Wednesday, December 31, 2014

And on the seventh day....

It is the seventh day of Christmas – and the last day of 2014.  Tomorrow will be 2015 - how can that be? Wasn’t it only three or four years ago that we were worrying about Y2K? 

I’ve been staring at the keyboard for almost three hours, trying to come up with something erudite and witty to say for this last post of the year.  I have nothing. Even doing a summary of the year's events leaves me with little.  I have the same critters at this year’s end that I had at its beginning (though that, itself, is noteworthy as it is the first time in nearly ten years!).  My human family, too, remains the same size as it was a year ago, thankfully. 

I'm still here!
(Eddie, age 11)

Me too!
(Shiloh, age 16)

Yeah, yeah, us too.
(Allie, age 13 and Mitzi, age 13)

Though I lost a good friend, Bonnie, to cancer this year, and her passing saw her wolfhound Keaghan rehomed to a new forever family on the mainland (where he is enjoying life to the fullest and absolutely adored by his new older wolfhound fursister), I have been fortunate to also gain new friends, both canine and human.  They will never replace my old friend, but they do help bring joy back into my life.

Bonnie and Keaghan


Eddie teaching Lily to dance

And so as we slip from one year to the next, I can but hope that life will continue to bring us all – my family and yours – joy and celebration, yet the strength to handle sorrow; stability and restfulness, yet the courage to face change; new friends, yet the ability to say goodbye; beauty even amidst decay.  Watch for the magic moments and savour them - they make life worth the living. 

I had two such magic moments this week – both on Monday.  A friend’s cat who went missing over two months ago, was found under a house ten kilometers away, alive and well and ready to fly into his owner’s arms;  and a hummingbird, waiting for me to return with the newly-filled feeder, landed on my hand while I was carrying the feeder to the pole from which it hangs, riding along just inches from my face until its feast was hung.  Those are the moments I live for! 

I leave you with some photos from yesterday’s hike with my friends Margaret and Rajah, once again to Swallowfield. The day was cold and crisp and sunny, the walk pure joy.  It is a perfect way to end the year, amid beauty, with friends, dogs by my side. 

Swallowfield estuary


Margaret takes a break with Rajah and Eddie

Chemainus River

My heart is full, my soul content.  May yours be too. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It's a wonderful life!

On the sixth day of Christmas, having this week watched for the umpteenth time a certain Christmas movie, I can't help but reflect that, yes, it is a wonderful life!  How can it not be when there's beautiful scenery minutes from my door, friends and dogs to hike with, and amazing sunsets that light up the mountains on the mainland and the skies over the nearby hills:

Crofton Lake, Christmas Eve 2014

Crofton Lake, Christmas Eve 2014

Steam rising from wet logs
Crofton Lake, Christmas Eve 2014

Liz and Eddie at Swallowfield
Dec. 29, 2014

Liz, Sasha and Eddie at
Swallowfield, December 29, 2014

Chemainus River at Swallowfield,
December 29, 2014

Liz and Sasha heading home
Swallowfield, December 29, 2014

North Shore Mountains
from Crofton, Vancouver Island
December 29, 2014

Mt. Baker peeks above Salt Spring Island
(as seen from Crofton, BC)
December 29, 2014

A Crofton Sunset
December 29, 2014.

Monday, December 29, 2014

What colour is your ....Christmas tree?

One of the things I love about Christmas is the colour everywhere - the decorations indoors and out, brightly coloured lights on rooftops and gutters, red bows and striped candy canes and packages wrapped in shiny paper.  And so on this fifth day of Christmas, I'd like to share with you some Christmas colour.

I customarily don't have an indoor tree except for a 10" one that is part of a display I set out on my glass-topped wine rack each year.

Instead, I decorate "Oliver's tree" - a potted evergreen on my patio, named in memory of one of my shelties who passed away the weekend I bought the tree.

Except for this year.  This year my daughter was coming for a short visit the weekend before Christmas, when we would celebrate Christmas early - the stockings from Santa, the presents under the tree, and the dinner with Christmas crackers, plum pudding,  and a table full of guests.

Wait....presents under the are we going to do THAT around either a 10" tree on the wine rack or an exposed outdoor tree?  And so I went in search of a tree for the house - one that the cat wouldn't climb (or eat), the dogs wouldn't crash into, one that I wouldn't have to store from year to year but also one which wouldn't die an early death from being chopped down, roots amputated from a sturdy trunk.  I thought of a live potted evergreen that I could plant in the garden in spring, but research and the nursery tells me they seldom survive as the warmth of the house brings them out of dormancy far too soon and affects their growth cycles, causing them to die the following year. And then a helpful staff member at my favourite nursery made a suggestion: Winter Jasmine!

Winter Jasmine blooms in January here on the island, so with some planning it can safely be moved into the house in December, allowed to come out of dormancy, and then transitioned back outside  in early January to continue its winter blooms and early spring growth.  And though winter jasmine isn't evergreen, the many spikes that form its limbs retain a greenish hue year round.

So that's what I did - in mid-December, I brought home a good-sized winter jasmine, small enough to be up on a table out of harm's way (with the help of a dog's x-pen), large enough to support a small collection of very lightweight ornaments, most of which my daughter made back in daycare several decades ago.  Its graceful boughs cascade down, dripping with little microdot lights and  golden tinsel-type garland,  like cascading silvery water with sunlight shining through it.  The photos simply don't do it justice.

And then, just as the nursery had predicted, the buds so clearly visible when I bought it started to open. By Christmas Day it was a mass of yellow flowers, as it is today.  In the next few days I'll remove the decorations and begin the transition to outdoors - first close to the house where it will have some protection as it adjusts to cooler weather,  then eventually out to the garden, where I will be able to enjoy its display of yellow each winter and of green each spring summer and fall.

And so, while others enjoy their evergreen, or their blue spruce, or even their silver aluminum tree this Christmas, I enjoy a Christmas tree that is yellow - yellow, the colour of spring,  the season of new birth and renewal and hope.  It may not be traditional but it certainly seems fitting for a holiday which celebrates those very same things.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Lady on the Hill

On this fourth day of Christmas, I’d like to share with you a story about one December's day in my childhood – a true story of how a simple act of kindness blessed me with a wonderful winter memory.

The Lady on the Hill
(c) Jean Ballard, 2014

It was December of 1957, and I was 7 years old.  I was walking home from school just before the Christmas holidays.  I had quite a distance to walk – a couple of miles – but in the 1950s that was neither too far nor too dangerous for a seven year old to walk, even by herself.  Usually I enjoyed it, swinging my school bag, singing a song, skipping and hopping down the long hill to my little house on the edge of town.

This day, however, was different.  For some reason I was late – a detention perhaps, or chalkboard duty?  Whatever the cause, the short winter’s day was growing dark, and made all the more miserable by a bone-chilling blowing snow.  By the time I was two blocks from home, I was sobbing and calling for my mommy.

A woman came hurrying down a driveway – a tall, slender, beautiful woman with expensive clothes and freshly coiffed hair.  I knew who she was, though I’d never met her.  She lived in the big fancy house at the end of the long sloped driveway, the house on a rise of perfectly manicured lawn, the whole property edged with carefully pruned evergreen shrubs.  In spring there would be boxes of flowers along the front windows of the house, and blossoms on the fruit trees in back.  My seven year old mind imagined this well-to-do woman as some kind of royalty, certainly a Lady 'with a capital L.'  I dubbed her "The Lady on the Hill."

I was just a little girl from a very small home where I lived with my financially struggling, recently immigrated family.  So when I saw her hurrying down her driveway I stopped partly in awe and partly from curiosity – what was she doing out without coat and hat and gloves, just a cardigan pulled loosely around her shoulders? 

“Little girl, are you lost?  Can I help?” she called as she ran quickly toward me, sliding on the freshly fallen snow.

“I’m ccccoooold,” I sobbed, “and it’s almost dark, and I want my mommy!”

“Here, come with me,” she replied softly, as she reached out and gently placed an arm around my shivering body. “We’ll get you warm and I’ll phone your mother to let her know you’re alright, and then I’ll walk you home.”

And so she did – she took me inside her beautiful house,  hung my wet coat and hat and mitts over a radiator to dry, phoned my mom, and fed me hot chocolate with marshmallows – the first marshmallows I’d ever had – with iced sugar cookies. 

When I was warmed up and my winter clothes quite dry, she suggested we head home.  She helped me on with my coat, buttoning it all the way to my chin, pulled on my hat and mitts, and then reached into a drawer and pulled out the softest scarf I’d ever seen, which she wrapped snugly about my face.  Then, almost as an afterthought, she reached into a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter,  pulled out one mandarin orange still wrapped in its green tissue paper, and placed it in my mittened hand. 

"For you," she said, "when you get home."  I looked at her in amazement – in my home,  mandarin oranges were something only seen on Christmas morning,  the orange orb  tucked in the toe of my Christmas stocking. To get such a treasure days in advance of Santa's visit was incredible! 

Off we went, the final two blocks to home, my one hand tucked in hers, my other clutching my mandarin orange.

I never met her again, and never did learn her name.  She was always just that very nice Lady on the Hill.   

In later years I drove past her house and realized it wasn’t that big, it certainly wasn’t fancy, the driveway wasn’t that long, and the hill was a mere bump.  But her kindness stuck with me all these years, and I can still see her clean modern kitchen and feel the softness of the mohair scarf as she wrapped it around me. And I never smell a mandarin orange, freshly removed from its little piece of green tissue, without remembering how special she made me feel.

If she is still alive today, she is probably in her nineties.   I’d like to think that she still remembers that day, and somehow knows in her heart how much her kindness meant to one shivering scared little child.  Because that shivering scared child has never forgotten it. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Hum along!

On the third day of Christmas, perhaps you are humming along to the Christmas carols still playing on your latest electronic gadget.  Or perhaps, like me, you like to hum along with more natural sounds - like the whirrrr and bzzzzzz and hummmmmm of these hummingbirds at my feeders:

Friday, December 26, 2014

Oh a dog in motion....

One of the greatest gifts is not found in a colourful box or bag 'neath a decorated tree.  And it can't be ordered online or purchased at Walmart.  One of the greatest gifts, this second day of Christmas, is the gift of friendship.  An hour or two out of a day to share a walk, to enjoy nature, to laugh at the antics of dogs, puts a smile on my face and a memory in my heart.

It was a few weeks ago that I received such a gift.  I got together with a friend I had not seen for almost a year, even though she lives but twenty minutes away, and we walked two of her dogs and one of mine to Crofton Lake.




Scooter and Ollie are full of energy.   Full Of Energy.  And Scooter was obsessed with clearing the lake of any and all debris within 20 feet of the shore - sticks, boughs, and logs fifty times his weight and size were fair game, even if it meant he had to swim completely submerged long enough that I was almost ready to jump in to save him.  His activity level also made him difficult to photograph!  He gives new meaning to the term "perpetual motion".

Gotta clear the lake.  Gotta.  Gotta. 

Now this one.....

More out here.....

Hey Ollie, help me pull these to shore!

You push, I'll pull....

Back in for another....

There's some under here....



Blub, blub, blub....

Ha! Got it!

Comin' ashore!

Ya could do more than just cheer me on, Ollie!

Yeah, I hear ya callin' me - I'm busy!

Oh, treats!  I'll come out fer a treat!

It was great to get to watch such a busy dog in action, and to spend time with them and their human.  I hope to hike with them more often in the future.

Sure, sounds good to me!

Whatdidya say?  I got water in mah ears!