Wednesday, December 30, 2020

20 Takeaways of 2020


That photo was taken at 1:15 am on January 1st, 2020. Two tired, happy, danced-out people thinking that intentionally partying away the old year and welcoming the new year would make a difference. 

Well, at the very least, I've had the happy memory of that fun night to carry me through this year that did make a difference -- but not in any of the ways we expected! We certainly won't be partying this year, and I do believe bedtime will be a sensible 9 pm. 

When I sat down to think about 2020 and my impressions of it, the ideas came out as words, rather than sentences. So instead of a long essay, here are some thought-provoking ideas (based on my experience with the pandemic from my safe bubble in rural Nova Scotia, my tuning into the news several times a day, and my reading on social media). 

(in no particular order)

1. Sacrifice

2. Hoarding versus care packages

3. Family

4. Neighbours

5. Grief

6. Connection

7. Isolation

8. Essential (services; travel; interaction) 

9. Acceptance

10. Resilience (teachers; students)

11. Courage

12. Death

13. Uncertainty

14. Common good

15. Zoom versus room (online vs. in person)

16. Comfort

17. Fear (abuse; violence; school as safe space)

18. Masks

19. Need vs. want (shopping)

20. Creativity (adaptability; technology) 

For me, when I think back on 2020, I’m conscious of the sacrifices others made for the common good, especially those working in essential services. Health care was obvious, but we suddenly recognized that employees at grocery stores and coffee shops are essential workers, too.

The pandemic reinforced my belief that acceptance is only ever the way forward; resistance and denial are the path of heartbreak, hardship, and grief.

Speaking of grief, the past year also opened up our thinking about letting go – reminding us that loss isn’t just about the death of a person, and we are all affected by grief, whatever the reason is.

In many ways, 2020 made us more compassionate, more considerate, and more aware. At the same time, wow – humanity lost a lot of ground, and squandered its potential, yet again. 

If we are going to learn anything from the year 2020, if we are going to work on anything in 2021, it’s THE COMMON GOOD. That's the way forward, but it's going to take a real commitment to stay changed -- to have seen our potential and to start pushing back on those who want the world to remain the same. 

In 2021, the phrase, "We're all in this together" needs to become a mantra, rather than a cliche. It needs to become imbedded in our cells, in our beliefs, in our interactions and in our policies. 

I honestly believe we came thisclose, we actually reached the edge of that possibility, we saw the shimmer of the other side, and I remain committed to my optimism that we can make the world a better place for everyone.

Perhaps I sound hopelessly na├»ve, and perhaps that's another takeaway for me from 2020: I am more hopeful than ever that we can change, and stay changed. 

Happy New Year, my friends. May this year be kinder and gentler to you, yours, and everyone. xo 


Thursday, December 24, 2020

O Christmas Trees

Here are the trees I painted using the cuts leftover from building our gazebo two years ago, specifically the plywood from making the octagonal roof. 
My little painted trees in amongst my favourite real trees, including the birch tree that has guided my Tree Pose during morning yoga for 14 years. 

So we have arrived at Christmas Eve and it's a beautiful day here in north-western Nova Scotia, bright and cold. Sunshine before rain and wind tomorrow. We have a windchill of minus 13 this morning -- but a high forecasted for 6 degrees! 

I was up early this morning because I hadn't yet written my message for tonight's service and I don't like waiting until the last minute! You never know what can happen so it's always best to have it done. So in the quiet and dark of early morning (after feeding the pets, of course, so they wouldn't harass me), I sat down at my desk with my mug of chai tea and wrote a short message for the Christmas Eve audience. Here's an excerpt: 

~ We heard these words in our opening song, O Holy Night:
“A thrill of hope – a weary world rejoices.”

We are weary, aren’t we? 
Weary of letting go, of giving up, of not knowing. 
Weary of the chaos and confusion, of the uncertainty and anxiety, of the protests and problems, the hatred and the violence. 

So much unravelled this year, in our own lives and in the world. 
Much of it we couldn’t control, and it felt like it was happening all at once. 
It was exhausting, and it’s still exhausting. 

 It feels like the end of the world as we know it.

And here’s the good news: That’s IS the good news. That IS why we are rejoicing this Christmas. 

Because that’s what Christmas is really about. The end of the world as we know it. 
The end of one way of living, and the beginning of a new way. 
The way of love.

Love is an all-encompassing word that stands for a whole lot of more specific words – and actions: 
Kindness. Mercy. Peace. Justice.
Fairness. Compassion. Equality. 
Acceptance. Tolerance.

The WAY of love is also specific: An end to oppression and persecution, an end to poverty and the rich-getting-richer, end of tyranny and war-making, and the end of hoarding abundance. 

This year has opened our eyes – and our hearts – to those who have less, those who are quiet and humble, those who are grieving, those who hunger and thirst for honesty and decency, those who work for peace and justice.

Those who are weary. 

And we, too, are the weary ones. We are shaken out of our complacency, we are seeing with new eyes, we are ready to follow that star – and believe.  ~ 

Even though many of us are in lockdown, or preparing for it, are separated from family and friends, are "stuck" at home with all the same faces since March, there are so many blessings to count. It is better to be grateful than regretful. 
I love the lights at this time of year. My favourite part of the Christmas season is early morning yoga by the glow of the Christmas tree lights. 
And listening to the soundtrack of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" every day since December 1! 

May your favourite rituals of the season bring you comfort. 
May the lights of the season remind you that the real meaning of Christmas shines clearly no matter what is going on in the world. 
May you remember that Christmas is only one day -- but its spirit carries us through every single day.

From my home to yours, have yourself a lovely little Christmas -- be safe, be well, be ready!
Sara xo 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Blessing for the Longest Night

December 21, 2020

Here’s the thing: 
there will always be a 
(even in a year of long, dark nights)

and we are not the first 
nor will this be the last time
to live through
sleep through
hold a hand
a long, dark, cold, lonely night

we lament the cold, the dark, the un-ending-ness
we keen, we cry, we rage, we rant
there is nothing we can do
to stop the turning of the earth
the cycling of the seasons
the passing of the days
the moments flitting by

Here’s another thing:
even the longest, darkest night
has some light in it
a light at the end of the hall
a light next to the bed
a light above the door

there is always a glimmer of welcome
in the middle of a long, dark journey

lights along the street 
guiding us home

lights far above our heads
those infinite eternal lights
that twinkle and sparkle
(to our earthly eyes) 
even when we can’t see them


because our eyes are closed
our heads are bowed
we are looking down instead of up
where there is always
a light shining

even if today is simply not the day
to believe in the light we cannot see
and a tomorrow that won’t be much different

those infinite eternal lights
that make us *gasp* 
when we happen to look up
look way up
(with our earthly eyes)
that speak to us of possibilities
and transformation
and courage

are always there

like breath
and tears
and laughter
a hand to hold
also a shimmer of curiousity 
not if 
but how
we will live through
the longest, darkest night
(even in a year of long, dark nights) 

in the radiance
of the unknown
we linger
we are the light-bearers
(even in a year of long, dark nights)

~ by Sara Jewell

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Angel Socks


As we countdown to Christmas 2020, what some might call "the worst Christmas ever," here is a story about what some might call my "worst Christmas ever" -- yet it wasn't. Christmas is just another day…

Three years after my father’s diagnosis with what we now call Early Onset Dementia (he was 60 years old) and a year after the birth of his first two grandchildren, my mother and I made the difficult decision to place my father in a long-term care facility. It took us a couple of attempts, but finally, in early December, he was admitted to the locked unit for those living with dementia.

My mother deserved to spend Christmas with the grandkids in the United States, so I booked her a flight, and waved her off a week after her husband was settled in, and a week before Christmas.

Despite all suggestions, some rather pointed, that it would be better, I didn’t stay away from the nursing home in order to let my father “get used to it”. The last thing we wanted was for him to believe he’d been abandoned so I spent every morning and every afternoon sitting or walking with him around the unit and in the main hallways.

On December 21st, a Sunday, I went back to the nursing home after supper because the Rita MacNeil Christmas Special was on the television that night and she was my father’s favourite female singer (we’d attended her Christmas concert in Peterborough two years earlier). As the show began at eight o’clock, I sat next to him on one of the vinyl couches in the lounge but we were not alone. All twenty-two of the residents of the locked unit had joined us to watch this Christmas special. The nurses began to dispense bedtime meds and snacks. I looked around at all these now-familiar faces and realized, These are my people and this is my life now: spending a relaxing evening in the secure ward watching TV. I’m not sure if I stood out more for my youth or for the fact I wasn’t wearing pajamas.

It had been eight days since Dad was admitted to this small, 22-bed unit on the main floor and despite my presence, it was obvious missed his wife. Every day he woke up in an unfamiliar room that he shared with a stranger and spent his day surrounded by twenty-two people he didn’t know and couldn’t ever get to know, having his most personal needs taken care of by women who were not his wife. In the course of three shifts, my father could have been looked after by six different women.

I had taped the official George-and-Ellen Christmas card from to Dad’s closet door and one of the regular day PSWs told me she points to their framed pictures on the window ledge and tells him those are his grandchildren.          

I was fine until someone would say it’s going to be a rough Christmas then I’d remember why it should be. Only, it wasn’t going to be rough, at least not for me. Acceptance is a wonderful thing. It allows Christmas to be what it is. The year before, it meant open-heart surgery on my parents’ infant grandchild, George, and a vigil until he recovered. This year, it meant dinner at noon in the Alzheimer unit at a nursing home. Christmas meant visiting Dad in the afternoon and spending the evening with the Warings, long-time family friends who were the only people to invite me for Christmas dinner when I was on my own.

When I arrived at their home, with the families of their four grown boys scattered through the house and dinner not ready yet, Mrs. Waring handed me a glass of wine and invited me to sit down on the couch in the quiet living room. A very bulky hand-knit sock lay against the arm of the couch.

“That’s for you,” she said.

She had filled a stocking for me. I can no longer remember everything that was in it but I think there was foot cream and emery boards, chocolates, and the match to the sock that was stuffed, socks she’d knitted herself.

I call them my “angel socks” even though they aren’t what you’d expect from an angel. They aren’t white with gold thread, they don’t glow, they aren’t winged, they certainly don’t have magic powers.

Or do they? 

Because these socks immediately conjure up this memory of her kindness. I will never, ever forget what Mrs. Waring did for me that Christmas of 2005, for what was not necessarily a difficult time – but a different time.

Few people have the kind of Christmas that is advertised on television, showcased in made-for-TV movies and presented to us in magazines. Illness, disability, and death don’t pause because there is a tree to be trimmed and presents to be opened and a turkey to be cooked. For some of us, Christmas is a time to be passed through as quickly as possible because of sadness, loneliness and stress.

On a Christmas Day when I woke up alone in our house with my traditional stocking still packed away in a box, on a Christmas Day when I sat with my father in a locked unit and realized no one else had a family member visit them, on a Christmas Day when my father didn’t know how to unwrap his few gifts, Mrs. Waring gave me my best ever Christmas gift: the most meaningful Christmas ever, and the lasting memory of what Christmas is really about.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Home For Christmas

The Jewell family, 1994

 One of my favourite Christmastime songs is “I’ll Home For Christmas” – if only in my dreams. Yep, it’s a sad song, one of yearning and wishing and remembering.

I always think of this as my Vancouver song – it’s the song I paid no attention to until my mid-twenties, when I lived in that city for five years, and didn’t go home (to Ontario) for Christmas.

My only memory of my first Christmas in Vancouver in 1996 is bittersweet. It snowed on Christmas Eve – a rare enough event – and I remember waking up early the next morning and taking the dog for a walk through snowy downtown streets when it was still dark and quiet. It was beautiful and it felt special. Newly married, I was sorry I wasn’t sharing it with my husband.

What does a “perfect Christmas” mean? A dark and snowy walk on empty city streets can bring as much joy as emptying stockings in a living room full of people. Streetlights shining on thick snow carries as much symbolism as lights twinkling on a tree. Dwell on the peace in the midst of gentle heartache.

It wasn’t until my father died in 2009 and I was going through boxes of photos at my parents’ house, looking for pictures to create the slide show of his life, that I noticed a pattern: my father wore red and green every Christmas. I always knew of one photo: Dad walking through the kitchen wearing only a pair of white Joe Boxers, and a pair of bright red socks. But going through all the pictures at once, I saw that every Christmas, every year, he wore red and green.

And I never knew until then, when he was gone, how much Christmas meant that much to him. His love of family went far deeper than I ever realized, because he didn’t talk about himself, or share his thoughts and feelings.

What does a “perfect Christmas” mean? Instead of obsessing over if-onlys and could-have-beens, dwell on the joy of learning something new about someone you love. Feel the poignancy of photos and memories, and let them provide comfort and contentment.

Recently, my mother shared with me how sad their first Christmas was without their two daughters at home. It was just the two of them, alone in their big house, for that first Christmas we were not together as a family. This happens – we grow up, move way, make our own way in the world – and it’s happening this year in particular – many people are not going home for Christmas because we are choosing safety and caution over gathering.  

What does a “perfect Christmas” mean? Acceptance is key. Dwell on the love – even if it’s long distance – and know that Christmas is just one day. There are memories to think about, and even if Christmas is a party for one, or a smaller gathering, there is always ONE new memory to make and to cherish.

This year, there is not such thing as a “perfect Christmas”; this year, we are weary, we are worried, we are ready to be done with this nonsense – and we’re not even at Christmas yet! But this year is different; we are grieving and we are celebrating at the same time, in smaller numbers, alone, just us. And we need to accept that, and dwell on what really matters.

This is an opportunity to let go of expectations, to let go of pressure to be perfect. Whatever we do on Christmas Day – a snowy walk through empty streets, waking up alone in an empty house, or wearing your special clothes even though no one will notice – is perfect and meaningful to us.

Christmas is just one day… and sometimes it means singing, “I’ll be home for Christmas”, knowing it’s just a dream. Just remember: the peace, the joy and the love is real. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

It's the Most Wonderful Gift of the Year

Cheeky, aren't I?!

Wanted you to know that as of this coming weekend, there will be a mere dozen copies of A Jewell of a Cookbook available for local, doorstep delivery just in time for Christmas. Yes, local only - I'd sold out but did a rush, priority order because I just can't say No to anyone looking for a book. That order won't be delivered until late this Friday, and there are already eight pre-orders. 

The perfect last-minute gift! Guaranteed to make someone smile -- and laugh -- and salivate! 

Contact me by phone (902 447 2789) or by email: jewellofawriter "at" 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Closing A Door

Here I am,
out standing in my field,
holding the latest issue of At Home On the North Shore magazine.

It's my final issue writing for At Home.
And that means -- the final Field Notes column. 

I can hardly believe I'm writing that, even though I've known since the summer that this column was likely coming to an end. And I don't mean moving to a different publication. 
Field Notes has come to the end of its natural life. Anything more and I'll be trying too hard, reaching for topics and ideas that simply aren't there, not the way they were. 

I began writing the Field Notes column bi-weekly in the Oxford Journal newspaper in 2011. When that closed, it moved to the Citizen-Record newspaper, and in 2017, the Field Notes column was picked up by At Home.
Not a bad run for a column in rural Nova Scotia.

It's hard to explain why I don't have anything more to write about; it's not as if all the interesting people have disappeared or I've told all the stories. Likely I can pin it on two reasons, which are kind of related: I'm getting out and about less, especially since last March, but more than that, it's that my work and writing interests have shifted. Teaching is becoming more of a priority, and a possibility, and I'm writing more about spiritual ideas. 

Also, I'm not doing anything new in my rural life; I haven't expanded it beyond the chicken coop or the river. We don't get out into the woods as much, we don't go biking or hiking. I've written about that -- rebalancing my inside/outside time. Actually, it's not that my rural life as changed, nor am I less contented with it; it's that the focus of my work is shifting.

The field is still my space for peace and quiet, for solace, for finding courage, for long conversations with myself as I work through problems, but those thoughts aren't necessarily about rural Nova Scotia, and finding my heart and home there. But perhaps a spiritual side of the field will give me a new direction. 

What I'm counting on is this belief: that in order to open a new door, you actually have to close one. You can't keep on foot on one threshold while trying to open a new door. You need to commit: Close the door on one way of living/working/dreaming -- and be patient as the new door reveals itself to you. 

The pandemic has changed so much, and many people lost jobs or dreams that really mattered to them. Everyone's lives have shifted in some way, some more dramatically and tragically than others. I realize I'm among the lucky who have been minimally affected; yet the pandemic altered my writing career. I just have to wait and see how. 

I keep returning to one of the quotes taped to the wall above my writing desk, one I've shared before but takes on new meaning during this time of pandemic: 
"It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey." 
~ Wendell Berry 

I feel curious about the future, and I'm nurturing -- enjoying! -- that feeling because it feels good. It feels right. 

Letting go is hard, but letting go has power to change your life.