Our First Thanksgiving

YOU GUYS!

Today we hosted our first Thanksgiving as a family.

We have celebrated Thanksgiving together twice before this, but just at other family Fall in the Parklandmembers’ houses. In fact, I have never personally hosted a Thanksgiving.

We had a wedding on Saturday, out of town, so that threw off general Thanksgiving plans this year and we weren’t quite sure what we were going to do. Within the past couple of weeks wedecided, Hell, why not – let’s host on Thanksgiving Monday.

This is noteworthy not only because I’ve never hosted a Thanksgiving and because we haven’t yet hosted one as a family, but also because our families haven’t met (!). Justan’s mom couldn’t make it as she has moved out of province, but both my parents and Andi’s parents decided they would come – to our surprise. My dad hasn’t even been to this house since Justan and I moved in months ago and we weren’t sure if Andi’s parents would feel comfortable coming to meet the whole crowd.

A fall storm blows inWell, I’m happy to report it was a raging success! There was a small turkey fiasco (the roaster mysteriously shut off halfway through cooking), but Andi averted that crisis with the help of the barbecue. We all pitched in as a team with Andi and I each cooking about half of the meal (though I must say it’s worth noting that Andi rocked the turkey and stuffing), and Justan doing tons of cleaning and other prep.

All in all we served 16 people, including all eight of us from our family, Andi’s parents, my parents, and Andi’s cousin and her kids and au pair. We had turkey, stuffing, two kinds of potatoes, three kinds of salad, yams, buns, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pie, cheesecake, coffee, ice cream and of course lots of wine.

Our dads and Andi’s cousin even talked politics and were amiable about it.

Now all our families have met except Justan’s mom & brother and Andi’s parents!

We are pretty proud and thankful tonight. That is a huge load of stress off of us. And yes, it was all delicious.

It's tough to get even a half-decent photo of this crew, but you get the idea.

It’s tough to get even a half-decent photo of this crew, but you get the idea.

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Monday: If You Want to Get Something, Give It

This post is the third in a series of eight concerning Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents. For the original post and summary, click here.

Monday is a day of giving. The message for today is, “If you want to get something, give it.”

First thing Monday morning, Neko and I had a conversation about this. “If you want others to share, or be nice to you, a good thing to do is share and be nice to them,” I told her. An apt lesson, as she was headed to Mairead’s house for the day, and the two of them don’t have the most stellar record for sharing and getting along. In fact, they know exactly how to push one another’s buttons, and do so on a regular basis. Neko was taking an avocado pit (“dinosaur egg”) to their house and was plotting how she would keep it away from Mairead, so we talked about how if she expects Mairead to share her things, Neko should give Mairead a chance with the “dinosaur egg,” as a start.

We also planned, together, to give out lots of compliments during the day. At the end of the day, we would share with one another the compliments we had given.

In the future, we will also talk a lot about being grateful for the things we have, and how, by being grateful for what we have, it can seem like enough, and we can also have more of what we need come to us almost magically.

It was a really great day, and I definitely had lots to be thankful for. In the morning, before I left for work and to drop Neko off (Justan was working downtown today and took the bus), Neko and I did yoga, I fed the hens (and gave them some whey from our cheesemaking to drink), I made coffee and a double-egg and avocado sandwich, and we had time to spare. Neko had a great day at the bookstore and playing outside, and I was thankful to have an extra staff member to help me during my shift, and good friends who stopped by for hugs in celebration of Chinese New Year – and they brought me lunch, including Pocky and fortune cookies!

I have lots of ideas of things we could do on Mondays in the future…

a) compliment each other and strangers – but remember, it’s important that the compliments are sincere!

b) practice random acts of kindness – all sorts of fun possibilities here! I won’t list them, as there are tons of ideas out there, and I’m sure you can think of your own. Look, there’s a whole website about it!

c) free hug day – I have been wanting to do this with kids for some time. A conversation would need to happen beforehand about only hugging if you are comfortable with it and you and the other person consent, but I think it could be really awesome!

d) talk about the things you’re thankful for at dinner – this is a really simple tradition that can, of course, be incorporated at dinner every day.

e) make a gift – whether there is a birthday or gift-giving holiday coming up or not, this is a great day to think of people you know who might like a gift, or to whom you’d like to give a gift. There are lots of amazing ideas for easy, handmade gifts on Pinterest!

f) send a love letter – for kids who can write (or younger ones who can dictate to an adult), writing a love letter to a best friend, grandparent or anyone else they love is a great exercise in expressing feelings and gratitude. While you’re at it, write one out yourself – maybe even to yourself! Or perhaps a spouse or parent hasn’t been told lately just how much they mean to you. Who benefits more in this exercise – the sender or the receiver?

g) hold the door for people – going out today? Take the opportunity to hold the door for anyone you can.

h) write a story about something you’re thankful for – when I was a kid, I loved making books; and now Neko does too. Take some regular, white, 8×10 paper and cut in half width-wise. Stack these new half-sheets together, fold in half and staple in the middle. Now fill with a lovely gratitude story, and be sure to include lots of drawings!

i) give each other back rubs – giving, and gratitude together! Plus – backrubs!

j) give to charity – this will have extra impact if your child or children choose the charity, and what to give. Something more palpable and less abstract than money, like toys, clothes, and so on, are easier for kids to understand.

k) talk about the Golden Rule – I remember learning this as a child: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” or “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” It is absolutely, number one, the best life rule I have ever learned, and it’s easy for kids to understand (especially once they develop empathy around age seven)!

l) have a mini Thanksgiving dinner – if you celebrate Thanksgiving, how about preparing something similar to what you would serve on that day, only on a smaller scale? This may bring more of a focus to the idea of giving thanks. Be sure to talk about all the things for which you have to be thankful as you eat!

m) take someone flowers – pick some flowers from your garden, or wildflowers (just be careful picking wildflowers! Choose something safe like dandelions or a flower that grows with abandon in your area, and not anything that is threatened or rare), or buy some locally grown flowers in-season from your local farmers market, and take them to a friend. A simple way to brighten someone’s day (including yours)!

I didn’t come up with many ideas for books or movies for today, but as always, I welcome more!

Book ideas: Ribbon Rescue (Robert Munsch), Socks for Supper (Jack Kent)

Movie ideas: One Magic Christmas

A Merry Dressember Christmas!

I have slacked off on documenting my Dressember entries online, however, I’m happy to report that I have not slacked on wearing dresses, nor taking photos to prove it! I had thought I’d posted more recently than… the 20th?! Sheesh. So here is a round-up of one full week of holiday dresses.

Dec. 20th – Neko’s birthday, and a work day for me. We had a Solstice party that night, but I changed out of the dress for that.

Years and years ago, I picked this dress up at Value Village. It was too big for me, so I never wore it, but I love the eyelet pattern and held onto it. This was the first time I had worn in. I was sad to discover that the neck is tight and coarse.

Dec. 21st – Solstice! I wore something fancy and fun. Why not?!

Dress: Banana Republic (clothing swap) // Shirt: Nine West (clothing swap) // Necklace: Global Wonders

Dec. 22 – We had pyjama day as a theme day for the kids. Ate breakfast for lunch, stayed in our jammies all day. I wore flannel most of the day, but changed into this piece long enough to take a photo.

Dress: A souvenir brought back from Hong Kong

Dec. 23: My last day of work before the holidays. After work we traveled up to my parents’ place. This dress is an all-time favourite; I bought it at Value Village when I worked there 12 years ago and still love it.

Dress: no label (Value Village) // Tights: Codori (over cheapie tights) // Legwarmers: Sock Dreams

Dec. 24: Christmas Eve, of course! I put on a light dress for lounging in the loft by the fire. Lovely.

Dress: Joe (clothing swap) // Cardigan: Joe (clothing swap) // Belt: my husband’s wedding tie

Dec. 25: saved a simple favourite for Christmas day.

Dress: Ripe (clothing swap)

Dec. 26: A third Christmas celebration, with my mom’s extended family. This is a skirt from Value Village that my wonderful best friend, Nicole, suggested I pull up above my chest and then belt and throw a cardigan over. Actually, I bought the skirt, cardigan and belt all in the same Value Village trip.

Dress: skirt by Tan Jay // Cardigan: New York & Company

Dec. 27: Another night spent lounging in the loft by the fire; thus allowing for a summery dress. Wish I had pulled the belt to a reasonable spot before this photo! Ah, well.

Dress: Urban Heritage (clothing swap) // Tank: Old Navy // Cardigan: Joe (clothing swap) // Belt: Guess

*Note: We didn’t kill that elk. It’s a hand-me-down taxidermy. We’re not hunters, especially not trophy hunters. Also, I didn’t mean to pose in front of it but I have to say it’s a bit funny.

Solstice Celebrations

Happy, happy Solstice to you all. I’ve been excited for weeks about celebrating, officially, for the first time ever this year. Justan and I share the shortest day of the year as our mutual favourite, and of course Neko’s birthday is this week as well, so this time of year always feels special to us. Last year, as we stood outside at 12:30 am to watch the lunar eclipse through our neighbour’s telescope (we had woken Neko up to see it, as it would be her only chance to see a lunar eclipse on Solstice and her birthday), I regretted not having planned more formal or extensive celebrations. I planned out this year’s Solstice celebrations over the following few days, and this year, all the planning was done for me in advance!

I had included plans for a Solstice feast, ice lanterns to be lit at sunset, and a few different craft and activity ideas which we could choose from.

Preparations started earlier this month, with grocery shopping for the feast, and the making of ice lanterns. We found the instructions at Love in the Suburbs.

Gathering materials for the ice lanterns, and Neko standing beside some partially assembled lanterns.

We also made popcorn garlands that we could give to the birds on Solstice.

Then my friend Jen invited us to a Solstice party, where we could make prayer flags to set our intentions for the new year. Her inspiration was this post from Rhythm of the Home.

I spent the week before Solstice preparing any foods I could in advance, and getting the pieces of the prayer flags ready to assemble. I baked the fruit cake, cut out triangles of fabric, chose intentions, chopped onions, and measured spices for mead.

Jen’s party began Solstice, the night of the 20th. We drank sunshine punch and snacked while we painted, cut and sewed. The kids played for hours in the dim house.

Candles, sunshine punch, and prayer flags in progress.

Jen drew, then painted, beautiful Celtic knots on hers with Gaelic words beneath. I wrote my words on in permanent marker (I’m not a perfect crafter, okay…) and sewed up the edges of the flags by hand. My fabric came from a damaged nursing tank; fabric bags from prefold diapers; a clothing swap romper; and an old dress I had bought years ago to make beanbags as party favours for Neko’s third birthday party.

On the morning of the 21st, we lazed in bed for a bit, then Justan made us scrambled eggs (from our hens) while I had a nice, warm bath. We cleaned up around the house a bit, then headed out for a hike near the river to hang the popcorn garlands. It was a beautiful, sunny day (I always picture the Solstice as so dark in my head! But the daylight hours, of course, are just as bright as ever.), but the pathways were icy because we’ve had such variable temperatures recently, and there was a biting wind blowing. We hiked down into the river valley with our popcorn garlands and our warm drinks in hand (hot chocolate for Neko; homemade mocha for daddy; homemade vanilla cafe au lait for mom).

Neko shows off the popcorn garlands we’ve hung for the birds.

In the afternoon, Justan and Neko played Just Dance while I packed for Christmas. Okay, okay – video games are not my idea of something you do on Solstice. But, it was daddy and daughter time, and they had fun. There are worse things.

At sunset, we lit the ice lanterns. They were in kind of rough shape after a full week of thawing and re-freezing, so their candle-spots had largely filled in. I tried to fix this using water, containers, and our freezer, but it only partially worked. They still looked really pretty though. They were lined up right across our front porch, and I kept them lit until we went to bed, to welcome the sun back on the morning of the 22nd. As the sun set, we prepared ourselves for the longest night of the year.

I spent the rest of the afternoon putting the finished touches on the dinner. Our menu was:

I chose the menu to be as local as seasonal as I could, while including foods we don’t eat on a regular basis. I wanted to eat foods that we could have grown ourselves, and I wanted the meal to be special – not something we would have any other time. We ate by candlelight, which was really nice, and Neko loved.

After dinner, we played a co-operative game that we got from Riva’s: The Eco-Store, called Wildcraft. We felt this was appropriately hippy-ish for a Solstice celebration. There was a moment of hysterical giggling when Justan asked me a question about finishing the game and I answered him by shooting back, in a very serious tone, “No, Justan, we each need to gather two buckets of huckleberries before we go back to Grandma’s house!” Justan thought this was hilarious. It may have been the mead, though.

After Neko was in bed, our plan was to play board games, but Justan said he didn’t want to play with just me, because I always beat him. (Note to self: next year, invite friends to join us for board games.)

I finished up the prayer flags and on the 22nd, after the longest night was over, I hung them from the chicken coop in the backyard.

The intentions we set are: transcendence, security, intuition, expansiveness, prosperity, integrity and love.

I’m already taking notes for next year’s Solstice! I will change a few things about the menu – we didn’t love the barley bake, and the recipe for the Mashed Potato casserole made a ridiculously huge amount, even cut down to three portions (it would have fed ten!). I would leave the oven at 500 degree for 14 minutes for the bison before turning it off, as this roast was quite rare. And even though I think fruitcake is perfect for the occasion, maybe next year I’ll make a crisp or something. I also think we could plan more activities for the day – I didn’t, this year, because I didn’t want to pack the day and make it stressful. But next year, maybe a trip to a local pond to skate would be nice. I would like to incorporate friends more, next year.

All in all, it was really lovely to formally observe Solstice for the first time. Tomorrow will be six seconds longer than today, and after that the increase in light will accelerate daily until the summer Solstice, when we’ll be on our second annual Solstice camping trip. I hope that all of you out there are also celebrating the return of the light (or the waning of the light, for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere).

A Christmas-y Weekend in Dressember

I’ve had more fun with Dressember this weekend. I’d also like to thank the weather for cooperating with this Dressember experience – it’s been so warm! This weekend it hovered around freezing.

On Saturday, we went to a Christmas market, then set up the tree while watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (our annual tradition).

Yes. Our tree is tiny. Dress: Recycled button-up shirt dress from a store on Main Street on Vancouver (with American Apparel tank underneath) // Cardigan: Etnies // Jeans: Lucky

Today, we had a two-part Christmas party to attend – the first part was at a local historical attraction called Heritage Park, and then we went back to the hostess’s house for food and the rest of the party.

I tried the dress-over-skirt option today. I had never considered this, but saw some other Dressemberists doing it and thought it was interesting.

The outdoors version of my outfit. Dress: Joe // Skirt: No label // Scarf: My BFF made it for me // Coat: Bench // Tights: Joe (under), Codori Crochet Tights (over) // Legwarmers: from Sock Dreams // Boots: Keen

The kids at the party playing with a Lite Brite.

The indoor version of my outfit (wish it showed the tights!) Dress: Joe // Sweater: Roxy // Necklace: my sister’s from the 80s // Skirt: No label (Value Village) // Legwarmers: Button-up Legwarmers from Sock Dreams // Socks: Joe

The next few days of posts will be fun – terrarium building tomorrow; prayer flag making the next day; and Solstice the day after that!

A Downtown Holiday Adventure (And Dressember Day #16)

We don’t have much time for spontaneous family days in December (it’s true!), but I’ve been taking mental note of downtown festivities as I see them pop up on Facebook and Twitter – a gingerbread replica of the beautiful Fairmont Palliser Hotel, ice sculptures on Stephen Avenue, carolers, fiddlers, and pretty lights, to name a few. I had decided it would be fun to take an afternoon and head down there to enjoy as much as we could all in one day, since I knew making it down more than once wouldn’t happen.

I looked up some of the attractions on advance and made it into kind of a scavenger hunt, so we could cross sights off the list as we went.

First was the gingerbread replica of the Palliser. Truthfully, I also wanted an excuse to go into the Palliser and see the Christmas decorations. Here is what the Palliser really looks like (today):

The real Fairmont Palliser

And here is Neko with the fully edible version:

We took to the +15 walkway system to get partway to TD Square, where we would find the fiddlers performing. On our way, we walked for a bit down Stephen Avenue, and came across the ice sculptures in front of Winners. I hear that other years, they’ve been destroyed really quickly, so we were glad to see them still standing and in perfect condition.

Unfortunately, even though the Downtown Calgary website said the fiddlers would be performing 11:45 – 1:15, and we got to the right spot at 1 pm on the dot, they were already finished and packing up their things. Too bad – I was disappointed.

Thankfully, we had Food Trucks to cheer us up. My YYC Food Trucks app told us that Alley Burger was parked down at Eau Claire, so we hoofed it down there to grab a couple. Good thing we walked so fast! After we ordered, the woman at the till told the next customer there were only four left. We were starved, and so glad to have our burgers and fries. We walked back to TD Square to sit and eat them.

YUM! Highly recommended.

A touch-up for my haircut at Ginger Group and a latte from Caffe Rosso were the perfect end to our adventure.

Tonight, we attended a Christmas party at a friend’s house, and I donned Dress #2 of the day. It’s too big – I nabbed it at a clothing swap earlier this month because I think it’s cute and I wanted another dress for Dressember.

Dressember Day #13 and a Michael Bernard Fitzgerald Living Room Concert

Earlier this year, I saw local indie sweetheart Michael Bernard Fitzgerald live for the first time (after a close call at Folk Fest a few years ago when I missed him – boo.). I was pretty excited, not just because his music is super peppy and happy and fun, but also because he seems to always be surrounded by just downright adorable people. I love adorable people! I saw him at the Starlite Room in Edmonton in the spring, and it was a ton of fun.

Then, in September, two of my good friends, Megan and Matt got married, and as a special surprise for Megan’s stagette party, her friends hired Michael to play a private show at a theatre in Edmonton – even better! I bruised my hand at this one while clapping to Brand New Spaces. There was also much wine involved. This night was so much fun and so awesome. I felt lucky to be there!

But a third time in the same year? Nah, too much to ask. But no! Michael decided to do a series of living room concerts to benefit the Calgary Food Bank this Christmas, and my friends Janine and Nikki volunteered their living room for one of these.

Michael Bernard Fitzgerald performing old and new favourites in Janine and Nikki’s living room.

Janine’s kids, Micah and Vienna, were in attendance, so when Michael did his usual quirky mash-up of Low, The Thong Song and Baby Got Back, he changed the lyrics of the Thong Song to “Let me see that suggestive underwear.” Micah thought this was so hysterically funny that for the remainder of the performance, Michael inserted the word underpants into each song. He then wrote a new Christmas song on the spot – the lyrics being simply, “Santa don’t forget my underpants, peee-ew.” Micah was in stitches.

And, my Dressember ensemble for the occasion…

This dress has no label. I bought it at a music festival.

Furoshiki: The Ultimate in Eco-Friendly Gift Wrapping

We all remember the newspaper gift wrapping trend of the 90s. Anyone who was at all eco-conscious at the time was encouraged to wrap their gifts in newspaper or the Sunday comics – it looks fun! It’s reusing! Yay! That got old pretty fast, though. Since then, there have been a lot of ideas generated on the most earth-friendly ways to wrap our gifts. Recycled kraft paper; reusable cloth bags; and cloth such as towels are all fairly popular ideas. A few years ago, while researching an article to collect some of the best ideas for eco-friendly gift wrapping, I came across one idea that I’m still shocked hasn’t really caught on in the mainstream: furoshiki.

My furoshiki creations for this Christmas.

Furoshiki is a traditional Japanese method of wrapping and tying cloths to wrap gifts or transport items (such as library books). I’ve heard from some sources that the tying cloths were considered special and passed among families over time.

It’s really very simple. My furoshiki usually consists of just wrapping the cloth around the item and tying it in the way that intuitively seems to work best. That said, there are specific methods that work best for different sizes and shapes of items.

While there are websites where you can buy furoshiki cloths, and they now carry them at Lush (and the ones at Lush are really cute!), I mostly buy scarves for $5 or less at thrift shops and garage sales. I stockpile them during the year and when Christmas rolls around, I have quite a few and can usually manage to wrap a large percentage of my gifts in furoshiki. Many of them get passed back to me and I reuse them, though I hope it will catch on among my extended family and they’ll start using the cloths to wrap their gifts, too.

Top left: DVD wrapped in a plain green scarf (from a thrift shop) // Top right: book wrapped in another thrift shop scarf, with coordinating ribbon added // Bottom left: Lego set wrapped in a full sari (it’s twisted and brought back around at the bottom) // Bottom right: Notebook wrapped in a furoshiki cloth from Lush, with a tag made from wood paneling and painted.

Not a fantastic photo, but I love this gift. It’s a tartan scarf doubled and wrapped around a Contiga travel mug. I think the knot at the top worked out really well.

Another furoshiki cloth from Lush. I’ve already used this one to wrap gifts a few times. So cheery! This is a birthday gift for Neko.

Sometimes, I use an item like a playsilk, towel or scarf that I’m actually giving as part of the gift, to wrap another gift.

This is a large, rainbow playsilk that I bought for Neko for Christmas. I decided to make it do double duty and also use it to wrap her new wool jammies!

How fun is this? I get to skip the tape and scissors, be waste-free on Christmas morning, and they look so pretty! I also find wrapping this way much quicker than any other method I’ve tried.

Neko’s “Fake Birthday” and Dressember Day #9

All day today, Neko told everyone it was her birthday… her “fake birthday.” In reality, today was the day of her birthday party, which I’d be willing to bet is more like her birthday to her, than is the day of the anniversary of her birth. Ah, well. We started off with a “Chickadee Party” with Outdoors In, a local organization that teaches classes about nature and animals. Judy, the instructor, offers a lot of neat classes on seasons, survival, habitats, adaptation and so on to homeschooled kids, and given that Neko is really into nature and science, we go to a lot of these. Today’s class was on birds and different animals and how some adapt, some hibernate and some migrate during winter.

“Mice” hiding under the “snow.”

A mouse emerging from the melting snow in the spring.

The idea was that this was the “Christmas party” to end off the fall sessions of Outdoors In, so we ended with cookies and hot chocolate.

Here was today’s dress:

Dress: vintage store in Vancouver (gift) // Long underwear: Hocosa // Shirt: Old Navy

The evening was Neko’s birthday party. Neko turns six later this month, but given the proximity to Christmas, we try to have her party early. This year marks her first sleepover! We started off with Make-Your-Own-Sandwiches. The girls could choose toasted or untoasted; mayo, mustard or roasted red pepper hummus; ham or chicken; spinach, sprouts, tomatoes, pickles, onions, avocado or red pepper; herbed havarti, cheddar or emmental.

My chicken/hummus/pickle/tomato/sprout/avocado/red pepper/onion/havarti sandwich was EPIC.

Next, we had Make-Your-Own-Sundaes, featuring chocolate marshmallow swirl ice cream (Neko’s choice, but sickeningly sweet) with blueberry sauce, strawberry sauce, chocolate chips, cookie dough, coconut, cinnamon, maraschino cherries, pecans and cashews.

I made a photo treasure hunt, as most of the girls in attendance are just learning to read. This went over like gangbusters.

Going to the basement to find the treasure. Yes, I know how creepy our stairs look.

The treasure was Crazy Carpets! I couldn’t have guessed how well these would go over!!

I somehow managed to not take a photo of all of them playing Just Dance 3, which was the highlight of the night, and so cute and funny to watch. This was Neko’s early birthday gift. Two of the girls went home around 9 pm, while Charlotte stayed to sleep over. While Neko and Charlotte stayed up to read/look at books until 10:30 pm, once we turned out the lights, they were asleep in minutes.

Now, Charlotte has requested I wake her at 7 am to witness the lunar eclipse. That is about two hours earlier than I’m apt to wake up/come alive, so I’m not sure how the morning will look. I’m quite sure, though, that it won’t be pretty.