Tag Archives: christmas

The Joy of Giving

A friend of mine gave me a bag full of toys last month. It was just a few action figures her son had grown out of — a knight on horseback, a dragon, a couple of archers… In short, exactly the type of toys five-year-old Big Brother loves.

I thanked her, put them in the cupboard for the right time to pass them on to my son, and promptly forgot about them.

A couple of days ago I was searching for Christmas wrapping paper and came across them. It seemed like the right time.

“Do you know my friend Claire?” I asked Big Brother.

“Yes.”

“She asked me to give these toys to you as a present. Her son doesn’t play with them anymore, and so he’d like you to have them.”

“Wow,” he said. “Claire’s son is very nice.”

Then he set to playing with them. He gave them all new names, introduced them to his own King, Queen, Knights and Fairies, and I went back about my day.

A little while later, Big Brother came out to see me. He was carrying one of his favourite jigsaw puzzles — a 100 piece puzzle of classic automobiles.

“I haven’t played with this in a long time, have I Mummy?” he asked.

“You can play with it if you want to,” I said. I was cooking dinner, and trying to contain a force of nature cleverly disguised as a 22-month-old boy.

“No,” said Big Brother patiently. “I mean, I haven’t played with it for weeks and years.” (He’s still struggling to understand all these time measurements.)

“I suppose not.”

“Well I could give this to Claire’s son,” he said. “Because I don’t play with it any more.”

I looked down at his earnest expression as he gripped the puzzle box firmly in his little fingers, halfway between clutching it to his heart and offering it to me. And all I could do was give him a hug.

*****

At this time of gift-shopping, feast-prepping, paper-ripping, wine-drinking, tree-trimming, and family-gathering, take just a moment to remember the simple joys of Christmas.

The magic of Christmas isn’t in the money you’ve spent. The magic of Christmas is the joy of giving.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.

Merry Christmas

 

Like many bloggers, I will be taking a break between Christmas and New Year’s. Thanks so much for giving me the gift of your time this year, by coming to read what I’ve written. I hope you enjoy a safe, happy holiday season and look forward to catching up with you in 2013. 

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Flash Fiction: Solstice Magic

We’re getting into the Christmas season and all the crazy madness that entails. Since I haven’t had a chance to write or post any flash fiction lately, I thought I’d revisit this heartwarming story of Christmas magic.

This was originally written and posted last year, and is one of my favourites. I hope you enjoy it.

Solstice Magic

The kid was sucking on a cancer stick when he walked into the office. I stared at him for a bit, the way you do, and he stared right back at me. He couldn’t have been a day over nine.

“Those things’ll stunt your growth,” I said by way of greeting.

He gave me the bird. Then he sat himself up on the recliner. “I’m here to hire you.”

“Right,” I said. I opened the top drawer and dug around for a cigarette. I wouldn’t normally smoke in front of a kid, but he started it. “You’re the Winter boy, aren’t you?”

“My name is Colin,” he said. “Charles Winter is my father.”

“And is he paying for this… whatever it is? You lose a toy or something? Your dog run away from home?”

I’d been glared at by grown men who had nothing on this kid. He didn’t speak for a full minute. I lit my cigarette and puffed on it a few times while I waited.

Finally, he opened the bag he’d been carrying – plain white, just like the rest of his outfit – and took out a small bottle. “I can pay,” he said. “This doesn’t involve my father.” He stood up to reach the desk, and slid the bottle toward me.

“You’re paying me in bad booze?” I asked, amused.

“It’s good booze.” He dropped the butt of his cigarette in the ashtray on my desk, then climbed back on to the recliner. “And there’s this.”

He reached into his bag again and pulled out a handful of black fabric. I watched him unfold and spread it out until it took on a familiar shape.

“A hat?”

He nodded. “A silk hat.”

I raised my cig to my mouth and inhaled deeply while I considered the boy in white with the black hat in his lap. “And what do you want me to do for this…” I paused to glance at the label on the bottle. “…fine scotch whiskey and that tattered silk hat?”

“I want you to dig up a body.”

“What?”

“I want you to dig up a body,” Colin repeated. Calmly.

A host of questions sprang to mind. After a moment’s pause I went with a simple, “Why?”

“Do you read?” he asked.

“Do you?” I countered.

He reached into his bag a third time, and this time drew out a faded square of paper. A newspaper clipping. Without a word, he climbed down and placed it on the desk. Then he returned to his seat while I picked it up and scanned it.

Under the headline was a photo of children standing in a snow-covered field. “I remember this,” I said. “It was a couple of years ago. A group of rich kids said their snowman came to life and danced away.” I glanced at the boy. “You one of them?”

He nodded. “Yes. It really happened. The hat brought him to life.”

“The hat?”

“The hat.”

“That hat?”

He nodded, and lifted the black silk hat up for me to see. “This hat.”

I didn’t say anything, just finished my smoke.

“There’s magic in it,” he said. “It brought the snowman to life. It can bring other things to life. It can bring the dead back to life.”

“Right,” I said. “So you want me to dig up a body for you to experiment on. Is that it?” The kid was starting to give me the creeps.

“No,” said Colin. “I’ve already done the experiments.”

I licked my lips. “What do you mean?”

“The hat can bring things to life, but not all the time. It only works on the Winter Solstice.” He stared at me for a long moment. Waiting.  “Tonight,” he added.

“And you know this because…”

“I experimented,” he said again. I must not have looked convinced, because he kept talking. “There are a lot of dogs on my father’s property.” He smiled. “There used to be. I had to find out when the magic would work, so I killed one and tried the hat each day. When the body started to smell, I killed another one and started again. Last year, on the Winter Solstice, it brought the dog back to life.” He paused a moment, then looked me in the eyes and said, “I need the body tonight.”

He needed a body. I needed a drink.

I grabbed the bottle he’d put on the desk and said, “And in return, you’ll give me a bottle of whiskey?”

He shook his head. “No. You can have the booze anyway. If you help me, you get the hat. After I’m finished with it.”

“Won’t you need it?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No. Not after tonight.”

I opened the bottle and tipped a measure into my mouth. Colin was right. It was good stuff. “Whose body?”

“My mother’s,” he said.

And just like that, it all came back to me. Two and a half years ago, the police were called to a disturbance at the Winter house. By the time they got there, Mrs Winter was dead. There’d been suspicions of foul play, but it was eventually ruled an accident. Mr Winter was too rich to be a murder suspect.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll help you.”

And I did. I dug up his mother, and he put the hat on her head just as the town clock struck midnight.

That was a year ago. There’s no need to ask if it worked.

If it hadn’t, he wouldn’t have given me the hat. And you’d still be a corpse.

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Family Traditions: Just Say No

I’ve been reading through parenting advice recently, and I’ve come across something important. Something I hadn’t even realised was important. Apparently, as a parent, one of the most important things I can do for my family is to establish positive, meaningful family traditions. This will enrich the life of my children and ensure they have a solid grasp of who they are and where they belong.

It’s time to get me some family traditions!

But where do I start? I’d like to draw on the family traditions we had when I was a child, but sadly we didn’t have any.

(I’m beginning to feel un-enriched already.)

But maybe I’m missing something. Let me think back to my childhood days…

Christmas was always special. The three of us kids would wake up early (really, really early) and quietly go through the goodies in our Christmas stocking. Then, at 6:00am, we’d bound into our parents’ room, wake them up, and exhort them to hurry, hurry, hurry, get up, get out of bed, and come out to the tree, and see the presents, and let’s get started! We’d sit around in our pyjamas, eating chocolate and lollies from our stockings, and open the presents. Dad would sit by the tree and hand them out one at a time, all of us sitting and watching and waiting to coo over whatever gift was unwrapped. We’d draw the process out as long as we possibly could. (Seriously — if there was a gift that required batteries, the batteries would be wrapped separately. That’s TWO gifts instead of ONE.) When the presents were finally all opened, Dad would go into the kitchen and cook bacon and eggs for breakfast. We’d eat at the table, then go off and play with our presents while Mum and/or Dad prepared lunch.

We did this every year, but it wasn’t a tradition. It was just Christmas.

Birthdays were always a big deal. You got presents, and a cake, and your siblings had to be nice to you all day. And (and!) you got the ultimate treat of the year. The Birthday Boy or Girl got to choose what we had for dinner! It could be anything. Pizza? Sure. A three course roast meal? Absolutely. Ice cream with sprinkles? No problem. We would agonise over this decision for weeks before our birthday as though we were choosing our Last Meal. And, the funny part? Mum would often ask us what we wanted for dinner at other times of the year, but it wasn’t the same. It just wasn’t.

Choosing birthday dinners was a big deal, but it wasn’t a tradition. It was just something we did on our birthdays.

I have memories of sitting down in front of the TV to watch Young Talent Time (for the US readers: think Mickey Mouse Club) with my parents every Saturday evening at 6:30pm.  When that show stopped broadcasting, we moved on to watching Hey, Hey It’s Saturday at the same time. Every week we’d all stop and watch TV together and enjoy the family-friendly programming. It was a special treat — something to look forward to.

But it wasn’t a tradition. It was just Saturday night.

Every night, us kids would set the table and all five of us would sit down for dinner as a family. There would be a fresh pot of tea on the table, which we would pour for ourselves (using a strainer to catch the tea leaves). We would eat dinner and dessert, talking about the things we did that day and the plans we had for the next day. We told jokes and argued and debated and shared. And when dinner was done, one of us would help with the dishes while the others went to do our homework.

This is one of the strongest memories I have of my childhood, but it wasn’t a tradition. It was just dinner.

… As you can see, there’s not a single family traditions to be found.

We may have done things together, but I don’t believe for a moment that my parents ever sat down and discussed ways they could establish positive, meaningful family traditions.

You know what, Parenting Expert? I say “No” to establishing positive, meaningful family traditions.

I don’t have time for that nonsense.

I have to go ask the kids to set the table for dinner and spend a few minutes reflecting on my day so I have something interesting to talk to them about. Then I need to think about which movie we’re going to rent on Saturday for Movie Night. Plus, I’ve only got 10 weeks until my birthday and I have no idea what I want for my birthday dinner.

Honestly, we don’t have time to establish positive, meaningful family traditions. We’re too busy being a family.

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Christmas Top 5

I was going to share my usual rundown of Top 5 Posts I Enjoyed This Week, but I had a problem: The blogosphere has tumbleweed rolling across it. There’s been a few great Christmas posts, but mostly there’s been a lot of brief “Happy Christmas, I’m on holidays, see you in January” kind of stuff. And while I’m thrilled that so many of my favourite bloggers are having a great festive season away, they’re not exactly the kind of post one wants shared with the world.

So instead, I hope you enjoy my Top 5 Memorable Christmas Moments.

1. Receiving a new camera for Christmas.

This was great, because my old camera gave up the ghost a couple of months ago. When you’ve got small children, two months is a long time between photo opportunities. But since the camera was neatly wrapped up under the Christmas tree (along with about 100 other presents for the 8 people who were here), I wasn’t able to photograph the actual present-opening itself. I did take a photo of the Christmas Tree afterwards.

It’s not quite as impressive, really.

2. Christmas lunch with my parents, brother and sister.

It’s three years since we were all together at Christmas (or, in fact, at all) and last time we also had my husband and my sister’s boyfriend (now ex-) present as well. This time it was just the five of us, plus my two boys.

(My husband had to stay home to work over the holidays, my brother’s girlfriend was with her family in Norway, and my sister’s new boyfriend had his own plans.)

From an external point of view, our Christmas lunch conversation would have sounded argumentative, confrontational, and (possibly) boring as we heatedly debated the precise meaning and connotation of a variety of words and phrases and teased each other mercilessly about things that happened twenty to thirty years ago. But from an internal point of view, it was a great afternoon of intellectual sparring and debate. And food. And wine. All the best things in life.

3. Going into the toilet and opening the lid, only to find it was otherwise occupied by a green tree frog the size of my fist.

The more astute may notice this picture doesn’t actually contain a frog. That’s because, as I was about to take a photo, the frog jumped in my direction and I was too busy leaping backwards and shrieking like a girl to press the button.

Mortifying.

4. Baby learning to wave on cue.

This doesn’t really need an explanation, but let me just say a quick thank you to my brother, who did the teaching.

5. Big Brother’s karaoke version of Ice Ice Baby

My Mum was given a Glee Karaoke game for the Wii for Christmas, and we’ve been making great use of it. (Well, when I say “we”, I mostly mean “I”…) 4-year-old Big Brother wanted to have a turn, of course, but since his song knowledge is mostly limited to nursery rhymes, The Wiggles and Scooby Doo, I didn’t think it would work out particularly well.

I was wrong.

My favourite part is the 30 seconds after the song finishes.

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Bring on the Christmas Spirit(s)

If you’ve been reading my blog for the last few weeks, you’d be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that I’m not really into Christmas. Maybe you think I’m a bit of a Scrooge. Or, at the very least, that I merely go through the motions of Christmas, hating every bit of it.

First I complained about retailers asking my son about Santa Claus. Then I explained that I’ve told my son that Santa isn’t real. Finally, I blogged at Momma Be Thy Name about how hot Christmas is in Australia.

I haven’t, in fact, said anything particularly good about Christmas at all.

But let me make something clear:

I. Love. Christmas.

I really, really do. 

Christmas is a magical time full of stories and games, exchanges of gifts and fond wishes, food and drink, and love and laughter. It’s a time where we celebrate the beauty of a tree decked in trinkets, and pause to take stock of everyone and everything in our lives that we love. It’s a time where receiving a greeting from an old friend can bring tears of joy to our eyes. It’s a time when the Ghosts of Christmas Past loiter in our minds, reminding us of the wonder of family and friends and fond memories.

It’s a time for joy.

Not the manufactured-in-a-factory Joy that you can buy at the department store for $99.99 plus tax. Real Joy. The Joy of spending time with people who really, truly speak your language and know your history. The Joy of seeing a child’s face light up in delight before he’s even unwrapped the first present. The Joy of breaking bread with relatives you see only once, maybe twice, a year and wondering why you don’t make time to do it more open.

The Joy of Love.

The Joy of Peace.

The Joy of Christmas.

There’s definitely something magical about Christmas. 

But the magic of Christmas is not a fat man in a red suit, or a tree covered in sparkling lights, or a turkey roasting in the oven.

No, it’s something much, much better.

The magic of Christmas is the feelings and memories all those things bring with them.

The feeling of home, when you’re far from it. The memory of childhood, when you’re decades removed. The feeling of togetherness, even when you’re alone. The memory of people and places you once loved, whom you haven’t thought about all year.

Christmas is magical. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

And now I’m off to pour myself a drink and engage in some light-hearted banter (and debate) with my siblings and parents, while my children sleep peacefully in their beds. Bring on the morrow!

Happy Yuletide, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Saturnalia, and a Festive Non-Denominational Winter Solstice Holiday to all.

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Monday’s Top 5

I have to admit, I don’t play many computer/console games. But I do love a good story. Storytelling in games has advanced rapidly over the last decade. Instead of the action-packed, will he/won’t he narrative of an intrepid frog crossing a busy highway and crocodile-infested river to get home, we now have sandbox-style games with strong characterisation, back-story, twists and turns, and a final reveal/confrontation. And, like with all forms of storytelling, there’s a lot writers can learn from computer games.

You may remember Patrick O’Duffy from last week’s Top 5. He spent the last two weeks playing Batman: Arkham City, and then wrote a fabulous post about it. It’s not a review (although he does talk about what he does and doesn’t like) but rather a look at the lessons on storytelling and narrative structure that can be taken from the game. In his own words:

But as of yesterday I have finished the game (both the core plotline and the host of side missions) and having done so I think there’s a lot to consider from a writing POV about the way the game handles its stories and characters. Arkham City does some things right and some things wrong – more the latter than the former, to be honest – and a lot of that is pretty directly applicable to writing fiction. So let’s step away from the fact that the game is a lot of fun and features my favourite character and see what else we can learn from it.

Check out Patrick O’Duffy’s Arkham City — the writing dos and don’ts. (Warning: Spoilers abound, so bookmark and read it later if you’re still playing the game.)

For those of us who live work exist in peruse the writing blogosphere, there was a massive furor when Farhad Manjoo published an article on Slate titled “Don’t Support Your Local Bookstore”. Type that phrase into google, and I’m sure you’ll find at least seven bajillion angry responses. If Manjoo’s intention was to cause a stir, he certainly succeeded. Of those seven bajillion responses, I’d like to share with you two.

Literary agent Sarah LaPolla responded with Jocks vs. Nerds. She suggests that Manjoo is trying to create a divide between the I-Hate-Amazon and the Amazon-is-King camps (a’la nerds and jocks), and puts forward the idea that there is a huge swathe of middle ground that he’s forgetting:

Manjoo fails to see that you can sip your soy latte and be a member of the NRA and shop at Whole Foods and vote Republican. Not everyone needs to be one thing, and not everyone has to want only one thing from their bookstore. Manjoo isn’t just telling us to respect Amazon for what it is. He’s saying it’s the only way to shop, and that even if you’re able to support local businesses, you shouldn’t because if you do you’re nothing but an out-of-touch, overly romantic hippie who doesn’t get how business works. 

Anthony Lee Collins isn’t so much responding to Manjoo’s article as responding to the extreme anger that arose in its aftermath. He is a writer and an avid reader, but (as he puts it):

I love words. I love stories. But I don’t love books. I like books – they’ve been the main way I’ve received words and stories until recently – but I’m not attached to them as items.

I think this love of books vs love of stories is one of the core differences between the people who fanatically support indie bookstores and the people who fanatically support Amazon — and a concept that seems to have been forgotten in the argument up to this point. So thank you Anthony for sharing that you are (Mostly) Not sentimental about books.

If people get their knickers in a knot talking about which form of book shopping is their favourite, you can bet that the question of which child is your favourite is an even tougher one. Come on, you know you’ve asked your Mum if you’re her favourite. As Aussie comedian Fiona O’Loughlin says: If your mother tells you she doesn’t have a favourite, she’s lying. It’s just not you.

Jennifer of Kvetch Mom has three children, and has had to come up with her own answer to this question. In her case it’s, “You are all my favorites! (Cough, cough, bullshit, cough, cough.)” Her post, You Are My Favorite, is funny, touching, and considers an aspect of parenting that we’re supposed to pretend doesn’t exist:

The thing about parenthood is, you don’t know who you’re going to click with when you have kids. You will love each child fiercely, but your interpersonal dynamics may be challenging with some. No one really talks about this, but for me it is true. I think it’s a lot easier to parent a kid who doesn’t jangle your nerves. Or remind you of your crazy uncle.

Finally, did I mention that I’ve got a post featured in Momma’s Twelve Days of Christmas? Right. I did. Well, I’m not the only one. Karyn Gallagher also has a guest post as part of the Christmas Celebrations. But, unlike mine, Karyn’s story is heartfelt and touching — a true Christmas miracle. I warn you: I cried for a solid ten minutes during/after reading this story. Tears of compassion and understanding and joy. Her story is that beautiful. Please go and read about The Gift. And have a tissue handy.

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Merry Christmas: It’s Getting Hot in Here

For those people who live in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas is all about roasting chestnuts on an open fire while Jack Frost nips at your nose. (At least, that’s what the songs would have me believe.)

But for those of us living in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas is a time of beaches, sunburn and tempers frayed by the one-two punch of Christmas Cheer and soaring temperatures.

So, how do we celebrate our Christmas? And, even more importantly, how do we survive those celebrations?

Fortunately for you, I’ve answered these questions and more in a guest post as part of Momma Be Thy Name’s 12 Days of Christmas. Click through now to read my Tips for Surviving a Hot Christmas.

(And remember: Leave a comment on Momma’s site, and you’re in the running to win a fabulous Elf Pack that includes products from Godiva, iTunes, LL Bean, Ghirardelli, Hallmark, and more.)

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