Saturday, December 31, 2016

A tradition of keeping non-traditional traditions

The end of the year -- a time for thought, evaluation, and maybe reconsideration of things that may no longer be of value.

This Christmas I've been quietly examining some of the holiday traditions we practise here in the 'tree fort' behind the cedars.

Bottom-line is I'm pretty much a traditionalist, even if some of those traditions are a bit non-traditional or at least not conventional ones.

As an example, our Christmas Eve tradition means that quite a few people -- family and friends -- come over for a big supper. The menu has remained fixed for decades: Swedish meatballs with egg noodles. And no, we're not Swedish. Nor is anyone in the circle of diners who gather around the table that night. There's a story behind the meatballs, of course, but because everyone in the vicinity of the table groans if I even begin to mention it, know that you too shall be spared this retelling.

The Christmas tradition includes way too many sweets, with baking starting days before the big event. Most of these are confections I make every year -- butter tarts, cinnamon cookies, chocolate-dipped apricots (that have been soaking in brandy since November).

There's even tradition with these, as the butter tart recipe was given to me by my former mother-in-law and the formula for the cookies came down from my Grampa Jim. He was a baker in a hospital and the surviving recipe is one that's been cut down from the mammoth proportions he needed for the hundreds he made. The apricots, though I've made them for many years, carry less mystique. I'm pretty sure I found those in a Woman's Day or Family Circle, magazines where I often took quiet refuge when my kids were growing up. (And I'll admit to some surprise that both of these publications still exist, perhaps providing inspiration or escape to some other harried mother.)

One tradition I've always tried to carry on (besides making a donation to the food bank) is to ensure that everyone in the family gets a toy for Christmas -- this despite the fact that all of us are now 'too old' for toys.

This year, my kids saw to it that this tradition applied to me, with both of them giving me a fantastic toy -- my very own Lego. It's one of those spectacular 'idea sets' -- the Yellow Submarine, complete with four Beatles and a Jeremy. It took a while to assemble the 550 or so pieces, but the time was so relaxing, I loved every minute. It helped that the parts were divided into five bags, complete with warning to not open the next bag until all the bits from the previous one had been used. Reviews of the set make it look like just about everyone who got one of these has had fun with it.

So, what did I learn from playing with Lego? Probably the most valuable part of the gift was that it forced me to 'play' at something with no consequence whatsoever. And maybe the best part of that experience was that looking at the finished submarine still makes me smile, maybe even makes my shoulders go down a little bit. So maybe the tradition I most want to add to my list of non-traditional traditions is the resolve to do something mindless more often, to remember the importance of play.
And with that I say, On to the new year!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

On with the light!

Yesterday marked the Solstice -- the first official day of winter for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere. For the rest of the planet, it's now officially summer, and time to crank up the barbie, not the furnace.

It also would have (should have) been Frank Zappa's 76th birthday. A friend recently sent me a link to a bizarre performance of Frank playing a bicycle as part of one of his fantastic compositions.

But even more bizarre than making music on a bicycle is the raft of 'fake news' we've seen of late. Yesterday's example was a widely circulated story that apparently had no scientific basis, claiming that this year's solstice would bring "the longest night in 500 years." While the hyperbolic nature of the headline should have been enough to raise caution flags, many sources (including plenty of supposedly trustworthy news sites), gave it a prominent spot in their coverage of the changing of the season. I can only hope the announcement that solar energy is now cheaper than wind power isn't another such made-up story.

I suppose 'fake news' is merely an offshoot of the term that's been deemed by the Oxford Dictionary as word of the year: post-truth. That word may indeed be all-too-relevant for the times in which we live, though I'm more inclined to go with Merriam-Webster's word for the year: surreal.

Who was it -- supposedly the ancient Chinese -- who gave us the curse: May you live in surreal times.

Or, if that doesn't sound quite right, let's choose a blessing instead: Let there be light -- and let there be solar power to provide it.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Wintry thoughts

This was the view out the back door this morning. Fresh snow adding its weight to the snow that's been here for a week or so already. It's a far cry from the way the same space looks during the summer, verdant with all those salad fixin's.

In some ways, I suppose such a "Christmasy view" should put me into a bright and cheery holiday mood. In other ways, I'll admit, it depresses me. The negative effect comes when I think about the homeless, all too many of whom surround us. Where do they go when the weather's like this?

And even more depressing is the numbers that keep rolling in with just about every day's news, how many more overdoses can there be in a single night?

The fentanyl crisis has led me to a longer piece of writing -- one I'm still working on, one I'm hoping may find a broader audience than this little blog, one that might even help change things for the better. While words seem to be the only defence I have against any of these horrific situations, there are certainly too many days when words are nowhere near enough.

Yet I'm not sure what I can do beyond seeking words. And where to look for them, but to the garden -- even in winter -- for encouragement and inspiration.

Especially to the hardiest green, the kale. A lesson in survival, to be sure.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

To market, to market...

Today was the last day for the local Farmers' Market -- at least for 2016. Because it's December, there wasn't much available in the way of produce, but the vendors made up for that with trinkets, crafts and a huge assortment of baked goods. There were also plenty of jars of jam, jelly and juice -- the traditional preserves resulting from summer's bounty.

I was lucky enough to get there just in time to get the last dozen eggs from my faithful supplier. She's kind enough to come into town during the winter so we don't have to resort to store-bought (tired) ones.
The marketplace (indoor this time of year) was festive, with people buying poinsettias and extending early Merry Christmas wishes to each other.

Even for a humbugger like me, the carols (unlike the annoyingly tinny ones at the mall), played on an accordion, helped set the tone of neighbourly warmth.

The ritual of the farmers' market is an example of community at its best. Come May, when it's back outside, we'll be there Sunday mornings -- even if not 'to buy a fat pig.' And as always, while we go about choosing our fruit and vegies we'll chat and hug and laugh with each other, recognizing that even if we don't live next door each other, we're neighbours.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Anniversaries and observations

It was 75 years ago that the attack on Pearl Harbor took place. And this week, the world might have moved a few steps closer to peace. Baby steps, I suppose they might have to be called. Still. Even small progress always seems worth noting.

In summer President Obama visited Hiroshima. Now Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting Pearl Harbor. Although neither man is apologizing for sins of the past, Abe did say, "We must never repeat the tragedy of the war" and made a commitment to that stance.

Now if the U.S. could make a similar commitment, perhaps the rest of the world would fall into line with that kind of thinking. How's that for an early Christmas wish?

As for the photo of the man in uniform, it's one I've posted on this blog of mine before. Nonetheless, it's important enough that I'm putting it up there again. It's my dad. And today's the day he would have been 98. In uniform on account of events all those years ago at Pearl Harbor, the day he would have been turning 23.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Yet another pipeline

Only I'm not about to protest this particular pipeline, as its purpose is innocent. It's not for transporting oil or the dreaded bitumen. Instead it's to transport water.

The city has determined that some of the pipes in our neighbourhood are aging and in need of being replaced. So that's what they're doing -- digging a ditch and taking out the old ones, replacing them with new ones. The project goes all the way up our street and around the corner for now.

Water. Without it, we wouldn't be here at all.