Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Blessings

And here, at home......

On Christmas Eve, enjoying Oyster Stew......

The little old dog, still interested in Christmas toys, with tail high and a little swagger!

Mama, and the Star of the Christmas Show

Playing second lead, - a deer festooned...

a granddaughter home with family...

and a sumptuous table...

Small ordinary blessings, dearly treasured!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Last Sunday in Advent

A fresh fall of snow and Caspar and I made new footprints as we investigated the early morning garden - the round flowers of the sedum carrying jaunty hats and the roofs of the birdhouses looking very alpine and Christmassy.

I took my white bell playing gloves to church and our Handbell ringers played the Angelus for a Prelude.

Part way through the opening hymn I looked up from the organ and my heart gave a nice comfortable little thump when I spied our 'furthest away' son and his Dear Wife, home for Christmas and sitting with Husband in the back row.

It was a lovely, musical service with bell music throughout - the sermon was fitting and thoughtful, musing on Mary's bravery and generosity in accepting the task the Angel brought her to fulfil. When we sang the last hymn I could hear those dear familiar male voices singing lustily from the back row.

When one gets ancient all time spent with family is precious, and so lunch and tea and an afternoon of visiting and listening to #1 son's wonderfully strong left hand accompaniment to the carols he played, brought us a lot of joy and love, (which is what the fourth Sunday in Advent is all about).
The day had a nice plus with a quick visit from Katie and Will, bearing gifts to and fro.....

I look forward to the next three days, without any commitments and free for us to prepare leisurely for Christmas Eve - a little bit of baking still to do, a scarf half knit, a batch of peanut brittle to make, a few presents still to wrap, but all to the glorious fragrances of Christmas and the sounds of carols and BoneyM.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Trip to the City

Over the hill and into the Okanagan on the last day before the Big Snow!

Similkameen ranch lands

A frosty forest beside the road to Yellow Lake.

The water shimmers as a skim of ice declares itself....

We round the corner, past the golf course where the camera catches the bright sun and the sparkle of the snow......

through Marron Valley and up the hill where we catch sight of lazy clouds floating above Okanagan Lake.

Beneath the clouds the lake is alive with puffs of steam..

And on the summery beach a light skiff of snow makes promises for a white Christmas.

We shop! What a bewildering array of gifts, - some beautiful scarlet faux flower decorations catch my eye - and so does the price! I put them back reluctantly and keep looking for presents...

We make a false start home, - have to go back to M & M's and to the Hearing Man. Eventually we turn down the beach road and up the hill. At the turnoff to the Similkameen I catch a nice picture of the hills where, in the springtime, I watch for black-eyed Susans.

As we turn the corner to go up Roadhouse Hill I loosen my boots, stretch my poor shopworn feet, put the camera back in my purse and go into nodding mode!

It was a lovely day to go to town......

Sunday, December 14, 2008

He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man.
   Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.
Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero)

I have been thinking a lot lately, - about life, about the glorious living of it, about life after, and about how long this life is perpetuated by those of us who remember, and those of us who care enough to preserve...

These thoughts first arose as I recalled my father on the 110th anniversary of his birth. All the small and intimate bits of knowledge that I have about him are in danger of being forgotten unless I can somehow convey them to those who will will live after me, and to those who have even a small portion of the love I felt/feel for him.

These thoughts were flitting through my mind as I prepared to do some baking for Christmas. I laid out the book of Small Town Secrets that the church ladies put together a few years back. After the submitted recipes and before the Hints and Tips, there is a section devoted to Nostalgia. Recipes that were copied from a book prepared by another generation of ladies who took pride in 'starting from scratch' and producing the lightest and the best!!

I came across Lucille Beecroft's recipe for Lemon Cheese for Tarts, and I remembered how perfectly top notch it was, - and then I remembered Lucille's small home, and the women she played bridge with - Margaret and Glady's and Agnes. All dear friends who are probably carrying on their game at some ethereal table. I smiled inside, and they were all alive for me again, - women I have loved.

Lemon Cheese for Tarts Lucille Beecroft

6 eggs, well beaten
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup butter

Mix well together and cook in a double boiler until thick. Makes about 1 quart.

Margaret Ritchie's Welsh Cakes

2 cups sifted flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tsps baking powder
pinch salt
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups currants softened in water and patted dry
2 eggs beaten
1 tsp vanilla

Mix dry ingredients and sift. Cut in butter to a coarse meal. Stir in beaten eggs and flavouring with a fork, making a soft dough. Knead 10 to 12 times. Roll out 1/3 inch thick.
Cut with cookie cutter and fry in electric fry pan (ungreased) at 340-360 degrees F - five to six moments each side. Serve buttered, with jelly or jam or cream cheese.

Margaret, with whom I have devoured these marvelous creations and who taught me that 'things will always be someway' - who was generous and kind and a friend our children loved. No problem passing on that love to future generations.

In my genealogy I came across a great-great Aunt, and the story told about her was that in the spring of the year she painted her front door yellow. And that she was the matriarch of a family called the 'Clean Clines'. And that her passion for cleaning fostered a love of the outdoors in her husband. Now I do not share that passion, but I know people whom I have loved who did/do, and so it is not hard for me to feel a certain wry fondness for this great-great Aunt of mine.

And as she is remembered with affection so does she live on???

Above the recipe for Lemon Cheese for Tarts is a recipe for Cheese Moons such as my pseudo Aunt Molly used to make. I remembered my mother telling me that if I wanted to learn how to iron with style I should get Molly to teach me. How do I convey to others an appreciation for this skill she had, her special friendship with my mother, the essence of her 1930's home? Who do I tell who will keep this memory alive?

Just musings......

Perhaps tomorrow I will make some Welsh Cakes. The grandchildren love them, and it would be nice to have Margaret's spirit close for Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

In memory of a kindly, loving, gentle Dad

Cline Thompson
Born December 13th 1898 in Roxborough County, Ontario
Died July 27th, 1970 in Edmonton, Alberta

Cline served in the First World War and was wounded at Cambrai, October 11th, 1918

After a year's recuperation he returned home to Calgary.

And then he met our mother, Dolly!

They were married on Christmas Day, 1923.....

And in the years that followed the memories they created for my sister and myself, and the devotion they felt for each other, have lingered with us and set a standard that has influenced our own lives, and those of our children, and our children's children, and their children after them.....

The past cannot be forgotten while memory lasts and love preserves.
Janette Hospital

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Early in the morning. The pure fresh snow that lifted my spirits and brought sheer delight to the little dog when we set off on our walk. He has a passion for eating snow, - I have a passion for the memories of snowy Christmases on the prairies, - the nostalgia for simpler times.

I struggle to keep focused on the deepest meaning of Advent, - the waiting, the anticipation and the preparation of the heart. I seem to fail miserably as I try to keep up with Christmas Past, when my energy was boundless and baking and wrapping and planning for the celebration filled me with enthusiasm.

I remember Christmases when things were much simpler. I remember when we didn't have the means to multi gift. In the early '60's we made toy soldiers out of detergent bottles, and knightly swords and shields from scraps of wood. The children were thrilled with them and the time we spent making them with dear friends added to the love and closeness of Christmas.

I am reminded of the need to be meaningful about every thing I do, and to keep my heart (and my disposition) sweet and loving, and patient.......

Check in after all the parcels are mailed and I'll let you know how things are progressing, - heartwise...

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Well, now that one can take a long breath of relief after the ridiculously insane Federal developments in Canada it is time once again to enjoy December.

We woke to a nippy morning, and even though the sun came out and shone its mighty heart through the windows, illuminating every bit of dust that had been hiding in the gloom of November the frosty day remained a reminder that Christmas is near.

Tonight I have a Scottish Fruit Cake in the oven - filling the house with that lovely scent of Christmas - it needs only the smell of the pine to mingle with it and bring the feeling of Christmas even closer.

At noon, the first of the Christmas luncheons, - this one to express our great appreciation for the volunteers who come and help us in the Church thrift shop.

Husband's calendar is full of singing dates with the Senior Group whose members warble for fun, and are available to entertain all sorts and conditions of merry makers at Christmas and through the year.

I have been playing 'Christmas with BoneyM' at every opportunity. 'Daughters of Zion' and 'When a Child is Born' make me a little giddy with plans for Christmas that are now beyond me. But at the end the gloriously happy strains of 'Joy to the World' just touch my heart and bring the most contented smile to my face. It has such incredible joyous energy!

I have been shopping, - the ribbons and bags and tissue paper are all organized, - the Christmas letter is written and awaits the added notes of love and friendship.

At Handbell practice all our pieces are sweet old carols,in deference to our new players, - but in church on Sunday I play some of the beautiful new winter and Advent carols as a prelude.

It is a simply a splendid and absolutely satisfying time of year for old romantics like me!!!!

And now the timer bell tells me the cake has been in the oven for two hours and I'm off to find a tooth pick to test it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Advent - the Season of Preparation and of Anticipation. (http:\\ )

The Season of Actively making a warm place in our hearts for the sweet Child who is coming.

I ponder on the Advent candles of Hope and Love and Joy and Peace and look for ways to be mindful of incorporating these Advent blessings into all the busy things that lie between me and Christmas Eve.

I remember a homemade Advent candle holder, a pine branch, with holes drilled in it that sat on the dinner table each Advent Sunday for all the years the children were at home.

The children took turns reading the Advent prayer and lighting the candles, and in a mother's hopeful effort to promote hope and love and joy and peace all through the week each child drew the secret name of another with the promise of doing some small good deed for that sibling each day, cheerfully and without a lot of fanfare!!!

I was never sure if the end results met with my hopes, but at least the seed was planted.

There was an Advent Calendar on the wall and the children counted down the days until Christmas with small doors that when opened displayed pictures of the nativity story, until at last, on Christmas Eve, the angels sang, the shepherds and the little lambs, the cows and the other animals knelt in adoration.

It is almost impossible to find an Advent Calendar now that doesn't promise treats behind each evening's door, - Santa and the Elves go gaily about their business and the true meaning of Advent, the preparation in our lives for the miracle of the Birth, is lost.

Or perhaps in some ways the mystery has disappeared, but the power of love remains in the community turkey dinners, the Christmas hampers, the gifts of sheep or hens or cows to those in needy countries, the many active ways that Hope and Love and Joy and Peace are distributed in the spirit of the Christ Child.

It is a comforting thought....

Sunday we will sing the old, familiar Magnificat, and in the following Advent Sundays perhaps a few discreet Winter Carols will creep into the music that sits on the organ. A way of spreading Joy and Love in the face of Tradition.

Advent Song
Lady, what songs are bending
The tall grasses of your mind,
What secret music whispers down your veins,
What wax-leaf ponderings, O Virgin Mary,
Waken our little shouts of expectation?
Our thoughts have lumbered down a treeless highway,
Have sputtered their heavy loftiness, have wept
Their protest. Now we hear the distant birdcall
Oh, dimly! but the woods have heard it well.
The stars are singing in their stupefaction,
The giddy little hills are clapping hands.
But Lady, what songs sway
The supple grasses of your thoughts,
What secret music whispers down your veins?
Glorious things are said about this city
Where the small citizen Christ moves in the lanes
Of so-brief arteried comfort; but what songs
Drift through this templed alabaster town?
We see the windows lighted, Virgin Mary,
City of God, by every hymn we raise
With chipped and broken voices, and our feeble
Vision guesses sacred silhouettes.
But when the little Seed fell in the furrow,
The warm and spotless furrow of your heart,
Tell us what pure songs stirred your delicate wonder,
What secret music whispered down your veins.

Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C. [late Abbess of the Colettine Poor Clare monastery in Roswell, New Mexico]

Friday, November 21, 2008

He addressed Charlie in Scots. "Whisht now, barn. Dinnae greet." Hush, child. Don't cry.
Charlie was calmed.
"You see?" said Jamie.
They drove off, in the green Swedish car, with the castle towering above them, and above that a sky from which the clouds had drawn back to reveal an attenuated blue, cold and pure.

And as I came to the end of the chapter I laid the book on my chest, closed my eyes, and with a smile on my face drifted off to sleep, contemplating what comforting pleasure it was to read Alexander McCall Smith.

I had worked all morning, baking and packaging the results for the Christmas Bazaar. Baking is not the snap it once was, say twenty years ago. It takes a little more concentration, and after a while my back aches a bit, and my legs complain bitterly.

But now it was done - lunch was over and it was time for a little rest. The small dog came alongside the couch, appealing to be lifted up. It is only in the last two weeks he has not been able to manage the small stool and then the step up to the couch. We have reached the same stage in life, and so I have a great understanding of his needs - I circle my arms around his back legs and his chest so that he feels secure and lift him tenderly up beside me. He snuggles into a pillow, and I pick up my book to lull me to sleep.

I napped a little, but then the wind came up, tearing around the house in wild abandon, and rattling the chimes and the hanging pots on the deck. It woke me, and so I read the last chapter of the book - 'The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday' - reluctantly. I hate to come to the end of a McCall Smith book, - it means I have to wait for the next one to be written.... His stories are so civilized, and his humour so wry and gentle. There is an enduring goodness underlying his writing, - his characters are not saints, but they recognize their failings and feel morally responsible for them. A sense of responsibility! It seems to be a quality that is diminishing, one that has lost its importance in keeping us clear of the jungle.

Well, before I take the book back to the library I will have the delight of reading once again the pages that I have marked with little slips of paper, lengths of wool or old grocery slips. And admiring once again Isabel's spirit, the quality of her life, and McCall Smith's unexpected twists and turns in the telling of this story.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Autumn Skies

Some years the autumn skies are wild. The sun comes up in a blaze of glory, shattering the dawn with gorgeous luminous shades of gold and scarlet. And in the evening the clouds appear to be reflecting a burning global fire that sets the whole world alight with wild, bold colours.

This year has been mild, and the skies benign. October was dry, - no storms to stir the clouds. The days were quiet and the valley bathed in gold as November approached.

And then their was the time of steady rain when the gardens drank gratefully, and the sky was lowering and gloomy, - no sun to touch the sulking clouds and brighten their spirits.

Eventually November slipped into a less sombre mood, and here is Saturday's splendid sunrise.

And Sunday's more subdued and pastel daybreak.

Before the show Casper and I went walking in the half light where the leaves and the orchard grasses glowed softly and spread a special kind of beauty to begin the day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Remembrance Day in a Small Town

Late afternoon on the 10th of November when Husband starts looking for the new can of Never Dull, brings out the old toothbrush, the sliding thing he slips under medals to protect the ribbons, and last of all the Medals and the small and precious silver wings.

While he shines and polishes (the spitting comes later when he does the shoes) I re-sew the Squadron Emblem on the pocket of his jacket.

This is all in deference to our slower pace, - time was when Remembrance Day morning was a whirlwind of activity, but we move slower now, and find it best to start a day early.

As we prepare, the loss of Husband's two brothers in France and in Holland is ever present in our thoughts.

And I think of my father who was wounded at Cambrai a month before the signing of the Armistice in 1918, and how the effects of that wound left him walking with a cane for the last twenty years of his life.

Shortly after ten o'clock on the 11th Husband is looking pretty handsome and spiffy for an old Vet. He has received phone calls, e-mails and loving hugs from children who know how important this day has always been to him, and never fail to express their love and understanding.

We leave the house, hoping to get a parking spot close to where Husband will take part in the Remembrance Day service by reading the Names of the Fallen and citing the Act of Remembrance.

There is a cold wind blowing. People begin to gather, well scarved and hatted -= many of them carrying wreaths. Friends and family stop to chat as we wait in the SUV for the first signs of the Parade. The crowd grows thicker (the owner of the town's grocery store says 400)

The Legion members who will conduct the service test the sound system and attend to last minute details around the Cenotaph.

There - we hear the music which accompanies the parade and led by red coated RCMP (no horses this year) the Colour Party, the Army Cadets, the Veterans who are still able to march, the Legion members, the Brownies and Guides and Cubs and Scouts, the Elks, the Royal Purples and other Service Club members all right turn on to the grass
and march across the park to the Cenotaph.

At one time the row of Veterans was long, and stretched for over a city block. Now there are only a handful in the Parade, a few more in wheelchairs and on crutches, but all intent on honouring those of their dead comrades who once, in the now distant past, were like brothers to them, still enshrined in their hearts.

The wind scatters leaves and causes collars to be raised. Everyone takes their place, and the service begins.

A wonderfully strong voice leads the singing of O Canada. There are prayers, and a poem written by a young student in the high school.

The Army Cadets who stand at each corner of the Cenotaph raise their Arms and Husband reads the Names of the Fallen Comrades.

The Bugler plays the Last Post.

The two minutes of silence is poignant, and heavy with emotion.

And after the Lament and Reveille,

The Act of Remembrance.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, or the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we shall remember them.

The tribute to the Fallen, the Laying of the Wreaths, the reading of a Remembrance poem and the singing of 'O God, our Help in Ages Past'.

The wind comes in gusts and chases the clouds around the sky, creating small gaps that allow a little sunshine through. Fingers and toes grow cold but people remain to the end, as they honour lost loved ones and those who died to make the present moments possible.

After 'The Queen' the parade marches off, - the crowd disperses and makes their way to the Legion Hall. Husband and I linger to talk to family and old friends.

When we arrive at the Hall we find a great long line-up of shivery people waiting for Hot Rums....

There is Beef Stew and wonderful warm Chili provided by the Legion.

Four long rows of tables are crowded with adults, - next door at the Elks Home the children have cookies and cocoa. People linger, talking, exchanging memories, up-dating news. Gradually the crowd thins. Some people go home, - others make their way downstairs for an afternoon of comradeship, old time tunes, dancing, a little Karaoke and a wonderful air of good fellowship.

During the afternoon the Legion Brass visit, the Mayor says a few words, - unfortunately there are no pipers this year, but often we are included in their rounds of various Remembrance Day services.

Years have passed since our first Remembrance Days in this town, when the Veterans were young and plentiful and glasses were raised to comrades just a few years dead.

In later years Husband and others took rum and comradeship during the afternoon to veterans confined to their homes, coming back if not three sheets to the wind, at least two and a half.....

Now the Veteran finds himself a little 'out of the loop,' - honoured, and thanked, - questioned and perhaps even held in awe in some cases, but very conscious of being of another generation. Our appreciation is great for the Legion members who make this Day so special, and for all who Remember....

Well, this is how it is in one small town, and probably to a great extent the happenings would be familiar in hundreds of other small towns.... a people expressing their sorrow, their love and their need to pay honour to the Valiant hearts. And in doing so gathering closer together.....

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Dream Angus (the lullaby -

Dreams to sell, fine dreams to sell,
Angus is here wi’ dreams to sell o
Hush my wee bairnie an’ sleep wi’ oot fear
Dream Angus has brought you a dream my dear

Can ye no hush yer weepin’
A’ the wee bairns are sleepin’
Birdies are nestling, an’ nestling’ the gither
But my bonnie bairn is waken yet

Hear the curlew cryin’ o
An’ the echoes dyin’ o
Even the birdies are cuddled up sleepin
But my bonnie bairn is weepin’ greetin’

Soon the lavrock sings his song
Welcoming the coming dawn
Lambies coorie doon the gither
Wi’ the yowies in the heather

Dreams to sell, fine dreams to sell,
Angus is here wi’ dreams to sell o
Hush my wee bairnie an’ sleep wi’ oot fear
Dream Angus has brought you a dream my dear

A lovely Scottish lullaby about Dream Angus, a young Apollo, a dispenser of dreams, a mythical Celtic god of Youth, Love, Delight and Wonder.

'Myth is a cloud based upon a shadow based upon the movement of the breeze.'

So begins a wonderful book by Alexander McCall Smith, written in his light and gentle hand. He varies the mythical tales of Angus, son of the god Draga and a water sprite, Boann, with vignettes of modern times.

Draga, the rather indifferent god, is enamoured of Boann, and desires to have a son by her. He immobilizes her husband until such time as the boy is born and he has spirited the child away from his hiding place in a basket hidden amongst the rushes.

Drago is not interested in having Angus around, and the child is brought up by another of his sons. He grows in beauty and grace, inspiring love in everyone he meets. Around his head he is accompanied by a bevy of small birds, - grace notes - who apprise him of danger as he dispenses his light and lovely dreams.

Alexander McCall Smith (whose writing I find so engaging - and endearing) intersperses a modern interpretation following each of the mythical stories of Dream Angus. Reading the book has helped to raise the melancholy clouds of these first gloomy days of November, and I can hardly wait to go to sleep to experience the sweet dreams that Dream Angus inspires......

At the end of the Introduction we find these words -

"Angus puts us in touch with our dreams - those entities which Auden described so beautifully in his Freud poem as the creatures of the night that are waiting for us, that need our recognition. But Angus does more than that: he represents youth and the intense, passionate love that we might experience when we are young but which we might still try to remember as age creeps up. Age and experience might make us sombre and cautious, but there is always an Angus within us - Angus the dreamer."

It touches a chord.....
Alexander McCall Smith

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Guy Fawkes Day

Please to remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot;
We know no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Holla boys! holla boys! huzza—a—a!

A stick and a stake, for king George's sake,
A stick and a stump, for Guy Fawkes's rump!
Holla boys! holla boys! huzza—a—a

Treason, intrigue and terrorism, - all running rampant in the early 17th century.

And four hundred years after this attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London, England still acknowledges the anniversary of the plot in traditional ways.

On the night that the conspirators were foiled and poor Guy Fawkes was found in the basement of Parliament with 36 barrels of gun powder, great bonfires were lit to celebrate the safety of the King. Still today, as we speak, (to paraphrase Hedy Fry) Guy Fawkes effigies are burning in England and the people are making merry with firecrackers.

Well, some of the people - many of them could very well be still celebrating the results of the American Presidential election.

The monarch still enters the Houses of Parliament only once a year for the State Opening of Parliament, and before this event the Yeomen of the Guards inspect the basement of Westminster for explosives. Things being as they are in the world today it is probably a good idea, apart from traditional reasons......

Having had an English mother this holiday was quite familiar to me in my childhood.

Does anybody else 'remember, remember the 5th of November'????

Alas, no bonfire here tonight. It has been a busy day, but a spectacularly beautiful one for the 5th of November. Tomorrow the month will once again indulge it's damp, morose mood...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

November Roses

As sweet as any other, though fragile and faded.
Spiced with valour, tattered with love, blessed with hope.

Next to the Poppy November's sweetest boutonniere.