

Welcomed, warm and cozy inside. Fire, lots of greenery, ornaments, candles and lights.

hosting a holiday party

holiday drink, cranberry juice and champagne

cranberry juice and champagne

hosting a holiday party, special drink

Offerings of wine, fizzy water, and a special drink – cranberry juice and champagne plus naughty drink markers.

food at ornament exchange party

food, ornament exchange party


cheese tray, ornament exchange party

vegetable tray, ornament exchange party

Savory eats are served from the beautiful walnut topped island in the kitchen – pickled this and that, canapes, delicious cheeses, fresh figs, grapes, nuts, crackers and an inspired vegetable tray.

dining room, ornament exchange party

dining room, ornament exchange party

dessert table, ornament exchange party

Desserts are served in the dining room. Some are sneaked away in napkins for children’s lunches the next day. Cindy doesn’t mind.

ornament exchange party

ornament exchange party

We end the evening with the ornament exchange. It’s an opportunity to give and receive with added elements of randomness and surprise – the drawing of the numbers from Cindy’s hat and then deciding which wrapped ornament to choose from under the tree, not knowing what’s inside.

ornament exchange party

ornament exchange party

ornament exchange party

ornament exchange party

This and that

wreath in window

Here are 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.


pink and orange 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