Reclaiming Christmas

The fact that the world has ‘stolen’ our Christian holy days and turned them into commercial extravaganzas has been one of my pet peeves for a very long time. Walk up and down the aisles full of Christmas decorations in any store and what do you see? Santas, reindeer, snowmen, and Disney characters galore. What do any of these have to do with the real meaning of Christmas? Look at the outdoor decorations in your neighbourhood. You might see a nativity scene, particularly in front of a church, but where is Christ in most of those decorations? What does an inflatable penguin or puppy have to do with Christmas? I don’t know either, but you can get one for just $19.98 CAD at Walmart!

Don’t even get me started on that stupid Elf on a Shelf! Whoever thought that one up did nothing but add more meaningless stress to an already over-stressed season for anyone who bought into it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a total Grinch! I love Christmas lights. After all, it was Christ Himself who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 NIV

Though standing a tree in the house and decorating it with lights and ornaments often strikes me as a weird tradition, I also love the Christmas tree that stands in front of our living room window. Many of its decorations point to the true meaning of Christmas. That’s very intentional. It’s one small attempt at reclaiming Christmas.

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Although a beautiful nativity scene also has a place of prominence, our home isn’t completely devoid of the fun side of Christmas. Santa and one of his reindeer stand atop a cabinet in the living room. Surrounded by teddy bears and twinkly lights, he’s checking his list and preparing for his round the world gift giving flight, but it’s the little Santa bowing over the manger on another shelf that holds greater meaning for me.

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So what is the real meaning of Christmas? “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” an angel told some shepherds keeping watch over their flocks outside Bethlehem that night so long ago; a night that would forever change the world. (Luke 2:8-10 NIV) That night the mighty Creator of the universe chose to come to earth in the form of a tiny babe, to live among us, and to show us who He really is. That night, He began His journey to the cross where He would pay the penalty for all our failures and give us the gift of eternal life with Him. There is no better gift than that! It costs nothing but the willingness to humble ourselves and surrender to His leading in our lives. That’s what Christmas is really all about! That’s true love and that’s why I want to reclaim Christmas. I can’t take it back from the masses who celebrate by overindulging and running up their credit card bills, but I can keep the love of Christ at the centre of my Christmas season.

When we were teaching in Japan, I asked one of my adult students why so many Japanese people celebrate the birth of a God they don’t believe in. “We love to decorate and we love to shop,” she told me. Perhaps that’s why most people celebrate a holy day that has no real meaning to them.

Why do you celebrate Christmas? What does it mean to you?

 

Gram’s in nesting mode!

The urge to clean and organize is commonly known as nesting and usually comes upon a woman in the final weeks of pregnancy. I don’t remember actually experiencing this overwhelming desire to get my home ready for a new baby. I worked up until a few days before baby #1 arrived. It’s a good thing that that was back in the day when they kept mom and baby in hospital for several days because hubby was still putting up a wall to separate the nursery from the living room when she was born! I was a bit more prepared when baby #2 arrived 19 months later. Babies #3 and #4 arrived at very busy times in our life (there are long stories behind both of those) when nesting was the furthest thing from my mind.

So, what does all that have to do with anything? The whole family comes home for Christmas every third year and this is that year! Suddenly I find myself cleaning and organizing, decorating, planning menus, and buying ingredients for all sorts of Christmas baking. Yes, Gram is definitely in nesting mode!

It started with the teeny tiny playroom in the corner of our basement that only gets used when grandchildren come to stay. It hadn’t had a thorough cleaning in a long time. I sorted through the old wooden toy box that was lovingly made for my siblings and I by a great uncle of ours in the 1950s discarding broken toys and putting away ones that are too babyish for our growing grandkids. I washed down the play kitchen that our children got for Christmas in the 1980s. Dolls that had been mine and our daughters’ when we were little girls were bathed and their clothes went through the laundry. Then the tiny toy dishes were washed.

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Just as the toys spill out into the rest of the basement when the grandkids are here, my cleaning frenzy has also moved on into other areas. Since we retired, Richard has taken over much of the day to day housework, but I’m attacking those nooks and crannies that don’t get regular attention. Why wait for spring cleaning when the family’s coming home and Gram is in nesting mode?

What are you doing to prepare for the holiday season?

 

Growing up with gnomes

Our two BC grandsons are growing up in a world of magic. There are gnomes living in the forest near their North Vancouver home. When the boys were younger, we’d often explore the forest looking for gnome homes.

The closest we ever came to finding one was this little gnome gate.

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Now that the boys are in school and busy with other organized activities and play dates with friends, it’s been quite awhile since we’ve gone into the forest together, but the gnomes are still very much a part of their lives. Many years ago, our son and daughter-in-law installed a tiny gnome door on the outer wall of the family room so that the little men can come and go whenever they want. Though they never show up in the daytime, it’s obvious that they sometimes visit at night. They always decorate around their door for special occasions like Halloween and Christmas and they often leave tiny gifts for the boys.

In a world that is increasingly filled with stress and fear, I’m glad that there is also magic and wonder, imagination and creativity, and I’m thankful for parents who make the effort to nurture it!

Choosing a leader

I appreciate the many responses to my last post and particularly those who chose to share it on social media. It appears that I managed to put into words what many people have been feeling. The following post may also be considered a bit controversial and I hope it will be as well received.

I don’t consider myself to be a particularly political person, but with a federal election less than three weeks away here in Canada, I definitely take an interest and occasionally express an opinion on Facebook. In recent weeks, though I managed to avoid saying anything at all about the blackface incidents, I’ve been criticized more than once for posts alluding to what I consider to be flaws in our present Prime Minister’s character. Some people have referred to this as mudslinging or political bashing. “Let’s just focus on the issues,” they say. 

While I agree that it’s important to know what each party and its leader stand for, I don’t put a great deal of faith in campaign promises. Their purpose is to garner votes and at best I think we ought to call them proposals. A recent analysis of 353 pre-election promises made by the Liberals in 2015 indicates that by March of this year Trudeau’s government had entirely followed through on only about 50 per cent of its pledges.

We may not agree on all the issues or the directions that we’d like our leaders to take, but I hope that we can agree that it’s of utmost importance to have a man or woman of character at the helm. Unfortunately, as we look around the world at the corruption and scandals involving many of our political leaders, it would seem to me that voters haven’t been giving character enough consideration.

I like what American author, John C Maxwell, says about leadership, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

With all this in mind, I googled “qualities of a good leader” and discovered dozens of lists. At the top of many of them was honesty and integrity and I would certainly put these two traits at the top of my list. Although they are very closely linked, there’s actually a distinction between the two. According to the dictionary, honesty means “truthfulness, sincerity, or frankness; freedom from deceit or fraud” while integrity is “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character.” Sadly, I think that there are a number of world leaders, including our own, who fail to measure up in the areas of truthfulness and moral character.

Another quality of a good leader that was high on many lists was good communicator. Though a few listed good listening skills separately, I would include that as part of being a good communicator. I would love to have a national leader who was capable of speaking publicly without scattering “um” and “uh” liberally (pun intended) throughout every speech, but even more important would be one who truly listened to the voices and hearts of the people.

Confidence and humility were also high on most lists. Unfortunately, far too often, confidence and arrogance seem to go hand in hand instead. That certainly seems to be the case with our present national leader as well as the one to the south.

Though there are many other character traits that make a good leader, the last one that I’ll mention here is accountability, the willingness to accept responsibility for or account for one’s actions. Oh my, wouldn’t it be nice to see that in our next political leader!

So, fellow Canadians, on October 21 get out and vote, but please look beyond the issues and the campaign promises to the character of the individual party leaders as well as the candidates running in your local constituencies.

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Image: Chatelaine magazine

 

Living in a frightened world

I grew up in the 1960s when the threat of a nuclear holocaust hung over our heads. The world was about to end, or so many people thought. I wasn’t more than 10 years old when we visited a colleague of my father’s and were ushered down to the basement to view the fully equipped fallout shelter that was going to save his family from annihilation. Later, I clearly remember sitting in a sixth grade classroom when a substitute teacher told us that we had no chance of growing to adulthood. A nuclear bomb would wipe us out before that could happen! There was no internet back then or the hype would probably have been even more intense than it was.

Not only did I live to adulthood, but so have my children. Throughout my lifetime, however, it seems that there has always been another doomsday looming just ahead. On a lesser scale than the nuclear threat, there was Y2K, the day when all the computers were going to shut down and the world as we knew it was going to grind to a halt. I knew people who spent months living in fear, stockpiling essentials, and preparing for the crash that never came. There have been many other similar predictions to instill fear in the masses.

Now, it’s climate change. Don’t get me wrong. Is the world’s climate changing? Of course, it is. When has it not been? Climate has never been static. In my mind, though, the latest  predictions of looming catastrophe lead to more questions than answers. How much of the climate change that is actually being observed or recorded today has been caused or escalated by human action and how much is part of the cycles and changes of nature?  Can we really make a significant difference? What extremes are the radical climate change activists actually willing to go to to make this happen? What changes are they making in their day to day lives? What comforts of life are they really willing to give up? Air conditioning? Forced air furnaces? Television? Computers? Global travel? Driving to the grocery store? How about washers and dryers? Are they really willing to go back to the back-breaking way of life of our forefathers? Legislating an end to global fossil fuel usage when green energy has not been developed to the point where it can take over and provide the benefits of modern life truly would cause a global catastrophe of enormous magnitude and it would be felt most strongly by those of us living in the First World.

Like the substitute teacher in my grade six classroom, activists like young Greta are  spouting off frightening “facts” some of which aren’t even true. “For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear,” she says. No it hasn’t. For example, consider this headline in the April 16, 1970 edition of The Boston Globe: “Scientist predicts a new ice age by the 21st century.” There are too many similar prophecies to begin listing them here. “People are dying. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction.” Really? Last time I checked, the world’s population was at an all time high and average lifespans were continuing to increase.

People have been prophesying the end of the world since the earliest days of recorded history. Even Christopher Columbus got into the act predicting in his Book of Prophecies (1501) that the world would end in 1656. So far, none of the apocalyptic predictions with due dates have come true and I would hazard a guess that the most recent one won’t either.

I would love it if my grandchildren could grow up in a world free from fear mongering and doomsday predictions, but perhaps that’s just not the way of mankind. Perhaps God placed within the heart of man an understanding that the world is eventually going to end. Scripture predicts it. We are told “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines.” (Mark 13:7-8) Does that sound familiar? Elsewhere, in 2 Timothy 3:1-4 we’re told, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” I believe that we are living in these times, but I wouldn’t be so rash as to try to predict how soon it will all play out and the world will come to an end. The Bible tells us that no one will know the time or the day. (Matthew 24:36) 

In the meantime, let’s send the kids back to school, seek to educate ourselves and understand the facts using reliable sources (there’s the teacher in me talking), and strive to do the small and reasonable things within our power to be good stewards of all that we’ve been blessed with. And if there’s to be another student protest, let’s see how many come out if it’s held on a weekend. That’s the teacher in me talking too!

I realize that this is a controversial topic. Some will agree and some won’t. All I ask is that we keep the dialogue respectful.

Lone kayaker

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Richard has had a back problem for most of his adult life. Usually when it flares up, it settles down again within a few days, but whatever he did in early July appears to be something different. After weeks of rest, he’s still in pain. When the doctor recently told him no more golf and no kayaking for the rest of the season (we hadn’t even been out in the kayak yet), I was very unhappy! I felt sorry for him, of course. Being inactive is very difficult for him, but I was also sorry for myself! Perhaps that sounds selfish. Maybe it was. After all, I could have shrugged and said, “There’ll always be other summers”, couldn’t I? Not really. I don’t have that luxury. I’m hoping that there will be many more summers, but when you’re walking around with two cancers that aren’t being treated, you really can’t count on next year. You have to live for the moment.

I could golf on my own, but our kayak is a tandem and there it hung in the garage gathering dust. Then I remembered the other kayak; the one we’ve been storing in the back corner of the garage for our son for the past couple of years! It’s so lightweight that I can carry it myself. I could go kayaking after all!

We spent the past four days camping at Camp Lake, less than an hour from home, and I spent many hours out on the water. Sometimes I paddled vigorously, sometimes slowly, and sometimes I simply lifted the paddles out of the water and listened to the silence of solitude.

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I spent lots of time playing with my camera too. I especially love to capture reflections on water.

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In some places the fall colours were beginning to show.

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One of the things that I love about kayaking is the chance to see wildlife in their natural habitat. I didn’t see any larger animals this time, but there were many places like this one along the water’s edge where they obviously come down to drink.

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One end of the lake in particular is shallow and edged with reeds and that’s where the action was.

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I have no idea how many muskrats make Camp Lake their home, but clearly there are a lot of them! For every photo that I captured, many were missed. Even the ping of my camera turning on was enough to startle them. I learned to cover the speaker with my thumb to muffle the sound as I drifted close to them. I’m not sure who was the most surprised when one furry fellow popped up and swam beside the kayak for a couple of metres! Before I could grab the camera, he noticed me and dove beneath the surface immediately disappearing from sight. It was easier to capture the ones that were out of the water.

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I’m hoping for at least one more lone kayaker outing this year, and I really hope that we’re both well enough to paddle together again next year, but at least this summer didn’t go by without some time on the water.

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Jami’s special day

If you read my last post, you already know that we gave each of our two grandchildren who had birthdays in the spring a special day on their own with Gram and Grandpa instead of adding to the abundance of toys, games, and books that fill their home. Today was 9-year-old Jami-Lee’s day.

Jami is an animal lover, so our day started at Butterfield Acres petting farm on the outskirts of northwest Calgary. She was most excited about going for a pony ride and even though we thought that the single lap around a small track was a bit lame, she was delighted. So much so that Grandpa surprised her with a second ride before we left the farm!

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There were a wide variety of typical farm animals, but also a few more exotic ones like emus, llamas, peacocks, and even a yak.

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The baby goats were adorable and I think this is my favourite photo of the day.

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We also went for a tractor-pulled wagon ride and ate our picnic lunch in a tipi on the grounds. After finishing at Butterfield Acres early in the afternoon we drove about 15 minutes to Bowness Park, a beautiful 30-hectare urban park on the Bow River. There we rented a pedal boat and explored the lagoon where we’ve skated in the winter. Jami loved the duck families that shared the water with us.

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After treating her to a giant ice cream cone, we found cover and waited out a sudden rain shower before taking a ride on the miniature train.

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As the afternoon wound down, we went for a walk along the river. Rocky breakwaters at regular intervals slow the river’s flow and keep its banks from eroding. Jami decided that climbing the rocks would be fun, so we spent some time doing that and then found a playground.

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She still had enough energy left to swing like a monkey!

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Our day ended with a delicious dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory. I think both Jami-Lee and her brother would agree that spending time together and making memories were great birthday gifts! I hope we can do as well next year!