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Love and Christmas (Neighbours…)

The fourth and final week of advent begins on the Sunday before Christmas. Depending on where in the week Christmas falls, the fourth week can be the shortest week of all.  This year it was as long as it could possibly be – a full week to reflect on the theme of love – made (seemingly) longer by the “gift” of snow received at the very beginning of the week.  After three other city-paralyzing snow storms in just a two-week period, the snow was really starting to pile up…


…and when life gives you snow, on top of snow, on top of snow… you shovel.  We headed out on that snowy Monday morning with shovels in hand to discover another great gift of snow: neighbours.  Six families from our tiny cul-de-sac came out in force to work together that morning, including one dad who was just moving in that very day.  Really.


I shovelled my heart out, starting in on one neighbour’s driveway while he helped to fix the snow blower of another.  Across the street a dad worked to clear the outdoor ice rink he has built for the kids to play on, and another friend pitched in for hours to clear the common areas even though he his own driveway was not affected.  Neighbours.

“Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)


Where would we be without the kindness of neighbours?  The simple gestures, the unplanned acts, the selfless thoughtfulness that happens every day in tiny unseen ways – that is real love.  The easiest way to have love, the greatest way to give love, the only way to create love is with kindness.  Shovelling for hours, thinking these thoughts, I laughed a little bit to myself at a connection that was foreshadowing at its finest.  This year, for our annual Christmas card, Mr. Martini selected this quote:

“Kindness is like snow: it beautifies everything it covers.” (Kahlil Gibran)


Those of you who live locally and have been shovelling out there just as much may not be laughing, but in a very real way the snow (and the many littles kindnesses that it sparked) has brought some of us together. Kindness is love, and in the week before Christmas I saw it flourish all around me in many little ways.  Now that Christmas has come and gone (ushered out on Boxing Day with another snowfall) I am still thinking about the love and kindness that has meant a great deal to me this year.  Through all of the challenges and loss there has been kindness, and that has made all the difference…

“There are three things in human life that are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” (Henry James)

(I have read that Henry James spoke these words in response to a question from his brother William’s son, but my own son tells me that this quote is from Mother Teresa… thoughts?)


Love and kindness are discussed at length here at the Martini house, and often philosophically, as Miss G. approaches the “Age of Enlightenment”. She asks insightful and deeply empathetic questions about human relationships and our place in the world, and challenges the adults around her especially to be better people every day.  In response to her deep and thoughtful questions, she received this letter from a guest in our house on Christmas Eve:

“Love is very important to me, to my work, and most of all to our world.  This love, in giving and sharing, has created a special kind of magic that indeed is very real.  It comes from the hearts of people who love and care for others, and casts a glow in the world wherever it is needed most.  When people feel the love of Christmas magic at work in their lives they are able to do better for themselves and for others.” (Mr. C.)


Love.  It is the simplest and purest way to express the best of our own self, and to care for others at their most human.  And really, it is the essence of Christmas: divine love comes to earth in vulnerable human form.  It is protected and nurtured by family and friends, and eventually rises above human jealousy, cynicism, anger… but that part of the story comes later.  For now, we will think about love and the place it has in our own lives as we go about our daily work of weathering the storm…

“It is love that fashions us into the fullness of our being: who we love, how we love, why we love, and that we love which ultimately shapes us.  It is love, before all and after all, in the beginning and the end, that creates us.  Today, remembering this, let yourself acknowledge and remember the moments, events, and people who bring you, even momentarily, into a true experience of love, and allow the rest, the inescapable mundanities of life, like a cloud, to very quietly drift away.” (Daphne Rose Kingma, read from our book of daily gratitude in the week of love…)

Just… love.

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From the desk of...

Peace

Advent, week two.

During this second week we are reflecting on the theme of peace. It seems to come right when we need it the most – December can be the exact opposite of peaceful!  At the Martini house we have been making an effort to find peaceful moments as often as we can, but sometimes the rush of daily life ( a minor blizzard, or two…) gets in the way.

One peaceful family habit we have tried to focus on since October is a meaningful moment of gratitude before dinner every night. We started taking turns reading out of an old family book of daily graces (“A Grateful Heart” – thanks Mimi) and the tradition quickly became so popular with every family member that we sometimes have to have multiple readings.

Day by day the different quotes, prayers and readings seem to echo the significance and concern of our current daily life.  When my turn came last Saturday, on the eve of the “peace” candle, this is what I read:

“By being attentive, by learning to listen (or recovering the natural capacity to listen) we can find our self engulfed in such happiness that it cannot be explained: the happiness of being at one with everything in that hidden ground of Love for which there can be no explanations… May we all grow in grace and peace, and not neglect the silence that is printed in the centre of our being.  It will not fail us.” (Thomas Merton)

The imagery in this passage (“silence printed at the centre of our being”) was so striking to me that I spent some of my Sunday afternoon reading more about Thomas Merton, and discovering a bit of a kindred spirit.  While many aspects of his life and writing are fascinating, the part that connected most with my thoughts about peace was his exploration of the depth of human experience and wealth of perspective available through a collaborative understanding of various faith traditions.

His philosophy is not just inspiring – in our current culture it is essential.  How can we be at peace with ourselves, how can we create peace in our world, when we are overwhelmed with fear and misunderstanding?  Even as we reconnect with our own spiritual roots and traditions we can draw on the mystical traditions of other religions in order to better understand ourselves, as well as our relationship with others and with God (or the “reality that is present to us and in us: call it Being…Silence.” (Thomas Merton – again – brilliant…)

 

Merton’s idea of peace in silence reminded me of another quote I return to often, from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata:

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

Two weeks ago, when coming back from a school field trip with Miss G., I sat with a friend on the bus to the ferry and talked about how we find time for peace in our busy grown-up lives.  “You have to go to it,” she reminded me, emphatically.  “It can’t find you unless you make time and space.”  In her life peace comes in the silence of nature, and she makes time to seek it out every day…

Seeking out a peaceful moment, a peaceful thought or a peaceful time in this modern world is increasingly a challenge.  Being a peace seeker, a peace keeper, a peace maker, has become almost counter-cultural.  (Inspired by another amazing article about Jonathan Lear’s book Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation.)  Peace, however, is imprinted at the centre of our being.  We must not neglect it, and it will not fail us.  Where do you go to find peace?  Is it in the silence of nature, like my friend from the bus, or in the transcendence of music?  Is it in the warmth and comfort of home with your loved ones, or in the rush of energy that comes with dancing, running, sledding, flying?  Can you get yourself there today?

 

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.  And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.” (Max Ehrmann)

(Art by primary students from Norma Rose Point School)

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From the art room...

Snow Scenes…

Inspired by our recent snowshoe adventure I went on my annual search for snowy art installations in the classrooms.  It does sometimes snow here in January, but this year we have had only the tiniest bit to tease us.  Maybe that wishing and hoping for snow has made us all the more creative with our own artistic renditions of wintery wonder – the art in the school halls this year is lovely…

First from Gr.5:   

    

“Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood.” (Andy Goldsworthy)

    
     

  Next up – from Miss G.s’ art class – 4th grade:

    
    

 “Snow isn’t just pretty. It also cleanses our world and our senses, not just of the soot and grime of a Fife mining town but also of a kind of weary familiarity, a taken-for-granted quality to which our eyes are all too susceptible.” (John Burnside)

   
   
 
 

From Gr.1:

  
  

“We build statues out of snow, and weep to see them melt.” (Walter Scott)

  
  
From Gr. 2:

  

  

   
 
From Gr.6:

  
    

“A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky, unbidden, and seems like a thing of wonder.”(Susan Orlean)

    

  

  …even our preschool has been playing with “snow”:

   

“One of the very best reasons for having children is to be reminded of the incomparable joys of a snow day.” (Susan Orlean)

   
    
 

“Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, 

Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields, 

Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air 

Hides hill and woods, the river, and the heaven…”

(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

  

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Places to Go

In Search of Snow…


I have lived my whole life in the land of frequent rain, and while I love the blue/green/grey landscape with my whole heart there are times when even I get sentimental for other weather…


A few years ago, when she was quite small, Miss G. cried inconsolably when we put away the Christmas decorations before she had seen actual snow.  It seems that snow, in particular, is emotionally tied to our winter celebrations.  There are pictures of snow on Christmas cards, sparkly snow in globes, and snow filled landscapes in almost every holiday film we watched.  Here in Vancouver, though, no snow.  This year, to avoid the blues that can follow a green Christmas we promised to whiten up with a trip to the mountains in search of some real snow…

We were spellbound on the switchbacks up the mountain by the blanketed city lit up below us…

  … then outfitted with snowshoes, poles, snacks and many (many!) layers of woolens we found ourselves a little winter wonderland along the Cypress Snowshoe Trail on Hollyburn Mountain.
I have wanted to do this for so long, and am so glad we finally got around… Beautiful, bright and so much fun for all of us (even dragging G. Jr. up the tiny inclines by pole…)

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Snow Fort

It all starts
with the quality,
the density, the size
of the snow bank.
True now, true forty years ago;
it is the critical ingredient.
We piled it high, over successive storms,
waiting not so patiently
for the right time. The right mix
of wet and cold
Snowman snow.
Digging, with shovels, with hands
creating a dome, an inner sanctum
interconnected tunnels, in and out
meeting in the middle
all within the pile of snow.

(Raymond A. Foss)

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From the classroom...

Winter Wonder…

This time of year can be rough.  Houses in our neighbourhood are taking down their cheerful lights one by one, and soon we will be the only family left with “Christmas” lights to brighten the dark evenings; it’s getting a little bit grey and we are getting a little bit rough around the edges.  Sometimes finding the joy in daily life can be hard.

To combat the greyness, and in response to what seems to be happening everywhere else in the country, my children are wishing and praying for snow.  They are hoping that the white flakes will  brighten the grey days that stretch out ahead from now to valentine’s day, and create a fun diversion to avoid school, work and the world in general with a snow day or two…

Unfortunately for them, (unlike Mimi!), we live in a beautiful green part of the world that very seldom sees much snowInstead we find ourselves wishing for the winter that so many others are wishing away… isn’t it ironic?  We had a light dusting just to tease us, way back in November, but the closest we get these days is frost on the car windows when we leave for school in the mornings…

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In grand celebration of wishful winter, the west coast kids in our school have filled the walls and halls with their tribute to snow and winter wonder.  For now, this is the best we can do.

The littlest in our four year old preschool have filled their classroom with snow people…

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…and the fantastic preschool teachers have (yet again!) built a virtual igloo for their discovery and play…

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…with real lights and stuffed penguins inside – it is the best!

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Our first grade class is also dreaming of snow…

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“Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, arrives the snow.”

(Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Snowstorm”)

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…and writing about it too…

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The second grade class built their snowy dreams in snow globes…

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“It was snowing lightly, the first snowfall of the season.  The flakes looked like powdered diamonds.”

(Carolyn S. Steele)

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…and the third grade class looked through wishful winter windows…

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…but the most snow of all is sprinkled around our fifth grade room where they have been writing about snow…

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…and drawing it too…

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…these snowpeople are as colourful and unique as the amazing children who made them with such great care.

Even our house has a snowperson or two… one painted by a much loved niece a few years ago, and three snow people sculpted by Miss G. at clay class when she was only 6…

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So we sit and wait and watch the sky for signs of snow… no flakes yet…

“The silent snow possessed the earth…”

(Alfred Lord Tennyson)

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From the desk of...

Snow! Snow! Snow!

It is now almost impossible to believe that March is less than a week away – although I saw someone carrying a bunch of daffodils on the street today our weather has been more fierce than flowery these last three days. Most of Canada is used to winter lingering, but it does take Vancouver locals by surprise. We woke up to some snow on Saturday morning and marvelled as it continued to fall, and fall, and fall.

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The good news about all this is we get to make a snow man! My kids have been waiting (somewhat impatiently) for this chance since before Christmas.

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Of course, no snow person is content without a snow community. (Isn’t it true that real happiness comes from collaboration?) So we went in search of snow friends…

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Natural law: snow people are as varied and diverse as real people. Thank goodness.

At the end of the day my favourite view is still the one from my own front yard.

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Here’s a little poem to end our snow play day:

“I made a little snowman, just like that.
But then the snow turned into rain and now my snowman’s flat!”
Yikes!

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From the desk of...

Winter calls…

I am blessed to live in a part of the world that has a very short winter season. We enjoy just enough snow to marvel at its clean crisp beauty, and just enough cold to make use of our fireplaces and night caps. When we get to midwinter, though, I find myself wishing for spring and sunshine. Just yesterday I marvelled at the arrival of the snowdrops in the late winter garden:

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But winter has its own schedule and rhythm – so I woke this morning to find a very different picture:

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Ta da! How quickly those tiny crystals pile up! It didn’t last the day – in fact just a few blocks away there was scarcely a flake to be found, much to the disappointment of my small son who desperately wanted one more chance to run and play in the wintry wetness. (Why does it always snow so much more on our block?)

As a tiny consolation, earlier this week at school my little one had made the “snowman” you see at the top of this page. Maybe this last push of winter will inspire a few more crafty winter moments as we wait just a little longer for the seasons to shift for real. Pour yourself a hot drink and settle in for another week or two…

“The silent snow posessed the earth…” (Alfred Tennyson)

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