I’ve Discovered That…

IMG_0927

 

I’ve discovered that:

The pre winter dark is full of an unbelievable richness. It slows and quietens. Promise and hope live here.

The dawn light is the most important light of these dark days before Solstice. Being awake for the beginning of the day makes the days feel a little longer and whole lot lighter.

Snow brightens and softens the world. Children recognize this – and some adults.

Community gatherings are what make Christmas special. Go to Christmas concerts, The Nutcracker, Christmas teas and bazaars… We all need each other, it’s what makes life rich and meaningful.

Music and the dark season are inseparable. Attend carol services, musical events, put music on as you sit by the fire at night. Music helps herald in the light.

You can’t really overdo Christmas lights or candles this time of year. It’s a way for us to all hold vigil until the light returns.

Being present to others is a great gift to give: listen, hold hands, smile.

Worrying about calories is not a good idea right now. This is the time for feasting and inviting friends and family and people without friends and family to our tables.

Taking time for yourself, treating yourself, is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves – and others. Happiness is contagious.

Being in the woods at this time of year, preferably on snowshoes or skis, is the very best meditation available during the holiday season. Stop and look at the animal tracks, listen to the Jays, feel your connection to the natural world.

Cookies and milk are Santa’s favourite….and everyone else’s too.

Being active together builds the very best memories. Build that snowman, go to the rink, play that board game.

Believing in Santa long past when you were a child helps to keep the magic of Christmas alive.

2015-01-01 15.20.33.jpg

 

 

‘Twas in the Moon of Winter-time…Music and Landscape

IMG_0884.JPG

I’ve been thinking about music and landscape during this dark time before Solstice.  Part of what has inspired me, these words from the Huron Christmas Carol:

‘Twas in the moon of winter-time when all the birds had fled,

That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead.

Before their light the stars grew dim and wandering hunters heard the hymn…

Somehow the dark and barren pre-solstice landscape  seems to call for voices raised in chorus. A woman in my December Reflections photo group seemed to feel the same way and began adding music scores to the pictures I was posting. It felt just so…perfect to me and I thought I would share one of these with you to enjoy as well.

Here is the photo:

fullsizeoutput_3af

And here is the music that she chose to go along with it.

 

It’s the seasonal message of light and hope relayed through music and landscape.

I remembered some of my old  favourite music after listening to this and dug out To Drive the Cold Winter Away by Canadian Loreena Mckennitt.

Album_Cover-To_Drive_the_Cold_Winter_Away

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this album from King’s Choir Cambridge.

91gRaKYMrVL._SL1412_

Just feels right somehow to raise our voices in song at this time of year… or at least to enjoy others who do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glitter and Baubles and ….Yikes!

There’s lots that I love about these weeks leading up to Solstice and Christmas Day. I love the early morning light and the dark that descends way too early for some but calls me to quieten and sit by the fire.

IMG_0587

I love choir music and greenery and lights. I love the bustle and the smiles of people scurrying about town on last minute errands. I love all the promise in the air.

And, yes, there are parts this sensitive introvert finds hard. I love to give gifts but find shopping stressful.The search for gifts can be long and takes me away from the peace and quietness of the country into the overstimulating world of glitter and baubles, lights and scents that are at first pleasant but soon overwhelm. This is not a new phenomenon for me. My capacity for shopping in the city is much, much shorter than it is for many people.  I usually start at a bookstore, just to get my shopping legs before I hit the others. Even bookstores now have taken on a whole new look as they try and survive in the age of Amazon. There are gift sections and coffee shops, and a whole array of small “stuff” beckoning you as you snake your way to the cash. Quite honestly, I could go home after the bookstore and feel that my day was quite stimulating enough.

But there are still home decorating stores, toy stores, body care stores, and clothing stores to visit. I am attracted to it all and feel like a hummingbird flitting from one dazzling display to the next.

IMG_0723
Gelato anyone?

For a short while, I see what has been missing in my life and want it all. That is, until overstimulation hits and my seven year old inside feels like flopping to the floor and flailing my legs, willing someone to rescue me. Time to go.

IMG_0817

And then there are all the lists: gift lists, food lists, lists of lists… Before you know it, the peace of the season has crept under the door and is floating its way  into the deep, dark woods. “Hold on, I’m coming too,” I shout.

Maybe that is exactly the antidote we all need – a walk in the woods to find the peace that slipped away while we weren’t looking.

IMG_0877.jpg

May the peace of the season be with you all.

 

 

Winter Sets In…Be Brave My Friends

The first dusting of snow of the season feels like a warning: time to move out of fall mode, time to change wardrobes, time to put the snow tires on the car, time to get serious. It marks a shift and usually catches everyone by surprise even though we’ve been trying to outrun it all autumn.

IMG_0211
First dusting of snow. November 10, 2017.

The first major snowfall marks a whole new chapter. It’s the part in the winter story that marks the rising action. It’s here we start to get inklings of some of the struggles that the characters might be about to face.
2014-12-21 07.49.50.jpg
As an example, I thought I would share a short segment of me getting ready to go to town after our first significant snowfall. It felt like preparing for a polar expedition and went something like this:

  1. Shrugged on my longer length down parka and then realized I had forgotten to fill the wood stove. Threw some logs in the fire.
  2. Rummaged through the baskets in the entrance to find wooly hat and heavy duty mittens. Put on warm winter boots.
  3. Realized I was wearing boots and would be needing shoes once I got to the office. Back upstairs to collect shoes.
  4. Walked gingerly across the now icy and snow covered paving stones to my parked car covered in six inches of fluffy, down-like snow.
  5. Remembered to brush some of the snow away before opening the car door to retrieve the scraper on the back seat.
  6. Open purse brushes against back door as I’m doing this and fills with snow. Try blowing and shaking it out. Give up and and throw it in the front seat to deal with later.
  7. Start the car to defrost the windows while I continue to brush down the car.
    Fluffy snow from the roof of the car finds the groove at the back of my neck between where my hat ends and my coat collar begins. Remember this feeling from last year.
  8. Leave the remaining snow to blow off as I drive away.
  9. Arrive at the office and see that the snow in my purse has melted into my shoes sitting on the top.  Think about wearing them wet like this anyway but decide instead to put them on the heater.
  10. Smell burning. The leather tab at the back of my shoe has turned the colour brown we aim for when roasting marshmallows. The rest of the shoe is oddly soft and wrinkly.

Welcome to winter everyone. Be brave. Be strong. We can do hard things.

Time to Pick the Greenery

Decorating for the holiday season always begins outdoors for us. The timing depends on the weather forecast and involves putting up the outdoor lights and gathering the boughs for the wreath. (The indoor boughs don’t come in until closer to Christmas to avoid a crinkly mess of dried greenery and loose needles.)

The gifts of the natural world are what I want to surround myself with during the holiday season. My go to favourites are poinsettias and green boughs from the woods. Add a few fairy lights and the house is almost decorated. We are fortunate here to have a nice selection of evergreens to use for decorating.

I use a metal frame for the wreath on the door. The inner channel is filled with hemlock boughs. Hemlock is the softest, most flexible green that grows in our woods. This  year the hemlock is full of small  cones which makes it especially pretty.

 

IMG_0752
The hemlock comes decorated with its own cones this year.

Once the inner channel of the metal frame is wired in with hemlock, I usually begin adding an assortment of other greenery.

IMG_0756.JPG

I thought I would show you some of my choices to add to the hemlock to make a fuller wreath.

IMG_0760
Classic spruce with its Christmas smell.

OR

IMG_0763
Feathery white pine.

OR

IMG_0768
Cedar, one of my personal favourites. Fragrant and long lasting.

I have lots of good options as you can see. But there is something I am just loving about the simplicity of the hemlock all by itself this year.

IMG_0758
A simple hemlock wreath adorned with its own cones. Pure simplicity.

 

 

Socks and Soup

Hygge: A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).

This first week of wintery weather has seen me getting my “hygge” on. I’ve moved a little closer to the fire and taken out my knitting needles again.

I’m not sure what it is about knitting socks. I made my first pair about three years ago and can’t seem to stop knitting them. (Maybe it’s my practical Virgo nature.) I find it impossible to imagine anyone not loving a pair of warm, wool socks to lounge around the house in when the temperatures outside dip below freezing. That said, I’m not sure anyone outside my family has the same love affair with socks, but that hasn’t stopped me from giving them as gifts. I started this pair in the summer but didn’t make any serious progress on them until last week when winter set in.

fullsizeoutput_3da.jpeg

This brings me to another staple in our house during the inside months when “hygge” becomes a lifestyle in our home. Lunch is only a ladle away when there is a fresh pot of soup simmering  on the stove. I make soups at least once or twice a week during the winter months. Awhile back as I was scanning my shelves for the ingredients for my next soup, I came across the red lentils and for some reason remembered one of my favourite soups that I used to make regularly “way back in the day” but hadn’t made for years. It is one of the recipes from the cult classic Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé. It’s not in the small paperback original (pictured here) but in a later edition. Luckily, I had made it so many times that I was able to re-create it from memory, but just recently found it online at Food 52. They seem to think it’s just as good as I do. It is the simplest, most forgiving soup you could possibly make – raised a notch or two by the secret ingredient, a 1/4 cup of sherry added at the end.

IMG_0739.JPG

IMG_0741.JPG

Lentils Monastery Style

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A richly flavoured lentil soup made from basic kitchen ingredients with sherry added at the end.

Credit: Diet for a Small Planet (Ballantine Books, 1991). Adapted slightly by Food 52 (and me).

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 carrot chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 3 cups stock
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 398 ml can of tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 2/3 cup grated Swiss cheese

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large pot and sauté the onions and carrot for 3 to 5 minutes, until softened and onion is translucent. Add dried herbs and sauté 1 minute. Add stock, lentils, salt, pepper, parsley, and tomatoes. Cook, covered until lentils and carrots are tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Add sherry. Check for seasoning.
  2. To serve, ladle into bowls and add two tablespoons of cheese  on the top of each one.

IMG_0745.JPG

*This recipe is very, very forgiving. Want more carrots? Onions? No problem. Too thick for your taste, add more stock. I always add a pinch of salt and pepper as I go along. The amount depends to a large extent on taste and the saltiness of the stock you used. Always, always check the seasoning at the end before serving.

I hope this becomes a household favourite for you too. Enjoy!

It’s a Black and White World

fullsizeoutput_3af.jpeg

Winter has set in early this year. The landscape has already taken on the white, black and grey hues that speak of the dark days and even darker nights that lead up to solstice.   It’s a bit unusual to feel in full winter mode so early. The last few years we have had an extended fall with snow only arriving in December, and even then often departing for Christmas, leaving everyone feeling a little forlorn.

fullsizeoutput_3a1.jpeg

The light change is dramatic with the early arrival of winter. The snow casts a bluish white light on grey days which seeps into the windows and slinks across the floors. We have lots of grey days here in the mountains during the winter months, punctuated occasionally by clear days with blue, blue skies. The blue skies usually mean a weather system has come through and the temperature has dropped dramatically. Grey and warm, sunny and cold – winter in southern Quebec.

Outdoor life takes on a whole new rhythm. Boots are kept by the door for quick trips to the woodpile or compost bins and a whole layering of clothes takes place if we are going to be spending any longer outdoors. I usually rely on about three under layers followed by a lightweight down parka or jacket for most winter outings. I have tightly knit hats with a fleece lining for the coldest days and lighter weight knits for those in-between. It takes armies of footwear and baskets full of outerwear to get through a Canadian winter.

IMG_2621.JPG

Long walks on our unpaved road can become a bit treacherous in the winter months. The road is narrow and can be quite icy. Crampons added to the bottom of my shoes give me that added bit of traction which makes slips and falls a little less likely, but I actually much prefer walking in the woods with snowshoes to being on the road. The woods are more sheltered from the winds and there are animal tracks to follow and birds to watch.

IMG_0715.JPG

There’s life all around us – even in the winter. We just have to be little quieter and a little more persistent in order to see it.

A Cup of Chai?

2016-01-15 16.42.22.jpg

Masala chai is a spiced tea popular in India and now in North America as well. We have shortened the name to chai here but that word actually just means tea. Masala is the spice mixture added to the “chai” to make the drink we have come to love. It is basically a spiced, sweetened tea mixed with milk. It is sold all over India by chai wallahs  (tea vendors) who pour the tea from huge kettles into small cups.

It can now be bought here commercially in many coffee shops, but it is so much better to make at home – and it’s easy. The very best chai I have had has been made in small batches in a big pot heated on the stove. The tea used was loose and the spices fresh. Delicious.

But this post is about my newest obsession, an instant masala chai spice mix that can be brewed in a matter of minutes. Most masala spice mixes contain ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, and sometimes fennel and star anise. I sourced my spices from a local health food store, so I know they are the freshest I can find. I proportioned the spices the way the recipe suggested and then mixed them all together. I now have a large jar full of this aromatic goodness that can be made into fresh chai in an instant.

IMG_681.jpg

To brew one cup I use the tea cup I will be drinking from to measure 3/4 of a cup of water into a saucepan and then add 1/4 of a cup of milk. I add a teabag and 1/4 tsp of my chai masala mixture and bring the whole thing to a boil. As soon as it boils, I turn off the heat and let it rest for a minute or so. I pour the steaming chai  through a fine sieve directly into my cup. I add the sugar at the very end. It really does need sugar if you want the more authentic drink.

IMG_0020 2.JPG

Voilà, chai in five minutes or less. And a whole jar of spice mixture waiting for the next cups. How good is that?

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Lover or Hater?

IMG_0637.JPG

If the hard frost these mornings is any indication, winter should be showing up any day now. (This line and picture were from yesterday.)

This is the scene this morning.

IMG_0211.JPG

I’ve been thinking a lot about winter lately because as it approaches many of my friends and acquaintances are busy making plans to escape her reach. Winters here are long and cold, so this strategy is not all that surprising for people who have the time and the means to make different choices. But the pervasive attitude, for many,  is that winter is something to be endured – not embraced.

I began wondering about what the winter haters are believing about winter that is different from winter lovers. The winter haters seem to believe that winter is too long, too cold, too dark, and too limiting. It requires energy to get through a Canadian winter, so it becomes something to be endured or escaped. Winter lovers, on the other hand, are believing that winter is something to be welcomed and enjoyed. Although it feels long to some, the snow is usually here only from December to mid March. One group finds the cold and snow invigorating, the other something to hide from. It’s all a question of attitude, it seems.

2012-02-25 11.24.11.jpg

I happen to be lucky enough to live near a ski town, so I see first hand all the people who have embraced winter and are actually enjoying it. I meet them walking around town in their lightweight, brightly coloured parkas and they all look great. Their faces are flushed and beaming from the cold. They look happy and invigorated as they shop for food to be enjoyed with family and friends later in the day – by the fire, I’m imagining.

I couldn’t help but think mindset has a big influence on whether we are a winter lover or hater, so I was particularly interested in this article I read in The Atlantic titled, “The Norwegian Town Where the Sun Doesn’t Rise,” by Kari Leibowitz. She was there to research how the residents of northern Norway protect themselves from wintertime woes in the hopes that some of these findings could be used to help people who were suffering elsewhere with this issue.

lead_960Kari Leibowitz ( The Atlantic)

Tromsø, Norway is a tiny island 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. There the Polar Night lasts from November to January and during this time the sun doesn’t rise at all.  Interestingly enough, the residents of Tromsø have lower rates of wintertime depression than would be expected.

How do the residents of Tromsø protect themselves from wintertime depression? Some gave credit to cod liver oil or lamps that simulated the sun by brightening at a specific time each morning. Others thought it had to do with community and social involvement. Most residents though just talked about the Polar Night as if it wasn’t a big deal. In fact, many didn’t consider the summer months as being the best season.

So mindset, eh? I’m crediting the people of Tromsø for supporting me in not particularly enjoying the month of July here in southern Canada. As for winter, I’m sorting through my winter clothes, dusting off my snowshoes and cross-country skis, stocking up on candles, and, oh yes, will also be buying that cod liver oil.

Do any of you have winter plans?

 

*You can read the complete article on Tromsø  from The Atlantic here.

*Clinical seasonal depression is not like the wintertime blues and is something that needs to be taken seriously and treated appropriately.

 

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

It happens every year and every year it is shocking. It is shocking how much faster the dark descends each day. To give you an idea of how fast this happens, I went to a site that records sunrise and sunset and the total number of daylight hours for our area. This past Monday the 23rd of October we had 10:29 daylight hours. On Sunday, October 29th, we will have 10:10 hours of daylight. That’s a whopping 19 minute drop in one week. It feels as if the dark is descending quickly, because it is!

How does one live in sync with this seasonal rhythm of darkening days? One of the first things I have noticed is that we tend to eat dinner earlier, not because we are hungry,  but because it is so dark that all our body systems tell us to adjust: eat a bit earlier, go to bed earlier, rise later. There’s a slowing down.

It’s impossible to ignore the descent into the dark, but the upside is that it makes the light we do have all the more special.

IMG_0546Cow grazing at sunset.

In a season that is becoming darker by the day, I find myself looking for all the surprise moments of light.

IMG_0536

And just maybe, that’s what we need to be doing all of the time – looking for surprise moments of light in the dark.

 

*If you are interested in checking out the daylight hours in your part of the world you can go here.