Places to Go

Burnaby Village…Christmas Edition!

As my four year old will tell you, Christmas doesn’t end with Christmas Day.  Actually, in our tradition we only begin the celebration of Christmas on December 25th and carry on for  – can you guess? – Twelve Days.  It is a tradition I particularly love, because after the long weeks of preparation in Advent we are ready for grand festivities.  We are still playing the Christmas carols and enjoying the lights on our tree, and when we have a free moment we have been known to go in search of a Christmassy adventure or two…


This year, as we love to do, we headed back to Burnaby Village.  It is charming year round, but it is gorgeous at Christmas time.  The buildings are covered in lights and my favourite kind of decorations – ones that look like they were gathered from the woods just outside – are hung all around the town.





One of the best parts – the best part if you ask Miss G. – is the scavenger hunt to find the “Twelve Days of Christmas” hidden around the grounds.  We had so much fun trying to track them down (we needed a hint or two from the museum guides) and happily passed a very cold afternoon in a festive Christmas spirit.

For your entertainment (bonus points if you can sing along while reading…)

a partridge in a pear tree…


…two turtle doves…


…three French hens…


…four calling birds (only one fit in my photo but trust me, there were four)…


…five golden rings…(these rings were HUGE!  I managed to capture the best one)…


…six geese a’laying… (the man in the print shop who gave us the clue to help find this number had a grammatical issue with the geese – how about you?)…


…seven swans a’swimming (this one we found two times… which one do you like better?)…




…eight maids a’milking… (there were eight of these but I wanted to give you a close up to appreciate the cleverness…)


…nine ladies dancing…(there really were nine – all full of lights on the lawn…)



…ten lords a’leaping…


…eleven pipers piping…(so clever!)…


…and twelve (if you can convince eleven people to join you) drummers drumming…


We had so much fun as always at the museum.  I wish I could really buy my Christmas presents at the dry goods store…





I think that grey hat would look great on me.  Or the green one.  Here are a few more moments from our afternoon…













There is nothing like history to make a moment feel more special, at Christmas more than ever.  I hope your twelve days of Christmas are full of song and celebration – we are sending some your your way!


From the archives...


“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…” (Clement Clark Moore)

The ghost of Christmas past came to visit me yesterday.  I suppose that old Dickens story has endured partly because the ghost of Christmas past is a little bit with all of us.  The priest celebrating the Mass we attended on Christmas even began his homily with stories of Christmases past and the human connections that make them real again on every Christmas after…

My Christmas ghost came with the stockings.





I made these stockings (first three, and then later a fourth) when Miss G. was only six months old.  I cut up old sweaters and sewed them all together in a tribute to the stockings my own mother had made for us when I was little.  Here we are hanging one – the white one which was Bami’s – under the watchful eye of our fireplace reindeer…  (Look how young you are Mimi!  I am almost twice as old now as you were then…)  Can you see the stocking resemblance?


It was so important to me as I started my own family to have some of the same special things that made Christmas feel like Christmas.  Those stockings meant the world to me.  They were made by my mother, and we hung them with great ceremony every year.  I was the recorder of which stocking belonged to which owner (mine was red, cowboy’s was green…)  – a job which has been taken up in our house by Miss G. with serious dedication and emphasis.  This struck me as ironic/hysterically funny late last night (Christmas Eve) when I stood in front our “new” family stockings and could not for any reason remember which one belonged to which family member.  When I was small it was so very important to me, as it is so very important to my little people now…  It is easy as a parent to see only with adult eyes and to forget the way things are for children.  We rush, we work, we worry, but they look and listen in every moment.  The colour of the stockings is important.  The way the stockings hang is important.  I didn’t need the ghost of Christmas past to tell me so, but it helped.


(Stockings by Mimi…)

Just like Father Thompson reminded me in his homily, those moments of Christmas past give life to our present.  That little girl with the great sense of wonder and life is guiding me still in my quest to live and give each day with meaning.  I put this picture on my fridge to remind me:


…but I could have chosen any of these other classic moments…




Other memorable moments from Christmases past:


…the xylophone I was completely enchanted with, tied for best gift ever with  the Mickey Mouse record player…


until the year of the big wheel


Each one of those distant Christmas memories lives a little bit still in the mother I have become and in the making of meaningful Christmas time traditions for my own small family.

(One of them seems to be a tradition of noisy merriment – this year’s Christmas gift theme turned out to be musical instruments… yikes!)

And so I work to remember what is important.  I work to see with the eyes of my own children and to look and listen in every moment.   When we hang our Christmas stockings I will know that they don’t need to be filled with gifts to be a wonderful present to us all.  What is important is that they are filled with the love and history of a family that sees the light in each other.  Starting with Bami, passed down to Mimi, passed on to me and in turn to Miss G. – we are carrying the Christmases past in us, we are hanging them up on display, and we are honouring the traditions that keep the connection from generation to generation…


(Stocking by Bami…)

We wish you a Merry Christmas!

From the desk of...

Christmas Tree…

Once the cards are sent and the baking is done (or started…) we start to think of another great Christmas tradition – the tree. We had a variety of tree styles in the house as I grew up – from a traditional green tree with homemade ornaments to a very fancy blue spruce, flocked in white “snow” and covered only in red and white decorations – but the greatest tree in my mind is a twist on the traditional European fir with all white lights and heritage decorations. One of my favourite picture book illustrators, Jan Brett, does a fantastic job representing the tree of my dreams in her winter themed books (the one in Twas the Night Before Christmas is amazing…) but I think this year we outdid ourselves with the Martini family tree. It is lovelier than words.

We started with a noble fir…


…added a tangle of white lights…


…and then unearthed the boxes of tree things one by one, from the most delicate…


…to the most sentimental…


Bringing out the ornaments is a ritual like no other – in a house with more traditions than we can count this one is particularly special. Our collection of ornaments has grown as our lives have unfolded – with each monumental event we have added one to the tree. Each ornament represents a milestone for our family. Starting with our wedding…


…then the baptism of our first child…


…and our second…


…we have continued to add an ornament for every occasion. The children have chosen one each Christmas to mark the passing years, and grandparents and friends (some from far away) have sent ornaments to be part of this great tradition.

This one, chosen by Miss G. for the little “pickle” she was eagerly anticipating…


…and a special reminder of her first communion…


One nutcracker bought for me by my grandmother…


…and one bought for my daughter by her grandmother…


…our tree has become a symbol of the moments we treasure. It is a celebration of family, of friendship and of life in a dark and wintery season – it holds the light of our love and memories in its’ branches.







…and treasures from closer to home…



Every family is a compilation of moments. When we take the time to hang the best of them altogether on the branches of the evergreen tree and see them sparkle in the light of this sentimental season we can’t help but marvel at the beauty of it all. There are many moments in every life that are dark and difficult – it makes the marking of the beautiful moments that much more essential. If you had to choose just one moment from this last year to celebrate – what would it be?



From the desk of...



The first week of winter and the last week of Advent… a time to love and be loved.

It is not always easy to love others in the process of daily life.  People can be difficult, and we can feel unloveable ourselves.  The world can be harsh.  Some people are easy to love, and some (maybe those who need it the most) are seemingly impossible.  There is a lot of unhappiness in the world.  Sometimes this seems like all I can see.

This past weekend we indulged in a movie night to catch up on some of the Christmas classics.  I wasn’t really thinking about the state of the world or loving the people in it, but these words from the narrator leapt out at me right at the end of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”:

“Poor, misguided folks.  They missed the whole point.  Lots of unhappiness?  Maybe so.  But doesn’t Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away?  Doesn’t a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear cried on a sadder day?  Not much, maybe.  But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give: of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts?  Maybe we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson, and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men.”


In a season when love is all around us, I am stretching to send a message of love even when it doesn’t come easily.  If my own tiny effort can help someone else do the same then the world can only be better from the effort…


From the kitchen...

Christmas Baking…

IMG_2571 One of my favourite moments during the Christmas preparations is the one when I finally make it into the kitchen to begin the holiday baking.  I have loved the kitchen best of all places since I was a small child, and the time I spend there baking is one of my greatest joys year-round, but the Christmas baking is extra special.  It brings me back to my grandmother’s kitchen and the hours I spent watching her work to create incredible flavours and delicious treats for all of us at Christmas.  By this time Bami would have made a batch or two of cuplet cakes, yum yum jams, Nanaimo bars, butter tarts, and at least one Christmas pudding in an old Woodward’s jam tin…  Although I don’t make the same things as she did, I feel like she is right there baking along with me.  Usually I cry a little because I miss her so very much, but then I laugh thinking of the scolding she would give me for adding tears to the batters – all baking should be done with love of course.  It makes it more delicious. This year was busier than usual beforehand and I had a bit of a late start but I managed to get a few things done nonetheless…  I always make our usual favourites because I know they are simple and delicious, and because it makes me happy to pass along tins of treats to the friends and neighbours who have made our lives a little sweeter throughout the year.  My baking still isn’t done but I have had a ton of fun “playing” in the kitchen and tasting all of the old favourites so far.  I know the friends and neighbours have enjoyed being on the receiving end of our hard labours too!  The tins are stacked up and waiting to go out into the world as goodwill ambassadors so I better get back to it…  We are keeping your kitchen legacy going Bami… your spirit lives with us in the love of baking and spending that time together… it is a gift I hope to pass on to my own kids – we are making the world a little sweeter one cookie at a time… IMG_2570

From the art room...

Christmas Cards…


I was the lucky guest at a dinner party recently, and while at the table the conversation turned to the change in the way our world communicates.  Specifically, the group of friends discussed the way they had grown up with pen pals and letter writing as a way to connect with the world around them.  (My own visits to Switzerland are one happy consequence of a pen pal relationship that lasted for several generations!) Each of the guests, representing four continents and six nationalities, reminisced about a special connection to the “old fashioned” tradition of handwriting letters, addressing and stamping them, and then waiting expectantly for a return note as a welcome surprise in the mailbox…

So much care and anticipation was involved in the process.


All through high school and university I kept in contact (before email! gasp!) with the friends I had made through school exchanges, and with those who were travelling to “see the world” while I worked my way through school first.  I had cards from almost every continent and loved the ones that included scraps of newspaper or bus tickets as a tiny connection to the friend and the place.  I carried that box of correspondence from house to house through many moves…


The letters were a tangible connection to the people I missed – a way to be connected physically in spite of the distance.  Christmas time was best – colourful cards would begin to arrive in early December and often right into January – each one a reminder of a person or place.  Like my mother had done in my various childhood homes, I continued to hang them up in every apartment along the way.  Each year I would dig out the old ones and add the new ones to the display.


My favourites were (and still are) the ones that had been made by hand.  The time and care spent on making a card just for me was always appreciated – each one was like a tiny little gift.  Even after I had given up carrying the box of old cards from place to place (they found worthy second lives as Grade One art projects…) I saved the ones that were handmade as “samples” for the classroom.  (All teachers are hoarders.  Ask anyone.)  Some are so lovely, and I am so sentimental, that I still put them up on the mantel or the corner of a shelf here or there around the house…

This crocheted wreath from my aunt – so perfectly tiny – goes above the fireplace every year:


This candle was from a student in my very first Grade One class.  (She is now graduating from university.  Amazing!)IMG_2533

This tree print, another card from my aunt, was the inspiration for many attempted art projects – I have never been able to recreate it just the same…IMG_2536

This sparkly candy cane was the prototype for the “Christmas Card Club”… our custodian wasn’t thrilled with our glittery Christmas spirit, but the rest of the school loved it!IMG_2534

This one came from my husband’s cousins – they started to send handmade cards every year when the children were old enough to help…


This one came from a former colleague – we had both moved on to teach in different schools but she kept the connection going with some Christmas creativity…IMG_2537

Even though the tradition is dwindling, it is alive and well in our tiny corner of the world.  Since my oldest child was two and able to “help” I have turned the dining room into a glitter glue tornado every November in the furious production of cards for friends, family, co-workers, classmates and everyone else who touches our lives through the year.  We fill our house with music and messiness as we cut and glue and paint and glitter until all the cards are done.  Sending them out is a big tradition of sticking the stamps and taking turns at the post box…

This sponge stamped tree scene was our first (in 2008):


















…and then, because we have more people to love and be grateful for than even we can count, we made these this year too!


A little love and gratitude goes a long way – we send it out into the world and let it work its’ magic as it goes.

“The love we give away is the only love we keep.” (Elizabeth Hubbard)

From the desk of...


IMG_0942 (2)

During the darkness of this late fall season we are challenged to find ways to brighten our world.  Advent, as the season of preparation before Christmas, is one of my favourite times of year because these weeks of anticipation  give me a chance to appreciate the many gifts I have been blessed with, and to reflect on the ways that I can do better to bring light into the lives of others.


The lighting of the candles is a tradition from our church that I am fiercely devoted to.  Although there are many different ways to mark the weeks as they pass before Christmas and the gradual return to light I have always loved the candles and the virtues they can represent.  The first candle – four short weeks before Christmas – symbolizes HOPE.


So much more than making a wish and hoping for it to come true, hope is the virtue that holds us steadfast in the face of trial and frustration.  Hope is not just wishing for the light to return in the dark – hope exists because we know that it will.  It is the confidence in the possibility of the fulfillment of all that is good.  (Right out of the dictionary!)  Hope is therefore intricately connected to faith – that other virtue of spirit that creates an indomitable force for light by strong unshakeable belief without proof or evidence… hope.


We have hope at the end of each day because we know the earth will turn as we dream and bring us again to the light of the sun…


We have hope for the life of each child we know and love, as we see the “freshness and promise” they bring to their days and our world…


We have hope that the green life in our garden will return in the Spring, even though signs of its’ existence are hard to come by in this cold season…


Hope is the optimistic expectancy that allows us to have confidence that God and goodness will remain with us in all things. It is the innate belief that light and love will carry us through.  During this first week of Advent it is my challenge to let the sureness of hope fill me up enough to carry me through…

“Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.” (Theodore Roethke)