Monthly Archives: December 2011

Lost in the Season


It seems that while there is  the potential for so much grace and giving in the Christmas season, I find too that there is also the potential for loss.  Loss of sanity, loss of perspective, loss of common sense (“I don’t care that it’s 50% off, the kids do NOT need another game console/stuffed animal/designer jeans/ugly Uggs…”) And, of course, the loss of my waistline.

If I lived far away from the shopping malls and the general Christmas frenzy, how would I celebrate the season?  If someone peeled away the mass marketing, the shopping, and the incessant risk of personal bankruptcy, what would a Happy Christmas look like?

Family & Friends: I would want to make merry with my family and friends, to have time to reconnect with everyone in a calm, relaxed manner.  We would visit each other, gather round warm hearths, and catch up.  We would sing off-key renditions of Christmas carols, go outside and throw snowballs, and make snow angels.  We would toast the sunrise and then stumble home to our warm down-covered beds.

Food:  Certain foods, not eaten at any other time of year, are just required.  These are foods basted in tradition.   My husband’s family’s Swedish coffee bread -rich, delicately flavoured with cardamon – December without this staple is now unacceptable.  A roast with Yorkshire pudding is divine.  And, dammit, Brussels sprouts – just once a year.   Candy canes -normal peppermint candycanes.  There’s no hope for my waistline.

Christmas Cheer:  No, not booze although there’s nothing quite like a cup of mulled wine on Christmas Eve while watching night fall (around 3 pm here in Canada).  I am partial to fresh cedar boughs and sparkling faerie lights.  

 Music:  I was raised on traditional Christmas music and now that I’m old and stodgy, it’s what I crave at this time of year. No Paul McCartney drivel (sorry, Sir Paul,but really…),no Grandma getting run over by a reindeer…and I’m sorry Dad – no Handel’s Messiah.  Give me old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon with a dash of Celtic Christmas carols.  No more, no less.

So, I’ve sat for a good 10 minutes and cannot come up with any more absolute requirements for a happy Christmas.  I need very little, as it turns out – time with family & friends, rich food, cedar boughs, and some nice songs sung by all.  According to Madison Avenue advertising, it doesn’t sound like much but it’s everything. 

So make your Christmas,Hanukkah, or Whatever Else You Choose to Celebrate  Happy, Happy.  Don’t let the Happy get lost. 

Until 2012…

Shopgirl in Tutu or Adventures in Christmas Shopping


Shopping tends to overwhelm me.  There’s too much stuff in every store causing a classic case of sensory overload.  As a procrastinator extraordinaire, shopping online is not usually an option. So, when venturing out recently,  I was prepared for crowds, no parking, and long lines.

Nothing prepared me for the Shopgirl in Tutu.

I strode purposefully into the temple of all things yoga-ish, Lululemon, and skidded to a halt.  Overwhelmed instantly by the sheer magnitude of yoga-ish offerings (stretchy pants, hoodies, tank tops, brightly coloured mats and water bottles) that went from floor to ceiling, alarm bells clanged in my head.  I took a deep breath and barrelled forward towards a mountainous display of clothing only to have my progress impeded by a woman  in a sports bra, black leggings and black tulle tutu.  I think she wore black hiking boots but frankly, after spying the tutu, my vision became unreliable.

Do people practice yoga in tutus now?  Does Lululemon now carry ballet wear?  This new corporate message (if indeed there was one) confused me mightily.   A question came to mind:  was the black tutu with matching hiking boots a personal wardrobe choice or a Lululemon corporate decision?  I saw no one else dressed like that.  The other women working the shop floor were clad in the usual expensive yoga pants, tank tops, and  hoodie jackets.  Would it have been rude of me to say, “Hey!  What’s up with the tutu?”   

I know it sounds silly to be thrown off by a tutu, but it was just so… unexpected.  Had she been wearing a Santa hat – no problem.  A reindeer antler headband?  Of course, tis the season.  Black tutu?  Umm…no.  Leaving the store with my purchase, I continued to be perplexed.  My perplexed state perplexed me further – why was I perplexed? 

Corporate branding and marketing are so pervasive in our society it seems unlikely that this shopgirl was a rogue tutu-wearing rebel.   However, the tutu was a complete departure from what I thought of as the Lululemon “brand.”  So, I investigated the website and found, ta-da, that Lululemon does now carry “dance wear” although,  not one piece of tulle did I find.  The photos were of leotards and leg warmers and the blog entitled, “dance” talked a lot about music festivals and…yoga.  Sounds like I’m not the only one confused.

If tutus are now de rigeur in yoga classes, I’m afraid I must run, not walk, away from all neighbourhood yoga studios (right now, I merely cross the street).  As soon as small tents become fashionable attire for doing a downward dog, I’ll possibly join up.  The Christmas shopping will carry on, as it must.  I will now be more open to expecting the unexpected.

Looking Behind


There is a popular saying out there, “do what you love and the money will follow.”  I look behind me so much that the front of me is bruised from walking into light posts and parking meters.  And to that man whose Mercedes I tripped over the other day, I said I was sorry.

I mean, where is it, this lovely, loving, elusive bundle of cash that is supposed to be trundling after me?

In my head, I hear my mother’s voice chirping another cliche:   Patience is a virtue.  Sorry Mom, but screw that!  I’m fifty freaking years old!  How much more patience does anyone expect me to be able to conjure?  Any attempt at being virtuous was abandoned long ago anyway.  Again, sorry Mom.

In fairness to my mother (God rest her soul) and my inherent clumsiness, I only started the doing-what-I-love part in the last year or two so I guess I’m a long way from having…another cliche…hang on…”paid my dues.”  Cliches hurt almost as much as those parking meters…

So, I keep going, as I must and most of the time, I really don’t mind.  I was born to write and would fight a lion or two in a stadium filled with toga-clad Romans for the right to continue; however, if the gods would be so kind as to send me a sign…a sign would help me keep my chin up, stay focused, and possibly prevent me from drinking in the middle of the day.  Possibly. (It is the holiday season, after all).

My daughter can text 50 of her closest friends while walking to school; surely, I can learn to walk while sneaking quick looks for the money that is surely following me…somewhere.  Should I slow down so it can catch up?

In Praise of…Insulation


Most of the time, I take the roof over my head for granted and without complaint.  Some would argue.  Some would say I spend quite a lot of my time griping about it’s various faults, lack of amenities and high-end finishes and so forth.  Some would be right; I do.  I would counter argue that for three seasons of the year, my griping is done rather benignly, even quietly.

Until winter.

In winter, my voice struggles to be heard over the whine and howl of the wind coming through our 1970’s era windows that were not installed properly then.  My voice shakes and quivers, not from shyness or fear but because it tends to do so when the rest of my body is shivering violently from the cold.  As it does.  Every winter, in this cute little house. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I adore my house in spite of its archaic windows, creaky floors, and bizarre 1980’s “renovations.”  I just adore it slightly less in winter because when the wind blows either off Lake Huron or Lake Ontario, it tends to blow nearly unimpeded through my living room.   If the wind is blowing, we can’t light candles.

Our house has insulation issues or more boldly put, it has none.  Put your hand on any wall (even the interior ones) and you’re likely to get frostbit.  I’ve been in houses where there is proper insulation; oddly, this doesn’t happen.  I’ve walked on floors barefoot in houses with insulation.  My toes don’t turn white and tingle. 

I watch, green with envy, those renovation shows where the walls have been taken down to the framing.  Standing in what looks like space suits are men wielding hoses.  Spewing in a rainbow of pinks, purples, and blues (depending on R-value?) is a frothy stream of foam insulation being sprayed between the studs.  I sigh heavily and wonder how wonderful it would be to have those little space men in my house.

I would be happy with one dude with jeans worn below where it’s decent and proper with one hose spewing pieces of cellulose insulation.  I’m told this wouldn’t require us to remove all the drywall in our house – they can just bore one or two holes and blow it into the walls.  Not as space-age and airtight as liquid foam but surely better than nothing.

My insulation dreams are all for naught…unless we come into some lottery money.  My kid needs braces.  Insulation is a luxury we cannot afford at the moment and so, I pull on another sweater and leave my fleece-lined boots on.  I reach for my headphones so I can’t hear the wind’s soft whistle through the walls.

[Note: to those reading who might take issue with my version of reality; I’m a writer and therefore, entitled to artistic license.  In other words, I tend to exxagerate, embellish, amplify, and even overstate, with unabashed gusto.  I know that the wind doesn’t really whistle through the walls…it’s more like a soft “whooshing” sound.]

Crawling Towards the Sun


Dear Friend in France,

You miss the snow, the air that bites your throat as you inhale, you miss the sun that puts on a brief but dazzling show for the 4 hrs it manages to hang in the winter sky.  I know, I know.  I never thought I’d say it because I’m not a fan of Calgary in winter but there is something to this longing.  It’s called sunshine, at least for me.

Here in southwestern Ontario, as in southwestern France the sun hides its happy face from December til March.  When it can be bothered to show up, it’s pale and wan – like the Canadians it shines weakly upon.  Weirdly, Calgary enjoys bountiful sunshine in winter – so much so that sunscreen is required year-round.  My sunscreen is now long buried until summer.

Unlike my friend in France, I’m not a winter baby.  He was born on the prairies of Saskatchewan (I have no idea if I even spelled that right).  His blood looks forward to thickening every winter.  My blood panics and scrambles everywhere but where it’s needed when it gets cold, leaving me blotchy and shivering.  While he longs to be knee-deep in powder on a mountainside somewhere in Banff, I long to be mostly naked on a tropical beach. (My longings don’t change much from season to season).

Instead of inhaling razor sharp air right now, my friend is inhaling moisture in the form of incessant rain – a peculiar, unfamiliar form of precipitation to him.  Winter has cast her dreary cloak upon the Bordeaux region as here in Toronto.  Although the weather – for us – is freakishly warm at 5 degrees celsius right now, an ever-growing gloom encroaches as we near the solstice. 

 Our longings are quite different. I crave heat with my light.  I count the days until the Winter Solstice.  If I lived in the southwest of England, I’d throw myself on the ground in front of Stonehenge and give thanks to the gods on the solstice.  No gifts required, increased daily light is gift enough.

I string Christmas lights around the house and leave them on when the sun stands me up.  The hydro company l-o-v-e-s me.  I put strange concoctions on the stove consisting of cinnamon sticks, vanilla, and Christmas-y spices.  Anything to get me through the darkest days of winter.  I curse the incessant rain that turns to black ice.  I long for snow – if only to diguise the dull gray and  brown hues that dominate the landscape now.

So, dear friend in France, until you wing your way back to the Arctic, make do.  Ski the Alps. Cuddle up with the Girl and Jesus Jr. in front of a roaring fire and dream of the icy wonderland you long for.  I will huddle under a blanket with my kitten and look out at the drizzly streetscape and be homesick for places I’ve never seen…Tahiti, Hawaii, Fiji… 

One week until the Winter Solstice…and the painfully slow return of the SUN.

Bulking Up For Winter


The other day as my husband and I were walking to our favourite coffee shop, we spied a squirrel with an ass as big as a Rottweiler’s.  The squirrel’s behind was so big we couldn’t help staring.  Said squirrel ignored us, intent on stuffing his face full of acorns.   I looked at my husband and said, “I think we’re in for it this winter.”  If that squirrel’s enormous derriere was any indication of the winter we’re about to endure, we’d all better start bulking up and fast.

And, so in the spirit of not freezing to death from December to the end of March, I’m adopting the wildlife’s approach to winter. I’m stuffing my face nearly constantly.  Some of you out there who know me might be wondering how this is any different from my normal approach to eating.  Well, it’s not mindless.  My gluttony is mindful which is always better.  My face-stuffing has purpose.

Every time I see a squirrel or a bird now that isn’t morbidly obese, I feel sad.  “Hey, buddy!  You’re not going to fare well – c’mon its December already – get on it!” I’ll call through the kitchen window.  We saw a cardinal on our back deck last weekend that still had a waistline.  We shook our heads sadly.  He, though glorious in his vibrant red plumage, surely wouldn’t make it much past Christmas.

I will survive – and easily could survive – on my excess bulk until well after Christmas as my waistline disappeared right after Halloween.  There really is something to this bulking up for winter theme – I can walk around my virtually un-insulated house without shivering constantly.  Think of the money we’ll save without me bumping up the thermostat from 65 to 75 degrees (which would be necessary if I was skinny).  There is no need to buy bulky sweaters and wear them all at once, making me look like the Michelin tire man.  I now look like the Michelin man anyway.

Sure, there will be a reckoning in April when the layers have to be peeled off to greet the warmer weather.  Countless hours of hideous exercise will have to be endured.  I won’t be alone – the rest of Canada will be at the gym with me.  But I’ll give that some thought around…the end of March.  Until then, there’s Swedish coffee bread, Christmas cookies, homemade biscotti, mince tarts, butter tarts, pasta, strata, frittata, baguettes….

Dear me, I’ve gone an hour without food.  No wonder I’m feeling a bit peckish…

Happy Winter!