Father Christmas

Raymond Briggs’ 1973 portrayal of a decidedly human Santa Claus, Father Christmas gets 71PDRDWHJVL._SS500_.gifmy vote as my favourite Christmas book ever. In this graphic novella, Briggs turns the traditional stereotypical view of Santa — jolly, benevolent, good natured — on its head.

Awoken from a dream about sunning himself on a tropical beach, Santa greets Christmas Eve with a mild curse: “Bloomin’ Christmas here again!”. This a very modern Santa, who grumbles about the weather (“bloomin’ snow!”) his herd (“bloomin’ deer!) and the demands of his work (“gettin’ a bloomin’ cold, now!”).  He’s a one-man show: with only a couple of reindeer to help him, and no mention of Mrs. Claus, we follow our man as he readies himself for the biggest day of the year: Christmas.   He flies around the United Kingdom delivering presents, visiting cottages and caravans, and ending, appropriately, at Buckingham Palace.  Gifts delivered, he settles down to a nice dinner, a lovely nip of brandy, a cigar (I know!) and peruses travel catalogs for warmer climes,  which is just what you’d probably want to do too, if you were in his boots.

There are few words in this book (and most of them are the word “bloomin’!”) but Briggs’ colourful and evocative illustrations more than make up for the absence of text.  I’ve blogged about this book before, at least in its movie form, so great is my affection for it.  Father Christmas appears to be out of print here in Canada, but it is available from Amazon.com.uk. and abebooks.com


Danforth East Pops Up!

I live in the east end of the city, close to the Danforth, but not the part of the Danforth known as Greektown. No, we’re further east, beyond the reach of Starbucks, in a (so the lingo goes) gentrifying part of town: Danforth East.

It’s a great place to raise a family, as it has all the community amenities that one could want: a great library, good schools, local sports facilities, and a vibrant community-run farmers’ market in East Lynn Park.  However, if you were to walk along our stretch of the Danforth, you’d probably be less than inclined to stay and find out what the neighbourhood is about, given the number of papered-over storefronts that line the street between Coxwell and Woodbine.  There are fantastic independently-run businesses in the area deserving of foot traffic, (I’m looking at you, Better Bulk, Royal Beef, and Silly Goose Kids ) but with so many For Lease signs in windows, the whole area has the appearance of being down and out:  those empty storefronts make you want to go elsewhere.

Enter the Danforth East Community Association (DECA) and their Renew East Danforth Pop-Up Stores Project. Modeled after a successful similar project in Newcastle, Australia, the Pop-Up Stores project links building owners with potential short-term tenants. DECA volunteers paint and ready the stores for the tenants, and landlords donate their empty premises for a short period to entrepreneurs looking to get their feet wet in the world of retailing. After a successful pilot this fall, DECA has organized a full-month of Pop-up stores  — nine shops in six storefronts — in anticipation of the holiday season.

The Toronto Star’s Catherine Porter, who is also one of the project’s organizers, wrote a great article recently about the project’s genesis and aims:  take a look!

It’s a great project with a smart bottom line: if you want to revitalize an area, you need to make it vital for people to come.   By creating foot traffic on the street, DECA is creating buzz  and turning the Danforth East into a destination.  Newcastle, Australia saw a complete turn-around of its downtown business district in three short years. Here’s hoping the Renew East Danforth Pop-Up Stores Project can do the same here.

For more information about the Pop-Up  Stores Project and the artists, entrepreneurs and creative minds who will be setting up shop, click here.

Buy local this holiday season, and pay us a visit out east. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Favourite Holiday Baking

Last week we wrote about our favourite holiday traditions and I wrote about how Mrs. Claus visits our house in the wee hours of Christmas Eve to leave behind pyjamas and Christmas books.

We like to read those stories in our new pjs while eating (gorging on) shortbread cookies.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have a slight obsession with donuts . .  . as in I have never met one that I didn’t like.  But only a few people know that shortbread holds a special place in my heart (and on my thighs).  All I can say is, thank goodness I only make these once a year!

Here are two of my favourite shortbread recipes.  I am not sure where they originated but they sure are tasty.

Classic Shortbread

1 pound of room temperature butter

3/4 white sugar

– whip together in the mixer

– add 3 1/2 cups of white flour

– mix together and make a ball

– roll out to a 1/4 inch thick and cut with cookie cutters

– bake at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes (or whenever you think that they are done)

Whipped Shortbread

1 pound of softened butter

1/2 cup of corn starch

1 cup of icing sugar

– beat together until fluffy then add . . .

– 1 tsp of vanilla

– 3 cups of flour (add it slowly)

– if you are feeling decadent add chocolate chips or pecans

– beat until very fluffy . . . the longer the better

– place dollops on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes

Here’s an insider tip for you: shortbread tastes delicious from the freezer!

What are some of your go-to holiday baking recipes?

Guest Post: Patsy Spanos on Being a Dancing Queen at 40

Español: Bailarines en la discoteca Pachá Ibiz...

Español: Bailarines en la discoteca Pachá Ibiza por la noche (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My situation is a unique one. I am a mother of three young boys — six year old twins and a nine year-old — and for the last five years, I have spent my Julys in Ibiza. For those of you who don’t know Ibiza, it’s a Spanish island close to Barcelona, with a party scene that resembles Babylon during the summer months. Seeing body-painted, half naked women, in their G – strings, is as common here as Lululemon pants are for us in Canada. Bare breasts and string bottoms on the beaches are more accepted than tankinis. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows what a tankini is in Ibiza.

Along with this eccentric fashion sense is the out-of-this-world nightlife that starts somewhere around at 2 a.m. and goes strong until 7 a.m. Luckily dinner in Spain is usually at 10 p.m. and if I feel like putting my dancing shoes on, I tuck the kids in bed by 1 a.m. and away I go! This 40 year old, Canadian mom turns into a Dancing Queen.

Let me stop right here for a second, and put things into perspective. I am a stay-at-home mom from Stouffville, Ontario. The most excitement I get throughout the school year is scoring two free slices for the school pizza lunches. Dancing in the V.I.P section in all the hottest clubs in Ibiza (thanks to a very connected brother in law) throughout the month of July is a far stretch from my home life in Stouffville.

Needless to say, I feel like a fish out of water in this subculture, kind of like Madonna, with her toned arms, desperately trying to hold on to her youth. But the saving grace in all this is that I am a certified YogaDance instructor and I love to dance. So this old maid feeling I get amongst all the young beautiful ladies quickly disappears for me once I start to dance and allow the music to take over.

It is this passion for dance is that controls my Mother Bee instinct and keeps me from throwing a sweater on these half naked 19 year old girls, or from having a one on one with a go-go dancer and strongly suggesting that she read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.  If I did, I’d be behaving like a frumpy Oprah in a Lady Gaga world. Nobody asked me for my opinion, and these girls are all having a great time…so maybe I’m the one with the issues…Maybe I’m just too rigid, and uptight…Maybe I have to change my angle, and let loose….

So, last night, at a very happening club, I made an extra effort to embrace this foreign world. When my husband knuckle-chucked the bouncer, who then waved us through the VIP entrance letting us bypass the horde outside, I instantaneously allowed my I.Q. to drop by five notches. I squeezed my husband’s arms and whispered in his ears, “You are HOT!” After 16 years of marriage, no matter how hard you try, a comment like that oozes with sarcasm, so my husband grabbed me by the waist and pulled me in for a long, romantic kiss. For the first time in a long time I felt like he and I were the only people on the crowded dance floor.

I slowly turned into a Solid Gold dancer, twisting and moving, and turning my body into pretzel positions that would make most people blush in Canada. It was fun! I smiled at strangers and danced close to them. I didn’t know their first names, but I definitely knew the size of their waistlines. I laughed, made funny faces, and challenged them with a dance move that would make the shirtless guy with the cowboy hat on City TV’s Electric Circus nervous. Oh yeah! I would have given him a run for his money that night.

Last night, I wasn’t a conservative, Canadian stay at home mom, looking for the latest specials at Wal-Mart. I was a Goddess who was offered a drink while her husband was in the restroom. Of course, my instinctive reaction was to scream, kiss the boy and thank him for reminding me that I still got it. Whatever “it” is, I like “it”! Even though I had to say, “No thank you,” to the young boy with a Mrs. Robinson fetish, at that moment, I was fifty shades happier 40 year old in Ibiza.

Peeves with Family Day

I have two peeves with Family Day.  Firstly, the concept.  I feel like things like family are so fundamental that they ought not to need a commemorative day, because that suggests that these basics are in need of protection, which in turn means they are under assault, which therefore means that we are undermining the very things that make our lives possible and worthwhile.  I mean, do we have a day to celebrate the air that we breathe?  The earth that we all rely on?

Oh yeah, we do.  Nice.

The second (more immediate, more tangible, much bigger) problem that I have with Family Day is that I don’t get it.  Argh!  I work for the federal government and Family Day is a provincial holiday.  So every third Monday of February, I board an empty streetcar and wind through empty city streets to the downtown core.  I enter one of its usually bustling high towers, except that day it is just a grim building with dimmed lights, and elevators on access card operation only, and the odd tumbleweed.   In addition to the offices, all the shops and restaurants in the surrounding area are closed, so heaven help you if you’ve forgotten your lunch.  My family-less co-workers and I soundlessly float through the halls and haunt our own offices until we drift back to the empty city once more.

Like I need another reason to go crazy.

The Family that sneezes together…

I love Family Day.

What’s not to love? It’s a day off of work and school, where the only obligatory activity is to spend time with your family and relax. As this Toronto Star article states, it’s a holiday that “doesn’t involve turkeys, presents or backyard fireworks, and that’s perfectly fine with Toronto families.” It’s also perfectly fine with me.

So what did my family want to do? Well, we did have brunch planned, and we did hope to catch the re-released Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 3-D (full disclosure: the kids wanted to see it. I like to pretend Star Wars movies one through three never happened…).  Maybe a nice long walk.  If time permitted, we were going to do some baking, and then curl up on the couch together to watch some TV.

What did we do? Well, Sebastian woke up with a fever on Sunday, and by Monday wasn’t any better, so he napped most of the day, and then Daniel started to look green and his tummy started to hurt, and I threw my back out sometime Sunday morning and was just starting to feel better on Monday, though my legs were still wobbly so I wasn’t up for going anywhere, really.

You get the idea. We did nothing. Bupkiss. Nada.

Except…we didn’t do nothing, exactly. We were home, together. We cuddled. We napped. We read together. The boys played lego and Wii and watched a movie.

It was relaxing and nice, and while I wish we’d been feeling better, I also recognize that it’s kind of ridiculous that we all had to get sick to have a day of blissful nothingness together.  So while I can’t say for sure that next year’s Family Day won’t involve brunch and movies, I can say this year’s was all right with me.

Top Ten Ways to Ensure You’re Ready For Christmas

One of the biggest problems with Christmas is that it tends to sneak up on you. There you are, having just finished the last piece of Hallowe’en candy, and BAM! It’s December and you haven’t purchased a single gift. Here are some easy-peasy ways you can ensure that you’ll be ready to put your feet up on Christmas Eve:

10.Convert religions. Stat.

9. Foment dissent among Santa’s Elves. Hire the deserters to be your own minions.

8. Start shopping earlier. Like, in January.

7. Leave your Christmas Lights up all year (Use red and white lights and they double as Canada Day decorations. Clever!)

6. Train your children to make hors d’oeuvres

5. Scrawl “Return to Sender” on Christmas Cards as they arrive. Saves time and postage!

4. Cook two turkeys at Thanksgiving.

3. Clone yourself

2. Pimp out the Elf on the Shelf

And the number one way to be ready for Christmas on time:

1. Everyone gets Chia Pets!

In all seriousness, it’s now three days before Christmas, and I’m indeed the creature stirring at all hours, trying to figure out how to bend time and space so that I can get everything wrapped, baked and ready for the weekend. I’m highly unqualified this Christmas to offer any sort of advice on time-saving, but I do know one thing: a sense of humour is crucial to getting through Christmas, or any other holiday, relatively unscathed. That, and wine. Lots of wine. Drink enough of it, and you’ll forget you had anything else to do!

From my house of chaos to yours: Merry Christmas.

2010 by the numbers

From the home office in east end Toronto, Canada…

(ed. note: Wait! Wrong type of list!)

All right. For those readers who compile lists of useless data as a hobby,  a late Christmas present.  For your consideration:

2010 At My House: By the Numbers:

Number of times we moved house: one

Number of houses we looked at before we found this one: five

Number of items broken during the move: none

Number of summer camps the boys attended: six (three each)

Number of choir rehearsals attended by Daniel: 16

Number of choir concerts: three

Number of swimming lessons the boys attended: 40

Number of gymnastics lessons: 24

Number of ball hockey games: 8

Number of references to the Harry Potter movies or books made by one or the other of the boys: too many to count

Number of visits to Great Wolf Lodge: two

Number of times Marcelle got sick after visiting Great Wolf Lodge: two

Number of times Marcelle was diagnosed with pneumonia: one

Number of cross-border shopping trips: seven

Number of cross-border shopping trips not involving a trip to Target — one

(NB. That was a trip to New York City. They’ve got other stuff there to keep me occupied….)

Number of kilometers run by Peter: 1125

Number of marathons run by Peter: one

Number of blog posts by Marcelle: 27

Approximate number of cups of coffee drunk by Marcelle: 397 +/- 10

Happy New Year from our house to yours. May 2011 count as your best year yet.