View From The Glen

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Old Christmas Card

There's an old Christmas card
In an old dusty trunk
And it brings back sweet memories
Dear to me...
- Jim Reeves -

I'm not one of those people who starts to celebrate Christmas in November. My mother (who puts her tree up Nov 30, and this year managed to sneak it up a week earlier than that) berates me for it with such ammunition as "Your brother will have his tree up by now," but I happily ignore it all beacause for me it is enough to celebrate Christmas for the whole of December.
My tree goes up around the 6-10 of December, and the decorations inside and out at the same time.
I even prefer to Christmas shop in December, although I do online ordering in November to ensure delivery, and I like to have a list drawn up as completely as possible.

But the one thing Christmassy that I do love to do in November is Christmas Cards. I love the tradition of sending cards to old friends and new. The children and I make some for family as well, and have a great time being creative and witty with them where possible.

I don't do Christmas letters any more, but I do make sure to handwrite a small note in each card, particularly to those people I don't keep in touch with regularly through the year, but who it is nonetheless nice to keep in touch with at Christmas.

My cards are ready to go now. I just have to pop them in the mail. Now it feels like Christmas is around the corner.
Another week or so and I may even let the kids sing Christmas songs!
Below are some of the farm-related cards we've made in past years;
1. This is our bull, Hughie.

2. This is our llama and a couple of sheep.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When Did She Get So Tall?

We were sitting at dinner the other night and Grace asked for some bread and butter.

I'll get it, Anna said.

I've seen them do it a hundred times. We leave a little footstool in the kitchen so that the girls can reach the bottom shelves of the upper cupboards.

(And incidentally so that I can reach the upper shelves of the upper cupboards).

So I was taken aback on glancing over to see her casually reaching into the cupboard for the bread, with both feet planted firmly on the floor.

She's all long legs and spindly arms. When did she get so tall?

I knew Erik was tall. He always has been for his age. But last time I checked Anna could not reach into the cupboard with that kind of natural ease. She is the smaller one. The little one. She even seems little compared to her younger sister who outweighs her despite the difference in their height.

And I looked over at her, confidently dropping a piece of bread and butter on her sister's plate, and launching into a discussion about tasmanian devils with her brother and father. She's not only taller, but maturing too. She wants an I-Pod, and she gets telephone calls for heaven's sake!

Grace, swinging her legs under the table, and poking Erik while smiling at me beatifically is still a little girl. But all of a sudden, Anna has grown up. And I see it with a mingling of pride and sadness.

But then after dinner she comes and snuggles up on my lap for a story, and as I brush the hair out of her eyes I smile. She's still my little girl for now. At least some of the time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On the fly

At 7:29 on Friday morning, the car wouldn't start. It wasn't even trying to start - barely even a click as I turned the key. And Andrew wasn't around the farm this morning to help me out.

What are we going to do, Mom? asked 7 year old Anna. I glanced down the quarter mile of driveway to that distant point where we meet the school bus. Under normal circumstance (ie: the car starting), I drive the kids down the lane, and see them safely aboard before continuing to work.

Usually we were a minute or two early. Sometimes we got there just as the bus did and piled out of the car in a tangle of children and bookbags.

We had already idled away a good 45 seconds turning the key in a desperate hope that the car would spontaineously burst into life. And if we missed the bus, I would be trying to get the car fixed with kids in tow, instead of packing them safely off to school while I dealt with the problem.

If a driveway is a quarter mile long and it takes three children an average of 15 minutes to walk a mile.....oh never mind. This was no time for calculations.

Run! I shouted. Run!

They were out of the car and down the lane, backpacks slung over their shoulders. I followed but in my black heeled boots was quickly outrun by the three of them as they hurtled down the driveway.

I shouted after them: Have a great day. Don't stop. Good luck on your spelling tests. You're half way there. Keeep Moooving!

And when they reached the apple tree 20 feet from the gate I breathed a sigh of relief. They'd make it now.

Great job, I yelled, though I doubt they could hear me.

I watched the bus arrive. Erik turned and waved - a wave of jubilation, of achievement - as the three of them prepared to get on board.

Then I went inside, put on a pot of coffee, and started to make some phonecalls.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Salmon in Beurre Blanc

The Just Be dinner party

Wrap a head of garlic in foil and pop into a 400 celsius oven, along with medium, scrubbed, baking potatoes. Remove garlic after 40 mins and let cool. Leave potatoes for 20 more minutes or until cooked.

Slice off potato tops and scoop out centres. Squeeze roasted garlic into potato and mash with butter or sour cream, 1/4 c grated cheddar, some dijon, and spoon back into potato shells. Grate cheese on top and bake an additional 15 minutes or until heated through.

Beurre Blanc
Take 1/4 c dry white wine and 1/4 c white wine vinegar. Add finely minced shallots and bring to boil over high heat. Simmer until reduced by half (about 6 minutes). Add 3-4 tbsp whipped cream, and whisk in 4-8 tbsp butter 1tbsp at a time, until smooth and velvety. (Do not let boil - it should be the consistency of a creamy hollandaisse sauce.). Add a couple of drops of fresh lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Season salmon fillets if desired. Poach in white wine and garlic until flaky. (I like to poach and then crisp the outside in a fry pan).

Serve salmon with beurre blanc, vegetable of choice, and potato.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Be - Part II

Just Be. That was my mandate.

What does that mean to you?

To me, in the two hours I had, it meant this.

Cooking. I love being in the kitchen, chopping and sauteing, reducing and creating. Not the daily grind kind of cooking, but the truly creative kind that turns out a sublime meal.

Reading. No brainer. I just returned a half dozen books to the library that I had renewed once but somehow still never had time to read. Shameful. I was going to read something in my two hours.

Silence. This, after all, was the point. To take away some of the noise that surrounds me 24/7.

Music. This is not as contradictory as it sounds. After the silence, music. It's good for the soul. But my music. Not anyone elses tonight.

There were lots of other things I could have picked. Writing. A bath. Walking the dog. Playing my guitar. But I did only have 2 hours.

So wrapped in my plaid, the dog and I sat outside in the crisp silence of a velvet night and looked up at the stars. Then I got out salmon and various other ingredients, put on some music (Rita MacNeil), and did some prep cooking like wrapping a head of garlic in foil and popping it in the oven with the potatoes.

Now I had 40 minutes to do whatever I wanted. I took a glass of chablis and my December Canadian Living magazine that has just arrived into the living room and read until the timer went off.

Then it was back to finish the salmon and stuff the potatoes, and whip up a decadent beurre blanc sauce, finishing off just as the headlights of the van flashed into the driveway at 8pm.

Once the kids were in bed, Andrew and I sat down to a candlelit dinner.

I felt restored. The power of being able to just be.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Be - Part I

I had a moment in work the other day where I suddenly got overwhelmed. Not just by work, which is exceptionally busy right now. But also with Christmas coming, commitments I have made, plans I have yet to finalize. I got up, got water, stretched, and was able to regroup very quickly. But that night I didn't sleep all that well.

And so Andrew (being an attentive sort of husband) decreed that I needed a night off. Not just off, but alone. Because I realised that one thing I never get is alone time. From the time Lady (the dog) sticks her cold wet nose into my back at 0615, quickly followed by two Pajama clad little girls who tumble into bed for morning snuggles before the news means it's time to get up, to the day at work interacting and meeting and socializing at lunch, to coming home to the multi-tasking hour of dinner, homework, kitchen tidying, and getting ready for whatever activity is scheduled that night, to making lunches, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour....well, there isn't much opportunity to be by myself.

Not that I want to be by myself. I love the craziness of family life madly and wouldn't ever give it up. But my husband is perceptive enough to see that sometimes a night alone is just what the doctor ordered.

In this case, a whole night was impossible.

But, said Andrew, I will take the girls to Beavers on Thursday night, and Erik can come with me. We'll go to the library. That will give you almost 2 hours by yourself.

There were some rules. I was not allowed to do housework. Or catch up on phone calls. Or organize anything.

Just Be. In the moment.

Doing whatever it was that made me happy.

Just Be.

All Creatures Great & Small

When I was very young, we sang this hymn in school. When I was about 1o, I was given an audio tape of the James Herriot books, and must have listened to them a hundred times or more. After that I read the books, and still read the books on a very regular basis. And now, Andrew and I have got ourselves the TV series on DVD and are enjoying an hour a week in the Yorkshire Dales with James, Siegfried, Tristan, and the animals great (cattle and sheep) and small (dogs and cats).

Before I realised chemistry was not my forte, of course I wanted to be a vet. But life has a funny way of giving us what we desire most and so I find myself not a vet, but with animals that need care. I get to watch the lambs being born, catch and innoculate piglets and sheep, chase cows across a muddy field, laugh at the innumerable amusing moments that happen. and feel helpless when there is nothing else you can do. All Creatures Great...I have them in spades.

And All Creatures Small..?

I noticed last night that I can make my dog's tail wag a mile a minute just by looking at her. When I look away, it stops again. When I glance over, it wags tentatively. When I look right at her ...Wag, wag, waggity, wag.

Nice to be so loved.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


This weekend there is nothing on. No dinner party, no visitors, no hiking in the rain with the local Beaver troop. It's too late to have to do gardening, and too early to think about Christmas.

Sounds like a perfect weekend to do nothing at all.

Friday, November 7, 2008

More Haiku

I sat in the park yesterday and composed this.

Dry rustle on wind
seagull cries over water
mindful, peaceful day

I gazed beyond the park to see a church on the horizon.

Spire rises to sky
At a distance still it makes
Hearts soar heavenward

All of this from my sturdy stone bench, where so many people must have sat over the years.

Stone benches in park
Look out over still, calm lake
What truths they must know

And finally, I looked down, and was hit by a blinding truth of my own - on this beautiful afternoon, all the world was in harmony except my socks.

Nature's rich palette
Except one mis-taken pair
of jarring blue socks

Not all haiku's need to be serious!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Last Leaf

While the weather holds, I walk at lunchtime with a friend.

Down this path...

The leaves crinkle under our feet. The sound of laughing children echoes from a nearby playground. Crisp air and blue skies almost make you forget the fleeeting nature of the season.

Until today. When we saw this...

The last leaf. Clinging tenaciously to a branch.

Fall's fading glory.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

Remember remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

On the drive back from Ottawa last Saturday morning, the kids hyper in the back seat from the Hallowe’en candy-laced breakfast they had, they wanted me to tell stories. Now I know Little Red Riding Hood, and The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff, but today they wanted true stories.

So we went through Mom’s greatest true story bank. Everything from the time Uncle Barry got a nosebleed and bled all over the bathroom, to King Richard II and the War of the Roses. But finally they clamoured for something new.

So I did what any good mother would do. I told them something new. And this time as my subject I chose Guy Fawkes, and told them how (back when I was a kid…) we celebrated Hallowe’en and then immediately began preparations for the even bigger event of November 5th: Guy Fawkes or Bonfire night. I told them about how in 1605 a group of men under the guidance of the luckless Guy Fawkes tried to blow up parliament, but how Fawkes, standing guard over the gunpowder was instead caught and charged with treason.

And how we English subsequently used to commemorate the night by building great big bonfires in tiny back yards, where, with much joie-de vivre and frivolity, we would bake potatoes in the fire, set off fireworks, and burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes. Even as I was telling them the tradition, it sounded somewhat sordid. Surely there is something wrong in pretending to burn a human on a huge bonfire..?

The kids of course loved the story in all its gruesomeness. And in their enthusiasm, I found myself agreeing that it would be a great idea to have a bonfire tonight, November 5th. After all the yard clearing we did last weekend, I have a nice big pile of leaves to burn.

I hope the kids aren’t too disappointed that we won’t have a “guy” to burn!

Of politics and barnyards

Woo-hoo - a double header today!

Of Politics
Barack Obama won the US Presidential election last night in an election that was both more tedious (so long) and yet way more exciting and relevant than the recent Canadian fiasco. Although I’m not American, it’s hard not to follow what’s going on in what is arguably the most powerful country in the world, so I wasn’t too surprised to hear the results this morning.

Good for Obama. (As an aside - I was also very impressed with the gracious and forward-looking speech McCain made in the wake of his defeat.)

Obviously I can’t speak for most Canadians, but as a Canadian, I feel the democrats in general, and Obama in particular, are a lot closer to our ideal of a politician. In fact, at this point, I think he’s probably closer to the Canadian ideal than is our current Canadian Prime Minister – and that’s saying something. For the first time ever, I’m more excited about US politics than the plodding politics of our own country, which seem sad and weary at both ends of the political spectrum.

Haiku for Canadian Politics 2008
No vision, no spark
To fire up our people’s hearts
And move us forward

Of Barnyards
Anyhow, that’s all the time I have for politics today – much more pressing things to think about…like how the sheep escaped this morning, which meant I had to chase them across the fields (wearing rather unsuitable shoes, I might add) and back into our meadow. More to the point, why would they escape?

I know it’s a classic case of the grass always being greener, but all the green grass, not to mention their hay and water, was on this side of the fence, and all that was on that side of the fence were old combined stalks of nothing. What were you thinking? I shouted at them, as I stumbled after them wishing (not for the first time) that we had a sheepdog and not a lazy Labrador who I knew had seen us leave and was most likely curled up on the sofa or one of the kids beds.

But the sheep just gazed back unblinking at me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


We are all busy. Life is busy. Especially life with young children. But my friend Melissa shared with us one of the things she's been doing recently to put herself in the moment.


She claims it grounds her, makes her aware of a small moment in time, and I was so inspired I could hardly wait to try it.

She told us at a book club meeting, and when I got home to find my husband fast asleep (well, it was almost midnight), I immediately composed my first of a series.

He sleeps in darkness
Awaiting the late return
Of me, his sweetheart.

That felt good. Creative even. And simple (which is the true beauty of Haiku). I tried it again on the weekend, putting aside my book to watch the kids jumping in a pile of raked leaves

Coppery leaves snap
Voices echo on the wind
Racing, laughing joy

And thought I'd make one up for school council tonight:

Parents heed the call
Look to what the future brings
To our children's school

And finally, a haiku about the power of haiku, and what it means to me:

Timeless moment caught
And gilded like a frozen
Snowflake in a frame

It's addictive, actually. And simple but not easy to find the right words. But Melissa was right - it does make you aware of the moment, and I really liked that.

Re-reading books

I have been keeping track of the books I read this year to see if I can make it to 50. I just passed the 50 goal so yay for me, but what is more interesting (at least from my point of view) is that out of the 50 books I have read this year, almost half of them are books I have read before, many of them more than once, and some of them ... well, let's just say I have a problem, maybe even an obsession, with a certain character, and leave it at that.

So what's with the re-reading? I mean, there are so many books to read, and never enough time - you'd think I'd plough onward through the pages of new books, broadening my horizons and expanding my outlook. I have a list as long as my arm of books I want to read, and I add to it all the time. Yet, when it comes down to it, all too often I find myself reaching for something familiar, and what I'm wondering is what does this say about me?