Christmas Truce.

I don’t have time for a real blog entry today, but I read something a few weeks ago and I wanted to share it with all of you when we got closer to Christmas.

Today’s the perfect day.

If you’re like me, you heard about the “Christmas Truce” in your Canadian history class in high school.

Your teacher told this (perhaps) apocryphal tale about the German and British soldiers calling a temporary truce for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 1914.  They swapped cigarettes and chocolate.

And then there was a soccer game.

At this point you really started listening, and your brain started firing off questions.

How could there be a soccer game?

In no man’s land?

With all the barbed wire and the shell holes?

Really?

Yes, he assured us, there was a soccer game.

And since I was a soccer player myself, I remember listening to him and thinking how typically European that was.  It’s Christmas, we’re in the trenches, we’re living through Hell, let’s celebrate.  You like soccer, we like soccer, let’s play.

Like children.

Which many of them probably still were.

A few weeks ago, one of my colleague friends left this article from the Toronto Star on my desk.  It’s short, and it doesn’t necessarily confirm anything, but I liked reading it all the same.

I hope you will too.

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Mixed Bag, Volume 16.

It’s been a while – I think – since the Mixed Bag made an appearance around here, and so here goes . . .

My oldest daughter has been working quite hard these days to perfect the art of the understatement.  She’s getting pretty good at it.  Refined subtlety, you might call it.  And her brief Christmas letter to Santa is a fine example of just how far she’s come.

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Wait.

Did I say refined subtlety?

Sorry.

I meant terse Hemingwayesque starkness.

Dear Santa?

No.

Santa.

Done.

And she still squeezed “please” in there.

I was impressed.

- – -

Looking for a last minute Hemingwayesque Christmas gift for your young children?

Me too.

Why not pick up this monstrosity I saw at the mall last week?

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It comes with a pump action gun your dear little ones can use to shoot and/or feed a scary growling bear.  I’m not sure who this aimed at – other than the poor bear, of course – and I’m sort of surprised that a children’s toy like this could be sold in Canada in our current age of insane levels of political correctness, but somebody’s gotta train bearkillers, I suppose and, after all, ’tis the season for gruesome violence . . .

- – -

On the topic of violence, I present you with this book that one of my colleagues is reading right now to balance out the overwhelming yuletide joy in the building these days.

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Jingle bells!

Jingle bells!

I’m not sure how much you know about Attila the Hun, but you can read up a little bit on him here.  I can assure you that I’m no expert on him either, and I can also assure you that I won’t be reading this book, but its dedication almost makes me want to.

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She must be some woman.

- – -

Going to a Christmas party soon?  Or maybe you’re just looking for an (in)conspicuous way to make the next few days at work a little more fun.  You can pick these up at your local Target store.

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Maybe one for you and one for your kid – you know, nice and cute-like.

Then you can take a few nips, pick up the bear/gun toy, read the Attila book, and get to shootin’ stuff for real.

Fa la la la la la la la la!

- – -

There are very few things cuter than watching little kids make Christmas crafts.  I promise this is true.  It doesn’t really matter what the craft is, really.  You say Christmas, they go bonkers.

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But one of the very few things is watching little kids write Christmas cards.

Pretty awesome.

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Interlude.

After the kids were down for their afternoon naps on Sunday, and after the morning’s routine delousing activities had concluded, I went for a walk along the neighbourhood trails.  There was still plenty of snow on the ground, and I knew it’d only be a few days before the rains in the forecast would wash most of it away.

I hope it comes back for Christmas.

As I walked along, I had to alter my route based on which trails had been snowplowed.  It was fairly tricky walking along some of the short sections which hadn’t been attended to, but the weather was mild – the rain showers were holding off – and I was grateful to be outside in December.

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If you venture out into the woods around this time of year in my part of town, you’ll often be the only one out there.  It’s a quiet and serene way to spend an hour or so – and one that I’ve particularly come to appreciate the last few years.

Mild wintery days are hard to come by, so whenever I have the chance to enjoy them – in the Haley’s Comet intervals when family and work obligations are minimal – I do try to make a point of getting out and about.

And I can confidently report that the Canada Geese haven’t even made their way South yet.

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Mallard ducks, on the other hand, live in our part of Ontario year-round.  Or at least the ones in the rivers and streams by my house do.

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On Saturday, Daughter Number Two and I – trying to occupy our time while Daughter Number One was being deloused again – came upon a whole raft of Mallards.  She was excited to see them, and they were happy to see us – coming out of the water, expecting us to feed them like everyone else has been, I suppose.

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We also discovered this nice little surprise . . .

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. . . I was told by another walker that a group of neighbourhood children, accompanied by a few adult supervisors, are responsible for this outdoor Christmas tree, and although I have no idea who they are, I’d like to thank them for doing such a wonderful job.

Northrop Frye once wrote that “We can offset our helplessness by affirming Christmas, by returning once more to the symbol of what human life should be, a society raised by kindliness into a community of continuous joy.”

And these folks sure did their part to make his words come true.

I can’t quite explain how I felt when I saw the tree, but I was certainly happy I found it.  That these people had taken the time to do it was something powerful for me.

When I came home on Sunday, everybody was sleeping.  The house was silent.  The Christmas tree was on, the ceramic Christmas tree was on, and the rest of the place was dark.

Before I turned the light on in the dining room, I sat down with a glass of Scotch and said a little thank you to nobody in particular.

It’s a good time of year to count your blessings.

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Lice or no lice.

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A Week: Part Two.

When Daughter Number One’s school called and delivered the news that she had lice, I was in disbelief, and I was also immediately annoyed.

As long-time readers will know, we’ve been on a bit of an illness rollercoaster ride around here for the last six months or so, and now we had another thing to contend with.

Before this most recent plague, I knew as much about head lice as the average person – they usually prefer to attack girls, they like clean hair, and they’re hard to get rid of – and now, well, now I know a little bit more.  I spoke to the pharmacist, read a lot of articles online, and spoke to many other parents whose families had been through this ordeal before ours.

Luckily, my friend and co-worker had some experience in dealing with these annoying pests.  She’d worked at a summer camp where she was handed the glamorous job of inspecting infected campers.  And while I’m sure this isn’t a chapter of her life she warmly recalls, it sure was a valuable for the rest of us.

She selflessly volunteered to help out, and I’m incredibly thankful she did.

Thank you.

We shampooed Daughter Number One with the specialty product for this purpose – it has to stay on the child’s head for ten minutes – and then she started combing through Daughter Number One’s hair, dutifully pulling out lice and removing nits.

I couldn’t even see most of them.  This is work that requires incredible eyesight and a lot of patience.

When my wife got home from work – as quickly as she possibly could – my friend trained her in these tried and true techniques and they spent the next five hours going over Daughter Number One’s hair.

For her part, Daughter Number One was remarkably well-behaved.  She watched a lot of Christmas movies, and although she did her fair share of fidgeting and whining, she was as good as could possibly be expected.

Everyone felt itchy watching her and going through the process.

I did too, and I don’t even have much hair to speak of.

While everyone was involved in the Lice Capades, I ran around the house washing and drying bedding, clothing, stuffed animals – and quarantining things that couldn’t be washed or dried.  The carpets, rugs, and furniture were vacuumed, and combs, brushes, hair ties and clips were disinfected.

Oh, and all the snow was shoveled.

I had to call Daughter Number Two’s daycare centre and let them know the bad news.  They’re trained in searching for head lice, so they said they’d check her out and let us know as soon as possible.

We anxiously awaited the phone call, and when it rang, I could feel bad news in the pit of my stomach.

But, miraculously, Daughter Number Two was in the clear.  She’s got curly hair, and it’s usually clipped to the side(s) of her head – so maybe that’s what spared her.

Who knows?

My wife and my friend took turns inspecting and itching ach other – I was itching just watching them – but they came out okay.  When Daughter Number Two came home, she was inspected too – they didn’t take any chances – and she was clean.

I’m not sure how we would have kept her occupied for five hours.

We’re still on Lice Patrol, however, and I don’t want to jinx the situation with any proclamations, so I’ll make none.

Daughter Number One was cleared to return to school on Friday afternoon.  Her Principal couldn’t believe she returned lice-free the very next day.

We were relieved.

The other students who’d contracted the pesky buggers were not allowed to return to school because they were still infected.

And every night before bed – and every morning – the routine inspections continue at our house.  The sheets and bedding are cooked in the dryer, and the cycle – no pun intended – repeats itself.

Looking for tips?  Here are some.

Lice don’t like hair products.  So send your kid to school with plenty of hairspray and with tight braids.  It is said that braids make it harder for lice to transfer from kid to kid.

Lice don’t like oily hair – it makes it hard for them to attach themselves, and the nits don’t stay in – and I’m told that tea tree oil and mint oil are available in sprays for this purpose.  Tea tree oil shampoos are also supposed to help, but this is still to be verified.  I bought some anyway, because, well, I’m not eager to have anybody go through all of this again, and it’s Christmas and we’re broke anyway, so what’s the harm?

A note on shampoos: We read the instructions and did everything the box told us to, but there were still many lice that survived the treatment.  Only using the shampoo is useless.  You really do need to comb and hunt and seek and destroy all the lice and nits.

Lice can’t live in a clothes dryer set to high heat.  Cook anything in the dryer that can’t be washed.  They say it takes 20 minutes.  I did 40 just to be safe.

Lice can’t live out of hair for more than 48 hours.  If you can’t wash it or dry it, wrap it in a plastic bag and throw it in the garage or in the basement and keep everyone away from it.  I’m giving it an extra few days just to be safe.

I vacuumed every soft surface in the house.  This may be overkill.  I don’t think there is such a thing in dealing with these pesky pricks.  I really don’t.

Last tip.

Find people who’ve worked in a summer camp who know how to tackle this problem, then get them to volunteer to help you.

And make sure they drink for free for several weeks afterward.

Or plunk down the money and go here.

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A Week: Part One.

Well, yes, I missed a day there.  But there’s a good reason for it.  Actually probably several hundred reasons.  Pesky ones too.

On with the show . . .

My wife was away for a couple of days in balmy Edmonton, Alberta.  She’s working on the new Oilers office/complex/compound/stadium.  I’m pretty excited about that, I must admit.  She often does work for companies I don’t know or like.  But everybody in Canada’s got a soft spot for the Edmonton Oilers because of that Wayne Gretzky guy, and I do too – especially recently.

This, however, meant I was home with the girls by myself – which was nice.  I’m not going to lie – I was busy and tired, but they were good, and we had lots of fun together.  The Leafs pummeled the other Alberta team 4-1, and I enjoyed watching that after bedtime.  I mostly stayed awake for most of the game.

I had to do two morning school drop-offs instead of only one, but it wasn’t nearly as hectic as I thought it might be, and all went fairly well.

We even had enough time to get a few Timbits one day.

On Wednesday afternoon, Daughter Number One’s school called and informed me that she had a fever and that I had to come pick her up.  I dutifully went and got her.  She did not have a fever – their hand-on-the-head-thermometer was shockingly inaccurate – and although she had a mild tummy ache, I think she would have easily survived the rest of the day.

But, hey, whatever.  Your daughter doesn’t feel good, you go get her, right?

She went back to school feeling fine on Thursday, which is why I was surprised when the office phone rang around noon and her school was calling me again.  I was ready to tell them that they’d have to wait until the end of the day for me to come get her until they told me she had lice.

Oh.  Wow.

That’s grrreat.

I’ll be right over.

And this, in short, is why there was no blog yesterday.

If you’ve never had a run-in with lice, you’re lucky.

But Daughter Number One sure did have one.

Big time.

To be continued . . .

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Canadians on Christmas.

Today a friend of mine was decorating a bulletin board at work, and she was looking for notable Christmas quotations from Canadian writers.  I had to think about that a little – beyond remembering Alistair MacLeod’s “To Everything There Is a Season” – and then I did a little digging.

I thought these might be worth sharing with all of you.  They’re perhaps not typical views of Christmas, but I think they’re important anyway.

The first excerpt comes from world-renowned Canadian literary critic, Governor General’s Award Winner, Order of Canada recipient, University of Toronto Professor Northrop Frye.

For one brief instant, we see human society as it should and could be, a world in which business has become the exchanging of presents and in which nothing is important except the happiness and well-being of the ultimate consumer.  It is only a symbol, and humanity can hardly stand more than about twelve hours of really civilized behaviour, but still it is there, and our Christmas shopping may be inspired by an obscure feeling that man is done for if he loses entirely the vision of life that Christmas represents.

The essay I took this out of is here.

The second is from Stephen Leacock’s “Merry Christmas”.  Stephen Leacock is honoured by Canada in several ways.  His home in Orillia, Ontario is preserved as a museum, there is a national award for humour named after him, and there are a few schools and buildings across the country that bear his name as well.

This story was written during the First World War.

“My children’s voices!” he exclaimed.  “I hear them everywhere — they come to me in every wind — and I see them as I wander in the night and storm — my children — torn and dying in the trenches — beaten into the ground — I hear them crying from the hospitals — each one to me, still as I knew him once, a little child. Time, Time,” he cried, reaching out his arms in appeal, “give me back my children!”

“They do not die in vain,” Time murmured gently.

But Christmas only moaned in answer:

“Give me back my children! “

Then he sank down upon his pile of books and toys, his head buried in his arms.

“You see,” said Time, “his heart is breaking, and will you not help him if you can?”

“Only too gladly,” I replied. “But what is there to do?”

“This,” said Father Time, “listen.”

He stood before me grave and solemn, a shadowy figure but half seen though he was close beside me.  The fire-light had died down, and through the curtained windows there came already the first dim brightening of dawn.

“The world that once you knew,” said Father Time, “seems broken and destroyed about you. You must not let them know — the children.  The cruelty and the horror and the hate that racks the world to-day — keep it from them.  Some day he will know” — here Time pointed to the prostrate form of Father Christmas — “that his children, that once were, have not died in vain: that from their sacrifice shall come a nobler, better world for all to live in, a world where countless happy children shall hold bright their memory for ever.  But for the children of To-day, save and spare them all you can from the evil hate and horror of the war.  Later they will know and understand.  Not yet.  Give them back their Merry Christmas and its kind thoughts, and its Christmas charity, till later on there shall be with it again Peace upon Earth Good Will towards Men.”

His voice ceased.  It seemed to vanish, as it were, in the sighing of the wind.

I looked up.  Father Time and Christmas had vanished from the room.  The fire was low and the day was breaking visibly outside.

You can find the whole story here.  I believe the date on that website is wrong.  I think it was published in 1917.

The last comes from “To Everything There Is a Season” by Alistair MacLeod.  This story is anthologized in Island, but it’s also available as a book on its own.

The boxes are filled with gifts neatly wrapped and bearing tags.  The ones for my younger brothers say “from Santa Claus” but mine are not among them anymore, as I know with certainty they will never be again.  Yet I am not so much surprised as touched by a pang of loss at being here on the adult side of the world.  It as if I have suddenly moved into another room and heard a door click lastingly behind me.  I am jabbed by my own small wound.

But then I look at those before me.  I look at my parents drawn together before the Christmas tree.  My mother has her hand upon my father’s shoulder and he is holding his ever-present handkerchief.  I look at my sisters, who have crossed this threshold ahead of me and now each day journey farther from the lives they knew as girls.  I look at my magic older brother who has come to us this Christmas from half a continent away, bringing everything he has and is.  All of them are captured in the tableau of their care.

“Every man moves on,” says my father quietly, and I think he speaks of Santa Claus, “but there is no need to grieve.  He leaves good things behind.”

You can read the full story here.

A true Canadian classic.

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All Or Nothing.

Many school boards across Canada are moving toward a new policy called BYOD.

Unfortunately, these policies have nothing to do with bringing your own drink to work.  If they were about this, I might be drugged into believing that these new policies are good.

But they aren’t.

Bring Your Own Device policies have come about because boards and schools can save bundles of money.  Students can bring their own laptops, tablets, and/or phones to school and school boards won’t have to provide expensive computers for them to use.

Sounds like a win/win.

I don’t know what it’s like to be the parent of a teenager nowadays, but I do know what I was like when I was a teenager.  I lost a lot of stuff, and I’m sure I would have lost some of the fancy technology kids are carrying around these days, and then, in theory, it’d be up to my parents to foot the bill for that stuff.

My dad wore steel-toed boots on his feet a lot of the time, and I’m sure my ass would’ve been a fine target for them if I’d come home without all my iStuff.

Anyway, I’m not sure I’d want all of that expensive iStuff going back and forth in a teenager’s knapsack.  It’s destined to be lost, stolen, or damaged.

Am I wrong?

And guess what?  Contrary to popular belief, not all students have iStuff.  Many of them don’t.

Surely you can remember what schoolchildren can be like.  It doesn’t matter when you went to school.

You don’t have the fancy Michael Jordan shoes everybody else does?  Oh, that’s too bad, we’ll pass a hat around this week, take up a collection, and we’ll all help you get a pair of those. 

It’s a real shame you don’t have the Bobby Orr lunchbox all the other kids have, but that coffee can with the wire running through it is pretty darn cool though . . .

Um, no.

What the hell’s wrong with you?  You’re poor.  You suck.  Nerd.

Things haven’t changed much in that department I’m afraid.

What kind of phone is that?  Whaddya mean you don’t have a phone?  Loser.

What the world needs now is yet another reason for students to be bullied in schools.

Yes, I know there are exceptions.  Yes, many schools do many great things for students in this regard.  I’m not denying that.  Kids do many wonderful things for many other kids.  It’s true.  Teachers do too.

But doesn’t it make sense that boards and schools should supply students with the materials they need to learn?

Yes, it is expensive.

Technology is outdated quickly.

I understand.

I also understand that we all pay plenty of taxes and that this money should go somewhere good.

It shouldn’t be vanishing here, or here, or here, or here, or here, or wherever the hell else it’s going these days.

It should be in schools.

And yeah, I know I hypocritically rattled off a list of Ontario Liberal Party howlers, but I can assure you that there’d be even less money in Ontario schools today if the Tories were running things.

Guaranteed.

People don’t want to pay more taxes because they think they already pay enough and because the government mismanages revenue streams (see all blue links above).

Fine.

But I’d pay more tax if it could stop nonsense like this.

Public schools are supposed to be public.  They’re supposed to provide access to things in order to give everyone a level playing field.  Yes, that’s an oversimplification, but that’s basically the way it works.

Remember those adopted families I told you about?  The kids in those families are asking for tablets so they can learn at school, and because their parents can’t afford to purchase them.

And that makes me angry.

I bet you couldn’t tell.

- – -

You know what else makes me angry?

Three-time convicted biter, and soccer player, Louis Suarez.

Yes.  Biter.

He bites other soccer players.

He’s done it three times.

He bites them.

Bites them.

Three times.

Here’s the video evidence.

And now he’s in a brand new Adidas advertisement.

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Doesn’t anyone else think that this is wildly inappropriate?

Fangs a blazin’ like that?

The slogan?

Shameful.

Just you wait until McDonald’s sees this one.  He’ll be holding a fatty Big Mac in front of his face in no time.

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