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 entrĂ©e—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

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Saturday: Sayings that Resonated This Week

"Come along inside . . . we'll see if
tea and buns can make the world a better place."
KENNETH GRAHAM, The Wind in the Willows

Happy Saturday! As I mentioned to a friend in an email, we've had another week of gorgeous weather. We had a near perfect summer and come September, and now October, it eased so gracefully into Autumn, I hardly felt the bump of seasonal change. I'm still wearing my summer sandals, if you can believe it. Many trees now stand bare while others hold their autumn coats a few more days. To my joy, winds have crisp leaves dancing down the streets. The Peace Rose has several buds on the verge of bursting open; alyssums and the tall purple salvia bloom as if still in deep summer. And most unexpectedly, one hydrangea which struggled all summer to grow up, blazed forth a single hot pink bloom this week. What a delightful surprise!

So our yard continues to create a happy place for us and the few insects still passing through. Many migrating birds have flown south, which means the year-round locals start circling back to us, our yard a part of their wintering feeding area. We hear the chickadees and finches again, and the blue jays call every morning for their share-out of peanuts.

Now, I have been working away on the next installment of My Homes series; alas, it's not ready for today. So, instead I share a few quotes that have been meaningful to me over the last few days. Hope something resonates as you read.

—— ❦ ——
"Often God's voice
comes in a whisper,
in a breath of silence.
Remaining in silence in
God's presence, open to
the Spirit, is already prayer.
Allow Christ to pray within you silently—
One day you will discover
that the depths of your being
is inhabited by a presence."
BODMIN HERMIT, as seen on Twitter

—— ❦ ——
"Be as gentle as you can, to everyone you
brush shoulders with, with yourself.
It seems to me that lately everyone is walking
wounded, worried, weary. Make room, be patient, speak softly.
Carry mercy in your body like a necessary salve,
for the world is aching."
JOY MARIE CLARK, as seen on Twitter

—— ❦ ——
"The purpose of art is not the release of
a momentary injection of adrenaline,
but a gradual lifelong construction of a
state of wonder and serenity."

—— ❦ ——
"The best moments in reading are when you come across
something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—
which you had thought special and particular to you.
Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have
never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand
has come out and taken yours."

—— ❦ ——
On creative work...
"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me.
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.
But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good.
It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.
And your taste is why your work disappoints you.
A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit."
IRA GLASS, as seen on Twitter

—— ❦ ——
"Loneliness does not come from having no people around you,
but from being unable to communicate the things
that seem important to you."

—— ❦ ——
These words I penned in my journal to remind myself:
"I can be a light in someone's darkness;
I can be a patch of blue sky in someone's grey day;
I can be the pink surprise of one hydrangea bloom on an October morning;
I can be present to my world today."

Wishing you a beautiful weekend,

Photo Credits:
(Top) Chulmin Park from Pixabay
(Bottom) Rebekka D from Pixabay

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Home Sweet House, Hopefully A Series, Intro

"You can have more than one home. You can carry
your roots with you, and decide where they grow."

In a recent issue, Victoria magazine invited its readers to respond to the prompt below:
"Reflecting on all of the abodes where you have lived, which house truly holds your heart? Whether it was the home that shaped your childhood memories, a humble cottage where you first set up housekeeping, or the place where you reside today, we would love to hear what makes this haven special."
When I read this, I thought what a lovely subject to think deeply about. I was most interested to reflect not only on the house that holds my heart but every abode that shaped and marked my life through the decades. When I started gathering my old addresses, memories long forgotten sprung up, vibrant and still so alive with feeling even after all these years. My life for the main part has fallen in pleasant places, so each dwelling is rooted in its own treasured and happy remembrances—all the way from my childhood and youth, through adulthood and middle age, and now into seniorhood.

Ever since I was a girl, I dreamt about the day I'd set up housekeeping in my own home. Each place I lived in, no matter how short the season it turned out to be, I set down some roots, made memories, made it home. However transient my stay, I always took the time to turn plain rooms and bare walls into cozy havens—whether it was my college dorm room, my summer house in Venezuela, my tiny first apartment. It was great fun! I loved housekeeping. Happily I'd set out my things: dishes and bowls, towels and bedding, books, pictures, plants, and knick-knacks. Making the space my own, where I could hang my coat, kick off my shoes, and plop into that comfy chair next to a stack of books after a busy day.

Every place had to have the potential to be cozy. Which, when I came to think of it, was elemental. Cozy was my favourite word, I think. For me, it represented comfort, warmth, and relaxation. Not to mention, safety and shelter from the elements and the outside world. I never saw until years later that I was trying to recreate that feeling of home I'd experienced in my childhood. For in that plain and unassuming farm house, my mom had made the house she had come to as a bride into a comfortable and welcoming place for her family and for all who passed through the doors as guests.

I think of one of my very first memories of that little house. I would have been about three or four or five. I came from my bedroom down the short hallway into the kitchen, bright with morning sunshine. And my young mom, standing at the counter or stove, turned to me with a smile, "Good morning, Merry Sunshine." To this day, I'm still filled with the warmth and light and love of that early childhood moment. For me, that's what home was for me. It was the way I wanted my own home to be.

I've come to see that what we know first in our lives often shapes future yearnings. My home had to have light, warmth and coziness - it was the key every time to creating something comfortable and welcoming. No matter how tiny, no matter how transient, I surrounded myself with the things I loved, the people I cared about, and created spaces that bade me and my guests welcome.

Over the next few weeks, in this Home Sweet House series, I hope to write about each of the dwellings I once called home. I look forward to revisiting them in my mind, ruminating how they shaped and sheltered my life.

Wishing you a beautiful weekend, and
Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians.

Photo credit: Manfred Richter from Pixabay

Monday, October 03, 2022


"How beautifully leaves grow old.
How full of light and color are their last days."

Popping in to let you know I am away this week taking care of needful things. I'll be back soon. Autumn is glorious in these parts. Thinking of you and wishing you a beautiful day! 

Heart hugs,

Top: Image by Nguyen Son from Pixabay