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On 3 things about my adventure

The adventure I alluded to a few weeks ago has now come and gone. I spent 10 days in New York City and it was a significant trip for a couple of reasons.

Firstly,  I had been looking forward it for quite some time. Since the diagnosis of my heart condition, we haven’t ventured very far. When I found out that I was going to finally have my surgery, I imagined this trip as something to look forward to at the end of my recovery period,

my carrot that I would be able to enjoy with renewed vigor and health.

FullSizeRender[50]Also, New York is the place of our Olivia’s dreams. I couldn’t wait to see it through the eyes of my girl who has always yearned to see the stages of Broadway and feel the captivating energy of this city that oozes such wild and glorious creativity.

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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater where the kids did a West African dance class

For the first 5 days in New York I had the honor of chaperoning the grade 8 dancers from Olivia’s school. We had the luxury of a big bus and a witty and fantastic guide. Our days with the tour were long and packed full with sightseeing and dance classes.

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On the last day of the school tour, Dan and George flew out and met Olivia and I for five more days.

It’s always a bit difficult to talk about trips. Condensing a myriad of adventures into some sort of interesting summary feels challenging and I always wonder how much people actually want to hear. So for my purposes here, I have chosen 3 favorite moments, with some Peace at Home Project style meaning attached.  (;

Broadway Dance Workshop:

When Olivia was little, I used to find her in her room making up dramatic musicals about her feelings.

She has never really walked, rather she bops and twirls and grooves. She entertains as much as she talks. Don’t ask me where all of this drama and constant movement comes from because Dan and I can’t figure it out, but a love for the stage seems to be embedded in her cellular makeup.

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Waiting to enter the theater for our first Broadway show in NY, ‘Wicked’, it is no exaggeration to say that she was fairly vibrating. 

My favorite fine arts moment, though, was when Olivia got to experience a Broadway Dance workshop at the Broadway Dance Center. Her instructor had performed with the cast of the hit musical  “Matilda‘ and taught the kids a dance from that show (we were fortunate enough to be able to see Matilda after Dan and George arrived).

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At the end of the class, in a very real and candid way, this kind young man spoke to the kids about what it really takes to make it to Broadway. He described his journey, his background, his training, his triumphs and his difficulties. He generously dispensed advice and            Olivia held on to every word,

           riveted.

It’s one thing to have your own dreams, and have them materialize or not, or  hold deep passions that are mostly suppressed but perhaps occasionally nurtured in opportune moments that find us,

but to see the heart of your child being directly met and spoken to

surpasses anything a parent might ever want for themselves in this life.

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This was such a moment.

Anniversary of 9/11

It so happened that the first full day that we were in New York was also the 9/11 anniversary.

Our guide was gifted at bringing home to us the impact that this event has had on the psyche of the city,

and came back to the topic frequently, as it is so intertwined now in the collective identity of New Yorkers.

The teachers felt it would be meaningful for us to enter one of the fire halls and have a moment of silence together, as the fire halls open their doors every Sept. 11 and welcome in people to talk, continue to process, and leave flowers and condolences . Though the kids may not have been able to truly grasp the depth of how the world changed on that day, it felt important to us that we model to the students a showing of respect, as visitors. Some of us chaperones reminisced about being pregnant at the time of the attacks with our now 13 year-olds. We clearly remembered feeling terrified by the prospect of bringing babies into a world where such a horrific thing could happen.

And so we all entered into one of the fire halls, stood in a circle and held hands as we offered our own minute of silence.

Several of us wept while the firefighters watched in deepest gratitude for our gesture of love. This particular fire hall had lost every one of its firefighters. I cannot pretend to begin to understand the complicated feelings of loss and fear, and abiding sorrow that still surround this event,

but I did feel as if for a precious moment we were gifted the profound and beautiful privilege of sharing and holding just a sliver of the grief.

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Dancing on the High Line

There is a beautiful park in New York that you must go see if you are ever there. In a city that is masterful at creating green spaces in such a densely populated and urban environment, the High Line is a 1.45-mile-long New York City linear park built on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad.

It is beautiful, full of wildflowers, plants, artwork along the way, plenty of seating, and a section where you can buy food and gelato,

What an innovative and extraordinary way to look at parks and greenspace design. We saw The High Line in its infancy the first time I was in New York, and our tour guide Mitch gave us a quick taste of it on the tour group’s last day, but it is the kind of place that calls you back again and again.

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Towards the end of our very best family day in New York (because traveling is not always easy, carefree, and without its cranky times) we found ourselves enjoying walking along the High Line after enjoying tacos from Chelsea Market.

At one point, we stopped and looked down as a wonderful band was playing on the street outside a restaurant below. People had gathered round the musicians and were smiling, singing, moving to the beat.

The music was lively and happy, the city night lights were aglow,

and we stayed on for a good twenty minutes, watching and dancing.

Everything felt                      twinkly and magical and good.

This moment cost nothing and we weren’t at the top of the Empire State Building or eating a gourmet meal or shopping in a designer store or staring at very old and famous art. All of these things are very nice and have their value,

but I think it’s safe to say that this moment  was our very favorite at all.

I wish I had a photo of it, but we were too busy just being happy to take one.

Life’s funny that way.

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On forgiveness, letters new and old, and no more single digits

On Forgiveness

‘The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world’                  Marianne Williamson

 

Of course.

If everyone from ex-spouses to kids on playgrounds to leaders of states and religions found it in themselves to forgive each other,

the world would suddenly look very different.

 

I know,

far easier said than done.

The roots of conflicts are long, twisted and deep,

and it can feel impossibly difficult to get past unimaginable betrayals and hurts of all kinds.

Still,

forgiveness has been on my mind as of late.

 

Richard Holloway, a Scottish writer, wrote

‘When true forgiveness happens it is one of the most astonishing and liberating of the human experiences’.

Yes.

I get it because

I had a moment like that once. A moment of forgiveness that was utterly astonishing and liberating that caught me completely by surprise.

I am not ready to write about it yet, but in due time, I will.

 

One day over the Christmas holidays however, I did experience an afternoon of

mini-forgiving,

I don’t even know what else to call it.

It was a very hushed and thoughtful sort of afternoon in Waterton. The weather was frigid and we were hanging out in our cottage, each of us doing our own thing.

Random long-ago events and people kept popping into my mind,

distasteful little snippets of memories that I didn’t even realize were weighing on me…

 

The teacher that made fun of me in grade school because I wrote too much,

the old boyfriend whose stinging, guilt-inducing words I can still hear,

the friend who lied to me,

the time I lied.

 

So,

as I remembered the old hurts,

based on my distorted and fuzzy memories,

I did what felt right and quietly and gently just let each one go.

 

They didn’t know any better and I didn’t know any better.

 

Binding layers slowly drifting away, fragments of forgiveness released

to dissipate,

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a seemingly insignificant exercise but not,

 

one afternoon’s humble contribution towards the healing of our world.

Letters new and old

Now that I am in the business of card creation and retail,

I have been thinking a lot about the wider context of sending and receiving letters, cards and messages,

especially given that I am also a writer.

 

My dear friend Charlotte and I used to laugh over the memory that when we were kids I could spend hours in office and stationery stores, whilst she was enamored with drugstores.

Hence, she is now a physician and I am…..well, still smitten with words and paper.

Preparing to write this piece, I looked through just one of the boxes I have that is full to the brim with cards, letters, and notes that I have received over the years,

identifiable scripts of family and friends, pictures the kids have drawn,

even doodles, quotes, and bits and scraps of paper that have for one reason or another captured my attention,

my stashes of paper love,

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my inspiration.

 

This is the recent stuff,

I could dig much deeper to the time of

pre-Dan, pre-kids, pre-this-life-now,

but those particular collections I keep hidden farther away but still kept to be found one day,

when my kids are ready to know the fullness of who I was before them.

 

For now, though,  I am far more captivated by the more recent bits,

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Truly,

these are the stories of me and us,

the love-filled evidence that both makes up and fills up my heart.

 

There is, I believe, such tremendous power in telling people how we feel about them,

and an even greater power in actually taking the time and energy to write our feelings down and let people hold onto and savor our messages,

tangible reminders of support and love.

I am so delighting in this path that I am now on, and I look forward to talking  in more expansive ways about the possibilities around sending and receiving all sorts of messages of love and peace,

because I am certain that there’s something in all of that that’s a little more sacred and precious

than we even realize.

No more single digits

This week our George turned 10.

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We are undeniably leaving the world of young children and entering the more complicated realms of tweendom and teenager-hood,

and even wedding planning and such!

I am, however, ready for the wild ride.

Truth be told, even despite the more trying days (and there are trying days),

I have never quite gotten over the feeling that

I am the lucky one that gets to mother these three and witness the unfolding of their beautiful lives.

I suspect that I have just as much to learn from them as they do from me.

maybe more.

 

Mom, today would be your birthday too.

You would be 68.

and I wish, as I have wished a hundred thousand times before, that you were here to guide us and enjoy these kids, as you would have done ever so completely,

but the truth that I have always trusted and known

is that you are.

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On middle school, a big move, and a new bed

On middle school

September arrived with a bang, as I knew it would.

Though it can admittedly be a love-hate relationship I have with being busy, mostly I enjoy having days that are full of activity and purpose.

That first morning where I am finally home alone in front of my computer sans kids with a full cup of tea by my side,

ready to work on my own projects and catch up,

is heaven.

George was very quickly happy and settled with his new teacher but Olivia and I found ourselves dealing with the realities of

another year of middle school.

This year’s transition was easier than last year’s as she is in grade 7 now,

but sending my daughter off to school can feel a bit like sending her to the wolves to possibly be devoured every day (especially if I am to believe her version of things),

This is all despite the fact that Olivia goes to a fantastic middle school that I admire in a thousand ways and even affectionately refer to as ‘the Disneyland of schools’,

so high is the staff’s level of energy, creativity, and commitment to kids.

Still, it’s middle school.

I don’t think I really need to launch into an explanation of why this is a crazy and complex period of life.

I read a quote in the September issue of Real Simple that said it so well, ‘Negotiating the politics of middle school girls? If ever there was a situation where a mother was utterly powerless, this was it. ‘                            Jenny Rosenstrach

It’s a whole new and complicated world of sudden higher academic and peer expectations, all to be navigated during the most awkward of stages in the most socially ruthless of places.

yes, and yet….

We are headed into the third week and our girl is okay, despite some anxiety.

She has found a few solid friends,

her little net of safety.

She loves her options this term, and we are again in the process of firmly creating this year’s plan to manage accommodations for her dyslexia (a whole other massive topic that I will write about soon).

It’s still hard though.

These are the parenting years of beginning to let go after only just figuring out how to hold on to her properly,

and she herself wants to be treated like an adult one minute and nurtured the next.

It is a roller coaster of managing her needs and reactions, moods and feelings,

and my own too.

 

It sometimes seems as if I write about all sorts of topics but there are only ever a few poignant themes,

one of them being

trust ~

Trusting that all will be well. Always.

She/we will get through middle school, of course,

and we will also revel in the lightness of it all too – the unbridled energy, the consuming dramas, the huge passion, the humor,

and the inevitable life lessons for us both,

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A big move

I have often thought about how, when you lose a mother,

part of the grief is dealing with the reality of no longer getting to be a daughter.

Mothering when you are beautifully mothered yourself is easier, more companionable,

and is almost like a team-sport ~

Mothering without a mother is learning to stand on your own.

Please understand that there have been infinite gifts from my mom’s death, one of them for me being

having to stand on my own.

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I heard news this past weekend that my dad and stepmother, Elsie, are moving away.

In a multitude of ways, this news hit me hard.

My father and my step-mother love me very much, love all of us very much,

but I have realized this week that it is time for them to go.

They need to stand on their own too, build a new life together, experience change and rejuvenation,

release and renew.

With their big news, it was hard for me not to feel as if I was being abandoned again, but I am wise enough to know that there is

really no such thing,

and that we must all stretch and grow

or whither.

So, I whole-heartedly wish them happiness, fortune and peace

and look so forward to watching their new lives unfold,

all of our lives unfold.

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A New Bed

Sometimes, I am a little wary of the things that I find myself writing about….a new haircut, jumping in the lake, beans in brownies….

Perhaps my ego expected my articles to be more earth-shattering than mere descriptions of the trivialities of life.

Yet, as this peace project continues, here is what I continue to realize….

This is all there is, and these are the things that ultimately matter.

When I am eighty, I may very well find myself retelling with deep fondness my memories

of George and his friend making up after a fight by bumping tummies,

of how I looked forward to the lilacs in the Spring,

or of how I never minded my kids taking sick days.

These will be the stories of my life.

This week my unexpected heart-swelling moment occurred the morning after George slept his first night on a new mattress that he had helped us pick out~

To be clear, he is sleeping on the floor,

we haven’t even gotten it together enough yet to buy him a new bed to fit a double mattress,

but I had been promising him for months that we would move him into a bigger bed to fit his growing body.

So, when I went into his room to wake him up for school that first morning after he had slept on his new mattress,

I found him lying there awake with the BIGGEST grin on his face.

He said, Mom,

take off my covers and LOOK at me!

And there he lay,

arms and legs splayed out as a 9-year-old boy-starfish,

delightfully reveling in all of his glorious new-found room.

These, I am so certain, are the sweetest moments to savor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Robin Williams, a goodbye and our block party

Robin Williams

It may seem that some people have such a strong and vibrant life force that the world can only sustain their blinding brightness for so long.

Consequently, when we suddenly find them gone, too young,
their absence is palpable
so deeply felt was their presence.

When Robin Williams died earlier this week, didn’t the world suddenly feel a little emptier, a little more hollow,
as the hole he left
gaped open?

Robin Williams was known for his comic genius, his unparalleled ability to improvise and his endless and unbounded wit and zaniness.

Yet, one of my favorite movies of all time featured him in a more serious role,
‘What Dreams May Come’. I have actually written about this movie in a previous post.

After news of Williams death, it was easy to imagine him,

wish him into a state of frolicking in a heaven of his own making, as that movie depicts –

completely, wildly, ecstatically and finally free.

Certainly, there is so much to be addressed about mental illness and thankfully this important conversation has been re-opened. My friend Lyndon, for example, has written very eloquently on the topic this week as have so many others.

The new revelation of Williams having been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease is personally heart-wrenching too, as I watched my maternal grandfather struggle with this disease for all of my childhood.

Every time, though, that my thoughts take me back to Williams’ death, and I have pondered speaking to it,
it’s not so much the subject of mental illness that asks for my pen,

it’s laughter.

Robin Williams lived to make people laugh.

In death, I think, he would like nothing better than to be able to remind us to laugh…
Big, consuming, tears-streaming, right from the belly, pure and good, healing beautiful laughter –

wherever and whenever it can be found.

Many of us have read the quote, by French poet Antoine De Saint-Exupery, tweeted by Williams daughter, Zelda, right after his death.
“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them … In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night … You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”

And then later she wrote,

‘To those he touched who are sending kind words, know that one of his favorite things in the world was to make you all laugh. As for those who are sending negativity, know that some small, giggling part of him is sending a flock of pigeons to your house to poop on your car. Right after you’ve had it washed. After all, he loved to laugh too.’

And so it is then, his death on one hand a booming call to take care of our hurting brothers and sisters, and to carefully tend to our own pain too,

and on another a reminder to play and laugh and abandon inhibitions.

Could we expect anything less from such a man who was able to take on the most serious of roles but then could effortlessly slip into the shoes of a genie or a nanny,

encompassing the wide spectrum of life~

One who seemed to bear the pain of the world,

but then could just as easily make the very stars laugh.

This beautiful humanity and heart-breaking vulnerability…

It’s in every single one of us.

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A Goodbye

Last night we said goodbye to a family that, for the past 5 weeks, has melded into ours.

For a little while, my kids were her kids and hers were mine.

Both our families have been in Waterton together for the last three summers and with each year the kids’ connection deepens as does our adult friendships.

For our combined brood, It has been the sort of play that can only happen within the freedom of summer.

Suppers of noodles or cereal at 10pm after one last bike ride. Hours of Rainbow Looming. Countless trips to the yogurt place and the gas station for penny candy. Racing to the frigid lake for a quick dunk.

This, to me, has always been why we chose Waterton.

After our friends drove away back to their ‘real’ lives and home, my two burst into tears,

feeling the immediate grief of their departure,

as well as the anxiety regarding the looming school year and the tightly packed schedule to come.

Next year we will meet again, of course, but we all will be one year older,

the same, but different too, as much will have changed.

It always does.

I suggested a walk to cheer my kids up and promised George frozen yogurt smothered with his choice of candy. On our way back to the cabin, they wanted to jump off the dock. They did this wildly and enthusiastically, recovering quickly from their sadness as kids tend to do. It is still summer and they are still free.

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We will miss you, beautiful Howeth family.

Our Block Party

This year marks ten years of block parties on our street. This party has strengthened community bonds in our pretty little neighbourhood like nothing else could have.

Let this be my expression of deep gratitude for this collaborative venture that has proven to all of us here that there is such beauty in this world to be created and found.

This year we have decided to celebrate in a more quiet and intimate way,

and take a year to get to know new neighbours and quietly but surely rejuvenate.

 

 

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on the fourth decade, Deathdays, and Carol’s RADIANT Garden….

The Forties

Though I have always enjoyed friendships with women of all ages, most of my contemporaries have now turned 40.

This is a milestone no matter what we tell ourselves, and is invariably a time to reflect and take stock.

Though aging, per say, has never really bothered me that much, I did find my world a little bit rocked a few years ago on my 40th,

by my own relentless and critical self-assessments of

where I thought I should be at, and what I hadn’t yet accomplished.

As with everything, once I managed to put a halt to the tricky mind games and flip everything in the direction of gratitude and love, it all looked pretty rosy again.

And so it is with my friends too,

once the birthday celebrations are complete,

here is what I am so often noticing about the women that I see and know that are now moving through their fourth decade….

They are far more likely to articulate how they really feel and what they intend and believe, without worrying about how it will be received.

They stand taller, smile more, and open up their hearts and hands more freely.

They have experienced loss, conflict, heart-ache, disappointment and they are thus stronger, wiser and far more beautiful than ever before.

They are less judgmental and less apt to dismiss, disengage, or allow themselves to be disempowered.

They have learned when to say ‘no’ and when to say ‘yes’.

They love their families, their friends, and the world with a passion and intensity that only grows with the passing years.

They are hopeful and are ready for change and adventure.

Many years ago, I heard the Dalai Lama’s surprising and famous quote, ‘The world will be saved by the western woman.’ I remember repeating this idea to Dan, and he whole-heartedly agreed.

So, my radiant girlfriends,  let’s get to it….

We have so many incredible and unprecedented resources at our disposal, and the confidence, understanding and love to move mountains.

It’s time.

Deathdays

This week was the eighth anniversary of my mom’s death. I know that the word ‘deathday’ seems morbid and abrupt, but still I decided to use it,

because we need a word for that day that speaks to the absolute truth of what it is.

In Mexico, of course, they have the  ‘Day of the Dead’ which is a holiday that has spread around the world to many cultures, and continues to gain worldwide popularity.

What a beautiful and healing and necessary concept,

time set aside to stop and remember,

acknowledge,

and celebrate our dead and our ancestors.

I know and have met so many people who have lost someone very close, and then  struggle to create meaning on the anniversaries of the deaths of their beloveds,

often attempting to create their own little rituals or ways of remembering.

On facebook, we see posts all the time on anniversaries of loss –

tributes and photos,

because our hearts desperately yearn to remember and we have no day set aside for our dead.

It can be so easy to sit in a sense of aimlessness on that anniversary, not quite knowing what to do,

or where to focus the emptiness and that need to

cry out,

You are gone, but you will always exist.

It doesn’t matter if it has been a year since the loss, or fifty years,

that yearning to simply acknowledge doesn’t just go away with time.

So, my beautiful mother that I adored heart and soul,

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and all of my grandmothers and grandfathers and aunts and uncles and friends and my dearest mentor,

and my unborn baby too,

you are not here anymore for me to talk to and hug and live out all of  life’s moments with, but

I still see you and hear you and feel you,

and know you.

You are my dead and on this day I am proclaiming

that I love you still.

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 Carol’s Radiant Garden

The ‘ritual’ that has evolved over the last eight years for us to honour and remember mom on the anniversary of her death, June 11,

is the planting of her garden in the planters beside our front steps.

Every year the kids and I choose a ‘theme’ and then let loose in the greenhouse, concerning ourselves less with flower names and care requirements,

and more with colour, feel and thematic appropriateness.

Some of our themes over the years have been

fairy garden, prairie grasses, enchanted forest, and the tropics.

The year Olivia came up with…..sunshine garden!

So, here it is, mom, your newest radiant and love-filled realm….

We all planted it last night after eating pizza and drinking our very best bottle of wine.

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We all most definitely love you still.

 

 

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On kid art, sick time, and mother’s day

Every week I am going to speak to three topics: anecdotes, books, ideas, products, or innovations that I believe are peace-building, heart-opening, community-celebrating, love-spreading vehicles. Complaining and criticizing are easy traps to fall into, but I am convinced that building up holds far more power and transformative energy.

So, my sweet friends, here goes…Our world is a beautiful village and peace does begin at home.

What I am thinking about / loving this week….

1) Kid Art

A few months ago, I picked George up from school and he proudly handed me a note indicating that a piece of his art had been chosen to be displayed in our local gallery’s (the Southern Alberta Art Gallery) annual student art exhibit, which showcases works from local schools. ‘Art’s Alive and Well in the Schools’ is a tremendously well attended event and brings in hordes of new people to the gallery. It also allows kids the chance to experience the  joy of showing their work publicly.

Both of George’s big sisters have managed to create art that was chosen for this show, so it was especially heart-warming that he made the cut too.

What a boost. The gallery was packed to the brim with families and enthusiasm. We drank apple juice, visited, and checked out truly wonderful pieces.

By the end of the show, however, George asked me if ‘we could please go home.’ He quietly confided in me that he wasn’t sure he had the energy to ‘show his work to one more person’.

My son. He is no bubbling, self-promoting extrovert,

but his watercolour of birch trees along a wooded path was beautiful, especially according to his mother.

Actually, everything about this type of endeavour makes me tingle.

Kids making art. Kids sharing art. Kids and parents valuing art. Communities gathering to celebrate art.

It’s all so good.

Art promotes peace, of that I am absolutely certain,

and kid art holds its own special brand of magic.

George at the 'Arts Alive' show at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, posing with Mayor Spearman

George at the ‘Arts Alive and Well in the Schools’ show at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, posing with Mayor Chris Spearman

2) Sick Days

We have all been quite healthy this year, but this week Olivia was absolutely walloped with a bad case of the stomach flu.

My poor girl.

What we assumed would be a productive and full week ended up being 4 days of her lying on the couch watching SpongeBob and renovating and home flipping shows,

while sipping warm gingerale and herbal tea,

and munching on saltines.

Actually, it is not uncommon for her little body to dramatically pull out  of life once or twice a year for several days.

To be honest, it never really surprises me and it always feels/looks like a re-booting of sorts.

Olivia is a perfectionist and is deeply persistent and driven. She has achieved excellent grades this year, but it has taken her a ton of dedicated effort given that she has dyslexia. From the moment she was born, she has been sensitive and kinesthetic,

always moving to a beat, singing a song, or acting out something she just saw.

Every so often, though, her sweet active, constantly wiggling body tires and her soul seems to say…..enough.

Stop. Rest. Retreat.

And so I let her. I have the blessing of working from home and so I also have the luxury of being able to let her sleep and stop,

and watch countless home and garden network episodes.

She will catch up, and I will help her.

I get it.

Sometimes it’s all too much. I feel that way too.

It’s okay to hide inside the house for a while.

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3) Mother’s Day

As we lead up to Mother’s day, I am feeling reflective about the role of mother, and how motherhood has changed me.

I am also deeply aware that, like every other holiday, it can be an emotionally challenging day for some…

Mother/child relationships can be complex,

perhaps the day may bring up pain around not having been able to have children for some,

and in so many cases there has been pain or loss  – loss of a child or parent – that surfaces.

Certainly, I am deeply aware of the absence of my mom at our table each year as we sit down to brunch together. Though it was hardest the first few years after she died, I still ache for her and feel as if I always will.

Yet.

Sunday is a lovely opportunity to honour the energy, the beauty, the essence of ‘mothering’ that is nurturing and in some ways is always accessible to all of us,

whether it be through friendships, mentors, extended family, or even through finally learning to properly nurture ourselves.

For me, though, this Mother’s Day, I will celebrate my relationships with my children.

Alex, Olivia, George.

I am deeply aware that I have been gifted the deepest honour of guiding these beautiful people to adulthood.

Though it has not always been easy and I do not mean to downplay the many challenges of parenting,

and though I have often struggled with my identity that has often felt mired and lost in the haze and blur of these extended mothering years,

I still know for sure that I would not change a thing about the way my life has played out.

To learn to step-parent, then parent, and watch these babies grow and blossom has thrilled me to no end. It has been the greatest wonder of my life, and continues to be.

I am grateful beyond words.

This Sunday,

Happy Mother’s Day and peace to all mothers, of all forms.

In all ways, you hold up the earth.

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Alex and her ‘two moms’, Mother’s Day 2013

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On Raccoons, Make-up Free Selfies, and ‘Archetypes’

Every week I speak to three subjects: books, ideas, people, products, or innovations that I believe are peace-building, heart-opening, community-celebrating, love-spreading vehicles. Complaining and criticizing are easy traps to fall into, but I am convinced that building up holds far more power and transformative energy.

So, my sweet friends, here goes…Our world is a beautiful village and peace does begin at home.

1) Raccoon Rescue

A few of our neighbours jokingly call me ‘Snow White’ because I have an uncanny ability to attract wildlife.

We have had our share of mice and a few birds in the house over the years, all the cats from miles around seem to favour our yard, one day I came home and found a bat hanging from the window ledge in our kitchen, and for the past few years a mama raccoon has decided to make her nest in our attic.

So, either I am channeling some sort of friendliness to all creatures or we have a lot of accessible openings in our yard and house. To be fair, it is a very old house.

Either way, I have become (a little) less apt to shriek and panic when surprised by a new ‘visitor’.

After dropping Olivia off at school one day a few weeks ago, I returned home and discovered fragments of pink insulation spread out over our driveway. My lovely neighbour Lorraine saw me standing there assessing this surprising situation and came over. We both quickly concluded that Madame Raccoon, industrious and determined as she is, had returned.

Dan and I (13 years together have made us increasingly adept at problem solving) decided that there had to be a peaceful and easy solution to this problem and we would find it. I know that many folks (esp. our friends and family in Toronto) have consistent raccoon issues and might not have ANY patience for our willingness to work with Mrs. Raccoon, but so be it – raccoons are a little less common here.

We knew we needed help though. She was likely creating tons of damage in our attic and we needed her to move on out before she had her babies because that would be a bit of a game changer.

I googled pest control in our city, and called ‘Killer Pest Control’. The name seemed a little harsh but there weren’t a lot of options.

‘Mike’ agreed to help us.

He set up a trap, routinely checked on it, and debriefed us on raccoon behaviour.

When we came home from a weekend away and found our friend trapped, we called Mike and he came right over even though it was a Sunday afternoon. (Fortunately, her trauma may have been lessened by the full can of sardines in her trap). Along with his young daughter, Mike drove our masked mama down to the river bottom a fair distance away and made sure that was safely on her way to a new life.

Mike also phoned me right after the relocation mission to assure me that she was actually surprisingly non-aggressive and seemed content. He also reassured me that we did not need to worry about having a roof full of babies, rather the babies were still most definitely tucked inside her.

If that wasn’t enough, when Mike stopped by a few days later with our bill, he gave me yet another full report and yet more assurances that Ms.Raccoon was most likely doing just fine down by the river.

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Who would have guessed that even people under the guise of startling names like ‘Killer Pest Control’ can be peace-building, collaborative sorts finding creative ways to do their jobs with the very best level of kindness and integrity.

Thanks Mike.

2) Make-up Free Selfies

Many women have had the experience of being nominated to post a make-up free selfie on Facebook recently, myself included. I had immediate qualms, however, and decided against participating.

There are already pictures of me on Facebook sans makeup, I didn’t particularly feel like inviting new comments on my appearance, I didn’t know what this movement was for really, nor did I want to put pressure on anybody else to participate.

Despite my misgivings though,

I felt that the concept did have some merit in a culture obsessed with the perfect image,

but I didn’t think much more about it.

Then, I saw this article in the Globe and Mail and found myself agreeing with every word.

Later on that day, I came across an article from a blog called ‘Your Daisy Dose’, written by Daisy Raphael. Daisy is the daughter of our recently deceased beloved family doctor who died of pancreatic cancer.

Daisy wrote this intelligent piece from the depths of her heart and it is a devastatingly beautiful commentary on why she wouldn’t post a make-up free selfie.

Through her moving description of her father’s experience, she shows us the real face of cancer which has very little to do with make-up free, healthy faces.

Daisy, I truly appreciated hearing about your father’s last year, in all of its wholeness, and not just about the ‘good’ days.

I, too, watched my mom die of cancer and there is nothing glamorous about watching your too-young parent deteriorate before your eyes.

Also, thank you Daisy for having the courage to talk about death and dying. As a culture, we generally seem to be afraid of this subject and so many of us, as a result, are shockingly ill-equipped to deal with it when it happens to us.

Collectively, we are not properly taught how to support those who are grieving either. Telling our stories is an important step in the healing process, though, and I am so grateful for your openness and willingness to be vulnerable.

We desperately need to create more spaces for all of our stories.

Lastly, thank you Daisy for talking about the beautiful moments that invariably accompany watching a beloved one die. When the veil between life and death is thin, it seems that all emotions, and life itself, is amplified.

You described this perfectly.

3) ‘Archetypes’ by Caroline Myss

Long before I understood what the word ‘archetype’ even meant, I loved the idea of there being central themes and recurring common human traits. I was an English major after all. I love symbolism and have been drawn to things like fairy tales and tarot cards since forever.

Don’t we ALL love categorizing ourselves though?

Amost every day on Facebook, it seems, a new quiz can be found that will tell you what rock group, colour, animal, ‘Frozen’ character, or city you are. Today it was ‘Which 80’s cartoon character are you?’ (I got She-Ra, Princess of Power, in case you’re interested).

Generally, we do love this stuff. It is a quick and easy way to gain validation for being the way we are.

It is also affirmation that we are not who we are not.

Often, though, I am mostly annoyed with whatever quiz it is and I often don’t even finish because it never delves deeply  enough and I don’t resonate with most of the choices given. And really,  5 questions to neatly categorize a person!?

These are some of the reasons that I bought Caroline Myss’ book ‘Archetypes’, after hearing her speak in Vancouver last year. In her new book, Myss offers her version of 12 modern day archetypes  as well as a full gallery of further archetypes with which we may identify.  She even has a website whereby you can  –wait for it…..take a quiz and find out which archetype you are. What is refreshing, though, is that the results indicate your top archetypal influences rather than having it all be narrowed down to just one.

To be honest, as I read through Myss’ book, I could relate to elements of most archetypes (except the athlete!) but certainly agreed that certain archetypal influences fuel and motivate me more than others.

To a certain degree, it even gave me more permission to be me.

I yearn to write and create, for example, because I am a ‘creative’ and a ‘seeker’.

Simple as that,

but how often do we stifle our deepest yearnings and talk ourselves out of them? (I have done this for most of my life).

I think that is quite useful and freeing, as well, to be reminded that we are simply all not driven by the same forces.

Furthermore, we need diversity of thought and action.

The world requires  advocates, artists, caregivers, intellectuals, executives, rebels, spiritual seekers, visionaries, and athletes to blossom into fullness. It can even be argued, quite convincingly, that we need ‘fashionistas’.

Collectively and personally, we are melting pots of stories, mythical influences, ancient longings, triumphs and challenges that simply get re-told over and over.

Though there is always the danger of over-labeling which negates the beautiful complexities and limitless potential within us all, we can remember what I deem to be one of the greatest archetypal stories ever re-told,

that of the rising phoenix from the ashes, assuring us that we can and will overcome and transcend (thanks to J.K. Rowling for re-kindling the phoenix image for yet another generation).

Oh yeah, and use our powers for good.