Toronto Pays Respect On Remembrance Day
Today I attended my first official Remembrance Day service in person.
On November 11th I typically watch the Ottawa broadcast from the comfort of my couch. Or, when my children were younger, their school would stage a production - sometimes with military in attendance.
This year I wanted to do something different and chose to attend in person.
2018 marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. In Toronto there were several venues marking Remembrance Day including each of the civic centres, Old City Hall and Confederation Park on the Lakeshore.
I went to the Etobicoke Civic Centre and arrived to see hundreds of people gathered around the back of the building by the Cenotaph. Stationed there were four cadets with their heads bowed holding rifles, Toronto Police, Fire Services, Paramedics, government officials and hundreds of civilians.
It was remarkable to look over and see a Veteran who may have served in the Second World War and standing behind him was a young soldier in army green fatigues.
By 10:45am the service began with the laying of wreaths. There was total silence from the crowd, even with the many young children in attendance. The only nearby noise was coming from cars driving by along busy Burnhamthorpe Road.
Wreaths were laid by members of municipal, provincial and federal government leaders, The Knights Of Columbus among other high-profile groups. The last was laid by Veteran Affairs and for the Unknown Soldier.
A moment of silence was observed at 11:00am followed by the sound of a bugle and Scottish bagpipes. Both make my heart swell and bring a tear to my eye.
Standing beside me was a woman wearing a red bomber-style jacket. On the back was a map of the Middle East with the words Persian Gulf Tour 1990-91 Operation Friction. She was crying throughout the service.
The Canadian military served in Operation Desert Storm during this time and its involvement would be codenamed, Operation Friction.
Could she have served during this war or been close to someone who did? It was emotional to be standing beside her, knowing that she had been personally touched by war.
So many of us standing there today are so fortunate that we have not experienced combat first-hand.
Remembrance Day is a time to be thankful for the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives for our freedom, and those who continue to serve on our country's behalf.
Experiencing a Remembrance Day service in person has made me want to attend them from now on.
If not for the feeling that I have while standing there and the pride in my country, but to show my respect to those who sacrificed more than I can imagine.
I'm Not Sure If I Love Or Hate Fall
Fall is here.
The leaves have all turned different colours and the trees are halfway bare.
As much as I love this season, I still feel apprehensive about what's to come. Winter.
Other than it being the time of my birthday (December 6) and Christmas, I am not a fan.
But I don't want to worry about what's to come but focus on the now.
This fall has been really wet and cold in the city. So how to deal with it when your preference is open sandals over rubber chelsea boots?
Embrace and start enjoying the heavier knits, water-repellant jackets, layers and layers and waterproof heavy flats.
Next, get outside. It sounds counter-intuitive to want to be in the rain when you're not happy about it. But breathing in the fresh C02 and taking a walk in it sure does help.
When the rain lets up, I'll be outside raking the leaves to make a pile for the dog to jump into. It used to be for the kids, but they're grown up now and not as interested in the getting their hair messed up. The dog definitely doesn't care.
Scheduling get togethers with friends is paramount. And family too.
Don't wait for special occasions.
This time of year, people tend to start thinking about cocooning indoors. By taking a walk together, or meeting for a coffee in the neighbourhood, or a quick dinner out, the social interaction feels really good.
What's your method of surviving the dreary weather? Give me some tips. And if you see an amazing pair of waterproof boots, send me a picture!
Volunteering Has Many Benefits
I was quite young when I started to volunteer.
My first memory is being around 10 years old and calling constituents on behalf of our local municipal candidate in a Toronto election. All I remember is saying to people, "I hope we can count on your support for Yuri Shymko."
As I got older, I continued to volunteer by writing for my high school newsletter, running publicity for a university club and, once I started working, I joined the Progressive Conservative Party's Blue Club which was a great way to meet people my age with politics being the catalyst.
My efforts are now targeted to causes where I have a personal connection like the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada, my childrens' schools, and The Ukrainian Canadian Care Centre where I am one of many volunteers running the gift shop.
The Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada was a no-brainer for me. When my husband was diagnosed with glioblastoma, we were given the Foundation's handbook in the hospital and I read it cover to cover. The information and support that it offered me was invaluable and as soon as I was ready I wanted to start volunteering for them.
The nursing home and schools are a part of our community and knowing that they are always in need of help, I am willing to give them my time and expertise.
What do I get out of it? There are a variety of things that volunteering does for me.
First, it brings me together with a community where we all have the same passion.
Second, being a volunteer gives me access to information. By joining the Brain Tumour Foundation I was able to meet medical experts at strategy meetings and hear the latest research while getting to know them on a more personal level.
Third, volunteering has broadened my circle of friends. I have gotten to know so many people from my volunteering commitments and I have no doubt that we will continue to be friends for years to come.
Finally, its given me the opportunity to show my own children the value in giving their time to something they care about and reaping the rewards. Its a pleasure to watch them choose their passion projects.
Wherever you choose to volunteer, I hope it gives you the same satisfaction as mine have given me.
Left to right: Sharon and Marie are two women who I met through the Brain Tumour conference
Before I started gathering stories for RESILIENT PEOPLE, I assumed that resilience meant only one thing.
I think most people generally view it as overcoming depression, going from feelings of sadness to happiness.
From the people that I am lucky enough to interview for my website, I have come to learn that resilience can be found in different professions, mindsets and even in nature.
For example, operating a business takes the ability to keep moving forward. There are many setbacks including the ups and downs of the economy, staffing, losing contracts, balancing home and life, as well as aging that can all take their toll.
The success of the business ultimately lies on their shoulders of the proprietor. It can be a struggle to keep a business afloat and certainly to have longevity.
Similarly you see the same resilience in the way that flowers and tree buds burst through the ice and snow to show the first signs of spring.
This is my favourite time of year. Not just because winter is my least favourite season, but its the sight of freshness and colour amidst the grey and gloom that gives me happiness. Look to the crocus - those tiny little buds are so powerful!
In sports the physical and mental training, losses and injuries that a team or individual athletes experience during a season is mind blowing.
I wrote about this in one of my previous blogs on the Philadelphia Eagles 2018 Super Bowl championship and the repeated references to resilience that their coach made following the game.
Resilient people are found in social justice, too. Anyone who is brave enough to stand-up for what they believe in, despite the adversity that is against them.
Anti-gun demonstrators like March For Our Lives and campaigns like the Equal Rights Amendment, #metoo and #blacklivesmatter.
Or most recently a national movement that started from Colin Kaepernick taking a knee at an NFL game in response to police brutality.
Examples of resilience can be found in so many ways and people around us. Keep reading our profile stories from resilient people in your community and around the world to be inspired.
The March For Our Lives Movement Comes To Toronto
Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Toronto this morning to stand shoulder-to-shoulder at a rally for the March For Our Lives movement.
The march was created by a group of resilient teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. On February 14th, a 19 year-old former student opened fire in the school, killing 17 students and teachers.
This group came together immediately to demand stricter gun control by the federal government. Student organizers planned the march in collaboration with the non-profit organization, Everytown for Gun Safety.
March For Our Lives started as a demonstration in Washington, DC on March 24, and grew to over 830 marches around the world.
Hundreds of people attended the event at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square, also known as City Hall. They came from all walks of life, carrying handmade signs and banners, wearing buttons and t-shirts with hand-painted slogans.
Thousands campaigned on The Mall in Washington, DC., with approximately one million marching across the US. It has been reported that not since the Vietnam war has there been such a massive demonstration in the United States.
At the Nathan Phillips march, I spoke with two women. One held a sign that read, “Dying Should Not Be The Default” while the other’s read, “MSD Strong”. When asked why they came to the march, one told me that it was because of a personal connection to the cause.
“My niece attends Marjory Stoneman Douglas and she was there the day of the shootings,” she said. “She is only 17 years old and I’m here to support her.”
A family I spoke with told me that they came up from Parkland to attend the rally in Toronto. They laughed about the temperature difference but wanted to come here to walk with their Canadian family.
Amongst the music, singing, chanting and drum beating, there was one underlying message. Change needs to happen now.
Easter is only a few weeks away. Being early this year, it will most likely be cold. April 1 in Toronto tends to be that way.
About six years ago, around this time of year, I planted a pussy willow tree in my garden. It started off as a stick, roughly 12 inches long and an inch across. It would be an experiment to see if it would actually grow into a tree.
Within a few months, it began to show shoots of little green branches. Month after month, it grew.
Within a year, my stick started to resemble a very small tree. Some years later, it stands about 20 feet high and five feet across. Magnificent!
Around this time every year, we begin to see the characteristic fuzzy buds begin to pop from the branches. Many think the first signs of spring are the crocus flowers or perennial bushes that peek out of the ground.
But our pussy willow tree will have the first buds to appear, every year. It’s a true leader.
According to the website Fun Flower Facts, pussy willows are often displayed in homes for Chinese New Year, symbolizing growth and prosperity in the new year. They are also used as decoration on Palm Sunday at Easter.
At our Ukrainian Catholic church, instead of using palm leaves to be blessed on Palm Sunday, we have pussy willow branches. The Encyclopedia Of Ukraine tells us that the Sunday before Easter, is also called, Willow Sunday.
Pussy willows were used because in Ukraine they thrived in the climate as opposed to palms.
The tradition with Ukrainians is that they tap each other on the head and shoulders, reciting the following wish, “Be as tall as the willow, as healthy as the water, and as rich as the earth.” Or another playful verse, which goes something like, “The willow is hitting you, I’m not hitting you, a week from today is Easter.” Personally, the former is more inspirational and friendly.
My beloved pussy willow tree is serving up the notice that spring truly is around the corner. Slowly the other horticultural species will catch-up.
We heard it from players on the field and the owner of the team. Resilience.
Brandon Graham, the defensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles, was interviewed after his team won Super Bowl 52. “If we got one more opportunity, we were going to give everything we got,” he said. “I’m just so thankful, because we’ve got a team that’s resilient.”
With a stunning 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots, the Eagles came into yesterday’s game as the underdog.
The Patriots’ star quarterback, Tom Brady, and his teammates were headed into the game with five Super Bowl wins. The Eagles knew they had a tough road ahead of them.
There was even the question of whether the Eagles’ quarterback, Nick Foles, would be intimidated by playing against the famous Brady.
But that did not deter him from making the right plays to help his team to victory.
Jeffrey Lurie, the silver haired 66 year-old Owner of the Eagles said his team faced many obstacles and injuries that could have prevented them from getting the Vince Lombardi trophy. But, it was their resilience that got them to the top.
Being resilient can help us through the toughest times. Sports figures, entertainers or everyday heroes remind us that it can get us through many challenges.
Life throws everybody a curve ball from time to time. But, it’s what you do with it that matters.
Join a club, volunteer, start a blog, or learn a new sport. However you pick yourself up and move forward, it will be worth it.
Recently, my husband and I turned 49 years old. Yes, we are exactly the same age.
Adam and I discovered this on our first date while we sat at a tiny table in a popular restaurant in Toronto’s gay village. We were just another couple getting to know each other, talking for hours. We chatted about our careers, funny details about our families, favourite places to travel and where we’d still like to go.
“When were you born?” I asked him. He told me December 6.
“No way”, I said.
“Yeah, December 6”, he said.
I told him it was also my birthday.
So then I asked, “What year?” Adam said, “1968”.
I saw stars. You hear about this in the movies, but it really happened to me.
Full disclosure, I am a very sceptical person, so I asked Adam to produce identification. We were set-up by a mutual friend, so I somehow thought that details about me, including my birthday, were shared in advance.
Sure enough, his ID proved that we are birthday twins.
Many people our age feel sad, depressed or even indifferent about getting older.
Perhaps they feel that they haven’t achieved certain life goals, or don’t have a partner to love. Maybe they’ve experienced tragedy and their life has taken a sudden turn.
For me, I’m happy for every year I get to share my birthday with my husband.
Back in the fall of 2016, my husband was diagnosed with Glioblastoma (GBM), the most aggressive type of brain cancer.
Complaining about hearing and memory loss, as well as feelings of exhaustion, a CT scan and MRI at the hospital proved that it was GBM.
The doctor shared the grim news with him along with all of the disheartening facts and figures.
Adam was alone in a hospital room with no one by his side but a man in the next bed recovering from back surgery, and his visiting wife.
Fighting tears and sounding scared, he told me as I drove down to see him.
When I arrived, we hugged and I said that everything would be okay. From that moment, we began our mission to surround ourselves with the best medical professionals and support. Adam was 47 years old.
Over the next few months we experienced a lot.
Two weeks following his diagnosis, he had a full craniotomy and the tumour was successfully removed.
With 47 staples in his head, he left the hospital the next day and we began his recovery.
Most of our days were spent taking our mini poodle Ella for long walks, enjoying quiet time with our teenage children, and watching lots of old movies on TV.
At the same time, our daughter was preparing her university applications, and our son was beginning Grade 9. It was an important year for them and we wanted to help them through it.
We welcomed so many visitors, flowers, gift baskets and prepared meals. Honestly, I enjoyed the break from cooking. All of this made our house feel full of love and we welcomed every bit of it.
The weeks following were filled with radiation and chemotherapy treatments at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. It also marked our 48th birthdays.
Fifteen months have passed since his diagnosis and Adam remains cancer-free.
It’s impossible for anyone to predict what the future holds, but one thing is for certain. We are already planning our 50th birthday bash.