There’s a lot to catch up on, so please bear with me over the next couple of days, gentle readers.
Christmas was lovely. We had a wonderful day with our families. I received books and gift cards and chocolate as gifts, plus new baking sheets and silicone muffin pans and little kitchen things. The children adored all their gifts and were beautifully behaved. The food was excellent and the turkey much complimented. At the end of it all I was tired, and I’d done something to my lower back, but I was very pleased indeed with how the day was managed. Making Christmas for others is really special.
I have felt very peaceful and happy this Christmas. We seem to be between colds, we have had good snow and now it’s bright and clear, we weren’t scrambling at the last minute for anything, and all the food was planned. I remembered to pick up sausage meat and peas this year, and I remembered to set a batch of dough for rolls to rise when I got up on Christmas Eve morning. I think Owlet’s kitchen has had a lot to do with how much I was looking forward to it all this year. It has been so much fun planning and executing it. (What? Have I not mentioned Owlet’s kitchen here? HRH built her a play kitchen. We designed it and he started putting it together after classes ended at school and the workshop was pretty much empty. Read on for pictures!)
In our house we are heartless and cruel, and no one opens gifts on Christmas morning until the grandparents get here late in the morning, after Owlet’s nap. (We’ve always done it that way, so Sparky doesn’t know that other kids wake up before dawn, heh heh.) Owlet’s kitchen had been placed in our kitchen, but she hadn’t seen it because HRH whisked her right downstairs to open her stocking on our bed when she woke up. (Sparky does that, too; he wakes up and his stocking is hanging on his doorknob, and he can open that and play with whatever’s inside it; the candy is fair game to snack on, too. Although he came down at 5:45 to excitedly catalogue everything that had been inside it, and then again to make sure that it was okay to eat some of the jellybeans.)
There was a chaise longue waiting in my attic office Christmas morning. Apparently HRH didn’t want me to be jealous of Owlet’s kitchen, so he built a chaise longue for me.
I just. You know? Words failed me. And then I think I started to laugh, and laughed for a while. I adore chaises longues, and we toyed with the idea of getting one for the living room when we bought the house, but they were all too big for the space and expensive. He’s been building this on and off with scrap bits of wood at work for over a year, and keeping it a magnificent secret. He hid it in the shed after bringing it home, and wrestled it up the stairs on Christmas Eve. Sparky must be commended for keeping the secret, too, because he was with HRH when he bought the goosefeather-filled linen pillows for it at Ikea when they got the Christmas tree.
More pictures! Owlet meets her kitchen! It was her first gift of the day. She looks so serene. And yes, those are owls in the shelf brackets.
She wanted to start messing about with it right away, pointing up at our pot rack and making imperious little “ah! ah!” sounds, so I gave her the little saucepan and wooden spoon she usually plays with on the floor while I work in the kitchen. She got lots of felt and wooden food throughout the morning as various gifts, plus a set of pots and ladles afterwards, so it’s very well stocked now.
And the last gift, a co-present from both sets of grandparents: the Wheely Bug. It’s the bee, not that you can tell because it’s hidden by the skirt of her lovely velvet dress. (That’s a tiny purse hooked on the antennae.)
I love this age at Christmas. Owlet kept picking up random presents from under the tree and bringing them to people with a beautiful smile. And she wanted to examine and play with everything she opened, bless her, but we had to keep going.
I think we have a picture of Sparky immersed in a book he’s just unwrapped every year, don’t we?
Sparky was very efficient without being careless, was terribly excited about everything he opened, and dashed off to put each thing in his room as it was unwrapped. His list was pretty much checked off, thanks to cooperation between parents, grandparents, and Santa. Not that it was horrendously long; we set him a limit of five items for the list, five special things he particularly wants, and we remind him that he may not get all of them. This year’s theme was Skylanders, a video game designed for kids that he was introduced to by his best friend at school. He asked for both the original game and the new release, but his grandparents co-gifted him with the original starter set, we actually found a set of original figures, and a guidebook (he adores guidebooks, and pretty much memorizes them). He was over the moon.
I think all round, it was a successful day indeed, and we are all very, very grateful for the generosity of our loved ones.
No, we still have no decorations up. But the candles I am burning daily have frankincense oil in them. I have a bag of pine cones from Jan and t!, a spool of Christmas ribbon, and a glue gun; who knows what can happen. Sparky has been enjoying his Christmas playlist. And HRH and the boy are currently off selecting our tree, which will wait patiently outside till Saturday when we can put it up and decorate it. The handmade gifts are almost complete (the play kitchen HRH is building for Owlet is to die for), the previously purchased ones are all tucked away in the attic cupboard, and other than picking up gifts for a last couple of children once HRH gets paid this coming Thursday, we are just about done.
In the meantime, we had a visit to Santa:
Wow, does this slight upshot from the photographer ever make the kids look more like one another than any other photo I’ve seen, although Sparky still looks more like me and Owlet looks more like her dad. The angle of the shot rounds out Sparky’s face the way it isn’t in real life; he looks younger here. And how serious does Owlet look? She walked across the red carpet toward Santa with her arms out, but paused when she got to his chair and then wasn’t as excited to actually be with him as she’d seemed to be before she got there.
It was a new Santa at a new mall, and we are always very nervous about new places since we are so sensitive to energy, but the VERY RED redesign of the Christmas set at our previous mall of choice was so offputting that we needed another option. A friend recommended this one out here on the south shore, and we loved it. We got there just before the awesome Santa went on duty, and he was walking slowly through the mall in his long cloak with brown fur trim, sprigs of holly in his hat, saying hello to children. And the mall had the old-fashioned moving scenes inside little cottages as decorations, the way they were when I was a kid. The photo was printed right there when you left Santa, and you could choose which photo of about five you wanted done; none of this waiting an hour for development and having to go with whatever the photographer caught or decided on him/herself. We’re definitely going back next year. Hurrah!
We were actually on our way out to see Santa yesterday morning when Sparky’s old preschool/daycare director called and asked if we wanted in on a breakfast with Santa party that was starting in half an hour, as she had an extra ticket. A bunch of his old friends were going, too, so we said sure! The kids had a blast colouring and eating pancakes. The Santa was… well, he tried hard, but the suit was patched with duct tape, and the pillow in his jacket was very obvious, and his blue-tinted transition lenses weren’t standard Santa issue. But he was very jolly, and Sparky hugged him, and Owlet wasn’t scared at all. And it was marvellous to see some of the old parents we used to see when Sparky was there for two years, and to see the fresh batch of babies, and the toddlers Owlet will be pals with when she starts there next fall, who are the little brothers and sisters of kids who were there when Sparky was. The preschool alumni were running around together afterwards, and it was interesting to observe how they’ve all grown and become big six-and seven-year-olds, but you can still remember and see the little three- and four-year-olds you knew.
We had an early Christmas present this year, too:
When I got back from taking Nixie to the vet for the last time, there was a digital piano waiting for me. We inherited it from Ron’s aunt, who is destashing various things from her daughter’s childhood, and my in-laws brought it over when they came to stay with Owlet while I went out. It’s a Roland ep-7, so it’s technically a digital piano and not a keyboard. I’m actually impressed at how much more like a piano it sounds and feels like than the keyboards I’ve messed around with in the past. We’re pretty excited. Both kids love it, and both play on it often. I can even play a version of ‘Good King Wenceslas’ on it, complete with what I want to call left-hand double stops, but which are really I-III chords missing the V. It’s got surprisingly good tone for a digital, and the keys are weighted. It has 76 keys, so it’s short one octave, but I’m not complaining! We are very, very grateful.
And so we enter the final week before Christmas. I leave you with some photos of the Christmas cookies that Sparky made yesterday:
I am back from the vet with an empty pet carrier and a Nixie-shaped hole in my heart.
It was time, but that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. It also didn’t help that her veins were collapsing so they couldn’t insert the IV properly, and had to inject her in the abdomen, which meant that she went more slowly (although with the sedative and painkiller they’d already given her, she wasn’t feeling anything by that point). At least I got to hold her close in my arms until she stopped breathing. It felt right, like it was a fitting bookend to how often I had held her as a newborn kitten to feed her, to make sure she lived.
Born to a feral cat being fostered by a friend who lived a few blocks away, Nixie was the tiniest one of the litter, very tiny indeed, and we didn’t think she’d make it without help. So I went over once or twice a day to give her extra meals and cuddles. Naturally, when she was old enough, she came home with me. She never really got very big, remaining the size of an adolescent kitten. She was perfect the way she was.
She used to sleep behind a row of books on the bottom shelf of a bookcase. If she’d been rolling on the floor and had motes of dust in her fur, when she walked through a sunbeam she looked like she was the velvety blackness of space with tiny sparkling galaxies scattered through. She liked to sleep in tiny hidey-holes, particularly shelves. In her later years, she slept next to my pillow at night, though this past year she’s slept on a blanket upstairs in the attic office. Her fur was the silkiest I’ve ever felt on a cat. I loved her purr, and how she would delicately reach out with a paw and just the tiniest bit of unsheathed claw to pat my hand or my cheek, to coax me into stroking her.
We had just over ten wonderful years together.
She was light enough to be able to jump up and balance on my cello in its soft case (and don’t think I didn’t find her napping inside the empty case when she thought she could get away with it!):
She would lie on my desk and keep me company while I worked:
Sparky took a really neat photo of her when he was about four:
But this is how I will always remember her, lithe, with big green eyes, sitting in the sun on my bookshelves.
Thank you, sweet little cat, for being my dear companion, for loving us all, and for enriching our lives with your delicate personality. Say hello to Maggie, Gulliver, and Roman for us. Sparky told me last night that Maggie would be waiting for you, to show you the best sunny spots and grass to play in. And I’m not going to argue with the eerily insightful seven-year-old, because honestly, I think he’s right.
Sparky brought home his first official report card this week.
You may remember the second-, third-, and fourth-guessing we were doing when we decided to switch him into this new French immersion school for grade two. Were we going to kill his ease of social interaction? Would all his marks slip and his self-confidence plummet? Would he grow to hate school?
Ah ha ha. Guess who improved every single grade in every single subject? (Except gym, but as long as he’s running around and having fun and listening to instruction, I’m unconcerned about that.) His overall grade in French is a bit lower, but his marks in comprehension of written and oral texts and production of written work have actually gone up. It’s his communication/speaking that has dipped and brought the overall grade down with it, but that’s completely in keeping with being measured against a different set of criteria and expectations. While he’s technically just under a passing grade in French at the moment, I couldn’t be prouder of how well he’s doing when everything is taken into account, and it will only get better. Comprehension comes before ease of communication in any new language.
We had a parent-child-teacher meeting after school on Thursday, and his teacher is just as excited as we are. He told me not to be concerned about the low mark (I assured him that I wasn’t, because the higher than expected marks in the two other French areas were a good sign of his development) and that Sparky’s achievements were pretty impressive. And when we left, Sparky told his teacher that he was going to stay in this new school for grade three — “Right, Mama?” he said, turning to me with a sudden anxiety. “Oh, yes,” I said. “I think we can guarantee that.” That, plus the illustrated page for one of his projects on which he’d written ‘I love school’ and his ongoing positive attitude and excitement about going to school speaks volumes to me about the fit of programme with his nature and educational needs.
It’s always nice to be told that it’s a joy to have your child in a class, and that his expression, creativity, sense of humour, willingness to work hard, and general happiness are pleasurable to behold. His teacher pointed out a couple of art projects in which Sparky thought outside the box and came up with slightly unusual ways to achieve a goal, and said that his fine motor skills and sense of building in three dimensions were advanced for his age (no surprise there). Sparky showed me his “portfolio” (a binder of his work so far) and I could very clearly see the evolution in his comprehension, his understanding of French grammar, and the vast improvement in his printing. He’s started learning cursive, too, and his little practice lines of cursive letters are adorable. In English he’s writing one-page stories, and they clearly have beginnings, middles, ends, are exciting, clear, and leave no loose ends or introduce no new characters or plot strands out of nowhere.
Today is a nice sunny ped day, and we are just back from a celebratory trip to Starbucks. We bundled Owlet up in her new ski jacket with the owls on it (pictures eventually!), put her in the stroller, and walked over. I had promised him a hot chocolate with whipped cream and a cookie. And I got a creme brûlée latte, because I work hard supervising and guiding his homework with him, and I deserved a treat, too. Last time we did this Owlet was still only a faint hope, and Sparky could only finish half his cocoa. Today Sparky finished every last drop of his chocolate, and Owlet sat on one of the chairs and grabbed for everyone’s drinks. (I fed her whipped cream from my latte and Sparky gave her a couple of bites of his cookie. She let it be known that it was Not Enough and next time things had better be different, though we do this so rarely that next time she’ll probably be drinking her own cocoa.)
We are thankful for making ends meet (it’s happening, and it’s only going to get better as we catch up), our lovely little house, our children, our family, our friends (near and far, in person and those we know and love thanks to the wonder of the Internet), our health, and the beautiful world around us.
And for leaf piles!
Sparky picked Owlet up and dumped her right into the middle of the pile of leaves that he’d raked up with his Nana, then rolled around with her. She loved it. Initiation into a Canadian fall tradition: complete.