Monday, 31 December 2012

The end and the beginning

Today we acknowledge the passing of the old year and the beginning of the new one. It's the 46th time I've done it. When we kids were small, Mom would set the alarm clock early, to go off at about 8:00 p.m., and when it rang, we would shout Happy New Year as if it were midnight and throw confetti, which then had to be vacuumed up again. Then there were the teenage years, when New Year's Eve was spent more often than not watching TV and later lying in bed listening to firecrackers and car horns go off around my neighbourhood. Now I suppose I'm a grown-up, and get to go to parties and stay up until midnight. Though since the new puppy starts his day at 3 a.m., I'll most likely fall asleep around ten-thirty with my head in the guacamole.

I can't help but contrast this New Year's to the last one. The year 2011 was a disaster for me in every way. If it could go wrong, it did. There were times I seriously wondered if I was going to live through it. On New Year's Eve 2011, I wrote down on a sheet of paper a big long list of everything that had happened, all that had gone wrong, from big to small, leaving out nothing. Then I took the paper out in the backyard and burned it, and I stomped the ashes into the soggy ground. Throughout 2012, whenever I was tempted to bring up all those bad things and rehash them or feel sorry for myself over them, I reminded myself, "That's gone, stomped into the ground with the other ashes." And I would consciously set the burden down. I would look only forward, not back.

Now that I'm safely twelve months away from all that happened, I can peek back a little bit and marvel at what we survived and how far we've come. Things have turned completely around. We are well, we are whole, and whereas last year I feared I'd never be happy again, now I feel there is nothing at all that can stop me from being happy. I have everything I need, almost everything I want, and a terrific husband and children to share it all with. I can see absolute evidence of how we were cared for and watched over through it all, and how much healing has happened in 2012. While I know 2013 will bring its trials (I'm kicking off the new year by having surgery), I've decided to look at it all positively (surgery means four weeks in bed with a stack of library books, for example. You can't get better than that!). While 2012 was the year of recovery and being kind to myself (okay, licking my wounds), 2013 will be the year of health. Physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and financially, I will focus on being healthy. If something doesn't contribute toward our health in one of those areas, I will get it out of our lives. It's time. I might even limit dessert to once a week. (So now you know I'm serious!)

Whatever your focus and goals are for 2013, I wish you peace, happiness, and contentment.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas Presents and Bucket Lists

Happy Boxing Day! (A holiday I had never heard of until I moved to Canada.) Yesterday was a pleasant, peaceful family time, spent eating and reading and playing new board games. There's nothing quite so sweet as having your six-foot fourteen-year-old son ask you to play with him...and not an electronic gizmo in sight.

My son's gift from his uncle was a voice-activated alarm clock. To turn her on you say "Hello, Ivy." You give her verbal commands to set the time and sound, etc. She responds in a cultured English accent. My son confessed that when he tells her to "Set Date," he feels like he's asking her out.

My husband's gift to me was dog sledding. I have had it on my Bucket List for years and I won't feel truly Canadian until I've tried it. There's something in me that longs to swoop forward through blinding white snow and bright freezing air behind a team of dogs. Maybe I've read too much Farley Mowat. To me it is the perfect, most thoughtful gift, an adventure I will treasure. Not because of the thing itself, but because of the loving insight (and patient sacrifice) behind it.

Now let's just hope it snows!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Relaxing this Christmas

I was at a store the other day and said something about having a nice holiday to the cashier. And she replied that she was so stressed out and so busy, she hated Christmas. She wanted it to hurry and be over.

I was stunned. If she doesn't like the stress, why does she allow it? If she doesn't want to be busy, why is she? Surely she can control her calendar and her craziness to some extent. Who is putting these demands on her? I went home musing about it, and I tried to identify why I find Christmas so peaceful and relaxing when others around me are literally making themselves ill over preparations.

Maybe I'm not preparing the right way. Maybe I'm being lazy. I try to do any shopping before December (partly because I have to mail gifts to far-away family). I avoid stores. I avoid driving if I can help it. (That's true all year long, not just in December.) I keep gifts simple - homemade or special in meaning. Maybe giving experiences instead of objects (for example, a coupon entitling the bearer to a special outing with me in the new year). I make one kind of Christmas cookie to take to the neighbours instead of twenty different kinds. I slap up the same decorations every year and don't get too carried away (half of the decorations stay in their boxes. I mean, how much do you really need?). I rely on music to set the scene more than tinsel. I go to church and remind myself frequently of the real purpose and meaning of the season.

Granted, we have little family in Canada, so there aren't very many social demands. Christmas Eve we lounge around watching TV and waiting for the kids to go to sleep so we can shuttle all the gifts down from their hiding place in our room. We don't put gifts under the tree until late Christmas Eve. That way, when the kids wake up, the transformation has all the more punch, and it doesn't take a huge pile of wrapped boxes to excite them. Some years we forgo the turkey dinner and just have lasagna or something else that's simple. Christmas Day is spent eating, sleeping, reading, taking the dog on long walks, and just hanging out with family generally. And for some reason I can't figure out, it has become a family tradition to watch Planet of the Apes every year. I know, it's weird. But it suits us.

I think that is the key. Find what suits your family and your particular circumstances. Don't try to live someone else's version of life. Don't try to be Martha Stewart (after all, she has a staff and television crew to help her clean up the mess!). Don't think you have to have the perfect Hallmark celebration. Do what feels right to you, and let the rest go. If you want to stay home, do. If you want to forgo gifts altogether and donate to World Vision instead, do. If you want to skip the big meal and go hang out and help at the local food bank, do. If you don't like the idea of climbing on ladders in the snow to hang lights on your house, don't. All our neighbours deck their houses with garlands of lights, beautiful greens and golds and whites. It's lovely. We don't do it ourselves. We plunk a couple of spotlights in the ground to give the front of the house a demonic red glow and leave it at that. And it's enough.

Knowing when you have enough is the key to happiness, I think. If you don't want it in the first place, it's as good as having it.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, 15 December 2012


So many things I'm feeling grateful for today, my children and grandchild being the top of the list. Grateful to have them in my life. Grateful they're alive and healthy and noisy and annoying and crazy and spectacular. There aren't words for what I felt watching the news coming out of Connecticut. Heartbreak. Horror. Despair. Sorrow. Such inadequate words. But above all, an increased devotion to loving my children while I have the chance. Life is fragile. We must remember to cherish every drop of it we have.

Friday, 7 December 2012


Maple, my Shih Tzu, has a thing about seeing his toys lying neatly in their plastic basket. It's too much for his chaotic soul to handle so much tidiness. Whenever he sees the basket, he tips it over and scatters the toys all over the living room. Then he stands back and surveys his work smugly and is satisfied.

Enter Brio, the new puppy, who it turns out has a streak of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in him. Or else he's a shepherd at heart. All he wants to do is collect and round up. Several times I have watched him rush over to right the basket and then busily collect all the toys and drop them one by one back into the basket. He'll stand and consider them for a while, choose the one he wants to play with, and frisk away with it. When he's done with it, he returns it to the basket and selects another. I can't get my teenagers to do that!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

December 23 or Why Christmas Adam Should Come Before Christmas Eve

Goodness knows the Bible women
get the limelight at Christmas time.
Elizabeth and Mary,
and even the innkeeper's wife...
"All is bright 'round yon virgin,"
"Mary pondered it in her heart..."

But Joseph's in the back of the scene,
anonymous figure with a staff
standing behind the donkey.
We don't acknowledge enough
the sacrifices he made,
the doubtful heart he stilled,
the tender courage he displayed.

The best crèche I ever witnessed,
Mary was sacked out cold
on the hay - exhausted new mother -
and Joseph was cradling the child.

We don't think about the years
that followed that Christmas night --
the arduous escape to Egypt,
life-saving visions in the night,
leading his family to the temple,
Joseph working the wood in his hands
while the young Jesus watched and learned.

There couldn't have been a Saviour
wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lifted upon the cross,
risen from the tomb,
without a Father first.

- Kristen