Sunday, December 30, 2012

No Resolutions for Me

It's that time of year again, where people begin to make New Year resolutions and then quickly fail and then spend the rest of the year berating themselves for that failure, or simply forget about it until the following year.

I don't make resolutions. Exactly for that reason. There are simply things that I am going to do or I am not going to do.

1. I am going to have some more stories published. The first of which will be appear in February in an anthology called The Inanimates I. I'm particularly happy with this one because it's the first story I've written that has not been rejected. Accepted the first time out. I think that's progress.

2. I am going to finish the first draft of my novel this year. There is just no other option. I can finish a short story so why can't I finish something longer and more in depth? More complicated?

3. I am going to get outdoors more. More snowshoeing, more hiking or plain old walking. More anything, as long as it's outside. Except when it's -20 or lower. (So what, I'm a wimp!) If it's that cold, I'll go skating or something along those lines. Already took the child skating several times over the last few weeks and she's getting better. Can actually stand up pretty good. Still too nervous to not have someone holding her hand but we went around and around the rink on Boxing Day and she barely fell at all. And now that I discovered there are places we can skate all year round, I'm going to take advantage of it. Did I mention, I love skating?

4. For the colder days, we did buy a treadmill back in September and I've been making really good use of it. Did I mention I joined Weight Watchers back in August and to date I've lost almost 40lbs? No I don't think I mentioned that because I haven't really told anyone. So I suppose that's another thing I am going to do this year. Lose more weight. All of the excess, if possible.

5. I am going to drink more coffee. That's a must.

6. And, I promised a friend that if she lost 20lbs before Christmas I would quit smoking. She hasn't reached that goal, however, at the same time I said if I lost 20lbs by Christmas I would quit smoking. I almost doubled that so now I have to follow through on the promise even if she doesn't remember I said it.

I think 6 things I am going to do this year is more than enough to keep track of. I've already started on #5 and it's not even the new year yet.

I'm off to a good start.

Making Use of a Christmas Gift

This year for Christmas, my hubby got me snowshoes. It's something I only half-heartedly mentioned but I guess it stuck and that's what I got. Of course, now I have to use them.

Last Thursday, my mom and I made use of the new gift and headed out to Bragg Creek to the West Bragg Creek Trails just inside the Texas Gate of Kananaskis. Mom rented shoes while I strapped on the new gift.

And then we headed out not knowing quite what to expect.

I haven't been snowshoeing in years. The trail we took was well marked with little signs. Pretty easy for the first bit. A few minor hills but nothing too strenuous. I supposed the weeks I've spent on the treadmill had something to do with that. However, a little ways in there was a hill. A killer hill.  It took some time and careful consideration to make it up this almost straight up and down incline. (they don't have that incline on any treadmill I've seen). But I made it.

On we went through narrow paths, over fallen trees and protruding stumps.

A couple of kilometres in there was a slight drop. We had to step down off a log, only about a foot. Mom made it no problem. Me on the otherhand, had to consider this drop and figure out the best way to make it down without doing a faceplant in the snow or knocking my teeth out on the log. I took a deep breath and went for it. One foot down. Not so bad. Then Mom says, "Maybe sitting down would be easier." I thought about this then said, "Hey good plan." And this would have been a good plan had I not been wearing snowpants. I sat. I slid. Did a nice little twirly spin on my back, laughing all the way down. But I didn't break anything. Pulled myself up, dusted off the snow and said, "A good idea, in theory."

And we carried on. Over frozen streams and more fallen logs and narrow paths, up longer, gradual inclines.

5.5km in total. We made it in 2.5 hours. Not so bad for a first time out.

My legs were killing me after. I used muscles I didn't even know I had.

Now after 3 days of barely being able to walk, I feel okay except for the stupid cold that has latched on and won't let go.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Been & Gone

Just when you think it's going to be another year, much like last, friends have a way of making significant changes. New relationships can be altered, solidified, never the same again. Try new things, enjoy these new things. Never go back.

From the dangling heart deco to shared chocolate kisses, we reach for something and can't find it, even though it's never gone. Say goodbye to our loved ones and rekindle other familial relationships. Life is too short to let the angered past linger. Love and be loved.

Muster the courage to reach for your dreams. No matter how singular or fanciful they may seem. Everything is attainable if you just try. Take chances and you can't ever be disappointed.

After the cold of winter has marred your bones, embrace the newness of spring. Even the old can become new again.

Maybe being alone isn't all it's cracked up to be. Weeks of looking forward to quiet, abruptly shocked from your own silence. Chaos is bliss when a toddler is in the house. Don't take it for granted. Enjoy the company of friends, the warmth of a hug, the sweetness of cupcakes, a gentle hand on your forehead, but never forget what you truly live for. The squeals of a child, the rush of footsteps over the floor.

Jell-o? Who wants Jell-o? Everyone wants Jell-o when the weather turns hot. The squiggly, jiggly little dessert that melts in your mouth or on the carpet.

Jackets are left on the floor as we rush to the beach, or prepare for a camping trip. It's the first as a family and everything has to be just right. Don't forget the flashlight, what do you need a hammer for? Camping stove? Who needs that? We have fire. Precious fire.

Another year older, the little one opens her presents around a campfire. Smoke smothering the senses, the sun shining after a random summer shower. Cooler than the last time, all huddled in the tent, noses close to frostbite. It's only August. What's up with that?

Snapshots show the reality of what we have become. Time to take action. Make your life matter. The summer has been fun but it's time to think about me and all that can be accomplished, if only...

Oh, the Hallowe'en noises. The hoots and howls of little ghouls and goblins. A child dressed in fancy closes, an image of what they could be. Door to door, in the already frigid cold. Trick or treat. By the end of the night her pillowcase overflows and her teeth may rot.

Now it snows. Not much, but enough. Enough to remind us winter is around the corner, Christmas is upon us and the end of the year nears. Have we done enough this year to look back and say, yes, I did it. I did what I wanted to and now I can move forward knowing that I can accomplish anything? I think it went okay so far.

Didn't the Mayans say the world was going to end? It's the end of December and we're all still standing or sitting or sleeping off the turkey we over-indulged on. Soon it will be another year. But for now, this one has been and gone.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wounded World

By Madelaine Wong

Dear Santa,

Please bring me the best present, ever. There’s something that I really need. It can be found everywhere, but sometimes, it’s hard to find. If you find it, I will be rich. Without it, I will die. When you look for it, bypass the candy aisle of the department store and the electronics department. I don’t want an iPod or a laptop. In fact, don’t bother with the malls at all.

You can’t buy the thing that I need. It is infinitely valuable, but also free. To find it, you’ll have to look inside the heart of every human being.

Alright, that’s enough beating around the bush. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental and not at all clever, this Christmas I wish for love.  Love is vital to my existence. It is what causes me to exist. You must understand that I am desperate for love. I am deprived and suffering, Santa. I am wounded and broken. Only one thing can heal me. So, you must give love in abundance. Don’t hold back.

You can’t carry love in a sack or in a box. Love is immensely large and yet takes no space at all. I will tell you how you can deliver this valuable gift to me. Give me your time. Time is your most precious commodity, for you don’t know how much you have. Offer me understanding and forgiveness. Be patient with me. Pick me up when I fall. When I’m hungry, feed me. When I’m thirsty, give me something to drink. Give me clothes and a place to live. Visit me when I’m sick and when I die, see to it that I’m buried. That is how you can draw more love into the world.

This holiday of Christmas began with a gift. That small baby born in Bethlehem received gold, frankincense and myrrh; gifts fit for a king, a God and a man. Give to me what I need. Love; it’s the best present. When you give me love, you share in the gift that that child brought to the world.

Love is the only thing that will stop me from hurting myself and the only thing that will bring me peace. So, bring me love and lots of it.



The Human Race
By Madelaine Wong

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Writer's Letter to Santa

By Diana Radovan

Dear Santa,

I know I haven’t quite been the good girl I had promised myself to be. I failed at being true to myself and, in doing so, I failed at being true to others. Some have complained I haven’t been showing them my recent writing lately. That’s because there isn’t any. No excuse, I know! But I’d still love it if you brought me tons of white paper and inspiration, just like you did last year, despite me being just a slack-off.
So here’s my to-do list for next year:
  1. I will start all my days with morning pages.
  2. I will work at least ten hours a week on actual stories, poems, and my first novel outline.
  3. I will offer myself at least one writing workshop and one writing retreat.
  4. I will actively search for people who are at a similar level of writing as I am.
  5. I will actively search for people who are better writers than I am and can coach and mentor me.
  6. I will find a publisher.
  7. I will save money for pursuing an MA in Creative Writing.
  8. I promise myself to stick to my to-do list next year.

And I challenge myself to start writing in German. And if I don’t, you can take all my pencils and notebooks away. Amen.

Yours truly,
(You know much too well who I am)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Please Let Me Sleep

Dear Santa,

It’s 2:00 in the morning and I can’t sleep. I see her lying there, so quiet, peaceful and it burns me that I’m relieved. For this brief moment, it’s as if she’s just asleep. Except I can’t get past the tubes and wires: her food, her breath.

What did I do to deserve this? What did she do to deserve this? So small. So fragile. Not even enough time to know the world. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were supposed to wrap her in that cream and pink blanket Great Gran made, buckle her into the car seat and be on our way. Twenty-four hours, the mandatory stay these days.

That was 34 days, 12 hours and 17 minutes ago.

I thought I did everything right. I’ve never done drugs. Don’t smoke. No drinking. Waddled on the treadmill every day. Ate perfect balanced meals.

Doctors say there’s nothing we could have done.

I don’t believe them.

There’s always something. A reason for everything. Isn’t that what they say? Everything happens for a reason?

I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in a “God” per se—much to my devout Catholic mother’s disappointment. A transgression she reminds me of all the time. She thinks since I strayed from the church, don’t believe in the same things she does, my prayers will go unheard.

Maybe she’s right.

She and her group of bible petting ladies are praying for her.

Praying for me.

All this hovering, all this staring, all the doctors muffled whispers and the sideways, downward gazes of the nurses. They already know what I won’t admit.

I don’t know how these miracles work and I’m not so good at asking for things, but if there is one thing, one wish—

Please, Santa. Let me sleep.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Drive My Sleigh

By Sarah Johnson

Dear Getting My Kicks In Canmore,

Santa’s going to pretend you didn’t confess to stealing a plum, because otherwise you’ve been fairly good this year. But that’s not the reason you wrote me, is it?

You want to drive my sleigh.

Since your ‘predilection’ as you call it, is bound to result in death by misadventure at some point anyway, I’m giving your request serious consideration.

I propose a trade. You want to drive my sleigh? Well, Santa would really love a Christmas off. So I’ll hand you the reins, but you have to take everything that goes with them.

Still interested, Kicks?

Assuming the answer is ‘yes’, I’ll go through a few things you should know about Santa Duty.

1. The elves will do a pre-flight check on the sleigh. I recommend double and triple checking that. By Christmas Eve the elves are exhausted. One year we almost took off without Rudolph (last minute run to the little reindeer’s room).

2. On the subject of reindeer, Blitzen is a homophobe and a bully. Keep him and Prancer separated at all times.

3. Occasionally you’ll get a child (or an adult) who stays awake, clutching their phone, hoping to get a sweet up-chimney pic for their Facebook or whatever. If this happens, don’t panic. Tucked behind the glove compartment on the sleigh, you’ll find a baggy full of white powder. Don’t ask me what it is, or where I got it, and for the love of Christmas, don’t mention it to Mrs. Claus. Just blow a pinch in the offender’s face, and say nighty-night. Then erase the evidence and be on your merry. They won’t remember a thing.

4. We don’t do coal in the stockings anymore. Legal says it leaves us wide open to liability. Apparently it’s emotionally scarring. So yeah, no coal.

5. Eat a few cookies and drink some milk, but leave the beer okay? Trust me. It’s a long night and you do not want to be circling the earth at FTL speeds with a belly full of Oreos and Michelob Light.
The rest is self-explanatory. Harness the team, drop off presents, have the sleigh back in the garage by morning.

If that sounds agreeable, report to the North Pole on December 24th.

Merry Christmas,
St. Nick

P.S. One more thing, Kicks. You scratch my ride and you’ll wish you’d broken your neck on that ladder. Comprendé?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Getting My Kicks

By Verna Bewick
Dear Santa,

I’m not asking for presents, but I do have request. I know it’s a weird thing to ask, but if it helps, I’ve been real good this year…

I seem to have developed a little predilection. Just after New Year’s, I was hungry and walked out of Safeway with a plum in my pocket. That was January 3rd, and I’d never performed the five finger discount before, but it was an honest mistake. The plum not only satisfied my hunger, but it also gave me a bit of a thrill.

In April, I was running late for a meeting downtown. I took the street because it was a more direct route than the Plus 15. The traffic had stopped at a light a half block down the one-way, so I zipped across. Next thing I knew, there was a Mercedes honking. Coming straight for me! I jumped to the side. I saw the passenger’s side tire smush my Starbucks cup. Just rolled right over it! I didn’t realize those hub caps were so bloody shiny – never been that close before! It took my breath away.

I was good for a while. Then in July, I fell off a ladder in my kitchen while changing a bulb. Fortunately it was only a two-step, so the wrist sprain and all the bruises were minor. I actually giggled for Chrissakes. I haven’t giggled since eighth grade.

Fall came and I fell out of the pine in my front yard. I was knocking the dead needles off with my husband’s old floor hockey stick and was not holding on. If I’d seen anyone else try this, I would have thought they were psycho. The lawn was covered with needles and leaves, so I landed softly and only bit the inside of my cheek. I went right back at it and finished the job, staying upright unfortunately.

In November, my infatuation with thrills turned into an all-out affair with the hanging of the Christmas lights. My man was wondering why I offered to do them. He asked if he “did it wrong last year,” like I was tearing off his testicles. We made up when I let him get the ladder for me. You know that label on the top rung that says “don’t go past this step”? I went past it. I swung one leg over the top, straddling it, and managed to get that puppy rocking! Woo Hoo! Feliz Navidad!

So, jolly Old St. Nicholas, lean your ear this way, don’t you tell a single soul what I’m going to say… come on Santa, let me drive your sleigh!

With love,
Getting my kicks in Canmore!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas Traditions

We always decorate our tree on or before the beginning of December. It's an almost family affair. This year, my daughter and I put up the tree. She chose many of the decorations. I chose the colours, but she decided where they all went. It's something that she seems to love and I love being a part of that with her.

Hubby is the outside decorator. This year however, he has opted not to decorate outside. His choice. Fine with me. In years past, the outside decorations have been his high point of the season. Strings upon strings of gawdy Christmas lights that I have come to believe, if he had his way, if the electricity bill wouldn't be through the roof, he would be one of those who created elaborate displays. If he was more electronically saavy, music would go along with it.

Another favoured Christmas tradition would be the annual Christmas Eve party with the extended family. Hubby's family. Everyone looks forward to it. Lots of drink, lots of food, a Christmas gift exchange. Christmas Day is with my family. I cook. I drink. We eat.

Do you have a favoured holiday tradition?

Share it!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Christmas Rose

A Rose has sprung from a tender root,
From Jesus, as those of old have sung,
And it bore a flower,
In the middle of a cold winter,

When half spent was the night.
Isaiah foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
Is Mary the pure, the little flower has brought us.
From God's eternal wisdom, she bore a child,
And remained pure.

The Flower, so small, whose sweet fragrance fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True man and truer God, helps us out of all sorrows,
Saves from sin and death.

Oh Jesus, until we leave this misery,
Let your help guide us into joy,
In Your Father's Kingdom, where we eternally praise You.
Oh God, allow us this.

Translated from the early 15th century German poem "Es ist ein Ros' Entsprungen." Author unknown.

Legend of the Christmas Rose

The Legend of the Christmas Rose is a charming tale of a little shepherd girl named Madelon. As Madelon tended to her sheep one cold and wintry night, Wise Men and shepherds passed by Madelon’s snow-covered field bearing gifts for the Christ Child. Following, Madelon saw the Magi present gold, myrrh and frankincense to the baby…even the humble shepherds had brought fruits, honey and doves to give to the babe…but Madelon had nothing, not even a simple flower for the Newborn King. Standing outside the stable where Jesus had been born, poor Madelon wept, wishing that she had a gift she could carry to the infant. A watching Angel, taking pity on Madelon, caused the snow at the feet of the small girl feet to vanish, thus revealing a most beautiful white flower whose petals were tipped with pink, formed by the Angel from the tears which had fallen from the eyes of the little shepherdess. Overjoyed, Madelon presented her gift at the manger of the baby Jesus…her gift of the Christmas Rose.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Santa Claus Show

By Rona Altrows

Dear Santa,

Although every child knows you are all-seeing and all-knowing, we who are approaching your age also understand that it is not always possible to remember every little incident from the past with complete clarity. I thought you might enjoy coming back with me to an earlier time to relive a family story in which you figure prominently.

It is December 1949 in Montreal and my mother still delights in being able to buy whatever she wants at the supermarket, in whatever quantities her family needs. At last, there’s no more rationing, which started during the war and ended only two years ago. My mother likes to know she can now buy sugar, butter, tea and coffee galore. Those products bring pleasure to people, which is what my mother likes above all to do. And she is so happy in her family life. After waiting a long time to get married because of her insistence on finding a man of great character, intelligence and kindness, she met and married my father, who had waited until middle age to even contemplate marriage because he had been taking care of his own sick mother for a long time. My parents now have two much-loved children, four-year-old Irwin and a one-year-old girl (me). Life is good. And because the war was so hard (overseas mostly, of course, but also, in different ways, on those who kept the home fires burning), my mother is particularly determined to bring as much joy and as little suffering as possible into the lives of her children.

That’s why, when Irwin was born, she consulted my father and they decided they would include a visit from Santa Claus as part of the winter festivities for their children every year. True, the family is Jewish, and there are already cultural and family celebrations for the children to enjoy—Chanukah, with its latkes and brightly coloured candles and dreidl games, and also a fancy family dinner on December 25th, to celebrate the anniversary of my parents, who had married on Christmas Day, 1943. But Santa Claus—well, what a delight the anticipation of his visit would be for their children.  And wouldn’t their children be happy to put out stockings on Christmas Eve, and have “Twas the Night Before Christmas” read aloud to them at bedtime, and find their stockings filled with treats and toys the next day? What lovely traditions! And so, all his young life, my brother Irwin has known about Santa Claus. He has spent most of each December waiting for the special secret visit from the jolly old soul. And Irwin has never been disappointed. His stocking has always been full on Christmas morning.

This year, like every year, the most cherished pre-Christmas activity for children will be attending The Santa Claus Parade. Sponsored by Eaton’s, the parade is always held at ten o’clock on the Saturday morning before Christmas. The beautifully decorated floats move slowly down Ste. Catherine Street until the climax of the parade, which is also the end—Santa Claus himself arrives, in his huge sleigh drawn by papier maché reindeer, and waves to the children of Montreal and their parents. Last year, when he was three, Irwin squealed himself hoarse, he was so happy and delighted to see Santa Claus in person.  And then the anticipation of Christmas morning, and that full stocking, got even greater for Irwin. My mother was delighted to see her little son so happy last year and looks forward to his being equally happy this year.

Now, in any year, the Santa Claus Parade does not just happen. There is a special buildup to it that plays out in kitchens, dining rooms and parlours all over Montreal, depending on what room a family keeps its radio in. And that buildup takes the form of the Santa Claus Show. Every weekday night for the two weeks before the parade, Santa Claus himself hosts a fifteen-minute show at 5:30 in the evening on CJAD radio. Like so many other children, Irwin feels he must listen to that show carefully. The format is always the same. First Santa Claus talks about how preparations are going for his Christmas Eve trip around the world. Then he tells a very short story. And finally he comes to the most important segment of the show: the lists.  For five minutes he reads from his list of Good Little Girls, and for five minutes, from his list of Good Little Boys. First names only. And then, Santa Claus says good night.

But Irwin is troubled. He knows something from his exposure to Christmas songs like “Santa Claus is coming to town.” He knows he has to be on that list of Good Little Boys, or else, on Christmas morning, he will be hooped, and will find nothing in the stocking except maybe a lump of coal. He tells his mother he is afraid.  What if Santa Claus thinks he is a bad boy? She tells him he is a good boy, no matter what Santa Claus or anyone else thinks. He does not believe her. Furthermore, he believes that over the next ten nights, Santa Claus will read the two lists in their entirety. So, there is pressure, even before the first Monday night broadcast. My mother worries that maybe she should not have bought into any part of the Christmas thing.

But it’s too late to turn back. Every night for the first week, Irwin listens for his name on the Good Little Boys list. Santa does not call it. Irwin is sad and anxious. He even has trouble sleeping at night. This is the opposite of what my mother wants. She explains that Santa Claus can’t possibly read out the names of all the good little children in the world in such a short time.  He is only listing some examples.  There is no convincing my brother. Every weekday night as my mother tends to her baby girl and prepares the family’s supper, Irwin occupies his favourite listening spot under the kitchen table, sits bolt upright and listens to Santa Claus call those names. Paul. Donald. Philip. Never Irwin.
Thursday night, my brother is in tears after the show. He has five more minutes of show time left. If his name is not called on the Friday show, it’s the end for him. He will officially not be a Good Little Boy. He will be shunned by Santa Claus. Or shamed. Probably both.  And he is inconsolable.

On Friday morning, my mother takes action. She asks her friend Madame Lebel next door if Irwin can stay and play at her place for a few minutes. B’en oui, no problem. With her little boy out of the house, she phones CJAD and asks to speak with the station manager. He listens to her story sympathetically and says the producer of the Santa Claus Show is in, and she needs to talk to him. So she talks to the producer, who says he is a parent himself, he understands, and he wants every child listening to the show to be happy. He is so sorry to hear Irwin has been upset. Without fail tonight, when Santa Claus reaches the list of Good Little Boys, the first name he calls will be “Irwin.”

As 5:30 approaches, Irwin takes up his usual listening post. Although my mother has been reassuring him all day, telling him she has a strong feeling his name will be called, he does not share her optimism. He sits upright in his spot under the table utterly without hope.  My mother races around the kitchen preparing supper. The show begins. Santa Claus reports that his sleigh is all packed. He tells a very short story about the spirit of Christmas. He reads from the list of Good Little Girls. Christine. Marie. Elizabeth. Finally, the moment arrives. Santa Claus announces he will read, for the last time this year, from the list of Good Little Boys. And the first name he calls, in a clear, deep voice, is “Irwin.”

“Did you hear that?” my mother exclaims.

She looks under the table. Irwin is lying on the floor, asleep.

Still your friend after all these years,
Rona Altrows