Tag Archives: Christmas

Merry Christmas To All

Merry Christmas, everyone.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a breakfast with your loved ones and shared some smiles and hugs beside the tree as everyone unwrapped their lovingly-chosen gifts.
As with a traditional chocolate-filled Advent calendar, the doors to all my daily ornament stories were opened by Christmas Eve. I hope that some of my stories made you smile, because I had fun writing them. I got a lot of writing practice done, and I’m pretty proud of myself for getting through 25 straight days of posts. I think I’ll take a few days off now to think up some new stories and thoughts to share, and to stretch my wrists and fight off the carpal tunnel issues that are surely settling in.
Here’s a list of the ornament stories, in case you missed any:

December Blog Project

  1. The advantage of sensible shoes
  2. It’s not real, but it’s spectacular
  3. Bonjour, hi.
  4. Night Owl
  5. The Best Game you Can Name
  6. The Chocolate Moose
  7. Interdit
  8. Reindeer Prints
  9. She said Duh!!
  10. Unphotographed Memories
  11. Yes, Virginia, this is a honeymoon
  12. Chocolate Raspberry is a Gateway Coffee
  13. The Christmas Pageant Where I Was A Beet
  14. Mononuclear summer
  15. Fighting for the Top Spot
  16. The hills are alive with Mozart
  17. Cruisin’ on down to Awesomeville
  18. Ring in the Season
  19. Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves
  21. (Guest post) It’s Kind of Like They’re the Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen of Christmas Ornaments
  22. Plate it Out
  23. Home
  24. Not Pony Tails or Cotton Tails But Duck Tales (woo-oo) 
A final thought to leave you with, courtesy of Dr. Seuss:

Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to grasp.

Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we.

Welcome Christmas while we stand
Heart to heart and hand in hand.

Not Pony Tails or Cotton Tails But Duck Tales (woo-oo)

This is the 24th of my “Advent Calendar” Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I’m challenging myself to complete it, see here. Note: it’s entirely possible some of these memories are inexact, but I’m sticking with them anyway.

Ducks are sleek and stately birds until they pop their heads under the surface to look for bugs. That’s when they tip ass-over-teakettle and wave their ridiculous little tails at you. It’s impossible to take a duck completely seriously, and I think that’s probably the moral of my life story.

How can you take this seriously? You just can’t.
Dave and I had one of those silly “OMG, no way” moments between us when we were first dating, when I discovered that his most beloved childhood toy was a stuffed Donald Duck. In what I thought was a world-stopping coincidence, “duck” had been my very first word, recorded for posterity in my baby book alongside a height and weight chart and a delicate curl from my first haircut. My grandmother, who lived next door to me when I was a baby, owned two geranium-filled plastic garden planters shaped like swans. Being a baby, I wasn’t familiar with the phenotypic variations between species of waterfowl, so I excitedly petted them and called them ducks. 
Obviously, fate saw these two duck-admiring children and felt it right to bring them together. Luckily, we had more in common than an appreciation for aquatic birds, and we ended up married and living happily ever after, as you do.
In our home, the duck invasion has been a slow and insidious one. There’s the big canvas print of an irritated Donald Duck placed where it can welcome visitors to our home. There’s the brown ceramic duck-shaped dish I found for Dave to put his wedding ring in at night. There’s the plush robotic Easter Bunny Donald Duck my Grandmaman sent us – he waddles in a circle quacking Polly-Wally-Doodle until you pick him up by his ears and he hollers at you in a true Donald meltdown. There’s the duck-shaped teapot Mom gave us as a housewarming gift. There are the drawer pulls Dave chose for the dresser in our bedroom, with majestic mallards on them. There are the happy yellow bride-and-groom rubber duckies who sat atop our wedding cake.
I realize that we’re absolutely doomed once we have kids. It doesn’t matter if we want the nursery to be decorated with dinosaurs or teddy bears or classic 80s music videos. We’re going to get ducks. So many ducks.
But I’m okay with that. There’s an expression “Like a duck: calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” Dave is the duck above the surface, calm and relaxed and with water flowing off his back like there’s nothing in the world that can bother him. Meanwhile, I’m paddling like mad and never feeling like I’m out of danger, never getting enough done. I think people who know us see instinctively that if you put the two of us together, you’ve got yourself a damn fine duck.


This is the 23rd of my “Advent Calendar” Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I’m challenging myself to complete it, see here. Note: it’s entirely possible some of these memories are inexact, but I’m sticking with them anyway.



I was addressing Christmas cards last week and noticed how many addresses I’ve had to cross out as friends and family pack up and move to new places. For some who moved almost annually, I started writing in pencil, because I was running out of space on the page for new addresses. I’ve had eight addresses myself, but I hope that the current one is permanent enough to be safely written in ink.


The Little House

I grew up next door to my grandmother’s house, in a tiny red house with a wide porch and a huge yard. There was a birch tree that made me sneeze, and a tamarack tree so tall that I had to lie down on the ground to see the very top without hurting my neck. We played outside a lot. So many trees, and so many summer hours spent sending maple helicopters down the winding rivers we made with the hose in the driveway. There was a path through the cedar hedge to my grandmother’s house, and we could run over for a visit anytime. We could walk to the dépanneur next door and pick out white and purple Mr Freezies from the jumbled pile in the slide-top cooler, paying for them with pockets full of piggy bank change.


The Big House

We moved to a different city, twenty minutes away, when I left elementary school. It was a split-level style, with a garage, and a huge backyard for Dad to mow and Mom to plant gardens in. Each of the three kids got our own rooms – mine was gigantic – and there were two living rooms to watch TV in. So much space, in such a classy neighborhood. But it wasn’t a happy place. There was too much anger, contempt, and bitterness in that home. Parents on the brink of divorce, and teenage kids feeling the pressure and acting out in different ways. My parents eventually split up and we had to leave the big house behind. I don’t remember very much about the big house, now. The carpets were blue. Mom planted Wisteria by the fence. I cried in my closet a lot.


The Loud Apartment

Dad went to live with his mother for a while during and after the divorce. Mom held the rest of us together and found us an apartment that we could all squeeze into. My sister moved out, and then back in when things didn’t work with her roommates. It was a second-floor apartment on a busy street. The downstairs neighbors hated us; they screamed at us through the floor, banging brooms against the ceiling, threatening us with bodily harm. They said we were too loud, but I think they hated us because we spoke English. We kept the TV quiet, went barefoot, and it was never good enough. The apartment wasn’t really big enough for us all, and my sister was sleeping in the living room. I was going to college by then, and I decided it was my duty to give everyone more space by moving in with Dad for a while, until I could get my own place.


Dad’s Place

But Dad didn’t have a place. He was still in my grandmother’s basement while he looked for a condo. I was given one of the upstairs bedrooms and I stayed a few months, but everyone’s personalities clashed and I couldn’t stay. Dad let me get a cat, to cheer me up, but it didn’t help. I had to get out, and moms being moms, I found myself immediately welcomed back to the Loud Apartment. I slept in the living room. Mom let me bring my cat.


The Nice Apartment

Mom left the Loud Apartment as soon as she was able to. It wasn’t a healthy place to live. She found a wonderful third-floor walk-up on a quiet street, a block away from a bus stop and a grocery store. We had a parking space and a square of backyard big enough for a patio set and a garden. We had big windows with wide sills for the cat to sit on and pretty views of winter sunrises through the trees. The neighbors mostly minded their own business. My brother and I each had a room, and my sister had moved out again, so we had enough space to breathe. We were happier in that apartment. Mom redid the kitchen, put up flower boxes on the balconies. She’s still in that kitchen or on those balconies with her coffee every morning. This is the place that’s brightest in my memory.


My First Apartment

When I moved to Maryland, I didn’t do it the easy way by moving in with my boyfriend. I needed my own place, to prove that I could do it alone. I got an apartment near the hospital I’d be working at, and adopted a cat so I could blame the strange night noises on his prowling. I felt safe enough there, despite the loud foreign-language fights in the parking lot at night and the time a drunk guy banged on my door asking to be let into what he thought was his friend’s place. There was a solid deadbolt on the door, and I had a vicious attack kitten to protect me. I set up cable and internet. I paid bills. I did groceries and cooked for myself every night. I dragged laundry down three flights of stairs to the dingy laundry room and wrestled with the coin slots. I did very well there on my own, but I was lonely in between my boyfriend’s weekend visits.


The Townhouse

I moved in with Dave when my lease expired. A year on my own was long enough. I loved his townhouse. We were happy there together. Parking was a creative endeavour because of how few spots were available and how many were taken up by assholes who had driveways and garages they didn’t feel like using. We tripped over the three cats or sat trapped under them on the couch while watching TV. I tried to girl the place up by planting lavender outside, but it grew to monstrous proportions, crowding the walkway with purple stems that were so heavy with bees that we were nervous about walking past. I attempted to cut and dry some in the oven… lavender is thus now forbidden from all gardens, all soaps, all candles, and pretty much everything that comes into or near our home for the rest of eternity.


Our Home

We chose this house, together, for our forever home. It’s too big, and it’s too old, and it needs too much work, but we love it. I joke that it’s made of bathrooms and built-in bookshelves, with some bedrooms and a kitchen thrown in. We’ve been here almost three years now and we’ve made incredible progress turning it into the home we want it to be. The mint green and burgundy paint is gone. The jungle in the backyard is under control and the sick trees were cut down. The silver wallpaper is gone, and the stained blue carpet is now beautiful hardwood. It’s familiar now, and comfortable. It feels like us. It smells like us. It’s home.

Plate it out

This is the 22nd of my “Advent Calendar” Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I’m challenging myself to complete it, see here.


This week, I got a brand new ornament for my tree. My friend Natasha, who sent it, also contributed a great guest post for my blog, explaining why she bought it for me. When she saw it, she was reminded of me, and of microbiology, and thought it would be a nice way to connect us across a distance. I am very touched by the gesture.

But… it’s wrong.

Not that Natasha chose badly, of course. I love it for what it is and what it represents. But the pattern on the petri dish, as pretty as it is, would likely flunk the artist right out of med tech school.

Microbiology is different from some of the other laboratory sciences, because it’s about identification more than about quantitation. When you get a blood test done, you’re getting a count of types of cells, or a measurement of the concentration of cholesterol or iron you’ve got in your body. With microbiology, it’s a murder mystery, a whodunit. The aim of the game is to label the bug that’s giving you trouble, so the doctor can deal with it properly.

I’ll get into the details in a later post (I promise) but you should know that when bacteria are put onto tasty food like what’s in a petri dish, they grow like crazy. Each individual cell stays where it lands and divides like mad, making a little spot. When you have a ton of bacteria, the spots smush together into a smear of goo. To identify the bug, we need a pure colony. Which means a spot that was made by one original bug, isolated from all the rest. We need to spread out the specimen so thin that we’re planting single bugs at a time. That’s not easy.

We use a technique of “streaking” across the quadrants of the plate.


The idea is to smear a little bit of specimen on the plate, then use a new, sterilized tool to drag a tiny amount of it over to the next quadrant. By the end, you’re dragging thinner and thinner concentrations of bacteria across the plate, and you’ll get isolated colonies that you can then run tests on.

So, while the ornament gets the gist of it, I suspect it was created by an artist who was inspired by the amazing beauty of microbiology, rather than a microbiologist who was moved to create art. Watercolor isn’t the best way to go if you’re trying to recreate the streaking pattern. A thicker paint, dragged across the page like you’d do with the bacteria, might work.

But that doesn’t mean I love it any less.

It’s Kind of Like They’re the Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen of Christmas Ornaments

Note: Because I skipped a day of the Ornament Advent Calendar, and because I received a beautiful new ornament as a Christmas gift this week, I am doubling up on today’s posts with the help of my good friend Natasha. She wanted to write a piece about the ornament she sent me, to explain the motives behind her choice. Here is her guest post. I’m going to call it post #21. My post about the ornament will be up later today, and will be #22.
Ornaments! Left: Natasha Right: Jen
You know what I mean. Fraternal twins that look so much alike you wonder if they’re identical. But if you look hard enough, you can see the differences.
Admittedly, our ornaments are more obviously different than some of those twins. Jen’s ornament is dark blue on dark blue. My ornament is dark blue on light blue. Totally different.
The pattern on the ornaments is the same though, and that’s most of what matters here. For most people, this pattern is just some strange streaks down the left side. However, once I laid eyes on it, I knew Jen had to have it for the pattern. And so did I.
See, that pattern is actually what makes these ornaments perfect. They’re little watercolors in petri dishes, so they’re already “sciencey” looking. But that pattern is a painting of how microbiologists isolate bacterial colonies. To isolate a single bacterial strain (thus, genetically identical), microbiologists or lab techs (HI JEN!) or students or whomever starts by streaking a big ol’ mess of bacteria from an old plate to a new one. Then, they sterilize their streaking implement (usually a metal tool called a loop) and draw a line through the heavy streak, and streak again a bit more wide-spread. Once you repeat that twice more, the last streak should result in not lines of colonies grown together, but isolated colonies that each resulted from a single bacterium. (Wikipedia has a great image. And about.com has a very clear write-up, if you want more details.)
I had to get this for Jen because she’s undoubtedly done this a million times. (I’ve probably only done this a half million or so.) Because she’s a total science geek, just like me. Because it’s beautiful in it’s own right, but there’s like a little secret hidden in the art if you’ve been there.
Because we have a similar background with a lot of shared experiences, and I realized this could give us a tangible link to those shared experiences that we mutually geek out about regularly.
I hope she takes it on that cruise she’s always talking about and shows it off.
Natasha and I are long-time Internet buddies. We try to get together in reality sometimes, but we live far apart. Still, we talk a ton online, and I think we get along so well because we both like to geek out over stuff in our own ways. She runs a blog of her own, MetaCookbook, where she discusses food, science, and beer, and treats her readers to some fascinating blather along the way. I encourage you to check out her stuff. She’s not a recipe blogger, and she’s not a rabid granola foodie. She’s just someone who loves food, from growing it to eating it to the communities it can build. She’s funny and smart and real and I get mad at her when she leaves the blog un-updated for more than a week. That should be enough information to get you over there for a look! 
– Jen


This is the 20th of my “Advent Calendar” Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I’m challenging myself to complete it, see here. Note: it’s entirely possible some of these memories are inexact, but I’m sticking with them anyway.



There’s no mistaking the kind of man you’re getting when he arrives to pick you up for your first date, your first face-to-face meeting, wearing cargo shorts, hiking boots and a classic Mickey Mouse T-shirt.
Dave didn’t seem at all nervous that day, as I walked out to his car and he said hi to me for the first time. How could he be so sure that everything was going to go well once we left the house and drove off? Sure, we’d been talking online almost every night for months, and it felt like we already knew each other, but with an international border between us it was hard to know what kind of chemistry would happen between us in person.
The original plan was for him to come to the Jazz Festival Montreal in July with his brother, and we would meet on my turf and get to know each other. But as the weeks passed, I found I couldn’t wait that long. I booked a flight and got myself to Maryland, and the rest is pretty much history. Turns out our chemistry was excellent.
He took me to see the Marines Silent Drill Platoon in DC, and when the marching band began to play, he sang along with the tuba part – boomph, boomph, boomph. I laughed. It was silly, and I thought it was adorable. I knew for sure then that he was being himself, completely and honestly, and not putting on any sort of persona to try and impress me. What I saw was what I’d get, no plays, no games, no tactics. Because really, who would set up a play using the tuba impression? Not this guy.
I’ve often told people that the tuba moment is when I knew I had to keep him. That’s probably not completely true – I don’t know exactly when I knew. Maybe it was when we were ignoring the crowds and focusing more on our conversation than on the fish at the Baltimore aquarium. Maybe it was when Animal surprised Dave by settling in my lap and giving his purring approval. Maybe it was when we stayed up all night watching Fawlty Towers. Maybe it was when I said goodbye at the airport that weekend, and cried the whole way to my gate and half the flight home.
I’m just glad he knew he had to keep me too.

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

This is the 19th of my “Advent Calendar” Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I’m challenging myself to complete it, see here. Note: it’s entirely possible some of these memories are inexact, but I’m sticking with them anyway.

They call it the Sea-to-Sky Highway for a reason. You can watch the tides come in along the Stanley Park Seawall while sipping your morning Starbucks, then get in your car and be skidding through snow in Whistler by lunchtime. It took that drive, that two-hour trip from the sea to the sky, for me to finally understand why my sister loves Vancouver.
She moved west a year before I moved south, and it took us all by surprise when she announced her decision. Vancouver may as well have been India – practically the other side of the world. As is probably the case for most families who are given that sort of information to process, we respected her need to shake things up and try on a new city for a while. We supported her wanderlust and wished her luck, but we didn’t understand. She wasn’t moving for love, or for work, and she’d only been to Vancouver once before. Why leave friends and family behind for a faraway place you barely know? We thought she would likely get homesick or bored after a year or two or three, and come back to Montreal with some great new experiences under her belt. But she didn’t come back. She fell in love with the city, and she stayed.
I met up with my sister in Vancouver in October of 2008, and she showed me around her new hometown. We went to her favorite restaurants and cupcake places, watched movies in her apartment, and sat in her favorite spots on the beach. My little sister, all grown up and independent, was doing her thing and making her life in this new place. It was like she’d been there forever. Clearly, it was her element, her town, but I still couldn’t understand why she’d left Montreal behind to settle permanently so far away. Vancouver was a nice, welcoming city, to be sure. But Montreal is welcoming, too, and familiar; why hadn’t she just moved into a trendy apartment in Montreal and become a success closer to home?

We’re very different, my sister and I. Leaving Montreal wasn’t something I’d ever seriously considered, and I only found myself saying goodbye when I fell in love with an American and had to move to make it work. I’m risk averse, I’m cautious, I’m more comfortable when I know my place in the world and what’s expected of me. But my sister has always made her own place, always made the rules bend to fit her better. I think that’s why she had to leave the familiar behind and try something new.

As much as I wish she lived closer, I think I understand why she decided to stay in Vancouver. It’s the sea. It’s the mountains. And having them so near to one another that you can get an eyeful of both with one look up at the horizon. I didn’t see the power of the landscape until we followed Highway 99 up out of the fog to visit Whistler, passing some of the most beautiful views I’d ever seen. I understand now why she’s decided that Vancouver is home. I miss her very much, but I’m glad she’s found a place that she loves, and I’m very, very proud of her.

Ring in the season

This is the 18th of my “Advent Calendar” Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I’m challenging myself to complete it, see here. Note: it’s entirely possible some of these memories are inexact, but I’m sticking with them anyway.

I will always have bells on my Christmas tree. They are a reliable early-warning system for cat-related tree disasters.
But that’s not why I do it.
In my heart, bells mean Christmas. You’ve got the Carol of the Bells, Jingle Bells, Silver Bells, bells everywhere. There are so many Christmas songs about bells because bells are joy. Joy because you made it through another year. Joy because of the family around you. Joy on little kids’ faces as they open their presents, and joy on their parents’ faces as they watch with love.
I love the beginning of How the Grinch Stole Christmas when every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, are decorating the town for Christmas. There’s a Who delightedly pulling on a rope and ringing a row of bells, ringing out joy over Whoville. Despite the efforts of the Grinch, Christmas came. It came all the same.
I love the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, when George stands with his family in front of everyone who loves him, everyone whose life he has touched in ways he never realized. A little bell rings on the Christmas tree, giving old Clarence his wings at last. To be surrounded by love, to be the richest man in town and realize that you mean so much to so many – that is joy.
Bells feel like old-timey Christmas, like Scrooge running out into the street in his slippers after his night with the spirits, and hearing the church bells ringing out the joy of Christmas morning. Promise. Hope. Joy.

I can’t hear something like this and not find tears in my eyes. Is it just me?

And now, to help you recover from an emotional moment, please enjoy what is, as yet, my favorite rendition of Carol of the Bells.

Cruisin’ on down to awesomeville

This is the 17th of my “Advent Calendar” Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I’m challenging myself to complete it, see here. Note: it’s entirely possible some of these memories are inexact, but I’m sticking with them anyway.

This is not our ship. Ours was much bigger and had no string.
This is going to be a short post, because I’ve already written several posts about my experiences on JoCoCruiseCrazy2. If you recall, back in February, we went on a nerd cruise. It was a completely new thing for me and I had a lot of anxiety about being on a ship with a whole bunch of new people who would probably think I was a dork. It turns out that many of the others were as shy as I was, but just a high enough percentage of Sea Monkeys were sociable and extroverted to bring the ship to a critical mass of awesome.
Allow me to summarize:
Great performances by official famous people. Just-as-great impromptu performances by working-on-being-famous people, looking-to-make-this-a-full-time-gig people, and hey-man-I-just-do-this-for-fun people. Karaoke. No, seriously, karaoke so good that you stay up through the extra hour of the time change and are still upset when the party ends at 2am. A Moustache formal where people wear elaborate Fezzes. So many amazing nerdy t-shirts that you’ll wish you’d taken pictures of all of them so you could buy your own when you get your land legs back. Dance party. 24-hour gaming room. Fruity grownup beverages. More food than a normal person can comfortably eat. Meeting folks who are as comfortable being referred to by their Twitter handles as their actual names. Snorkels. Smart people. Excited people. Wonderful people.
They’re doing it again. On a bigger boat. And we’re going to be there. Because this year, on this boat, they have a Zamboni. I don’t care if I have to bribe the ice guy. I want to drive a Zamboni on the ice rink on the giant ship in the ocean.

There are still cabins available. You should totally come. We’ll play Cards Against Humanity and drink daiquiris and admire the clever puns on each other’s T-shirts.

The hills are alive with Mozart

This is the 16th of my “Advent Calendar” Christmas ornament posts. For some background information about this project and why I’m challenging myself to complete it, see here. Note: it’s entirely possible some of these memories are inexact, but I’m sticking with them anyway.

At first, it seemed silly to me that Salzburg sells itself so hard as the birthplace of Mozart, when it’s such a beautiful and interesting city in its own right.
The house where he was born (Mozarts Geburtshaus) has been decorated with huge lettering across the front and made into a museum and tourist attraction. In every little shop along narrow Franz-Josef-strasse and Linzergasse, we found displays advertising Mozart chocolates (Mozartkugeln): hazelnuts wrapped in marzipan, then wrapped in chocolate. Everywhere we turned, there were life-sized cardboard Mozart cut-outs, standing by huge piles of violin-shaped boxes of chocolate. I’m sure they sold other things, but Mozart chocolates were available and on prominent display in every shop we visited. There were umbrellas with Mozart’s face on them, and if you didn’t like those, you could be more subtle and get one that looked like antique paper with his music handwritten on it.
One thing Salzburg got right, though, is the Makartsteg pedestrian bridge spanning the swirling Salzach river. It is the most wonderful little bridge in the whole world. It’s not very big. It’s a concrete curve with chain link sides. It’s unadorned and coldly functional. But as you walk across it, you become aware that you’re surrounded by Mozart’s music, quiet but distinct, just floating in the air around you. Even after you’ve figured out that there are speakers concealed beneath the handrails, it’s no less wonderful.
View from the Makartsteg
In the rain, on the bridge, wrapped in beautiful sound, it all makes sense. This is what Salzburg claims as its own. This music, this feeling.