Category Archives: Holiday Cheer

The personal blog is an important, under-respected art form.

I just got around to reading Anil’s recent post on 15 lessons from 15 years of blogging. Poignant, since I’ve been thinking about what to do with this site.

I’ve been blogging for over¬†10(!) years, with a few defunct blogger and livejournal accounts before that. The blogosphere has changed a lot since then, but my favourites are still the few personal blogs that exist without a strict adherence to a commercial niche.

I wasn’t sure there was still a place for a personal blog with no theme, direction, beautiful photos or commercial model. And then I realized I was a fucking idiot; there isn’t a rule book.

So, before I delve too far into Anil’s point 9 (Meta-writing about a blog is generally super boring), a few things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:

  1. Feminism (in tech, and in general). About 8 years ago I held a job in tech where I was – as is typical – one of only a handful of women in the company. One day I was chatting with the (male) CEO about how to get buy-in from a male colleague, and the CEO said “do you ever think some of the¬†difficulties are because you’re a woman?” I was totally shocked, and blurted out something affirmative (because I agreed, but thought I was crazy for thinking so). And then the company pivoted, and I was laid-off about 3 days later, so never got a chance to follow up. That, and other head-smacking stories rattle around my head a lot while I watch the news on all the new-wave feminism.
  2. Working Parenthood. Closely related to the feminism thing, I spend a lot of time thinking about the day-to-day minutiae of being a full-time working mom (because let’s face it – it’s different for dads) and how to strike the right balance. A thing I’ve noticed is that I have orders of guilt: the worst is when I’ve truly disappointed Isaac (which has only happened once), but a close second is when situations come up where I feel like I am not showing the world that I care about being a good mom. Example: talking about life-changing/affirming moments with (all male) colleagues, the dads in the room all cited the births of their children. I did not. Not because I am callous, but because “the birth” frankly left me a bit shell-shocked, and was just one moment on a long continuum of becoming a mom. Of course my justification came in a moment of l’esprit de l’escalier, so I never articulated that in the moment. And so I retrospectively worry/feel guilty about appearing a cold, uncaring parent. And I do not like it.
  3. The first Tiny Christmas. This will be our third Christmas living in the UK, and the first when we won’t return to Canada. We were sick of the high prices for flights, and the large chunk of time it took out of our holiday allowances, when we’d like to travel to other destinations. I am looking forward to the opportunity to start a brand new set of traditions that are about just the three of us, but I am also a bit nervous that it won’t feel “right” or “real” to celebrate what’s normally such a family-centric holiday for us, without any family around. But you never know until you try? I guess?

 

Hop to it?

I keep remembering (and forgetting, and remembering again) that Easter’s coming up.

Holidays are often a little tricky as an ExPat (assuming you want to celebrate), but this one is trickier than most. The toddler thing is tripping me up.

Easter Chicks on a Boat
Easter Chicks on a Boat by Nickstone333 on Flickr

I’m not convinced Isaac will really understand an egg hunt (though I am willing to revise that stance). He barely understood the Santa thing.

He’s not really into arts and crafts projects, unless it involves splashing paint around. Last time he got hold of one of those cute puffball chicks (yesterday) he tried to eat it.

My lasting, must-have Easter tradition is a Dutch-style brunch (lots of meats, cheeses, breads, and the obligatory Easter coloured eggs), and the annual Egg Battle.

This is not exactly congruous with our current efforts to stop the kid from smashing everything against everything else.

Neil’s tradition is easier: he only demands Hot Cross Buns with Bacon.

Both of us are into a big Easter dinner, which frankly, looks a lot like Sunday lunch, which we’d probably cook up anyhow.

So, maybe it’s time to add something new to the Camp Watkii Easter Tradition Repertoire.

Suggestions?

Home for the Holidays

I’ve always wondered what it’s like for people who take trips “home” for the holidays. When they live somewhere either away from family or the place they’re from, and make their way back to that place at Christmas time.

Now I know.

And it’s simultaneously very nice and very strange.

First of all, I have been trying not to refer to Vancouver as “home” anymore.

Not only does it make it harder to really lean in to our experience in Oxford, conjuring up bouts of melancholy homesickness, but “home” as we knew it in Vancouver doesn’t exist anymore. While we have family and friends here, and enjoy being surrounded by some of the places and things we left behind, our life in Vancouver (the place we lived, the jobs we had) doesn’t exist anymore. We can’t truly go “home” that way.

It’s been really excellent to spend time with friends and family, but there’s also a tinge of detachment overhanging it. The experience is temporary. The gang’s all here, but most members are making plans for next week when the status quo returns; we’ll be gone again.

This all sounds quite melancholy, but it isn’t, really.

It’s (so far) exciting to pack up and head out on another trip. To share the holiday experience of returning “home” with airports full of others.

It makes the experience of spending time with those friends and family sweeter, more intense. I find myself being much more present with friends & family now, because chances to spend quality time with them are fewer and further between.

It solidifies which traditions are really important and worth preserving, despite the challenges of timing, weather, and distance.

It makes it very obvious that as much as so many other things have changed over the years, others stay predictably, comfortingly, blissfully the same.

Santa
Even Jetlag is no match for Santa

Thanks

I never realized how much I look to Thanksgiving as a passage into Autumn. A time to start reconnecting with family & friends after the frantic, flighty summer.

And while it might be Decorative Gourd Season all over the Northern Hemisphere, England doesn’t have Thanksgiving.

Decorative Gourd Season
Photo by Reclamation Revolution on Flickr

We’ve started down the road to amassing a collection of acquaintances, but are still a bit thin in the friends department. Family is 1/3 of a world away.

Thanksgiving this year meant one more hurried, nondescript meal in the midst of unpacking our newly arrived belongings, and homesickness.

I do have so much to be thankful for here. The experiences we’re having, the people we’re meeting. Our things have arrived without damage and without any additional customs duties. Despite our extended family and friends being spread far and wide, our little nuclear unit is all here, healthy and happy.

I told someone online a little while back that our move has been 80% awesome, 12% frustrating, and 8% lonely.

Reading Facebook and twitter updates, seeing statuses and photos about friends and family gathered around tables of turkey, just happened to make me feel that 8% a little more keenly than the rest.

And a new one just begun

2012! Hello!

Since four resolutions last year seemed ideal for resolution domination, I’m going to go with four again this year.

1. Resurrect CookTheBook.ca. I really enjoyed starting my “cook through a cookbook” project, and then all of the authors (myself included) went and had babies, and the thing died as our priorities shifted. But now I have a freezer full of amazing, local meats that I think would do the recipes in my Orchard Table book proud, and I’m really starting to feel a passion for food and cooking again. The site itself also needs a bunch of work, but I think it’s all manageable, and I’m excited to get back in the kitchen and start sharing that.

2. Get Crafty. We established long ago that I am scared of crafts. But there seems to be a strange shift after becoming a mom where I think along with magical spit and the ability to lactate I may have developed a propensity to craft. Specifically, there are three projects I’m planning to undertake this year: A terra cotta pot fountain, a set of 24 fabric book pouches as a reading advent calendar for next Christmas, and finishing Isaac’s baby book (which is scrapbooking-esque). I’m not actually any sort of stranger to tools or glue-sticks or sewing (though it has been a quite while for the latter) so I’m cautiously optimistic about making these things (and hopefully some others) in 2012.

3. Find a sport for 2012. I use the term “sport” loosely, because I don’t actually want to join a team or play a game, but I do want to find a twice-weekly physical activity to commit to in 2012. I’ve been loving the mom & baby bootcamp classes I’ve been doing, but my baby is about to age-out of those, and they’re held during workdays anyhow. I need to find a before or after work thing to get into. I learned long ago that I am not a gym rat and don’t work out when left to my own devices. Criteria are pretty low: there must be a regular schedule (ideally 2x/week), and there must be an instructor to lead/design workouts/correct for form & posture. So far I’m thinking swimming, running, yoga or gym classes like spinning or zumba. Suggestions welcome!

4. Document my Life List. I have been meaning to do this ever since Maggie posted hers a few years ago. I’ve always had a running tally of stuff I’d like to do in my brain, but never committed it to paper (pixels?) and checked it off. After seeing what a powerful thing it can be to share your goals and desires with a community, and getting a little motivating shout-out of my own on her blog after sharing one of my achieved items, I’m really feeling like I need to get the damn thing down already. Bonus: it will make for handy resolutioning in years to come!

So, there you have it. Four resolutions to help make 2012 another fantastic year. How about you? What’s going to make your year great?

Another year over

So, that was 2011. I’m sure a whole bunch of stuff happened, and if you click on that archives link in the sidebar, you can read all about it.

It can probably be summed up by saying “We had a baby, and were quite busy with the care and feeding and globe-toting of said baby. Also, there was poop.”

His mother's chin

I did write some resolutions at the beginning of the year, so let’s check in on those, yes?

Figure out / Survive the first 9 months of parenting. Well, I certainly survived. Figured out? Sure. I’ll be bold and say the first nine months were pretty awesome. We were blessed with a happy baby who didn’t have colic, started sleeping through the night with some regularity around 5 months, lets us drag him across continents and over oceans without melting down, and is damned cute to boot.

I think a day of walking past coffee shops has given him a contact high.

I’m feeling pretty well-rested and also dropped the baby weight and then some while eating shocking amounts of whatever I want. I am riding this wave of good-baby hubris as far as it will take me. And now that I have been an incredible braggart, I am sure the other shoe will drop any second. But, the resolution only stated ‘first nine months’ so for this one I say Resolution: WIN!

JenNeil_Baby-047

Take more photos. I didn’t exactly get to the “photo a day” thing I was aiming for, but I did take a lot more pictures in 2011 than the couple years prior. A new baby and the amount of travel we did this year made for a natural increase in picture-taking. We also picked up a couple new lenses (10-20mm Wide-Angle and 50mm f/1.4) that makes using the camera and getting the shot I really want a lot more pleasant than the kit lens ever did.

IMGP9456

I also finally got our more portable camera fixed this year after breaking it in 2009, so between that and my iPhone I’m more likely to have a camera on the go as well. I also developed a medium-sized instagram habit, which upped my (cheezy and heavily-filtered) photo count considerably. You can, of course, see the year in (seriously baby-heavy) photos on flickr. Therefore, I’m also calling this one a Resolution: WIN!

My usual tea cup. Though this morning it feels a little extra twee.

Increase our net worth by 10%. Blew this one right out of the water. As of the 1st of December, our year-over-year net worth is up 22%. Basically because we landed on a combination of being totally miserly, saving all of our big tax refund from 2010’s investments, and having our condo appraisal up this year (though the condo value only accounts for 4% of that 22%). Other than that, we stuck to our modest savings goals throughout the year, and let our managed accounts do their (mediocre) thing. Looking at projections for next year, assuming most things stay the same, we can expect the same kind of performance. So perhaps 10% was really lowballing it. Regardless, it’s the number I picked, and while we’ll aim higher next year, for now I can firmly call this a Resolution: WIN!

Correfoc

Run 5K (again) by the end of the year. Hah. Hahahaha. HAAAAAAAH. No. Did I run at all this year? Unless warmup jogs for bootcamp count, no. But, as I alluded to back up at the top, I’m in better shape now than I was before I got pregnant. Partway through my third trimester, I ended up with a lot of SI Joint trouble (where the hip bone connects to the… something… bone?) which sent shooting pains up and down my back and legs whenever I did things. Like walking. Or sitting. Or getting out of bed. Cure? More cowbell less activity. One of the few “injuries” where not walking or staying mobile is actually the best thing for it.

IMGP8934

By the time Isaac came along I was intensely stir-crazy. And that feeling really just hasn’t gone away. I started attending Fit4Two classes, starting with the general mom & baby fitness, then moving into bootcamp & aquafit, and it’s been amazing to keep moving and get stronger. I never did get back into running, since I really dig this little family thing we’ve got going on, and the last thing I’ve wanted to do when Neil gets home is dump Isaac and literally run away from them, but I’m certainly into a habit of fitness that I want to continue once I’m back at work full time. Nonetheless, I did not run at all, let alone 5k in 2011, so I have to say Resolution: FAIL. But maybe a Life: WIN.

IMGP9313

Three outta four ain’t too shabby. Did you make any resolutions? How did you do?

Christmas Lexicon: A rant of sorts

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the winter holidays. Give me a seasonal celebration around food, family, lights and merriment and I’m IN. I hope everyone has a reason to celebrate something around the solstice, and I love learning about and celebrating other cultural and religious traditions that also happen this time of year.

My default happens to be Christmas, and every year I get a little bug up my arse about how badly most people have screwed up the timing around it.

Jesus doesn’t need to be the reason for the season, but if you’re going to co-opt part of the Christian ritual, at least understand what it really means, so you look like less of a dummy next year.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up:

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS START ON CHRISTMAS DAY!

The time we’re in now? Leading up to Christmas? It’s called Advent, and it’s 24 days long, counting down from the 1st of December to Christmas Day. For Christians, it’s a time of anticipation and preparation to celebrate the birth of Christ.

For everyone else, it’s a time to open the doors on your little chocolate calendar one day at a time.

It is entirely separate from the twelve days of Christmas.

Then, Christmas Day! I think everyone is pretty clear on that.

But! Christmas Day is also the first day of Christmas! See how that works? All neat and tidy and easy to remember?

I can see how people might be confused, since the last verse of the famous song lists gifts in reverse, but it does start with the “First Day of Christmas.”

It’s a count up, not a count-down, ending in Epiphany on the 6th of January.

The traditions around Epiphany get a little messy at this point, depending on which flavour of Jesus-freak you might be, but it’s usually tied to celebrations around the baptism of the Christ-child, and the origins of things like The Feast of the Three Kings, and the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

So, clear as mud? Really, if you’re excited enough about the holidays to start talking “12-days,” you should be pleased with this news, since it means I’ve just extended your celebration season nearly an entire fortnight!

But if you like to cease the celebrations as soon as the clock strikes midnight on December 25th, put the talk of the 12-days away. You don’t get to have your King Cake and eat it too.

And seriously, if you insist on continuing to screw this up, behind my holly, jolly eggnog mustache and candy cane smile, I am totally judging you.

The best possible mixy-mash-up of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Twenty Eleven

2010 was quite a pivotal year for our little family. In fact, it splits quite neatly down the middle into BC and AD – Before Conception and After Deathwatch.

The year started with our awesome trip to Thailand, a few frantic months when we thought we were going to move to England, trips to las Vegas & New Orleans and the excitement of a tidy little cash windfall when the company Neil works for was sold.

And then in July we found out I was knocked up, and everything changed far faster than we thought it would. Neil threw me an epic 30th birthday pig roast – during which I was sick as a dog from the onset of pregnancy nausea – and I remained sick as a dog until well into October. Despite the tail end of the suck, we still managed to head to Chicago, Vegas again and rip it up at my oldest little brother’s wedding.

Fall flew by as we caught up on all the life we’d been missing while I was feeling sub-human. We had our lamb slaughtered and started cooking again. Then suddenly the holidays were upon us, and now after a whirlwind Island adventure to spend time with friends, family and just ourselves, we find ourselves at home with 2011 upon us.

And oh what a year it will be!

The biggest event this year for us will definitely be the arrival of our first kid. Before the first quarter’s done, we’ll have a bouncing baby boy of our very own. We’ve been telling ourselves we’ll “worry about getting baby stuff set up after the holidays” so we now have that task ahead of us. It still doesn’t seem real, even when I’m being headbutted in the crotch from the inside out.

Other than that, there are a few resolutions I’d like to achieve in 2011:

Figure out / Survive the first 9 months of parenting. It’s not really a proper resolution, but I do want to remember (as always) to focus on the present, and really get comfortable in my new role as a mom. I already worry a lot about losing all the other parts of me, I don’t want to forget to also embrace the new part as well.

Take more photos. Now that I have the iPhone4 (because the 3G just felt useless from a camera perspective) I’ve been snapping a few more photos when out and about. And I remember the days when I used to take a lot more photos. It feels like it’s time to pull out the proper camera again, and start taking more photos on purpose. I’m aiming for a photo a day. I have no idea when they’ll all make it onto Flickr, but so far in the new year I’m 2 for 2 on photo days, and I’ll post them as I get the time and inclination.

Increase our net worth by 10%. This one is obviously a joint resolution for Neil and I. We’ve really enjoyed the past few years of financial goals, and now that we’ve got our various accounts all sorted out, we needed a little something to aim for to keep us on track. Staying on plan with our regular mortgage payments, various savings contributions and a modest return on our investments should see us easily hit the 10% mark at the end of 2011 over our net worth at the end of 2010.

Run 5K (again) by the end of the year. I had completed the Couch to 5K running program at the end of 2009, and then with winter and heading off on vacation in 2010, lost my running mojo. I’d planned to run the Sun Run 10k in April and that didn’t happen. I was just getting back into the swing of things with a new personal trainer and re-finding time for running when I ended up knocked on my ass for a number of months. Of course I’m more at the waddling stage than running for now, but having the goal to get back up to 5k by the end of 2011 will (hopefully) keep me on track to stay fit now, remain active after popping out a sprog, and start running again once I feel up to it in the late Spring or over the Summer.

I think, with such a big year ahead, four resolutions is plenty, thankyouverymuch. Normally I’m ready to run into the new year at a million miles an hour. This year seems a bit different. Lately I’m (uncharacteristically) much more content to just be. We’ll see how long that lasts, but the ride, and 2011, has been pretty good so far, so I’m inclined to just go with it.

Oh, Christmas Tree

I love Christmas like a fat kid loves cake.

So it pains me to admit this year, I kindof hate our tree.

Specifically, the lights.

We switched to all LED lights this year for our tree, and (as I suspected they might be) they are aesthetically hideous.

Oh, Christmas Tree

The thing I love about a beautiful Christmas tree is turning out the regular lights, and basking in the warm glow it casts over the room. The light catches the sparkle of the ornaments and plays up the shadows and bright spots through the green branches.

LED lights just don’t do that. Their output is so low that they barely illuminate themselves, nevermind things around them. They are eerie, otherworldly pinpoints, distracting and ruining an otherwise beautiful and charming centrepiece of holiday decor.

Instead of the tree casting a warm glow over the room, the room is dim and dark, and reminiscent of an after-hours office, lit by the glow of a computer monitor someone accidentally left on. The ornaments are completely lost. The tree looks like a bushy blob.

These fucking lights are ruining my Christmas.

I am very tempted to rip these POS lights out and re-do the tree with the beautiful incandescents that actually look like Christmas. But since this is a cut tree, that’s just a disastrous mess waiting to happen.

But you’d better believe these lights are going straight on Craigslist the instant Christmas is over this year. I’d throw them in the trash outright, if they weren’t also so bloody expensive. Though I kindof want to anyhow, just as an extra Fuck You to this failed attempt at environmental friendliness.

I’ll probably just buy a festive, Christmas Lamp to offset the creepy factor in that room. But you’d better believe it’ll have an incandescent bulb, bitches.

I wish you a Creepy Christmas

I’ve told many people about one of my favourite Christmas Decorations: Satanic Fiber-Optic Santa, and now that we’ve hauled out most of the decorations for another year, I shot a quick video of him last night, so you may also share in the horror glory!

The jingling/clicking noises in the background are the dog – but the grainy sound quality and ill-timed looping are 100% authentic Creepy Santa.

Happy Holidays, and please Ho Ho Hope he doesn’t kill me in my sleep!

The 12 Days of Christmas

Hello lovelies!

I hope everyone had a fantastical Christmas (or whatever it is that you do or do not celebrate). Despite a rocky start with the weather being what it was, mine turned out really quite splendid. Also, our ambitious feast for 14 featuring a homemade turducken was nothing short of awesome.

Of course, after two days of maddening prep, then the whirlwind of Christmas Day itself, some serious napping was in order for Boxing Day, and now we’re fully in the thick of a few days holiday visiting.

Really, while all the anticipation and preparation is fun, I really fully feel like it’s time for Christmassing from Christmas day on through until after New Year’s. And while I usually have to be back at work before the 12th day of Christmas (January 6th – the feast day Epiphany for those playing along at home), I stay pretty firmly entrenched in Holiday Mode as close to then as possible.

So personally I’m always a bit taken aback when I see people stripping their house of any trace of festivities at the crack of dawn on December 26th. I’ve seen an increasing number of barren trees, bare walls and dark lights for a couple days now. It’s pretty foreign to me.

Despite the religious roots of the 12 days, I don’t personally keep the tree and lights up here for those reasons, it’s just the way I’ve always experienced the holidays with a group of family and friends who also keep their decorations out for about the same length of time.

And so, gentle readers, I’m curious about you. If you do celebrate Christmas, when do you put up and take down your decorations? Any rhyme or reason for it? Is it a traditional holdover from how Christmas was done when you were small, or your own take on the season?

Cookie Monster

Cookie Party by the numbers.

Ladies descended on my house: 9
Stand mixers going simultaneously: 2
Hand mixers also running: 2
Hours of continuous baking: 5
Pounds of butter used: 12
Adorable babies passed around: 1
Batches of fudge the dog managed to get to: 1
Trays of cookie casualty (landed on the floor): 1
Containers of chocolate sprinkles used to coat rum balls: 9
Types of Christmas Goodies pumped out in one day: 10
Number of cookies baked during all this: 1000+

Cookie Party 4

Cookie Party 1