Thursday, December 30, 2021

Between the Years


The week between Christmas and the New Year is my favourite of all the year. The glow of Christmas flows through the quiet, peaceful days. Little is accomplished. 

This year is different from most. It's quieter than we planned as we cancelled our trip to the mainland to see my parents and siblings. And, there is snow. Lots of snow. We have so enjoyed watching the birds flock around the feeder and perch in the fig tree. They nibble a little on the unripe figs, but greatly prefer the sunflower seeds in the feeder. 

Long walks in the snowy woods fill me with utter delight. Tree branches bear coats of fluff, and in town every fence post wears a white top hat. 

Gulls sat by the hundreds on Tod Inlet. Although it's salt water, it's fed by a small river that rushes full at these days. The fresh water is lighter than salt and sits on the surface where it freezes. There are lines near the shore where the rise and fall of the tides breaks the ice. We witnessed a couple of bald eagles chasing a gull. Happily, the gull escaped. A river otter enjoyed a fish caught through a hole in the ice. Long icicles hang onto a fallen tree across the river. 

These snowy days are gift to families. Children scream with delight at the rare snow and spend hours playing outdoors. We went and watched some of our grands playing on a small hill. Nana even went for a ride with Adria. We went for a walk with another family, and Sadie was really good at throwing snowballs! So we all indulged in a good-natured snowball fight.

In the garden frozen rosebuds wait under a shawl of white.

Tim was on call until the 26th, and since then he's been off on vacation. We've been very lazy, drifting from walking to reading, to nibbling on a cookie, back to reading. We've watched a couple of movies and done very little. Minimal cooking - but we've eaten well with leftovers, and some fresh salads. 

The garden gate with a drift of snow.

In a bit of whimsy I took a candle out into the snow for a photo shoot. The play of white on white, with a bit of candle flame makes for winter prettiness. 

Today I roused myself and did a bit of cooking - granola, and a chicken lasagna for tomorrow. In the evenings we still enjoy the lights of the tree and mantels. And tomorrow is New Year's Eve. The start of 2022. What will it bring? We can only wait and see. 

I wish for you a happy and healthy New Year full of love and opportunity. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Christmas Day Memories


Christmas Day has come and gone in a flurry of family, food, and celebration. There were also snow flurries - a wish come true for much of our family. We did things a bit differently this year, with no big dinner. Rather, we all brought appetizers and set them out for lunch, and then later, more for an evening meal. I'm still undecided about the result, but most of the family thought it was great. We do get together for meals often throughout the year, so perhaps this will become a Christmas tradition. But I miss the turkey and stuffing! 

I have been thinking about my childhood Christmases. My parents moved away from their parents and many siblings in order to find work. But we always returned to the Fraser Valley for Christmas (and Easter, and weddings, and other weekends). 

My maternal grandparents lived in a rambling old farmhouse. The home once belonged to my great-grandmother. When the highway (Trans-Canada #1) was expanded in the 1950s, the house was destined for removal, so my grandparents moved the house to a property on Old Yale Road. That's where my memories of it began. 

Long tables stretched from the dining room to the living room when all of us gathered for dinner. The number varied from year to year as more of my aunties married and had children. We cousins sat together at one end of the table, probably presided over by an auntie who was charged to keep us in order. After dinner was cleared away, we gathered in the living room. Sheets of carols were passed around, someone sat at the piano, and we sang for quite some time. My mother and aunts sang in harmony; my mother has a beautiful alto voice. After the carol sing, gifts were exchanged and drifts of paper filled the room. At some point during the evening, my uncle Frank set up very bright lights and took silent films of the gathering. When I saw a compilation of these films a number of years ago, I was so impressed by the elegant dresses my mother and aunts wore - well-fitting sheath dresses that they had sewn themselves. No leisure wear there. 

My grandfather passed out paper bags filled with unshelled nuts, hard ribbon candy, and an orange. Mandarin oranges were a Christmas treat, and they came in wooden boxes from Japan, each orange wrapped in thin green tissue paper. What a treat they were. 

As the day wound down, little ones were put to bed throughout the house, conversations continued in groups here and there, and we children played with our cousins. Later, those who lived locally gathered up children and belongings, leaving those of us who were left feeling somewhat flat. Then up the narrow stairs we went to find our own beds. My grandparents slept downstairs. Upstairs four bedrooms opened off of a wide square hallway. My uncle, the only boy of 10, had his own room, but it seemed like the aunties were constantly moving in and out of each others' rooms. We never knew which bedroom we'd be sleeping in, and it was fun to discover where we had been assigned. 

When I was 13, we moved further north and I don't think we ever returned to my grandparents' home for Christmas. Several aunts and their families also moved north and our traditions changed as we gathered with those who were near. My grandparents sold the old farmhouse around the same time, purchasing a modern home that always seemed soulless to me. The old house has since been torn down to make way for new development, but before it was demolished, one of my aunts returned and salvaged the original beautiful glass doorknobs.

As I reminisce over Christmases past, I wonder what memories my grandchildren will have of these lovely days that we've spent together. I can only hope they will remember the love that surrounded them. 

Here's a view from earlier today - a mug (new for Christmas) of mulled wine and a few cookies enjoyed before the fire after a walk in the crisp and still snowy outdoors. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Almost Christmas


Just two more sleeps until the 25th. My list of things to accomplish has plenty of items ticked off of it, but there are still a few more things to do. There is time to read and to look at the twinkling lights on tree and mantel, and to enjoy this beautiful season of anticipation. 

We have enjoyed some lovely sunny days where strong shadows cast highly defined shadows into the rooms. On Sunday afternoon we had a casual lunch with friends. This morning rain drips steadily. Temperatures are forecast to drop in the next few days and there is a strong likelihood of snow. 

Our Christmas celebrations will be confined to family as the new variant rages across the globe. We have sadly canceled our trip to the mainland after Christmas to see my parents and siblings. We're encouraged to keep our gatherings small. 

I spent a few delightful hours creating a few farm animals for Cora's stocking. What fun to play with fabric and to add the little embroidered and stitched details. She's taken her first steps this week. 

I'm looking forward to watching a Christmas movie or two in the next few days. Christmas in Connecticut is a favourite, as is The Shop Around the Corner, and It Happened on Fifth Avenue. Old movies just seem to fit the mood for me. Do you have any Christmas movies you enjoy?

Last evening Tim helped me decorate the ginger cookies I baked awhile ago. Decorating is not my forte, so it was lovely to have company and to do it together. It didn't take long at all. 

Our church sent out this Advent prayer:

"God of the long and aching wait.
This year has swelled with the grief and longing and loss of many. We want so much more than the present condition of this world. Where are you? There are seasons where it becomes difficult to believe in your nearness. Would you make it known to us now? That as we carry each other through this season, we would find the miracle in the mundane, tiny sacred flashes of good as we wait for a healing that lasts. 

Help us to dream. That we would find even our prayers grow large in this season, asking for those things which have seemed too good or naive. Help us to dream, not that we would pine for some mirage of how things used to be, but that we would hold space for visions of life where justice can breathe, where power is mobile, and where liberation leaves no one behind. 
Come, God. And we will wait."

I wish you all a most merry Christmas and hearts full of joy and love. 

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Blue Skies after December Rain


You wouldn't know it from the photo above, but yesterday morning the rain poured darkly down. Birds hunkered in the hedge. I was glad to stay indoors and turn on all of the twinkly lights. We had planned an afternoon to evening outing with the older grandchildren and some of it involved the outdoors. So when the skies cleared up shortly after lunch, and the sun shone, we were greatly relieved. 

Our outing involved going downtown and how beautiful the Legislature building looked against the blue sky, with the afternoon sun slanting against the stones. 

Each year we plan an extended time with the grands, with fun activities. This year we signed up for a horse-drawn "sleigh" ride - the sleigh was on wheels since snow is in very short supply here on the south Island. 

Everyone bundled up and we enjoyed our trip. Christmas music played, there was some singing, and the clip clop of our horse, Henry, along with the gentle motion of the "sleigh" provided a soothing background.

Then it was home for a craft project - this year we painted snowy scenes. I found one on the internet that I painted as a sample earlier this week, and painted another alongside the children. Didn't they do a great job? 

I finished the pajamas (and one nightgown) later than planned, but they are all complete. I made rice bags to accompany them - cozy for heating up in the microwave and cuddling with. They're also fun to throw back and forth. After pizza for dinner, and some cookie decorating (and eating), we gave the grands their new nightclothes and they promptly put them on to watch a movie. Hot chocolate with marshmallows and a candy cane were enjoyed alongside. 

Iris and Cora will get their new pajamas later this week. They are a little young for this kind of a gathering. 

Clear skies continued today (Sunday). Did you see the fat full moon? Tim and I both awoke early this morning and decided to get up and go for a walk while it was still dark (6:45). Light frost covered the roads and the moon shone white until the sky lightened into pale blue. 

Friends came for a casual lunch after church today and we enjoyed seeing their recent travel photos (business combined with pleasure) of Paris (oh my) and Uganda. They returned about 3 weeks ago. 

The last few days before Christmas are enjoyable ones for me. Most preparations are completed and I indulge in a few craft projects, a bit of baking, and gift wrapping. There will be visits with family and final preparations for the 25th. I'll light candles and play Christmas music. 

I wish you all a good week as you prepare your heart and home for Christmas. 

Oh, and the weather forecast currently shows a distinct possibility of SNOW for Christmas. How magical would that be? 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Christmas Kitchen


Outside, tree branches and hedges are dancing wildly. Juncos, sparrows, and bush tits gather in clusters around the bird feeder. Tim is working from home this week because of a cold, and he saw the birds scatter in a flash with one bird so frantic it flew into the window. The reason - a Sharp-shinned Hawk swooped down and landed on the roof of the lemon tree shelter. 

Ironically, the week that Tim is home is the week I have been called to teach. The past two days I've been in the school library, with someone else covering there for one class so I could teach a French 11 class. This afternoon is Senior Foods and Junior Band. 

I came home yesterday afternoon and after dinner used my rare boost of energy to do some baking. I've been pulling out the tried and true recipes collected over the years from my mother and others. 

Croustillants, or cheese crackers, is a savoury treat, and delicious with a glass of wine. I see that I first posted this recipe 10 years ago. It's still a favourite. 

Almond Crescents are a delicious and elegant treat from my mother. When I was growing up there was always a flurry of baking in December. Not too early, but beginning in the middle of December, the kitchen was filled with the sights and sounds of a Christmas kitchen - 

- the whirring of the mixer
- the tapping of knives against measuring cups
- the beeping of the oven timer
- bowls of cookie dough chilling in the fridge
- clouds of icing sugar
- children's faces with tell-tale signs of licking spatulas
- chopping of nuts and chocolate and dried fruit
- fragrant and irresistible warm cookies from the oven that just beg to be tasted

There are the old, tried and true recipes. These days, I don't make everything I used to make. Each year I choose few favourites. New recipes sometimes make their appearance, as well. From Christmas with Southern Living 2000, I tried a recipe for Crunchy Vanilla Clusters. They are more of a candy than a cookie, and ever so tasty if you like a lot of crunch. The list of ingredients is short, but there is one odd one that may make you wonder - ramen noodles! 

Plates of cookies for friends, a sweet or two enjoyed with a friend, or alone, over a cup of tea, Christmas baking is a sign of the season. I am never concerned about too many cookies. They keep very well in the freezer, and Tim takes some baking in his lunches each day. When the family is together, an assortment of baking adds to the enjoyment of conversation and laughter. 

Another nibble that goes down well is Spiced Candied Nuts. A friend gave me this recipe quite a few years ago. These are great by themselves, but also add personality to a salad of greens, apples or pears, and blue cheese. Or served alongside a creamy Pannacotta dessert. 

The Christmas Kitchen is a happy place, but one that provides time for retrospection, as well. Thoughts of family and friends come to mind as I measure and mix, roll and bake, then store the fruits of my labour. I think about the years when my children were young and how excited they were to help out. Now it's the grandchildren who occasionally come to bake with Nana. Food traditions pass through the years, a thread connecting past to present. There are changes and adaptations as family members are added with their unique customs, yet the spirit of the Christmas Kitchen remains the same - one of love and festivity as we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. 

What's it like in your Christmas Kitchen? 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Celebrations and Preparations


Five years ago, I baked a cake for my husband's birthday - a 5 layer Sampler Cake. It was massive and I never thought I'd ever bake another one. However, a then 6-year-old granddaughter took notice, and for her 11th family birthday celebration, asked Nana to make one. I changed up the layers and flavours and it all turned out well. There are two layers of chocolate and three of vanilla - one with crushed candy canes, one with sprinkles, and one with cherries. The icing is a family recipe using milk and flour cooked together, then beaten with sugar and butter until fluffy. I added chocolate. The marshmallows on top are from a Martha Stewart recipe. The birthday girl was very pleased with her cake. 

I personally don't want to make another cake for a very long time. It's just Too.Much.Cake. 

We had a lovely time together celebrating. The dining room light fixture is adorned with a pearl bead garland, metal stars, and one hand blown glass bauble. Little one-year-old Cora makes a "ffff" sound when she sees it for she is convinced it should whirl around like ceiling fans. 

Joy was definitely present, not only in this cushion cover I made a few years ago, but also in the conversations and interactions. Red velveteen covers other cushions and the living room is looking cozy and festive. 

In the china hutch red and white dishes play nicely with white and a few touches of greenery. 

For dinner tonight I made a roast chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, a vegetable medley of peppers and zucchini from last summer's garden tucked away into the freezer, and a salad of grated cabbage, carrots, diced celery, red pepper, apple, and a sprinkling of blue cheese. Simple, warming food. Winter food. 

Nigel Slater writes in The Christmas Chronicles "This is the winter food I love. Patient food, recipes that wait for us, untroubled by the ticking of the clock or a gardener wanting to do "just one more job." Dishes that are done when they're done and refuse to be hurried. Benign, good-natured recipes whose smells calm us like an extra blanket on a stone-cold night, and warm us slowly, thawing out our frozen souls." 

After dinner I deboned the chicken and put all the scraps into the slow cooker along with onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns, and herbs. It's in the fridge now and tomorrow I'll set the ceramic container into the heating container and fill it up with water to slowly, over the course of the day, fill the house with the fragrance of chicken broth. I've found that making my broth in the slow cooker results in a clearer broth as the liquid never bubbles and boils. After straining it, I'll freeze it for soup. 

Less than two weeks now until Christmas. A few things need to be done, but I'm feeling comfortable about my progress. How about you? Are you able to take time to read or walk, and admire the beauty of this season? 

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

A Sunny December Day


One of my treasured items of Christmas decor is this paper cutting done by my eldest daughter when she was in high school.

Outside my window this afternoon the sky is bright blue and the slanting sun casts strong shadows on the furniture. What a welcome respite these occasional sunny days provide from the usual dark grey. Across the street our neighbours have decorated a small tree with all sorts of silver ornaments that catch the light and dance in the breeze. I stepped outside to cut some arugula (rocket) for tonight's salad, and I hurried back indoors as quickly as possible for the wind is sharp. 

This year, I bought two new pieces of Christmas decor. One is a dozen of the little silvered hearts in the photo above. I hung them in clusters with a large and a small gold ornament and quite like the effect.

Inside, all is cozy and warm. Young Iris spent the morning and we made shortbread cookies and granola, did some Christmas crafting, and read stories before lunch. Her younger sister Cora was here for part of the time so the girls' mother could run errands. Iris is now napping and after she wakes up and has a snack, I'll return her home. 

I planted the amaryllis about 10 days ago and it's coming along nicely. Whether or not it blooms before Christmas is in question, but I'll be happy for its flowers whenever they open. 

The second item of new Christmas decor is the felt ball garland hanging under the mantel. It's handmade in southeast Asia by women in a fair trade cooperative. 

This room is the one where we've done the most work since moving in 20 years ago. I'm standing in the kitchen to take it. Tim installed the window and it's made such a difference to what was formerly a dark room. A gas fitter installed the fireplace workings, but Tim did the finishing, including the mantel and the fireplace stone face. It's such a cozy spot in the morning when we eat our breakfast at the little table there. 

I have a cup of tea beside me, and I did nibble one of those cranberry shortbread cookies. A few days ago Iris also helped with the rugelach cookies - I rolled them up and she placed them on the baking sheet and brushed the tops with egg. For 2 1/2 years old, I thought she did a stellar job. 

Recipe links:

Cranberry Shortbread


Have you completed your Christmas shopping? Gladys Taber writes in Stillmeadow Calendar "I think, on the whole, books make the most satisfying presents. A fine book is a lifelong friend. Time does not stale it, it becomes dearer. In happy hours it is a delight; in time of sorrow, a comfort." 

Last year I compiled a list of seasonal reading suggested by you, my readers. Here's a link to that post. 

Earlier this week I had a restless night and was very tired. The day was dreary, wet and dark. I spent an hour or two under a cozy blanket on the sofa, reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter. Such hardship the Ingalls family faced that winter. Now I'm off to spend a few minutes with another favourite seasonal book - Rosamunde Pilcher's "Winter Solstice". 

Monday, December 06, 2021

A Visit to Butchart Gardens


One of the traditions that we have enjoyed since our children moved into their own homes is attending some of the special Christmas events in our community. On a recent evening we bundled up and wandered around Butchart Gardens. Near the entrance is a photo opportunity that we took advantage of. Our Persian friends accompanied us and we took photos of each other in the wreath. 

I wonder how many lights the displays use? There are rivers of light pouring down hills and shining in the trees. The Butchart's house is beautifully lighted inside and out. The main floor is now a restaurant. 

Throughout the Gardens we look for the illustrations of The Twelve Days of Christmas song. I did a bit of research about the song in an effort to explain it to our friends. So much of what we do at Christmas has little or nothing to do with the story of Jesus' birth. I discovered that this English song was written during the time when Catholic Christians were forbidden to practice their faith traditions, during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The song has two layers of meaning - the literal, fun one we sing - but the original meaning was a way for young Catholics to learn some of the essentials of their faith. 

For example, the Three French Hens, seen above having tea near the Eiffel Tower, are said to represent the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. "My true love" represents Jesus Christ, whose birth is celebrated on Christmas Day. 

I thought it an interesting bit of history.

The Sunken Garden is awash with lights filling the beds where flowers bloom at other seasons. There are so many features to delight the senses and we took our time, in spite of the cold weather, to stand and enjoy. A mug of hot chocolate in the coffee shop was a great way to warm up afterwards. 

Over the weekend we drove down to Cattle Point and watched the lighted boats sail from the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, another cold and beautiful sight. 

Do you enjoy seeing Christmas light displays? What is available in your area? 

Sunday, December 05, 2021

The Second Week of Advent


Last week went by with a whoosh, and here we are on the second Sunday in Advent. Over the past two days Tim and I decorated the Christmas tree - it's a bit earlier than normal. As I sit here the lights shine softly, reflecting on the shiny gold balls and illuminating ornaments that have hung on our trees over many years. 

December is a beautiful month, and flies by so quickly. How to slow down time? Impossible, I know, so it's important to savour the moments. 

After unusually high temperatures for November, the thermometer plummeted and we woke up to a frosty world. No snow, sadly. Tim suggested a walk before breakfast, so we bundled up with gloves and scarves and headed out. Pink tinge the sky that was soon pale blue streaked with white clouds. Small puddles cracked into shards of ice if stepped on. Cold clear air filled our lungs and filtered in through our clothing. 

Home again and I went to see how the garden fared. The rosebuds are frost-tipped, but still holding their own. I'm optimistic.

An ice-coated leaf in the woods looks as though it was dipped in sugar. By mid-morning the frost was gone and I am so glad we ventured out beforehand. We came home to a warm house and enjoyed scrambled eggs and toast, along with coffee for him and tea for me before watching our online church service. 

We ran a few errands in the early afternoon before settling in with quieter pursuits for the rest of the day. I puttered with decorations. The week ahead will be another busy one, not frantic busy, but busy enough to keep me focused. 

Here's a little quotation to take with you through the week, 

"Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to those who need it most." 

Ruth Carter Stapleton 

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Welcome December


Here we are on the cusp of another month. I love the image above, done by Jody Bergsma. All the symbolism that points towards the birth of Christ is so beautiful. I've linked to her website, but didn't find this particular image there. It's one I saw on Facebook. 

In between all the rain I walk and in the wooded areas there is such freshness in the air. Ferns and mosses thrive in the damp. 

Holly trees are filled with berries and I've clipped a few for decorations here and there. The house is slowly taking on a festive air. It's happening more slowly than usual because of a small construction project going on in the front hallway. Tim's had a few days off and chose to putter. There will be a major renovation when he retires in a year or two, and these small projects are all part of the grand scheme. 

Tomorrow, once the dust settles, I'll tidy up and pull out more seasonal decor.

In my own back garden, there are five buds on the Secret Rose. The same system that has pulled so much moisture from the tropics and caused such havoc also brings warmer than normal temperatures. I wonder if these buds will open. Time will tell. Roses in December are very special.

Squelching along the sodden ground to the raised vegetable beds, I was surprised to see how much the broccoli, planted in September, has grown. Normally, I harvest in February or March, but this will need to be cut before too much longer. 

There is time spent each day at my sewing machine and projects are being finished. In quiet moments I enjoy looking through old issues of magazines for inspiration. Recipes, craft ideas, decor suggestions and more are interspersed with heart-warming tales and beautiful quotations. 

I'll leave you with one quotation, and scoot back to my sewing. 

"December offers a banquet for the senses, and many chances to lose oneself in the plain deliciousness of life - all the sights and smells of the season, from wood fires to baking." Diane Ackerman

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