Friday, December 01, 2023

Hello December: Full Steam Ahead to Christmas

"May you treasure wisely this jeweled, gilded time
And cherish each day as an extra grace."

Hello December! We've been waiting for you. On this first day of my favourite month of the year, it's full steam ahead to Christmas. My seasonal books are at the ready, cards are waiting to be written, and the decorating is slowly happening.

There's no snow around here yet. Without it, there is nothing to trigger that wintry feeling—it still feels like late autumn. Unseasonably warm, I'm still wearing a light jacket and no gloves. It's lovely getting around, but for sparking the Christmas mood, snow really is a must to make us feel the tingles and excitement. Of course chocolate peppermint tea helps too.

On a different note, I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I have been feeling unwell. November was not a great month. I'm still under doctor's care and starting to find my way out of the dizzy malaise. I think, fingers crossed and prayers whispered along with the start of a new medication, there are definite hints for better days ahead. I'm so glad. Who wants to feel unwell when Christmas is upon us. This weekend I want to put up my pencil tree with its cozy twinkle lights. Little decorations are showing up around the place; candles and fairy lights help make the evenings cozy.

It's been a busy week, so for today I'm posting three for the usual Five on Friday. 

One - Books for the Season

I've already been dipping into a few of my seasonal books. I wasn't going to start my actual Christmas reads until December 1st but they were so tempting sitting there on the shelf. They are perfect, like chocolate truffles, for nibbling on while cozied up with a favourite beverage. I like anthologies and small collections for that reason.
Christmas in the Heart compiled by Joe Wheeler is a small collection of short seasonal stories sure to warm the heart. It's great for dipping in and reading whatever catches your eye.

Rumpole at Christmas by John Mortimer. Seven amusing tales of how Horace and Hilda Rumpole celebrate the holiday season.

An Irish Country Yuletide novella by Patrick Taylor. If you enjoy the Irish Country Doctor series, you will enjoy this new seasonal glimpse of Irish country life in Ballybuckleboo and how the good Doctor Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly, now married to Kitty, celebrates the holidays. 

Christmas Classics from The Modern Library, an old library sale purchase, includes excerpts from novels like Little Women and A Christmas Carol, a few short stories like The Blue Carbuncle, and poetry by well-known poets like Clement Clarke Moore. A lovely selection of songs and carols, along with the old familiar story from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, round out the book.
Star Over Bethlehem, Poems and Holiday Stories
by Agatha Christie
The Christmas Journey (novella set in mid-1800s at Christmas)
by Anne Perry
Murder Most Royal (the Queen solves another mystery)
by SJ Bennett

Also lined up on the book shelf waiting their turn include these books:
A Christmas Memory
by Truman Capote

Christmas Poems
by Wendy Cope

A Mind of Winter, Poems for a Snowy Season
selected by Robert Atwan

Haphazard by Starlight, A poem a day from Advent to Epiphany
by Janet Morley

Winter Solstice (an annual favourite)
by Rosamunde Pilcher

Little Women
by Louise May Alcott

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (the story is a lovely run up to Christmas)
by Jan Karon
Shepherds Abiding
by Jan Karon
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis

Once Upon A Wardrobe (a novel related to C.S. Lewis's beloved classic)
by Patti Callahan

The Christmas Chronicles, Notes, stories & 100 essential recipes for midwinter
by Nigel Slater

Christmas from the Heart of the Home (recipes and other seasonal tips and ideas)
by Susan Branch

Home for Christmas (her tiny memoir)
by Susan Branch

Christmas Treasury (a treasure trove of children's stories and wonderful illustrations)
by Jan Brett

One book I ordered for Christmas that I'm waiting to get is the illustrated poem by Robert Frost Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Shhh, this is for my brother-in-law. As long as I've known him he has enjoyed quoting this old poem, one he memorized as a boy in school. The book, a beautiful keepsake edition, is illustrated by the award-winning P.J. Lynch and celebrates the poem's centennial. It looks gorgeous - you can take a peek HERE.

Two - Christmas Cards

One of my favourite things is writing out Christmas cards and notes at this time of year. I love to go in search for the cards I'll use each year, including the tiny tuck-ins to pop inside the envelopes. I'll be starting those this week.

Three - Christmas Tree Pillow

Nothing ever seems too bad, too hard, or too sad when
you've got a Christmas tree in the living room."

I came around the corner and there sat this cute pillow in a shop I was visiting. I knew I had to get one, no-no, I had to get two. In my mind, I knew my mom, who said she didn't want to decorate a tree this year, would love this. It's already decked out with sweet red cardinals - no assembling required.

Bonus - A Seasonal Quote

"So quiet and subtle is the beauty of December that escapes the
notice of many people their whole lives through. Colour gives
way to form: every branch distinct, in a delicate tracery against
the sky. New vistas, obscured all Summer by leafage, now open up."

Wishing you a merry and beautiful week ahead,

Photo credits:
(Top)Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay
(Middle - books, cards, pillow) Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life
(Bottom) Image by Peggy Choucair from Pixabay

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Small Pockets of Hope

"Limbo isn't exactly a place for our mental health to thrive. In the
absence of being able to look forward to things with certainty, the best
we can do is create small pockets of future hope in the meantime."

Everyone needs something to look forward to. Whether it's going on a holiday, waiting for the weekend, celebrating a birthday party, lunchbreak with a friend, or a snack in the middle of the afternoon. We especially need them in uncertain times and hard situations when things feel bleak, hopeless, or dismal. As the quote above says, "(i)n the absence of being able to look forward to things with certainty, the best we can do is create small pockets of future hope in the meantime."

Isn't that a wonderful phrase 'create small pockets of future hope'? It gives great scope for the imagination and reminds us that perhaps there is something we can do to make things a little better. Enough to carry on with for the moment.

Many of us have probably learned that skill along the way; we've learned that setting one foot in front of the other, putting our head down and just getting through whatever it is, is how we survive sometimes. The idea that we also can create pockets of future hope for ourselves, and others, is comforting. It's not totally hopeless and we don't have to be completely helpless. Life isn't always full of hard things; then there are the times when life is mundane, ordinary, bleh. We need a little something to keep the excitement in life. Well, maybe not excitement exactly, but we seem to work better, live better, feel better when we have nice things to look forward to. By 'nice' I mean that something is pleasant and still worth noticing, even when it doesn't have the out-of-this-world wow! factor.

Something else I've learned, don't use all the 'treats' up at once. Be sure to keep something in reserve. Save it for later. Because you'll need it then, too. Which means, perhaps, keeping a list of things we know we look forward to and being prepared... from the tiniest to the biggest, from immediate pleasure to delayed gratification to long-term dreams to anticipate. Make a lifestyle of creating small pockets of things we can look forward to.

"Everyone needs things to look forward to—
big things and small things,
on good days and on bad days;
things that will buoy our spirits and make
us laugh and help us feel alive."
SOPHIE BLACKALL, Things to Look Forward To

I want to mention a lovely book in my collection that got me thinking about all this: Things to Look Forward To, 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Every Day by Sophie Blackall. Written and illustrated by the author during the global pandemic, Sophie Blackall encourages readers not to lose sight of beauty and those things that create wonder and delight. For good days and bad ones. That make us laugh and help us feel alive.

For instance, she writes about Diesel, a neighbouring dog who comes to visit her; she says, "We walk him home and then he walks us home and we walk him home again. And on the way we talk about chasing rabbits and rolling in burdock...". (In case, you're wondering, it's a weed of some kind, not...) I feel a smile breaking on my face just reading that Sophie takes joy in that furry fellow. She also mentions looking forward to learning new things: teaching children while working from home, living with people in small spaces, not to panic, to remain helpful, and learning new words. She also looks forward to watching the full moon on a dark night.

For me, the list could look something like this. I look forward to:

✧ sleeping on clean sheets
✧ browsing a new recipe or seasonal craft magazine
✧ coming home after running errands and plopping on the couch
✧ popping something yummy in the oven (or my mouth)
✧ that first mug of fresh brewed coffee
✧ a snowfall that turns the world into a fairyland

✧ planning something nice for someone - muffins, a card, a phone chat
✧ holding hands with a certain someone on a walk
✧ planting spring bulbs for next year
✧ sprucing up the place for Christmas
✧ turning on the twinkle lights as evening draws early
✧ starting that new novel I'm saving for the holidays
✧ crawling into bed at the end of the day

I'm closing with one of my favourite quotes by British novelist, Iris Murdoch: "One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats." Having a plethora of them to look forward to truly adds to the pleasure of being alive.

Wishing you a beautiful week ahead,
and Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends.

Photo credit:
(Top) Image by R-region from Pixabay
(Bottom) Photo by Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Weekend: Old Photos, A Book, Apple Recipe

"Photographs are the reflection of untold stories,
unseen beauties, unexpressed emotions, and the
unheard songs of life."
DEBASISH MRIDHA, as found on GoodReads

Another week has flown by. As for me, I'm in the middle of another sorting project. Last week it was dealing with my growing collection of old greeting cards and letters; if you haven't already, you can read about it HERE. This week, I'm gently working through 25 years worth of pre-digital photos; thankfully they are neatly filed by year in three containers. They start from when Rick and I married - the beginning of our new life together - until we got a digital camera in the 2010s (which changed everything in the world of photography). It's high time to get these paper copies out of their developing envelopes and into simple albums for the time being - may digitalize them down the road. I'm culling as I go, discarding any pics that don't add to the story. Hopefully making my home a little less cluttered and my personal world simpler to caretake.

The photos above were taken when Rick and I got engaged 25 years ago. No grey hairs then yet, and I don't think any wrinkles. But the love was there in spades... it still is.  

Haven't been feeling well this week. It's some kind of dizzy going on in my head - and I am in doctor's care. Please don't worry, I'm doing okay, just have to be careful how I go about my days, no rushing to and fro.

The weather has been beautiful, no sign of any more white stuff for now. Fingers crossed for a few more days. The sunrise was a glorious fiery red across the eastern sky this morning. But with its grand work done for the day, the sun must have booked off for the weekend - it's turned grey and overcast as I type.

A good day to cozy up inside, I'd say. Just started the new book by SJ Bennett, Murder Most Royal in which Queen Elizabeth surreptitiously solves another mystery as she goes about her queenly duties. I've had the book a while but held off reading it. The story is set in Sandringham and it's Christmas time. Which makes it a perfect read for this season of the year. It's Book 3 in the series.

Plus, for an afternoon tea treat, I'm going to make a baked apple dish. Saw the recipe on social media, and I jotted down the ingredients; it's simple and sounds delicious:

Simple Baked Apple Dish

Turn oven to 400 F
Butter a baking pan

four apples, sliced or wedged
handful of sultana raisins
handful of flaked almonds
3 Tablespoons coconut
4 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 tsp gr. cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 Tablespoon butter

Scatter apples in pan
Sprinkle with raisins, almonds, coconut, sugar, spices 
Dot with butter

Bake 25 minutes, or until apples are tender
Serve warm in bowls with ice cream

On this November 11th,

Wishing you a beautiful day,

Photo credit:
Top photo by Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life
Poppy Image by Illuvis from Pixabay

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Sorting Sentimental Stuff: Greeting Cards

" need to assess what you love right now and what
is authentic to your way of living in this season of life."
MELISSA MICHAELS, quote found on GoodReads

The last few years I've been going through boxes of old papers, scrapbooks, photos—all in the effort to downsize my personal effects into something manageable as I draw nearer the next decade of my life. At every stage of life it seems to get easier to part with certain items. I've outgrown them; I no longer need them; I've written down the stories to remember them. As life circumstances change, what once was important also changes. In order to move on, and not stay in a rut, this includes adjusting my material possessions.

Most recently, I've been focusing on my stacks of boxes filled with old greeting cards. What fun it has been to go through them. Finding cards from people I haven't seen in years, from people long gone from this earth, from ones I still love and hold dear. 
Traditionally greetings cards are meant to be fleeting sentiments to be enjoyed for a short time, then discarded. Why do so many of us hold onto boxes of old cards? Basically, because they often still tug at the heart strings. I can't bear to throw away cards with such charming pictures and artwork. How quickly the era of the time sifts up just by looking at those cards. And inside, the lovely personal notes—fingerprints of kindness, concern, and friendship that left their imprint on my life—all dear reminders of certain people, places, and seasons that meant so much at the time.

I found the stack of boxes carefully labelled 'love letters' holding all the cards and letters Rick and I exchanged from the very beginning of our life together. There are quite a few—I tell you, we must have kept Hallmark and Carlton in business. I keep the cards on display a long time before they are finally packed away. I've never gone through them, but as we near our 25th anniversary in a few weeks, it might be the year to pop those lids and reread all that we'd given each other in the written word. What I did find hard was going through the pile of sympathy cards from when my dad passed away—twenty years ago next month. It brought back all those memories, fraught with sadness. I'm grateful for the care of my friends at that time, but I won't be revisiting those cards anymore.

All that being said, I no longer want to caretake all these cards. I won't part with them all, but I also don't want to leave a mess for others to deal with... down the road. What to do, what to do? Here are a few things I'm doing with them. And if you care to share, I'd love to know how you tackle your old card collections:

1. If I'm going to cull it, I read the card one last time, think nice thoughts about the person, whisper a thank you, and let it go.

2. If the card fronts are too beautiful to discard, I repurpose them—cutting into gift tags, tree ornaments, or embellishments for scrapbooks, journals, and envelopes. I love to use floral cutouts as surprise inserts in cards and notes I send out. Other cards, such as pop-up cards, make great additions to photo shoots for future blog posts. Or Instagram posts. I know some people make junk journals—old cards would be perfect additions in such a creative project. The cards haven't disappeared but have reappeared in other forms, which is fun to spot. 

3. Write blog posts about them. One thing I have discovered is that when I write down these sorts of memories, often in blog posts and essays, I no longer need all the physical touchstones, including the cards, as reminders. 

4. The cards that still bring me immense joy when I look at them, that remind me of a special relationship or unique time in my life, well, those I put back into the 'keep these' box. Some things are just meant to 'stay' until we no longer need them.

5. Cards I don't need to keep, I remove the personal notes and donate the fronts to our local recycling centre for crafters and schools to use. It makes me happy to think that someone will get pleasure out them one last time.

On that note, I find these words attributed to Albert Einstein a fitting closure for today's musings: "Out of clutter find simplicity...".

Here's wishing you a beautiful week ahead,

Photo Credits:
Top Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay

Friday, October 27, 2023

If You Like This Classic Then You Might Enjoy...

"A classic is a book which with each rereading
offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading."
ITALO CALVINO, found on AZ Quotes

When a modern author writes a sequel or prequel to a famous classic book you love, are you in the front of the line to read it? Are you eager, or reluctant, to see what a present day author creates from a favourite old novel? I admit being one who has been slow to be won over; I ask, how can anyone other than the original author write a book that equals, say, Pride and Prejudice or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Thankfully, I stopped being a snob about it—there are authors with great imagination and skill who have written some wonderful and compelling stories inspired by those original tales. Here are five titles I recently finished. And loved.

If you loved Jane Austen's 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice:
Death Comes to Pemberley is the 2011 novel by British mystery fiction author, P.D. James. The book is a sequel of sorts; Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are now wed and living at Pemberley. Things aren't quite so 'happy ever after'—Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are about to host a grand autumn ball and then a body is discovered in the nearby woods. I love how the author skillfully weaves threads of the original Austen novel throughout her own well-told Regency murder mystery. I really enjoyed it.
Longbourn, the 2013 novel by British author Jo Baker, gives the reader a chance to see an alternative view of the Pride and Prejudice story as seen through the eyes of the family servants. While the Bennet family lives their story upstairs exactly as told by Jane Austen, their servants downstairs—barely visible characters till now—suddenly come alive in our imagination. They take centre stage, and we begin to see them as living, breathing people with names like Sarah and James who have their own hopes, dreams, and sorrows. I had a hard time putting this book down.

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow was published in 2020. In this imaginative novel, the author focuses on plain and nerdy middle sister, Mary Bennet, and sets her in the limelight as the novel's heroine. I soon came to empathize with Mary as she struggled to find happiness and fulfillment in a world that basically ignored her. From the first page I was drawn in, reading every chance I could, even well into the night a couple of days, because I had to know - does Mary find her life, and love? Well worth reading. 

I found it an altogether enriching experience to read these three novels alongside Jane Austen's. I think the authors did a great job of entwining the old and new story lines into one.

If you enjoyed L.M. Montgomery's 1908 Anne of Green Gables: 

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy, published in 2018, lets us imagine Marilla Cuthbert's young life at Green Gables long before Anne enters the picture. She gives the reader a wider look into Marilla's world, picking up threads dropped by Miss Montgomery in the Anne books, including how and why Marilla never married John Blythe, who was once considered her beau. It's a charming tale and fits perfectly as a prequel to the well-loved Anne stories. Delightful and a bit wistful, I'm glad I read it. 

If you are charmed by C.S. Lewis's 1950 The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: 

Once Upon A Wardrobe by Patti Callahan was published in 2021. If you love The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you will enjoy this charming tale in which college student Megs Devonshire tries to fulfill her younger brother George's last wish to discover the truth about his favourite Narnia story. Beautifully imagined, charmingly told, this is a book you might want to save for the weeks leading up to Christmas. I'll be re-reading it this holiday season.

Have you discovered other good sequel/prequel-like books that happily co-exist with your favourite original novels? Do share your recommendations.

She reads books as one would
breathe air, to fill up and live.

Wishing you a beautiful day,