Sunday, December 10, 2017

Across the Strait and Back Again

Morning sunshine streams through the living room window to the dining room. I was caught by the play of light and shadow on the tablecloth there. This past week was full of short, but light-filled days. 

On Friday afternoon, Tim and I rushed home from work, grabbed our bags and headed for the ferry. When we arrived on the mainland, around 6:30 pm, it was fully dark. A wall of fog blanketed the valley and made driving in the darkness seem darker. About 30 minutes from my parents' house, the fog lifted and the skies cleared. 

We didn't see anything of the mountains that night, but the next afternoon, driving into Chilliwack, beautiful Mount Cheam overlooked the town, clearly delineated against a cloudless sky. 

The reason for our visit? My sister's 60th birthday party, planned by her children. It was a fun time to visit with some aunts, uncles, and cousins whom I don't often see, as well as with my parents and siblings. Darlene was a good sport about wearing the tiara for quite some time. 

The trip was a quick one. We left the party around 5 and headed back to the ferry, without any fog on the road. It was good to get home and sleep in our own bed. 

Christmas is slowly appearing here: red and white dishes, sprigs of greenery, lights and decorations on the mantels. We purchased our tree, but won't put it into the house until after our party on Friday, to make more room for guests. We're thinking about putting just the lights on it and placing it on the porch outside for a bit of sparkle. 

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. 

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Counting the Days

November in our parts was particularly grey and wet - 27 days included rain; most days saw little or no sunshine. How different December is: clear days when the sun slants low across the garden to brighten home and heart. 

I went out with my camera this week after school to capture a bit of the light. How surprised I was to see this Mountain Bluet (centaurea montana) with a new bloom. I gave the plant a little cheer and praised it for being so stalwart. 

Most of the hydrangea blossoms have faded to papery brown, but a little pale blue remains here and there.

From our breakfast table we look out over the patio to the garden. I plunked some fir trimmings and a few holly stems into a pot, and placed it on the table for a bit of Christmas cheer.

A few people have expressed interest in my grown-up girl's Advent calendar, so here's some information.

For our first child's second Christmas (she was less than 2 months old for her first Christmas), I stitched up an Advent calendar. We were living in a small town on the edge of the Amazon jungle and I was thinking about how to establish traditions with our little family. It was a simple affair, red cotton with a green print tree appliqued onto it, 24 little red pockets and felt ornaments. I think we used masking tape on the back of the ornaments for the first few years, until we returned to Canada for a visit and I bought some Velcro dots. 

Tim's mother made another Advent calendar, with larger pockets and a sturdy cardboard nativity scene with windows and Bible verses. These calendars played a big part in December. The children (3) took turns opening the window and reading the verse, applying the ornament to the tree, and looking in the pocket for a treat or a note telling of a special activity. This tradition continued until the last child left home.

There is grief when a treasured tradition is outgrown. Tim and I decided that we needed to create new traditions for "just the two of us". My grown-up girl Advent calendar is something I came up with after seeing an idea for a white calendar in Marie Claire Idees magazine. 

It was simple to make - an old picture frame painted white, a cut-to-measure piece of thin plywood covered with suede-like cloth, dates made from stenciled label tags, and upholstery tacks for hanging. The fun part was finding treasures to hang on the calendar. Most of them are visible in the photo, but here's a short summary:

For each Sunday of Advent I created cardstock tags with paper, glitter, and a printed Love, Joy, Hope, Peace. 
Old chandelier crystals
Tiny vintage glass ornaments and some new
Cream-coloured shapes created from a felted sweater and bits of lace and buttons
A tiny beaded angel
A muslin primitive angel
A vintage clip-on earring

I have some other bits and pieces of jewelry that I'm thinking of replacing some of these ornaments with.

Christmas decor is being brought out a little at a time here. How lovely this season is. 

Tell me, have you discarded some traditions and embraced others? 

Sunday, December 03, 2017

First Sunday of Advent

For several years, I joined other bloggers in a link up entitled "A Pause in Advent." The blogger who hosted the link is no longer active. However, I love this season of reflection, of waiting and preparation, and hope to post a little Advent thought each week. 

I looked over some of my earlier posts about Advent and found these words,

I try to read something during my day that I can pull out of my brain at quiet moments. Recently, it was this, from the Celtic Book of Prayer, "Do you have only one minute? Hem it with quietness. Do not spend it in thinking how little time you have. God can give you much in one minute." 

Hemming a day with quietness takes some intention, along with exertion of my will. Can I ensure that I'll take those moments of quiet in place of doing something that will tick one more item off my list? We'll see. 

The five-year-old's parents went to a party today, so we got to spend the day with Miss S. Are you familiar with Jacquie Lawson and her beautiful cards? Each year, the company creates an interactive Advent calendar that is filled with activities, beautiful scenes, and snippets of information about Christmas. I've enjoyed them for several years, and send them to the grandchildren. Miss S was so intent on "crunching candies" and creating snowflakes today that the chocolate chip muffin she was given as a snack went mostly unnoticed. 

Saturday involved cleaning the pantry. Everything is neat and organized again, shelves wiped out, and a few out-of-date items discarded. It's all so neat looking that I had to take a photo. Saturday also involved hanging curtain rods and curtains. Tim did most of the work and complications meant that it took most of the day. What a husband!

We took the time on Saturday for a leisurely breakfast together. I found a recipe in the newspaper for French Baked Eggs with White Truffle Cream. I made a few adaptations and oh, was it delicious! A chocolate bread and mandarin orange completed the meal. I'll try and put the recipe on my food blog later this week.

Do you cook special breakfasts often? Ours are usually yogurt, frozen blueberries and granola (for him) and nuts (for me).

November was dull and rainy - 27 days out of the 30! Things are looking up for December, though - the sun shone today - hooray, and this evening the moon was full and bright.  

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie from Normandy Life.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How to Slow Down

A hallmark of current life is busyness. A frequent reply to "How are you?" is "so busy." We try to pack a lot into our days. When we add in special celebrations, such as Christmas and Hanukkah, the busy factor ramps up to what can become frenzy. Sometimes I think we wear busyness as a badge of honour. 

I'm no exception - there's always far more that I'd like to do than there is time or energy. And I'm learning the value of slowing down. I'm not a "fix-it" kind of person, but here are some things that help me. 

1. Wake up slowly. Our alarm clock goes off at 6:30. I try to make my first conscious thought one of gratitude to God for the day ahead. Then I lie in bed for 5-10 minutes, sometimes talking with my husband, sometimes semi-conscious. Leaping out of bed in the morning has never been my usual style. 

2. Eat slowly. I tend to be a fast eater. Consciously putting my fork down between bites and taking more time is beneficial both for enjoying the moment and for eating less. 

3. Walk more slowly. I'm a fast walker, whether in the shopping mall, through the halls at school, or out getting exercise. When I feel like I've got too much on my plate, and there's just too much to do, instead of going more quickly, I deliberately slow my pace. This has the effect of calming my mind.

4. Get outside. Fresh air, even when it's cold and wet, both invigorates and calms me. I saw a brief clip on television recently about a doctor giving a prescription for "eco-therapy" to someone who suffered from stress and depression. The prescription included listening, observing, and breathing. 

5. Check out for a few minutes, when possible. Reading is the way I escape. In a rather backwards logic, I discovered years ago that when I was hurried and didn't feel like I'd ever catch up, taking 30-60 minutes to read a novel caused a mental retreat and regrouping that was always beneficial. When my children were small, I rested and read during their naps and quiet times. Invaluable! 

I don't pretend to have all the answers. Do you have ways to cope with busyness? Do share.   

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Little Bit of Christmas Beginning

The new kitchen area fireplace is now finished and Tim says I can begin adding decorative bits to the mantel. Flooring will be done at a later date. I went through my photos and ordered an enlargement from a photo taken this past summer, to frame and hang above the mantel.

Until that happens, I put a touch of Christmas cheer on the mantel. Evergreen bits were collected along our walk this afternoon, blown down from the trees during windstorms, taken home and soaked in vinegar and water to remove any bugs, then arranged here and there. 

There's nothing like volunteering to host a large party to make one look at one's home with a critical eye. 

Pot holders and hot mitts tend to show wear and tear quickly, so I bought a couple of new ones that I'll use the night of the party for the first time. While looking for the pot holders, I spied the racks of Christmas-themed tea towels and succumbed to temptation. The bird print is a dark grey-green. 

I was away overnight Thursday for a professional development conference on the mainland. "Taking Making into the Classroom" was the topic. It wasn't quite what I'd expected and I'm still thinking about how I might incorporate some of the ideas into teaching modern languages, if at all.

While picking up a few groceries on Saturday afternoon, I noticed the fresh green wreaths on sale, so I picked one up. I hung it on the door and will add a bow to it soon. Saturday was a rather slow day - good after being away. We slept in a little, ate a leisurely breakfast, and I puttered away at a few things here at home without feeling the need to do too much. 

Our weather has been quite dreary. Mostly grey and rainy, with a few most welcome sunny breaks here and there. The forecast for next week looks much the same. It's good weather for sitting by the fire and reading. I re-read Winter Solstice once again, delighting in the descriptions of being snowed in, of good food, better company, and sympathetic characters. I have a couple more December books that I'm hoping to dip into once again. 

As I write I hear the rain spitting against the glass and the wind moaning around the corner of the house. A cup of tea is to hand, along with a mandarin orange whose citrus scent speaks of Christmas past and present. 

After the last swallow of tea, it will be time to prepare dinner: today a pork tenderloin with mushrooms, cauliflower gratin and roasted butternut squash. 

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Working Ahead

The awareness that Christmas is less than 5 weeks away startled me this week. The calendar is already filling with celebrations big and small. Feasting is a traditional part of celebrating Christ's birth, and sharing with others. 

This year, we are hosting a gathering of work colleagues on the 15th of December and I'm planning ahead. It will be an Appetizer and Wine evening. My lists are made and this past weekend, I began cooking a few things ahead. Some items will be purchased, but I like to make as much as I can. 

When I posted a photo of the empanadas on Instagram, I was asked for the recipe and for other make-ahead savoury items. I like to bake, not just sweets, but savoury treats to have on hand during the holidays.

All of the recipes above have been tested by Yours Truly and I can vouch that they are delicious. The links will take you to my recipe blog. 

On the top row:
Gougeres, aka Cheese Puffs
Stuffed Mushrooms 
Bacon and Date Snacks

On the bottom row, from the left:
Sage and Ginger Mixed Nuts
Empanadas (Pastry filled with beef and spices)
Rosemary Parmesan Coins (make the dough ahead and freeze it, thaw for 30 minutes at room temperature, then slice and bake) 

On another front, Saturday called for rain mixed with sun, and Tim thought he'd get the Christmas lights up during the sunny times. As it turned out, there was little rain, so he not only put up the lights, but washed the windows (hooray) and the front of the house. It all looks so great!

The birds seem to like bathing even on these chilly days. It's fun to watch them splashing and fluttering.

Although Saturday was good for outside work, on Sunday it rained all day. We went to see Murder on the Orient Express in the afternoon. It's a gorgeous film with stunning scenery, a luxurious set, and a struggle for justice. I loved it! 

I'd like to say Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers! Enjoy the turkey and the pie, but most of all, enjoy the blessings of family and friends. Thanks be to God!

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Rambling On

Friday morning. The end of a busy couple of weeks. Report cards were due this week and there is a huge sigh of relief when the grades and comments are finally submitted. Done! 

Another thing that's done is most of the autumn colour. Those glowing red maple leaves are sparse on the trees and soon the last one will fall, whirled away by the howling wind and lashing rain we've been experiencing. 

This paler version of leaves in the woods is now more dominant. With all the dreary weather, I've been feeling paler, too. One morning sunshine streamed in the windows to lift my energy. I seem to accomplish much more when there is sunshine, do you?

Christmas is not far away. I'm in favour of a slow run-up to celebrating the season. Anticipation and soul preparation are enhanced, for me, by waiting a little. So I watch what goes on around me, and I stand back, thinking, hoping, planning. 

Last night I finished up two soft and pretty flannel nightgowns for two grand girls. A pair of cozy pajamas is on my worktable for the grand boy. What fun it is to prepare in this way. 

Our new fireplace is taking shape. Tim framed it in, applied cement board, then stone to the surround, and drywall above. For the past two weeks there hasn't been much point in dusting, so I didn't. That will need to be done now that the primer coat is on, and the wall will be painted this weekend. He's working on a mantel, too, a live edge piece of maple. I think it will be lovely.

I signed up for an online course (free) from Future Learn, called "The History of Royal Food and Feasting" from the University of Reading in the UK. The first week was all about Tudor times, focusing on Henry VIII. This past week looked at Queen Elizabeth I's reign. I'm finding the course extremely interesting. Recipes are provided for participants to try. Above is a photo of my attempt at a Tudor "Tarte Owt of Lente." 

The "Tart out of Lent" is so-named because it contains many of those ingredients forbidden during Lent - butter, cheese, cream, eggs. Another participant mentioned that she makes these tarts frequently as part of her job at an historic site. She suggested that some onion marmalade or mustard adds to the deliciousness of the cheese and cream. So I added a layer of onion jam to the crust before putting in the cheese mixture. It's not really like a quiche because the tart is lidded, and because it's not eggy at all, but very cheesy. And delicious. It didn't last very long around here. 

This is the book I'm currently reading. Victoria's Castles - a bit of local history. I'm out of fiction just now, although I just re-read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, one of my favourite books. Do you re-read books? I find them comforting. In spite of knowing the end of the story, I still delight in the characters' thoughts and actions.

I'll leave my ramblings here, for now. The sun is shining in the desperately-needs-washing window and I have a pair of little boy pajamas I'd like to make progress on before going to teach my afternoon classes. 

Are you beginning Christmas preparations? I'd love to hear.