Family Values

I have a friend, Megan, and what she does for a living is consulting in the area of Core Beliefs. What she does is help people really understand the core values that were instilled in them via their upbringing, and then recognize how that might affect their current life. At the moment, she does a lot of work with entrepreneurs and money – identifying deep held beliefs (like: you should never buy things on credit! Or, asking for money is rude! Or, asking for more money is vain! or whatever your parents have ingrained in you), and then working to consciously change those beliefs, assuming they are working against you in some way.

(Here’s her website, if you want to know more. This is not a sponsored post, I just thought people might be curious.)

Anyway, hanging out with Megan does make you look at your own family and your own kids and make you wonder what kind of deep values you are instilling in them that are going to totally screw them up someday.

I had a moment like that yesterday when I was sending my oldest, Captain Jelly Belly, off to school for an exam. I had an appointment that morning, so I couldn’t pick him up. He was going to walk home, but he hurt his leg skiing on the weekend, and the buses aren’t running because of exams.

So I suggested he ask one of his friends for a ride home, but he couldn’t do it.

And bam! there’s a family value right there. We do not ask for help. It is something I feel very strongly about. I was raised by a mother who did everything alone, single-mom-ing it to four daughters and figuring it all out on her own. I learned early that there was no one that could be truly relied on, that if you want something done, you do it yourself. That asking others for helps only leads to that look in their eye – you know the one, the shifty one that says, “mmm, I’d rather not, but now that you’ve asked, I feel obligated, so I guess, yes, if I have to” – and you never want to actually put people in that position.

So just take care of it yourself. Learn how, or struggle through, or forget about it. But it’s on you, and no one else.

So although it would make me feel better if I knew he was getting a ride home, I couldn’t argue with his insistence on walking. It’s something I have taught him; he has learned it from me. He hobbled his way home on his own, and I get that buddy, I really do.

But maybe it’s time to revisit this one family value.

Frozen

I have realized something strange about myself this January: I like winter.

I never thought this would happen. I’ve always been a summer girl. And even now, my favourite kind of day are those summer days that are blazing hot, hot as an oven, so hot that when you go outside you feel it assault you like a wave, burning your lungs, blinded by the sun. Heat is good, is what I’m saying.

So I was never that into winter, the putting on of coats and boots and trying to avoid ice and scraping your car, ugh. It was something to be endured.

Slowly, though, over the past few years, I have changed. Starting to ski has helped – I am still just THE WORST skier, in fact this week I got depressed when I found out the best guy in our class has been skiing for exactly as long as I have, and then while I was already sad about that our instructor took us on a difficult new hill, and I am ashamed to say I screamed at her in frustration and then rage-quit my lesson like a cranky five year old. But still, I am going to the hill every week and trying, and although improvement has come slowly there are passing, brief moments when I actually enjoy it. And most importantly, it has reframed my attitude towards winter weather completely; now I want snow, and I want cold, and when we have unseasonably warm days in January, I worry about the state of the ski hill.

But it’s more than just that. Lately I have found myself honestly enjoying just being outside in winter. Sir Monkeypants and I have started going for walks on Sunday evening and I love the brisk air, so fresh and clean. I love that there’s no bugs and few people in the streets and it’s just very calm and relaxing. I love the soft, silent days when fat snowflakes fall and everything seems so peaceful.

In short, I really, really like winter now.

My daughter, Gal Smiley, had a good friend who moved away last summer to Niagara Falls (side note: this is like, the FOURTH time this has happened to her, and we have recently found out her best friend from this year is ALSO moving away this summer, what UP, universe??). Anyway, she still keeps in touch with her Niagara Falls friend and Niagara girl was saying how weird it is that there is no snow there. She can’t ski or snowboard or even outdoor skate on a natural rink. It’s cold, but there’s none of the awesomeness of winter – nothing that encourages her to go outside and be outside and love it.

I hope she finds something positive about Niagara Falls winter, but it has also made me realize all the more how lucky we are in Ottawa to get a true winter, a winter with its own culture, almost, distinct from the other seasons. Sir Monkeypants said to me the other day that he never would have chosen to live somewhere so cold, but now he loves it – and so do I.

Winter, you’re pretty dang wonderful.

Taking the Bus

Captain Jelly Belly is in Grade 9 this year, and with that came the School Bus. This is the first time we’ve had a kid be a Bus Kid.

It’s been kind of a weird thing for us, because 99% of the kids from his old school – the one the girls still go to – don’t qualify for busing. They all walk. We somehow, magically, managed to qualify by the skin of our teeth – our street is the very first one on the outer boundary, and we think actually it’s probably meant to be INSIDE the boundary, but we will not be asking any questions, no siree.

This week was our first experience with bus cancellation – they were cancelled yesterday due to freezing rain and ice on the ground. This happens a handful of times each winter here in Ottawa but we weren’t sure what we were supposed to do with the Captain in these circumstances.

He said – no surprise here – that the teachers warned the kids that when buses were cancelled, they should stay away. Like, ALL kids should stay away – they should consider this a snow day, even though the school was still open, and just forget about attending classes.

But considering almost all his friends and the kids of practically everyone we know are walkers, and would be unaffected by bus cancellation, that did not seem right.

So we had him text literally every kid he knows that has a phone, and eventually two other kids texted back and said that indeed, they were not going to bother going to school. A couple more texted at like, noon, to confirm that a) they were just getting up and b) they didn’t go to school, like TEENAGERS, am I right?

Anyway, we did decide to let him stay home and he had the Best! Day! Ever! playing Mario Kart all day long. I think he’s totally on board with the concept of bus cancellations.

But I still wonder – was everyone else at school? Did we keep him home for no good reason? I mean, he COULD walk, kids literally one street over are walkers. Or I could even have dropped him off and picked him up.

But maybe school was like a wild west ghost town, with tumbleweeds rolling through the halls, and the handful of kids who showed up just watched movies all day.

If only I could be a fly on the high school wall. Bus rider advice welcome!

The Rewatchables

There is a difference, I think, between movies that are good – or even excellent – and movies that you want to watch over again. In general, the Films Of Quality are things I appreciate and like but they do not become the movies that, when you’re flicking around on TV and you see that it’s on, AGAIN, you flick there because you can pick it up a half hour in and half pay attention while attending a Twitter party and it’s still entertaining in the background.

You know what I mean?

This came up recently because my sister recommended that we check out Edge of Tomorrow, which was a completely ignored Emily Blunt/Tom Cruise film from a few years back. But she was too late, because Edge of Tomorrow is already one of my rewatchables – I think I watched it at least three times when it was on Netflix in the summer, and if it was still there now I’d have it on this minute. Emily Blunt is SO GOOD, y’all.

Most of my other rewatchables aren’t exactly award winners but they are FUN. Movies that make me squeal with delight or sing along or just enjoy quoting along with. Here’s a few I can think of: Pitch Perfect, Star Wars, Now You See Me, Coyote Ugly (apologies to women everywhere, yet I love it), Speed, The Princess Bride, Die Hard, Ocean’s Eleven, The Sound of Music, Sneakers, Frozen, Guardians of the Galaxy, How to Marry a Millionaire, Easter Parade, and A Knight’s Tale.

What are your rewatchables?

Transitions

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m giddy as a schoolgirl. More and more, New Year’s Eve is becoming my favourite holiday. We’ve always just got home from visiting family, so we are all delighted to be sleeping in our own beds again. We always make fondue and it’s elaborate but not really too much work, and the five of us are together all day long with no pressure to pack or do presents or visit anyone. It’s just a fun, quiet day with some great traditions, and now that the kids stay up until midnight it feels festive for all five of us.

This year more I’ve been a little reflective, too. I feel we are a family in transition – moving from the little kid years to the big kid years. We visited my sister over the holidays and she has four kids under 12, including a brand new baby, and we’d forgotten the madness of bathtime and bedtime and diaper changes. We’re in a different place now that our youngest is 10 and a half, a place where we can watch tween movies together and stay up late and go to the ski hill for the day without worrying about naptimes.

This time next year we’ll have two kids in high school, and one almost ready to get a beginner’s license. We’re probably only a year or two away from them wanting to spend New Year’s Eve at a party with friends – or maybe they’ll stay up all night playing video games while Sir Monkeypants and I fall into a fondue coma on the couch. Either way, how much longer will it be that we’re spending evenings like this, the five of us together, our sweet little family unit?

So I have a bittersweet feeling about 2018 – there will be good stuff and moving-on kind of stuff and growing up to be done. Happy New Year, and happy 2018 – hope all your transitions are good ones.

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.