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Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Music stirs my soul and I have such fun finding just the right piece for my blog. Sometimes it is the lyrics that resonate but other times it is just the voices that make it pertinent. The rich sounds waft through my house as I listen and enjoy. This recording is no exception as these voices really do justice to Queen’s famous rendition. They just add to the Hygge in my house on this beautiful sunny day in Vancouver.

I recently came across the term Hygge. It fascinated me as it is something that I have always practiced without giving it much thought. This also explained my endless preoccupation over the last year with getting my house cosy and inviting. It is a difficult concept to translate as it vague and has many interpretations but here goes….. It is from a Norwegian word meaning ‘well being.’ The Danes, who are regarded as the happiest country in the world, practice this concept in their homes and in the way they live. If I was to give you a practical example you could imagine this…..I am sitting in front of a roaring fire on a cold Canadian winter’s night with a glass of red wine in my hand and my dog curled up at my feet. That is Hygge! Another could be sitting in a steaming hot tub on a cold January evening with the snow lining the trees and an equally satisfying beverage in my hand. This is Hygge!

You could be curled up under your duvet in your apartment, watching your favourite television programme while you chomp away at a decadent box of chocolates. It could be as simple as lighting a candle just to create the right atmosphere. Or having friends over for a relaxed potluck. These are all Hygge!

My garden, a cup of morning coffee and Josh…..my idea of Hygge.

It is about being kind to yourself, indulging in simple pleasures and not denying or punishing oneself because of it. I like the sound of that. What is life all about if we can’t have a little bit of what you fancy?

But it has wider applications too and not just confined to the comforts of home. Certain aspects have been introduced into the workplace to reduce stress levels. I noticed on a recent visit to the Amazon headquarters in Seattle that principles of the idea were being implemented. Amazon staff were encouraged to bring their dogs to work. Special areas were created to accommodate their needs. There was an outdoor play area where they could socialise with their canine brothers and do the necessary ablutions. These dogs have added another ‘Hygge’ dimension to an otherwise stressful day in the life of a software engineer. It makes you think……

Leo catching the number 9 to work…….

As far as I am concerned, a little piece of Denmark is alive and well at La Ravine …..our home in the forest.

Rhododendrons beckon you to draw closer…..

 

You might like to read the book The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russel

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January is my time to dream……. The nights are long and the polar cap blows its icy winds. It is all too easy to snuggle up in front of a crackling fire. My mind is preoccupied by my dreamy thoughts where I look forward to the year ahead. There will be no thoughts on New Year’s resolutions either. Oh no, that is not for me! No thoughts on cutting out chocolate or on how I am going to be able to brave the cold for that much needed walk. January is my reprieve and my time to ponder. It is my La La Land month and I visit it with much zest and enthusiasm.
It had been a busy and special Christmas with our house bursting with our family. It was wonderful to have them all home with us and under our roof. Two active toddlers kept us all on our toes as we ran after them and attended to their needs. There was never a dull moment. We dreamed up indoor activities to busy these little tykes. One being a slide around the house on the indoor snow sledge. The kitchen was a hive of activity too. Our table was full and so were our hearts. When the house eventually emptied it seemed to echo. There was less of everything…..less laughter, less music and less food!

 

My kitchen helpers.....

My kitchen helpers…..

Lemon anyone?

Lemon anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
This deprivation made me plunge headlong into dreamland. There were French lanes and intimate coffee shops. In my mind’s eye were quaint shop windows with French bakeries and French delicatessens. That was it, a trip to France! I scolded myself as I thought of the practicality of seeing this dream come to fruition. The brain went into overdrive. There was a plan. What about a trip up to Quebec City? It was only 800 km away instead of 6000 km and it would certainly be kinder on the coffers. A few phone calls were made, an Airbnb booked and we hit the road.
I must add at this point that I do not speak a word of French. We have heard that the Quebecois are understandably fiercely proud of their heritage and their language. Therefore I needed a quick crash course on a few fundamentals. The long car trip was the ideal time to practice and I rolled my tongue around the que’s and the de’s.
Un, deux, trois, quatre…..
This was hard and I just wished that I could make my words sound like my French teacher! It would have to do and I spent the rest of the trip reading up on the places to visit in Quebec City. Chateau Frontenac along the frozen Saint Lawrence River, Place Royale, Basilique Notre Dame de Quebec, La Citadelle and the historical Old City caught my eye. I also found our period house ‘La Victorienne’ in Rue Saint Jean where we would be spending the next 4 days.

 

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It was as I had envisaged it. There were narrow cobble streets to explore, French food to savour and plenty of French culture to soak up. I was in heaven!

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A painted mural in the Old Town.

 

 

 

The Plains of Abraham where the English and French battled it out.

The Plains of Abraham where the English and French battled it out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January is the month to dream and to look forward to the year ahead and the journey within.

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“Press it down firmly.” The command was shouted from the side of the house. This was serious…..

There was a project in progress and the men in our house were finding a use for all the heaps of snow that had gathered through our brutal Canadian winter at the back of the garden. We did not know what to do with it anymore! The shovels whooshed to and fro as our recycle bins found another function in their somewhat restricted portfolio. Gone were the heaps of trash that had filled their bellies but instead white fluff lined their insides. The brilliant blue plastic receptacles caught the filtered light through the forest of maple and elm trees.  I stood at the top cocooned inside our warm house and admired my design team. They had pulled on their snow gear with their heavy snow boots too. All this cold weather paraphernalia did not seem to restrict their agility as they considered which consistency of the ice cold material would be most suitable for the job.

Heaps of snow....

Heaps of snow….

“What on earth were they up to?”

I had no idea what was being constructed and was drawn to stand and stare. One thing was for certain….. These men were focussed and on a mission.  It was being well orchestrated with method   and had a definite plan. They would stop, lean on the snow shovels, discuss and then work on. It was reminiscent of a road crew but with a whole lot more motivation! I watched and waited. The compacted blocks were turned upside down and the ice brick slid out. Each had a position in the plan. The wall of snow began to immerge. By this stage I could not contain myself any longer and further investigation was definitely warranted.

Josh gets a piece of the action too.

Josh sizes up the material.

“Oh these things weigh a ton!”  I shouted as I lolloped down the side of the house in heavy snow boots to get a look in on the action. The debate then ensued as to what these master builders were creating on this freezing cold day.

“It looks like an igloo. No, I think something more majestic…..a mini Zimbabwe Ruins!” They were not about to let on and just kept me in limbo.  I had a distinct feeling that they did not know what would eventually materialise out of this pile of snow. But it was getting colder and this engineering feat would have to be completed in haste. The pace increased and I waited with baited breath. Slowly it   become apparent as the last snow brick took its position. A name was written up on the side……….a snow bar!

Cold weather activity.....

Cold weather activity…..

It was perfect complete with a glistening sheen of the ice that had already formed along the top. But like any construction, it needed the hands of a lady to add a few of the finer points. So the odd decorative piece and some lighting was added to the master piece. Now all that was needed was to christen this baby!  A few willing friends were summoned to help us with the task.

A perfect evening.

A perfect evening.

It was a perfect evening…..not too cold and not too warm. We did not want our snow – bar to melt or sublimate for that matter!  The fine snowflakes drifted down and we celebrated our creation, life and most of all a special family birthday. It was after all the beginning of spring.

Time to celebrate......

Time to celebrate……

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I turn 60 today! A milestone in anyone’s book and it comes with feelings of trepidation. Somehow the dreaded SIX has just come around too fast and I don’t feel quite ready for it. It is not the usual fears of the body starting to issue screams of protest when I attack yet a new outdoor hobby or the laughter lines that just seem to grow. It is the dread that I suppose I will now have to grow up!

When does one refrain from wearing your much loved blue jeans? Is there some special code of dress that I have to adhere to at this stage?  Maybe a twin set and pearls is more fitting. But the Woodstock Era with its flower power accessories still run deep in my veins. Can I still don my purple tights with white spots or better still the Christmas ones covered in reindeer?

Out paddling on Lake Ontario.

Out paddling on Lake Ontario.

 

Can I still jump up and dance when I hear a favourite song on the radio? (I know this childish act is usually a source of embarrassment to my family.)Is there still room for a good sulk? Will I be allowed to play pot-hockey in the kitchen when I find the house chores tedious?

I stumble into the bathroom and turn on the light. It is one of those awfully bright ones that does not lie. Yes, the face is gently showing the signs of the time and the grey hair is competing like a champion. It is inevitable and I accept it all gracefully……. not too gracefully as I shall continue to ‘put on the face’ each morning. Fortunately my sensitive eyes don’t allow me to use much ‘toorgoedjies’ which is probably a blessing in disguise. I prefer my morning ritual to be as fast as possible so that I can begin my day. So no pink blushing cheeks or purple eye shadow……..a sweep of cover stick and a dash of lipstick will have to suffice. The time has come for ‘less is more.’

'Twinset and pearls' but without the 'toergoed.'

‘Twinset and pearls’ but without the ‘toorgoedjies.’

It is liberating when you don’t concern yourself too much with what others think or say and you can merely be comfortable in your own skin. I have definitely been there and have the t-shirt and I wear my badges with honour. But having said this, I do not intend to just sit and watch my garden grow. Complacency is not something that I visit too often. I wish I did, as it would certainly do wonders for the old blood pressure spike! There is just too much out there to tempt me…….. a whole world still left to explore, books to read, music to listen to and people to meet.  It is good to be alive and hope that I don’t grow up any time soon.

 

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

 

......with a little help from my friends!

……with a little help from my friends!

 

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Don’t let your life pass you by……

The alarm blared in my face! It was 5am and freezing outside! I dragged myself up as I knew that I was joining the ranks of the city commuters that morning. I stretched and looked out across the garden towards the stream. It looked cold and I could make out the odd snow flake floating across the elm trees. They stood stark and bare. There was the odd bud of green forming on their grey boughs. Soon they would be rustling with their gowns of green. Oh happy day!

I sipped my tea and felt the warmth…..I need to wake up.

As ‘Lady of the house’ there is a lot to take care of when you live with a household of men. Not only are their shirts big but so are their appetites! So the loaf of bread is sliced and the lunches begin. Oh what to put on them to make them appetizing? I am running out of ideas…… then I remembered the tasty leftover chicken from last night. Wax paper rustles and that is one job jobbed. Josh had been salivating the whole time while all the tasty aromas wafted past him. This reminded me that the next activity was to feed the dog. That was an easy one…..same delicious pellets each time. Well, he did not seem to mind them. They were devoured in a few seconds flat. Then just to add insult to injury, it was garbage day. This required a carting out of various containers down to the bottom of the driveway. Think ‘very cold’ when you imagine this! Canadians are conscious of their environment and the landfills. We therefore need to have different containers for each of the types of refuse that we recycle. Thick boots and my warm coat were pulled from the mud room. I fell over the boxes and plastic troughs as I made my way out of the garage. It took four trips and there was a bit of grumbling under my breath as I completed this activity.

There were a few sittings at the breakfast table as each bleary- eyed male faced the array of cereal boxes, fruit juice cartons and yoghurt that was assembled on the table. Not much is said at this meal and I have learnt to keep my words to a minimum. I chew a bit of toast and drink a quick cup of coffee.  It is time to go.

I am always excited when I head into the city on the train as it is not a usual occurrence for me. I love to people watch but I am one of the few that do. The commuters are in automatic mode. Most sit with their faces glued to their daily newspaper. The one hand is often held in the ‘Canadian salute.’ The said hand grasps a paper cup filled with coffee. Although I am beginning to understand the merit of a cup of coffee in these harsh winters! I take in the smart business suits, elegant accessories and stern faces. It must be hard to do this every day!

20100626 GTS Go Train

Then I remember an email I received with a link to a young man who has an incredible voice. I pull out my phone and begin to listen to the music again. It is a classical piece and the young man has a pure and rich voice. I savour the sounds but become aware that my fellow passengers do not feel the same. Just then, a grumpy man jumps from his seat and informs me that I need to use earphones. Well, I don’t have any of those with me! So sadly I put my phone away and grab my newspaper. I was later told that the lower level of the train was the silent section. What? No talking or music or anything!

I sit with my head buried in my paper like everyone else. I have been severely reprimanded and feel like a naughty child. We learn our lessons here in Canada as a newbie….what is accepted and what is not. But next time I am going to ‘ride em high’ on the top level of the train and I will play my music and talk! I might even put my feet up on the seat!

I am slowly learning 'the ropes.'

I am slowly learning ‘the ropes.’

 

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The wind whistles through my open coat and I pull the buttons closed and toss the hood over my head. I now know why they have fur trim around the edge! I thought it was for a touch of glamour! But I was soon to find out that this thin strip of fur, keeps the wind off my face. I nestle down into my warm coat and contemplate the risk of a ‘Greenie’ tossing paint at me. Be that as it may, there is a feeling of goodwill all around us here in Oakville. It is the lead up to Christmas.

 

Josh tolerates the bow....just.

Josh tolerates the bow…..just!

Everyone has come out to play! Dogs are dressed up in their Christmas coats. They appear to know the drill for the season and enjoy the added attention that their regalia gives them. Shop windows glitter with displays. Their doors are decorated with bastions of fresh pine and cedar. There are overhead baskets that hang from lamp posts. They are filled with winter greenery and tinged with a sprinkle of snow. The town Christmas tree towers above us in the Town Square. It is dripping with huge shiny trinkets and metres of glistening ribbon. The aroma of festive spices wafts through the bakery door. Everything says Christmas!

Bokkie in all his splendour!

Bokkie in all his splendour.

 

Christmas feeling has hit the Morkel household too. The tree is up and the banisters are bound with lights and garlands. The Morkel men clambered up onto our roof and fitted the Christmas lights. It was a daring affair in almost freezing temperatures. They donned their safety harnesses and tossed the rope down from the cleats that have been fitted on top of the high roof. This is for any future escapades or further requests from ‘the lady of the house.’ There were also repairs that had to be carried out. ‘Bokkie’ had his lights punched out in a storm. On that fateful night he got tossed over by a strong north wind. Unfortunately he had to endure his headless state until he was packed away. But I am pleased to say that he has made a comeback and is the proud owner of a flashing head! He stands proudly near the front door and heralds us in with his pulsing horns. I just wish I could some how put the rhythm to music! Maybe next year……..

So I raise my glass of red and salute you, my dear family and friends. Thank you for always reading my ramblings and for keeping in touch. I wish you a wonderful Christmas and New Year. Cheers!

The roof mountaineers....

The roof mountaineers….

 

Christmas shopping

Christmas shopping

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(A rendition of this song was performed by the Bolshoi Theatre.)

Her hands flew up in the air. I saw the woven plait intricately styled into the nape of her neck with a sparkling clip. It caught the light from the overhead chandelier as she moved her head. We waited and held our breath……The music surged and the conductor pulsed the rhythm with her narrow baton. She was young but took command of her experienced orchestra and extracted the most heavenly sounds. We were enraptured!

The flags flapped above The King Eddy Hotel, as it is affectionately called. This grand dame … or should I say duke…. has been around since 1903.  We raced up the stairs to get out of the cold. It was a freezing November evening.  I had deliberated over my ‘little black number.’ Was I going to be stylish or warm? What a question? I froze! We pushed through the heavy glass doorway and I looked up. There it was…..the foyer….all gold, marble and fresh flowers. I stopped and looked up into the pressed ceilings and gothic columns. I had to pinch myself as I had begun to float off into another era. But too soon I was ushered up the wide staircase to the function room. This was where 70 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and Russia was to be celebrated. It was to be a wonderful evening of Bolshoi theatre. Definitely on the Bucket List and a dream come true!

The magnificent setting for the performance by the Bolshoi Theatre

 

I must add that the fascination for Russia started when I was young with the tale of Doctor Shivago. I was enthralled. It was the culmination of the music, the snow, the furs, and the romance of course. What an evening of music it was to be! We were entertained by some of Russia’s great stars like Angelina Vovk, Irina Dolzhenko and Mikhail Kazakav to name but a few. Their voices were rich and round and the resonance filled the room. It was breath taking! The music was so sweet at times  that I could almost feel the emotion well up. I allowed myself the moisture that ran down my face. It is not often that we cry out of pure joy! The Bolshoi dancers turned heads too with their poise and grace. The taffeta and lace rustled as they swished their fans. They teased their companions with their allure. We were swept up by the moment…..

The rustle of taffeta…..

 

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It takes quite a bit to shut me up, so I am told, but there are times when I grow quiet and just sit alone with my thoughts. As it is Mother’s Day coming up, allow me to indulge myself and to think aloud about my 3 sons.…..

These three boys, who are genetically from the same parents, are so different. They have inherited so many wonderful traits from their dad but today I am going to reflect on the part that I have played in making them special human beings. They all have that strength of definition in the shape of their faces with a strong chin. This is obviously derived from their dad’s genes, but with that strength comes a softness too. I notice this at certain times in the expression on their faces and in the curve of their smile. That look presents itself when they tend our household pets or engage in conversation with a child. I like to think that I had a part to play in those mannerisms.

They all love music albeit that their taste varies considerably. They play it in the car, strum guitars when they ponder their own thoughts or don earphones and allow the rhythm to obliterate the outside world. It all started way back in their car seats when we traveled long distances to do the monthly shop. Even my youngest son was ‘my city car kid’ as we traveled backwards and forwards to the sport commitments of ‘the brothers.’ They would bob to the beat while their mother kept time with her hands on the steering wheel. This would later become a great source of embarrassment to them as I sang and tapped to the music. I was severely reprimanded as it was not cool for a mom to display such behaviour. But as little one’s they thought it was grand! And so the seed was planted to enjoy music in any form.

 Where did dinosaurs come from? There were endless questions that had to be answered. The older two were borne in the ‘the pre internet stage’. I often resorted to seeking the answers in the local library, as it soon became apparent that my field of knowledge did not stretch that far. How do you explain evolution to a four year old? He eventually explained it to his mother with the use of pictures! I do still pride myself that my boys were encouraged to question, to seek knowledge and to analyse the facts. As an older mom, I was thankful to have the use of the internet when my youngest son began the ‘stage of questions.’ I had the added bonus that he would run and look up the answers for himself, as he was more computer literate than I was at the time. But I must add that I was involved with the discussion that ensued afterwards!

One of the joys of having sons is that over the years partners will be added to the extended family. If they are blessed with offspring, I will take great delight in observing small traits that could possibly have come down the line from me. Of course I will not take ownership for any possible ‘streke’ that might present themselves!

Jumping for joy with my boys!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Give the girl correct footwear and she can conquer the world.” Bette Middler

If shoes could speak.......

 

They were slipped off at the front door and stacked neatly in a row as this was the custom in Canada. No shoes were allowed in the house!

They sat there like faithful hounds waiting patiently at the door for their owners. There were a few that frequent daily lectures; others sprint off to the Go Train each day and one pair had recently walked the streets of Rome. Some of their owners had their feet firmly planted on the ground, while others drifted about in their search for answers. All were in various stages of ageing, but still managed to go about their business of protecting the human foot with dignity and dedication.

You might have gathered that I have a shoe fetish and made sure that I renewed my stock before I left the South African shores. When you know shoes, you also know exactly what you like and where to find them. So thank goodness for Queen Victoria who invented the lady’s boot, way back in 1840. I was going to need every colour and style I could find for those long Canadian winters. I did not need any encouragement to go out and acquire a few more pairs. This time I had to make sensible buys encompassing the attributes of being durable, waterproof and glamorous. So if I had to trudge around in the freezing cold, why not do it with a bit of style? I did manage to fulfill two of the criteria but the melting snow managed to leak through and soak my already cold feet. So much for the glamour part! But in true form I went into the `boer maak `n plan’ mode and a can of waterproof sealing spray did the trick. We were back in business.

The shoes at the front door were being gathered up by their owners as they ventured out into the cold night. It had been a wonderful party. The warm South African spirit of our hosts prevailed as we mingled and were treated with fine food and music. It was time to slide our feet back into our shoes and make our way home.

 This girl has her correct footwear and is ready to conquer the world!

 

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Moved by Music

The excitement in the air was tangible as we ventured out for a night on the town. It was Friday evening and the streets in the Entertainment District in Toronto were abuzz with people. The anticipation of being able to relax and kick back after a long week added to the pure pleasure of the moment. The stressed faces that walked the same crossings that morning were now beaming with the expectation of the weekend ahead.

 

There seemed to be many newcomers in town as there was a Caribbean Carnival that was going to take place on Lakeshore the next day.  It is usually a colourful event with many floats, dancers and plenty of music. Guitars, kettle drums and whistles pulsate as the dancers flaunt their bikini costumes. Brightly coloured feathers fly as hips sway and they dance their way along the lake to the delight of all the onlookers.

We weaved our way down King Street and pushed through a narrow doorway into our own bit of rhythm for the evening, a New Orleans jazz bar.

All the great jazz musicians looked down on us from the black and white photographs that donned the walls. There was Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Fats Domino to name a few and they were surrounded by the tools of their trade. Shiny trumpets, clarinets and saxophones were proudly mounted above on shelves void of the Dixieland notes that had once echoed through their chambers. The piano waited patiently against the wall as the patrons were offered a selection of southern fare from blackened salmon to Cajun mussels.

 

Our jazz pianist had us swaying in our chairs as his fingers expertly traced the notes from memory up and down the ivory keyboard. His checkered hat fell across his forehead as he expertly belted out the sweet

 notes of New Orleans and a Mamma Cass reincarnate accompanied him with her mellow voice. It was true blue jazz in all its authenticity. We were transported to another world and time as we savoured the sounds and flavours of New Orleans.

Savouring the delights of the city.

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