Thursday, December 29, 2011


Sometimes it sneaks up on me. I am minding my own business, planning the day, going to yoga, knitting, cleaning up, and it just is suddenly there. Those around me, those who love me, and perhaps even those who don't, want to know what is it about. Is it them? Is it someone else? Am I mad? Did they do something to upset me?

I don't know. It just is there. Heavy and auspicious, the tears just hovering behind my eyes. Maybe I need to eat something? Low blood sugar? Fatigue? No, that isn't it. Hip openings at yoga? Maybe. But then what is it I am holding so deep in my body?

Doing something for another helps. Helping my husband de-clutter the computer room helps. Vacuuming helps.

So does crying. So does having a bubble bath with candles. I think I just need to take care of me for a few minutes. Just a very few minutes.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

So here I sit. The husband and son are out finishing their last minute shopping. The daughter is sleeping. The house is quiet, except Sarah MacLaughlin Christmas album playing softly in the living room. The tree is up waiting to be decorated; boxes strewn about the living room. The pieces of the creche are unwrapped and waiting to be placed.

I gave my mother this creche piece by piece over many Christmases. The camel still bears the price tag - $.79 from Woolworths. The creche came to me after my mother's passing. I am so happy to have it.

I am often reminded of two sayings from two of my favourite Christmas television shows. From the Grinch - "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe, just maybe it means something more." And from A Charlie Brown's Christmas " And lo there were shepherds abiding in the fields, watching their flocks by night..."

I avoid the stores and shoppers and madness of this holy day that has become so commercialised. For me it truly is about the magic of Christmas and about that story that began 2011 years ago. For me it is simply about family, and being with those I love.

I watched the Nativity Story last night. It was so beautiful. So simple. So true. There are people in our midst that need our love, and support. Sometimes these people are family. Often they are strangers.

There are people in my life who are lost, and who feel unappreciated. There are people in my life who are experiencing their first Christmas without a loved one. There are people in my life that are lonely despite being surrounded by others. There are people in my life who are at odds with the world, or with themselves, or with others.

For all of these people, for all of us, I believe there is a stable. There is a stable that keeps us safe and warm, and although it is not a mansion it is filled with love. Sometimes we all have to experience many doors being shut in our face, many hearts turning away before we realize the warmth, the stable, the shelter, the forgiveness, the love, is simply within us.

The Christmas story is a simple story. Mary and Joseph were simple people. The shepherds were simple people. Even the wise men were simple people. And because of this simplicity they were able to take part in a simple story. All the nonsense that now surrounds them, and the birth of that child, cannot take away from the simplicity of it all.

A child was born to bring love, peace and forgiveness into the world. If we let it, this story can bring love, peace and forgiveness into our hearts.

So to all of the people in my life, and all of the people in this world I wish you Peace and Love and Forgiveness.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Address Books

I decided this weekend to buy a new address book. It became apparent while checking addresses for Christmas cards that the time had come. Firstly because the book is very old and tattered and swollen from a time long ago when it was left out in the rain. Secondly because it is not very up to date...

Leafing through was nostalgic, and not just a little sad. Many, many names in that book are for people who have no forwarding address. At least not one that I know of. My mother, my aunts, my husband's cousin, my son's beloved violin teacher, my friend - all have gone across the threshhold of this life, to somewhere other.

And then there are the divorces. The places where a spouses name has been crossed out. Sometimes another name written in.

There are the old addresses of my children as they have moved from here to there. University dorms, little rental flats, sublets.

There are the names of friends I have simply lost touch with. Would these phone numbers still work? Would they remember me?

There were pieces of past jobs - the women I volunteered at La Leche League with, the names of teenaged mothers I supported, the colleagues from a Family Center I helped start up.

There are names of singing teachers, therapists, and neighbours who have moved on. Well either I have moved on, or they have.

There are lists of all my daughter's high school friends as I tried to be a good mother and know where she was and who she was hanging out with.

There are notes made because no other paper was available regarding breastfeeding questions and concerns that came to me via the telephone.

And yes, there are names and addresses and phone numbers that are there, and have remained unchanged for decades. There is stability amidst those water stained pages.

There is a part of me that doesn't want to let this old book go. I think that is why I am writing this blog, so I don't forget those names.

There was also a note to read a book: A heartbreaking work of staggering genius. I will get on that too - one can't ignore such signs.

Shannon, Sidney, Lisa, Daniella, Jocelyn, Sierra, Janine, Connor, Kiyo, Danielle, Jaqui, Alice, Oma (Joan) (Mom), Auntie Georgie, Aunt Joan, Gorge Harbour, Mr. and Mrs. Jack, Aunt Jean, Fran, Stacey, Wallace, Evelyn, Dan, Lorraine and Nelson, Shauna, Mike, Sylve, Gary, Rosemary, Norm and Violet,Veronica, and Lynn -this one is for all of you. Wherever this life or the next has taken you, may you be at peace.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

56 going on 28

Sometimes I have to be brave. Sometimes I have to forget I am 56, achey, chubby, and an introvert. Sometimes I just have to let it all go.

So, four times I went to the ticketmaster site and searched for a ticket to see Prince in Vancouver. I kept talking myself out of it.

Fourth time - I pressed go! Me. Alone. 2nd Row. On the floor.

So there I was. Me. Alone. 2nd Row. Feeling somewhat conspicuous, but excited

And then? The concert started and I was up. Cheering, clapping, singing along, dancing. Oh, yes, I was dancing. For 2 1/2 hours. Dancing, hooting, singing along. And, at times merely feet from Prince himself. It turns out, no-one was sitting in the front row, so as the concert started we all moved up. And of course then when it started we stood up! And there I was dancing and singing and clapping right in front of the stage, as close as the security would let me be. In fact most of the night I was only a few inches away from this lovely, smiling security guard. I think he was a Prince fan too!

Two and a half hours of forgetting my sore legs, sore back, forgetting I have a chronic illness. Just forgetting. And being in the moment. Remembering other Prince concerts - when I was pregnant with Ellen sitting with my sister, when I was in the same arena as my sister and her son, but they were sitting somewhere else, when I went to the Orpheum, alone, in the fifteenth row, and he did an acoustic set on the piano.

Remembering road trips to Vernon, with my kids, singing along to Little Red Corvette, and Money don't matter tonight. Remembering working out at Fitness World with my earphones in, singing along to Sexy Mother f***er.

Remembering the first time I saw Purple Rain, I was only a few weeks pregnant with my son.

So, really, Prince and I have grown up together. But, last night, I felt 28. It is nice to grow up with someone and still feel as young as you were when you first met them.

As I left the concert last night I caught the eye of another woman, about my age. I smiled and said "Now we go back to our real lives".

Real life. I am glad the Prince concert was part of it last night. So glad.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

About a boy

There is a boy I know. He is fourteen. His pain is palpable. He is anguished. He can't sleep. He doesn't eat. His father has let him down. Again. His mother is busy trying to make a better life. His family loves him. He loves his family. He is so sad. School is not high on the list of 'things to do'.

He is smart. Really smart. He is kind. He is funny. He is polite. He usually doesn't get his homework done on time. He says he doesn't know why. He says when he sits down to do it he feels like he is going to die. I believe him.

I love him. He will, God willing, be a strong, good man when he finishes growing up. I worry for him. I worry about him. And yet I know there is something so profoundly good about this boy.

I watched him do something today, something for others, that he likely would not have chosen to do on his own. I am writing this so I remember today. So I remember the next time his homework is late, or he misses the bus, or he forgets his assignment, the next time I am tempted to be cranky at him for 'letting me down', that he is a boy struggling with things boys shouldn't have to struggle with. He is boy who, despite his string of bad luck, put it all aside today to do something for people he didn't know, with people who needed his support.

Today. He shone. He shone as only a fourteen year old boy could. He shone from the inside out. And he was radiant.

So I wept today. Because he was beautiful. Because his life sucks, and yet he showed up. Because I know he is a good soul, and I believe in him. Today I want him to know I believe it will all be okay.

And, as you are reading this, maybe you can pray to whomever, or whatever you pray to that this boy will make it. I don't want to let him down. I don't want any of us to let him down.

I pray he sleeps well tonight. Tonight he deserves to sleep well.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I don't think our culture is very good at saying good-bye. Not the simple good-byes from one meeting to the next, or the harder good-byes when the end is final. I also don't think we are very good at good-byes when someone we have worked with for a few months, or for many, many years leaves their career, or their place of employment.

When my husband was retiring after 28 years with a company the company sent him an email and told him to purchase himself a gift for $700.00 and submit the receipt to them.

Of course, this same company, on his 25th work anniversary, sent him a catalogue and told him he could pick any gift on certain pages, and if he wanted it inscribed he could choose what the inscription read. Personal, eh?

Until I was in my 30s the only funeral I had ever attended was my father's. I have no memory of it. I have limited memories of the reception at our house after the funeral. I left for an island right after the funeral. My mother thought it better to get me away from it all. I never got to go to the hospital to say good-bye to my father. There is no blame in this statement. My mother made this decision for her and my father's reasons. I didn't agree with their wishes, but this was not for me to comment on. It was not my decision. I was seventeen.

When my mother was dying I tried to have a conversation with her about her death. I tried to say good-bye. It didn't work. She didn't want to go there, and I didn't want to force the issue. I still remember the last time I saw her. She was sitting on the porch of the care facility. She was sitting in a chair, having a cigarette. She looked so tiny, so frail. I think I knew as I drove away that this would be our last good-bye. I didn't do it very well.

My mother had raised me to know that 'she didn't do funerals'. For years I recited the same mantra. Then a 10 year old girl at our school died. I decided that I did 'do' funerals. They are important - they help us support the survivors, they help us cry and acknowledge our grief. They give us comfort. They acknowledge a life - whether it is only a few months, or many decades. Since that funeral I have been to many others: a friend's tiny baby, my son's violin teacher, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, a son of a colleague, a teacher at my children's school,a mother in our school community, a friend from La Leche League, my aunt's, my husband's cousin, and my friend's son.

I am still not good at saying good-bye, but I find such comfort in these gatherings. I wish there had been a funeral for my mother. I wish I had been more 'awake' to my father's funeral. I wish saying good-bye wasn't so hard.

I do believe these good-byes are only temporary, but still they seem so permanent. All of these funerals remind me that a time will come when I might attend the funeral of a sibling. Funerals remind me that I may attend the funeral of my husband of 35 years. God willing I will not have to do what my grandmother did and attend the funeral of one of my children.

These are difficult thoughts. But, I think this is why saying good-bye is hard. Because there are some people in our lives we literally can't bear to have to say good-bye to.

So airport good-byes, collegial good-byes, holiday good-byes, daily good-byes are hard. Because we never know when those simple daily good-byes become permanent. We just never know.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saint Nicholas

Another last today. The last time Saint Nicholas will visit this class of students. He has come for eight years. Every year he reads a short poem about each student stressing their strengths, their challenges, their current situation.

They always listen to his words with rapt attention. What will he say about me? Does he really know me?

In all these eight years, never once, have they questioned where these verses come from. They may suspect I write them, but no-one says it aloud. Saying it aloud would spoil the magic, and even fourteen year olds can believe in magic.

They were as excited this year as they were in Grade One. Maybe more, because now the rhythm of the season has been with them for eight years.

Saint Nicholas has been coming to my class for eight years. He and I have become great friends. He is a great man, and he is patient and kind, loving and jolly.
It is quite the festival, and his naughty companion, Peter, brings cookies and oranges for us all, and we have to be careful, because sometimes Peter does silly, mischievous things in the classroom that we don't always discover until later in the day.

So, for ten minutes today, my Grade Eight students suspended dis-belief. They put aside their sleepiness, and malaise, and contrariness to allow themselves to be swept up in the magic of Saint Nicholas.

December at my school is one magical event after the other: weekly advent assemblies, Saint Nicholas, Santa Lucia, Cascadia Fairy Tale and the Shepherds' play.

And, singing. Lots of singing.

I love December. Thank you, Saint Nicholas. Your visit is always the true beginning of my Christmas season.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

I should have made that call

It has been a year since Lorraine died. She was a woman I worked with in the early 80s at Metro Transit. We both worked in the operations office. I had left teaching (I was too young, the public school system too inflexible), and clerical work was something I was good at, and I had tenure at BC Hydro from all the summer and winter jobs I had to put myself through university. But, this story isn't about me, it is about Lorraine. Or, maybe it is about how sometimes we let our own insecurities get in the way of true and abiding love.

Lorraine had the greatest laugh. She was probably, hands down, the kindest person I will ever have met in this life. She had married Nelson, a man 20+ years her senior and they loved to travel in their little camperized van. Nelson had lost both his arms in an electrical accident before Lorraine met him. She met him at GF Strong where he was recovering from his accident. Lorraine was there visiting a friend recovering from another accident. Accidents brought them together. They formed a friendship, and finally Lorraine proposed to him. He didn't have the nerve to propose to her. He thought she couldn't possibly love an old man who didn't have any arms. He was wrong. Lorraine could love.

They never had children, but they always had a dog. Lorraine would walk that dog for two hours every day. One hour in the morning, one hour at night. During their camping adventures they fell in love with Rock Creek. They started to buy land there and when Nelson retired, Lorraine retired too, and they went to Rock Creek, built their dream home, and settled into that little community. She skied, walked her dog, and worked for the local newspaper as a journalist.

Even after I stopped working at Transit she and I would keep touch by having dinner every month or so. On one of those dinners she shared that she was going for a biopsy. Breast Cancer. She had a mastectomy, chemo, recovered and continued with her life. We continued our dinners, sometimes with our husbands, usually just the two of us. Writing this I just remember her huge smile. She was always smiling.

We wrote letters, exchanged Christmas cards, kept in touch as best you can when you live far away.

And then it was August of 2007. My husband and I had bought a truck and camper and had spent the summer in the interior of BC. One afternoon we stumbled upon Rock Creek. We were having lunch and he suggested we should call Lorraine and Nelson.
I didn't want to. Why? Because I weigh more than I did in the early 80s. Because I was 25 years olders than I was in the 80s. Because I was worried about what she would think about me. What was I thinking? I know Lorraine would have hugged me, and greeted me, and made me tea. But, I didn't make the call.

That Christmas I received a letter that her cancer had returned, that she was finishing chemo and, although tired, heading to New York Times Square with her niece to see the Ball drop at New Year's. I called her,but only got her answering machine. She called back and I wasn't home. She said she found it hard to talk on the phone, she would get too emotional. We exchanged a few long emails. Catching up. She always wanted to know how my kids were doing.

Then last fall I started to get emails from her friends. Lorraine was dying from her third fight with breast cancer. This time she would not win. The emails came daily and I sent some emails that her friends could read to her.

She died on December 1 last year. So I have been thinking about her alot the past few days. I wish I had made that call. I wish I had hugged her one more time. I wish I hadn't been so vain and stupid. I wish I could hear her laugh and see her smile one more time.

God willing, I won't make that mistake again.

Friday, December 2, 2011


Silence is Golden, so they say. But for the children that have no voice I imagine silence is anything but golden. On Wednesday my Grade Eight class and I vowed to be silent. To give our voice to the children who have no voice. For the children that are kidnapped and trained to be soldiers. For the children who live in war ravaged countries and have no say in the political regimes that keep them there in the absence of peace.

So, we were silent. At 8am students started to filter into the classroom. Into my candle lit, advent classroom. We shook hands in greeting as we always do in the morning, but no words were exchanged. It was peaceful. Our eyes truly meeting each other. No words were needed. We were here. Together. And we were safe in each other's company.

We started the morning by playing four Christmas songs in four part harmony on our recorders. It was stunningly simple and stunningly beautiful.

Then the class settled into their main lesson work, their geography work. This project entailed bringing with them a list of 10 or 15 items they use, eat, or wear daily and where they were from. They were assigned to make a world map, and to place little flags on the map where their objects came from. As the silence grew, the map filled. We are in economic brotherhood with Cambodia, Bangladesh, Africa, Australia, Europe, Mexico, China, Japan, Montreal....well, you get the idea. All these people in the world that grow, cultivate, sew, manufacture things for us to use. It is mind boggling. And we never get to say thank you. Our appreciation is silent.

This class of 12 students worked silently until 10am, when we had to get into the school bus, or cars to head to a rehearsal. This too, was all done in silence. We were rehearsing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves which will be performed at the Kay Meek Performance Hall on December 13. We are performing this with the Cascadia residents who are handicapped adults. We rehearsed in silence. They were so patient and gracious with these adults who have such struggles and yet are so profoundly happy and peaceful, and, for the most part, silent.

Then back to school for lunch. Silence. Then they went off to their afternoon classes. Silence. It was powerful. And it was hard. There were a few times I started to speak - to greet someone, to make a suggestion, to answer a question. But I persisted - right up to bedtime. I got alot done on the silent day. Talking takes up alot of time. Without talking I had time to get to a myriad of 'things' on my to-do list.

We raised 150.00 for Free the Children. I donated 10 dollars for every student in my class, and a parent matched her child's donation - and, of course 10.00 for me. So, that was good. It felt good to be less selfish, less "me", more reflective, quieter. We all commented the next day on how much we got done! How comforting the silence was.

Silence is Golden. My class is Golden. It was a Golden memory of this, my last year, of teaching this grade eight class.