“I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains, and then find somewhere where I can rest… I might find somewhere where I can finish my book. I have thought of a nice ending for it: and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days.”
J R R Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring
Today’s wandering takes us to some very special mountains. The volcanoes of the central plateau in New Zealand’s North Island. I have visited this area many times over the years and experience a different mood each time.
Again, quite a bit of filming around here for Lord of the Rings movies…. it definitely has a Middle Earth magic.
Before we leave the UK and head back to New Zealand, we have to stop briefly at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London!
I have visited this incredible experience twice and I have hundreds of photos. It was so difficult to choose a few to share for this virtual wander. I settled on some from my winter wander. It was Christmas at Hogwarts. Pure magic!
The magic is in all the little details you discover. The pics will never do this justice. Even if you are not a big fan of the movies, this experience is still worth a visit.
Signing off this post with a couple of great J K Rowling quotes:
It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
One way to define advent is the anticipation of a coming event. Historically Advent has been associated with the lead up to Christmas and involves particular rituals and traditions in the Christian faith.
These days advent has taken on a number of different meanings. I think for many people today the “anticipation” is simply the stress of being caught up in the consumerism juggernaut that is the lead up to the festive season, worries over finances and being able to afford the “expected” way to celebrate or sadness at what can be the loneliest time of year for some.
For me, it has always been “the most wonderful time of the year”. And what I have come to realise is just how much this season means to me and my mental and emotional well-being, of all things!
Anticipation of a coming event. To me this anticipation is the expectation of a positive experience, a child-like excitement. At my age I certainly can’t put this down to getting up at the crack of dawn to open Christmas presents…. those days are long gone!
Now advent is steeped in ritual.
Some advent rituals are around preparation for the coming celebration that is Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the family time we are so privileged to share. Advent in my world is a way of keeping those loved ones who have passed or that live far away close by…. part of our reflection and celebration, always in our hearts.
Other rituals centre around my need to reflect – on the year that has been as it winds to a close, checking in with my dream life goals, a gratitude practice…. and gradually beginning to set the intent for the coming year.
A reflection this advent is just how lucky I am to have these positive, uplifting memories of childhood Christmases to draw on. As well as a rich source of family ritual and tradition to continue observing. And how lucky I am, being so wired to the idea of seasons and cycles, that my work allows me to take the time at this time of year to acknowledge advent in my own quirky way.
The baubles and tinsel have been carefully packed away for another year. The pantry is clear of all those little indulgences. Boxing Day sales have been and gone. Even the fireworks and the countdowns and the resolutions have been ticked off.
Now the balmy days of summer stretch ahead. This time of year toys with me. Do I give into moments soaking up the sun, afternoon naps, sipping cool drinks while curled up with a good book and totally relish no responsibilities, deadlines, timetables, etc.? Or do I allow the New Year’s rejuvenation to reinvigorate and work, plan, list, do for the coming months? This year I opted for ticking off a to do list and relishing in a sense of productiveness.
But right this moment I pause to reflect on yet another festive season gone by. What does is all mean really? What is the point?
I pause in gratitude for the safe, beautiful place I live. A place where a festive season held no loss, no tragedy, no hate, no violence. For me it held family, belonging, blessings, love and the gift of hope for our futures.
I so appreciate being able to get wrapped up in the Christmas “hype” but still not allowing it to be in a superficial way. But rather in a way that celebrates the blessings me and my family have been gracefully given.
Here are a couple of blessings – one for Christmas and one for the New Year – that speak to me about the truth of this season:
Even though we are 16 days into 2015, I wish all humanity a blessed year ahead.
Only a few more sleeps until the Big Day. Time to set the mood. Truth be told I have been setting the mood with my Christmas playlist for the last month or so.
My playlist varies a little year to year but my absolute favourite that always takes centre stage is any Christmas song by Bing Crosby (he reminds me of my Grandad a lot). Then there is Harry Connick Jr’s What a Night! A Christmas Album and, of course, Michael Bublé’s Christmas – you cannot go wrong!
This year’s find is definitely Christmas at Downton Abbey – old school and fabulous! A highlight being Carson reciting ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
Now the music is sorted, you can’t go past a good advent calendar. Jacqui Lawson creates the most spectacular electronic advent calendar each year…. a must have for me. I love how interactive it is – making snowflakes, decorating the tree, arranging flowers, wrapping gifts for under the tree – all to wonderful Christmas music. A fabulous replacement gift instead of sending Christmas cards.
And then, of course, there is the menu. Us girls tend to start talking menus around the time we decorate at the beginning of December. These days our plan is our side of the family at Mom and Dad’s on Christmas Eve and then my sister and her hubbie and the nephews join my brother in law’s family Christmas Day. So we aim to keep things simple and only do one cook up so the leftovers take us through the next few days.
Kitchen day is therefore Christmas Eve. Our menu is all about the meat, we are South African after all. That definitely means one cut of meat needs to be barbecued – that will be the lamb this year. Mom will have a secret recipe herb rub I could never divulge. I will have a go at brining turkey breast before adding a herb butter wrapping it in bacon and maple syrup and cooking. This is our take on a Donna Hay recipe. And finally we will glaze a gammon with plum and chilli. The accompaniments will be salads and baby potatoes using all the beautiful fresh produce we are so blessed to have access to here in NZ. Dessert is my take on an I Quit Sugar For Life recipe – sugar free individual lemon meringue pies in jars.
We will try and fit in our homemade Christmas Pud and Vanilla Custard for a quiet Christmas Day dinner or perhaps wait till Boxing Day.
I haven’t covered the Christmas mince pies, gingerbread men or the summer fruits sangria we will also indulge in – three days of complete excess really. Having experienced Christmas times the complete opposite of this – alone and with no means for a feast – I am so incredibly grateful for all we have been given to enjoy.
I wish you happy planning and anticipation – it is half the fun!
Part 2 of my holiday rituals is all about decorating and surrounding us with all things Christmas. This process for me starts in about September and settling on a theme for the year. This could be based around a colour, a set of colours, a piece of art, or really anything that inspires me.
This year’s theme actually occurred to me last Christmas and the idea of using rustic elements – twigs, twine, wood, glass and metal. It morphed over time into more of a birds/owls and woodland theme based on a pack of paper napkins I found.
So November is prep month – checking what I already have in the Christmas boxes, a list of what I might need to buy and, of course, how I can get my craft on.
I bought a number of birds of different kinds from all sorts of different stores. Some to hang on the tree, some to place about the place with a bird house and a lovely candle holder to use as a centre piece.
For the crafty bits, I bought some unbleached calico and hessian as well as iron on sheets for fabric. I made a couple of cushions, place mats and some wall art using these bits and pieces.
Decorating day is always the first weekend in December. Although this year the 1st of December was a Monday so I went with Sunday, 30 November. This seems a good time to start our Advent.
And this is a taste of what I came up with this year.
It’s all about trees, owls, other woodland creatures, reds, greens, gold, silver and white…. paying homage to European winters and woodlands, berries and snow.
Wow! A crazy three or so weeks has flown by wrapping up all things work related for 2014. And now a lady of leisure, I can concentrate on why this is my favourite time of the year. I do have some silly rituals, but they are dear to me.
The first is all about the wacky genius of Tim Burton. This is the time of the year when I get out all my favourite Tim Burton classics and rewatch. It all starts at Halloween with TheNightmare Before Christmas. Jack Skellington’s need to infect Halloween Town with the Christmas spirit is just a wonderful tale.
Now I have to mention here that when it comes to trick or treating and kids wandering the neighbourhood door knocking and begging for candy, I morph into the Halloween Grinch. So some parts of Halloween I can certainly do without. But Tim Burton’s imagery captures my imagination at this mystical time of year.
So The Nightmare Before Christmas is quickly chased by Corpse Bride, Beetlejuice and Dark Shadows. I also love Coraline which has a Tim Burtonish flavour but is actually a movie from the director of Nightmare.
All this revisiting movies I love puts me in the mood for the holiday season to come.
At tree decorating time, I celebrate a day of hard out Christmas-ifying of the house by watching Holiday Inn. You know, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and that famous little song White Christmas?
Then Christmas Eve means it must be time for White Christmas the movie – Bing Crosby and Rosemarie Clooney and a whole lot of Irving Berlin classics…. Magical! And finally, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – the Disney version with Jim Carey. Some say scary, I say classic Dickens (one of my most favourite authors).
And that about rounds up Holiday Rituals Part 1 – watching old movies. This about sums it up for me:
It is my favourite time of year. Spring time in the Southern Hemisphere. It is the time when I miss Africa most. For me nothing quite compares to the sights, smells and sounds of spring on the Highveld of South Africa or in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Beautiful lilac Jacaranda blossom, the call of the Woodland Kingfishers returning south for the season and the sweet, wobbly newborn antelope, zebra and wildebeest….. pure magic!
Still my favourite time of here too as we take time for preparations for the coming festivities. It is a time of remembrance for me and keeping time honoured family traditions and rituals.
So Labour weekend this year once again saw the kitchen abuzz at Mom and Dad’s place. Out come all Granny Sybil’s recipes and the mixing, mincing and endless stirring begins. On the to do list the lemon curd, the Christmas fruit mince and, of course, the brandy laced Christmas pudding. All exceptionally delicious! And need I say that the no sugar way of life has no place at this time…. hmmm.
Granny Sybil was my paternal grandmother. A single mother bringing up her two sons on the outskirts of central Johannesburg in the 50s, 60s and 70s. My earliest memories of her all revolve around the kitchen – baking, preserving and the best Sunday roasts ever. Christmas was always a veritable feast at Granny Sybil’s house. But also the garage. There always seemed to be some car or bike engine in various pieces strewn around the house and in the garage thanks to my dad and his brother.
She was a strong woman who had given up much of her life to earn a living and look after ailing parents. She married late and finally found a few years wedded bliss before her husband became ill and passed away leaving her with her two boys to bring up. I have always felt a sense of awe about Granny Sybil – her sense of family, her duty and obligation to her husband’s family, her love for her boys and then us later on. It was a practical love and always involved making or preparing something for us. Her knitting was also legendary in our family. I remember she also always took the time to wear a pretty house dress, apply her lippy and get her hair set in curls.
And so, Granny, it is that time of year again where we hope to honour your memory and all that you were and still are to us.