Good Mother

Though I am absolutely certain that I do not want to have any more children, there are babies in my life again. A couple of our friends are expecting or recently welcomed newborns so I am back in the baby state of mind. Of course I squeal when I see their little peanut bodies and they look up at me with their moon-shaped faces; my body has a 20% desire to have one but my mind says “no.” There are several reasons for this resolution, ranging from wanting to figure out my career to just being so exhausted some days from raising two extroverted children that the fact that I never have to give birth, sleep train or nurse again is what gets me through the day. Also, the four of us fit perfectly across an airplane aisle. For two people who love to travel I feel like that’s a sign from the universe that the number of family members in our little group is complete. The Smiths are complete.

All this baby talk, excitement to meet my friends’ kids and shopping for baby clothes has me reflecting on when I started out as a new mother. Luckily I had two tries at this thing called motherhood and if I can say so myself, I’m owning it with T. From the beginning I was prepared for T, from having my hospital suitcase packed a month in advance to reading the books and actually following through with the sleep training, I am confident in my role in his life. I truly believe that because of this relative calm and security, T’s nature has maintained the sweet and jubilant facets that he was born with. Let’s just say that he has always been easy. C on the other hand, the poor kid, got the “scared” mommy version; he started his life with someone who second-guessed many things and was just petrified of not being perfect. For what it’s worth, I feel like since the age of two or so I’ve made up for it with him. From the beginning, nothing has ever been easy with C but he is truly one of the most interesting people I know. His lust for life inspires me. His kindness astounds me. In spite of any struggles I had with adjusting to motherhood, C turned out to be a bright, beautiful and wonderful kid.  Seeing his trajectory made me just calm the eff down with T. Calming the eff down makes the experience of being a mother infinitely better, trust, for everyone involved.

Related to the discussion of what it’s like to be a new mother, I liken it to baptism by fire. There is a reason that people shower you with gifts and adoration beforehand: you are not ready and will never be ready for how your life is going to change. I recently read a beautiful piece by Bryce Dallas Howard on GOOP, found here and she likened her experience with postpartum depression to a sense of heaviness. It really spoke to me, not only because she honestly articulates its impact on her identity and family, but also because I too felt this heaviness that I would not measure up to being a “good” mother. I did not have postpartum depression but let’s just say that all of us mothers walk that line. I felt paralyzed that I could not provide what C needed, from breast feeding and ensuring that he received enough sustanance to how to hold him properly. I was scared shitless and as a result I withdrew. It’s a pretty shitty feeling to withdraw from your baby, especially when I have never loved someone as much as I love him.

To be honest, with those difficult lessons what saved me was work. Because I returned to my role as a graduate assistant four months after his birth I was forced to function. My mind was not nearly as clear or as sharp till C was a little over a year, but yes, all of those theories and theorists allowed me to claw my way out. That is why I have such a high regard for work. When I reflect on it now I realize the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive people. My husband knew that I was struggling but he never judged and just quietly took on a more active role. My mother and Aunt W constantly reassured me and said that they could see all of my efforts reflected in how C was growing and thriving. But life is not like that wholesome family drama where everyone in your corner should be there and of course I also interacted with individuals who probably made my recovery a little bit harder.

T was born on a sunny August morning and he was right on time. He joined a family and the existing three individuals of this unit were so happy to meet him. He just fit. A few months before he was born I sold all of C’s 0-6 months clothes. I sold every article of clothing that reminded me of that difficult period of adjustment and the gifts from individuals who only added to the worries. Is that petty? I’m not sure but that was my way of letting go. I hope that any new mothers who are struggling with the baby blues lean into their support networks. Thank you to those giving the understanding love to these mothers without judgement. Even in times of weakness they are not weak. Ladies, do what you need to do, and above all, you’ve got this.

Partner in crime

I’ve always had a weakness for the canon of friends crossing that line and becoming more.  You know, that moment in romantic comedies when they decide: “I want to ruin our friendship.  Let’s be lovers instead.”  They are not exaggerating; when you risk taking a perfectly good platonic relationship to the gutter by deciding to bet on something more tenuous, you are rolling the dice.  Sometimes, no matter how much you fight it, there is no choice but to take it to that level.

Now, you might ask, how can this person who has only ever dated one person be going on and on about love?  Really, what would I know about that?  People forget that even though Andrew and have known each other since we were 14 years old and been romantically involved for 18 years (jesus christ!), we have had our fair share of ups and downs.  Honestly, I would have been more worried if we hadn’t had these struggles when we’ve been in each other’s lives for longer than some marriages.  At all of these emotional crossroads of course one of the options would have been to let go.  Making that choice was even easier when we didn’t have two kids.  But each and every time we chose to try again.  In my opinion that is more romantic than anything you ever say to each other on your wedding day.  When you decide to forgive and have another go, that party in a big white dress just pales in comparison.

There are a multitude of reasons why couples may choose to say together.  A lot of my issues and fear of commitment were rooted in never having been with anyone else.  Andrew and I have very similar life histories from having attended the same university and graduate school.  When you build a life together, the representation of your bond starts to have similar friends, streets and places.  What I realized though, when I had the chance to be away from some of these comforts on the other side of the world, is that I didn’t need to actually be romantically involved with anyone else to see how much better my partner was.  It’s only when you are in a foreign country, and you meet people of a similar age but vastly different backgrounds and outlooks, that you know there would always be another individual out there for you.  But, it’s important to make the distinction that what is possible shouldn’t necessarily be your future.

Can things change?  Of course.  I believe that love can shift and end to no fault of the parties involve.  Sometimes you grow apart and decide that being amicable is the next step.  It is not a failing to decide to be happy another way when there is a limit to our time here.  People are able to salvage these ties when faced with such circumstances because they remember the love that was there and is still there in a different form.  Even in other cases where you might meet someone new who will offer you something else it’s important to be mindful that the initial excitement will cool.  Are you still compatible when you have to be two adults making your way through life?  My advice to someone in that situation, seriously, take a year, at least 6 months to be alone.  Do not be with the next person till you are a bit less broken.  They will wait till you are whole because I’m telling you, if you jump right in, that relationship is not going to last.

Being with someone from such a young age ensures that you grow up together.  There is no one in this world who understands me the way that Andrew does.  There is not a single other person who I want to continually give more to.  He is the person I want the best for and I want him to count on me to be there even when it’s difficult.  The reason I don’t fear the unknown is because I know that I have my partner, a true intellectual equal to work through what is ahead.  We don’t really celebrate Valentine’s day because this is the commitment we make to each day every single day.  We have a resilient love and that is truly romantic.  And god forbid, if it should ever end, because you know I never tempt the fates by feeling like I know everything that will go down, we will always have the friendship.

P.S. Let me add some gossip to your Valentine’s day.  I have a deep affection for a certain Canadian ice dance pair whose names rhyme with Lessa Curfew and Dot Lawyer.  If you go through my archives for pieces around spring 2014 I wrote about them a few times expressing my confusion about the state of their relationship.  Well it turns out that I was not a crazy person and they did have a “thing” around that time.  Actually, they’ve been on/off since 2012 but speculation even runs further back than that.  They are a perfect example of two childhood friends turned elite athletes and business partners who have had to define their relationship over the years.  After a couple of false starts rumour has it that they’ve been quietly seeing each other since late 2015.  In fact, their Free Dance is about second chances.  Watch it here it’s gorgeous.  Fingers crossed that one day all of Canada can breathe a sigh of relief that the two people the entire nation wanted together figured their shit out.tumblr_oh9u18r7dg1tvcpffo1_1280

Let’s dish

Isn’t receiving unsolicited advice just the darnedest thing?  That and unwanted personal questions rank high on my list of things I would not wish on anyone.  I think both actions breach commonly known rules of good taste and sound judgement.  The kicker here though is that those who commit such faux pas would not be self-aware enough to recognize it.  So, let me provide you with my litmus test of when you might have crossed the line.

I am a stickler for boundaries in my personal life, perhaps because I am an only child or just my general temperament but over the years I have found that respecting these limits often prevents you from making social missteps.  It might seem counterintuitive that a feminist and politically liberal individual like myself would care so much about rules.  While I still believe that it’s completely your prerogative to break them, the discomfort you may cause someone with your cluelessness has social consequences.  I’ve always felt that what you say and do is written in ink.  Of course the most important people will still love you but if you don’t work on these flaws and try to be better, they might not actually choose to spend time with you.  What you do makes people think of you differently, that is fact.  As a woman who spends her days caring for her family and her evenings writing, staying in tune with literature in my field and working through the next steps of her career, I don’t waste my social time with judgmental know it alls who believe they are the Ann Landers to everyone’s problems.  The next time you feel like offering someone a solution to their life’s problems, remember that people wrote to Landers asking for advice, not the other way around.

Of course constructive criticism and knowledge in general are key to having a full and textured life.  You only grow when someone expects more from you and it’s always refreshing to hear someone’s perspective about their experiences.  I put in the time to research and read reviews before I travel or even purchase some organic cotton bath cloths.  The difference between these instances and undesirable opinions is that I choose to seek them out.

We all play a role in someone’s life.  Whether you’re a friend or colleague, we will all find ourselves in positions where we want the best for someone.  As a mother I know that eventually the job of raising my kids will be done.  C and T will be “finished” so to speak and it’s up to them to make their way with (I hope) a set of good values.  Eventually, my job will be just to listen.  I’ve always felt though that part of the learning process is trial and error.  What’s the point of having the answer to every problem?  Life would literally be the most mundane endeavor if you didn’t have to struggle at times and figure things out.  Also, the choices you make are informed by your personal history and value system; what works for you could be a disaster for someone else.  The one advice I’d give, and I assume you want to hear it because you continued to keep reading, is to try to look at the social situation.  Before you offer that piece of wisdom ask yourself, do I have an intimate relationship with this person?  Does she share her innermost secrets with me or do we operate on a different level?  Also, if the individual could retort with “what’s it to you?” it probably means that she either doesn’t care about your take on where she does her shopping or that you are not really in the position to offer advice.  So, if you get yourself into these situations, please choose to keep your opinions to yourself, back away and dismount off your high horse.  Because even the most enlightened person wants to grab a step ladder to push you right off the mount.  Peace.

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Particularities

One of the very best things that maturing as an individual offers you is the practice of mindfulness.  Put simply, you start to recognize when you’re being difficult, whiny, indulgent and you change your behavior accordingly.  For example, it simply puzzles me how certain people need to take a survey of everyone else’s opinions before making certain life choices.  Aren’t you the one using the mortar/pestle, dress etc?

Similarly, when you’ve been exposed to certain theorists in the social sciences, your eyes begin to pick up on certain aspects of everyday life and think of them in novel ways.  For example, when you’ve learnt of Bourdieu you can never really go back.  Of his many theories, the one I find most relevant in my life is the one of “habitus.”  To summarize very broadly, it just means that our upbringing, values and past experiences all shape our current socio-cultural outlook and outcomes.  In the larger scheme of things it matters because there are also practices in play that impact the process of social climbing through the accumulation of wealth and privilege.  Face it, we all want the best and are a part of the game, whether we are aware or not.  So, this is helpful in two ways: one, if you want to take part and win a little, you can actively take on endeavors that will help you reach your objectives for success; two, you are able to understand people’s motivations with a bit more compassion because, habitus comes into play for all of us.  Now, it is important to remember that the best players make it look effortless.  Everyone tries but some come off a bit desperate.

Taking this into consideration, I can better understand certain aspects of my own character.  My love for fashion did not come out of nowhere but was initiated by a mother who taught me from a young age that it matters how we present ourselves to the world.  God, you should have seen some of my outfits as a child, she has impeccable taste.  It is from her that I learnt the value of clean lines, well-cut tailoring and how our styles can reflect our sense of self.  When you love fashion, it’s easier to engage with these principles when you have a body that you’re comfortable in.  Life’s too short not to look and feel great and obviously everyone defines this for themselves and on their own terms.

Secondly, I am particular when it comes to aesthetics, not just in fashion but also the material world.  This type of need for perfectionism also carries through to my love of the culinary arts.  There is nothing that feeds the soul more than good food.  Yes, you can still indulge in this realm while setting limits on portion size and using some common sense.  And god, if you do have a treat don’t waste it by feeling guilty.  You would have done better not eating it at all.  Being particular means that I’m also a control freak who tries to not ask for help.  Therefore, when you come over to my house my answer will probably be “no thanks” when people graciously offer their assistance.  It’s no slight to them, I’ve just been raised and surrounded by perfectionists who have thoroughly frustrated me.  When someone takes you up on your offer to help out, but nit picks everything in the process, you kind of want to say, WTF, do it yourself.  Therefore, knowing this, I do it myself.  And, if I do ask for help I relinquish control and try my best to keep my mouth shut so that the person gets to feel the full satisfaction of getting something done.  Really, you can change it when the individual goes home anyways to not hurt their feelings.

Thirdly, control freaks are infamous dissectors and this often gets worse when they become parents.  Especially in this day and age when there are so many books available about various methods, it’s easy to become too mindful of your actions.  My very blunt PhD supervisor, who is also a mother, once said to me “hey, as long we’re not locking our children in closets and beating them, we’re doing pretty good.”  So, a little common sense comes into play.  Love them, be there, and do your best but give yourself a break.  There are so many critics already, do not add to the noise.  It is also pretty likely that with any social interaction, we will crash into each other in the best of ways.  Habitus demands it.

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Game on

I have a strong dislike for football.  I know that most sports are physical but there’s just something about having a position that solely consists of running through other bodies and dealing with the damage that doesn’t sit well with me.  Also, sitting on a commuter train with a hoard of Patriots fans on Super Bowl parade day didn’t exactly endear me any more to the game.  So needless to say, my husband and I are going to discourage our son from playing this sport in the future even though he will be growing up in America.  Andrew takes a stronger stance and says that “C will never play this sport.”

My perspective softened slightly after the Patriots won the Super Bowl and I started to listen to some of the media interviews.  I only really became interested because of the Malcolm Butler story.  Come on, who does not love the underdog triumphing in every way imaginable on game day?  One soundbyte that was quoted frequently basically involved Malcolm saying that it doesn’t matter where you came from, but it matters what you do when you get there.  This is a scrapper who did not give up.  Fuck, that’s inspirational.  If you watch the interception you notice that he sort of puts his shoulder in front of the other player to get at the pass.  You get that grit from having to fight for a spot on literally the last train that was going to come for you in your pro career.

Many other players also spoke of how what ensued on the field was nothing special because these were the exercises that they performed each and everyday.  What they achieved did not happen because of an exceptional event but instead was the result of the time they put into their craft.  That is such an important message to any young person who may be looking up to them and hanging onto their words.

Never having been particularly sporty, other than excelling at swimming, I wished that I had had this sort of influence for most of my life.  This type of work ethic and determination can positively impact so many other aspects of your wellbeing.  I’m happy that my son has an athletic father to grow up with who can nurture this part of his development.  My husband is not cocky, loud or boisterous, in spite of both his intelligence and talent in various athletic endeavors.

Through his immersion in learning to ice skate each Sunday, my son’s current idols consist of hockey players.  A few weeks ago a young player was practicing on the ice with his full gear on.  As he’s making his way off the ice, C points out to his dad that there’s a real hockey player.  This thirteen year old kid, with Ashworth on his uniform, smiles and comes over to say hi and gave my son a high-five.  Later on, when C takes a tumble on the ice Ashworth comes over, helps him up and even demonstrates for a bit how to skate, and man, he was a great skater.  I was amazed that at a such a young age he was so humble, nurturing and sweet.  I’ll take these type of hockey stars over Spiderman or Batman any day.  Play on player.

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Bend it

Whatever would we have done without our 20s?  Those glorious days when we had the opportunity to be bad, chase boys, be irresponsible and then make our way home.  All within reason of course.  Initially I was going to say within the limits of not hurting people but who are we kidding, we hurt plenty of people in those days.  Most of us just attribute it to the process of growing up and I’m pretty sure that no one is holding onto those slights.  I would hope that we are all over it.

But seriously though, how can you possibly make your way towards being a semi-whole person without that time to falter a bit while still trying hard to be good?  How can you determine what your values specifically are without testing the boundaries?  How do you know what you will and will not stand for without witnessing first hand what you and others are capable of?  How do you function without the ability to not be a judgmental brute?

And you know what, maybe those who never participated were always more sure of themselves than the rest of us.  I’m pretty sure that they were busy winning awards and their names were honored at convocation.  Seriously, congratulations on working so hard.  No, seriously, that type of discipline is often more valuable than actual talent.  But I do hope that you were just not afraid of what other people might think or what punishment you’d receive for breaking the rules.  Because if that is the case, you might have missed out on an integral life phase too.  Judging by the careers of my friends and peers we made it out alright too, non?

You know when you need this “wild” time the most?  You need it when you’ve learned to reign it it, or as my favorite blogger and media personality Lainey would say, when you’ve learnt to “sit down.”  Because there will be plenty of occasions in life when you have to be the more honorable person and behave with grace and dignity.  There will be times when you’ll be called on to be selfless and put the well-being of your family above your own.

These thoughts and others are what I ruminated on a lot when I was in the early months as a first-time mother.  The lack of experience with babies drove me, a perfectionist, absolutely crazy.  I like to be prepared and sorry to say that this is the one time when you kind of just have to learn as you go.  I also have always liked to have my own space and my own time, which are the very first things that go.  Suddenly, you have someone who depends on you all the time.  Funnily enough, when my calling came to give it all, I thought about the times when I was the most selfish.  As strange as it sounds, this integral phase when I had to diminish my wants, at least for a little while, was made easier because I already had had that time to be free.

So many people are petrified of raising girls.  I’ve heard it said again and again, about how a girl would be nice but they would be so much harder later.  As many of you know, I grew up mainly with women since even in a large family where both my parents had four other siblings, everyone inherited daughters but one.  I say that we are blessed.  Observing all of my cousins I am proud that we are so different but all found a way to use our talents to callings that we love.  I’m so honored to be amongst women who stayed true to themselves.  So, I don’t fear raising a daughter.  I think she could do worse than a woman who was trained academically and by life to be a feminist.  Because, due to my politics I believe in her gender equality.  Part of that gender equality is faith in her personhood and belief in my chance to help instill good values that she can always return to.  I have the best parents.  Trust me, we always come back.

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Blame it

You know the term “you need a chaser?”  A chaser is that wedge of lemon after tequila, the lime in your vodka-soda, gross sugary syrup in a mix drink.  Basically it’s something to cut the alcohol, which does not taste so great but has the potential to make you feel different.  For a time alcohol was my chaser to life’s hiccups or whatever else I found reason to be stressed about but I soon learnt that it doesn’t really work.  I saw a really great quote on a Lululemon sign once about how alcohol will only make you forget the question but never give you the answer.  Those yogis are wise non?

My relationship with alcohol was perilous from the start due to the allure it held as a banned substance in my household.  Everything becomes desirable when it’s unattainable.  Growing up in a Buddhist family, alcohol was a big no-no.  Along with the baggage that comes with having strict Asian parents is the concept that Buddhists’ minds are their most sacred parts of themselves.  So losing control of it to a legal-depressant is far from ideal.  So when I could finally get my hands on it and had the freedom to do whatever the hell I wanted, I got hammered.  It took me a long time to learn about drinking responsibly and knowing my limits.  It also took me awhile to not feel the need to be drunk to have fun.

When I was pregnant and not partaking in the wine I learnt the pleasure of having an intellectually stimulating conversation without having it dull my brain.  It was also nice to never worry about a hangover.  I got more stuff done.  Surprisingly I didn’t actually want to drink again right away after my son was born.  It was close to a year in fact before I indulged which is a far cry from the “party girl” I once was.  It is just not feasible to have a late night and care for a toddler the next day.  The pain is far too great and so not worth it.  So, I’ve learnt the advantages that come with moderation.  Don’t get me wrong, I occasionally still have a jolly good time, I just hydrate and realize that my body cannot handle those 3am nights, nor does it really want to.

We’ve all moved on in our own ways, with or without the babies.  No one really wants to be that old sketchy guy at the bar.  Dude, the party’s over.  Plus, a stiff drink will never fix the situations where acceptance, resilience and character are needed.  If only it was that easy.

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Festivities

Celebrations are an integral part of marking the December holidays and they come when we need them the most.  After a few weeks of leaving your office under pitch black skies, it’s precisely when the weather starts to turn that we have a few drinks and eat some canapes.  You might think, it’s January, the party is over, who cares.  While you are right, it’s only now, after the detox from champagne and rich foods that the mind is a bit clearer to look back on how to do it right.

What people often forget about the holidays is that it doesn’t happen by chance.  All of those perfectly decorated cookies and delicious meals do not just appear on cue.  There are usually individuals, be they wives or husband, mothers or fathers, who allow you to sit back and enjoy the outcomes of their hard work.  These rituals also have the danger of making you absolutely crazy.  Really, how many gourmet delights can you pull together till it takes a toll on your body and a part of your soul.  So, how can we make it easier?  Here’s my advice on how to be the best kind of host:  an engaged one.

1. Timing

Before I plan a dinner or party I make a master list of every single thing that I will need.  Now this list has several categories and contains everything from the ingredients to the type of cutlery I will be using.  Then, I make a plan of when I am going to buy or gather all of these materials.  The trick is that you give yourself a lot of lead-up time.  No one wants to work on a project constantly, even if it involves making place cards.  Take the time you need and know your limits.  If you need a break, take one and pick up the slack when you have more energy.

2. Be present

When you invite guests into your home be sure to take the time to speak to them.  Sure, some platters may need a bit of refreshing but that can be done after you’ve made the rounds.  Trust, they will come back to the table if they really want that savory tart.

3. Finer details

A few years ago I was walking in the grocery store and fell in love with the vintage coca cola bottles.  As someone who rarely drinks soda, this was a very strange attachment.  I love the look of those glass bottles engulfed in ice with the red label peeking out.  The aesthetic spoke to me of a casual cool with that extra care for the details.  Since then, they have appeared at every party I have hosted, from my son’s 2nd birthday to a New Year’s eve party for my parents and their friends.  I am also partial to: cans of San Pellegrino, paper straws (though no one seems to ever use them), Kiju organic juice for the young ones, and Perrier.  With regards to the alcohol, go heavy on the wine and lighter on the beer.  Party-goers seem to prefer to mingle with stem wear.  The French label Kronenbourg with their pretty blue bottles will strike a nice chord.

4. Simplicity

Most people will choose to have a smiling gracious host over a big hot, stressed mess.  To walk into a house with that vibe is just not appealing.  So, before your guests arrive have a drink in hand and be prepared to actually enjoy yourself.  To enable you to do that you might need some help.  Do you want to cut up fruits and vegetables?  If the answer is a “no” then order some platters from the grocery store or a caterer.  The same goes for the rest of the menu.  If it will make it easier, pair some of your dishes with pre-ordered ones.  There is no shame in that but it’s always a shame to miss out on a good time.

I feel that some temperaments are better suited to host parties.  My control-freak tendencies mixed with the generally calm demeanor means that I take great pleasure in organizing such fanfares but experience over the years has taught me to keep it real.  It is just a party.  As soon as it stops being enjoyable, find pleasure in something else.  Above all though, as we make our own happiness, we also make our own fun.  So chillax baby, it’s the people that matter.

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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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