Tag Archives: christmas

10442543_10152431224106916_2991878099913515482_n

Cutting Paper Snowflakes: Having a Moment on December 1st

I should be in bed. 12:43 am, work comes early. I’m writing by the glow of the Christmas tree on my right (with an assist from my monitor). To my left, a fog-rimmed half moon rises.

I’ve spent my evening cutting out paper snowflakes, eating carbonara, watching the (adults-only, and awesome) documentary I Am Santa Claus, and drinking wine, after a long day of work punctuated only by escaping to buy my best friend a Christmas gift, myself an alpaca knit toque, and some jam. Ahh, Christmas craft fairs, for the win.

I’m savouring the day, the weeks, the months. This might be the last time I decorate a home for Christmas for five years. FIVE YEARS. I love Christmas. I love my version of Christmas. It would be strange and odd to live under other people’s ideas of Christmas for a half-decade. To travel the world, though, I can make that sacrifice. And wherever I go, I can always make paper snowflakes. I’m a pro now.

But this exactly is why I favour the long-term approach for leaving. If saving money is the goal and I can save up to 30-50% per month by living elsewhere, shouldn’t I leave sooner than later?

Well, frankly,I’m under no illusions that my life is anything but great right now. I may have some operational shortcomings in which I fail to maximize on my life’s awesomeness, but the bones are there, man.

I’m not in a rush to LEAVE this. I’m just wanting something new. That saying you don’t know what you got till it’s gone? Wrong. I know what I’ve got. So, I’m aiming to at least get close to “overstaying my welcome” as opposed to “premature departure.” I don’t ever want to regret not living in this particular apartment just a little longer.

If it goes as planned, next Christmas I’ll be enjoying the holidays in Croatia, a predominantly Catholic country that does it well. I’ll be just a few weeks away from a late-January/February trip to Istanbul in an attempt to photograph snow  falling in the Old Town. (Which is currently my desktop wallpaper, by dilemmanya.)

snow_in_istanbul____by_dilemmanya-d4oecxk

I know where I am. I know where I’m going. I may want the world of travel today but I also know I will have frequent times of fatigue and weariness where I miss owning a bed, having a routine, and knowing EXACTLY what is around me. Which is what I have, and am savouring, now.

I’m a woman of two minds right now, but the one I’m “in” is the one that’s got my attention tonight.

And that means the kaleidoscope glow of a tree, snowflake-filled windows, and a bed that’s all mine, from which I’ll pad away in the morning, and restart my work week.

Tonight I know it’s 24 days to Christmas, and less than a year to the adventure of a lifetime.

Both are working for me. Night, minions.

I’m working on the first of the books to come about this life-changing journey/goal/dream I have. If you want to be alerted when it’s coming together for your reading enjoyment: Join my seldom-mailed Mailing list! 

So, Uh, About That Tree…

Yeah, okay, guilty.

I’m that asshole who put her tree up on November 29th and made you feel like a totally unorganized idiot, or like I’m part of the conspiracy to make Christmas encroach further into our lives.

But I say NAY. NAY, it is not encroaching!

I don’t know when it started, but for a couple decades at least I’ve associated the week FOLLOWING American Thanksgiving as the official start of “When it’s acceptable to talk about… Christmas.”

You'll shoot your eye out, kid!

Still, I typically do my Christmas one week later, on December 6th. This year, I see myself getting crazy busy over the next while, and I don’t want to overdo my December, and I also don’t want to get into the position I was in when I got it up on the 19th one year. Starting a week earlier gives me breathing space. (And makes it likely I’ll stick to my tradition of taking it down on New Year’s Day night.)

But there’s a deeper reason for me to start Christmas early this year.

It’s been a lousy fucking year at times. It’s ENDING well, but the first 8-9 months you coulda kept, thanks.

From January to June was pretty sucktastic especially. Between the Japan thing, blowing my back, dead people, and other things I’d rather be flippant about than think seriously on, well, it was an often-bleak period for me.

I’ve had low-grade depression for a long time now, well over a year, and but I’m really optimistic about where 2012 might go because I like how this year is ending.

There’s a mental game that comes with adversity and we don’t always win. I know I haven’t been, and I’ve been trying to flip the script.

Christmas is pretty much the biggest script one can flip, if one’s tired about the way things are looking in life.

Christmas, at its heart, is a time made of myth and imagination. Fun stories and hopefully good memories abound. Yummy foods and warm drinks are everywhere.

These are a few of my favourite things.

I don’t like the commercialization of Christmas, and never have. I don’t buy gimmicky things and I don’t give a lot.

So, last night, when I tweeted a picture of my tree last night, and @Unambig said “It looks like 1984,” it was one of the nicest things ever. (He expounded here.)

For me, that’s the gold standard of Christmas. The early ’80s. Christmas was certainly commercialized, but in a more romantic and fun kind of way. Today’s commercialization dresses it up that way but I don’t believe them. It’s disingenuine. Time to replace that iPhone that works perfectly fine with yet a snazzier iPhone, kids! Spend, spend, spend!

Not me.

I won’t do a lot for Christmas. I’ll get out and see some people but I’ll also take a lot of time for myself. I won’t spend a lot, either, compared to others. I’ll make most of the gifts I give. The few I buy will be ones I hope to really be liked, but they won’t be expensive. I’ll give pies, candy, and other yummy things, and it will take a long time to make it all. And that’s okay! Generous in spirit, I can be that.

In the past, I’ve spent, but I’ve avoided malls and the standard “easy way out” online gifts.

Like, one year, I took a weekend in early December to hunt for unusual gifts, back when I had the cash to do so. I drove out to the Valley, to the Fort Langley Antique Mall, and dropped my wad on collectibles. For one friend, a 1956 red rotary-dial telephone, like they used to have in all the old movies about nuclear scares in the ’50s and ’60s. NO, NOT THE RED PHONE! Commie fuckers!

Yeah, I gave one just like this set. I'm awesome. :)

Then, also bought that day, there’s the mint-condition set of 4 Empire Strikes Back special edition glasses issued by Burger King in 1980. That went over well. I don’t think they’ve ever been used, they’re in some shadow box somewhere, I suspect. A father-to-son legacy gift for the now-5-years-old son to have one decade down the line.

Last year, I was unemployed. There were no such generous gifts from me. Instead, I made people candy and other things.

Still… by just accepting that I didn’t have the cash for Christmas-as-usual, and embracing the older ideas — cooking from scratch, giving little well-planned made-by-me gifts, and things like that — I rediscovered the FUN of Christmas.

I enjoyed the bustle of picking up necessities because I wasn’t part of the shopping pandemonium last year. I found more time to slow down and see Christmassy things and take moments for myself. Somehow, it felt more like the Christmases I knew as a kid. It felt simpler, easier, and more enjoyable.

I ran into others who had found themselves in similarly-pinched positions after layoffs, fewer clients, and other ongoing-recession-related situations, and they all had to make the choice of bemoaning their situation and dismissing Christmas altogether, or giving in and trying to get creative about personalized gifts to give. Once they gave in and went with what they could afford, they too found that Christmas was more fun. They didn’t have the stress of how they’d pay it off in January or February because they couldn’t get themselves in that position, and, bam! The bonus to that was, they just didn’t have STRESS.

I’ve spoken with some of those folk since and all of them are looking forward to Christmas more this year. They’re planning ahead for what to do, how to cut pennies, how to enjoy the moment. Just like me. They’re not feeling pressure, they’re just planning well in advance for how to schedule their time for creativity, and balancing that with the fun life that comes in the holiday season.

I’m saving in other ways, too. Like last year, I’m ditching the expensive turkey and making a ground-pork tourtiere instead (this recipe, amazing). About a third the cost and every bit as traditional and wonderful to look forward to noshing. Best part is, I can make it up to two days ahead of time and really enjoy the entertainment of Christmas eve with friends again.

Does Christmas within a budget SORT OF suck? Sure. So does life on a budget, but that has to be the way we live now.

Hey, it’d be wonderful to be able to afford to give awesomeness-with-big-pricetags to friends and family I care about, but I can’t. I live in this recession. I’ve been affected by it for a long, long time, and that makes me pretty ordinary. The living-within-means thing is getting old, but that’s just life.

So, we do what we can and we have fun with what we’ve got.

If putting a tree up on November 29th makes it easier for me to make that all happen, then that’s how we’re playing it.

Christmas is about whatever you want it to be about. You’re a Christian? Great, celebrate Jesus. A heathen like me? Santa!

But, for all of us, it should always be about just remembering to find a little time for people, give a little more of yourself than you normally do, and being kind to others.

You would think having an extra week of that in our lives wouldn’t be such a pain in the ass for some of you.

Maybe it wouldn’t be, if you found a way to remember the simplicity of Christmas, and practiced its ideals rather than buying the “Give till it Hurts” mentality that spoils the modern commercial holiday for so many.

A Christmas Candy Story, by Steff

This Christmas, people in my life are getting simple gifts. I’m making candy for most people. Fiscal Frugality is probably wise in my world — and in most worlds.

Look around, right? The economy’s fucked. I could overspend, but I’d rather use my time and efforts and put ME into my gifts than injecting concern into my life. Makes sense.

It’s probably why I’m having so much more fun this Christmas. I can afford what I’m doing. I’m having to do it from my heart, too, because I want the candy to be awesome, not just some phoned-in treat.

Candymaking is all about the temperatures, that controls texture.

Friday, I got to play Santa Steff as I took my first batch of candy around to people. Tonight, I’ll be making another 11-12 pounds of the convection, with a good chunk of it being used for charitable purposes–my small way of giving back to a valued member of Vancouver’s social media community. I figure elbow grease turns into a donation from someone else. The circle of good.

But this isn’t just any candy.

This is the kind of candy that comes with a story.

Isn’t that the BEST kind?

As a kid, my mom always made us this homemade brown sugar candy. She called it “fudge,” so we did, too. Supposedly it’s “brown sugar pralines,” but there ain’t never been a batch that had pecans in it at my house, man.

She died in 1999, and that’s when I learned that it’s not the big posthumous regrets that weigh down your soul — it’s the little shit. Like childhood recipes.

When I realised her death came and I’d never gotten the recipe for brown sugar candy from her, it broke my heart. No one in the family could find it, either. She’d kept it secret.

But then, 10 years later, a friend of mine, ZoeyJane, helped me “purge” my home. I was made to go through all the old papers, sort all my boxes.

Another friend came over and we were goofing off, and I showed him my big purge-find of the day: My 1983 Girl Guides & Brownies Cookbook.

My friend starting flipping through the pages–thwap-thwap-thwap– “CRANBERRY JELL-O MOLD? This is totally 1983! Oh, hey, here’s yours–Brown sugar pralines.”

WHATWHATWHAT? LEMMESEETHATLEMMESEETHAT.

I snatched the flimsy recipe book from him, and lo and behold, there it was. Mom’s candy.

My eyes watered and my heart pounded. There was a piece of my childhood, RIGHT THERE. It DIDN’T die with her.

I was elated. Over the damn moon. I planned to make it soon. I’d need a candy thermometer. Duly NOTED.

A couple days later, I’m walking to work. Looking down on the sidewalk in Yaletown, there’s a candy thermometer in its package–$2.49. A fissure crack made it useless trash, but I picked it up and fell deep into thought as I found a bin to toss it in.

Later that day, I bought one myself.

That Friday, I took a deep breath and set about rekindling a part of my childhood. It was time to make some candy.

Immediately after I pour my first batch into trays to cool, the phone rings. It’s my brother. He’s with my dad. They wanna pop by.

I’d lived here 10 years, then. It was the first time ever they just “popped” by.

So, they came over, happy to know the “fudge” awaited. The candy was made of fail. I didn’t hit the right temperatures. It’s not cooking, it’s alchemy–and I had much to learn. My candy that day turned into a taffy-like chewtoy one could spend hours nom-nom-nomming but never melting down.

But it took us all back to a place that spoke of Monopoly nights with candy and a fire in the hearth, pizza delivery, pajamas and goofing off.

When my folks’ marriage started truly failing, the candy stopped making appearances. It became increasingly rare. Mother always made a double batch and put half away, hording it for herself. She had false teeth. (Obviously.)

In the 16 months since I found that recipe, I’ve really made it my own. I never make it plain as Mom did. Now it’s a vehicle for great flavours. I’ve made it with bacon and whiskey–a small circuit of the American deep-South barbecue circuit speaks of it like a barbecue urban legend, thanks to a friend who bragged about my work in competitions down there. But it’s the peanut butter-vanilla one that’s really popular with friends and family.

This Christmas is a new version and is my favourite. I think Mom would have loved it: Browned butter, toasted walnuts, and Butter Ripple Schnapps. It’s toasted and carmelized goodness that’ll make you understand the value of a good dental plan.

There were a few things I could’ve made to gift this year, with much less work, but my brown sugar candy is closer to my heart than any of ’em.

Don’t ask for the recipe. The Next Generation Cameron will carry it on: Nephew knows now what’s involved in making it. One day, Nephew too will be a Candymaking Ninja. But, for now, the alchemy eludes my little grasshopper.

Mother would be pleased. She’d love knowing her candy made Christmas special in two provinces last year, since I sent it to other family too, but she’d be more thrilled to know she played a part in candy-for-kindness and other Christmas goodness this year. She liked it simple-but-generous, life.

My folks went the extra mile to make Christmas memorable when I was little. One day, I grew up and the season became shrouded in the cynicism that makes stories like A Christmas Carol resonate 170 years on.

This year, being frugal, using my time and energy to make old-fashioned candy, is the first time I’ve really felt seasonal “joy” in a good 15-plus years. There’s something about returning to the simplicity of the traditions.

Being single and childless, that’s more easily accomplished than it’d be for others, but what a fantastic choice I made. I’m so glad.

Well, then… girl’s got some candy to make. Today’s most-epic-batch-ever requires a 20″ whisk, 24-quart stockpot, and a 24×18″ bun roll sheet with 1.5″ high walls. And, you know, 90 minutes of whisking.

Pray for me.

Ho, ho, ho.

If you can’t attend the fundraiser here in Vancouver tomorrow and you’d like to do a random act of kindness to support a couple good folks financially-felled by health crises for months in the past year, here’s a great place to drop five bucks and do just that.

The UnSpending Christmas = More Fun, Less Worry

Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming!

I giggled to death when a friend on Twitter, a member of Vancouver’s crazy Vespa club (“The Worst Scooter Club Ever”) and an awesome artist, Mark Pilon, decided to bring my Christmas tree to life.

I give you the Killer Christmas Tree — we’re currently securing film rights. Think death and jingling bells.

Obviously my place is decorated for the holidays. I’m getting into Christmas-cheer mode. I’ve even come to terms with the fact that, as much as I love the people in my life, no one’s getting “real” gifts. I’m making a lot of candy so as to spread the cheer this year, but that’s about it.

Fiscal realities, baby. Ho-ho-fuckin’-ho.

It’s tough to come to that place of accepting that your finances just don’t allow for the “traditional” Christmas, but it’s a damned good thing to accept, given the economy. I refuse to spend the next four months living with fear and regret for seasonal over-spending.

The best gift I can get this year? Knowing my utilities are finally paid off. It’s been that kind of autumn, and I know I’m not alone.

And, hey, I can do that, finally. It’s great!

What does it leave me for the holidays? Well, I can buy some wine, entertain a few people I care about, have coffee with some other friends, and that’ll be all it wrote.

Once upon a time, though, that was the point of Christmas.

It was about making paper-chains to decorate trees, and popcorn strings, doing snow angels, hoping Santa brought some $50 gift you’d been dying for, playing charades, drinking punch, and throwing snowballs. That was Christmas.

Then Hallmark and Best Buy and Sears and Apple and everyone else said, “Hey, here’s a great merchandising opportunity!” and we’ve been proper fucked since.

People used to be happier with less.

Now we have moreMOREmore and we’re more unhappy than ever. Cue the Prozac and Ambien and Halcyon and Lithium, eh? The medicated gift that keeps giving?

We spend, spend, spend under the delusions that the latest version of X-gadget is exactly what’s been missing in our lives. A purchase, then a week goes by, and, nope, that didn’t Spackle the little hole in our hearts either. Whatcha got for me NOW, Apple?

Commercialism isn’t the answer, and I think we’re finally figuring that out, thanks to economies around the world continuing to collapse like shaky houses of cards, but the problem is, we don’t have a fucking clue what the question is anymore.

Where’s happiness? What’s tradition? Where are we going, and why have we been trying to leave this Place anyhow? Why’d we ever start believing joy was found in a box on a shelf in a big store?

Christmas should be about finding that child inside of yourself, really meaning it when you tell people at cocktail parties that it’s nice to see them. It’s about walking down streets and smiling at decorations, admiring the shimmering lights dangling from trees at night, or stuffing a few extra boxes into a Food Bank hamper.

It’s about wishing for peace and love in the world, bundling up against the elements, singing stupid songs, loving a hot beverage, board games, and slowing down long enough to enjoy those slippers you’ve recently invested in.

That’s CHRISTMAS.

I’m really looking forward to dropping by a party with hundreds of people tonight, just because I’m hoping I see a lot of folks I’d love to wish well before the year draws a close.

It’s been a long time since I cared about seeing people, especially in large groups, or wishing them well, or congregating with mass numbers of any kind, but tonight I’d like to do just that. There are a lot of reasons I care this year, but most of them aren’t really for public consumption.

The main shareable reason I care about seeing people is that I know I can’t afford to spend my way to a “happy” Christmas. I can bask in the seasonal glow, though. I can just be there, participate, and be welcomed. That’s seasonal enough for me.

And this year, I think that’s exactly the kind of Christmas I want.

Somewhere along the way, industry, media, and commercial interests have stolen Christmas. They hijacked it and turned it into something that filled their tills and propped up their bottom line, and we lost the soul of the holidays.

The recession, this endless economy, it’s a gift, in a way — it’s our opportunity to say Christmas Is Not For You, Christmas is For Us. It’s for our tradition. It’s for remembering a way of life and a time of easy fun. It’s about movies like A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street. It’s about Bing Crosby and ho-ho-ho. It’s for candy and mulled cider and giggling children. It’s for snowflakes and cookies and slippers and blankets.

And it’s not too late. With social media, we have more communication between us than ever before, and we can declare new priorities, focus on the right things, and take back traditions and our quieter times.

If, that is, you’ve reached the same not-gonna-take-this-anymore threshold as I have.

Me and The Killer Christmas Tree, we’re bringin’ Christmas back.

Next: Sunday might be time to make popcorn strings. It’s…. been a while, and the tree does look a little nekkid. Maybe that’s why he’s so angry-looking… shrinkage. Poor balls.

The Christmas Myth of Time Management

There was a moment sheer heart-plunging terror as I added the line “bring up Christmas decorations and get started” to my to-do list for the week.

What with the what, WHEN?

Oh, lord.

It’s That Time Again.

So now, on top of the list of 26 things I need to do, I gotta work out more because the season’s full of food, clean more to entertain more (and because there’s more crap filling the house), plus all the baking for the Christmas gifts I’ll make this year, oh, right, and go to a zillion social events.

“Christmas”,
The Holiday Brought to You in Part
by FACEPALM™,
that universal sentiment surpassed only
by HEAD-DESK™.

And, like, three months ago, I started this little project of organizing my music CDs and putting them into binders.

Except… there’s, like, 300 CDs in piles, in the corner of the living room, where the Christmas tree soon needs to go.

Not only do I need to organize those fuckers and put them in the binders, but it turns out the binder sleeves are only pre-cut, they haven’t pulled the little piece of plastic out where I have to slide the CD in. Do you KNOW how much such things annoy me?

No. You don’t. I glower at this pile. I loathe this pile. I suppose the time has come.

A friend posted a great list today, the seven steps to “grow the action habit”, and the second one is: Be a doer.

I was a Girl Guide. I can be a doer. I know I can!

I shall be a CD-organizer doer-girl sometime this week.

It’s on my list.

(Found on a variety of blogs, always uncredited.)

Ironically, also on my list is to “make a list every day. ”

On the rare occasions of my life where I’ve made a list (I’ve seen more blue moons than I’ve made lists), I’ve been killer productive. If I remember to write on the list that I have to cross things off the list, that is.

On the upside, all those rare list-making occasions have been within the last six months. Nowhere near habit-forming, but at least I’ve had some positive results in the “I’ll try that for a dollar, Alex” category.

Let’s face it, life’s all about time.

It’s about getting things done —  a race to save time so we don’t waste time, but without enjoying the time we have. Or something.

Even when we do save time and knock obligations out of the park, we’re still left with fractured time, since no one turns off cellphones or does Just One Thing at length anymore. The proverbial ADD society, sure, but who actually lives in the moment anymore?

I’m still trying to find that balance of Getting Shit Done and Doing Nothing. Of course, I keep vascillating to extremes. I’m the ping-pong ball that ricochets from one wall to the other, never landing in the middle.

Still, I keep bouncing, keep trying, and sooner or later gravity’ll pull me to a stop — and I’m okay with that.

December’s kind of like my “new-year’s-resolutions-practice month”. I’ll fail dismally, likely, with all the socializing and all that, but at least I’ll be working on life more or thinking about how I can improve it (and want to), often.

Besides, it’s not about being perfect tomorrow, it’s about being better tomorrow and better the week after that.

When I can get traction with the time management, it’ll help me on all levels — I’ll eat healthier at home, live in a cleaner environment, process stress better because I’ll have an accomplishments system in place, and I’ll generally be less of who I’ve been frustrated in being, and more of the task-oriented person I’d like to be.

It’s an uphill battle for the next five weeks, though. It’s that annual time when we’re so inundated by responsibilities and the directions we’re pulled in that we’re more likely to overindulge in all our flaws — fall behind on bills, eat too much junk, drink too often, exercise too little, rest too little, and so on.

There’s a reason they’re called the “January blues”.

It’s why we’re all so compelled to visit change upon ourselves when the new year rolls around — Christmas brings out the best in us but also exploits all our daily failings. It’s inevitable. We have great fun and we pay the price in every way, usually.

Being prepared for that by taking little steps to try and avoid the severity of my Descent into Calendar Madness could be one thing that separates me from my recent years’ “Chaos Called Christmas” experiences.

And it starts with one little list aimed at getting me from here to November 30th with a lot of organizational success and a big game plan.

Item 27: Make a new list on December 1st.

Things to Remember This Christmas

steff's christmas card 2006 resizedSince 1998, I’ve had every kind of Christmas imaginable. Lonely, magnificent, rich, broke, injured, healthy, in love, out of love. Had ’em all.

I was raised to believe in the magic of Christmas. We’d have a houseful of people singing carols, Dad would make his famous cardiac eggnog, the house was full of decorations and laughter, and us kids would even have visits from Santa, who brought every child there a gift. It really was magical.

When my mother died in 1999, I was pretty sure Christmas would never feel that Magical again. And, yeah, I was right — it hasn’t. But my life isn’t over, and “dreams” don’t always have to be big, flashy, and involve a credit card. Sometimes they can just be about getting back to the heart of what made your life wonderful and good once. Continue reading