Thursday, 24 November 2016

Still winter on my blog, but spring on instagram

Someday I'll write here again. Hopefully sooner rather than later. The ideas mill about, but there always seems to be something more pressing to do, or a more relaxing way to unwind. In the meantime, I'm loving instagram: the ease of photo editing, the brevity of captions, the blatant adoption of hashtag as postscript (I'm in the descriptivist linguistic camp on that one - as long as you are understood, use language how you will). Plus I can do it all on my phone, which is replacing my aging laptop for almost everything at the moment. 

If you've been missing me here, you can find me there @rachel.friesen 

It's a private account, but, provided you don't look like you're selling something, I'll probably accept your follow request. Please don't be offended if I don't follow back. Too much beauty can turn into clutter, so I try to keep my follow list short.

Stay warm, friends.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Gone fallow

As part of our big backyard reno last year, we put in a small garden plot. It was an extra negotiated with our contractor. The crew used materials already on hand: they marked out the space with extra lengths of fence post already stained to match, and filled it with leftover dirt from regrading the lawn. A very exciting addition to our backyard kingdom, but finished far too late for any immediate planting. It lay barren while we finished staining fence boards, placed paving stones, and put in the sod. I brushed leaves away late in October to set in tulip bulbs; I found it tough digging but blamed the frost. It wasn't 'til I tried weeding it the following May that I realized our dirt mix was more clay than topsoil.

My tulips pushed through late but bloomed bright. And stood sentinel before a rowdy bunch of dandelions, clover, milkweed, and hundreds of Manitoba maple. I worked valiantly to pry them all from the stubborn soil as time allowed in May, but planting time kept getting pushed further and further away.

Then the rains came. If you live in Western Canada, I needn't to say more. All the moisture that didn't come through the mild, dry winter fell in torrents. Way too much, way too quick, and much too late.

Somewhere in June, we accepted that there would be no garden beyond the tulips this year. The soil was too tough, the weeds too hardy, and digging days too few.  There's a stack of garden soil bags and mound of compost waiting to be worked in the clay once the weeds are finally cleared. In the meantime, the plot has gone fallow.

This was as good as it got

Sometime this spring, my little blog ran into similar problems. I've got a draft list sprinkled with stunted posts, and a hard drive as dense as my garden clay. My laptop is as old as my son; at six and half, he's all elbows and knees, wild imagination and explosive emotions with plenty of growing left to do. My computer's already an old man, straining to see the pictures and struggling to bring in the mail.

I find myself doing more and more computing tasks on my phone just to avoid the sluggish start-up. I flood my brain with click bait while I wait for programs to load; my own ideas choked out in the mud. Or I'm called away by meal prep, bedtime, leaky eavestroughs and potty mishaps. It's the season for the quick post when technical difficulties only allow for the slow. Posts push up rarely, lie dormant, miss the link-up deadline or relevant season and die. The blog has also gone fallow.

I'm weeding out years of emails and getting choosy about what all gets synced. I'm walking more - mainly to limber up stiff muscles, but feeling the wake-up in my brain. And I'm pressing publish now, before I talk myself into waiting to take a picture of my now entirely withered tulips, lest I wake to find my thoughts far beyond my latest post again.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Riding the Christmastide: how honouring a slow, lingering feast battled my winter blues

Last year, Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy invited her readers to share a list of things that were saving them through the long winter months. It turned out so delightfully well that's she doing it again. Since my first list was full of the little things that make a difference, this year I'm sharing one big thing: honouring the Christmastide.

Christmastide begins on Christmas Day (Dec 25), and, depending on who you ask, extends to Theophany (Jan 6 if you're Orthodox, or the next Sunday after if you're Catholic) or to Candlemas, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple and Festival of Lights (Feb 2). The longer period is the older tradition, and comes with a soothing sense of symmetry: forty days of feasting to mirror the forty days of fasting before Christmas, just like Lent's forty days are followed by 40 Paschal days until we hit Ascension. It's not same level of party as the feast day itself, but it allows for an extended feeling of celebration before the next fast is upon us. 

It's an idea our household has honoured for many an Eastertide, but this is the first year that I've been intentional about making lingering feast out of Christmas. Here's how it turned out:

The promise of Christmastide took the pressure off the pre-Christmas season. Advent is a funny time to be a traditionally-bent Christian. It feels like the whole world around you is going crazy to celebrate your big holy day, but they're doing it too soon. I'm often fighting the urge to run around yelling "It's not Christmas yet!", swallowing guilt about making yet another fasting exception so my family can join in the too-early celebration, or stressing out about cramming all the fun holiday ideas I keep hearing about into the twelve days after the 25th of December. Staying off social media during the fast helps, knowing I had forty days coming later to spread out the fun stuff helped even more.

Its length kept the post-Christmas season relaxed. A lingering feast is a wonderful thing. I'm not gorging on chocolate, but I'm still nibbling. I did more baking in January than I did in December, but it never turned into a marathon, and I didn't end up throwing out an entire tin of stale cookies. My ghost of Christmas past nods approvingly; we've played part of this game before. Taking the tree down - with the "help" of small children - was still an ordeal, but it lost it frantic edge. The bits and bobs of non-tree decor are still around; they come down tomorrow. This year, I'm not worrying that they'll never make it back to the trimmings box. Those ornaments haven't been lost or forgotten, I left them there on purpose, and all that red and sparkle have been cozy companions whenever the sky's turned white. 

Nothing fights off dark nights like holiday lights. The days may be getting longer, but at our latitude, the initial rate of change is incrementally small. The pace picks up by the end of January. Until then, the nights are still very long, and without Christmas lights, they feel even darker than December's. Our outdoor display is pretty piddly (we ran out of extension cords after only one side of our front step railing), but we kept plugging them in all through the first month of the year. It made our front walk and driveway much easier to navigate, and I felt cheered everytime I peaked out the window. I even found myself saluting in solidarity whenever I passed a house still lit with twinkle lights. I have no inkling of whether I was viewing the work of a fellow Christmastider, but in a world of white days and black nights,  I'll take the colours as a gift, regardless of intention. Thanks, fellow neighbourhood holiday-stragglers. 

It made winter seem six weeks shorter. I can hardly believe that January is already over. This is new. Usually, I'd be incredulous that it's only February. I don't know if this effect will last once I get used to seeing Christmas cards on my mantle and listening to carols 'til Groundhog's Day, but this year, it feels like I've skipped out on the worst of the post-holiday blahs. I've often thought C.S. Lewis' White Witch laid the perfect curse: 'round these parts, always winter but never Christmas is a pretty apt description of the second two months of the year.  Though I've been working on that a while already, I'm not about to forgo adding a few more rounds to my joy arsenal.

It's hardly been a flawless experiment. There are still sugar cookies in my freezer waiting to be iced and another week of saying yes to my five-year-old's one and only favourite holiday album might have done me in. My grand plans for making Vasilopita for St. Basil's Day only got as far as acquiring the recipe; skating, carolling, and all things crafty are also going to wait another year. And that's okay. It's good to have something to build on. And if the post-holiday blues hit on Wednesday, Mardi Gras is right around the corner.

So there you have it. A modern take on an ancient tradition. For more lovely ideas of what's keeping other writers going this winter, do check out this year's link-up here.