From the desk of...

Hope

Here we are again in the first week of advent.  A new beginning; a chance to think about the changing seasons, the year behind us, and to learn from what was, what is or what may be…


Our family tradition is to light a candle for each week of advent, and for me the first candle has always represented hope.  One year ago, when we lit the candle of hope, we were hoping for so many things.  One year later, in a different time and a different place, we have a new perspective on what hope means for our family.  Over the year, as the seasons have shifted, we have thought a lot about hope… for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for the world we live in every day.

“All human wisdom is summed up in two words: wait and hope.” (Alexandre Dumas)

It has been a challenging year for us, for many reasons, and I know we are not alone in this.  And yet, through all the challenges, there is hope.  On Sunday evening, when we lit the first advent candle, I thought of the hopes that have sustained me and now I hope to share them with you…


My hope from the past is to carry forward the spirit of the women who inspire me with their lives and passion, who died knowing they lived their own best lives, who passed the torch of creativity, love and light, and who live in my heart everyday.  I’m grateful that they shared their gifts with me, and love that I can pass that legacy on to others.

My hope in the present comes from my children, who fill my days with questions and curiosity.  They live for joy in every season – laughing, growing, bubbling wonder and awe – and have carried my tired spirit through this year in particular.  Miss G, who read Anne Frank’s diary just last Spring, has a gift for being insightful and for respecting others.  Her ability to bring empathy and compassion with her every single day makes my heart sing.  G. Jr., only in the first grade, has charmed his way into the hearts of everyone he meets.  His happiness at the little things is completely contagious – spiders, bottle caps, interesting clouds – through his eyes the whole wide world is one hopeful opportunity after another.

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My hope for the future feels more uncertain, but I imagine it is similar to many of yours: for kindness, empathy, understanding and compassion to reach further than skepticism, criticism, negativity and fear.  Just like the light of that first candle dispels some of the late fall gloom, hope can shine through the darkness that sometimes obscures the better parts of humanity.  Don’t let darkness convince you that you are lost or alone – so many of us are waiting with hope inside.  Whatever it is that brings you hope – hold on tight.

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“Where there’s hope, there’s life.  It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” (Anne Frank)

 

 

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From the desk of...

Pieces (Places)…

Years ago I read a book (I think it was Amnesia by Douglas Cooper) that inspired the way I think about place. I especially remember one passage that suggested every physical place holds the memory of the people, objects, events and emotions that have ever filled it. 

 

I can think of many places where this rings true for me. The apartment my grandmother lived in most of my life has long been demolished (“little boxes…”) but when I drive down the old street I feel strongly the spirit of that space. 

  

The neighbourhood I work in has evolved over the years – it used to be Middlegate and now it’s called “Highgate” to reflect its elevated status – but the spirit of the old 1970s bowling alley hangout still seeps through the sidewalk cracks here and there. 

  

Driving past an old east Vancouver park that was updated years ago I think of the welded steel-pipe rocketship that transformed the space for my own childhood – how many other children travelled with it to imaginary places?
  

I think about visiting my husbands Nonna and her hundreds of years old Italian stone house. How many layers of history are built up there, or in the back alleys of Venice or the mountains of Switzerland?

  

Thinking about the places that have meant something to me, and the people who make and occupy those spaces, has transformed the seed of that idea of place. I am imagining that every physical place I have passed through, lingered in, been inspired or influenced by has left an impression on me somehow. 
  

As much as the places are layers of emotion and experience, I am a patchwork of places. Each piece has been influenced by people and events – my whos and wheres are wrapped up in eachother and without them I wouldn’t be me…

  

Until I was 9 or so I moved quite often with my family. I was used to changing places and carried a sense of wanderlust with me as I grew into myself. I left home (and changed cities) at 17, and continued to move from place to place for more than ten years. My grandmother declared me the “moving-est girl”, and refused to keep updating my status in her address book… 

I was collecting places. 
  

Ironically, although I was voted “most likely to travel the farthest” at the end of high school, my collection of places has circled back on itself. Every day, sometimes more than once, I drive past several of my former schools and many of the other places I have lived, worked, and played…

  

In some cases the places have multiple layers of memory. The childhood/school years/adult versions of myself that echo through the places I pass through every day remind me how the layers of life and experience of place have brought texture to my now. Without the time spent in each of those places (even the painfully difficult ones) I wouldn’t have a complete picture today.
 

As my path continues to wander and wind, I know the places I have been will always hold a piece of me – I have left a layer of love and learning on my way. And as I go, I add the love and learning left by others to my own …

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Love Letters

Keepsakes…

A week ago I wrote about the way a friend is grieving the loss of her mother. I am deeply moved by the love she pours out every day for her Ma, and I was honoured that she allowed me to share her very personal journey. The responses to that post showed me how many of us have experienced that same sense of loss, and how valuable it is to celebrate the life of the loved one we are missing…

This picture is of my grandmother, who died (at the age of 95) ten years ago. I still miss her every day.

Bami kept this frame next to her bed – the inset photo is one she cut out of a school photo from her own childhood. It reminded her of the little girl she had been and the place she had come from… Her keepsake has become mine.

Thinking about the keepsakes we carry made me strongly aware of the little things full of memories that I have saved – transferred from home to home through my nomadic years:

Bami’s sherry glasses – used for Bristol Cream on special occasions…

…and her Royal Albert china (“Blossomtime”) which reminds me of the springtime view from her old apartment on McBride Boulevard.  We never use the set (pink dishes aren’t always in season) but I can’t bear to part with it. The blossom trees are still there along the boulevard, but the view has been filled up with overpasses and billboards.  I keep the china cups and plates in the same cabinet that Bami used – a tiny permanent spring.

My favourite dishes in the world: T.G.Green and Co.’s Cornish Blue kitchen ware (with the occasional piece of Irish Carragaline mixed in) which decorated Bami’s kitchen my whole life. I loved to look at them as a child, and loved even more when Bami would use them to serve up flapjacks or grilled cheese from the heavy cast iron pans in her tiny green kitchen… This blue remains my favourite colour – the fact that it is used widely in the school where I work makes me happy everyday.

The dishes were originally passed down to my cousin Kim who thoughtfully gave them to me when she heard how much I loved them. Every time I find a random piece to buy at rummage sales or flea markets my heart leaps just a little…

Bami’s love of kitchen is one of my great inheritances. The smells and noises of a working kitchen comfort me endlessly – I have worked in many (coffee shops, caterers, restaurants, b&b’s…) and love the joy that comes from feeding others. In tiny apartment kitchens I have cooked turkeys and tenderloins to feed family and friends – if Bami cooked for us in her closet sized kitchen I could do the same!  I have also inherited her brand loyalties for ingredients, particularly when it comes to baking.  If it was Bami’s favourite it is my favourite too.

Bami’s greatest talent was with a needle and thread.  Sewing during the day (and knitting at night) she made beautiful clothes for herself, her children, her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She made quilts, coats (with bemberg lining), dresses, pants and seemingly endless sweaters… I have some of her creations in my closet to this day and wear them often, but the most sentimental keepsakes are the fat quarters for quilting (which I don’t do but can’t let go), the wooden spools of thread, and the torn old yellow envelope containing custom made sweater labels…

  

I also love the pewter shoe shaped pin cushion she passed on to me – one of a huge decorative shoe collection that she gave to my cousin Mark – which represents another hobby we have in common…

Bami loved shoes and clothes, which is part of what drove her passion for sewing. Having little money meant no means to acquire a fashionable wardrobe, but her thrifty ingenuity served her fashion sense well. She only used the best materials and made classic things to last. Her greatest luxuries were perfume (Pavlova) and jewelry – pearls, pearls, pearls were her trademark accessory. (Naturally, she was born in June.) Even into her 90s she read and discussed the fashion news – creative construction, quality materials and modern classics always received her approval.

Some of her jewelry was passed on to my mother who has in turn passed it on to me. Bami would have loved to see the way her classic pieces are still gorgeous today in a completely new way.

These brooches are resting on one of Bami’s handkerchiefs – another essential accessory (besides the white gloves) that her handbag was never without. My cousin Shannon found the stash when we were cleaning out Bami’s apartment and gave one to each grand daughter at her memorial service.

Bami was never religious, but she was always spiritual. Years before she died she gave me one of the most amazing and fragile keepsakes I could imagine… Her own mothers bible.

The fact that Bami was one of 11 children makes it quite amazing that it came into our branch of the family at all… The date 1930, when Bami was 20) makes me wonder if my great-gran gave it to her daughter as a keepsake in turn when she married and moved three provinces west in 1933…

The bible is filled with clippings from newspapers, newsletters, magazines and cookbooks. I don’t know who clipped them, but I have left them all in their original places… Some of them are funny and some of them are sad, but my favourite is this prayer of gratitude which resonates with me as much today as ever…


 
I miss my grandmother every day. I remember clearly the soapy smell of her apartment, the powdery softness of her cheek, the texture of the silk pillow she always slept with (so as to preserve her weekly hairdo…)

The endless snippets of memories are not nearly enough to fill the space in my life that she left, little by little, as the Alzheimer’s took her away. The keepsakes and photos can not contain the spirit of the woman who changed her own life in a time when women just didn’t…  But it’s not just about keepsakes, and it’s not just about memories.  Last night in church the choir sang out her favourite hymn – Amazing Grace- and hearing it filled my heart with joy.

“Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease;

I shall profess, within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.”

The space left in me when Bami died may never disappear but it can be filled to the brim with love, and that helps. Every keepsake carries the same message: find what brings love and joy into your life.  Hold on to the love in every moment. Be grateful for it, and share it.

 
 
 
 

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Places to Go

Burnaby Village (Volume 3)…

There are some places that our family “field trips” return to over and over.  Burnaby Village is one of those amazing venues, and although I have shared about our previous visits both in summer and winter I can’t stop taking photos every time we go!  If you live nearby and haven’t visited, please go!  It really is incredible that this slice of history is just minutes away from our daily life.

On our most recent visit we had the chance to see the village with fresh eyes – we were there with family friends who had travelled half way around the world.  This made us even more aware of the culture that we are lucky to inherit…

The farmhouse and the heritage dahlias in the garden…

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The schoolhouse…

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The heritage garden…

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…barber shop…

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…drugstore…

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The vintage kitchen…

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…the general store…

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…the music studio…

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…and of course my favourite drygoods store (where all of the hats would look amazing on me, I’m sure, but the grey one is just so lovely…)

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This is the house I thought I would live in when I grew up. (Still might happen.)  This is the house I imagined with every Nancy Drew mystery I read…

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On this visit the embroidered linens were hanging to dry in the kitchen…

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The “lady of the house” was amassing her trousseau…

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Every time we visit I leave wishing I could stay.  Just past the village is Deer Lake, which offers a contemplative space …

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…and a musical interlude to bridge the gap back to our here and now…

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“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” (Virginia Woolf)

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Places to Go

Fort Langley (Volume 3)…

One thing (of many) that I appreciate about where we live is the crazy abundance of really diverse places to visit without driving more than half an hour or so – hauling children around on “adventures” has limits!  One place we love to visit (I have written about spring and summer visits before) is Fort Langley…  Every time we go I find new things to photograph and endless things to investigate.

On our most recent trip we managed some time searching for antiques and oddities before we headed into the museum.  I  captured my personal favourites for you:

…a BC Highway sign (which I still regret not buying…)

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…vintage tins…

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…carousel horse…

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…and some bowling pins…

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Our next stop was to check out the Fraser River’s Bedford Channel…

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…before heading into the fantastic museum.  Forgive me if you’ve been reading for awhile and these photos seem familiar – I always find myself enthralled with every nook and cranny and end up taking tons of photos – it’s a very photogenic place to hang out!

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We did take a break from taking pictures to pan for gold…

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…and Miss G. spent some free time playing a few tunes on the old upright.

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Of course I loved the library – they have two vintage editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the big house…

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The children always love the animals – the fort has a small replica of what would have been a functional farm.  Fresh eggs, goats milk, fruits and vegetables growing in the garden…

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        Spending a day at the fort is a little bit like travelling back in time, but mostly I love the way it makes us look at the little details – the most important things to notice are usually the smallest.    

“Find beauty not only in the thing itself but in the pattern of the shadows, the light and dark which that thing provides.” (Junichiro Tanizaki)

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Places to Go

Gastown…

This one is for Ms.K and Ms.J who, in spite of their own busy lives and to-do lists, took an hour to wander the streets and see the sights with me.  (They may be the only people besides my own family who are patient enough to put up with my constant camera use…)  As we were in the city with some “free” time we walked through Vancouver’s historic Gastown neighbourhood.

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Gastown was Vancouver’s first downtown core and is named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton – a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain and barkeep who arrived in 1867 to open the town’s first saloon.  (You know a city is fun when the barkeep is important enough to name a neighbourhood after…)

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The statue commemorating Gassy Jack stands on another historic spot:

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There is no shortage of history or character in the area.  Between the historic buildings and the interesting shops (art, fashion, furniture, etc.) there is a lot to look at:

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Vancouver’s own flatiron building…

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Every town built around a bar is going to need a jail…

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My favourite sign…

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(because Ms.K pointed out the back side…)

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This one functions as a self portrait…just realized I can see my picture taking self in the window reflection…

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The local businesses are interesting too – my favourite Vancouver shoe legend John Fluevog has returned to Gastown where his Fox and Fluevog shoe business began decades ago, and architects, galleries and studios mix with the restaurants, clubs and street people.  Gastown has always been an artsy fringe area, which makes it  interesting but not always neat and tidy… There are many stakeholders and often disagreements about how the area should be developed (or not).  The tensions between new and old, business and social development or government and culture have always seemed a part of the local character.

A riot between the hippies and the police in 1971 over marijuana has become legendary – the incident is commemorated in a grand way with an art installation by Stan Douglas on the site of the old Woodwards building.  (I’m expecting real life anecdotes from those of you who were there in the comments…)

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These old Woodward’s signs get me every time… we have a lot of family history tied up with that store… (Mimi?  Comments?)

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Sentiment aside, Gastown is a great “wander”.  The mix of old architecture and modern life never fails to entertain.

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The traditional favourite place to stop in along the way is the Cordova Street store Salmagundi West…  My mother brought me here when I was young and I have returned over and over again.  The store hasn’t really changed, but it is always different…

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Everything you never knew you wanted… (taxidermy bear, anyone?)

On the corner of Cambie and Water Street stands Gastown’s beloved steam clock.

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The clock was built in 1977 to cover a steam grate as a way to harness the steam and to prevent street people from sleeping on the spot in cold weather.  (Again, long history of tension!) The original design was flawed and after a breakdown the clock was powered by electricity.  However it has become a major attraction in the neighbourhood and so, with the financial support of local businesses, the clock was temporarily removed and completely restored.

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I have to admit I’m a sucker for that Westminster chime…

Thanks to my lovely companions for the time to reminisce and explore – it reminded me (once again!) how lucky I am to live in such a colourful, interesting, evolving place…

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Places to Go

Museum of Anthropology…

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Our love for family field trips has taken us to many places but somehow we hadn’t ventured across the city to the Anthropology Museum at the University of British Columbia.  Lucky for us, a friend gave us a coupon to coincide with a long weekend and we made the trip at the last minute.  So glad we did!  Sometimes we hesitate to go into museums – having young children makes it nerve-wracking – but this museum lends itself completely to a family adventure.  In addition to the visual displays, statues, sculptures and paintings in every direction, there are seemingly endless drawers of cultural objects from all over the world. There is more to see than we could pack into one day – but we tried!

We started off in the main gallery where the objects on display reflect local aboriginal culture and art…

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The sculptures are wild and regal at once – they fill the grand hall with fun and fierceness.

Next stop for us was the European ceramic arts gallery…  this was reminiscent of our summer in Europe as many of the objects seemed so familiar.  The entrance to the ceramic gallery has this sculpture to greet the guests:

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…and then case after case of lovely ceramic art from all over Europe, any of which I would have been thrilled to bring home as a souvenir…

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So lovely!  These are the things I hunt for at garage sales and flea markets all over the world – sadly for me the museum hunters are out there too.  Our next stop was a gallery of modern art photography from Nairobi called “Pigapicha!” – the Swahili word for “Take a picture!”  (This could be the working title of my autobiography – I’m a pigapicha kind of girl…)  The photos were striking – we could see the evolution of culture over the hundred years represented:

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Just outside is one of my favourite sculptures of all time… Biil Reid’s “Raven and the First Men” which brings the Haida Gwaii creation story to life.  I have photographed it from every angle over and over and still marvel at the softness and strength within.  Also, it makes me laugh. (Hard not to when looking at little wooden bums squirming backwards out of a big clamshell…)

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If you haven’t seen Bill Reid’s work I highly recommend it to you.  One of his sculptures is at the Vancouver Aquarium and another is at the Vancouver International Airport (and also on our 20$ bill!)  Each piece has a spirit of its’ own, and they have done great work as ambassadors for culture around the world…

Of course there was so much more to see.  We stopped for lunch at the gallery café (perfect) and then headed back through the countless displays of textiles, sculptures, jewelry and art from almost every continent.  Here, for you, is a random sampling!

Great plains artifacts for Mimi to covet…

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So many crazy masks…

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So many religious artifacts…

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Including Saint Veronica from the sixth (my favourite) station…

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And many more gorgeous global arts and crafts…

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We explored the gallery until we could not possibly open another drawer or inspect another artifact, and then we went outside to enjoy the view and explore the grounds…

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“But why had we come, if not to depend upon our own resources and in so doing, discover more about them?  There are circuits and juices in every person that are the heritage of millions of years of evolution and survival in wild country.  They need exercising – add a twinge of fear and wonder, and they can bring the world into focus with astonishing clarity.”
 ~ James Baldwin

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For this day, for this world, for the people in it and especially the ones I love most dearly – let me be truly grateful… for they are more precious than silver or gold…

“There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.”
 ~ William Stafford

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