On New Year’s Day, it was a chilly -30 degrees in Winnipeg. Despite the Arctic temperatures Dave and I decided to bundle up and went for an hour-long trek in Kildonan Park.
I thought we might be alone on the trails but I was surprised how many other hardy hikers we encountered. It was hope-inducing to hear our cheery New Years’ greetings to one another ringing through the crisp cold air.
I thought it might be too cold for any birds to be out but I was wrong. We had just closed our car doors when a huge bald eagle soared right over our heads, flying so low we could clearly see its bright yellow beak.
We took detours when the incessant pounding of two different pileated woodpeckers caught our ears. We spotted both of their bright red heads but weren’t fast enough to get a photo before they flew off.
No such problem with a group of chickadees in some pines. Dave held out a peanut from his pocket and one of them hopped right over to have a snack.
We spotted some crows too, their inky silhouettes stark against the white of the snow-covered trees.
It was mighty cold in Winnipeg on New Years Day but not too cold for the Driedgers or the birds.
Seasons greetings to all my blog followers. Thanks so much for reading my posts and a special thanks to so many of you who have made comments, asked questions and responded in various ways this past year. I wish you and yours a safe holiday. May you find a measure of happiness and peace in whatever way you are able to celebrate. I am going to be taking a break from my blog till the New Year. See you in 2022.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.
Those are the opening lines in one of my favourite novels, Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups.
Rebecca, the main character is a widow with four grown children who starts wondering if she is really happy. She begins to think about what her life would have been like if she had made other choices both professionally and personally. What is her purpose now?
Like Rebecca, as our life circumstances change, we often stop to reflect on what our new purpose might be or how the choices we made in life have impacted where we’ve arrived.
There are two key pieces of advice I always take away from Back When We Were Grownups when I reread it.
1. Don’t waste your time with regretsconstantly thinking about what might have been.
Rebecca puts it this way. “Your true life is the one you end up with, whatever it may be.”
2.Live as richly and as fully as you can in the here and now. Rebecca tells this story to make that point.
When I was eight my aunt gave me a beautiful tall white candle with white lace around it in a spiral. I thought it was so elegant I saved it in my drawer to use on some momentous occasion. One day four years later I came across it in my drawer and it was all yellow and warped and the lace had crumbled. I’d never seen it burning and now I never would. Since then I light my candles any chance I get. I light them by the dozens, all over, all year. Multitudes of candles!
This Christmas in particular, when we may be feeling regretful that we can’t celebrate the season in the way we’d hoped to, or with the people we’d hoped to, it might be good to remember Rebecca’s advice to light multitudes of candles while making the very best of what life has given us right now.
This is the eighth year I am writing Christmas memories for my children and grandchildren. Each Christmas I compose a little story for each of them about a Christmas in the past.
For our sons, I can go all the way back to their childhoods to find memories to write about. For our daughters-in-law, I return to the time since we first met them, in the case of our older son’s wife that is over two decades ago.
For the grandchildren, I write a memory of something that happened the previous Christmas when we were together. Of course last Christmas our family time together was virtual because of the pandemic, and this Christmas we’ve postponed our festive celebrations till February.
Up till now, I’ve been framing the little stories I write and displaying them at Christmas, but with the family growing and my tendency to want to include more photos and text than a small frame allows, I’m redoing all the old stories in a format suitable for a book for each family member that will be added to each year.
I am hoping when I’m no longer able to write these stories they will serve as a reminder of Christmas past for the successive generations of our family, and also as a reminder of the love and good times we shared with each other.
You have probably seen this meme that is going around on social media.
The meme is based on an old joke that goes something like this.
“You know what would have happened if there had been three wise WOMEN instead of three wise MEN, don’t you? The three wise WOMEN would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the Baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and would have given practical gifts.”
While I think that joke no doubt panders way too much to the stereotypical roles we have for men and women it does help us think about the way female Magi might have acted had they visited the Christ Child.
My husband Dave once wrote a play that the students at Elmdale School in Steinbach staged at Christmas using giant puppets they had made. Dave called his play They Never Made It to the Manger. It told the story of a wise woman named Gertrude who never got to Bethlehem because she was so busy helping other folks, she met on her way there. She ended up giving needy people she encountered on her journey all the gifts she had prepared for the Christ child.
In their beautiful picture book Three Wise Women Mary Hoffmann and Lynne Russell tell the story of three women, one a young girl who runs a bakery, another a mother raising a toddler and the third an elder who is a storyteller in her village. They all see a special star and feel compelled to follow it.
The three women meet on their journey and become friends but hesitate to enter the stable when they finally find it because three obviouslyvery wealthy men are just exiting, and they have left such fine and expensive gifts for the child. The women go in somewhat cautiously but are soon made comfortable and welcome. Feeling accepted they are empowered to offer their gifts.
The young baker takes out a loaf of bread she has baked for the new family,
the storyteller relates a marvellous and hopeful tale to the child and his parents,
and the toddler’s mother holds her child close to the baby so the little one can bestow a loving kiss on Jesus.
The story ends with the writer reminding readers that Jesus shared bread with others when they needed it, spread hope through his stories and brought a gift of love to the world.
Although gender stereotyping should be avoided, I do think there is some value in taking another look at the story of Christmas through more feminine eyes and discovering how it might help us interpret the Biblical narrative in new ways.
My first Christmas party for the year was on Saturday when the T-4s got together. For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know the T-4s are a group of four fast friends who were all teachers in the same school at one point. We’ve been getting together for over a decade now and although our socializing used to happen once a month the pandemic has made that a little more challenging.
I hosted this year’s Christmas event and knowing I would be doing that inspired me to decorate my house and get a tree just a little bit earlier than I might have otherwise.
We started off with soup, sandwiches, and potato salad from King and Bannatyne a wonderful deli near our home. Then after several hours of visiting it was time to open our gifts.
My friend Esther had hand-paintedourcards herself and had picked personalized chocolate selections for each of us from Decadence Chocolates. I can hardly wait to try the exotic flavors like egg nog, candy cane crush, and strawberry balsamic.
Esther’s card is so beautiful I have framed it so it can become part of my permanent Christmas collection.
My friend Glenys gave each of us some Christmas bath salts from Australia and these soft snuggly blankets. I slept in mine last night. Its extra weight and warmth helped me have a great rest.
Glenys’ gift came in the beautiful Christmas bags Debbie and I are holding. I’m looking forward to using mine during the holiday season.
What did my friend Debbie have for us in these beautifully wrapped boxes?
Lovely wool wraps or sweaters that are sure to dress up any outfit. I plan to wear mine to work today.
I’d had special mugs made for each of us.
The mugs featured images of all four of us and a message about friendship. I also gave my friends one of the special Coal and Canary candles Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library are selling for Christmas as a fundraiser.
After enjoying a luscious dessert Esther had brought we realized five hours had quickly passed and it was time for people to head home.
I’ve enjoyed more than a decade of Christmas parties with the T-4’s now. I look forward to spending many more with these dear friends of mine.
I’ve been browsing through the old newspaper columns I wrote in the 1990s. My mother used to cut all my columns out of the paper and save them in photo albums, so I have hundreds I eventually took out of those albums and stored in envelopes according to their topic.
I wrote this reflection in a 1994 column as I began Christmas shopping for gifts for my sons who were nine and sixteen at the time.
Someday our children may travel faster than the speed of light to destinations we can only dream of
They will no doubt, sail stormy seas that are completely foreign to us
As young people have for generations, they too will boldly venture across the boundaries so carefully established by their elders
They are sure to see things that are beyond our ability to imagine
What gift can we give them for such a journey?
For their trip to the unknown landscape of the future no toy or game will do
We must give them a gift of lasting value, a gift we have hopefully received on our own life’s journey
A gift that is the product of our deep sense of responsibility to them and our unwavering faith in them
That gift is an unconditional lovethey can never question
Yesterday around noon in Vancouver my phone dinged. I had an email from my friend Bruno. Bruno had sent me a photo. The only words in his accompanying e-mail were The Charleswood Thanksgiving Display.
Charleswood Mennonite is the church my friend Bruno and his wife Carolyn attend so I knew the table in the photo must be located there. The photo showed my novel Lost on the Prairiedisplayed on a lovely green patchwork cloth on a table with fresh garden produce, fall leaves, orange flowers, and other items. What was my book doing in that Thanksgiving display and who had put it there?Bruno didn’t say. It was a mystery.
It wasn’t too much later that my phone dinged again. This time it was a message from Lisa who is one of the pastors at Charleswood Mennonite Church. Lisa had sent photos of the Thanksgiving display along with a message.
Hi MaryLou. Happy Thanksgiving! I just wanted to tell you that I read your book this week and THOROUGHLY enjoyed it! What a great story, and so well-done. And then, I wanted to tell you that at Charleswood this morning, we had our Thanksgiving table up at the front, and people were to bring things they are thankful for and put them up on the display, and someone brought your book and put it up there! I took a picture to show you…
So now I knew that my book was on the table because someone was thankful it had been published. But who was that? I have quite a number of family members and friends who attend Charleswood Church. Which one of them had chosen to use my book as a symbol of gratitude? It remained a mystery.
Just then my phone dinged again and it was an e-mail from my Aunt Nettie, my father’s youngest sister. She too had sent photos of the Thanksgiving table featuring my novel along with a message.
I brought your book for our Thanksgiving church display. Someone set some tomatoes in front of it! We were asked to bring something for our display for which we were grateful! Your book came to mind immediately- grateful for your ability as a writer, for getting a publisher and for making the bestseller list for so many weeks at McNally’s and not least for the pleasure of reading your first novel!Happy Thanksgiving!
Mystery solved. My thoughtful and supportive aunt had placed the book on thetable.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I am especially thankful for the opportunity I’ve been given to share a story inspired by my grandfather’s life. I am thankful for my family who supported me in all kinds of ways as I wrote the book. I am thankful for my writers’ group the Anitas who gave me such great encouragement and advice. I am thankful for the good folks at Heritage House who bought my manuscript and published it. I am thankful for the wonderful staff at McNally Robinson Booksellers who helped me promote my book and sell it and……. most of all I am thankful to ALL the people who have bought my book and read it.