Tree Tour

Inspired by Nicole over at Girl in a Boy House, who recently toured us through her delightful tree, I wanted to share a few of our own decorations.

When Sir Monkeypants and I were first married, we inherited a white artificial tree from my grandparents, but only had a couple of decorations, so we were starting from scratch. In a (VERY RARE) fit of decorating passion I decided that all our decorations would be red and white/silver, and that we’d create a tree worthy of the cover of the Canadian Tire winter catalogue.

That lasted fairly well until we had kids, in which case I had to pack away all the breakable red and silver balls I had accumulated, and make way for lots of handmade crafts and a mixed bag of Stuff the Kids Found Cute. About five years ago I decided to just say The Hell With It, and began investing heavily in cartoon character and Disney ornaments and now we have a real smorgasbord of ornaments. I also allow the kids to hang them any old place they want, resulting in weird clumps and combinations, but in the spirit of doing less at the holidays, it’s ALL GOOD.

One thing I started doing a while ago is buying at least one Christmas ornament on each of our big trips, so every Christmas we can remember where we’ve been. I absolutely love this. Here is the ornament I bought at Kennedy Space Centre this past spring, matched perfectly with a NASA one my sister gave us years ago:

We got this Anne of Green Gables when we were in PEI. Someone seems to be trying to hook her up with Superman. You could do worse, Anne.

And this cool lion, made from a Coke can, came from the Calgary Zoo.

I love these giant red jingle bells I got at Canadian Tire quite a few years ago. This was during a phase when I was frantically trying to replace all the breakable red and silver ornaments with new, unbreakable red and silver ornaments. These ones I love either way, though.

Anna and Elsa are new to our tree this year. My sister FameThrowa bought these for me in secret when we were at Disney together back in the spring. They basically combine everything I love in an ornament – bells, princesses, winter theme, Disney, trip reminder, and sisterly bonding. WIN.

This Santa is my favourite Santa ornament (we have several). I think it came from Upper Canada Village.

My friend Vivian made me this slice of blueberry pie and I love, love, love it. She also made me a handmade ornament of the Sweet Smart Design logo because she is the bomb.

This year was the first year that my oldest tried to actually create vignettes on certain branches. We only own two of these crystal snowmen (don’t worry, they’re plastic – the only theme we stick to on the tree is “unbreakable”), but for some reason he wanted them to be together. Guess they are buddies.

Here’s a branch that reflects our family: Great Wolf Lodge ornament, Indian elephant, red sparkly styrofoam star. Yup.

Santa on TV is from Tinseltown, a year-round Christmas store here in Ottawa. I bought this one for my screen-obsessed middle daughter a couple of years ago. If you want something very specific in an ornament, they’ve got it. Warnings: do NOT bring small children to this store and don’t even THINK of trying to get a stroller inside.

There’s a bit of a glut of ornaments on the most easily accessible side, right at the height of Little Miss Sunshine. Pure coincidence, I’m sure. Featured in this busy area – my husband’s Kermit the Frog, and the Hogwarts Express from Universal Studios.

Lastly, this cheap styrofoam star is probably the most beloved ornament in our family and everyone fights over it every year. It’s different from the other five in this set because when Gal Smiley was perhaps two or three years old, she took a bite out of one of the points. She also ate a green crayon that year. These days her entire diet is pretty much sandwiches and Oreo cookies, but at least it’s not red glitter styrofoam and wax.

What’s on your tree?

Costco Report

I just realized that November marked a year that we have been Costco members, and I promised to report on it.

But I find that I just don’t have much to say. The renewal came around, and we renewed it, so there’s that. I go there about once a month to get a very fixed list of things: apple juice, chicken, and a sports drink that Sir Monkeypants likes. Every other month or so I need to add Iron Supplements, bacon, and granola bars, and about once a year I need to fork out the money for a bottle of vanilla.

Side note about vanilla: there was a story on the CBC news a few weeks ago about the skyrocketing price of vanilla – apparently there was a massive crop failure worldwide. Costco in particular was named in this news report, and they noted that they’d been unable to get vanilla for ages and when they finally did, it had more than doubled in price. My friend Tudor and her teenaged son heard this report and he immediately said, “Oh no! What is Lynn going to do?”

So you can see that this blog has made me pretty famous.

Also: it is true that the cost of vanilla at Costco has gone up to almost $40 a bottle. But that is still less than half of what you’d pay at the Superstore, where a bottle that is less than 1/10 the size costs $8. EEK.

Anyway! With our small list of items, the Costco membership has paid for itself, so much so that I stopped bothering to keep track about halfway through the year because it became obvious that it was worth it. And I do do the Costco-browse that I said I’d never do, where you end up impulse buying crap from the middle you weren’t really looking for, but by doing so I have found some great pants for the kids and some good socks and a few good Christmas presents, too. Sir Monkeypants ended up buying tires there this year as well which was an additional cost savings bonus, and he bought his glasses there too, and while those are likely rare and unusual purchases, they are the kind of thing that we were able to take advantage of because of our membership.

I still dislike going there. Getting in and out of the parking lot is nuts, everything you buy there is so heavy and takes up a ton of space, and I really hate having to dig my stupid card out of the depths of my purse just so I can flash it to get in. I always forget to hold on to my receipt so I can be checked out of the store, too, and involuntarily stuff it in my bag, then have to fish it out again, all the while muttering under my breath, which is not really a good look on anyone.

But we have saved money, and we have managed to mostly avoid overspending on stuff we don’t need just because it’s a “good deal,” so we renewed it. Back into the cult for another year!

The Symbolism of Stockings

As a nice dovetailing of my past two posts, I’ve been thinking about our Christmas stockings. We hang them up every year, each with our names on them, each decorated on the front with felt shapes representing our character. In our immediate family, mine is the same one my mother made for me as a baby; my husband and kids each have one that I made, and I worked many long hours on them and I’m proud of them.

But as the years wane on, the things on the front represent us less and less. Mine has things on it like a toy duck and a baby plate and spoon, because I was just an infant when it was made. Likewise, I made my own kids’ stockings when they were babies, so they feature some baby things, and other things I guessed at that now definitely don’t fit. For example, Gal Smiley’s stocking has a sparkly purse and matching high heel shoes on it, because she was a girl and I wanted something “girly,” but if you know her, you know that this is absolutely laughable, as she is the least girly girl you will ever meet in your lifetime.

So I have been thinking about setting these stockings aside (in carefully preserved storage), and replacing them with modern versions that represent us more clearly. Here’s what I’d put on my own: a pie, a license plate, some puzzle pieces, a fancy fountain pen and notebook, the CBC logo (the old one with the concentric circles). Maybe if there were room, I’d add a turtle, a teapot and a giant mug of tea, my Sweet Smart business logo and the Jeopardy logo.

Sir Monkeypants would get a snowboard, a chocolate bar, a monkey, a jacket (with toque and mitts), a smartphone, a fancy sports car, maybe a pair of running shoes. Oh, and coffee, definitely coffee, and a beer for a chaser.

Captain Jelly Belly would get skis, a roller coaster (not TOO ambitious or anything), a bike, a train, a monkey, maybe a D+D style dragon, his favourite element of the periodic table (Argon), and Hobbes. Perhaps a giant can of Coke, although then I would have to sigh greatly every time I saw his stocking, which is to no one’s benefit.

Gal Smiley would get a sheep, skis, a plaid shirt and matching baseball hat, a big fat sandwich, a pile of books, a bow and arrow, a VW van, some swim goggles, and maybe her clarinet. Oh, and probably the Instagram logo.

Little Miss Sunshine would get a bear, a bunny, a sparkly sparkly necklace and earrings, a unicorn, a rainbow, something that says summer (flip flops, maybe, or a beach pail and shovel), a cake, bottles of nail polish, and a present (because she loves nothing more than making things for other people). Maybe I’d throw in the Girl Guide logo, and a piano keyboard.

Of course, if I did all this work, and made new stockings and invested hours and hours, I’d probably be unhappy with them and find them out of date again within a few years, especially for the children. And they’d be upset because they are still at the age where YOU CAN’T CHANGE ANYTHING IT’S A TRADITION, which if they follow my path, will take about another thirty to thirty-five years before they move on from that kind of rigidity.

But I do find it fun to dream. What would you put on your own stocking?

Two Stories about My Mother

Last week I took the Captain to the doctor for a checkup, and he needed to have a booster shot. While we were waiting for the needle to arrive, I told him a story my mother often told me growing up.

While in school, they sometimes had to get a shot and they always had to line up in alphabetical order, by last name. My mother’s maiden name starts with “T” and so she was always near to the end of the line.

There was a girl whose last name fell a few letters before hers, and she hated needles. Every single needle day, this girl would carry on in fear, wailing and crying, and then inevitably faint when she got to the front of the line.

My mother, who is the ultimate in sensible, never had any patience at all for all that drama. She vowed that when she got older, she’d marry a man with a last name that started with “A,” so her own children would get the whole needle line over with quickly and never have to deal with the likes of Fainting Drama Girl.

And indeed she did. My maiden name starts with “A.” I don’t remember ever having to line up for needles by last name, but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry.


We were hanging up our Christmas stockings on the weekend. In our family, we all have handmade stockings from felt; all my sisters and their children, as well as my aunts and uncles and cousins on my mother’s side. Green for the boys, red for the girls, cut from the same ancient pattern. Each stocking has your name at the top on a while border with holly, and then handmade felt shapes all over the front that represent who you are and what kind of things you like.

This tradition started with my mother. When she was in Grade 8, she had to make a stocking just like this – the first stocking – for a Home Economics project. She chose to make one for her younger brother, my Uncle Mark. It had a train on the front among other intricate decorations and she worked long and hard on it.

When she went to hand it in, some other girl in the class had decorated BOTH the front and the back – even though that was not the original assignment. She threw off the grading curve, earning an A while my mother and all other girls who had made lovely stockings had to settle for a B.

You should definitely ask my mom about this if you see her, because you can still hear the bitterness in her voice some sixty years later. Some injustices you just don’t get over, I’m afraid.

Sentiment and Sentimentality

As I get older, I find I’m simultaneously getting more emotional about things, but less sentimental, too. Is that possible?

For example, I used to be all about the Christmas traditions. Same stuff, every year, looking forward to it all. But this year I’ve been busy, and our new van doesn’t have a CD player so I have no access to my usual Christmas Music Extravaganza, and I’m kind of meh about the whole thing. It’s not like I’m sad or depressed or avoiding, I’ve just got better things to do with my time than get all worked up about Christmas. Trust me, that’s very unlike me, but maybe it’s a good thing, the dawn of a new era. I’m entering my Old Lady No Longer Gives a Crap phase.

I think part of the problem as well is that it’s been warm here. It’s supposed to be 9 degrees tomorrow, which is lovely, don’t get me wrong, especially because I am currently having a Winter Boot Situation, in which I needed new boots and bought new boots and now they hurt my feet and I am in a dither about whether to just write off the expensive new boots or try to suffer through them or just wear shoes all winter, and the lack of snow is certainly helping me put off taking any action. But it does make it hard to get In The Spirit, I find, as I have been conditioned over the years to associate snow with Christmas. I have often wondered how people in moderate climates, say like California or Florida, manage to get worked up about Christmas and its associated decorations of snowy trees and wool scarves and reindeer. Perhaps they just go out for a peppermint milkshake in their sandals and celebrate the season by laughing at those of us up here dealing with Winter Boot Trauma. That probably works, I imagine.

So while I have decided I will less than half-ass it this year (quarter-ass it?), I’m at the same time getting more and more prone to crying over the smallest of things. I’ve always been a little weepy at films and TV shows, but now just a song can set me off. Gal Smiley has been watching Moana compulsively (which is ADORABLE, because she is now 13 and into teen things and yet loves this Disney movie so much, I just want to snuggle her whenever she puts it on), and every time they get to the big song, I can’t even sing the first line without crying.

(Here it is. Have tissues handy.)

And this is not an isolated incident. I cried at writing class last week when reading my own writing, like, I KNOW HOW IT ENDS. And I cried over this Globe commercial I saw on Facebook, even though I KNEW it was going to be deliberately manipulative (lost dogs and tinkly piano music and lonely old men at Christmas, GAH), and not only did I cry over it, I cried for like, AN HOUR. And then yesterday, the three kids got to playing hide-and-seek in the house, and they were happy together and so childlike for hours and hours, and I had to tear up over it because MY BABIES.

I suppose as you get older you become both hardened to the ways of the world – just another Christmas, just another demand on my time, just another year gone by – and yet aware that true moments of kindness and caring between people can be sadly few and far between. So I am both letting go of things and rituals that are too familiar to bring comfort, and yet finding wonder and delight in the human moments that mean we have real connections.

At least, I think that’s the most positive way to look at it. Pass the tissues.

Family Discussions

The kids are really into this slang word right now – “savage.” Savage is what you say when someone insults someone else, or something bad happens, or something good happens to someone else but not to you. It’s not really for use when something good happens to you – yet – but as far as Sir Monkeypants and I can tell, throwing it out there, followed by a couple of dabs, is pretty much always cool.

As a result, we’ve been trying to slip it into conversation as much as possible so we seem young and hip. I think it might finally replace “totes” and “word” in my vocab.

Oh, I just remembered! If something is really good it’s “legit.” I’m so hip it’s painful.

In other news, for the past few weeks I have been doing the grocery shopping on Sunday mornings with Captain Jelly Belly, while Sir Monkeypants takes the girls to swim class. The Captain and I talk about all sorts of things, some silly, some serious, and that’s cool (“legit” for you young folks out there).

This weekend we got to talking about what it would mean to win the lottery. We talked about how sure, it would be great, but it also means a lot of stress and strained family relationships for the winner. Family will feel happy for you, at first, but it’s always hard to see someone who has been on a par with you suddenly have no worries. He said he’d gift his family members a one-time payment to placate them, but then we talked about who would be chosen (siblings? cousins? close friends? how far does it go?) and what would happen in a few years when someone fell on hard times, while he was still getting new cars and taking family vacations and paying outright for his kids’ educations. Does everyone get the same, regardless of their status? How firm would you be with the one-time thing, if it meant causing hard feelings?

So that led to an interesting point: how much money do you think would mean that your family and friends might come looking for a payout or helping hand? If you won say, $50 on a scratch card – obviously not. What if you won 100 thousand? Is that enough that your parents and your siblings might expect a bigger Christmas gift, or for you to pay for a group vacation? What if you won a million – not quite enough to retire for the rest of your life, but enough so you wouldn’t have to worry about university or braces or a sudden flood – is that the level when you’d be expected to share the wealth?

And what if you won something like, 20 million dollars? Would each of your siblings expect say, a million a piece? What if you have 10 siblings? What would be fair, and what would be expected?

I wonder.

That led to a discussion of how borrowing money among family members sometimes (ALWAYS) leads to trouble, and I shared my personal rules: if you’re the borrower, don’t be a dick when it comes to putting everything in writing and setting a payback schedule, and then try to stick to that schedule as best you can. And if you’re the lender, be sure you can afford to view that money as a gift – always hope for repayment, but don’t lend it in the first place unless you can afford to ruefully-but-cheerfully write it off (and then refuse future loans).

Hopefully that sunk in – it got a little lecture-y. I think he was still dreaming of winning the lottery.

Beans and Black Friday

There is a girl in our Guides unit with ADHD. She’s a sweetheart and cute as a button, but she does have trouble sitting, especially when we are doing a series of crafts – she is not a big crafter. I did some looking around online for an alternate activity for her and came across the idea of making a sensory bin. It’s just a shoebox-sized tupperware container of mixed dry beans – I used five different kinds for colour. The kid can bury their hands in the beans and feel them, or you can include small cups so they can sort or pour the beans, or you can hide buttons or small toys in the mix for them to find.

I’d love to tell you how it went, but so far I haven’t used it at Guides, because Little Miss Sunshine is obsessed with it. She’s been playing with it constantly since I made it a week ago. I guess I’ll have to get another box of beans.

TL;DR – Bean Box Win.

Today I am heading out for Black Friday shopping for the first time ever. Usually I’m completely done my Christmas shopping by now and I’m just planning baking and our activities for December and humming little Christmas songs. This year I have left everything to what feels like the last minute; in fact I just don’t seem to be in the spirit at all. I see houses with their lights up already and I’m like, isn’t Christmas three or four months away still?

I haven’t even gotten out the Christmas CDs yet. Call the Men in Black, I have been replaced by an alien replica!

Anyway, I still have several people on my list to shop for so I figured I’d do a Black Friday wander about the toy and electronic stores and knock this stuff out. My son recommends bringing pepper spray, because all he knows of Black Friday is crazy videos on YouTube of Americans trampling over each other at 6 a.m. to get a cheap TV. But it’s not really like that here in Canada, is it?

I guess we’ll find out. Better break out the Christmas music to get me through!

One Tough Class

All three of my children have one subject that is the bane of their school life.

For the Captain, it’s Visual Art. Oh my heavens – trust me when I say you have never seen a child do so poorly in art. I usually try not to slam my own children in public like this, but he’d be the first to tell you that art is just not his thing. Last year, Grade 8, was the last year he was required to take it, and he was still barely able to draw stick figures in pencil. He’d never have got through without his art teacher, who ironically did not always mesh with the other kids due to her strict adherence to rules and lack of interest in creativity, but it worked very well for him to be given tasks like, “Draw a circle and paint it completely within the lines in a solid primary colour.”

Needless to say, now that he’s in high school, it’s sayonara art. I’m down with that – it’s not his thing, and it’s not like he’ll need it to get by in the world. The worst case is that he won’t be able to draw a hundred copies of Thomas the Tank Engine when his train-obsessed toddler demands it. I think they’ll both survive.

For Gal Smiley, it’s unfortunately English. She has never been good at expressing herself in words, and it’s even harder for her when she has to write or type them out. She struggles with abstract ideas like theme or characterization – she is a woman of action and prefers to talk about What Happened, and little else. I feel for her – she has five more long years of high school English ahead of her. But we have taken a “Let’s just do the minimum and try to get through it” attitude that serves us both well. There’s no sense in pushing her or expressing disappointment. Instead, we just try to help her as much as we can, and to her credit, she also works very hard in this area to try to improve. So we’re getting there.

Our real problem these days is Little Miss Sunshine, age 10, Grade 5. She hates, hates, hates gym. And I empathize, oh do I ever. Gym was my own horror show in school – no matter how much I tried, I was forever an uncoordinated weakling with no speed, no balance, no game. Every year I was required to take it, I got a C- in gym, and an A+ in health, balancing out to a nice B that was in no way reflective of my physical skills. I dropped it like a hot potato the minute I could, which sadly, wasn’t until the end of Grade 9.

Little Miss Sunshine does what she can. We always emphasize that gym class is about participation and attitude. That we will be thrilled if she just approaches each class with a smile and tries her best, and comes away with a pass. But it’s hard for her – she is frustrated when she’s always the last in the race, the first out of a game, the one who causes groaning whenever she is put in goal. She feels like a failure and a loser, and I get that. And, just like her mother, she’s rather injury-prone, resulting in a lot of meltdowns and freakouts over bumps and bruises. Somehow she always seems to end up with a ball in her face (or, in one memorable case, a rubber chicken), or at the bottom of a pile-on, or flipping into a pile of rocks when she is accidentally tripped during a soccer game.

This past Thursday I got the call again – she’d fallen in gym during Bordenball and another boy had fallen on top of her, and she was pretty upset. I’m sure she was banged up and bruised, but it wasn’t physically serious. I could tell, though, that it was a tough mental blow. She was embarrassed and sad and angry, and so I came and got her and took her home for rest and pampering and a mental health day. Sometimes we all need one of those, I think, and if you can’t get a little TLC after a horrible gym class, then what is life all about, anyway?

It’s five more long, long years of gym class for Little Miss Sunshine and me. But we’ll make it through, and if nothing else, we’ll learn to be tough. Warriors. Fighters. Superheroes who dream of a life without gym class. Someday, honey, it’s coming.

The Crankies

There is a scene from Seinfeld that sticks out in my mind. Elaine has come over to Jerry’s apartment, and she is in a bad mood. She takes a juice from the fridge and is annoyed by the fact that it says to “shake before drinking” – she swears she won’t shake it because you have to shake everything these days and it is totally unreasonable. Then Jerry slowly shakes her juice while giving her the side eye.

(and, it’s on YouTube, of course – isn’t everything?)

Huh, on rewatching she doesn’t seem quite as infuriated as I recall. But I think of this moment often these days, as I am increasingly enraged by little things that have me envisioning myself on the lawn, shaking my fist at people, in the very near future.

For example, I watch Jeopardy every night – already marking myself as an honourary Senior Citizen, and I have to admit, I am really drawn to the commercials for the Acorn stair lift, which would bring such joy to my life. I have always been mildly annoyed by people who say “please” at the end of each category request. “World Geography for $200, please.” “Rock Bands B for $1000, please.” It slows the game down, and grates in my ear. Tip to all future Jeopardy contestants: Alex HAS to read you the question. It is not an “if you please” situation. Step up and order your category with authority, dammit!

Even more annoying: the way Alex exclaims “Hello!” whenever someone makes a big bet. Alex, you are not a 25-year-old from the year 1998. It’s as jarring as if you did a Z-snap. For the sake of my sanity, do not do this. Please.

(and, of course someone on YouTube has made a supercut of Alex saying “Hello!”, which has made me want to shove a pencil in my ear, and also to die laughing. That’s what the internet was invented for, right?)

And THEN, a couple of weeks ago, my grocery store decided to reorganize and move EVERYTHING around. This has caused no end of grumbling around here and if you are my friend on Facebook, I know you have had to hear about this repeatedly. I’d apologize, but really, it is THE WORST. I used to have a list where everything was laid out perfectly. I could practically shop with my eyes closed, be in and out in 45 minutes, never miss a thing. Now grocery shopping is an unwanted adventure were I wander the aisles aimlessly, searching for items like I’m on safari, throwing random things in the cart as I come across them. I still haven’t been able to find the juice boxes. WHEREFORE THE JUICE BOXES, SUPERSTORE? Sigh.

I actually thought to myself I should keep a list of these little things that annoy me, and then turn them into a blog post, but then I envisioned myself ranting away about The Jeopardy and The Groceries, and young people looking at me like I was an old crone and OMG, they would be right. So I have abandoned my list idea for now, but it’s lurking. You have been warned.

A Brief Post About Laundry

Today is laundry day, and that means that over the course of my work-from-home-day, I do five loads of laundry. We are five people, and that makes five large loads. I can sometimes get away with four loads in the summer, when there’s no socks or pants or sweatshirts to fill things up.

Lately, I have been thinking that it is probably time to welcome my fourteen-year-old to the wonderful world of Doing His Own Laundry. I know lots of other families do this. But I don’t understand how they make it work – I’m always hung up on the expense and bother of having the machine do extra loads when it doesn’t really need to.

For example, say he sorts his laundry into lights, darks, and socks/underwear. Then he washes these three little loads – when? Once every other week I think would be the minimum, otherwise he’d be out of clothes; he might even need to go weekly for things like socks and underwear.

So now our house goes up to 8 loads a week? And what happens next year, when Gal Smiley turns 14? We’re doing 11 loads a week? When we could be doing only five?

To that I say…HM.

Perhaps the answer is to have them do ALL the laundry, just only once every other month or so. Or to have them take on some PART Of the laundry, like say the sorting or the folding, as a first step.

Any advice on this difficult time of transition is most welcome.