When I was a child, I loved getting mail. It didn’t happen often, but when an envelope showed up with my name on it, I knew I could tear into it (before I knew what a letter opener was) and enjoy whatever was inside.
My first pieces of mail were birthday and Christmas cards, which always brought me supreme joy. Not too long after that, I had a few pen pals with whom I loved exchanging news from our respective parts of the world.
It didn’t really matter what it was. If it landed in our mailbox and had my name on it, it always had a bit of a surprise factor to it. It always warmed my heart and made me smile to think that someone was thinking of me and took the time to send me a note.
I wonder if that sentiment is what inspired me to reciprocate and to get into the routine of sending birthday and Christmas cards as I got older. Perhaps the mail service was also an opportunity for the emerging writer in me to break from the university or corporate writing routine, and to write letters for the pure fun of it… I know some people will disagree with me on that, but yes, I think it’s fun.
When I think back, I don’t fully understand why I was so fascinated with mail when I was a kid. I don’t know if it’s because it made me feel part of some sort of exclusive club to which I had been accepted as the mail was something I saw as typically reserved for grown-ups.
If I remember correctly, I think I twisted my Mom’s arm into getting me a subscription to “Vidéo Presse”, a popular French magazine for kids back in the day, not just for the content, but also for an additional piece of mail in my name. Continue reading
It is a little silly the lengths to which I will go to avoid getting stuck in a pre-Christmas crowd.
The reality is that I don’t fear crowds. I just don’t happen to like what happens to certain people trapped in their hot parkas for too long, among dozens of other people trapped in their hot parkas for too long. It creates a bit of a pressure cooker effect that raises blood pressures and potentially spills over into an eruption of strong negative emotions.
When you add to the mix the ticking clock of Christmas approaching and stock flying off the shelf, it’s that wild card of not knowing when you might get caught in the crossfire of people whose attitude would get them a permanent placement (with glittering gold stars) on Santa’s naughty list, and a free gift card for anger management training.
Despite buying my first presents in August, making about a hundred lists and checking them twice, and stocking up on anything and everything that doesn’t go bad to reduce my number of store visits in December, there are still things that need to be bought at the last minute for the sake of freshness. I accept that.
But to minimize my exposure to people whose tempers need tempering requires strategy, problem-solving skills and a strong Internet connection. Not only does it demand shopping at off-peak times, but around here it also means dodging snowstorms, freezing rain and Ottawa Senators game night traffic.
To calculate the logistics of this early morning weekend run, it starts with a chart of the last minute items, the location of where I expect to find them, and Google searches to verify at what time each store opens.
I’ll then rearrange the order chronologically to try to be at each stop shortly after they open, to zip in and out before the crowds begin, and before the parking lots turn into inescapable mazes of vehicles parked in improvised spots. Continue reading
I admit that I am a sucker for some good Christmas tunes.
When it comes to picking favourites, I am pretty easy going. It doesn’t really matter whether I listen to the classics by Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald or Burl Ives, or modern ones like Wham’s “Last Christmas” or Linda Eder’s “The Bells of St Paul”, I am a fan.
In my own traditions, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Band-Aid is usually the first one I play to kick off my holiday preparations, much like it did when it first hit the airwaves in 1984.
I can’t think of a better time to have the holiday tunes playing than when I am decking the halls, trimming the tree, wrapping gifts or enjoying some holiday baking. To me, the music can be the icing on the cake, turning my holiday activities into more idyllic Norman Rockwell-Hallmark movie moments.
Over the years, I have collected a couple of new CDs each year just to hear different jazz or pop interpretations, to switch things up and to keep the holiday tunes fresh.
Ten years ago, when I was learning Swedish, I accumulated some CDs from Sweden’s top pop singers that not only added fresh new voices to the mix, but also introduced me to traditional Swedish songs. Today, I couldn’t imagine my holidays without them.
Overall, I will admit to having a pretty big appetite for holiday tunes… but not all the time. Continue reading
In recent years, to put a fun spin on our team’s holiday parties, we have added an after-dinner activity. A few years ago we went to a karaoke bar. Last year we attended a stand-up comedy show. This year we thought, what could be more natural for a holiday party than throwing axes with your work colleagues?
I admit that I was a little nervous when the idea was first proposed. I am not a champion by any stretch of the imagination in any game that involves aiming a projectile at a target. Frankly I was less nervous about myself and more nervous for everyone else around me.
But my curiosity did indeed reign supreme in terms of what was involved in throwing axes for the sport of it. What drove me to say yes was the thought that at a minimum, it could be a very bloggable once-in-a-lifetime experience.
After our lovely team dinner, it was time to head over to the venue. Along the way, I noticed that the butterflies in my stomach felt more like a fleet of commuter jets, not really knowing what was lay ahead for us.
The moment we walked in, my senses went into overdrive, but in a good way. Between participants cheering at the top of their lungs, the sound of axes hitting (or missing) their targets with a loud thud, and the strong but pleasant aroma of the wooden targets that filled the air, I knew that I had stepped way out of my comfort zone.
For a brief moment, the “what was I thinking when I said yes?” thoughts flew by, but just the same, I remained committed. Continue reading
I thought I was doing well this Christmas season, having made a list and checked it twice (OK, I admit, more like two hundred times… per day), the halls were decked early (fa la la la la, la la, la la), I shopped early, and when I did have to go out in December, I shopped at off-peak times. I was organized and on time… or so I thought.
I hadn’t anticipated that my biggest hurdle this year would be wrapping the presents.
The challenge this year is twofold. Ivy the Wonder Cat seems to have made herself at home in my writing room, the room where I keep all the wrapping supplies. Over the past year, this is where she made the habit of going for her morning naps, which sometimes stretched into afternoon naps, sometimes concluded by evening naps.
When I realized that this was THE spot where she felt most comfortable and secure, I moved her cat bed there which seemed to have sealed the deal and her specific purpose for that room.
In previous years, I would hide the presents in the closet of that room, and then when she wasn’t looking, I’d run into the room, close the door and then a couple of hours later, I would walk out with the presents wrapped and ready for the big day. Continue reading
This past Friday, on my way home from work, I decided to check out a nearby department store to see if they had any stock left for a couple of items I use, which I had seen in their most recent Black Friday flyer at really attractive prices.
I also wanted to look for a few items on my Christmas gift list, which I cannot divulge at the moment as this is classified information between me and the North Pole.
On my arrival, a man bumped into me, trying to exit through the “in” door with a panic-stricken look on his face, as he ushered his son ahead of him. I could have sworn he mouthed the words “don’t do it”, but I thought to myself that I must have imagined it. But being the polite Canadians we are, we both excused ourselves, even though I clearly had the right of way.
Ten feet into the store, I understood the gentleman’s escape route.
I had never seen the store this busy before. Some people were clustered together, blocking the aisles, as they scrutinized their flyer while pointing to empty shelves, to the ire of others trying to whizz by with full shopping carts on their way to the checkout line. I could hear babies crying, young children whining and adults barking at each other. When combined with the aromatic combination of seasonal scented candles, ladies’ perfumes and snow tires, I was heading into sensory overload. Continue reading
When I wrote the blog post “How I Became an Early Christmas Shopper”, I suggested that the reason why I felt more inclined to shop earlier and avoid the mayhem of malls in December, was perhaps a question of becoming more sensitive.
One year later, after a series of discussions with a therapist, I realize it may not be a question of “becoming” more sensitive. In all likelihood, I always was.
Even though I stand right on the line between introvert and extrovert, with one foot well into extrovert territory, it is still easy for me to get overwhelmed. There is no shortage of events in the month of December to overcharge one’s senses:
– Faster pace: The office often gets busier with a surge of activity in trying to tie up loose ends on projects and produce the last status reports of the year, before everyone takes vacation time.
– More activity: The social calendar tends to fill with holiday parties and lunches with family, friends and co-workers.
– Sensory stimulation: Shopping malls with lights and decorations hanging from every nook and cranny, with the aroma of hundreds of perfumes hanging in the air, as music blares from shops like they are nightclubs, while kids scream from being hungry, too warm, too tired or all of the above.
– And on an empathetic level, as much as people romanticize it as being “the most wonderful time of the year”, there is no shortage of negative energy in the air to soak up through people’s rushing, their impatience, their aggressive driving and their temper tantrums in stores. Continue reading
Regular readers probably know that I have my moments where I might be considered a bit of an oddball, especially when it comes to my borderline-obsessive love of fruit cake. It hasn’t always been that way though.
When I was younger I would have a couple of pieces from the overflowing tray of treats passed around the table at Christmas, and I’d be set for the year.
But it was in my body’s rejection of gluten a decade ago, that I had to stop all foods involving wheat flour including fruit cake.
For something that I only ate once per year, it wasn’t a catastrophic loss, but with each passing Christmas after that, I grew to miss the tradition that much more. I also grew to appreciate it as one of life’s simple pleasures at the most wonderful, most festive time of the year.
A few years ago, I even wrote a poem about my hunt for the perfect gluten-free fruit cake. It wasn’t easy. The hunt, not the poem.
Around here, not a lot of stores sell gluten-free fruit cake and for the ones that do, I found the experience to be a very pricey one and sometimes a disappointing one. I remember one in particular that lived up to all of the hype and negative connotations about heavy and dry fruit cakes, and added a few more.
Then inspiration hit. How hard can it be to make gluten-free fruit cake for myself? Continue reading