Category Archives: Special Occassions

9 Holidays Celebrated Throughout December and January

Canada is a country that is proud of and thrives on diversity. To celebrate and highlight this I have put together a list of holidays that happen throughout December and the beginning of January.

Saint Nicholas Day

Date: December 6th

The legendary figure of St. Nicholas is derived from Nicholas of Myra who officiated as a bishop in 4th century Greece. During his lifetime he developed a reputation for gift-giving by putting coins in other people’s shoes, which accounts for many of today’s Christmas traditions that involve leaving gifts in shoes or boots.”

Read more here.

 Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Date: December 12th

 It is believed that a man named Juan Diego encountered the Virgin Mary twice in Mexico City, on December 9 and December 12 in 1531. According to legend, Mary told Juan to ask the bishop to build a church on Tepeyac Hill. However, the bishop needed proof of Juan’s encounter and asked for a miracle. Juan returned to the hill to see roses in a spot where there were previously cacti. When Juan Diego returned, he showed the roses to the archbishop and also revealed an image on his cloak of the Lady of Guadalupe. The bishop was convinced of the miracle and built a church in honor of the event.”

 Read more here.

Saint Lucia’s Day

Date: December 13th

A festival of lights is held in honour of St.Lucia, one of the earliest Christian martyrs who was killed by the Romans in 304CE because of her religious beliefs.

 “In Scandinavian countries each town elects its own St. Lucia. The festival begins with a procession led by the St. Lucia designee, who is followed by young girls dressed in white and wearing lighted wreaths on their heads and boys dressed in white pajama-like costume singing traditional songs. The festival marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Scandinavia, and it is meant to bring hope and light during the darkest time of the year.”

Read more here.

 Hanukkah

Date: December 12th to 20th

“Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah, is the Jewish Festival Of Lights. The date it’s celebrated changes each year, depending on the Western calendar, but it usually falls in November or December. The celebration dates back to two centuries before Christianity began, and lasts for eight days. The word ‘Hanukkah’ means dedication, and honours one of the greatest miracles in Jewish history.”

 Read more here.

Yule

Date: December 21st to January 1st

“The Pagan holiday called Yule takes place on the day of the winter solstice, around December 21 in the northern hemisphere (below the equator, the winter solstice falls around June 21). On that day (or close to it), an amazing thing happens in the sky. The earth’s axis tilts away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere, and the sun reaches its greatest distance from the equatorial plane.“

 Read more here.

Christmas Day

Date: December 25th

“The name ‘Christmas’ comes from the Mass of Christ (or Jesus). A Mass service (which is sometimes called Communion or Eucharist) is where Christians remember that Jesus died for us and then came back to life. The ‘Christ-Mass’ service was the only one that was allowed to take place after sunset (and before sunrise the next day). Thus, we get the name Christ-Mass shortened to Christmas. Christmas is now celebrated by people around the world. It is a time when family and friends come together and remember good things they have. People and especially children also like Christmas as it’s a time you give and receive presents.”

 Read more here.

Kwanzaa

Date: December 26th to January 1st

“The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), then one of the seven principles is discussed. The principles, called the Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili) are values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community among African-Americans. Kwanzaa also has seven basic symbols which represent values and concepts reflective of African culture. An African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.”

 Read more here.

Omisoka

Date: December 31st

“Omisoka is the last day of the year(New Year’s eve) in Japanese. Its origin is Misoka which is the last of the month, Omisoka consist Misoka and “O” which means big. There are many customs for Omisoka in Japan, Toshikoshi-soba, Osouji, Toshinoyu and more.”

 Read more here.

Three Kings Day/Epiphany

Date: January 6th

“Also known as Epiphany or Theophany, Three Kings Day is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ. The observance had its origins in the eastern Christian churches and was a general celebration of the manifestation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It included the commemoration of his birth; the visit of the Magi, all of Jesus’ childhood events, his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, and even the miracle at the wedding at Cana in Galilee.”

 Read more here. 

This list, I’m sure barely scrapes the surface of the multitude of national and international holidays celebrated throughout December. We live in a community, province and country that has people from all over the world. This holiday season ask your friends or co-workers what they celebrate this time of year and what their traditions are.

Written by Valerie Chalmers

www.valeriechalmers.com

Co Chair of Promotions & Marketing Committee, Niagara Leadership Summit for Women
Co Host of The Empowered Millennials Podcast
Member of Promotions & Marketing Committee, No Fixed Address

Member of the St.Catharines Culture Plan Sub Committee

Sources:
http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/lesson/lesson246.shtml

http://metro.co.uk/2016/12/23/what-is-hanukkah-and-why-is-it-celebrated-6341546/

The Perfect Gift

We are bombarded by advertisements, displays, salespeople, and online ads of ‘the perfect gift.’

It’s all a bit much, isn’t it?

Or do you love the hustle and bustle of the season? Worrying what to get and how you’re going to find the time to even get it?

Do you love the sleepless nights filled with dreams of recipes that fail, presents that are returned, and family that doesn’t make it home for the holiday?

Do we lose something, in this commercialized version of Christmas, or do we gain what we wait for all year, to be with our families, months of planning, all over in hours of endless preparations and a few minute meal.

Is this, what Christmas was meant to be? Is this, what Christmas felt like when you were a child? Is it filled with excitement and wonder and magic and awe of the beauty that surrounds you in the lights and the giant trees, and the bigger than life presents that Santa brought for you? Is this, what Christmas still feels like to you, today?

Or can we agree, maybe, that as we’ve grown older, our families bigger, and our hearts maybe a tiny bit smaller, (I mean, how often do you really see the neighbors anyway, they don’t need a gift from you)…can we agree that maybe, as the old saying goes, “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Perhaps, the Grinch was on to something.

I’ve always been in awe of the true meaning of Christmas. Whatever your belief may be, Christmas is filled with hope and majestic wonder. Just look into the eyes of a child, or a loved one. I dare you not to smile.

Joy. Laughter. Love. Excitement. Extravagance. Tradition. Closeness. Giving.

Just a few of the words that describe Christmas for me.

But if I’m honest, I’ve lost some of the magic, too.

It’s easy to do. I think that in our fast paced, need it now, have to get the best of the best, world, we forget that the true meaning of Christmas is love. That the true spirit of Christmas is in giving, but not just giving because we have to for the many reasons that we’ve been lead to believe, but giving because it comes from our heart. Giving that means something to us, from deep within us, because it gives us joy.

Stressing over what to get everyone and spending more money than we have does not bring us joy, let’s be real here.

Joy is in the little moments of putting up the tree with our family, baking with the kids, getting that gift off the top of our niece’s or nephew’s Christmas list because we can afford it, and we know how happy they will be playing with that toy, with us. It is in the moments of, regardless of a Christmas tree with presents under it, or food on the table, we are surrounded by people who love us, exactly as we are.

Christmas is a time of togetherness.

This looks different for everyone. This could look like family and friends or neighbors and community. It could look like many presents and a table full of food or no presents and an empty belly. Or any combination of these.

There is one ingredient that can’t be taken away, despite our outside circumstances, and that ingredient is love.

We all have it, and we can all give it. We all want it and we can certainly all use it.

It might take a little humility and vulnerability, I know. It might take biting your tongue, and loving them anyway, despite what they’ve done. It might take a phone call that you’ve not made in a long time or a visit you’ve been dreading all year.

But if we can try to remember, even if just for a moment, that the perfect gift is love. That the reason for the season is hope. For a better tomorrow, for a better me, and a better you. For a better world, one that remembers love.

If we can try to all be gracious givers this holiday season. To only give what we have, with love and joy. To be peaceful and patient, with kindness that comes from a heart filled with love.

Love doesn’t look like what we bring, it looks like showing up for someone. Our families, friends, and perfect strangers.

The things just simply don’t matter when you are surrounded by people you love, or at least like, somewhat. Try to like them a little more this year.

May the true joy of Christmas surround you this holiday season ❤️

There is something that has challenged me these past couple of years. I like to give, to family and friends, but sometimes I look around and I see that my family and friends are quite blessed. So, I look for ways to give outside of the usual presents, sometimes at the expense of gifts for friends and family, and sometimes extra, depending on my own financial circumstance.

I’ve challenged myself, and I’d like to challenge you, as well.

There are many organizations in our region. The YWCA is of course one of them. These organizations need items on an ongoing basis. I know this can look like a lot of work and maybe even complicated, I know it did for me at first. Even overwhelming. But over time I’ve learned a thing or two.

Poverty has many faces in our region. Causes are no longer just national organizations that we click a button on the webpage and donate our annual allotment of donation money, though this is of course a great way to give back. When we look around our cities, we see the faces of people that have come upon hard times. I know that you see them.

But if you’re like me, you might like to know that you’re truly making a difference, and may have no idea who to give to.

Can I challenge you to make it meaningful? To you, and maybe even your family?

We can give to an organization or organizations that mean something to us, whether past or present.

For example, though I’ve never used the services of the YWCA, it has meaning to me because there are many times that I have been in a place where I’ve thought of an emergency shelter as an option. To give back one year, I learned that they have a list of needs on their website and I donated formula and diapers. I had no idea this was an item that was needed. I didn’t think about it simply because I don’t have children.

I was challenged once to put one thing that I didn’t need in a box each day for 30 days. I can’t even tell you how much joy it gave me to bring a box of items that I loved, but really didn’t need, to a local thrift shop. Thrift shops give back in big and meaningful ways to the community, and the world. They even gave me a gift in return, a punch card with a discount for the next time I shopped there. I craft, thrift stores are gold mines for items to craft with.

When I was in high school, our grade 9 French class decided to give a family Christmas. This meant buying all the gifts and food for the family’s Christmas. There are a few organizations that do this. I will never forget this experience.

There are many people in need of winter items, hats, scarves, mittens, that you can buy at the dollar store, or donate from home, as well as gently used coats and boots. This is a great way to teach kids to give.

I have been blessed to be a part of a motel ministry that provides food, clothing, and support to those living in the many residential motels in our region. I had no idea that many of our motels are no longer for tourists. The people who live there need everything. Stop by, take a look.

Books can be donated to many organizations, if you happen to like to read, and wanted to pick up a few extra for someone else.

And of course, there are the beautiful red kettles, of an organization that works tirelessly to combat many things, but hunger certainly being an important one of them.

The more I learn about what the organizations in our region do on a daily basis, the more inspired I am to give, based on what has direct meaning to me, or what might be an immediate need in our region right now, such as shelter and a warm meal during the cold months.

If you can’t give money, give time, and vice versa. Be creative. There is something that you have that someone else needs, whether it is time, talent, or treasure.

There are people in need all around us.

Have a wonderfully blessed holiday season.

Healthy Co-Parenting with your Ex

Crystal

Let’s face it folks, times have changed. The traditional family is no longer that traditional. More and more often couples are finding themselves in a position where they no longer want to ‘couple’ but are, regardless, looking ahead at years of obligatory interaction due to their children.

For the past 6 years my ex and I have been called things like: weird, surreal, amazing, and the ‘poster children’ for divorce. As much as I enjoy praise, (come on, who doesn’t?) it also breaks my heart a little that our situation is so uncommon.

I have questioned what it is that makes our relationship one that, while never perfect, has always been equitable and pleasant. Is it because one or both of us are perfectly rational, emotionally mature individuals who should be therapists in our spare time? Uh…nope (shush Dan, I can hear you from here).

What we have found together, though, is a friendship that has grown roots in today, and plans for tomorrow, rather than lingering in yesterday. Here are the lessons we learned along the way, in the hopes that our style of healthy co-parenting becomes the norm rather than the exception.

1) THE KID COMES FIRST

This is the foundation upon which every decision we make is based. It is non-negotiable. This is, unfortunately, also where so many relationships go wrong. Anger and resentment gets in the way, people want to hit back, or score points. Stop it! This is not about you. It doesn’t matter who did what to get you there, the fact is you’re there. Take responsibility for the child you created, and their well-being. What is in their best interest? What kind of life do you want for them?

2) COMMUNICATE (PLEASANTLY)

Whether you are talking to or about your ex, be civil. Do not bad-mouth each other in front of your child. You once loved this person enough to procreate with them. Point out their positives when you can to your children, so they can recognize them as well. Every child starts being told “oh, you have your dad’s nose” or “you’re so your mother’s son”. Don’t let them have a negative association with that half of themselves.

Communicate regularly when possible. Before my ex was able to move closer, we used to meet up at a coffee place every weekend to exchange our son. We spent an hour or so chatting about our weeks and what was going in our son’s life. While you might not be there, consider what small changes you can work towards to make the situation less adversarial.

3) BE A FAMILY

Yep, you heard me. Do stuff together. No, it’s not going to ‘confuse’ your child. It’s going to help them understand that while there is a new living arrangement, being part of a family doesn’t stop. We do birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s/Father’s Day, even Halloween. Camping and road trips, while not common, have been done. This is something that I give my ex SO much credit for. Over the years he has always gone out of his way to ensure he is present. On my end, I have always ensured he knew he was welcome in anything we do.

This feeling of family extends though. His parents stay with me when they come over from England. They want to spend time with their Grandson, and I love that! My mother and he have a hilarious relationship that involves shameless flirting. We all come as a package, and if a step-parent comes into the picture, they will absolutely be wrapped in that package.

4) BE THE GROWN UP

SO many aspects of healthy co-parenting fall into this category. Often, when parents split, the relationship shifts from parent/child to grown up/buddy. They don’t need you as a friend. They need you as a guide, a rule-setter, a loving pair of arms, and a safe place to land. Don’t try to use them as a sounding board to vent your venom over the injustice of it all. It is NOT their problem, it’s yours. Call a friend, or a hotline. Open a bottle of wine after you’ve finished ‘adulting’ and have a Facebook rant. By trying to force your child into the role you want them to fill, you are denying them their childhood. Be the grown up they need you to be in this difficult time in their lives.

All of the small choices we’ve made through the years have all fallen into one of these categories. It has made our lives so much more positive, and frankly, so much more enjoyable. Kudos to all of you out there right now who are doing your best, and keeping your integrity in difficult circumstances. I wish you smoother seas ahead.

Just remember, when in doubt, go back to #1.

“If your mom was a super hero, what would her super power be?”

This year our bloggers wanted to know what their children’s responses would be to “If your mom was a super hero, what would her super power be?” Here are some of the responses:

Crystal

So, asking your kid “if I was a super hero, what would my super powers be?” opens up a dialogue I think every parent should have with their kid(s). My 9 year old son’s answers were both, by turns, eyebrow raising, laughter-inducing, and tear-jerking when I realized how impressed he is by the simple things I do every day. I think we both came away from our chat with an even bigger appreciation for each other.

Also, as a note, should people think this was easy, it took my kid 3 days to bother thinking about the question, and then the threat being unable to continue his video game should he not throw me a bone. So no, he isn’t quite as perfect as these answers are going to make him sound.

My super powers were:

1) Super strength-because when he comes home every day he lauches himself at me and I can still catch him with one arm.

2) Super human computer abilites-because I “know how to do everything on a laptop”

3) The ability to fix ANYTHING- I put a memory card in his smart watch and was sewing something at the time.

And my favourite:

4) The ability to stare down a villain until they tell the truth. Oh God that one made me laugh. Pretty self explanatory that one.

Laura

My daughter says: “Teleportation, because she’s never late.”

My son says: “The super power of infinite hugs.”

Holly

My four year old said that my super power would be, “Moana”. I don’t even know what that means… Lol!

Roxy

3 1/2 year-old Kayla says, “Elsa. You need to be Elsa!!! Elsa got powers. Blue powers that froze Anna’s heart.”

Brande

“My moms super power is knowing what I’ve done, from the things I don’t say.”

Autumn

My 9 year-old son Jesse says “To give people lots more health and to have more health for you too. To give health whenever you touch somebody.” My 6 yr old Savannah says ” To stick on the wall and lazer eyes and other thing too..let me fink…electrocute hands and one more thing o.k…o.k…ummm Speedy.” lololol I am sure going to be busy as a super hero!! I better go get some sleep! hahahaa

Happy Mother’s Day

IWD Reflection

I had the privilege and pleasure of attending multiple International Women’s Day Events throughout the region. I wish I could have attended them all. I can’t even describe the empowerment I felt while being surrounded by incredible, strong, brave, bold, and passionate women.

One of the events I was able to go to was the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce’s Women In Niagara Council’s International Women’s Day event on March 3rd. Club Roma was filled with brilliant minds. Everywhere I looked, there was an outstanding woman that I wanted to know.

The keynote speaker was Teresa Cascioli. I was thrilled to be able to hear her speak. I was torn between typing out all of the impactful things she was saying so I could tweet them, or just soaking up the moment and letting her words really resonate with me. I did a mixture and I’m still not sure which one would have been the best option.

Teresa said, “Prior to selling my business no one listened.” It was as though Teresa’s voice didn’t matter because she had yet to have a great accomplishment. She then asked the important questions and you could hear the room nod in agreement: “Why do women have to say it more often? Why do we have to say it louder? Why do we have to prove ourselves?”

One of the most important and reoccurring messages throughout the event was you have to be impatient for results.

The WIN council also presented Rosemary Hale with the International Women’s Day Award. I was so excited to hear her speech, I couldn’t even consider recording any notes. I watched as Rosemary accepted the award with grace and honour. She inspired us all with talk about her past being the first female dean at Brock University. She is now retired and loving it as she has time to be a strong advocate for arts, volunteer at Hospice Niagara, and continuing to write. When she brought into focus her mentor Nora who said, “Life is drama. Every minute of our lives is drama…a slice of drama.” The idea that drama can be a good thing and not just with an arts background. Taking to the Be Bold For Change theme, Rosemary emphasized just how important it is to start demanding results, and start demanding change. To really do something about what you are passionate about in order to make a difference. “It’s about loving your bold, showing your bold.”

Broadband’s 25th Anniversary Performance of Women in Music Benefit Concert for the YWCA Niagara Region happened this past Sunday. The event is to celebrate International Women’s day focusing on Women in Music.
It was amazing! Listening to the inspirational songs including one about Nellie McClung. If you’re interested in catching a little taste of what the music was like, check it out 
here. The positive and empowering vibes from the band and the attendees was refreshing. Hearing reflections of the past made me want to do more research and spend time thinking about women in our history who really have made a difference for us.

Thursday was actually International Women’s Day. I attended the Be Bold For Change event which happened at Gwen’s Teas. Although I showed up late and missed networking with some other attendees, I really enjoyed the event. It was nice to see people have an outlet to write down how they would be bold for change and why they identify as feminists. Everyone brought their own thoughts, opinions, and reasons for being there. The discussion around politics was insightful. It just clarified all the more how important it is to involve women in politics. These discussions are exactly why we need more events, more meetings, more conversation around what women really can do.

All of these events opened my eyes to so many things. They made me really think. “It’s about showing your bold,” ran through my mind for days. That’s when I realize, being bold isn’t just about what is outlined on the International Women’s Day website (although those are great pledges), it’s about finding what works for you. I did make the pledge to celebrate women’s achievements because I think successes need to be acknowledged. I still stand by that pledge. Earlier this year, I also made a promise to have my voice heard in a blog post for the Practical Feminist after the Women’s March in January. But now, after all of these events, I pledge to find my bold and use it to help women.

 

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Why I participated in the Women’s March

Nicki

My daughter asked me to write a blog post on why I participated in the Women’s March organized by the YWCA here in Niagara, which was in tandem with hundreds of marches around the world on January 21st.

While I talked about standing in solidarity with my American sisters, I want her to know I did it for her, I did it for the other women in our family, especially for my granddaughters.

Especially for my granddaughters.

I did it especially for my granddaughters because I don’t want them to experience the blatant discrimination I often experienced while growing up in the 70’s and on through the last forty years. I don’t want them to ever second guess their ability and how it measures up to a man. I want them to grow up feeling 100% equal to any man, period.

You would think that in the forty years since the second, third and fourth waves of feminism have gone past we would have seen real change… and yet we haven’t. There have seen small changes, girls and boys are able to compete against each other in sports, although we still have to make strides for women and men to compete against each other. There are men who take a more nurturing role in parenthood…at least in my circle of friends and family I’ve seen a more equal division of tasks. In Canada, women have choices when it comes to their body and whether she chooses to keep a baby or not, although for many in the United States this choice has been taken away or made much more difficult to access.

These changes are small and aren’t enough. Men still earn more money than women, even if they are doing the same job. Men still are promoted at a much faster rate than women. Men still don’t take on half of the family duties, leaving the majority of the household chores and child rearing duties to their female spouses. Men still feel it’s ok to tell a woman what to do with her body. Men still think women are able to give consent when they are passed out drunk.

The lack of change on these issues are often blamed on women for not standing up for themselves and speaking up about it. There are some women who blame other women for this lack of change instead of all of us looking at the systemic changes that need to happen. And for that, we need men to shut up and listen, and that may take some time.

I marched with millions of women because I want the women in my family, and all young women for that matter, to be able to stand up tall, to not question themselves, to love freely and to be unconventional. I don’t want my granddaughters to define themselves through traditional values, unless of course, they choose to themselves. I want to ensure that women’s equality progresses to the point where we can actually say we are truly equal, and I want to be around long enough to see this happen, for my daughter, my daughter in laws, and especially for my granddaughters. Because it is about time.

“Because it is about time.”

We have talked about equality for a long time. Generations of women and men have talked about it and I am getting a little impatient, especially for my granddaughters. (I used to say for my daughter, but I’ve given up on the notion that it will happen for her.)

I marched because I don’t want to see hard won fights regress. I marched because I wanted to wake up the silent majority, to make sure women’s issues are taken seriously. I march because I don’t want my granddaughters to ever be devalued by experiencing discrimination in any way.

Recommendations for a Very Good Bath: Finding Your Chill Zone

Jennifer

I’ve gained a reputation (in my house) as someone-who-takes-baths-very-seriously. I wasn’t always a serious bather; I showered almost exclusively from the ages of 12 –25, but the bath has recently become the most important part of my self-care routine. I’m on a one-bath-per-week minimum these days, and it’s an actual ceremony. It’s ~a dance~

Bath GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

I flip the laundry basket upside down and drape a towel over the hard plastic so that you can’t see the hard plastic (ambiance is Very Important). I strategically place my computer on top so it’s at the right height to watch in the tub, from where I’ve watched all of the classics: Gilmore Girls, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the Grinch (in season). I have a book too, or instead, probably something with feminist undertones, really. If I’m reading, the 8tracks playlist hastags like ‘Chill’ ‘Jazz’ ‘Winter’ ‘Relax’ or ‘Piano’.

 

I have a Very Big mason jar full of icy lemon-water or green tea, set in the front-left corner of the towel that’s draped over the laundry basket. I pull out one or two essential oils – maybe rosemary, then lemongrass, or maybe lavender, then bergamot – and I put them on the edge of the tub where they wait for me until I’m ready.

I flick the lighter and light the end of a Balsom Fir incense stick from a box that I was gifted by a friend at Christmas two years ago. I take a second to reflect on the almost-empty box. I know I’m going to miss the smell. It’s woodsy and it makes me feel like I’m outside. I light a candle or two, too.  I drop in the special combination of essential oils (the rosemary and lemongrass or the lavender and bergamot) at a rate of 10 drops per oil, and I hop in. For the next hour I inhabit a territory that I like to call a “chill zone”.

 

Chill•ŸZone noun The mental and/or physical space or state in which you are most comfortable, relaxed, zen, clear-minded, and peaceful.

 

Ideally, an act of self-care will allow you to spend time in your “chill zone”. I’ve bestowed this name upon a room before, but it isn’t always a physical space. It could be sitting on a bench taking deep inhales and exhales of fresh air. It could be drinking black coffee and starting a new book. It could be drawing in your journal while sitting beside a Vanilla scented candle. It could be watching a movie with your cat. Maybe it involves using something that a loved one gave you as a gift. Maybe it’s eating a big bowl of spaghetti bolognese with lots of Parmesan shaved on top while you listen to Amy Winehouse. Your “chill zone” is your own space and it’s up to you to find it and spend time there. For me, it’s a Very Good Bath, and I suggest that you give it a try.

 

 

Giving Thanks, this Thanksgiving

On a good day, it is easy to express thanks, share that feeling of contentment and be grateful for all you have.

Let’s look at gratitude on a bad day…week….month,  or year.  It’s hard yes, but not impossible.

The Thanksgiving holiday, from an emergency shelter perspective, is something I wish everyone could experience.  Not to be homeless, I do not wish that on anyone.  I am talking about the incredible sense of community that happens at our King Street shelter in October.  The generous spirit of the Niagara community never fails to amaze me.

Local businesses, service clubs and individuals donate food and funds, enabling our top-notch team in the kitchen the ability to prepare the most delicious turkey dinners.  Included are all the trimmings, and a few extras that we consider luxuries in the non-profit world.  All in an effort to make the day one of a celebration of family, community and thankfulness.

People that have never met share what they have – with those in difficult circumstances.

I am honoured to see firsthand how this gesture from the community in their donations, and volunteering of their time, their caring …….fills the women and families at the shelter with gratitude.  You can see it in their faces and feel it in their hearts.  Someone cares, even when things look…well, bad.

To everyone that finds it in their hearts to give of themselves this Thanksgiving – THANK YOU, I am truly grateful  for the hope you provide for the women and families we serve.  Experiencing this every year, I am given the ability to draw on this feeling of connectedness when I am having a bad day.  It also makes me reach out, beyond myself to help raise my community up – and for the ability to that…..I am also grateful.

 

 

 

A Tribute to My Father

He was the first man I ever loved. He was wild and dangerous. He was exciting but scary. He had a disarming smile that barely disguised the vile temper that dwelled beneath it. He was a contrast of moods and temperament. He could be the most fun you ever had or your worst nightmare. He was a hard worker who partied even harder. He hung out with hard-core bikers but he also had a strong belief in God. He was either your best friend or your nastiest enemy.

There was never any middle ground with my father.

He was a combination of many personalities. He was a lot like Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa but with a twist of Elvis Presley thrown in. He was also very much like Ray Donovan with his secret life and violent streak. There was never any warning when someone was about to feel the sting of his wrath. He wasn’t a big talker so when he snapped and lashed out at someone they were usually astonished. Most times they didn’t even know what they had done to make him angry. It could be as simple and innocent as a look he perceived you were giving him to something someone said that he found disrespectful or distasteful. But then, there was also a side to him that was very much like Dominic Cooper in the new series on TV called Preacher. He tried really hard to walk the line of good and truth. But, then he would get bored or he would meet up with someone from the past and his wild streak would take over.

My mother left us when I was 14 and he took it really bad. They had been fighting for years and she decided she had enough. The problem was that she had left with his best friend. He was outraged by the betrayal and stayed out late at night trying to drink his feelings away. Within a few months we went to live with our mother and her new man. It was awkward and uncomfortable but we didn’t have any other choices. For the next couple of years my father went through women and booze like there was no tomorrow.

Then suddenly, he hooked up with a woman who belonged to the same cult that my parents had joined when I was 5 years old. When they got married a couple of years later, he dropped out of our lives. I tried to reconnect with him over the years but eventually I gave up when I saw how uncomfortable he was because of the way his new wife acted around us. She alternated between ignoring us and being outright rude.

Years went by without hearing anything from him. His family continued to tell him to contact his children and make amends before it was too late. But by then he felt too much time had passed and he was afraid we would reject him. He didn’t handle rejection well.me with jimmy and parents

The call that I had been awaiting for years came on a freezing cold day in February of 2008. We had been out riding on our Harley Davidson when we came home to a voicemail from my uncle and his wife asking me to call back right away. I told my husband that my father was dead. He said it could be a hundred different reasons why they were calling. But I knew! I knew in my heart that he was gone, I could just feel it. But, I made the call and sure enough she said he had died the day sometime during the night. I asked her if he committed suicide. She was horrified and could barely get out the words, “the Jimmy I know would never do that…”. I calmly responded with, “well, the Jimmy that I know, would!”. She gave me the name of the funeral home and quickly got off the phone. I was numb but I wasn’t shocked. I had been there the times he had tried to end his life. He would call me on the telephone and I would go to him, sitting beside him all night, making sure he didn’t die on me. He didn’t reach out to me in the end. I guess he thought it was too late. He must have thought that too much damage had been done for me to forgive him. He was wrong. If he had made that call I would have gone to him. I would have helped him get the help he needed. I would have tried one more time. I would have given him one more chance.

Later, I would find out that he died alone in a room he was renting from a couple who lived in a big house in the same city as me. He had overdosed on the painkillers and psychiatric drugs he was self-medicating with. He had been going to different doctors getting multiple prescriptions and then filling them at different pharmacies.

He was wrapped in a bunch of blankets but he was very cold to the touch. His beautiful face was bloated and distorted.

There was no funeral, no burial, no closure. I went to the funeral home to see him even though his ex-wife (the executrix of the will) said that he didn’t want anyone to see him. The funeral director tried to talk me out of seeing his unprepared body because he said it would traumatize me. I bluntly told him that after years of working in palliative care nothing would shock or scare me. I was taken to a back room (with my loving husband at my side) and he was there in a body bag on a stretcher. He was wrapped in a bunch of blankets but he was very cold to the touch. His beautiful face was bloated and distorted. I talked to him for a couple of minutes and then kissed him goodbye on the forehead.

He is at peace now. He isn’t suffering anymore. But I’m left with more questions than answers. We weren’t included in the reading of the will or given any details about his life leading up to his death. He was cremated and the ashes were given to my grandmother. He is going to be buried with her when she dies. Last year I contacted the Coroner’s office and I was told that I was legally entitled to know everything that was discovered during the death scene investigation. I received the package from the Coroner’s office and found a few surprises. I learned that he had 2 tattoos, which shocked me. He had always been adamant that tattoos were trashy and getting one was equal to defiling your body. Also, he had been under the care of a psychiatrist. Perhaps he had finally tried to slay the demons in his head. Lastly, he died before morning, as he sat on the side of his bed. The last phone call he made had been to his ex-wife. She told the investigators that she knew he was taking lots of different pills and had been depressed, but she denied knowing that he was suicidal. I also found out that he had been excommunicated from the dangerous, mind-control cult he had committed himself to years ago. He was also divorced from the woman who treated us like we were nothing and didn’t matter.  If I had known those  pieces of information sooner I would have absolutely reached out to him one more time. My biggest fear since I was 16 was that he would die before we could make amends. My worst nightmare became a reality on  February 2, 2008.

The only things I have to remember my father by are his cane, an old unopened Elvis Presley calendar and pictures from the past. His ex-wife gave away his belongings to her children even though my brother specifically asked her for his guitar that he carried with him since 1961. His family was outraged by the way we were discarded but were helpless to do anything about it. If he were alive to see all of the changes in the world and all of the corruption and scandals that are finally being exposed, I think he would have had an easier time adjusting to life outside a controlling cult that commanded and demanded that he choose them over his own flesh and blood.

My father’s death forced me to face all of the bad things I had suppressed and repressed for so many years. But, it also showed me who truly cared about me and my family. My father, James or Jim,  would be extremely happy to know how much closer my ties with his biological family have become.

Today, my life has come full circle.

I grew up feeling like an orphan from the time my parents joined a “doomsday” cult when I was 3 and they cut off all family ties to anyone who wasn’t open to joining too. Today, my life has come full circle. I was recently given pictures from my childhood that I have never seen before. It’s been very healing for me to have visual proof that I had lots of people who cared about and loved me when I was a little girl.  It’s great to have the images in my head match the pictures I’ve been given by a thoughtful relative who remembers when we disappeared from their lives.

Sometimes I feel my father’s presence and it comforts me. I don’t know if it’s wishful thinking or if there’s an afterlife but I’m keeping my options open…just in case I get one more chance to see him again and tell him everything I know.

 

An Open Letter To My Dad

Dear Dad,

Communicating with each other has never been a strength of ours, so I’ll just jump right in. We’ve had our fair share of disagreements and for the longest time, I was always the child who had to do what she was told. Sometimes, it’s hard for you to remember that I’ve grown up into an adult now and sometimes, it’s hard for me to remember that you only want what’s best for me. So, thank you. I don’t tell you this enough, but you amaze me. You are so talented with fixing anything around the house which, as a child, didn’t mean much to me. But you were able to use those skills to solve my problems like fixing broken necklaces and even shoes when I was younger! Now I’m able to appreciate your skills and your heart. We don’t say it and we rarely express it, but I am so grateful that you are my dad. I got really lucky. I guess all I really want to say is thank you for always being there, despite our disagreements and despite our lack of communication sometimes. Like most of our conversations, I’ll keep this sweet and short. Thanks dad and I hope you have an amazing father’s day.

Love always,

Evelyn