Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: Christmas

The Santa I liked the most

Confession: I never thought too much of Santa as a kid.

When my sister and I were very young, Dad would take us for a long enough winter sled walk on Christmas eve, as soon as it got dark out. My sister and I sat all bundled up in blankets on the wooden sled and Dad pulled us, through the snow, while telling us stories from his own childhood. I remember the snow creaking, the stars sparkling ever so bright up above, and my dad’s voice, like another warm blanket wrapped around us girls.

The Simplicity Files: Christmas Is Better With Books

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, December 18, 2017.

Following a friend’s recommendation and because Thursday evening was a commitment-free day for the entire family, we went to see one of the movies at the Paramount theatre, ‘The man who invented Christmas.’ I did not know exactly what to expect, but because my friend warmly encouraged me to see it, I trusted that it will not contain much of the usual syrupy type of seasonal fare, as I do not care much for that.

The theatre hall was almost empty, but it made no difference. There was much to be charmed about in the visual story unfolding on the screen: the mystery and cruel roughness of times past, friendship and family values, justice, and not in the least, the struggle and beauty of creating a book. In this case, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

The book was to be not sappy, but uplifting and humbling at once. It was supposed to give you reason to see beyond the ordinary. Well, it does, and the movie did too. When the movie ended, we lingered in our seats a while longer. Our little guy had a sweet mysterious smile plastered to his face; his brother’s eyes were smiling too. The movie had none of the present-day fare; no speedy cars jumping over bridges, no product placement and no consumerism overload. It had so much more.

It was a declaration of love for books. How ironic, the cynics among us will say given that it was still a movie. Yes, but its substance thick and meaningful rather than gossamer-like and unable to hold past the doors of the theatre, which is the case with many of the fluffy productions nowadays.

We need to be reminded of books and their ability to have us spellbound. We need everyone to wish for a book come Christmas time, no matter the age. We are told that good parenting comes with lots of reading. If we are to instill a love for books in our little ones, we ought to read to them. I’d say this is but a paragraph of a larger thesis: If we are to build a good life, we must put books in it, and reading. Lots of it.

One can argue that like much else, there is an abundance of books already. True. Walk into a bookstore and you’ll be overwhelmed. Some are better than others, and it is true that some subjects are strange rabbit holes indeed. Then again, taste is a finicky beast. What a luxury though, to be able to read… What a privilege that reveals itself through reading and has the capacity to reveal so much more and thus take us to where we can see far enough to make our collective life better.

Such is the magic that books bring about. The kind of world they build inside our minds and the kind of impression they leave upon our hearts cannot be matched by anything else. They provide a place where you find your deepest sorrows resonating with others’; and you find yourself connected and you find inspiration. The same books speak differently to different people and words burrow differently into our thoughts, but they are ultimately reminders of the most basic and pure humane features we all carry around.

I know stores abound with things to buy, and the Christmas music make us move slower through the aisles and pick up one more item that seems to be the perfect match for that person in our life… Loud and colorful advertising transforms our desire to save some of our hard-earned money into pure mush. It is but once a year, we say. But is it? One after another, they lead to the sad remark the cashier at London Drugs made a couple of days ago as she was ringing the many garlands for the lady in front of me. ‘These are so nice, but I don’t like Christmas anymore. When all is done, I’ll be broke again for the next three months…’

Truly a place that was never intended for any of us to be in. Buying beyond our power, even when the gifts are intended for our loved ones. Fewer things and more presence, wouldn’t that be a better way to celebrate for all? The fewer things can maybe contain a book or two. They do not even have to be new. A book never loses its lustre even when its pages get old.

There are still a few used bookstores around in Kamloops that have mountains of books of all kinds. Tomes of magic that never deliver less than expected. Magic like the kind found in books you will snuggle to read on a snowy day (yes, we’re all hoping for a white Christmas,) magic that lights up your children’s eyes as you turn the page following yet another adventure in a read-aloud-together kind of book.

We can run towards books when in search of joy, or quiet, or solace from life unfolding too fast or too cruel at times. The stories they hold within give us hope, make us search for better ways in life, or inspire us to think and see beyond limitations. They challenge us, and they give us freedom. They deliver us from the daily grind, and give us permission to reinvent the way we experience and give joy.

Here’s to hoping you’ll make them part of your holidays.

Merry Christmas!

The Gift Of Time Never Fades

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on November 27, 2017. 

It was on Tuesday evening last week that I deleted (again) all the promotional emails from my inbox; there were a few hundred of them. It is now Saturday afternoon and another load of 234 promotional emails are going to meet the same fate. Many of them have to do with the Black Friday sale, which I choose to stay out of for obvious reasons.

The fact that around 50 or so find their way into my inbox every day is beyond disturbing. I’ve unsubscribed to anything I ever signed up for, unless it’s worth having, and I do not open any invites to shop on a black Friday or any other colour day; I shop when I need to and, as they say, what better way to make the best of a sale then to save 100 percent by not buying anything.

The thing is though, ‘tis the season to be giving and there are things our loved ones need that can be happily gifted come Christmas day. That aside, here’s a thought that is not new or revolutionary in any way, but a humble reminder: set aside time to spend together rather than money to buy gifts.

Last year we had my in-laws over during the Christmas holiday and we made precious memories out of it. I got puzzles from the thrift stores in town prior to, and that meant many hours of afternoon chitchat and laughter while trying to solve them; our oldest son and mom-in-law’s favourite activity.  We played cards and other games too, plus we went out for hikes in the woods in deep, wonderful snow.

My mother-in-law built a gingerbread castle with our little guy; some of the otherwise solid foundation became veritable trenches in the end, and the fact that we all remember it fondly is a sign that it was all done right. We will do the same this year, after we trade our puzzles in for ‘new’ used ones, and we get a couple of board and wooden games that everyone no matter the age can be part of.

We will open (minimal and useful) gifts too, and we will delight in the funny, witty rhymes my father-in-law puts together every year for every one of us. Those riddles remind me of my dad, who was always fond of riddles. There is a fascinating little portrait of the person in each gift-attached missive. Part of the delight is deciphering the ‘code’ in each.

Playing games together leads to silly banter and laughing together, and it leads to togetherness not just because we share the space but because we’re present right then and there. No TV, no phones, just time together as it happens.

We get the games out not just at Christmas time though. We play for no reason on any week day when no evening activities steal any of us from our home, and we play when we have family over or when we visit them. Many years from now when the boys will look back and think of what ‘now’ was made of, I want them to remember the playfulness we built our memories on. The silliness of that chat that games often elicit, the times when you are there not to make ‘quality time’ but simply push everything aside to make room for each other and for that togetherness that is more elusive than anything else because time really is a wild creature that minds its own and cannot ever be tamed. Or stopped.

The cynics among us can argue that time flows just the same whether you play with your kids, watch TV or get lost seeking meaning in the countless scribbles of invisible crowds on social media. I’d argue that if we employ pure physics to prove it, the answer is yes, it does. The reflection of it on our minds and, dare I say, soul, is a different story though.

There is no equation to prove that it is healthier for everyone, no matter the age, to spend enough time with their loved ones. There is only that feeling of fullness of the heart when you do. And when you try to measure the size and money value of gifts against the immeasurable goodness of being fully present where your loved ones are fully present, well, there is a discrepancy that points to the evident.

I spent every Christmas at home with my parents until my late twenties. The only gift I remember is a doll I got when I was eight or so. I do remember that my sister and I baked with my mom every year, and I remember the times my dad pulled my sister and I all bundled up in a sled under a million stars shining bright and happy. I remember the snow crunching under his feet, the tone of his voice as he was telling us stories; I would not trade the magic of those nights and the delicious smells of cooking and baking with my mom for all the gifts in the world.

There is no email warning us that one day it all ends; there is no promotional material telling us ‘just spend time with your loved ones while there is time still.’ Giving out of love is good and it makes us smile. But it will never come close to the one thing that can do what nothing else can: spending time together.

Make it so this holiday season. Fill your heart and others’ with joy and laughter rather than your shopping cart with things. It’s the only gift that matters in the end; if you make it so.

The Many Kinds Of Magic

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today on December 26, 2016. 

Merry Christmas!It was after 11pm on Christmas Eve that my husband and I took the dog out for a walk. It was quiet. Magic of a different kind. Snow crunched under our feet as we walked, the dog sniffed this way and that, and Christmas lights shone beautifully on so many houses along the way.

The path took us to the Christmas house on Pine and 6th.

The wealth of garlands is enough to make you go wide-eyed every time. Say what you will about excess and wasted electricity, the thing is the lights make people smile. Inside and outside smiles too. That the lights have been a way for the owner, Louise Edwards, to relieve some of the weight her counselling job brought into her life, is not to be ignored either. Stories of pain and grief, stories of hope and recovery, humanity surfacing through each blinking or steady light around her yard. As sobering as it is jolly.

That time of night you could hear a trickle of carols from some garlands wrapped around sleepy, snow covered bushes.

We stopped a while to listen. Fragments of life surfaced. Christmas does that to a person. Not having my parents around anymore adds a layer of sadness that will never go away. Hanging on to memories, dusting them off as I tell the boys stories about my Christmases past, feeling a bit more that emptiness left by my parents’ passing, feeling the richness of having learned so much from them while they were still around and afterwards too.

Quiet tears added to the sparkles laid all over trees, bushes, and house. The unseen side of Christmas, the roots that go deeper each year and gain more significance, the simple truth of what matters in the end: the time we get to be with those we love, the time we find to understand that each of us carries the story of laughter and tears, grief and happiness. All transient, all worth every second of their ephemeral nature.

An invisible owl hooted from a tree as we left, adding eeriness to our quiet night walk. Another piece of magic added.

Today, Christmas midday found us on a frozen lake, lost in an ocean of white. Dog and kids and grownups stepping on each other tracks, swapping laughter, memories, stories and steaming cups of coffee. It will all be shelved for later Christmases, it will all be remembered and treasured. It’s the simple things, the time put into just that… simplicity.

On our way home we pass by the hospital. Another slice of life with a flavour so different than what most of us associate Christmas with. I think of all who sit by someone’s bedside, of all those who are hanging onto life or are about to say their goodbyes; I think of dear friends who carry their suffering with so much grace and how much I have learned from that, mostly to never forget to say a prayer. Thoughts like that always find their way to those you think them for…

I think of babies being born, of the joy trailing behind them, of all the hope they bring and all the precious lessons they bring along, as every human does. If only we’d pause long enough to pay attention…

I think of those who work on the day when most of us have our loved ones around, whatever their work may be. Just being present and willing when most of us take a break. Time offered as a gift, a different kind of offering.

It redefines gratefulness, our dependence of each other, our ability to give if we choose to, and our need to swap the roles of giving and receiving every now and then so we can reach the wonderful understanding of what it takes to be human.

Wherever this holiday finds you, allow for joy, sadness, and allow for thoughtfulness towards fellow humans. It is what matters in the end. No story is written by each of us alone, but by all of us stepping into each other tracks, swapping stories, sharing laughs, offering hugs, meals and wiping tears when needed. Another kind of magic…

Which Grinch Is Stealing Christmas?

(Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News under the same title on November 23, 2013)

It was always only on Nov. 15 that we would listen to carols, when some started observing the Christmas Fast. The first snow would come around that time, too, as if some well-timed snow lever was pressed at the right time.

At the beginning of December, trees were bought and tucked away on porches or in the backyard until Christmas Eve; there were wishes circulated from children to parents, but most of all, there was a lot of sledding and snow tumbling until cheeks were red and cold at the end of each day. Snow fun reigned supreme and that was that.

A few days before Christmas, we baked vanilla-scented goodies, and on Christmas Eve we pulled out the old cardboard box filled with decorations to adorn the tree.

I still have a couple of those decorations, as my sister and I split them when the old house was sold. I have since built a tree-decorations box of my own. Every single decoration has a story.

Some the boys made at school or in art classes, some we made together at home, and some were gifted by close friends. The latest acquisitions, glass-made and hand painted by someone in Colombia, were bought from the thrift store ran by the RIH Auxiliary volunteers.

As Christmas approaches, flyers get plump with ads telling of decorations and lights and gifts and kitchenware to cook and bake in, and thermal gravy boats that will keep your gravy at a good yummy temperature, and, if you want, you can scratch the golden dust-covered area at the bottom of the page to see if you won a discount. Nothing? Try again next week, you never know.

And if you want outdoor lights, but are tired of climbing ladders and untangling lights, a patented holographic laser light projector will create the illusion of lights without the effort.

But the effort is what makes it all special. We tell our children that when we work for something, we value the accomplishment even more. Things that happen with no effort are easily forgotten.

Sure, putting up lights may get frustrating when tangles get in the way. Baking takes time and effort. Cutting the turkey with a regular carving knife versus the battery-activated one takes effort, too; as for the cold gravy, I don’t think it’s a deal breaker; you simply warm it up.

Holidays are what they are because people kept at it, efforts or tangles notwithstanding. The spirit of Christmas is not brightened by someone’s ingenious way of marketing a product.

If anything, ‘tis the season to be giving, and that applies to all that we do. More than ever, we need to remind ourselves that ‘no effort’ means ‘no joy.’ I’d rather have the boys learn about tangled wires and burnt cookies than not have the memory of anything that made my many Christmas seasons memorable.

‘Tis the season to be giving is more than a slogan. The recent typhoon in the Philippines is a cruel reminder of how we cannot ignore the reality of climate change, some of which is caused by the many trucks rolling into our cities bringing more and more goods meant to make our lives easier and better and more sparkling at Christmas at the expense of those we don’t see, and whose world we positively wreck as we wreck ours — one new seasonal item at a time.

Before you buy another new seasonal-themed product, be it an inflatable ready-decorated doghouse with an inflatable dog glued to it, or an inflatable, illuminated Santa you don’t really need, or another battery-activated thing that will create the illusion of snowflakes (yes, it exists) think about the one thing that matters: Keeping it real.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, snowflakes are snowflakes and they are not meant to be holograms.

Better yet, set that money aside for the Christmas Cheer Fund and make someone’s holidays brighter. Yours will brighten in response.

By the way, the hottest colour of the season is berry pink, one of the flyers says. Followed by “Ornaments and lights are available for you in hundreds of options.”

To which I dare say this: the Grinch is no longer green but berry pink and he’s stealing Christmas.

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