Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve - A Reprise

It's Christmas Eve.  
The girls are tucked into bed. 

We have been bustling around for the last week reacquainting ourselves with dear souls.  It is a good problem to be in the predicament to try to fit in all the people we love.  
But it wears me down, sometimes.

Christmas is crazy.  Really.  How could anyone disagree?   A "normal" Christmas is crazy enough, but this is our second year of having Christmas on the road, and it's even more difficult. 

This last week has hardly felt like Christmas to me at all.  I'm not in my space with my creature comforts and my familiar routine.  I thrive on routine and the familiar, so I'm learning to embrace the changes that put their finger on my weak spots and press down just to make a point.

But amidst all of the craziness and changes and mayhem, Christmas is really pretty simple.  Into a land where the Romans made terror and fear a part of everyday life for the Jewish people, the long-awaited Messiah entered in.... and the world has never been the same.

I posted this poem last Christmas and I felt I needed to again.  
It cuts right to the chase of who I am and where I live.

Merry Christmas.
God with us.

The Cradle

For us who have only known approximate fathers
and mothers manque, this child is a surprise:
a sudden coming true of all we hoped
might happen. Hoarded hopes fed by prophecies,
old sermons and song fragments, now cry
coo and gurgle in the cradle, a babbling
proto-language which as soon as it gets
a tongue (and we, of course, grow open ears)

will say the big nouns: joy, glory, peace;
and live the best verbs: love, forgive, save.

Along with the swaddling clothes the words are washed
of every soiling sentiment, scrubbed clean of
all failed promises, then hung in the world's
backyard dazzling white, billowing gospel.

Eugene H. Peterson

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Vignettes from a Visit

We're sitting across from our dear friends sharing breakfast together.   It's been awhile - there's lots to catch up on.  He's a Paramedic who's just completed advanced training which certifies him to perform procedures in the field that the average paramedic cannot.  This training was gruelling, technical and a long haul.  He tells us bits and pieces about the journey of getting from there to here - it's a relief to be finished.  But when he talks about his work it's his tales of the way he cares for people's spirits, the human interactions, and the words he has said that stop me in my tracks and I start to cry.

"Do you know, I say, how significant your presence is?"


Tim Hortons.  Lunch Hour.  Family of five sitting around the table eating and talking.  Suddenly there is someone standing behind us - the 17 year old daughter of my cherished friend.  She's just passing through, she tells me.  With her are 3 other teenagers - all in Winnipeg on a shopping trip.  They're not buying things for themselves or their families.  They've taken their money and are buying up warm winter clothes at the thrift stores to pass out to people on the street this week.  She has a sparkle in her eye as she tells us about it.

She's got the same heart that leans in the direction of everyone else that her momma's got.  Deposits put there from a lifetime of watching the offering always leaving their front door.   Hearing stories and seeing the response.

Now she's the one responding.
That momma's done good.
That's why I surround myself with her words and crave her presence.


We're back at the girl's old school.  It seems so big since we've left.  There's been an addition and changes which make the building we enter look foreign and cold.  The girls are here to surprise their friends by spending the lunch hour with them.  Hannah is jittery.  It's been a long time.  She was supposed to be back this year already and never returned.

So much has changed.

I walk her down the long hall to the grade six classroom where many of her friends make their home.  We poke our heads around the corner of the door  and she is instantaneously greeted with shrieks and screams and a gigantic embrace.  They say her name and put their arms around her - welcome her back into the fold.

Not forgotten.
Not replaced.

Just remembered and seen.
A place that still exists just for her.

Isn't that what we all want?


We were supposed to meet up last night after her shift at work.  It was going to be late, but it would be worth it.  Christmas is busy, so carving out an hour for the two of us to really talk (you know what I mean) wasn't easy.  We've been on the same road, this dear one and I.  Our road is bumpy.  It's got a lot of detours and twists and turns.  We've navigated it together and pulled each other off the shoulder now and then.  Her ears are some of the few to which I can say, "I can't find my way back" without fear of failure.

I was looking forward to our time together all day.  Thinking of the questions I wanted to ask and the stories I wanted to hear.  Knowing my story would be sought after and held thoughtfully and carefully like only she can do.

But the day was long.
The night was going to be short.
I was feeling pulled and was verging on empty.

The text was written, "I can't meet you after all."
I pressed send with regret, but not with fear.

She knows me, this journey mate.
And her reply of "I get it" and "I love you" was just what I expected from her.
There is no judgement there.  No questioning of sanity or motives.  Both are understood and known.

And that is why the visit that never happened is one of the most significant ones of all.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sacred Table

I was surrounded with sacredness tonight.

It was early evening and I was sitting on a hard bench in a beautiful, historic Anglican Church in Winnipeg at St. Benedict's Table.

I sat near the front, surrounded by soulful music, people I love, dim lights and the flicker of candles.  Behind me sits an adolescent boy with autism.  He has a service dog with him and he's busy coloring, ripping paper apart, waving his arms and moving around during the course of the service.  None of this bothers me.  In fact, it comforts me and reminds me that the table of God has ample room and lots of space for all of us.

The liturgy was nearly finished when Jamie made his call for the open communion they celebrate at St. Ben's.
"Behold what you are.  Become what you receive..." his words begin.
"For those who know Him or those want to know Him more....", they continue.

(For the record, I usually feel I'm more in the category of "those who want to know Him more".)

I go up with Mike, making a circle with strangers and friends to receive the bread and sip from the communal cup.  I stand quietly, serenely, and I wait.  The morsel of bread is handed to me gently - "The body of Christ, broken for you".  I take it and chew it slowly and deliberately.

The cup is making the rounds,  handed to each one in the circle, then carefully wiped clean for the next person in the circle - "The blood of Christ, shed for you".  I hold the cup and sip the wine, then walk away and take my place in the wooden pew I came from.

As the procession of people makes their way to the front of the church for their turn at the table, the teenager with autism stands in the circle.  He flaps his arms wildly as  the bread approaches.  He is eager for his bread - can hardly stand the wait to get it into his hands.  As it's broken and passed to him he grabs it and throws it into his mouth as though his life depended on it.

The cup comes close to him now.  The wild arm flapping begins again, together with excited sounds and feverish anticipation.  The cup comes close and he grabs it with both hands, throws his head back with reckless abandon and chugs it down.  Not a sip or just a taste on the lips.  Full gulps.  Quenched thirst.

He not only really tasted it, he thoroughly enjoyed it.

In the midst of all the liturgy, the scripture, the homily, the ringing of the bells, the lighting of the candles and the music, it was the flapping arms - the aggressive chewing of bread, and the gulping of wine before me in which I found the most sacred moment.

"For those who now Him and those who want to know Him more...."?

I want to know Him like that.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sasha Loves Christmas (And we really Love Sasha)

Christmas really is way more fun when you have kids around.  Sasha, in particular, is very excited about all things Christmas this year.  She is, however, sad that Christmas holidays means she can't go to school for two whole weeks.  This kid loves school more than anything else.  You can see some of the reasons why by looking at her teacher's blog.

Sasha has become a voracious reader - reading anything and everything in sight.  A few weeks ago we went to the library together one evening to take out some Christmas books.  When we discovered that Christmas books could only be checked out for two weeks, Sasha was very concerned and worried that she wouldn't get enough books that she had picked out.

The next day was Saturday and we were all busy bustling around the house not really noticing what Sasha was up to.  Eventually I walked into the kitchen and saw her hunched over the kitchen table with a pencil, painstakingly copying out word for word, EVERY WORD in the book "Frosty the Snowman". She wanted to make sure she wouldn't forget the words after she had to return the book to the library!

One night last week Mike and were out for the evening and Hannah was babysitting.  When we came home from our night out, we discovered Sasha had made each of us a Christmas picture and laid it on our pillows.

I love the way she depicted our family looking a little like the Von Trap family.  Matching dresses for the sisters, and matching outfits for me and Mike.  I thought her rendition of Mike's "spiky" hair and stubble was quite a nice touch.

I can't wat intil crismis either, Sasha!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Attawapiskat - Take 3

(For a preamble to this post, you can read this first, and then this one.)

Attawapiskat is still in the news almost daily, and for that I am grateful.

How many of us had ever heard of "Attawapiskat" before the end of November?
I hadn't.   I'm guessing most of you hadn't either.

Now it's a word that most Canadians that follow the news will recognize.
And for that, I am grateful.

Can I be honest?

When I first wrote the blog post about our family focusing on Attawapiskat for the Advent season, I knew that my some of you would have a hard time swallowing it.  It's not the kind of story most of us like to hear about.  Suffering, substandard living conditions and children living in squalor don't exactly make for great Christmas reading.

But even more than that - I knew that the fact that the story was taking place on a remote First Nations reserve would make some of you uncomfortable.

As a general rule, we don't like to talk about how we as a society relate to and feel about First Nations people.  It makes us uncomfortable.   "We" don't understand Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) and the way their funding is dispersed to the Bands.  "We" don't understand Band politics and how different communities govern.   "We"  don't understand pictures where a family lives in a tent but has a big screen T.V. in the middle of it.  "We" don't get how a community builds a new hockey rink but has no funds for a school.   Something rises up in us.  "We" want words like "accountability" and "work ethic" to come into the conversation.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I've never backed down from a good political debate.  I'm a news junkie, and even though most of my news of choice comes through our national broadcaster, I like to think that I approach issues and stories with a healthy dose of open-mindedness and realism.  In all of the things that I've written about the crisis in Attawapiskat, I don't think I've ever laid blame solely on one part of the equation.  There's plenty of "blame" to go around.  And as I've mentioned previously, the Chief and Band Council of Attawapiskat have an abundance to answer for.  I've never disputed that.

Let us not forget, however, that when INAC passes out funding, it's not a blank cheque.  The powers that be have to sign off on expenditures and approve projects for the community before they come into being.  Surely some of the blame belongs there too.

What we're not talking about is how most of the people in Attawapiskat have become so voiceless, and powerless that they weren't able to stand up and insist on better action and results from the Band and Council.  Ask yourself what has happened to people to result in them giving up their ability to call out corruption.  When you are sitting alone in a tent covered in black mold with your four children while your leader sits idly by,  what makes you feel so invisible and hopeless that you can't demand and expect something better?

Silenced voices... powerlessness ... invisible beings ..... hopelessness - those are the issues in Attawapiskat that make me want to do something.

You can call me a bleeding heart Liberal or a "left-coaster", and I'll wear those badges with honor if it means that I'm standing beside the silenced ones.  That's where I want to be.

In the last week, some family members have emailed me the link to a SUN media commentator named
Ezra Lavant and his take called "Understanding Attawapiskat".  While those family members might have felt that they were enlightening me to the issues - pointing me in that direction really wasn't necessary.  You see, I already knew the issues.  I'm not naive and rarely put on rose-colored glasses.  Listening to commentators like Lavant only achieve one thing for me - they agitate me.  A little agitation is mostly a good thing.  So often, it gets the ball rolling and makes us act one way or another.  What agitates me about pieces like Lavant's rant is the tone.   He's the Canadian version of Glenn Beck.  The "Beck-like" tone smacks of arrogance and if there's one thing that makes me tune out, it's that.  Thank you for kindly trying to point me in the "right" (literally) direction, but I think I already found my destination.

I'm making myself at home where the invisible sit.   I don't so much care how they got there - but I want them to find their voice and be seen.  There are enough others out there who will trace their steps right up to their present situation, that much I know.  I only hope that some of the people tracing their steps will come and ask the voiceless ones to show them  their stories too.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Icing (It's Not Just for Eating Anymore)

Yesterday afternoon was our annual Gingerbread Cookies Decorating Extravaganza.  

Things got off to a bit of a rocky start when I was baking the cookies to be decorated.  I've made these cookies one million times and I've never hit a bump.  Well, yesterday I did.  But I flipped those babies over and baked them upside down on the pans a little longer to get the bottoms done.  Voila.  Crisis averted.  Let the fun begin...

Over the past few years we ramped up the creativity factor.  Gone are the days where we'd just make simple  Gingerbread "boys" and "girls".

We were focused....

... detailed...

.... and very serious.

We also like to brag a little.

Hannah and I both made clowns.  I thought mine was better than hers.  She thought hers was supreme.  When the votes came in, she won.  But I was still proud.

Sasha worked her magic on a monster.

Mike decorates cookies from two extremes.   It's like he's either designing the greatest mechanical engineering feat of all time, or like he's Picasso exploring color and line.  A few times yesterday, he'd get started and when we'd ask what he was making he'd give an evasive answer like "I don't know yet.  I just start with a color and see where it takes me."  He's spreading his wings in his middle age!

Here are the finished products!

For your viewing pleasure, here are some of our "signature collections".

The Star Wars Collection
Featuring Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Yoda and Chewie

The NFL Collection
Featuring our buddy, Randall Spenst, Greenbay Packers fan Extraordinaire

The Crazy Monster Collection

Two Clowns and a Snowman Collection

Cookies on their Sides Can be Animals Too Collection
Featuring a Fish and a Pig

Little House on the Prairie Collection
Featuring Pa and Mary

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas on Candy Cane Lane

This past Thursday afternoon was Confederation Park Christmas Show, "Christmas on Candy Cane Lane".  Since teachers in BC are still engaged in phase one of their Job Action with the Provincial Government, we weren't sure the teachers would be putting a Christmas event together this year.  Thankfully, the teachers at our school care enough about the excitement of Christmas and about the kids they teach that they made it happen.

The production was mostly a primary one, though the Intermediate Choir that Hannah sings in performed the songs for all of the dances.  This was the first time all of our kids have been involved in the same production.  That means this is the first time Mike and I have sat ALONE for a Christmas concert or production.  It felt a little empty beside us, but it was great to watch and hear all of our girls at the same show.

About a month ago Ellie came home from school announcing that she wanted to audition for a speaking part for the production.  She practiced the lines and took the audition seriously.  This is something she really wanted.  I like seeing that spark come into their eyes when it's something they really want for themselves and it has nothing to do with you.  To her delight, she got one of the main roles in the show - the part of the red candy cane - and she couldn't have been happier.

She really did do an amazing job memorizing a lot of lines and delivering them with lots of confidence and expression.  It looked like she may have found her "thing".  She loved every minute of the rehearsals, sound checks, and being on the stage.

Aside from her role as a candy cane, Ellie was also an elf in her class number.

Before long it was time for "He's the Man in the Bright Red Suit".  This was Sasha's song to dance to and she was so excited to actually be the one on stage performing instead of just sitting and watching from the audience like she's done for what must seem like forever.

There may have been a can-can line and jazz hands involved in her song.  It was that good.

As I said, Hannah was singing her heart out in the choir.  This next picture is just to demonstrate the sheer "amazon-esque" stature of her height in relation to her peers.  The kids beside her are in her grade. She was the tallest kid up there, including the singers from grade 7.  That means she holds the title of "tallest kid in the WHOLE school".  I'm not sure if you like that title when you're an almost 12 year old girl, but like it or not, it's her title to own.

Here's the whole cast!

Bows, accolades and applause.  A good way to end a show!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Baby Cheeks

There were years (and years) when if felt like all I did was look after babies.  Hold them, change them, rock them, nurse them, carry them, feed them, entertain them, read to them.... do you get the idea?


During those years the last thing I wanted to do was look after someone else's baby.  I had enough babies of my own, thank you very much.

My babies are big now.  My first baby is nearly as tall as me with a shoe size to match.   My middle baby can serenade me on her violin and make me laugh.   My last baby can read chapter books and clears the table herself.

And somewhere along the way, I started to love babies again.

My friend Lisa had her second baby almost a year ago.  Ava was born a pink bundle with a thick head of luscious blond hair and twinkly blue eyes.  I get to see her every day when she and her momma come to pick up her older sister from school.  I've been able to watch her grow.  And I like her.

I like to take her out of Lisa's arms while our older girls play on the playground after school.  My arms are empty and hers have felt baby weight all day.  I like to smell her head and squeeze her squishy cheeks together.  When I didn't know Lisa that well I would gingerly give Ava a little peck on her cheek, but now it's a full-out wet kiss.  She's beautiful and funny and I've grown to love her.

And she's a baby. See where I've come from?

Today I convinced Lisa to let me have Ava all to myself for the morning.  We played with blocks and looked at books and shook vitamin bottles.  We laughed at ourselves in the mirror and danced around the kitchen to Raffi's Christmas album.  When I changed her diaper I kissed her milky white thighs and rubbed her soft baby tummy.

I had nothing else planned for today.  No meal to make or groceries to put away.  No toddler seeking my attention or dishes to do.  I could give myself to her.... the way I so very often felt I couldn't (or wouldn't) give myself to my own babies.

Before long we were nestled on the couch and she was drinking her bottle in my arms.  Soon she was heavy with sleep and a little trickle of drool ran down her face as she let herself go into my arms.  We snuggled there, like that, for a long while and I marveled at how much I love to hold a sleeping baby.  To hear their soft slow breath and feel the weight of them abandoned against you in sleep.

I can't go back to when my girls were babies.  In all honesty, I really wouldn't want to.  But if I could, I would love them like that.

Focused, patient and all theirs.
How I wish I could love my babies like that again for just one day.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

That's Amore

I had the most lavish moment last week.

It was literally the shortest of moments - but it left a long mark on me.

I was standing out on Hastings street, waiting for my bus downtown, just after 9 in the morning.   As I waited, a familiar face appeared.  It was a Grandpa from my girl's school - a Grandpa who takes his twin 13 year old granddaughters to school each morning.

We chatted for a few minutes - I concentrated and focused to understand all of his words as he spoke with a gloriously thick Italian accent.  (It sounded like music.)

As we exchanged words, I saw two older men walking toward us on the sidewalk.  The Grandpa stopped mid-sentence and walked up to the one man and the two shared a  verbal greeting. (If listening to only Grandpa's Italian-peppered English sounded like music, two Italian Grandpa's speaking Italian to each other sounded like a symphony.)

And now the lavish moment.  Each man took the other's face in his hands.  These older men with calloused hands - worn and weathered from years of hard work.  They each held the other's stubble- laden cheeks in their hands tenderly and then kissed the other on both cheeks in a breathtaking moment of glorious affection.

The Italian symphony continued for a moment as I stood reveling in the exchange.

That's Amore, indeed.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Attawapiskat under the Microscope

I knew it would happen.  I just didn't expect it to come this fast or this furious.

Since the media descended on Attawapiskat this week after the news broke of the State of Emergency being declared, the story has shifted from the people to the books.

And that in itself, isn't a bad thing.

While the federal government reports that they have given 90 million dollars to the Band of Attawapiskat over the last several years, allegations of mishandling of the funds by the Band itself abound.

What has resulted is the Band being placed under third party management.  And again, that itself isn't a bad thing.

What is a bad thing is that the focus on the story has left the vulnerable, the cold, the suffering and the innocent in the dust.  Their stories are no longer the ones leading the story on the evening news.

There's no question that funds allocated to Attawapiskat have been mismanaged to some degree.  There's  no question that the Band Council and Chief need to take their share of responsibility for the deplorable housing conditions on the reserve.  But there's also no question that this is a systemic problem created from a history of  hurt, disenfranchisement, abuse and many broken promises.

And what remains from all that are cold people sleeping in tents and shacks.

I wish I could be more like my girls - I wish we all could.  All they see when they look at the pictures of the community are people who need help.  Cynicism hasn't had a chance to breed in them yet.

Let's focus on the people and hear their stories.
The power for change belongs to the people of Attawapiskat themselves.

For more details you can read and watch these reports.  Just to make sure my dad can't accuse me of brainwashing you all with persuasion of the left-wing CBC variety, the competition is included as well.

ctv report here.
cbc report here.

Perhaps the most helpful article, is this post written by a Metis blogger who tries to answer the critics from an "insiders" perspective.    I highly recommend it.