Birthday gratitude and other things

I had a beautiful birthday.

I worked from home, finished off an article I’ve been procrastinating on, sent it off to the editor and it is done.

A sigh of relief, of gratitude for getting it done, of satisfaction for a task completed, moves joyfully through my body.

That’s the thing about things that sit on ‘the pile’ waiting to get done. They don’t actually go away until I transform the energy I waste avoiding them, into the action of doing them.

Avoidance strengthens fear.

Avoidance not only adds to stress levels, it also creates a chemical reaction that, with every time we avoid a particular thing, sends tiny little messages to the brain that says, “See! Avoiding it actually felt good. Let’s get better at avoiding it so we keep getting that tiny fissure of relief in the immediacy of our avoidance!”

In actual fact, while that tiny fissure of relief is  momentary, it can create giant waves of discord when activated too often.

Those waves of discord are created from the worry, shame, fear, excuses, blame… whatever emotions we encounter when avoiding doing something we know is good for us, or we need to do, or we have to do because…

In the case of the article I finished editing yesterday, it was a commitment made in the summer to a magazine for an article on the challenges of housing formerly homeless individuals in community. My former boss had asked if I would do it, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

And it was. It’s just, between the original draft and the final, there have been many revisions, and many other items, (not to mention excuses) that got in the path of completing the article.

Yesterday, I worked from home and got it done. It is gone. Off my desk. Finished. Final.

And while the fissure of relief from avoiding it repeatedly was kind of intoxicating in a sick and cyclical way, the relief from having it finished, never to be thought of again, never to be shoved aside or discounted or procrastinated over, is even greater!

Once done, I had time to review a document I need to work on this week — and the benefit is, I can work on it without thoughts of what I ‘should’ be finishing clouding my thinking.

It is easy to convince ourselves that not doing what needs doing is okay – at least until tomorrow.

Challenge is, tomorrow will arrive and the not doing will begin to take up more and more of our mindspace as we spend more and more time rationalizing why we’re avoiding doing what is there to do.

If avoidance strengthens fear, doing it creates peace.

And I like peace of mind and heart. I like the peace of knowing that I am right with my world and all is right within me.

I finished a task yesterday I’ve been putting off for awhile. Now that it’s done, I wonder what I was putting off for so long. Perhaps it truly was just the addiction to those tiny fissures of relief that were getting in the way of my seeing how easy it was to strengthen what I want more of in my life, just by doing what I feared!


And thank you for the Birthday wishes!  It was a grand day.


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Lessons in Giving

There was a time in the homeless sector when it was believed that emergency shelter was the only response to help someone in homelessness. No matter how long they stayed in the shelter, or living on the streets, someone had to ‘do the work’, like getting sober, getting on meds, or any other of the 5,342 things we thought they needed to do to make their lives ‘right’, before they could be housed.

And then, along came Housing First. A radically simple and effective approach to supporting people out of homelessness.

One such housing first initiative here in Calgary is, The Madison. The 16 suite apartment building which is owned by the Calgary Homeless Foundation, the Madison provides 24/7 on-site support and housing for 15 formerly homeless veterans.

Three years ago, when I began the Christmas at The Madison project, the intent was to raise money to provide gifts and a dinner at Christmas for the men living at the Madison. It was my way of giving back, and involving my family and friends in the act of giving.

I grew up in a military household. My father was in the RAF and then the RCAF and for most of my formative years, we lived on military bases in Canada and Europe. My father was a proud, and silent, man. He never spoke of the war years. He never spoke of his losses, his regrets, his sorrows. He soldiered through everything, including the heart attack that took his life almost 20 years ago.

My father taught me many things. One of them was the value of a good meal and when he passed away, I wanted to find a way to honour him, to say thank you for the love, the generosity, the many lessons on how to live life fully and completely.

The Madison has become such an opportunity.

Like my father, the men living at the Madison have all served their country. Silently. Proudly. Stoically.

And, like my father, they carry with them memories of the things that have happened, the things they’ve done, the losses they’ve felt and sometimes never known how to express or make sense of.

My father was never homeless, at least not in his adulthood. But, there was a time when he was rootless, lost, alone and feeling abandoned. He never spoke much about those years, about being sent all by himself at nine years of age from London, England to a Catholic boarding school in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan. The Atlantic Ocean and three-quarters of a continent lay between him and home, and he was heartsick. He ran away as a young teen to Montreal, Quebec and worked in a bakery and when war broke out, he lied about his age and joined the RAF.

From then on, his life was a silent story. A book that only he could read, if he ever dared to open the pages.

Giving back to The Madison is my way of giving back to my father. Of making amends for the harsh words I flung at him through my growing years, for the lack of compassion and understanding I never held out to him in his living years.

This year, giving back to The Madison is also a reminder of another very important lesson my father taught me.

For me, I feel like the Christmas at The Madison Benefit Concert is all about the little concert that could. Now entering its fourth year, I am excited to take each next step in its possibilities as it grows into its own strength.

Like the men living at The Madison.

Three years ago, a horde of volunteers accompanied me as we decorated and baked and cooked and served up Christmas dinner with all the fixin’s, including gifts for each of the residents.

Last year, we’d scaled back the size of the crowd so that we didn’t overwhelm the community the men had created at the Madison.

This year, that community of men, along with their team from Alpha House, want to celebrate Christmas of their own making.

It kind of feels like a miracle to me. To evolve from a building of singular men who had only two things in common, they were all veterans and they were all homeless, to a community that wants to create a special day for themselves, is incredible and inspiring and very, very heart-warming.

My father taught me long ago that helping people is very different than supporting them until they can help themselves. People fall in life, he’d say. It is inevitable. Sometimes, they need help to get back up. Never should we become their arms and legs, their hearts and voices. We can’t live someone else’s life, he told me. That’s their job. Just as it’s yours to live yours being and doing the best you can.

This year, the men living at The Madison are doing the best they can to create a Christmas of their own making.

I feel inspired. Giving is receiving and I am grateful for all that I have received.


Let me be the ripple

Not writing here every day has been a gift and an awakening. It has given me the opportunity to gain some awareness on the value and importance of ‘consistency’ and a chance to reflect on why I write and create, and the importance of doing it every day.


As I reflected on the value of consistency, my thoughts centered around the importance of knowing ‘the what’ of what it is I want to be through everything I do, create and say everyday…

What I want to be each day is inspiring, caring, kind, and loving.

I want to create more of what I value in the world — peace, love, harmony and joy.

I want to give the grace I wish to receive.

I want to be the ripple that inspires a tsunami of love all around.

Reflecting on those things I want to create in the world around me, I reframed my ‘wants’ into a ‘here and now’ statement. In the ‘here and now’, they become my daily intentions, the ‘thing’ I frame my thinking and actions for the day on because I know, this is what my day is all about. This is what will bring my heart peace. This is what will create the more of what I want in my world.  And, like writing here every morning, the consistency of my intentions becomes my path.  Centered on my path, I become that which I create and what I create becomes me. And in those moments when I fall off the path, I breathe and remind myself, Always begin again. And so I do. And so it is.

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3rd Annual Christmas at the Madison Benefit Concert — what a ripple!

Thank you Christmas at The Madison copyWe were a small and mighty crowd. Together, we laughed and sang and listened to the performers with our hearts wide-open and in the midst of it all, we connected on the common ground of wanting to make a difference in the lives of those who once served their country and then found themselves far from home, lost and alone in that place called homeless.

It’s the thing about homelessness. It doesn’t care who you are or where you’ve come from. Once it finds you on the streets, it drains you of all sense of direction and leaves you feeling lost and alone in the land of no fixed address.

Last night, we gathered to celebrate the music of performers who gave up their time to share their talents at the 3rd Annual Christmas at The Madison Benefit Concert. We were housed and living the homeless experience, and it didn’t matter. The music found us. It stirred our hearts and opened our imaginations to the possibility of what can happen when people come together as one and share their talents, time and treasures.

Last night we raised over $1,500 to support formerly homeless veterans living at The Madison. It was a divine evening filled with great sounds that lifted our spirits and made everyone present feel part of something special and divine!

Thank you to all the performers:

Max Ciesielski
Shannon Jones
Matt Vermunt
Ken Swift
Perry Wilson
Sally Truss
Andrew Franks
Mikaela Cochrane
Felipe Paredes
Brian Pearson  (and thank you Brian for being ‘The Sound Guy’. You are a wonderful gift to the world)
Mike Houston

and to our speakers:

Pat Cluff
Detective John Langford
Lorne MacKenzie

You all rocked the house and shone a light for the world to see beyond the label homeless into the heart of our shared human experience where we are connected to one another, no matter where we live.  Take a moment please and click on the links in the names above — Like them on Facebook, buy their music and books, support them however you can. They are all uber talented and generous of heart and deserve to be heard the world over!

And thank you to the beautiful, kind-hearted Tamara Van Staden and her talented mother, Bev Boyden Van Staden who together form Heartprints — Kids for a Cause Foundation. I met Tamara when she was in grade seven and wanted to do a fund-raiser for a school project. Now in her third year university, Tamara has raised over $10,000 selling her home-crafted jewellery and knitted designs.

Big thanks also to Lynn McKeown at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church and my generous of spirit friend, Tamara Zaleski. For the past week, Tamara and I have been making Christmas cards to sell at the concert. We’re thinking of changing our art collective name from the Basement Bombshells to The Glitter Gals! (just kidding) — but, my studio is awash in shiny, sparkly glitter, and all the good times we shared creating.

And thank you Megan Eichhorn for the wonderful poster design, Jim Ellis at Petrotech Printing for the help in printing the postcards, my daughter, Liseanne McDonald for her help organizing and staging the concert and Jenny Howe of CBC Radio and Craig Lester of 660 NEWS Radio for helping promote the event. And of course, Kathy Christiansen at Alpha House for the wonderful treats — and for the awesome work you and your team does of caring for homeless Calgarians. You make a difference every minute of every day in so many people’s lives, and you do it with such grace and love and kindness. Thank you.

And of course, to my beloved C.C.  who so willingly supports me in whatever way he can — and then has the grace to know when to move out of my way when I’m on a mission!  I can be a tad focused at times and forget that others may not see what I see or know what I need (partially because I forget to tell them..:) ). Thank you C.C. for being who you are and for encouraging and supporting me with such love!

Three years ago I started the Christmas at the Madison Benefit Concert as a way to pay tribute to my father, and to support Kathy and her team at Alpha House who manage the programs and services at The Madison. Each year my sisters and friends have come out to support the concert and I am always touched by how blessed I am to have so many wonderful people in my life.

I have worked in the homeless sector here in Calgary for almost 10 years and throughout that time, Kathy has inspired me with her compassion, passion and capacity to honour the humanity at the heart of homelessness. Every day, Kathy, who is the Executive Director at Alpha House and her team create safe and courageous spaces for people to find themselves, no matter where they are, on or off the street. Kathy cares and in her caring, she makes the world a better place.

As C.C. said when our heads hit the pillow, it was a great event, I think you may want to check the schedule for the Grey Cup when you schedule next year’s.

He’s right!

And in the end, it didn’t matter if the Grey Cup was on or not. As Brian Pearson said before the concert, those who are supposed to be here, will be here. He’s right. Those who came shared in creating something special and have started a ripple that will continue to move out and change the world.

Together, we can end homelessness. Together, we do make a difference.