Fewer books, less cooking, less writing, and a lot more birding, walking, and other outdoor-related activity characterized April.
Books. I read 16 books in April, nearly evenly divided between nonfiction (7) and fiction (6), plus three books of poetry. My favorite book of the month was In My Father’s Garden: A Daughter’s Search for a Spiritual Life, by Kim Chernin. This is another book that’s been on my shelves for awhile (purchased in May of 2003) that I picked up for the month’s reading theme (family members). I love that the reading theme leads me to these forgotten gems; it’s so easy to focus only on the most recent acquisitions. (Case in point—I was putting away our April purchases and May Sarton’s Recovering, which I found in the dollar bin at Half Price Books, did not make it to the shelf and is now my primary nonfiction.)
Chernin is struggling to find a spiritual path. She was raised in a Marxist household, focused on training “a very precise, skeptical mind. With a mind of this type, it would not be easy to wander about in search of a god.” But wander she does and I loved where it took her.
The divine is not quite loud enough for us, not sufficiently garish to attract our notice. It moves with muffled footsteps in and out of the very world we inhabit, leaving traces of subtle disorder, a fine brushwork of disappearing acts for us to dust away as we go about to set our house in order.
And a few pages later, “It must be possible to love the human and seek the divine, to be deeply attached to the earth and all its entanglements and still be trotting along on a spiritual course.”
Of the fiction, my favorite was The Cruelest Month, by Louise Penny. I think part of the reason that I liked it so much is that I read most of it on that really icky snowy/rainy day we had, the quintessential cruelest day. This is the third book in this mystery series set in a town not far from Montreal, Quebec. If you haven’t discovered Louise Penny and you like mysteries, I highly recommend this series. The first is Still Life.
Cooking. I made only one new thing in April, a barley bake. Even though I added more spices than it called for (none), it was still bland. When things are fairly new to me (e.g., barley), I tend to stick fairly close to the recipe. So while I added parsnips and carrots and onions (what isn’t improved by these three?), I didn’t add much in the way of spices (just a little rosemary and thyme) and that was a big mistake. And next time I will use more of a tomato base rather than a vegetable broth base.
Other than that, I just did the tried-and-true: porcupine meatballs, chili, meatloaf, corn pudding, and Minnesota goulash. I expect May will be more of the same. I am obsessed with birds and nature at this time of year. One thing I’ve started to do is experiment with bulk cooking. This will be especially handy in the summer, when the last thing you want to do is turn on the oven.
Herbs. My most exciting find of April was The Medicine Tree, a store that sells bulk herbs and essential oils, all organic, and right in my neighborhood. It is closer than my co-op (I can easily ride my bike there), the prices are a bit better, and they have a huge selection—everything I could have dreamed of and many things I’ve never even heard of. And, if there’s something you want that they don’t have, they will order it for you. I’ve been there twice now, and they don’t mind at all if you browse as long as you like. Open jars and smell things. Ask questions. And they offer classes! I can’t believe I have this great resource practically in my back yard. I am thrilled!
Also in the herbal realm I have finally decanted my lavender oil, the turmeric oil, and the calendula/rosemary (with a dash of turmeric) oil. And I’ve started both a calendula oil (just calendula this time) and a calendula tincture. I will leave both to macerate for several weeks, shaking daily (or so).
I’m watching my lawn daily for the first sign of dandelion, but no luck yet. This is the first year I’ve ever looked forward to dandelion. I have a formula for a dandelion bar (using dandelion flowers—how perfect is that, to run out and pick them before they have a chance to go to seed). First you make a dandelion oil, then add shea butter and beeswax, and voilà! Supposed to be great for dry and cracked skin and I am thinking it will be great for cracked fingernails as well.
Other. The haiku challenge continues (sixth month!) and I wrote seven blog posts in April. I will admit I got quite behind in the haiku (I almost always write the highlights of the day but sometimes the haiku itself is elusive) and found myself more than once writing haiku back for several days. I blame the birds.
I’ve been a bit crazy about birding this month (the rain of the last few days slowed me down and I actually cleaned the kitchen and made some food) and have gone out almost every day when it hasn’t been raining or snowing. Most often I go to the river. I love exploring the terrain and going a little further afield each time. I saw three snipe there (I surprised one and it almost flew into me), Hermit and Swainson’s Thrushes, and tons of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets and Yellow-Rumped Warblers. I discovered some bluebells (flowers), and various unknown kinds of bushes are starting to bud.
April also saw my first morning coffee on the front porch and the first outdoor day in a T-shirt. My little forsythia (a gift from our neighbor last spring) overwintered well and is in full flower (as full as a 12-inch forsythia gets). Lilies are coming up, and the rhubarb is six inches high.
I finally brought my bike in to The Hub, and it is all tuned and ready to go, for less than $100. I’m happy as a cat about that, since it had two flat tires and hadn’t been ridden in 10 years. I thought it was a bit of a wreck. Also, since April is tax month, we did our taxes (yes, we still do them ourselves), and then we refinanced the house. (These two events are unrelated except they both happened in April.)
After months of dark and cold, life is starting to kick again. I love this time of year.
Happy May Day!