Tuesday 31 December 2013

Still Mindfully Thankful

"Never a Christmas morning,

Never an old year ends,

But someone thinks of someone;

Old days, old times, old friends."

                       Author, unknown

I just refilled all the bird feeders.  This aroused a lot of interest from my bird friends; they were flocking around even as I was walking away. The dogs with me did not deter them so I am thinking those poor birds are desperately needing lots of seeds to maintain their body warmth.  It is -28 degrees C and there is a frostbite advisory in effect.  No sun, no shadows; the sky is a perfect pearl gray.  The snow underfoot is bumpy and crunchy; yes, the last day of the year is a cold one  in Canada's national capital.
I can't help thinking about those birds; how do their tiny, spindly legs not freeze?  What are their ways to keep warm?  I think just the freezing air today would overtake their feeble limbs and minuscule organs.   Somehow they survive.
Tonight is New Year's Eve.  In my younger years, I often celebrated the occasion; these later years I do not.  In fact, I will probably be asleep for this year's countdown.  But I will be having a treat for supper...hot and sour soup and suishi and all the shrimp I can eat.  Tomorrow it will be back to the traditional fare of another turkey dinner. 
So the last day of the year finds me mindfully thankful for my warm fire, my good food, and having enough to share with my feathered friends. 

Monday 30 December 2013

End of Year Thoughts

A tiny selection of angels...I like to group things together so here are the ladies all huddled together on the hall table.  I can still take pleasure in these old symbols of Christmas.  As the sands of time for 2013 are draining,  I can't help but think of how life as we know it keeps changing.  If you are like me, you can still remember how things were in and about the middle of the last century when we were born.  I can still wrap myself in the memories of how things used to be when I need to.
Looking back the extent of my ignorance of  many things but especially technology was breath-taking. I thought I was going to be retired before computers became a mainstream item in schools.  Instead I worked a full decade with computers before I left my career.  I thought it would be like television which took about ten years before it was commonplace for every home to have one.  The speed that all this has happened is what I find incredible.  You have to understand that I still feel in awe of the skilled technology that enables voices to be sent through wires; I'm amazed that someone dreamed that up and it worked.
 I know I am at a pre-kindergarten level with all of  this stuff.  Perhaps computer technology has advanced as much as it can for I keep reading that robotics is where the next major developments are going to be made.   I listened to an interview with a robot on radio last week; "she" was able to answer 'thinking' questions.  Imagine that!

Sunday 29 December 2013

Mitzy's Big Adventure

Great golden comma of a cat,

You spring to catch my robe's one dangling thread,

And somehow land entangled in my heart.

                            Lija Broadhurst

Because of all my talk of mice, you may have forgotten that there is a cat in the house.  Mitzy, now 19 years old, has never been much of a mouser and to our knowledge, has only ever caught one mouse.  This she presented to us with a great mewling fanfare; we could only speculate how she managed it.  Did the poor thing run into her mouth somehow? 

Mitzy is pretty; she has four white paws that make her look like she is wearing tall stockings and she's gray everywhere else, a dark gray like the darkest thunder cloud. She was always a bit of a sniffy cat, too haughty to allow hugs or holding.  However, she will let you rub the fur on the top of her head for a moment or two, but that too is, in true cat fashion, like she is doing you a favour.
Since Rex joined our household, Mitzy has preferred to spend most of her time down in the basement.  She has an old wingback armchair next to the furnace where she loves to curl up and dream away her days. She calls to us twice a day to change her water and food; she will only drink fresh water and she is quite insistent about this.

Last year, Mitzy had an adventure, the details of which we can only speculate about.  It was a warm April day, the garage door wide open and an army of flies appeared from nowhere suddenly buzzing everywhere.  Mitzy made one of her rare appearances perhaps enticed by the sunshine or the flies.  I watched as she ventured outside reaching for the thin shade by the gate, stepping very cautiously.  How long since her feet had touched grass? I watched her creep along the fence then suddenly bound towards the barn door for all the world like she knew exactly where she was going and couldn't wait to get there.  I didn't realize it would be six months before we would see Mitzy again.

We knew she was missing when there was no sign of her later in the day.  We kept the garage door open for the next few nights hoping she would see the light and be lured back home.  A search of the barn revealed no Mitzy.  Every day I walked the woods path calling her name and tinkling a little bell, but there was no sign of our poor cat anywhere.  We hated to think of her, a docile and thoroughly domesticated little being, at the mercy of the wild creatures.  However,we were assured that if she was still in the barn, she was well sheltered there; it is heavily insulated and completely dry.  It is home to countless generations of mice and Mitzy is not declawed so maybe she could fend for herself, we thought. 

As the weeks passed we started to give up hope we would see her again.  Her empty armchair in the basement was a constant reminder of her absence.  One day, hubby saw a cat in the barn but dismissed the idea that it was Mitzy.  The cat he glimpsed was swift moving and about half the size of Mitzy.  Oh, did I forget to mention that our cat had become a bit of a butterball.  Even though the cat he saw seemed to have white paws, he couldn't be sure so assumed it was one of the barn cats from the farm next door that occasionally stroll our property. 

It was our talk at tea break, though.  If it was Mitzy living in the barn, how dark and strange did she find it?  Did she face down anything unfriendly there?  Or was she perhaps the unwelcome presence?  Was she finding it cold now that summer was gone?  Did she long for the comfort of her old chair?  Why wasn't she coming back to the house, literally yards from the barn?  That last question really had us stumped.  But who knows the thoughts of cats...

October and I hear hubby yell from the garage; I open the door and something rushes past me and runs down the stairs.  It is Mitzy home again; a much, much thinner Mitzy but seemingly none the worse for her adventure.  She resumed all her habits like nothing had happened; a year later and she is a bit of a butterball again, ordering her fresh food and water twice a day and allowing only the occasional head rub.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Feast of Treats

Christmas itself may be called into question

If carried so far it creates indigestion.

                   The Unwise Christmas, Bergengren

My grandfather, who didn't have an extra ounce of fat on him, used to always say just before a big Sunday dinner...eat to fill yourself but not to kill yourself.  Those words are rather wise in this age of  food addictions, overeating, obesity and all the resultant health problems.  However, I probably shouldn't beat myself up so much about the food I typically indulge in at this time of year.  In my defense, I can never refuse food offered when I am in someone's else's house for fear of offending whoever made it.  Consequently, I often eat food I do not want (need just doesn't enter the picture in our overfed world). This is an old habit originating in my childhood; we were always told to eat what was put in front of us and say thank you for it.
 My taste buds recognize salty foods with relish; I've never been as keen on sweets so therefore, have no problem passing up desserts, candies or cookies in my own home.  However, I'm wondering who came up with the idea of combining salt and sweet to make kettle corn which I do like.  Then someone had to invent salted caramel ice cream, again with that deadly good combination of salt and sweet that makes it so hard to resist even by folks like me.  Hubby has a sweet tooth and he likes to have a little something sweet to finish his evening meal; he is lucky though, because he is able to control his portions very precisely. For instance, if I give him a piece of pie that he thinks is too big, he will have me cut the extra off...now that's control.
In the photo above are some of the extra treats that appeared this Christmas.  Candy cane ice cream seems to be available here only at this time of year.  Marshmallow  Christmas trees and boxes of chocolates are pure indulgences of the tempting kind that signal the holidays.  I remind myself to relax and enjoy for I know I will soon have myself  back on track, yes, I will.

Friday 27 December 2013


Long before the "I've fallen and can't get up" commercials highlighted the dangers of falling in your own home, I suffered from slipitis.  Perhaps I have always been sensitive to the fear of falling just like I have a natural fear of heights.  Having slipitis as I call it means the winter season is fraught with danger underfoot for me.  Icy patches, black ice, and freezing rain coating the whole laneway with ice are all scary and concerning to me.  I've noticed in these late years, I choose my winter footwear with consideration for the soles rather than style; I really need to have a sense that the tread can afford me traction in slippery conditions.  I just reread that sentence; how old am I getting!
However, this falling business is not to be taken lightly.  Over 20000 people in North America die of falls each year; I wonder how many of those involved ice.  I know you can just as easily fall in your home (the bathroom being the main danger zone).  Remember the story of the mountain climber who had scaled Mount Everest three times, only to slip on a rug in his hallway, hit his head and die as a result?
I used to work at a children's hospital and one day happened to voice my concern about falling in the icy parking lot.  One of the doctors told me how to walk to minimize the effect of a fall....bend slightly forward from the waist, make sure your weight is leaning forward, and take small shuffling steps.  That way if you slip, you will more than likely fall forward and your knees and hands can help break the fall.  You probably won't fall backwards and hit your head; something you should try to avoid at all costs.  Yes, I know I look like a little old woman walking like this but I don't care; vanity, with age, is losing its grip.

What's on my night table...

 Mary Coin by Marisa Silver tells the fictionalized story behind this famous photograph taken during the depression years in the U.S.  It was shot by photographer Dorathea Lange and titled "Migrant Mother" and appeared in many major magazines.  Mary, the migrant mother, and her struggle to care for her children is a story both heartbreaking and hopeful.  This book is beautifully written and I enjoyed every word of it.  

Thursday 26 December 2013

Old Fashioned Circle of Communication

The Christmas cards  I've received this year represent 32 different views of Christmas.  Two have puppies wearing Santa hats, two feature cats, and one has a horse peaking from his barn stall. There are several with Christmas trees in both primitive dress and wildly ablaze; my elderly aunt has sent me a card for a 'special niece' that is obviously meant for a much younger 'girl' than me.  One has a set of sparkling candles, five have nostalgic type country scenes, and one has a large tree ornament covered in some sort of velvet paper.  There is one meant to be funny...two old people sitting in rocking chairs; his speech balloon says "My butt fell asleep"; hers reads "I know, I can hear it snoring."
None of the cards show families or children.  Only one of my cards depicts a nativity and there are no others with any signs of religious symbols.  Many feature snow which I guess makes sense in this northern climate. Of all the cards, my favourites are those with a personally written note in them and knowing this, I try to include a note in mine that I send out.  By the way, this year the cards I mailed had birds on them and I usually buy those associated with a charity like Unicef.  Like my grandmothers, I hang all the cards I receive over line strung across the inside doorways. 
I think this annual exchange of cards to mark the Christmas season and also wish a happy new year to family and friends far away is important.  I know it is an old-fashioned method of communication but it still serves a purpose; to keep up our connections, old and new. It is sad for me to contemplate that in this ever more technical society, this too is a practice of the sort that is ever waning. 

Wednesday 25 December 2013

When More is More

Looks what's under my tree!

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."


I have such a clear picture of my mother at Christmas, half sitting on the arm of the sofa, bent toward the Christmas tree.  She is readjusting the tinsel, that silver foil that hung in long strands over the tree branches.  This is something she did several times a day while the tree was up.  She was very particular about the tinsel and every strand had to hang just so.  There must be a photo of her somewhere doing this.  Tinsel was the most finicky thing you could hang on a tree and with three kids and a dog, it must have gotten tangled quite a lot. 

My mother took a lot of joy in Christmas.  She had a saying herself..."more is more when it comes to a good Christmas", a play on the expression less is more.  Consequently, she always 'over gave' as I called it, when it came to presents. She made sure each of us kids had equal sized piles of gifts which included whatever we had been asking for.

 Mom loved to decorate the house.  She tacked up gold and silver garlands to crisscross the living room ceiling and unfurled large red paper bells in the corners.  These never looked shabby because they would be packed away so carefully at the end of each season.  She would be baking the month leading up to the holiday, everything sealed away in cake tins.

 Like most Newfoundland homes, the special treats included fruit cake, short bread, squares, and always sweet bread, which was homemade molasses bread with raisins. Always on the coffee table at Christmas time too, was a box of Pot of Gold chocolates supposedly Dad would buy for Mom.  Mom's favourite, the hard ones- those with nuts or caramel, were hers to choose first and then we would all get our turn too.  (I always loved the tiny black fluted cups each chocolate sat in.)

Yes, my mother loved Christmas and worked hard to share her love with us.  I hope I showed my appreciation; I hope my face was a smiling mirror so she could see her own joy reflected there. 

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Happy Christmas Eve

Santa was a figure I believed in when I was little.  He and Jesus held similar posts in my young mind; I thought somehow that both could see me and my behaviour and the implication was clear that I was being judged.  Santa possessed similar powers in another way too; he could reward or withhold depending on how 'good' I had been during the year.
The year I was nine was when this changed.  The belief in Santa was being debated in my grade 4 classroom and we were taking sides.  My friends, Kay, Judy, and Marie and I still believed; in fact, most of the girls did.  It was the boys who were the sceptics and saying there was no such thing as Santa Claus, perhaps just to tease us the way boys did with girls back then.
Christmas Eve, I awoke from a deep sleep and I could hear my parents in the kitchen.  I snuck out to the doorway and there were Mom and Dad at the table wrapping gifts. One gift in particular caught my eye, a black patent leather purse with a large matching flower on the front.  My mother wrapped it and set it aside on top of a pile of presents already wrapped. I went back to bed thinking about the purse and hoping it was for me.
The next morning my sister unwrapped the purse; it was in her pile from Santa.  I checked with Mom; so the purse is from Santa, is it?  Oh yes, she says, innocently and unknowingly sealing Santa's fate in my mind. 
Truly the logic of a real Santa had been baffling me but I didn't want to admit it; the flying reindeer and being able to get to every house in the world in one night were the two sticklers for me.  Yes, I was disappointed to know the truth but I think in my heart I already had known it.  I'd been making a choice to keep believing and isn't that just the way it is with so many things in our lives.
Belief is a precious often fragile thing. 
Happy Christmas Eve!

Monday 23 December 2013

Baby Holding and Baking

Recently I got to spend the day with my newest grandson who is about six weeks old now.  My daughter and I did some baking for Christmas while he spent the day doing all the things a newborn does these days.  He lay on something called a gym mat and ogled various items that deliberately dangle close to his eyes.  We noted he stared at the mirror image of himself most often and for the longest time.  From the kicking feet and waving arms we surmised he enjoyed his mat time very much.  Throughout the day he was changed four or five times with the diaper itself signaling  the need for changing.  A yellow strip down the middle conveniently turns green when liquid hits it taking the guess work out of the process, I guess.  How far we have come from Daughter's day when I, worried about stories of disposable diapers outlasting everything else in land fills, chose to clothe her in cloth diapers. 
The most interesting piece of baby equipment was his swing/cradle contraption which demonstrates all the engineering of a tiny space craft.  A most snug and cosy cradle is cantilevered out from a floor standing arm.  This can swing the cradle from side to side or front to back at various speeds.  It has the ability to make nature sounds...Grandson enjoyed cricket sounds for quite a while, or music in the form of lullabies or soothing instrumentals.  Oh yes, it also has lights that soften or change colours. I think I was just as enthralled with all this as Grandson was.  He spent a very satisfied hour in it while we got on with the stirring and whipping.
We made frosted Queen Anne squares, chocolate fudge and Barbara Bush's recipe for Texas Cowboy cookies, apparently a favourite of the former president. 
In between Grandson got held lots...a day with baby holding in it is really the best possible of days.       

Sunday 22 December 2013

Inside Chores, Outside Snow and Ice

Day 3 inside because we have had revolving systems of bad weather varying from snow to sleet to freezing rain to rain.  We think about a foot of snow has fallen overall and at this moment it also carries a thin crispy layer of frozen ice on top.  Enough freezing rain has fallen to classify it a storm and many areas have lost their electricity.  Luckily, we were spared that but have been left a laneway that is rimy and slippery, very difficult to walk and even the dogs are preferring to follow rather than lead and attempt a trail.  Sadly there is no sun today to give all this ice some dazzle and beauty.
Our old birch in the front has taken a real beating.  It is very sensitive to bad weather and seems to have no resistance to damage during rain, wind, heavy snow and the like.  The ground around it is littered with its branches and twigs today. 
Meanwhile, I've been catching up on all the inside chores.  I have all the gifts wrapped for the big day, done an extra cleaning, and worked on my granny square afghan.  Turns out it was a challenge to figure out how to join the squares especially because they are all different colours.  A number of tutorials are to be found on Youtube  and though they were useful to me, I was not happy with a couple of methods I tried. I had to do some unsewing, my least favourite thing to do with a needle.  I finally found one that seems to be working okay for me.  It is a simple slip stitch joining two squares, chain 3, slip stich into the next space, chain 3 again and repeating this to the end.

Here is one side, the front, I'll call it.

And here is the back or wrong side...

So pretty but I still have a ton of work to do with the squares before I have an afghan.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Grade 4 Christmas Play

They have practiced hard for this.  Time had to be carved from a busy schedule to go to the auditorium slash gymnasium, a room just large enough to make it difficult to heat, to take turns saying their parts and practising their places.  The Grade 4 Concert Day corresponds to the school Spirit Day and all the students are wearing pyjamas and toting stuffed toys, teachers too. Grandson's teacher is wearing his striped terrycloth robe.  I'm enough of a fuddy duddy to wonder if I would have allowed teachers to wear pyjamas in school back in my day (which is seeming further and further away). 
It is a production put on by nine year olds in a public school...this means no lighting, fancy sets or costuming to speak of.  It is a play about puppies in a pound all wishing for homes for Christmas; it will have to fall to Santa Claus to save the day and the puppies by taking them on his sleigh to new homes.  Grandson is a Jack Russell Terrier; his parents have had a hard time finding white pants for the role and have had to settle on beige ones hoping that Mr. Housecoat won't notice.  There are a surprising number of songs  and dance moves.  Grandson, who is a great enthusiastic dancer in the comfort of his home, looks a bit awkward and moves a little stiffly throughout.  But give him credit, we can see he is gamely trying to fit in all the moves and sings along to all the songs.  The girls, almost a foot taller than the boys, are the true stars.  They have the main speaking roles and carry the singing.  They are confident and capable...you can see them gently nudging the less competent boys around the stage.  It makes me wonder again how it ever became a man's world.
The audience, made up of family members, is duly appreciative; clapping enthusiastically when all is said and done. 
Grandson now has his memory of being in a school play which will be with him far longer and  more clearly than that great math lesson or any comprehension exercise ever will.   

Friday 20 December 2013

The Woods and What May Be Out There

View from my back door taken at 5 p.m.

Snow before Christmas is almost a given here in the Ottawa Valley.  The former corn and barley fields have become wide expanses of pristine whiteness and surrounding them in stark contrast, are the black and many-branched trees.  The trunks of trees, branches, tiny twigs, bristly bushes are all exposed and looking mildly skeletal at this time of year.  What would have been hidden or softened by those lovely green leaves not so long ago can now be examined.  The most beautiful black and white photos are there for the taking at every turn. 
Late afternoon and all the woods around us take on a different look, forbidding and a bit creepy.  It is foolishness of course, to think that but... Sometimes I am awakened at night by the sounds of howls, coyotes or wolves, not sure which, perhaps fox.  It makes me realize that creatures do live close by just outside the snugness of our house.  I forget this.  My daytime walks around the property reveal to me only small, scuttling creatures, chipmunks, squirrels, the odd skunk; never anything larger and whatever they are they are always running away from me.  Usually only interesting enough to tweak the dog's interest, nothing more.  Whatever else may be there remains well hidden, to my eyes at least. 

Thursday 19 December 2013

Grandson Questions

In my role as Nana to a nine year old boy, I do get asked interesting questions.  Why do adults like please and thank you so much?  If the Yeti and the Abominable Snowman had a fight, who would win?  If I had a special power, what would it be?  For this last one, I turned it around on him, what would his special power be?  His answer surprised me.  He said his power would be that he could move stealthily.  I asked for a demonstration of this to which he crept around the kitchen like a miniature cat burglar, stealthy indeed.  Most of my questions are not as funny as my friend's grandson asking, "Grandma, what were the dinosaurs like when you were young?"
I watch grandson punching the air, pretending to karate chop an imaginary assailant.  He is mock testing his sense of bravery, re-enacting moves and actions of his favourite heroes, Thor or Iron Man or Batman.  "What video games did you play when you were young, Nana?"  Technological devices are so common to him, so embedded in the make-up of his daily life that he cannot imagine a world without them.  I've explained I was older than him before I got a toy that needed plugging in- a record player when I was thirteen.  I was almost as old as him when we got our first television.  I've had him watch Bugs Bunny cartoons but he still asks about the other things I must have had. 
It is interesting to watch grandchildren trying to make sense of their world.  I don't envy them that as the world seems to be getting trickier and more complex all the time. 
Technology...a tide that will not, cannot be turned, short of an apocalypse.  Everyone swept away in a sea of devices all requiring recharging.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Where Has 2013 And All the Other Years Gone?

This is my dish set for winter.  It is The Friendly Village from Johnson's Brothers

Of all the choices of designs for the Friendly Village, this is my favourite.   There is something nostalgic and sentimental about the little church in its snowy setting and of course, it is very appropriate for this time of year.  It is also economical as dish sets go; this one is available in the Sears catalogue and can often be found discounted on sites such as www. replacements.com
So many things seem to creep up on me; I think I was saying this to you the other day.  That may be a side effect of no longer being in the work force and the necessary calendar watching that is such a part of that world.  I often have to stop and think about which day of the week it is.  I just realized today that Christmas Day is one week away and I still have a bunch of things to do. Never mind the months, I even find the years are speeding by.  Of course that feeling is relative to my age.   A year now is just (approx.) one sixtieth of my life and will continue to get shorter and shorter the longer (hopefully) I live. So make no wonder I sometimes hesitate when I have to write down the year on something...what 2013 already?  Didn't we just celebrate the millennium??
I'm terrible at answering the question, "what do you want?" At this time of year, I get asked it more than usual and I never know what to say.  I've never been good at being direct about what I want, or as Beyonnce sang...what I really, really want.
Maybe it is because at this stage of my life I have pretty much everything I want.  If there is an appliance or gadget we want, we watch the sales throughout the year and buy when the buying is good.  For many years now, I've gotten more satisfaction and enjoyment in the giving part of the Christmas present ritual. I scour the advertising flyers and the online catalogues until I am satisfied I am picking the exact item each one on my list will love.  That whole process and the look when the gift is finally opened bring me a lot of fun and pleasure. 
 Don't get me wrong, I do like getting presents and am often delighted with the unique gifts family have likewise found for me.   Being thankful too goes without saying. 


Tuesday 17 December 2013

The Pleasure of Picking

Very old snowshoes found in the barn

You just never know what you will find when you dig around in an old barn, apparently even in our old barn. I too am a fan of those shows that are all about people finding treasures in odd or old places.  They call it 'picking' in the two shows I am familiar with...American Pickers and Canadian Pickers.  To them it is a business and they choose things they can then sell and make a profit.  Most of us do not have the opportunity to get into the unlikely and varied places those guys have the great fortune to explore.  However, there are stores such as Salvation Army Thrift shops or Value Villages or consignment shops just about everywhere that afford all of us a chance to do our own 'picking'.
I liken the feeling to one you get golfing; there is always one good hit/stroke/put each time out on the course that convinces you you can play this game and it is that hit that keeps you going back.  Similarly, at thrift stores and consignment shops, there is that one great find that whets your appetite and pulls you back again another day. 
When I'm in one, my eyes are alert to the find; on my list, for instance, are a 'knit in Scotland or Ireland' cardigan, garden clogs, a pink pashmina, designer glass frames, embroidered tablecloths, a deluxe Scrabble game.  My most recent "finds" ....4 metres of the exact tone on tone cream cotton I use for most of my embroidery projects, a complete set of Aero knitting needles, my crossword dictionary, a beautiful Santa 1000 piece puzzle, never opened.
I'm always surprised by how much is brand new in these places...books with stiffened spines, never opened, blouses and sweaters with tags, dishes with price tags stuck to the underside, candles never taken from their boxes.  For all the people busily collecting stuff, obviously there are lots of people unafraid of culling and letting go of stuff too. 
Housewares is the saddest section.  The church plates, homemade plaques bearing personal  messages, the cross stitched pictures, as well often personalized...Happy Birthday, Congratulations, So and So, the notes written on the backs " To Marci, All My Love, Grandma"...that sort of thing.  There is a poignancy in items like that, and it makes me think of my 'stuff' someday on a shelf being handled by strangers.  I hope it will be someone according each thing the respect that I do. 
New inventory arrives by the truckload each and every day.  So much for the idea of reduce, reuse and recycle which  is a motto I try my best to live by and a motivation for including thrift stores in my shopping ventures.
It is not really about saving money for me though that is undeniably a plus. The comedian and actor, Rosie O'Donnell, pointed out on her own talk show many times that even rich people like getting a bargain so I know I am there in good company.

Monday 16 December 2013

Santa and Entourage

Smack in the centre of the first floor mezzanine of the mall sits Santa's throne surrounded by a fenced in Christmas tree garden. I note when Santa himself will be there and arrive back in time to see him set up.  To the mall's credit, this guy is more than a reasonable facsimile, he looks very much like the real thing. He has a beam of a smile, bright blue eyes in a ruddy face and a curly white beard that looks amazingly real. One of the female elves is helping to adjust his cap in a manner that seems a tad familiar to me (maybe  she is Mrs. Claus??) Two others are opening the tiny gate and rearranging the crate sized presents.  I hear one of them say 'it's showtime' to the lady operating the computer.  They all seem happy, perhaps even jolly.  One begins tap dancing, her shoemaker shoes clicking sharply on the granite floor, her bright red tights flashing. 
And here are the children, all ages, all sizes, forming an instant line-up.  Some are wearing Christmas colours and fancy outfits while others are obviously staging an impromptu sitting with Santa. 
The first two are refusals; they refuse to sit on Santa's lap or co-operate despite the mothers' and elves' fervent coaxing.  One parent gives up and I try to catch her eye to smile in consolation but she embarrassingly moves away quickly. The other mother, after much discussion with the computer lady, gets the photo taken holding her unhappy baby while standing beside Santa.  I can imagine what will be said about the resulting photo in the years to come. 
In the mall the week before Christmas, I can see no one seems dispirited.  I note smiles given and received.  Amid the giant swags of evergreens and baseball sized holly berries, I deliberately fend off any thoughts of children in need or ill-treated.  I only want glad thoughts as I go about my little shop.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Snow Day Beef Stew and Aging Motorcyclists

Friday 13th we got together with hubby's motorcycle buddies and wives...all six of us went to the Heirloom Café in Almonte.  This is an interesting and lovely restaurant situated in reclaimed space from a vintage mill.  It is one of those restaurants that displays art work by local artists which I always think is a great use of wall space, a practice beneficial to both parties.  I had Arctic char something I ate a lot of back in my Baffin Island days.  The whole meal from the miniature appetisers to the coffee was delicious.
These particular buddies are to be admired-into their 70's or fast approaching and still answering the call of the road.  They are smart men in many ways; able to do all their own bike maintenance is just one of the ways.  These days they have adapted to their ages and ride only on weekdays when there is less traffic and only on back roads for the same reason.  Their equipment, helmet, gloves, boots, etc. is all top-notch and their philosophy is atgatt...all the gear all the time.  I wish hubby would take as much interest in clean kitchen floors as he does in cleaning those bikes.  Yes, I said bikes because apparently, you need a big bike and a little bike. They get to ride several times a week and though hubby thinks each season might be his last, so far, so good.
Happily housebound today-another 6 inches of snow fell overnight.  Another slow simmering meal on the stove, my easy version of beef stew.  I put a small packet of beef chunks, a chopped onion, all available vegetables cut into chunks- turnip, carrots, potatoes, half a box of beef broth and in this case, a can of stewed tomatoes all together and let it simmer on low for 2 hours.  A little seasoning  whatever you like; I do not use salt unless the final taste is crying out for it.  In this case it was salty enough probably from the broth.
I am off to my sewing room and a couple of projects requiring the sewing machine. Hope your Sunday is a restful one.

Saturday 14 December 2013

New Wood Stove and Fireside Dogs

"Heap logs and let the blaze laugh out."

Temperature overnight got down to -24 degrees c; this is straight standing still reading.  The kitchen gauge read 11 degrees this morning, one of our coldest readings ever.  It took quite a while for our wood stove to get the temperature up to a comfortable level ( a relative feeling, I'm understanding).  As I write this, it is now 16.  We are applying the usual antidotes...decked out in layers of fleece, down booties on our feet, only venturing outside to get the paper, sipping hot chocolate. We are stopping just short of wearing ear muffs. Even the dogs are cuddled as close to the stove as they can get.

Fireside are our dogs, Rex and Murphy
 Our brand new wood stove is getting a good work out today.  We had a Vermont Castings Vigilente model for several decades. When it was removed last spring, it was like saying good bye to an old friend.  Our new stove, a Pacific Energy Spectrum Classic, features a beautiful window.  We had long lost the glass window feature in our old stove.  To now be able to watch the beauty of rolling flames over a full, glowing bed of coals is a real treat and certainly adds to the enjoyment of a wood fire experience.  We are burning mixed hardwood, a combination of beech, ash and oak and it is proving to be great firewood.

 Seems like winter has started hard and fast this year; it looks like we are sure going to need our reliable stove and lots and lots of wood. 

Friday 13 December 2013

Teacherly Ways and Being Prepared

I was a teacher for over three decades and I have many teacherly ways about me.  I have to resist the urge to herd the family into the car when we go on outings.  I'm the one asking if everyone has everything when we are leaving. I have just now stopped pointing out available washrooms. I'm the one in the group with an extra pen or tissue in my purse.  I have to stop myself from saying 'good job' or 'keep trying' to the very young checkout girl who is new on the job and still learning.  I still can't bear to throw out plastic tubs or toilet paper rolls.  I love looking through the school aisle at Staples and catch myself day dreaming about the lovely new wall displays or folders. 
After I retired, I volunteered at my grandson's school for three years just to ease myself into my new life.  It was very enjoyable for me and it definitely served the purpose.  By the end I no longer thought I should still be on the job and I was ready to admit as much as I had loved my career it was time to let go.
I don't think the qualities I have carried forward are especially bossy.  I was a Girl Guide when young for many years and our motto was "Be Prepared".  Having a solemn and serious nature, this motto was taken to heart by me.  Being young and naïve,  I had no idea of what exactly life could hold for me...all the events and experiences, and as hard as I might try, there really was no way of being prepared. 

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Orts and All

Turns out, tidying up all those granny squares produced quite a few wool bits.  I learned long ago, thanks to my crossword dictionary that these leftover remnants of wool or thread, can be called orts.  It's a great word to remember for Scrabble and it does come up in the occasional crossword puzzle; in that case sometimes the clue is leftover scraps from dinner.  You can buy very cute little containers to hold your orts for you while you work.  Nordic Needle has a variety of thread holders some made of wood and others of cloth. 
I usually save all my bits and put them outside in the spring for the birds to hopefully use in their nest building.  I know they do use materials found close to our house because I have seen many nests with Rex's hair incorporated into the construction.  That mouse in the birdhouse I told you about had a little ball of Rex's hair covering her babies.  German Shepherds do shed a lot especially in the summer time. 
I went through my linen drawer and took out all the Christmas cloths.  Here is one I worked from a kit several years ago...
The second photo is much truer to the real colour of the embroidery.  I also used gold metallic thread for the stars and deer antlers.  That was a pretty embellishment and made the finished product look Christmasy. 
Stars are very bright in the night sky...going to be very cold overnight...-20 c.  Brrr  Hope you are warm and cosy wherever you are.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

My On-Going Love Affair with Books

What's on my night table now....

I just don't see the sense in spending money on magazines.  I can read an issue in about 20 minutes and then it is mostly good for passing on to someone else.  Books are different and I can appreciate the merit in building a personal library.  These days I buy mostly craft, needlework, and cooking books for my own reference and most of them at Value Village or yard sales. I also receive them as gifts from time to time of course which I love.   
 The most valuable card in my wallet is my library card. I always say I could never afford to feed my reading habit without it.  One of the best things about living here in the Ottawa area is having any number of libraries where my card is honoured.  At one time a different card for each little town library was needed; since amalgamation the same card allows you to borrow and return books at any library making the experience so convenient.  I'm an eclectic reader and enjoy all genres.  Along with my books, I usually check out a few magazines as well especially any having to do with recipes.  Sometimes I arrange my time so I can sit for a while and read issues such as People or Monarchy that I don't normally read.  I used to keep up with pop culture but since the proliferation of so many reality shows, I've kind of lost touch with the newest 'stars'. 
Yes, I love libraries.  Now about my latest book....Lori Lansens' The Girls.  It is about two sisters, twins who are actually conjoined at the head.  Though their story is mainly told through Rose; her sister, Ruby also narrates from time to time.  It is interesting to me that I forget their conjoinment and identify with their struggles in life, which are the usual ones that in fact we all face.... having to do with friendship, love, family, etc.  It is easy reading and well done. 
I am taking a day off the needlework.  I crocheted yesterday for several hours and I feel a few twinges of pain in my wrist.  I heed the little warning and know to give  it a rest.  I'm just looking through some recipes because this would be a great day for Christmas baking. 

Monday 9 December 2013

Mouse-Trapping Nana

At night, mice run up the wall and across the ceiling of the bedroom.  I don't mind the occasional time this happens; their sounds are tiny, barely-there scratches.  I do mind when I find evidence that they have been in the kitchen cupboards.  I have had to learn the signs...their minuscule but many black droppings and the unique way they shred paper, sponges, tissues, etc.  I understand there are diseases that can be gotten from these seemingly harmless critters around our food.  It is for that reason I set traps and reluctantly capture the odd mouse.  By the way, my animal loving husband refuses to do this, so the task remains mine.
I have a certain sentimentality about them.  I've studied them and admired their colours.  All are field mice with white underbelly and a pretty almost chestnut colour on their backs.  They look healthy enough.  I'm sure they are benign for the most part, but in my cupboards, no - I can't have that, as much as I wish I could turn a blind eye.
Hubby assures me that is part of living in the country...there will be mice.  I cleaned out a large bird house one day and when the roof was lifted, out hopped a mouse.  She left her very comfortable nest with three tiny offspring behind.  I quickly replaced the roof and returned the house to the same spot in the tree and I assume mother mouse found her way back to the babies.  One day we found a mouse family living in one of hubby's big work gloves; it was in a workbench drawer in the garage.  We checked back the next week and they were all gone. The oddest place we have found mouse evidence was in the glove compartment of the car...telltale shredding of a napkin and tissues in the tissue box. We checked all around the vehicle but could not find a nest.  I know when the weather turns colder as has happened rather rapidly here, mice seek warmth and that's when they enter our houses.  We all have to be here, so I guess, it is inevitable that our paths must cross.     

Sunday 8 December 2013

Downtown and Primitive Embroidery

These are examples of small embroidered tree decorations I made in 2012.  One of my daughters enjoys primitive style items for decorating her house and that was the inspiration to make these particular items.  I gave her a number of them for her tree, too.  The patterns were found with a little research around the internet and were free for personal use. 
I live within the city of Ottawa environs; a 30 minute drive and we are quickly away from the farms and rolling countryside and somewhere completely different.   Downtown, as Petula Clark sang so many decades ago.  Today we went downtown for lunch with friends, a small adventure-like outing for us these days. Even the people look different downtown,  so modern, moving at brisk speeds, businessy and important-looking.  Yes, I do feel a little like the country mouse when we go there and conscious that we are making a small step outside our comfort zone, literally.  But it is invigorating too and interesting.  We ate in a bistro and were served what my mother would call "polite portions" by a very attractive young woman in a white blouse and black pencil skirt.  Yes, you can imagine her size when you know she was wearing a 'pencil' skirt.  I think age 10 was probably the last time my hips could have fit into a skirt like that.  All that being said, the food was tasty, the coffee delicious and our time spent catching up with friends wonderful. 

Saturday 7 December 2013

The Comfort of Food

My carrot soup...
It is the kind of day for comfort food and this is the kind of soup that qualifies.  I think I said before that you will not find any posh ingredients in my cupboards...no saffron, asiago cheeses, and just the usual spices.  Red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil is about as exotic as I get. That being said, I often wish I knew how to use  and incorporate more seasonings into my cooking. 
This soup is a favourite of mine to make because it is so easy; I usually boil 4 - 6 cups of chopped carrots, 1 chopped onion and a container of chicken broth together till the carrots are soft.  I blend the mixture in my ninja and season with a little salt and pepper.  This time I added a little cream to the mixture just before serving as well as a sprinkle of parsley.  If you have started with good, flavourful carrots, then the soup is sure to be tasty. 
It was dark today at 4:30; I have to make an effort to do any embroidering in the mornings when the natural light is brightest. That is a little hard for me as I like to do any household chores before I sit with my sewing...my stitching is my reward for when the work is done.  Is it like that for you?
I am making great headway with my granny squares; just finishing one more round on each and tucking in all the ends from the colour changes.  It is so colourful that I notice my mood brightens when I work on it. This is the first time I have used so many bright colours in one project. 

Friday 6 December 2013

Taking Stock of My Stash

Happy Friday to all those five day a week workers.  I remember well how special and necessary the weekend would be.  I'm showing you this beautiful winter themed fabric from Northcott; it is 100% cotton and I actually bought it on an impulse.  I saw it and could not resist the nostalgia of the various motifs.  But now what exactly to do with it?  So far I have tried to make these tree decorations showcasing the scenes, circular with a ruffled edging and stuffed with batting.  I still have to work out what to hang them with...perhaps ribbon or a length of braided perle cotton. 
I keep promising myself that I won't buy any more cloth unless I have a project in mind for it but it just seems there are more and more beautiful fabrics available.  Far cry from the day when my mother had to order cloth, sight unseen, from the Simpsons or Eatons catalogues. 
Years ago I read an article in a quilting magazine about how to hide your fabric stash from hubbies.  It was amusing all the places they suggested...on your hangers with your blouses covering it, in under-the-bed containers, at your next door neighbours, etc., the implication being that so many of us do succumb to the allure of all those lovely prints and colours and buy more than we can ever hope to use.  I have been especially dazzled by all the choices of batik cloth lately; the colours and designs are amazing.
So it is really these manufacturers' faults; I'm going to blame them for aiding me in becoming a cloth hoarder.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Mom's Gift of Old Time Quilt

This quilt was a gift from my mother.  She pieced it when she was older and enjoyed working on squares one at a time.  All her life she loved patchwork and has a collection of quilts showcasing various patterns.  I think her comfort with patchwork stems from a childhood where quilts were pieced from material already in use as clothing or linens, etc.  In those days one did not go out and
purchase specific material, all coordinating, for a project.  Mom tells of using pieces of old sheets, shirts, blouses, etc. often having to cut around worn areas, to sew together to make a "new" blanket. Matching colours or prints was haphazard and not often achieved.
That, of course, is a familiar story in quilt making.  Quilts made like this were usually very heavy and this was useful too; in homes without furnaces and bedrooms far from the old wood stove it could be cold and the heavier the bed covering, the warmer it was.  Decorative stitching was also used; Mom has several quilts where blanket stitch or cross stitch was used to outline larger pieces.  I marvel at how well this has been worked, holding up as it has over decades and multiple washings. 
Anything I own that was made by my mother is precious to me.  I like the idea that this fabric, these threads were also held by her hands. My wish is that someday one of my daughters will feel similarly about something I have worked and placed in their care. 

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Finding an Angel and the Bright SIde

Here is my angel tree top.  She is lovely with real feather wings, and hair that can be brushed.  I found her in a consignment shop in a box marked Montreal, Quebec.  I don't know if that means she was made there, bought there or just conveniently placed in this box that suited her size.  Her hands do not touch as if something originally had been placed between them.  She is in wonderful condition, not a mark on her and her tulle and lace dress is pristine.  I'm very happy with her, as you can tell.
I don't know about you, but I have started my Christmas shopping.  I have been determined to find presents for everyone and try to stay away from buying gift certificates.  Opening a gift just seems more fun to me somehow. 
I understand for some Christmas is not a happy time; recollections of sad or bad times or even memories of those gone or far away intrude and make celebrating difficult.  For myself, I do live far away from my parents and siblings and I have no idea when we will all be together again for a Christmas. That is a sad thought for me.  However, I remind myself that I am so fortunate to live near my children and grandchildren and will enjoy seeing them open their gifts from me. 

Monday 2 December 2013

Special Santas

Here is a cross stitched Santa I made so long  ago I don't really know who made the pattern.  Unfortunately the red here is not nearly as vibrant as it is in reality.  This fellow joins a host of Santas each year that I group together in a small collection. 
 And here they are.  It is an interesting group.  Several of these date from hubby's youth many years ago and the rest represent a number of different decades of Santa offerings.  There are cloth, ceramic, porcelain, cardboard, and wooden Santas here plus several of unknown material! Imaginative ways to depict good old St.Nick abound and I always enjoy finding yet another.  Pinterest has a number of clever patterns showing how to fashion cake layers into a Santa.  I'm sure the kids would love that.  Can you imagine a Santa made out of marzipan and fondant?  I saw just that on display at a local restaurant several years ago; their chef happens to be a talented artist with food and he fashioned Santa in his sleigh and all the reindeer flying over a village.  To say it was remarkable is an understatement; I couldn't get the beauty of all the detail out of my mind. Even better was the fact that they were selling tickets on it with all money going to charity.
Santa...he's a lovable fellow no matter what form he takes.

Sunday 1 December 2013

A Journal for Every Reason

My various diaries, journals and notebooks
My first had a burgundy cover with something like a moire pattern on it, a sheen and shine that whorled into patterns when held up to the light.  It came from my grandmother for my tenth birthday and at first I thought it was a wonderful gift.  It had a locking mechanism and the typical tiny key attached by a ribbon.  I was very careful to lock it after every entry and keep the key hidden in the back of my sock drawer.  However,the motivation to write every day soon paled; I bored even myself with my bland, dull entries.  My single recurring theme of going to school, coming home, eating supper, doing my homework, and watching t.v.  was so unimportant and uninteresting, I gave up on recording it.  It didn't help that I read The Diary of Anne Frank at the time and loved it; now there was a life worthy of recording.  My hum drum little life certainly diminished all the more. At that time, I knew nothing of just how interesting so-called ordinary domestic life can really be.  I don't know why I didn't think recording the loss of our dog, or my hospital stay, or squabbles with my friends, boys I liked, etc. would make for interesting reading.  I did not have the habit of writing for myself; I seemed to be thinking of an audience reading it and being judgemental somehow. 
I have grown to love diaries, notebooks and journals ever since. Now I use them for multiple purposes daily.  Two in my pile above are just for library books...one to note any books I might want to read and one to record those I actually read.  The smallest one goes with me everywhere to note anything that I find interesting whether it be sayings or recipes or whatever.  Another has all my passwords, lists of belongings, important numbers, etc.  I note all my needlework in another...I'm trying hard to be more diligent in noting the kind of wool or fabric used and where the pattern comes from, etc.  This is also my wish book where I note intriguing ideas and sketches for future projects.  With the start of this blog, I've added yet another book to the group...one for all my blog ideas and plans. There are so many!
Subsequently, my love of journals has become known in the family.  This is one my daughter brought me from Cuba; it is fashioned of homemade paper, hand sewn and has my name on the cover.  A perfect gift.