How to survive the holidays when you LOVE the holidays!

Christmas Joy

“It’s that time of year

When the world falls in love

Every song you hear seems to say

Merry Christmas”

As you all probably know, it’s that time of year, and my favorite holiday, Christmas time!

Now, I know that not everyone is excited about this time of year, and for good reason. Christmas can be a stressful time of the year: pressure to buy gift, getting the house ready for your in-laws and other potentially stressful visitors; it can all be enough to drive anyone crazy.

But not everything about the holidays is bad.

In fact for some people, like myself, the holidays become a magical time for us. I, personally, wait all year long for this time of year.

There’s so many thing wonderful things to enjoy that only come once a year.

Everything is so beautifully decorated, especially the houses. I love to walk around my neighborhood at night and see all the decorations that people have put up. I know that Christmas lights are just colored bulbs strung together on a green wire. But to me when I see them light up, it’s like magic. I love decoration for Christmas, when I finally finish and plug all the lights in, and see the masterpiece that I’ve made.

Then there’s the Christmas movies, and TV specials. I love seeing all the TV shows air their Christmas episodes. And the movies bring back memories from when I was kid. My favorite ones are Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Home Alone.

And you can’t forget about the stores. All their displays are lit up with lights; Christmas decorations are in just about every aisle, and as you shop, Christmas music plays throughout the store.

This brings me to one of my favorite things about the season, the Christmas music!

The radio stations take a break from playing their regular music, and for the entire month, they play those holly jolly, cheery tunes that always put me in a good mood.

There’s also candy and other treats. Christmas cookies, festively decorated. Assorted chocolates, candy canes, fruit cake, and let’s not forget about hot chocolate! All these treats are always sitting on store shelves, in their Christmas edition bags or boxes.

But my most favorite part of Christmas has to be giving presents.

I know that we all have our own interpretation of what Christmas and the holidays are about, but I believe that it is about giving. And it doesn’t have to be just giving presents, it can also be giving your time, and helping someone.

As I’ve gotten older, I have enjoyed giving to others and seeing their reactions much more then I have receiving.

Don’t get me wrong, it is very exciting to get gifts, I will admit that I still get excited on Christmas Eve. But we should all remember to give.

Giving is much more rewarding than receiving, making someone happy is a wonderful and powerful gift.

So this holiday season, take the time to give to someone else. Whether it’s buying a gift, spending time with someone, or volunteering at a local shelter, you’ll make a difference in someone’s life.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and share with us some of your favorite things about Christmas. Send us a tweet, or tell us in the comments.

We can’t wait to see what you post!

Merry Christmas Ugly Ducklings!


— Mariah


Surviving the holidays when your religious beliefs are different from your family’s

christmas and different religious beliefs

I was going to write this entire background to how I got to where I am now with my family and life, but it occurred to me that the how isn’t important (or indeed what you’re really interested in hearing about) it’s the what I’ve learned that matters. So, here for you, are my tips on surviving the holidays when you’ve got a different religion/belief system/outlook on the universe to the rest of your family. My traditions and beliefs differ a great deal from my family – so I’ve been there!

Give your family time to get used to the fact that your ideals differ.

For me, it was a very gradual process and it has taken a good 15 years to bring them from the initial accepting that I would not go to mass with them to getting mum to join me in a Midwinter ritual last year. Chances are, unless you are converting for your romantic life partner (which is a fairly accepted reason a lot of people would understand) they may not really understand why you’ve made the choice to have different beliefs.

I know a lot of families where religion is a strong part of the family identity, so those who choose to follow their own path may find that the family feels they are being rejected, not just the family religion.

Advice on how to talk about your religious beliefs with your relatives

  • Keep telling them how important they are to you!
  • Be open about what has drawn you down your path and answer any questions they may have, but don’t overwhelm them with information.
  • Make sure you know all about your different traditions and beliefs so that you are prepared to answer any questions. The more you know and the clarity with which you can explain things will help them understand that it isn’t a phase.
  • Be prepared for them to simply dismiss it as a phase at first, part of the reason it’s taken me so long is precisely that.
  • Once you’ve been at it for several years the ‘only a phase’ argument dies out on its own, or at least it did for me.
  • Give them time to adjust to the change and don’t expect them to accept everything right away. But, by being calm and steadfast, they will come to accept your new beliefs as part of who you are, and eventually may even be curious enough to join in with yours!

christmas and different religious beliefsBe calm, not combative. Belief is a tricky thing. Changing beliefs is hard and it can be difficult to convince people you’ve done so or otherwise hold a different belief to what they thought you held. People can be willing to die for their beliefs, so this isn’t something to take lightly. If it seems like an argument is brewing, try to take a step back. As I said, your family may feel that in changing to a belief different to the one you were raised with you are rejecting them alongside their beliefs and they may become defensive. Don’t try to rush them and don’t fight with them about it. Be firm so that they know shouting about it won’t change your belief back, but always be polite. Be the person you have always been to them, that they know and love, and give them time to incorporate this new knowledge into who they know.

Continue to participate in as many family traditions as you can.

This will help them understand that although you may not celebrate the same holiday now, you can all still decorate the house together or watch that special film. In my family, I am in charge of the tree, which is a tradition my grandfather and I shared and which has been my responsibility since he died.

Decorating a tree doesn’t conflict with my being a witch as Midwinter/Yule also has decorating with greenery as part of the celebrations. Plus, it’s a special tradition for me, which I celebrate as something important in its own right.

Find parallels between your celebrations and theirs. When I first stated explaining to my family that I didn’t celebrate Christmas anymore I had to endure a lot of ‘well, we won’t bother getting you any presents then’ and similar comments. I responded by saying that Midwinter was celebrated from the solstice to 6 January and presents were exchanged at any time during those celebrations, so I was happy to give them their Midwinter presents on Christmas, if they liked. By including them in my celebrations, they stopped feeling the need to exclude me from theirs.

It’s totally okay to celebrate the bits of their holiday that you still enjoy.

Despite not celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday, I’m still a total Christmas dork. I love the music and the films and I think that’s great! Besides, it’s not like the Muppet Christmas Carol or Love Actually are really religious anyway, they’re just fun seasonal films. Christmas in particular has strong secular traditions alongside the religious ones, so I think it’s perfectly fine for me to enjoy the holiday in that context and still have my spiritual celebration on the solstice. Besides, Santa rocks and I’m not giving that dude up! He fits in pretty well with the pagan traditions, too.

Very important: Don’t bring it up at dinner.

christmas and different religious beliefsNo matter when you choose to start explaining your new (or newly revealed) beliefs to your family, the big celebratory dinner is not the time to do it. Quite aside from shocking people over the turkey is the fact that religion is one of those topics -like politics and money- which is considered bad manners to discuss at a special dinner. My family will say grace before a special meal, now, I obviously don’t believe in a Christian god, so I say my own blessing in my head, and when everyone else says ‘amen’ I say ‘blessed be’ which is the traditional witches response. In retrospect I’m kind of surprised how many years I spent doing that before anyone actually noticed.

Invite them to join you.

Once you’ve arrived in a place where your family is acceptive and supportive of your beliefs, invite them to join in. They may want to do this straight away or it may take time, that’s up to you and them. They may feel that participating in a magical ritual is not something a catholic would do or they may be excited to join you in a bonding experience.

Create new traditions.

If you’ve got to a point where everyone is really down with your different beliefs, mix them up with theirs! Maybe you say grace and a pagan blessing before dinner now or everyone opens one present on the solstice before the rest of them at Christmas. There are all sorts of ways to blend things together and there is nothing wrong with celebrating the diversity in your family!

Above all else, have fun and celebrate the holidays with your family and friends. No matter what the differences in beliefs are, this time of year is about warmth and kindness and love and everyone can celebrate that!

If you have any questions about what I’ve written, please feel free to ask!

I’m happy to help if you’ve got something specific you’d like to discuss or if you’d like more details about my experiences. It’s against the ethics of being a witch to try to convert people, which is why I haven’t discussed anything in depth, but I enjoy talking about it when requested to do so.

– Catherine

Tips to survive the holidays when your parents are divorced

Surv 01 BAN

This week, I have taken on the task of writing a post on a very painful and personal topic.

This topic is one that I’m sure you’ve all heard of, and if you haven’t gone through it, I’m sure you know someone who has.

The topic I’m talking about is Divorce.

A divorce is when two people, for any number of reasons, decide they no longer want to be married. For some people, a divorce can be a good thing, but for me and my family, it was the most traumatizing experience I’ve ever gone through.  

My once loving family that had been building and growing together suddenly got torn apart, and my life was changed forever. Fighting and hate had taken the place of where love and kindness once was.

I’ve had to grow up with the divorce; it’s surrounded my entire life. From aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, and worst of all, my own parents.

I was nine when my parents split; it was the worst thing to ever happen to me. To this day, it still affects me.

One moment, I was living in a nice house with two loving parents, and the next minute I was being dragged from everything I had known and loved, and only allowed to see one parent at a time.

I felt like I was in enemy territory whenever I visited one of parents, because they hated each other so much. No child should ever have to feel like this with their parents.

Everyone involved in a nasty divorce suffers.

When a divorce happens, it impacts everyone, like a ripple in a pond.

My parents had to begin their lives over again. Once separated, their income dropped drastically. This was due to constantly taking each other to court, and having to pay outrages amounts in child support (that one mostly affected my Dad). And because of this, we couldn’t afford to live anywhere for very long, we were constantly moving, at least once a year. This caused my mother to fall into a bit of depression, and my father started drinking. 

Surrounding friends and family became support to us. I remember for a little while, we had to live with my aunt because my mom couldn’t afford a house yet. I thought it was fun, until I realized that my Dad wouldn’t be joining us. It was in this moment that I realized how much hatred my family had towards my Dad. 

Everyone treated him like he was Voldemort. Whenever I would ask about my Dad, no one would answer me. My mother started telling me lies about him like, “he doesn’t want to see you” or “he doesn’t care” in an effort to get me to hate him too. I could never understand why. No one would tell me what was happening, and worst of all, no one ever gave me any comfort that things were going to be okay.

I believe that children suffer the most, especially around the holidays. 

Although the divorce was painful on all of us, I believe that me and my brother suffered the most.  As children grow, it’s important for them to have a sturdy foundation, so they can begin to spread their roots; when a divorce occurs, their entire world becomes flipped upside down, and the foundation becomes torn.

Holidays were the worst, sometimes we could only be with one parent, but most of my holidays consisted of waking up at one parents house opening gifts, and then being rushed to the other parents house. I wasn’t able to relax and enjoy my holiday.

How to survive the holidays when you have divorced parents

  • First off, try talking to your parents about who you want to spend the holiday with, sometimes they may be willing to work with you.
  • If you can only spend the holiday with one parent, try planning a day that you and your other parent can spend together. Go to a movie or to dinner, or celebrate the holiday early with them.
  • If you celebrate Christmas, make two different Christmas lists, and give each parent one. That way they won’t have to fight with each other about what to get you.
  • Try starting new holiday traditions with each parent. This will help make your time with each parent special.

Although it may be hard to see your parents fight with each other, especially this time of year, please remember they both love you, they are angry with each other, not you.

 I think my parents’ divorce will always impact me. With the holidays upon us, its hard knowing that I can only spend them with one parent.

I envy the kids whose parents are still together or the ones whose parents may be split up, but can still get along with each other. Every time I’m out in public and I see children with both of their parents, I feel a little sad. Even today, my parents cannot be in the same room with each other, we would be transported into a Hunger Games arena.

Growing up, my parents always told me to forgive people, to let things go, to love people even if they make you mad. But even after 12 years, they still don’t practice these things on each other. What kind of an example are they setting?

I hope one day they can forgive each other.

How to survive the holidays through recent grief or loss

surviving the holidays BAN

As December falls upon us, Ugly Ducklings Inc wanted to kick off the holiday season with a series called “Surviving the Holidays”. We are going to cover a variety of topics in this series.  As co-founders of Ugly Ducklings, we’ve had the amazing opportunity to interact with, build relationships with and read the stories of so many amazing individuals. We notice a common theme of loss and trauma through many of these stories and interactions.

Loss and trauma can be perpetuated by the holiday season; people who are struggling with that might need a haven to keep themselves from becoming overwhelmed. Megan Devine, the founder of Refuge in Grief, is a blogger and inspiration I’ve (Erin) followed for quite some time. I knew she would have great advice for anyone who might be struggling through grief, loss and/or trauma this holiday season.

  • Megan, thank you so much for agreeing to offer your expertise to Ugly Ducklings Inc. Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and Refuge in Grief?

Sure. The surface details are that I’m a traumatic grief therapist, teach creative writing with a focus on grief and loss, and host retreats and workshops for grieving folks. I never wanted to be or do these things. In 2009, I witnessed the accidental death by drowning of my partner, Matt. He was strong, fit, healthy – three months from his 40th birthday. It was a beautiful and ordinary morning: the first sunny day after three solid weeks of rain. Refuge in Grief grew out of my experience in the vast wasteland of grief support that existed when I was first widowed. It was, and is, important to me that others coming into such intense grief find love and support, rather than platitudes and encouragement to “move on.”

  • We have many young readers and through our interactions with them, we’ve found that many of them are struggling with their first encounter with sudden-death or the loss of a loved one. What is the biggest myth you’ve found in traditional grief resources that might hinder these individuals and what can you say to shed some light on the truth?

Traditional grief resources are riddled with myth. The whole idea that grief is an aberration, or one of the “negative” emotions, that you should work hard to get yourself out of grief as quickly as possible – it’s all such a dis-service to a newly broken heart. Grief is part of love; we grieve because we love. Grief is not sign that you’re unwell or unhealthy – it’s a sign that you’ve connected deeply with someone, and you feel their absence to your core.

  • It seems that holidays can be extremely overwhelming and triggering for people who aren’t even struggling with grief or trauma, but in your experience, how are the struggles different for someone walking through recent or historical grief/loss?

The holiday season is full of grief landmines. The first holiday season without that person there, the subsequent seasons when they still aren’t there: that empty place at the table is such a visceral reminder of what you’ve lost. That is true any time of year – they are missing every day, in every season – but the holidays are such a call to family and friends, it can seem even more brutal during that time. Seeing intact families enjoying each other, knowing you are now on the outside looking in – it can feel like repeated blows to your heart and mind.

  • Can you similarly speak to the struggles that someone with historical or recent trauma may experience?

Sure. In a lot of ways, grief related to trauma is similar to grief from a sudden or out-of-order death: there’s the same sense of the world being irreparably changed, your sense of safety or control is shaken. Nothing is as it should be, and more importantly, no one else seems to notice. While the world is rejoicing and celebrating, connecting and giving, you’re on your own, inside a whole different reality. That sense of wearing a mask, your true self being invisible – it can really feel strong at this time of year, in the face of the at least pretending-to-be-happy world.

  • Kindness-to-self is a really conflicting thing in our society today, I find; it sometimes seems that people are accused of being selfish if they do take time for themselves, while there is a whole other pressure to always take care of yourself first. Do you find this discourse coming into play when talking about grief/loss/trauma?

Yeah, it’s confusing, isn’t it. On one hand, we have all these self-help and self-discovery books on self-care, valuing yourself, putting yourself first – but in practice, you get called selfish when you do these things. Like, how dare you care for yourself when I need you to do something for me? Self-care is great, and I support it unless I need you to over-ride it for me. Ugh.

Grieving people are often accused of being selfish. Of course they are. And they should be. When loss or trauma erupts into your life, your main concern is for yourself and your immediate family (if you have kids). There is simply no energy left over to take care of anyone else, or worry about their hurt feelings. This is not a usual time, and the usual rules do not apply. I’m not saying you have license to be a jerk, just that putting yourself first is not only important, it’s necessary.

I think if we imagined a physical correlate for your emotional wound – translating your pain into something others could physically see – there would be less talk of how selfish you’re being, and more focus on how to love and support you through this time. And I mean that both from the perspective of your friends, and from your own internal voice.

  • What tips can you give to someone who might feel torn or overwhelmed about their participation in traditions and activities related to the holiday season?

There’s a whole post on this very topic, but the biggest take-away is that you should do whatever feels right and true for you. Other people will be hurt or upset if you choose not to participate, but your own truth is what’s important. I don’t mean you should be rude or mean, just that saying “no” when no is what’s true – that’s self-care. That’s kindness. And you deserve that.

Continue reading

Stories of girls who have done volunteer work

Stories of volunteering

December 5 is International Volunteer Day. A day to tell the world about the impact of volunteering by showing all of the wonderful actions of volunteers all around the world. We, at Ugly Ducklings Inc, want to contribute to this by sharing the stories of two big-hearted volunteers with you.


Volunteering workLaura is a 20-year-old twin and psychology student from Australia. Not that long ago, Laura was in the same position as many of you are now, wanting to volunteer but not sure how to go about it.

Via an organization she supports called Sanctuary for Kids, she heard about Volunteer Nepal. This organization is involved with Nepal Orphan’s Home that aims to improve the lives of children in Nepal and provide them with a quality of life that so many people take for granted. Laura has arrived in Kathmandu not more than 1,5 weeks ago, and when I talked to her she was busy settling in and finding her way in the foreign country.

Volunteering in NepalShe had just made a visit to the houses that are part of Nepal Orphan’s Home and to another local orphanage: “the children were all so happy and really liked to see the volunteers!”

Laura tells me that she has always wanted to volunteer:

“I like the idea of maybe being able to give something back to people that aren’t as lucky as me.”

For Laura, the volunteering experience is about giving something back, as well as a unique chance to see more of the world:

During my stay I’ll be helping children with homework, teaching at a local school and I will also be doing some sightseeing.”

Laura will be staying in Nepal for four weeks. We wish her all the best and can’t wait to hear her stories when she gets back home!


Alison-in-GuatemalaWhen I asked Alison to answer some questions about her volunteering experiences in Guatemala, she didn’t hesitate and immediately said yes!

Alison is a 20-year-old Bachelor’s Degree student and day care employee from Illinois, USA. She grew up with volunteering as it is something that is passed on to her by her family. Via her church, she came into contact with CALMS, an American-based organization working to spread the gospel in Central America.

The organization works alongside the community members and together with them they set up Bible studies and youth groups, provide necessary school supplies, medical and dental care, and construct new schools and other facilities that the community needs. Alison stresses the importance of working alongside a community:

“We don’t step in to do all the work. We work alongside the community members to show them how to do these things, so the community can be self-sustained. If we show them how it’s done, then they can continue the work after we leave.”

Alison in GuatemalaDuring the eight weeks Alison partook in the volunteer project, she taught English to elementary and secondary students at a Lutheran school, set up a high school/college Bible study and organized all kinds of outings and events for the students there. Some other work she did was in nearby communities where she would bring food and water, and spent time with the people there.

“Most of the things that stand out to me about this trip aren’t specific instances. Instead, I remember a LOT of warm hugs, so many crazy tickle fights, kids’ faces lighting up with excitement about learning, and the lasting connections I made with people there. Guatemala became my second home, and the people there feel like my family. My heart is there with them, and I need to return as soon as I can.”

Alison highly recommends becoming a volunteer:

“whether it’s giving back locally, nationally, or internationally, you really do have the ability to help people. You can change the world for one person at a time. Volunteering is the most fulfilling thing I do, and you will come away with a full heart.”


A bit of advice to people who want to volunteer in another country

Alison volunteering in GuatemalaFinally, Alison has some good advice for people who are planning on applying for a voluntary job abroad:

“Living in Guatemala for those 8 weeks was a challenge, honestly. I didn’t speak the language very well, and I didn’t know very much about the culture. The most important thing I learned was to put myself out there and not be afraid to look stupid.

There are things you won’t know, and you need to accept that. Make a real effort to learn the language and interact with people as much as you can. If you don’t know a word or even if you say the wrong word, the people there will help you. They may laugh at you (they’ll probably laugh at you), but they’ll help you, and they will appreciate the fact that you’re trying to connect with them.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself and be goofy. Make people laugh. Make them smile. Show them that you are just like them. We are all humans. We all have feelings, thoughts, emotions, and opinions. We are so much more alike than we think, and by connecting with people and forming new friendships, that will become extremely clear.”

We would like to thank both Laura and Alison so much for sharing their stories with us. It inspired us, and we hope it inspires you too!

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when you consider volunteering. On the other hand, it can be such a rewarding experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life. We would love to hear about your volunteering experiences in the comments below!

– Maaike
Ugly Ducklings Inc’s Research Assistant

Do you want to do volunteer work? Find out here

International Volunteer Day

Ever considered applying for volunteer work, but not sure yet about the what, how and where? Hopefully this guide to volunteering can answer some of the burning questions you might have as we, at Ugly Ducklings Inc, celebrate International Volunteer Day.

Read on to find out more about volunteering and find out how two volunteers experience(d) their volunteer work abroad

Volunteering, what is it exactly?

Simply said, volunteering is giving your time to help out without expecting a payment in return.

Volunteer work can take on many forms and can take place in your own community or even abroad. Volunteering opportunities really vary from being a dog walker, to building schools in developing countries, and everything in between, and beyond.

Why would I want to become a volunteer?

It might sound like an overly utilized cliché, but as a volunteer you can really contribute to society. Even the smallest involvement can have a huge impact on someone’s life. Other aspects to realize is that it can help you forward as well, as you are able to develop new skills, practice your talents, improve your self-esteem and self-confidence, make new friends, and even increase your employability chances (yes, volunteering really does look good on your CV!).

Yes, I apply for a volunteering project!

There are millions of volunteering activities to choose from. It’s therefore good to think about what you’re interested in and what your skills are before applying.

  • Are you a people-person?
  • An animal lover?
  • A sporty type?
  • Do you want to help out in your local community?
  • Or would you rather go abroad?

All of these are questions you have to ask yourself before applying for volunteering work.

What’s the next step?

The next step will be to search online for more information about the projects you’re interested in. Maybe you know someone who did volunteering work before? Ask him or her about their experiences, and you’ll be surprised how happy they are to share their stories with you.

Another important thing to take into account is how you will manage your time.

  • How long would you like to commit to volunteer work?
  • A week, one month, a year?
  • Would you like to volunteer part- or fulltime?

Never try to over-commit yourself. Remember that you probably have other commitments too, like friends and family, work, hobbies…

Other questions to think about are for example what skills are needed for a specific project. Do you already have these skills or are you willing to obtain them during your time as a volunteer? Would you need any training? How much will the trip cost, as well as health insurance, and living?

Of course, you’re not alone in this. There are many organizations that can help you sort out all the things you need. Therefore, I’ve set out some resources that can help you to find volunteering work that is right for you:

List of volunteering organizations and websites

National volunteering work

America’s Natural and Cultural Resources Volunteer Portal (USA)

Corporation for National & Community Service (USA) (USA)

Volunteering England (UK)

Do-it (UK)

Volunteer/bénévoles Canada (Canada)

Get Volunteering (Canada)

Volunteering Australia (Australia)

Go Volunteer (Australia)

International volunteering work

UN Volunteers

International Volunteer Programs Association

Global Volunteers

Catholic Volunteer Network

International Student Volunteers

And there’s more!

I have two inspiring volunteering stories to share with you ugly ducklings. One of them is Laura’s experience. She is currently volunteering in Nepal. And did you see the picture at the top? That’s my friend Allison, who did some work in Guatemala.

Come back and check our next blog post to get even more motivated about this wonderful work.

– Maaike
Ugly Ducklings Inc’s Research Assistant

The incredible support of a service dog

people with disabilities day

I have a major disability.

It doesn’t matter what it is. I could have anything that impairs basic functions of life, like breathing. walking or thinking. I could have cancer or lupus or epilepsy. I can be schizophrenic, bipolar, or have PTSD.

There’s a common medicine for all these things.

You may ask me: “what are you talking about? These conditions all require different medications! How can they possibly ALL have a medication in common?”

Ok, you got me, it’s not a medication you can inject, swallow, or stick to you arm. It actually does nothing for curing any of these conditions but it certainly makes my life easier.

I have a service dog (YAY, PUPPY!)

I’m not kidding, I say that to him all the time; apparently random people in the street think it’s fun to say too when they see him but you know what? He should be celebrated. My dog has saved my life more times than I can count and I’ve only had him a few months.

people disabilities day - quoteAllow me to introduce myself; my name is Carolyn, and my dog’s name is Asriel. I am 20 years old and I was diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety, and panic disorders last year though I have been suffering with them since I was about 17. Asriel is 8 months old and has been training to be a service dog since he was 6 weeks old in June.

A bit about my journey towards getting Asriel.

I nearly died in April. I don’t say that lightly or for the sake of drama – I walked pretty close to the edge of ending my own life due to a massive depressive episode I was suffering through at the time, and I ended up in a mental health ward for roughly two weeks on a self-harm watch. Let me tell you, nothing makes you reevaluate your life more than being watched 24/7 and only being given plastic utensils for meals.

It was a couple of weeks after I got out of the hospital that I made the decision to look for a support dog. After doing some research and talking to some other people online who had service dogs for similar reasons I decided I was going to buy a quality puppy from a breeder and train my dog myself.

I had several reasons for doing this, the first and foremost being that I didn’t have time to be on a 6 year waiting list for a fully trained service dog from an organization and I definitely didn’t want to pay $20,000 for one either.

I ended up buying Asriel from a really tough older women who lived alone and had been breeding German Shepherds for over 20 years. Her dogs were all tested for health issues before breeding and the litter I chose had several Canadian and American champions in their lines. He cost me $2000 and I don’t regret a single penny of it because I ended up with a smart, sassy little pup with a ton of spirit and a great sense of humor. He’s pretty darn good looking too.Asriel

What it’s like having a service dog:

In a word? Liberating. I being able to take my dog everywhere with me, I love that he has a job to do and does it well, and I love being able to leave my house knowing he’s got my back. There are a few drawbacks but they’re definitely worth it.

First of all, having a service dog is like wearing a sign that says “LOOK AT ME, I’M DISABLED!” in a big neon letters about your head. Apparently I’m also wearing a shirt that only other people can see that says “please ask me all about my personal medical problems” because I get at least one person a day getting a bit too nosy for my liking.

FYI: it’s rude to ask what someone’s dog is for. It’s like asking what kind of underwear a random stranger is wearing.

I will admit to enjoying discussing how pretty my dog is because I love him so completely that I just want to annoy other people by talking about him all day long. When I’m having a good day I really like talking about service dogs in general and education people about them, and I find most of the other handlers I know do too.

I’m gonna do the next bit of an FAQ to save some time:

Frequently Asked Questions about service dogs

Q: How long does it take to train a service dog?

A: About two years.

Q: Can any dog be a service dog?

A: No, very few dogs have the temperament and physical ability for it. They need to be physically sound (blind, deaf, and three legged dogs need not apply) and they need to have calm loyal natures. They have to learn an incredible number of behaviors and tasks and perform them flawlessly while fireworks are going off and a marching band is going by. Not that that happens often, but the point is they need to be able to ignore food, other dogs, people, and other inexplicably scary things going on and remain focused on their handlers. If they get distracted it can prove perilous to their handles.

Q: How many different kinds of service dogs are there?

A: I have no idea and frankly every service dog is tailored specifically to their handler so every one is different. There are a few common, generalized categories though: alert, guide, mobility, and psychiatric.

– Alert dogs let their handlers know when the handlers condition is flaring up (blood sugar drop/high, seizures, anxiety attacks, etc.) and they can also include hearing ear dogs that alert their handlers to sounds that the handler cannot hear.

-Guide dogs are the ones that everyone knows, as they are include seeing eye dogs. They literally guide their handlers around obstacles and keep them away from danger.

-Mobility dogs are those that help a handler move around. They can be trained to pull wheelchairs, brace themselves so their handlers can lean on them to steady themselves, retrieve objects, push automated door buttons, or help pull their handler along to make walking easier.

-Psychiatric dogs are those that help with mental disorders and they are kind of a mix of all the other categories due to the complex nature of psychiatric disorders.

Q: Can I take my dog everywhere with me because they make me feel better?

A: No. You need to be professionally diagnosed with a condition that inhibits a major function of life. In the States, the law is very specific about what defines a service dog and they have to perform at least three tasks that mitigate your disability. In Canada the laws are pretty vague – in fact only Alberta and Ontario have defined service animal laws. Here in Ontario I have to have a written prescription from my doctor.

Q: Do service dogs have to wear vests?

A: No. Nowhere in North America is there a law stating that a service dog needs to be marked as such. In the States, if your dog is unmarked, you can only be asked two questions: is that a service dog and what tasks does he/she perform. In Ontario if the dog is clearly marked then you don’t need to have the prescription on you, but be prepared to be asked for it if your dog is going naked for the day.

Q: Is there a certification or registry for service dogs?

A: No. In no state or province is there a certification or registry. Yes they will show up if you google them and yes they are all scams. These scam sites really harm the ability of a service dog team to go into businesses because if the first experience that business has of service dogs is a team with a fake ID then they expect them from the rest of us too.

I hope you’ve all learned something today and you’ll take away the information you’ve learned and share it in honor of International People With Disabilities Day. If you have any questions please comment or e-mail Asriel and I and we’ll be happy to help in any way we can.

You can learn more here:

– Carolyn Strung

What is the solution to put a stop to violence against women?

What is the solution to put a stop to violence against women?

Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse

A fist connects with her face and the imprint it makes will last much longer than the time it takes for the bruise to fade. The scathing remarks penetrate deeply making a scar upon her soul.

Why is it that in 2014 we are still talking about violence against women?

When I set out to write this blog in regards to Violence Against Women Awareness Week, I thought about my own experience of being raped by a former boyfriend.

My screams of no went unheard, and after what happened I continued to be silent as I did not speak about what had happened. How could I accuse someone of rape when I had an established intimate relationship with them? Who would believe me? Years later I found out I was not the only one that had told him no and I celebrate that brave soul who brought him to justice.

As I have spoken to other women during my research for this piece, I am astounded to know that almost all of them have endured abuse on some level. So why did or do they stay in these relationships? Security and fear.

Most of the women that I spoke with felt that they had nowhere to turn. They would rather face an open palm or a harsh word than the unknown. And with abuse comes the guilt and humiliation. One asks themselves: How did I allow this to happen to myself? What will people think of me if they know? They begin to believe that they deserve or have even brought the abuse upon themselves.

In our area we have one shelter for women to turn to. And honestly, restraining orders are about as effective as the piece of paper that they are printed on.

So what is the solution?

Obviously stricter laws as well as enforcement of the current laws need to be in place for these predators. But the best defense is ourselves.

Women are an extraordinary species and empowerment is the answer. Women have to take control over their lives and realize that they are worth more than the love of a spouse or partner.

How can we fight violence against women?

  • Self confidence
  • Self-defense
  • Self worth

are the tools we have at our disposal. It is unacceptable to allow anyone to do anything to you in a harmful manner. And even though I may have been silent about the attack that I endured, I cut the guy out of my life entirely the very next day. There are no second chances for these hurtful, hateful, bullies in our lives.

Stand up for yourself.

I can assure you it will not be easy, but you will surprise yourself with the strength that lies within you.

– Charlotte
Char is one of Ugly Ducklings Inc’s collaborators, and has written articles for our series on child abuse awareness, and adoption awareness. Although her life has been pierced by experiences some people will never go through, her blogs are an example of strength and optimism against all odds. You can read her Ugly Duckling Story on Pinterest.

Time to break the unending cycle about ‘equality’

violence against women vs equality

Growing up there was no such thing in my world as “Violence against women”.

There was a father who beat on his wife and children, and a women’s shelter that has since faded into a vague memory. There were incidents of violence from a father and step-father against children. There were bad boyfriends who were manipulative –but never physically abusive because childhood lessons stick well.

But there was no “violence against women.” It was just violence.

I was raised that men and women were equal. That your skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, were just what made you you, and that there was nothing that could make you “less” of a person. We were all people. Violence was a bad thing, but it was something wrought against men and women alike.

Into college, and university, I argued that feminism didn’t exist. That believing we were all equal wasn’t a political standpoint, because we were all equal, we had equal rights, we weren’t out protesting – demanding the vote and other equalities, so we weren’t feminists.

I graduated school, still wondering how people could stand behind such a belief. That we needed to fight for equality – we had it, didn’t they know? The horror stories of women being mistreated were in third world countries, and the ones that happened here, were because they were people in the wrong place at the wrong time – not because they were women.


And then I met rape culture

inequality feminism womenI met the online storm of arguments about women and how women were treated. I began to look closer, and saw news stories on women being sent to prison for 20 years for killing in self defence – while men who murdered in cold blood walked free. I felt the oppression in daily life. I began to see the world for what it was – unequal.

In a world where we are achieving marriage equality, and other rights for minorities, I see the rights of women and others who long ago won them, slowly fall the wayside. We don’t fight anymore because we believe we are safe.

The violence against women isn’t always obvious. It’s not always a black eye, or a broken wrist. It’s a false sense of security that leaves us with our guard down, and leaves us susceptibility to manipulation and inequality.

Violence is the feeling that we cannot walk down the street dressed in a certain manner without harassment. It is the embarrassment and humiliation we feel when we are not dressed a certain way, or don’t look “right.” Violence is the unending cycle of complacency that we teach our daughters when we tell them it’s okay, we’re all equal.

We are not equal. No two beings will ever be equal. No two beings are created equally. We all have our good attributes and bad. But at the end of the day we are all human. And we should be treated as such. When we recognize ourselves as human beings and when men recognize us in the same way, then and only then, can we begin to eradicate the violence against women.

We are not gentle lambs which need protection. Neither are we harpies which can fend for ourselves. We are a part of each other – a part of humanity and it is that humanity which we must call upon to bridge the gaps of inequality and to destroy violence against women. To destroy the violence against ourselves – the human race.

When she’s not working to pay the bills, Jane can be found working on programming, filling out paperwork or balancing the books for her two Girl Guide groups. Having recently relocated back to her small but cozy hometown, Jane enjoys a happy balance between an amazing job, a crazy family, and the long-sought love of her life – who she is still trying to convince to buy her a puppy.

Designing empowered women: combating violence

VAW Broken Mirror BANNER

“A Mother who radiates self-love and self-acceptance actually VACCINATES
her daughteragainst low self-esteem.”

― Naomi Wolf

When I was asked to write a guest post about preventing violence against women, I felt a familiar fire bubble from my core; a resistance so strong that a visceral reaction of nausea mixed with anxiety began to take hold.

I was a victim of a violent attack in my late teens which left me nearly paralyzed, unconscious, as the imprint of his fingers left a black and blue ring around my throat- the whites of my eyes blood red for weeks.

I have never written my story. I may never write about it. I do not feel like a warrior when I tell it, nor do I feel sharing it is for the benefit of other women. I feel as victims learn to; holding beliefs, such as, somehow I made too many mistakes.

I was naïve and should’ve known better when everyone warned me about his reputation and attacks on a previous girlfriend.

Dare I say, that it was even more enticing to me -the story of a bad boy who never loved again because he feared he loved too hard. One-night stands were all he could manage, a badge of honor he wore proudly and was honored for among the guys.

I would change him.

He would love me and he would be faithful and we would show the world that love between two wounded souls can exist. I’ve always had a wild heart.

violence against women awarenessI love to fall in love. I love that an addiction can form from the scent of another person. I love the fire. The way a new lover reveals themselves to us bit by bit like that first warm day of the season which promises heat, sunlight, and blooming beauty. I love the fights. We sometimes hate the other person. I even love that because in those moments we are feeling the full spectrum of our lives, the wide range of temper and passion like thunderstorms in summer which give way to rainbows and delicious scents that intoxicate whimsical souls such as mine.

I craved an addiction -the desire to wrap myself around someone who was so damaged that I can finally feel worthy because if a man like him can love me, it means I am truly lovable. Addiction is what is born when desire meets need with a side of desperation.

I romanticized us. I blamed myself when it was all over like a well trained victim.

I was called a liar after it happened. And the victim in me questioned my own sanity. A victim is not weak. A victim has learned to be nice and kind and reframe their world so that when things go wrong in their life the guilt is suffocating. I often think of that famous picture with an elephant who is standing next to a tiny stool, a thin string tied around his leg. He only steps as far as the string will allow. The elephant believes that he is bound to the stool.

And so it is.

Our attachments to other people are a lot like that.

I pulled myself out of the wreckage of the car which plummeted 50 ft into the water on that night. I was stripped of what I thought I knew about myself, about love, and about self-love. I continue today to pull myself out of the wreckage of what followed.

How can violence against women be prevented?

We must push damn hard for the life we know was meant for us. I did.

I write this as a reminder to myself as well.

Prevention starts with you!

Here are some tips you can put into practice if you need or want to raise awareness in relation to violence against women.

  • violence against women monthBegin with your children. Even if you don’t have any. Re-parent the little girl inside of you any way you can. Replay moments when she felt unworthy and unsafe and hug her tight. Validate her fears and tell her she’s safe and you will never let anyone hurt her.
    Mean it.
  • Keep her picture with you always, whether it is your own little girl or yourself as a child. Try to tell that picture that she deserves abuse or pain. You will not be able to do it. It will feel barbaric and cruel… because it is. Because she is perfect. Look at her daily and tell her that she is deeply loved.
  • Discuss life goals with her which do not involve anyone else.
  • Tell her she’s beautiful, but also tell her she is intelligent. Being intelligent is damn powerful.
  • Teach her to be fierce. Speak up and get good and angry when she’s passionate about something. It doesn’t mean she isn’t nice or kind.
  • Violence against the self occurs each time she puts herself down, self-criticizes, and believes the stories she tells herself in those moments.
  • If it feels like abuse but there are no physical marks or attacks to speak of- IT CAN STILL BE ABUSE.
  • Model healthy boundaries and say no in front of her. Say no to her and teach her that it is self loving to fucking say no, sometimes!
  • Love her with all that you are and if she makes mistakes, never shame her.
  • Allow her to see if you’re afraid, and on that fringe of fear show her what it looks like to fly.


If you should fall in front of her, show her that at the foot of darkness, you will find your way home.

“I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world
But, she’s just like a maze
Where all of the walls all continually change
And I’ve done all I can
To stand on her steps with my heart in my hand
Now I’m starting to see
Maybe It’s got nothing to do with me
Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too”

~ John Mayer

unnamedA public school teacher, writer, reiki practitioner and certified yoga instructor- Nicole guides both children and adults through yoga practice. After breaking her back, doctors couldn’t be certain she would ever walk again. Igniting her desire to heal both the emotional and physical body, she went on to receive her 200 hr. Hot Yoga/ Ashtanga Vinyasa teaching certificate, along with a specialized 100 hr. Yoga Rocks!Kids certification. As she shares her journey toward peace through healing practices like yoga and meditation, she is immensely grateful for the second chance she has been given. Her articles have appeared in MindBodyGreen, Elephant Journal, and Rebelle Society.