“A gift from the heart” – 2013 edition.

DSC_0210It’s no secret to scientists and psychologists that scent can trigger memories as vivid and real as the day they were created. Although my maternal grandfather died more than 12 years ago, pulling his suspenders out of the bag I keep them in engulfs me in a scent of Old Spice and Players cigarettes so strong that it feels like he is there with me… his rough work worn hands, blonde hair and ice blue eyes that never dimmed with age or cancer.

Today, sitting on my bed folding laundry, the window opened a crack for the requisite 15 minutes a day needed to replenish and freshen the air in my home, the scent of Satsuma  from the rarely used bottle on my dresser suddenly wafted under my nose and brought me back to a time I rarely remember at all, anymore…

Except for Christmas.

For newer readers, several years ago I posted my own personal Christmas story here to try and bring people back to the spirit of the season, and give any woman needing hope the strength to carry on. Secretly, I hoped my secret Santa would read my story and know just how much their humble gift meant to me.

Every year since, I have re-posted the story, and this year is no exception. May you find courage, strength, inspiration and hope.

“A gift from the heart”

As an adult, I think I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong – I really love twinkling Christmas lights at night, the joy of seeing my children enjoy the magic, good times with friends and all the cooking…but I’m really bothered by the commercialization, obligation and fake sentiment that for many, seems to go with the entire season.

How did we -as a society – become so shallow and self-absorbed that what is for some, a very sacred time of year, has been reduced to the amount you spend on gifts – or the number of them – to prove your love or affection ? And what kind of gift is one given out of a feeling of forced obligation, rather than the spirit of love and generosity?

For me, gift giving has never been about how much a gift costs, but about what is special to the person receiving it, and the intent of the person giving it. Every year, I share this story that touched my heart forever, in the hopes the person behind it reads it, and knows exactly what it meant to me.

One Christmas,many years ago, I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a gift that came from the heart of someone I’m sure I must have known – but someone whose identity remains a mystery over 10 years later.

It was two years before I left my abusive ex-husband, and money was very tight. At the time he wasn’t working and I was the only income earner, and my credit cards were nearly maxed out trying to keep the family afloat. I didn’t share how bad things were with anyone at work,or my friends, but those who cared and knew me well, obviously could see how hard I was trying to keep it all together.

Even now,looking back at photos taken that year, the stress shows clearly on my face in every single one. As most parents do,or have done, I would always go without to make sure the kids had what they needed, but that year I had to actually glue the soles back onto my winter boots, and double up sweaters instead of buying a winter coat to make sure something from Santa arrived Christmas morning.

Indeed,Christmas did arrive on a crystal cold Saturday morning, and the kids were not disappointed.

Wonderfully appreciative of their humble presents, they were playing with their new toys quietly,my ex was doing whatever he would do off in his little office, and I finally moved slowly around the house to open the curtains to a new day.

As I pulled back the drapes on my dining room window to enjoy the rare sight of Christmas snow on the coast, I saw a basket on the railing of the patio fence outside.

Completely caught off guard by this unexpected sight, I stood there for a moment, simply absorbing this discovery. I shook my head, as if to shake off doubts, grabbed my house coat and ran outside on the deck anyways.

There before me, nestled in the crystalline snow on the railing,was a brightly decorated basket with my name on it.

Catching my breath, stunned, I looked around – left, then right – but could see no one. It hadn’t been there long, because it remained untouched by that sparkling diamond like frost that covered every surface not touched by snow, and I could see fresh foot prints in my garden leading to the fence. In puzzled excitement, I ran back inside the house to see what it was, and who it was from.

I sat down alone at the dining room table, slowly taking in the lovely wrapping and ribbons, but also very worried my ex would come down and wonder where this came from.

With slow motion precision, I pulled back the tissue paper that encased the contents, and suddenly the sweet smell of  satsuma mandarin orange wafted from the basket, hit my nostrils, and overwhelmed my battered soul.

Inside, were three jewel like bars of soap from The Body Shop, in my favorite fragrance, Satsuma.

I held each one in my hands as if they were the most precious gems, with tears trickling silently, oh so silently, down my face, wondering who would do such a nice thing for me. I took every single piece of tissue paper out,looking for a clue, but there was no card; only a gift tag with my name written on it in handwriting I did not recognize.

Completely overwhelmed by the sheer grace and timing of this most cherished gift, I ran quietly outside again and looked around in the snow, thinking another card must have fallen off.

I followed the footprints back to the curb where someone had obviously gotten back into their car, but nothing. No clues, no names, only me – standing there alone Christmas morning on the sidewalk in front of my house, oblivious to the curious stares of passers -by, in my natty old terry cloth house coat and glued up boots, tears streaming down my face … happier in that cold, cold moment than I had been in many, many years…

When I returned to work later that week, I asked everyone if they were my secret Santa, but no one seemed to know anything. From beneath lowered lids, I surreptitiously watched everyone go by my office for a look, a smile, something to show that someone was keeping a secret from me… but nothing.

To this day, I have no idea who was thinking of me in such a thoughtful way that Christmas. That one gift meant so much to me because I would never have spent money on something as frivolous as mandarin scented soaps for myself,ever,during those times, but more-so, it helped me through what was an exceedingly tough time in my life.

Just knowing that there was someone who cared enough to pay attention to something I had perhaps mentioned casually in conversation over coffee, someone who then took the time to actually bring it over on an early Christmas morning… it left me with hope.

It was an incredible act of selflessness and compassion on the part of the secret Santa. But the funny thing was, and still is, was that I couldn’t ever recall ever mentioning this was my favourite scent to anyone…

I didn’t use that soap for a long time, a couple of years actually, but kept it hidden deep in my bedroom drawers.

When I was feeling hopeless, or having a particularly rough time with my ex, I would steal away upstairs – just for a moment – and sit on the edge of my bed to open the drawers where the soap was safely hidden. The scent of satsuma would suddenly rise to envelop me, flooding all my senses …and it would always give me strength and courage to go on.

To the gift giver, it may have been just soap… but to me it was everything.


The scent remains my favorite, symbolizing the will to go on, survival…renewal, hope… and when I come across that scent again,even for the briefest moment, it overwhelms my soul with joy. I still don’t often spend money on things like that, although I suppose I could. I guess old habits die-hard.

And so as we enter the season that has become so commercialized that we forget the true meaning behind the celebrations,I urge you to re-connect with your loved ones,your neighbours, and even complete strangers in the true spirit of  compassion and love.

Everyone knows a person who is going through a rough time for one reason or another. Maybe they lost their job, maybe they are caring for a sick family member, or maybe they are just always struggling to get ahead.

Christmas can be incredibly hard for those who are dealing with life’s troubles. Do something special for them,keep it secret and supply them with the same faith and hope and memories that I have. It doesn’t have to be costly, just from the heart. You  may never know what a simple gesture may mean to someone else.

But I do.

Peace everyone. Merry Christmas.

Two precious gifts – one of hope… the other of healing.

As I wrote last weekend, in the annual re-post of ” A gift from the heart “ – the story of how an anonymous Christmas gift provided me with something far more precious than soap – the most valuable gifts are always ones given from the heart.

Little did I know, when I posted that story, that it would lead to another precious gift, this one of healing – and not just my own.

I met Priscilla Judd last year after she emailed to ask if I would cover the Lumby prison story. I did – yet another  story of politicians behaving badly – and forged a friendship with this feisty piano-tuner/songwriter/artist/ activist. And talented she is, composing and recording the alternative Canadian anthem that shook many Canadians to the core across the nation this year, when she released the video that was shared by thousands, from sea to shining sea.

When Priscilla messaged me on facebook last weekend, telling me how much the story moved her and asking if she might use it as the theme for a new song, I was quite surprised. Of course, I agreed,noting a certain… feeling in her statement  “…your words are unforgettable.”

I woke early this morning, as I usually do, grabbed my morning cup of coffee and sat down to do my morning rounds on the net. I was checking emails, when I saw an email from Priscilla with the simple subject line:  ‘song lyrics’.

I clicked on it, began to read… and the tears began to flow so unexpectedly, absolutely uncontrollably, that I doubled over, hands over my mouth. Taking a breath and clicking through my tears, I opened the MP3 file of her recording, and the tears began again,hearing her tears as she sang the story of my past… and more.

5:30 am, on 12-12-12,  more than decade and a lifetime since ” the gift” of fragrant soaps carried me through darkness – there I was sobbing at my desk, this time a gift of healing, a gift from one friends heart to another, my story to hers… and soon.. hers to mine.

It was as if her lyrics had unleashed thousands of pounds of baggage and pain, neither of which I was aware I even carried until that moment, this morning.

Over many emails we shared our tears, our gratitude.. and finally, Priscilla shared the reason my story struck her so very hard…

“… the bars all close on Christmas day… So ‘santa’ drops in to sleep… but before that day…

It was a couple of weeks before Christmas – I was attending alanon by then, it was a couple of weeks before my third child was born.

I had no coat that fit – I zipped it from the top down belly outside and I had Dr Scholls sandals cuz my feet were so swollen. I wore bare feet in the sandals even in the snow (I hated wet socks). I was standing in front of the shoe store looking at the boots. A stranger came up to me and asked if I was Priscilla (Roe at that time) I said yes and she handed me an envelope and said that someone wanted me to have this Christmas card.

I was happy – I thanked her – I looked around – I knew no one – she walked off and I started opening the card… $50

Tears came down so hard and my two baby girls just looked at me – they were about 2 and 8 months. Anyway – I bought food for Christmas including oranges for the girls.

I was barefoot when I went to the hospital to have the baby… ‘He’ had a job!

I wore my old shoes after my baby son was born and my feet were smaller.  Oh Laila it’s heartbreaking how women can be so strong.

Sorry I’m crying at the end of the song. Gord says we can record it again if it disturbs you.  There now, I’ve shared my story with you. I sing for you and me and all the women – all of us – I love you so much – thank you for making our world brighter.”

And damn if I’m not crying again as I write this but I can’t help it. It’s just wrong, so damn wrong that this happens, that this happened to Priscilla.

It’s easy to sit and judge and say:  “Well, you could have left, no one made you stay.” – which, by the way, people have said to myself, and other women. But unless you’ve been there, unless you know what it’s like firsthand, you don’t, can’t really know… and here she’s thanking me, when it is I who is so thankful, grateful to have her and others like her in my life, for their strength and courage.. and… well, there aren’t enough words to describe my gratitude.

That’s why this song Priscilla wrote, born of my Christmas story, is about more than her, or I – it’s about all women, she sings, the souls of those we cannot see…. and love,hope and acts of kindness so random yet so vital to our humanity. Sometimes our angels walk among us. They are us, each of us, and we can be something more to another, if only we reach out and forget what everything we’ve been taught about minding our own business.

I considered myself so lucky to get one precious gift in this life from another, it is a miracle to have had another come my way at such a different, happier, point in my life.

Thank you Priscilla. Thank you.


Hard facts and cold truth should decide fate of ineffective gun registry, not emotional rhetoric

I know many of you have been waiting for a really great post, on any of the hot political issues right now. However, I have been watching and hearing the seemingly endless emotionally driven rhetoric that champions of the gun registry are using to push for its continuation. Quite frankly, I can no longer stomach the lack of facts and truth these champions use to argue. It’s an emotional, heated issue for certain, but if one breaks down those emotional arguments and looks for the truth behind them, it is un-arguable  that there is not one bit of proof that this registry does anything but give uninformed people a false and dangerous sense of security. To say I am extremely disappointed to see Jack Layton and the NDP take the direction they have, is to understate my sentiment. I am nowhere near being a Harper-Con, but scrapping the registry that was a failure from day 1 is the only thing that man has done that speaks of sense.

This is a re-post of a blog I wrote earlier this year, in response to the ongoing debate on the gun registry, that originated on Bill Tieleman’s blog. An ardent supporter of the registry, Bill has been very vocal in favour of it, and  certainly we will have to agree to disagree.  Many are shocked that a woman who has directly experienced domestic abuse would fight against this registry, but read on for my views on why all this money could have been spent on programs and initiatives that would truly save lives.  Be sure to read the comments that follow the original post for another serving of reality.

Sometimes I just can’t keep my mouth shut.

Posted on November 13, 2009 by Laila | Edit

and this would be one of those moments.

 There has been a lot of discussion going on at Bill Tieleman’s blog in response to his post in support of the gun registry in Canada. I’m not going to get into all the details, but suffice it to say that the comments are heated and there are very few people without a firm opinion on the  matter. That’s all fine and it’s great to see the debate evolve from opinion to hard facts. But this one point is why I must open my mouth.

Using gun related spousal murders as a reason for continuing this gun registry is not only ridiculous, but possibly dangerous to women on the receiving end of domestic violence. (I really like you Bill, but I’ve got to say this). I back up my points, rather than relying on vague allusions and unsubstantiated generalities to make a case, unlike some of the largely anonymous commenters under his post.

 After looking around the net at discussions currently ongoing, it appears that there are a large number of gun registry supporters across Canada who  would have you believe that the gun registry can prevent or at least reduce the number of spousal murders in this country, especially in rural areas where rifles are more prevalent.  Bullshit on all counts.

 One commenter (the first – Maureen) had this to say:

  It was a bad week for women’s rights last week – first the gun registry attack by the NDP and Liberal enablers, a registry that has reduced gun-related spousal homicides.

 Sorry to say Maureen, but I can’t find any hard facts to back that up. If you happen to read this, point me to your information source.

 Bill says this in his post:

 Despite claims that the registry unfairly discriminates against rural gun owners, the reality is that access to firearms is a key factor in domestic homicides.

 Now, this is  partially correct, because traditionally in rural areas ,rifles are a common household item. More on this in a bit.

 However, Bill goes on to say this in the comments section:

 Take a look at the firearms deaths stats my friend. Take a look at domestic violence in rural communities.

 So, I did look at firearms death stats- with relation to domestic violence, and conveniently enough, another commenter to his post brought up a recent, 2008 report that indicates firearms are no more significant in cases of spousal murder than stabbings ( but no one seems to be stepping up to register or prohibit knives…) info quoted is from page 39

 Between 1997 and 2006, the most common method
used to kill male spouses was stabbing (69%). In contrast,
female victims of spousal homicide were equally likely to be
stabbed or shot (30% each). A larger proportion of female
spousal victims were killed as a result of physical force
such as beating, strangulation, suffocation or drowning

Over the past decade, the rate of firearm-related spousal
homicides decreased by nearly 50%

 In 1996 there were
27 firearm-related spousal homicides compared to 16 in
2006 (Chart 4.3).

Sadly enough, there isn’t a lot of recent or current Canadian research on spousal murder in Canada , but there has been research done in the past that says this:


While the prevalence of violence using guns against women in rural and urban communities is not statistically significant, the current literature does highlight the greater accessibility and use of guns in rural areas to intimidate, terrorize and murder women who are in violent relationships (Websdale, 1998). In many rural areas, guns are part of the household, often used for hunting and protection. Nolan (1992) suggests that:

Domestic killings occur disproportionately in rural areas and it is believed that this may reflect the high levels of gun ownership in the country. Many victims of domestic violence also report being threatened with firearms. (1992:23)

 This finding has also been reiterated by Dansy Consultants Inc. who found that violence was a factor in 80 percent of the cases involving firearm homicides (1992:15). While gun ownership and accessibility may not be the sole reason for wife-killing in rural areas, the fact that they are present and accessible may accentuate their use in situations of violence. Second, it may be more viable to discharge a firearm in a rural area without being detected or attracting police attention.

 There you have it. Guns are used to kill women and men in that sometimes screwed up institution of marriage – but so are knives, fists, hammers, boots, boards, ropes, pillows and anything else the murderer can get his or her hands onto. In fact, I know, when responding to a domestic violence call,  the RCMP will  operate under the assumption that there ARE weapons in the house,unless told otherwise. Yes, you may argue that the gun registry will tell them prior to arrival if there is a registered weapon in the home,but how the hell that prevents the murderer from firing it, I don’t know. 

 Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. ( credit to Alex T. )  No gun registry is going to stop a man from pulling the trigger when he chooses to kill his wife or girlfriend.

 Please. Don’t use the excuse or pseudo-concern of women getting beaten and  then possibly murdered with rifles as an excuse to continue this  gun registry. It sickens me to hear that. It’s like saying having a license to drive will prevent deaths on the road from alcohol, or speed. They don’t, they just show you passed a test and keep track of your personal information. Again, bullshit.

  If someone really wanted to prevent needless deaths of women, they would be lobbying for much-needed changes to the Criminal Code that still treats the abusers with kid gloves( especially on a first offence) , demanding a reinstatement of mandatory charges for the abuser in BC, and educating Crown on how to handle domestic violence cases – not fighting to save a gun registry!

 The amount of money spent on this registry so far, would have done far more to prevent spousal murders, through public education programs, shelters and resources for women suffering the kind of severe abuse that often leads to murder. Especially in those rural areas where  women are often isolated and stay silent because there are no resources to go to.

 Yes, Bill Tieleman was right to call all these politicians gutless – but in my opinion, for the wrong reason. At least, that’s the way I see it