Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Twixmas and goodbye 2009

For my American readers, I want to share the lessons I have learned about important distinctions between:

fruit cake and Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding and Christmas cake

The best thing is just to relax: Christmas pudding though it sounds like it could be a fruitcake, isn't. Actually, it's more like a posh fly cemetery where they have all been pickled in brandy. Fly cemetery is the fairly common name for a cake-y thing with sultanas and dates also, I think, chopped into bits, hence the name. Tasty if you do not consume it while that name is on your mind.

Christmas cake is like Christmas pudding except cake-i-ier. The beautiful cake above--a gift from a multi talented friend of mine who claims not to like Christmas--has enough hootch in it that too many whiffs of it could preclude your driving legally in this country. Once I got the heart to cut into this piece of artwork I discovered that my most favourite part is the marzipan tucked like a special Christmas present in the toe of your stocking between the drunken cake and the icing.

Folks here seem to like Christmas pud and Christmas cake with cream on it, but my preferred mode of eating it is with a couple dollops of vanilla yoghurt on it.

2009 has been a year of discoveries --not just about the mysteries of Christmas treats. This evening is the time for the sort of reflection that looks in and out at the same time. I learned more about this amazing place where I live now. I learned more about my friends and family in my first home and how to reconcile the pain of the dividedness of my life. I learned yet again that I am much too easily hurt by what people say about me. I learned that a little step in the right direction can add up. 2009, like most years, was a grab bag of wonderful and terrible things: some of which I will be happy to relegate to history; others I will cherish like the Velveteen rabbit.

May your 2010 be a year of mysteries and wonders and more laughing than crying.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Voila Christmas

I thought perhaps this year the muse of Christmas trees might pass me by. We bought live trees for planting out after Christmas and I had begun to think that it was too much bother to bring it in and decorate it.

Silly me.

With the help of Nat King Cole, some Handel, and my two cats, this little Nordman fir was transformed from its humble status to the most wonderful Christmas tree ever--until next year. Christmas trees, like babies, are all uniquely wonderful.

And each tells a story or two.

The porcelain star came from New Harmony and was only discovered when we moved and I unpacked some long forgotten boxes. It is a gift from a dear friend who keeps Christmas in the way she learned as a young mother in Switzerland--candles on the tree that are lit only on Christmas eve. If you have never seen it, let me assure you that candles on a tree are truly beautiful. They give a lovely soft light and warm the tree. So that ornament reminds me of my friend and her trees and good times shared.

The wee hearts are also a present and designed to reflect the glow of the lights as are the icicles and the disco balls. "There is a little Grandma Jan in all of us." I am old enough to be not too uncomfortable to discover that I am growing into some aspects of my mother that I was not always happy to observe. My mother was much more into glitter and sparkle and glamour than I ever will be, but a little sparkle is not a bad thing.

The flying cow--perhaps her wings are not so apparent in the photo--is also a gift. A gift from astonished friends when they learned that their urbanized vegetarian friend was going to marry a beef farmer and move to Scotland. It made no sense at one level and so of course it had to be celebrated with a flying cow Christmas ornament. Christmas trees have their own logic.

This morning as I was hauling out Christmas ornaments and wondering if the cats would break one or more of them (these, unlike the antique glass ones I inherited from my mother are pretty much indestructible), I remembered some wisdom from a friend of mine in Philadelphia. When her young daughter broke an ornament, instead of grumbling and regretting the loss, she said, "Good, now the tree decorating is complete. It isn't complete until a decoration is broken."

Right on cue, as I bustled about my wee tree, great fat soft snowflakes hurried to the ground.

So it's now almost Christmas and in the best of Christmas traditions, I am not ready: some gifts are not yet sorted, none of them are wrapped, not even my email cards will get out on time, but for lunch today we ate Christmas pudding and ventured down the road as far as local shop and good friend and shared a laugh over a cuppa.

May the Christmas spirit find you wherever and however to make the season joyful.

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Snowy Sunrise on the Moss

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Unabashed cold
Hoar frost clinging to branches
Sky pregnant with snow

Reluctant sun hangs
Halfway between sky and earth
a middle passage

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Long Shadows

The sun stays low on the horizon throughout its brief daily sojourn in this season. The result is that shadows tend to be longer than when the sky is higher, hence long shadows to describe this time of year. The phrase also conjures in my mind the social or psychological impact of objects, such as the relic of this 18th century barracks at Glenelg looming out of the winter twilight.

At first I took the sign on the gate "No entry to Bernera barracks" too literally, so I waded through a damp field to get the back of the barracks. Only then did I realize that the No entry sign was not a sign post for the path to the barracks, but to the barracks themselves. They are in such a ruinous condition that getting too close to them is risky.

The next day we returned in daylight to have a closer look and took the footpath to the front of what remains of the enclosing wall and the two dormitory buildings. This gable end looks like watchful eyes to me. I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to have had this outpost of what was, essentially, an occupying army, overlooking the glen. Even now in its partial decay, it remains the largest building in the area.

The internet provided information about the architecture--a barracks was a new idea in the 18th century, replacing fortifications; plans of its layout, names of the designer and some of the social history, but nothing to tell me what it was like for the one solider who manned the barracks in its waning days or how the people felt about its intrusion. I could well imagine that a soldier from London looking out over the empty glen could feel an intense isolation.

The barracks was never filled to its capacity--240 troops. The officers lived in a separate set of buildings that still exist today but as private homes. A major battle took place before the barracks--a depot for government troops--could be built. Bernera was one of four such buildings conceived by General Wade as part of the strategy to tame the highlands. It took three or five years (sources vary) to build the barracks and the construction was more expensive than originally planned. The barracks was never fully occupied and became, in turn, a poor house and, ironically, housing for some of the people displaced by the clearances.

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Bestest Birthday Present!

As you probably know from reading my blog, I think I am a pretty fortunate person. I recently had a wonderful birthday with great good wishes and lovely presents from dear friends and family, including an amazing trip to a very scenic spot on the west coast of Scotland. I'll show you those in another post, but the bestest present of all was the news that my daughter had finished her novel and has it available on Amazon.

I am sorry to say I am not clever enough to insert the link here, but please go to Amazon and search either for Kate Kasserman or Independence and you will be well rewarded.

Sadly my US readers may have a bit of a wait as it is available now in UK but not for a month or so in US.

So by all means, for a good read, check out Independence by Kate Kasserman. And please let me know what you think of it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"There's No Place Like Home"

I have been on the run lately, so I have not been visiting virtual world. Here is a look at the moss across from the house as it looked this morning. As I have often said, there is always gorse (or whins) blooming any time of the year. These must be Christmas gorse because they seem perfectly at home with the frost. The sun is low this time of year in its brief circuit, so the shadows are long and frosty parts and non-frosty exist side by side. It was a pleasure to be home and exploring my own neighbourhood after a birthday trip to Glenelg and a brief stay at a friend's house. Like Dorothy, sometimes you have to get away to appreciate that there is no place quite like home.

The trip to Glenelg was stunning in its beauty. I'll write about that tomorrow. I had lost sight of just how beautiful a part of the world I live in. The trip to Glenelg re-awakened my aesthetic. Having enjoyed mind-popping expanses of open hills and blue-silhouetted mountain tops, I was free to enjoy the little pleasures on my own doorstsep like these leaves covered with frost or the skim ice on the lochan capturing the secret world of algae and near-frozen water on the lochan.

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Looking after a friend's house while they were in Inverness for surgery reminded me as well how lucky I am to have good health. And so I am celebrating all that with you in a wee post.

I hope in this frantic time of year you have the chance to stop and recall the things that give you pleasure and peace of mind.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Pre Dawn Frolic with Cats

This is one of the cats' favourite trees from the walled garden at Isauld. It was a favourite spot of mine, too. As I weeded the beds, wrestled with Bishop's weed or herb willow, or pegged out laundry, the cats would keep me company--even the wild ones would come and sit safely on the sidelines watching the activity.

Now the cats and I are in a new house with no walled garden, and the nearest roads are real roads--maybe not highways but not the farm road nonetheless, so they need to learn where it is safe to go--and not.

Solomon has discovered a willow tree that is large enough for him to scamper up when he wants to play king of the hill. I am glad he likes it but it also means that I probably should not fill the nearby bird feeder.

His favourite haunt so far is through the fence into the neighbours rough grass where he hunts mice. Sheba likes to go to the side of the house and sit on a stack of roofing tiles looking for mice or anything that looks like fun to chase. She stays closer to home than Solomon does.

I don't know what other than the curiosity about what lies behind those strange grouse noises or the inherent perversity of cats draws Solomon to the open moor on the other side of the road. Grouse are much too big for him (and probably too fierce also) and the moor is very very wet, and no cat likes wet feet--but when do cats listen to reason?

So this morning in pre dawn I was enjoying the quiet after a Big Wind with the cats in the wall-less garden by the moss. The ground squished beneath my feet and Solomon swayed from the top of the willow tree and the two of them wrestled and chased each other around the yard.
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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Winter Sunrise

It's 8:30 and the sun is behaving like the diva that she is--witholding her radiance. Every single blade of grass is upright and immobile waiting for her. The air of expectancy is manifest in the frost on the ground.

Meanwhile the warm up acts are doing their best to keep us entertained and to have their time on stage.

The clouds are arched wisps like the eyebrows of an ancient Japanese actor. The sun thinks the arch is an honour guard for her entrance, but we see a mare's tail pattern telling us as reliably as the shipping forecast that the wind is from the east.

Below the arched clouds, layers of vivid pink-red bunting.

After the waiting, she emerges slowly over the bunting: a simple red orange orb.