Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Winter Beach

Monday dawned with no rain in sight. Although the tides are high and there is little beach, I wanted to be by the water. So off I went. The rocks which are high and dry during summer's low tides were nearly covered. 

Most of the homes along the beach are year-round residences. This small beach house waits for the return of warmer weather. Recent storms combined with very high tides have beaten down the grasses and even deposited strands of kelp on people's yards. Many homeowners were out cleaning up their lawns and gardens while I walked by.

A gull swooped low, but didn't catch anything.

Black oyster-catchers, with bright beaks, hunted along the shoreline.

I glanced at my watch after taking this photo. 12:15 pm. Noon. The sun is the highest it will get during the day and yet long shadows fall across the ground. Three more weeks of shortening days until the solstice, and the return of the light.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cultivating Calm

Advent, the starting point of the Christian calendar, begins today.  For the four Sundays preceding Christmas, Christians of various denominations around the world mark the time before the celebration of Christ's birth. 

I, along with many other people and probably most of you, long for a Christmas celebration that isn't all about the presents, the shopping, the baking, the parties and so on. I want to take time to enjoy each day and not rush through the hours lurching from one "must do" to another. But often, I begin this season well, and then, as the days go by I think of more and more things I would like to do or should do. And I find myself hurrying and scurrying.

This year, in the midst of activity, I want to cultivate calmness. Just like a small plant that needs tending, I plan to tend my spirit. There will be baking, and presents, and lots of activity, but also, I hope, a thread of tranquility woven through the fabric of my days.

Here are some of the ways I plan to cultivate calmness:

* daily advent readings
(If you Google the above term you'll discover pages of resources - I'm using readings adapted from the Common Book of Prayer, found here)

* making lists and prioritizing the items
(I sometimes get distracted by too many things to do, and this year, I'm going to be intentional about finishing one project before embarking upon another)

* daily walks
(There's nothing like getting out in the fresh air to rejuvenate the mind and spirit.)

*recognizing when enough is enough
(Taking time to just stop, light a candle, drink a cup of tea, read a novel.)

Linking to A Pause in Advent where other bloggers discuss varying perspectives of Advent.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Little Candle

Saturday mornings are leisurely around here most of the time. On weekdays Tim eats his breakfast while I make his lunch, and I eat after he's gone. But on weekends I like to make something special, set a nice table, and even, on a grey morning, light a candle. 

I want to point out those placemats - pieced and quilted by my talented mother. She gave me a set of 8. And she knows me well - blue and white are my colours. 

On the menu this morning was a puffy omelet filled with sauteed apples, and whole wheat toast with honey, along with tea. Click on the link for the recipe.

Another storm blew in overnight. How pleasant to sit sipping my tea, warm and dry, while looking out at the trees swaying, rain pelting the street, and leaves flying like mad gulls.

Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice:

"How far that little candle throws its beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world."

When I savour small moments in the day, such as a mug of hot tea and a good breakfast, the pleasure seems to throw a gentle glow on the hours that follow. Whatever your day holds, I hope you discover little things to savour.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November Grey

No sun - no moon! 
No morn - no noon - 
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day. 
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, 
No comfortable feel in any member - 
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, 
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! - 


Thomas Hood - 1844

I copied the above poem from Friko's blog, written in England. It describes the weather around here, slightly exaggerating the bleakness, and neglecting to mention the wind and rain. A very good day to stay inside, where the grey light made electric lights a necessity all day. The above photo was taken at midday in a very well-lighted bathroom. 

But one group of beings didn't mind the wet. 

I had to make a quick trip to the library because my books were due and I was unable to renew several of them online. Driving by the duck pond I saw the ducks, pictured above on a drier day, standing stoically in the rain. They almost looked like they were enjoying themselves. 

What's the weather doing round your way?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Food and Fashion

This is not a post about fashionable food, or foodie fashionistas. Rather, it's two disparate subjects in the same post. A potpourri with just two ingredients, you might say.

I have a small (ahem) collection of scarves and love wearing them in any season except for the hottest days of summer. But how many ways can you tie a scarf? Well, more than I thought, apparently. Click on the video - Wendy shows 25 ways to wear a scarf in just 4.5 minutes. It's a fun video to watch and I know I learned a few things. If I can just remember them when I want to.

Moving on to food ... 

Last night I made a pear cranberry crisp.  I was feeling creative and made a few additions that I think made it more than just a crisp. Not that the basic crisp recipe is lacking in any way - but sometimes, it's fun to change things up. I'll put up a recipe on my other blog. (edited to add, here's a link to the recipe.) I added some candied ginger to the crumb mix along with freshly grated nutmeg (my new taste  love) and of course, cinnamon. Warm and spicy, with a hint of cranberry tartness, it was just the thing for a very rainy wet west coast evening.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Brilliant Color

My small Christmas cactus is outdoing itself this year. It doesn't pay attention to the calendar and blooms in November, not December. Large blossoms almost glow in the light from the window, especially on gray days. 

The larger plant seen just to the left of this one has smaller leaves and is getting ready to bloom. I've had it longer and last year it didn't do very well. I'm hoping this year will be better. What amazing plants these are - brilliant, energizing color from South America when Canadian autumns turn dull. I'm thankful for color.

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Mary at the Little Red House. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Words to Inspire

Each person's life is lived from an inner core of values and belief, whether or not the core is acknowledged. The beliefs that have determined my choices in life include belief in a God who loves and pursues relationship with individuals.

For the past few years I have not sensed much of God's love in my life. Loss, bewilderment, loneliness, and lack of purpose combined to make me think that God no longer loved me or had much of a purpose for my life.  A hard frozen icicle seemed to lodge in my chest, twisting a little every time I experience joy, adding hurt to the happiness.

I don't like that feeling. I want to "deal with the problem" and "get over it." I pray, I read my Bible, I go to church - all the things I've done for years. Nothing seems to help much.

In September I was at my sister-in-law's house and picked up a book she had. "The Furious Longing of God" by Brennan Manning is a slim book that seemed to speak directly to me. Little by little the icicle is melting as I contemplate God's love.

Manning quotes from a book by Antony Campbell, 
"Originally, I believed the acceptance of a loving God involved a sufficient but relative minor shift of attitude. After all, it was on so many people's lips. The more I worked with it, the more I realize that the acceptance in Faith of God's unconditional love was not only hugely significant, it required a major change of attitude ... the major shift may be the images we have of God and ourselves. How radically is our image of God reshaped if we take seriously the belief in God as deeply, passionately, and unconditionally loving us? How radically must we rework our own self-image if we accept ourselves as loveable - as deeply, passionately, and unconditionally loved by God?"

Manning quotes from the Song of Solomon, an allegorical tale of God's love and pursuit of his people. 
"Come now, my love, my lovely one, come. "
For you, the winter has passed
the snows are over and gone, 
the flowers appear in the land, 
the season of joyful songs has come."

These words, particularly those in bold, have been melting my heart. And they have been confirmed in other ways -  in a sermon, casual conversations with friends and family, multitudes of stars in the sky, and the wind-tossed waves. 

Manning goes on to say, "If we continue to view ourselves as moral lepers and spiritual failures, if our lives are shadowed by low self-esteem, shame, remorse, unhealthy guilt, and self-hatred, we reject the teaching of Jesus and cling to our negative self-image."

These days, the winter in my heart slowly melts even as winter in the world increases, and I reflect on the words of St. Augustine,

"Quia amasti me, fecisti me amabilem."
(In loving me, you made me lovable.)

Comments turned off for today.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The First Snow

A wintry sight greeted us this morning. I grew up in northern BC where winters are interminable, lasting into April or sometimes May. Now I live where winters are mild, but still cold and grey. I enjoy the snow. It brightens the landscape. I hope I never become so hardened that the magic of the first snowfall never ceases to stir a sense of wonder and delight in me.

As soon as Tim left for work this morning I pulled on my boots and coat and headed outside to take pictures.  I wanted to capture the snow before it disappears. The temperature is hovering around freezing and is expected to climb today.

Our daughter in Berlin asked me how much snow we had. So sweetie, this photo is for you - about an inch.

A couple of days ago I collected a few pine cones from branches that blew down in the windstorm. They were closed up tight, sodden things. Baking them at 250 degrees on a parchment covered baking sheet caused them to crisp and open right up, filled the house with a lovely resinous scent, and killed any lurking critters in the cones. (I did find a few corpses.)

Mia, in Norway, (who has a lovely blog, written in English) mentioned that she collected the moss for her bulbs several weeks ago. What a good idea, I thought. And so I went out with my little basket and pulled up moss from beside the roadway. Last night I spent a happy puttery hour planting the paper whites in gravel and covering the pots with moss. I saved the bulbs from last year so I hope they have enough oomph to bloom again this year. Have any of you saved paper white bulbs?

More puttering is on the schedule for today. Laundry, vacuuming, dusting, a few errands. How about you? What's on your plate?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Colour in my World

Grey November weather has set in. Outside, all is dull greens and browns under wet skies. I was craving colour while playing with my new camera. A bowl of Clementines in the kitchen and a pottery plate from Mexico seemed to cry out to be together. Orange and blue. Almost Vincent Van Gogh-ish.  Satisfyingly intense.

One of those Clementines tasted delicious, too.

Autumn Colours

The predicted rain has held off for a couple of days, which cheers me up no end. Intense blue skies and sunshine beguile me outdoors. 

Everywhere, leaves carpet the ground in mottled shades of warm brown, dull green, golden yellow and deep red.

Light dapples leaves, creating poetry for the eyes.

Golfers continue their games on the course across the street. I ignore them and focus on the grasses and trees.

This morning gave warning that the autumn colour will soon be a memory. Frost added its beauty to the morning, although it is quickly melting. I stood and watched leaves fall, one by one in incessant abandon from the ornamental cherry tree. Soon bare branches will stand stark against the sky.

These last silly roses, blooming in November, undeterred by the calendar, remain beautiful glittered by frost.

"Autumn ... the year's last, loveliest smile."

~ William C. Bryant

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Sunday Afternoon Walk

Our first real November storm blew in on Friday afternoon. Great gusts of leaves combined with evergreen branches to litter the roadsides, topple trees and cause widespread power outages. We didn't even see a flicker at our place. 

The weather forecast for this week is rain, rain, and a little more rain. So Tim and I went for a long walk this afternoon. The skies were grey, but dry. This train track is rarely used by trains, and we met several others walking there.

Pale yellow ferns are striking against the more colourful forest leaves.

We walked to the trestle before veering north. I'm scared stiff  not fond of heights, but I ventured out to the first little platform. I just asked Tim what those were called - he came up with "escape pod," "lookouts," "places for people to be safe if a train happens by." 

The lure of a good picture angle is what convinced me to go out there.  And then I held his hand tightly walking back. 

Some tall grasses caught my eye on the golf course.

Another 20 minutes or so brought us to the marina just in time to see the fishing boats coming in for the night.  Sea and sky blended into blue-grey.

Off in the distance we saw at least 20 more fishing vessels. A walk to the seafood store at the marina tomorrow is sure to result in fresh fish.

As the sky muted into silver grey we turned homewards, chilled by the damp breeze. A warming bowl of soup awaited.

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Mary at the Little Red House.

These are the first photos taken with my new camera. Thank you for all your suggestions. After a lot of deliberation and help from Tim, I chose a Nikon Coolpix P7100.  It's not an SLR because I prefer portability over lens options. And I've so much to learn with this camera. You'll be seeing a lot of experiments on the blog in days to come. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest We Forget

 I had thought of not posting today, just quietly remembering. There is nothing new to say about this day of Remembrance of those who have fallen in defense of the freedoms I now enjoy. But upon reflection, reminders are a way of keeping the faith, of testifying to the gratitude I feel. 

And so, I'm reposting this from last year.

In 1976 I spent the summer in Belgium. I frequently wore a red zip-up hoodie with a Canadian flag on the sleeve. Frequently while traveling the countryside people stopped me to comment on my flag. Older and middle-aged people bore in their faces some of life's hard times. They looked at my flag and without fail said, "We remember the Canadians - they liberated us." 

Those who lived with war's reality every day, in view of woods where soldiers fought and hid, in view of field torn still by mines and bombs, in view of buildings destroyed, and memories of lives lost never forget. 

And we, so far from war's reality, would do well to remember. Today soldiers from many nations serve their countries, and we who remain behind are so far from war's chaos. Political rhetoric aside, let us remember.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you, from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, May 1915

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Everyday Luxury

"Luxury is not a pleasure, but pleasure is a luxury."

(Le luxe n'est pas un plaisir mais le plaisir est un luxe)

The above statement (in French) was on a billboard in France which someone had photographed for their blog. And I've been thinking about it ever since.

Finding pleasure and joy in the everyday is an attitude to cultivate. Is joy a luxury to you? Or something to take for granted, as a right? The more I think about it, the more I realize that discovering pleasure in life is a luxury that requires nothing more than an open heart. 

I find pleasure in the color of dry grasses against a blue sea, of white specks that are gulls by the dozens on the narrow spit of land, of a blue sky on a cold day. 

In what are you finding joy today? 

On My Worktable

Most of the things I'm working on are top-secret and can't be shown until after Christmas. But yesterday I started pulling apart old books to make some new blank journals. I left some of the covers as is, and others I covered with old nautical charts.

Here are the guts of the books. I have seen, in magazines and on line, bookshelves stacked with coverless books as a design element. I think it's their old look, combined with the creamy whites, that provide the appeal. I find the look contrived and pretentious. I suppose I could use these books in that way, but instead I'll use the pages for other projects. I like my books covered, not naked.

Here's a photo of some handstitched journals I made a couple of years ago. I sold them at a craft fair and in my Etsy shop. I've always wanted a little shop of handmade goods. But the timing wasn't right and I told myself, "if you still want a shop when you are finished your studies, that will be the time." Maybe so. I'm working on it, pushing through a lack of confidence and fears that I won't have a modicum of success.

Today involves a little cutting and folding, marking stitching lines, and some sewing on other projects. What's on your worktable today?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Things that Belong Together

Birthday celebrations continued this weekend with a combined event for our eldest daughter, our daughter-in-law and me. All of our birthdays fall within 16 days. The family came up for the weekend and we had a house party. The highlight was a dinner cooked by the menfolk - a delicious dinner beginning with French Onion Soup, followed by Chicken Kiev, Scalloped Potatoes, Swiss Chard and Coleslaw, and a grand finale of Raspberry Chocolate Cake. 

This afternoon we went for a walk - much needed after all the feasting. A cold breeze off the water made us glad for gloves. Golden leaves danced in the light. Ducks waddled beside a pond and a golfer's brilliant green pants caused us to chuckle.

If you look at the mosaic you'll see a photo of something that just doesn't fit. Yes, it's the palm tree. Incongruous, I think. But many people here on Vancouver Island take pride in the fact that certain palms grow here and survive our mild winters. For me, they just don't quite fit with the landscape. I'd rather, like Cristal, throw crisp fall leaves in the air and watch them tumble down around me. 

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted once again by Mary at the Little Red House.

Friday, November 04, 2011

An Ordinary Day

It's Friday again. The end of a week. The washer sloshes downstairs. From the kitchen comes the savory fragrance of roasting butternut squash and onions which will become soup. A bowl of yeast dough is rising on the countertop. Next up is a little dusting and vacuuming. 

Ordinary acts for an ordinary day. This morning I watched the sky change from dark to pale gray to half-hearted blue dotted with clouds. I had hoped to capture the half-light in the photo above, but it didn't work. The picture is very blah. Ordinary. Still, the red is so vibrant. I have no idea what kind of bush it is - it's rather nondescript in the summer.

Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779 - 1852) said, 
"The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest."

The simple acts I practice bring order to my home and by extension, to my mind and emotions. I like order. I like having food prepared ahead, ready for the weekend (more company coming - hooray!). 

So, what ordinary things are you doing today?

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Getting it Done

Packages in the mail are so much fun. This week I received a package of fat quarters from Miss Make in a giveaway. They are the cutest things - all Heather Ross designs, with mermaids, cowboys, and even a frog prince sitting on a lily pad. Thank you so much, Devon (Miss Make). If you visit MissMake's blog you'll find a very talented woman who teaches sewing, shares recipes and enjoys life to the full. 

I've posted the above photo for Reality Shot Thursday. These are hard shots for me to post. I don't like messes and I don't like sharing them. But this is my sewing corner. I have most of my sewing stuff in a big room downstairs, where there's no natural light, and it's a bit far away from the main living areas. 

So a few months ago I moved my sewing machine to a corner of the breakfast nook, which we don't use for eating anyway since we opened up the kitchen. I'm thinking of changing it over entirely, with a few shelves and cupboards to hold more sewing stuff. The theory was that if the sewing machine were more accessible, I'd sew more. And to a degree, that has worked.

I used to think that when I sat down to sew it had to be all or nothing. Same with cleaning, cooking, gardening. But I've learned a few things - maybe these tips will help you, too, in getting things done.

1.  If I only sew two seams (or clean one drawer, or chop one vegetable) because that's all the time I have, that's still two seams more than I would have stitched otherwise.

2.  In 5 or 10 minutes I can accomplish a LOT
- gather supplies for a project
- lay out a project, then cut it later
- thread my machine and clean out most of the lint
- organize my head so I know what to do next, ie: read the pattern instructions

3.  Sometimes just getting started is all it takes
Just last night I had a small project I wanted to sew. But I was tired. However, I knew that if I cut out the pieces then, I'd be ready to sew in the morning. Well, I cut, and then I sewed, and pressed, and I actually finished the project before I went to bed. I just needed a little push start.

4.  Getting excited about a project is one thing. Getting started is another.  
This is related to #3 above, but sometimes I don't start sewing because I'm certain that I won't like it, that it won't fit, that it won't turn out .... and so on. Yet I love sewing. When I tell myself (and myself listens) that all I have to do is the first step - it's easier for me. Soon I'm in the groove and sewing merrily away. And before I know it, the project is done.

Happy Sewing! Or Gardening, or Cooking, or Writing, or Cleaning, or whatever it is you do. Just start.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Thankful for family

One of my aunts was over to visit recently and gave me a couple of old family photographs. This was taken on the back step of the home I grew up in in Kamloops. My grandfather and grandmother, along with two aunties and an uncle, stand behind my sister, my brother, and me. I'm flapping my hand - probably bossing someone around. As the eldest, I felt that was my responsibility, and according to my siblings, I did it well.

This must have been taken after church because look at the way we're dressed! Bowties for the gentlemen big and small, patent leather shoes and white socks for the little girls. My mother sewed for herself, and for my sister and me - beautiful dresses always.

I've looked at this photo many times over the past month since I've had it and what puzzles me is having no recollection of the event. None. I recognize myself but that's all. Yet, according to neuroscientists, this event is stored somewhere in my brain, I'm just lacking the retrieval system to access it. Perhaps it's blurred together with all the memories I have of childhood, which was a happy one, for the grand part. I can imagine my parents standing behind the camera, admiring their offspring, just as I have done in similar situations.

Although I don't remember the day of this photo, I do remember having fun with my grandparents and aunties and uncle (just one on my mother's side - but that's another story). I'm thankful for my childhood, for the family I was given, for love and security.
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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

How They Grow

Thirty years ago, in a small jungle hospital in South America, our first little girl was born. She was a little early, and I remember lying in my bed thinking how happy I was to have a child, and how sad I was that none of my family knew about her. 

There was one telephone in the town, but it functioned rarely. No email, no Skype, no Facebook. Instead, we waited until the next evening when another expat had a scheduled Ham radio contact and was able to patch through a phone call.

We tried calling my parents, Tim's parents, one sibling and finally reached another. As soon as we connected with my sister, I burst into tears and Tim had to provide the details. 

That little girl is now a beautiful woman, in love with her wonderful husband. Together they walk hand in hand through life. 

But somewhere, deep inside my heart, she will always be my little girl.
Happy Birthday, sweet daughter!

A Bit of This and That

  Off in the distance Mount Baker, in the USA, gleams in the sunlight. My best guess is that it's about 100 km away as the crow flies. T...