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she sees whales

Quite some time ago, I vowed to write about play. Play as antidote to fear. Play as means of coping, even thriving in a quickly changing world.

 

After I wrote this an event happened that stalled my writing, halted my sure and steady movement through my well planned days,

and once again brought uncertainty into the picture.

My step-mother died very suddenly of a brain aneurysm.

 

In a moment everything changed.

I remember a teacher colleague once saying, many years ago, that it is not usually the anticipated events that rock our worlds, rather it is that unexpected phone call on a Monday afternoon.

 

The day it happened ~

I had just had coffee and a slice of chocolate cake with a dear friend, a great inspiring visit actually full of good laughs and exciting future plans, and then as I  left the cafe and  walked towards my vehicle I checked my phone.

 

Three calls from Dan.

 

When I called him back he said right away,

‘Where are you? I don’t want to tell you over the phone what I need to tell you. I want to come and talk to you in person’.

My heart pounding,  ‘No, tell me now. Please just say it.’

In our most secret unspeakable depths, we all prepare for those calls, don’t we?

 

That Monday afternoon call that will force us to put everything we thought was important on hold for weeks perhaps, and then re-calibrate our entire perceptions of the world, our very place in it.

 

Once again.

 

After we hung up I cried out openly, there on the street, in agony for my dad and for this new loss that he was forced to bear. I stood there tears streaming, waiting for Dan, and looking everywhere for my friend who had already gotten in his truck, already gone.

 

Feeling so alone.

 

Wanting to call my friend back so that he could reassure me that things would be ok.

Wanting somebody, anybody, to tell me that we would get through this one.

On that street corner all by myself waiting for Dan who was coming because he was worried for me, I realized that every maternal figure I have ever had is gone ~my mentor, my grandmothers, my step-mother now,

and my mother.

 

It is just me.

 

Even my friend had gotten in his truck and driven away.

 

Then.

Over Easter,

after the hospital and the funeral and the tears and the big conversations and the grief and the family everywhere and all the missed school and work and the beginning of finding a way forward for my dad,

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we went whale watching in Victoria.

 

We had gathered there as a family over the break and we spontaneously booked a tour on our first morning. We had always promised George we would go on a whale adventure, but then had always found reasons not to.  That day,  however,  the weather seemed particularly good, we had nothing else planned, and I can tell you honestly that I knew, absolutely knew, that we would see whales that day if we went.

 

We had to go out fairly far, but it ended up being what they call a T-party of whales. Whales in every direction. Not even knowing which way to look because as one would surface, there would suddenly be another sighting on the other side of the boat.

Families of whales. Young whales pressed against their mother as they swam. An independent male on his own  surfacing then going under as we all watched with anticipation, wondering where he would pop up next.

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All around us, a whole pod, a matrilineal community of interrelated magnificent communicating, beautiful orcas.

Orcas that have visited me in my dreams since I was a child. Magical dreams where I watch them, down from a cliff at night or my face pressed up against the glass of a huge aquarium,

half of me afraid of their power and strength while the other half is delighted, transfixed, comforted and healed.

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Orcas drawing by George

A show that day that just went on and on. Our kind tour guides were willing to stay on past the allotted time because the day was perfect and the whales just weren’t leaving.

And then finally not being able to linger any longer, we reluctantly turned back towards the mainland.

The orcas swam back with us in the same direction, stealth-like and fast, underwater, towards a cropping of rocks covered in lounging elephant seals.

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Such dramatic suspense.

 

Our captain stopped the boat for us to watch the hunt unfold; the orcas surfaced at the rocks and surprised their prey who were by no means helpless, fighting back with vigor. It was over quickly, and the whales were again moving on, having been rewarded with one unlucky seal.

 

A nature documentary in real time.

 

Continuing on, bathed in glowing late afternoon sunshine, the whales headed towards the shore and swam right up against a cliff nestled on top of which was a park where families often recreate. From the boat we watched as children ran along the cliff following the orcas, screeching with delight.

 

I truly don’t know if I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing such a perfect moment of spontaneous play, natural and true, uncomplicated and wild.

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It is never just me. It is Dan and I, the kids and I, us. It is this beautiful extended family that I love so much that were gathered for Easter fun. It is my dad and I. My friends.       My wonderful neighbours. It is new acquaintances and the grocery store cashier that I exchange friendly words with ~

It is all those I have lost, living in me with every heartbeat.

 

It is all of us…

 

navigating the heartache and the uncertainty yet still forging creative ways to joyfully be in this brave and beautiful new world.

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And it is whales, meeting me at sunset after a lifetime of knowing each other in dreams. The promise is the same. It’s going to be ok.

 

 

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my spring JOY list….

For a while now, I have been compiling in my head a bit of a Spring Joy list to share with you all.

These are some of the things that are currently inspiring and delighting me:

Yoga Glo:

I love this app. I was introduced to it by a lovely acquaintance over Christmas and I am still quite committed to it. You pay a monthly subscription fee, and then receive access to an enormous library of classes at all levels taught by fantastic and well-respected teachers. I appreciate being able to do quality yoga classes at home and on my own time (though we have lots of wonderful teachers locally too!), and I enjoy being able to explore a wide diversity of styles and approaches.

Cookbooks: Breakfast Love & Salad Love both by David Bez

I love meals in a bowl. Rice and veggies, nuts and seeds, greens and fruit, dressing, all deliciously layered. I love feeling good about what I am eating, and feeling good after I’ve eaten. George has yet to even entertain the idea of his meal in a bowl unless it’s a giant serving of Gorilla Munch, and like most families we sometimes  eat junk because we’re human and get tired, busy and un-inventive, but our kids generally know what real food is and I am happy that they understand that it’s important to feed themselves well.

These two cookbooks make me happy. They offer easy, healthy, pretty combinations of foods that are manageable to create and make eating interesting! In my compulsive way, I am working through the recipes, one by one as I can get to them. Cuz with me, everything’s a project!

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Self-Care: I recently facilitated a two part workshop on self-care, and I ended up learning sooooooo much about this topic. Clearly, we teach what we need to learn and there’s always more to learn and deeper places to delve. I was in awe of the gorgeous wisdom, grace, and love that just oozed out of first our beautiful guest speakers, but then out of the participants. Such beautiful magic can happen when we meaningfully gather to create, talk, and support one another. Stay tuned this summer for news on the fall PeaceCard line-up! Lots of new exciting ideas simmering….

PeaceCards: And so my work is unfolding. Slowly and surely it is beginning to take shape in a way that I always (ok, not always) trusted it would. It is about writing and cards and creativity and workshops and empowering and supporting each other and sending out love and gratitude into the world.
Still not sure this kind of a job has a name, but I am no longer attached to the idea that it needs one!

My kids: Whether it is George’s new habit of very seriously taking a cup of milky tea after school along with his toast that amuses me to not end,

or Olivia’s joyful performance of ‘CandyMan’ in her spring middle school musical,

or Alex managing her first year of teaching grade 1 with such perspective, courage, flexibility and immense dedication,

or our Ryland following his dreams with true heart and soul  – my goodness, these kids fill me up. It just doesn’t get better than watching these beautiful souls blossom and grow.

New Joyful Adventures:

So… nothing quite rejuvenates my spirit,  heart, perspective, and my understanding of where I fit in this world and what it’s all for like….

A GREAT BIG magical ADVENTURE!

We are  going on a trip that I have dreamed of and imagined forever and ever and ever. Finally making it happen is the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself long ago.

It is the very pilgrimage of my heart.

To say that I am excited doesn’t even begin to cover it…….

 

We travel initially, to lose ourselves, and we travel, next, to find ourselves.    Pico Iyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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let’s all be curious….

In our house we like to make things.

It can be a bit frustrating, because scattered all about are bits of paper, pens, half-finished projects, supplies for half-finished projects, balls of yarn and knitting needles, books about making things, little models, lego guys and pieces, more scraps of paper, pieces of paper folded up into accordions (that would be Dan, and these are everywhere), journals, more and more books, and……did I say pens.

It is a love-hate relationship I have with all of this stuff that I shove behind closed doors when people come over,

because on one hand I adore that we can all become lost in our own worlds of what to create and do next, but on the other hand I crave order and I yearn to  pair down and simplify.

However.

 

In the end, I know that  ‘making stuff’ wins because it brings us joy and feeds our souls.

And getting lost in a idea or  project can often feel invigorating and peaceful all at once.

 

For many years now, there has been quite a lot of talk about ‘passion’ and finding yours. There is some truth to this pursuit, of course, because who doesn’t want to find, explore and live out their passion for the rest of their days.

But for some, that idea might feel a little unreachable, vague, and confusing.

 

In her new book, ‘Big Magic’, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this, and I love what she says,

Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Furthermore curiosity is accessible to everyone. Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times – a distant tower of flame, accessible only to geniuses and to those who are specially touched by God. But curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming, and more democratic entity. The stakes of curiosity are also far lower than the stakes of passion.

So… may lego guys, multitudes of colored pens and bits of yarn and paper be welcomed in this house.

 

 

A month or two ago, George and I were walking home from school and he said to me,

‘Mom,  I was kind of tired and cranky this morning and didn’t feel like going to school but I’m really glad I went. Had I not gone today, I would not have discovered my passion for sloths. I am even going to work at a sloth sanctuary when I grow up.’

He then proceeded to spend the entire rest of the afternoon and evening researching and sharing with us facts about sloths,

as well as intricately and repeatedly folding, until he had created an origami sloth.

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Now, to be honest, the whole sloth obsession seemed to run its course fairly quickly. George hasn’t mentioned this sloth sanctuary  dream job since that day, and so I feel fairly confident in my statement that I doubt his life will take him in this particular direction of sloth-saving.

 

But. What a perfectly beautiful dream to have for a day. A dream that completely seized him and carried him away into gentle imaginings of future days spent in peaceful and lush green sanctuaries,

                                                                                          then gently dissipated.

 

The very dreaming of it, though,

expanded his reality and sense of possibility.

 

This same kid recently recovered from a two and a half week rather stressful-for-all-of-us bout of painful cornea issues, due to some particularly severe allergies that just exploded due to an early and particularly robust spring. His eyes were unimaginably irritated and sore, and it actually reached the point where I needed to keep him home to stop him from rubbing his eyes to prevent further damage,  and administer eye drops every hour.

 

He missed a lot of school but during  his time at home he

taught himself how to make stop motion videos and launched his own you-tube channel,

built a homemade loom to increase the efficiency of his latest knitting project,

and memorized how to solve the rubic’s cube as well as a 5 by 5 cube.

 

I watched all of this with awe, all the time thinking that it was just beautiful,

all of this creativity that was drawn out by these big stretches of time alone.

From one thing on to the next, without feeling any regret at moving on or having done enough,

just gently following a pull in a new direction.

 

This is pure play and  joyful curiosity.

 

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oh, those lilacs….

Feasting on one’s own life.

 

just because.

 

I wrote this post before the tragic events this week up north. Sending big love and strength to all those affected and facing such tremendous loss and adversity. Events such as this truly require us all to come together as one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One year ago

I write this on the one year anniversary  of my heart surgery,

filled with gratitude for my healthy, beating heart

and my body,       renewed.

 

On the treadmill this week I noticed that the stepping is still becoming easier as is  increasing my pace.  I am falling more in love, in awe,

more connected to this body that is still gaining strength and has carried me through much,

and is ready now for new endeavors and adventures.

 

This week, too, my wonderful hairdresser told me at an appointment that my ‘hair is back‘ and I felt like cheering. The effects of the anaesthetic ravaged it for many months, leaving it dry and frizzy, broken and brittle.

Suddenly, it is soft and shiny again. A small thing but not.

 

And I am more committed then ever to honouring this body, this life’s vehicle that I have been gifted. Fresh, wholesome, gorgeous real food hold all of the appeal.

And I will watch, too, how my emotions affect how I treat this body, and how they live inside me-

 

Earlier this week, I had a frenetic and crazed day where I was hardly present for a minute, consumed by all of the things I had to do,

and also feeling fearful and overwhelmed by what actually may be a new and beautiful opportunity in my life.

At the end of that day, after picking up Olivia one more time from a lesson, I jumped out of my SUV and quickly slammed the door shut before my hand was out,

crushing my thumb.

 

As I yelled in pain and ordered  my kids to go grab a towel to stop the dramatic spurting of blood from underneath my nail,

I  felt the literal power of this wake-up call to

S  L  O  W    D  O  W  N,

 

trust,

 

breathe,

 

and invite into my life a sense of willingness to open myself up to the future rather than grip tightly to a  desperate need to master, control, and know.

 

I also read this week about the idea of building up core strength,

not in order to have a flat stomach,

but to make yourself stronger from the inside out,

a building up of strength and power  from within –  how I completely love that concept.

 

It is spring and many of us are feeling the invigorating and beautiful seasonal shift this week towards warmth and sunshine,       possibility.

 

All feels new.

 

It is the loveliest of times to not only take stock of our gifts, but commit to honouring them with our continued gentle and fierce care.

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This is your body, your greatest gift, pregnant with wisdom you do not hear, grief you thought was forgotten, and joy you have never known. – Marion Woodman

 

 

 

 

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joy and the story of my tattoo

The story of how I came to have a tattoo is also a story about joy.

 

It all happened about 17 years ago.

I am not even over-dramatizing when I say that when my first marriage ended, I  resolutely hauled all of the clothes out of my closet as I sobbed, threw everything in garbage bags, grabbed my beloved basset hound, and drove away from my life as I knew it in the dead of night.

 

I ended up back in my parents’ home and very gradually and gently, began to re-build and create a new life,

 

this life.

 

My break from my first marriage was abrupt and harsh, and though I knew for sure that leaving was for the best, there was much to grieve and much that I still cared about in that little  town that I had so quickly left behind.

Karen, for instance -not me, of course, but my dear friend Karen, the woman who had been my principal through my first few years of teaching elementary. Karen had become my mentor, not just in teaching, but in life: in leadership, in spirituality, in all things good that I aspired to become.

She worried about me after I left, calling me, sending me uplifting gifts, and even driving us both all the way up to Edmonton and back on the day before school started back in September so that we could attend Lilith Fair together.

 

What I remember most about that trip, though,  were the deep conversations during the long car ride –

 

Conversations that still stay with me even though she has been gone 9 years, having died of cancer a little over a year after my mom died.

 

On another car trip that summer, her and I  went to Calgary and each bravely got a tattoo in honour of her 45th birthday.

I had an orange and blue star inked onto my lower back, inspired by the paper lantern that hung in the bedroom of my new apartment.

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The walls of that little bedroom in the top floor suite of the old house that I was renting were painted orange and navy blue and my landlord (who would become my future father-in-law) apologized profusely for this fact. I didn’t care, though,

I loved everything about that apartment, especially the bedroom. 

I would look up from my bed at that beautiful star,

while the bold, strong colours on the walls cocooned me up at night.

Emerging from underneath my feelings of hurt and betrayal was a sense of freedom and renewal that I had never before quite experienced,

an exhilarating sense of possibility that from that day forward I could and would re-write my life. I would choose new words to define my days,

words like integrity, truth, adventure, kindness,

 

Joy.

 

And when I went to bed at night in my little apartment, even though I was alone, I felt

 

happy.

 

I rarely even remember anymore that I have a tattoo. It is mostly hidden, and I can’t see it. For a while I stated that I would, at some point, go back and have the star filled in with a more intricate and detailed design to make the tattoo more artistic and interesting, as it is really just an outline of a star filled in with solid colors.

 

However, even as I said it out loud back them, I doubted I ever would.

My minor act of rebellion was complete and I had no desire to subject myself to more needless pain.

 

The outline is enough.

 

Thank you, Karen, for your big love that summer and for holding my hand through the pain that I needed to then bear,

for generously taking me into the fold of your true self, uncovering to me truths and desires and ideas that I needed to understand then to be who I am now.

 

I am ever amazed by the intricate paths that the stories of our lives lead us down, cleverly and magically winding,

seemingly finding the fullness of circles (and stars)  to complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Mother Goose, Bridges, and ‘Thrive’

Mother Goose

Last week I was in Calgary for a couple of cardiac tests that my surgeon had ordered to be completed before our next meeting with him in a few weeks –

These tests were within a few days of each other,

and when I received short notice of the second test, we decided to go up a couple of nights early and enjoy some time as a family. Dan and I have been busy and preoccupied lately and have decided to make a concerted effort to play more.

So on Saturday afternoon we headed up to Calgary with the kids.

For the next day and a half we toured the mall, swam, read, had a few delicious meals, and spent an afternoon walking outside on that first glorious day that truly feels like Spring. It was a little retreat that felt healing and devoid of expectations,

a spontaneous escape.

On the morning of my test, though, we were packing up our hotel room, suddenly overwhelmed again by weekday realities.

We needed to figure out the easiest way to get to the hospital and where to park, Olivia was worried about the homework she needed to finish, and Dan was making calls for work. I was feeling tense and nervous and was barking at the kids about picking up their stuff, hurrying,

and on it went…

Suddenly, though, George started laughing,  pointing, and calling us over to the window.

Olivia looked first, then Dan, and all three were laughing like crazy.

I could not imagine what could be outside of an 11th story window that could be so funny but Dan said, ‘Karen you have to see this’.

This is what they were all looking at,

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This gal.

She was just sitting on the ledge honking madly at us,

and    she    would     not     leave.

The kids were absolutely beside themselves. We all were. This goose was positively insistent that we notice her.

 

Here’s the thing.

There are moments in life,

wherein it feels pretty clear that we are being looked out for…. there is that sudden sense that we are definitely not alone, and that maybe the veil between worlds is a little thinner than we realize and there are infinite creative possibilities for communication and expressions of love.

I have had many such moments, and this was one of those times.

This message felt pretty clear

Lighten up,

Laugh,

Everything is going to be ok.

 

This silly and deeply comforting bird, or our Mother Goose as George affectionately called her, didn’t fly off until we all had walked away first, back to our business….

We calmly carried on with our day and all, of course, was well.

Bridges

During our lovely aforementioned Spring walk, we came upon the much discussed new Peace Bridge.

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The Peace Bridge (great name!)  is a pedestrian bridge, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, that accommodates both pedestrians and cyclists crossing the Bow River in Calgary.

Of course, whenever we are with Dan we can’t miss the opportunity to check out new pieces of architecture,

but while he’s analyzing the form and details of the structure, the English major in me is often busy creating metaphors in my head.

 

Like my recurring geese,

bridges have been a frequent symbol in our lives as of late.

Olivia is in the midst of a big project whereby she has to carefully construct a bridge out of toothpicks for science, and she was also just telling us that in class the other day her teacher had created a whole playlist of songs that included the word bridge.

Of course Dan and I both raced to say,

Like ‘Bridge over Troubled Water?’,

 

This period of my life does feel like a period of bridging and as I think about those around me I see many friends and family members in similar positions,

transitioning,

walking and working towards new situations, uncomfortably wedged in the in-between part.

 

Perhaps, though, much of life simply is a bridge,

as change is ever-constant and life is always surely moving us to what’s next.

Maybe the point is to just stop every so often rather than fixate on what’s at the other side, because beauty is not just there, it’s here too,

over and beyond the rail and down in the waves of the Little Bow,

in the inspired and joyful architecture,

in the vibrant and playful red,

in the curves and the rounding structure, and the gorgeous blue sky framed through the arches,

and in the people moving by us on their Sunday strolls.

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It’s all beautiful,

and we are supported.

Thrive

I have just begun reading Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington.

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So far, I am quite enjoying it. Much of it does not feel like new information, but the contexts and examples that Huffington offers are current, interesting, and important. The book is persuasive and highly readable,

and shows us how the business world in particular must move towards integrating wellness for all.

Also, just when I think I have read every great quote, Huffington found some new ones to thrill me,

 

And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.”                                                    Iain Thomas

 

yes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our old spruce, my new venture, and gratitude

Our old spruce

This week we said goodbye to the giant old spruce in front of our house.

It was a sudden decision to cut her down.

Dan had heard the tree creaking and cracking early on in the week. We consulted with two different arborists and both recommended, for safety’s sake,  taking the tree down as soon as possible.  By Friday, all that was left was a massive stump full of numerous decades of rings and a mess of sawdust on our lawn.

We may not often directly reflect upon the presence of the trees around us,

and certainly I have not spent much time over the years being that aware of our lost spruce.

Why would I?

when she has been so steady, and rooted, and constant.

 

Yet, nothing ever stays the same and everything has a life span. We all know that-

and on Friday morning as Alex and I looked up her for the last time,

I clearly understood that even the strongest and most powerful of trees grows old and weary.

Our friend and neighbour across the street, Lorraine, said it best,

Sad. Such an amazing tree, and it lived a great life, watching over our kids as they grew and celebrating at the block parties. Always closest to the action.

Another friend and neighbour, Judy, brought up the children’s story The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein,

and it was easy to see the connection,

as our old tree, our protectress, has given us much without ever asking for anything in return.

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It is winter, and she leaves a bare and terribly noticeable vacant space,

but in the spring,

we will plant a new tree.

My new venture

Last night, I launched my new project.

To learn more, please check out my Facebook page

or my website.

I have said before that life can be likened to a trail of breadcrumbs.

We may not really know where we are going,

but each crumb, each event, each friend, each moment,

leads us to the next.

And so we ultimately find that where we are going is simply along the road.

For me, it does feel as if everything has lead to this,

and so it just expands and continues,

and I am delighted by the unfoldment.

Gratitude

Many of my friends and family came to see my PeaceCards last night and my new little stationery shop,

and though it was an exciting time to show what had been created and what I had to share,

all of that felt completely secondary to the joy I felt at seeing so many faces that I love.

I was reminded, again, that our relationships and connections are always what matter most,

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 ‘That love is all there is, Is all we know of love.’     Emily Dickinson