Monday, December 31, 2012


The last day of the year always brings back the memory of December 31, 1981 - the day we moved into our present home. After living in an apartment for several years, we had begun looking for a house the previous summer. Terry had finished his studies and found a job. We had a young daughter and I was expecting our second child.

I hated the constraints of apartment living - the noise issues, the lack of privacy, lugging a baby stroller down two flights of stairs... (We had never been attracted to high-rise living, preferring instead a smallish building with no elevator.) There was no outdoor area for our young daughter to walk or play in: When I took her to the nearby park, I was horrified to discover cats digging in the sandbox, using it as a litter box, and broken glass on the walkways. Not ideal for a toddler!

So we had begun our search for the "perfect" house - discovering, in the process, that we couldn't afford it! But finally in October - a time when owners often lower the prices of houses that haven't sold over the summer, we found it. The house was a rental property. We envisaged moving in in spring, around March 1. The owners, who didn't want to renew their mortgage, insisted the closing date be December 31 - so that's the day we moved! I suppose we could have bought the house and continued to rent to the tenants until then, but we were inexperienced in home buying or selling and I was anxious to move into a place of our own.

Our moving day was cold, as I recall.  (The only pictures I have are in my mind, memories of how cold the house was with the door open so much.) Having to pay for heat for the first time, we continued to keep it cold! But I was happy our family finally had a permanent "home."

Who would have known back then what changes we would make to the house over the years! We started by replacing the dining room window with a sliding door, then adding a deck.

One winter, a few years later, we replaced more windows, enlarging them to bring in more light....

Pictures taken that Christmas show the children playing in a living room in disarray - with bare plaster around our new windows. They didn't seem to mind!

But over the years, my dream came true - the dream that our family would be "rooted," that my children would grow up in one neighborhood, and not have to change schools as often as I had!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why Go to Church?

Why do we need to go to Church to maintain a dynamic life of faith? The answer is a mystery, and there are probably a lot of reasons. But I found it interesting to see that even the early Church Fathers reflected on two elements of faith life - communal and private prayer. (The quote comes from The Path of Life and the reference is to Pentecost, as described in the book of Acts.)

"... the Holy Spirit is described as descending under the appearance of fire, individual tongues of flame resting on each of the apostles [and in my understanding, everyone in the room*]. Certain of the Church Fathers... have seen here a symbol of our daily relationship with God. On the one hand there is the single Spirit, binding us into one, so that we relate to God communally as members of a single Body. On the other hand the individual tongues of flame show that each of us has a private, personal and secret relationship to God which is unique and unknown to anyone else. It is important for us to realize that both elements, both communal and private, are needed in order to form a complete spiritual life." (p. 137)

*In my mind, there were 120 or so in the room on that day - based on the reference to 120 believers in Acts 1:15. But, in fact, the account in Acts 2 only says "they" - not indicating exactly who "they" were.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Really?! That Much Snow?!

I painted this winter barn scene back in September and October when there was no snow.

When the instructor wanted the class to add dabs of very thick acrylic paint to some of the branches, a few of us muttered to each other: That ruins it! 

When is snow ever that chunky?!

In December, that's when!

This is what Thursday's snowfall brought to our yard. And how quickly we forget! In a few days a little wind will rustle the branches, and most will fall to the ground...

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lots of Snow

Terry uses the snow-blower only when we get a foot or more of snow...

Yesterday he took it out for the second time this winter.

One winter when we were living in Montreal, it snowed almost daily before Christmas. Soon there was no more place to put the snow. Our landlord, who cleared parking spaces behind our building, blew snow over the fence into the yard - and it had reached the top of the 5-foot fence!

Where will he put snow now? We wondered... But after Christmas there were no more large snowfalls.

Every time we have a major snowfall - like yesterday's - I remember that winter and hope that this is it for the winter... But, of course, it rarely is!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Once a Crafter...

My 93-year-old mother used to teach crafts, but she hasn't made many things over the past few years. Recently I was admiring the Christmas decorations in her room.

Where did you get that nice goose? I asked.

That? I made it, she replied. They gave me a brush and some gold paint and I just did it. Then, when it was it was dry, I stuffed some things in it... It was easy! 

(Once a crafter, always a crafter!)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Drawing Faces

I recently took a 1-day workshop on drawing portraits. I wanted to learn the instructor's technique of blending watercolor pencils and acrylic paint.

The teacher began by reviewing facial proportions: The head (an egg shape) has eyes and ears half way down the head.  Another half (or three-quarters of the way down from the top of the head, the nose ends. And, halfway between the tip of the nose and the bottom of the chin is the mouth.

 It's all very systematic. And the space between the eyes is the width of one eye. In class we used a ruler to measure everything out.

 It's essential to keep in mind when drawing or painting a portrait...

(Though I've discovered it's a little more challenging when the face isn't staring straight at you!)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Christmas gifts are wonderful!

But the real gifts are the people in our lives who love and encourage us day by day. Enjoy them!

Have a merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Preparing For Christmas

Every culture has its traditional holiday food. Our family isn't much for Christmas pudding or fruit cake, but we have a personal tradition: homemade cinnamon buns for breakfast on Christmas morning. This family favorite has mashed potatoes in it!

I have been busily baking this large batch of buns - it makes 100!

I haven't made the recipe in years. I found it online (so I won't recopy it here): Edna Ruth Byler's recipe from the More With Less Cookbook.

But this year, I made them again. We expect everyone home for Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

700 Year Old Wisdom

This is the reason
why we have no ease of heart or soul,
for we are seeking our rest in trivial things,
which cannot satisfy,
and not seeking to know God,
almighty, all-wise, all-good.
He is true rest.

Words of Julian of Norwich who lived in the 14th century (quoted in Lost in Wonder, p. 22)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Yes, It Will Definitely Be a White Christmas!

We are in the midst of a predicted 3-day snowstorm...

After one night of wet snow, the trees are already heavy-laden.

While Terry worries that a branch may pull down the power line leading into our house, I focus on the encouraging thought that the shortest day has come and gone - and from now on until summer, hours of sunlight will get progressively longer!

Friday, December 21, 2012

White Christmas?

It's a little early to say for sure...

... but it looks like we'll be having a white Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Paper Stars

My father knew how to make folded paper stars - and once he tried (unsuccessfully) to teach me. The memory of giving up returned as I struggled to follow the instructions I found on the internet. Should I give up again?!

He had made it look so easy, his big hands folding the tiny strips of paper with surprising agility. Watching him, I got lost in the complicated set of steps.

 Too hard! I had said, and left the kitchen table. But now I'm trying again...

Each time, it gets a little easier. I think I've mastered the eight points - but I'm still struggling with the 3-dimensional sides.

What would he say if he could see me struggle?! I think he'd be proud. He knew how to do so many things - and we, for some reason or another, learned very few of his skills (fixing cars, solving the Rubik's cube)!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Blooms

I have a lot of plants in the house... But none warms my heart in winter like the red poinsettia, which radiates the cozy warmth of Christmas.

Recently I received a Christmas letter from a friend in New Zealand. In it she mentions a different Christmas flower - the Pohutukawa tree - which blooms there at Christmas time.

And looking at this New Zealand history website - I see they bloom on sunny beaches where swimmers enjoy hot summer weather!

Christmas in the middle of summer... I've never experienced it - but I think I could easily get used to it!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Learning Art From Books

This book on watercolor pencils is out of print, so I borrowed a library copy.

If I had bought the book, I'd probably have looked at it briefly and then put it on a shelf - to look at again later. But knowing I only have the book for a few weeks, I'm going through its pages carefully, trying to learn the techniques.

And I've discovered - in the process - that the best way to learn from an instruction book...

... is to simply sit down and practice the exercises! Learning by doing... it's the best way for some of us - though I really miss the interaction a teacher provides.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Crafts

Advent is a busy time! But as I prepare for Christmas - focusing on cards, gifts and guests - I invariably come across Christmas crafts I'd like to make but have NO TIME for!

So this year I'm rushing to get things done, in the hope that I'll somehow find time to create some paper stars for the tree (I found a pattern and tutorial for ones like my father used to make) ...

Also some crocheted snowflake-stars, like ones I bought...

I found two free patterns on a Coutts UK website: one for tree ornaments, the other for gifts...

Then there are the lovely Christmas place mats I saw online on nikki, in stitches... (If you click on the links, you will see the crafts that are inspiring me!)

So much to do... So little time!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Loving Self

One of my Jewish neighbors who was familiar with Christianity once commented that when Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves, he implied that we must also love ourselves. Her words gave me food for thought when I was in my 20s, but they never seemed right. Loving self seemed so... selfish!

All these years later, I confess I have an easier time judging myself than loving myself. Self-love seems almost... well, sinful! (And I'm not sure I'm very good at loving my neighbors either!)

Everything in me balks at the idea of loving myself! So I was taken aback when I read the following words by Joyce Meyer:

I am going to ask you to do something very important. Right now, stop and wrap your arms around yourself. Give yourself a great big hug and say aloud: "I accept myself. I love myself. I know I have weaknesses and imperfections, but I will not let them stop me, and I will not allow them to stop God from working through me." Try doing this several times per day, and you will soon develop a new attitude toward yourself, a new outlook on life, and a greater level of confidence in God. 
(The Everyday Life Bible, p. 58)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Interesting Christmas Trees Decorations

A few weeks ago, I bought these hand-crocheted Christmas tree ornaments at a craft sale here in Ottawa.

Now I wish I had picked up a few more.

I didn't realize they were a Swiss tradition.

There was a Christmas tree display at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts when we were there - and I noticed similar hand- crafted decorations on a tree decorated by a Swiss women's club!

Another tree I noticed was this one with origami paper decorations. It reminded me of folded the stars my father knew how to make out of paper. They were exquisite! Unfortunately none of us learned how to make them. We just watched in admiration as he folded paper this way and that and created a star.

Here's another with decorations made of yarn and canvas (I think).

Later, I noticed some interesting tree decorations on a restaurant patio on St Denis street.

Slices of a tree trunk - with the grain of the wood making an interesting design!

Attractive Christmas decorations can be made out of almost anything! (I wonder what ours would be made of - if we had to make them entirely by hand out of everyday things we had at home, as my father did in his childhood years.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Memory Sticks... Have Changed!

Back in the day, we stored computer data on floppy disks, a term that is probably obsolete now! Then people began to burn data on CDs. Before I left the teaching profession, I remember the staff meeting where the principal gave every teacher a memory stick on a lanyard. Most of us non-computer types were shocked to discover that this little plastic thing would hold all our teaching material and then some. (The idea was that all our personal data should be stored on it, so that we could share computers, using whichever computer was available when we wanted to use it. Giving us all memory sticks was cheaper than providing each of us with a desk-top computer.)

This is my school-issued memory stick. It holds 128 megabytes. I copied all my classwork files on it when I retired almost 5 years ago - and it held everything, with room to spare!

But nowadays I need a memory stick to hold back-up copies of photos, not school work... (Each photo takes up about 3 or 4 megabytes, give or take, depending on the resolution of the photo (compared to 25 kilobytes for a page of typing). A Google search tells me that 1 megabyte is the same as 1024 kilobytes, so my memory 128 megabyte memory stick can hold the information on over 5000 pages of paper but far fewer photographs.

So after my recent computer crisis when I thought I had lost all my stored photos when my computer crashed (see yesterday's blog post)... I went out to get a new memory stick on which to store all my photos...

Here it is - my (blue) 16 gigabyte storage device!

Smaller than my thumb-nail - yet it holds 2000 times more!*

*If my math is correct: One gigabyte is the same as 1024 megabytes!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Computer Crisis!

A few days ago, my laptop computer crashed! I was in the middle of creating a blog post when suddenly the screen went blank - and nothing would restore it! I tried to reboot it with my re-boot disks - nothing happened! I was devastated - not because I needed a computer (I could borrow my son's) - but because of all the photos I had stored on the computer that I would lose. I had intended to make copies and store them on a memory stick or CD, but I hadn't "found the time"! Suddenly the pictures I had stored on Picassa (copies of photos published on this blog) seemed very precious indeed!

What could I do?! After doing an online search on how to recover data from a dead computer, I discovered that hard drives can be removed from a computer and (assuming they aren't damaged) they can be put into a gizmo called a "hard drive enclosure" and used as an additional external hard drive. Why was I not aware of this?! I have three very old computers around the house, computers that still work, but ones I am reluctant to part with because I want a copy of the data stored in their hard drives. (Was there an enclosure out there that would hold all three hard drives?!! Maybe I need to take a course in assembling computers...)

I couldn't turn off the computer - in fact, I couldn't do anything to it, even though the screen was lit up and the light was on, indicating it was still turned on. I just let it sit... until I finally realized that if I removed the battery, the laptop would be forced to go off.

Just before leaving the house to consult with a Best Buy "Geek" about my best course of action, I decided to re-insert the battery and see what would happen. Amazingly... the computer started up again, just like normal!! (So my solution to computer crashes is remove battery, wait a while, re-insert battery - PRAY - and see what happens!)

Then I immediately left the house - without turning off the computer - and headed to the computer store to buy the biggest memory stick I could find - to create a back-up copy of all my photos. The rest of my day was spent copying them onto the memory stick! (Suddenly I had found the time!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Montreal "Street Art" 2012

We came to Montreal to see the famous paintings at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts...

 ... but we also enjoyed the not-so-famous street art we saw painted on buildings in the downtown core.

 Walking up St. Denis street...

 (the student quarter near the University of Quebec in downtown Montreal)...

... and later down St. Laurent street...

 ... we encountered paintings and graffiti...

... and even street art crocheted!

Painting... (commercial and otherwise)...

... and other outdoor "arts"...

...are alive and well in downtown Montreal!