I recently heard a psychologist discussing the drive some people feel to purchase the perfect gifts for Christmas, with little regard to cost. This psychologist maintained that people remember the traditions of Christmas long past the euphoria of that perfect gift. I began to think back to my childhood and she was right as the memories I treasure are not of any particular gift but rather the traditions my family followed.

Christmas morning we had to wait until my father had returned from the barn chores and had eaten his breakfast. It was the only time of the year that Dad decided to partake of a second cup of coffee. Oh, how he loved watching his three children squirm in anticipation of getting to tear into the colourfully wrapped parcels beneath the tree. It was a real tree, I might add. We would trek off to the woods and try to locate that perfect tree. One year Dad was busy at work and my brother and I chaffed that we would not get the tree in time to decorate for Christmas. Off to the woods, carrying an axe, my brother and I found what we felt was the perfect tree. We chopped it down and found it was too heavy for us to carry even between us so we dragged it up the path to the house. This was not a white Christmas year and the fact that we slugged the tree through the mud resulted in a very dirty tree. Dad stood the tree up against the clothes line and washed our perfect tree before it could be taken inside. This tree was often discussed around the family dinner table.

Real stockings were put out for Santa to fill but Mom grew tired of sticky, hard candy getting stuck in the toes and replaced the stockings with agate pie plates. A real treat on the plate was a juicy, big orange. Oranges were not a common item in the house. Our Grandfather would buy us a case of mandarin oranges each year. Large bowls of fresh fruit appeared on the table Christmas Day.

Special food was part of the traditions in our house. Our home was the gathering point for aunts, uncles and cousins. We raised our own turkeys and a large bird was always saved for Mom to roast in her large kitchen oven. She would serve carrot pudding with hard sauce, mincemeat, cherry, pumpkin and apple pie.

At the end of Christmas week the same family members would once again arrive to celebrate the New Year. My grandfather would go into Kingston to the fish market and buy large containers of fresh oysters. Mom would turn these little gems into a large kettle of oyster stew. The stew was served with cheese, crackers and pickles. Only one person around the table made a meal of the cheese, crackers and pickles. Apparently oysters are not everyone’s cup of tea.

Once the ‘old guy’ and I had a family of our own we started some of our own traditions. After church on Christmas Eve, pyjamas would magically appear on the kids beds. Breakfast was always turnovers; a tradition we carry on even today.

Special Christmas ornaments, handed down through the family are unwrapped and placed on the tree and around the house. There is nothing of great value, except in the memories of family.

The wonderful thing about traditions is that they can be started at any time. Whether it be taking a drive around the community to take in the glory of all the lights of the season, cooking a special recipe that only appears at Christmas, donating to the local hospital, church or mission, to assist others or something that is only special to your family, you too can create a tradition.

Take some time this year to start your own tradition and have a Merry Christmas.


The Magic of Christmas

I have been indulging in syrupy, romantic, feel good Christmas movies. This past week-end I noted to “the old guy” that the movie plots were:

  • boy meets girl
  • they hate each other
  • boy and girl fall in love
  • a crisis tears them apart
  • the miss-understand is resolved
  • boy and girl fall hopelessly in love and they live happily ever after

Not to sound like I really don’t enjoy these movies I must back track and tell you how I love the settings. I think each movie begins with an aerial and street shot of the same cozy, Christmas town with a different name. Christmas decorations abound everywhere to create the setting and it always ends with a gentle snow fall, even in California. There must be snow to be a Christmas movie. A recent movie focused around Christmas magic and involved a mysterious Christmas Stocking that kept giving clues to happiness for the distressed family.

This movie made me think about the true magic of Christmas. For me the magic is the decorations, food, music and general love and good will that envelopes people. People are more willing to donate to food banks and various charities this time of year. Everywhere folks are wishing each other “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or Season’s Greetings”. There are many variations to avoid upsetting anyone who does not celebrate Christmas but you still want them to feel happy and included in all the euphoria.

The distressing issue around this Christmas Magic is that like a light switch, it turns off after the end of December. After Christmas decorations are tenderly wrapped and stored away for another year I encourage us all to remember there will still be people in need of a food bank and charities needing cash to support hospitals, research and assisting those in need. Help keep the magic all year and have a Merry whatever.


Imagination versus Curiosity

In a recent article that I was sent, the writer; Paul Lima; says that a freelance writer should ABC (always be curious). The point he makes is that a writer should always ask questions whether it be of a person they meet while walking the dog or at a social outing. I totally agree that a story can be found by asking the right questions but I realize that for me there is also the quirky ability to look at something ordinary and see a story. Case in point, I recently was taking a blouse off a wooden hanger when the hanger fell to the floor. When I picked it up I noticed that the initials EH were on the hanger. EH was my grandmother, a women who has been deceased for over 60 years. How this wooden hanger found its way into my closet I am not sure. I know that it has been there for over 40 years but this day I saw it as a story. What kind of clothes have hung on it over the years? Did it once hang in a closet in my grandparents farm-house, holding one of my grandmother’s cotton house-dresses or was it a place of honour for a black or maybe blue, crepe dress for special occasions. It would have been worn for church, a wedding or a funeral, as these are the only places my grandmother would have gone to dressed up. Perhaps the dress would have been accessorized with a string of pearls and a lace trimmed handkerchief would have peaked out of the long sleeve. I do remember finding a faux Persian Lamb coat in a cardboard wardrobe and this hanger would have been strong enough to support a heavy coat. What kinds of stories could this hanger tell about the clothes that graced its shoulders?

Was the hanger shocked by the clothes that I use it for? There would have been nothing prim and proper hanging off it over the past years. Styles have changed so much since my grandmother first hung this wooden hanger in her closet.

The point that I am making is that an ordinary clothes hanger may have its own story to share with the world. I wish that I could ask it (ABC) to tell me about its life but alas it is only a wooden hanger.

Paul Lima is correct is telling freelance writers to be curious but sometimes a crazy imagination can produce a story too.

The Great Key Hunt

In our house the keys have a specific home to enable us to always grab the keys when we need them. The exception to this is when we back the car out of the garage to allow us to get at the lawnmower and look after cutting our lawn. My habit has been to leave the keys on a shelf on the garage until the lawnmower is returned to its rightful place.

Yesterday when I went to retrieve the keys from the shelf they were nowhere to be seen. I asked “the Old Guy” if he had picked them up and he advised me that he had not seen them. That is when the ‘great key hunt’ began. First we checked under the wire shelving and generally looked around the garage. We checked the recycle bins. No keys were found. Next place to check was the car, no keys. Checked under the car.  Returned to the car with the “Old Guy” in the backseat and myself in the front, checking between the driver’s seat and the consul. No keys but we did recover a pen, a missing camera lens cover, container of dental floss, not sure why dental floss was there, and a small cardboard box.

From the car we moved into the house and checked all the rooms. No Keys! We then walked the yard thinking the keys may have been in my pocket or on the mower and dropped somewhere along the path the mower took. No Keys! Checked under the shrubbery thinking they may have dropped from the a fore mentioned pockets or mower. No Keys! At this point “the Old Guy” made me stand still while he patted me down, just like when I go through security at the airport and trigger the alarm with my artificial hip. I told him I had already checked my pockets.  No Keys!

Returning to the garage I remembered that I had been eating a nectarine and perhaps I had tossed away the pit and keys together. I held my nose and emptied out all the garbage. No Keys! “The Old Guy” went in the house and did the same with the kitchen garbage. No Keys!

Two hours had passed and we were both frustrated. Replacing car keys is no longer as easy as going to the hardware store and having a copy made. Key fobs are fancy and costly to replace. I decided to clear my mind and wash the car; after all it was still on the driveway. I let my mind wander trying to remember the exact steps I took after parking the car; but no epiphany.

After washing the car I once again walked the lawn and basically retraced all the previous places. I asked my neighbour to watch along the property line as she was cutting her lawn. By this time we were both tired, hot,  totally frustrated and resigned to accept the keys were lost.

I retreated into the air-conditioning and stretched out in the recliner. In need of a tissue I reached into my pocket. Being sweaty the tissue was wet and I pulled out a small piece about the size of a quarter. I reached again and was rewarded with another small piece. Not to be denied a tissue I pushed further into the pocket and realized that the pocket widened at the bottom and I was able to clutch the whole tissue. But wait, what was that sharp object in the nether regions of the pocket? I looked at over at “the Old Guy” and said “oh my god”. “No, don’t tell me” he said. I tugged on the sharp object and there they were. The keys ! I can’t believe that after two checks of the pockets they did not yield this hiding place. This pocket is obviously a great place to secure things but only if you remember putting something there.

I told my neighbour the keys had been located and where. Her chuckling response was “I think you just had a seniors moment”.

And the Heavens Roared

Last night the heavens opened amid flashes of light and claps of thunder. It is the first big, summer thunderstorm in this area. Many others have happened throughout the province over the past few months. We have experienced heavy rain and wind but mostly the thunder was no louder than a hungry stomach.

The storm brought back memories of my childhood. While I snuggled down in my bed listening to the cacophony of rain and thunder and watching the room light up with each lightning bolt I was catapulted back to an old farmhouse. When an electrical storm approached my parents would wake us from our sound sleep and tell us to dress. We would be instructed to sit in the middle of the living-room well away from electrical outlets and all windows were closed to prevent drafts.

We would sit like that until the storm moved on and then would be allowed to return to bed. Blessedly as children sleep came quickly.

For years I have feared thunderstorms and when high wind accompanies the storm I would hold my breath in fear of what might happen. When the ‘old guy’ and I lived in the country we built our dream house in the woods. Wind became a bigger fear for me and our life there was not without incident.

Shortly after moving in rain and wind arrived as we slept. Why do these things seem to like to interfere with my sleep? I heard a thump outside the window and decided that something had blown over outside. Now my head was beneath the window and when I woke in the morning I peeked out to see what a blown over and much to my surprise I was greeted with the branches of a large tree tickling the side of the house. The tree had fallen parallel to the house. It was a narrow escape and the only good thing was that we now had additional fire wood.

A second wind storm twisted the top off a majestic pine tree and deposited it across our backyard. Once again firewood was harvested. It seems that wind is as dangerous as the feared thunderstorms of my childhood.

For health reasons we sold our beloved home in the woods and moved into a sub-division. The small flowering crab tree in the backyard the small red maple in the front-yard do not pose a threat other than they might be destroyed by the wind but definitely will not damage our home.

Now, back to last night’s storm I feel that I may have overcome some of my fears and only cringed a couple of times when the storm seemed extra close. I listened to the rumble of thunder move away and sighed thinking it was over but like a large jungle cat on the prowl the storm would turn back and roar loader making its presence known once again.

I may have overcome the desire to get out of bed, dress and sit out the storm but some fears linger on. I wonder if my parents had any idea of how traumatic it all was for their children.

Peggy the Pig

Finally a hot summer day without rain. With friends we set out to explore and look for antiques/collectibles/junk. At one of our stops we were greeted by free range chickens who flapped their wings and clucked chasing after us. We thought they feared we would steal their feed.

Antiques/collectibles/junk was stored in silos, barns and outbuildings. This was a former farm converted to a great place to explore and look for that special, unexpected treasure. Old, rusted farm tools, signs, boxes and so much more to try to visualize in your home.


I ventured into a barn filled with stuff piled on top of more stuff. Cupboards, tables, benches and old baby equipment lined the abandoned stalls. Cats, kittens and bunny rabbits slept quietly among the clutter. Pigeons and raccoons scurried above my head, so this is not for the faint of heart. A new door was open, leading to a hay mow and I could see more treasures in there. With a little effort I was able to hoist myself into the mow and was delighted to see more wooden boxes and furniture. Turning one corner I stopped in my tracks and stood still in shock. Laying across the straw path was a large pink and dark, grey spotted pig. Flies crawled and hovered around her eyes and snout but she never moved. She was breathing so I did not fear that I found a dead critter. I later learned this was Peggy, a family pet who apparently would not have minded if I stepped over her or even on her.

Walking back across the yard I found a beautiful seed mill that sent me hurling back into memories of childhood. The mill is about the size of a small trailer and was used to clean grain before it was planted in the fields. The wooden sides were red, painted wood with a fancy scroll design much like some German folk art. This was a much hated job during the Easter break from school where we were sent to the barn to clean the grain. I took it upon myself to explain to the folks standing around how this piece worked. Grain was poured into a hopper on the top and when the mill was turned on the grain was shaken through a set of screens to remove the chaff and small weed seeds. To demonstrate I did a shimmy. Apparently the watchers did not understand and asked me to do the shimmy again…….hmmm.

After all the shaking and shimmying takes place the clean grain is removed from the mill and bagged for transport to the field.

We went into the house and the silly chickens tried to follow but were chased away by the owner of the business. A few treasurers were purchased but the highlight of the day was Peggy the Pig.

The Sweet Spot

At the end of a hot summer day there is a time I call ‘the sweet spot’. It is short and should not be missed. Recently I had the pleasure of experiencing it with a friend in a small, hospital garden. This inspired me to write the following poem. Now, for those of you who know the rules for writing poetry, you will say, “she broke all the rules”. I don’t care. I am simply putting words to my experience.

At the end of a hot summer day there is a sweet spot

The air becomes soft and gentle

The breeze caresses your face

Despite this breeze the garden is still

A raised garden sports food for future dishes

Tangy dill, pungent cilantro, tiny green tomatoes

Perhaps a salsa in the making

Puffy, white hydrangea gleam in the shade

Tiny, red roses climb with abandon, yellow day lilies in constant bloom

All ignoring the tall weeds that crowd into the garden

Wasps flit under the wooden table to build a nest

A sidewalk winds its way around the small space

Quiet relaxation to soothe the soul

Dampness creeps in to chase the sweet spot away

Scant minutes and it is gone

The sweet spot is not a time to pull weeds, or take on other gardening duties. It is a time to savour a glass of wine, a cup of tea or coffee and best of all to spend time with a friend and engage in quiet conversation. Don’t miss ‘the sweet spot of summer’.

A Tale of Many Peter Rabbits

There must have been some very frisky bunnies around the neighbourhood as we are now overrun with baby bunnies, teenage bunnies and big, fat adult bunnies. They are fat due to chowing down on the neighbourhood gardens. Apparently they like daisies, tulips, Echinacea, heuchera, Rudbeckia and coleus to mention a few of the plants nibbled on in my garden. My neighbours are all experiencing loss of plants to the little rascals. One aggressive adult rabbit pulled down on a branch of a lilac and broke it off.

Having so many rabbits in the yard triggered several memories; one in particular, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter. I went searching the book shelves and sure enough I still have a copy of the story, so I settled down to read the story once again. It is a short read as it is designed for young minds. Potter originally created Peter to cheer up a sick child. She wrote him a story letter with accompanying illustrations. Peter first appeared in 1902 in “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”. He was a mischievous little bunny who disobeyed his mother’s warnings and entered the garden of Mr. McGregor. When I read of Mr. McGregor chasing Peter I chuckled as it reminded me of the days when my two oldest grandsons would chase the rabbits out of my garden, with the promise that they could keep any rabbits they captured. Needless to say no rabbits were injured or caught. A few years later one of my granddaughters asked if they caught two could they keep both, of course.

Fast forward to a new neighbourhood and I looked out the window to see the grandson of a neighbour chasing a rabbit across our lawn. I guess chasing rabbits never gets old. He too was unable to capture a rabbit.

Desperate to deter all these “Peter Rabbits” from destroying our gardens I tried yelling at them, chasing them myself with a broom and even telling them that I know how to cook rabbit and they are quite tasty. They ignored it all. After more research on how to stop these gregarious, plant-eating mammals from raiding the garden I found a safe, friendly method. I planted marigolds among my other plants. Apparently the smell of this flower is repugnant to rabbits. What a great solution; safe and cheap and as a bonus the bright colours look cheery in the garden. My plants have been stunted and may not achieve their true potential this summer but will live to bloom another day.

A Difference in Perspective

During a recent holiday, family members treated us to a tour of a “Lottery Dream Home”. The two-story home, furnished by designers, is a fund-raiser for a local hospital. On the first viewing we encountered a well laid out mud room/ laundry room. The room featured lots of storage for boots, shoes, hats, mitts and all the accouterments associated with the always changing weather of this country. There would be no excuse for tossing clothing and footwear on the floor of this entrance from the garage.

The next room we entered was the kitchen and this is where our views changed. As ‘mature retired’ folks we were looking for easy of care. A mirror back splash does not contribute to easy clean. Can you imagine cooking bacon on the stove top with a mirror gleaming behind it? It would be a greasy mess once the cooking was complete. Twelve foot ceilings housed cupboards to the top and we wondered how you would ever reach items in them.

The house was painted out mainly in white and had batten and board design on most walls. Incorporated into the wall design mirrors where everywhere. White furniture was found in both the living room and family room. All lovely but so impractical for a family. Another couple of our vintage commented on how hard it would be to dust the batten and board walls.  The little corners would require a q-tip swab to remove the dust.

The family room featured a dry bar, winer cooler, pub tables and a large sectional to enjoy television. A very narrow, electric  fireplace was inserted into the batten and board feature. A strange cubby enclosed by open board design was piled high with pillows. Not sure what the point of this was as it could only be a place for children to snuggle and read. Having raised a family and being grandparent I can only see this as a messy, toy laden place on a daily basis.

The mirrors recurred in many rooms, including dining room, sitting room and vanity doors of the bathrooms. The lucky winner of this home would need to purchase glass cleaner by the five gallon pail.

We asked volunteers why they didn’t feature a “regular” home as part of their lottery and we were told that they did try that once and the tickets did not sell well. People are looking for the ultimate “dream home”. We have to agree that this home does deliver as a “Dream Home”; even though we may have a difference in perspective.  May the lucky winner find happiness in a truly dream like setting.

The Much Maligned Dandelion

A warm, sunny day spent creating a chain from dandelion stems is a happy childhood memory for many. Who hasn’t held the yellow bloom close under a young friends chin, pretending to determine if they like butter, only to rub the flower on their skin leaving a yellow stain?

The much maligned dandelion is the enemy of many gardeners. Money and time is spent eradicating the yellow marauder. There is another side to this herb. All the parts of the plant can be consumed either for food, drink or medicinal purposes.

A truly resilient plant, dandelion’s grow in pastures, lawns, waste ground, sand, rocks and even pop up in the cracks of concrete. They are the first shot of colour to appear in the spring. Yellow is such a happy colour even if we consider the plant a weed.


Harvested from lawns or meadows that have not been sprayed the leaves, flowers or roots can be used for making tea, wine a coffee substitute or salad.

By washing flowers and leaves and steeping in hot water for 15-20 minutes a cup of dandelion tea can be made. To make tea from roots; thoroughly wash roots then chop into fine pieces, heat on high for approximately 2 hours and finally steep 1-2 teaspoons in hot water for 10 minutes.

Local health food stores may offer prepared dandelion root as a coffee substitute. To make your own coffee substitute, roast young dandelion roots to a dark brown colour. Steep roasted roots in hot water, strain and enjoy.

Another use of the yellow plant is the making of wine. They are best harvested between the end of March and beginning of May, using the fermented flowers.

Dandelion’s have more vitamins and minerals than most vegetables. The next time you feel like digging out or spraying dandelions on your lawn think about the great ways they can be used beneficially.