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Election Day….Find the Cake!

I may be unusual in that as a child I would sometimes lay awake stressing about the cold war, acid rain, and other issues potentially threatening the future of mankind. Being sensitive, also, to my parents peace of mind I didn’t want to bother them or anybody else with my spiraling thoughts-

So, mostly,  I carried my fears alone.

 

Now, I have no trouble speaking out and I understand that keeping it all in is not particularly healthy, but I still hold a fierce desire to protect those I love from heart-ache.

 

My 11 year-old son is my kindred global worrier and will sometimes come home concerned about some teacher’s dire warnings about the hopeless state of our environment or current affairs, and I have to talk him through it,

reminding him that there are very clever people working very hard on our biggest problems and that he may even have his own contribution to make someday –

 

though silently wishing in those moments that the message, still acknowledging that relaying evidence and information is crucial,  had been more around inspiration and positive call to actions.

For how can we ever deny our impressionable and listening children the idea that there will always be hope and that there is good and important work waiting to be done in our world?

 

At least six times I have sat down to blog about the political climate here and in the United States as it has very much been on my mind, and at least six times I have scrapped much of what I wrote,

realizing I was criticizing, complaining, judging and obsessing.

 

Somehow, I needed to separate myself from all of the endless chatter and find some light, some reason,  some quiet,          before I could say anything at all.

 

What I have come to realize, too, was that every single time I have expressed fear and disgust around the state of our politics and future,

I have sent the message to my kids that their future is something to be feared rather than anticipated.

 

Shortly after my mom died, I had a vivid dream, one which I will never forget.

I was standing in the kitchen in the house where I grew up, though mom was clearly already gone. Suddenly, I discovered that there were cakes hidden in every cupboard, on every shelf, in every single available space…

beautiful, home-made, joyful and gorgeous, always more and more cakes, and they were mine, ours, to just keep finding and pulling out –

 

Birthday cakes, Wedding cakes, Holiday cakes, My-Goodness-Look-at-What-You-Just-Achieved cake, Life-is-Good-cake, Happy-Tuesday cake, We-Are-So-Grateful-Cake,

 

and then even still more cakes.

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our most recent celebration cake

 

Though it feels as if I have read hundreds of political articles in the last few months coming from every angle, here is one I loved –

the Dalai Lama giving his bit on what is happening in the Western World right now:

Selflessness and joy are intertwined. The more we are one with the rest of humanity, the better we feel. This helps explain why pain and indignation are sweeping through prosperous countries. The problem is not a lack of material riches. It is the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, no longer one with their societies. ..This pattern is occurring throughout the developed world — and the consequences are not merely economic. Feeling superfluous is a blow to the human spirit. It leads to social isolation and emotional pain, and creates the conditions for negative emotions to take root.

 

What if I put my energies towards the things I know make me brighter, stronger, and less fearful  –

stretching, reading, walking, eating together, putting down my phone, talking to kids, playing, laughing, drinking tea, writing, making wonderful plans…..   ?

 

Then, spreading  kindness, and contributing where and when I can.

 

And yes, using my  voice for positive change,

but how much stronger and more effective my voice is  when it comes from a place of compassion and self-awareness.

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And remembering to keep on finding the light, the cakes, the reasons to celebrate,          the joy.

 

This is the seventh version of this post. Finally, I think I have it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On what it is to be Quiet, Quiet, and What’s Next

What it is to be Quiet

We have largely been living in an extrovert’s world, Susan Cain explains in her popular book ‘Quiet.’

I have recently begun reading ‘Quiet’, and I am intrigued. So much has already been said on the topic of introverts and extroverts, but it is still enlightening to think about where you fit on that wide spectrum.

Cain’s words resonate.

I remember my teachers saying,

‘Karen is shy and quiet. She needs to participate more,

                            come out of her shell.

I grew up thinking that being shy was very much a negative trait. It was also self-fulfilling. Since I had been firmly labeled as ‘shy’ and sensitive from the very start, it seemed way too awkward to just suddenly, out of the blue, start actively participating.

My thoughts were far from empty though, rather,  I was subject to diverse streams of thoughts constantly.

But where and how to even begin expressing all that was in my head? It was easier to stay in my shell,

safe.

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In writing, at least, I could begin to pin my thoughts down and create meaning. Which, I read, is another trait of introverts,

‘Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves.

Us introverts often want to ponder and pull at events and ideas and symbols, mull them over, twist it all up into a story, a lesson – find the plot, the outcome, the message, the

what next.

And so, as a child, I required much unstructured time to think and read (how I have always loved to read).

This was how I replenished.

And even though I have grown out of my shyness, because life inevitably forces us out of the wings and onto the stage and being an introvert need have nothing to do with one’s ability to socialize,

for the most part, ALONE is still how I replenish.

In communion with my thoughts, my ideas, my myriad collection of pens and lovely journals, my piles of books, my countless cups of tea,

Bliss.

And after a time and like magic,

I will re-emerge with                       renewed perspective and a full heart.

For, I actually love people,

and savour real connections. Having heartfelt conversations and nurturing the deep relationships in my life are of the utmost importance to me.

I can also mingle, dance, lead or attend a workshop, give a talk, make jokes at a dinner party (and enjoy and be stimulated every minute of it), travel to new places and feel at home on the most crowded of streets…. I love all that stuff~

but then,

I am tired, and need               my quiet time              to process it all.

I am only really understanding now, in my forties, how crucial it is that I

just                  make                   space.

I hesitate, though, to admit to my readers that I am an introvert. It still feels like admitting to a weakness or claiming a trait that will somehow hold me back in life.

Most of us, though, have little parts of our personalities that we wish were different. Maybe we believe we are ‘too emotional’ or just ‘over the top’. Maybe we laugh too much or are too loud or too serious. Maybe we think we are seen as flighty and dreamy or too strict. Or maybe there are even ways that we have been lead to think about ourselves that are not really us at all.

I tell my kids all the time….’You are exactly how I would choose you to be. I would not change a thing…. Because you are you.’

There is such huge empowerment in simply accepting the beautiful essence and expansiveness of who we are. Personality is deeply complicated, and the ways that my introversion is expressed may not at all be the way another’s presents itself. There is such value in examining what feels comfortable for us, what we need to feel balanced, and owning that truly and without apologies.

That is when our real work in this world, I believe, can truly begin.

And that is the whole point.

Quiet

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My favourite quiet place.

What’s Next

Friends, this is my 49th post. When I began blogging I had no idea what would come of this. I knew, though, that I needed to begin paying real attention to my dreams and the areas that have always pulled at me. Not only was this important in order for me to be  sane and happy,  I also needed to show myself and my kids  that I was capable of taking ownership for making things happen in my own life. That is what I want to model to them.

This is not a job. Some people have figured out how to make a career out of blogging but I, as of yet, have not. However, it is still part of a path that feels very right to me. That I do know. It is not ‘what I do’ but it is certainly one of the things that I do and I have stopped believing that there is some grand and final destination where I will ultimate find ‘my work’. It is all my work. And not only does this writing gift me the precious opportunity to keep developing as a writer,

but I get to write for a real and brilliantly thoughtful, wise and compassionate audience (yes, that’s all of you), experience priceless feedback, and find my own meaning in the everyday.

I also believe with all of my heart that this is an important time in history.

Now, more than ever, we must be brave enough to speak the truths of our own hearts. We must find ways to open up, connect, create peace.

So whatever this is, and however it continues to unfold, I hope that, above all, it encourages you to live with authenticity and heart and live your real story too.

My posting schedule is presently shifting, but expect one more post before Christmas (#50!), and then my blog (perhaps a little re-imagined and renewed) will begin again in January heralding the next 50 posts…..

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On 10,000 hours, fishing, and my grade one teacher

10,000 hours

This summer I much considered and bought into  Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of 10,000 hours of practice required to get good at most anything.

It suddenly seems so completely obvious.

It you want to improve at something, than just do it.

In my life,

I have often taken the  approach of dancing and skirting around the things that I really want to do,

but never actually jumping in.

Partly, this is a misguided form of martyrdom.

I wait until everybody else is settled and completely taken care of and only then do I  finally sit down ready to enjoy or pursue my bit,

but by then I am tired and have sometimes even lost my drive,

never mind that as a mother in a busy family that time often just never comes.

It is also a way of avoiding my dreams because it’s simply far less risky to just keep doing what I’m doing.

However,

there are certain things that I have always wanted to do, projects I have been considering, and areas that I have wanted to explore….

This past Spring, I decided that enough was enough. If I wanted to write, for example, then I would write.

It’s high time to take responsibility for my own dreams~

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Now that a new year is upon us (to me September always feels like the beginning of a new year), I am changing it up a bit and expanding my focus to another creative writing venture…..

I have a very exciting project in the works that my lovely Alex has been helping me with over the last several months. We are now on a more specific timeline and to keep up my momentum,

I will now be blogging every second Friday,

and will look forward to continuing to connect with all you lovely readers.

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Fishing

This week Dan took Olivia and George fishing.

Surprisingly, everything about this adventure ended up being marvelous and sweet.

It all started with my dad and stepmother coming out to visit us for the day in Waterton on the weekend. Dad, to his core, is an outdoors-man and it filled my heart to watch him sitting at the picnic table with his grand kids, showing them how to tie proper fishing knots and looking at all of the new fishing gear.

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The next morning, George jumped out of bed and ran into our bedroom,

all ready to go.

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I had been debating whether or not to go with them. Olivia, of course, wanted me to come but George gently broke the news to me that he had really pictured himself and Olivia being in the boat on their own with dad.

That was all I needed to hear ~ my gut was telling me that this was an experience that didn’t need to involve me.

So off they went, up the road to Cameron Lake where they rented a boat and spent four hours rowing to the farthest reaches of the lake,

enjoying the early morning mountain splendor.

Much of the time, Dan reported to me later, was spent untangling fishing line and coaching,

and they were out there for a good four hours.

George apparently started to lose heart and interest when near the end of that time, they still hadn’t caught anything. Olivia, of course, started to lecture him about keeping up a positive attitude and focusing on the fun they had still had despite not being successful.

Still dejected, George threw in one more line right before reaching the dock and in a gift of amazing timing,

felt two big tugs on his line and proceeded to catch his first fish!

Later on, while showing me his prized and beautiful catch, he would describe that moment on the boat as ‘one of the best feelings of his life.’

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I can’t tell you exactly why this ended up being such a magical day, or even what it was about fishing in particular that ended up striking such an unexpected cord of nostalgia and joy in all of us,

but it did.

Later on that evening we had an appetizer of grilled lake trout with lemon and butter, and my kids who usually turn their noses up at fish enthusiastically ate their portions.

My grade one teacher

I  heard news this past week of the passing of my first and second grade teacher, Mme. Paquin.

The news actually spurred a thread of messages by classmates expressing sympathies and sharing memories,

one of the lovelier uses of social media. 

It seems timely to offer up my own tribute to this wonderful woman as many of us embark on a new school year, perhaps feeling hesitant about how it will all play out.

My memories of my first few years of school are fuzzy at best, but I do remember feeling nurtured and understood

during a time when I was desperately shy, anxious, and sensitive.

I will also never forget that Mme. Paquin drove an hour to see me during my first marriage, when I was embarking on a career of teaching little ones myself. She and my mother had stayed in touch and she wanted to come and see for herself how I was doing.

We sat at my kitchen table and had tea,

and I remember her dispensing firmly held teaching advice, this time teacher to teacher,

but I felt nurtured still….

cared for by this fascinating woman who never had her own children and had spent twenty-five years in a convent before marrying and entering into the teaching profession. During that visit, I remember Mme. Paquin telling me not to take things too seriously and to always remember that children needed to be allowed to play and be children.

Rest in peace, grand lady.

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Summer’s end, our girls, and a haircut

Summer’s End

I have been back in the city this week, preparing my kids for the school year to come,  formulating future projects,

and working through the loads of paperwork piled high on my dining room table.

As I write this, it is also pouring rain outside and inspiration, to be honest, is eluding me.

So I sit here, not quite knowing what to say next,

which can feel harder as the weeks pass and this blog builds and I know that more of you are reading my words. Thank you, by the way, to everyone who has reached out to me with heartfelt expressions of support and encouragement. You do make my days.

Suddenly, though, I feel a self-imposed pressure to inspire and move, even on a day when I am not feeling particularly inspired or moved myself.

And so here I sit today, writing about, writing through, the greyer times,

because they are very real too.

When the rain is falling, when I am not at all sure of my next move, and when I have heard too many personal stories of loss and heartache in a week to maintain a steady grip,

there is still so much to say.

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Peace, I know, is not a holiday destination. It does not solely live on a gorgeous white sandy beach as the ocean waves crash and lull,

or in Waterton,

amidst the wildflowers and the mountains or under a spectacular sky –

though it can certainly feel so much more accessible in those kinds of places.

It is here, too, within my steaming cup of black tea as I tap away on my computer, planning and paying bills, and writing emails.

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For if it does not live here, it can’t be found there either, no matter how beautiful the surroundings.

Wherever you go, there you are.          (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

The trees are beginning to change in this land where our summers are so short,

and our back lawn is already speckled with fallen leaves.

Friends are asking me what I have registered my kids in this fall and my September calendar is almost filled up.

Fall. Beautiful fall. You are almost here. You are here.

As a wise mentor once reassured me,

‘As long as you are living and experiencing, there will always be new things to say, new material,

and so this ever-changing peace project will continue into another season because, for me, it still feels like the worthiest of journeys,

and so I welcome fall with open and waiting arms,

ready for her gifts.

Our Girls

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Here it is ~ My  favourite photo from our block party this past weekend,

from a night when I took very few photos.

It was the loveliest of evenings on our street. The afternoon began with heavy rain and we were late to begin, but then a calm happiness gently descended on us all.

For the past nine years on the night of the block party, I have filled my house and steps and front yard with outside friends and family, food and much hoopla,

but this year I did not.

If you felt left out, please accept my apologies and know that I love you but also understand that I desperately needed to just keep it quieter this year and re-acquaint myself with my neighbours, new and old,  and re-discover, quite simply, why we are here,

why I am here.

This photo is why.

It is the snapshot that I wanted to freeze and store forever because in the very witnessing of it my heart was full…

A line-up of girls from our street, performing ‘the cup song’.

All different ages,

girls that I have known and watched from their childhoods now becoming such strong and interesting young women – peaceful rising forces of good and beauty in our world,

singing and playing with their younger neighbours who so look up to them,

and caring and looking out for them in turn ~

modeling strength of character and individuality

when powerful and inevitable peer pressures impose on them from everywhere else.

On this street they/we are all safe and loved and understood, young and old,

as we take care of one another, affirming our interconnectedness.

This is why we are here,

this is why we are ALL here.

 

And the other best part….

being able to trick scooter down a closed down street with a friendly and captive audience.

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Haircuts

George, too, is transitioning into a new grade with a new teacher and, this week,

he suddenly decided that he wanted his hair cut short.

For almost all of his life, his hair has been longer.

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Doctor Westwood

I even used to call him my Little Lord Fauntleroy, because he reminded me of that main character in one of my favourite childhood books,

with his long blonde locks and blue eyes.

My beautiful baby boy ~

I read once, though, that we must be careful to convey to our kids that we enjoy watching them grow up and change,

rather than constantly telling them that we wish that we could keep them little and bottle that cuteness,

and oh my goodness, he was cute.

So when George asked me if I thought it was a good idea if he cut off his hair, I replied, ‘Go for it!’

My smart, kind, wonderful nine year old boy is blossoming into the wondrousness of all that he will decide to become,

and I am a firm supporter of the idea that a little re-invention

is always good for anybody’s soul.

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Whac that mole!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On ‘Peace at Home’, summer play, and writing.

Peace at Home

Recently, I read an article that spoke to the power of passwords.

Over the following months, Estrella used this technique successfully in other realms of his life,

such as: Quit@smoking4ever, Save4trip@thailand, and Sleep@before12.

Believe what you want about the correlation of the changes in this man’s life and the passwords he chose, but this article resonated for me as

I will sometimes labour over passwords as if I am creating a spell to invoke luck or love or health,

as I have always secretly believed in the magical powers of language.

A few days ago I came across this quote,

‘It is not enough to just think on things. It is important to write it all down, or at least say it out loud. Writing and speaking are actions – they bring ideas into the physical world and open us to change…’  Gill Edwards

When we renovated our home 11 years ago we had these words imprinted into the cement of our planters, ‘Peace at Home.’ We also had these letter forms fixed to the archway in our dining room.

I had been inspired by a trip to Guanajuato Mexico where we visited a beautiful old villa with those same words written on a wall in the gardens, Casa de Paz.

This was all during a time where I didn’t feel particularly peaceful, nor could I have known of heartaches that were to come,

but I did know that I wanted peace. I had always known that.

Nor did I completely understand that although peace at home is an admirable and important goal, it would only remain a far off dream until I did the real work of nurturing peace in my own heart.

And that is an intimate journey that never ends,

As for our casa, there are no masters of peace or enlightenment here,

we are simply on a journey together,

hoping to continue to choose love at the end of the day,

Peace at Home is the password.

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Summer Play

Though getting kids off their screens can sometimes feel difficult and frustrating I am still convinced that kids for the most part are masters at play.

Sometimes, though, they need a little nudge to do what comes naturally.

The other day I said to my kids and their friends,

‘Let’s make an art show at the end of the summer. We’ll take all of the pieces you create all summer long and host a show. We will pin up your art, have snacks and drinks and invite people’

Whether or not our idea actually makes it that far, the next hour was taken up by George and his friend Kelly very avidly sketching their favorite stuffies for the exhibition.

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And when we came up with the idea of adding works to our painted rock garden when our friends came to stay with us this week, I set out my  Zen Doodling book by Carolyn Scrace out along with all of the felts,

It didn’t take long for Olivia to produce this beauty.

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With much tighter limits set on allowed gaming time,

today George and Kelly decided to list the criteria required to become a ‘Crazy Club Member.’ (inspired by their own ‘Concussion Club’ that they had  formed earlier on in the week as a result of last week’s events)

Items on the their extensive list included:

‘Go on all biking hills that do not have a chance of death.’

‘See 5 or more foxes.’

‘Build a fort in the mini-forest.’

‘Dunk in the lake in your clothes.’

and,

‘Dye your hair with Kool-aid.’

Yes! This is what I’m talking about!

Isn’t life grand when these are the kinds of things that summer asks of you?

Writing

In her wonderful book, A Year of Writing Dangerously, Barbara Abercombie writes about the ways that we sabotage ourselves as writers.

Never mind the things we commonly tell ourselves such as, ‘I have nothing original to say,’ or ‘I haven’t got the time as this stage of my life,’

writing can sometimes just feel like as if it takes way too much energy and effort in a world that already requires so much of us.

Our world, as well, is a highly addictive place and checking Facebook and emails is an easy place to default to ~

Even laundry or unloading the dishwasher can suddenly seem more appealing than finally sitting down to write.

Yet, it’s always so worth it.

Once I am engaged in my writing,

it’s cathartic, invigorating,

and deeply rewarding.

So, may writers write and may kids spend their summer days at play. May we all create time and space for the things that fill our hearts and bring joy and meaning to our days.

What could be more peaceful than that?
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On… hot cross buns, stillness, and the Banff Springs

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)Hot Cross Buns

Tuesday mornings, right after I drop off Olivia at school, I turn up the radio because for the rest of my drive I know that Julie Van Rosendaal will be talking about food on the Calgary Eyeopener and I will be hanging on to her every delicious word.

This is a woman who knows how to talk about food.

Julie honours food and celebrates the idea of preparing and enjoying real food together as families and friends,

she naturally finds evocative language to celebrate whatever succulence she is describing,

and she seems delighted to share her passion with her listeners.

Inspired by Julie, I decided to make the hot cross buns I found on her blog over the Easter weekend. We were at our cottage in Waterton and we had all day to play.

Rarely do I devote this kind of time to cooking or baking because there typically aren’t whole days to devote to a whim,

but on that lazy Saturday I was reminded that there is such pure joy in engaging in a project that is multi-stepped,

and that takes time.

There is such joy to be found in not rushing and in simply giving in to the beauty of  a process.

So, while the sun streamed through the windows in our little cottage kitchen Olivia and I found and mixed ingredients

kneaded and punched new dough,

added brightly colored candied fruit,

watched the soft ball of dough rise,

then pulled and formed it into buns,

added sugar topping,

and watched our magnificent creations bake through the warmth of the oven door.

Happiness.

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(Don’t be turned away from Julie’s wonderful blog by my featured recipe choice. Julie’s fantastic recipes are geared towards busy households and weekday cooking.)

2) Standing Still

I may look like a patient woman from the outside,

but, for me, patience does not always come easily.

I want to find the answers, brainstorm, understand, know, decide, act, and fix.

Lately, though, I have been inundated with messages to be still.

It is a theme that keeps finding me, chasing me down, calling at me,

relentlessly and gently.

Be still. Breathe. Stop.

Mostly, I don’t want to stop. I get bored. I want to burst forth with another idea, buy another book, join another class. Of course I resent everything the minute it feels like too much,

but then,

when I clear up space and time I yearn to quickly fill it up again,

often flitting

from book to idea to banking

new project to text message to forms

emails to lists to writing to errands to registering in a new course

and back round again.

Checking and re-checking too many things too many times to admit.

All of this is ok and part of who I am,

but I know there’s something more. That, I have always known.

So.

Now,

I pause for a minute and listen to the birds sing their spring songs.

I wake up a little earlier than everybody else and sit in quiet for 10 minutes.

I lay in the tub and look up through the skylight at the blue, at the clouds,

and don’t pick up my book at all.

I turn off the radio at the red light and just sit.

And today, at the bank, I noticed myself, stopped myself, from checking my phone

again.

Instead, I stood and waited for the teller while she printed my new cheques.

I looked out the window, took a few deep breaths,

and just waited,

patiently.

The hidden treasures of stillness will find me yet.

Special thanks to Cheryl Dyck and Vickie MacArthur for your beautiful stillness mentoring. When the student is ready, the teachers appear.

3) the Banff Springs

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A perk of being married to an architect is that their conferences are always located in beautiful buildings.

Context and environment, of course, can never be compromised within a profession whose entire reason for being is to create beautiful spaces,

so 13 years of marriage to an architect have taught me.

This is why I am fortunate enough to be presently sitting in the Banff Springs hotel finishing up this week’s blog,

thinking,

now,

this is a place where a person can really feel inspired to not only design but to write,

especially if you are a person like me that is drawn to old world beauty

and loves the magical idea of castles,

and rooms thick with deep reds, purples, and golds in fabrics and paint,

plush furniture, dark woods, dramatic sweeping views,

ghosts dancing in the ballroom at the edge of sight,

and old glamorous adventures and stories retold.

It has been pouring rain today which will likely turn to snow, and peace has found me as I sit and write in these cozy rooms and sip my tea,

taking breaks to walk through the spacious corridors and letting this magnificent castle nestled in the Canadian wilderness be my muse.

Today is a peaceful and treasured break from my daily realities and I am so grateful.

Happy May to you all!

Do you have long and lovely projects that call out to you?

Where and how do you find stillness?

What sorts of environments inspire you?