New Beginnings 2016

A Happy New Year
Of magic and wonder and joy
Let the games begin!

Published in: on January 1, 2016 at 8:27 pm  Comments (5)  

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Published in: on December 30, 2015 at 11:43 pm  Comments (4)  

Some thoughts for the new year….

As 2015 comes to a close,
I reflect on the past, (but do not get lost in it)
Live precariously in the moment, (for better or worse, this too will pass)
And have hopes for the future (peace, security, love of my family and friends)

It is too easy yet not easy enough to take the advice to live in the moment—for the moment is fleeting and has its roots in the past and life in the future. My new mantra from this day forward is:

Live in the moment
Remembering it roots are in the past
And the future holds new seeds of hope.

Published in: on December 30, 2015 at 5:31 pm  Comments (7)  

Magic and Wonder

I still get that Christmas Eve feeling—a mixture of excitement and anticipation for the big day. Over the years my role has changed when it comes to Christmas—I am now the purveyor of all that is merry and bright—which is a heavy mantle to carry, and one I wear with trepidation mixed with the hope against hope that I will once again pull this one off.

I remember the days, when as a little girl, I would lie in my bed on Christmas Eve with visions not of sugar plums, but of what would await me the next morning. Santa always had a surprise waiting: one year it was a room full of balloons around the Christmas tree; another year I found a Rocket Crystal Radio in the Christmas tree. Wrapped in Christmas paper bearing my name, it was the best gift ever. And the fact that I could only listen to CKLW (a local station)  was not a problem at all. I raised the little antenna at the tip of the rocket, put the earphones in my ears, and I was off to another plant. Another year (before the rocket radio year) my sister and I found two “walking” dolls, not under the tree but in the dining room. They were three feet tall. Mine had blond hair and my sister Peg’s had auburn hair. You took them by their left hand and some kind of intricate mechanism allowed them to walk with you. We thought we had died and gone to heaven!

I have another vivid Christmas memory that I may have shared with you before. But it is worth repeating. I wrote it up afresh for my Writers’ Group Christmas Party and called it: Magic and Wonder. Here it is, edited a bit to fit in this column:

“I never wanted to stop believing in Santa. And to this day, I still do. But I remember when I believed in more than the spirit. I believed in a living, breathing, jolly old fellow who ate the cookies and milk my sister and I left out. I believed that he really did park his sleigh and his eight tiny reindeer and Rudolph on our roof, and that he found his way into our house even though our chimney led to an oil furnace and not an open fireplace.

I was convinced for years that Santa himself left the gifts under our tree and it is for one very specific reason. One year, my sister and I, ages 8 and 5, were nestled in our beds, and although we were not sure what visions of sugar plums were, we were imagining the magical things that awaited us the next morning. We were trying hard to fall asleep, but to no avail. Then we heard it. Jingle bells. And footsteps on the flat roof of our bedroom. We shared a double bed and huddled together in excitement, trying to douse our giggles, fearful that if Santa heard us, he would go away.

There was a stillness in the house. No one was stirring—not even the mice that made themselves often known in the walls of our bedroom. The television was off which was odd since my parents stayed up late. And my brothers were not saying a word. These things did not make sense but we were not going to question them. It was the magic of Christmas Eve. Santa was here. And he was going to leave our presents.

Getting presents at Christmas was really the only time we got toys in those days. We got clothes and books on other occasions, but toys only came at Christmas. We were not going to peak out our bedroom door because I am sure in our little minds that meant that Santa would vanish if we discovered him.

Finally, we heard footsteps on the roof again, a distant ho, ho, ho, and the sound of jingle bells. We did not move for a while, so caught up in the wonder. We hugged each other, and only in furtive whispers did we check with the other that what we thought had happened really happened.

Before falling asleep I noticed the sound of the television and the din of the rest of the family’s voices and wondered drowsily to myself where they had been. But I did not question it. And the next morning my sister and I had a wonderful tale to tell. Years later we learned that our older brothers, Jim and John, had climbed up on the roof, jingled some bells and pretended to be Santa. I wonder if they knew what a gift they had given their little sisters. The gift of magic and wonder.”

Published in: on December 23, 2015 at 8:43 pm  Comments (27)  

Songs of the Season

 

“I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas……………”
It is unusually warm for this time of year. And I for one, am basking in it. Don’t get me wrong—I love the white stuff at Christmas, but it is not necessary to have snow on the ground for me to get into the spirit. I think living in the southernmost part of Canada, we are used to green Christmases. In the last few years we have been experiencing real Canadian winters—winters that we can brag about getting through, but I am just as happy with the tropical winter we are having so far.

“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire……”
This is my all-time favourite Christmas tune, but never once in my life have I roasted chestnuts on an open fire. Or, to add to that—have I ever seen chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But little does that matter—it is the essence of the season, and who am I to question its validity. I have roasted chestnuts in my oven, marking them with the requisite X so they do not explode, and enjoyed the meat of the warm nut fresh out of the oven. That is close enough for me…

“Rocking Around The Christmas Tree…..”
I have never, not once, rocked around the Christmas tree—unless of course that means dancing in the vicinity of one, then yes, I have rocked around the Christmas tree. I remember this song from my youth—but even then it had been around for a while in those days when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. This song always brings me back to those innocent Coca-Cola, potato chip with onion dip parties that I was lucky enough to attend. No, I was not one of the cool kids. What was your first hint?

“And So This is Christmas…..”
I so do not want to be hard-hearted, but when this song was taken over with graphics that tore at my heart, it was ruined for me forever. I used to like this Beatles tune, but all I can see now when I hear the song are the sad and hungry faces of lost and sick children. Yes, it makes me want to help them. But it makes me so sad…..

“I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus……”
Am I too delicate a being or is this song slightly nightmarish? First of all, no one wants to see their mom kiss someone other than their dad. And second of all, if dad is Santa, then all belief in Santa is ruined. On so many levels, this song is just wrong. And speaking of wrong………..

“Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer….”
Okay, whose brilliant idea was this song? This is not funny. No one wants their grandma run over by a reindeer……. I would have been devastated if either of my grandmas (may they rest in peace) had a run-in with a reindeer.

“Jingle Bells, jingle bells……”
If I never hear the dog barking rendition of this little ditty again, it would be too soon. I know that last sentence makes no sense, but even thinking of the way this childhood favourite has been reduced to dribbling drivel makes me senseless………….

Good King Wenceslas
I love this unlikely Christmas carol just because of the King’s name. Every time I hear it sung Wenceslas is pronounced in a uniquely different fashion. By the way, it was written in 1853 by John Mason Neale and is about the King of Bohemia circa the 10th century. Who knew? (Source: http://www.carol.org.uk).

Silver Bells
This was my mom’s favourite Christmas carol, hence it is mine. Every time I hear it I can hear her sing it when she thought no one was around. She also whistled the tune beautifully (as did my dad.) Whistling seems to be a lost to our parents’ generation.

“All I Want For Christmas is You….”
Love the sentiment of this song and it reminds me of my favourite seasonal movie “Love Actually.” Just read a review of the movie by someone who hated it—they still couldn’t spoil it for me. Plot holes and all…….

Silent Night
The most sacred of all Christmas carols to my mind. So simple. So Christmas.

O Holy Night
The other most sacred of all Christmas carols. Less simple, but still so Christmas.

What is your favourite Christmas song or carol? Least favourite? Most sacred?

Published in: on December 15, 2015 at 4:41 pm  Comments (20)  

Stockings were Hung………

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there…………”~ C.C. Moore

The stockings in Clement C. Moore’s oft quoted poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” may have been hung by the chimney with care, but mine are hung in my dining room on the east facing window’s white shutters. These are not the stockings that are hung on Christmas Eve, but the ones that each member of my family cherishes.

Mine is red cotton, sewn by my Grandma Crawford. She embroidered my name on it and every year I note that there is a hyphen between Lou and Ann. A hyphen I have never used in recent or distant memory. I check out my birth certificate, and there it is, a hyphen between Lou and Ann. I wonder when it was lost. For all these years I have been spelling my name incorrectly. Alas, I will not be adding the hyphen now, but it does give one pause. Anyway, back to the stocking: it has a sweet fat elephant and fluffy bunny embroidered on it, and a little stain near the toe. I am not sure when the stain first showed itself, but it is now there for eternity.

Next to my red stocking is my husband John’s. It is red too, but of sturdier felt and cut with a pair of pinking shears. There is a white snowman with a green candy cane on the heel and an old fashioned candlestick in yellow near the top. The word NOEL is spelled out in green felt fitted diagonally across the stocking. His does not have his name on it, but it is a remnant of his childhood and one that couples with mine every year.

My sons’ first stockings hang on the window next to ours. Each is from their first Christmas. I know this because they each say “Baby’s First Christmas.” My oldest, Adam’s is made of white felt with a red banner on top. It features a cute panda bear festooned with a red ribbon and holding a traditional candy cane. It is cute as a button. Tyler’s is blue quilted and polka dotted cotton, topped with green trim and a bit of lace. There is a wide-eyed little boy opening a present featured in the middle of the stocking. It is cute as a button too.

It is tradition that these four stockings are lined up on the window shutters. They have hung there each year for about twenty some years. And while we live in this house I do not see the tradition being broken. They are reminders of our younger selves. The innocent selves who never had to ask if Santa was real. The selves that left cookies and milk out for Santa.

My Christmas tree is in what has become its traditional corner. I do not remember when we got it, but I think its carbon footprint has been erased. (It takes 22 years for an artificial tree to earn its environmental keep I learned from a radio program I was listening to while I was decorating). Once again, if I do say so myself, it looks wonderful. It is dripping with decorations that have their own history; draped with stars on a string; lit with multi-colour lights that look like gumdrops; and topped with a gold wicker star affixed with a little sign that says: “Memories are made every Christmas.”

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas at my house. After a few weeks of no seasonal decorations (I put away my pumpkins and other fall décor a couple of weeks ago), my house has come alive again with colours reserved for only this festive time of year. I love red and green and their Christmas cousins, gold and silver. And I must admit, a few other colours have joined the celebration—making my house a welcome hodge podge of colour with no discernible rhyme or reason.

I have dreamed of a Christmas co-ordinated beautifully with some type of theme: winter white; sparkly silver with accents of blue; and even black and gold. But the decorations I have amassed over the years do not keep to a colour scheme or theme—they are the embodiment of choices made at random and put together each year because memories are more important to me than harmonized decor.

Tradition lives on at my house. Sometimes it changes. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Published in: on December 7, 2015 at 2:12 pm  Comments (5)  

Visions of Sugar Plums

“…visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads….”
-Clement Clark Moore

It is the first week of December. Normally that would not be a sentence that would grab your attention. But with the mere mention of December, visions of sugar plums dance in our heads. Even if we are not quite sure what sugar plums are. Being the intrepid investigative reporter I am, I am going to reveal to you just what a sugar plum is, right after I look it up on the internet. Talk amongst yourselves for a minute, I will be back…..

Okay, I got a lot more information than I bargained for, so I will give you the definition of Sugar Plum in a nutshell. It is not a sugared plum. In fact the term has very little to do with the plum other than the fact that the first sugar plums were similar in size and shape to the fruit. I gleaned this information from an article written by Samira Kawash revealingly called “Sugar Plums: They’re Not What You Think They Are”. Kawash says that “the sugar plums of Christmas fantasy are in fact sugar” spun around a central seed of caraway or cardamom. The confections were popular in the 1800’s but have their origin in the 1600’s when the meaning was not sweet at all. If you had a mouthful of sugar plums a few centuries ago, you could be considered deceitful (meaning you spoke sweet words with a false heart).

Kawash likens the sugar plum to today’s jawbreaker, as the process of conjuring up the sweet treat is much the same, though certainly not as inspiring. When Clement Moore wrote “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, he used “sugar plum” to convey “the excitement, the pleasure, the childlike wonder of Christmas, all in the shape of a little sugar plum.” Kawash also explains that Tchaikovsky used the Sugar Plum to rule the Kingdom in the Nutcracker Ballet because it was the “universal signifier of everything sweet and delectable and lovely.”

Some of the other things that dance in my head at this time of year are not sweet and lovely: “to do” lists with unrealistic goals; stress derived from trying to find the perfect gift for everyone; and my eternal struggle with the turkey question: will I or won’t I take on the festive bird one more time.

I am learning, albeit slowly that the trimming of the “to do” list to essentials is vital to what is left of my mental health; that there is no truly perfect gift; and that a ham or prime rib stands in beautifully for my nemesis, the turkey.

Keeping the important traditions, while adding a few new is also what keeps Christmas from getting stale. I am thinking of moving my Charlie Brown Christmas tree from its usual corner to another spot this year—and depending on how loud the hue and outcry from my family is, I may just do that.

The original reason for the season is not lost during the preparations for gatherings of friends and family, but the warm feeling that comes from shared camaraderie is a wonderful and comforting thing during the winter days to come. I am ready to take on another Christmas season with visions of all that is “sweet and delectable and lovely.”

What are your “visions” for Christmas this year?

Published in: on December 2, 2015 at 2:45 pm  Comments (7)  

Homespun Intelligence

“Brighter! Make it brighter!” – Charles Dickens

We are all daunted by someone or something. Even Pulitzer prize winning writers like Michael Dirda. In his latest book, Browsings, a compilation of a year of columns he wrote for The American Scholar he said that he was “cowed by the prospect of succeeding William K. Zinsser” in the online column. He said that even in writing an introduction to his book, he could hear Dickens’ admonishing words: “Brighter! Make it brighter!” This only proves that writers are always trying to better themselves even if they are chosen as “one of the twenty five smartest people in the nation’s capital.” This was Washington of course, Dirda being American, but with some humbleness and I suspect a bit of tongue-in-cheek naughtiness, he wore the banner well, saying “you have to consider the competition.”

Zinsser, author of “On Writing Well” died in May of this year. He was one of my heroes so I understand Dirda’s dilemma in following in the footsteps of such a distinguished man of letters (and I could not mean this more literally). But Dirda is not a shrinking violet when it comes to writing, being a regular writer for the New York Review of Book and the Washington Post, author of numerous books, and receiver of many awards. Yet he keeps it all in perspective.

Fellow writer Steven Petite (author of Concept of Home) says that Dirda’s reviews “are oftentimes personal anecdotes about his life, and he speaks in the first person at times which is not common for highbrow literary critics….” He is passionate about the written word, but uses it to convey not just intelligent thought (I feel smarter after reading him), but intelligent thought in a way that does not make the reader feel…..uh….stupid. Having read a few books that have made me feel stupid (not illuminated, not enlightened, not more informed) I really appreciate his “way with words”.

Dirda says that a writer’s greatest challenge is “tone.” He says that he likes “a piece to sound as if it were dashed off in fifteen minutes—even when hours might have been spent contriving just the right degree of airiness and nonchalance.” His wish to appear as if he just dashed off a piece of writing is my fear. Because I am not as well-established as he is, I fear that people think I dash these columns off in fifteen minutes (which I guess goes back to the writer’s ever petulant inner voice which is never kind).

My dream is to someday compile my columns into a book. There, I have said it. Aloud or as aloud as the written word will permit. Alas, I have voiced this wish before somewhat timidly and tentatively and been met with a variety of responses. Many have been encouraging, yet the one that comes back to haunt me is the person who said, “Well, don’t you have to be famous before a compilation of your columns would be published?” My response to this person was merely a raised eyebrow, although my first instinct was to punch him in his prominent belly really, really hard. A girl can have her dreams can’t she? Dashing them is ill-advised. (Now where did I put that Pulitzer prize?)

“Done is Better Than Good”

I declare this to be my new procrastination-battling mantra. They say that some procrastinators are perfectionists, and because of this trait they do not do what needs to get done. I find myself in this rut and I want to dig myself out of it, and if the pragmatic words: “done is better than good” help me achieve a win over my battle with delaying tactics, postponing the inevitable, and stalling strategies, then I am believer.

Not a believer in the true sense, in that I really would like everything I do to be “good”, but I am willing to employ “done is better than good” to some areas of my life (like dusting and vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom). I came across these wise words in Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book “Big Magic”. Her mother gave her this advice with the explanation that, “There are only so many hours in the day, after all. There are only so many days in a year. There are only so many years in a life. You do what you can do as competently as possible within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go.” Gilbert’s mother felt that “mere completion is a rather honourable achievement in its own right.”

I agree. Now all I have to do, is “ just do it”. (Sorry for the steal, Nike.)

Published in: on November 17, 2015 at 4:49 pm  Comments (3)  

No One Forgets

It is the 100th Anniversary of the poem “In Flanders Fields” composed by John McCrae. It is a poem many of us learned by heart when we were in school. If you are like me, at the time we recited this ode to those who fought and fell, it did not necessarily touch us. We did not understand the significance. It touches me now. And I deeply feel its significance.

Dr. McCrae is said to have written and abandoned the poem before he was finally convinced to submit it for publication. It was published in Punch, a London based magazine on December 8, 1915.

McCrae’s poem is recognized as providing us with the poppy that we wear proudly each November in honour of Remembrance Day. I no longer know the poem written in the form of a *rondeau off by heart. But when I reread the poem it brings to the fore the essence of Remembrance Day. I particularly find the second verse haunting and discomforting. McCrae truly “hits home” in his description of those who were once alive, now dead:

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

An explanation (in of all places, Wikipedia, which I should give more respect as I use it all the time) of the poem and McCrae’s “preoccupation with death and how it stands as the transition between the struggle of life and the peace that follows” comforts me to an extent. Apparently McCrae’s poem not only “speaks of …sacrifice”, it also serves as a “command to the living to press on.”

And so I shall “press on”, having been given that gift by all those who have served and continue to serve our country. I am much encouraged that the youth of today understands the sacrifices made for our freedom that I perhaps was oblivious to when I was younger. Proving this point is as easy as going to the website http://www.legion.ca and perusing the many winners in their poster, poem, and essay contests commemorating the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.

I was made aware of one such poem by a story in the local daily. A student from Windsor earned national recognition from the Royal Canadian Legion for her poem called “The Soil at Vimy Ridge”. Timely too, as the Battle will be commemorating its 100th Anniversary next year. As McCrae’s poppies were the spectators of the crosses row on row, the soil in Ines Fielder’s poem was a participant. The poem is written from the perspective of the soil upon which the battle was fought. Here is the last verse in her poem:

I am the soil at Vimy Ridge.
A witness to the war,
Some may say they’ve seen it all
But I have seen much more.

The soil sees all, feels all, and remembers all. The following verse is the beating soul of the poem:
I’ve felt the boots of twenty thousand
March towards their slaughter,
Sacrificing everything for
Wives and sons and daughters.

Pausing for a few moments on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:00 a.m. is not enough. I beseech you to go to this website and read the stories and the poems and enjoy the winning posters. They will give you a new perspective and a keen sense of the way our youth is carrying on “in remembrance.” They are not forgetting.

*a rondeau is “a short poem of fixed form, consisting of 13 or 10 lines on two rhymes and having the opening words or phrase used in two place as an unrhymed refrain” {p. 1243 of The Random House Dictionary of the English Language}. I hope this clears it up for you. It is still murky as mud to me.

Published in: on November 11, 2015 at 11:26 am  Comments (2)  

Magical Habits

My newspaper column this week: had a little trouble coming up with a topic so did some book reviews.

Books I Am Reading That You May Enjoy

1. Big Magic

I believe in magic. It is not like I have proof that there is magic in the sense of the paranormal, but I do believe in mysterious things, miraculous things, enchanting things, and all things charming and charmed. And when a book has the word Magic in its title, I just have to give it a whirl. Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love) has just written a book called “Big Magic”. She is convinced that “the creative process is both magical and magic.”

When she refers to magic, she means it literally even though she admits that it is “decidedly unscientific” and not an “especially modern or rational way of seeing things.” She unabashedly believes in “magical thinking” and says that when she refers to magic she means “Like, in the Hogwarts sense. I am referring to the supernatural, the mystical, the inexplicable, the surreal, the divine, the transcendent, the otherworldly.”

She thinks that we all possess this magic and that “if you’re alive you are a creative person”. While the “guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts only belong to a chosen few” she strongly feels that “we are all the chosen few.”

Her definition of a creative person is a “maker” and that we are all descended from tens of thousands of years of “decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem solvers and embellishers”.

Why should you read this book? Because it expands on the definition of creativity to include all of us. And to me, that is magical.

2. Memoir

As a genre, I love memoir. I love to read about what people believe are things important enough in their life to share. And, I love to see just how they share them. I am also intrigued with how they deal with the TRUTH. While the truth may set you free, it can also get you in trouble. In the “Art of Memoir” by Mary Karr, she wrangles with the truth, and I think in an arm wrestle she would win.

She does not believe that Truth should be wrangled with and says that when she reads a Memoir, which she considers non-fiction (read: telling the real story), she does not want to wonder what the truth is. She says, “It niggles the hell out me never to know exactly what parts the fabricators (she does not bequeath them with the pure term memoirist if she feels they do not deserve the title) have fudged.”

She believes in the power of the Memoir (having written three herself), and says that writing a memoir “wring(s) some truth from the godawful mess of a single life.”

Why should you read this book? I will let Karr answer. She says that the act of bringing “oneself to others makes the whole planet less lonely.”

3. Habits

I like Gretchen Rubin. She writes books that she hopes will help people. And she is very sincere. Author of “The Happiness Project” and “Happy at Home”, her latest tome is called “Better Than Before”. In her latest offering she wants to help us master the “habits of our everyday lives.” Habits that make our lives flow; habits that once established free us up for living.

On the surface, habits seem dull, but in reality, they make way for the less mundane. Rubin believes that “all of my work on habits and happiness (is) meant to help us construct, as much as possible….everyday life with deep, loving relationships and productive satisfying work; everyday life with energy, health, and productivity; everyday life with fun, enthusiasm, and engagement, with as little regret, guilt, or anger as possible.”

Why should you read this? Again, I will let the author answer. Rubin says: “Habits make change possible by freeing us from decision making and from using self-control.”

Any books you would like to add to the list?

Published in: on November 4, 2015 at 2:42 pm  Comments (8)  
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