Saturday, December 31, 2016


 "I am the NEW YEAR. I am an unspoiled page in your book of time." -Bible Illustrator
New Years' Letter ( full of newsy tidbits regarding her siblings and former neighbours on the farms) From my grandmother, Isobel Shiels, to my mother, Nessie, New Year's Eve 1937.....
 Dear Nessie: Christmas over and the snow's deep. I long for spring. Dad says we have to be patient. Like those darn coyotes howling at the snowdrifts. Day in. Day out. Christmas Day we stuffed a couple of chickens. Went to boil them, but thought better of it. Needed the water for the taters and carrots.  Sure was a nice crop this year. Has lasted well.
 We managed to get the radio working again.Kind of lost without it the past little while.  Dad can get the news. Not that there's much news to want to hear. But still we sat at the table. Cut up the last fruitcake and had us a slice.  It will have to last till well into the New Year. Rewrapped it,and put it back in the cellar,  so that Stuart  couldn't get his hands on it. 
 Stuart had to get new school books. Cost $11.00 all  together. He had to use his money from selling those chickens. Now he will have to wait till the spring . 

 Isobel is still enjoying Normal School. Says they are always changing teaching methods. Now they have to focus on real world things. To help prepare the kids for the "real world".  Not sure how she's going to do that. Especially if she's got Mabel Brewster's boys in her class. Heaven help the lot of them! Remember last summer when they stole their dad's tractor?
 Dad and I will be spending New Year's alone. We don't mind. Stuart's gone over  with Willie to  the bonfire at George and  Alda's. Whole lot of young folk going there.
 Isobel has moved into her  new place at Edwards school .Starts Jan 3rd.  She is sure pleased with her boarding place. A grand cook, the boarding Lady is. Nice family there. All real smart. I hope she does well. She has to work at being patient with all them new kids.

 That's something  Alda Murray could do with. Some kindness, rest and prayer. She's not well.  No one knows what's wrong with her. She still insisted on having the young folk over for that Bonfire.
 She is an inspiration to us all. Though I don't think Mrs. Jake  would agree. You remember her, don't you? Still runs the post office with an iron fist. If that woman would just take an ounce of good spirits, a dash of fun  and roll it up into one, then she would be better off.
 We ALL would be better off.
 I see the snow's coming down again. These dark days of winter can't last much longer. Now with the New Year coming. It's a few hours out. We'll stay up to see it in, like we always do.
 I have the broom waiting by the back door to sweep out the Old Year. And the coal I put by the step. It will be ready for the first dark haired man of the New Year. Makes your father jealous when I say that.
 Hoping it will be Alda's son, Robert. He has dark hair. He's coming to help fix  floorboards tomorrow. If not him, then I will get Willie or Stuart to bring it in. Such an old custom. But my mother did it and her mother did it. And they  thought it was good luck. I hope you remembered to find some coal as well. It's a fun thing to do. Never mind how silly you make it out to be.
 We need good luck.  These days at least. The way things are  in the world.I'll have to be thrifty  and sensible in the New Year. I have to do some visiting this week. Jim Neil has had a stroke, and can't talk. Vera  isn't sure what to do. That woman could never organize her house. Now with Jim down, I'll have to help her.  Well, as best I can. My New Year's Resolution.  Dad doesn't mind. He's going to help Vera get her fences fixed in the spring. 
 Some around here are really hard up. General Motors has started up again. 400 married men employed. I suppose it's a good thing. I suppose a lot of people will be leaving the farms to work in Regina.
 Well, it's almost midnight, Nessie. You'll get this letter  long after the New Year has begun. Hope you and Davie are staying well. Make sure your New Year is fun. Dad and I sure miss you both. But summer is coming, and we'll save a chicken or two for you, when you visit. In the meantime, an ounce of courage, a smidge of folly and a lot of happiness to you both. Love, Mother
 "Let this year be filled with things that are truly good. With the comfort of warmth in our relationships. Knowing that all things are possible. In You." -Anon. (The Start of a New Year)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Will Always Be......

 "Christmas will always be, as long as we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand." -Dr. Seuss

 "My idea of Christmas is very simple: loving others. WHy do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?" -Bob Hope

 "If I could make a wish for you, it would be peace  and happiness, not only now, but for the year." -Catherine Pulsifer
 "Christmas is not  a time or a season, but a state of mind.To cherish peace and goodwill,to be plenteous in mercy,is to have the real spirit of Christmas." -Calvin Coolidge

 "Christmas ! The very word brings joy to our hearts. The same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and homes." -Joan Winmill Brown (actress)
 "The light of the Christmas star to you. The warmth of hearth and home to you. The joy of a thousand angels to you......" Sherryl Woods (An O' Brien Family Christmas)
 "I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it....I drift along into the holidays, let them overtake me...... Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946)
 "Snowflakes swirl down gently in the deep blue haze beyond the window. The outside world is a dream. There is mystery unfolding." -Vera Nazarian (1966-) (The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration)
 "One true King  knew when to step aside and give up the reigns of power.All for the sake of glimpsing, just once in a lifetime, the face of a holy child. He was the Fourth to follow the Star. His gift was a secret. The rest of his journey is unknown." -Vera Nazarian( The Perpetual Calendar)
 "The holy magic that filled the stable long ago, still fills the air of Christmas today."- Mary Hollingsorth (1947-)
 "I will honour Christmas in my heart and try and keep it all the year." -Charles Dickens
 "Christmas is a tonic for our souls." -B.C. Forbes (1880-1954)
 "Expectancy is the atmosphere for miracles." 
                                                      -Edwin Louis Cole (1922-2002)

 "Christmas makes me happy no matter what time of year it comes around." -Bryan White (1974-) (singer)
 "The earth has grown old with its burden of care, but at Christmas it is always young,the heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair, and its soul of music breaks the air, when the song of angels is sung."
-Phillip Brooks (1935-1893) (Clergyman, lyricist of the carol " O little Town of Bethlehem")

 "Why not share with the world the way it is and tell them my feelings about my cat, and how I played with my kids,and how addicted to Christmas I am,and the smell of pine needles and hearing my kids laugh." -Steven Tyler (Aerosmith's lead singer)

 "Christmas renews our youth by stirring  our wonder."
                                              -Ralph W. Sockman (1889-1970)

 "To accomplish great things, we must not only act,but also DREAM ;not only plan, but also BELIEVE." 
                    -Anatole France (1844-1924) (poet)

"Christmas Eve was a night of song that wrapped itself about you like a shawl. It warmed your heart.....filled it , too, with melody that would last forever."
                                       -Bess Streeter Aldrich "Song of the Years"
PHOTOGRAPHS: 2016, Michelle McConachie Woods

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

WARTIME CHRISTMAS CAKE(adapted from 1914)

                "At Christmas, all roads lead home..." 
                         -Marjorie Holmes (1910-2002 Bestselling Christian author)
            (adapted from 1914)                    

(This cake dates back to the First World War when ingredients were scarce and lard was used for fat. Here  a call for butter. Cooks had to scrimp and save to make the special cakes and puddings for Christmas. The original recipe is from my mother's collection)
I've updated this cake a bit. Added a few more ingredients. And baked it in a 13x9 parchment lines pan so it turns into squares. 
If people don't like fruitcake they usually like this. Medium colour.  Freezes well.  Good for midnight snacking...............Perfect for last minute baking. I chop mine up in little squares and stuff into a ziploc bag and they hunker down in the freezer.
PREHEAT oven to 325 Degrees.
1/2 pound stoned raisins ( many moons ago  a good cook had to take the seeds out of the raisins…….)
3/4 cup BUTTER  
1  and  3/4 cups brown sugar
I added 3 eggs. In  wartime eggs were strictly rationed and cooks had to be very clever in how eggs were used. Original recipe did not use eggs. But I did.

 1 cup warm coffee or tea with an extra slog of rum or Grand Marnier  in the mix.I don't measure this. Just go with what looks okay. 
 2-3 tablespoons of golden syrup
1 1/2  cups flour
1 Tbsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 tsp each, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg
1 large carrot grated finely

ADD: 2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans. 1 1/2 cups peel, and 2 cups red and green candied cherries, or dried , if you wish.
1. Boil the raisins in the liquid ( stone them first………yeah, yeah, it’s not what you think) for 15 minutes. You can also add 2 cups prunes or dates to this mix.
Be sure to let the rains cool somewhat. Hot raisins will curdle the dough.
4. Sift dry ingredients, including spices, all together.

Beat Butter, sugar, eggs, coffee/tea, golden syrup,  grated carrot  together. Add to raisins. Add alternately with the dry ingredients. 
Add rest of fruit and nuts to mixture at very end.
Take a 13x9 pan. Spray with veggie spray and line with parchment.
Dump in batter. Spread evenly.
Bake at 325 for about 45-50 minutes till lightly browned.
I actually had to bake it a little longer......just test as you go.
During the first world war, people were encouraged to buy sensible gifts. Presents for soldiers were sent away, and included such things like wallets, gloves, pipes, watches, something to write letters home.
During the entire war, the post office of the army delivered 114 million parcels from the UK to the front lines, and over 2 billion letters.
Other presents that were sent: harmonicas, books, cigarettes and even Christmas puddings, and fruitcakes if possible. Would have been an incredible treat. 
It wasn't possible to have an extravagant Christmas, but people at home  continued to sing songs, and do charity work and be really smart about their cooking  because there was so much rationing.  A deliberate defiance against the  death and destruction of war. 
"For the Spirit of Christmas fulfills the greatest hunger of mankind." - Loring A. Schuler (1886-1968 American Author)