Friday, 11 January 2013

Promises, promises

Here we are, a third of the way through January already. I know that the new year is really here by a variety of signs. 

Yesterday was my girlfriend’s birthday, just as it is every January 10, whether I remember it or not. 

The Christmas cards I mailed to apparently incorrect addresses three days before Christmas are starting to show up in my mailbox. Too bad, so sad, you didn’t tell me you moved so you miss out on our newsletter. I know, you’re heartbroken. Deal with it.

Frightening post-holiday phenomena

There is a giant pile of laundry waiting for me to wash, but I have been reluctant to do so, remembering the annual phenomenon of clothes shrinking in immediate post-holiday washes. It’s somehow related to my scale adding a few pounds out of spite just because I’ve been avoiding it lately.

The total due on the credit card bill I received today was not the same as the running balance in my head, or even on my Post-it© notes (and really, how can you argue with a Post-it© note?). We are not thousands, or even hundreds, of dollars apart but I still feel betrayed. I thought I was being so responsible. 

Time was when I considered the new year off to a good start if I had all three kids’ snowsuits clean at the same time. They’re long gone now and doing their own laundry (although I’m not sure about this week – that whole post-holiday shrinking thing and all). 

So now that they’re gone, I think I should be wiser, I should have more time to get things done, I should be more organized, I should, I should, I should. 

Planning for 2013

I had some good plans for how to start my new year, formulated during a long truck ride, but then I got home and had an argument with my husband and forgot them all. (And any thoughts of a new physical regimen went out the window when I read the scathing opinion of January newbies at the gym posted by Outlaw Mama and echoed by her readers.)

I’m tired of “I should.” I’ve decided I’m not going to make resolutions. I’m going to make promises to myself instead. Promises are more daunting than resolutions, so they have to be made more thoughtfully. One of mine is to connect with you through this blog more frequently this year. 

Others relate to facing personal fears, emulating people I admire, doing my best, and telling people the good things I think about them. All good things.

Oh, and not taking on too much. That, too.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Wishing you hope and peace

I love Advent. Not picking candies or tiny toys out of pockets or cardboard drawers every day from Dec. 1 to Dec. 25, but the four Sundays preceding Christmas, with the ritual lighting each week of one more candle in the Advent wreath. 

Like many Christian traditions, it's originally based on a pagan one, but to me that’s the Advent that's real. (Obviously I’m of the Christian faith, although I don't believe that affects the validity of any other faith.)


I am fortunate that my childhood memories of the Christmas season are warm ones, in spite of growing up in a cold, cold climate.

One of my earliest memories of Advent is Mr. Eaton. I don’t know what his first name was, but he was an elderly widower who lived in the north end of our town and sang in our church choir.

Every Sunday in Advent, Mr. Eaton would go up to the pulpit 15 or 20 minutes ahead of the regular service and lead those were there in the singing of Christmas hymns. 

I still love Christmas music, and I still treasure the feeling of community that enfolded us as we sat on varnished and time-worn wooden pews among our discarded parkas, hats and mittens, eagerly turning the hymnal pages to the next song he announced. 

Then, as now, anticipation built as we awaited the celebration of the coming of Prince of Peace, and embraced that most wonderful frame of mind, hope. 

No faith can claim a monopoly
on the hope for peace. 

Regardless of the beliefs and words you use to describe your faith or life philosophy, don’t we all want hope? Without hope, all is lost. With it, anything is possible, even peace. 

After the horror that happened in Connecticut this week, considering the wars that continue in various locations around the world and the individuals whose lives are caught in them, considering those who go without in our own communities and the battles they fight; hope, and hope for peace, are more important than ever. 

Wishing you joy and even more importantly, hope, this Advent season and all year through, whatever your personal beliefs. Because we all need to believe in hope, and peace.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

What goes around .... does it for a reason

I had a bad boss a few years ago, and one of my friends used to ask me at least once a week if I’d heard anything from my friends who still work with him. A previous victim of bullying in the workplace herself, she keeps hoping he’ll be smitten by a bolt of lightning, or at least lose his job.

I told her to quit thinking about it. If I spent time worrying about karma paying back everyone who I ever felt mistreated me, I wouldn’t have time to live a life of my own. I’m not convinced that what goes around does always come around, so why waste energy looking for it? 
If you know me, you know that I believe there is some sort of omnipresent form in the universe, whatever you choose to call it. So I believe that things do happen for a reason, even if we don’t necessarily ever understand it, and it’s just a bonus – a blessing, if you’re comfortable with that language – when we do get to see the positive result of what happens to us.

When one of my daughters was a pre-teen, she started hanging around with a girl from a group home a few blocks from our house. I didn’t know why the kids there were in the home, if they were one step away from juvenile hall or what.

I was still dithering (one of my specialities) about whether or not to intercede when a family friend I respected who worked at the group home stopped me one day to say, “You have no idea how happy we are to see Jaime with a friend like Amy. It does her so much good to see how a normal family lives.”

As I learned more, I found that Jaime (not her real name) had come from a home where she was horrifically abused in almost every way possible.  

After I got over the shock of someone describing our family as normal, I thought about what our friend had said to me.  It made me feel a bit ashamed, that I’d been so worried about what might affect my child, and assuming it was negative, without ever thinking about the benefit my child might be offering to someone else. Besides opening my mind, it was a bonus, to understand the reason the universe had placed my daughter in that place at that time.
 ...if we’re lucky enough to find out 
that reason, then we should be grateful.

Our family went through a really rough time early in our marriage. Although totally unplanned, we became a resource for farm families in trouble who would phone us all the time, as much for a sympathetic ear as for advice because their neighbours were still in denial that there was a systemic problem.

I look back now and see those years as a big black section of my life, even though two of our children were born during it and lots of other good things happened. But several years later, when my husband and I had started selling real estate as a method of paying off farm debts,  I went to a real estate seminar about 60 miles from where we lived.

Another woman came in late, after we’d all written our names on our little pieces of folded cardboard, and at the break she sought me out. After verifying that I was indeed the same woman she’d spoken to on the phone, she said to me, “You probably don’t even remember me, but you saved my life.”

Wow. Suddenly the horrendous long distance bills (long before the days of long distance plans!) and the pure hell that our family had endured had a reason – we saved this woman’s life, by providing her comfort when her livelihood, her marriage and what seemed like her entire life were falling apart around her.

That’s a bonus. All those phone conversations and articles I wrote probably helped other people, to greater or lesser extents, but they were invisible to me. This person was standing there, real, telling me I had saved her life as surely as if I’d pulled her out of a flooding river.

What goes around may not always come around. But it’s going around for a reason, and if we’re lucky enough to find out that reason, then we should be grateful. It might be as simple as the friend who was afraid the lower number of entrants in a marathon might mean she’d come in last. I told her if she did, to think about how good she made the person ahead of her feel. Sometimes it is just that simple, and just that powerful.

Have you ever realized that something that seemed bad to you was good for someone else?

P.S.  For another family member's viewpoint on this topic, read my daughter's blog at

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Morning fog, nerves and possibilities

This morning we put our youngest on a plane for Toronto where he’ll finish off his master’s program.

I’ve been trying to avoid the madness that is Staples for the past two weeks.

The nights  are nippier, even here in Lotusland. There’s fog in the low spots and dew on the windshields in the morning. 

It’s officially fall.

And even though I’m not doing any back-to-school shopping (thank God!), and I won’t spend the next week or two filling out forms and sending in cheques for yet another cost for kids’ activities, there’s still a special feeling about the beginning of September.

Remember when all your pencils were sharpened to the same point, and the smell of the shavings from sharpening them yourself? The scribblers were all neat, no dog-eared corners, no smudges or crossed-out notes, and you were determined that this year you would keep them looking like that all year long.

Even though I was likely to be getting on the bus with almost the exact same group of students as in years past, walk into a classroom with all the same kids I sat with last year, and get a teacher I’d already heard all about from my two older brothers, there was still a sense of possibility.

Maybe someone moved to the area over the summer, and I would make a new friend. Maybe the kids who were mean last year would have had an epiphany over the summer and would be nice this year. Maybe I wouldn’t have to sit in front of the kid on the bus who always pulled my hair or my toque, depending on the season.

More often than not, none of the above came true. If I was lucky, the teacher would be one who didn’t make references to family members (a wise move considering a few of those teachers had taught some of my classmates’ parents, too!). I wouldn’t be compared to cousins or brothers.

It was bad enough just having to be me, in a small town where the reputation you formed in grade one (probably kindergarten now, but they didn’t have it then) was the one you would live with until you died of old age, regardless of what you did or where you moved in your life.

In spite of the inevitable disappointments, year after year fall still raised my expectations. Each year did bring new knowledge, whether of books or human nature, learned relatively easily or through bruises and hurt feelings.

And then the September I started college – where no one knew me or my family. I met all sorts of new people the first morning at registration. When they all decided to go to the pub for the afternoon, I went, too, without mentioning that I hadn’t yet turned 18 and wasn’t really legal.

These were people who would judge me on who I was and what I did, and the impression I made was completely up to me. Some of them are still friends today.

Fall. Possibilities. I can feel them in the air.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Let the Games be games

The TV commercials have been rampant in my part of the world and I can only imagine the frenzy in England and London in particular as we count down to Friday's opening ceremonies for the Summer Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.

A Facebook friend posted a link to this interesting viewpoint on the tallying of medals won by each country. It’s definitely worth a read. I read another article, which I unfortunately didn’t bookmark, that addressed the correlation between a nation’s relative wealth and its medal haul, too.

I have to admit that I’m content to watch competitions on TV, complete with commentary and slo-mo repetition, rather than fighting crowds for partial views from expensive nosebleed seats. And I’m glad that some other taxpayers are paying for all the venues this time around, as we’re still paying for ours from 2010, and will be for quite a while.

But of all the hype and advertising surrounding the Olympics, my favourite is the commercial from Tide, which is apparently the official laundry soap of the Games. (Here's the American version; I haven't found a YouTube of the Canadian version, which has a little less emphasis on red, white and blue.) Essentially the ads say that what matters more than the colour of medal you come home with, is the colours you brought with you, the colours of the country you represent.
I couldn’t agree more. I also believe we need to give more recognition to all of our Olympic athletes, medalists or not. The phrase “one of our best medal hopes” makes me shudder just thinking of the added stress that puts on the individual.

Every one of these athletes made it to the Olympics, for heaven’s sake. How far is that from what you and I can do?
Every one of these athletes made it to the Olympics, for heaven’s sake. How far is that from what you and I can do? (Okay, even further from what I can do, because I’m admittedly out of shape, but probably pretty far from what most of us can do.)

Yes, the Olympic Games are big business. No, they aren’t the purely amateur competition they once were. Yes, they need huge sponsorship to even happen.

But somewhere in all that big business we’ve lost sight of the thousands of individuals from around the world who have spent years training and striving to earn their appearance on the world track or playing field or, if they’re lucky, medal podium.

Whether they make it to the podium or come in with the slowest time in their competition, I say “Well done!” to each and every one of them. You worked damned hard to get here, and you deserve some glory. Here’s my share.