Friday, January 08, 2021

The New Year: Comfort Food for the Soul

" If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don't hesitate. Give in to it . . .
whatever it is, don't be afraid of its plenty.
Joy is not made to be a crumb. "
MARY OLIVER, Devotions, "Don't Hesitate"

I woke from a cozy sleep the other morning to find complete sentences for a new blog post forming in my head. Knowing how skittish these first thoughts can be, I flew to my desk—it was still pitch black outside, sunrise still an hour away—to catch the drift before it disappeared. They were thoughts about what's been giving me joy these past weeks, and the phrase 'comfort food for the soul' came to mind—those little things that fill my heart with joy.....watching the birds at the feeders, hearing their lusty songs on a winter's afternoon, feeling the comfort of wise words as they drop into my heart, disappearing into books with gentle stories or riveting tales. Not to forget my walks in the neighbourhood, tea and treats with Rick in the afternoon, Mozart on the radio, scrabble games, candles and twinkle lights at dusk, the smell of yummy things wafting from the oven, being amused by creative folks on social media, to name a few more.

Today I share four small graces that have soothed my days...with the hope they will add a moment of rest for you too as we wind up this first tumultuous week of 2021.

Dee Nickerson, British Artist
'Seed Catalogue'

Someone I follow on Twitter—@HWarlow—searches out beautiful art photos to share with her followers. Over the past months, I've been introduced to many delightful new-to-me artists and their works. When she posted this particular painting by British artist Dee Nickerson, I had such a longing to share it with you. According to a short bio I found, Ms Nickerson "explores themes of living in the countryside and activities she enjoys such as sewing, hanging out the washing . . . pondering life." I love that, while the garden outside is under snow, the woman inside dreams about her garden over seed catalogues. She sounds like a kindred spirit, don't you think?

" I said to the chickadee,
singing his heart out in the
green pine tree:
little dazzler,
little song,
little mouthful. "
MARY OLIVER, "October"

The chickadees are often at the feeders in our garden. I love to hear their cheeky whistles drift in the air. They always make me smile. Recently, Rick attached a feeder to our kitchen window. So far, only one fellow has braved his way over to snatch sunflower seeds. He pays no mind to eyes prying on the other side of the glass.

On Walking...
" If persisted in a remarkable change will result – a notable
clearness of mental power, keenness of appetite
and a zest for life's work. "
CLAUDE POWELL FORDYCE, Touring Afoot, 1916

Daily walks are an entrenched part of my life now. I usually go first thing and at this time of year, I'll often catch the sun skimming over the hill to the east. Nuthatches and finches sing, magpies chortle in the treetops as I pass beneath. I've learned to keep my eyes open on my now familiar route—watching for glimpses of heaven in unexpected places—one never knows what'll catch my eye, something I never noticed 'quite that way before': watching where the sun is situated in the sky each morning, how the shadows and light play together in tree tops, and of course, seeing dogs happy to be out for their walks too, with everyone keeping their social distance, although doggies aren't too particular about that protocol.

I find myself musing about a phrase I am wont to use. I tell Rick I'm off for my 'constitutional'. Apparently the old-fashioned phrase 'constitutional walk' was used in the early 1900s when referring to a person's constitution or physical makeup, so when a person went out especially to get fresh air and exercise, people termed it 'taking a constitutional walk'. Who knows where I picked up the phrase—probably some book I read—I like the old-fashioned sound of it.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: "Give me a
light that I may tread safely into the unknown."
And he replied:
"Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."
So I went forth,
and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day . . . "
MINNIE L. HASKINS, The Gate of the Year, God Knows

I came across these lines from the poem The Gate of the Year years ago and often refer to them at the start of a new year—they help me to square my shoulders, reach out my hand for His, feel braced knowing I don't face any of it alone. 

Written by British poet Minnie L. Haskins (1875-1957) more than a century ago, the poem was originally titled God Knows. In 1939, King George VI included these lines in his Christmas speech to the British Empire. I can well imagine how their hopeful words caught the public's attention as they faced another world war. Today the poem is more widely known as The Gate of the Year.  I am grateful for it as we stare into the dark unknown of 2021.

Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you
shall form an invincible host against difficulties.

* * *

Wishing you gentle moments. Stay safe.

Heart Hugs,

(Top) Image by congerdesign from Pixabay
(Dickerson Painting) Image found on Twitter
(Chickadee) Image by JL G from Pixabay
(Couple Walking) Image by Tookapic from Pixabay
(Walking Bridge) Image by Tante Tati from Pixabay

Thursday, December 31, 2020

A New Year's Eve Thought and Wish

" What a wonderful thought it is that some of the
best days of our lives haven't even happened yet. "

I had full intentions to write a post during the Christmas week. I meant to chat about the holidays and share from the stack of books I've been reading, but here it is already New Year's Eve with post unwritten. Christmas, though different, was lovely. The days following have passed quietly and pleasantly in our household. We ate Christmas leftovers, nibbled on delicious cookies and other treats, had Scrabble tournaments for two, went for walks, read our books, watched movies.... 


"When fog invades the plains,
everything disappears; everything but fog!
When loves invades the minds,
everything disappears; everything but love!"
MEHMET MURAT ILDAN, Turkish Author and Playwright

We even took a drive one foggy morning to the nearby Elk Island National Park. Families were out with their kids, suited in ski pants and Covid masks. 'Twas delightful to watch them sledding down the hill, hurrying back up to soar down again. I felt a gush of nostalgia as I watched and remembered my own happy childhood tobogganing in the deep winter till we were frozen like popsicles yet not wanting to quit. The memory was so fresh in my mind, I felt in want of hot cocoa when we got home, even though my toes weren't the frozen ones.

We thought we might spot some bison out there, but they and every other wild creature were absent in full force. Rick figured they'd booked off Christmas and 'to heck with the tourists'. Perhaps they hunkered down somewhere because of the fog. I loved being in the midst of the foggy foggy dew—I was enchanted by the feeling of other-worldliness. As soon as I saw that lone tree (above), I knew I had to capture it against the muted shroud of grey—its bent trunk speaking of endurance through seasons of wild storms, wind battered but still standing. To me, it's a perfect picture for the storm our world has endured in 2020. As a child, I would have found such a picture utterly bleak, stark, and lonely, one that was to be avoided for something brighter and cozier. But I have since come to recognize there is a wild beauty in starkness. And rather than shun it, I embrace it in the moment. I'm sure Mary Oliver would have said that more poetically.

* * *

As we breathe the last few hours of this horrid virus-tossed year, I think of something Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote: "Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering 'it will be happier'... ."

Oh yes, we hope it will indeed be a happier year. For so many though, all the wishing won't make the intense pain go away, and I am so sorry it is so. I just read something Canadian singer Jann Arden wrote on her Facebook page about grieving her mom. The day she posted, it was two years since her beloved mom passed away after years of suffering with Alzheimer's. Jann shared how she missed her, but said....
"I don't mind the grief. It's like an aftershock of love. I don't mind missing her and dad. I don't mind the pangs or the jabs or the throbbing aches that stretch across the muscles in my chest. I just don't mind it. It's lovely in its own way. Makes me keep trying to live."
Those lines speak to me....that she doesn't mind the grief, that it's like an aftershock of love, that it reminds her to keep trying to live. I am not sure why that gives me comfort, but it does. I'm not grieving personally for anyone at the moment, and I'm not in a sad place for myself—life is sweet and good for me these days—but I do find myself carrying in my heart the pain of others, for the folks who have lost their lives and those who lost loved ones and remain in their now-shattered world. I so hope and pray they will one day find a measure of peace and comfort and eventually discover new reasons to face their futures less bleakly. A little bit happier.

"Lord, grant me peace above all else no matter
the circumstances I may face this year."

As we stand on the front porch of this brand new year, I am grateful for your company as we share this journey together. I remind myself and you, should you need it, to keep watching for those glimpses of heaven glimmering with hope that 'beyond the pain, life continues to be sweet' (Rosamunde Pilcher). Facing the New Year with still so much uncertainty and trepidation, we must take 'courage, dear hearts' (C.S. Lewis).

Happy New Year! And in the words of a dear old neighbour who was wont to say when the world felt decidedly upside down, "Here's to better days ahead." That's my heart wish for you in 2021!

With love,

Photo credits:
(Top) Image by Mary Gorobchenko from Pixabay
(Middle) Tree in Fog by Brenda C Leyland 
(Bottom) Image by Hans Benn from Pixabay

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Wee Chat Before Christmas

" Maybe you have to know the darkness
before you can appreciate the light. "

I'm writing in the early morning, just moments before sunrise. Silent stars fade as a blaze of glory stains the sky in the predawn. As I watch from my front step in the cold air, I hear a chorus of sparrows singing from the hedges. Oh my, such a marvelous beginning to the dawn's early light. I seem to be so much more aware of these good gifts around me than I have ever been before. At least, that is how it seems. Perhaps it's because I have time to consider the handiwork of creation all around me. My life is not so cluttered this year with to-ing and fro-ing.

As I write it's two days before Christmas. For all the quirkiness surrounding this year's unusual way to celebrate—due of course to Covid-19 restrictions—nevertheless I am feeling a frisson of anticipation building on the inside. When I was a child, these last few days before Christmas were the most exciting....and definitely the most excruciating. According to the calendar, they were the shortest days of the year, but for me and probably any child awaiting the big day, they felt as if these last 48 hours were an entire year. How the minutes would creep by, until at last it was time to go to the Christmas Eve service at our little country church, dressed in our new Christmas dresses, all ready to do our parts in the program. And then the gleeful ride home afterwards where presents awaited under the tree. Yes, we opened presents on Christmas Eve growing up. Christmas Day was for the turkey and stuffing and for playing with our already opened new toys, games, and crafts, not to mention planning which book we'd read first. As kids, we were always secretly glad we didn't have to wait until Christmas Morning to open gifts.

" All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish
the light of a single candle. "

The excitement now isn't quite like when I was a child, but there still comes a thrill in hearing the familiar strains of old carols like Joy to the World or seasonal music like Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. And, I just heard Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf on the radio with David Bowie as narrator. The narrator tells the children's story, while the orchestra illustrates the characters: Peter, the wolf, the bird, the cat, the duck, the hunters, and the grandfather. I loved this piece as a girl. 

The thrill has been gradually mounting as packages and Christmas cards arrive via Canada Post and by hand. When the doorbell rings, we find unexpected treats left on the front step from neighbours: slices of banana-chocolate chip loaf, decorated cookies, chocolates, old-fashioned popcorn balls. And a container with two delectable pieces of our neighbour's family favourite dessert: Queen Elizabeth Cake—oh yum!—with a note attached "since we don't know when we can be together in person...hope you enjoy." This moist date cake with its brown sugar, butter and coconut broiled topping made us feel quite 'royal' as we ate cake and washed it down with our Yorkshire Gold afternoon tea. If you need a recipe, you can find one HERE that looks simple and delicious. I could always ask my neighbour if she shares her family recipes.

   The cake from our neighbour was so moist and delicious,
just the way cake should tantalize and satisfy.
Thanks, Christine!

In case you aren't familiar with Queen Elizabeth cake, it is named after Elizabeth II, according to my bit of research. It may have originated in 1953 for her coronation. Or, another account holds that the cake was invented for the 1937 coronation of King George VI and his Queen Elizabeth (Queen Mother).

With all the hubbub, it's like Christmas around here! Oh yes, it is Christmas around here. We thought it might be quiet and even a little dull without our usual traditions and family gatherings to prepare for, but people are reaching out in ways unexpected this Covid year, and so the gaps have been filled most beautifully—it's something we also have endeavoured to do from our end of things.

* * *

I have so many little things I want to share with you. God's good gifts from all manner of unexpected places. Let me offer a few photos from around the house, a little of this and that, moments where joy has thrilled me these past few days. Hope they add a morsel of sweetness—a little thrill of your own—as you count down, "Two more sleeps, One more sleep!"

O Christmas tree,
how lovely are your branches.

Presents began to appear shortly after
the tree was decorated.

When I was little, I used to be Miss Snoopy Girl under the tree,
musing and carefully lifting and maybe shaking,
but this year I've been a good girl. No peeking.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snowmen!

Preparing a never ending gift bag, as a friend used to say, filled
with little surprises for someone very dear to me.

Love this gorgeously wrapped gift that
arrived in the post the other day from a long time dear friend.

This pretty felt teacup ornament arrived tucked inside
a Christmas card from a blogging friend. Is turquoise a theme?  

What a charming bear ornament
from another lovely blogging friend.

A Christmas present opened early to enjoy ahead.
I was instructed to do so, in case you're wondering.

I love this fellow,
he makes me giggle and feel happy.

* * *

Today I want to close by sharing a few words written by author Kathleen Gibson, a lovely fellow writer I have appreciated for some years now. She penned these words as a birthday wish for someone and then later published in a collection of her writings. With minor adjustments in brackets, these words become my own heart wish for you this Christmas. Please see below.....

 To my beautiful blogging friends,

[Merry Christmas!] I hope you have sunny weather in your heart, and that God embraces you freshly with reassurance of how incredibly much he loves you. I hope that you have at least one present to unwrap and that someone reminds you they're glad you're a part of their life. I hope you have no tears today, except tears of joy, and you find one verse of scripture to keep you afloat for the next year.

I hope that someone smiles at you for no reason other than that they're glad to see you enter the room, and that you can light up at least one person's day with a smile of your own. [With folks wearing their masks these days, you'll have to watch for the smile and glimmer in their eyes instead.] I hope you're given a new song that fills you down to your toes, and that you can sing it with the joy of being alive today. ... 

I hope ... that you get outside for a few moments to let nature remind you of your Creator. I hope something strikes you as funny, and that you laugh loudly enough for someone to ask why. I hope you put away for just this one day the things that are weighing down your heart, because no one should have to worry on [Christmas].

And I hope you get to eat at least one thing that causes your taste buds to stand at attention with delight, so that [Christmas in 2020] seems a good thing after all. 

Mostly, I hope you know that all these things are just a fraction of the hopes and prayers and dreams of someone who loves you very much.

[Merry Christmas all!]

From the article "Celebrate a Friend" in Practice by Practice, the art of everyday faith by Kathleen Gibson. Permission given to pass along this wish.

* * *

Wishing you a thrill of hope this Christmas.
From my heart to yours....stay safe!

With love,