Monday, May 21, 2018

Musing On A Monday

Today's post is one that's filled with a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

You will notice the tulips on my dining table are nearing the end of their life. As you see from the photo above, I've taken full advantage of their every stage and am now enjoying their papery translucence just before they completely fade off. Interestingly, I took this photo earlier this morning, but now hours later this yellow beauty has since dried up and called 'er done.

Since it's only Monday, I can't call this my Five on Friday, but you will see I've used a similar format. I hope you enjoy the moments you spend here today! And that your heart finds something peaceful, hopeful, and a little fun.  Bring your tea, it's longer than I figured it would be. 

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ONE: The Garden is Coming Alive

Our region has finally shaken off its winter dullness, and now every morning there's something new to see and marvel at in our garden and neighbourhood. Even though it happens every year, once Spring arrives in earnest, it still surprises me just how quickly--and seriously--the earth begins her process of coming alive, with green shoots and leaves springing up out of nowhere, without notice.

"And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the Spring begins"
~ Algernon Charles Swinburne

Two weeks ago, most things still looked mostly 'dead'. Hardly a sign of life. But, early this morning I went out and there were my tulips in full bloom, as well as the gorgeous new day lily I brought home the other day from the garden centre. I did not plant her yet, but her eagerness to blossom reminded me of a pregnant woman desperate to release that baby inside, even if she's still in the back of the car or riding the elevator up to the maternity ward. This Venetian Fringe, still in her garden centre pot, sitting by the front step, bloomed right then and there, and she has several buds ready to follow suit. Get me in the ground, Girl!

We planted these purple-pink tulips last fall, and we couldn't wait to see them when they opened up this Spring. My, isn't that a gorgeous colour? We're hoping they will spread over the next few seasons. Now, that would be something to see.

The pink flowers in a large dark blue pot make a nice splash of colour near our front step. I thought they were a variety of petunia, but somehow I picked up a pot without a tag, so now I'm not entirely sure. Anyone recognize them? Whatever they are, I love their sassiness and that brilliant combo of deep pink with almost reddish centres.

"By looking at our world through its gardens,
we reaffirm the simple human capacity to
create beauty on this earth..."
~ Audrey Hepburn, Gardens of the World, 1993

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TWO: My Journals

Journals for me are 'pour out' places. They are tools that help assuage my inner need to put pen to paper. A question I have asked myself often, why do I write? I write so that hazy thoughts can come out into the light of day. I write to discover what I'm really thinking. I record a bit of diary to track things like the weather, facts and figures of events, special and ordinary. I journal to track my inner life, what's making me happy, what's unsettling me, what's weighing on my mind about personal matters or the world at large. My notebooks are a catch-all for anything I'm thinking about when I sit to write: goals for better health; inspirational quotes that lift me up; prayers I pray for myself or other people; ideas for new posts, my to-do lists, birthdays I don't want to miss, etc. . My journals are much like this particular post -- a little of this and a little of that.

My journals are work horses, so for me, it's not possible to keep it all pretty and in perfect penmanship and without 'typos' or crossed out words. It is what it is. Still, I do love notebooks with eye catching covers, ones that are nice to hold in my lap and will stay open when I write. The pages must be wide lined. Narrow lines give me a slightly claustrophobic feeling, like maybe the words will squish up to each other and won't be able breathe out their proper meanings.

I love to use stickers -- I like floral, vintage, or whimsical designs. I've tried three-dimensional ones, which are gorgeous, but they do leave funny humps in the pages, making it hard to write on. So when I cannot find what I'm looking for, I clip out pretty magazine pictures and use them to decorate the insides of my journals. With a snip of a scissor and the whisk of a glue stick, they create interest and give me a splash of beauty amongst all those wordy words.

The year or so around my 30th birthday, I was into reading everything I could find by and about L.M. Montgomery. I was drawn to her journals, which were gradually being edited and published for the public at the time. Having read every one of them, I had a firsthand glimpse of how this amazing woman used her journals to create a historical record of her life as a wife, mother, author. She started her first 'official' journal at age 15 and continued until her death. She wrote of her childhood and youth, using a reflective flashback style; she talked about her coming of age, marked her spiritual journey as well as her journey as a writer. She also wrote things about herself she couldn't tell anyone else.

I was inspired deeply to write in a similar fashion and so I began my own first official journal the year I turned thirty, which when I add it up, means I have been keeping ink flowing on my pages for over three decades. Before that, I used a spiral notebook to record a few events I didn't want to forget; it was hardly a diary, and certainly not a journal. And, I used big blue scrapbooks to capture glimpses of my adolescent youth, which housed birthday cards, funny notes from friends, the special corsage from Grad Night, programs of favourite concerts and events like the opera Carmen, pictures of the silly things we used to do at college... that sort of thing.

So I guess all along, I've been the recorder of my own history. What was it Sir Winston Churchill once said ... "For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history myself."  Indeed.

I'd be lost without my journals. Anything and everything I need to remember in the here and now, what I think I might want to remember for posterity, and all the stuff I need to get off my chest ... it all goes in there. Most of my old journals are stored up in the top shelf of one closet where I need a ladder to crawl up there. I've re-read some of them, but never all of them. I'm a little afraid of what I will find in there (haha).

It's a little like digging over old bones. And sometimes it's a revelation to find that I learned something that long ago (it seems only yesterday). And how many times do I read something indicating that I've been going round the same mulberry bush over and over and over. It's disconcerting, though enlightening, to see that familiar territory turn up, again.

Right now they come in handy when I need to reference some detail or date of something for my memoir work. It's all there, well, mostly all there. There are things I fully expect to find, but for some reason, I never recorded that particular event or idea. Truth is, we tend to see more clearly in hindsight. The little idea that didn't seem like much, when we look back, we see it was a life changer, but who was to know that then?

I don't know what I'm going to do with them down the road. Perhaps once I write the stories down that keep stirring inside me, then I will feel the freedom to let them go. Then I won't need them. I certainly don't want them hanging around for anyone else to deal with when I'm gone. Or, heaven forbid, to read them.

You probably won't be surprised when I tell you that over these last thirty years, I've filled over 160 notebooks, large and small. I do my part to keep the notebook industry alive and well.  

* * *

"I have a habit of being an archaeologist of my own past,
a sentimental collector of personal artefacts
which hold a unique significance."
~ Agnes Chew

* * *

THREE: A Startling Moment Holding A Victoria Magazine

I was stopped in my tracks the other evening when I took out the June 1989 issue of the Victoria magazine. Holding it in my hands, I was drawn to the date. June 1989. That's almost thirty years ago. Half my age. Who keeps magazines for that long? Well, I'm pretty certain I'm not the only one to hold onto those cherished magazines, created under the guidance of the truly wonderful Nancy Lindemeyer, Editor in Chief. Many a Victoria reader will be nodding her head that she, too, has held on to her now vintage copies. I have the complete set of the original Victoria magazines, published from 1987 to 2004. They are still loved and still read -- oh, there used to be such lovely articles to sink into with a cup of tea.

I had a pen pal in those days, Cindy C. and we'd write to each other and tell each other which pages were our favourites. Letters and cards were always crossing in the mail. I still have some of them in my memorabilia boxes. We were kindred spirits. We loved writing letters, we shared this love of Victoria magazine, we loved all things Anne and L.M. Montgomery, kitty cats, living beautifully, being single, gardening ... you name it. Floods of splendid old memories come as I write. Oh my!

When I first saw that magazine on the news stand that summer afternoon in 1987, I knew I had an answer to my heart's prayer. Thankfully and gratefully I took that lovely first issue home and read it from cover to cover like an old friend. It gave something to my heart which longed for Beauty. It had lovely articles, gorgeous photography, wonderful ideas for gracious living--it encouraged women to create beauty in their lives and to share it with others. To this day, I'm so grateful for Victoria and the wonderful people who created it and lovingly put together every issue. I'm glad that Phyllis Hoffman has taken up the baton and carried on the tradition as the current editor. It's not the same magazine all these years later, but it's still lovely. 

* * *

FOUR: Countryside or City Dwelling?

Susan from Writing Straight From The Heart, asked the question recently on her blog, "Do you prefer city living or countryside?" I enjoyed thinking about that question for a moment -- here is my reply:

I lived in the countryside growing up on a farm. Loved it. Loved being close to nature, the fresh air, and wide open spaces near cows and wildlife.

I now live in a small city and I like it too. I like being close to the shops when I need something. I like being closer to good quality makeup even if I'm not a big makeup girl (someone left a comment saying that and I realized I liked that too). And, I must admit, after all these years living near neighbours and having street lights, I'm not so keen on being completely isolated and in the dark on a moonless night way out where I can hear the coyotes yowling. I guess I've been away too long. I like knowing my neighbours are around and hearing the laughter when they have friends over in their backyard. I love the sound of lawn mowers off in the distance. And in the night, when I'm wide awake, I look across the way, and see a light on -- sure enough, someone else can't sleep. And that's comforting to me.

When I need some countryside, I go out into it and revel in it. I'll go for drives down quieter country roads and visit the national park nearby, spending the day drinking in the wildness and greenery. But, then I'm happy to come home to my house on a city street with lights.  

* * *

FIVE: Off to Ottawa

Flying off to Ottawa later in the week with my mom and youngest sister. We're off to visit my brother and his family for a few days -- they recently moved to the region. We're looking forward to seeing their new home and spending time together.

I never mind a longish plane ride. There's not much else to do so a person can really get into a book if she wants. Or just sit and think. Or visit, as I will probably do on this trip. We already pre-ordered our in-the-sky lunch (Chopped Leaf caters WestJet's food -- I like Chopped Leaf fare on the ground, so I'm anticipating a lovely grilled chicken salad as we soar through the air.) 

* * *

BONUS: Next Month

I talked in a recent post click here to read about starting a new segment on my blog. You'll recall I still want to write about living a beautiful life, but that I am looking for a new focus, something fresh to write about. There's a story I've been wanting to write out for a long time now. It's the story of how I found my beautiful life. How, when I found myself 30 years old and still single, I realized my long cherished dream of being a wife and mother by age 22 or 23, at the very latest by 25, was long past its due date.

I found myself in a season where I wanted new dreams, even as I still hoped for love and marriage one day. It became a life-enhancing inward journey of discovery. When I look back at it all, I marvel at how God directed my steps and brought me into a place of wholeness, beauty, and joy.

I'm titling this part autobiography/part memoir How I Found My Beautiful Life. There's a glimpse of it in this post -- in the sections on my journal writing and finding the Victoria magazine. I plan the next episode early in June, around the 8th. 

* * *

The day was beautiful and the evening is almost done too. I spent my day writing and working in the garden. The robins sang their evening vespers some time ago. The sun is long set. Let me wish you all a beautiful wonderful week ahead -- may you catch many glimpses of heaven in unexpected places. Grace and Mercy to you all!


Saturday, May 12, 2018

Tea Cups and Old Country Roses

As we celebrate Mother's Day this weekend, I'm dedicating this special post to my dear Mom, Evelyn.

I've been thinking about tea cups and china dishes. What set off this particular musing began when my mom recently opened her china cabinet, took her Old Country Roses tea pot and a quartet of cups and saucers from their spot, and gave them to me. She said, 'I'm giving you the teapot because you are the tea lady in the family. I want you to have it'. My feelings were mixed. I was elated to become the keeper of these beautiful pieces, honoured and humbled in fact. At the same time, I felt a tug inside. Mom's beautiful china set, an integral part of our family tradition for over five decades, will no longer be complete. Surely this transfer signaled a shift and my inner historian needed to mark the moment in some way. Not just for me, but for everyone in the family.

Will you sit and have a cup of tea with me? Your company would be most appreciated. I feel the need to revisit some childhood memories and ponder the role a few tea cups and a Royal Albert china dinner set have played in the life of my family.

Where we lived and grew up, it was the custom of the day for young women to collect items in their hope chests, in anticipation of one day setting up their own bridal homes. China tea cups were one of those cherished items to be collected and were usually given as shower gifts. As a young bride, my mom started married life with her own set of lovely tea cups from family and friends. They would sit nestled in the china cabinet and were brought out when company came to visit. She often told us, as she took them out, who had given which cup to her. If she didn't happen to mention the litany one day, I'd be there nudging her to tell the story again. I loved the little ritual -- it was like getting a tiny glimpse of my mother's history, BBC time (Before Brenda Came).

Some traditions are handed down almost unconsciously, for many years later, when I'd bring out my own shower and wedding gifts to use, I found myself rehearsing who had given what to me. It was about wanting to remember the person who had shared something of herself with me through the giving of this gift. It needed to be appreciated. Perhaps that's what Mom was doing all those years earlier.

1959. Uncle, Dad, Brenda age 2, Mom

I don't remember the first time I was given the opportunity to sip from one of these pretty company cups, but, you will notice I started young. Yes, that's me in my high chair with a tea cup. I'm surprised I was trusted to handle one, but you notice both parents are sitting nearby to keep a watchful eye. We didn't have sippy cups in those days -- as toddlers, we went straight from the baby bottle to the grownup cup or glass.

A very sad thing happened to Mom's one-of-a-kind teacup collection. No, it wasn't me. Long years ago now, she had carefully packed the delicate cups into a box as some renovations were going on. Somehow in the confusion of the time, the box of tea cups vanished. We kept hoping that one day the box with its treasure might be found, safely stored in a forgotten corner of the attic, but alas it never happened. Mom assumed it had been accidentally removed with the renovation clean up, although there were cries of protest from the reno team. Whatever happened, we still feel a lurch in our stomachs when we talk about them. Such pretty teacups with their unique shapes, patterns, and designs, lost except for the memory of them in our minds.

Over the years, Mom kept her eyes open for new china tea cups and saucers at thrift stores and garage sales. Sometimes she'd find a real treasure and bring it home. Sometimes she'd find a cup and saucer that was similar to an old one. She doesn't shop much for them anymore, except once in a while she still gets an urge to find something new and pretty. More recently, she's been selecting teacups from her regathered collection and giving them to her daughters and granddaughters as birthday and Christmas gifts. They might not be Mom's original bridal teacups, but there is still a handing down of something lovely that is sweet and filled with tradition.

The tea cups displayed above and below are two such gifts. The violet pattern cup was the most recent gift, receiving it for my birthday, just past.

* * *

Tea cups ... such tiny works of art. Treasures of beauty and grace and charm. When we take the time to pull out the pretty cups from the cupboard, an ordinary moment transforms into some extraordinary. Everyone feels it. Smiles break out as tea is poured. The British really do know that a cup of tea is much more than a few leaves steeped in hot water.

I used to have little tea parties all the time. I wonder why I don't do it as much these days. Surely in these trying times, more than ever we need to keep up the gentle regime of having a spot of tea with a friend. Perhaps with a beautiful, new teapot in my care, it's my personal signal to start up the tradition again.

A further note, I just remember that my dear friend-cum-sister Jean a short time ago gave me her beautiful blue and white Russian teapot and four gorgeous matching china mugs. That means, in recent days, I have been the beneficiary of not just one, but two teapots.

Okay, Lord, I'm getting the hint.   

* * *

Changing directions slightly, my sister Kathy has taken up a new interest in sketching and painting. When I asked her if she'd consider doing a painting of Mom's teapot from her Old Country Roses dinner set for this Mother's Day post, Kathy was game to try. As you will see below, I think she's done a lovely job, don't you? She found it challenging and mentioned being glad she didn't have to paint roses on china for a living. She felt it was a little beyond her 'pay scale', but, still, we both agreed, it would be a lovely way to make a living if one was so inclined.

"Life is short -- use the fine china."

For the occasion, I asked my siblings if they'd add something to the conversation about Mom's china, something from our childhood years. They agreed.

Kathy says, "When I was growing up, the appearance of Mom's china on the table always meant that some festive occasion was about to be celebrated. Whether it was family birthdays or Christmas and Easter, or the reams of company that sat at our cozy farmhouse kitchen table, these occasions always warranted using the lovely place settings, along with the elegant teapot and dainty teacups and saucers. The lace tablecloth would be lovingly spread over the table, then the dinner plates laid just so, all in readiness for the delicious food Mom would serve. In Mom's hands, treasured plates and teacups became more than just dishes. Looking back now, it was a way for Mom (and Dad, who loved the gracefulness of a well-designed coffee mug) to honour their family and friends, to bring out the 'best' dishes for a visit around the table. 

My brother David said he had no idea of the subtleties of 'china appreciation' as a boy growing up. China patterns weren't on his mind all too often. But he does remember going to other people's houses for Sunday Dinner and recognizing that he thought his mom's china was the best. He also recalls trying to figure out if the floral pattern was exactly the same on each plate. I wonder if studying the patterns was how he amused himself when the adult conversation murmured around him. 

Youngest sister, Janet, says she has always loved Mom's Old Country Roses pattern and still thinks it’s the prettiest pattern out there. She wonders why she didn’t choose it for her own dinner set years ago. Her memories have more to do with sound -- the sound of gentle clinking as someone held a stack of 6 or 8 (12 was too heavy) dinner plates, then gently lifting the top plate off the pile and setting it on the tablecloth-covered table. It was the sound of 'special' to her -- special food, special celebrations, and special friends or new acquaintances, like missionaries or guest preachers.

Janet goes on to say, "I love that Mom made such good use of her china to make people feel welcome – and special! There was something wonderful about 'getting out the china' because it was out of the ordinary, a moment tinged with excitement. Then there was the smell of the old china cabinet. Same thing – opening the door smelled like company. A waft of wood and furniture oil and maybe scented candle. I wish sometimes we could transport back to those good times. Such lovely memories!"

"Old Country Roses was inspired by a typical English country garden with flowers in bloom and is recognized by its signature clusters of roses in deep red, bright pink and warm yellow, offset by brilliant stippled gold rims and accents. Made from pure white bone china, the pattern features a flamboyant, curvaceous fluted shape, with twisting, curling handles." ~ from the Royal Albert History page

I was just a girl when Mom started her china dinnerware. Our parents liked nice things. And that included Mom's desire for a nice china set to use for company and special family events. If you were going to invite a family over for dinner, you needed extra plates, so they might as well be nice ones.

Anyone who knows my mom will know that she loves all things roses, which is probably why her beautiful, romantic Old Country Roses china has enjoyed pride of place in her china cabinet for well over fifty years. The story goes that it was my dad who actually chose the pattern when they first went to look after they were married. Like Mom, he liked roses, red ones in particular. I can see why he was attracted to these clusters of roses in velvety deep red, soft pink, and warm yellow. Mom was fine with his choice, and over time, they collected twelve place settings, along with all the serving dishes, teapot, coffee pot, cream and sugar, etc.

This beautiful set was central to many family celebrations. Old Country Roses was as much a part of our family's history as it was Royal Albert's. Over the decades, it graced every company dinner, holidays like Christmas and Easter, as well as many other special occasions. And, we had lots of company. Mom was a gracious and welcoming hostess. I think she got that from her own dad, who was always up for inviting people home for Sunday Dinner, or inviting the traveling salesman to stop for the night and have a meal.

People often stopped at our house for a quick visit and a cup of coffee on their way home from shopping and getting the mail in town. We were on the 'flight' path, as it were. And, we all loved it when we saw a car slowing on the corner and turning into our driveway. We'd put the kettle on and start bringing out the cups, looking in the containers for a cookie or piece of cake to serve with it.

* * *

Everyone was excited about getting company. Mom, the family social convener, would decide it was time to host Uncle John and Aunt Ruth and their family one Sunday. Phone calls were made, a date agreed upon, and then Mom got into her 'getting ready for company' mode. Which included searching every recipe book in the house for possible dishes to serve, which might be her family favourite fried chicken recipe, mashed potatoes, fresh vegetables from the garden, cabbage rolls, homemade pickles, salads, both tossed and jellied, and then deciding what dessert would be served at the end: pineapple dessert, cherry delight, angel food cake with strawberries, or homemade pies and ice cream.

I loved the smells that would emanate from the kitchen, even a couple of days before as food was prepared. I especially remember the smell of the peeled cucumbers slipping into the not-quite-set lime jello for the sour cream jello salad. Don't forget this was the 1960's. Everyone used jello as salad.

The morning of the big day, Mom would begin her preparations. The girls were set to peeling potatoes and getting the creamy tossed salad ingredients together. Setting the table became our job as we got older. That really was my favourite task. Mom would give us free rein to decide which tablecloth to use--lace or linen. We'd peer into the silverware box and decide which silverware pattern to use (Mom had two sets, both wedding gifts). We'd choose which drinking glasses to set out for water, tomato juice, or pineapple juice mixed with Canada Dry ginger ale. We also liked to decorate each place setting with the big white dinner napkins folded using the fancy patterns found in the Ladies Home Journal. Although we'd set out candles at Christmas, generally we didn't put centrepieces of flowers on the table. Once the food was placed in the middle of the table to be passed around, there was no room for flowers.

When the meal was done, people would relax and sit back, as Mom and her girls would get the big pot of tea ready, cups and saucers clinking as they were distributed, and then dessert passed around. I'd be so stuffed from eating way too much but sitting around and listening to the stories the adults shared were some of the best times. These stories invariably ended in laughter and the telling of the next story, and the next...

* * *

There is so much wrapped up in a few family tea cups and an Old Country Roses dinner set. They are not just a collection of material possessions. They hold memories that we cherish and that's what we treasure. As my sister Kathy says, "For (us) now, Mom's china set has become a kind of symbol, a metaphor of sorts, for a well-lived life, served up with lots of love and laughter and celebration." As Mom passes along these treasured items, it is my hope and desire that we will carry on this tradition of sharing that love, laughter, and celebration ... around a table set with pretty tea cups and fine china.  

And, so we come to the end. A few things have been mulled and thought out for me. I so appreciate you staying the course through my ramblings -- we must have had a whole pot of tea by now.

* * *

Happy Mother's Day!
Mom, I love you!

With love and hugs to everyone,

Here are two links with some interesting historical information
about Royal Albert and the Old Country Roses china pattern.
 Royal Albert History | Royal