Thursday, February 21, 2019


I've been trying to simplify my life lately and it only makes sense to simplify/scale down my blog as well, for a number of reasons... Recently someone asked me not to include photos of their child in my blog. It was the first such request but it made me more cognizant of the fact that some parents, unlike me, do not share photos of their children online EVER, like AT ALL. I have to respect their wishes. Everyone is different. So now, to be safe, I'm trying to avoid showing other kids in the pictures as much as possible and just stick to our own family, just in case. Also, from a logistical standpoint, the posts were taking too long to put together and were always behind schedule. I was including WAY too many photos period. It was too taxing to keep it up. It's counter-intuitive to stress myself out with a hobby that is supposed to be enjoyable and therapeutic! I don't want to stop writing the blog altogether because it is meaningful to me but I do have to change it to make it more manageable. So this post, and hopefully future posts, will be MUCH shorter, with FAR fewer photos. Short and simple. Well not exactly SHORT, but SHORTER anyway. I'm including just a few of my faves, instead of uploading a motherlode from every single occasion/outing. I've actually cut down considerably on the number of photos I take as well. I'm trying to be more discriminating. I guess you could say I'm a recovering photoholic. Well, maybe not "recovering." Maybe just trying to get a handle on my addiction to some degree. When I love something I tend to go a LITTLE overboard with it. Junk food. Shopping... (Hey, as addictions go, I could do a lot worse!) I've been trying to break a few old habits. De-cluttering my home, my life and my mind. Mind you, there is still a LOT of clutter.

November and December are usually chaotic. This year I tried to find my zen for a bit here and there at least.
I managed to carve out some time for reading and yoga. I wanted to learn more about mindfulness and meditation. It is definitely an uphill battle for a chronic over-thinker like me to just be in the moment but I'm working on it. Practice makes perfect. Or maybe not perfect but at least a little better. I imagine perfect would be a Buddhist monk meditating on a mountaintop. I don't think I'll ever quite be THERE.

I began at least trying to practice mindfulness in small ways. Paying attention while I was eating, folding laundry, taking a shower. Trying to focus on my senses, to observe everything, to be here and now instead of somewhere else, haunted by thoughts of past and future, worries, to do lists. Always thinking. Always distracted. Anywhere but here. There are times when I find it easy to be in the moment -- when it's a moment I want to be in. Spending time with Michelle, doing yoga, relaxing on the couch with the cat purring on my lap. The rest of the time, especially when things go wrong, I stress. My mind spins. Worry is my default setting and even with months of therapy it is hard to undo my negative thought patterns. But at least I'm TRYING.
I wish I had Michelle's happy ever-sunny view of life. On the darkest day she still doesn't lose her smile. She even likes the rain. Don't get me wrong, I do prefer it to snow but it's still not exactly uplifting. Personally I find the bleak grey days without sunshine draining. It drags me down. My energy lags and everything seems harder to get through. And God forbid if anything goes wrong (which of course things do. All the time.)

Halloween was over. Christmas was on the way. There was so much to do. I had at least gotten a lot done. I was much more organized this year and already had the lion's share of my Christmas shopping done. I had ideas of what to get for people (usually I'm at a loss) and picked things up as I found them. It felt good to get things done early rather than to be scrambling at the last minute. Of course it's easier when you actually have time.
Michelle and I were really looking forward to seeing "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms." The previews made it look spectacular. It far exceeded our expectations (which were already very high!) It was so breathtakingly beautiful! An absolute visual feast. Michelle said it was the best movie she'd ever seen. The combination of ballet with an epic story and such extraordinary colourful scenes and cinematography made it a completely magical experience. For those two hours in the theatre I didn't worry about anything in my real life. I was completely absorbed into the world on screen and nothing else existed. I guess that's not mindfulness, more like escapism. Escape is nice once in a while. I was trying to use visualization as well sometimes when I wanted to go somewhere beautiful, as opposed to somewhere dark, grey and stressful. I could close my eyes and be transported to another world. If I was still breathing and meditating on it then I was in the Now.

There was a lovely Remembrance Day service at Michelle's school. I was glad that I was able to attend. Her class even sang a little song. I remembered reciting "In Flander's Fields" back in school. I was disappointed that I didn't get to sit with Michelle during the assembly. The kids had to stay seated in a line with their class until they went up on stage for their performance but afterward she showed me her poppy field artwork on the wall. 

Oh, Christmas tree! Yes our tree went up early, as usual. I always put the tree up in mid-November. It's a tradition I picked up from my Mom. She always put the tree up the weekend of the Santa Claus Parade. When you have an artificial tree I figure you might as well enjoy it as long as you can. I start to get into the Christmas spirit in November and it makes the living room cozy having the tree up. Michelle was excited to help me decorate. She really does a good job. She totally understands the concept of composition, alternating the ornaments by colour and shape, spacing things out so it's visually pleasing. I love the white tree with the white, silver and turquoise decorations. I love my tree. It was a gift from May many years ago. It is yellowing in spots over time but I try to keep those at the back and you can't really tell once the lights and decorations go on. Michelle loves it too. It's nice having her decorate with me. We were both excited for Christmas. This year was FAR less stressful than last for many reasons. Winter of last year I was completely stressed out and falling apart. I still can't believe a whole year has gone by since then. I'm grateful for my therapy and time to heal. It had been a long time coming. Better late than never.

My Mom always wants the whole family together for Christmas. Of course it's not always possible. Usually my brother Mike and his wife alternate years, spending Christmas with HIS parents one year and HERS the next. 2018 was SUPPOSED to be my Mom's year but there was some confusion and somehow my brother Chris thought it WASN'T her year and booked a Christmas trip to Mexico. The news went over like a lead balloon. Already on Mother's Day Chris dropped the bomb that he was getting married and Mom wasn't invited (Well actually NONE of the family were invited. They were eloping but announced it ahead of time, having a very private, small wedding at a local beach. It was a bit strange but to each his own. I still can't understand why they didn't just elope and get married on one of their many tropical vacations -- to Jamaica, Cuba etc. It would have been far more romantic and would have made sense that we weren't invited, instead of feeling like a slap in the face. It was kind of weird. Then again, what do I know? I'm no expert on weddings. It's not as though I've ever had one or ever will! Anyway, people have to do what feels right for them. Regardless of what others think/feel about it.) So, Mother's Day was a mother$%#@#. Now there would be no Chris in Christmas.

Pack your bags, you're going on a guilt trip! My Mom was NOT taking the news well. "This could be my LAST Christmas and I won't even have my FAMILY with me on Christmas Day!" I almost felt bad for Chris. (ALMOST except the bugger was going to friggin MEXICO so, not really.) Anyway, the damage was done and we just had to deal with it. A date was arranged to celebrate Christmas as a family BEFORE Christmas. Mike was relieved to have a quiet Christmas at home with just his own family for a change. Mom was heartbroken she wouldn't be seeing any of her kids for Christmas day and that it would be TWO years in a row now, because next year was still Barb's family's turn. Before Mom got too far into her heart-rending violin solo on the phone with me, I told her that Michelle and me would still visit Mom and Dad for Christmas.

Mom said something to the effect of "Well I guess that's better than nothing." (Gee, thanks Mom. I feel the love!) I'd been Mom's consolation prize on several occasions when no one else could make it. She could always count on me. She said she thought Chris felt bad and regretted booking the trip. No doubt. My Mom is a master manipulator. If she doesn't get her way, she will at the very least make you feel like absolute crap over it! It's almost not even worth it trying to defy her. Even if you got to go to Mexico. Anyway I was grateful I'd get to celebrate three Christmases with Michelle. One with the whole family, one with just her and I and another with just Gramma and Grampa. Michelle was pretty psyched for all of it too. Usually it's just Michelle and me and Ali cat makes three. So spending time with our extended family is cool as a contrast.
We were in the mood for a Christmas movie so we were psyched to see the new "Grinch."

I had always loved the classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and I was curious to see the latest reinvention. It was awesome. It was faithful to the book while adding more songs and poetry that would have made Dr. Seuss proud. It was adorable, heart-warming and provided a great back story for the Grinch's behaviour which made him much more sympathetic. You could see why he turned out as angry and anti-social as he was. And it was sweet to see him open his heart in the end.

When we went outside for our traditional post-movie photo I was disappointed to see that the poster wasn't even lit up but I got the picture anyway. You have to get a photo or it just didn't happen! For the past couple of decades I have obsessively recorded my life in photos and for the past decade I've been sharing it online. It's become such a habit that I can't imagine life without it.

Michelle was really enjoying her ballet classes and I was happy to be able to give her that. It's something I wished I had gotten to do as a child. I felt bad when I wasn't able to put her in lessons because they were too expensive and my schedule would have been impossible (she would have missed half the classes -- and you still pay full price.) I was thrilled to find a studio where the classes are MUCH more reasonable (a fraction of the other studios) and I was grateful to now be able to take her to lessons. I don't know when my schedule may change in the future but hopefully it will be a more regular schedule rather than the sort of chaotic, hit and miss crazy schedule that I had before. The long hours, irregular shifts etc were part of what had pushed me over the edge. My therapist recommended I steer clear of anything like that in the future.

My little Prima Donna hamming it up for the camera! I love it! So dramatic!

I experimented with some creative shots using the cameras random multiple shots mode and settled on this sepia toned one as my fave.

With Michelle in school I had some time to myself during the day. Ever since clearing out bags of clothes for charity I had become obsessed with tidying, organizing and clearing things out. My therapist likened it to therapy -- clearing negative clutter, ghosts of the past from my home and my mind. It was overwhelming at times. For so long I had tried to just IGNORE/AVOID the unpleasant things I didn't want to face (whether my own negative feelings, disturbing things in the world, or disorder and clutter in my own home). Now I was confronting it and doing something about it, it was empowering but some days it was overwhelming and depleting. My therapist told me to pace myself but I was on a roll. I hadn't been motivated to tackle this herculean task in a long time, so now that I was, I felt like I had to keep going. It helped me to feel constructive and somewhat in control at least. I was like a machine. Clear out, donate, tidy, organize.

Now that I had a new computer I decided it was time to organize my office and actually turn it into an office/art room/studio again because for the last several years it had become just a junk room (think junk drawer on a larger scale!)/catch all for the things I didn't know what to do with. I never went in there. My laptop was usually in the kitchen. The office was anything but.

Now I started clearing more things out to give to charity and organizing my collections (souvenirs of Europe, art supplies, art books etc.)

It was amazing! I could actually use my desk as a desk now. I organized my paints by colour so I had a beautiful rainbow at my disposal. I could see the floor for the first time in years! (I had bags of Michelle's old clothes, stockpiles of gifts etc all cluttering up the floor so that you couldn't even take two steps.) Mind you even after the clear out, I still had a LOT of stuff but now everything was in its place. A lot of the bags that had taken over the floor I put into the closet, hidden away. Some things got moved to the basement or gotten rid of. I should have done a before and after but the before was too frightening to even photograph!

Until now I hadn't spent too much time in the office because it was pretty much uninhabitable. Usually I just threw stuff in there and quickly closed the door. I never let guests see inside that room (which is especially ironic considering I often referred to it as the "Guest room!") Now as I was organizing and tidying I discovered a bit of a problem that had likely been surfacing for some time but that I hadn't noticed before, namely my bookcase was leaning precariously to the left. I swear I could almost hear it creaking. It was scary.

I had been to the leaning tower of Pisa once. Now I had a leaning bookcase, threatening to fall. I'd had it a long time. It was an old silver IKEA Billy bookcase storing knick knacks, books etc. Years ago a friend who was a mover told me the guys all joked about how flimsy IKEA furniture is, breaks like doll furniture during a move, but I still love it! And they don't make the Billy bookcase in a silver foil finish anymore. Just white, black or birch. I love my silver bookcase. I have two more of them in my living room as well. I have a LOT of books!) This one had no back on it (for whatever reason I had removed it at some point so you could see the wall behind.) With no support in the back and crammed with so many heavy art books, the unit had become extremely unstable. It was going to crack. I wondered if I could tighten the screws or something but it was way beyond that.
That bookcase was like me several months ago: falling apart. Slowly but surely, day by day, more and more broken. You can only take so much weight/pressure before you come crashing down. People could tell I was more than a little off kilter but neither they nor I knew just when I was going to crack. I needed to get help. Now I needed to help my bookcase before it leaned all the way over and broke apart in splinters, smashing my collection of Eiffel towers and other Europe memorabilia. What was I going to do?

Then suddenly, possibly because I was in this take charge/clear out, problem solving mode the solution hit me: If I moved it to the corner, it could lean INTO the wall on the left and be stable. Of course it was going to be a HUGE undertaking removing everything on the shelves and dragging the bookcase clear across the room but I did it! All by myself! (Actually Michelle helped me pile some of the books in the hallway and move them back afterward. I wouldn't let her carry the heavier books. It was cute that she wanted to help.)

And voila! Problem solved! I was so pleased! It worked perfectly! It was stable. And now that I had a free wall I could add some more storage. I got a chrome shelf unit where I could store boxes of mementos etc. Since my office also doubled as my gift wrap room I could store wrapped presents for upcoming birthdays etc on the top. Now that I actually had floor space I wanted to keep clutter off the floor as much as possible.

It was empowering to feel like I could take control and make a difference, in a concrete way. There were so many things that I couldn't fix or couldn't control (in myself, the world etc.) but I could at least do this. I could make my home a tidier, more organized, more efficient and pleasant place to be. Though I don't follow it religiously I do believe in the concept of feng shui. Your home has an energy and when your energy can flow you feel happier, healthier, more at peace. Clutter, disorder and mess cause stress. Even when you try to ignore it it's there, disturbing your peace. When everything is in order it is pleasing to the eye and your mind can be at peace. I need all the peace I can get!

After all my hard work, I was determined to keep my home relatively clutter-free. This also meant not shopping nearly as much, which was good for other reasons -- most importantly because I needed to save money. For too long, without realizing it, I was spending more than I had. Shopping had been an addiction for me more than I recognized. It should have been fairly obvious. I have a LOT of clothes. Like I could probably have a different outfit every single day of my life if I wanted. No repeats. Even if I lived to be 100 years old. Michelle has a lot of clothes too. And she outgrows them so quickly. She also has an insane amount of toys. Like more than a toy store. What can I say? I have a weakness for cute and beautiful things. Especially if they're on sale! I shopped mindlessly (the opposite of mindfulness.) It's like I was in a trance-like state. It helped me to forget about my problems so much that I didn't realize IT was a problem. Quite often we are unconscious of our addictions. They are just things we do, unknowingly, to feel better. We want it. We crave more. And it's never enough. Nothing is ever enough to fill the void. That is one quality that virtually all addictions share: They NEVER fill the void. They are supposed to make us feel better but in the end, because we overdo them, we feel much worse.

While it's usually easy to identify addictions to dangerous substances such as cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, some addictions (to food, shopping etc) are more insidious because they don't seem dangerous. Everyone needs to eat. You have to go shopping sometimes. How do you know when it's out of control? When it's interfering with your life. When it becomes unhealthy.

Shopping was escapism for me, a form of avoidance and distraction from distressing things in my life. It was like a drug. I loved that it was a way I could take control and get what I want, unlike most other things in life. If I was feeling down or stressed, I could go shopping as a pick me up. It was a treasure hunt. I would find something amazing on sale and be excited. But the high wouldn't last and it was no fun when the credit card bills came in. Shopping addiction is pretty common. I'm not the only shopaholic. People joke about "retail therapy." There is a rush to being able to go into a store and pick out whatever you want (as long as you can afford it!)

At least I was helping the economy! I have always been a shopaholic and bargain hunter like my mother. Unfortunately no matter how cheap things are, if you buy enough of them it adds up. When I look back, it got worse the more stressed out I was. That's usually how it is with addictions -- when you're stressed you reach for your drug of choice as an escape. Have a cigarette. Have a drink. Eat another donut. Go shopping. I don't smoke, drink or do drugs. I go shopping and eat junk food. For the longest time, shopping was my Mother's Little Helper. But I couldn't keep it up. I wanted to stop. I didn't want to spend so much money or keep amassing things to fill an already full house. It had to change. I tried to avoid shopping as much as possible and when I had to go I would add things up in my head as I put them in the cart so I knew exactly what I was spending. I tried to limit myself to only what I needed/really loved/could afford. I was doing pretty well. I got used to picking things up and then putting them back after doing an honest evaluation. I managed to cut my spending in half. My therapist was proud of me for making so much progress. Recognizing you have a problem is the first step. Taking steps to manage your addiction is next. It isn't easy. It is possible.
So I was avoiding stores for the most part. Of course there was still Christmas shopping but I mostly had it done anyway, aside from a few last minute things.

We were so excited for Christmas. I was glad I got the tree up in time for my Mom's birthday party. I was hosting. Michelle loves dressing up so she was thrilled to be able to wear one of her many beautiful gowns, this time a stunning navy blue dress in velvet and satin. I had been planning to wear a 3/4 length sleeve white and grey floral dress that I'd ordered almost a year ago and hadn't even worn yet. It arrived in the Summer when it was far too hot to wear a sleeve. Now in the Fall when I went to try it on, it barely fit. I had gained... 10...15...20 lbs?! Even though I swore it wouldn't happen (I was still counting calories. Unfortunately it didn't stop me from consuming them!), it snuck up on me. Between eating a jar of jelly beans (they had become an addiction and I had to keep replenishing the jar!) and other holiday eating (Christmas cookies etc) as well as a lack of exercise (I rarely did my yoga anymore and with the cold I wasn't walking outside much) it was no wonder I'd gained.

I still squeezed into the dress for the party. I figured I had to wear it at least ONCE. I got compliments on it but it was uncomfortable to say the least. The sleeves were cutting off the circulation in my arms!

I insisted on the group photo, as usual. We were all there except Mike and his gang. It's a very long drive for him, especially to my place and he doesn't make it for all of the family events. One year he was supposed to come for Mom's birthday (I usually host it) and had to back out because there was a blizzard and it was too dangerous to drive.

If there's no place to go, let it snow, I guess. It's not so bad if you don't have to drive in it. It still isn't my favourite. You still have to shovel it. Michelle always plays in the snow while I do the driveway and sidewalk. When it's packing snow we make a snowman (snow woman) or two and sometimes a snow cat.

I really don't like being out in the cold. I hate the snow but I make the best of it to make Michelle happy. My favourite part is when we get to go in and peel off our cold, wet winter clothes and warm up inside with a hot chocolate.

If there is a photo op to be had, even at great discomfort to me, I am down for it! Michelle hugging our big snow kitty was adorable and it was worth nearly getting frostbite on my fingers to get it.

This time with Michelle is priceless. I feel so fortunate to be able to share these adventures with her. I know it means a lot to her too. We are a very small family, the two of us and our Ali cat, but we couldn't be more filled with love. It isn't the size of the family that matters, it's the love. Michelle couldn't be more loved even if she had a father and siblings.

My girl and me.

Michelle really is the best thing in my life. She is why I started this blog and why I continue it. Despite the problems and setbacks and heartbreaks I have suffered in the past, she makes it all worthwhile. This blog is my way of celebrating our lives, reliving the happy moments and I need this. So many times I've thought of giving it up but I kept going because I just have to. "The unexamined life is not worth living" Socrates said. This blog is my way of examining my life. It helps me to remember what's really important.

It was pajama day at ballet. Michelle had fun dancing around in her pjs. I always enjoy watching her class even if it is from outside the door through a small window. Some parents just spend the time on their phone texting or playing games. I always want to watch Michelle. I wish I could be in the room with her. Plus the little girl in me that never got to take ballet wouldn't mind being in on the class too. 

When the class is over I usually make Michelle pose for a photo or two (or three!) because I simply can't pass up a cute photo op. I've tried to explain my obsession to non-photoholics and they just don't get it. Taking pictures is like breathing to me. Telling me not to take a photo is like telling me to hold my breath. If something cute or beautiful happens and I don't have my camera (or the battery is dead or the memory card is full or they don't allow photography) it physically HURTS! There's a knot in my stomach. I tried explaining it to my Mom: I've always dreamed of going to Hawaii. But if someone gave me a trip for free and the one condition was that I couldn't take photos, I wouldn't go. To me it would be torture to see the most beautiful places in the world and not be able to capture the moment and to know that I would never see it again. Photography is control for me. It is one thing I can control. The moment will slip through my fingers and time will go too fast but I can at least capture it forever in pictures.

Michelle went to a gymnastics themed birthday party and had a ball. I couldn't afford to put her in gymnastics too (ballet and piano are already stretching my budget) but I'm sure she'd enjoy it. She's pretty flexible and has a ton of energy.

I stuck around for the party so I could keep an eye on her, partly because it's a public place and I still didn't really feel comfortable leaving her, partly because I'd be afraid of her getting hurt on the equipment and I'd want to be nearby if she needed me (overprotective bubble wrap helicopter parent? Guilty as charged!) and also because it's a cute photo op and how on Earth could I pass that up?!

Unfortunately a lot of the shots were blurry. My new camera doesn't seem to have a sport/action mode (and if it does I couldn't find it) so all the shots of Michelle in action on the trampoline, swings on the rings etc, were blurry. She had a ball diving into the foam blocks so at least I caught some of that.

Leaping unicorns!

And then, just like that my camera decided to cooperate and catch an action shot. Maybe because it was outdoors in natural light. Michelle is really catching air.

Even when there isn't a lot of snow on the ground she will gravitate toward the one pile that there is and jump in it. I envy her energy and enthusiasm. I wish I had even a fraction of them. But on a grey November day the last thing on Earth I feel like doing is leaping for joy.

Our snowmen (snow girls?) weren't doing too well.

You just never knew what the weather would do from one day to the next. It could be sub-zero and snow one day and then warm up and be melting green grass again. I bundled Michelle up regardless. Some days I'd look out and think "Oh it's sunny. It must be warmer today" and it was colder than ever.

I want Michelle to enjoy Santa Claus. I really do. As a child I never got to have that. My Mom flat out told us there was no Santa. I didn't ruin it for other kids but I was still sad for myself that I missed out on some of the magic of the season.

This year, however, I was losing my patience with the whole thing. It was turning into a bit of a fiasco.

I already had Michelle's Christmas presents. I was hoping she'd ask Santa for something that I already had for her so it wouldn't involve me going out shopping again (since I was supposed to be giving up my shopping addiction.)  Then she said she was asking Santa for a new Hatchimal. OK. I would look for one. I was worried that they retailed for about $70-80 but maybe I'd find one on sale. I found one at Walmart for half price. Score! I was thrilled. I wrapped it up from Santa. I was all set. But then when she wrote her letter for Santa she revealed that what she really wanted was a Hatchimal "Hatchibaby" not the mystery one I'd gotten for her. For crying out loud I had the wrong Hatchimal. I already had it wrapped and everything. Santa could NOT, WOULD not get it wrong. This wouldn't do. Crap. I was so mad. So I returned it and went and got the Hatchibaby, which was full price. Then I saw the Hatchibaby on sale somewhere but I was reluctant to return it and then buy it at the other store. With my luck I'd return it and then they'd be sold out and I wouldn't have one at all which would be worse. Then by the time I decided to go for it the sale was over anyway. For crying out loud. It made me sick that I'd spent full price and wasted the money, especially when I was supposed to be saving not spending. Then Walmart, where I had purchased it, had the Hatchibaby marked down. OK. I thought Walmart is pretty good about returns/exchanges and maybe they would give me a refund for the difference. I brought it to the store, still wrapped, with the receipt and told the customer service woman what I'd been through. She was sympathetic. She said technically they're only supposed to refund the difference if it's within one week/one flyer and it had been more than that. Still she refunded me the difference and didn't even make me unwrap it. I had special paper from Santa and special hand-writing. I couldn't believe what I had gone through and Santa would get all the credit for it. But that's just what you do. And one day she won't believe in Santa anymore but for now, I'll do whatever I need to, just to give her that joy and magic.

One night she asked me "Mama, is there a Santa Claus?"
The pressure. How do I answer her. I thought the best way would be to read her a book based on the famous letter "Yes Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus." I love the line "He exists as certainly as love and devotion and generosity exist..." She said that some people don't believe. I said that yes I know. It's sad that some people have no faith. It's hard to believe in things that you don't see with your own eyes. I told her that when kids stop believing, if they lose their Christmas spirit, then they stop getting presents from him. She assured me that she still believed. She's only 6. I wonder how old she will be before she figures it all out.
We both loved the movie "Wreck it Ralph" so when we heard there was going to be a sequel we were excited. It was amazing. "Ralph Breaks the Internet" (although I think it should have been Ralph WRECKS the Internet!) was so cute and clever and heartwarming. It was visually stunning and very inventive. I couldn't resist getting the combo that came with a Vanellope Von Sweetz bucket that we didn't end up using for popcorn but we decided made a perfect candy bucket. So much for my not shopping. A trip to the movies, by the time you pay for the film and snack combos is a fortune. But it's escapism and Michelle and I both love it. Whenever an animated movie comes out I have a hard time saying no. I loved animated films even before having a child so I love them even more now. If I can't live in a Disney movie I can at least go to one. To watch something colourful and magical is a breath of fresh air on a cold grey dreary November day. Which described most days.

Pretty in pink. My little ballerina.

When I was little my Mom said I used to dance around on my tiptoes like a ballerina as a two year old. I wanted to take dance lessons. As I got older I wanted to even more. But you had to have started when you were 4-6 years old. It was too late. It was one dream that I could never have. One of the best compliments I'd ever gotten was from a stranger when I was in my teens. She commented how lithe and graceful I was and asked if I was a ballerina.
"I wish," I replied.
Now I can make Michelle's wishes come true. And live vicariously through her.
The photo doesn't really do this Christmas tree justice. This tree is DEEP PURPLE!

Yes, the studio had a purple Christmas tree and it was just about the coolest thing EVER! I've always loved my white one. I think if I'd ever come across a purple or pink one I would have been tempted to buy it and then have all purple or pink ornaments.

It was so pretty! I loved it! I made Michelle pose with the purple tree before we left. The hallway in the studio is usually extremely busy and insanely crowded with all the classes spilling out and parents picking up their kids but I did manage to capture this moment without anyone in the way. Again, I can't miss a photo op. I have a weakness for cute and pretty things. Always. (I may not always be able to buy them but I can at the very least take their picture!)
Like mother, like daughter.

I can't resist dressing us alike. I found this adorable pink sweater with deer on it in Michelle's size and my size. They're so soft and comfortable too. Yes I was supposed to be avoiding shopping but I had to take my Mom Christmas shopping because she doesn't have a car and while I was out with her it was hard not to buy anything myself. I did exercise incredible restraint most of the time, but I have my breaking point. There were some purchases I could justify -- if I knew I was going to regret walking away from it then it was a keeper. I was at least getting really good at adding up my items in my head so I knew exactly what it would be when I went to check out. In the past I was in sort of a fugue state and would be shocked at the amount when I went to cash out. Walmart was a killer for this. I try to avoid Walmart now because it's  too much temptation. They literally sell everything. You go in for light bulbs and wind up filling your cart with everything on Earth -- clothes, food, toys, you name it. I try not to do that anymore.
My Mom had her Christmas tree up too. It was pretty cozy. Sometimes we would visit my Mom and stay overnight and I'd take her shopping. It wasn't ideal. I never sleep very well. The bed is uncomfortable. One time we came in and my Mom's cat had POOED on the guest bed! Maybe she was marking her territory? We were horrified. Sometimes shit happens LITERALLY! My Mom threw out the comforter but we were still pretty freaked out. I wanted to just go home but the weather was too bad to drive so we were sort of stuck.
"Mama. I don't want to stay here."
"Me either. We'll be back home tomorrow. It's just for one night."
"What if the cat POOS on us?!"
"She probably won't."
"Can we just GO?!"
"Gramma is making bacon and eggs in the morning."
"OK let's stay!"

Michelle loved bacon. I made it very rarely. My Mom made it every day of her life.

I gave Michelle a couple of little Christmas presents early including this adorable little Christmas kitty. If it's a Christmas thing you might as well get it BEFORE Christmas, right? Otherwise it's only good for like one day and then you have to put it away for next year. As cramped and cluttered as my Mom's place is it is much cozier with the Christmas tree up and the lights on. We managed to survive the rest of the night without my Mom's cat "Sweetheart" (which clearly, after the poo poo incident is a bit of a misnomer!) defecating in the living room again.

There's no place like home! Whenever we were away (though it was far less often now) it was so good to get back home. I let Michelle open stocking stuffer presents ahead of time. Some of them I had gotten at the dollar store. It was amazing what you could find at stores like the Dollar Tree for only $1.25 -- stuffies, puzzles, books. Michelle appreciated even the smallest things. With kids you don't have to spend a lot to make them happy. They can have fun even with the little things too.

A lot of the presents I had already purchased months ago, any time I saw things on sale at Toys R Us, anytime I saw something too cute to resist. Being a shopaholic does come in handy in some ways. When Michelle was invited to a birthday party I often had a present ready to give. Of course you can't go overboard and fill your house with things just because you might need them some day.

To a child it seems like forever until Christmas. To an adult, it comes on us much too quickly. It was already December. I gave Michelle an advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas. I knew that they would fly by.

Back to the fuchsia!

Just when I thought it couldn't get any cooler than a purple Christmas tree, the studio put up a NEON PINK Christmas tree in the classroom!

It's the girliest, glitteriest, prettiest Christmas tree EVER and it's just perfect for a ballet class! I absolutely loved it. I was wishing I had one. Seriously. I have never seen anything like it. It was decorated so well too. They even had a collection of colourful balls underneath it (or maybe it came like that. I don't know but it was awesome.) So beautiful. Of course I couldn't resist getting a photo (or two) of us posing with the tree after class. I was surprised no one else did but some people don't really care about stuff like that I guess. Sometimes when I see people just passing by a photo op, acting all blasé I almost feel like asking them "Are you SEEING THIS?! Like isn't this AWESOME?!" But they'd probably think I was crazy. And they wouldn't be wrong.

 And then the purple one again. This photo shows it a little better. With sparkly purple and gold ornaments. Michelle was even in her purple unicorn horns with purple hair to match. And a lavender coat.

The artist Jane Davenport says in one of her books that she suffers from "rainbow-i-tis." I get it. I have the same thing. I LOVE rainbow colours. In my living room I even arranged my books by colour. I have a blue shelf, white, black, purple, beige. I love rainbow coloured things. There is a plastic storage unit with rainbow drawers that I've always admired but I never seem to see it on sale and now I'm not supposed to be shopping at all. I guess it's an artist thing to me so infatuated with colour. It's part of what makes you want to draw or paint. The Winter can be so bleak, dark and grey. To have these vibrant, gorgeous splashes of colour is such a blessing. It lifts my spirit on a dull day.

Yes I found us yet another matching outfit -- black cat sweatshirts! Adorbs! The cat is actually a front pocket, you can put your hands in to be cozy. This is how much of a nerd I am. I couldn't resist these
a) because they were on sale
b) I love cats
c) I relish any opportunity to dress us alike because I love my girl and right now she thinks it's cool to dress like Mama even though no doubt a decade from now she would be mortified if we dressed the same. Of course by then I'll be really old (I'm already pretty old!) and I don't think I'd still be able to get away with dressing like a kid. Not that I should get away with it now. But screw it. I gotta be me! People have commented a couple of times when we're out "Oh how cute! You're twins!" but they're secretly probably thinking "Dear Lord woman that's a cry for help if I've ever seen one!" I'm trying not to care so much what people think anyway. It's what my girl thinks and what I think that matters.

We went to see the Christmas lights show because how could we not? It's beautiful and it's free. There are down sides of course. For one, it was insanely crowded. The parking lot was a disaster. I was stressed out before we even started so I wasn't in the best mood. Plus I'm not a fan of being outdoors in the winter, especially at night. I mostly just couldn't wait to get back home and warm up.

Michelle loved it and was having a ball running around so I tried to be a good sport.

The peacock was our favourite light display. It was tough to get a photo without someone in the way. The peacock was pretty popular.

I love a photo op and these were great photo ops but I just wasn't feeling it. Plus they were playing Sarah Mclachlan singing "River" which is the song I usually play at home when I need a cathartic cry. (It's on a Christmas compilation CD I have.)

"I wish I had a river I could skate away on..." Aside from Blue Christmas and White Christmas it is the most melancholy Christmas song to me. Christmas is complicated to me. It is a sweet, magical time, it is also sort of a melancholy, difficult time. Being surrounded by traditional happy families -- Moms and dads with their kids -- was like salt in the wound as well. Not that I don't love my tiny family of Michelle and me. But sometimes I feel like the only single parent in the world. It's like friggin Noah's Ark everywhere I go -- they're all two by two. Mom and dad. And then there's me. And sometimes it makes me sad. I'll see a couple walking with their child between them holding their hands and it makes my heart ache that I can't give Michelle that.

"Can we go yet?!" I kept asking.

She didn't want to go. She wanted to run back and see everything again. She wasn't tired. She wasn't cold. She wasn't sad. This was just pure fun for her. Other than Halloween she doesn't usually get to be out at night so it was an adventure. Finally I had to drag her away. Then it was a nightmare trying to get out of the parking lot alive with line ups of cars coming and going. Sometimes I wish I could just beam home instantly. I don't do well in crowds or traffic or chaos.

I liked the photo ops. I was glad that we had gone. I was glad that Michelle enjoyed it but the trip made me feel a little sad. When Michelle was in school the next day I played "River" and cried.

Michelle did figure out that the "Mall Santa" was not actually THE Santa, if only because how could he be at all the malls at the same time and why does he always look different. She figures they just work for the real Santa and report back to him. Of course she didn't really have to tell Santa what she wanted because she'd already sent him her letter c/o Santa Claus at The North Pole HOH 0H0. 

Santa had a MASSIVE throne this time. It seems they have revised the whole Santa photo thing. Now instead of sitting on Santa's lap you sit beside him. This is probably a better idea for a couple of reasons. Sitting on some random guy's lap is a little creepy if you think about it too much. Also poor Santa's leg probably gets sore after 100 kids have climbed on it. Also, if they're not potty trained it could be messy for poor old Santa. The big chair seemed like a good idea for everyone. I was happy with Michelle's photo. With a photoholic Mama she's a pro at posing by now.

 She was all dressed up in her red Christmas gown. We walked around the mall afterward doing a bit of shopping (and yes, I'm like a recovering alcoholic in a bar, I may have fallen off the wagon. Hard!) while waiting for Gramma. My Mom loved to go shopping and wasn't able to get out unless someone would take her. So I was usually the chauffeur.

Though I had been pretty good about not spending money if you put me in a mall with Michelle, all bets are off. I couldn't resist getting her a few things. How could I say no to that face?!

Michelle's tooth was loose for a while and I was worried about it coming out. What if it happened in her sleep and she swallowed it?! Would it hurt? Would it be bleeding? I was hoping it would happen at home rather than at school when I wasn't there.

At first Michelle was excited about her wiggly tooth and the thought of the Tooth Fairy coming. It's a milestone in a kid's life. It's a sign that they're growing up. Her initial enthusiasm gave way to frustration that it wasn't coming out and that eating was trickier. I told her she couldn't exactly be on soft foods for her entire childhood. All of the baby teeth have to fall out at some point. It takes years before all the adult teeth grow in. You can't go years eating nothing but soup. Michelle doesn't even like soup! I asked my sister how long it takes a tooth to fall out. It depends. Days, weeks, months. I know that some people try to help it along by pulling on it. On TV you'd see kids taking drastic measures like tying a string to it and pulling it by a bike or dropping a book out of a window. I definitely didn't want to do anything like that. I told her to just let it come out on its own when it's ready.

Michelle is sentimental like me and she wanted to keep her tooth. She asked me if the Tooth Fairy would let her keep the tooth but still give her money. I said she could try to negotiate it! So Michelle wrote a letter for the Tooth Fairy. We were all set. I even found a cute little box to keep her tooth in as a souvenir. And then, because it's Murphy's Law, her tooth falls out when we're staying at my Mom's and we don't have the letter OR the box. So we waited until we got home and left the note for the Tooth Fairy under the pillow.

The next morning Michelle was THRILLED to find a little note under her pillow in a gold bag with gold fairy dust and a shiny toonie. Her tooth was in the box with gold dust sprinkled on it.

"She was HERE!" Michelle exclaimed, "the Tooth Fairy came!"

Seeing Michelle so excited and happy, with actual evidence of magic was PRICELESS. I will never forget that morning. When I told my therapist about it she said it was beautiful, sheer genius. She thought the gold glitter was a nice touch.

I was hoping Michelle wouldn't compare notes with other kids. Maybe other kids got more money but no fairy dust and no note etc? I would just tell her that she was special because she wanted to keep her tooth and was thoughtful enough to write the Tooth Fairy a letter.

I'm glad Michelle gets to experience these magical moments. Santa Claus. Tooth Fairy. I didn't. My Mom just gave us money when our teeth came out. (At least she did THAT.) No Tooth Fairy. No magic. There's such a small window of time, just a few years where kids really believe in magic. Why not let them have that? They have the rest of their lives to become disillusioned/jaded/cynical.

Michelle was enjoying her piano lessons. They asked her to perform in the Christmas concert and she said yes. Although she had been in one piano recital already she was very nervous. I told her it's natural to get stage fright. She was afraid to make a mistake but all sorts of students, even ones much older than her made little mistakes in their songs. It's human nature to be nervous and to slip up a little under stress. I was a little nervous for her. It was a large crowd in the church. I wish my family could have been there to see her but I recorded her on video and posted it on Youtube.

Here is the video of Michelle playing "Deck the Halls." I was so proud of her. Even the owner of the studio apparently commented to her teacher that she's doing amazingly well considering she just started taking lessons in March. I'm so proud of my girl.

I'm glad that she gets to enjoy things like piano and ballet -- they had been my dream as a child. I would never force her into anything but I'm thrilled that she has the same interests I do. I wouldn't have been as enthused if, say, she wanted to play sports. (Thank Heaven that's not the case! I would still support her but I wouldn't enjoy it nearly as much! And it's expensive and I'd be afraid of her getting hurt!)

It was "ugly Christmas sweater day" at the ballet studio. her cute I heart Santa sweater really wasn't ugly. Most of the children's Christmas sweaters are cute. It's only when an adult tries to wear a gawdy Christmas sweater with a big reindeer head or glitter or something that it's really ugly. She wore a sparkly sequined skirt to match. It was perfect because she could wear the outfit to the birthday party she was going to afterward. We really had to rush and go straight to the party after her class.

Michelle is so popular it seems like she has a party or play date almost every week. Meanwhile my social life is non-existent but it's fine because I'm more of a solitary person anyway. Michelle is very outgoing and friendly and makes friends easily.

The party was at the theatre. She'd be seeing the Grinch. We'd already seen it and I really didn't want to pay to see it again. I felt nervous about leaving Michelle but I made sure she went to the bathroom before I left and I instructed her to always stay with the group -- in the party room and then walking single file into the theatre to see the movie. The control freak in me was a little scared to leave her in a public place but I figured at least it's a controlled environment (not like the indoor playground which is sheer anarchy and almost impossible to supervise the kids). I could do some shopping in the area nearby and then come back to get her. Her friend's Mom was very nice and assured me it would be fine. She was even sympathetic to how overprotective I am. So I left Michelle and we both survived! It's hard for me to let go but I'm taking baby steps. Depending what the future holds I may have to leave her for longer periods. I have to learn to surrender control now and then.

Oh deer! A stranger kindly took our photo with a massive deer.

Although I was trying not to shop too much I had to take my Mom shopping because she doesn't have a car and needed to do her Christmas shopping. It was a LOT of temptation for me, especially in a mall but I was pretty disciplined and didn't get TOO carried away. The old me would have had a field day and been loaded down with bags from every store we went in. Then I'd add up my receipts and have a panic attack when I realized what I'd spent. Now I was a much more conscious and responsible shopper. I only got a couple of little things that were either a really good deal or too good to pass up and I always knew what I was spending so there were no surprises.

I wasn't sure if she'd caught it at the theatre party or what but Michelle got sick with a cold. Sigh. Every single Christmas it seems one or both of us gets sick. She didn't want to miss performing in her Christmas concert so we went anyway but it was a bit of a fiasco.

It was WAY more crowded than I'd expected and I couldn't even find a seat until a friend (one of Michelle's friend's moms) waved me over and I sat there, though it was pretty far back. It seemed like the whole school was performing before Michelle's class. It was taking forever and my patience was wearing pretty thin. I didn't even get to sit with Michelle. She had to go to her class to prepare. Meanwhile her voice was hoarse and her nose was running and she was supposed to be singing. She looked about as miserable as I felt. I mimed to her "Smile!" from the audience but this was as close as she came to a grin.

Afterward I got a picture of us together and once again, she looks absolutely miserable. I was wishing we hadn't even gone. Every part of it was a nightmare: Michelle being sick, the fight to find a parking spot, the stress of finding a seat, the tediousness of sitting through hundreds of kids singing off-key and the misery of poor Michelle sick and coughing from the stage when she should be in bed. I was regretting that we had gone but if we hadn't then we might have regretted that we didn't go. And ultimately I left it up to Michelle. She didn't want to miss out. She had missed out on the concert other years (whether because of illness or my schedule. Now that I saw first hand what the experience was really like I'm kind of thinking I lucked out when I couldn't go!) Still, it was a bit cute I guess.

My little unicorn. When I kept her home sick she wouldn't rest anyway. She'd be in bed less than an hour and then she'd be up running around and playing. Her coughs and colds could linger for weeks. I couldn't keep her home every day. Soon it would be Christmas and she'd be off school for a couple of weeks anyway.

Michelle likes going to school. She has lots of friends and enjoys learning. It is always hard to get her up in the mornings though. It would be nice to have a break from that at least.

We were both looking forward to Christmas. I still couldn't believe it was December much less that it would be Christmas soon. The year had flown by. Much too fast.

I found a way to get my shopping fix without adding too much more clutter or spending too much money -- second hand stores like Plato's Closet and Style Encore buy used clothing as well as sell it. So I would go in with bags of things I no longer wanted and find some new treasures. On a good day I'd break even at least. I found some really beautiful things -- kimonos and tunics and unusual blouses with gorgeous patterns -- really cheap. One Plato's had a spot the elf promotion where if you managed to find the elf hiding you'd save 20% off your purchase. I had almost given up when I spotted these elf legs peaking out of a jacket.

I wasn't going to be able to give up shopping cold turkey but if I could find a responsible way to enjoy it then I figured that's not so bad.

Michelle made a Christmas card for her piano teacher. I told her that it wasn't very Christmas-y but she thought it was more important to make it musical. Her teacher liked it.

Not only would Michelle have a break from school for a couple of weeks, she'd also have a break from her lessons -- both the music centre and the dance studio would be closed for the Christmas break at all. It would be nice not to have to go anywhere. It's always stressful trying to get places on time. Now we could just stay home and take it easy. In theory anyway. Michelle still had a bit of a cough but it wasn't as bad as it had been. At least her nose wasn't running constantly. I was hoping she'd be alright because we had the Christmas celebration with the family coming up. She still made it to her piano and ballet class.
Her last ballet class before Christmas...

I couldn't resist posing one last time with my favourite tree. I just love this neon pink tree. I wish I had one even though I don't know where I'd put it. It would look great in Michelle's room but she wouldn't have room for it with all her toys and books. Michelle wants to paint her room pink one day (I think almost every little girl goes through that stage!) but it will be a HUGE job moving all her furniture and toys away from the wall to do it. We might tackle that in the Spring. I'm hoping that having her room painted the way she wants might make her want to sleep there. At this point she is still sleeping in my room. I don't have the heart to kick her out. I know as a kid that I struggled with night terrors and my Mom just left me to rot. I will never do that to Michelle. I want her to know she's always safe and loved.
The big family Christmas celebration. Before Christmas. It shouldn't really matter that it's not actually Christmas day as long as we're all together. Some families don't even get together at all. Most families don't get together to celebrate every birthday and holiday the way that we do. We're the exception, not the rule. May and Shane hosted at their place because it's the nicest place and the biggest space to accommodate all of us. They had another one of their famous MASSIVE Christmas trees. Every year they get a real tree and it's always HUGE. Like two stories high.

With that many people all opening presents it's always chaotic and it seems like it's over in seconds. Then it was dinner time. A delicious turkey dinner. I had been looking forward to having time to sit down and chat with May after dinner but then Michelle felt really sick. "Mama I want to go HOME." She felt nauseous and was afraid of throwing up. I was so disappointed. I had to fight back tears on the way home and after she'd gone to bed I sat and cried. I'd been looking forward to seeing the family and then it seemed like the day was just over and gone in a blur. I didn't even get a proper visit with May and it seemed like I hadn't seen her in so long. When I talked to May on the phone I was happy to hear that she was going to host my dad's birthday party so I would get a chance to see her again. Michelle was perfectly fine whatever it was. She didn't throw up (which I was extremely relieved about because that's the worst thing ever.)

I told Michelle she could open some of her presents ahead of time so she'd have more time to enjoy them. On Christmas day we had to go to my Mom's after she opened her presents and I didn't want her to feel too rushed. She opened her stocking stuffers and was happy with her gifts. I had spoiled her of course. Most of the presents were bought months ago, before I had my epiphany/realization about my shopping habit or made the commitment to change. I had gone overboard. She would have been happy with half or even a third of the presents that I had gotten her. I just have a hard time holding back when it comes to giving things to Michelle. It's much easier to restrain myself from buying things for me. Anything that Michelle wanted (toys she saw on TV or in the store) if it was cute and wasn't too expensive, I got it. How could I not?! But I knew I couldn't keep this up.

My cutie opening her Cutie Cars. Cutie Cars are one of the strokes of genius that toy maker Moose Toys puts out. Toy manufacturers keep coming out with these adorable collectible things and once you start collecting them you feel like you have to get ALL of them (which is sort of impossible because you can never find the limited edition ones except once in a while online at exorbitant prices.) And just when you think you have the whole series, they come out with ANOTHER set. And another. And you can't keep up with it. Or sometimes a line of toys is discontinued. Michelle collects Tsum Tsums and all of a sudden they disappeared. Stores weren't carrying them. They didn't make them anymore. I had to stop buying so many toys. It's just overwhelming. I've had the collecting bug myself for many years. I was collecting stuffed bears and cats and Barbie dolls long before I even knew I'd ever have a child. Now I buy for her it gives me an even better excuse to get her cute things that I love too. But it has to stop! I can't keep up with it! For the love of God, PLEASE STOP MAKING ADORABLE TOYS!

And then it was Christmas morning. Michelle was excited to find her present from Santa under the tree, in a special bag from the North Pole. She was also happy to see that the cookies she'd left for Santa and the carrots for the reindeer had been taken.

I love seeing Michelle's excitement, her wide eyed wonder at the magic of Christmas. I wish I'd had that as a kid.

Michelle opened up her Hatchimals "Hatchibaby" (another marketing genius. Kids love a mystery and opening up eggs to see what's inside. She collects the miniature versions too.) She was anxious to get her Hatchibaby out of the box and hatch it. It took a while.

"Turn around Bright Eyes!" (Bonnie Tyler, "Total Eclipse of the Heart," 1983. Sorry. Inside joke. If you weren't a child of the 80s, never mind.)

Finally her Hatchibaby was out, bright eyes and all. It is quite an experience hatching the egg. It makes little noises and lights up and the shell cracks slowly.

I was glad that Santa got her what she wanted. I got her lots of things she had asked for as well. Christmas with Michelle is like being a kid again and feeling that excitement and anticipation. It's different when you aren't a child and don't have kids. As an adult, Christmas is nice and all but it loses some of its magic. You can only get so enthused about a new pair of pjs. There is nothing like giving, or getting, a new toy. It is such a joy to share that with Michelle and living vicariously through her.

Ali was quite content to sit with us as Michelle opened her gifts. She got a couple of cat toys. She didn't seem to mind that her human sister had a LOT more presents to open. She was a pretty good sport about posing with a platypus on her head. (OK, yeah I wasn't supposed to be shopping but how do you NOT buy a pink PLATYPUS with a gold beak Beanie Boo? You can't NOT buy it! Just like I had to buy the stuffed narwhal when I saw it. Because some of God's creatures are so unique and out there that you just have to celebrate it and you might as well have a stuffed animal of it! It's a far cry from Teddy Bears and Kitty Cats, let me tell you! I guess you could say I fell off the wagon once or twice. When I had to take my Mom shopping it was almost impossible not to buy anything myself. As I've mentioned I have a weakness for cute and beautiful things. So basically everything that a 6 year old girl would love. When the world is so dark you need to unicorn and rainbow (and platypus) the heck out of it to make it survivable. Let me have this.

Michelle had asked for this Smithsonian science kit and it was on sale half price so I had to get it. The crystals and gem dig sounded nice and the volcano was cool but the PREHISTORIC SEA MONSTERS gave me the willies. I couldn't imagine how you could hatch a real living prehistoric creature. Still, I wanted to encourage Michelle's scientific curiosity so I was willing to give it a try. We decided we would work on some science experiments and crafts while she was off school in early January. Michelle is learning STEM in school. For those new to the term (they did NOT have this when I was growing up!) it refers to Science Technology Engineering and Math. When I was younger I was interested in Science but I stopped taking it in Grade 11 because I knew that Biology meant dissecting a frog which I simply could not/would not do. I was never a fan of Math and struggled with it. I still managed to get A-s (though 80% instead of 90% like the rest of my classes) but it did not come easy. I remember crying over my three hours a night of math homework thinking it was a fate worse than death. It's such a cliche for girls not to like math. I'd like Michelle to be well-rounded. I'm glad that she likes Math as well as reading and writing. She even got past a grade 3 level in a math game through her school. She was adding and subtracting three digit numbers. They haven't even done anything like that yet in grade one math.

After opening all of her presents from me, we packed up and headed to my Mom and Dad's for Christmas number 3. More presents for Michelle to open. And even some for me for a change. I don't care so much about getting things myself. It's more fun to give to Michelle. Still it was nice to get things from my Mom. Some of them I'd picked out when we were shopping and she'd said she'd buy them for me. Luckily I'd forgotten about them so it was like a surprise opening them! That's one good thing about having a bad memory. Picking out our own gifts was an easier way for my Mom and I to shop. It took the guesswork out of what to buy. And I don't like just giving gift cards all the time. If there was something my Mom admired in the store and wasn't sure about I'd say "I'll get it for you for Christmas!" and her face would light up.

And then it was dad's birthday.

As you can see, above, Michelle made a card for her Grampa with HUNDREDS of kisses and hugs. It was cute.

My dad doesn't smile in pictures anymore. He always looks slightly bewildered, like he's not really sure what to do. He does still smile and laugh, just not if a camera is pointed at him. Even if you say "Smile!" or "Cheese!" Nada. This was as good as it got. At least Michelle was smiling.

I was grateful that May agreed to host Dad's birthday party. I always love going to my sister's place.

Naturally I insisted on getting a group photo as usual.

Michelle has the biggest smile. My dad, has the smallest. The rest of us are somewhere in between with a slight smirk or neutral face.

As you can see, it was just May and me and our families. Chris was in Mexico and Mike doesn't make the long drive more than once a month. My Mom said there's a rhyme that goes "A son is a son til he takes a wife. A daughter's a daughter all of her life." I definitely think daughters make more of an effort. I'm glad Michelle is a girl...

Happy Birthday Dad! Still no smile. I was so grateful we got to have another visit at May's because the family celebration had been cut short with Michelle not feeling well and I was sad that I didn't get a chance to catch up with May. She's my best friend. She always makes me laugh. I always feel better when I talk to her. It was nice talking to Shannon as well. Michelle always has a ball running amok with Reggie.

We watched a movie May suggested, The Christmas Chronicles. Normally I want nothing to do with Christmas after it's over but I was intrigued to see Kurt Russell as an unconventional, modern version of Santa. It was AMAZING! I absolutely loved it! I was so grateful that I got to see that. It was so cute and funny and totally different from any other Christmas movie I'd ever seen.

Michelle wanted to go shopping. Good Lord, she's only 6 years old and she already has the shopaholic bug from my Mom and me! I figured we'd go to the Dollar Tree where literally EVERYTHING is $1.25 (I don't know how they do it! All other dollar stores are charging $2 $4 $6 for things now. Which is silly because it's called a DOLLAR STORE but anyway.) We both found some cool stuff. I even found some awesome $35 hardcover books for $1.25! Michelle wanted to use her own money. I reminded her to keep a running tally in her mind. At least it's easier to keep track when you know everything is $1.25. She didn't overspend. She just got a few things she really wanted. I helped her count out her change. Shopping with Michelle is usually the only time I handle cash. I pay everything by credit card. Of course it's easier to get into trouble that way. Harder to spend money if you're limited to what's in your wallet (usually not very much!)

Michelle actually missed school a little while she was on Christmas break but I tried to keep her busy/entertained. We had a science week where we worked on the STEM kits she got for Christmas. We built the volcano together and it looked pretty good. Unfortunately it didn't quite erupt the way we were expecting. Instead of an eruption it was more like a slow fizzle. Instead of seeing it as a failure I tried to see it as more of an experiment. After all an experiment is just an opportunity to try things, observe and record the results. You never know for sure what will happen. I was trying to see life the same way: not pass or fail, just a fun experiment where you don't know what will happen. And that's OK.

When I was younger I always felt like I was supposed to do something exciting for New Year's Eve but any time I tried to make big plans they were a fiasco. My favourite New Year's memories are the years where I just took it easy, chilling at home with loved ones. Michelle and me spent New Year's Eve with Grandma. Even though we weren't going out I thought it would be cute to dress up for a photo op. I set up a white backdrop but it fell down and this wound up being my fave shot because it's the most natural and we're all smiling/laughing! Life is an experiment and it often goes wrong!

I love these shots of Michelle laughing with her missing toothed smile. 2018 had been a strange year with both good and bad moments and even at the worst of times it went SO QUICKLY. Now 2019 was beginning and I didn't know what to expect. I was trying to release expectations. Having expectations sets you up for failure and disappointment.

For most of my life I've been so results oriented -- everything was black and white, pass or fail. I was extremely hard on myself, feeling the need to be perfect and never even coming close. At least it helped me to do well in school but in life it made me a stressed out, unhappy mess.

Now I'm reading books on zen, yoga and mindfulness. I'm trying to learn to let things go. To go easier on myself and others. To approach each moment with awareness, acceptance, non-judgment (that's a tough one for me!) To just let things be.

Life will never be perfect. Things may never turn out quite the way we expect. We don't know what the future holds. Today's world is so uncertain that even if you felt secure in your situation it can change at any moment. As my therapist reminds me, no one is guaranteed tomorrow. As a control freak (though my therapist also says I should stop labeling myself! Labels are for envelopes!) it is very hard for me to let go, to release expectations, to not have the answers. I'm trying to learn. Because life really is a beautiful mess and you can try to set up the perfect backdrop only to have it come crashing down. In an Instagram world where everyone's life seems to be perfect, the reality is that no one's is. We all have our shiny happy moments. We all have our unglamorous painful ones. We are all struggling in some way. We can all embrace the beauty of our lives, which is always there if we look for it.

I am grateful for every moment of my journey with my girl. I can't believe how far we've come. I look forward to new adventures together. It still scares me a little that I don't know what the future holds but I'm just taking it one day at a time. I'm trying to trust myself and the universe a little more. I'm <trying> to be more compassionate with myself and others (this doesn't always work!) I am still a work in progress. I am learning as I go. I'm grateful for therapy which is the hardest work I've ever done but also the most important. I'm working on myself, on healing what's broken and on becoming the person I want to be. I have to cut myself some slack. I get discouraged when I feel like I'm sliding back into old patterns but after all I'm trying to undo a lifetime of conditioning. It's not as though I can just change overnight. Like anything it will take a lot of time, effort and practice. At least I'm working on it. As one of my books on mindfulness says, it's SIMPLE but it's not EASY. Trying to simplify your life can ironically, be the hardest thing in the world... Deep breaths... NOW.