Category Archives: Christmas

Pre-Christmas Crowd Avoidance

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

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Holiday Music Overload

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

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Our “Axe-llent” Holiday Party

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

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Mission Impossible: Wrapping the Presents

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

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The Irony of Black Friday Shopping

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

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Boxing Day Memories: Sam the Record Man

When I think back to my Christmas wish lists over the years, music has been a constant. As a long time music lover, my voracious appetite for music goes as far back as age 10.

Through my early teens, I had an allowance from my parents, and in my later teen years, I had pocket money from a part-time job. A lot of that money was spent on records.

At that time, vinyl record albums were relatively pricey for someone earning $2.35 per hour. Christmas became that opportunity to ask Santa for the albums I did not get a chance to pick up myself through the year.

In preparing that wish list, there was some careful consideration and a few (if not several) trips to the record store(s) to ensure that the albums I chose would bring maximum enjoyment. I would meticulously review the song lists and count the number of songs I knew versus the ones I didn’t, and then compared from one album to the next.

We didn’t have listening stations, YouTube, iTunes or Spotify to check out those other unknown songs. Sometimes I might have been able to borrow a certain album from a friend or from the library, but for the most part, those other songs were often a mystery until the record was home and on the turntable.

When I think back, I am surprised at how methodical I was for such a young age, but value for money was pretty important given my limited means and my appetite for music. Continue reading

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Keeping the Christmas Tree Vertical (in the Presence of a Curious Cat)

The first Christmas after Ivy the Wonder Cat joined me, the same jitters that I felt before her adoption were back with a vengeance. This time, I was worried about how she would behave around the artificial Christmas tree.

Five months into our relationship, I already knew she was a good little kitty who didn’t have any predispositions to destructive behaviour. Nonetheless, she still had a strong curious streak which could make the tradition of keeping a Christmas tree upright a challenge. I had heard enough horror stories and seen enough videos to know just exactly what cats are capable of, in the presence of a bright, shiny “play structure” in the middle of the living room.

I turned to my panel of experts at the office who all offered fabulous, practical tips to keeping the tree and the cat safe (thanks again, everyone!) Plus, with experience, I added a few of my own ideas upon realizing that my cat was not only smart but fearless when it came to climbing the tree.

Here are some of the strategies I use to keep my Christmas tree vertical throughout the holiday season:

– For the first Christmas with Ivy, I kept my most cherished (and breakable) ornaments in a box, safely tucked away until I knew how she would behave. This took some of the fear and apprehension out of the experience.

– When I install the tree lights, I try to avoid the branches at the very bottom, within the reach of her paws. By avoiding those branches, not only is it safer for Ivy and the tree, I find that at human eye-level, the overall appearance of the tree is enhanced given the greater concentration of lights higher up. Continue reading

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Enjoying the Holidays without Overcharging the Senses

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

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The Hunt for Gluten-Free Fruit Cake – 2017 Edition

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

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Top 10 Ways I Prepare for a Canadian Winter

With the fall season well underway and the official start to winter just on the horizon, I often feel like a squirrel gathering nuts, which is not too far from the truth, actually.

For those who might not be familiar with Ottawa, winter can offer its share of merciless days in terms of bad weather conditions. As a result, roads and driving conditions can get pretty treacherous.

If we hit a weather pattern of several days of heavy snow or freezing rain (or both), I tend to go out only if I really have to. And on those days when I have to go to work, I stick to the essentials: a commute to the office and back, and that’s it. I won’t do errands on the way home.

It’s just a question of safety… well… that and the fear of getting stuck in a parking lot where a plow hasn’t arrived to remove the snow which continues to pile up.

For that reason, I tend to stock up on certain items to ensure I have a decent supply on hand, and to not stress out if my errand schedule goes topsy-turvy when Mother Nature and Old Man Winter get cranky.

Here they are, my top 10 errands in preparation for winter:

10. Flu shot

Getting a flu shot is not so much a weather dependent preparation, it is just a seasonal one for which I feel a need to make time for it, to avoid the flu, avoid the line-ups and maintain good health through the winter season.

9. Snow tires

Local garages are usually run off their feet at this time of year as many drivers book an appointment to have winter tires installed on their vehicles. Given how bad the weather can get, I couldn’t imagine driving without them anymore.

8. Kitty litter Continue reading

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