Reading, Grumbling, and Waiting for Spring

Ah yes. Spring. The season of new life, soft breezes, tiny leaves unfurling, lambs gambolling in the greening fields. Where, oh where, might I find this kind of spring, my friends? Not here. Here it’s windy and cold. In fact, although it’s sunny today, it’s only eight degrees and the river is running backwards against the current because the wind is so strong. Upstream doesn’t mean a thing this time of year. Even the geese and ducks are confused, so they all buggered off to a field somewhere. Still “mustn’t grumble,” as Inspector Thursday is so fond of saying in Endeavour, one of our favourite mystery series.

I know I mustn’t grumble, but I do. Even though there are some signs of spring. The grass has begun to turn green, and some of our spring flowers are blooming. The ones we planted, and the other ones we love to see pop up wherever they can. There’s a patch of wild purple and white violets on some muddy ground under a tree on the edge of our property. And then there are these sweeties.

Mother nature is determined.

Hubby has been itching to get into his garden. He overwintered dahlias and geraniums and they are now coming along nicely in pots in our sun room. He’s tilled the garden and even begun to plant his peas. But the rest of the gardening will begin once the weather is warmer and we buy our bedding plants.

Hubby’s current approach to gardening is a change from the old days when he grew everything from seed. He started in the winter, with seeds planted in our basement under lights, then tiny seedlings moved up to the sun room or out to his homemade greenhouse which was equipped with lights and even a heater.

Then of course he would go away for his first fishing trip of the year. Five days in the first week of May when he and his buddies paddled and portaged their canoes, slept on the ground, and fished their little hearts out, battling cold and wind and a couple of times even snow. Fine for them to have all the fun, I thought. I was stuck at home taking care of Hubby’s fragile plants, and knowing that if I killed them I’d be in big trouble.

I’m serious. I had an instruction list as long as my arm which I followed to the letter. At what temperature to open the greenhouse, when to close it and put on the lights at night, when to turn on the heater. How to know if I needed to water. I told you, didn’t I, that I am not a natural gardener? And most importantly the admonition that I needed to keep an eye not only on the weather, but also on the temperatures inside the greenhouse. Because on a sunny day, even if it was still cool, the sun could fry all those precious green things.

I was assiduous in my gentle care of those darned plants. I checked the weather multiple times a day, checked the temperature in the greenhouse. Stuck my fingers in pots. Opened and closed the greenhouse. Fretted. I tell you, the stress was huge.

Hubby’s dahlia’s and geraniums this year.

I still shiver over the memory of the year when everything had been going swimmingly, and on Saturday evening I carefully closed up the greenhouse and went to stay at my sister’s for the night. I’d be home in lots of time in the morning. But we lingered over tea and toast on Sunday morning, and I didn’t leave her house until almost 11:00. I was halfway home when I realized that I’d forgotten about the plants. And all during that sunny, warm morning Hubby’s precious plants had been locked in the probably-by-now-sweltering greenhouse. Gad. I put my foot down. I cannot believe that I didn’t get a speeding ticket. When I arrived home, the spindly seedlings were flopped over the edges of their pots, looking forlorn. I opened the greenhouse, gave the plants some water. And prayed. Oh, how I prayed.

But by the next day, the day of Hubby’s homecoming, the plants had recovered. I decided that I would not confess my incompetence to him. Of course the minute he got out of the truck, grinning, face tanned and wind- burnt, brandishing his catch… I did just that. He laughed. “Don’t worry, Suz. Those plants are much hardier than you think.”

What!? For a couple of minutes anger followed relief. Did he not know how literally I’d taken the myriad of instructions? How I’d fretted, making multiple trips to the greenhouse all day, even at night to see if it was cold enough to turn on the light, or the heater? Risked life and limb to get home to rescue them from sunstroke? Oh, the drama. I tell you I used to dread those spring fishing trips of his.

I’m happy that spring is less fraught these days. Or relatively less fraught. Ha. I mean, it did snow the day after I turned my closet. But other than wishing it would warm up, I’ve not much to grumble about. I’ve been reading some wonderful books. That was what I started to write about when I sat down this morning, but I was sidetracked by spring.

I reread Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac while I was in New Brunswick visiting my mum. I’d forgotten how much I love that book. But I wrote all about it in my last book post so I won’t go on. And while I was at home, and because I was reading Brookner, I decided to listen again to Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women on Audible. I cannot say how much I love to listen to my favourite books after I’ve read them. Especially if the narrator is good. And Jane Entwistle is a wonderful narrator. I always find that listening to someone else read a favourite book, and read it well, highlights bits of the book I have overlooked. Entwistle obviously “gets” Barbara Pym, and thus we see (or hear) more clearly Pym’s gentle humour.

Then I devoured the novel Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason. I simply loved it. Given my avoidance of depressing books lately and the fact that Sorrow and Bliss is primarily about depression and mental illness, this is surprising to me. But it’s one of the most wonderful books I’ve read in a long time. Sorrow and Bliss is filled with chaos, love, sadness, small unspeakable cruelties, great kindness, chirpy remarks, witty texts and emojis between Martha, the main character, and her sister Ingrid, relationship breakdown, relationship rebuilding, and so many funny and touching moments that I cannot even begin to describe. You just have to read it yourself.

Sorrow and Bliss reminded me at times of Sylvia’s Plath’s The Bell Jar in its unflinching treatment of mental illness, and of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love in its witty depiction of love and hate and chaos in a family. I originally signed it out of the library, but then I ordered my own copy of the book so I can dip into it again and again whenever I want.

I began this post on Friday morning. It’s now early Saturday evening. Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging. But I have a few minutes before dinner to try to finish this post.

I take back everything I said yesterday about spring. All my grumbling. Today dawned sunny and warm… with no wind. I spent the afternoon with old friends in the backyard of another old friend celebrating her 80th birthday. Vera and I taught together back in the eighties when I was just starting my career. Vera is Ukrainian and her party kicked off with a traditional Ukrainian vodka toast. I admit that I was unable to toss my drink back in one go like Vera. Maybe when I’m eighty I’ll be able to do that. Ha. Then we ate and yakked all afternoon in the sunshine. Vera makes the best perogies. I won’t reveal how many I ate. It was a wonderful afternoon. And so good to see many people with whom I started my career, and who have over the years begun to feel like family.

The downside to all this toasting and fun is I did not have time to finish my blog post. And I did want to tell you about the other book I devoured in the last week. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. Donoghue’s book is set in Dublin during the 1918 flu pandemic. Thus many elements of the setting seem eerily familiar: “As far as I could tell, the whole world was a machine grinding to a halt. Across the globe, in hundreds of languages, signs were going up urging people to cover their coughs.”

Much of the plot takes place in a hospital in Dublin, in a tiny, hastily constructed maternity ward for flu patients who are about to give birth. Julia, the main character works there as a nurse and midwife. Donoghue does not pull any punches in her description of the cruel fate of many, many women in Dublin at the time. Women, as Wendy Smith says in her review in The Washington Post, “whose lives are scarred by poverty and too many pregnancies in a society that proclaims “She doesn’t love him unless she gives him twelve.”

Donoghue touches on many themes in her novel. Perhaps too many in my opinion: women’s rights, women’s health issues, Irish nationalism, poverty, the control of the church over the poor, homosexuality. But the enormous strain that the flu pandemic puts on hospitals struggling to provide good health care to poor women would have been enough, I think. Somehow she dilutes the importance of the other issues by trying to do too much in her novel.

Still, I could not put his book down. Donoghue’s depiction of a few short, but frenetic, exhausting, and ultimately tragic days in the Women’s Maternity/Fever Ward is gripping. And even though I think this is basically a flawed book, I’d still recommend it.

Back in the real, non-fiction world, our lovely next door neighbours have just had their first child. A sweet little boy, born today. And it felt very odd to be waiting for news of the new next-door baby, and at the same time reading Emma Donoghue’s book, with all its gritty, visceral detail of the travails of giving birth in 1918. Really, The Pull of the Stars is worth a read if only to make us grateful that times have changed.

So that’s what I’ve been doing this past week, my friends. Reading, waiting for spring. Waiting for that new baby. And it seems as if mother nature has delivered on several counts today. So I guess I will have to stop grumbling.

P.S.. The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will make a small commission which helps to pay for the blog.


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30 thoughts on “Reading, Grumbling, and Waiting for Spring”

  1. Wendy in York

    We have had sunny , dry , chilly weather here recently but today is soft rain which we need for the garden . It smells lovely & fresh this morning . I’m sorry to hear about your traumatic garden experiences , it’s supposed to be therapeutic but not for you obviously 😃 I never had the patience for seeds & seedlings & prefer pulling bits off current plants to set off others . We don’t do bedding plants at all now . It’s all shrubs & perennials which get hacked at now & again . I guess bedding plants work well in your short , sharp summers & give lots of colour .
    Books I’ve enjoyed recently were “ Diamond & the Eye “ the latest Peter Lovesey & Anne Tyler’s “ French Braid “ – even though I couldn’t warm to the matriarch of the family . Perhaps I wasn’t supposed to . I listened to a podcast of her being interviewed & she said Mary Lawson was her favourite writer along with Eudora Welty . So I’ve got “The Golden Apples “ ready on my kindle now . Then there was “ The Wild Silence “ Raynor Winn’s follow up to “ The Salt Path “ , good but not as good .
    The BBC is televising Kate Atkinson’s “ Life After Life “. I’m not sure how it will work but I shall give it a try . I see she has a new book out “Signs of Gaiety” set in the 1920s which I’m really looking forward to .
    We used to say “ mustn’t grumble “ , my mum said it was the war that did it . It’s not used so much now – we just grumble & we seem to have plenty to grumble about ☹️

    1. I wanted to give my mom French Braid for her birthday, since she’s a big Anne Tyler fan, so I read it first myself. Completely agree about the matriarch.

    2. I love Peter Lovesey’s Peter Diamond books. Although I must say that Diamond and the Eye was not my favourite. That darned “Eye” was so frustrating. It’s interesting to me that Anne Tyler likes Mary Lawson. I love Mary Lawson’s books. I haven’t read Anne Tyler in a few years, although I as a devotee back in the day. Maybe I should give her another try.

  2. Beautiful stories,Sue! I hear you about the gardening and all the stress!
    Bravo for Stu!
    And about the books…..I’ve read Hotel du Lac,and I’ve realised that I’ve read it some thirty+ years ago  in croatian translation. I’m still comfort reading Monika Paniatowski series,but have found a new (to me) mystery author,too. C. W. Craven’s The Puppet Show is an excellent mystery (the winner of 2019 CWA Golden Dagger Award as well),and, I hope,the start  of reading new good series, featuring disgraced detective Washington Poe (yes,there are more similarities to our old friend :))and his brilliant (and a little socially awkward- I love her!) analyst-and a new friend (and what a friend!)- Tilly Bradshaw.

    1. I had not heard of M.W. Craven… I just looked him up and will try to get his books at the library. Thanks as ever for the recommendation. 🙂

  3. I’m currently reading “So Much For That” by Lionel Shriver. Highly recommend. And just finished rereading Mary Lawson’s “Crow Lake. I enjoy the prose of both authors, and their books draw me in from the first page (I find that I have little patience anymore for books or movies that don’t).
    While I do love your sartorial blog entries, I especially appreciate the ones such as this one in which you give a personalized account of life as it was/is/will be… your gripes, your struggles…your reality. And I think you are brave in being both honest and forthright.
    Incidentally, I recently spent about 3 weeks visiting family in Ottawa and found the wind and cool temps to be quite daunting for mid-spring.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Lynne. They are much appreciated. I love Mary Lawson too. So I will look for that Lionel Shriver book.

  4. Thank you for suggesting Hotel du Lac. I loved the book but wished that I had been reading an ebook to make researching meaning of words easier. My goodness…quite the vocabulary. Trying to stay away from depressing books isn’t easy. Our book club just read Pluck and Kit’s Law by Donna Morrissey. Maybe because the books take place in Newfoundland the depressing parts were more bearable somehow. If you like Sweetland by Michael Crummey, these books will also catch your interest.
    It’s still too cold to think about summer clothes for me but I worry when the heat comes, there will be little left to choose from. Summer is so short, I hate spending too much money on clothes. It is difficult to be comfortable and stylish at the same time.

  5. I read Hotel du Lac years ago and it was a beautiful book. Mitford’s Pursuit of Love was a book I read several years ago and we are watching the series with Lily James, Emily Mortimer did the screenplay and it’s really quite good.
    My husband loves growing his veggies from seed…since retiring he spends a good part of his day in the greenhouse and garden…10 degrees here yesterday and I wore layers under my anorak for a walk on the beach! Warmer temperatures are in the forecast and they can’t come too soon!
    We just need to be patient!!

    1. I enjoyed the newest adaptation of The Pursuit of Love, but not as much as the one before it. I didn’t find the Far character as believable.

  6. Based on your glowing review, I recently read, and loved, Hotel du Lac. Yesterday when I was at the library, I picked up another of her books, The Debut. I also picked up 4 other books, so the Brookner may have to wait a while. I recently read Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh. She is a new-to-me author and I have been dipping into her “back list.” I’ve enjoyed all that I’ve read thus far.
    Yes, Spring has been elusive in these parts also. Last week, one day, the high hit 80 F; a few days later it was barely 40 and windy. When I went for a walk, I longed for my hat and gloves. The hearty daffodils have come and gone and the azalea is budding. Spring is such a time of hope, hope for better days.

  7. I just clicked and purchased both Sorrow and Bliss and Pull of the Stars. I have been needing a good novel, and somehow, lately, all I have been drawn to is non-fiction. But I am intentionally trying to improve my sleep habits – with an app and an Apple watch, and I need something to do for 20 mins before sleep that doesn’t involve a screen!! So I hope these two choices work. I recently purchased Generation Dread – based on some reviews in Maclean’s magazine. I will keep you posted!

    1. I am not much of a non-fiction reader. Hope you like both those books, Nancy… although The Pull of the Stars may keep you awake. 🙂

  8. Interesting! My DD who lives in the UK gifted (I know…not a verb) me a book subscription to Mr. B’s Book Emporium (great name, no?) in Bath. And they sent me The Pull of the Stars as my first selection. It’s next up on my reading pile. Glad to hear you enjoyed it even if it crams in a bit too much! 🙂

  9. enjoyed your comment about home gardening. My husband used to be that way, now when the weatherman says we will have a hard freeze tomorrow,(We all used to get really excited about that in florida!) His attitude is-they live,… or they die! I’ll just get new ones. We still have a few new flowers getting ready to blossom, before the hot weather really moves in on us and then it is off to the mountains.I wish I had a friend like vera, but mine is in the north and she doesn’t like vodka!

    1. After I published that post Hubby reminded me of the year the lights and heater didn’t come on in the greenhouse, I blithely went to bed, and froze half of his crop. Oops.

  10. My uncle and aunt owned a commercial greenhouse for years. They grew everything from seed, including poinsettias. I remember them talking about opening and closing the top windows and constantly maintaining the proper temperature. So much work. When every box store and supermarket started carrying plants for less than their costs for growing them, they sold the property and it was turned into a parking lot for an adjacent church. Your blog sparked some good memories of visiting them and going home with a free plant.

    1. That’s one of the reasons Hubby stopped growing from seed. Too much work. Plus he can start the plants from bedding plants so much easier.

  11. I’ve been grumbling too, Sue. Spring has been so slow coming this year and with several false starts! Where would we be without good books? I’m going to check the library for the ones you’ve recommended.

  12. Please consider this a genuine invitation for you and hubby to enjoy a true Kentucky spring next April 2023. You all would enjoy a couple of days in Louisville, home of Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Kentucky Derby and every bourbon imaginable. We’d then travel to our family farm in western Kentucky, about an hour from Nashville. It would be a delightful jump start to spring in Ottawa. I’ve read your blog for years and know we’d all be compatible.

  13. I’m beginning to think the seasons are all to pot everywhere. Here in NZ it is supposed to be autumn with perhaps even a few wintery days but summer is clinging on like grim death. The leaves are dropping from the cherry trees and but the spring freesias and daffodils are pushing their way through the ground. Meanwhile the roses and dahlias are still flowering, having found another burst of energy. The gardenia is putting on a full show and I have had to hack back the geranium to give the gardenia some space. The azaleas are on their third round of flowering as is the Bird of Paradise. Crazy!
    Clothing is a bit the same so I haven’t even attempted the switch over. Compromise seems to be a pair of lightweight jeans and three quarter sleeved tee shirts with the occasional addition of a cardigan.
    Glad to hear you have been enjoying Endeavour on tv. I have loved the whole progression from Endeavour through Morse and onto to Lewis. Recently I have been rewatching Call the Midwife – a series set in Poplar, London just after WWII. A gentle, thoughtful programme despite portraying a rather grim side to life.
    I am looking forward to reading some of the book you and your blog friends have suggested. It is always good to have references from others.
    Hope spring will arrive in all its glory for you soon and that you cope with being left in charge of the plants again!

    1. Sounds like you are having every season at once, Kenzie. I love that whole series too: from Endeavour to Morse to Lewis. I find that the writers were very true to the books when they reached back and created Endeavour. Even down to Strange calling Morse “matey.”

  14. I was stressed out just reading about your greenhouse guardian efforts! It must be a relief to start from plants today. I don’t have room to start many things from seed. I was hoping to try a few tomato seeds this year, but haven’t started them. I don’t have the lights, nor a greenhouse, so starting them would have to be later, else they would just grow tall and flop over.
    I planted seeds for cold weather veggies a couple of weeks ago (kale, peas, Swiss chard) and something dug up the Swiss chard. I just purchased more seeds and will try again. The peas and kale are up.
    I am still working my way through Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name. Her books in the Neapolitan series are good, but not light and I am taking my time getting through them. I recently listened to two mysteries by Allison Brennan (Tell No Lies and The Third to Die) and two by Brian Freeman (The Deep, Deep Snow and The Ursulina).
    I hope that you have many more spring flowers by the time that you read this comment.

      1. I just finished listening to Heresy by Melissa Lenhardt and I recommend it. It’s the fictional story of group of women outlaws. Their outlawing begins after everything is stolen from them and they find a way to survive. The story covers a lot of topics (slavery, women’s rights – or lack of rights, etc.) and it has some very touching moments.

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