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Archive for December, 2010

afterthefalls

During November, when I took some time off from blogging, I spent many pleasant hours catching up on some reading. In December, the demands of the holiday season slowed me down some. For Christmas, my niece gave me a book I have been anxious to read and it was the last, the very last book I completed in 2010: Catherine Gildener’s After the Falls. It’s suitable that I finished out the year with this because it is the sequel to Too Close to the Falls, which I reviewed in February. As I predicted at the time, Too Close to the Falls remained one of my favorite books for 2010. I enjoyed the sequel as well. Gildener’s adolescence was certainly more eventful than my own, but as she is just a few years older than I am, many of the societal issues, such as attitudes towards women and the American civil rights movement, brought back memories of the times. Too Close to the Falls has a special poignancy because of the young age of the narrator that After the Falls lacks, and thus stands on its own better than does its sequel. However, Gildiner is a gifted storyteller, and After the Falls is a fast-moving and absorbing read.

In non-fiction, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely is an interesting look at how our decision-making is shaped without our conscious awareness. Ariely’s book is entertaining and convincing and filled with many examples you will recognise from everyday life. For instance, when shoppers were first asked to bring their own bags to grocery stores, change was slow. However, merely adding a 5 cent per bag charge caused a major change in shopper behaviour. It is now commonplace to see shoppers with their own bags, even though 5 cents is an insignificant sum. Predictably Irrational is easy to read and thought-provoking. Definitely worth a look.

stillmidnight

One of the best mysteries I read this year was Denise Mina’s Still Midnight. Mina’s intricate plot revolves around a home invasion in a Glasgow suburb that results in the kidnapping of the elderly head of the household. As DS Alex Morrow investigates, dark family secrets come to light and Alex’s own secrets interfere with her work. A highly recommended read for mystery or suspense fans.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson was outstanding. It was perhaps the title that drew me to the book, but the story actually has nothing to do with horses. Trond, now a man of 67, thinks back on painful memories of a summer when he was 15. In 1948, he travelled with his father to their camp in the Norwegian countryside. The events of that summer would change his life, and that of his best friend, forever. The writing is spare but evocative, a wonderful read.

I read a number of books from both the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s short lists, which I will cover together on another day. For now, I’ll conclude with The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger, which won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction in 2009. This story of Sally, dedicated lady’s maid to Lady Duff Gordon, is loosely based on a true event. Lady Duff Gordon moved to Egypt in an effort to ease the tuberculosis from which she was suffering. Removed from the constraints of rigid Victorian London society, the two women adapt to a different world. However, Sally ultimately learns that her position on the bottom rung of society’s ladder will never change in the view of her mistress. An exotic setting and sympathetic story.

mistressofnothing

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afghan

I hope you had an enjoyable holiday season. Our three daughters all visited on Christmas day and two stayed over for Boxing Day. It’s truly a pleasure to have everyone together. It seems to happen so rarely, these days, with everyone busy with their own full lives. When the girls were youngsters, there was much excitement about gifts and stockings. Now, just being together is the most wonderful thing. That’s not to say there weren’t lots of presents though, as everyone does their best to find just the right thing for each of the persons on their list.

It’s nice to be able to make your own gifts. This year, I finished an afghan for Ponygirl. It’s a double-weight geometric pattern crocheted with aran-fleck yarn, warm and cozy for cool winter evenings. I also finished knitting a scarf, an abandoned project that I finally got completed. The scarf has now been united with its matching hat!

The best handmade gifts were made by Birdgirl, who surprised us all with custom clocks that she constructed with papier-mache and a lot of imagination. My clock features a gleeful Mousie. The artwork captures perfectly the delight Mousie displays as she gallops gaily about her paddock. A wonderful present.

clock

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Merry Christmas, 2010

lineup

May your holiday be touched by the beauty of the season. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Let it Snow

fire

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

This fall, we added a fireplace to Willow House. Having a cozy fireside seat to look forward to sure makes going out into the winter weather easier to take. That’s if you can beat out the cats for a seat! Tonka hardly stirs from his comfortable chair by the fire all day. Cats know comfort.

Here’s wishing you a warm and cozy holiday. May you share it with good friends and family and exerience the wonder and peace of the season. Merry Christmas!

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Ponygirl84

I love to look at pictures of perfectly decorated Christmas trees in magazines, trees with decorating schemes, trees that are colour coordinated, lush, richly ornamented trees, trees of which Martha would approve. Our tree would not make the grade. However, I enjoy its homey selection of ornaments, old and new, lovingly unpacked each year for their annual showing.

melon

Some of the decorations date to my daughters’ youth. The opening cube was decorated by Ponygirl when she was about 2 1/2 years old, while the wooden tree above was glued by Fiddlegirl when she was about the same age. They roll their eyes when they see these early efforts trotted out each year.

mouse

I made this little salt dough mouse myself. He has been dreaming about Christmas in his little walnut-shell cradle for about 30 years now.

birdfeeder

This needlepoint birdfeeder is a testament to the immense patience of a pair of dedicated Brownie leaders, who aided and cajoled a troop of 6 to 8 years olds as they completed this ambitious project.

pram

A friend gifted me with this kitten in a pram in the year Birdgirl was born. Surprisingly, there aren’t many cats represented on the tree. There are a few horses, though.

horse

Over the years, we accumulated a big collection of ornaments, but as the kids left home, they took a selection of ornaments with them, leaving me with a bit of space for newer decoration. I’ve been on the lookout for woodland creatures in recent years. I found this little fawn on a visit to the gift store at the Winterthur Estate in Delaware this summer.

fawn

My favorites are the raccoons. Here’s a gleeful snowball tosser.

snowballraccoon

This little glass raccoon looks startled to find himself on a tree each year.

startledcoon

Raccoons have beautiful, delicate, clever hands, nicely depicted on this little fellow.

raccoon

Strictly speaking, we don’t have any alligators in our woodlands around here, but this whimsical creation was just too charming to pass up. He can always make me smile. What’s on your tree?

gator

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Turn-Around Day

breakfast

Solstice Breakfast

I love the winter solstice. Finally, after slipping and sliding ever deeper into the doldrums of winter, we begin the march to spring. Even though winter will surely be with us for a few more months, every day now brings us closer to the return of warm weather and longer days. Tuesday was the shortest day of the year. In the Ottawa area, the sun rose at 7.40 AM and set at 4.23 PM, for a total of 8 hours, 42 minutes and 50 seconds of sunlight. Today, Wednesday, the day will stretch to 8 hours, 42 minutes and 51 seconds. Okay, this is going to take a while. But still. At least we’re heading in the right direction.

I would have liked to capture the solstice sunrise, but there was no sunrise to be seen, just a dull, grey sky. Instead, here are the horses and donkeys enjoying their solstice breakfast, apparently unconcerned about the passing of the seasons.

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hayride

My mother was a neat and tidy woman. When I was very small, we had a real tree at Christmas, but when artificial trees became widely available, this less messy approach to the tradition suited Mom to a tee. The first tree I really remember well was an early version of the artificial tree. It had straight clothes hanger-wire branches wrapped with silver tinsel. The branches fitted into a broomstick trunk. The whole thing could be disassembled and packed into a box at the end of the season. In retrospect, I would have to say it had a rather Charlie Brown appeal. We were all quite pleased with the shiny silver tree, but it didn’t stand up well to multiple years of assembly, and as artificial trees became more realistic, we moved on to better imitations of the real thing. I don’t recall being distressed by our tree-in-a-box, not at all. Nonetheless, when Railguy and I started to decorate our own tree, we bought the real thing.

horses

In all the years since our first Christmas together, we’ve always enjoyed a real tree. We used to go out as a family to choose the perfect tree when the kids lived at home. Now our three daughters each have their own Christmas tree, so Railguy and I make the tree-choosing outing on our own. Since moving to Willow House, we have gone to a local cut-your-own farm. We picked out this year’s tree a week ago on Saturday. It was a mild day, and many families were taking advantage of the pleasant weather. The parking lot was full and we had to park out on the road.

parkinglot

The tree farm offers wagon rides out to the cut-your-own field. Since we no longer have youngsters to enjoy the day with, Railguy and I are content to leave the ride to the many family groups and just chose a ready-cut tree. However, I took time to admire the two calm giants who were waiting patiently for the wagon to fill up and posing for their photograph with many little kids. It was fun to see the kids, so excited about the hay ride, the tree, the hot chocolate on offer.

Our choice was quickly made and before long we were back at home. The next day, we got our tree up and decorated and every morning I admire its pretty form, soft branches, bright decorations. A strange tradition, really, bringing a tree indoors, but also a little magical.

tree

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snowroad

We enjoyed a long, extended autumn this year. November, which can get pretty nasty, was instead mild and pleasant. However, Winter has inevitably settled in. This weekend, we received about 6 more inches of snow, so have a nice white blanket on the ground for Christmas.

feeder

Winter often arrives with a shout, “Ready or not, here I come!” One morning, often, it seems, when you had been planning an important excursion, you wake up to a foot of snow, the roads near-impassable…not that that stops Canadians from venturing out in their cars anyway. We’re made of sterner stuff… or are just plain foolhardy.

ice

But this year, Winter eased in quietly, gently. The days grew shorter. Frost began to appear nightly. Puddles froze over. Rain became freezing rain, and finally snow. The flow of the river was enclosed by brittle edges of ice and then completely submerged beneath a glassy cover. No big storm marked Winter’s arrival, but nonetheless, Winter is here. This year, Winter arrived on tiptoe.

river

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cornfield

Cornfield

snowyday

Snowy Day, Soybean Field

maple

Maple Tree

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crows

Crows

snowpath

Snow Path

gate

Winter Gate

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