Monthly Archives: December 2013

The journeys we take

For a number of reasons, my Christmas has been unfurling more slowly than ever this year. I am still writing Christmas cards both for myself and on behalf of my mother, who remains unwell.  Once upon a time this slowness would have stressed me greatly but, in recent years, I have acknowledged  that Christmas is as much about a journey/s as it is about an event or destination. That understanding of Christmas  means I feel  free to adopt a pace that is suitable for the purpose of the journeying.

And, in Christmas, there are several journeys. There is the obvious spiritual one which  takes a lifetime…I am guessing…and usually cannot be rushed. There is the journey  home, to the stable to be counted, to be accounted for and, sometimes, to account for. Then, there are the Magi travels of discovery and inquiry  and seeking  ( the perfect light 😉 ) and these can be life-long too.  Another  journey which,  perhaps, contains the essential truth of every voyage we undertake is ‘the flight into Egypt’; the journey where we leave behind the familiar and the known and step in to the new, the unknown, the unseen, where we may find safety and we may not.  Sometimes, we take this journey by choice, sometimes, it is by chance but, by chance or by choice, it is rarely a journey embarked upon lightly.

This Christmas, our home was blessed by the presence of voyagers; my brother and his wife and their two sons who came from Sydney to be with us. With both our families we counted for 7 at the s table. We rediscovered the pleasure of familial ties, and we parted, unsure of what the year ahead holds for each of us, yet certain that we have one another for the road as yet uncharted.

The Emigrant's DaughterGraham, Thomas Alexander Ferguson, 1840-1906. Graham, Thomas Alexander Ferguson, 1840-1906 :The emigrant's daughter. 1861. Ref: MNZ-0084-1/4. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22843811

The Emigrant’s Daughter Graham, Thomas Alexander Ferguson, 1840-1906. Graham, Thomas Alexander Ferguson, 1840-1906 :The emigrant’s daughter. 1861. Ref: MNZ-0084-1/4. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22843811

With my brother’s tribe came a foreign traveller, far, far from his birthplace; a small soapstone (  Kisii stone)  hippo; come from the fields of Kenya to settle with us on  the plains of Canterbury.

Welcome, little one, what a journey you and your makers are on. What a journey we are on.

© silkannthreades

In the aftermath of Christmas

In the aftermath of Christmas there is quiet.

The guests have gone,

The leavings

The leavings

leaving us in the company of good gifts

Good company

Good company

and the  familiarity of old, sweet  companions.

The security of familiarity

The security of familiarity

We have had a lovely few days of celebration and family but now it’s time to put away the carefully saved wrapping paper and ribbons, until next Christmas,

Packing up for next Christmas

Packing up for next Christmas

and time to resume normal household activities, like hanging the clothes out to dry,

Washing a waiting

Washing a waiting for the sun to shine

and conversing with  the  watchdog  watchcat who keeps the threshold of my home close to her heart,

Guarding the threshold

Keeping the threshold

and tells us how good it is that we don’t have to flee from Herod, but can rest secure in our own dwelling, in the aftermath of Christmas.

© silkannthreades

From Innocent’s Song:

“Watch where he comes walking

Out of the Christmas flame,

Dancing, double-talking:

Herod is his name.”  Charles Causley (1917-2003)

Christmas in past years

Many of us will have a photo, like this one, which I found whilst rummaging in my store cupboard this morning.

Sixties Santa and Sixties Me ?

Sixties Santa and Sixties Me ?

I think I am about 4 years old in this photo which would date this Santa meeting  to Christmas 1960. However  this date of 1960 doesn’t gel with the information I have on the photographer,   J Ambrose, who was apparently at  137 Armagh Street only in  1962 and 1964.  So, perhaps, I am older in the photo than I imagine I was.

Early Photographers in Christchurch

Early Photographers in Christchurch

I don’t remember meeting Santa, or having my photo taken with him, but I do remember that short-sleeved cardigan I am wearing. I loved it, with its lacy pattern, soft beige wool and shiny, faceted, glass-like buttons. My mother’s sister made it for me, and my only sadness over it was that it was hardly ever cold enough to wear it in my childhood homeland, Fiji.

The Santa photo, though, was not taken in Fiji. It was, I expect, taken during one of our ‘home-leave’ visits to Christchurch. And, I am thinking that Santa and I probably greeted each other at Santa’s corner in Hay’s Department Store  “Hay’s – the friendly store where everything is different!” http://lostchristchurch.org.nz/hays-building-oxford-terrace-c-1959    Hay’s no longer exists. It became Farmers in 1987. And the buildings which Hay’s, followed by Farmers, used to occupy no longer exist either, because they  had to be demolished after the earthquakes  (2010/2011).

Now, moving on from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern one… as Santa must do, for, after all, we are amongst the first in the world to see Christmas Day.  [ Which begs the question, “Why doesn’t Santa live at  the South Pole?” It would be more convenient and fuel-efficient, considering the direction he has to travel.]

I digress….here are some photos of my first ever Northern Hemisphere winter.  This is the house in Valhalla, Westchester County, New York, where I spent Christmas in 1977. We didn’t, to my great disappointment, have a White Christmas, but, in early 1978, when this photo was taken, Mother Nature made up for the lack of snow on Christmas Day.

Valhalla 1978

Valhalla 1978

In February of that year,  I went from scarcely knowing what snow looked like to experiencing the  Blizzard of 1978.  I don’t believe I will ever forget the extraordinary day we walked in the middle of Second Avenue, Manhattan.  It was completely, and eerily, devoid of traffic. I didn’t own a pair of boots back then but I did have wooden clogs, with rubber heel and toe plates, and I found they were excellent  for negotiating the slippery pavements. ( Yay for Clogs! Does Santa have clogs? He should 🙂  Sinterklaas has a pair, I am sure.)

And here is the final photo from the cupboard rummage; me, in the aftermath of the Blizzard, in my friend’s garden at Valhalla. I cut a Santa like figure, don’t you think?

Is Santa lost?

Is it Santa?

© silkannthreades

Amazing words

Earlier in the year I mentioned  in  this post that our health authorities were developing strategies to help us maintain  our well-being in the face of the stresses brought about by the earthquakes of 2010/11. Their latest initiative is the  December/Christmas   All Right? campaign  which highlights the importance of giving things that really matter – time and kindness. To this end, we get daily ‘happy’ messages  in our newspaper, like this one that I read  this morning.

You are Amazing

You are Amazing

Kind of nice, isn’t it? To be told you’re amazing by officialdom; to be given a pat on the back, instead of the usual stern, finger-wagging, ( but important ) public service messages of  ‘Don’t drink and drive”, “Pay your taxes”, “Pay your fines or else…”,  which all hold a note of threat, or impending doom, over our heads if we fail to  comply.

I particularly like the  “Let’s remember it’s often the simple things that bring the most joy” part of the messages…..because it fits so well with the theme of my blog ;), and my About  page which states that “Although the big things have changed and continue to change, the little things prevail and bring joy.”

Little, simple things, such as the Cherry Clafouti I made the other day, or

You're an amazing clafouti :)

You’re amazing Clafouti  🙂

little things, like the delight of discovering a very old, and very lovely, interpretation of one of the most loathed words in our city…LIQUEFACTION…..

Liquefaction, as we have come to know it, (much too well),  is the conversion of soil into a fluid like mass during an earthquake or other seismic event.

Take a peek at this video clip to see how parts of city nearly drowned in the stuff a few years ago http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6-knLM7MZA

And, then, consider the pleasure and sensuous beauty of this type of liquefaction that I found Upon Julia’s Clothes 

Whenas in silk my Julia goes,

Then, then methinks, how sweetly flows

That liquefaction of her clothes!………

O how that glittering taketh me.

by Sweet Robin/Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

‘Liquefaction of her clothes’; oh, how I love that image as it sashays and swirls through my mind and swishes over those other gray and grim memories. What was Julia wearing , I wonder. Was it Watered Silk?;

Portrait, Princess di Sant' Antimo (1840-1844)

Portrait, Princess di Sant’ Antimo [ in watered silk](1840-1844) by  Francesco Hayez

in the style of a princess?

And, isn’t amazing that with a well-chosen phrase, or a slight change of meaning to a word, we can give our world a whole new look?

So, even if you don’t live in Canterbury, make some appropriate changes to the following messages from the All Right? campaign and give someone a kind word and a little time during the holiday season. You may be truly amazed! You may find you’re truly amazing!

“You’re a wee Canterbury gem.”

‘You’re cooler than pirates and ninjas combined.’

‘You’re strong (even if you don’t always think so).’

‘Your smile is life changing.’

‘You’re lovelier than the summer sun in Hagley Park.’

© silkannthreades

ps The cherry clafouti seems to have a certain liquefacted appearance, don’t you think? It was oozing cherry juice 🙂

Variations on a Blue Christmas

The National Gallery in London features a painting each month which you can download as a wallpaper. Over the last 12 months I have enjoyed some lovely paintings, courtesy of this wonderful service. The masterpiece for the month of December is  ‘The Nativity” by Piero della Francesca.

The Nativity (1470-5)

The Nativity (1470-5)

The Gallery notes explain the painting, and its context, and it’s fascinating to read about the magpie, and the angels without wings, and why the donkey is not paying attention to Jesus and the ox is. But there are four aspects of this work that I adore; the blue robes, the hairstyles of the angels, the informality of Joseph’s relaxed foot and the little birds amongst the plants near the angels’ feet?

The coolness and calm created by the gentle colours in this Nativity reminded me of the year I decided to decorate a little potted Christmas tree, in my garden, in white and silver and blue.

White and Silver and Green

White and Silver and Green

That Blue Christmas was in 2005, I think, and, although I don’t have a Christmas tree this year, indoors or out, I felt a great need for another round of Christmas Blues. So I set to, quietly and slowly, piece by piece, filling my world with blue.

Perhaps my mood was influenced by a 15th Century Italian interpretation of the Nativity or, perhaps, like  Juliet Batten, author of Spirited Ageing, I am responding to a natural need to be soothed and swaddled and lullaby-ed through what can be a hot, rushed and hectic Antipodean festive season.

Last night an early summer storm raged through the inland section of our province. Hail stones destroyed farmers’ crops but, here, in the city we were spared the worst of it. As a result I woke this morning to the blessing of gentle rain on my parched garden

Rain in  the early morning light

Rain in the early morning light

and the  tranquility and peace of the soft tones of  morning light on the blues of my Christmas preparations.

In one corner of my living room, I have placed my own Nativity Scene. Not made by a famous artist but painted by the small, meticulous hand of my daughter when she was about nine or ten. The figures are  slightly worn, the lamb has sustained a chip, but the Nativity set is loved, and a  favourite decoration, no matter how I choose to colour my Christmas.

A Child's Nativity

A Child’s Nativity

No Christmas time is complete without music. I love the traditional old world songs but, this year, I am enjoying a loved New Zealand carol,  Te Harinui  (Great Joy ), written by  our own Willow Macky to mark the first Christmas service in New Zealand in the Bay of Islands in 1814. 

Meri Kirihimeti

© silkannthreades

Preserving the sweetness of things

Our previous minister,  Rev. John Hunt, (now retired), would sometimes  offer the congregation ‘a sweetie for the sermon’. His sermons didn’t ever need any sweetening but he said a ‘sweetie for the sermon’ was an ancient Scottish tradition, and we, believers all, were more than happy to help preserve the ways of the old Kirk.  So the baskets of sweeties were passed from one pew to another and we, smiling and laughing like young ones at a birthday party, selected our sweetie and, then, spent the rest of the sermon, trying to dislodge sticky toffee from our gums and teeth. ( Perhaps we were not as young as our hearts imagined 🙂 ) Gummed up or not, they were sweet moments, and, although, I remember not a word of the sermons, I do remember feeling content and treasured and loved. Sugar it seems is a powerful  preservative of well-being.

In the spirit of ‘a sweetie for the sermon’, I  am spending time trying to capture and preserve  the sweetness of the current season. For there is much sweetness to savour.

There is the sweet fragrance and delicate tones of my dwarf sweet peas both outside

Sweetly fragrant Sweet Pea

Sweetly fragrant Sweet Pea

and indoors, mingled with scented rose.

Rose and Sweet Peas

Rose and Sweet Peas

Then there is the sweetness suspended in the flowers and leaves I  am drying for my home-made potpourri.

Summer Medley

Summer Medley with Tracy’s  butterflies

Potpourri translates as ‘rotten pot/stew’, which, hopefully, mine will not be, if I have dried everything sufficiently well.

Additional sweetness comes in a friend’s seasonal gift of  home-made  Christmas mince pies; so delicious they are impossible to preserve except on camera.

Stars of Wonder

Stars of Wonder

They are a scrumptious-sumptuous combination of melt-in-your-mouth sugary buttery pastry and ‘ barely there tartness’ of rich, fruity mince meat;   made, I am told, with the addition of apple and green tomato to the dried fruit.

So those are the sweeties. Now for the sermon. Sermon? What sermon?  My mouth is too full of goodness to speak.

© silkannthreades

Getting better with gifts

Today I delivered my first home-made Christmas gift; to the staff at the  veterinary practice who take care of Jack (and me) throughout the year, and have done so for all six years of Jack’s little  life.

So what, you may ask? Well, the ‘so what’ is that this is the first time, since the earthquakes, that I have had the energy, and the inclination, to make Christmas gifts for some of the many people in the  community who take good care of us throughout the year.

Although I had ‘ energy and inclination’ the baking process didn’t go as smoothly as I thought it would, because I foolishly chose to make a pre-earthquake Christmas favourite, raspberry and blueberry friands. It’s an  easy recipe, in normal circumstances,  but I didn’t expect that, half way through the mixing of the ingredients, I would burst in to tears, overwhelmed by memories of happier times   associated with these rich buttery delights. Never the less, I persevered and I was very pleased with the results and very pleased, too, that, after 3 years of non-friand-making,  I hadn’t lost my friand skills 🙂

What say you? Take a look….

Raspberry Friands

Raspberry and Blueberry Friands

The recipe I used (slightly modified by the addition of blueberries)

Raspberry Friands

Raspberry Friands

comes from Jo Seagar Cooks, published in 2006 by Random House.

Jo Seagar Cooks

Jo Seagar Cooks

Jo Seagar  is a New Zealand cooking personality who has a cookery school and cafe not far from Christchurch, in  Oxford , Canterbury. She is well known for her ‘easy peasy’ recipes and her  cooking motto, ‘ minimum effort for maximum effect’.  I like her style 🙂 !

And I particularly like these bright, forthright  words of hers from the introduction to her recipe book : ” I want you to put the flowers back on the table, think of the hen that laid your egg, and remember your mother and put on your apron – it’s not demeaning, it’s there to keep your clothes clean.”

I don’t think she is the sort to cry in to her friand batter ( I actually didn’t let tears drop in to the mixture, in case you are worrying about hygiene 😉 ) but one never knows; we all have our moments.

Here are a few more of mine; my better moments.

© silkannthreades