December 16, 2014

Happy Trails

One day this December we had a weather window 
in the middle of a wall of rain
V and I went Christmas shopping
but took an hour's break to walk on the Vedder River Trail
about a half hour's drive from our home

Some of our most beautiful days here 
come when the weather clears 
and we are left with open vistas
and gentle signs of life's ongoing abundance
and generosity to us mere mortals

Seeds cling in the wind and wait
for spring
They are winter's strange flowers
I love them for that

In late fall and winter 
leaves are stripped from the trees
but light shines between the bare branches
widening the view and revealing
the trees' graceful reaching limbs
casting long afternoon shadows on the trail

The trail is shared by walkers, cylists, dogs and horses
Wild rabbits and nervous birds hide in the camouflaging brush
Trail etiquette dictates all creatures yield to each other
keeping the peace and opening faces
to smile and greet all travellers on the trail 
no matter what their mode of transport

At the end of the hour the light waned
I took one last picture
of trees and river, shrubs and grasses
yielding to the twilight
in peace and harmony
striking a chord of joy and gratitude
in my heart

Though the year be dying
and the days be at their shortest
the sporadic gifts of light in December give hope
to all around
sustaining us 'til spring comes again

December 4, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I know it has been an age since I posted something on this blog. Life has been rather full of late and although ideas and a desire to post have floated around incessantly in my head I have not had time to sit down and get to it. A couple of Saturday mornings ago I sat in my favourite coffee shop and wrote the draft of a post in my notebook. Did it get typed and posted? No. I have done this twice now. Like Charlie Brown I can't quite get it together. 'Good grief!'

I do have at least one rather good excuse, though. Some of my regular reader friends will remember I began working on a novel on November 1st, 2013. I am happy to report that my novel's first draft was completed on November 25th of this year. I was, needless to say, relieved and delighted. When I originally wrote about completing NaNoWriMo (see linked post above for an explanation) I thought I only needed to write about another third to complete my draft. I was wrong. My word count ended at 103,000 words, more than double what I had written as part of National Novel Writing Month. Still, I was happy with the outcome and look forward to the editing process. I have been advised by an editor friend to let the manuscript rest for a while so I can look at it with fresh eyes. Completing my first draft was a Christmas gift to myself, I suppose, and one I was happy to unwrap early, for now I can concentrate on making the house clean beautiful and the upcoming Season as delicious as possible for my family and friends. My husband also just started three weeks of holidays from work so I know much will be accomplished in the way of tedious long-neglected tasks around here. My three living-away kids will be home for varying lengths of time for the Holidays and even though I will be spending a lot of time ferrying my youngest daughter to her rehearsals for the production of the Addams Family Musical to take place in January, I will enjoy every minute of having a full house once again.

The first Christmassy thing I do every year is bake fruitcakes. In the early days only my husband and I enjoyed eating these boozy, rummy fruit and nut cakes. Then, I began sending my parents one, too and they asked for the recipe. This year I received a message from our twenty year old son which said, "I am looking forward to eating Christmas cake with a glass of port." My eldest daughter now enjoys the cake as well, so it looks like we will have no trouble consuming the two large and three small cakes I have baked this year. Today I will bathe the cakes in rum and rewrap them in cheesecloth to marinate for another week when I will bathe them in rum again. They end up very well preserved by Christmas week. I have also already made a double batch of another family favourite: cheese ball. I coat the cheese balls in chopped walnuts harvested from the tree in our back yard, and serve it with a variety of crackers. We have already attended two events at which cheese ball was our contribution to the food table; we are becoming rather predictable at parties.

Christmas is not Christmas in our family without certain food related traditions, but new additions are always welcome. Last month, my youngest daughter and I made Maple Toffee Popcorn for the first time. It was absolutely delicious and would make a great gift for gluten-free friends. We will be making a big batch again. I will make fruit and nut chocolate bark as well, but I will leave the rest of the baking to my husband and daughter who has been away at college and surviving on stove-top cooking. She is longing to bake when she comes home next weekend.

Last Friday we and our eldest daughter attended the year-end concert at our son's university. He is in his second year studying violin in the Orchestral Performance program and we are always happy to go to any concert in the university's beautiful concert hall. Our son had worked very hard to get a top seat in the orchestra for the second half of the concert when they would perform Shostakovitch's Symphony No. 5. Shostakovich is one of his favourite composers and the piece is also a favourite. The first half of the concert featured an extremely accomplished young pianist performing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23, but it was the second half which earned a standing ovation - or perhaps a cumulative effect was the cause. Either way, the concert was wonderful and we and everyone else in the packed house were so proud of all the young musicians up on the stage in front of us. When we came out of the hall at the end of the concert snow was falling in earnest. A group of students had run outside to play in the snow and were visible from the floor-to-ceiling windows in the lobby. I love snow, too, but driving in it is not my favourite activity. After dropping off our son at his dorm building we drove to our eldest daughter's apartment and said goodbye to her. We made our way slowly and carefully all the way to Langley where the snow had come and gone already leaving the roads bare for the rest of the journey home.We munched on chips and listened to the radio to keep ourselves awake, arriving at home well past midnight, but we both felt it had been worth it.

Speaking of fine young musicians, I am a new fan of twenty-six year old pianist Yuja Wang. I am happy to share a video of her playing one of my (and her) favourite composers, Chopin. Have a listen during this month of hustle and bustle of the Holiday season, and I guarantee it will help you catch your breath. Until next time, enjoy December as it speeds by at its customary alarming rate. I know I am.

November 13, 2014

Musings on Municipal Elections

Elections for the municipality and district school board happen this weekend in my part of the world. I already know who will get my votes. I have read the candidate Q and A's in the newspaper, read their leaflets, talked to many of them in person (this is a small town) and silently crossed off my list those whom I know have good intentions but perhaps not the necessary skills and/or related experience for the job I would be entrusting them to do for the community.

I am impressed so many people have put themselves forward as candidates. Eight people are competing for municipal councillor in our district, two for mayor, and six for three school board positions. To have so much choice for leadership is a luxury for voters. Currently serving on two local boards, I am well aware of the commitment and work needed to properly do the job one is voted to do (hint: it is never enough). What is even more true of such positions is how misunderstood they are. Few people really know what goes on behind the scenes and just how much of one's time such positions can involve. I am not paid by taxpayers to do what I do on the boards I serve, but I can imagine the pressure I would feel if I were. I have had a taste of the bitter fruit of dissatisfaction and at times downright anger that comes from the caring public when my board has made an unpopular decision, and that is only within the small arts community here. I cannot imagine how crushed I would be if after years of dedication and public consultation I succeeded, for example, in building a bicycle lane from my town to the resort community down the road - something I would dearly love to see happen for the pleasure and safety of so many - and a large percentage of citizens despised me for it and thought nothing of hurling hate-bombs at me at public meetings and in the 'letters to the editor' section of our weekly paper.

Many of us are far too eager to criticize those who make decisions on our behalf. Of course the internet has only made the situation worse. Newspapers demand names when writing a letter to the editor, but any Jo Schmo can leave a nasty comment on a website using an alias. To counter this current ugly trend I think this might be a good time to be grateful to the many people who care enough about our communities to run for council and school board and open themselves up to scrutiny from the discontented populace. Of course we also must hold them to account due to the fact that they will, in fact, work for us, but I also believe we could all benefit from counting slowly to ten before hurling those hate bombs. If we do our homework before making decisions on the issues at hand we will often realize there are, as my mother-in-law tends to say, three sides to every story. Engaging in a complaint session with the guy across the street for an hour does not make us an expert. Asking questions, listening to answers, paying attention to what happens in other similar communities, reading the newspaper and attending the occasional council meeting or information session does not make us an expert either but it gives us a wee bit more credibility as a voter and community member.

In my opinion, to give them credibility, municipal government must be made up of people who embrace the big-picture mentality. They must look at their role as a humble cog in the wheel of a forward moving vehicle, one they know full well will always move too fast for some and too slowly for others. They must work well with others and cooperate. They must listen more than they talk and be eager to consider new ideas. They must be prepared to back up their arguments against such-and-such a policy with plenty of research (they must enjoy reading or at least be able to study lots of dry documents). They must have the interests of the whole community at heart and not just one part of it. They must not be toadies of land developers. They must be people-persons. They must be open minded and scrupulously honest. They must not build anything extraordinarily ugly (Am I the only one who believes the raspberry sculpture in Abbotsford fits this category?) or environmentally irresponsible. Do I ask a lot of them? Absolutely. But no more than I would ask from myself.

I thank everyone who has served for the past three or more years, especially a certain local farmer who has given three terms and deservedly wishes to spend more time with his family. I congratulate, in advance, all those who are elected for the next term to serve our community and our school children. You have your work cut out for you, but I hope you will perform it willingly and with at least a few of the qualities listed above.

A friend once suggested I run for council. I responded thus: "I just can't get excited about drainage ditches, which seems like a very important issue here, so no. I will stick to the arts." For better or for worse, 'til death do us part it seems.

October 31, 2014

Halloween Then and Now

One Halloween at the end of the last century of the last millenium
my friend Barb and I joined our families together 
for a fun night of trick or treats.

A paleontologist, an alien and a cat (?)
went door to door 
with a knight, a wizard and a fairy princess.

When we walked down the main street of Courtenay
people kept saying, "Great costume, Dumbledore!"
"I'm just a wizard," was lost in the cotton ball beard.
Fairy princess and cat (?) grew tired.

After bags and buckets were filled
with sweets for the sweet
we gathered in Barb's street 
for the neighbourhood potato gun blasting of pumpkins.

Fireworks popped and cracked nearby
but the potato gun's blast and shatter thrilled the kids
to no end.
The parents didn't exactly stand back 
and keep their hands in their pockets either.

The knight, the wizard and the fairy princess
were followed by another a few years later.
I don't remember what she dressed up as for her first Halloween. 

This year that little sister is thirteen
and uninterested in going door-to-door calling out 'trick or treat!'
She did go to school dressed in costume today.

She and her friend will hand out treats at our door tonight.
The knight, the wizard and the fairy princess grew up and
are all away at work and college, so the mime must take over Halloween duties.

"I'm looking forward to seeing all the cute little kids," she says.

"I miss the knight, the wizard and the little fairy princess (who was
a fairy princess three years in a row)" I say.

But, I am very glad to have a mime around the house.

Happy Halloween! 

October 20, 2014

Autumn Mists and Apples

'Tis the time of year for reflecting on 
the 10 months past, 
their fullness realized
in the turning leaves
 and rising mists from empty fields.
The harvest was good this year.

The view behind our house

I have made so much applesauce 
apple crisp and apple muffins.
A friend shared her bumper crop.
She had more than she could ever use.
Her children are flying the coop
 like mine are.

The grocery bill is shrinking
but my freezer is full.

Is there any thing more perfect than an apple? 

These ones are Macintosh.
They've just been washed.
Now they will be sauced.

For your listening pleasure, a newer take on an old standard,
'Autumn Leaves'

October 14, 2014

Clean and Be Thankful

I cleaned my oven this morning, and the job was done with a parade of cleaning products including vinegar and baking soda, SOS pads, dish soap, Mr. Clean and a lot of elbow grease. I knew it would be much simpler to spray on some Easy-Off, leave it to do its magic and then simply wipe off the grime, but the last time I did so I was sick and swooning from the toxic fumes for days. That stuff is nasty.

I do not enjoy cleaning my oven, to say the least, but this morning while I scrubbed a couple of months' worth of baked-on cooking I got to thinking. (Who are we kidding here? The last time I cleaned my oven Mark Zuckerberg was trying to get into a fraternity.) Music played in the background to keep me company but my thoughts ran free - when I was not singing along to the Mamma Mia soundtrack at the top of my voice, that is, something I am only allowed to do when no one else except my youngest is home. She sings with me of course, being a Musical Theatre kid.

Two of my three living-away children were able to come home for Thanksgiving this past weekend. The third had to work and celebrated the holiday with a dinner cooked by his roommates. The rest of us enjoyed all the comfort and cheer of being together at home. We cooked and baked together, sang (ABBA was strictly forbidden) and were silly together. And while we cooked and baked the oven smoked. In fact, every time I basted the six and a half pound chicken the fire alarm went off.

Anyway, while I was cleaning the oven I was telling myself I had better not complain about the task because, as much as I detest that particular chore, I was lucky. Lucky enough to have an oven in the first place. Lucky enough to have a beautiful, plump, organic chicken carefully raised by some farming friends to cook in said oven. Lucky enough to share that chicken with a loving family, even if one of us had to be absent. Lucky to have enjoyed the delicious leftovers in front of the TV with my youngest after her siblings left to go back to their respective post-secondary institutions and her dad worked late. Lucky to have a gainfully employed husband. Lucky to have children who desire to further their educations and make something of themselves. Lucky to live in a democratic country which, while not without its problems, remains a relatively safe and reasonable place to raise a family and build a future.

I remember when I was a girl and would be out walking with my mother. As we strolled down the hills of Nelson with the timeless view of the lake below and the streets lined with trees in full flame of fall colour against a blue, blue sky my mother would invariably say, "Aren't we lucky to live in such a beautiful place?" I would generally agree. I also remember when I would whine about being hard-done-by or some such teenage complaint she would invariably say, "Just be grateful." Well, with the news the way it is these days, Mom, I can honestly say I am both lucky and grateful to be where I am and with whom, enjoying the benefits of your healthy and wholesome upbringing filled with books and walks, love and talks.

My oven looks a lot better now. I baked some apple muffins after lunch and my youngest is enjoying two as an after school snack. The fire alarm remained silent throughout.

This Billy Joel song cheered me up the other day when I heard it after a particularly bad news day in the media. The video even features a smoking oven.
 We Didn't Start the Fire

October 1, 2014

Walk of Ages

The waning year and I were both feeling our ages
so we took a walk together along the lakeshore

The clouds were heavy with moisture 
 The lake reflected the grey above it

We walked the path toward the hot springs source
in search of the fountain of youth

The trees reminded us with age comes dignity, wisdom and sheltering kindness
 beauty often forgotten in this shiny, hungry, forward leaping world

A pair of cyclists rode past us
none too young themselves, but active

Wildflowers grew among the thorny blackberry
trumpeting out messages of eternal hope and sweetness

A winding waterway, still and placid
fed the lake in a constant, quiet way
lilypads and insects giving life to its surface

Snowberries glowed pearly white in the forest gloom
heavy bunches of perfect orbs bending their fine and supple twigs 
into arcs reaching for rest on the ground

Tipped with autumn red and orange
green leaves waved goodbye in the breeze

A trio of ducks followed the shore 
keeping another woman's retriever and me at bay

The fountain of youth needed a paint job
but her water was promising and sent up clouds of steam into the cool air

Returning, I took the narrower, treelined path. 
Like the trees I leaned toward the water and the light

Rosehips glowed like little round coals in the fire
Tougher and brighter than the roses of summer
they would feed the birds in the cold days to come

The year and I having made our peace with time together
I took myself out for a birthday lunch and went home for a nap

Many thanks to my daughter, Emma, who designed my new blog header. I was ready for something different, and she was eager to use her digital design skills newly aquired at college.