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Why I Write to My Boys

On the day I saw two pink lines on the pregnancy test, I began writing to my boys.
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Each of our children has their own notebook.  Once one is filled, the next begins.

Their notebooks look like scrapbooks with ultrasound photos, first paintings, tracings of hands…

I write to them every few weeks – leaving the house for a few hours to write in a coffee shop.  I’m so grateful to my husband for this time.  

As parents, there are so many great moments we have with our kids.  We say we’ll never forget them, and then we do.   I forget week to week.  It’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that so much happens every day and soon there are more stories we say we’ll never forget.  For me, writing is one way to capture these memories so they’re not forgotten.

There are lots of different ways we can do this.  I have friends who take amazing candids, some who use social media, others who prefer video… We all have our own ways.

For me, I choose old school writing in a notebook.   My main reason is that when my boys are grown and I’m no longer around, I like to think that their notebooks are a way to still be with them.  Yes, I know it may sound a bit morbid, but that’s okay.

I like to think that my boys will flip through their notebooks and laugh about the funny things they did as kids.  They’ll see my handwriting on the page and hear my voice.  They’ll read about the fun we had, the silly memories, our time together as a family, and they will be reminded of how much I love them.  

I hope they’ll hear me. Mom.

I don’t filter what I write.  I did at first. I wanted to write with proper sentence structure and to model good use of vocabulary and grammar (the previous teacher in me).  I scrapped that.  Now I write like I talk or think.  I write as it lands on the page.  I want it to be me writing directly to my kids; not a recount of events that feel distant or impersonal.  I want it to be me.

When I was carrying the boys in pregnancy, I would share information about their development.  I would tell them about how long they were – crown to rump.  I would draw out their lengths so they could see how substantial the growth was week to week and how excited I was to have them.  I was clueless about how babies developed until I was pregnant.  I think it’s neat that they’ll learn about it before I did.  Boys should know about pregnancy and how babies develop too.

I like to share what we like to do together as a family.  The excitement of seeing them begin to crawl.  Hearing them try to sing a song for the first time.  Their first words.  The fact that our oldest could say cat and car before mom and dad…what a kid.  I also have my sentimental moments where I say out loud, I never want to forget this.  

I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep up with the writing.  My hope is that I will write to them until they’re teenagers.  I’ve got a way to go!  But I know how special it is to me that I have all of my grandma’s letters and I can take them out to still hear her voice.  For that reason alone, I know I’ll stick with it.

And now we have a third notebook that has since joined our collection!  The excitement still feels the same. I enjoy sharing information about her development and including recent ultrasound photos.  It doesn’t feel monotonous.  It feels like I get to write to someone new and to give her something to have for life.

Writing is a gift.   

Learning Made Better with Design Thinking

Starting a new job can be a humbling experience. There might be a new building to find our way through. We try to understand who’s who and what we’re supposed to do each day. Training or orientation might happen right away or months later, and despite good intentions, only bits and pieces may stick with us.

There has to be a better way.

One telecomm company tried. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently shared an interesting story of a company who chose to approach onboarding differently.

Rather than trying to teach new employees everything they need to know all at once, they designed an experience that would span a full year. They used elements of design thinking to create professional learning that was customized for a specific role in their company.

To begin their planning, the company studied the job of a retail sales agent over the first nine months. Brilliant. In the design thinking world, this is starting at the ‘empathy’ stage. Spending time observing and speaking with others to better understand whom we’re designing for…

  • What are their urgent learning needs? What needs to be addressed immediately?
  • What systems need to be learned?
  • What products do they have to understand?
  • What processes will they need to learn over the first year? (e.g., getting to know customers, product experts, fundamentals of sales and customer service)

With this information, the company could get a sense of what learning is imminent and what might be offered over time. And time has been found to be an important facet of effective professional learning…

From the report, Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability (2013), in order for professional learning to be effective it needs to:

  • Take place over time
  • Provide support at the time of implementation
  • Be active, and not passive

From the article, it sounds like the company’s design thinking approach did just that.

Learning Over Time

Rather than learning everything they needed to know in a few days/weeks with no follow up, there was a planned progression to the learning based on agents’ needs and their work.

From the company’s observations over nine months, they developed a “journey map” that showed what agents needed to know the first day, the first week, the first month, and then over the first few quarters. True, deep learning could take place over time.

Providing Support at the Time of Implementation

To help us truly understand new information and develop our skills, we need multiple opportunities to use it. As the old adage goes, “use it or lose it.”

To support employees implement their learning on the job, the company built an app that looked more like a game than a learning system. They could access videos on demand, add social connections, sign up for coaching sessions, and share their learning with others online. Rather than receive an overwhelming amount of information in an isolated training session (maybe months before they’d use it), they could access exactly what they needed and when they needed it. Just enough, just in time, just for me.

Active, Not Passive

There are lots of different ways we can learn something new. We might watch how-to videos on YouTube, read, listen to podcasts, sign up for online courses, observe others, discuss… we learn in varied and active ways. Sitting passively and being told what we need to know doesn’t work for us all.

Although the HBR article didn’t share the specifics of how each learning session was designed, we can begin to imagine how we might make learning more active for those we design for.

All in all, I loved reading the HBR article, Using Design Thinking to Embed Learning in Our Jobs. It was encouraging to read about a company who was interested in understanding the experience of new employees and were open to taking a new approach to previous practices.

I recognize the article is a snapshot and I don’t know whether the company created an onboarding process that made a difference for employees. I do, however, appreciate how the article inspires us to approach learning and onboarding differently through the lens of design thinking.

We can do things differently.

We can learn more about the people we’re designing learning for. We can think about what learning might look like over time and say goodbye to the archaic practices of orientation days or isolated training sessions. From both our own experiences and findings from research, we know they need to be a part of a much bigger picture.

Design thinking has a role in our organizations, especially when it comes to how we learn. It’s a matter of asking ourselves, how might we get started?

Author’s Note: If you’re interested in learning more about the design thinking process, Stanford has a great overview and a video from 60 Minutes shows the process in action.

Design Thinking Process. Image from: http://dschool.stanford.edu/dgift/

Smart Design, User in Mind

I admire people with clever ideas.  Those who notice what doesn’t work, who come up with a solution to make our lives easier and better, and then make it happen.   I appreciate smart design.

 

Here are five smart designs that I encountered in one week…

 

1. Packaging from LEGO
I ordered additional tracks for our son’s LEGO train set.  When the box arrived, I didn’t think anything of it.  Until I opened it up and saw this message…

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Smart!  I quickly looked on the outside of the box and there was no mention that the parcel was even from LEGO – nothing in the mailing address, on the box… no child or adult would ever know that a fun, colourful gift was inside.  Even when the delivery man handed me the parcel, he spelled out L-E-G-O.  “Never want to ruin a surprise!”  Apparently keeping LEGO a secret is a thing…

2. Online Chat Help

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I was teaching an online course and a candidate was having difficulties using a mind mapping tool.  I was in our son’s room, waiting to see if he’d nap in his crib, when I decided to look on their web page to check out their FAQs.   A customer service chat box appeared.

After typing in one sentence, within seconds I was offered a solution.  Not only is this great customer service, but an example of smart design.  A solution that provides access to support that might be helpful to people with hearing impairments, a Mom in a quiet room, or someone in the middle of a meeting.  It meets the needs of many.

 

3. Poke-A-Dot

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Our son LOVES this book!  From the moment I showed it to him in Chapters, he carried it around all day.  It’s a counting book where each animal has a “bubble” to pop.  As he gets older, it will encourage him to touch objects as he counts and he’ll know which animals he’s already counted.  Smart design.  A fun book that teaches early number concepts.

4. Jamie Bell Adventure Playground

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As soon as I saw this park, I loved it.  It looks and feels magical.  Imagination is the word that comes to mind.  So when I read the sign near the park, it totally made sense.  

This is a very special playground.  Children contributed to the design by drawing their ideas of a dream playground.  Then in the spring of 1998, children worked alongside parents, teachers and volunteers to build the Adventure Playground.  

It was designed by kids!  It also explains why every kid who approached the park that day, did so with screams of excitement.  Kids creating for kids.  Smart design.

5. Booking Appointments Online

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My new favourite.  I’m so glad that more travel clinics, dentist offices, and medical offices are beginning to adopt online booking of appointments.  There’s nothing more frustrating than being on hold for 20 minutes just to book an appointment, when I can sign in, choose my location, date, and time in less than five minutes amongst the chaos in our house. Smart design.

 

What I love about smart design is that it doesn’t need to come from engineers or a research and development department.   It can come from kids, from moms with simple ideas that become million dollar companies, or grandfathers with solutions to everyday problems.  This is probably the reason why I love watching shows like Dragon’s Den.

Smart design is about people who understand the principles of human-centred design. They recognize a challenge / problem.  They come up with a solution in hopes of making things easier or better for others.  They prototype, get feedback from their target audience to help make their product/service better, actually use the feedback and make changes, and in the end have a solution that is tailor made to meet unique needs.  
No degree or training required.  To use or facilitate a human-centred design process,  you just need to observe everyday life, have a desire to do good, and be open to what others have to say.  

 

 

Grandparents: The Gentle Giant

With Father’s Day approaching, I reached out to a few friends to see if anyone would be interested in sharing some stories about an important male in their lives.  

I hope you enjoy this entry written about a man who continues to care for his family, even after his passing. 

Norman Rubinoff

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A photo of my dad and grandfather (Norman), on my parents’ wedding day. 

 

Norm was as kind and caring a man as one could find but stern in his ways when he needed to be.  He was tall, 6-foot-3, but truly the definition of a ‘gentle giant’.  Always selfless and always putting his family above anything else.

He was the true meaning of a family patriarch.  Norman set the tone for the entire family and led with his actions which is what a soft-spoken person does.  His humility was evident and so too was the respect he commanded from others. The way in which he raised my father is the same way my father raised me and that is why it is important that I do the same when I have children of my own.

I think about him a lot lately.

I am getting married this year and I can’t help but be reminded of how incredible it would be to have him there.

 

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My grandfather on his birthday, celebrating with his grandchildren.

His sense of humour was his most endearing quality.  Rarely ever did he frown, at least in front of his grandchildren, and would always make it his mission to greet them with a hug and a new joke he had learned.

His influence was his perspective.

My grandfather had an amazing ability to remain even-keel no matter what life threw at him.  For someone that grew up in a time where conservative beliefs dominated most of western culture and having witnessed and experienced first hand persecution and discrimination in his early years, he was an extremely progressive individual.

His belief in basic civil liberties and involvement in a Reform Jewish movement that focused on inclusion rather than traditional gender divide was somewhat ahead of his time and rare for a Jewish Canadian in the 1940s and 1950s.

Settled in Canada, Norman finished at the top of his class and was extremely well-educated.  His dream was to become a teacher but was unable to do so after rules stipulated that Jews would not be allowed to pursue teaching as a career.

Forced to alter his course, he became an accountant and ran his own firm until he retired. Now, two of his grandchildren are elementary and high school teachers, carrying out his dream for him.

In 2005, my grandfather suffered a stroke that would leave him without the movement of most of his body and an inability to communicate strongly with others. A year later, he would experience the passing of his wife.

Despite these losses, he never complained once.  Throughout his 10 years of battling through the effects of the stroke, he always smiled and managed to keep his mind sharp.

He could remember all of the songs he learned on the piano and continued to play for family with his one functioning arm.   He didn’t miss a family function.  And despite a difficulty in communicating, he still mentored people around him.

He faced more challenges in his final decade than anyone in the family but somehow his positivity uplifted us all.

 

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Norman passed away two years ago but just last week we received a gift from him.  

After settling his estate, it was revealed that he and my grandmother (who passed in 2006) left an allowance in their will for each of their seven grandchildren to be used as a small nest egg as they started families of their own.  A remarkable gesture that is representative of the love and selflessness that he and my grandmother had.

The way in which he raised my father is the same way my father raised me and that is why it is important that I do the same when I have children of my own.

 

Lainie’s Note: This piece was written by Norman’s grandson, Jonathan (JR).  I met JR eleven years ago when he began working with my husband.  Through the years I’ve heard stories about JR’s grandfather and knew that he was a big part of his life.  

JR and his fiance are very busy with wedding plans, work, and life events, and yet he somehow found time to write this tribute to his grandfather.  Thank you for writing it, JR.  I wish I could have met him.

 

Growing Up Small Town

With stands of trees lining the provincial highway, beautiful clear lakes for swimming and fishing, and an area known as “Sunset Country,” it’s home.

1,200 people.

One grocery store. One bank. A library.
One elementary school. Five churches. One arena and a curling rink.

Lots of trucks, more boats. A winding river that divides Canada from the United States. A 30 minute drive to the nearest movie theatre (in Minnesota).

Small town, Northwestern Ontario.

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Clearwater Lake

“Home” for me has always been two places — where I’m currently living and the small town where I grew up. And although I haven’t lived at ‘home’ since I was eighteen years old, it’s still very much a part of who I am.

It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve realized just how much growing up in a small town has affected how I interact with people and the work that I do.

When I decided to live in a city of 2.6 million people, I thought it was normal to ask colleagues about their families, kids names, what they like to do outside of work, or their plans for the weekend. But to some, this was seen as something unique or special. A skill set called “community building” in the world of learning and training. But to me, it was just being myself.

It wasn’t strategic on my part. I wasn’t hoping to achieve some ulterior motive. It’s just what you do in a small town — you ask questions about people’s lives.

I grew up in a place where people don’t talk about work.

They talk about people.

They share what they’ve been up to — what they’ve recently built in their workshop, planted in their garden, or read. I live a 20 hour drive away from home and I know who’s renovating their kitchen, who’s expecting a new grandchild, and who recently had to make the difficult decision to have their husband move into a care facility because he has Alzheimer’s.

There’s something about living in a small town that is different.

People make time to visit with each other. I miss this. The unexpected visits when you suddenly hear a door slam outside your house or the crunching of gravel in your driveway. My Dad is good at this — dropping in to visit friends.

So it makes sense why I look for opportunities to socialize with colleagues at work. I like getting a group together to go out for lunch or for drinks after work. I help plan ugly sweater days, coordinate group tickets to Argo games, and encourage colleagues to dress up for Halloween. It’s just what I do. Some may feel that personal lives and work should not meet, and I respect that. For me, I just can’t imagine working somewhere, where I can’t be myself.

In my work as an instructional designer, I’ve realized that it’s my small town upbringing that has drawn me to practices like user testing, design thinking, and human-centred design. When I’m designing or facilitating online courses, or creating professional learning resources for a specific group of people, this is when my “community building” comes through. I like to know whom I’m designing for — what they do, what they are challenged by, what they hope to achieve. Their interests, where they live, their family lives…

You might wonder what a person’s family life has anything to do with designing or facilitating learning for others. For me, it’s where I start. If you’re a single Dad with two young kids, is it likely that you’re going to sit and watch an hour long video to learn something new? Or would you prefer short video clips you could watch on your phone during your kid’s swimming lesson? Having a sense of users needs, interests, and goals helps me create something ‘just for them, just in time, and just enough.’

Time in itself would make for an interesting study. How we use it and where we place value. We have work commitments, errands to run, events to attend, our children’s activities.…there always seems to be a reason why we can’t get together with others. We start looking at each other’s photos on Instagram or Facebook as an acceptable way to keep in touch. But I think we’re missing out.

It matters to connect with people. By taking the initiative to make plans with others, it shows that we’re thinking of them and that we enjoy their company. When time seems like an invaluable commodity where there’s never enough of it, it says a lot when you give it freely to others.

I’m thankful for growing up in a small town. It, along with my parents, taught me to care about people.

Remembering Mom: “The Good One”

 

“The Good One”

I remember an old double length grey wool blanket that she would throw over her clothesline to make the most awesome tent for us on a hot summer day, along with homemade popsicles.  

She was the best grandma a child could ever wish for.  

 

This week, I asked my Mom to share a few memories of her grandmother, who was like a second mother to her.    

 

 

Stella George

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Grandma George and I

 

 

I remember having three grandma’s – Big Grandma, Little Grandma, and Grandma Ina.

Little Grandma was my great grandma – a quiet little English lady who lived in a little house on the outskirts of Emo.  I remember her house being dark and smelling of mothballs.  She had a magnifying glass we played with and our treat would be an orange well past its best.

Grandma Ina came from a Scottish family and grew up during the depression.  Her world revolved around the material things – not hugs, kisses, and time.  Little time was spent with her own children as she focused on taking care of foster children who were a source of income.  

In thinking back about Grandma Ina, the memory that comes to mind is that she gave me the worst Christmas present ever.  It was a shimmery bronze coloured pant suit and it was so ugly.  It did bring joy but not in the way she had intended.  We laughed until tears streamed down our faces.

And then there was “the good one” – an Irish lady with a sparkle in her eyes and the best grandma a child could ever wish for.


We called her Big Grandma and I have no idea why, as she was not a big lady.  

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Grandma and Grandpa George

 

She had black hair and always kept herself looking so nice.  I remember the time she tried to put highlights in her hair.   She overdid it with the red and wouldn’t go out in the sunshine for days, as she didn’t want Grandpa to see what she had done.  Oh how we laughed…

Grandma was always laughing with us.  

As a young girl, I remember going with her to the local drugstore.  I think she sprayed me with every perfume sampler there was.  We giggled and laughed in the aisle.

I remember the time she made our very first pizza.  It was from a box – a kit by Chef Boyardee.  A cheese pizza consisting of a dough mix, a can of tomato sauce, a small package of parmesan cheese, and a little packet of spices.  The pizza was god awful and we laughed and laughed.

Grandma was always laughing with us.  She was so open-minded and with the times. I can even remember one time when she tried to get Grandma Ina to be more fashionable and wear a pair of pants, but that never went anywhere.

Grandma liked to dress up when she went into town, often wearing one of the many dresses she had made.  Grandma was the one who taught me how to knit and sew.

I served a long apprenticeship in her tiny little sewing room where there was just enough space for a little daybed and her treadle sewing machine.  I spent many hours on that bed watching her sew.  We would pick out fabrics from the Sears or Eaton’s catalogue for the next outfit or project.  Now, as an avid quilter, I go into quilt stores and look at all the fabrics and wish that Grandma were here to see all of the choices available now.  

My very first memory of her involves two little red plaid dresses.

Until the age of 7, I grew up on a trapline in Northwestern Ontario where my best and only friends were my sister and brother.  We spent a lot of time playing in the outdoors.  Always a time of concern was spring break-up or fall freeze-up.  At these times, extra care had to be taken as there was no way to get to a doctor if we were hurt.  And depending on the length of the season, supplies could become sparse.

I remember a neighbouring trapper landing his small bush plane on the frozen river in front of the cabin, to deliver supplies and a care package from Grandma.  In the package were two little red plaid dresses that Grandma George had made for my sister and I.

With her strong Catholic faith, Grandma must have said a lot of prayers for her grandchildren growing up in the wilderness – learning how to run boats and motors, and shoot guns at a very young age.  It must have been an enormous relief for her when we finally moved into town to go to school.

If I wasn’t at Grandma’s for a sleepover on the weekend, I phoned her every day to talk.  It’s been over forty years since Grandma passed away and I can still remember her phone number.  482-2454

 

The day she passed, I asked my mom, “Why did ‘the good one’ have to die?”  

It was a terrible thing to say but I loved her so much.  She was like a second mom to me. She had so little and gave so much.

 

I’ll always think of you Gram
when I smell sweet peas that were always on your kitchen table,
when I smell Herbal Essence shampoo that was always on your washstand,
when I drive down our laneway that used to lead to your house,
when I take out your little sugar bowl with purple flowers for my morning coffee,
or look at your old treadle sewing machine in my living room.

I’ll always remember the hugs, kisses, and time spent together.  And I promise I’ll always remember to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day for you.

 

 

Writer’s Note: This post was written by Stella’s granddaughter, Peggy, a.k.a. my mom. I’ve always known that my mom had a very close relationship with her grandma – a relationship similar to my gram and I.  Through the years, I’d hear stories about Grandma George – often short, as I think my mom still found it difficult to talk about her, even twenty years later.  She missed her so much.  

I heard about the Irish grandma who would dye everything green on St. Patrick’s Day and how my mom wished that Grandma George would have met her two redheads (my brother and I).  She passed away before we were born.

Grandma George was the one who taught my mom how to knit and sew.  As a result, I grew up with a mom who sewed the best Halloween costumes and could whip up a pair of homemade wool socks, mittens, or sweater in no time.  My boys have received many beautiful gifts from her – sweaters, mittens, toques, socks, and quilts.  It’s neat to think that something she loves to do today was a gift from her grandma.

Thank you for writing about her, Mom. 

Remembering Mom: The Leader of all Things Wild and Crazy

This week, my friend Janine shares memories of her mom.

Mary Lynette Franklin (nee Foster) 

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This is my favourite picture of her.  It captures her essence, her smile.  And the pearls…she had a flare for the fancy amidst the country bumpkin!

 

Someone once told me that time heals the hurt of loss.  I think time just changes the hurt.  

Missing my mom sometimes comes in waves of pure happiness when I think of the little nuances of her—her smell, the little bump on the side of her nose (from when she was bit by a dog as a little girl), and her face after she found me curled up in the back of our turquoise Volvo wagon.  I had popped the most enormous bubble for an 8 year old and had bubblegum stuck on many parts of my hands, face and hair.   

These memories can and often do turn to sadness when I think of her not being here.

I often wonder what we would do together now that I am a woman—springtime walks where she would teach me all the names of the wild flowers, baking lessons perfecting pastry, afternoon chats over tea, family meals filled with laughter and storytelling, my wedding day, and sharing tears over life’s mistakes and lessons.

Mother’s day, her birthday, the day she died…are little moments when I exhale.  I try not to stay in this place because it can quickly overwhelm. Instead my heart shifts to a place of gratitude and love for the incredible women in my life that have become second moms to me. It is like God knew and placed the most wonderful women from diverse backgrounds to teach me about strength, dignity, love and hope, while my mom looks on from heaven.

Parents often talk about their children as precious gifts. For me, my mom was my precious gift.  For a short 13 years, she was in my life—guiding, nurturing, loving, and providing places of safety, curiosity and fun.

Lessons from Mom

Ask the ladybugs to stay, they kill the bad bugs of the garden.
Say sorry when it’s your fault, and sometimes when it’s not.
Girls have 3 holes.  Babies don’t come out of the same place as you pee.
Honesty is the best medicine, even when it hurts.
Live as if today were your last.
Love with all your heart.

I loved the unashamed, unconditional love and passion she had for people.  She was fierce really — passionately pursuing people and letting them know their value.

She was a woman who picked up strangers on the road to drive them to their destination and would deliver meals to families in need. Our door was always open for friends and family to stop by – for tea, lunch, or chat.  Always giving of her time, she valued family and did her best to bring us all together.

Every summer, we would go to Camp Mini-Yo-We.  This camp has heaps of history in our family. My grandparents helped build it. My aunt and uncle were married there. All of us (cuzzies and all) were campers, counsellors and program directors of some sort. We spent anywhere between 2 weeks to 2 months on Mary Lake enjoying the fun, adventure and camp festivities each summer. Camp was the best part of our vacation.

When I was a young camper, I remember my mom helping us pack, taking us to get bags of candy from the Bulk Barn, giving us letter writing material (Holly Hobby and Hello Kitty were my favourite), dropping us off, and visiting us on Sundays.  Throughout the weeks, I’d discover little love notes from my mom. She was so creative in using pictures, designs, and symbols to code her sweet messages. It was seriously awesome!

She was the leader of all things wild and crazy. She organized the most sophisticated camp pranks and raids…

My mom was the camp nurse for a few summers, while I was a senior camper and counsellor in training. I remember one morning heading for breakfast only to realize she had stolen a number of items from the different sections and used them to decorate the nursing station.

From the Minis, the youngest campers, she took all the shoes. From the Yos, middle age campers, she took bathing suits. And from the Wes, the older of campers, she stole all the training bras. How she did this, I have no idea. They talked about this mischievous raid for years.

She was a legend! 

 

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My Mom was beautiful.  She had thick black hair and was tall with legs that stretched for miles.  She had an olive complexion and a contagious laugh.

 

God tells us that we are all masterpieces—unique and created for a destiny designed only for us.  My mom believed this.  

She held tight to her love for God and was a woman who knew how to shine His love!  That made her incredible. 

 

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This picture holds a special place in my heart.  My mom was 6 months pregnant with me in her belly!  A few years back, while I was visiting my auntie and uncle in England, my uncle went to his study one evening and returned with a little box of treasures to share with me – little trinkets and photos my mom shared with them across the ocean.  This photo was in that box.  It took me by surprise, as I had never seen my mom pregnant before, and with me no less.  Together we had a cry and spoke of how elegant and graceful she was.

 

I focus on the excitement of reuniting with her for the eternity we will spend together.

Writer’s Note:  This piece was written by Mary’s daughter, Janine.  Janine and I met about seven years ago through work.  Through the years I have always enjoyed hearing stories of her mom.  She sounded like such a character and I could see where Janine and her brother Mark got their silly and fun sides from!

Thank you for sharing your memories of her, Janine.  The leader of all things wild and crazy, her love for God, passionately pursuing people and letting them know their value… you share so many similarities to your mom.  I think your family continues to have a little piece of her, through you.

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment for Janine or click ‘like’ to let her know that you enjoyed her writing!  Thank you!

Remembering Mom: She was My World

I remember as a child, I was always scared of being alone as it was just the two of us.  I always said to her…”don’t ever leave me.”  She always promised that she’d be with me.

I was 20 years old when she died.

This week’s Remembering Mom post was written by a close friend of mine.  I hope you enjoy it.

 

Joyce Hylary Pitter

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My mum and I having dinner at a restaurant in Paris, France.   I was 10 years old and this was such a memorable trip – getting to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time with her and doing what we loved – eating good food!

 

 

As a child, she was my world. I didn’t grow up with any siblings and she was the only parent in my life.  She meant everything to me.

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This totally showed our life.  With no siblings, Mum always played with me…even in the tiny blow up pool!

 

My mum had a very kind and gentle nature. She was very soft-spoken and caring but inside a very strong and determined woman as she faced so many obstacles in her life.

From her late 20’s, she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis which took a toll on her body. In later years, this brought on several other ailments, but in spite of her weak body, she was the strongest person I knew.

I don’t know how she did it, raising a child and running a school all on her own.

I remember my Grandma and my Aunt telling me stories about my mum when she was a little girl and how she’d line up her dolls and pretend to teach them. She was born to be a teacher. 

She later became the principal of her school.  I remember watching her interact with the kids and how much she cared about each and every one of them. In the small island of Antigua where I grew up, so many people knew and loved my mum, and appreciated the positive impact that she had on her students.

When I was a teenager, she would work full days, come home to have dinner with me, and then head off to spend time with a couple of little boys who needed some care and support.  I’m honoured to say that my mum was that person. She was just amazing.

I remember us participating in a garage sale when I was around 17 and selling our items out of the trunk of her car.   The plan was to put the money we had made towards something that we needed.  We had so much fun and by afternoon, our plans had changed.  After the garage sale we took that money and treated ourselves to a fabulous meal at a restaurant instead!

My mum and I shared a love for good food.

We enjoyed going out to try different restaurants and I loved coming home from university to find that she had cooked one of my favourite meals. She was a great cook.

I often came home to spend weekends with her.  On one particular Sunday, I remember sitting and working on a puzzle of her favourite movie.  Sitting, chatting, eating and laughing the whole afternoon and enjoying the time with her.

Before I knew it, it was time to head back to school.  I jumped up to pack my things, while she continued with the puzzle.  When I came out to give goodbye hugs, Mum said to me, “Come on, just stay a bit longer and finish this with me…it’s almost done.” I did, even though it was late. I remember her being so happy.

When it was time to go, we hugged and I rushed out the door saying goodbye and see you soon.  She died two weeks later.

I’m so glad that I stayed to finish the puzzle that night.

I think of her every April 4th. She was only 46.  She had the prettiest green eyes.

There have been so many moments in my life that I have deeply missed her and wished she was by my side: special birthdays, my wedding day, the day I followed her path and became a teacher, the births of my 2 children, and many others.

Her love as a mother was the deepest and most genuine.  My one hope is that my boys will know this same love from me.

I loved how she made me feel.  I miss her so much.

 

 

Writer’s Note:  This piece was written by Joyce’s daughter, Nika.  Nika and I met around 10 years ago when we began teaching at the same school.  We have been friends ever since. She even made the trek to Northwestern Ontario to be in my wedding party.  Although I didn’t get to meet her mom, I’ve always thought that she was an incredible woman.  As a single mom, she left everyone she knew, family and friends in Antigua, so Nika could have a good education in Canada.  Naturally when I thought of someone to write about their mom, I immediately thought of Nika.

 

Thank you for writing about her, Nika.  You described her beautifully.  You’re an incredible mom to your boys.  She would be so proud of you.

 

Please take a moment to leave a comment or to click ‘like’ to let Nika know that you enjoyed her writing!  Thank you!

Remembering Mom: The Smell of her Lipstick

Last week as I looked forward to spending Mother’s Day with my boys, I thought about those who no longer have their moms.  What is Mother’s Day like for them?

I reached out to three friends who lost their mothers as young women and asked if they’d be interested in writing about their moms on my blog.

I’d love to!  She has been on my mind lately.

I would love to share about my mum…will be emotional but wonderful at the same time.

I’d be honoured!

So after a teary editing session, here is the first of three stories to be shared this week.

 

Cynthia Darby Maxwell

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I chose this photo because it shows three generations of my family, and my Mom during one of the happiest times of her life.

 

I remember the smell of her lipstick and perfume, the way her scarf was soft and warm on my face.  

My mom used to kiss me goodbye every time I left the house. She would hold my face in her hands and kiss me quickly as I squirmed to get free… saying, “I love you, see you soon.”

She was a single parent to my brother and I.  We were definitely not the easiest of children. My brother had special needs and my mom had to work hard to support him through his education. She had taken thalidomide during her pregnancy and was determined that Andrew would never be at a disadvantage because of it. She wasn’t a feisty advocate.  She was supportive, persistent and involved.

My mom always said that we could do anything we wanted, anything we set our minds to. She valued education and went back to university when I was ten to finish her degree in Geography. Unfortunately, the year she graduated there were no jobs in education.  For every trial and tribulation, my mom would persevere. She’d just pick herself up and move on, never looking back.

My mom fought a 20 year battle with cancer. She was incredible, never losing faith that things would work out. She believed in the people taking care of her and never said why me. When we first found out, she was strong and invincible, and I fell apart. She held me up.  

She had such dignity. Nurses and doctors were always commenting on how lovely she was.  She was kind and polite, even when she was feeling poorly. She would never let someone else feel her pain.

I watched her strength dwindle and wane.  She leaned harder on me. I was so proud to be her daughter, to look on as she fought hard to stay with us.  She waited so long to see us safely into the world without her. I had to tell her it was okay to go, that I would take care of Andrew, that I would be okay. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do… but my mom would have done it for me.

She was my everything.  I miss her every day.

 

Each night, my mom would gather me into my bed, read me a book, tell me stories and sing to me. The day would just drift away.  She’d brush my hair oh so gently off my forehead and kiss me saying, “Goodnight and God Bless” as she turned off the light and slipped down the hall.

 

Writer’s Note: This piece was written by Cynthia’s daughter, Aynsley.  Aynsley and I met each other through work about six years ago.  In those six years, it’s hard to think of a conversation with Ayns that hasn’t included a special anecdote or memory of her Mom.  It’s been 15 years since she lost her Mom and she is still very much a part of her life.  

Ayns, I know this wasn’t easy to write.  Thank you.

 

Welcome to Red Rocket Coffee

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Baristas, Kirstin and Kayla, pose for me with their ‘tough look’.  They’re too friendly to pull it off.

 

Sorry, Starbucks.  I won’t be coming to hang out anymore.  It’s not you, it’s me.  I’ve found someplace new that’s a better fit for me.  Red Rocket Coffee.

 

Scones baked fresh every morning.  Cranberry lemon, strawberry coconut, white chocolate orange…  The best I’ve had.  Favourites are usually sold out by afternoon.  Specialty drinks like Dirt n’ Worms Hot Chocolate, apple cider (caramel or apple pie), and the best tea lattes.

 

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There are little corners to hide away.  A long bench stretches along the back, dotted with small tables.  There’s a spot I like near the corner, next to the little side table with a lamp.

 

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There’s also a great spot that backs against the fireplace and faces the street.  I love the openness of seeing the street and still feeling like I’m tucked away in my own little space.  

 

It’s here where I sneak away for a little time for myself – to write to my boys in the journals I keep for them, to work on my latest online course, or to write in my notebook.

 

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This week I’m going to share with you my new favourite coffee shop.  This place has a small community feel, complete with its own cast of characters.

 

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First, there’s Mrs. Tate.

 

A sweet, older lady who I ‘met’ one Saturday morning.  She came into the shop with flowers.  She had remembered it was one of the barista’s birthdays.  Her gift was met with “aaawwws, thank you’s, and you’re so sweet.”  

I assumed that Mrs. Tate owned a flower shop as she told the girls that on Easter weekend, it had been the busiest it had been in 30+ years.  “I feel so supported by the community.  Everyone came out.”  They were yelling out goodbye’s to Mrs. Tate as she walked out the door.

I am loving this neighbourhood more and more.

 

Then there’s the eclectic graphic designer who roams around, striking up a conversation with anyone – staff, complete strangers, and people he seems to know.  He hasn’t approached me yet but I bet it would make for a great story afterwards.

I found him so entertaining that one morning I flipped between my online course and an open Google doc so I could jot down the things he was saying.  People must have thought I looked strange.  Sitting there quietly with a smile on my face. I found him hilarious. Interesting. Smart.  A total character.  

 

——-

 

He approaches a young family with a little girl.  He tries to talk to her but she’s shy and unsure of him.

Good to be suspicious of old men.  We’re up to no good.  

I like kids and dogs.  They are the only things that get along with me.  I’m just the guy at the end of the street.

Drinks are ready.  Names are being called out.  Not forced or fake feeling.  They actually know people’s names.

The designer begins talking about his niece and nephew, and when they play music together.  The jazz trio of crazy.  

She’s only shooting at people who are mean to her.  Marlow – shotgun apocalypse.  My Ted Kennedy impression.  

At this point I have no idea what he’s talking about.  Apparently his niece has a great imagination that’s fuelled by her uncle.

Hey Kayla…

He’s in mid conversation with someone and is now yelling out across the room to strike up a conversation with one of the baristas.

He joins a father and his young son playing battleship.  They’re sitting in the comfy couch area near the fireplace.

Do you have a strategy for where you put your guys?  The fog of war.  I’ve studied the art of war. Sun Tzu.  I’d be trembling in some trench somewhere.  I don’t think I could kill anyone.  I don’t think I’d like the threat of being killed.  I’m sure I’d find God somewhere along the way.  Bahaha.  

Ciao, Dominique!  


He’s now yelling at a man leaving the coffee shop.  The man smiles as he leaves, throwing his arm up in the air to wave goodbye.

The young boy gets up to leave the battleship game for a moment.

Your dad’s not so dumb.  He’s going to cheat while you’re gone.  I’m a provocateur.  That’s what they say in Francais.  I play both sides.  I’d be a spy.  I’m too flamboyant to be a spy.  

He continues to roam around the small shop for another hour or so, before leaving.

———

On a different day, I ran in for a tea.   A lady came in after me to order a drink and something to eat.  She told Kayla that she hadn’t been feeling well and was going home instead of into work.  Kayla’s response, “Coffee is on Robin and I.”  

 

I love this place.  The people, the small community feel, and the constant hum of life.

 

I’m glad my hubby had me venture away from my usual tea at Starbucks. I haven’t been back in months.

It’s nice to support a local business where you begin to recognize familiar faces from the neighbourhood.  A place where knowing your name isn’t a corporate attempt at creating a false human connection.    

 

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Maybe you have a great little place near your home too.