Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Christmas light
Merry Christmas!

May your Christmas be full of wonder and light, happiness, love and everything bright!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Buna dimineata la Mos Ajun!

The translation should be something like 'Good Morning, Father Eve' (Christmas Eve)

It comes from an old (older than Christianity!) custom in Romania: Day before Christmas Eve (before it was the Eve of Winter Solstice) young boys will start going through the village singing carols. As the morning downs - they will end their caroling with this one (it's already the morning of Christmas Eve!) and go home to prepare for the Christmas Eve jobs (more about these another time :)).

I miss caroling with my friends - so I will give you this: the best interpretation ever of this carol - by Madrigal Choir, the best chamber choir in Romania.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Traditions (part 1)

A few years back, around Christmas, I was worrying we don't do enough for the Christmas Spirit... I was simply fed-up with the commercial part and wasn't sure what to add to make it a true Christmas.

Helping cut our first own-cut Christmas Tree
Little Helper
Yes, we start listening to Christmas carols (both on radio and on CDs) around November 15th. Yes, we decorate: outside & inside. But all these seemed either not enough or not in the right spirit. Of course we send the letter to Santa (email or snail mail).

But somehow I felt the Spirit is still missing. That 'something' special that adds the perfect touch - nothing material or edible...

That's when we started a few traditions.

First of all - it's making the cards. My hubby frowns at the time our son and I spend making the cards. However, it's not time wasted - it's a few hours of quality time spend together: we laugh, we chat, we create beauty. My son loves making cards - we emboss them and strangely enough he seems to never tire of the same stamps we use. Well, we add a couple new ones every year - but somehow we still use the original ones more than anything else. So for a few evenings in late November / early December we clean the kitchen table, bring the box of supplies and have fun.

Our beautiful Christmas Tree!
Voila!
Some years we also make decorations - this year, though, DS doesn't seem that into making any decorations. I will have to figure out if there are any new ones he's still enjoy or if I have to simply accept that making decorations is a thing of the past (and granted - we have more decorations than one tree can hold!)

Then it's the tree itself. Our tradition is to put it up on Christmas Eve - the whole day is actually put aside for decorating the Christmas tree. We have done exactly that for many years - and always we ended up being so stressed and tired and just glad to have the whole thing over. Not exactly the Spirit... So a few years back we have decided that nothing holds us to decorating the tree the day before... how about the week before? The same year (3 years ago) we got ourselves in the car, all 3 of us - it was a very cold December day. Bundled up we drove to a nearby tree farm and... cut our own tree! I loved the whole experience - DH not so much, so we had to take a break for a couple of years.

Nativity Scene at ChristmasBut this year - the weather seems to be on my side - we'll bundle up again this coming Friday and drive to a nearby farm tree... the story about how we pick up a tree - another time.

Suffice to say that I am not missing the Christmas Spirit anymore - between carols, cards, decorations, cookies and the traditional baking we usually find it somewhere :) All I am asking now is for more time!

Do you have a special Christmas tradition? I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Good business practice

Have you ever eneterd a store and upon leaving it you felt you absolutely have to come back?

I don't get that feeling of 'awesome'-ness too often anymore, either because I got used to living in a civilised society or because I am getting tired and there are few things truly surprising me.

Today I had to go to a store close-by, a friend of mine sent me there for a very specific traditional type of food. She told me I won't have trouble finding the food, the label will have the translation on it. After checking 2 ails of small bags of what seemed to be what I was looking for (wheat pearled) and filling my basket with tons of other things I haven't seen in a while (traditional foods) - I gave up and went to one of the ladies in there (it turned our she's the owner's wife) and told her that I don't know how to explain in English what I am looking for, and she smiled and said 'say it in your language' - and when I did so her husband exclaimed 'yes, here!'. He showed me the bags and then started to bring us half of the store - pronouncing each of the food names in a perfect, non-accented Romanian (even when the darn things had the English label, having been produced or made right here, in Canada).

He was so charming - and he pointed out a few traditional Christmas items I was going to buy... not only that, but he knew what is the proper use of each food!

At the end - he thanked us and said Good-bye - in Romanian.

Which brings me to the point - my husband remarked 'he knows how to do business!' - when dealing with people (and unless you are a sequestered monk... you are dealing with people!) your #1 priority should be making your customer comfortable.

It takes so little to express a token of appreciation to your customers - and what best time of the year to do it than at Christmas?

What are your tips? Or what is your best memory of being treated right? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The most amazing Santa

I lived in Burlington for pretty much all my Canadian life (in April we'll have 14 years in the city, while in July we'll have 15 years of Canada) - and it took 13 Christmas seasons to discover an amazing place to visit at Christmas: Royal Botanical Gardens.

The gardens are our home during the summer - we spend countless hours hiking through the gardens / forests, we have thousands of pictures with flowers at different stages, we visit the Lilac festival every year (Lilacs are my favourite flowers, more on this later)... yet somehow I never ever got to RBG at Christmas time.

This year, due to a Facebook post with a picture of a wonderful Santa, we have decided to pay a visit (we live 10 minutes away anyhow). Easy said, easy done - while coming back from a concert we stopped at Royal Botanical Gardens. As soon as we passed the customer service, we met him: a tall Santa, dressed in the most elegant costume, with a wonderful beard and a great smile. He stopped, shook hands with my son, smiled beautifully and continued on his way. I was beyond charmed - I got used to different types of Santa, everywhere - however this one is just taken straight out of those old books of Christmas stories. And you should see his place inside the RBG... his chair... oh, dear!

We passed his shop and arrived in the heart of RBG where they got not one, but two rooms with trains! One display is built around bulbs: to see Thomas The Tank Engine and a couple of other (non-Thomasy) engines choo-choo-ing around white daffodils and poinsettias - that's an amazing sight for an adult, let alone a child! And the display in the back room - with large engines and miniature Go Train and train cars full of gifts... the whole place is magical!

To top it off - in the central garden they have a pair of... reindeer! Real reindeer! And of course, when you ask where do they come from, the answer is - from the North Pole! Apparently there is a farm few km north of here where they raise reindeer. What do they use them for the rest of the year? Nothing - they keep them solely for displaying during the Christmas season. I also learned they are the oldest domesticated animals on Earth (had no idea) and that there are no more wild reindeer anywhere in the world (not even in Finland, where they come from).

We played a few 'did you know... ' games while exiting and because I planned to go to the RBG today but I forgot the camera at home - we got a family membership, so we can come back next weekend and take proper pictures: of that simply amazing Santa, the wonderful trains, and the cute reindeer. Oh - the Koi fish too! William loves watching them :)

Is there another place in the GTA where we should visit now? Before decorations come down?

Credits: the picture is taken from RBG's facebook page

Christmas concert (and a great idea)

Last year our dear piano teacher invited us to watch a Christmas concert she directed - at a church in Caledonia.

It was a kids concert (as in all the 'actors' were children) - with a very neat theme: by some bizarre happening, a bunch of children travel back in time for Christmas, in different ages (the 60s, the 50s, the 70s, 80s, 90s - and the very first Christmas too) - finding the real meaning of Christmas.

It was a charming production - with costumes and songs from different eras, some my beautiful son couldn't relate to, some plain weird for him (like the 80s big hair and fancy costumes). However, we both enjoyed both the music and the production in general.

I was impressed by the technical capacity of the church and by their care of the youth (that's something for another time, but that's what our church - the Eastern Orthodox, as in Greek Orthodox - is missing: how to attract the youth... think 'Sister Act').

Of course, this year we got our invitations again - and today we went to watch the concert again. I was curious of what the theme might be this year. It was interesting - a group of teens trying to buy the perfect gift for a special teacher... and of course, as it should be, they get the real meaning of Christmas and what a Christmas gift should be. Music was again a big part - the whole production impressive.

But what I want to talk about is their wonderful idea. I've seen it implemented it somehow - but not at this level before. Basically they had a Christmas tree with tags (about 80 of them). On each tag there was written a need of someone in their community. For example: a mother with young children than needed to be driven to the church on Sundays; or a senior who needs his driveway to be shoveled; or a senior who needs someone to give him / her a call once a week; or computer skills needed to help somebody integrate... and the list went on. Like I said - I've seen the 'Christmas wish' in the gift-like implementation: with tags for gifts for children or seniors in need. And I like that implementation too - sometimes it's easier to get a tag or two and to get a special gift for a child or a senior. But this Christmas tree went beyond the material: one didn't need to spend any money, mostly some time and energy to help someone else.

That is an IDEA! I've never seen it implemented like that before - and I think every community will need such a tree. There are people out there that might not be able to spend an extra $20 for a gift for a stranger... but will be able to spend half an hour to shovel one's driveway when needed. Or call someone... or drive somebody to and fro places... and so on. And of course, not only at Christmas, that's a daily need in any community.

Credits: Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Santa Claus

Santa at Christmas timeIn our tradition we have two 'Santas': one is Saint Nicholas, which comes on December 6th (when Orthodox Christians celebrate St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Mira) and one is 'Old Father Christmas', which obviously comes on December 25th.

Both use the same guidelines: have you been naughty or nice? If you've been good, St. Nicholas will leave a small gift (and some fruits: apples, oranges, nuts), while Father Christmas will bring the more substantial gifts of the season. If you've been naughty - St. Nicholas will bring a small stick (usually gilded for effect)... while Father Christmas might completely ignore you.

Candles at Christmas timeI don't remember the year when I figured out that parents are Santa's Elves. I don't remember being devastated either (I still don't get the mother in Miracle on 34th Street... I've watched that movie lots of times - still a mystery for me what's in her brain). And, even more interesting - I don't recall ever being ignored by any of the two old men. No matter what my behaviour was apparently it has always been on the plus side.

So I continue the tradition - trying to make the little one behave a bit more during these last few days before Christmas :) And being charmed by his approach to the whole Santa adventure - I am not 100% sure, but it seems he genuinely believes Santa will leave on the 24th and run around the world in his sleigh.

Oh, to be a child! What a marvelous age! If we only could back then not to rush so through the years and decades... but this is for another time and another post :)

Enjoy your Holidays: one moment at a time!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Musical thoughts at night

I always loved music - and I always wanted to take piano lessons. Back when I was growing up taking piano lessons wasn't an option: the city I lived in was a small one, there was only one piano teacher, and our apartment was a 'gargantuan' 500 sq. ft. - where would you put a piano in it?! My mom went through the same troubles at her time - but she was more persevering than I: she actually got a violin and some lessons (not sure for how long, I'll have to ask her).

I remember I had a small wooden toy piano - with one scale, maybe one and a half - and the keys so small... but it was in perfect working condition! I used it almost every day to figure out my songs - I had an old book of songs and the music sheets were quite complicated, but I would play note by note until I figured them out. Until one day - when something broke inside the little piano, and I (the eternal handyman) took the screwdriver and tried to open it... only to hear the actual keyboard fell inside... that was the end of my piano. I can still see it, small and red - and I can see myself, sad as one can be (I was in grade 6, maybe).

Fast-forward to present days - I married my DH, a man with an amazing musical ear! I have a decent one, however - can't compare with his. Then DS came along - and as fate and his guardian angels will have it - he inherited his dad's musical ear. So what does a parent do with a child like this? She takes the offspring to music lessons. An angel must have been on our shoulder that day - we got the most amazing piano teacher you can ever had. Formally trained in old Eastern Europe she understand the perfect balance between technique, theory, and practice, and she can instill it in her students too (without the rigidity of the old methods)! At William's second lesson I asked her, fully expecting a laugh and a 'No', if they take adult students too. Her answer changed my life - she said 'of course!' and the week after I started taking lessons too - and we bought a digital piano, for proper practice (we had keyboards and guitars already).

It has been a long journey (over 4 years now) but one I love like nothing else. Learning to play piano helped me grow like I could never have imagined. I know it helps young people, I just somehow didn't believe it will make a difference in the life on an adult. It does! I am happy with the progress I'm making (even when I work on a small 2 pages piece for months in a row :)) and I absolutely love the mix of theory and technique our teacher is making me learn. And we both keep taking lessons with our dear Lana.

I am going to come back to this subject - it is one very dear to my heart, however I will leave you now with a piece I played in duet with my son 2 years ago, for the Christmas recital. It seems fit with the season :)

Enjoy!

video

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The man who tried to steal from his lord

Long time ago, there was a wealthy and good-hearted lord. One day he called one of the poor man in the village and told him:

- I know your family is poor - and I would like to help you. I will give you a job and I'll pay you well - would you like to work for me?

- Sure, sir, said the man happily - what do I have to do?

- At the edge of the forest there is a lot - I would like you to build a house for me there.

The man left and he started to work immediately. The lord was paying him and giving money for supplies. However, the man thought 'The lord can't see me anyhow, maybe I can fool him!'.

Instead of buying quality supplies he started to buy poor-quality items and he used the money left for himself. When he finished the house looked beautiful on the outside, but he knew very well the house won't keep for too long, since the supplies used were all bad and low-quality.

He showed the house to the lord and the lord told him:

- I know you live with your large family in a very small and old house - I am giving you this house as a gift. That's why I asked you to build it, so you'll enjoy it even more!

The man was sad - he tried to steal from the lord, and he ended up stealing from himself!

This is a great reminder for our daily actions: always do everything like you're the recipient of your own actions.

Credits: Image: Lavoview / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dogs

So... now with the Auction a success and behind me (almost - there is some clean-up left for tomorrow morning and a few other loose strings, but nothing as substantial as the work we put in last week, especially Friday) I am coming back to normal life.

The house needs tending, laundry is in the washer, the hubby has a long list of To-Dos for me, and the child - well, the child missed me on Friday, basically, since I was in school all last week.

The dog needs food, which means I have to go get some meat from somewhere - we started to feed both home-made food after we had some strange and very expensive issues with the German Sheppard. Funny is that almost a year after the very-expensive issues started, when they piled up one after another, after I started to feed them home-made food the veterinarian said 'Yes, one of the reason for what she has (I can't remember how it's called) could be food allergies.' No kidding! And you tell me after I bought medication for about $700per month  (yes, seven hundred per month) for almost a year?! And you know what? The dog's coat looks healthy again, she gained normal weight (she was loosing constantly, even after I increased her medical store-bought food dosage) and while her other medical problem is not completely fixed (and may never be) - she's not getting worse and her symptoms are not as bad as before.

I know lots of people will not agree with home-made food for dogs - however, we fed our dogs home-made food before coming to Canada and always had the healthiest dogs ever. If you think - it's very unlikely you know what's in the human food, but try to figure out what exactly they put in the dog food! Good luck. Everyone is asking - how do I know if they get the proper nutrients. Well - I am using common sense, the dogs will tell me. It worked for 2 dogs before - can't be failing me now :)

To end on a happy and funny note - with barely 3 weeks before C-Day, I'll leave you with this cute video:

Cute dog waiting for Santa

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sleeping Beauty

As I don't have time for words right now (see previous post - one more day!) I will leave you with a picture. Is it the set I have donated for tonight's auction and I will come back with an update on the story. Unfortunately my light box still hasn't arrived so I didn't have the opportunity to get more prettier pictures.

I'd love to hear your comments about the set - how do you like it?

P.S. If you are in Burlington tonight you can view it at Glenview PS Holiday Auction!

Sleeping Beauty necklace & earrings set - Sterling Silver, Swarovski crystals, Swarovski Heart::All Pretty Things

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fading tones

On the BeadFX blog they have started a new series of contests - one that I simply love.
Every month they'll post a challenge and give people about a month to finish it.

This month they are using another wonderful website - Design Seeds - you take your schema from any of their amazing posts and use it as your inspiration.

Fading tones - Sterling silver, freshwater pearls & Swarovski crystals elegant necklace::All Pretty ThingsSince I have a big pile of fresh water pearls in my stash right now (I love pearls and I love the amazing colours you can find - so every time I get to the store in Toronto I buy more strands... need to use them!) and some Swarovski crystals from the last 2 projects - I put them together in the 'Fading Tones' project. Inspired, of course, by the Design Seeds' Fading Tones schema.

It is a lovely piece - to be worn in the afternoon or on the evening. Will dress up a pair of jeans with a white shirt into an evening on the town. Will dress up a black dress for a night at the theatre or opera or for a special dinner. It will be a great accessory for the Christmas dinner or for the New Year's Eve party. And it is definitely something to consider for a one-of-a-kind, breathtaking bride necklace.

Versatile & elegant - it is a must-have in your jewelry box!