VIOLETS IN THE SNOW

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(women holding a violet nosegay – William Worcester Churchill)

Years ago I visited San Francisco in January.  I left the bitter, cold prairie city of Regina, and arrived that to me was spring.  A flower seller  on the street outside my hotel was selling violets.  Desperate to brighten a bitter cold winter  I flew home with a carefully wrapped nosegay of violets.  A shrieking  Saskatchewan blizzard howled raged outside  my home.    Inside it was spring.  The air filled with the sweet  fragrance of my tiny bouquet.   San Francisco will always be about flowers and the tiny violets that gave me such pleasure.

Each violet peeps from it dwelling to gaze at the bright stars above.

The eyes of spring, so azure are peeping from the ground;

They are the darling violets, that I in nosegays bound.

The prairie winters are a memory. January and in my garden  snow drops are blooming.  Tulips and daffodils are poking green spears towards the sun.  Spring will bring violets and a reminder of San Francisco.

 

 

 

And shade the violets, that they may bind the moss in leafy nets. (john keats)

 

Deep violets, you liken to the kindest  eyes that look on you, without a thought disloyal    (elizabeth barret browning)

 

Cold blows the wind against the hill, and cold upon the plain;

  I sit by the bank until the violets come again.

Here sat we when the grass was set

With violets shining through,

And leafy branches spread a net

To hold a sky of blue.

 

poetry from H. Heine, Germany, 1797 – 1856  and Richard Garnett England 1835 – 1906

 

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POINSETTIAS . . THE CARE, AFFECTION AND DISPOSAL OF THE QUINTESSENTIAL CHRISTMAS PLANT

img_3039I’ve had a love affair with poinsettias all my life.  When I was very young small pots of flaming red poinsettias would appear in florist’s windows in the weeks before Christmas.  Their flamboyant red  bracts brightened the bitter cold December days.   The concept  these gorgeous creations bloomed in the winter months in far away Mexico while we struggled with minus 40 degrees in Northern Saskatchewan, was unbelievable.  I vowed when I grew up I was going to Mexico and I was going to be there at Christmas time.

When my daughter was ten years old we  drove  from Regina, Saskatchewan to Mexico City.   We arrived early Christmas eve.  We stayed  in a charming pension on Hamburgo Street in the center of the city.  There was a flower market close by and that night I carried back to our pension an armful of poinsettias with stalks almost five feet long.  They were our Christmas tree.

There are those who find poinsettias too ubiquitous and just a little prosaic. For me they are proud and fiery plants that herald the bright start of the sparkling Christmas season.    From mid-October to November these darlings spend 14 hours a day in complete darkness to be ready to bring joy to your holiday decorating

Poinsettias thrive on heat and affection.   Never buy poinsettias from open-air stalls.  These tender plants will not last if they stand in the cold for any length of time.  Wrap the plant in a further protective layer when taking it home. They love the warmth of a centrally heated home but dislike direct heat and drafts.  Water to keep the soil moist, not soaking and mist the bracts and leaves regularly.

It is possible to keep a poinsettia going for another year if you prune it back to 10 cm in April.  Replant in fresh compost in a slightly larger pot.  Water sparingly, just to prevent drying out, and fertilize every two weeks.  In an ideal plant world you would keep it in a greenhouse through summer.

Many horticultural gurus regard poinsettias as pot plants that should be discarded after Christmas.  They suggest that plants should be composted once their bracts begin to fall or lose colour.  That is what I do with my poinsettia plants.     I treat them with love and affection.  Enjoy their flaming beauty.  Then as the colour fades I  bid them a grateful good-bye.

CHRISTMAS IN PARIS … wrapping gifts in the style of Coco Chanel.

Logs in the ancient fireplace crackled .  Heavy faded velvet curtains shut out the cold..  On the old Victrola  Piaf warbled   Le Noël de la rue.  It was the top of the hour.  She opened the curtains.   The splendid blue lights of the Eiffel tower filled the room.  Here in the magic of her little house in Paris she would wrap her gifts .

Plain brown paper unrolled.  Silver scissors cut.  A scattering of pearls.  An elegance of black ribbon.  A Coco Chanel wrapped Christmas gift.

Champagne chilled.   Cassoulet simmered on the ancient  La Cornue stove.   The room fragrant  with its rich welcoming aroma.  Footsteps whispered on the ancient stone stairs.  Her guests had arrived. Laughter.  Welcome hugs.  It was Christmas in une petite maison.   My little house in Paris is with me always.  To journey to it I have but to close my eyes and turn the key on the heavy wooden door.  I will spend Christmas in Paris.  The Paris of my memories.

(Dear Friends, This  gift wrapping  of pearls and presents is a favourite.    I love the economy of wrapping with recyclable, inexpensive plain brown paper. Much of Christmas paper is not recyclable.  The pearls are easy stick-ons and the black ribbon is wireless.  Everything purchased in a quick trip to my favorite dollar store.  )

THE ROMANCE OF THE CHRISTMAS DOLL HOUSE

There are stories we retell again and again. They are always stories of delight and happiness. You may call them fairy tales. Tales of romance, magic and enchantment. A princess is rescued. Dragons are slain. Sadness turned to joy. This my storey of the abandoned doll house. Where it was found and how it was restored to its former glory.

The out-grown, I don’t love them any more, cast-off toys find their way to a shop in a small village. There the shelves are carefully filled with toys. Baby face dolls and elegant Barbies. Trucks and rocket ships. Plush hug-able dogs and bears. Game and puzzles and building blocks. They tumble into the imagination of children asking to be taken home and loved again.

This is where I found my doll house. The shop that takes in these forgotten toys is Delta Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop. The village is Ladner, British Columbia. Caring volunteers sort, tidy, carefully display, and quite frequently fall in love with these not quite new toys. I am one of the volunteers who fell in love with a dilapidated doll house and took it home.

The doll house keeps Christmas the year round. It fascinates children and adults alike. Items mysteriously find their way into the various rooms. A tiny porcelain cat curled on a rocking chair. A mouse in a chef’s hat. A fat, pink marble frog. Logic says it is my guests who leave momentous behind. I wonder.

Please read again about The Christmas Doll House. A happy Christmas and all things wonderful in the coming New Year dear friends. Thank you for joining me in my world. With much love, Virginia.

THE CHRISTMAS DOLL HOUSE . . . a tale of rejuvenation and delight.

The doll house had been lovingly built.  It was made of wood.  It had doors that would open and shut.  Fancy trim on the shingle roof.  Even a bow window and a front porch.  But it had fallen on hard times. And  as it is in the adult world the house was deemed “not good enough”.   The house had been replaced by a larger more spectacular mansion.  It was made of plastic, but it had a hot tub and a stair case and a chandelier in the front hall.  After all even in the doll world one must keep up appearances.

The contents were thought to be shabby.  The wall paper dated.  The pictures on the wall old-fashioned. No one wanted a hand-made wooden doll house.    The house was stored in the darkest, dreariest, farthermost corner of the garage and forgotten.  Over the years it gathered neglect and dreary dust.

The forgotten doll house sat quietly in the dark corner and remembered.   It thought of the many dolls who it made it their home.  They had tea parties and sleep-overs.    Entertainment for visiting doll friends.  The house  filled with giggles and joyful delight.  Happy memories of by gone days.  Then one day the house was taken from its  dark hiding place and put on a display in a shop that welcomed cast off toys. Time passed.   No one was interested in the shabby doll house.   The lonely house thought of its broken shutter.  The peeling wallpaper.  The scratches, dents and missing pieces.    “No one will want me.  No one will buy me. No one will love me.”

There are those who see hidden beauty in imperfection.   Who search for the unusual, the unexpected.  Who see potential where others pass by.   When she saw the doll house she thought “how absolutely wonderful”.    It just needed a little loving care; some carpentry work, lots of snow white paint and a exotic group of inhabitants.  It would be the perfect Christmas house.

The roof was repaired.  The shutters replaced.  Every inch of the house was painted the dazzling white of freshly fallen snow.  Tiny diamond bright lights adorned the house, inside and out.    The windows were cleaned.    And the house even had a chandelier.

The invited guests gathered for a Christmas party.  The dolls house was filled with excited guests.

The conversation was brilliant.

The Christmas party continued far into the night.

It was adults who lingered long.  Peering into the rooms.  Recognizing nostalgic and familiar toys from the past.  They  were swept up in the magic of this little house.    The house gave a sigh of contentment  for it was not to be forgotten.  Not to be boxed and put away for another Christmas.  It would have its place in this new home.  To be enjoyed everyday by the very young and the young at heart.  The doll house would live happily ever after.

Writer’s Notes:  I found the sadly neglected doll house in the Thrift Shop in  Ladner Village.  It is an amazing experience –  this shopping at the Delta Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop.  Everyone is a volunteer and all moneys raised support the Delta Hospital.    I am proud to be a  member of this amazing organization.

THE MAGIC TOY CUPBOARD . . . remembering toys of Christmas past

I celebrated my first Christmas with Hansel in 1945.  At that time toys from Europe were extremely rare.  World War two had just ended.  Almost everything was in short supply.  Rationing was still in effect and  Christmas candy was difficult to buy. Hansel met with an accident .  Celluloid is rather fragile and he lost part of his arm.  It was replaced with a Christmas hard candy.  An unusual repair but 77 years later Hans still has a candy arm.  I love him  for being such a brave boy continuing to celebrate Christmas in a rather old fashioned way.

Hansel came with a sister.  Gretel.  Years past they were always displayed together on our parents Christmas tree.  A few years ago my sister Heather and I decided to share this much loved Christmas toy.  Gretel is still in perfect condition and  now resides under my sister’s tree. 

And now the story of the Magic Toy Cupboard. 

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Afterwards,  in the times to come,  she remembered

the toy cupboard.

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The fierce dragon guarding the castle.

The swashbuckling  wizard with his magic watch.  A watch to make wishes come true.

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The Hussar with his fierce and splendid moustache

riding to the castle

to rescue  the princess.

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The books.  Bed-time stories.  Fairy tales.  Tales of adventure.  Words whispered into the night.

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Afterwards in the times to come  she remembered her sailor dolls.

They rode away in a sea green boat hunting for treasures and far away lands, and returned with

stories of vast oceans and high mountains.

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The china mouse always wore an elegant pink velvet jacket.

He fell in love with the china doll.

She only had eyes for the dashing firemen.

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Afterwards, afterwards in the times she remembered.

The fire engine raced to rescue the tumbled soldier.

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Her Okasan whispered  haiku and

flung the words into the sky.

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Afterwards, afterwards  in the times to come

she remembered Hans.

Hans who Christmas after Christmas

kept the memories together.

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Afterwards, afterwards in the years to come

she collected the toys.

Tucked them safely in the toy cupboard.

Then each Christmas she shared her memories of joy

with the young and the young at heart.

THE COFFEE CAKE OF THE CHRISTMAS SEASON . . . CRANBERRY ORANGE WITH STREUSEL CRUMB TOPPING

This is not your quiet, little every day coffee cake.  This is a coffee cake with attitude.  The cake is rich with sour cream and enhanced with the brilliant, tart flavour of cranberries.  There is the important streusel crumb topping.  Lavish with butter and sugars,  and a swirl of vanilla.  Together they present a coffee cake that is a fabulous. .A coffee cake both tart and  sweet.  Deeply flavoured.  Rich in texture.  A red-jewelled cake to make again and again.

Make the vanilla crumb first.  Better still mix it up ahead of time if you are making this cake for breakfast. I often make a double batch of this crumb. This topping is excellent for any type of fruit crumble and will store in a plastic bag in the freezer for up to 3 months. Have your butter nice  and soft and cream it well with sugar before adding the eggs.  You add the flour alternatively with the sour cream and then half the cranberries.   The rest of the berries are sprinkled over the top of the cake when it is in the pan.  If you are using frozen cranberries thaw them first.  Finish the cake batter with the vanilla crumbs.  

Generously flour and butter your pan. You can bake this in a deep 9-inch square cake pan, or a 9-inch spring form pan. I prefeer to use a spring form pan. It makes a spectacular presentation of your coffee cake. If you use a spring form pan set it on a cookie sheet or something that will catch any moisture from the cake.  The cake will keep well for a couple of days  – if it lasts that long.

The printable recipe for CRANBERRY ORANGE COFFEE CAKE WITH STREUSEL CRUMB TOPPING is waiting for you at MRSBUTTERFINGERS.

A CHRISTMAS WREATH AND CLIMATE CHANGE

It is my tradition on November 25th to begin the Christmas season by hanging a wreath on our front door.  This wreath is always fashioned from cedar greens gathered here on the farm.  This year I prune the boughs from a low bush cedar growing outside our kitchen door.  I clipped cautiously for this is also the burrow of rabbits.   The boughs are extraordinarily heavy with seed buds.  Nature under stress from the summer drought produced more than normal cedar seed buds.

Cedar buds. Exquisite natural adornment for the Christmas wreaths.  Their fragrance the perfume of Christmas.

I weave  the branches through the vine wreath to the accompanied of Handel’s Messiah.  Another Christmas tradition.  White alyssum still blooms in the garden.  This tiny flower always grew in my Mother’s garden.  I tuck a spray into the wreath.  My David Austin roses had a difficult hot summer.  In late autumn they put on a splendid show and were still blooming when it was time to more them inside to their winter home.  I tuck them into water filled florist vials and fasten them to the wreath.  A fragment of elegant silk ribbon and my Christmas wreath is finished.

THE MANNEQUIN’S CHRISTMAS PARTY . . . a fairy tale for all sewers and unorthodox fashion mavens

Fairy tales are meant to be told and retold especially at this time of year.  Now more than ever the world needs to believe in a little magic.   I have a mannequin.  Her name is Victoria.  She has been my alto ego for many years.  I whisper secrets to her,  and regale her with stories as I  sew  my way through life.  This is story of Victoria’s first Christmas party

The heavy cream parchment envelope was addressed  to  Miss Victoria Mannequin. The Atelier.

It hung from a scarlet silk ribbon tied round the atelier  room door.

“You appear to have mail, Victoria.'” I said with great excitement.

‘”Shall I  open it for you?”  I asked my mannequin.    Victoria really didn’t receive much mail.  In fact I couldn’t  remember her receiving any mail at all

Victoria has been my close companion as I threaded needles and  welded my flashing silver scissors cutting out Chanel inspired suits, little black dresses, evening gowns and even a wedding dress.   She has stood  uncomplainingly  as I pinned fabric, draped ruffles and adjusted collars and hems on her patient form.

”  This is exciting.  It’s an invitation to the annual mannequin’s holiday party. ‘

“Miss Virginia,  I want to  be  outrageously gorgeous.  I must  carry the sparkling purse The Tin Man sent from The Emerald city.”

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“Of course, darling Victoria.  I am sure Tinny would want you to look outrageously beautiful.”

“And your feather boa.  I ‘ll fling it over my shoulders and it will drift around me when I dance?”

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“Dear Victoria, the feather boa is absolutely you.” I exclaimed.  ” It’s very flirty and more than a touch romantic.”

“I want to sparkle like the stars in the winter sky.  Do you think  your crystal necklace  would light up my night?”

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“The crystals will shimmer and shine and you will positively glow.” I replied.

I fastened the layers of crystal around her neck not hesitating to guild the lily.

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From deep within my closet of beautiful  memories I took out a scarlet silk tunic worn  to a Diwali party, and buttoned  it on her.  Then I added a rich, sapphire silk jacket.  You can never have too much silk or two many jewel like colours when you dress outrageously beautiful.  I draped the jacket over her shoulders.  Adjusted the feather boa and pinned on a red silk  rose to my sweet Victoria.

“You are ready for your party, Victoria.”

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Victoria  twirled and danced around the room.  The feather boa floated.  The crystal necklace sparkled.  The Tin Man’s purse glittered.  She was outrageously beautiful.

“Miss Virginia, do you think this is all too much?”

“No my wondrous Victoria.  You look perfect!”

With a flash or her red soled dancing shoes Victoria swept out into a star spangled night and  the waiting limousine.  When I woke the next morning I saw a pair of shoes, the soles worn thin, outside the atelier door.  It was a very good Christmas party.

(ADDENDUM   Recently my mannequin decided she was going to re-invent herself.  After months of wearing  spandex  and watching Netflix she said good-bye to Muriel the stay-at-home mannequin and changed her name to Victoria.  I believe there will be exciting times ahead for her.)

REMEMBRANCE DAY . . . we will never forget why we live in a democracy today.

I grew up during WORLD WAR TWO.  I may have been a child but I understood we were a country at war.  Canada was defending democracy.  We grew victory gardens.  Collected metal.  Bought war bonds.   And coped with food rationing.  I remember the heart-breaking day a telegram was delivered to my Grandmother.  The official notification of my uncles death.

That year winter came early to my home town of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.  On November 11th, 1945 with my classmates I walked in bitter cold  the two miles from school to attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies at  the Armouries.

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If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England.  There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed:

Gave,  once,  her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England’s, breathing English air,

Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home

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And think, this heart,all evil shed away,

A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given,

Her signs and sounds; dream happy as her day;

And laughter, learnt of friends;  and gentleness,

In hearts at peace,  under an English heaven.

” The Soldier” was written by an English poet,  Rupert Brooke (2887-1915).  He died in the first world war.

My father-in-law  grew up in a quiet town in Southern Ontario.  He enlisted and his training as a flight sergeant took place in an equally small town in Saskatchewan.  This is where he met and married.    He returned from the war to live t he rest of his life in    Saskatchewan.  He is survived by his two sons.

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My uncle,  Bertram Henry Henderson grew up in my home town, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.  He and his two brothers enlisted in the Regina Rifles.  He died in action October 27, 1944.  His last letter home was dated October 27, 1944.  It was written in the dim light of a candle in a bottle.  The letter was in his effects returned to the family.

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My older sister and myself with my Uncle Bert shortly before he was shipped overseas.

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This document shows the location of his grave in Belgian.  It also identifies the family who would be responsible for the maintenance and care of his grave site.

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Our Uncle’s grave continues to be looked after by the Belgian Family entrusted in their care more than 70 years ago.  Members of that family continue to maintain contact with our family.

My father grew up in a small village in southern England.  He fought in the war to end all wars (World War One).  When war ended he immigrated to Canada to join his older brothers in Northern Saskatchewan.  The only time he talked about the war  was to tell us how  he had befriended some Turkish prison of war soldiers and they had taught him  to make Turkish coffee.

On November 11th we will attend Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ladner village.  At 11:00 am we will stand in silence for two minutes  remembering those who died for Democracy.   The lone bugler will sound “last post” followed by a twenty-one gun salute. Before we depart we will place our red poppies at the base of the cenotaph and bow our heads in respect.  We will remember.