A Resolution

 

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As you may or may not have noticed, I had taken a hiatus from blogging. Not because I‘ve given up on writing – far from it, I write all the time. At first, I think it was due to having too many other things to work on, and then it developed into a feeling of rustiness.  I had waited too long and I couldn’t get back into it. To top it all off, I was wondering what in the world I had to say that would interest people. Thus, my hiatus.  But, I feel guilty about my laziness. I believe that blogging and maintaining a presence is important for my writing.

So, on that note, I’ve decided to turn over a new leaf. I’m too late to make a New Year’s Resolution, so I will make a Mother’s Day Resolution.

I resolve to take up blogging again, and I won’t tear my hair out worrying about what’s interesting. I will write about what’s important to me at that time.

This weekend we celebrate Mother’s Day. I always find it difficult to accept that I should be the recipient of good wishes on such a day, even though I’ve been a member of the club for over twenty-three years. There are those who have gone before me, and continue to go before me, that are more deserving. My mother passed away several years ago, but my mother-in-law continues to impress people with her energy, good cheer, and resourcefulness.

But all parents, whether mother or father, are deserving. It`s an important job which affects every aspect of your existence. And, the contract doesn’t come to an end when the children reach the age of eighteen.  It’s a lifetime commitment and sometimes it becomes even more difficult and more important and more heart-wrenching as they grow older, or maybe we’re just less able to handle the stress as we grow older.

So, even though it’s nice to have a day to celebrate mothers in particular (and it gives us an excuse to get together for a meal, some chatter, and a few laughs) the joys and the challenges are a daily occurrence and one I wouldn’t trade for the world. I know there are a lot of mothers who would agree with me on that point. Enjoy your day!

Now if I can just remember how to post this…

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A Wish

I finally have a day at home where I don’t have to overindulge – a day that I can put my feet up and share a few thoughts.
Over the past few days, we had our celebrations with both sides of the family, which involved a lot of eating, drinking and be merrying, and I have to say it’s been a great holiday season for us so far. We received an early and very welcome Christmas gift when our oldest daughter, Rachel, arrived home on December 6th, all the way from Whistler, B.C., without spilling the beans. What a surprise! And what a thrill to have her here for the holidays after two years away.
On my husband’s side of the family, all the cousins were present and accounted for, something we haven’t experienced for five years. And we had a wonderful new addition to the family with the first great-grandchild for my mother-in-law.

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We are very fortunate, and I think that’s something we shouldn’t take for granted. The past year was not easy for many people. I’m astonished at how many families I know who lost loved ones, particularly in the past couple of months. All of those families are struggling to face a holiday season with an important person missing. And, they will have a year of ‘firsts’ ahead of them. I know from past experience how difficult that can be.
I also know a couple of people who experienced serious injury and sickness in the past few months. For them, they have a long road of recovery ahead.
So, I have a wish for 2017.
I wish the people who have suffered loss to have the strength to get through the year of ‘firsts’. I wish those who are injured or sick to hold on tightly to their determination to be well again. I wish those who haven’t suffered difficulties in the recent past to think about those who have, and to have compassion and understanding for them.
And to everyone, I wish a year full of happy surprises and continued blessings.
P.S. Please forgive my multiple wishes when I promised only one.

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The simpler things

Sometimes it takes a small crisis to make you appreciate the simpler things in life. Thursday of last week, our little town of St-Gabriel-de-Valcartier was hit by a heavy snowfall. It wasn’t really the quantity of snow that was heavy, although it was nothing to sneeze at, but it was the actual cumulative weight of the wet flakes which caused the problems.

One of the advantages of living in our area is the abundance of large beautiful trees, but when the branches of those trees are weighed down by snow, they cause havoc with the electrical wires, and that’s exactly what happened. At 7:00 a.m. Thursday morning, most of the municipality lost its electrical power. Hydro-Quebec  called in reinforcements from other cities to help with the problem which affected tens of thousands of homes in the region.

Off and on during that first day, power would be restored to some homes and not to others. Our own place was 13 hours without power on Thursday. It came back on for four hours, only to go off and remain off for another 37 hours, until Saturday afternoon.

Yes, it got a little cold in the house, and yes, I was concerned for the food in our fridge and freezer, but I think the benefits I reaped were more plentiful than the inconveniences.

First of all, Brianna, our nineteen-year-old, went shopping with me on the Friday evening, to make a dent in our Christmas shopping, and a good dent we made. When we got home, we dressed in our warmest pyjamas while my husband built a fire in the fireplace. Soon, Brianna and I were cuddled up on the sofa in front of the fire, looking through cookbooks and planning some Christmas baking. And, we each grabbed a sofa and slept there through the night.

The next morning, we couldn’t waste time on electronics. We couldn’t vacuum, or do laundry, or cook. So, we decorated the Christmas tree and the rest of the house. We wrapped presents, and we joked and we planned. In other words, we spent quality time together, doing things which would have been lost in all the usual weekend rush to do the jobs we can’t do during the week. There was time enough to take care of that later on.

I couldn’t help but be a little thankful for Mother Nature’s decision to leave us in the dark for a little while. But, I was also thankful for the work by Hydro Quebec to restore the electricity which we depend on to keep us warm and safe. Also, I can’t forget to thank the volunteer firefighters, two of whom live in my house, who were called out twenty times over the course of those three days.

Vive l’hiver!

 

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All roads lead to Rome

 

Our three last days in Italy were as special as the first four. Tuesday was spent catching up on a few things that were still on our to-do list for Rome. We started with a visit to the ancient ruins of the Baths of Caracalla. Built in 216 AD, they were used as both a social event as well as a bathing ritual. Of course, the ingenious Romans invented the aqueduct system.

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We followed that visit with one to a museum which contained a crypt. This had to be the strangest thing we had ever seen. Apparently, when the bones of the Capuchin monks had to be exhumed and moved, someone had the bright idea to create mosaics with the bones and skulls. The walls and ceilings of the crypts were covered in skeletons, but mostly decorations made with bones, including clocks and flowers. We weren’t able to take pictures, but you can let your imagination run wild and it probably still wouldn’t be able to come up with what we saw in that building. Weird!

In order to wipe that memory from our minds, we made another attempt to visit the Trevi fountain. This time we succeeded in getting close to it, and getting some good pictures. By this time, it was rush hour and we knew the Metro would be too crowded, so we forced ourselves to have a little refreshment at a nearby Chianti bar.

Wednesday, we rented a little Fiat Panda and headed for the Amalfi coast. Getting out of Rome in morning traffic was a hair-raising experience. Try to imagine thousands of cows coming from all different directions being herded into three rows with no apparent rhyme or reason. Meanwhile, little calves are scampering around among the larger cows (these would be the fearless Vespa drivers). At one point, I looked up and saw a tram coming toward us and realized we were sitting on the tracks. Luckily, the driver stopped.

We were both very relieved to finally reach the autostrade and head south. Our first stop was Sorrento, a pretty town on the coast. We went to a public beach and parked ourselves under a beach umbrella to relax for a few hours. Mount Vesuvius was across the bay from us, and we wondered if it was spewing lava, but it turned out to be a fire on one side, apparently a fire which was deliberately set in the vineyards to renew the growth.

After a couple of hours we headed further down the coast to Positano, a delightfully beautiful town on the Gulf of Naples. The road from Sorrento to Positano twists and curves along the mountainside, and it continues to twist through the town. We found a precious parking spot, intending to walk down to the beach. We only realized how high we were parked when we descended the 535 steps to beach level. We had a refreshment to fortify us for the climb back up, grabbed the car, moved to the other side of town, and found a wonderful restaurant overlooking the bay. We dined with a refreshing breeze and a beautiful view of the buildings clinging to the mountainside, colorful with flowering vines, and boats of all sizes anchored in the water below us.

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On our way home in the dark, Steve decided he liked driving through the twists and turns at a faster-than-I-would-have-liked speed. The Vespas were weaving in and out of the traffic, passing on corners, not seeming to worry about oncoming cars. My husband suggested I film the crazy drive, but I was too concentrated on keeping my supper somewhere south of my throat. It was a great day, but I was glad to drop off the car at the end of it.

Thursday was our last full day in Rome. We booked a wine tour to the Frascetti region about 45 minutes away from the city center. We had a nice air-conditioned bus with an Italian-American by the name of Angela as our guide. She certainly knew her history of Italy and Rome. We were well-informed and entertained during the tour. It was the typical hilly countryside that we see in all the pictures and films. The vineyard we visited is owned by a royal family of Italy and they produce high-quality wine and olive oil. The tour of the actual vineyards was followed by a wine-tasting of four different wines. By the time we made our way to the bus for the trip home, we were all very happy and friendly.

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Now, our memorable trip has ended and we are waiting for our flight to Quebec to board. Soon, we’ll be back home, and we’ll have to get used to not eating pasta and drinking wine everyday. Maybe.

 

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Do as the Romans do…

 

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IMG_5811Our adventure continues in Rome. Yesterday, we hit some more memorable spots, starting with the Pantheon. The line was a bit long to get in, but it moved quickly, and was worth the wait. It’s another impressive structure in this interesting city, and it’s very well preserved. I have a good photo of the ceiling with its opening and also a glimpse of the magnificent door.

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We lunched in Piazza Navona, a picturesque rectangle of buildings, restaurants, and fountains. They have a webcam at one end of the piazza and we were able to connect with a couple of family members back home. After lunch, we went to Piazza Espagna. Unfortunately, the Spanish steps were being restored and we weren’t able to climb them, but I got a couple of pics. This area is a shopper’s paradise with the most well-known (and expensive) stores lining the nearby streets.

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By this time it was mid afternoon and when we came across the Trevi fountain, the crowd was immense. The logical thing to do was to have a gelato to help fight off the heat. We returned to the hotel, and after a rest and a refreshing shower, we walked to a nearby restaurant for more delicious food and wine, and were served by an entertaining waiter who loved to joke.
This morning, we were up at six and on our way by six-thirty. We had booked an early access tour to visit the Sistine chapel and St-Peter’s basilica. It was well worth the early morning. We were the first people to arrive in the chapel, twenty minutes before it opened to the public.

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First of all, the path we took to get to the chapel was much more than I expected. We went down long corridors with paintings, age-old tapestries, ancient maps and much more lining the walls. The ceilings were ornate and most were covered in paintings. At the time, I couldn’t imagine how anything could be more impressive than the walk to the Sistine chapel. I was wrong.
When you walk into the chapel, it’s almost overwhelming. Every available space is covered in incredible art. With the brochure we had received from our guide, we were able to understand the significance of Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Truly a sight to see. No photos can be taken inside the chapel, so I can’t share that experience with you.

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Our first view of St-Peter’s basilica was from the dome looking down. The expression ‘breathtaking’ describes perfectly my reaction when I stepped out onto the walkway. I literally had to remind myself to breathe. Again, an unexpected view of opulence and beauty.

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Leaving the walkway, we happened upon some stairs going upwards and, out of curiosity, decided to check it out. We wound up and around for 320 steps, sometimes very narrow steps with no way to turn around and go back without going against hundreds of people behind you. I experienced another definition of ‘breathtaking’. Also, light-headedness and a touch of claustrophobia. But, we made it, not realizing that we could even reach the cupola of the basilica. There we had a 360 degree view of Rome. Amazing! It was one of those things I’m very happy I did, but I won’t be doing again.

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Of course, what goes up must come down, and we finally made it into the basilica itself. It’s a vast space, and every inch is covered in sculptures, carvings, paintings, plaques, and statues. It’s impossible to describe the feeling of awe upon the sight of this sacred place. Even I, the Protestant, appreciated the significance and the importance of the structure itself, the rituals, and the history of its being. There was one moment when Steve was admitted into a small chapel within the basilica, but I was stopped by the guard. I thought, ‘Boy, this guy is good. How’d he know?’ It turned out I had to put my camera into my bag, since no pictures were allowed within the chapel. We both had a little chuckle at my close call.
The visit ended well, but we can’t stress enough the importance of getting an early start and getting in before the crowds. By mid-morning, the line-ups were long, and in the heat, would be difficult.
Now, we have some relaxation time, and then on to another Roman experience.

P.S. It’s now Tuesday morning here. The Wi-Fi wasn’t strong enough to let me download pictures last night. We’re off to breakfast and then we’ll plan our day.

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When in Rome…

 

Twenty-seven years ago, Steve and I did a whirlwind tour of several countries of Europe in a little rented Fiat Uno over a period of 19 days. It was enough to give us a taste of several countries, but not a lot of time to do an in-depth exploration. Now, we’ve celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and two weeks ago, we decided to do it up in style. We booked a week-long vacation in Rome.

The first day of travel was long, involving three flights from Quebec City to Montreal to Toronto to Rome, touching down at 9:45 a.m. at Leonardo Di Vinci airport. But, it was worth the effort.

We checked into our hotel and immediately set out to explore some of the neighborhood and grab some lunch (pizza and calzone, of course). After a short siesta at the hotel, we decided to go for a little walk. We eventually found ourselves in the heart of Ancient Rome. Putting aside any serious exploration because of a scheduled tour the next morning, we walked to the top of the Museo del Palazzo Venizia. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera for our ‘little’ walk. The view was wonderful.

We made our way back, showered, changed, and went in search of a good Italian restaurant – not hard to find. We dined on bruschetta, cheese, pasta, and wine. Oh, my goodness.

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Today, we hit the road (or rather, the Metro) early and went to join a tour group for a visit to perhaps one of the best known structures on the planet -The Colosseum. It was a fascinating tour, followed by an equally fascinating visit to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.  It was hard to imagine that we were walking on the same paths as people 2000 years earlier. As we were visiting the ruins of an ancient palace, we were treated to the sound of Bruce Springsteen preparing for a concert tonight at the Circus Maximus, the first and biggest arena created in the 6th century BC. Talk about a mix of the old and the new!

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This afternoon, wandering around on our own, we happened upon the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen, containing the remains of people from all corners of the world, including Percy Shelley and John Keats, the famous English poets and writers.

Now, we are once again preparing to go out and indulge in two of the things which Italians have definitely mastered, food and wine. As Carly Simon would say, ‘Nobody does it better’.

In a few days, I plan to be back again with a few more pictures. We have only started. Ciao!

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I’m honored

 

How exciting! I’ve been nominated for the (surely) very prestigious Sunshine Award. I’ve never heard of this award, but being a relative newbie in the writing world, my ignorance isn’t very surprising. I’m certain it involves a heap of prize money and mind-numbing fame.

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That being said, I am ready to fulfill my obligation, which entails answering 11 questions submitted by my nominator, choosing 11 other nominees, and asking said nominees 11 other questions. I’m not sure how they (whoever they may be) arrive at the final choice of a grand winner, but I’m sure someone has worked it out. I will anxiously wait for the announcement.

So, in response to the nomination by Marge Cutter Tesch, a talented and entertaining writer (https://margecutter.wordpress.com), I have answered her 11 questions:

  1. How long have you been blogging, and what motivated you to start your blog I set up my blog in March 2015. My first published novel, Betrayal, was due to come out in July and I knew I had to establish an online presence.
  2. In a single sentence, what is your blog about?        It’s about whatever is happening or whatever is interesting to me in my life at any given time.
  3. How did you decide on the name for your blog?   I wasn’t very creative. I didn’t give it a name, except my own. And, since it doesn’t focus on any particular type of material, there was nothing for me to draw from, thus the plain jane name.
  4. Where do you get the ideas for your blog posts and how often do you post?   As I said, my ideas come from something which is going on in my life or through my head at any particular time. I post at least once a month. Since I have a designated day (the 16th of the month) on my publisher’s blog site, I also post on my own at the same time. But, occasionally, I will post something extra on my own. Weekly, I also post a small re-edited chapter from a previously self-published book which I have decided to call a ‘blovel’.
  5. Do you ever get “writer’s block,” and, if so, how do you deal with it?   Yes, I often hit a wall when writing. The only way for me to handle it is to walk away. Inevitably, whether I’m in the shower, the car, walking the dog, or doing any number of things, something will come to me and I’ll be able to get back at it.
  6. What’s your favorite post that you’ve written?   It’s difficult to choose a favorite, so I guess I would have to choose my first real blog posting, just because …
  7. What is the best advice you can give your fellow bloggers about how to get new subscribers? That’s a tough one, because I haven’t figured it out yet. My strategy is to keep plugging away, making little holes in the wall, and hoping that the dam will eventually break.
  8. Do you belong to any writers’ or bloggers’ associations and, if so, which ones? Not at this point, but I keep my eyes and ears open. I would be interested, but I don’t want to sign up for things willy-nilly without being sure I would enjoy it.
  9. Where will we find you on social media? I have my website/blog www.ajackmccarthy.com. On facebook at @ajackmccarthy, and on twitter @ajackmccarthy. I also opened pages/accounts on Google+ and Pinterest, but I have extremely little activity in those areas.
  10. Other than blogging, what is your favorite activity? I love to read, and I always have a work-in-progress novel on my computer.
  11. What one thing would you like to be remembered for? Being a good mother.

 

Now for my 11 questions to my nominees:

  1. What was your favorite novel as a teenager?
  2. Do you have an author/blogger that you use as a model for your own writing?
  3. What is the best time of day for you to spend writing?
  4. Do you have a pre-writing ritual?
  5. How do you like to relax?
  6. Do you have a preferred writing reference website?
  7. Do you use any specialized writing software?
  8. Have you ever attended a writing conference?
  9. Where do you see yourself as a writer/blogger five years from now?
  10. What inspires you the most?
  11. What are you most proud of?

 

Below is the list of bloggers I nominate:

@lvgaudet

@dmassenzio

@sheilamgood

@patbertram

@moniqueh_author

@mrsandilutz

@iamklregister

Congratulations to all the nominees! If anyone is able to find more information about the Sunshine Award, please let me know. If there’s a fancy awards gala, I would need to purchase a gown. Good luck.

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What’s in a name?

A little more than a decade ago, I wrote my first novel. I had no idea if I was going to be able to finish it, or if it would ever end up in print. It turned out I enjoyed writing enough to finish the manuscript, and I went the route of self-publishing. Now, many years later, I am re-editing and publishing it piece-by-piece on my website as a blovel (no, this word is not in the dictionary).

I continued to write, and last year I published another novel, Betrayal, with Indigo Sea Press. Another book, another experience.

I certainly don’t consider myself a seasoned writer, but I suspect the subject of my discussion today may have been experienced by the large majority of writers.

When I wrote my first novel, in my innocence and ignorance, I decided it would be fun to create some of my characters using names and personalities of people I know. After all, it was likely no one would ever read it. But people did read it, and many of those who knew me were able to pick out the significance of the names and the characters. Some people even went so far as to imagine significance when, in fact, there was none.

I learned my lesson. The second time around, I was extremely careful when naming my characters, and I went to great pains to make sure they didn’t closely resemble anyone I knew. That didn’t stop people from looking for connections. When they couldn’t find them among the characters, they looked for them among the places. Since Betrayal was set in my hometown and the surrounding area, they tried to guess whose house I was describing or where the cabin was situated. It was amusing to see people looking for clues which didn’t exist.

As I said, I’m fairly sure this is a common occurrence among writers.

Something which I am now experiencing are people asking to be a character in my next novel (don’t worry, Kenny and Tim, I won’t mention any names). Sometimes, they even would like to have specific roles. Perhaps, this is not so common. Maybe I simply have friends who want to be implicated. If they are looking to be famous, or infamous, whatever the case may be, they should perhaps try something different. I’m not likely to be the conduit for their fame. Besides, I like them just the way they are.

Sorry to disappoint, guys, but I’m not going to make the same mistake twice. It could lead to too many complications, and it restricts what my characters can do or not do. I don’t want to be tiptoeing around, trying not to hurt someone’s feelings.

However, I’m curious to know, among the writers out there, if you use or avoid the use of names and characteristics of people you know.  Do you have any stories to share? Do you have a few friends like mine?

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Change

I woke up this morning to a fine layer of snow blanketing our cars. Throughout the day, we saw occasional flurries. Yes, we live in Quebec, but seriously…it’s the 16th of May!

This led me to think about climate change, which then led me to think about changes in general (It’s funny how things snowball, isn’t it? – pun intended).

As my husband and I are in the throes of planning our 25th wedding anniversary celebration, I’ve recently had some opportunities to sift through some of the memorabilia which has accumulated over the years.

Trying to recall songs which were sung at our wedding reminded me of my brother who sang them, and who has since been lost to us. Remembering the planning of the event reminded me of my mother, who helped me, and who has also passed on. Remembering the building of our home reminded me of a father-in-law who took such an interest in the process, and has since passed away.

But, mostly it’s the pictures. All the pictures which chronicle our lives together also reflect the changes. Of course, there are the obvious physical changes – hair that’s a different color, body shapes which aren’t quite the same – but it’s the changes in the fabric of our lives which are the most significant. We have friends who have been with us since those early years, and there are new ones which we have acquired. Our extended families have expanded with the creation of little ones who are now creating little ones of their own.

Of course, our own children have had the biggest impact on our lives. From the moment they were born they became an integral part of our hearts and souls, our entire reason for being. The years have passed in a flash. They’ve gone from being precious little bundles to lovely young women. I thought about all the stages of their lives and how they affected us as parents. Our daughters shaped the way we lived our lives and firmly cemented our values.

Other changes are evident in our conversations with our contemporaries, which often include discussions of our health issues. Twenty-five years ago, we would have been talking about our social plans not our retirement plans.

While some may complain about the ‘negative’ changes in their lives, I remind myself that we’re lucky to have something to complain about, whether it be the climate, the aches and pains, or the gray hair. It’s not just a celebration of twenty-five years of marriage, but a celebration of twenty-five years of change, all of which brought us to where we are today.

From my point of view, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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The Spirit is Alive and Well

There are times when I look around me and wonder what the world is coming to. People are either too busy or too wrapped up in themselves to take the time to think of the needs of others. We are all guilty of self-indulgence to a certain degree and it’s perfectly acceptable. After all, if you don’t take care of yourself how can you take care of others?

Rarely, but at times, you will find the other extreme – people who only know how to give to others and are incapable of putting themselves first. This is very commendable, but probably not a healthy way to exist.

However, I am fortunate to live in a small community with a strong sense of volunteerism. As a matter of fact, our calendar is filled with volunteer activities this spring and summer. My husband works as the chief of the volunteer fire department, which is made up of twenty-five individuals. I can say that he gives a minimum of 10 hours a week to the department, and that’s during a slow week.

This year our fire department is hosting ‘The Shaved Head Challenge’ to raise money for childhood leukemia, so Steve is particularly busy getting ready for that activity which takes place on June 11th. This will be his 5th year having his head shaved, but his first taking the lead as the host.

In order to get the ball rolling, a couple of weekends ago, we organized a fundraising breakfast at the community center, and he has scheduled a car wash for another weekend.

 I was fairly sure that the breakfast would be a success financially, but I was a bit worried about the helping hands. The Friday night before the event, we met to get the hall ready and to do some of the basic preparations.  Around ten of us showed up and I started to become more concerned. How were we going to be able to serve breakfast to a couple of hundred people if we were only a few hands?

Sunday morning, we scrambled around the house, filled the trunk of the car with more supplies, and drove to the community center. When I walked in the kitchen and saw a sea of navy blue uniforms my heart soared with pride. They had all turned up in force.image

The event was a success, both financially, and from the viewpoint of a community united to support a good cause. What really gave me hope was the sight of the next generation working alongside the present one, helping in any way they could. I believe that when a child grows up in a household that gives of their time, they will understand the importance of volunteering and giving.

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The week after ‘The Shaved Head Challenge’ I will be participating in the Relay for Life, another fundraiser for cancer, now in our ninth year of participation.

We are definitely not alone in our endeavors. We are surrounded by people who have grown up in the community and don’t know any other way to live. And we are welcoming newcomers who are eager to join us. It gives me hope for what the world is coming to.

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