Friday, December 29, 2023

A Week of Memories


In no particular order thanks to Blogger this morning, a few memories of Christmas week. Enjoying Cardamom Buns and coffee/tea while we open gifts in the morning has become a recent tradition. Not too sweet and fragrant with cardamom, the platter disappears in a hurry. 

Early on Christmas Eve morning Tim and I drove to the beach to catch the sunrise. We were not expecting much due to the cloud cover, but WOW, what an amazing gift to see Mount Baker and other peaks across the Strait of Georgia glowing in the light. Intense colour and form. 

Twinkly scenes at home with angels proclaiming the good news of Christ's birth. Soft lights gleaming on the mantel. A host of Christmas memories seen in the various ornaments on the tree. 

Evenings with hot chocolate for two. A Christmas feast of various appetizers and goodies contributed by all of us meant that no one had to do a lot of work. Gales of laughter. Shining eyes of littles and bigs as they opened their gifts.

Dinners with friends. Glow of candlelight sparkling off crystal. Walks on beaches and hills. Memories of Christmas to tuck away. I've been pondering some of the moments in these quiet days between the years, and I hope you are enjoying yours. 

Off today on a ferry for another celebration with my parents and siblings. 

Friday, December 22, 2023

The Eve of the Eve of Christmas Eve


Friday evening. No snow at all this year, rather, it's been unseasonably warm. Some rain, and I'm glad for the fires that keep us comfortable indoors. 

My teaching gig ended today around noon, and I handed over my keys, skipped out of school, and headed out to finish the last little bit of shopping. All done now, other than a quick grocery run early tomorrow morning. 

I spent a few hours this afternoon wrapping gifts. They are stacked on the dining room table and tomorrow I'll pretty them up with tags and embellishments. That's the fun part. 

There comes a point each year when the lists are set aside and what's still undone is left undone. I sent off Christmas cards to a certain point in my address book, but ran out of cards, purchased more, but never got back to writing them. I'll send notes in the new year. It's time to enjoy. Preparations are mostly finished - there will be a final tidying up of the house and some last minute cooking. Then, Christmas Eve, full of quietness before the joyous hullabaloo of gathering on Christmas Day. 

And so, I wish you all a most merry and festive Christmas. 

Thursday, December 14, 2023

It Comes and Goes


I love this season of the year. Advent, with all its heart-focused preparations for Christmas, is deeply meaningful. Then there are the physical plans - considering gifts to make or buy for loved ones, filling the freezer with cookies and other treats, and decorating the house with lights and festive greenery. All this can add up to overly busy days.

On top of all the preparations, I want to feel Christmassy. I want to be excited about the season, to revel in the glow of lights, to find myself smiling throughout the day. I've learned, however, that feelings come and go, and to be okay with that. Christmas doesn't mean that frustrations, difficulties, and sorrows disappear. Indeed, sometimes hard things are magnified by the expectations of the season. Walking under the stars (or in falling snow), sitting quietly by the fire, hearing Christmas music in the stores, or just being content puttering away in my home are moments when that elusive "Christmas spirit" fills me with a measure of happiness. I am learning to be content with those moments, knowing that they will pass, but also that they will come again. 

This week I made Almond Crescents, a recipe from my mom. Not too sweet, but nutty and buttery - a lovely treat. Last night I packaged up cookies and treats and put them into small tins to share with friends. What fun that was!

We decorated the Christmas tree this week, always a real one. It's on the small side so I chose the most meaningful ornaments to hang on it - "Remember this one," he or I would say?
I'm mindful of the BeeGee's song lyrics 

"When I was small, and Christmas trees were tall..." 
"Now we are tall, and Christmas trees are small..."

And so the years are counted in stories told and memories cherished. And the happiness comes and goes. And that's just fine.

Friday, December 08, 2023

Christmas Inside and Outside


A recent walk took us to Tod Inlet where fog crept wraith-like along the shore, swirling up into the forest and down again. Sparse light filtered through the clouds, just enough to make silvery reflections on the old moss-covered pilings in the inlet. 

Nature's decorations - red berries touched with crystal-like water droplets. 

The new fireplace surround and mantel

Inside, a little bit of decorating is happening. We are having some work done on the house this next week and I don't want to put up a tree and other decorations only to have them coated with dust or have to remove them. By Wednesday we will be able to put the house back together. 

The old fireplace surround and mantel, last year at Christmas

Tim finished the fireplace update, diminishing the profile a little and putting in a more neutral porcelain tile in place of the black marble. Just now, as I sit in my chair, a fire glows and the lights shine in the gathering darkness. Red velvet cushions on the sofa add colour and coziness. 

It's a busy time of year - students are becoming restless, eager for the Christmas break - and teachers are not immune, either. School goes late this year, right to the 22nd. 

Here at home the baking has begun, with rugelach, shortbread, rum balls, and marshmallow roll in the freezer. Every day I read a little - this week I finished SJ Bennett's All the Queen's Men, a cozy mystery that takes place at the royal estate in Sandringham at Christmas. A great way to relax in the evening. 

And with you? How are things? 

Friday, December 01, 2023

Welcome December


December begins, and with it, preparations and celebrations. A week ago we attended a performance by The Tenors, a wonderful spectacle of music and light. It was fun to get dressed up a little and go out for the evening. 

Last month the family got together to celebrate a few birthdays. Our eldest granddaughter is cooking all kinds of delicious things these days and she made the cake for the party. It tasted even better than it looked. How grown up she is. This weekend there will be another get together to celebrate her birthday and that of her youngest cousin who just turned three. 

In the garden a rose bud slowly opens. We've had a mild and sunny November. Today, however, the sun has been elusive, peeking out once in awhile, but mostly hiding behind grey rain clouds. 

Teaching four days per week (that will end on Dec 21) is causing me some concern about getting ready for Christmas. I've decided that doing a little something every day will get me there. I've pulled the red and white dishes in the dining room, and will add some greenery in the next few days. 

There's a bit of sewing going on - the traditional pajamas for the grandchildren - and a wee bit of crafting. Much of the shopping is complete. 

Outside, I've filled the pots with greenery and holly sprigs from our garden. A wreath base is made and I'll hang that this weekend after adding some holly and rose hips. Baking is beginning - shortbread and rugelach to start with. 

I love this month of the year and want to savour the moments. Advent begins on Sunday, a time of waiting. Little by little the month opens towards Christmas, the celebration of Christ's birth. Longing, anticipation, quietness, joy, and busyness mingle in this month. I leave you with a quote by Diane Ackerman "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."

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Sunday Thoughts: Walking, Aging, Soup-making


Autumn is beautiful this year, full of sunshine, blue skies, and often frosty mornings. We went for a long walk beside a lake this afternoon. Along the shady side of the trail I wished for gloves, but along the sunny side I was neither too hot, nor too cold, but just right. 

More mushrooms. These growing in and around a rotting tree. 

I've been thinking about two books I've recently read. One is a memoir by Abigail Thomas titled What Comes Next and How to Like It. The other is the true story of a woman in Iceland in the 19th century who became a sea captain and campaigned for justice. Woman, Captain, Rebel is written by Margaret Willson. 

Thomas' memoir focuses on aging. She writes about drinking too much, smoking too much, napping too much, and becoming lazy. I was surprised to read that she was in her early 70s as she sounded much older. 

In contrast, Thuridor, the Icelandic woman, remained active and involved with her community throughout her life, working hard, challenging the status quo, and caring for others. 

We all age differently, but I know that I would much rather stay active and engaged as long as I have a choice. I look at my parents who continue to volunteer and who remain active in their church and community well in their late 80s. 

On another note, I made Hungarian Mushroom Soup from the Modern Proper again this afternoon. How good it is, hearty and warming on a cool day. Making soup is one of my favourite things to cook - the activity of chopping, sauteeing, and stirring - followed by gentle simmering while the remainder of a meal is prepared. And then the satisfaction of slowly spooning mouthfuls of savory goodness. 

One last week in November. I hope my American friends had a good Thanksgiving. Wishing you all a lovely week. 

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Of Little Things that Make Me Happy


A medium-sized pumpkin decorated my porch in October. Now it's been turned into soup with the gentle taste of thyme, sage, and rosemary. Just a hint of each herb. A few toasted pumpkin seeds on the top and a slice of freshly baked bread add the final bits of delicious satisfaction. We eat a lot of soup. I love eating it and making it. 

I'm slowly pulling out my Christmas books. Some I dip in and out of, like the ones above, gleaning ideas or just enjoying the beautiful photographs and accompanying words. I've begun reading a few Christmas-themed books, as well, such as Christmas Crimes and A Christmas Legacy by Anne Perry. Stories that evoke the generosity and loving spirit of Christmas. Easy reading. 

Inspired by Brenda of It's A Beautiful Life, I pulled out Christmas cards from the past. A few I kept for display again this year or for sentiment's sake. Some I cut into bookmarks, and others into tags of various shapes and sizes. I didn't punch holes into the tags - that I'll do as I see how I use them. 

It was a lovely time spent reading each card and remembering the person who sent it. Sending Christmas cards is becoming rarer and rarer, and I do treasure each one I receive. I send cards, as well, not as many as in years past.

It's a tradition for me to order the Jacquie Lawson digital Advent calendar each year for myself and family members. I did that this week and am looking forward to opening each day's offering. My grandchildren love the little videos, the games, and the interactive games included in the calendar. I wonder what surprises await with this year's edition? 

On a recent hike I noticed all the mushrooms in the woods. Apparently it's been a great year for edible mushrooms, but I am not mushroom wise and wouldn't dream of eating any that I see. But I do admire their structure and colours. Doesn't that large one in the middle look like a skirt blown up by the wind, exposing ruffles and lace? So pretty. 

Little things that add a bit of loveliness to my days. What little (or big) things are you finding makes you happy these days?

Monday, November 13, 2023

A Walk in the Woods


I went for a walk with my youngest daughter, her two little ones, and their other grandmother on an overcast, but pleasant morning. Just steps from the road one plunges immediately into woods with tall cedar, golden maple, and fir trees. There is the feeling of otherworldliness here. 

Leaves tumble down in clusters, silently falling to the ground with little waves and twirls, dancing as they go. One can almost hear them whisper a faint 'goodbye' 'goodbye' as they pass. 

The falling leaves, the quiet, the muted light all combine to replace care with deep relief and contentment. The little girls chattered and the eldest one wanted to explore a different path, so we all took a little detour, but soon returned to the main trail. 

Old cement posts that once formed part of a busy work area now host purple martin houses. Bright autumn colours still dot the green coniferous forest, but not for long. 

This little one marches off on her own, back up the hill, turning to see if the rest of us are coming. 

Some days, a walk in the woods is just what is needed. The past couple of weeks have been busy for me as I'm teaching part time for a former colleague on medical leave. Two classes of Foods four days per week. I have a feeling that this will be my last short-term contract - I'm missing being at home, particularly now with Christmas approaching. Now, after Remembrance Day (November 11), preparations begin with joy. There will be some sewing, plenty of baking, and decorating, but I'm taking things slowly, focusing on enjoying doing a little bit at a time. 

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Our First Day in Newfoundland - Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve


After an extremely rough overnight ferry crossing from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, to Argentia, we began exploring Newfoundland. Our first stop was Cape St. Mary's, where tundra-covered cliffs tower over the ocean. It's a desolate place, often misty as it was during our visit. 

We're not hardcore birdwatchers, but oh, how we enjoyed this spot. A 1.4 km walk along the cliffs led us to a high rocky outcropping. Just beyond were sea stacks, small high islands, covered with birds. 

Huge colonies of seabirds nest here. Although it was late in the season, we observed thousands of Northern Gannets. They wheeled and soared above us. In the above photo a female Gannet has pre-digested food for her young who takes it from its mother's throat. Fascinating to watch. The young gannets are so fluffy looking. 

I had never seen a Northern Gannet before. Their heads look so smooth and unruffled. Below the birds the green-blue Atlantic Ocean crashed and roared. Exhilarating. 

Along with Northern Gannets, Black-legged Kittiwakes huddled on the rock faces. There were fewer of them, many having departed for other regions. They are very pretty with their black neck ring and striking colouring. 

Also present were Common Murres, standing watch on the rocks. With binoculars we could see hundreds of murres floating on the ocean far below us. 

We camped at the Reserve and all night long the mournful foghorn sounded through the mist. After a very short while we didn't hear it and slept most soundly, waking in the morning to more mist and drizzle. 

There are a number of songs written about the region including Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary's which is available on Youtube. 

Are you a birdwatcher? 

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Simple and Ordinary Days


Darkness falls and I close the curtains and blinds against the night. It's earlier now that the time has changed to standard time once again. I love to touch a match to candle wicks in the evening. Their flickering light draws me to spend quiet moments watching the flame dance and the light glow through the creamy wax. 

On our way home from our cross-Canada trip, we stopped in Knowlton, Quebec, home of author Louise Penny who writes the Armand Gamache mysteries. In the pouring rain I collected richly red maple leaves and pressed them between pages of books. Now they lie on a silver tray in the dining room and I am reminded of that day.

Tim and I went for a walk on Saturday afternoon. In one corner of the sky clouds threatened, while sun shone in another corner. A rainbow added another light variation among all the light and shadow and golden leaves. 

The two youngest grandchildren helped me bake apple pastry today, then enjoyed a little tea party. They are very careful with the china teacups and saucers, and love to stir their spoonful of honey into the tea. A boat load of animals joined the party. 

Is this the last rose in the garden? Perhaps, although I noticed a few other buds forming elsewhere. Boscobel is a prolific bearer of lovely blooms. I debating cutting the rose, but fear that she will merely droop if I bring her indoors. Instead, I'll admire her as I walk by. 

Simple and ordinary days are often the best. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Last Day of October


Late October. The air is crisp and clear. Frosty mornings that melt into sun-drenched afternoons. Leaves, gold, red, and brown carpet the wooded trails. They ruffle the edges of the road, and I cannot resist scuffling in them. 

We put out our birdfeeder over the weekend and birds of all feathers came to visit - sleek nuthatches, tiny bushtits, scrappy sparrows and House Finches, chickadees and Spotted Towhees. A Northern Flicker stopped by several times, along with a Stellar's Jay. It was a bird party, or maybe a conference to discuss the arrival of the cold. 

My parents were here over the weekend and what a good time we had. Lots of family visiting, a puzzle to work on, games to play, and lunch out at a restaurant overlooking white sailboats perfectly reflected in the still blue water. 

Yesterday was my birthday. A fairly quiet day, with a promise of celebrations in a couple of weeks together with a couple of other family members. Lots of loving messages and greetings came my way. Now it's Halloween. Fewer trick or treaters than last year. In the distance I hear the crackle and pop of fireworks. 

And so ends October. Tomorrow is November, a quiet month, although the calendar is beginning to fill up with a few fun things. Soon it will be time to think of Christmas preparations, but for tonight I'm admiring the flickering candle on the table and the low flame in the fireplace. 

Friday, October 27, 2023

Friday Favourites


Fuschia blooming against the dancing fountain at Butchart Gardens

A quiet Friday afternoon with sunshine streaming in the living room window. One granddaughter, with a half day of school, sits reading on the floor. My mother, on the couch, stitches a quilted placemat. Outside, my father putters with Tim. I chat a little, then write a little. 

A chilly wind riffles the red and green leaves of the acer outside. Bright blue skies belie the temperature which dropped Wednesday night, bringing us two nights of frost. Having read the forecast, I took myself to Butchart Gardens. While wandering the paths I noticed several groups of people planting bulbs, hyacinths and tulips, for next spring. The gardeners tossed bulbs onto the prepared soil from big buckets, later tamping them into the ground. In other spots, people were busy stringing lights for the Christmas displays. 

Leaves created a colourful carpet under the trees, leaves that lifted and danced when caught by a breeze. 

Heart-shaped leaves and shadows on a grey wall. 

And the long border of dahlias still so showy, glowed in the sunlight. I wonder how they look now after the frosty nights. 

Curtains of colour marked with dark sculptural lines. 

This morning we took a trip to Goldstream Park. The salmon run is just beginning. Leaves twirl from the trees to the ground or water. 

I recently read this article The Lovely World of Susan Branch which may interest you if you are a follower of Susan Branch. 

Enjoy these last days of this most beautiful month. As Anne of Green Gables once said, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."

Days at Home

  Last night after dinner the sunshine illuminating the bouquet of peonies prompted me to grab my camera. I love the frilly elegance of the ...