Merry Christmas Wishes

December 23, 2013

Simple Christmas Tree

It’s that time of year again, one of the most magical times of the year – Christmas. A time of joy, a time of giving, a time of sharing, and a time of family and friends coming together. It is also a time of frenzied shopping (for those that don’t plan ahead and leave much to the last minute), fighting for parking spaces in crowded mall lots, wrapping your gifts – some do so quite expertly, others not so much. Long hours spent in the kitchen, baking and cooking special treats that are to be had but once a year. And then there is the decorating. Hanging the outdoor lights and decorating your front lawn, for those that live in houses. Bringing out the Christmas bric-a-brac to lay about the house. Picking the most perfect Christmas tree and decorating it with great care.

I love a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. It adds a special ambiance to a room, with no other lights on, except for those twinkling from the tree. But I really love this tree, this simple – some might even say sad, little tree, which I have posted a picture of. Why do I love it so? Because of its simplicity. Take away all the madness that many of us allow Christmas to become, scratch below the surface to what makes you happiest at this time of year, and I think you may find it is the simplest of things that please you most, the things that many of us take for granted.

For me that is time spent with family and friends. Safe roads to travel to and from. A meal shared (it matters not what that meal is, but for my family it is always turkey with all the trimmings). But whatever the meal, whatever the occasion, I think the most important part of it all, is simply being together with the ones you love; remembering those that are not with us anymore in the physical sense, but we know they are in our hearts, watching over us always.

To all my family and friends, I wish you all the Merriest of Christmases. May the joy and spirit of Christmas, live within you throughout the year. May you be happy, healthy, safe and loved, always.

Barbara xo

Happy Mother’s Day

May 12, 2013

Mom - May 4 2013 (2)

There really shouldn’t be just one day
For us to show our appreciation
For all the wonderful
Things you do for us
For all the hours spent
Caring for us; making it all seem so easy
Being there always
Not just on one day,
But for every 365 days of the year
Putting us before you
No matter what we needed,
What we wanted,
You always seemed to make it happen
Effortlessly, lovingly, you just made it so
Even when we didn’t know
Exactly what it was we needed ourselves
You always did
It really isn’t possible for there to be just one day
For us to thank you for all you are
For all you’ve done
For all you continue to do
For being our Mom

Thank you Mom. I love you. Happy Mother’s Day

Barbara M © May 12, 2013

Merry Christmas

December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas. Two words heard but during one, short season a year. Two words that can invoke so many different feelings and sentiments. Two words that many present day governments tell us we should replace with ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Seasons Greetings’ so as not to offend those that don’t celebrate Christmas.

When I was a teenager I worked part time at a local pharmacy after school and on weekends. Christmas was a particularly busy time of year and as I checked out each customer I always wished them a Merry Christmas. This was totally acceptable behaviour of the time. We didn’t have our governments telling us it was inappropriate. And yet one day, all on my own, it struck me that many of my customers didn’t celebrate Christmas, and I certainly didn’t want to offend anyone. So I started wishing all the customers as they passed through the doors either Season’s Greetings, or Happy Holidays. To those that wished me a Merry Christmas up front, I wished them a Merry Christmas in return. I was 17 years old and without ever having been told, I took it upon myself to switch up my Christmas greetings. I didn’t need the government to tell me to do so. To me it just seemed like the courteous and respectful thing to do.

Fast forward many years, and then all of a sudden governments and various businesses are telling us it is inappropriate and possibly offensive to wish strangers a Merry Christmas. That we must be more inclusive and consider the feelings of all. Children no longer celebrate ‘Christmas’ in school. Instead they celebrate various holidays of others from all over the world. I am all for inclusivity and being sensitive to others. I embrace it. I think it is wonderful and right to celebrate and acknowledge each other’s beliefs. But what I do find offensive is telling me it’s wrong to wish someone a Merry Christmas, or to make me feel bad in doing so.

The meaning of Christmas and how one celebrates it varies from person to person. To some it is all about the birth of Jesus. To others it is all about the presents and toys, bought at a frenzied pace, wrapped in pretty paper and placed under a brightly decorated Christmas tree. Some welcome it as a time to get to together with family and friends, share in a feast and reflect on happy times spent over the years. To some it is about all or some of the above.

For me Christmas is about peace and goodwill. About getting together with my family and sharing a meal; exchanging a few presents – more tokens of remembrance and putting a smile on someone’s face, as opposed to anything big or extravagant. It’s about sharing and love. And as my family and I approach the first Christmas since Dad died, it will be a time of reflection and memories of happier times spent with him. Keeping traditions started with him going, even though he will no longer be sitting at the head of the table on Christmas Day.

So please, when I wish you a Merry Christmas, even if it is not of your belief, do not be offended. Take it in the spirit of which it is meant. The spirit of love, sharing and good will. And should you wish me a Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanza, or some other holiday greeting native to you, I shall take it in the spirit it is meant and be so very glad to receive it.

Merry Christmas my friends. May all the blessings and joys of the Season be upon you all.


Barbara M © December 2012

Christmas tree-multi colour

My Best Friend’s Father

October 30, 2011

My best friend’s father died today. And that makes me very sad. Sad for her and her entire family. Do you have a best friend? The kind of friend that knows you inside and out, can finish your sentences before you do, the kind of friend you can have a conversation with without ever speaking any words, simply because you know what the other is thinking by looking in their eyes? The kind of friend you can go a long time without seeing or speaking to, but it doesn’t matter how much time passes because when you next meet or talk it’s as if no time has passed at all and you pick up right where you left off? The kind of friend that you swear you must have been separated at birth from because you’re more like sisters than friends? I’m lucky enough to have such a friend; my very best friend in the world. Her name is Jackie. And today a very big piece of Jackie died along with her father.

When we were teenagers Jackie’s house was the place to be, the place to hang out and the place to hold parties. Ted and Arlene were pretty cool for parents, at least many of us thought so. So much so some of us kind of adopted them as second parents. I remember them saying years later that they always believed in having their home open to their children’s friends, because if we all hung out at their house, then they always knew where their own children were. Pretty smart thinking on their part. Of course we didn’t know that at the time. We just knew we always felt welcome there and always had fun when we went to visit.

So many memories over so many years. Arlene was a wonderful cook and baker, something Jackie inherited from her. I learned the proper way to make a pot of tea at Jackie’s house. The British way. It was almost an art form. First you boiled the water in the kettle, and I mean boiled it until the steam rose from its spout and it was whistling. The tea pot had to be rinsed with warm water. Tea bags (or leaves) placed in the pot (never directly into a cup like at my house) and the boiling water poured over top. Then you covered the teapot with some kind of warmer, the name of which escapes me now, and left it to steep. And if you took milk in your tea, the milk was poured into your cup first, then the tea.

Ted had quite the wicked sense of humour( also inherited by Jackie) and kept us all entertained with his many stories of his submarine adventures when he was a member of the British Royal Navy. I think he loved the many parties Jackie threw in the basement almost as much as we did. There were always some leftover smuggled in beer or liquor. And smuggle it in we did, even though both Ted and Arlene were there to greet us at the door when we arrived. The liquor bottles that were snuck in he could understand. But to this day he never did figure out how Randy and Tom managed to sneak in a whole case of beer without either him or Arlene catching on. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how they managed that either.

The years marched on; we graduated, got jobs and went on with our adult lives. But I still saw Ted and Arlene over the years. Weddings, christenings, birthday parties and sometimes just because. There didn’t have to be a reason, I was always made to feel welcome in their home. Arlene always the gracious hostess, a second mother, and Ted always with his sense of humour and that mischievous glint in his eyes.

The one true joy in Ted’s life was his family. His wife, his daughters and his grandchildren. Oh how he loved them. You could see the joy in his eyes at all of their accomplishments, the pride he felt with every achievement, and the pain if any of them were hurt in any way. I know Ted is gone from this earth. But when I think of his wife Arlene, when I look at Jackie, Caitlin and Hayley, and Kathryn, Aidan and Hannah, I know he’s not really gone, he’ll live on in them forever.

Barbara M October 30th, 2011 ©

Christmas Reflections

December 17, 2010

When I was a little girl I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning.  It was my favourite of all the holidays.  Long before the day arrived our tree would start filling up with presents from aunts, uncles, and friends.  But on Christmas morning there would be more presents to greet us.  The ones that Santa left!!  I’m not sure when, but perhaps to stop the pestering of us children, my mother agreed to let us open one present on Christmas Eve.  We could choose from amongst all the ones under the tree.  But we had to choose carefully because we could only open one.  The rest would have to wait for Christmas morning.  I would carefully pick up each present that bore my name.  Inspect the size of the package; its weight, shake it a little and imagine what might be inside.  Once I made my selection I would rip off the paper to see what treasure was inside.  Usually it was a toy or game or a book, and not clothing that I chose.  This made me happy.  When I was a little girl I was never too enthralled to open a gift and find it was a piece of clothing.  But you had to be careful choosing your gift to open.  My mother had developed quite the knack for disguising presents and what they might actually be.  And she’s perfected the art and keeps trying to fool us still to this day.  Sometimes I think she takes more pleasure in that; the fact that she is able to completely surprise us, rather than the enjoyment we take in the gift itself – though of course she is always happy when we are pleased with what her and dad bought us.  Afterwards it wouldn’t be long before we were shooed off to bed.  But not before leaving out a glass of milk and cookies for Santa and some carrots for his reindeer.  After all, travelling around the world in one night was busy work.  Surely he and his reindeer would want a snack or two along the way.  Once in bed sleep never came fast.  I would lay there and wish for the night to pass quickly and dream about all the presents under the tree.  I would lay there and wonder if perhaps I might catch a glimpse of Santa, or hear him when he came.  I wouldn’t dare leave my bedroom though for fear of getting caught – my mother’s words “Make sure you stay in bed.  If Santa catches you he may not leave any presents” ringing in my ears.  Every bump and sound I heard in the night I imagined it was Santa.  Some years I crept out of my bed and made it as far as my bedroom door – ears pressed up against the door.  But I never opened it.  I would stand there and listen and wonder if “he” was here.

Christmas morning we children would be up early.  First we would run to the living room and stare at the tree, mouths agape at all the extra presents that had appeared over night.  Then to the kitchen table where we would see Santa had drank the milk and eaten the cookies we had left him.  The carrots chewed down by his reindeer.  Then we would rush to our parent’s room screaming at the top of our lungs that Santa had come, Santa had come!!!  With tired eyes our parents would join us in the living room and the opening of presents would begin.  One year my older brother and I decided wouldn’t it be nice if we let mom and dad sleep.  It was awfully early in the morning.  Surely they would appreciate sleeping in.  So he and I set about opening all the presents with our names on them.  I don’t remember how old I was that year.  The younger two siblings had not yet been born.  I was old enough to read; at least could make out my name.  We had quite the fun time opening all of our gifts.  And we imagined how pleased mom and dad would be with us.  Weren’t we such good children for not waking them up at the crack of dawn!!  Apparently not.  When they woke up my mother was furious.  Suffice it to say that was the first and last year we ever pulled a stunt like that again!

As I grew into adulthood I still maintained my love of Christmas.  Still took delight in picking that one gift on Christmas Eve to open.  Could barely wait to get to the tree Christmas morning with my parents and siblings and start tearing off the paper on all the gifts to see what they were.  And not just my gifts; I always looked forward to seeing what everyone else in my family received.  We all did.  The years passed and some of my siblings started having children of their own.  And just like all of us before them, they got to open one gift on Christmas Eve and pounced on the tree early Christmas morning and ripped open their presents with the same zeal and fervour as we had.  Though there is one Christmas in particular that is a very much cherished memory where this did not happen.  It was a year where Christmas dinner was to be held at my younger sister’s home.  She had one son, who was 3.5 years old at the time.  I was going to cook the dinner that year, so I arrived at her house on Christmas Eve in order to do some of the preparations the night before, and wake up with them Christmas morning and watch Zachary open his presents.  The rest of the family would arrive at different times Christmas day.  It started to snow early Christmas Eve.  Big white fluffy flakes.  And as the day progressed it got heavier.  We turned on the weather channel and all the reports were calling for a snowstorm Christmas day.  The kind of storm that would make travelling difficult, if not impossible for those that had a long distance to travel.  All of our family lived close enough to my sister that travelling wouldn’t be a problem, except for our parents who were on the other side of the city.  We were concerned enough about the pending storm that my sister called them and asked them to consider coming that night instead.  At first my mother wasn’t sure – she still had so much to do.  And I think she was relishing the thought of waking up Christmas morning and not having to rush, not having to be responsible for cooking the big turkey dinner.  However common sense prevailed and they decided my sister was right.  It made much more sense to spend the night Christmas Eve, rather than wake up in the morning and possibly not be able to come at all.  We went about our evening.  Zachary got to open one gift.  Cookies and milk were left out for Santa and some carrots for his reindeer.  We gathered around as his mother read Twas the Night Before Christmas to him and he was tucked in his bed to dream about Santa’s visit; completely unaware that Grandma and Grandpa would be arriving that night instead of the next day.  Our parents arrived long after he had fallen asleep.

Early the next morning my sister and I were the first ones up.  Coffee was quickly made and the lights on the Christmas tree turned on.  A short time later we heard the sound of little feet and there was Zachary walking into the living room.  We watched his face as he first saw the tree and all the presents.  Then all of a sudden out of the corner of his eye he saw his grandpa on the couch.  All thoughts of Santa and presents left his mind as he raced to the couch, jumping up in his grandfather’s arms and screamed with delight “Grandpa you’re here.”  He giggled and played with grandpa for a few moments, and then my sister said, “Zachary, if grandpa is here, who else do think might be here?”  Little eyes growing even bigger he jumped from the couch and went to the bedroom where he knew she would be sleeping.  Poor mom; she was barely awake and there was a little boy jumping in her bed screaming her name at the top of his lungs.  She didn’t have any choice – it was time to get up!!  And still Zachary never seemed interested in all of the presents under the tree, or even his stocking.  He was more interested in being with his grandparents – he was so excited that they had come the night before and were there to wake up with him.  My sister took advantage of him being distracted and quickly started making breakfast.  And we actually got to eat our breakfast; scrambled eggs, toast, coffee and juice – sitting in the living room, chatting around the tree before Zachary gave any thoughts to all of the presents awaiting him.  He was still so overjoyed that his grandparents were there.  Not long after though Zachary decided it was time to open presents, and it was time to open them NOW!!  And so the typical Christmas morning pandemonium began – wrapping paper being torn off gifts, squeals of delight as each new treasure appeared.  Other family members began arriving and it would start all over again until finally there were no more presents to unwrap.  And then what we had all waited for – to sit around the dining room table and share in the feast that had been cooking all day.

My parents told all their friends at church about that Christmas morning – more than once.  To this day it is a favourite and much talked about memory for them.  How on one Christmas morning, the best present they received, was in the knowledge that a little boy who was so full of love for his grandparents, valued the gift of them in his life more than any other gift under the tree.

Barbara M © December 2010

Keeping Christmas

December 6, 2010

As I look all around the Christmas decorations are coming out, people are shopping for just the right gift, cards are starting to be posted and friends are sharing their stories of Christmases past and their favourite memories of the season.  It’s given me pause to remember some of my Christmases past and most of all the Christmas that forever changed me.

Growing up the middle child of five, Christmas was always busy, hectic, but most of all it was fun.  No matter how much or how little our parents may have had from one year to the next the tree was always filled with presents for all of us.  How my mother pulled it all together on just my father’s income boggles my mind these days, now that I’m grown and realize the cost involved.  But we always had stockings stuffed to the brim with treats and an abundance of presents under the tree.  And dinner, mmmm, Christmas dinner was always a feast, whether it was shared with relatives in our home or theirs.  We took turns every year amongst my mother and her two siblings that lived in Ontario.  And that happened at New Year’s too.  Every Christmas Day and New Year’s Day we would gather together at whomever’s home the dinner was being held at and enjoy ourselves.  At least all of us kids enjoyed ourselves – we always looked forward to spending this time with our cousins.  The adults I think enjoyed themselves too.  They sat around and chatted and shared a drink.  Enjoyed a lovely meal.  But there was also a lot of work involved for them.  At least for the women.  Because in my family it was the women who did the shopping, the wrapping of gifts, the cooking of the big dinner and getting the kids ready on Christmas Day to travel.

Though I can’t speak for my uncles, I must say my father was always a help to my mother.  He often would peel the vegetables and was always on hand to help with the dishes after any meal.  And one year (long before I took up cooking the family dinners) when mom was recovering from her breast cancer surgery and not up to cooking dad rose to the challenge and cooked it.  The rest of us helped as best we could.  Mom laid on the couch resting and offering advice.  The only thing she had to do (and it was at her own instance) was make the gravy.  So we let her.  To this day mom is in charge of making the gravy even though for the most part we children have taken over the cooking of the big family dinners.  Some years we all make a dish and some years I cook it all, save for dessert.  My older sister makes the most wonderful trifles and mom is still in charge of the pies.

And we all try to come home for Christmas, no matter where it is being held.  My parents retired many years ago and moved to a senior citizen’s building.  A small two bedroom apartment.  But we’ve all managed to gather there and celebrate the holiday.  Some years are at my younger sister’s house.  I like those years – that usually means I’m in charge of cooking the dinner.  Some years we don’t all make it as my siblings and I have often held jobs that involved shift work and may have had to work on Christmas.  But at some point in time over the holiday we all manage to come home, at the very least to connect with mom and dad.

Christmas 2007 the plans were made to have dinner at mom and dad’s.  Mom said she would cook the turkey.  The rest of us would bring a dish.  Mom even planned to cook the turkey the day before and reheat it on Christmas Day (and for those of you that are thinking ewww, dry turkey; nope – my mother has a knack for reheating turkey the next day and you would never know that it wasn’t just pulled from the oven).  I normally spend Christmas Eve with my younger sister so as to wake with my nephew in the morning and watch him open his gifts.  This year I decided not to.  She was in a new relationship and this year they would have both her son and step-son on Christmas morning for the first time.  So I thought I would let them enjoy their first Christmas morning as a family together and meet up with them at mom and dad’s later in the day.  I woke early on Christmas day and saw the light flashing on my telephone.  I checked the call display and saw that my sister had called.  I paid no attention to the time of the call.  I smiled thinking it was the boys calling to wish Auntie a Merry Christmas and proceeded to get dressed and run up the street to fetch a coffee.  I would listen to the message when I got back.  Coffee first!!!  And when I got back a few moments later and listened to the message I froze.  She had called several times starting in the middle of the night and I had slept through all of them.  She was at the hospital in emergency with mom and dad.  Dad had taken ill in the middle of the night and was believed to have suffered a stroke.  I don’t think I ever got ready so fast and flew across the city to be there.  He was still in emergency when I got there, waiting for a room to be admitted.  As he was stable at this point and I was now there we told my sister to go home and be with the children.  They were longing to open their presents – I mean they were only children and Christmas comes but once a year.  So she left vowing to be back as quick as she could.  Spending Christmas Day in the hospital sure puts a new light on the holiday.  Santa Claus even made a visit to emergency wishing everyone well and good cheer; handing out presents to the children there.  My sister arrived back a short time later.  By now the older sister and brother had arrived too.  Dad was moved upstairs to a room and we got him settled in.  By now he was exhausted (mom too) and needed to sleep.  So we decided to go back to their apartment and grab something to eat and then head back to the hospital.

Since mom had cooked the turkey the day before we were able to throw together a dinner rather quickly.  Though none of us were really all that hungry.  I think we ate more out of tradition and because of the kids.  We tried to keep the day for them as best we could.  Younger brother and his family had arrived by this time and we were all together – except for dad.  After eating we went back to the hospital.  Obviously we numbered more than the number of visitors usually allowed, but I think perhaps because it was Christmas the nurses turned a blind eye.  They turned a blind eye too when my brother-in-law walked in with the top part of a Christmas tree, star on top, and placed it on the windowsill next to dad’s bed.  And they smiled when he strung up the set of outdoor Christmas lights he had brought as well.

What struck me that day was how we all came together as a family.  We didn’t get to keep Christmas as we normally did.  But we still kept it – and we were together, and that is what mattered most.  There were other patients that didn’t have anyone to visit them.  That made me sad.  There were others in the world opening presents that day and grumbling under their breath that it wasn’t what they wanted, or it was the wrong size or colour.  How sad.

Dad remained in hospital and then rehab for a few months before returning home with mom.  Sadly he was not able to stay.  He fell one day and suffered an injury to his back, that combined with the damage from the stroke, has left him unable to walk and he is permanently in a wheelchair.  Other damage has weakened him so that he cannot get from the chair without assistance, usually requiring two people.  He has grown weaker since.  The day we had to move him to a nursing home was the saddest day of our lives.  He is still there.  84 years old and though quite frail, still full of the heart of the daddy we’ve always known and loved.  We visit as often as we can.  We bring him home to mom’s or to any family celebrations wherever they may be.  My sister and brother-in-law take him to see their son’s hockey games when he is up to it.  We enjoy all the time we can with our parents, in whatever way we can.  And we will gather again this Christmas and celebrate simply in the joy of being together, as that is what is most important – being with the ones you love, creating new memories to cherish and hold within our hearts forever.

Barbara M © December 2010

A Good Deed

August 19, 2010

I performed a good deed today.  Not the first good deed I have performed in my life, but one that made me reflect on my upbringing and my family, hence the reason I chose to share this one.  I was sitting in McDonald’s next to the bus terminal, having a quick bite before catching my bus to my sister’s lakeside cottage.  Having been sick the week before, which necessitated delaying my vacation, I was very much looking forward to getting away for a few days.  And I was feeling very grateful that I had a place to go to relax and enjoy myself with family and friends.

I was almost finished my breakfast when a young man walked in and asked if anyone would like to buy a token for the local transit system for $2.00.  He was short cash for his Greyhound bus ticket.  No one said anything; in fact no one acknowledged his existence.  Instead they gave him a cursory glance and continued on with their conversations, eating their breakfasts and pretending he didn’t exist.

While on a rare occasion I have tossed spare change into the hands and hats of homeless people on the street, I am not one to normally give cash to transient people.  I’ve grown up in a city where areas of the downtown area have heavy pockets of transients begging for change for a coffee or a sandwich.  Often times the cash is wanted for drugs or liquor, not the coffee or sandwich they say they are hungry for.  It doesn’t take long before you learn to tune them out as you go about your daily business.  Especially the ones you see over and over again, day after day, year after year on the same street corner.  Makes one wonder just how lucrative is it to sit on a corner and beg for change.

For some reason, and I’m not sure why, I opened up my purse and motioned the young man over.  He hurried over to my table and thanking me, placed the bus token down in front of me.  I asked him how short he was for his ticket.  Seven dollars he told me.  A rather odd dollar amount to use if he was scamming funds for some other venture I thought.  No matter, I had already decided to help him.  I reached into my wallet and pulled out $7.00 and gave it to him.  He thanked me profusely; I’m sure he couldn’t believe his good luck.  Before he could walk away I returned the bus token to him.  “Here” I said, “take it; you may need it if you come back to town.”  I think he seemed more startled at that most of all; that a complete stranger would give him the funds he needed to purchase his bus ticket, for nothing in return.

He thanked me over and over, all the way as he walked out of the restaurant to catch his bus.  I told him you’re welcome and said he could thank me more if some day he would do a favour for someone in need, to pay the favour forward.  With a smile he assured me he would and he was gone.

Though I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, I could hear others in the restaurant talking about the young man they had ignored, and how he was probably going to use the money I gave him for drugs.  I paid them no mind and slowly finished my breakfast.  Leaving the restaurant a shortly after, I smiled at the other patrons and wished them a nice day, the very ones who had just been talking about me and made my way to the bus terminal to catch my bus.

Was the young man going to use the money I gave him towards buying drugs, or was he really going to use it to purchase a bus ticket?  If it was for a bus ticket, where was he travelling to?  To visit a family member?  Friends?  A girlfriend?  Perhaps he was going home.  I would never know the answer to any of these questions.  And to me it really didn’t matter.

All that mattered to me was that I had performed a random act of kindness to a stranger.  Behaving in the manner to which I was raised.  Taught from a young age by my parents that it is much easier to be nice to someone than not.  Favours don’t have to be large and extravagant.  Sometimes the simplest of favours can brighten someone’s day.  Whether it is simply holding a door open for someone, giving up your seat on a bus, allowing someone to go ahead of you in the check-out line at the grocery store because they only have a few items and your cart is full.

A lifetime of favours and small acts of kindness that are now coming back to my parents in their senior years, not because they are owed, not even necessarily from the people they performed good deeds to over the years, but from their friends, strangers too, simply because they are good people and have always lived their lives this way.

And even still they continue to live their lives being kind to others.  My father, frail and not in the best of health, confined to a wheelchair now and a nursing home; and yet he is one of the favourites amongst the nursing staff.  No matter how ill he may be feeling on any particular day, he always has a smile for them, a thank you; always telling them to take their time if he needs something – he can wait.

And my mother, who has had to adjust to living alone now, still she thinks of others.  Recently when visiting her for dinner one night she made an extra plate, placed plastic wrap over it and left her apartment, saying she would be back in a moment.  When she returned I asked her where she had gone and who was the dinner for.  It was for her 90-year old neighbour who also lived alone, but was in much frailer health than my mother.  Apparently whenever my mother was home and cooked dinner she took a plate to her neighbour.  And had been doing so for years.  What was one dinner here and there my mother said?

That my mother did this did not surprise me.  That my father was a favourite of the nursing staff didn’t surprise me either.  I had been blessed to be raised by the two of them, witnessing years and years of good deeds and random acts of kindness.  The kind of good deeds my siblings and I try to pass along to the next generation.  The kind of good deeds I hope to continue performing as I continue my journey through life.  The kind of good deeds I hope keep getting paid forward.

Barbara M  ©  August 2010

Reaching New Summits

July 3, 2010

Recently I had the occasion to be part of a new and temporary work assignment.  A once in a lifetime opportunity.  Though relatively short in duration for myself and those working directly with me, others had been busy preparing for this event for months.  Long arduous hours were put in thinking and planning for every contingency.  As the date drew near meetings were held and training sessions provided so we would know exactly what was expected of us.  But no matter how much information we received, somehow we would leave each day with more questions on our tongues.  What exactly were we up against?  How exactly were we going to complete the tasks assigned to us?  Having been assigned a leader for one of the sites, many of these questions were directed to me.  Often unsure of the answers I would assure my team I would find out and get back to them.  Other times I would impart what limited knowledge I had absorbed and understood, hoping it would suffice for the time being.  Surely by our first night all questions would be answered and everything would fall into place.

Before I knew it the first night arrived.  The excitement and nervousness I felt was palpable.  I arrived at my site, one of many set up to provide a place of rest, a place of relief, a cold drink and a hot meal or a light lunch to those working the main venue.  The relief sites were being run 24-hours a day.  Office workers by day, my team and I were suddenly relegated to working midnights, something many of us hadn’t done in years – if ever.  Having been awake since early Friday morning, that first night was the longest.  As midnight drew close we were only four hours into a 12-hour shift and weren’t sure how we would manage to stay awake till morning.  It was relatively quiet; not as many dropping in as we originally expected.  So we spent the time getting to know one another, sharing stories and a few laughs over several cups of coffee – anything to get through that first long night and stay awake.

The next few nights were much the same; a few more people making use of the site each night, little issues cropping up here and there, unforeseen glitches; decisions having to be made on the spot.  And suddenly all those meetings and training sessions fell into place and made sense.  Light bulbs would go off and we knew exactly what needed to be done.  Those first nights turned out to be a dress rehearsal for the main event later in the week.  By the time the following Friday night rolled around we were more than ready for anything thrown at us.  And as mayhem and chaos took over the city streets around us we went about our tasks, greeting and serving the hundreds that now came through our doors looking for a break, a place to rest, a friendly face and something to eat.  It didn’t seem to matter what roles we had originally been assigned.  We were a team and had bonded during those early nights.  Everyone pitched in wherever needed; no task too great or small.  The long hours worked made more than worth it by the many tired, smiling faces of those we served – so grateful we were there; telling us “thank you”, “thank you for being here” and “great job” over and over again.

By the time the last night arrived it seemed almost surreal.  Eleven long nights and it was finally over.  We were going home, back to our families, friends and day jobs.  The last night was clean-up night.  Putting away all the tables and chairs, sweeping the floors, cleaning the fridges – returning the site we had used to its original state.  And for exchanging telephone numbers and e-mail addresses with new-found friends.  One by one we filed out.  Being the team leader I was the last to leave.  As I took one last look at the now empty space of our site, I smiled with the knowledge that each of us, both individually and as part of a team, had reached new summits.  Our goal had been met, our tasks completed – we were a success.

Barbara M ©July 2010

We all have moments in our lives when our plates seem too full; overflowing – can’t imagine taking on anything else or having anymore hurdles or burdens to deal with than those already set upon us.  It happens to everyone at some point in their lives.  Our lives suddenly become focused with all that is wrong and how much we have to deal with; sometimes to the point of losing sight that somewhere else in this world there are others with much bigger problems than the ones we have.  When dealing with what appears to be hopeless situations or the insurmountable chaos of our lives many of us tend to focus on the negativity and lose sight of all the many things they have to be grateful for and the ability to still hope and dream.

When times get tough for me I think of my older sister.  She has had many hardships to overcome in her life.  I’ll never forget the day she phoned me to tell me she had a breast lump and needed to have it biopsied, but the doctor didn’t really think it was anything to worry about.  Next phone call was to advise it was breast cancer, but they did a lumpectomy and everything should be fine – just had to wait for the pathology report to make sure they got it all.  And I remember sitting in the surgeon’s office with her when she got the results; sorry, it’s still there – we need to operate again.  Another lumpectomy.  Followed by; sorry, it’s still there – I think your best option is to have a mastectomy followed by a six-month course of chemotherapy.

And so began the ordeal of several surgeries (mastectomy to both breasts and reconstruction), chemotherapy, endless doctors visits, bouts of infection and pneumonia, because I guess she hadn’t been sick enough already.  But she did it; she soldiered on – arranged her chemo for Thursday afternoons so she could still work, only needing to take part day Thursday off and all day Friday.  Be sick from the chemo on the weekend and show up for work on Monday morning.  Did I happen to mention that my sister was an oncology nurse?  Going through cancer herself gave her a whole new perspective on the patients she treated day in and day out and she felt it was important to still be there for them, while she was fighting the same battle that they were.

Anybody wondering why I headed up this tale 26.2 miles, 4 hours 28 minutes yet?  My sister used to love to run when she was younger.  She ran as a child and continued into her twenties/thirties and then life got busy and she stopped.  Just before she turned 50-years old she decided to take up running again and she joined a local Running Room and began to train.  Thought she might like to do a half-marathon – thirteen miles.  Seemed like a pretty ambitious goal for someone her age.  Or so she thought.  Then she got sick.  You know the rest because you just read it.  Did she stop training?  Nope.  She carried on as best she could.  Would let herself recover from surgery and then get back out hitting the pavement.  All the while undergoing her chemotherapy treatments.  She had a friend she was training with and someone else in their group thought they were doing so well that they should consider running the whole marathon.  My sister thought they were nuts at first, but on further reflection thought, well what did she have to lose?  She had already lost so much and there was so harm in trying.  So she went for it.

Six months after her last chemotherapy session, on October 17, 1999, my sister ran that marathon.  26.2 miles in 4 hours and 28 minutes.  Both my younger sister and our parents were at the finish line to cheer for her.  It was a very emotional moment for all of us.

So please, never give up hope, never give up on your dreams.  And when times are tough keep moving forward, bit by bit, one step at a time.  Brighter days are sure to follow.  My sister remains cancer-free to this day.


My Vanity

June 13, 2010

When I was 4 and 5 years old I had long hair just past my shoulders and it was always in ringlets. Whenever my mom washed my hair she would put it in pin-curls and then in the morning I would wake up with these lovely ringlets.  Being so young I just thought they were natural; I didn’t associate the pin-curls with my ringlets, nor did I appreciate the effort and time my mother took to create them.

Everyone always used to comment on how pretty my ringlets were and what nice hair I had.  My little head swelled.  Not all of my other friends and cousins had such nice hair.  How lucky to be me with the nice hair I thought.  Sometimes my mom would put it up in a bun.  Then I felt like royalty because after all, didn’t Queens and Princesses put their hair up like that when they went to fancy balls?  Even in fairytales – Cinderella put her hair up when she went to the ball and met her Prince Charming.

I would prance up and down the street in my little dresses and think everyone was looking at me and thinking how pretty I was and what nice hair I had.  My favourite cousin lived nearby and she didn’t have such nice hair as me.  She just couldn’t seem to grow it and her mother kept it short…. like a boy I thought (the horror of it)!  One of our uncles got married and he chose her to be his flower girl.  I didn’t understand it.  I mean after all, I was the one with the hair.  I would have made a much prettier flower girl, or so I thought.  As I grew older I realized he chose her because when he first moved to Ontario he lived with her parents until he got settled and a place of his own.  Naturally he would choose her; he had lived in her home.  And she was very pretty, even though I was the one with the nice hair.

I lived in my deluded little world of nice hair until I was six.  By now I was in school which meant I had to get up early in the mornings.  Mom was rushed doing many things and decided she just didn’t have the time or the patience to be putting my hair in ringlets all the time.  So one day on our March school break she took me to the barber shop (yes, the barber… much cheaper than a hair salon) and had the barber chop off all my hair.  I cried.  Now I was the one that looked like a boy.  When I returned to school the teacher asked what had happened to my hair.  The other kids stared at me.  But not one person said they liked my new haircut.  I was crushed. Not only that, when my hair started to grow back it grew in straight because… well I had always had straight hair, not the lovely ringlets I thought I was born with.

Many years later my cousin with the boy hair and her family came to visit us (they had moved away to another province when I was 7 or 8).  By now we were teenagers, 14 and 15 years old. Well imagine my surprise when she got off the plane…. she had beautiful hair!  Long, really long and thick too.  I still had long hair but mine was not so thick and was very fine.  Couldn’t hold a curl for very long if my life depended on it.  I think I understood then why my mom got tired of the pin-curls.  I’m not so vain about my hair anymore.  Wash and wear is how I like it… whether short or long.  No fuss, no muss, as long as it’s clean.  And as long as the grey is covered; that’s about as vain as I get with it these days.