Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Easy Like Holidays

photo: pixabay.com

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how
many of them you can get through,
but rather how many can get through to you.”
~ Mortimer J. Adler


Once the presents are handed out and the turkey dinner has been prepared and eaten, for me that's when the real holidays--the relaxing--can begin. I love Christmas and all the hubbub of getting ready. But I admit loving these days between Christmas and New Year's. Just as the days before Christmas were busy, the days following are now quiet and easy as we relax, spending time reading, playing games, putting puzzles together, going for walks on snowy afternoons. 

When I was a girl, I loved getting books for Christmas. When the holiday festivities were over, my siblings and I looked forward to all those wonderful school holidays when we could play with our new toys, start our new craft projects, and spend hours whiling away winter afternoons with our noses in new books.

Decades later not much has changed in that department. I still get excited about receiving books for Christmas, and I still love to curl up on a winter's evening with something nice to read. I've been flipping through the books I received, facing the hard but gleeful decision about which book from my little pile to read first. I tend to read the front and back covers, flip through the introduction, and dip into a page or two. I do the same with each book, until I realize which one is drawing me in.

Here's what Santa brought me this Christmas:

Becoming Mrs. Lewis 
by Patti Callahan (novel, 2018)

"The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis"

* * *

Prairie Fires
The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
by Caroline Fraser (2017)

This biography draws on unpublished manuscripts, letters, diaries,
land and financial records, filling in the gaps in Ms Wilder's life story.

* * *

Becoming Madeleine
by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy (2018)

A biography of the author of A Wrinkle in Time written by her granddaughters.

* * *

No Time to Spare
Thinking About What Matters
by Ursula K. Le Guin (2017)  

"...I am going to be eighty-one next week. I have no time to spare."

***


While I consider that, I'm also working my way through An Irish Country Christmas (2008) by Patrick Taylor. It's the heartwarming tale of two doctors living in the cozy village of Ballybucklebo, and all the adventures they get up to as they work hard to keep their patients healthy and happy as the Christmas season approaches. It's a delightful read.


 “Reading one book is like eating one potato chip.”
~ Diane Duane


Today we're eating a few turkey leftovers, nibbling on sweet treats, drinking tea, working on a short book review due January first. There are plans in the wind to go see the new Mary Poppins movie with a girlfriend -- I'm hearing good reviews. Plus, we off to visit family later in the week.

Nice and easy ... grateful for these good gifts.

I'll be away from my blog for a wee while.

Here's wishing you beautiful days ahead.

Hugs,
Brenda
xox





If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you can get in touch by email.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Day 25. Merry Christmas!

fancycrave |  unsplash.com


"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men"



* * *



We've arrived. Christmas has arrived.
I hope your Santa stocking is full. I hope your heart is overflowing
with joy and gratitude.

Thanks so much for keeping company with me
as we counted down to Christmas. It's been a lot of fun!

I didn't have a chance to see everyone's Christmas posts, but I'll be
doing catch up visits over the next few days.

I'll be back to my regularly scheduled posting but first
I'm taking a few days off over the holidays.

I'm off to celebrate, to eat turkey and stuffing, mince tarts, and chocolates.
Open presents. Kiss loved ones. Hug them.
All the while being glad for today's good gifts.

Here's wishing you a very Happy Christmas!

Love and hugs,
Brenda
xox





Monday, December 24, 2018

Day 24. Christmas Eve

photo: pixabay.com


"A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices"


* * *






from Cynthia Marie
* * *

A favourite carol at Christmas.
Take a moment.
Let your heart thrill with hope.


Wishing you a few quiet moments.

Hugs,
Brenda
xox







Sunday, December 23, 2018

Day 23. Advent Longing

Adoration of the Christ Child
Circa 1619 - 1621
Artist Gerard van Honthorst
In the collection of the Uffizi in Florence

 * * *

YOU KNOW WHAT I REALLY  WANT
FOR CHRISTMAS?

I want to feel the magic of being five or six or seven again
When everything about the season was new and fresh and thrilling.

When I felt the tremble of expectancy as parcels
mysteriously appeared under the Christmas tree;
And the wait of three more sleeps grew so excruciating
I felt my body would burst  from its skin.

When the HUSH of soft, holy moments hugged me like a blanket
As I sat mesmerized by tinsel glimmer and tree lights;
And the sweet, sweet strains of Away in a Manger
filled me with shivery delight.

Yes, I long to feel again the secret yearnings of a child's heart
for the inexpressible and the MIRACULOUS. . .

 As I wait in Wonder  for the Christ Child.


* * *

What's your heart wish this Christmas?
Hugs,
Brenda
xox

Note: This piece was originally posted on InScribe blog.




If you are receiving this post by email, you can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog where you are welcome to leave a comment. Or, you can contact me by email.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Day 22. Carol of the Bells

photo: pixabay.com



It's full tilt Christmas around here this weekend, and
we're enjoying listening to all the beautiful carols and songs of the season.

I always enjoy listening to
Carol of the Bells
by Mykola Leontovich (1877-1921).

Just over one minute in length, it's a treat to watch this piece
being sung by St. George's Chapel Choir.


* * *


Wishing you a beautiful day.

Hugs,
Brenda
xox




Friday, December 21, 2018

Day 21. Unplanned Musing of the Heart

photo: pixabay.com


A stream of consciousness journaling. Nothing planned, just what bubbled up when I sat down at my computer...

I can get so immersed in Christmas during December that I sometimes feel a jarring when the dailiness of life smacks me in the face, reminding me that life is still going on as 'normal' in the world around me. People are still trudging off to work, going to dental appointments, getting their vehicle's winter tires on, sitting in traffic or emergency rooms with sick kids. Radio and television stations still hourly radiate bad news. And, unfortunately, there still are 'nutballs' loose on our streets who deliberately fly drones to create chaos at major airports for holiday travellers. W-h-a-t ? ?

A person wishes she could turn all that off for all of us, at least for one day of the year, just as the soldiers did during World War I when the British and German soldiers, for a moment on Christmas Eve, stopped being enemies. And they sang Christmas carols together, shared food they got in parcels from home, and were just the nice, ordinary young men they were before the war started.

It's a deep longing in my heart that we could stop all the crazy nonsense and wickedness, and let kindness rule the waves. Let joy, peace, hope fill the air we breath. Let love seep back into the frozen places of our toes and souls. To forget about whose side we're on, and what ceiling we're trying to fight through, because for a little while at least Love Reigns. And we catch a glimpse of a little heaven on earth. And every single heart feels it. I guess that's the deep down prayer of my heart. That every single heart would feel the Love and be changed by it.

I glance at the photo I selected for this post. What has Kitty got to do with these musings? Nothing really, except that I am drawn to her sweet face and gentle curiosity. I want to run my fingers through her soft fur and have her purr at my touch. For Jesus loves little kitties too. And I want a world where kitties and little children are safe. "...all creatures great and small, the good Lord loves them all..." 

* * *

Late last night I read Lorrie's lovely post at Fabric Paper Thread where she mentioned having momentarily lost her sparkle of Christmas but then told us how she found it again. She asked her readers how their own holiday sparkle was doing. I was happy to say that for us at our house, the spark of excitement and anticipation has been building all week. Last minute things going on, but we're almost ready for the festivities to begin in earnest. Hubby and I went to the Farmer's Market yesterday afternoon with two items on the shopping list: homemade sweet cabbage rolls (for Christmas Day) and the French Canadian Tourtière meat pie dish (for Christmas Eve). We happened upon a lovely display of homemade Christmas baking by one of the vendors. Having sampled one toothsome concoction, we snapped up a couple of packages to add to our holiday sweet treat tray. Except for the fruitcake and lemon loaves for the neighbours, holiday baking was not on my to-do list this year, although I may still bake a few mince tarts and some tiny sugar cookies in the shapes of stars and snowflakes.

Yes, it's almost here. So what do I do about the musing of my heart? Not to be simplistic, but I have learned over the years that joy and the poignant, almost sorrowful longing can live together in one heart. One doesn't exclude the other. But sorrow doesn't have to be queen. The joy we take in life's good gifts can give us strength and courage in other more grievous situations. Life is often a mix of bittersweet, and we learn to take joy where we can even when our world isn't perfect. I take hope in the words that I often write inside my Christmas cards. "Love came down at Christmas . . . Star and angels gave the sign." Words by Christina Rossetti. Love came down, and if I let it, it will throb in my heart and pulse out towards my dear ones, neighbours, and those we might even consider enemies.


And so, I'm wishing you dear readers joy in your world
with pockets full of love to keep your finger tips warm
on this last Friday before Christmas. Thank you for keeping faith
with me as I write here on It's A Beautiful Life.

With love,
Brenda
xox





If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you can get in touch by email.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Day 20. Don't Mess With The Stuffing

photo: pixabay.com


Today I'm thinking about the traditions surrounding our Christmas celebrations, particularly when it comes to the dishes we prepare for our holiday feasting. Christmas is a big deal here in Canada, since our Thanksgiving celebrations are held back in October -- by this time, we're well ready for another holiday with feasts.

I'm interested to know what traditions you keep when it comes to the holiday meals. Do you have special Christmas Eve meals? Does your family focus mainly on Christmas Dinner on December 25th? Do you make favourite dishes that come out only at Christmas? Are you a complete traditionalist, a mix of family favourites and new dishes, or are you wildly experimental some years, creating menus for Christmas Dinner that are completely non-traditional?

Our family is pretty traditional. Christmas Dinner for us always has been roasted turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, and cranberries, with a variety of recipes used for the side dishes of salads, vegetables, and, of course, the desserts. We haven't strayed too far from this menu over the years. Because we make the recipes but once or twice a year, we really look forward to these predictable but comforting dishes with lip-smacking appetites.

One such recipe that we quit fooling with years ago, i.e., experimenting with other dressing/stuffing recipes, was the family recipe for the turkey stuffing. It's my mom's recipe that she developed as a young mom. Last year, I wrote an essay for the anthology Christmas: Stories & More by InScribe Press, and it was titled "Please Don't Mess With the Stuffing".

Today as the big day gets closer, I want to share the story and the recipe with you.

photo: pixabay.com

"I don't like the turkey, but I like the bread he ate,"
said one small child after eating Christmas Dinner.


PLEASE DON'T MESS WITH THE STUFFING

In our family, it’s always been called “stuffing.” Everybody we knew called it that, even our cousins. One Christmas at Aunty and Uncle’s place, while sitting at the kids’ table, my little sister, older cousin, and I thought ourselves most clever to pronounce that we were stuffing ourselves with stuffing. All through dinner we giggled at our little joke, filling our faces with the savoury dish till indeed we were stuffed.

Even back then, stuffing was the favourite part of our Christmas dinner. Although we like turkey, it is, as my sister recently pointed out, merely the conduit for this seasoned, bready concoction.

As Mom prepared the bird and stuffing Christmas morning, she would try and shoo everyone out of the kitchen so she could chop and sauté in peace. There was no chance of that: my siblings and I, and sometimes even our Dad, would jostle for position to watch (more like sneak fingerfuls of) the savoury ingredients mounting up in the big bowl. Mom would mildly scold us to get our hands “out of there.” That first whiff of sizzling onions and celery would always set our mouths watering.

Mom, as a young wife, developed her own recipe for stuffing, distinct from that of her own mother, who always diced in turkey giblets. Instead, browned ground beef and finely diced ham eventually replaced the offending viscera.

Years later, it was my turn to host Christmas Dinner. As a young woman, I was eager to try new stuffing recipes, and I found some interesting ones in Ladies Home Journal and Canadian Living magazines, which suggested adding sausage, apple, and sage, or chestnuts and dried fruit. That experiment and any future ones did not go over well, for someone at the table invariably moaned about there being no “real” stuffing.

In the end, we all agreed. No more experimenting, just make my mother’s traditional, tried and true recipe. After all, for more than a half a century, it’s been making our family happy. Whoever is hosting welcomes suggestions to adjust anything else on the Christmas dinner menu, but please don’t mess with the stuffing.


Mom’s Christmas Stuffing

Serves 10 with leftovers
Preheat oven to 190° C (375° F)

Ingredients

2 large loaves white bread, day old (about 900 g)
1½ medium onions, diced
3 to 4 celery ribs, diced
2 cups finely chopped ham
¼ to ½ cup butter, for sautéing onions, celery, and ham
1½ pounds lean ground beef (about 700 g)
cooking oil (as needed for sautéing)
1 to 2 tsp poultry seasoning—start with 1 tsp and adjust to taste
1 tsp salt—to taste
½ tsp freshly ground pepper—to taste
1¾ to 2 cups low salt chicken broth
1/3 cup butter, melted, for pouring over stuffing before baking

Directions

1. One to two days prior to turkey day, cube the bread and set out on cookie sheets to thoroughly dry. Toss once or twice so all sides get exposure. When dry and no longer soft to the touch, set aside in a very large bowl and cover with a clean tea towel.

2. In a large skillet, melt ¼ to ½ cup butter. Gently sauté onions and celery until soft. Add chopped ham and sauté for a few minutes. Remove from pan and set aside in a bowl.

3. In the same skillet, add (if needed) some cooking oil. Brown the ground beef; break up the meat as it browns. Dust with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning.

4. Add the bowl of sautéed onion mixture to the browned beef.

5. Sprinkle on the measured poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper. Mix together.

6. Bring out bowl with bread cubes. Sprinkle chicken broth over cubes to lightly moisten. Add onion and meat mixture. Stir everything together thoroughly.

7. Carefully adjust seasonings to taste; poultry seasoning can overpower. Add chicken broth if bread is still dry; the mixture should cling together somewhat, but not so it’s drippy-wet. If there's time, you can let the stuffing sit for a few minutes and then thoroughly mix everything one more time (Mom's tip).

8. Put the stuffing into a large buttered roaster or casserole dish. Pour the melted butter over the stuffing; this will bring out the flavour and help keep it from drying out. Our family outgrew the amount of stuffing that fits into a turkey cavity so we just put it all into a roasting dish or pan. 

9. Cover and put in a preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until heated through. Stir at least once at around the 15-minute point.

Note: It’s only once a year, so we don’t fuss about calories.


How to Eat Leftover Stuffing

1. Layer with turkey slices and cranberries in a sandwich;

2. Reheat with lots of gravy over top;

3. My personal favourite:
Cold, with a fork, straight from the bowl in the refrigerator.
Warning: this last one often means fending off
other forks aiming for the same snack.


* * *

We're bustling around here today. Some grocery shopping,
some errands, some cleaning. Reading through the stuffing recipe
is making me so hungry, I can hardly wait 'til Christmas. Haha

Here's wishing you a beautiful day.

Hugs,
Brenda
xox






If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, or send an email.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Day 19. Three Thoughts Related to Giving



! * ! ONE ! * !

There was a knock at the door the other evening, and our neighbour was standing there with this tray in her hands. Wow! A cinnamon bun Christmas wreath. She had just baked it. Yum! Yum!

Was she one of the neighbours I'd given a lemon loaf earlier, asked a Facebook friend. Yes, yes, she was. How sweet is that ... reaching out and suddenly being the recipient of blessing as well. It's such a lovely circle, for as St. Francis of Assisi once said, it is in giving that we receive. 


  
! * ! TWO ! * !

You may recall in my recent 'being neighbourly' post, I mentioned wanting to meet the family of the sweet orange kitty who comes to visit us. Christmas seems to be a good time to reach past what we feel are uncomfortable barriers the rest of the year. At least, that's how I find it.

I went to meet them last night -- I knew they were home because their house was all aglow with Christmas lights. After introducing myself and clarifying that they indeed were the family of Orange Kitty, I told them how much we love when she comes to visit us and that we wanted to give her a little present, and some chocolate for them. Lovely people, as it turns out, and I wonder why I felt so shy to meet them before. The common link of loving our furry friends certainly helped to melt any awkwardness. Now we know who lives in that house and we know kitty's name is Ziggy (happy face here).



! * ! THREE ! * !

The other day, my blogging friend, Susan, asked the question on her blog: "Do you open holiday presents right away when you receive them or wait until Christmas?"

My answer? I like to open presents when I receive them. I find there is something special about receiving and opening the gift in the giver's presence. I appreciate it when people open the presents I give them when I am with them, and not have them wait until another day. For me, there is something wondrous in that moment when the giving and receiving 'transaction' is completed and hearts are united.

So, what about you? Do you open presents right away or wait?


* * *

"Christmas!
'Tis the season for kindling
the fire of hospitality in the hall,
the genial flame of charity in the heart."

–Washington Irving

* * *

Wishing you a beautiful day.

Hugs,
Brenda
xox




If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you can get in touch by email.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Day 18. It Feels Like Christmas Around Here


"Winter is the time for comfort, for good
food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly
hand, and for a talk beside the fire: it is the
time for home."

~ Edith Sitwell


Yes, it's starting to feel a lot like Christmas at our house this week. The tree is up, see yesterday's post. Around the house, corners, table tops, the mantelpiece, even beds are getting gussied up for the season. Except hubby did makes noises about how was a fellow supposed to take a nap with all that prickly stuff on the bed pillows.




There is definitely something in the air since we got the tree up. Bought this pheasant teapot for my dad many years ago, so it's out on full display as we think of him and miss him these days. 




We moved the television to the other wall, which leaves a wide open empty wall staring at me. Too late to look for a piece of art (except I know what I'd like there... hint hint, Santa Baby). In the meanwhile, an elegant amaryllis and sprigs of greenery does a fine job of giving our eyes something lovely to look at.




We got bunches of free greenery from the tree farm. The fellow said help yourself to the brush pile. And we did. Here's a small bouquet of greenery with a hint of red to make it sparkle. Red and green and gold are still my favourite Christmas colours.




I'm off to meet a dear friend for lunch.
Here's wishing you a beautiful day.

Hugs,
Brenda
xox





If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you can get in touch by email.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Day 17. The Tree Awaits




There really is something special about waiting to decorate the tree until it's nearer the big day. When I was a girl, our family put up the tree just two or three days before Christmas. When I grew up and had my own home, at first I did it the way we always did it at home. But once we got an artificial tree, I loved putting up the tree at the beginning of December and being able to enjoy its comforting light and beauty all month long. But now, since Hubby and I have taken to getting a fresh tree the last few years, we put it up much later in the month, to keep it from being all worn out by the time Christmas arrives.

In our world of having access to just about everything 'instant', I have found something special about giving my soul a chance to wait for something again. To anticipate the arrival for something -- in this case, Christmas. And not speed through to the next thing. There is often such a rush this time of year, perhaps putting up the tree a little later is one small way I can slow myself down just a little.




I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play, and wild and sweet
The words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


We got our pretty spruce tree on Friday, and we let it sit in the garage a day to guzzle up the gallons of water it needed once it was cut. Rick set it up in the usual corner of our family room, opposite the fireplace. While half watching, half listening to one of my favourite Christmas movies The Bishop's Wife yesterday afternoon, I unpacked the lights and ornaments. As there was nothing else on the agenda, just me and my own thoughts and a box of ornaments to muse over, I spent a couple of happy hours getting them on. For it is a studied business when it comes to deciding where each ornament should be placed to create an overall pleasing effect. Even after the official announcement is made -- it's done -- the next few days often find me tweaking an ornament here, a light placement there.




Ornaments old and new. Ornaments we bought together the first year we were married. The special ones we found during our honeymoon. The pretty ones we received as gifts from friends. The tartan heart and kitty from our trip to Scotland, even one or two remaining ornaments (above) carefully saved from my childhood Christmases. And these jolly red and white sprigs (below) which I found last year and fell in love with -- they seem not to take themselves too seriously -- good advice when it comes to decorating our trees.




Some years I make plans in advance of what I want to create. Sometimes it's a colour scheme or a certain theme. Sometimes like this year, there is no plan, no specific colour scheme, it's choosing whatever makes my heart sing when I see it. The gold bows at the top, the spot usually reserved for stars and angels, were once the pew markers at our wedding twenty ago. So that's special for me.




I loved the white lights, Rick likes the coloured ones. So we have strands of each. And they make a pretty blend. And, so here's our tree...






That's a wrap. And that's our tree for Christmas 2018. Yes, I already tweaked since the photos. And speaking of photos, writing this post and taking these few photos -- trying to get a half decent look took much longer than it did to decorate the tree itself.




Looking out my window, it's late afternoon and nearly sunset. The sky is a gorgeous pale pink along the horizon. This evening we are attending the local Christmas production of Singing in the Rain, and I am feel quite jolly about it all. On that note, I'm wishing you a beautiful evening. 

Hugs,
Brenda
xox





If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you can get in touch by email.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Day 16. Waiting. Listening.

photo: pixabay.com

Here is a favourite Christmas carol...

with Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma


Advent is an expectant season. We wait poised for what Frederick Buechner names “the extraordinary moment.” He utilizes the image of an orchestra conductor waiting... waiting until he has the full attention of the orchestra, the full attention of the audience. It's that exact moment just before the music begins.
“The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart . . . The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”
~ Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

photo: pixabay.com


“I shall attend to my little errands of love early this year,
So that the brief days before Christmas may be unhampered and clear

of the fever of hurry. The breathless rushing I have known in the past
shall not possess me. I shall be calm in my soul and ready at last

for Christmas. I shall have leisure — I shall go out alone from my roof and my door;
I shall not miss the silver silence of stars as I have before.

And oh, perhaps ... if I stand there very still ... and very long
I shall hear what the clamor of living has kept from me — The Angels' Song!”

~ Grace Noll Crowell
"Leisure," Poems of Inspiration and Courage (1928)



* * *

Wishing you peace on this third Sunday of Advent

With love,
Brenda
xox






If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you can get in touch by email.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Day 15. Christmas Tree Outing




As was mentioned in our previous post, we went to get our Christmas tree from the Fir Ever Green Tree Farm yesterday. Our drive out into the countryside was lovely. There is nothing like watching snow covered fields and sunlight glinting through the tall trees to create a sense of restfulness and ease of spirit. Even though we went in the early afternoon, the sun already lay low on the horizon, reminding me that this is one of my favourite times of the year. 




"Despite all I have seen and experienced,
I still get the same simple thrill out of glimpsing a tiny patch of snow."

~ Edmund Hillary




"O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree
How lovely are thy branches..."



"Smell is the mute sense,
the one without words."

~ Diane Ackerman
A Natural History of the Senses

Measuring in at seven feet tall, it was perfect in our eyes. I wish, I wish, I could have bottled the fragrance of this pretty little spruce so you could smell it too. Every branch, every needle exuded its winsome perfume. Hubby and I both agreed that that was the smell of Christmas.

Do you remember the 1947 movie The Bishop's Wife, with Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven? Do you recall the scene where the Bishop's wife goes to the green grocers to order a Christmas tree and happens to meet up with her friend, the Professor, while there. The Professor had his 'annual' argument with the shopkeeper about how much he should pay for the Christmas tree, and finally the shopkeeper counts up all the branches and charges him by the branch. I was kinda glad we didn't have to count how many branches were on this tree -- there seemed quite a few.

Now I'm in the mood to watch the movie, as I haven't yet this year. Have you done so already? 

  


Even though the day was mild, it was lovely to catch the warmth of this little fire burning near the chalet. The wagon with its load of wood, the owner proceeded to tell us, was around 150 years old. It came from the 'old country' where he grew up -- Switzerland. You will note that the original wooden wheel had been replaced with a modern one. I think he said the wooden one had worn out. 


 *!*!* Two happy campers *!*!*


The tree has been in our garage guzzling buckets of water today. Tomorrow we bring her inside and set her up. We're still deciding which corner she'll preside over the soon coming Christmas doings.

* * *

We've been to visit my mom today. She served tea and Christmas baking. We had a lovely visit. That's why I'm a little late on getting this post up today. I hope you've had a wonderful day. I now wish you a pleasant evening and a sweet sleep.

Hugs,
Brenda
xox





If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you can contact me directly by email.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Day 14. O Christmas Tree

photo: pixabay.com

"... freshly cut Christmas trees smelling
of stars and snow and pine resin -- inhale deeply
and fill your soul with wintry night ...”

~ John Geddes, A Familiar Rain 


I felt a sense of adventure when I woke early this morning. Hubby and I are going to get our Christmas tree this afternoon. Because we live in the city, if we're getting a real tree for Christmas, we usually buy one from the temporary tree lots or grocers. But Hubby declared he wanted a tree that was really fresh, that hadn't been cut two months ago -- he wanted the true fresh fragrance wafting through the house like when he was a kid. I was secretly thrilled. Me too! Can almost smell it -- all earthy, piney, and oh so pungent with its sap fresh and sticky.

We'll head out into the countryside to a local family-owned tree farm where they offer landscaping trees in summer and u-cut evergreens in December. I think Rick is excited about bringing along his saw for this somewhat woodsy adventure. I wish we had a couple of those red lumberjack shirts for photo-ops -- you bet, I'm not leaving home without my camera.

photo: pixabay.com

Just thinking about it makes so many childhood memories float up. I can remember coming home from school, just days before Christmas, to find the freshly hewed spruce tree propped near the back step. Oh goody, Dad had been out. There it sat waiting, just like us, for the big day. If we weren't already antsy with excitement, well, it just made the anticipation soar off the charts. We begged Mom to let us bring it in. But she always wanted to wait as long as possible, to keep the needles fresh. I could hardly stand it for joy -- it felt like the top of my head would blow off.


"Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree.
In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.

~ Larry Wilde, The Merry Book of Christmas


It's true, when you are five or six or seven, every tree seems thirty feet tall, but in truth, looking at some old family photos, our trees weren't those towering specimens at all. All green and prickly, smelling of pungent spruce resin -- I didn't like how my fingers stuck together when drops got on my hands -- they were sometimes a little scraggly, somewhat sparse on branches, even a bit crooked, but in our eyes they were practically perfect.

The day finally arrived, usually December 20th or 21st, when Mom would give the okay. Dad would drag the frozen tree into the porch where it thawed out, the snow on its branches melting into puddles on the floor. Which meant that the next day when we got home from school, it would be proudly sitting in its wooden stand. A prince of a tree in its honoured place in the corner of the living room, where Dad had secured it with clear fishing line to the door jam -- cats and kids being prone to examining tree branches rather closely.


"You can tell a lot about a person by the way
they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage,
and tangled Christmas tree lights.

~ Maya Angelou


photo: pixabay.com

When we were old enough, we kids would haul down the decoration boxes from the upstairs crawl space. First, there came the task of untangling tree lights -- not a job for the kids, thankfully. I felt too impatient for that slow process. It was the pretty ornaments nestled in their boxes with the cellophane windows in the lids that I waited for.

Chains made from coloured construction paper and tinsel garlands were added. Placing the ornaments was a very studied business as we pondered which branch they should go on for the best effect. Delicate glass balls would hang alongside the proud display of glittering handmade Christmas cards done in school art class. The very last thing to go up was the tinsel, we being firmly instructed not to throw clumps of tinsel on the branches, but to carefully drape it strand by strand until the tree became a glimmering tower of awesomeness.

At last came the moment when the overhead lights were turned off, a record would be set to spin out carols, and we'd all stand back in awe of our handiwork. It was beautiful, all lit up and sparkling. And with that, we were ready for Christmas. Life couldn't feel any more perfect than in that moment. With so much to still look forward to and so few cares of the world intruding on our little family, at least for a few days, we felt safe and happy as we snuggled against the storms of winter and life.


Here's a YouTube link to

by Classical vocal ensemble VOCES8



circa 1964, Little Sis and Me

* * *

It's getting closer. The anticipation is rising.
Here's wishing you a beautiful day.

Hugs,
Brenda
xox





If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you can get in touch by email.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Day 13. Wonky Donkey

photo: caroline herandez | unsplash.com



My ideas are frozen
The words really stuck
Maybe it's all from the baking
My mind's turned to mush

One little thought
from a YouTube I viewed
Could be the wee gift
you're seeking and need

For the kid with a funny streak
and sweet giggles besides
Check this out -- Wonky Donkey
Even Grannies have cried

I dare you to listen and not be tickled too
Click here for the storybook
You'll be hooked out the gazoo


* * *

Happy Thursday!

Hugs,
Brenda
xox







If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you can contact me directly by email.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Day 12. Lemon Loaves and Being Neighbourly



I am on a mission. A few days ago, I stocked up on bags of fresh lemons, pounds of sweet butter, and a few dozen eggs. I am going to bake lemon loaves for my neighbours this Christmas. It's not something I do regularly, hardly at all. I might make muffins and take a few to a neighbour, but not often. But this year, I wanted to give a little something to more than just my two next door neighbours on either side of us.

As a writer, I am generally ensconced at my desk inside my house -- where I sit right now looking out my window over the pre-dawn navy skies. It's not that I don't care about my neighbours, it's that I get caught up in my world of words, and days can go by and I haven't seen much of anybody. I might catch sight of someone when I'm out for my walk or as I drive by on my way to do errands. We might smile and wave at each other, but for the most part, I don't even know their names. Rick knows them more than I do, as people often stop and chat when he's working in the front garden in the summertime. 

But this year, what with all the disasters and terrible things that have been going on in our upside-down world, and for the most part there being nothing I can really do to help heal the world at large, I have had a heart longing, a tug to reach out and touch a few souls closer to home. Not for my sake or because I'm lonely, but because I want these people with whom I share this neighbourhood to know that someone does notices that they live on this street even if she doesn't do much more than offer a wave and a smile. For I am glad they do live on this street, even if I don't know their names. It's a nice, peaceful neighbourhood, and we know it's the people who live in it that make it so. I don't have to know them personally to recognize that.

But wouldn't it also be nice to know them personally, to know their names and the names of their kids and kitties. And, that's when the idea to bake lemon loaves for these nearby residents came to mind. Christmas is often a time when people can do things like this and not feel so weird about turning up out of the blue. So I dug out my recipe, lined up my ingredients, greased and floured the pans, and set to work. As soon as I got three loaves baked and cooled, I wrapped them up, carefully put them in a carry all bag, and started off down the street. People were surprised to answer the door and see me, a virtual stranger, standing on their doorstep with a cellophane, ribbon-wrapped loaf and Christmas card in my hand.

The task is not yet complete. I've delivered six loaves so far and I'm off shortly to start baking another batch for today's deliveries. I might get on such a roll that I'll go all the way up and down my street ... well, maybe not this year anymore. One thing for sure, I'm calling on the neighbours -- I have no idea who they are -- who have the orange kitty, a friendly puss, who comes to visit us often during the summer. We've watched from which house she saunters, so we know that at least. I'll probably say, "Hello my name is Brenda and I live at #27. Your beautiful orange kitty often comes to visit us and so we wanted to give her family this package as a thank you for her friendly face in the neighbourhood."

* * *

The kitchen smells so wonderful these days. Not the usual spicy smells of Christmas, but rather that aroma of zesty, buttery goodness that tantalizes my nose. It's a recipe I've had for decades now -- after this week it will be properly tested and tried -- and I am happy to share it with you today.


Glazed Lemon Loaf
Makes one large loaf, two smaller loaves, or one bundt pan cake

Preheat oven to 350F
Grease and flour the baking pan(s) called into service

3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon essence
zest from 1 large lemon (or two small)

2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup milk

Instructions

Cream butter until light and fluffy. Beat in sugar. Add eggs one at a time.
Stir in vanilla, lemon essence, and lemon zest.
Mix flour and baking powder in a separate bowl.
Add these dry ingredients alternately with milk to the wet ingredients.

Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan(s)

For one large loaf, bake for 55 minutes, until golden
and tester comes out clean from the center.
For two smaller loaves, bake for 45 minutes.
For bundt pan cake, bake 45 - 55 minutes.

Let cool 10 minutes in the pan, then invert onto wire rack.
Brush with lemon glaze while loaf is still warm.


Lemon Glaze

3 tsp lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1/2 cup icing sugar or castor sugar (finely ground sugar)

Mix ingredients into a slightly runny paste.


* * *

"Eat a slice with tea and enjoy without guilt."


* * *
"Cakes have gotten a bad rap. People equate virtue with turning down dessert. There is always one person at the table who holds up her hand when I serve the cake. No, really, I couldn’t, she says, and then gives her flat stomach a conspiratorial little pat. Everyone who is pressing a fork into that first tender layer looks at the person who declined the plate, and they all think, That person is better than I am. That person has discipline. But that isn’t a person with discipline, that is a person who has completely lost touch with joy.
A slice of cake never made anybody fat. You don’t eat the whole cake. You don’t eat a cake every day of your life. You take the cake when it is offered because the cake is delicious. You have a slice of cake and what it reminds you of is someplace that’s safe, uncomplicated, without stress. A cake is a party, a birthday, a wedding. A cake is what’s served on the happiest days of your life.”
~ Jeanne Ray, Eat Cake

I think this Jeanne Ray is a smart lady with her very sensible thoughts on eating cake. I shall remember her fine words when we have a slice of lemon loaf later on.


* * *

And so I'm off to bake. It's a beautiful, mild day in the neighbourhood.

I wish you a wonderful day whatever you're up to today.

Hugs,
Brenda
xox


PS. I forgot to say that I'm guest posting at InScribe
today -- a short piece called Longing At Christmas.





If you are receiving this post by email, I'd love to hear from you. You can click on Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life here or on the link below, and it will take you directly to my blog. You are welcome to leave a comment there, or if the comment box is being unfriendly, you can reach me directly by email