Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Travels....

I have so much to post about re: Christmas.... but I'm afraid those posts will be slipping into January.

We travelled to my husband's family in Northern Saskatchewan for Christmas.

While I enjoy the visiting with all of them, I could totally do without the headache of travelling at Christmas.

I mean can you think of anything more fun that packing up everything a family of five might possibly need PLUS everything that Christmas entails and hauling it along on a 10 hour drive with three kids?

I can but there's not enough room on this blog.

Delivering Christmas

Friday Dec 18th. My company volunteered to spend a day working for the Christmas Cheer Board. I think we had 26 people show up to donate their time for the day. When the email came out asking for workers, I was eager to jump on the band wagon - outside of donating toys with the kids, I'd never had any experience with the Cheer Board before.

And what an experience it was.

As I was getting ready that morning, my husband walked back through the door. He'd left for work less than an hour prior and I was surprised to see him.... but it turns out it was quiet at work and he'd casually mentioned to his boss that he should be out delivering hampers with me for the day instead - and, being huge community supporters, he boss agreed! Bonus!

So now we were a team.... and how great to have a former courier driver on board with the backlog of deliveries the Cheer Board had.

We had no idea what to expect or what we would be doing for the day, but for the entire 24 hours prior every second commercial on the local radio stations was a call for volunteers to come out and deliver hampers.... so many to go out still and so little time left. We were fairly certain that we could get ourselves assigned to deliveries with no trouble whatsoever.

And we were right. The warehouse was jammed with hampers waiting to go out.... and with the back of the van empty of seats and my personal courier driver knowing where we were going and organizing the loads, we managed to take 25 hampers out to the people waiting anxiously for them to arrive.

It was an eye-opener. And it was an emotional journey.

I was fine with the inner-city deliveries to single people - sad at the condition of some of the rooming houses and the like that we visited and such, but OK.... it just felt nice to be doing something good in someone's day.

But the afternoon deliveries that we did to the homes - especially the ones with kids, really hit me. I should have expected that.

The one home we visited had 4 boxes coming to them; 3 jammed with food and 1 huge one just filled with a present for each child. They were all there when we knocked on the door.... the kids peeking around to see who was there.... and the littlest one, a girl not much older than my own, was so excited to see the box of presents.

"Oh PRESENTS!!" was her excited, happy little squeal.

That just did me in. Turning and walking back to the car I was crying. I couldn't even put a name on everything I was feeling but it was overwhelming. I was feeling horribly guilty for everything our family had.... I was feeling incredibly sad for the lives those children must regularly live.... I was feeling good that they would have something, however small to grace their Christmas day.... I was feeling too much to label.

Another, older gentleman we delivered to was so gracious in his thanks that I was again moved. He told us his story of the sudden heart attack that had put in out of work a few months earlier.... and how awful he felt about how hard this Christmas was going to be for his wife.... and what a difference this Christmas hamper was going to make for them. It was humbling. But for the grace of God and all....

I walked out of there thinking "here's a man who's probably worked and scraped his whole life and never asked for a hand up before.... and anyone of us could find ourselves in his shoes".


We spent 6 hours on the road that day.... and it was the best 6 hours I spent all year.

I appreciated this Christmas so much more and I was reminded, powerfully, that it's about so much more than what you get or what you can provide.

I think giving some of our time to the Cheer Board each year needs to become a new Christmas tradition in our family.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My life in the deep freeze

I am so over all this cold! I'm starting to question why people ever inhabited a place that can reach -45 in the winter.... or why over 700,000 of us choose to stay here now. I guess we're just sheep.... doing what those before us have done - I mean seriously, these are not human (or at least humane) temperatures!

Overnight I can handle - when we're all tucked up in our beds in our warm houses and you can sleep obliviously through those nasty temperatures.... but all day too? Wind chill warnings: "watch out, exposed skin can freeze in just a few minutes" - WTH is up with that? And when it stretches for days at a time it's just exhausting....

No one wants to go out and do anything - heading out to work and school, shopping.... anything that drags a person out of the comfy nest of home is just painful. Kids can't play outside - hell even my "outdoor" dog can't stay outside right now - insulated dog house or not!

Getting three kids dressed up to leave the house in the morning when "getting ready" includes full winter get-ups is more work than I'm usually prepared to handle on only one cup of coffee.

Three sets of ski pants, parkas, winter boots, toques & mitts.... add in one toddler who either insists on doing the entire process "Owl by MYSEFF!!!" (read: taking 3x as long) or not at all (and I'm not even going to get into a discussion on how fun it is to hog tie/hold down/wrestle a 'squirming-wet-noodle-raging-mad' 2 and a half year old into her snow suit is - at this point I think herding cats for a living would be less frustrating).... well right there we have a recipe for a shitty start to a day.

And long gone are the days when I could just "give up" on her tantrums and throw her over my shoulder to head out the door whether she had shoes or a jacket on or not. And there were a few days, not that far in the past, when we did leave the house with her half-dressed because I ran out of time to argue with or cajole her anymore.... but frostbite's just not an appropriate consequence of our little power struggles, know what I mean? So I've been running late now (thank you deep freeze) - which is another lovely way to kick off a day, don't you think?

God I miss summer right now.... and the "cold" days of winter are still ahead.... apparently it's going to be a long season.


All I want for Christmas is some livable winter weather....

(OK, and maybe a few other things I've been hinting on.... but the weather would be right up there right now)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bake Exchange

So my two friends and I participated in our first "bake exchange". And, while a little disappointed with the results, I still absolutely LOVE the concept. We're thinking of maybe organizing our own next year.

OK, maybe disappointed is a little understated.

I was invited to participate by an acquaintance and sat on the fence about joining for a while.... until my friend asked me if I wanted to spend a day Christmas baking with her and I mentioned the exchange invitation. She loved the idea.... sign up in a group of 10+ other bakers, spend a day baking 20 or so dozen (2 dozen per participant) of your favorite Christmas baking, square, dainty or specialty item.... and then swap! After the exchange you have 20+ dozen of various baked goods to use as teacher gifts, set out for guests during the holiday season, or just share and enjoy with family.


Or at least the concept is perfect. What we've learned, the hard way, is that the success of a bake exchange is entirely dependant on the quality of the items being baked - or more so, the effort being put forth or expected from the bakers involved.

Since my friend and I rooked a third friend into our day of mass baking, the three of us decided to put our name on the list twice - bake two items, take home twice the goodies to split between the three of us.


We spent 6 solid hours baking our two items: Chocolate/Coconut Macaroons and those Peanut-Buttery Marshmallow squares. That would have been 18 hours for any one of us.... and the ingredients alone cost us over $150.00. But, when we worked out the total cost at the end of the baking day, we figured it worked out to spending around $3.70/dozen on all the goodies we'd be bringing home in exchange. We could have used a cheaper recipe (the butterscotch chips in the marshmallow square recipe were a KILLER), but it still seemed a fair enough deal - and we had a great time baking together (which could be partially attributed to my wonderful husband supplying us with mixed drinks and the odd shooter all the while, lol).

(don't worry - there are no restrictions in place against drinking & baking - and our items all turned out perfectly!)

But after driving our beautiful and generously portioned dozens out the exchange, we were all little disappointed with what we received in return.

Don't get me wrong - there were a few good items: The organizer made this amazing pineapple cheese cake and obviously put lots of time and effort into the portioning and setting all the pieces into their own cupcake wrappers, the whipped shortbread from another participant is absolutely perfect, and someone else contributed some nice magic squares (Hello Dollys) - oh, and there were some really nice, big smarties cookies.

But so much of the rest left SO much to be desired.

One person contributed these awful "peanut butter squares" - seriously? They are clumps of oatmeal (?) with peanut putter smeared on top. And they're so bland and dry that you can't really produce enough saliva to actually swallow a bite - uggg.... my friend and I actually had to spit it into the garbage because we couldn't choke it down. If you're supplying your "baking" to others, don't you think it's at least fair to make it something edible? Obviously no taste testing went on here....

Another girl, we think, just basically took whatever was left-over in her cupboards and fashioned some "rice-crispy mixed squares". Interesting. Rice crispy squares with raisins, peanuts and the odd chocolate chip mixed in.... we think we saw some cheese in there too but can't be certain. The funnest part about this "baker" is that she chose to do these wonder-bars as only half of her '2 dozen per participant' share - the other half was even BETTER. She made Bacon and Eggs "candy".

I know, you're thinking: Bacon & Eggs candy? What on Earth is that?

Let me share: Bacon & Eggs "candy" is AWESOME.... if you're looking for a cute craft to do with your kindergarten class. It's three pretzel sticks with hard white sugar candy representing the whites of the egg holding them together at the middle and a smartie placed on top of the "whites" to represent the colored yolk.

Oh yeah. All that. Just what I was looking for to set out for guests or present as a gift.... jeez, even the kids wouldn't touch the stuff!

Right. Maybe I should just be thankful that she didn't force two dozen of either delight on us... but seriously, she probably didn't spend $30 on the entire mess - it was awful.

A couple of the other items we received included bits so small they wouldn't even be considered a single bite, or tiny snips of corners etc - just obviously being really cheap with portioning and doing the bare minimum to pass off as their two dozen requirement.

Shit, if we had know that we could have cut each of our dozens into three dozen too! Saved big money that way....

So while I feel a little sorry for my acquaintance, the organizer (who obviously put a ton effort into her selection as well and must also be disappointed), I think next year we're going to organize our own.... with a few parameters in place: like portion sizes - or maybe even recipe selections to choose from.... something to weed out parasitic bakers and make sure it's fair for all. Because the concept is great - and I would really love to try it again sometime.

Just not with Bacon & Eggs girl, or anyone like her, in the mix!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Giving Back

I love this time of year. It puts me in a such a good mood to see people doing good for each other.... and I always feel the spirit and want to give at this time of year.

In past years we've been in the habit of taking the kids out to buy an age-appropriate toy.... something that they would be happy to open on Christmas morning, and then we donate those toys to a local agency collecting for the less fortunate in our area. They get to place "their" toy in Santa's sleigh or drop it into the looming "tower of toys".... I hope it sinks in with them how important each little piece is.

I want my kids to know the joy of doing something nice for someone for no other reason than to know you have the ability to put a smile on someone Else's face.

This year, I am taking it a step further - I am donating a day of my time to work at the Christmas Cheerboard. Along with a crew of others from my company, I'll be working in their warehouse, putting together hampers and perhaps even delivering some.... whatever they need us to do. On top of that, we've adopted a family of 9 - and we're supplying Christmas. Food and clothing and toys and gifts.... I picked up some wish list items for the little ones in the house and it just made me feel so happy.

And do you know how easily happiness rubs off on people? I had a problem with my purchase for the hamper that day.... but it was Christmas and I was happy - and really, what's the big deal? Problems can be easily solved....

Well the customer service lady gave me $10 off my purchase just for smiling :)

Well, Merry Christmas to you too!!

So I'm going to continue to be happy.... and hope it keeps rubbing off!

There are so many reasons to love the holiday season - but seeing the good we can do together has to be at the top of it all.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Taking a breather...

So Parliament has closed until sometime in the New Year.... which means we get a 7 week break from the imminent threat of hostile take-over of the government while the three musketeers try to convince us that having a duly elected government with the authority to make things happen and a platform the people actually voted for is a bad thing - and having a group of three opposing parties with three different agendas acting in their own interests is better.... how fun.

Not letting it dampen the Christmas spirit though! I completed a baking marathon with 2 good friends on Saturday: 6 hours and 44 dozen goodies later, I feel like we really accomplished something! :)

Sunday was a day for hockey, a children's Christmas party and some holiday crafts for my friend's work.... busy weekend!

But we got the tree up yesterday and the kids had a blast with that - I've got shopping stashed away that needs to be wrapped and placed under it still.... but the feeling of Christmas is definitely in the house now!

My 9 year old still hasn't questioned the reality of the big guy. I keep waiting for that shoe to drop.... asking probing questions about whether his friends ever talk about Santa - and what do they say. He says most of them believe there is only one Santa (as opposed to the "numerous" Santa "helpers" I described to him when explaining his late Great-Grandfather's 45 year reign in the red suit). But not a whisper of the "no way, he's not real" that I was expecting by grade 4...

Ah well, maybe one last innocent Christmas then? :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's all falling apart...

Not so much falling apart as being deliberately undermined and attacked....

I'm so disappointed and angry right now. I've never seen an attempt at a coup before.... and certainly never expected to experience one.... I feel cheated - and I know I'm not alone.

The broken promises, all the wasted time and effort and money! How dare the three of them huddle and make plans and back-stab.... all in an effort to forward their own agenda(s). Their duplicity is nauseating.... what happened to the promise to make it all work? To not throw everything into turmoil so soon after things settled, however uneasily?

They're not thinking for a minute what's good for the rest of us or what we wanted. Last I checked, we still lived in a democracy - how can they blatantly ignore the common voice?

Where do they get off declaring themselves the lords of the realm? If you were wanted at the helm, you would already be there by rights.

Ganging up and turning on the one who had the integrity to at least try and do the right thing. They should be ashamed of themselves. And if you think that everyone will not tie the threat to your pocket-books with the unholiest pact in history, you're sadly mistaken.

They're stupid to be behaving this way.... all lies get found out at some point and the lost trust and goodwill will cost them down the line.... not many will forgive.

Anger and resentment are all that can come out of being hook-winked.... the masses never enjoy being made the fool.

I hope they get what's coming to them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Baby Girl Has a Name!

My cousin has named her newborn daughter for the birds that always rode on Odin's shoulder....

With a nod to the Norse Gods and the legend of their representation of thought and memory... and their ties to the present and past.

And her middle name is the feminine version of our late Grandfather's Icelandic name.

It's perfect.... It was a beautiful surprise (neither of two names we thought she was considering!)

Welcome to the family Baby R.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Waiting on a name....

So my toddler is not the most creative when it comes to picking names for her loveys. Her very favorite baby doll is lovingly referred to as "Baby", and her next favorite, but much smaller baby doll? "More Baby".

This is a pattern that repeats.

Her big fluffy stuffed puppy is known as "Puppy". And her little dog? Wait for it....

"More Puppy".

She cracks me up.

But it got me to thinking....

My cousin already has a daughter named M, 9th months older than my girl. So I suggested, just for ease of use, that "More M" might just work ;)

I dunno.... she didn't find it as uproariously funny as I did :P

Gaah. So we're still waiting on a name.

Another Little One!

The newest addition to our extended family made her presence in the wee hours of this morning... finally, someone else with a December birthday in our clan!! :)

My cousin has not named her new princess yet.... oh the suspense!! Will it be the original choice? Or the beautiful Icelandic name that she's been considering since our Grandfather's passing?

I guess we'll all just have to sit on the edge of our seats for now....

She has her mother's look and 10 fingers and 10 toes.... and weighed-in at 7lbs 14oz measuring 20.5" (or was that 20.75"?). Good size for a little princess either way - and tall!

Can't wait to meet her.... OMG I feel the need to shop!


Conquering the Castle...

That would be our castle.... the home that's felt more like a dungeon for so long because of the mess! We got so much accomplished around the house this weekend that it just feels great!

I think even the kids were impressed.... which is sad in it's own way, really.... that they would marvel at seeing the complete, uncluttered, expanse of floor. Or that they would realize, for the first time maybe, that there really is a black desk top supporting the computer underneath the mountain of mail and "I'll get to that later" piles of paper....

The kitchen was a pleasure to cook in last night.... every dish clean, all the cupboards organized, even the fridge cleaned out.... lovely, the whole thing.

And now, with a clean home and the flipping of the calendar page to that most anticipated month, we can look to put up decorations and a tree this week - maybe even tonight :)

There's still much to be done in advance of my mother-in-law's stay with us after Christmas.... but I feel much better about my home right now and can see everything will come together.

(now we just need to keep it this way!)

(which, btw, is what we always say... ;)