Friday, December 30, 2011

The Afterglow of Christmas

I have not been in any hurry to 'pack up Christmas' yet this year.

I am still revelling in the glow of our Christmas lights and marvelling at the cards that found their way to us this holiday season.

I let my vision blur and all that I see is the afterglow of Christmas. The lights. Greetings from friends and family from across the miles.

I am not in a rush to pack it all in. For the wonder of the season had nothing to do with gifts. It was simply the quiet essence of drawing the world in just a little closer.

Our home feels enveloped in friendship and family ties year round. But right now? There is physical evidence of those connections. I just want to bask in the afterglow for a few more days ...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Quiet

Yesterday was a day that I needed. A day of rest-for-my-mind.

I didn't take the time to formulate my own thoughts ... to write ... to talk ... or communicate in any fashion. No creativity was required to get through the day.

I was not sad, blue in any capacity, lonely or depressed. I was happy.

Happy to be home. Happy to have the gift of a day.

Perhaps it was a waste of a day. I prefer to think of it as a much-needed day of nothingness.

The clutter of one's mind is exhausting. A day with a quiet mind is a gift. Savor the serenity of a peaceful mind whenever you have the opportunity.

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”
~ Baba Ram Dass

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Feel Good Movie Marathon

I watched movies today. All day.

I didn't have the energy to think my own thoughts and was quite happy to let Hollywood fill up my day and entertain my mind.

Here is a recap of my day and some of the words that 'stuck' from each of the movies I watched:

Serendipity

"Serendipity. It's one of my favorite words .... It's such a nice sounding word for what it means: a fortunate accident."

"You know the Greeks didn't write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: 'Did he have passion?'."

"And if you're smart enough, you learn from your mistakes. You figure it out. You... you think. You realize that life isn't some elaborate stage play with directions for the actors. Life's a mess, Sara. It's... it's chaos personified."

Now and Then

"Things will happen in your life that you can't stop... But that's no reason to shut out the world... There's a purpose for the good and for the bad... "

"I've been so afraid of the bad things that um... That I've missed out on the good... "

"Thomas Wolfe once said you can't go home again. Well, that's great for old Tom. But he wasn't a chick who made a pact with her friends when she was twelve to get together whenever any one of them needed each other. So here I am driving back to my childhood home in Indiana a place I can tell you I never wanted to see again."

As Good As it Gets

"Carol Connelly: When you first entered the restaurant, I thought you were handsome... and then, of course, you spoke."

"Melvin Udall: Judging from your eyes, I'd say you were fifty.
Carol Connelly: Judging from your eyes, I'd say you were kind, so so much for eyes. "

Bewitched

"Do you want the long version or the short version? And I have to warn you, the long version is in Aramaic."

The Wedding Planner
"Love is just love. it is not a fairy tale... it's not some enchanted evening. that's not real life."

"... I appreciated her. Then the appreciation grew to respect. Respect grew to like. Then like grew to love. A deeper love than I could ever hope for ..."

"... But the funny thing about answered prayers ... Is they come to you in unexpected ways ..." ~ Lyrics from 'Plan on Forever'

About a Boy

"Suddenly I realized - two people isn't enough. You need backup. If you're only two people, and someone drops off the edge, then you're on your own. Two isn't a large enough number. You need three at least."

"I used to think two was not enough. But now things are great; there are loads of people... I don't know what Will was so pissed about. I don't think couples are the future. The way I see it now, we both got back-up now. It's like that thing Jon Bon Jovi said: 'No man is an island'."

Notting Hill

"For June who loved this garden from Joseph who always sat beside her." Some people do spend their whole lives together."

My 'Feel Good Movie Marathon' day has come to an end. The most amazing thing of all???? I stayed awake for the (vast majority) of a day spent in front of a box that lulls me to sleep when I am wide awake.

I think I needed this day. A day to be quiet. A day to find thought provoking moments in whatever was laid out before me.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Going Home

All good things must come to an end ... and so it is, with our Christmas visit with Mom and My Brother's Family.

It was a quiet Christmas, filled with happy memories of Christmases past. There were few surprises and no plumbing issues (as in some of our past Christmases).

The phone was relatively quiet ... though both of My Sons called and our conversations (&/or phone messages) became a part of this year's memories.

I would imagine that The Sisters (Mom's and mine) will be calling Mom soon after we leave, so she will continue to enjoy the company of family as Christmas weans itself into the New Year.

There will be no letter in the mail for her this week ... but my family's gift to her was The Gift of a Letter and she has a small gift bag full of mail that will keep her occupied for a while.

It has been a blissful Christmas. Quiet and enjoyable. Simple pleasures brought together under one roof, for a handful of days.

Now it is time to head home. There is only one Christmas wish that I have left - a safe and uneventful trip home.

Safe travels to all and to all ... "May the Spirit of Christmas be with you throughout the days and years ahead."

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Most Un-Christmas-Like Christmas of All

What is Christmas supposed to feel like??

There has always been the feeling that Christmas was ‘something special’ within my family.

As a child on the farm, my memories are sketchy … but I definitely recall the sense of wonder, lots of people, our big mid-day Christmas Dinner and the best part of all – the turkey on a bun, with a pickle later in the day.

I think that even as a small child, I appreciated the turkey-on-the-bun part of the day the most. The biggest part of Mom’s workload was finally complete and I must have felt her stress levels decline as she could relax a little, with what was left of the day.

When we moved out of the province and away from my Married Sisters, Christmas truly took on a magical feeling. Christmas meant the gathering of our family under one roof, lots of visiting, a growing number of people (as My Sisters had and raised their children - nine, between the two of them). Oh … it was a very fine time to be a kid in amongst the chaos. Christmas represented nothing but happy family memories.

As I started having my own children, the focus of Christmas started to shift.

My Oldest has fond memories of our Christmases Past. All of his cousins gathered together and many fun-filled memories were made.

As a parent, it was different. I focused on the disparity between My Son’s gifts and those that his cousins received. I could not compete in any way. Eventually, I started to wean my little family out of the Christmas Mornings and we were a part of the celebrations in every other way. It was still good.

It was also during the years of raising my children and on-again, off-again relationships that I started to become angry with the expectations of the season. Christmas has a way of magnifying whatever is going on in your life. Good becomes great; bad becomes unbearable; loneliness becomes sadness. Anniversaries of Christmases Past become a very sad and lonely time when you are in a state of transition or loss.

Time and age assisted in the coming-to-terms with the emotional baggage that Christmas has the ability to carry.

My small family’s traditions became smaller, quieter … and a little less of ‘everything I remembered’ Christmas to be.

My Middle Son’s Christmas memories were far less spectacular than My Oldest’s memories. My Youngest? I will be curious to hear his take on Christmases Past in about a decade or so.

His expectation level has never been too high. Until this year, I had never heard him compare what he received at Christmas, to others.

This year, there were three gifts for him under the tree. He was pleased with what he received. There was no outward indication of let down or disappointment. But the look I saw in his eyes this year was a little bit different than the rest.

We packed up and headed out to Mom’s home for the holidays. We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning with my brother’s family. My Youngest has many fond memories of spending Christmas with his much-older girl cousins. Even now that they are 16 and 19 years old, they still treat him with the same ease and kindness that they always have. The disparity of ages will grow even farther apart as they enter their adult years …

There wasn’t a lot of people, presents or the confusion and chaos of Christmases Past. I believe that my mom savoured that fact. I appreciated the lack of expectations that landed on my shoulders. But my children … what will they remember about this most Un-Christmas-Like Christmas of All?

Will they focus on what they had? Or what they lacked?

I believe it will all depend upon their ages and stages of life.

My Oldest will remember this most untraditional Christmas of all … as the year he spent Christmas in Thailand.

My Middle Son will remember this as the Christmas where he shed the traditional monetary gift-giving … and spent it at home with his very own 'family'.

I will remember it as the Christmas of Empty Arms/Full Heart. The year that I tried to shift the giving … but still felt the need to give something.

My Youngest? He keeps his thoughts quietly to himself. It isn’t sadness, loneliness or loss of a life he once knew that I see in his eyes. I see a look of resignation and acceptance. It is what it is. It isn’t what others have. It is ours. Whether that is a good or bad thing? He will find out more, as the years go by …

Sunday, December 25, 2011

An Unexpected Gift

It was as Christmas gift that I didn’t expect. Perhaps, I should have. But I was surprised none-the-less.

I was forewarned. “Keep an eye on this,” said my Uncle when I bought his car. It might be okay for a while …

As it has been with almost everything in and around our house lately … if it’s not broken, I haven’t been fixing it. If it is broken, I decide just how much we needed it in the first place and whether or not we can simply do without. Things have not been getting fixed or replaced unless it is something I deem it worthy of doing so.

My Middle Son has been my live-in-Mr-Fix-It. If he sees something that needs to be done, he does it.

He recently replaced the rear brake drums on my car. Once again, I had been told that this could be something that may need to be done soon. The brakes worked fine. One gets used to the pulsing vibration when one brakes, when one learns to trust the brakes. I ignored it. My Son fixed it.

Unbeknownst to me, we have had a slow but steady drip from our outside water tap. I have no idea how I couldn’t have seen it myself, but we ended up with a (very large) frozen waterfall from the tap to the ground which most definitely did not happen over night.

An outside water leak in the dead of winter is something that I deemed necessary to fix. So I wrote a note-to-self, to call a plumber in the morning. Before I remembered to do that the next day, my Son offered to fix it himself. He had never done such a thing before but he eyed up the situation and decided to follow what logic told him … and fix it.

So he did. He sees what needs to be done. And does it. That is (perhaps) why, when he checked over my car before my road-trip … that I didn’t even think about the tires that my Uncle had warned me about.

I forgot to check the tires when we stopped for gas mid-way to our destination. It was only when we were sitting at the last light out of the last major city for 150 kms … that a kind passenger in the car sitting beside me, got my attention and told me that I had a flat tire. I pulled over immediately. It was (almost) as flat as a pancake.

I was ready to take that tire on the highway. I was more than a little annoyed with myself that I didn’t notice. I was even more grateful for this kind stranger who brought it to my attention before the circumstances became more dire.

Immediately, I started counting my blessings.

The kindness of yet another stranger who changed my tire. The fact that it was not -40° outside. The miracle that Canadian Tire decided to stay open until 3:00 (instead of 12:00) for this very reason (to be available for stranded travellers). That I had given myself a few hours leeway to get to My Destination on time.

And one small thing that brought great joy to me, as my car was put up on a hoist right in front of the windows of the customer area where My Youngest and I spent the next hour and a half waiting for our car’s turn to be repaired … the fact that my Middle Son did me the great favour of washing my car for me before we headed out on the open road.

There sat my car, in its time of need. Front and centre with a bird’s eye view of the garage, the waiting area and everything and everyone in it. And it shone in its glory.

I looked at my car as it demanded to be taken care of. And I was grateful. Grateful for every little thing that brought us to that place in time.

How could I be so fortunate (once again) to have a car with an instinctive ‘homing device’ that doesn’t let me down in the middle of nowhere?

I happily paid the bill and was grateful that it was not more.

I didn’t ask for tires this Christmas … but that is what I got. But more importantly, we arrived safely to our destination in plenty of time for supper.

How much more could one ask for on Christmas Eve?

From Our Home to Yours ... Merry Christmas!!!

Me & my very own Santa Son

Saturday, December 24, 2011

I Am Ready

"Are you ready for Christmas?" is the question of the hour. It is with great happiness that I will now answer "Yes!" to that question.

I have had the luxury of time to putter away with little projects. I have had time to volunteer to do a few little things. I have had time to stop for coffee ... visit with friends ... go for a drive ... and have a glass of wine.

I am a little bit tired this morning. One glass of wine last night would have sufficed. But I am ready.

I am ready to enjoy the days that lie before me. I am rich with the knowledge that I will (probably) still have another week off after all of the stat holidays are over.

I have time ... and I feel rich. There are some things that money can't buy. This is one of them.

I am ready!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Gift of Time

I have not gotten caught up in the frantic pace of 'getting ready for Christmas' this year.

I didn't shop. Well ... I did pick up a few gifts for My Youngest. While I was at it, I tossed a few other miscellaneous items in the cart ... I always like to have a few tricks up my sleeve. Having the odd gift card and gift at the ready is something that I would like to do on a year-round basis. So yes, one early morning I did a little bit of shopping (while I was out getting milk anyway).

I don't bake. Baking is a waste of time, energy and calories in this house. My Youngest eats next to nothing that I have ever baked. My Oldest has a few favorites, but he is living a sugar-conscious life so if he does indulge himself he is likely to take one or two cookies verses one or two dozen. My Middle Son will try most anything. He doesn't eat something just to get rid of it - there must be an enjoyment factor. Otherwise it could sit there forever. Thus ... I have quit baking.

I don't have much of a social life. I cannot say that I miss the Christmas Party Season. Corporate parties. Branch parties. Dance parties. Social obligations of any sort. Any socializing that I do during the Christmas season, is something that I would do the other eleven months of the year. So it is a low pressure season for me. No need to fret about my wardrobe, extra costs or miscellaneous gift items when the party season is next to non-existent.

Cards - my favorite tradition of the season. But this year, I have written one or two when I have the time and inclination. I haven't sat down and made it into a job. It has been light and easy. I have not yet written to everyone that I normally write to ... but I will most likely keep my address book out and continue to write a note here and there throughout the next while. It is a tradition that I want to keep. But I don't want it to become work.

All in all, when people ask me if I am ready for Christmas my answer is a quick and simple, "No" ... I am simply living my normal life and tossing in a few little Christmas bonuses from time to time. A small gathering of the family. Taking in a Christmas play. Being a small part of the school's December 'Fun Night' (especially delightful since my Middle Son volunteered to be Santa for the last shift of the evening).

Little things, easy and fun outings and gatherings. Nothing too terribly out of the ordinary. No pressure is the theme that I am holding onto this year.

Then ... I ended up with a Christmas Vacation from work! Though it isn't a guarantee that I will not be called into work, it is highly likely that I will end up with two weeks off of work.

The first day felt like a Saturday. I puttered just a little bit ... but really didn't accomplish much. It was restful and relaxing. It was enjoyable.

Yesterday was the second day. I had time to write, time to play around with a few ideas and time to take care of appointments and a few errands.

Time. I stopped for a cup of coffee with my aunt and uncle. I shared a cup of tea with a friend. I bought groceries before the last minute rush before the Christmas weekend.

I had time to stop and smell the roses while I accomplished a few little things along the way. No pressures awaited me at home. Just more time.

Upon coming home, the phone rang a few times and I had two wonderful visits with friends in the next province. It was like they were next door.

Yesterday, I felt like I had all the time in the world. Time to say 'yes' to a cup of coffee or a cup of tea. Time to sit still while I visited with friends via a long distance phone connection. Time to write ... time to play ... time to take care of some errands.

Time. Too much of it and it loses its lustre. Too little of it and you are too busy thinking ahead to the next item on your agenda that you don't enjoy the present. Time ... a precious commodity these days. Especially at this time of year.

Give yourself the best gift of all. Take the time to sit back and savor the moment you are in. It is a moment that you will never get back. It is the present. It is a gift.

Why I Still Send Christmas Cards

I couldn't believe my eyes when the name came up on 'call display' yesterday afternoon. It was the name and (new) province's area code of our neighbor that moved away a few years ago.

Her home sold so quickly that she didn't have a permanent address in her New Province before she moved. She promised to write and send us her address when she got settled. Two Christmases came and went and we never did hear from her.

I wistfully think of her from time to time.

Her husband died several years ago. They were so good to my Middle Son as he grew up. He grew into a man before their very eyes and he had the opportunity to repay some of their kindnesses. It was a grandparently kind of relationship that they shared.

We shoveled in front of each other's houses in the winter and chatted over the fence in the summer. Small acts of kindness were volleyed back and forth over that fence. She was (still is) my 'favorite neighbor' on the block.

It was a sad day when we saw the For Sale sign go up in her front yard. Sadder yet, when the entire sale transaction happened quicker than anticipated.

The promise of learning her address so that we could keep in touch was all that we had ... until she called yesterday afternoon!

We got caught up in the happenings of our lives and talked for quite some time before she answered the question that was burning in my mind. What prompted her to call out of the blue?

She answered my unasked question, "I was going through my Christmas stuff when I found the Christmas card that you wrote ... ". As I searched my memory to remember when I could have written it, I realized that card must have been at least three or four years old. "I am going to keep it forever ..." she continued.

The written word. The tradition of exchanging Christmas greetings in good, old-fashioned long hand. A keep-sake ... something tangible that you can hold onto. A few words scrawled on a folded piece of cardboard can bring a friend right back into your living room ... four years after the words were written.

That ... is why I still enjoy sending Christmas cards.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Job Challenged Year

2011 has been one of the most challenging years that I have faced throughout my work-life.

It didn't start out that way (though the process was well underway). I remember the point-of-no-return very well. I just didn't know what road that I would end up travelling between then and now.

When the time came to shop for a new job, my Middle Son wisely advised me to open my mind to any and all possibilities. To walk into places and look within, to keep my eyes open for a job that I had never considered before.

I searched an online 'jobshop' site. I scanned through the ads from beginning to end. I wrote a list of the jobs that spoke to me. The list was not very long. Other than one job, there was an underlying theme as to what classified as a job-I-added-to-the-list. Hours of work.

Being an 'available parent' to My Youngest has been my way of life for the past 13 years. Running a daycare so that I could be an at home mom. Working from home so that I was still present, available and an 'accessible parent'. Even when work started filtering out of my home, I did everything in my power to work (as much as possible) within the school hours.

I considered any jobs that would allow me to continue that way of life. I would have worked through the nights and slept through the school days if that is what it took, to retain the flexibility that I was looking for.

The greatest gift of all, was to find a job within the school system. My dream was to work at a school, where my holidays would mirror My Youngest Son's holidays.

My first position within the school system was a 12-month position. I would have stat holidays off, but other than that, my holidays would be based on how long I worked for the school and booking them when time was available. It wasn't what I dreamed of ... but a full-time pay cheque was worth the sacrifice. I was in!!

When that position didn't work out and I found myself on the substitute list, the idea of getting time off during the upcoming school Christmas vacation was slowly becoming a reality.

With that reality comes the fact that if I don't work, I don't get paid. But if there is no work for me ... then I will end up with a Christmas vacation! Not a bad trade off.

Today is Day #1 of Christmas Vacation. There is a remote chance that I could be called in to work, but highly unlikely. If I want to go out of town, I just have to 'book myself out' and I am free to go. I can almost turn myself 'off'.

I felt like a young school girl when I walked out of the school after work yesterday. I could have skipped down the sidewalk, feeling light as air with the feeling that I am on holidays!

I have been fortunate to work (primarily) within four schools for the past eight weeks. The final three weeks of the year, I worked (almost) full-time at one school. I learned so much. I was encouraged to call, reach out and ask for help. People were generous with their knowledge. Gentle and encouraging with their words. I was treated with kindness and respect.

The Job Challenges of 2011 have turned my world upside down and back. There were many times that I would have given up and cocooned myself inside the safety of my home and family if that would have been a viable choice. But it wasn't.

I was forced to continue to forge ahead. I cringed in fear as I faced my new reality on the substitute list. My self confidence levels were in the negative numbers when I found myself in a world where every day was a 'first day'. It was not a good place to rebuild my self esteem. But I didn't have a choice in the matter. If I wanted to pursue my Dream Job, I must continue to take forward steps. So I did.

Before I left work yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk with the Principal of the school where I had spent the vast majority of the past three weeks. I told her how grateful that I was to have been given this opportunity, the stability to remain in one school for weeks on end and how much I appreciated working with her and all of the staff at the school.

2011 has been a very Job Challenged Year. But it ended on a high note. And I believe with my whole heart and soul, that the best is yet to come ...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reaching Out

It isn't easy reaching out when you are feeling down and out.

I have been fortunate. I lived within a family that sensed my neediness and came to me. I don't know exactly how that sixth sense works. Sometimes it is obvious. Other times it is nothing short of a miracle. But I learned from an early age ... that I am not alone in this world.

I have made friends as I walked through my life. Different friends for different stages. Most remained for only a 'season'. Some were there for a 'reason'. But I have been blessed with many 'lifetime' friends.

As it was with my family ... even within my friendships, I often didn't reach out in time of need. In fact, with my aversion to making phone calls I am not even sure if I reached out at any time ... except to answer a ringing phone (with a friend on the other end of the line).

My most longtime companion has been 'pen and paper'. I did a lot of processing and writing before I had words to formulate the feelings within. I reached out and wrote with ease. Always have. Probably always will.

I have had a gradual metamorphosis within the past handful of years. I have practised and have started to feel comfortable reaching out and initiating the process of inviting people into my life. I have learned to trust friendships enough to lean a little. And in the past few months, I have actually picked up the phone and dialed it ... when I needed a friend the most.

I have been rewarded at every turn. No one has let me down in my time of need.

But what if ....

What if I didn't have trusted family relationships as a firm foundation? Would I trust my friends so much?

What if I didn't make friends easily and cocooned myself into a life of quiet and solitude (which I very much enjoy)?

What if I was afraid to reach out when I needed people when I needed them the most?

What is the secret to creating a solid, trusted base of relationships? Does it start within? Or is it a gift that our parents teach and emulate so that we learn how to incorporate the give, the take, the trust and free flow of the people that come and go within our lives?

What if you wake up one day and find yourself all alone in the world, despite your best efforts? Where do you go from there???

My eyes have been opened within the past handful of days to people wandering through a transitional phase in their life that is not easy. Each and every story and situation is as unique and intricate as a snowflake. Yet I see a common denominator ... the need (but not necessarily the comfort) to reach out and lean. Just a little. Just for a while ...

I see so many different variables at play.

Sometimes one chooses not to reach out until they have a chance to process and deal with their thoughts and emotions.

Sometimes one is fearful to reach out in a time of need because it is something new and foreign to them. They are accustomed to people coming to them and leaning. It is not in their natural make-up to be the needy one.

Sometimes one is embarrassed and uncomfortable. There are some circumstances that we don't choose. We just find ourselves smack dab in the middle that nothing in our life prepared us for.

But what if ...

What if ... you needed someone. And there was no one there? What then?

I have no answers for that one. Suggestions and ideas perhaps? But no answers.

Our answers lie with us. We are fortunate when we find our way through life with a friend at our side and the ability to communicate and process our psychological 'growth' when life throws us a curve ball. My answer has always been to write. Others need to talk. Sometimes we just need to cry.

But to sequester ourselves into a life where we have no one? It happens.

And I simply don't know the answers. I am sorry ...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I've Got Something After All

I wrote the post 'I Got Nothin' ' ... and went straight to work doing something.

I sat down and the words came. Once the words started flowing I had a hard time stopping them. The energy was released and then I went to work within my home.

I have company coming today and I had done next to nothing to prepare.

The food is ready. Everything else is a bonus.

It is good to push out of what is easy. Doing nothing was easy. But it wore me down. Doing something wasn't that hard. And it energized me into doing more.

I'm going to go with that until my company arrives ...

I Got Nothin'

I feel like I'm running on empty. 

My lack of Christmas Spirit is wearing me down. I've been trying to fake it 'til I make it, but I'm not fooling myself. I feel a void that I can't fill.

My empty hands are aching to give something. Words are failing me.

But I've got to keep trying. Because when the words come ... it feels right. And they feel like enough.

... But I got nothing
No magic words ...

I’m just blank
I’m staring into space
Praying please please let me think of something
‘Cause I got nothing

~ Lyrics (in part) from "I Got Nothin' " ~
Darius Rucker

I've got to go and find something ...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Where is the Magic?

I've been taking a quiet little survey as I have been talking with people. Casual conversation is unveiling what appears (to me) to be a growing trend. The magical spell of 'Christmas' seems to be losing its lustre ...

Is it just my perspective or is there a general lessening of Christmas-hype these days?

I have lowered my expectations in all ways. I expect and want for nothing. That is the easy part. The more challenging side of the equation is that I have cut back on gifting.

I followed through on my plan to be anonymously give where I saw and felt a need. It was the right thing to do. I do not want or need to be recognized. But there is something lost in gifting to someone when you know that you will never see the reaction of the giftee. It is a tiny bit akin to paying a bill ...

One of my most magical Christmas memories was the year when we spent Christmas morning with My Brother's family. His daughters were in their teens at the time. An age when it is easy to get wrapped up in the it's-all-about-me stage of development.

What did I see that was so captivating? It was in watching My Niece's reactions, as the gifts that they gave were opened. As happy and pleased as they were, opening their own gifts ... it was the pure, unadulterated joy in their faces as they watched the gifts that they had given that remains with me years later.

It is a joy and a blessing to be able to give. To find the 'perfect' gift and watch the surprise and pleasure as the recipient unveils what is hidden underneath the wrapping.

I don't have many surprises up my sleeve this Christmas. It feels all wrong to be empty-handed as I walk through this season.

Last night I received a gift. Thankfully, days prior to this exchange some words and pictures started coming together in my mind and I drafted a personalized letter to the very person who gifted me unexpectedly. I felt rather defeated as I walked out with a gift in my hand ... and all that I had given was a folded piece of paper.

I came home and reread the words that I had written. They were personal, genuine and a gift that I would have enjoyed receiving. It was the right thing to do.

Days earlier, I gave what I felt was 'the best gift for the occasion' ... with words of explanation as to why I gave what I did. I gave, with no intention of receiving. Yet once again, I was surprised with a gift. It was exactly the same gift that I had given ... that I received.

I lit up inside, as my wish of people gifting themselves in the way that they give to others was realized without plan or design.

Now ... the pressure is on, as I would like to envelope this feeling throughout the season.

The magic is in the giving. Sometimes, the magic is in telling a person just how much they have given to you ... and ask that they give that same gift to themselves.

"May this be the year where you give to yourself ...
What you give to others without thinking."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What it Must Feel Like to be Santa's Mom

What do you suppose Santa's mom worries about?

Do you think that she is disappointed about the fact that her son is unemployed for all but one day of the year? Or do you suppose that she focuses on the generosity and joy that he spreads on the night when he makes so many wishes come true?

Does she worry about his heart, his cholesterol and excess weight? Or do you think that she sees that her son is hale, hearty and is comfortable with the body that he has been given?

Is she concerned that fame will go to his head and that he will lose touch with his family as his life is publicly chronicled every year? Or is she pleased that her son's work allows him to balance work and family in a way that works best for them?

Does she judge him for not going completing school or going to university? Or is she grateful for the School of Life that taught him to be self reliant and a self made man who has learned and taught more than formal education ever could have?

Does she wonder if her son is truly happy when the rest of the world has forgotten about him for the better part of a year? Or does she recognize that his happiness must come from within - not from outside sources and the fame that he has acquired?

Is she concerned about all of the milk and cookies he consumes in one night? Does she worry that someone may 'slip a little something' into the refreshments they leave out for him? Or has she recognize the goodness in people and see that they give back in whatever way they can to show their gratitude?

Does she sleep at all on Christmas Eve as she worries about weather conditions, visibility, working long hours without a break on his solo trip around the world? Or does she trust that he will make it home safely as he has done all the years prior ... with Rudolph guiding the way and the rest of his trusted team pulling their weight and his vast amount of experience navigating his sleigh?

Does she judge her son for what he does or doesn't do? Or is she quietly at peace with herself for being a small part of raising someone so selfless, so generous and jolly?

Does she look at her son and see a little of her own father in him? Her brother? Can she see little pieces of all of those who have crossed his path to make him the man he has become? Is she grateful for the challenges that he has overcome to make him into who he is?

I think that Santa's mom must be pretty pleased with the man her son has grown into. Generous of nature, he quietly goes about his life the other 364 days of the year ... and we will never know the quiet impact he is making when we are not watching.

To all of my 'Santa's. This one is for you ...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Season of Giving

My Youngest asked me for part of his allowance in cash last night.

When I asked him why he needed it, he told me that he wanted to buy a candy-gram for everyone in his class. This is an opportunity that comes up each Christmas at My Son's school. For 50 cents, they can send a candy-gram (a candy cane) to anyone in the school.

We always chat for a little while before he goes to sleep. I had 'filed and forgotten' the conversation about the candy-gram, but it was first and foremost in his mind when we started our nightly ritual of talking about whatever happens to be in our head.

He was excited about his gift to his class-mates. He told me that it wasn't quite a secret because a few people asked him why he was writing up the list of everyone in the class and he told them. All that he hopes for, is that word didn't get out and that people don't approach him today expecting this gift.

He told me that he has wanted to do this for several years and this (being his last year in elementary school) was his last opportunity.

Giving. It feels so good and so absolutely right to give what you are able to give freely.

What I have grown to detest about this season is the expectations. Expectations of what I want to give. I want to give something that reflects how much I value that person's presence in my life. As friendships and relationships grow stronger and dearer, there is no gift that I can give that reflects all that I want that gift to say.

I write my mom a weekly letter. Within that envelope, I also enclose little 'trinkets' of whatever life may have had to offer that past week. Sometimes it is just a sampling of my blogs (she doesn't have, nor want anything to do with computers and the Internet). Other times it may be pictures. I have downloaded some songs and sent a CD or made a DVD with a photo slide show/music combined. Stories of day trips ... holiday adventures ... a book that I just read and enjoyed or something that made me laugh.

Whatever strikes my fancy, makes it into Mom's weekly letter. It is my year-long Christmas/birthday/Mothers Day gift to her. That envelope full of little surprises.

That is the magic that I wish to spread at all times. A year-round gift of giving small things, when they mean the most.

My Middle Son has encapsulated that act of giving in small ways at all times. An unexpected cup of coffee delivered to me at home. A spur of the moment day-trip. A drive out to his farm. Cooking breakfast. Watching over and being here for My Youngest, so I can step out and partake in my own little get-aways. Stepping up to the plate and simply being an active and vital part of running the household.

The gift of giving is very much alive within our family and home. Not just because it is Christmas ... it seems to have become second nature.

And that ... is the best gift of all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Letter

I am not one who judges, bashes or puts down anyone who has taken the time to sit down and write a letter. Some people simply don't enjoy writing. If they take the time and make the effort to put their thoughts on a piece of paper and mail it to me, I place a great deal of value on that.

We received a letter yesterday. This person has told me on many occasions, that they prefer talking on the phone over writing. We haven't talked on the phone for years. Communication has broken down.

We got together last year for a very emotional visit. One hour. Perhaps two. It started and ended there. Then (almost a year later) we received The Letter.

It was a Christmas Newsletter of sorts.

She wrote about her grandchildren, her great grandchildren and her children. By the time she worked her way to write about herself and her husband, my train of thought had wandered off the track and was lost in the bushes. So I fast forwarded to the personal note at the end.

"... Sorry that things can't be better. There's always hope ..."

I scanned through the letter again. She wrote of every single person in her family. Except my children. Her grandchildren.

I ran through all of the reasons 'why'. They weren't good enough.

I hurt for my children. I wondered what I could/should do to remedy the situation. I thought about the winding road that has brought our family to such an impasse ...

I cannot undo what has been done. I cannot change what 'is'. What can I do? I can open the (phone) lines of communication. I can. But I am still afraid. Afraid of propping that door ajar. That 'door' that makes me feel vulnerable.

Unresolved issues. They hit me like a ton of bricks when I run across them in my life. This is one of them.

'The Letter' reopened something in me that has been closed.

Monday, December 12, 2011

‘Twas the Year of Many Things

I have not been able to push myself into the Christmas card mode. What follows, is the 'poem' that will not make it into my Christmas cards this year. Because as the poem clearly depicts ... it seems that the year was 'all about me' ... and this must come to an end.

It was what it was ... and this is the best light-hearted wrap up of the year that I could come up with. My next attempt was titled "2011 - The Year of Living Precariously". That one didn't make it past the fifth paragraph.

As I flip through the pages of the year that has past
I can say without doubt, that the stories are vast!

The New Year looked so bright, so new and so shiny
I leapt towards the future and set goals aplenty.
 
The first few months, I was checking off all on my list
All was going as planned, nothing was missed.
Best laid plans are sometimes not best
Sometimes life has other plans for you … I’ll leave out the rest.

This year was filled with many grand celebrations
Mom came out to join us for each of the many occasions.
In May I went on a holiday which revolved around friendship
It just so happened that it also involved an Alaskan Cruise Ship!

Upon my return home, there were reunions galore
Nestled safely among friends and family … who could want more?
Turns out, it was me ~
I needed a change in my job destiny.

The transition was rough, the challenges many
The lessons learned? Those are aplenty!

All in all, I would say that it was a pretty good year
2011 – The Year of my Newfound Career.

** To be continued next year …** 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Miracle of the Internet

My Oldest's plane took off at 6:30 a.m. (right on schedule) yesterday morning. It arrived in Calgary 9 minutes late (at 6:50 a.m., Calgary time).

His next flight left Calgary at 8:45 a.m. (Calgary time) and arrived in Vancouver at 9:30 a.m. (Vancouver time) ... 21 minutes later than scheduled.

They left Vancouver at 12:20 p.m. and arrived in Hong Kong at 6:00 p.m. (4:00 a.m. our time). They were scheduled to arrive at 5:20 p.m.

They left the gate in Hong Kong at 6:57 p.m. (Hong Kong time); took off at 7:13 p.m.; landed in Bangkok at 8:46 (Bangkok time now); and arrived at the gate at 8:54 p.m. (7:54 a.m. local time).

Twenty six hours and ten minutes after they left home ... they arrived at their final destination. Four different flights. He ended up on standby for the flight to Hong Kong (but as luck would have it, he boarded his flight as planned). They were scheduled to arrive at Bangkok at 8:40 p.m. (Bangkok time). Their plane touched down at 8:46 p.m.

That seems quite amazing to me. All of the variables that could have varied their estimated time of arrival ... and they arrived six minutes late.

I just Googled the name of the hotel he will be staying at for the next few days and took a quick peek at the gallery of photos. Guess which photo I had to check out first? http://www.s31hotel.com/gallery.html# (whoops ... that didn't take you to the picture I was looking at. Check out the bathrooms!). How could I be so wrong?? I guess if I had to travel to Thailand as a refugee, I could hack it under those conditions ...

Isn't amazing what you can find out when you have an Internet connection, flight numbers and the name of a hotel?

P.S. He hasn't updated his Facebook status yet, to announce his arrival in Bangkok ... but I'm sure it won't be long. Facebook will be his way of checking in and updating us on his Holiday Status. He is half a world away ... yet still connected. Amazing.

**Facebook update as of 10:28 a.m.** "Made it safe and sound! In Bangkok now! I'll keep you posted." 31 minutes ago near Bang Kapi, Thailand

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Enduring Friendships

I have been very fortunate to hold onto several friendships throughout the many ages and stages of my life. I am blessed with the comfort of friendship in my life. But it didn't always feel this way ...

Yes, I have made friends as I have walked through the varying paths that life has taken me. At no point (until I was nearing my 30's) did I consciously wonder how long we would remain friends.

You make friends as a child based on geography. If you are neighbors, close in age and don't hate each other ... chances are, that you will get to know each other, play together and become friends of some degree.

When you go to school, you tend to gravitate towards people you share some sort of affinity with. Once again, you find yourself thrown together with people you don't know. You share the same school, classes and interests and you find companions to walk through the corridors of school life.

Then comes work. I have made many friendly acquaintances through work but I have found that few of those friendships endure job changes and life transitions. I have felt so close and shared many personal stories with people that I no longer remain in touch with. Yet in that coffee room, during those breaks I felt like I had found a best friend.

There are friendships based on having children the same age, marriage and the interconnecting friendships that occur, extra-curricular interests, neighbors and all of the varying ways that we are thrown together with new people as we walk through our days ...

What is the magical formula that makes some friendships endure?

I was talking with a good friend last night and we started reflecting on the topic of close friendships. As I mentioned, I feel beyond blessed to have such a patchwork array of supportive friendships within my grasp. But I haven't always felt this secure in my friendships. Something has changed ...

I have been fortunate to have a friend at my side throughout the many challenges and joys of my life. But did I always feel safe to pick up the phone if I felt my life crumbling? No. I used to wait for the phone to ring. There were times that someone happened to call when I needed someone to talk to. Often times, it was My Sisters that came to my rescue. A family connection that transcended the miles and silence. I wasn't reaching out ... but they heard me anyway and came to me.

When I moved to Our Current City, I was a province away from the friendships that I had accumulated throughout my life. So I wrote ... I probably reached out more on paper than I ever did in person. I suppose that a great number of my forever-friendships were sustained because I found it easier to write than to speak. Friendships were maintained ... but they were at a distance.

My friend and I sat back and reflected at the true beginning of our friendship that has blossomed from a close group of friends from work. We decided that it was (most likely) sometime around 1996. The month? We remember. It was September.

This friendship was born out of a birthday invitation for one of us among the group. At the end of that picnic birthday gathering, all three of us marvelled at how perfect the occasion was. Then we all confessed our shared 'secret' ... we found it easier to stay within the safe confines of our homes. Alone. Reaching out to a friend and stepping out of our comfort zone was hard for each and every one of us. But we did it. We met at a park, shared a birthday picnic lunch and the seeds of a great friendship was born.

The circle grew a little larger as more friends joined the group. We made a concentrated effort to get together on a monthly basis. The theme of our group was based on 'optimism' and we knighted our friendship circle 'The Optimist Club' (or something close to that ... the name evolves and changes with the years).

Trust continued to grow within this circle of friends. It was a slow and quiet evolution. Life started to throw us curve balls and instead of the group disintegrating because life was pulling us in different directions, we became closer.

Yes, there were ebbs and flows in this evolution. Our monthly meetings dwindled but there was always that one ember quietly burning that simply had to be stoked ... and the friendship came back to life stronger than ever.

I trusted this circle of friends more than I had ever done before. I reached out and told them 'the hard stuff' ... and they supported me in friendship. I still withheld the neediness that I sometimes felt and I didn't reach out in a time of need. I talked to them after I had things all figured out in my head. But even that changed. This is an entry from a journal I was keeping at the time:

Saturday, Aug 11/07 I need a plan. I need to get myself out of this rut ... I need to interact with people. I think I need to reach out to some friends. I should try and initiate an 'optimist group' gathering. I should email our Out of City Member and see if and when she may be up to some company and maybe we could head out to Her City. I need a plan. I am going to email my Optimist Friends right now and see where it takes me ...

That was a time of great change for me. I reached out to friends in a time of need ... and they were there. I didn't have it all figured out. I was still a little bit raw with emotion, sad and lonely. And they were there!

I have never looked back.

This past fall was another time of great transition. I was falling to pieces and in an effort to keep myself in a state where I could face the next day, I picked up the phone and called my friends. I thought I had my emotions in check ... but I didn't. I crumbled to pieces with a friend on the other end of the phone line more times than I can count (okay ... yes I can count the times). In one extreme case, I broke down in the middle of a dance lesson, with my dance instructor and the dance studio's mascot (the owner's dog) as my witnesses.

I reached out ... and my friends listened. I purged my thoughts, re validated my line of thinking and kept moving on. My friendships have long been something that I valued and cherished. The past months tested my belief in myself. But never once, did my friends stop believing in me.

Back to the endurance of the friendships that I have. What is the secret?

Don't lose touch with those that are special to you. A phone call. A quick email that lets a person know that you thought of them that day. Even the annual tradition of sending a Christmas card can keep the embers burning on a friendship-of-long-ago.

Nurture what you have and you never know what your garden will grow. I have a multi-faceted group of friends that I continue to feel close to. A few school friends; several keep-forever-work friends; a few friends from my childhood; some friends from the dance studio;one from my marriage and some from my daycare-days. Not to mention my family that are also my friends ...

I seem to have a friend representing each phase of my life. Some friendships get nurtured more than others. But I do my best to keep connected in some small way.

This past spring, two friendships from my childhood had the opportunity to be nurtured. They have blossomed in ways that I never could have imagined.

This fall, despite all that was going on in my world ... I knew my family and friends 'had my back'. The security in knowing that is priceless.

I am rich in so many ways. I have something money can't buy. Friendships that have endured the years, miles and circumstances that could have distanced us. Instead ... given a little encouragement they have grown into the most beautiful collection of friends a person could ever hope for.

Reach out to a friend today. You will not regret it.

Overseas Adventurer

My Oldest is en route to his Thailand Winter Holiday as I write. Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I can verify that his flight left on schedule and they arrived at their first layover at 7:50 a.m. (our time).

He will spend (almost) 1 1/2 hours in Calgary before they leave for Vancouver where they have a three hour layover. Next stop Hong Kong.

Calgary and Vancouver? Those were the first two stops en route to my Great Alaskan Holiday. I've been there, done that. I can feel the excitement. The anticipation. All is calm. All is bright. Still within the safe and known confines of our home country.

Hong Kong? Then Bangkok? I'm sorta shakin' in my boots now.

I am not, nor will ever be a world traveller. I love staying within the confines of my very own country, where I know the language (yes, Quebec frightens me a little), the culture, the food and the 'bathrooming' protocols.

Travelling the world takes me back to sleepovers-at-friend's houses when I was a child.

As a fussy eater and fearful-of-most-anything-unknown-to-me sort of child, my worst fear was the food. I did not really enjoy anything that my mom didn't make (Mom knew all of my quirks, likes and dislikes and catered to me accordingly).

My next big fear is out-of-home bathrooms. This stems from the days spent visiting my mom's family when I was a child. It seems to me that I can remember the days visiting Mom's family were day-long affairs where you went from one home to the next. That would mean a foreign lunch and most likely an equally frightening supper. Which meant that the need for a bathroom at some point during that 12 hour stretch was almost inevitable. Almost. I think that I probably 'held it' most of those days ...

One aunt had two options. An outhouse or a toilet in the basement (my vision of this, is not pretty ... though I never did venture downstairs so I will never know if that toilet had walls around it or not). Obviously, this was one stop where I never used the facilities.

Another aunt had a real bathroom, with running water and all the amenities. But the trick was ... that one never knew if one was allowed to flush the toilet because it often overflowed. Thus, this was an 'unflushing' sort of bathroom that carried many risks. Many, many happy memories are at this aunt's home because this is where my Closest Cousin lived. So I did 'take the risk' when absolutely necessary.

My uncle's home was filled with love and young children. My aunt was a fabulous mother and a wonderful person in every way. Housekeeping was simply not a priority. Thus ... I do not even recall ever walking through the door of the bathroom in that house. I believe that I must have overheard a conversation which made me believe that would not be advisable. One thing I do remember, is that this was always a short stop.

My third aunt lived in The City and her washroom facilities were as close to home as I knew. That was my 'safe house'.

Thus ... my issues with bathrooms stem from my childhood and I have not overcome those particular demons. I need cleanliness, the known ability to flush, the safety factor of a spare roll of toilet paper at all times and water. Lots of water.

I researched the bathroom facilities in Thailand. Though what I read was from one person's perspective, I believe that some of the facts would be country-wide. There isn't an abundance of water, so flushing is not the same as we know it. Toilet paper is utilized in very small rations and definitely not flushed along with the waste.

My fear of the language and cultural barriers are based on far less personal experience.

One short holiday to Montreal (where everyone that I spoke to also knew English) is all that I have to base my opinions on. Picking up my breakfast sandwich at Tim Horton's during the beginning of a breakfast rush hour remains to haunt me. Though they took my order in English, they announced it (when it was ready) in French. Thankfully I ordered my sandwich on an English muffin, so I had one easily translatable word to help me identify my order ...

The cultural differences were perhaps 'just me'. I felt a sense of disdain from time to time. As if the clerk was perhaps thinking (add thick, French accent to this word when you read it) "Idiot", as I stumbled over myself in a foreign world.

My opinions are my own and most definitely not correct. But these feelings keep me very content to holiday within my own Prairie Provinces (with the occasional Alaskan Cruise Holiday tossed in for good measure) ... and visiting the U.S. does not frighten me (though I do need to have a good reason to go; aka friend or family or dance event).

As My Oldest heads westward towards his destination, I'm afraid that I do not share his excitement. I woke up this morning thinking, "If I had to run to a foreign country as a refugee, to find shelter and safety ... I could do it." To willingly decide to pay money out of my hard earned savings and use up five weeks of vacation time? That would not be a choice that I would make.

But I wish My Son the best, all the same. I will live vicariously through his stories and memories that he makes. Hopefully he has so many good things to say, that I will rethink my position (though I highly doubt it).

**Update**: First text from My Son "Not so excited right now ... really tired ... only slept for two hours and we have 26 hours of travelling to go! I just found out that they overbooked the flight to Hong Kong ... so I'm on stand by for that flight ..."

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Head is Starting to Catch Up

I woke up ten minutes before the alarm went off this morning. Ten minutes!! Instead of one or two hours!! Ten minutes!!!

I was ecstatic. The mind-racing, fist-in-chest anxiousness was gone. It was a week day. And I woke up feeling calm.

It feels like I've been in fight-or-flight mode on and off for the past four months. I have done a lot of sleeping and I believe it must have something to do with the steady stream of adrenaline pumping through my veins. That ... and I sleep to avoid thinking. Or living.

The flip side of waking up calmly, is that yesterday I started waking up at 3:00 a.m. and never did fall back into any kind of restful sleep. I woke up feeling like I had a hangover. The previous night, I had gone out to see my nephew perform and had one drink. I didn't get home until 10:30 p.m. I was asleep by 11:00. I had a horrible sleep and woke up feeling worse. The only thing that cured me was getting up and moving on with the day.

Yesterday, I officially made the half-way point of the (almost) three week substitute position that I am in. I tied up many loose ends at work. I found answers to several questions. I am starting to go with the flow of this school and I actually feel like I am doing my job!

Each school that I've worked in has had its own special brand of 'something special'. The specialness of this school is that there is a sense of déjà vu as I get to know the staff. I feel like I've met them before ... like I have walked this path in some way that I cannot remember. There is a comfort that I cannot put my finger on. I hope that it is working both ways.

My Brother has been in Our Fair City the past two evenings.

The first evening was a fast paced rush-through-supper-in-time-to-make-it-to-our-nephew's-standing-room-only-comedy-act. At no point did I feel like my head was caught up to where my body was, as I ran a few work-related errands on my way home and added a half hour onto (what was feeling like) a very long day. I threw supper together, had time to figure out a few puzzles (like: why was my pay cheque several hundred dollars less than I calculated it should be?) and get the yucky dishes scoured before My Brother arrived for supper. We raced through supper, went to this comedy-fest and stood all evening in a noisy, busy, fast-paced venue.

Last night, I arrived home at my regularly-scheduled-time. I timed our supper so that we could dine late and (hopefully) My Brother would be done his work in time to join us. As it turned out, his day was a very long one ... so I offered to deliver a plateful of our supper to his hotel room.

We sat and quietly chatted for several hours. We have been walking parallel paths lately, as we have both taken a leap of faith and left comfortable, familiar jobs for something brand new. We are presently in different stages of the transition but we have shared many of the same stresses and anxieties. It felt so good to sit down and talk with him. Hear his story. Take me out of my own head and listen to another perspective.

It was a quiet evening. Talking to someone who knows you like the back of their hand is calming and reassuring. I felt grounded after our visit.

Yesterday was a culmination of several good things. A sense of peace at work. Questions asked ... and answered! Yet another balanced, nutritious home-cooked meal (that is three good meals within a five day period!!!). A calm, rejuvinating visit with My Brother ...

It was a day where my head finally caught up to where my body was at. Then I slept.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Holy Season

'Tis the season to be holy. Or should I say ''holey''? Holey socks, that is!!

Every time I turn around, I seem to have blown another hole in yet another pair of socks.

Why is it that both socks don't wear out at the same time? I always end up with an odd sock out. I keep those spare socks and match them up as the next sock blows a hole and then I have a 'brand new' pair.

Then there all the intricacies of matching up the extra socks. Some have a logo, some don't. Some are shaped differently than others. I wouldn't want my socks riding down my legs (unbeknownst to anyone but me), at different rates. Then there are the dye lots. Omigosh!! Could they possibly invent one more shade of dark blue?

I was such a rebel on the weekend. I wore two socks that didn't match. They were close, but they were off by a shade or two. Then I took a few steps and whatever threads were holding one sock together enough to make it into the spare sock pile instead of the garbage, gave way. I had two, unmatching socks on. One of which had a hole in it. Back to the spare sock pile, I found yet another 'close, but no cigar' kind of match.

Triumphantly, I walked out of my room and carried on with the day. My little secret was not discovered by anyone else. Low and behold, by mid-day ... both of my mis-matched socks were holey. At that point in the day, it didn't make sense to go back to the sock drawer again. Less laundry for me, as I ceremoniously chucked my socks into the garbage at the end of a very holey day.

I just finished folding a load of laundry. And what to my wondering eyes should appear?? But two more holey socks - once again, leaving me with two mismatched black socks (who in the world would know but me, that one of those black socks has a logo and the other doesn't??).

I finally gave in and bought myself a brand new stock of black socks. Six pairs. Identical. No logos. No nothing. When those socks start to go, I should have evenly matched mates each and every time.

Now if only I could figure out what to do with all of the miscellaneous colors of blue that have amassed in the back of my sock drawer.

This holey season must come to an end (for now).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 7

Twenty four years. It is one of those days that stands out from the rest. It was a day of drama.

I had left my husband for the third and final time days before. I remember waking up on the morning of December 4th and thinking "This is the date our lives start anew".

We were tucked away in a safe haven. A shelter for women and children taking refuge from an abusive situation. No one knew where we were.

I felt safe and secure. I talked to people who didn't take sides, didn't judge and offered what they knew to be true about the situation I was in. It was the beginning of a time of making good decisions for my children and me.

I watched and listened to the other women in there. So many were full of hatred and emotion. I had been there. I saw myself in them. This time was different.

For the first time in the ten years of my off and on again marriage, I was detached from the emotions. I felt like I was standing on the outside, looking in. And I didn't like what I saw. I knew without a doubt that I had to get out and stay out of that marriage.

I'm almost certain that my ex-husband felt the difference. I was afraid in ways that I had never been afraid before. We both knew that this time was not the same as the others. He couldn't reach me. I felt the desperation as he had no idea where I was or how to get to me.

December 7th. It was a Monday. A school day. I took My Oldest to school and briefly let them in on what was happening at home. Several hours later, I got a call that made my blood run cold. My ex-husband had taken Our Son from school.

I don't remember the how, when or why of it. But it wasn't long before I found out that Our Son was at my in-laws home. My heart was broken as I visually saw and felt that this young, nine year old boy was smack dab in the middle of a 'game' of tug-of-war.

I went over to my in-laws and said whatever I had to say, to ensure he came home with me. And he did.

The drama of that day affected all those that touched our world. My mom, my mother-in-law and I were like three fierce mother bears. Each of us were protecting our young. I believe that perhaps my mom was the fiercest. She shared an attachment to My Oldest son that transcended all of us combined.

My Oldest Son and I returned 'home' to my mom's. My sisters arrived from a province away, as the drama was coming to an end. My brother was at Mom's as well. We were all together ... when we got the call.

The reason that my sisters travelled to Mom's was because our dad was not doing well. They came to see Dad but instead, were blind-sided by the drama of the day. We were together ... but we weren't with our dad that day.

Dad died that night. He had already put up a valiant fight and lived years after that final heart attack that stole the essence of who he was. He lived and breathed for 4 years and 8 months after that. But his brain had sustained too much damage. December 7th ... he stopped breathing.

December 7th, 1966 ... my dad's Dad suffered a fatal heart attack and died.

December 7th, 1941 ... was the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I don't normally honor dates that mark the end of something or someone I value. Instead, I like to focus on the small moments and all of the little memories that mark the good times. I cherish the memories that I have and honor my dad in small ways every time that I think of him.

December 7, 1987 was not a good day for our family. We were together. We presented a united front and walked forward from there. But it is not a date that I dwell on.

December 7th. A day of tragedy for many. The victory lies only in marching forward. The victory of endurance is born.

(Quote slightly adapted from: "The victory of endurance born." ~ William Cullen Bryant)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Year Gone By ...

I flipped back through the calendar pages of 2011 to see if I could come up with a fun and witty recap of the year almost behind us, as an enclosure in my Christmas cards.

I got to March. March was the month everything changed.

March 9 - I was introduced to 'A Man'. My ex-husband's sister introduced us. It was a welcome diversion from all that was happening around me. But I let the past encroach on the present and had flashbacks where they didn't belong. My emotions were running high ... and as it turns out, that was not a good week to meet someone new.

March 9 - the day that Mom called and gave me a clue that all was not well with her. Her health gave us a scare. At the time, we had no idea what was happening or where things were going to go. It was frightening. It shook me to my core. In the state of not knowing, I knew one thing. This time was different. Mom wasn't saying anything to set off these alarm bells within me ... it was just me. I was grasping the fact that life-as-we-know-it is something that can change without notice.

March 10 - the second Friday in March is when I talked with my employer and found out that 'the rules had changed and no one bothered telling me' and my work-from-home had evolved into a work-out-of-the-home job. I was doing the same work ... but from the lonely attic space of a diesel work shop. I didn't see it coming.

March 10 - I was on the fifth step of a six step process to earn a Group Fitness Instructor certificate. I never did complete the practical part of that exam. I stopped in my tracks when I learned that simply memorizing Zumba choreography and teaching that wouldn't be enough. I had to know what I was doing enough to choreograph an hour of fitness instruction. I never did jump over that hurdle.

My dad's family's book. The plan was: to complete Step 5 of the 6 Step process of the Group Fitness goal. Then concentrate on the book throughout the remainder of March, April and May. I would have the first draft of that book complete before I went on my Alaskan Holiday. I didn't.

It all happened within the second week in March. One week transformed all of the months that followed.

Mom's health bounced back, but I never did regain the momentum that I had created prior to that. Life-as-I-knew-it stopped in its tracks.

Fear of failure took over my consciousness. Uncompleted tasks started eating away at my sense of purpose. An unsatisfying job situation eroded what was left.

I put on my blinders and coasted through the months that followed. I savored each and every family gathering, holiday, retreat and life's unexpected moments. The weeks before, during and after my Alaskan Holiday were heaven on earth. The family reunions, celebrations and occasions were plentiful. I savored each gathering and continued to enjoy the ride. The ride ended when we returned home from our final family reunion.

July 11 - I started my new job search in earnest. July 18 - I gave my current employer two weeks notice. July 29 was my last day at my place of work. I walked out of that job without having another to take its place.

The next day, I was hired at a 'transitional work place'. It was never my intent to make that job a career. It was an end to a means. A source of income that would allow me to wait for the job of my dreams to come true.

I started to work there Aug 3. I was hired at the job-of-my-dreams Aug 8. My last day of work at my transitional job was Aug 10. The first day of the job-of-my-dreams was Aug 16.

The job-of-my-dreams has not been without its sleepless nights. The learning curve and challenges have been vast and varied. I am sixteen weeks into this job and I still have the new-job-jitters before each day begins.

Why am I having trouble writing Christmas cards this year? I have much to be grateful for. This is a year that will be the starting point of many great things in the years that follow.

Two uncompleted goals are haunting me this past year. I did not finish what I set out to do. I cannot forget that. I have unfinished business to tend to.

There is always 2012 ...

Monday, December 5, 2011

It Felt a Little Like Christmas

A home cooked meal of ham and scalloped potatoes had this house smelling like a home yesterday afternoon.

The house was lightly decorated for Christmas and gave off the aura that someone who loves Christmas lives here.

A candle was lit, music played softly in the background (though it was not Christmas carols) and mocktails were offered with supper.

It was My Oldest's last Sunday Supper before he leaves on a five-week vacation. It was a nice send-off. It wasn't a pre-Christmas. It was just a regular Sunday Supper with a calming backdrop of the season, tasty food aromas and a lightness of heart.

Conversation was easy, the food was good and the clean-up was next to none.

Why is it that a turkey meal (and all the fuss, mess and bother) is synonymous with Christmas, when a simple ham and scalloped potatoes meal leaves the cook free to visit before, during and after the meal??

I believe the last turkey I will ever cook is sitting in the deep freeze at the moment. It has lived there for the better part of a year. It has been frozen the entire time. He makes me grumpy every time I see him. I wish he was a skinless, boneless, fat-less hunk of meat that didn't need to be cleaned/stuffed/baked long enough to cook him (yet not so long that he is all dried out) ... then carved and cleaned up after the meal, with the potential of adding further stress to an already maxed out day by turning the turkey bones and scraps into soup.

Blech. Turkeys! Now that I've had my turkey-rant, it feels a lot like Christmas!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas Lights ... Make me Happy

My favorite Christmas area of the house. The China cabinet is filled with gifts from friends and family throughout the years. Oh, the stories that go with each one of these ornaments.

I have many angels ... this year, I sprinkled my angel family throughout the kitchen and living room.This one has a 'space of her own'.

Christmas greenery and white lights. I would be content if this was the extent of my Christmas decorations.

My little 2 1/2 foot fibre optic Christmas tree, completely unadorned is the best $4.99 I've ever spent.
(this was the best picture I could get ... the lights perpetually change color and at no point will this tree stand still for a photo)

A Christmas lit staircase, with a stocking representing each one of the family.

I decked the halls ... and I am happy!!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

It is Time ...

It's time to deck some halls and turn on some 'holly jolly'!

Christmas Eve is three weeks from today. What can I do within that time frame to get into the holiday spirit?

I can write some letters and send some cards. The Christmas card exchange has always been my favorite part of the Christmas season. Last year I cheated myself out of what brings me the most happiness. I must send cards this year.

Lights and a little bit of Christmas glitter. I don't like too much. But I like a little. I love turning on the Christmas lights at night and early morning and leaving all other lights off. It makes me happy. Lights are easy. I will put up some lights.

Music. I enjoy my Rosie's Christmas CD's and have a holly jolly time singing and dancing away to the sounds of music. Music will play in the background of my life.

Gatherings. The gathering of friends and family brings joy to my life. At Christmas time, spring time, summer time ... any time. Being among people is a good thing any time of year. So why not add that to my Christmas wish list?

Giving. That which costs little or nothing has always been what gives me most pleasure to give. Gifts from the heart. Gifts that cost more time than money. I have initiated my new Christmas goals this year ... I am shifting my focus of my gifts. But I am still giving.

Yes. It is time to open myself up to the wonder of the season.

Friday, December 2, 2011

An Uncomfortable Week

This past week wasn't fun. But now that I'm on the tail end of it, looking backwards ... it was okay.

My adaptability skills were taxed to the max. From last minute changes, to finding work-around solutions when I ran into walls, to being tossed into brand new situations without assistance, to learning a new realm of 'skills' ... I'm still standing at the end of it all.

I didn't have the oomph to push myself out the door in the evenings. One night was enough. The second night could have been better, but I didn't have it in me to try. There was a Zumba Master Class Wednesday night, with my favorite Zumba-couple. But I didn't commit myself. So I didn't go. I even slept through my regularly scheduled group dance classes last night.

I wasted utilized a lot of time in the middle of the night, fretting about mapping out the upcoming day. I had run through the upcoming scenarios of the day enough times in my head before the day began, that it was like a trial run. So the reality went fairly well (after practising how it would go in the wee hours of the morning).

The first week, of my three week position is behind me. Next week will be better. By the time the third week comes around I may actually feel a small bit comfortable in this temporary role.

Only to have to start over all over again at the next school(s) that I will be assigned to.

This experience is teaching me something that I need to know. Flexibility, adaptability, the ability to think on my feet and utilize my reasoning and problem solving powers to their max.

I'm learning as I go. I'm still standing. I'm still trying. As much as I feel like throwing my hands in the air and giving up, I feel pretty good about wading through the discomfort.

Coming out the other end of an uncomfortable week, I feel a tiny bit like 'Rocky' after he took a beating in the ring, but picked himself up and wouldn't quit.

It is weeks (months) like these that build one's character. I must have needed a lot of rebuilding, because the lessons just keep on coming!

Sleep

I fell asleep at 7:00 p.m. last night and missed the opportunity to go to a dance class.

I woke up at 4:00 a.m. this morning unable to sleep because my work day was flashing before my eyes.

I cannot wait for the luxury of this upcoming weekend where I can follow the natural rhythm of my body and simply sleep a quiet and dreamless sleep.

Not a sleep to avoid what I do not want to face.

Not a restless sleep because I am anxious about the day ahead.

Peaceful sleep. A sleep where visions of sugar plums dance in my head.

Restorative sleep. After putting in a full day of life.

I'm ready for the weekend. Only 12 more working days until Christmas (I think ... working as a substitute, one never knows for sure).

I can't even count 'days left to work' to lull myself to sleep. Because I don't know. I don't know anything these days.

I'm tired of not knowing. All I want to do is sleep ...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Deactivating My Emotion Chip

Quote from Star Trek:

Lieutenant Commander Data: Captain, I believe I am feeling... anxiety. It is an intriguing sensation. A most distracting...

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Data, I'm sure it's a fascinating experience, but perhaps you should deactivate your emotion chip for now.

Lieutenant Commander Data: Good idea, sir.

[beep]

Lieutenant Commander Data: Done.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Data, there are times that I envy you.

My emotions are getting the better of me these days. I think it is time to deactivate my emotion chip.

Waking up in the middle of the night because I think that I know what I will be facing the next day is a waste of good sleeping hours.

Feeling powerless over a situation triggers all sorts of emotions. Unless I can take what I am feeling and utilize it to regain some control over a situation, the emotion overrides common sense.

As Captain Jean-Luc Picard says, "...perhaps you should deactivate your emotion chip for now".

Good idea, sir.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Month End Numbers

"Work like you don't need the money" ...

It is a good thought. But I must admit now that the end of the month has arrived, my head is 'all about the numbers' this morning.

How will I fare on a part time wage? How is stat holiday pay calculated? Will I be disciplined enough to save holiday day as it is paid out on each pay cheque? What will my pay cheque be??? I must wait a week before I get an answer to all of these pressing questions.

Will I be working at all over the Christmas break? If not, that is two weeks of unpaid vacation. Vacation - I like. Unpaid? I can do it, but I'd rather not.

I have been spending cautiously this month. Not an all-out spending freeze, but we are definitely not replacing or fixing 'that which is broken' around here. The list is growing.

I'm adding things up and things look like they should be fine for December. It is January that concerns me ...

Things can change in a moment. One full-time, temporary position could alleviate this pay-day-stress. I'll take temporary ... I'll take working every day at a different school if I must. I just wish I knew what my pay cheque was going to look like for the next few months.

This is not new. This is how I have lived most of the past 13 years. But this is the first time that I have felt like I have no control over the outcome of my pay cheque. I just have to keep saying "Yes!" to every opportunity to work, cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Now it is time to get out there and earn my keep.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Then ... I Went Dancing

Not to be undone by a day that had the means to undo me, I pushed myself out of the house, out of my comfort zone and into brand new territory ... and went to a bar that offered free dance lessons.

A friend and I have been talking (but not doing anything) about this for some time. Last night we forged ahead with our plans and went.

We got there early and at first glance it appeared that there were several men and a few couples in our midst. Then the dance lesson started ... and the men cleared out.

It was all couples. No spare dance partners. My friend said to me, "It's a couple's world ..."

I hate to admit defeat (again!), but it appears that she may be right. I just want to dance. I don't need a pro-dancer. I just want some one who enjoys music, has fun dancing and is willing to try.

I woke up this morning determined to take out an advertisement "Dance Partner Wanted". I don't need or want the complications of anything more ... but it is getting tougher and tougher to grin and bear it.

I am so tired. Tired of fighting these waves on my own. Tired of sitting out when all I want to do is dance.

It is no wonder I sleep all of the time.

Treading Water

I've been trying to turn this 'subbing' gig into an adventure. Truly, I have!!

As much as I love being able to work in one school for days or weeks at a time, when I get called into a new school unexpectedly I think of it as another brand new slate. A new school to check out. Meeting new people. Having the opportunity to see how other school offices operate. Another school to circle on my city/school map as a school-that-I-have-worked-at.

Yesterday, I was backing out of the garage when my phone rang. Change of plans. I would be going to a different school than I thought I would be when I stepped out of the house. Oh well. An adventure!

Since I got the call late, I arrived a few minutes late. I called in to the 'Help Desk' to advise them of the last minute change and they couldn't do anything for me because it would be undone at 8:30. Just wait. I waited. An hour later, nothing worked. I called again. They had no record that my school destination had changed ....

So once again ... I was working without the programs that I needed to do my job. I couldn't print off a class list for a substitute teacher. Not only because my computer program was not functioning yet ... but because I had no idea where the photocopy machine was. I am (just now) finding out the limitations of my email program ...

I rolled with the punches. Did what I could. Smiled and introduced myself to the staff as they came into the office.

Then I accidentally grabbed an extra sheet of paper off of the printer when I took what I had printed. When I realized my error, I delivered it to the correct person ... but only after the words (something to the effect of) "employee appraisal" crossed my vision. Shortly thereafter, the principal mentioned the need to rectify an oversight (the substitute that didn't have a class list) earlier in the morning and reference was made to reporting to the person that hired me.

Whoa! Suddenly, I felt stripped of any false security that I had been faking this past month (or three). I am working without a net. I am on my own. No one has my back until they hire me in a permanent position.

Today, I am headed off to work at a school where I will be on my own. For the better part of three weeks. I know where I'm going. I may not know what I'm doing when I get there, but computer programs should be up and running since I am going where I am supposed to go today.

Then (minutes ago) the phone rang. The automatic dispatch system called me to the school I worked at yesterday. I refused the assignment because there is no one else at the school that I have already been assigned to today. I felt guilty refusing an assignment but there were no live people to talk to so I called and left messages with those that I thought this affected.

Three weeks at one school. Three weeks of (hopefully) no last minute changes.

I am desperately trying to make the best of the situation that I am in. It isn't easy, but I am doing my best. I feel like I'm walking a tightrope without a net. That has never been one of my strong points.

It feels like a sink or swim situation. I can swim. I just need lessons!

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Quiet Weekend at Home

It was a productive weekend. Or so I thought, until I sat down and thought about what I had accomplished.

I did start and complete a few small projects. I have followed through on a few of my Christmas goals. I have issued an invitation and accepted another.

I talked with a few people on the phone. I ran one quick errand.

I cooked two meals yesterday! Hey ... on further thought, we didn't eat out all weekend so I must have scavenged for food around here Friday and Saturday too.

I finished a few crossword puzzles. I sent off a handful of emails. I wrote a letter. I read two pages in a book ...

Why do I feel like I accomplished so much, when in reality all I did was putter?

Because I used to putter constantly. I propelled myself through a day by continually moving and doing. Something. Anything.

Moving through a day in a state of perpetual motion feels good. Things get done.

This weekend, very little interrupted the slow and quiet flow of my days.

It felt wonderful to be home. To stay home. To know that I didn't need to be running here and there.

I was quiet. I wrote a little, thought a little and talked a little. But for the most part, thoughts simply flowed in and out of my head like a quiet breeze.

I didn't have to 'be' anything to anyone.

My Youngest and I quietly co-existed in the house all weekend. We chatted a little now and again. I invited him to come and watch a movie with me Saturday night but he declined. He needs very little from me these days ... but it feels good to quietly share the same space. In peace and harmony.

This past weekend was idyllic. As were the weekends preceding it. In reflecting, my weekends seem to be a continual state of movement. I have been so busy with 'being', 'doing' and 'going' that I haven't had time to appreciate the simplicity of just being home.

Working outside of my home five days a week, working in and around people all day, learning new faces and a new job is exhausting. I haven't had the energy nor ambition to push myself out of my comfort zone after work. Because I am 'there' all day. Friends and family have rallied at my side. I have not walked this path alone.

So this past weekend of (almost) solitude ... was just what the doctor ordered. I thoroughly enjoyed the simple pleasure of a quiet weekend at home.