This past week, we were having a play date at Skye’s house, and she gave me a very gentle and encouraging nudge about this month. She reminded me that I need to write in November. It’s true. I have been letting writing fall off my radar a lot, and Skye knows (as many of you do) that it’s good for me.
So here is my first post of the month, with a theme for y’all: gratitude.
I’m presently reading (along with three different book club books because I keep not finishing them) The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. It is a very humbly- and intimately-written book, recommended to me by a friend, about things to work on in order to be one of those people who lives life not only with gusto (“Wholeheartedly”), but at peace with imperfections – one’s own and those of others. It has given me several Aha moments already.
One of the big themes in the book is gratitude. Not just gratitude, but deliberate thankfulness for ordinary as well as extraordinary things. I know it’s one of the buzzwords of our time, and that Oprah totally got on that train at least fifteen years ago, and going on about gratitude might at some points end up sounding cheesy or sanctimonious or smug… but it’s a worthy exercise nonetheless. I think of myself as a pretty appreciative person, because I am, in my heart, profoundly aware of how lucky I am to be me, but I find that doesn’t necessarily help me during those times when my patience is almost at zero and I’m not sure I can stop myself from, for example, yelling at my kids (again). I thought, Brené, good idea.
Then a few days ago, another friend decided to turn a bad day into a good one by pouring out gratitude instead of complaint on her Facebook status. I felt good just reading it.
When I think of focusing on the things I’m thankful for this month, it sounds so easy to ask myself to write every day. (Famous last words be damned.) I know I said something similar last year when I was going to do 100 Happy Days (still haven’t finished those) but I was having so many technical blog issues that the process was bringing me down.
So this year, I’m going to try not to take things too seriously. I just want to get back into the swing. Some days it will be brief, and some days it might be partly off-topic. But I want to be grateful, and I want to be writing… so I will.
Today, I’m grateful for Skye, for that nudge. (At first I typed “nudget.” That’s totally what it was. A nice, friendly little nudget.) Also, I’m grateful for our Halloween tradition of getting together to do whatever fun thing we can manage. (Used to be watching non-scary somewhat-Halloween-related movies, but now that we both have kids, it’s accompanying the trick-or-treaters and watching them eat candy.) This year, little G (the lion) wins the citizenship award for wishing almost everybody we encountered a Happy Halloween, in his adorable toddler way.
And I’m grateful for these kids. It was really fun to watch them have so much fun, and to watch people’s faces as they took in the cuteness.
While I’m at it, I was grateful last night for the realization that Halloween is not just about sugar, and not even about dressing up; it’s a lot about seeing and chatting with your neighbours, and feeling the community. We haven’t met large numbers of people in the neighbourhood yet, but we knew a few before we arrived, and the folks on our tiny street are lovely, and we are recognizing more neighbours every day. It’s a really friendly place. With lots of kids (grateful for that too).
Finally, I’m grateful for archival footage of my babies, so I will never forget just how delicious their little cheeks were. Let’s throw in a couple of re-runs, just for fun.
Now that my li’l family seems to be out of the woods for now, sickness-wise (yes, my kids did trade germs with each other), it’s time to get FESTIVE!
I’ve realized something, as an adult: Christmas to me, now, is all about the season.
It was a fairly gradual shift from being super-duper-mega-crazy excited about PRESENTS (as a kid) to… you know, enjoying presents but being much more excited about other things.
Such as food!
Clementines – we only buy them when they’re really good (even though these days they’re in grocery stores well past their peak).
Cookies made specifically for Christmas… they’re just specialer. I’ve been lucky to be part of a cookie exchange for several years now – so all the more special cookies!!
Egg nog – but ONLY President’s Choice World’s Best Egg Nog. No other kind is as good. (Well, maybe Organic Meadow.) And don’t even get me started on fat-free egg nog… A travesty.
Nutcracker Sweet Tea – we can’t find it in stores these days, so my sister kindly smuggled some over the border facilitated an Amazon order for me. It’s heavenly with the egg nog mentioned above.
Christmas meals – some are different every year and some are recurring favourites, but I get stoked about them, and I don’t even eat turkey. (Posting recipes soon.) Folks bring their A-game dishes on Christmas.
And music. I could listen to Christmas music nonstop for all of December, but I think I’d drive my Hubbibi crazy. So we strike a balance, I think. As I’ve mentioned, traditional carols are my preference, but I like a lot of non-carols too. Some of my favourite holiday albums to listen to are:
David Francey’s Carols for a Christmas Eve – Just simple and cozy and, well… I just adore David Francey. Luckily, so does the whole family. (Good King Wenceslas is my favourite on this one.)
Canadian Brass’s Sweet Songs of Christmas – And anything else Canadian Brass does about Christmas. Those guys rock. We saw them live once, and if you’ve never seen a tuba player “melt” while playing Frosty the Snowman, you’re missing out.
Les petits chanteurs du Mont-Royal’s Christmas Around the World – It took me a while to get used to the unfamiliar carols in different languages, but now I love them.
Kevin Ramessar’s Acoustic Christmas – Beautiful guitar arrangements of Christmas carols (Away in a Manger is my fave). I would love this album even if Kevin weren’t a (wickedly talented) university friend of mine. Ahem-hem.
The Barra-MacNeils’ The Christmas Album – A Canadian-Celtic folk album, with unusual versions of carols – some Gaelic (Christmas in Killarney is my fave).
Steve Wingfield’s Sleigh Bell Swing – My mom sent me a cassette tape of this as part of a care package when I was in university, and I still use that tape – it’s worth it. (It IS on iTunes, though. Silver Bells is my fave.)
Three Quarter Ale’s Shall We Gather By the Fire – A Renaissance Faire trio with an album that runs the gamut of styles from cheesy to sublime (Ding Dong Merrily on High is my fave).
There are great numbers of us thinking of Newtown today, and praying for those families who are dealing with the first anniversary of the worst day of their lives. I have thought of those families all year long, and send them extra love today. (For a way to express your support and see what beauty has been made of the tragedy, please visit My Sandy Hook Family.)
But December 14th, 2013 is also the one-year anniversary of something exceedingly joyful: it’s Baby G’s first birthday.
My dear friend Skye (who has been mentioned more than a few times on this very blog) is one brave mama. When she first told me she was going to have a baby on her own, I was overwhelmed by her courage. As a mother who has often thought she would go actually insane without the help of her baby daddy, I couldn’t imagine having the guts and strength to make the same decision.
I don’t think Skye looked at the leap into motherhood as particularly brave; she is a very pragmatic, super-competent person who has just always wanted to be a mom. She got to a certain point in her life and decided to take matters into her own hands. It made perfect sense, really.
She was not under any illusions about parenting. Most of her friends have young children with whom she has spent lots of time (and about whom she has heard – or witnessed – plenty of stories/moments from the trenches), and she teaches kindergarten. She knew it might be incredibly hard. She did her reading and research and pondering.
And she knew there are a lot of us who love her, who would love her baby just as much, and who would be delighted to help her in whatever way they could.
Now, already, that beloved baby is one year old.
Baby G is amazing. He slept seven hours straight as a very tiny newborn (one month? two months?) and twelve hours not long after. (Yes, I was/am envious. Also thrilled for them.) You’ve never met a sweeter, more even-tempered baby. He likes babysitters. He took a bottle with no problem. He likes all his veggies. He’s totally adorable.
His mama is also amazing. She’s calm, practical, and level-headed, even as she loves her son to bits. She seems to have somehow skipped all the neuroses that go with first-time parenting, and gone straight to the territory of Really Experienced Moms. I know it would be hard for her to describe how Baby G has opened up and illuminated her life – but then, I’m pretty sure he’s illuminated the lives of everyone he knows.
They are a very special and awesome little team.
Happy Birthday, Baby G. You get wonderfuller every day.
And Happy Mamaversary, Skye. You’re doing a spectacular job. We are all so glad to be in this with you.
Last week, I had four other mamas, with child(ren) in tow, over to my house as part of a “shrinking coffee party” fundraiser for our local hospital. It was a really nice time: the preschoolers (all boys) got along famously, the babies were adorable, and we mamas never lacked for conversational topics.
I don’t host parties often, so when I do, I get grandiose ideas about what kinds of refreshments to make. As a former Pampered Chef consultant, I am well-versed in the ways of mini-quiches and decorative trifles, but those are a little out of my league at this juncture, with the number of interruptions guaranteed to punctuate any project I start.
I managed cookies and scones.
We also had veggies, crackers, and cheese… The hummus was store-bought and I resigned myself to skipping the deviled eggs… but someday I’ll have a tea party with those items too!
Here is my recipe for Crowd-Pleasing Chocolate Chip Cookies, adapted from Anna Olson’s recipe on the Food Network.
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup soft whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Add egg and vanilla and blend in.
Add flour, and sift in cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Stir in with chocolate chips.
Drop by tablespoons onto a greased baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, until golden brown around the edges. Make sure you don’t overbake!
Yield: about 40 cookies.
The secret ingredient is the cornstarch, which makes the cookies wonderfully chewy. I use a 1T cookie scoop, because it makes cute, uniform little cookies. I bake on seasoned clay bakeware (a.k.a. stoneware, from Pampered Chef) so there’s no need to grease the trays.
I also used real vanilla extract, which I made thus:
Order vanilla beans from these people, with plenty of time to make vanilla for Christmas (in a rare flash of holiday forethought).
Spend a few weeks not receiving them, with several fruitless attempts to contact the company by email and by phone.
Eventually receive an email from the company saying you should have received notification weeks ago that your beans are not in stock, try back in March.
Order vanilla beans from these people, and receive them within a few days.
Get yourself some hard liquor. Not just to loosen up, although feel free. (The recipes I found used vodka, but I thought rum would be yummier.)
Slice the vanilla beans lengthwise.
Put one vanilla bean per cup of liquid into the rum/vodka/whatever, in a tightly-closed container.
Wait at least six weeks, shaking the container whenever you think of it (once a week or so).
Use delicious Rumnilla in all your baking!!
I also made Easy Mini-Crescent Scones, adapted from this recipe at Allrecipes.com
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, frozen
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1 generous splash rumnilla
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 400F.
In a medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Grate butter into flour mixture on the large holes of a box grater; use your fingers to work in butter (mixture should resemble coarse meal).
In a small bowl, whisk sour cream, milk, egg, and rumnilla until smooth.
Stir sour cream mixture into flour mixture until large dough clumps form. Use your hands to work the dough into a ball. (The dough will be somewhat sticky.)
Place on a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7- to 8-inch circle about 3/4-inch thick.
Use a shot glass to cut the dough into crescent shapes. (I was just going to make small circles, then I realized that if you do crescents, you have a spot to hook your thumb in and release the scone from the glass. Then voila, it’s cute! Though some will probably end up looking like alien heads or cow plops.)
Place on a cookie sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper) or stoneware pan, about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden, 15 to 17 minutes.
Cool for 5 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature, with butter and/or jam. Or, just eat ’em straight off the tray.
Yield: about 3 dozen.
So there you have it! Tea party: CHECK. Try it yourself!
Might as well make a tradition of the Extra Oscars! I know it’s two days later so in Internetland, the Oscars are ancient history. But whatever. I have this thing called a baby. She sabotages my deadlines, dudes.
I do watch the ceremony almost every year now, thanks to Karissa’s parties that make it all worthwhile. It was a really fun evening. I think that if you’re going to watch the Oscars, you need to have lots of delicious snacks and some friends around. That way you can be in a good mood and enjoy the show – and not take it too seriously. MOTL (below, in fact).
First, the actual Hollywood-Related Extra Oscars:
Best Dressed: Jennifer Lawrence, even though the dress proved problematic, and Jennifer Aniston. I like pretty skirts.
Honourable Mention: Helen Hunt, who famously wore a dress from H&M for its green cachet (made entirely from sustainable, and some recycled, materials).
Worst Dressed: Halle Berry (I think she’s awesome but I didn’t like the robot look) and Anne Hathaway (oh, nipple-darts, you are not attractive).
Most Surprising Dress: Salma Hayek. No cleavage showing WHATSOEVER.
Strongest Shoulders: Kristin Chenoweth. She’s so tiny it’s almost ridiculous, so no matter who she’s interviewing, she has to hold the mike way up.
Best Name: Quvenzhané Wallis. Names don’t get cooler than that. It doesn’t hurt when they belong to 9-year-old acting prodigies with serious moxie.
Best Song About Boobs: Seth MacFarlane, We Saw Your Boobs. Okay, it was the only song about boobs. But we, in the room, chuckled. People have been complaining that this silly little song was offensive, but because MacFarlane pre-acknowledged that it was, I personally took it to be a mockery not of women who’ve been topless in films but of men(‘s obsession with boobs). It’s possible I also got a kick out of it because I happened to have my boob out at the time.
Best Spats: Channing Tatum. Okay, they were the only spats, as far as I could tell, and he only wore them for his dance number. But seriously, there aren’t enough spats-wearing gentlemen these days.
Best Surprise Talent: Charlize Theron is a lovely dancer, and Daniel Radcliffe can totally sing. Maybe you guys already knew those things, but both were pleasant surprises to me.
Best Earrings: Norah Jones, singing Everybody Needs a Best Friend from Ted. Dress was good too. And hey, might as well mention that the singing was spot-on.
Best Tie: Sound Editing. (Get it?? Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall tied for Best Sound Editing. Haw haw.)
Best Klutz: Jennifer Lawrence. Kristen Stewart was in the running – she apparently had crutches backstage because she’d “stepped on glass” at some point, and opted to hobble for her presentation instead of using them. Her heart was clearly not in the whole experience. Jennifer Lawrence, despite falling up the stairs to accept the Best Actress Oscar, managed to be gracefully self-deprecating (seeing the audience standing for her, she said, “Thank you. You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell, and that’s really embarrassing, but thank you.”) Love her.
Best Joke: Christopher Plummer’s intro by Seth MacFarlane. The camera swung with the spotlight over to the doors, where Mr. Plummer did not appear. MacFarlane announced, “Family Von Trapp!” with the perfect fanfare from Sound of Music. While it may be hackneyed to refer to the movie around Mr. Plummer, well… The S of M is dear to my heart. So I dug the tribute-joke.
Okay, segue into mini-Diatribe. As mentioned re the Boob Song, the Twitterverse and Internetland in general are all hating on Seth for his hosting job. He predicted it himself (that is, he had Captain Kirk come from the future and tell him he was going to be the worst host ever). People are saying they should bring back Billy Crystal. Two responses from me:
a) You’ve forgotten how bad Billy was last year. I mean, I love him, he’s a funny guy, but last year… even our good-natured group found him very unfunny.
b) I don’t think Seth was that bad. Maybe I was all high from getting out of the house for the evening, but I took his jokes in the most positive light, and it wasn’t that hard to do.
People are all “He’s racist and sexist! He’s homophobic! Shocking and offensive!!”
Firstly, let’s keep in mind that part of the job description for an Oscar host is to be politically incorrect, to jokingly cross the lines of appropriateness. Can you name a host who hasn’t? And if there ever were one, people would jump on that person for being wimpy and boring.
Secondly, he is not homophobic. He is, in fact, a well-known and vocal supporter of gay rights, including gay marriage. If there were jokes that sounded homophobic (I personally don’t recall any), they were not intended as such.
Thirdly, about the racism. He joked to Daniel Day-Lewis about his staying in-character on and off set: “If you bumped into Don Cheadle on the studio lot, did you try to free him?” Maybe I’m being thick, but how is this racist? Don Cheadle is black. Lincoln was against slavery of black people. I actually think that’s a very interesting, even insightful, question. What would Lincoln think of today’s civil rights situation in America?
He joked, regarding Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Salma Hayek, that “they get up on stage and we have no idea what they’re saying, but we don’t care because they’re so attractive”. You could take that as racist. Or, since the statement is so obviously untrue (with respect to language, not attractiveness), you could take it as a nod to those same actors for being critically acclaimed successes in more than one language – and even a little jab at the monolingualism of most of America.
People got up in arms about “I always thought the actor who got most inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.” Our party groaned along with the audience, but come on. The play on words was a little bit funny. Seth acknowledged the groans with, “So, 150 years and it’s still too soon, huh?” Good point. Yes, we know Lincoln’s assassination was a tragedy. Joking about it serves the same purpose as gallows humour: sometimes you have to make light of things that suck.
Even the jokes that failed with the audience could be given the benefit of the doubt. There was Seth’s comment on Django Unchained: “This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.” I agree that this joke isn’t in good taste, but domestic brutality needs to be talked about; sometimes we joke just to get an issue out and give it airtime. And after all, “unthinkable violence” is strongly condemnatory language.
I admit I didn’t enjoy this one: “For all those women who had the ‘flu’: It paid off. Looking good.” This may have been an attempt to address Hollywood’s unhealthy preoccupation with thinness; if so, it was clumsy and fell flat. But I do think it’s important to bring up. Hollywood’s female actors as a group are TOO THIN. Period.
FYI, I’m not a particular fan of Seth MacFarlane. I barely knew who he was before Oscar night. In all honesty, I’d rather have Jon Stewart or Ellen Degeneres back to host. But it irks me when people get unnecessarily hatey. Why are you watching the Oscars if you’re in such a bad mood?
It’s the same with Anne Hathaway – people were all a-Twitter with how she’s insincere and overeager and blah blah blah. Whatever. She’s a human, and I don’t see why she deserves such nitpicky bullying. People will pick on any random stupid thing and get internet validation for it. Anne Hathaway did an amazing job in her nominated role, and she fully deserved to win. And I don’t think she comes off as insincere; could you do any better on the Avenue of Awkwardness that is the red carpet?
Bottom line: if you’re jaded and humourless, you should probably do something else with your Sunday night.
Now, our personal party Oscars:
Best Co-Hosts: the kids. Karissa is the hostess with the mostest, but I also appreciated that her five-year-old daughter made absolutely sure we had napkins and her three-year-old son filled in for E by giving my baby a kiss when we arrived.
Best Potluck Dish Name:Finger Lickin’ Chicken Lincoln Wontons, by Krissy. Just say that to yourself – it’s fun. (For the record, my flourless chocolate cake, dubbed Cocoa Unchained, did get a couple votes.) (Hey, attendees, if you’re reading this – could you put your dish name in the comments so I can remember them all?)
Best Celebrity Detective: Carrie, for identifying the most magazine-cutout celebrity smiles and bodies AND answering the tie-breaking question.
Trivia Winner: technically Karissa, but since she was host and thereby ineligible, my sister Em (Oscar trivia rookie) got the next best score.
Most Flabbergasting Trivia Fact: How many times do you think John Williams has been nominated for his movie scores? Twelve? Eighteen? Twenty-five? No. Try forty-eight.
Highlight of the Evening: finding out, through the subtleties of trivia, that our friend Meg is expecting! YAY!!
Best Dressed Guest: Skye’s Baby G, with his necktie onesie. Even without pants, it works.
Best-Behaved Baby: Normally Baby G would take this category too, because he’s basically the best-behaved baby on the planet, but he had a couple of uncharacteristic bouts of screaming, so I’m going with Baby A (a.k.a. mine). Of course, I paid for this… dearly. She was in great spirits all evening, snoozing on-and-off, getting passed around and flirting with my friends, until abruptly she was not fine anymore (two presentations before the end of the show). This leads to…
Worst Parenting Decision: goes to Dilovely, for allowing the overstimulation of my daughter. She was up every hour that night. Not restful for anyone. Lesson learned.
A year ago yesterday, on October 15th, International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, I wrote to Sebastian on Unspoken Grief. I was feeling very blue and needed to write with a bit more anonymity than usual.
Looking back at what I wrote, I feel so fortunate to be where I am, one year later. We are incredibly blessed to have our sweet E and our lovely baby daughter… and honestly, I feel blessed to have Sebastian in my life, too. I can’t regret that we had him, even though the experience has been so sad.
This year, to honour the day, we finally buried Sebastian’s ashes under a sugar maple at my parents’ house. We wanted to commemorate the day, but keep things as small and simple as possible; something formal and ceremonial would have felt wrong.
The tree was brighter and more multicoloured a bit earlier in the season. Still pretty, though.
Sean and I dug a small hole – we only needed trowels. The ground was damp and easy to dig.
We had explained to E that we were going to have a little burial for Sebastian, much as we did for my parents’ cat, Griffin, over the Thanksgiving weekend. We glossed over the concept of ashes…. We have talked before about how once people and other creatures die, their bodies become part of the earth – so we just reminded him about that, so he knew it wouldn’t be Sebastian’s body we were burying.
He seemed unfazed. He has recently taken to saying, “Shave and a haircut, two bits” to amuse himself, but now he modified it to “Gonna have a ceremony, two bits.” Leave it to a three-year-old to inject levity and irreverence.
But when we were out there, he was very earnest. We each chose a pretty maple leaf to go into the little hole with Sebastian, including one on Baby A’s behalf. E helped us pour the ashes and fill the hole and put the rock on top. Then he quite ceremoniously placed a trowel on top of the rock, I guess because it seemed apropos to him.
Then we had a moment of silence, holding hands in a little circle around the tree, and said a few words to our little second-born. We told E about how Sebastian would actually become part of the tree, because he would be absorbed by the roots. E explained to us how “Sebastogen will climb up it.” Made sense to us.
It felt good to do this.
It was a chilly, grey day – but we did a have a few moments of sunshine through the leaves, with an unexpected slice of blue sky.
At 7 p.m., we lit these maple leaf candles, homemade long ago by Auntie Beth, to be part of the continuous wave of light commemorating all those babies who are gone too early. I know there were a lot of people out there joining in, contemplating their own candles and sending love for the families of those babies, all over the world. Love has made such an enormous difference to us, and, I’m sure, to countless other grieving families.