Thursday, 28 November 2013


For Morgan and Zachary and our annual Christmas Tree hunt:

I can feel the crisp winter breezes, see the softly falling snowflakes, and smell the fresh pine perfume of my home in Drysdale's Tree Farm.  It is that magical time of the year again. I am filled with anticipation and hope.

Oh, hi!  Let me introduce myself. My name is "Sproo" and I am a picea abies. That is just smart alek talk for spruce tree.  My name is not exactly original but it is better than being nicknamed Sprout, which I was for many years as I grew up.

Do you have a wish for Christmastime? I do. I want a family for Christmas. I dream of being a Christmas tree, decked out in brightly coloured decorations, wrapped in twinkling lights, and topped with a sparkling star.  I want to bring love and joy to a family at Christmas, but I am worried.

For years, the trees around me were selected while here I stood, never chosen. I was small, just a sad puny little seedling. "Hey, Sprout, maybe next year," the other trees would joke as they left with happy families.  How I wished to be a grown up tree. This summer when the forester was pruning my branches, I could see the smile on his face.  He was proud of me. High on this hill, I have absorbed the sunshine and nourishing rain. I now tower at a graceful seven feet.  I do not wish to brag but I am a lush green colour and my sturdy branches could easily hold many decorations and lights. 

What am I worried about? Today is already Sunday, December 15. I have still not been chosen by a family. If I do not get picked soon, at the rate I am growing, I will be too tall for a home next year. I could end up as an office building Christmas tree. Yuk!  I do not want that. I want a family. I dream of children, lights and laughter.

Happy tree hunters, bundled up against the cold, Swede saws in hand, pass me by every day.  Why? I wonder  Am I too high up on this hill for most people to climb?  Are my short prickly needles not as nice as those on my Scotch pine and Balsam friends? What is wrong with me? But wait....

Oh my gosh, a young girl is headed my way. Ah! Isn't she pretty with that blonde hair peaking out from below her pink toque and that gentle smile on her cheery face. Now she is staring up at me, smiling. And she is even holding one of my branches.  Is she imaging how to decorate me? I mustn't get too excited, but maybe, just maybe.

Hey, buddy! Come and see this tree.

Now a young rosy-cheeked boy is running up my hill, laughing as he easily makes his way through the deep snow drifts.  I think he must be a skier. 

Zachary! Morgan! Where are you? 

Here Dad, the pretty young girl calls in answer. Come see!

Oh, Sproo, I excitedly say to myself. This is a family.  Please, please choose me. I say a silent prayer.

Mom and Dad, bring the saw, yells young Zachary. 

We found our tree, they gleefully yell in chorus, both grinning from ear to ear.

Now Christmas Eve, I have a home at last.  I love my family. They have watered me, decorated me, and carefully placed gifts at my base.  Morgan cannot pass me without gently touching one of my branches. It is if she is holding my hand.  Zachary sits and dreamily stares up at me. I can see my colourful lights reflected in his young face.  Such happiness! Tonight, while my family sleep, I will guard my Christmas home and eagerly await Santa's arrival. Tomorrow, lights aglow, I will be part of this family brimming with love, joy and laughter.

My dreams and wishes came true.  I am a Christmas tree, a Christmas tree with a family.  I am fulfilled. May all of your wishes and dreams come true during this magical season.  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 24 November 2013


Before all awake
On Christmas morn,
Mother's company 
In my kitchen.
Red and green lights
The darkness dispel.
Humming carols,
Laughter and talk,
Coffee enjoyed.
Stuffing we made,
Turkey was dressed,
Table to set.
Those are cherished
Those moments gone.
Her spirit remains
My Christmas gift
Before all awake
On Christmas morn.

Monday, 18 November 2013


With no sign of a head or an upper torso, only the protrusion of twitching legs and feet are visible. Is it the Wicked Witch trapped under Dorothy's house, landed in Oz?  A plumber repairing leaky pipes? Jim restoring his Triumph Spitfire? No! Wrong on all counts! It becomes clearer when a string of uncharacteristic expletives escapes out from under the twelve foot long table as Jim tangles with a twisted mass of electrical cords and plugs. Yup!  It's a snowy day and we would be in the midst of erecting our miniature Dickens' Village for another Christmas Season.

In 1994, knowing that Jim's favourite book of all time is Dickens' Christmas Carol, my brother and sister presented Jim and I with our first two lit porcelin houses from Department 56's Dickens' Village collection. Little could they foresee what monster had been unleashed.  Immediately charmed by these quaint miniature houses depicting 19th century London and the time of Charles Dickens, we began to collect the occasional piece lovingly displaying them on our mantel at Christmas. But wait.....

Our son, Matthew, in a past life, was most certainly a crazed developer who could not view vacant land without rubbing his hands in mercenary glee and hysterically giggling, "Expansion!"  Building on Jo-Anne and David's lead, Matthew, and then Matthew and Michelle, have annually gifted us over the past nineteen years with one or two miniature buildings. As it became necessary to move our mantel display to a twelve foot table (yes, I said 'twelve'), Jim and I protested, although frankly not with much resolve. Steadfastly ignoring our half-hearted pleas to curb expansion, Matthew and Michelle delightfully present us each year with an additional structure. Village sprawl knows no bounds and we love it!

Our realistic little diorama is populated with lamp lighters, skaters, street vendors, shoppers, carolers, chimney sweeps, and even snowmen.  I can only wonder when StatsCan will forward their census survey. Bob Crachit and Tiny Tim frolic in the snow. Peak through the window of the Melancholy Tavern and you will spot Ebenezer Scrooge miserably dining alone. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future lurk in the shadows of the church graveyard awaiting their night with Scrooge. Land values must be skyrocketing as available space on the table dwindles and housing becomes stacked.  "With this market, should I come out of retirement?" I muse! The ever increasing population of our little village competes for space with sleighs, hackney cabs, gas lights and God forbid, an increasing array of pubs! Just how great is the urban sprawl? Our elder son, Christopher, laughingly quips that we will soon require our own power grid!  Would that be DVPG, Marion?

And so we begin what will require the better part of a day to complete, our annual rebuild. Jim takes on the electrical challenge; me, the arrangement of buildings, trees, people and vehicles.  My task is tickled by memories of Morgan and Zachary, at each age, studying and commenting on life in our little village. With individual pieces placed, I pause and imagine a story. My writing teacher has been encouraging me; perhaps there are some short children's stories within our miniature Christmas town just waiting to be told. 

A day of rebuild, a day of deconstruction - for such a short time, why bother? One glimpse at the wonderment and joy shining in Morgan and Zachary's faces each year and our construction industry work is more than worth it.  For me, the magic is woven on Christma Eve. Christmas tree lit, carols playing, fireplace aglow, a glass of wine in hand, and the twinkling lights of our Dickens' Village find me transported back to another time and place. A time and place where a mean spirited, miserly old man learns to honour Christmas with all his heart, with kindness, with generosity and with warmth. "Too much wine", you say.  I know it to be the magic of the season.

Notes on photos:
The swearing electrician and his favourite Melancoly Tavern. You can just see Scrooge's shadow through the window.
I would then take you on a tour. Shrink down and here we go! We move though the densely populated city, past finer homes and skating rinks, into the countryside and finally reach the Thames.
The final four photos are my favourites: the skating rink with snowmen and a tree lighting, the skiff rental on the Thames, the graveyard with the gathering of Scrooge's ghosts, and finally the farm with its animals and the roasting of fish over a fire.

Saturday, 16 November 2013


Up early, eyes groggy with sleep, but determined, he peers out his bedroom window, waiting and watching. "Gramma said Papa is the brightest star in the sky. She said he is watching over me, that he will always love me." 

In the pre-dawn morn with nothing breathing, all silent, he whispers, "Papa, are you there?" From the darkness, the first faint glistening of dawn flickers. Overcome with hope, he holds a gasping intake of breath as if in fear of snuffing out the pale glow.

"Papa, are you really there?" Degree by degree, shimmering colours of shell pink and faint gold break on the skyline.  "Oh Papa, I love you." Tears spill down his sleep flushed cheeks as the pale glow heats to reds and golds in response. Papa IS there. And Papa has brought him another day.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013


Dressed in a thick cuddly sweatshirt, cozy and secure in my living room chair and warmed by our gas fireplace, I stare, deep in thought, out our front window at a chilly November morn.  Today's newspaper, on my lap, glares at me with its heartbreaking photos of the Philippine devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan. "1,774 confirmed dead and 2,487 injured with official death toll expected to reach 10,000," scream the headlines. NASA officials report that the typhoon was the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane. CTV News, in an effort to clarify the immensity of the storm, superimposed a satelite image over a map of Canada. Such was Typhoon Haiyan's size at its worst that it reached into every province. The scope of the human and property toll is beyond comprehension.  And in a third world nation!  As if the situation is not dire enough, another powerful typhoon may be bearing down on the battered islands. "We need help" has been the unanimous cry of the typhoon victims. The need is staggering!

Disasters of such scope throw my emotions into utter turmoil.  We, as Canadians, enjoy such a privileged corner of our planet. It is at times such as these that I feel embarrassment and guilt that I am not doing more. My life is a good one. How can I just sit by? Conversely, I am well aware that an untrained woman in her late sixties would just be a liability to aid workers. So no, I have not booked an airline ticket to Manila.

In 2002, I had the unique privilege of meeting and spending some time with Diane Stuemer. After a cancer scare, Diane, her husband, Herbert, and their three sons rented out their home in Ottawa and set out on a four year circumnavigation of the world. Dispatches describing their journey were published, with ever increasing readership, in the Ottawa Citizen. Diane's subsequent book, The Voyage of The Northern Magic", provided a vivid account of their incredible journey aboard a forty year old sailboat.  So taken was I with this book, its author and her message that I arranged to have her speak to my real estate staff. 

It was in Kenya that Diane and her family learned the true meaning of humanity.  What struck Diane most was the desperate need for basic education. It cost, at that time, $500 to send a student to school for a year. Virtually an impossibility for most Kenyan families. In the Ottawa Citizen she wrote, "...we learned that those of us who have been fortunate enough to make a living and build ourselves a life, have the power - and also the duty - to help build a better world, even if only changing the world of one person at a time."  The monetary response from Ottawa Citizen readers was staggering, enough not only to educate a number of  students for a year, but also to plan a new school building. Leaving Kenya, on their return journey, Diane wrote, "That is why, when we finally made our way back into the ocean, our hearts, once so weighed down by all we had seen in Africa, no longer felt quite so heavy. All we did was plink one stone down a mountain. Maybe it would help start an avalanche."

So what, Daf? Why tell us this? Because when I have my moments of inner turmoil about not doing enough, about not being able, singlehandedly, to relieve the agony of survivors of world disasters, I remind myself of a conversation with Diane in which I likened myself, in the face of such disasters, to a rabbit in headlights. Frozen! Not acting!  Diane, hand on my arm, looking me straight in the eye, said, "Daphne, plink a few pebbles down the mountainside and you may start and avalanche. You only need to DO. Do what you can". 

And so, in Diane's memory, I picked up my computer and donated, from Jim and I, to the Canadian Red Cross Haiyan Relief. And now I challenge you. Choose your charity. Just DO!  Mae mentioned on Facebook that she donated through Plan Canada.  Bravo!  And there are many other charity choices. $5.00, $500.00 or $5000.00. It matters not. Just "plink a few pebbles down a mountainside."

Postscript: On March 15, 2003, Diane Stuemer succumbed to a return of her malignant melanoma.  The day I received Herbert's email, I thought my tears would never dry. We lost a true world citizen, an inspiration and a ray of sunshine.

Friday, 8 November 2013


The clock tower strikes eleven. Straining for more strategic views, the crowd presses forward to the cenotaph. A sea of black centred red poppies, like the blood stains of war, dot jacket-covered hearts. Oblivious to the crush surrounding me, I cannot tear my eyes from him.

Dressed in a beret and blue jacket, wrapped in a warm blanket and hunched over in a wheel chair, he stares forward, his mind elsewhere. Is he standing, nauseated by fear and tossing seas, on a landing craft moving towards Juno Beach? During a tense submarine watch, is he bracing himself against the bone numbing chill of the North Atlantic as his ship guards a convoy crossing between Newfoundland and Great Britain? Is he hearing the screams of an injured comrade in the rear of his flak-damaged Lancaster as he desperately fights the controls, struggling for a life saving landing?

Sparse white hairs escape from under the edges of his beret. Bushy eyebrows frame a forehead creviced with wrinkles. Rosacea mottled cheeks highlight a wizened face hiding what scarring memories, I wonder. Random tremors move through his feeble, gnarled hands. His presence, difficult as it must be in his advancing years, honours a solemn duty to remember the fallen.

Veterans and young service men are piped in. Choking back tears, I join in the highly emotional singing of O Canada. Prayers are intoned and wreaths laid. As the lone bugler begins his haunting lament, the last post, tremor intensity in my hero's body increases. As if a phantom makeup artist has been at work, red circles ring his brimming, roomy eyes. Salty tears spill down his cheeks - each tear a fallen comrade.

In a need to reach out and express my gratitude, I push forward, but lose him in the crowd's surge. Alone, staring up at our glorious flag, its maple leaf bravely and safely fluttering in the November wind, I whisper, "Thank you. Thank you for your sacrifice. I will never forget"

Friday, 1 November 2013


"Three things cannot be long hidden; the sun, the moon and the truth." Buddha

"Own it", were my husband's words to our sons during their formative years. "Accept the responsibility, accept the repercussions, and learn the lesson." A dear friend directed his children with, "No matter how deep the shit you get into, come to me, we will deal with it. But never, never lie to me. If you do, you are on your own." As a real estate brokerage owner and then real estate course teacher, I preached ad nauseum, "Admit your mistake, remediate the consequences of your error, and never lie about it - not to the Real Estate Council of Ontario, not to the Toronto Real Estate Board and never to your clients." 

I now find myself questioning what planet our politicians have been beamed in from. What was their upbringing? What exactly are their values? More importantly, what kind of example are they setting for our youth?

"I have not used crack cocaine nor am I an addict of crack cocaine. I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen and does not exist." Ford's delayed, long overdue statement was made well over a week after the original allegations by Gawker and the Toronto Star, after numerous internal staff resignations, after repeated requests by his executive council desperate to have the situation addressed and after it became obvious that voters demanded it.  "Where there is smoke, there is fire", was the old adage professed by my Father. Now it appears that Mr. Ford has been caught in a damning lie while his "good guy" friend, Lisi, is being charged with extortion used in attempts to attain that non-existent, "I do not do crack" tape. That's some upstanding citizen you have chosen as an associate, sir! If the allegations are true, Mr. Ford, own them. I can only wonder how much simpler it would have been for the mayor and more critically, for his city had he admitted to a substance abuse problem and signed into a rehab clinic. I am betting that sympathy and support would have been the overwhelming response! Taking responsibility for his actions and a frank dose of truth would have won the hearts of many Torontonians. The flip side could ring the death knell on Ford's political ambitions.

And then there is the esteemed leader of our country who denies prior knowledge of payments made to Senator Duffy by the PMO's office so ardently that he has thrown his once valued assistant, Nigel Wright, under the bus. How gallant!  In spite of Mr. Harper's proclivity to micro management, whether or not we believe his protestations of innocence is immaterial. Caring to admit it or not,  Mr. Harper is ultimately responsible for the PMO's actions. As a Broker of Record and owner of a real estate brokerage, under the law, I was responsible for the actions of my sales staff, a burden that led to many a sleepless night. In one dire case, I fired a sales representative on the spot, contacted the harmed party's solicitor for a calculation of damages for which my brokerage paid and then reported both myself and the sales representative to the Real Estate Council of Ontario. It happened on my watch! Funny thing, three years later when the harmed party decided to sell their home, they listed with our brokerage on the advice of their solicitor, so impressed was he that we had accepted responsibility for a serious breach of agent duty. John F. Kennedy wrote, "From those to whom much is given, much is expected." Mr. Harper, you can deny prior knowledge of the payments in question until eternity, but at the very least and as leader of our great country, show some moral fortitude and accept responsibility for the actions of your own office. It occurred during your watch! True leaders, sir, do not make excuses.

Studies by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada indicate the lowest voter turnout at elections is found in the 18 to 24 age group, followed closely by the 25 to 34 age group. A plethora of complicated  factors are at play here. I cannot help but think, though, that one is the "trust factor". Who can you really trust? Whose promises can you believe? If our elected officials appear to bend and deny the truth or dodge responsibility for their actions, why bother to vote? Small wonder that there is a growing cynicism in our voting public.

I dream of a city, a province and a country of elected officials where truth, no matter how difficult, is taken seriously and leadership is about taking responsibility. Not too much to ask, I don't think! It's what we teach our children.