Monday, 31 December 2012

... to Say Goodbye to 2012, Hello to 2013

Italian art on ms Volendam by Gilbert Lebigre
Janus, after whom January is named, was the Roman god of two faces. One face looked back at the past and the other turned towards the future. He was the patron of endings and beginnings, the opener and closer of gates.
    We've come to the end of 2012 and now we wonder what 2013 will bring us. I'm not much of a one for making New Year resolutions. I prefer to take each day as it comes, to not look too far into the future. I've experienced instances, through illness and accident, when my life was changed in a heartbeat and no amount of forward planning or sticking to resolutions or timetables would have altered the outcomes. From those times on, for me, thinking about the future has seemed much less important than being fully involved in the present.
   So what will I do today? I want to take time to sit quietly and reflect on the parts of my life that mean the most to me - family, friends, creativity, travel, the beauty in nature. I want to think about the lessons I learned in 2012. The most powerful of those was the grace I felt when, in one particular situation,  I let go of anger and practised compassion.
   What will you do to start the new year? What does 2013 have in store for you?

Saturday, 22 December 2012

More Advent Activities and Happy Christmas

Counting Down to Christmas
I seem to be super-organised this year and haven't felt the usual pressure that seems to mount day by day in the lead-up to Christmas. I've been able to relax and enjoy the Advent activities of week three.
Here's what we've been doing:

  1. Eat marshmallow Santas! Almost as good as Easter eggs!
  2. Mulled wine and Christmas mince pies: More food - do you sense a theme here?! I make the mulled wine from a recipe published in 1901 and it's delicious.
  3. Send Christmas emails: For some people I send Christmas cards by snail mail; for others I send e-cards. I use this website for the cards - by sending a (free) card you support various charities with donations from the website's advertisers.
  4. Remember our first Christmas meal together:  It was Ernest Hemingway who said, "Memory is never true." How right he was! Pete thought our first Christmas was when we went to a Regional Park beach and shared our picnic under the pohutukawa trees with a park ranger. I thought it was when we walked into the city centre from my apartment and bought hamburgers from the pie cart! Who was right? Me!
  5. Have a fun day out together: We've put this on hold till after Christmas hoping the weather will improve.
  6. Donate 'treat' food to the food bank: Instead of the boring old pasta and pasta sauce I donate each week, I put in bags of gold wrapped chocolate 'coins'.
  7. Watch a Christmas movie: We tried, we really tried, but the DVD I got from the library was so dire that after half an hour we switched it off and went for a walk instead. Probably better for us after all the marshmallows and Christmas treats!
Which leaves me with one pleasant task - to thank you for the lovely comments, emails and cards I've had about this blog and to wish you all

                     A Very Merry Christmas

See you again next year!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

... Be Very Downton Abbey

Edwardian Yule Pastries
I'm feeling very Downton Abbey today. I was reading some of the research I'd done on the Edwardian Era and came across a Christmas recipe from a women's magazine, 'The Delineator', dated December 1901. It is for Yule Pastries, the early 20th century version of Christmas Mince Pies.
  I can make those, I thought, imagining the scene in the kitchen at Downton Abbey with Daisy helping the cook prepare all the festive food.
  The fruit mince was easy to make; chopped up raisins, glace peel, glace pineapple and figs boiled for five minutes in orange and lemon juice and a little sugar.
   Once that cooled, I rolled out the sweet short pastry. I cheated here - mine was store-bought, definitely not home-made. I used a small espresso cup size saucer to cut it into rounds, piled some of the fruit mince on & folded the pastry over so they were shaped like Cornish pasties.
   20 minutes in a hot oven and they were done. It took me longer to clean the sticky, floury pastry board and saucepan and bench and hands and cupboard door handles! 
   Not sure if they'd pass muster with the Lords and Ladies, but they taste delicious!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Advent Activities - Week 2

                                                             Week 2 of Advent

Here's what we've been up to this week, doing a 'Christmassy' activity each day. 
  1. Wrap the presents:  I love giving presents!
  2. Bake Christmas goodies: I tried out some new festive recipes this year - cranberry truffles, Christmas muffins and gingernuts.
  3. Donate a toy to put under the community Christmas tree:  Pete built a dolls house for this appeal.
  4. Invite the neighbours over:  It's nice to get together before people go away on holiday.
  5. Put up the fairy lights outside: That was Pete's job. I don't 'do' ladders & heights!
  6. Listen to Christmas carols:  I love the 'Little Drummer Boy' and 'O Come, All Ye Faithful'. Anything except 'Frosty the Snowman'!
  7. Drive to see the Christmas lights: The American custom of decorating the outside of your house and your garden with extravagant displays of Christmas themed lights (think illuminated Santa and his reindeer on the roof, and that's just a start!) has caught on here in New Zealand. So after a picnic dinner at the beach and a walk along the shore, we drove around the town looking at the lights.
I hope you've had a good week and have been able to spend time enjoying the lead-up to Christmas.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

... to be Grateful

Published by Conari Press
I've been reading this book Attitudes of Gratitude  by M. J. Ryan and it has made me more mindful of my responses and reactions to people and events in my life. It's certainly helped with thinking about the good things, focussing on what's right and how giving a 'thank you' and a smile can brighten someone's day, including my own.
  Today I'd been at the supermarket at an extremely busy time. People were blocking the aisles with their trolleys; others were standing talking holding up the flow of traffic; a couple of the items I specially wanted were out of stock. By the time I was halfway round the store I was in a bad mood, tired, grumpy and just wanting to get out of there. 
 Then when I got near the checkouts I found I was third in the queue so had to wait quite a time to get my groceries processed and packed. There was a lot of impatient eye-rolling and finger tapping going on, I can tell you! 
  I eventually sat down a few minutes ago with a cup of coffee to read this book and lo and behold! the author was talking about being stuck in a queue, and so on. 
  'She's writing about me!' I thought. 'That's exactly what it was like today for me!' 
  I had to laugh.
  But the author didn't get grumpy & stressed with having to wait as I did. She thought about the experience as being grateful for the chance to slow down from all the rushing around she'd been doing. I'll have to try it!
  So next time you see a woman with a huge smile on her face as she pushes her trolley through a crowded supermarket and then waits a long time in a line - it might be me!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Advent Calendar Activities - Week 1

Week One of Advent
Every morning when we wake up we're full of anticipation, wondering what activity we'll be doing from the Advent Calendar. You see, apart from Day 1, I shuffled up the little cards that go in the Advent envelopes, so it really is a 'lucky dip' surprise each day. Pete looks forward to reading out the day's card as much as I do. We're like a couple of big kids!
   So here's what we've been doing each day this week, the first seven days of Advent.

  1. Decorate the Christmas tree: I love doing this! It's a red and white decorating theme this year and I've hand-stitched almost all the decorations out of felt.
  2. Do a random act of kindness: Mine was at the supermarket, Pete's was at a music event.
  3. Make a wish upon a star together: It was rainy and cloudy and we couldn't see the stars! I was in a silly mood (blame it on the season!) so I got the star from the top of the Christmas tree and held it up! And I didn't stop at one wish - I snuck in a couple of others as well.
  4. Make the Christmas cake: The house smelt lovely all day.
  5. Send the Christmas cards: I got the ones for people overseas written and posted.
  6. Read a Christmas book: 'Chicken Soup for the Soul - Christmas' had some very touching tales and I enjoyed reading about the customs from Edwardian times in 'The Country Diary Christmas Book' by Sue Hollis.
  7. Make a donation to a charity: We gave money to the local branch of a national organisation. I hope that it benefits their work in our area.
Now I wonder what tomorrow will bring!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

... to Slow Down

A Dublin Bay Rose
Take the time today to slow down. 
  "But how can I slow down?" I know you're thinking. "It's nearly the end of the year. There's so much I have to get done before Christmas. I have to do this, this and this for work. Then there's the Christmas shopping and I haven't even thought about what we'll have for Christmas dinner. I don't have time to slow down."
  But when you're overstretched like this, and feeling pressured, and your 'To Do' list is growing by the minute, that is exactly the time you need to slow down.
  So rest for a few moments, clear your mind and focus on this rose that is growing over our cottage door. Imagine its sweet perfume. You know the old saying: 
     Take time to stand and stare. Take time to smell the roses.