Sunday, December 30, 2018

Looking Back, Looking Ahead



On Instagram, I've seen #bestnine posts where posters feature a collection of their most popular posts for the year. Instead, I chose one photo from each month and made a #favouritetwelve of my own. It was hard to choose - do I feature travel locations, local events, garden, food, flowers, or what? I guess I'm a rather scattered blogger, with little theme here. In the end, I restricted myself to photos taken here at home or in our garden. 

Like most years, 2018 has had its ups and downs. Mostly ups, with lots of level plateaus. I'm thankful for God's faithfulness and presence in my life. I don't write much about my faith, but it is very precious to me. Believing is not always easy, as some might assume. I've learned to embrace uncertainty in this life, thinking deeply about what I know to be true, and about the many questions I have about life and God. I've learned that I don't need to know everything or to have all the answers, and my faith continues to grow and evolve. I choose faith over unbelief, and hope over despair. I believe in a God who loves me immensely, and who is wise and kind and just. He's also unfathomable. 


And so we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another. Who knows what 2019 will bring? We step through the doorway into days of possibility. 

Thank you for reading my words over the past year, and for your many encouraging comments. I treasure them all. (Other than the spam that sneaks through) 

I wish you a most Happy New Year, filled with friends and family to love and laugh with in the good times and to ache and cry with in the not-so-good times. I wish you bravery to dream and to make dreams come true. I wish you time to be creative, time to restore yourself, and time in nature. 

Happy 2019! 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Celebrating here and there



There were presents. Wonderful handmade and thoughtful gifts. Woodworking, embroidery, sewing, cooking, crocheting were all represented. 



There was food. Lots and lots of delicious things to eat. Our dinner culminated in an eggnog cheesecake with a raspberry sauce and whipped cream. Oh, so delectable. 



There was a lot of fun. The marshmallow shooters were a hit with young and not-so-young folks. Tim and I were last home from church on Christmas Eve because we stayed to talk to out-of-town friends for a bit. When we opened the door to the house, we were bombarded with mini marshmallows shooting at us from every angle. So much fun! We're still finding those little white balls in the oddest spots. 



There was a trip on the ferry to the mainland to see my parents and siblings. Rain fell, coming and going. It didn't stop the merriment.



Everything appeared rather ghostly through the rain. We were glad to arrive home last night. 



I determined to do very little today, and I met my goal. When the rain eased to a mizzle I went out for a walk. Lovely fresh air cleared my head. Bright moss coated this rocky spot with cheerful colour. 



More grey over the rooftops and into the distance. A few hours later, a strip of pale pink showed above the horizon.


Most of the day has been spent here, in front of the fire, with copious cups of tea and a few cookies, along with a new book. This evening will be the same, with perhaps a switch to a movie instead of a book. 

Are you finding time for walks and peaceful moments in this week between the years?

Linking with Friday Bliss, hosted by Ritta of Floral Passions.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Friday Five: Almost Christmas



I confess that I lost all of my sparkle this week. On Tuesday I wanted nothing more than to pull a blanket over myself and lose myself in a book. My back hurt from top to bottom, my list seemed endless, and I did not want to go to work. All I wanted was one full day at home, and that wasn't going to happen.  

However, my sparkle is back. Two nights of wonderful sleep and lots of ticks on my list have me once again eagerly anticipating Christmas. Tomorrow is a half day of school. My Spanish 12 class is doing a rendition of Feliz Navidad for the school assembly that should be fun. 



The paper whites wanted a closer look at the Advent calendar and leaned right in, as if to speak to the angel. 

Now, about Christmas gifts. If ANYONE who will be at our house on December 24th is reading this post (I don't think they will, but just in case...) GO AWAY. You don't want to spoil any surprises, now do you? 

Friends of ours do handmade gifts for each other and last Christmas I thought it would be a fun idea to try. Our children were all on board, some more enthusiastically than others, but we gave it a whirl. We all spoke of being done by summer. HA! 

In reality, our year went like this:

January - thinking of ideas, finding ideas
February - thinking of ideas, finding ideas
March - ditto
April - ditto
May - ditto
June - ditto
July - narrowing things down
August - purchased raw materials
September - thought about getting started
October - thought a little more
November - started gifts
December - finished gifts



For our daughters and daughter-in-law, I made silk kimono toppers - like loose cardigans - lightweight. There are four there, because the dark pink one is a prototype. I sewed French seams and hand-rolled the hems, which took much longer than I anticipated. I'm quite pleased with the results and I hope the girls like them, too.

For the guys, Tim made wooden serving boards and he smoked salmon. They'll also each get a loaf of homemade rye bread, some spiced nuts, and other goodies.  



For the grands, I made flannel rag quilts. They came together quickly and I used up a lot of stash fabric. Tim made marshmallow shooters for them from PVC pipe and fittings. This evening, before wrapping them, we had a marshmallow shoot out in the kitchen. The shooters really work! There were marshmallows flying everywhere (the mini ones) and we were laughing so hard we could hardly blow the shooters. I hope the grands enjoy them as much as we did. 



We've had some crazy windstorms lately. Rain pelts against the windows and the house rattles with the wind. Many people lost power. Although our lights flickered seriously, we still have electricity. 

I came home this afternoon, turned on the tree lights, and made a cup of tea. So comforting. Then I wrapped gifts. They are all done.

About that endless list I mentioned. Quite a number of things were crossed out - deemed unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Permission granted to relax and enjoy rather than power through. 

Dinner tonight was a simple frittata with leftover ratatouille and cubes of ham, along with a salad. Easy peasy. Tomorrow the grands are spending the night here. We're planning a cozy time together. 

It feels good to have a little sparkle back. How are you doing?  

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Christmas Traditions: Decorating



Christmas decorating begins slowly here. The nativity set and Advent calendar appear first, followed by a wreath on the door, and bits and pieces here and there. I'm fond of bringing nature indoors and that means, for us, a real tree. Sometimes we go to a pop-up Christmas tree shop a little ways out of town, but this year, time being short, we found fresh-smelling, narrow tree at our local grocery store. 

Tim stood the tree in its stand as soon as we got home, first cutting off an inch or two of the trunk and giving it a good drink. After some minor rearranging of furniture the tree stands in front of the window. Lights first, never my task. I shudder to think of doing that. 


We've collected and received ornaments over the years and there is little theme to our tree. It's fun to reminisce about ornaments as we hang them on the tree. Today we were at our son's home and on the tree there I recognized many ornaments I'd made over the years, or purchased. We gave one to each child every year. I often made one for our tree, too, so that it wouldn't be so bare when the children left home. 

Tim and I both agreed that decorating the tree isn't quite as much fun without the children here, but they are grown up and decorating trees for themselves and their families. We put on Christmas music and had a good time, after all. 


And the finished tree, smiling brightly. 

I like bowls of greenery - we have a holly bush with fat red berries that I clip, and cedar and rosemary from the garden. Pine cones sit in clusters here and there. 

The house looks so cozy and welcoming with the lights on the tree and mantel and other surfaces. Our weather has been so dull and dreary lately with dark skies and much rain. Any light is welcome. 


Over the years there have been a few tree mishaps. The year Tim and I were engaged, my parents' tree started smoking and was on the point of bursting into flames before Tim dragged it out the door. It was too close to the fireplace. 

One year, in Ecuador, we decorated the tree and the next morning found it taking a rest on the sofa. Tim stood it up again, and it stood well all day. The next morning we found it once again lounging on the sofa. Tim made sure that it wouldn't happen again. It didn't. It's made a good story. 


Another event this weekend was the celebration of our eldest granddaughter's 8th birthday. It's hard to fathom where the years have gone.

One more week until Christmas. Classes finish on Friday, the 21st, at noon. So very late.

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Angie of Letting Go of the Bay Leaf.   

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Christmas Tradition: Baking



Is baking a Christmas tradition for you? Baking Christmas cookies is a big part of my childhood Christmas memories. Crisp sugar cookies, buttery almond crescents, hearty oatmeal date cookies, and more are some of my mom's baking staples for this season. 

Baking began towards the middle of December in the evenings and on Saturdays. Often the sugar cookies were cut and baked, then frozen until we could spend time decorating them. Bells, camels, and trees are the shapes I remember most. When we go to my parents' place over Christmas, we're almost certain to be served a plate of beautiful sugar cookies. 

My mom and her sister Marty used to try new recipes, as well as the old favourites. One year they made tiny fruits from almond paste mixed with jello powder, I think. The jello provided both colour and flavour to the marzipan. They were pretty, but fiddly, and I don't think they were ever made again. 

Today I made Rugelach, a recipe given to me by my sister. I prepared the dough a few days ago, and chilled it. Today has been dark and grey, with intermittent drizzle: a good day for filling the house with warm buttery smells. 


Another year, my mom tried a new recipe for Frying Pan Cookies. The name was very uninspired and turned out to be a sticky confection of dates and Rice Krispies. That was another recipe that never made it to the good list. 

Today I made some Chocolate Date Nut balls - no Rice Krispies in these, and I think they are pretty good. There is no added sugar and they whipped up quickly in the food processor. No flour, either, so they are gluten free.


Decorating the house is another tradition. I've been puttering away at it. The tree will go up next weekend as we like a real tree and we like it to last at least to New Year's. The nativity is set on the china hutch and I switched to red and white dishes on the upper shelves. A beaded garland drapes over the light fixture above the dining room table, hung with tin stars.

What are your traditions for Christmas? Do you bake the same things, and/or do you try new recipes? 

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Angie of Letting Go of the Bay Leaf.  

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

December Morning



This morning, as the day lightened just before sunrise, pale violet flooded the eastern sky where the slimmest pale crescent of moon hung by a thread. These days are cold and clear, with temperatures hovering around 0 Celsius overnight. Just cold enough to cover rooftops and foliage with a thin layer of white frost. 



We're having such mild weather (unlike those east of the Rocky Mountains) that the chance of snow this year is highly improbable. Too bad. I do love it.

Thank you for your supportive comments on my simple story. Writing something and publishing it to this blog was a goal I'd set myself earlier this autumn. Creativity flourishes with time to practice and there has been little of that lately. However, with the big push at school done now, my mind is clearer. 

We hosted Tim's work party here last Friday night. There were 24 of us, a very convivial bunch. After they left Tim and I cleaned up all the dishes and tidied up so that we wouldn't have to face it in the morning. Thus, on Saturday morning I woke up with a pleasantly blank mind. There was nothing pressing to do and I sort of drifted through the day. Lovely.



There's been a bit of Christmas decorating happening, but I'm not in much of a hurry. I did hang a wreath on the door and put out lights and the red cushion covers. 

When our first guest arrived, she said that as she approached the door, she noticed a little brown bird tucked into the bottom of the wreath and thought that it was a felted ornament. When she leaned in to look more closely, the bird blinked at her and darted off. I'm hoping to see the little bird in the wreath someday. 



In my garden this morning the kale is covered with frost. I've found that the cold temperatures make it sweeter and I'll be cutting some later this week for a soup. It's definitely soup weather. Last night I made a creamy broccoli soup that included onions, garlic, celery, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli. Simmered in chicken stock and then pureed, with a little cheese, it's what I'm taking to school for my lunch today.  



There are still raspberries out in the garden. I picked this one and popped it into my mouth right after clicking the photo. It was frozen, but still sweet.


The window Tim installed in the spring adds so much light to our kitchen eating area. We moved the little sofa against the window and it's a fun place to perch and watch the birds flying to the feeder. We hung a string of star shaped twinkle lights around the window and it looks so pretty in the evening.



I've done a little baking - mostly to have something for the party. However, everyone else brought enough sweets that I didn't need to bring mine out. There's Cranberry Orange Shortbread, Pecan Toffee Squares, Almond Cheesecake Squares, and Raspberry Diamond Cookies. I plan to make Rugelach and Gingersnaps soon, maybe this coming weekend. 

Our family is doing a handmade Christmas this year, and I'm beavering away at a few projects in the evenings. I'll write more about that in another post. 



My current stack of reading. There are so many wonderful books out there that it's hard to choose. I find suggestions of what to read from other bloggers and am keeping a list on my phone. Yesterday I picked up the latest Louise Penny book at Chapters, but I probably won't read it until I can spend some serious time at it. I'm dipping in and out of Nigel Slater's The Chronicles of Christmas, a book recommended by Barbara of Coastal Ripples. It's delightful and meaty, part memoir, part cookbook. There's a salad recipe I'm hoping to try this evening, with apples and beets and blue cheese. Yum. 

What a long post this has turned out to be. As I've sat here with my mug of tea, full daylight has appeared and the sun is streaming in, illuminating the little pot of poinsettia on the table and revealing the dust on the chairs. 

Have a wonderful day! I'm off to mix up the Rugelach dough!

Linking with Friday Bliss hosted by Riitta of Floral Passions.  

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Finding Lost Things: Part Three

For this week's Mosaic Monday, I'm posting the third, and final part of a little piece of fiction I wrote. There are links to the previous parts below. 





This is the conclusion of a three-part story. You can find Part One here, and Part Two here.


         The days of December ticked by. Every few days her family had something special for her to do – a bubble bath with candles mid-week or a new magazine to read. Although it was difficult in the beginning, Alicia worked at letting go and each day became easier and easier. She began to realize that it wasn't the results that were so important; it was the relationships built into the process. For so many years she was the one who led the charge for Christmas, ensuring that what was done fit her expectations. Moving to the sidelines allowed her to cheer on her family, even when their efforts weren't quite as she would have chosen. 

           The children decided to bake just three kinds of cookies, their favourites, and make double batches of each. They filled the cookie tins with shortbread and Nanaimo bars, a family favourite, and a treat that Alicia found almost impossible to resist. To be sure, the gingersnaps were varied in size, the shortbread not quite as melt-in-the-mouth as usual, and the bars were cut crookedly, with the chocolate topping rather lumpy. Alicia said not a word, but encouraged and praised their efforts. Ben had set out a puzzle for Alicia to work on while they baked. They brought her a mug of tea and fresh snappy gingersnaps, two of them, because cookies are best in pairs. 
      
          Sometimes Alicia knit in the living room, listening to her family work together in the kitchen. At other times she sat at the table to watch them, taking part in the lighthearted banter, laughing at the flour flying through the kitchen, and giving the occasional piece of advice when asked. She blocked from her mind what would happen on Christmas Day when the extended family appeared. “We’ve got it all under control, Mom,” they said. There were a few squabbles, but the common goals they had decided upon soon had them resolved.

          She overheard phone conversations about Christmas dinner and blocked them from her ears. Groceries appeared and filled the freezer.

          One evening Kevin brought home a Christmas tree and strung the lights before the family decorated it together. Ben made apple cider and arranged a plate of cookies for them to enjoy in the softness of the tree lights – a family tradition. Alicia sensed fatigue and tension draining away, leaving a curiously pleasant floating sensation in their place. 

          Jill brought her a book from the library. “I asked the librarian for some feel good stories,” she told Alicia, “and this is one she recommended.” For several nights Alicia read the story by Richard Paul Evans, then returned it, and asked the librarian for another. The novels were short and predictable, but with a sweetness that Alicia enjoyed as change from her regular literary taste of mystery and intense drama.
           
          Her co-workers talked about how busy they were and asked how her preparations were going. Alicia smiled and said little. When asked, she simply said that things were different this year. It wasn't as though she did nothing; in the late afternoon she would prepare dinner for her family, and took the time to make the meals they enjoyed. Her evenings were hers to spend as she liked.

          At church, she listened intently to the Advent sermons and read each day’s selection at home, journaling her thoughts as she sat and pondered the meaning of Christmas, and of this Christmas in particular. When her brain filled with nagging thoughts that she should really feel more compulsion to step in and help her family, she banished them from her mind. Kevin actually seemed to be having a good time organizing things and ticking them off his extensive lists. She had to admit; things were getting done, and she herself was more fun to be with. 

          Kevin consulted her about gifts for the children, and they talked together about what each one would appreciate, but Kevin insisted on purchasing them himself. One evening when the teens were out with friends, he brought out the gifts, along with wrapping paper and tape, and together Alicia and Kevin wrapped the parcels.

          Because Alicia didn’t have to think about anyone else’s gift, she thought long and hard about what Kevin needed and appreciated. She wondered if he had unspoken dreams as she had and what they might be. Alicia realized that although they'd spent a couple of decades together, they were still finding out new things about each other. 
.
          The short December days marched by as smartly as tin soldiers and Alicia felt the sharp edges of her spirit smoothing out. Prickles of discomfort eased and she laughed more than she had for a long time. She fed her spirit with the laughter of her children and husband, with time to contemplate and read, the tea time with her sister and a friend, and the knowledge that she was not just loved, but beloved.

          Several days before Christmas Kevin took her to The Nutcracker ballet. She’d always wanted to attend a live performance, but other things seemed to get in the way. Now she sat relaxed and happy watching the dancers twirl and leap about the stage. As they exited the theatre into the cold starry night, Alicia stopped on the sidewalk and turned to Kevin. All she could managed was a choked “Thank you,” before she simply hugged him tightly.

          On Christmas Eve, as they drove to church, a few snowflakes splatted against the windshield. Alicia sat in the pew with her family and thought of how the past few weeks had been so different, yet completely lovely. "How much of her dread of the season was due to her own expectations, or those of society?" she wondered. "And how much was due to simply trying to do too much?" As the notes of the Glorias in the carol that Alicia loved swelled throughout the church, Alicia's heart swelled with love and gratitude for her family, and for the gift they had given her.

          After the service they emerged into a wild swirling mass of flakes that had the wipers going furiously as Kevin drove home slowly. By the time they arrived home the lawn and driveway were white, and the landscape beginning to soften and blur. 

          Alicia felt that her heart could hold no more joy than it did then. The hopelessness and frustration she felt at the beginning of December had transformed into softness towards her family and a renewed sense of faith and hope. Letting go of what she had imagined she needed to do returned to her the lost promises of Christmas. Alicia realized that the thing she thought she’d lost had returned in a most unlikely way.   
         

Thank you for reading my story. I had fun writing it. May your Christmas be filled with the love, joy, peace, and hope promised by the coming of Christ. 

Linking to Mosaic Monday, hosted by Angie of Letting Go of the Bay Leaf. 
            


Saturday, December 01, 2018

Finding Lost Things: Part Two



This is the second part of a 3-part story. You can find Part One by clicking here


         In the evening, after dinner was completed, Alicia sat in the living room, her hands loose in her lap, thinking about how she should be making lists and getting started on Christmas once again. Jill and Ben were upstairs, presumably doing homework, but possibly texting with friends. 

          Kevin came into the room. “What’s up, Alicia? Something’s been bothering you – you’ve been so quiet for the past couple of days.” He sat down as she began talking.

          Tears pricked Alicia’s eyes. “It’s Christmas – I feel so overwhelmed by all I have to do.” She started talking and it all spilled out – the loss of hope and joy, the feeling of too much to do, the inadequacy she felt and the way anticipation had turned to dread. “I don’t want to feel this way. I want to feel the way I did when I was younger.”

          Kevin said nothing for a minute. She was thankful that he didn't rush in and console her with platitudes. 

          “I know you do the most for Christmas,” he said slowly, “so why don’t we switch things up this year? I’ll do the shopping for the family, I’ll organize the dinner, and plan the events. You take time for yourself and do what you want to do.”

          Alicia looked at Kevin and laughed a little. “Oh, Kevin,” she said, “I don’t think so. I’d feel so useless and guilty.” To herself she thought, “there’s no way he could do it.”

          Kevin looked at Alicia and tilted his head, “You don’t think I can do it.”

          She blushed, but said nothing. 
.
          Kevin went on, “Let’s give it a try. My evenings are mostly free in December. Christmas is such a special time of year. I know you enjoy the traditions, and I do recognize all the work you do. Maybe it's time to share the work.”

          They left it there for the night, and Alicia was grateful for Kevin’s understanding even if she didn’t imagine for a moment that he would be able to carry out Christmas plans as they should be done.

          At dinner the following day, Kevin broached the subject again. “Ben and Jill want to help. We’ve made a plan and you can just relax. I’ve made lists.”

          Jill went to get the calendar. “See, we’ve got it all organized.”

          There were days marked for baking, for decorating, and for outings. Noticeably absent was the piano recital and Kevin's work party. Alicia raised an eyebrow as she tapped the empty squares and looked at her family.

          "I love playing piano," said Jill, "and I don't want to stop taking lessons. But the recitals just make me nervous and I really hate them. So I've asked my teacher to let me off the hook this year." She gave a cheeky grin. "So you don't have to go and endure the recital."


           "What about your office party?" Alicia looked at Kevin.

           "We'll skip it this year. Not everyone goes every year, and this will be our year to not attend." He shrugged. "It's not that much fun anyways."

          “Okay,” Alicia said slowly, “I guess we’ll try it. I can step in if needed, right? What about the baking and the presents and the dinner…?”

          Jill, Ben, and Kevin looked at each other.

          “Nope” said Kevin, “if we’re going to do this, you have to let us do it our way and not interfere.”
      
          Mostly silent Ben spoke up, “We know what’s important and what we can leave out for Christmas and we can do it, Mom.”

          Alicia’s heart opened with love as her excited children continued to show her the calendar they’d created for her. They’d included a movie with her best friend, a manicure one afternoon, a promise of hot chocolate and popcorn when the first snow fell, the puzzle they’d purchased for her to work on, and more.

to be concluded...


Happenings Around Here

Not quite two weeks ago there was a baby shower. The mother-to-be is our youngest daughter. Her elder sister and sister-in-law and I ho...