Family Lines

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Tag: Christmas

A great tradition

What has zero calories, no price tag and is a great holiday tradition? Sharing stories of Christmases past.

Lost Andy

Andy talks and talks and talks. Talks and talks. Then talks some more.

“At school we painted pictures,” he says.

“I can make super-sonic laser beams come out of my eyes.”

“Can I take Jasper out for a walk?”

Andy is annoying me with all his talking. I want to tell him to shut up but I won’t. He’s only seven years old.

Andy is my foster brother. He stays with my family on weekends. Mom and Dad decided to become foster parents since all their kids have grown up and moved away for university. I admire the fact that my parents are doing something for children who need help and love but it’s Christmas. I don’t want Andy around. I want my Mom and Dad all to myself because I’ve been away for four months and have a lot to tell them.

Andy never stops chattering. He follows me around telling me about his latest ninja adventure.

“Me and the ninjas hang out a lot. We just went and beat up some bad guys real bad. They’ve got blood coming out of their noses,” he says.

Andy’s mum doesn’t like him. In fact, she hates him. She never asks how school was or looks at him or kisses him goodnight.

He likes coming to our house because we don’t hit. He said that once. He likes coming to our house because we don’t ignore him. He said that too.

A friend and I were catching up during that same holiday Andy was part of my family. After Katherine and after our coffees, we found a kitten behind the café. It was a freezing cold Saturday and it took a long time to capture the baby. Every time Katherine and I got close she would dart into the brambles.

I managed to catch her when she climbed a tree and was too weak to get very far.

I put the kitten in the car and she howled all the way home. She was starving and wild and scared. At my house I gave her some warm milk and mush to eat. I cleaned her up and she’s beautiful. She tried to snuggle into my collarbone. She looked up at me asking for love with her enormous eyes. She made me cry. She made me put Andy into perspective.

Andy is like the kitten, abandoned and scared. He wants attention and love, except he’s not cute and cuddly. He’s a skinny little boy. He can’t fit into the nook of my shoulder. So he talks constantly to get people to notice him, even if all they’re going to say is be quiet.

After this revelation I try to be nicer to Andy. We walk through the woods together. I show him how to play the piano and how to build a house out of Lego. But he still keeps talking.

Happy Holidays!

Author Dr. Guy Ekisa and why he writes to help

Dr. Guy Ekisa, Edmonton author and clinical psychiatrist.

Dr. Guy Ekisa, Edmonton author and clinical psychiatrist.

Christmas isn’t always a happy occasion for all. It can be a tough time for some. While everyone is different with different problems, there are some ways to deal with the holiday blues and not spend another year in turmoil. I recently edited and epublished some self-help books with sound advice dealing with bullying, dating, how to be your own boss and dealing with grief.

Dr. Guy Ekisa is the author of the four books above. He doesn’t give pat answers or silly motivational clichés; no, he gives experiences from his own life. As a clinical psychiatrist he has devoted four decades to helping individuals overcome challenges caused by loss of mental or physical health and disruptions in social, spiritual, financial and relationship well-being. I asked the Edmonton professional a few questions on why he’s sharing his wisdom with the world.

WRITING FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

For me now, writing is an extension of my clinical work as a psychiatrist except that I’m no longer seated at the opposite side of the desk from my patient. The message that I share is a distillation of the knowledge, the skills, the insights that I have gained from my patients foremost, and the growth that I had the privilege to experience during my life’s journey through Uganda, United Kingdom, Canada and overseas – the insights that have helped many of my patients and contacts. This journey has taught me, among other things, that we are all interconnected and interdependent and do benefit by sharing. We are dependent on so many – the bees that pollinated the plants that fed the cows that produced the milk that sustained the women and men that made the shoes we are wearing. We learn and grow from others and others grow from us; we support one another and we are supported by others.

WHY DID YOU WRITE FOUR SELF-HELP BOOKS?

I wrote STOP MILKING A CHICKEN: Employee or Unemployed Personal Wealth Creation Resource plus a student companion book because most men, women and children are struggling to make ends meet while they continue to work flat out to make others wealthy. When we have more of anything we feel more contented and are able to reach out to socialize, help others and to share. Everyone has inner wealth that can be unleashed to create more personal wealth and improve personal lives and the lives of their loved ones, not to mention humankind and the planet.

I wrote DATE SMART in Five Steps: Don’t Settle For Less Than A Friend because in reciprocal relationships we feel happy, fulfilled and we strive to support one another. Unfulfilling relationships are more prevalent than we care to think. It’s painful to experience or witness an unequal and unbalanced relationship. While it’s natural and common initially for the partner who is at a disadvantage and who experiences emotional, physical or intellectual pain of disappointment to look to his/her partner for solutions to the pain that the partner caused, it’s futile to continue nurturing such an expectation in the absence of corrective actions – this would be like expecting a cactus plant to come and remove the thorn in your fingertips.

A significant amount of time and effort gets devoted to the bully and whatever turned him/her to start the bullying behaviour and I do concur that effort in this direction needs to continue. However, it’s your child who is being targeted and who continues to suffer abuse despite whether the bullying is due to learned behaviours, family or traumatic backgrounds or due to temperament in the person who bullies your child. That’s why I wrote COMFORT YOUR CHILD: Don’t Let A Bully Steal Your Child’s Dream.

This book doesn’t focus on the tormentor nor does it seek to work on or with the bully, his sympathizers, accomplices or unhelpful bystanders. Efforts that aim to create positive change in a bully need to be delegated to those who have the means, skills, opportunities and authority to effectively deal with the bully such as the bully’s parents, professional caregivers, the school and school board administrators, law enforcement authorities, the judiciary, civic leaders, government institutions, religious institutions and self-help groups. Armed with a coordinated and focused action plan, these individuals and agencies are better placed to address a bully’s lack of empathy, injustice, insecurities, aggressiveness and any pertinent traumatic or family issues. As a parent or caregiver, you will, however, need to either be instrumental or have your representatives be involved in prompting school authorities and community agencies to institute such a team as mentioned above to address the bully’s issues and ensure this team receives your feedback.

Loss of expectations is central to the experience of grief. Abuse, trauma and loss through separation, divorce or death only represent the tip of the grief iceberg. Any loss of physical and mental health, our attributes and anything we are attached to, be it human, animal, thing, spiritual or idea that may destabilize our functioning and undermine our wellbeing. FINDING COMFORT: As You Heal from Abuse, Trauma or Loss addresses grief in its widest sense.

WHY DR. EKISA WRITES SELF-HELP BOOKS

I receive and give advice almost on a daily basis and move on, incorporating some while being oblivious to the rest. While the words in my books include advice, they are presented in a form that encourages the reader to delve deeper into specific issues, work out possible solutions to meet their unique needs – thereby helping facilitate personal growth.

WHY DR. EKISA’S BOOKS ARE DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SELF-HELP BOOKS

In my books I focus on the crucial need for each reader to identify his/her inner strengths/wealth and the wealth around him/her and to then deliberately take ownership of and responsibility for all aspects of his/her life and growth, including recruiting support. Based on my professional and personal growth, I know and believe that each reader, no matter his/her personal circumstances, has a great deal of resilience and inner strength. It’s this inner strength that has allowed him/her to overcome whatever challenge he/she has faced thus far. It’s this inner wealth that I encourage the reader to identify, record, own and tap into for problem solving and growth, while recruiting additional help from his/her network of supporters.

 Dr.  EKISA’S REAL LIFE EXPERIENCES

STOP MILKING A CHICKEN: Employee or Unemployed Personal Wealth Creation Resource: Jake takes ownership and responsibility early.

Jake’s parents struggled financially but always sacrificed to provide for his school supplies and tuition fees. He was an average scholar with his eyes set on studying mechanical engineering at university. He had an aptitude for mechanics and was often found tinkering with small engines or anything with a motor. He got his driving license at 16 and soon after that passed his Class One license and was ready to drive trucks. He immediately got himself a part-time job with a good company driving trucks within the city on weekends. He had good work ethics and got along well with his boss and other employees. After graduating from high school the following year, he made a decision that upset his parents. Rather than going to university, he decided to go to work instead. He had just landed a job as a long distance truck driver for another trucking company.  After 18 months, he had accumulated enough money to pay for his university tuition for four years, with a surplus left. His parents were amazed at their son’s resourcefulness. His reply was, “I reckoned it was better to wait for a couple of years to go to university in order to save a lifetime in student loan shackles.”

He subsequently went on to university but continued to work some weekends. By the time he graduated, four years later, he had bought a one-bedroom apartment with a sitting tenant in it. He decided to keep it as a rental property. He also bought two medium size trucks from an auction and had his mother scouting for delivery business and working as the dispatcher for two young drivers he employed. He got a job as an engineer but continued to build his own trucking business.

The above example is ownership and working outside the box at the very best. Jake took charge of his destiny early on and decided to do things differently, against the best advice his parents could give him and against conventional practice. He knew his strengths and sought to learn from different settings. He developed a clear vision and image of what he wanted in life and how he was going to approach it. He had heard of relatives in their fifties and sixties, who were still bearing the burdens of student loans so he made up his mind that his education would involve more than merely going to school. He found another way to supplement school through practical experience. He found a way of sidestepping the stranglehold of student loans.

DATE SMART in Five Steps: Don’t Settle For Less Than a Friend: Misplaced assumptions.

Zolif was a 22 year old medical doctor who lived by himself. At 20, he had broken off a two-year turbulent relationship with his girlfriend due to her uncontrollable anger. It took him three months to work through the grief caused by the break-up. When he felt comfortable enough to start dating again, he chose a woman who was charming, bright, witty, funny and very sociable. The two liked each other and started going steady after a month. The one thing Zolif valued most in a relationship was to “feel heard.” It was not long before he started noticing that his girlfriend was more interested in enjoying herself than sharing time together. She loved being the centre of attention and cracking jokes. She was very opinionated and it was hard for Zolif to have a meaningful conversation without her taking over the talking. He had to repeatedly interrupt her in order to get a word in edgewise. Zolif grew tired of not being listened to and gradually became disillusioned with his girlfriend. After five months, he called off the relationship. His girlfriend was devastated because she had thought their relationship was great.

Zolif needed to feel that he was in a mutually beneficial relationship. He had assumed that this charming and witty woman knew how to make him feel special. It took him several months to realize that she had no clue how to do this.

COMFORT YOUR CHILD: Don’t Let a Bully Steal your Child’s Dream: Kindness heals – working through guilt and shame.

 Vince was eight years old when he was raped by his maternal grandfather who then threatened to shoot him if he ever told his mother. His grandfather showed him the gun that he would use. Vince’s father had arranged for the whole family to go on a camping trip. However, Vince had pleaded with his parents to allow him to go to grandpa’s. Grandpa had promised to take him fishing – his first experience.

Vince’s life was never to be the same again. Out of fear, he kept the secret and suffered in silence. He kept his parents and siblings in the dark. His parents felt that his problems were due to laziness and his tendency to procrastinate. His irritability, anger and argumentativeness were seen as behaviour problems associated with his stubbornness. His declining school grades were seen as due to his unwillingness to work hard.

Although he never went to visit his grandfather again, the rape continued whenever the grandfather visited the family. The grandfather would instruct Vince to stay at home when the family went out and made sure that Vince saw the loaded gun. At 15 years of age, Vince decided to leave home to stay with a friend. This put an end to the cycle of abuse but not to the ongoing emotional pain.

The memories, the recurrent nightmares, the emotional pain triggered by the smell of tobacco, the sight of blood, middle-aged men, toy guns, to name but a few, continued to torment Vince. Worst of all were his feeling of guilt and shame. They were relentless. He would get very depressed. He blamed himself for putting himself in the place where he was raped.

An entry in Vince’s diary written when he was 17 read, “It was me who refused to go camping. It was me who insisted on going fishing. It was my fault. I brought it on myself. I am to blame…” Shortly after this he became so depressed that he talked to his friend about ending his life. The friend responded by driving him to a hospital emergency room where he was admitted into a psychiatric ward. He received ongoing counselling after discharge.

This example highlights the need for you, as a parent or caregiver, to be emotionally connected with your child, to be aware of his/her emotional space and wellbeing, and to respond to the smallest signal that indicates that he/she is beginning to deteriorate.

FINDING COMFORT: As You Heal from Abuse, Trauma or Loss: Confronting the nasty and disagreeable characteristics and behaviours

Wanda lost her baby at birth and addresses the nasties (painful and disagreeable memories relating to her doctor’s actions).

Wanda was a 22 year old married woman who went into hospital to deliver her first baby following a normal pregnancy. After a prolonged trial of labour, a cesarean section was performed – too late to save her well-developed baby boy, who by then, was in serious distress. He died within 10 minutes of delivery. Wanda was devastated.

She was discharged three days later with a follow up appointment in a week’s time. Wanda worked through her grief, with help from her relatives, but remained very angry with the doctor who could have prevented the death of a perfectly developed baby, had he done the pelvic measurements or responded in time. He had failed to live up to his promise to her and that he would make sure that the delivery went as smoothly as her pregnancy had gone. Each time she thought about her son, whom she never even held alive in her arms, she couldn’t stop crying and bargaining or feeling very angry at the midwives.

Two weeks later, Wanda decided that the only way for her to deal with her never-ending anger would be to meet with her doctor. After doing her own preparations for this meeting (i.e. visualisations and trial runs using drawings and after practising releasing exercises for a whole week), she decided she was ready to confront the doctor. She rehearsed what she was going to say and how she was going to say it and armed with her note book, so she would not forget anything. The she made the appointment with her doctor and took her sister with her as a supportive resource who waited for her in the reception room.

Once in the doctor’s office, Wanda took charge of the meeting from the outset. She didn’t ask for reasons or explanations. She had been in the delivery room for 36 hours and knew everything that had gone on, up until she was sedated for her operation. She told the doctor what she wanted to say and upon finishing, thanked him for his time and left. Wanda later reported that the doctor had tried to take charge of the meeting but she stuck to her script. Apology was not her objective, “My baby is in the grave. Nothing can bring him back. His spirit was, is and will always be in me. I need to heal and move on, beyond this pain.”

After she got home, she wept for hours. She did a release exercise and said “goodbye” to the doctor and her experiences in the maternity ward. Her preoccupation with the doctor and what went on in the hospital was no longer a major problem by the end of the week. She continued to reclaim shattered connections and to release the remaining pain – the things that were within her control. She retained the memory but not the severe negative feelings associated with it.

THE TARGET AUDIENCE

My books are intended for any one searching for betterment and fulfilment in their life’s journey, specifically those:

  • Struggling with the pain of loss, whether this is due to bullying, loss of expectations, ideas, a pet, separation, divorce, trauma of emigration, serious traumatic events or death;
  • Teenagers, and those who need to maximize their dating skills so they can focus on recruiting a friend for a companion, while avoiding human predators;
  • Parents and caregivers of the bullied child (target) and
  • Students, employees and the unemployed of our planet so they can learn to cast their nets wider as they seek financial security in the light of limitations inherent in employment as a means to become financially wealthy.

DR. EKISA’S CENTRAL MESSAGES

Stop Milking a Chicken: Employee or Unemployed Personal wealth Creation Resource – plus a Student companionStop Milking A Chicken book cover. book: As the reader works though this book he/she will gain additional insight and personal growth to the extent that he/she will feel more psychologically ‘fitter’ and more ‘adaptable’ enough to say: “I am aware that there are indeed forces that limit personal wealth creation. These forces are amenable to change. I do have necessary tools inside and around me to start creating for myself and increasing my personal wealth. If I can create wealth for my employer, I can create wealth for myself using the same skill set.”

Comfort Your Child: Don’t Let a Bully Steal your Child’s Dream: For a bullied child (target) or person to begin to Comfort your Child book cover.feel that he/she is not alone because parents, caregivers and community supportive network are pooling together their resources to comfort and fortify him/her. This will empower the child to reach out to those who love and care about him/her including medical, mental health, life skills coaching and anti-bullying self-help groups. He/she will then be able to start focusing on day-to-day living, his/her aspirations and dreams, rather than continuing to be preoccupied with the bully’s nasty characteristics and disagreeable behaviour – thus the bullied child will become more “my wellness-focused” as he/she declares the bully unwelcomed and irrelevant to the healing and the journey towards fulfilling his/her dreams.”

Finding Comfort: As you Heal from Abuse, Trauma or Loss: Here my hope is that the reader will become aware Finding Comfort book cover.that experiencing emotional pain (grief) during and after any abuse, trauma or loss is a normal human reaction. The pain comes in waves and lulls – the lulls give us a breather and an opportunity to start reclaiming our hitherto shuttered well-being. We need to hang in there. Grief pain does get better, sometimes with help from our supportive network and resources. When we are in a crisis what we need most is a shoulder to lean and cry on – we are not alone. While many have been there and lived to tell the story, each experience is unique to the individual.

ADVICE ON LIVING LIFE

Friends talk, can cover each other’s back and can agree to disagree. Enemies can’t talk and always seek to fight or annihilate one another. Strive therefore to befriend that which is inside you, but which hurts you, makes you ashamed of yourself, beats on you or is disagreeable to you because you are joined at the hip and you live in the same house.

FUTURE BOOKS

I have three books in draft form and a few more in the incubator.

WHERE TO PURCHASE  THE BOOKS

From Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

Check my website for write ups: http://drguyekisa.ca.

Contact Dr. Guy at guy@dyguyekisa.ca.

Twitter: @Ekisa Guy; Facebook: Guy Ekisa.

Gifts not presents

Woman sitting in Fanas, Switzerland.

My big ugly coat I can’t find. I’m in Fanas, Switzerland here.

Christmas is on the horizon and for many of us, that means lots of cookies and eggnog and family time. My immediate family (and family-in-laws) don’t live close enough to us to hop over for some seasonal cheer but my husband and I consider our friends as extended family.

It’s a gift we have these people in our lives in Calgary. This week though — this cold, cold week — I’ve been thinking about other gifts that I’m grateful for: and not expensive presents.

It’s super-duper freezing outside and I walk everywhere (most everywhere). Somehow, I’ve lost two winter coats. Oh I know they’re packed in boxes but I’m not sure which boxes. I didn’t label them when I loaded them full of housewares and clothing and knickknacks in preparation for a move. Well, that move hasn’t happened yet but winter has. I did know where one special winter coat was put and dug it out.

The special coat was my Nana’s. It’s pink and pure virgin wool (so says the tag) and has a fur-lined hood. Nana lived in northwestern Ontario and it’s cold there. The coat must have worked because she used it for a long time and then handed it to me before I moved from Nova Scotia to the Northwest Territories (N.W.T.) about 10 years ago. I never used the vintage coat in the N.W.T. because I had a black, puffy parka that looked like a sleeping bag on steroids.

Now I can’t find that black coat nor another black parka that looks almost the same. I had to start using my Nana’s coat. I put it on today and walked downtown in the -33 (with wind-chill) weather. It worked! I was warm and cozy in the wool coat and I even got some compliments on it while I was shopping in the mall.

I never saw Nana again after she gave me the coat: she died soon after I went to the N.W.T. Her gift is finally being put to use 10 years later and I’m grateful for its warmth and the reminder of her as a flesh and blood person. She wasn’t always an old woman. She wasn’t always my Nana. She was young and had ideas and dreams and perhaps, in her coat, she lived some of them.

Cold Calgary: view from Nose Hill Park.

Cold Calgary: view from Nose Hill Park.

Another gift is the gift of nature in the city. Like I said and many of you know, it’s freaking cold. But have you seen how beautiful it is outside? The fog rolling off the Bow River in the morning turns everything around it silver. The fresh snow covering the brown leaves on the ground and ugly grey pavement convinces us that the streets are pretty and Christmas is just around the corner. At night, when the festive lights are turned on, they still can’t compete with the stars. The clear cold air only accentuates their brilliance, reminding me that I’m one small person on this large planet.

With the holidays comes goodwill. People hold doors open for me. They stop their vehicles to let me cross the street. They put down their mobiles to engage in conversation with me, a stranger. This is a great gift and I wish it continued all year long because this is an important gift: the gift of time. Taking a couple of seconds to be friendly doesn’t take much and you’ll never know how deeply your kindness was felt.

“A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Young and Restless Anne

Anne and Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables.

Photo credit: norika21

Almost every weekday at four o’clock in the afternoon, I stop work and watch the Young and the Restless. It’s my dirty secret. The silly show is a nice break and the story arcs are so fantastical they’re ludicrous. Except for a couple of weeks ago when a scene sparked a Christmas memory: Anne of Green Gables made an appearance on the show.

Yes, Y&R is a soap so I wouldn’t fault you if you thought Anne Shirley was actually brought on as a real-life character. But no, she stayed in word form. A little Y&R girl, Faith, couldn’t sleep and her stepmother (young Faith’s fifth or sixth stepmother) told her that when she was a child, her mother would read to her to help her get drowsy. The stepmother, Sage, then got a book from a shelf and said it was Anne of Green Gables.

Sage started reading the first paragraph of the first book that begins with:

Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.

That almost put me to sleep too. Because it’s boring.

When I was about eight years old, my parents gave me a box set of Anne of Green Gables for Christmas. They also gave my sisters and me a tape recorder. (The tape recorder was the iPhone of our time.) The tape recorder was cool and I couldn’t wait to play with it. My parents suggested I read Anne of Green Gables into the recorder. Judging the book by its cover (a pastoral scene with two girls walking hand in hand) I thought it looked fine. I cracked the spine of the soft cover book and began reading aloud the same passage Sage read to Faith.

While I didn’t get to see Faith’s reaction, mine was one of disappointment. This book was going to be super boring. I liked the C.S. Lewis Narnia books: full of action and adventures in unknown worlds. Who was this Mrs. Rachel Lynde and who cared about the stupid brook?

I couldn’t get into the cast of characters who lived in the pages. They were not coming alive in my imagination. I read a couple more paragraphs aloud and captured my voice on cassette tape. (We still have it somewhere at home.) Then I put the book down and put in an ABBA tape to listen to.

I used the tape recorder a lot over the years but it took a while to get back to Anne. She wasn’t someone I wanted to get know right away. Then one day, I picked up the book and pushed past the beginning and something magical happened. Anne became my bosom buddy. I wanted puff sleeve. I fell in love with Gilbert Blythe. I cried my heart and eyes out when Matthew died. It was a sad day too when I finished the last Anne book.

Children before me and after me and everywhere in the world feel the same way about Anne. One of my memoir clients who grew up in Poland in the fifties read Anne of Green Gables. Lucy Maud Montgomery gave us a place to go with a girl who knows what it’s like to not fit in and who gets in trouble without meaning to. Ann with an e was our best friend when we didn’t have one and our escape from school and life. She never changes no matter who is reading about her. Even if Faith gets another stepmother, she’ll always have Anne.

 

Have a very scary holiday

Family_Lines_Leapbks_frightheader1Looking for some Christmas fear? Yes, it’s still July and many of us aren’t thinking about Christmas but I have announcement. One of my fiction stories was picked up and is being published in the Fright Before Christmas anthology. I’m being paid for it too. Always a happy event for an author.

FRIGHT is a collection of 13 tales, from 13 different authors and will knock the stockings off your fireplace this Christmas season. Earlier this April, I read that the publisher, Leap Books, was looking for submissions for the anthology. That’s when I scraped together an idea and wrote about a stenchy monster that takes instead of gives on December 24.

Many of you probably think of Christmas as a time of good cheer and tinsel and hohoho. But my festive memories always have a bit of a scary side. That’s because my father used to bring home horror movies to watch as a family over the holidays.

This was pre-VHS machines and definitely before watching movies online. He rented out a large LaserDisc player and then stocked up on creepy films. I saw such Christmas gems as Alien, Aliens and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Body Snatcher scene where the dog has a human head and his owner has his dog head really made an impact on me. I couldn’t sleep alone for weeks and would drag a blanket into one of my (younger) sisters’ rooms and curl up on the floor for the night.

It this kind of Christmas magic that I’m familiar with so I don’t have any problem writing a scary story for a happy holiday. FRIGHT is set to launch in November of this year and is for children in Grade 6 to 9. My other kids’ book is already out. The Raven named Flight and How She Learned to Fly is about a raven from Fort Smith, NWT. I wrote the story and had the illustrations done by Helen Monwuba. I published the book myself this past December 2014.

kids; book about a raven.

The Raven named Flight and How She Learned to Fly

Print book

Blurb: http://blur.by/1zZpZdi / $32.99 CAD without shipping

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1320278310 / $28.58 US without shipping

Ebooks:

Blurb: http://store.blurb.ca/ebooks/p43a9f931da2cda4398e5 / $4.99 CAD

Apple iBookstore: http://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/id950045042

Happy New Year’s from Germany

The view from the Freiburger Münster, a big medieval church, in Freiburg, Germany.

The view from the Freiburger Münster, a big medieval church, in Freiburg, Germany.

In 1993 I spent part of New Year’s Eve in a small mountain town near the Black Forest in Germany. The other part of the night I spent in a hospital. It was an evening to remember although not one of revelry.

I was in Germany for two weeks visiting my friend who was attending the University of Freiburg on an exchange program through Acadia University. I was in my fourth year at Acadia and feeling rather provincial so I went to visit Digger.

My flight to Europe left Halifax on Christmas Day (flights were cheaper on December 25.) The plane went from Nova Scotia to Amsterdam, where I waited in the airport for seven hours because I was afraid if I went sightseeing I would miss my connection. That flight was on to Mulhouse, France, the closet airport to Freiburg. After landing and picking up my baggage at the terminal I was given the option of entering either France or Switzerland. Oh oh. Which country did Digger say she was going to meet me?

This was before 9/11 so security was rather lax and I had no trouble walking into Switzerland. When I looked over to France, there was Digger waiting for me. I just had to walk back through to the other side.

Once we got to Germany we did a lot sightseeing around Freiburg, a beautiful town that had white Christmas lights and other elegant festive ornaments all over the streets and houses. We also climbed the many icy stone steps of the Freiburger Münster (a big medieval church) and ate lots of pretzels and Berliners, the jelly donut John F Kennedy made famous. The highlight of the week was going to be a rocking New Year’s Eve party where Klaus, Digger’s German boyfriend, would be playing with his band.

On Dec. 29 we got all dressed up and climbed in Klaus’ shaky olive green car for the ride to the party. I was excited to be going to an event with new people. Maybe some cute guys would be there too.

It was dark out during the drive so I didn’t get to see any of the German countryside. I knew we were going up and up in elevation though. In about an hour we arrived at a small community hall not unlike ones in Canada.

While Klaus set up his drum kit Digger and I got a glass of wine and some snacks. However, not even 15 minutes later Digger started to feel sick. Sick enough we had to leave the party filled with interesting looking people (cute guys) and drive straight to a hospital.

As soon as we walked into the hospital I started to feel ill too. I had drunk only one small glass of wine but it really affected me. Maybe it was the altitude but I felt like I had finished off the whole bottle.

“Excuse me,” I muttered, putting my hand over my mouth while I ran around searching for the first bathroom I could find. Man, I was not feeling well.

I threw up all over the restroom. All over it. I painted the town red but in a different way. When I emerged from the toilet I felt a lot better but Digger and Klaus were nowhere to be found

I attempted my poor German on hospital staff but no one knew what I was talking about. So what do you do when you’re half cut and lost in a foreign country? Call your parents.

“Are you drunk?” they asked.

“No?”

They advised me to sit down and stay in one spot. To wait. I followed their instructions and slumped down by the hospital door. It was an entertaining place to be.

I watched a steady stream of people come in with all sorts of injures. Cuts, scrapes, bruises – one young man was clutching his blood-covered head and moaning. Wonder what happened to him?

When midnight chimed the only way I knew it was the new year was because all the nurses and doctors came out into the hall with champagne (or sparkling juice?) and said “Happy Silvester!”

Happy New Year to you too.

I’m not sure how long after that, maybe five minutes, maybe longer, Digger and Klaus popped out of one of the rooms. She had had an allergic reaction to something but was fine now. It was 1994 and time to go home.

Searching for Santa Claus

Family_Lines_SantaSanta Claus was not part of my family’s Christmas. My parents decided they wanted the birth of Christ as the main focus of the holiday and not Jolly Old Saint Nick. Which was fine by me until I went to school.

When the festive season rolled around all the kids started talking about Santa Claus. Of course I knew who he was but still, I couldn’t believe that my classmates believed in such a thing. And I told one or two so. Yes, yes I did kill Santa for them I do hope they don’t hold any resentment towards six-year-old me. Because even I thought maybe, just maybe, my parents might be wrong and Santa might actually exist.

On Christmas morning I still got presents under the tree, lots of them. But they were signed “Love mum and dad.” Although I knew who had given me the gifts, there was an inkling of doubt. Maybe there really was a man who went around the world delivering presents via shooting down a chimney. We did have a chimney. Santa could use it to get to our tree. I had seen Santa at the mall before. He seemed ok with his big bushy white beard and comfy cozy looking red suit. Perhaps I should leave out some cookies and milk for this guy.

One Christmas eve I did wait up for Santa. I stayed awake so long my parents went to sleep. Then I quietly got my of bed and softly put one foot in front of the other and walked down the hardwood stairs to the landing. Here there was a small window that I could reach.

I can’t remember what I saw when I looked outside but it wasn’t Santa Claus.

I went back to bed and woke up Christmas morning. It was still a magical and majestic day despite the absence of Mr. Claus. Besides, he had too many kids to worry about anyway. I was one less.

Christmas in South Korea

 A student of  my in Korea.

Hans, one of my students in Puyo, South Korea.

One of my first Christmases away from my family was when I was teaching English in South Korea. It was 1997 and the Korean currency, the won, had fallen. I wasn’t making any money, but I was getting rich in experiences.

I was living on my own in Puyo, a rural town. I didn’t know many people and had been only there just over a month and a half. It was a lonely time and one I wouldn’t wish to relive but glad I went through it.

The lead-up to Christmas in Puyo wasn’t too bad. They didn’t go all out with decorations and blasting carols in shops. There were a few festive baubles hanging from a supermarket window but that was it. I also had to work during the day on Christmas Eve, which was different from what I was used to in Canada. However, this made things easier: I didn’t miss my family so much when it didn’t feel like Christmas.

But on Christmas Eve there was no escaping it. I love December 24 because it’s low-key and family-centred. No opening gifts, no gorging on a lavish feast – yet early enough that no feelings of sadness that Christmas was coming to an end. Christmas Eve is special to me because it’s the day before the flurry of activities. The 24th is for taking in everything and relaxing with loved ones.

We always head to church for the Christmas Eve service. Dad always makes us go super early so we have seats together. Then we sing carols and afterwards eat perogies, cabbage rolls and chicken wings and play board games.

I was missing this in Korea. But I could at least go to church. I did and sang many of the same Christmas hymns we sing in Canada. (Except I have trouble remembering lyrics so I sang the same line over and over again.)

After church I went out for a drink with my fellow teacher and roommate, Sun-yee. We had the best octopus ever that night too. It was so spicy I could hardly eat it but I kept putting it into my burning mouth. I went to bed trying not to think when I woke up it would be Christmas.

Christmas dawned and I slowly got up. Korea is 12 hours ahead of Nova Scotia so I called my parents on their Christmas Eve. It made me sad I wasn’t at home but I knew they were missing me too.

I had the day off from school and not much to do. I chose to go exploring. That’s what I did most weekends in Korea. I walked and walked and walked and walked. Covering many kilometres, discovering back roads leading to beautiful temples, acres of rice fields and a bridge over a quiet stream with a black goat tied under it. (There were no trolls).

I took lots of photos that day. None of anyone opening presents or stockings. I was OK — until I went into a favourite shop to get a treat. The store was playing Christmas music and the song bore a hole into my heart. I was going to cry if I didn’t get out of there.

I paid for my treat (probably a sweet bean bun) and left. When I called my parents again that evening it was their Christmas morning. I think I cried this time.

This would be the Christmas that lasted three days for me. The next morning, Boxing Day, was Christmas night at home. I didn’t feel too terrible that morning since it was back to work for me. Phew. Finally, something to take my mind off Christmas.

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