91, each with a story.

My family got our Christmas tree on the weekend.  It’s a bit earlier than we usually do, as December is not yet upon us, but the kids were asking and we had a free weekend afternoon with mild weather, so we took full advantage.  We get a real tree, and we do as city-people do, and trek to one of the local rural Christmas tree farms for the full urban Instagram experience.  Gone are the days of my Albertan prairie childhood, when we would drive country roads and walk through waist-deep snow in search of “the one.”  The opening scene of Chevy Chase’s ‘Christmas Vacation’ comes to mind.  These days, my husband and I do our best to give our kids a new version of that experience, and it’s definitely a Christmas tradition that we all look forward to.

We borrowed my father-in-law’s saw, again part of the tradition, as my husband remembers his childhood Christmas trees being cut down with that particular saw.  I marvel at the changes in our children each year, and remember the early years of babies in carriers and blankets, sneaking in tree-cutting between naps and feeds, worried about the cold and the little legs that couldn’t hike very far.  Now our kids are involved in the whole process, from cutting to carrying, unloading to decorating.  My daughter’s choice of tree got the nod this year, a point of pride for her, and my son placed the star on top.  In fact, once we got it home and in the tree stand, the kids decorated the whole tree by themselves while my husband and I sat on the couch, acutely aware of the fact that we’re in the midst of a wonderful stage of parenting, sandwiched between the emotions of toddlers and the moods of teenagers.

We carefully unwrapped the ornaments from their newspaper homes and laid them on the coffee table one by one.  And as the table filled, we counted: 91, each with a story.

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Each year, I get a family photo made into an ornament.

Many come from my parents, as they give both of my children an ornament based upon their current interests- we’ve got everything from Thomas the Train to Elsa, Captain Phasma to Dora, Harry Potter to the Toronto BlueJays.  When my kids move out, they’ll take their ornaments with them and have a head start on filling a tree of their own.  Many come from my husband’s childhood, the most precious being a tiny stocking from the year he was born.  Some come from gifts from friends, some from Winter weddings, some from school crafts.  But consistently, year after year, the most magical part for me is not the ornaments themselves, but the stories they tell.

We’ve got 91 stories on display;  91 feelings of nostalgia, 91 tokens of gratitude, 91 memories of happiness, 91 reasons to give thanks.

Merry Christmas.

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Sundays, puppies, baseball, and books.

I had a moment on Sunday.  Life is moments strung together, isn’t it?  And this one was a moment for the top of the string.

Sunday was a beautiful Fall day, one of those crisp air days, with blue sky and sunshine and the crunch of Ontario maples beneath my feet.  It was the second day of an atypical under-scheduled weekend, two full days in which my family of four spent no more than a couple of waking hours apart.  Just how I like it.  After an early Sunday dinner, we decided to wander over towards the library to return some books and play some baseball.  We grabbed the bat and the ball, the books and the bag, the pup and the dog treats, and away we went.

It’s a short ten-minute walk from my house to Burlington’s Central library, located on a huge urban greenspace with ball diamonds, soccer fields, and a playground just outside the library doors.  As we wandered along, the sky began to shift towards an early sunset, another reminder that Winter is on its way.  We entered the park, and my daughter and I headed towards the book drop bin, while my husband, son, and puppy headed for the baseball diamond.  We called the dog back and forth, a few hundred metres separating ourselves, practicing her recall command, marvelling at her temperament, and showering her with praise and treats.  At the book drop bin, I passed pile after pile of Berenstain Bears books, as my daughter happily loaded them into the drawer, waiting for the thump of a book deposit success.  Job done, we headed back across the expanse of grass, towards the baseball diamond and our family game.

And that’s when the moment happened.

“Mom,” she said, her six-year-old hand in mine.  “I……. I……. I,” she stammered, searching for her words.  I could hear the emotion in her voice and see the depth of her feelings splayed across her face.  “I love you Mom,” she said as she turned towards me and reached her arms up, her unspoken signal to be picked up.  At fifty pounds and four feet tall, she’s not a toddler anymore, but she’s still my baby, and I’ll happily take a wrap-around hug anytime she’s giving them out.

I picked her up, breathed her in, squeezed her tight.  And as her little cheek pressed up against mine, I felt the moment overwhelm me too.

Bliss.  Gratitude.  Joy.  Presence.  Whatever you want to call it, we felt it.

Green grass under our feet, pink sky above our heads, a puppy at our side, a baseball in our hands.  It all came together on Sunday night.

A moment, that’s all.

But a big moment for us.

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Blue.

I’ve had a dog for a large part of my life.  My first dog, Sugar, was a small black poodle that passed away when I was only seven years old.  I have limited memories of her, but my parents tell tales of how they’d tell her to “stay” on the front porch of our small-town home, and come back at the end of the workday to find her still sitting proud and loyal.  I do vividly remember her burial, in a remote, wooded area just off the Alberta-prarie golf course that she so loved.  I remember my dad’s tears, something I hadn’t seen before, and a heavy feeling of loss.  Our next family dog, an American spaniel named Jacob, lived a short four years before developing a fatal spinal blood clot.  The trauma of that loss is still with me today, as he was my running buddy throughout high school and I held him close as he was euthanized at the emergency vet clinic.

As adults, my husband and I have had two dogs- our beloved Chocolate Lab, Tyson, who passed away in 2012, and our Chocolate Labradoodle, Oz, whom we had to re-home in May 2014 following some health concerns with my daughter.  So, for the last four years, we’ve been dog-less.  We’ve done lots of dog-sitting for friends and family and there’s been lots of chatter about “when we get a dog,” knowing that it was a foregone conclusion that our home would have a dog again at some point.  But I hadn’t felt ready until very recently, much to the chagrin of my husband and children.  My heart wasn’t prepared yet, and I didn’t feel like our family had the time or energy available to give.  Sometime late last year though, my mentality shifted, and I felt some “space” in our lives open back up.

Our focus turned to rescue dogs.  We searched for many months and put in applications with dozens of rescue organizations and shelters throughout Southern Ontario.  We were interviewed, screened, and we even met some dogs that ultimately weren’t the right fit for our family.  We began to get frustrated with the constant searching, and decided to try another approach; in early June we placed a Wanted Ad on Kijiji, hoping to find a family that needed to re-home a beloved pet for circumstances beyond their control.  A few days later, we got an email from a local rescue organization who had seen our ad and had three Golden Retriever/poodle puppies surrendered by an overwhelmed breeder.  The puppies were three and half months old; “would you like to come and meet them?” she asked.

Um, YES.

Three days later we were driving home from Cayuga with our newest family member, Blue.


Her name is such simply because we love many things blue; the BlueJays, the Leafs (well, at least some of us do), the lake.  And to think of all of the joy that she’s brought into our home in the last month…… well, I guess I’d forgotten the power of a dog.

Meet Blue Jay Worobec:

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