Tag Archives: Holidays

People Watching and the Holidays

Like many other places, Toronto’s malls, subway system, and other public places are bustling with activity at this time of the year. No matter when someone might use or visit them in the month of December, there will be far more folks there than will be the case in January when the new year has finally arrived and everyone has settled back into their usual routines.

One of the things I like about this point in the winter holiday season are the opportunities it gives for people watching. I will be returning to the usual subjects for this blog soon, but I can’t stop thinking about this topic and thought it would make a good one for today.

There are so many folks out and about now that all of the stories they tell with their body language, facial expressions, and the occasional, accidentally overheard conversations provide endless scope for the imagination. You can learn so much about them by paying attention to how they behave when they think no one has noticed them.

I love seeing how people and animals interact with strangers, loved ones, and everyone in-between. You can learn a lot about someone based on how they present themselves and how they behave in public.

Dogs wiggle in excitement when their favourite, or sometimes any, human walks around the corner and into view. The occasional pet snakes, parrots, rabbits, and cats that I’ve seen folks carry around don’t seem to have a strong opinion about our species either way. Small children stare wide-eyed at the holiday displays, decorations, and advertisements in stores. Friends reunite, families figure out what to eat for lunch, couples embrace, and a million other interesting things happen simultaneously wherever large crowds of people gather.

There’s nothing like watching strangers live out these fleeting moments in their lives. The writerly portion of my mind can’t help but to make up stories about who these individuals are and what might happen to them after they’ve finished their to-do list and gone back home.

Not knowing if my guesses are actually correct or not only makes me more interested in continuing to play this game. Everyone that I’ve ever met has portions of their personalities, identities, and interests that aren’t easily or immediately noticeable when you first meet them. I love it when I notice little hints about these parts of themselves however those hints might be shared.

To be perfectly clear, this isn’t about stereotyping anyone or assuming that because they’re X they must love/hate/be indifferent to Y. (Let X and Y stand for whatever your imagination desires. I did not have anything specific in mind when I typed that sentence).

Instead, it’s about seeing how real people behave on a perfectly ordinary day that stands a very good chance of being neither the worst nor the best one they’re ever going to experience. In fact, they might not remember anything about it at all six months from now. They’re simply a regular person (or, in some cases, animal) going through the routines of their lives.

It’s the patterns that interest me the most. There are certain behaviours that just about everyone seems to share, especially when they’re feeling happy, hungry, or tired. On the other hand, I love seeing glimpses of the things that make each person unique.

I’m still looking forward to the quieter days to come in January, but in the meantime I’ll keep a friendly eye out for all of the things you can learn about strangers by noticing how they behave in public.

Do you like people watching? If so, when was the last time you did it?

Holiday Topics I Wish More People Would Blog About

Can you believe it’s November already? It feels like January ended last month, and yet here we are moving quickly into the 2018 holiday season.

As someone who doesn’t observe any winter holidays other than nodding slightly in the direction of the winter solstice since it means the days will soon be filled with more light, this might seem like a slightly unusual topic choice for me today.

I think there’s something to be said for being aware of the things I’m going to mention today regardless of what you do or don’t celebrate, though.

Trigger warning: while I won’t be going into any details, I will be briefly mentioning issues like abuse and grief in today’s post. (I will also be talking about much happier stuff as well!)

Why The Holidays Are Painful for Some People

To give just a few reasons why someone might find this time of year distressing, some (extended or nuclear) families are:

  • Abusive or neglectful
  • Grieving over the loss of one or more members
  • Separated for financial, medical, career, legal, or political reasons
  • Estranged
  • No longer in existence

When someone is in this situation, it can be difficult to be surrounded by so many images of and references to happy, intact families between now and the end of the year.

In no way am I trying to discourage people who have never experienced this from sharing stories of visiting safe, appropriate, and living relatives.

It makes me happy to see all of the joy in their lives, but I’d also love to see more posts from people who have had to limit or end their relationship with certain relatives for safety reasons, who live far away from their loved ones, who don’t have families, or who will not be doing big familial celebrations for other reasons. These stories are important and need to be told if the bloggers involved in them are willing to share a basic overview of why the holidays aren’t a cheerful time for them.

Chosen Families

On the other hand, not all families are comprised of folks who are related by blood, marriage, or adoption. It is perfectly possible to choose to become a family with people you meet long after you’ve taken your first step or graduated from high school.

As someone who is trying to do this, it would be so interesting to read other people’s accounts of how they assembled theirs.

Navigating Health Problems During the Holidays

My various allergies can sometimes make attending certain functions tricky or even impossible. I’ll often eat before going to certain gatherings to make sure I’m not sitting there with a growling stomach and the inability to eat anything there due to North America’s tendency to toss milk products into so many festive foods.

If someone has a cat, I cannot enter their home for any reason. No, not even if they vacuum really well and banish the cat to their bedroom. It has nothing to do with my opinion of their cleaning skills or cat and everything to do with how difficult it is to get dander out of a couch well enough that I won’t react if I sit on it.

It would be so interesting to me to read other blogger’s stories about how they handled their own health problems or accommodated someone else’s medical needs during the holidays. I’m well-versed in allergies, but I know far less about how other health issues can affect someone’s ability to attend or enjoy an event. It would be helpful to hear what should or should not be done from people who are living with other conditions.

Traditions from Non-American Cultures

One of the coolest things about making friends with so many people who didn’t grow up in rural, (mostly) midwestern portions of United States has been getting to hear stories about all of the traditions that exist in other parts of the world.

Some holidays that are widely celebrated here in North America like Halloween are either totally unknown or barely observed in other places. Likewise, I’ve learned about all sorts of other celebrations that my family didn’t know anything about when I was growing up. These range from major holidays like Diwali to smaller, more regional ones like Saint Nicholas Day.

Creative Gift Ideas

I’d be especially interested in reading posts about gifts that are inexpensive and not a knick-knack.

Those of you who are good at buying, baking, making, or planning personalized, meaningful presents have my admiration. That isn’t an easy thing to do….or at least it’s not for me.

Honestly, the more posts that exist about this, the better. It can be written about for so many different ages and types of interests that the possibilities are truly endless.

Reflections on the Past and Future

What were the highlights of the past year for you? What do you wish had turned out differently? What are your hopes and dreams for the new year?

I know that some bloggers aren’t comfortable sharing such personal details of their own lives, and I respect that. If they’re willing to share, I adore getting these backstage peeks into other people’s lives.

Something I struggle with might be effortless for someone else, but they also might find it hard to do something that I’ve always found incredibly easy. There’s something reassuring about seeing examples of how this works while I hope that next year will be better for everyone no matter what this one was like for them.

What topics do you wish more people would blog about during the holiday season?

Previous posts in this series:

5 Things I Wish People Would Blog About

5 More Things I Wish People Would Blog About

 

Saturday Seven: Characters Who Need a Date

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, so today I’m thinking about characters who could really have benefited from going on a date. None of the characters I’m about to discuss had romantic storylines. They were far too busy looking after a disabled friend, exploring a haunted mansion, fighting for the freedom of an innocent man, raising a large family, protecting their household from a vengeful spirit, or otherwise staying busy.

While avoiding romantic subplots was definitely the right decision for all of these books, I can’t help but to think that all of the main characters in them would have had happier lives if they somehow could have carved out a couple of hours of free time for an offstage date at some point.

For example…

1. Dr. Faraday from The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.

Dr. Faraday rose from humble beginnings to become a respected country physician. Unfortunately, his job didn’t pay well, and his patients kept him so busy that he didn’t have any time at all for romance. This became even more of an obstacle once he realized that a few of his patients may be living in a haunted house. Let’s just say that dealing with what may be a angry ghost doesn’t leave a lot of time for dating.  

He would have some attention-grabbing stories to share on a date, though, and I think it would have been good for him to have someone to discuss all of his eerie experiences with. He lived such a lonely and sometimes even frightening life in this book. Having someone to talk to  would have done him a world of good.

2. Constance Barton from Angelica: A Novel by Arthur Phillips.

Constance was a young Victorian mother who became convinced that an evil spirit was terrorizing her daughter at night. She hired a spiritualist to figure out what the entity wanted and why it was attacking her family.

There was far more happening in the Barton household than what was revealed right away. Constance’s marriage was disintegrating before her eyes, and her health was becoming increasingly fragile as a result of a string of incredibly dangerous pregnancies that had produced only one living child so far.

Constance could have really used a nice, chaste date with someone who treated her kindly and who wasn’t obsessed with having a son to carry on the family name.

3. Miss Peregrine from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Wayward Children by Ransom Riggs. 

Miss Peregrine was raising multiple children who were mischievous and had magical powers. She’d been doing this on her own for years, and she had no reason to think her duties would ever end because she and her brood been forced to move to a place that existed outside of time in order to avoid being caught by people who wanted to harm all of them. Her wards were always going to remain their current ages due to the weird way that time passed by where they lived.

She was a fantastic parent figure to the kids, but she really could have used one night where she didn’t have to remind anyone to wash their hands or eat their vegetables. A date would do a world of good for this character. Since I haven’t read the other books in this series yet, I can only hope that someday she’ll get to do just that.

4. Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. 

Atticus was a widower, a single father of two young kids, and a lawyer. He agreed to defend an innocent black man named Tom Robinson who had been wrongly accused of raping a white woman.

Atticus probably never would have admitted that he could find the time to date, but this character sure would have benefitted from a few hours away from all of the responsibilities in his life. Other than Tom, of course, Atticus was the character I sympathized the most with in this tale.

5. Susie Salmon from The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. 

Susie was violently murdered when she was fourteen. As she adjusted to the afterlife and attempted to contact the loved ones she’d been ripped away from, she began to realize all of the important life events she was going to miss out on because of how young she’d been when she died.

Going on one date would have meant the world to her. I wish she could have had that experience.

6. George from Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

George had voluntarily taken on full financial and legal responsibility for a developmentally-delayed friend of his at at time when people who had those kinds of disabilities didn’t have access to any of the government programs or other types of support that they can rely on today.

While this definitely isn’t canon, I imagine George as a man who would have been identified as gay if he’d lived in modern times. He seemed much more comfortable living with and near other men than he did around women, so I’d set him up with a friendly guy who didn’t mind dating someone who already had many responsibilities in life.

Maybe he’d do well dating someone who also knew what it was like to be the legal guardian of someone whose disabilities required them to have close daily supervision?

7. Carrie from Carrie by Stephen King.

Carrie’s horribly abusive upbringing made me feel so much sympathy for her, especially once I realized that her life was only slightly less traumatic when she was at school.

If only she’d had the chance to experience a normal, happy existence. There were the briefest glimpses of the person she could have become here and there, but she would have really blossomed if she’d done something as simple as held hands with a cute guy at the movie theatre or had someone in her life who told her she looked pretty every once in a while.

Which characters do you wish you could send on a well-deserved date?

The Tale of the Coveted Cookies

No, this is not the beginning of a fairy tale. It really happened years ago when I was a teenager, and I thought it would be an amusing story to share with you as the holiday season ramps up.

My mom comes from a fairly large extended family. Both of her parents had many siblings, so both sides of her family tree used to have large potluck dinners every December to give everyone a chance to spend time together over the holidays.

 My maternal grandmother’s side of the family included a White Elephant gift exchange in their gigantic Christmas get-together. Every family unit – which was roughly defined as a couple (or single person) and any children under the age of 20 they may have – was asked to bring one wrapped gift that would appeal to an adult of any age.

One year, mom had no idea what to bring for the gift exchange. What she did have was a little extra time on her hands and an empty decorated tin from a previous Christmas. She whipped up a quick batch of chocolate chip cookies and put as many of them as would fit into the tin. It was such a pretty box that she didn’t bother wrapping it in festive paper.

In a white elephant gift exchange, a member from each family is allowed to choose one wrapped present. Everyone then sat in a semicircle of chairs. One by one, they opened their gift and then decided whether they wanted to keep it or trade it for one of the other opened presents.

This was a decision that could be made only once. After your turn ended, you’d either hold onto your gift for good or have it “stolen” by someone further down the line who preferred it to whatever it was they had unwrapped.

When mom’s gift was opened by a cousin, he grinned. The next person to open their gift quickly “stole” the cookies from the first person.

This happened a few different times throughout the course of the game. I don’t remember who finally ended up with them, but it was funny to see adults become so playfully competitive over a tin of cookies. (Granted, they were delicious cookies!)

While I haven’t participated in a gift exchange in many years, I think of this story every December.

Sometimes the best gifts really are the simplest ones.

If you’d like to make these cookies for yourself, here is the recipe. It’s every bit as delicious as it sounds, and the cookies are quite easy to make as well.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/3 cups Crisco (or margarine)
2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons vanilla
4 1/2 cups flour
1 package chocolate chips (about 340 grams or 12 ounces)

Directions

Mix the Crisco, sugar, brown sugar, and eggs  together until fluffy.
Add the baking soda, salt, and vanilla. Mix well.
Add the flour in one cup at a time. Mix well.
Stir in the chocolate chips.

Spoon the dough onto lightly greased cookie sheets.

Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 6-7 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

How to Stay Relaxed in Crowded Places

Today’s topic comes from a search engine query that a new reader did recently that lead them to this site.

With the holidays rapidly approaching, I thought this would be a good thing to discuss as there will be plenty of crowded parties, shops, malls, group dinners, and other places and events in many of my readers’ not-too-distant future.

(Please don’t ask me to explain what’s going on in the photo on the right. I honestly don’t know. It fit the theme of this post nicely, though).

Like many folks, I’m not a huge fan of very crowded places. Large groups of people tend to be boisterous, and it bothers me to be surrounded by so much noise without being able to figure out what any of it is supposed to mean. Loud music is one thing, but hundreds of conversations all blurred together will never be something I enjoy.

I also find it draining to constantly need to weave my way through a crowd. Anatomically modern humans have done a lot of amazing things over the last 40,000 years, but figuring out how to efficiently herd thousands of people who are slowly meandering through the mall on a lazy Sunday afternoon is not one of them. Ha!

With that being said, there are occasions when you need to pick something up at the store during a peak shopping time or attend a holiday party. I have a few tricks for doing what I need to do on these days without spending an inordinate amount of time in a situation that I find unpleasant.

Arrive Before (or After) the Busiest Time

You might be surprised how quiet stores in Toronto can be even right before Christmas if you show up to them first thing and finish your shopping quickly. Many Torontonians don’t seem to begin running their errands until later in the day even when they only have a handful of shopping days left before a big holiday, so getting a head start on them is a great way to avoid the crowds.

This effect is only stronger in smaller communities. I spent a big chunk of my childhood living near or in a town of about 16,000 people, and the stores there barely had any customers in them at all for the first few hours after they opened up most mornings. It was the perfect time to browse peacefully or get help from the store employees.

I’ve also had similar luck when it comes to timing my arrival at parties. It’s simpler for me to get into the festive spirit of a party if I plan it so I arrive a little earlier or later than most of the other attendees. I like warming up to big groups gradually, and it’s easier to do that if I don’t spend the whole time surrounded by a huge crowd.

Have a Plan

One of the many lessons my mom taught me when I was growing up is that shopping requires a plan. Neither one of us are people who ever shop as a hobby or a way to kill time. If she needs to buy something, she adds it to a shopping list and tries to acquire it as efficiently and frugally as possible.

I have the same policy. There’s nothing wrong with replacing something when it wears out or buying something I expect to use regularly, but I do not dawdle during the process. If I can’t find what I need, I stop shopping and go do something fun. There will always be another day to try again.

Mom reads this blog, so she might be smiling by now at how much she affected me in this part of life. Her efficiency really rubbed off on me, though!

Stick to the Perimeter

I don’t know about you, but I prefer being on the edge of a crowd instead of in the centre of it. There’s something comforting to me about knowing that I could quietly slip out a side door if I needed a few minutes of peace and quiet before wandering back into the event or building. In fact, simply having this available to me as an option makes it unnecessary for me to take a breather from the crowd in many cases.

It’s also nice to see who you meet on the perimeter of a party. While I don’t have any scientific data to back this up, it’s been my experience that you’ll meet a lot of likeminded people on the edges. Folks who love the energy of a crowd and want to be the centre of attention tend to wiggle into the centre of the room and more-or-less stay there.

People who aren’t so enamoured with that experience tend to congregate on the perimeter. They’re exactly who I want to start a conversation with once I’ve figured out who they are. As much as I love watching the life of the party do his or her thing, it’s nice to find kindred spirits when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed or want to find my footing in a conversation.

Find a Distraction

This is where I’m going to appear to contradict myself. One of the best things about people who thrive in big crowds is that they can be incredibly entertaining if you’re looking for a distraction.

While I wouldn’t necessarily want to follow them around all day every day, I really appreciate it when they spontaneously start organizing a few rounds of karaoke at a party or amusing bored children with a game or story while sitting in a food court.

They have such a wildly different approach to large crowds that I can’t help but to be fascinated by how their minds work. Would they feel as out of place in a quiet room as I do in a loud one? I’d bet they just might!

If there aren’t any interesting people to observe, I’ve also distracted myself by spotting animals* or by counting the number of people who are wearing an article of clothing that’s a specific colour. There is always something to occupy your mind if you pay attention to everyone around you.

*This is Toronto, after all. Dogs are welcomed nearly everywhere. Sometimes you’ll see a cat, snake, rabbit, or parrot being carried around as well, and this doesn’t even begin to count all of the wild birds in this city who have been known to wander around on the subway, at the library, or in other indoor places.

Be Patient

Anything from walking to the other side of the room to getting a specific goal accomplished will almost certainly take longer than they would if you were in a less busy place.

Breathe. Remain mindful.

Don’t try to tamp down your thoughts. Lots of other people there probably feel a little irritated or overwhelmed as well. Even if you’re literally the only person in the room who feels this way, it is still much better to acknowledge those emotions than to hide them.

Be patient.

It will be okay.

Dual Citizens Get Two Thanksgivings

Seven years ago, I became a Canadian citizen. There are many things I love about being a citizen of both Canada and the United States. Having the excuse to celebrate Thanksgiving twice every year is definitely part of that list. Yes, this is blog post about food. No, this isn’t about turkey. Don’t tell the… Read More

Now Is the Perfect Time to Start Practicing Mindfulness

The autumn and winter holiday season is right around the corner. In the past, I’ve felt kind of like discombobulated like the glass of water in the picture on the left for several different reasons: I’ve felt pressured to participate in religious rituals I disagreed with; I do not enjoy the wasteful, commercialistic side of… Read More

How to Meditate in a Noisy, Crowded Place

Over the last few weeks I’ve been practicing something that doesn’t come easily to me at all. My spouse enjoys the energy of the crowds at the mall. He likes wandering around during the busier parts of the day and year. Here in Toronto we often have special giveaways, promotional booths, or other events put on by various… Read More