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calm in the storm

Snow! Not a big fall, but a beautiful cold blanket; it’ll stay for awhile. I hope it helps the Christmas tree man living in his trailer on Spruce Street, who always has a worrying number of trees left about now. I’m especially glad to see the bird feeder in full use on days like this – there they are, the little ones, pecking at breakfast against the white.

In my email this morning – a note with pictures from friend Lynn, who’s visiting 3 of her grandchildren in Kathmandu, yes, her daughter works for Handicap International and recently moved with her family to Nepal, so Lynn and Denis have gone to visit. It looks cold there, they’re wearing sweaters and hats, but with exotic palm trees in the background; today Lynn will be riding an elephant. And a note from friend Chris in Africa, who writes that today he will be sailing down Botswana’s biggest river in a dugout canoe.

And here is Little Miss Stuck-in-the-mud, sitting in her kitchen, watching sparrows in the garden. Bliss. Soon I’ll go to the market for some Xmas foodstuffs, and again to the loveliest bookstore in Toronto, Nicholas Hoare, for another book – this one, don’t tell her, is for Anna: “A country worth ranting about,” by Rick Mercer, a family favourite. My big extravagance at this time of year – hard-cover books. And then across town, for a visit with Booboo and many hugs.

We made a big family decision yesterday. It turns out that for the first time, no one is joining us for Xmas dinner. Usually we have a crowd of neighbours and friends, and I’d ordered a 14 pound turkey from Mark the butcher – smaller than usual. But it seemed absurd to cook all day just for us, so I made a proposal: let’s spend December 25th like North America’s Jews – though my family always celebrated Christmas, I am half-Jewish after all, and my kids a quarter – and eat take-out Chinese. Enthusiastically endorsed by my kids. We’ll cook a big turkey in the new year and invite plenty to share it.

I think about a home video we have, taken here in 1987. We’d been living in this old house a year, and all kinds of things didn’t work; my ex was working his usual endless hours, the children were 3 and 6, and much of my family came to spend Christmas with us – my widower uncle the world bridge champion from New York, my parents from Edmonton, my aunt from Ottawa. My father and his brother were gourmet eaters and drinkers, so the food had to be excellent, and I had to find presents not only for my own young kids, but for my uncle to give them, and presents for the grown-ups. I was responsible for kids, house, meals, activities, everyone’s happiness, or so I felt. In the video, there’s a smiling young woman in a hideous 80’s sweater with shoulder pads and giant flowers, bustling around keeping things going and talking in a sugary voice. Underneath her smile, she looks frantic, and she was.

Today – no gourmet demands, no train set to assemble, no special Barbies to find – just a calm coating of snow and a quiet day. The presents, such as they are, were wrapped last night while I watched “Law and Order;” my children are getting books and fun things but mostly money, and Eli is too young to know what it’s all about, so his teddy bear and books will be for us to play with. I don’t have to rush out to buy last minute gifts and piles of sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. This will be the most relaxed Xmas in decades, which could not be more welcome after the stress of this year. My mother in Ottawa is still up and down – one minute worryingly unresponsive or not eating, the next sitting up, chatting, finishing her dinner. She’s still in hospital, and on the 27th, Anna, Eli and I will go up for four days, to visit her. I can’t wait.

To all of you out there hurtling into your own holiday season, I do hope you have some moments, in the crazy whirl, for peace and reflection. One suggestion: you are not responsible for everyone’s happiness. Another suggestion: take out Chinese.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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