Movie Night

Hibernation.  When the winter days are long and summer still seems a figment of the imagination.  When the craziness of December has ended and Christmas baubles have been packed away for another eleven months of storage.  When the energy required for constant eating, drinking and socializing has finally dissipated and all you are left with are bags under the eyes and a few extra pounds around the middle.  Well then.  It must be January.

Recently, Apple paired up with the London School of Economics to determine when people are happiest.  The study involved an iPhone app and 45 000 people.  They discovered that we are happiest just before 2pm on December 25th.  And our lowest point?  Around 8pm on January 31st.  About the moment when we realize that those New Years resolutions we depended on to make this year bigger, brighter and better than the last are absolutely, positively, never going to happen and we resign ourselves to another year that looks awfully similar to the one that just ended.

So, how to go from blah to rah?  The solution, apparently, is fairly simple: people are happiest during sex, while exercising, and while at the theatre.  So go on, relive your teenage years with a good, old fashioned make-out session in the back of a movie theatre and get back to happy.  I’m booking my tickets now.


Snowflakes and Soulmates

This weekend I was reminded of the joy and positive energy that two people can create when they are truly in love.  An old high school friend of my husband’s married his soul mate this weekend, and we could not be happier for them.  The wedding was beautiful:  snowflakes sparkled in the candlelight, family and friends exchanged stories about the bride and groom over dinner, and shoes were abandoned under tables as music filled the room.  Laughter (and barking) echoed throughout the hall as the hosts for the evening regaled us with their impersonations of the groom, tears glistened as family and friends remembered the bride’s father, and hoots and hollers followed every kiss.  But what I remember most was the strong feeling of love that was present in the hall that night.

There is something about two people who have found each other and are so obviously in love that you can’t help but smile and share in their joy.  And when those two people are so appreciative of the love and support they receive from family and friends, and so generous with their own love and support, a kind of community is created.  Many of the guests that night had never met one another before, and yet we were all connected in the love and goodwill we wished for the bride and groom.  The connection was so powerful that perfect strangers felt completely at ease conversing, dancing, and laughing together, content to share the joy created by two people in love.

I have been to other weddings.  Some are as magical as this one but many, though equally beautiful to look at, lack that feeling of being a part of something special.  Maybe it was the way the couple looked into each other’s eyes and seemed to forget the world around them.  Maybe it was the effort they put into the wedding itself, from the handmade invitations to the wedding favours.  Or maybe it was the simple fact that they were so honestly and openly grateful for the family and friends that were there to share in their day and celebrate the start of their new life together.

Whatever the reason for the magic we felt that night, I count myself lucky to have been a part of it.


They drive you crazy.  They steal your clothes and your shoes and are able to find your diary no matter how brilliant you think your hiding spot is.  They know your strengths, they know your weaknesses, and they know how to use that information to bring you to your knees.  They know exactly what buttons to push and they love to push these buttons, over and over and over again, until you snap and lash out at them and then you’re the one grounded until next year.

I should know.  I have two of them.

Growing up I always heard stories about how close friends were with their sisters.  How they stayed up all night gossiping, sharing their dreams, talking about boys they liked.  I, on the other hand, tried very hard not to tell my sister anything.  She was the biggest tattle tale  ever.  I always thought she should have been more grateful to me.  After all, I did a pretty good job of breaking my parents in.  Dealing with me every day made anything my sisters did seem angelic in comparison.  For some reason that I can’t quite fathom, she never seemed to appreciate that.  (She would tell you she was too busy picking up my slack in the chore department.)

My youngest sister, almost six years my junior, was too young to share that kind of information with.  While I was juggling high school, two jobs, friends, and boyfriends, she was layering mismatched flower patterned clothing while jumping on the trampoline and watching Alice in Wonderland over and over and over again (until I accidentally on purpose taped over it with my mom’s soaps.  Oops.)  I often thought it was a shame that I was in university by the time she got to high school though.  She kept getting into trouble, and I think that I could have helped her out had I been living at home.  I knew how not to get caught.

Despite our growing pains, my sisters and I have managed to form a pretty strong bond.  We might still bicker, ‘borrow’ each other’s clothes and shoes, and take pleasure in pushing a button or two, but deep down we know we will always be there for each other.  And we know how special that is.

As I watch my youngest daughter smile as she pulls a clump of hair out of her big sister’s head just to hear her scream, I know with certainty that they, too, will learn the true meaning of that special bond called sisterhood.

A-ha! O-ho! A tale and a show!

Even when little Miss A was just a tiny tot, she already had a strong personality.  She insisted on doing everything herself and could be as stubborn as both her father and I combined (which is saying a lot).  We should have expected it; after all, what little hair she was born with was red.

So, when browsing in a bookstore one day I came across the story of The Gruffalo’s Child by Julia Donaldson (illustrated by Axel Scheffler), I knew I had to get it for her.  I remember bringing it home and excitedly showing the book to my husband, who wasn’t nearly as thrilled as I was.  Apparently he thought the gruffalo’s child would be a boy.  He read it to her that night anyway, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the story was about an adventurous female gruffalo child, with a personality similar to that of our own little Miss A.  They both fell in love with the story.  Every child will enjoy accompanying the gruffalo’s child on her adventure through the deep dark woods, but the story also manages to appeal to parents.  Each animal that the gruffalo’s child meets on her quest to find the big bad mouse is introduced in a way that will keep children’s attention throughout the story, while the rhyme and repetition are perfect for little ones who love to chime in.  Parents will enjoy the twist the story takes at the end, courtesy of the ever resourceful big bad mouse.

The Gruffalo’s Child became a regular bedtime story favourite, to the point where Miss A could ‘read’ it herself.  So you can imagine her excitement when we found The Gruffalo (also by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler) at our local public library.  The story of the gruffalo child’s father made The Gruffalo’s Child even more endearing.  And then, last night, my husband discovered that the BBC aired animated versions of both The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child, whose star-studded cast includes Helena Bonham Carter as the narrator and Shirley Henderson (you may know her as Moaning Myrtle) as the voice of the gruffalo’s child.  The Gruffalo was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Film (animated) in 2011, and a BAFTA in 2010.  Yes, it’s that good.  You can see a sneak peek here.

I can’t wait to watch it with Miss A.

P.S.  In case that wasn’t enough Gruffalo for you, you can visit the official website here.

The New Year’s Eve Letdown

New Year's in Knepp Castle - one of the few New Year's adventures I actually enjoyed

New Year’s has never been my favourite holiday.  It gets hyped up so much that you can’t help but feel disappointed when the countdown begins and your Prince Charming still hasn’t made an appearance (or, worse, has found a princess other than you).  I long ago gave up expecting much out of New Year’s Eve, but my ‘prince’ and I thought we lucked out this year with one set of grandparents offering to take the girls for a sleepover with their cousins.  Almost immediately we booked a table at our delicious local Thai restaurant, Bulai Thai.  Not only does it serve authentic, mouth-watering Thai food, but the first time we ever ate there the owner, who obviously adores children, ended up dancing around the restaurant with our little munchkin, pointing out pictures and statues, plants and ceiling fans while we ate our dinner in peace.  If it was a ploy to gain our loyalty, it totally worked.  Excitedly, we dropped the kids off, dressed up, ate, came home, got changed into more comfortable clothes, and plonked ourselves down on the couch loaded with tea, coffee, dessert, and a movie.  It might sound boring to some, but we were thrilled at the thought of being able to watch an entire movie without once having to get up to put a wandering child back to bed.

Now, we don’t have cable, so we don’t really see a lot of previews for movies.  We ended up watching The First Grader, which is based on a true story about an 84 year old Kenyan who goes to primary school to learn how to read.  Sounds innocent enough.  But fast forward about half an hour and the poor man has a flash back to when he was forced to watch his wife and two small children die at the hands of the British.  They wrenched the baby out of its mother’s arms and shot her in the head, and you can hear the baby screaming while the mother is shot, then its older sibling, and then the screams stop suddenly after the third bullet.  I don’t know what happened next because I made my husband turn it off.  I couldn’t watch any more, especially without my own babies at hand for a reassuring cuddle.  I had a good cry, wondering at the cruelty of the human race and wishing it wasn’t too late to call my little ones just to hear their voices.

After I calmed down we managed to watch a few of our favourite shows, including the light-hearted sitcom Up All Night which is always good for a few laughs.  When it ended we realized it was already past midnight, so we wished each other a Happy New Year, a little surprised that we’d actually been able to stay awake that late.  I could end this post talking about how lucky we are that we live in a place where we don’t have to worry about soldiers coming and burning down our hut and shooting our family, which is true.  But mostly I’m just amazed that, after all these years, New Year’s still has a way of ruining even the lowest of expectations.

Happy New Year; may it only improve from here.

Feel free to leave a comment describing your own New Year’s Eve letdown, or post it on your blog and leave a link so others can check it out 🙂

Oranges and Escalades

Our four day family Christmas extravaganza has come to an end.  I thought our girls were incredibly spoiled, until I heard that Santa brought our niece an Escalade.  She’s 4.

I understand the desire to give your children something special at Christmas.  While shopping, you can’t help but imagine their faces on Christmas morning when they open the new bicycle/Nintendo DS/Power Wheels Escalade that they saw during every other commercial break.  When you have children, you want them to have everything you can provide.  You never want them to feel like they are missing out when they see the gifts their friends got, or feel disappointed that they didn’t get everything on their list.  Especially if, like me, you come from a financially disabled family.  You want your kids to have everything that you did not.

But when I look back on the Christmases of my youth, I don’t remember disappointment or jealousy, although I’m sure there were friends’ gifts that I envied.  What I do remember are the moments and inside jokes we shared together as a family: my diabetic grandfather carrying the Christmas pudding; the year ‘Santa’ wrapped the gifts inside the stockings and I opened my sister’s stocking by mistake then tried (unsuccessfully) to cover it up (in my defense, both our names start with the same letter and it was dark); the year my chocolate-loving sister opened what she thought were Quality Street chocolates only to discover a mug covered with a picture of our parents making faces at her; my sisters and I opening matching pyjamas every Christmas eve; giggling with my sisters until the wee hours of the morning, the three of us crammed into one bed wearing our identical pyjamas; making pierogi and cabbage rolls with our grandmother, Baba.

This year, I took Miss A with me to make pierogi at my parents’ house.  Although my baba is no longer with us physically, I could feel her spirit in every circle of dough I stuffed, her gentle voice reminding me to pinch the sides together tightly so that the potatoes and cheese would stay inside.  And when I noticed that, like my baba before her, my mom could tell just by feeling the dough whether or not it was the right consistency, I knew my daughters would feel the same sense of family history that I felt sitting with my baba at the kitchen table.  We chatted as we rolled and stuffed, gossiping about family members and laughing at old memories.  Miss A knelt on a chair next to me with her own little rolling pin and piece of dough, focused intently on rolling it thin enough that her baba would let her contribute a few circles of dough to be stuffed.  I hope that, like me, she treasures these memories we are creating together because, although we can afford the more expensive gifts my parents could not, I believe that these are the greatest Christmas gifts I can give her.

That’s not to say that Miss A and Miss K weren’t spoiled.  Over our four days of family Christmases they got more than their fair share, and our house is now filled to overflowing with toys and games that we can’t seem to find enough space for, no matter how many times we rearrange the shelves.  But I had to smile on Christmas morning when, surrounded by the spoils of Christmas, my mother asked Miss A what Santa had brought.  Her excited response?  An orange.

I don’t care if you are Santa…

When I was about 3 years old, we were staying at my grandparents’ apartment for Christmas.  I was just at that age where I understood who Santa was and that he was going to bring presents.  Well, I didn’t want to miss that.  So I decided that I was going to stay awake all night so that I could catch Santa in action.

Obviously, my parents and grandparents had other ideas.  Not only were they looking forward to some adult time while us kiddies were tucked up snug in our beds; they still had presents to wrap and adult beverages to drink, along with other preparations for Christmas Day that were best done out of sight of little prying eyes.  I was eventually persuaded to go upstairs thanks to a convincing argument that Santa wouldn’t come unless I was in bed.  So up I went, along with my sister who had just turned two.  I climbed into bed and lay perfectly still, my eyes wide open, waiting for a sign, any sign, that Santa had arrived.

And then I heard it.  A thump that surely meant the arrival of Santa down the chimney (it didn’t matter that my grandparents’ apartment did not have a chimney, or even a gas fireplace).  I jumped out of bed, shook my sister awake, and ran downstairs to see Santa – only to be greeted by surprised yelps from the adults and frantic movements as they tried to cover up the presents.  Disappointed but not dissuaded, I trudged back upstairs with my sister, ready and waiting for Santa.

I listed carefully, waiting, and suddenly I heard my Grandpa shout: ‘I don’t care if you are Santa, get those reindeer off my roof!’  I threw off the covers and raced downstairs with my bleary-eyed sister in tow, ready to greet the man in red.  This time it was Grandpa who received the bulk of the disapproving glares from the grown-ups.  Back up we went again, still determined to catch a glimpse of a white beard or a sack of toys.

This continued until close to 2am when, after dragging my poor sleep deprived sister down the stairs for the umpteenth time, I got into enough trouble that I stayed in bed for longer than five minutes.  But I didn’t sleep.  I lay awake in my bed, listening to the chatter of grown up voices, the clinking of glasses, the rustling of paper.  For a few minutes, all was quiet.  And then I heard it: the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof.  I heard the soft thump, thump of boots on carpet, and the glug, glug of chugged milk.  Excited but too intimidated to get out of bed again, I stayed perfectly still, smiling with the anticipation of Christmas morning – and sighing with relief that, despite the antics of the past few hours, I was still on the ‘nice’ list.

Miss A is three this year, and has noticed the presents under the tree with her name on them.  And, although I really hope she isn’t as determined as I was to see Santa, I am enjoying rediscovering that childhood Christmas excitement.  The kind that overwhelms you and takes over your entire being.  I can’t wait to see what new Christmas memories we create together.