Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Search for Meaning.

E on his throne enjoying the Christmas festivities.

E on his throne enjoying the Christmas festivities.

I’m a seeker.  Especially at Christmas time.  I search for perfect gifts for everyone on my list. Ones filled with wow and wonder.  I comb second hand stores for delicate vintage glass ornaments like the ones we hung on our tree at 204.  I inherited all of Ma’s and have been growing her precious collection every year for the past decade.  It’s my magnificent holiday decorating obsession.

I scour cookbooks, online cooking blogs and recipe websites looking for something new and delicious to bake or cook over the holidays.  In the end, nothing compares with the treasure trove found in Ma’s sacred and magical Gurney Recipe Box.

I flip through fashion magazines for inspiration on what to wear for all those festive occasions.  This is a silly pastime because E and I don’t attend those kinds of affairs.  Yet I do it anyway.  It pleases me.

I’m also bedazzled by sparkly festive shop windows.  I hunt for the perfect holiday outfit.  I daydream about a beautiful more glamorous version of myself that will somehow magically appear like Cinderella at the ball. I wonder what it would be like to knock ‘em dead at our office party.  I fantasize about a transformation from drab nondescript woman in the corner cube to glamor girl in the shimmery dress with legs that never quit.  That never happens.  Even the younger me couldn’t have pulled that look off.  Truth is, that’s not me. Never was. Never will be.  But it is fun to play that movie in my head once a year.

Pursuit of the perfect gift, recipe, or dress aside, what I really seek at Christmas time is meaning. What’s it all about?  This search trumps everything.

With E’s cancer diagnosis hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles, the desire to find something deeper, more profound, more significant was intensified.  It served to remind us of the fragile nature of this life we live.  Teach us to grab onto every precious moment like it was your last.  Embrace the ones we love.

We were given a reprieve from the fear and anxiety that brought us to our knees the week E was in the hospital.  The Friday that he was released from the RJH was glorious.  A heaven-sent day.

The first thing E did when we got home was take the dogs for a walk in the crisp clean December air.  It was as though he was breathing for the first time.  He could walk unencumbered by the inescapable steel dance partner he had been hooked up to all week.  Free from all the medical machinery that monitored his every heartbeat and breath.  Free from the antiseptic smell that clung to every cell and fibre of his being.  Free to walk upright. Stride. Strut. Swagger. Flounce his new found freedom up the rocky hills that surround our home.

Simply be alive.

For as long as I have known E, he’s been a real crank about Christmas.   He would happily take a page from Rip Van Winkle’s book and sleep right through the entire month of December.  It was the same old thing every year.  Come the day before Christmas, the spirit would finally move him and off he’d go in search of my Christmas present.  Some years this was found at the local Shoppers Drug Mart down the road.  When M got old enough he solicited her help. This put a stop to the drugstore gifts.

“I’ll make sure he gets you something really good Ma,” she’d say.

And she does.

Of course, it’s not about the quality of the gift.  Or even that there are gifts at all. But in our family, we do enjoy this tradition. We like to acknowledge each other in this manner.  It’s sounds cliche but it isn’t so much the gift as the giving.  As a family we like this and we’re good at.  One look at our living room Christmas morning says it all.

This year, the curmudgeon grouchy bah humbug E left the building.  Like Elvis on August 16, 1977.  Replaced by the new and improved version.  Enthusiastic and joyful.  Happy to celebrate. Cheerful and charitable. Without complaint nor criticism. No protests. Gripes or grumbling.  Beefs or bellyaching.  And above all else, the new E, that emerged from the chrysalis on Friday, December 14, was grateful.

Deeply.  Profoundly.  Beyond words.

Recently, I read a quote by Cicero that really resonated with my spirit.  It expressed so beautifully the meaning I sought and found over the Christmas season.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

E and I are consumed with gratitude these days.  There is so much to cherish and give thanks for.  Starting with our love for each other.  For our family, our beautiful children, our granddaughter, our extended family and friends, our good neighbors, our understanding colleagues, the compassionate caregivers and spiritual teachers. Everyone who has touched our tender hearts so sweetly.

Kindness and compassion.  Generosity and magnanimity.  Big-heartedness and goodness.  It’s everywhere.  Dressed in the same attire.  Cloaked in the fabric of love.

Jesus and John Lennon were right. Love is all you need.

I’m grateful for that.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: This is The Man we all Love.

Sitting in the window of an abandoned farmhouse.

I have written a lot posts for all the magnificent Girl Warriors in my life.  My strong, fierce and beautiful daughters, grand daughter, daughter-in-law and the original warrior, Ma. Plus all the others, near and dear to me.  All glorious inspirational women.

I also have a son.  He is equally magnificent in my eyes.  Yet in many ways he’s a mystery to me.  A charming and perplexing enigma.  Perhaps it’s because he’s a boy and at the end of the day I must admit that I don’t fully understand the male species.

I was young when he came into the world.  So was he.  In truth, we grew up together.  He has taught me much since that wondrous day when I looked into his dark raisin eyes for the very first time.  I am eternally grateful for all the learning through the years. Even the difficult stuff.  I’ve probably learned more through those experiences than from the easy breezy butterfly days.

So many rights of passage we shared.  The holding close.  And the letting go.  All those milestones.  From the first step.  To the walk across the stage to receive his degree.  Everything in between.  Proud mother moments.  Heartbreaks and heroics.  Flights of fancy and family ties.  Unbreakable bonds.  Love is born.  And grows eternal in this mother-son relationship.

He stands shoulder to shoulder with the three other good men who I love dearly.  My strong and gentle big brother, my solid husband and my complicated father.  Each seemingly different.  At least on the exterior.  At once complex and full of mystifying layers.  Yet also sublimely straightforward and uncomplicated.  Always sincere.  Forthright.  Honest.  Kind.  They are the faces of strength, courage and tenderness in my often anxious world.

The 10 Steps to Becoming the Man We All Love:

The Old Man was so delighted with his grandson.

1. Be your own man. Authentic. Genuine. 100% bona fide you. The real thing.  Don’t be an impostor.  Nor live a vicarious life.  Grab a hold of what matters to you.  Put on your own jersey.  Strap on your own skates.   Play the game you love.  Not someone else’s.  Be an original.  A maverick.  The natural.  Always be the guileless boy who looks at the world with wide-eyed wonder.  Forever rub your hands together with glee and pure joy.  Be the spontaneous boy. And the solid man.  Work with your full range of emotions.  Express yourself completely.  Thoroughly.  Freely.  And if a tear falls. Let it.

2. Be brave-hearted.  Stand tall.  Stare down your fears.  Look them straight in the eyes.  Laugh at them.  Call their bluff.  Walk right through them.  Don’t go around.  Don’t avoid.  Face them head-on. Know that all courageous men have fears. Life is scary sometimes. For all of us.  Don’t be a victim.  Instead be valorous.  Do no shrink.   Roar.  Hoot and howl.  Feel the fear and get on with it.  There are no boogeymen under the bed.  No monsters hiding in the closet. Myths.  False emotions appearing real.  That’s all.  And always remember that you are far bigger than your fears.

My big brother with my nephew and my son sharing a cuddle.

3. Get a real kick out of life.  Have fun.  Find things that amuse and delight you.  Not just once and awhile.  But every day.  Don’t put it off for the weekend.  For vacation.  Or another time.   Play right now.  Cause a ruckus.  Bang on your drum all day.  Shake your tambourine.  Laugh your guts out.  Make a fool of yourself. Embrace happiness.  Enjoy the people you’re with right this very second.  Surround yourself with the lighthearted ones who put a smile on your face.  Take delight in every minute of this life you are given.

4. Be a loving man. And you will be loved.  Guaranteed.  More than you could ever imagine or dream. Open your heart wide and let in the love.  Don’t run from it.  Strong men have the guts to be tender.  Kind.  Compassionate.  Be a Gentle Ben.  Tom, Dick or Harry.  And remember, love isn’t always perfect.  Accept that sometimes it will hurt.  That’s okay.  Don’t let this frighten you. Don’t push it away.  Or turn your back.  Don’t give up on it. Love refines your heart and grows your compassion muscle.  Most importantly, learn to recognize love when it comes your way.  It doesn’t always come gift wrapped.  It may be completely different from what you had in mind.  Better even. In fact, the best thing that ever happened to you.

The proud uncle with his lookalike niece.

5. Find your tribe.  Your band of sisters and brothers. The ones where you fit in.  Belong. Feel at home with.  For these will be your family.  Some related by blood.  Others by the heart.  Surround yourself with people you trust, respect and enjoy.  You don’t have to always agree. You don’t even have to always get along.  But these are the faithful ones. Loyal. Steadfast. And true.  The ones who will be there for you.  With you.  By your side.  Through thick and thin. The ones who have your back.  Who pick you up when you fall. Help you find your way home in the dark.  They’re with you no matter what. No questions asked.  No doubt about it.

6. Follow your passions and the things that make you want to get up in the morning.  Jazzed and ready to go.  Have big dreams.  They don’t cost any more than the small ones. Your life will be so much richer for it.  Do the things that you love to do first.  And everything else will fall into place. Be enthusiastic.  Get psyched.  Pumped.   Gung-ho.  Embrace new ideas and ways of doing the things you already know. Be creative.  Imaginative. Take the magical mystery tour of discovery.  Go on an adventure.  Expand. Grow. Cultivate. Hone. Take risks. Embrace the failures on the way to your successes.  Learn and move on.

My son with “his lady” in Scotland on the adventure of their lives.

7. Be generous and magnanimous of spirit. With everything and everybody.  Don’t be stingy.  Don’t withhold. Don’t hang onto things.  Never covet. Give of what you have.  What you know.  Give a little. Or a lot.  But give. This isn’t necessarily about money.  Nor material things. It can be. Nothing wrong with that. If you’ve got it.  Give it.  But it’s also about giving of yourself.  Your time.  Your energy.  The natural gifts you came into the world with.  Take every opportunity to share these with others.  The more you do, the bigger you will be.  This will make you happier than anything you ever imagined.  For the more you give, the more you receive.

8. Be honest.  A man of your word.  Don’t make promises you can’t keep.  Nor intend to.  Be a man of integrity.  Honorable. Upstanding. Someone you can rely on.  Depend on.  Be the good guy who shows up.  Even in the stickiest of situations.  Know that when you shake on something that you are doing more than pressing flesh.  You are giving your word.  Your bond.  Don’t violate this sacred trust.  Respect others and you will be respected in turn.

My two lovely men standing tall at our wedding.

9. Defend and stand up for something.  Be righteous. Not self-righteous.  Find causes close to your heart.  Help those in need.  Shelter the weak.  The young.  The very old. Once you accept the challenge, don’t put conditions on who you’ll help and who you won’t.  Raise the bar on compassion.  Kindness.  Tolerance.  Embrace your fellow travelers.  Meet them eye to eye.  Carry the placard.  Wear the colors.  Pin on the badge.  But don’t force your beliefs down the throats of others. This is not a persuasive approach.  Don’t cloud the issues with misplaced anger.  This just creates mindless noise.  Be humble. Not sanctimonious.  Charitable.  Not complacent.  Be a leader when called upon.  And a follower when the time is right.  But most importantly, be a man that everyone wants in their corner.

10. Take care of yourself.  Do whatever it takes.  All the days of your life.  Not just physically.  But mentally.  And spiritually.  Do it for yourself.  And for all the people who love you.  Be active in every arena of your life.  Find your sport. Get out there and move.  Join a team.  Or go it alone.  Play hockey.  Or a round of golf.  Walk the dog.  Or chase the kids.  It’s all good.  Learn to cook and eat well. Spend time looking inwards.  Take a moment for introspection.  Meditate.  Pray.  Go for walks alone with your thoughts.  Get to know yourself.  And “to thine own self be true.”  Do these things and you will be the man we all love.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: We are the Girl Warriors.

The Girl Warrior on top of the wall at Hillcrest Park.

I’m a warrior.  It’s taken me decades to accept this notion.  But I now know it to be true.  How could I have been otherwise?  I was raised by one of the best warriors God ever created.  Ma, my Warrior Queen.  The courageous one.  The small package containing a fierce and valiant spirit.  My inspiration. Teacher.  Leader.  The one I will follow into the dark.

I have raised two glorious Girl Warriors.  They too inspire me.  Every day and in every way.  They stand tall.  And walk with their own swagger.  Speak their truth. They challenge. Question. Test.  They are noble.  I have a grand daughter who is a young Girl Warrior.  Already fiercely independent.  A mind of her own.  An adventurer off to see the world.  No holding her back. Then there’s my bonus Girl Warrior.  My daughter-in-law. The one who captured my son’s attention and the hearts of his entire family. Another small package containing a wondrous, magical, spunky soul.

These five extraordinary Girl Warriors have taught me much over the years. They’ve helped me unearth my Girl Warrior.  To not be afraid of her magical powers. To celebrate. Honor. Appreciate. And applaud.

There’s no age limit to being a Girl Warrior.  She doesn’t look a particular way.  She comes in all ages, sizes, shapes, colors. She’s out there.  And inside every girl who enters the world.  She’s the face of hope at the bottom of Pandora’s Box.

The 10 Steps to Becoming a Girl Warrior:

My first Girl Warrior fearlessly staring down the camera.

1. Be real.  Authentically you.  Be the girl you are when you’re alone in your room.  The girl who sings into the hairbrush.  Or dances like a wild one.  The girl who jumps on the bed with crazy abandon.  And cries in the mirror so bad the mascara runs like black rivers down her cheeks.  A girl who curses at the ceiling and vows to never speak again. The one who drops to her knees and prays that someone or something is listening. Be the girl who not only hears the music but makes the music.  The girl who doesn’t just march to the beat of her own drum but runs, leaps and flies. She’s the leader of the band.  Not the groupie.  Open the door to your room. Let the rest of the world see this strong Girl Warrior.

2. Stare down your fears.  Look them straight in the eyes.  Laugh at them.  Call their bluff.  Walk right through them.  Don’t go around.  Don’t avoid.  Face them head-on. Take a deep breath.  Or a hundred  breaths.  Make your move.  And keep moving.  Shaky legs, a racing heart, lump in the throat or dry mouth are just the silly antics of fear.  Not real.  Feel the fear and do it anyway.  Find your brave heart and take it into battle. Give yourself a hug. Then go out and kick some ass.

My second Girl Warrior standing tall in her grad dress and shades.

3. Get a kick out of life.  Have fun.  Find things that amuse and delight you.  Not just once and awhile.  But every day.  Don’t put it off for the weekend. For vacation. Or another time.  Hoot and holler right now.  Find your zippity doo dah.  Make a joyful sound. Cause a ruckus.  Bang on your drum all day.  Laugh your guts out.  Until you cry.  Embrace happiness.  Enjoy the people you’re with right this very second.  Let them see your playful radiant blithe heart.

4. Open your heart wide and let in the love.  Go where your heart leads you. And don’t run from its softness. Let it be tender.  Kind. Compassionate.  Gentle.  Extend your hand to another and grab on tight.  Then let go.  There in lies your strength.  Love again.  Then again.  And again.  You don’t have to get it right. Or perfect.  Just let love come naturally.  Accept that sometimes it will hurt.  Don’t let this frighten you. Don’t push it away.  Or turn your back.  Don’t give up on it. Most importantly, learn to recognize love when it comes your way.  It doesn’t always come gift wrapped. Your power to love is your secret weapon.

The young Girl Warrior has dressed for the part.

5. Find your tribe. Your pack.  Your posse. Your band of sisters and brothers.  Surround yourself with people you trust, respect and enjoy.  You don’t have to always agree. You don’t even have to always get along.  But these are the faithful ones. Loyal. Steadfast. And true.  The ones who will be there for you.  With you. By your side.  The ones who have your back.  And will hold your hair back while you barf.

6. Follow your passions.  Therein lies your love affair with life. Be curious.  Channel your inner Curious George.  Do things that you love to do.  Be enthusiastic. Keen. Overflowing with zeal, zest and gusto.  Embrace new ideas and ways of doing the things you already know. Be creative.  Imaginative. Take the magical mystery tour.  Expand. Grow. Cultivate. Hone. Set your heart on fire.  Grab a handful.  Then another.  And another.  Gush about the things you love. Take risks. Embrace the failures on the way to your successes.  Learn and get on with it.  Dive in with your whole heart.

The bonus Girl Warrior sits on top of the world.

7. Be generous. In every way.  With everything and everybody.  Don’t be stingy.  Don’t withhold. Don’t hang onto things.  Never covet. Give of what you have.  What you know.  Give a little.  Or give a lot.  But give.  And forgive.  For that is the ultimate gift.  To others.  To yourself.  Give it all away without hesitation.  And watch it all come back in miraculous ways.  Go out there and be someone’s blessing. You will be blessed in return.  It’s the way of the Girl Warrior.

8. Be honest. Speak up.  Speak out. Speak your truth. Express yourself.  Whatever that means to you.  However that looks.  Tell it like it is.  Or how you wish it was.  Be bold.  Audacious in your speech. Intrepid with your message. But don’t use your words to slaughter.  Use your words to empower.  Elucidate.  Illuminate. Exalt. Demystify. Take ownership of what comes out of your mouth. Make it good.

The original Girl Warrior. Our queen in her floppy hat and hot pink pants.

9. Defend and stand up for something. That’s what true Girl Warriors do.  Don’t stand on the sidelines.  Believe in something.  If you haven’t got a cause.  Find one. The mission is personal. And it’s critical.  Don’t worry if you’re the only one fighting for it.  That’s not the point. If it’s meaningful to you, then get behind it.  Breathe life into it in a way only you can.  While you’re standing up for something, avoid putting someone else down. No matter how much you disagree. Cheap shots are easy and beneath you.  Defend their right to have their own beliefs.  Don’t kick or trample on the weak. Reach out and extend a helping hand. Invite them to stand with you.

10. Dress the part. Every Girl Warrior should have a costume.  Something that is uniquely her.  At first blush, it might look just like someone else’s.  Don’t be fooled.  No two Girl Warriors wear their costumes in the same way. This is your personal power suit.  Put it on.  Strut your stuff.  Don’t apologize for the cut, color or condition.  Walk.  Run.  Skip to my Lou.  Black leather jacket.  Frilly blouse.  Skinny jeans.  Mini skirt.  Floor length gown.  A sundress blooming with flowers.  Floppy hat.  Or fascinator.  A pinstriped suit. Kick-ass boots. Red stiletto shoes. It’s not about fashion. It’s about expression. Wearing the inside out.  It’s about attitude. Character. Originality. You are a rare bird Girl Warrior.  Know this.  So put on your cape.  And fly.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Baker’s Dozen – 13 Virtues from my Parents.

Ma and The Old Man pose in front of his birthday cake.

Ma and The Old Man taught me much during our lifetime together.  Some things were practical and intentional.  Like cooking and cleaning up after myself.  Brushing my teeth before bed.  The simple day-to-day things parents teach their children to help them grow up big and strong.  Others things involved character building.  Like doing the right thing just because it was right not because I particularly felt like it.  Saying please and thank you.  Expressing gratitude not bad attitude.  Then there were the big things.  Ten commandment big.  Don’t cause harm to any living creature. Don’t lie.  Cheat.  Steal, and that includes someone else’s spouse.  Respect your elders, especially your parents.  Then there were the things they taught me without even knowing it.  The ‘by example’ things.  The stuff kids pick up on.  Learn through osmosis.  By watching.  Listening.  Witnessing.

While all this learning was going on — the day to day, the big and the by example — thirteen virtues stood out. A perfect Baker’s Dozen.  These are what I would like to share with you.

8 From Ma:

LOVE: One of the big ones. The biggest.  For Ma it came unconditionally.  You didn’t have to do anything special to earn her love.  If you were one of hers, you just had it. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for one of her own.  Including lay down her life.  Thankfully she was never put into this position. What a blessing to be loved so dearly.  What more could a child need than to wake up every morning feeling cherished.  In the end, Ma was grateful that her life followed its natural course.  Although she hated to leave us all, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.  One day we will all follow her into the Light.  Her love was such a blessing to our entire family.  I still feel it now.  And I am grateful.

Ma and her grandson taking a moment to look at Polaroids.

WISDOM: Ma was a simple woman in many ways. Unpretentious. Unassuming.  She never graduated from high school and had very little formal education.  Although at age sixty she went back to night school and studied art.  We were all so proud of her accomplishment.  Her wonderful paintings are amongst my greatest treasures.  Education aside, Ma was a wise and enlightened woman.  She possessed profound insights. Introspective by nature, she was always interested in the “why” of life.  This led her to places of deep spiritual and philosophical understanding and acuity.  She was a good listener.  A skill lacking in the best of us.  I am eternally grateful for her counsel and sought it at every turn.  She was involved in every big decision I made.  It is my prayer that my children feel the same way about me. That when they turn to me for advice or simply a compassionate ear that I bring Ma’s kind of wisdom.

KINDNESS: Ma possessed this virtue in spades.  In abundance.  Good measure. Pressed down.  Shaken.  Running over.  Her heart was tender.  Not just for those she loved. But everyone she encountered on her journey through life.  Children, in particular touched her heart.  She never met a kid she didn’t like.  Her kindness was even extended to the naughty ones. Her heart was open and large towards the elderly, the downtrodden, the forgotten ones and those considered unlovable.  She was kind to animals.  They all knew a kindred spirit.  I am kind too.  Ma taught me well.

GENTLENESS: Ma touched everything with a gentle hand.  Her touch was soft.  Warm.  Benevolent.  She caused no harm.  Never spanked her children.  Nor scolded.  Shy by nature, her voice was quiet yet reassuring.  She was a Whisperer.  Even in the kitchen, nothing was forced.  Food was prepared in a sweet and easy style.  I will always miss her beautiful long-fingered veiny hands that caressed her world with loving kindness.

Ma and Daughter Number One smile for the camera.

PATIENCE: Ma was well practiced in this virtue.  Four children and an alcoholic husband could be taxing at times.  Being patient with children came easy for her.  She understood kids innately.  And consequently they were drawn to her like bees to honey.  She was like Jesus in that she wanted the little children to come to her.  Never too busy for a child.  No little one shooed away.  Her patience wasn’t only extended to the very young.  She successfully shepherded four teenagers into adulthood.  That took monumental skill and patience by the bucketful. Being patient with The Old Man was her biggest trial.  He was her Achilles heel.  I can only say she did her best to extend the same grace to him as she did the children in her life.  Nobody’s perfect.   Patience hasn’t always been one of my strengths.  Just ask my two older kids.  I’ll be working on this one for the rest of my life.  As I said, nobody’s perfect.

EMPATHY: Ma’s compassionate heart wept for the world.  She intuitively knew what people were feeling.  Felt their pain.  Embraced another’s sorrow.  She was the shoulder to cry on.  Her heart broke at the sight of any suffering.  Whether it was within our family circle. Or brought to her over the garden fence or through the television set.  Witnessing suffering on a colossal scale moved her to take action. She donated to many charitable causes and supported a third world child all the days of her life.  She inspired me to do the same.

COURAGE: Ma was timid, shy and meek by nature.  Yet she was also a warrior.  A little spitfire at times. Full of true grit. Especially when it came to protecting her kids.  She wouldn’t let anything or anyone cause us harm.  She was also courageous in the face of any adversity.   From the cradle to the grave.  Whatever the strife, she faced the challenge head-on with bravery and grace.  She also never complained about being sick.  She could be stoic to a fault at times.  We saw this intimately when she had her heart attack.  At first, she denied even having one.  She never ever gave up.  Ma taught me to fight the good fight right until the bitter end.  Like Dido said, there will be no white flags above our door.

THOUGHTFULNESS: Ma was considerate in her every thought, word and deed.  Not only in the small gestures.  Coming to the aid of the elderly.  Helping someone up who has fallen.  Figuratively and literally.  She was quick to send thank you notes, get well wishes and thinking of you cards.  My mailbox was always a wellspring for delightful little surprises.  She never forgot a birthday.  Cards were sent.  Cakes baked. Gifts given. She welcomed everyone into our home regardless of who they were.  There was always room at the table.  If she saw something in a store that she thought you’d like, she picked it up.  There were many just because gifts.  She had others on her mind. I miss dearly those cards and notes inscribed with her small meticulous handwriting. Trips to the mailbox aren’t as much fun anymore.

4 From The Old Man:

HUMOR: The Old Man loved a good laugh.  A silly joke.  A funny yarn with a good punch line.  He was always quick with one to tell.  A faithful reader of The Reader’s Digest, this was the source of much of his material. He also loved a good comedy on television.  Red Skelton could bring him to tears.  He laughed loud.  Heartily.  Easily.  Right from the belly.  I do the same.  I loved this about The Old Man.  It is also what I look for in friends and lovers.  I’m a sucker for a man who can make me laugh.  He will always tickle my fancy.  Laughter.  One of God’s greatest gifts to humans.  Thank you.

The Old Man and his grandson enjoyed a good game of crib.

GENEROSITY: The Old Man was one of those guys who would give you the shirt off his back.  Unlike Ma, who was quick to give to charitable causes, he didn’t part so easily with his money. Not that he had much to part with.  He happily gave his pay cheque to Ma every two weeks. She was the manager of our family finances.  But he gave other things.  If he had something you needed or wanted he rarely said no.  As a teenager I appreciated this virtue the most.  Especially when it came to handing over the keys to his car.  That was a big deal back then.  The Old Man supported his family.  No matter what.  Roof over our heads.  Food on the table.  I always felt that as long as The Old Man was on this earth I would never be destitute.  I’d always have a place to go.  A safe haven where I would be taken care of.  I am so grateful to have had that.  E and I have created the same for our children.  We also go through a lot of shirts.

WORK ETHIC: The Old Man loved and hated his job. Regardless of how he felt on any given day, he got up at 5am and did it. He showed up. For some thirty odd years.  He never actually said, “Take this job and shove it,” but I suspect there were many days that he felt this way.  Possibly he had bigger dreams than he had ambition.  In his defense, he was from a generation of folks who raised families and did whatever it took to do so.  No complaints.  No whining.  No woulda-coulda-shoulda.  Just hard work.  If he had regret over his professional path, he kept it to himself.  I understand.  I’ve done the same.  I show up.

The Old Man and his grandchildren pose for the camera.

SERVICE: The Old Man did what he could to be of service to his country, his family, his community, his employer, his church.  He was in the army.  He volunteered in sport.  Umpiring Little League games was his delight.  He helped out at the church.  Did yard work and painted one of his elderly customer’s home on a regular basis.  Old Jenny was dear to him.  Although she paid him a small fee I suspect he would have done it for free.  He was honored with an award for Service to his Community.  He taught me what an honor it is to serve.  People need help everywhere.

1 from Both of Them:

PUNCTUALITY: Some people might not consider this a virtue.  But I do.  I don’t think either of my parents were ever late for anything.  They were either right on time or early.  Like many from their generation lateness was akin to rudeness.  It was also considered thoughtless and arrogant.  They respected the time of others and appreciated that no one likes to be kept waiting.  Nor should they.  Lateness required two things.  A good reason.  And an apology.  I love that they were both so courteous in this way.

We all wore paper crowns on New Years Eve.

My Own:

GRATITUDE: I will forever be grateful to both my parents for their Baker’s Dozen, these 13 Virtues.  My heart is filled with gratitude every day for the life that God has blessed me with.  Starting with the ultimate gift of my parents.  Ma and The Old Man.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Insomnia and the Power of One.

Ma loved all children but especially me.

I like to give.  I also like to receive.  But giving just feels so much better.  You get that warm and fuzzy feeling.  All gooey inside like a hot fudge sundae.  And there’s this glow that appears all around your edges.  Like the kind Angels wear and Beyonce sings about.  You know what I’m talking about. The halo. There’s also music.  Harps and lutes and chirpy birds.  It’s marvelous.  All this just from the simple act of giving.

Ma was a bigger giver.  And The Old Man would give you the shirt off his back without hesitation.  But I learned all about giving to people I didn’t know, and who lived in worlds far beyond our borders, from Ma.

Little back story.  Many years ago, when I was a much younger version of myself, I was living with my two oldest kids in the Italian neighborhood of Toronto.  It was a bleak period in my life.  I was separated, raising two kids alone, had a low-paying job, not much of a social life, lonely, frightened and lacking in resources.  I was also an insomniac.  Still am.  I spent endless nights ruminating over the state of my life.  Looking under every imaginary rock to see what was lurking there.  Leaving no stone unturned.  It was torture.  Self-inflicted torment.  Oh the wretched scourge of it all. Woe was me.

Much of my time was spent worrying about money.  There was never enough.  I took the expression “robbing Peter to pay Paul” to all new heights.  Gave it fresh and new meaning. I was equally inventive and creative with my money management.  Plus, I was a master juggler of serious magnitude.  My financial situation was in such delicate balance that I was a one-woman circus act.  It would have been hilarious had it not been so pitiful.  Or my life.

It was during one of these sleepless nights that I learned one of the most profound lessons on giving.  Typically when I have insomnia I stay rooted to my bed like a beached whale on a California shore.  I toss.  I turn.  I thrash.  I flip pillows.  Pound them.  Beat them to a pulp.  Then ultimately toss them on the floor.  I kick my legs in and out of the covers.  I roll my eyes inside my head until they hurt.  I try to substitute my dark morbid thoughts for pleasant ones that involve sunshine and fields of daisies.  Eventually I succumb.  I never really know when or why.  But eventually the Sandman pays me a visit and I slip fitfully into Dreamland. Or Nightmaresville.
But on this particular night long ago, something mystifying compelled me to get out of my bed and walk down two flights of stairs to our basement rumpus room.  It had a television and was far enough away from my sleeping children not to disturb their peaceful and tranquil slumber.  Oh how I envied them.

It was the hour of the wolf and I was fully expecting to see nothing but snow and static on the television.  That suited me just fine.  My head was spinning and my heart was howling with fear and bitterness.  I was in no mood to be touched by anything broadcast in those murky unsettling hours before dawn.  But I was.  Deeply.  So powerfully in fact, that what I saw would stay with me for the rest of my life.

I guess it was an infomercial.  Although that seems far too trivial a description for what this was.  There were no hawkers of magic mops and make-up.  Nothing of that nature was going on.  But it sold me none the less.  It grabbed a hold of my heart and hasn’t let go since.

In the quiet of that early morning gloom I stared into the faces of sweet innocent children thousands of miles away who had nothing.  And I was broken. And humbled.  Saddened beyond description.  I saw bellies swollen from hunger and thin tiny limbs covered in sores.  Poverty.  Sickness.  Strife.  Yet in the eyes of these beautiful ones I also saw my own two children.  No different.  They were children. Kids.  Just like mine.  Suddenly my first world problems were put into perspective.  So I did what I often do in situations like this.  I had a little chat with God.

It went something like this.  “Okay, here’s the deal.  I’m on my own and I’ve got these two kids and three cats to take care of.  I can barely make ends meet.  Just ask Peter and Paul.  But I can’t deny what I just bore witness to.  I need a few extra bucks every month to help one of these kids and their families.  That’s all.  A few extra bucks.  Plus I need your help with my own kids too.”

That was the promise made.  That has been the promise kept.  On both our counts.

I also thought of Ma that night.  And wondered if she had ever made the same deal.  She had four kids and an alcoholic husband, who often in their early years together, spent his paycheck before it was earned. She was like the woman in the Bible who had little but gave much.  Ma’s five or ten dollars sent off to this charity or given to that cause was like the millions given by the wealthy.  She too supported a third world child.  I remember the photographs she received of her foster children over the years.  She never boasted.  She just quietly and faithfully gave every month for years.  They could count on her.  She loved children so.  No matter where they came from.  She wanted to help. To do something to change the course of even one child’s life.  Ma was a shining example of the power of one.

Flash forward.  It’s years later and I’m living on the Westcoast. It’s the middle of the night.  I can’t sleep.  But I can’t stay in bed either.  I have a room of my own now with a computer where I dream and make magical things happen.  Life is different.  I no longer ride it out.  Instead I write it out.  It’s raining as it so often does out here.  I’m worried.  There are wars.  And rumors of wars.  People are suffering.  Everywhere.  My heart aches and my head can’t make sense of any of it.  I get up.  I go to my computer and I write this poem.

A Mother’s Prayer for Peace

Dear God,

It’s the middle of the night,
And I cannot sleep.
The rain is pounding on the roof
And the wind is howling outside my window.
But I am safe and warm,
Comforted by my feather duvet.
My faithful dog curled up at my feet
And my husband breathing softly next to me
Our children safe in their beds
Surrendered to dreams,
Sweet sweet dreams.

Yet my heart is not at peace,
It is broken with sadness.
For out there
Somewhere in a world I do not know
In countries I’ve only seen on TV
Are other families
With mothers just like me,
Who but for your gentle grace
Live a different life.
One not privileged with
Warm safe beds to rest,
To sleep, to dream of tomorrow.

Their lives, every bit as precious as mine
Are torn apart and shattered –
By fear
And hate
And hunger
And disease
And disaster
And ignorance

WAR.

I pray for these loving mothers
And for their dear families
That they ALL
Each and every one
Have what I have
And know, truly know
What it’s like
To go to bed at night
And NOT be filled with fear
That their beautiful child,
Every bit as precious as mine,
Won’t be harmed
Or blown to piece
By the enemy lurking at the door.

God, I pray that all these mothers
Know at least one moment of peace.
And that that moment grows and grows
Like a wave across the world.

A graceful, gentle, loving wave of peace.

It begins with one moment
And grows from moment to moment.
It begins with one mother
And grows from mother to mother.
And it saves one child
And grows from child to child.

May we share this moment of peace
Mothers of the world.

Now I lay me down to sleep.

Amen.

In gratitude and love,
boo king