I’m going to what feels like the Mean Girl of cities in a couple of weeks.
You know the one.
She’s all Chanel and couture and linen and lipstick. They speak fancy French there, not the regular, old, Canadian kind (and even my Canadian French is pretty patchy and rusty).
I lived in Europe with my family as a teen and then in my early and later 20s, on my own. But, somehow, I never got to Paris.
London and York and Cornwall, I love. Hamburg and Heidelberg, too.
But Paris, is a big old question mark for me.
Or, is it actually a REAL PLACE with garbage trucks, and people wearing pajamas in public, and bad cooks?
My parents went to Paris for a holiday when we lived in England, but for some reason, they didn’t take their teenagers with them. Who knows why?
I was too broke when I lived close by to get there, and my friends lived in Germany. So, I just kept flying over Paris, as if she didn’t matter one hoot.
Take that, mean girl!
But now, my German friends are living in Paris, in the ninth arrondissement. I think that means near ALLLLLL the Pain au Chocolat (one of the main reasons I’m even going to Paris), right?
And, I am slightly intimidated.
According to Canadian/US versions of Paris, I am prepared to feel inferior on a number of levels including my weight, my fashion sense (lack thereof), not to mention my (quelle horreur) love of patterned fabric.
French chic? Mais, non. Just call me “flabby, shabby chic”.
I am not sleek or sophisticated. I am much more inclined to the chubby and cheerful.
But, so is Ina Garten and she supposedly loves Paris, right? So did Julia Child and she was tall and awkward.
Vives les Tall and Awkward!
With a side of Still Too Many Shoes for My Suitcase.
Practical Man disliked Paris when he was there so he’s glad to be sitting this one out. Mind you, he dislikes ALL cities so he’s not really a neutral opinion. Instead, I am travelling with my sweet sister-in-law Roadrunner, who speaks Northern Ontario French as her first language at home. She’s never been to Europe. In fact, this is her first trans-Atlantic flight. Although she is fluent in the language, I’ve heard that Parisians can be quite cutting when it comes to The Canadian Form of French. My also fluent father was once asked in Paris where he learned his French and when he told them Canada, they said, “c’est domage (that’s too bad)”.
I do love me some vintage, flea markets, and sparkly lights. Someplace called The City of Lights seems to be a good city for that sort of tra-la-la.
Anyhoo, if you’ve been there, here are the questions I have about going to Paris:
- I expect there to be accordions playing in the background as we stroll around. But, should I be prepared with some Charles Aznavour on my playlist, just in case?
- Is there a “how not to overpack” Pinterest board for people who are not Marie Kondo or wearing exclusively Lululemon?
- If I can’t get rid of my vertigo before I leave and end up getting arrested because I’m wobbling down the streets like I’m intoxicated, will they bring me the French version of Bread and Water (baguette and Perrier) in jail?
- Is black the only colour people wear? What if I look more like “Widowed Nonna from a Godfather movie” than “Audrey Hepburn” in black?
- Where can I rent a Betsy bicycle or a moped so I can ride along the Seine with a baguette sticking out of the basket, humming La Vie en Rose?
- Is it wrong to have a pain au chocolat EVERY morning while I’m there? Wait, don’t answer that.
- Will my brain actually turn into a pretzel if I try to speak German (with our host family), Paris French (let’s face it, that won’t be possible), Canadian French (only slightly more possible), Bad French (definitely possible), and English (please direct me to the nearest pain au chocolat?) in one holiday?
- How many beautiful buildings can you drool on before they kick you out of the country?
- Ditto for Boulangerie, Patisserie and other “erie” windows?
It’s like a first date with someone way out of your league.
Or, as they say in Paris…
[nonchalant and chic expression full of fabulous cheekbones].
Every year, when we take the tree and decorations down, I am startled.
I don’t think I have reached the Griswold level of festive decor, so that can’t account for the Disturbing Disappearance of Decor.
Triple D – that’s a thing, right?
Yet, take away the seasonal dressing and everything suddenly looks bare and forlorn.
I guess it’s to be expected when you remove a giant conifer and acres of greenery and glittery things from your Not-So-Great Room.
(Our house was built at a time when Great Rooms were not yet a thing, so we only have an ordinary living room or as realtors probably think of it: a Not-So-Great Room.)
Our Not-So-Great Room looked perfectly fine in November.
In early December, it suddenly got bulge-y with a seriously extraverted Tannenbaum and all its festive friends.
I think we might be kindred spirits, me and the Not-So-Great Room.
I feel quite bulge-y in December myself.
“Deck the Halls with crates of Toblerone“…isn’t that how that song goes?
Every year during the time when the Not-So-Great Room is still looking seriously festive, Practical Man and I head out to admire our neighbourhood lights.
First, I admire the heart he stamped in the snow of the front lawn, with our initials in it.
Then, we cruise around for a while (we used to walk when we lived in town but we’d have to be Santa to make any time, now that we live rurally), surveying the crop of Griswold-esque specimens.
I’m not really keen on the blow-up thingys, so I haven’t photographed those.
Nor the keel-over-inducing light shows (even when coordinated with music).
Give me a loaded, over-the-top, plain old, static light show any day.
Or night, as it were.
Once we have oooh’d and aaah’d for a good while, then comes the hard part.
We have to choose.
We each get one thank-you card, that we filled out before we left the house:
“Thank you for your beautiful lights. Your house was our favourite!”
We don’t sign our names. We simply slip the thank-you card into their mailbox.
It’s seriously festive and fun.
Then, we return home to our own festively-adorned, albeit slightly bulge-y Not-So-Great Room and cuddle up.
Even though I don’t think I’m quite at Griswold level of festive decor, I can still love those who are.
I’m just too lazy for that sort of outdoor, holiday hulla-balloo.
Forget the 12 Days of Christmas, I’m all about the 12 Days of Pajamas.
Happy New Year to me!
Except, that after all the Disturbing Disappearance of Decor, our Not-So-Great Room will soon look like the Nearly-Naked Room.
Naked, I say, in January.
Please agree with me that naked in Canada in January is sometimes not such a good look.
‘Tis the Season for down-filled puffy coats, thank goodness.
But, having no such down-filled puffy coats for the Not-So-Great Room, it has to spend the first parts of the new year standing around, naked.
Naked in the season of diet and exercise commercials galore.
Naked in the season of resolutions and recriminations.
After a little while, we get used to our naked, Not-So-Great Room again and can see it for all the beauty that it holds.
Unadorned and lovely, in its year-round state.
Perhaps, a lesson for us all.
Die Hard is Practical Man’s favourite Christmas movie.
Maybe you didn’t know that Die Hard—the Bruce Willis/Alan Rickman shoot-em-up extravaganza—was even considered to be a Christmas movie.
Oh ye of little festive imagination.
We have a broad definition of “Christmas movies” at our house, partly on account of the fact that one of my favourite things to do during the Christmas holiday break that I’m lucky enough to have, is to lie around all day wearing my PJs.
Wearing PJs, as I mentioned.
Preferably brand new, cozy PJs that Santa has brought me because I’ve been SO good all year!
Or, maybe, because they were On Sale (Santa is a bit of a coupon clipper) and he knew they would make me happy and cozy for a week of lolly-gagging around.
Yes, that’s it.
When it comes to Christmas—as in many things—I don’t act my age. Give me some stickers and some gold, coin-shaped chocolates in the toe of my stocking and I’m four years old again.
Many four year olds get new PJs for Christmas, you may have observed.
Ah yes, it’s days and days of PJs and Turtle chocolates for breakfast (and maybe some Toblerone triangles and Christmas movies like:
- Elf (I love it, even though it has Will Farrell).
- The Holiday (makes me homesick for England and old movies).
- Love, Actually (possibly the best Christmas movie of all time, except for Die Hard, of course!)
Oh, I know I should be all Joy to the World and Peace on Earth about the festive season and the prospect of getting together with family and friends. I do love all the “goodwill towards men” (and women) stuff but if I’m honest, at the twilight of each year, it’s kind of more about the PJs.
Who says we can’t have good will towards men (and women) and PJs?
And, good will toward movies like:
- A Charlie Brown Christmas (I have a crush on Linus).
- While You Were Sleeping (I have a crush on the whole family).
- Prancer (I have a crush on Sam Elliott).
And, I can’t forget that whole extravaganza that is: Chocolate For Breakfast (totally legal)!
It’s a Christmas thing.
Maybe you haven’t heard about it, but I BELIEVE.
At this time of year, that counts for something.
Haven’t you seen It’s a Wonderful Life?
But, with limited number of days available for such indulgent loafing about, I have a hard time deciding. Should I watch:
- Miracle on 34th Street (the Natalie Wood version, although I cry at the new version, too)?
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the Boris Karloff version, although I cry at the new version, too)?
- Home Alone or The Santa Clause (the #1 versions only, because those are the only ones I cry at)?
Then again, why choose favourites? Someone always feels left out, like:
- A Muppet Christmas Carol (Muppets are awesome but I’m not a Dickens fan).
- Mickey’s Christmas Carol (Mickey’s voice bugs me and I’m not a Dickens fan).
- A Christmas Carol (the scratchy, slightly sinister Alistair Sims version that my dad liked to try to make us watch every Christmas eve and I did it sometimes, because I love him, but, really, I’m not a Dickens fan).
Yes, with only The Twelve Days of Sloth at my disposal and the requisite social events sprinkled throughout, it’s sometimes hard to choose which movies will grace this year’s Christmas season.
I feel the same way about Christmas socks. If I choose the red and white stripe-y ones, the green and red stripe-y ones might feel left out. Try as I might, I just can’t quite reach the level of equal opportunity movie watcher and tacky Christmas sock wearer.
As they say in that not-Christmas, famous, book/movie (although if I ask Practical Man, he may be able to put a festive spin on it):
As you would expect, Practical Man has no difficulties carefully choosing his (restrained) festive touches at this time of year.
He eschews the gregarious socks and opts for the plain grey sports variety, thank-you very much.
And, once Die Hard has been watched, it’s on to his next favourite Christmas movie:
Do you not recall the snowstorm outside the plane on the runway? It’s a Christmas movie, plain and simple.
Yippee Ki-Yuletide, everyone.
Practical Man often says I was born in the wrong time–that I should have been a hippy. Maybe he’s right. Case in point:
- I love Volkswagen anything (as long as it’s pre-1980).
- I have a tendency to decorate everything that doesn’t move (and even some things that do) with bohemian prints.
- 95% of the guitar music I play is 60s and 70s folk.
I would have liked being a hippy, I think. Except for the straight hair and no bangs thing.
Let’s just say that I have forehead issues.
So, I can’t truly be a hippie, now can I? First of all, I can’t even spell it. And I’m sure that hippies were more about peace, love and all that good stuff and not so much about the forehead vanity.
I know I should be thinking about pilgrims and injustices perpetrated on aboriginal peoples and green bean casseroles, but at this time of year, I can’t help it. I think about the dump and VW microbuses and a strange and mythical place called the Group W Bench.
It all started 32 Thanksgivings ago, when my dad introduced me to Arlo Guthrie’s iconic Vietnam protest song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree“.
I learned to love it–and now, I’m learning to play it on the gi-tar–with feeling.
So far, I’m pretty terrible but, in my defence, I’m a lot older than Arlo was when he first came up with the concept of an 18 minute and 34 second song.
My fingers, not to mention my will, are weak.
What can I say, I’ve been wasting my life, obsessing about my forehead.
But, I can play the chorus:
I’m pretty sure I can’t sustain it for 5 minutes though, let alone 18 minutes +.
The point is, I’ve also been inflicting Alice’s Restaurant on as many people as possible, since I first fell in love with it as a teenager:
- In 1996 (after I was old enough to know better), a friend and I attempted to write the lyrics (all 18 minutes and 34 performance seconds of them) in black magic marker on his bathroom walls.
- I met my friend, Bamboo Guy, partly because we bonded over the fact that he lived in a church, just like Alice and Ray and Potcho The Dog, from the song.
- My dad and I saw it live in 2005 during the Alice’s Restaurant 40th anniversary tour.
And, I’m not alone in my quasi-obsession. My uncle Putt reportedly played and sang Alice’s Restaurant to countless Inuit listeners, while he was working in the Canadian North in the early ’70s. He and my aunt recently gifted me with something I’d never seen before:
The Alice’s Restaurant book!
It doesn’t have “27 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was, to be used as evidence against us”, but, it does have groovy sketches.
Soooo very groovy. I wish I could show them all to you!
Yep, as many of our southern neighbours are sitting down this weekend to what we up north call “American Thanksgiving”, I can’t help thinking of Alice and her restaurant and how one young guy took his peaceful protest on the road, way back when.
Protests go so much better with a gi-tar, don’t you think?
Although the Vietnam War and Alice’s Restaurant came about before I was born, I feel as though the past couple of weeks may have felt a little bit similar to what things felt like back then.
People feeling strong feelings.
Neighbours worried about neighbours. Or, angry at neighbours. Or, bewildered by neighbours. Or, disappointed by neighbours.
Something about neighbours.
Kinda tense, as I said.
But, that’s not what this blog post is about.
This blog post is about giving thanks.
That’s why I called the post, “And now, for a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat.”
Thanks–to Arlo (may I call you Arlo?), for showing me that we could believe in something and deliver a message to people in a way that made them smile, while also making them think.
Thanks–to my dad, for sharing Arlo with me and Uncle Putt for giving me his long-treasured book. Thanks–to Practical Man for driving all the way to Stockbridge, Massachussets to visit “the scene of the crime” and for listening to me squeal my way around the countryside that led to The Church. Thanks–to Fairy Godson’s parents, who went to the ACTUAL Alice’s garage sale (accidentally) on Cape Cod and got to talk with ACTUAL Alice and then they brought me back a Christmas ornament from ACTUAL Alice’s garage sale that ACTUAL Alice used to have in her living room on her Christmas tree!
Thanks– to Arlo again, for being a role model in the never-ending sentences and segues that have become his (and, okay, you may have a point here: MY) trademark style.
And, if you’re celebrating this week, I hope you have a “Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat” and I also hope you walk into the shrink wherever you are,
Just walk in and say, “Shrink,
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant”
and walk out.
If one person, you know just one person does it, they may think she’s really weird and they won’t pay attention.
But if two people do it…in harmony, they may think they’re both Canadians and they won’t pay attention to either of them.
And if three people do it…can you imagine three people walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walkin’ out? They may think it’s an organization!
And, can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day…walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walkin’ out?
Friends, they may think it’s a MOVEMENT.
And, that’s what it is.
The Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement and all you gotta do to join is to sing it the next time it comes around on the gi-tar.
I went to Disney World, for the first time, on my 40th birthday.
As you do.
That year, they had a “Come to Disney for Free on your Birthday” promotion.
We were already going to be in Florida and it was the perfect excuse to go. Disney isn’t cheap and as you may remember, Practical Man loves a good deal, yes indeedy.
He’s just not a huge fan of Disney.
Or mouse ears.
“You’re not going to wear those when I’m with you, are you?” I could already hear him asking at the prospect of my dreamed-about Mickey ears.
I knew this would be the question he would ask because he asked it when I came home with rubber boots that had large, purple and pink flowers all over them.
And when I found the perfect artsy-hippy-dippy-trippy shirt.
He also asked it when I made the first large-ish felt flower for one of my hats.
But, 20 or 30 large-ish felt flowers later, he’s kind of getting used to me now. I think he’s realized that he can still maintain his preferred position “under the radar”, even when I’m wearing something attention-grabbing, because people are too busy gawking at a 40-something woman wearing items normally associated with 4 year olds, to pay any attention to him.
I don’t mind the gawking. Adults don’t smile nearly enough so, anything I can do to help in that area is right up my street.
My festooned, childlike street, of course.
(You may recall how much I love a bit of festooning.)
Back to my point, which is that we were going to be in Florida for my birthday, visiting my aunt and uncle.
My first hint that Practical Man didn’t really want to spend a festive 40th birthday day with his dearest at Disney was, well…okay, I married him, so I like to think I know about some of his likes and dislikes.
(I’m always studying, in case we we end up on one of those newlywed games, even now that we are 20 years into our romance.)
Anyhoo, the second clue was that for most of the drive to Florida, Practical Man kept saying to me, “Don’t you think you’d have a better time at Disney with your aunt?”
I tormented him through Pennsylvania and both the Carolinas and Georgia, but knew that, yes, I would have a great time with my aunt Feather at Disney.
She has no problem with Disney, crowds or mouse ears.
And, she encourages things like staying overnight in the Herbie the LoveBug themed Disney hotel (Hurrah!) and eating Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream bars (Yum!) and not minding when her niece wears Mickey Mouse ears all day long over her sunhat, even though she’s 40.
I am 40ish going on 4. Yep, that’s me.
As if it could get any better, the Magic Kingdom folks gave me a giant button at the gate that said “Happy Birthday Christine!” in two foot letters on it and every time there was a parade or a character going by (which was a lot), they would lean down from their stilts with a giant smile and yell, “Happy Birthday, Christine!” which Practical Man would have hated, but which I love-love-loved.
But, my favourite part was the parade that started, right after the sun went down. All the floats were lit with thousands of coloured lights and it was warm and beautiful with my Aunt Feather and there were fireworks all for me, I’m sure, on my 40th birthday.
The Magic Kingdom really is just a festooned, childlike street, after all.
Have you noticed how “festoon” rhymes with “swoon”?
Last night took me right back there. It was the Santa Claus parade in my hometown and I was invited to join Fairy Godson and his family and friends at the big event downtown.
Even though there were shades of Magic Kingdom in this festival of lights, Florida it was not. I was wearing down-filled everything with an added layer of neoprene on my feet, thank goodness.
My magic kingdom for some down-filled undies.
Even though the weather is finally turning a bit more wintery, just for the record, it’s still a bit too early for Santa.
Practical Man has rules about these kinds of things: no Christmass-y stuff until December 1st.
Or, maybe that’s the earliest date I have cajoled him into. We definitely follow the “out of respect for our veterans and their families, absolutely nothing festive until after Remembrance Day” rule.
Even though it was early, it felt like the festive season at the parade. All the kids lined up to catch their candy canes and stickers and wave at Rudolphs with blinking noses and Elves and that giant marshmallow guy from Ghostbusters.
Who knew that Ghostbusters were festive?
My friend Grover, that’s who.
Fairy godson was taking it all in, with a line of other kids his age. They were, like me, wrapped in down-filled everything, from head to toe.
Sucking on candy canes, naturally.
I was jealous of their ear flaps.
It was 16 degrees Celcius yesterday afternoon, my friends. The climate changed just in time for the parade and our recent rash of Spring-like-weather-in-November had done nothing to harden us for standing out in the festive wind coming straight up Princess Street, off Lake Ontario.
Did I mention I’d like someone to invent down-filled undies?
But, it was still as lovely as that time at Disney.
I had no mickey ears last night but, just look at all the pretty lights!
We waved at baton twirlers and gymnasts (there were a lot) and dancers and pipe bands. We yelled Merry Christmas at passing elves and tigers and snowmen. Float riders reminded us that “Santa would be coming soon” and we jiggled to the assorted Christmas tunes emanating from the passing parade. There was even a ferris wheel float!
I’ve decided I’m a night-time parade kind of a girl.
No matter the season or the location, this kind of joyous, sparkly, celebratory event is right up my street.
My festooned, childlike street, of course.
With a side of down-filled underwear.