Monday, January 27, 2020

Weekend Doings. . . From My Sketch Journal

Because I'm blog-challenged this morning.
But still want to show up here. . . .
How was your weekend? How has your week begun?
Happy Monday!
xo,
f

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Yours truly, of Writing and Reading and Old-Fashioned Snail Mail

Writing and reading are my preoccupations this week. I just posted -- over on my Reading Blog -- about the first two novels I read this year, and that post featured not only my reading, but also my handwriting (not to mention, the writing of the post itself).

And yesterday, I posted on Instagram some photos of a letter my granddaughter, Seven, had sent me, and of the card I'd written and addressed to her.

using a card and a customized stamp designed by a good friend. My Instagram post drew so many great comments that I thought some of you might be interested in this topic of handwritten correspondence and its pleasures, so I'm duplicating the photos here.

And I'm adding a few more, because, as so often happens, I carried that stamped, addressed red envelope around in my purse yesterday. Together, we probably passed four or five mailboxes, but did I remember to stop and drop the card through the flap so that it could begin its journey across town? I did not, sadly. . .

But lemons and lemonade or clouds and silver lining and all that. . . .

Forgetting gave me time to remember. . . .

that I had sealing wax and stamps, which Paul bought me here in Vancouver the Christmas after that Venice shop had been closing for a family emergency just as we arrived to choose from what the young Commessa had demonstrated the day before. . . but we'd gone for lunch and to take some time to think about which wax and which seals I wanted. . . . So the wax and seals aren't from Venezia but they're souvenirs of it, nonetheless. (you can see a photo of the shop in this post, written when I still thought I could get back for the wax and seals

And I keep them in a box that does come from Italy, from Florence/Firenze rather than Venice, but still . . . It still carries the delicious fragrance of Sapone al Melograno . .  Pomegranate Soap
That fountain pen (which you'll see, if you visit my Reading Blog, can be temperamental) was bought in Turin/Torino, when we serendipitously noticed a pen shop on the way to the train station -- just in time to interrupt a discussion that was heading toward argument, and ultimately destined for Big Fight Territory. Instead, we stepped inside a shop that still held bits of the 1950s stuck in its darker corners. . . and where I had a charming conversation with the proprietor, a woman nudging her 70s, I suspect (I was early 60s then, and imagining that next decade much further away, much older, so I could be wrong). She had a very few words of English, pronounced intriguingly, amplified by gesture. . . and I had a few of Italian. Surprising how much can be done with good will. . . .
So now I seem to have introduced forgetting and remembering to a post that began with themes of reading and writing. Which seems fair, really, considering that reading and writing attempt to be some kind of guarantee against the loss of memory. . . .

At any rate, I remembered my sealing wax this morning and decided that forgetting to mail that envelope yesterday was practically deliberate. I had to hurry, though, because I had delegated Pater to mail the letter on his way to a meeting. So I was very hasty with the dripping wax (and, honestly, I haven't much practice with it). . . . I don't think the Seven will mind -- and if she's very thoughtful and is able to peel the stamped wax letter away without breaking it, she may realize that her brother's name also begins with F . . .

Letters and letters. . . the correspondences . . . the stories continuing. . . .

I'd love them to continue in the comments below, anything you'd like to say about my reading and writing or yours. . . . (although the book comments might be more at home over at my reading blog
Do you Snail Mail? or hand-write regularly in a journal? Or do you always mean to, but not quite manage it, despite the stationery you can't resist buying? Did my post trigger memories of ways you remember past travels, other places, through small mementoes?

Monday, January 20, 2020

Monday Momentum (drawn from a Portland garden)



 Monday morning, the first day I've felt really well since being felled by something Gastro last Tuesday night in Portland. You know, just after I posted about finally achieving traction on my 2020 schedule such that I was accommodating creative pursuits as well as language-learning, fitness and health maintenance, and abundant reading and writing. . . .That'll teach me!

But we got home Friday night, and we grappled with Italian irregular verbs and partitive articles and personal pronouns on Saturday morning, and I went to a baby shower Saturday afternoon, and I did nothing but drink broth and read my book (Clay, by Melissa Harrison, excellent). Oh, and I changed out of my pjs for a walk in the morning and another in the afternoon, just to check out how the system's functioning. And she's baaaack!!

This morning I made Muesli (I've found such a good recipe that Pater's ignoring the Expensive Artisan Muesli in the Deliberately Hipster-Plain Packaging and serving himself big bowls of mine, which is plainer and healthier so Score One for Me. . . Except then I have to make more.

And my levain is almost risen enough that I can start with the sourdough-making in a few minutes.

And then this evening, my first French class of the term. I'm nervous about it, because after spending the last three terms in the Intermediate class, my instructor's suggested I try the Advanced. I sense a big dose of Humility in my immediate future. . . .

Once again, I must make an effort to clear space for drawing and sketching and the more playful pursuits which the more firmly structured, formulaic activities can push out of the way. The mixing and measuring and baking this morning is part of that. Puttering. Yes, a clear path and a tangible end, but my mind is freed while my hands are busy. Next, I'll do some literal space-clearing by organizing my physical desktop. . . . When I've done that, I'll put paper, pencil, and paints out and sit myself there until I've made some marks on the page. Might not happen today (see above: bread-making and French class; not seen above: tea-drinking and book-reading), but I'll have set the stage for some action . . .

First,  I promised you some images of tranquility as found in Portland's Lan Su Chinese Garden last week. . . .




 Viburnum Bodnatense, Dawn. . . .of all the shrubs growing in my previous garden, this is the one I miss the most. Because pink fragrance in January and February. . . . Even better in the Lan Su Garden with water and red lanterns as a backdrop. . . .

 A variety of honeysuckle. . . I used to have a (much) smaller version of this growing by my back door where its fragrance cheered me as I came and went in the grey months. . .
 I couldn't see a horticultural label for this winter-blooming yellow climber. . . so romantic, isn't it?
And camellias. . . . which might be blooming somewhere in Vancouver as well, but I haven't noticed them here yet (whereas I have stopped to sniff several Viburnum Bodnatense, the best-smelling pink popcorn around!)

 The names of the different rooms or halls or arcades along the way were magically poetic. This was my favourite,
but there is also a Hall of Brocade Clouds and a Tower of Cosmic Reflections and a Courtyard of Tranquility among others. . .

 Such an oasis, this Chinese garden, and the contrasting respite it provides from the surrounding gritty urban space can be intuited in this photo. . . all those hard-edged, geometric buildings looming and jostling in the background, the organic curves, the greenery, the water absorbing and muting the sounds of the city
 and then if one wishes to retreat even further, the teahouse, all quiet voices and calming brews and thoughtful, continual refilling of small teapots so that one feels cared for even as one's solitude is respected.
Now, speaking of tea. . .

I hope your Monday has begun well. If it gives you a minute, perhaps you'll leave a comment below -- they're always welcome. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Creative Retreat in Portland, Oregon (Self-Styled. . . .

I'm writing from Portland, Oregon, this morning, and just as the last time we visited this city,  snow was beginning to fall in Vancouver as we drove away from home. . . Last time we were here mid-February, and I'd hoped for early spring but instead was treated to a week of rain.  Given that January is firmly mid-winter, my hopes were more realistic this time. . . Let's just say that I bought a new umbrella at Powells Books yesterday and many raindrops have already bounced off it. . .

That last Portland post shows a hotel desk festooned with my various projects: piles of books to read, sketchbooks to doodle in, art supplies, journals for writing, and a knitting project. Below is the 2020 version, and you'll note that I'm pretty consistent.

In that 2019 post, I also shared my sketch of the electric kettle I'd brought along-- because you all know about me and my tea -- and as I write, I'm drinking tea made with that kettle and served in my own  fine bone china mug  (Traveling by car means more luggage for a 5-day trip than for eleven weeks in Europe. Eye-roll emoji needed here).

A big difference from that mid-February trip last year is that in this second week of 2020, I'm only just engaging schedule gears after the disruptions of December's Paris-Rome trip, the holiday season, a bad cold.  My fitness program is almost at full speed now; we've stocked the fridge and pantry for healthier food choices, and  I visited the dentist, the optometrist, and two spas last week (Christmas presents! Whee!), so wellness is in hand.

We resumed our Italian classes last Saturday, and my French classes start up next Monday. I got the turn-of-the-year summaries written and posted here (I love the conversation about mindful shopping that has developed n the comments) and here (If you're looking for book recommendations, my 2019 Reading List might be a source). And our calendars (we integrate ours on Google Calendar, and I recently bought a renewable paper one for my desk) have time blocked out for the grandkids, both after-school visits and weekend gigs to cover parental getaways. . . .

So I'm almost back to speed. . . but did you notice that my schedule hasn't much accommodated the "creative pursuits" I've been working to nurture the last few years. Especially writing this post, I can see I've been focusing on activities that are safer, in many respects. They're challenging enough -- my gym workouts and walking or running require discipline and they're physically demanding; the Italian and French lessons take regular commitment and exercising grey cells; writing the blogs, ditto. . . .

But if I'm honest, those are activities that I feel more secure about being able to succeed if I only put in the time and effort.

The sketching -- drawing, painting, whatever the tools/media -- I'm so much more likely to fall back on a deeply harboured belief that I do not have the necessary innate talent, much as I've read and heard -- and believe, intellectually -- that I should focus on Process more on than Product, and that drawing or sketching regularly will bring skills no matter my natural talent.

As it happens, I've only sketched and scribbled four pages of my Sketch Journal since the plane landed on December 20th (I did a few ink sketches in my travel journal while away) .. . Haven't picked up a paintbrush since November. . . .

Looking at last year's post, I can see that--by February of the year, at least--I was much more engaged with my sketchbook, enjoying the process of observing and mark-making, translating my experiences onto a page via images instead of words. Looking at that post yesterday morning, here in the hotel, I resolved to get myself somewhere with my mini sketch kit and, at the very least, draw, perhaps even paint a bit.

So, I dressed for an outing . . .
Those are my new J Crew pants, the Black Watch-tartan wool ones I mentioned last post. The sweater is Eileen Fisher, a 2018 purchase, and I bought these shoes in Portland  in 2017.
and headed to Lan Su Chinese Garden, where the miserable rain became an aesthetic gift. . . check out the short video I posted on IG for confirmation.

After walking around the garden, taking numerous photos of winter blooms and soft rainy waterscapes (I'll put a post together later of these restful and restorative images), I nestled into a seat in the TeaHouse, which offered this view. . . .

and I sat with my Oolong and my coconut tarts and sketched. I even added some watercolour there, on site, and then finished the page back at the hotel. . . .

Before I left the garden I used the restroom, where I admired this sink

and took a Selfie to show you my outdoor garb. . .
and my lengthening grey curls. . .

Then went back to the hotel and played. . . .



 And that's it, for now. . . . My Sketching Self is back, taking steps into 2020. . .
What about you? Are you on track for where you want to be as January picks up speed? Or do you maintain a steady momentum throughout the winter and not require a restart? Are there activities that you truly want to pursue, that you enjoy once you're caught up in, but that tend to fall out of view if you don't advocate vigorously for them?

Speaking of which, I'm forcing myself to work out in the hotel gym this morning, although I know that the machines are different than what I'm used and I suspect I'm going to embarrass myself trying to turn them on and adjust the programs. To make sure I get down there, I dressed in my exercise gear before I sat down to write, so no more excuses. . . . While I'm gone, please leave a comment below and let's see where this conversation goes.



Friday, January 10, 2020

Lists and Confessions (and Shopping Bags in the Closet. . . .

Having published my list of Books I Read in 2019 over on my Reading Blog earlier this week, I've also managed to put together  the list I made after Sue (High Heels in the Wilderness) "fessed up" to her wardrobe purchases for 2019 and weighed them against the necessary push (she explains the necessity, citing credible research) toward Slow Fashion. 

I'm nowhere near as organized as Sue, and I don't keep a record of purchases as I make them through the year. Perhaps this needs to change. . . But for now, I made a list by brainstorming, and then double-checked by going through drawers and closets.

Last year, as far as I could remember when brainstorming, I bought,

-- Mango cashmere sweater -- bought in Bordeaux in an independent boutique. The colour is not one I'd normally wear, but the extended cool weather was straining my Carry-On-Only Capsule Wardrobe; I was chilly too often, so my husband bought this for my birthday.  Not a considered choice, but I like the sweater and wear it regularly, more in transitional weather (it's very light) . .  This former prof would rate this a B. Maybe a B- if I were penalizing random buys. . . .

--Brown plaid skirt: Shopping January sales with my visiting ex-pat daughter in a local boutique. Synthetic fabric, but this one just nestled right into the rotation and has been worn 10 or 15 days, at the very least, this year.  Grade: A, except for synthetic fabric and the reality that I didn't strictly need another skirt. In its ethical favour: local shopping. . .

-- Navy Uniqlo skirt, A+ for finding the skirt I'd envisioned for years, natural fibres, pockets, easy, flattering, funky fit. . . Although. . .  chain store (in Bordeaux) and I'm not so sure about Uniqlo's overall ethics. . . However,  worn often already and will be for years

--Pink Uniqlo hoodie -- also bought in Bordeaux under influence of extended cool weather.  I haven't owned a hoodie in decades (not convinced of cotton's warmth), but determined to give this a good try

-- T-shirt (white, hokkaido blue-and-white graphic), also bought in Uniqlo Bordeaux. Not a good shape for me and I knew that when I bought it but loved the graphic. Almost immediately demoted to pyjama top. A lesson in why Uniqlo shop must be done with a list, strictly adhered to. Or just stay outside.

-- oversized boyfriend jacket (herringbone printed pattern in a cotton-synthetic blend) Inès de la Fressange collaboration with Uniqlo. On sale, but only Large left, which I told myself worked with the style for layering underneath. Illustrates why sale-shopping is dangerous. This purchase embarrasses me and perhaps should stay in my closet as a reminder. . . But someone will find it useful, so I'll send it to the thrift shop, without kidding myself that I'm absolved. . . More penance is required (Yes,  learned my Catholic catechism well, confessed regularly for enough years to know the drill)

--black felted-wool Eileen Fisher skirt. No regrets. Pockets, slim fit, classic but with a bit of 90s street funk (hey, it's all subjective, right, and that's how it makes me feel, especially worn with my Blundstones)

--"Spruce" coloured EF merino sweater. same shape (swingy, boxy, with divided hem, longer back) as the navy one I bought last year. Wanted another because first gets worn so often and I'd like both to last. Not perfect as the merino is blended with a synthetic which makes the fabric more prone to wear (although also pretty delicious in the first months for feel, performance)

--Raincoat M0851. No regrets at all. I've needed to check this box for a few years now, have been making do with cheaper coats that compromise in various ways. This has a capacious hood, is slim-looking yet roomy enough to fit a sweater under, pockets are yummy thick flannel inside, and the (technical/synthetic) material is weather-resistant enough and will age into a patina that looks like fine lambskin. Check. Check. Check.

--Olive linen jumpsuit. Bought at a local boutique, designed and made locally with ethically sourced materials. Love this and it's comfortable to wear (easy on my tummy, but flattering enough).

--Burgundy-white striped T-shirt, bought at same local boutique when I bought the jumpsuit. Didn't need it, but I wear it a lot and like the addition of stripes and burgundy to revive other combos

--M0851 Backpack. I have purses/bags enough that I could have managed, but I bought this because I do so much city walking (often 8 or more kilometres in a day) carrying a bag, and even a cross-body was causing shoulder problems, required shifting and shifting. No regrets about this one at all.

--2 pairs of sneakers, one white with green stripes (Stan Smith Adidas), one black New Balance for wearing with everything and anything all over the city. . . Both purchases I feel good about and my only new shoes last year (unless Georgia remembers another pair -- see below ;-)

--scarf bought in Paris this last visit. Cotton and I loved the colour combo for introducing something new -- I'll show you someday. This was inexpensive and worth the price simply for the delightful conversation I had with the Italian boutique owner in a shop not far from "my" hotel in Saint Germain, all in French, and she even wondered if I was living in Paris now!!! (Okay, maybe she did see me coming, but it felt genuine). Also, she showed me how this scarf's shape will work well to manage a bad hair day or simply to keep it out of my way in the summer.

--Pants
--And top, both in navy floral, pyjama style, and bought for my nephew's wedding in the spring. I definitely could have found something suitable to wear from my closet, but my nephew was in his last weeks and I was so moved by his and his wife's determination to celebrate their love and focus on joy that I wanted to dress especially for the occasion. Both pieces have been worn a number of times since then (they're a bit light for winter months), but even if I'd only worn them for that wedding, I'd have no regrets. . .

--J. Crew, wool Black Watch pants, bought last month and worn five or six times since, and no doubt I'll be wearing these regularly for years. Lined, warm, classic fit,

--Sweat pants, heavy cotton, bought at local boutique, after feeling a need for casual, easy-to-wear panst for over a year. Unfortunately, these are not the pants, and I'm going to be stuck wearing them out. In front of the shop mirror,  I told myself I just wasn't used to the shape and the bulk. But not only do they flatter; as well, the elastic waist is tighter than I want (and no, I'm not opening seams and replacing elastic!)  Close to fail on this one, but I'll wear them. Penance, and all that. . . .

 -- I also knit myself that welted (striped) navy and grey sweater, which is very much an example of Slow Fashion, although I'm quite conscious that Making can also be indulgent and can be tough on the planet. It's not a free pass, but this particular sweater comes close. The knitting was painstaking, so it made me attentive to the process of consumption, and the yarn was ethically sourced.

There you go. I made the list, Brava Me! for "fessing up" like Sue, and I took a photo of it, and I uploaded it to this post. . . . .

NOTE: RETAIL-shaming ahead. . . Yikes!
And then, how embarrassing . . . to have my memory refreshed by a comment Georgia made last post. She thought she'd seen a recent purchase of mine in the same colour as that cardigan. At first, I drew a blank and thought she must have been thinking of a floral-print yellow top I bought two years ago in Paris.  A few hours later, though, I flashed on the Eileen Fisher sundress I'd bought impulsively (because it ticked so many boxes: colour, shape, length, lightness, breathability for summer heat) . . . at the same time I'd (also impulsively, but also justified by the box-ticking) a navy cardigan. . . You can see both in this Instagram photo -- and if you'll wonder how I could have forgotten so quickly a purchase made last spring, I can only say that the dress has been packed in the summer box for months now, and the cardigan won't get worn until coats aren't needed (Its boxy shape means it doesn't fit well under my winter coats, nor does its linen-cashmere blend provide much warmth).

So those two garments bring my numbers up to 19 new garments purchased, plus 2 pairs of shoes, plus a sweater I knit myself.

Except that when looking for evidence of the mustard sundress and navy cardigan, I found under the What I Wore label, a blogpost from last January when I purchased this boldly striped, oversized mohair cardigan, bought after I saw it in the window of the local independent boutique which is dangerously close to my home. I did think about the purchase for several days, but it was a coup de foudre. This one I hadn't forgot. I've been wearing it most days lately around the condo for comfort and cheer. In fact, it's in use often enough that I assumed I'd had it for longer than a year. . .
.
20 garments bought new in 2019.
20 that I can remember, that is. . . .

I know I've reduced significantly in the last three or four years, post-retirement, post-move. I also know that my buying was indulgent for two decades (40s-60s), more measured the decade before that, and frugal (but never truly deprived) until my mid-to-late 30s (I made more of my own clothes than I bought for at least five of those years). I'm thinking about this now, thinking about how I want to go forward. Thinking about how I can still derive pleasure from dressing myself with Style (my own), with some deference to Fashion (not slavish, but I value being, and showing, connection to the current culture -- and let's face it, at our/my age, the opposite can be assumed and can result in the kind of dismissal/invisibility we sometimes lament). This list, though. . . Can I do better in 2020? I'm going to try. . .

All of that for another day. The conversation continues, and now time for you to add your two cents. . .  Mic's open, Comments below. Thank you!

Monday, January 6, 2020

Resistance (to Cashmere Sweater Dresses) Isn't Futile (But It's tough, In Paris)

 On my penultimate day in Paris last month, I was tempted by a grey cashmere sweater dress in the window of Comptoir des Cotonniers. Tempted enough to go inside and look at the dress, feel it,  admire the shape, and to recognize some dubious elements in terms of sustainability: I have no idea about the sourcing of materials or the ethics of the labour, but the intrinsic stretchiness of the dress's garter stitch suggested a tendency to bag. Hand-washing and blocking to re-establish its shape mean wear and tear; the fabric seemed too loosely knit to resist that.

But do you think I spun on my heel,  left the store with a cheery Au Revoir to the Sales Assistant I'd only just greeted with "Bonjour Madame"?  Nope.  I've been wanting to replace the sweater dress I bought on sale, two years ago. 100% Acrylic, it's ever-so-useful in my wardrobe, but while it does a good job of looking like a rich tweedy wool, the synthetic fibre irritates, especially at the snug-fitting turtleneck.  And while my travel wardrobe had worked very well, everything I'd brought fastened at the waist. My mid-section was begging for less constraint; this dress promised to skim it gently, an attractive and practical knee-length A-line. The clincher was the easy chat, en français, with the stylish-but-not-intimidating Vendeuse, and after all, just trying doesn't hurt. . . .

And since I was going to be in the change room anyway. And since there was a 30% reduction on a purchase of Two or More Cashmere items, and I'd been smitten by this gold/ochre colour, and I love that slightly cropped, boxy-swingy shape in a cardigan. . . .
I tried them both on, together, and separately, and I liked the way they looked. The fabric of the sweater dress was a bit lighter and less firm than my ideal, but it passed the tummy-and-bum test for cling. I'd have worn it with knee-high boots or with loafers or oxfords. Could have dressed it up with low-heeled pumps. The cardigan would have added an interesting colour to my wardrobe, and I was quite sure I'd wear it often. I'd almost made up my mind to get them both, justifying the splurge in a number of different ways. But by the time I'd put my jeans and black cashmere turtleneck back on, then my coat, by the time I'd taken a photo of the garments and their price tags to take away with me, I'd decided to give myself some time with the very helpful phrase a then-Parisian friend taught me years ago: Il faut que je réfléchisse (I need to think about it).

In that moment, to be honest, I was thinking through my plans for the next day and wondering if I'd come back to the shop (my hotel was just around the corner) before or after lunch. Mentally finding room in my carry-on for the new purchases. But the further I got, the more I knew the purchase didn't meet the Slow Fashion ethics I've been trying to honour.  The more I listened to that niggling voice, the more support it had. I forced myself to think about what I already had at home. Sure, if I bought these two garments, I'd wear them often and regularly over the next few months. Perhaps I'd still be wearing them next year. Maybe even the year after.

But I already have many items I was once equally smitten by, that I still like wearing, even if the novelty has worn off.  We have limited closet space; my lifestyle doesn't require a huge wardrobe; and novelty is overrated.

I had to rehearse these truths to myself several times over that evening and the next day. There was one moment, especially, in the afternoon, when I came very close to "just popping back for one more look." Retail therapy is so seductive, working on so many devious levels, accessing triggers planted deeply over decades . . .

No question I'd be wearing that ochre cardigan today, if I'd bought it. Instead, what I brought back from Paris is a Resistance-to-Consumerism muscle that's a bit stronger from the workout. Instead, I focus on the art I saw, the neighbourhoods I walked through, the buildings I admired, the people I talked to. Hardly a deprivation.

I know, I know. I resisted a temptation that only my privilege let me consider in the first place. Do I really deserve the back-patting I'm giving myself? Perhaps not, but individually and collectively, I hope we're all getting back to the first of the three R's. Reducing what we buy is more important than Re-using or Re-cycling, although the latter two better support the Novelty we've accustomed ourselves to over the last half century or so. . .

Next post, I'll share the list of my wardrobe purchases for 2019. I'm nowhere near as organized as my friend Sue (she has safeguards against impulse shopping for cashmere sweater dresses!) who "Fesses Up About Slow Fashion," but I followed her lead in counting the year's additions to my closet. Overall, I believe I'm buying less and maybe even buying better, but improvements could be made. . . .

What about you? (How) Do you resist retail temptation? Are there times when an impulsive addition to your closet is a good decision? (There have been for me) Do you ever think wistfully about that dress, those shoes, that bag you left behind in a shop somewhere? Do you Just Say No, or do you find it easy to be manipulated once you're in front of a retail-shop mirror wearing a new garment? Do your New Year's resolutions include any concerning Slow Fashion or your own Clothing Budget or more careful and considered Wardrobe Planning? Comments welcome below, as always.



Saturday, January 4, 2020

Not Quite Done With the Holidays. . . .

First post of 2020 -- Hello! Happy New Year!

Really, though, if I tell you that we've put away the tree and the lights, but the Christmas crèche is still on the dresser in the entrance hallway, will you say that I still have one foot back in 2019? In my defence, the Three Wise Men won't arrive until January 6th, Feast of the Epiphany, so Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and the angels and the cow and the horse and the camel (and his keeper) can't be packed away until then -- and after that, I still might need to keep them there until the grandkids have visited and verified that the Wise Men made it across the desert (they've been waiting expectantly). . . . .

And I'm still savouring some Christmas memories, not quite ready to pack it all away so quickly.  This afternoon, in fact, I'll be "opening" a big Christmas gift from Pater, and I get to share it with two of my daughters. This is the second year that Paul has given me a Massage at a wonderful Hammam Spa here in Vancouver -- and so that I might have some exclusive time with our daughters (our time together is usually spent in the company of the kids, so many distractions!) he has booked the three of us in.  Hammam (steam room), then gommage, then massage, and after the massage there will be pastries and tea on cushions in a jewel-toned Sultana Lounge. . . and then we'll float home. . . .

Next week, it will be Paul's turn to enjoy a spa experience -- and I get a second turn! Different spa this time, but it sounds equally luxurious, if rather novel -- a Salt Sauna and Hydrotherapy set-up in a gorgeous enclosed outdoor space. Our Christmas gift from daughters and sons-in-law (also included was a bottle of Veuve-Cliquot and unbreakable champagne tumblers to bring with for sipping in the "ultra-deep cedar soaker tub". . . and a box of exquisite, artisan chocolates that might have been intended for nibbling there but had no chance of lasting that long. . . .

I love this trend to give experiences rather than a material gift. Last year, we gave our young couples gift certificates for a favourite neighbourhood restaurant along with overnight baby-sitting for the occasion. This year, thinking I might seem lazy if we gave that same gift again, I checked to see if they'd like tickets to contemporary dance or opera instead (and yes, these guys would all happily attend either, although they don't tend to budget for the tix). My son-in-law** thought tix to Vancouver Opera's upcoming Another Brick in the Wall (Pink Floyd) would be great, and he promised to check with my daughter and get back to me. But then he said he'd be really happy just to get the restaurant gift certificate again. I'm quoting from his text, and I think he won't mind, "Those dinners are investments in a happy family. We get to do what we don't normally have time to . . . talk. We do about 3 of those a year . . . and [the kid] is usually there for at least one of them." . . . . So in the end, that's what we did, for all three young couples living close enough. (As for the kids, I do one-stop shopping at Vancouver Kids Books. They have other grandparents who can do the fun stuff. I'm Nutrition all the way -- insert kid eyeroll here).

We're never good at getting gifts for the Italian crew, and I've had poor luck with the Italian postal service (I knit a doll for my granddaughter, and it was six weeks in transit before it landed back in my mailbox with a demand that I submit money to pay for the Customs fee -- luckily, its arrival here coincided with the ex-pats' visit home, and the doll flew to Rome in a suitcase). But this year, I heard that they were thinking of seeing Swan Lake at the magnificent Opera Theatre in Rome, and we offered to help with the tickets. Even knowing that The Little Italian Girl squirmed and fussed at the ballet's length, seeing photos of her all dressed up on that elaborate staircase, being a small part of what might become a rich tradition for her . . . .far more satisfying than trying to find gifts to suit, especially these days when we worry about how much ends up in the landfill.

I'm curious to know whether some of you are gifting Experiences rather than something that can be put in a box under the tree (and not just for  Christmas, of course -- this goes for birthdays and other occasions as well).  Perhaps you have suggestions for other experiences that make good gifts.  Comments always welcome. . . .

For now, though, I have an appointment at the spa. Hope there's something lovely in your day as well.
xo,
f





**Another comment that made me happy this Christmas also came from a (different) son-in-law who said of the tourtières I've been making since 2007 that "it wouldn't be Christmas for him now if we didn't have the tourtières." More evidence that experiences are often more significant than things.  In fact, he made the pies to fill the void when Paul and I spent Christmas in Italy two years ago -- he handed back the baton -- er, rolling pin -- last year, but he's added the very good tradition of Branston pickle as accompaniment.



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