‘Tis the season

The most exquisite fruits are at our doors. —-Song of Songs 7:14


There was love at our door last night.

Love and laughter. Conversation. Good food and wine and shared experiences.

We laughed. We chatted. We ate together and toasted one another and gave thanks for family, friendship, love.

I am grateful.

Oh. And did I mention a wee bit tired?

We were 18 for an early Christmas dinner last night and while I absolutely love the preparation, the anticipation and the experience of hosting friends and family around a table, it is a lot of work.

Thankfully, everyone brought something to make the evening a little easier and for me, much more enjoyable, as I love how the gift of food deepens the meaning of a meal. It creates its own special flavours, as if the donor is saying, here, I am sharing a little bit of me through this dish. And the meal becomes a beautiful, tasteful blend of my food and your food joining together, just as our hearts do when we sit around the table and share in a meal cooked especially to celebrate our friendship, our bond, one another.

My mother came and sat quietly as she does, taking it all in. And when she left, she took with her the small star shaped name card I’d made for each guest so everyone would know where they sat, and have something to take home with them. “I took my star,” she whispered to me as my sister and her husband were about to take her home. “I like to show off to my friends and tell them how brilliant you are.”

Thanks mom!

All four of our children were there as were the son and daughter of my very, very dear friends, Al and Jane. Their children are my ‘tall’ children. I’ve known them since their mother and I were both pregnant together. I’ve known their parents even longer. I was on their first blind date years before the idea of ‘them’ ever came into being.

Our roots are deep.

As are my roots with my wonderful and loving friends Ursula and Andrew who bring great joy, love and heartfulness to the table and my life — not to mention to die for cauliflower and buns shaped like a Christmas tree! It also happened to be Andrew’s birthday and even though he told me not to make a fuss, we celebrated his presence in the world with a song and when we were done, and the candles on the Advent wreath, which was posing as his birthday candles for the evening, were blown out, he gave a brilliant speech which had the whole table laughing.

It was a heartfelt and heartful evening. Sitting around that table, candles flickering and twinkly lights sparkling, seeing the smiling faces, listening to the laughter and hearing the stories, I felt immersed in the wonderful concoction that is family and friends. Bonds and relationships that make my life rich and meaningful.

Beau showing off his Christmas hairdo
Beau showing off his Christmas hairdo

We had an early Christmas dinner last night to celebrate the presence of my eldest daughter who was here for a pre-Christmas visit. It was a gift of family and friends, a gift of deep roots and meaningful relationships that have stood the test of time, stood up to time’s challenges and brought joy and love into my world every day of the year.

I am grateful. I am blessed. My heart is full.

And now, I know, ‘Tis the season.

Let the festivities begin.

 

 

Songs of the Season: Alexis, this one’s for you!

There are two things my daughters and I have always shared together. Music and dancing.

As children, my daughters and I would listen to music together, sometimes sing together (though it was only Alexis who could truly carry a tune but her sister and I had fun trying to keep up — not to mention drive her crazy with our off-pitch, made up words and crazy riffs we’d add in just for fun, and effect) and always, we would dance. Some of my favourite videos from the girls when they were young are of the two of them all dressed up in some crazy concoction that they devised (think — black garbage bags and tin foil made into mini-skirts and tube tops, hair spiked out in some crazy fashion and bright red lipstick to make their lips all pouty), a hair brush covered in tin foil for a mic and some crazy antics as they danced and sang their way into a video just for me.

Absolutely awesome. Totally memorable.

Alas, I cannot share the videos here. I value my life too much and they have promised some serious retribution if I were to violate my promise to never share these precious moments in time beyond my personal viewing. 🙂

I can, however, share my eldest daughter’s favourite Christmas song. Last night, after we’d gone out to pick our tree and carried it back into the house to get it ready for decorating today in preparation of early-Christmas dinner for 18 tonight, we sat around the living room, sharing pizza and laughter as Christmas music played on my iPad.

This song came on and Alexis, as she states every year, said, “My favourite all time Christmas song.”

And though she didn’t get up to dance, she did quietly sing along, and as I always am when Alexis sings, I was in awe of the beauty of her voice and the joy that resonates throughout her being when she sings.

This one’s for you Alexis!

 

Songs of the season: Little Drummer Boy

I have written often of my father’s love of music. He also loved dogs and animals of all nature and music of the holiday season. My father’s music tastes were eclectic. He loved bagpipes, swing, country and wester, big band, classical, jazz, and just for fun, he’d throw in some Ravi Shankar.

I know that this version of Little Drummer Boy with Bing Crosby and David Bowie would have been one of his favourites. It always makes me tear up.

Remembering those who never made it home.

longest night

 

There are a thousand roads leading into homelessness, but only two leading out of it. One leads home. The other leads to the grave.

On Monday, December 21 we will gather as a community to remember those whose road out of homelessness ended with their last breath.

We will remember. And together we will say, “You are not forgotten.”

It is hard in this place called, ‘homeless’ to remember that there are those who miss you, remember you, want to know where you are. It is hard to remember where you are, let alone who you are, when every street you turn down becomes a dead end leading you nowhere but back to where you came from, and that’s the road that lead you here, to this place called homeless.

It is the dichotomy of the place and state of homelessness. You have to lose everything you’ve got to get there yet, it takes everything you’ve got to get out of it.

For some, getting out of it is only achieved when their heart stops beating and breath no longer passes over their lips.

For some, the only road out is the road they so desperately tried to avoid with every breath they took to stay alive.

And then they are gone and there is no marker, no ceremony, no memorial to say, “I was here. I existed. I made a difference.”

A walk through the unmarked graves in Queen’s Park Cemetery in Calgary tells the story. The city provides land to bury those of no fixed address, but there is no money to mark the names on a headstone. When the grave is dug, a city worker places  cardboard tag affixed to a little metal stick with the deceased’s name scribbled on it with a black sharpie in the ground to mark the location of each burial plot.

If you’re lucky, the stick will still be standing up and the tag will still be affixed.

But mostly, the sticks have fallen over, the tags have gone blowin’ in the wind and all the flowers, if there were any, are gone.

It’s hard for those who want to remember to come and visit. Just as so often happened in life, they do not know where to find their loved ones in a field of unmarked graves.

This Monday, we will stand together and remember. Please come and stand with us. Come and remember and listen to each name called out, each candle lit.

And in our remembering, let us say together, “You are not forgotten.”

Namaste.

 

Christmas Pressure: How human. How fascinating

There are many people
who want to be everywhere at once,
and they get nowhere.

~ Carl Sandburg ~

Gotta love Carl Sandburg. He takes something so obvious, states it in a way I’ve never thought to look at it and suddenly, I see it like I’ve never seen it before.

Like wanting to be everywhere at once and getting nowhere, wanting to do everything at once can also lead to nowhere.

And that happens every Christmas for me.

I make a list of all the things I’d like to get done, and then, begin the flurry of activity that is supposed to lead to everything being done in time for me to enjoy the big day in peace and joy.

Except, on my list I didn’t include the live each day in the now and treasure each moment as it comes part and voila! Christmas is a week away and my list is nowhere close to being completed and I am nowhere near feeling calm and centered and balanced in my festive undertakings.

How human.

How fascinating!

Someone asked me yesterday if I was finished all my Christmas shopping.

I laughed. Shopping? Oops. Forgot to put that on my list!

My list is comprised of things like:

  •  make 18 place card holders for pre-Christmas dinner (almost done).
    – 18 homemade Christmas crackers (in the process of getting done).
    – Think about recycling place card holders from pre-Christmas dinner for Christmas dinner or make some new and fabulous other thing for that day because I really do get a lot of joy from creating and decorating the Christmas dinner table! (NOTE TO SELF — Check out Pinterest for other ideas)
    – Do some baking (CHECK!) but I did want to make some tourtiere and some homemade lip balm for the girls’ stockings and that really cute iced letters for JOY I saw on Pinterest and…
    – Decorate the house (almost check — we still have to do the Tree but we were waiting for my eldest daughter to arrive and so now, before pre-Christmas dinner for 18 on Sunday we’ll be decorating it together and I’m so excited because that is about my most favourite Christmas activity!
    – Buy the stuff for the Christmas stockings I am co-creating with my dear friend Ian and his wife for the guys at The Madison (Ian is way ahead of me on getting it done) (The Madison is an apartment building for formerly homeless veterans. I usually do a concert/fundraiser but this year decided I didn’t have the energy — I think planning for our wedding depleted all my planning for big events energy this year)
    – Light the final candle on the Advent wreath this Sunday — I had to put that one on the list when I realized I had forgotten to light it one Sunday 🙂

 As you can see, ‘Christmas practical’ like gift-buying is not on my Christmas list — but Pinterest is!

I have a love/hate relationship with Pinterest. Filled with amazing ideas and examples of what I can do to create the perfect party, dinner, photo album, gift, or anything else you can imagine, Pinterest is a constant source of ideas to Pin for future reference.

Challenge is, future reference seldom comes.

Pinterest feeds my need for searching for ideas on what to create more of in my life, but the constant checking out of Pins doesn’t leave room for me to get to the creating part — there are soooo many ideas to chose from, I become stalled in the looking at all the great ideas, and don’t always get to the action part.

Though to give myself a break — my Christmas cracker template came from a Pin on How to Make Christmas Crackers. (Check)

 They say confession is good for the soul. Here’s mine.  Drum roll please….

I think it might be my Netflix and Shomi addiction (Oh. and Pinterest too) that is stealing ‘Christmas time to get everything done with a sense of joy and peace’ away. Oh. And The VOICE too. Thank goodness the finale was Tuesday night. Did you see it? Jordan Smith is AMAZING!

Ooops. I digress.

Back to my confession.

I have a feeling, okay make it a knowing, that I am allowing my busy days at work to steal my sense of grace and calm. I am allowing ‘tired’ to be my excuse for not diving into the things I truly love to do when it’s not that I’m really tired, it’s just that I need to breathe, relax and do something that feeds my sense of grace and calm — and watching mindless shows on Netflix or Shome or TV or Pinning countless ideas on things to create to make Christmas perfect — does not cut it!

So, now that I’ve confessed, it’s time to connect back to what I need more of in my life without stressing myself out about what I need to do to create the more I want.

I commit to treating my world, my being, myself with grace and calm in all things.

I commit to doing the things I know enhance my sense of grace and calm and to stop doing the things I use to escape taking responsibility for creating grace and calm throughout my being in everything I do.

Whew! That feels better.

Now, to make that list of the gifts I need to buy! But wait. that’s one of the things that bothers me about Christmas. The pressure to buy and spend. I want to create a simpler, kinder, more graceful experience. Maybe this year, I will fulfill on my wish to make a donation in the name of everyone I love and leave the gift giving to Santa!

Now there’s a plan. 🙂

Blogs from Christmases past.

I decided today to dive back into past blog posts to see what was happening on this day in years past.

On December 15th, 2009, I wrote about my eldest daughter coming home for Christmas.

I could write the same post today. She is flying in at noon for a visit!

I am so happy.

When C.C. asked me what I wanted for Christmas, this was my answer. To have my eldest daughter come home for a few days before Christmas.

She and her fiance will be here in January, so it’s not like I’m not going to see her soon, but, it didn’t feel the same. It just didn’t settle well within me that I would not be able to wrap my arms around her and hold her against my heart and tell her how much I love her, before Christmas, not in the New Year.

Sure, she knows I do, love her. She knows I think of her often, but for my heart with its yearning to hold her near, to hear her laughter and see her warm loving smile, to feel her presence lighting up our home, bringing her home for Christmas is the best gift ever.

Though, she may not be as delighted as I am. It snowed last night. Lots! C.C. who was playing in his weekly pool tournament, took an hour to drive home last night instead of the 20 minutes it should have taken.

The roads are snow covered. The sky is dark and the world is soft and quiet.

It is what I love about fresh snowfall the most. The quietness of the world around me. The pristine nature of the lawn laid out in snow.

For Alexis, coming from Vancouver, the snow may not be such a welcome sight. But for me, having my daughter home and a beautiful fresh snowfall all at the same time — that’s perfection!

And from my blog databank, here is the post I wrote on Saturday, December 15th, 2007, the year I started writing on my first blog at Recover Your Joy.

Cherishing the ones we love

Saturday morning. Lazy. Sleepy. Up early. Back to bed. Brunch. Back to bed. Grey skies. Chilly air. Curled up reading the newspaper in bed.

Perfect day.

And it’s Christmas. That time when spirits rise and emotions lift us into that time and space where hearts connect. Where giving opens us up to receiving that which we cherish the most — love, peace, faith, hope, joy.

C.C. and I are going shopping today. He’s not too fond of Christmas shopping. Me, I love it. I love the crowds, the lights, the music playing, the decorations. I love the purpose of it. The searching for that perfect something to give that perfect someone. The feeling of it. Of being connected to an event that was inspired over 2000 years ago with one child’s birth. In celebrating that event we strive to embrace the significance of a moment in time when we are connected through all that is true and beautiful and harmonious in our lives.

I love Christmas.

The question is: What brings significance to you this time of year? The gifts or the time spent thinking and doing for people who are special to you? Are you creating perfect moments to cherish the special people in your life?

What if homeless didn’t equal criminal?

The story is not new. An employer discovers the guy he hired a few months ago lives at a homeless shelter. He’s been doing great work but now the employer is scared and the employee must go.

When I worked at a homeless shelter we would ask clients if we could film them to include in different advertisements and videos we created to tell the stories of the shelter. Several times a year I would get a request from someone asking me to please pull the clip from our latest video or advertisement where their face appeared. Their explanation inevitably went something like this,

“I’ve got a job now. I’ve moved on and I don’t want anyone to know I was there.”

or

“I’m looking for work and I don’t want a potential employer to google my name and find me connected to that place.”

or

I’m grateful for everything you’ve done for me, but people don’t trust homeless people and I’ll never get a job if they find out where I live.”

At the Foundation where I now work, we present annual awards to those who have demonstrated excellence in the homeless serving sector. As part of their recognition we include a booklet that lists the names of the nominators and award recipients as well as a brief story about the recipient from the nominators.

Last year, we changed our policy from including full names of nominators to just first name and last initial after one woman phoned me in a panic. “I googled my name and found the article I wrote about (name of person she nominated) and why I believed she deserved the award. I’ve been shortlisted for a job and I can’t risk the company finding out about my past.”

We pulled the booklet off the website, (it was from an awards ceremony five years ago) but could not promise the woman that Google would not have stored it in a cache somewhere. It was the best we could do.

And our best was not good enough.

Not because the employer ‘found out’. I’m thinking they didn’t because the woman did not contact me again.

Our best was not good enough because that woman, and so many others, live in fear that people will find out they were homeless. That they live or lived at a homeless shelter. That they used services designed for people experiencing homelessness. That they are somehow, in the views of many in our society, not good enough, broken, lacking and even, because they are homeless, criminals.

Most of us don’t spend our days worrying too much about the judgements of others. We’re not really impacted by the person behind or in front of us at the checkout. We know we won’t see that stranger in the elevator again so don’t really pay much attention to them.

We live in our bubble of ‘normal’ and move through our days without giving much thought to what others are thinking of us.

For someone experiencing homelessness, judgements come fast and furious.

They are heard from strangers walking by who hurl words at panhandlers that pierce like daggers to the heart.

From kids driving by in a car who think it is funny to hurl eggs at the woman pushing the shopping cart, or the man picking up empty pop cans from the street.

They are visibly homeless and thus, somehow do not deserve our respect or that we behave as decent, caring human beings.

For that man who lost his job because of his address, there is not much we can do. Discrimination of this sort is not illegal, and, even though we created a Homeless Charter of Rights, they are an idea, a beautiful wish for all mankind. They are not enshrined in our legislation.

And so, he will move on. He will chalk it up to another strike against himself, another let down, another put down that is just the way it is.

It doesn’t have to be. It can be different.

If we change. If we decide not to see people experiencing homelessness through eyes of condemnation and fear. If we decide not to equate poverty with lack of ambition, smarts or ability. Vulnerability as weakness. Homelessness as criminal.

If we change the way we see those whose lives have lead them into homelessness not as victims of their own doing, but rather as fallout from a social system that does not have the resources, affordable housing and supports people need to make their way in life, perhaps we will change our minds about who ‘the homeless’ really are. Perhaps we’ll see, ‘they’ are not us versus them. They are you and me, all of us.  Together.