Sunday, 30 December 2012

Scottish New Year - Part 2

     I have decided to try the old ways.  By the old ways, I've decided to incorporate some of the old traditional Scottish New Year's traditions into our family's New Year's Traditions.  I have to admit that I am a little excited at the thought.  It may sound a little corny, but it almost feels like welcoming back my Nana.  I suspect that she will be up in heaven saying "It took you long enough."  For Nana, Hogmanay was an important holiday.
    My cousin Patricia Hutchinson has been a HUGE help in rediscovering my roots.  Patricia and her family live in Scotland.  She was kind enough to send me information, as well as her own personal recollections about Hogmanay.  Here is the information that Patricia has shared with me....

First Foot:
The first foot of the New Year (the first person to step into the house and sometimes called the "the first Fit") should traditionally be a tall black haired man.  This stems back to the 4th- 12th century when unwelcome visitors to this shore were Vikings who were short and fair haired.  It is considered luckier to have the opposite type of person to visit.  He or she should be honest, healthy and good tempered and liked by all.  They must not be carrying a sharp object like a knife.  It is not unusual for a household to choose a first footer and make arrangements prior to Hogmanay.

Unlucky First Footers;
Woman and red haired people are considered unlucky first footers, as is a person who first foots empty handed with no gift.  Such a person will bring bad luck by asking the person to throw salt on an open fire if they have one or placing a piece of burning straw up the chimney.  Roman Catholics will cross themselves if an unlucky first footer arrives at their house.  Others will make a cross from Rowan twigs and place this at their front door.  If an unlucky first footer arrives they touch this twig cross three times saying the name of their God each time before the first footer speaks.  This might sound daft in modern times, but Scots have always been superstitious and do not want to suffer 12 months bad luck until the next first footer arrives.

Unlucky First Footers;
Other unlucky first footers include doctors, a minister, theives, a grave digger, someone born with a handicap, a flat footed person and someone whose eyebrows meet in the middle.  This may seem politically incorrect but these hark back to the days before PC and are written here for historic interest.

Going Out First Footing;
Those going out first footing should carry a bottle to offer a drink, a lump of coal to signify that the house will keep warm, bring comfort and be safe for the year, black bun, or more modernly shortbread to signify that the household won't go hungry for the year and a silver coin to bring prosperity to the household for the new year.

Friends, family, neighbours and even strangers are welcomed in with a handshake and the words "A Happy New Year", or "A guid year tae ye" (a good year to you) and then offered a dram and a bite to eat.  The New Year is toasted with many a glass of whisky.

In some Scottish communities the Hogmanay tradition of taking a turn still exists at parties.  A turn can be reciting a poem, singing a song, telling a joke or story telling.

    I can imagine how exciting that would be to go home to home.  It would be like one big street party.  I live in a small rural town, and can imagine doing this.  It would have been wonderful! It makes me long for simpler times and wish that I could have seen it.  Patricia says that it's not really like that in Scotland anymore.  I guess like everything else time has moved on and is trying to forget the past.  Generally people think to continue old customs is to regress to stunt their growth, and yet to me it feels like there is so much to be gained by keeping the old ways, if the old ways do not inhibit the future, but add to the future's richness.

    Patricia shared with me stories of her memories of Hogmanay.  Patricia was mostly raised in Ireland (I'm not sure if Uncle Freddy was Irish, I'll have to ask her.  I do know that Aunt Sadie was Scottish.  I know this because she was my Nana's baby sister.)   Her recollections seem beautiful.  I can picture my Nana and Papa out going house to house, huge smiles on their faces.  In my mind, perhaps not in reality, Nana and Papa are holding hands, full of joy.  Nana would have to be at the back of the group because of her beautiful copper hair.  I am a little envious of Patricia's memories.  Here is what Patricia shared with me. 

"On a more personal level, I remember the first Hogmanay I spent in Scotland so well. I had been out somewhere and a group of us were heading home. Everybody we met wished us a happy new year and gave us a hug, and we met a piper in the park and we all danced round him. There were loads of folk about and every house we passed seemed to be having a party. It was the custom just to go to any door and be invited in with your bottle, even if you didn't know the folk. I didn't go in as I was worried about being late. My get-home time was 11 oclock and it was way past that. Then I got home and my parents were dancing about the living room with a drink in their hands and half the street squashed into the house. New Year was the only time I ever saw my parents with a drink. Then about 2am a couple of my friends arrived and my parents allowed me to go out with them 'first footing'. I was astonished.
In later years what would happen, and this is probably much like the young Hamiltons would have done, was you would always have a table laden with snacks such as sausage rolls, fruit cake, sandwiches and bottles of whisky or beer etc. Neighbours would come in and it would all be very jolly. We would probably watch one of 'Scottishy' shows on the television, or my mother, or later my brother, would play the piano, there would somebody there with a guitar and we'd sing all night. At the 'bells' or a recording of the cannon at Edinburgh castle being fired to signify midnight, there would be much hugging and happy wishes, my father who was tall and dark would be sent out to return with something like cake or a bottle (its years since any of us had a coal fire so a chunk of coal was hard to come by). Often if there was a lot of coming and going of visitors my mother would make sure the first caller after midnight was tall and dark, she would fling open the windows to let the new year in.
As a child I remember in Ireland that my mum was the only person I knew to celebrate new year in this mad way, and it intrigued me to say the least. I remember Aunt Margaret who lived in Ireland when I was a small child would come over to see us."

  I hope you don't mind me quoting you directly Patricia, it was just so beautiful, that I felt like to put it into my own words would be a disservice to it's beauty.

 I am inspired by Hogmanay.  I will let you know tomorrow if it was a success or a failure.  Wish me good luck!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Game Night - Time I am Never Getting Back

    When I was a kid I loved games.  My parents were not "games" people, in fact I am pretty sure that they hated games.  I enjoyed playing board games with Gabe.  We would put a little Grace to bed and the pull out the snacks and the board games, it was good fun.  For some reason the fuddy duddy has slipped in and I am not so much a game fan anymore.  Perhaps it is more the fact that I know what's in store for me when I play games with the kids.  Someone's going to have a temper tantrum and someone's going to accuse someone of cheating and someone is going to stomp away from the table (usually me).  Games at our house are not a good idea, well at least that is my opinion.

    This year for Christmas Gracie asked for some games.  "Oh No I thought".  She asked for the game "Logos", she will never know them, it will just frustrate her.  Needless to say she really wanted it for Christmas and that is exactly what she got.  Since the second that she unwrapped it she has been harassing us to play it.  The plan was to put a movie on for the other kids and just the three of us would play. All of the kids really wanted to play ... mistake number one!

Grace just couldn't take it anymore!
    The game began with Elly singing "Santa Claus is Coming To Town", at the top of her little lungs.  Apparently she only knows the words "Santa Claus is coming to town." and she sings it like Bruce Springsteen.  I thought I might loose my mind.  Riley would only speak using a combination French / Italian accent (did I mention that it was funny at first, but got old very quickly.  Did I mention that she did it for the whole game?).  Both Rowan and Riley were so excited that they could not keep still in their seats, they just kept dancing around.  At one point Elly was not only singing Santa Claus is coming to town, but she was making our game pieces kiss and talk to each other, you know instead of what the place holders are supposed to do... hold our place.

    There were parts of the game that the kids were being so loud that you could not hear the question.  When it was Rowan's turn to read a question, when the question was answered he would do this crazy "awoooga" sound.  He kept switching it up, and no one knew if  "Awooga" meant they had given the correct answer or the incorrect answer.  He would then be disgusted that no one knew.

    There were parts of that two hours that I considered slamming my face in the side door, just so that I could quit playing.  There were times that I honestly thought I might loose my mind.  At the end of it, with all of the chaos and craziness it was a lot of fun.  Most of the fun was poking fun at each other.  At one point Christopher laughed so hard I thought he might need CPR.  
    Will I schedule a once a week games night?  No, no I will not, I am not sure what little sanity that I have left could take it.  Maybe I will be more open to family games.  Yes, there will be a guaranteed temper tantrum (maybe from me), but there are also guaranteed gut laughs (sometimes from the temper tantrum).  We love to watch movies together, but watching movies is passive.  When we play games, we are all together, we are talking and laughing we are all interacting.  Perhaps I should be more open to games... I guess we will see. 

Hogmanay - Scottish New Year

   I just finished reading the last book in the "Outlanders" series.  I am sad to admit that this series has piqued a curiosity in me to discover my roots.  On my Dad's side I am as Canadian as you can get.  We come from fine hardy stalk, strong willed, strong backed pioneers and United Empire Loyalists I am quite proud to say.  On Mom's side I am first generation Canadian.  My Mom and her family made that huge trek across the ocean when she was only 5.  She began kindergarten with a thick accent that the teachers and other students had a hard time understanding.  Over the years her accent and her "Scottishness" have faded.  Many of the fast and firm traditions that she grew up with slowly were lost to her as she began her own family.  The traditions of her family were just what they did, and now that Nana's gone there is no one to ask.  Luckily for me, Facebook to the rescue.  Through Facebook I have had the privilege of getting to know my cousins who still live in Scotland, cousins who might otherwise have been lost to me.
    Growing up my Nana was a huge part of my life.  To me she was this big presence (it's true but also funny because she was not even 5 feet tall).  Nana taught us to be proud of our Scottish blood.  To be Scottish was to be proud.  We were decedents of Robert the Bruce, a Scottish king, that was something to be proud of.  When we would go and visit her she would have Scottish reels playing on her 8 track. The sound of the bag pipes to this day make me cry with pride in my heritage.

L-R My Mom, Great-Gran, Nana, cousin Heather on her lap,
Great Popa, and Aunt Jean on a visit to Scotland.
    New Year's Eve was a big deal to Nana.  She would go to my uncle's house to bring in the new year.  For nearly half an hour our phone would ring off of the hook with calls of good wishes for the New Year from our family.  Nana would come to our house for New Year's dinner.  My Dad would have to be the first one into Nana's apartment, there was no way on New Year's day I could go first.
    Growing up Mom said that they celebrated Christmas, but not the way we do.  To them New Years was the big celebration.  It was the one time of the year that my Nana and Popa took a celebratory drink.  They had friends over, it was a real celebration.  I don't think that Mom really knew why, she just knew that New Years was a BIG DEAL.
    As I said, I had never heard "Hogmanay" until I read "Outlander".  That got me asking questions.  Mom did not really know, she called her older brother, my Uncle Bruce.  He remembered what it was called.  I knew what I had to do... Facebook my cousin Patricia in Scotland.  Patricia that lovely lady knew the answers.  I hope that she doesn't mind, but I'm going to directly copy the email she sent to me.  To me it was absolutely fascinating, and it sounded lovely.

    During the day of Hogmanay the household would be busy cleaning so that the New Year could be welcomed into a tidy and neat house. It is considered ill luck to welcome in the New Year in a dirty uncleaned house. Fireplaces would be swept out and polished and some people would read the ashes of the very last fire of the year, to see what the New Year would hold. The act of cleaning the entire house was called the redding, ie getting ready for the New Year.
Pieces from a Rowan tree would be placed above a door to bring luck. In the house would be placed a piece of mistletoe, not for kissing under like at Christmas, but to prevent illness to the householders. Pieces of holly would be placed to keep out mischievous fairies and pieces of hazel and yew which were thought to have magical powers and would protect the house and the people who lived in it. Juniper would be burnt throughout the house, then all the doors of the home would be opened to bring in fresh air. The house was then considered ready to bring in the New Year.
Debts would be paid by New Year's Eve because it was considered bad luck to see in a new year with a debt.
Any visitors who arrive before the chimes of midnight on New Year's Eve would have to be violently shooed away to prevent bad luck. At midnight the man of the house would open the back door to let the old year out and then open the front door of the house to let in the new year. The household would also make as much noise as possible to scare off evil spirits. In harbours throughout Aberdeenshire, at Aberdeen Harbour and throughout the North East Sea fishermen and sailors will sound their horns and these sounds carry for miles.
New Year Bells
The first stroke of the chimes at New Year is known as The Bells. People would sing Auld Lang Syne together whilst linking arms. Read the words of Auld Lang Syne.
After the bells have rung people would go visiting friends and family, or first footing as it is known in Scotland. This would involve carrying a bottle of spirit such as whisky to offer people a new year dram. In olden days when people could only afford one bottle of spirit’s a year this bottle would take pride of place on the mantelpiece or by the fireplace and only opened at the stroke of midnight.
Hogmanay Toasts
As people wish each other a Happy New Year there are some hogmanay toasts that can be said. A traditional Scottish New Year toast is:
Lang may yer lum reek!
Which means long may your chimney smoke and originated when people had coal fires and if the chimney was smoking it meant that you could afford coal and keep warm.
Another New Year toast said by Scottish people is:
A guid New Year to ane an' a' and mony may ye see"
Which translates to English from Scots as A good New Year to one and all, and many may you see.

    I have to admit I have fallen a little bit in love with this.  I will share more with you tomorrow, but in the mean while I am going to think about what of these traditions I can incorporate into our New Years.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Fergus The Hoarding Dog

Hmm what's wrong with this picture?
    I shared with you back in September that we welcomed a new member to our family back in September. I won't go into the story of how we came to adopt "Fergus", instead of "Lloyd" (the Boston Terrier / Pug that I had originally gone to the Humane Society to adopt).  I shared that story with you back in September. 

    Back in September Fergus was this timid little dog who was afraid of Christopher.  When we would raise our hand to pat him he would cringe and shrink away.  The broom horrified him.  It was heartbreaking.  I told Christopher that I was going to give him a month to settle in and feel safe before I began to discipline.  I wanted him to know that he was not going to be beaten, that our house was a safe place.  Perhaps that was a mistake.  Did I mention that I know nothing about dogs?  I mean we had a dog, Maggie for years and years, but that does not make me an expert.  Everything I read said to make sure that we had a crate, because dogs like crates.  We had just shelled out close to $500.00 for adoption fees and dog supplies, another $150.00 for a dog crate was not in the budget.  The first night we put him in the laundry room and made a makeshift door out of laundry bins.  He was good as gold.  I kept waiting for the crying, but it did not come.  Night number two, there was some short lived crying, and then he settled in.  Night number three he jumped over the bins, crying and crying desperate to get to me.  That was his last night away from my side, I just didn't have the heart for it.

    Fergus is a beautifully natured little dog he lets us put our hands in his mouth while he's eating, but he's naughty, oh he's naughty.  He likes to eat crayons (every poop is a colourful surprise), he likes to chew plastic toys.  In other words he likes to find trouble.  He especially gets into trouble if left by himself alone.  When we leave him by himself even for minutes that little dog creates a whole whirlwind of damage.  He has eaten all the tiles in our side door landing, and in the downstairs bathroom.  He chewed the corners off of my coffee table.  The pice de resistance was when he dug a hole in Riley's mattress, nice, really nice.  Something had to be done.  We bit the bullet and bought a 

Notice how the innocent little lamb has
fallen asleep clutching in his little black and white
paws one of the children's wooden building blocks
that he was chewed to wood pulp.

    We watched episodes of "The Dog Whisperer" to see if we could learn any tricks to train our bad dog.  Here is what I have decided,  I would like to karate chop the Dog Whisperer on the top of the head!  He goes into peoples homes and solves problems so easily.  A little "tsssk" and the vicious dog is beautifully natured.  No, the dog whisperer is entertaining, but not really a great help for Fergus.
We combed the internet looking for information about crate training.  That seemed like the something that would save our sanity.  All the information suggested getting them used to the crate before ever locking them in it.  We (by we I mean Christopher, while I sat on the couch shouting things out) set up the crate.  The kid's loved it! (see top picture).  Every time would walk past Fergus he would say in a bit of an evil voice "You're going in a crate".  I kept waiting for the evil maniacal laugh and the hands being rubbed together.  The kids seemed to think that the crate was a great playhouse for them.  Fergus wanted in on the fun and so he would go in with them.  We kept the door open at all times so that he could get used to it.
    Once the crate had been set up for a while and seemed like a safe place, we locked him in when we left the house.  He did pretty well.  Lately he has not been as in love, but we force him in, wanting to come home to furniture.  It's working out quite well.  It turns out I really like that little dog a lot more when he is not destroying the house!
    We still keep the crate door open.  The other day Christopher noticed a really funny thing (see picture below).  Fergus's crate has become full of toys.  I assumed that Christopher and the kids were throwing Fergus's toys in there, like a big toy box.  Then I saw Fergus going around the room cleaning up his own toys and putting them into his crate.  It was the funniest thing that I have seen in a long time!  He has included some of the kid's toys as well as his own, and some bits of Christmas wrap.  I need to get into talks with TLC about a reality show called Fergus the Hoarding Dog.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Things The Pregnancy Books Don't Tell You...

    We are all sick AGAIN!  This year has been one big booger fest.  It got me to thinking about all the things that they don't prepare you for in those pregnancy books.  When you want to get pregnant you think about this beautiful pink little baby to hold in your arms.  At no point do you have any almost sense of what you have in store.  I guess if we knew what was in store, there may not be many babies.
I have compiled a few off the top of my head things that occurred to me while I luxuriated in my silky bubble bath (with the door locked and glass of wine in hand).  Here they are in no particular order....

#1  In the "What to Expect When You Are Expecting"  I seem to remember there was about a page of the common child illnesses and what their symptoms are.  This does not really prepare you unless your child catches some text book illness, which mine rarely do.

My advice to childless women who are contemplating pregnancy... be prepared to have your child vomit in your mouth / and or hair (in my case repeatedly).  Consider it a right of passage.  If you are not prepared to have a vomit shower, may I suggest that you either start working extra shifts / and or begin playing the lottery, because you will need lots of money for your live in Nanny.  If you are not prepared  to hire a nanny nor are you prepared for a mouth full of vomit, may I suggest sterilization and perhaps a house full of cats?  I have come to realize that children are walking talking germ magnets.  When they are tiny everything goes into their mouth.  When mine were tiny I would carry along in my diaper bag Lysol wipes.  I would wipe every single nook and cranny in those shopping carts.  Let me tell you I got some strange looks and more than a few people would elbow each other to look at the crazy lady.  The first thing a baby does is mouth the cart, even if you have one of those fancy seats that fits in the cart, and I did.  When you have school aged children it is futile to pretend that you can prevent them bringing every germ home.  Just know that they will bring home the Bubonic Plague and they will infect every single member of your family... just know this.  Also know that they will not allow you to go into your child's school and Lysol their desk and pencil sharpener, and any object that those other germ infested classmates may touch.  When I say "they" I mean my kids.  I have now begun to stock up on kleenex, cold medications, and Tylenol when I buy their school clothes.

#2  If Hell hath no furry like a woman scorned, then what do they say about the whole world of hurt you are in for if you hurt one of my kids?  I am a pretty nice, mild mannered lady.  I say please and thank you, I hold open doors for people.  If you lit me on fire I would be shocked, but I doubt I would say anything to you (for those of you considering this, I'd rather we did not test this theory).  In other words I am a pretty nice person .... that is until you wrong my child, then all bets are off.  I will tear off your arms and legs and then use you like a soccer ball if you dare to hurt one of my children.  You don't want to make me angry, you would not like me if you made me angry.  My kids have a sense of security knowing that I will always have their back, no one will ever wrong them and get away with it as long as I have breath in my lungs.

#3  Once I became a mother, I became everybody's mother.  I feel like I have to mother every child I see (whether they would like me to or not, just ask Gabe's poor friends).  I cannot see a child hungry without remedying it.  I cannot see a child go cold without fixing it.  I have embarrassed my kids on numerous occasions by asking other children if they need me to run back to the house and get them a jacket.  I feel like every child deserves the love that my children receive unconditionally, it physically hurts me to see other children in terrible situations (this means with parents who cannot or will not properly feed or cloth their children or look after them).  On more than a few occasions I have become an advocate for children who do not have one, I just can't seem to help myself.  Do you see now why I feel a bit sorry for our principal and vice-principal?  The books did not mention this in any chapter.

#4  Your kids are going to have friends that you strongly dislike.  If you voice this they are probably going to tell said kid, and do you want to give that kid a complex?  Even if you don't care about making a kid sad, when you tell your child you don't like their friend, you have just catapulted that awful little wretch from "friend" to "Very Best Friend In The Whole Wide World".  You have just thrown gasoline and a match onto open rebellion that may not have otherwise existed.  Did I mention that I am telling you this from experience?  I have learned that it is best to keep my big mouth shut, and wait, like a sniper.  I wait until the opportunity arises for passive aggression.  For example " Mom.. Suzy said that I couldn't play with her at recess, and then she said something rude about my new shirt".  I act mildly surprised by this.  I then casually say something like "Oh I am sorry that you had such a bad day.  Wow what would make Suzy act like that?  Did you say something that might have hurt her feelings?"  You need to understand that at this point I am trying hard not to smile, you know that evil smile that the Grinch uses after he has just stolen all of the toys and food in Whosville?  "It sounds like Suzy isn't acting like a very nice friend."  Then I wait for them to deduce their own conclusions.  I then go about my business, and will casually, innocently ask "Who did Kathy play with at recess today?"  Instead of "Kathy" insert the name of a kid I would like them to play with, you know a nice kid, with nice parents.  That's all it usually takes at least until they get on to me, and then I guess I will need a new game plan.  This one, also not in those books.

#5  Last but certainly not least.  Those books did not prepare me for the depth of love that I would feel for my kids.  It is almost a religion for me.  When I watch them (not always, I'm not perfect you know) I can almost feel waves of love hit them and repel back.  I feel my self soften when I look at them.  There are no words that could adequately describe the love I feel.  Don't get me wrong, there are times that I would like to very much run away from home.  There are times when I would like to give them a nice tight hug around their little necks.  I adore my kids, but there are times they drive me crazy.  I feel like I need to add that it was not love at first sight (don't tell them that, because I will deny it).  Everyone always tells you that you will melt when you first look at your baby, I didn't.  I had huge babies (9 pounds 3, 9 pounds 10 ounces, 6 pounds 12 ounce, 6 pounds 4 ounces and that was twins and a whole month early, and my last was three weeks early and weighed in at 8 pounds on the dot).  I had monster babies and with all but two of them the stupid OBs decided that I would have a better push urge if they let my epidural run out at the time that I most needed it.  No, I was too exhausted to feel that rush of unconditional love.  It took me a little while to forgive them for causing me all of that pain.  I fell in love with them after I got some energy back, after the pain was just a memory.  It was more like almost love at first site.  I think too often as mothers we do not feel secure enough to admit this.  I think we feel that it makes us less.  It doesn't matter if it was love at first sight, what matters is that you love them now.

    So there you have it, a random list of things those pregnancy bibles don't tell you about.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Curse You Evil Furby!

    My three youngest really, really wanted Furbies for Christmas.  That is all they could talk about leading up to Christmas was how all of their Furbies could play together.  One day  before Christmas break Grace came home from school and told us all that her friend's little sister has a Furby and it turned evil...seed planted.  After that story, Riley kept saying "I really want Santa to bring me a Furby... I hope it doesn't turn evil".
    Christmas morning came.  The three little kids all came tearing down the the stairs (you will notice that I said "little kids", because Grace is setting the stage for her teen years and would sleep until 2:00 p.m. if we let her).  You could hear the hoops of delight when they saw their Furbies.  At that point if you had asked them what their favourite gift was... hands down "FURBY"!  Later in the afternoon Gracie downloaded a Furby app onto her ipod. Apparently they can feed their Fuby using this app.  Riley was so excited, that is until Gracie being the awesome big sister that she is fed Riley's Furby hot sauce.  At this point I have to say that were I Grace I would have been tempted to do this myself.  So a moment later I hear screaming.
"Mommy, Gracie fed my Furby hot sauce and turned it EVIL!"  I used my best calming voice "I'm sure it's not evil."  "Mommy there are flames in it's eyes and it's talking in a freaky voice."  Sure enough that stupid Furby had electronic flames in it's eyes and was doing an evil laugh... just what I needed.
    The hysteria continued on through the night "What if it stays evil?"  Being the awesome mother that I am, my reply was "I'm pretty sure that your evil Furby will not try to bite you in throat."  Just when I thought all of the hub ub was over there would be a renewed "My Fuby's evil.  If it doesn't turn nice can I get a new one?" "What will I do if it stays evil?"  Honestly if I heard the word "Furby" one more time I thought I would loose it.  Then the unthinkable happened Rowan came tearing in "Riley's Furby turned my Furby evil!"  sure enough it had those creepy eyes and the creepy voice.
    So now I have three kids afraid of their new expensive Christmas toys.  Elly kept her Furby upstairs in her room afraid that her Furby will catch the evil from the other two, but in actuality she was just plain afraid of her stupid Furby.  Riley and Rowan were frantically shouting "I love you" to those stupid toys.  I'm not sure how much more I can take before I chuck those toys out into the snow bank.
    Today we were all supposed to be going to Acton to celebrate Christmas with Christopher's family.  It's a nice chance to catch up with all of his sisters and his uncle and aunt and of coarse his Mom.  We have a big dinner and exchange gifts, it's nice.  Unfortunately Elly went to the The Department Of Germ Warfare school this week, and she once again has caught some horrendous bug.  I feel like North Korea would do well to save their money on chemical warfare, and would be better served to just send their South Korean enemies to Elly's kindergarten classroom.  For the last three days baby girl has been down and out and has spent most of her time lying on the couch.  Yesterday she was able to open her gifts, and then she passed out on the couch.  This morning she was still couch surfing and so it was decided that she and I would not be going to Acton.
    Christopher and I got everything ready to go and he packed everything in the car.  He and I ran through our check list of what had been packed and what still needed to be packed.  We decided that the only thing still needing packed were the kids.  It was at that point that Riley's evil Furby worked it's evil magic on me.  The trip to Acton is a three hour drive.  Those Furbies never shut up, all they do is speak gibberish all day.  "Riley and Rowan" I shout out.  "You should take your Furbies with you.  I read that if you want them to turn back to being nice, you need to talk them nicely and sing to them.  They really need to be loved."   I could only imagine the electronic fire in my eyes.  Christopher's eyes were beginning to tear up at the thought of three hours in the car with the three big kids and two evil Furbies. Bahahahaha

    I would like to know what brainiac decided that Furbies should be able to turn evil.  What's next a real Chucky Doll?  Mental note, don't let the kids watch Chucky.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Christmas Lesson

     And then there was beautiful glorious peace.  All the worrying, all of the stress, all of the planning, all of the work ... done.  I'm sitting here in almost silence, just the light of the Christmas lights and the soft light of the computer screen are the only lights, my brand new Kate Bush "The Whole Story" Cd (a gift from my thoughtful husband) is softly playing while I drink a well earned glass of wine.  The dishwasher is softly humming in the background.  The kids are all tucked in upstairs, hopefully passed out after all of the excitement.  At this moment in time, life is very good.
    It's the same thing every year.  Don't they say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results?  If that's the definition of of insanity, then they should consider fitting me for a nice 600 thread count straight jacket.  I set this impossibly standard for myself and make myself and everyone around me crazy trying to achieve it.  Everything must be perfect, magical, and often it is, but there's a price.  By the time Christmas rolls around I am so stressed out that I am biting everyone's head off and practically foaming at the mouth.  I wonder if it's worth it.  I wonder if I asked them if they would trade their crazy perfection seeking mother for a not so perfect calm Christmas?  I won't ask them, I'll make the vow next year to plan better (and I won't).
    There is just so much excitement, so much lead up to Christmas.  It's all done in what seems like the blink of an eye.  The wrapping paper strewn everywhere, the expensive gifts as far as the eye can see.  Having said that, there are also really happy little kids.  This year we vowed to cut back.  In past years I tried to over compensate the loss of their brother with gifts.  This year I didn't.  I had that holding my breath moment, while the last gift had been opened.  I kept waiting for them to be disappointed, and yet marvelously they were not.  All of their needs had been met.  They were happy children, thankful for what they had!
    Christopher took three out of four kids out to toboggan on the big hill behind the house (Elly went to school this week, so of course she became sick).  They were all bundled up, full of excitement ready to test out the brand new sleds from Nana and Popa.  I stood at the picture window watching them trudge up that hill.  It was beautiful.  The kids would strain their neck to excitedly say something to their Daddy, and he would look down and smile.  They would let out squeals of delight and excitement as they flew down the hill.  I remembered that I am very blessed.  We have enough.  I am married to a wonderful man.  I have beautiful, lovely children.  I am blessed.  
    After dinner the whole family sat down to watch a movie.  Two of the kids were laid across their father like blankets, he just lay there, unaware.  One of the kids was stretched out on the floor using the pup as a pillow.  We were warm, our stomaches were full, we had each other, and that is all that really matters.  Peace just fell over me.  All of the work, all of the worry, the stress, the planning, the tears, it all fell away.  I need to find a way in my daily life, when I am up to my ears in stress (and my shoulders are up at my ears) to stop, and visualize that moment.  I need to take a deep breath and remember just how blessed I am.  I have a husband who loves me for me, I have beautiful children, I have parents who are healthy and who love me, I have friends who are amazing and who are there for me when I need them, I live in a beautiful place, my life is good.  I need to remember that in the moments of stress.  I just wish that I could readily remember that when I need it most.  I guess its something to work towards.  I am after all still a work in progress.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Our Split- Personality Christmas

     Gabriel, you taught us how to love in ways that we had never known. 
 You taught us that even the finality of death cannot 
touch the love that we feel for you. 
 Death could take you, but never our love for you.  
There is not a day goes past that our hearts do not ache missing you,
 and yet there is not a day that goes past that we 
are not thankful you were in our lives, 
even if just for that little while.  
You were a blessing, you were a gift.

     Today is a rough day for us, today 8 years ago at 5:05 p.m. my oldest son Gabriel passed away.  I waited for that Christmas miracle that never came.  It forever altered Christmas Eve for my family.
Christmas Eve has a split personality for us, it is magical and wondrous for the kids, but painful and exhausting for us.  Christmas Eve is about our living Children and the magic of Santa, but it's also the day that Gabriel was taken from us.  Today we celebrate both.
    We work hard to make sure that Grace, Riley, Rowan and Elly remember their brother with love, I never want to make him larger than life, an unattainable ghost.  To me to make him into something he was not is disrespectful to him.  He was a 9 year old boy a little more than a month away from his 10th birthday.  He was smart and funny, kind and a kid.  He did naughty things, he talked back, he was the Gabe that we loved.  To make him anything else in memory would be to say that the Gabe we knew was not good enough, and he was good enough, he was the perfect him.
    On Christmas Eve we go up to the cemetery at 5:00 p.m.  We have a tacky silver tree set up at his grave.  He would have picked that awful thing out himself, that's why we got it.  We have the tree decorated with solar lights and christmas ornaments.  We sing Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.  The weeks before he died, Gabe was constantly singing that song, to the point that I thought I would go out of my mind if he sang it one more time.  The song that drove me crazy now brings me to tears, but is a must up on the hill (what we call the cemetery).  We share a Coke in a glass bottle (he loved those), and we lift it up to the sky and say "This one's for you Gabe."  At 5:05 we stop and just rember that amazing little boy that we were blessed to have in our lives.  We thank our friends and family for coming to support us, and by 5:20 we are back down the hill and home.
    The rest of Christmas Eve is dedicated to our living children.  We play BINGO, with prizes.  We smash our gingerbread houses with a hammer and the kids eat them.  We have a fire in our backyard fireplace and roast marshmallows and hot dogs.  The kids get all dressed in their winter clothes and sprinkle the reindeer food that we have made that afternoon.   The kid's leave cookies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer.  We devote ourselves to the kids and making Christmas magic for them, even though we feel like razor blades have cut through our soul.  We suck it up and pretend, and sometimes that pretending leads to actual joy.
    When the kid's have finally settled into their beds, Christopher and I crack open the wine.  We stop pretending and just melt into each other.  Often we say very little, but just seek comfort in the knowledge that our soul mate knows our pain without needing to put it into words.  In the quiet house with my husband's arm firmly wrapped around my shoulder I remember my precious boy.  I do not remember that poor little boy all swollen and black and blue, covered in tubes and attached to machines, barely recognizable.  I remember that funny not so little boy hopping around so excited about Christmas.  That beautiful boy who loved his little sister and was so excited to finally have a baby brother, and a new baby sister.  When I think of Gabe, I think of asking him to keep an eye on the babies (Riley and Rowan) who were asleep in their little seats while I went up and put Gracie to bed.  I came downstairs to see Gabe holding Rowan in his arms, just staring down at him, and Rowan trying to focus his eyes on his big adoring brother.  When he saw that I was down the stairs, he casually told me "Rowan woke up."  He just sat there basking in his big kid status, holding that most cherished little brother.  He had big plans for the things he was going to teach his little brother.  When I think of my Gabe that is the boy I think of.
    In the end it will be a good Christmas, it always is.  We remember all of our children, and love them all and try to do right by all five of them.  Love does not end in death, it continues just as strong as in life.  We love the kids, all five the same but differently, that does not change.  Our Christmas Eve is not all sadness and despair, it is love.  I get great joy in watching my babies see the magic.  How can you dwell in what could and should have been, live in grief when all around you is joy and laugher?  How could I not see Grace, Riley, Rowan and Elly vibrating with excitement and not have that rub off?  See what I mean by "split personality"?  We have joy and sadness all rolled into one, and will have until the day I die, that is our Christmas Eve.
   To you I say, thank you for reading my blog.  I love to write it, and it gives me great pleasure to know that you read it, and some of you pass it along to your friends.  To you I say Merry Christmas.  My Christmas wish for you is that you see the blessings in your life and focus on them instead of what you don't have.  Find your joy and live in it.

 Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas Magic - Our Sleigh Ride

   Christmas magic.  That may be the best way to describe our beautiful afternoon at Odd Corners Farms.  The snow was lightly falling, the air had a slight bite to it, a slight bite, but not bitter cold.  We snuggled under blankets and enjoyed the soothing sway of the sleigh, mixed with the excitement of the hills.  The world was a blanket of white, and the only sound was the baying of hounds in the distance and the beautiful jingling of the sleigh bells.  Christmas magic.

    Odd Corners Farm is owned by Lion and Raquilda Van Zoeren.  I say "owned" but really it feels like they are stewards of that land.  As we rode through their beautiful piece of paradise, Lion told us about the land, what it had been, the shape that they found it in, and what it was now.  You could hear the love in his voice and see it in his eyes as he spoke about their land.  His beautiful big horses obeyed his every command all the while he spoke.  It was almost as if they knew what he wanted them to do without ever being told.  It was a thing of beauty to see him handle those gentle giants.  He spoke to them with a firm loving voice, I was in awe.

    The land was beautiful, layered with a white blanket.  We rode through big open fields and then through a stunning path with trees guarding it on either side.  At one point we rode through the forrest, flanked on either side by rock giants.  It was almost like a mythical land.  At one point Lion stopped the team to show us his rock labyrinth.  We climbed out of the sleigh to explore the amazing rocks.  I half expected to see mythical creatures peeking out from the rocks and graceful fairies hiding in the trees.  There really are not words to adequately express the beauty of their property.

    The whole ride the three dogs ran along behind the sleigh.  Two of the dogs were pugs and one was a big white fluffy dog.  We loved to watch them chase along.  Elly was in love.  She was more in love with the dogs than she was with the sleigh ride itself.  She would squeal with delight as she saw the little pugs running along beside us, she even went so far as to rename the pugs "Puggy and Loyd"( I sure hope that Lion and Raquilda will remember to call their pets by their new names).  At one point Lion stopped the sleigh to allow the fat little male pug jump into the sleigh.  This just threw Elly over the edge, she could barely contain her joy. Her little face just beamed as she would report where "Puggy" was.  All of the kids loved to watch him run back and forth under the trailing blankets.

    I was sad to see their beautiful house, because it meant the end of our ride.  As we approached the house we could see the flicker of a bright orange fire just by the house.  Reluctantly we climbed out of the sleigh and made our way over to the fire.  The fire warmed our bones.  It was so nice to have the bite of the cold and the soothing warmth of the fire.  Soon after Raquilda came out of the house with a tray full of hot chocolate, gorgeous homemade chocolate chip cookies, hot dogs and marshmallows.  She invited us to dig in.  The hot chocolate was smooth and warm, it sank right into my bones, warming me up on the inside, while the fire warmed the outside.  In other words it was bliss!

    At one point we were standing around the fire, thoroughly enjoying ourselves, when we heard the flapping of wings.  Suddenly this lovely white pigeon landed on my Mom's shoulder.  It just sat there passively enjoying the comfort of the fire.  Raquilda told us that an animal had gotten in and killed the pigeons parents and that she had felt such sympathy for the poor little thing that she raised it.  It was now the family pet.  Shortly after that the pigeon flew off of Mom's shoulder to find a new roost upon Grace's hat.

    As I said in a past blog about our sleigh rides, Raquilda's son Wesley is in Grace's class.  Wesley is one of the cutest most friendly kids and I was looking forward to meeting his parents.  I can now tell you that Lion and Raquilda are two of the loveliest, friendliest people that I have had the pleasure of meeting.  They love their land, and the life that they have created for themselves, it shows.  They are just lovely people.  It was such a lovely afternoon that will become an annual family tradition.

    A sleigh ride does not just have to be confined to Christmas.  The kids will have two weeks of holidays for Christmas break, and will become bored about a minute after they have opened their gifts.  Instead of taking them to the movies, why not bundle them up and take them over to Odd Corners Farm for a sleigh ride?  Movies are great, but so passive.  In the sleigh I was surrounded by the amazing beauty in which I am blessed to live.  I was with my family, we were enjoying each other and the ride.  We were making life long memories.  You may remember the movie that you have seen, but did it create a life long memory?  Lion and Raquilda can fit 10 - 12 people in the sleigh, and the cost is a small $85.00 (less than it would cost by far to take 10 - 12 people to the movies).  If you would like to experience some winter magic call Lion and Raquilda to book your sleigh ride 613-478-2604, trust me on this one, your kids and you will thank me for suggesting it!

Thank you Lion and Raquilda for sharing your little piece of paradise with us.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Our Gingerbread Houses (and no self inflicted third degree burns this year).

    Tonight I laughed until I literally peed.  I also laughed so hard that I shot Coke through my nose, a feat that is a real skill for me.  In other words we had a really fun night.  I was not the only one in hysterics, everyone was in hysterics, and ate their weight in candy.  Tonight we did our annual gingerbread houses (with a twist, because they were graham cracker houses).  The gingerbread house tradition began when Gabe was just a baby (and I pretty much was too).  Back then I decided that I would be super Mom and would bake my own gingerbread house and assemble it.  It seemed pretty easy in the magazine (famous last words).  I said a lot of words that night that would make sailors blush.  Turns our the royal icing is not super glue, but only gives you a false sense of confidence.  Oh that royal icing holds your pieces in place, until that is, you go to add the next piece... then it loosens its grip and brings the whole thing down like a house of cards.  In retrospect it was for the best that Gabe was just a baby during that first attempted gingerbread house, he may have learned some words that I may not have wanted him to learn.

    The years following that first infamous year had gingerbread houses bought in the form of a kit, and hot glued together.  I had to stop hot gluing them after Gabe was no longer satisfied with just pulling off the candies, he wanted to eat the gingerbread.  The gingerbread house tradition is a good tradition, it's a fun tradition.  A few years ago I discovered edible hot glue, i.e. liquefied sugar. I obtained third degree burns on the tips of my finger tips, but on a positive note, I can now commit lots of crimes and they can't pin it on me.
    This year I decided to make everyone their own house to decorate.  We did this a few years ago and the kids loved it.  I invited my parents over and made my Mom help me construct the graham cracker houses.  Let me just say that neither the Ace of Cakes, nor the Cake Boss will be beating down my door any time soon begging me to make graham cracker houses for their shows.  The kids didn't care that the houses were a bit wonky, they just cared that they got to decorate them, and eat candy until they felt sick (I'm pretty sure that's what my Dad also wanted).

    I began the edible hot glue, by pouring about a cup of white sugar into my dutch oven.  I melted it on medium low heat.  I kept a constant watch, constantly stirring.  Word of warning, you really have to watch the sugar and work quickly because the sugar burns quickly.

    When all of the sugar had melted I began to dip the corners of the graham crackers in, and then quickly put them together.  Mom and I had an assembly line that worked pretty good.  Shockingly I did not burn myself even once (I know I am as surprised by this as you are).

    I poured candy into bowls and put them in the center of the table.  I would recommend using royal icing for the houses, but I am too lazy and mixed icing sugar with water.  It was pretty running.  I poured the icing  into little ziplock bags and cut off the corner of the bag.  I warned the kids that was the only icing sugar that they would receive so use it sparingly.

    I said use the icing sugar sparingly, but as you can see by the pictures below, they were not good listeners.  I kind of giggled a little when I looked over and saw Riley and Elly sucking the icing right out of their icing bags.  They loved it and had icing in places I did not know that you could get icing into.

    I usually really get caught up in making my gingerbread house beautiful, but not this time.  This time I just kind of threw my decorations on (mainly because I found the running icing frustrating).  I sat back and watched everyone else.  Christopher is not normally all that artistic, but he painstakingly used Rockets to cover the roof of his house.  He then used my mortar and pestle and ground up candy cane.  I have to admit, it looked pretty cool when he poured the ground candy cane onto the wall of his house, like a Christmasy stucco.

    Riley thought that Christopher's idea was so neat that she decided to copy it.  She became tired and bored with the grinding and so she passed it along and made Popa do it.  My Dad got a little carried away and powdered the candy cane into sugar.  When we asked him about it, he just shrugged, hilarious.

     We had a few hours of hilarity and it cost very little for that much entertainment.  It was fun watching everyone interact, and trying to inconspicuously eat the candy instead of putting it on their houses.  It really was fun to watch how artistic everyone became, each person had a different take on their house.  

    I have the houses safely stored up on top of my kitchen shelves.  They are safe to be looked at, but not picked at, and certainly not eaten by a certain little trouble maker dog named Fergus.  

    The last part of this tradition is perhaps a little over the top.  Christmas Eve Christopher brings up his hammer, the kids put on safety goggles.  They then proceed to take turns demolishing the gingerbread house.  They take great delight in smashing it, and then walking around eating large chunks of candy laden gingerbread.  It's a pretty good tradition.  It's uniquely ours, and I wouldn't change it for all of the money in the world.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Remembering Christmas Past (looking at my family's Christmas traditions)

      Yesterday afternoon I was traveling store to store with my list.  It was all of the things that I needed to pick up to finish my Christmas preparations.  I was in the grocery store running down my list when it  struck me how many Christmas items on my list were from my family of origin.  I looked at that list, nuts, apple cider, egg nog, box of chocolates, chips, dip......  it was that poke in the shoulder reminding me of the legacy that my parents have given to me.  I lovingly collected my ingredients, little nostalgic smile upon my face.
  Growing up we did not have a lot of money.  My dad worked hard from morning until literally night.  We did not have a lot of money, but we always had what we needed.  Mom was a stay at home mom, and Dad picked up as many over time shifts as he could, and so because of that we did not get to see as much of him.  We looked forward to Christmas, not just for the gifts, but because we knew we were guaranteed two whole weeks with our Dad.  Dad's factory shut down for Christmas, and so we had him.  Dad would go out and play in the snow with us, and Mom would have hot chocolate waiting for us when we got in (I guess that's where I get it from).
    At Christmas our whole house would always smell amazing, because Mom would be busy baking her brains out.  Her specialty was / is Scottish Shortbread.  My sister and I would try to steal the bits that were cut wonky, or did not quite turn out.  Baking meant / means love, and it means that Christmas will be a good one.  We always had a box of clementines, in that little wooden crate.  Mandy and I would fight to see who would get to keep the crate when the clementines were finished.  Those little wooden crates became doll beds, barns, houses.  We would toss the clementine rinds into the wood stove, enjoying that warm citrusy smell.
    The best part about Christmas was the nuts.  Nuts were an extravagance.  My poor Dad would sit cracking walnuts, and the rest.  He had a very organized pattern, that I took full advantage of.  He would sit for what must have been fifteen minutes, shelling the nuts, creating this beautiful pile.  I would wait until I saw that look in his eye, that look that was a mixture of triumph and boredom.  That look was my signal to swoop in, that look said he was just about to enjoy eating all of that hard work.  I would sit like a little hawk, waiting for that look.  I would then swoop in and grab that beautiful pile, squealing "Thank you for shelling all of these nuts for me Daddy."  I would then run like a large squirrel with my stash and savour those stolen treats of the season.  Dad's hard work, tasted delicious.  Somehow the fact that they had been pilfered, made them taste all the better.  Stolen nuts mean Christmas to me.
   So many of my family's Christmas traditions come from my family of origin.  They are so ingrained, that I never think about where they come from, it's just "part of the season".  Over the years Christopher and I have added to those traditions, adding to the old, creating the new for our family.  There is a comfort in the old.  I wonder how many of those traditions are not just Mom and Dad's but also Nana and Papa's?  I guess that we all do that.  We take what we love from our family and use it to build new traditions with our new families.