a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘christmas’

how to wake the dead ;)

343 marla parentsDon’t be scared 😉  No zombies.  Not even a Ouija board.  I do remember playing with something that was supposed to be a Ouija board in my youth.  But being one of those dull, uber-analytical sorts… well…  someone else will find ghosts for you…

I just like the concept of invoking the dead… not necessarily into my living room 😉 I just think it’s great to keep dead people alive by remembering them – and talking about them – in voice and in print…

And this is my dad’s season.  It’s not quite the same these days but I grew up with some insane concept of Christmas that was informed by silly family rituals and too many Christmas specials.  Some of the rituals were normal.  Some I invented because I was obsessed with the concept and wanted Christmas to last as long as possible…

The strangest, but most enduring one, was when I discovered that there was a sense of letdown when all the presents had been opened… so first I held back one gift for each person and gave it to them later in the day… of course, that then became an expectation… so it became more complicated… to a point of some absurdity… it probably means the Jews have it right with Hanukkah 🙂

But the spirit of Christmas for me is less about presents than it is about carols.  When my dad died choosing the music for his funeral was very complicated – because the only music he really seemed to connect with was Christmas carols.

I still have a great love of ritual, especially around December.  And I think I owe a lot of it to him.  It was always a month unlike any other.  All the rules loosened.  Time seemed to stretch.  There was festivity in everyday activities.

These days in the developed world there is so much emphasis on goods and dollar signs.  But none of my great childhood memories involved much of a cash outlay.

Today I was listening to Bing Crosby sing Christmas songs, including obscure hits like Silver Bells and Christmas in Killarney.  This was the one Christmas album my family owned when I was a child and it was played so often that I know the words to every song and can identify any of them in the first couple of bars.  Because my dad decreed that we start playing Christmas carols every December over and over again.  He felt they should play Christmas carols all year round, not just at Christmas.

He also thought we should eat candy.  Sadly I shared his weakness so we had to fight over the toffee!  But we got to eat as much candy as we wanted for the entire month.  There was something wonderful and dramatic about having an entire month to indulge.  It made every year of my childhood feel special and exciting.  A month of unlimited candy is all it takes for a child to feel s/he has won the lottery.

I know my dad shared my love of Christmas.  And I won the lottery having him give me so much wonderful advice to guide me through the labyrinth of life.

But, on Christmas Eve, to evoke him, I play Bing and eat some toffee.  And he’s here… and we’re both listening… and not singing along – cause neither of us can sing 😉

money for mouse shoes

Money gets a bad rap.  Being poor is honourable – especially if you aren’t poor 🙂  Being rich is vulgar.  But being sort of financially secure is just boring.  The lot of accountants and financial planners.  But some of those boring people know how to use money as a bullet to happiness rather than despair.

That is my goal in life.  Yesterday I used my ability to buy a pair of designer shoes to great effect.  While there is certainly virtue to knowing how to save money, the real hidden secrets of life are in learning how to spend it!

We’ve done a lot of talking about my dad lately but I learned some good stuff from my mom as well.  My mom is likely a little too generous.  But it’s one of those faults that is tough to find fault with.  There are certainly worse negative traits 🙂

No matter how many times I tell her ONE present is enough, I know it will never happen.  Something else will catch her eye that you just have to have.  Long ago she gave up trying to cram all the goodies into conventional Christmas stockings so we all know the plastic bag with our name on it sitting under the tree IS a Christmas stocking – you just need to use your imagination 😉

But the most memorable gift I ever saw her purchase was on a Christmas Eve many years ago.  The store was almost closing down around us but we had to get some more toys.  She was quite insistent about it.  I thought, “oh my god, she has gone bonkers.  There is NO way we don’t already have so many gifts you can barely see the tree!”  But this was not part of the usual Christmas bounty.  Instead we pulled up at some mysterious address and left the toys on the doorstep like some anonymous Santa a little off his schedule.  As we drove away, she explained.  The family was going through tough times and the kids might not have any toys for Christmas.  But it was a small town where everybody knows everybody’s business and people have a lot of pride so we had to make it look like Santa was just a wee bit early.

My mom has always taken great pleasure in doing nice things for other people.  She doesn’t do it for the thanks or the adoration but just because it gives her pleasure.  It’s one of my greatest life lessons.  And it’s really heart-warming to see my niece taking up the torch.

Ask not what the world can do for you but, rather, what you can do for the world.  Give it a whirl.  You may be surprised how great it feels to do something nice for someone else.  And the best news.  You can spend less than $5!  The price is totally NOT the point.  It’s how much thought you put into finding just the right thing to do.

What really turns people on is being noticed.  I used to send my friend Yvonne chocolate covered peanut butter eggs every Easter – cause it was our thing and you could only get them at Easter.

So… the mouse shoes.  I have already mentioned Morgan earlier – she is the teenage daughter of one of my best friends.  She (and her mom) share my obsession for shoes so we spent a lot of time over my birthday weekend+ talking shoes… and anyone who cares about shoes knows about Marc Jacobs mouse shoes.  I think I saw the first version in Paris (the best city in the world to shop for shoes!) back when there was only one.  Over the course of the weekend, we talked mouse shoes a number of times and I learned her shoe size.  As I noted in the previous post, she has emerged into this wonderful young woman doing all the right things despite the fact that she is a teenager.  So I decided she deserved some mouse shoes…

Through the beauty of the internet I confirmed her mailing address, send the invoice to her mom in case she needed to do an exchange and organized for Fedex to deliver a pair of size 8 1/2 gold glitter Marc Jacobs mouse shoes to her front door in Toronto via the Brown’s Shoes website.  I could track the whole process via my computer in Vancouver so sent her a note yesterday afternoon to look for a package when she got home.  And then I got the email.  The shoes had been safely delivered…  Some of the best money I have ever spent!

So, Morgan, I was wowed by your effusive thanks.  But you should also thank my mom.  Without her wonderful example, there would have been no mouse shoes for you 🙂  Given her obsession with everything Disney and the concept that Mickey is more or less one of her children, what could be a more perfect tribute than mouse shoes…

lessons in consumption

Today is the anniversary of my father’s death.  It’s the fourth now so it doesn’t come with the same shock and trauma that the first did.  I was born prior to birth control being a common phenomenon (why are you trying to send us back there, American Republicans???!) so my parents weren’t even legal to drink in the USA when I was born.  I figured that would work in my favour in that I would be REALLY old before I had to experience the death of a parent.

My mother is cooperating!  And my father did wait long enough that I had a number of friends who had already been through it so I had some reference points.  As one of my friends said when I saw him shortly after the funeral, “welcome to the club no one wants to belong to.”  But we discovered we were both wearing our father’s watches and it added one of those bizarre additional chunks of cement to our friendship.

From him – and others – I had learned that the toughest days were usually anniversaries – the anniversary of the day the person died, the parent’s birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, whatever family holidays where you expected the person to show up and wondered what was keeping them.  The first year the Christmas presents were unwrapped and my dad wasn’t sitting in his chair was tough for everyone in the room.  I think if we’d been a little smarter – and had better arts & crafts skills – we would have made a life size cardboard cut-out of one of his photos and propped it in the chair.

People will tell you consumerism is bad and objects are meaningless.  Consumerism IS bad.  And too many objects distract you and make you forget how important objects can be when purchased in the right way.  The right way, people, is to think poor.  Only a half century ago, even in the developed world, we didn’t have cheap labour in China (and Vietnam, Turkey, etc, etc).  Goods cost a lot more – and local people made them.  So people didn’t have a lot of objects.  And when they chose them, they often saved up for years and bought something that would last for a long time.

My father came from that time – and taught me how to buy things.  And the chair to which I am referring was one of those things.  I don’t know if my father had a leather recliner when I was a very small child.  I think he didn’t because he couldn’t afford it.  My father spent his life doing jobs that required a lot of physical labour so when he came home, he wanted to sit in a comfy chair and read, watch some carefully chosen television, or talk to the rest of us.  At some age that I was too young to recall clearly, that chair became a leather recliner.

In the fall of 2007, my mother noticed that my father’s recliner was on its last legs so she decided she wanted to get him a new one as a Christmas present. We wanted to get him something of the proper quality and it was going to be expensive so I said I would go together with her on the present.  I wasn’t there to witness its arrival or see my dad sitting in his new chair but when he died, I immediately thought of it and said, “at least he had a few months to sit in his new chair.”  I know he would have loved that new chair.  A well-crafted leather recliner was one of his things…

When he died, I collected two of the expensive watches I gave him when I got old enough to afford such luxuries (he and I shared an obsession for quality when it came to watches and pens), a wool sweater I had bought him in Scotland on my first trip to Europe (still going strong 20 years later) and my favourite of the many caps I had given him.  It was from my trip to Botswana – I put it on after I made my speech at his funeral introducing My Way – “if Ray was here today, this is what he would tell you”.  The cap was one of my dad’s signatures – standing there wearing it while Frank sang as though he had known the inner workings of my dad’s mind was as close as I could come to reincarnating him for his adoring crowd.

So don’t believe it when people say objects have no value.  Just don’t do all your shopping at Walmart or H&M.  Find your objects.  Develop a point of view.  My father had caps, watches, a leather recliner.  I have cashmere cardigans, show-stopping shoes and enormous leopard print throw pillows.  My father taught me well… and I hope there will be purple balloons at my funeral… one for every year I made it through… a mix of helium and air… to distract people and cheer them up… that’s what we did for the hundreds who attended my dad’s funeral… but that’s a whole ‘nother story 🙂

middle age has its benefits :)

I did intend to have my own children but somehow that plan just didn’t quite get executed – so one of the great pleasures of middle age has been watching some of the children I have known via friends and family grow up around me.  It’s the catnip aunt role – you just get to be cool without the responsibility of being an actual parent 🙂

One of these kids became part of my 50th birthday celebration.  I have known her since she was a baby.  When she complains she has never been to Paris, I get to tease her about the time I spent with her and her mom in Paris when we would take her to restaurants and just pick her up on the way out.  Taking a cute kid into a restaurant in the Latin countries is like bringing a cute puppy 🙂

She is now a teenager – but not the usual variety.  Instead she is the kind of teenager who can fit easily into a sea of adults.  She was the youngest person at my party, yet fit in seamlessly – and may well have been more witty and erudite than some of the adults 😉

One of the unexpected highlights of the birthday was reintroducing her to another friend of mine who babysat her one night when she was a child.  They were the right pair to team up.  As Yvonne’s boyfriend said, “how do you play Christmas?” When you ask a little Jewish girl what she wants to do and she says, “play Christmas”, not everyone would have a game plan.  But her mother and I came home from dinner to a house fully decked out in Christmas magic in the middle of July – and Morgan went home with Christmas presents.  It was a classic story for them to bond over during the weekend – although there was some suspicion it might not have been the concept of Christmas that was so appealing as the idea that you might get presents 🙂

This was the first time in many years that I got to spend more than a few hours with her and it was a total delight.  It is already obvious this is one of those girls who could help to change the world.  She gives me faith in the next generation.

I have found one of the great rewards of getting to this ripe old age is that I can mentor young kids.  It is especially fascinating to see what young women are thinking – and to try and encourage and inspire them.

And I have had a rather unusual life.  So, fingers crossed, I will be able to connect her with the husband of another lifelong friend who is a theoretical physicist because apparently she is far more interested in meeting an actual physicist than in
meeting Justin Bieber – a girl after my own heart 😉

The first time I saw NYC I was 17.  I took my niece to Paris when she was 16.  I am definitely hoping to see Morgan’s reaction to one of those cities and share in her discovery.  The best way to relive your youth is through an actual youth.  I don’t need a Ferrari.  I just need a teenage girl, a camera and a world- class city she has never seen before…


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