Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Recap 2009

Christmas Eve: hanging stockings with Mom.

Went to church and participated in the Christmas pageant. Re-enacted the part of the angel who ran around the church saying hello to people, made snoring noises at the baby Jesus, and clapped after all the Christmas carols.

Christmas Eve at Grandpa Keith and Gramma Karen's.

A wee bit hyper to be surrounded by all her grandparents. Oh, and presents.

Snuggles from Grannie Maureen.
Christmas morning at home.
A wee bit overwhelmed that all this present-opening business isn't over yet.
Anytime you want to make waffles with berries and whipped cream? Gwen will totally help you eat them. She just wanted you to know that.

Playing with Dad and her new puppy, Violet, which was her "big gift" from us.

The one and only picture of Gwen in the Christmas dress she got from Gramma and Grandpa - the girl is growing way too fast. She is frowning here because she has been refused chocolate.

Christmas dinner! That I made! (This is only part of it.)

Pretty dishes and cheap-ass centrepiece.

This is what a Christmas tree looks like after two weeks in a house with a toddler. Please note you can see exactly how high Gwen can reach on the tree: the top half looks perfect.

Christmas was exactly what I hoped it would be. Gwen got to revel in attention and love from all her grandparents, and not only did she get spoiled with gifts, but they are all gifts I heartily approve of and that will be fun for her for a long time to come. Auntie Sara got her a bunch of art supplies, Grannie and Grandpa got her a table and chairs, we got her the dog pictured above, Gramma and Grandpa got her a car playmat with some cars ... and much, much more.
Christmas dinner went well, though it was a lot of work and I am still not sure where I went wrong with the turkey (it turned out fine, but about 40 minutes later than it was supposed to be). Our dishwasher ran 5 times on Christmas Day and another 3 on Boxing Day .... how did people ever do Christmas Dinner without dishwashers?)
The past week has been heavenly as both Chris and I are off work. We've been tidying and putting things away, taking down Christmas and catching up on laundry, but mostly we've had a LOT of relaxing. (And a lot of stuffing our faces with leftovers and Christmas chocolates.) Tomorrow we are once again leaving Gwen with the incredibly generous grandparents and going out for New Year's Eve.
I hope your Christmas season is/was stuffed full of whatever delights you desire.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

This Weird Thing Happened on Christmas Day

(More on Christmas will come later ... for now, a quickie.)

Since I happened to be sitting next to Gwen while she opened her gifts Christmas morning, I ended up in a lot of the pictures.

In many of them, I am making incomprehensible faces.

In some of them, I am doing things with my hands that I simply cannot explain.

And in one of them, I appear to be boxing an invisible opponent.

But the weirdest thing is that after looking through all of these pictures, rotating them and editing them for redeye, after perusing my image over and over and over again ... in not one single picture do I look at myself and think, "Whoa, I am fat." Not one.
(I mentioned this to my best friend, who told me he has not ever seen a picture of me and thought I looked fat. "Try to see it from my perspective," I urged him. "EVERY picture I see of me, I think, ugh, I am so fat. To see a picture - let alone a whole GROUP of pictures - where I don't think that? It's almost disorienting.")
(Stay tuned for my New Year's Resolutions, which for the first time in EVER will not include the words "lose weight".)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dear Gwen: Month Twenty

Dear Gwen,
For twenty whole months, I have been hedging my bets on you. Several times a day, your dad and I discuss your two most prominent traits, which are your intelligence and your sense of humour. But throughout these discussions, whether in my mind or actually out loud, I tell myself that every parent sees their child this way, and that in actuality you are probably no different from any other kid. This era is now over. I, your mother, free from bias and hyperbole, am ready to declare you the smartest and the most hilarious twenty-month-old in the history of the universe. Guinness Records can relax, the search is over. GWEN FOR THE WIN.

As evidence: at twenty months of age, you can count to ten. I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING. For most of the numbers, it is rote memorization; however, we are confident that you do know what “two” means. For example, the other day we were looking at a picture with many items, including two angels, which appeared in different areas of the picture. I said to you, “Do you see the angel?” (SINGULAR.) And you pointed at them both and said, “two angels”. YOU ARE A GENIUS.

(I’m sorry for all the shouting, but YOUR BRILLIANCE CAUSES ME EXCITEMENT.)

On top of this, you are hilarious. It's much harder to come up with examples of your humour that can be expressed in writing, but here's one: a few weeks ago, your dad was trying to coax you into showing off your incredible vocabulary. "Gwen, can you say I love you?" he asked. You looked at him with a perfectly deadpan face and replied, "YEAH." All that was missing was the eyeroll.

You are also crazy about the alphabet, which you call “ahbeecee”. You request the ABC song several times a day, and sing along as best you can. It sounds like this: “ … … cee, dee … … gee!” etc. You have great rhythm, by the way.
As for the written word, you can recognize several letters by sight, now: X, R, S, Q E, and many others. Your dad and I are really enjoying this stage with you: it’s like you have figured out how to learn, and are trying to learn as much as you can, as fast as possible! You seem so excited and happy about your learning, too, and so proud when you can show off.

You are putting together sentences really well. Your most common types of sentences are greetings and goodbyes: “Hello, Mama,” or “Night-night, Dada,” for example. You also like to point out who various objects belong to: when you see my water bottle, you will say, “Water. Mama water.” You haven’t yet learned the word “want”, so I haven’t heard the phrase “want orange” or “want milk” – when you want something, you just point and grunt, or sometimes whine the object’s name over and over until it appears. This? Is not my favourite of your habits. On the other hand, you have learned to say “I love you” and have even started to say it without being prompted. This ensures that we will keep you around for a little while longer. Well done.

This month has been full of changes and milestones. At the beginning of December, you took your first float plane ride, over to the Sunshine Coast to attend your first English Family Christmas (we missed last year’s due to excessive snow). You did fine on the plane: a little bit of fuss as we ascended, probably due to discomfort in your ears, but you settled fairly quickly. It was a real treat to take the trip in 25 minutes instead of 5-6 hours by ferry (including several hours’ wait at a ferry terminal).

In preparation for this trip, as we were forced to pack light, we decided to see if you could sleep without your waves CD. Sometime between moving you to your own room (July 2008) and sleep training (November 2008) we started playing a CD of ocean waves for you at night: it was on repeat all night long. We even ripped the CD to mp3 so we could take an mp3 player and a small set of speakers along with us when we traveled, to place under your playpen. Anyway, as I said, for a day or two before our trip we decided to try putting you to sleep without the waves, to see if we could skip bringing them along. And sure enough, you had no problem. So one more of your “sleep crutches” disappeared. It seems such a short time ago that we needed to swaddle you and plunk you into a wedge cushion so you wouldn’t roll over and smother yourself. We even had an Angelcare sensor monitoring your breathing. One by one, all these things have disappeared. Next you’re going to tell me you want to sleep in a BED instead of a CAGE. Pshaw!

(A flashback, the better to aid your memory. I think this was taken, like, a week ago?) (Just kidding. It's from July 2008.)

Another big event this month was you spending a whole weekend with your Grandpa Keith and Gramma Karen (and Fritz). Your grandparents offered us this as an anniversary gift, and your dad and I went away for the weekend to a B&B. You had a great time at their house, and didn’t cry or get cranky all weekend (I can only assume this is because they gave you everything that you wanted, at the precise moment that you wanted it, which is exactly what Weekends with the Grandparents are for.) We missed you terribly, but this didn’t stop us from having a wonderful and relaxing time. It was great to come back home at the end of the weekend and get back to our normal, crazy, family life.

We’re on the brink of your second Christmas, Gwen, and I think you are ready to dive head-first into all the joy and exhilaration of the hustle-bustle holiday season. We’re so excited to share this time with you, to see how you respond to stockings and presents and carols and having all your grandparents around you. We love you with all our hearts and are so glad you are our daughter.

Merry Christmas, Gwen!


Monday, December 21, 2009

The post where I alienate pretty much everyone

Right. So. Santa.

It’s pretty hard to raise a kid in North America avoiding all exposure to Santa. Though some people are bound and determined to try. Frankly, I am still in the “I don’t see the harm,” camp. But to explain why, I have to share a little bit more about my own experiences.

I was raised as a Christian (Lutheran, to be precise). But we believed in Santa, too. I never saw these two figures as opposed: they each had their place in the Christmas rituals. Another important aspect of my fondness for Santa is that the myth was not taken from me in a sudden, traumatic way: that is, there was no older, trouble-making kid who spoiled all the fun by telling me Santa wasn’t real. No one ever said that to me. I came to the realization myself, very gradually and gently, and this allowed me to form my own ideas about what Santa was and wasn’t. I decided that Santa is a symbol: a symbol of kindness, generosity, love. Going the extra mile because “It’s Christmas”. Santa is the excitement of knowing something secret and special is about to happen, the joy of giving gifts to people you love. The wonder of it all.

For me, Santa symbolizes the spirit of Christmas as seen through childhood eyes. I don’t think that spirit is a made-up fairy tale, at all. I think it exists in all of us, and this time of year brings it out in us.

There are a lot of arguments against Santa. One is that when children find out that their parents lied to them about Santa, they will decide their parents lied to them about Jesus, too, and conclude that he doesn’t really exist either. I think that’s an oversimplification. I think if your faith in God is shaken by a man in a red suit, it’s not the jolly old man who’s to blame. There are a lot of reasons why it’s hard to raise a Christian child in today’s world. Santa is the least of our problems.

Another argument is that the Christmas Story should be able to fulfill a child’s need and desire for magic at Christmas time. I believe with all my heart that all these things happened: that God came to earth and became a man; that Jesus was born of a virgin; that a star led the wise men over hundreds of miles to greet the new king; that a myriad of angels heralded his birth; that his birth and death saves me from my sins. I believe all of that – but it took me over 20 years of reflection, study, and discussion with others to get to that point. My daughter – forgive me – is not there yet. She can’t understand that it takes more than two seconds to turn bread into toast. I can’t articulate these abstract concepts to her yet. The Santa concept is a lot easier.

That doesn’t mean I don’t try to talk about Jesus’ birth with my daughter. We have an unbreakable Nativity set that she looks at and plays with every day. She knows the baby is called Jesus, and that the female figure is his mother and the male figure his father. She’s twenty months old. That’s a good start.

(To be honest, if you are going to take a hard look at the Christmas story, none of it really means anything unless you also understand and recognize the Easter story. So what? A baby was born to some girl who claims she’s never had sex. BIG DEAL, right? Unless you accept that Jesus is the Son of God, come to earth to die for our sins, the Christmas story doesn’t really contain any magic in and of itself.)

The post I referenced above asks, “I wonder if sometimes Jesus cries at Christmas.” I look around my world and I see so many reasons for Jesus to rejoice with his children on Earth. Millions of people raising songs of joy in His name. Shoppers giving coins to strangers ringing bells and wishing each other “Merry Christmas”. Children learning the value of giving, the importance of family. People all across the world making time for one another, gathering together to share fellowship and wishes for peace. Those are just the things I see – our all-powerful, all-knowing Lord sees so much more. You think Santa’s going to reduce Him to tears? What kind of God do you think He is?

So, yes. Gwen will be raised to believe in both Santa and Jesus. We will teach her about generosity, especially relational giving and giving to those less fortunate. We will teach her about Christ's birth, life, and death. We will teach her about the various meanings of Christmas - both religious and philanthropic - and eventually, when she realizes that the actual physical Santa is a myth, we'll help her to fill that void with her own conclusions about how she can still enjoy the things Santa represents. I believe in Jesus. I believe in Santa. And I believe in my daughter's ability to assimilate all of these cultural concepts and become an amazing, well-adapted person.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Movie Announcement

Something that makes me really, really, really happy is when a director I absolutely adore ends up making a film out of one of my favourite books. This does not happen often, but it does happen. And it has happened this year!

Check it out!

If I had actually seen the trailer for this while in the theatre, and having had no idea it was in the works, I probably would have completely lost my mind with excitement. As it was, I think I read about it somewhere and had to go searching for the trailer, so the screaming Beatlemania glee was avoided, but I am still stoked. And the casting looks awesome.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Better Late Update Than Never Update?

So, the English Family Christmas!

I had an amazing weekend. I really think that was the most fun I've ever had at an English Family Christmas! Here are some of the memories I want to keep.

- Realizing that my older nephew, Andrew, thinks that English Family Christmas is a "real" holiday, just like Halloween, Easter, or Thanksgiving - that everyone celebrates it. Since we have been doing this pretty much his whole life, it's understandable!
- Listening to that same nephew explain that being in Beavers actually has nothing to do with the furry creature with a big tail. I don't know, listening to him explain things in his earnest voice just makes me very happy.
- Snuggling with my younger nephew, Scotty, on the couch, where he told me "You can read this book to me, if you want to."
- Watching the comprehension dawn on their faces when I gave them their presents, and then watching them jump up and down excitedly.
- Gwen being a phenomenally well-behaved child all weekend, including sitting in a booster seat at a restaurant for over an hour waiting for our food. She was just so happy to be with everyone, she didn't even make a fuss about the wait and the sitting.
- My sister's relational gift to me was that she got out her cello and played me the JAWS theme. I LOVED THIS! Chris got it on video, too, so I can watch it again any time I want.

Also, this video of Gwen on the trampoline.

Wait, before you watch it: let me tell you that I spent my whole childhood and teenhood as an extremely accident-prone kid. Pretty much every family holiday we ever took involved a trip to the emergency room at some point. I bit my tongue open when I was just a bit older than Gwen, requiring stitches. What was I doing at the time? Playing piano. In Grade Eight, I broke my ankle while going down stairs. Not FALLING down stairs - I never fell. I just stepped wrong. In Grade Nine, I dislocated my kneecap while rehearsing for a choir performance.

You know where I never, never, NEVER hurt myself? On our trampoline. Cause yeah, we had a trampoline in our backyard for all those years and we were on it constantly. Therefore, it's no surprise that my nephews have their own trampoline. And yeah, Gwen will have her own someday, too (take THAT, haters!).

(Note: it totally looks like Gwen broke her neck in this video. In actuality, she did not. In actuality, Chris hurriedly turned off the camera and rushed over to see if she was okay, and meanwhile she grinned and giggled like a fool and said "AGAIN!" I wish that part was on the video, but you'll just have to imagine it.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Giving Cans

I mentioned the giving cans in passing in this post, but I think they need more explanation because I am really pleased with how they turned out. I can't take credit for the idea: the original calendar came from here, and the idea to put them on cans came from another member of our Advent Conspiracy group at church, and it just so happened that the local cannery was about to place an order for those excellent cans with coin slots in the top, the better for the veterans to sell poppies for Remembrance Day, when we came along and asked them if they might have anything to suit our purposes.

What I did, and I worked really hard on this, was figure out how to print the calendars onto labels that would fit on the cans. This was a challenge because while I have considerable skill with spreadsheets, I have little to no skill at desktop publishing. However, I did make it work, with help from Chris - who also suggested using the full-page labels you can buy from Staples, rather than trying to find labels that were pre-cut to the size I wanted.

Because I was making 36 of these, I wanted them to all look the same and to look semi-decent (the one above is the worst one, with a very crooked label, and so naturally that's the one I kept for myself). If you just wanted to make one for your own family, you could just use any old jar, and either tape the calendar on, or have it hanging nearby, or whatever.

The calendar printed on the can says:
Dec 1 - 10¢ for every hot water tap in your home
Dec 2 - 75¢ for every vehicle your family owns
Dec 3 - 5¢ for every pair of jeans you own
Dec 4 - 5¢ for every bed in your house
Dec 5 - 25¢ if you get a daily newspaper
Dec 6 - 3¢ for every cosmetic item you own (this sparked a lot of conversation about what exactly constitutes cosmetics. We decided lip gloss, perfume/cologne, nail polish, facial moisturizer, and any kind of hair styling product counted.)
Dec 7 - 3¢ for every pair of footwear (I'm appalled to say that between the three of us, we own 36 pairs of footwear, and no, that does NOT count socks.)
Dec 8 - 5¢ for every meal with meat this week
Dec 9 - 15¢ if you have pots and pans
Dec 10 - 20¢ for every tv you own
Dec 11 - 10¢ for every flush toilet in your home
Dec 12 - 5¢ for every blanket you own
Dec 13 - 15¢ if you have dishes for food
Dec 14 - 3¢ for every light switch in your home
Dec 15 - 5¢ for every window in your home
Dec 16 - 5¢ for each magazine subscription
Dec 17 - 20¢ for every bathtub or shower
Dec 18 - 10¢ for every outside door you have
Dec 19 - 25¢ if you have more than 25 CDs/ DVDs
Dec 20 - 10¢ for every non-tap-water drink this week
Dec 21 - 25¢ if you have a snow blower or lawn mower
Dec 22 - 3¢ for every hair care product
Dec 23 - 15¢ for every bedroom in your house
Dec 24 - 2¢ for every soap bar or dispenser
Dec 25 - 15¢ for every present you received (Ooh, that last one's a killer, eh?)
$45 can help to build a freshwater well for a family who needs it. Is that easier to do than we think it is? Give the gift of life this Christmas.

Every afternoon I sit down with Gwen and a big jar of coins. I count out what needs to go in the can, and she puts it in. I don't know how much she understands at this point, but I intend to continue this tradition every year. I find this particular exercise very moving because not only is it a great tool for collecting money, but it gives you an opportunity every day to think about the things you have that most of the world doesn't have. And after that, it's pretty hard not to cough up the change.

I gave out about 30 of these cans at our church's Advent Fair on November 29th, and told people that they could either bring back the full cans to the church and donate to our safe water cause, or they could donate them to another cause close to their hearts. It will be interesting to see how many come back, but more than that, I hope I get the chance to talk to people and hear how they incorporated this into their routines, how it changed their thinking around Christmas and their attitudes about the many material things we take for granted every day. That would be fascinating to me.

If you decide to do something like this in your family, please share your story with me!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Relational Giving & The English Family Christmas

Once upon a time, there was a family whose last name was English. This family had a mom, a dad, and two little girls. The mom was very sick and the dad was not very nice. When the two little girls had grown up and had families of their own, the mom saw that they didn't like being around the dad, and didn't really have any kind of relationship with him. This made the mom sad. So, she made the two now-grown-up girls promise that no matter what, they would always get together as a family around Christmas time. Not long after, the mom died.

One of those two little girls was my mom, and was a long time before she and her sister started keeping their promise. The English Family Christmas is the result of that promise, and it is now in its sixth year.

It's an odd little tradition that we have, I suppose. We usually get together on the first or second weekend in December - those two now-grown-up girls, their husbands and children and grandchildren. We all take turns hosting. Two years ago, I was the hostess - I put on my first large family dinner while five months pregnant with Gwen. This year, it's my sister's turn. 18 people - 12 adults, 6 children - are descending on her home this weekend. Oh, and one baby-to-be (not mine, just to squelch any rumours!).

The English Family Christmas is a fantastic example of what's important to me around Christmas. We get together with our family, share a meal, catch up a bit, enjoy the madness of the six kids running around like idiots. Some years we have sung Christmas carols. The fact that we all travel every year to be together and share that time makes me really happy.

Bringing me to my next topic - relational giving. I've been working hard to wrap my head around relational giving this Christmas, as mentioned in this post. It really is a mindset, and I find that the traditions that already exist in our family, along with the fact that we don't live too spread apart, are somewhat supportive of the relational giving concept - but also make it hard to change the patterns that are already in place. Let me try to explain.

If you have a friend or relative who lives really far away, instead of shipping them a gift this Christmas, you might send them a letter telling them you're coming for a visit this year. See? Because spending time together is so much more valuable than a stupid sweater.

However, if you have a friend or relative who lives semi-nearby, and you already see them a couple of times a year, and you intend to continue seeing them twice a year, and they also expect you to give them a Christmas present, well .... then what?

I have also found that when trying to come up with relational gifts for people - and I've been working on my list since September - there are two categories of people who are really hard to figure out. Those with whom you really have no relationship, the people you buy for only out of obligation, are the first category. The second category is those people with whom you have a very healthy and happy relationship. For example, it was nearly impossible for me to figure out what to give my long-distance best friend - I already make the time to chat with him online at least once a week; we are in email contact nearly every day; and we spend a weekend together a couple of times a year. Relationally, there's not much I could do to top that up.

However, the in-between people - those with whom you have a pretty good relationship, that perhaps could use a little nourishment - those are the people it is fun to think of relational gifts for! The gifts I am most excited about giving, this year, are for my nephews, and since I don't think they read my blog, I'll share them here with you.

Since my nephews live far-away-ish, I only get to see them a few times a year, usually at large family gatherings such as the one this weekend. But I'd really like to spend some one-on-one time with each of them, doing something special that they will enjoy. I discussed it with my sister, and we decided that sometime in the Spring, she will bring the boys to the Lower Mainland and I will meet them there with Gwen. On one day, I will take Andrew (who will be 7) to Science World; on another day, I will take Scotty (3) to Crash Crawly's. On both days, lucky Auntie Sara will hang out with Gwen! Relationship-building in every possible direction.

There are lots of reasons to give relationally. It saves money; it's environmentally responsible; it's less likely to clutter up someone's house, and more likely to be appreciated; and of course it builds relationships, which is what Christmas is supposed to be all about, right? That being said, there's no reason the relationship-building has to happen during the magical Twelve Days: as mentioned above, the Nephew Trip is happening in the spring (they are getting decorated, illustrated certificates that show what their gifts are, so they do have something to "open" and then look at while they anticipate the coming adventure).

It just occured to me today that this is actually Gwen's first English Family Christmas - since we were snowed in last year and didn't get to travel. I'm sure she's going to have such a great time running around and being crazy with all her cousins, big and small. And you know what else? I bet she doesn't really care too much about the presents. It's only us adults who get all wound up about that stuff. Gwen would just be happy if you put on some music and let her jump on the bed, please. Maybe play a little ball, or read a book together. She's a girl of simple tastes. She wouldn't say no to a banana. Mostly she just wants to hang out with you and do what you're doing, really.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! If you have fantastic ideas about relational giving, share in the comments!


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