I am a sentimental and nostalgic person. I love symbols and traditions and fairy tales. Smiling at the whisper of a fairy’s wings or the twinkle of a star is often the highlight of my day.
Our lovely home and garden in the Okanagan is my sanctuary. We have a beautiful expanse of space with my wild gardens. I say wild in part because there are wild blossoms courtesy of the wind and birds, but also because I can’t seem to be disciplined enough in the dirt to create a formal structure. Like my life I suppose – elements of a framework but never enough to close the box.
I am inspired by quirky things, and I love to cheer for the underdog. (Another reason my gardens look so unkempt- everyone gets the benefit of the doubt until they demonstrate more evil than good.)
The back garden is full of artifacts and artful tokens. Some are simple junk, retrieved because I loved the memories they evoked or wanted to ponder the ones they contained. A few pieces I created, and a few I inherited. All of them add to the natural character of our place with a worldly sort of homey-ness.
We always envisioned a sort of gateway to the world even though we had no intention of a fence. Our original vision was for a moongate, inspired by our honeymoon visit to Bermuda with many of them showcasing the sunsets. We talked of an arch, but that became the passage from the garden to our harvest table. When we rebuilt the front door to our old farmhouse, I knew I had just the thing.
There are so many expressions about doors, with many of them seeming appropriate for 2020:
- getting one’s foot in the door (what the virus did around the world)
- closing the barn door after the horse has bolted (what happened in some regions as the pandemic struck fast and hard)
- having the wolf at one’s door (the financial situation for so many after the pandemic lockdowns)
- don’t let the door hit you on the way out (what I’d like to say to the virus)
You might say I ought to have left the door open to foster a spirit of hospitality and welcome. I’ll add an expression to the historic list to defend my case – a sort of “be prepared for any occasion” idiom:
Never leave the door ajar on a windy day.
I am heartened to see the door when I look out the window now. It announces the rest of the world is out there, waiting. It keeps out the negative energy as it makes me smile, thinking of all the good times it brought into our house. And it’s there for us – day and night, through every kind of weather – ready when opportunity knocks.
Who knows when the winds will change and the world will return to one that allows for more work, more hugs, more visitors through our doors. But in the meantime, I’ll watch out the window and remember…
When one door closes, another one opens.
I don’t know about you but I feel the need to share rather acutely nowadays. It’s a bit of relief to connect by video call with friends and family and at least see their faces and hear their laughter. But I want to give something, to feel that I am reaching out and that hopefully someone on the other end of the line gets some benefit from my effort.
Sharing recipes has been fun, and learning from other people’s sharing has been cathartic too. I watched Amanda Hesser, one of the founders of Food 52, do an Instagram video making cookies in her home kitchen. She laughed about it being the first time in 4 days that she put a clean shirt on, and I laughed back, looking down at my shirt of more than a couple of days, too.
I’ve also posted garden pictures, and been cheered by those of others. Spring blossoms always boost my spirits, and knowing the bees are still humming and green shoots are still sprouting is wonderfully reassuring.
I’m going to try a new thing this week. Our group of little Sparks (the tiniest of Girl Guides, aged 5 and 6 years old) will be hosting our first Zoom meeting tomorrow night. It’s only going to be “Show & Tell” this first time – I’m quite sure that 24 littles trying to feature the new project they have at home will be more than enough for one hour! Thank goodness for the mute button.
Along the same lines, I also volunteered to do some story-reading for a kindergarten teacher who wanted “community helpers” to read their favourites so she can show them to her class. My role as a Girl Guide leader is to help kids and offer them another adult perspective, so I figured why not. Selfishly, it gives me a chance to be a big kid and connect at the same time.
So, I’ve made myself a cup of tea and dusted off my Girl Guide vest with the bazillion crests and badges on it (that’s how they know that I am wise old leader, or at least that’s the plan). I shall introduce myself as “Poppy”, my leader name for the last 14 years. Then I’ll launch into my stories.
Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne would have been friends with my Gramps I think, if he’d ever run into them. “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” sounded like the stories he told about when he was young. I’m hoping my reading will convey the kind of wonder I knew, sitting on his knee listening to his tales of yore.
Even if the kids are not enthralled, perhaps the stories of an imaginative youngster making the most of a boring time and a silly old Bear stuck in a hole will offer them ideas for how to get through this crazy time.
I am so thankful we have many ways to share nowadays. I do still like the in-person method best, but there is a lot to be said for having a back-up plan at times like these.
P.S. If you’re a big kid like me and love the fanciful stories usually dedicated to the young at heart, here are some classics I love. Feel free to read them, pass them along or read them aloud.
- “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles” – Julie Andrews (she also wrote “The Very Fairy Princess” books)
- “Peter Pan in Scarlet” – Geraldine McCaughrean (didn’t you ever wonder what happened to Peter Pan?)
- “The Wind in the Willows” – Kenneth Grahame (I read this to my stepdaughter when she was little, and she still remembers it)
- “Mrs. Frisby & The Rats of NIMH” – Robert C. O’Brien (like “Watership Down” this isn’t all sunshine and roses, but it’s a wonderful read)
- “The Cricket in Times Square” – George Selden
As I sit by the tree and its twinkling lights, I am washed with waves of melancholy. It’s all over for another year. That always makes me sad.
The stockings are down from the mantle, the gifts under the tree have been opened and the turkey has been cooked. The dishes are done, and the wrapping is in the recycle bin. All the pomp and ceremony is done.
I always feel a bit bereft afterwards. Perhaps some of that comes from getting older, as things change. Family members are busy and it’s harder to gather together. There is something to be said for spreading the spirit around (when “more” is about more time together and not so much more stuff, then that’s a very good thing.)
Some of the old traditions disappear as we get older – has anyone else noticed how hard it is to find mandarin oranges and regular sized, regular flavoured candy canes? New traditions can be hard to start up – how do we blend them in so there is some thread of the old nostalgia carried on alongside new attitudes and philosophies?
I love Christmas. I love the excitement of planning, the joy of sharing, the gratitude that comes from giving. People try harder to remember the good in each other during the holiday season.
The only way I know to make the empty feeling disappear is to revive the Christmas spirit in my heart. I don’t just believe during the month of December, so I’ve decided I’m going to actively represent my belief each and every month of the year.
Maybe this is another name for random acts of kindness, or paying it forward. My efforts will evolve, and I hope they will expand. Just as Santa’s workshop has expanded with the growing population, the world needs more believers to maintain a positive force to balance the cynicism and polarized attitudes.
I’m feeling a bit better now that I have a plan. Does anyone know where I can get some pointy shoes?
I am a product of my upbringing. The tales of root cellars where everything was preserved, my Grampa’s stories of living during the war when things were rationed, and the prevalence of farm culture from both my parents’ prairie life – all these elements combined with those Little House on the Prairie volumes in my head to make me thrifty in the kitchen.
Gramps used to say when I refused the last morsel, “Can’t be wasting!”, and I would capitulate. It was like referring to those starving kids in Africa. I often wondered, would they eat sandwich crusts?
This time of year is when we work to save and store. It’s the end of harvest of course, so it’s a mad dash to make sure as little is wasted as possible. Some of the bounty doesn’t get used – it’s impossible to eat it all, even when we share. But I am heartened when I remember my farmer neighbour’s words that everything going back to the ground helps the soil for the following year. Mother Nature provides.
We dried fruit and canned chutney and jam and made hot sauce and kimchi and infused vinegars and oils. I baked bread and pies and bread pudding. I roasted squash and tomatoes and put them in the freezer. my last effort is to plan menus for the next couple of weeks so we can use the last of the arugula, green beans and green tomatoes.
It can be exhausting. I have new admiration for the pioneer housewives and their fortitude in the face of such a daunting task: providing a variety of flavours for a household through a cold, dark winter. Before there were OXO cubes, Heinz ketchup and Classico pasta sauce, there were women who kept everyone from losing their minds over endless bowls of turnip soup and boiled potatoes with mutton.
Perhaps the return of Outlander on TV has given me my second wind… are there any other fans among my readers? If Claire could manage to survive in a kitchen-of-old, then surely I can do it too.
My inspiration this weekend is to use the last of the apples and some quince with my final trimmings from the mint to make a sort of preserve that I’d like to use for both sweet and savoury purposes. My plan is to make it on the sweet side, and then when I want to use it say, for roast pork, I’ll sauté some onions and add in the apple mint preserve with a bit of cider vinegar to get more of a chutney or Branston-pickly kind of condiment. (If anyone has any experience with a similar recipe, I’m all ears.) I shall post up the recipe once I’m happy with the result.
And perhaps I’ll make a batch of Millionaire Shortbread in celebration of the Outlander premiere on Sunday. Since Claire and Jamie will be in the New World, it seems only fitting that we encourage that spirit of entrepreneurship, don’t you think? (wink)