Category Archives: christmas

The ‘Big C’ Doesn’t Stand for Christmas Around Here

It’s past time for an update from me.

Long past time. Those Facebook ‘year-in-review’ cards are taunting me. Also, the mailbox full of Christmas letters, which is something we’ve always spent way too much time and energy on in the past (we are a ‘family of writers’ after all). ‘Tis the season to put on a happy face, some matchy-matchy outfits and show the world how fabulous it is to be me; surpassed only by the sheer joy that comes from being one of my well-adjusted children.

It’s a festive filter. Not lies so much as a iron-willed determination to focus on all the happy, and only the happy. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’ve often looked at a carefully staged family photo and been encouraged. Because we are those people, the best and the brightest parts of our lives.

But we’re also the dark and the ugly. The bickering and the yelling and the gritted teeth between flashes, the self-obsession, the focus on blemishes and fat and who-done-me-wrong, the jealousy and dissatisfaction and greed. Also, the heartbreak and grief and utter confusion, the disabilities and disappointments, the pain and suffering and dark nights of the soul.

No one wants that stuff on the record.

Which brings me to my lack of updates. I’m not sure where to start. I’m not sure what can be put into words.

Since our daughter’s diagnosis we were assured that we had the best possible prognosis (90% cure rate), a fact I didn’t realize I was banking on, until we got the news that she has an unusual mutated form of leukemia. The new number, 65%, is not nearly so bankable. Better than some, and ultimately, just a number… but it was a blow.

She responded well to treatment, although she did develop diabetes due to the meds. Shortly after our not so great news, it became apparent that she had picked up an infection from her latest bone marrow biopsy – skin, blood and, likely, bone infections, actually. Layered on top of that, a UTI and kidney troubles. A week later, a highly contagious, and frankly nasty infection called c-diff landed us in isolation. Add just a dash of liver function decline to keep it interesting.

Suffice it to say, we didn’t leave the hospital after the first month as planned. We ended up staying almost 8 weeks.

On Saturday night, we brought her home!

That’s the upside. The happy holiday snapshot that makes everyone smile. It is SO good to be home! We go back to the hospital every other day, but even that feels like a relief, because her immune system is non-existent right now, her meds are complicated and we are nervous wrecks – we’re happy to get her checked out, just to make sure. These people are on top of it, and they don’t mess around.

The other upside continues to be the support and love of everyone around us. We’re overwhelmed with gifts and food and encouragement from all kinds of people – ‘cancer swag’ is the real deal. Something about this kind of struggle taps into the kindness of all humanity.

Bureaucracy, not so much. But that’s a dark side story.

There’s a lot of dark side too. A lot of moments that don’t make the Facebook feed. We are living every parent’s worst nightmare, and there are very few moments that I’m not aware of that.

We’ve got our game face on most of the time. That’s what parents do. Get through. Research. Dole out comfort/attention/discipline as needed. Wrap up presents. Cry in the shower. Turn on the Christmas lights. Check to make sure she’s breathing.

I’m good at being a mom.

I’m just not so good at being a person right now.

I can’t read anymore, I don’t have the attention span. I spend a lot of time on Facebook instead. The stupid quizzes, celebrity news, whimsical quotes – that’s the depth I can handle. I’m forgetful and touchy and easily overwhelmed. I eat junk food, even when it turns my stomach. I don’t even make plans to exercise. Mostly, I’m angry. Not like usual, where I fuss and rant then feel instantly better. This is a low-level simmering that is far more toxic. So much around me seems pointless. And I am running out of polite.

For instance, the service industry: full of seemingly cheerful people who are paid to make inane small talk with strangers, has become a perpetual irritation to me. I used to be a cashier. It’s the job. Especially at this time of year. I get it. But it still makes my skin crawl. I’ve encountered several versions of: “What fun plans do you have this year?” and, “So, how are you getting into the spirit of the season?” and even, “You look sad, cheer up, we’re celebrating the Saviour’s birth – Christmas is the most wonderful time of year!”

I’ve started giving them an honest answer. Strangely, it doesn’t seem to be what they want to hear. My reality rudely interrupts their peace on earth.

I secretly enjoy their horrified looks. So sick of this pressure to be happy, happy, happy…

bah. humbug.

So here’s us, with the least inspiring Christmas update you’ve ever read. Have yourself whatever kind of holiday you need to have. Life is about more than just the merry. And that’s okay too.

Glimmers of Christmas

audienceWe’re tucked in together, shoulder to shoulder, like books on a shelf. To my left, my husband’s look-a-like, the grey haired version, his face and gestures strange on that familiar frame. His left leg is propped in the aisle, too stiff to bend completely. On the right, my mother’s sister uses her one good hand to maneuver her leg brace into position. Farther down my daughter clambers awkwardly over Daddy and brother, the mountain of coats chair, and Oma, who’s hiding a bag of candy canes at her feet. Nine-year-old arms and legs narrowly miss kicking the curly head in front of us as she wedges herself onto my lap. It’s a full house tonight. Warmth on every side.

pigskinThere’s a cool draft sneaking in under the door. The light stretches thin into this back hallway, the shadows at the end overpowering it entirely. Such a cold, industrial space would seem unwelcoming to most, but his appreciation echoes all the way down. “Baaaaallllllll!” he shrieks, chasing the imitation pigskin as it bumps and thumps its way down the tiles. I close the lid of the Lost and Found box, grateful to the careless student who unknowingly provided our intermission entertainment, my very own half-time show. As he falls on his prey, it’s hard to tell who’s winning the wrestling match. The unwieldy ball is much too big for his little hands, but his enthusiasm is larger than life. I’ve no doubt the ball will eventually concede defeat, collapsing in sheer exhaustion. I certainly do.

starThe stage is dark in every way: black floor, heavy curtains, every light extinguished. But I can hear them, the shuffle of ballet slippers and instructional whispers and nervous giggles. Every parent leans forward, peering past elf costumes, shellacked hairdos and garish stage make up to find their very own dancer. Mine’s wearing a chef’s hat, an apron, and a stage smile I’ve never seen before, but I recognize her shape, the impish twinkle in her eye, and the baking sheet she stole from my cupboard last month. My other dancer comes out more than once, part of senior company, she plays many parts; while I know her face, I don’t recognize her at all. She is so grown up, so graceful and beautiful. Not the baby I used to dance around on my hip.

These moments, these details, fly by so fast. Each one, a brief glimmer of joy and family and the Christmas I’m hoping for. But I’m more focused on keeping us all out of trouble and inside the lines. Shushing the littles who holler and wail at the worst times, making holiday plans with the in-laws, feeling hemmed in by the crowds and worried about dinner, snapping at my partner for not knowing what I need and taking offense when he does the same.

I miss them. Over and over again, I miss the glimmers. They slip through my fingers while I juggle my worries and obligations. I need to rewind, to relive it in slow motion and taste the best moments again.

I guess that’s why I write.

So here’s us, hobbling and flailing, shrieking and wrestling, and dancing our way to Christmas. It might not be postcard pretty, but we’ll get there.

This was written for the Word Press Weekly Writing Challenge: Collecting Detail Weekly Writing Challenge: Collecting Detail | The Daily Post
write about three original details I noticed from encounters during my day.

Music to my Ears

It projects across the room, flat and forced, more like yelling than singing.

It’s a step, or two, behind the rest. A discordant echo chasing lyrics that roll off nimbler tongues with ease.

It’s one of the most beautiful sounds in my world.

We’ve had two Christmas shows already this year. At one, she sat front and centre, arms flailing in an approximation of the actions her classmates were performing. At the other, deciding she didn’t like her spot on stage she pulled up a chair and sat behind the rest of the

There have been years when the traditions of seasonal performance have stung. When she refused to sit with her class or jingle her bells. When she decided scratching her bum onstage was more urgent than saying the words we had practiced so many, many times. When she pulled her dress up over her head for the duration. And while my mouth laughed with everyone else, my heart ached to see her set apart yet again.

But this year… this year her voice rang out above all the rest. Like it has for the last two Christmases, like it does each week at church, and in the car, and lying in bed at night.

She found her voice. She unleashed her inner diva. She fell in love with the spotlight.

Now, the holiday concert is joy. Vibrating with excitement, waving madly, calling out enthusiastically to familiar faces in the crowd, body and soul pouring out in a musical offering, bowing with a flourish at the end, two thumbs up and a toothy grin in my direction. “Good job!” she says to everyone.

No talent scout has darkened our door. No voice coach has approached us with accolades. Her imperfect efforts in these little shows don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.

In fact, the Christmas show is standard fare for most kids, most schools, most families. Everyone does it. No big deal.

But these molehills are mountains to us. We don’t take any of it for granted. Which makes it even more magical.

At the church pageant our daughter’s friend, from Special Olympics, lisped a single line into the microphone. Heavily prompted. Two words at a time. I had to choke back tears as the crowd clapped and cheered.

Next week, we have another Christmas concert. I can’t wait. Because that toneless, tuneless, guileless song is music to my ears.

So here’s us, where performance is judged purely on enthusiasm and effort. And the ability to keep one’s clothes on in public.

Standing up to December

December is the giant of the calendar year. It bullies all the other months with it’s frantic, festive persona. Both the fun-loving life of the party and the obnoxious character who sucks all the attention in the room. She’s busier and happier and larger than life.

But she’s also lonelier and sadder and phonier.

December bullies people too. She’s a hard task master. More than any other time of the year we want to do it all, and be it all, and get it all right. Or at least look the part in the family photo.


Not to worry. This isn’t a nihilistic, anti-Christmas post. It’s not another ’embrace the true reason for the season’ sermon. This is just me, trying to make peace with December, the month I anticipate and dread in equal measure.

I love the trimmings and trappings of the holidays. I relish the music and the decorations and the warm, spicy smells. I’m deeply touched by Nativity, and the connotations of Immanuel: ‘God With Us’. I even enjoy rushing around to create those special seasonal moments.

Except when I don’t.

In December, there’s a fine line between ‘have-to’ and ‘want-to.’ Traditions can either comfort or consume, enhance or ensnare, delight or dilute. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: do our rituals serve us, or do we serve them?

Advent is meant to be a time of reflection, of mindfulness, of living with intention. This is both a spiritual discipline and a practical skill, and it doesn’t just happen, no matter how many garlands we hang.

So here’s me, making it clear from the get-go: December is not the boss of me!

Happy Birthday JC!

Today I spoke to someone who refused to say “Merry Christmas!”

I can sense the Evangelicals getting all in an uproar as I write this (cause nothing says celebrate with us better than arrogance and bossiness).

I decided not to litigate. Or protest. Or start a petition.

Not just because I think people have every right to celebrate what or how they want (free country and all that). Not just because she is incredibly stubborn and will not be moved. Not just because she’s my kid.

Because I think she got it right.

This past month I’ve read and watched and heard dozens of Christmas productions. From silly to profound, we come up with new ways and resurrect old ways, we add a modern twist here, a cool graphic there – all trying to communicate the simple but astounding truth: God was born!

My little B has cut through all the crap today. She simply says:

Happy Birthday Jesus!


So here’s us, hope you’re enjoying the birthday party as much as we are. Happy Birthday indeed!

Friday Favourites: The End of the World

candlesToday is The End.

Of the Mayan calender.

Not, it would seem, the world.

Since we don’t actually use the Mayan calender. Since most of us had never even heard of it until this year. Since it’s really not this mystical, prophetic word, merely the end of an ancient system of time measurement (according to our Mayan tour guide when we were in Mexico last year). It’s really not worth panicking about. When my calender runs out, I simply go out and get a new one. It doesn’t have to MEAN anything.

But there are a lot of Chicken Littles in this world. At the slightest provocation they jump right to doomsday scenarios. It’s silly, but kind of entertaining as they run around, wringing their hands, worrying about end of days. Remember Y2K? Good times.

At this time last week I heard about the Sandy Hook school shooting. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. For those families it really must feel like the end of the world, no matter what calendar we use. And as much as we want to find a reason and assign blame and make it MEAN something, it was the kind of horrific violence that will never make sense to me.

This is where Christmas can either help or hurt. Either it is an idealized, pretty holiday full of trite and easy answers. OR it is God of the Universe jumping into the chaos, confusion, pain and stupidity that we call life, to be WITH US.

There were end of the world cults in Jesus day. There was senseless cruelty and systematic violence (see: Herod killing all the babies of Bethlehem, Roman torture methods etc.). He wasn’t the instant-fix, beat-up-the-bullies, end-to-all-troubles Messiah they wanted and expected, but he was GOD WITH US. And somehow, even when it doesn’t make sense, that helps.


Merciful God, in this Advent season we thank you that you can rewrite the script of our lives,

moving us from wandering to arrival,

from self-hatred to acceptance,

from distance to nearness,

from loneliness to belonging,

from weakness to energy,

and all this because of the enfleshment of your dear Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus, who became one of us

and showed us the way.


From: Thoughts and Prayers of Advent

Christmas for Dummies

I almost gave up on this video, it seemed slow, but the ending is worth it. The point of all this: religion, christmas, theology… is really so simple.

Revolutionary Approach to Christmas

Both challenging and encouraging as we try to downsize Christmas to a more manageable size, Advent Conspiracy is a new way to approach the holidays.

Must See Video

If you haven’t seen Landfill Harmonic yet, then you’re a rotten egg. Triumph of the human spirit, uplifting, inspirational – I’m running out of clichés… you get the picture.


Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.

~ Oren  Arnold

So here’s us, where each day the world begins again. And God is with us through it all.

Also, I mispell the word calander EVERY time.

Friday Favourites Reblog: Christmas at Our House

I have mentioned recently that we’ve decided to Downsize Christmas this year (insert gasp of shock and horror). I haven’t always felt this way. So here’s a blast from the past (last year at this time) with an old Friday Favourites:

So, the main problem a lot of people have with Christmas is that it starts WAY too early and consumes everything in its wake. Capitalist profiteers grab onto it like its the last cigarette at an AA meeting. It is in your face everywhere you turn: the decorations, the events, the sales, the music… everywhere you go, that same cheesy music echoes in your ears.

Well, I totally drank the koolaid this year. So brace yourself for an all festive favourites post today. Sorry cynics, you’ll have to look elsewhere for your holiday rant. But be sure to check back in the new year, I have very ambivilant feelings about Valentine’s Day.

Favourite Christmas Quote: “Teach us to give and not to count the cost.” — St. Ignatius of Loyola. Coincidentally, this is my husband’s LEAST favourite Christmas quote. But I’m pretty sure the saint was talking about a generosity that goes beyond fuzzy socks and santa claus pez dispensers.

Favourite Christmas Book: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. Not the most politically correct book of all time, but it has a heart of pure gold. Plus, I remember my mom reading it to me, so extra points for nostalgia. It starts with “The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.”

Favourite Christmas Movie: definitely It’s a Wonderful Life! I MUST watch this at least once every year, preferably on Christmas Eve. If you don’t like this movie, you have no heart. You are cold and cynical. And you may be married to me.

Favourite Christmas Tradition: We shamelessly stole this idea from our friends Mark and Lanette (you know what they say about sincerity and flattery and all that good stuff). One night in December we invite another family to join us for Grinch Night (a different family every year; be nice, and next year we might invite you!). Everyone dresses in green; this may or may not include green streaks in your hair and green face paint. We eat all green food and watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and “Shrek the Halls”. Green caramel popcorn is the best – looks snotty, tastes delicious!

Favourite Gift Giving Ritual: Like most concerned (read: neurotic and guilt ridden) parents in the modern age, we are always looking for ways to teach our kids the real “reason for the season”. Ya, I said it. I just threw up in my mouth a little bit, it’s so cheesy, but truly, I want more for them than just mindless consumption. We found the idea of Three Wise Gifts in a parenting magazine years ago and it brings a little more meaning to Christmas morning. Before opening gifts we read about the Kings who came to worship Jesus (an undetermined number of magi who came years after Jesus was born with 3 gifts). Each year we buy our children gifts in these three categories – frankincense: for worship (usually a cd or meaningful book); myhrr: for the body (clothes or good smelling stuff); and gold: something precious (this is the “big” item and is often shared by all three). Not only does it keep the gifts reasonable, but each one represents a different side of Jesus – God, Saviour and King.

Favourite Christmas Character: Mary, the mother of God. A scared, confused teenager facing an unplanned pregnancy and the censure of her whole community. Birth-days are not cupcakes and party favours. On the actual day of birth there is pain, exhaustion, blood, sweat and tears. It is a messy, overwhelming, and completely amazing experience for every mother. Throw in a few miracles, angelic visitors, political upheavel, uninvited guests… it’s hardly the serene image we see on Christmas cards. But even more powerful, because that’s kind of God’s thing – showing up in the middle of chaos and upheaval.

A great place to find thought provoking and beautifully written articles called Deeper Story had a great post about Mary, definitely worth a read: Incarnation.

So here’s me, celebrating Christmas in the middle of chaos.

How responsible of me – I’m recycling last year’s Christmas-y posts. This year I am looking forward to the staff party slightly more, since I know/like/have lots in common with the people at his new job. BUT the small talk thing continues to be a challenge.

So Here's Us...

‘Tis the season for close-quarters shopping, holiday recitals and office Christmas parties. Extroverts soak it all up – the energy, the excitement and the near constant socializing. For the rest of us, who shall hereafter be referred to as “normal,” the constant pressure to make nice with strangers is exhausting and overwhelming.

I’ve been struggling to find the appropriate analogy to describe my feelings as I anticipate my husband’s staff dinner. Sticking hot pokers in my eye? Getting a pap smear? Painful dental procedure? All three at the same time…

I hate small talk.

I’d like to think that this makes me a person of great depth, integrity and complexity. As if I am simply too busy/intellectual/chock full o’ spiritual insight to discuss unimportant topics with any old Joe Schmo who crosses my path. Of course, I have ample time to peruse pintrest, watch Walking Dead webisodes and google my own name.

The truth…

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Friday Favourites 37: Advent

Last day of November. Blink and you’ll miss the next month entirely, it can zip by that fast.

Advent has so many great possibilities, but this year, more than ever before, I am embracing the adage: I can’t do everything. Maybe you can. Maybe Martha Stewart can (millions of dollars and a household staff would help). But me, not so much.

We’re not skipping Christmas this year, we’re just, downsizing.


Anyone who believes that men are the equal of women has never seen a man trying to wrap a Christmas present.

~ Unknown (aka Common Sense)

Advent Tradition

It’s that special time of the year. The tradition we hold most dear. That’s right: Daily Chocolate.

BUT, I’ve got a thing about mainstream chocolate (which uses child slave labour to pick cocoa: mmmm… taste the suffering). So I’m not buying the standard ones anymore.

Enter despair and depression. I know you think I’m talking about the kids, but it’s Glen who nearly wept at the thought of doing without. On the other hand, I nearly wept at the prices of the fair trade calendars. So last year (when I was feeling more Griswald than Grinch) I put together our Fair Trade Advent Calender.

Christmas Countdown: Fair Trade Style


Once it’s made, it’s not much work to tweak and reuse each year. This year the kids are helping put it together, including brainstorming simple family activities for each day: things we’re already doing or can do with little to no prep/hassle. I wonder if “Clean your room” counts as festive fun. I know it’d be fun for me.

Christmas Lights

This year we are NOT putting up our Christmas lights. After watching this, we may never again. I mean, how can you follow something like this?

At first I thought this song was saying something about “Gangland Style.” Some kind of hip hop nod to the mean streets. But then they did the dance at the Wiggles concert and it didn’t seem very gangster-ish after all. What language is that? What does it mean? When did I get so old that I am bothered not understanding the lyrics of a song?

Amphibian Video

C watches this and decides that she really MUST have a pet frog for Christmas. I watch and think, “ha ha ha… ew… NO.” Sorry kid.

Meanest. Mom. Ever.

So here’s us, celebrating Advent without a pet frog or Christmas lights or a daily dose of brown wax popped out of an overpackaged “calender”… and all the better for it.

All I Want For Christmas is… Less Christmas

Sunday night we saw a production of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

In our basement.

The big girls and their friend put together an elaborate play with costumes and music and several very long intermissions. Their interpretation was unique to say the least.

Mary Scrooge was a modern woman who, according to the Ghost of Christmas Past, proposed to her boyfriend at Christmas. He promptly turned her down because she “just wasn’t into Christmas, which is, like, his favourite time of year… so it just would, like, never work.” Jerk! Kind of seems like she dodged a bullet there, but maybe that’s just me.

The Ghost of Christmas Present said, “S’up, yo?” then brought her to Tiny Tim, who was repeatedly dumped on his head. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t scripted, but it did increase the pathos (and fill me with gratitude that they had cast a Cabbage Patch doll instead of little brother for the role).

The Ghost of Christmas Future was appropriately creepy in one of our camping ponchos. The gravedigger, played by a snarky cowgirl, assured Mary that this would be her fate if she didn’t learn to love Christmas.

In the final scene, Scrooge celebrates her new favourite holiday (under threat of death) by running around town in a Hawaiian dress buying cheese for all the children. This is either a nod to Muppets Christmas Carol or a reflection of my eldest’s dearly held belief that cheese is the best food in the world (the stinkier the better).

The truth is, much like Mary, I’ve been dreading this whole season. The work. The decorating. The expense. The pine needles tracked through every nook and cranny of the house. The shopping and worrying and lists and trying to get everything right. I’ve been sick for a long time and now that I’m feeling better, this is a giant obligation hanging over my head.

But I’m the Mom. So my feelings from one moment to the next are rarely the priority. Which is why I decided to bite the bullet. I pulled the Christmas boxes out of storage and determined to unpack the bare minimum. The girls pulled out the rest and put most of it in their own room. At least now I can stop stressing about it.

It wasn’t that big of a deal. Not nearly as bad as I had built up in my head. In fact, it was fun to see how excited all the kids were. They have enough joy and anticipation and excitement to offset Mom and Dad’s general weariness.

I had to laugh at the subtext of their festive play. Not liking Christmas is the ultimate sin. Sure, Scrooge was rude and mean and greedy, but none of that was as unacceptable as being a Holiday Humbug. This is the moral of the tale as seen through preteen eyes. Also the Grinch, Shrek the Halls and countless sappy Hallmark specials.

Why is this a sin? Why do we feel this pressure? I have certainly felt guilty about my lack of “spirit” this year. I’m usually one of those Christmas-y folks that loves every minute.

Many of us take the opportunity in December to celebrate Jesus Christ. For us, the elaborate rituals of the season are all part of that, which makes it meaningful. But we don’t need Christmas to celebrate Jesus. He didn’t celebrate it himself, now that I think of it.

It is also a time to celebrate family and generosity and eating delicious food. For most of us. For some, Christmas comes with a lot of posing and pretending and pain. It’s consumerism at its worst. Greed. Loneliness. Impossible expectations.

So maybe that’s why the Grinch Hated Christmas. And maybe it’s none of our business that he did. It’s not a sin, after all.

Christmas is what you make of it. For some that means Martha Stewart meets Jimmy Stewart meets Angels Singing on High. For others, less is more. Who’s to say which is a better way? It comes down to personality, priorities and beliefs. So, let’s cut each other, and ourselves, some slack. Everyone should do as much or as little as they enjoy.

As for me and my house, we’ll find our Christmas spirit, just like we always do. And I’m not going to worry if we don’t.

After the show we all danced like maniacs to “All I Want For Christmas is You.” Pretty appropriate considering the one thing I’m totally excited about is sharing Christmas with our boy. Everything else is optional.

And for a moment, while L was showing her Dad how to do the moonwalk the “right” way, B was practicing her disco moves and the boy was doing an impressive running man, I felt like Christmas may be a pretty good idea after all.

So here’s me, a little less Grinch today than yesterday. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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