A Good Home

Christmas Arrangements – Bad Ones

This piece from a few years ago made me grin, so as we head towards what may well be a strange Christmas season for many, I wanted to make you smile too. If you laugh at me, that’s even better!

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Photos by Hamlin Grange

How hard could it be to make your own Christmas arrangement?  Looks easy enough in the magazines, and on the internet, right?

Christmas Arrangement - viaGoogle Images

It’s almost Christmas and my family is full of women who cook and bake AND do great home decor. My sister, daughters, mother-in-law,  sister-in-law, girlfriends: domestic goddesses, every one.  Some even sew and knit.

I,  meanwhile, am a failed domestic diva.  I baked a cake – once.  I failed knitting – twice.  I try – Lord knows I try – but I’m still an exceptionally underachieving cook.

But it’s Christmastime, after all. A time of great hope.

Angel and Ball

So I decided to make Christmas stuff. The kind of stuff that won’t give my family indigestion,  catch fire and burn (as the solitary cake did), or that anyone needs to wear. (That sock I tried to knit is indescribable AND a family joke.)

In the past, I used branches from the trees in my garden,  tied together with a big red ribbon – and called it a Christmas bough. Hanging on the front door, it was only seen from a distance,  or when we had visitors. Very polite visitors.

But this year, I decided to go big or  ….  no, I was already home, so let’s forget the rest of that saying.  I decided to be ambitious.  To arrange greenery in containers. One in the plant-stand outdoors, one in a container indoors. Artfully composed,  of course.

Did I mention that I failed BOTH art and photography in school?  Something to do with composition.

Christmas GreeneryChristmas Greenery – First Muddled Attempt

I collected branches of everything that grew right next to the verandah of our home. I’m under a kind of house arrest, you see  – mandated by my doctor because I overdid it with the book-related activities and also started a new medication with woozy side-effects.  I figured that as long as I went no farther than the verandah, it would still qualify as “resting at home”.

I put a double layer of plastic in the bottom of the containers, and placed the wet florist foam on it. (The foam was wet, not the florist.) Then I stuck branches of stuff into it. Spruce. Juniper. Euonymus.   Boxwood. And pine cones on sticks. I stepped back to admire my handiwork.

It needed something.  Aha! More red dogwood sticks.

Blog Photo - Chirstmas Arrangement Outdoor

It still needed something.  But I was worn out and achy and very woozy.  I wisely took to my bed.

Two days later, I felt brighter. Contrast, I thought! I need contrast!

So I fetched some “brownery” –brown-leaved branches from last Christmas, forgotten in a tall container in one corner of the verandah.  But when I cleverly tried to add them, the florist foam had frozen hard due to cold weather and the brownery crumbled, leaves falling from brittle stems.

I searched the house and found a little fake bird and some loose pine cones and judiciously placed them among the greenery.

Birdie Bird

But it still needed something. I just never  figured out what.

As for the inside container?  There was a coup de grace: garlic. Yes, garlic on stems.  Harvested from our garden this fall, it’s surprisingly decorative,  will deter vampires and spice up my cooking efforts after Christmas.

Garlic BulbGarlic Bulb

But that bit of creativity wore me out completely.  So I stuck some shiny red Christmas ornaments on branches in the container and called it a day.

Indoor Arrangement

Lord, give me strength. Clearly, you withheld the talent.

~~

This post is dedicated to everyone who struggles with domestic arts. And to all domestic goddesses: you give me something to aspire to. Or maybe that’s ‘perspire’. This stuff is a lot of work!

A Good Home

Myrtle and the Big Mistake

Note from Cynthia: What a gift!  Felicity Sidnell-Reid — author, poet, radio host and retired educator — reviewed not just one book, but all 4 in the Myrtle the Purple Turtle series for children. Huge thanks to Felicity and to Chris the Story Reading Ape, who first published this excellent review. 

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What makes a picture book special? Perhaps, in this case, it’s a “marriage of true minds” between two authors who love children and the bond they have developed with their illustrator, Jo Robinson.

 

Cynthia S. Reyes

and

Lauren Reyes-Grange

illustrated by

Jo Robinson

The series is dedicated to building children’s self-esteem and confidence, achieving self-acceptance and celebrating difference. Myrtle’s adventures illustrate the importance of friendship, of supporting those who are facing difficulties, of giving and receiving help and encouraging empathy.

Myrtle and the Big Mistake is the fourth book in this successful series which takes on important topics in a way that engages the hearts and minds of young children, but also appeals to older siblings, parents, teachers and grandparents, offering opportunities for discussion about problems that many children face every day and giving young listeners an opportunity to develop their own ideas about how to tackle these.

Myrtle is a loveable character, self-aware and serious but at the same time friendly and curious. Each story extends Myrtle’s experience of the world and expands her community of friends. In the first book she is hurt when a bullying stranger turtle claims she can’t be a turtle since she is purple. She longs to be green like others in the Big Pond. Her friends however point out that each of them is different —one is a brownish colour, one has spots, another has a differently shaped shell and that they all love her purple shell.

In Myrtle’s Gamethe turtles’ favourite game is a form of water-soccer. When they discover that some of the woodland animals play a similar game on grass they encourage Myrtle, their best “blocker” to ask if she can play. When the team tells her that turtles can’t play soccer, she and her friends get together to help her to become an even better player. After training hard, she asks if she can try out for the woodland team and they admit she is a good goalie so she plays with them, cheered on by her turtle friends. As she leaves the field she invites the team to come over and try playing water-soccer with them in the Big Pond.

In the third story, Myrtle Makes a New Friend, a fox family moves into the neighbourhood and some turtles become suspicious and angry. Adults say things that make Myrtle and her friends afraid. Myrtle is nervous but, when she meets young Felix Fox; he is hiding behind a bush and crying because he thinks that all the children will hate him. Myrtle kindly insists that this is not true and says she will be his friend. When Myrtle tells Felix, she is going to be late, he gives her a ride on his back to school, where Myrtle is able to introduce him to the others as her new friend and he becomes part of their play group.

The fourth book examines the fallout, when one of Myrtle’s classmates mishears and spreads a false story about another member of their class. This time Myrtle immediately steps up to defend her friend, Snapper, and tells the gossiper that the story is untrue. But the gossip spreads quickly and Myrtle and her friends have to track down the source of the story, Garret the parrot, and set the record straight. Garret tells all the animals he is sorry and that he made a big mistake. Still feeling bad and unhappy he is about to leave, but before he can fly away, Myrtle and Snapper to his surprise invite him to play. Children are engaged here in understanding complex problems and solutions, allowing them to sympathize with the characters and appreciate Garret’s remorse and his honesty at the conclusion to the story.They can also share in his relief and the happiness of the group of friends as they all go “off to play together”.

Myrtle, and her friends, new and old are deftly developed by the authors into characters who are hard to forget and easy to love. Jo Robinson’s well designed and colourful illustrations capture the emotional moments and turning points of these appealing stories. Young listeners will want to hear these tales repeated over and over again and will, no doubt, be anxious to hear the about Myrtle’s further adventures.

Note: The books in the Myrtle the Purple Turtle series make excellent Christmas gifts and are available at both Amazon (links above) and Chapters Indigo

 

Felicity Sidnell Reid

 

A Good Home

Happy American Thanksgiving!

I wish every American reading this post:  Happy Thanksgiving!

I know it’s been a tough year.

May you and your loved ones find many reasons to be thankful on this important weekend.

May you be safe and well, and may you eat entirely too much (big smile).

As you know, we Canadians celebrated our Thanksgiving Day in early October. There were fewer loved ones at our table this year; we tried to bridge the distance in different ways, while looking forward to get-togethers in safer times. 

Our best wishes to you, and, in these strange times, keep an eye open for blessings in unexpected places.

Cynthia and family.

A Good Home

Meet Silvia M. Wynter

Today, I’d like you to meet Silvia M. Wynter, author of “Prey of Angels”.

A modern-day whodunnit, Prey of Angels is part thriller, part mystery. It spans three continents, and grips the reader with high-quality plotting and writing.

Surprisingly, this is Silvia’s first published novel. But don’t let that fool you. She wrote two books before Prey of Angels – they just weren’t picked up by agents. That didn’t stop her from writing more.

“Between the three books I’ve written, I’ve queried at least two hundred agents. Most don’t respond at all, though a couple were interested in Prey of Angels. My sense has always been that most literary agents/agencies do not see diversity as selling books. One actually told me that.” 

Set mainly in Toronto, the story moves between Canada, Africa and North Korea, as it seeks to answer the question: who are the masterminds behind the trafficking of children for the sex trade in North America and the harvesting of human organs?

With decades of experience in Canada’s child welfare field, Silvia writes on this topic with the confidence of one with up-close knowledge.

“I wanted to spotlight the vulnerability of undocumented minors from around the world who can easily be exploited by pimps, criminals, and in this case organ harvesters/sellers. Many undocumented youth go missing  and are never found.” 

“What difference do you think this book will make to the world?” I ask her.  The answer is disheartening:

“None…because these are youth from Third world countries, black, brown, and other racialized minorities who do not normally receive the same attention as their mainstream counterparts.”

Reader reactions to the book, however, have been strongly positive.

“People like the diversity of characters and that it takes place in Toronto. They really like the unexpected twists and turns.” 

It’s a great feeling for a newly-published author – to hear that people really like your very first book: “Feels terrific. Response has been better than I expected. Wish I knew how to reach a larger audience.” 

The reactions to this book have uplifted her and Silvia is now thinking about the best way to get her other books published.

“I have two ready to be published, but I’m wondering if pursuing traditional publishing is worth one last shot. I’m wondering if literary agents might be more open to considering more BIPOC writers, stories, and artists, given the Black Lives Matter movement and more awareness of White privilege.” 

What is she working on now?

“Started a fourth book a year ago but I haven’t been able to get back to it to finish it yet. I’ve been editing like crazy to make sure the other two, ‘Burdened Legacy’ and ‘In the Shadow’ are ready to go once I  figure out which route will serve me best.

“This new one is about the relationship between two university students who are forced together by unforseen circumstances but whose political beliefs can get them killed. He’s white and has Far Right connections and leanings – she’s black, military, and a social activist. Together they’re dangerous, and in love.” 

Congrats, Silvia!