Monday, November 30, 2020

Christmas Reading List and Some News


Shall we hear the news first? We welcomed a new little granddaughter into our family on Saturday. More details will follow, but everyone is well. We had Big Sister Iris (almost 18-months) stay with us for three days and had so much fun with her. However, having children is definitely for the younger set. 

Christmas decorating was set aside while I sang songs, played games, and cuddled with a sweet little one. I'll get back into it later this week.  

A few weeks ago I wrote about books and stories I like to read at Christmas time, and asked for your suggestions. I've compiled a list for your reading delight. I've not read everything on the list, but on your recommendation I found a copy of Christmas at Fairacre (includes No Holly for Miss Quinn, The Christmas Mouse, and another story), and thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Christmas at Fairacre - Miss Read

No Holly for Miss Quinn - Miss Read

Miss Read's Christmas - Miss Read

Shepherds Abiding - Jan Karon

Winter Solstice - Rosamunde Pilcher

Debbie MacComber - Angels books about Shirley, Goodness, Mercy

A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

A Redbird Christmas - Fannie Flagg

Snowflake - Paul Gallico

Miracle in the Wilderness - Paul Gallico

The Night Before Christmas - Jan Brett

Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old - Plough Publishing House

Papa Panov's Special Day - based on a Tolstoy story

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever - Barbara Robinson

The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas - Madeleine L'Engle

I Saw Three Ships - Elizabeth Goudge

God is in the Manger - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

An Irish Country Christmas - Patrick Read

A Christmas Memory - Truman Capote

A Star for Christmas - Trisha Romance

I Spy Christmas, A Book of Picture Riddles - Scholastic

A Pussycat's Christmas - Margaret Wise Brown and Anne Mortimer

Christmas with Anne and other Holiday Stories - L. M. Montgomery

Christmas in My Heart: A Timeless Treasury of Heartwarming Stories - Compiled by Joe Wheeler

Christmas Classics from the Modern Library - 1997 Random House

Christmas Not Just Once a Year - Heinrich Böll

Letters from Father Christmas - J. R. R. Tolkien

Hercule Poirot's Christmas - Agatha Christie

The Mistletoe Murder and other Stories - P. D. James

Skipping Christmas - John Grisham

The Christmas Chronicles - Nigel Slater

Linking to No Place Like Home, hosted by Sandi at Rose Chintz Cottage. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Last Friday Five of November


1. Last Saturday Tim had an eye checkup downtown and while he was there (his eyes were dilated so he couldn't drive), I wandered around a bit. It was too early for stores to be open and there were few people around. The Cathedral looked very pretty in the grey light, especially those blue doors. I don't remember them being that colour before, but I haven't been in the area for awhile. 

Between the Cathedral and the graveyard runs a short street lined with tall trees and benches. A bit of colour remains in the photo above, but if those trees are anything like ours there are precious few leaves left. 

From the bedroom window on the second story I look down at the the circle of leaves that formed under the acer maple and it almost glows with vibrant colour. 

2. A noisy, scrappy flock of Pine Siskins showed up at our feeder. They are small but aggressive birds who don't like sharing with others. 

This Pine Siskin peers suspiciously around at the Dark-eyed Junco that just landed. We've seen Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Spotted Towhees, House Finches, Sparrows, and Nuthatches recently. 

3. I've noticed a few blooms on the large hydrangea bush turning a silvery purple colour that stands out against the burgundies and browns of the remainder of the fading blooms. 

4. Here we are at the end of November. One month until Christmas. It doesn't look promising for family get togethers so we are planning a festive time for two. 

I made a comment on another blog that received some attention and I thought I'd say the same thing here. 

Regarding the pandemic - Our Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry is a wise and compassionate, and very qualified doctor to be in charge during this time. I am so very thankful that the pandemic has not become a political issue here as it has in other places. Dr. Henry says that restrictions are not intended to stop the virus, for that is impossible at this stage, but to protect the most vulnerable, and to protect our health care system. 

One way to gauge the effect of a pandemic is to look at the excess death rate. Death is part of life and every country has an anticipated number of deaths. However, excess deaths are just that - deaths in excess of the expected number. A simple online search reveals that the UK had 70,000 excess deaths this year, and the USA more than 200,000. All excess deaths are not attributed to the coronavirus - there may be deaths due to lack of seeking medical attention, or overdose deaths. In the earlier part of the year, until September, in Canada the death rate actually declined, likely due to people staying at home more and not engaging in risky behaviour. 

It's a complicated issue requiring complicated measures. I love Dr. Henry's constant urging to Be Kind, and to act together to combat this virus. 

5. If you are still reading, here's a beautiful bloom from my Christmas cactus. There are few blooms on it and I'm enjoying the ones there are. 

This weekend I'll be setting up the Advent calendar and wreath. I'm still sewing pajamas - I've procrastinated this week and did some other things. The vast majority of my shopping is done and I might begin baking. I did make the Christmas Fruitcake last week. 

I hope that your week has been a good one, and that the days ahead will be filled with anticipation. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

No Place Like Home


Jane Austen said it well, "There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort." I'm so thankful for our home - it is a place of rest and restoration, of laughter and tears, and certainly, of comfort. 

My American friends are thinking about Thanksgiving, but since we here in Canada celebrated last month, I'm thinking about Christmas. Most of my shopping is done, and making of gifts is well underway. 

I've not really begun decorating - I like to wait until Advent for that, but I did pull out my red dishes. Then I thought it looked a little bare, so I went out with my clippers and snipped some greenery. It will all have to be changed and freshened up a couple of times between now and Christmas. 

When I bring in greenery from my garden, I plunge it all into a sink (or tub) full of water with some white vinegar added, to clean it and get rid of any lurking bugs. 

I love the graceful shape of this teacup, purchased in Switzerland when I went on a tour with my mom and sister in 2009. 

Everywhere I look in my home, objects spark memories. There's the watercolour painting we bought while boating one year, and the store wrapped it up well because we had an open dinghy ride over choppy water before getting back to the boat. There are plants from friends, and furniture made by Tim, and it all adds layers of meaning to us. Homes are very personal places and should reflect the personalities of the people who live there. 

Yesterday I roasted a chicken for a midday dinner, and served it on the red plates. I'll use them regularly now. I served a sliced orange and avocado salad alongside. 

This weekend was Christmas Fruitcake time, too. I chopped and mixed all the fruit - dates, raisins, glace cherries, nuts, and cranberries with some liqueur and let it sit overnight before mixing up the batter and baking the cakes. This recipe is one I have not tried before and I don't think I'll make it again. It's okay, but has pineapple in it and we think the pineapple dominates the flavour too much. Still, it's quite edible. I'll be brushing them with rum over the next weeks, and some will be given away. 

Sandi, at Rose Chintz Cottage, is hosting a weekly "No Place Like Home" link up for a few weeks. She's a fellow Canadian, living on an Island on the opposite side of Canada from me. Blogging is a wonderful way to make connections. 

Are you thinking about Christmas yet? 

Friday, November 20, 2020

A Friday Five: Day by Day


1. When there is a sunny break on the weekend, we like to go for a walk. One recent stroll took us to Sidney-by-the-Sea where beautiful Mount Baker (in Washington State) dominates the view on a clear day. I waited to take the shot until the container ship crossed into the photo. Those things are massive!

2. Another day we walked around the Bog for different views. It's an ever-changing mix of water, foliage, and birds. 

Our Island has been mostly protected from the pandemic with very few cases, until this week. Numbers are still low, relatively speaking, but two long-term care homes have cases, which means my husband, who works in administration, is working long, long hours. In addition, our Provincial Health Officer mandated new restrictions and we are not to gather, indoors or out, with anyone other than our household, until December 7. Schools are still in session, with continued strict protocols that seem to be working. I enjoy visiting with my children via Skype or phone. Little Iris, 17 months old, walks over to the computer at her house and says, "Nana, Nana" when she wants to talk to me. In other week she will have a sibling and we are all looking forward to that. 

3. I am so very glad that we can go outside and walk and enjoy the beautiful world we live in. What does that tree above care about the pandemic? Not a whit. As social anxiety rises, I pray for calmness. Here are some other things I'm doing to maintain my health, mentally and physically.

     * I limit my exposure to the news. Once a day is just fine. 
     * Creativity - I read recently, just a snippet, that handwork like knitting or embroidery calms the mind and body. I've got sewing projects on the go and love to sit down with hand-sewing. I finished one pair of grandchild Christmas pajamas this week.
     * Reading - I'm still finding that I enjoy simple stories with happy endings, and nothing too challenging. I'm looking forward to beginning my Christmas reading soon.
     * Exercise and eating well. Last night, it was 8:30 before Tim finished going through his work e-mail. We bundled up and went out into the crisp night air. Clouds reflected light from the city, but in the patches of clear dark sky stars shone as they have done for millennia. As we walked along quiet streets and through the woods, we breathed in lovely fresh air. Walking helps me sleep better, too. 
     * Prayer. Knowing that God loves me helps me keep a good perspective on life. 

4. A nuthatch at the feeder. They are so agile, and seem to prefer feeding upsidedown. Such pretty birds with mostly soft colouring, and then the contrast of black and white, like a standout accent piece on a woman's outfit. 

5. I am thoroughly enjoying my mornings at home. I baked gingersnaps this week - deliciously crisp and spicy. One of my favourite cookies. 

Outside my window a bit of rain is falling. I see a few stalwart roses and feverfew flowers blooming, but most of the garden is fading and looking scraggly. I do most of the clean up in the spring, leaving stalks and foliage over the winter as homes for beneficial insects. 

How is your weekend shaping up? I'm looking forward to doing a variety of things around the house - regular household chores, sewing, soup-making, and perhaps a little bit of pre-Christmas faffing. Wishing you the joy of gentle pursuits today. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

A Slower Pace


Autumn in a teacup. This photo, taken last year, reflects the season - a few hardy roses still blooming, berries on shrubs, and coloured leaves falling fast. 

On Tuesday I completed an intensive 10 weeks of teaching full-time. It was a marathon and although I will miss my Spanish 11s, I'll be glad for a slower pace. Until the end of January I'll have just two 70-minutes classes, a Spanish 9 and a Spanish 10. I'm looking forward to slower mornings and time to actually finish my mug of tea before heading out the door. 

Yesterday was the Remembrance Day statutory holiday, so no school. I heard the planes fly overhead, and watched a bit of the ceremony commemorating fallen soldiers on television. We will remember them. 

Today and tomorrow are professional development days, and although there are sessions at the school today, my principal gave me the days to stay home. I have some marking to do, and reports, but doing these tasks at home, in front of the fire, with a cup of tea, makes them easier. 

For a cultural activity last week, my 11s made Beef Empanadas. I made some at home beforehand, so I could give them helpful advice. They freeze well and make a quick and easy lunch. I got the recipe from Laylita, an Ecuadorian living in the USA. Her website is fantastic if you like South American food, as we do. 

In a couple of years we are planning a major renovation of our kitchen and downstairs living spaces. In the meantime, Tim has done a few things, like putting in the big window next to the table in the photo above, and installing the gas fireplace. I was standing in the kitchen workspace to take this photo. The kitchen itself is fairly small and will be made a bit larger during the renovation. Meanwhile, we are enjoying this cozy and bright space where we eat most of our meals when it's just the two of us. The white ice cream parlor chairs will be replaced soon. 

While eating breakfast, we watch the birds at the feeder come and go, scrapping at times. House Finches, like the one seen above, are common, as are Dark-eyed Juncos. From time to time we see Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Bushtits. Spotted Towhees come by to pick up any seeds dropped by the other birds. This particular House Finch was awaiting his turn at the feeder. 

Today I am sewing pajamas and nightgowns for the grandchildren for Christmas. I didn't do it last year, and wasn't planning to this year, but my daughter-in-law told me that the almost 10-year-old said something along the lines of "It's almost Christmas - Nana nighty time!" Such encouragement got me going! Yesterday I cut all the fabric and today I'll begin sewing. 

Thank you for all the great Christmas reading suggestions. I plan to compile a list and post it soon. 

Oh yes, there will be some marking done in between times! 

How are you doing these days? Is your pace slower than normal? I know that there are more restrictions with the rising number of Covid19 cases. Schools, however, are staying open, so my job continues as per usual. 

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Celebrating in the Woods


Regular readers might remember that we'd planned an outdoor Thanksgiving get together a couple of weeks ago that was rained out. Everyone had been so looking forward to it, so we planned a similar event to celebrate the three October/November birthdays in the family. 

Goldstream Park is nestled in a narrow valley at the head of the Saanich Inlet. The park is particularly popular in the autumn when the salmon spawn. Lots of cars filled the parking lot, but after arriving around 2:30, we had to wait just a few moments until someone left.

In the deeply shaded park little sun penetrated to warm us up, and we were very glad for layers of clothing including gloves and hats. 

In the river salmon swam upstream, laying their eggs where they themselves had once hatched. Gulls circled and watched for fish to weaken and die, pulling them onto sandy banks to feed on them. I didn't see bald eagles yesterday, but later they will come to gorge themselves on the dying salmon. It's an interesting and not-very-pretty part of the cycle of nature. 

A pair of Stellar's Jays flitted in the trees near our camp set up, perhaps looking for a treat to steal. They are notoriously greedy birds. 

Also very interested in our picnic was a curious squirrel. He finally decided there was too much commotion for him to steal a treat and scampered off elsewhere. 

Many of the trees here are cedar, but there are huge maple trees as well that carpet the forest floor with leaves, slowly decomposing to add nutrients to the soil. 

It was a casual gathering. People took off for little walks along the river while others stayed around the campfire. The two older grand girls became engrossed in a game that involved drying moss and bark against the fire ring. How easily they entertain themselves in nature. I love to see it. 

In that narrow valley darkness fell quickly. I happened to look up close to 4:30 and saw the last line of sunlight along the hill.

 Here are the birthday girls with cupcakes made by our youngest daughter. (In the photo our eldest daughter is in the middle and our daughter-in-law on the right.) Once darkness fell we packed up and headed home, smelling of campfire smoke and replete with a meal everyone contributed to. It was a fun time for everyone, and I'm so glad it worked out this time. Our wonderful Provincial Health Officer has encouraged us to limit time indoors with others and to be careful with how many people we associate with. For us it's just family at this point, other than school (for me) and work (for Tim). Our children are mostly working from home. 

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Little Things, and a Question


After classes today, I had an errand to run that had me driving on a country road overhung by huge trees. I was utterly delighted by the occasional leaf that floated across the road, zigzagging to and fro until it landed on the sodden ground. I found myself smiling and watching out for more leaves to grace my way. 

If ever the world needs grace and beauty, it is now. So much is topsy-turvy and there seems to be a general feeling of unsettledness. It has struck me, not for the first time, that everyday pleasures and small moments of beauty mean more than the huge things like big trips or gifts or parties. 

Barbara Pym wrote "The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things...the trivial pleasures like cooking, ones' home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard."

The amazing colour of Beauty Berries (Callicarpa) startles among the muted shades of fading autumn. 

When my mother-in-law passed away three years ago, the family divided up her jewelry, and I took these jade earrings for my daughters. They were clip on earrings, and my daughter had them altered for pierced ears. This photo was taken last fall, but it makes me happy to see the girls wear their grandmother's earrings.

Now that darkness falls so much earlier (is it really just one hour?) I find myself looking for the cozy in my home - bringing out the blanket throws, lighting candles, baking toothsome treats, and thinking about Christmas. I have some projects I'm working on, and have started my shopping. I've noticed that some in blog land have made their Christmas cakes. On cool and grey days thinking about the brightness of Christmas (whatever that may look like this year) is a small thing that fills my heart with happiness. 

On the weekend, while standing in line to enter a store, I looked up. A tree near me was filled with golden leaves, not unlike the ones in the photo above, and I immediately thought "pieces of gold". They were so bright against a brilliant blue sky that my breath caught. 

I hope that your days are sprinkled with moments that delight you and fill your soul with beauty. 

And now for a question - starting about now, I like to read Christmas stories, or stories set in winter. Some of my favourites, that I re-read each year, include:

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher
Some of the Little House chapters that deal with Christmas, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon

I'm curious to know if you have any favourite Christmas-themed stories. Do let me know in the comments, and perhaps I'll compile a list for all of us to reference. 

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