The Night Before Christmas

Merry Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse …

Except, if your house is anything like mine, there’s a whole lot of stirring happening. For one thing, I always leave my wrapping until the last minute. Always. For another, there’s a whole lot of to-ing and fro-ing, as we drive to see this set of relatives and that set of relatives. And finally, we have two young children. The excitement level is simply too high around here for there not to be stirring. This evening I will likely say (at least once but probably more) Santa can’t come if you don’t go to sleep.

Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Christmas with children is magical, even if it is a bit hectic.

And yet, every year, in the middle of the to-ing and the fro-ing, the wrapping and unwrapping, the baking and the eating and the driving, that moment comes. That moment when I can feel it – peace on earth and goodwill to men. It’s small, and if I blink I could easily miss it. But if I grab hold of it, and let it fill me, it’s there. Christmas. And, like the Grinch discovered, it doesn’t come from a store.

This Christmas I wish you that moment. That moment when you feel the love and the peace and the joy. And if you do feel it, my wish for you is that it will be enough to sustain you through the not-so-peaceful moments that fill the holiday season. Because, even if Christmas can be a little bit too much in every way, it can also be just exactly what you need. At least, it is for me.

Merry Christmas!

Green Christmas Wish List

Yesterday I shared my unrealistic Christmas wish list, which I briefly considered calling All I Want for Christmas is a Good Night’s Sleep. Today, for the last Enviro-Mama Thursday of 2012, I thought I’d share my green Christmas list. Many of the items on this list are feel just as unlikely to me as the possibility of actually getting to visit the bathroom by myself. But if there’s a time of year tailor-made for big dreams and tall orders, this is it.

If I could have any gifts for a better planet this Christmas, here’s what I would ask for.

Lighting a candle for peace at preschool music class
Lighting a (fake) candle for the planet

Dear Green Santa, Please Bring the Following …

  1. Higher standards around the chemicals in our cleaning and personal care products. We shouldn’t be rubbing carcinogens or toxins into our skin – and we definitely shouldn’t be using them on our children.
  2. For Canada to uphold its Kyoto commitments, and for strong national policies that actively reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.
  3. Proper labeling of genetically-modified food in North America, so that we can make an informed choice about what we’re eating.
  4. Less plastic, and especially less unnecessary plastic. For example, why do some organic bananas come pre-wrapped in plastic bags? We don’t need it!
  5. More local food, and not just at the farmers’ market. I’d love to see more local food at my grocery store when it’s in season, instead of produce shipped from thousands of miles away. Local carrots just taste better!
  6. A good growing season this spring and summer, so that my garden produces like never before.
  7. More affordable green products. I know lots of people who would love to be more green, but struggle to be able to afford to buy organic food, natural toys, non-toxic cleaning products and so on.
  8. A society that is less focused on buying lots and lots of stuff. It’s expensive, it’s bad for the environment, and rampant consumption doesn’t bring us happiness.
  9. Lots of good news about species that are experiencing population recovery, damaged habitats that are being restored, messes that are being cleaned up, and companies, governments and people who are making positive changes.

What’s on your green holiday wish list? I’d love to hear!

My Actual Christmas List

Over the past number of weeks, many of my friends and family members have asked me what I want for Christmas. I do my best to come up with answers for them. I’ve asked for household items and clothes and books and so on. It isn’t always easy for me to write up my Christmas list, though. And the reason it’s not easy? I know exactly what I want for Christmas, but you can’t buy any of it at a store.

Here’s where I issue my disclaimer: I love my kids. I love them so much, in fact, that love doesn’t even feel like a strong enough word. I would rather not die for them, but I would do it in a heartbeat if the situation required it. I entered this parenthood gig knowing that I would be making sacrifices, and I gladly make them. I understand that they’ll only be little for so long, so I try not to stress about it when they act like the normal children they are. I also understand that there are people who would give anything to have children of their own, but are not able to. I wouldn’t change my life for anything.

At the same time, let’s be honest. Parenting is hard. Sometimes it drains the life right out of you. And so, if I could have anything in the world, here’s what I’d really ask for this Christmas.

Dear Santa, please bring me the following …

A Mother’s Christmas Wish List

  1. A good night’s sleep – and more often than once every three-to-six months.
  2. Some of the dearly-loved possessions that my kids have lost or destroyed, to be returned to me in their original condition.
  3. The ability to leave the house in under 20 minutes.
  4. A floor that isn’t perpetually covered in toys, art supplies, and unidentified sticky messes.
  5. No awkward questions in front of relatives or random strangers at the grocery store.
  6. A meal that doesn’t involve any complaints about the food I bought, prepared and served to my family allbymyself.
  7. The ability to swear out loud when the situation calls for it, without running the risk that a child will repeat it and/or chastise me.
  8. The freedom to watch what I want, when I want, on my own television.
  9. Shirts that aren’t covered in unidentified stains left by little hands.
  10. For a whole week to pass without finding rotting food somewhere in my house or car.
  11. Bathroom privacy.
  12. For my hairbrush, knitting needles, dishes, books, scissors, phone bills, socks and so on to just stay where I put them.

As I said, I know that I won’t get any of these things. And really, the joy of sharing Christmas with little children makes up for it. Seeing the magic in their eyes is amazing. But, as I said, that doesn’t mean this mom gig is easy. And so it’s fun to dream, just for a little while.

What’s on your unrealistic Christmas wish list?

Candy Cane Ice Cream

I am someone who believes that ice cream is a year-round food. While other people opt for something slightly less frozen in the dead of winter, I just put on another sweater. However, I do make seasonal adjustments when it comes to my ice cream consumption. Fresh raspberry ice cream, for instance, is for the summer. Pumpkin ice cream is for the fall. And when Christmas rolls around, that can mean only one thing: candy cane ice cream.

I adapted this recipe from my vanilla ice cream recipe, which I adapted from the vanilla ice cream recipe that came with my ice cream maker. I’ve made adjustments to suit my personal taste – adding slightly more vanilla, throwing in some peppermint extract for the candy cane flavour, and changing the milk-to-cream ratio. This ice cream doesn’t just contain bits of candy cane, it also contains chocolate chips. My daughter refers to it as “peppermint bark ice cream”, and I can see where she’s coming from. I use mini chocolate chips because I find the regular ones get a little too hard when they’re frozen. Breaking a tooth is not festive.

candy cane ice cream

Amber’s Candy Cane Ice Cream

* This recipe is always gluten-free!

2 1/2 cups cream
2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp vanilla
1 Tbsp peppermint extract
4 standard size candy canes
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

candy cane ice cream recipeMix the cream, milk, sugar, vanilla and peppermint extract together. Whisk for two or three minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. This keeps your ice cream from being gritty.

Prepare the ice cream following the directions on your ice cream maker. In mine, which is a counter top electrical machine with a freezer bowl, it takes about 25 minutes. While that’s happening, crush the candy canes by bashing them with a rolling pin. This is a great way to work out any holiday stress you’re experiencing.

When the ice cream is starting to gel nicely, and it’s within a few minutes of being finished, add the crushed candy canes and mini chocolate chips. Let it go for a few minutes longer until it’s the desired consistency. Serve it up and freeze the rest.

Yield: Approximately 2 quarts of ice cream.

Happy holidays, and happy ice cream making!

Podcast: David Suzuki’s Queen of Green on the Holidays

Last week I told you that I’d be re-sharing the first part of my interview with the amazing Marcy Axness today. I’m reneging on my promise. This week I scored a last-minute interview with Tovah Paglaro, a.k.a. David Suzuki’s Queen of Green. We had a great chat about greening your holiday season, and I wanted to share it with you sooner rather than later. Podcast David Suzuki's Queen of Green HolidaysIf you’ve left your house at all in the past month or so – and even if you haven’t – you can’t have failed to notice that Christmas is rapidly approaching. Bing Crosby is crooning while I do my grocery shopping, there’s a festive tree in my dentist’s office, and my daughter is practicing for the school holiday concert around the clock. We’re all shopping and baking and negotiating arrangements for the holiday meal. But, as it turns out, all of this celebrating comes at a big of a cost to the planet. Our consumption has a carbon footprint. All those presents in brightly-coloured packages mean a lot of garbage on Christmas morning. And when we cook enough to feed an army and don’t end up eating it all, that impacts the planet, too.

As the David Suzuki Foundation‘s green living expert, I could think of no one better than Tovah to ask about how to make the holiday season a little bit greener. We talked about taking steps to reduce consumption and waste. We talked about preserving the magic of the holiday – especially for our children – without trashing the planet. We talked about setting green New Year’s resolution, and she shared the Queen of Green’s holiday wish. If you’d like some practical, manageable tips for making your holiday season a little less commercial and a lot more meaningful, I encourage you to listen to the podcast:

Over the next two weeks on the podcast I’ll be re-sharing my interview with Marcy Axness, author of Parenting for Peace. Our conversation was so amazing that I had to break it up into two parts. We covered a lot of ground, and I had a lot of my parenting pre-conceptions challenged. I’ve listened to the conversation many times myself, and I can tell you that I’ve learned something from Marcy each time. Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute! Also, if you have a podcast idea, please share it with me. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

One Green Thing: Dealing With Packaging

One Green Thing Strocel.comIt’s Enviro-Mama Thursday here on, and today I’m thinking about what to do with all that toy packaging. It’s my One Green Thing for December. If you want to know more about my One Green Thing for November, which was winterizing my garden, you can read my progress report from last week.

One of the things that I consider when I’m choosing Christmas gifts is the amount of packaging that the gift comes with. When you buy a tiny little toy that comes in a massive box, you wind up with a whole lot of trash on your hands. All the resources and energy that are used to manufacture and ship all that packaging literally end up in the trash. It’s wasteful and it isn’t good for the planet. That’s one reason that many “green” products come with minimal packaging, or none at all. It’s a way of reducing the environmental impact of the stuff you buy.

In spite of my best intentions, however, a whole lot of packaging comes into my home over the holidays. I can’t really complain about it – the packaging is a sign that my family is well-loved, and we’re receiving a lot of gifts. It’s also a sign that we have more than we could ever need. Still, I don’t like the idea that our celebrations are generating a whole lot of extra waste for the landfill. That’s why this December I’m targeting packaging.

Hannah checks out her presents

Here’s how I plan on tackling the Christmas packaging:

  1. As always, I’ll be keeping and reusing the gift bags and tissue paper that come into the house. By doing this I’ve been able to avoid buying new gift wrap for years now, and my presents still look pretty and colourful.
  2. I’ve just discovered that there’s a local business that recycles styrofoam. They don’t accept it in my community’s curbside recycling program yet, but it’s good to know that there’s something I can do with it if I’m left with some after the holiday is over.
  3. I will recycle all of the recyclable packaging that comes into my home, as always. I’ve got my eye on you, cardboard boxes!
  4. As I said, I will try to opt for gifts with little or no packaging when I can. This will just ensure that I’m not bringing extra packaging into my home myself.

These changes aren’t really dramatic, but sometimes little changes make the most difference, because they’re the ones we can stick with most easily.

How do you handle all the packaging that comes into your home over the holidays? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks! Also, if you’d like to get in on the act and take on One Green Thing of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to grab the button from this post if you’re blogging about it, and spread the enviro-love.

O Christmas Tree? Not Yet

There’s no denying it, the holiday season has arrived. Santa is holding court at the local mall. Holiday deals are arriving in my inbox, fast and furious. My neighbours are all putting up their lights. And my Instagram stream is chock-a-block with photos of people’s trees.

The treeI love Christmas. It’s by far my favourite holiday. I love Christmas music, and Christmas candy, and I even kind of like Christmas shopping. There’s just something about all the decorations and the bustle and the ritual of preparing for a celebration. If you strip away the layers of modern commercialism and the mayhem of the parking lot, there’s something timeless and deeply meaningful. People have been marking this time of year since long before there even was a Christmas, and they’ve been marking Christmas itself for countless generations. I love the sense of tradition and history involved in acts like preparing a holiday feast and setting up the Christmas tree.

In spite of my love for Christmas, however, I am a bit of a holiday holdout on a few fronts. The one that is currently causing the most stress in my home is my obstinate refusal to set up the tree any more than two weeks before Christmas. My children ask me every morning, now, if today is the day we can set up the tree. Every morning I repeat, once again, that it is not. Every afternoon they wheedle and whine and cajole. Please, please, please, Mama, please! I remain unmoved.

As a child, we waited to put up a tree because we had a real one, and we knew that if we put it up too early it would whither and die and drop needles everywhere before Christmas even happened. And so, from the time I was very young I had a family tradition of holding out on the tree until mid-December or later. Today I have a fake tree (to my great sadness – I miss the smell and the outing to choose the tree a whole lot), but I honour my childhood tradition. In part, because I see no reason to rush towards Christmas. But even more, because I know that anything loses its novelty after a while, even the tree. If I put it up too early the excitement around it will have vanished before the presents even arrive.

Looking back through my own archives, it seems I have this same internal debate every year. In 2009, I held out because I had a young toddler. In 2010, I objected to the idea that trees were going up while it was still November and I was still thinking about autumn. In 2011, I was equal parts lazy and nostalgic, not wanting to rush things. Every Christmas I see many trees popping up in front windows around my neighbourhood long before I’m ready to put mine up. Every year, my children object.

The scene on Christmas night
Christmas happened last year

There’s one thing I do know for sure, and it’s that Christmas will come. My kids will wake me up way too early on the morning of December 25th. I’ll drag my reluctant husband from his bed. We’ll come downstairs, to discover that magic has happened. The stockings, hung by the chimney with care, will be stuffed full. The plate of cookies left for Santa will be empty, but for a few crumbs. Presents will be under the tree, and lights will be glittering, as heirlooms passed from person to person within my family look down on us.

My children, with the impatience of their age, want to hurry the Christmas magic by putting up the tree as soon as possible. On the other hand with the nostalgia of my age, I want to follow my personal traditions, and let things come at what I deem their proper time. We are at an impasse. It is an impasse that will reach a natural resolution every year, as the tree inevitably goes up. Until the day that happens, though, the conflict will continue.

When do you put your tree up? And do your holiday preparations involve any negotiation with your children? I’d love to hear!

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