Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Ending and Beginning

"For last year's words belong to last year's language,
And next year's words await another voice,...
And to make an end is to make a beginning"
T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

The house is quiet and I hear the drumming of rain outside. My mug of tea is almost done. Last night we took down the Christmas tree and other decorations. Some years we wait, but I felt like making a clean start and I have yet to replace the items that normally stand on the mantel and other surfaces. There is beauty in spareness. 

Tim is at work for most of the day. This evening we'll enjoy a quiet dinner together - a seafood dish - and perhaps watch a movie together. Staying up to welcome the New Year might or might not happen. It will come either way. Tomorrow we'll enjoy getting together with our local family for brunch. 

When I was much younger, I calculated the age I would be at the new millennium. It seemed that I would be ancient! Now we're 20 years on and I'm even more ancient! 

In 2020 I hope you laugh until you cry, and that you will be comforted by friends and family when sorrow comes. I hope that you will eat well and move with energy. I hope that you will know how beloved you are and that God our Father longs for you. I hope that you will learn something new, smile often, and read books that take you to amazing places. I hope you see the world with eyes of wonder. 

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Beautiful Days

The house is quiet just now. My parents left for the ferry this morning after breakfast. Our youngest and her little family are visiting with our eldest across town. Our son is up island with the in-laws. 

There's a jigsaw puzzle not nearly completed on the dining room table. Turkey bones simmer on the stove and the whole house is filled with delicious smells. Tree lights twinkle. Outside, a great swath of dark birds, too far away to identify, wheel and turn against a grey sky. I nibble on a piece of candied orange peel and a few pistachio nuts. 

Tim and I took a long walk late morning, then came home for a bowl of turkey soup. I decided to transfer my photos to my computer and see what I took. 

Above, Auntie Katie holds Iris while the cousins surround her with lots of talking. Iris took it all in stride and responded with smiles and giggles. 

Food is a big part of our Christmas celebration, and there was lots of it. Christmas dessert was inspired by my cousin, who posted a very similar looking plateful a few days before Christmas. Stacks of stars cut from angel food cake sit in a puddle of creme anglaise, with raspberry compote, a cardamom-infused orange slice, and a scoop of whipped cream. It was light and delicious. 

I'm very glad to live in Canada and get Boxing Day as a holiday as well. It carries the festivities onward. I always feel that the entire week between Christmas and New Year's is a time of celebration, of a time when family and friends get together, of cozy evenings of laughter, or quiet pursuits, and plenty of cookies and warming drinks.

Last night we watched Little Women (the Susan Sarandon version) at home here. I cried, as I always do, when Beth dies. Afterwards, Tim made us hot chocolate. 

This morning before my parents left, we took a few photos. There they are with their newest great-granddaughter. Iris is truly the star of the show this year. 

Then I remembered that I wanted a four-generation photo of the women in the family, and although some of us felt a bit scruffy, we took this one. How special it is. 

And here's Grandpa Tim with Iris. She's such a pleasant baby and we're all so happy for her parents (and for ourselves). 

There's more feasting and celebrating to come. I relish it all. The quiet days of January are near, but for now I revel in a full house, and the closeness of family. And I revel in the continuing message of Christmas - God is with us. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Friday Five Before Christmas

This is me right now. School ended around noon, with the staff serving waffles to the students. Two weeks of being mostly at home lie ahead. Hooray for home! l have a long list of small tasks to accomplish over the next few days, but I'm taking an hour or two this afternoon to sit, think, and write this post. 

What a grey, grey day. On my way home from my shopping trip I stopped by the beach for a quick look and a photo. There is much log debris in the water, likely from the wild wind we've experienced recently. Rain is falling as I write and it's cozy to be inside with the twinkling tree lights and the fire.

Several years ago I stitched four cream silk hearts and beaded them with tiny gold beads. When I bring them out each year I remember the four little babies lost by one of my daughters. Time eases the pain, and it's good to remember, even when tears prick my eyes. 

This year, the pain is eased even more (not just for me, but for the whole family) by the arrival of another baby, to another daughter, last June. I talk with Iris on Skype frequently and she talks and laughs with me. I can hardly wait to cuddle her in person. 

Three years ago I posted about a cluster of three houses inhabited by three mice. This year a young hedgehog has joined the group since I couldn't find another mouse. The names of these woodland creatures are the middle names of our grandchildren who enjoy playing with the scene when they visit. 

The baking is almost done. I love being able to pull cookies and treats from the freezer. Yesterday I made Chocolate Cherry Biscotti, and I just have to dip them into chocolate. A few gifts to finish, some wrapping to do, and soon it will be Christmas! 

If I don't post before the 25th, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas. Thank you for reading my rambling thoughts throughout the year. I appreciate the friendships made through blogging very much. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

Preparations and Planning

Outside my window there's a bit of drizzle and plenty of grey. Not so indoors where the tree lights twinkle and the fire glows. I started this morning off with list making - menus, shopping, projects to finish. I like a freshly sharpened pencil and a cup of tea to help me think. Ideas flow freely, but it's nearing time to make some decisions and settle on things. I'm happy to report that in between writing the list and writing this post, one item has been checked off! 

Yesterday we celebrated a 9th birthday for this sweet girl. She's fun and feisty, and growing up all too quickly. She had a friend party on Saturday and a family get together yesterday afternoon. 

On Saturday I baked cookies and pulled together something quick for dinner. Shrimp in a garlic sauce with zucchini noodles and a few tomatoes, served over creamy polenta. Easy and satisfying, and there were leftovers for Tim to take to work today! Win win.

Most of the decorating is done. We did the tree last night. My, but it smells good. Fresh and clean, like the outdoors. On the piano are the paper trees I made over 30 years ago, looking a little aged, but pretty as can be with twinkle lights strewn through them. 

In the evenings that draw in so quickly these days, a cup of tea and a cookie by the fire is cozy and warming. On the plate are Rugelach, Cranberry Orange Shortbread, and Peanut Butter Squares. There's plenty for you, and more teacups in the cabinet, so feel free to drop by. 

Back to the list before I go to school to deal with lively students who are more than eager for the Christmas break to begin. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Of Christmas Reading and Sewing

I fell asleep last night to the sound of a soft rain falling. This morning is dark, with continuing drizzle. Outside my window shapes and colours are muted and grey. The wooden box holding greens sits on the patio table. It's an old box that once held odds and ends in my son-in-law's father's shop. Sturdy and honest - a useful box. I'm happy to give it some more time to shine.

With the dull light outside, it is very cheering to light the Christmas pyramid and watch the deer spin around in their wooden forest while I finish my breakfast tea. I have no classes until after lunch on Mondays and Thursdays and how I treasure these slower mornings at home. This morning I made granola - Tim's go-to breakfast on workday mornings. It's not my favourite thing to do, so I like to get it done quickly. 

Plans for the rest of my morning include some sewing. I had a dreadful shock on Monday when I planned to sew - my machine would not work. At all. I suspected an electrical problem with the cord, so I took it to the repair shop. They agreed that the cord could be the problem, but couldn't diagnose it. So I brought it home and in the evening Tim cut off the plug end, shortened the cord about 3 inches, put on a new plug and voila! I have a working machine. 

My machine is 37 years old come January and I love it so much. I've tried others, but always come back to my old red Husqvarna. It's stitched everything from maternity clothes to wedding gowns, baby garments, gifts galore, quilts, and curtains. I suppose I should resign myself to the fact that it won't last forever. 

December reading. Old favourites. Along with these I enjoy reading the Christmas chapters in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, and the ones in L.M. Montgomery's Anne series. I've taken a few Christmas novels from the library, but they are as saccharine as Hallmark movies and I can't take too much of them.

Speaking of Anne, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It tells the story of Marilla with sympathy and is in harmony with Montgomery's character. It begins with Marilla as a young girl and the story occurs over several decades. If you're an Anne-girl lover, you'll enjoy this easy novel. 

Greenery inside is brighter than outside today. And I did mention that I was planning to sew, so I'll get right to it. 

Have a lovely day!

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Light in the Darkness

Four o'clock on Sunday afternoon and the curtains are drawn against the darkness while the lamps glow and the fire flickers. The second Sunday of Advent. One by one the days slip by as we move towards Christmas, the celebration of Jesus' birth, and the solstice, when the earth tilts once again towards the light. I think the early church fathers chose well when fixing a date to celebrate Christmas. 

This week I've sent off a few Christmas cards and completed most of my shopping. We tend to keep it simple, but I do enjoy giving gifts that I hope the recipients will appreciate. 

No tree yet, probably next weekend. We get a real tree and don't want bare branches by Christmas Eve. I also enjoy the slow unfolding of this season of longing and waiting. 

Last night we enjoyed the company of friends around the table. One of my favourite parts of having guests in is setting the table. I do it early in the day so that I have time to putter and arrange things. I used the burlap placemats made by my eldest daughter several years ago, the Christmas plates, and vintage damask linen napkins from my mother-in-law. Candlelight softens everything and adds such a warm light. I also sprinkled on table confetti in the form of small brass stars. I've had them for years and like that they are not disposable. 

Comments were mostly impossible on my last post, and I myself am not able to see the comments on the blog, although I can in Blogger itself, so I'm not sure what went wrong. Earlier posts are still fine, and I'm hopeful that it was a one-time glitch. Thank you to those readers who emailed to let me know. 

How are your plans coming along? I'm hoping to begin some baking this week, and we'll be celebrating a grandchild's birthday next weekend. 

Monday, December 02, 2019

Glittering Illuminations with the Grands

not my tree - from the Carousel at Butchart Gardens

A tradition with our grandchildren is some concentrated time spent with them together in the month preceding Christmas. Our youngest, almost 6 months old, and living elsewhere, couldn't join us this year, but perhaps she will in the future. We've done several overnights, visited various attractions and have always had a good time. 

Our time this year began with crafting a set of three paper houses (one is a church) with each child. A friend of mine has a fancy Cricut and cut the houses for us, so we folded and glued and the children were thrilled to get three LED tealights to put in the houses. 

After lunch and some play time there was cookie decorating! Sprinkles everywhere! We played Blokus (the kids came up with some creative new rules), built forts, and watched a very short movie.

During crafting time the children each decorated a snowflake. Butchart Gardens was next on the list and the snowflakes were exchanged for hot chocolate at the coffee shop. Best of all, the beverage was served at drinking temperature so there were no burned tongues! 

The Gardens are full of Christmas magic. One attraction is the elaborate train track set in a wintry landscape. Young and old stand mesmerized watching the trains go round, through tunnels, and up and down snowy hills. There are a multitude of scenes to admire.

Sunday was the official Light Up for the gardens, so we had our hot chocolate and watched the train, then went up to the Carousel for a ride - Nana rode a zebra - and then counted down with the crowd until the switch was pulled and the darkness transformed into a glittering wonderland. 

Those Three French Hens sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower enjoy their tea even more under spotlights! We wandered through the gardens looking for the Twelve Days of Christmas, and there was much singing of the song en route. 

Here is the Sunken Garden. I heard young Felix explaining that "the Sunken Garden is the masterpiece of Butchart Gardens" and I laughed to myself as I heard his mother's voice in his words. 

It would take much better photography skill than I possess to do it justice. Instead, I set my camera mode to "Glittering Illuminations" and was rewarded with okay photos, and an overkill of star-shaped bokeh. 

And here they are, some of the people I love best in this world, walking into the Italian Gardens, nearing the end of our garden jaunt. 

On the way home, Sadie sang the Canadian Twelve Days of Christmas song, and we all joined in. It begins with "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...a porcupine in a pine tree." There is a book by Helaine Becker, and it's very cute. 

And now it's Monday morning. Some house tidying to do, and a little bit of Christmas preparation before I head off to teach classes. Wishing you all a most lovely day, and a new week of joy. 

edited to add: A number of people have mentioned that they are unable to leave comments on the blog. I'm not sure what's happening, but I'm looking into it. When I go view my blog from a web browser, I can't even open comments to read them. Grrrr. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Slow Weekend

Outside my window the birds are mad for the suet and seed that was recently replenished. A small Chestnut-backed Chickadee peers around the corner of the feeder to keep watch over the much larger bird on the other side. 

In turn, the woodpecker peeks shyly at me, not wanting to reveal too much of himself. 

The red accents on the House Finch caught my eye and I snapped a quick photo. Only when looking at it later on the computer did I realize that two other birds, perhaps female House Finches, are in the photo as well. 

A Northern Flicker perches on the highest, wavering branch of the cedar hedge. Skies are grey today with rain in the forecast, and possible freezing rain. I'd much rather have snow. 

It's not nearly 5 pm yet, but the lights are all on. I just finished watching another episode of The Crown, Season Three. Have you been watching? I find this season much more introspective and thus, assumes motivations and thoughts of the Royal Family. However, I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I rarely watch television during the day, so I'm feeling very indulgent on this quiet and dark afternoon. 

We've been away quite a lot recently and it's so nice to be at home. I went to a craft fair this morning, did several loads of laundry, made granola, and the house is filled now with the scent of simmering turkey stock. I read on Jean's blog, Delightful Repast, about making the gravy for turkey dinner ahead of time. I'm planning to cook a turkey for Christmas (we celebrated Thanksgiving in October), and it will be such a time-saver to have the gravy made ahead. I find it always a last minute thing to do, when the kitchen is full of people and activity. It's certainly smelling good just now.

Christmas preparations are beginning slowly here - I have a few gifts purchased and a few others in the works. There are lingering roses in the garden, and bright berries. Leaves are mostly fallen although the tree across the street from us has plenty of gold left on it. One late creamy rose blends well with other garden finds to make Autumn in a Teacup. 

My goal for the next week is to do at least one little thing each day to prepare for Christmas. No decorating quite yet, but there is stitching and baking and writing to do. 

For all my American readers - I wish you the joy of family and friends as you celebrate Thanksgiving Day. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Catching Up

A few weeks ago I attended a Pro-D conference for language teachers. They had a draw for a prize and package and to my immense surprise, my name was drawn. This past weekend Tim and I caught a ferry to Vancouver. Included in the package was one night at the Hyatt Regency. Our room was on the 29th floor, with a wonderful view of the North Shore mountains. Well. Our view was completely obscured by rain that fell during most of our stay. The view across the street, of the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, was pretty nice, though. 

I'm not crazy about heights, but it was fascinating to watch (for a short time) the traffic moving on the streets below. This was during a lull in the rain. 

Our package also included VIP tickets to Cirque du Soleil's "Luzia". We were treated so well. Before the show we enjoyed Prosecco and hors d'oeuvres in a private room. On our way into the show we were handed bags of popcorn, and our seats were excellent. During the intermission we went back to the private room for dessert, and received a little gift bag. I felt quite spoiled by it all. 

The show was jaw-dropping. I've seen quite a few Cirque shows on DVDs (we show snippets in our French classes), but to see the performance live was a completely different experience. The grace and strength displayed by the performers is truly mind-boggling, and the crowd was gasping and awe-struck many times. The theme and costumes were all so artistic - I really can't say enough good about it all. 

We had a relaxing morning in the hotel since the heavy rain convinced us to not walk along the water as we had planned. Instead, we drove out to Steveston and found a little place for breakfast. The rain stopped and we took a short walk along the harbour front before heading to the ferry. 

By then it was all blue skies, puffy clouds, and brilliant sunshine. I went out on deck to take photos in Active Pass, where ferries often pass each other. 

These ferries are our connection to the mainland, and are part of the highway system. It's a pleasure (usually) to ride them, too, although some people complain about the time it takes and the costs (which is not cheap!) I enjoy the ride because I can read, eat a meal if need be, or just sit and watch the scenery pass. 

Home life is full of the daily routines that make up much of one's schedule. I find much satisfaction in preparing good food, keeping the house tidy (I do the dreaded jobs first - like cleaning the bathrooms), and puttering around. I bake every week, but don't often take photos of it - these are some ginger sparklers (chewy, not crisp) that were made awhile ago. There are none left, and I'll be baking something else this week. 

Are you thinking about Christmas yet? I've pulled out Nigel Slater's "The Christmas Chronicles" and read a snippet or two each day. I made a stocking for our newest grandchild, and have begun making a few simple Christmas gifts. I'm trying to be realistic about the time I can devote to that, but my yearning usually overtakes the practical. 

This past weekend in Vancouver is actually the second in a row that we've been away. During the previous weekend we visited my parents and siblings in Abbotsford and Chilliwack. We took a short walk on the Vedder River Canal and spied this heron perched in a tree, eyeing the river for salmon. 

 Closer to home we've seen a variety of birds in our garden, at the feeder, including a Northern Flicker. He's much larger than the usual House Finches, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Sparrows that usually visit. 

Between travels near and far, and a busy teaching schedule, I've neglected this blog, and have not read or commented as much on others as I would like. I'm hopeful that I'll have a more settled routine going forward. Thank you to my faithful readers and commenters. I appreciate each one. 

How about you? Are you thinking about much? Planning for the holidays? Do tell. 

Of Spare Rooms and House Guests

  If you've ever read L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables , you'll remember the importance of the spare room. It was a long-...