Tag Archives: family

Christmas Traditions, Part 5

A big part of Christmas, and certainly the most exciting part for the children, is presents. Middlest has been attempting to wrap mundane objects into any papery material she can find, because she wants to give presents to people. Youngest understands that some of the presents, that are currently decorating the living room, are for him, but so far neither he, nor his siblings, have tried prematurely opening anything.

Which leads me to talking about rituals for opening presents. In Part 1 of this series, I mentioned that when I was a child, my family opened their stockings in my parents’ bed. Now, stockings are available for opening in a less organised manner, which we tend to do before the final final Brunch preparations.

The main presents have always been saved til later. These days, after some initial Brunch cleanup. In times past, a church service would take a chunk of the morning, then presents would probably be after lunch. I’ve got a feeling that sometimes even after it got dark. For many years, we lived close to at least one set of grandparents, so I remember gift-giving times at their houses.

So there has always been an aspect of waiting for presents. I’m sure there are a variety of inspirational messages that can be drawn out: “good things come to those who wait”, “save the best til last” or some such. As a kid, I didn’t like the waiting. Now, I do better. I think my kids do better than I did.

Getting to church on Christmas morning, other kids asking “what did you get for Christmas?” Well, I don’t know yet. Wonder how many of those also had to wait. I heard of the “one main present before church” thing, but I don’t remember if we ever tried it.

I’m not sure when it started, but I have come to really enjoy choosing and buying presents for people. Making people happy is fun. Hope I managed to, this year. Guess I’ll find out soon.

Christmas Traditions, Part 4

In the old/new pattern that has sufficed so far in this series (and which may fall apart tomorrow), today is a New day. Today’s tradition is still relatively new to me, but my family-in-law have been doing this for rather a lot of years.

Today I write about the Christmas Brunch.

A whole load of food is made, by my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Biscuits and gravy (a dish which sounds really weird to a Brit, because it’s not how it sounds to us), quiche, cinnamon rolls, cracker toffee, and more.

I’m hungry already.

We invite a bunch of people to come over on Christmas Day, to help eat it (and hang out with us, of course). And come they do.

Being more used to getting together with close family for Christmas festivities, it seems like this ought not to work. The roads aren’t always nice, and it seems like people might just want to congregate with their families. But that assumption does not seem to be borne out by the facts: people come, they even sometimes bring their families and out-of-town guests. And perhaps it ought not to work on our part: it’s already a fairly substantial day, and adding a lot more people to that adds a lot of work, social interaction and so on. But the people who come over are people we like, so we have fun hanging out, and hosting. The kids enjoy hosting, too (even when they wish they could get into their presents).

So preparations have been slowly building, but this week it really kicks in. Cleaning, tidying, rearranging, temporarily removing things from the living area. Temporarily adding more tables and seating. Already the construction of chocolate-related treats.

So, if you happen to know us in real life, and happen to be in the area, you’re invited (but you probably already knew that). And if you just happened to stumble onto this blog, it sounds crazy, but if you like cooking for that many people, give it a try!

Christmas Traditions, Part 3

It’s funny how certain things just become associated with Christmas. Some perhaps more intentionally than others. Today I delve into some movies and TV shows that have been a part of Christmas for me and my families, and perhaps some things might be surprising.

For example, every Star Wars movie except The Force Awakens has been released in May. But Return Of The Jedi was shown on TV around Christmas for several years in a row when I was a child, so that was the one I saw most, and I still kind of associate with Christmas. The Force Awakens was released just a few days ago, around a week before Christmas, is that a movie that will keep a Christmas association for people?

Contrast that with Star Trek movies. I only saw the Next Generation and reboot movies in the cinema. First Contact and Insurrection were released in December in the UK, Generations in February (3 months after the USA, and the one with Trek’s only mention of Christmas), and Nemesis was Mid-December in the US, and really early January in the UK. I don’t think any of these are widely thought of as Christmas movies.

In addition to Return Of The Jedi, the 1982 animated short film The Snowman was another thing that seemed to be on every year. Not that we minded…

A few years later, and other things became Christmas staples on TV. The first three Wallace And Gromit movies.

And repeats were the order of the day, for a while: Morcambe and Wise. Then all manner of shows started doing Christmas specials. Watched Only Fools And Horses, of course. More recently, the Doctor Who specials, though nowadays we get those a bit later.

Here, we don’t have TV in the traditional way, it’s all streaming or discs these days. So we don’t have the same sort of habits of TV watching anyway, let alone similar traditions. Watching Love Actually has been a Christmastime tradition here (not necessarily on the Big Day). I think that’s been less of a thing the last couple of years because of the kids (though possibly general busyness contributes, too).

As I continue this series, casual reader, I ask you to contribute: what Christmas-related household traditions do you have/have you had? Please comment below.

Christmas Traditions, Part 2

After kicking off the series yesterday with a long-ago tradition, how about today I write about a more recent one.

My sister-in-law has, for the past few years, organised a gift-wrapping party. The one for this year just happened to be today, other years has been a bit earlier in the month.

I think I usually have most of my presents wrapped before the party, this time I had some from my sister, for people-not-me, that I needed to wrap. I also had one for my wife, which I need to say not-too-much about at this stage, in order to preserve a surprise.

I know of one more thing that’s still-to-come which I’ll need to do, and another thing I’ve been working on which needs finished up.

Timing the wrapping party can be tricky: too early, and people won’t have got the presents yet; too late, and they’ll already have wrapped them. Notification time could also affect turnout. We had some friends come round to join in the wrapping today, so we could officially call it a party :)

So I wrapped the things, and also took kids for a show downstairs so other things could be wrapped (I think mostly for me: the kids had watched Elf with their Grampa for the beginning of the party, so their stuff was mostly done). We watched “The Snowman” – I was surprised that Youngest, at no point during the show, said “Summer”. Most times, when he sees a snowman, he says “it’s Summer!”, because of Olaf the snowman in Frozen, singing “In Summer”.

Now our living room is really decorated with presents. It’s getting close…

Start Of Christmas Decorating

We started Christmas decorating this evening. I think it’s later than we have done it in the past, but a bunch of things needed worked out, some hardware for the room needed to arrive and be put up, and everybody’s had plenty on their plates.

The sideboard we had the tree and presents on last year, this year has the CD players and record player sprawled out over it. This got a little reorganised and condensed a few days ago, then Oldest did dusting round there. Today I brought the tree and decorations up, and we managed to put it in the space it occupied last year. My wife put the lights on it, and helped the kids pick out decorations that wouldn’t smash if they fell off.

For some reason, the tree that was, for the most part, decorated by an 8-year old, a 6-year-old and a 2-year old, looks like it was decorated by an 8-year old, a 6-year-old and a 2-year old. Hopefully, Youngest can be convinced to not keep playing with the decorations, or to try and redecorate the tree.

Need to find some creative new space for presents. Big family, and the sideboard was full of them last year. Think they’ll be all over a bunch of surfaces this year. Which will have the benefit of not leaving space for all the clutter that tends to find its way onto those surfaces.

We recently got some curtain rods for the living room, with the aim of replacing the blinds. The blinds don’t seem to clean very well, and Youngest destroyed a small section of one set, a few months ago. We put the rods up a night or two ago, and while I’m not sure any final decision has been made, I hear that curtains could be arriving this week. Anyway, I heard that decoration could happen once the curtain rods were up, and they are, and one window now has lights in. And we should be able to get the curtains on, the lights being tucked behind.

The piano and the mantelpiece usually get decorated, and probably still will, more of a gradual cleaning-and-decorating process this year.

Now I have more of an urge to get the presents wrapped.

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving. An American holiday, packed with food, family, fankfulness (if you’ll forgive my brief descent into Estuary English), and f-

Hmm, must be some way to start this with an “f”.

Ah, filling up shopping carts.

There we go.

Naturally, we had some tidying to do before company came over, but thanks to the game night we had the other week, the mess wasn’t deeply entrenched. Company came, and fun was had. Food was served in the afternoon. It was breakfast to me, as I knew there’d be a lot of food, and I wanted a lot of it. Also, it was probably good policy to not get in the way of the wonderful cooks, who are people I’m very thankful for.

After the main course, we took a break before dessert. In that break, games were played. The kids played Loopin’ Louie, and sometime before that (you know how days go, could have been before eating), they played Twister. I played two games of Blokus with my parents-in-law, the first also with Oldest, and the second with my sister-in-law. During the second game, I got distracted a couple of times helping youngest play Dixit. He’s not really old enough to play, so I picked a card from his hand and asked him to say a word the card made him think of. The picture was of a treasure chest in a castle, with tentacles extruding from something inhabiting the chest, and the shadow of a treasure-hunter seen through a door, he’s coming down some stairs to the room.

The clue that Youngest gave to this image, was “three”.

So it was fun hearing all that. And despite the distractions, I managed to win both games. Sometimes I worry that if I do that too much, people won’t want to play with me.

In-laws and games, I’m thankful for those.

In the evening, some of us went to Wal-Mart. Say what you want about their Black Friday sale (and many do), it’s a good opportunity to pick up Christmas presents.

Last year, they staggered the sales, so some started at 6, some at 8, some at 10, and some the next morning. Or perhaps the 110 was the next morning. Anyhoo, this time the flyer was set up in a similar way, only all the times were 6pm, pretty much. Our store seems a little too large for the area, so often when you go in, it feels pretty empty. Tonight, everyone could get around, though sometimes the main aisles took a bit of time. I think they opened their doors around 4pm, but people couldn’t check out with the Black Friday items until 6. We got there just after 6, so missed the initial rush.

In the end, I didn’t get much. My mother-in-law expected to see me with a stack of DVDs as long as my arm, and I kind of expected that, too, but not much really grabbed me. I ended up with 3 DVDs, a couple of USB flash drives (it’s amazing how the price of those things has been dropping – it was only a year or two ago that I got 16GB for what I paid for 32GB today), and some headphones.

We left there at about 8, and the extra divisions between the checkout lines, were being taken down as we queued. The big rush, for them, was already over. Black Friday had almost ended at 8 on Thursday.

Was almost tempted by 3 seasons of NCIS. I know I’ll enjoy it if I sit down and watch it, in fact part of an episode I caught before we moved here, intrigued me enough that it’s on my radar. Don’t think I’ve actually caught more than one full episode, though. Maybe one day.

Also, I did catch a bunch of deals on Amazon, in the morning. Missed out on “Inside Out”, being waitlisted when I clicked “add to cart” as soon as it was available. Got one lightning deal, and a few other things that were just cheap. Still got my eye on a couple of things that I hope will dramatically drop in price, as both did at around this time of year, last year.

The waiting game.

This evening, after coming home, I played some jigsaw puzzles with Youngest. He’s getting the hang of lifting pieces and putting them in, rather than trying to ram them together, flat on the table. Still trying to figure out turning them just that little bit more to make them fit right. Still, happy with the improvement.

My kids and wife, I’m really thankful for.

There’s been snow on the ground for a week, or maybe two (not the best at keeping track of time). This has prompted me to sing “White Thanksgiving” to the tune of “White Christmas”.

And may all your Thanksgivings be white…

On Christmas Shopping

I’m one of those annoying people who starts Christmas shopping months in advance. Indeed, I’ve now at least ordered something for everybody in the house. The last person to be ordered for was Youngest, who really doesn’t need much (with access to many toys and books from his older siblings), but I wanted to get him something, and one of those play mats with roads and buildings on, came on a reasonably good sale, and he loves him some cars.

There’s still a thing or two I’m planning to pick up (one may be dependent on whether or not it goes on a good sale this week). And I haven’t started thinking about those outside the house, yet.

I have gottent to the point of rather enjoying buying presents for people, and I think I’m getting reasonably good at choosing what people will like. Some of it’s down to observation: that thing you mentioned that you liked the look of six months ago? Probably went on a hidden Amazon wishlist, so I would remember it.

This is definitely a skill I had to develop. Cue shameful anecdote:

One year, my sister had said something she wanted for Christmas. I didn’t make adequate note, and forgot what it was (it was a chocolate fondue set – NOW I remember). Closer to Christmas, I said I’d forgotten what it was she wanted, please could she remind me. I think she thought I was joking, but alas, no. I believe I asked a couple more times (could be wrong about that, long time ago), but she wouldn’t tell me. So I didn’t get her anything.

As you can imagine, this didn’t go over very well with anyone. It was either her birthday or the following Christmas that I attempted to make up for the incident by getting her a large, expensive present. (I hope she liked it…) Anyway, we’re on speaking terms, so hopefully there’s no remaining grudge.

So there you go: keep your ears open for what your people want, make sure you don’t forget, plan ahead so you can take advantage of sales. And have a good hiding place or two, to keep the purchases where the intended recipient won’t find them.

Silly Songs

A long time ago, because I was working with children in my church, my grandfather gave me a VeggieTales video (Rack, Shack, and Benny).

VeggieTales seems to have its popularity rooted in its early days (probably about to the Jonah movie). We, even having kids, haven’t steadfastly kept up with all the new releases (one, at least, according to reviews, achieving a dubiously low quality – but we haven’t got that one).

Today I’m just going to share with you two silly songs, which are as deserving of popularity as the more famous Hairbrush Song, His Cheeseburger, and so on. There are more that are worth mentioning, but I wanted to limit myself today.

As a parent, that second one rings really true…


YouTube, Home Of Nostalgia

Youngest was into stuff tonight, and trying to go to places we didn’t want to just let him run off to, so I said I’d give him a show if he put his Duplo away. He did this fairly quickly, so I fired up YouTube to find him something to watch.

Obscure, old things to watch.

I started him off with The Family Ness, a cartoon from the ’80s featuring a pair of twins, Angus and Elspeth, who discover the Loch Ness Monster, and find there’s a whole family of them. The Nessies’ names tend to be words that pair well with the suffix -ness: Ferocious Ness, for example. The episodes are less than 5 minutes each, and the entire series was released over 2 DVDs, each around 40 minutes, both available from Amazon UK.

You can see an anaconda, a giraffe and kangaroo, but you’ll never find a Nessie in the zoo.

Youngest fell asleep in the third episode, but then we brushed his teeth, which woke him back up. After that, he didn’t want the same show again, but I managed to suggest something that appealed to him. A cartoon with planes.

The Jimbo And The Jet Set episodes that we then watched on YouTube (one-and-a-half, before Mommy took him), were without the credits. But he seemed to enjoy it. I thought the DVDs of Jimbo might be a good addition to his wish list (Christmas approaches, don’t you know). The show got released over 2 DVDs in 2004 (wow, that’s eleven years ago), and one is available straight from Amazon, and the other is listed, but only available via sellers on there.

When looking these things up on Amazon, of course they make suggestions of other shows you might be interested in. SuperTed, of which I used to have a three-hour-video, and as a grown-up I really couldn’t watch that much in one go. Bananaman, which I would be interested in seeing again, but I think it’s only available from sellers on Amazon now. Count Duckula.

Hmm, I never really watched much Count Duckula back in the day, but I have seen some. The whole shebang is available in a DVD set, but I found a playlist of episodes on YouTube, of which I watched one.

In Transylvania, there is a dynasty of vampire ducks, who have a history of terrorising the locals, and eventually getting themselves killed. Once a century, a rite can be performed to reincarnate the old Count into a new Count. This time round, a mistake was made, and tomato ketchup was used instead of another ingredient (probably blood), so the new Count is a vegetarian. And without the pointy teeth generally associated with vampires.

Duckula’s manservant, Igor, has an agenda of trying to turn Duckula back the way he’s “supposed” to be (in other words, evil). The Count’s Nanny is also still on hand, and still mollycoddling him even though he’s a grown-up. Castle Duckula can also teleport, if the adventure of the week demands it (I would hazard a guess to suggest that it usually does).

There are a bunch of references and puns, and I think there’s a significant proportion that the kids are unlikely to get, but is more aimed at the parents. David Jason provides some of the voices.

The laptop speakers were not ideal for watching any of this stuff with, but I think the quality of these videos as uploaded to YouTube didn’t help, I think they were missing a bunch of the lower range. youngest enjoyed the first two shows, though, and I enjoyed the second, which I was mostly only listening to as I did other things.

I think Oldest (8-and-a-half) wouldn’t be old enough for Duckula yet.

Links not provided, to lessen their risk of being removed from YouTube, but they should be easy to find with a quick search. If you dare to enter the domain of ’80s childrens cartoons.

Goodnight out there, whatever you are.

A Prayer, And For Good Reason

My family suffered a loss today, which seemed pretty sudden. Not completely blindsiding, but as deteriorations go, it was pretty rapid.

Consequently, I don’t really want to write much.

In the years of finding out about Orthodoxy, I have come across this understanding of death. Everyone goes to be in God’s presence, some people will enjoy the experience, while others will find it torment. So the difference between Heaven and Hell is not so much a matter of geography, rather a matter of perception.

“The fire of Hell is the love of God”, one saint put it. “You can’t expect to go to Heaven, yet not run into God there” – from an AFR podcast, don’t remember which one (possibly the foundations series, and possibly not word-for-word).

Even for those for whom the experience of God int he next life will be Heaven, the transition is expected to be difficult, refiner’s fire and all that. Services are held and prayers said, to help ease the transition.

I give all this background information, just so I can share this prayer. The website of St Barnabas Church in Costa Mesa, CA used to host a page of prayers, I have to use the Wayback Machine to access that page now. There’s a section of Prayers for The Departed. I share a small part of that section:

Remember, O Lord, the souls of thy departed servants, my parents NN, [if they have already fallen asleep in the Lord], and all my relatives according to the flesh. Forgive all their sins, both voluntary and involuntary. Grant them participation in thine eternal good things and the enjoyment of the eternal and blessed life.

Well my parents are just fine, but now I can say it for all my grandparents.

Lord, have mercy. And for the last sentence of the prayer, grant this, O Lord.

And I miss you guys.