Monthly Archives: December 2016

THE CHRISTMAS CARD STORIES

By Yvonne Blackwood~

Have you ever wondered what became of some of your friends and associates over the past years? You Know—the ones who just dropped out of sight and out of your life? Or how about the ones who used to be such great friends? You talked on the phone regularly, you visited each other, and whenever you entertained they were always there, then one day—nothing. You don’t call; they don’t call. You just don’t communicate anymore. I found an interesting way of remembering old friends. It took me by surprise when I discovered what you can learn from old Christmas cards.

I’m a hoarder; or to put it in a more sophisticated way, I’m sentimental.  Over the past twenty years I’ve saved all the Christmas cards I have received, and believe me, they are many.

As Christmas day 2016 approaches with the sound of carols on the radio and decorations in the malls, I’m in a reminiscing mood. I decided to peek into my stash of old Christmas cards. I tug at the bottom drawer of my armoire; it’s stuffed to the brim and won’t budge. With one titanic yank it snaps open throwing me flat on my derriere. There, lying in neat stacks, tied with red ribbons or held together with rubber bands are piles and plies of old Christmas cards. Each pile represents a year. Some stacks are larger than others—the years when I’m remembered more I suppose. The largest card for each year forms a protective cover for the cards of that year.  Plopping down on the floor, I retrieve a few stacks, and untie the ribbons . . .

1996: Wow! this is a fat pile. As I flip through the cards, I remember that I had a lot of Italian clients that year. Many of them not only sent me cards, they sent fabulous gift baskets! Here’s a card from the Member of Parliament for my area with a picture of his entire family, including the dog. Over the past several years, this minister’s card is always the first one to arrive at my house. I’ve watched his children grow up via his Christmas cards.

1997: A green card with a wreath in the centre, is signed, Lisa and Lori. They wrote, “Thanks a million.” Now what the heck did I do? Who are Lisa and Lori anyway? Another thing I’ve learned from the cards—my memory is not as good as it used to be.

1998:  There is a card with a cute little black angel; it’s from Diane. We use to call each other regularly, but I haven’t spoken to her for many years. The Member of Parliament’s card has the family’s photo as usual. My goodness! The dog is missing. He was always there—white and hairy dog with big black eyes. He must have died. There’s one from the Browns; they retired and moved back to Jamaica.

Before I know it an hour has gone by, but it’s too fascinating to stop now.

2004: I am thrilled that I am not the only one with memory issues—one of my friends from high school has sent me a card every year; this year she has sent me two different cards with the same inscription!

2008: This stack is the skinniest so far, and several cards are from my former clients—they must miss me! I retired the previous year.

2009: Among the pile is a small card with a quote from Psalm 148:1. The card is from my Chinese colleague; she had just converted from Buddhism to Christianity. I guess this is the first time she has sent Christmas cards.

2010: More than a half of my cards are not from my old friends, but from my church family. Having retired three years earlier I had begun to attended church regularly.

2011: There is a unique round card in the shape of a Christmas ball with a black background and covered with gold leaves. It’s from a dental office and it warms my heart to know that I was instrumental in assisting the young dentist to set up her practice; she is the daughter of one of my high school classmates.

2012: Several of the cards are from members of a board on which I sit.

2013: Among the cards is a simple one with a picture of Santa; it’s from the Red Cross. It was the first time I had received such a card. A pasted note inside states that a friend had made a donation in my name for the relief support of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

2015: The pile this year is the largest for the past ten years. All my old friends who usually send cards, did so this year, but in addition, more folks from my church also sent me cards. I suppose more of them are getting to know me.

I’ve been reading some of the wonderful words of good wishes in the cards. Some are very apropos, obviously carefully chosen by my friends, clients and associates. There must be dozens of stories to be told about all the people who have sent me Christmas cards over the last two decades, stories about births and deaths, weddings and first grand children, graduations of children from university, divorce, sadness, joy and so many other emotions. If only I could look through the cards like a crystal ball and watch the stories unfold—a movie could not be better. As I read the cards, I think, what a wonderful way to walk down memory lane!

Finally, I spot a white card with a golden dove. It says “Peace on Earth.” It’s from my father. Inside there is a quote from Isaiah 55:12, “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace . . . ”

Best wishes to all the readers during the Christmas holidays. Let us continue to pray for “Peace on Earth.”

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THEME DAY—ARCHITECTURE: A PILLAR OF FIRE BY NIGHT, OF CLOUD BY DAY (Part 6)

By Yvonne Blackwood~

We started this series of articles about lighthouses by stating: “A unique structure seen in countries with rugged coastlines is a lighthouse. Tourists are always fascinated with lighthouses for a number of reasons, one being that they are always off and away from the general population; there is a mystique about them. Certain questions come to mind when you gaze upon them. Why are they standing in specific locations? Who maintains them and when? Does anyone live in them? How many lives have they helped to save? In addition, novels and movies have featured lighthouses, adding to their intrigue.”

We will wrap up the series with a unique group of lighthouses, too numerous to write about independently. The Thousand Islands consist of an archipelago of a group of over 1,800 islands in the St. Lawrence River. They stretch for about 50 miles (80 km), and straddle the border of the United States and Canada. There are numerous lighthouses throughout the Thousand Islands; some even provide accommodations. On a visit to the area, I took photographs of many of these lighthouses. Some seem identical, while others vary in sizes and shapes.

There are facilities on the Thousand Islands, that allow freshwater shipwreck diving, an offshoot of the many wrecks that are lying at the bottom of the seaway. It is small wonder then that so many lighthouses were constructed in the area.

Verse nine of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Lighthouse,” sums up our sentiment regarding lighthouses.

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same,
Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,

Shines on that inextinguishable light!

Lighthouse on 1000 Island
Lighthouse on 1000 Island

 

 

 

 

Lighthouse on 1000 Island

 

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HOW TO CHOOSE THE PROPER TEA BREWING EQUIPMENT?

By Yvonne Blackwood~

Drinking tea is a good thing, but making an excellent cup of tea—well that is something else. What do you need to make that excellent cuppa? In our previous article, “Tips and Tricks on How to Make Superb Tea,” we elaborated on the key things one must undertake in order to achieve tea nirvana. In this article, we well focus on the primary accoutrement necessary to make tea—a teapot.

There was an advertisement several years ago—very effective I might add—that said, “We will serve no wine before its time.” As far as a good cup of tea goes, we will serve no tea without a proper teapot, or as some people call it, a tea maker. Tea must be brewed whether your raw material is loose leaves or teabags; therefore, a tea brewing container is required.

So you visit the store to purchase the important teapot and you stand before a shelf lined with gizmos; you are lost in wonder!  There are gadgets promising to make tea brewing easier, more fun, and better than before. There are cute infusers, automatic brewing machines, and tea balls. The variety overwhelms you. Furthermore, the gadgets come is all sizes, shapes, materials, and colours. Which one should you buy? The most important deciding factor should be the function of the item. You must first determine which size to purchase based on the number of people you plan to serve tea. If you will regularly serve six people, there is no point in buying a teapot that serves only four. In addition, you should be aware that if you plan to use loose leaves, once they are steeped in hot water, they’ll expand to more than double their dry size. Therefore, the teapot should have adequate space to allow the leaves to unfurl, and release their full flavour.

If you are really ‘into tea,’ always remember that tea originated in South East Asia; the people from this region have had hundreds of years of experience brewing tea. We can learn from them.

While your personal preference is important in selecting a teapot—you may opt for elegance, beauty or even a conversation piece—you should bear the following important questions in mind: Does it pours well? Is it easy to handle? How heavy it is when filled? Does it become too hot to hold? Does it maintain heat? Let us drill down into the main types of teapot-making materials since they have a direct impact on the answers to these questions.

Elegant porcelain—porcelain teapots are generally glazed inside and out. If the interior is unglazed, use them only for one type of tea, and if glazed on the inside they can be used for different types of teas.

A Fine China Tea set

Clear glass—this is a good choice which allows you to see the color and the texture of the tea leaves as the brewing takes place.

 Stainless steel—known as a poor conductor of heat, however, good quality stainless steel pans usually have a sandwich of other metals like copper bonded to it; this improves that heat conducting process. In addition, stainless steel is lighter than cast iron and it does not rust.

Ceramic—teapots made from ceramic have natural heat-retention properties, and will brew the tea leaves quickly. Similar to a porcelain teapot, a ceramic pot may be glazed or unglazed on the inside. If it is glazed, you can certainly alternate your tea choices; if unglazed, stick to brewing one type of tea in it.

Cast Iron Teapot

Cast iron—In Japan, the main teapots, called Tetsubin, are usually made from cast iron. This metal is a good conductor of heat, is long-lasting, and almost indestructible. If you are prone to breaking glass pots this may be for you. The downside to cast iron teapots is that they may rust. Fortunately, the more modern ones are coated on the inside with enamel which prevents rust.

Chinese Clay Teapot

Clay—In China, most teapots are made of unglazed clay, and are good conductors of heat. The flavour of the tea seeps into clay over time and strengthens it. On the other hand, since the flavour remains in the clay, it affects any other tea brewed in that pot—similar to the unglazed porcelain pot.

Maintenance

Of course you should consider how much time and energy you wish to expend on keeping your teapot clean.

A glass teapot will get stained eventually, but it can be cleaned easily with a good rub and a mild soap, and a thorough rinse. Stainless steel pots can also be cleaned easily with soap. Porcelain is dishwasher safe, however, for best results they should be place in the top rack of the dishwasher. Crockery type ceramic and fine China teapots should not be put in the dishwasher. Soap should not be used on cast iron teapots, and they should not be scrubbed. They must be properly dried inside and out after they are used to avoid rust.

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THEME DAY: ARCHITECTURE—A PILLAR OF FIRE BY NIGHT, OF CLOUD BY DAY (Part 5)

By Yvonne Blackwood~

Captain James Cook, a British explorer, navigator, and cartographer, is said to have sailed from England in 1768, rounded Cape Horn, and arrived in the Tahiti in April 1769. His journey to Tahiti was to observe the Transit of Venus.

Captain Cook and his cohorts positioned themselves at Point Venus, a peninsula on the north coast of Tahiti, about 8 kilometres from Papeete, the current capital. There they carefully recorded their observations. A brief account from Cook’s log states:

 “…we had every advantage we could desire in Observing the whole of the passage of the Planet Venus over the Suns disk: we very distinctly saw an Atmosphere or dusky shade round the body of the Planet…” -James Cook, June 3, 1769.  It turned out that Cook’s observations were flawed, but still remarkably accurate when we consider the lack of technology at the time.

According to the NSA Eclipse Website, “The transit or passage of a planet across the face of the Sun is relatively rare occurrences. . . transits of Venus occur in pairs with more than a century separating each pair.”  The last transit observed was in June 2012; the next one should occur in December 2117.

There is a small monument at Point Venus to commemorate Cook’s Venus sighting, a monument to honour the film, Mutiny on the Bounty, which was filmed (parts of it) on the dark sands of Tahiti, and a lighthouse.

Monument in Tahiti to movie Mutiny on the Bounty

But it is Tahiti’s Point Venus Lighthouse that I find fascinating. Built in 1867, it is located within a park that incorporates community events and festivals. It was restored and extended in 1963. Tall and imposing it stands 108 ft (33 m) with a square tower and six stepped stories. It is one of the most unique lighthouses I have seen.

Point Venus Lighthouse, Tahiti

If you have not had the opportunity to read the previous 4 articles covering other fascinating lighthouses, click on these links. Part 1Part 2; Part 3; Part 4

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THEME DAY: ARCHITECTURE—A PILLAR OF FIRE BY NIGHT, OF CLOUD BY DAY (Part 4)

By Yvonne Blackwood~

In the movie, Casablanca, Rick’s Café is the place where people trying to escape the Nazis pour in to have a drink or two, and wait, hoping to receive exit visas to America. There is a modern-day Rick’s Café at Negril, on the western shores of Jamaica. Standing on a protruding craggy cliff that overlooks the Caribbean Sea, Rick’s Cafe is a place where tourists hangout, have a drink or two, and wait to watch the sun go down.  

Rick's Cafe, Jamaica, waiting for sunset
Rick’s Cafe, Jamaica, waiting for sunset

 The sunset at Rick’s Café is one of the most spectacular you can see anywhere if the clouds do not decide to foil your thrill. The first time I experienced the sunset at Rick’s, I stood there in awe for a while. The sun, a magnificent orangey-red ball, had positioned itself directly to the west of the café, and hovered above the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. Then as if on cue, at about 6:30, it began to descend, slowly, methodically. In about thirty minutes the orangey-red ball appeared to hit the water, and was immediately chopped in two! Long fingers of red-orange light illuminated the now dark, mysterious sea. Bit by bit the light dissipated until there was nothing left. I just stood there at the rails of the café, looking out to sea, wondering, what happened here?

I qualified my earlier statement with the words “…if the clouds do not decide to foil your thrill,” because on my second visit to Rick’s things did not go as expected. It was a beautiful warm evening in May. The café was jamming. People jostled to claim prime spots to watch the sunset; after all, many had come just for the thrill of it. I found the perfect spot, planted myself there, and waited with great anticipation to watch every detail, and every movement of the descending sun. Things were going great; the orangey-red ball kept moving westward. But halfway into the procedure a dark cloud that had been slowly creeping toward the sun extended its tentacles and covered the amazing orange-red globe. I was livid! “Move over, move over,” I kept saying in my mind. By the time the cloud moved on, the sun had lost its lustre. The resulting sunset was pale in comparison to the one I had seen the first time.

There is another interesting object a stone’s throw from Rick’s Café-The Negril Lighthouse.

Negril Lighthouse near Rick's Cafe, Jamaica
Negril Lighthouse near Rick’s Cafe, Jamaica

It stands majestically on the rocks. Built in 1894, it rises 66 feet high. The top of the lighthouse has a traditional lantern, which emits the protective flashes of light. Originally, the lantern was powered by gas, then changed to acetylene, then solar energy. The lighthouse is unique in that it was one of the first ones to be constructed from concrete. It contains a gallery at the top of the tower and tours are conducted up the 103 stairs so that you can experience an incredible bird’s-eye view of the coast.

Which is your favourite lighthouse?

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