Year of Grace, Day 35. Labora et amare

Tove Jansson, known for her children’s books about the Moomintroll family, has the above words for a motto – work and love. I am reading again one of her adult books – Fair Play– written when she was 75 years old – her last one actually. It is about two friends who live at opposite ends of an apartment building. Both are artists: one is a writer and illustrator, the other is a filmmaker and artist. I picked it out the other day to share the rereading of it with my friend on our weekly Setting the World to Rights session. But we ended up talking of something else entirely – which was perfectly all right. There is no planning involved or set agenda in these fun discussions.

It’s a short book and I read a few pages of it as I was drinking my morning coffee. This morning, like most mornings, M brought me coffee in bed, often with a treat. Today it was a bear claw (a crisp Danish pastry) filled with marzipan. I could only finish half of it, as I found it too rich and too sweet. After months of being on an almost gluten-free and almost refined-sugar free regime, a little bit of this pastry is more than enough for me. (This, btw, is another departure from my gluten-free and refined sugar-free regime. Thankfully, I do not get such naughty treats too often.)


The relationship between the two women friends in Fair Play led me into thinking about how long-time companions, whether spouses or friends, spend their time together. Often I find the most satisfying and comforting of days are those spent doing simple things together. Labora et amare, work and love.

Yesterday centred around quinces. M is making Quittenbrot (quince bread), which is not a bread, nor even a cake, but the German version of membrillo – a thick, sweet solid paste of quince. (Now you realize why a few days ago in a phone conversation, I confused Quitten and “kitten.”) Rather like an unsticky guava jelly made into a paste, Quittenbrot is cut into squares or diamonds and rolled in sugar. As an alternative to cut down the sweetness, M is planning to roll them in dried coconut flakes.

He’s taken the solid puree from the boiled down quinces and I’m using the juice.  If you remember, I almost forgot about them in the pressure cooker. Though how I could have not paid them any attention is a wonder. Their perfume suffused the entire house as they cooked gently away. So there we were, companionably working together in the kitchen: he with his Quittenbrot and I boiling down the juice with sugar for jelly.

Much later I worked alone in the front garden, planting some blue fescue grass seedlings that are long overdue transferring into the ground. Meanwhile M worked in the back garden, filling in a raised bed with soil. And later in the evening, we watched an old film that both of us enjoyed immensely – The Grand Budapest Hotel. It is just the kind of film that I like and thankfully that he also likes: full of adventure and eccentric characters, set in an atmospheric locale, and with brilliant acting by Ralph Fiennes and others.

Yesterday was indeed just a simple day, spent doing the most ordinary of things. I am exceedingly thankful for the comfort of such simple but satisfying days.

I am also thankful that I have finally finished planting out all the seedlings that I had sown in rain guttering. With the intermittent rain over the past weeks, I was unable to plant them out. It was an experiment to see if planting out is easier with this improvised seed bed than in a sowing tray where each seed goes into a single compartment. I found it much easier to slide out the small plants from the rain guttering than to dig them out individually. I would certainly do this again for next planting season. The idea for using rain guttering isn’t mine, btw: it’s from Sarah Raven, who’s got a cut-flower garden and now has her own website for seeds.

I am looking forward to the blue colour of this grass, called “Elijah Blue.” Its blue blades will look superb as a foil for the orange tulips that will be coming out among them in spring, and as they are also slightly tall, they will hopefully support and hide the tulip leaves as they start to fade.

I am also thankful to rediscover and reread simple, satisfying, and comforting books, like Fair Play, and looking forward to reading more from Tove Jansson. I have yet to read her Summer Book and Winter Book.

And, last but not the least, for my morning coffee, I thank M exceedingly.

2 thoughts on “Year of Grace, Day 35. Labora et amare

  1. I grew-up watching Moomin anime as a small child. I have never read the books. You are a real gardener. It’s interesting to read about how a real gardener spends time in her garden taking care of it on a daily basis. The work never ends, but it sounds like a pleasurable routine that brings a lot of joy!


    • I’m glad to hear you’re familiar with the Moomin family, Murasaki Shikibu. I love Tove Jansson’s quirky illustrations. You’re right about the work that a garden entails…but I try not to let it overwhelm me. I only do what I like doing 🙂 Mine is definitely not a manicured, every- blade-of-grass-standing-to-attention kind of garden. I live near a forest and prefer to leave most of the wilderness in, rather than take it all out.


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