Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Feathered Winter Choir

Remember I mentioned yesterday that my backyard was filled with birdsong? Well, this morning, with camera near at hand, I was ready for my fine-feathered friends.

It's cold and blustery today, and the birds have been at the feeders with a vengeance. For all the plummeting temperatures, they still sit on barren branches filling the air with the sweetest of songs. It was as if I were listening to a choir in a grand cathedral. The Choir of the Great Outdoors!

Here's a feather thought to ponder... if these little sparrows can sing their hearts out in the middle of winter, maybe singing would be a cheery way to help us out when we're experiencing our own midwinter doldrums.

Tunefully yours,

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Peaceful Ponderings For The New Year


With a new year almost upon us, do you ever find yourself fretting about the future? Our world certainly is tipsy-turvy, chaotic even, but when we look back into history, every age and era had its grim, dark times to get through.

Perhaps that's why I find comfort from this little meditation by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622). He lived in Europe during the divisive and chaotic times resulting from the Protestant Reformation, so he certainly knew about societal upheaval.

Today I offer it to you as my little New Year's gift with the hope and prayer it gives you courage to face this brand new year with calm and peaceful hearts.


to what may happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for you today
will take care of you tomorrow and everyday.
Either he will shield you from suffering,
or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.

Be at peace, then,
put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations,
and say continually: "The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart has trusted in Him and I am helped.
He is not only with me...but in me....and I in Him."

Wishing you peace and hope,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

While Sugar Plums Danced

"The children were nestled all snug in their beds while
visions of sugar plums danced in their head."

As a little girl, I loved Clement Moore's poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. There was just so much scope for the imagination in each stanza. I certainly could see the cherry nose and the belly shaking like a bowl full of cherry jelly. However, I must admit I could never quite envision a sugar plum. We didn't have such treats in our holiday traditions. Were they plums with sugar sprinkled on them? I just couldn't see that being the case. I mean, kids like me were dreaming about them; surely they'd be more exciting and exotic than that!

One day, all these years later, I finally went in search of a recipe -- what exactly was a sugar plum? Oh my, there were so many recipes; I finally settled on one a fellow blogger said had originally been in Saveur Magazine.

I gathered the ingredients. Set out the bowls of fruit and nuts and powdered sugar, not forgetting the spices. The end result was delicious and well worth the effort. Certainly worth dreamin' about.


2 cups whole almonds
(toasted in a 400 F oven for 10 minutes, cooled, then finely chopped)

1/4 cup honey
2 tsp grated orange zest
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 cup finely chopped dried apricots
1 cup finely chopped pitted dates
1 cup icing sugar (confectioner's)
Combine the honey, orange zest and spices.
Add almonds, apricots, dates and icing sugar.
Mix well. Using a teaspoon, take pieces of the mixture and roll into balls.
Then roll in extra icing sugar.

Store in single layers between wax paper in airtight containers
in the refrigerator, up to one month.
Except, they're so yummy with tea you won't have to worry about them getting stale!

Please note: In the original recipe, the icing sugar was not meant to be included in the mixture; it was meant to coat the balls, once formed. But, as I didn't read the recipe properly (oops), I added the icing sugar in with the rest of the ingredients. It didn't seem to hurt the texture as they still rolled really well, and they were still quite a toothsome delectable.


After all that, hopefully I'll have my own sugar plum dreams tonight.

Sleep sweet,

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Simply Sunday: A Prayer For Families


Today I want to share this beautiful old prayer with you. I don't know about you, but I feel something special on the inside when someone else says a prayer over me. I feel nurtured and blessed. It is my wish that you will feel that special 'something' too as you read this one today.
Almighty God, our heavenly father...

Who sets the solitary in families: We commend to your continual care the homes in which your people dwell. Put far from them, we ask you, every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride of life.

Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh. Turn the hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents; and so rekindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectionate one to another, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (origin unknown)

With a gentle kiss atop thy head,

Saturday, December 20, 2008

With Every Christmas Card I Write

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas with every card I write..."

Yes, Virginia, I'm still writing out Christmas cards. I may be missing the postal deadlines, but since this whole tradition of writing cards and letters is about connecting with loved ones, I'm not stressing about any deadlines (mine or anyone else's)! I love the whole tradition of shopping for my selection of Christmas cards and then choosing the right style and message for the right person.

I remember the times, as a small girl, when Grandma and Mom would sit around the big table in our farm kitchen, surrounded by boxes of assorted greetings cards. They seemed to make a fuss about choosing the perfect card. Perhaps, because both the card and the words written inside were meant to convey in some small way the message of their hearts.

I never stopped to think about it until this very moment, but I guess the tradition was handed down, because I still love to fuss over choosing just the right card for the right person. And... as a child, there also was something most satisfying about watching the stack grow as envelope after envelope was addressed, licked, and stamped.

The past few weeks our mailbox has been happily stuffed with greetings coming from loved ones far and wide, and by this time tomorrow, my own greetings will be winging their way back to them with hugs and love and wishes for a Happy Christmas.

With life so busy it's tempting to let go of the Christmas card tradition. But as the days draw closer to this special time of year, I realize I don't want to miss the opportunity to touch base with friends and family... to say, I think of you and cherish the memories of our encounters, to say I'm still here and I'm glad you are too!

(Hum-m-m-m) "...with every Christmas card I write..."

Dreamily yours,

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Savouring Life's Moments

Miss Kitty and I have been reading Jan Karon's Christmas novel Shepherds Abiding these past few days. An earnest reader could finish it in a few short hours, but I'm savouring it. I didn't want to speed through the pages as though I were flying around the world on Santa's sleigh come Christmas Eve. By the way,  the word savour means 'to enjoy and appreciate slowly; to enjoy (a pleasure) for as long as possible'.

In the Shepherds book, Father Tim is working on a time and labour intensive project. It's his wife's Christmas present, and as time is fleeting, at one point he ponders if he should choose a larger tool to just get the job done sooner. He thinks about it and decides, no, he wants to give it his best effort, his deepest concentration, no matter how long it takes. He did not want to blast through an experience without savouring it or reflecting upon what he was doing.

Over the years I've been learning to slow down so that I, too, can savour my experiences more fully. I used to be so impatient to get to the end of a project, hardly noticing the process. That is, until I met and married Rick, who is genius at slowing the process of any project he's working on ... willing to spend the time and effort, and enjoy the prep work, and each step along the way. Watching him in action has helped me to slow down and enjoy the journey along the way.

As the days skate by, it's easy to feel rushed off our feet as we prepare for the holiday season. But instead of mindlessly rushing through my 'to do' list, I do try to slow down and pay attention. I want to enjoy the time I spend making sugar plums and figgy pudding. I want to savour my time as I finish wrapping up my gifts. I want to linger over lunch with a special friend (even if we only have an hour, to live in the moment for all it's worth).

So... are you savouring? Enjoying? Appreciating?

Sending hugs with joy,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

There's a Song in the Air

I've been listening to Christmas carols at my house today. I've had fun singing along as I go about my activities. I've been dreaming of a white Christmas, singing joy to the world and sleigh bells ring, and imagining the kids' version of while shepherds wash their socks by night all seated on the ground and Hark the Hairy Angels Sing.

Miss Kitty's been contentedly stretched out in front of the fireplace, since not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse. And as I sit here and write, visions of sugar plums dance in my head. (I plan on making some tomorrow, I'll let you know how they turn out.)

Earlier this afternoon, I went out to do a couple of errands and shop for one gift. When I came out of the shop with my parcel, the wintry twilight had fallen all around, and the modern parking lot was magically transformed into a Currier and Ives Christmas card. It made me feel quite magical myself! It was a wonderful moment, because sometimes I have wished I could live in one of those idyllic winter scenes found on greeting cards.

Now we're all snuggled in for the night, enjoying the ambiance of cozy lights and furry slippers. No wonder I feel songs bubbling up from within!

Wishing you magical tunes for your heart and hearth,

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In the Glow of Candlelight

Sarah at Pink of Perfection jotted down ten creative ways to enjoy the holiday season that have 'nothing to do with buying presents'. One idea she shared is to have an evening filled with candlelight. Which reminds me of one such evening that happened not too long ago.

My sister had invited a houseful of friends for a Christmas party. Prior to their arrival, the power went out. With no electricity to light a dark winter's evening and no oven to finish baking the goodies, what does a person do....cancel? Here is how my sister turned this unexpected event into something quite memorable: 
"The Bee's were the first to arrive, followed shortly by the Emm’s who carried a small Coleman lantern in hand since the power in our street had moments before also gone out. We were sure hoping it would not be long till the power came on for -27C for the night would be mighty cold.

One by one our guests arrived, and I ran around lighting candles (Brenda, that candelabra you gave me once looked absolutely gorgeous). The kids found flashlights, neighbours phoned the electric company, and we all laughed at the unexpected turn of events. Well, the power remained off for about two hours. My son and the other young guys enjoyed the fire in the fireplace; my daughter and the other girls ran from the basement, to the living room, to her room with the flashlights.

The adults gathered, where else, in the kitchen. I had a Christmas puzzle spread out on the table. A few people worked on that by candle and lamp light, but mostly we sat around, visited, and laughed. Thankfully, most of the food was prepared – lots of cold stuff, and the glazed meatballs and bean dip kept warm on the stove.

One dish I was really looking forward to serving (well, actually eating as many as I could) was the good old water chestnuts soaked in soy sauce and rolled in bacon. Well, no oven, so no bacon rolls. Except, I noticed later in the evening there was one bacon roll sitting on an otherwise empty plate. I laughed to Hubby and the other men who were gathered around the other food in the dining room about this – one fellow spoke up, “Oh, I tried those – they were good! I ate two!” See, in a dark room lit cozily by candlelight and warmed by the laughter of good friends, even raw bacon can taste delicious! We even got to enjoy a chocolate fondue once the little tea light melted all the chocolate.

It was a WONDERFUL evening, despite not going quite as planned, and I think a party none of us will ever forget. Everyone left saying what a wonderful time they had, and that is what throwing a party is all about!"

Have yourself a very cozy evening...
maybe even light a candle or two!


Monday, December 15, 2008

You Know It's Christmas When...

"Cash in Advance. No refunds EVER!"

You know it's Christmas when... people start bringing out the fruitcake. Sometimes fruitcake gets a lot of bad press, but for me and Rick, a generous slab of rich homemade fruitcake paired with a fragrant cup of Earl Grey tea is a perfect way to enjoy an afternoon break around Christmas time.

Heather, a long time good friend and a member of the Birthday Club to which I belong, gave us a porcelain fruitcake bakery for Christmas one year. It's a long standing joke about how she despises fruitcake -- it being an awful addition to any self-respecting buffet table in her view -- so we love to share fruitcake jokes and hunt for zany fruitcake cards for us to giggle over.

I don't know if it's clear enough, but if you squint really hard, you may see the sign in the very first picture. Notice what it says about shopping at this particular fruitcake bakery: "Cash in advance. No Refunds EVER!"

Fretta's Fruitcake Company, North Pole Series, Department 56

Now, I would be most interested in your feelings about fruitcake. Is it an integral part of your larder or is fruitcake banned from your Christmas celebrations?

Curiously yours,

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Christmas Prayer

A Christmas Prayer
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Loving Father,
Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate
and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift
and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing
which Christ brings,
and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May the Christmas morning
make us happy to be thy children,
and Christmas evening bring us to our beds
with grateful thoughts,
forgiving and forgiven,
for Jesus' sake.

With my own heartfelt amen,

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Charlie Brown Christmas Puzzle

A few years ago I started a new tradition. Of course, I didn't know it would become a tradition at the time. I've started collecting Christmas-themed jigsaw puzzles, and each Advent I spend the season putting one together. The puzzle pieces sit on a table in the family room opposite where the tree is lit up. As I'm about my business on any given day, whenever I pass through the room, I stop and put a few pieces in place.

The very first puzzle I bought was "A Peanuts Christmas" by Springbok. Funny that, because as a child I never really cared for the Charlie Brown Christmas special. We'd watch it every year, but I'd generally feel sad for Charlie Brown, who seemed so alone with his pathetic little tree.

Years later I was reminded of something I had forgotten about that show! The story doesn't end with Charlie staying sad. Do you remember the part when Charlie Brown asks so poignantly, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

Linus, so sweetly and confidently, takes center stage and begins to recite those old familiar words -- the account taken from the beautiful old King James rendition. "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them...." (click here for more by Linus)

For me, that's Christmas. I do all the decorating, baking, partying, singing, wrapping presents, eating and visiting as a joyous celebration to honour the Child, Emmanuel, God with Us. Linus, thanks for the sweet reminder of what Christmas is about for me.

Wishing you thoughts for great joy,

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

You Know You're A Real Cat Lover When...

Miss Kitty's favourite lookout perch on the step
(when she's not sitting on my computer chair)

A friend just sent me an excerpt from an e-newsletter she receives from, in which it shared an article You Know You're A Real Cat Love When. I found these three quite humorous. You know  you're a real cat lover when...
You've been known to use a flea comb on your own hair in a pinch.
You steer people away from a certain chair with the words, "Sorry, that's Fluffy's".
You discourage visitors from helping themselves to your peanut butter because Muffin sticks her paw in there to help herself. (Miss Kitty likes unsalted butter and has been known to help herself if the butter dish is uncovered.)

And, here is my own proof.  You know you're a real cat lover when...
You choose to sit perched on the very edge of your computer chair until your behind is numb, because you don't want to disturb Kitty while she's having her nap.

Here's to a purr-fectly meow-velous day!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Snowflakes And The Christmas Spirit

 A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky--unbidden--
and seems like a thing of wonder. ~ Susan Orlean

Monday morning ... and though it's gray and overcast, there's a cozy feeling in the air as snowflakes, soft like fluffy goose down, float from the skies. Oh the joy and the bliss of newly falling snow. It's as Andy Goldsworthy once said, snow provokes responses that reaches right back to childhood. I feel a giggle of joy on the inside. Snow and Christmas -- in my child's eye -- always go together.

My feet hit the floor running this morning. I woke up hap-happy, even though I have a pile of things to do today. For today, it's all fun, yes, even the chores, as I'm starting to feel the curling warmth of the Christmas spirit gently fall around me, as I see those snowflakes falling on in the garden outside.

Whatever you're up to, cherish your day,

Friday, December 05, 2008

Festive Friday Fill-Ins

Today I'm joining bloggers at Friday Fill-Ins. Our host starts the sentences and we finish them with our own responses. To join in the fun, click here for the questions.

1. Snow covers my neighborhood like powdered sugar on Turkish Delight.

2. I'm looking forward to reading Jan Karon's "Shepherds Abiding" this weekend.

3. Cafe Haven is the best place to get the awesome-est latte ever!

4. One of my favorite old TV shows is the old holiday variety specials when famous people sang Christmas carols and songs.

5. I'm done with trying to figure out everyone's expectations and trying to meet them.

6. The most enjoyable thing around the holidays is the wonderful mix of happy social times with people and the quiet, reflective times alone or with God.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to snuggly time with my hubby and my kitty cat, tomorrow my plans include an outing with new friends to a ladies Christmas Brunch, and Sunday, I want to attend the Alberta Baroque Ensemble's Christmas Concert with my hubby!

No matter how busy you get today, remember to grab any wonder-filled moments that come your way with both hands!

Joy! Joy!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sugar Plum Dreamin'

Imagination is a wonderful gift. How else would the children in The Night Before Christmas have had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads? No doubt you can probably reach back into your own childhood and remember your own wild and beautiful imagination.

Oh, to have such vivid imaginations even now that we're grown up. Maybe now we don't dream about sugar plums, but we all carry secret wishes and dreams that desperately need the gift of our imagination. We need to let go of the old messages to 'stop daydreaming' and allow the eyes of our heart to even just think about what we'd like. Walt Disney apparently first said it, 'If you can dream it, you can do it.' He also went on to say, 'Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse.'

So while your kids dream about 'sugar plum' ipods and the latest video games this Christmas, why not dream and imagine your own sugar plum visions for yourself. What do you want? If folks like Walt Disney can dream a dream and do it, it's possible for us too.

Now, if you're wondering what sugar plums really look like, check out the recipe here.

Happy Sugar Plum Dreamin'

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Joy of Advent Calendars

Did you like Advent calendars as a child? Does your child 'inside' still enjoys opening new windows every morning in December?

If so, you might be interested in an advent calendar designed by a fellow blogger, Violet, over at Promptings. She is sharing with her readers a new 'window' each day this month until Christmas.

Only 22 more sleeps,

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Reduce Stress This Holiday Season


It's the time of year when things get busier than usual. Suddenly we feel overwhelmed and the fun ebbs away like the tide. Why not stop for a moment and breathe deeply. Do once, twice, three times.

Now read these tips and see if these won't help:

1. First, ask yourself if everything on your To-Do list is really necessary to make your holiday merry and bright. Keep what's important and rule out what might just be excess and clutter for you. For example, I really enjoying writing and sending greeting cards and letters to keep in touch with people, so I make time for this tradition. But I know lots of people find it a huge burden. If it's just a chore -- and your heart's not in it -- who says it has to stay a part of your holiday tradition! Do the things that make your heart sing and rejoice.

2. Schedule a date with a good friend you don't see often. Visit a local site, like a greenhouse, that's all gussied up, festive and fragrant with blossoms and balsam. Browse through their Christmas display and relax over a steaming latte in a cozy setting.

3. Treat your body like a queen. One way is to stay away from foods that make you feel heavy and uncomfortable. Of course, we all want to enjoy the rich foods that come out only at Christmas time, but I'm learning to temper that with eating things that don't make me feel sluggish afterward. For instance, we go through boxes of mandarin oranges at this time of year. They are a treat, they have lots of vitamin C, and yet they don't make me feel heavy when I've eaten them.

4. Carve out mini rests for yourself during the day. And I do mean mini -- just 60 seconds can make a difference. I'm always surprised at how long a minute actually feels when I stop doing and just 'be' awhile. For me, the key is to focus on relaxing and not think about what I'll do when I start moving again.

Here's hoping these ideas reduce the stress so that you can enjoy these days more.

Cheerily yours,

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thinking About Gift Giving

It's the first of December ... and for those of us who love Christmas, we can gleefully start our holiday preparations in earnest, which includes focusing our attention more closely on the gifts we want to give this year. Of course, for some of us, that might cause more stress than delight.

It's so easy to get caught up in the social obligation of gift giving at this time of year. Instead of feeling a sense of joy and wonder, we can start to feel the pressure because it's expected of us. I don't know about you, but I don't want to receive something from someone if they only feel a sense of duty to give it to me. I don't want to give in that spirit either.

I don't shop the way I used to, and I no longer play the game of guessing how much someone might spend on me so that I might give something of similar value. The stress I used to carry as I tried to figure that out -- it still gives me the shudders. Always wondering if it was the right thing, if I spent enough to indicate some reasonable measure of 'love'. I assume that, right or wrong, it creeps from a mindset of commercialism and consumerism that seems to be a mostly North American malady. Diamonds and fancy presents are not the only way to express a measure of love. Now, if you have the ability to share those kinds of gifts, by all means let those items be an expression of the love you have in your heart.

And, for many of us whose pocketbooks aren't as thickly padded, we need to somehow let that pressure go. And the means we have within our reach, that's what we use. Sometimes the best gifts are those wrapped in beautiful paper and bows; sometimes they are less tangible but still as life-giving: gentle and affirming words, generous giving of time and energy, providing acts of service, to name a few. Large or small ... only as long as it speaks from the heart.  

I do want my gifts to be an expression from my heart. Because, in the end, it doesn't matter if we're two or ninety-two, we are all looking for that special something that conveys the message....

"You I notice ... you I cherish."

Happy Preparations,