It’s beginning to look a lot like (a writer’s) Christmas

The tree – fake, prelit, about five feet tall, $50 on Kijiji – is up. Fifty dollars, tbh, seems a bit high for a hand-me down tree. I mean, you don’t need it anymore because you bought a $300 or $900 new fake tree this year. You should, by rights, be paying me to take this unwanted, inferior tree away from your house. No? You really need that $50 to recoup your original 1990s costs or to offset the cost of your new $900 tree?

Yes, Virginia, there are $900 artificial trees. And, there are $600 trees on Kijiji. I quote: Prelit 7.5 foot Christmas free – some brand I’ve never heard of – $600. Ad text: Like new. Paid $900, asking $600.

Kitten. You may have been dumb enough to pay $900 for a Christmas free, I’m not dumb enough to pay $600 for a used Christmas tree. (Not even if it’s vintage or antique—but it’s not.)

Anyway—Christmas tree is up, the one glass ornament we bought is already in a thousand pieces and in the garbage. Within minutes of the tree’s erection (ha ha), the cats liberate two or three plastic red apples from the bottom branches and bat them around the house. I feel good. Almost in the mood to put on Christmas carols. Or, at least, Wham.

It’s a good day: hell is thawing and the temperatures are hovering around zero Celsius and not -100.* I’ve been up three hours before the crack of dawn and I’ve already worked and I feel guilt-free and entitled to take a 20 minute writing break. Funny thing about my job btw: I’ve been hired for my writing expertise but I don’t write enough at work to maintain it. None of us do. We work, hard, for sure, but nobody on my team has ever written at the pace a journalist with a daily or a romance novelist writes – the pace that really hones the craft and expertise and kills the myth of writer’s block. There’s something to be said for the expertise and practice sheer volume (and the fear of real deadlines) gives you.

In my prior life, a light month would have me producing 10,000 words of long-form copy – and that’s just the stuff that would be published. When I’m working on a novel, that’s the weekly – or weekend – word count target.

The end result of all that practice is that even when I’m bad and inspired, I’m pretty good at getting the words out – and fixing yours.


A few months into the now not-so-new job, I noticed that I wasn’t writing enough to stay where I want to be. It’s not like riding a bicycle. It’s more like running competitively. Just because you’ve trained to run a marathon doesn’t mean that ability stays with you once you stop practicing. So I’ve incorporated additional writing practice into my slower workdays, on top of my Morning Pages and my personal writing. I write and rewrite headlines and leads as I read industry articles. I write ad copy for ads we’ll never publish. I’m turning my work bullet journal into a mini blog. I have to keep my claws sharp.

Flora: Workaholic, also, I think I’m starting to see where some of my issues might come from.

Jane: You know what? I’m sick and tired of people who don’t love their jobs and don’t excel at what they do calling people who are really committed to doing good work workaholics.

Flora: Don’t yell at me. I see my future and it’s scary.

Jane: It shouldn’t be. Mastery is intoxicating and flow is the best high.

Back to writing: I’m prepping notes for a couple of new writers’ conference presentations and looking for a new way to say the same old thing: Practice, practice, practice and also, find yourself a ruthless editor who will strip you of your ego and make you understand that the only thing that matters is whether the story works…

Flora: Speaking of, what is this story about?

Jane: Our new Christmas tree and me having a good day. Stop interrupting.

So it’s a good day because I’ve worked and I’m writing and it’s not too cold outside and the cats haven’t toppled the Christmas tree yet. Also, coffee is delicious and my new writing nook is adorable. I found it – or rather, its contents – at a thrift store ($25 for the table, $25 for the chair) while looking for a non-$600 Christmas tree.

I still kind of feel I overpaid at $50. But I understand – inflation, also greed. I don’t regret it. It’s a one-time expense and I’ll likely leave it in my will to Ender. Or post it on Kijiji in 2050 for $900: Vintage Christmas tree, only slightly pre-chewed by cats. You know you want it.



*written December 8, before hell froze over again

Pandemic Diary: COVID Christmas Canticle

December 25, 2020

Two years ago was the worst Christmas ever, a year ago was the most awkward and delusional Christmas ever, and so, this COVID Christmas morning, which finds me alone in bed, a steaming cup of coffee (with cinnamon ) beside me, and cranberry cake too, and, of course, Morning Pages—well, it’s weird and different.

But it’s not bad. Not at all. Things have been so much worse.

I hate it that that’s my yardstick. But it is a pretty effective one, you know? There have been a number of occasions over this past year when I’ve looked at someone totally losing their shit over a quarantine-lockdown first world whine, and all I’ve been able to think is, “Wow, so you’ve never suffered before, not even a little bit… how incredibly lucky you have been… and how ill-equipped to deal with this stumble you are, you child of good fortune…”

To be clear—if I could wave a magic wand and take away Flora’s suffering over the past two, three years—and my own by extension—I’d do it in half a heartbeat. However. As it is the part of the package of my life as I’ve lived it so far? Zoom Christmas Eve was lame but hardly the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, you know?

In my family and culture, we celebrate on Christmas Eve, an orgy of food and presents. This year, we celebrated in three households—the kids and me in my little hobbit house in Sunnyside, my brother and his family in Auburn Bay, my parents on the hill in Signal Hill. One city, three neighbourhoods—I pretended we were in different countries. It was okay. My Mom still cooked all the foods that I still don’t know how to make (I should get on that, perhaps). My over-enthusiastic parents played Santa Claus and braved the winter roads to deliver the grandchildren’s presents after supper. My children gorged themselves on pierogis—the dogs on the Christmas cookies they liberated from the dessert table while the rest of us were opening presents (don’t ask about the results of that). Afterwards, we played Anomia and watched a couple of episodes of Community on my laptop. Laughed.

I walked the kids to their coop house just before 10 pm—the night was warm and beautiful, and it felt like a very, very good Christmas Eve.

I will miss—I do miss—being there for their Christmas morning. Earlier in the week, a friend suggested that there was no reason why I shouldn’t be there. Wouldn’t it be better for the kids if we just did Christmas the way we had before? We’re getting along well, polite and kind, why not spend Christmas together?

I didn’t bother to explain. I’ve learned a lot from watching friends divorce badly for the past 15 years. It behooves me not to repeat their mistakes—I am committed to making only new ones.

So. Christmas morning alone in bed with my morning pages, coffee, cake—maybe a movie—Bridgerton premiers today, no? Christmas night with you—sushi, Bailey’s, Christmas leftovers. The middle of the day? I might write. Walk the dog.

Or stay in bed and binge watch Bridgerton.

A day off.

Not such a bad thing, you know.

Thigs have been worse.

This is actually pretty good.

December 26, 2020

Christmas Eve is good. Christmas Day is good. Boxing Day is passing in peace. It all feels like the calm before the storm though—storm hits in the evening. Nearly breaks me. Ender doesn’t want to come over to my house for supper; his reasons don’t matter—his rejection breaks me into little pieces, makes me barely capable of breathing and paying attention to his siblings. He is my smallest one, my least forged one, the one who needs—needed—me the most, the one who I fear will be the most damaged by our separation.

I scream in pain for hours, cry myself to sleep.

December 27, 2020

I am loved and I sometimes make bad decisions—but that’s okay, that’s part of life. I am loved even when I make bad decisions. It’s kind of strange mantra for the day, but it works. I do things that make me feel good enough to get through the early morning, and then Ender and I end up going on a mega walk with the dogs and with Grandma. I manage to not cancel a socially distanced walk with a friend, even though I really, really just want to crawl into bed and cry some more—and it helps, a lot. (It helps even more that my friend, seeing the state I’m in, says, Fuck Covid, and hugs me, holds me.) I cancel—or rather, skip out early—on a Zoom meeting when one of my people asks me to come run some errands with him. The request, I know, is not company for him, but company for me, because he knows I ache.

We run here and there, accomplishing not very much, end up eating South Indian dosas and Albanian sausages in an idling car for supper.

I am loved.

Ender and I skype: “I love you.” “Me loves you too.”

It’s hard, it’s hard, everything is so hard right now.

I am loved.

I am alive. In 2020, that’s the bar.

December 28, 2020

Morning pages, Laundry Monday, walk the dog, drive Cinder to work—attempts to work sabotaged, interrupted, by self, by life. A text—“We’re just walking past your house. Walk?” And I’m outside in a flash, boots and snowsuit on, exhausted but elated. When was the last time I’ve done something spontaneous? When was the last time that was allowed?

We walk. Talk. Walk.

I am loved. I love. I am alive. I survived this fucking nightmare of a year—and so did you. We did it. Lots of others didn’t, but let’s not think too much about them right now. You and I, we’re here, we did it.

Three more days to go.

December 31, January 1, just days in the calendar… but… aren’t you going to be glad when 2020 is over?

December 29, 2020

I am happy.

In 2020 (in 2019…), these are rare moments, and when they happen, I fuck Buddhism and practice attachment with all of my might. Don’t leave. Stay here with me, for this entire day, DO NOT LEAVE.

We walk in winter wonderland, and I understand why some people call it church—I’d still rather be in my sheesha lounge, to be honest, but I’ll take this, I’ll take this—and for a few precious hours, everything is okay with the world.

I am happy, I am loved, I love, I am alive, I am a tiny speck of light and life in a vast universe, insignificant yet infinitely important. Fine. Church.


Return of pain—memory of the moment of pure happiness—hold on to that.


I was happy—I will find that feeling again.



Pandemic Diary: Let me scream, let me scream: Christmas is cancelled, and it’s okay to be really, really mad about it


I am doing my best to let everyone deal with the dumpster fire that is Alberta’s second wave lockdown as best as they can. I’m letting people scream—not that I could stop them (control reak much, Jane? Yup, not just a little), but you know what I mean. Regardless of whether they are “it’s a hoax” anti-maskers, herd immunity libertarians or “lock ourselves in iron lungs and never come out” extreme protectionists—whatever they are screaming feeling? It’s all valid. Yes, even the hoaxers. This situation sucks so much, and angry, frightened, confused—disempowered—people don’t make good decisions.

So I let them scream.

(By which I mean, I don’t leave nasty, contradictory or disempowering comments on their rants. I just let them… be.)

I know I’m doing better, myself, because I can let them scream, and I can listen to them. In mid-November (fuck, mid-October), I couldn’t, and I’d look at the tweeting masses and kinda go, “God, I only wish this virus was more deadline—none of you deserve to live.”

I’m slightly more compassionate now—this week… this day… this precise hour, anyway. Scream, baby. Scream all you want to, need to, my pissed off little love. Christmas is coming, ditto Yalda and Solstice, Hanukkah is here, Kwanzaa just around the corner, and all of this sucks ass.

In my newsfeed, a meme like this: If you’re moaning that Christmas is cancelled, then what did you learn from the Grinch?

That Christmas is about holding hand with your people and signing together around a naked pole, then carving the roast beast for all the members of your community and, like, celebrating together. What did you learn from the Grinch? That it’s about sitting alone in your cave and hating the Whos?

Dammit, sorry—that thread of compassion in me… it’s thin and it just snapped. Sorry, sorry. You too are screaming: you’ve missed Christmas Day celebrations before because shift work, travel, university, illness. Whatever. But you know it’s not Christmas Day we’re mourning.

It’s holding our people, tight. And babe… I know you gotta scream. But you also gotta let me scream. Because I want, I want, I want to be part of the three generation pierogi-making assembly line. I want to have Christmas Eve brunch with my friend and get kinda tipsy if not outright drunk (with my friend) so that I go to the over-the-top Polish Christmas Eve dinner at my parents’ house with a buzz. I want to experience all the family fights and the over-eating and the present orgy that on other years frustrate me. I want to do it all with my kids, my parents, my brother and his wife, my nieces and nephews, and any and all orphans we’ve gathered around us that year. I want to end the night at my beloved neighbour’s annual Christmas Eve open house. I want to wake up on Christmas Day not knowing who will drop by that morning. I want to swing by your house mid-afternoon with your present and disappear into your arms, into your love for a few exhilarating minutes. I want to spend the evening, night with everyone I love.

And the fact that I can’t do that –it really, really sucks. And you—I’m talking to you, lockdown lover, so in love with the righteousness and self-sacrifice of your suffering—you need to let me scream that it sucks.

Because it does.


I am, of course, doing new things this December so that Christmas does not utterly suck for me, my parents, and especially my children. (I don’t have an awful lot of energy to spare for my friends, to be honest, forgive me.) I might even make it beautiful: I came up with a fantastic idea for the kids Advent calendar, and I’m doing a Yalda/Solstice thing for the first time, and… well. Stuff. But when people tell me, with relentless positivity, to embrace this lockdown as an opportunity to create new traditions? I want to kick and scream. Just… let me mourn the old ones, okay? Let me be ad. And let me hope that in 2021, I’ll do all the old things again. (Maybe some of the new.) With my people, tightly in my arms.


I’ve seen this type of messaging too: “This isn’t the first Christmas that I’ve spent away from family. You’ve never worked shift work, travelled, gone away to uni and been to broke to come home for the holidays? Suck it up.”

Come on, people. I’ve spent lots of Christmases away from my family—a country away, a content away, two oceans away (is that even possible? I’m not sure…). But in none of those situations was I alone. The first adult Christmas my brother and I spent away from my parents, we were together in Korea—and we organized an old school Polish Christmas Eve for my roommates. The next day, we had a Southern Texan Baptist meets Pennsylvanian German Quaker meets Toronto Atheist Christmas Day, and on Boxing Day, we celebrated Korean-style with our students. My Christmases in Montreal, all of us “orphans” came together. The Christmas my parents spent on a cruise in Australia—it was a great Christmas, but we all chose to spend it the way we did.

This one? It’s not a choice. It’s forced on us by circumstance.

And it’s disempowering, and it sucks.


Scream as much as you need to.

Just, like… not at me?



’tis the day before Christmas…

NBTB-Christmas Eve 2014 Post

‘twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house…

Ender: Moooom! Can we go to Babi’s yet? Is it Christmas yet? Do I have to brush my hair? Can I just wear a hat? Can we go…

All the creatures were stirring, and making a fuss

Sean: Jaaaane? Did we buy a present for my mom? And my sister? And her new-in-laws? And do we have any wrapping paper or scotch tape or…

The stockings were precariously attached to the tack board with push pins…

Flora: Moooom! I just realized I never made a card for Moxie, and I’m out of good green markers, and green is her favourite colour, and we need to go to the store and get me new markers RIGHT! NOW!

In the vain hope that this year, Santa would remember to put something there…*

Cinder: Mooom! Cookies! We never made those special cookies I wanted to make. Remember? Florentines? You said we could. And you said it was easy. Do we have time? Do we have the ingredients?

The children were running around like chickens with their heads cut off…**

While visions of presents-food-cookies-Christmas-is-tomorrow-we-can’t-wait! danced in their heads

Ender: Can this day just end, so we can have Christmas? Can you put me to bed now? I’m tired. It’s dark.

Flora: That’s because it’s still morning, doofus!

Jane: Do not call your brother names!

I’m trying to settle my brain for the season, but there is so much clamour, without much good reason…

Sean: Jane? Tape?

Cinder: Mom? Cookies?

Flora: Please? Can you take me to the store?

Ender: I. Want. To. Go. To. Bed!

Cinder: She’s not here.

Flora: Where did she go?

Sean: Jaaaaaaane?

Ender: Mooooom!

Flora: Oh, no her laptop’s gone too. Do you think she’ll come back?

I’m in the bathroom, the bathtub, with lights off and curtain drawn

Typing so very quietly, pretending I’m not home…

But I always come back. I’ll leave this dark space. Put on pretty clothes, maybe make up my face (probably not)

Brush Wolf Child’s hair. Braid the girl’s too. Argue with Cinder that ‘tis an occasion for a shirt without skulls and blood on it (or maybe not)

Give Sean the tape. Say,

Jane: Um, no, I didn’t get anyone presents this year, you know how I feel about that, and this year, yeah, I just decided to really walk the talk…

…just to get his heart pounding…

Ha. That will be FUN. Ok, no, just terribly, terribly mean.

Jane: In the office! Under the “to-be-shredded” boxes!***

My mom sent me this meme for Christmas:

Unicorn for Christmas

I hope all of you get a unicorn for Christmas. I want mine to be green, with silver hoofs. And filled with dark chocolate (Chili or ginger).

It’s almost over. We almost made it!

Merry Whatmacallit. See you in 2015.



*That’s not, by the way, an expression of my grinchiness. The stockings are just not part of my cultural tradition. And I never think to get anything to put in there. Ugh. What a make work project.


***For Christmas, Sean needs a shredding service. OK, Santa? Thanks. J.

From one Christmas Grinch to another, or, how I ruined Christmas

Hi. How are you? Feeling down-and-out, like the worst mother ever? Come in. I’m going to show you what it looks like when I lose my temper. Oh yeah, also, I ruin Christmas. It’s my Christmas present to you. Thought you suck? I’ll raise you your suck, and see you one…

So it’s that time of year, and I’m ordering crap on line. Toys my kids don’t need, won’t play with, but think they want. And they keeping on coming into the kitchen while I’m doing this, interrupting, peeking, sneaking, fighting, shouting, screeching, fighting, spying, trying, until…

Jane: Get! The! Hell! Out! Of! The! Kitchen! NOOOOOOOOOOW!

What you need to know: when I yell? It’s like I’m channeling Cthulhu. Kronos. The Evil One himself. It’s not shouting or nagging. It’s a “I can kill with my voice and right now I really want to” kind of sound.

Reaction from the children, who know they’re loved and who know not even Cthulhu can harm them:

Collected children: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Effect on overwrought, broke-and-hates-Christmas-at-the-best-of-times mother:

Jane: Do you understand, goddammit, that I am doing all this FOR YOU? I. HATE. CHRISTMAS. If we were doing Christmas my way—there would be no goddam tree in the house. THERE WOULD BE NO PRESENTS! There would be no Christmas Eve dinner, and there would be no Christmas Day morning and not a single bit of wrapping paper, mistletoe or fake snow stuff in the house. THERE. WOULD. BE. NOTHING. We would be… god, in Fidel’s Cuba or Maoist China, where “For Sale” and “Buy Now” are outlawed, and you can get shot for humming Jingle Bells! I find the crass commercialism of this season morally repugnant and spiritually bankrupt, and participating in it, at all, MAKES ME SICK. So everything I do—this stupid tree? These decorations? Getting you presents, because that’s the way I’m supposed to show you I love you this season? I do all this for you, and I hate it, and the least you can do is not keep on interrupting me while I’m doing it! DO. YOU. UNDERSTAND??

Effect on the children, who know they’re loved, and know that not even the Mother of All Grinches can ruin Christmas:

Cinder: Did you not sleep well last night again?

Flora: Did your writing not go well this morning?

Ender: Thank God we have grandparents.


I don’t think my shoes are too tight. And I don’t think my heart is two sizes too small.

He puzzles and puzzled til his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store! Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!


I try to find that every December. Fail. Because celebrating the return of the light—literal or metaphorical, depending on your (ir)religious predilection—disappears under the weight of millions of department store Santa Clauses.

Bah, humbug.

The Grinch


A Christmas Gift for you, exhausted writer style

I have the best Christmas present for you.


It was originally going to be presented to you in a pastiche of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, but I’m pretty sure one million other writers will thrill you with such a present.

So my present to you this Christmas season is the gift of, unadulterated … cyber-silence.

An empty in-box.

A still Twitter feed.

A removal of at least one source of noise and clutter.

Shhhh. Do you hear that? That’s me disappearing until January.

You’re welcome.

Reader: Really? That’s it? After that build up? I feel utterly gypped.

Jane: Sometimes, you’ve got to ease into silence. Here. Last year, I wished you Merry Christmas from Mythbusters and Cinder and Viagra, and I also gave you the all-purpose-answer to “those” questions. Use those as methadone.

Merriest whatever you choose to celebrate this time of year. See you in January!



P.S. But before I go, I MUST share these things with you. Ha, more Christmas presents! I am so generous. First, A 10th-Month-Old’s Letter To Santa, from The Ugly Volvo–probably the best Christmas-themed meme going around right now. If you’ve got a babe, or had one recently, you’ll howl, identify, and not waste your time spending money on any dopey baby toys. More seriously, if you’re looking for beautiful Christmas-themed stories to share with your children this season, my friend Jen Kehl has a few stellar selections for you.

A real Christmas present: Brian Sorrell, who blogs brilliantly at Dadding Full Time, has put together his year’s worth of posts into an e-book that’s yours, free, this week. Here’s the link. While you’re taking a break from me, you can devour him–an amazing dad, an insightful writer. Enjoy.

And, just for the mothers in the crowd–the mothers finishing mat leave, the mothers returning to the workplace after a stint at home with littles–there’s a new recruiter in town. Well, in Toronto. But she’s working nation-wide. Her tagline is “I’ll understand if your kid is screaming in the background.” Brilliant? Needed? Oh, yes. Friends, meet Katia Bishops of Recruiter Mommy.

Finally, the best thing in my Facebook feed this week: Crappy Mohs Scale of Crunchiness from Crappy Pictures–How crunchy are you? How crunchy are your friends? And do you have a sense of humour under those fair-trade, hand-woven scarves? “We only eat local, organic food that’s been blessed by vegan unicorns.” Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I’m still laughing. And I have friends who “can sew an entire quilt in one night by the light of handmade beeswax candles while sipping tea made from homegrown chamomile in a mug that was hand formed from clay mined from her backyard. While nursing.” I forgive them.

P.P.S. Yeah, fine, my Christmas gift to you is totally a Christmas gift to me. That’s why it’s the best gift ever. It makes EVERYONE happy.

P.P.P.S. Sweetie, I promise I’ll be back in January, sharper than ever. Stroll through the archives if you get the shakes. Stalk my Instagram cause I’ll probably take pictures.  But generally–chill. The gift of silence is a wonderful thing.


Another Christmas present: the all-purpose answer to “those questions”

It’s Christmas time. The time to meet and greet Aunt Josephine and answer all those questions that give you ulcers when you start getting dressed to go to that family dinner. This is turning your stomach into knots. Here is my early Christmas present for you.

Take an index card. Write on it:

 “I respect your right to have an opinion on this issue that’s different from mine. However, for the sake of preserving our relationship, I ask that you stop sharing it with me. Thank you.”

Keep it in pocket and when one of them comments or questions comes up – swallow the bite of gingerbread, gulp down the wine, reach into pocket, hand it to conversation partner with a smile, take it back, and start talking about those other dwarf planets. What are they called again?

christmas 2007

Photo (christmas 2007) by paparutzi

Originally published December 10, 2009, Unschooling Canada

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