Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ornamental Beauty

The McLaren Christmases, like lots of families, always centered heavily around tradition. As a little girl, I remember getting dressed up on Christmas Eve and going to church, where the minister would always throw in a couple of Santa comments ("I heard on the radio that Santa was spotted flying over Germany about an hour ago!"). I would look up through the stained glass window and imagine Santa's sleigh wheeling through the air on his way to Iroquois Falls. What could be more magical?

After church, we'd all pile in the car (again) and head for Nana and Grandpa's house. They always had the most rockin' Christmas Eve parties. All of our friends and family were there, someone was inevitably playing "Old Toy Trains" on Nana's white piano, Grandpa Bill was working the bar, plates of appetizers were being passed around by grand-children, and the old record player was pumping out Bing Crosby.

One Christmas in particular, on our way to Nana and Grandpa's from church, we saw Santa walking down the back lane, beard long and white, boots the shiniest black, bag of gifts over his shoulder. I remember it being so cold that night that the air was sparkling. Gilly and I couldn't wait to get to the party to tell of our wonderful sighting.

As I grew older, my feelings about Christmas began to change, but the traditions in our house stayed the same. When I was in high school, I brought a boy I was dating home to watch a movie one night around Christmas time. Walking into the house, I could smell egg-rolls being fried, and hear Kenny and Dolly belting out Christmas songs. Peeking around the corner, I saw my parents and sister smack dab in the middle of yearly egg-roll making, aprons on, singing along to the music at the top of their voices. At the time, I think I acted mortified and rolled my eyes, but in all truthfulness, I wished my friend would go home so I could join in the annual tradition.

As the years have passed, many Christmas traditions have changed. The first Christmas Eve after Nana's house was sold was so strange, and now Christmas is even more humble as Dad, Gilly and I drink coffee and open gifts, just the three of us.

One tradition that will always be the same, no matter where we are or who we're with are the Christmas ornaments. Even at my dad's new lake house, the ornaments were one thing that are still there, nestled in the needles of the 9 foot tree that Gilly hauled out of the bush this year. In an ever-changing life, with ever-changing traditions, those ornaments comfort me, and as I examined the tree on my first night home for the holidays, memories started to wash over me.

Although Christmas is technically over (it's still December people!), I'd like to share some of my favorite ornaments, the ones that have been with our family the longest, the ones that mean the most to me.

This ball has an image of a young couple taking a sleigh ride through a winter wonderland. It reads "First Christmas Together - 1980" - for my parents first Christmas as a married couple. I think my dad bought it for my mom, and this year, he asked that Gilly put this ball on the kitchen side of the tree, so he could look at it while he does the dishes.

Last year, my sister and I simultaneously decided to make our own ornaments for the exchange. My balls were basically store-bought balls covered with glitter and ribbon, whereas Gilly was a tad more creative. See - Me as an ornament:

The next one is, I think, one of the most beautiful ornaments on the tree, because I think it looks like my mom. See, she's even playing the guitar!

This one is just plain cute. A moose on a toboggan? Who would have thought? His brother is one branch below him, getting milk and cookies ready for Santa. Crazy I tell you, CRAZY! 

Fast Boat used to be on my Nana's tree, and we inherited it. Now, I can't picture Christmas without it. 

Old Saint Nick is probably the oldest ornament on our Christmas tree. I think my great-grandparents gave it to my dad when he bought their house back in the early 80's. By my (mathamatically challenged) calculations, this one may be close to 60 or 70 years old. The trim on his coat has been glued on several times, his beard is dingy, and when I was little, he used to scare me. Now, I think he's beautiful. 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A moment of reflection in cold and flu season

That opaque blue, which sometimes appears in fancy jewellery. The blue that is both light and dark and see-through. Comforting and beautiful because it is also the color of the bottle of Vicks Vapo-Rub, which I pulled from the medicine cabinet this morning to unclog my stuffed nose (a direct result, I think, of a pushy salesperson who came at me out of nowhere in the mall and started lathering "Dead Sea Salt" all over my hands despite my obvious horror and disinterest). 

Everything about that bottle - the smell, the contents, brought about a warm feeling. I know it helps physically, but the mental aspect is always just as powerful. Growing up, whenever I used to cough, even if it was in the middle of the night, my mom would come into my room, in her white flannel nightie with the blue flowers on it and "rub me in". We'd tiptoe downstairs and I'd lay on the couch, the only light coming from the oven in the kitchen. She'd rub in my throat and chest (it never felt the same when anyone else did it - a little rough, but, a strong believer in tough love, she knew that was the only way to "get in there and break up the cold"). Sometimes we'd sit in silence, sometimes we'd whisper,  and I always felt so safe and loved in those moments. Then, she'd pin an old cloth to the inside of my pyjamas so they wouldn't get all greasy, and send me off to bed again, with a clear throat and a soothed soul. 

It's things like this that make me miss her the most, the simple memories, the nights when it was just the two of us. These memories give me hope, and assure me that whenever I am sad or lonely, I will always have those nights curled up on the couch, with a rag pinned to my pyjamas, whispering with my mommy.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tangerine dreams

As I dug my fingernail into the thin orange peel, the sharp, acidic scent wafted up at me, and the nostalgia set in. I popped a section of the tangerine into my mouth and as the tart fruit exploded on my taste buds, a wave of memories washed over me, as it does every year around this time. 

For many people, tangerines evoke memories of the holidays, the season they are in the grocery stores, a marker of the impending Christmas season. For me, tangerines bring about different feelings too. They bring me back to a time when the only thing I had to worry about was coloring inside the lines, and sharing my pink Barbie corvette with my sister. About every second weekend, Grandpa Bill would come and get us (and our "My Little Pony" sleepover bags) and bring us to Nana and Grandpas house for a weekend filled with board games, Cheetos (Nana always served Cheetos on a sleepover night), and stories perched high atop Grandpa's knee. 

They really were the textbook example of Grandparents: we could do no wrong, and there was always room for my head tucked away in Grandpa Bill's chest. At night, after the activities had wound down, Nana would fill the bath with bubbles and Gilly and I would take turns splashing around. Then she'd wrap us in the biggest light green bath towels I've ever seen, and send us on to Grandpa, who would be sitting in his armchair, reading the paper, to get warmed up and listen to a bedtime story. In the morning, we'd lay in bed for hours, eating tangerines, chatting, and giggling. I'm sure they made the sheets sticky, and for days after our sleepovers their bed must have smelled like oranges, but neither of them ever complained. 

Someone once said, "Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose." 

For me, it is memories like these that allow me to see the beauty in a bowl of Christmas clementines, and assure me that every year, I will stop for a minute in even the busiest of months and think about my Nana and Grandpa Bill. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

Birth of a blog

I remember it was December and I was the passenger in my (then) boyfriend's car. We were driving down the highway after Christmas shopping all day and I was staring out the window, listening to Dire Straits on the radio. It was about 4:00 in the afternoon, the bright winter light had turned to a mellow grey, and suddenly I realized that it was snowing, the most gentle snowfall I have ever seen. Tiny white, sparkly flecks floated down so slowly, almost lazily against an evergreen backdrop. As we drove, my chauffeur tapped his thumbs on the steering wheel to the beat of the music, and along the side of the highway, the pine trees opened up to a huge grove of birch trees. Even without leaves, the trees looked so pretty, like bony hands reaching up to the sky. The light, the snow, the birches all took my breath away, and only when my boyfriend said "what?" did I realize I had gasped. 

"Isn't that gorgeous?" I said, pointing to the bush. 
"Gorgeous isn't exactly the word I would use," he said, barely taking his eyes off the highway. "It's just trees and rock." A few seconds later he looked at the sky intently. I waited with baited breath, convinced he now saw what I saw. 

"Shit, it's snowing again," he said.

That was when I knew it wasn't going to work with this man. 

I know they say "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", but I believe we take beautiful things for granted every day. He couldn't see the beauty in the birches. We were definitely not on the same page. A few weeks later, the relationship ended. 

Now and again something will catch me as it did on that early winter day and make me pause for a minute to remind myself that the world is so full of pretty things. There are the glaringly obvious ones, like golden-pink sunsets and shiny silver and blue Christmas balls, but the beauty I'm interested in is the more subtle kind, like a grove of Birch trees nestled on the side of the highway on a snowy afternoon. 

When a friend suggested I start writing a blog, I had no idea what to write about. Then this morning in the shower, I remembered the Birch tree story. This blog is about finding beauty in the everyday, which sounds simple enough, but we often miss the real, ordinary beauty of life as we rush around with our blinders on. 

Christmas is one week from today, and it is so easy to get caught up in the ribbons and bows of the holiday. This year, I have made a vow to find beauty in things that don't cost money, that aren't really things. 

Can you find true beauty in the everyday?