Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Turning of the Year

 


The turning of the year invites both looking back and looking ahead. The first is rooted in memory; the second in hope and intention. I have never indulged in much formal retrospection. I've never done a post highlighting the 10 most-read blog entries, nor do I find them interesting to read on others' blogs. Of course, I love memories, but that's different.

However, this year, more than most, seems to invite a little reflection. My, what a year it's been. None of us imagined the upheaval and turmoil of 2020. All years are uncertain, for we never really know what lies ahead. We make plans and most times, they come to fruition, or we change them. We live life with an illusion of control. Perhaps 2020 taught us that life is fragile and plans should be held lightly. We have seen incredible goodness and kindness in people, and conversely, incredible selfishness. The convulsions of this year brought home the importance of resilience, and of the need to be strong spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. It's been tough. We've wept. We've been anxious. We've ached with longing to hug our loved ones. We've faltered. 

Next year, 2021, will begin with the very same problems and turmoil as 2020 ended with: inequality, racism, selfishness, and the big one, Covid19. There is hope that the vaccine will help with the latter. But even those results will not be apparent for several months, at the earliest. 

So what do I hope for as we step into 2021? 

I hope that you will see the world with eyes of wonder and awe, and that you will find solace in knowing the promise of Christmas, Emmanuel - God with us, through the days and moments of 2021. I hope that you will soon be able to gather with those you love, that you will hug and kiss with joy and abandon, and laughter will echo from the walls of your home. I hope that you will create community and a sense of welcome as you walk about the world. I hope that you read books that make you cry and laugh and ponder life. Move more. Be well. Love with abandon. 



Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Between the Years

 


Outside my window all is grey and dull. A few chickadees flit about. Inside, I have a cup of tea (English Breakfast) to hand, and the tree lights twinkle. It's very quiet. 

I took few photos this Christmas, but wanted to document a few aspects of the quieter, different celebration. Our dessert on Christmas Eve is often a Buche de Noel - a chocolate version. This year I tried a white one, with vanilla cake, a thin layer of lemon curd and then tart raspberry filling all rolled up and covered with a white chocolate mousse. Candied orange slices and pomegranate arils added a festive touch. It was delicious, not-too-sweet, and refreshing.  


I confess that my bravery and determination to celebrate well with just the two of us failed me on Christmas morning after we had opened our lovely gifts. The hours ahead seemed dreadfully empty. So we went on a long walk - several hours in the fresh air, including a stop by our son's house for a short sidewalk visit. That cheered me up and by the time we returned home we were very hungry! The table for two is a good sum up of this Christmas. 


On Boxing Day we had a number of video calls with family and friends. Here is our family photo for the year. Such dearly loved faces. 


We're all agreed that we can meet for walks outside one family at a time. On Sunday I walked alongside Witty's Lagoon with our eldest daughter and her family. It was another grey day, with a teensy bit of drizzle. 

Tim was planning to join us, however, work interfered. I wish these Covid naysayers and rule-breakers knew of the efforts health care workers (including administrators and managers) put in to ensure the system works well under the weight of this virus. Of his 10 days of scheduled vacation, only two were free of conference calls, emails, and texts. 


On a dull day the forest is somber and dark, but everywhere is the sound of water. Sometimes it trickles in hidden rivulets, then it rushes over rocks and along the shore it laps quietly against the sand. 


Here we are on the cusp of another year. 

cusp: the dividing line between two very different things

During these in between days life is slow. We ate Christmas Day leftovers for a few meals and yesterday I made lasagna for the two of us with a shredded cabbage, carrot, and beet slaw, and some pan-roasted broccoli. Hearty and simple and very satisfying. 

Today I'm tidying a little, and I've sorted some fabrics for a red and white Christmas quilt. Every year, round about December, I wish I had a Christmas quilt, but it's too late by then. So I've decided that will be a project for now. 

Wishing you all quiet days of joy and love. How do you spend these days between the years?

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Two More Sleeps

 


For a child, the few days before Christmas are fraught with excitement and anticipation. My brother and sister and I counted down the "sleeps" until the big day, and my own children did the same. As an adult, I count down via my list. Is everything done that needs doing? Now, just two sleeps before Christmas, everything is well in hand. 


The cookies are baked and plates of them delivered to driveways across town, with short, chilly visits at a good distance. Gifts are wrapped and delivered. Since we can't be together for Christmas this year, my daughter-in-law had the great idea that we could all exchange a food item that is "Christmassy." Hot crab dip, a savoury cheesecake, gluhwein and cardamom buns - doesn't it all sound delicious? For my part, I made Tim's mother's fruit salad, some chex mix, candied pecans, and plates of cookies. A mother can do a bit more, can't she?


Since it's just the two of us, we won't be using the dining room table for our meals, but sit by the window at our breakfast table. We'll watch the birds eating at the same time. I bought a piece of fabric and hemmed it to make a new tablecloth to gussy things up a little. 

The linen napkins are ironed smooth, softly folded, and stacked ready for use. As I ironed this little pile, I reflected on years when the pile was much higher. It will be again, God willing. 


A pearl bead garland encircles the dining room light fixture and from a certain angle, frames the wooden nativity set. On Christmas Eve we'll watch our church service on line. These past few days the sweet old Christmas carols have rung throughout the house as I cooked and wrapped. 

Tomorrow I'll do a quick tidy up of the house, and finish a few things in the kitchen, including a Buche de Noel. I normally make a chocolate one, but this year I'm doing one with vanilla cake, lemon curd and raspberries. Plus lots of whipped cream. 


On Christmas Day we will open stockings, then have breakfast and read the Nativity story from Luke, and open other gifts. Perhaps a long walk will follow, then dinner à deux, perhaps a movie and reading. There will be texts and phone calls and a lovely sense of contentment and joy. Different, but still celebratory. 

I wish all of my readers a wonderful celebration of Christ's birth and much joy. Merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 20, 2020

It's Almost Christmas!

 


Sunday afternoon and dusk is falling. The tree lights cast a soft glow in the quickly darkening room. Soon it will be time to draw the curtains and turn on more lights. Then I'll think about a light supper. 

My husband is ostensibly on vacation until after Christmas. However, he's been on the phone dealing with some health facility staffing issues related to the pandemic, and the weekend has not been very restful. Hopefully the next few days will be easier. 

I love setting a tea tray and carrying it into the living room for my husband and I to enjoy in the afternoon or evening. I usually just serve the teacup and saucer, but a tray makes everything just a wee bit more special. 


I'm so enjoying all the lights and decorations around the house just now. The little scene above was created for our grandchildren a few years ago. Most of them won't be able to play with it this year, but over the weekend young Iris came over to give her parents a break. I had so much fun introducing her to the three little mice and one hedgehog and their houses and toys. I must look for one more woodland creature to represent Cora in this scene. I've not spent a lot of time in stores just looking at things. 


The birds visiting our garden are so plentiful just now. I watch them alight and lift off as I work in the kitchen. Over the days of Christmas I do want to eat well, but I don't want to spend much time preparing. It's different when there's a crew of us pulling a big dinner together and there's lots of visiting while working. So I've made the turkey dressing and a braised cabbage dish and have them ready in the freezer. This afternoon I made 7 half-pints of cranberry sauce. The sweet potato dish can be done ahead, leaving not much to prepare for our dinner for two. 

On Christmas Eve we traditionally have a dish from Ecuador - ceviche - a sort of shrimp cocktail. I've prepared the sauce for it, and will share some with our son, who also enjoys it. Our eldest daughter is making some on the other side of town and will share it with her sister there. The children-in-law are not as fond of the dish as we are. 


Our weather continues wet and mild, although there is a drying trend towards mid-week. Not really any chance of snow, which I always long for. Instead, we have roses forming buds. 

The baking is done, most of the presents are wrapped, and I'm enjoying the last bits and pieces of Christmas preparations. There will be a house-cleaning this week, some more babysitting, and some arranging of gifts and food. All lovely, puttery delights that I so enjoy. I've crossed some items off my list as unimportant at this stage. Such a freeing gesture!

I wish you gentle moments of joy these days before Christmas. If you're feeling frazzled, make a tray of tea and a treat, and cross something off your list, too!

Linking with No Place Like Home hosted by Sandi. 

PS

One commenter from my last post asked for the scone recipe. Here it is, an easy-to-make recipe from Jean Pare, who published an extensive series of books in the 1980s. This recipe is from Muffins and More.

Rich Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour (450 ml)

½ cup white sugar (125 ml)

1 Tablespoon baking powder (15 ml)

½ teaspoon salt (2 ml)

½ cup butter, cool (125 ml)

1 egg

2/3 cup milk (150 ml)

 

Additional milk or cream for brushing tops

Granulated sugar for sprinkling

 

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in mixing bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly. 

Beat egg with fork in small bowl; add milk. Pour into dry ingredients and stir to make a soft dough. Do not overmix. Pat into two 6-inch (15cm) rounds. Place on parchment lined baking sheet. 

Brush tops with milk. Sprinkle with sugar. Score each circle into 6 pie-shaped wedges. Bake at 425 F (220 C) for 15 minutes until golden brown. Split and butter, or serve with strawberry jam or preserves, and whipped cream. 



Thursday, December 17, 2020

December Days

 


The days slip by one by one. Now, just eight days before Christmas, they slip faster and faster. Are you looking forward to celebrating this year? Will you be celebrating differently? 

This past weekend we went for a walk to Tod Inlet where steep forests line the shore. Each year someone hangs a few baubles on a tree - this year shiny red balls catch the rain and sparkle in the sun. I wonder who does this, and why? Does this place have a special meaning?


How green it is. When the water is still I admire the reflection of old concrete pilings covered with moss and now purposed as perches for birdhouses. It's a peaceful place.


Most Christmas activities are cancelled, but we discovered that downtown carriage rides are still going on. On Sunday evening we bundled up and rolled through the James Bay area behind Tucker, our horse. Our guide, Brianna, gave us tidbits of information about some of the heritage houses and buildings we passed. 


The Legislature building is beautifully lighted year-round, and more-so at Christmas. On top of the dome is a two-metre, gold-plated statue of Captain Vancouver, one of the earliest European explorers of this area, for whom the Island is named. 

Our ride left us a bit chilled and we were glad to come home, make hot chocolate and warm up by the fire. 


This is one of my favourite Christmas books - a tale of a small mouse who becomes (against the advice of his family), a church mouse, because he loved the music of the organ. When famine strikes the little mouse nibbles away on the leather bellows of the organ, with disastrous effect. No organ music for Christmas; instead, two men compose a song accompanied by guitar and Silent Night is the result. 


Miss A celebrated her 10th birthday this week. No parties, but her parents made it special. I dropped off an afternoon tea basket on Sunday and heard that it was most enjoyable. 


Rainy dark days are interspersed with some sunny moments and I captured the bright rays in the entrance hallway one day. The paperwhites are just beginning to bloom with a sweet fragrance. As the spaces on the Advent calendar fill, there is much baking, stitching, and preparation going on. 

We will be celebrating Christmas with just the two of us, but we're arranging present drop-offs, food exchanges, and video calls. How are you celebrating this special season? 

Monday, December 07, 2020

Making Christmas - No Place Like Home

 


Late Sunday afternoon Tim and I walked down Oak Bay Avenue, a part of town that has old-world charm and lots of Christmas lights. This is a wordy post, so maybe get a cup of tea and a cookie to nibble on as you read.

As a child, Christmas always involved lots and lots of family - aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins galore. It was merry bedlam. There was a huge dinner, carol singing, presents, and bags of nuts and candies containing a single mandarin orange from Japan handed out by my grandparents (on both sides). 

When I was 13 we moved further away and trips to visit extended family were much fewer and far between. However, one or two of my mother's sisters and their families also lived in the northern interior of BC and we celebrated Christmas with them. After dinner, the adults visited and we cousins played. For a number of years we organized (I was probably very bossy) a little nativity play and performed it for our parents. Christmas was more than a one-day affair. We alternated Christmas Eve at one home and Christmas Day at another. Delicious food, lots of laughter, and a lovely sense of satisfaction to end the day. 

With minor adjustments, these traditions carried on after I married. Tim and I alternated Christmas Day and Christmas Eve with his family and mine. 


In 1981 we moved to a small jungle town in Ecuador. The climate and culture were all very strange to us, and to me particularly. Nothing felt familiar. It was Christmas pared down to bare bones. On Christmas Eve Tim and I sat in front of our ugly little tree and we both cried. We cuddled our 8-week old daughter and wept with loneliness. And I vowed then that the next year would be different. 

I learned that I couldn't rely on the culture around me to evoke the meaning I wanted from Christmas. As a child and young bride, I relied on my parents and extended family to prepare and lead our Christmas celebrations, and they in turn were guided by society and by our faith traditions. 


The next year was different. I took the time to prepare my heart and my home. Our home was the centre of our celebration of Christ's birth. Advent calendars, reading the Christmas story from the Bible or from children's story books, lots of music, baking, and a big dinner to which we always invited lots of people became our family traditions. 

And Christmas was good. It was beautiful and fun. But always, there was, in my heart, a turning towards home, towards my parents and siblings gathered so far away. As I dressed for the day, thoughts of home filled my mind and a few tears fell. I learned to acknowledge the grief even as it eased over the years. And then, hair combed, make-up applied, I tucked away the sadness, and went out to celebrate Christmas with my beautiful children and husband and had a perfectly wonderful day. 


This year is going to be unlike any other Christmas. Our Provincial Health Officer has said that we are restricted to our own households and we are not to gather in an effort to flatten the curve of coronavirus. It is hard to imagine. The news doesn't surprise me, for cases have been much higher recently. Once again, I will acknowledge the sadness and grieve a little over not being able to be with our parents, children and grandchildren. Tim and I are talking about how we will make the day special for just the two of us. It will be a good day. There will likely be gift deliveries and Zoom calls. And through it all, we will remember the reason for our celebration - the birth of the Christ Child. 

We'll be at home a lot. On Saturday we decorated with lots of twinkle lights on the mantels and piano, and around the kitchen windows. The tree lights reflect in the window and across the room onto the glass of a large picture. Home is a good place to be. 

Linking to Sandi's No Place Like Home. 



Friday, December 04, 2020

Five on Friday

 


1. Sitting at the table with candles lit in the early morning half-light is a lovely way to begin the day. Christmas decorating is happening very slowly here. It's a matter of time and energy, not will. This weekend we will hunt out and put up the tree. 


2. I had a burst of energy last night and put up our stockings and hung the wreath on the outside of the house. I'm sure Tim thought I was crazy to be on the porch at 9 pm fussing with lights and a wreath. 


3. I'm slowly writing Christmas cards. Most of the envelopes are addressed and it's the writing of personal greetings that is happening now. It's high time to get the overseas envelopes in the mail. 
Do you send Christmas cards? With e-mail and the high cost of postage stamps many people don't. I like receiving cards, and I'm certain that others do, too. This year, with fewer face to face gatherings, a little reminder that someone is thinking about you is a sweet gesture. 


4. Iris spent last weekend with us. She loves being outdoors, and was very excited to help rake leaves with Grandpa. He set her into the wheelbarrow and piled the leaves on top of her, then trundled her down to the compost bins where she flung handfuls of leaves into the bin. Such fun. 

Alas, her pink hat is now gone. She went for a walk one afternoon with her other grandmother, on a very blustery day. Iris is fond of pulling off her hat and when she did the hat flew off into the water under the bridge they were crossing. She was heartbroken, and even a day or two later the mention of a hat brought consternation. 

5. Thank you for all the congratulations on my last post's announcement. I don't have any good photos yet, but will share one when I do. Our early Christmas gift's name is Cora Cassandra, she weighed in at 7 lbs 8 oz, and is the sweetest bundle. I spent several hours in a rocking chair holding her against my chest while her mother slept. Utter delight. 

Five thing. Four photos. Have a wonderful weekend. 

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