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My Purse Project and chronicling a year of finding Joy

 

After having coffee with a dear friend last week, I spent an hour or so perusing Chapters and had a bit of a brainwave.

I first need to say, though, that I almost didn’t peruse Chapters – because it wasn’t a ‘productive’ activity.

 

Seriously.

 

I have spent my entire life being caught up with the idea of spending my time doing  ‘important’ and ‘productive’ tasks. I could spend all sorts of time analyzing where this rigid mindset comes from ~ Generally, though, we are a culture obsessed with results and ‘success’.

Perhaps I partly inherited this strong-hold of an ethic from my accomplished head-nurse grandmother, whom I was very close to. Grandma was passionate, loving and had a great sense of fun, but was also extremely efficient, productive, and task-oriented. She was constantly at battle with herself over the hours that weren’t productive, the tasks that weren’t completed.

It makes sense,

I don’t blame her and in actuality completely adored her. Our society was built upon the tasks of hard-working immigrants such as Grandma who had no choice but to be productive and build new lives against all odds.

 

And they did.

 

However, it’s now a very different world; the rules and needs have changed.

It feels right for me to announce that this focus enslaves me more than it serves me.  It makes me distracted,  cranky with the ones I love the most, and often quite negative. Yet, sadly and truthfully, it’s most often how I measure the worth of my days.

I am going to try serving another master: Joy

and see where that takes me.

 

So that’s it. That’s my New Year’s plan and my new practice.          Joy.

I am going to investigate, explore and give full reign to things that bring me

joy.

If this sounds hoaky, simplistic, or idealistic,      I really don’t care.   I am blessed enough to be surrounded by lots of intelligent, successful, and highly artistic people and for too long  I believed that everything I wrote or did needed to be academic or clever and original. I am done with that line of thinking because not only is it paralyzing, but I am a true believer in the deep and abiding worth of simple concepts.

Also, a very wise friend once said to me,

‘Everything’s been done before. Don’t kid yourself. But it hasn’t been done by you.’

 

Also, because I know that every practice is fortified by writing about it and tracking  developments (my friend and I actually discussed this over said coffee),

I am going to write about Joy this year and the places where I find it.

When I wake up in the morning I am going to consider what will fill me up rather than what needs be to accomplished.

 

Last post I talked about being open to receiving beautiful moments.

Let’s just see if setting forth an intent widens the scope and potential of my receptivity.

So, there will be far less ado about what I have done and far more about surrendering to a new way of looking at things. I have been given so many precious gifts in this life, it seems nothing less than a betrayal to not find ways to celebrate their sweet presence. We all know too well that life is short.

 

Plus there’s nothing like publicly announcing something to make it happen.

See.

I said I was going to re-think my blog a bit this year. Plus as soon as I use the word project or theme I get all tingly and excited and inspired and dare I say…Joyful.

So there it is. I gave myself permission to be unproductive and peruse Chapters for an hour with no agenda and an agenda found me.

At any rate, I am pretty sure that it’s a non-debatable fact that the world could use more       Joy.

And,  I suspect that Joy is a direct highway to      Peace.

 

Here, I got you all interested in my Purse Project and I didn’t even tell you about it. No worries, I will in a few days. It’s idea #1 and I just need to flesh it out a bit.

In the meantime, I hope you all feel a little inspired to figure out what it is your lives need more of.

Joy, however, is anything but saccharine or false. It is delight; a fully embodied form of contentment. It’s the smile that finds its own stretch and doesn’t need to be tugged into place. It’s what the morning glory does when it feels the first rays of sunlight on its petals. It’s the splash that sends a feeding fish slaphappy out of the water, and it’s the flick of its tail on its return. Joy is the impulse in the morning that sends you into the kitchen for tea and toast before the alarm has had a chance to ring.                                       Tzivia Gover, ‘Joy in Every Moment’

 

The beautiful image heading this piece is from from Robin Mead! Check out her other inspiring and joyful designs at https://www.facebook.com/RobinMeadDesigns

 

 

 

 

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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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On decluttering, walking, and my little girl….

Decluttering

It is an interesting period for me,  right now ~

The time has come, my heart surgeon has informed Dan and I,

to move ahead with my heart surgery.

I am now waiting to go through for a few more tests

and then we will be given a date.

I have felt all sorts of emotions around the processing of this big news:

relief, conviction, fear, anger,  excitement, anticipation, confusion, frustration, deep gratitude….

 

One of my biggest challenges, though, has simply been around what to do with myself during this time.

I am the sort of person that thrives on expansion in every direction and operating from her extensive lists,

constantly setting new goals and getting things done,

drawing lines through my items accomplished  as quickly as I add more new things to do.

This all, I admit, makes me feel productive and useful and alive and a part of things.

 

Yet, here I am,

suddenly being asked to      slow        right        down,

and take loving care of myself in all ways to prepare for what my body is about to go through ~

My priorities have suddenly become

not adding too many new things to my lists,

long walks and stretching,

eating wholesome foods,

staying calm and grounded by being mindful and meditating,

attending to myself and my family, and letting my family and friends attend to me.

 

I am also slowly but surely tidying things up at home,

simplifying,

paying attention to many of the little chores and projects that will allow me to feel organized and happier during my recuperation time.

One of those projects involves decluttering my working space, the room that stores all of my many books, paper and art supplies. This is a job that I have been trying to get to for at least two years, as the room has become a chaotic disaster, nothing more than a place to put everything.

I am finding myself moving through this particular task gently and lovingly, working on it a bit each day, combing though books and old pictures, cards, old journals,

making recurring trips to Michael’s for more wicker baskets,

and feeling so re-inspired by all of the wonderful things that I forgot I owned.

 

As the space begins to transform and stuff gets cleared out I feel noticeably lighter.

 

And so it strikes me that perhaps, in life,

there may be times of transition,

wherein we feel seriously called to declutter not just our rooms but our life in its entirety.

We must stop, blink as if we are just waking up,

assess our surroundings, reflect on where we are putting our time and energies and ask ourselves,

‘Is this necessary?’

‘Do I even want this anymore?’

‘Is this a good use of my time?’

‘Does this serve me? Does this serve my family?’

‘Is this still a good fit?’

‘Does this still interest me?’

Magically, I am finding that in the distilling, the decluttering, the clearing away,

and the slowing down,

a gentle and bright clarity is undeniably coming.

Surprisingly, underneath all of the stuff and the people and the events and the clutter and the aspirations,

sits

me.

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Walking

I was driving by our urban lake one afternoon this week, and heard a tiny voice inside my head say,

Walk around the lake.’

 Ok,

I thought,

committed to my new plan of slowing down and listening.

 

After dropping off several bags of used books at George’s school, I returned to the lake and walked its perimeter.

The weather was cold, but the air was still.

It was just me alone with the sounds of my steps,           my breath.

I passed a handful of senior citizen couples, we all smiled at each other and said hello,

and one older gentleman deeply engrossed in preparing his fishing line as he sat on a bench,

and, oh yeah,

these guys.

Why hello, Canada Geese.

I see you.

Here

we all are.

 

Thich Nhat Hanh writes,

Walk wherever you are. Don’t wait for the perfect forest path. Even when you go to the bus stop, make it into a walking meditation. Even if your surroundings are full of noise and agitation, you can still walk in rhythm with your breathing. Even in the commotion of a big city, you can walk with peace, and happiness, and an inner smile. This is what it means to live fully in every moment of every day of your life.

My Little Girl

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Our sweet Olivia perfectly engaged in her own walking meditation -this photo taken many years ago by my dear friend Andrea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On balance, gathering, and weathering the cold

Balance

At Dan’s staff party this year, we dined at an Italian restaurant where the champagne flowed freely and endlessly. It was the kind of winter’s evening where the ambiance was dark and intimate, the conversation bubbly and enticing, and the hours lost their definition.

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The next morning, however, I woke up with an excruciating headache.

This is something that rarely happens to me anymore,

I am too old for it, I have far too much to do, and it’s simply not worth the toll that it takes on my body.

However, I was able to look at my situation from two angles that felt utterly refreshing,

one being the decision that I would not waste a minute feeling angry at myself or regretful (what’s the point),

and secondly,

I was able to immediately recognize that I had understandably lost my balance,

my footing.

This festive evening had followed a few weeks of relentless work and preparations for Christmas, my business, and events we were hosting. I had often sat at my computer until 11pm and neglected my walking, my yoga, my meditation, regular meals, my peace,

in favor of emails and determinedly charging through my to-do list.

No wonder I had been driven to excess,

to the point where my body severely jolted me back to sanity and the much needed stillness of a day on the couch.

 

Balance, it seems, has been my lifelong lesson

and my worthiest of pursuits.

When I am comfortably in the flow, everything feels quite smooth and right.

I spend time with my family and friends and regroup with time on my own. I get restorative sleeps and spend enough time moving my body. I eat well but allow myself occasional treats. I work hard but leave time for play. I spend time creating and planning, but also get through the more mundane details of my work. I read and I write, I cook, and I play with my paints and felts. I listen to music and relish in quiet. I give but allow myself to receive. I dream but stay grounded. I am energized by the stimulation of people and culture, coffee shops and bookstores, but then I happily retreat to the hushed quiet of nature. I visit and share, brainstorm and question, but also trust and

I breathe and I breathe and I breathe.

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Balance.

My  New Year’s wish for you is the manifestation of your own sort of balance, however that may look,

not necessarily found in each hour or day, but in the more general stream of things,

 

and then loving gentleness with yourself, too, when you inevitably falter,

 

and begin again.

Gatherings

‘I was thinking back to the first night when we were all cuddled up with the fire going, getting ready to watch a movie and I had such a warm and secure feeling, like you do when you are a child and you are surrounded by people you love. It was such a lovely moment.’

This is an excerpt from the message my aunt wrote me to after our little holiday family reunion in Waterton this week.

Judy summed it up beautifully.

Family in its highest expression is finding that place where we feel safe and nurtured and awash in unconditional love.

My New Year’s wish for you

is that you may find yourself enveloped in moments such as these this year,

held in the very bosom of your tribes,

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and beautifully aware of the magical perfection of these times.

I am increasingly convinced that these sorts of gatherings will ultimately be looked upon as the most precious treasures of our lives.

Weathering the Cold

I am NOT a fan of the cold. I have lived in this great white north all of my 42 years, but still I rail against its winters. I curse the biting air, and resent my frozen extremities. I say again and again to Dan, ‘this is not the climate I was meant for.’ I force myself out into the weather, dressed in a ridiculous multitude of layers but I am still not warm.

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Dan calls this one, ‘Karen is frozen stiff’

 

I often will sink into my steaming hot bathtub up to 3 times on particularly frigid days, even just for a few minutes to warm up,

for the day, for the afternoon, for bed.

Yet,

 

this is where I live,

and there is undeniable beauty in the frost, in the icicles, in the stillness, in the blue tinge, in the low winter’s light that is almost mystical.

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And so,

I carefully bundle up once again and head out down the streets and sidewalks as my feet rip-rip-rip on the snow,

and sometimes I am not annoyed,

but am rather captivated and even delighted by the magic of this winter wonderland that many in our world will never get to know.

So,

this third and last New Year’s wish for you is that you may be brave and resilient and tenacious enough to withstand

the snow, the harsh storms, the pounding wind,

and the dark times when hope and comfort falter,

and that you are also able to find the beauty in wherever you are,

and that above all you have a home, a fire, a cup of tea, a soft blanket, a warm meal that eventually and surely

calls you in from the cold to bring you comfort and warm your toes.

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Happy, happy New Year my inspiring friends.

The best is yet to come.

 

 

 

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What do you do?,wildflower inspiration, and my birthday…..

What do you do?

I have been asked this question 7 gazillion times.

Basically, if I leave the house, someone asks me this question.

Sometimes, all I can do is pause and stare blankly because even though I have been asked this question the aforementioned 7 gazillion times, I still don’t quite know how to answer,

nor have I yet come up a with a satisfactory reply.

What do I do? 

Like…..what do I do with my time???

hmmmm…..well I plan meals and buy groceries and pay all of our bills and manage our finances and correspondence and maintain records for Dan’s limited company and put on holidays and family events and go to meetings and take minutes and send e-mails and receive emails and meet with teachers and make appointments and cancel appointments and re-schedule appointments and go to umpteen functions to help Dan represent his firm and do laundry and run up and down the stairs and help my daughter manage her dyslexia and help her with homework and studying and I drive the kids to activities and school and I run errands and sign forms and talk all of my 3 kids through issues that arise and I write a blog and I sometimes do courses online and I write and I write and I write and I read and I read and I did ‘grief recovery’ for a while, and I try to keep us all healthy and active and fit and dressed and organized and calm and happy and I dream and I think and I plan and I clean the kitchen and I make food and I clean the kitchen and I make food and I clean the kitchen and I make food.

Is there a name for that?

I haven’t come up with one, and if I was to start spouting off a list such as this one to my waiting listener it all starts to sound a bit silly and perhaps even a little desperate, and not nearly as impressive as those one word answers  that neatly and clearly sum up one’s profession,

like lawyer, doctor, professor, librarian, accountant, or architect.

For a long time, I really struggled with this,

because I am a perfectionist and a high achiever and an academic at heart.

Yet, after having my first baby I left my teaching career

and delved into twelve years of love and grief and family and absolutely consuming domesticity.

And here I sit now, in a bit of a blur,

thinking to myself what just happened?, and

excuse me but how many years did you say have gone by?

 

Still, for countless significant and beautiful reasons, I do not regret a single moment,

which does not mean to imply that I have not also felt a crisis of identity throughout those years,

or that I have not questioned my worth and contributions, value and purpose, hundreds of times.

Nor has it always mattered that I have been told over and over by my husband and kids that my worth and value are immense and true.

I have often had a hard time believing them,

given that we live in a culture that has a very specific definition of success, and I am surrounded by so many friends and peers who are wondrous examples of that fixed societal definition,

while I have been at home.

Yet,

I have come to my own definition of success whilst being forced to find my worth separate from a label, and I can so clearly see now the shining radiance in so many around me, regardless of what they ‘do’.

True success, I believe, is all about character and has everything to do with how we move through the world, and less to do with what we do in the world.

It’s about integrity, confidence, and generosity,

and it implies kindness and openness and courage,

traits that take time, tears, commitment and a trust in life to develop.

I understand now, too, that every person’s life trajectory is unique and that none of us are really in a place to judge all of the factors and unique circumstances that may land a  person on a particular path.

 

A better, more interesting question to go around asking people might be,

What do you love to do?

Or even just,

What do you love?

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Wildflower Inspiration

Check out this lovely little video produced in partnership with Travel Alberta to promote the annual Wildflower festival in Waterton, held every June.

Our wonderful friend, Lyndon, opens up the video, and speaks with such joy and passion about what he loves.…..

My Birthday

Something I LOVE is…..

my birthday.  I do.

I love deciding that for a whole day I am not going to wash a dish, or cook, or worry, or hurry.

I love savoring wishes and love and connection from all the people that I love.

and……

I love how excited my kids get, almost as excited as if it was their birthdays.

I love how they jump out of their beds in the morning and hop onto ours with wishes and kisses and surprises,

and,

I love the feeling of treating myself and listening to my whims, and I always think,

We ALL need to do this more of this.

If you happen to bump into me tomorrow,

I will likely be sipping my London Fog in Chapters with Dan and the kids, or I will be perusing the books for an extra long time, or I might be checking out the lovely wares at the Christmas artisan fairs while getting terribly excited about Christmas, or perhaps I will be enjoying a gorgeous dinner out with my family.

How lucky am I?

and,

The best is yet to come…….

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On Mrs. Hitchcock, discovering a place, and the writing process

Mrs. Hitchock

Motivated by a looser summer schedule ,

these last few weeks I have been determined to finally watch a few movies that have been released in the last ten years

as they would still be quite new to me.

Thank goodness for Netflix. I can curl up in bed with my iPad and feel like as if I am an in-touch adult again.

Given my remembered teenage obsession with ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ and ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes,

I decided to watch the 2009 movie ‘Hitchcock’ last week as I had heard an interesting snippet from an interview about it a few months ago.

This movie captures the part of Alfred Hitchcock’s life when he made ‘Psycho’, but largely deals with his fascinating and complex relationship with Alma, his wife.

Hitchcock was certainly not an easy man to be married to and their difficulties are well highlighted in the movie. Alma and Alfred were, however, fantastic collaborators and in the end their love was affirmed. Alma was a brilliant support to her husband, understood his projects, and was even able to masterfully step onto her husband’s  movie set and take over,

or spend hours with him in the cutting room, adding her own bits of genius.

It occurred to me that this, too, is what marriage can be about ~

Creative support and relentless cheer-leading when it seems that every other fan has left the building.

Undying belief in one another when faith in self falters and wanes,

as it will.

Enthusiastic collaboration on one another’s dreams….

Last week I was reading my newest blog post out loud to Dan, as I always do before publishing, and he told me he loved it,

after offering a few truly constructive comments.

He then said to me, ‘I am your Mrs. Hitchcock’.

I looked at him, surprised, while selfishly thinking to myself that it has actually been me who has done all of the

cheering on and supporting and standing beside.

But then I just as quickly realized that, in actuality, our support and belief in one another has always been completely and unarguably

mutual.

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Teamwork builds peace at home, after all.

 

‘Dan, you are my Mrs. Hitchcock and I am yours, and so……

Good Evening.’

Knowing a Place

On my morning walk this morning, in Waterton,

I reflected on how places can offer innumerable and never-ending precious gifts to be discovered. It doesn’t always need to be about the big, glamorous sights that everybody clamors around.

When we  traveled to Holland seven years ago with the kids,

rather than rushing all over the country and the next one over, and seeing every possible sight with little kids in tow,

we decided to just choose one location to settle into and get to know.

We chose Delft,

and spent long afternoons browsing its markets, shops, museums and cafes,

 

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Bike rides along the city’s canals and into the flower-filled countryside, day trips on crowded trains into the next town, lingering dinners with delightful menus (yes for me, it’s so often about the food)… These are the sweetest parcels of memories that I still hold onto from that trip.

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There were so many tourist attractions that we missed, and some that we were able to make time to see,

but so often the greatest delights in life and travel are small,

the ones to which no expectations are attached.

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Sometimes I will berate myself for having spent another whole summer in Waterton  yet still not having checked all the ‘must-do’s off the list.

I haven’t, for example, done the most spectacular hikes that everyone asks and talks about,

and I am not out on wonderful adventures with the kids every time the weather is lovely (and it has been an achingly lovely summer).

Yet.

This morning I drank my tea at the picnic table with George while we watched two squirrels chasing each other,

and we laughed our heads off at their zaniness.

Yesterday, I went on a long walk by myself and found my first perfect thimbleberry (don’t you love that word) of the season.

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This past long weekend, on a long family walk after supper I turned around suddenly and saw this,

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and my heart swelled to about ten times its size.

So.

This is enough.

Perhaps, even,

this is all there really is.

The Writing Process

Earlier on this week, I inadvertently posted a first draft of this blog.

Correction. It wasn’t even a first draft,

it was my very rough and preliminary thoughts about this piece.

I only worked on it for a few minutes and then, to my horror, pushed the post button instead of the save draft button. Of course, I could quickly delete the post from most social media, but those who have signed up to receive my blog via email received my

emerging ramblings.

I decided that I could stress about it, or I could just breathe and let it go.

No point in obsessing over something that can’t be undone.

Perhaps, I even thought, there might be at least one lone soul out there who might be mildly interested in my writing process,

as how others bring their pieces to final form intrigues me to no end.

Writing is such a highly personal and creative act.

For me, writing is largely about distilling a piece, as much as possible,

to its essence.

Therein resides the impact and beauty.

My dear friend and glorious flower arranger, Jen, taught me that the real trick with flowers is to quickly get rid of all the extra unnecessary leaves and foliage fillers,

so that you are left with the perfect simplicity of the flowers.

Re-writing and editing, for me, is like that ~

a repetitive process of filtering and stripping away of words and extraneous thoughts,

until I finally reach a point where I feel that I have found something worth sharing.

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Then, and only then, do I press publish. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On bears, silence, and unhealthier eating

Bears

Last week I wrote about our beloved Waterton,

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and then, a few days later,  it seems she gave us an unexpected gift.

It was Monday morning, and I woke early. This was very unusual for me, because this summer I have slept and slept.

Likely a combination of much later nights, fresh mountain air, more physical activity, and heavy dark curtains in our bedroom that block out all light,
my sleeps here are often heavy and long.
Yet, when I go back to the city I am up by 7.

However, this particular Monday morning in Waterton, I was wide awake at 5:30am. It seems safe to say that this is the first time this summer that I have been wide awake at 5:30… So awake in fact, that I got up and went into our living room to curl up in my chair by the window and read. Dan would not need to get up for another hour to get to work in time.

I was only there a few minutes,

when I looked out and saw a bear lumbering across the street near our neighbour’s cottage. I have seen a bear hanging out there once before, a few months ago, but it’s always a thrill to see a big animal up close (especially when you are safely tucked inside a house).

As I watched, the bear walked toward our cabin, came around my vehicle and then headed right for our back deck.

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Quickly, I ran into our bedroom, woke Dan and told him that there was a bear outside our bedroom window.

The timing was perfect!

Dan threw open the curtains and the bear was right there, 2 feet away.

It looked right at us,

and then went on its early morning way.

It was our own dreamy, before-the-world-is-awake, magical moment of connection with this powerful creature.

I crawled back into our bed and slowly went back to sleep,

happy,

and delightfully bewildered.

Silence

July, for me, has not only been a month of deep sleeps,

but also of silence.

Certainly, we are a family that loves music.

Ryland, of course, is a talented musician.

Alex, too, has a lovely voice and often vocally accompanies her fiancée.

Both of them, as well as Glenna, are active contributors in helping organize  South Country Fair every year.

And Olivia, I think, was born expressing her feelings and thoughts through self-created musical theater renditions of everything (I will never forget over-hearing her in her bedroom when she about 4-years-old singing and dancing quite theatrically at the top of her lungs,

about how hard done by she was about something or other)

and Dan often relaxes and gets his mind off of work,

by strumming away on his guitar.

George and I, though, often just prefer

quiet.

I have an extensive playlist that I like to add to,

and I love going to productions and concerts,

but I can go through long phases where peace, to me, is

stillness.

Quiet mornings and evenings. Conversation with no soundtrack

and the sounds of simply going about my day.

The wind. Birds in the morning. Just my book and the turning pages. A walk. My footsteps. Running water.

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Driving with the radio off.

This is exactly what I needed for a while, I think.

My July.

A deeper processing of another full year and preparing to begin again,

a taking of stock and recalibrating.

 

I think I am ready, now, for some music.

Unhealthier Eating

Some of you may be happy to hear that our pendulum which had swung to the extreme of very healthy eating (remember the celebrated black bean chia brownies), has made its way back in the other direction this week.

My kids feasted on fried perogies and bacon for supper,

Olivia and her friend Piper made a deliciously sweet and cinnamon-y puffed pancake one morning which we doused with icing sugar (I plan to repeat this one this weekend for our visiting family),

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I made margarita pizza with 3 kinds of cheese (every time I make pizza dough from scratch, I think, why don’t I do this all the time, it’s so easy- and then, of course,  I forget and don’t).

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and I made chocolate zucchini muffins with regular white flour and positively loaded the batter with cocoa and chocolate chips (George was still turned off by the zucchini of course).

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All of it was lovely and yummy and delicious,
and I don’t feel a shred of guilt.
Balance always finds us again and real food, prepared with love and pleasure, is just so beautiful, regardless.

This is a bit of a celebration weekend for us and I shall perhaps have more food stories to share next week. I am terribly excited, for example, about the suggestion of roasting cherries with honey and balsamic, (thank you Julie Van RosenDaal for this recipe)

How perfectly amazing and impressive does that sound?

Happy happy August long weekend everyone! EnJOY!

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On dangers, our Canada, and bear grass….

Dangers

The other night I had a dream that hundreds of little black birds were swarming around me, pecking at me, pursuing me. I felt the relentlessness of their pursuit but I wasn’t completely terrified, rather I felt a sense of just giving in and giving up.

When I woke, the dream felt heavy and ominous. I am, after all, a woman who looks for signs in everything.

Hundreds of little blackbirds trying to attack me… How can that be good?

This dream came after several days of holidays with Dan’s family. We all reunited in Waterton over the Canada Day long weekend and then drove together to Montana, where Dan’s brother and his wife have a holiday house.

Life has been simpler and more relaxed this week…..big dinners, sleep-ins, family walks and games, swims,

all surrounded by the gorgeous bounties of summer,

seasonal fruits and berries, wildflowers in full bloom, and warm days and evenings.

Last night, however, my summer reverie was violently disturbed when George crashed his head into a signpost while playing tag with his cousins after dinner.

It was, ironically, the loveliest of evenings. We had just finished a wonderful meal celebrating Dan’s parents’ anniversary and were all meandering through the park.

Suddenly, though, I found myself cradling my sweet crying boy in my arms, panicking inwardly about how severely he had been hurt. He seemed to recover but at 2am Dan and I made the decision to go into emergency as George had started vomiting.

12 hours later we still had not slept and had made yet another trip to emergency to have it finally determined that George had in fact suffered a mild concussion but would be okay.

These are the very worst kinds of hours as a mother.

They are the long hours when I try to hard to appear brave and calm, but am terrified.

These are the long hours when I talk to my mom in my mind non-stop, asking for support and strength.

These are the long hours when I know for sure that nothing matters more to me in the world than the health and well-being of these precious beings, our children.

Hundreds of blackbirds swarming…..perils dive-bombing me from every direction and I am so so desperately and completely powerless and vulnerable.

On a family hike earlier this week a few of us were talking about how it’s not usually the dangers that we work to protect ourselves from that end up being the problem. At the outset of the hike we were alerted by a warning that bears had been hanging out in the area,

but our most dangerous moment was when we all sat down to rest for a few minutes beside a hill and inadvertently triggered a mini avalanche of rocks.

And on the day of George’s head injury we had taken the kids to the skateboard park in the morning and watched them repeatedly zoom down ramps of steep cement,

unharmed.

It was a sign on the sidewalk that evening that ended up changing our course.

Driving to the hospital this afternoon, however, I made my peace with it all…the kind of peace that I have to make over and over and over,

because my gentle covenant with this life is constantly forgotten,

I am not in control. I surrender. It is too hard to hold so tightly onto my fears and anxiety and panic. I just can’t do it.

I cannot stop this swarm, nor can I predict which one will end up scarring me and unfolding more pain or more of life’s dark bits.

However, beyond and higher is the vast blue sky, billowing clouds, the sun,

a safety and trust and a broader perspective that I have to believe is sustainable and true and real,

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All is well. All will be well.

Our Canada

What a joy it was again to celebrate Canada Day in Waterton. The bike parade in the morning was an absolute delight,

a spectacle of kindness, laughter, joy, innocence and fun,

with the Rockies sparkling in the background.

Our Canada. My goodness we are blessed.

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Canada Day Bike Parade at Waterton Lakes National Park

 Bear grass

Oh yes, and speaking of wildflowers…. the stunning beautiful bear grass is in bloom, a flower I get so excited about.

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‘you belong among the wildflowers, you belong somewhere you feel free’  Tom Petty

 

 

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On report cards, solstice, and my summer reading list…..

Report Cards

This week I actually had a dream that I was impatiently and anxiously waiting for my report card. However, there was a constant and annoying stream of obstacles and delays resulting in me not getting to know how I did.

This drove me crazy. I was actually livid in my dream.

I so desperately wanted my success to be measured in a report.

I wanted it all neatly summed up, whatever it all is.

When I woke up I was still frustrated but also a little mortified by the immaturity of my unconscious mind. Am I really still that consumed with outer perceptions of success? At the age of 41, do I really need to take so seriously someone else’s version of how I am doing?

And what exactly am I being marked on…..

my value as a mother, a wife, a friend, a family or community member, a woman?……The dream didn’t specify.

When I taught grades one and two, I really struggled with making up report cards for my young students.

I found is so impossibly difficult to just sum up a kid.

To make up for the marks that I felt were a woefully inadequate measure of a beautiful little being, I would write reams of anecdotal comments describing what I saw in each kid,

describing their strengths and struggles, their shiniest bits, their quirks and gifts.

I went on and on and on and was completely exhausted by the end of it,

because I felt like I was pulling out this information from the tips of my toes and the depths of my soul, so true to these kids did I want to be.

(Thank you, teachers, for ALL of your hard work).

This week my kids are getting their final report cards of the year and I am noticing something rather ironic….

I am not particularly invested in their marks one way or another nor do I expect lengthy and rambling comments, though I do look forward to going through their report cards.

But as their mother, I already know who they are.

I know how hard they have worked,

I know what they are capable of,

I know where they shine and where they struggle.

I have had conversations with their teachers and I know where everybody is coming from,

I also know that we live in a society that values and requires marks,

and that structured assessment practices are still necessary so that instruction can be planned and coordinated.

Our education system is far from ideal and we all know that, teachers and administrators included.

Report cards can’t even begin to sum up a person nor should we ever presume that they do.

A few pages of letters and numbers can’t possibly document all of the lovely little triumphs, friendships that faltered and grew, areas of subtle but certain growth, issues that were worked through, non-academic skills that blossomed, passions that were discovered, and insights that were ultimately found.

These things need no officious report. They are simply known,

but are so very worthy of a celebration as this end of the year milestone is reached.

And, perhaps, rather than waiting for my dream report card to come (I may be waiting for a very long time), I shall be my own teacher and simply and peacefully congratulate myself on another year’s full and beautiful journey as well. It has been said, after all, that every character in a dream is some version of yourself.

Students, teachers, parents….We all made it!

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Solstice

There is something so magical and enchanting about Summer Solstice and all of those extended hours of light~

and the promise of an abundant summer before us.

My heart and deep inner Celt wants to create playful and symbolic rituals incorporating flowers, herbs and delicious seasonal foods.

My first day of summer reality was a kids’ soccer game and a retirement due indoors.

No matter. It was a lovely day and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Still, in honour of ancient rituals, magic, flowers, wondrous nature, and the multiple blessings of summer, I offer you the image of this tiny fairy garden that Olivia created last summer in Waterton under the shade of a big evergreen,

perfect midsummer fairy habitat….

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My Summer Reading List

Here are just some of the books that have made it onto my dance card this summer and that I will be carting around. I crave a wide range – fiction, non-fiction, memoir, etc….depending on my mood, the time of day…. They are my companions, my sources of inspiration and recreation. My sweet beloved books.

I would dearly love to know what everybody else is reading too….

Fiction

My Best Stories by Alice Munro

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Poetry

Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver

The Gift by Hafiz

Graphic Novels (a seriously blossoming and highly acclaimed genre for adults too)

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Memoir

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith

The Memory Palace: A Memoir by Mira Bartok

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Non Fiction

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s  Search for the Truth about Everything

A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life by Parker J. Palmer

Non-Fiction (photography, art journaling, paper art etc)

A Beautiful Mess: Photo Idea Book

Inner Excavation: Explore your Self Through Photography, Poetry and Mixed Media

Happy summer reading!

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On birthdays, Maya Angelou, and lilacs

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….

Birthdays

Last week was the engagement,

then this week brought us yet another reason to celebrate…

Olivia turned twelve.

Admittedly, I do have a thing about birthdays. I believe they are truly worth celebrating. Life, after all, is challenging and none of us are immune to pain and difficulties. To some degree, most of us struggle with our sense of worth in this crazy and messy world.

So why not spend one day a year (or 2 or 3) whooping it up, and celebrating the mere fact of our honored presence on this planet? Also, why not wholeheartedly celebrate the birth days of those that we love and hold dear?

My mother was a master of the art of celebration. It wasn’t that she ever tried to be her own version of Martha Stewart. Rather, she simply oozed joy and delight and invited celebration. She was happy to bake a cake and plan a meal, welcomed guests with laughter and hugs, was ready to dance in the kitchen or sit and chat and share a glass of wine, and she loved buying gifts….

Not only did I adore all of that about her, but I feel it and get it and embrace it all in myself too.

So again, why not celebrate?

Surely the marking of another year is worth a gathering, a cake, a feast, and laughter.

Happy Birthday my twelve year old girl.

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Maya Angelou

I cannot now pretend that I closely followed the work and life of Maya Angelou, nor can I pretend that I have read most of her books or her poems.

What I do know of this fascinating woman has come to me in small snippets:

a quote or poem of hers I may have come across in another book, an interview with her and Oprah that I saw, and so many references to her from other writers and teachers.

Still, I find myself quite struck by the news of her death this week,

and riveted by the descriptions of her as they have come in from different news sources –

she lived a life of relentless creativity’,

‘she was a sculptor of words’,

‘she lived a life as a teacher, an activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance, and peace’ (Guy B Johnson)

she moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence, and a fierce grace‘ (Oprah)

and then there’s her last incredible tweet from a few days before her death, that has been spread the world round already,

‘Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God’.

Be still my heart. What honoring words of pure inspiration are these,

describing a woman who fully understood her own power and willingly stepped into it,

owning herself with no apologies,

and understanding always that true power and strength is guided, motivated, and fueled above all by love.

What a woman,

one that I now am even more inspired to get to know deeper.

I will finally be reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as I have been intending to for years, and I along with so many others, will be letting myself be mentored by Maya Angelou‘s essence, her spirit, and her words long after her death.

‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you’ Maya Angelou also once said,

and so may we all be graced by her beautiful example, and all be empowered to find our own voices,

everywhere.

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Lilacs

Have you noticed the lilacs in full radiant bloom (how could one not!?),

and noted their heady gorgeous Spring fragrance?

Is it just me, or do these sorts of recurring wonders of nature become only more miraculous as we age,

and become more aware of the fragility and beauty of it all?

I see you lilacs, and you are a sight to behold.

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