Do You Believe In Signs From The Universe?

One morning last week on my walk, I saw a fox. Not once but twice. The first time he strutted right in front of me (crossing the road), turned to me and smiled, like “How you doing, baby?” and kept on his merry way before I could even think about taking a photo. He was beautiful.

As I marveled at this rare occurrence (and turned around to make my way home) I glanced toward the water and there he was again, galloping across a snow-covered lawn. That time he ignored me completely.

Please know that even though we live in the woods, I never see anything unusual on my walks. I mean, I see crows and seagulls and squirrels and chipmunks but that’s about it. So to see this red beauty twice was pretty special.

I immediately reached out to my friend T who is in touch with all things native and symbolic. She told me the fox was telling me to “observe the acts of others rather than heeding their words.” Foxes are cunning and adaptable, with swiftness of thought and action.

Hmmm. I just filed that into a mental pocket. Because I do believe that sometimes we get a sign from The Universe which may not instantly be understood.

I was, however, reminded of another fleeting (flying) symbol that I witnessed shortly before Christmas. Again I was walking and listening to Vince Gill sing “It Won’t Be The Same This Year,” a song about the first Christmas after his brother died. And I immediately thought of my friend E who lost both his wife and his father in 2020. And I sent off a “prayer” asking for angels to comfort him. At which time a hawk flew out of the woods, circled around my head and disappeared back into the trees. “Oh, Hi N,” I whispered (N is E’s wife), “and of course I know you’re an angel so you can take care of this one!” It was a glorious, big-smile moment (and E really loved the story).

And then there’s opera. I’ve been adding some new (old) music to my phone, including some songs from La Traviata (my favourite opera). My parents dragged me to countless European opera houses, hoping to instill  in my 11 year old brain a love of their favourite music. I didn’t actually think it worked (I fell asleep more often that not) until many years later I found myself glued to the television watching Verdi’s work and then begging my then-husband to get tickets so we could experience it live.

Now this music is on my phone. And last week on my morning walk, an incredible aria showed up on shuffle. It was one of those weird cloudy morning where the sun was playing hide and seek. As I listened to the soprano with chills on my spine, I looked up and said, “Mommy and Daddy, are you listening too? Do you understand this gift you gave me?” And just as the violins crescendoed magnificently, the sun burst out of the clouds in an intense blaze of glory. Talk about a sign for The Universe?

I just about fell down.

I did fall down a dew days later, only because I was zoned-out (listening to music) and I tripped over a blob of snow. I staggered home all achy and sore, only to discover that our furnace had died.

Were these signs from The Universe?

I believe they were. Because even achy and sore with no furnace (we have a gas fireplace and an electric heater so no one froze) I was reminded that my problems are first-world. Eminently manageable. That evening I baked and cooked happily. Even with a stiff neck. Because I had been reminded to count my blessings, even in this land of Covid-fatigue.

These signs don’t just arrive when I am walking in paradise. Memes show up on my Facebook feed that I KNOW I must share with friends. I will come across a random news article I KNOW my son should read. I will meet someone new and know instantly we are meant to be friends. A stranger will reach out to me and I will understand the BIG reason why.

You want a sign … just be available. They are everywhere.

So back to The Fox. I would like to believe that I am “cunning and adaptable, with swiftness of thought and action.”  I’m not so sure, though, that I am so good at observing actions. I am a word-girl after all. Too often I get lost in a beautiful sea of eloquence. Too often I can forgive an action (or lack thereof) because the words have soothed my soul. Too often some clever shark will “lawyer” me with just the right argument to win the day. Those succinctly-articulated seemingly-measured words will lull me into acquiescence. Oddly enough, sometimes no words at all will have the same effect.

No more.

I’m still not exactly sure what I am meant to wake up to.

But thanks to that fox, I am awake and ready. I will henceforth be adjudicating actions. Not just words. Yeah, okay, maybe some words … but mostly actions. Because The Fox said so.

Because I DO believe in signs from The Universe.

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Do You Believe In Unconditional Love?

After many weeks of pondering this question I have come to the conclusion that my answer is …

No.

I do not believe there is any such thing as unconditional love. Unless you are Mother Theresa (only alive). Then there might be. Short of that, I have decided we all place conditions on our love, the offering of our love, the maintaining of our love, even quite possibly the inception of our love. Turns out we are greedy little humans and we want what we want when we want it the way we want it.

Now I know right now somebody is slamming down their wine glass yelling, “Now wait just a minute, Vic! What about the love a parent feels for their child? That’s pretty damn unconditional, right?”

Yeah. Sometimes. And sort of. I know my son would have to do something pretty darn dastardly for me to stop loving him. That said, the annals of history are filled with stories of estranged parents and offspring. Even murderous parents and offspring. I can attest to the fact that at times (not recently), my darling son treated his beloved mother horribly. Much more horribly than his beloved mother deserved. Perhaps there was a moment or two when beloved mother returned the favour? Who knows? I do know that even that most sacred of bonds can be tested to the breaking point.

I once dated a man whose mother refused to speak to him for a over a year. She refused because he had been an asshole to her one too many times and she was fed up. In his defense, he was 18 at the time and most of us were assholes when we were 18. When they finally rekindled familial relations, and many years had passed by, she became increasingly wracked with guilt. How could she have disowned her own son? What kind of mother does that, she queried? The kind whose son is an asshole, I answered, ever a beacon of sage and uncommon wisdom. But she was inconsolable. Didn’t matter what I said, she could not forgive herself. (For the record, he had no trouble forgiving himself for being an asshole). This Momma believe that her love SHOULD be unconditional and she had failed.

Now if my son did something really vile like, say, vote for Trump or storm the Capitol wearing bearskins and horns, there is a good chance my conditions would come screaming to the surface. I would probably even turn him in to the FBI. After which I would visit him weekly in prison and bring homemade cookies. But damn, I would be pissed!

Which brings to me to unconditional friendship love. I would like to believe that I am a nonjudgmental pal. I would like to believe that, over the years, many pals have come to me for honest, uncondemning counsel because my friendship was and is indeed unconditional. I’ve made way too many mistakes in my life to chastise others for doing the same. And it is not my place to tell anybody what is right and what is wrong.

But then …. (there is always a but) … a very old and dear friend of mine became a vocal supporter of Trumpism. She actually used the phrase “Drain the swamp!” on social media. She reposted “articles” that made my blood boil.

And just a brief aside – I have lots of friends who do not share my political beliefs and we have been known to engage in spirited, adult dialogue. We have ultimately agreed to disagree. But we are talking Canadian politics here; not the dangerous circus that has been escalating daily south of the border.

At one point, I felt that Miss Trumpster and I had truly reached a crossroads. How could we continue to be friends when she had joined a cult (my blog, my opinion)?

My inner voice whispered: What about unconditional love? Just live and let live. Concentrate on her good qualities and ignore the rest. Prove that you can do it, Vic. Prove that you do have unconditional love in you.

To date, my inner voice has won the battle. This friend and I are not in daily contact and, when we do touch base, we fill our chats with love (and no politics). But I will confess that, should push ever come to shove, our friendship will find that drain. Because when it comes to the American horror show that sadly demonstrates no signs of abating, my love is not nor can it be unconditional. I truly believe the future of our planet depends upon it.

So what about marriage? We all take vows hoping to honour them but we also promise to love unconditionally. This, to me, is a bit of an oxymoron. IF you are choosing to love unconditionally, why are you taking vows? Why not just say “I’ll do my best and I will love you if you do your best even if you fuck up but as long as I know that you’re trying I’ll be here because I love you unconditionally and I’ll try my best too I hope.”

Yeah, no. I don’t think so.

We want guarantees. And if the guarantee isn’t met, all the unconditional love in the world doesn’t add up to a hill of beans. (Who wants a hill of beans, anyway?) You know why? Because we are all greedy little human beings and we all want to BE loved unconditionally. We just don’t want to return that unconditional love when it doesn’t suit our conditional agenda.

An old friend of mine recently showed up on social media with a new name. “What the heck?” I asked. She responded that she and her husband had parted ways because he cheated on her. BOOM! Gone. She was moving on. Even after thirty-plus years.

“How is HE feeling about this?” I asked.

“He feels wretched,” she replied. “He is desperately sorry.”

So, now we take it to the jury, ladies and gentlemen. What say ye? Does she attempt to love him unconditionally and take him back OR does she stand by her ‘one strike you’re out’ rule and just gallop off running with that new name?

You’ll have to answer that one for yourself.

And then – briefly – there is the dog thing. Yes, they say a dog is the only creature that will love you unconditionally, guaranteed!

No. A dog (unlike a husband, say) has very few needs. Feed me, walk me, pet me, play with me, give me shelter. For most of us, those needs are easy to fulfill so we therefore feel unconditionally loved when we fulfill them and get licked on the face. But I am willing to wager that if you starve that dog, leave it outside in inclement weather, beat it, ignore it and starve it again, that dog will not love you anymore. It will probably eat you.

As you can see, the more I break it down, the less I feel convinced that unconditional love is possible. So why do we long for it? Strive for it? Insist upon it? Desperately hope for it?

I think it’s because we are so damn afraid of accountability. When we examine our personal ledgers we see lots of loopholes and digressions. We see errors and lack of judgement and gargantuan mistakes and tiny blunders we wish with all our hearts we could do over. As we gaze into that horribly unforgiving mirror we are fraught with doubt and then yearning. Doubt that we are worthy of love and then yearning for love in spite of our worthiness.

Yearning for unconditional love.

I am quite certain that both of my parents loved me. But as my mother so eloquently stated that one time I left my husband, “I love you, Vickie. But I don’t like you very much right now.”

Ouch.

In hindsight, and with the benefit of almost 30 years of parenting myself, I REALLY wish she hadn’t said that. I really wish she had said, “Vickie, I’m having a hard time understanding your choices,” or “Vickie, I can’t say that I agree with your decisions but hey, I’m not actually IN your marriage so maybe we should talk about this further …”

Yes, I really wish.

I think (hope?) that before she died, my mother realized how she had hurt me. How her “unconditional” love had actually been so VERY conditional.

I think that is all any of us can hope for.

Realization.

Awareness and understanding that, although unconditional love may well be impossible, we have opportunities to strive for it every single day. We have a chance to set aside our greedy little human-ness and just love without expectation. We do not need checkpoints and a ledger. We do not need promises and guarantees.

We need open hearts. Open hearts WILLING to love. Unconditionally.

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What Did You Say (I Mean – Tweet)?

So now we’re in another lockdown. A state of emergency lockdown. Shit’s getting real.

Well, my shit has been pretty real ever since last March because I take all of this shit seriously but now there will be dire consequences for those who don’t . Take it seriously, I mean.

All I can say is, for those of us mindful of quarantine, playing by the rules and learning to live in isolation, thank goodness we can still eat and drink wine! Two of my favourite things.

Which brings me to THE TWEET.

Last week I saw a tweet which asked if buying beer and booze was really “essential” in a pandemic. Wondering why, in the interest of public safety, small businesses were forced to close or limit themselves to curbside pickup yet the LCBO and beer store were cheerfully open and even hopping with happy customers and “very few controls”. Was it really essential?

I rarely respond to tweets but I did to this one. With one word. “Yes.”

I do understand that evaluating “fairness” in this pandemic can’t be easy. The struggle between economics and public health is real. Not every decision will please every person.

But … after 10 months of this plague, which by all accounts is going to get worse before it gets better, to insinuate that the consumption of adult beverages is non-essential smacks (to me) of moralizing. Judgmentalism. High-horsedness. God, I hate high-horsedness.

I don’t want to argue what is fair here. I don’t want to discuss if the local florist or dress shop has less value than an alcoholic beverage. I feel immensely sad for floundering small businesses everywhere. My beloved is unable to work at present and even though I can, my salary has been significantly diminished. We are not living in a champagne fountain.

But we do like a nice cold beer or a glass of Pinot Grigio. And I reckon so do many others. I also reckon that the fine folks at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa determined many months ago that removing enjoyable libations along with EVERYTHING else would be torturous. And counterproductive.

And if you want to belabor the “very few controls” issue I will offer that if I could have my wine delivered to my house I most certainly would. In the meantime, I see as many controls at the liquor store as I do at the grocery store. Everybody is trying. Not always succeeding but trying.

Brazilian lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho once said “Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.”

Agreed. Life is currently offering us uncertainty. Loneliness. Even fear. Let us taste, sip, ZOOM with our people and get through this!

As for Judgmental Tweeter-Dude … please … shut up. Decide for yourself what is essential and go live your truth. We will all respect you for not having another drop until every business can open.

As a matter of fact, we will even drink to you.

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I Hereby Resolve to Leave Everything Unresolved

Oh my, the pundits have been busy these first few days of 2021. And by pundits I mean my friends on social media. The smart ones. The ones who share sage counsel with us regularly, reminding us to keep our chins up, our optimism stoked, our spirits high and our wine glasses less full.

I know. Who the heck said that? And why?

Don’t get me wrong. I take no issue with punditing. Please – pundit away! I am just choosing with this new year to ignore all punditions (yes, I just made up that word and isn’t is a dandy!) that compel me to fret, worry, overthink and/or underdrink. I mean, really, have we learned nothing from this past year.

One pundit advised accepting a challenge to work out religiously.

Another suggested finding your “word” for this new year.

A third decided it would be best to only drink wine on weekends.

And the fourth advised us to stop torturing ourselves to improve.

Holy crap, that is a lot of pressure, but here goes:

*I will work out regularly (and by that I mean walk) because I want to. Because it feels good. Because it’s my thing. Not because I accepted a challenge.

*My word will be fuck. Just because.

*I will drink wine whenever I damn well please.

*I will make an effort to improve what I think needs improving and lose not a moment’s sleep over what anybody else thinks.

Really, I believe it behooves us to take a page out of the glorious European notebook. Think of the Italians. The French. The Greeks. All of those romantic and poetic souls who drink wine with lunch and dinner – on weekdays even, walk everywhere because it’s fun and convenient, get all the self-help they need from Mama and have so many magnificent words at their disposal why would they ever just choose one?

Don’t forget, they are also in this. In this Covid nightmare that shows no sign of abating anytime soon. I just cannot imagine they are punditing all over their social media streams because THAT is the way to get through this crazy time. They are probably having an extra glass of wine, taking an extra evening stroll and not giving a damn what North Americans think (or do).

And that is why I hereby resolve to leave everything unresolved. No challenges, no words and certainly no less wine. I believe life is meant to be lived fully no matter the circumstance. I don’t need to be pundited into a new year because to me, it is just an extension of the old one. Just a whole bunch more days (I hope) that I get to enjoy. My way.

That excites me. Please do whatever excites you.

Fuck.

(oops)

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Why It Is More Important Than Ever to Live “Forward”.

Just the other day I was feeling all verklempt. As in – overcome with emotion. Oddly, I was thinking about German Christmas carols which makes the word verklempt even more appropriate. You see, I was contemplating the retirement of traditional German music in my festive season. Sure, I can stream it and download it (and I do) but man, we used to sing it. In the Mennonite church as children and at our family gatherings when my mother would play piano and my sister and I would sing in two-part harmony. Sometimes my dad joined in on the mandolin.

Many years ago, my mother, realizing that German Christmas music was indeed dying off with the generations, took it upon herself to compile a book of favourites. Not only did she compile, but refined the notes, found all the lyrics and even scripted the final song (Stille Nacht – Silent Night) in her own hand. This book is truly one of the greatest gifts she ever gave, not only to my sister and me and a few other lucky souls, but to her church. Where it would help keep the tradition alive. She hoped.

For several years, Mother, sister and I would still gather around the piano. Even as she got older and frailer, my mother would try. Maybe one song. Then my sister (who is highly proficient) would take over for a few.

In these past years since my mother died, we have sung no carols. The German book comes out and sits on the piano but my keyboard prowess is limited at best and I just can’t site-read those notes. I’m more of a chord-girl. As in, I can play from guitar chords (on the piano) but if I tried to play actual notes on a Christmas carol it would be Easter before we finished a song. My sister complains that arthritis now stifles her playing. And our children, even though probably familiar with some of these songs – and even the German language – don’t sing.

It hit me hard the other night that this was the end of an era. As those sweet German boys warbled in my kitchen (Vienna Boys’ Choir?), I shed a tear or two. We won’t even see my family this Christmas, much less sing in any language. There will be no annual singalong around my piano (which tries to happen every year, no matter where I live) in our new home. And my son, who is such a very fine singer in his own right, has no interest in learning German or singing from his grandmother’s songbook. As much as I am certain he values his grandmother’s songbook.

The end of an era. For me, an era that has coloured my entire life.

And then I thought … just wait a minute. Just wait one gosh-darned minute! (Hey, it’s Christmas. I’m trying not to swear.) Maybe there IS a way for me to prolong this era, even just for me. (I don’t think my beloved is going to sing anything in any language, much less German.)

So I pulled out that book and I sent it to my dear friend and producer Davor. And I said, “Davor, I need you to write the guitar chords in above the words. So that I can at least try to play these songs and sing them – even alone. And I will pay you because I know musicians are struggling right now and I want to help you while you help me.

Living forward.

That is what I think is MOST important this holiday season. If we dwell in past Decembers, if we languish in despair because nothing is the same, if we succumb to bitterness and anger because Covid has robbed us of OUR CHRISTMAS … well, it’s going to be a pretty unjolly time. Perhaps if we simply accept that YES, it’s gonna be different and YES, some traditions won’t happen and YES, we may not all be together (except on Zoom) but YES, next year we will all be vaccinated so YES, maybe next year will be better (or more “normal”). That does not mean we simply “survive” this year. It means we adjust our expectations, we revel in the moments that do arrive and we live forward.

I know many people have lost loved ones this year. My heart truly breaks for anyone going through “the first Christmas without …” To go through that THIS year, when we cannot even be surrounded by other loved ones, well, that is a pain I cannot fathom.

I still offer – try to live forward.

We cannot change what has happened. At present, we can hardly change what is happening or what will happen. We can do our part, wear our masks, stay socially distant and try to find a way to live forward. Memories are beautiful and I believe Christmas memories are the MOST beautiful. The most poignant. And sometimes the most sad. Let us tuck them securely into our hearts, let us embrace the present for exactly what it is (a gift) and let us try with all our might to live forward.

This Christmas I suspect I will sing along with those sweet German boys in my kitchen. I don’t expect Davor to drop everything and complete my last-minute Christmas project. That’s okay. Because next Christmas I will not only have those chords, I will have had many months to practice them!

So next Christmas there will be a singalong party in our new home. But there will also be a few festive nights when I will light candles, pour wine, sit at my baby grand and all alone, play some German carols. Perhaps I’ll even try to sing along (they are never in my key which is why I always get the alto part). Maybe my sister will visit and for the first time ever I will play while she and I sing.

Who knows?

I don’t know what tomorrow, next week or next year will bring. And that is okay.

I am looking forward. And living forward.

I hope you are too.

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Just a Tiny Blog About Christmas Songs

I love Christmas music. I start listening on November 1 and truth be told, I have a few favourites that stay on my phone all year long. Those Grinches who purport that November 1 is “way too early” to hark the heralds (or deck the halls) can bite me. We live in a free country. You don’t have to. I want to.

However … there are a few things I don’t want. I don’t ever want to hear “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” ever again. The dumbest of the dumb.

I don’t ever want to hear “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” updated to be politically correct.  Grow up.

I can totally live without Mariah Carey screaming “All I Want For Christmas”.  Apparently it is the most downloaded holiday song of all time. Don’t care. I like the little girl who sings it in “Love, Actually”.  Just don’t like screaming and showing off.

And I have a real hard time (see above) with artists who decide they know better than the original songwriter and change lyrics to Christmas classics. Why? Why do you think it’s necessary to mess with Irving Berlin or Mel Torme? Do you think it makes you clever or unique? Seriously, if you’re that clever just leave the standard alone and go write your own timeless classic.

Which brings me to this.  Another one of my least favourite (and horribly overdone) festive ditties is “Last Christmas”. Followed closely by the also hopelessly (haplessly) overdone “This Christmas”.

Last Christmas I gave you me heart, the very next day you gave it away … Hang all the mistletoe, I’m gonna get to know you better … this Christmas …

Last Christmas. This Christmas. Whatever.

How about this: last Christmas we all took this special holiday for granted. We fretted about shopping and decorating and wrapping and baking and gaining weight and dressing fancy for the office party and spending too much (or not enough) money and fitting everything (and everyone) in and not losing our minds doing it. We never thought in a million years the only thing we would be fretting about 365 days later is that THIS Christmas we don’t get to see our loved ones. We don’t get to host (or attend) a family dinner. We don’t get to hug our grown children and we get to kiss very few (if we are lucky!) people under the mistletoe. THIS Christmas we will (or at least should) be grateful for our own health and the health of our loved ones. Period. Full stop.

What a difference a year makes, right?

Well, I would like to challenge all my songwriter friends to write a new song. A new song called “Next Christmas”.  A new song about what we have learned, what we still will learn and how we will bring all this newly-gleaned wisdom into all Christmases henceforth. How NEXT Christmas we will all be smarter, kinder, more generous, more grateful, more loving and more … present. Present in the true spirit of the season. Taking nothing and no one for granted and embracing the season with joy. Joy unimpeded by expectations and stress. Joy that we can hug and sing and shake hands and be together and yes … kiss under the mistletoe.

“Next Christmas” will be my new favourite song. I feel it.

Have at it, my musical friends!

I know you can do it.

For all of us.

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The Year Christmas Came Late …

It was December 1992. The year that my Christmas belly-full-of-jelly was about as big as Santa’s himself. Except my belly was full of baby. However, the only bells that were jingling were the ones on the blood pressure monitor. The ones that clanged loudly every time my doc checked my numbers. Pregnancy Induced Hypertension he called it. PIH. It most likely would not abate until the baby came out.

But the baby was not supposed to come out until the end of January. So I got sent to bed with instructions to stay there. As the good doc said, “If it wasn’t Christmas I’d be sending you to the hospital.”

I was scared. I had endured three miscarriages before this pregnancy and I was scared.

After a few days in bed, Christmas arrived and my head would not stop banging. I called my mother to let her know we would not be joining the family for Christmas dinner. My mother calmly informed me that if I was too ill to come for Christmas dinner I should get the hospital immediately.

My mother knows how much I love Christmas dinner.

I spent Christmas night on a hospital bed and the next few after as well. My numbers settled down so I was sent home. My numbers skyrocketed so I went back. Because it was the holiday season, I saw a different doctor every day (mine was off skiing somewhere) but I will never forget the immortal words of Dr. Ken-Doll who saw me the say I returned.

“You’re in for the duration, Vickie. No more going home until this baby arrives.”

My heart sank. I hated being in the hospital and the baby wasn’t due for another month!

“The good new is,” Dr. Hottie continued, “PIH babies typically come early and they come fast.”

Oh. Goodie. I think.

New Year’s Day arrived and my new best-friend nurse said I could have a hall pass. My numbers were good. I could leave the hospital for a few hours to have dinner with family.

I spent those few hours on the sofa with an ever-increasing headache and ever-increasing numbers (my dear hubby had borrowed a BP cuff from a friend). We hightailed it back to the hospital early and my nurse immediately knew exactly why.

“Now you go to bed and you stay in bed except to pee. Those are the rules, Vickie. DO NOT break them!”

I hated being in that bed. It was uncomfortable and slippery. There was a plastic mattress protector under the flimsy sheet (you know us pregnant gals … things can get messy!) and I always felt like I was about to go flying off the bed every time I rolled over. Plus the constant PA announcements and then the code blues. Every time I heard one I was transported back to the night my father had a heart attack and then overcome with grief for the family going through it. (Yes I am an out-of-control empath plus there were all those hormones!) I was getting very little sleep and feeling kind of cranky.

On January 2 that day’s doctor stopped in and asked me how I was feeling.

“Tired. Really tired. I can’t sleep in this damn place.”

He looked at me like I was a moron. “Well then we’ll give you a sleeping pill.”

“What? Seriously? You can give a pregnant woman a sleeping pill?” I had never taken a sleeping pill in my life so now didn’t really seem like the optimum moment.

He laughed.

And I got my pill at around 8:30 that evening. By 9 I was drifting off into beautiful, unslippery sleep.

At around midnight I was awakened by a sharp cramp. “Oh damn,” though I groggily. “I’m getting my period.”

Yeah, right.

Holy crap!!! I’m pregnant! There are no periods. That was a contraction! I’m having a baby!!

I buzzed the nurse. Then I got up to pee and my water broke all over the floor.

The nurse said, “It looks like it’s time, Vickie. You’d better call your husband.”

My poor dear hubby, who had been driving the 30 minutes back and forth to the hospital twice daily while still maintaining a full-time job, answered after the 5th ring.

“Hey honey,” I chirped merrily, “Wanna go for a swim?”

“What?” He was still half asleep.

“My water just broke,” I announced proudly (as if I had personally orchestrated this event). “We’re having a baby!”

At this point I had been in hospital on and off for well over a week. Hubby knew the drill. He had witnessed the drill. Never-ending labours that went on and on and seemingly never-ended. He knew this was just the beginning. “Um, why don’t I get some sleep and I’ll come first thing in the morning?”

“No honey, come now. The nurse said you MUST come now.”

He was suddenly wide awake. “I’ll be right there!”

My contractions had begun less than an hour earlier and they were already a minute apart.

I was moved to the pre-birth room and given an enema because accidents do happen and those wonderful doctors sure as heck don’t want to be catching the wrong thing when we start to push. At the exact moment that I was sitting on the throne allowing the enema to do its thing, darling hubby walked in the door with two giant coffees in his hands. “Hey honey, I brought you a …”

He took in the scene instantly as I let out a loud contraction-induced moan. “Just give mine to the nurse,” I sputtered between moans. “I’m good.”

As if.

Back in bed I was asked if I wanted natural childbirth.

“Absolutely!” I exclaimed between even more moans. “I promise not to wear makeup. Now please give me drugs!”

They did. And soon thereafter the horrible cramps weren’t quite so horrible anymore.

But that darn baby refused to drop. He was nice and cozy in his own heated pool and had no intention of greeting this new year any time soon.

The drugs wore off. It was now 7am and a shift change so I had to wait for the new anesthetist. But she was busy with caesarian sections which for some reason were deemed more important than my agony.

My contractions were pretty much on top of each other, I was fully un-drugged and my blood pressure was frighteningly all over the place. At one point the nurse screamed “240 over 140??? We have to get this baby out of here!”

The anesthetist arrived on cue and shot me up. I have no idea what she did differently than her predecessor but I was suddenly completely frozen from the waist down. Delightfully, deliriously, completely frozen. Bu-bye contractions!

They wheeled me into the “birthing room”. I asked who the on-call doctor was. And I had gotten to know so many.

“It’s Dr. H,” the nurse rolled her eyes.

Oh, I had heard so much about Dr. H. He was one of the older docs and a bit of a curmudgeon. Grumpy and abrupt. Great. I had been hoping for Dr. Ken.

The nurse came to my side and whispered, “Vickie, I know he’s an old crank but he is the one you want. If there is any trouble at all, trust me, he is the one you want.”

I was relieved and terrified at the same time.

Dr. H entered the room with a young intern following like a puppy. He took one look at my nurse-friend and muttered sarcastically, “Oh great, it’s you. So lovely to be working with you again.”

This pair obviously had some history and she shot back without skipping a beat, “You know what, doc? Kiss my ass!”

Everyone in the room cracked up. Even the doc. He obviously had a sense of humour.

Good thing too, because there I was on the gurney with my feet up in the stirrups, frozen solid from the waist down. I had no idea what would happen next.

“Vickie, can you push?” the doc asked casually, all the while doing things with his fingers that usually require dinner and a whole lot of wine.

Push? Push what?

I tried with all my might to push and all the veins popped out on my forehead.

Apparently I could not push whatever it was I was supposed to push because I was FROZEN SOLID!!

“Vickie, this is Dr. M. You know we’re a teaching hospital and he is here to learn so do you mind if he takes a look?” Dr H corralled his young student into my legs. The poor boy was sweating buckets.

“Sure, why not?” I responded. “I’m here to serve.” 

Everyone chuckled. Except for Dr. M. He was still sweating.

“So Mrs. van Dyke,” he offered lamely, “Do you think you’re having a boy or a girl?”

First off, who the hell is Mrs. van Dyke and secondly why the fuck am I making cocktail chat with an intern?

“I AM having a boy, doctor. I know this because I had amnio!”

Dr. H chimed right in. “Why did you have amnio, Vickie? Is it because you’re so old?”

Funny guy, that doc. Everyone laughed. (Even my husband, damn him.)

But hey, I am a seasoned performer and therefore – funnier. “You know what, doc?” I glared at him between my spread-eagled legs. “You can kiss my ass too! And I have made it readily available to you!”

Seriously, brought the house down

But still no baby. My precious baby would still not drop. They finally got him with forceps (ouch). Dragged him (literally) kicking and screaming into this world. Hubby took him to the “checking station” while I lay on the bed staring blankly at the ceiling. The drugs were still in full effect and I had felt very little. I was just numb.

While everyone else was busy fussing with my issue, Dr H came to my side. He sat next to me and very quietly asked, “Are you okay?”

I nodded. That was it. I couldn’t speak.

He took my hand and said, “Vickie you have a healthy baby boy. He’s early but he’s a good weight. Your blood pressure is down. You did great, momma.”

I burst into tears.

And then Hubby put Sam in my arms. There he was, finally. A real human. MY real human. My real human worth every ounce of pain, struggle and worry.

It was January 3 morning and I had finally got my Christmas present.

Best. One. Ever.

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What Does A Covid Christmas Look Like?

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And by that I mean it’s snowing. The trees are pretty. We’ve put up some decorations.

Other than that I have no idea what Christmas will look like this year. I know there will be no big family dinner. I know that there will be no festive party where we make merry and sing carols. I know I won’t be getting together with “my girls” for wine and gifts. Heck, I’m not even sure that I will see my son.

And that is the reality of a Covid Christmas.

We now live in what I would classify as “The best Christmas house ever!”. You have no idea how much I would love to share this house with family and friends. I am, after all, the consummate Christmas girl. I start listening to holiday music on November 1.

That I am doing. But everything else seems awfully vague this year. My calendar is decidedly empty.

So here’s what I’m thinking: this year let’s accept that everything will be different and then stop pouting about it. Let’s accept that – in my lifetime at least – it is one Christmas out of many. Let’s rejoice that we are healthy and doing the right thing by staying apart. And then let’s embrace some new possibilities.

We have just “adopted” a family (anonymously). There are so many (more) in need this season so we have decided to play Santa. Personally. Not just a donation in the Salvation Army kettle or an extra bag of groceries to the Food Bank (and we will do that too). Through a local service, a family has been found. Mom, Dad and three kids. Santa has been provided with a wish list and I can tell you Santa just can’t wait to get going. The elves are pretty damn excited too. We are not exchanging gifts with our families this year. We’re all good, thank you. But so very many are not. And it will take such worthwhile effort to fill the sleigh with goodies for this family to awake to on Christmas morning. I may actually wear a Santa hat when I go shopping.

The other thing I have decided to do this Christmas is resurrect the art of sending Christmas cards. Not emails and not Facebook messages but actual real cards sent by post. When I was a kid I loved getting cards so much my best friend and I exchanged dime-store greetings every day for the month of December. It was such a delight to open that envelope and read the wondrous words, whatever they were.

Well, get ready world – the cards are already coming! Santa has to start early to get to everyone, right, and the one thing I have realized is I barely write anything with a pen anymore so I can only do so many cards before my hand turns into “the claw”.  But I promise you this – I shall not rest until everyone who WANTS a Christmas card, GETS a Christmas card.

So if you WANT one, make sure I have your address.

And that’s it. That is what a Covid Christmas looks like to me. Help others less fortunate and reach out to loved ones. In a new old-fashioned way. Yes, we will Zoom and text and video-chat and I might sing a few songs with no one and we can decorate and bake and celebrate with our bubbles and we can share photos on Instagram and wrap presents for the dog and kiss only one person under the mistletoe. That’s okay.

I have not hugged my son since last January and I’m pretty sure this January will also come and go without a warm embrace. So be it.

Being Santa will be good. Sending cards will be good.

Staying healthy will be extra-special good. Let’s all give each other that gift.

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Are You a Poet or a Mariner?

I’ve been pretty consumed with the US election these last few days so decided it might be worthwhile to think about something else for a minute. And where we now live, the way the sun currently sets through our living room window is every bit as compelling – if not more so – than the drama south of the border. But, as spectacularly riveting as those sunsets are, the last two have been vastly different. And that got me to thinking …

Am I a poet or a mariner?

Two nights ago the sky was cloudy. Not overcast, but enough clouds to create an ever-changing kaleidoscope of colour above Lake Huron. Each moment was distinctly different from its predecessor. Each vista brought new hues and vibrant variation and the most superb theatre I can imagine. I was mesmerized and energized, running out to the deck every 10 minutes to snap a new memory. The show went on and on and continued to delight until the final glimmer of sundance sank into the sea.

Last night was another story. Clear as that proverbial bell. As a matter of fact, it was the first fully clear night we have experienced since the sun traversed its way into our cinematic window. Man oh man, that giant glowing orange ball did not disappoint! It blazed with passionate intensity. It heated up the heavens like a bonfire in July. Its celestial inferno demanded all eyes and every attention, so scorching was its incandescence. It was fucking amazing.

For about 15 minutes.

Then it was over and it just got dark.

That is what got me thinking. You see, all that combustible glory was indeed … glorious. But it was also short-lived. The night before was shaded with innuendo. The clouds were mercurial. From one minute to the next you just didn’t know what might develop. Modulate. Transform. It went on and on and on. These moments were filled with wonder, astonishment, incredulity and gratitude. On. And on.

The mariner will always choose a clear sky. When the stars shine brightly smoother navigation is assured. The simplicity of an orange ball dipping into the horizon brings solid, easy closure to the day. The mariner is pragmatic. The mariner will take brief beauty and almost certain invulnerability over anything else.

Then there is the poet. Unlike the mariner, the poet typically does not need to survive the vagaries of the natural world. Yes, the poet will have a difficult time earning a living, putting food on the table and a roof over her head. But the poet dreams anyway, with pen in hand and (hopefully) a warm fire crackling. So when the poet sees the clouds, and the changes, and the vagaries of the sky, the poet is entranced. Because the poet understands that those clouds represent pain. Potential pain at the very least. There is no security in those clouds. Those colours change as quickly as a woman’s heart. That sky is as unpredictable as love itself. And as beautiful. The poet is both transfixed by the artistry and disturbed by the vicissitude. Enchanted by the spectacle and tormented by the intensity.

The poet not only accepts all of this, the poet welcomes it. The poet will take kaleidoscope over orange ball every day of the week.

Well, maybe not EVERY day. But most days.

So I ask again. Are you a poet or a mariner?

Take your time to decide. I’m pretty sure the election can wait.

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What If Your Life WAS The Adventure?

Today we closed up our trailer. Our little summer home that we have enjoyed immensely for the last five years. It was actually snowing when we awoke this morning and the weird snow-shower-sunny-rainy morning continued as we packed away deck furniture, loaded up linens and did the end-of-season dance known to those of us lucky enough to own a piece of seasonal paradise.

Then we drove home.

It took twenty minutes.

Yes, our new home is just across the peninsula on another body of beautiful water, with a magnificent and ever-changing view that we enjoy daily.

Yes, as Ontario folks near and far are closing down for the winter, we actually live in our cottage. Like, full-time.

This was not a fluke or happy coincidence. When I was a kid my father built our first summer shack and it immediately became my favourite place in the world. There was no plumbing, no indoor toilet, no ceiling (just a big cathedral roof and dividers with curtains between the bedrooms) and no heat, save for a small, black wood-burning fireplace. There were mice and spiders and giant moths and bats. It was glorious.

During my (misspent) teenage years, the idea started to percolate in my beer-soaked brain that living in a cottage would be wonderful.  That chill, woodsy vibe suited me just fine. Naturally indoor plumbing was factored in (as was – much later – a dishwasher, laundry facilities and a soaker tub) but I already knew by the time I was 17 that I wanted to live by the water in a cottage. A “cottagey” home.

And here I am. Here we are.

Living the dream.

And that, my friends, is the point. You can dream all you want. And we should. But it is vital that we pursue those dreams with (realistic) zeal! Plan the work and then work the plan. Figure out a way to live your adventure every single day.

Back in my 40s, when I was living my ex-husband’s dream, I was already planning our next adventure when we were flying off to our current one. It drove him crazy (and rightfully so). But even though my life – on the outside – looked pretty damn cushy, it was a life I needed to escape from.

Eventually I did. That is when I learned that no matter how hard you dream and how hard you work at achieving that dream, you don’t always get the dream you thought you wanted. Fair enough. Well, not really, but hey, it’s life, right?

But the one thing I NEVER gave up on was the desire to not only escape to my great adventure but to actually LIVE my great adventure. Day in, day out. And please understand when I say “adventure” I mean REALISTIC adventure. Lake Como with George Clooney didn’t happen (why?) and Malibu in a beach house didn’t happen either.

What happened was Lake Huron with a view (not waterfront) with a scientist cum/handyman. He didn’t win the Nobel, my book didn’t hit any bestseller list and we sure as heck can’t afford waterfront. But I can assure you we are LIVING the adventure every day. Covid hasn’t impacted our mental health the way it has so many BECAUSE we are living our adventure every day. We have no need to escape. We are okay with hunkering down. We are even looking forward to whatever the winter months will throw at us.

I know we are fortunate. Some would say lucky.

I say we planned our work and worked our plan. We adapted when things went sideways and we were open and available to new or shall we say “altered” dreams. We wanted water and a cottage to call home. Everything else was negotiable.

This past summer, when we sold our previous house and hadn’t found that dream home I so coveted, I started to get a little worried. Then I widened my lens, looked further afield than my dream may have dictated and discovered this place. The moment we walked in I was thunderstruck. It was wood, wood and more wood. Wood walls and wood ceilings and wood shelves and wood floors and wood doors and WOOD.

“Well,” thought I, “we’ll just paint some of this wood, won’t we?”

And then it hit me.

THIS was my cottage. This was my dream. This was not some suburban home transplanted to the shores of a great lake nor was it some glorified mansion built to look “rustic” but in reality was a glorified mansion.

This unexpected house was my cottage/home.

It was our next great adventure.

It is now our current adventure. I know we are fortunate. I know there are so many who struggle to make ends meet daily and adventure is the last thing on their list of priorities.

I know.

I also know that if you don’t know WHAT your adventure is, you’ll never find it. If you haven’t dreamed it, wanted it, willed it, worked towards it … well, how can it ever happen?

Don’t let it fade. All that youthful exuberance, faith and lust for adventure, don’t let it die.

Dream.

Then plan you work and work the plan to get that damn dream fulfilled.

Live the adventure.

Every. Single. Day.

p.s. The trailer is still for sale.

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