Box it up

We survived Christmas. Hallelujah!

In spite of all my grumblings, it went quite well. 

Christmas Eve, we went to church at The Meeting House. What a fantastic service: there was an amazing version of O Holy Night, projected snowflakes, and my beloved Revelation Song. Glorious. And look at the goody bags they distributed to amuse the children. So thoughtful! I'm an almost cradle Anglican but I've come to embrace this new style of worship in a big way.

After the service, we had Chinese food, which has been our Christmas Eve tradition since I was a child. Christmas would not be Christmas without egg rolls. 

I managed to dip into the new Tatler online since Canada won't receive the new issue for another few days. They have a fantastic article, Not Too Posh to Punch, about domestic violence in higher income relationships. I'm glad to see a publication like this take this issue on, as shining a light on it will help it to stop. This issue will shape my 2014 in some form.

Late Christmas Eve, I tiptoed around creating magic, even though I only have one believer in the house. 

On Christmas morning, my little ones allowed me to sleep until 7:39 am. The children would have slept longer but someone was eager to get up and see if she was entitled to Santa's cookies and milk. 

The gifts were a great success. My son received a remote control snowmobile and my daughter received all the supplies to start a cupcake business. The first batch was baked and iced before lunch. My parents provided me with a cashmere Christmas. Bliss!

On the years I don't have my kids with me for Christmas dinner, I refuse to cook a turkey. So we went off to the Royal York, one of the grand old railway hotels in the city. 

We kicked off the night with a pre-prandial glass of bubbly at the Library Bar. 

Then, there were five courses of deliciousness:

I was stuffethed (I believe that's the Dickensian term.) Christmas Night was lovely and mellow. 

Today, our Boxing Day, I got up early as the local ski shop was having a sale and I have developed an unhealthy fondness for Alp-n-Rock shirts on the slopes. 

I then went to Main Street Oakville to do a little shopping. I much prefer shopping in the picturesque town than driving to a mall. 

I picked up some things at Anthropologie on sale. I found a pretty little scarf as well as my first pair of reading glasses. Yes, now that my eyes are just over a week away from turning 42, they have decided to take it easy. I thought these tortoise-shell cats eye glasses were adorable. 

I had to replace a few ornaments that broke during the now-biennial Falling Over of the Christmas Tree so I took advantage of the 50% off sale. The double decker bus and eiffel tower will remind my children of their recent trip to London and Paris and the little ballet mouse was too sweet not to add to our ornament collection.

I bought some new home office supplies in the form of days of the week and je t'aime pencils and matryoshka doll page markers.

I also bought a few pieces to help my inner-French woman flourish in the kitchen.

And then my parents surprised me with an early birthday gift from the Brooks Brothers semi-annual sale: a new non-iron white shirt and this black silk dress. Both pieces are great classic building blocks for my more minimal wardrobe. 


I then made a light lunch for everyone and spent the afternoon lounging. My children return shortly and at some point I must tidy up the house. Considering how much I was dreading this holiday, I feel very blessed to have so many bright things on which to focus. 

I hope your holiday was merry and bright and if not, know that your silver lining awaits (perhaps even in the form of Bradley Cooper!) 

Merry Merry?

I have had a bit of a tough few days pre-Christmas, but thankfully I am through.

My cold/flu/whatever I picked up at the doctor's office while attending to the Wee Gal's shoulder injury was horrific and caused me to miss two ladies' lunches, one dinner party, a holiday open house (and a partridge in pear tree…) 'Well, boo hoo,' you might be saying, 'not exactly Homs.'

This is true, but it was still a dark time. I'm not a huge Christmas fan to start. Christmas reminds me of things like life-altering car wrecks and being hospitalized with measles. It's nothing as dire as the story of the lad whose father whacked his mother with a fully decorated Christmas tree, but still nothing that might inspire the Hallmark Channel to create fake snow in July and hire Jennie Garth. Not yet, at least: I'm still hoping for my happy ending, mad fool that I am.

Even when Christmas has not involved something resembling a Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week, it's always a bit of a downer. I come from a very small family and I have to split my children's Christmas with their dad. What is an overly boisterous occasion for many is very subdued for us. Although I'm not Jewish, I can well relate to Giles Coren's piece in Tatler:
Christmas in my childhood home in Cricklewood, with four Jewish grandparents and a great-aunt who was always a bit miserable because of her time in Auschwitz, was never much like Mr Fezziwig's in A Christmas Carol. And then, after the oldies died, it was just the four of us with paper hats on and spirally kazoo things in our mouths. 
I've tried to remedy the situation. Like Mr. Coren, I've made several past attempts to marry into a more jolly holiday but my judgement on that front used to be worse than that of Frozen's Princess Anna. Where Coren managed to go "from Cricklewood to Downton Abbey in a generation," I went from Cricklewood to Deadwood in a year. Clever girl am I.

I've tried the friends-as-family approach with much more success. I've expended a lot of effort in building a larger circle, particularly in my new community. I was thrilled to find myself with pre-Christmas invites a-plenty and so I took this illness thing very personally because I was not able to partake. There was lots of fist-shaking at the sky. There was also a lot of self-doubt that bubbled up, stemming in part from the issues raised in therapy and in part from being housebound: trapped on the inside looking out at a street filled with happy party-goers.

It all culminated in a great big Bah Humbug. And more fist shaking at the sky, of course.

I do make the holidays fun for the kids. We bake and watch movies and I do elaborate advent calendars and we dress up the dog like Santa.

And she's complaining about her Christmas? 

We make an annual pilgrimage to see The Nutcracker, which is one of my very favourite things of all. This Sunday, we were to take the train to Big Smoke to see the James Kudelka version as, to me, it's The Nutcracker. But the ice storm that ate Toronto foiled our plans to go downtown and the dog makes a most inadequate Sugar Plum Fairy. Although I was thankful that none of the huge trees on the property knocked out our power or did any damage, I was unable to refrain from more fist shaking at the ether.

It's not really His fault, I suppose. He tried. By all accounts, Jesus was born in September in a hot climate. We were the solstice-loving idiots who decided that it was best to cram all of this celebrating into a time of flu and foul weather.

Silly us.

Of course, it's not been all bleak. Some huge positives have come out of all the soul searching:

My closets have never looked better. I purged an entire small closet worth of clothes so I'm closer to that adore-everything-I-own capsule wardrobe I crave (apologies to GSL and my dry cleaner.) Plus, I figured out a fairly easy reno that will give the Wee Gal the closet she lacks (darn you, century homes!) by knocking out a portion of wall and taking the now-empty space from my room.

Another positive is that I have spent a lot of time talking things over with my family and talking about how we can establish new traditions, particularly on the Christmas occasions when the kids are with their dad.

I am starting to get a very fuzzy picture of what a career might look like going forward.

I discovered I am with a very good man, both in a storm and out of it. So that's a good thing.

I was able to relieve myself of all guilt associated with booking my upcoming trip to warmer climes. The need/want line shifted when I was sick as a dog with my world covered in ice.

And I learned that even the most destructive storm can result in beauty. And of course, that's a message of Christmas too.

Stay warm, walk towards the light, and have a Merry Christmas. Even if you are a bit of a Scrooge like me.

Of things past

I spent half the morning in Home Depot. I decided that I could not live one more minute with the children slamming down the toilet seats and went in search of new slow-close seats for their bathroom and the one downstairs. Who knew that there were different sizes? So I had to go back to Home Depot to make an exchange. Such a delight. I picked up a new paper holder at the same time and while I was standing in the aisles making all of these choices (snow white? alabaster white? brushed nickel? chrome?) I was so very glad that I did not become an interior decorator.

Last year at this time, I had every intention of doing just that. I created a portfolio, was accepted into a highly-regarded decorating program, and spent my days in design showrooms. I had every intention of becoming the next Mary MacDonald.

Love her! /via/

Decorating my own home was restorative. My new house was significantly smaller and older than my previous abodes. Most of the furniture I owned would not fit. So I made friends with consignment stores and antiques dealers and horse-traded my large-scale pieces for smaller-scale antiques. I gave away the modern art, haunted the Scalamandre Third Floor for pillows, and transformed my shelter into something beautiful. For a while, I swore that I was 'saved by pillows' as there is something terribly therapeutic about surrounding oneself with beautiful things when one's life has fallen apart. Under normal circumstances, I'm in intuitive introvert. I love playing with ideas and theories and intangibles. I love reading and writing and strategizing. I normally hate hiring electricians and measuring spaces and picking things up in my car. And yet, for about six months, it's all I wanted to do.

I put my favourite oil paintings over my fireplace, I hung my black silk ball gown and my hand-embroidered Jenny Packham gown on my bedroom wall as textile art, and I created little vignettes with things I'd collected over the years. Tangible objects provided a tether for me. As Donna Tartt writes in The Goldfinch, "When we are sad…it can be comforting to cling to familiar objects, to the things that don't change." Amen.

Madonna Badger wrote a beautiful piece for Vogue that explains why this might be. Badger is the fashion publicist who lost her children and parents in a house fire on Christmas Day in 2011. In The Long Way Back, she writes about how she survived the emotionally unsurvivable and fought her way back to a semblance of happiness. Part of her healing process was to take a job cataloguing antiques for  a friend:
… as I spent day upon day going through box upon box looking for beautiful objects, two things happened. One, I had to stay in the present moment. It’s hard to go too far down one road or another when you’re using your hands and your eyes and your brain so intently. The second thing was that as we found old photographs, I was forced to reckon with loss, with transience. I came to understand and be at peace with the notion that the people in the pictures I was looking at were all gone now—that the little girl in 1905 who owned the doll I was holding in my hands was dead; that all this stuff was really just the ephemera that gets left behind. There was really no judgment about it. 
Things are simple. It's easy to decide between brushed nickel and chrome and it gives one a sense of control. When I found myself on shifting sand, I could take comfort in my heavy silver-leafed oak table that moved with me from house to house to house. My blue and white ginger jars would not mutate. Pillows would never disappoint. It's easy to hang a robe hook perfectly: just follow the instructions. My mahogany bedroom set, now almost 100 years old, was as functional as the day it was built and improved by its earned patina. Material objects are reliable: they don't judge, don't demand anything, and never dine out on one's grief. They do not turn one's experience into an anecdote.

People -- fallen, imperfect -- do not always offer the same comfort. In her essay, The Family Versus the Grief Glommers, Jennifer Niesslein writes beautifully about the damage that good people can unwittingly inflict. I had to seek shelter from many people as I embarked on my own healing process. While I was most raw, paintings and fabric, and objets d'art were a more trusted salve.

But thanks to those in my deliberately small tent and my therapist and those strange little hand buzzers, I now feel quite healed. And where there was once a gaping wound, there is now a strengthening scar. I can ease back into the world of people and ideas that, for a while, seemed too unsafe.

And the whole decorating thing has faded into the background. It's become the anecdote, I the human jukebox: "Remember the time I almost became an interior decorator. Hahahaha." It's a story on which to dine one day. (Scars make one less sensitive, even to one's own pain.)

I have no idea what I'll do in its place. I have co-written a book about strategic thinking, so we will see where that goes. I can value a business, negotiate a term sheet, develop a bootstrap marketing campaign, and find good candidates for a job. I can edit articles and write copy and apply for a grant. I also know a heck of a lot about family law and property law and how to navigate a divorce. I know what works and does not work in Oakville, for what that's worth. I seem to know a whole lot of people who know a whole lot of people. And I can do your Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and authenticate your Chanel bag and tell you what to do with the spare diamonds you might have floating around. Surely, there's something lucrative in that strange mix. If you have any ideas, let me know.

This blog has morphed from a decorating blog to a reflection of my journey. It, like me, is in flux. So, depending on your perspective, I'll say "I'm sorry" or "You're welcome." And no, I cannot help you with your renovation.

Home Depot gives me hives.


For the last few days, I've been sick as a dog.

Luckily, we were able to decorate before I was felled by the dreaded lurgy, so at least my view from the sofa has been pretty:

I've spent an inordinate amount of time lying on the sofa watching made-for-TV Christmas movies. Holidaze, 12 Trees of Christmas, 12 Men of Christmas, Let it Snow: you name it, I've watched it. The plot is often similar: worldly, driven, urban career woman goes to picturesque small town on a business trip and ends up falling in love with the slower pace and the local cowboy/fireman/carpenter. It's a sort of reverse Cinderella story where transformation occurs through an aesthetically pleasing version of turn on, tune in and drop out.  Since I'm not a big fan of traditional Cinderella stories any more (if you are still waiting for your Prince Charming, I recommend you read Not to People Like Us: Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages) I quite like these movies in spite of the saccharine and schmaltz.

There is something so appealing about simplifying one's life. On Sunday, when I think I was spiking a fairly high fever, I toyed with the idea of getting rid of all but 10 pieces of clothing like some "live like a chic Parisian woman" articles urge one to do. I've consigned or given away half my wardrobe and yet my closets are stuffed to the point where I tend to wear the same things over and over again because it's too much bother to search through the mess. It might be very freeing to have a uniform to wear. I'm thinking black and white and chic all over.

Ines de la Fressange: the original minimalist chic icon /via/

Something to think about for 2014…

Stay warm,

{PS. Comments are back on per the request of B&P: I daren't face the wrath of The Leatherine.}

Christmas Traditions: The Nutcracker Ballet

Every year, I take my daughter to see the Nutcracker. (I took my youngest son once, but he loudly complained that there was too much dancing...