Wednesday, December 30, 2009

End of the Year Roundup

Merry Carollers in Bracebridge, Ontario - December 24, 2009

So much is going on. I am halfway through my second week of Christmas holidays and time is disappearing faster than the money in my bank account! Well, not really, the money is gone! My wee family arrived home from Bracebridge on Saturday, 5 days ago, and I just unpacked my suitcase today! So many gatherings of family and friends - twice as many now that I have someone in my life.

Just checked out my kiva loans - 2 of the 3 are now in the process of being repaid. Considered making my 4th loan which would be for Jan. 2010 (1 loan per month since October) but at this point in time they have more loaners than loanees so will check in again tomorrow. I'd like to think that this has something to do with Oprah profiling Kiva on her show a few weeks ago or perhaps it's to do with the time of year, the Christmas spirit of giving and all that. Whatever it is, I'm happy to be a part of it.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. Michael and I are going to Jambalaya's for dinner and dancing and then to a friend's house party. On New Year's Day we are going to "collage" our goals and hopes for 2010. Our main focus for 2010 will be "trusting the trust" - something I'll explain more fully as we move forward.

The New Year is also a time to readjust one's budget and financial goals. I appear to be on track with retiring my debt (if not my person) in 4.3 years. So if I decide to retire in 4.5 years I'll be debt-free ONLY if I don't add to my personal line of credit. So please please please my little Chev Cobalt, please last at least another 5 years, please, I love you......

2009 has been a very memorable and groundbreaking year for me. Entering into a new relationship at a time when I thought I had my life's path all figured out has been challenging and wonderful. More to come on that as well.

Stealing the words of a friend I hope that all of you are feeling loved, cherished, supported and understood.

One love!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Different Kind of Christmas

We don't know what goes on behind closed doors. Sometimes we think we know, but we don't know. Sometimes we have an inkling, or a feeling, sometimes we pretend and hope for the best, and then there are the times when you have to take action because deep down you know.....

Such is the case with one of my students. She lived with her grandmother til she was 16 and her gramma passed away. Then she was placed with her father, who is mentally ill - he has schizophrenia. They hardly knew each other, he could barely look after himself but that was who she had to live with.

For the past two years we have helped her as much as we could - we gave her breakfast, lunch and food to take home for supper. We helped her with her school uniform - bought new pieces when we could, found pieces in the lost and found, hemmed pants and gave her laundry detergent so she could keep them clean. She was too old for the Children's Aid Society and too young to make her own decisions. We tried to help them as a family but he was un-cooperative.

Recently she turned 18 and can now sign her own consent forms and make her own legal decisions. She decided she wanted to leave her home and her dad so yesterday we went to her home while dad was out and gathered up her clothing and personal belongings. The apartment was unspeakably dirty and horrible, dark and unfriendly, a deeply disturbing space.

We moved her into a woman's shelter. Over the two weeks of planning she never wavered once from her decision. This is a young lady with a mild intellectual disability and mental health issues of her own - but in this huge life-changing move her voice is loud and clear.

More to come....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stress-free Christmas

Today in Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada

The Christmas shopping has begun in earnest, but not by me! I can't remember ever having such a stress-free Christmas. I have a list and it is short. I know where I am going and I know what I am buying. Once or twice I was tempted to veer off-course but after reprimanding myself (gently) I got back on track.

My lovely nineteen year old daughter emailed me her Christmas list along with pictures and links. What a dear. (She knows what she wants and knows how to get it - but not from me!) Tee hee! She said - "it's a long list but you can choose from the list so I can be surprised!" Well, surprise! I cut the list in half and then half again:) I am reigning in the shopping and not buying one thing on credit whilst still paying myself FIRST! I got her a few things that she wanted - like the leather belt from American Eagle in hopes that she'll stop borrowing it's the kind of gift that gives and gives. She's getting an iTunes card so that when she purchases music the fee doesn't go onto MY credit card. Oh, I'm a thinker!!

As for the rest of the family I made a donation to the World Food Programme and asked them not to buy ME anything. We are putting the emphasis on spending time together rather than on buying more stuff that we don't need. My daughter and I are going to Toronto for a weekend to see The Sound of Music, and to the AGO to see the King Tut exhibition and are going out to a nice restaurant and staying at a posh hotel all at a very reasonable price thanks to a Mirvish package deal.

My partner and I like to spend time at Chapter's so our gift to ourselves is to go there, hang out at Starbucks and purchase a few books. Inexpensive and fun. I love sitting with my laptop and a soy decaf latte watching everyone scurry and hurry around looking for that nonexistent perfect gift. It's like living in a huge library that allows you to eat and drink, browse through their books, have free internet access and you don't have to whisper! Sounds like a perfect day to me!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Generosity is Alive and Well

The True Meaning of Christmas

The true meaning of Christmas is being amply demonstrated at my highschool. After putting out a group email to all the staff on behalf of one of my developmentally delayed students donations have been coming in left, right and centre.

My student, a young lady of 18 who I will call Sarah, is in desperate circumstances. Given up by her mother at birth, she was raised by her paternal grandparents. When Sarah was about ten her grandfather committed suicide. Her biological father is schizophrenic. She is predisposed for depression and mental illness as well as having an intellectual disability - the cards have been stacked against her from the moment she was conceived.

Two and a half years ago her grandmother had a stroke and died and Sarah had to go and live with her dad who she hardly knew. He was ill-equipped to look after a teenager and could barely look after himself. For the past two years they have fumbled along with dad refusing any offers of help. At school we have done our best to look after Sarah and bolster her poor self image.

Recently events have taken a turn for the worse: unpaid utility bills have resulted in the heat/hot water being turned off. Unpaid rent leaves them facing eviction and very little income has seen them turn to the food bank. Medical issues with Sarah are being untreated and she lacks the basic necessities of life. Again dad is refusing assistance and was a no-show for a meeting scheduled for today.

The good news (and there is plenty thank God) is this: Sarah is now 18 and can make her own decisions. She has decided it is time to make a break from dad and we are looking to place her temporarily at a family shelter until her disability pension kicks in and then a permanent placement can be arranged. She will receive grief counselling, psych evaluation, medication, life skills training and support for daily living.

In addition the good people at school have provided boxes and boxes of food, Christmas presents galore, warm clothing, school uniform pieces and money to help her pay for the necessities of life. Each new day finds me crying tears of gratitude for the willingness the staff demonstrates to help a child in need. She has even received several offers of Christmas dinner.

How this story will end is anyone's guess. But we are now moving forward with a plan of action, because a plan without action is just a wish.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Iconic Weed - Westminster Ponds

Outpouring of Help

Every year classes at the highschool where I teach take on an advent project. We raise money in a variety of ways to assist seniors, newcomers to Canada, street kids and families in need. This year we decided to help one of our own students - a girl with an intellectual disability who has had to live with her mentally ill (schizophrenic) father since her grandmother died two years ago.

Dad has been in and out of work (currently out) and they have had their heat turned off due to non-payment and have had to resort to using the food bank. The young lady has mental health issues of her own and is unable to advocate for herself. After learning that she and her dad had gone to the local food bank for help I decided then and there to make them our Advent Project. My staff agreed wholeheartedly. We would try to raise enough money to get their heat turned back on, provide them with enough food to get them through the two week Christmas break and buy a Christmas gift or two.

Next I decided to put the request for help out to the whole staff of my highschool because several have had my student in their class and might want to make a donation of food or money. The response amazed me.

Even though I am well aware of my school's propensity to give and give and give I was overwhelmed at the magnitude of the response. And humbled. Gifts of food have begun to fill the 3 large boxes that we decorated with Christmas wrapping paper, offers to buy clothing and school uniform pieces, offers of cash in order to get the heat back on and another entire class has offered to make this family THEIR advent project. The most touching moment for me was when one of our custodians brought me a $100.00 cheque saying "every kid deserves to have a Christmas".

My decision this year to make Christmas more about giving to others and about spending time with family and friends rather that the usual "shop til I drop" fiasco has taken on a life of its own.

The joyous feeling that comes from helping others in need truly can't be beat.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Girl Effect

Saw this on Oprah yesterday. Wow - made quite an impact on me - this is something I so believe in. Made my third microloan on Sunday - will make one every month. This is the way to empower women around the world!