Friday, December 23, 2022

It's Nearly Here...

"It is Christmas in the heart
that puts Christmas in the air."

I started to work on this new blog post several times now. I have so many things I want to share with you. Fun stuff, and book stuff, and Christmas around the house stuff. Baking stuff and cold weather stuff. Alas, my blogging muse has already booked off for the holidays and she doesn't seen a'tall interested in coming back for a few hours to help me out.

I admit to feeling very festive myself today. It started in earnest yesterday morning when Rick and I visited the Italian Centre to do a little Christmas 'baking' at their bakery (such yummy treats). Treats to share with our lovely neighbours.

Then I saw on Facebook that a writer and fellow blogging friend posted a plea for donations. She works at one of the city libraries and mentioned how some of their visitors are in need of toques and mittens and socks. With the cold weather, their stock has run low. Thinking of the brutal weather of these past weeks, our hearts quaked to imagine people going about not properly dressed. So we dropped into Marks and bought a big bag of warm things. I think my friend was amazed that we'd come all the way into town. And that's when the Christmas spirit floated in . . . our hearts expanded knowing this was something that really mattered, offering something that will provide some comfort to someone on these harsh days. We've been waiting to feel that wonderment of Christmas . . . and now it's here. Now this is Christmas.

I've been rereading a few blog posts from Christmases Past. I'm amazed, and humbled, to say that they continue to sparkle with life and hope and joy. Even for me, the author of them. If you're looking for something today to comfort or lift up and cheer, perhaps something in these two posts will light your candle:

'Christmas On'
Dec 21, 2021
"Well here it is, the first official day of winter, and it's just four more sleeps until Christmas. I woke early to find moonbeams streaming into our bedroom. The ghostly globe hung high... CLICK TO READ MORE

'A Wee Chat Before Christmas'
Dec 23, 2020
"I'm writing in the early morning, just moments before sunrise. Silent stars fade as a blaze of glory stains the sky in the predawn. As I watch from my front step in the cold air, I hear a chorus of sparrows singing in the hedges. Oh my, such a marvelous beginning to...  CLICK TO READ MORE 

There will be other days to tell you all the other things I wanted to chat about. Now it's time to wish you a Happy Christmas . . . it's my heart wish that your own hearts will be filled with peace and joy and the comfort of some of life's little pleasures.

"God bless us, everyone!"

With love,

Photo credits:

Top Image by Zsolt from Pixabay
Middle Image by Stefan Nyffenegger from Pixabay
Bottom Image by Brenda Leyland

Sunday, December 11, 2022

December Daybook Notes: Getting All Cozy

"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 time for home."

Happy Sunday! Hope you enjoy my December edition of Daybook Notes.....

Outside my window: As I write this, it's a colder day here this morning, with the palest of sunshine and faded blue skies. On milder days, the birds come for their first feed as the sun rises, and then they tend to fly off and aren't around much. I suppose because they don't need ALL their energy just to keep warm, and they can fly and forage further afield. Today they stay close to their seed trays. I came across a lovely line attributed to Pope Pius XII: "Feeding the birds is also a form of prayer." To the One who notices when little sparrows fall, surely it's a most acceptable prayer.  

Inside the house: The pencil tree is up and has been sending out cozy vibes the last couple of weeks. Other corners are slowly being decorated, as I set out something festive every day, a little like opening a new window on an Advent calendar. Will include some photos next time.

What I'm wearing: At this moment it's still morning and, yes, I'm still in my jammies. I wanted to get straight to it before I lost any of the 'youthful' zest of early morning. It makes me feel on top of things when I get straight to it. Then, once I've passed that crucial good start, I can relax and go get myself ready for the rest of the day.

Plans for the day: The day is still young, and after a very decent sleep, I feel quite ambitious today. My aim is to finish this post and have it up by day's end. Plus, I hope to wrap up (see below)...

Writing Christmas cards: Started writing cards the other day, and today there's just a tiny pile to finish off. Rather than trying to find room enough on my small writing desk in the study for this beloved holiday tradition, I made myself a writing station at one end of the dining room table, where I can hear the Christmas music playing, enjoy the warm lights on our new pencil tree, and spread out my assortment of festive cards, envelopes, stamps, stickers, address book, pens, and glue stick.

A Little Day Dream: I love my small and cozy study with my books arranged around me, but there are days when I yearn for it to be just large enough to house a nice-sized work table, like the one I showed you in this POST. To have a place where I could spread out my books and paper and notebooks, and have lots of breathing space to muse and play with my thoughts and ideas. But square footage-wise, well, it can only remain a dream at this point. 

A peek at my writing desk: I love my writing desk in my snug study. This photo is from a few years ago. It's so cozy to sit here at this time of year. As you sort of see, there really isn't a whole lot of room to spread out when space is required.

I am looking forward: To baking a small batch of Mary Berry's Shortbread, to which I want to add some orange zest (about a tsp or two) to the recipe. I saw Miranda Mills and her mom Donna sampling orange shortbread on her Christmas vlog from a couple of years ago - I don't recall which one, sorry. She didn't share the recipe they used but there's a similar one of Mary Berry's HERE.

With me still carefully watching my sugar and carb intake, even with my good lab results of a few months ago, I found something that might work for a small, not too dangerous holiday treat that includes dark chocolate. I found this recipe (and photo) in an old Christmas magazine I'd saved from years ago.

Fruit and Nut Clusters

150g / 5oz dark chocolate
3 tablespoons shelled and toasted nuts (eg, hazelnut, peanut)
3 tablespoons raisins (or craisins)

Melt chocolate in a mixing bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water.
Stir in nuts and raisins. With a teaspoon, drop clusters onto a parchment paper covered tray.

Now I haven't tried this recipe, but it sounds delicious. I am a little surprised at how small a batch this makes. I'm trying to imagine 6 tablespoons of nuts and raisins. How many clusters would that make? Surely a person would have to double or triple the recipe unless you're the only one planning to sample.

A early Christmas delivery arrived yesterday: An IKEA bookcase for my study! Which means a wild afternoon of assembling and scratching one's head about the directions. Thankfully Rick volunteered to take it in hand, and it turned out to be fairly straight forward. I've been wanting a new shelving unit for a while now—to finally get the growing stacks of books off the floor. So when Rick asked what I wanted for Christmas, I knew what I wanted right away. Once "Santa" has assembled it, he can put a big red bow on top—my reminder that Christmas presents don't always fit under the tree in book size boxes. And, occasionally they show up a little early.

I was musing with my sis-in-law, in years past, such a present would not have been considered good gift material, but rather more in keeping with the frowned upon frying pans and irons. But things change as we mature. It truly matters less about what's under the Christmas tree. Or, even if it gets under the tree. Yes, I admit, Christmas presents gaily wrapped in bright paper and pretty bows is a joy I don't quite want to give up entirely, but my new shelf fits the bill perfectly this year. I'm going to have so much fun filling my shelves. And yes, I will show pictures when it's all settled.

Just finished reading: Once Upon A Wardrobe by Patti Callahan. What a delightful story, with its hint of fairy tale magic, very much in keeping with the other book using 'wardrobe' in its title. Young George Devonshire falls under the spell of his favourite story: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. His older sister, Megs, sets out to fulfill her beloved brother's last wish to find out where Narnia came from and visits the author himself. Set in 1950 just weeks before Christmas, this is a perfect little book to curl up with a hot cocoa or spiced tea on a wintery afternoon. 

A wonderful quote from The Christmas Chronicles: I've got Nigel Slater's gorgeous book The Christmas Chronicles on my bedside table. It's great for dipping into at the end of a busy day when a person wants something gentle and comforting before drifting off to sleep. Here are a lovely few lines about coming in from the cold that he writes so cozily about:
"It is just as good to come in. You stamp to shake the snow from your boots. The flakes of snow on your coat melt instantly. Your glasses steam up. You close the door and thank God you remembered to put the hall light on a timer.

You hang up your coat, tug off your boots and light the fire. You will probably put the kettle on or pour yourself a drink. No so much as a way to get warm, more to welcome yourself home. Home means more to us in cold weather. Making ourselves comfortable is a duty. Making friends and family comfortable is an art.

'Come in.' Two short words, heavy with meaning. Step out of the big, bad, wet world and into my home. You'll be safe here, toasty and well fed. 'Come in.' They are two of the loveliest words to say and to hear."

On that note: Time has come to say goodbye. Evening shadows have fallen around my study, and it's more than time to turn on the lamps. As I close I'm spreading out my arms and sending you a big heart hug, with lots of wishes for a beautiful week ahead. It's two weeks until Christmas, can you believe it?

Wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places,

Photo Credits:
Top Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay
Other photos are mine

Friday, December 02, 2022

Five Wintery Quotes

"It was a day when frost and sunshine
combined went to one's head like iced champagne."
from The Irish R.M., 1928

Read the above quote this early morning—it's today's selection from the Nature Writing for Every Day of the Year book I mentioned in yesterday's POST. Our own morning dawned soft pink and pale lemon and breathtakingly cold. The birds are busy at the feeders, and the squirrel wastes no time to nab a few freeze-dried mountain ash berries for his breakfast.

On this first Friday of December, here are five quotes I'm enjoying as the season gets underway in earnest. We're writing out Christmas cards, gently celebrating someone's birthday with a delicious-looking carrot cake waiting in the kitchen for afternoon tea. Wishing you a bit of bliss. 🎄💖

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

"In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter long ago."

"May and October, the best-smelling months? I'll make a case
for December: evergreen, frost, wood smoke, cinnamon."

"At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May's new-fangled mirth;
But like of each thing that in season grows."

"As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded
by December's bad weather, it is good to be reminded that
there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation,
and people to whom we are worth the same."

This is my second post in as many days. Perhaps there's a pattern forming to do an Advent post more often than my usual once a week. I won't promise, but you might find a few more than usual bonus posts in celebration of winter and Christmas.

Until next time, stay safe and warm,

Photo Credits:
Top: Image by Peggy Choucair from Pixabay
One: Image by Mark Martins from Pixabay
Two: Image by Peggy Choucair from Pixabay
Three: Image by Susanne Jutzeler, Schweiz from Pixabay
Four: Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay
Five: Image by Gerhard from Pixabay

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Three Books I'm Dipping into for Advent

"In the winter she curls up around a good book
and dreams away the cold."

After a couple of snowy, blowy days, everything was fresh and soft this morning. The pale lemon sunshine reminded me that, although the world looked pretty outside, it was best to dress up warm when going out. Winds were still sharp with temperatures well below zero. 

As mentioned in my previous post I took a few days away for some needful chores. And, after getting done some real dusting, decluttering, and setting things in order, the house once again feels snug...and ready for the coming season. I even packed up a few bags for the thrift store and did a major clear out of the laundry/cleaning supply/vase collection cupboard. Oh my, what an assortment of old bottles of this cleaner and that one—it was much like how shampoo and lotion bottles collect under the bathroom sink with their last bit in the bottom because someone conveniently forgets it's there and starts the fresh, new bottle. So, with the slate clean, I've been slowly adding touches of greenery, strings of twinkle lights, and it's starting to feel quite cozy and festive about the place.

Reading comes front and center in my world during this time of year. I think it's so for many of us. Reading and dark, cold nights are suited to each other like mugs of hot chocolate and snappy cookies. I like to bring out all my favourite seasonal books as I decide which ones I'll read through December, the holidays, and into January. Today I want to share three books I plan to dip into every day during these Advent count down days. These three books are each organized to have a specific short reading for every day, each with their own focus, as you'll see below. At this time, I don't have any set Advent rituals that I bring out from year to year, but I do enjoy taking time for a little Advent-focused reading, to set my thoughts on my reasons for this season. The other favourite seasonal books on my Winter-Christmas shelf will also make congenial companions for the wintering season—I'll share about those another day.

And so to these three...

Janet Morley

I read this book last December and felt drawn to it again, if only so I can feast all month on its gorgeous front cover. The cover image is by Lisa Graa Jensen and it's called "Winter Woolies, Surrey Hills". This book is meant for the heart. As the back cover says, "Here, the reader is given an opportunity to engage in a pilgrimage of the heart, through Advent and Christmas to the feast of the Epiphany. Each day—from 1 December to 6 January—offers a poem . . . and an accessible commentary that is both critically informed and devotional in intent." Some poets are familiar to me, some are not: Rowan Williams, Elizabeth Jennings, Edwin Muir, Philip Larkin, T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, Gerald Manly Hopkins, P.J. Kavanagh, and more.

Edited by Jane McMorland Hunter

I purchased this book at the recommendation of Miranda Mills on one of her Christmas vlogs. This book is for that part of us that connects to and finds solace in the beauty of nature. There are daily entries for every day of the year. And since I couldn't wait until January to begin this lovely book, I'm starting at the back in the December section. Short entries, barely a page each, are excerpted from many authors, including people like David Attenborough, Wilkie Collins, Rachel Carson, etc. In the Introduction, Ms. Hunter explains, "I have compiled two collections of nature poetry, and while doing so, I came to realize that many of the very best nature writers never wrote poetry and that many of the most moving descriptions of the natural world appear as prose rather than verse. Equally, writers such as Jane Austen, Thomas de Quincy, Daphne du Maurier and Samuel Johnson may not be best known for their descriptions of the natural world, but write on nature with great insight and feeling."

I suppose that's why even my novels are often starred beside exquisite lines that describe the natural world in which a story is set.  

Notes, stories & 100 essential recipes for midwinter (2017)
by Nigel Slater

This is a book for lovers of food and winter. In it, the author shares his deep love for the season of winter—which started as a boy—and his love of food and cooking. A line from the back cover he says, "With recipes, fables and quick fireside suppers from November to early February, I take you through my essential preparations for Christmas and the New Year and everything you need to enjoy the winter months." This book also came recommended by Miranda Mills. And, already I'm drawn to Nigel Slater's beautiful writing about living in his favourite season of the year. I'm glad I love winter too. Looking forward to reading this rather full volume at 450 pages.

On that note, I'm wishing you a beautiful month ahead,

Photo Credits:
Top Image by Danuta from Pixabay
Book images are mine

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Musings: A Dreamy Library

"The contents of someone's bookcase are part
of his history, like an ancestral portrait."

Now that is a library I could settle into. I like the photo so well I put it on my desktop, adding virtual warmth to my study every time I turn on my computer. I love the lamps and candles that create a sense of conviviality and welcome. The room is grander and more elegant than I am used to—me being more of a country cottage girl than a stately lady of the manor. Despite its grandness, I am drawn to this library. And I sigh over its warm beauty.

Firstly, I love the spaciousness. This room has a generosity of heart. There is space for many books and a few kindred companions. It could house my little library several times over. I think of the titles I've given away through the years that I could have kept if I'd had such a room; once in a while I still miss them. You will note that there aren't any book piles on the floor—there's no need for anyone to vacuum around the stacks.

Secondly, I love all the gracious seating arrangements: the couch for lounging upon and the wing-back chair with foot stool for nestling next to the fireplace. Chairs to gather round for congenial conversation. Even though we cannot be certain from this photo, I assume by the way the light shines from the right side, there are windows along that wall. I'd have easy chairs by the window for staring out into the world. And, if this were my library, I'd have a baby grand piano in one corner by the window. Where I'd practice some Chopin and a little Bach. And maybe a little pop and jazz, although I never did quite get the hang of jazz, as much as I tried. I grew up on classical piano lessons and that rhythm thrums in my bones.

Thirdly, I love all the warm, dark wood and the polished parquet floors. The room beckons with its cheery red upholstery and muted carpets. I'm sure family and friends could enjoy congenial gatherings here for afternoon tea and visits and, of course, companionable solitude as each finds a book to amuse during a rainy or snowy afternoon.

Lastly, I am drawn with longing heart to that wonderfully expansive table set to the one side. I have always longed for such a table. Not the dining room table, mind you, which must be cleared off when company comes, and a person just doesn't want all the mess and piles in that space. But a roomy table in my library/study... oh yes. It's where this modern girl would set up a corner for my work space. And where I'd freely spread out all my notes and research materials while toiling away on a project.
I would love to browse in this room. To sit at the table and pore over an art book. Or flip through an old favourite and revisit a few paragraphs. Ever since I was young and besotted with books, one of the things I loved when we visited other peoples' homes was to browse their bookshelves. My heart would do that little leap for joy as I imagined what I might find browsing other people's selections.

"When you stand inside somebody's library, you get a powerful
sense of who they are, and not just who they are now but who
they've been. . . . It's a wonderful thing to have in a house. It's
something I worry is endangered by the rise of the e-book.
When you turn off an e-book, there's no map. All that's left
behind is a chunk of gray plastic.
Leah Price, Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books (source)

On a different note entirely, I'm taking a couple of weeks away from my blog. There are some needful projects here at home I want to focus on as we start preparing for the holiday season. I'll be back the first or second of December as Christmas gets into full swing.

Soon it's time to bring out the seasonal reading favourites. Are you making your choices? My friend, Lauren, reminded me that Miranda Mills has begun her Cozy Christmas Reading Vlog for 2022. You can find her lovely YouTube channel HERE.
Let me close with warmest wishes to all my American friends for a Happy Thanksgiving this coming week. And to everyone, I wish you joy and good health. Stay warm, stay safe.

With loving thoughts,

(Top) Photo Credit:
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Saturday: Daybook Notes

"Fear not November's challenge bold. We've books and friends,
and hearths that never can grow cold. These make amends."
    attributed to ALEXANDER L. FRASER

Outside my window: This morning we have overcast, moody grey skies, and snow is in the forecast. Blue jays fly in looking for breakfast, recognizable shrieks announce their arrival. Which makes me smile; it's as if they're saying, we're here, be sure the peanuts are out.

Inside my head: At the moment, I feel a similarly moody grey. Perhaps it's not quite enough sleep, or maybe I was hoping for winter sunshine to perk up the weekend.

What I'm wearing: Black jeans, patterned cotton t-shirt, grey cardigan, scent.   

Two lovely books I read this week: First, Elizabeth Berg's 1996 novel The Pull of the Moon which is the story of a 50-plus woman named Nan who, going through the change of life, runs away from home and husband to take a road trip by herself. It becomes a look back as she recalls what she once dreamed when she was young and eager for life. . .before life got tangled in all the should and have-to's. Mostly Nan hopes, as she writes on-the-road letters to her husband of where she is and what she sees, that she can say on paper what she feels stifled to say face to face. She hopes he'll hear her, listen to what she's saying. But even if he doesn't, she's learning to be true to herself again. This gently written story is both poignant and humorous, with LOL moments I found delightful, especially when I recognized myself in them. A lovely read. I came away wonderfully grateful to be a part of the world's great company of women, knowing we can arrive at this season in our lives and know we're not alone in it.

The other book I finished is Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by British author Katherine May. In it she explores those literal and metaphorical dark seasons in our lives, sharing her own journey and how she has struggled to find the way through them. The book is beautifully written and has many nourishing, encouraging lines I've underlined and starred. Here are a few that touched me:
  • "Like the robin, we sometimes sing to show how strong we are, and sometimes sing in hope of better times. We sing either way."
  • "I began to get a feel for my winterings: their length and breadth, their heft. I knew that they didn't last forever. I knew that I had to find the most comfortable way to live through them until spring."
  • "Plants and animals don't fight the winter; they don't pretend it's not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through."
  • "He told her that they could keep tinkering with her medication, but it would never solve everything. 'This isn't about getting you fixed', he said. 'This is about you living the best life you can with the parameters that you have.' "

I participated in: A writers' retreat via Zoom last weekend. It was called Heal Create Writers Retreat led by a fellow in California named Jacob Nordby. There was a lovely lineup of speakers; I mainly signed up when I heard Julia Cameron and Anne Lamotte were speaking. Both were wonderful to catch live. Below are a handful of nuggets that stuck out for me. Perhaps they'll sparkle for you too, as you get on with your own projects, of whatever nature they might be.
  • Julia Cameron. "Lower the bar" (of expectation). She said she writes two pages per day every day rather than aiming for 20 pages and only accomplishing it sometimes. "Easy" accomplishes it, she says. Probably good advice from someone who's written forty books.
  • Julia Cameron. "Grab time". Don't wait for swaths of time. We all have 10 or 20 minutes here and there. Grab those few minutes to write. Grabbing time also works when I'm procrastinating for whatever reason, or I am overwhelmed by the size of the project. Deciding to focus on one small task for even 10 minutes often releases me from feeling frozen with impossibility. Flow happens from there.  
  • Julia Cameron on perfectionism. "If I didn't have to do it perfectly, I'd try." Doesn't that lift a load off?
  • Anne Lamott: "Stop not writing". This was in response to all the excuses we use for not working on our projects, writing or otherwise.

I am looking forward to: Putting up my new 7-foot pencil evergreen tree festooned with permanent yellow-warm white lights. I loved it as soon as I saw it set up and lit at Michael's the other day. It was even on sale. I find so many of the new LED Christmas white lights are in a cool blue light, which to my view is not cozy at all. I brought the tree home eager to set it up, but.... hubby might look at me and wonder if he should call the 'Christmas police' as this is far too early for Christmas trees, even though it is snowy and dark and cold outside. This year though, I don't think I can wait until December. I'm longing to see twinkle lights now in that dark corner of the living room. So, I'll just set it up one day when he's out shovelling, or something. He'll grin and pretend he's mad and then enjoy it with me. hehe

On that note: Time has past since I started this post. I look up from my computer screen. The day outside brightened and writing today lightened my greyish frame of mind. Some friends stopped in for tea and blueberry almond muffins. We tried out a new box of Twinings Christmas Tea with cinnamon and cloves—it was delicious. As I type these final words, from my window I see the sky is now turning a pale cotton candy pink in the westerly direction. It's just 4:35 in the afternoon and already it grows dusk. I love this time of year. Time to turn on some lights, including the cozy lamp on my desk. 

Wishing you a pleasant evening,

Photo Credits:
Top Image by Melanie from Pixabay

Friday, November 04, 2022

Five on Friday: "Of Little Things"

"Everyone is trying to accomplish something big,
not realizing that life is made up of little things."

And with a flip of the calendar, snow arrived in these parts. Although not with a real vengeance—it fell quietly, without bluster—still there was a concerted effort in a few short hours to wipe out all remaining evidence of autumn's remnants. 'Twas a shock to wake up to. We've been so lucky-blessed to have lovely autumn weather right up until November 1st. As you know, I love winter and I love snow, but this year I've been quite happy to pretend I don't live in northerly Alberta where winter can arrive as early as September or October. With the days so delightfully mild for so long, all thoughts of winter or Christmas have been held at bay, including any thoughts of decorating in that vein. For it seemed inharmonious in my mind, no matter how late in the year the calendar says it is. But with the snow's arrival, I feel a shift in my mind.

The Frank A. Clark quote above resonated when I read it on a Twitter friend's blog post. Especially the phrase... 'that life is made up of little things'. So true. What matters in the end are the little things in life. I think so many of us recognize that to be so. In that light, today on Five on Friday, I happily share little things from my week, nothing earth shattering but each meaningful in some small way. Hope you enjoy.

— one 
I brought out Susan Branch's recipe book Heart of the Home that snowy morning to make a big pot of her Bean Soup (p. 35) which uses smoked ham hocks. While it snowed outside, soup simmered through the afternoon, filling the house with yummy smells. Paired with warm corn muffins, the meal hit the spot on a cold and snowy evening.

— two 
This week my Twitter friend Diane posted a short piece called bucket list on her blog. I thought it worth a read. I especially enjoyed her mention of a woman's bucket list for her beloved dog. It turns out the both of us had been listening to the same CBC radio program the other morning. And we both were touched by that story. What a lovely feeling of connectedness to a fellow Canadian I only know through social media. Anyways, pop over THERE for the rest of the story.

— three 
When the snow fell earlier this week, I could feel the slow shifting of my thoughts as they moved from autumn to winter, to Christmas. Snow and cold is always the trigger. Which made me think about Jacquie Lawson's wonderful e-Advent Calendar, something many of us enjoy each December. Well, suddenly there arrived the announcement in my inbox, as if by some thread of magical synchronicity: the 2022 Sussex Advent Calendar is now available for purchase, and you can find out more HERE. I'm off to place my order. Oh joy, oh bliss!

— four 
Brenda @ Coffee Tea Books and Me noted in her recent post that an author friend of hers often mentions that she needs beautiful, peaceful places in her home where her eyes can stop to rest a moment. Brenda goes on to say, "It helps to understand our need for beautiful spaces in our homes. Of course it is never perfect this side of Heaven but it can be good."

I find this time of year especially conducive to wanting those cozy, intimate spaces that offer our eyes... and hearts a bit of rest, comfort, and a time out. As the weather gets colder and days grow shorter heading to winter solstice, I find myself ready for wintering in place. I take the word wintering from the book title Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times by Katherine May. I just started reading it last night at the suggestion of an online friend. I went to order it and when I recognized the book cover, I realized I already had it in my 'to be read' pile in the cupboard. Out I pulled it and set it on my bedside table.

I am drawn in by these words, "Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of our human experience, and wisdom resides in those who have wintered." I'm eager to learn what the author has to say. As anyone who knows me knows, I love reading books in season, and by season I mean the four seasons in nature (winter, spring, summer, autumn); the season of life (childhood, youth, adulthood, seniorhood); and the mental and emotional season in which our soul resides in any given time. Because of my online friend's comment, I felt nudged to read it now. It sounds like it could be 'in season' for me. I'll try to remember to let you know when I'm finished.

— five 

The following quotation by Albert Einstein came up on my Facebook memories page this morning. It's the second sentence that I continue to find luminous...and true.

"I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves.  . . . The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed empty to me. The trite objects of human efforts—possessions, outward success, luxury—have always seemed to me contemptible."
ALBERT EINSTEIN, from his essay, The World As I See It

That's my Five on Friday. On that note,
I'm wishing you a beautiful weekend,

Photo Credits:
Top: Image by Lisa870 from Pixabay  
One: Image by Brenda @ It's A Beautiful Life
Two: Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay
Three: Image from Jacquie Lawson website
Four: Image by Marcos Santos from Pixabay
Five: Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Home Sweet House, Where Memory Begins, Part 1

"Home is where one starts from"

In this Home Sweet House series, I am looking back at the places I once called home, revisiting each one in my mind, ruminating how they shaped and sheltered my life. Today I look forward to sharing some of my story about the little farmhouse - the home where I started from. If you missed the intro post, you will find it HERE.

One spring day in the late 1950s, a little girl was born. She was as bald as a blonde billiard ball. "Look what the Easter Bunny brought," exclaimed the nurse to the tired, new mother. She was her parents' firstborn and was the delight of their lives… or so I'm told. That little girl was me. We lived on a farm in Alberta, one of the Canadian western prairie provinces, where my dad lived as a boy when his parents immigrated from Poland shortly before World War II. Some of my earliest memories, still rich and evocative, are rooted in the farmhouse where my mom came as a young bride, and where my siblings and I grew up. Looking back, it's the ambiance of that humble farmhouse—the one my mom turned into a warm and welcoming home for her family and all who visited—that I yearned to recreate in every dwelling I lived in when I left to make my own way in the world.

When I was little, the farmhouse seemed huge. It was my whole world. I still remember what it felt like to see things from a child's height, eyes barely skimming the countertop and being little enough to make a tent for me and my doll under the kitchen table without bumping my head too often. The house sat square to the world on a small hill. Walking into the northeast jutted-out porch, it was like a cloak room where we kept our coats and boots. It also housed the wood box for the wood stove in the kitchen, a basin for washing off the dirt, and a pail with fresh water from the outside well for drinking, a dipper hanging nearby. Our house was a simple two-story, rectangular building, nothing fancy, with five small rooms on the first floor and two large ones with slanted ceilings on the second. Crowded when company came, it felt perfect for the eventual six of us who'd call it home for years to come. Although I wouldn't have known how to describe it as a child, the smallness of the rooms made the house feel cozy and intimate. Especially so at Christmas with the tree lights on and the ceiling light off. I loved it.

It was cozy. And cozy became the standard for how I thought a place should feel and be. I sought that ambiance wherever I went.

By the time I came on the scene, our house had electricity. Old lanterns in the basement and attic remained as remnants of my dad’s childhood. The telephone, indoor plumbing, and natural gas for heating wouldn't arrive until I was older, nearing age ten, or so. The outdoor biffy was a nifty two-seater, and my little sister and I would synchronize our visits, not being keen on outhouse visits on our own, especially as it grew dark—one never knew if there’d be skunks waiting down the hole. It never dawned on our vivid imaginations that no self-respecting skunk would choose such a spot to hang around in. Same with imagining the coyotes in the basement beneath the stairs, scary creatures just waiting to nip sweet young ankles if we didn’t tear up those stairs as fast as we could without dropping whatever we'd been instructed to fetch from the pantry... slamming the basement door behind us, to Mom’s annoyance.

Every room in the house had tall windows that let in fresh air in summer and had storm windows fastened over them in winter to keep out the cold. The house was bright on sunny days. Morning sunshine streamed over cereal boxes and milk jugs. By noon it lit up the southeast situated living room where Mom's beautiful piano stood as a queen and where we’d watch, mesmerized, as dust mites danced on the sunbeams. Across the hall sat my south-facing bedroom, which I shared when my little sister came along three years after me. How we loved to play in that bright, snug room, jumping on the bed and stoutly denying those were not our fingerprints marking the walls near the ceiling. In late afternoon, sunshine streamed through west-facing windows in the stairwell and our parents' bedroom, now bathing the kitchen in warm evening light that fell by the stove where Mom cooked supper.

I loved looking out those windows in the wintertime to catch the sun's waning light skimming across frozen fields. In deep winter, layers of frost covered the windows. It was only after scratching frost off with a fingernail or melting tiny holes with our breath that we could peek outside. And when a snowstorm was blowing or the temperatures had fallen to -40 in both Fahrenheit and Celsius, a peek was all we were interested in, happy to turn back inside to play with our toys and warm our cold toes on heat registers.

I probably learned my directions from watching where the sun shone through which window. I knew high noon was in the south. I knew which way was north. No sunshine shone through that window, but I could probably spot the North Star from it at night. It was a lovely view in the summertime—trees filled the sky with lots of greenery and the fields felt alive with growing crops and hay. But on grey sunless autumn or wintry days, I never liked looking out from that window. The world felt stark and just a little scary with its bleakness. Fields lay empty. Bare branches bristled against sullen skies. And I didn't like those dull colours of grey and earthy stubbly brown (hues I have since come to appreciate). Besides, there were coyotes out there somewhere, with their eerie howls, which made for scary dreams of being locked out and no one to let me in. I never lingered at that window in winter, always eager to turn from it into warmth and safety. The kitchen was especially welcoming, the radio filling the air with talk host chatter interspersed by homey tunes like Little Green Apples.

The kitchen was the heart of our home. And the kitchen table was the hub for all that went on in our family. Where all things important and trivial took place…where we ate our meals, folded laundry, cleaned fruit and berries, sweated over homework, played games, did crafts. Where the Eaton's Christmas catalogue was studied, and bills were calculated. And where yummy things like plum kuchen, ginger cookies, and buns sat on cooling racks. Mom’s sewing machine often occupied one end where she transformed bolts of fabric into pretty dresses, blouses, jackets, new curtains as well as patching torn sleeves and ripped pants. It was also where Dad took off his big work boots and sat in his thick woolly socks, or Mom took a few minutes of rest peeling an orange while browsing the latest Reader's Digest.

I grew up in rural Alberta thinking everyone's family was the same as ours. And in many respects, they were. The families we knew were mostly of European roots, having immigrated at some point, settling in Western Canada. Farm families usually were large with four to six children, or more. Some families thrived; others survived. Thankfully, we always had more than sufficient of the necessities of life, with enough extras and treats to sweeten our days. My mom and dad would play with us when we were little, put nourishing meals on the table, lay loving hands over fevered foreheads and help us sip ginger ale for upset tummies. We had shoes that fit growing feet and lovely clothes for the new school year and at Christmas and Easter. New toys were usually saved for birthdays and Christmas, but occasionally a new book for eager young minds came out of the shopping bag from the trip into the big city. If there was one for me and one for my sister, it was a double bonus; we could trade when we finished our own.

We learned how to help our neighbours. We found out life is a mix of happy and sad, good health and illness, joyful surprises and horrid things that go bump in the night. We were simple folk; in our house conversations didn't revolve around the philosophies of life, or poetry, or the classics. But we learned about getting along with our siblings and that helping was part of what makes a home a happy place. We learned that life isn't always fair, despite our protests. And we soon had a handle on the wonderful old stories about Moses in the bulrushes, David and Goliath, and Baby Jesus being born in Bethlehem. We learned to say grace at the table. There were flowers in the garden mingling amongst the long rows of peas, potatoes, and carrots. Family photos and pretty ornaments were set about the place. And music spooled from the radio and record player, along with the added cacophony as young fingers practiced scales, hammered out Chopsticks, and learned to recognize pieces by Bach, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky, not to mention plunked out hymns and tunes like What A Friend We Have in Jesus and Jingle Bells.

Our home was a pragmatic place: daytime was for work, no time to be lazy or fooling around. Clothes needed washing, potatoes needed hilling, pantries needed stocking, children and livestock needed feeding, crops needed planting, hay needed baling, school needed attending, and homework needed finishing. As kids—there were four of us eventually—we each had our chores, but then the rest of the day, especially during summer holidays and weekends, was ours to do as we pleased. We had the whole farm at our disposal, and we often asked if we could walk to meet the kids on the next farm. Together, we'd explore every corner of our parents' quarter-sections. We'd play games, put on plays, and pick Saskatoon berries. Sundays after church, Mom would often invite a family for dinner, and sometimes we'd go on Sunday drives, occasionally stopping at neighbours for a short visit (we always hoped there'd be kids to play with at that house). Evenings after supper, when I was little, were for relaxing: Dad sitting in his easy chair reading or listening to Mom play the piano. In summer we'd played outside until it got dark, and on dark winter evenings we played games and read storybooks and put puzzles together. When we finally got a television at our house in the early 1970s, well, that changed all manner of patterns, for we then gathered in the living room to watch the latest episode of The Waltons, Mary Tyler Moore, Marcus Welby, or Gunsmoke.

With our farm situated just off the main highway, friends and neighbours would often stop in on their way home from shopping in town. And one day when Helen, a good family friend, stopped in, and Mom wasn't home, I knew just how to step into being hostess. Inviting her in, I put the kettle on for coffee (usually Nescafe or Maxwell House), set out the mugs, cream and sugar. Tea was never offered where we grew up; it was always coffee. A quick rustling in the freezer for cookies which thawed quickly. Or maybe there was a fresh rhubarb cake on the counter. That day, the pair of us sat at the table, sipping our coffee, and chatting. I will never forget it. I was probably 11 or 12, already eagerly leaning towards my teens and young adulthood. I felt grown up, maybe the way Anne of Green Gables felt when she prepared afternoon tea for her chum, Diana Berry. Only I didn't make anyone tipsy - no elderberry wine anywhere in Mom's cupboards.

I loved setting a table for company, and to this day, it remains my favourite aspect of preparing for guests. With Mom busy making the meal, she'd ask me to set the table. I’d select one of her pretty tablecloths she got as a wedding present. And then carefully bring out the Old Country Roses Royal Albert dishes she'd collected over the years. I'd remember a page in a magazine on how to creatively fold dinner napkins. Experimenting was great fun. Days before the big event, I'd watch my mom at the kitchen table poring over recipe books as she decided on the menu. The entrée—although we’d never heard of the word until years later—we simply referred to it as the main dish which was always a meat dish: chicken, beef, pork, or turkey. Then there were the side dishes of vegetables like peas, cabbage rolls, and salads, including the green garden salad and the jellied salad popular at the time. Homemade buns and pickles. Not forgetting the all-important decision of which desserts to make. Would it be lemon meringue pie, angel food cake, or the pineapple layer dream dessert? The latter was probably my favourite. I marveled at how Mom was able to orchestrate her meal so that every dish arrived hot and done on the table at the same time.

Mom was the sunshine of our world. Coming home from school, she’d be waiting for us, welcoming us with questions about our day and something yummy for a snack. The house always felt sad and empty when she happened to be away when we got home from school. There were occasions when her cheerfulness would dim, and I felt its loss keenly although I couldn’t have said so at the time. Life was hard for her sometimes, often struggling with her own illness of severe asthma and allergies, trying to raise four kids, help her husband on the farm, and keep the household running. On days when there was tension in the home—every family has its imperfect human dynamics—those days I’d disappear into my storybooks. Always hoping that whatever was going on would clear up and our sweet and cozy home life would resume.

As a girl, I watched my mom taking care of us, of our home, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. I tucked these things in my heart and pondered them until the day I would be the chatelaine of my own home.


Wishing you a beautiful weekend,

Photo Credit:
Top - Vincent Van Gogh Image from Pixabay

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Fond Farewells Before the Frost

" Autumn shows us how
beautiful it is to let things go."

Sunday Morning and the sun is shining slant against steel grey clouds in the northwest. The weather station has been predicting frost for weeks now, but the warm days that felt like late summer kept it at bay. Until last night. The summer garden has at last succumbed to autumn's call to rest. The past few days I've been doing the rounds to say my goodbyes and thank you's. It's been a spectacular year for the garden.

Here is a quick peek at what was still bright with colour a day ago.

"October, baptize me with leaves!
Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me
with split pea soup.
October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and
carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins.
O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!"

Alas, I saw this attributed to two different authors:

DONNA TARTT, "The Secret History"
Penquin Random House says it belongs to Rainbow Rowell

I'll be back next week, hopefully this time with the next episode in the Homes series. I thought it would be easy to write about my childhood home—my memories are still so vivid—but deep thinking about one's memories often takes time and much pondering to sort out what a person wants to actually record about these cherished remembrances. And so I'm still working away on this project.

As we begin the last full week of October, I'm hoping it will be bright and beautiful for you.


Warmest heart hugs,

Photos are mine