The Skating Rink

             One of the best things to enjoy about winter is skating.   In fact, years ago you wouldn’t have been considered Canadian if you didn’t like skating, my generation having been raised on hockey and a daily dose of outdoor exercise.   If you were a true Canadian, you never missed watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights.   I admit I haven’t skated in years and thought to take it up again in retirement, but my last Bone Density test was not good, so I fear my skating days are over.   Watching the neighbors kids  through my kitchen window is the closest I have come to the sport lately, and although I might have been moaning about having to do the dishes by hand at least I had a pleasant scene to gaze upon, especially after school when the spotlights were glowing, and the flurries flying.    Still, I was wondering, what if I built my own skating rink?   I have such a big square rectangle of a back yard, that it seems a shame to waste it.    

Skating rink

       Now that the neighbors have moved, I seldom see any children playing outside in the winter or in the summer either.   When I first moved to this subdivision there were always games of street hockey after school, now everyone is inside on their video games.   I grew up skating on the farm.    There was a low spot behind the barn which made for an excellent skating rink when it was flooded.   Here is a picture my mother painted of it, complete with the family dogs.   My brothers and cousins would sometimes go to the pond at the back of the farm to play hockey, but it was a long way to walk, there and back, in the cold.  Hockey on the Pond - AMc

Although skating was one of my favorite winter activities, I was not thrilled about having to wear black skates.   They were hand-me-downs from my brother, but my mother probably figured it didn’t matter as who would see us, way out in the country,skating (me)

But even at age six I knew that black skates were for boys – girls wore white skates, for figure skating.    By the time the arena was built in town and free skating hours were held on Sundays, I had a pair of white skates as I simply refused to go otherwise.    The best thing about skating in the arena was the music blaring from the loudspeakers, but it was the sixties and we had the Beatles and other groovy tunes.    While cleaning out the basement a few years ago I found the diary I got for Christmas the year I was eleven.   We had a skating rink at school that January, courtesy of some long forgotten but dedicated teacher, and practically every day the entry is the same – “went skating at lunch hour”.   Re-reading the diary, I seem to have been obsessed with skating, but maybe I had nothing else to write about – our lives were simpler and more uneventful back then.   By the time the February thaw came I had given up on both the skating and the writing and the rest of the diary is just a series of blank pages.

The winters were colder too and longer, at least it seems so in retrospect.   I remember my cousin and I once skating over the fields when we were teenagers – there was such a hard crust of freezing rain and ice on top of the snow that the whole farm was our skating rink that weekend.      

My dad remembers a few years where the winter was so cold and the ice build up so thick that it was possible to skate on the river.   That would be  dangerous now, and probably was then too.   My mother lost a childhood friend, a teenage boy who fell through the ice.   She was to go with him and another friend that day, but she didn’t have any skates.   My dad saved up $5 in the Depression to buy his first pair of skates.      

Skating must be in my genes, as my maternal grandmother hailed from Holland, where she remembered skating on the canals in the winter.    Dutch Inheritance - AMcWhile every small town in Canada has an indoor skating arena, there are very seldom any outdoor rinks anymore, and by outdoor rinks I mean big community rinks, not just a small square of ice in someone’s backyard.    Occasionally someone’s attempt to build a backyard rink gets shut down because of zoning bylaws or neighbors complaining about the noise, but kudos to the brave dads who attempt it, as they are the ones standing out at midnight in the freezing cold flooding the thing every night.   

Being outside in the fresh air was always part of the fun, layering up with double socks and mittens and thick scarfs around our necks and faces…..and then coming in hours later with red cheeks and frozen fingers to warm up over hot chocolate.    Some winters are just not suitable, it’s too mild or rainy, or just not cold enough – you must have a consistent spell of below freezing weather….the old six weeks of winter thing.   We did not even get our first major snowstorm this year until January 19, so this has not been the best year for making ice, but we are now in for a prolonged spell of below freezing windchill weather, so why don’t we have more outdoor rinks?   I see parcels of empty land here and there around town and think now that would make an ideal skating rink.   It seems to me that it wouldn’t be that expensive to build a temporary ice rink, and think of the fun the kids could have.   We have splashpads now that cost $150,000 instead of swimming pools.   You can skate in an arena where ice time is rare and always scheduled, but there’s nowhere to play a pick-up game of shimmy.    Many larger cities have skating centres, like Nathan Phillips Square in downtown Toronto.   You can skate on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, but the weather is much colder in our nation’s capital.   If I’m ever in New York in the wintertime I would risk falling and breaking a hip just to be able to skate at the Rockefeller Centre – but first I would make sure I have travel insurance!       

skating rink

Having a backyard rink would be fun for the adults too.    I’ve often thought a skating party would be nice idea for a New Years Eve party, for all ages – the music – the outdoor lights – a bonfire – hot drinks – good food.    Chili and potato soup, or lobster Newburg and champagne if you want something fancier.    I used to talk sports with one of my work colleagues, who was a real hockey fiend.    Every year I would joke, “Bob, do you think this is the year I will have a skating rink?“ and he would reply, “If you build it, we will come.”     

I still have my skates – they are in the basement somewhere.   Am I brave enough to take a spin?  I wish I had a rink outside my back door….  

Song of the Day:   Joni Mitchell – I Wish I Had a River

Beverage of the Day:  Hot Chocolate made with imported Valrhona French cocoa….at $20 a box it’s expensive but worth it and not at all bitter as dark chocolate can sometimes be. 

hot chocolate

Gourmet Hot Chocolate

Snow Day

          There’s nothing nicer than a snowstorm in January, especially when the early morning news is telling everyone to stay home and take a snow day, and the local radio station is listing the bus cancellations, and school and business closings.   There’s no second guessing, should I go out or not, when they start telling everyone to stay off the roads.   When I was working, I dreaded winter as I had a long commute – it might be bright and sunny when I left home but by the time I got to work in the snowbelt region it would be a raging blizzard.    If you didn’t go in, you were home safe but sorry as you would inevitably feel guilty about leaving your colleagues with a skeleton staff and/or a 24 hour shift.   When I worked in a small rural hospital if it was an exceptionally bad storm, the staff who lived in town would be collected by snowmobile – no need to stay home, we will come and get you!    Many a snowy night I drove home in whiteouts over unplowed country roads where I was the only fool on the road.   A friend of mine once ran into a pack of wild dogs/coyotes on her drive home – they must have been disoriented in the blizzard to have come so far out of the bush and refused to get off the road.  After I changed jobs, it was even worse, as there was no backup staff or plan.   I only remember my workplace being closed once due to snow and only then because my boss had wisely but reluctantly made the decision…..but that was the year we had a snowmageddon and the national guard was called in to deal with all the stranded cars on the highway, many of whom had been there for over 24 hours.   I did not even get a snow day as I was called in to cover a shift near where I lived for someone who couldn’t get in.   It always amazed me how busy we would be on those days, and how many people would be out and about during snowstorms, even when they were telling people to stay home.   Of course, there would be the expected increase in emergencies – car accidents, heart attacks, pneumonia and such, but then there would be the others.    I reached the conclusion that there are people who just do not like being stuck at home during a snowstorm, they must be out and about…to the grocery store for milk, the library to return books….any excuse will do.    Personally, now that I am retired, I am grateful for the opportunity to stay home when the weather out there is frightful. 

snow

Who doesn’t recall the excitement of an unexpected day off school when you were a child.   I think we remember them because they were so few and far between.    Last year there were about ten days when the buses didn’t run here and another five or so when the school was closed altogether.   Snow, fog, freezing rain, some of which never even materialized but the school board must make the decision at 5:30 in the morning and there are liability issues.   I remember one year our rural bus was cancelled for several days.  We made snow angels, built snow forts and snowmen, played fox and the goose in the pristine whiteness and had hot chocolate (the real stuff with cocoa and milk) when we came in from playing, and usually grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch.       

My dad would plow out the lane-way with the front-end loader on the tractor but basically we were snowed in until the county roads were cleared, which was never a priority for the township.   My ancestors went to church in this old cutter when the roads were impassable.   

sleigh ride 3 (2) I guess you could say the one horse open sleigh was their backup plan!   (This picture is from the 1940’s when my dad still had the big Clydesdale horses).     

Wreath with snow

The month of January can be quite pleasant, once all the stress and merry-making of Christmas is over.   The days are quiet – it’s a good time for personal reflection, journal writing, and soup on the stove.    You don’t have to socialize if you don’t feel like it, you can read and watch movies and putter around the house with no agenda in mind.    You can bake and eat with no thought of exercising off those calories.   It’s much too cold and icy to go out, although you might be brave enough to shovel the driveway if no one volunteers to do it for you.  It’s a time of year to be savored.    All is white without, all is warm within.   You can go to bed at night and listen to the wind howl and be grateful for hearth and home. 

gingerbread house

While a snow storm can be a blessing in disguise, a forced stop to our constant whirlwind of activity, if the storm goes on too long cabin fever can set in.    I tend to feel a bit claustrophobic if the driveway and street aren’t plowed out after 24 hours.   I want to stay home but I like the idea that I can get out if I need to.    Of course, if the hydro or heat goes out or the pipes freeze that is a whole other story…..not fun at all.   And if the winter drags on too long into March that can be depressing indeed.  

So, what are the ingredients for a perfect snow day – comfortable clothes, but you don’t have to get dressed at all if you don’t want to, stay in your PJ’s.   A nice pair of thick socks is a requirement and you must have a stack of books or magazines.   I always have some books on reserve for just such days.

Snow pictures - AMc

A cozy chair in front of the fireplace or in front of a window where you can watch the snow softly falling is ideal.   Add some soft pillows and a comfy throw, plaid is perfect. 

A cup of spiced tea is lovely to sip while you read…and if you get sleepy while reading, simply move over to the couch for a long winter’s nap.   But first throw something in the crock-pot so you can awaken to the delightful aroma of homemade stew.    If you feel like baking, chocolate chip cookies or brownies are always a good choice and much appreciated by the neighborhood snow shovelers.    I always enjoy watching the kids on the neighbor’s skating rink from my kitchen window while I do the dishes, twirling around in their colorful Nordic coats and scarfs like a real-life Gap ad.    Somehow the weather is seldom too bad for a game of ice hockey.  Sometimes there is even night skating under the spotlights, the flurries falling, the slam of the puck against the boards, he shoots, he scores.  After supper, it’s movie time – and popcorn and hot chocolate.  Later you can watch the storm highlights on the evening news and be glad you are not out in it – and so, to bed.   Tomorrow all will be sunny and bright like a winter wonderland…..and regular life will resume, refreshed by this quiet moment of winterlude.  

Quote of the Day:                           

Brew me a cup for a winter’s night.
For the wind howls loud and the furies fight;
Spice it with love and stir it with care,
And I’ll toast our bright eyes,
my sweetheart fair.     (Minna Antrim)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Song of the Day:  Snow – from White Christmas – Bing Crosby & Co.                                                                                                                                                                   

 

2019 Bucket List

 

Red Bucket        It is a universal truth that New Years resolutions tend to get broken, sooner or later, so most years I don’t even bother making them, thus saving myself some grief.   How much more pleasant to make a Bucket list of things you want to do, versus things you think you should do.    It’s all in the attitude….plus Oprah says if you write it down, it will happen….that fairy godmother vision board thing.

Add to My Library

     This was my sole New Years resolution last year, and I kept it…but as I love to read, it was no great hardship.     I had de-cluttered my house the year before and given away a lot of books I was no longer interested in, only keeping what I truly loved and found inspiring.    After discovering the bookoutlet website last spring I ordered from them four times over the course of the year, including 15 books at their Boxing Day sale, 13 of which I gave away as Christmas gifts.     Their sales are 30% off already bargain prices.    About half of these were books I had already read but wanted copies of because I wanted to re-read them someday, the other half were new.     Nothing makes me happier than a big box of books arriving in the mail.     And of course, the big Rotary book sale with 30,000 volumes is coming up next week so I can add to my stash.    Now I am in need of a new bookcase ….

book outlet

Start Writing Murder Mystery

This is a tough one, because Santa did not bring me a plot for Christmas as I requested….or even anything remotely resembling a plot outline, only a very vague idea and two rather sketchy characters, but I hope to have a first draft done by next December.    I know that is overly ambitious, but I am looking forward to it and hope it will be fun.   If it isn’t I’ll quit.  Maybe I won’t be able to write fiction, but I won’t know if I don’t try.    Of course, I will probably have to neglect my blog, but I don’t have many followers anyway and I had already said in my one-year blogging anniversary post that I was going to cut down to two posts per month and/or try to do shorter posts.    If I’m still blogging regularly, you will know it’s not going well.   On second thought, maybe it would be easier to start with something smaller….a short story….or maybe a Haiku poem?  

Agatha Christie books

Spend Money on Fun Stuff vs Things

I haven’t worked for two years and have no plans to go back to work, but I have continued to pay my insurance and license fees in case I decide I want to go back to work.   Does that make sense – no!   So last November in a fit of courage, I faxed in my resignation letter to the college, thus saving myself $2000 annually, which I decided I would spend on fun things I might not otherwise do or buy, like the Christmas musical theater tickets I passed up because they were too expensive.  It will be my fun bucket fund – kind of like an incentive/reward plan to make a big decision a bit more palpable.  After all it was my livelihood for 40 years, so it was not an easy decision to make.    Although every time I talk to my former work colleagues it gets easier.   I don’t want to spend the money on one big thing or trip which is over in a week, so I intend to sprinkle the year with smaller delights – mostly  experiences, not things….unless they are books of course.    I shall become a millennial….in spirit only (no plastic surgery planned).    

Walk Every Day for Thirty Minutes

Inspired by Linda, my blogging sister at Walking Writing Wit and Whimsy, I started walking again a few weeks before Christmas, after an incredibly long break.   Our winter hasn’t been too bad, so I’ve only missed a few days so far.   I have noticed I have more energy and sleep better.    Of course, Linda has a lovely park with fat friendly squirrels, Harry the Blue Heron, seven swans a swimming, ducks unlimited and cardinals and birds to look at while she is walking……and I just have my neighborhood.   Currently I have a lovely curbside view of discarded Christmas trees.    But as I walk with my IPod, it will give me thirty minutes of music as well, (I miss listening to music during my daily commute).   I don’t have any specific mileage goal in mind, just to walk when able, aiming for maybe 5 days a week…when it’s not too cold or too hot or raining.    Linda’s nature pictures are so lovely that I am reminded I need to buy a new camera too, as my current zoom lens is broken.       

Renovate Kitchen

This has been on my list for awhile.   I even emptied out the bottom cupboards a few years ago down to only the bare essentials, (which was still a lot of stuff), in preparation.    I know what I want in my head but hate the thought of tackling another project.    I have PTSD from some of the past renos…but it must be done…certainly it will be worth it…….if only to get the dishwasher fixed.    I went to Lowe’s in October and looked at cupboards, just plain beige cupboards with glass windows, and maybe a bead-board pattern for the bottom, which would suit my older style home, and there were rows and rows of them…..so much choice.   The guy told me to come back when I had some measurements…time to get the tape measure out.    I hope it turns out the way I envisioned it (I’m counting on you, vision board).  

Kitchen

I also need to stop wasting money on kitchen stuff.   I went into the dollar store last week for Yardley’s English Lavender Soap ($1.25/bar) and came out with a set of red Rachel Ray plates.     At $3 a plate who could resist and they would be useful for a Christmas buffet….once that dishwasher is fixed.    I do not need any more plates.  I have 4 sets of blue dishes now.   I could open a B&B or a tea shop with the amount of china I own.   

Paris salon

Host a Virtual Literary Salon

I already started this last week, (see intro The Literary Salon link), and the first book up for discussion is An Unwanted Guest (see blog link).   I read so many good books, it’s a shame not to share them.    

What’s on your Bucket List for this year?

 

 

 

 

 

Bacardi Rum Pum Pum Cake

rum cake      If you want a simple but delicious desert to take to a holiday buffet or help ring in the New Year, then a Bacardi rum cake is a great choice.   This cake is really something to celebrate, but for any non-drinkers you can burn off most of the alcohol in the glaze if you wish.   The recipe originated in the 1970’s but I saw a revised version in one of The Pioneer Woman cookbooks, which inspired me to try it out last year.   Although I remember it as a popular magazine advertisement from the Bacardi Rum Company years ago, I did not cook or even bake back then.    My only experience with a booze-laden dessert was during a late-night visit to a high school friend’s house over Christmas break.   She was of Italian descent and served us some kind of soggy boozy cake which was an Italian tradition.   After an evening of bar-hopping that was probably the last thing we needed, but we had strong espresso with it, as we sat around their ornate dining room table at 1 am  laughing and catching up and trying not to wake her sleeping parents.   (I don’t remember parents staying up worrying back then when their kids went out, certainly mine never did, but those were more innocent times when bad things didn’t seem to happen as often as they do now.  My parents never even locked their doors in the country and I often had to step over the sleeping dog when I got home).   I’m not sure what kind of fancy liquor was in that cake but it was very strong, so the memory has stayed with me…..plus the fact that I occasionally drive past her house, but they have long since moved and I lost touch.    This recipe is not as strong, or as soggy but has just the right amount of rum flavor.   It keeps well too, although I stored mine in the fridge in a covered container.   It was just as moist a week later when there were only one or two pieces left and the New Year’s resolutions had kicked in.      

Ingredients:

Batter:
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1 package yellow cake mix with pudding in the mix
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup cold water
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup light or dark rum
Glaze:
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light or dark rum
Instructions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare one 9 or 10 inch fluted tube pan; generously grease the pan with shortening and dust with flour.
Batter:
  1. Sprinkle the nuts over the bottom of the prepared pan.
  2. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, combine cake mix, eggs, water, vegetable oil, and rum; beat until thoroughly mixed. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula so the mixture blends evenly. Spoon the batter over the nuts and smooth the surface with the back of a large spoon.
  3. Bake: Bake 1 hour or until a long toothpick, wooden skewer, or cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place pan on a wire cooling rack to cool for 10 or 15 minutes.    Poke holes in the bottom of the cake and spoon the glaze over it.   Be generous.  Let it sit for 10-15 minutes to soak in.   Remove the cake from the pan and place the cake on the wire cooling rack to finish cooling.   Drizzle the rest of the glaze over the top.
Glaze:
  1. In a small heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Stir in water and sugar; bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes stirring constantly so mixture does not burn. Remove from heat. Stir in the rum.
  2. Use a long toothpick or skewer to poke multiple small holes in the bottom of the cake.    Spoon the still warm glaze over the cake and allow to soak in. Remove the cake from the pan and repeat the process on the top part (which will have the nuts), until all the glaze is used up.

Rum sauce

It can be impossible to find a cake mix with pudding anymore, so  newer versions of this recipe call for using one 3 oz package of vanilla pudding mix and a regular yellow cake mix. Cake mix

 Although the original recipe does not call for drizzling the glaze over both the top and bottom of the cake, I did both, as I wanted it nice and flavorful.   You do want it to soak in well so make lots of holes and let it sit for awhile before you remove it from the pan and repeat with the top. rum cake

I used a long two pronged fork to make the holes.   I could not find my Bundt cake pan (did I still own a Bundt pan?) so I just used a plain round Angel Food cake tin.   I also used butter instead of oil, a personal preference, and half brown sugar and half regular sugar for the glaze.   (Someday I may learn to follow a recipe exactly!)   The Pioneer Woman recipe called for 1/2 cup brown sugar mixed with 1/2 cup chopped nuts and sprinkled in the bottom of the pan, so I tried that this year and prefer the plain nuts version as it was too sweet and made the topping hard so that when I tried to poke holes in it with a nut pick,  it started to crack, so I ended up just drizzling the remainder of the glaze over the top.   Live and learn….a domestic goddess, I am not.

rum cake

I added the rum while it was still boiling to burn off most of the alcohol.   Of course you don’t have to use Bacardi brand rum…..any rum will do, but I do think a dark rum makes a nicer sauce.   When I went out for a walk and came back in, the kitchen still smelled rummy.  The batter tasted pretty rummy too, if you are the daring type who likes to taste raw batter.   I stored the cake in a covered container in the fridge and it kept well.   If it gets a bit dried out, microwaving it for about 15 seconds, makes it even better.   In fact, served warm with coffee, it’s a nice way to ring in the New Year with family and friends.   

Postscript:  see last years blog Here We Come A’ Wassailing for more New Years entertaining ideas. 

 

 

Comfort & Joy: The Danish Art of Hygge (or how to survive January)

Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful.”  The song, Let It Snow, has all the ingredients for winter comfort and joy – popcorn, snuggling by the fire, snowstorm, and the best part for those who hate winter driving, no place to go.   It’s also the perfect recipe for hygge.

          According to recent surveys, Denmark rates among the happiest countries in the world, and hygge, the Danish art of living well, is a major reason for their sense of wellness.   Hygge, which can be summed up as “cocoa by candlelight”, is the perfect antidote to the cold dark winters and is considered a major survival strategy for January when the hours of daylight are few.   The Little Book of Hygge – The Danish Way to Live Well was written by Meik Wiking, the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.    You know that if a country sets out to study happiness they are way ahead of the game.   Here is my book review from Goodreads.

  The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live WellThe Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a delightful little book, particularly suitable for reading this time of year, preferably during a snow storm. So light some candles, get cozy by the fire with a blanket and a cup of cocoa and prepare to be entertained. Based on the Danish art of living well, it may inspire you to practice a little hygge in your own life…..comes complete with charming pictures too, but warning – the print is very tiny.

         For those of us living in more melancholy nations, what exactly is hygge?  The word hygge derives from a Norwegian word meaning “well-being”.  Hygge is about atmosphere and experiences, not things, (great, I just decluttered, see previous blog post, but I hope I didn’t throw out anything hygge  – is it to late to retrieve those plaid pajama bottoms). 

           In the introduction the author describes a December weekend at a cabin with a group of his friends.  

Cabin in the Woods - AMc - 2016
Cabin in the Woods –  2016

Post hiking, they are sitting around the fire, wearing big jumpers and woolen socks, reading or half asleep and the only sound is the stew boiling, the sparks from the fire and someone having a sip of their mulled wine.  One of them breaks the silence and asks, could this be any more hygge, and someone answers, yes, if there was a storm raging outside, they all nod.     This is hygge in a nutshell, except he forgot the candles, (they are big on candles in Denmark as they have seventeen hours of darkness in the winter months), so I would like to add that I hope they ate by candlelight, and had coffee and cake later by the fire, (they are big on coffee and confectioneries too).

         According to the author, Danes have less anxiety and worry in their daily lives due to the cradle to grave social welfare state.  They don’t resent paying high taxes as they consider it investing in society and improving the quality of life.   What’s not to like about a country with paid daycare, where parents of small children must leave work early, and no one works nights or weekends, thus leaving more time for family and friends and all the other hygge-like things to do…..watch tv, read, relax.     

      The concept of hygge includes coziness, candles, coffee, blankets, fireplaces, hot drinks, good food, natural or rustic decor, nooks, soft lighting, comfortable clothing and casual entertaining.   Interestingly, the hygge life-style can be excellent for introverts, as it is a low-key way of being social without being drained or exhausted by too much activity and partying, not to mention being a soothing balm for over-stimulated minds at the end of the work day.   Even their workplaces try to be hygge.  They may have couches instead of desks.  I think I want to move.  I have a vague recollection of one of my first workplaces in the eighties where we had birthday cake during department meetings.  It was a horrible place to work but the cake was good. At my last job we didn’t even get meal breaks.  Or course, a hygge-like state is only possible if it is in contrast to something non-hygge, which tends to be the status quo for modern life.   Life today is a rat-race, stressful and unfair, money and jobs rule.  This book can inspire us to stop occasionally and add a little hygge to our lives, and don’t forget the cake!   (see next blog, How To Make Your Home Hygge).        

 Benjamin Franklin quote:  “Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day then in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.”               

Snow - AMC - 2015

Snow Day –  2015

Decluttering 101 Out With The Old

      If decluttering your personal space is one of your New Year’s resolutions then you may be interested in, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo.     

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō

 

  My yoga teacher lent me a copy of this book last year over the Christmas break and I became so motivated by it that cleaning out my house became one of my goals for 2017.   Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing consultant who is booked three months in advance according to her bio, which surprised me as I think of Japan as a nation of tidy people living in small neat houses, but maybe they are pack-rats like most North Americans.   Her unique approach has now been trade marked as the KonMari method.  The gist of her method is that you are to tidy by category and all at once, by dumping everything of each item from all over your house in the center of the room, shirts for example, and then you are to hold each item in your hand and “if it doesn’t spark joy”, out it goes.  You will then only be surrounded by the things you love.  The author was young and single and lived in a bedroom/apartment when the book was written in 2011, so although it is an interesting premise, some of the suggestions are not quite practical for a larger space shared with other people.   What if something doesn’t bring you joy, (the tv remote, the hamster cage, old hockey equipment), but might bring joy to someone else?  Then there are the things that don’t bring you joy but you need anyway.   My iron doesn’t bring me joy, (I hate ironing, but I hate wrinkles even more), but I don’t plan on throwing it out.  Toys should only be stored in one place?  That might cause a few temper tantrums.   Some of the suggestions border on the bizarre, you should talk to your house and your possessions and thank them for taking care of you? “Thank you for keeping me warm all day.  Thank you for making me beautiful.”  My sad old kitchen which is desperately in need of renovation might feel better if I spoke lovingly to it, but would I sound like George Bailey at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life, joyously greeting the miserable old Building and Loan.   Or empty your purse every night, place wallet, makeup and put everything in it’s assigned place, and then repack it in the morning.  I admire purse minimalists, but I am not one of them, my purse holds everything but the kitchen sink, so that would take over an hour.   She often speaks of inanimate objects as if they had souls and feelings.   What do the things in your house that don’t spark joy actually feel?  They simply want to leave.  Everything you own wants to be of use to you.  It must be a Feng-shui kind of thing.  Does my iron hate me as much as I hate it?       

            Still there was enough in the book to motivate me, so I diligently spent the month of January last year cleaning out my house, and the month of February attempting to clean out my mother’s, and some of March down in the basement, (home of the paper archives), and then it was spring, and I lost interest.    Purging all at once was just not practical for me, a few hours here and there was the best I could do with my three-level house…yes, I broke the rules.   I was less successful with my mother’s house, as she was born in the Depression and so has more of an attachment to empty coffee canisters and plastic storage containers than I do.   (Perhaps that is why Marie is so booked up, it is much easier to get rid of someone else’s stuff than your own).   “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” was a popular saying in the Depression, which may explain why that generation tends to hoard such things, while the baby boomers, because we didn’t grow up with as much as kids today, were more into acquiring material things, (fine china, mahogany dining room sets), and the millennials are minimalists indeed who would rather have experiences than things, and only buy what they need.    Speaking of psychoanalysis, while some of the book reviews I read unkindly label the author as having OCD, (if I had sold five million copies I wouldn’t care what they called me), there is a sad chapter towards the end of the book where she explains her need to be compulsively tidy since a young age as an attempt to attract her parent’s love and attention and avoid being dependent on other people.  She was a middle child, (self-explanatory).            

            Some pointers from the book –  sort all in one shot, by category, not location.  There are only two actions, discarding and deciding where to store things.   Start by discarding, all at once, intensely and completely, then decide where to store things, and keep them only in that place.  (Discard first, store later).   Do not start with mementos.  Start with easier items, clothes, books, papers, misc., and then mementos.   We should be choosing what to keep, not what we want to get rid of.   She recommends folding clothes in rectangles and then storing them vertically, standing up in drawers, so you can see everything, and they are less wrinkled.  Store all items of the same type in the same place, and don’t scatter storage space, including designating storage space for each family member.  Fancy storage systems = bad, they justify keeping stuff you shouldn’t.  Some clothes like coats and dresses are happier hung up.  I’m relieved my elegant black cocktail dress, (Winners sale), is happy even though it’s never been worn.     Keep only those books which make you happy to see on the shelves.   Out go those university text books I kept in case I felt the need to study chemistry again, (which I did twenty years later for a degree upgrade).   Now they are but sentimental reminders of a time when I was smarter and had a better memory.   Sorting papers – rule of thumb – discard everything!  She relents and says you can keep some things like insurance policies, love letters etc. but only if they are stored in one spot only.   On sentimental items – “No matter how wonderful things used to be we cannot live in the past – the joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.”   Yes, that is true, but what about keeping things for future generations?   As a lover of history and genealogy, I wish my ancestors had kept more things, not less, 

(see Nov. blog on Uncle Charlie WW1 Vet), and museums would be empty if we throw everything away just because it’s old.   I am glad I kept those letters from my younger pre-email years, they are treasured memories for myself and for future generations.   

             What makes some things more difficult to get rid of is they either remind us of things past, (childhood toys, I kept my Barbie dolls and clothes), 

or we might have a future need for them some time and they won’t be there.  I still haven’t read those books I picked up at the book sale last winter, but we might be snowed in for a week and then I’ll have something to read.  Most bookworms have great difficulty getting rid of books.  It seems a shame to discard a book, unless it’s a really bad book, and even then someone put a lot of effort into writing it.  (I once read that books are one of the most often requested items in refugee camps).   While I won’t be appearing on any hoarder reality tv shows, I do have a problem with some categories (see blog on vintage clothes on the main menu), and I admit I am a paper pack-rat too.   With the clothes I am mourning the life I had, or aspired to (in the case of that chic little black cocktail dress with the bow in the back). OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My intention with The Vintage Corner was to sell some of the clothes and donate the money to charity, which can always make you feel better about throwing things out.   I lost track of how many trips I made to the local thrift shop, but one day when I took an old ghetto-blaster in, (music for the garage, but it was never used and covered with dust), there was an immigrant family looking for a radio, so it was perfect timing.   How happy they were, and how pleased I was to be able to help someone else.    

               Recently I came across a review for a new book from Sweden, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” (Scribner Jan 2018) by Margareta Magnusson, which may be more suited to older generations. 

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More PleasantThe Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More Pleasant by Margareta Magnusson

 

This Swedish author recommends you streamline your belongings while you are still healthy enough to do the job, thus saving relatives the difficult task of sorting out after you are gone.  It sounds morbid but it is actually uplifting, finding the right homes for all your beloved possessions so they can bring joy to someone else, plus it can relieve the burden of looking after so many things when you might not have the health or energy to do so.   Still it does make me sad to walk into a thrift store and see all those lovely sets of good china which graced many a holiday table and which no one wants anymore.   I collect blue and white china (which does bring me joy),

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My grandmother’s turkey platter

 and thrift shops are excellent places for that, although I am now more selective in what I buy.         

          The final chapter in the Marie Kondo book deals with the life-changing part of the title – apparently “the lives of those who tidied thoroughly and completely in a single shot are without exception dramatically altered.”   Some of her clients discarded their excess weight, their jobs and even their husbands, and went on to live much happier lives.  The rationale for this is that detoxifying your house has a detoxifying effect on your body and mind as well.  It increases your happiness and good fortune to live in a natural state surrounded only by the things you love.  She says, “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past too, and you can see quite clearly what you need in life and what you don’t, and what you should and shouldn’t do.”  The things we really like do not change much over time.  Putting your house in order is a great way to discover what they are.   I’m not sure if this is just so much psycho mumbo-jumbo, but you cannot deny it is a serene feeling to having a clean and tidy house.   She does not seem to acknowledge however that some people prefer and even feel more comfortable with a certain degree of clutter around them.  It makes a home look lived in as opposed to one staged for a real estate open house…you know the type, when you walk into a house and nothing is out of place and there’s not an open book in sight.   I can’t say my life was altered in any transformative way, (but then I broke the all in one shot rule), but I would have to say the book was successful in making me stop and think, do I really need to keep this, and while some clutter has crept back, the usual suspects in the usual places, (papers in the den and kitchen drawers you may plead guilty), over-all it was a worthwhile read.   The whole concept of sparking joy, while airy-fairy, did make me much more conscious of what I bought.  Not only did a new acquisition have to bring me joy, but did I even need it?  After spending three months decluttering I didn’t want to have to do it again.   But there was a good feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when it was done and someday when I must downsize there will be less to pack and unpack.   As anyone who has ever moved can attest, moving can be a great motivator for decluttering. 

          The other day I saw a very large moving truck on my street, it almost stretched the whole block, which made me think about how much stuff people have today compared to the past.  My maternal grandmother came through Ellis Island in 1922 from Holland, on her honeymoon, with one large wicker trunk containing all her worldly possessions.   My dad’s ancestors arrived in Canada from Ireland in 1846 at the height of the potato famine with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  They abandoned what few supplies they brought with them, when they jumped ship in the St. Lawrence during a cholera epidemic.  They had to borrow one pound from the Canadian government (National Archive Records), for water transport from Toronto to where they settled, but by 1900 they had nice crystal,

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farm heirloom

 and monogrammed silverware, (I wish I still had some of those forks).   Things can bring you pleasure and joy and we can spend a lifetime buying but in the end, we have nothing – you can’t take it with you, as the saying goes.  There is a time to collect stuff and a time to get rid of it.  

       Incidentally, about a month after I returned the book to my yoga instructor, I saw a copy at a thrift shop for two dollars, so I bought it to keep as a reference book, which is a no-no according to the rules, but which I knew would come in handy some day.   The author also has a sequel, Spark Joy – An Illustrated Master Class in Organizing and Tidying Up, but when I picked it up and glanced through it, there was a whole section on camisole folding, and since I don’t own any camisoles, I closed it back up and left it there on the shelf to bring joy to someone else. 

Quote of the Day:   “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”   (William Morris)

Here We Come A Wassailing

New Years Song: Here We Come A Wassailing – the Barra MacNeils – music link

         Wassailing is an old British custom associated with New Years which originated in the fifteenth century.   It is usually celebrated on Twelfth Night – Jan 5 or 6.   The tradition of wassailing falls into two different types, the house-visiting type which consists of neighbors roaming from door to door singing and drinking from a wassail bowl, which later became caroling,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

and the orchard-visiting wassail, which refers to the ancient ceremony of visiting apple orchards in the cider producing regions of England, and singing and reciting blessings to the trees in order to promote a good harvest for the following year.   The wassail itself was a cider or ale based hot drink seasoned with spices and honey and served in a huge bowl made of silver or pewter.   The greeting wassail comes from the English term “waes hael” meaning “be well” which is what we traditionally wish for everyone at New Year’s – health and happiness for the coming year.

     The song Here We Come A Wassailing dates from 1850, and later morphed into Here We Come A Caroling.  Here are the very catchy lyrics, best sung with a pewter mug in hand. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.

REFRAIN:
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door;
But we are your neighbors’ children,
Whom you have seen before.

REFRAIN

Good master and good mistress,
While you’re sit beside the fire,
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.

REFRAIN

Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring.
Let him bring us up a glass of beer,
And better we shall sing.

      Yes, who doesn’t sing better with a little alcohol in them.  Think of it as a kind of medieval karaoke, not drunk but with just enough of a glow to warm the tingling fingers and toes on a cold winter’s night.    The pewter mugs are family artifacts, but lacking an ancient wassail bowl I improvised with a plug-in soup tureen, (thrift shop find $7), although a slow cooker crock-pot would work well too.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are numerous recipes for wassail on the internet, including some non-alcoholic as well for children or non-drinkers.    

mulling spice recipes 2 (3)       

      I tried the Cranberry and Spice Wassail recipe on the packet of Gourmet Village mulling spices and it was good but I think I would substitute apple cider for some of the water to give it more flavor, and I also added more honey to sweeten it.   Both the Mulled Cider and Mulled Wine recipes sound comforting too, and because it’s all about jacket (4)

 don’t forget to serve some food so those merry revelers don’t get too drunk and curse your apple orchards instead, because then you may not have a good crop and as the British novelist Jane Austen said, “Apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.”

      I recently tried this recipe for Caramel Apple Cider from the Southern Living Christmas All Through the South cookbook 2013 – 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar, 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream, 1 tsp vanilla and 4 cups apple cider.  Stir together brown sugar and whipping cream in a large saucepan.  Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat for two minutes or until bubbly.  Stir in vanilla and apple cider.  Cook ten minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring often.   May garnish with whipped cream, caramel sauce or ground cinnamon.    It really is like drinking liquid apple pie.    

Ringing in the New Year, with best wishes for health and happiness in 2018!