photo courtesy: Alexandra Petruck
This time of year we are hard-pressed to go anywhere and not hear jolly carols, receive happy greetings, and watch movies about the joy of the season.
Whatever your religious leanings, the reason for the season could be the birth of Christ or just an opportunity to enjoy the gathering of loved ones and exchange gifts.
But for many it is also a time of sadness, loneliness and heartache.
I attended a church service this morning where the sermon was on joy. The minister asked the congregation to talk about what makes them joyful or jolly.
One woman took the microphone and said, "Our family is currently going through a difficult time settling my father's estate." She sat in the pew with her shoulders curled inward, speaking quietly.
"My brother and I haven't spoken for a long time, he was estranged for many years, and this has given us an opportunity to reconnect."
Another parishioner rose who teaches at the university. One of his preacher students discovered that she has cancer.
With no money and having to move to a rental unit that is closer to downtown, he knew that she was in a difficult spot. He put a request to other church ministers to donate to her plight and in one day he raised $8,000.
The final person to speak was very moving. She told us that this would be the first year that she would not be spending with her family. "It was a deliberate decision as it would be easier to spend the holidays apart than be together."
The most striking thing was that she ended by saying that she and her brother live next door to each other. When she finished speaking, she started to weep. I don't think there was a dry eye in the room.
I couldn't imagine not being around my family at Christmas and being estranged from my only brother. But a bitter divorce that happened years ago has caused us to not be together with my dad.
Some families cope well with divorce but ours is not one of them. Separating the celebrations doesn't make it any happier or joyful when you're always thinking what that other person is doing.
The pressure to be jolly is not at play for everyone, but I see it as an opportunity for others to be a little kinder, slower and more thoughtful this season.
You may meet someone who needs it and that may bring them a little more joy.
Merry Christmas everyone.
My husband and I turned 50 years old today.
There's no getting around what a novelty it is. Sharing the same birthday and now turning 50 years old together.
Last year in one of my first blogs I wrote about what turning 49 meant to me. It was just after my husband had finished cancer treatments for glioblastoma. That year and the year before it were a roller coaster of events and emotions.
Now here we are!
Adam really wanted to throw a party to celebrate our dual 50th birthdays, but I was against it. I love a good party, going to them and throwing them for others, but this one didn't appeal to me.
For years we talked about how we would like to celebrate turning 50. I was more interested in going away while Adam always talked about having a big blowout with family and friends.
I suggested to him that he have a party, and I would help him organize it and attend as a guest. He said, "How can you be a guest when its your birthday too?" It made perfect sense to me, but he wasn't buying it.
Then one day this past summer I met the remarkable Elly Gotz for a coffee. He told me that year he celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary as well as his 90th birthday. Both were with parties.
Elly and I had talked about his hard life in the Holocaust and his love of life. He always found a way to have fun.
He learned about the rough times that my family had gone through recently.
I told him about our upcoming big birthdays and that I wasn't interested in doing a celebration. Elly leaned into the table, looked me in the eye and quietly said, "Janet, have the party."
What he was telling me was to enjoy life, celebrate the moments and not hold back.
So this past weekend we had a big party. Love, laughter, and good dance music filled the room. It was a great feeling and I don't regret it for a minute.
And 50? So far, so good.
Brain Tumour Foundation Walk (Toronto) 2018
How will you give this #GivingTuesday?
Today marks the 6th annual #GivingTuesday. It is a one-day global movement that encourages people to give of their time, money or resources.
GivingTuesday is held after Black Friday and Cyber Monday as a way to give back to those in need.
The opportunities to donate are endless. Whether it is local, national or international there is a charity or cause for everyone.
CanadaHelps offers numerous suggestions and links to various non-profits. They even offer a tool that will list charities by category including: animal, religion, environment and health.
If you're still stuck, we've profiled a bunch of deserving charities on our website stories that would appreciate your dollars. Some of them include:
The Tory Day Fund
Nathan Deslippe Memorial Fund
Giving product that you may not want but someone else could use is another fantastic opportunity.
Charities like The Period Purse, run by the amazing Jana Girdauskas, take purses, backpacks and tote bags and fill them with menstrual products for homeless individuals and those in need. Go to their website to find drop-off locations.
Volunteering is another way to participate in GivingTuesday. If you're tight on funds but have some extra time, consider offering your services to a neighbour or elderly relative.
The concept of 'Pay It Forward' is another fantastic way to give. Wikipedia lists a number of ways to do this like:
Me, I'll be using today as an opportunity to submit our 2018 charitable donations. We have a number of places that are close to our hearts, some of which are: Mount Sinai and St. Michael's Hospital where our children were born, The Odette Cancer Centre where we've spent many hours, and the Daily Bread Food Bank that provides food for those in need.
Happy GivingTuesday everybody! Feel free to post where you gave today and how it made you feel.
I am a little excited but more scared about it.
My 16 year-old son passed his driving test last week. He can now drive on his own on the city streets of Toronto, but not on the highway. That's for another day's test.
For all of the years that I cringed at having to drive my children to their programs when they were younger, I long for those days now.
I AM excited for him and see from his older sister that she is a responsible driver. But deep down, I'm scared sh**less at the thought of him being behind the wheel on his own.
It's not necessarily because of his capabilities but how I see other drivers and pedestrians behaving when I'm out.
The examples are endless on any given day: jaywalking, faces in the phones while crossing the road, drivers who text and drive, bicyclists weaving in and out of traffic without a helmet, drivers speeding, drivers going too slowly, turning without a signal and flipping the bird at you for no big reason.
I hate to throw this into my sentence but, "It was a different time when I was learning how to drive".
The first time my daughter took the car on her own, she drove around the neighbourhood with her little brother in the passenger seat. It wasn't far but they loved it. I was nervous until they returned home.
We'll do the same for him but, with her being away from school, it might just be him alone in the car.
I wish there was something like a 'Teen Driver Alone, Nervous Mom At Home' sticker that I could affix to the car.
The best that I can do for him is trust in his ability and hope for the best.
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.
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!
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.