The Garden Continues to Call

Part II
It’s a sunny warm autumn day, one of those bright September days. Although I’m tired from fertilizing and weeding the privet hedge, and trimming some of the hebes yesterday, I remember clearly the first September 30th we spent here twenty-four years ago.
Compared to what we observe now – I have photographs – the shrubs appeared as tiny mounds in freshly tilled soil. There was a big space between each of the Alberta spruce trees that have survived mite infestation; presently they are so close together to have created an impenetrable hedge between driveway and lawn. The grass then was freshly laid rolls of sod.
We have a thorough and willing garden team now to do the heavy chores. One man employed a few hours each week used to accomplish what we needed to have done. Everything has grown so much even trimming the hedge is a big chore. Over the years we have continued to make changes. When an entire bank of hardy rose bushes became overgrown and difficult for anyone to get in to remove the grass and thistles, we pulled out the whole mass. Then we replanted with an array of purple and white heathers interspersed with yellow cedar. Now other than pulling a few of the invasive morning glory weeds and other weeds that travel, annual trimming care can be done efficiently with wide saws by our garden team.

2014 Phone Pix 072 These days I’m less willing to dig weeds, my husband too has trouble getting down on his knees to plant or pull. The lawn, vegetable garden and berry patch is still his responsibility. Regular massage therapy helps me, but for one who enjoys writing so much, even a left handed mouse is not the complete answer.
Fortunately when we built the house we chose to finish the full basement while work continued on the rest of the house. Once we had the occupancy permit we installed kitchen appliances in a one-bedroom suite down there. It was the first place we positioned furniture from a former rental unit. It became our cool retreat away from the continued pounding and painting ongoing above and outside.
The basement rooms continue to be a much cooler place to sleep on the hottest of summer days. Twenty-four years ago we agreed on a serious plan to remain living here through our mutually declining years and on into old age. Those days are approaching now, when we both notice aches and pains that were not with us before. Over the years the basement suite has been used by variety of single women – students and women separated from their significant others. It’s left empty now, having been refreshed, sound insulated and ready for the time we decide that having live in-home and yard help would be beneficial.
I continue to be determined to deadhead every flowering plant annually, as I’ve always done. If I need to find a willing young worker to “fine-tune” those rhodos to do it, so be it! We will remain living here, and our enjoyment of a well-tended garden is one of our primary pleasures. If the cost of living here includes having more paid help we’ll figure out a way. It is still a better solution than down-sizing or choosing a retirement residence where we could be separated. Besides, we need room for the grandchildren to visit.
I will have lunch with friends today, followed by a short massage and then a visit to my chiropractor. On any sunny day life is good.

Fully Breasted

This true story has troubled me for years, and finally I will write about it. I unearthed the notes a few days ago – thankful to have written them when it happened.

My first conference of International University Women, renamed Graduate Women International, was held in Gratz, Austria in 1998. When the conference ended I met, Verna, a cousin, at the airport, and together we took an extended bus tour of Austria. We visited all the best spots Austria has to offer, taking many photographs and enjoying ethnic meals as available. Food and photography were two interests we shared, so our trip went well.

Until, the tour bus provided a scheduled hour – long stop in a large park outside of Saltzburg. Our driver indicated we might want to explore pathways of the wooded acreage, and, if we chose, have a snack in the coffee shop beside the art gallery. I assume it was time for his break.

When time came to return to the bus we all settled in our seats once more. There was one seat unfilled; a woman was missing. We waited, and waited, for her to return. Thinking she was lost, some people went down different paths looking for her. Others sat stiffly in their seat, offering solutions to the driver. Finally, he called his company office. The police arrived. Because of the delay, they offered an unplanned tour-sponsored lunch. I had already enjoyed coffee and a delicious croissant there, so I wandered into the adjoining art gallery instead.

This is where my story gets spooky.

When I came back into the restaurant I borrowed paper from a lady on our tour, and using her husband’s pen, I wrote the notes that I found this week. Sitting in the restaurant, in the midst of the fiasco at Schloss Ambras, here is what I wrote:

“I’ve been in withdrawal for two days, having the greatest urge (need) to write, but without time or the opportunity to do so. Two nights ago, I had a dream that I can still remember clearly. Now I sit in the castle restaurant, waiting for lunch, while an adjacent room is filled with original paintings, signed Brigit Koss ‘98. This is unreal!

The dream began with a husband and his wife being presented to us, and others in a large group. The wife was entirely naked, on the top at least and with only one breast. I don’t remember about her lower body except that she was beautifully slender with tanned skin. I could only assume that her cancer surgery had healed beautifully. Her husband appeared comfortable allowing this mixed audience to see her body naked.

Later the dream continued, but as a different scene. We were a group of women in a sewing class, being shown how to make support bras for women who had had a mastectomy, and were going to be wearing prosthesis. The detail that I remember most vividly was a demonstration of how to make them, and of myself thinking that I didn’t need to pay attention right then, because I didn’t have a problem, so far. At the same time I remember being confident that, given my background in sewing, I would be better able to learn how to sew one properly, if I ever needed to.

The most noticeable part was that the bra was made of two kinds of cotton broadcloth, the natural breast supported by a plain beige shape, the prosthesis side by print on one part and the same plain beige sewed to it. Each breast shape of the bra was long and narrow and might have been a suitable fit for an African native woman with pendulous breasts, as we have all seen on television, or in photos. The bra pattern was reminiscent of origami with the seams located where a fold of paper might be.

Today I’ve been looking at original paintings of breasts, all shapes and sizes and with some singles, all signed Birgit Koss ’98.”

Frozen Raspberry Cheescake

August 007

It is important to have a light dessert that can be brought out at short notice and served on a day when dinner preparation time is at a minimum or guests have not been expected. I adapted this recipe from one that featured a ‘brand name’ frozen raspberry juice, although these days the best I could find was a frozen juice labelled as ‘berry.’The gelatin keeps the dessert firm when it is thawed and addition of fresh raspberries exaggerates the natural flavours.


24 chocolate wafers, crushed or 1 ½ cups (325 ml) graham wafer crumbs

100 ml             butter, melted

1 pkg               unflavored gelatin

1 can (150 ml) undiluted raspberry juice (comes frozen)

1 tsp. (5 ml)    lemon juice

1                      egg, separated

250 ml             whipping cream

250 g               cream cheese, softened

150 ml             fine berry sugar


1. Place wafer crumbs in bowl, blend in melted butter. Spread on the bottom and up sides of 10 inch (25 cm) spring form pan. Pat firmly into place, place in freezer as you prepare cheesecake filling.

2. Assemble remaining ingredients before beginning.

3. Mix part of sugar with gelatin in a small glass bowl or measure. Add half of raspberry juice concentrate. Beat in egg yolk. Heat in microwave until gelatin is fully dissolved. Add remainder of raspberry juice. Place in refrigerator or freezer to cool, stirring occasionally until partly thickened.

4. Beat egg white until stiff. Beat whipping cream until thickened. Set both aside.

5. In a very large bowl beat cream cheese, gradually adding remainder of sugar until smooth.

6. Beat in cooled gelatin juice mixture and lemon juice.

7. Fold whipped cream into cheese mixture, then fold in beaten egg white. If available, fold in a few fresh or thawed raspberries.

8. Pour into crust and spread to edges. Freeze until firm – at least 4 hours – or overnight. Keeps well for several weeks if covered with plastic wrap.

Serves 8-10.

Variation: Spoon unfrozen mixture into purchased chocolate cups, then freeze.


Memorable Birthdays

Helping my granddaughter celebrate becoming seven years old, yesterday, made me remember how much I wished all during my school years, that I had been born in any month other than July or August. For children born during the other months of the year there is a better chance of having classmates, friends, or cousins, available to celebrate with.

The truth is that because of where we lived, and the circumstances of my schooling, (correspondence, then 7 grades in a one-room school) I had no friends with whom to share a party until I was well into high school. Even then, because I boarded away for high school I returned to camp at the end of term, an hour-long drive over a dusty, gravel road, where only crew and residents travelled.

I remember four significant birthdays:

When I was 3 my mother hosted a Sunday tea party on our float. Both of my grandmothers were present, an aunt and several of my cousins came, along with a few ladies from a nearby camp who brought their little ones.  The picture tells the story.


When my 21st birthday occurred, a girlfriend and summer travelling companion, experienced Bastille Day in Paris with me. There were marching bands, military equipment rumbling along, and an overhead salute by war planes spuming red, white and blue smoke.

For the significant birthday of 60 years I gave myself a party. Lunch was a simple green salad with choice of protein accompaniments, followed by two of the most decadent cheesecakes to be found in Greater Victoria. A varied career, three children and their associated activities, and my own volunteer experiences, meant I now had a rich mix of friends. Those who were not available sent notes about our times together; those who were able to come sat around the room and told stories of how we met and what we had collaborated on. From the notes and pictures taken then, and from former years, I made a scrap-book. It is a treasure.

The very best birthday ever was the day I turned 70. On that day my daughter brought home a brand new baby girl, having delivered her the previous day. I learned soon after, when the party began and guests arrived, that while she was fabulously pregnant she had managed to orchestrate the whole thing, even down to slipping notes under bedroom doors, with instructions to family members, as she left for the hospital!


Today I send this message out to everyone with a July or August birthday. Good birthday celebrations are possible – don`t despair – the best may yet be coming!

I Heard the Garden Call My Name

It’s a sunny hot summer day; the first day of July, and over the supper table my husband reminds me it is not only Canada Day but also a celebration day of sorts for the two of us. Twenty-four years ago today we slept for the first time in our then-new home. True, there were boxes in every room, the furniture sent for re-upholstery had not yet arrived, and my dream kitchen was devoid of countertops and appliances.

Fortunately we had chosen to finish the full basement at the same time work continued on the rest of the house. Once we had the occupancy permit we had installed appliances in the kitchen of a one-bedroom suite down there. It was the first place we positioned furniture and it became our cool retreat away from the continued pounding and painting ongoing above us. The basement rooms continue to be a much cooler place to sleep on the hottest of days, like this one.

I always appreciated a tidy garden around my home and having it well maintained was important to me. Previous yards had been a mixture of my husband’s devotion to a green lawn and growing summer vegetables, and my own specialty, anything that blooms, including all manner of flower beds and pots, including hanging ones.

But it wasn’t until we found ourselves surrounded by a huge expanse of tractor-stirred rough ground and a mound of ‘perkable’ soil material, resulting from requirements of our rural septic system that I began to realize this new yard was indeed a huge project, and it needed immediate attention. Decorating the interior of our home would simply have to wait for a time, because we were tracking raw dirt onto the new floor.

Plans for an aggregate driveway had been agreed upon and contracted; the inlaid patio tile was ordered. So that part of the work could be supervised by our site contractor.

And then my husband left, to our daughter’s horseshow, leaving me to decide what to do about those mounds of dirt. Plant something in them of course, and so I did. The entire garden became my personal project at that time and how I loved it.

A gardening contractor arrived and took me shopping in his truck. Who would have known there were so many greenhouses and commercial garden outlets on the peninsula? Victoria is well known as a City of Gardens and now I was learning some secrets of their plant sources.

More machinery arrived in our yard; two large berms were created. The larger trees we had chosen were moved into position with a tractor bucket; next came the hedge of Alberta spruce along the yet-under-construction driveway. Then we planted the rhodendrons and azaelas – my forever favourites. We had saved some of the better plants taken from the original garden of the house we had torn down, so they were placed too. We chose lots of the cheaper shrubs, many of them blooming varieties and most were quick growing. But they all seemed so insignificant with lots of space around them. Slowly the design concept took shape and I could begin to see what the result might be in a few years.

May 021

Well, the few years have come and gone and everything grew. I have moved plants that became too large, I’ve given away plants there wasn’t room for, I’ve delegated sick plants to a back ‘healing garden’ to see if they would recover and, even today, the garden design is being revised again to make it less labour intensive. My secret is to plant only perennials and then ones that require little attention from month to month. I refuse to garden in bad weather but I glory in it when the good weather shines on me. Today is one of those bright days and although I’m tired from trimming and deadheading, I will celebrate the anniversary of our arrival here with a swim in the Pacific Ocean! Happy Canada Day.

Einar Rise (Buster) Forberg

Einar (Buster) Forberg

Einar (Buster) Forberg

On Father’s Day I remember my dad – he was never father – although during our younger years my sister and I called him Daddy. I’ve written about him, his Norwegian immigrant parents, and all our other family members in “from Fjord to Floathouse.”

When Dad died we gathered in Campbell River to remember him. The evening before the memorial service his five grandchildren sat together and through laughter and tears developed a poem. During the service my youngest daughter read it with emotion on behalf of all the cousins:

Our Grandpa

In passing times and moments
we think of you again
you were so kind and gentle
you were our perfect friend.

It started with a knee ride
and song to make us laugh,
soon nature’s simple pleasures
were the beginnings of our craft.

Whistles, bows and arrows,
you made them from the land,
a man with understanding
and the largest pair of hands.

Respect is something special
you had it from the start,
we’ll always remember
this deep inside our hearts.

You see, there really is no end
for the memories stay within
this patient, gentle giant

Our Grandpa. Our Friend.

A Springtime Scavenger Hunt

If you have a young family or even a birthday party group needing directed outdoor activity here’s an idea I tried last month. For each child I prepared a flat cardboard box with their name and a list of the items to be scrounged. Because at 7, 6 and 5 years old, they couldn’t be expected to read all the words I attached a sample of each item beside its name on a large piece of cardboard.177

My instruction to the children was to place a small snipped sample of each listed plant in their own box and sent them off. I had listed commonly known plants from my garden but any list you create would work. Here is my list:

1. Cedar tree branch
2. Primula (primrose) flower
3. Ivy leaf
4. Parsley
5. Heather
6. Plant with yellow and green leaves
7. Privet (Boxwood) hedge
8. Alberta spruce
9. California redwood
10. Rhododendron leaf
11. Azalea leaf
12. Pine cone
13. Laurel leaf
14. Hydrangea flower
15. Camellia bud
16. Heavenly bamboo
17. Pine tree branch
18. Fir tree branch
19. Holly leaf
20. Bird’s nest

The last item was a trick question but one of the children rose to the bait and came indoors asking if anyone had seen a birds nest. My husband opined he had seen one lying around in the mud room. There they were in plain sight, and she found them – three nests that I had kept from last summer so each child could have one.

There are plenty of other ways to use this idea depending on your location beach, forest, garden, and of course the time of year. Whenever you have a group of active children needing a change of pace, and perhaps you need one too, give it a try.

An Untold Story, retold

I wrote this opinion piece in 1995 and it was published in the Victoria Times Colonist. That was while our provincial government was agonizing over a final decision for land use on Vancouver Island. The maps that we at the CORE table had argued over for 12 months were never fully acted upon. Much has happened during those past 20 years.
Although longer than desirable for a blog, I’m posting this now so that readers might seriously consider the similar ramifications of a tremendous reduction in the price of oil.

There is a story about forests and implementation impacts of the Commission on Resources and Environment (CORE) Report that has not been well told. It is also not being considered by many people living where employment is logging, milling, pulp or paper making. The prevailing attitude is that the current debate only concerns people directly employed in the forest industry and that only jobs in forest dependent communities are at stake. Not so.

We can be confident our legislators in Victoria are aware of reduction to provincial income if this report is enacted. But it seems the bureaucrats who work for them, including the authors of the report do not understand the financial picture. When people are not employed, where is the taxation base to pay salaries of government employees? What will fund health, education and the welfare system?

My family lives on the Saanich Peninsula. Both my husband and I were raised on Vancouver Island. For many years (100+) forests have been the principal source of our family income, currently from a contract logging operation near Port Hardy.

Our company holds a contract with a major forest company. Its corporate offices, with employees are in Vancouver. It holds a tree farm licence on which our smaller company conducts its business. Timber we harvest is shipped to saw-mills in Vancouver or pulp mills in Port Alice or Squamish. This same company has a total of 5 smaller contractors working on Vancouver Island.

Only a very large corporation has the financial ability to build, operate and sustain manufacturing facilities that we and other small contractors supply. Whatever the destination of logs or chips, employment in other areas is the result of businesses like ours. I’m suggesting this makes toe Vancouver Island CORE Report a British Columbia issue.

Our contracting business employs 33 workers who live in Port Hardy. Local businesses depend on people like them to purchase groceries, fuel, vehicles, a home, home appliances and all manner of supplies and services. Children attend school there.

When medical attention or other services not available in their community is required they travel “down island.” This may mean several nights staying in a motel in Campbell River, Nanaimo or Victoria. In addition to adding to room occupancy rates, their travel boosts restaurant sales in communities they pass through. Similarly, vacation or school holiday time may be spent somewhere else. A tourist dependant interior town might be their destination. And those who prefer to fly to Vancouver for business or recreation have not even been considered yet.

Equipment and supplies for our company are purchased according to price, availability and servicing. That might mean a huge piece of machinery worth thousands of dollars bought in Nanaimo, Vancouver or farther away. It means repairs to equipment may be done locally or by bringing in replacement parts. Wherever these items are made or sold, the businesses employ people who pay taxes. And shipping and transportation companies employ people to get them here. Offices in Port Hardy and in our home have a computer, fax, and copier purchased and serviced in Victoria.

There is a prevailing attitude that the professional community has immunity to decisions made on the CORE report. Not so. An accountant in Nanaimo spends 3 work days a month on regular procedures for our business. A large accounting firm in Victoria provides advice and prepares the required annual financial statements. Legal assistance concerning contracts and corporate matters is handled by a legal firm there also. Given the complicated systems created by both federal and provincial governments, no similar business can operate without such services.

Regular banking transactions also employ people. And since every business operates to make a profit, and this one has managed to do so, there have been investments. An investment broker and a real estate agent have earned commissions as a direct result of our company harvesting trees.
It is my hope that as the government works with island communities to establish a workable land use plan everyone involved will recognize all of the people and businesses affected by the eventual decision.

Christmas Greens and Other Traditions

Every family has its own traditions established over long years together – none more so than ours have been. Even before we were married my husband and I discovered that although or ethnic heritage differed greatly, both his family and mine shared many of the same traditions: a real tree, fir or pine, carefully decorated with heritage baubles, well-worn winter stockings hung on Christmas Eve to be filled by Santa, gifts opened after a full cooked breakfast, turkey for dinner on Christmas Day, with steamed pudding and dark fruit cake choices for dessert.

As a married couple we began making our own traditions by alternating visits to his parents and mine on the “big day.” Making a three hour drive on Christmas Day just to be able to share a part of it with each set of parents, as many of our friends did, seemed for us to be wasting precious time in the car. Generally we made a point of visiting the other people a few days later or celebrated New Year’s Eve in their town.

Upon the arrival of our first child we agreed the grandparents were welcome to come to us for Christmas but our new family would not be travelling to them during the holiday season. We believed, and still do, that children were entitled to enjoy their own home for that important celebration. In establishing that first principal we developed further our own family’s traditions. And so it has remained, with our daughter’s similar determination to allow our grandchildren to stay in their home for Christmas.

Until very recently the search and selection of a Christmas tree of appropriate size and having regal bearing was an important step in our preparations. During the early years our family of five went out together looking, and each person had a vote. With his forest industry affiliations and frequent trips through healthy young forests my husband often had one “spotted,” even before the first snow fall may have made it hard to choose well. When cutting our own tree was no longer an option because of where we lived he brought home a potted Norfolk Pine, the species of tree we traditionally chose for our Christmases in Hawaii. It graced our home here with lights and baubles for several years until it sickened and had to be discarded. My dream now is to find an artificial Norfolk Pine tree, reusable every year – they do exist. This year we have a little potted pine from the local nursery.

Although we enjoy seeing them and appreciate the effort involved, outside decorations or extravagant light displays have never been a big part of our Christmas preparation. A wreath or swag made of fresh local greens always adorns the front door and similar cut garden greens find their way into an assortment of inside non-floral arrangements. Encouraged this year by such a good crop of holly berries, I made swags for each of the gateposts as well.

Significant to living in this moderate coastal climate is the speed at which trees grow. Newcomers from other climatic regions find it hard to believe how frequently we need to trim hedges and shrubs. I remember the first Christmas we lived in this house when we decided to string outdoor lights on a young sequoia bordering the driveway. We used an 11 foot aluminum extension ladder to do the job, and used several strings of lights on an extension plugged in to an electrical switch controlled from a switch panel inside the house. That was 23 years ago. Today the same tree is 70 feet tall, certainly well beyond our climbing ability, even if we wore spurs. It remains there, free of any decoration beyond its natural grace and beauty.

Looking for Grandmother Gunhild, the Girl

It was with great excitement that cousin Liv and I set out to find the place my grandmother had lived as a child. Liv had said the women I had called Nano, or White Nano because of her hair colour, must have lived just a short distance from her home. Liv and Magne make their home on the banks of the Asdal River, near Arendal in Norway. Liv had identified the place and told me she would take me there. I was visiting with Liv and Magne after the grand, long delayed reunion of the Forbergs in Bo, Telemark, in June 2002.

Liv explained that after we last talked she had read further in the Aust-Augder farm record book. Each of the provinces or districts in Norway has maintained a record of all of the farmland holdings and their owners for as long back as that can be determined. Thanks to a Norwegian-speaking researcher in Salt Lake City it was in one of those bygdboks that in 1998 I discovered relatives still living on the farm my grandfather had left over 100 years before.

Liv said that Grandma Gunhild’s father, Ole Gunnulfson, had come from the Tisehold area, perhaps even from Rise, where the book said his family had lived for a time. I assumed there must have been some significance in the place because my father’s middle name was Rise. I’ve since learned that Ole’s second wife, my grandmother’s mother, was Ingeborg Bjornsen Rise Arendal.

We set out to walk to the place – Liv’s present home was very close to Grandma Gunhild’s former residence. By calculating from the farm records that told when the Gunnulvsons lived there, we were able to determine that young Gunhild would have been 6 years old when her family settled in to the house. Her father, Ole Gunnulfson, had taken a job at the municipal office just over the hill from this home. We were able to see where the pathway would have been that Gunhild used to walk to school and her father walked to work.

Sooner than I expected Liv and I came upon the house. It sat facing the road on the rise of a little hill with a large exposed mossy rock surface in what would have been the back yard. Fine grass grew around the house and there were trees that in my grandmother’s time would have been seedlings or newly planted.Grandmother Gunhild's childhood house in NorwayThe house appeared pleasantly compact with a tile roof and smallish windows spotted in the wide shake walls. Around the back its graceful roof line had been marred by an additional level that did not show from the front. We could see another floor had been added after completion of the original structure.

Our research showed that the young Gunhild had lived here until she was eighteen years old and began her career in the world of work. Between this time and her immigration to Canada with my grandfather, in 1909, we were able to find little information about her. I knew from a notation in the census files and from a picture showing her with students, that just before she left Norway she had been teaching young women destined to become housekeepers or to work in small inns. We can only assume Gunhild, at 30 years of age, had decided married life with Einar in the unknown remote wilderness was a better choice than remaining a spinster in Norway.

As we approached the house it appeared empty, deserted, un-lived-in and, I thought it looked sad. But the door stood open and a car we had been unable to see from the front stood in the driveway. We approached the door and called “Hello.”

From within emerged a woman, perhaps younger than Liv, then in her fifties. Here was a woman with the appearance typically considered a Scandinavian person. She was about my height, with a solid body, but not overweight, broad shoulders, and a sunny complexion with blond hair and blue eyes. Once she was assured we would do no harm she opened up to us in welcome and told us the story of the house.

This woman’s parents had bought the house several years after Ole and his family had left Asdal. The farm book would be able to show us the year but we couldn’t establish the exact date ourselves without having it before us. All we had learned about Gunhild’s parents, Ole and Ingeborg, was that with their younger children, Gurine and Evind, they had left Asdal bound for an island where her father worked with indigent people and supervised the poor laws. I found letters from the girls to their sister Gunhild along with her family history chart that she had left.

Our host had been born in this house along with several of her siblings. While they lived there her parents had built the upstairs floor that was visible only from the back of the house and she showed us around inside.

What I appreciated most was that she was able to describe for us the configuration of the room and its décor when she had lived here as a very young child. From her explanation we had a sense of what it had been like for Gunhild. I especially reflected on the location of the wood box, something I had known as a child living in a wood-fire-heated house. Also significant to me was placement of a built-in “day bed” between the door and the stove. In many homes of the time a day bed was where an outside worker or a senior family member laid down for a few minutes rest at midday or during the afternoon. Even in the homes of both sets of my elderly grandparents there was always a single cot or pillow-backed settee where a person could rest in a fully stretched-out manner. More than once it was where I had slept as a child during my afternoon nap or later, used for a “sleep-over.”

As we took our leave and expressed our thanks for her time, the home-owner explained she and her husband lived in a big new house on the adjacent property. This modest home my grandmother had known in her childhood was currently being painted and re-decorated before the next renters took possession. It pleased me to know the building had stood the test of time.