White Christmas

I hope you all had a blissful Christmas. I hope everyone had running water, electricity, good health, and family and friends either near or close, depending on what works best. I hope everyone ate, gave generously, and felt blessed.

I had all of that. But there is one itsy bitsy teeny tiny thing I still wish I had.

Some dream of a white Christmas. I’m dreaming of a friendly neighbor who clears snow, silently, in the middle of the night.

Because over four days, we shoveled *all* of this. Five feet of snow in four days.

from the house to the driveway

from the house to the driveway

from the street to the cars

from the street to the cars

All I want for Christmas, in addition to the glorious list of things above, is some BioFreeze for my back.

Wishing you and yours and all the people we don’t even know a beautiful, glorious, peaceful, safe, healthy Christmas!

Twas the Night Before Solstice

We generally celebrate the winter solstice in a few ways, but I’m looking for ideas to add to our list.

On the shortest day of the year, December 21, we try to focus our celebration on food and on light.

We try to wake before dawn and walk the neighborhood with flashlights to greet the faraway sun. We also do this after dinner so we can help the sun get stronger for the next day. Every bit of light helps the sun get the idea of coming closer, bigger, and warmer, right?

During the day of the solstice we make and hang pine cone feeders for the birds and squirrels (shortest day means less time for them to find food). We bring food and toys to the animals at the local shelter. And we bake throughout the day and eat our warm goodies outside. A short, cold day means we need as much vitamin D as the sun can dole out.

And because Spouse and I agree we want to spread the gifts as much as we can through December, we exchange a few gifts on Winter Solstice. The small stuff comes during Hanukkah, other small stuff in Christmas stockings. Our real gift, if there is one, comes on Solstice.

So that’s it. Walk with lights, give animals food, bake, and exchange gifts.

Feels a bit anemic, though for a day that needs some extra warmth. Do you have something special for solstice (or Christmas Eve, for we’ll willing steal from that similarly “on the verge of” December holiday)? Anything you think we should add to our Solstice traditions?

Holiday gifts

Hey, there.

I haven’t posted in forever because I’m crazy busy.

But I have something for you. A gift, perhaps.

Go to HealthyStuff.org and check out the toys you’re going to give the small people in your family. Or use it to check the stuff you’d really rather donate to charity, under the guise of making room for new toys by getting rid of the old.

Our government and our corporations do a really horrible job of making sure we can buy things that won’t hurt us. At least one major company has resolved not to use carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting chemicals in products for children. Good for them. But there is arsenic and lead and PBDEs and PVC in a lot of the stuff you or your loved ones can buy, gift, use, and enjoy this time of year.
Toxic phones, toxic car seats, toxic household products, toxic sunscreen, and toxic makeup and shampoo.

Some of the data is old, and a lot of new toys aren’t on the Healthystuff.org reports. But still. Do what you can. Nobody wants to give their niece a toxic piece of chemical waste for Winter Solstice. Right?

Find some healthier alternatives at Safe Mama. Her cheat sheets will help you find safer toys, lunch gear, backpacks, bug repellent, and more.

Be safe out there. It’s a gross mess of lead-tainted wrapping paper and tape and poison-PVC tinsel and lead-filled holiday lights out there.

It’s still an awful lot of fun though. Happy holidays, and enjoy all the fair trade gelt and organic candy canes, and whole-wheat winter solstice gingerbread you can eat!

In case you need this

Many fine bloggers handle In Case You Missed It posts, wherein they point us to lovely writing, hilarious rants, and cultural memes. They keep us abreast of the words and images that we might enjoy.

In that spirit, for this season of catalogs full of stuff nobody needs, pleas to spend money few of us have, and pressure to cement relationships that none of us really want, I offer the following.

DJ Cat Scratching Pad at Uncommon Goods

The cat scratcher guaranteed to get your cat a job. Tired of your pet lounging about, leaving hair everywhere, and whining about it being “dinnertime” and “cuddle time”? Get your cat this scratching turntable. And get him out of the house for a new career in the club scene the kids are all talking about. In the ’80s.

Potager Coffee Table at VivaTerra

The toddler entertainment center. Wondering how to occupy your toddler while family gathers to drink heavily and scream at each other? Get this gorgeous coffee table complete with sharp corners, potted plants, and unattended wine glasses. Your wee one can learn valuable lessons about the physical world by scattering dirt all over the living room, sipping adult beverages, shattering glass, and uprooting cacti. The highly sought-after blood-snot-tears sprinkler effect resulting from her profusely bleeding head-wound, thorn-implanted fingers, and wrought-iron-pinched fingers might even stop the family bickering for a while. I hear the well-lit and bustling E.R. is a great place to spend the Winter Solstice.

Out of the Woods Tool Kit from Sundance Catalog

A gorgeous reinterpretations of an old classic. Why get simple, functional tools for someone who needs a screwdriver, ruler, level and flashlight, when you can get simple, functional, expensive tools? Levels are wonderful for fun and sport, especially when one of the three axes is replaced with a logo. Flashlights help in so, so many darknesses, and wax even brighter when set in sustainably grown beech wood. Multi-tipped screwdrivers are endlessly useful, but even more so when included in a canvas carrying case. Four tools *plus* a carrying case for $95? Oh, the value.

Okay. That’s all I care to share. The secret to shopping this holiday season is finding gifts that show people you care, that you think of them, and that you want to leave a glow of joy in their lives. To that end, my kids and I will spend hours deciding who on our list will get what from this catalog.

Oxfam Unwrapped Catalog

It might not be a job for our cat, a party in the ER, or a wildly useful reinvented bag of simplicity, but giving a family whose needs outstrip those without sustainable beech artisan tools something useful like a goat, a flock of geese, a piglet, or a hive of bees can feel pretty good. As a survivor of a couple of natural disasters, I might choose to send emergency supplies to those in need as a gift to my family and friends.

And for the cost of a cat scratcher, a potager table, and an imported tool set we can give families in need a pig, a cow, honeybees, a dozen chicks, a couple of goats, a donkey cart, and a bicycle. For a few people on our list, we’ll send a a pile of crap in their name.

Or a for the same cost we can buy a six backpacks full of food for six hungry American children. For a YEAR.

Or more than 200 pairs of socks dropped off at our local homeless shelter.

Or more than 75 bags to hand out to homeless people in our area, each with peanut butter, bread, plastic utensils, and a bottle of honey. Everyone deserves a peanut butter and honey sandwich in the cold, dark days of December.*

*Except the peanut-butter allergic among us. Dudes. I’m so sorry. Peanut butter is cheap and full of protein, but you deserve to be safe. You’re welcome to a bag with sunflower seed butter instead. Be careful out there in this season of peanut butter donations, friends. I’ll have a couple of bags without any nut products just for you. XOXO.

Boxing Day

This year, Boxing Day might be my favorite holiday. (It always creeped me out before, hearing the inaccurate history of the day as based in a tradition of boxing children’s ears so they’d remember the day. Terrible. And, as I said, inaccurate. Sticks with you, though.)

Christmas was delightful. Morning at home in a slow frenzy of buckwheat pancakes, unwrapping, and play. Afternoon with family. And evening with more family, pausing, as we chased after a Tasmanian Devil toddler, to chat with dear people we haven’t seen in longer than we’d like. Kids were wiped and went to sleep easily.

Today, though, was heaven. The kids had enough newness in the living room that they played without tormenting each other. The bigger one was so involved in projects that he didn’t scream when the little one drew near. The little one had so many things to investigate that he didn’t tail the bigger one. And they both left me alone to do my thing: cooking and Internonsense. When they wanted me, it was for play. And it was every 10 minutes instead of every single minute of thirteen straight hours.

I didn’t even care that the toddler didn’t nap.

The day went by at regular pace, a shocking rarity in life with two small, energetic, opinionated, frenetic little destructive forces.

Regular pace. Like, recognizable as an actual day. Not sped up in hyperdrive, nor tortuously slow. No freakish stops and starts, the likes of which dominate my at-the-whims-of-everyone-else life.

I barely knew what to do with myself.

Mmmmmmm. Regular speed. It’s been years, but you feel like home.

Making people into Santas

I wrote two years ago about how Christmas is different in our house. We celebrate every December holiday we can think of: Hanukkah, Solstice, Nana’s birthday, Christmas…

And we try to temper the gift receiving with a lot of giving. When Peanut was almost two he focused on giving to animals at the shelter. When he was almost three he chose to give to the hungry and to animals at the shelter. At almost four we brought toiletries to the homeless, toys to shelter animals, and human toys for toy drives.

And this year he spent almost an hour with me at the Heifer International site, making people we love into Santas.

See, we’ve taught him that the myth of Santa is a story about a man who, a long time ago, gave a lot to people who need. (Yup, we’re the jerks whose kid told your kid that Santa is dead. Cuz he is, yo. His story of selflessness and charity is what’s important and if you’re still pretending that’s your business but I ain’t playing along.) We talk about how the pretend Santas around this time of year are roaming the scenes of capitalist excess to remind people to give to others. Our Solstice-tradition pine cone bird feeders give to animals who need food when it’s cold; and this year our gifts of animals and education to families all over the world make each of our loved ones feel that they can be part of the Santa myth of love, peace, and charity.

Because the more Peanut thinks Christmas is about giving, and the more he thinks about people who need, the better our holidays feel.

Happy Almost Nana’s Birthday, everyone!

Well, it seemed like a good idea…

Successful planning is biting me in the ass again.

I have to admit my terrible flaw (that’s right. just one.) I’m a hyperplanner. I used to begin assignments the day they were announced, drawing up a timeline that allowed for two serious mishaps and a twice-edited paper by the day before the deadline. And I would stick to the schedule. I acknowledge how gross that is, but also offer that it’s a wicked good skill for freelancing and writing in graduate school.

I plan holiday presents in October, because that’s when I think of them. I buy holiday items eleven months in advance because that’s when they’re on sale. (Did you just suggest I get Hannukah candles a month late? Shame on you for talking to everyone who has ever met me. It just takes a little perspective shift for parsimonious to be 11 months early, dammit. And surprised every year when I open the December-decorations box and find new things with the tags still on them.)

(Also? Bite me. The world at large and the people who care about such nonsense are lucky I even decorate. Waste of my dwindling goodwill and patience, decorating. I still wrap presents by putting them in recycled tissue paper and cramming them in a sort-of-the-right-sized bag. Not a gift bag. Just any not-plastic bag. Cuz I’m that classy. And lazy. And cheap.)

Anyway, this year Peanut started his present list a week after his March birthday. I have never, ever bought him something in a store on request. I always tell him we can put it on his gift list, and I type it into my phone’s memo field. (Spouse just showed me how inefficient I am because when Peanut asked for something last week, Spouse took a picture on his phone so all the info, including price, is right there. Um, wow. That’s wicked efficient. I bow to you, Mr. Pants’-Seat-Flyer Who Has Awesome Ideas on Cutting Corners.)

So in November, when family started asking for Peanut’s list, I had it ready. And I offered to buy the items locally for people to save on shipping and to support local family-owned stores. Many relatives agreed. Way cool. All desired gifts are present and accounted for way before I get nervous that the deadline approaches.

Small problem, though.

I now have to wrap more than a few presents. Spouse and I gave Peanut a small gift for each night of Hannukah, plus a big present for Solstice and one for Christmas. There is no Santa gift to wrap, thankfully. (In our family Santa picks up presents to give to charity but doesn’t deliver because we’re lucky and can give instead of receive from the pretend old bearded guy who is just a story so don’t ask how he gets in the house). But there are, like, a dozen other presents to wrap. I’m used to one a night and then reusing the paper for the next day. I think he’s gonna notice if they’re all in the same pink tissue paper I’ve been using since my birthday two years ago. (Thanks, Mom, for being one of those Martha Stewart wrappers who includes a whole ream of tissue in the gloriously sparkled and themed gift bag. The rose and fuscia paper has served the pinkphilic child through seven major holidays thus far. And counting. [the secret is no tape. Just surround the gift rather than really wrap it.]

But this year’s stash will task my supply. So I’m considering newspaper (dammit, I read online) and magazine pages (dammit, I forgot to steal some from the dentist) or actually buying wrapping paper.

Or just hiding gifts in the house, scavenger-hunt style. Now *that* would go over big with the grandparents.

Thanksgiving for Santa.

Peanut has been in an intense no-sharing mood for almost a year. So he’s intrigued lately with the concept of giving presents. You give someone stuff, but you’re not sharing. It’s not yours; it’s theirs. You don’t get it back. There is no control after the giving. But there is control in the choosing.

He likes this.

He’s picked out birthday presents for friends, telling me exactly what his friends get and what they don’t. He usually picks out something for himself, too, though he’s perfectly willing to have it put away until birthday, Hanukkah, Christmas, Nana’s birthday (which is a great holiday at our house–Nana’s birthday is a couple days before Christmas, after the all important Solstice. Nana’s birthday is a holiday nobody else gets (except, well, Nana). We love Nana’s birthday. We get presents for no other reason than because we’re lucky enough to have her in our family.)

So we’ve been talking about Santa in our house for two years, because I knew it would come up, and, like making spiders and owls and wolves friendly, and fairy tales completely non-scary, I wanted to manage how this once-benevolent and now out-of-control commercialist holiday is portrayed in our house. I want him to believe in magic and hope and love, but not in getting stuff because you’re good. So I researched Santa Claus and found that the original dude, on whom the St. Nick character is based, was intensely into charity. He gave to the needy. That, Spouse and I discussed, is something we can be down with.

We taught Peanut that Santa, when he was around, gave to people who need. Santa’s not around anymore, but remembering him makes people want to give. True. Not as true as I’d like it to be, but still. (And yes, I did just teach my kid that Santa’s dead. So? He’s a myth. He’s fun to talk about and believe, and being honest now makes it less upsetting to find out later that Santa’s a myth.)

So each year, as often as we can, we give to people who need. After we moved, a truck came to take all the gently used things that we don’t need anymore, but another family might. He was totally fine giving stuff to the truck, because we said it was like Santa’s truck. When we read books about Christmas and Santa has a bag of toys, we tell him that it’s like the fire station and the library having Toys for Tots barrels. Santa has a bag of toys because the family left them out for Santa to take to people who need. Santa’s not bringing to the people in the stories. He’s taking, so he can redistribute. (That’s called being nice, you pre-election hatemongers.)

So I asked Peanut what he wanted to do for Christmas to help like Santa. Last year he wanted to bring toys to the dogs and cats at the local shelter. He loved every minute of giving, in part because he got to choose which dog got which ball, and which cat got which feather. This year he wants to bring apricots to the Food Bank. Because he says they don’t need raisins, but “if they need apricots, I give them apricots.”

Then he said, and I won’t let him forget this ever, that maybe some people just need someone to cuddle them. Maybe, like the babies Grandma cuddles at the hospital, maybe some people just need friends. He would like to find them, he said, and listen to them and cuddle them and make them feel better.

So that’s what we’re doing for Thanksgiving. We’re going to try the local retirement community, and see how he reacts to cuddling seniors. He tends to be wary of older people, so that might not work. Then we’ll bring apricots to the Food Bank.

And we will head to the animal shelter again this year. At least once a month. Because those dang critters love them some attention. And though it’s hard for me not to bring them all home, it makes Peanut feel very important to cuddle small creatures who don’t have families yet. He needs to feel important. And lots and lots of people and pets this year need love. So Spouse and I are going to try to meet as many of those needs as we can, and teach Peanut in the process that the best thing you can do is give.

Santa didn’t come to our house last year, and won’t be coming to our house this year. We don’t need anything. But we’ll make sure that we help whomever we can.

So let us know if you need a cuddle. ‘Cuz we’re ready for ya.