Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas 2010 Part 7: The Christmas Letter

The Christmas Letter is a tradition I would like to see more of. I know it’s going by the wayside with blogs, facebook, twitter and rock-bottom long distance rates, but it’s so great to open a Christmas Card and get a story of one year in the life. You can take stock of all the important events that happened in the year to people you care about. As I’m getting older, I want to hear more about what my friends are doing, and what’s going on with their families. Yes, that means you, dear reader. But not to worry, I’ll start everyone off.

Once the dust had settled at the yearly New Year’s Bash at Sandy’s house in Seattle, I returned to a grim outlook for 2010. There were no jobs in sight. My EI benefits had dried up, and I was helping pay the bills through intermittent website contracts. It still didn’t stop me from squirreling away what little extra income we had. Sara and I were quite keen on owning a home, and I wasn’t about to let a little thing like the recession get in our way.

We looked high and low for a place that was in our price range. Everything we found either needed serious renovation or had dimensions that were too liliputian for my tastes. One weekend Sara and I went to check out this apartment building that my Mom had recommended. It was lovely. It had 2 bedrooms, a full balcony, a walk-through closet, and as I lived and breathed, 9-foot ceilings! After the tour I thought there was no way this would fit in our price range. But then, I saw the price.

Things moved along fairly quickly, and by the end of May we were all moved in. Along the way I learned a few things. Here they are, without going into too much detail:

-House purchasing is the exact level of complexity when all education and experience will fail you. Real dyed in the wool adults will forget to tell you important details, like whether your washer and dryer installation comes with the purchase.

-It’s your house, so don’t get excited over every nick and scratch you make moving everything in.

-While you can keep a cool exterior under stress, never, ever deny that you are stressed. Take some time for yourself to get a handle on things.

-Working on your computer on a deck in the Summer is awesome.

Now that I had the mortgage, there was still the matter of paying it off. After so many months without regular employment, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I decided to swear off of the job search and start my own business. The government was giving grants to people who had recent EI benefits, so I applied for one through the Fraser Valley Self Employment program. It was quite the process. I had to do market research over the phone, take stock of my finances, and fill out pages and pages of forms, but at the end of it all, my new company, V2S Web Design was born. I now have several clients in the Fraser Valley, and I hope to do a lot more business in the New Year. I’ve found a whole new dynamic community of entrepreneurs who are looking to make something out of this new economy.

In many ways, I feel like this was the year I really became an adult. Sure, there was the mortgage and the new business, but through that I’ve really had to take control of my own destiny. We are all our own best advocates in the decisions that really matter. People can give you advice, but when it really comes down to it, you’re the one in the driver’s seat. There’s still so much more work for me to do, but I think I’m coming at it from a much better place now. I hope you all are having a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. God Bless all of you, and stay golden.


James Strocel

Christmas 2010 Part 6: Heirlooms

This is a picture of my wife’s favorite snowglobe. It only makes it out of the box at Christmastime. It came from Costco, and was most definitely made in China. It’s ornate, heavy, and takes up a lot of space, but Sara loves this snowglobe dearly. It belonged to Sara’s grandmother, her Nana, who passed away when Sara was 16. Nana was the member of Sara’s family that she took after the most. She was small, shy and quiet, but brought passion and dedication to everything she did. I think she inspired Sara’s best qualities, and I regret that I never got to meet her.

I realize that’s a lot of emotion tied up in one knickknack. These days it’s become trendy to decry the evils of material goods. Words like “compulsive hoarder” have penetrated our collective consciousness. We are compelled to “de-clutter” and “simplify”. Is it absolutely necessary that we keep nothing of ourselves in the objects we own? Aren’t we robbing ourselves of some aspect of our memories, and eventually our history when we don’t hang on to anything? What is the difference between clutter and antique? I for one think that there is a middle ground between over-consumption and nothingness. We don’t need to keep everything we buy, but there is room for those objects that last. There is room for a life expressed through a few simple keepsakes.

Christmas 2010 Part 5: Last Minute Shopping

I’ll let you all in on a little secret.  Sometimes, even when all my Christmas shopping is done, when I have no reason to, I make my way down to to the local mall and just kind of drink in the atmosphere. There is something just so sublime about Last Minute Christmas Shopping. Maybe it’s the predatory pace of the crowd. Perhaps it’s the stress of the Christmas retail staff. It’s a sense of purpose and anticipation that you don’t get at any other time of year.

I can understand how Christmas shopping can feel like an imposition, especially if you’ve put it off until now. Free individuals wouldn’t put themselves through this kind of ordeal, right? To me, freedom isn’t simply avoiding hardship. True freedom is staring down, the traffic, the parking, the crowds, the acres of shopping mall and saying, “I am now going to buy gifts for everyone on my list, and there is nothing you can do to stop me.”

Christmas 2010 Part 4: Decorations

Decorations are one aspect of Christmas that seems to get all the bad press. Oh no! They’re being put up earlier every year. Heaven forfend! They’re going up on government property! Is there no separation of Church and state? Great Caesar’s Ghost! They are simply morasses of glass, tin and plastic that serve no purpose whatsoever other than to take up attic space! I like to respond to these exhortations with one question: What is the reason for the season? Jesus you say? Ah yes, but what did we celebrate before we heard of the Prince of Peace? That’s right! The Winter Solstice, a.k.a the longest night of the year!

It’s like this. Every season has its own tree decorations. In spring we have the buds and flowers, in summer we have the harvest, and in the fall we get the coloured leaves. What do we have in winter? Snow, long nights, and naked branches. In our neck of woods you don’t even get the snow! It’s just  damp death and desolation everywhere you go in nature. This leads to something called Seasonal Affect Disorder in humans. Symptoms include depression, pessimism, and getting screwed on vacation packages to Mexico. Sure you could take a vitamin supplement, rent a tanning bed, but where’s the fun in that? Why not give winter its very own tree decoration? It’s not some kind of religious indoctrination. We’re merely trying to mimic nature. It’s also uniquely human that we write a different ending for the story of winter. Free thinking creatures that we are, we like to create our own fate. Instead of rolling over and succumbing to the cold and misery around us, we turn it into a festival of gold, silver and coloured lights.

Christmas 2010 Part 1: Craft Fairs

My wife says that I have the patience of Job for coming to these Christmas Craft Fairs. While I admit there’s a lot of frou-frou knick-knacks that I probably would never buy or have any use for, I love these craft fairs. I love any kind of impromptu market, for that matter. Most of these stalls aren’t put up by people who are on salary. They’ve devoted their free time and energy into creating a saleable product. They are not necessarily there to make rent or credit card bills. If they make a profit while they are there, it’s more of a tangible measure of how well they plied their craft.

People talk about how money sullies the creative pursuit. You can’t really love what you do if people have to induce you with a reward, right? But what if the goal is to get better at what you do? How will you know that your quilt, ornament, or christmas treat is any good? You could show them off to your friends, you could give them as gifts, but to have a complete stranger give money for your craft! You have to be really good at what you do if you inspire people to trade the fruits of their labour for yours. If you really know how good your craft is, I can think of no better way to find out than to put a price tag on it.