Tiddley-Bits tea

Tiddley-Bits tea

Thursday, 9 December 2010

{Quito for Christmas}

Yes, indeed, I am headed to the centre of the world to celebrate Christmas!
On 24 October 2010 a smashing little man was introduced into this world in Quito, Ecuador--Juan de Dios Almeida Clark. With a name like that you know he is destined for great things. He is my third nephew, and falls seventh in the long line of my nieces & nephews born to my four sisters. So, not only am I going to visit my sister, her husband, & their daughter, but I am also being introduced to this great little man!
Since my sister is involved with the new airport that is a Canadian-funded project, I will receive special treatment at the airport upon my arrival...and a few days later we will be attending a Christmas party at the ambassador's house. It all sounds very ooh-la-la.
The last time I was in Ecuador, was for her splendid wedding in 2006.
{my photo of my sister, Esther and her husband, Juan on their wedding day, plaza of San Francisco, Quito}
Ecuador is becoming more and more popular as a tourist destination with the Galapagos, and Quito is often a landing point for tourists making their way to the coast. We sailed to the Galapagos when I was 13 aboard Pacific Swift, when my Dad was Captain (if you check out the link to Swift-my Mum, Margaret Clark is the figurehead). But 2006 was the first time I had been to the capital.
Esther and Juan got married in a beautiful Baroque chapel, and their reception was in the adjoining monastery of San Francisco. We drank cocktails and munched on canapes in a frescoed hall, that I would guess, dated to the late Renaissance/Early Baroque period.

{Esther & Juan in the cloister of San Francisco (with my nephew Sabo (Julia's son)}

{the sisters at Esther's wedding}
As you can imagine, I'm eager to explore the country again...and hopefully to take in some great art historical sites and sights. I am looking forward to going to my niece's Christmas recital, singing carols with my sister, decorating the Christmas tree, and visiting Quito and the environs.
My sister is the closest in age to me--she's the fourth and I'm the fifth. As kids we were super close (& we still are).

{Esther always looked out for me. My Mum, me (the baby) and Esther, at my Grandparent's home, Mamre Oaks, in Victoria, BC}

{Me & Est in our backyard with Calliope, the kitten}
We always shared a bunk/cabin together on coastal and offshore voyages aboard Robertson II and Swift, and when on land, we shared a room together, where we had a bunk bed to mimic our sleeping arrangements on the boat.

{Esther, me, & sister Christina on the Robbie (Robertson II)}
We were flatmates when I was in my first year at UBC and she was working in between her BA & MBA. We've shared hotel rooms around the world, from converted caravanserai in the Thar Desert, India, to hotels on the border of Afghanistan in Peshawar, the town my father was born in.

{Esther & me with mendhi in New Delhi in 1995 (just outside my father's old home)}

{Esther & me getting mendhi done in Agra in 2005}

{Esther & me on the Khyber Pass, border of Afghanistan/Pakistan}
 When I was in High School & Est was home for the summer working, we decided on the spur of the moment to take a trip to Mexico. My parents were away on boat donation business, and we called them to see if it would be OK--we used our savings of course. They agreed, so Esther, 18 & I, 14, went on a week trip to Puerto Vallarta together. We had been to PV numerous times, had even sailed there, and felt rather at home on our week away from home. Est always treated me as an equal even though, I'm sure, I was at times an annoying little sister!
{Esther, 18, and me, 14 in PV}
So, you can imagine, we have tons to catch up on, tons to remember, & tons to chat about. I am looking forward to re-visiting some of the great places I went on my last trip to Ecuador. The market at Otavalo and the nearby monastery-converted-to-guesthouse is gorgeous. Est & Juan treated us to lunch at the beautiful Hacienda Cusin that has beautiful grounds to walk, full of flowers and paths down lush little lanes.

{P tries on a hat at the market of Otavalo (P is now a grown up independent 5 year old!)}

{our family at the Cusin  Hacienda/monastery minus the Vazquez family & minus the nieces & nephews that have been born since}

{me & my parents walking in the gardens of the Hacienda Cusin}
 Esther tells me there is also a leather town near Otavalo, which I hope to visit...and we are also hoping to visit some natural hot springs. I'm sure I will have tons to blog about, if not during my time there, I'll be sure to post lots upon my return.
But until then Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, & Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

{Christmas DIY}

With everything digital, you can easily send Christmas e-cards, order gifts online, and even get the gifts delivered wrapped...but doesn't that take out some of the fun from Christmas? Isn't Christmas about traditions, and taking time to do the things you wouldn't normally do year round?
This year I took advantage of our digital era, by creating my own cards, getting them printed online and then having them shipped to me so I could write a personal note & then send them off. There really isn't anything like getting an old-fashioned card in the mail. So can we not take the digital age and re-invent it to serve our more traditional needs?
I love moo. What is moo? It's a printing company that takes orders online. I've printed business cards with them--they have some great artist/designers working for them. If you aren't necessarily the most artistically-minded but you want to personalise your cards, they have tons of options to choose from. I decided to sketch some receptacles for gold, frankincense and myrrh & print them on some nice backgrounds. I was a bit embarrassed to hand them out to my artist colleagues, but I'm not pretending to be an artist. I just wanted to do something more personal than buying a mass-produced card.

The kind of receptacles I was thinking of were the ones that are often depicted in Renaissance paintings of the Adoration of the Magi, (a common theme for altarpieces) such as Gentile da Fabriano's Adoration of the Magi commissioned by the Strozzi for the sacristy in Santa Trinità (now in the Uffizi):

{image from Web Gallery of Art}
But I was also thinking about the designs court artists would formulate for table settings (such as those done for the Gonzagas at the court of Mantua by Giulio Romano).

{from 1st Art Gallery}
So I set my gold, frankincense, and myrrh receptacles against acanthus-like patterns in varying colours...& sent them to moo.

{moo has a printing technology that lets you print a number of different designs per package--without costing a penny more than if they were all the same}
 Moo has great personalised customer service. After you've placed your order you get an email from 'little moo' informing you of your progress...it's a personable email that borders on adorable:
I'm Little MOO - the bit of software that will be managing your order
with moo.com. It will shortly be sent to Big MOO, our print machine who
will print it for you in the next few days. I'll let you know when it's
done and on its way to you...."

I digress. I also used an online publishing site for Christmas gifts for my nieces & nephews, but since they haven't been opened yet, I can't give away the secret just yet.
One part of Christmas that I love, but always a bit daunting, is Christmas wrapping. I don't always buy Christmas wrapping paper. Sometimes you can find great wrapping paper/ideas that are far more original and usually less expensive, if you just use Christmas-themed colours. I also like to make my own cards/labels so that they match the wrappings I've used. This year I used the theme of red & Tiffany blue, and then I threw in gold, and also used one roll of Christmas paper. I made it more Christmassy with some Christmas ribbons.

{my christmas presents wrapped & ready to be shipped off to various corners of the globe}

{I got cool Pop Rocks Candy in candy cane flavour for my nieces & nephews}

{late birthday presents are wrapped in similar themed colours}

{individually-drawn labels make the prezzies more personable}

{use colours on your cards to match your wrapping paper}

{for my niece & nephew who love the Grinch (we acted out the play together one year), I made a card with hilarious lyrics from the Grinch theme song (exterior of card, above, interior with lyrics, below}
So I encourage you to take a little more time than usual on something and make it your own. Personalise that gift, even if it's just making the card, or wrapping  the present yourself.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

{snow on snow}

As the snow falls gently outside my window, covering up the tracks that I made last night walking across the lawn, one of my favourite Christmas carols plays:

In the Bleak Midwinter
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

The carol was written by Christina Rossetti, so it is not Medieval or Renaissance in origin, like many carols, but it contains some of the most beautiful and touching lyrics and is set to a wonderful and melodic tune by Gustav Holst. You can listen to the song sung by the choir of King's College, Cambridge here.

{the snowy view from my window}

Yesterday I went with my friends, Stephanie, Jason, and Lissy for brunch in a funky diner in Hornell, Billy Schu's Food Bar. We then went to a local farmer's market, where Stephanie & Jason picked out a Christmas tree.

{Christmas trees for sale!}

There were tons of  beautiful wreaths for sale as well...and the snow came falling down, making it seem so Christmassy!

{Isn't this wreath beautiful?}

Friday, 3 December 2010


Christmas is in the air. The temperature is chillier, the snow is on the ground, there are wreaths decorating the lamp posts down Main St. in Alfred...and this is the last week of classes! My sister, Julia, is celebrating the Christmas season on her blog, by blogging about the 12 days of Christmas. This week marked the first week in Advent. This year, the first Sunday of Advent fell on November 28 and for those of you who use advent calendars, Wednesday marked the opening of the first little 'window' on the advent calendar. In our family, the first Sunday of Advent was a marker of the Christmas Season. We would attend the advent service, full of beautiful choir singing and candle-lighting in our local cathedral... and we would construct an advent wreath. Traditional advent services generally consist of the choir moving in procession around the cathedral. The church is usually only lit by a few candles, and the congregation are given candles to light, progressively, so that at the beginning of the service, the church is in darkness, but by the end, everyone is holding a lit candle. This light symbolically refers to Christ's first coming--his birth, which is what we celebrate at Christmas. Similarly, the advent wreath follows this understanding of Christ as the light.

{from Moose Meadows Farm}
An advent wreath is a wreath of evergreens (usually) with five candles that follow the four weeks in advent in the liturgical calendar, with the fifth candle being lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (although some advent wreaths only have four candles). There is a variety of symbolism in relation to the advent wreath, but each candle is usually lit following a reading of a biblical passage, and the candles sometimes vary in colour, which have symbolic meaning. Although interpretations of what each candle means vary, the candles in general, usually have a christological significance. The circle of the wreath symbolises God Himself, His eternity and His endless mercy, without beginning, nor end. The green of the wreath represents our hope of newness, renewal and eternal life. Finally, the light of the candles signify the Light of God that came into the world through Christ to bring newness, life and hope.
The advent wreath is not a modern invention. Its origins are unknown, but it is generally assumed to have begun as a German tradition, and we know that advent wreaths existed in the Middle Ages. By 1600 both Catholics and Protestants used advent wreaths.
When we decorated ours, we would usually take some pine or holly and weave branches together on a silver tray, in a circular form. Then we would use four candle sticks in a circle, with the fifth in the middle.
You could really use any hanging wreath and lay it flat, placing candles in between.
I particularly like this simple twig wreath featured on design*sponge by Emily Thompson:
Or how about this beautiful silver ball wreath? :

{from West Elm, photo from Inspire Bohemia blog}
{Martha Stewart online has a variety of wreaths and instructions on how to make them}
Another tradition in our family is the advent calendar. As kids, we'd have to rotate opening: each day one sister would have her turn  (4 days was a long time to wait with 4 sisters!). My Mum still keeps up the tradition even though we are all old and grown--she sends each of us an advent calendar in our five corners of the globe: Vancouver, Toronto, Ecuador, Mexico, and New York State. While my sisters all have little ones (which makes the tradition seem even more special) I still wake up every morning in December excited to open up the next window!
Here's a photo of the one my Mum sent this year (note the snow in the background-from my window):

Here are some great  ideas for making your own advent calendar:

{from papier valise}
{this idea is from Cassini's book Vintage Treasures, featured on urban debris

{these ones can be printed. They are done by an illustrator and designer in the Netherlands, who sell their stuff under the name of Homemade Happiness.}

{from urban debris}

{This lovely calendar used to be available on pilosale. Image taken from urban debris}
 Check out these vintage advent calendars that are particularly adorable:
{These two are taken from 1950s ataomic ranch house}

{This vintage Christmas card has this vintage advent calendar (below) inside! from Maia's Twinkle Miniatures, on Etsy}

As a kid I always loved the ones that would open up.
{You can buy this one for $14.99 on ihop, closed (above) & open (below)}

{I like this Santa Claus where the cupboard doors open up--from Chronically Vintage)
{You can buy this one and the one below, for cheap on Craftsuprint}

{You can buy this funky vintage-looking advent calendar from the V&A shop online for 4 quid}