Saturday, December 31, 2011

Farewell 2011, Hello 2012

Another year stretches ahead of us, each day tied to the next. For all of my readers, I wish you a year filled with the awareness of God's good gifts, of boundless peace, joy, hope and love, whether your circumstances are tranquil or stormy. 

Thank you to all who stop by and read here. I wonder sometimes who you are, what your life is like. Some of you I know well, others slightly, and even more of you I know only via this blog. It's amazing to me how we can connect over great distances. You come from Canada, the USA, France, England, Ecuador, Spain, Germany and other locales yet we are brought together through common interests, a love of home and family, and beauty. I am honoured that you read my words.

The following quotation is attributed to Mark Twain, and is one of my favourites:

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed
by the things that you didn't do than by the
ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbour.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking Back 2011

A glance back over 2011 makes me realize just how much living can be packed into 12 months. Time is one of God's good gifts to us - how we use it determines our quality of life, the things we value, and our relationships with others. Here's a fast race through 2011 from my perspective.

January brought a heavy snowfall that transformed a brown landscape into other worldly glistening white.

During February we spent a week in Mexico, enjoying sunshine, snorkeling, touring, and time to read and sketch.

In March we celebrated my beloved's birthday - all the children surprised him by showing up for dinner. Walks on the beach began. Grandbaby continued to charm us all with her sweetness.

In April signs of spring began. Trees showed hints of green. We spent a weekend on Pender Island with friends, enjoying good food, good company and beautiful scenery.

By May the fence was completed and we ate our first outdoor meal of the year in privacy. Cherry blossoms fell like confetti. 

In June the house renovation was declared finished with the completion of the kitchen project. Roses bloomed and vegetables grew up in the garden beds.

We spent a weekend camping with the family at Englishman River Falls in the beginning of the month. Mid-July found us on Sonora Island, marveling at the untouched beauty of creation. 

Company visited in August, including my parents. We spent an afternoon wandering through Milner Gardens, where this photo was taken.

During our trip to Alberta in September, we visited with family, hiked in Banff National Park, and enjoyed afternoon tea overlooking the magnificent Rockies.

At the end of the month we bade a tearful goodbye to our traveling adventurers. After spending almost 3 months in Germany, they skied in the Swiss Alps over Christmas, then spent three days in Paris before flying down to the boot of Italy today, where they plan on staying for a month.

At the beginning of October I wrote my last exam and completed my degree in French. We celebrated Thanksgiving with family, thanking God for each one.

The play of light and shadow highlighted November. Sunny days mixed with rain as we waited for news that would affect our future. 

December days were lighted by Advent and the preparation for the coming of the Christ Child. I am so glad He came to earth so long ago and became my Lord. Christmas celebrations were filled with family, another of God's good gifts. And we moved! 

As the year closes, my wish for each of my readers is to experience, in 2012, the Hope, Joy, Peace and Love brought to earth by the Christ Child so long ago.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Moments

There were presents. Laughter. Sparkly lights and baby giggles. Good food, good conversation, and lots of love.

We missed our adventurers but on Christmas Eve, via the wonders of Skype, I heard the church bells ringing out across a snowy village in the Swiss Alps, calling worshipers to adore the newborn King. It was magical.

After our dinner we took a long walk to the beach. Crisp air, significant wind and blue skies helped us digest the turkey et al.

Yesterday, the guests all left. And packing began. I waited until this morning to dismantle the tree. But it's sort of sad. It doesn't look Christmassy around here any longer.

This move is a partial one. We're leaving most of our stuff in this house, staged to look good to prospective buyers. We kept our home in the city and will be moving there. For the first month, we'll be in the basement suite, then, when our tenants leave, we'll move upstairs. We'll decide then whether or not to hire the movers then or leave the house still set up. Hopefully, it will sell in January. It's all a bit complicated, but Tim's job is based out of the city, and I can begin teaching on call there, so it seemed best to move now.

Had we known what we know now we would have rented here. Instead, we spent most of our 21 months here in a flurry of renovations. Sigh. 

I have the best husband in the world. On Christmas Eve I sent him to the store to get a pound of butter. He came home with the butter AND a bouquet of flowers. So, while the boxes and mess fill up the house, every once in awhile I look at the vase of white, green and red, take a breath and smile. There's a little pretty left here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

The fridge and pantry are full. Beds are made. Bathrooms cleaned. The fridge and pantry are full. The Bûche de Noel is assembled. Just a few things left to do before the celebrating begins. The children arrive late tonight. 

Church this evening and time to reflect on the Babe, God's greatest gift to mankind. 

Hark! the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King"
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled

Joyful all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem

Hark! the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King"

Friday, December 23, 2011

Almost Christmas!

Me: "I'd like to pick up this parcel, please."

Rummage, rummage. Looking high and low on shelves.

Me: "Um, I think it might be quite large."

Postal clerk: "OH ... It's THAT one"

"Are you feeling strong today?"

Me: "No."

I picked up this parcel from Berlin yesterday. It's full of presents for his family and hers, along with clothes and things the travelers decided were too heavy to pack around. We had been advised to open our gift as soon as it arrived, so we did. I was very tempted to open the parcel before Tim got home from work, but refrained because I couldn't lift it out from the car. It weighed 23 kilos (roughly 60 pounds). 

And a little rant. That huge box cost about $120 Cdn to ship from Germany to Canada. I sent a box about the size of an Amazon book box (small) for $100 Cdn from Canada to Germany. They each arrived in roughly the same amount of time. Canada's very high postage costs are one reason I'm hesitant to open an Etsy shop.

However. Moving on.

Inside our parcel was this charming pyramid - that's what the German word for it is. Tim assembled it and I lit the candles. The carolers in front of the church whirled merrily, never once getting dizzy, although they are slightly blurry here. It's so pretty. 

And silly me. I thought of the hands that wrapped the present and just wished that I could hold them close to me. Our adventurers are missed, and never more than at this time of year.

But they have left Berlin and are holidaying in the Swiss Alps, where snow is falling, falling, falling. Ashley is learning to ski and Owen is renewing his skiing techniques. They are having a grand time. Italy is next on the itinerary.

Around here, the cutest little mushrooms are waiting for me to assemble the Bûche de Noel, which will be done tomorrow.

The spiced pecans are wrapped up in a set of handled consomme cups I found at the thrift store, with snowflake cellophane and polka dotted green ribbon. These will be delivered tomorrow to our neighbours.

Bread is rising on the counter top for a chocolate filled babka recipe that I've been wanting to try. That, along with egg strudels (currently residing in the freezer) and fruit will comprise our Christmas breakfast.

I'll be posting sporadically for the next while. Because, in addition to Christmas, we're moving between Christmas and New Year's. It's a partial move for now so there's not an overwhelming urge to pack up the entire household. I'll explain more in the New Year.

Merry Christmas to all of my wonderful readers. I appreciate each one of you and pray that you will experience the Hope, Love, Joy and Peace that the Christ Child brings to earth. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I love old things with meaning. I have no desire to purchase new Christmas ornaments every year, preferring instead the memories that we hang on the tree time after time. And this year, more than others, I'm irritated at the marketing I see everywhere to buy more, update, refresh, etc. Maybe I'm just getting crotchety. Anyway, I've had enough. Newspapers go straight into the recycle bin and television commercials are muted. 

The pace has slowed around here. The shopping was finished weeks ago, the baking is done, and the gifts are almost wrapped. Days are full of pleasant activities like planning menus, sitting on the couch with some hand sewing, and today - ironing the linen napkins that were a wedding gift to my husband's parents in 1953, and making sure the candles are ready for the table.

On an entirely different note, with nothing to do with Christmas, the above arrived in the mail on Monday. It's my second degree - my first is a Bachelor of Religious Education completed when I was in my 20s. And now this one. Up until the last minute I was sure the school would discover that I needed one more course, or I failed an exam or something that would derail me. However. It's official. I finished. 

Time to breathe. Time for a cup of tea and a cookie. Please join me, I'd love to find out what's happening in your world.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas with Family

After many years of living overseas in South America, we are teased by my parents that we still live "overseas." So, several times a year we make the trek across the water, via a 90 minute ferry ride, through the Fraser Valley, to the town where my siblings and parents live.  

This past weekend we celebrated an early Christmas. Twenty-four of us made it, ranging in age from a sweet tiny 1-month-old to great-grandparents in their 70s. It was loud, it was fun, it was a delicious time. My sister and brother-in-law are wonderful hosts, and we all contributed to the turkey dinner. 

Early Sunday morning my back had had enough of two days of sitting around. I got up in the half-light, put on my coat and went for a walk. 

A fine mist fell and several times I stopped to look at the beading of water on bare tree branches. I didn't take my camera with me, but after returning to my parents' home, I noticed they had a similar tree. Each water droplet looked like a crystal bead.

Driving home through the Valley, a heavy mist lay on the land. Nearing the shore, however, the clouds lifted and sun shone. We had a beautiful crossing, mild enough that I ventured outdoors onto the deck for a walk. 

We've been away every weekend in December. It's been so busy, but I wouldn't miss this particular trip, crazy as it is - I'm so thankful for my family.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Choosing Joy

Have you noticed that Christmas movies almost always have a happy ending. And so they should, for the story that began on the first Christmas Day is one of ultimate joy. However, real life situations are seldom resolved in the time it takes to read a 200 page novel, or watch a 2 hour movie. For many, Christmas is a sad time of year in which loss is marked and difficulties are augmented. The glowing joy that we are led to believe are the norm throughout this season tend to come in often short-lived bursts, or not at all.

During the years we lived in Ecuador I missed my family fiercely. The distance was felt most keenly during Christmas when I knew that family gatherings were occurring without me. I imagined them all together, eating turkey, playing games, talking - together. And us, far away, just five.

A custom I developed when the children were very small helped me to cope. After the stockings were opened in a tumbled heap on our bed, everyone headed to their rooms to dress before breakfast, the gifts, and the dinner, and I took a few moments for myself. I thought of my family far away, I indulged in a few tears, and then, I moved into my day, choosing to be joyful in the moment, with the family God had given me. 

We always had a wonderful time together. Christmas mornings we opened our stockings together in our bed, then moved on through the day, always with friends that became family. A lovely glow surrounds the memory of those Christmas celebrations. 

Life is not perfect. For anyone. Some have more to bear than others. But this Christmas, I am, once again, choosing joy in the small and large gifts that come to me every day.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cozy Days, Busy Days

I baked some of these today. Delicious morsels of pastry, dried raisins and cranberries, with a hint of cinnamon, lightly dusted with sugar. I used gold sanding sugar today because I found some in the cupboard. I got the recipe from my sister, a baker par excellence. Rugelach, they're called and you can find the recipe on my other blog.

On another note, I attempted to create stars in my tree photo by taking the shot through a tea strainer, as suggested by a comment on Vee's site, which she tried out today. I can see the mesh in the photo and the stars don't twinkle as much as I'd hoped. Chalk that one up to experience. I turned on the tree lights this morning while baking because it's so dark and grey these days.

My front door jangles cheerfully every time it opens or closes. I didn't make a real wreath this year, but dragged an old artificial swag from the box and hung this set of sleigh bells underneath. These bells come from my husband's grandparents' farm in northern BC. They had a horse named Prince, who would pull a sleigh in winter, or stoneboat in summer. Tim remembers these bells jingling merrily in days gone by. I'm happy to have them continue their sound on my door.

How are things going for you? Are you staying cozy on these busy days? 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tying up the Ends

Last night, while watching the most inane decorating show (designers decorated homes for celebrities while sharing angst and ego), I stitched these cutie pies. They are for decorating my Christmas packages. I used burlap, quilting cotton, and cheesecloth. Each fabric type resulted in a different look. There are different tutorials around the web - I stitched mine rather than using glue. It's a very dull day around here, hence the glare of lights on the photo.

I used some of them for this card. A friend of mine has breast cancer. She has endured, and triumphed through 6 months of grueling chemotherapy. Next is surgery - on the 20th of December. After that, radiation. I admire her spunk so much. She doesn't live in the same town as I do, and I wish I was closer so I could help her. Instead, I can pray, and let her know I'm thinking of her. 

Did you know blogging can save you time and money? I learned that just today. No, this is not a paid advertisement.

I planned on wrapping gifts today. So I sorted out my shopping and then started realizing that I did not have the gifts I thought I had. I assumed that I had only imagined buying them and have been rushing around the house intending to drive into town to complete my list. 

As I was writing this blog post, I suddenly realized that there WAS another bag, in another location. I opened it up and voilà - there they were - the presents I really had purchased. 

If I had not stopped to blog before going out, just think of the time I would have wasted and the money I would have spent foolishly duplicating the purchases hidden under the bed.

Yay for blogging!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Of Parties and Plumbing

Family and friends gathered to celebrate a sweet little girl's first birthday today. The star of the show looked lovely in an oh-so-pretty gray and pink ensemble - which was removed for the eating of the cake. 

The cake was fantastic; Adria's mother is a master at cake decorating, with wonderful and original ideas. The inspiration of the elephants marching around the side of the cake was taken from a favorite onesie Adria wore when younger.

On another note entirely, a phone call Friday had me calling plumbers for several hours, trying to find someone out to our home in Victoria. The district representative had read the water meter and informed our tenant that there was a MAJOR water leak somewhere. We finally arranged to meet a plumber at the house at 11:30 on Saturday morning. Meanwhile, the water continued to flow. 

The plumber has been so helpful. The leak can't be located, so a new trench was dug and a new water main will be installed tomorrow. Today, before leaving town, Tim cut a huge hole in the wall of the basement suite (into which we are moving temporarily after Christmas). It was a lovely wall. Especially lovely because not more than two months ago I patched and sanded and painted it. But the new water main has to go along this wall. Sigh. I guess I know what I'll be doing in January.

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Mary at the Little Red House, where you are sure to find lots of Christmassy inspiration and not many plumbing woes.

Festina Lente

Here we are on the third Sunday of Advent. Anticipation heightens as the days are marked one by one towards the celebration of Christ's birth. 

Festina lente is Latin for "make haste slowly" and is attributed to Caesar Augustus who was displeased with the rashness of one of his military commanders. It conveys the idea of attending to the urgent with diligence, doing something thoroughly. 

(Yes, that is the same Caesar Augustus who sent out the decree that "all the world should be taxed" that we read about in the biblical narrative of Christ's birth in Luke's gospel.)

So much needs to be done at this time of year - or I think it does. In truth, I like doing a lot for Christmas. And so, I must "hurry slowly," taking care that the things I do are worthwhile, that I do them well, in the proper way. 

Another adage that I wish I held to more closely is "anything worth doing is worth doing well." No half measures. No just "good enough." Excellence without perfection - is it possible? 

This year, with all that's happening in our lives, rather than do things halfway, some things are being left aside. No Christmas cards. Fewer decorations. Simple things like cedar cuttings in a silver jug instead of more elaborate arrangements. I'm liking this simplicity. 

How about you? Are you making haste slowly? Or rushing headlong? I'd love to hear your ideas for simplifying and deepening this beloved season.

Joining in A Pause in Advent, hosted by Floss.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Gift Wrapping

Back in October I wrapped a few Christmas gifts. They were lightweight, suitable for sending to Europe. Decorations had to be flat and not easily scrunched. So I printed off a couple of photographs from childhood days gone by (I had some scanned from the wedding slide show). I layered the photograph on the gift (above is wrapped in a brown paper bag), tied it with red yarn and added a sprig of cedar. 

For this gift I used plain white paper, and stitched each end closed with my sewing machine. This photo shows our youngest riding a horse as a little girl in Ecuador. Instead of tying the yarn, I wrapped it round and round the gift. 

Along with some baking and couple of smaller things, the parcel arrived in Germany and has been opened. The travelers are off to Switzerland next week, until the end of the year. We're missing them, but oh, what a grand adventure they are having!

Meanwhile, all of my other gifts languish in a closet. Unwrapped. I guess it's almost time to get going on that. 

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Mid-December Doings

Who knew how hard it is to photograph fashion? Not me, until yesterday. Taking pictures of people wearing clothes is much easier than trying to style something flat and make it look reasonable. Here's my best effort. The arm looks a little scary - like a skeleton. This is part of what I purchased at Bamboozle the other day - for those who have asked. A cream sweater, soft fuschia scarf with silver beads, and a bracelet. Paired with black or grey pants/skirt, this will be my outfit for casual get togethers.

The sweater is made of viscose - also known as rayon. It's a quasi "natural" fibre - made from wood pulp. Since I can't wear even the softest cashmere or animal fibre next to my skin (I itch just thinking about it) I'm always on the lookout for good quality alternatives. They are hard to find. But I have another sweater made of rayon and silk and it wears very well.

I spent two happy days with this sweet face - she's taking her first steps, saying her first words, banging on a drum, learning "no," and generally delighting me.

And of course, there's baking. Gingerbread snowflakes. I took this photo in the dark, with the under counter lighting which accounts for all the glare. But I'm not hauling the cookies out of the freezer again just to arrange them prettily on a plate to take a photo.

And Linzer cookies - made with ground hazelnuts and cherry jam. These are posed nicely on a plate. But I was putting them together anyway for a plate that Tim took to work today.

Today I'm hoping to finish decorating the tree. It's been up for almost a week with just the lights on it. Very pretty, really, but I'm ready for a little more. Some sewing and baking (bread and mini quiches), and the beginning of phone calls and address changes for our upcoming move. 

What's on your plate today?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Of Beaches and Boxes

It's no secret that I love the beach here. It's my favorite place to walk.  According to a study published in Nature magazine, walking increases thinking skills. I find that knotty problems and confused emotions often sort themselves out into manageable chunks when I take a walk.

Picking up pieces of flotsam and jetsam, be they shells, rocks, bits of driftwood, or sea glass, is a habit of mine. I sometimes discard my treasures at the end of the walk, and sometimes bring them home to remind me of the incessant rhythms of water and sky. 

Last week I drilled some holes, broke apart a couple of old necklaces, and strung together this driftwood mobile that will hang outside on our deck to remind me of the beach.

But the deck it will hang from will not be here. My husband's new position (same organization) is taking us back to our home in the south of the Island. It's all happened suddenly. Very suddenly. To say I'm happy is an understatement. I'm overjoyed, thrilled, have to pinch myself to believe it. 

So there are boxes. I'm unpacking Christmas decorations and packing books. The children are coming here for Christmas. And then, before the first of the year, we'll be on the move. Again. 

On the first Sunday of Advent I wrote about cultivating calm this season. This is one of the reasons. So far, so good. Lists and working ahead are tools that are helping me cope. And now that my studies are finished, I have so much more time. But oh my, does it ever fly by!

Days at Home

  Last night after dinner the sunshine illuminating the bouquet of peonies prompted me to grab my camera. I love the frilly elegance of the ...