Archive for December, 2008

I have to admit, I was a little worried about how the rest of Christmas would go — expectations were running incredibly high in certain key quarters — but it was wonderful.  Really and truly, it was festive, warm, relaxing, peaceful, and…  well, remarkably stress-free.  All in all, wonderful.

After starting their Christmas morning off properly with a nice restorative bath, the girls were allowed to go appropriately wild over the rocking horse before we trussed them up in their coats and bundled them off to church (which was just the right mix of festive and solemn and — oh joy! — the Mass was not lost amid the music) .  And then it was the opening of the rest of the presents under the tree, during which my daughters were amazingly well-behaved and actually shared their gifts with one another.  I was ready for grabbing and tantrums and sibling strife, and ended up instead sitting back in my chair and marveling at the scene of peaceful cooperation before me.

And then it was coats on again to go to Grandma and Grandad’s for dinner with the whole extended family — 16 of us in all.  I have to admit, I was nervous — I’m always a little bit wary of big gatherings but especially when I feel I have to perform somehow, and I did feel everyone would want me to gush on about how wonderful our first year in the States has been…  But they didn’t and the day was just plain enjoyable from one end to the other.  Everyone was in good humour, the food was delicious, I enjoyed being in the company of my family, and even successfully avoided getting stuck talking to the every-family-has-one boring uncle.  Bingo.

Naptime came and went, and I waited for a meltdown from one or the other, but it never came.  They stayed out of the living room and kitchen, they ate all their food — spilling nothing on their Christmas Day dresses —  and they had nothing but smiles for everyone all day.  When we finally got home around 9pm, we got them straight into bed and they fell asleep almost immediately.  It had been a long day for them — for all of us — but I couldn’t have been more pleased.

On Boxing Day, my parents and sister came to our house, bearing all the Christmas gifts that we had been meant to open at their house the day before but which we’d had to postpone when time ran short.  There were bags and bags of presents — Christmas is the kind of holiday that feeds my mother’s voracious streak of generosity, and the present-unwrapping took no less than two hours.  At the end of such a marathon-run of giving and receiving, even the adults begin to lose patience, but the girls…  well, the girls were good as gold again and I was stunned again.  Honestly, I don’t know what got into them those 48 hours, but it helped so much.

And one other thing that helped a lot: my sister loved the gift I made her.  I honestly didn’t know if she would.  I didn’t know if my sister — who makes it clear that she’d rather we all stuck to her Amazon wishlist, who has time and again forgotten not only to thank me for gifts but even to let me know she’s received them, and who often forgets to send gifts or cards herself — I didn’t know if she’d like it at all, or if she’d take one look and chuck a cursory “thanks” in my general direction, before setting it aside without even a backwards glance.

But she didn’t — she loved it!  I’d made her a set of fridge magnets, showing every place she’s lived, on a map written in one of the (four) languages she speaks.  As she looked down at them in utter confusion, trying to make out the distorted letters and slowly sound out the names, she suddenly realised what they were and let out such a whoop, and then rushed over to give me a great big hug.  It was a silly thing, really, in the whole scheme of things, but it meant the world to me.  And it made my Christmas entirely.


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Christmas began with my daughter’s eyes, still sleepy but sparkling with wonder as she looked up at me from her disheveled bed and I leaned down to kiss her.  “I did hear him!”  Her voice was pure excitement and I got my first taste of what fun Christmas is for the parents of little ones.  “I did hear him and I looked but…”  And the voice dropped to disappointment, “…but I couldn’t see him.”  Her brow furrowed and her mouth turned down.  I saw that the curtain was askew — she had indeed been up and looking, along with millions of other little believers all around the world.

“Do you think he came down the chimney?  Do you think he brought us presents?”


“Shall we go see?!”


She took the stairs as fast as she dared in her footed pajamas — hardwood can be treacherously slippery, and she is still at the age where she has to hold on tight to the rail and take each step with both feet.  When she got to the bottom and saw the pile of gifts, and the rocking horse wearing a festive gold bow, she looked back at me, full of amazement but unsure what she was meant to do.

“Who is that horse for?” I encouraged her.

ME!!!” she blurted, pushing her hands together and hopping up and down.  And then added, to my surprise, “…and …and my sister!!

“Do you want to try it?”  She stopped hopping and looked sheepish, and then touched the horse’s face, making him rock back and forth a little.  I tried again, “Do you?”

“I…” she looked at me plaintively. “…I don’t want to get him wet.”  Oh, my good girl!  She was still in her overnight training pants and they would be full to bursting after doing the whole nightshift.  I was more than a little stunned that my three year old could stand in front of a brand-new rocking horse and tree stacked with presents on Christmas morning, and still be so conscientious.  I could hear her daddy getting E2 up and putting her in the bath — she is still too young to understand how wrong such a delay was on this particular morning and so made no complaint.

“Ok.  Would you like to have your bath first with your sister?”

“Yeah!”  There was visible relief on her face.

“And then when you’re dressed, we’ll come back down, and you two can open presents together?”

Yeah!”  The worry left her face completely now and she was happy again.

So I took her hand, and we went back upstairs, me following her sweet little bottom, covered in the fuzzy polka dots of her pajamas which couldn’t hope to hide the sagging pants behind them, as she held carefully onto the rail and painstakingly took each step with both feet.  Christmas is exciting, for sure, but it’s a bit intimidating too, and — I mused later, as M and I got ourselves dressed to spend our first proper Christmas Day with my family in 15 years — it’s probably best faced fully dressed, and with a clean bum, and with your best friend next you for support.

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At the last minute, my daughter has blown it.  Unbeknownst to me, E1 went to bed last night with a blue crayon and, when I went into her room this morning, the first thing I spotted was her scribbled decoration all over the wall above her bed.  I wanted to shout, I wanted to laugh — and I smiled to myself that it really doesn’t matter because it has happened to a house we own.

She smiled up at me, her eyes glowing,  “I did listen!”

“Listen? For what?”  I bent down to kiss her.

“For the reindeer!” said with such enthusiasm that her curls bounced.

“No, sweetheart, that’s tonight.   Father Christmas is coming when you go to bed tonight.”  I said, reciting the traditional Christmas lie that all parents tell their ever-believing children.  I looked up at the wall and then back to her with a stern face.  “You did colour on the wall, didn’t you?” I said gravely.

“No, I didn’t,” she replied, her eyes as wide and honest as she could muster.  “I didn’t!  My… ” Her voice took on a conspiratory tone, “my sister did!”

It is her first lie.  I bit my lip to keep from smiling at this dubious milestone and tried to think quickly how best to handle it.   “No, she didn’t.  You did, didn’t you?” I said in a calm voice.

No!  No, she did!  I didn’t!”

I looked up at the wall, the crayon extending well beyond the reach of a nearly-2-year-old.  Setting my face even more sternly, I looked down an my daughter — who was quickly advancing from mere fib to well-entrenched lie —  and said her name in a slow growl, that warning tone that mothers use with children who are going too far.  “Tell me the truth.  E2 didn’t do it, did she?  Did you do it?”

“No! E2 did do it!”

Again, I growled gently, “Tell me the truth.”

She looked at me, still for a moment, and then said, “I did it.”

I breathed a sigh of relief — I really hadn’t been sure how to handle it if she’d persisted in her lie — and thanked her for telling me the truth.  And then I went through the necessary admonishments, both for her artwork and for the lie, and she did look truly repentant and told me she was sorry.

And so, on the last day before Father Christmas arrives to give presents to all the good little girls and boys, my lovely daughter — so often so remarkably well behaved that she quite surprises me — has blown it in a big way!  She told a deliberate and calculated lie, and tried to shift blame onto her sister.  It was a moment I knew would come and had been waiting for, and yet it still took me totally by surprise when she did it.  And she knows she did something really very naughty — all day long, she has asked me again and again, “What did I do?…  Did I tell a lie?… What is a lie?… What is the truth?…”, and I have explained over and over these strange new concepts.

By rights, she should get coal tomorrow morning for this serious transgression.  But she won’t — Father Christmas is remarkably good natured that way, and her gifts are wrapped and sitting expectantly under the tree.  I know she will lie to me many more times as she and I travel this journey of mother and child, but I hope we can both handle it with as much grace as we did today.  And I find I feel a certain quiet joy in the fact that she did came clean to me in the end, and that she was so clearly sorry for her mistakes.

And tomorrow, I will take great joy in watching her experience of the wonder of a child’s Christmas — believing completely the lie I have told her her — with no coal in sight.


I wish you all a very Happy and Blessed Christmas.  And no coal for you either.

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We’re a little late…  and we’ve got no ornaments…  and I’ve not had a chance to bake (egg-free) gingerbread men or stars to hang on it yet…

But I think it looks pretty fab nonetheless!

After six weeks of feeling like we’re surrounded by boxes and only just moved in last week, it has instantly made the house feel warm and cosy.  There’s nothing like a Christmas tree!

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Have I praised Trader Joe’s enough?  Nah, I don’t think so.  Let me share a little something that I could almost call life-altering.  Ok, not really life-altering, but it is pretty darned stunning.

I have no idea why I picked up a bottle marked “Castile Soap” — I had no idea what castile soap is — but the name sounded intriguingly old-fashioned (and French…  and revolutionary…  and then I realised I was thinking of the Bastille, which has nothing much to do with soap, really…).  Anyway, I picked up the bottle and turned it over to read the ingredients, and I was intrigued.

How good does that sound?  How righteous?  I can pronounce everything on that label.  I know (roughly) what it all is, without having to have a Masters in chemistry!  Skin Deep gives it all a nicely reassuring low hazard rating.  And when was the last time you saw any commercial cleaning product with so few ingredients?  And what’s more, I really liked that peppermint being in there.  I unscrewed the lid and had a little sniff and was carried away by that gorgeous scent — a smell that comes not from some test-tube in a lab at IFF, but from a good healthy dose of the real thing.  I checked out the price, fully expecting it to be some jacked-up, specialist-product price…   it was $2.99.  $2.99! I put the lid back on that bottle and it went straight in my trolley.

Now, here’s the thing that’s crazy about this stuff — the other side of the label lists its suggested uses… and they range from shampoo to body wash to bubble bath to fruit wash to dish soap to — wait for it — bathroom cleaner to floor soap.  Floor soap… Shampoo…  I’ve never ever contemplated using the same stuff on my hair that I use on my floors.  And here’s the second crazy thing — it really works as all of these things.  I use it on my floors all the time and it not only gets them clean, that peppermint rises up and makes the whole house smell gorgeous.  I put it in a hand-soap dispenser and it cuts through the smell of onions or fish like a knife (it’s a bit runny, so I put it in one of those soap dispensers that makes it foam up and that solves the problem).

But what has really made me come over all evangelical about it is when I washed my hair with it.  It gets my hair clean — squeaky clean.  Not the kind of platicised, chemicalised clean that we’re all used to from normal shampoos — my hair doesn’t feel slick and easy to run my fingers through, like it’s been coated in something.  When I use this castile soap as a shampoo, it’s kind of hard to run my fingers through my hair… the same way it’s a bit hard to run your finger over a clean dish  when you’ve got all the soap off it and dried it and it’s squeaky clean.

And boy, can’t I tell this is something different when I step out of the shower and dry my hair.  Suddenly, it’s springy…  it’s bouncy…  like my limp, sorry-for-itself, poker-straight hair has never been in my entire life!  Every time I’ve used this soap as a shampoo, I have had a good hair day.  Every time.  Granted, I don’t use wash my hair with every day — it feels too special, like I shouldn’t be allowed to use it every day. I hold onto it and only allow myself it a couple of times a week.  It’s like I’m almost afraid to break the spell.

I used it on E1 today.  I knew this was going to be the ultimate challenge to the Castile Soap Magic, because her curls are so insane that they need very, very special treatment to keep them from turning into a wild, uncontrollable mess.  But I wanted to see what this stuff would do to it, so I poured a bit into my hand today and lathered up the post-sleep tangled mess that sat atop her head.  I rinsed it to that squeaky clean-ness and then, for good measure, I lathered it up all over again.  When I rinsed it this time and then tried to run a comb through it, it was as impossible as I’d feared it might be.  Without being coated in gobs of creamy conditioner, that hair grabbed onto the comb like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood and would not let it go.  Damn.  The Castile Soap Magic had failed!  The spell was broken!  Damn!   So, I gave in and coated her hair in its usual handful-sized glob of conditioner and — ah, there! — the comb ran through beautifully.  Her hair laid — neat, heavy, defeated — in straight lines down her back, tamed at last.  And, even after I’d rinsed the conditioner out, her hair was still cowed, still heavy and tired from the fight.

But I wanted her hair to have that same spring that mine has after being washed in the castile soap, so I put another little puddle of it in my hand and very gently combed it through her hair, and then just barely massaged it into a lather — carefully, carefully… so that those curls couldn’t work into tangles again.  And this time, when I rinsed it, the curls began to rise up into lovely ringlets.  And when her hair dried, it was so light and full of body — and looked amazing.

Have I convinced you?  Go!  Go now!  Buy it.  Wash your floors, wash your dishes, wash your hair.  Feel righteous.  You’ll love it!

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I don’t want to say any more than this: my lovely husband, who is paid hourly, and normally leaves the house before 7am and often doesn’t get home until 6.30 or 7.30 or 8.30 or even later, has been getting home nearer to 3.30 or 4 for the past week and a half.  Yesterday, he clocked up not even 5 hours.  Work is slow, he tells me.  People aren’t spending money.  All the guys are getting home early.  And then he adds, but this is normally a busy season.  His on-call days are usually as filled up as his normal days, but last weekend he had only two quick calls.

He hasn’t yet got that all-important local license — he has to wait for the next exam date, which won’t be until spring — and, because of that, he is the least qualified of all the guys at work.  And he was the last in.

I am very frightened.

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Everyone else’s houses up and down the street are strung with joyful, twinkly lights.  I’ve been meaning to get out buy some so we can join in the festivities, and on Sunday I finally did it.  I stood in the shop with two cranky kids as I pushed unwisely into their naptimes, in order to peruse the hundreds of different styles, colours, sizes, lengths, and blink-speeds on offer.  After a little deliberation, I chose the lights that I felt best expressed our own personal Christmas style and made my way to the snaking queue to pay for them.

When we got home, I pulled them out of their box and checked them, then gathered up some cable-ties to help attach them to the porch railing, poured a steaming cup of tea to keep me warm, bundled myself up in my coat and hat and boots, and carried everything outside.  And just before I started stringing them along railing,  I discovered that this house has no outside socket.


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