Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other. 
Author Unknown

As the year draws to a close I must admit that my 2011 resolutions fared rather poorly over the past 365 days -- but the up-side of failure is that my 2012 resolutions are easier to write. ;-)

Happy New Year!
May All Your Resolutions Come True!

Another fresh new year is here . . .
Another year to live!
To banish worry, doubt, and fear,
To love and laugh and give!

This bright new year is given me
To live each day with zest . . .
To daily grow and try to be
My highest and my best!

I have the opportunity
Once more to right some wrongs,
To pray for peace, to plant a tree,
And sing more joyful songs!
William Arthur Ward, American author (1921-1994)

Love and Marriage Celebrated

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.
Mignon McLaughlin, American author (1913-1983)

Erin and Kyle ended 2011 with a love note at their lovely wedding presided over by a wonderfully spirited priest who commented, "Blessed are the married, for they have a partner they can trust to lead them in new directions to become a better person." Words to ponder in one's heart.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Warmth on a Snowy Day

If a dog jumps in your lap, it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing, it is because your lap is warmer.
Alfred North Whitehead, English mathematician and philosopher (1861-1947)

As snow flurries created a winter scene outside the window, I put on a sweater and worked at my sewing machine while Cat curled up on the cotton quilt batting beside me. Everyone was content.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It's Snowing!

Kindness is like snow - it beautifies everything it covers.

The first snow enchants, particularly when it falls on the opposite side of a thick glass pane and the warmth of a fire and friends keeps one glowing inside.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Day After

Fatigue is the best pillow. 
Benjamin Franklin

Handsome and I are spending a quiet evening together in very similar positions. Sweet dreams. zzzzzzz . . .

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day!

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach."
'Scrooge' in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

As we gathered around S-I-L's table to a turkey dinner everyone acknowledged that we are blessed to have such a feast before us and to have such a family to share it with.

"And God bless us all, every one."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

♬ O Holy Night! ♬

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise us,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
"O Holy Night" English lyrics by John Sullivan Dwight, 1855

From our home to yours, wherever you are in the world,
May the Hope, Love, Peace and Joy of Christmas
Lift your heart and know that you are blessed.

Merry Christmas!

O Holy Night!
Music by Adolphe Charles Adams; Original French lyrics by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure; English lyrics by John Sullivan Dwight
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hears the angels' voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine. 
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend! 
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise us,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Friday, December 23, 2011

♬ Peace on Earth, Good Will to All ♬

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
Edmund Sears, Unitarian parish minister (1810-1876), in "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"

"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" has been a favourite carol through Christmases past, yet I just learned that the carol's third and fourth stanzas are often omitted, particularly by the Methodist, Lutheran and Anglican churches.

Questioning what our church council authorizes, I checked out the United Church of Canada's hymnals on Dad's desk. The Hymnary, published in 1930, posts all five stanzas of Edmund Sears' original composition written in 1849; but something happened between 1930 and 1971 when The Hymn Book was published because the fourth stanza describing the suffering of personal hardship is absent. I suspect this lacuna results from negotiations between the United and Anglican Churches of Canada that co-published The Hymn Book.

Tomorrow night at church, I will check out Voices United, our current hymnal published in 1996, to see if the fourth stanza has returned. I hope so because, to my humble thinking, both stanzas are meaningful to our present world full of conflict and economic hardship and they need to be sung to imprint on our hearts the messages of peace and hope, which we can all help build.

May we hear the love song which angels sing.
May peace and hope fill our hearts.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I could not find a complete rendition of the carol, as Sears wrote it, on YouTube but I did find the incomparable Mahalia Jackson ringing out the angels' song:

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Original lyrics by Edmund Sears (1849)
It came upon a midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.
This video provides a history of the writing of the carol:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

♬ ’Twas in the Moon of Wintertime ♬

Have courage, you who are human beings: Jesus, he is born
The okie spirit who enslaved us has fled
Don't listen to him for he corrupts the spirits of our thoughts
Jesus, he is born

The okie spirits who live in the sky are coming with a message
They're coming to say, "Rejoice!
Mary has given birth. Rejoice!"
Jesus, he is born
"Huron Carol", music and lyrics by Jean de Brébeuf, Jesuit missionary (1593-1649)

A long, long time ago when I was in grade school -- at a time when music and art were considered important subjects for producing thoughtful citizens -- I learned a truly Canadian carol and the homeland's oldest Christmas song: "'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime" or "Huron Carol".  A Jesuit missionary living among the Huron/Wendat people on Georgian Bay, Jean de Brébeuf, composed a carol that set the Nativity within their culture and wrote the lyrics in their language. Some 300 years later, in 1926, Jesse Edgar Middleton wrote the English lyrics that I learned in school. Some critics label the carol 'patronizing' but that is certainly not how it was taught to me. The carol is imbued with reverence for the Nativity and the Native culture.

Notwithstanding the policies of our national government, I believe most Canadians also revere nature and enjoy being in her embrace. Several hundred people came out tonight for a walk in the woods to see Tiffany Falls illuminated by the City of Waterfalls volunteers.

It was a spectacular sight, full of Christmas spirit(s).

Actor and singer Tom Jackson, a Canadian Métis, sings "'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime" in his annual Christmas fund-raising concerts:

’Twas in the Moon of Wintertime (Huron Carol)
Lyrics by Jesse Edgar Middleton (1926)

’Twas in the moon of wintertime,
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wondering hunters heard the hymn:
Jesus your King is born,
Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.
Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapped His beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high:
The earliest moon of wintertime
Is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on
The helpless Infant there.
The chiefs from far before Him knelt
With gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
O children of the forest free,
O seed of Manitou,
The holy Child of earth and Heav’n
Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant Boy,
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy.
It seems that Middleton took some (OK, a lot of) liberty in his translation of Brébeuf's original lyrics. Here Bruce Cockburn sings the carol as Brébeuf wrote it, in the now near-extinct Huron language, thanks to help of University of Sudbury linguist John Steckley who also provided an accurate English translation below.

Iesus Ahatonnia ("Jesus, He is Born")
Lyrics translated by John Steckley (2009)

Have courage, you who are human beings: Jesus, he is born
The okie spirit who enslaved us has fled
Don't listen to him for he corrupts the spirits of our thoughts
Jesus, he is born

The okie spirits who live in the sky are coming with a message
They're coming to say, "Rejoice!
Mary has given birth. Rejoice!"
Jesus, he is born

Three men of great authority have left for the place of his birth
Tiscient, the star appearing over the horizon leads them there
That star will walk first on the bath to guide them
Jesus, he is born

The star stopped not far from where Jesus was born
Having found the place it said,
"Come this way"
Jesus, he is born

As they entered and saw Jesus they praised his name
They oiled his scalp many times, anointing his head
with the oil of the sunflower
Jesus, he is born

They say, "Let us place his name in a position of honour
Let us act reverently towards him for he comes to show us mercy
It is the will of the spirits that you love us, Jesus,
and we wish that we may be adopted into your family
Jesus, he is born


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

♬ Ring Christmas Bells ♬

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’
"Christmas Bells" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet (1807-1882), written on December 25, 1864

Longfellow's words struck a taut chord in my heart as I watch the events from my beloved Egypt. The assembly of women in Tahrir Square and the peaceful students sitting on the street in front of the army give me some hope of peace triumphant. Hope lights the darkness.

Bells became this post's theme because today I rang my bell for the last time this yuletide. Having completed my volunteer assignment with the Salvation Army's Christmas kettle campaign, I will now retire my bell and Santa hat. Bells lift the heart and bring a smile . . . perhaps they ring hope into our hearts.

Little did I know that this evening's Christmas carol would turn out to be three songs in one. I am not highlighting the beautiful carol penned by Longfellow, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". Instead, in honour of the cheery spirit of bells, I turned to "Carol of the Bells". In its original form, it is a pre-Christian Ukrainian folk chant that was re-worked as a New Year's carol in 1904 by Mykola Leontovych (1877-1921) entitled "Shchedryk" (meaning 'bountiful'). Then in 1921, American composer Peter J. Wilhousky adapted Leontovych's work into "Carol of the Bells" and wrote the English lyrics that are, in fact, entirely unrelated to the original song. Two decades later, Minna Louise Hohman created alternative lyrics to emphasize the Nativity. The things you learn when you keep a blog! In any case, I enjoy all three songs.

Carol of the Bells
Lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky
Ring Christmas Bells
Lyrics by Minna Louise Hohman
Hark how the bells,
sweet silver bells,
all seem to say,
throw cares away
Christmas is here,
bringing good cheer,
to young and old,
meek and the bold.
Ding dong ding dong
that is their song
with joyful ring
all caroling.
One seems to hear
words of good cheer
from everywhere
filling the air.
Oh how they pound,
raising the sound,
o'er hill and dale,
telling their tale.
Gaily they ring
while people sing
songs of good cheer,
Christmas is here.
Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas,
Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas.
On on they send,
on without end,
their joyful tone
to every home.
Ding dong ding... dong!

Ring Christmas bells, merrily ring
Tell all the world, Jesus is King
Loudly proclaim with one accord
The happy tale, welcome the Lord

Ring Christmas bells, sound far and near
The birthday of Jesus is here
Herald the news to old and young
Tell it to all in every tongue

Ring Christmas bells, merrily ring
Tell all the world, Jesus is King
Ring Christmas bells, toll loud and long
Your message sweet, peal and prolong

Come all ye people join in the singing
Repeat the story told by the ringing
Ring, ring, ring, ring
Ring, ring, ring, ring

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

♬ I'll be Home for Christmas ♬

For centuries men have kept an appointment with Christmas. Christmas means fellowship, feasting, giving and receiving, a time of good cheer, home.
W. J. Tucker (1839-1898) in "Pulpit Preaching" 

This year I'll be home for Christmas -- unfortunately the Time Traveller isn't so lucky.

So many talented singers have recorded the song that captures the wistful sentiments of those far away from loved ones at this special time. Here is the first version recorded in America in wartime 1943.

I'll be Home for Christmas
Composed by Walter Kent, James Kimball (Kim) Gannon, and Buck Ram

I'll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.

Monday, December 19, 2011

♬ Nativity Carol ♬

Sleep, baby, sleep! The Mother sings:
Heaven's angels kneel and fold their wings.
Sleep, baby, sleep!

Sleep, baby, sleep! The shepherds sing:
Through heaven, through earth, hosannas ring.
Sleep, baby, sleep!

"A Christmas Lullaby", John Addington Symonds (1840-1893)

On Christmas eve 19 years ago, on my first Christmas away from family, I was introduced to John Rutter -- not in the flesh, alas, but rather in the form of a polycarbonate plastic disc entitled "Carols from Clare". As the Director of Music at Clare College, Cambridge, Rutter produced this ethereal CD. One of my 24 favourites on the disc is Rutter's own beautiful composition, a gentle lullaby called "Nativity Carol", performed here by the Kings College Choir, Cambridge.

Nativity Carol
Music and lyrics by John Rutter

1. Born in a stable so bare, born so long ago;
Born 'neath light of star He who loved us so.

Far away silent He lay, born today, your homage pay,
(For) Christ is born for aye, born on Christmas Day.

2. Cradled by mother so fair, tender her lullaby;
Over her Son so dear angel hosts fill the sky.

3. Wise men from distant far land, shepherds from starry hills
Worship this Babe so rare, hearts with warmth He fills.

4. Love in that stable was born into our hearts to flow;
Innocent dreaming Babe, make me Thy love to know.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

♬ Angels We Have Heard on High ♬

in Ex-cel-sis De-o!

Tonight the choir and the congregation raised their heavenly, and not so heavenly (speaking for myself), voices in a candlelight Christmas service bringing back memories of a small band of friends attending Christmas eve service in Bethlehem when each of the gathered nations sang verses of the traditional French carol "Les Anges dans nos Campagne" in their mother tongue. Most of us didn't understand the verses sung in a foreign language but when it came to the chorus the whole congregation raised the church rafters. It was amazing to experience a sense of universal joy, one that transcended all man-made borders. Divine.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is perhaps the closest human approximation of the heavenly host:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

♬ Here We Come A-Wassailing ♬

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.
Traditional carol (c. 1850)

We decorated more cookies today to serve after tomorrow's carol service at the church. "Here We Come A-Wassailing" was composed about 1850, just a few years after Dickens' published A Christmas Carol. Both convey the stark economic realities of the times -- not too different from today, unfortunately.

I just learned on Willym's eclectic blog that I read regularly, Willy or Won't He?, that the poor children going door-to-door caroling, as brought to life in "Here We Come A-Wassailing", carried staffs with greenery tied to their tops as symbols of rebirth and they would bless the house in exchange for food, drink and maybe a few small coins donated by their well-off neighbours. The carol is another reminder to look after those less fortunate with compassion and good will.

There are numerous renditions of the carol on YouTube but here is a rare one with children singing:

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year!

And I have another new (for me), delicious recipe to share:

Spiced Shortbread with Brown Butter Icing
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

2 cups flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp ginger
1 c. butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Combine flour, spices and powdered sugar together in a bowl.
2. Chop butter into pieces and drop into the bowl and cut into the flour mixture until the butter is the size of peas. Add extract and mix.
3. Knead the batter for a few minutes then divide into thirds and form into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 20-30 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 375°.
5. Roll batter out between two sheets of wax paper to about 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out cookie shapes using cookie cutters.
6. Place cookies on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. To reduce chances of air bubbles, prick the cookies with a fork.
7. Bake for about 8 minutes but check the cookies continuously after 6 minutes because you want to remove them just as their edges turn a pale gold. Do not wait for the tops to look golden or you will have overcooked cookies. :-(
8. Frost with brown butter icing when cooled completely.

Brown Butter Icing

1/4 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
3-5 tbsp very hot water
1/2 tsp vanilla

1. Cook butter until it browns.
2. Add sugar, vanilla and enough hot water to reach a nice spreading consistency.
3. Pipe a thin line of the frosting around each cookie. Then slightly thin the rest of the icing with two or more tablespoons of water and spoon some within the outline. It will "flow" across the cookie and you can use a toothpick to guide the icing into small places.
4. Leave plain, or sprinkle some cinnamon sugar on top, or decorate with sprinkles and other good things.

Source: Melanie on The Sisters Cafe blog. I halved the original recipe and have altered Melanie's directions slightly to reflect my experience.

Friday, December 16, 2011

♬ Mince Pies ♬

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
     Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
     They danced by the light of the moon,
            The moon,
            The moon!
     They danced by the light of the moon.
Edward Lear, English writer of nonsense (1812-1888) in "The Owl and the Pussy Cat"

Christmas = mincemeat to my mind. My family's Christmas dinner, since I can remember, includes a mincemeat pie, slightly warmed and served with a scope of vanilla ice cream. It wasn't until I went off to grad school and a yuletide social hosted by a British couple that I learned about the combination of mince pies ("tarts" in Canadian English) and mulled wine and I was immediately hooked. What a wonderful way to celebrate the season with gathered friends. I will be making the Christmas pie soon, but today I made sugar cookies with mince filling for an upcoming Christmas concert at the church. I'm hoping they will be as tasty as they look.

This YouTube video presents lots of ideas for mince pies to a reggae beat:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

♬ Let it Snow! ♬

This is what I have heard
at last the wind in December
lashing the old trees with rain
unseen rain racing along the tiles
under the moon
wind rising and falling
wind with many clouds
trees in the night wind.
W. S. Merwin, American poet

I am certainly building quite a repertoire of rainy images, thanks to the weather. Some tell me, "At least you don't have to shovel it" but I would still prefer the white, fluffy stuff; that's why I sing croak out, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

♬ Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas ♬

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, 
Let your heart be light.
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.
Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane (1943) 

I was very lucky today because the local "Christmas" radio station (playing only Christmas songs all month long) set up a booth across from my Salvation Army kettle and their speakers were pointed straight at me, so for three hours I was cheered by all the old favourites. I just had to be careful not to embarrass myself by singing aloud or be-bopping to the tunes. ;-) The music kept a smile on my face, which is good for donations, and the hours flew by.

Judy Garland's original version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from the movie "Meet Me in St. Louis" is arguably the most beautiful version of the song, yet it lacks the cheer one would expect in a yuletide melody. Judy is so emotive that her song makes me want to weep, yet I appreciate it because it reminds me that there are many people who are not joyful this time of year. I've noticed that several churches are holding "Blue Christmas" services for those who are struggling with illness or loss at this special time, surrounding them with prayers, music and hope, and with the message that Christmas is about light coming into, and dispelling, the darkness.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

♬ The Holly and the Ivy ♬

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.
Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.

I had some fun this evening merging two photos: one of the holly growing outside a local vintner and one of our family creche. As an aside, yes, we include the baby Jesus before December 25th, although our minister holds the view that the baby should not appear until Christmas day. In any case, today's photo allows me to share one of my favourite carols from King's College Cambridge, epitomizing "sweet singing in the choir."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

♬ Angels' Sign ♬

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
Star and angels gave the sign.
Christina Rossetti, English poet (1830-1894)

It's magical to come into a dark house lit only by the lights of the Christmas tree. When eyes fall upon the heavenly angel the heart sings.

The little angel that appears in Ali Matthews' music video is delightful.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Divine Cacao

Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea and universal medicine.
Antonio Lavedán, Spanish army surgeon quoting Geronimo Piperni in his book Competing Uses, Abuses, Virtues and Properties of Snuff, Coffee, Tea and Chocolate (1796)

When a light snow covers the ground outside and the down-filled coats, scarves, and mittens are returned to the closet, a cup of hot chocolate is divine; some even say medicinal.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Something Old, Something New

We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

A research road trip for Mom took us to the town of Thorold. I was drawn to this building by its cupola, which seemed to me to be a cross between a lighthouse and a church bell tower. In fact, it is a combination bell tower and hose tower for the town's old fire hall, built in 1848. Having never heard of hose towers, I learned that their purpose was to provide a high hanging space for drying out the canvas water hoses after a fire so that they wouldn’t rot. Fascinating.

Neither of us had ever had a reason to visit Thorold before, much to our detriment because from our brief look today it seems like quite an interesting place with 46 designated historical buildings on the Heritage Thorold website. Certainly another road trip is needed to explore the town further and to see the fire hall's new roof.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's All Attitude

A cloudy day is no match for a sunny disposition.
William Arthur Ward, American author (1921-1994)

It rained again today . . . but today I found beauty in the water washing down the windshield.

Monday, December 5, 2011


We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.
Thornton Wilder, American playwright and novelist (1897-1975)

It has been a gray, rainy day. Several times today, I looked out the window and complained about the gloom. I've had little energy and even less positive spirit. The Sun had set and the rain continued when I opened an email sent to me by a friend and watched this beautiful video by Louie Schwartzberg; and I was reminded that I am responsible for making a good day. I've made a promise to myself to try harder tomorrow.
"Let everyone that you meet on this day be blessed by you; just by your eyes, your smile, your touch; just by your presence. Let the gratefulness overflow into blessings all around you. Then it will really be a good day."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

♬ Hope is a Star ♬

Hope is a star that shines in the night,
leading us on till the morning is bright.
When God is a child there's joy in our song.
The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong,
and none shall be afraid.
Lyrics by Brian Wren

My heart swelled as the children of the youth choir rang the hand bells as they sang the Advent hymn "Hope is a Star". That "none shall be afraid" is my fundamental prayer.

This young flutist from Strathroy United Church performs the hymn in a YouTube video.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Anew Anew

With each sunrise, we start anew.

I had my nose stuck in the morning newspaper, hardly aware of my morning coffee, when Dad called out from upstairs to look out the window to see the rainbow of a sunrise. Such a dawn deserves we make the most out of the day!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Wonder

It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty founder was a child himself.
Charles Dickens, English novelist (1812-1870)

S-I-L has an amazing collection of nutcrackers that come out at Christmas and, whether it's their gold-braided finery, or their doll-like natures, or lingering memories of Tchaikovsky’s magical ballet of princes and princesses, I cannot help but smile when I turn a corner or climb the stairs and come face-to-face with one . . . or two . . . or ten. ;-) Thank goodness tender morsels of childhood wonder remain in our old hearts.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Greatest Gift

What greater gift than the love of a cat?
Charles Dickens, English novelist (1812-1870)

Cat is the greatest gift so I don't need anything else under the Christmas tree with glittery wrapping paper tied up in pretty bows. Cat is heaven-sent and God help anyone who tries to put a bow on her. She is purrfect!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happy Hearts

Christmas cookies and happy hearts, this is how the holiday starts.

With the exception of Grandma's shortbread, I think our Christmas baking nears completion.  Today's cookies are a year late in reaching their destination but I'll blame Canada Post for the delay. ;-)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cherished Baubles

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a family all wrapped up in each other.
Burton Hillis (a.k.a. William E. Vaughan), American columnist and author (1915-1977)

Boxes of Christmas ornaments came up from the depths of the basement storage area today. It's impressive that so many of these fragile balls can still play an important role in decorating the family Christmas tree considering that they practically match me in age. Being a kid at heart, I'm a big fan of colourful and shiny baubles and family tradition imbues these ones with something close to sanctity as they have come to symbolize enchantment, happiness, and familial love.

After decorating the tree the weekend's vino-culinary indulgence continued, thanks to the Toute Sweet shop that presented each participant in the "Wrapped Up in the Valley" event with a gift of 12 Belgian chocolate truffles filled with a spiked ganache. So far my favourite is one filled with the 2008 Cabernet Syrah of Kacaba Vineyards & Winery . . . but I've only just begun. ;-)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Final Grape

Wine is bottled poetry.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish poet and author (1850-1894)

Rain drizzled on our final day of "Wrapped Up in the Valley 2011" but it only served to wet our appetite for visiting the final wineries on our passport. In all, we sampled wines at 22 establishments and I'm fairly certain that we returned home with more than that number of bottles to be enjoyed over the year to come.

As we sipped the vintages we savoured creative pairings, such as this duck confit on a bed of squash bruschetta atop cranberry foccacia with Peninsula Ridge Estates' Top Bench Red 2009. I'm not sure that I will be able to replicate that one, but I'm looking forward to receiving the recipe for the Apple Cider Buttertart Square created by the chefs of the August Restaurant to pair with Fielding Estate Winery's 2010 Chardonnay. Like last year, the offerings included some exceptional morsels.

I raise a toast to the vintners of Twenty Valley and their Wrapped Up event! Bravo!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mirth and Spirit

Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.
Benjamin Franklin

Today, my brother, S-I-L and I ventured into wine country for a heavenly afternoon amidst the vineyards. The ancient Greeks believed that by drinking wine, they were taking divinity within themselves because they were drinking in the essence of the divine Dionysos. Not too different from communion, really.

Having enjoyed ourselves immensely last year, we are taking part in the "Wrapped Up in the Valley" event again this year in an area of the Niagara Peninsula known as Twenty Valley. The popular event opens doors, and our eyes, to wineries that were unknown and introduces new vintages at those that we have visited in the past, all with the added touch of delicious food pairings.

With temperatures unseasonably warm in the double digits, the Christmas reindeer seem a little lost under the cloud cover. Surely snow is on its way.

And when it comes, the essence of Dionysos, laid snuggly in underground vaults (or, in our case, cardboard boxes), will keep friends and family warm with mirth and spirit. There was certainly plenty of both this evening as we joined a lively group of friends at the conclusion of today's wanderings for an entertaining evening full of good food and good cheer. Thank you chef Buster and friends!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sweet Memories

Friends are those rare people who ask how you are and then wait to hear the answer.
Anonymous, found inside a Baci wrapper

With the afternoon coffee break on the horizon, I parked the car in front of our neighbourhood Italian bakery and went in for some Sicilian cannoli and there, on the counter, stood a large open jar of "Baci" chocolates. Memories came rushing back of Saturday mornings years ago at another Italian bakery, with cream horns, super-hot capicola sandwiches, lattes and "Baci". For me that hazelnut, two-bite morsel represents the piece de resistance to a fine coffee break, so for old times' sake I bought two: one for me and one for the Time Traveller. But being caught up in all those memories, I hardly noticed opening the second one. ;-) Sorry, TT. I owe you one!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

We Were There!

There we are! Can you see us? Look, Santa! That's me taking your picture. And there's my nice S-I-L with the pretty pink scarf and my naughty brother in his shades and cute grin that always gets him out of trouble. Thanks for taking our picture, Santa. It's a very nice gift to receive from the Santa Cam.

In case you can't spot us in the crowd, here's a hint:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ring My Bell!

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
Charles Dickens

This year I have the pleasure of volunteering for the Salvation Army, manning one of their donation kettles in the local mall. What a wonderful feeling to wish people a "Merry Christmas" and bring smiles when I ring my bell in thanks.

The Salvation Army has been helping vulnerable people in Canada since 1882. Known affectionately as the "Sally Ann", it brings hope and joy to many of our less fortunate children and families during the Christmas season and so every year I drop my "loonies" and "toonies" into their trademark red kettles. This year I'm hosting an online kettle for The Salvation Army's Christmas Appeal. You can help support me by making a secure online donation by clicking on the link in the sidebar. Go ahead . . . ring my bell! ;-) God Bless and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Sweet Circle

There is a great tradition of sweet pastry making in Lancashire: Chorley cakes, Goosnargh cakes, Grasmere gingerbread, and perhaps most famously of all Eccles cakes.

After being particularly disturbed by the quality of the supermarket's 'sale' chicken, I have been driving out of town every month or so to procure locally raised chicken for Cat's meals. But I must confess to an ulterior motive: the 15-km drive takes me right past Bennett's Apples and Cider and inside Bennett's are the best Eccles cakes in town. The car cannot pass Bennett's without making a pit stop for this treat, special since my childhood when Dad might buy a couple from a baker at the farmers market.

As a child I knew that they hailed from jolly ol' England but only this past summer, when reading Marion Cane's Dish, did I learn that Eccles is a town near Manchester where the first flaky pastry with currant filling was sold in the 18th century. Her quest to find the ultimate Eccles cake took Cane and her mother from London to Eccles and then back to London where, in one of those quirks of six degrees of separation, she found herself in St John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields. Now, as I may have mentioned before, I've never visited Spitalfields but I feel that I know the place and its people intimately thanks to the Gentle Author's blog, "Spitalfields Life"; and it just so happened that a few months previously I had visited St John's and enjoyed its pastry -- all vicariously mind you -- on the Gentle Author's Bread, Cake and Biscuit Walk.

Thankfully, I can enjoy every flake of Bennett's Eccles cakes directly -- just as Dad and I did this afternoon. And perhaps I should be just as thankful that Bennett's is not any closer. ;-)

Monday, November 21, 2011


When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?
Michel de Montaigne, French author in Essays (1580)

Although the Renaissance author may not have known his place, I certainly do: I exist to entertain Cat. Dad related advice read in a magazine in the doctor's office today that cats should be played with for 30 minutes per day. 30 minutes?! Cat demands much more attention than that. Sit in the chair to cruise the Net and I soon feel a pair of green eyes on me. Of course, playtime is at her pleasure and usually it begins a little before 7 A.M.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

♬ Santa Comes to Town ♬

You better watch out!
You better not cry!
Better not pout!
I'm telling you why . . .
Santa Claus is coming to town.
Song written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie, 1934

My brother and SIL treated me to a trip to the big city to see the world famous Santa Claus parade. I knew it's pretty popular in around these parts, but I have learned that it is broadcast in several countries in the far reaches of the globe. As we arrived at our chosen spot along the parade route with a cafe mocha in hand, the celebrity clowns passed by heading to the staging area. In exchange for costume and makeup, these folks support the parade with a generous donation. Way to go!

The 'posties' started off the parade by collecting the kids' letters to Santa. Canada Post does have a heart and waived the postage fee for this special delivery to the North Pole.

Then a familiar face took a time out from playing to come over and say hello. The Burlington Top Hat Marching Orchestra really put a lot of spunk into their performance.

Joining our local talent were a couple of bands from the US. Kelley's Heroes from Caledonia, NY, had me bopping to "Your a mean one, Mr. Grinch". I want whatever was in the elf's sack of "Holiday Cheer" because he was certainly having a good time.

Not all of the floats had moving parts, but none lacked spirit. These kids sang "Jingle Bells" at the top of their lungs, and the crowd cheered.

Perhaps to the chagrin of one of our not-so-illustrious senators, who has no other pressing issues to think about other than changing our nation's animal, the Canadian Beaver arrived in his canoe. We love our beavers!

But, it's true, we also love our polar bears. They are very cute.

And we're pretty fond of penguins too. And these ones could dance! However, Madame Senator, penguins are not indigenous to Canada so they probably shouldn't be contenders; but perhaps heritage is no longer relevant to your noble house? I leave you to your dilemma.

Which provides a nice segue into the Mr. Potato Head float. ;-)  I remember having lots of fun with Mr. Potato Head as a child and I was happy to see that he still amuses children. In an unfortunate quirk of fate, the photo happens to juxtapose Mr. Potato Head with our fine man in blue, who was very nice at managing the crowds and keeping his eye on the kids.

This float with dancing gingerbread was a favourite. Perhaps because I'm suffering cookie withdrawal.

For many of the floats, the products of its corporate sponsor were deftly worked into the design, such as a gingerbread house decorated with the recognizable donuts and "tim bits" of the nation's most ubiquitous purveyor of "double doubles".

At 98 years old, Toronto's Santa Claus Parade is the longest running children's parade in the world and for the first time in its history, Mrs. Claus had her own heart-warming float.

Behind the Mrs., rode the Royal Canadian Mounted Police honour guard. Wow, those steads are magnificent.

And, finally, the moment we had all been waiting for. The crowd's reaction to the appearance of the guest of honour was palpable. First heard was the intake of breath, followed by the silence of awe. Then came all the loud cheers and waving hands.
And then it was all over. :-(
Let's do it again!