Saturday, December 23, 2017

Made In Nova Scotia

"This is for you," my mother said, handing me an unwrapped, pre-Christmas gift. "Because your other aprons are all so grotty."
But how perfect is this one? The Nova Scotia tartan to wear in the heart of my home: the kitchen.
"Are you going to take pictures of yourself or are you going to help me make this pie?" my mother finally asked.
But how perfect is this one? Baking a Maritime mock cherry pie for a pre-Christmas chowder supper with some of my husband's clan (who told us, "We look forward to this all year!").

These are the Christmas moments I crave now: a meaningful gift like this apron, and time in the kitchen creating with my mama. Blessings, for sure.

May your holiday be filled with such as these, as well as peace, joy and love.

(and darling Ethel, I will wear this apron when I bake your long-awaited upside-down apple cake. I promise you'll get it before next year!)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Is Just Another Day

This is a photo of my father from December 1997. There's Mother's seasonal afghan and Dad is holding onto one of her Christmas mugs. Given that he's wearing black and white, he's in his funeral suit; he'd come home for lunch and to change before an afternoon funeral.
Because people die at Christmas time.

My sister and I have known this since we were children. Since my father was a funeral director, and we lived above funeral homes for most of our childhood, we knew that if the phone rang, Dad had to drop everything and go. If the phone rang on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, or Boxing Day, and someone had died, Dad couldn't say, "I'll be along after my kids have opened their stockings" or "We're just heading out to a family gathering; I'll drop by on my way home."
Death didn't wait because someone wanted to spend Christmas with their family.

Less than ten years after this photo was taken, my father would move into the locked unit of a nursing home two weeks before Christmas because of the impact of Alzheimer's disease on his abilities.
So this news story about the elderly couple in New Brunswick being separated just before Christmas, who will now spend Christmas apart, because of the husband's dementia? The TV news is building their predicament up as a "heartless social services, the Grinch stole Christmas" story but there are many families who have lived, and are living, through that and they're not complaining to reporters.
It's the way life goes. Life doesn't stop because it's Christmas.
We lived through that. My mother lived through that. Countless families will live through it this year.

This is what Christmas of 2005 taught me about Christmas: Life does not stop because it's Christmas. We aren't put inside a protective bubble for 31 days so that illness and death, pain and loss won't happen. Living and dying doesn't take a break because it's Christmas.

I made it to the age of 35 without this reality check; my sister received it at the age of 28 when her in-laws were killed in a car accident on December 16.
(And now I recall that my first marriage ended over Christmas.)

Let's be honest: Christmas sucks for a lot of people. Everyone is missing someone. Is that why we have become so frenetic about celebrating it? We want to forget the bad stuff for a day, a week, a month. In doing so, however, we've made Christmas harder and harder to enjoy. 

The way we do Christmas -- the multitude of decorations, the orgy of gifts and food, the pressures to party and achieve perfection, the stress of shopping and wrapping and getting everything done by that magical Christmas Eve -- is crazy. It's insane. We set ourselves up to not be able to cope when shit happens.
And it will. It always does. Even if the worse thing that ever happens is a beloved family member dying at an old age after a well-lived life, there will always be, at minimum, The First Christmas Without...
I still can't buy a Christmas card for my father-in-law because I can't handle the Dad cards. The first year after his death, I cried just looking at them in the store. And now, knowing how much -- yet how quietly -- he enjoyed Christmas (something I didn't realize until I was looking at all our photos after his death and noticed the red and green combinations he wore), Christmas is always about missing my father.
Excuse me while I wipe my eyes and blow my nose.

Some justify our culture's Christmas Extravaganza by saying, "We need this 'most wonderful time of the year' to make up for all the pain and suffering the rest of the year."
But that's a fallacy. The way we do Christmas, the way we've allowed Christmas to take over our lives, creates stress. anxiety, and financial burdens. The way we do Christmas ignores the reality of pain and suffering that is ongoing. The families lamenting that their parent, their spouse is in a nursing home over Christmas? On Christmas Day 2005, I was the only visitor in the nursing home that day; I was there all morning, through the Christmas dinner at lunchtime then all afternoon. I can't speak to who visited in the evening but knowing that the residents were affected by "sun downing" and that the staff began the bedtime routine right after supper, I doubt many, if any, family members showed up.
Because no one wants their perfect family Christmas ruined by real life.

Have you read this far? Because people hate a downer like me, don't they? No one, trust me, no one likes a reality check. But they happen. Somehow, the true meaning of Christmas -- the hope and the peace and the love -- are revealed by them.
Of course I'm not saying we should cancel Christmas, I'm not saying Christmas isn't nice or special. It's just that once you've been alone in your home on Christmas Day, once you've spent Christmas Day in a nursing home, once you've woken up on December 26 and Christmas is all over, you realize IT'S JUST ONE DAY.

And life doesn't take a break for that one particular day.
Instead of making life about Christmas, we need to make Christmas about life. Whose life doesn't need more hope, peace, joy and love?

Merry Christmas. May your memories sustain you through this holiday season. xo

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Today's Advent word is "release" and it wasn't until I stepped from the field, over the ditch, and into the tree plantation that I knew what photo I would take.
Even though I'm supposed to walk with my ultra-lite knapsack, carrying my phone, knife and whistle, I didn't bring it on our late day walk because it's snowing and sometimes,
it's nice to leave everything behind. To be released from the phone culture.
But as soon as I stepped into this scene, I knew I would trudge back to the house because this is the photo for "release".

This is a photo of the moment when you step into this scene and
let go
Watch the snowflakes fall (it was movie snow! when I looked up, it was like being in the ice rink scene in the movie "Serendipity"!).

this scene,
this tree plantation,
this space,
is why I love living here.
This is why
I am at home here.

I can breathe here.
I can create here.
Here, I am free.
This is my release.

This photo is my prayer of gratitude, my thanks to the guardian angels who brought Dwayne and I together,
who brought me to this place
where the snow is soft, the trees are welcoming, and the sky is large.

I don't need Advent to remind me of hope and peace and joy and love.
I just have to walk out into the woods to know they are part of this life.

(And THANK YOU! I just figured out what I'm going to say for my message about "peace" on Christmas Eve.
Isn't this place amazing?)

Monday, December 11, 2017


I'm doing an "Advent Photo Challenge" on Instagram which requires me to post a photo each day on my account (JewellofaWriter) that reflects the word of the day. Although it doesn't stress me out to skip a word or two, it helps to know what a couple of days' worth of words are in order to be aware when I'm out and about, so I was thinking of today's word, Silence, when the dog and I were walking along the river yesterday.
I chose a different photo for Instagram (a photo of the snow falling on the goose decoys on the pond) because this photo of "silence" comes with a story that's more suited to this space.

This photo is of my six year old Boxer, Abby.
My previous dog, Stella, who came with me when I moved to Nova Scotia in 2007, was very athletic and energetic, as well as headstrong and stubborn. When we lived in urban Ontario, I spent hours walking the streets with her, and every couple of days, we headed out to the trails in the forest or to a friend's farm so she could run off-leash. She loved to run -- for every kilometer I hiked, she ran five -- but this meant she took off from me, often disappeared from sight. I started clipping a bear bell on her so that I could always track her; then it sounded like one of Santa's reindeer was running around.
I seemed to be yelling for her, and at her, all the time, and it exhausted me. It made me angry, irrationally so, but the anger was also full of worry: that she would get hurt and I couldn't find her, that she would attack another dog if she came upon them (I later realized she actually played with the dogs she met; she only attacked them with me out of an overdeveloped protective instinct). 

Then I read an essay by author and writing coach Natalie Goldberg about a walking meditation she did as part of a Buddhist retreat she was attending in a city. She walked through the city silently, without ever speaking. It was liberating, she discovered, to walk in silence, to quiet both one's mouth and one's mind.
It was worth a try so early one Sunday morning (before I'd started attending church again, my worship happened in the reforestation area) when I knew there wouldn't be anyone else around, I set out on the C Trail through the forest. I would hike for 90 minutes without speaking to my dog. I would not call her, I would not speak her name, I would not say anything. I would simply walk in silence.

I'd also read that speaking softly gets a dog's attention far better than shouting, which seems true considering we humans tune out shouters and whiners and cursers. Dogs also get most of their information from our body language -- from what we do rather than what we say.

So I did this silent meditation walk and felt calmer and not exhausted by anger at the end of the hike. Stella still ran around, sometimes out of sight, but I do believe she was intrigued by the novelty of my quietude once she realized there was nothing coming out of my mouth. I think this meant she realized she had to watch me for information rather than tune me out.

This is what I think of when I walk with Abby, when we stand looking out at the river, when she doesn't chase the ducks that fly out of the swampy area, when we pass through these fields or the woods behind the house, and she stays with me. Even when she disappears into the tree plantation, and I eventually call her, I don't get angry like I did with Stella, the "Whatever" dog, the canine equivalent of a teenager. Stella would disappear for so long, I'd be walking home before she appeared again.
It's much nicer to not walk and worry. It's much nicer to have the dog actually walking with me.

I appreciate being able to walk in silence with my dog.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Delivering Hope and Joy

Our seven shoeboxes + a bag of extras were delivered to My Home Apparel in Truro on Tuesday afternoon. Our donations were happily accepted by business owner, Miriah, who donates 5% of all sales to organizations dealing with people at risk of homelessness. I told her how easy it made it to participate in the Shoebox Project because her store was a drop-off for shoeboxes.
Can't wait to do this again next year!

Friday, December 01, 2017

Hope Is A Star

I love my star lights. It takes a whole afternoon to string these lights the length of our front yard but it's so worth it. I cover most of our property with lights, including the chicken coop (my mother says it looks like a casino). I enjoy it for the month of December, for Christmas, but if there's one light I'd keep up all winter, it's this one. The star of hope.
Especially this year. This afternoon, as I was decorating inside the house in preparation for this Sunday afternoon's "Project Shoebox Social", a woman arrived at the door with four bags full of gifts for the shoeboxes.
The response to my call to "be a light in the world" has been remarkable. Amazing grace. I called (read about it here), you're answering. Six women who can't make it to this Sunday's gathering have donated money or dropped off items. That's not something I expected. I certainly didn't expect a woman to recognize me while shopping in Bulk Barn and give me forty dollars.
It makes my heart shine like a star.
It gives me hope because it means that everything I say from a church pulpit -- a spot fraught with issues of relevance and hypocrisy and doubt -- aren't just words that get caught up in the ceiling fans of these sanctuaries and never follow anyone out into the world. It means, too, that we don't need churches to connect with other loving, passionate people, to find people who are willing and able to answer a call to help others, to offer hope and joy and love to strangers. But we need more than Facebook and Instagram; we do need a place to gather and we do need a project around which to rally, and I'm grateful to offer that "heart and home" this weekend.