Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Little Time Out

So, I posted a little thing on my Instagram the other day about 'Family' and how I have been struggling a bit lately with how to write without sharing too much or breaking any rules. "I will find a way.. I am sure of it. Until then, know that while I post updates that include Brennen and Andrew and I, we have two other precious babies at home bringing us incredible amounts of joy!"

That's right.. two babies! Since I posted this update letting you know about the recent (and BIG) changes in our lives, we have added another precious little one to our family! I know that people are curious (and confused even), and I want to be able to share our adventures here but I do have to respect the privacy of the children in our care.

Brennen has been doing really well since his surgery. He is settling back into a bit of a routine, and he started going back to school last week. Andrew and I are fostering two beautiful babies who are loved more than words. Our home is busy and our lives are full, and it can be overwhelming at times, but we really are managing quite well! We are fortunate to have the love and support of our families, and we are ever so grateful for all of their help. They understand our need for a little time out on our own - just the two of us - to regroup and recharge and to process all that has been happening in our home these last few months. We need that. There are days when we are so busy meeting the needs of our children that we barely have time to sit and eat dinner together, so we need to be mindful of that and try to make time for ourselves.

Knowing that the little ones were in good hands, Andrew and I took a day to get out and explore some nearby communities and enjoy the fresh air. Though the sun was shining, it was still pretty cold (just one degree above freezing), but we made the most of it and had an awesome day!

The crocuses are out! That's a sure sign of Spring!

 We were freezing, but loving it!

Petty Harbour has to be one of our favourite little towns. It is such a beauty!

In almost every bay and cove we passed, the ice was drifting in and you could pick up 'bergy bits' right off the rocks. It is amazing to think that this ice likely came from a glacier near Greenland and could be over 10,000 years old! When it comes to viewing icebergs, the eastern coast of Newfoundland (our home!) is one of the best places in the world. There are loads of bergs around already, so it looks like this is going to be a good year for them!

Andrew and I had a wonderful day exploring and soaking up the sunshine. We tackle the task of caring for our family by first caring for ourselves. We know that spending time alone together, on purpose, is essential in maintaining our relationship as well as our sanity. There will always be too much to do and not enough time to do it, and the reality of life with kids means that our 'free' time will always be limited, but caring for ourselves means that we are better able to care for our children, and at the end of the day, that is what is most important. There will never be enough hours in the day to fit it all in, but we make choices that reflect our undying love for our family, and everyone is happier for it!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Stella's Circle Sings for Canada

A couple of weeks ago, Andrew surprised me with plans for a date night that included tickets to see Stella’s Circle Inclusion Choir, together with Amelia Curran, celebrating inclusion and community for Canada’s 150th birthday at Stella’s Circle Sings for Canada! 

It's like he knows me!!

And so we headed to the LSPU Hall on Tuesday evening to enjoy a night of fabulous music with an even more fabulous message of social justice and inclusion.

With performances by the Inclusion Choir and Juno Award-winning Amelia Curran, this event showcased an original song written in collaboration with Amelia. The audience was also treated to a screening of a short video by Newfoundland filmmaker Roger Maunder, documenting this remarkable project.

Stella's Circle Inclusion Choir is more than just a choir. It was formed ten years ago in an attempt to bring people together to encourage belonging, empowerment, and acceptance through the power of song. There is no audition process, no prerequisite for singing ability, and no competition. With open arms, the choir provides a unique opportunity for people who want to sing and experience a sense of community and belonging.

"The Inclusion philosophy is that the choir is a place of acceptance and an opportunity to be a part of something bigger; it increases social connections for people and can be a great first step to engaging in other community activities."

Most of the choir's members have overcome or are living with significant struggles, such as homelessness, mental health issues, poverty, addictions, or are reintegrating in the community after a period of incarceration. They are motivated by the desire to share the joy of singing with as many people as possible, with the understanding that singing in a choir makes you feel good and helps combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. They are a diverse group of people brought together by music and bound together through shared experiences.

"It's really important to have people be included in their communities, and a lot of the individuals that avail of the services of Stella's Circle sometimes feel as though they're excluded, so it's really special, what's happening in the Inclusion Choir."

Choir Director, Helen Murphy says, "Everybody needs to feel connected. And it doesn't matter if it's a small group in St. John's, Newfoundland, it's everywhere. We're all the same that way. We flourish, we grow, we change. We can be our best selves when we're connected to other people - when we feel accepted and respected and certainly not judged."

Amelia Curran, who just released her eighth studio album, is also a strong mental health advocate. Through her organization, It's Mental, she works to improve treatment for people with mental illness and erase the stigma associated with it. A couple of years ago, she and Maunder created This Video with a powerful message that started the conversation about Newfoundland's mental health problem and how poorly our system supports people suffering from mental illness. Amelia has big and brave ideas. She believes in them and she works hard for change, and because of that, a new path is being paved.

The evening was an emotional one, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. There was so much gorgeous intimacy and honesty, and I fell in love with every member of the choir and every impactful word that was sung. (And I fell in love with Andrew all over again for knowing that I would want to be there, for wanting to be there with me, and for appreciating it all as much as I did.)

Inclusion is a simple but powerful concept. It is not just about being in the same physical space as someone else, it means actually caring about the people around us. My amazing little boy has changed what 'inclusion' means to me. He has opened my eyes to the incredible strength and courage that it takes to navigate a world that doesn't always make it easy for people. I want to help make it easier for my son and for everyone else who has challenges of some kind. I want to live in a world where everyone matters, and where everyone is valued for who they truly are.

The thing is, everyone is going through something. Everyone has their thing. Some are more obvious, while others are hidden, but we all have our struggles. Finding connection and community and celebrating life together is the key to reminding ourselves that we are not alone on this journey. We all need to feel like we belong to something that is bigger than we are alone.

Choir member, George Walsh summed it up beautifully when he said, "Maybe some people are not as vocally strong, but when we come together we are one voice."

For me, this performance by this choir was a demonstration of hope in its purest essence. Hope that every one of us may live in a world where we love and take care of each other.

The evening closed with a surprise appearance by Geraldine Hollett, Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale of The Once, who presented the Inclusion Choir with a Music NL Award for ten years of positive community empowerment!

Geraldine held back tears when she said, "Stella's Circle Inclusion Choir, you bring light to darkness. You offer hope for a better world for us all. You let people know that they do not have to feel alone. You inspire, and you have touched countless lives, including all of us tonight, and continue to do so every time you collectively open your mouths."

Congratulations to the Stella's Circle Inclusion Choir! And thank you for the joyful reminder that Hope Lives Here!

Here is a link to their new song, 'Be the Change' on SoundCloud. -

I will post the link to the documentary as soon as it's available!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Maple Syrup Festival

On Sunday, Andrew and I went to the Pippy Park Maple Syrup Festival!
This was the 3rd year for the festival, but our first time attending.. and we had a ball!

Making your own maple syrup has become a hot hobby here in Newfoundland over the past few years, but it was all new to us. You would think we would be more familiar with the process, as Canada produces about 85 per cent of the world's maple syrup, but I had never actually seen it happen in real life until this weekend!

Prime maple-tapping season is late winter / early spring, when the nights are still cold but the daytime temperatures are above freezing. (It still seems pretty freezing to me, but they have been able to collect over 1,000 litres of sap so far this season in Pippy Park!)

Friends of Pippy Park upped their game this year, offering maple tapping tutorials in the park, and developing a new Community Maple Grove! They had demonstrations of how to insert the spile (tap), and we were able to taste the fresh sap that came out of the tree. It's amazing that it is so clear, like water, and with very little taste. They were cooking the sap down to syrup over a fire outside, and it was sweet and oh so delicious!

Here are some photos from our time at the Maple Syrup Festival!

We met the Mobile Goats - Maple (the Mom), and her three babies, Percy, Summer and Honey.
Oh my heart. I am working on Andrew to let me have a goat.

Andrew and I took a walk around the park to see the maples in action, with buckets hanging and sap dripping. It was pretty awesome, I have to say. This winter feels like it's been dragging on forever, but finding new ways to enjoy it helps immensely. We gave our mental health a good boost this weekend, and getting out to appreciate the beauty of nature played a big part in that. I love the exaggerated sound of snow crunching under our boots, and as we slid on slippery spots and sank down in deeper places, I wished I had thought to bring our snowshoes. These trails are perfect for winter activities!

We discovered that Newfoundland has a growing community of DIY maple-makers, and we want to be a part of it! The two little maple trees on our front lawn are far too small to be tapped, but I think my parents might have some good ones on their property. I am going to find out!

Maple tapping spiles are available at the Pippy Park Headquarters, while supplies last. Purchases and donations support the initiatives of the Friends of Pippy Park, including this annual festival, and their family community garden.

I hope you are all enjoying "Spring". Whatever it looks like where you are, there are so many ways to appreciate it!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Janeway: An Impossible Dream Hospital

On March 30th, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a lecture by Dr. Rick Cooper titled, The Janeway Child and Rehabilitation Centre – An Impossible Dream Hospital". The lecture took place at Hampton Hall in the Marine Institute, and was part of a series of talks presented by the Newfoundland Historical Society.

"In August 1966, the Charles A. Janeway Child Health Centre opened and became a referral centre for all sick children in the province and became an affiliated hospital of Memorial University of Newfoundland Medical School. Before Confederation, child health care in Newfoundland and Labrador was below standards when compared to other Canadian provinces. After Confederation some improvements were made particularly in public health but Dr. Cliff Joy, a pediatrician in 1958 felt that the hospital treatment of children was below standard and the province lacked a central referral centre for sick children. He advocated for a central free standing Child Health Centre in the Province. In 1960 the Americans closed Pepperrell and made the base hospital available to the Province. The Newfoundland Medical Association, the Premier, the March of Dimes and the Rehabilitation Community wanted the Pepperrell hospital to be a Rehabilitation Centre. Dr. Joy persisted and because of several events and the support of several prominent Canadian and American pediatricians was able to persuade Mr. Smallwood to make the Pepperrell Hospital a Child Health Centre. In his lecture, Dr. Rick Cooper will trace this story of the Janeway hospital, and the development of child health care in Newfoundland."

Dr. Cooper has been a practicing pediatrician at the Janeway for the past 43 years, providing quality pediatric care to the children of Newfoundland and Labrador since 1974. He has conducted extensive research on the development of child health care in Newfoundland, and has a forthcoming publication on the history of the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre.

The Janeway recently celebrated it's 50th birthday (which I wrote about HERE). My family is all too familiar with the current Janeway hospital, and I remember visiting the previous Janeway site when I was young, but I was not aware of the challenges that were initially involved with establishing a dedicated children's hospital here in our province. Dr. Cooper's presentation was fascinating, and his personal connection - not just to the building, but to the people - were what made it so engaging. This man has stories, and I could listen to them for days.

My family is fortunate to have had Dr. Cooper play such a pivotal role in our own story. My son, Brennen was born in California in 2005. Soon after his birth, it became clear to me that something was not quite right, but the doctors there dismissed my concerns and sent me away, saying that my baby was "fine" and telling me not to worry. I continued to seek help in California, but was getting nowhere, so after several difficult months, I returned home to Newfoundland to be with my family. Within a couple of days, we got an appointment with Dr. Cooper, and as soon as he saw Brennen he knew there was something wrong. He acknowledged my concerns and ordered a battery of tests, and for the first time since my baby was born, I felt like someone finally cared enough to try and help us. 

Turns out, Brennen was not fine. He was diagnosed with Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy, Seizure Disorder, Global Developmental Delay and Cortical Visual Impairment. Dr. Cooper didn't mince words when he told me that his condition was very serious, and that my child was going to have a difficult life. My heart was broken, but I appreciated his honesty and his gentle, caring nature. I will never, ever forget those early days. They were some of the hardest of my life, but I have to thank Dr. Cooper. Understanding what was going on with my child was the first step to accepting our situation and coming to terms with all that lay ahead for us. I often wonder how things would be today if I hadn't returned home to Newfoundland. How many times would I have been dismissed and turned away? How long would my child have gone undiagnosed and not have received any therapeutic services? How much longer could I have survived the anguish of not knowing what was wrong with my baby?  

Dr. Cooper is a strong and respected leader in the child health care field, and we are so happy to have him on our side.

Dr. Cooper's talk also reaffirmed for me the importance of sharing our stories. His upcoming book contains the accounts of several individuals - patients, nurses and physicians, who share their personal experiences with the Janeway. He says, "It's really important that we tell our stories. Let's face it, the history of surgery is probably a bit boring, but someone's experience at the Janeway is not."

This is exactly how I feel about sharing our own experiences, and I will continue to write about our journey in hopes that it might positively impact someone else, or might inspire hope and encouragement in a parent who is struggling. Sharing the stories of other children and families in my Tulip Tales series has been an absolute honour, and I look forward to sharing more with you in the future. (If you would like to be featured, please send me a message!) 

We all have a story to tell, and I am using this space to try to change the way the world sees anyone who is different, to accept differences in others, and to accept our own differences that can make us feel inadequate. So please keep reading, and keep an eye out for Dr. Cooper's book, which will be released later this year by Boulder Publications!