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In keeping with the age old tradition of decorating homes for the Festive Season it seems only apt that a magnificent Christmas House Tour would be staged in historic Oakville. To add to the spirit of the season it is wonderful that a portion of the proceeds are donated to charitable causes in Oakville and the rest towards the event organizers, St. Andrews Church.

For me, the season of Christmas evokes many special memories from around the world. Wonderful childhood recollections of Christmas in the Tropics: stockings filled with goodies; mince pies; dressing up for sumptuous dinners and incomparable memories of Midnight Mass with my Christian Kenyan nanny. Happy memories of Christmas at an English boarding school where laughter and fun prevailed and the wonder of dazzling festive lights in London’s streets. Christmas is truly a juxtaposition of nostalgia and looking forward to creating new memoirs.

And so when Siobhan Breton, Chair of the St. Andrews House Tour Committee 2011, kindly invited me to visit the decorated Homes, I knew many memories would be evoked, but I graciously accepted knowing that a Trip to Nostalgia, now and then, is good for the spirit.

  • Carrington Place

Two smiling reindeers warmly greeted me to this spacious lakefront home. Brightly blazing fireplaces, fresh Fraser fir and balsam and large pillar candles, produced a warm ambience. Use of natural materials, such as hessian and sisal as tie backs on chairs and for curtains, and as a base for a traditional nativity scene, created a rustic “stable” feel. In sharp contrast jewel bright colours of pink and blue added a metallic twist to reflect the cheerfulness of Christmas. The dining tables were stunningly dressed with accents of gold and bowls of baubles adding a festive touch. This home was ready for seriously fine entertaining!

  • Morrison Heights

Entering a blizzard of style and stepping into an enchanting winterscape was the immediate impression on entering this snowy home. It was a sweeping statement of freshly fallen snow and glittering icicles highlighted with accents of cool blue. The snowflakes and icicles theme was continuous throughout the home with meticulous attention to wintery detail: soft white feather wreaths, snowflake embroidered hand towels, silver birds. There was an indulgent assortment of festive goodies all echoing the winter fairy-tale: snowflake cookies and cupcakes, crisp white meringues, frosty gingerbread and spongy marshmallows. Magic and celebration had been created. A winter wonderland with a WOW!

  • Poplar Drive

With five children and a dog residing in this lovely home the decorator superbly tied in botanical inspiration with practicality. A palette of fresh natural green graced the house: potted paperwhites planted in moss-covered soil, frosty fern, fir wreaths and pine cones. The designer had been creative with the use of foliage to create a woodland effect.The large windows reaching up to the soaring ceilings displayed a back drop of a verdant garden creating a natural decorative extension to the outdoors. The overall effect was one of calm to soothe the bustling merriment of the season.

  • Forestwood Drive

Silver and white with accents of green fir and gold adorned this stylish home. The silver theme extended  to an eye-catching tree in the garden displaying sparkling silver baubles. Silver goblets on the dining table and silver bows, backing brown leather dining chairs, added a striking shimmer resulting in a polished touch of festivity. Brilliant white roses, hyacinths, orchids and lilies added a touch of fresh elegance. In sharp contrast the basement reflected a playful retreat with snowmen, polar bears and penguins all creating a whimsical world.

  • Navy Street

A charming English Yuletide of “Long Ago” is recreated in this historic Olde Oakville home. In keeping with the age of the house the widespread use of geometric green and red plaids contrasted superbly with traditional vintage décor. Embellishments typical of Victorian times such as blown-glass ornaments, sugar-frosted real fruit arrangements, wooden skis and China tea cups and saucers, highlighted the 19th century theme. The dining table dressed in classic red and white was enhanced with deep yellow and red flowers adding to the joyous ring in the atmosphere. Cheerful red poinsettias’ and radiant red cranberries against dark green fir added to the overall richness and depth of the setting.

  • Weaver Road

Eclectic style embraced this cosy home as modern furnishings were tastefully integrated with vintage pieces creating an interesting retro effect. A Scandinavian influence was apparent in the use of natural wood – pine chargers and a large pine cheeseboard; differing heights of Danish candles grouped together; Scandinavian waffles and a traditional Italian panetonne. A delightful Christmas tree using white twigs covered in European ornaments was made by the children. The beautifully decorated garden had a stylish outdoor stone bar filled with bottles of mineral water. The aesthetic mixing and matching of décor at this home created curiosity and kept the eye in constant motion from room to room. A magical Yin Yan effect had been created.

  • Brentwood Road

Couture chic creating a stunning style statement, but made to appear, simply effortless, was the impression created in this classy home. The decor was glittering, glowing and glamorous without being overpowering. The “Flower Maestro” had displayed his genius – exquisite flowers had been tastefully and aesthetically arranged – a festive luxury to be revered. Intoxicated by the pure beauty I sang:

“Icicles on twigs and gold gilded leaves

Bright red berries in vases and warm glowing candles

Pinecones and antlers tied up in plant holders

These are a few of my favourite things”.

“White pillar candles and antiqued glass containers

White amaryllis and tulips and orchids

Arrangements with green moss and snowflakes and frosting

A fragrance that awakens and lifts spirits softly

These are a few of my favourite things….” 

  • Forestwood Drive(2)

Elegant sophistication reigned supreme in this exclusive Georgian-inspired home. A calming palette of sophisticated sage runs throughout the house. Alongside the bespoke furniture, the décor reflected a passion for the past. Touches of the outdoors highlighted the home reflecting the owners’ passion for gardening. The dining table displayed a charming centrepiece of a bird in a nest with eggs. Outdoor urns had been brought indoors filled with firs and pinecones. There were polished touches and a careful attention to detail everywhere. Wonderful ornaments made out of cake and a Christmas tree made of macaroons in mint and gold decked the kitchen. This home instilled a sense of inner calm – a place of retreat, to relax and reflect at this holy time of year.

Each of the eight luminous homes was full of seasonal cheer and each was distinct in style and character. Visitors on the Tour blended their personal impressions with individual Christmas recollections and created unique new memories. Most importantly, in celebration of this special season, a generosity of spirit was shared amongst the Home Owners, Decorators and Visitors. Hence the community was brought together at this most marvellous time of year!


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As a woman on my personal journey of discovery, exploring my talents and looking for the best fit for my skills and unique experiences, I recently had the good fortune to spend two days in a dynamic and interactive learning environment. Although I have frequently been involved as a volunteer in personal Philanthropic interests, this was my opportunity to learn from the Masters at a BoardMatch Leaders seminar.
My attendance at this seminar was very generously arranged by Donna Messer, Founder and President of ConnectUs Communications Canada www.connectuscanada.com and Robert Harris Cheif Executive Officer of Altruvest Charitable Services www.altruvest.org .  ConnectUs supports the professional and business community through effective relationship building. Altruvest runs the BoardMatch programs.
Rob Follows is the Founder and Chair of Altruvest Charitable Services.

The BoardMatch Leaders program is a Leadership Development Program for current and prospective Volunteer Board Members. BoardMatch is open to anyone who may have an interest in joining a Non Profit Board ranging from professional people currently in the Canadian workplace to skilled New Canadians who wish to become more involved in the Canadian community. BoardMatch educates on the roles and responsibilities of sitting on a Board and de-mystifies the role. BoardMatch believes that “stronger leaders develop stronger charities which results in stronger communities”. Employers generally sponsor the cost of the BoardMatch program as part of a training plan. Otherwise the cost is met by the individual participant.

And so it was on a cold, crisp morning mid last week that I gingerly made my way into Toronto, from Oakville, filled with a sense of excitement and apprehension, very much aware of the incredible opportunity I had been given. A sense of adventure prevailed. I was stepping into the unknown…

All trepidation was allayed immediately when I arrived at Osgoode Hall Law School by a warm welcome from Susan Dunne, Director of Programs and Administration at Altruvest. Susan expertly ensured our every personal need was met from a comfortable room temperature to the punctual serving of gourmet meals and refreshments. It was here, in this spacious room, overlooking Lake Ontario and with panoramic views of the City, that I was about to embark on a stimulating meeting of minds.

16 eager attendees arrived that morning. There was an air of mystery and enthusiasm in the room. We were a diverse and cosmopolitan crowd ranging from three Managers from Manulife Financial to an Actor whose recent film won an award for best Canadian Short film at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. We formally introduced ourselves and shared who we were. We were asked to open an exciting window into our personal lives with the question, “If only they knew…”. Interestingly,  the most common ground amongst the group was the love of motorbikes and some fascinating  journeys on them, for example riding in the Himalayas! This broke the ice and a wonderful rapport developed amongst us.

Ruth Armstrong, Founder and President of VISION Management Services www.vision-management.ca ,
a company which helps build accountable organizations through strategic leadership, was our Instructor. Ruth’s combination of excellent facilitation skills and first hand experience created a stimulating learning environment directing us on a fun and factual journey of discovery and opening new ideas as to where our public role could be. She created an atmosphere of camaderie amongst the attendees – like a true teacher she guided and instructed her pupils, encouraged us to stretch our minds, explore and share ideas and, above all, to learn. Ruth orchestrated the two days like a Maestro building a culture of inquiry, creativity and support amongst us.

Ruth’s instruction was punctuated with presentations by various speakers who kindly took time out from their busy schedules to address us and share their valuable experiences and knowledge with us.
The Guest presenters covered a wide range of topics:
John Ferguson, Board Member of Altruvest explained how Altruvest has met a need in this sector and how BoardMatch is continually innovating and evolving programs to fill the cracks.
Jeffrey Litwin, Associate Dean at George Brown College gave us valuable insights to the complexities, competition and art of Fundraising – an integral mandate on most Boards.
• We were privileged to hear William Dimma, a seasoned veteran having sat on numerous Boards and possessing a wealth of experience and knowledge, speak to us on Profit vs. Charitable Boards. His energy and passion filled the room and we were in awe that after all these years he still continues to give.
Marissa Bastidas, Executive Director and Ellis Martin, Board President of Accommodation Information and Support Inc. (AIS) www.aistoronto.ca , illustrated the phenomenal difference a small organization is making in the area of mental health accommodation, information and support and raising awareness of mental illness in their local community.
Gina Haggett, Vice President Winning Kids Inc. www.winningkidsinc.ca portrayed the importance of organizations taking steps to prevent abuse and provide protection for children through training and planning in order to create safer environments.
David Hartley, Director of Insurance & Liability Resource Centre http://nonprofitrisk.imaginecanada.ca delivered excellent information and awareness regarding protecting yourself and your people and serving confidently whilst on a Board.

It seemed that the two days had passed by in a flash. Our minds had been stretched and saturated with knowledge. The experience was a fantastic introduction to the world of Non Profit Boards. It raised awareness and serious questions one should ask before making the commitment to join a Board. We were grateful to both Robert Harris and Susan Dunne for having organized and hosted the event. However, at the grand finale, the ultimate applause, rising to a heavenly crescendo, was for Ruth Armstrong whose rare talent and genius had found a way to enlighten us all.

The result of what I have learnt has led me to think deeper into areas I would not have previously considered as viable options. I had been awakened to a new understanding. And so two days later, as I stepped off the GO train in Oakville, into an indigo coloured starry night, I noticed a blanket of snow on the ground – the start of another season, fresh beginnings and new hope. The air was clean and crisp. The last two days had been an exceptional journey of growth and learning. A shift had occurred and the cosmos was smiling! I realized I had witnessed, and been part of, a STELLAR experience!

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“Hodi”, “Kaaribu”

The following is from “West With The Night” by Beryl Markham – a memoir of her life, most of which was spent in Kenya.
This excerpt moves me every time I read it as it takes me back to a time and place of trust and respect and play an important foundation for my Real Estate service.

“As always, my door is open. It may well be closed – there is nothing to see but night.  There is nothing to hear for a long time, and then I hear what I know to be naked feet walking toward me.  But there is no stealth in the darkness, neither is there any noise.  It is the honest sound of one used to darkness, moving through my palace guard of trees.
I do not lift the pen from the paper nor raise my head.  I wait for a word, and it comes.
The voice is soft.  It is deep with a timbre I almost remember, but do not know.  It is respectful and warm and there is shyness in it.  Through the single Swahili word it says, “I am here“, and the echo of it adds, “Am I welcome?”
I do not have to think.  Now I leave the pen and raise my head from the half-covered sheet of paper.  Somehow that word is always to be trusted.  “Hodi” – we who have used it know it would scorch the lips of a liar and make a cinder of a thief’s tongue.  It is a gentle word, a word of honor, asking an answer gently.  And there is an answer.
I have said, “Come you are welcome“. “

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