Monday, December 22, 2014

Making the Most of the Holiday Season

Preparing for Christmas and Surviving Enjoying the Holidays

This is a guest post I wrote for another local blogger, Lisa Walters, of Damsel in a Dress. Lisa writes about her life and her struggles with chronic health issues. She writes in a lighthearted, humorous and refreshing way (girlfriend is hilarious!), and I like that!

Lisa wrote to me several weeks ago, describing a little holiday blog project she was working on where she was putting together a compilation of guest blog posts from writers talking about how to survive the holidays with various conditions, illnesses, and other issues that might make the holidays a little more difficult than they should be.

(Read her description here - How to Deck the Halls when you can Barely Crawl: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness)

Below is my guest blog post, also published HERE.


There is a natural desire to pass family traditions down to the next generation, and I always thought I would do that… until my son, Brennen came along, rocked my world, and changed how we do things, including the Holidays, entirely.

For the first couple of years of Brennen’s life, I would dread going to toy stores. Who am I kidding, I still do. I avoid them at all costs, knowing that there is very little available that Brennen can “play” with. Christmas shopping has become a challenge, and though I try to resist it, every year I inevitably find myself in a toy aisle, tears streaming down my face with the realization, once again, that I am living in a starkly different world. While I dream of wrapping up the one thing my child will adore, the one thing that will attract is attention, ignite his creativity and give him opportunities to play and learn and grow, it is not that easy. Finding products and toys that will work for Brennen is difficult. I look at items, analyze their potential, and ultimately decide that they are not suitable – that he cannot physically manipulate them on his own, and will be a complete waste of money. Sometimes I will purchase the toy anyway, in hopes that some miracle will happen and his skills will improve. Sometimes I just want to feel like any other parent shopping at Toys R Us, who can pick out a present for their child without having to stress about whether or not it will be used for its intended purpose, or be added to the stuff that goes into a closet and never comes out.

Christmas is different with a child with special needs. Brennen can’t write a letter to Santa. He can’t tell me anything that he would like to ask for, or what he hopes to find underneath the tree on Christmas morning. He can’t get up in the middle of the night to exclaim his excitement that Santa has come, and he can’t unwrap his own gifts. I don’t even know how much he understands about Christmas or Santa Claus or traditions or magic, but we do it anyway. We bring Christmas into our home and we celebrate with all of the things that a little boy should have around him – love and light and wonder and joy. We do it for him, and we do it for us, as a family. It is important to carry on with some of the things that meant a lot to us growing up. We love Christmas! I still get giddy thinking about my favourite Christmas songs (so many I can’t pick just one!), favourite Christmas movie (Miracle on 34th Street), and favourite Christmas treats (Mom’s (used to be Nan’s) apricot raisin cake).

My most cherished Christmas memories from when I was a child are never related to a present. They are memories of going to mass on Christmas Eve with my father and grandfather, Dad reading The Night Before Christmas to my sister and I no matter how late it was (literally every year until we moved out), having turkey dinner on Christmas Day with my Mom’s family, and a sing-along at my parents’ annual blow-out Boxing Day party (that is still a tradition today!). My favourite memories revolve around people, family, spending time with loved ones and celebrating the holidays together. This is what matters most to me, and this is something that I can continue with my own little family.

Brennen enjoys the sights and sounds of Christmas. He loves to look at the twinkly lights on the tree, and we have Christmas music playing constantly. He is happy when he is surrounded by people, and he certainly knows that he is loved.

We have started some new traditions. On Christmas Eve, instead of going out, our family and friends now come to our house to see Brennen before he gets tucked into bed for the night. Our schedule of events now includes the Janeway Children’s Hospital Christmas party, Easter Seals Breakfast with Santa, and the Rainbow Riders Live Nativity. These have quickly become our favourite and most anticipated events of the season!

Brennen was a Shepherd in the Live Nativity

We don’t go overboard with gifts. On Christmas morning, we take time to help Brennen unwrap each one, enjoying the sound of ripping paper, and the anticipation of what’s coming next. We focus on the importance of what the holidays are truly about – family and togetherness, kindness and giving, magic and wonder.  

If I were to give advice to parents of children with special needs this Christmas, I would have to say not to put too much pressure on yourself, and don’t expect things to be ‘perfect’. The holidays are stressful for all parents, but our children’s special needs add an extra degree of difficulty. Try not to get caught up in the details, and just enjoy the time with your family. It may not look the way you had envisioned it, and it may not run as smoothly as you had hoped, but it can still be special. It may not be what you had planned, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be awesome! Focus on the positive things, and think of all the things you’re thankful for. Start new traditions, make it meaningful. Find happiness in your child, and that will get you through anything!

Easter Seals Breakfast with Santa, 2014 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

It's the hap-happiest season of all! You heard me. We're happy over here!

The Christmas lights are up, the mantle is decorated and our tree will be going up this weekend! SO excited! I love that people are posting photos of their trees all decked out with tinsel and garland and children's hand-made ornaments. It's making me so excited for our own tree-decorating ritual, but it's too early yet. Every year, we get a real tree, and though we have to wait until a little closer to Christmas to put it up, it's totally worth the wait. The challenge of cutting the trunk just right so that the tree sits perfectly in the stand, the revelation of the tree's imperfect shape once the branches have had a chance to fall, and the smell of fresh pine throughout the house all season long (because that's what Christmas is supposed to smell like!). It reminds me of Christmases when I was a child, and there could be nothing better.

Christmas is a magical time. (Nothing will ever top the magic of Brennen's trip to the North Pole last year). I love the sights and sounds of the holidays - the hustle and bustle of shoppers searching for the perfect gifts and stocking stuffers, the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg coming from my Mom's gourmet kitchen, and the holiday traditions that are passed down through generations. Growing up with grandparents who are no longer here, and relatives who are no longer close, it is now my turn to instill years of favourite memories into my own little family.

Here are some of our favourite recent Christmas memories (in photos):

If there is one thing we know for sure about Christmas, it's that it's not all about the presents. It's about spending time with the ones you love and making meaningful memories as a family.  As Bruce Templeton says in his book The Man in the Red Suit, "It's your presence with your family that matters a whole lot more than anything that's under the tree. It's your presence, not presents that counts."

We have a busy weekend coming up, full of Christmas parties, holiday get-togethers and guaranteed magical memories. I look forward to posting an update with all of that! In the meantime, there are gifts to be wrapped, envelopes to be addressed and ginger cookies to be made!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Love Local: Rainy Sunday

I really do love Winter. The crunch of snow under heavy boots, seeing your breath when it touches cold air. Mittens and sweaters, warm socks and fleece pajamas, and everything else that comes along with this magical time of year. 

Sweater weather is my favourite weather!

I was so excited to partner with Rainy Sunday for this second 'Love Local' feature!

Inspired by those chilly days when all you want to do is wrap up in a cozy sweater, designer and owner Jenn LeBlanc, is the mastermind behind Rainy Sunday. Based in Newfoundland, the collection is a mix of super soft yarns, innovative stitches and effortless, easy to wear silhouettes. Rainy Sunday is a brand that prides itself on quality and creating sweaters that you never want to take off.

Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Jenn has been fascinated by knitting needles and yarn for as long as she can remember. After studying Business at Dalhousie University, Jenn ventured to sunny California and gained her Knitwear Design degree from FIDM in Los Angeles. She worked for the international brand BCBG Max Azria and for Planet Blue, a brand that encompasses the true Californian way of life. After learning all she could from working in LA, she decided it was time to head home. From then on it was history in the making as Rainy Sunday was born.

The Janice Cardigan is a beautiful mix of merino wool and cashmere. This sweater is so soft and cozy.. it's like a warm hug on a cold day.

The Annabelle Coat is an over-sized, super long, super cozy cardigan. Great to throw on over anything to keep warm while shopping, brunching or drinking lattes (or while enjoying the first snowfall of the season!)

Visit and use coupon code TULIPS for 20% off your purchase!

Pieces from the Rainy Sunday collection are also available in St. John's at Opal & Onyx and August & Lotta.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Faces of Newfoundland

I was recently photographed and interviewed for Faces of Newfoundland: Portraits & Stories from the Far East of North America.

David McComiskey is a 30 year old fourth year medical student living in Mount Pearl, NL. He has a passion for portrait photography however, and what better way to channel that passion than to capture some of the people of this province. He says, "There is such a rich culture and diversity of life stories here. My goal is to photograph and get to know 1000 Newfoundlander 'Faces'." 

The Faces of Newfoundland project is modeled after Humans of New York, which was started in 2010, and now has over ten million followers on social media, and provides a worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers on the streets of New York City. 

Faces of Newfoundland has also partnered with Humans of Planet Earth (HOPE). The first project of its kind, HOPE brings together over 130 photojournalists from around the planet on a mission to share a rich diversity of profiles from Paris to Uganda, Bolivia to Shanghai, Kabul to Newfoundland. 

At its core, HOPE is about promoting a universal appreciation of, and respect for, our numerous similarities and vast differences. It is a global celebration of humankind. 

Go to the website to read our interview -
or visit the Facebook page -

I'm going to tell you a story. The story behind the story.

When David and I initially talked about doing this interview, we scheduled a time for Brennen and I to meet with him. When that day came, it was very windy and cold, and I knew that Brennen would not enjoy being out in that weather. Thinking that we could still do the interview and take some photos, I told David that I could meet with him, but Brennen would not be joining me. His reply was: "It would be better to reschedule, as I'd love to photograph both of you for two separate posts."

I read that message on my computer screen, stopped what I was doing, and sat quietly for what felt like a long period of time. I realized in that moment that I had not been seeing Brennen as his own person, as an individual, separate from me. My own son, my flesh and blood, my heart and soul. I was unable to untangle the ties that bind us.

I was horrified by the realization that while I spend so much time and energy writing about how I feel that people with disabilities deserve to be valued and respected, in this instance, I wasn't doing that for my own child.

Brennen depends on me for everything.


He will never be independent, but he is an individual, with his own thoughts and feelings and likes and wants and needs. He has intrinsic value, and he is living a life with purpose.

Thank you, David, for opening my eyes and for reminding me that Brennen is his own person. He is a 'Face of Newfoundland'.. and a pretty damn awesome one, if you ask me!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

December 3rd is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities has been promoted by the United Nations since 1992. The observance of this day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

Each year, the day focuses on a different issue.
This year the International Day of Persons with Disabilities will focus on:
- Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Responses
- Creating Enabling Working Environments
- Disability-Inclusive Sustainable Development Goals

This morning, I attended a Business Leadership and Employer Breakfast hosted by the Network of Disability Organizations, of which I am a member. The purpose of the breakfast was to provide valuable information that employers can use to strengthen their businesses and recruit some of the top talent in our province.

More than 80,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians self-identify as persons with disabilities and 40.4% of this population have post-secondary education. According to statistics Canada, 51.3% of working-age persons with disabilities were employed in 2006 compared with 75.15% of their counterparts without disabilities. Contrary to popular belief, workplace accommodations for people with disabilities are not a financial obstacle for employers. Studies indicate that more than half of workplace accommodations for employees with disabilities cost less than $500 and often nothing at all.

The Network of Disability Organizations was fortunate to present keynote speaker, Randy Lewis - Vice President of Walgreens. Randy introduced an inclusive model in Walgreens distribution centers that resulted in ten percent of its workforce consisting of people with disabilities who are held to the same standards as those without disabilities. Its success has changed the lives of thousands with and without disabilities and is serving as a model for other employers in the U.S. and abroad.

Mr. Lewis spoke about his son, who has autism, and how the likelihood of his son getting a job was low because of it. He says, "When it comes to getting a job, people with disabilities die a death of a thousand cuts. I know that as a parent and I know that as an employer. We have built these invisible obstacles and walls around ourselves that people with disabilities can't even get through, or if they do they can only get within three inches of the surface. They may not interview well, they may not be able to get through the application form, they may not learn the way we are used to teaching. They may look differently, they may act differently, and the unkindest cut of all is the belief by 99.9 % of us that people with disabilities really can't perform the job as well."

He talked about the many benefits of employing individuals with disabilities, and today, Mr. Lewis asked all business owners to try and make a push for positive change in their own community by re-evaluating how they hire.

When asked if he did all of this because he had a child with a disability, Randy responded, "This was not about my son, but through my son, I got to see this harsh reality, and seeing what he had accomplished and all those other kids as he grew up, also got to see a grand possibility. This was about all those other parents who lay in bed at night just staring at the ceiling wondering what's going to happen to their child. This is about all the people who can work, who want to work but are not allowed to because of these systems, these processes, these attitudes we've built around ourselves that keep them from doing so. These are our fellow citizens. These are our sons and daughters and neighbours. This was not about charity. It wasn't about disabilities. In the long run, it was about justice." 

The Honourable Clyde Jackman, Minister of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development & Minister Responsible for the Status of Persons with Disabilities closed by saying, "What is required is a significant shift in the way that we view disability. From corporate philanthropic gesture to a strategic business issue, and I think that message is loud and clear here today. We need to see the building of disability confidence in the labour workforce, and for this shift to occur I think that companies need to understand the business case for realizing the potential of disabled employees.. take steps to remove barriers and make reasonable adjustments to enable people with disabilities to maximize their contributions."

It is reassuring to know that the City of St. John's and its community partners are committed to creating an inclusive community that honors the contributions of all of its citizens. It was encouraging to see such a tremendous turn-out today from the business community, who are obviously open to acceptance, inclusion and advocacy. Things are happening. Progress is being made, and I am so thankful for that. 

Mr. Randy Lewis is inspirational. He is motivating. He had a vision for an inclusive workplace, and he made that a reality. 

If you believe it, it can happen.
If you build it, they will come.