Monday, November 10, 2014

"Happy holidays" is not a war on Christmas

Photo courtesy of
Sigh. Every year, it’s the same argument.

The ol' 'why can’t I say merry Christmas?'

'You're in Canada, we say Christmas here.'

It drains my zen and makes me a bit ragey.

Like most things, it’s only a big deal to those who make it a big deal. I am Christian, I celebrate Christmas. In fact, I'm not sure anyone loves Christmas as much as I do. At least, not anyone over the age of seven.

I have yet to feel persecuted because we now encourage “Happy holidays”.

I understand it. I am aware that not everyone has the same life as me. There is a whole big wide world outside of my home and my life.

I am but a spec in the universe.

But I digress. 

With the advent of social media, I have to see meme after meme, some of which walk the line of spreading hate literature.

Even the mild ones display xenophobia, or at the very least, a lack of thought. 

So because I have to be exposed to those particular opinions, every freaking year, I am now going expose you to my humble opinion. 

Where do we get the idea that we can’t say 'Merry Christmas'? You can say 'Merry Christmas'. I am pretty certain that no one has ever told you that you will be shot on sight if you do. 

In fact I say 'Merry Christmas' all the time. 

And when I know that someone does not celebrate Christmas, the interaction is as follows:

Me to Jewish friend: 'Hey you! Happy Hanukkah!'
Jewish friend to me: 'Thanks! Merry Christmas!'

See? Easy peasy!

We both get to celebrate our own traditions while being respectful to each other. 

Saying 'Happy holidays' is not about taking away from Christmas, it’s about being inclusive to those who celebrate something else during the month of December, or perhaps celebrate nothing at all. 

It’s about being inclusive to your friends, your neighbors, your community and in some cases your family. 

And I know. I know. Your child’s 'Christmas' concert is now called a 'Holiday' concert. And your work 'Christmas' party is now called a 'Holiday' party. 


Because the world does not revolve around you, or your child. 

Employers, the school system and many other public entities, have simply demonstrated an understanding of the concept of 'knowing your audience'.  

Their audience is not made up of people who only celebrate Christmas. 

Therefore, their events do not revolve around people who only celebrate Christmas. 

Perhaps, school “Holiday” concerts should revolve around educational programming for the parents, because in my experience, it’s not the kids who have a problem with acceptance or empathy.

'If people come to our country, they should abide by our customs.'

I’m sorry, what? 

Are there people that are under the impression that Christmas originated in Canada?

The tradition of Christmas was brought to Canada by people who came from another country

You are from another country. Probably multiple ones. I don’t care if you were born in Canada, you have ancestors that were not. 

In fact, in some cases, there are people who do not celebrate Christmas that have been in Canada for more generations than you have.

 So let’s not go there.

Side educational note: Christmas is a multi-faith holiday, and, by many accounts, the birth of Jesus was not the first reason to celebrate on December 25th, it started as a Pagan celebration of winter solstice.

The 'war on Christmas' does not exist, except in your mind. It is still the most celebrated holiday in December. Probably of the year. You will still be bombarded with Christmas commercials, decorations, bad TV movies, angry shoppers, scary mall Santa’s and creepy Elf on the Shelf pictures.

I will still get to enjoy 30 days of said Christmas movies on the W Network. 

I will still decorate my house until it looks similar to what I imagine the North Pole to look like.

No one has told you that you cannot say, do or celebrate, what you like. There is no law. That's what is so great (or was so great) about Canada. It is simply polite to acknowledge that there are many, many people, some as Canadian as you are, that do not celebrate the same holidays as you.

Neighbors, co-workers, friends.

So why is it so hard to give one moment to be appreciative to someone who actually celebrates something else? Isn't that what the season is about?

The holiday season (whether you are celebrating Christmas, or Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah, or winter solstice, something else or a combination of any of the above) is about celebration-of the life and/or death of a God, of family values, of love, of forgiveness, of the earth and all that’s living on it, etc.,etc.,etc. 

I've educated myself on dozens of religions, and as far as I can tell, there are no cultural celebrations happening in December that encourage fear, hate or disrespect to your neighbor.In fact, there are none that encourage that ever.

People might, religions do not.

There are no cultural celebrations that say 'majority wins' or 'hate thy neighbor'.

I think perhaps we forget that sometimes. Ironically enough, we seem to forget it the most around the holiday season. 

So how about, instead of thinking about what we lose by being accepting of everyone, we think about what we gain.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Giving thanks

Last week I woke up feeling sorry for myself. I ended up at the park with my parents and we spoke to a man who very quickly told us he had just buried his wife of 50+ years. As he got choked up and asked my mom what he was supposed to do now, I felt ashamed. I had no reason to feel sorry for myself on that beautiful day.

Today, I gave the last of the cash I had in my wallet to a mother and her two kids asking for money outside of a store. It was a five dollar bill and I had a flash of annoyance because I am hardly flush myself and I feel like someone, or some cause, is always asking me for cash. But I said "Happy Thanksgiving", smiled and handed it over. She smiled and said "God bless." Tonight, while taking the dog out, I ended up having a beer with my neighbour. He told me about this family he knows that are down on their luck. Their story made my stomach turn. Turns out it was the family I gave money to. I now wish I'd had more to contribute.

The universe works in mysterious ways. I know this, but it always surprises me.

I have a great life full of amazing experiences, opportunities and people who care about me. Days like today are a great reminder of that.

And let's face it, some days we all need a reminder. Ironically, my latest reminders came leading up a weekend focused on giving thanks.

I haven't always had it easy myself. Or sometimes, more precisely, I haven't always made life easy on myself. I've made mistakes. Plenty. I've hurt people and I've been hurt. I've experienced loss. I've been rejected, and I've been lied to. I've trusted the wrong people. Generally, I've let myself down.

I've had dark moments where I've sat down on the bathroom floor and cried and prayed to whatever God happened to be listening. I wasn't picky. If I'd thought the tree in the yard could have helped me I would have gone out and prayed to it too. I probably have at some point.

I havent aways gotten everything that I felt I was "entitled" to.

I'm human. This means I am predisposed to screw up. Everyone does at one point or another. We all get bumps and bruises, some self inflicted, some inflicted upon us. And then you slowly put the pieces back together to the best of your ability. If you're lucky.

And I have been lucky.

Because surviving those moments is what brought me to a place of being thankful. Truly thankful.

Because of the crappy moments, I've learned to stop feeling sorry for myself. To stop expecting other people to fix my problems. To appreciate what I do have rather than worry about what I don't.

If life was always simple, if I'd made all the right decisions all of the time and had everything handed to me on a platter, I'm not sure I would have gained the ability to appreciate the way the the sun shines through the trees in my backyard in the morning. Or the random lessons you can learn when you strike up a five minute conversation with a stranger.

I'm not sure I would have gained the ability to appreciate just how good I have it.

This doesn't mean I'm perfect. I can still be cranky and bitchy. I can still be afraid and frustrated. I can still snap at the people I love for no reason. I can still be judgmental and lazy. I can still be egotistical and selfish.

Mainly, again, I can be human. In all its glorious messiness and naivety.

But these days these negative reactions and traits are more easily managed. Because I've learned to be more forgiving of myself. Of others. To be more empathetic. To be more loving.

Again, to be more thankful.

In every moment. Seriously, it's a full time job.

Sitting at a Mooseheads game, I silently say 'thank you'. Drinking my coffee in the morning, I silently say 'thank you'. Having a conversation with you, I silently say 'thank you'. Sitting in traffic, or in line, or feeling my blood pressure rise as someone gets on my last nerve, I silently say 'thank you'.

To who? I have no idea. And I don't really think it matters.

I look for the lessons in every moment of my day. Sometimes, sometimes, I even manage to learn from them.

I don't go to sleep at night without thinking about all the things I am thankful for that day. Maybe its a lot. Maybe it's not. Some days maybe all I can come up with is that I had two bucks for a Tim's dark roast, or that I had the energy to haul my ass out of bed that morning.

And when you make that a habit, your life changes.

Maybe I am slow learner, but happiness has nothing to do with what's happening on the outside and everything to do with what's going on inside. These days more than ever people are struggling, always trying to be something "more", to have something "more". It's the world we live in and its easy to forget whats important, to blame someone else or to be angry for your lot in life. To be so focused inward that you forget to look up and see what's right in front of you.

What's actually important to you.

If you can't be thankful for what you already have, if you're always waiting for that better thing that will come along ("when he loves me", "when I am ten pounds lighter", "when I have that better job", "when I have more money", when, when, when…) you will never, ever be happy. And I hear it so often. I am guilty of it myself.

I like to think most people already know this, but it gets lost in the day to day struggles that life throws our way. It gets lost when we don't make time every day to bring ourselves back to the moment.

So all of this to say that no matter what is going on in your life on this Thanksgiving weekend, I hope you take a few minutes to think of what you are thankful for. And make a daily habit of it, if you haven't already.

My hope for you is that those blessings are, and continue to be, plenty.

Everyone is fighting their own battle. Many are fighting far worse battles than mine. I know people who are so positive while facing so many challenges, and I wonder if I would be that strong in the same situation.

But the best part of recognizing how much you have, is that you then recognize how much you have to give. Even if it's just a five dollar bill, a smile and a kind word.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

34 things I've learned about life at 34. Previously titled, "Am I 33 or 34?"

·        I'm fairly low key and not feeling combative and argumentative lately. So instead of my regular blog post, I'm going to jump on the "life lessons" bandwagon and share the 34 lessons that, so far, have stuck with me in my 34 years. I know, you're on the edge of your seat, so I'll just let you get started.

     Waffles are not just a breakfast food. 

·        Nothing is black and white. Views might be, but situations never are. There are a million shades of grey. 

·        Everyone should own a rain coat and rain boots (at 34 I own my first rain coat, and boots. Pretty ones. I was behind on this one). 

·        There will be so many people that cross your path at various stages. Some will stick. Some will just be there to teach you something. Some will show up just when you need them and disappear until you need them again. Some will just take what they need and never make the time for you so don’t worry about making time for them. 

·        The batteries in your smoke detector will not, in fact, change themselves. 

·        My path is mine and only I know the decisions that are right for me. If I make a mistake, I shoulder it, learn from it and move on. But they are my mistakes to make. 

·        I have responsibility in everything that happens to me. Everything. Good and bad. What led to a situation, the people involved in it, or how I react to it-there are zero situations in which I am responsibility free. 

·        Most bad days can be cured with a good workout, a laugh with friends or some quiet meditation. Some bad days can only be cured by a bottle of wine. I like to follow the 80/20 rule. 

·         Nobody likes a complainer. Come with a problem and a solution or shut the hell up. 

·        “Don’t pass judgment on others until your 100 percent perfect yourself” (Ok, I learned this from the Church of Christ billboard by my house, but I completely agree). 

·         Not everyone has to like you. And you don’t have to like everyone. 

·         Empathy is not a trait that everyone possesses. 

·         Forgiveness is for you, not the person you are forgiving.

·         There are asthma puffers for cats. 

·        Being nice is harder than being an asshole. But you’ll always be happier when you brighten other people’s day. Don’t be the one in the room bringing everyone down. 

·        Broccoli is not as gross as I thought it was when I was 12. Brussel sprouts are. 

·        People will judge you on your ability to spell. Or use spell check (crap, it’s actually spelled “brussels sprouts”-thank you Google).

·        You can spend your life finding the best version of you. But you can still only be who you are. Surround yourself with people who appreciate what you bring to the table. 

·        I have a sick sense of humor, but I know my audience and I save it mostly for them. Always know your audience.

·        The world does not revolve around me. Or you. We learn to work as a team and make compromises, or we continue to go down the shitter. This is true on both small and global scales. 

·        “You will always owe someone money. So get over it, be responsible, but don’t let it stress you out or you will always be stressed about something that won’t matter in the long run.” Thanks nanny. 

·        I am 100 percent responsible for my successes. And for my failures.  Blame can make you feel better, but it rarely gets you anywhere. 

·        “You can’t move forward when you’re only looking back” (Again, thank you Church of Christ billboard guy). 

·        Talking loudly does not actually equate to knowing what you are talking about.

·        This terrifying thing exists in the ocean:

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia


          Never Google symptoms of an illness. Just don’t.

·       Squats are your friend. “If you don’t squeeze your glutes, no one else will want to either”-Thanks Max. 

·        Some decisions you make may be right for you but will make others uncomfortable. Unless you just did something morally corrupt and violent, like killing a kitten, this is usually a reflection of their insecurities, not your decision. 

·       The best veggie burgers come from Harvey’s. Thanks Nicole. 
     You always have something to give. There is always someone with less.

·       Gratitude is the key to happiness. 

·      I will only ever use about a third of the math they taught in school. Thank god. Because I only learned about a third of the math they taught in school.
         Know the people in your life who will always, always have your back. Then do the same for them and hold on to them for dear life.
      The worse day in the world can be cured by spending a few minutes by the ocean (just not near the creepy thing mentioned above).

Friday, April 25, 2014

Are you an organ donor?

Somebody recently pointed out to me that my blog has been noticeably quiet. Mostly, I have found it hard to express myself on the many things I’ve taken an interest in politically in past months as I have found myself in the position we all find ourselves in from time to time, the struggle of not expressing personal political beliefs at the risk of having them clash with the interests of my professional life.

That being said, there is a good chance that the person curious about my lack of blog posts was more concerned about the way my frustrations were coming out in other ways…like texts that are novels, wine induced ranting and passive aggressive Facebook posts. 

So I was happy to finally find something I can comfortably express my opinion about again…organ donation! Ahhhh, I feel so much better already.

The province has announced that there will soon be a public consultation about the prospect of implied consent for organ donation. Essentially it means that you will have to take five minutes to opt out of organ donation, rather than taking five minutes to opt in

Let’s be clear, it does not take away your right to decide what you want to do. It is still your choice.
It will take you longer to read this post, then to opt out if you decide you are not comfortable with the idea of being an organ donor.

Let’s ignore the alarmingly common argument that this will encourage government to take lives early and unnecessarily to get organs. While through the years I have often questioned the leadership in our province, I believe it’s too early to start worrying about the provincial government creating a murderous black market for our organs. That might be a tad dramatic. 

I have also seen the words “slavery”, “morally bankrupt”, “anti-democratic” etc. thrown around in relation to this idea. Again, a tad dramatic. 

While I pray daily to the universe that the bulk of the online commenting community in public forums is not in fact representative of humanity, I was still surprised to see so much hatred, anger and negativity towards this idea. 

What hit me most was the constant use of the words “they” and “taking”.
“They’re not taking my organs.”
“They’re” not “taking” anything of mine without my permission.”
“Who do “they” think “they” are “taking” away my right to choose?”

I found this interesting for various reasons. Who is the “they” that will be taking your organs?
The Liberals? Because I don’t think Stephen McNeil will be hoarding and harvesting organs in his shed. They are not the ones asking for your organs, they are simply encouraging you donate them.
“They”, the people who will actually receive your organs, will be mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, family, friends and neighbors or, tragically, someone’s child. That’s the “they” you should be thinking about when you make this decision. 

Because one of these days it could be “you” or “yours” on that waiting list.  
And why are we so concerned with looking at organ donation as “taking”. Why can’t we turn that idea around to “giving”. You are “giving” back life. To someone’s family member. To someone’s friend. To someone’s child. 

In fact, I think this whole province, this whole planet, would do better if we focused less on what is “ours” and what’s being “taken” and focused a little more on what we have to give. Because no matter how little you have, you always have something to give.

I get that talking and thinking about organ donation is not overly fun. I’m not super thrilled with the idea when I think too hard about it myself, any more than I am about deciding whether I want to be cremated or buried. Facing your own mortality sucks. Making decisions for your children’s mortality sucks. Making this decision for a family member last minute because you never planned ahead, sucks. 

Do you know what else sucks? 

Watching someone you love live less of a life, or slowly die because there is no organ available for them. Watching our province pay out billions of dollars in health care to treat patients for the years they sometimes have to wait for an organ. Finding out you could have helped someone, but didn’t because you didn’t opt in

Agreeing to be an organ donor can save more than 8 lives, and it can positively affect dozens more. Not to mention the countless others who are touched when a life is saved.

I am aware that some people don’t donate for religious reasons, or just aren’t comfortable. Let’s reiterate. This does not take away your choice to be or not to be an organ donor. What it does do is eliminate the people who don’t take the time to opt in or are on the fence. 

Because let’s face it, unless we are in a situation where getting an organ affects us directly, it’s not usually top of mind. Let’s hope you’re never in a situation where that is all that is top of mind. 

At the end of the day, whether public consultation leads to implied consent, or if we just keep opting in as we want to, I encourage you to think long and hard about the decision and the positive impact you can have by being a donor. Maybe put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a few moments if you have thus far been lucky enough to not find yourself in need.

Someday you might not be so lucky.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Remembering David

One of my favorite memories as a kid is a day spent fishing with my uncle David on Lake Athabasca in Fort Chipiwyan, Alberta. My dad’s older brother, he had come down to visit us while we were living in the northern fly- in community. I remember him allowing me to reel in a fish he had caught, the easy fun and lightness of that day.

I remember the crazy faces and things he would say to make me laugh, always full of bad jokes and big smiles.

I remember the time he decided to visit us at our home in Duncan’s Cove, and proceeded to walk the roughly 24 km’s to our house from Halifax. I remember how passionate he would get when talking about things he cared about, and how he could look at you when you were talking like you were saying the most important thing he’d ever heard.

I have a million memories of David as kid, and though I saw him less as I got older, I also remember the day we had a family BBQ at my grandmother’s house- “You know, Ali-son (as he liked to call me), you get more beautiful as you get older. You’re one of those people who get better with age. We should all be so lucky.” He cared about people. That’s the David I remember.

On March 3, 2011 David was stabbed to death in a home he had been living in for a few years, only hours after having dinner with his son, and learning he was going to be a grandfather again. He was 59 years old.

The man who killed David, Qian Zhang, an employee at Garrison Brewery, was sentenced to 10 years in prison less two months (edited to add: he served far less). Reportedly David was stabbed to death over an argument about a noisy fan. A noisy fan.

"I overreacted to a situation to which I should have known better. I plan to take courses to better manage my temper.”

But the circumstances of his death aren’t what I remember about David, or what I would want other people to.

I would want people to know he was a good person. He was incredibly intelligent and wanted to know about everything. He was curious.

He dedicated his life to various humanitarian organizations, beginning with CUSO as a teacher in Sierra Leone.

He also worked with CPAR and CARE which took him to Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola, the Sudan and Kenya, organizations including Oxfam, the Canadian Mental Health Association and MISA and most recently as a Senior Humanitarian Affairs Officer position with the United Nations in Sierra Leone.

He was a father and grandfather, a son and brother, an uncle and a friend. He was loved. He was a person who did not deserve to lose his life in the manner that he did. He is missed by his children, his grandchildren, his siblings, his parents-his family. 

I think in some ways it has brought our family closer. A reminder of how quickly people can be gone from your life.

I have another memory of David. A few months after he died I had a dream that he and I were standing on the lake in Fort Chip, laughing like crazy with tears streaming down our faces. I don’t even remember about what. Suddenly I stopped laughing and looked at him in horror, realizing he was gone. He just laughed again and hugged me-“I’m ok Allison, don’t worry, I’m ok."

 David was something else too, a huge Beatles fan.  

And when the night is cloudy, There is still a light that shines on me, Shine on until tomorrow, let it be.