Monday 22 November 2010


 (Japanese papers with ink and acrylic. ca. 16.5 x 16.5 cm.)

 Lately poppies have been making their way into my collages.

 (Japanese and Florentine papers with ink and acrylic. ca. 9 x 9 cm.)

The first poppies I knew were of two varieties: the plastic Remembrance Day ones sold on street corners and in subway stations; and the ones creating a blazing, crimson field in a Monet painting.  The first time I saw a real one was on an unlikely, grotty Toronto street, years and years ago.  It seemed to grow up from the very cement right next to the metal post of a street sign.  I stopped and stared for longer than I should have.

 (Japanese papers with ink and acrylic. ca. 9 x 9 cm.)

Such a strong and fragile flower.  Exotic and intoxicating.  A shock of red on the most delicate, tissue paper petals.  A drop of blood from a doomed queen as she sits at her window with her needle and her dreams.   

Wednesday 17 November 2010

A November walk with mistletoe and crows and frost-bitten apples

Naked branches and a grey-white sky.  The last frost-wrinkled apples clinging to a November tree.   


Dream-black crows foraging.

Puddles reflecting the drowsy, winter-ready trees.

Surprises underfoot.

A beech tree, still holding onto many of its copper leaves.  Up in the top, a ball of mistletoe.

And more mistletoe.

And more.  This cluster just close enough to see its translucent, creamy-yellow-white berries. The season is changing.  A mantle of quiet darkness and introspection settles over everything.  Winter is coming.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Books to read while the frozen earth sleeps.

Cailleach, The Old Woman of Winter, has woken up and is starting her journey across the land, staff in hand banging it against the ground to send the earth into a frozen slumber.  The days are getting shorter, the nights longer and lately books have been a topic in our home.  

With two boys who are now no longer spending every waking moment with their neighbour-friends in the grassy court-yard behind our flat, we have the opportunity to read more to them.  I have wanted to put together a pile of books, chapter books and collections of short stories, to read to them over the winter months.  The problem was what would appeal to a 9 year old who devours books by himself, and a 6 year old who is just learning to decipher words.  

After rummaging through the shelves, I put together most of the books in the pile above.  From the bottom up they are the: "The Complete Winnie-The-Pooh & The House At Pooh Corner." by A.A. Milne and illustrated wonderfully and whimsically by E.H.Shepard.  We've been reading these stories for a few years, but no matter how many times the boys have heard them, they don't grow tired of them.  I missed out on these as a child, and am delighted to have had to opportunity to discover them now: they are beyond brilliant.

The next is a retelling of the Arthurian tales by Roger Lancelyn Green: "King Arthur And His Knights Of The Round Table".  Written in the 1950's the wording was at first a bit foreign to the boys, but the author has brought the adventures of Arthur and his Knights to life so well, that they were quickly lost in the action.  Beautiful black and white Illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley don't hurt.  They are rich, but still allow the reader's fantasy to paint pictures.  

Then Tolkien's "The Hobbit."  I've been wanting to put this in the reading queue for a while, but have only been granted permission by my older boy now.  The illustrations are by Alan Lee and they are sumptuous, and gorgeous, and atmospheric, and more than a little bit scary (hence the delayed addition to the queue).  I loved this book as a child and only wish this edition with these illustrations had been around then.  

The next is one which I've recently read and thoroughly enjoyed: "Troll Fell" by Katherine Langrish.  Set in Viking times, it weaves together daily life in a Scandinavia of centuries ago; Scandinavian Folklore; interesting, complicated characters; and an exciting plot.  At first, this was on the solo reading shelf for my older boy, but I've decided that it would be more fun to read it to both boys. 

Before today, the last book on the pile was "Dragon Rider" by German author Cornelia Funke.  It's in translation (I'll have to leave that up to my boys to read it in the original, I don't stand a chance).  I've read a number of her books and have enjoyed them.  They often combine magic, mythological creatures, and a fun plot.  

The top book on the pile was added this morning after a chat my husband and I had last night.  He was reading me random passages from "The Oxford Book of Quotations"  (yes, we know how to have fun) when he came to the section on nursery rhymes.  Scores and scores were referred to by their first one or two lines.  That started the game of how-many-nursery-rhymes-do-you-know?  It was embarrassing.  It was appalling how few he knew, and how fewer I knew.  And many of the ones we did know, we couldn't have gone far beyond the first couple of lines. Our boys, I'm afraid, know even fewer.

It's sad and quite astonishing how quickly things like that can be lost.  (Each Christmas, it gets harder and harder to gather around the piano to sing carols.  Even with sheet music.)  These songs and rhymes that were once so much a part of childhood, are vanishing.  Which is why I've put a copy of "The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes" compiled by Iona and Peter Opie on the pile.  

It's difficult.  On the one hand I don't want to be on some sort of contrived, anacronistic mission to bring back the nursery rhyme.  On the other, I see just how easy it is to loose these things.  Same goes  for Fairy Tales.  As I delve into the world of Fairy Tales as an adult, I'm forever encountering ones I'd never heard of and keep wondering what rock I was born under. 

So, the pile grows.  The earth falls into a long, frigid sleep.  The Old Woman of Winter continues her journey.  And hopefully, when her sister gently re-awakens the earth next year, we will not be completely and utterly fed up with the boys running around the flat reciting Hickory-Dickory-Dock at the top of their lungs.    

PS. This...

...just arrived in the post.  I'm very excited.  It will certainly be added to the pile, though I might have to steal a peek by myself.  Don't think I can wait.

Monday 1 November 2010

Hallowe'en Musings

As a child growing up in North America, I loved Hallowe'en.  Not just as a candy-grab (which was, of course, part of the fun);  but more for the thrill of going out into the normally forbidden and forbidding night,  the magic of changing your identity for a few hours, and the excitement of approaching unfamiliar doors and the possibility of being frightened by what lurked on the other side.

Now I have two children and want them to experience that magic, but we have been living for the past three Hallowe'ens in Germany, where they don't traditionally celebrate it.  Over the past few years it has been creeping in, and you will find Hallowe'en parties and even some trick-or-treating (or in this case "Suesses-oder-Saures", "sweets-or-sours"), but there is reluctance to embrace what many see as yet another case of  the "Americanization" of German culture.  

Last year, out of respect for the opposition to Hallowe'en, we didn't let our boys go out trick-or-treating in our building complex.  This year, however, given that many of their friends were going out, and that there seemed to be more people in favour of it, we decided that we would celebrate in the traditional way.  We carved a Jack-o'-Lantern, I used my almost non-existent sewing skills to make a couple of Vampire cloaks, we roasted pumpkin seeds, got a bowl of candy and candles ready, and out went the boys. 

They roamed the complex in a small pack, while my husband and I stayed home and watched Tim Burton's very excellent "Corpse Bride", pausing every few minutes to shell-out, shell-out, for the witches were indeed out.

There is not nearly enough magic in our lives these days.  It's good to have the magic of Hallowe'en back, even at the risk of putting a few noses out of joint.