Wednesday, December 30, 2015


I have to get out of the store.  If I don’t, my integrity will succomb to the pre-Christmas sale at Pier Imports.  Maybe the poinsetta tableware with gold edges, or the cushions embroidered with a red, green, and gold Merry Christmas.  Why not a burlap angel to add to my collection, or a table centre, or another seasonal runner to alternate with the decades old model I purchased in the Christmas store in Chemainus, British Columbia, in 1987.  Scented candles would be nice, in tall, staggered holders as sentinels next to the fireplace.  Why don’t I have these things, I wonder.  Surely, I must need them to have a great Christmas. 

“I have to get out,” I tell my husband, who looks relieved.  “Otherwise, I’ll buy something I don’t need.”  Almost suffocated in the density of Christmas, I head to the till with the object that drew me to the store in the first place,  a Christmas card holder (well, a photo holder, actually), not the original reindeer floor model I saw at a colleague’s home a few days before, with filigreed antlers that pinned  Christmas card artistry, but a workable wall-mounted alternative that I could use year round.  Less of a conversation piece, but practical, without storage challenges.  Outside, on the store steps, gulping the preternaturally balmy air on a December day in Saskatchewan with temperatures above freezing,  I realize that my own Christmas essentials do not much resemble the look in the store. 

In the spirit of year-end lists, then, the keys to my Christmas are :

·      making music, mostly for liturgy, with unbelievable musicians and singers, over the decades, including my husband and my children; now, I make music on the harp, too!

·      family close, on the years that we can all be together, and on the off years, closeness in spirit always;

·      Christmas spirit that imbues the entire year;  like summer, Christmas is also a state of mind and spirit that can permeate our actions and thoughts every single day;

·      contact with friends far away through cards, email, social media; one of the gifts of technology is the ease of keeping in touch with people who mean so much to us, but live far away;

·      a pretty table, with seasonal linens, a table centre, candles, my forty-year old  china 
      and my mother’s silver;

·      comfort food, pared down to the core items and each person’s favorites:  crêpes, tourtière (now handed down to my daughter, who prepares it better than I do), salmon mousse, my mother’s butter tarts, my daughter’s birthday trifle,  turkey with my mother’s meat stuffing and gravy, and, just recently, an addition—chocolate mascarpone crêpes with cherry sauce.

·      games that can involve everyone, no matter what their predilections might be, when the joy of playing eclipses winning or losing, especially laughing with our adult children until our bellies hurt as they reconstruct a game our son and his friends developed more than a decade ago;

·      the timelessness of Christmas, as weekdays crumble like dry cookies and hours meld in delight especially during

·      the interval between Christmas and New Year, reserved for visits, hours on the harp or with books, and, always, the writing, with a fire and tree lights in the background.

That December day, engulfed in the periphery of Christmas,  the reminder of the essence of the season for me anchors me.  I share that experience with you, and thank you for reading.     

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Until I heard the Canada Talks radio host introduce end of the year lists last week on the road trip home,  I had let the above zero temperatures, the bare fields and the patches of grass on the lawn seduce me into eternal fall.  Six centimetres of snow the other day ended those delusions.   The end of the year approaches, along with  totals, summaries, syntheses, and rankings of all kinds.  I got to thinking, what would be some of my year-end lists or rankings for 2015?

Let’s start with first-time experiences.  Without ranking,

·      I was the mother-of-the-bride.
·      I spent entire work days with my grandson.
·      I am connected to a person who has ties to an Oscar-shortlisted animation.  Julian Beutel composed and produced the score for animator Seth Boyden’s short animation, “An Object at Rest,” shortlisted for an Oscar in the animated shorts category.
·      I attended the Grey Cup.
·      I received remuneration for a piece of original writing.
·      I gave my first ever public performance on the harp.
·      I endorsed a political candidate with a sign on my lawn.

One might say, “So what?”   Well, my firsts point to my hopes for getting older.

·      A deeper connection to family.  We live a ten-hour drive from our grandson, so we see him only every five or six weeks.  The privilege of spending entire days with him over a stretch of more than a week enabled us to strengthen any bond we have already established.  Family, always the cornerstone of life, has never been more important.  Being with our children brings unparalleled joy, as did the week we spent at our daughter’s before her wedding.  Beyond pride in our children and pure gladness in their presence, we are caught up in a generational shift in the role of supportive older people we once associated with our own parents.  Now, it’s our turn.  For a time, as we age, we are free to be useful.  

·      Links to a world I don’t know a lot about.  Although I love football, I’m not a sports enthusiast, and I had never been to a Grey Cup game before the children surprised me for my birthday.  I needed to consult experienced friends to learn how to dress for an outdoor football game in Winnipeg at the end of November.  Now, I have more of an insider perspective that will help me understand future championship games, whether or not I ever get to return in person:  the challenges the players face, anticipation in the stands, the social fans, the minute organization.

·      Validation of initiatives in my life.   The lawn sign is only the beginning of a new level of political involvement.  Writing will be invaluable to that end, to add to points of view already in play.  Through writing, another passion whose layers I peel away, my knowledge, perspectives, and experience in both the personal and professional realms are accessible to others.

·      Life-long learning.  We are never too old to learn.  In fact, learning might be easier as we age.  For one thing, we have so much prior knowledge and experience to bring to new skills.  For another, we are able to shake off awareness of what other people think like drops of rain from a coat.  So it is with me and my harp—the thrill of a new skill, and the excitement to share it without fear.

These 2015 firsts are, I hope, predictors of what I might be able to build in the years ahead—support for other people, especially family; windows into worlds and perspectives; engagement in issues affecting my community; and a deliberate decision to continue to learn and take risks.  Oh, my!  I have as much potential as a retired person as I did at twenty!