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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

I have a lot of Christmases under my belt.

There were those when I was a kid and followed my mom’s tree-decorating dictates demanding tinsel was to be strung one … strand … at …a … time, then collected in the same fashion when the holiday finished, put away carefully, then stored for the next year. (I swear she was still using some 1958 tinsel in 2010!)

The years my first batch of children were little were at times fraught, but we always had a tree with gifts under it and Santa always did his midnight visit. We’d open gifts and such, then go to Grandma’s house for the feast that never varied. (Okay, once it varied; mom made orange jello-mold salad with carrots instead of green jello-mold salad with the alternating pineapple slice/cherry pattern we’d grown up with. She never heard the end of it … nor did she ever again try that sketchy menu change.)

When those kids were older, money was less an issue and the house was much bigger, so the tree was a sixteen-footer and decked to the halls. Gifts were more lavish and home was the gathering place for relatives from near and far. My brothers played basketball in my living room, the turkey was huge and the table could sit 25.

One Christmas found me in Australia with a family that wasn’t mine, but was still family and lovely. It was my first ‘Summer Christmas’ and a pool party was a novel idea in my mind that took a bit of adjusting to, but there were laughs and fun … and the fire to roast chestnuts was a barbecue. I had my first Pavlova that year and I heartily recommend that addition to the traditional meal no matter where you are.

Christmas in England encouraged every Dickensian fantasy I’d ever had, and my daughter’s decision to spend the holiday with me over the pond made it pretty perfect. We were introduced to crackers and crowns and the weather gave us a bit more perspective on poor old Bob Cratchit’s issues with coal.

By the time the holiday rolled around in Seychelles I was accustomed to the Beach Christmas concept and surrounded by friends. Christmas gatherings were huge affairs attended by people from many countries speaking often up to 10 languages, all bringing their own flavors in food, traditions and entertainment. One year we had Shetland Island folk songs played on mandolin and fiddle by an authentic Shetland Islander, and a fabulously funny game of euphemisms … another word for the male member, the sex act, etc. … which allowed submissions from any language.

Once Sam and Cj joined the family Christmas was again about kids.The tree went up, the house draped in various sorts of holiday tat, gifts went under the tree. We’d host a party Christmas eve, then trot up to Gay’s for what had become the traditional food Bacchanal with participation of people from all over the world. The last time this happened was 2 years ago and the festivities of the Eve and the Day included folks with roots in Seychelles, England, Kenya, South Africa, the USA, Scotland, Sri Lanka, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Italy, and probably a few I’m not recalling.

Last year I was back in England to celebrate with the kids in their home-from-home. To say there was a bittersweetness to it would be an understatement, but the ‘sweet’ was very and the ‘bitter’ was easily swallowed. To Cj’s disappointment, it didn’t snow, but it was cold enough to warrant extra coal on the fire. The circle of family had expanded wonderfully and embraced all.

Yes, so many Christmases under my belt.

This one, however …

For the first time in my life I am alone for Christmas. I have already watched the 1951 version (my fav) of “A Christmas Carol” AND “It’s a Wonderful Life” as tradition dictates, but must admit that big a dose of the ‘spirit’ didn’t help much.

Yeah, yeah … I know there are a load of songs on being alone for Christmas, but listening to any of them is not on my to-do list. I’m at loose ends, confounded, stuck between I-don’t-give-a-shit and bawling.

But I’m a grownup, FFS, fully aware that for millions of people this is just another day, and millions of others haven’t one-tenth-of-one-percent of what I have to be grateful and happy for.

Thanks to the age we live in, I will Skype with my kids on Christmas Day … a gift beyond measure! I can take a bottle of wine to the beach and toast the holiday, the ocean, the sky above me and the Earth beneath my feet … and be thankful. I can reflect on Christmas Past, ponder the years, remember those who are no longer reachable by technology, and I can set my focus for the positives.

And I will do all those things. But today, the day before Christmas Eve, I’m indulging in a bit of some whine in the sun. (Poor me. What a bummer. If wishes were horses I’d be elsewhere. Etc., etc., etc. ad nauseam.)

Wishing everyone a Happy Christmas filled with love and food and making merry. I will raise a glass to all with love and hope and to Christmas Yet To Come!

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With more miles under the belt, there’s more to yack about and more photos to post, and now that I’ve re-entered the swing of this again, here ya go …

Well, hello ...

Well, hello …

Cruising from North Devon to Cornwall is a beautiful trip this time of year, even with the bit of fog that crept in just before the sun set … at about 4pm. The leaves still managing to cling to trees are every shade of gold, red and yellow and there’s interesting fauna to go with the flora: pheasants wander, sheep that are outstanding in their field and the occasional hairy cow stopping by the window to say howdy … or, more likely, “good ahftahnoon”.

Rescue me! (Sing it!)

Rescue me! (Sing it!)

Although far less attractive, the highways even manage to keep me amused with the ubiquitous cones-by-the-bazillion and signage. I’ve yet to figure out how in hell a lay-by can be closed or why a road might have delays until the end of December. (That’s seems excessive and I’m hella happy I’ve not caught it when it’s THAT bad as I have places to be before then and no inclination to sit in the car for a month. ;-), and, yes, bad jokes travel with me.) The ones that offer “Free Recovery” crack me up every time and put me in mind of friends who really could use that on a regular basis.

Destination: Eden Project did not disappoint, although the hemp exhibit I was supposed to shoot had been pulled out weeks ago. That glitch was almost made up for by the butternut squash soup and freshly-baked bread I had for lunch.

The Eden Project. It's warm in those domes.

The Eden Project. It’s warm in those domes.

The tropical warmth and smell of cinnamon was a welcome reminder of home, but I did spend time wondering why my garden doesn’t look just like the inside of the domes. EdenSign

I’ll be posting more on the Eden Project in future, but must share the very Seychelles-like Christmas decor I spotted …

Just like Seychelles ...

Just like Seychelles …

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What a good sleep

What a good sleep!

England in November is such a drastic change from Seychelles at any time that the point is well made that I’m not in Kansas anymore, Toto. I’ve been here for more than a month now, quite comfy since the first day on the cold, cold ground when I traded in my flip-flops for a pair of boots and pulled on the jeans, jumpers and overcoats that had been hanging in my closet for the last 13 years … the last time I faced a winter.

I will be retracing my steps along the way in blog fashion in future, but for now I’m motivated to share a bit for those who may be looking for a great place to spend Christmas while there’s still time to sort something wonderful out.

I’m in North Devon at the moment, in the lovely village of Lynton. <http://lynton-lynmouth-tourism.co.uk/>. Having last visited during a different time of year and a far different time of life, I’m happy to be back to wander the Valley of the Rocks and gaze across the Bristol Channel and wave at Wales.

No time to write much about the experience, but I do want to let people know about a fabulous opportunity for a Christmas getaway/get-together in time to actually do something about it should this be the answer you’re looking for. snooker

Sit down or a bit of telly?

Sit down for a bit of telly?

Victoria Lodge <http://www.victorialodge.co.uk/>, previously a 5-star B&B, is now a fully-kitted and beautiful semi-detached that sleeps 12 in posh comfort in the heart of Lynton and is, unbelievably, not yet booked for the holidays. I can personally attest to the luxury of the accommodation, the two gorgeous sitting rooms, the lush beds, the fab kitchen and the convenient location having stayed here before, and being back in now.

xmas table portrait

My dear friend, Jacqueline, spent a few years in Seychelles as CEO of Cable and Wireless, and since I still miss her presence there I visit her here when I can. It’s not often, but as it goes with true friends we pick up right where we left off, so it’s not just the fact that her place is fab.

Main lounge

There’s much to do and see in the area. In addition to the Exmoor ponies and goats in the Valley of the Rocks there are sites of historical interest that range from Dunster Castle <http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunster-castle/> to the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway <http://www.lynton-rail.co.uk/&gt; with its funky steam train. You can check out the lot here <http://www.victorialodge.co.uk/index.php?page=explore-exmoor>.

If you’re looking for a place to bring the whole family for Christmas … or one to fill with friends avoiding family … this is the perfect place to fill with whatever your version of holiday cheer might be, and at a very reasonable price. Kids and dog welcome.

You can book online, or give Jac a call on +44 1598 753203. Trust me … you’ll LOVE it!

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It’s the Day Before Christmas and the Tenrec is Stirring

It’s the day before Christmas
and the house is a wreck
The kids are excited
like dogs, cat and tenrec
The tortoise is unfazed
and Ryan’s asleep
and I’m hoping like crazy
the turkey will keep.

There’s a breeze in the palm trees
some waves in the ocean
Yet, no matter how normal,
the kids have a notion
that tomorrow is special
(I need some of their potion!)

The tree does it’s spinning
all covered in bobs
and tomorrow we’re dinning
on veranda with mobs
of friends from all places —
from Texas to Perth —
and the hope is all faces
will beam forth with mirth

I’m missing the heck
out of everyone far
and hoping that someday
we’ll find we all are
within distance to share
holiday hugs and kissing
and all end up where
we can pause all this missing

So …
From all of us here
down in this hemisphere
Merry Christmas to you
that we hold very dear.
We miss you, we love you
We hope you are happy,
and know you all know
Christmas makes me sappy

Happy holidays!

With love from Sandra, Sam and Cj …

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Cj decorates ...

Christmas gifts being rather a big deal for 9-& 6-year olds, a top priority in the run-up to the holiday is getting some … gifts, that is. Wandering the maze that is Victoria’s huddled shops in search of anything that is age-appropriate and not complete crap that will fall apart on first use is one method employed.

Mail order from abroad is another, but unless one pulls this off sometime around August, the chance of much getting here before a new year dawns is slim, so I try to do my Christmas ordering … well … about August.

Family and friends living in the real world tend to put off their shopping until the 4th quarter of the year, often until even November or early December, thinking it worth the extra shit load of dosh they pay FedEx to make bloody sure the gifts arrive in time to make it under the tree. This year I know of at least five parcels sent at least two weeks ago, all dosed with the added cost of “priority” shipping, all with the naive hope that the Ex in FedEx doesn’t stand for EXcuse-us-for-being-total-incompetents.

Which brings me to a Seychelles Christmas tradition I “celebrated” today. It goes like this …

Yesterday a FedEx delivery guy had something with Sam’s name on it, but decided driving down my road was too much trouble, so he “delivered” to another Benoiton, asking them to pass it along to me. The passing happened this morning … the 23rd of December … which some may think is the end of the tale.

HA!

What was put into my hands was not Sam’s Christmas gift from his uncle, but rather a wad of papers saying Sam’s Christmas gift from his uncle had arrived in Seychelles, that the paperwork had been processed and that I was to take said wad of papers, drive to the airport cargo terminal and clear it through Customs — Customs having announced that they would close today at 11am … it being the Friday before Christmas and all.

Knowing that gifts from uncles are cool and that Sam would be pleased to find one under the tree on Christmas, I made the drive, then did the dance, the steps to which I know only too well after so many years here. It goes like this:

Step one: Find a place to park.
Step two: Stand in line at counter for 20 minutes.
Step three: Hand paperwork to woman behind glass (Probably bullet-proof.)
Step four: Have woman look at paper, then point to another line.
Step five: Stand in new line.
Step six: Wait 20 minutes.
Step seven: Hand paperwork to woman behind glass.
Step eight: Wait while woman eats from a takeaway box, looks at paper, rifles around other papers, chats with other people, does a calculation, fills out another paper, hands back the now-one-sheet-thicker stack of papers, then points to the line you had been in before.
Step nine: Stand in line for 20 minutes.
Step 10: Hand paper to woman behind glass, then pay 334 Seychelles Rupees (about $30 US) in import duty.
Step 11: Get receipt attached to pile of papers.
Step 12: Woman points to the line you just came from.
Step 13: Stand in line you’d just come from.
Step 14: Wait 20 minutes.
Step 15: Hand paper to woman behind glass.
Step 16: Wait while woman drinks a Coke, chats with other people, checks receipt that shows you’ve paid the import duty.
Step 17: Follow woman to cage where goods are stored.
Step 18: Wait 20 minutes while she rummages around every bloody parcel that’s arrived in the country over the past month while asking what yours looks like … and since it’s a gift you’ve never seen, you have no idea.
Step 19: Be handed a box.
Step 20: Take box, then follow woman back to counter where she goes back behind glass.
Step 21: Wait 20 minutes.
Step 22: Woman produces book you are to sign.
Step 23: Wait 20 minutes while woman looks through book for place where you are supposed to sign.
Step 25: Get the FUCK outta there with your parcel.

Piece of cake, heh?

So … Sam’s gift from his uncle is here. Cj’s, unfortunately, is not. It’s probably sitting in a huge pile of FedEx boxes that have come in over the past two weeks that have not been processed because those whose job it is to process them have been overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs doing, so have slowed the process to an imperceptible crawl.

The kids should have the rest of their gifts from abroad sometime in January, at which time I’ll get to do this all over again …

Merry Christmas!

(And people wonder why I’m not posting much these days … )

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I wrote earlier today on the magic of belief in Santa Claus, the gift to the imagination that shiny bit of tinsel can hang on children before they reach the age when flying reindeer and fat men squeezing their bulk down chimneys to leave bikes and dolls no longer makes any sense and they face the realization that Mom and Dad are bigger benefactors than they’d figured.

We consider the progression to be in the natural order of things; hopeful frivolity gives way to information, knowledge, to familiarization with the way things really are. Also learned in time is a sense of history that serves to put traditions in context, to illuminate how one thing led to another to another and eventually to St. Nicholas morphing into Santa Claus.

Okay … so my eight-year-old is on the verge of twigging to the Santa gag, and even though I’m hoping he gets this one more year of the fantasy the writing is on the wall. He’s a smart, curious kid who loves to learn and wants to know stuff, and in the long run all that is a good thing.

I can’t help, however, but be amazed at the huge number of people who never get further than the fairy tales.

Those in this article for example:

A new Gallup poll, released Dec. 17, reveals that 40 percent of Americans still believe that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years.

Yeah … I could have gone with the whole Holy Night tale, but although it is almost Christmas other angles came across my reindeer radar today, and the idea that only 16% of Americans buy the idea of evolution without divine guidance feels to me like a call for intervention.

Don’t get me wrong — I like Christmas music as much as the next indoctrinated American-raised harker of Harold the singing angel, and the idea of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men (and women and children) is worth propagating. It does rather piss me off when the concept is hijacked once a year by peeps whose agenda is suspect and divisive.

When high on said agenda is keeping people stupid … well … even more reason to bah and humbug, and trotting out Eden as fact while science is swept up with the torn wrapping paper is doing exactly that.

The poll also revealed that beliefs in creationism and evolution are strongly related to levels of education attained. When results are narrowed to those with college degrees, only 37 percent of respondents maintain beliefs in creationism. Meanwhile, the belief in evolution without the aid of God rises to 21 percent.

Those numbers are still appalling, but do give some hope that education has some force against ignorance.

Lest anyone think I’m picking on Christians to put the Christ in Christmas, another story in today’s news made the same point, but in a bit more gruesome a manner. Titled “Koran Written In Saddam Hussein’s Blood Poses Problem For Iraqi Leaders”, it could be considered another candle on the holly branch …

The unique Koran’s creation took over two years:

It was etched in the blood of a dictator in a ghoulish bid for piety. Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur’an. But since the fall of Baghdad, almost eight years ago, it has stayed largely out of sight – locked away behind three vaulted doors. It is the one part of the ousted tyrant’s legacy that Iraq has simply not known what to do with.

Slate notes that Saddam was never one for subtlety, and that this undertaking would serve propaganda purposes for when the dictator need to be seen as pious; he “decided to show the world that he was willing to literally sacrifice his blood for the sake of his religion.”

His blood. Nice. What a sacrifice, heh?

And to think Santa would have just left a lump of coal in his stocking and called it a day while assuming he’d made the point that genocide goes on the naughty list. Of course, if Santa was the issue, Saddam would have grown out if it by the time he was 10 or 12 … or 30.

So, why is it okay … normal, reasonable … to mature beyond the dude-in-red flying down from the North Pole, but Adam and Eve and Mohammed once ingested are to last a lifetime? Why is A Visit from St. Nicholas considered light verse, but the second chapter of Luke gospel? (Okay, bad choice of words, but you get my drift.)

But really, does this …

And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

… make any less sense than this …

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were
sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

… ?

Sure, the first quote rhymes and only has a couple of songs to go with, but more importantly it wasn’t shouted from pulpits in our direction, and I can’t help thinking that’s one big diff. That and the fact that Santa has little political clout and other than marketing not much economical sway, either.

As I said in my earlier post, I don’t see Santa as a dangerous illusion fostered by parents, but a bit of magic meant to stir imagination. The other stuff could be the same, but folks don’t seem to outgrow that shit.

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As part of my ongoing effort to create a warm fuzz around the Christmas holiday for my little kids, we sat together on my bed last night and watched “Miracle on 34th Street” on my Mac.

I knew this was a bit risky since Sam is now eight and beginning to question the whole Santa thing, but ended up figuring Natalie Wood’s conversion might be just what it takes to put off the doubts for one more year.

I was unprepared for how vehement his questions would be, how demanding he was to know how it would all turn out long before the film was anywhere near over, but given the fact that he’s been dealing with the inconsistencies of other 8-year-olds at school for the past weeks, it makes sense the boy wants answers. I, however, am not giving any.

Although I am not unlike the mother in the movie in much of my thinking that one major function of childhood is to learn life lessons that will be useful in the decades that follow, I don’t see the belief in Santa as a dangerous delusion. Like the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, the jolly fellow is a little bit of magic, and we need magic. Magic is imagination, and although kids certainly benefit from the accumulation of practical skills, without imagination they are handicapped for life.

The day comes, though, when mental conjurings of reindeer on the roof … and that bowl-full-of-jelly thing that took my mind in strange directions as a kid … give over, often in some sort of epiphany prompted by discoveries made in the back of closets. The accompanying Hm … may be followed by feelings of distrust over being mislead, but most kids are smart enough to realize that being a nasty little git about that with Mom is an even worse idea this time of the year than it had been when Santa was assumed to be the provider of loot.

It’s a sadder day for Mom, though. For us it’s one of those watershed moments when our child takes a step away from childhood that forces us to wrestle with the fact that kids grow up way too fast.

What’s important to remember is that the step away is also a step toward, and even if we’d like to keep our kids little for as long as possible, they actually want to grow up. Since that’s the natural order of things, there’s no sense in trying to stop any flooding from any watershed.

So, from one Christmas to the next, all can change, and the child whose eyes shone with the wonder of Santa’s visit begin to glow with the avarice of gifts … and with an understanding of the joy of giving.

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