Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Traditions ... New and Old

This Christmas, now that Matthew understands a bit about the concept of Christmas, we have been thinking a lot about traditions. What is important to me, what is important to Mike and what we want to share with Matthew.
This is our fifth Christmas as a married couple. So, I'm not sure if that would be long enough to have that many traditions. We both come from traditions. Our combined traditions run the gammut from watching White Christmas (put on the music to "Sisters" and my sister and I will perform the routine flawlessly) to sipping rum flavoured egg nog (this is Mike's family's tradition).
But what do we have?
Well, we have our annual Christmas Eve McDonald's breakfast which Matt was thrilled to partake in this year. We have our annual trip to Starbucks arriving just after Strabucks closes. And we have established quite nicely that Christmas Day we spend at Mike's Family's home while Boxing Day is spent at my family's. These are things we do. And we love.
But there's one other thing that seems to happen to us.
Our annual Christmas Calamity.
One year I had the flu. I know we've all had it - but I am the Christmas person of the family. On Christmas Eve (with an 8 month old baby and very needy dog) I spent the morning puking and then while shopping for Mike's stocking threw up all over Shopper's Drug Mart (Thank God Mike was there, it was a store used to ill people, etc. etc. Mike ended up buying and wrapping his own stocking stuffers and still claims it was his best stocking ever!!)
Another year I had a serious feminine issue which I refuse to blog about.
Another year I was pregnant and just a little out of control due to the fact that nothing fit.
This year's Christmas calamity? We have lost power to half of our house. No. Not kidding. There are no lights in the bathrooms, hallway or dining room. Our kitchen appliances work, but we are forced to cook in the dark. We know a fuse has been blown, but ever time we replace the fuses they just blow again (yes, everything is turned off). My dad came over to help but couldn't fix it. Mike's dad has no idea. We're clueless. We're also not calling an emergency electrician ause it's just too pricey.
So, we are sitting in the candlelight and hoping that this is the only calamity that will befall us. It could be much worse. Our whole house could be out of power. We could have lights but no appliances. My very thoughtful relatives could have decided not to give us a gigantic apple 3-wick candle as a house warming gift.
Life is good. It's Christmas. But, if anyone knows a cheap electrician in Burlington, please let me know!!!

Friday, December 22, 2006

'Tis the Season

Today is my last day of work before Christmas.
And it's a half day so life really is quite good today. Last night we did our final shopping (cookies for Matt's daycare teachers and new shoes for him since his favourite ones are literally falling apart). Tonight I will finish up some of the wrapping I have to do - and the one craft project my sister and I doing. And, then it will be time to celebrate.
What I'm loving right now, though, is Matt's appreciation for the season. He's into it. And he's getting us into it. Like last night, we were walking through the parking lot at Walmart and he kept alternating between singing Rudolph and Jingle Bells. And then he started to sing the tune of Jingle Bells, but with different words. All at the top of his lungs. And despite the fact that everyone around us was stressed by the last minute shopping, tons of people turned to smile at us. It was pretty cute.
And, once we were done at Walmart we went on a light tour. This is one of my favourite Christmas events. There's a house in Burlington that is completely adorned with lights. It's pretty amazing. It has visiting hours and everything. So we took Matt to see that house. And then we drove around looking at other light displays. I sware, people in the suburbs go crazy with Christmas lights. We noticed that on some streets there is very clearly competition. It's rather bizarre. But, fun for us to look at.
So then we went home to our single pathetic light strand. It was kind of funny. First of all, Mike has made a point that he thinks all white lights should be banned in favour of colour lights. He thinks there should be a by-law. But, all we could unearth in our Christmas boxes was a single strand of white lights. So that is our decoration. But, to us it's Christmassy since we figure we're doing quite well by at least doing something having just moved.
But, the point is we went home. To this awesome house that we have been wanting for years - which nothing ever worked together for. So, we're kind of thrilled. And we arrived home to Christmas cards, and some stuff my sister left in our mailbox (since she's 5 minutes away and can do that!!!) and I realized just how lucky we are this year. Or perhaps the word is blessed.
But whatever it is. I'm grateful.
'Tis the season everyone. Let's celebrate.
And, soon to come (i.e. when I download the pictures) I will post the pictures of Matthew's Hanukkah celebration with the dreidel a friend of mine gave us. Soon. I promise!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Cookies

In honour of Jeff's Tuesday Newsday Jeff's site and he had some cool stuff to say." I too am posting a story. Not copying you or anything. (but check out the link - I finally figured that out!)
But ...
This weekend I baked about 10 dozen buttertart bars. TEN DOZEN! Actually, it's more like 12. I have not cut them all. This is all because on Thursday of this week I am taking part in a cookie exchange ... with my BFAW's.
And then later in the week (date not set) I'm exchanging cookies with my family. That way we will all have lots of fun and entertaining Christmas cookies.
But the stress, people. The stress!
It sounded so fun. Until Matt decided to help me. Ever tried to bake 144 bars with a two year old? The recipe (for all the batches) took 24 eggs. Matthew loves cracking eggs. Actually, he did quite well at cracking them. Better than I could have. But, the point is that it is no easy feat.
But I did it. And I was proud. I still need to cut them. But I was pretty darn proud.
And then yesterday I read this. (below). It's funny. I enjoyed it. I hope you do too.


Arts & Life
Recipe for disaster: What was once meant to be a time-saving tradition between friends has turned into snarky competition: The dark side of the cookie exchange
Anne Marie Owens
National Post
1173 words
18 December 2006
National Post
(c) 2006 National Post . All Rights Reserved.
It was the day before the annual cookie exchange party when Christine Metcalfe decided the cookies she'd made didn't exactly match the size or the pale pink patina of the ones in the Gourmet magazine recipe and she began to bake all over again.
"Everything looks so easy when you see it on the TV or when you see Martha, but then it comes out and it doesn't quite look the same," she said. "I’m not a baker, but you want them to be beautiful."
As a result of this imperfection, she brought to her friend's party an assortment of five dozen baked goods, each cellophane-wrapped seasonal plate containing a mixed dozen of the raspberry- chocolate sandwich cookies, Christmas-tree cutout cookies and a marshmallow-chocolate confection so perfectly formed it looked as if it had come from a high-end bakery.
This Sunday night cookie exchange in Burlington, Ont., is convened by a woman who calls herself a "cookie party bitch," because after years of bringing home dozens of shoddy baked goods and choking back cookies she knew she would never serve to guests, she now secretly invites a select few she is confident can bake up to the standard she requires for holiday entertaining.
Midway through the evening's small, hand-picked party, she brings out one of the cookies she received in the cookie exchange she attended with workmates a few days earlier and makes everybody take a nibble of a plain-looking, decidedly untasty confection.
This is the dark side of the cookie exchange: Gossip-fuelled tasting sessions; covert cookie exchanges; cookie party bitches.
Billed as an efficient way of meeting all holiday baking needs in one fell swoop by having people each bake several dozen of the same thing and then swapping with everyone attending the party, the cookie exchange has emerged as a holiday-season solution for the busy working woman trying to do it all.
But the cookie exchange is no panacea. Some have standards so high that participants stay up all night trying to find the perfect recipe and spend a fortune on what amounts to a high-stakes bake-off; at others, the playing field is so lopsided that ample-sized, home baked goods are swapped for burnt gingerbread or brownies the size of quarters; and in some, the unofficial competition to exceed extends beyond the quality of the baked goods to the way they are packaged, making the practical, plastic-wrapped dozen seem an inferior trade to a multi-ribboned offering.
"I remember walking into [my host's] beautifully decorated home and stopping dead in my tracks as I saw all the cellophaned, beribboned cookie plates," recalls one Mississauga, Ont., mother, who immediately burst into tears when she arrived at her first neighbourhood cookie exchange lugging a bag full of large Tupperware containers rather than individually wrapped gems such as those laid out in her neighbour's front room.
Until that moment, the 42-yearold was proud she'd been able to pull off such a domestic feat in between juggling the conflicting demands of her high-powered, full-time job and the hectic schedules of her two teenaged children -- even though it meant staying up for most of the night, finally packing the goodies into containers at 3 a.m. before the 9 a.m. exchange; even though it meant an earlier breakdown in her kitchen when the shortbread recipe -- "It was kitchen tested!" she insists -- produced much fewer than promised and ended up having to be cut into portions as small as quarters.
"I think I must have some internal need to prove that I am indeed a supermom. No matter how much I work, or how much money I make, I have to be a baker too," says the woman, who like the "cookie-party bitch," does not want her name used for fear it will forever cut her ties with her cookie-swapping set, no matter how fraught the annual obligation.
Rather than aid the busy, time-strapped mother, the cookie exchange actually explains everything about the conundrum of the modern mother who really does, despite the evidence, believe she can do it all -- working full time, whipping up unbelievably perfect confections and beaming broadly when greeting the season's guests with goodies that are home-baked, not bought.
Those caught up in such things blame Martha Stewart, Nigella Lawson and all the other domestic goddesses who have elevated the art of home entertaining to unbelievably high standards, but others say it is modern motherhood that is to blame.
Susan Douglas, who co-authored the book, The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women, has not had much experience with cookie exchanges, but says, "Whatever it is, it sure sounds like yet more work for mothers."
Her book, which blames the unrealistic celebrity version of domestic life for the modern climate of competitive mothering, describes it as "the Martha Stewartization of America, in which we are meant to sculpt the carrots we put into our kids' lunches into the shape of peonies." Her book is meant as a rallying cry for women to say, without feeling like bad mothers, "No, I'm not baking you 40 blueberry muffins at 10 o'clock at night so you can bring them in for snack tomorrow. We'll go to the store tomorrow to buy something."
In the case of the cookie exchange, food-related Web sites and magazines only perpetuate this image of domestic perfection and efficiency. On the Chefs Web site ( ), Penny McConnell describes the cookie exchange or cookie swap as "a holiday ritual that's easy to organize, fun to host and handles my entire cookie needs in two or three short hours." According to the Kraft Web site, "Everyone goes home with a great assortment of home-baked cookies for the holiday season! And all they had to do is bake one kind! … The idea of 'many hands make light work' surely applies when it comes to a cookie exchange!"
Even the blogosphere, where one might expect to find the candid tell-alls dished out by veterans of the cookie exchange, raises the domestic standards bar ever higher, showing pictures of beautiful baked goods, adorned with hand-crafted recipe cards and wrapped, by the dozen, to perfection.
"You can't help but set your sights high," says Metcalfe, who admits that each year she spends a fortune on the cookies she bakes and all the various baking equipment required for her once-a-year contribution to this domestic art.
"I think that now, you have to be the mother, the wife, the cookie-baking lady."

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Week Away - Hooray!

The Christmas Spirit is hitting me! I'm so excited.
We're a week away from the big day and I couldn't be more excited. This year is pretty cool for us since we finally have a child who is understanding Christmas. He's loving the excitement and the presents and the stories of Santa. He gets really excited when we go to the mailbox and there are cards - especially ones for him.
I'm not really sure he understands that he will be getting presents. He knows Santa is cool, but he doesn't quite get the concept.
For instance, the other day I asked him how Santa was getting to our house. He told me that Santa would be on a snowboard and all his presents would be on the TTC. (with the reindeers going to Eglinton Station).
He just seems pretty excited about the fun stuff going on. And I'm loving that.
Of course, we are in gift shopping panic. I made a list and a budget and diligently followed it until I started wrapping and decided that we had not bought enough. So, sadly, I'm off shopping again. I finally sorted out my sister's gift. I think I'm done Mike's gift. I'm not sure that I've done enough for my in-laws. And I think my mom needs some more stuff.
I have to say, my mom and my sister are the hardest to buy for. I always want to get nice stuff, but it's hard to get the perfect things.
The other thing I'm totally looking forward to is Thursday night. Every year since I can remember my dad and I have gone "Christmas Eve Shopping". It's a tradition I love. My dad has always been a last minute guy when it comes to Christmas. And he is utterly convinced, or at least was, that the best deals are the 'flashing blue light specials' on Christmas Eve. No kidding. Kmart used to do this and we'd get some good stuff.
Kmart is no more, and I'm not convinced that there are still deep discounts in the days leading up to Christmas, but the tradition continues. We've moved it up by a few days, but we still do it.
We've had some momentous Christmas Eve shops. Probably the funniest was when we wandered around Dixie Outlet Mall when I was visibly pregnant. My dad is a super shopper, and can seriously power shop. He must have bought me 5 bottles of juice to keep me going. It was pretty funny. In the end we cut the day short and went to Jack Astors. Still it was fun.
This year I'm actually pretty good for gifts, so we will be covering a couple of key areas - stocking stuffers for the kids and stuff for my mom.
I'm the unofficial fashion guru when it comes to my mom's Christmas gifts. My mom prefers that stuff he buys meets my approval. That way we avoid fashion disasters on Christmas morning like the charming Santa Sweaters, baggy track pants, etc.
We usually start the evening off with dinner out. We are currently debating between Kelsey's and Swiss Chalet. My suggestion of the Zellers Diner (for efficiency) was quickly declined by my dad.
This year's shop should be extra exciting due to a new Winners in the mall will be going to. I can't wait. The evening is guaranteed to be fun-filled, coffee-filled and present filled. My dad will invariably suggest gifts that I would never in a million years come up with. We'll laugh, get good deals and in the end enjoy the one father-daughter outing that we have never ever cancelled.
Anyone else in the spirit???

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Old Friends

I've lived in my old neighbourhood for 2 weeks now.
In that time I've bumped into several old friends. In particular friends I went to elementary school with.
Take this morning for example. Mike and I went out for breakfast. we had been to his Christmas party the night before, and my sister took Matthew overnight. So it was just the two of us. Anyway, there we were chatting over coffee when this guy came over.
He had actually been staring at me for a couple minutes, and it wasn't because I was looking particularly appealing or anything.
He just walked up to our table and said "excuse me, is your name Laural?"
So, of course I said yes. And he asked if I knew who he was. No, I didn't.
"I'm Billy."
Yep. Billy from sixth grade. Billy who annoyed the crap out of me, and made bizarre jokes, and thought farting in class was funny. Never, in a million years, would I have thought he would recognize me. Or, for that matter, if he did, did I think he would come say hi.
But he did, which was cool. And of course I introduced him to Mike. And showed him pictures of Matt, and then asked what he had been up to.
We chatted about our lives, who we still talk to, etc. etc. And we both agreed it was weird to see where everyone is at.
It's weird that at our late twenties some people are married with kids (like me), others are already divorcing, others are engaged, and still others feel marriage is a long way off. Hmmmm....
But, it's still weird to see so many familiar faces. We lived in Toronto for years, and I'd rarely see people over and over. But, here it has been like old home week.
I'm beginning to dress up to go to the grocery store. At the condo it was rare that I saw people I knew at the store (except my neighbours), but here it's everywhere.
Do I like it? Yep. I do