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.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Do what you have to do

I was moved this week by Outlaw Mama’s blog about Blue Baby, and her adult understanding of her grandma’s motivation for throwing out her beloved friend.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression. They both knew how to make a dollar stretch but even so, when I was growing up in our farm family, we didn’t have the reliability of a regular paycheque (or even the guarantee of a profit at the end of the year) that many of my classmates from town had.

I was acutely aware of this as a child. Town kids had Christmas oranges in their lunches as soon as they were available in the store; my mom tried to hold us off as long as she could before buying them, because they were expensive.

The one thing in the Christmas catalogue that I longed for but feared was too expensive at $19.99 to even ask for, was only one of several gifts a classmate got from her parents. (By the way, I got it, too, to my everlasting wonder and delight. I remember looking up at Mom and asking with my eyes if it was really okay to have it. She smiled and nodded and I could feel her joy even though neither of us had said a word.)

Then my mother got a job, which I eventually grew to understand she disliked intensely. She didn’t hate teaching as far as I know, but this was one classroom with several grades. The students were not raised to respect private property, or a woman in any position of authority, and they all spoke a second language that Mom did not. It wasn’t fun for her.  

But my brothers and I started getting small store-bought treats in our lunch, and we got our Christmas oranges earlier, too. We still watched our pennies, but we knew there were a few more of them around.

Fast forward 20 years.
When my first daughter was still a baby, we were juggling bills, putting one off this month so we could pay the one we’d skipped the month before, always a couple of steps behind (obviously, still farming!). So I went to town and dropped off resumes, and ended up demonstrating vacuum cleaners (which was always my career aspiration).

When I demonstrated them at Woolco, they gave me a part-time job, too. When the man from Eaton’s found out I worked at Woolco, he complained to the vacuum cleaner company, and I lost the demonstration job. With Christmas coming, I was able to pick up more hours in Woolco Hardware and Paint (because mixing paint was always my back-up aspiration, second only to demonstrating vacuum cleaners).

Eventually I got the household bills up to date. But I still didn't buy Christmas oranges as soon as they came into the stores.

Fast forward another 30 years.

When I get too worried about money (my hangover from those early married days), my husband says to me, “It’s always worked out before; it will again.”

He’s right. I know I worry too much. Both he and I have always had a we’ll-do-what-we-need-to-do-to-get-by attitude that has resulted in sidelines, side jobs and sacrifices to make it work for our family.

Now I wonder how much of that attitude in me is a result of Mom taking that job she so disliked when farming just wasn’t paying enough no matter how hard Dad worked, way back when I was lusting after Barbie and her big wardrobe in the Christmas catalogue.

Today I was in the produce store and, after considering the price because I am still my mother’s daughter, I bought out-of-season mandarin oranges. When I peeled one and bit into a sweet section of it at home, I thought of the hard times our own family has survived and how we made that happen, and I thought, “Thanks, Mom and Dad, for showing me that you just do what you have to do.”

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Happy Canada Day!

I’ve just returned from an enjoyable and educational trip to the U.S., where I was able to connect and re-connect with lots of American and international colleagues.

But as much fun as it was, I am always glad to come home, and I appreciate it more than ever today, Canada Day.

A few of us were teasing some American colleagues at the conference* I attended last week in Chicago, giving them a quick test to see if they could attend the annual Canada Party, famous as a highlight of the annual international event.

They figured if they just added “eh” to the end of their sentences, they were in, and knowledge of hockey and Canadian hockey teams was a bonus. A few of them knew what poutine was (although I’m not so sure they could identify perogies), but when I asked one of them who won the War of 1812, she said, “The what?”

It didn’t matter – they were welcome at the party anyway, another typical Canadian attitude, along with extreme politeness and a tendency to say we're sorry (which rhymes with Lori, by the way).

It’s always seemed fairly representative to me that the Americans celebrate the Fourth of July with so much more fireworks than we do Canada Day. We’re more understated; no less patriotic, but less apt to wear it on our sleeves.

Our loyalties run deep, and are often invisible to the eye until challenged. It can take a lot to get us riled (Stanley Cup riots being the exception to that generalization), but we’re a formidable force when we decide to take a stand.

All of which (riots excepted) is part of why I’m proud to be a Canadian. That said, I think we could step up a bit more in recognizing our own brilliance and promoting our own achievements, if only so people – ourselves included – stop underestimating us.

Don't underestimate us. Please.

I’ve always considered myself a typical Canadian, and I believe I would do well to take that last bit of advice on a personal level, too.

So I’m treating this Canada Day as if it were New Year’s Day, complete with resolutions but without the overeating and too-many-seasonal-parties hangover of January 1.  

Beginning now I am going to give myself recognition for my talents and achievements without worrying that I’m bragging. I will take credit where credit is due. If nobody else will blow my horn (and why would/should they?), I will.

And I hope that somewhere along the way, I’ll stop underestimating myself. As the commercial says, I AM CANADIAN. And damned proud of it.

*For info on things we actually learned at the conference, I can do no better than to refer you to my colleague, Martha Myzychka, ABC, and her Tumblr feed.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Facing ... something new ... I think

I’ve been heard to quote the saying, “Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue.” I’ve had a few of what I call statue days in the last while.

It started with unexpectedly being laid off from my job. That’s never fun, especially when you don’t see it coming. The fact that my personal calendar (entered on my work one to keep it all in one place) and some significant industry association email documents disappeared with the job further complicated my life for a few days.

Change is never easy. There’s a reason why change management has become a legitimate need in industry. People naturally resist change, even when they know it will probably be good in the long run – like the saying about preferring the devil you know to the one you don’t. 
Is there any fear greater than the fear of the unknown? Probably, but it’s hard to think of it when you’re facing a big, gaping stretch of unknown.
When you don’t know where the change is taking you, it’s even scarier. Is there any fear greater than the fear of the unknown? Probably, but it’s hard to think of it when you’re facing a big, gaping stretch of unknown.

Through my life, I’ve faced many changes, some chosen, some thrust upon me. They’re all scary. And they’ve all opened new doors for me, some of which I may not have envisioned at all without the forced change. I enjoyed some of the new rooms on the other side of those doors more than I did others, but they all taught me something.

So I’ve promised myself that I’m going to use this down time, however long or short it ends up being, to relax, concentrate on my health, and think about what I really want to do with my work and life. I may even decide what I want to be when I grow up.

Of course, not having a job will raise other people’s expectations of my available time, too. I guess I'll have to give in and take down the Christmas tree in the living room. (I’ll get to it, but it’s still not at the top of my priority list.)

I will ignore the well-meaning relatives who ask me how many other jobs I’ve applied for so far, and use the short-term safety net I’m lucky enough to have, to concentrate on me. When I’m ready, then I’ll apply all the good tips in my friend Kristen’s recent blog about job hunting.

Because even if this change was forced upon me, I am determined to make it a good change. As everyone’s favourite animated green ogre says, “Change is good, Donkey.” I’m going to see that it is.

What tips do you have for handling change? All hard-earned wisdom welcome!

Friday, 23 March 2012

All in the family - or not

It’s been a while since I wrote – it’s funny how life and death and all the emotions and tasks associated with them get in the way of the other things you really want to do. But it’s not like I’m the first person to ever figure that out. Some people are just better organized than I am. (Go figure – I’m a Libra and we’re supposed to crave order in our lives. Well, I do crave it, I just don’t seem capable of achieving it!)

This weekend is the celebration of life for the friend I told you about in my first blog entry. Her illness, and her death, have got me thinking about family.

Families are strange creatures, or collections of creatures. Despite the shared DNA, there always seem to be people who view life from radically divergent perspectives. Different priorities, different loyalties, and different life experiences – both in childhood and as adults – contribute to what is often more like a forced meeting of strangers. Have you ever reminisced with family members about a specific event and found out that they have a completely different memory of it than you do? Perspective, then and now.

All too often, you hear of the ferocious fights that break out in families over estates when a family member dies. With some families it’s about the money, with others it’s about the memories associated with the disputed items. I bought my first flatware set when I left home at an auction sale where sisters were bidding against each other for their mother’s silver. That’s a sad way to settle an estate.

Most of my late friend’s family is in England, with only her children and their families here in Canada. Yet I know that her celebration will be full of people who loved her and mourn her passing. Not family by blood or law, but by heart.

I have a few friends whose families put the “dys” in dysfunctional. What contact they have will never qualify as Hallmark moments.

In their lives, the people they choose to surround themselves with are their real families. Friends who build them up, who help them when they need it, who call on them when they need help, who trust them with their thoughts and feelings, their love.

There’s an old saying that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.

I disagree. I believe the families of our hearts that we build up over our lives are often more vital to our wellbeing than our families of blood. And I’m very grateful to have them in my life.