Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thoughts on Hospitality

There comes a time, usually 5-6 hours before friends are due to arrive for dinner, when I think to myself, "Why did I want to have company? I'd like nothing better than to sit down in front of the television with a tray of leftovers." 

Then, once I begin executing the plans I've made, I feel much better and look forward to the evening. For me, planning and working ahead is key. One evening earlier in the week I ironed the tablecloth and napkins of vintage linen. 

Things that can be done ahead I do the night before - this time it was peeling and cubing the butternut squash, trimming the brussels sprouts, and making the salad dressing. 

For this particular get together, one friend offered to bring dessert and another brought appetizers. I augmented the latter with a bowl of nuts. Tim takes care of the wine. 

Saturday morning I vacuumed and dusted, and cleaned bathrooms. I would have done those things on Friday but didn't have the energy after working all day. 

I really enjoy setting the table and do that before I begin cooking so I can take my time. This table setting is simple. The photos were taken during daylight, and in the evening, with the lights low and the candles lit, the space was cozy for the six of us. Years ago I purchased a box of tiny brass stars. These I fling over the table in a scattered constellation. They catch the light and are often played with by dinner guests as we chat late into the evening.

I started cooking around 3:00 and had plenty of time - enough to decorate the mantel and set out the nativity set. 

So what was on the menu? To start, a salad with greens, avocado and orange slices, sprinkled with cinnamon candied almond flakes. For the main course, stuffed chicken breasts, potato stacks, butternut squash with brussels sprouts and cranberries, and steamed asparagus. 

Hospitality is something I learned from my mother. Having guests over was a regular occurrence in our home. My mom still entertains regularly. She taught me the value of working ahead and having a plan. 

During our years overseas I had plenty of opportunity to practice the skills Mom taught me. Guests at the dinner table (and breakfast and lunch) were a part of life. They came from the four corners of the globe - Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the South Pacific.

The conversation last night ranged from politics and literature to boating and religion. Lots of laughter. Some teasing. Yes, the food was delicious, and I took extra care last night. In the end, however, it's the people sitting around the table who are most important. Sharing life. A bowl of soup and chunk of bread can accomplish the same meeting of minds. 

After the guests left and Tim and I finished cleaning up the kitchen, I went to bed content with the evening.      

After church on Sunday morning, the same six of us went for a boat ride (not ours). And we enjoyed another meal together in Fulford Harbour on Saltspring Island. Once again, it's all about the people in our lives.

Do you enjoy having guests in your home? What tips help make things simpler for you?

I'll be linking to No Place Like Home, hosted by Sandi of Rose Chintz Cottage.  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Mug Rug Swap

Kim, from Camp and Cottage Living, organized a fun mug rug swap recently. Kim and I were partners and we both received our swap packages in the mail on the same day. Canada Post is consistent going from east to west and west to east!

Isn't that little reindeer the cutest thing? I'll enjoy using the mug rug and thinking of Kim as I drink my cocoa. But that's not all - she included a fun ornament and a jingly pin in the package....and

A tea towel trimmed to match the mug rug, personalized for my own kitchen. 

You'll notice that I didn't iron my tea towel before hanging it up. Do you ever iron tea towels? I learned to iron on tea towels, pillow cases and my father's handkerchiefs. Nice, flat things. There are a few tea towels I still iron, but not most of them. Same with pillowcases. How about you? 

And here's the mug rug that went east. After I looked at the photo on my computer, I realized that I hadn't stitched the cardinal's eye, so I did that before popping it into the mail.

Thanks, Kim, for organizing such a fun swap!

I'm sitting by the fire writing this blog, drinking my tea. As soon as I click "publish" I'll be up and running. Decorating the house (at least a beginning), cleaning, and preparing for a dinner party this evening are what's on my list. On my husband's list is settling on light fixtures and tile for the bathrooms. So I'll make room for that in my day, too.  

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thoughts on Friday

The scent of mandarin oranges whispers "Christmas" to me. My parents would buy a box or two and keep them in cold storage in the basement. Each orange, wrapped in green tissue paper, had smooth skin that peeled easily, filled the air with exotic citrus, and tasted sweet.

Do you remember the wooden boxes? After the oranges disappeared, the box became any number of things - a shelf, a doll bed, the frame for a house. I think those wooden orange boxes started me on the path of a-box-for-everything.

For me, mandarin orange scent is Christmas, but for my children, who grew up in the jungle where mandarins grew year round, the scent reminds them of home. 

A couple of mornings ago Tim pointed out the full moon - in the morning! In the half light between night and day it shone fat and bright, framed by a few skimpy forsythia branches just off the deck. 

We're going through a cold spell - temperatures just below freezing at night, warming up to cool, but brilliant sunshine. Ice in the garden stays all day. 

I took a quick stroll with my camera around Government House on Thursday. How surprising, given the chilly nights, to see these fuschia plants so hale and hearty.

Rounding another corner on the path I spied hellebores just beginning to flower. Such beautiful creamy blossoms. 

Something else happened at Government House - but that will be a post for another day.

Back to the mandarins - what scents evoke Christmas for you? 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Chewing and Thinking

My current breakfast fixation - one apple, sliced, topped with plain full fat yogurt and a small handful of mixed nuts, chopped. I think I've had this every day for the past month. It keeps me going strong until lunchtime. 

It also takes awhile to chew. This morning, while chewing, I got to thinking. And after I finished chewing....

I took my big cup/mug of tea and sat down on the floor in front of the fire. Such a cozy place. First I toast my back, then my front. Just lovely.

Then I open my journal and begin making lists. It's the season! Lists of things to do, goodies to bake, menus to plan. Lists of shopping and decorating. Lists of giving. Lists to remind me to take the moments as they come. To enjoy. To simply be. What gets done, gets done. The rest doesn't matter.

I've always resisted purchasing Christmas dishes. Storage is an issue, for one thing. For another, we really do have plenty of plates. But these red and creamy white ones called out to me. "For Christmas breakfast," I thought. 

And more. I used them for a recent breakfast eaten in front of the fire as the sun streamed in. 

I don't have a lot of red, but I'm gathering my bits and pieces together to display in the grey china hutch. I think it's a good beginning. 

Advent begins this Sunday, so next on the list is getting the candles and Nativity set organized. Then, a wreath on the door. I'm looking forward to singing carols in church, to family gatherings, to walks under the stars (I'm wishing for snow, but that's unlikely). I'm not giddy with excitement as I used to be during this season, but I am filled with a quiet anticipation of this celebration of Christ's birth that makes me smile. 

Now, back to those lists and some more thinking. Tell me, do you function best with or without lists? 

Linking to Roses of Inspiration.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Increments of Time

Early last week, wild wind and rain splattered hard against cars and houses, whipping leaves off trees and flinging them against windows and windshields.  

Calm arrived a couple of mornings later, along with frost that soon melted. I captured the above photo from a bedroom window that looks towards the Olympic Mountains, seen here in hazy blue. 

The wind tore branches from trees in the neighbourhood and during a couple of evening walks, I picked up a few to fill the plant pots on the porch. I was happy to see, in the daylight, that several branches included pine cones. I'll add some cedar and holly to gussy the pots up for Christmas. 

Intense color streaked this afternoon's sky as we began our walk around the bog. 

During the summer the bog drains dry. I don't know where the ducks go, but once the rains begin and the water rises, the wildlife returns. Although the light faded quickly, I captured a few placid ducks paddling quietly.

Wind. Rain. Calm. Weather, like life, is changeable.  

Christmas preparations are beginning slowly around here. I'm becoming more efficient in using bits of time to accomplish small tasks. And I'm discovering once again that a little bit done in small increments can add up to accomplishing what I'd like to see done.

As my American friends prepare for Thanksgiving this week, I wish you all a wonderful celebration with loved ones and family. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Frosty outdoors, Cozy indoors

It's my first week-day morning at home in at least a month. The 8:30 a.m. class I've been teaching has been turned over to the regular teacher and I'm back to my usual afternoons. It's delightful. 

Yesterday morning was frosty. Before dashing to school, I zipped out to the garden with my camera. Rosebuds shiver, but still stand straight and pretty. 

The fig leaves have all dropped. The late crop of tiny figs is still on the tree, but they will soon fall, too, unable to flourish in these conditions. We rarely get to enjoy the second crop here.

I mentioned bathroom renos in my last post. We still haven't chosen the tile, but I did get something done. I had two of my photos printed onto canvas. These are 9 inch canvases because our ensuite is very small, and they fit perfectly. The shadows are awful, but that's the weather these days. When the work is complete, I'll show before and after photos of the rooms. But don't hold your breath. It might be awhile. I'm just glad everything is functional. 

I've been puttering away at some Christmas projects. These silk, beaded hearts are one of them. I have so many sewing supplies and am trying to use what I have. The beads and silk are leftovers from weddings. The hardest part of this project was threading the beading needle. Wow! That eye seems to have shrunk since the last time I beaded! All that's left is attaching thread loops for hangers. For that I can use a regular needle.

There are other projects in the works. I'm enjoying the handwork while sitting by a cozy fire with a cup of tea beside me. Time to get back to the stitching.

Are you working on any seasonal projects? 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Restful Weekend and Baked Eggs

It's been a quiet weekend. A few chores, a little sewing, a long walk in the rain with my husband (very Bronte-ish), some television watching, and very little computer time.

No photos, either, so I've recycled some from last fall. I played with still life arrangements for Donna's Personal Photo Challenge. This time I created a collage of a few of my favorites. (The link goes to her regular blog, as the photo challenge has been discontinued for now, after the death of her husband last December.) 

We've been working, over the past few months, on renovating our upstairs bathrooms. They are to the point of choosing tile for the back splash. Do you have any idea how many choices there are for tile? I'm sure it numbers in the thousands of thousands. I sort of know what I want. Tim needed to see for himself. We decided on something, then I found a sample of the same tile with grout and he decided he didn't like it. So we started all over again. No decision yet. 

A number of people commented on the breakfast I showed earlier in the week. The eggs are baked in ham cups - an easy way to prepare breakfast for a crowd (or one or two). 

You can use a muffin tin, but I like using my ramekins. Lightly grease the ramekins, then place a slice of Black Forest ham inside. Crack open an egg into the ham. Spoon 1-2 teaspoons cream over top. Sprinkle with cheese, salt, pepper and herbs, as desired. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 - 20 minutes, depending how well you like the eggs cooked.

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Judith of Lavender Cottage, and No Place Like Home, hosted by Sandi.   

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Be Kind

Thinking of and praying for the people of France today. Such a broken, broken world. 

Yet, there is goodness.

Paris, 2009. My mother, my sister and I headed for the train station via the Metro. Going down the many stairs to the subway was a challenge with our luggage. A young Frenchman ran quickly down the stairs past us. At the bottom he stopped, turned around, ran back up, grabbed my mother's suitcase and took it all the way down for her. 

There are wonderful and beautiful things to see and do in Paris. But, this unexpected kindness from a complete stranger will be one of my most enduring memories of that beautiful city.

Be kind to each other.   

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bits and Pieces

Waterfront properties are valuable pieces of investment. I think that if I lived in a house such as the one above, I'd have a hard time getting things done. My preferred activity might be sitting beside one of those windows staring at the water. 

Would you like to have your own private island? This small one, not too far from town, is for sale - complete with a "needs updating" home - for a cool half million or so.

Moody blues and greys are the colors of the day lately. Beautiful, serene, and sculptural.

Here and there, however, patches of bright wildflowers still bloom, unmindful of the calendar. 

Another bright spot over the weekend - taking the time to make a full breakfast for the two of us and chatting over a cup or two of tea or coffee. 

What's brightening your days?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

We Will Remember Them

At the 11th hour,
           of the 11th day, 
                   of the 11th month...

We will remember them. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

November on the Water

The Skipper has been wanting to take the boat out one more time so he could change the oil before winter. Today was the day. Late morning we, along with two friends, launch and set our course for Salt Spring Island. 

Not many pleasure craft dot the water so late in the season, but a number of ferries, a couple of sail boats, and one Coast Guard vessel move through the steel-colored water. 

A bit of colour remains, but soon bare branches will stand against the evergreens. 

A derelict boat turns quietly at anchor. Calm water today belies the rain and wind of Saturday. 

Off in the distance St. Paul's Catholic Church is a reminder of the Kanaka (Hawaiian) settlers who built the church in 1880. It's the oldest building on the island. 

We tie up at the dock, take a short walk, and eat lunch at the Rock Salt Restaurant. I enjoy a huge bowl of steamed mussels with garlic bread. Other plates at the table include grilled salmon, a roasted yam quesadilla, and a chicken burger with borscht. All very yummy.  

The sun makes a brief appearance as we head toward home. The light soon disappears behind the mountains. 

In Page Passage one fat seal balances on a rock while shorebirds (I'm guessing they are Clark's Grebes) pay little attention.

The last bit of colour fades as twilight creeps quickly across land and water, creating instead a monochromatic landscape of blues and greys. 

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Judith of Lavender Cottage. 

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Thoughts for Friday written on Thursday

Flowers left on a park bench. Drooping. I'm feeling a little bit that way myself. The time change - is there anyone who welcomes it? We get up in the near dark, and it's near dark again when I get home. Ugh. My head feels thick and stupid and I'm tired. 

Part of that tiredness is due from taking on a class for another teacher for a couple of weeks. More prep, more marking. Report cards due next week. 

When I arrived home this evening, I took my camera out into the garden. I'd noticed a few late blooms - dahlias, roses and osteospermum. I used a night setting, but managed just this one photo - the others were too blurry and I wasn't about to set up my tripod. 

Blooming in November. There's a lesson for me. Perhaps I'll make a cup of tea and settle down in front of the fire with my marking. A little autumn music - the sound track from Pride and Prejudice, or Vivaldi's Four Seasons - in the background. A cozy heated rice bag at my back. Suddenly, things look a little more bearable.

Wishing you an evening (or day) of small comforts. Do share your advice for getting through dull days.   

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Birthdays, Apples and Caramel

Dinner on Sunday evening was at Il Terrazo, tucked into a pedestrian alley downtown. Such a lovely place. Brick fireplaces, lamps, plants and pottery, and a corner where the music was not playing made for a great ambiente as Tim said later. The food was wonderful, in fact, I brought part of my dish home and enjoyed it for lunch. 

Home then for cupcakes made by the youngest daughter (not in the photo). Chocolate cakes with Earl Grey icing and a caramel drizzle. Mmm good! Thanks, Ashley! The three  (yours truly, eldest daughter and daughter-in-law) birthday girls blew out the candles together.

I'm very fond of table linens. In August, while helping our youngest and her husband move, Ashley and I visited On the Table, a new-ish linen and decor store near their home. Oh. my. So many beautiful things.

I guess I oohed and aaahed sufficiently that the children went together and purchased this Italian linen table runner for me. It's thick, with a bit of lace on each end.  

One of my favorite fall recipes is a caramel and peanut butter dip for fruit, usually apples, but pears and grapes work well, too. It comes together quickly; the most tedious part is unwrapping 30 of those individual caramels. Doing it with someone else makes it seem less tedious. Tim helped me.

Caramel Peanut Butter Dip

30 caramels (unwrapped, one by one)
2 Tablespoons water
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter (I use the no sugar variety)

Place the caramels and water into a glass bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave for another 30 seconds or a minute until the mixture is melted. It may take some stirring to incorporate the water. Add the peanut butter and still until everything is a smooth unctuous mixture perfect for dipping those crisp fall apples! 

How are you enjoying the fall apples? 

Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Blue Hour - L'Heure Bleue

Rain pelted down much of Friday. Late in the afternoon, it ceased, just in time for a fast walk along the Selkirk waterway before going out for a casual birthday dinner with my husband. 

L'heure Bleue - the time of day when, because of the sun's angle, red light passes straight through into space and blue light is diffused. It's forty-five moments of uncertainty - is it day, or is it night?

During our walk the lights came on, twinkling across the water.  

Last night, these two cuties showed up on the doorstep, asking for treats. Who could resist? Not this Nana. They were very excited and I had to be quick to capture a photo. Don't you love the reflection of the lamp in the marble? 

After the Red Fish, and Sky from Paw Patrol (a show I'm just learning about) left for another party, we hopped in the car and headed over to the Woodland Fairy's house for a light dinner and trick or treating. Don't you think her wand is appropriate for the woods? 

Her mother created the costume and sparkles are everywhere in the house. Little Miss S calls them "Farkles" and the word has caught on. Getting her to smile and look at Nana was also difficult. There was CANDY to collect! 

I love October. Thanksgiving, my birthday, and then our daughter's birthday on November 1 (which I tack on to October) makes for lots of celebration. Add Halloween into the mix for even more fun. Tonight we're all (adults) going out for dinner to an Italian restaurant. 

How was your weekend?

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Judith of Lavender Cottage.  

Living Alongside Medieval History

  Several people have asked why we chose Leiden for our visit to the Netherlands. We've found it's easy to stay in the large cities ...