Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Circle

It wasn't long after I wrote this post about my grandma's 92nd birthday that she started experiencing shortness of breath. In early November, she was admitted to hospital, and we all expected that she'd soon be up and at 'em again. She's always been highly energetic, active in the church and community, a card shark, and the person who lights up a room she enters.

We visited with the kids, and that brightened Grandma's day. We're a family of women that are comfortable with life's natural processes; my mother retired from 35+ years of nursing, my sister is a doula, and we've all given birth at home. We're not easily grossed out by illness and what comes with it. I want my children to feel comfortable with the idea of people aging, and explained to them that GG's body was tired because it had been alive for so long! They in turn felt quite at home during our visit to the hospital.
Margot helps herself to GG's lunch.

Violet was curious about all the equipment in the room.

Grandma blossomed under the sunny attention of her great-grandchildren.

After a few weeks, Grandma's health started to slip. She lost her appetite, and began to lose weight. It soon became clear that she might not get better, and her family of 3 surviving children and 3 children-in-law, 16 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren (not to mention the many nieces, nephews, and other relatives that joyfully call her "Auntie Pearl") would have to come to terms with saying goodbye to this marvellous person.

On Christmas morning, my mother woke up with a notion: she would bring Grandma home. Dad quickly agreed, and the wheels were set in motion.

On Boxing Day, my husband and brothers-in-law carried Grandma's stretcher up onto the porch, and into mom and dad's house, to the sunroom that had been transformed into a palliative care room. The bed was made up in cozy flannels, with my grandpa's favourite afghan draped across the foot. All the cards and letters she has received have been taped all around the room. Soft Celtic music plays, and Grandma is surrounded by the sight of the sky, and mom's garden in winter.

Most of all, she is surrounded by those that cherish her. On the day she arrived, a few of her great-grandchildren were present; all kissed and hugged and welcomed her. My niece even climbed up on the bed with her, and spent a peaceful while wrapped in those old arms. When my husband came to kiss her, I asked her if she knew who he was; she gave me a mock stern look, and replied, "My boyfriend!"

My mother is a caregiver extraordinaire. This evening I popped in to help mom shift Grandma on the bed to make her more comfortable, and mom performed those care-giving tasks that prove her worth as a nurse, and a daughter-in-law. Grandma looked into my mom's eyes with so much love and gratitude. They met when my mom was 12 years old, and had a crush on my dad.

The beauty of life's circle is with me as I write. I shed tears when I think of life without my dear Grandma, that indomitable woman with her irrepressible sense of humour, her love of cards and food and good company, her sharp wit and keen mind. But the peace I feel to see her in the care of family outweighs any grief I may feel, and I whisper a prayer that I might someday be so blessed.


On Christmas Eve, I lovingly placed these two little women on a rocking chair for my own little women to find the next morning.

In spite of my promise to myself to go to bed early, I decided at the last minute that their sweet little bunkbed needed mattresses and pillows, so out came the flannel and batting...

Margot was delighted to find a new baby to care for.

And both girls were delighted to find that the cats LOVE to nap in the bunk bed!

One thing I wasn't able to create by hand was the red Transformer Jude was dreaming of. Luckily, Santa helped out with that one! The Big Guy didn't come through on the pogo stick Jude requested at 9:00 pm on Christmas Eve; he did, however, write a note to Jude suggesting that he ask for one for his birthday, since pogo sticks are more a summer toy anyway. This seemed to satisfy my little man!

I plan to do one more post on Christmas; then we'll be looking forward to getting through the rest of the winter! I'm in a bit of a creative slump; all that purposeful hand-making before Christmas wore me out! I don't know what to do next...

Of course, I did start a new blog...because I'm not busy enough as it is! You can read my first post at Control Freak, where I examine and plan to challenge the unhealthy patterns I've created in my life. Please sign on as a follower and leave a comment to let me know you were there!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Wishes

'Twas the night before Christmas Eve, when all through the house, the mama was sewing like a crazy woman just to finish the dolls, quilts, knitted stuffed elephant toy, and pencil roll she'd been working on for weeks. Yes, it's that time. I'll pull an all-nighter if I have to, so that tomorrow night when the kids are abed, I can enjoy a glass of egg nog with my husband's arm around my shoulder, gazing at the Christmas tree surrounded by the gifts we managed to pull together. We'll prepare ourselves for the cacophony of noise Christmas morning will bring: the drums my husband found on the side of the road one day, and refurbished for the 4th generation of percussionists in his family (his grandfather played with the Glenn Millar Band when they toured in Ireland!)...the girls' lullabies as they tuck their new babies into their bunk beds (thrifted!)...and the sound of the coffee perk, of course.

A goal I have yet to achieve is to attain a really lovely family portrait at Christmastime. So far, it's been a Gong Show of infants crying, toddlers squirming, preschoolers looking askance or picking their noses...but I can always hope. Here are some of my favourites:
Jude wrangling his sisters, Christmas 2009

This was the best of about 15 taken in 2009; check out Jude's face...

This year's first attempt...girls in motion!

What's up there?

Margot in mid-blink...

This one is the best so far...

May your days be merry and bright, your Christmas morning noisy, your coffee generously laced with whiskey or Bailey's, and your family portraits somewhat decent! Merry Christmas, everyone; see you here in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Parade of Lights

Not too far from here lies a little community called Wilno. It is known to be the first Polish settlement in Canada. It sits high in the Wilno Hills, overlooking Round Lake; at it's highest point sits St. Mary's Church, and at its lowest sits the Wilno Tavern, home of amazing Polish fare and Blues Night on Tuesdays. I admit, I wish I lived in Wilno. It's a neat little place! Although the population must sit at around 70 souls, the locals manage to concoct a beautiful Parade of Lights every Solstice evening.

The simplest and in my opinion, loveliest Christmas image: a man, a woman, and a donkey (mule).

Father Christmas rode in a canoe!

Jude and Violet jumped at the chance to ride in the canoe with Himself.

"Joseph and Mary"

Ritsuko is a Wilno resident, flower arranger, gardener and animal husband, and also happens to make the best sushi around!
After the parade, there were homemade cookies, beverages, and presents for all the little ones inside the rink, followed by skating outside.

Wilno is also home to what may be the best Christmas lights in the Valley!

The Christmas Spirit is alive and well in the Wilno Hills. Thanks to Sylvia and all the volunteers who made this such a lovely event! And happy belated Solstice to all...here's to the return of light and hope in our lives.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Handmade Holidays: Down to the Wire!

Inspired by Amanda's Solstice pyjamas, my friend Maureen and I created these Christmas pjs over two craft sessions. On the first night, we sewed the pants (perhaps a tutorial in the New Year?); the stitch ripper got some exercise, but Maureen diligently learned to put in the waistband elastic!

Our second session involved creating matching tops, using plain shirts and fabric paint. I realised after painting the apple on the white shirt below that the seeds are NOT that close to the skin, but I doubt Violet will notice! I'm really pleased with the way Jude's dinosaur turned out!

These slippers were inspired by this post! I'd been hanging on to this whimsical felted wool sweater, unwilling to cut it up until I found the perfect project...turns out this was it! It honestly took about 30 minutes to make this one slipper! I can't give them away, so they're my handmade gift to ME! I just love them: the fit, the colours, the little crocheted cuff...they're just so sweet! They'll definitely be on my New Year's "to make before December 2011" list!
Another lovely idea that is QUICK involves turning vintage women's watches into photo-bracelets. I saw this in a magazine years ago and would give credit if I had the slightest notion what it was. But I don't. The picture of my hubby (on the right) was taken in the first week we met, and the baby niece in the other photo is now twelve, so that should give an idea of how long ago I made these!

10 years ago you could find these old watches relatively cheaply at thrift stores and yard sales. Just remove the back plate, trace it onto a photo, place the photo in and replace the back. Voila! These look so lovely and charming when worn together in a group. The patina and unique details of these vintage pieces of jewellery rival any "fake vintage" stuff out there. Ask your mom or grandma if they have old watches kicking around...

And last, possibly most insanely, but definitely not least:

Quite belatedly, I decided to try my hand at some Waldorf-style dolls for my girls. We're cleaning up some old thrifted furniture (doll bunk beds, cradle, and rocking chair), and I've sewn some doll-sized quilts. Naturally, the only thing missing is a pair of dolls! We have your usual garden-variety craptastic dolls, given to us and picked up at yard sales over the years. None of them is a favourite with my girls, but somehow they continue to multiply. I've decided to get rid of them all! They have no charm, no spirit, no personality!

Using a tutorial I found here, combined with previous doll-making experience, I sat down last night to craft the heads. I'm really quite happy with how they turned out; they look friendly without simpering, sweet without being saccharine. Of course, those little quiffs on top of their heads make them look like Casper the Ghost (as my ever-observant hubby pointed out)...so now the challenge is creating hair. I acquired some beautiful mohair from a friend down the road and crocheted this wig base:

This is the second attempt and my (ever-helpful) hubby said "Achtung!" to both (because he thinks these so-called wigs look like WWII German helmets). Sigh. I'm out of this colour so can't loop longer pieces through this so-called base. Time's a-ticking...but for now, this elf is off to bed. I'll do a whole post about these little dollies if/when they come to fruition. This is looking like a last Handmade Holiday post, for this year anyway.

Thanks to Tonya at Plain and Joyful Living for inspiring and hosting this wonderful blog-share!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mama's Elves

Sigh. You know that sigh, the one you may suppress each time your children follow the question "What are you doing, mommy?" with "Can I help?". The sigh that suggests the indicated task just might get done in less time, with less mess, if you could just do it yourself...

I've done a lot of sighing this Christmas season. Untangling lights. Decorating the tree. Making gifts and cards. Wrapping said gifts. But I almost always say yes. This is what memories are made of, after all.

My older sister, wise woman that she is, told me to let myself off the hook when it comes to baking this year. She suggested I go and BUY cookies! They're cheap, they're good, and my kids don't really know the difference yet. I may follow her up on that suggestion, but it just wouldn't feel like Christmas here without at least one batch of sugar cookies.

You can tell that I copied this down as my mom dictated it to me over the phone! Here it is in clearer language:
Cream together 1 cup Crisco shortening and 1 cup white sugar. Then add 1 egg, slightly beaten, and 1 tsp. vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl, combine 2 1/2 cups flour2 tsp. cream of tartar, 1 tsp. soda,, and 1/2 tsp salt.
Mix two bowls together. Roll to about 1/4 inch thick, cut, and bake at 325 degrees F for 10 minutes. Cool on rack, then decorate with icing sugar/water glaze (add colour if you wish). Go crazy with the sprinkles!

While you bake, allow your toddler to hang off the pockets of your jeans.

And allow your preschooler to "paint her nails" with the icing, then lick it all off.

Finally, give full creative license to your little decorators!

A memory we'll cherish in years to come, because once again, (albeit through gritted teeth), I said yes.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Random Moments

A few last shots from our dream weekend in a log cabin in the woods:

Margot, a book, and those luscious toddler-legs!

Like a wee acorn under an oak tree...Margot and her daddy.

Margot yet again, watching her siblings and cousins sliding outside.

Me, the voyeur, looking through the window at my brother and sister washing dishes!

And Margot (again!), helping Nanny wash the dishes.

A week has passed since that blissful Christmassy getaway, and we're already dreaming about next year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Scenes from the Homestead

As part of our attempts to keep things a bit simpler this year, I've decorated minimally. I wouldn't say I'm a natural at Christmas decorating; my mother, and my friend Shanti, ARE...they artfully swag their windows with boughs, shelves drip greenery and berries in a seemingly effortless way; there is a perfect balance between natural and glittery decor. I LOVE the way this looks. I try it every year. And am always disappointed with the results. I am good at many things. Decorating is not one of them.

So, here are a few scenes from our home that give the message to all who visit: we're in the spirit!

Jupiter and Camino find the best bed in the house: under the tree!

 A quilt I handstitched years ago is repurposed as the perfect tree skirt!

I love simple window dressings, choosing bits of nature over curtains. Why block out that view of the duck/chicken house? This milkweed pod star fits perfectly within the circle of this berry wreath.

NOELves! I made these when I was a child and my mom recently passed them on to me. How simple, and sweet!

A birchbark star wreath, inspired by my friend Maureen.

A new ornament: a feather inside a glass tear, a gift from my sister Julie.

Last year's homemade stockings, one from vintage velvet and shell buttons, the other from a thrifted sweater and vintage buttons.

Sometimes in the whirlwind of Christmas preparations, it's good to remind yourself to KISS!*
*Keep It Simple, Stupid

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oh, What Fun

This magnificent creature is a Belgian horse. You may be used to seeing them in a chestnut colour. These two big boys were the only foals out of 13 born to their dam to come out black. They're a striking pair, and go by the names Jack and Joe.

Jude pays his respects to Jack.

Just around the bend from the cabin where we celebrated an early Christmas is Twin Wheels Farm, the home of our hosts, Joe and Carole Van Massenhoven. Joe (the man) is Belgian, too, and hitched these boys up to take us all on a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the woods.

"Jingle Bells" is one of the more over-played and schmaltzy of Christmas songs, but I'll admit, we were all charmed by the shush of the sleigh's runners on the snow, the muffled hoofbeats, and the silvery jingle of the sleighbells. The beauty of travelling without any impact on the environment or motor-noise, the pastoral setting and cold air on our cheeks, our hands warm under the blankets all conspired to create the most idyllic of winter moments.

The power of these animals is absolutely awesome. After we travelled down to the lake, they had to pull us up a rather long and steep hill. They dug in, haunches straining, and worked as reliably as any 4x4 to pull us up, encouraged by Joe's verbal prompts, including "Dig in, Joe!!" Once they reached the top, they took a short rest, chests heaving, breathing strained. I could only imagine the thundering of their large, powerful hearts. Incredible animals, are horses.

My niece, Meredith, found it all very calming!

My brother looked totally blissed out, whether from the sleigh ride or from being cozied up with  his new fiancee, Ada, I don't know!

My sister Lana sat up front with Jude.

It is a beautiful thing to watch an experienced horseman with animals he has raised and trained; they communicate through sounds, words, and body language. These giant beasts obey Joe, and are willing to work for him. It is what they were born to do. It is extreme to imagine a world where horses are once again put into service as transportation and farm labour...but there's no harm in extreme imaginings, is there?

The sound of the runners on snow combined with the swaying of the sleigh put little Violet to sleep.

But she woke up in time to join us all in the farmhouse for homemade cookies, hot apple cider, and a visit with some newly-born Pomeranian puppies. No, I'm not kidding. Twin Wheels Farm is THE place for warm hospitality and a truly rural-Canadian experience.