The Post-Christmas Lull

Well, hello there! If you celebrate Christmas, like I do, I hope it was good.

My Christmas was, all in all, fairly relaxed this year. In part this was because I had more than a week off leading up to the holiday, since the last day of school was December 16. And in part this was because I had (minor) dental surgery on December 21. It was my third gum graft, and it went well. Since I didn’t want to have to do any shopping after the procedure, though, I did my best to get all of my preparations squared away by December 20.

This level of preparedness is unheard of for me. But I pulled it off. And so, by the time the procedure was finished at noon four days before Christmas, I didn’t have much to do. I went home, laid on my couch, ate pudding, and binged holiday movies on Netflix. My favourite? Love, Actually. It was kind of nice to just relax and enjoy, hanging out with the kids and taking Christmas at a slower pace.

pudding gum graft dental surgery

Once our Christmas celebrations were over (which was at around noon on Christmas day), however, all this downtime started wearing thin.

I started knitting, which has been great. It’s been a while since I took needles to yarn, but I’m back at it. As I noted in my last post I recently ordered some yarn. While I wait for it to arrive, it occurred to me that maybe I should finish that Clapotis I started three(ish) years ago. I’m still not done, but I’m making headway.

My husband has taken advantage of this opportunity to work on a freelance project that he’s got going on.

My daughter has been drawing. Because she is always, always, always making art. Plus, she got a new artist’s tablet for Christmas.

My eight-year-old son, on the other hand, started watching Trollhunters on Netflix. So far, he’s four episodes in. Here’s his review:

I would give it four out of five stars. I like that it has funny things, like Toby. I also liked it when the gnome attacked Jim in the dollhouse. I did not like when Aargh said ‘pacifist’ instead of ‘no fighting’ because then the littler kids wouldn’t know what it means.

So, that’s his take on that. The folks at Netflix also sent me a recipe for an Aargh approved gemstone candy recipe. If you don’t already have too much sugar in your house, give it a try. You can click for a larger image.

rock candy recipe netflix trollhunters

We do have plans to get out of the house, too. Tomorrow my daughter and I are going to see Mary Poppins on stage with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Later this week we’re planning on going skiing. But all in all, things are pretty chill.

I hope your post-Christmas lull is going well. What have you been up to?

This is my final post as a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I received cool promotional swag from Netflix while I was on the team as you will.

Holidays and Sick Days

I had grand plans this holiday season. Grand plans. With my daughter now almost 11 years old, we were going to bake together. Oh yes, we were! Or perhaps I was going to get her to bake for me, which sounded even better. And then we would enjoy holiday movies together and it would be very warm and fuzzy and all that stuff.

As I wrote recently, though, those holiday lists often go sideways. And that happened for me when my kids took turns being sick over the holidays. For Hannah it was December 17 to December 20 or so. For Jacob it was December 21 to December 24 or so. And hence, there wasn’t any baking. There weren’t any holiday movie marathons. There was just a lot of sick kids on the couch while I hovered nearby and worried.

When my daughter Hannah had to stay home from school on December 17, which was gingerbread house day, a decision had to be made. That decision ended up being that I would pick up her gingerbread house supplies from her teacher and bring them home. Because I couldn’t send her to school, and she was super, duper, extremely sad at the thought of not getting to make the house.

sick day gingerbread houseIn the end, it all worked out. She built the house. And then while she recovered she watched almost the entire first season of Once Upon a Time on Netflix. She’s been asking to watch the show with me for ages (I am an avid viewer), but since I am well into Season 5 now and since I don’t want to have to wait for a time that’s convenient for my daughter to catch new episodes that hasn’t happened. Luckily, thanks to the wonder of technology she can watch it all on her own.

When my seven year olds Jacob got sick he also turned to Netflix. We got Apple TV not that long ago and he loves that he can talk to the remote (or, as he says, marote). He is his father’s son, and is therefore naturally much better at technology than me, my engineering degree notwithstanding. For a couple of days he binge-watched Batman: The Brave and the Bold. And once again, I hovered nearby.

It is Murphy’s Law that both of my children were sick over the holidays, but I am sure I am not the only one. And I am happy to report that they are both all better now. The fevers are gone, the lethargy is gone and the tissue station on the couch in front of the TV is gone. For the time that they were sick, though, I was really thanking my lucky stars that we have things like PVRs and Netflix and DVDs and 24 hour children’s channels. Because while family togetherness as we all watch movies together is fun, being able to keep a sick kid more or less happy is worth its weight in gold.

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

Light and Hope

This is a dark time of year … the darkest, in fact. And so, since time immemorial, long before stories were written down or babies were laid to sleep in mangers humans have craved light. The promise that the darkness will not last. That the sun will return, and bring with it spring and a new season of plenty. Our ancient ancestors tracked the movement of celestial bodies and the rhythm of the seasons and in the midst of it all, they found hope.

Today, in the here and now, when I write down everything and carry around a little computer in my pocket that beeps at me constantly, I need hope. Some things never change. The cold and the dark still feel like too much. The world around us still affects us. We are not immune to feeling hopeless or sad or scared.

I seek out the light, because in the light there is hope. I bring a tree into my house and string it with lights. There are lights on my house. Lights in my rooms. Candles on bookshelves. A (gas) fire in my fireplace. Stories of a baby who was the light of the world and brought hope to nations. Stories of the rebirth of the light, the return of the sun. Stories of oil that lasted longer that it should have, its sacred flame illuminating the darkness.

candle light christmas

My children are naturally hopeful and optimistic, as most children are. They seem to carry light within and that brings me hope. But never does it shine more brightly than today. The presents, the food, the time with family, the decorations, the twinkling bulbs that festoon almost every house, these things all speak to children with a special voice.

Now that they are 10 and 7 my children don’t just enjoy these things, they drink them up like they are dying of thirst and they have found water. They look forward to this all year, and when it is here they are so fully immersed in it that it lights me up, too. It brings me hope. It reminds me of what it is like to be wholly in the moment, filled with joy, surrounded by love.

As they say on Game of Thrones, the night is dark and full of terrors. And I would add, the winter is cold and merciless, and of course winter is (always) coming. But here, as I celebrate Christmas surrounded by my family, there is hope. There is peace. There is an ancient story, as timeless as the world itself, reminding us that there is something to look forward to. The cold and dark are not all there is.

Let there be light. Let there be hope. Let there be Christmas.

Making a List, Checking it Twice

Sometimes it feels as if Christmas is all about lists.

  • Gift buying lists.
  • Grocery shopping lists.
  • Baking lists.
  • Decorating lists.
  • Gift wrapping lists.
  • Lists of errands to run.
  • Lists of tasks to perform.
  • Lists of parties to attend.
  • Lists of Christmas light displays to see.
  • Christmas card lists.

And, even:

  • Holiday playlists to compile so you have the perfect soundtrack.

Santa Claus is not the only one who’s making a list and checking it twice. We’re all doing it – especially those of us who have children. The feeling is not exactly festive.

Sometimes, though, you have that moment. That bright spot that makes all the running around, spending money, coordinating schedules and so on worthwhile. It’s the moment that reminds you that traditions matter. That you’re making memories. That you’re doing it all in service of something much bigger, older and wiser than you. Ritual is powerful and it calls to us all. And few rituals are as deeply ingrained in my psyche and identity than the rituals of Christmas.

This afternoon I was decorating the tree with my children. There it is … I am a Christmas slacker. My Instagram feed has been filled with photos of other people’s fully-decorated trees since late November and I am just doing it now. And to make matters worse we still aren’t finished with the tree. I find that it’s easier and more fun to do it in fits and spurts, rather than pushing myself to get it done in one go. Those lists? I am better at making them than completing them, and sometimes it just doesn’t all get done.

christmas joyAnyways, I bought new Christmas lights for our tree this year. They are small multi-coloured LED globes that flicker and blink and change colour. My children were delighted. And then I turned on the Christmas music, and we strung the garlands and got out the boxes of ornaments. My daughter sniffled because she has a cold, and clung to me like a kid who is much younger than almost 11 years old. Then my son, who is seven, placed his third ornament on the same branch of the tree and stopped to admire his handiwork before saying, “Mom, when you play Christmas music and we decorate the tree I feel the joy.”

And then Christmas happened for me.

Because this is what Christmas is. It is a tree that is haphazardly decorated with mismatched ornaments acquired over a lifetime. It is children who are excited and embrace the moment and don’t agonize over perfection. It is letting yourself step away when it’s all a bit much. And it is being present with your family in the mess. Those amazing holiday moments don’t come when you look at a list completed list. They come in spite of the lists.

I am trying to cut myself some slack and reducing what’s on my lists. Because someone will get sick. Some beautiful ornament or dish or brand new gift will break. Some family member will disagree with some other family member. And at some point the weather will get in the way of carefully laid plans. Accepting it is better than feeling bad that things didn’t go to plan. I don’t believe Christmas is meant to be an exercise in making yourself feel guilty for not being Martha Stewart.

In fact, I bet even Martha Stewart finds the pressure overwhelming sometimes.

So here’s to the holiday season. May it be joyous, and loving, and festive in spite of the lists.

What I Learned in December 2013

Strocel.com What I Learned Last MonthIt’s 2014, and while many people are looking back on the year I just ended, I’ve just realized it’s time for me to share my December monthly review. I always go back and forth at the end of the year. Should I share lessons from the entire year, or just the past month? I’m opting to cover only the past month, because my memory is not that great, and because monthly reviews are one of my favourite traditions.

Here’s how it works – every month I come up with some things I learned, and not always the easy way. Then, I ask you all to join in with some recent revelations of your own. Or this time, perhaps you can share some less-than-recent revelations that occurred over the past year. Either way, we all learn and grow and what-not. Or at least share a laugh at our own expense, because some of these lessons are both hard-fought and funny. Sound good?

So, without further ado, here is what I learned in December – or some of it, anyway.

What I Learned Last Month

1. I experienced the joys of chaperoning a whole bunch of third graders on a field trip to the local science museum. I managed to not lose any of my charges, so I’m calling it a victory.

what I learned last month

2. I re-discovered the joys of post-secondary bureaucracy when I had to change my name at the university I’m re-enrolling at after graduating some 14 years ago. I also got to re-discover where my marriage certificate was, as I crawled around under my house in search of it. Whee!

3. I walked across the Capilano Suspension Bridge on a cold and dark night as it twinkled with thousands of lights, and discovered that the way it sways it every bit as scary to me no matter how festive it happens to look.

what I learned last month capilano suspension bridge

4. I learned that while my son won’t sit still for me he will do it for his kindergarten teacher, as I watched him wait serenely with his hands folded for his turn to sing at the school holiday concert.

5. I vicariously experienced my children’s joy when we had a couple of days of snow, and found once again that their extreme enthusiasm really goes a long way towards overcoming the inconvenience.

what I learned last month snow

6. I discovered – to my surprise – that I actually work better without background noise than I do with background noise. Here’s to quiet (when you can get it)!

7. I once again experienced the amazing smell of a real, cut Christmas tree in my family room. It was more than good enough to compensate for any cleaning and watering that was required.

what I learned last month christmas tree

8. I finished up my first-ever tap dance lessons, and I miss it already. I’m not sure if I can fit it into my schedule now that I’m going back to school, but I’m going to do my best to try.

9. I learned that when decorating a cookie, a five-year-old will never embrace the ‘less is more’ approach, but will squeeze on every last bit of sugar that he can. In the photo below, Jacob was only about halfway done with his cookie.

what i learned last month cookie decorating

10. I discovered that all of the hassle, and expense, and hand-wringing of the holiday season is totally worth it just for the looks on my children’s faces when they wake up Christmas morning and see that Santa has, indeed, come again.

I’ve shared what I learned – what did you learn in December, or anytime during 2013? Leave a comment and tell me! Or, if you’d like to play along by writing a review post of your own, link to it in the comments. And please feel free to grab the button from the top of this post.

Oh (Real) Christmas Tree

christmas tree enviro-mama real tree fake tree debateWhen Hannah was really little – I think it was Christmas 2005 – we bought an artificial Christmas tree. (In fact, I know it was Christmas 2005 because I am a blogger and I have photographic evidence.) I was less-than-thrilled about the purchase at the time. I’d always had real trees when I was growing up, and I loved the ritual of going to buy the tree, and the way it made my house smell fabulous. However, my husband preferred artificial trees, and it seemed a sensible way to go when I already had a baby making a big mess in my house. I certainly didn’t need a whole bunch of pine needles on the carpet on top of the toys that were already scattered everywhere.

At the time I insisted on buying a nice artificial tree, and reasoned that it would end up being much cheaper in the long run. I also thought that it would be a more environmentally-friendly choice to buy a reusable tree rather than to buy a cut tree each and every year. However, two things happened last year that made me re-examine my choice.

The first thing that caused me to re-think my tree choice was this article from David Suzuki’s Queen of Green. The summary is that an artificial tree’s environmental footprint is about three times higher than a real tree’s environmental footprint, if your artificial tree lasts six years (which is apparently about average). The pendulum starts to swing in the direction of the fake tree at around the 20 year mark, or in situations where your real tree comes from very far away. This isn’t the case where I live, as Christmas tree farms are everywhere in British Columbia.

There are other concerns about fake trees. too. They’re typically made of PVC. It’s not the friendliest chemical, and it can contain lead. In fact, there are many stories involving lead contamination from artificial trees. While lead is becoming less and less common in recent years, back in 2005 when we bought our tree there was less awareness, and one presumes, more lead was used. Since my tree doesn’t say anything about being lead-free, it’s probably safe to assume that it’s not.

Ultimately, though, it’s not just the environment that swayed me. The second big thing that caused me to re-think my tree choice was taking the tree out of storage last year. I pulled the box out of the crawlspace under our house, and put it up. It smelled dusty and musty, and after I put it up my house smelled dusty and musty, too. Instead of leaving me feeling festive, decorating the tree left me feeling kind of sad. I could follow everyone’s favourite piece of advice and hang up a pine-scented air freshener, but in the first place those air fresheners smell nothing like a real tree, and in the second place adding a whole lot of artificial fragrance to my home would only increase the number of chemicals already floating around. Ew.

The desire for a real tree led my family to the local tree lot in mid-December this year, where we chose a Douglas Fir. Yes, it shed needles. Yes, getting it home and into the stand was kind of a pain. Yes, I had to water it. Yes, there was inconvenience involved. However, it really did smell fantastic, and my kids enjoyed the process of picking it out. Once it was up, it really felt like Christmas, and I was happy about my tree instead of depressed by it.

I am returning to my real tree roots – and I feel good about that. The fact that I still felt good when I took the tree down today and vacuumed up the needles that littered the floor is confirmation that I’m making the right choice for myself. A little mess is a small price to pay for a merrier, greener, holiday season.

What about you, do you have a real tree or an artificial tree? And does it surprise you to learn how much greener real trees are?

Crying at Christmas Concerts

school christmas concert holiday

My children go to a large school. To make the annual holiday concert a little more manageable, they divide the school in half and perform two separate shows, one on Wednesday and one on Thursday. It works well, as each show lasts only about 45 minutes, meaning no one has to sit still for that long. There are downsides, though, and I experienced one this year. As luck would have it, in the first year my little ones were at the same school, their classes ended up performing on different days. This means that I got the full hour-and-a-half long show, just in two installments.

As any parent can tell you, the holiday concert is a bit of a mixed bag. It combines unintentional humour, extreme earnestness, boredom and nostalgia, delivered by performers of varying talent levels. However, the truth is that you’re not there for the show, you’re there for your child. You file into an overcrowded elementary school gymnasium, which is either stifling hot or freezing cold, and sit on an uncomfortable folding chair behind someone who almost immediately blocks your view by holding up their iPad to take video. You do it for that moment when your kid catches sight of you as they wait to perform, and flashes a million-dollar grin. And for that moment, later, when they talk about the performance and you say, “I saw you, baby. I was there. I saw you, and I had such a good time.”

I guess you could say that you do it for the children. Think of the children.

Even still, every year without fail I find myself wiping tears out of my eyes at least once. That mix of warm holiday feeling and nostalgia creeps across my consciousness almost unnoticed, until it starts spilling out of my eyes in fat drops. In that moment when I try to unobtrusively wipe my tears away I’m thinking about my own childhood, and what it felt like to be a kid at Christmas. I’m also thinking about my babies, and how fast they’ve grown, and how very soon all of this will be over. How very soon I’ll be all finished with elementary school holiday concerts. And how, when it’s over, I’ll actually miss it.

This year my tears came while I was watching a group of first graders sing. Neither of my own children were in the group – my kids are in grade three and kindergarten. I didn’t actually recognize a single child as they stood on risers in front of me, wearing pajamas and Santa hats, some singing exuberantly, some half-mumbling the words while they shifted from foot to foot impatiently. I recognized the song, though. It was “Old Toy Trains” and it triggered a memory from my own childhood, when I was one of those kids on risers singing my heart out for the parents. The bittersweet pain of it all filled me in that moment, and I started to cry.

At Christmastime, more than any other time, the past mingles with the present for me. This is a time of tradition and ritual. A time of remembering what was, and seeing it happen again in this new generation. It’s a time of mystery, wonder and goodwill (at least when I’m not looking for a parking space at the mall, anyway). As I see it through the eyes of my children, and the eyes of the little children singing at the school concert, I can’t help but be overcome by the emotion of it all.

I don’t know what will make me cry at next year’s Christmas concert, but I have no doubt that something will. At this point it’s become a holiday tradition for me, like setting up the Christmas tree or wrapping the presents. It’s how I express all of the emotions I feel at this time of year, when they’re too big to be contained by my body. All the little miracles of the season, filling me up until tears run down my face.

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