Category Archives: Gratitude

What Matters

This weekend is Mother’s Day.  Some people say it’s just another holiday made up by the greeting card companies to commercialize our feelings and to sell multitudes of flowers.

Now I happen to be a mother, so I tend to be very un-cynical about Mother’s Day with its homemade cards and focus on yours truly.  I actually adore this holiday.  I adore almost every holiday really.  I find they help me to mark moments within the year – a year that is usually moving much too fast for my liking – and make me pause and reflect on the important things.  And Mother’s Day is no different for me.

Every Mother’s Day for as long as I can remember we gather with my parents, with Craig’s parents, and sometimes my brothers family.  We travel into the city to spend the day all together with my paternal grandmother.  The only grandmother still living among us.  We gather in her common room and order Chinese food and exchange flowers and cards and gifts.  We take lots of pictures and tell lots of stories.

And it never fails.  Every year.  Every single year for as long as I can remember we make the time to do this.  Somewhere along the way we have said “this”.  This.  This is important to us, and no matter where we are or what we are doing, we always make time for “this”.  We tend to be a family of traditions in this way.  I love that about us.

But this year it’s not going to get to happen.  At least not on this weekend.  My son and I, along with my Dad I find out, have all been hit with a doozy of a bug.  The kind that lays you out for days and the type we would never want to risk taking into my 103 year old grandmother. (And no, that’s not a typo.  She’s 103.)

So I’m sitting here on the coach feeling a little sorry for myself that we don’t get to make that happen this year.  And I worry a little bit that by the time we get nine to thirteen people’s schedules back into play again, that it may not happen at all.  I’ve been sitting thinking about that a lot.  Worrying it may not happen.

But guess what?  That’s our choice.  It’s always our choice what we do with our time.  And I am bound and determined to make it happen.  I’m already counting out the days when we wont be infectious carriers of mean nasty viruses.

I guess that’s why holidays … all holidays … have never been just a commercialized event for me, and why they have always meant so much.  They mark a time when I purposefully set aside a day where nothing else gets to matter more.  Nothing else gets to matter more than this.  Than these people.  It’s a way to make sure the real moments happen with the real people who matter most.  Because sometimes in life we spend way too much time making the superficial things happen with the people who really don’t.

So although I won’t be spending this weekend surrounded by four generations of Robinson/Wilkie/Rhyno women, men, boys and girls, that’s alright.  We will make it happen.  I know we will.  Because we very purposefully set the precedent long long ago, that this is what we do.  This is what we care about.  This is what matters.

And for that, every Mothers Day, I whisper thank you.

These Women

It’s April.  Although you wouldn’t believe it as I gaze out over a good five feet of snow.  It is indeed Spring they tell me.

I always look forward to April. In my household it brings with it a brief window of calm.  Or should I say calm “er”. Everything is relative of course.

You see at our house April brings the end of the ever-harried basketball season.  That season that begins in late September and encompasses both school ball and community league ball.

Unfortunately however, with the end of the running, the practices, and the games also comes fewer opportunities to see some certain women whom I’ve come to enjoy beyond measure.  Those other moms who gather together and sit on those benches beside me for the entire season. From the first meagre practice to the last nail biting game of Provincials.

We have spent the last six months cheering on our kids together. Encouraging their skills and sportsmanship.

To others looking on at us it appears we are a bunch of mismatched moms sitting on an uncomfortable bench performing our motherly duties. Educators, public servants, librarians, full time, part time, sommeliers, stay at home moms, accountants, dentists, country bumpkins and townies.  Some perfectly coifed and put together, but most in our sweats and sneakers having raced through the door after yet another commitment.

We didn’t come into this place having any pre-established friendships, bonds or ties.  And yes we can seem like a rag tag bunch with perhaps little in common on the outside. But that’s not what I see. That’s not what I feel.

These women have become an anchor in my world.  As I enter the gym I make small talk with people coming and going, I tease the kids and holler to my own about water bottles and sneakers. But all the while I am doing this I am looking out of the corner of my eye towards the benches and the bleachers … I’m not looking out of happenstance, but with purpose … I am looking for these women.

And when I see them there is a small part of me that smiles a little bigger, walks a little faster and thinks, “There you are. I would have missed you today if you weren’t here.”

These women who have become more to me than just other moms.  Some of us have been together four and five years now.  Driving our kiddos, watching them succeed and fail, watching them learn and grow.  Together.  These women have seen the best in my kids and the worst in my kids.

And over the years basketball is becoming less and less the topic of conversation. Instead we share news about our lives, ourselves, and this bond we have about raising these little humans in this crazy world. Our time together has become a great deal about supporting each other as women, and to in turn help our young ones navigate the world of adolescence, academics and social dynamics.

We talk about what a great group of kiddos they are. Imperfect kiddos, but kind and generous and inclusive and fun. And although we sometimes have difficulty taking the compliments ourselves, we are quick to heap the accolades on each other, reminding each other these kiddos didn’t become that way overnight, but in large part because of role we play in their life as mothers.

I’ve thought a lot about what has made these women so special in my life.  This doesn’t happen for me in every circumstance. The majority of time I very much enjoy the other parents I sit with at sporting events, music events, school events. But there is not always that connection or bond. There is something special about these women.  About the way we have come together.  The way our kids have come together.

Maybe it’s the age the kids are. Maybe it’s the age we are. Maybe it’s that we all seem to have expectations for how they treat each other. For who they are in the world. Or maybe its that we are all so tired and run so ragged that we cling to the nearest person who reminds us a little of ourselves. Haha!

But I’ve decided it doesn’t matter. What matters is how lucky I am to share this part of my life with them. I would happily sit here and watch my kiddos perform underwater basket weaving. I’m a mom. That’s what I do.

But these women have made the sitting, the watching, the running, so much easier and richer with their conversation and laughter and sharing.  I have come to count on them, as I hope they have come to count on me.  I actively seek them out, and so very much enjoy their company. They have become my friends.

I will miss them immensely now that the season is over. I will miss that easy-ness that come from being with them 2-3 times a week.

But even though I will miss them I continue to whisper thank you for them and their presence in my life.  It has been so appreciated.

Plus … you know … soccer season is just a month away …. (wink).

Delaying Reality

My family and I just returned from a two and a half week vacation.  Everything about me whispers thank you for the ability to have done this.  To have experienced this.

I’m thankful for a job in my field that happens to compensate me well. Maybe I’m not supposed to say that, but I worked hard to get there. I’m thankful for the support of teachers who don’t bat an eyelash when I tell them we are scooping up the kids.

I’m thankful for neighbours and friends who looked in on our home and plow snow … a lot of snow … while we were gone. I’m thankful for family who take and care for our most important furry loved one.

I’m so grateful to return to a home that’s safe and sound.

I’m thankful for friends who leave amazing messages for me to return home to and I’m thankful for our safe journey after 2000 miles of driving and five plane rides.

And after all of that. After recognizing all it takes to make something like this come together, I find myself always wanting to delay reality when I return.

I don’t want to return to the real world. At least not just yet. I know what’s waiting there. The responsibility and the to do lists.

Just a little while longer of just the four of us in paradise please.

So I come home and I try and stay in “this place” for 48 hours. Just 48 hours more. Let me ease back into this thing called life.  I don’t want to have to be “on” quite yet.

And life seems to be cooperating with me this time.  Because on our first day back wouldn’t you believe school is cancelled. That means no stack of papers coming home to go through, no homework to be on top of and even basketball practice is cancelled. The universe is being kind to me.

I do go to work, some things can’t be delayed, but I close my door.  I never close my door.  But I need just a little while longer.  Just a little more time.

I stay off all social media.  Turning it on after 2 1/2 weeks will feel like a rushing wave of reality.  Just a little while longer let it be “just us”.  Let me be selfish.

I don’t open any of the big stack of mail sitting on my table.  With the exception of some birthday cards the rest of it can wait.  Just a little while longer.

I don’t call or text anyone except those who have reached out to me, because I know they will be there tomorrow … and they know me well enough by now that I need a little more hibernation.

But now it’s Wednesday.  We have been home our 48 hours and there is a slew of extra curricular kid activities on tonight.  So I guess it’s time to put on my big girl panties and wade into that reality.

It won’t be so bad really.  Truth be told right now I can’t wait to find out what my friends and family have been up to.  I can’t wait to see those basketball Moms and make a lunch date with a few particular girlfriends.  And I’m just about aching to hug the stuffing out of a few people when I see them.  I desperately need that long chat with my BFF and need to find out how her son did in the hockey tourney.

Yes.  It’s Wednesday and I guess it’s time to get back in the game.  And honestly there is no better reality to return to than the one I get to live right here.  I’m pretty damn lucky.  There is a lot to whisper thank you for … both on the road and at home.

So 1, 2, 3 … here we go.

Anticipation, Preparation and the Journey

I love to travel. This is by no means a staggering admission to anyone who has ever met me, nor is it surprising as we slowly accumulate a small library of places we have been as a family over the years. And while nothing can compare to the new moments and experiences that immersing ourselves in a new place can bring, I almost equally enjoy all of the preparation that goes into the planning of these excursions.

We are sometimes different in the fact that we never choose an all inclusive option for travel and never go through a travel agent, so planning our vacations can be a full time job, which I know can seem daunting and overwhelming to some. But I must say, it’s this part of journey that I really do relish. I think the real joy in life is appreciating every moment of it, even the commonplace ordinary things like preparation. So while I hope an upcoming 19 days on the road will be amazing, the 60 days prior to that have been pretty damn amazing themselves as we dream of what is to come. It’s like that saying “Life isn’t about the destination but the journey that gets us there”.

And when I say I love everything about preparing to travel, I do mean everything. The anticipation is always palpable in my house as we talk about the places we will see and the things we will do. We make our endless lists. They begin with the big picture things. Where will we go this year, how will we narrow it down, how long will we plan to be gone, what are the new experiences we can have there (because if we can’t come home with new life experiences, it’s not a place worth going for us). Then we wittle our way down to the specifics and the logistics. What needs to be packed, hotels we have booked, tickets we have purchased, and all the freebies we have found to do there (this is one of my favourite parts). Lists after lists accumulate. And they are no longer made just by me, my children are very well showing up their mother now with their organizational travel and planning skills. Lists on electronic devices, on loose leaf , on post its. They are everywhere.

And I love the really small things too. The seemingly mundane things about getting ready to go on a trip. I love picking out the right books and magazines to read. I do. I love this. Not too thick. There won’t be time to read all of that. Certainly not hardcover. Too heavy. Sigh …. I guess that Jim Henson biography I’m in the middle of will have to stay home. So it’s down to the basement I go. I take a look at bookshelves to see what’s there. It never disappoints. I pick up an Anne Tyler called “Back When We Were Grown Ups” that I bought at Value Village, many a moon ago. Who can resist that title? It’s perfect. Into my carry on it goes.

It’s become ritualistic really … this packing and preparing and anticipating travel. Pouring liquids into tiny bottles, gathering all the chargers, creating folders full of our tickets and plans, the kids getting their backpacks ready, filling them with all the important things they have come to rely on when on the road. I see their passion for it, I see them owning it, these little pieces that are all a part of the experience.

There’s even anticipation as we go to the grocery store and pick out the snacks we will take on the plane. It sounds so silly doesn’t it? But it’s these things that are all part of it for us. Which flavour sucker do they want so their ears will pop easier on the plane? What snacks won’t melt in their bags and have some good protein? Heaven knows we aren’t buying a meal on the plane. We may travel a lot, but we do it cheaply and on our terms, saving our money for experiences and not things.

My kids have come to count on these traditions. They have come to appreciate them. These small rituals. And so have I. I love that. It extends the joy. It makes us appreciate the small things. And all this work we put into it makes it so much sweeter on the other end.

Our dining room table is full of these lists and items to pack at the last minute. The two weeks before a trip we can never eat in there and are always relegated to the kitchen for suppers. The dining room has always been trip central, and stays that way until the day we leave.

And boy do I love the feel as the day of departure gets closer. It does have a feel. It’s indescribable but it’s there. And the morning we leave … because we always seem to leave in the dark of the morning (can’t be burning daylight, right Dad?) … the morning we leave almost feels sacred. As the four of us embark on new adventure. The excitement in my kids eyes is irreplaceable.

We have been fortunate enough to have taken 13 family trips together. Each one has a different feel … but they all have one thing in common … joy and anticipation.

Some would add up the money we have spent over the years and think what a waste that was … how we have nothing to “show” for it. But I would argue that the most important things in life can never be seen … you can never “show” the most important things. And when I die, I will never look back saying boy I wish I had bought that “xyz” instead of the truly countless adventures we have had as a family together on our travels.

Soon we will be on the road again. And I can’t wait. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But I also wouldn’t trade the months leading up to it and all the work that has gone into it. Some may see a dining room full of suitcases and a table full of papers and research. I don’t. It’s all part of the journey … all part of the joy … all part of who we are as a family and one of many common bonds that holds us together.

It’s something I whisper thank you for all the time.

“My Last Best Place”

It’s snowing. Again.

I live in the Maritimes, most specifically Nova Scotia, and more specific than that in the beautiful Annapolis Valley, on the Bluff.

It’s February 19th today … smack dab in the middle of winter … so the fact that it’s snowing shouldn’t come as any great revelation.

The thing is, is that it’s been snowing for pretty much 14 days straight now. The kids went to school only two days this week, and in one of those days we got 52cm of the fluffy white stuff.

We are slowing getting to a point where I’m not sure where we are going to put any more of it.

People are on Facebook complaining and huffing and puffing. They are posting pictures trying to seemingly outdo one another about the amount of snow each one has had to clear from their driveways or road ways … all the time complaining and somehow bragging all at once. And although the complaining sometimes wears thin, I do love seeing all the unbelievable photos.

None of this is new really. This snow thing. It may be a little bit bigger than recent years, but I clearly remember years when it started snowing in November and didn’t end until late April. I remember growing up with many a blizzard.

And yes … there is a part of me come this time of year that wonders if I will ever be warm … I mean really honest to goodness warm … ever again.

But here’s the thing. I would rather shiver in the cold … here … in Nova Scotia … in the Annapolis valley … on the Bluff … than be lying in the warm sun anywhere else in the entire world. Because you see here … here is … well … my “Last Best Place”.

When I was a “displaced Bluenoser” living in Ontario I remember I clung to all things Nova Scotian. I don’t want you to think I didn’t love my time in Ontario. I did. It is a wonderful big beautiful province that provided me much opportunity. The same goes for Alberta and New Brunswick when I had the privilege to lay down both roots and wings in those provinces.

But my heart clearly belonged in Nova Scotia.

I remember while I was in Guelph I read a book that always stayed with me. It was written by John Demont and it was entitled “The Last Best Place”. The author himself was a displaced Nova Scotian and he had a theory that we all have one “last best place”. A place that calls to us. A place where we feel at home and at peace.

My friend and I will often say how much we enjoy going on vacation because we get to leave behind all the things that “have to be done” … the long list of logistical things like laundry and errands and packing lunches. And boy do I enjoy travel. I have long suffered from a serious case of wanderlust of which I indulge at least twice a year. And I would argue that I don’t think one can find their last best place until one has done a little travelling. Until you really know what else is out there, because your last best place isn’t necessarily the home you grew up in … for a variety of reasons.

But it is the place that you would rather be … when everything falls out of whack, or falls into place …. when all is said and done … when you are at your lowest point, or by contrast at your highest peak … when you settle into your soul … into yourself … your last best place is the place you would most want to be … even when doing the laundry and mundane chores. Forever.

And this place. This place on the Bluff, in the Valley, in Nova Scotia, the Maritimes and in Canada. This is, without doubt, my “Last Best Place”.

This place with its tree at the end of the road where four eagles sit waiting for me to see them soar, on my way to work each day. This place where I can walk out my front door and decide whether to take a stroll to blue beach or miles back into the woods. This place with the most stunning view of the water and green fields filled with hay as I sit on my front porch.

This place of kind, good, down to earth people. The type of people who care little about what you do, but so much about who you are. This place where it matters not how much money you make, but how much you can be of service to your neighbours. This place with roots so deep you feel like the ground itself is a part of you.

This three and a half acres of land that feels like we were ‘meant to find’ on that day back in July 2005. This place where we stop the car for guinea hens to cross the road, and for donkeys who have escaped to meander back to their pen.

This place where I can be part of university life and energy and opportunity just moments down the road. This place where I can work in my chosen field only 10 minutes from my home and where, for lunch, I can walk through campus to town and find my choice of coffee shops or restaurants second to none.

This place where my kids can roam and feel safe, both at the same time. This place so accessible to a big vibrant city, but that still maintains and celebrates its rural roots. This place of wide open spaces; of skies so crisp and clear you feel you can see every star there is.

This place of community hall dances and down home music. This place where I can be 15 minutes late not because of a traffic jam, but because I got behind a tractor or a school bus. This place of traditional orchards, and new luscious vineyards.

And yes, this place where I get to experience all four seasons. The sparkle of winter snow on the fir trees, the smell of Apple blossoms as I walk down my road in springtime, the sound of the waves and the heat of our favourite beach in summer, and the extraordinary beauty of Fall as I take a hike back behind our house.

I find myself constantly stopping and whispering thank you for this place.

Because this place will forever be MY “Last Best Place” … and I wouldn’t want to raise our family, live our lives, grow old together, or be still with myself, anywhere in the world but here.

Even when it happens to be snowing … again.

I Would Rather …

I would rather be of intrinsic value to one friend, than to fight to be of extrinsic value to four.

I would rather be irreplaceable to two, than to be interchangeable with eight.

I would rather have one friend stand up for me, and stay standing, than have twelve stand up, to only sit down when the rest of the group does.

I would rather count on three being active in my life, than ten being passive.

I would rather have the quiet confidence in one, than have the public social media fanfare of twenty.

I would rather have three who are consistent, than seven who are not.

I would rather have one who is purposeful, than three who are convenient.

I would rather have two who I can belly laugh with, than four I smile at politely.

I would rather have one who shows their raw and real and messy emotions, than two who back away.

I would rather have two who see me – all of me – and accept me and my faults, rather than five who can’t be bothered.

I would rather feel grounded and connected with three, than feel superfluous with six.

I would rather have one who will challenge me, than three who are superficial.

I would rather have three who make mistakes and are honest, than five who sweep things under the rug.

I would rather have four I can be silly with, than six who appear perfect.

I would rather sit and share in a real way of “give and take” with two, than to fight to be heard or struggle to listen, with seven.

And I would rather have something real and something lasting with one friend, just one friend, than have something fleeting with eight.

You see, the thing is, I would rather be with you.

And I know it can’t always happen. I know life is busy and time is hard. Families are growing and we are in six different directions.

And I would also rather be with you and you and you and you. But I know circumstances don’t allow that on a regular basis.

And I of course would always rather be with you. But time and distance don’t allow that half as often as I need it.

But it doesn’t change the fact … that in this world of 284 social media friends, numbers still mean nothing … because I will unequivocally, with my whole heart, always, rather be with “you”.

“Sometimes the Beauty is in the Attempt”

I had tea today.

I had tea today in a tiny new cafe on Main Street, in a little town in Nova Scotia three minutes from where I live. I had tea in the perfect cup … bone colored … the perfect size for my hand. I love the perfect size cup. Something simple with a wide brim. I sat in front of one of those wide low propane fireplaces in a big comfy chair with a bigger round coffee table to sit my perfect cup and saucer on.

I’m one of those annoyingly detailed people who sees, appreciates and am grateful for those things.

But none of this post is about the tea or the cup or the fireplace.

It’s about the person who asked me out for tea.

I have been blessed … so blessed … to have had many friends in my life. Good friends. Great friends. Forever friends and there-for-you friends. Friends who have come and friends who have left. Group friends and fun friends. A best friend. Tell each other everything friends. Facebook friends and Instagram friends. Friends I laugh with and friends I cry with. Friends I have let go of. Surface friends and party friends. And deep amazing I-recognize-your-soul-friends.

I whisper thank you for these friends everyday. I have different types of gratitude for each of these people in my life.

But today I feel gratitude for this particular friend. For many reasons … but for one reason in particular strikes me today. Her name is Carrie. And Carrie … well Carrie … always makes the attempt.

You see, I tend to be a planner. An organizer. I love to gather people together. It is a big part of who I am and I relish every minute of it. It fills me up and I do it with vigor and sincerity. I try and do it also without agenda or need for reciprocation. But sometimes when you have a personality like that people … friends … well … they wait for you to come to them. They wait for you to contact them. They wait for you to be the pursuer. It’s only natural. Human nature. And that is all okay.

But not Carrie. Carrie never waits. She makes time to try and get together. Just us. Not part of a huge group and not by happenstance. She is very purposeful about wanting to spend time together and cultivating our friendship. She actively contacts me as often as I contact her. She asks me to get together as much as I ask her. It’s not about a balancing act and it’s not about tit for tat. But it is about feeling valued.

There are many, many times in our lives Carrie and I are not successful about getting together. We have busy lives with work and family and husbands and other friendships … but I’ve come to realize, it’s not the success rate that matters. It’s the attempt. It’s the question. It’s the time we take when we call or text or pm and ask each other for lunch. Because the thing is, she isn’t really asking me for lunch. She is ACTIVELY saying to me “I see you. You matter in my life. I want to spend time with you. I know we are busy and I know maybe you can’t … but I’m making an effort and I’m making you a priority in my life because you matter to me.”

Boy. That’s a lot to be said in a short “Wanna have lunch” text isn’t it? But to me that’s what it means. That’s how much it means. To me. It’s not the tea or the lunch or the place or even the end result of even seeing each other. It’s the ATTEMPT that means the world to me.

Carrie and I have not been in each other’s lives for a particularly long period of time. Our kids enjoy each other but are not best friends. We never grew up together and I don’t think she knows my parents names and I don’t always remember when her kids birthdays are. We don’t chat on the phone all the time, and up until a year or two ago our friendship was mainly based in group settings. If you count up the things we “aren’t”, well maybe on the outside there are quite a few.

But in a world where friendships can be based solely on convenience, and over a screen where it matters who hits a “like” button for you, she is so very purposeful and genuine about being active in our friendship. She takes the time and makes the effort to make “us” a priority. I like to think I make the same kind of effort with her.

And so often in this busy world it doesn’t work out. But like I said before. It matters not.

Because sometimes “the beauty is in the attempt”.

A Broken Christmas

It’s the end of November and I’m unpacking my Christmas totes, asking myself how another year could have come and gone so quickly.  Wasn’t I just doing this? I’m pretty sure I was.  No really. I was standing in this same spot just yesterday.  Sigh.  What is it with time as we get older?

As the kids and I unwrap decorations from crumpled newspaper, Megan comes across a set of white ceramic angels.  As she unwraps them she laughs and says “Oh Mom – the angels got broken again this year.”  I look at her and smile.  Sure enough, once again the girl angel’s wings are hanging on by a thread and the end of the boys’ has come completely off.  She sets them down with care and I remind her how long we have had them, smiling.

It’s then that I look around at our Christmas decorations and realize how many of these things have been broken over the years.

There’s the Rudolph Snow Globe.  Mark loved this snow globe so much when he was younger.  It’s musical and plays – obviously – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  This was his favourite song, bar none when he was a little boy.  I remember when he was three I showed it to him for the first time.  He was enamoured by the falling snow and the song playing in the background.  He asked me if he could pick it up himself.  “Of course you can honey.  Just be careful.”

On the inside of two minutes it went crashing to the ground.  The glass shattered and water and fake snow were everywhere.  He cried and cried.  But I told him it didn’t matter. Rudolph still sang and was still intact. And we could watch the snow fall outside as it played.

I also unpack four ceramic letters that spell the word snow.  We have always put them in our hallway, and promptly each year our dog Ginger rushes to the door to greet a holiday guest, wags her very large tail, and knocks over one, or two, or on a good day even three of those letters.  And every year we glue them back together, and laugh at her enthusiasm.

And there’s the wine glass.  My best friend has always been one of my very favourite people to shop for. I adore seeking out a perfect gift for her.  Nine years ago when I moved away from her and came back to Nova Scotia I found this stunningly decorated Christmas wine glass. I bought one for her and one for me. I sent it to her with a note to open before Christmas, saying that I had bought the exact same one and we could think of each other doing Christmassy things while drinking out of the same glass and we wouldn’t seem so far away from each other.    Off went hers safely to be opened.  While mine fell off a kitchen window sill and broke its stem completely in half.  Sigh.  But I didn’t part with it – instead I put in a small glass container and use it as a candle holder.  It really is beautiful.

Then there’s the hand-painted mug we bought when the kids were born for Santa to drink his milk out of.  It matches a cookie plate.  I looked high and low for this set and adore it.  Sadly the mug got put in the dishwasher by a well meaning guest one year and now says “Mil or anta”.  We keep saying we are going to paint the other letters back on. It never happens.  But we laugh when we open it and put it in its place of honour in the kitchen none the less.

There’s also the broken red star on top of the green ceramic Christmas tree that sits in my living room. The one my Mom gave me 10 years ago, which is the same one I grew up with in my own home when I was younger. How I loved that tree when I was a kid. Putting the lights in it each year.  And how I love having it in my living room now with my own kids as they put lights in it – broken star and all.

And of course there’s the giraffe ornament that’s missing his legs because one of the kids little trees they keep in their room fell over; the Disney ornaments that came unglued; the eye that has fallen off a Christmas stuffed animal; and the VHS tape that went hurling down the stairs with our favourite Christmas movie on it.

And finally there’s those angels. Those white ceramic angels.  We’ve had those with us the longest.  Before the kids.  Even back before we got married, when we were living together.  They were the one thing that always followed us from back then. No matter where we moved – what house or three Provinces we were living in, those angels followed us around and made their appearance from dusty boxes each year.

I remember thinking they are “us”. Me and Craig.  They are leaning over getting ready to kiss each other. I remember when they were brand new and perfect and so white.  I remember when they got their first mark on them. It was black and wouldn’t come off. At first I was devastated but then I thought “they are like us … just a little worn”.

Then one of their wings broke, and I thought that’s okay. We are still together even though we don’t look like we used to.  And then another wing broke off.  And each year we would get the angels out and each year Craig would glue them back together.  And each year I would think how they resembled us more and more – a marriage of many years with its hard knocks and ups and downs.

How naive we were. Little did we know what hard knocks were back then.  The years went by and I remember one of those years Craig forgot to fix them. And although I could have done it myself I just didn’t have the energy to.  But then another year passed and back they got glued together.

I remember even one year her head fell off.  I’m laughing hysterically as I write this but it’s true. If you look at her closely you will see where her head was glued back on.  Honestly. This makes me belly laugh with such irony and somehow such joy!  We thought we knew what rough times were. We didn’t have a clue. But we do now. Do we ever.

I look at them now and once again they need repair. They need a little TLC and time and effort. But they always have.  And most of the time … not all of the time …. but most of the time, we make sure they are taken care of.  Maybe not like they should be – maybe not like if we took them to a repair shop – but in the best way we can, and could, during the times we were dealt.

So yes – it’s another year. And we will fix those angels up again and give them the care they need. Someday we may take the time to superglue them and put more care into what they look like and clean them up a bit more. But for now, we will to put them up on the shelf and be so thankful that they are still hanging out together, roughly in piece, to remind how far we have come.  To remind us of our perseverance, fortitude and love.

I am so thankful for all the parts of my broken Christmas.  Each one holds a strong memory and teaches the four of us that things don’t have to be perfect to be treasured.  I love that we don’t surround ourselves with pretty Christmas things that can’t be touched.  I love that we still put all of these broken things out, and in my less than perfect home they fit right in.  I think they are all my most prized Christmas possessions …  and I’ll stack my broken Christmas up against someone’s pristinely decorated perfect Christmas any day of the week.

These Boys

It’s pouring rain and Mark has a soccer game in Kingston today.

It’s not one of those warm rains either. It’s bitter cold and coming down really heavy.  In sheets.  The kind where you look out the window and you can literally SEE walls of rain.

Every part of me has been hoping and begging and praying for their game to be cancelled today. Not just for their sakes but selfishly for mine as well.  Kingston is almost an hour drive away. Although I’m always happy to play chauffeur for the many teams my kiddos have been a part of over the years, driving on the 101highway westward in a rainstorm, to then stand around for an hour and a half is not appealing to my sense of selfless motherhood today.

So I wait. I wait with baited breath beside my cell phone for the call, or text, or email, for it to be cancelled.  But it doesn’t come no matter how much I will it to.

So I somewhat begrudgingly grab my raincoat, umbrella and chair and head out of my cozy warm dry house into the freezing wet cold to his Middle School.

I arrive early as always and wait for Coach Jeff to tell me how many boys I am taking and who they will be. It always varies, and can be boys I’ve known since they were five or boys I’ve never really met before.  They can be boys Marks age, or boys three years older than he is.

Today I get a combination of all the above, and we trudge to the 4-Runner to throw backpacks and soccer bags in the back and off we go to hit the road.

As I speed up the on ramp I balance the part of my head telling me to be careful of hydroplaning on the infamous stretch of two lane highway … very aware of the precious cargo I am carrying … and trying to casually listen to the conversation between these boys as they talk about the upcoming game. This may be my favourite part of being a chauffeur – after about 5 minutes in the vehicle they all seem to forget I’m a Mom and somehow I magically get to be the fly on the wall – an outsider “listening in” to a world I don’t always get to be a part of anymore due to my “uncool 42 year old status” that being a parent behooves me.

An hour later we arrive safely in the parking lot and I whisper a little thank you as these boys pile out of the vehicle – grabbing their water bottles – not realizing how bitterly cold it really is and how fast the rain is teaming down.  Or maybe they do realize and they don’t care. I think that’s it really. Because off they run clearly with a mission, as I stare after them grabbing my umbrella.  As I lean into the truck to get my chair I feel a wet river of water running down my back and I curse a little (ok a lot) under my breath – feeling my selflessness drip away with each frigid drop that makes its way onto my bare neck.

I lock the truck and begin walking to the field. I make it about 10 paces when I turn around and reopen the trunk,  grabbing my stocking hat and mittens – realizing I will, without a doubt, be needing them this afternoon and thankful I stuck them in at the last minute.

Feeling fashionless in my rain boots and hat, I quickly find my friends … other Moms doing the exact same thing for their kiddos … taking time off work to play chauffeur and cheerleader. All of us huddled together to stay warm and dry, trying not to let resentment bubble to the surface as our umbrellas turn inside out from the wind, our socks get soggy and our fingers become numb.

We watch these boys … our boys … as they run and play their hardest … giving it everything they’ve got. We yell and cheer from the sidelines rooting them on – sometimes unsure of our place between overbearing mom and biggest fan.  We grab extra ponchos and mittens and garbage bags from our cars – getting other sons to take them over to the bench – each of us resisting the real urge we all have – which is to go wrap them up in a waterproof bubble, feed them chicken soup, and admit to each other that sometimes it sucks being the mom of a preteen or teenager … having to stand on the sidelines watching them get hypothermia and letting them do their thing.

But there we are – rooting and cheering and watching from the sidelines as these boys …our boys … go into … yup …overtime.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

It’s sometimes hard not to resent this stage in the kids’ lives. There is a lot of constant running here and there with sometimes little reward.  I am very much on the periphery of their lives in many ways.  When they were younger all the work I did was more tangible … and to be honest sometimes more enjoyable.  Making crafts with them and organizing playdates.  Planning birthday parties and baking cupcakes.  I was really good at that. I loved everything about that.  But this is a different kind of beast.  And the thing is – despite the last 913 words, I usually do relish it – this new world.  I try very much relish every stage they are in – I recognize how lucky I am to have them here on this earth with me – healthy and happy.  But on these cold, rainy, cold, overtime, cold, wet, (did I mention cold?) soccer days, sometimes it’s harder to do the “relishing”.

But then …

Then …

The winning goal is scored, and the game is over.

And these boys ….

Our boys …

Make their way across the field.  Each of them looking like drowned rats.  Simultaneously smiling and shivering because they are so thrilled to have won a hard fought game and so physically exhausted and cold they think they may never get warm.

And then four of these boys – these sopping wet, stinky boys climb into my 4-Runner. In they all go. Two of whom I don’t know extremely well – just from the last month –  one whom I know like my own – and the other who ofcourse I’ve known his whole life.

There is three years between the youngest and the oldest. That’s a lot of years between boys that young.  But I sit behind the wheel and hear them talk.  They are so kind and good and supportive of each other.  They were on the drive here and they are on the drive back.  They are encouraging and thoughtful and funny.  They talk about what went right and what went wrong, they talk about how they can improve their game and who they thought did really well and why. They are far from perfect, and their humour leaves much to be desired.  But at no point is there talk of putting anyone down.  At no point do they treat each other as less-than or more-than because of age or skill or social status.  I hold no pretense that they always behave like this – that they don’t make mistakes or can be rude or petty at times.  But right now … and from what I have witnessed both on the field and off … these boys … our boys … make me so proud.

And then to top it off – without prompting or reason – out of nowhere – these boys thank me for driving. And not only does the oldest thank me but he does it in a way that recognizes I could be doing anything else with my time and that I’ve chosen to do this.  And then another chimes in, and another, and another.  In the most generous and sincere way.  How is it that one little thank you  (make that four little thank yous) completely unrequested or prompted – can make all the difference?  Life is funny that way isn’t it?

I spend the rest of the drive home listening and reflecting, as they drink their hot chocolate, text, laugh and talk. This age – these boys this age – this middle school age of 11-14 – can be so challenging.  So many physical and emotional changes. They are all trying to find their place in the world of school and sports and social realms.  Trying to find their way and sometimes not making the best decisions – which is of course part of growing up.

But I sat there behind the wheel driving – these boys. These boys who are far from perfect but who in my experience are making decisions grounded in respect and character and gratitude. And I think to myself – these boys are the boys I want to continue to raise in the world. These boys make it easy to stand in the rain for.  These boys are on their way to becoming great men in the world.

I think back to four hours ago as I was letting my resentment and selfishness come to the surface. That resentment seems pretty far away now.  Because I realize how lucky I am to be a part of these boys lives. However big (as a Mom) or however small (as a chauffeur)

And for that I am so thankful.

And Then I Met Two Girls

Once Upon a Time.  We read those words so often as children, but I can’t say I have had the natural urge to use them in relation to my own life.  They conjure up visions of other worlds and fairytales.  Of times a little larger than life and utterly magical.

But I guess that is to say – I haven’t had the natural urge to use them for my own life … until now.

You see. Once upon a time … there was a place called Banff.

For those of you who have been to Banff you won’t question the validity of me using the much-coined phrase “Once Upon a Time”.  It truly is a natural wonder. And for those of you who have not only been, but have lived there, well, you will not only understand, but you will feel those words in your soul.

When I was 10 years old my parents saved up their money, piled us into a Ford LTD, with a trunk the size of my mudroom, and took us on road trip across Canada.  My father was a bus driver and my mother was a stay at home mom.  We didn’t have a lot of money but my parents were dreamers, and they saved and saved, and they made this 6 week road trip happen for us.  It was the best gift I ever received from them.  I will carry it with me forever.  I know this is where my passion for travelling began – but as I often say, that is another story.

The point of this one, is that one of our many stops across Canada was Banff National Park. While we were there my mom met a young woman from the Maritimes who worked in the town itself.  After chatting with her my Mom turned to me and said, with such conviction, “You can do that Karrie-Ann. When you grow up you can come here for the summers to work too”. I never forgot that. And when my university year ended and summer arrived, I high tailed it to Banff remembering being that little girl whose mother told her “you can”.

I remember getting off the plane in Calgary all those years ago. I knew no one.  As in nobody.  I was 18 years old.  I was 5000 km away from home and I was going to be gone for 3 ½ months. I was with no organized group or on any academic journey. I felt so alone that first day.

And then I met two girls. And that was that.  I wasn’t alone anymore.

Our summers were endless. They were those summers in between years of school and we were all just discovering who we were going to be in the world.  They were filled with parties and day trips and drama and boys and friendships. All of this set in the most breathtaking place you can imagine – with a backdrop of mountains too numerous to count and rivers and lakes so clear and blue you are entirely sure they can’t be real.

We worked on top of Sulphur Mountain and took a Gondola to work everyday. We worked above the clouds. Literally.  I mean come on.  We were kids from rural Nova Scotia and now we are working in the clouds. Yup.  We had the world by the tail.  And we knew it.  We lived every moment – and I do mean every moment – to the fullest until it overflowed. And when it did overflow we got up the next day and did it again.

There has never been a time in my life that can compare to Banff. It was possibly the only time in my life I ever remember having no real responsibility. My University experience was amazing – but there was still this weight and expectation of achieving something. I enjoyed high school very much, but high school seemed like such a small box we had to fit into. What was so unique about Banff was that there was no box. There were no expectations.  There was just this crazy mish mash of people who all shared a little quest for adventure, a little taste for travel and a shared desire to experience more than what was at our front doorstep.

But like every mish mash of people, there are those who rise to the top. And these two girls … well … they were my cream.

Fast forward 20 years to a weekend at a little cottage in a tiny place on the Amherst Shore of N.S. Fast forward through growing up, and broken hearts, and diplomas and degrees, and adventures, and marriages, and children, and opportunities that make you and challenges that break you.

Because there I was.

This past weekend.

Sitting with those two girls ….. because we will always be “girls” ….. reminiscing and laughing and catching up on decades of full, vibrant lives that have happened since our Banff adventure.

And in a way – to be honest – I thought we would be strangers.

But we talked like we did back then. With an honesty and a caring that happens when you have no choice but to rely on each other because you are so far from home for so long. Back when the world hadn’t taught us to filter our feelings quite so much.  Because when you are 18 it seems that all you have are ‘feelings’.  Feelings and emotions so raw and so overwhelming, bubbling to the surface you feel like you are going to explode.

Yes – there was something about the “realness” and easy-ness to the weekend that surprised me and that I treasured.

Our friendship began before cell phones, Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. Not once during the weekend while we were talking did any of us pull out a device during the conversation and check it.  What a gift that was.  How rare it is now I realize.  There was such respect for each other and conscious listening and sharing – of intimate and real things that had affected our lives over the years.  I couldn’t believe that comfort was still there after so long … after all … we didn’t even know each other as adults.

Being with them again was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

These girls reminded me of when I was fearless and young. They reminded me of a time when we seemed untouchable and invincible. Of a time when nothing seemed impossible and the only logical answer to any question was yes.

And I was reminded how some friendships are born – through necessity that turns into something more.

Banff gave me so many things. It helped me realize that the world can be as small as I want it to be or as big as I want it to be. That saying yes can pay off in ways you couldn’t dream of. It gave me a confidence and courage as a young person. It gave me an appreciation for nature and the beauty that exists in the world. It gave me a place to test my wings.

And it gave me these girls. These girls who I felt so uninhibited and real and safe with. Still. After all these years.

They say you can’t go back. I believe that. I do.  But this past weekend we didn’t go back.  We went to Amherst Shore.  And it was such a gift.