Monthly Archives: December 2008

A Boxing Day Retrospective Upon Christmas Cheer

First of all, I am thankful for the many blessings we enjoy simply by virtue of living in one of the most affluent countries in the world. We’re not wanting for a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our backs, boots on our feet. (Well, actually, yes we are wanting those boots at the moment, because HRH’s pair wore through last winter and have not yet been replaced, and mine developed a hole that lets in all the cold icy slush two years ago and I discovered that the right heel on my backup older pair had crumbled away to absolutely nothing when I put them on in lieu of the holed ones, but I digress. We have money to buy new ones thanks to Christmas generosity.) We also live in a country where socialised medicine keeps us healthy, even if people grumble about waiting lists. We have our immediate family alive and well and able to be with us on a special day.

We are, I know, lucky in comparison to something like 97% of the world.

Also, I have a stand mixer. Which probably 99.8% of the world does not. So you see how I am extra-blessed.

I learned a valuable lesson this year. Just because Santa cuts down on the amount of presents under the tree (and he did, he really did, for which I am also thankful), that does not mean that the total amount of money invested in gifting others decreases proportionately. Because I have not even dared to total up the value of the gift cards that were hung on the tree or tucked in to the Santa sack that has replaced individual stockings. Let us just say that since I talked HRH down from a 42″ flat-screen TV to a much more practical 36″ screen, the gift cards from Best Buy that each set of parents gave to HRH pretty much covers the purchase price. (I think they didn’t want HRH to feel left out because I got a stand mixer. Did I mention that Santa gave me a KitchenAid stand mixer? In brushed chrome?)

New soft flannel jammies, a hat/scarf/gloves set, gift cards to HMV and Indigo and Tim Hortons, new sheets and tea towels and oven mitts… it was a lovely gifting all round. Curiously, we did not receive books or DVDs or CDs, but we did get the gift cards so we can make our own choices there. I don’t think there has ever been a Christmas when I did not receive a tangible, physical book as a gift. I am in an odd sort of withdrawal and rapidly granted the boy’s request to go to the bookstore on Boxing Day. (I’ve already finished the book Aurora gave me at Yule. I am twitchy, although my mother brought a handful of ones I haven’t read down for me to read and I read half of one last night.) I suspect the boy has more than a few of my book-obsession genes, because he asked me several times yesterday if the bookstore was open yet. Of course, in his part of the bookstore there are shelves of Thomas trains and accessories, and I suspect that his gift certificate will go towards expanding his collection. Still, there are books in the same place, and it’s nice that we share enthusiasm for a common destination. I have also noted that people seem to have Gotten Wise to the whole HRH-passes-his-chocolate-along-to-me thing because there is Less Chocolate this year. I will cope. Mostly because my Yule stocking was sponsored by Saxon Chocolates. Also, my mother brought down her almond bark and double chocolate cookies.

The boy had a wonderful day despite being ill. He had a quiet morning watching WALL*E until the grandparents came over, and then did a great job handing presents out although he was quiet and increasingly less enthusiastic in general. He drooped a bit more and more as time passed and started feeling warm to the touch, until he was curled up in HRH’s lap, murmuring to me, “May I open another one, please?” He remembered his pleases and thank-yous despite feeling awful, though, and once all his gifts were open he found my hand and drifted off to his bedroom to curl up under his comforter with BunBun. He slept for an hour while we finished opening our gifts and when he woke up he played with some of his new toys (Santa brought him Mavis and Emily, two engines for which he has pined for about six months — thank you, eBay) and ended up drifting back to his room to lie on his bed and listen to a storybook or work on a puzzle or curl up under the comforter again, shivering. His cheeks were a brilliant red, he was clingy (but only Mama or Dada would do) and when I eventually took his temperature it was hovering just under 101 F. We let him direct his activities and kept an eye on him. He (sensibly) refused all food except a raw carrot (inspired by me peeling them for dinner) and some juice, and stated repeatedly when anyone said the word “turkey” that he didn’t want any, despite assurances every time that he didn’t have to eat if he didn’t feel like it.

Dinner was fabulous, as usual (why pretend modesty here? although I cannot take all the credit because my mother in law made her most excellent mashed potato dish and this year made a mashed sweet potato side that was drowned in cherry brandy!). The only failure this year were the rolls made with the organic six-grain stone-milled flour rolls, which over-rose on their second rise and fell back in on themselves. I baked them anyway and we had sort of bread wedges with a heavy crumb, and they weren’t awful but they weren’t the lighter rolls I’d wanted. The perfect turkey and gravy more than made up for it, though. The boy watched me make gravy while HRH carved the turkey (white slices that dripped with juices! heaven!), and when flopped over HRH’s shoulder said that he didn’t want any turkey scraps from the carving board but his little mouth was opening every time he watched HRH nibble on one, so HRH just popped a piece into the boy’s mouth next time it happened. The boy’s eyes went round as he chewed and he decided that the turkey was pretty darn okay. He ate the equivalent of a whole slice while in HRH’s arms, had some bread and water when we all sat down to dinner, then asked to be excused to play while the adults ate their meal. He came back when we were done, his cheeks a much more normal colour, and asked for dessert. His fever had broken, and he only spilled a spoonful or two of chocolate ice cream on the older-than-me linen tablecloth. He also ate a home-made shortbread cookie, so was evidently feeling much, much better (he hadn’t asked for a single sweet all day, you see). Then he discovered the box that the stand mixer had come in and proceeded to shriek with glee as he was pushed or pulled around the house in it while others cleaned up, so the grandparents got to play with him in regular Liam mode for the final hour or so. And the clean up went quickly too, when I’d decided that I only use my Royal Doulton china and good silver one time per a year and putting them in a dishwasher once every 365 days wouldn’t ruin them, so there was just the pots and pans and serving dishes to wash. (We saved the god-gods-that-many sea of stemmed crystal glasses to wash by hand after everyone had gone.)

Even the turkey stock smelled fabulous. It was a really very excellent turkey year. (We scraped the last spoonfuls of the brandied sweet potatoes into the stock pot, too. Waste not, want not!)

I cried a bit when my parents left, like I do every Christmas. We see them so rarely, and my mum and I are so close, that brief visits like this, however lucky we are to have them, just aren’t enough.

When everyone had gone the boy found the guitar that we had given him as the last Christmas present that morning. At the time he had pushed it away and said he didn’t want it (this was just before he took my hand and went to curl up in bed of his own accord, so we knew he didn’t mean that he didn’t want it, really, he meant that he didn’t want to play with it right then), but now he was thrilled with it and dragged it into the living room to play it. He kept trying to rest it on his shoulder like a cello. So as a lovely end to the day HRH and I were treated to a Christmas concert. Next week we will have to make a trip to Jimi’s music store to get a new set of strings for the guitar, since they’re the original strings and I broke the high E when trying to tune it before wrapping it on Christmas Eve.

This morning the boy ate two bowls of cereal and had two glasses of milk at breakfast, so he seems to be back to normal. He has already reminded me that I promised to take him to the bookstore. It’s a lazy day; everyone’s still in pyjamas. I will now go through my book wish lists and note down the titles I really want to pick up today (Apart from All the Windwracked Stars and Red Seas Under Red Skies, that is!). And I won’t use the entire gift certificate; I’ll save some for a rainy day.

I hope you all had or are having as wonderful a celebration of whatever kind you hold with family and friends.

Merry Christmas!

The turkey is brining, the stuffing is made, the rolls are doing their first rise. Today’s best Christmas present so far was the boy waking us up at seven instead of some ungodly hour as is his usual wont. The downside of this is that he’d thrown up in his bed at some point during the night and hadn’t told us. Ah, well. Both HRH and I had collywobbly tummies last night, so it only makes sense that the boy did too. Everyone is in much better health today. It must have been something we ate yesterday.

The boy brought his stocking to our bed and said, “Thank you!” every time he pulled something new out of it, and “Ah, cool!” when he’d liberated whatever it was from the tissue paper in which it was wrapped. He then bounded into the living room and pouted only a bit when we told him we were waiting for both sets of grandparents to show up before we opened the sea of presents under the tree. Yes, Santa came last night! I thought he’d been sane and had cut down on the number of gifts he’d dropped off, until I remembered that the local grandparents hadn’t brought over their set of presents yet. Oh well. At least the boy’s the very appreciative type and sincerely thanks the gifter both before and after he’d unwrapped something.

As is traditional, Nigella is my co-pilot today. Her cooking times suggest that I cook the bird for about three hours, while Butterball tells me to do it for four. I trust Nigella more. Besides, I can always push dinner back by a half-hour if I need to roast it a wee bit longer.

It’s nine-thirty. I should probably change out of the t-shirt and jeans I’m wearing into something a bit more classy before the grandparents arrive at ten. Although my socks are red and my t-shirt is green!

I send you all love on this lovely sunny winter’s day, and I hope everyone’s Yule week has been and continues to be as blessed as ours is.

The Yule Week Continues

Things just keep rolling on with fun and joy and love.

Last night the Preston-LeBlancs came over for a evening of seasonal music-making. It was the first time we’d ever tried anything like this, and while we were excited we were all a bit anxious too. It all turned out beautifully, even with the cold-suffering Tallis squirming in her mother’s lap while Paze played the alto recorder. Jeff’s guitar work sounded fabulous. I mostly played pizzicato in order to not drown Jeff out, but when we got people singing the better-known stuff I switched to arco. So much fun! The Bailey’s certainly helped, and HRH did his part by keeping the kids corralled and occupied until it was present-opening or singing time.

The quiche I made was delicious, too, although we never got around to drinking the mulled cranberry juice and I forgot about the Brie and pate. The afternoon started later than expected because HRH and I got stuck in several kinds of traffic in different places, throwing us an hour and a half behind schedule (the music only got bumped a half-hour, but there was a lot of lost time in there that cancelled other things such as hors d’oeuvre prep). When we got home after being in traffic for two hours and fifteen minutes, we found a three-foot snowbank in front of the driveway. The snow-clearing crews had done the first ploughing but the snow-blower hadn’t come by directly afterwards to remove the banks. Scarlet pulled up right behind us and she and HRH dug out a single car-width, then each pulled into the driveway one after the other. Naturally the blower showed up once they were done. But even that couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm for playing the real, traditional Christmas carols.

Today we awoke to another foot of snow, which gave HRH the opportunity to do something he’s always wanted to do. Our back deck has an oddly-placed gate that opens out into nothing. Once upon a time there was an above-ground pool in the backyard, and the gate opened onto a set of stairs that went into it. As there hasn’t been a pool in years, the gate has been fastened shut and is essentially just a part of the railing. Today HRH got the pile of snow in the backyard up to the level of the deck, so he opened the gate, and the boy now has a one and a half-storey snow slide from the back deck to the yard. The boy is shrieking as he throws himself down it on the little saucer sled and mumbling happily to himself as he trudges back up the stairs to the deck to do it all over again.

My parents arrived safe and sound in town last night (ahead of the storm, thank goodness) and will be here in an hour or so. (Which means I should wrap presents.) My mother will arrive laden with Christmas baking and a home-made tourtiere, our standard Christmas Eve dinner. There will, of course, be wine as well, lovely lovely wine that we cannot get in this province, and crab cakes. But best of all there will be my parents, whom we do not see often enough.

Family, music, joy, and love. It’s a good time of year. Not that we don’t experience these things during the other fifty-one weeks of a year, but this is a week we can all count on. I cherish these days, and count ourselves lucky to have them.

Yule Update

I haven’t journaled since Friday, so here’s a quick recap.

Saturday dawned bright and cold. We went to the mall and got the boy out of his snowsuit and boots, and into his shoes. We waited in a very short line for Santa, who was wonderful. Liam found his little Santa hat this morning and tucked it into the tote bag we brought with us, saying that he was going to be Santa’s helper when he got there. He put it on just before he got his turn with the Santa, and told him (rather shyly, for some reason, we aren’t sure what happened to the exuberant kid who’d been waiting in line) that he wanted a train. “A train? Like a Thomas train?” said Santa. And the boy turned huge eyes upon him, as if to say, You *do* know everything!

Then we picked up another gift that I hadn’t been able to get the day before, and we did groceries, and picked up the photographic proof that the boy saw Santa. (Good grief, look at how tall he is, especially when compared to last year.) Then we went to get the tree.

The tree was a bit of a challenge this year. Usually we get our tree at Ikea, because they plant one for every one sold plus give you a twenty dollar credit toward a purchase in the new year. I thought to check the web site before we left to see what time they opened, and found a note informing shoppers that they were out of trees and were not expecting another shipment. Crisis! So we decided we’d get it at Canadian Tire, our pre-Ikea supplier. Except when we drove there after the Santa visit, we discovered that Canadian Tire wasn’t selling them at all this year. What to do? It was past lunch, and we needed a tree or the boy would move into Irreversible Cranky Mode thanks to being out among crowds all morning, an empty tummy, and the increasing need for the regular nap. So we stopped by the independent seller halfway home and discovered that their prices were entirely reasonable. I chose one and HRH and Liam carried it to the car, the boy quite proudly holding the trunk end while HRH tucking the branches under his arm. When we arrived at the car HRH said, “I’m going to put this is the trunk.” “You can’t do that,” I said. “Why not?” he said. “It’s the same size as your cello.” I squinted at the tree and began to laugh, because he was right. It was still wrapped up in netting so it slid in quite readily and all he needed to do was bend the top in around the edge of the opening.

We let it rest for a bit and melt while the boy napped. HRH found the stand, set it up so the branches could relax, and we discovered that I’d picked a very nice little tree indeed. We brought the boxes of decorations up from the garage and put the lights on. When the boy woke up he was very excited and helped hang ornaments (including the Lightning McQueen one, which he was delighted to see and kept petting while he hung other ornaments; he has been warned about playing with it and the other decorations and so far so good) until he decided to watch a movie. This was fine, as we were getting to the more delicate things anyway. In what has now become our Solstice eve tradition, once the boy was in bed HRH and I ate sushi and finished decorating the tree. I also made a pecan pie for the next day’s party, and HRH and I co-made two batches of ginger cookies. Not gingerbread, not exactly gingersnaps, just ginger cookies, made with real fresh ginger (plus some black pepper because I find everything ginger tastes better with pepper).

Solstice morning was lovely. We had the upstairs neighbours down for our traditional Yule gift exchange and brunch. Blade made his incredibly light, fluffy, and delicious cinnamon rolls, stuffed with pecans and raisins (and I ate four of them!). HRH made waffles and we broiled turkey-pork sausages. Between the rolls and the waffles, though, we opened our stockings that hang from the banister in the stairway between our flats and the bigger gifts that were under the tree. My entire stocking, and I do not lie, exaggerate, or engage in hyperbole when I say this, contained chocolate in some form or another. (Oh, wait; there was a vial of red ochre powder. But it’s the exception that proves the rule!) There were truffles, fleur de sel caramels, organic Belgian drinking chocolate (solid chocolate that must be melted before imbibed!), and there was another container of drinking chocolate under the tree. Plus I got HRH’s peppermint bark, because he knows he’s going to eat piles of treats at Christmas so I inherit his chocolate, muah-hah! Saxon Chocolates, the official sponsor of the contents of my Yule stocking, are now one of my favourite chocolatiers; I can’t wait to taste those caramels. The boy was very excited because he got a Hot Wheels dune buggy and Lego vehicle sets as well as a Thomas milk tanker he’d wanted forever (now out of production… I love eBay). Somewhere around the end of brunch it began to snow, and it wasn’t just snow, it was heavy, thick, gorgeously blizzardy snow.

Sunday afternoon we were scheduled to be at a co-coven Yule party, so I made the second dessert (the evil chocolate torte that has rapidly become my signature dessert) and my contribution to the Secret Santa cookie exchange that we do. Since my recipient specifically requested that I make corn bread if I had drawn his name, I made a batch of corn muffins while I mulled cranberry juice to take with us for ritual. Thanks to the blizzard we were late, but everything was cosy when we arrived. We laughed and talked and exchanged presents and snacked. Our hostess had found old-fashioned ribbon candy, which I haven’t seen in years! Everyone was pretty much thrilled with the gifts they got; we’re a pretty good bunch when it comes to checking wishlists and buying things that people really want. I got a copy of Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s Yarn Harlot book, and the Philip Glass: Portrait album that Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà released this year, so I was filled with squee. (Thank you, Aurora!) We ate a delicious spaghetti dinner with the best meatballs I’ve ever had, and the pecan pie and chocolate torte were served for dessert. Our ritual was short and focused and also seemed to give everyone what they needed, and was sealed by toasting with the mulled cranberry cider. Then, as much as we wanted to stay, it was back home through the blizzard to relive the local grandparents of Liam duty.

Today the boy was dropped off at school, and HRH tried to do the last of the holiday shopping. We gave up in exasperation. Everyone’s getting gift certificates this year. That way everyone can choose what they want or need. I’m odd; I’m a firm believer in gift certificates being the perfect gift, but I still like to give people things that they can unwrap. Ah, well. It’s the thought that counts, and we really did try, but nothing we needed or wanted was in stock or in the right colour. The parental units will understand. (While being foiled at Chapters I did finally see two copies of Elizabeth Bear‘s latest hardcover, All the Windwracked Stars, for which I’ve been searching since its release. I know where I’m going when the 30% off hardcover sale starts post-Christmas!)

And that brings us to just about now. The sun has started its journey back to us, we have all survived the longest, darkest night, and the season now continues to unfold with light and joy and family and love. My parents spend the day with us on the 24th, and both sets of parents are here for the 25th. Tomorrow we pick up the turkey where it waits for us, and it will defrost in the garage. I’ll brine it as usual. Looks like HRH and I won’t be exchanging gift(s) (it was to have been a co-present) again this year, but it’s a minor issue. Tomorrow we have dear friends over for a session of seasonal music-making and food, and Saturday we see even more friends. Apart from today’s shopping argh, things are wonderful, and the rest of the week looks to be increasing the wonderful quotient.

In An Effort To Focus On The Good Things…

… instead of the things currently driving me up the wall, I hereby present a List of Things for Which I Am Thankful or Excited About.

1. All I need to do is proof the overdue-new-to-me assignment I was given, then I can upload it and it’s gone. (Which is what I should be doing right now, but I have to decompress first.)

2. The roads were fairly clear yesterday. Traffic was not wholly insane.

3. My cello lesson was awesome. I got one new technical exercise assigned, one new Mooney Position Pieces exercise, two new pieces in the Suzuki book (apparently I’m doing that well) (the corollary to this, of course, is serves me right for practising the next few in the book after the piece I just did in recital), and a lovely three-movement cello duet sonata thing by S. Lee (op. 60 if anyone’s keeping score) (and ooh, I just discovered that my teacher gave me the first and second sonatas, not just the first!).

4. The Murphy family (no relation, although we have messed with people’s minds that way, heh) sent HRH, the boy, and I a special gift: two of the extremely awesome cat cupcakes that Elspeth had as part of her birthday cupcake extravaganza! Mmmm, cupcakes. With icing in the middle. And fondant cats on the top.

5. The boy was remarkably good during this morning’s bank/breakfast/seasonal shopping run. (Except when he REALLY wasn’t, but we are focusing on the good things.) We really enjoyed lots of it together. He asked for pancakes for lunch and I figured why not, so he ate three (!?), asked for a glass of milk, and went for his nap mostly without acting up or major incident. (I suspect he finally figured out I was about to completely snap after having to deal with certain of his shenanigans while shopping.)

6. Two complete strangers in the dollar store passed me three loonies to buy him the three wooden train cars he was coveting. I’d told him he could choose one and he couldn’t decide. I was staggered. I mean, sure, I’ve done things like that before for others, both for strangers and friends (and on a much, much larger scale too), but I’ve never expected it back. Complete strangers? Giving me loonies? To buy the boy the trains he was stroking? They were both moms with grown-up kids in other cities who they couldn’t treat like that any more, they said. The boy, who had been behaving very well at this point of the trip, was a perfect gentleman and said thank you and told them very excitedly all about what he would do with them when he got the trains home. I guess this is life demonstrating the ‘pay it forward’ principle. Thank you, universe!

7. I found four of the main things I needed for Yule, three small things, and two unexpected very small things. What I did not get were two of the other main things because the boy was acting up and also none of the stores I went to had one particular thing in stock. I could have checked two more shops but we ran out of patience time. I knew it was time to go home when I couldn’t string a complete sentence together to talk to one of my favourite bookshop clerks, partly due to having to keep grabbing the boy before he wandered off or pulled one. more. thing. off a shelf, partly because I couldn’t think my way through an unexpected obstacle (someone’s postal code? and phone number? off the top of my head? so not going to happen).

8. We cased the mall’s Santa set-up (you think I’m kidding? The boy went all the way around the fences, running his hands along the edges and calculating how far he could reach into the fluffy fake snow, found every single entrance and exit, and I will bet you that he has it memorized) and checked the visiting hours for the Official Santa Visit tomorrow.

9. The boy got a return letter from Santa in the mail today! He probably would have been much more excited if he hadn’t been trying to open those new train cars at the same time.

10. I finished the first colour block and a third of the next block on HRH’s scarf last night while we watched some of the making-of features on the Prince Caspian DVD. One and one-third down! Eighteen and two-thirds to go!

11. We shared a nice chummy breakfast in the mostly empty food court, sharing a breakfast sandwich and some juice from Tim Horton’s while we looked at the Nutcracker decorations (or, as Liam calls them, ‘the Christmas soldiers’). And the boy learned how to make a wish and toss a penny into the fountain.

There, see? I’m in a much better mood now. It doesn’t matter that I only got some of what we went out for, and that the groceries didn’t get done at all. We had lots of fun in between the argh bits (and really, the argh was mostly an aggregate of the usual things one has to tell a three year old over and over and over, which I know perfectly well must happen because of how their brain are rewiring but still gets to me) and encountered unexpected kindnesses.

Now, I will proof that assignment and upload it, and then, Gentle Readers, I will knit some more once I’ve mixed a batch of bread dough and another of pizza dough.

The Raptures of the Season

So somewhere around now Santa will be paying the kids at the boy’s preschool a special visit. I anticipate having to corral a very excited three-year-old when he gets home.

I have a board meeting scheduled tonight, and was supposed to visit a friend off-island afterwards, but with the roads being as awful as they are I suspect the latter isn’t going to happen. Gnarr.

We have the visit to the mall Santa scheduled for first thing Saturday morning, followed by a trip to pick out the Christmas tree. What with all the snow, I think we’re starting to feel a bit more seasonal around here. I’m not sure where December went. We’ve all been forgetting the Advent calendar, so the boy currently thinks you open four doors at once. And somehow it got to be my last cello lesson of the year tomorrow, so I’ll be stopping off on my way to it in order to pick up the present I’d intended to pick up before now. (Can I combine it with a trip to the local yarn shop to buy yarn for Bodhifox’s hat and a larger set of circular needles? Hmm. Probably not, since I need to work tomorrow now thanks to the overdue-assignment-I-just-got, which means they get shunted lower on the list of priorities and to a later date, sigh.) It’s like the middle of December disappeared. And it’s finally sunk into my awareness that if Yule is on Sunday, we can’t do the Yule-connected shopping on Monday when we do the rest. Which means doing it Friday morning as soon as the shops open, because the boy and I have the day together and the car at our disposal, and because there’s no way it’s being done on the last Saturday before Christmas.