A Good Home

What to Send My 84 Year-Old Uncle?

Even the funny birthday song I normally inflict on loved ones didn’t seem to cheer my uncle when I called him in London, England last week.  He usually laughs loudly as I croak and warble my way through it in a fake British accent.

Because of the COVID lockdown, Uncle G. was spending his 84th birthday entirely alone this year.  His two beloved brothers could not visit and he couldn’t leave his flat.

Loneliness and sorrow sounded in his voice.

I screwed up my courage to ask something I’d hesitated about.

“Uncle G,” I said. “I wanted to send you flowers but wasn’t sure you’d want that.”

“Good thing you didn’t,” he replied promptly. “I’m not one for bouquets.”

“Or maybe money.  Or… a hamper of food and goodies!” I ended, sounding slightly desperate.

“The hamper,” he said immediately, his voice brightening up. “I’d like the hamper.”

“Anything special you’d like?”

“Let me see… I like Canadian cheese. Aged cheddar.”

Success! I thought. I had finally asked the question and received an answer!

2 years ago, my British cousins had sent our family a huge Christmas wicker hamper filled with fine foods from Fortnum & Mason, the British company famous for their food hampers since the 1700’s.  That’s what gave me the idea. So I searched first for Canadian companies who deliver gift hampers overseas, but their stock had been depleted by the Christmas holidays and pandemic lockdowns.

Hmmm. What do to?

Back to Fortnum & Mason.  Their hampers didn’t include Canadian cheese, but there were some good aged cheddars.

The Winter Feast Hamper

It would have to do.

Once I got going, selecting a hamper for my beloved uncle became an adventure.  There were so many to choose from, and no single (affordable) package included all the items I wanted.  

The Anniversary Hamper

On F & M’s chat line, I met “Stephanie”, who guided me through the process with ease.  Turns out I could send the basket I selected and additional items. 

The bill was adding up, though – and that was before converting the hefty British pound to Canadian dollars. (1 pound = $1.73 Canadian.) 

The phone rang – my sister checking in. “How are you?”

“I’m putting together a birthday gift hamper for Uncle G,” I said. “Can’t believe how much fun I’m having.”

“What a great idea,” she replied. “I’ve been wanting to send him something. Okay if I contribute?” she asked.

“Of course,” I replied.

“Maybe the other siblings will want to contribute too. Just let us know how much.”

“Okay!” I said, feeling even happier. This was going to be a birthday gift from not just my branch of the family, but the others as well.  Together, we could afford a hamper with aged cheddar, wine, a small ham, smoked salmon, crackers, biscuits, tea and preserves of various kinds and a few condiments too.

The Fortnum's Foodhall Hamper

Two boxes arrived at my uncle’s flat in London, just 5 days after I made the order – fast delivery during a pandemic lockdown.

“Thank you very much,” he said on the phone. “Please tell everyone I said ‘Thanks and God bless’.”

“I will, Uncle G,” I replied. “I took a few chances. Wasn’t sure if you eat ham or smoked salmon…” 

“I like both ham and smoked salmon very much,” he quickly replied. “I put them in the fridge right away.”

“I’m sorry we couldn’t send Canadian cheese,” I apologized.

“Everything you sent will be eaten and enjoyed,” he assured me. “There’s nothing you sent that I don’t eat – or drink.” 

Best of all? The excitement in my uncle’s voice. It filled my heart with joy. And when I passed on his message to my siblings, they were happy too.

A Good Home

Myrtle and The Big Mistake – It’s not political!

Recently, interviewers have asked us whether the main themes of the new Myrtle the Purple book were taken from the ongoing headline stories about political misinformation and fake news in the United States.

The quick answer is “No!” The longer answer is: “At least, not intentionally!”

Co-author Lauren and I created Myrtle and the Big Mistake from the same source that inspired all previous books in the series: stories we heard repeatedly from children themselves. This one just happened to be about an untrue story being repeated till many people believe it’s true. 

But perhaps children in school playgrounds and adults have more in common than we know.

Myrtle and the Big Mistake starts when someone is hurt by a fast-circulating lie.  Myrtle and a small group of intrepid ‘investigators’ track down the source.  Once he realizes that he mistakenly started a lie that has hurt someone else, Garrett the parrot does the right thing. He apologizes to the person he has hurt. Then he goes back to everyone and corrects his mistake.  

If only it were so simple in the real world.  The very people who should correct their mistakes are often unwilling to do so – or they simply refuse to accept the facts.  As you read this, your mind may turn to American politicians, but remember this: it’s not just American politicians. 

Why is acknowledging our wrongdoing, apologizing and taking steps to correct it so difficult for so many of us to do? Is it pride? Fear that we will lose something? Or worse?

In Myrtle and the Big Mistake, Garrett the parrot does the right thing.  In response, Myrtle and Snapper, her friend who was wronged, forgive Garrett. Then, assured of his goodwill, they show their forgiveness by inviting him to play with their group.

Lauren and I write stories for children that show children solving a problem – often a problem that takes place on the playground or among friends in the neighbourhood.  Children, like adults, sometimes make mistakes and do something wrong.  We believe it’s never too early to pass on certain values. 

But we’re also hoping it’s not too late for some adults to remember these lessons themselves.


A Good Home

On the 4th day of Christmas…

Although my family focuses most on Christmas Day itself, Christmas, the season, starts on December 25.  It continues for 12 days till  sunset on January 5th.

So, in the spirit of celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, I share my harrowing search for the perfect Christmas tree. It’s the first in a series of Christmas poems and stories aired on 89.7 FM in Northumberland County, Ontario recently:

Stay safe and well, my friends!


A Good Home

Christmas Words and Actions

I find myself hesitating, trying to find the right words. Is the greeting “Merry Christmas” still appropriate, during such a grim year?

My inspiration comes from my granddaughter, as I watch her picking herself up from falling, and setting forth once more with hope and determination towards a target.

Photo by Hamlin Grange

She falters, wobbles, but never loses hope. She’s going to make it across the room.  Way across the room to a favourite toy, to the ornaments and lights on the Christmas tree, to the loving outstretched arms of her parents or grandparents — or to the sleeping dog (who may or may not spy her just in time to make his escape before she grasps his ear or tail).

She is a bundle of hope, faith and perseverance. And every time she gets up or steadies herself, she’s filled with joy.

Our world may not be a very merry place this year.  But this Christmas season – this tough Christmas season — I wish you hope, faith, perseverance and joy.

May the words become actions and may the actions create reality for each of us.

Photo by Hamlin Grange