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My Letter To YOU

This post was written by our client Linda. We changed her name to protect her privacy. Coming to the YW has changed Linda’s life, one step at a time. 

Hello, my name is Linda. I’m an 18 year-old female. I would like to begin my story by giving you a brief overview of the roller coaster that has been my life.

The Early Years. 

From the moment I was born, life was not so easy.

During pregnancy my mother was in active addiction and I was born withdrawing due to my mother’s drug use. My earliest memories as a young child are those of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect. As a result of this I developed anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

 

Somewhere In The Middle

I can remember being enrolled in school later than most of the other kids. I believe I only started in grade 1. Never having the chance to attend JK and SK, I was behind. I attended classes that had fewer kids. I began to catch on quickly, and did my best to fit into the box that society classifies as NORMAL. During my elementary school years not much had changed at home and I began to normalize the abuse and neglect. I began to excel in school and took an interest in as many extracurricular activities as I could. I struggled every day with what I am now able to identify as my mental health. As a young child I just wanted to be like the other kids, fit in and be accepted.

I did my best to fit into the box that society classifies as NORMAL

As Time Went On

I excelled in my extracurricular activities at school, gymnastics, wrestling, swimming and track and field. I was popular and well-liked by my peers. I started high school and even attended OFFSA representing my school in many different forms of sports. I received trophies and medals. On the outside looking in no-one would have known all of the daily struggles I was facing just to get up each morning, and show up. I intended on keeping it that way but I felt so alone.

The Overflow

The adolescent years are a strange time for us. All of the pressure to fit in, especially as a female. Always being told we need to look a certain way to maintain our popularity. Having all of the hormones of a typical teenager, all while trying to cope with my mental health, was not easy. I began to self-harm, and developed an eating disorder in order to deal with the constant overwhelming feeling of having no control over anything in my life.

When that didn’t work, I began to experiment with recreational drugs. It worked. I didn’t feel anything. I liked it. Before I knew it, I was relying on these substances just to make it through the day. Before I knew it, I was no longer excelling in sports and was hanging with a whole other group of people.

I began engaging in some very risky behaviors. Some of the things I experienced in the early years of my adolescence are situations that no one ever has to deal with in a lifetime. Overdoses, episodes of drug induced psychosis, physical and sexual assaults. All before the age of 18. I went from school to school, house to couch surfing, what feels like a million different programs, hospital stays. Bouts of sobriety and times of clarity to relapses and more active addiction. I felt that eventually if I pushed hard enough and broke enough rules, I would be evicted, discharged, and referred somewhere else. That was normal for me. So I pushed my supports away. As much as I knew I needed them.

YWCA

Finally, I was referred to a program through the YWCA, called the Off Site Transitional Housing Program. I was accepted and placed on a wait list. I was shown an upcoming available unit within the first few months of being on the wait list. It just wasn’t for me. The Transitional Housing Worker was willing to keep me on the list and offer me the next available unit. I was shocked. No one had ever really cared what I wanted or thought. I had a choice, I was in control of what I wanted for my life, and where I saw myself living.

I began to reconnect with all of my support systems again.

I was then offered another unit two months later. I instantly fell in love with it. It was the cutest little pad. A place to call my own. I began working with my Transitional Support Worker on a monthly basis, I was enrolled back into school. I began to reconnect with all of my support systems again. I have a fixed address. I have been able to have a safe place to call home. I began to work on budgeting skills and rejoined the wrestling team. As amazing as things were for me, I relapsed and began to engage in drug use. I had been down this path before with a similar program.  I was self-sabotaging. I knew I would be discharged from the program, I had broken the rules. This was my way out. As much as I loved the program, this much stability all at once was a bit scary for me. I was in for a surprise though, I was not discharged from the program.

The crazy thing is that my worker never left.

My Transitional Support Worker set firm boundaries and rather than making the choice for me, she continued to let me make my own choices. For the first time in my life, no one was going to force me into sobriety, I would have to make this choice for myself. I rebelled against this for about a week. The crazy thing is my worker; she never left. She was there every time I called, she helped me to access detox, and advocated for me with school. I felt so ashamed that I had relapsed. I was assured that relapse is a part of recovery, and that my worker was here to support me through the process. I set new goals for myself, entered into a contract, which helped to hold me accountable for my choices. I started back at school and was able to pick right back up where I left off.

Ongoing Journey

I am still a participant of the Off Site Transitional Housing Program, I am in grade 12, I will be graduating in June, I have been accepted into College and will start in September. I attended OFFSA this Fall representing my school for wrestling and placed silver overall. I have enrolled to attend a treatment program for the summer. I believe that I am alive today and succeeding due to the ongoing supports that I am receiving through the YWCA. The amount of supports and programs that are offered to the women that this agency serves is phenomenal. This is an organization that truly stands behind their mission statement. They offer 24/7 supports to anyone in need.

I believe that I am alive today and succeeding due to the ongoing supports that I am receiving
through the YWCA.

I have the ability to access the agency anytime, as they are always there to support. I know that I have a really long journey ahead of me and a lot of hard work. The most assuring feeling I have is knowing that as a client of the YWCA I will never have to face this journey alone.

Until Next Time 

I’m very eager and excited to see all that I will have accomplished by this time next year. I know that I have an amazing support system in my corner through the YWCA and I look forward to continuing to share my ongoing successes with you.

Sincerely,

Linda

 

To The Women Of Tomorrow

Dear Women of Tomorrow,

As I write this to you on International Women’s Day, two words keep running through my head, “don’t settle.” Don’t settle for inequality, racism, sexism, bigotry or intolerance. Don’t settle for less than equality. Your opinion and experiences are valid and valued. You are a change-maker. You are our future and I believe in you.
You are strong, brave and capable of anything. You can be the change you want to see in the world. It’s going to be hard but you are resilient. With every one of life’s challenges that has (or has yet to) come your way you grow. You will learn your strengths, to embrace your weaknesses and beauty of seeing new perspectives. You are unique, with each fresh perspective that is seen and voice that is heard society will continue to evolve. Discomfort inspires change. Be intersectional, be inclusive.
You are our future leaders, entrepreneurs, creators, artists, activists and more. You can can create societal and political change for the women who come after you. Know and understand what has happened in humanity’s past and strive to be better. Be better than us and those that came before us. I support you, I believe in you.

“I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking: what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther?”
Rupi Kaur

Written by Valerie Chalmers

www.ValerieChalmers.com

Activist, Creator & Influencer

Co-Chair of Promotions & Marketing Committee, Niagara Leadership Summit for Women

Podcast Host, Guest & Recording Engineer

Member of Promotions & Marketing Committee, NoFixed Address

Member of St.Catharines Culture Plan Subcommittee

Pathetic Love Songs

Full disclosure, I love a good love song. But every now and then, singers or their writers just get it all wrong. Love is a two-way-street, so please – do not be the first in line, in hopes that when he changes his mind, he can take a chance on you. You’re better than that.

One of my favourites though, when it comes to songs with a protagonist who is utterly lacking self-worth, is hands down “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. Why, you ask? I’ll show you…

JOLENE

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man

DOLLY! I am begging of YOU! If he makes you feel like you need to beg Jolene not to take him, you are with the wrong man!! It’s not about Jolene, this is about you and your man.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can

Again, Dolly, why can she? Why do you think she can just walk up to your man and take him? Something is not right here.

Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green
Your smile is like a breath of spring
Your voice is soft like summer rain

OK, fine, that part is poetic and Jolene does sound like she’s quite pretty.

And I cannot compete with you, Jolene

No, Dolly, just NO! Never mind that I am sure you could compete with her, but why do you feel like you have to in the first place? Does your man love you – yes or no? Can a few auburn locks be so impressive that he would just walk away from his amazing better half? If he makes you feel like you’re in competition with every pretty woman around you, he is a bad choice.

He talks about you in his sleep
There’s nothing I can do to keep
From crying when he calls your name, Jolene

AHA! Now, we’re getting closer. Just when she has the listener wonder how paranoid and insecure one can be, she’s finally telling us that she is not pulling these suspicions out of thin air. He talks about Jolene is his sleep, Dolly? Darn right, you can’t keep from crying. That is messed up. Have you ever asked him about that? Not something that would go unaddressed where I come from…

And I can easily understand
How you could easily take my man
But you don’t know what he means to me, Jolene

Dear Dolly, you are way too understanding. How can you say that? Let me handle this one for you: Jolene, you don’t take a man that is already taken. It’s as simple as that. So take that smile that is like a breath of spring and smile it at someone else. I should not have to point this out to you, Jolene. When they teach you to share in Kindergarten, that does not apply to significant others. Got it? 

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene (…)

You could have your choice of men
But I could never love again
He’s the only one for me, Jolene

There she loses me. I get it, this whole thing sucks. Here you are, all in love and here goes your man, talking about Jolene in his sleep but come on, Dolly? He’s the ONLY one? You could NEVER love again? There are plenty of fish in the sea, and there are seven seas, my friend.

I had to have this talk with you
My happiness depends on you
And whatever you decide to do, Jolene

Wrong again. Your happiness depends on YOU and what YOU decide to do, Dolly. This one’s not on Jolene.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene (…)

On this note, I hope that you felt loved this Valentine’s Day, this February and that you do every day – whether it’s by a partner, a child, a parent, a friend, or your pet rabbit. You’re worth it. You’re not in competition with Jolene or anyone and if he doesn’t make you happy, please, please walk away. Life is short.

 

A Love Song – or is it much more than that?

Oh, the month of February, it’s bitterly cold, snowy and even though the days are getting a little longer, the sun isn’t warm on our faces (the only part exposed as temperatures dip).
Why wouldn’t we welcome the loving month of February, celebrating  Valentine’s Day, Family Day – surely these tender feelings of love will help keep winter’s icy grip at bay – this month of all the months must warm our hearts.
You would think, but think again.  Love, is it over-rated, commercialized beyond recognition, twisted to sell any product, service or celebrity?
This said, we bloggers have been tasked this month of February to deconstruct a love song – open it up, examine it fully and reveal it’s truth.  insert disclaimer right here: This is my interpretation of it’s truth, and not those of the organization.
Here goes mine, and after careful consideration, and strange looks from my daughter as I listened to several love songs consecutively one evening – I chose Love Song, by Sara Bareilles.
I really enjoyed the honesty of the opening stanza ….Head under water, And they tell me to breathe easy for a while.  The breathing gets harder, even I know that.  You made room for me but it’s too soon to see If I’m happy in your hands, I’m, unusually hard to hold on to…
Nice, how she doesn’t go all gooey because someone wants her in their life, this girl is giving herself time to sort through her feelings – good life lesson.
Continuing in the chorus ……I’m not gonna write you a love song ’cause you need one, you see I’m not gonna write you a love song ’cause you tell me it’s make or breaking this, If you’re on your way, I’m not gonna write you to stay, If all you have is leaving I’m gonna need a better reason to write you a love song today….
Okay, standing up to a little pressure here.
She’s a song writer, you’d think it be easy to pop one out, all sappy, but NO.  She is definitely NOT writing a love song if without one, this person would leave!  Really, like no love song…fine, then I’m leaving.  Even if you could pop one out, I wouldn’t either.
Gets a little deeper and interesting now….You are not what I thought you were, Hello to high and dry, Convince me to please you, Made me think that I need this too, I’m trying to let you hear me as I am…..
 I am sensing angst here, clearly the person wants a love song – would that prove to them she loves them?  Flip-side, sure she writes songs, but that isn’t all she is, words aren’t the only thing that defines her, and she wants this person to hear and see who she really is – as a whole human being.
Now my favourite part….promise me that you’ll leave the light on, To help me see with daylight, my guide gone ’cause I believe there’s a way you can love me because I say, I won’t write you a love song….. 

 Who doesn’t want to be understood so well, that you can disagree, in fact, insist a little too much, that you are NOT writing a love song even if asked and still be loved.
Wrapping it up, she then states…..Babe I’ll walk the seven seas when I believe that there’s a reason to Write you a love song today…
The capacity is there, clearly when the relationship gets beyond the damn insistence of her writing that love song.  When the love is unconditional and reciprocated.
Makes you wonder, shouldn’t we all concentrate less on the mechanics of the love “song” and take the time to invest in a deeper connection, feelings that would compel someone to write a song about their love – with no prompting or forceful requests.  That is my take on this one.
May this February find you warm with the love of family, friends and enjoying some good tunes, who’s song writers, have touched you soul through their human expression of perhaps, just maybe a love song.

A New Year And A Not So New Society

By: Slavica Mijakovac

I find it interesting how when we talk about the New Year we speak as if we as people have somehow been reborn into something else, that somehow things aren`t the same anymore. That just because it`s January 1st someone’s able to change their whole behavior, routines and life instantly.

If that were true I wouldn’t be cringing after I read every #MeToo post on the internet or seeing articles upon articles of women and girls being the denied the justice they deserve because they somehow aren’t victim enough or their abuser has the power to shut them down like Harvey Weinstein did for 20 years.

When my parents moved to this country, they envisioned a better life for me than theirs. A life where I could get a post-secondary education, get a well-paying job, live in a house, get married, have some kids and live happily ever after with no worries. Unrealistic in so many ways but that’s all any parent wishes for their child.

When you immigrate to a new country, the dream of a better life is all you care about. I don’t know if my parents are disappointed with how things ended up turning but seeing how my dad thinks just me getting an undergrad will mean a high paying job means he clearly still believes in the dream. Makes me laugh because when my dad was growing up, that’s all he really needed. Now we need connections, experience, volunteer hours, we need anything that makes us unique, special.

Older generation think we spend too much time online and that’s true but what we’re doing is selling our brand, an image of ourselves to the rest of the world. This will help companies and organizations have an understanding of who we are as people, to see if we are the type of person they want to represent them and their organization, really what we’re building are connections but not everyone is an Internet celebrity, most people have practical jobs.

That’s why I find people’s displeasure with Canada’s raised minimum wage ridiculous because it truly means nothing when companies end up raising prices on items while cutting back hours. $14 nowadays is worthless because the cost of living keeps increasing. The time when a quarter meant you were a king is no more. Now it just means that you’re below the poverty line.

Being a woman makes things harder because as much as our former Prime Minister Stephen Harper liked to pretend that equality of the genders had been reached here in Canada, that’s not the case. The reality is when I enter the work force the likelihood that I will be paid the same as my male co-workers is slim to none, the probability of me being sexually harassed or even assaulted is high. Me being a woman, run by a world dominated by men makes anyone who doesn’t fit this pinnacle of idealness; rich, white, heterosexual, cisgender, able bodied, etc., an “Other”. This means that there are obstacles in my way created by our institutions that will make my progress of “success” much harder because I don’t fit the ideal society wants.

What I’m trying to say is that I may have citizenship status now but that will never erase the fact that my parents had to immigrate to Canada. They had to leave their lives in a place they knew to a brand-new country while having to learn not only a new language, but a new culture and history just to prove their “Canadian” enough to live here. It’s not easy. I am not a new me somehow because I’m Canadian. I will forever be both an immigrant and a citizen and that’s okay but as a woman living in this current political climate I wonder how a first world society can still be so backwards in how it views women and people of different races even after 150 years of existence. Clearly, society still has a long way to go before equality is truly achieved, let alone equity.

 

The $14 Minimum Wage, Dystopian fiction, and Amazon HQ2

I’ve had a thing for dystopian fiction ever since I read 1984, back when that date was, well… in the future. Dystopian books have always had a market and they’ve been especially popular in young adult (YA) publishing for some years now. Then there are the television and movie adaptations (everything from The Handmaid’s Tale to The Children of Men, Hunger Games, and The Maze Runner) that visualize dreary survival in a repressive time to come. It’s frightening and compelling to see imagined futures mapping out the world that might be if the present just shifted slightly to the more authoritarian side. Of course, dystopian novels have special resonance in eras of political or social anxiety, like say, today.

“Please Sir, I Want Some More…”

Lately, I’ve been indulging in a bit of my own dystopian imaginings. What would happen if, say, we allowed democracy to be eroded so much that we surrendered our (liberal) human rights and citizenship for the faint hope of economic security (or, you know, a crust of bread)? I have been thinking a lot about this since the Ontario government raised the minimum wage to $14 an hour, and since the Amazon HQ2 shortlist was announced (stay with me…I’ll try to come full circle on these two).

Way to Go on the Solidarity Front…

I was not surprised to hear yelps and complaints about the minimum raise hike from small businesses that are precarious or operate on tight margins. Clearly, wages are where these businesses squeeze their profits from and the few extra dollars per hour will reduce or, in some cases, eliminate them. Or so they say. We’ll have to see. I expect this type of response from business owners. Profit is within their interests. I am however, continually knocked back when I hear people who make a few dollars more than the legal minimum grumbling about others being raised up. Their chief complaint goes something like this: “but I make $17 an hour and it took me years to get here. Now somebody who just starts is going to make $15.” It kind of shows how low the bar is set and how the majority of us really don’t have a say in our worth when selling our labour. Worker can’t bargain (at least not individually) for more if an employer sees them as not worthy. You’d think that fact alone would make some people more receptive to government guidelines such as the lowest possible amount of money you can pay a person to work. You’d also think it would make us all more generous of spirit when it comes to our fellow human beings almost earning a living wage. Of course, there are ways around paying the lowest possible amount. Ask your pizza delivery person about that.  That—the work for hire and gig economy—is also part of my dystopian imaginings. It is, in reality, happening right now, and I reckon it will expand in the future. This is why we need to tackle precarious work on our fairness and equality agenda as well. And this leads me to the other part of my dystopian imagining, which is that the world where we trade our rights for a crust of bread is already here.

Fighting Over a Crust of Bread

Just the other day, OXFAM released a report on inequality that stated 82 percent of the wealth created in the world last year went into the pockets of the richest one percent. The report, released for the suits who gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, called on governments to “ensure our economies work for everyone” by “ensuring all workers receive a minimum ‘living’ wage that would enable them to have a decent quality of life.” The report also asked governments to make sure wealthy pay their “fair share of tax through higher taxes and a crackdown on tax avoidance” while increasing spending on public services such as healthcare and education. You can see Oxfam’s report here: https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2018-01-22/richest-1-percent-bagged-82-percent-wealth-created-last-year

Paying Tribute to Our Corporate Masters

The thing that frightens me is that while $17 an hour workers are sourly squabbling about their fellow underlings getting a raise, the richest man in the world is unashamedly asking our governments to give his company land and tax breaks and outright graft in order for him to set up shop in their communities and make more money. That’s right, cities across North America brought tributes to the feet of multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos’ empire, begging his corporation to bring jobs their way and shortlist them for a new royal city, erm, corporate headquarters. Amazon had prepared a ransom demand of “what we want from you in return for jobs” and governments all over North American bent over in servile compliance. Atlanta’s incentive bid included over $1 billion in free land, developments, tax breaks and bobbles. Boston waved $100 million in transit infrastructure and tracts of land. Chicago has apparently offered $2 billion in tax breaks. Also a contender, Toronto didn’t offer up any tax or  public treasure box subsidies, but is is already forking out to help build a “smart city” in a deal with Google’s parent company. Yes, of course having Amazon H2Q will bring a (hopefully enduring) economic boost and 50,000 jobs. But bribes and gifts for a monopolistic corporation whose founder has a net worth of $113.5 billion is truly science fiction worthy. While we whinge over whether people who work full time should (should?!) make a living wage, we have lost the plot and lost control. By all accounts, billionaire Bezos is a kind and giving philanthropist, meaning that when he chooses to spend his own money, he plunks it generously into charities and causes he believes in. Causes that he deems worthy. That’s lovely. That’s what emperors do. What’s nicer though, is that he and other uber wealthy citizens like him pay their fair share like the rest of us into the communal pot, so that Oxfam doesn’t have to run a campaign to remind world leaders that inequality is harmful and that living wages (like the $15 one Ontario will soon have) and taxes (not just taken from the $15 or $50-an-hour earners) are necessary for running a healthy, functioning democracy. A healthy, functioning democracy with things like infrastructure, health care, and education. You know…those state-provided things that make running a high-tech corporation possible.

 

Monthly Donors

“Imagine if one of your loved ones or family members was homeless. Would you help that individual?”

These were among the thoughts that ran through Jeff Smith’s mind as he experienced the Cardboard House while it was on display at the Pen Centre. Rather than
ignore this problem, he chose to take it personally and imagine that the homeless person was his brother or sister.

Monthly Donor Jeff Smith

Immediately, Jeff decided to become a monthly donor and to make the impact of his gift even greater. Monthly gifts provide a consistent and reliable source of funding that allow us to plan ahead, and allows the YW to strengthen the programs and services offered to homeless women and their families across Niagara.

At the beginning of this new year, please consider joining Jeff and becoming a monthly donor. Every little bit helps.

Thank you!

Blogger Talk: Christmas Edition

Can you share a favourite holiday memory?

Dana

Is it weird to say that I have so many horrible holiday memories? My sister was kind of a brat growing up and she would always freak out on Christmas morning over presents. All because of PRESENTS! That’s why I am so scared of gift giving. One of my positive memories is the first Christmas my boyfriend and I spent together. I honestly had no idea what to get him because I had only known him for a month and a half; so I got him a really big fuzzy brown blanket for his house. He didn’t have any blankets at all, which I thought was weird, so really it was like a gift for me too. I had NO idea what he was going to get me either, I was honestly hoping for candy. When I opened my gift, it was a really big fuzzy brown blanket! We each got each other the same thing! It was so funny; we loved our brown blankets. We still have them to this day (4 years later)– they are slightly less fuzzy but still just as warm and cuddly.

Valerie

I have so many favourite holiday memories. I literally think that every holiday season is my favourite. The older I get the more memories I make and the more friends I have to share these times with. Any moment spent with family or friends throughout the season laughing, creating memories and eating good food are my favourite.

What was your most memorable gift? Why?

Dana

I’m one of those people where gifts have little to no meaning to me; I’m a horrible gift giver myself and would rather just skip gifts all together and instead spend the money on a cheese platter to talk and hang out over. But one year my parents paid for a new set of tires for my car, and they told me that would be my only gift and not to be upset on Christmas morning when I didn’t have any presents. I told them I wouldn’t be upset; but as Christmas approached I was wondering if I would feel a little left out as my sister and parents opened up gifts. Christmas morning came around, and I felt really happy. I didn’t feel left out at all, it was awesome watching other people open their gifts! I also felt extremely thankful every time I drove my car and didn’t slip on snow or ice because of my spiffy new tires. Thanks mom and dad!

Valerie

The most memorable gift I have ever received was a toaster. When I was a kid we had an awful toaster. It didn’t matter what setting I used, my toast was always burnt. I relentlessly bugged my parents about getting a new toaster for months and they never caved. Christmas rolls around and nine year old me knows there is something fantastic in that large box with my name on it. I had no idea what was in it. I imagined it was a Barbie car or dollhouse and I could hardly wait to see what treasure was beneath the wrapping paper. To my dismay, it was a new toaster. I knew we needed one and that I had repeatedly asked for one but surely this wasn’t one of my presents. I was a dramatic child and was quite taken aback and disappointed that my imagination had lead me astray. As time went on I grew to appreciate and love the toaster, for it made perfect toast every time.

 Not in a festive mood, what are some coping strategies that have worked for you?

Dana

I am the definition of NOT festive. All my friend and coworkers are absolutely obsessed with Christmas. Then they find out I am kind of anti-Christmas. I blame my years of working in retail witnessing the worst of humanity and the constant blaring of Christmas music. I put up our tree maybe 10 days before Christmas; 2 years ago we realized we accidentally threw out our Christmas lights, so we went out to get more. IMPOSSIBLE! We went to every store that sold lights in the Niagara region, and because it was so close to Christmas, no one had lights (okay, they had the colourful lights but I only wanted white). So, I simply told my boyfriend we were not decorating for Christmas this year. He said okay. We didn’t decorate and it was awesome. Honestly the only thing I really like about Christmas is all of the food and it being more acceptable to drink Bailey’s in your coffee every day.

What is the one tradition from your childhood that you continue to do each holiday season?

Dana

My parents, sister and I always read “The Night Before Christmas” book before we go to bed on Christmas Eve. I typically don’t see my parents on Christmas Eve anymore because they live an hour away. I think they brought the book to our house on Christmas day and made my boyfriend and I read it out loud with them. We all take turns reading a page, and randomly my dad talks in a weird accent during his turn. Now I also read it out loud in a weird accent.

Valerie

I watch the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer every single year without fail. I remember having to look it up in the TV guide when I was a kid. My mom, dad and I would watch it together with delicious cookies and treats. I now get to do the same thing with my son and husband and it is one of my favourite parts of the holiday season.

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.

How to Stay Motivated During the Cold Months

What do you do to prepare for the cold, daylight savings? How do you stay motivated during this transitional month?

Dana

I live in straight up denial in early fall that winter is coming.

via GIPHY

I absolutely hate winter, hate, the darkness, and hate the lazy bum it turns me into. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my dog I would probably never leave the house.

Now that we have less daylight, it’s harder to get everything you want to get done accomplished before it’s dark. Come home, let the dog out, make dinner, tidy up – and bam the sun is starting to set! My boyfriend and I have been “night hiking”, just hiking in the dark with flashlights with our dog. We haven’t ventured into any serious hiking trails (I’m scared of coyotes…), but we spend an hour or so near these trails by our house that are close enough to civilization that if we screamed someone would hear us.

We also are attempting to make up a nightly schedule for weeknights:

  • Come home, play with the dog for a few minutes
  • Work out in the garage for 30 minutes at least
  • Make dinner/take the dog out (interchangeable)
  • Clean up dinner mess
  • THEN relax and watch TV

That being said, we had this idea since September and we have yet to do it. But I know if we don’t stick to a schedule we will spend the majority of the night cuddled on the couch with a blanket and really unhealthy food. Last year we decided to try out a meal prep service because we found ourselves eating pasta and other carby foods a lot. It actually went really well and we enjoyed the service! They send you recipes and all the ingredients, local and fresh food. I ended up trying a lot of new things and eating way healthier than the year before. I think we are going to do it again this winter because it kept us busy (we ate out way less) and it was easy!

I don’t want to talk about my dog again (although I am dog obsessed) but honestly, having a dog gets your butt off the couch. Our dog in particular has endless amounts of energy

Cooper

in the cooler months so we have to spend a lot of time outside trying to tire him out. I usually get quite sad and mopey during the months of darkness (the dark times as I like to call them), but ever since getting Cooper (dog) I haven’t felt that way. Maybe it’s because every morning I am outside for at least 45 minutes with him (and I think the sun is up by then) and I can get that time in the light that every human needs. I also have an office that is an entire wall of windows to outside so that makes the workday less depressing. There’s nothing worse than leaving for work in the dark and coming home and it’s already dark. Luckily I don’t have to do that anymore! I used to work in an office with no windows, but my coworker and I would go for a walk at lunch everyday just to see some sunlight. I think that’s important to do if you can!

All in all, I would suggest just trying to get out there and do as much as possible. It’s harder said than done but maybe picking an activity to do over fall and winter can help people get out there and socialize and not hibernate. Try and make a schedule and stick to it! If you want to stay inside, fix little things around the house or try out new and exciting meals! And when all else fails, just have a big cup of hot chocolate!