The chickadees peep relentlessly, a reminder to put out more birdseed. It’s been a hard cold fortnight, how they have managed to survive is a wonder. How our ancestors survived long prairie winters is a wonder. It’s warmer now, only -15 and I imagine going for a quick ski in the park later today. But first a coffee and quiet time, my gift to myself.

I’ve started doing The Artist’s Way practice of morning pages again, not as a resolution but more as a way to loosen my thoughts in an effort to become less rigid. Fluid is the space of creativity, and it’s where I want to be. I need to let thoughts flow, let tears flow, New Year’s is an auspicious time to let go of ideas or thoughts that no longer serve us. After this year of stiff-upper-lipping, we could all use a good cry.

I was scribbling Julia Cameron’s recommended three pages, the scratching of my pen on the paper a soft counterpoint to the sound of my husband shoveling the snow outside.

The phone rang, chimed as the automatic voice announced the incoming number “Call from four zero three, two eight”—my heartbeat quicker—was it my mom’s number? Impossible. The last number was different. My heart, slightly softened by the morning pages, ached and raced. For a moment, I had imagined it was her calling, although I knew it couldn’t be. Curious, I picked up.

It was neighbour Dan, who’d lived next door to my Mom for years. We hadn’t spoken since the funeral. He’d been friendly and supportive when I had cleaned out her house and sold it. He had even helped me dig out the peony root from her backyard.

Dan was calling to say Happy New Year, that he’d been thinking of my Mom and decided to call me.

“You know, when I was separated and raising the kids on my own, your Mom was wonderful. She would often make cookies and leave a bag on our front door.”

She’d never made a big deal of these small gifts, never asked about people’s personal business, but was ready to listen if they needed to talk. I’d heard from a lot of her friends about her quiet generosity.

“She was a good neighbour, your Mom. I wanted to tell you that.”

Dan filled me in on the young couple that now lived next door, on his own grandchildren, and his upcoming 77th birthday. We agreed to meet for a walk and a coffee when the weather was better and wished each other all the best for the coming year.

When we said goodbye, I felt looser, less rigid. I walked downstairs and opened the front door, letting the New Year in, something I had not done on New Year’s Eve, something my Mom would have done every year; opening the front door to let the New Year in, then the back door to let the old year out.

Outside my front door, the world was bright white, snow dusted the upturned branches. Welcome new year, I thought, welcome newness and possibility, potential and surprise.

Tears filled my eyes as I closed the front door and headed through the house, past my newly waxed cross country skis that leaned against a laundry room wall. I opened the back door. It was quiet and still, a silent magpie flew past, on the ground, my husband’s footprints marked a path from the door to the garage. The stillness was an opening.

Goodbye 2021, I thought, and mentally listed the things that had happened this past year: my daughter’s return from University during the lockdown, vaccines and uncertainty, the sudden death of my friend Jason, my mother-in-law’s decline, my father-in-law’s 100th birthday, the beginning of my volunteer time at the hospice. I thought about sorting and letting go, a new setpoint, a different rhythm. 2021 was a hard year, I spent some of it in the company of my old friend anxiety, who always had time to listen to my fears and offer me a cocktail. Ours was an uneasy alliance, codependent and familiar. I imagined ushering anxiety out the back door, along with the stale energy of last year. Goodbye 2021, thank you.

This year I know better than to make firm intentions, but I can still focus on what I’d like to bring into my life, what I’d like to let go of. After reading an essay by Ann Patchett, I’m going to shop less—no more clothes or coats or shoes, groceries will be OK, and I’ll evaluate gift buying on a case-by-case basis.

More experiences and people that energize me, fewer that deplete. And I’ll do my best to floss.

It’s “out with the old and in with the new” as mom would say. She, the giver of cookies and books, who always had time for a phone call on a cold winter day.

I wish I hadn’t been in such a hurry then, but I am so blessed we connected at all. Some mothers and daughters don’t. I’m glad neighbour Dan called, and we will go for that walk and a coffee.

At least that is the plan.

Happy New Year fellow humans. As John and Yoko sang, let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.