Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Train of Thought This Morning (and getting lost along the way)

Oh, where my mind wanders when it has no particular destination ...

This morning, my train of thought took me down this path:

"Wow! I sure have a nice little stash of Tim Hortons gift cards! I received almost exactly what I gifted throughout this season. Isn't that interesting?! I wonder just how much I spent at Tim Hortons throughout the year ... "

So I went to my financial records to find out that answer. Do you want to know? Do you have a choice? How much extra information will you receive now that this line of questioning opened up within my brain this morning?

Yes. This is going to be a tedious and boring post. You may stop reading right now.

The year-end stats are this. I have spent a total of $207.70 at Tim Hortons from January 1st to December 26th of the year 2014.

Do you know what else? I spent a grand total of $1,738.50 in take-out &/or restaurant food throughout the year thus far. That is an average of $144.88 per month.

If I divide that by the number of people in my household, that number isn't awful, is it?

Take-out, convenience and restaurant food are my glass of wine. My cigarettes. My addiction-of-choice.

But do you know what else? At least one quarter of that total take-out amount is my social life.

I love nothing more than meeting a friend for a meal or a cup of coffee and just sitting still in a place that no one calls their own. A mutual meeting place, where no one has to host or supply refreshments. It is a time of simply focusing on the person you are sharing that cup of coffee with and thinking of nothing or no one else.

I know there are people out there who seem to enjoy the 'art of entertaining' within their home. I (for the most part) am simply not one of them. Don't get me wrong. I love having people over. I just love it a little bit more when they drop by unexpectedly (no expectations = no disappointment).

So many people I know have to be careful what they eat for various reasons. Others (me included) are simply fussy.

I went through a 'phase' where I cooked a Sunday supper for my family. It was an enjoyable, but somewhat stressful little tradition that lasted about as long as it took for me to run out of ideas for meals for my family's multi-faceted appetites.

One Sunday, we went out for supper instead of dining in. As each one of us ordered a meal completely different than the other I sighed with relief. "This!! Is why I find it so hard to cook for all of us."

I think that restaurant meal may have been the beginning of the end of that phase in my life.

You simply cannot please everyone, all of the time.

But I think I could please my sisters. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have went out for a meal with them when each one of us ordered not only the exact same meal, but the exact same drink and quite likely close to the same number of coffee refills.

I am becoming more and more like my mom every day. She calls her home a "B & C" - a bed and coffee establishment. And she supplies toast along with the coffee.

I am headed off to Mom's "B & C" to enjoy not only her "B & C" but a "T" (for turkey) too!! My brother was conferring with me about the "W" (wine) and I have packed up some "D" (dessert) which has been donated towards the cause.

I think by the end of our time together, we just may come up with the entire alphabet. Because I know there will be a lot of "V" (visiting); "L" (laughter) and "J" (joy) sprinkled throughout our days because I am also packing up my "A" (aunt) to bring along with me. So it will be a real "F" (family) affair which I know I will "E" (enjoy).

A "G" (good) time will be had by all. You can be sure the alphabet theme will quite likely be swirling through my mind as we open our "H" (hearts) and share our stories which get more "I" (interesting) as time goes one...

This post just got so far derailed from my original thought, I am beginning to wonder just how I got here.

I think my train of thought left the tracks and found its own destination which was far more interesting than my year-end take-out stats.

Speaking of stats. One more item of absolutely no relevance whatsoever:

I spent a total of $311.48 in postage this past year. In my eyes, that was the wisest money I spent all year.

When I think of the joy I get by finding a hand addressed envelope in the mail, I think the 'high' cost of postage is worth every penny.

In a society that thinks nothing of doling out two dollars for a cup of coffee to-go, isn't a dollar for a trip across the country and a visit to be reread and revisited now and again and years from now truly a bargain?!

More on that another day.

Happy 27th to You! May you find the best value in your day wrapped up in the little things!!

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Day After

Christmas has come and gone this year. All is well. All is bright. And it looks like it just may stay that way.

Two Christmases in a row have been a time-of-great-loss within our family. Then the year that followed was tinged with sadness, illness, loss and life simply felt unstable for so many I know.

I hated the idea of making plans for Christmas this year. I simply wanted to be home. I wanted to be available to go with the flow, as I have been the past few years. 

The flow of life didn't take me too far but it took me where I most wanted to be.

I enjoyed the quiet of Christmas morning with our cats while I waited for my Youngest Son to wake up:

Senior Cat snuggled up on my knee, while Junior guards the gift awaiting my Youngest Son
I had (what felt like) all the time in the world to do what I wanted to do. I talked with my uncle and passed along a positive good-news message to my family.

My Youngest and I went out to my Second Son & His Girlfriend's new farm home. Their farm is presently accessorized with two dogs, a cat, three guinea hens and fourteen (two week old) chicks. It truly feels like home. Such a gift for two hard-working people who have waited so long and devoted so many years, dollars and sweat equity into their dream.

We had a leisurely visit, enjoyed a most excellent meal, good company, laughter and a very low key but meaningful exchange of gifts. 

It was a day with no fuss, no muss but it was deep and meaningful in all the ways that matter.

All of us were where we 'most wanted to be'. We are a quiet little family with quiet little traditions we know and enjoy. My Oldest Son enjoys being in far off and exotic places over the holidays. And that was exactly where he was. 

The sun shone down upon our holiday season this year. 

Everyone was happy, healthy, safe and sound. We received everything money can't buy for Christmas this year. 

I simply could not ask for more.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sparkle

I am such a child. My favorite Christmas gift of the year was simply a box.

"Sparkle"


My favorite Christmas song of the season (perhaps forever) is "Sparkle" by Andrea Menard. Every word is magical and the music makes me want to dance.

I couldn't wait to rid the box of its contents so I could imagine the way I could use the box itself. 

Will I fill it with that-which-makes-another sparkle and regift it? 
Will I collect that-which-makes-me sparkle and carefully place these items in this box of honor?

I just know this box will not collect dust within a cupboard or my life.

I think it is important to find the twinkles of light within your soul and nurture them. 

I think the best gift of all is to feel that 'spark' inside of you. A spark which you cannot contain or hold. It is too much. It must be set free and shared with the world.

"It doesn't matter what you believe, your spark's as bright as mine"

"So here's to love, let us sparkle
Here's to love, let us shine.
If one by one, each spark would ignite
we'd sparkle with shimmering light"
Lyrics by Andrea Menard

May your season and year(s) ahead be filled with shimmering light.
Colleen

P.S. I must amend the first sentence of this post. The box was my second best gift. I just received my BEST gift. Ever. I spoke with my uncle and he sounds so very good today. The journey he is on is a slippery path and with every forward step comes the possibility of 'slipping' back a little. But today sounds like a 'one step forward' kind of day!! He says he thinks he is getting better but added (with a self depreciating chuckle I know well) "Others here may not agree with me".

May your Christmas wishes come true!!

My heart is sparkling and shining right now. This is my best Christmas. Ever

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Missing Christmas Card

I peek inside the mailbox every day, wishing I could be expecting a Christmas card from you. But I know better. It won't be coming this year. Not like the years which have preceded this one ...

We started exchanging Christmas cards thirty years ago.

You came and spent our first Christmas 'without Dad' with us. You filled a gaping hole in our hearts, our supper table and our Christmas memories that year.

You have a quiet way of knowing. You look at each one of us and seem to hear so very much more than we are saying. You speak everyone's language because you listen with your heart.

You were and still are a favorite uncle to all. We filled pages upon pages (within our family's book of stories and memories), with all the ways you impacted all of our lives.

You quietly went about your life thousands of miles away from the place you call 'home', yet you remained connected and a great part of our family despite the miles and time that distanced you from us.

Every time you came home, there was great rejoicing among all.

Your nieces and nephews said perhaps it was because you came home at Christmas time, bearing gifts for all (and there were a lot of us). You were our family's very own personal Santa Claus.

You gave and you gave and you gave.

We gave you our hearts, our trust and our loyalty in return.

You were an icon within our family. Similar to Santa Claus, only better. Because you were real. You weren't just a fictional character who appeared only once a year. You came back home at times of celebration, for reunions, for good times and bad. Santa is a fickle, fair-weather friend. You showed up for 'life'.

Yes, it was the year after you 'showed up' for our family when I sent you that first Christmas card.

You are such a gentleman. Full of honor, respect, generosity and impeccable manners. You replied to that first letter I sent to you and we became Christmas-time pen pals.

Your letters were always personal. You always asked about my family. You always made some comment about some little quality about 'me' you had noticed. You put pen to paper and reading your words was always a gift.

You see what goes on beneath the surface of a person. And you speak to that quality. I truly believe your perception brings out the best in people. I know I feel a little more special than I really am when I read your words.

I am so very grateful that life, time and circumstances gave me the opportunity to know you a little more than I knew you, beyond our annual Christmas card exchange.

I tentatively invited myself into your world when I approached you with the idea of collecting memories of Dad's family. You were on board before the ship even arrived. You not only encouraged me, you said you thought it would be a great idea before you read my proposal.

And so our voyage began.

Six years ago, Mom and I went out to spend several days with you after Christmas. It was the beginning of 'our story'. Not just our family's memoirs. It was the beginning of the story of getting to know 'the man behind the gifts, kind words and annual Christmas letters'.

When I first came up with the idea to collect stories for Dad's family, it was because I had a quest to know more and to hear everything I possibly could, about my own dad.

Wrapped up in the incredible gift of hearing story after story about Dad, was the gift of knowing his brothers.

You were my go-to-brother, when I had a question.

You must have cringed when you opened up email after email. Question after question. Clarification on the answers you provided.

We wrote a lot. We talked many times. You came to my home and allowed me to do you the favor of being your 'host'.

In all the times we spoke, you rarely spoke of yourself. You would talk of your friends. And boy, do you have friends! You have kept in touch with people you have worked with and come to know. You never broke the connection. Your friendships go back decades upon decades.

Then I thought of our first Christmas card exchange. Of course! You would keep in touch with anyone who took the time to keep in touch with you. Where there is a reciprocal exchange of words (whether it is once a year or every week), the seed of friendship is watered and nurtured so it has the opportunity to bloom whenever the sun may have the chance to shine down upon it.

You, the horticulturist of our family, planted many seeds along your way.

You aren't able to 'tend your garden' this year. You, for the first time since I have known you, are tending to yourself.

It must have been an excruciating year for you. Yet you kept doing what you had done, all the years which preceded this one and just kept moving forward.

Still thinking of others. Still doing for others.

Then ... you broke.

We all have our limits. You reached yours this year.

You are still my hero. I wrote your Christmas card and mailed you a small piece of my heart. You may or may not remember it this year. You have a lot of other things on your mind.

I peek into my mailbox each day, wishing I could see your handwriting on an envelope. I know it won't be there. But I feel it in my heart. You would be showing up in my mailbox if you could be.

I brought out your card and letter from last year and reread them this morning.

The small things. Realizing you spelled my Youngest Son's name with a "C" instead of a "K" and correcting it (with a notation in the margin). You took note of these small nuances of life.

Your letter was anything but a form letter. It was to me. And to me only.

You spoke of our most recent visit and "how much ground we covered" (that was your very kind way of referring to the fact I had talked your ear off) when we went out for supper when you were last down. You made a gentle reference to the great restaurant I 'found' for us (I took the wrong turn and we ended up on a very, very long detour to what should have been a very short trip).

"You remember everything," you have told me time and time again. Oh, my dear uncle, it is you who has set the bar. It is you (who has an eye for noticing the subtleties within people, within life and within the actions of those you encounter), who remembers so much.

You speak to the 'little things'.

Even now. Even when I spoke to you a few days ago, you thought to ask about my 'young guy' and you asked about my middle son's farm. Even now.

You have so much to contend with at the moment, yet you are still seeing and hearing far beyond the surface of what a person says. You spoke to my cousin about a reaction you saw in her, when she didn't say a word. Even now.


I have placed last year's card up in my tree in a place of high honor. It is exactly the place where I hold you within my life.

I am sending you my hope and wishing it could make a difference. You have truly made a deep and lasting impact upon me, our family, your friends and the world around you.

You have planted many seeds along the way. It is time for you to bask in the autumn sun and reap the rewards of a garden well tended. 

Be well, my dearest uncle. Maybe next year I will find your handwriting in my mailbox. I am full of hope. Always have been. Always will be.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Daring to Dream Again

"So, what are your plans for the rest of the evening?" the nurse at the blood donor clinic asked me as I was going through the steps which proceeded my blood donation that evening.

"I am going home to be interviewed by my son. He is working on a school project and part of his assignment is to interview a parent about 'relationships'". I added, "I asked my son if I was qualified for the job because I am obviously not successful on maintaining one!"

"You aren't married? I assumed you were because of your ring."

"Oh, that's my mom's wedding band. It's the only finger it fits and I don't want t take a chance of misplacing it. So until I figure out whether I should have it soldered together with her engagement ring, this is where it is safest."

"Oh, I suppose that's okay if you aren't looking for someone."

Really? Could it be that simple? 'Love' wasn't finding its way back into my world because of a simple band of gold on my ring finger?

I thought it was the impenetrable walls I have erected around myself and only coming out of my fortress of solitude when absolutely necessary and by not making eye contact with anyone of the opposite sex and my solemn vow to myself that I did not have time for such nonsense while I was working on my dad's book project.

Hmm...

I got home and tried to see if Mom's ring would fit on any other finger. Nope. I gazed at it and wondered "Where do you belong?" and I put it back on my ring finger. I feel 'married' to my family in every way. So I suppose that is my answer.

Then I started to wonder about the whole idea of 'meeting someone' again.

Yesterday morning, I awoke from a dream where I had an admirer.

We laughed together and respected each other. There was a faint twinkle in his eye (remember, this is all a dream) and my heart smiled.

In my dream sequence, this admirer slipped a card under my door. Simply signed with his name.

Then, upon further examination, it wasn't just a card. It had several pages. It was his 'bucket list' and beside the odd item he made a notation of the items he had already checked off. Then there were a few items where he had written "Something I'd like to do with you..." (or some such sentiment - it was yesterday's dream and has lost its vivid quality this morning).

I awoke with a light and happy heart.

Yes. That is exactly how it would and should happen. Someone I've known forever finally sees a crack in my armor and speaks to me in a language I know well.

That twinkle in the eye. Shared laughter. Shared dreams. And the simplicity of spelling it out for me in a simple yet perfect card (yes, my dreams are totally G-rated).

The G-rating is exactly where I am comfortable. Anything beyond that rating has me running for cover and battening down the hatches within this fortress of solitude I have created. It is beautiful in here.

I feel my armor cracking and I see a little bit of space in my life.

Soon after I wrapped up the 'book project', I remembered the quiet resolve I made to myself. "No relationship until this is done!"

Would life interject someone new (or old and familiar) into my world because there was now an available space and energy for such a diversion?

I trembled in fear at the idea.

Yet ... if 'Gary' (yes, the ficticious-man-of-my-dream came with a name and he spelled it with one "r") was to look into my eyes and drop me a line, would I run for cover? Or would I take a chance again?

I wonder if I will ever find out.

I thought I was too old to think of such things. It is nice to feel light and young-at-heart once again. It feels a little bit exhilarating to be open to whatever may come my way.

I'm not removing Mom's ring though. I am not that brave.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Fine Art of Gifting

Some people have a knack for buying gifts for others. I'm not one of those people.

I have become so very jaded in this whole gift exchange tradition that seems to go hand in hand with this time of year. 

It feels so very wasteful (to me) to give and receive gifts which will be shelved, regifted, donated or never appreciated in the manner in which they were given. 

When helping my Oldest Son pack up his house when he moved, I was dismayed to find gifts I had given him collecting dust in his basement. Unopened. Unused. Unappreciated. 

One of those gifts was a mailbox (with mail inside of it). If I remember correctly, his 'true' gift was inside of an envelope within that very mailbox. The mailbox was just a creative 'box' to  hold the gift within. When I mentioned this to him years after I found his unopened mailbox he was surprised to hear there was a gift within the gift. He chuckled and said it probably got thrown out.

Last year, my Youngest Son wanted to give something to his older brother. I knew space was of the essence within my Second Son's new home so I suggested he shop for very practical items. There were a few frivolous items within his gift package but all in all, it was a gift for every room in their new home. Perfect! Or so I thought ...

I found several of those items sitting on the shelf in my basement a few weeks later.

My Youngest Son wants for nothing. When I asked him what he would like to open up Christmas morning, he told me there was a game for his PlayStation he would like. That day. That could be his Christmas gift. And it was.

There are no gifts for my children underneath the tree this year. I'm not doing this to be Scrooge. I'm doing this because I'd rather do as my Second Son suggested to his Older Brother: 

My Oldest seemed to adopt the tradition of giving after he received a gift so he could reciprocate 'in kind'. Which meant if he got a gift card for "X" amount of dollars from someone, he would turn around and give a gift card for the same dollar value in return. My Second Son said, "Why don't you keep your $50.00 and I'll keep mine and we will just say we bought each other a gift?"

Isn't this pretty much the case of much of the forced gifting which goes on this time of year? 

I resent the gifts I buy just because I am on the receiving end of an exchange of gifts. I try so very hard to turn that situation into a giving-from-the-heart gift instead of giving-from-the-credit-card. 

I spend far more words than money this time of year. I write Christmas cards because 'words' are my gift. There are probably some who think "Oh no! Here comes a wordy message from Colleen again". But hey! I didn't lose anything but the price of a stamp and the Christmas card (purchased on sale, after Christmas last year). 

The gift is in the giving. When you give from the heart, you receive just as much as you give. 

I share a piece of myself with every word I write. I feel like I have sat down and had a conversation with the person I have just written. 

I can't scrimp on words. I just can't. I have tried.

When I distributed the books I put together for Dad's family, I was unexpectedly surprised when family members asked me to sign the book. Anyone who knows me, knows the only thing in the world I 'simply' sign my name to is a blank cheque or credit card purchase. Everything else? Sorry. You get a pile of excess words.

A friend of mine (who also runs a daycare from her home) asked me if I give a gift to the parents of the children I babysit for. My immediate response was one simple word. "No". I was aghast. The idea had never crossed my mind. 

Until I remembered what I do instead of running out and buying something which may never be used. I put together a Christmas Yearbook for each of my daycare families. Filled with pictures, silly poems and a 'visual' of the year we just spent. Something which most likely will never get thrown out or shelved or be unappreciated. Because it comes from the 'right place', it doesn't even feel like a gift. It is simply sharing 'what I do best' with an appreciate audience.

I spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort putting together this year's Christmas gifts to my daycare family. I wrote (I hyjacked Dr. Suess's format) and illustrated (inserted, copied and pasted pictures) an ABC book specific to what and who I know my daycare family relate to. Our yearbook is jam-packed full of photos from the year, a cheesy poem, a 'letter' from me and (of course) some words to accompany each page of photos.

I feel very good about the end result. 

I love when my gifts cost more time than money. That is how I know I did it right.

But now I am feeling like my own family has been cheated. I don't know if the creative juices will come up something before the Big Day or not. Sometimes creativity and ideas pour out of me. Other times? Not so much. We'll see.

I am going to be so relieved to put the season of forced gifting behind me. I much prefer to give when the spirit moves me and I find a perfectly appropriate gift and idea. And simply act on it impulsively. 

I usually come through in the crunch. But sometimes I don't. If you are on my list, don't worry. I've checked it twice. You are on the nice list. But I'd rather give nothing at all, than to give something which has been forced. 

Some people have this whole 'gifting' thing down to a fine art. I am a small bit envious of you. But I'm not going to take that away from you. Because that is your gift. 

When I receive a gift, the gift is in the thought. The effort. The time. The mere act of giving. I don't even have to unwrap the present. I could simply hold an empty box filled with good intentions, wrapped up with a pretty bow and I would be grateful. 

Hey!! I think I'm onto my next big idea! An empty box filled with good intentions. Now that is my kind of gift.

Happy Gifting to All!!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Spark of Creativity

My Youngest Son is taking a class in animation at school. He is in Grade 11 and this is the first class of this type he has taken.

Last night he showed me the stop-motion project he has been working on for about two months. It is just under three minutes long and if he hadn't explained different challenges and the time involved in making it as he went along, I can hear myself nodding and smiling and saying, "Wow! That is great!!" and walking away thinking I had done an effective (enough) parenting job. Simply by watching.

In fact, that is almost what happened.

I was running out the door and he said, "It's only three minutes - do you have time?" I wanted to run my errands and get back home as soon as possible so I just said "No, not now".

I knew I didn't want to rush through watching his production because I had a vague idea what it took to put this piece of work together.

We watched it together. He asked if I had any questions or any comments at all, so I asked if he could start it over again and tell me about the video as it progressed.

I think we spent at least a half hour together as I listened to the process of creating this little masterpiece.

Their assignment was seemingly simple. They had to create a model and give this figure the impression of movement by repeatedly stopping and starting a camera and putting it all together in the form of a video clip. It had to be thirty seconds to a minute long.

First of all, he had to come up with a concept. He designed his character and then made a movable model out of blocks for the head, body, hands, ankles and feet. These were attached together by drilling a small hole into the blocks then gluing twisted wires into the holes to create the movable arms, legs and neck. Then this was meticulously painted to correlate with the character he had chosen.

Then he created a story line and wrote a script. Each word his character would eventually say, would be correlated with a frame of this animation. His wood and wire character's body language and actions would have to match up with the script.

Then came the actual 'filming' of this character. The process of taking frame by frame pictures to put together into a format which would become a moving picture is beyond my comprehension. He added his own hand as a 'character' within the plot which made the process even more complicated.

His model kept coming apart and I cannot quite remember how many shoulder and ankle replacements his character underwent in the process of making this film. Not to mention the neck adjustment which he didn't notice his character needed as the wear and tear on the neck joint eventually became apparent as filming progressed.

Once the 'film' was finally complete, he added his voice to the character's motions to match the words with the movement of his animation.

Then there were the sound effects. He explained how he simulated the sense of hearing things from a distance, when his character walked away from the camera. He told me how he created the thud of his character walking into the camera. He showed me how he changed camera angles so he could remove his hand out of the scene without affecting the integrity of his storyline. Then again, how he moved the camera to simulate the vibration when 'the hand' hit the platform on the set.

Last, was the addition of music. Self-created music to go with the ebbs, flows and development of the plot. Yes, the music was an original score. He enlisted the help of a friend to create the exact mood he was after. He tried to create the music himself except he realized he doesn't 'have a beat' and when he put his own music to a metronome, his timing was all off. Who knew music writers had to think of such things as timing!?? I thought the timing was a natural part of the creative process. This was beginning to sound a lot like math.

He worked with his friend, telling him the feeling he had inside of his head. He pulled his own music out of his head with the help of this friend. He knew the mood he was looking for and he explained the effects that you don't even consciously hear because the music fits seamlessly into  story.

After he explained the whole process to me, he critiqued his work. Shadows where there shouldn't have been shadows. His hand made it into the bottom of the screen once because he didn't see it during 'filming' due to the toolbar on the bottom of the screen. His character's head becoming crooked before he noticed and gave him a neck alignment.

He explained the finer parts of the dialogue which went far above my head because I had never heard of this Marvel Comic character (which is coming to a theatre to us someday year soon). Then the music, sound effects and dialogue which was still part of the story-in-progress as the end credits rolled across the screen.

I was in awe of the multidimensional creative process to put this three minute animation together. What an exercise for the brain! It wasn't just creating a moving character. It was a scripted storyline, musically scored cinematic production of the Grade 11 kind.

I am certain I am still missing some of the finer nuances of this project. Even so, I am in awe of the process of putting the spark of an idea into a reality others can enjoy. It is that which one doesn't see, the creative process in motion, which intrigues and inspires me. When it all comes together in one seamless, fluid line called 'a song', 'a book', 'a commercial', 'a painting', 'a recipe', 'a monologue or speech or conversation', 'a movie' or any multitude of things we call art, my heart swells just a little.

To take a spark and turn it into something that may make one other person feel something, feel anything ... these are the ways we change our world. One Grade 11 student at a time. One person at a time. These are the ways we all impact the great big world around us.

If each one of us takes our own individual spark and ignites it in their own unique way, we could light up the world.

May you sparkle and shine today. When you don't feel sparkly and shiny, try to find that-which-makes-you feel a little sparkly inside. Laugh, cry, watch and feel your way through the day. Stop and listen to the music of your world. Sit still and gaze into the light which you are drawn toward. Follow the lead of your heart and let it take you where you most need to go.

 That said, I just realized that my favorite Christmas song of the year has subconsciously infiltrated my thoughts. "Here's to love, let us sparkle. Here's to love let us shine. If one by one, each spark would ignite, we'd sparkle with shimmering light." ~ Andrea Menard - Sparkle

 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Better News

I was moments away from losing myself to the oblivion of a good night's sleep last night when the phone rang. My heart sunk to the floor as I thought 'I just don't have any words left...'

It turns out I didn't need any words. All I had to do was listen.

"Guess who I just talked to!?!!" my mom's exhilarated voice rang over the phone line. I didn't have to guess. I knew. She had just spoken with my uncle.

"How did you know?" was Mom's second question. "I could hear it in your voice" was my reply.

Our hearts have been heavy with concern over my uncle these past few months. He has been hospitalized for over six weeks and we really have no idea how much longer he may need to stay.

He has been climbing up a slippery slope and for each hard earned step forward, it seems he has slipped backwards until he hits a precipice which stops his fall. Then he has to work forward from that new starting point.

The last time I spoke with him was three weeks ago. He may or may not have been at the top of his slow slide down that slope when we spoke. At that time, he said they were talking of letting him go home in about a week.

It was over a week later when I heard the next update. I could not have been more shocked and surprised.

Mental health is something of a mystery to me. The brain is a complicated and intricate organ which dictates 'who we are' to ourselves and the world around us.

It has been a worrisome time as we heard the updates to follow. My uncle's reality was skewed and he was (to put it mildly) 'not himself'.

When things went from bad to worse, a cloud followed me wherever I went. "Is this as good as it is going to get?" were the words that echoed within the vacant chambers within my own brain.

I processed how I felt about my uncle's 'broken brain' and compared it to Dad's brain injury (due to lack of oxygen). It wasn't the same. Dad's brain was physically unable to recover. My uncle's symptoms (while more mysterious and perhaps with the mystery came a brand new fear), were psychological. He could recover. Couldn't he?!

I chided myself for feeling like the naive 22 year old I was when Dad was first hospitalized. That was back in the days where I believed anything was possible if a person's body survived the first (near) fatal blow. If the body survived, miracles could happen.

A miracle did not happen for Dad. Could his brother suffer the same fate due to circumstances which were completely and totally different? No!

I couldn't believe it. I wouldn't believe it. I would allow myself to become that naive young girl again and hope. One can always hope!

The last update I heard was five days ago. He was able to hold a conversation with my cousin and she was over the moon.

It seems that I was right to be hopeful.

My uncle called my mom last night. While things are still far from where they need to be for him to take another forward step towards regaining his independence, he is 'back'. He is still with us. He still wants to reach out and talk with us. He is still here!! In body and in mind.

My cousin (who has been walking at my uncle's side every step of the way) called me after I talked with Mom last night.

She talked for an hour. She said so many comforting words. Though she is now expecting the unexpected and has told herself 'one step forward; two steps back' is quite likely the way things will continue to go (at least for now), he is taking that one step forward. Again.

I knew hope was the way for me to go. I knew it!

My heart has felt heavy as I wondered what in the world I could do when almost two thousand miles separate us.

Then I thought of what I always think of at times like this. A letter. And pictures. I packaged up my little bundle of 'hope' and mailed it off last week. I felt better the moment I let that envelope slide into the mailbox. It wasn't much. But it was something. And it was all I could do.

My cousin said she told my uncle to just reread that letter any time he needs to. I can't remember what I wrote but she said the way I put things down in writing made sense to him. She told me he has been showing everyone those pictures. She could very well have been telling me that just to appease me and make me feel a little bit better. Whatever spin I decide to take on that, I just know I did all I could do and the reality is that my uncle has something to have and to hold no matter what.

It is not much. But it is something. Just as my uncle has those pictures and that letter to hold onto, my cousin, my mom, our family, anyone my uncle has been able to talk with and I ... we all have those words to hold onto.

Words. Spoken, written, sung or even those we have wafting through our minds ... words hold such power.

The power of those two conversations long after I thought I was ready to call it a day last night will sustain me until I speak to my uncle again. Which if all goes according to plan, should happen this upcoming weekend. Even if all doesn't go as planned, it means the world to me that he is asking to talk with me. His wish is my gift.

It was much better news than I dared to hope for. But I hoped for it anyway. "Thank you!"

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Looking Forward to a Cat Day

The whiteboard is white again.

All social obligations have been met and I am free to be me again. This could entail a lot of sleeping. And a lot of alone time. I hope I can stay awake long enough to appreciate being alone.

I am a solitary creature.

I recharge my batteries by hunkering in and inhaling the days by myself, with myself and for myself. I like to call them 'cat days' because I do what our Senior Cat does. I nap intermittently, quietly pad about and just follow my whims. Which mostly involve moments in the sun or lying on the couch dozing intermittently.

I used to take a lot of Cat Days.

The days when I was avoiding working on our family book project were filled with guilt-ridden Cat Days. I should have been working on the book a little bit at a time. If I wasn't working on the book, I should have been cleaning something. If I wasn't working on the book or cleaning something, I should have been accomplishing great things. I was so laden with guilt, that I couldn't force myself off the couch.

The days of working outside my home were stress-filled and exhausting on every level. I came home from work and I slept my evenings and weekends away. I don't remember doing much beyond working and sleeping during those days. I'm not sure if I was capable of more at the time. I certainly didn't feel like I was.

I think we need a certain amount of pressure to accomplish many things. At least I do. I need deadlines in order to get things done. Wishy washy goals without an end in sight are my undoing. Perhaps that is why I have such a love/hate relationship with Christmas. There can be an extraordinary amount of pressure during this season. But it comes with an end date. A heavenly cut-off-date.

I woke up this morning, realizing every little thing that is hanging over my head at the moment will be done. Complete. Given. Mailed. one week from today.

The best part of that news is that I have two complete days, to do with as I please, at the end of it all. Two days with my self imposed to-do-list all crossed off. Two days to go where my body and my mind most need to be.

Two days without pressure, distraction, work or a deadline. Ahhh ,,,

Some people call it Christmas. I call it Cat Day #1.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Burning Up versus Burning Out

And the list goes on ...
  • a few more cards
  • finish off a project for my daycare family
  • can come up with some kind of video or slideshow?
  • what idea can I dream up for friends?
  • should I try to fill a stocking for my kids?! Everyone else is doing it!
  • I should come up with a Christmas this ...
  • ... or a Christmas that ...
I like the creative flow of thoughts that is streaming through my brain right now but I'm ready wind down and just coast.

What will I do with my thoughts after this season is behind me? I have jumped from the frying pan (the family book project) into the fire (the family reunion) and from there I seem to have hopped into the embers of said fire (Christmas). 

What is left? Ashes?!

I don't want the fire to burn out. I want to keep blowing air into the dying embers and keep some part of this creative spirit alive.

I'm tired of the pressure I feel at Christmas. I just want to give and do and 'be' for the sake of giving and doing and being. 

I want to flip this calendar page into a bright and shiny new month without commitment or plans or a to-do-list which never ends.

I may wander for a spell. I may lose myself in a great sea of nothingness for just a little while. I may accomplish great things. Then again, I may accomplish nothing at all. 

I know I need a little bit of pressure to keep me moving in a forward direction. I have done what I set out to do this year. I pressured myself into doing what I had put off for so long. What is next?

There is a spark of an idea here. A glimmer over there. Some part of this feeling inside of me has to stay alive. 

It is a fine line between burning up by doing too much verses burning out by doing nothing at all. I just want to find that sweet spot right in the middle.

I want to keep those home fires within myself burning.

Monday, December 15, 2014

I Hope My Brain Never Breaks

"I hope my brain never breaks", I wrote to my brother the other day. 

"I'm afraid we have little control over our fate" was his un-assuring but truthful reply.

Dad's oxygen deprived body was brought back to life and he lived another four years and eight months inside of a body with a brain which did not recover from the trauma.

Two of my grandparents had strokes which impaired their brain's ability to function in the fashion it did prior to their stroke.

A cousin had schizophrenia which was very likely caused by severe head trauma when he was a teenager. But it was not until late in his life there was a 'word' and diagnosis which explained his behaviour and helped his mother understand how he 'saw' the world.

My grandma was hospitalized for 'nervous depression' or a breakdown for some time before a treatment plan that worked for her and gave her back a different version of her life than before. 

When the brain is injured by something we know or some invisible force of 'bad wiring', there is a domino effect of symptoms and treatments and various degrees of treatment plans and recovery. Once it is diagnosed.

This is not the first time I have turned the table and been fearful of my own brain breaking down one day.

If all of my filters were removed and suddenly I was speaking my mind, what would I be saying? If my sense of social behaviour was tampered with, how would I act? If I didn't remember who I was, who would I become? If I lost my memory would I even care who I used to be?

I think of my grandma without a filter and simply saying what was on her mind. I suppose if I start spewing random thoughts, I would like to be like her and have innocent little barbs be 'all' that I had been holding in.

I think of my grandpa who lost his ability to speak after his stroke. I remember Mom commenting on the irony because her dad rarely spoke when she was a child and then he lost his ability to speak late in his life.

I am thinking of my uncle who has been through so much these past few months. Grief, severe depression, a treatment plan which was cut short due to a minor stroke (TIA) and the cumulative effect of all of this has affected his brain's ability to function...

I have lived with this fear of my body outlasting my brain's ability to function ever since I fully understood Dad's brain injury.

Then I learned of the myriad of ways our brain can be fully functional and held captive inside of a body that isn't capable of communicating or functioning.

Is it too much to hope for, when we hope our body parts all break down slowly but surely and when it is our time to go, we simply 'expire' quietly and easily?

"We bring about what we think about" my sister once said.

I must start thinking about other things.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I am Exactly Where I Want to Be

I woke up this morning thinking 'the life I am living is the life I have always wanted'. I am living in the centre of my little universe, nestled right in the middle of everything and everyone I love.

I opened my eyes and I was still dreaming.

I thought of the visit I had with a cousin last night. I played back the chat I had with my uncle the day before when he dropped by. I was reminded of another cousin who stopped in last week and then called again this week. A few phone calls from a few different aunts, a text conversation with yet another cousin and another phone call from one more cousin ...

And this was all within the past few weeks.

I have lived in this Fine City for half of my lifetime now. I remember when this location spoke to me twenty seven years ago, it was because I was nestled right in the middle of my own family. One sister to the east; another sister to the north; my mom and brother to the west. I felt like I was smack dab in the middle of everyone.

Twenty seven years later, I know that I am truly living exactly where I've always wanted to be.

I have forged connections with my family that make it feel light and right and easy to pick up the phone, open the door, check my email or receive a text and find family right at my fingertips.

I could probably say this all happened because of two little books.

Stepping out of my comfort zone and stepping into Mom and Dad's families to collect memories, stories and a piece of their history has made me fell like a small piece in this very large puzzle called family.

I invited myself into the lives of my family and I have been welcomed with open arms. I can't believe this has happened to me - a person who barely spoke as a child and lived life on the fringes, wishing someone would invite me in to 'play'.

The best part of all of the above is that I don't think I've sacrificed anything to be open to receive this gift of family.

My relationships with my own siblings and mom are stronger than they have ever been (at least it seems that way to me). And though my own children have reached and/or are on the cusp of the age of independence and we don't sit down and revel in family togetherness on a regular basis, there is harmony among my own little family-of-four. We like each other (for the most part) and enjoy each other's company (usually). My own little family is 'young', we have a lot of years to grow and we have a good foundation under our feet so I can only see good things headed our way.

Ten years ago, if you had asked me what I thought my dream life would look like, I would have probably listed things like: a good marriage; a good job; financial security; no debt; contentment and peace of mind.

Today, I can say I have attained almost none of those goals, except the two that count.

I am content. My heart is happy and full. I want for nothing that money can buy because I am rich in all that truly matters to me and all that money can't buy.

I have peace of mind. I can sleep at night (and most any time during the day as well) knowing I feel like I am 'doing the best I can, with what I have'. I wake up each morning with light and easy thoughts wafting through my head.

I feel like I am making a small impact within my world. I feel 'connected' to the world outside of my head, my home and my family.

I feel like one piece of this gazillion piece puzzle that is 'the universe'. And I feel like I fit. I am exactly where I am meant to be within this great world of ours.

I am but one tiny star within the galaxy. There are millions all around me, each shining just as bright. But this morning? I just woke up with the twinkle of that light shining down upon the life-I-am-living, reminding me that this is a very charmed and special life I am living.

"If you build it ... they will come"
~ from the movie A Field of Dreams

I must have built something grand. Because they came! They really came!! I am truly living in a field of dreams. Maybe I am the daughter of a farmer after all ...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

12 Days Before Christmas (a very un-Christmasy post)

My thoughts have been far too serious to rush through them in the mornings the past few days.

Do I long for the mornings when the way I roll out of bed inspires a train of thought of little consequence but I write it out anyway because it is just one of the many ways I amuse myself? Not really. Some days it is best to let the deeper stuff 'steep' for a while. Let's just say I've been brewing a cup of tea that may or may not be worth sharing one day.

I reread something I wrote a year ago (It's Not Only Kids Who Wish For Christmas Every Day) and I couldn't believe the similarity between this year and a year ago. And the year preceding that one. I think that is why I am having a very hard time stating with certainty, the answer to the question of the hour "What are your plans for Christmas?"

The answer in my heart is "I want to go where I most need to be".

I like loosely choreographing life, so I can follow the path of least resistance. I am a little bit resistant to planning. Especially at Christmas time.

Weather overrules all else at this time of year so as much as we think we can plan, there are forces beyond our control at work to keep us where we should be.

My mind goes back a few years ago when I didn't head out on the highway after Christmas due to weather. That decision kept me home. That choice guided me (and my mom and my sister) to be where it mattered the most.

I hope this is a light and easy Christmas season. I hope the sun shines and the roads we need to travel are the ones that remain safe and obstacle free.

If the sun shines down upon the plans-I-have-in-progress, I will take it as a 'heavenly wink' from above, that is where I should be.

I won't obsess about the weather. It, among so very many other things, is completely out of our control.

I am walking gently through these days, ever-mindful of the fact that life as we know it can change in the blink of an eye.

I will send cards and letters as the spirit moves me (it hasn't moved me much but it has definitely steered me in the right direction) and hopefully make a small difference in someone's day when they find a personally addressed envelope in the mail.

I will do the best I can, with what I have, to walk in and through this season of expectations, with my expectations set on 'low' and my hopes set on 'high'.

Not your typical 12 Days Before Christmas Post, but it will just have to do.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

This is Not My Story (but I think it needs to be told)

I've been holding this in for a while. I do not know where my fingers are going to take me this morning but I have to set them free and write because they woke up on fire this morning.

I woke up with a *plethora (I have never said or written that word aloud but my fingers told me to write it) of words within. These words are aching to come forth and be heard. My heart was palpating and the blood was rushing to my fingers. "Write! Write it out!" they demanded.

So here goes. I do believe I have to rip off the band-aid quickly and without thinking. This may be raw and wrong and too much and too personal. You have been warned. Perhaps this is the part where I should copy and paste this onto a document for my own private reference at a later date. But the message is not just for me. It's begging to be told.

I want to write this from someone else's perspective. I have not been inside of this person's head but I wonder how it would feel if I was.

I have wondered over the years. I am wondering more, now that I have heard the words aloud and I believe a great truth has been spoken.

What does it feel like to walk through your life and not feel free to be exactly who you are and who you were meant to be? How does it feel to think 'who you are' is not 'who the world expects you to be'? What if you feel this way and you cannot and do not tell a soul. You keep it to yourself. You don't share your thoughts, fears or worries with your parents or your siblings or to anyone who is in your inside circle. Because 'who you are' does not conform to the world's expectations of you.

You probably do not wake up one morning feeling like this. There must be (but I do not know because I have not walked this path - I am only guessing from the limited life experience I have been handed) a quiet question mark as you make your way through your growing-up years.

I only know what it is like to be a girl. As a girl, it was the most natural thing on earth to pretend to be a mom and a princess and a bride and have a pretend wedding and a pretend marriage. I had my first crush on a boy when I was in grade three or four. I danced with a boy. So of course I thought I would marry him. Inevitable. Right?

Okay, what does a boy dream of? I somehow doubt there is an exact parallel, as I think of my three sons and the little boys I have babysat along life's way. Boys are a little bit more rough and tumble but when intermixed with little girls there is also a world of make believe that has encouraged nurturing and fathering and being a dad.

So even at a young age, we are starting to feel out who we think may grow up to be one day. When does one start to realize they don't see themselves falling into the roles life has set out before us as 'the norm'?

I don't know. I only know life, from how-I've-experienced-it. But I think it is safe to say we start to feel an inner sense of 'who we are' at a young age.

Children of today are growing up in a world where the definition of a typical life is being broadened to include many different kinds of partnerships. Unless they grow up in a two father or two mother home, do they 'see' other families and accept them at face value? Or do they still fall back into the 'boys marry girls' and 'girls fall in love with boys' (and vice versa) as the way life is expected to unfold?

I don't know any of these answers. I have only my perspective. I try to look at life and see it through eyes with peripheral vision. I don't want to see life as black and white or straight and narrow or right and wrong or anything other that it is. Life is a million shades of gray intermixed with every color of the rainbow. Life is complicated. Life is not what it appears to be.

So take all of these questions and interject them into a young child who grew up in the 1930's. A time where people didn't air their dirty laundry. A time when modesty in every way was the norm. A time when you 'didn't talk about those things'. A time when (at least from my perspective in this generation I am living in) life appeared to be black and white (even though you have to know that all of the colors and shades and hues of life were and always have been there).

What if ... you grew up in that generation and you 'knew' you were never going to fall into the roles you saw modeled throughout your life? What if ... you knew you didn't have 'those feelings' that would bring marriage and children into your world? What if ... your own mother didn't even know the definition of the word "homosexual"? And what if ... 'that' is exactly who you were discovering yourself to be?

What if ... you never ever told anyone your most innermost truth? What if ... you lived your entire life time being the absolute best person you knew how to be - the kindest, most compassionate, caring and empathetic person ... and never admitted 'who you were' aloud to anyone in your inner circle?

What if ... you moved away from your family so you could live your life as honestly as you dared thousands of miles away? What if ... even within that life oh-so-far-away, you felt the need to keep your secret from those you worked with, befriended and came to know?

What if ... you knew no other way than living your life as you knew it and it wasn't who you really were inside? What if ... you felt you were carrying the world's biggest secret inside of yourself because you could not say the words out loud?

I cannot begin to know what it is like to walk in another person's shoes. I try them on but they just don't fit. They are uncomfortable and unfamiliar and when I take a step, I have to shake them off immediately because they are all wrong for me.

So I look at those 'shoes'. I admire them for what they are, on the person who is wearing them. My feet ache when I think of my feet 'in those shoes' but I still try to imagine what it is like for the person who can wear them.

Personally ... I know I cannot hold secrets inside of myself. They have to seep out to those I trust. It started very, very slowly a very, very long time ago. But what I realized is there is no greater feeling than the feeling of befriending 'someone who knows all about you and likes you anyway'. I discovered this within my friends and I have learned to trust more people with 'who I really am'.

Someone I know and admire and respect and trust in a way I would feel about my own father entrusted me with their 'secret'. What they told me did not change one thing I felt about them. I admired, respected and trusted them even more than ever before when they said the words they had held inside for a lifetime.

I am angry at a world that would make an individual feel the need to protect themselves by keeping silent. I am angry at a world that judges and hates and labels. I am angry that anyone would feel the need to keep a secret locked inside of themselves ever since that secret was nothing more than a wisp of wondering.

I am grateful our world is becoming more open and honest and brave souls have opened doors of communication and knowledge and understanding to make it easier for the children growing up in this scary place.

I am beyond grateful this person finally said the words aloud. Words, once spoken release the power that holds you hostage when you keep them locked inside.

I have written all of these words yet I have not said the words aloud. "I am gay", he told me. And it did not change one thing. Not one.

There is absolutely nothing in this world you could tell me that would change the way I think of you. Nothing. 

The delicate house of cards he has built around himself has started to fall. A whole 'deck of cards' has been strewn about at a time when he was already in a fragile and delicate place. He is exactly where he needs to be to help him pick up the cards and rearrange them into 'the hand he was dealt'.

But it is not going to be easy. He has lived in that 'house' his whole life. It's hard to begin again at any age. At age 85, I would imagine 'this' is the last place he thought he would be.

My heart is aching for this gentle, gentle soul who I admire in a way I admire no one else. He entrusted me with his words and Mom asked me if I thought he told me so I could tell others.

I am telling you now. This is not my story. I am only guessing. I don't know how it feels to be in his shoes. I am grateful he spoke to me. I will be ever-so-gentle with his truth. He is special in every way. Always has been. Always will be. Nothing has changed.

*Plethora - a large or excessive amount of (something). Synonyms: excess, overabundance, superabundance, surplus, glut, superfluity, surfeit, profusion

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Twenty Seven Years Ago ... Remembering

Twenty seven  years ago ...

I vividly remember standing in my sister's kitchen without a voice, without emotion and without a doubt, I remember being angry at what was expected of our family in the days that preceded Dad's funeral.

I can remember the emotion almost as if I was living it today.

Mom and my sisters did everything. I stood there and watched. I am not even sure if I listened. I simply watched in horror as they choreographed the events which would take place on the 11th of December, 1987. Four days after Dad died.

It seemed absolutely ludicrous to me that this was expected of a family at a time like this. It was like planning a wedding in less than four days.

Arranging a minister, a church, a time, food, music, flowers, attendants, clothes, words with meaning, writing an obituary ...

I believe someone asked me if I could write it. I don't even know if I answered. What!?!?!! How in the world can someone write something at a time like this? What are you guys doing?

I walked through those days in a fog. Even though we had long since grieved the loss of the father/husband/brother/uncle/friend my dad used to be, the final act of taking his last breath was still final. His life was over. Now there was business to be tended to.

I remember going back home with Mom. My life was sort of falling apart all around us at the same time and I was completely numb to everything that was happening.

Mom sat at the dining room table in her home, with the horrific display of flowers from the funeral surrounding her and she quietly sobbed.

I was as useless as an umbrella in a tornado. I stood there. I don't even think I touched her shoulder. I know I thought I should but I can't remember if I did. The 'umbrella' I held did not shelter either one of us. I was frozen in time. Mom was in the moment.

All I remember thinking is how much I wanted to take those flowers and heave them through Mom's living room window. Thankfully, I was too stunned to act.

I was much quieter in those days. I kept so much more to myself.

I hated Dad's funeral.

Dad spent his entire life going by his middle name. The minister didn't know that and called him by the wrong name for the entire service.

His coffin sat in the front of the church. Dad was in there. Dad was in there? Dad was in there!! Oh. My. Lord. How in the world would we get through this horrific moment in time?

I hadn't cried yet. My marriage had broken apart one week prior and I hadn't cried over that. My husband was making our lives very difficult and I hadn't cried over that. I was living life in limbo, with two small children to protect. And I hadn't cried.

I remember sitting in that church thinking 'If I ever start to cry, I may never stop'. So I didn't cry. I remember looking down. I remember thinking I could not make eye contact. I remember wandering through the ridiculous 'tea' they (we?) held after the funeral. People tell me they remember coming to Dad's funeral. I just remember the blur of faceless bodies.

I have no idea why I wrote these words today. They are not at all what I intended to say. I am thinking of my friend whose mom died two years ago today. I am thinking of the way I invested the year 2014 to making, honoring and collecting memories. I am thinking of the personal touch and special funerals I have attended over the course of the past few years. I am thinking of my own inevitable demise.

I want to write my own obituary. I want to plan my funeral. I want to take the responsibility out of my children's hands because it is a horrible job. Or at least I thought it was twenty seven years ago.

I want to live my quiet little life loudly. I want to make lasting memories which will come out of nowhere and make my children smile long after I'm gone (or better yet, while I am still here to laugh with them!). I told my Second Son "I want my funeral to be short. And snappy. And happy. I want people to laugh."  He took half a second to reply and said, "I've got a lot of material to work with!" and he seemed pleased with the idea of turning a sad event into a lighthearted one.

Maybe I should start that obituary today. I will write what I want to become true. Then I will go out and live the rest of my days making it all come true.

Maybe. Just maybe. I am already doing just that...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Two Months

Winter recently arrived in our neck of the woods after a long-lasting and lingering fall. We went from a skiff of snow on the ground which melted, just before we were hit with (what felt like) a winter's worth of snow within a week. 

To add insult to injury, our temperatures took a nose dive into the near -30 degree (Celsius) range and 'feeling like' -38 degrees last weekend.

Last Saturday after work, I took advantage of the fact the car was already warmed up and I ran every conceivable errand and stocked up on enough groceries to get us through the cold snap. I shovelled the last of the snow and took out the garbage and recycling. 

I did every single thing that had to be done outside Saturday night so I would not have to even open the door on Sunday.

And I didn't.

The temperatures have slowly crept upwards all week. It is still no chinook outside but the extreme cold and snow conditions have backed off for the time being.

As I was out running my pre-weekend-errands last night, our brief encounter with winter was fresh in my mind.

I stocked up in every conceivable way I could imagine.

Our cats have enough of their special dietary brands of cat food to last two months. Also enough medication for Senior Cat to get us through until mid-February. I even picked up a two month supply of glucosamine treats for Senior to (hopefully) ease his crickety old joints through the cold days ahead.

Anything that was threatening to break down has a back-up replacement in stock, within our home. I have a spare toilet seat (yes! our toilet seat is not going to last much longer) and a Magic Bullet (can you imagine my dismay when I almost could not make my morning smoothie a few days ago?!).

Then there is the revolving supply of regular maintenance supplies: furnace filters; hair color (my hair has gone on a growth spurt and I simply cannot afford to run out and 'touch up my roots' every two months); socks (I just bought nine pairs of socks two months ago and I am blasting through a sock-a-day now that they have reached their maximum mileage capability); printer ink (hopefully enough to get through the Christmas gift and letter season); lotion and cat litter.

I stocked up on every item I could think of. Some people are spending their hard, earned cash on Christmas this time of year. Me? I'm just trying to get through until February (it seems like almost everything I have named has a two-month duration).

I am almost looking forward to (who am I kidding? I am looking forward to this) the part where I get to hunker down and simply exist within this well-stocked oasis I call home. The idea of gazing out the windows and watching the weather happen outside while we are warm and snuggled up inside makes my heart feel like a warm, inviting fireplace.

I am almost (no, I am!) looking forward to the weekends where my off-site employment is cancelled due to weather. Great things happened during the deep freeze of 2014. I am anticipating 'more of the same' this upcoming winter.

All I have to do is get through the next two months. I'm almost all stocked up and ready. Because ... (here it comes ... wait for it! ... wait for it!!!) ...

Two months from tomorrow, I will be headed off to Vegas for the weekend with my sister to see Dancing With the Stars - Live!

Two months seems like the magical number to me right now. I'm stocking up my inventory so all I have to do is settle in and enjoy the wait for my mid-winter ultra-extravagant and utterly frivolous holiday excursion.

It is a little bit crazy to plan something so impulsive (that sounds wrong - how can you plan something impulsive??), but this little holiday is mostly funded by gift money I have received and (ironically enough) selling a ball gown because I have 'hung up' my own ballroom dance shoes.

I am not sure what the next twelve months have in store but I'm actually eagerly anticipating the next two. Who knows where life will take me after that?!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Half a Lifetime Ago

On December 4,  1987 I woke up to a brand new world. I remember standing in my friend's living room and saying the words, "Today is the day I start my new life."

And I did.

I had just turned twenty seven years old, I had a three month old baby and a nine year old son. I didn't want to leave. I wanted my husband to leave. But he wouldn't. So I packed up a few belongings and an alarm clock and we left.

And we never wentback.

The police were involved. They could not insist my husband leave. He had rights. It didn't matter that I was the one who was in a vulnerable position and feeling threatened. It didn't matter that I would be the one taking responsibility for our children. It didn't matter that I had bought our house while we were divorced and it was solely in my name. He had rights. I didn't. We weren't safe.

So we left.

The final straw was so incredibly minute and insignificant in the whole scheme of things. All I remember is he would not let me watch "Knots Landing". I can't remember anything else about that evening. I don't remember how the police got there. Perhaps the neighbors heard? This was not the first occasion the police were called. For some reason, the details of that evening are blurred from my memory.

Something inside of me snapped and broke that night.

I didn't run to anyone or anywhere comforting and familiar. I ran to a hotel. I didn't want to be found. I didn't want anyone else's words in my head. I wanted to think my own thoughts. I wanted to know I was safe. So we ran where no one would find us.

That is why I took the alarm clock.

I wasn't sure if there would be a clock wherever we woke up the next morning. I needed to know what time it was. I took my son to school the next day. I think. All I remember is going to my friend's house. Standing in her living room with my innocent baby boy and telling her "Today is the day I start my new life."

And I needed to see my dad.

Dad was in a long term care facility at the time and I just knew that was where I had to go. Little did I know at the time, Mom had been trying to reach me to tell me Dad was not doing well. She reached my husband instead. He didn't know where I was which would have set off an avalanche of worry within my mom. Something drew me and called me to Dad.

That is where Mom and I found each other.

The sequence of events are so blurred. I talked with a lawyer. He told me I couldn't afford to stay in a hotel until it was safe to go home. I could have stayed with Mom but I didn't. I knew this time was different. I couldn't be where he could find me. We went to a 'safe house' for families in an abusive situation instead.

That decision redirected  my life.

I thought my own thoughts. I didn't have those-who-loved-me inserting their own biases and views. I talked with counsellors. I listened. I watched. Oh, how I watched. I saw myself in other women who were there. The ones who were still in love with the person who hurt them enough to 'be' there. I looked at them through eyes that had 'been there' and I knew in an instant their cycle would continue to perpetuate. At least this time.

I felt different than those women.

I was not driven by the pain of loving someone who hurt me. I was driven by a need to save my children. I finally started to see life as my children would live it, if I stayed. The thought of going back, trying to work things out or even returning to that house - the one that I owned - was the last thing on my mind.

I started to make changes that would endure the test of time.

Long story short, I did what it took to break the cycle. My husband did everything he could to make that decision impossible. The alarm clock I took from the house became a bone of contention with my husband and he wanted the clock back.  He didn't win that round (but I believe I may have eventually given him the clock).

We left for good, despite the fact he would not let me into the house to collect our belongings. He threw my clothes and what he deemed okay for me to take, out our second story bedroom window. I collected the remnants of my life while my little community watched on.

I learned that material things do not matter.

I had my children. We were safe. We had the support we needed to start over. And we did. We not only survived ... we thrived.

Those two young sons are now 36 and 27 years old now. They are succeeding in their lives and have moved on and past trying to know their father after some failed attempts. Despite it all, I hoped their father could change (one never gives up hoping) enough for him to know his children. Eventually.

I don't know 'who' my husband is now. I just know how he affected our lives, when he last tried to make contact with our children. He was a person who scared me more than I had ever been scared before. That was only eight years ago.

I forgive him. I forgave him a long time ago.

Our children are adults now. They can take care of themselves and are capable of protecting their own interests. We are two completely separate entities. Living two separate lives, with a province separating us.

I wish him well.

I hope he has found a life that fulfills him. I keep in touch with his family and I know 'enough'. His life has not been easy. But that stopped being my problem twenty seven years ago. I cut the ties. I moved on. I am living a good life. A very good life. I think our sons have succeeded in every level that matters. There is still a part of me that simply wishes him peace. Perhaps I still have the wish that peace could trickle down and through him into his sons ...

There is a great sense of peace that comes from living a life with no regrets. I know without a doubt that I did what I had to do. Sadly, I don't think my husband may feel the same.

I have lived that peaceful existence this last half of my life. And that ... is something worth celebrating. I cannot begin to compare the person I was to the person I am. I just know that who I am today was conceived on the fourth of December. Twenty seven years ago.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Quality of Life - A Cat Story (why not a people story too?)

Our little Miracle Kitty (otherwise known in these parts as 'Senior Cat') has bounced back once again, thanks to a little tweaking of his diet after recent a blood test revealed his kidneys appeared to be shutting down.

Senior Cat has been 'doctoring' since August of  2013 when he developed a bad case of pneumonia which didn't respond to antibiotics. After several refills of antibiotics our vet gently suggested we try a low dose of prednisone. She couldn't say with certainty if he had asthma or cancer but the prednisone would alleviate his symptoms and make his life comfortable either way.

Thankfully he responded well to a low dose of this steroid and he went about his days in a quieter, less playful mode. He started to purr and socialize again and he even cuddled for short spells.

In the mean time, Junior Cat's delicate digestive system guided us toward a special gastrointestinal cat food regimen (I fondly refer to as 'Gold Nuggets' because that is about how much I invest into our cats' special diet). This food is truly worth its weight in gold because it not only calmed Junior Cat's stomach issues but both cats have a lush, shiny coat of hair that (in my mind) can only be attributed to their special diet.

Our cats padded along just fine and dandy until a short while ago. Senior Cat's symptoms started gradually and I was convinced that he had a cancer which was starting to take hold and (I guessed) his current dose of medication was not capable of handling. So we took him back to the vet to adjust his medication.

The word cancer was not even mentioned. Our previous vet was on maternity leave and our replacement doctor read Senior's file and referred to our cat's asthma as a firm diagnosis and went forward from there. After assessing his blood test, she suggested we adjust Senior's diet and I purchased some Renal Health food especially for him.

Sure enough, he started responding to his new diet almost immediately.

Our cat must be the ideal prototype for each of his health conditions. His asthma (?) responded immediately to his low prednisone dosage and his kidneys responded just as quickly to the change in his diet.

One little pill, snapped in half and ingested every twelve hours and one little bag of Renal Health cat food have our Little Black Kitty back in good form.

My mom follows my stories about our cat family and each time she comes to visit us, she comments that if she didn't know better she would assume Senior Cat was in perfect health. She refers to his healthy coat of fur and his general overall appearance. She has said, "If I get sick, I want to be sick like your cat!"

Mom said a mouthful when she uttered that sentence.

A diagnosis and a 'cure'. Even if the cure does not make the disease go away, it has alleviated all symptoms and life-as-we-know-it has not changed.

One tiny little pill. A change of diet. Two small changes have not only prolonged Senior Cat's life, but he has a quality of life which we don't take for granted.

How many people out there wish for exactly the same thing? A diagnosis and if not a cure, at least a medication &/or diet which could allow a person to retain their dignity and quality of living.

Another choice we have for our adored pets is the opportunity to make choices about their life and death situation when there is no cure, they are in pain and there is nothing more that can be done.

Why is there such a disparity between what I see happening within my own little 'animal kingdom' here within my home and what I hear with people who are doctoring for various reasons?

Our cat has not been referred to this, that and the other specialist. He has one doctor who looks at the 'whole picture', knows our family and our cats well and makes decisions based on the tests we decide (and can afford) to administer.

When one patient gets referred to too many doctors do they lose sight of the 'whole person'? When a specialist is looking for one specific thing, can they miss what another could see if they were looking at an entire body? Does the fear of lawsuits and policies, procedures and protocol within the medical field make it an entirely different scenario for the doctors in each case?

There are probably a million more questions to ponder about the disparity between our specific case scenario (with our cat) and the multitude of other factors which others who are faced with their own unique set of health concerns.

I guess we are just lucky in the whole scheme of things. We are so lucky, in fact, that I think I will inquire about adding glucosamine to Senior's diet to see if we can help him with some of his arthritic discomfort.

I just want him to feel as good as he can possibly feel. That is all I hope for and want for anyone. Is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sleeping on It (and waking up rested)

The past two mornings, I have woken up to a brand new experience. I have no memory in between the time I closed my eyes until the alarm went off. And (and this is big!) I am in exactly the same position as when I fell asleep.

This whole snow-shovelling thing has wreaked a small amount of havoc on me. Not sore muscles (as one would assume for someone who has become as complacent as I have, when it comes to extra-curricular exercise), but more of a neck/shoulder strain and sore thumbs (it seems crazy to me, to have sore thumbs as a symptom from shovelling?!!).

The first two nights, after our winter descended upon us and my snow-shovelling-muscles got their first work out, I took some Robaxacet before I went to bed. Perhaps it is no surprise that I slept like a log those nights.

A medically induced state of slumber is not what I'm aiming for so I decided to start rearranging my pillows once again, to recreate the experience I had when I woke up from hernia surgery in the hospital. It was like a little piece of heaven. I woke up and my body was cradled and supported perfectly and I was completely comfortable (probably sedated and pumped up on a pain killer or two as well but I didn't think of that at the time).

The past two nights, I have managed to effectively recreate that 'cradled and supported' position before I fall asleep.

A neck support pillow cradles and supports my neck; a small wheat bag is tucked under the small of my back; and my body pillow (now flattened like a pancake from overuse) is folded in half and tucked under my knees.

My last memory the past two nights are of complete and utter comfort. My first memory of the past two mornings are realizing that I have not tossed, turned, woken up or stirred once throughout the night.

Amazing! This is better than Robaxacet (and ever so much easier on the body and cheaper!).

It is even more amazing how well I slept, considering what I did last night.

After supper and before I went to bed,  I booked a weekend trip to Vegas (with my sister) to go to see Dancing With the Stars in February.

We booked our flights, our hotel and bought our tickets for the event. Signed, sealed and delivered! It is amazing how easy it is to spend money without taking a step away from the computer. Perhaps a little too easy.

Or not ...

I was sending my brother an email right before I went to bed and as I was confirming the date and time of our arrival back home, I realized we were due to come home on the wrong day. YIKES!

I immediately went into hyper-correct-mode and thought I had to do something on the spot. Yes! There was a 24 hour number to call. Whew!!

Then I realized the wisdom of sleeping on it. There was no need to make a rash decision that late in the evening. We have a 24 hour window to adjust our reservation at no charge. Stop. Think. Confirm with my sister. Breathe. Sleep. Fix it in the morning.

I went to bed with this on my mind. Surprisingly, my heart rate was normal and I wasn't overly concerned. We have 24 hours. Better to sleep on it and come at it in a brand new day. Yes. This was the rational way to think.

It turns out either: A) I do 'rational thinking' better now or B) I have a severe sleeping disorder because C) I slept like a log last night!

I woke up with a calm, clear frame of mind. No need to panic.

When they say it is better to sleep on it, they are right. It is a brand new day and I am so relieved I didn't make any hasty choices last night.

Well, that is, if booking a weekend trip to Vegas and spending half of what my friend is paying for a week-long-cruise is not considered hasty.

My rule is: If it still feels like a good idea in the morning, it is the right choice.

The way I slept last night + the way I feel this morning  = A good idea (I didn't say smart. I just said good).

And that is the way last night rolled for me. How was your night??

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Year of Making Memories

I had a blog post sitting in me all day yesterday but I just had 'a few' things to do before I allowed myself the privilege of sitting still with my thoughts and bringing them to life.

I was going to write about how my thoughts were skittering around in my head. From the moment I awoke with the perfect 'theme' for my annual Christmas letter ... to some words that mean 'nothing' but have the potential to mean more-than-they-say ... to realizing it is almost the end of the year which led my thinking to year-end-financial recaps and income tax ... digging through receipts and the calendar for missing tax information led me down a path of reminiscing.

Oh, inside of my head was a wonderful place to be yesterday morning. Thoughts were pinging around in rapid succession and I could barely keep up.

I wrote notes and documented that-which-needed-documenting. As I flipped through the calendar pages, my bank book and my credit card records, the year flashed before my eyes.

I remembered moments. The losses. It has been a Year of Great Loss for almost everyone who touches my world. There are ongoing physical and mental health issues that are still of great concern.

I remember sitting still with those thoughts on so very many occasions. I have walked beside people who have faced devastating losses and I feel for them on so very many levels. But I am not walking in their shoes. So there is still the ability to disconnect and continue on living my merry little life.

The year 2014 was not a year of great adventures or spending or extravagances. It was a year of incredible memories instead.

One cold week in the middle of January, I planned a few adventures. Two out of three came to fruition. The third was preempted by a death in our family.

I attended that funeral and one sentence by one cousin rerouted my year. She suggested something I had been thinking about and not acting upon for quite some time. Someone in our family should plan a family reunion. Why shouldn't that 'someone' be me?

Two weeks later, on the coldest weekend of the winter, I reopened my dad's family's book project. The following Monday, I started making inquiries about a family reunion. The weekend following that coldest weekend of the winter, a plan was formed and reservations were made. We just lived that fantasy a month ago.

The common theme among the family who was able to attend was 'it is good to gather for happy times'. There have been far too many funerals. Not enough celebrations.

I had not even walked out the door from our family reunion and I was already making new plans and inviting others along for the ride.

I got lost in the adventures of 2014 yesterday morning and it was a most wonderful place to be.

I remember sitting down one day last year and writing down the months. There was a name of at least one close friend or family member who had lost a father, a mother, a husband, a wife, a sibling, an aunt or an uncle (and the list goes on) beside each and every month. It would have been so easy to focus on death last year. It was everywhere.

When our own (Mom and Dad's) family gathered for our smaller scale reunion this past summer, Mom said from the onset "I don't want to talk about sickness or death or sadness!" but it was unavoidable. One niece had spent the days prior to our reunion dealing with an urgent health situation, her father-in-law ended up needing emergency surgery as they were making their way to our reunion and my sister's grandchild ended up in ER while we were gathered. We stopped to visit Mom's sister enroute to our reunion. She passed away the following Monday.

We shared a lot of laughs, stories and made memories throughout that weekend gathering despite it all. And that is basically what it is all about, isn't it?

'Life' is going to happen no matter what we do. We cannot hold onto the ones we love forever but while they are living, we can certainly make the most of the time we have.

The year 2014 was one of making memories. It was a year of forging connections with family I used to know by name only, into something 'more'. It was a  year of stepping outside of my quiet and comfortable oasis within my head and home and inviting others to join me along my way.

I forecast more of the same for 2015 (more on that after I talk with my sister tonight ... we may have a 'date' to go on a weekend adventure in February if all goes as I hope!!).

Friday, November 28, 2014

Which Ornament Would You Choose?

Junior Cat and I seem to be at odds over how I should adorn the bookshelf by our front window. I choose Option #1 ... he seems to have another opinion. Which ornament would you choose??
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