Merino and Me

I'm so excited. I just can't hide it.

And it's all because I'm having a close encounter with a sheep. Yes, that's sheep -- as in baa, baa -- those woolly, wandering, wonderful animals whose sole purpose in life is to cater to the needs of us eternally grateful humans. And of course, to dot rural landscapes with a simple, picturesque beauty as only a herd of sheep can.

Recently, dear friends who are also relatives by marriage, returned from a trip to Ireland. To my surprise and delight, they brought me a gorgeous sweater made of 100 per cent merino wool crafted in County Kildare, Ireland. This is one incredible garment.

In fact, the tag on the sweater states that merino wool is "highly prized for its supple and gentle handle, its silky long fibers giving warmth and lightness, and unrivalled in its ability to wick, absorb and evaporate moisture, a natural insulator that keeps you warm in winter, yet cool in summer." In ordinary parlance, this means just about perfect.

I couldn't agree more. Wearing it as I write this, my torso and arms feel caressed. It's as if this sweater is a second skin. The style is long and clings gently to my hips. The fit is superb. There's even a hood to pull up when the wind is brisk. Simply put, I'm in sweater heaven.

On top of that, the good folks at West End Knitwear Ltd., in Monasterevan, provide the purchaser with a little background on the merino sheep, explaining that this species is originally native to southern Spain, but now is mainly raised in Australia, Argentina and South Africa where the warm climate influences the production of the soft fleece.  Apparently, even King Louis XVI of France got in on the luxury wool market by improving the breed. The manufacturer goes on to say that Ireland became the benefactor of the sheep trade when merino wool was smuggled into the country on British and French ships along with brandy, wine and other contraband.

The last line on the tag says, "We know you will enjoy this aristocratic sweater." The word "enjoy" must be a bit of an Irish understatement.

I'm sure they must have meant "adore".

Powell's Paradise

It's such a thrill to discover a secret little spot, tucked into the rural tapestry of Norfolk County, off the well worn road to somewhere, idyllic in its own seclusion.

Such a place is Powell's Patch blueberry farm near Port Dover. If you talk to any of the locals, it seems like everyone knows Powell's, and it's no wonder because Chuck and Sheryl-Lynn Powell have been running it for more than three decades. In fact, it's not hard to find because signs south of Simcoe, on Highway 24, and east along the Radical Road point the way to this little piece of heaven.

And heaven it is. Horses feed lazily in a corral area close to the barn, chickens scatter when you walk by and rabbits look up quizzically from pens across the yard. A small retention pond is home to a few ducks who must feel like they've found their "forever" home.

As soon as you turn into the farmyard, chances are you'll be greeted with Chuck's friendly shout-out from the porch of their quaint little shop -- "Picking berries? Go right on through, pails are over there!" Within minutes, you find yourself in the middle of a berry-picker's shangri-la. Huge mature bushes in long rows are bursting with fruit sweetened by the summer sun.

Chatting with Sheryl-Lynn, I found out that the unusually dry summer this year has produced smaller berries than usual, but what this crop lacks in size, it makes up for in flavour. Sweet and succulent these berries do not disappoint and make "picking your own" well worth the effort.

But the real surprise at Powell's is the overwhelming sense of rural beauty and serenity one feels while filling that little pail. A rooster's crow, a chorus of birdsong, a gentle breeze in the trees and the feeling of warm sunshine on one's shoulders is the unexpected bonus at Powell's. As they say in that famous credit card commercial, it's "priceless".

Even though it's been known as Powell's Patch all these years, the sign really should read "Powell's Paradise"!

Waldo Walks on Water ... Then On "Thin Ice"

Our dog, Waldo, is pretty smart most of the time, but occasionally he turns into a bone head.

Let me explain.

Recently we were invited to spend an overnight with friends in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. They were staying in a lovely beach house, just a block from the spectacular "white flour" shores of the Gulf, and they suggested that we  bring Waldo because pets were permitted and their dog, Skye, a gorgeous collie, would enjoy the company.

Waldo, you will remember from previous posts, is a wiry-haired terrier/border collie mix with enough sense to pay attention to what George tells him, but just bull-headed enough to do what he wants. That, of course, makes him both loveable and aggravating!

After dinner, our host suggested the balmy moonlit evening was perfect for star gazing from the hot tub, which was situated in the far corner of the pool. It was the ideal set up, with the warm water from the hot tub cascading into and warming the shimmering blue water of the pool. Our host turned off the outdoor patio lights so that only the dolphin design on the bottom of the pool was backlit by the underwater lights, giving us a perfect view of the starry Florida skies.

While the humans lounged in the bubbly warmth of the hot tub, the dogs wandered lazily around the pool deck sniffing and checking out every nook and cranny of the screened enclosure.

Maybe it was the full moon. Maybe it was the dolphin design at the bottom of the pool. I can't say for sure, but just as we looked over at Waldo, he nonchalantly meandered right off the side of the pool and into the water with the biggest splash his little 30 pound body could possibly make!

It took only a split second for George to recognize that Waldo had never been in deep water before, and that the dog's furious paddling at the side of the pool was not going to get him out. George bolted out of the tub, into the pool, and hoisted the little bone head up onto the deck. In a dazed state, Waldo shook his coat dry and wobbled away from the pool!

"Just like kids," we all laughed. "Can't take your eyes off them for a minute!"

Days later, and back home again, we decided to play shuffleboard for a couple of hours with friends down at the clubhouse. Waldo, of course, had to stay home alone, as he has done many, many times in the past. Usually, he lies down across the back of the couch, as close to the window as he can get and watches for our return.

This time, though, he decided to get even with us for leaving him. When we got home, we discovered that he had ripped up our brand new carpeting in the living room and chewed the corner of it, making a royal mess and necessitating some hasty repairs.

As clever as he is, he knew he had misbehaved, and spent the next hour hiding under the bed to avoid the scene of the crime!

From water to "thin ice" -- Waldo the Wonder Dog strikes again!