See those two faces? Those are the two faces I'm holding in my mind when I go to the polls on Saturday.
Because these are the two people who are most on my mind at this time of year - and the two people in whose honour I want to pick the best government I possibly can.
Most of you will know - or at least guess - the one on the left. Yes, that little imp with the big blue eyes (indeed, there are blue eyes there when she's not wearing her diva sunglasses) is my wee daughter Charlotte Mia Rose, aged two-and-a-quarter. And, yes, she is just about as habitually pleased with herself as she looks in that photo (which was, for the record, taken in the park at Centennial Community Centre on Remembrance Day).
Some of you may not know the face on the right. Those who do will recognize that smile instantly as belonging to Mia Thomas, a longtime reporter next to me in the Record and Burnaby NOW newsroom, whom we lost to an aggressive form of oral cancer in November of 2009.
These two special souls are inextricably linked in my heart, and particularly at this time of year.
Remembrance Day of 2009 is written large in my memory. My husband and I went to the cenotaph, as we always do, then drove to Mission to visit our friend in the hospice, knowing we had only precious days left in her life. In the end, we got eight more days; she died, with her family at her side, on November the 19th.
Flash forward two years, and in that very same week we got the news we had been anxiously waiting to hear: Congratulations, you're pregnant. The long-held dream had become reality; we were to be parents, and we embraced the news with joy - and with some sorrow that Mia wasn't there to share in our celebration.
Three years after that, and here we are, in a world where life has been turned upside-down. We have, impossibly, no Mia. The world is missing the smile, the contagious laugh, the sharp intellect, the quick wit - and even quicker tongue - that could slay any ninnyhammer that dared to cross her.
Equally impossibly, we have been given the gift that is Charlotte Mia Rose Makuch - all twenty-two pounds of crazy unstoppable amazing with her big smile, her contagious giggle, her inquisitive mind and her quick toddler tongue.
It's still impossible for me to believe that the two have never met: that the woman who would have embraced her role as Auntie Mia never had a chance to cuddle the little bundle that was my baby daughter; that Auntie Mia isn't here to indulge the toddler's stream of "how come" questions and laugh with us at the way one tiny person sees the world.
They share so much, those two. Beyond their central places in my heart, they share an inherent joy in life - a delight in people, in places, in all the discoveries large and small the planet has to offer. They share a love of words and a desire to share them with people. They share a love of books and of narrative, of telling and hearing stories about their own lives and about other people's. They share an attitude of hope, of optimism, of willingness to embrace whatever the day throws their way.
With all that, they share the same effect on those around them - of making the life of each person they touch just a little bit brighter.
We learned, in those final days of Mia's life, just how many people she had touched in her forty-three years. It was evident in the dozens (no, hundreds) of people who streamed first to the hospital and then to the hospice to share precious time with her and to say their goodbyes. What was remarkable was the variety of ages, of backgrounds, of walks of life represented by those people - it never mattered to Mia who you knew or where you came from, only that you were a fellow member of the human race.
In wee Charlotte, I've seen that same ability to brighten lives each time the tiny face turns up to a stranger and says, "Hello!" (or, lately, "Good day" or "good morning!" - the latter with little regard to actual time of day). I see frown lines soften and angry faces melt as they catch sight of the big blue eyes. I see those who look defeated, downtrodden by life, stand up just a little straighter and brighten up as the wee miss gives a cheerful greeting. And she, like her auntie, doesn't discriminate - she's as likely to say hello to the well-dressed businessperson as to the homeless guys on the street uptown.
As I head to the polls on the weekend, I will be trying to pick those candidates whom I believe can bring that same spirit to life in New Westminster - those who, in ways both large and small, will work to make life just a little brighter for all its citizens, regardless of their station in life.
So I have one simple request for you, candidates. I ask it for Mia, for Charlotte, and for all those in your own lives whom you hold dear. That request is simply this: Do your best for us.
I won't vote for you all. I won't agree with you all. I won't support everything you believe in and everything you stand for.
But I can set all that aside if I just know that you, too, are out there doing your part to leave this world just a little better than you found it.
That's not so much to ask, is it?