Tag Archives: holidays

New Holiday Tradition: Christmas Family Game Day

I had a wonderful Christmas – the most relaxing Christmas I can remember, actually. Once we finished up with all the last minute stuff on Christmas Eve, everything kind of settled into place.

Our Christmas Eve “feast” was a night of snacking: easy, comfortable, fun. We bought ready-made food from the local Chinese grocery store – fried rice noodles, egg noodles, BBQ pork, seaweed salad, black pepper pork ribs, savoury turnip cake, shrimp chips, egg tarts, spicy deep fried tofu – and a selection of frozen appetizers from the grocery store (sausage rolls, samosa, shrimp with dipping sauce).  My daughter was here, so it was all five of us, and such a cozy evening.

Christmas morning was the usual fun of opening presents. Dylan was very excited because Santa had brought him the Zoomer Dino he’d asked for, along with a Plants vs. Zombie Popper toy (huge thanks to my friend Brette – my heart sunk when Dylan put the Popper in his letter to Santa, because the toy isn’t available her in Canada, but Brette saved the day. She bought it and shipped it to me well in time for Christmas!).

Photo 2014-12-26, 12 55 15 PMCreeper is fascinated by his new toy

The cats loved their presents – especially the catnip. It was their first experience with catnip. They quite enjoyed it! We also got them a magnetic popup toy that works really well. I usually stay away from battery operated toys for the cats. They always seems o flimsy and easy to break. This one, however, is quite solid, and is challenging enough the cats aren’t bored after a few minutes.

My older son Sean is always the hardest to buy for. He’s a gamer, and since he tends to buy any game he’s interested in when its launched, he never has a wish list. In the past, I’d print up coupons that said things like “valid for a game of your choice”, and then give him books so he’d have something to open (which he also never asked for, but I find with him, if a book’s at hand, he’ll read it.)

Earlier this year, he’d expressed an interest in cooperative board games. He sometimes watches Will Wheaton’s board game YouTube channel, Table Top, and we’d talked about getting a game and starting family game night. So I went ahead, researched the various adult cooperative games out there, and got the ones that sounded like the most fun.


Everyone loved Sean’s presents! After the gifts had been unwrapped and we’d all eaten our fill of Christmas Eve leftovers, Sean decided to open up Pandemic. All the other games I’d bought him were for ages 14 and up, but Pandemic is rated for ages 8+, so Dylan could play. It’s only for up to four players, which was okay as my husband’s not really much of a games type of person. The rest of us played two rounds of the game and we had a blast.

Arkham Horror

So much so, I mentioned we should play Arkham Horror later in the evening, another of the games I’d bought for Sean, once Dylan was in bed. Arkham Horror, which you can probably tell is based on Lovecraft’s stories, is recommended for ages 14 and up, which meant it was a much more complicated game than Pandemic. Well, as soon as Dylan heard this, and realized we thought it might be too complicated for him, he really really wanted to play it.

We thought, well, why not give it a try? And we were right. It was much more complicated than Pandemic. The first round of the game we played was slow and everyone except Sean and I got bored (all five of us played, as the game accommodates from 1 to 8 players). My throat was hoarse from reading  out loud from the instruction book every turn, because there were so many things to remember (each turn has five phases!). And then about an hour into the game, we realized we hadn’t been doing some pretty important things that we should have been doing, so we decided to start over. While Sean reset the board game pieces (of which there are MANY – I wish now I’d taken a picture of the game all laid out), I reread the instruction booklet from cover to cover (the thing even has an index!).

Sean, Dylan and I sat down to play a second round (Hayley was napping and Ward, bored by the first round, decided to sit this round out), and with the rules of the game more solidly under our belt, we had a blast! It wasn’t too old for Dylan after all, so I’m confident he’ll be able to play the other games I bought Sean. If you’ve never played any of the adult cooperative games before, they’re definitely something I recommend. Working together is such a blast, and the games are intricate and very exciting.

My two older kids had to leave in the late afternoon to go to their dad’s, so the rest of the evening was spent sitting around and relaxing. I played Plants vs. Zombie Risk with Dylan, and the experience really couldn’t compare with the cooperative games. It’s just a much nicer feeling working together toward a common goal rather than competing against each other. Still, we had fun. We had another round of snacking when the kids came back home, and then the rest of the evening was spent lounging around some more. I was mainly on my phone, checking out 365 day project ideas (I’ve got a few in mind for the new year).

It was, hands down, one of the best and most relaxing Christmases I’ve ever had. I loved playing the cooperative games on Christmas Day. I think we might have started a new Christmas tradition!

How were your holidays? What kinds of holiday traditions do you enjoy?

A Quiet Grateful Celebration Tonight

I’d intended to blog about the final five books from my TBR stash that I want to read next year, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.

My heart is just so full right now, and I want to let it all spill out. My blog seems like the best place for the words to go.

For the first time in over fifteen years, I don’t have to work through the holidays.

This is something I’ve dreamed of for a long time. As a freelancer, it can often feel like feast or famine, and during the feast times, you acquire the habit of saying “yes” to everything, because after you finish that last project, it may well be famine. Because most of my indexing clients are textbook publishers, traditionally the busy season for me has been from November to February, with the worst of it being in November and December. As a result,  I have had too many years where I was only able to take Christmas Day off work – and I felt thankful that I could.

But this entire year, it’s been different. Partly, it’s because I’m not doing as many indexing projects as I used to. Three years ago, one of my major clients decided to outsource all its editorial overseas, indexes included, and since then, while I still do some of their indexes via the overseas editorial firms (and when they do keep anything in-house, I often get the project), I’m now preparing only a fraction of the indexes for them that I used to. Each year that number has dwindled.

The publishing industry is in a state of flux, and outsourcing overseas is a very real possibility with my other clients too. So with this in mind, I’ve started to focus on freelance writing and social media management.  I started out this year with one client, thanks to my good friend Brette Sember, and then I added another client (thanks again to Brette). I think that’s helped in terms of a steadier workload.

And it’s funny the way life works. Instead of having to deal with a big empty hole in my work schedule because of the dwindling workload from this one major client who’s outsourced all its editorial, my other clients began filling the gap. In fact, two of them in particular have kept me steadily indexing throughout the year, so that this year and last, I never really felt that “famine” part of the freelance life. While I have a little less work, it’s spread out much more evenly through the year.

The best thing is, this is the first year I’ve been able to take so much time off for the holidays. I have one writing assignment due next week, but that’s it. Even better, my time off isn’t at the expense of my bank account, either (if it was, I wouldn’t be feeling so happy!).


Photo 2014-12-19, 2 56 19 PMI even had time to take pictures at the mall!

So I’m really really looking forward to the days leading up to Christmas. Today I took my youngest Christmas shopping, and we had such fun! He’s a great kid to take to the shops, because he really gets into it. In the past, I’d have to scramble to find an hour in my schedule to whisk him to a store to pick a present for his dad, but today we spent the entire afternoon wandering the mall, browsing and having a great time. This year, we had time for him to pick presents for his older brother and sister too, as well as for his dad.

Photo 2014-12-19, 4 14 16 PMHard to see, but shimmery beauty decorates one of the mall windows

And tonight, it’s just the two of us. Christmas music is playing, the tree is lit, and we have wrapping plans. I feel so rich, so abundant, so grateful.  I want to keep pinching myself to make sure this is real.

A steady workload and the ability to take time off, without any guilt or stress. More of the same throughout all of 2015, please!

Snapshot: 12-16-2014

Wearing: My pajamas and a hoodie, because it’s a bit cool in here.

Feeling: Pretty good. I still have some deadlines before Christmas, but they’re on the lighter side, so I feel like I have some breathing space.

Eating: Just had a bowl of savoury oatmeal, with salmon chunks in it. I prefer my oatmeal to be savoury rather than sweet – kind of like a Western version of congee!

Drinking: Homemade mango kefir and a cup of green tea.

Reading: I started Jackaby by William Ritter last week. It’s been good so far, although I haven’t read enough of it yet to be feeling that “can’t put this down” feeling. I have high hopes for it, though.

Listening: Still listening to 14 by Peter Clines. Just finished a really exciting scene last night – I think I was holding my breath through much of it.  I have about two and a half more hours of the book left.

I also downloaded the Eckhart Tolle bundle onto my iPhone, and have been listening to his talk on Manifestation. As always, the focus is on being and the practice of presence, and it’s always such a good reminder for me, especially around this time of the year. Lately, despite daily meditation (or attempts at it), my mind is usually going a mile a minute, and Eckhart always manages to slow me down to the speed of presence. I just wish I could get there easily when I’m not listening to him!

Writing: Other than blog posts and freelance articles, nothing. I may be able to get back into a regular fiction writing habit before Christmas, but this time of year can get crazy, I’ve decided to be okay if I don’t start until after the holidays.

I’m excited, though, because my writing buddy Memory is currently doing an alpha read (it’s more like pre-alpha, if that’s possible) of my children’s book WAVERLEY, both the new, finished version and my first, incomplete version. The feedback she’s given me so far has been really good, and I’m planning on revising WAVERLEY beginning in the new year.

Working: I have two freelance articles due tomorrow, and I’m also finishing up an index for a very interesting book. I like this, because I rarely index interesting books (most of my projects are university textbooks, with the occasional high school book thrown in). This one is on the cooperative business model and servant leadership, and I found the concepts rather breathtaking.

Creating: Another big zero here. I know this is something I need to make into a daily habit or it will never get done, so it’s probably not going to happen until after the holidays. Things I’m thinking about doing in the new year are more drawing and more sketchnoting. We shall see.

Photo of the week: I took this last night, of Dylan and Creeper:

Photo 2014-12-15, 7 29 30 PM

I’ve also been having a lot of fun this past week on Instagram with the #SeasonsReading challenge. I think I’ll be doing more Book-a-Day photo challenges in the new year – they really make me think more creatively about the pictures I’m taking.

Discovery: Now that I can comment on blogs from my phone, I’ve developed a new morning routine: blog reading! (I used to read the Toronto Star quickly followed by the New York Times (not as quickly), but I much prefer blog reading). So I’ve been coming across a ton of “Best of the Year” lists. They make me weep sometimes, though, as my TBR now feels even more out of control than ever.  Kristen’s list at We Be Reading has probably done the most amount of damage so far in this regard.

Looking forward to: The holidays! Doing the final bit of gift shopping! Actually having time to have fun wrapping this year (instead of doing it all in a crazed, two-hour, frantic blitz as I’ve done in previous years)! And some nice big blocks of time for reading (fingers crossed about this one).

The rest of today: Dylan and I are headed out to the library, where we each have a large stack of holds to pick up. Plus our library cards need to be renewed. And then work. But I kind of feel like I had the morning off, so it’s not too bad.

On Stage

Dylan had his first performance in the National Ballet’s Nutcracker on Sunday. We have tickets to one of his performances next weekend, but at the last minute Ward and I decided to get standing room seats because it was, after all, Dylan’s first performance!

And we were very glad we did. Last year, Dylan was in three operas – Peter Grimes, The Masked Ball and Don Quichotte – so it’s not his first time on the Four Seasons stage, but this was his first time dancing on that state. Dancing is what he loves to do, and we both had one of those “feelings swelling up within” moments when he first came on stage.

Also, there were the stairs. He has to run up and down some stairs in one of the scenes, and he only got to rehearse on the actual stairs once, last week. He didn’t run down them quickly enough during the rehearsals, so he was a bit late in his timing. He’s a kid who’s more on the cautious side, so has never been one to rush pelmel down stairs. So he’s been practicing – on the condo stairs, the subway stairs, basically anywhere we could find stairs.

And he did wonderfully! His timing was fine, and while there was one minor mishap – he has a chicken, attached to him, that’s “chasing” him and the chicken got caught at the top of the stairs at one point, but the boy behind him managed to loosen it – no-one in the audience was any the wiser that a glitch had occurred.

This video gives a backstage view of the production:

It seems a little chaotic, but Dylan says it’s not. In fact, he says it’s all very organized, same as the operas he performed in last year.

Meanwhile, #UncleJohn, the opera Ward is in right now, also started performances last week, with this week seeing the last of the performances. #UncleJohn is a modern interpretation of Don Giovanni, and everything is sung in English. (Ward doesn’t do any singing – he’s an extra, and plays a cop.)

Coincidentally, Ward will be auditioning tomorrow for an extra’s role in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Don Giovanni! If he gets the part, he’ll be in rehearsals through much of the holidays. Dylan has five more performances, so the next few weeks could be quite hectic for us, not counting the holidays!

As for me, I’m quite content to be in the audience occasionally. I have absolutely no hankering to be on stage – although I certainly wouldn’t mind writing something that gets produced on stage!

The Gift

This is my contribution to the 2013 Virtual Advent tour. When Marg and Kelly gave me my date – Friday the 13th! – I wasn’t sure what I was going to write. And then, this week, I knew exactly what I would write.

Photo 2013-12-12 10 15 18 AM

This is Hobbes. He joined our family four weeks ago, a much awaited little brother for Creeper, who’s getting so big now. Hobbes hasn’t been a part of our family for very long, but he’s wiggled his way easily into our hearts.

A week ago Friday, after he’d been with us just three short weeks, Hobbes got sick. He was throwing up and had very severe diarrhea. The vet gave him a subcutaneous injection of fluids to deal with the dehydration, and took some blood for sampling. We had a very worrying couple of days, as Hobbes grew more and more lethargic.

By Saturday night, I knew there was a chance we might lose him. He was only eighteen weeks old, and two days was a long time for a kitten so young to be so sick. Visions of all the things that could be wrong with him – an obstruction from something non-edible he might have eaten, genetic kidney problems, various fatal feline viruses – danced in my head.

I didn’t want to think about a Christmas without him.

I was supposed to go to a Christmas party that night, but I stayed home instead. I Googled around and found a recipe for homemade Pedialyte, or “oral dehydration salts”. I prepared a batch and syringe-fed it to Hobbes, as well as leaving it out in the cats’ water bowl. I also switched his diet to one of plain chicken pureed with more of the homemade Pedialyte.

And on Sunday morning, he woke me up – to feed him! He was feeling hungry again, and while he wasn’t anywhere near his usual perky kitten self, he was definitely much better than he’d been the night before. He had drunk the entire bowl of homemade Pedialyte some time during the night. And he hadn’t thrown up the chicken mixture.

Long story short, he’s now almost back to 100%. We’re pretty sure the culprit is an allergy to fish – we hadn’t realized until that weekend, but all the flavours of the brand of cat food we were feeding him contained fish of some kind. I’d noticed, too, that one of his eyes would get all weepy after I syringe-fed him a mixture of his cat food and water. The same hadn’t happened when I syringe-fed him the chicken mixture.

That Saturday was a terrible, terrible day, but Sunday brought me an extra early Christmas gift.  I hear him running like mad through the apartment, wrestling with Creeper, meowing plaintively at his food bowl when he’s hungry, and I smile. I am so very, very grateful.

I can think about Christmas again. Creeper and Hobbes’ first Christmas with us.

And Creeper’s pretty happy to have his little playful brother back again.

Photo 2013-12-10 1 07 10 AM

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

We are celebrating quietly at home today. Tomorrow there’s a Harry Potter all-day movie marathon with my sister, mom, uncle and cousin, with a prime rib dinner thrown in for good measure.

I hope your holidays are magical and filled with family, friends, love and fun!

Virtual Advent: Christmas in the City

Welcome to Day 7 of the Virtual Advent Tour, hosted by Kelly of The Written Word and and Marg of The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. This is my first year participating, and I’ve been excitedly planning out this post ever since I signed up!

Silver Bells has always been one of my favourite Christmas carols; I grew up in Vancouver, and while we didn’t always get snow, the song always brings up such fond holiday memories for me.

Last November, we moved from the suburbs to Toronto. Now, Toronto’s quite a bit different from Vancouver; it’s bigger, for one thing, and there’s a lot less rain. But it’s still Christmastime in the city!

We didn’t join in on many of the festivities last year, though; moving from a 3000 square foot house into a 1180 square foot condo six weeks before Christmas took a lot out of us, and we didn’t really feel truly settled into our new home until after the holidays.

This year, though? This year will be completely different!

In the community we used to live in, there weren’t that many Christmas-y events, so we developed a lot of our own, stay-at-home type of traditions. Putting up the Christmas tree was usually the first of these traditions: we’d do up lots of appetizers, have hot chocolate with whipped cream, and make a night of it.

But this year, we’ve added a whole bunch of new traditions. And most of them are free!

One thing’s for sure: Christmas in the city makes for a very busy, event-filled month!

Cavalcade of Lights

This year we kicked off the festivities with Toronto’s Cavalcade of Lights. It’s held at Toronto City Hall, and there were a variety of musical performances to entertain everyone while we waited for the official lighting of the giant Christmas tree.

2012-11-17 19.38.08

But the highlight of the evening (for us, anyway) was the magnificent fireworks display later in the evening. They even had someone zooming along on a zipline with fireworks on his back!

2012-11-17 20.11.14

2012-11-17 20.14.59

It’s the first time we’ve attended the Cavalcade of Lights (thank you, spell check, because I nearly always spell cavalcade wrong!), and we had such a delightful time. It will definitely be one of our new traditions.

Santa Claus Parade

The Santa Claus Parade

We actually managed to catch the Santa Claus Parade last year; the parade route was just a few blocks from our place, so it was an easy thing to fit into our schedule. No struggling with parking :)

This year, however, we weren’t able to catch the Parade. Or at least, we didn’t think we would be able to. We had tickets to see the National Ballet of Canada’s performance of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the ballet was on at the same time as the parade.

But, as luck would have it, the parade route passed right by the Four Seasons Centre, where the ballet was being performed. We came out for intermission and caught the last part of it – we ended up having a great view, as the lobby of the Four Seasons Centre fronts University Avenue, where the parade was passing by, and since the foyer was slightly elevated above street level, we were able to see everything beautifully!

We’re hoping we won’t have a schedule conflict next year. It’s even more fun sitting right on the curb, watching the parade from beginning to end.

The Christmas Windows at The Bay

Going to look at the Christmas windows at The Bay department store (whose roots go back to its days as a fur trading outpost before Canada’s Confederation) is another Christmas tradition we started last year as well. The department store devotes several of its windows on Queen Street to lovely Christmas vignettes:




And when we’re done? It’s off to the chip truck parked in front of City Hall for fries and gravy; it is so much fun eating piping hot fries with loads of gravy in the cold. The steam pours off the fries, and everything cools down just quickly enough, you don’t burn your tongue scarfing it all down!

The Nutcracker

Back when my two older children, Sean and Hayley, were younger, going to see the National Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker was one of our traditions; we made a day of it, driving into the city for the show and then going out for dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory afterwards.  Unfortunately, ballet wasn’t really something either of them enjoyed that much (and it didn’t escape their notice that it was the same production every year – the complaints we heard about that!)  – although they did like the Old Spaghetti Factory!

We’re reviving this tradition this year for our youngest, Dylan. Dylan loves the ballet, so he’s really looking forward to going.

But we’re going to more than one Nutcracker performance! In addition to the traditional one performed by the National Ballet of Canada, we’re also going to see The Pia Bouman School’s Nutcracker. The Pia Bouman School is Dylan’s dance school. He didn’t audition for the show, but it will be great fun to go and see his fellow students in the production.

So these are some of the new traditions we’re embracing this year – taking full advantage of being in the city! We’re hoping to also go to at least one Christmas concert, too, although so far we’ve only got the Blind Boys of Alabama’s Christmas show lined up.

What about you? What holiday traditions do you and your family enjoy during this time of the year?

And make sure to check out the other stops on the Virtual Advent tour today: Bellezza, at Dolce Bellezza and Snowball at Come, Sit by the Hearth!

Pin It, Do It: The Holiday Edition!

I’m very excited to be signing up for the latest edition of Trish’s Pin It Do It Pinterest challenge! I missed it the last few times it’s run. All the Twitter chat about it last month was so enticing, and with the holidays coming up, I thought joining the challenge would be a great way to motivate myself to actually do some fun crafty holiday things with Dylan, my nine-year-old.

And look! I even created a special board just for the challenge: my Pin It Do It: The Holiday Edition! #pinitdoit board.

See? I’m committing to this. I really am.

I’ve vowed in the past not to participate in any more challenges, because I fail so miserably at them (in my first year of blogging here, I think I signed up for about twenty reading challenges – and completed only one of them (it was the Harry Potter challenge, and I did my reread in audio, so it was super, super easy).

BUT!  I have high hopes for this one.

The Christmas season is my favourite season of the year; in past years, I’ve always been SO overwhelmed with deadlines I’ve never been able to enjoy the season thoroughly. (I’ve actually had years where I counted myself lucky being able to take Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off – one of the tougher things about being in business for yourself.)

But this year? Due to some changes one of my major clients made, I have a lighter December schedule. And I fully plan to put the extra time to good use!

What about you? Are you on Pinterest? Signing up for the #pinitdoit challenge?

A Harry Potter Christmas!

Happy holidays, everyone! I’m still in the middle of festive celebrations, as we have some family “dos” scheduled this week. And then, of course, there’s New Year’s, although Ward and I have been so busy, we haven’t actually figured out what we’re going to be doing on New Year’s Eve.

My Christmas Day was all about Harry Potter, because this is what I found under the tree:


I’d had this book on my wishlist since I first heard about it (I think it was on Twitter), but it was one of those “yeah, maybe one of these days” kind of things – after all the decluttering book-wise we’ve done this year, I felt strange about forking over such big bucks for a big coffee table type of book. But Ward decided to pick it up for me for Christmas, and am I ever glad he did!

I spent most of Christmas Day curled up on the couch devouring Harry Potter Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey. It’s one of those books where, when you come up for air, you say to yourself, “And a wonderful time was had by all.” (Well, at least, that’s what I usually say to myself when I find myself immersed in a really good read.)

The parts I like best? The occasional mentions of J.K. Rowling’s contributions to the filming process, like this bit about the Black family tree:

“Within the house is a tapestry that reveals the entire history of the Black family. The tapestry is mentioned only briefly in the book but needed to be fully constructed for the film. So David Heyman called Jo Rowling to get details about the Black family tree. Within fifteen minutes, she faxed him a complete family tree for the house of Black, with over seventy-five names going back over five generations, all complete with dates of births and deaths, marriage details, and even the family crest and motto.”

It really dawned on me after reading this, how Rowling did more than simply write the Harry Potter books. She also created extremely detailed material about all aspects of Harry Potter’s world, and even though these details might show up in the series in brief mentions, or perhaps not at all, they clearly infuse the books with a realism that plays no small role in their appeal.

Know what I would love to see? A volume devoted to all of this supplementary material. Wouldn’t that be just a lovely peak inside the creative process of this very extraordinary writer?

Ward also got me the final movie in the Harry Potter series; when it came out this year, I went to the theatres to see it twice. I think it’s one of my favourites in the entire series. I haven’t had a chance to watch it again yet, as Christmas Day was given over to the reading of Harry Potter Page to Screen, and then right after Christmas, I had to dig deep into my deadlines again, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.

How were your holidays? What bookish delights did you find under your tree?

Not Your Typical Travel Video

My daughter Hayley went to Europe earlier this month with her friend Meaghan and Meaghan’s mother. She had a blast, and most of her souvenirs were in the form of pictures and videos. She definitely put her camera to good use!

Here’s what she’s done with some of the clips she captured on her camera while on holiday. It’s an entry for a YouTube video contest:

She also included several of her friends here at home, plus all the family! Watch carefully, and you’ll see me, my sons Dylan and Sean, and my husband Ward in the video too.

I absolutely blew my shot (I was supposed to do the whole thing while smiling and quickly, too) but she included me anyway. :)

It occurs to me, if everyone did something like this with their holiday videos and pictures, no-one would wince anymore at being invited to “come watch the films we took while on holiday” …