Whether it be social, recreational, or professional, some of what represents me is here. Post a comment, or contact me at should you so desire.

The posts are in reverse chronological order, and are pegged by topic on the links to the left. For more of an introduction, please see the About this site page listed above.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Christmasses 2013

Christmas time is pretty special for me, and for my family. We work incredibly hard all year long and, among the many wonderful aspects of this holiday, Christmas is the one time of year we take opportunities to relax, and spend extra quality time together.

We have many Christmas traditions in our family, but the most important is just being together. It might sound emotionally mushy, but it's the truth. We have had to change traditions, even locations, but we have always managed to get together and free ourselves, for a moment, of outside distraction and responsibility.

Last year, we went to Cuba, which you can read about here. This year, we did something equally special, following our usual traditions and even took back up a tradition we had neglected for some time.

Before I get to that, let me say a few words about Strasbourg. Calling itself the capital of Christmas, the city of Strasbourg was decorated basement to steeple with toys, lights, signs, and Christmas trees as far as the eye could see. There was even a Christmas market where the smells of hot spiced wine and gingerbread mixed with the sounds of cheerful commerce.

Due to the work and focus I had been exhibiting for school, as can be read about in a previous post, I did not take many opportunities to enjoy the festivities. Both the school and my house are located outside of the city so there were few opportunities of convenience; I had to make a special trip just to see it.

And I'm glad I did! The sights, smells, and sounds were wonderful, and it was nice just to walk around. For a number of reasons, I did not end up buying anything but the displays were quite nice.

Almost looks real, doesn't it?
My camera work needs improvement, but the streets were lit with angels and stars.
Barely captured in this photo, toys, as well as lights, decorated the sides of many buildings in Strasbourg

The last few days in France were lovely, if stress-laden. After finishing one project, I went to a party at la Cathédrale (as I call it), as 3 of the student share an apartment right across from the Strasbourg Cathedral.

One good thing about not going out that often is that, when you do, it's treated as a special occasion. I was greeted at the door with smiles and looks of happy shock. The party was quite fun, full of laughter and music. I took the last tram (light rail transit) home, thankful for such wonderful classmates.

After all our work was completed, there was another party in the Student Lounge at the school. Beyond the usual merriment (think drinking, laughter, and music), we also had a White Elephant party! As can be read on the previous link, the idea is simple: everyone buys and wraps an inexpensive gift, places it under the tree,  and people take turns either picking a new one or stealing one from someone else. It's all in good fun, although one student really didn't want to give up his blue slippers. It all worked out and there were some lovely, hilarious, and ridiculous gifts for everyone!

Leaving the party, I felt incredibly French. I was dressed up, with vest and dress shirt, walking home wearing my suede shoes, with an un-tied scarf around my neck and a newly bought bottle of wine* under my arm. It was trés chic and made me happy as most of my errant thoughts do. I had wished everyone a merry Christmas and was looking forward to some time with my family.

Packed up, ready to go, I had a nice conversation with my roommate who was looking forward to Christmas in Dubai with her family. It made me smile to think that we were going to enjoy such diverse winter breaks; me in snowy Canada, and her in sandy Dubai.

A couple of quick flights (if you call 8 hours quick, which I do when I can sleep anywhere and at anytime) and I was back in Canada!

Tweeting "The Wolf has landed", I felt excited in a way I hadn't for some time. Truth is, I have been putting myself under tremendous pressure to succeed at school. This pressure has been good, but it had limited my scope, and my ability to enjoy my time effectively. I'm still working on balancing work and play and it seems I have some more to learn. The thing is: I was working hard so that I could take the holidays off, guilt-free.

Flying through customs, I met up with my parents! Hugs and smiles all around and we were on our way. My timing was excellent, if belated, as my plane landed an hour late but between ice storms. In what would be deemed "Ice Storm 2013", Canada would receive enough extreme weather as to shut down power for a lot of people. In fact, as we drove home, we saw a few power lines exploding in bright colours of malfunction.

Stopping halfway home, my parents treated me to Harvey's and the first burger I had had in months. I could have enjoyed Swiss Chalet, a wonderful Canadian chicken establishment, but we all figured that Christmas would already involve a massive intake of poultry as it was.

Despite the weather, we made it home safe and sound wherein I saw more of my family! From France to Canada, it took me a total of 18 hours to get home (including 5 hours of layover between flights).
The next day, we hosted some family who would not be able to join us Christmas day. It was really good seeing them again. We shared stories and enjoyed Scottish "bridies", kind of like the Chinese dumplings seen at my school's culture night. Gifts were exchanged, and hugs were given.

Not too long after that, Christmas Eve was upon us! My family is quite large and while we don't get together often enough, we love to. My house has had an open-door Christmas policy for as long as I can remember. Everyone knows, whether they be close or strangers, that if they want to share Christmas dinner with us, they are welcome to do so. My mom generally makes enough food for 30 hungry people and we have plenty of room to spare.

For years now, we've had our big dinner on Christmas Eve, since Christmas Day is one of the few days my mom is guaranteed to have off work. In what seemed too short and too easy of a time, we managed to get the house extra tidy and ready. (Likely this was because my sister arrived home a week earlier than me and, together with the rest of my family, had done much of the work before I arrived)

Not to be disappointed, we had a full house full of regulars and newcomers. The food was spectacular, always and in every sense of the word, and, as is becoming quite enjoyably repetitive of me to say, it was nice to see everyone and to catch up. I talked radiation physics with one uncle, recently retired from the Atomic Energy nuclear power plant in Chalk River and an avid reader of this blog (hi!), caught up on what France was like with everyone, spoke a little French with my grandfather (mon Papère, bonjour!), and had a really nice time. Everyone was doing well and there was no drama and only smiles.

For the 3rd year in a row, the evening ended with the family moving downstairs to play on the XBox Kinect. Each year, my family, and our friends, have enjoyed jumping, swatting, and dancing around on the Kinect. The first year we had it, we had a full house playing sports, dancing like Michael Jackson, and having a great time. Everyone played except my grandma (hi!) who has a bad hip, and my Nannie (hello, even though she doesn't use computers and is unlikely to see this :) ), who thought the game was stupid at first although she loves to laugh at us playing it. Even my uncle Marc (who is a bit techno-adverse and is likely only seeing this because my mom showed him), played along, enjoying and doing quite well at Kinect bowling.

One of the nicest parts of all was that my grandparents were able to stay overnight this year. Years ago, when we lived somewhere else, my grandparents stayed each Christmas. However, with our home being "under development" and with my grandfather always on call over the holidays, my grandparents have been unable to carry on that tradition. This year, they stayed the night, and enjoyed Christmas Day with us.

We partook in some bacon pinwheels (toasted bacon wrapped around toast) and croissants, chatting away before opening our stockings.

Our stocking stuffers are usually quite practical, comprising of toiletries and other needed items. True to form, I got a new supply of tooth-cleaning supplies, as well as some chocolate and much-needed measuring cups. (The juxtaposition of chocolate and toothbrush/toothpaste was most amusing)
Afterward, we moved onto presents. My parents have been moving away from individual gift-giving as much as possible in recent years, as we've all agreed that the time together is what we're really after, still presents were given, received, well-thought, and enjoyed. I felt guilty, not having anything to give, other than that bottle of wine for my parents. (*you were wondering about that, weren't you? For those who don't know me, I don't drink alcohol) But, everyone understood and I made an extra effort to show everyone how much I cared since I can be Spock-logical at times.
You got me a gift? Fascinating.
I do have to praise my sister here. This was her first year away at school and yet she still managed to get everyone gifts. They were quite nice, and well thought out. Considering the difficulties she must have had as a new student, I was impressed.

I received many really nice gifts (I am not being too specific as I'm avoiding any unequivocal representation, as I love and appreciate all that I got), but I was the happiest just spending time with my family, free from stress, free from multi-tasking, free from scheduling my time. Just being present, that's the best gift of all. (Oh the puns!)

The rest of the day was lovely, and we spent the entirety of it watching movies. My family loves to watch movies, we have an entire hallway devoted to our collection, and a long-standing tradition we have is to grab food and drink, pajama-suit up, and watch movies together over the holidays. Quite un-Christmas themed, we enjoyed White House Down, which was surprisingly good, and the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which was predictably awesome.

The next day, I left my family to visit some friends. Taking a bus to Brockville to visit my friend Mike, I was treated to a Chinese-style Christmas as a member of his family made enough Chinese food to feed 30 people. While I have known Mike for years, I didn't know his family all that well so it was a nice experience. Driving to Toronto, Mike and I caught up and chatted about all sorts of "nerdy" things like Dungeons and Dragons, movies, and video games. Mike and I have been the best of friends for almost a decade now. While different in many ways, we have so much in common that sometimes it is like we have our own unique language. We have shared so much, and can think so much alike, or complement each other's thoughts so well that it is always comfortable, creative, and exciting to be together. It might sound a bit odd, but after so many months of focusing on school and nothing else, relaxing and making jokes with my good friend was incredibly refreshing.

I had only a few days to spare in the city of Toronto but I made the most of them. On the following day, I was picked up by my friend Alex and together we drove to see my friends Brandy and Jason. I was really looking forward to this trip because I had not seen them since August and had missed their wedding due to being overseas. I have known Brandy and Jason for as long as I have known Mike. I knew them before they knew each other, and I have since watched their relationship grow. I was very sad to have missed their wedding, as I take these things very seriously and wanted to see the transition, but everyone understood the situation. Just like with Mike, while there was elation at seeing each other again, we were all instantly comfortable and happy with each other's presence. We caught up, had some interesting conversations, and looked at the beautiful wedding photos. I still regret not being there, but now so only because it looked like so much fun!

Afterward, Alex and I went back to his place. Again, I've known Alex for quite some time and he is a person of infinite creativity and his thoughts seem an endless permutation of possibility. That may sound extremely poetic, but anyone who talks with him knows this to be the case. He is just interested in so many things and it is always thought-provoking to talk with him. I had the chance to visit his mom, Terry, who was an exquisite host as always. She likes to call their home "The Burrow" and she likes to call herself "Mrs. Weasley" from the Harry Potter universe. She isn't wrong; her hospitality is unbound and I often have to insist that I am full, no really thank you, haha. Among the many drinks and snacks, we all enjoyed a lovely Christmas-like meal together which was quite nice.

Saturday was a party day for me and my friends. I had told my friends that I would be at Mike's place on the Saturday, all day, ready to hang out and party with anyone and everyone who showed up. I usually throw parties this way since I find picking a specific time can be difficult as everyone fights to clear their schedules. The day was quite enjoyable, consisting of some video games in the morning, snacks and food in the afternoon, and lots of conversation well into the evening. I received a couple of presents from people, once again extremely thoughtful, and I was really thankful for the chance to see them and catch up on their lives.

Sunday was more social than I had expected it to be. First, I had brunch with one good friend, both the food and the company being lovely. Then, two more friends came into the city and spent some time with the few usual suspects who had arrived early to play some Dungeons and Dragons. The afternoon consisted of witty, interesting conversation ranging in interest from social expectations, personal esteem, mindfulness, movies, religion, archery, and all sorts of topics. The evening consisted of some Dungeons and Dragons which is always a delight. My friends are extremely creative, and quite good at the game, so it is really exciting battling beasts and exploring the world we have created. Afterward, some more gifts, and some more hugs.

Coming back home was a bittersweet experience; I was excited to see my family again and looking forward to going out to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but it turns out I caught the flu from someone in Toronto. Coughing, tired, and sore, I endured the 5 hour bus ride and finally met up with my parents. Picking up my uncle and my sister, we made our way to the movie theatre. The Hobbit 2 was pretty awesome! I won't say much more as I don't like to hype or spoil things, but I enjoyed it and am really looking forward to the finale.

The next couple of days passed in a light-headed fog. My cough was giving me a headache, and the sickness and medicine I was taking were causing me to be tired and unable to focus. Thankfully, the sickness came at the right time of year. While it was unfortunate to be sick at home, it was nice having my mom around ready and willing to help when needed.

New Year's Eve is my sister's birthday. Growing up, she didn't like this date because her friends were usually unable to come visit, since it was too close to Christmas. However, as they have gotten older, she and her friends are realizing how much fun it can be to celebrate her birthday and New Year's Eve at the same time! I've never really been interested in partying on New Year's Eve, usually content to just celebrating my sister's birthday and enjoying a quiet night in. My sister was invited out to a bar with some friends and after seeing her off, the rest of us just settled in for the New Year.

Feeling slightly better the next day, I volunteered to pick my sister up from town, as she stayed overnight at a friend's house. Apparently, her friends had been very generous, supplying her drinks throughout the evening. Surprising them, and us at home, my sister accepted most and made it through the evening without getting drunk. Most of the people in my family enjoy drinking alcohol with friends and, well, family. But I've never really caught on to the craze, and my sister has so far followed suit. I have known her to try a few things, and that's cool, and I'm glad that she enjoyed herself, and did so responsibly.

The next few days have been pretty quiet as well. With the temperature outside hanging around -30°C, my family and I have spent most of our time keeping the fire warm, and working on some odds and ends. One project my mom, sister, and I have been working on, (one I'm secretly avoiding right now, shh!) is the design of a new cloak for me! It's pretty awesome, and pretty warm, and if the nice model turns out half as well as the prototype, well, it's going to be nice. I say new cloak because I had to retire my earlier model. I'll be writing a blog post here soon discussing capes, cloaks, and why I wear them but suffice it to say, they're warm, they're stylish, and they're awesome!

I leave for France tomorrow. It will be an extremely long trip. Flight from Ottawa to Detroit, 6 hour layover there, 8 hour flight to Paris, 2.5 hour train ride to Strasbourg. Add in the timezone changes and it will take me until noon on Sunday to get back. I'm excited to get back, not too excited about making the trip.

The holidays have given me a chance to think and reflect upon my actions and sentiments regarding school and my busy life. I realize that while the last month has been extremely busy, and while I have worked hard and, hopefully, done well, I realized I was not living a full life. School had become everything and nothing else mattered. I barely reached out to any of my colleagues, and I did not reach out to my friends or family back here in Canada. I was so busy in the last few weeks and I just pushed aside any feelings, any thoughts, and any plans concerning the people back here. It's not a very Christmas-sy thing to do, but I needed to stay focused in order to get through my work. However, I'm working to improve the balance between work and play. I want to live my life to its fullest potential, and I'm excited about what 2014 will bring!

I hope you have all had an excellent 2013! I thank you for taking the time to read these posts, and please keep your eyes open for new updates, including an in-depth look into my work, in the new year!

No comments:

Post a Comment