in a nutshell

snow, snow and then a little more snow. winter boots and long armed mitts adorning little hands as snowballs were thrown and snowbanks toppled.

spinach and ricotta cannelloni with garlicky caesar salad and red wine eaten in quiet without interruption as the children slept soundly in their beds, awaiting santa on christmas eve. butter tart squares and mom's shortbread with milky sweet cups of coffee for dessert.

grandma reading cohen's new christmas eve book, alphabeasts, by the light of the tree.

late night bailey's on ice and reading in bed

grandma and baka pulling still sleepy children into their bed as i slept just one half hour more

eggs benedict with perfectly runny yolks and crispy fried potatoes, glasses of orange juice filled to the brim.

cohen opening his gifts one by one as ada napped, his excitement brimming off of him and spilling on everyone around him. each toy was given plenty of playing time before another package was opened, the process taking all morning and part of the early afternoon despite there only being 9 gifts.

ada unsure about paper ripping and box opening, her brow furled as she watched on from a distance. stuffed cow we named jersey (despite the fact that it is a holstein) = ok, stuffed doll with hightop boots and curly hair = no thank you, take that thing away please.

a visit from my brother and his kids, the sounds of laughter and joy echoeing down the hall from cohen's bedroom

juicy roasted ham, scalloped potato's and baconed sprouts with a glass of pinot grigio and the good candle sticks lit in the middle.

tipsy after dinner walk in the snow with both mothers to buy coffee cream at the all night corner store, a stillness in the air

head hitting the pillow hard after a day spent with the love of family.

it was good year, i hope yours was too.

as is the custom around here, the slideshow is up. if you are new to this game then there are two warnings: 1. it is 200 mb and may take up to 10 minutes to upload 2. it is just pictures of my family and it will last almost 14 minutes and be set to cheesy music (although this year i didn't give the music a lot of thought and just put the songs that other family suggested, so it isn't as cheesy as years gone by). having said that though, if you have nothing better to do, or happen to be family (or are friends that are like family) then it just might be your thing!

it wouldn't be a highlights reel without some photos, and of course by now you know where you can find the rest.


first night of winter

there is no end in sight

i first met her a couple of days after i moved into this house. her name is irene and she lives in the little grey house across the street. she is elderly, into her eighty ninth year now, and rather grey looking, much the same grey as her house in fact. she has this warm voice that immediately makes you think of wisdom and experience. i was drawn into her the moment i met her. it only took a minute though to realize that she wasn't completely there mentally, her stories repeating like a broken record, her stare unwavering. marko and i entertained her cyclical conversation for five, maybe even ten minutes, and then we made up a reason why we had to leave. she was enamored with ada, touching her toes and smiling off into the distance.

i just realized that i am talking like she is dead, but she isn't. this isn't about death at all, in fact it is almost about the opposite.

mostly the relationship that i have shared with irene has been from afar. i later learned that she lives alone in that house, except for the home care workers that come to see her for an hour here and an hour there, making sure all her ducks are in a row, pills taken, stoves turned off. she has lived there, in that very house, everyday of her 89 years. in fact, i am told, she was born there, in the grey little house. she lived with her parents and then when they died she stayed on and kept living. she has a sister who wants to put her in a home, but irene knew what was coming for her and she made it clear before it was too late that she didn't want that, she wanted to die in the home too, it only seemed right. so she is over there, across the street, doing whatever it is she does all day, and waiting.

a kilt maker by trade, she worked for a fancy boutique on granville street, but one day, when she couldn't take her boss anymore, she decided to try it out on her own. legend says that she was even commissioned to make a custom kilt for the queen. "it isn't easy getting it just right you know, not just anyone can do it". so she lived with her parents and made kilts for the queen and never left.

all through the summer i would watch her as she sat on her front steps. it is a steep set of stairs that leads to her house and she would often sit, in the early evening, right in the middle, and she would look around carefully like a cat. her face was always set the same, serious with deep lines carved into the skin. sometimes the soft last light of day would hit her just right and i would grab my camera, but i couldn't take the shot from my house, it wouldn't work through the trees, and i was much too afraid to ask her. i dreamed of that photo though, every time i saw her out there, it must have been two or three dozen times. often as people walked past she would say hello and they would say hello back, a familiarity seemed present. if a block has a matriarch i guess she is ours.

i have come to accept that i have a bit of a fascination with irene. i think it is because i don't understand what it feels like to stick something out so fully. sometimes i wonder if it was giving up more than staying put though. i have often thought that irene's story is a sad one, tragic even. no children or grandchildren to fill her quiet life with joy, hardly any visitors and then alzheimer's to leave you confused and frustrated. she has people who come and take her out, and others that bring baking and groceries by, but by and large she is in the house, alone.

i was brought back to thinking about irene this afternoon as the snow fell. you see, living in a house there is a certain amount of work that needs to get done, garbage taken out, leaves raked, lawns mowed, that kind of thing. periodically throughout the summer i would see someone over there mowing, or raking, but i never gave it much thought, i guess i thought she had a gardener, but then today something unexpected happened. after more than 8 inches of snow fell, leaving everything white and new, six of my neighbours showed up in front of irene's house with shovels in hand and they cleared her walk, her stairs and iced, and then they each went back to their own home. a few hours later they came back out and did it again. there seemed to be a silent understanding. it wasn't just adults either, a couple were teenagers, no doubt sent out by their parents, but there they were out none the less. for me it seemed like a scene from a christmas movie, the cheesy moment where everyone comes together and spreads love, or something, only in real life it didn't seem cheesy, it seemed kind of incredible.

when i saw another neighbour hours later and i asked about it she said that they all pitch in to help, that it was each of my neighbours in turn that i had seen mowing the lawn or raking the leaves last summer. "some who can't help physically bring by baking and dinner already cooked", she said. even the wreath hanging from her grey door was brought over by someone who thought she could use it.

i have never known this vancouver. i have never even heard about it through legend. it seemed like a scene from the seventies, when no one locked their doors and everyone had neighbourhood barbecues. too good to be true, and yet it is. everyone doing something that gets them nothing in return, other than the right to say they are a community, that they are neighbours in the true meaning of the word.

i am not sure why i wanted to write about her tonight, so many times i have thought of it and turned it down. maybe it is because i am a pessimist, the one in the room who can be heard whispering, "i hate people", but then there is this, the opposite of what i have known, and it filled me with optimism and hope. maybe it is because i think her story needs to be shared because maybe that is what she is to bring to the world, a reminder of the way things used to be, could be, everywhere again. if the worth of a life is the mark it leaves on the world, then from over here it seems like she is doing alright.


sometimes once is enough

my kids don't like to shop. it's ok, they are in good company, their parents could usually do without it as well. i rarely take them to the grocery store, opting instead for late night superstore runs alone, and although we do take them to costco on the weekend, it usually involves snacks and a lot of looking at toys. my mom says i am not doing them any favours by avoiding it and she is probably right, but i am doing myself one, and sometimes that has to be enough. i know one day they will grow out of it so until then i just don't do it.

of course every now and again an exception needs to be made, usually out of necessity, or on days like today, out of sheer unbridled optimism and a need to torture myself. i am a sucker for tradition and am more than a little sentimental, so i wanted a photo with santa. i thought of going back to kingsgate mall and having it done with possibly the worst (and most drunk) santa in town, but then i thought maybe i should branch out, you know, now that i have a car. so we went there, the most dreaded place of all. i had read about the train over at the cheeseblog and thought cohen would be interested, a little tit for tat. i buy three items from three different stores, make him take a photo with santa, and he gets to go on the train. i probably don't have to tell you what happened.

we went into old navy and he started moaning, then there was a little arm flailing, and verbal protesting, but i persevered. i wanted to see if they had a cute christmas dress for ada because it occured to me last week that i have a little girl and she can actually wear things like a christmas dress, and it sounded kinda fun. even i lost patience in old navy. the music, the bright colours. nothing immediately caught my eye so we left.

next was winners. we only made it past the front door and ada started crying. i decided that i didn't need it that bad.

so we found santa's castle and much to my delight there was not one person in line. i am led to believe this is a christmas miracle unto itself. ada started crying before i even attempted to hand her over. i have learned in recent weeks, through various christmas soirees, that she is not super keen on strangers. cohen was fairly outgoing at her age and rarely played shy, but she panics whenever she smells unfamiliar. it usually isn't just a whimper either, more of a wail, some might even say a blood curdling scream. santa was obviously not on her list of laps she wanted to sit on today. the nice photo lady told me that i would have to be in the photo if this was going to happen. great! good thing i had a shower and brushed my hair before leaving the house today instead of just putting on a hat and then taking it off before the camera clicked, trying desperately to part my hair with my fingers. cohen wouldn't sit on his lap either. he just stood in front of him eyeing him up, cocking one eye in confusion. finally st. nick asked if he wanted to sit on the seat beside him. cohen thought about it and then obliged. as she focused the lens santa laughed and said, "i guess my job is easy, no one is even sitting on me!" it seemed like a strange thing to say, but he does sit in there all day, it must make you a little weak in the head after awhile.

we don't get the photo for a couple of days but i am sure cohen will be grimacing and leaning away from santa in a grotesque manner, i will have my hair sticking straight up with a look that says "this probably isn't worth it", and ada will look like a deer caught in the headlights, only with huge wet crocodile tears pouring off her cheeks. so in other words, it should be pretty good.

the train was a success, but then we had to leave because i can't just ride a train all day, well i could i guess but i didn't want to. when good things end two year olds generally don't nod and say "thanks mom, that was fun! i guess we have to go now". i pretended that was what he was saying though as he demanded "no! train! go!" and then cried and cried and cried.

it was an adventure, no doubt about it, but it's true, sometimes once really is enough.


evening out the sides for balance

the house is quiet right now. mostly anyway, i can hear cohen snoring down the hall, yet another thing he picked up from his dad. i am alone in the silence and it is beautiful. i haven't had much of this all week. it has been a tough one.

when cohen was ada's age it was common practice to lie down next to him in our bed for nap time. when he fell asleep i would wedge pillows on either side of him and then get up and attempt to be productive (except for days when i gave up on productivity and voted for napping instead). i would keep the house quiet and listen to hear him babbling upon waking. it was a system that worked. some people rock, or cradle, or stroke soft little foreheads, we always laid next to him. we still do most nights, so it wasn't a surprise that this is the same approach we would take with ada. this method became null and void near the end of last week though when she fell out of bed for the sixth time (five here, once at grandma's). i know, i know, six?!? there should have only been one i suppose but i kept tempting fate, believing i would get there fast enough when she woke, and probably a little of being lazy as well. it would work if she wasn't so quiet when she wakes up. silent. there is no other time in the day when she is quiet. she makes parrots and monkeys seem sedate, always singing and shouting, or crying. all the time, except when i want her to. she is that kind of a kid.

so last week when she fell again without warning i decided that enough was enough, never again. sleeping has been a disaster ever since. she doesn't want to be rocked and will pinch your cheeks hard and then harder until you stop with the rocking. cradling is a no go as well, fidgeting and rolling over in my arms is her solution for that one. i tried lying down with her on the living room floor on a blanket but she wasn't going to be fooled, the moment i thought she was asleep and attempted to get up she started to crawl away, smiling. so then what?

crying. that is the cold hard fact here. it is either crying, letting her stay awake all the time, or going for trips in the car every time i want her to sleep. the last one does seem tempting and might even be the solution if cohen wasn't so uppity about leaving the house. so we have been letting her cry to get to sleep. this has worked out ok so far at night, as she goes to bed before cohen, but for naps it just isn't working. she has stamina and conviction, she is, as they say, a tough cookie to crack. so i let her cry and then i go lie with cohen, but then her cries step up a notch and i feel i should go see her and cohen gets up to follow me. this goes on for half an hour or more some days. he can't relax if she is crying and i can't go in and calm her (somehow?) if he is awake and stepping on my coat tales. it is an impossible predicament. napping with two takes impeccable timing, rock solid instincts and significantly more patience than i currently possess. today the process took 2 hours. 2 hours! just when i threw my hands in the air and thought "to hell with both of you, if you don't want to sleep then fine don't sleep, see if i care!" i look in and he is fast asleep, exhausted from his attempts to foil me. today it was 1:45, a decent time. yesterday it wasn't until 3. i guess i should just be glad he naps at all. i know.

right now i am glad to have this moment of silence. i think i will go make myself a cup of tea. of course as soon as the water is boiled one of them will wake up, that is just how it works. until then i will let the fantasy be real.

this is the latest in an installation i like to call "cohen's head wounds". this one was achieved last night when he ran into the car door. ouch.