Friday Two Cents: Scotland Inspired Christmas Creation

With the Christmas season upon us I indulged on a yearly tradition of setting up my Christmas town at school. A couple of students asked how long I have been setting up the town at the school. I told them it is the 9th year I have set it up, yet I started building the town about 10 years prior to that starting with only 5 buildings that I hand painted and with a simple train. Today it has grown to over 50 builds, all hand painted and some that I built myself.

This year I added a new building or to be specific buildings and hill.  I had built a hill with a tunnel for my castle, but this year I wanted to add something new, something that I was inspired to create when I went on my trip to Scotland.  My trip to Scotland was filled with endless wonders, from the beauty of the Highlands to the wonderful interaction with the people.  With all those experiences, the one thing that suck out for me was the rich history created or forged by the Scottish people. I am talking about the endless castles and medieval ruins everywhere you go.  From Edinburgh Castle to Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland is replete with castles dotting the landscape.  My exploration of these historical sites inspired me to create a new castle and hill for my Christmas Town. 

New Castle/Citadel

Stage 1) I began by creating the basic shape of the hill and buildings using plastic cardboard.  I wanted a hill with a tunnel and a multi-layer hill design similar to the castles I saw in Scotland.  I also created the basic shape of the main buildings for the castle.  I wanted one large structure and a couple of smaller buildings again similar to castles I saw.   


Stage 2) I then got plaster of Paris and coated the entire hill and buildings. It did not look pretty but I knew that I would be adding more and moulding the plaster to what I had in mind. This stage was the most time-consuming and labour intensive.  I could not simply scrap or chisel away.  I had to be careful not to press too hard or the plaster would crack.   Instead I used coarse sand paper to help smooth and shape the hill and buildings.   The buildings required two layers of plaster to get the right look but the hill took several. 


Stage 3) With the building shape relatively done the hill required more attention.  I did not simply want to use plaster to create a wall around the compound, therefore I created one with grey pebbles.  I used the plaster as mortar and created a multilevel wall with battlements. I also moulded and carved the sides of the hill to resemble a cliff face making the entire structure look like a citadel.


Stage 4) I then painted the buildings and the citadel with a base white. Once dry I began painting the buildings and citadel the way I envisioned.  If you look closely you can see that I incorporated three stones from Scotland (near Eilean Donan Castle) into the citadel final design. 


Once done, I brought in the new citadel into the school as part of my Christmas town set.   Everyone loved the new citadel and castle.  Thank you Scotland for the inspiration.  


Friday Two Cents: Teach The World

With the Christmas season upon us I indulged on a yearly tradition of setting up my Christmas town at school. A couple of students and the principal asked how long I have been setting up the town at the school. I told them it is the 8th year I have set it up, yet I started building the town about 10 years prior to that starting with only 5 buildings that I hand painted and with a simple train. Today it has grown to over 50 builds, all hand painted and some that I built myself.

Many have told me that once the town goes up then they start to feel that the Christmas season has arrived. I too feel this once I put up the town, my tree and my nativity scene, which are all up now, the feeling of the Christmas season is upon me. Yet with this feeling of joy and happiness there comes a bit of melancholy. Not because there are those who do not have much, I do feel for them but mostly for the people who have too much. For them Christmas is about acquiring things, or making sure that they get the perfect gift for someone so that you can look good; in other words, excessive consumerism.  
Mind you I do go out and get presents for my family, but I always add a personal note letting them know I care about them. Yet as I walk around the malls I have to laugh to myself. I do love to shop but shopping for me is looking at all the people as they scurry around obsessed with getting stuff. I love their reaction when they get the thing and when they cannot. They seem to miss the point of the whole Christmas season and spirit.  
Christmas for me is about giving thanks for what I have like my health, family and my passions. It’s not about getting or giving stuff; it’s about appreciating the time you have with others, about giving yourself to them to help them feel happy too. For me the tree, the nativity scene and the town is a symbol that everyone in my life is truly special to me. From my immediate to my extended family, close friends, friends/colleagues and even the students and their parents. Everyone that has touched my life is special to me. That is why I cannot get into this consumerism that seems to be everywhere.
I think the best way to sum up how I feel is a song I heard on a local radio station, CHFI 98.1, which is playing Christmas music until Boxing Day. It is by ‘The Tenors’ – Santa’s Wish (Teach the World). I placed a YouTube link below for you all to see it and I think if you do, you too may feel the same way.



Friday Two Cents: A New Québec Inspired Build




As I stated in my previous posts, I have been engaged in several artistic projects this Christmas season. One of them was to create something new for my Christmas town. A couple of weeks ago I mounted my Christmas town in the school. I started this tradition about 7 years ago at the same time when my niece arrived. I created the Christmas town several years earlier and over the span of about 10 years I added new buildings and other items to create a 19th century Dickens style town. Every building in the town is hand painted by me and I even created several unique pieces including the hill and the castle on it.

In the past few years I have added little things to the town such as trees, horses, people and a flying Santa sleigh and reindeer. Yet I have not created any new buildings, well until this year. Drawing on my experiences on my Québec trip this summer, I was inspired to create a traditional Québec home and a flying canoe or ‘la chasse-galerie’.
Stage 1) I began by creating the basic shape of the building using cardboard. I wanted a single story with two chimneys and a front and back veranda. This is typical of many early homes in Québec. The front slope of the roof is longer and curved but also the side of the roof is almost flush with the building.
Stage 2) I then got plaster of Paris and coated the entire cardboard building. It did not look pretty but I knew that I would be carving the home shape and details once the plaster dried. This stage was the most time-consuming and labour intensive. I could not simply scrap of chisel away. I had to be careful not to press too hard or the plaster would crack. Once I got the basic shape of the building I carved out little details such as the doors, windows, chimneys, verandas and a pine tree.
Stage 3) Once the carving was done, I painted the entire piece with white acrylic paint. While that was drying, I got some Fimo clay and began moulding a canoe with people in it. I modeled it after many images of the Voyageurs from early French Canadian history and culture. Fimo clay is malleable at first but it becomes hard once you bake it in the oven.

Moulding a flying canoe or ‘la chasse-galerie’ using Fimo clay

Stage 4) I placed the clay flying canoe in the oven for about 30 minutes; I then continued to paint the building. Typically the early buildings used stone from the indigenous rocks of Canada. A lot of it was grey and irregular shaped. I painted this onto the exterior of the building with other details of the tree, doors and windows. I then used a clear acrylic varnish to paint the snow areas to give it a semi-gloss look.
Stage 5) Once the flying canoe cooled down I painted it and the people using acrylic paint. I painted the canoe to represent a birch bark canoe. I then painted the paddles and people accordingly. If you look close there are 7 people, one in the back steering and 6 paddling. As well I painted them with beards and wearing furs.
Stage 6) After the paint dried I wrapped a white pipe cleaner around the canoe and placed the ends in the chimneys of the building. I drilled small holes in the chimneys earlier to accommodate this idea.
I then placed the new building in my town with the flying canoe for the entire school to see. Many of the French Canadian teachers recognized the flying canoe or ‘la chasse-galerie’. Everyone loved the new Québec inspired addition to the Christmas town.  

Friday Two Cents: Christmas Town Is Up


Well the Christmas season is upon us and for me it has final made it to the school. For me I love decorating for Christmas and my home is a testament to that statement. Yet at a public school it is a bit harder to show my Christmas spirit because we have to be sensitive to other cultures. Therefore when ever I get a chance to show my culture I take advantage of it.

For me I am able to mount my Christmas town that I hand-made and painted. It took me over 10 years to collect, paint and create a 19th century Dickens style town. That’s right no cars only horse and buggy, a blacksmith, a theatre, many Victorian homes, a steam train and of course I have a castle. The students love the train and town and look forward to it. Yet I also add a like fun twist by placing 7 Storm troopers from Star Wars in the set for them to search for. Something like a Wears Waldo but 3D. This year I will be adding a new building and some other touches. They are still being built and painted but I will let you see them soon.
I the mean time I hope you enjoy my Christmas town.

Friday Two Cents: All Aboard



This week has officially begun the Christmas season, for me at least. It wasn’t just one thing that did it for me but a few. It began with my nieces helping me to put up the Christmas tree and nativity scene. Then the next day I put up the outdoor Christmas lights. Yet there was a bit more to come.


Christmas Lights


Nativity Scene

On Monday I went to the school to assemble the Christmas town and train I built out of plaster and porcelain houses. I say I built it because I hand painted every building, hill and some smaller details added to the village, even some of the train cars. I also carved and created a few of the building too. The entire town took about 10 years to put together with every year I would add new pieces to it. I now have over 50 buildings and a train that can cover an area about 2 m2. For the past few years I would set it up within the school and the staff and students always say they look forward to the town every Christmas.
Yet after I set up the village I experienced a new Christmas tradition, The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. It travels across Canada and the United States, raising awareness about donating to your local food bank. It is a train decorated with Christmas lights and they have a performer playing at different stops along the way. This year it stopped in Toronto near were I live and I was fortunate to remember that it was arriving Monday night.
The Christmas tree, lights, the Christmas town and this year the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. The Christmas season has begun with a loud bang or should I say a train whistle. Those of you who are feeling the season has begun as I have, I say “ALL ABOARD!!! THE NEXT STOP!!! THE NORTH POLE!!!”

Friday Two Cents: Good Things Come To Those Who Wait


Patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
“Patience and time do more than strength or passion.” Jean de La Fontaine


This has been a week where I have seen a culmination of many different adventures in my life.

Firstly, I just finished my two-week block of practicum and man am I tired. It was the peak of a journey started in August and now, with the block done, my first steps to getting my teaching license are behind me. I still have 3 more weeks of going in two days a week but the biggest hurdle is behind me.

After two years I finally got my Degree

After two years I finally got my Degree

The other great news I received today came in an envelope. I received my undergrad degree, BAS of Early Childhood Education from Guelph University. After two long years of blood, sweat and sleepless nights I have my degree in my hand.

Then to top it all off, I went to my workplace and put together my Christmas town / train set for the school. It is a collection of plaster and porcelain buildings, some I made others I bought; yet I hand painted every one of the 53 pieces in the display. I also have a HO scale train with a steam engine and passenger rail cars circa 1900 – 1920.   For me this is usually one of the first decorations I put out for the Christmas holidays. I love Christmas and this wonderful sign means Christmas is just around the corner.

All of this happened today and it has just made my heart take fight and I am truly happy. I wish everyone in the world could be this happy. All of my patience and sacrifice has paid off. I guess it is true about what they say; Good Things Come To Those Who Wait.

Traditions are great, especially those you can share with others

With Christmas Day tomorrow, I thought it nice to show a Christmas tradition I started with my family but has changed over the years. 

It started about 15 years ago when I bought a train to go around my Christmas tree.  I didn’t just want a seasonal train but a HO scale model for the tree.  My family and I loved it right away and I also wanted to just have a few builds too. I love building models and creating things, so I did not want to buy ready-made builds for the Christmas town.  Instead I got some blank plaster homes and buildings that I had to paint. 

The first year I started with a train station and three houses. Then the next year I added more and more every following year.  I continued to add until I currently have 56 buildings.  They range from a black smith, dress shop, bank, fire hall and even a castle.  It got so large that it takes up about 2.5 square meters around my tree.  Everyone that cames over to my home loved it and they always enjoyed watching the trains go around the town and the tree. 

However, about four years ago I was blessed with a beautiful little niece.  I could not bring out the town and train for fear that she would break it or worse swallow a small piece.  So I decided to not to put out the town or train.  I was a little disappointed but my little niece’s safety always comes first. 

I told my co-workers about my decision and they suggested that I bring the town and train to the school to show the children.  I asked the principal and she thought it was a great idea, so I did.  The town is too large to place on the floor around the tree and there are hundreds of children in the school, so I decided to place it on a table in the main entrance for the whole school to enjoy. 

Well let me tell you, the children were beyond excited to see the town and train.  They and their parents loved it.  They would come up and say how much they appreciated me bring in the town for them to enjoy.  They were even more impress when I told them that I had hand painted every building in the town and that it took about 10 years to get the town to the size it is today.

Ever since I first introduced the town and train to the school, the children and staff ask if I will be bringing it in for Christmas.  Of course I say ‘Yes’.  Now it is something of a tradition for everyone at the school.  Fifteen years ago, I started a tradition with my family of a train and small town around my Christmas tree.  Now it has grown to involve my family and hundreds more children. 

This year I wanted to share my tradition of the town with you all so I took some photos of the town and train.  I also asked the children to paint a background for the town.  You can see it on the wall behind.  I then asked the music teacher from the school, if I could have a song sung by the school’s children’s choir.  She was more than happy to give me one.  With the song and photos in hand, I created a short slide show for you all to enjoy.

I hope you all enjoy this little Christmas tradition from me.  Merry Christmas to you all, and remember.  Traditions are great, especially those you can share with others.

Click on Link to download the Powerpoint Show.  TownandTrain02

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