• "Oh, if I could only put things into words as I see them! Mr. Carpenter says, 'Strive, strive -- keep on. Words are your medium -- make them your slaves -- until they will say for you what you want them to say.' That is true, and I do try, but it seems to me there is something beyond words -- any words -- all words -- something that always escapes you when you try to grasp it -- yet leaves something in your hand which you wouldn't have had if you hadn't reached for it. ... I have written myself out for tonight, and am going to bed."
    - Lucy Maud Montgomery, Emily Climbs

    This is my place to "write myself out" -- sharing both my day-by-day thoughts and my artistic output. Thank you for visiting! - Carmen Pauls Orthner
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Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 18, 2010

After a bit of wheedling on my part, Bryan took Sara with him to go grocery shopping, enabling me to concentrate on some writing. So, here is my response to Shimelle’s Dec. 17 prompt, regarding the “perfect gift”. :) (ETA: I may make this the Dec. 19 entry, as I see that tomorrow’s is “letters to Santa” and I did that on Dec. 17.)

Truthfully, by the time most of my family members are prepared to start thinking about what they want for Christmas, I’ve usually got their gifts either planned, picked out and/or purchased. To some extent, that’s because we live in such a remote area that I have to start thinking about buying presents several months in advance, but mainly it’s because I don’t like my shopping to be a rush job.

What I’ve chosen isn’t often ON those lists of theirs, once I receive them, but I like anticipating the pleasure they will experience over receiving an unexpected gift. It doesn’t always work – I’ve had a few gifts that I thought were “perfect” be received with an, “Oh. (pause) That’s nice. Thanks,” and the gift disappears into a stack, never to be seen or used again. But sometimes I manage to truly surprise AND delight with a gift I’ve chosen for them.

One of my biggest successes was in 2007, the year that both Bryan and I became obsessed with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series – a peculiarly fascinating merger of Scottish history, torrid romance, time travel and cracking good storytelling. We had both read all of the books in the main series, but that year, Gabaldon released two books in a complementary series about Lord John Grey, a character whose life repeatedly intersects with the lives of her main characters, Claire and Jamie Fraser, but about whom there is much “untold” in the Outlander books.

That summer, I had joined a Yahoo Groups listserv for Gabaldon fans, and one day I posed a question: was there any way to get a book autographed, if you could not attend one of the author’s in-person visits? Lo and behold, on Sept. 3, I got this reply from “Susan H.E.”, Diana’s personal assistant (the “H.” stands for “Herself”, as fans call Gabaldon – a reference to how characters in her books respectfully call Jamie Fraser “Himself”):

Carmen, the fastest way to get a “custom” signed book would be to order it directly from The Poisoned Pen here in Arizona. They are the local indi-bookstore that launches all of Diana’s books, they accept credit cards (yea!!), are set up to ship books internationally (doing a great job) AND it’s only a few miles from Diana’s house so she pops in there when she has a moment to sign books for stock AND for custom signing requests such as yours. Go to their website and you can either e-mail, fax or call your order in — make sure you send the request to “Patrick” as he’s the one who handles the book-shipping and special requests for signatures or personalized books.

So, after numerous exchanges of e-mail correspondence, credit card numbers for the book and shipping fees, etc., less than two months later a box arrived from Arizona, containing a hardcover copy of Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, with the much-desired inscription. I also picked up the next book in the series, and packed both books up in a mandarin orange box (a reference to Jamie’s Chinese manservant, Mr. Willoughby, I believe), with a bottle of Saskatchewan Roughriders’ “Green Zone” hot sauce, a fortune cookie, a card about the “wise men from the east”, and a newspaper clipping on the front with the headline “The Untold Story”.

And on Christmas Eve, I gleefully presented the box, and took photos of every step of the opening, and enjoyed the look of total shock on Bryan’s face when he opened the flyleaf and found the book inscribed, “For Carmen’s ‘Black Brian’. Slainte! – Diana Gabaldon”. (‘Black Brian’ was Jamie’s father’s nickname, because of his black hair, and it’s the reason Jamie is also known as “Seamus Mac Dubh,” or, “James, Son of the Black’. And “Slainte” is a Gaelic toast to good health.) I handed off the camera and got a picture taken of my cat-who-ate-the-canary look as well. :) Score!!

A full plate

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @

Okay, yeah, that’s a descriptor of my “to do” list, but it’s also an apt title for my response to the Dec. 18 prompt about Christmas dinner. So here we go:

Having never been the chef of the house – either growing up or now – I don’t know exactly what the menu will be for any of our Christmas celebrations.

This year we will be having dinner on “the day” in the house at 239 Otter Street in Air Ronge, where Bryan grew up, with his parents, his siblings and their families – so I can make a few predictions about mealtime.

There will be a lacy tablecloth on the large, dark wooden table, and the napkins will be paper but something very seasonal. At least one of the kids (Theo, age 2, or Quinn, age 4) will bang out a few notes on the piano in the dining room. The two lefties (me and Jake) will be seated at the opposite ends of the table, with Dad (Nelson) at the far end by the china cabinet next to me, after he’s set up his Nikon SLR camera to take the group photo we will all smile for, Angie and Darcy across from me, Bryan to my right, and then the Sengas and Mom (Ruth) grouped around the end closest to the kitchen and the back entrance.

And if my predictions are right, there will be a big bowl of punch with gingerale, a roast turkey with homemade stuffing, baked ham for everyone but Bryan, and cabbage rolls for everyone but Darcy. There will be mashed potatoes (the mashing is Darcy’s job) in a cut crystal bowl, and cranberry sauce, and a glass dish with a little fork for spearing the pimento-stuffed olives and/or pickles. Janelle will bring a side dish – likely a Japanese salad – and Angie will have her corn and red pepper casserole.

Mom will have baked oodles of fresh buns (perhaps even the beloved “funny buns”), and there will be a joking bit of tussling between Darcy and Janelle over who will get more of her famous wild rice casserole. There will be the veggie casserole with fried onion rings on top, and two bowls of Jello – a sugar-free one for Dad, who has diabetes, and one for everyone but especially Quinn, once she’s finished the requisite bites of other foods, and Darcy will tease her that he’s going to eat all the Jello before she can get any.

For dessert, there will be a lovely homemade pie or two, with ice cream brought up from the freezer in the basement (Dad’s job). I will make the coffee and get the mugs (my favorite is the one with a cartoon of Einstein), and for the non-coffee drinkers, there will be tea (strawberry, most likely) in the white pot with the hummingbird on the handle. And then all the food will be stashed away, with the leftovers that don’t fit in the fridge covered with silver foil and placed on the covered porch to keep cool until supper, which is when we’ll make turkey and ham sandwiches and warm up plates in the microwave.

I’m hungry already….

Dear Santa…

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 17, 2010

Sara and I dropped off a copy of this letter at our local post office at noon today, addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole, H0H 0H0″….

December 17, 2010

Dear Santa,

We just met a couple of weeks ago, at the Snowflake Tea – you were in your big chair with the brick wall behind you, and you had the coolest metal things that made a pretty jingly noise, and I was wearing my new dress with the red velvet top and the fluffy skirt with little flowers in it. But in case you don’t remember, my name is Sara Emily Orthner, and I live in La Ronge, Saskatchewan.

I know this letter is being mailed very close to Christmas, but the North Pole isn’t that far away from where Mommy, Daddy and I live (or so Mommy says), so I hope you will get it in time. I am going to be 10 months old three days before Christmas, and while I am very clever, I am focusing my mental energy on learning how to walk, not to write. So I am using Mommy as my ghostwriter.

I have heard that I can ask you for a present, and you will bring it! I hope that is true. For Christmas I would like lots of wrapping paper, because chewing paper is one of my favourite things to do. A wicker basket, or a big box that I can climb in and that makes nails-on-a-chalkboard scratchy sounds when I run my fingernails over it would be great too.

But Mommy says I should ask for something IN the box, UNDER the wrapping paper, so if it’s not too much to ask, I would like a baby doll like the one my friend Morgan (who is already 2!) has at her house. A soft book and something to bang on would be fun too.

Mommy suggests that I give you a couple of ideas for her and Daddy too. She would like a new flash for her camera, as hers is broken, a “Zumba Fitness” game for the Wii, and tickets to some place called “a resort in the Mayan Riviera”. Daddy would like an iPad, and enough money to pay off the mortgage. Hopefully those will all fit in the box.

We need to get this in the mail, Mommy says, so that’s all for now. Daddy is planning to bake butterhorns and cinnamon rolls for Christmas, so we will save you one. I hope you are able to finish your to do list soon. Thank you again for coming to visit with me and see my pretty dress, and thank you for the presents too, even if you aren’t able to bring all of them. Just the wrapping paper is important.

Much love to you,


And Heaven and nature sing…

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 10, 2010

This is another entry for my Christmas journal, in response to the Dec. 6 prompt — tell “a tale of two Christmases”.

On Dec. 22, 1989, my parents got a shocking phone call: my father’s father, my Grandpa Pauls, was dead. He was 83 years old, but the most part in fine health, aside from some heart trouble. That evening, he was driving himself home from an optometry appointment in Saskatoon, approximately half an hour away from his home in Rosthern, Saskatchewan. At that appointment, Grandpa was given some eye drops, which may have affected his vision when he was on the road. It was about 6 p.m., and dark, when he came upon an accident that had just occured — two cars had smashed into each other, and one of them was sprawled across the road. There were no lights, and the police had not arrived yet. My dad says it appears that Grandpa never saw the car sprawled across the road, and ran directly into it. The impact sent his car bouncing backwards into the ditch, where it stopped. The hood was smashed in, but not much else; so either he had already slowed down after seeing the car late, or he wasn’t travelling that fast. He was still sitting in his car when the police arrived, and when the officer asked him if he was hurt, Grandpa said he thought he was okay. The officer told him to stay in the car until the ambulance arrived. By the time the ambulance actually arrived, though, he was already unconscious, and although they took him into the hospital in Saskatoon, he never regained consciousness. They concluded that he died of shock, which resulted from the accident, rather than from injuries sustained in the accident.

I was 16, but I remember very little of the actual events that followed, other than that while the adults dealt with the unexpected arrangements, my younger brother and I went in my cousin’s boyfriend’s car to see “Back to the Future 2”, which was then playing in the theatres, and that we had to cancel our family’s tickets to the annual Christmas play at the Globe Theatre in Regina, which was “Winnie the Pooh” that year. It sounds so self-centered in retrospect, for those to be the details I remember. :( I don’t remember the actual funeral, just the photo of my grandpa in his coffin, and I wonder now what it was like for my dad and his sister Rosemary (my auntie Rosie), or for their mother – in her 96 years, my Grandma Pauls never learned to drive, and she had already lost her youngest son, Alvin, to a collision with a drunk driver when he was just 22.

Now, Grandpa Pauls was for many years the choir director at his community church. I also like to sing, and, in fact, the word “Carmen” means “song” and is used in Latin liturgical situations – the “Carmen Christi” is “a hymn to Christ”.

In 1998, I was in the La Ronge community choir for our church’s Christmas cantata. I don’t recall if I was assigned a choir robe or just picked the one that fit me, but I believe it was after the service that I happened to notice the label inside this robe that had been loaned to our church that year. In clear block printing, the label read “JOHN A. PAULS” – my grandfather’s name.

My Grandpa labeled EVERYTHING, from his bookshelves to his clothes, often with Dymo tape. He was also a small man, about my height – 5’3″, maybe 5’4”. The robes had been donated by his church to the Rosthern Junior College (where he had served as a teacher and as principal), and then when someone from La Ronge with a Rosthern connection needed choir robes, that was where they came from.

Like the flamboyant woman after whom Bizet’s opera is named, I am a bit of a gypsy – and so was my grandfather, who emigrated from Russia, alone, at the age of 20. Nearly 70 years later, I was the first person in our family to see that country. I have his nose and his height, a bit of his leadership skills and his compassion for others, and his passion for photography (no family Christmas gathering would have been complete without a slideshow of family photos – the scent of slide film and the click and hum of the projector are burned into my subconscious) and for writing (I know of both poetry and a personal memoir). He was my Chinese checkers partner, a fellow lover of books, and, I believe, a kindred spirit.

Merry Christmas, Grandpa –- I bet the choir concerts are amazing up there.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

December day-by-day

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 9, 2010

One of my goals with this year’s “Christmas Chronicle” is to have a companion page for each prompt, highlighting something that happened either that day or very recently (along the lines of Ali Edwards’ “December Daily”). So far I haven’t journalled for all those pages, although I’ve been taking photos every day. I need a blog post where I can keep track of my thoughts to go on each of those pages, so this one is going to be my catch-all, and I’ll go back and add notes for the first few days.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Thursday, Dec. 23 – Not a very “Christmas-y” day here — I was pretty much buried up to my eyeballs in housework (it took me nearly 45 minutes just to sort through all the laundry), and there is still a lot to do, but the house is starting to feel “put together” again. I did do my Advent study, which felt like an important accomplishment, and got out for a couple of errands at the post office and the bank. We had a big breakfast, so I didn’t grab lunch until I was downtown — I stopped at KFC and had a grill burger, iced tea and fries, and heard “Jingle Bells” on the radio — sung in Cree. I’m going to commit to doing housework until around 2 p.m. tomorrow, and then I’m done (okay, I say that now — we’ll see how I do!). I really want to enjoy the day a bit — do my Advent study, drink some apple cider if Bryan will make it, play with my daughter, do some writing, maybe even go take some photos of the Christmas decorations around town, and see if I can photograph sunset by the river. And then in the evening we’ll go to the candlelight service at church, and enjoy our time with friends after that. And we WILL get the tree decorated, no matter what!

Wednesday, Dec. 22 – My plans to get the house all “put together” got curtailed this morning when Bryan got a call that the Headwaters Tech store’s sales software was giving them grief, and then again later, when editing the photos from the wedding I shot early this month took a lot longer than I anticipated. But — it will yet happen. Despite my excessive cookie consumption this past week, my official weigh-in tonight showed my weight as down nearly half a pound, and I am determined to eat lots of fruit and veggies (both “free” on the new WW plan) and do some advance points calculation on probable menu items for the Christmas feast. After the meeting, we stopped by the Scattered Site program office (a newly-established outreach to the homeless in La Ronge, commonly known as the “muskeg people”) to find out about donating money collected as an offering at the community Christmas concert, and I was pleased to hear that they are getting a lot of donations, and even having to turn down volunteers because there isn’t enough work for so many people! I was reflecting after we left that here we are trying to lose weight because we’ve eaten too much in the past, and here is Scattered Site, handing out hundreds of meals a year to people just trying to find enough food to get by. Bryan gave Sara a bath tonight, and then I read (actually, sang while showing the pictures) her picture book version of “The Little Drummer Boy” to her — Janelle gave it to us last Christmas, with a note jokingly changing the words to “PLUM rum pa pum pum”, “Plum” having been our nickname for Sara before she was born. The tree finally has lights on it, and we will get the rest of the decorating done tomorrow — I want to make sure it’s ready for the Christmas Eve gathering we’re hosting, especially after having invited yet another person — we ran into Audrey Mark at Subway, and found out she’ll be alone that evening, so I asked her to join us, and I e-mailed Laura Murton from Parents and Tots to invite her and her husband and son as well.

Monday, Dec. 20 – Who knew that finishing up an address database could be this challenging — and yet, oddly fun? We placed our order for Christmas cards from cardstore.com tonight — with 143 names, and a few extras for us and “just in case”. In years past, the address list was always our downfall, as we’d get the letter written, and then not know where to send copies, and it always seemed such a huge hurdle. Tonight, though, with the combined incentive of letting our wider circle know about Sara (and, to some extent, about our plans for missions work), and the ease of ordering from a company that will mail the cards for you as long as you upload the addresses, we finally got it done. The fun part was making the phone calls (I especially enjoyed a visit with my cousin David’s wife Nicole, who says her oldest is eagerly awaiting Santa, while the little one couldn’t care less!), using Facebook (I got four replies within an hour), Canada 411 and MySask, and Googling. I finally tracked down one of my former college professors, and am eagerly awaiting a reply to the e-mail I sent to her office. Still no tree decorating, though….

Saturday, Dec. 18 – Urgh. Word to the wise: never eat eight Danish butter cookies in one day, even if the tin says that’s only two servings. I have a major tummyache now… and you’d think I’d have learned, after doing the same ridiculous thing yesterday too! I think what I’m going to do is close up the box (which we got as a gift Thursday, along with some grapefruit bubble bath and an interactive Christmas board book, from the Early Childhood Intervention Program worker who’s been coming to see Sara) and take it to the church, either for Bryan’s adult Sunday School class or for the funeral we’ll be attending on Monday. That way I won’t feel like I’m wasting good food by throwing it away, but neither will it be in my kitchen to tempt me into diet-destroying sugary over-indulging — because man, those things are GOOD. I watched a good bit of “Miracle on 34th Street” tonight, as one of the movie channel has been running it back-to-back in both the original B&W and colourized versions. I can’t believe I’ve never seen either that or “It’s a Wonderful Life” until this year — although I still can’t claim I’ve watched either all the way through, especially with a baby to settle for the night. I couldn’t resist going in to her room again, once I was confident she was asleep, and stroking that soft, silky hair and holding her tiny hand. I could almost imagine she was dreaming of sugarplums, if she knew what those were! It’s more likely, though, that her dreams were of Cheerios, arrowroot cookies, yogourt and sweet potatoes, all of which she ate in abundance today — she had virtually no interest in her bottles, for the first time ever.

Friday, Dec. 17 – After finishing up Sara’s letter to Santa, I scanned the photo taken at the Snowflake Tea and added a caption (“Santa, this is a photo of you and me. I’m sorry I wasn’t smiling more — I think it was because you had just taken away the bells.”). I then printed it out, and put both letter and photo into an envelope, addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole, H0H 0H0″, and added in the postage stamp corner a rubber stamped image of a star, in red ink. We drove downtown just before noon (the mail truck arrives around 12:30), and I plopped Sara’s car seat up on the counter so she could ‘hand deliver’ the letter to the postal clerk. I love that Canada Post does this for the little ones, and I’m eagerly awaiting Santa’s response. :) The two pieces of mail in our box that afternoon were both Christmas cards, one of which included a photo of my cousin Brad, his wife Laurel and their two kids, Derek and Camryn, all wearing goggles — and their letter was in part about their vacation at a resort in the Mayan Riviera…. Sigh. Some day, maybe!

Thursday, Dec. 16 – A bit of celebration, first — after my first week on the revamped Weight Watchers program, I weighed in tonight and learned that I have lost 3.6 lbs. since last Thursday!! That’s my biggest single week loss in nearly 2 years, and the fact that I did even with the KCDC Christmas party on my first day of tracking feels especially good. I’ve been doing a lot more pre-measuring and saying “no” to extra helpings, while still indulging my sweet tooth on (for example) that big lemon poppyseed muffin from the Shell station, and eating lots of (points-free, now) mandarin oranges. I am also pleased that I saw a big loss even after taking advantage of the free hot dogs and hot chocolate on offer at the Town of La Ronge’s “Christmas bash” at the Uniplex arena. Because of the Weight Watchers meeting (and needing to get home beforehand to leave Sara with her auntie Angie), we missed Santa and a sleigh ride, and lounging (?!) by the bonfire, but we did watch the skating from the bleachers. Sara had her face pressed right up against the glass — I’m not sure if she was intrigued by the skating, or the glass (and of course her reflection), but it was funny to watch her while enjoying my second cup of hot chocolate. I ran into a woman who used to also attend Weight Watchers, but whom I hadn’t talked to (at least not at any length) in quite a while, and learned that she is moving into a new house with her kids this weekend, after her last day of teaching for the semester — she and her husband have split up, and it turns out he has “hooked up” with a woman who’s also married (to a former colleague of my husband’s) with a couple of young kids. She said it’s better this year than it was last year (before they split), though, because this year when she lets the kids in her class go for the holidays, she won’t sit down and cry, knowing she has to spend the next two weeks at home. That made me so sad…. Bryan is feeling really badly for his former colleague, and he said as we were leaving the arena that it reminds him just how important it is to communicate constantly with your spouse about your needs. I feel really grateful for my marriage tonight.

Wednesday, Dec. 15 – I had such a lot planned for today, and aside from a sparkly kitchen, some progress on collecting addresses for Christmas cards, and my first successfully completed early morning Advent Bible study (Bryan got up early too, and got Sara ready and fed), I don’t have much to show for it. So I’m just going to call this my “recovery” day — after I got up at 7 a.m. and got all ready (even hair and makeup), had breakfast, etc., I put Sara in her crib to play quietly (since she was rubbing her eyes, I thought that might work!) and laid down for what I thought would be 15 minutes. Obviously she and I both needed more sleep, because I woke up again two and a half hours later! I need to listen to my body a little bit better, I think, and then not feel guilty about doing so….

Tuesday, Dec. 14 – No tree set-up or decorating last night — I was feeling rather Grinch-y, even after actually watching the Dr. Seuss cartoon. But after a good night’s sleep, I did feel better, and even got us organized enough to make it to Parents and Tots. The group is planning a Christmas party for next Tuesday morning, so I’m glad I found out about that, and it’s always good to enjoy a cup of coffee and some chatting with other moms while Sara plays. I got Sara down for a leisurely afternoon nap, and did my Advent study, including the Scripture readings (I don’t think I’ve ever even glanced at Zephaniah before today!). Thanks to one of my on-line friends, Keianna Price (her daughter Claire was born 8 days before Sara), I found out about a great solution to my Christmas card dilemma — a site that lets you upload your photos, write a short message, put it all together in one of their snazzy holiday templates AND (piece de resistance) mails them FOR YOU from your uploaded address database. We didn’t get the last bit done tonight, but we (okay, Bryan!) did get the tree defrosted and trimmed, and it’s safely standing behind a baby gate in our living room. Sara enjoyed discovering the taste of both Rice Krispies and pine needles today (doh), and had a great time playing in the plastic lid drawer.

Monday, Dec. 13 – The weather isn’t quite as dreadful today, and after a very lazy, sleepy morning, Sara and I ventured out to run a few errands. Her Santa photos haven’t arrived yet (apparently the courier is running behind), but in our post office box, I found a Christmas card (only the third of the season) and the last of the gifts I ordered on-line, so I’m all set to start my wrapping. I dropped off the Bumbo seat at the church for Joanne Mahoney to use for her foster baby, recycled the pop cans/bottles and milk jugs, ordered my prescription refill, and booked an appointment for Sara in advance of her CT scan in January (a pre-op needs to be done by one of the local doctors). The gas tank was only half full, and the Shell station has great coffee and homemade muffins (lemon poppyseed today), so I stopped off there and chatted with Corinne Lazurko about Christmas plans while her stepdad, Kevin Leung, filled the tank. Corinne said Kevin and her mom, Cora, haven’t been around on Christmas Day for 6 years, but I still remember a last-minute coffee cream run for my dad on Christmas Eve, when I found the Shell open when none of the other stores were. At the medical clinic, I ran into Sharon Feschuk and planned an outing with her to photograph Christmas lights, followed by hot chocolate or apple cider, and Alice Parada, who stopped by after I spent a teary bit of time sorting through Sara’s outgrown clothes — I am returning Alice’s gift of hand-me-downs by doing the same for a friend of hers who just had a baby girl after several boys. Hoping to decorate the tree yet tonight…

Sunday, Dec. 12 – All three Advent candles were aglow this morning, and Pastor John mentioned that the white one this week is the shepherds’ candle — I was very glad to see them. :) We celebrated communion, with the loaf of bannock and tiny cups of grape juice that we always use, and John shared some reflections from Romans 8, which is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Then, in lieu of a sermon, the kids from Timea’s class on worship (and Bryan, cast as “Mr. Bell, the best Sunday School teacher ever”) re-staged the short musical they did for Monday night’s Christmas concert. Appropriately enough, the plot has the kids enjoying a post-Christmas concert party with their class, plus a newcomer whose family had just moved to town after losing their home in a hurricane. Overall it went very well, aside from Robert McKenzie Jr. struggling to do up his Joseph robe, and Toshio Green forgetting his line and improvising a bit of nonsense, then handing off the microphone with a flourish, which resulted in Natasha Prokopchuk dissolving into giggles and being unable to sing her solo. Bryan says that kids’ plays tend to be a bit cringe-worthy to watch, but this one was actually very solid and fun to be part of. Plus, the entire congregation got oranges to take home, and the kids got the classic brown paper bags of candy and peanuts.

Sunday, Dec. 5 – I feel sad that there’s been so little acknowledgment of the Advent season in our church this year — last year we had families come up to do a short reading and light each week’s candle in the Advent wreath, and this morning none of the candles was even lit, although one of them was partially burned. Sigh… Pastor John’s sermon series on Romans continues to be strong, though, and I found myself rhapsodizing about the significance of Advent over lunch (sweet-and-sour spareribs, rice and curried veggies) with our guests, Royal Atton and Klara and Alden Epp, who seemed intrigued by what I had to say. A short excerpt from today’s reading, by Scott Cairns, from God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas: “Our participation in this cycle is one way we might, as they say, redeem the time. ‘The days are evil,’ writes Saint Paul, imploring us to do something about it. … During the Advent season, in particular, the eternal significance of our days becomes crucial to our apprehending how, now and ever, God is with us. What is the nature of this gift we have received, this gift we hope yet to receive? Have we come to understand it as a proposition or do we welcome it as a person? Is the One we call our Lord Jesus Christ a lovely idea, or is he the lover of humankind?”

Saturday, Dec. 4 – This morning we went (very briefly) to the Snowflake Tea and Craft Sale at Gordon Denny Community School in Air Ronge, to get Santa photos. Sara was totally relaxed with Santa, even when he had to take away the little set of jingly bells she’d decided to chew on. The photographer had to ask us to stop trying to get her to smile, as she was looking at us instead — I would have loved to have gotten the shot of her checking out Santa, instead of looking straight at the camera, but I didn’t even have my camera with me. She wore a gorgeous little dress with a velvety top and a tulle-y skirt with little flowers in it — 12 months size, and it actually fit! — and also a pair of white leggings with printed designs on the feet that made it look like she was wearing black strap-on shoes. I hope that she continues to be so calm and happy when even strangers are holding her, because there were some red-faced, tearful little kids coming away from Santa’s chair! The money goes toward the Grade 2 class trip, so that’s all right, although it would be more fun to say it was going toward covering Santa’s travel costs from the North Pole. ;) We all managed to sleep in again, so it wasn’t the perfect, relaxed morning with a big Saturday breakfast and then time for shopping, like I’d hoped, but we did have scrambled eggs and managed to get there in time for Sara’s photo shoot and a quick, out the door cup of cider and a chocolate chewie for me before I had to go photograph (pro bono) a very small, last minute wedding at our church.

Thursday, Dec. 2 – Winter has settled in deep in La Ronge, after a remarkably mild November that was actually snowless for the first bit, and I expect it will get colder yet. I just wish I could figure out what I did with my lovely black mittens that have finger holes on the inside to make them more like gloves. I snapped this photo in our driveway, which fortunately doesn’t yet have a thick coat of packed snow that causes the van to “bump” going onto the cleared street, after bringing Sara home from Baby Talk at the library. We learned some “Jingle Jollies” (ie. Christmas rhymes and little songs) with other moms and babies, including Jody’s little guy who was celebrating his first birthday, listened to library technician Judy Angelstad reading several Christmas picture books, and did this photo ornament. Most of it was pre-made by Nikki Beaudin, one of the other library staff, but we brought the photo, and Sara was supposed to get her fingers inked and stamp them on the back. For some reason that resulted in a rather out-of-character crying fit — next time I think I’ll rub the ink on, like we did for her six-month handprints, instead of trying to press her fingers into the inkpad! So, yes — that smudge on the back of this ornament IS her fingerprints, or what we could manage today anyhow!

Wednesday, Dec. 1 – I couldn’t help but be amused by how festive my cart of groceries looked this afternoon, with our first-of-the-season containers of eggnog (aka “lait de poule”) and mandarin oranges, and a Christmas craft magazine thrown in as well. The Co-op Marketplace has its fresh food sections all bedecked with sparkly red and green garlands, the seasonal area full of Christmas decorations, and right when you walk in, there is a display of fruitcakes and gingerbread house kits (which I was tempted by — it might be easier than baking our own!), and a blow-up Santa who goes up and down in his snow-covered chimney, and a whole wall (or so it seemed to me!) of boxed chocolates.

As it was, it will be

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @

I’m hoping to work backwards (appropriately enough, considering this post title!) today on Shimelle’s prompts, but I figured I’d get the one for today (Dec. 9) done first. So this is about traditions — and I know this is really long, but the “artistic challenge” on the prompt is to do hidden journalling, so I figure I can tuck it away. ;)

“It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.” – Charles Dickens

There’s something about the celebration of Christmas each December that has a way of turning back the clock – whether for good or for ill – so I feel fortunate that I have so much good stuff to draw upon from my own past, as well as from Bryan’s, when it comes to marking the season.

This, of course, is Sara’s first Christmas, and as she will only be 10 months old (and that just three days before Dec. 25), she has no expectations yet. So while she won’t remember much of it, I feel a certain responsibility to enfold her, right from the very beginning, in the blanket of warmth and sweetness and happy anticipation that I associate with Christmas.

So, we have done (and will continue to do in coming years) the photo-op visit with Santa Claus, whether at a local elementary school like we did this year, or in a big shopping mall with one of “Santa’s helpers”. And her Grandma Pauls has bought a fuzzy, colourful felt stocking that she and I picked out. It will hang over our fireplace, just like the white ones Sara’s uncle Curtis and I excitedly dumped out on the living room rug in our house on Motherwell Crescent on Christmas mornings. There will be candy canes inside, and mandarin oranges, and little gifts (though not likely camera film). And I want to curl up on the couch or on the floor by the Christmas tree with Sara and read to her our battered old copy of “The Night Before Christmas”.

This year at least, Sara will experience Christmas the way her daddy did growing up, in a small town nestled in northern Saskatchewan’s forest, and watch the snow drift down on the evergreen trees from our front window or from her bedroom window at the back of the house. I am grateful that she will spend at least one whole Christmas season in Saskatchewan. She, like both her parents, will have a cold-reddened nose when she comes inside on a December day. And even if all goes according to plan and we move to Toronto, she will come to know the joys of a mug of hot chocolate or apple cider (preferrably with a cinnamon stick “straw”). Perhaps some day we will be living overseas as SIM missionaries – even in Africa?! – and that won’t seem such a sensible thing to do, so better to have it ingrained now!

Gifts will be opened on Christmas Eve, after supper and the candlelit service at church – or at the very least, at nighttime – with stockings and feasting reserved for the next day. My own family’s tradition was for supper to be Mom’s clam chowder, made in a large orange cast-iron pot, with potatoes and bacon. With a son-in-law who finds the taste of bacon abhorent, the recipe has been altered (but a bowl of bacon is available for those want to add it!), and another soup option has been added in deference to my brother’s wife Pauline’s dislike of seafood.

This Christmas Eve will be the first one I’ve spent without my parents and my brother since 1995, the year I was working at Lithuania Christian College and spent a somewhat tearful evening opening the gifts my family had mailed. I imagine there will be at least a few more such occasions ahead, with the distance, the cost of travel (especially on reduced incomes), the needs of small children and my parents’ health and their own commitments. I am glad that we will still be with family, namely Bryan’s parents, siblings and in-laws, and Janelle and Jake’s two kids, and hopefully that will be on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Darcy’s shift cycle has finally (after 7 years!) allowed him to be home from the Key Lake uranium mill site for the actual holidays, and Nelson and Ruth won’t be in the southern States with their mission agency, RVICS (Roving Volunteers in Christ’s Service) this year, because of his diagnosis of prostate cancer. Once we are in Toronto (or elsewhere with SIM), the schedule may have to change – and if we are able to travel, we will likely only see one side of the family per year. Perhaps we will follow my parents’ example, and celebrate our own “Little Christmas”, opening gifts at home with just our immediate family, before driving (or in our case, flying) several hours the next day to a family gathering at the home of one set of grandparents.

We also have traditions around gift-giving, food and drink, visitors, music, decorating both the tree and the house, and what happens after Christmas, but I will talk about those later in this journal. What I do know is that this Christmas – and each coming Christmas – will have its own unique moments that we will laugh about, cry about or just “keep them and treasure them in our hearts” as Mary did that very first Christmas. But it is in honouring the traditions we’ve established that we connect to and rejoice in “what was” and bring it forward into “what is” and “what will be.”

Never a shortage…

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 8, 2010

Today wasn’t quite the writing-filled day I had hoped for, but I did manage to pull together a response to the one of the prompts — appropriately, perhaps, it was the one dealing with “to do” lists (Dec. 7). My shopping is done, so it’s not on the list, but I’ve written up a list of the gifts I’m giving too. I’ll hold off on posting that, as I’m guessing there will be a prompt about gift-giving coming up.

In this list, I’ve mixed together Christmas plans with my “normal life” responsibilities. It seems appropriate, since, in truth, this season is all about that mix of the ordinary and the extraordinary….

December seems to be escaping on me already, leaving in its wake both frustration and a panicky sense being inadequate to the task of making this season all I want it to be – even with my efforts to avoid perfectionism. I must remember to breathe, to trust that God is in this and all will happen as it should, and what doesn’t get done isn’t that important – in other words, “Keep calm and merry on!”

I came across this Scripture earlier this week, and it seemed very timely: “Live life with a due sense of responsibility, not as those who do not know the meaning of life but as those who do” (Ephesians 5:15).

So – on to the list!

- arrange babysitter for Dec. 10, so we can attend the KCDC Christmas supper party with Bryan’s colleagues at Kosta’s and the Andrea Menard “Sparkle” concert
- crafting with Megan
- take photos of church kids’ (and Bryan’s!) Christmas musical
- get caught up on my Christmas journal entries
- put together my album
- continue with my Advent Bible studies
- breakfast get-together(s) with Timea
- finish doctrinal paper for SIM
- get paperwork signed for neurosurgeon appointment
- pick up Santa Claus photo at Gordon Denny School
- pre-Christmas Weight Watchers meetings (their new program is being introduced, so hopefully I’ll be able to control myself when it comes to all the baked goodies)
- home appraisal for mortgage switch-over
- host prayer triplet meetings with Kathy and Klara for our church revisioning process
- write year end letter, make copies, find addresses and send the letters out
- finish and mail baby thank you cards
- try peppermint and pumpkin pie chai lattes at The Java Shack
- get each room of the house cleaned up to my satisfaction
- finish up paperwork for maternity leave income statement
- write letter to our sponsor child in Indonesia
- read Northerner Christmas edition
- continue taking daily photos for Project 365
- attend remaining Advent services
- process photos from last weekend’s wedding
- play Christmas CDs
- find out about volunteering for Scattered Site project for the homeless
- call Searsons about helping with singing at long-term care
- read Mousekin’s Christmas Eve, The Night Before Christmas, and Nativity story from children’s Bible to Sara
- set up nativity
- finish Christmas wreath
- buy REAL tree at NorthMart
- decorate tree
- decorate house
- gift wrapping
- munch on Christmas oranges and Bryan’s cinnamon rolls and butterhorns
- book dental appointments
- install childproofing on drawers and cupboard doors
- find out about possible work-from-home opportunity with Eagle Point
- set up savings account for Sara
- set up Registered Education Savings Plan
- work on income tax revisions to include medical trips and home renovations
- ship gifts out to British Columbia
- make my first ever gingerbread house
- find stocking stuffers for Sara’s first stocking
- attend Christmas Eve celebration at church
- enjoy gift openings
- get library area ready for Mom and Dad to sleep
- massage appointment for my lower back issues
- find out about New Year’s Eve plans at church
- get some sleep!!

Christmas is not going to be perfect (and I’m trying to be okay with that)

Filed under Christmas • Written by Carmen @ December 3, 2010

I have yet to finish up the letter to Sara that will be my day 3 entry, but I will not let perfectionism get in the way of posting this response to the next Journal Your Christmas prompt, which has to do with your “perfect Christmas”.

Perfectionism… It’s a nasty bit of trickery our minds play on us, making us believe that if what we do or what others do or what our situation in life is (location, finances, etc.) doesn’t measure up to either our desires or our expectations, we simply can’t enjoy it. Christmastime seems to be particularly plagued by such thinking… so in order to combat it, let me just get this out there: if I had my “perfect” Christmas, it would not look like the one I will be experiencing this year.

In my perfect world, December would be 31 days of sunshine with just a skiff of white, glittering snow on the sidewalks, and temperatures no lower than -10 Celsius. I would be able to easily locate numerous pairs of correctly-matched, stylish gloves, and head out to see well-pruned lilac bushes, peonies and tiger lilies ready to bloom next summer in my front yard, and my paid-off, in great condition silver Malibu still in my driveway instead of crushed beyond recognition in some auto wrecking dump since the thief destroyed it last November (although the replacement Toyota Sienna mini-van would still be here as well, to make trips with Sara easier). The town would have a well-stocked local bookstore, a coffeehouse open both on Sundays and Mondays (which it is not) but after 5 p.m. as well, and a movie theatre closer than an unaffordable 200-plus kilometres away, playing “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” on the big screen.

I would not be worried at all about what will happen to our “budget” in January, once my maternity leave runs out, or about Sara’s upcoming CT scan (in fact, she would not be needing one at all). My sister-in-law’s pregnancy would not be considered risky, and either we would be travelling out to B.C. to spend Christmas with my brother Curtis and his family, or he, Pauline and Haven would be coming here for Christmas Eve, along with my parents, instead of Mom and Dad being in B.C. with them and without us. And if my Christmas was absolutely perfect, the house would be sparkling clean (ideally thanks to a housekeeper), my lower back would not hurt, and I would never yell in frustration at my baby girl’s antics, and then cry because of my flaws as a mommy.

And finally, amongst the branches of our gorgeous, 7 ft. tall, genuine Christmas tree, which would never shed any dry needles or threaten to topple over (and thus need to be attached to the curtain rod with a strap), and which could have decorations right to the bottom while Sara simply looked with awe and never grabbed for a ball or chewed on a string of lights, there would be a very enticing envelope which I would know, just KNOW, contained a pair (or maybe more, so family members and a nanny could come too) of tickets for a fabulous two-week cruise to Mexico or Hawaii for the beginning of February, when the winter weather here is at its most horrible. Oh, and we wouldn’t owe anything for them, and all the rest of our debt would be paid off too – even the mortgage.

And now that THAT’S out of the way, I will say, ‘Hallelujah – my actual Christmas is still going to be wonderful,’ and remember this:

“The gloom of the world
Is but a shadow;
Behind it,
Yet within reach,
Is joy.
Take Joy.” – Fra Giovanni

The weather outside…

Filed under Christmas,Ramblings • Written by Carmen @ December 2, 2010

In all my years of conscious recollection (ie. school age onwards), I have never lived without snow. Oh, yes, of course Saskatchewan has its hot summer days, and crisp autumn days, and even the occasional day of buds on the trees that could be called “spring”, but winter is the most repeated and most dominant note in the symphony of our year.

We moved to Regina from British Columbia (where, as my mom so often longingly recalls, they have “daffodils in February”) in 1978, when I was nearly five, and then I attended university in Winnipeg, Manitoba (also known as “Winterpeg”) from 1991 to 1995, and did spent 9 months studying and doing volunteer work in Lithuania before returning to my home province. And now my husband and I live in La Ronge, which is northern (aka cold) by any definition, unless you happen to live in the Arctic. I have lived through through days of -50 Celsius here, so don’t go questioning my understanding of cold!

The romance of snowy days fades quite quickly after a few weeks of trudging through jagged-edged drifts hard-packed by passing snowmobiles – on what were once (in sunnier days) known as “sidewalks”. But I do still experience a sense of joy in tasting the first few flakes of icy wetness, or noting, as I glance down on a cold, sunny day, all the tiny sparks of light glinting on the ground ahead of me. And today, I saw a grin on my 9-month-old daughter’s face, even though she was sitting in her car seat on the snowy driveway, on a -11 day. She was born on a late February day, in this chill-swept province, and she has come through a winter, through summer and autumn, a bit of winter and then a brief, glorious period of Indian summer. And now here she is on the other side of that, with a smile on her sweet little face, just below her red-tipped button nose. I can wish to be lying on the white sands of a Caribbean beach, or taking a siesta in Mexico, but for Sara, this is life as she knows it – and it’s my life too, right now.

So I’m going to try, this year, to pay more attention to what’s around me – to the evergreens and snow-covered bedrock in an uncleared stretch of forest across the street from my house, to how adorable my daughter looks bundled up in her purple jacket and her Saskatchewan Roughriders blanket, to the vast, gorgeous frozen lake I see every day (if I look!) when driving through downtown, and to the gloves I tend to forget at home and the cupboard full of tea and coffee and hot chocolate that I can brew when needed. But I’d still take a plane ticket to Cancun, if anyone’s offering!

My “Christmas manifesto”

Filed under Christmas,Ramblings • Written by Carmen @ December 1, 2010

I am making a commitment to myself this year to chronicle my Christmas.

This is a remarkable season – filled with mystery, poignancy, history and traditions, expectations both met and unmet (whether you were awaiting the latest electronic gadget), pain and joy. It is a season in which much is magnified, in which the insignificant becomes significant – and sometimes that’s the trauma of what’s to be done with the turkey leftovers or why cousin so-and-so failed to send a card this year, and sometimes it’s shepherds staring open-mouthed at a night sky recently vacated by angels, and a baby born to a peasant girl in an obscure town who would become the Savior of the world.

What I want to record is both my day-to-day experiences over the next month, and reflections on the bigger picture – memories of past Christmases, my feelings and impressions, and what matters to me about this season.

I already know that this year will be different in two major ways: this is my baby girl’s first Christmas, and because of my sister-in-law Pauline’s at-risk pregnancy and the need for my mom and dad to fly out to B.C., it is also the first in 15 years that I won’t be with either my parents or my brother on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. There is also a good chance that this will be the last December that we are living in La Ronge, Saskatchewan – the small northern town where Bryan and I have spent the first 12 years of our marriage.

I want to make this season very special, and I know that even in committing to that, I run the risk of disappointing myself. But Christmas is not about perfection – it’s about anticipation, commemoration, and ultimately, a baby. I have my own miracle child to celebrate with this year, and I think that will make delighting in the birth of our Savior – and all the festive trappings that have built up over the centuries, and point to (and sometimes, unfortunately, obscure) the “reason for the season – special in and of itself. My mantra this year is, “Keep Calm and Merry On”!

So – on to Christmas!

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason,
There’d have been no room for the child.

- Madeline L’Engle

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.
- Charles Dickens

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