A Christmas Interlude

In past December's I have blogged more about Christmasy things.

I've written about the meaning of advent in my own life. I've written about crafty goings-on. I've written about keeping the season sane and simple.

tea pot and Christmas tree

This December I have too much else I want to publish, to spend much time writing about Christmas.

In some cases, I've been working on these posts for months. Such as last week's parenting and homeschool line-up.

And other posts, coming this week and next, will be outdoor and gear related. Topics very relevant in our life right now as we prepare for our thru-hike next year.

Christmas just hasn't really been on my writing radar in part because it's not the focus of my life right now.

But I've felt a little "Christmas writing bereft" on the blog so I thought a holiday update was in order, a seasonal interlude between last week's educational and parenting philosophy and my upcoming outdoorsy posts.

This December I am...

Reading. Novels.

At the beginning of the month I sent an emergency e-mail to Anne Bogel, the lovely and talented Modern Mrs. Darcy. Anne is a book lover and prolific book reader. I'm a book lover but less prolific reader and sometimes need help in finding good reads.

"Help", I said. "I need some winter reads". I really wanted to read WinterSong: Christmas Readings this year but by the time I got around to ordering, on the first of December, the delivery date, from Canada's Amazon.com, was mid-January! A little too late for my liking.

So I'm not doing any special spiritual reading this December but I am enjoying the novel, as recommended by Anne, Crossing to Safety. Not a winter book but it has quiet, reflective feel appropriate for winter nights. Thanks Anne.

On order from the library (we finally joined the New Brunswick library system) is Winter's Tale.

I never did start a Christmas read-aloud with the kids this year. I'm sure we'll listen to our Audible copy of A Christmas Carol in the coming two weeks. It is a fabulous recording of the classic tale.

Decorating. This week.

Damien bought our tree on Friday. We are "gas station tree" folks. They sell Christmas trees at most gas stations in our community. The signs advertise sapin, and though this means Fir tree in French maybe it means Christmas tree also?

I suppose we could just walk out into the woods where we live and cut a tree down (though it's not our land, I don't think whoever owns the land would notice) but that's not really our thing.

I find it funny how we will spend hours doing outdoor activities together - skiing, hiking, backpacking etc. (we're totally geared for the woods) - but cutting down our own tree, dragging it back, romantic sounding and all, is not our thing.

skins on skies

Ordering. Lots of Gear.

We leave in three and half months for our thru-hike. We told our kids this year we're all getting gear for Christmas and we're asking the grandparents to help also.

The grandparents always ask our family each year what we need or want and give either money or purchase what's on the wish list.

Through years of writing and publishing online in the outdoor industry (at our blog and others) we've been able to secure pro-deals from some companies. This is sweet. Most other things we order, at retail price, like everyone else.

river ice

Making. Soap.

Last April I got together with friends and taught them how to make soap. One of those batches failed. It became laundry soap in our home, I don't know what my friends did with theirs.

This weekend I got together with a different pair of friends to make soap again. These friends have made soap before, they weren't complete newbies but they had never made a 6 lb batch, which is my standard.

One of our recipes didn't turn out. I think I'm jinxed. Perhaps I should go back to making soap strictly on my own! (I don't think the "ruined" batch is a lost cause. I think a melt and re-pour may save it. It's not at my home so I'm not in charge of the recovery efforts.)

securing splitboard

Expecting. Guests.

My parents are coming to spend five days before and during and right after Christmas. Our dear friends are coming three days after Christmas for a three day backcountry ski trip in the mountains. My parents are staying long enough to cross paths with them. That takes us to New Years which I think will be a low-key party at our house with our houseguests and a few other friends.

Skiing. Yesterday!

Yesterday was our first backcountry ski on one of our favorite easier trails. We didn't get back to the car till 5pm, which means we were skiing down(!) in the dark. We left our headlamps in the car.

The kids were equally thrilled and terrified by the adventure. I was just sore and cranky from working out muscles that haven't been actively used that way since last ski season!

There is not enough snow on the ski hill where we live for skiing but there's snow in the big mountains, for which we are grateful.

kids on ski trail

Giving. Simple.

Because it's the "year of gear" our gift giving is very simple. We have a long list of stuff we need, we are purchasing as much of it as we can currently afford, and wrapping it up and sticking it under the tree!

But there was a certain element of magic and mystery missing in this scenario, so last week we drew names, seven of us - my parents and our family. Each person will make or buy a gift for the person who's name they drew.

We're not making this burdensome by requiring handmade (good thing, because I plan to buy "the perfect gift" for my recipient). But because each of us is only thinking of one person to give to, instead of six, it means that we can give more thought and attention to that one person.

sunset silhouette

Planning. The Christmas Countdown.

It's time to get serious about what needs to happen in the next two weeks. In the last couple days I sketched out a plan for the sixteen days(!) remaining till Christmas.

Finish organizing the spare room which houses our gear, thru-hike prep, giveaways and here-before-we-know-it Christmas guests. Order that one gift I have to give (and think about stockings also). Send a couple cards. Plan the Christmas week menu. Start cooking for Christmas week. Thoroughly scrub the shower. Not necessarily in that order.

All doable and on the calendar for the next two weeks.

tea on table

Making. A Menu.

Seven days of hosting people, with a backcountry ski trip thrown in, requires a menu. I've started the menu in my mind and next week it will be committed to paper.

One piece for sure: meat pie for Christmas Eve. Yes, meat pie, like the traditional Quebec Tourtière, except ours will have moose.

Our close friend gave us a part of his hunt this fall. Our friend is Inuit and his gift was a traditional hunter's offering, not something you refuse.

So with a few pounds of wild moose meat in the freezer I needed to come up with a plan to use it. Tourtière came to mind. But in my research (I don't know anything about meat pie) I found out moose meat is dry and needs some pork. Friends with a farm to the rescue.

I secured the pork this weekend. I remember visiting those pigs this summer. One meal (of many) is on its way to being planned and prepared.


Crafting. A bit.

There is not as much crafting going on this year in part because of our name exchange and in part because our life's focus right now is our upcoming hike. It's just a different vibe. But there are a few things in the works.

We are having a crafting afternoon, followed by a shared supper, with friends this weekend. Nothing fancy. I'll make chili or baked beans. We'll spend the afternoon knitting, sewing, or drawing - whatever strikes our fancy.

Our friends, the same ones who gifted the moose meat, love making things also and are learning how to knit right now so I think there will be some of that going on.

drinking tea

Noticing. How well I feel.

Since mid-November, I have been sitting most every morning by my therapy light. I think it's working.

Most Decembers I experience a certain darkness which I have attributed to the materialistic focus of the season (which is bothersome to me) and the very real loneliness many people feel during the holidays.

In response to this "spiritual" darkness I have tried focusing on light and also being comfortable with the dis-comfort.

This year I have not experienced that heaviness which makes me wonder, was the spiritual heaviness I experienced mostly a physical one? Simply, the lack of light taking it's toll on me? I was so convinced it wasn't a SAD symptom, maybe it was.

I don't want to be immune to the suffering of the world and my neighbors, and this year we have set aside more funds for giving than in any past year of recent memory. But neither do I want to bear burdens that are not mine to bear.

December sunset on Baie de Chaleur

Not observing. Advent.

In theory we are observing the wait for Christ's birth but I'm not leading any special activities or even weekly Bible readings for Advent this year.

At the end of November our family started a weekly Bible study of the early church, reading Acts. Adding Advent readings and discussion to this was just too much.

As much as I'm a traditionalist and love keeping and honoring rituals and routines, I'm also a realist and freedom fighter. And I love the freedom of a "these are our priorities right now" lifestyle.

My priorities this December are working with my husband to prepare for our hike. Enjoying the outdoors with my family. Preparing for a week of Christmas festivities. Spending time with friends.

At the risk of sounding very unspiritual, Christ never asked us to observe his birth, or celebrate a traditional Advent even. These are church traditions and if they are meaningful and necessary for you, then by all means do them, with joy and gladness! But if they are burdensome, don't.

That is not the message of Christ's birth or the Cross - "do" your way to redemption. "Do" your way to meaning and hope.

There are many ways to make the Christmas season meaningful, for believers and non-believers alike. I really don't think how you observe is so important.

I think the attitude of your heart, the offering of yourself, in some way, to others - your family, your friends, strangers even - is the message of Christmas.

God with us. Emmanuel.

You with me. Me with you. Caring for each other, loving one another. Showing love in ways only we can.

checking mail

Showing love in the giving and receiving of moose meat, in the gathering of women friends to make soap for family and friends, in the making (or buying) of thoughtful gifts, in the planning and preparing for a holiday feast, in giving extra funds and time to serve our communities.

Christmas doesn't need to be a long list of must-do's. And for Christians, it doesn't even need to be a long list of spiritual must-do's.

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  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on Dec. 9, 2013, 11:50 p.m.

    So  glad you are feeling good this year, Renee! The light sure is helping, as well as being busy planing your great trip! Making time for exercising, prioritizing, letting go of what is not essential. Steps that are making things easier for you and better for your mind and body.


  • Laura

    Laura on Dec. 10, 2013, 3:31 a.m.

    Renee, I am thinking about purchasing a light. Did you read up on various ones? I would love to not spend a lot of money, but don't want to waste money on one that won't help. I'm trying to read up on what is important. I would love to know if you have any thoughts. Thanks!


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 10, 2013, 12:38 p.m.

      Laura, this is the light we bought me, the Verilux HappyLite Deluxe.There are a lot of lights out there but Damien choose this one for me (he did the research) partly because of the high output. You can get benefits with just 30 minutes a day (theoretically). I sit by mine by for about 1.5 hours in the morning, while writing.


  • Jeanne

    Jeanne on Dec. 10, 2013, 5:31 a.m.

    I read the Crossing to Safety book years ago and loved it! What a wonderful story to enjoy this time of year. The Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner is another one of my favorite books. 


  • Sydney

    Sydney on Dec. 10, 2013, 10:55 a.m.

    I like this article on Advent.  The adult version of Advent!  Ha!  No countdowns, no babies and mangers!


  • Cath in Ottawa

    Cath in Ottawa on Dec. 10, 2013, 3:14 p.m.

    I am a rare commenter, but love your blog and this kind of thoughtful holistic post. I re-read Crossing to Safety last year and so, so love it. It is a perfect read for this time of year, somehow. Wishing you peace and joy for the season!


  • Debbie

    Debbie on Dec. 14, 2013, 8:32 a.m.

    I so enjoyed reading this and am encouraged to see a change of plans as freedom rather than that I have failed!

    My husband has his busiest time of year at work now (work that he leads and loves) and I have recently suffered from a personal trauma that has left me needing to be kind to myself. My boys seem oblivious to the lack of usual Christmassy crafts and baking and decorating and the freedom to play, cuddle, read on the couch has left us all more relaxed.

    We live in Cape Town where the event of Nelson Madela passing away has left us all feeling more reflective and generous to others and perhaps that's all we need this year!


  • Mea

    Mea on Dec. 14, 2013, 12:22 p.m.

    Part of my early Saturday routine is reading your post with a hot cup of tea. It is a highlight of my week and I am blessed by all that you share. I appreciate your candor and transparent style.....real is what I enjoy. Real is what I find I am willing to make time for. There are many helpful and good blogs to read (and I do read some) but there are not many that are helpful and truly personal. Each time I read your blog I find that my soul is stirred in some way. This is refreshing. Thank you!


  • Maria Cordner

    Maria Cordner on Dec. 14, 2013, 6:42 p.m.

    Love this post! I believe it mostly resonated with me what you wrote in "Noticing" about wanted to do more for your neighbors but also not wishing to care for burdens that were not yours to care. Hard boundery to maintain for a "caregiver" personality" as mine, so that gave me some anchor. I am over my fifties now and I could not ever established "enough" for me regarding caregiving. I feel that brings much joy and (honestly) some dread when I took to levels suparssing my ability to carry on. I am learning "enough" with you, Renee and that is a joyful thing, Thanks!



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