Friday, December 29, 2017

Between the Years

While the rest of Canada and much of the USA are enduring deeply cold weather, we on the "balmy" west coast watch the rain pelt down. It's very grey outside, dull and heavy. The above photo was taken from my kitchen window - you can see how leaden the background is. 

So let's cozy up by the fire with a mug of tea (I can make coffee, if you'd prefer) and some treats. The photo shows my breakfast bowl of yogurt, berries and nuts, but that's long gone and it's time to break out the cookies. 

There's some Cranberry Orange Shortbread left, and Nanaimo Bars. My daughter made the shortbread. So pretty, and tasty, too. Help yourself. Take two. There's more in the tins.

The paperwhites bloomed beautifully, but didn't seem to have much scent this year. They were starting to fall over and the blossoms dry out, so I gave them a haircut. I don't want to miss any of this bright greenness that is such a wonderful contrast to dull outdoors. Twinkle lights on the mantel help, too. 

This is a photo from Christmas Day. So pretty. 

How has your 2017 been? It's been a good year for me, mostly, although aching loss and unfulfilled deep hopes have been a part of it. For the first time there was no parcel to mail to Tim's mum. No phone calls. We miss her. The deep hopes are carried forward into another year and we trust the God who loves us. 

Several days before the snow, there was frost. This is an untouched colour photo. Monochrome morning. 

Are you doing anything for New Year's Eve? We won't be at home this year. I took a few fast photos just before the guests arrived to our party earlier in the month. I love cheese, even the smelly blue stuff. I thought the cheese board looked so pretty. But I probably will do things differently next time. The mingling of the nuts wasn't a good idea - some are allergic to tree nuts, others to one kind or the other. 

The spread in the bottom corner is easy to make, and looks festive. Layer goat cheese with chopped sundried tomatoes, pesto, and fresh herbs in a clear glass container. I used a cylindrical vase/candle holder from Michael's. The clear sides show the layers well. 

In this week between the years, I hope you are enjoying some moments of quiet reflection. I know that I am. There's not much being accomplished around here. The beef stew mentioned in my previous post was eaten last night as we went out to dinner with friends the previous night. I finished watching The Crown last night. Today I'm doing a little laundry and will head out to do some errands. Reading, some stitching. Nothing pressing. Heavenly!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Rambling Thoughts on the Second Day after Christmas

A thin layer of ice lies along the far shore of Tod Inlet. Dull skies cast a monotone light over everything. Bits of snow remain in the woods and the path is icy with compact snow. Our boots crunch.

Early morning on Boxing Day (December 26). I awake around 8 am and my mind feels curiously blank. No mental list of tasks to accomplish. Nothing on the schedule. My head feels physically lighter, somehow, as if there is room inside my skull, and my brain can rattle around freely. 

The woods are infinite shades of green and brown. Tangles of moss creep along branches.

No lessons to plan. No student management issues to think about. No marking to do. (I worked very hard the last week before Christmas to get all the papers marked and back to students.)

Abandoned dock pilings, each with their scarf of emerald and cap of white, stand stoic in the cold. A family of placid ducks swims in and around the pilings. 

No meals to plan - there are plenty of leftovers in the fridge. In the morning I drank my tea and visited with our daughter and son-in-law (who foraged for their own breakfasts). I did make my bed. 

In a clearing, one small tree holds a few ornaments, placed there by an unnamed someone who likes to delight the passersby. A silver angel blows his horn announcing the good news of Christmas to all. 

We dropped off our daughter and son-in-law at his parents' place around noon, then stopped for a walk along Tod Inlet. 

The woods are quiet. Not silent. Quiet with soft plops of snow, delicate rustles of birds, and one loud crack of twigs that startle me.

I realize that it's been too long since I didn't have something demanding my attention. One of my classes has been extremely challenging to teach this semester. I look forward to the switch over, and new classes at the end of January. 

My camera doesn't want to focus on this single rose hip. Tim puts his gloved hand behind it, focus happens, he moves his hand and I snap the photo. Teamwork. 

We return home and I continue to do nothing. I read a little, write a blog post, drink tea, nibble on cookies. Not much conversation.

Moss against snow. How lovely it all is growing greenly. The world is awash with beauty. 

Today is Wednesday. Tim is back at work. There's still nothing in my brain. It feels delightful. I have a hankering for beef stew, so I'll go for a walk to the grocery store. There's a library book to return, too. That will make the walk a little longer. That's okay. I have time. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Boxing Day Thoughts

Every year I wish for snow on Christmas Day. In looking back I see that 2008 was a white Christmas, and now, 2017. Light snow began on Christmas Eve. In the morning, I looked out the window to see delicate snow frosting branches and foliage, softening the lines of houses and cars, and transforming the landscape. 

It was the first gift of Christmas Day, and the gifting carried on throughout the day. 

Gifts of the day, in no particular order, included:
* little ones arriving in pajamas
* twinkle lights
* pretty, thoughtful presents
* food a-plenty
* interesting conversations observed, listened in on, and participated in
* cousin love
* creative moments
* a little snowman in the back garden
* talking to my parents via phone
* texting siblings
* cups of tea, hot cider, and homemade eggnog

Our son and his wife gave cardboard houses to the three grands. They came flat-packed and the size of each house is rather grander than first thought. We moved the furniture in the eating area/sitting room (some to the adjoining laundry room) to create space for this instant housing complex. A big pack of markers was put to good use throughout the day. 

The houses came complete with mailboxes. Once discovered, the girls ran downstairs to the playroom to create mail for each others' boxes. It was a brilliant way to keep them busy and happy throughout the day.

Before sitting down to our non-traditional Christmas lunch, we posed for a family photo. I set up the tripod and dashed in during the 10-second delay.

Since some will ask about our non-traditional lunch, here's the menu. It's based on foods we enjoyed in Ecuador. It's a little ironic, because while living far away, I always attempted the foods from home - turkey, cranberry sauce, etc. Now that we're back in Canada, we celebrate with the foods we came to know and love from Ecuador. Here's the menu,

Ceviche de camarones (shrimp ceviche - I like the Ecuadorian version because the shrimp is pre-cooked)

Locro de papas (potato soup) It's always served with slices of avocado on top and chopped or sliced hard-boiled egg

Pastel de choclo (corn casserole) This tastes much like the humitas we enjoyed, but since fresh corn husks are impossible to find at this time of year, we bake the mixture in a glass baking pan.  

Fresh bread, Green salad

For dessert I made a Pavlova with a Cherry Wine Compote, and Whipped Cream. Not an Ecuadorian dish, at all.

I hope that you are enjoying these post-Christmas days. I'm looking forward to lots of relaxation, some reading, long walks, and possibly some sewing. I'm keeping my options open and my schedule flexible. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Tree of Memories

Each year, as I pull out the two large boxes of Christmas decorations, memories flood into my mind and heart. This season of joy and celebration is also one when remembrance brings emotions of all kinds to the fore. 

When we were first married, Tim and I had a bit of a disagreement about how to decorate the Christmas tree. I wanted everything to be coordinated, with white lights and ornaments of a few, select kinds. He insisted that a Christmas tree should "smile brightly." As in many other things, we've compromised. White lights twinkle through (real) evergreen branches, and the ornaments, of many varieties, smile brightly. Each one holds a memory.

There are the ones stitched by friends, the blown glass ball from a local glassblower, the brass bells found on a trip to the mountain town of Riobamba, the angels that took years to complete, and so on. 

Our tree may never win a decorating prize, but we treasure each ornament it holds. 

These sweet teapot ornaments; there are three of them, were made by a cousin. I hang them on the china cabinet as they are quite fragile. 

Just a note about the party - it all went well - there were about 20 of us, fewer than expected because of illness. We had a lovely time and I enjoyed getting to know some of Tim's co-workers better.

A busy week is ahead and I may not post again before Christmas, so I wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas! Thank you for visiting me here. It's such a treat to read your comments. 

Linking with Mosaic Monday (the last until 2018), hosted by Maggie of Normandy Life. Many thanks to Maggie!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Before the Party

Dust is banished. China and crystal gleam, waiting to be used. The fridge is bursting. An air of expectancy fills the house as all that's left is to wait. 

How do you feel before a party? Up until Wednesday, two days before the party, my mind whirled, my hand wrote lists, and I woke up at night thinking of something I didn't want to forget (even if it was on the list). 

By Wednesday I realized that everything that needed to be done, had been done, and the rest didn't matter. Last night I did a final dusting and vacuuming. We're ready. I like this stage of hosting big get-togethers.  

I was thinking that this time is a parallel, on a much smaller and insignificant scale, to Advent. We prepare, we count the days, we anticipate, and finally, we just wait until our guests come through the door. Joy fills our being as we welcome each one. Advent, of course, celebrates the coming of just one, so eagerly longed for that the party is held again and again each year.  

This morning I set out the dishes: a station for cold drinks, another for hot, the dining room table for the savouries, and the dry sink for the sweets. Hopefully this will keep people moving. Those little pink post-it notes on the platters? They are to remind me what's going on each one. I sorted that all out earlier this week. 

In the darkness between 8 and 8:30, the mantel lights glow and the fire throws cheerful warmth. Cushions are plumped and all is ready. 

Do I feel like going to teach classes today? Nope. I cope by compartmentalizing - once I'm out the door my mind focuses on school and home thoughts are left behind. 

Just one more thing - this sweetheart is 7 years old today! Happy Birthday, darling girl. Where did the years go?

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. 

Days at Home

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