Brown paper packages

As this season of giving draws to a close, I write now about the ritual of bestowing gifts.  Though unintended, a week’s reprieve from the blog was actually much needed.  Goodness knows what I would have said in the flurry of friends, food, family and fun.  Things are never clear in a haze, even when that haze is made of very good things.  It has been lovely to say the least but it’s nice to take this moment to reflect on the festivities that have just past.

I believe it’s so fitting that the holidays are followed by a time of reflection.  When a new year approaches even the most laissez-faire individual cannot help but be caught up in making wishes and honing in on dreams for the new year.  I never find this passing to be depressing because I’m not overly nostalgic nor do I see the time ahead to be a clean slate.  We’ve already started to impact the future with the decisions in the past few months, so just go with the flow folks.

What I find more interesting is the process of giving gifts to those you love.  From many a December, I’ve learnt that you really need to be on the same page with your circle of recipients.  Some are not so into it, because of their dislike for materialism and so forth which is cool and others use this time to show off all that they possess.  There is the middle ground where we return to the act of giving to the people in our lives because we care for them and for no reason other than that.  We’ve also reached the age and phase in our lives when we can go out next week and buy whatever it is that we want, so I don’t give to receive, I give to offer a tangible token of my love.

I’ve always been in favor of the wish lists because it’s so much more practical.  Why not give an item that the person actually wants to wear, use or practice?  But I’m also of the mind that once I give a gift, it is out of my hands.  The individual has every right to put it in the back of their closet or re-gift it because frankly, it’s not really my place to ask about the thing at every opportunity.  These types of questions reak of cheapness, as if you’re counting if every penny you spent is getting its full value.  I’m also not a fan of the guilt.  Of course, it’s important to recognize those who are not in the same position to celebrate the holidays with such grand gestures and material goods.  This type of reflexivity should be practiced always, not only when the malls have extended hours and the lights cover the street lamps.  It is also about scale right?  The most elite are giving different types of gifts to each other, probably vehicles or Cartier and not gift certificates to Banana Republic.  It’s also about context.  Not everyone marks the holidays and no, they don’t know if it’s Christmas time at all.

Always gratitude right?  But I truly believe that when you give, give with a full heart.  Balance the pocketbooks but don’t be a humbug either.  You have the rest of the year to be Ebenezer and see if it all adds up.

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Tinsel and all that

There’s no better time than the holidays to live out your childhood scars.  I don’t mean this in a bad way.  Without the proper emotional regulation and perspective Christmas time tends to be quite the shit-storm filled with highs and slight annoyances.  In my early years and right through to my teens I worshiped at the alter that was a holly jolly Christmas.  This was slowly and surely tempered by a little bit of reality, which made my perception a whole lot healthier.  Rather than expecting the perfect performance of rituals, I came to accept that the days are and should be mainly for celebrating the love you have for your friends and family.  To honor that we are so blessed to be together again.

Because I view the holidays this way I assume that I’m allowed to celebrate it even though I’m a Buddhist.  Right?  If we are celebrating the birth of a teacher, leader and compassionate individual surely he would have wanted everyone to feel that type of joy without judgement.  So now that we have that covered, the next few posts are going to center on the rituals and rites of this wonderful season.  They will take on the themes of decor, gift-giving, dinner and party planning.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a geographer and a feminist political geographer to be exact.  The concepts I study are located in human geography which is a field that theorizes place.  Therefore, when it comes to anything I believe that care and consideration to the feel of the space is very important.  How do you work with such an abstract concept?  You decorate and you decorate well.

I have a weakness for holiday aesthetics and it requires so much will power to not purchase the entire Pottery Barn catalog.  Returning to the principle of minimalism though there are just a couple of key items that you need initially: tree and stockings.  Garlands for the mantle, mercury glass trees, wreath, throw pillows, bed linens and a rug at the front-door can all come later.  So let me tease out the concept of the tree and stocking for you.

Most of my Christmases since arriving to Canada involved celebrating at someone else’s house.  Though I’m so grateful for the invitations, being a guest means that the tree was always decorated.  Now, that began my obsession with oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree.  So can you guess what I did when we moved to Massachusetts?  I got a real tree from a nearby farm and decorated it from top to bottom.  It was all mine.  From many of the lifestyle sites I read there is a method.  Apparently the best trees have repetition.  So essentially you choose a colour palate and theme, buy several of 3 to 4 ornaments and you’re set.  I actually go the sentimental route and all of my ornaments represent certain times, places and people.  Though it may not look uniform, it is special to me.

You don’t even want to know how many Christmas stockings I own.  Being a guest meant that many years I received my stocking gifts in some sort of bag.  Thank you to the lovely individuals who filled them in the first place but apparently things like this mattered to me.  Therefore, now I have monogramed red and white velvet stockings with holders that spell out “Noel.”  Dream achieved.

Have you ever heard the song “In a sentimental mood” by John Coltrane and Duke Ellington?  Every time I hear the slow, sensuous notes I am taken to somewhere hot, lazy and fine.  It’s kind of the same with the holidays.  Get yourself in the mood by making your indoor winter wonderland.  The turkey may overcook and people might be late but it won’t matter when the twinkle lights blink and your red wine goes down nice and easy.

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Moderate

I feel blessed that I’ve never felt true devastation.  The closest I’ve come to it is when I lost my grandparents.  This is not to say that pain like this will never touch my life again.  I know that it’s just a part of living in this world.  And this world is extraordinary, beautiful and productive.  It’s important to remember that in the face of utter destruction.

I draw this philosophy and approach from Buddhist teachings and other less defined forms of spirituality.  That and just generally observing human behavior.  The main principle is to tread lightly.  The image I always see is that of skimming water.  There is still displacement but there’s less impact than a cannonball, right?  It’s also a whole lot less selfish because now people don’t have to change their shoes.

Studying these concepts and actually practicing them are two different stories.  One or my worst traits is my lack of patience.  I can sometimes be reactionary and not fully think through the consequences.  I also have a flair for drama.  I recently noticed that a moth from our old apartment in Toronto had put holes in several of my sweaters, basically leaving them ruined.  I commented that “it’s like we’re living in Victorian England,” to which my husband responded, “it’s like we living a house filled with hyperbolic statements.”  I gave him a “humph” but I can’t disagree.  But recognizing these flaws and trying to improve on them is the first honorable step.  It’s always a work in progress and I’m just trying to live as respectfully as possible.  Plus, these traits can sometimes make me brave.

So how exactly do you become enlightened?  Well, the simplest route is to always seek the middle ground.  Here are some examples: acknowledge the shortcomings in the world but also see the good; don’t place anything on a pedestal, imperfections are what provide richness in life; there are always different approaches and various ways of being, respect that; and you’ll only have a letdown if you build something up too much, simmer down and just enjoy it while it lasts.  The principle: moderation in all things.

Therefore, when hard times approach you won’t completely fall apart.  True grit is often more valuable than privilege, wealth or even talent.  It’s what keeps you going.

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Things things things

If everything goes according to plan I will have another child at some point in time.  With this in consideration I’ve made a mental check-list of things that I would do differently.  Isn’t it great that we often have opportunities to be better the second time around?  As someone who likes her world to be orderly and calm it bothered me that I was all over the place after I gave birth to my son.  Some of that can be attributed to the pressure of experiencing motherhood for the first time but in other ways I was ill-prepared.  So let me take away some of the guesswork and advise you on how to be a pro.

This is not a new concern of mine and you can find my post on baby clothes here.  The main principle that both articles emphasize is that part of being ready means that you don’t skimp on the necessities.  I was too careful and always felt that I could manage without.  You know what the reality of it is?  That person advising you to focus on the basics is not the one nursing at all hours of the night.  So put in the time to do the research with mommy blogs and others who offer valuable insight into not making it harder on yourself.  Please, the next time around I will ask for the epidural shortly after changing into my dressing gown and know that everything will not go smoothly, but it’s my reaction to these situations that matters.  So here’s some baby gear that I could not live without and other products that are the first on my shopping list when the occasion calls for it.  I’ve categorized them as now and then, and though it’s far from comprehensive, it is a start:

NOW

1. Sleep Sheep

Because infants hear your heartbeat and swooshing of blood while in the womb, they are not particularly fond of silence.  This little lamb will provide soothing background noise for the first few months and many years to come.  My son is two and half and still falls asleep to the sound of rain each night.

2. Robeez

Made of genuine leather and a team of talented artists, these little slippers will help keep socks on when they’re young and keep their toes warm once they’re more mobile.  Because they stretch as their feet grow, you will be able to use a pair for even longer than you intended.

3. Baby Bjorn

My son has always liked human touch and is a snuggle monster still.  So he loved to be right next to us when we were out and about.  The reality is that I’ll be caring for our child mostly on my own next time so I will also think of getting a body wrap for when our next child is very young.  Bjorns should be used only when they reach the specified weight.

4. Bogs

These boots are comfortable, waterproof and durable.  Toddlers will love the shorter ones for their first winter and the taller boots are great for the boys.  Their lovely designs are also winners in my book.

5. Pottery Barn furniture

Their pieces are well-constructed and certain items, like bookshelves can be in your child’s room right up till university.  If their tastes change you can also transfer them to the guest room and not be too worried about it.

THEN

1. Aden & Anais

These breathable swaddlers made of 100% cotton will not overheat your newborn.  Though they are on the pricier side they literally are first on my shopping list for when the time comes.  About two sets should do it.  They’re excellent for wrapping your child when they’re transitioning to sleeping on their own.

2. Bouncer

They love to lounge and this gives you a chance to fold some laundry or just chill out.

3. Bassinet 

I would get one both for my stroller and for placing in our room for the first few weeks.  I believe that Health Canada recommends that newborns stay by their parents’  bed for the first six weeks.

4. Stroller organizer

This allows you to not have to carry a purse when you’re out and about.  There are pockets for your cellphone, credit cards and coffee.

5. Pottery Barn bedding

My next nursery is going to have a theme and a Pottery Barn sheet set.  We love our current Peter Rabbit collection sheet and pillow sham and will complete it with the quilt and bumpers.

6. Comfortable seating

You truly need a comfortable seat in the nursery.  Whether you choose to nurse or bottle-feed it’s important to have a chair that you can hold the baby in.  Buy one that you wouldn’t mind using in another room.

7. Dresser/Change table

I would not have a separate change table but instead have a change-table item to place on top of a dresser.  That way you can remove that item when it is no longer necessary.

So there you go.  And remember no matter what, enjoy this time and know that you are so very loved.

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Wait, what?

There are some writers who hit you squarely in the stomach with their prose and you both love and hate them for it.  These individuals are so skilled that they can take you on a meandering, and at times boring journey which is punctuated with moments of absolute bliss.  Ha, much like the theme of life and one’s purpose within this universe that they write about.  But isn’t that the whole point of fiction?  To show us glimpses of our humanity?  To curate beauty and ugliness?

I just finished close to 800 pages of this type of narrative in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.  As much I don’t regret reading it, because it’s absolutely gorgeous, I also feel slightly peeved and cheated.  She strings us along and gets us invested in tragic Theo Decker, whom you hope and pray does not screw up his life any further than it already is.  You feel empathy that he’s lost his mother and you dearly wish that he will find a place to thrive.  But at the end, when Tartt suddenly lays it all out there, to offer up what she’s withheld so easily, I thought, really?  That’s what you decide to do with me as a reader?  After taking a breath though, I understand her method and motivation.  She’s trying to demonstrate that life is full of these complexities.  It’s inconstant, unfair and as long as you keep yelling its faults from the rooftops you’re only going to get in your own way.  Instead, why not try to go with the flow a little and take it as it comes?

A similar message is conveyed in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which to be honest I don’t remember the particulars of.  All I know is that it has something to do with trains, values and overbearing parents.  The take away though is, don’t wait.  All of this waiting for the timing to be perfect or for all of it to be aligned will just sweep away any chance you have of enjoying yourself.  We are never ready.  Above all, just do something, anything, to get on with it.  We so need more of this in our society: reminders to be good.

There is an endpoint, we all have one, so don’t be afraid of the fallout.  Everything gets rebuilt once more.

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Two for tea

One of the more “intense conversation” I’ve had with Andrew took place in the most decadent of places: a lovely tea salon in Paris.  Hey, if you’re going to have a fight you might as well do it with white linen.  We disguised it as a discussion about the French theorist Pierre Bourdieu and on the theme of taste regimes but really we were arguing.  Apparently that’s what nerds do, they use theory to get at each other.  He’d say that he won but I’ll call it a draw because the hot chocolate was really, really good.  In any case, after taking a nap we were buds again.

It all started when he refused to wait an hour to gain entrance.  I don’t really blame him because I don’t see many men lining up that length for tea service.  I normally wouldn’t be so insistent but after reading accounts in a couple of travel books, I was not about to leave the city without having had a taste.  So, I told him to head back to the hotel and that I would eat alone.  Now, some women might say this and then pout about it later.  I’m not one of those women.  When I say that I don’t mind being alone, I don’t mind being alone.  Early in my pregnancy I remember watching The Help on my own in a cinema with tears flowing freely down my face.  The whole thing started to go awry when he attributed his impatience to Angelina being a tourist trap.

I don’t deny that it is, but hey, this certainly was not an issue when we lined up for an hour and half in front of the Musee d’Orsay in the pouring rain earlier in the day.  Apparently, impressionists makes certain popular attractions more palatable.  Truly, I’m the first to run to the museum in any new city precisely because of the way that works of art makes you feel.  I will never forget seeing Klimt’s “The Kiss” in Vienna, in person, after having seen it day and night in my university apartment.  You never have to ask me twice.  But experiencing the beauty of food made with such care and skill is so visceral and important too.  Also, the whole concept of the “tourist trap” bothers me.  That statement reduces something meaningful to something flimsy like mesh.  Of course you would never catch me outside of a wax museum and certain tall structures, but certain “traps” are popular because they are pretty enjoyable too.  A gagillion people can’t all be wrong right?  I’ve never defined myself as someone who is afraid to be part of the crowd.  Being open to taking on any activity that means something to you is never a failing.  So next time you’re out and about don’t be scared to join the queue.  Plus, you just might have some fun.

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The gain

I come from a culture where it’s socially acceptable to comment on people’s weight.  Whether you have gained or lost, members of your family or the Burmese diaspora will have something to say about it.  I don’t believe that there’s ill-intent behind it, just a mix of curiosity and playfulness.  Don’t worry, I’m not taking the easy route and attributing it all to “culture.”  Everything is political.  I’m also sure that it’s not a “Burmese” or “Asian” thing but rather a prominent aspect of our greater society.

As someone who has experienced this first hand, I find that there are very different tones associated with your physical state.  When you’re demonstrating the results of some excellent culinary moments there seems to be humour associated with the failure of your weight management regime.  When your body is svelte there is now the worry that you may have gone too far and there are concerns about your health.

This discussion is not in anyway to disparage the very real phenomenon of eating disorders that women and men are struggling with.  I just want to question how the framing of these practices as one of frivolity or concern both encroach on the individual’s agency.  To put it simply, it is a process of body shaming.

Control is at the centre of these body-image projects and whether it is true or not, the fat girl apparently does not have enough while the thin girl has too much.  Either way, there seems to be something wrong with the both of them.  Now, this is what does not jive with me.  It is simply none of your business if that person is on a diet or should be on one.  Their body is very much their own and they can do what they please.  Maybe instead of the shaming they could use an ounce of acceptance, support and the space to just be.

Peace.

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