“Hi Karen. Your Job. How do you do it??”

“Hi Karen. Your job. How do you do it?? It has to feel overwhelming at times. All those stories and people with so many challenges – I know you love it and are passionate about what you do but there must be times you just want to bury your head and cry for the people who are suffering. I’m guessing the joy of helping someone pull out from under heavy burdens is the reward that makes it all worthwhile.”


This heartfelt query arrived by email a while back and, as a counsellor/therapist, I get various versions of this question all the time! I completely understand the curiosity … people assume that ‘a typical day at the office’ means I am drowning in people’s upsets, distress, wounding and pain. But, in all sincerity … that is not my experience of my work at all. I am so incredibly inspired … on a regular basis … by the people I am fortunate enough to work with. Yes. I am both honored and humbled by the depth of genuine and authentic connection that characterizes my job. I can never know what the day will bring, but I feel a deep sense of reverence for each moment I get to spend with my peeps. I just never tire of the work I do. I wish I could sum it all up in one nice, concise, tidy paragraph … but … there are so very many layers and complexities involved in ‘how I do what I do’. I’m just hoping I can do it all justice here on these pages.

First, let me begin with a little back story. Even as a small little girl, I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. For me, ‘success’ in life would be realized when I got my PhD in Psychology and could help people heal the wounds of their childhoods. I dreamed of helping humans thrive despite the trials/tribulations/traumas that threatened to deter, derail, diminish, and/or defeat them. I could think of nothing more compelling than being seated before someone in a sacred space of sharing and fully honoring all the parts of their lived experience.

Some wise soul said we often want to give others what we most need to receive ourselves. I suspect that is true for me. So, the first part of my answer to ‘how I do what I do’ is that I have always had a passion for it! I have an insatiable curiosity about our collective humanity. I love to hear people’s stories. I have book shelves filled with self-help books. I am fascinated by neuroscience. And, as schmaltzy as it sounds, I feel like I really am living ‘my purpose’ on the planet. I cannot imagine a more rich or rewarding career.

All that said, and even though this vision was always crystal clear to me, it took me about a quarter of a century longer than I expected to get here. There were a whole number of zigs and zags along my 25-year path to this career. Somewhere along the way I realized that I didn’t need a doctorate in psychology to live out my dream. Initially, I became a Integrative Coaching Professional certified by The Ford Institute. And while this career choice deeply nourished my passion for a number of years, I eventually pursued and obtained both my Bachelor and Master of Social Work degrees as well. And sometime later, I was also inspired to become certified in the most powerful interventions for healing and processing trauma … i.e. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing [EMDR] and Accelerated Resolution Therapy [ART].

I should also share that I don’t think I could ‘do what I do’ if I didn’t hold so much reverence and respect for the people I am fortunate enough to work with. I remain deeply humbled by the depth of adversity we humans are invited to endure along life’s journeys. The stories that people share are replete with both reprehensible heartache and rich resilience. I have nothing but the utmost admiration for the folks that find their way to my office. And, I feel incredibly privileged to be welcomed into the the most tender and fragile parts of their being. They have taught me so much about myself and stretched my appreciation for the magnitude of the human spirit in the most magnificent ways.

In keeping with that, I must take issue with anyone who might regard counselling/therapy as something reserved for the weak or broken. Nothing could be further from the truth! It takes incredible strength and courage to reach out when we are struggling. It takes so darn much tenacity to look inside ourselves. I so deeply respect those who are willing to tease out what is not working well in their lives … and also then … assume responsibility for addressing it. It requires a level of candid honesty, transparency and authenticity that terrifies the best of us. I have absolute reverence for humans committed to their own healing. I honor and applaud them because I know they are often scared spitless and, yet, they show up for themselves anyway. 🙌

Perhaps the most critical prerequisite to doing what I do is ensuring I have done/continue doing my own inner work. It is essential for me to make peace with my own past so I can stay fully present for my peeps. If not, my unhealed stuff will invariably get activated by what is happening in their lives. If what I am observing triggers any kind of emotional discomfort and/or psychological judgment inside me (i.e. if I start bleeding myself), I have been hijacked back to my own unresolved stuff and can no longer tend to their wounding. And, if/when it happens (which it does on occasion), I see it as a red flag pointing me to additional layers of my own healing that need more attention.

So, if I am doing my job well, I need to arrive at the office as emotionally clean and mentally clear as humanly possible. That said, I have been diligent about doing my own inner work for almost 30 years. Pursing my own personal development is an investment I make in myself that benefits both me and my people.

Source unknown, but deeply appreciated.

And, after years of ‘doing what I do’, I have learned I also need to be well rested and emotionally/mentally grounded so I can hold sufficient space to best honor people’s needs. Given the gravity of the challenges that often typify my work, I cannot just ‘coast’ through my days in any way, shape or form. I need to be as alert, attentive and aware as possible. As such, committing to an impeccable level of self care becomes an imperative, rather than simply an optional indulgence.

This does not mean I am spending time in luxurious spas … although that can be very nourishing too. Solitude is one of my saving graces. So is walking outdoors in the sunshine and communing with Mother Nature. Limiting my exposure to sensationalized news reports is essential because all that fear-mongering is not good for my nervous system. Did I mention the soothing capacity of candles and twinkle lights? Never underestimate the profound peace inspired by casting a warm glow across the darkness. There are infinite ways to kindle our inner flames.

Given the tremendous compassion and empathy I feel for how harrowing, hard and horrendous my peeps experiences may have been … another requisite for how I do what I do’ is to ensure I do not to ‘join’ people in the overwhelm they might be feeling. Just as a life guard does not jump into the water to save someone who is flailing/floundering … I will not be able toss my people a lifeline if I get lost and/or mired down in the murk/mayhem they are experiencing. Rather, I must always keep an eye fixed upon where ‘the way out’ may be for them. One of the most vital parts of my job is helping folks find a way to ‘live a great live anyway’ … despite any people, challenges and/or situations that have been holding them hostage and/or keeping them stuck.

It’s not that I see myself as some expert who can swoop in and fix, rescue or protect people. No. It is not my job to save anyone. In fact, it would be a grave error for me to presume that I have all the answers for another human. They are the expert of their lives, not me. What might serve one person very well in a particular situation might not be the optimal answer for someone else in the same circumstances.

Ultimately, I trust that the people who choose to work with me are best served when I can meet them with compassionate curiosity about what is happening in their worlds. I truly believe the answers people are seeking are tucked deep down within their own souls … it’s just really hard to see the picture when you are inside the frame. My job is to guide the exploration so they can better sort things out and can become the hero/heroine in their own story. That way, they can save themselves.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

The conversations in my work days are often heartbreakingly heavy. However, as identified by the author of the aforementioned email, it is exceptionally encouraging and infinitely inspiring to witness people overcoming the things that threaten to take them down to their knees. The best I can do is offer people tools to help them build or rebuild their lives. It is up to each individual to decide whether or not they will pick up those tools or leave them behind in my office.

People might fly or they may continue to flounder. It is entirely up to them … but only 100% of the time. I can take no credit for any gains they might make. Any and all success they procure belongs completely to themselves. In addition to that, I must also humbly accept that despite my best efforts, I may not be able to help everyone. In order ‘to do what I do’ – I must be at complete peace with that. Otherwise, I will be more invested in their healing than they are. And that never serves the greatest good. The most meaningful transformation comes from people liberating themselves. I do not ever want to rob them of that joy.

The mindset I bring to my work is a pivotal part of ‘how I do what I do’. So, over the years, I have found it beneficial to ground myself, both personally and professionally, in a theoretical standpoint that helps me hold a sacred space of healing for the humans that seek me out for support. Debbie Ford, (author and my life coaching mentor/trainer) contended that there is ‘a blessing in every challenge’ and/or a ‘challenge in every blessing’. I must admit it took me a while to warm up to these unorthodox suppositions.

She used the wise analogy of baking a cake to explain this seemingly preposterous premise. Debbie reminds us that when baking a delicious cake, there are a lot of bad, icky, bitter ingredients that are essential to include (i.e. flour, baking soda, baking powder, vinegar, salt, etc.) In and of themselves, these ingredients are downright inedible. And, if they do not get blended well enough into the mix, they can become distasteful ‘lumps’ in the batter. Yet, if you tried to make the cake without these unpalatable ingredients… the outcome would be undesirable as well. The most delicious cake requires a thorough blending of both the bitter and the sweet ingredients.

If metaphorically speaking … the cake is our life … our trials and tribulations are the bitter bits that can become ‘lumps in our batter’ if they are not sufficiently integrated into the whole. They can unexpectedly show up and spoil the sweetness in life that we would otherwise enjoy. Often, humans invest a whole lot of energy trying to avoid, escape, repress and suppress those ‘lumps’. We welcome the ‘good’ and do anything to avoid/reject all the ‘bad’. But, unfortunately, eliminating the challenges from our lives is no easier than trying to extract the vinegar and baking soda from the cake batter. It just can’t be done.

Debbie invites us to consider that the grandest versions of our lives (i.e. the most delicious cakes) are better accessed by embracing all of our experiences. What if it is true that in order to live our very best lives, we need to accept and integrate both the good and the bad? Perhaps we might actually rise into the best expression of who we can be in the world by making peace with the past and blending together both the bitter and sweet experiences into the ‘whole’ of our lives.

For example, I was an only child who grew up in an unstable and chaotic home with a whole lot of ‘lumps in my batter.’ My dad was an emotionally volatile alcoholic. My mom suffered from clinical depression/anxiety … perhaps exacerbated by chronic physical pain. She became addicted to prescription drugs. She and my dad divorced when I was 12 years old after years of fighting and financial instability. My father moved a thousand miles away so I had no ongoing relationship with him. My mom and I lived on welfare. She was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was committed to psychiatric hospitals on a number of occasions. I ended up in foster care three times for various lengths of time. My mom also had multiple surgeries and was relegated to a wheel chair after one of them. Yes, their were lots of lumps in my childhood batter.

While it was not at all evident to me at the time, when looking back through the lens of ‘lumpy batter,’ I can see there were many gifts wrapped up in these ugly challenges. I can see, in retrospect, that these experiences actually grew me in very significant and welcome ways. They stretched my capacity to read people’s emotions. I am able to tap into what people are feeling very easily. They sharpened my intuition/instincts. I can often understand what people have trouble articulating. They deepened my compassion for people’s struggles. I have such empathy for the pain and wounding people have endured. They taught me that we do not need to be defined by our circumstances. I learned that shame and blame can be transformed. Ultimately, the lumps in my batter helped shape the compassionate eyes I bring to the counselling room.

I would add that when you’ve been through adversity yourself … it shifts the ‘way’ you listen and ‘what’ you hear. It can help you tap into the ‘felt’ sense of things.  It offers you an understanding of the parts of the situation, circumstance and/or event that aren’t easily described in words. Yes. Somehow, my prior lived experience has stretched my capacity for understanding of what is not being said in addition to what I hear folks vocalizing. I would argue that looking beyond the ‘ugly wrapping’ and/or blending and integrating the ‘lumps in my batter’ was helpful in terms of stretching me into a really humble, intuitive and non-judgmental therapist. Who knew my childhood was the real training ground for my dream job!!

What I know ‘for sure’ is that my decision to embrace life from this empowering perspective has shifted ‘how I do what I do.’ No one grows up without some lumps in their batter. I no longer pity people who have lumps in their batter because I opt to explore how those lumps may perhaps bring blessings (growth, lessons, learnings, insights etc) and/or bear other ‘gifts’ in really ugly wrapping. Yes. I give myself permission to flirt with the notion that people may be experiencing exactly the circumstances, challenges, difficulties and situations that can help them grow into the next best expression of who they can be in the world. 

While some of you may be skeptical whether or not all this conjecture is ‘true’ … it strikes me that proving the veracity of these tenets is of no real relevance. I would humbly suggest that the more substantive speculation should rest on whether or not embracing these perspectives serves our humanity in a meaningful and beneficial way. Does it ultimately help us navigate the prickly parts on our paths? Does it invite us to step out of powerlessness? Will it bolster our inherent strength and resilience?

And, from my experience, I would say it does indeed! I just know that looking at my life and other people’s lives through this empowering lens shifts ‘what’ I see and ‘how’ I interpret what is unfolding around me. And, it is widely touted in the therapeutic community that ‘perception creates reality’. Two people can look at exactly the same thing and see something entirely different. Two people can experience the same circumstances and feel entirely different.

As depicted in the graphic, truth is often relative. If/when we shift our perspective, we shift our ‘truth’. And THAT is an absolute game changer! Our thoughts/ideas/beliefs hold powerful keys to our how we experience our ‘realities’. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is not what happens to us that makes us happy or sad, but how we interpret it that creates our ‘reality’.

For example, let’s say it is raining. Rain is neither inherently good or bad. In ‘reality’ rain is just water falling from the sky. It is our perception of rain that fuels our experience of it. If we are a farmer during a hot, dry summer … the rain is perceived as a blessing. It makes us happy. That is our truth. If we are on vacation on a beach in a tropical climate, the rain is perceived as a curse. It invites us to be grumpy. When we tell people “the rain ruined our vacation”, we are speaking our truth.

However, rain is just rain. And, likewise, my childhood was just my childhood. If I focus upon how I think it was wrong and bad and the folks with the ‘white picket fence’ had it much ‘better’, I make myself miserable. If I choose to see how my childhood also primed me and prepared me to do the work that I absolutely love … then I can feel grateful for it in many ways. I’m not suggesting we ignore, dismiss or deny the pains of our past. No. Not at all. Rather, I am suggesting we explore whether the challenges we have endured may also serve us in some meaningful way.

Maybe in their totality … everything in life has a positive and negative pole? A whole atom contains both positive and negative particles. A whole day contains both light and dark. What we ‘see’ depends solely upon our perspectives. So, we might be very wise to doublecheck our perspectives and make sure we are looking at the ‘whole’ of it. What if … after honoring, acknowledging and validating the heartaches and hardships in our orbits … we also opted to look for anything good, right and/or beneficial that could also be tucked in those same experiences? How might that shape us?

The way we decide to ‘see’ things is a choice we get to make. It is simply a perspective we can choose to claim. And, I am going to suggest that when we decide to embrace the perception that “there is a blessing in every challenge” (Debbie Ford) … and/or … that “everything is happening FOR you and not TO you (Byron Katie) … and/or … that “everything is rigged in your favor” (Rumi), our felt sense of our ‘reality’ is shifted in the most rich and rewarding ways.

And, even if none of these premises are true … I really like the way I move through the world when I choose to believe them. Harnessing these perspectives (both personally and professionally) keeps me from assuming I ‘know’ what would serve any one of us best. It keeps me from judging things as right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust. It invites me to hold space for someone’s pain, help them grieve and mourn their circumstances … and then … help them identify the ways they might use their challenges to help them grow … lest their wounding be in vain.

Choosing to accept that our trials and tribulations may be ‘celestial benedictions’ sent to stretch and grow our humanity, invites me to see so much possibility for the folks that I am privileged to serve. It honors people’s inherent strengths and infinite potentials. It keeps me curious about how my peeps might rise above whatever is threatening to sink them. It means we can honor the pains of their past without staying stuck in them. It means we can begin looking for the pony in the poop.

At any rate, it is not my intention to convince you that I am right. I am just hoping these meanderings help to explain ‘how I do what I do’. I also hope I have rendered visible that identifying people’s problems is just a wee part of my job. My ultimate work is helping people rise above the rubble … retrieve any messages in the mess … and … figure out how to use what has happened to them in order to live a great life anyway.

I cannot imagine a more meaningful and rewarding career. I cannot think of a greater gift than to be offered a chance to hold a sacred space of healing for someone who is struggling, suffering and/or stifled in some way, shape or form. I think I gain as much as I give in my exchanges with my peeps. And honestly … there is nothing more inspiring than witnessing people shining brighter and brighter and brighter … despite the depths of darkness they have endured. It’s hard to put into words just how fortunate I feel to be seated across from another soul … and … simply ‘do what I do’.

With deepest reverence for both the blessings and the challenges inherent in all of our journeys … Karen

P.S. Counselling/therapy is so incredibly complicated and intricate. There is no ‘one size fits all’ in the work that we do. I realize that my approach works in my practice with those who seek out my professional support. I am also well aware that the strategies outlined herein may not be a good a fit at all for therapists working in some settings and/or with specific demographics and/or with clientele experiencing diminished capacity for self-determination. There is certainly no one “right” way to do what we do.

30 Days of Gratitude = Gargantuan Gifts

One day as I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook at the end of November in 2020 (Yes! Right in the middle of the height of the pandemic!), I noticed that a dear friend of mine was going to participate in a Gratitude Challenge called “30 Days of Gratitude.” I just kept on scrolling because I had previously participated in TWO rounds of 100 Days of Gratitude in the past. While I found those 200 days to be very rewarding, I surmised that I didn’t need to participate in this one too.

But then … I noticed something very unique about this quest. There were particular questions related to this gratitude challenge. And … the questions intrigued me. I committed to join her, along with two other friends. I thought it might be fun. I had no idea that THIS gratitude practice was going to fill my heart with such gargantuan gifts.

I started posting this on December 1, 2020! I enjoyed reading the other posts … we commented back and forth. It became a very rich experience for me that I savored every morning with each sip of my coffee. After we ended the 30 days, I compiled my responses into this blog for both safe-keeping and further reflection. I just found this unpublished blog in my ‘drafts’ along with dozens of others.

And here we are … two full years later! Sadly, the pandemic is still disrupting our lives in so many ways. In some ways, it feels like eons ago that Covid-19 crept into our lives … and yet … the fallout from all the complexities related to this pandemic (emotional, mental, physical, relational, spiritual) has not been good. It can all feel heavy sometimes, so I thought I would re-read the answers I wrote in December 2020 to the “30 Days of Gratitude.” to get a sense of what I was appreciating while we were locked down and isolated.

My gratitude muscle was flexed, indeed, upon revisiting my reflections. I have decided to publish this here NOW … in case anyone else needs a reminder that many things remain right and well in our lives … even though so much has shifted and changed since the coronavirus entered our lives almost three years ago now. I hope it sparks some lovely appreciations of your own.

Happiest of Holiday to one and all in 2022!!

Day #1: a person I am glad to have in my life …

There are so many beautiful human gifts that have been and/or continue to be in my life … and … to name one is certainly not to diminish any others. As I was sitting here in this moment and reflecting on all these special souls, I was surprised to notice that my heart took me back to grade 8. Mr. MacMillan was my Language Arts teacher. I haven’t thought of him for decades but I am ever blessed to have had him in my life.

He SAW me. He saw the aching and uncertain heart that was hidden behind the smile I wore to conceal my insecurities, worries and hurts. Yes. I am ever grateful to Mr. MacMillan and the time I spent in his class. He quietly validated my presence with his knowing eyes and consistently confirmed my worth with his caring demeanor. I’m sure he never knew how much his silent support fortified my own strength. Even after all these years, I am still grateful for Mr. MacMillan. I don’t have a picture of him except for the one that has clearly never left my heart.

Edit: I was delighting to find a picture of Mr. MacMillan in one of my yearbooks!

Day #2: something I find comfort in …

I love lights! Twinkle lights, flickering lights, bedside lights, Christmas lights, candle lights, star lights, soft lights, fire lights … I could go on and on and on. There is something so deeply comforting for me to see a dot of brightness in the midst of dark. I think it is as pleasing to me metaphorically as it is to me visually.

Yes. Lights bring me so much comfort. And so … I have created many spaces in my home where I have added dots of light … and … I thoroughly enjoy basking in the comfort of it. 🌟✨⭐️

Day #3: my favorite part of the morning …

I love, love, love the morning. I actually look forward to waking up when it’s still dark and finding my way under a soft cozy blanket and taking my first sip of coffee in the glow of soft lights that surround me (see day 2). Several decades ago, I started getting up about an hour earlier than I needed to in order to give myself some time for some solitude in the morning … before my children were up and the demands of the day set in.

And, I eagerly continue this incredibly nourishing practice … even on days when I am not working. And, often I will get up two hours before I need to now. Maybe I read, maybe I blog, maybe I meditate, maybe I tend to emails, maybe I check social media, maybe I journal, maybe I get my day organized in my mind or maybe I just sit. I love to simply savor the stillness … tending to my inner world before I must turn my attention to my outer world. Yep, my favorite part of the morning is simply sipping my coffee and ‘resting’ before the clamor of daily living snatches me up and carries me away for the day.

Day #4: my favorite memory …

Hmmmm. This was a really hard one for me. There are favorite parenting memories and favorite travel memories and favorite experience memories and favorite moments memories and favorite romantic memories …. BUT … since we put up the Christmas tree yesterday, I was awash with Christmas memories.

And … one of my favorites was back in the days when I was determined to DE-commercialize Christmas. To that end, we had been handmaking our gifts for each other for a few years. We would make something for each other and then affix a little tag that offered an affirmation of of our affection to the receiver: “One thing I love about ______ is:” It was heartwarming to receive these gifts.

One of our other Christmas traditions has always been to fill stockings for our daughters. When they were small they were filled with little activities and oranges and things to keep them busy and their tummies satiated until 8:00am. As the girls got older, my favorite part of Christmas was gathering in the family room (ha ha -still not before 8am), fireplace crackling, Christmas tunes softly playing in the background … sipping my coffee while our girls took turns unwrapping the stuffers tucked into their stockings. Their smiles of delight and appreciation for a mascara or new undies were the most magical moments.

All this shared, I think my very favorite memory was the year that Sherisse hand crafted Christmas stockings for her Dad and I … and completely unbeknownst to us … our three sweet daughters filled them for US!! I was touched beyond belief that they had truly internalized the spirit of the Season. For them, Christmas was not just about getting … it was about giving. Their kindness and thoughtfulness was so deeply touching! I was so tenderly moved that they were intent on sharing the joy they experienced by making it merry for us. I still think fondly back to magic of that Christmas and I want to take this moment to thank my extraordinary daughters for all the ways our Christmas celebrations are always richer because of them. xoxo

Day #5: an accomplishment I am proud of …

Gosh … as I was pondering the possibilities for pride in my accomplishments there was one recollection that really made me smile again … even as I sit here in my living room a decade or so later. Many years ago (2005??) I was inspired by a friend of mine to take up running. And honestly, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I have always been emotionally strong. I can trust myself to get through hard things with my head and heart … BUT … I never been very physically strong. I have never been inclined to work my body to the point of exhaustion. No. Nope. Nada.

So … the idea of learning to run seemed like a real stretch for me. Yes. It was a formidable challenge for a gal in her 50s. I took a class that taught me to build strength by running one minute and walking one minute … running two minutes and walking one minute and building all the way up to running 10 minutes and walking one minute. This is the strategy to run long distances.

What shocked me was how much I LOVED it. That rush of endorphins that people talked about was REAL. And so, my dearest friend Marie and I logged many kilometers and participated in a few Jingle Bell runs … and we even braved the 30plus heat and ran through the countryside in the Buffalo Run one year.

I loved it all … but the one accomplishment that really made me feel proud was the day that my Bestie and I ran 60 minutes straight!! NO walking at all. For some reason, this felt like the ultimate feat for me!! I remember chatting about it with her back then and she questioned whether getting my Masters Degree might be something I was more proud about. No. Not at all. I knew I could do that. I did NOT know that I could run 60 minutes straight.

I can’t run anymore because my knees won’t allow it … but … that memory still sparks a big toothy grin on my face!! 😁 Yes. I still feel proud about that.

Day #6: a hidden blessing in a difficult situation

The older I get the more and more convinced I am that we can find blessings tucked into every challenge … as long as we are willing to look. I think, sometimes, we are so busy fighting with the Universe in our conviction that things should not have happened the way they did or that things should be different than they are. It is in our resistance that we can fail to unwrap the gift that came dressed in an ugly or unfavorable wrapping.

It can be really hard to ‘see’ the gifts in a particular moment of strife … but as I look back over my life in retrospect, I have a hard time NOT seeing how things that initially seemed very unwelcome were actually blessings dressed in dark disguises. I have a hard time naming just one … but I will share this. As I look way back to my childhood … I have come to realize that the challenges of my upbringing were really celestial benedictions sent forth to help stretch my capacity for compassion and understanding. The neglect and abandonment that I often felt as a child inspired me to support others who are struggling. I can see very clearly that the seeds of empathy were being planted for my passionate pursuit in a career as a counsellor/therapist.

Some may not agree with me on this … and as “Pollyanna” as it may sound … I honestly believe that the gifts are always, always offered to us. Sometimes they are really hard to find. Sometimes it takes years to find them. I just know that I can move through life with much less negativity and distress if I believe that there is a pony in the poop somewhere! It is simply my job to find it.

Day #7: an opportunity I am grateful for…

I have appreciated this gratitude practice because these questions have required me to deeply explore my life and look into spaces and memories that might have otherwise never arrived in my consciousness. Once again, though, it is difficult to name just one opportunity. As soon as I really observe all the opportunities in my midst … I am more grateful than I can put into words by sharing just one of them. Hmmmm. Perhaps that is the subliminal intent of this exercise?

Anyway … I have decided to share with you the beautiful opportunity that I experienced just yesterday. I am so grateful I had a chance to go for a 9.56km walk in the middle of the work week in December in the warm windless sunshine with my best friend Marie

  • It does not escape me that I was able to enjoy this opportunity because, even into my 6th decade of life, I remain able-bodied. Many people are not.
  • It reminded me how being semi-retired affords me the chance to set my own work schedule. Many do not have that luxury.
  • Mother Nature was generously showering us with her finest winter splendors … which is pretty unusual for December in Alberta!
  • And, I got to chat and reconnect with my Bestie! During this pandemic, our opportunities to connect with our family and friends has been compromised in ways that mess with our emotional and mental well-being.

And so, the fact that we got to share that time (while maintaining our physical distance) was a rich and precious gift. I am still savoring the freedom and opportunity I enjoyed yesterday. And … guess what?? It is supposed to be 16 degrees Celsius (60.8 degrees Fahrenheit) today!! Maybe I can create another opportunity for myself!! I am not sure if the wind will blow (as usual) and I know my Bestie is not available (but I have Audible!) and I can probably postpone ‘the list’. Maybe I’ll get a re-do?? 🤞

Day #8: my favorite song (& why)

Well … this one was a real struggle for me. I love so many different genres of music that it was impossible to pare them down to just one favorite … it’s comparing apples to oranges. It’s funny though, because as I was reflecting over the years of music that have tickled my spirit and tempted my toes to tap, I drifted back to one of the FIRST songs I remember falling in love with. My parents had a really complicated and volatile relationship before they separated on August 11, 1970. It was their anniversary. They had been married 20 years. I was twelve. There was lots and lots of discord in our home, so when it was good … it was heaven.

I’m really dating myself, but I am guessing I was ten or eleven years old when my father spent what little money we had and purchased a ‘Hi-Fi Stereo Record Player’. It was in a console and stood proudly on the floor in our living room. I remember the gleam in his eye when he would choose an LP and place it on the turntable. The moment the needle hit the vinyl our house was transformed into a magical, musical haven. I absolutely loved it. And, when I think back to those exceptional moments … the song that pops immediately into my head is “In the Mood” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra! Yep. My heart smiles in fond recollection of all the joy that music brought to my childhood home.

Ha Ha … I bet you can’t listen to it without tapping your toes too! 😍

Day #9: a lesson I’ve learned …

Let me start by saying that I have integrated many, many lessons in my six plus decades on the planet … and … I am infinitely grateful for all the ways these lessons have calmed my neurobiology and eased my default pattern of trying to stay one step ahead of the Universe. I spent far too many years trying to control what happened in my orbit so I wouldn’t get blindsided when the next shoe drops. Yep. That is what those of us with highly anxious minds like to do: Plan. Organize. Take charge. Stay in complete control. Acting as though we are CEO of the Universe. 🙄

Many years ago I read a book called “Loving What Is” written by Byron Katie. It was an absolute gift to my highly-kindled amygdala and overly anxious mind. The author premised that: “Everything happens FOR you, not TO you.” Now, many of you might challenge that notion. And I am not here to convince you otherwise. All I can tell you is that while I cannot PROVE it to be true … BELIEVING it to be true has been the most welcome game-changer for me. When I see the world with all its trials and tribulations through the faith-based notion that we live in a benevolent Universe divinely guided by love … I can relax and quit trying to steer the river.

When I choose to trust that the Universe is filled with celestial benedictions (see day 6) I can allow myself to bop along the water of life like a cork (easily and effortlessly) … instead of tirelessly trying to forge a new path through the river banks in the direction I think life should be going (entirely exhausting). It remains incredibly liberating to integrate this belief into my way of seeing the world. When I do so, I can surrender all fights with the past and stop arguing with what has already happened. Rather, I can fix my gaze on the best way to move through any unwelcome realities and/or adversities that I discover upon my path.

I have come to realize it is not so much what happens to me that really shapes my world, but rather … it is how I respond to what happens that ultimately defines my lived experience.

Day #10: the biggest gift in my life right now …

Gah. I decided to do this gratitude practice because I loved the specificity of the questions. I both appreciate the places in my awareness that these thoughtful queries move me toward and I am finding it so hard to nail down just ONE answer. So, with that said, I am going to preface the following reflection with the possibility that what I am seeing as the biggest gift in my life RIGHT NOW might be different in five minutes, five hours, five days, five weeks or five years.

But for this moment – in my semi-retired life – I can say that one of the most precious gifts I am unwrapping is the opportunity for more ‘unscheduled time’. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that for the most of my life, I have been held hostage by the clock … always needing to be aware of the time so I can attend to my obligations, responsibilities, deadlines and commitments in a conscientious and responsible way. Even in the most happy of moments, I would be checking the clock so I didn’t miss or foul up whatever was scheduled next. Yep. My days, weeks and months have always been very full! But, don’t get me wrong. More often than not, my days have been filled with things I love … and … places I really want to be … and … with folks I thoroughly enjoy spending time with.

Nonetheless, I have to admit that the pace has often been so harried that sometimes I didn’t have enough room to really savor all the activities that filled my days. And, because all of these doings were important to me, I couldn’t ever figure out what to drop out of my days in order to catch my breath. As a result, I have generally clung to it all and often felt like things were squeezed just a bit too tight.

So, after that long preamble, the biggest gift in my life right now are those rare days where I have nothing that MUST be done … but rather … when I can honor whatever is stirring my soul in that particular moment. Working fewer hours has opened up extra space for me to lounge around in my pajamas, lose total track of the time and simply follow my own inner leanings. I really do love the days where I have complete freedom to choose where I will put my attention … and when.

That said, I also know I would not want too much white space in my schedule because I do deeply cherish the rich fullness of my life. I think I treasure the extra ‘space’ I am enjoying right now because it has always been such a RARE gift to have any ‘unspoken for’ moments. And, guess what? It looks like today might offer me one of those days! I always, always, always have a ‘to do’ list … and … maybe I’ll get to it today or maybe I won’t. I just love that I get to lean in and listen to the whispers of my soul and follow my heart today … instead of my schedule.

Day #11: a future event I am excited about …

The old boy and I have arrived at that time and space in our senior years where the time has come to actualize all the dreams we put off for retirement. As my dear and very wise friend Jacky astutely discerned: “We’re in the last quarter!” It was a sobering thought, but the truth of it inspired us to take action because, at our ages, the only thing for absolute certain in our futures is decline. Yes, the older we get, the more we realize that we have less time to squander.

So, with her wisdom ringing in our ears and our recognition that we must not take our current good health and mobility for granted … we had booked two very big trips overseas. We expected 2020 to be a banner year for travel!!

One was an indulgent river cruise that would whisk us away … far beyond the Iron Curtain. I was really excited about it because although we have done a fair bit of travelling already, I have always been the travel agent. And, once again … that kept me with my eye on the clock (see gratitude #10) and planning/booking things as we went along. THIS river cruise would be different. I would simply get to enjoy all the decadent planning that Viking Cruise Lines had done for us.

And, after the cruise was complete, we had booked a fabulous room in Madrid, Spain where we would meet our best buddies! The guys were going to head off to Morocco while my Bestie and I walked some of the Camino de Santiago. In it’s entirety, this pilgrimage is upwards of 1000kms but I wasn’t sure I could physically pull that distance off (see gratitude #5) so we were committed to doing the last 100kms of it.

Our tickets were bought and our hearts were so excited! And then … Covid-19 snatched it all away. I remain eager to resurrect these dreams, desires and delights and reschedule them as soon into the future as possible. Viking Cruise Lines still has a whole schwack of our money … so … we are committed to rebooking this trip just as soon as we can.

And maybe, my Bestie and I will need to reconsider whether 100kms is enough. Perhaps the cancellation of our trip was a blessing in disguise (see gratitude #6). Since we couldn’t go to Spain, we opted to do a slightly different version of the Camino. We each sought out pledges to raise money for cancer research and ended up walking 100km right here in our own neighborhood. So, now that I know I can do it … maybe we can book a longer stretch!

Anyways, I might be cheating here. Maybe this counts as two future events … but … since I had them booked together initially, I thought I would honor them both in answer to this question.

Day #12: some positive news I’ve gotten recently …

Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens has opened their doors to a fabulous Winter Light Festival!! I had heard about them doing this last year, but honestly, had completely forgotten about it. But then yesterday, our good neighbor, Doug, posted the most spectacular photos of their family’s visit! The pictures were absolutely stunning and got me really excited about going!

Last year we took in the Zoo Lights in Calgary and it was absolutely mesmerizing! I couldn’t get enough of it … and … we were there for a couple of hours! It is wonderful to know that we have an opportunity to see something similar right nearby!!

It also strikes me as especially good news in these times where we are not permitted to meet with friends and family under one roof … this spectacle of light offers folks a chance to gather outdoors and share some time together in this way! I’m eager to chat with my family and see when we can arrange an evening to enjoy it together!

I understand that due to Covid-19 there on no walk-in tickets. They must be purchased in advance online … and …. there are a number of different packages! You can even get a wagon ride around the lake! Anyway, I thought this was very good news indeed!! What could be more magical and marvelous for this girl (see gratitude #2) than 170,000 lights glistening and glowing and casting light upon the darkness. I can hardly wait to take it all in! ✨✨✨

P.S. I picked this photo off the website, but Doug’s photography captures it all far more beautifully!

Day #13: my favorite area in my home …

When I am home, I spend a whole lot of time sitting in our love seat with my feet up and enjoying the view out the large bay window in my dining room. From this comfy and cozy position, I can enjoy the ambiance of lights (see gratitude #2) and visit with the old boy if/when he has sunk into his lazy boy.

In the winter, I can enjoy watching the snow fall … and … enjoy the Christmas lights in the backyard. In the spring, we thoroughly enjoy watching the birds flitter about snatching snacks from all the bird feeders we have erected. In the summer, I enjoy the foliage and flowering on the trees along with the dots of color from the berries and the ornamental crab apples. An, in the Autumn, I can feast my eyes upon the change of colors as Mother Nature slows down and readies herself for a peaceful rest. And, because we have a south exposure, I can catch the colors of the sky as the sun rises and sets all year long.

Here’s how it looks this morning as I write this. From this lovely standpoint, I can almost forget that we just got locked down for the next four weeks. I am sure grateful for a good view from which to ride it all out.

Day #14: a memory that makes me smile …

One of the memories that still makes me smile takes me back to my 60th birthday celebration. It started with an overnight trip to the big city with JUST my three daughters. The first night, we unexpectedly landed in a fancy schmancy bistro and enjoyed a 5 star dinner (with complimentary appetizers from the chef that he was entering into a competition) before our heavenly 90 minute massages and hot-tubbing at the Stillwater Spa in Calgary!

I have to add that our family has grown with the addition of their partners and my eight grandchildren so it is very rare for me to have my girls all to myself anymore! And so, my heart smiled with unspeakable gratitude as I sipped my coffee in the mornings and listened to them chatting and giggling and sister-ing with each other in our nice two-bedroom hotel suite while they were getting ready for the day. And, after about nine hour’s worth of shopping (compete with oodles of fitting room fun and fashion shows) and along with a couple of stops for food and drink – we decided to try out the new long stay lip stain that my youngest daughter had discovered. Ha ha. With Brittany and I rocking the red … and … Sherisse and Tiana sporting the dark maroon, we looked more like we should be heading out on the town (maybe in 5″ stilettos and black leather mini-skirts)!

But instead, we cozied up in our jammies, pulled out the hide-a-way bed in the living room of our hotel suite and snuggled in side-by-each as we spilled some tears watching the touching movie “Wonder”. The next morning, after enjoying our “breakfast included” at our hotel, we followed up by using the “Downward Dog” Yoga App on our bath towels. Ha ha … it was absolutely great!

And, over the whole weekend … no one was focused upon their phones. It ‘felt’ entirely sublime to me to have all my little cherubs under one roof with me … and … lots of time for nurturing our innermost desires. Yes … this memory still sparks so much joy in my heart and the biggest and toothiest grin for me. And, it is all the sweeter … perhaps even a bit bittersweet … as we face the prospect of not seeing them at all over the next four weeks – not even at Christmas – given the recent public health orders that do not permit us to share time together at all.

Day #15: something beautiful I saw today …

I thought I wasn’t going to be able to post this gratitude until later today … until after I had been out and about long enough to see something beautiful. BUT … I actually SAW something really beautiful posted by a friend of mine on Facebook this morning. Thank you Deb. I was brought to the most humble place followed by a stream of spontaneous tears by this BEAUTIFUL story.

It touched me in so many ways … not the least of which is that it confirms the notion that there can be ‘celestial benedictions’ tucked into the adversities that we may be experiencing (gratitude #6). It reminded that things really do turn out the best for those who make the best of how things turn out (gratitude #9). And, it affirmed my belief that miracles are unfolding around us at all times … if our hearts and eyes are open to seeing and receiving them. This is a true story submitted by Pastor Rob Reid. I hope it stirs your heart as much as it did mine.


The brand new pastor and his wife, newly assigned to their first ministry, to reopen a church in suburban Brooklyn, arrived in early October excited about their opportunities. When they saw their church, it was very run down and needed much work. They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve. They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, etc, and on December 18 were ahead of schedule and just about finished. On December 19 a terrible tempest – a driving rainstorm – hit the area and lasted for two days. On the 21st, the pastor went over to the church. His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high.

The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor, and not knowing what else to do but postpone the Christmas Eve service, headed home On the way he noticed that a local business was having a flea market type sale for charity, so he stopped in. One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory colored, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colors and a Cross embroidered right in the center. It was just the right size to cover the hole in the front wall. He bought it and headed back to the church. By this time it had started to snow. An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it. The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus 45 minutes later.

She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder, hangers, etc., to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry. The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area.

Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle. Her face was like a sheet. “Pastor,” she asked, “where did you get that tablecloth?”

The pastor explained. The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials ‘EBG’ were crocheted into it there. They were. These were the initials of the woman, and she had made this tablecloth 35 years before, in Austria.

The woman could hardly believe it as the pastor told how he had just gotten “The Tablecloth”. The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria.

When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave. Her husband was going to follow her the next week. He was captured, sent to prison and she never saw her husband or her home again.

The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the pastor keep it for the church. The pastor insisted on driving her home. That was the least he could do. She lived on the otherside of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a house cleaning job.

What a wonderful service they had on Christmas Eve. The church was almost full. The music and the spirit were great. At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return. One older man, whom the pastor recognized from the neighborhood, continued to sit in one of the pews and stare, and the pastor wondered why he wasn’t leaving.

The man asked him where he got the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war and how could there be two tablecloths so much alike?

He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in a prison. He never saw his wife or his home again in all the 35 years between.

The pastor asked him if he would allow him to take him for a little ride. They drove to Staten Island and to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier.

He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman’s apartment, knocked on the door and he saw the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine. ✨

Author unknown

May we all look for the beauty in our days today … and … maybe we’ll even find a miracle or two! 💝

Day #16: my favorite part of the evening …

Hmmmmm. Happy Hour … aka: the TRANSITION. It’s that space in time where I get to shift from chronos to kairos (see gratitude #10).Yes, my favorite part of the evening is the transition from the obligations, commitments and responsibilities … to … rest and relaxation and taking my eyes off the clock and the calendar for another day.

This beautiful transition time usually involves a change of clothes (sometimes I get right into my jammies!). It also involves pouring a beverage … usually a glass of wine. And, if the old boy is home, it includes a nice conversation where we can reconnect and catch up on each other’s day! The happy-hour transition feels especially good if I know we have leftovers that can be zapped in the microwave … or … if the old boy has been working his magic in the kitchen. And, it’s all the better if I am anticipating an episode of “The Voice” or “The Amazing Race” or if we are invested in a really good Netflix series.

Sometimes I transition alone. Often it is with the old boy. In the summer we love to gather around our firepit. Sometimes it is fun to transition with others. Here’s a pic of the old boy and I transitioning in our best friends yard before we enjoyed a nice meal together. We’ve enjoyed many a ‘happy-hour transition’ with them in their gorgeous yard. Even when we are travelling, we make time for a nice transition between the busy-ness of the day and the relaxation of the evening.

And, even on days when I am not working, there is something so comforting about officially marking the end of daily doings and easing into the effortlessness of the evening. For me, there is no doubt about it … the happy-hour transition is a signal to shift gears. Yep. It’s my favorite part of the evening.

Day #17: my guilty pleasure …

This one is really easy for me. Wine. Wine is my guilty pleasure. I have never enjoyed any kind of bubbly beverage or carbonated drink. I don’t drink soda pop. I don’t drink beer. I don’t drink sparkling water. I don’t even drink champagne … well except for in highly exceptional circumstances (aka … watching fat fluffy snow flakes landing on our tongues while in our Bestie’s hot tub on Dec 31 – at midnight – ringing in the New Year while it is -30degrees outside sipping a bottle of Prosecco – or less expensive alternative – that has been icing in the snow bank until it is almost frozen.)

So, clearly, my options are limited. Fortunately … there is wine. I realize it is an acquired taste … but … I have come to appreciate every kind of wine … red, white and rosé. My love affair with wine started innocently when I was 13 or 14. I remember that several of us would put our pennies together and find someone old enough to bootleg a bottle of “Lonesome Charlie” or “Moody Blue”. I never really enjoyed it though (unless we hid it in a Slurpee) … because it is a bit bubbly (well – so are Slurpees).

I never drank alcohol for a number of years … until I got married and we visited with the old boy’s boss and his wife. It was there that I moved on to Mateus. My evolution through the fermented grape chain has been long and tangled, but I think this is where the guilty pleasure became rooted. And, well … then I moved to white. And, finally moved to red … or … a red blend. Sooooooo delicious!!

So, when I am in transition (once again see gratitude #16) I have choices!! I can go to the wine rack that the old boy built himself a number of years ago. Or … I can go to the “house wine.” You can find it in a box on the kitchen counter – looks like I have two currently on tap! Or, there is typically a bottle of white or rosé chilling in the fridge door. And, if we are really lucky, we are gifted with a bottle of our Bestie’s homemade. Look at the beautiful rosé we were recently gifted. It was so lovely … we finished it off during a rousing game of Scrabble last Sunday! Let’s not discuss winners or losers.

As far as I am concerned, a fresh crisp white or rosé are best enjoyed in warmer weather. But … don’t hold me to that. I am not necessarily predictable when it comes to choosing my guilty pleasure (think Scrabble).

Okay … one last thing. Stem ware matters!! I have the most beautiful selection of stems! I have delicate ones and themed ones and regular ones. The old boy likes the stem-less ones. I find they are to big for my small hands to hold comfortably. My current favorites are the ones that my daughters brought me back from Mexico. They are sturdy and beautiful.

Shape matters. Different wines go into different shapes of glassware. And … the rule is that you should only fill the glass to the fattest part of bowl. I am a goodie-two-shoes at heart … and generally like to follow rules. I must confess … I can be a bit of rebel when it comes to my guilty pleasure.

N.B. One cannot enjoy wine out of Styrofoam cups. Nor should it be consumed out of red solo cups … unless one is in a real pinch. It can, however, be thoroughly enjoyed in a ‘go-cup’ while at the ball diamond (where they sell only beer and canned cocktails) whilst watching your family play slow-pitch!

Oh … one more thing to remember. One should cease to consume wine after dinner. This reckless move has proved to create the WORST headaches you have ever been forced to endure. As I have aged, I typically abide and switch to tea after supper … but … on very rare occasion when one has company, I will forget this rule of thumb. And, I regretfully pay the cost … 🥴

Okay. There you have it. My coffee cup tells the story of my passions … and … the shape of my days. Cheers! 🍷🥂

Day #18: one good thing that happened today …

This gratitude quest got me thinking about a little sign that I have in my home office. It says:

And so, as I headed out for my day at work, I was watching … with eager eyes wondering what I would be writing about this evening. I started the day off by picking up a clear face mask (damn pandemic!) that my Bestie had very kindly picked up for me! It seems counter-therapeutic to be masked up in my office …. so … a clear mask seemed like a great option. I was excited to try it and thought maybe that would be what I would post for this gratitude. And then, when a person went out of their way to deliver something I had been waiting for to my office, I thought … “this is a good thing for my post today.” But then, I went home for lunch. And … we happened to have just enough left-over lasagna for me. I thought … hmmmm … this is also a very good thing. And, then I went back to work and was delighted to hear that a client was experiencing some really good progress … and, of course it seemed plausible that this could be another good thing to post about. And then, I had a really good belly laugh with someone else over Zoom. And I thought … a good laugh is always a good thing to add to any day.

And then, I came home in the dark … only to find that the old boy had gotten home before me and he had turned all the decorative lights on … inside and out! It was such a warm and welcoming arrival … worthy of “good” things to mention in my gratitude post. And, guess what? The Voice finale is on tonight! This is always a good thing as far as I am concerned.

So, here I am … totally befuddled. I have so many “good things” to choose from that I can’t narrow it down to just one. Please accept my apologies for not following the rules …. apparently the world really and truly was plotting to do me good today. 😉

Edit: I cannot believe I forgot to mention the bugles!! For some reason, many folks have been struggling to find bugles for their nuts and bolts recipe! We haven’t had any luck finding them either! So, imagine the song in my heart when one of my dear friends here on Facebook was generous enough to offer me an extra package that she happens to have on hand! Thank you Denise for adding to the ‘good’ in my day!

Day #19: how I show gratitude for my friends …

I am an only child and I have always ached for the kind of unspoken understanding that I imagine siblings get to enjoy with one another given their shared history. I have always envied that deep bond and implicit knowing that requires no explanation. As a result, I have always been inspired to create that special kind of connection in my friendships. I hold my friends really close in heart and cherish them with infinite gratitude. I make every effort to not let my appreciation for them go unexpressed … often with an excess of emojis! 🥰

One of the other ways I show gratitude for my friends is through my blogging. I created a “Better Because of You” Blogsite in which I pay tribute to the remarkable souls who have touched my life in meaningful ways … and … for whom I have stretched into a better version of myself for their presence in my circle. Over the years, I have written blogs honoring many of my friends including many of my Facebook friends here. I have offered heartfelt acknowledgements about Marie, Joan, Lisa, Jody, Kori, Marion, Debby, Robin, Debora, Cheryl, Jackie, Kimmy, Penny, Fatemeh, Maria and many others who are not on social media platforms. I also have several more tributes to pay that are waiting patiently in the queue! Unfortunately, they are taking me longer to complete than I anticipated so … stay tuned! I am hoping I can get them posted early in the New Year.

And so, my beautiful and very precious friends, if you need a reminder of how deeply I treasure your presence in my world, I hope you will take a minute to revisit my words and let them land deeply into your soul space. And, if you don’t already know some of these magnificent women, I hope you click on one of my tributes and give yourself a chance to get to know them through my eyes, my heart and my experience of them!

I have learned in life that I don’t want to leave any of my sentiments unexpressed. And so, my friends, let me say one more time right here and now … I love you more than my words can ever express … and … I remain ever grateful for the gift of friendship that you have offered me. Thank you for enriching my life. I am so much better because of you. 💖💖💖

Day #20: something I love about a family member …

I just have to preface my response by saying that I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I considered all the things I love about the members of my family. It was hard to narrow it down to one, but … I have decided to tell you one thing I love about the old boy.

I absolutely adore his cheerful demeanor. The fact of the matter is this: he is one of the most good-natured, light-hearted and happy-spirited people on the planet. He greets each day with a smile … and … does the same for me. He heads off to “Tipiriri” (aka; work) every morning with a bounce in his step.

As he swings open the door when he arrives home in the evening, he announces his arrival with a jubilant “Hellllooooo!” And, as we ‘transition’ (see gratitude #17), without fail, we have a chuckle or two about the details of the day. And, as we tuck into bed, he always offers me a kiss (with a promise to try not to snore) … and … we both chuckle ‘cuz we know he’s well intended, but … he’ll be rumbling beside me at some point. 😉

Yes. I am ever grateful for the sunny disposition that the old boy has consistently displayed over the last 43 years of our marriage. I cannot even fathom my life without his ready smile and cheery chuckles.

Day #21: something positive about my body …

Asking a woman in her 60’s to name something positive about her body is likely to get you a blank stare … because at our age, everything in our body has likely seen better days and/or is headed south. Truth. My cheeks … both on my face and on my rear … are inching downwards. I was stunned when I caught a glimpse of my rear end sneaking right out the bottom of my bathing suit! I honestly have no idea how long this has been happening! 🙄

I always used to wonder why they sold swim suits with skirts on them. Now I own a couple! But … wait. I digress. Let me answer the question.

As I was reflecting upon something positive about my body … the answer that I landed upon really surprised me!! When I was young, I got mercilessly teased about my “chicken legs.” So much so that I started to hate them. It got to the point that I was far too self-conscious to EVER bare my blazing white (actually … skim-milk blue), freckled, scrawny, knobby knees in public. Honestly, my lower limbs reminded me of glow sticks. I also remember feeling a vague kinship to Olive Oyl from the Popeye series of yesteryear.

I only got brave enough to finally dawn a pair of shorts in public in 1980 when I was pregnant with my eldest daughter. She was born on August 26th and the heat of the summer was getting the best of me. One day while I was doing some yardwork and my need to cool down trumped my vanity. After a bit of outdoor exposure, they grew a bit more tanned than the blinding white that they used to be. And … maybe after I started running in my fifties, they formed a bit more muscle but … that is not why I have come to appreciate them.

I can honestly say that my ‘chicken legs’ have served me so well over the past six plus decades!

  • They are strong and I can trust them.
  • They afford me mobility.
  • They get me out in nature.
  • They carry the loads that life often offers.
  • They hold me up so I can engage in the world.
  • They are also the reason I can put my feet up.
  • They’ve helped me take a stand, both literally and figuratively.

And, yes … they have even helped me cross the road. 🐔 Oh … and guess what! At my age, I don’t even have to shave them anymore!! 😉

Day #22: a challenge I am grateful for …

One of the things that I most appreciate about this gratitude quest is that it requires me to really explore my inner world … as my friend Joan so exquisitely described yesterday “to let it seep into every nook and cranny of my being”. It has been such a fascinating exploration that I have come to look forward to doing every day.

As I was poking around my awareness of the challenges in my life that I might be grateful for … I can see that each and every day of our lives we are offered the invitation to be kind, understanding and compassionate rather than judgmental, impatient and critical. It is a challenge I am very grateful for … and … some days it is easier than others. As we wander through our days, we are offered countless invitations to be critical (“He’s a complete loser!” or “She’s just so stupid!”). It is really easy to make assumptions about people (“They never listen!” or “They just don’t give crap!”). It’s tempting to project ill-intent onto others (“All they care about is themselves” or “They are just trying to make me look bad!”).

Yes, as we wander through our days it is easy to look for what is wrong in each other rather than what is right. I think there is plenty of both. What I know for sure is this: Hurt people, hurt people.

In my work as a counsellor/therapist, I have come to approach people from a trauma-informed place of asking “What has happened to you?” rather than “What the heck is wrong with you?” And, what I find, over and over again is that the light of ‘goodness’ is indelibly etched into each and every one of us. Sometimes it just gets snuffed out.

In my effort to remain curious and compassionate, I really like to lean into Brené Brown’s work around the benefits of ‘being generous in our assumptions’. I really like the way it makes me feel when I give people the benefit of the doubt. That said, however … Brené also reminds us that when we approach the world from a place of compassion, we must also have really strong boundaries. Our unhealed wounds can make us dangerous.

Sometimes people who are hurting will say and do unthinkable things. So, another part of this challenge is learning how to protect myself. I am not as good at this as I’d like to be, but I am getting better at it.

In the final analysis, I guess my answer to this gratitude quest would be this: I am grateful for the ongoing challenge of trying to meet life and people with as much curiosity and compassion as I can muster.

Day #23: a compliment that made me feel good …

I had to look up the dictionary definition of “compliment” in order to ensure that the very first thought that came to my head wasn’t flattery instead. Apparently, flattery is defined as “excessive and insincere praise, given especially to further one’s own interests”. So, nope. Nope it wasn’t. The definition for compliment said: “a polite expression of praise or admiration.” With that definition framing the parameters of my choices, I think it’s absolutely legit to share the first thought that came to my mind.

Those of you who know me well, know that to say “I love my job” is an absolute understatement. I am at the age where many people are counting the days until they can retire. Not me. No. Although I am of age and although I have oodles of things on my retirement bucket list begging for me to take the time to indulge … I cannot bear the thought of not connecting with the beautiful souls who vulnerably invite me into their fragile hearts day in and day out. People are perpetually curious about how I can spend my days immersed in people’s problems, but honestly, I cannot think of a greater gift than to be offered a chance to support someone who is sad, struggling, suffering and/or stifled in some way, shape or form.

So … a compliment that always stirs up lots of sentiment in my soul is when people express their appreciation for the gains they have made in our time together. There is nothing quite so nourishing as to know that I have helped ease someone’s journey and/or supported them through a difficult time and/or helped them realize a dream they thought they’d never get to claim.

There is something so gratifying about receiving a sincere, heartfelt, look-you-deep-in-the-eyes and feel-right-into-their heart: “Thank you. Thank you so much for all you have done for me.” I try to reassure them that they, themselves, deserve the credit, because they did the work. I just offered the tools. Not everyone actually swings the tools that are offered to them in the office … so I remind them that the real credit belongs to them. But, it is just such a rich moment to share with people. I am getting teary just reflecting back on my time with my people right now.

And … although that IS a compliment that really makes me feel good, I can’t complete this post without acknowledging the ULTIMATE form of that kind of compliment. It has happened twice to me over my career as a counsellor. There were two occasions when people told me they were actually choosing to pursue a career in social work/counselling because they felt such meaningful shifts in their life as a result of our time together.

Nothing could make me feel more complimented than THAT. Not even when the old boy arrived home a couple days ago and made a point to me how much he has always loved my freckled white ‘chicken legs’ (see gratitude #21). You’d think that might be a compliment that made me feel really good … and although it was incredibly sweet of him to say … I suspect that might be a bit of flattery. 😉

Day #24: the best gift I have ever received …

Oh my … you’d think this would be a pretty easy question, right? Not for this girl. My mind is twirling it around with queries about the ‘best’ in which way? The most ‘meaningful’ best? The most ‘unexpected’ best? The most ‘heartwarming’ best? The most ‘functional’ best? I was really having trouble discerning the ‘best’ answer. But then … it was clearly obvious!! I landed on one gift that was unequivocally the ‘best’ in all those regards … well … except for functionality.

I am going to say that best gift I have ever received was the surprise birthday thrown for me for my 60th birthday. It all started with a weekend get-a-way with just me and my three grown daughters (see gratitude #14). And, as I shared in my blog post:

“And then … a few weeks later … I was completely bamboozled. Yep. Entirely horn-swaggled … in the most meaningful and marvelous way!! I thought we were heading to the restaurant to celebrate my son-in-laws birthday … because it really was HIS birthday. But … I was in for the SURPRISE of my life! They got me … good. And the presence of the people were the very best presents of all! In addition to every single member of my immediate family, my sister-in-law flew in from Vancouver. Our dearest friends from prenatal class (37 years prior!) were there. My Bestie and her hubby and my forever friends and my soul sister were too. Some of my treasured colleagues were also able to join us. My husband, daughters and sons-in-law had planned the perfect party! And although my grandchildren knew … they kept it all a secret!! I was surrounded by people who take up the most space in my heart … and … I truly ‘felt’ the love in that space.

And the French wine flowed … and … the food was fabulous. In fact, my meal stands out as one of the top five in my 60 years! And they had two homemade cakes (made from Lucy’s special recipe – iced with the 7- minute frosting I always put on my daughter’s cakes when they were little.) It was extra special because the cakes were in the shapes of a flower and a butterfly! They resurrected the exact cake patterns I had always used for them. I could feel so much love in all the little details!”

I was having such a fabulous time visiting until I was escorted into the ‘ladies’ washroom. I was then presented with a leather-bound journal. It was filled with notes, cards, emails and letters filled with loving reflections, affirmations and memories from oodles of people who put their hearts on the page in my honor. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning savoring every sentiment. I couldn’t stop the flow of tears that cascaded down my cheeks as I marinated in the energy of it all.

And then the next morning, when I cleaning up the bags we had set on the floor the night before … I noticed some other gifts tucked into them. There was an elegant box wrapped in black with a single white bow on it. In it was another special book filled with pictures collected over decades of me and my two ‘forever friends’ … along with an exceptional version of our signature “Roses are red…” rewrites. Between the howls of laughter … I bawled some more.

There was also a beautiful scroll from one of my prior practicum students who had long since become my precious soul sister. She was letting me know of another gift yet to arrive … a custom-made heart with a ‘gratitude’ symbol in it. Oh … and most curiously … I saw my copy of “Love Warrior” wrapped up with a ribbon in the mix. When I naively inquired about why my book would have been in with the gifts … and with a ribbon wrapped around it … my hubby said my Bestie borrowed it. Oh. Okay. How sweet of her to decorate it before she returned it. I was placing it back on the bookshelf … when my hubby suggested “there might be something in it”.

Huh?? And yes … there certainly was! There was all kinds of LOVE in it! My kindred spirits (aka: the gorgeous gals in my book club) had snuck off with MY copy of the book that originally inspired our gatherings and had highlighted their favorite passages and written messages on the cover and inside the margins and then wrapped it with a ribbon and tucked it in with my other gifts. Seriously … it was so delightful!!

And, there was a ‘beautiful’ bangle wrapped up with the message “You are loved.” And, honestly … that is what sums it all up. It strikes me that ‘feeling loved’ is truly the greatest gift any one of us could received. Yes. The LOVE I felt on my 60th birthday was the BEST gift I have EVER received. It was entirely unexpected, exceptionally meaningful and infinitely heart-warming.

Yep. Hands down … BEST gift EVER.

Day #25: the item I treasure most …

I recognize that the implicit intent of exploring this particular gratitude is to connect us to an item that holds special sentimental feelings for us. Perhaps Great-granddad’s old watch fob or Aunt Hilda’s Venetian vase or our deceased Mom’s favorite necklace/earrings.

I might have a few keepsakes from people who are no longer here on the physical plane … but I am going to go to the shallow end on this one. I realize ‘treasure’ might be a bit too heart-felt to describe my affection for this particular item, but in all honesty, I’d be absolutely lost without it.

The truth is that I initially didn’t even want it. I resisted it for a very long time. And then one day … it was unexpectedly gifted upon me. My daughters convinced the old boy it would be really, really good for me. So, what was a girl to do? I figured I’d graciously accept it, but I had no intention of developing any strong fondness for it.

And well … here we on Day 25 of of this gratitude quest and I am eating my words. Actually, I am chewing them up with utmost appreciation for my daughter’s foresight. The item I most treasure is … insert drum roll … my smart phone. This tiny little gadget has exponentially expanded the ease and effortless with which I can exist in my world!!I can check-in on my daughters and grandchildren with one text or an instant message! I can stay connected with all of you here on Facebook – near or far. I can capture magical memories with its camera … and … even edit them. I can put them into albums and scroll back to revisit cherished moments … and/or … ‘Throwback Thursdays’. I can use some of the pictures for backgrounds so I can make inspiring posts for my Instagram business page (Live a Great Life Anyway). I can connect with other’s in my line of work on LinkedIn. I can even send out my invoices to my clients with my phone.

I can tweet to my heart’s content on Twitter. I can even vote for my favorite singer on ‘The Voice’. I can collect all my favorite everythings and designate categories and store them for ready retrieval on Pintrest. I can even rate a bottle of wine with Vivino. I can listen to music and make my favorite playlists on Spotify. I can watch movies on and YouTube Videos and TedTalks galore. I can total up a column of numbers in a heartbeat. I can also write myself a note so I don’t forget.

I can ask Google anything! I can color-co-ordinate my Google calendar(s) and get reminders so I don’t miss anything. I can schedule each of my clients and keep my work life organized. I can store contact information so I can reach out to anyone in an instant. I can read, write and send emails. I can track packages on my phone too. I can make and share my “To-Do” list on my phone and even designate some things for the old boy to take care of … and … we can check them off when completed. I can keep my Costco shopping list separate from my grocery list and separate from my family’s gift wish lists. I can even make a list for the movies I want to watch. I can read a book on Amazon Kindle or can have a book read to me on Audible while I am walking, driving, cleaning or gardening.

I can find my way around unknown destinations with Google Maps. I can book a trip with WestJet and keep my ticket on my phone! I can buy tickets for anything … anywhere … and don’t even need to print them anymore. I can find a hotel on the fly with Booking.com or Airbnb and/or get some really hot deals on accommodations via Hotwire. I can plan the sights I want to see and get recommendations from Trip Advisor. I can hire a chauffer anywhere in the world with Uber. I can find a restaurant close by with Yelp. I can even reserve a table in advance with Open Table.

I can figure out what to wear because I can also check the weather … here at home and anywhere in the world. I can shop to my heart’s content on Amazon and have it delivered to my door within 2 days. I can even check my bank balance to see if I am spending too much. I can deposit funds with the click of a button and make e-transfers in a heartbeat. I can also collect payments from my clients with my little Square.I can Zoom in and play fun games with distant family. Have you ever played Drawful? I can also schedule meetings on Zoom and/or attend workshops and conferences. I can have morning coffee with my old colleagues on Zoom too! I can create amazing group chats on What’sApp … and talk for free to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

I can attend my Essentrics classes online from the comfort of my living room (and sometimes in my pajamas!) via Facebook Live. I can log into Yoga classes that are delivered right to my home via my smartphone. I can log my progress towards my goal of walking 10,000 kilometers with Runkeeper. I can meditate or listen to podcasts.

I can write my blogs on WordPress. I can even send pictures that I want to include in said blogs directly from my photo Gallery for ready access in my library picture storage. I can link one blog to another or link directly to something somewhere else on the World Wide Web. I can write a letter in Word. I can create a ledger in Excel (although I need to sharpen my skills here!) and I can make a PowerPoint for business or pleasure! And, as my sister-in-law Barb reminded me, I can even chart our trips with a fabulous travel app called “Find Penguins”. I can pen about the highlights of our days, add pictures and then the App makes it all into a book!

And, at his very moment … here and right now in the middle of this pandemic … I am even more grateful for my smart phone. Given that for the first time in our lives the old boy and I will not be gathering around the Christmas tree with any of our loved ones … I can create a secret group on Facebook where my family and I are committed to “Making it Merry in 2020.” We are committed to brightening up and bridging all this isolation by mutually engaging in specified activities that are scheduled for each day. And then, we share our experiences in words, pictures and video that we can post in the group. It’s been great fun so far! Today is our day to unveil our UGLY Christmas sweater creations! The old boy and I had an absolute blast creating them. He kept saying “This is so much fun!”

I’ll add some pics to this post after I share them in our group. Tomorrow is the Christmas cookie decorating contest … wish me luck! The old boy baked up gingerbread. I went the traditional sugar cookie route … we are decorating them up tonight after work. The old boy’s usual good spirits (see gratitude #20) are a bit dampened this morning because I took him down in the “I Spy” challenge last night. 😂🤣

So, with that said … maybe my ‘item’ choice isn’t as shallow as I initially thought. I would feel so much more isolated and separated from my family without it. Yep. I am in love with all the ways my smartphone adds richness to my life.

Oh yeah … I almost forgot. I can also use it to phone someone.

Day #26: the people who mean the most to me …

Well, at first glance, the answer to this question feels like a no-brainer. I thought … hmmmm … I should be able to wrap up this gratitude in one paragraph. But wait … the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to morph from a single answer into a multi-layered and very complex response. The old boy and I have been together since I was 17 years old. And, while I would never suggest it has been all 🌈s and 🦄s … I deeply appreciate the ways in which we have both been stretched to new levels of honoring and appreciating each other over the years. Our intimate relationships are such tricky business. It seems we subconsciously choose the person who is best suited to trigger all the wounds we have been avoiding and have not yet healed. Whether it’s for a reason, a season or a lifetime, our partners can be our greatest gift … if we are willing to unwrap them.

Yes. The old boy means the most to me. May I be a good steward of his soul.

But wait! My daughters are always alive in my heart … regardless of what is going on in my life. More often than not, my days begin and end with thoughts of them … with hopes for them … and … with infinite gratitude for all the richness they continue to bring to my life … including their partners and my eight exceptional grandchildren!! Those little cherubs add such juicy joys to my world. When I became a mother, I had every intention of doing it all ‘right.’ I was committed to nailing the parenting thing! How hard could it be? 🤔 Yeah, well – I have never been more humbled in my life … and … I have also never felt more honored. To be entrusted to braid the hair and kiss the boo-boos of these bright, beautiful bundles of joy is a blessing bestowed upon me that goes well beyond belief. I know that I have grown into a better expression of who I can be in the world as a result of their presence in my world.

Yes. My daughters mean the most to me. May I be a good steward of their souls.

Hold on. Given that I have no siblings earth side (my mom had five miscarriages before I landed safely in her arms), I glommed onto my extended family with eager and endless enthusiasm. It was everything I expected … noisy Christmas celebrations, a full table at dinner and people to call your own. It was also everything I never expected. One of my new ‘brothers’ was killed in a car accident when I was 21. He was 20. I barely got my brothers and sister … and then … I lost one. Misunderstandings happened. I lost a few more. Hearts were wounded and the happy ‘family’ fractured. I learned that it’s not easy to be an only child, but it’s not easy to be one of many either. I also learned that miraculous healings can be claimed and embraced. Through thick and thin I have always appreciated my in-laws and I am grateful for gifts of reconnection.

Yes. My in-laws mean the most to me. May I be a good steward of their souls.

Well … just a minute. As I shared before, my friends represent the family I have chosen for myself (see gratitude #19). I am loyal to my friends. These precious connections are radiantly remarkable. It is no exaggeration to state that my fabulous friends are some of the brightest lights on this planet.

Yes. My friends mean the most to me. May I be a good steward of their souls.

And yet, the people I work with also hold a very special place in my heart. And, by ‘the people I work with’ … I mean both colleagues and clients. I cannot begin to express my appreciation for all the love, light and laughter that I have shared with my colleagues over the years. We often spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our families. These relationships are incredibly formative in shaping our day to day experiences.

Yes. My colleagues mean the most to me. May I be a good steward of their souls.

But then … there are my clients. As a counsellor/therapist, I am entrusted to hold space for those who have peeled back the armor that typically protects their tender, wounded spirits. Their hearts are often cracked wide open … and … laid bare before me. I am both humbled and deeply honored to be invited into those tender, fragile moments. In that intimate space of unfettered vulnerability, I am welcomed into their internal worlds and offered a glimpse of the beauty of God within them. I can’t even begin to express the level of love and respect that I have for the people I get to hold space for in my office each day.

Yes. My clients mean the most to me. May I be a good steward of their souls.

But then … I would be remiss to not speak about the ways in which I have come to develop a tender, loving and caring relationship with myself. It has taken me decades to recognize that the compassion and respect and appreciation that I am able to hold for others can be no greater than the level of compassion and respect and appreciation that I offer to myself. Our relationships with others simply mirror our relationship to ourselves. That which we behold in others is merely a projection of that which we see in ourselves.

Yes. I mean the most to me. May I be a good steward of my own soul.

Day #27: my favorite part about nature …

Once again … I thought, this one is easy! I don’t even have to think about it. But … if you’ve read any of my other gratitude posts, you know I will think far too much about it. I tend to overthink everything … but only always. Let’s face it, you can’t trust me to give a straight answer. So, fasten your seatbelts … I shall take you on the rickety train of my thoughts for this one. 😊

Being out in nature is so deeply grounding for me. The mountains are truly magnificent. The ocean is infinitely wondrous. A walk in the woods smells heavenly. But, for me … Mother Nature’s pièce de resistance is … sunshine. The moment I feel the sun kissing my cheeks, my spirit is elevated in a particularly pleasing and very palpable way. It’s like a light get turns on inside me … and … I feel the glow of its luminosity transcending beyond the parameters of my being.

I just LOVE the sunshine.

I honestly don’t think I would thrive in a community/country where it is overcast and/or rains a lot. I’ve heard it said that Southern Alberta is the corn capital of Canada because we get more sunshine than any other part of Canada. Apparently, corn loves sunshine too!! I looked it up to be sure I wasn’t leading you astray with these meanderings, so I got on my treasured item (see gratitude #25) and I asked Google.

According to a study conducted by Environment Canada between 1981 and 2010, “Calgary is the sunniest city in the country in all respects. It receives 2396 hours of bright sunshine on an average every year and experiences about 333 sunny days annually. 52% of the daylight hours in the city are sunny.” This got me curious about where the sunniest places on Earth might be. Another quick search revealed that Yuma and Phoenix Arizona rate first and second for the sunniest places in the world. Aswan, Egypt comes in third.

So …. It appears that I actually live in the sunniest place in Canada … and … I have visited one of the sunniest places in the world. I have golfed in the winter sun in Phoenix … more than once. I am also grateful for all the fun in the sun I have enjoyed in other bright hot spots around the globe!

I have sipped margaritas in the hot Texas sun … but only with top shelf tequila. That said … I must confess that I am a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to tequila. I had never even flirted with the likes of Don Julio until I was tipping back that very tasty tequila while attempting to temper the heat in Puerto Vallarta (just before the pandemic hit). Alas … he has stolen my heart and spoiled me for all others. 🍸

We’ve built a life size sandcastle while sun-bathing in a two-piece under the scorching sun of Antigua. 👙 That was at least a decade or so ago … long before swim skirts were necessary (see gratitude #21). I’ve also toured real ‘castles’ under the less luminous Scottish sun. We’ve ridden the Rhine embracing the German sun … and … felucca-ed on the Nile with Captain Abul in the Egyptian sunshine.

The old boy and I have smooched under the Tuscan sun. I have been laid, I mean lei-ed upon meeting the Hawaiian sun. Well … the former might be accurate too. We’ve canoodled in a tuk-tuk under the Cambodian sunshine and my chicken legs (see gratitude #21) loved hanging out on the shores of the China sea in Vietnam. Speaking of hanging out … once, but only once … I even let the girls slip out for a bit while sunning on a chaise-lounge on a topless beach in Thailand. It’s actually the one and only time that part of me has ever seen sunshine. Why on earth am I revealing all of this?? 🙄

As a family, we’ve sailed the seas and laughed and lollygagged for hours of fun in the Caribbean sun … Cuba, Cancun and Cozumel hold especially fond memories. We’ve hung out with Mickey and Minnie in the warm California sun. And, we whitewater rafted on a scorching hot day in Montana! The old boy and I scaled to the summit of the Tsunami escape route before 6am on the Island of Ko Phi Phi to catch the sunrise! And, I’ve made every attempt to capture countless sunsets with my smartphone!!

Anyway … long story short … I never tire of sun-seeking. I have heard that some amazing sun-fests can be found in places like the Maldives or Bora-Bora. I am reluctant to rely on such hearsay. I am thinking once this pandemic is over, I need to see for myself, right??

Day #28: something that made me laugh today …

Yesterday. We woke up today still laughing about yesterday. More precisely … last night. I think I may have mentioned that due to the Public Health restrictions of lockdown and lockup, we are celebrating Christmas with our children and grandchildren online this year. 😪

And since things turn out the best for those who make the best of how things turn out (see gratitude #9) I created a “Making it Merry in 2020” private Facebook group where each day from December 17, 2021 through January 2, 2021 there are “ACTIVITIES” listed that we can partake of (in each of our households). And then … we can share our experiences with each other in words, photos and videos in the group. My vision was that it would generate a sense of emotional connection despite the physical disconnection.

There is no pressure to participate for anyone, but it has been such a gift for the old boy and I to ‘see’ our loved ones online. We’ve been puzzling, decorating cookies, taking Christmas light scavenger hunts, sharing Christmas music, making UGLY Christmas sweaters, doing word scrambles etc. The old boy was licking his wounds after the intense round of “I SPY” where I clearly beat him. He was mumbling something about getting ‘highlighter’ gouges on his hands in the process. Whatever … 🙄

Anyway, yesterday our activities were all about Christmas carolling. We were beckoned to don our Christmas finest (or our DIY UGLY Christmas sweater from two days prior) and video tape a Christmas Carol that we could post in the group. The old boy chose Bob and Dough McKenzie’s “12 Days of Christmas.” We practiced up in the house before we took our show on the road (see attached).

Now … neither the old boy or myself can carry a tune. No. Clearly not! So, this activity is not something one really wants stored in the annals of history – but – with our egos cast aside in the spirit of ‘Making it Merry’ … we packed up a bag of nuts and bolts that they old boy made … put some of the decorated cookies from our cookie challenge on the plate we needed to return … grabbed the jingle bells I still had from a few ‘Jingle Bell Runs’ years back … and… headed across the cul-de-sac to belt out our finest to our Besties.

Just as we were heading out the door, one of our dearest neighbors arrived with a bag of treats. We warmed up our vocal cords by spontaneously bursting into son and offering Jenny our best rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Jenny went one way with her deliveries and we went the other. As our performance was wrapping up with Hutch and Marie, Jenny was still making her rounds in the cul-de-sac and, I will admit it out loud, we all broke all the rules forbidding ‘out door gatherings’ and chatted briefly while we savored this precious moment of connection.

And then, Jenny said … “If I go home are you coming to sing to me?” Of, course. “You go home and we’ll follow you.” But then she added … “You have to sing a new tune.” We chuckled ’cuz our repertoire isn’t vast. We promised to “jingle our bells” for her instead. As we arrived at the door together, Jenny cheekily said as she walked inside, “Ring the bell.” Ha. Ha.

So, we waited briefly and then rang the door bell, as instructed. She cheerily greeted us with an appropriate amount of surprise and delight … and then … we all broke into a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bells”. Now, that gal can SING! We were both humbled and blessed to share musical space with the songbird before us. 🎼🎵🎶

I was starting to shiver because I wasn’t dressed for the occasion. Well … that is only half true. I had my UGLY Christmas sweater on, but no coat and no long johns. I was FESTIVE but FREEZING.

We were skedaddling home when it occurred to us that we should pop over to a couple of the other neighbors. As cold as I was getting, we were “In the Mood” (see gratitude #8) now. So, we pranced all the way across the cul-de-sac in the other direction and sung our warmest wishes for the season to Doug and Bev. We might have stayed a whole lot longer enjoying this long overdue chat, but I was getting colder by the minute. And that is when the blunder occurred. 😝

You know how you mean to say one thing, but out comes something else?? Yep. That happened. Doug had mentioned that he was enjoying reading these gratitude posts. I sheepishly shared how I almost went back and deleted a paragraph … it was just this side of inappropriate and far too revealing (see gratitude #27). We laughed. 😂🤣

And then I blurted out something like: “I really need to go. I don’t have any underwear on.” 😲

We all howled. 😁😂😅🤣😆😃

I attempted to correct myself. “What I meant was that I don’t have my long underwear on.” 🤔

We all chuckled some more, but maybe you had to be there? Maybe it’s all the isolation from Covid-19 that amplified the humor in this for us? Somehow it doesn’t seem nearly as funny as I write it as it does when I replay it all in my head. 😏 Suffice to say, the whole evening was an utter laugh fest.

It was just so good to feel jolly and bright! Well … I wasn’t actually top of my game in terms of ‘bright’, was I? Well, except for the lights blinking and twinkling unapologetically and very conspicuously on my sweater. And, it’s a darn good thing the abundance of ‘jolly’ made up for our lack of singing skills. 🤨Yes, we are still laughing about it all this morning. 🤣😂🤣😂

P.S. Because I didn’t have my ‘Under Armour’ long johns on, we never made it over to serenade the Simmons family. Well … not yet, anyway. Stay tuned. I think we still have some merry making in us!!✨🎉

P.P.S. Can any of you help us with the ‘crazy carols’ part of our ‘Making it Merry in 2020’ activity? We are stuck and can’t figure out a few of them.

Day #29: a book I loved reading …

I was really struggling to figure out which book I should select. There have been so many good reads!! Before I reveal my pick, I need to offer a little background information. I have been collecting quotations since I was a teenager and, all along the way, I kept seeing quotes attributed to “A Course in Miracles.”

I found each of them so deeply meaningful to me that I purchased “A Course in Miracles” because I wanted to experience all those quotations in the context within which they emerged. It was not that easy. This spiritual wisdom is such a dense and profound text that I found it too hard to comprehend on my own.

But then I discovered that Marianne Williamson had written about her reflections on A Course in Miracles in a book entitled “A Return to Love.” I so deeply appreciated her help with the understanding of it. I devoured it. I couldn’t put it down. I read this marvelous, life-altering book about 25 years ago. In doing so, I learned that a “miracle” is a shift in perspective from fear to love. As Marianne shared:

“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we have learned here. The spiritual journey is the relinquishment—or unlearning—of fear and the acceptance of love back into our hearts. Love is the essential existential fact. It is our ultimate reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life.”

This resonated to the core of my being. And as my understanding of the “Course” deepened, so did my intention to integrate it’s tenants into my way of being in the world. It remains an ongoing challenge, but one that I continue to honor to the best of my ability. For example:

“Sometimes people think that calling on God means inviting a force into our lives that will make everything rosy. The truth is, it means inviting everything into our lives that will force us to grow—and growth can be messy. The purpose of life is to grow into our perfection. Once we call on God, everything that could anger us is on the way. Why? Because the place where we go into anger instead of love, is our wall. Any situation that pushes our buttons is a situation where we don’t yet have the capacity to be unconditionally loving. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to draw our attention to that, and help us move beyond that point.”

I loved this interpretation of our purpose here on Earth. I loved this call to unconditional love. And so, I made it my mission to be in search of miracles … to seek out places in my own experience where I was living in fear instead of love. And when I incorporated my business 19 years ago, back in 2001, I named it ‘Miracles! Your Center for Well-Being Inc. because I wanted the energy of my work to reflect this intention.

And, I am on ongoing work in progress. By default, I have a very anxiously oriented mind … and yet … when I can simply surrender and let the principles guide me, I can find calm. I can embrace more peace. I can see ways to interpret things that are not so upsetting, painful or threatening to me. As Marianne explains:

“Surrender means, by definition, giving up attachment to results. When we surrender to God, we let go of our attachment to how things happen on the outside and we become more concerned with what happens on the inside.”

Yes. This book was pivotal in terms of directing me towards my own much needed healing. I remain ever grateful for these teachings. Nelson Mandela even quoted it in one of his famous speeches. He is often credited for the attached quote … but … it was not him. It was Marianne Williamson. It is truly worth the read.

P.S. Oh … and … I loaned the original ‘hard to comprehend’ “A Course in Miracles” to my father when he was battling prostate cancer. My Dad read the entire text from cover to cover and it literally transformed our very difficult relationship. It truly was a miracle! He was 75. I wrote about all his miraculous transformation in a Better Because of You Blog honoring my Dad.

Day #30: a freedom I am grateful for …

I believe that Covid-19 has harshly reminded me of all the freedoms that I have mindlessly taken for granted for most of my life. I suspect it has for most of us. And while we are aching for these liberties to once again be within reach, this pandemic has also afforded us an opportunity to search deep within our beings and extract that which means the most to us.It has been an unsettling and often polarizing journey for all of us.

One of the things that I most appreciate that Covid-19 has no power to take from me is my freedom of expression. I have been writing a blog … capturing my experience of this pandemic since April 5th, 2020. It took me about three weeks to realize that this life experience was going to impact us all in very deep ways and I wanted to simply record the shape of my own days as I found my way through it. So, each day I have made an effort to log my observance of some of the happenings, share some of my own perceptions and responses to these unforeseen circumstances and report some of the headlines that have been highlighted during it all.

So far I have five installments (2 months each) but they are lengthy. So, I’m going to continue with my monthly Covid-19 reflections in monthly installments instead. I haven’t published any of my ramblings as of yet. It feels like it is all a bit too close. Maybe in April of 2021 I will be inclined to publish the whole year in review?? Or maybe I will publish the parts a year from the time of the writing?? I don’t have any idea at this point.

But … what I do know for sure is that I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the page. I appreciate the opportunity to write from my heart … absolutely unedited … and publish my thoughts without fear of reprisal.

Which is not to say that I don’t have a “vulnerability hangover” (to quote Brené Brown) every single time I share something deeply personal. I can’t even explain why writing is such a portal for me. It opens me up to see into myself. I just know that I often get clarity around my own perceptions as my fingers hit the keyboard and/or my pen strikes the page. I am an introvert by nature and, as I have shared, I need to toss things around in my consciousness before I can claim, embrace and hold onto any perceptions for certain.

And so … may I take this time to thank you for holding space for my ramblings … for encouraging me to speak from my heart … and .. for honoring my experience, even if it might be different from your own. This gratitude quest has been such a rich and remarkable experience for me. AS soon as I saw the invitation from my dear friend Lisa, I knew I needed to do it. Covid-19 has been an emotionally difficult time for everyone and I recognize that it is in times of deepest darkness that we need to focus our gaze towards the light.

And, I am recognizing more and more … that writing is not just a passionate privilege for me. No, I am seeing more and more that it is really one of my life lines. It kindles my internal flame in an indescribable way. I have no idea why. I just know this to be true. So … a freedom I am infinitely grateful for is the freedom to write.

And, if you are reading this … I thank you for hearing my words, for honoring my heart and for sharing your own thoughts, perceptions and feelings in the comments. One of the greatest gifts of this gratitude journey has been the exchanges and connections that have emerged in the comments section because I posted this daily on Facebook. In this way, writing connects us all.

This has been such a rich and remarkable experience. I am ever grateful for the comments and conversation and connections there were created as a result of people engaging with the posts. It has been so incredibly nourishing for me that I don’t want it to stop. I am going to do the monthly journal prompts that I discovered on Pintrest … starting in January of 2021! And, the best news is that I already have other people who are interested in doing the “January Journal Prompts” with me. 🎉🎉🎉

Yes. I am so incredibly grateful that I did not simply pass over the opportunity to look more deeply into my sources of gratitude. It really enriched my appreciation for all that I enjoy in my life!

If you ever get the chance to reflect and explore these questions … I highly recommend that you do it!

🧡 Karen 🧡

JOURNAL PROMPT – March 16, 2021: Do you share your vulnerabilities with others? Why or why not?

You know, for the first 40+years of my life my vulnerabilities were tucked tightly behind my shiny façade of perfection. I was all masked up so no one would be the wiser of my shoddy genesis. In addition to trying to outrun my shame with my perfectionism, I tried to distract people from seeing too far into me by people-pleasing, performing and proving myself to be shiny and bright. And, I do not say this with self-judgment. I offer up this observation with deepest compassion for myself.

And, when we talk about all this through the lens of the ‘shadow’ … i.e. the shadow of our subconscious mind, I can see that these efforts might have actually saved me. Yes. It strikes me that choosing to be so committed to my ‘story’ that all was well in my world might have spared me from ending up on a path that might have looked quite different. Seeking something better may have kept me from falling victim to the unfavorable reality of ‘what was’. I could wear a smile despite the chaos and dysfunction that I was marinating in. For the most part, I think I was pretty convincing. Most people had no idea. I even hid it all from myself to some degree. I certainly stuffed it way down deep.

As I shared in one of my blogs … I certainly did not ‘feel’ like what I appeared to be. Of course, there were also a few people … one ‘colleague’ in particular … who did not buy the façade but had no idea what was really going on behind my smile. They didn’t believe it so they called me “fake.” Perhaps they were right to some degree, but … their critical appraisal of me felt somewhat cruel to me and certainly raised some concerns regarding their professional acumen. People in their profession are supposed to help, not harm. They were a counsellor.

The truth was, I was hiding. A slight but very meaningful distinction. And, sadly, I triggered them so much that they did their best to make me utterly miserable. And I was so committed to the façade that it probably looked like it didn’t even phase me. I did share with a couple of very close friends … people I knew I could trust, but for the most part, I hid all of my pain in this regard too.

I’m not sure if their intention was to ‘break me’ or what … but … it certainly was one of the most heartachingly difficult times in my life. But, in retrospect, it was also a gift offered up in a very ugly wrapping. It grew me. Maybe it it truer to say that I allowed it to grow me. I could have let it take me down because, in all fairness, their assault on my desire to be accepted was not unprecedented. I had been told before that “You’re the kind of girl we love to hate” so … it was not the first time I had been rejected on the basis of my shiny façade.

It is really ironic to recognize that I was hiding behind my façade to avoid being rejected. And, ultimately, it was my façade that actually got me rejected. While it had saved me in some ways … it also invited incredible judgment and visible disconnection from others. It was definitely an experience of ‘both/and’ … rather than … ‘either/or’. That is how it goes with our embracing our vulnerabilities. It is both a blessing and a curse. That said … it is good to remember the words of some wise soul who said: “We are always caught by what we are running from.” Yep. But only always. 🙄

Once I started my healing journey … I was able to drop the cape of perfection and began to embrace all the parts of me I had judged so harshly. I reclaimed my shame and, much to my surprise, found oodles of gifts in it. For example, I can see that because I was always afraid that I would never measure up … I worked really hard to be top of my class. My desire to live in integrity was birthed from the realization that doing what I believed was ‘right’ spared me from hanging my head in any more shame or guilt. My inner pain has invited me to be more compassionate and understanding with others. All in all, I can honestly credit my ‘shame’ shadow (along with many other unwelcome shadows) for what I define as some of my greatest successes.

As I healed, I recognized that there were people who, in the words of the renowned vulnerability researcher Brené Brown, had earned the right to hear my ‘story.’ And so … I allowed myself to be real, authentic and vulnerable with the other coaches in my Certified Integrative Coaching training program with The Ford Institute. Wow. To be received with such compassion and understanding. To be encouraged to embrace my ‘wholeness’ was the most remarkable gift. It brings me tears, again … right now … even after all these years.

Yes … let me not skip over the fact that “hurt people, hurt people,” so not everyone is to be trusted with our vulnerabilities. We must be cautious if we put our fragilities into the hands of those who will not tend to them with utmost respect and deference.

And, I think this whole journey has made me a better counsellor/therapist myself. I tend to intuitively see when someone else is wearing a mask … in a heart beat. I know there is a whole lot of pain and fragility behind it. I know I need to be tender and careful. I know that what we see on the ‘outside’ of someone is often being driven by the opposite on the ‘inside’. You know … hard shells generally exist to protect very vulnerable parts.

And, I often share my vulnerabilities in the counselling room (not to make it about me) but to make it safe for them claim, share and get more comfortable with their own vulnerabilities. As I say this, I realize I have never, ever hidden behind my façade in the counselling room. Nope … the stories I share inside those walls are NEVER flattering. I am chuckling now, because I am realizing that I share my shame quite comfortably with my clients. It is really interesting to note that I actually use my shame in my profession to serve others … and … people continue to express how much they appreciate me being so ‘real’ with them.

And, over the years, I have also come to share my vulnerabilities in my blogs. And, speaking honestly to them here on the page has proved the idea that vulnerability invites ‘connection’ whereas trauma invokes ‘protection’ (the façade). Once again, to borrow the words of Brené Brown, I always get the worst ‘vulnerability hangover’ when I share my vulnerabilities online, but I have been both surprised and comforted by the compassionate responses that people have offered when engaging with my moments of fragility.

It’s also so good for me to learn that I can stand in the truth of my wholeness. And these days … I see that I am less likely to hide if/when I feel judgment or ostracism coming from someone else as a result of my sharing. I am far more likely to realize it shows me something about who they are … and … what they cannot be with … rather than who I am.

With deepest reverence for our collective vulnerabilities, 🧡 Karen 🧡

JOURNAL PROMPT – January 3, 2021: Last year was a year of ______. This year will be a year of ______.

Hmmm. It strikes me that last year was a year of disconnection. Maybe this year will be a year of reconnection to that which matters most.

Last year, in 2020, as the moments turned to minutes turned to hours turned to days turned to weeks and turned into months … life (as we had come to know and expect it) was seemingly snatched from all of us – right out of thin air. Air, we were told, that had become unsafe to casually and carefreely inhabit.

And, so, we became disconnected from our daily routines. We were not allowed to go to work. We were isolated from friends and discouraged from visiting family. We were told not to hug … not to touch … to distance from others. Leisure activities were cancelled. Even television programs had to shoot from home. Restaurants closed. Shopping was forced online. All our distractions were denied. Businesses shut down. Schools were closed. Travel was denied. Weddings and funerals were limited/postponed/cancelled due to “Covid restrictions”. All planning was put on hold. Social gatherings were outlawed – first indoors and then even outdoors. And, we were even ‘ordered’ by Public Health to rewrite our most sacred holidays and traditions. The covering of faces became mandatory. An energy of vigilance highjacked our freedom to simply be spontaneous and light-hearted and carefree. We were beseeched not to get close to one another.

Isolate. Distance. Disconnect.

Perhaps, however, there is much to gain from the gap that was created. Maybe 2021 will be an opportunity for us to collectively reconnect in a very conscious and deliberate way. Maybe we can begin to assess where we have been feeding ourselves with empty spoons. Maybe we can, instead, notice where we need to fill our spoons with healthy nourishment. Yes. Maybe we can get clear about what we are really hungry for …

I know, for myself, this past year has offered me a chance to recognize what really feeds my spirit and what doesn’t. I have spent more time writing … and … I can see how much it really fills me. And, as an introvert, a reduction in the typical overstimulation of living such a busy life was an unexpected blessing. My system had more time to recharge.

I notice that the old boy and myself spent more time engaging WITH each other rather than BESIDE each other. We have played more board games and watched less Netflix. We have cooked and cleaned up together in the kitchen. We have found space to tackle ‘the lists’ that never before seemed to take priority.

I spent more time in solitude. I spent more time outside. I took more pictures. I feel more rested.

Yes. Maybe 2021 will be a year of reconnection to our own souls. Maybe we will feed ourselves more of what really matters and less of what doesn’t. Maybe we will recalibrate in the most remarkable ways. Maybe we will look back on 2020 with gratitude?

Maybe it was a gift, in some ways, that we will continue to unwrap in 2021?

Fingers crossed … 🧡 Karen 🧡

Source Unknown … but deeply appreciated.

The soul should always stand ajar …

ecstatic experience

And … if we are paying close attention … we notice that the ecstatic experiences … those moments that inspire an internal “ahhhhhh”…  come in all shapes and sizes:

  • the birds flitting in and out of the birdhouse
  • the steam rising off the water in a hot bath
  • a text from your Bestie filled with emojis
  • a great cup of coffee
  • forehead kisses
  • the space of stillness of the morning … pregnant with potent possibilities
  • a belly laugh with your colleagues
  • a phone call from your daughter … just checking in … because they were thinking of you despite their busy schedules
  • a memory of a beautiful feline snuggled on your lap
  • the warmth of the sunshine kissing your forehead on a chilly winter walk outside
  • the smiles and support of people who really ‘know’ you when you are feeling entirely misunderstand
  • the feint flicker of a candle … bringing light to the darkness
  • a heartfelt connection that softens an experience and makes everything feel right with the world
  • eyeglasses … to clear things up and bring things into sharper focus
  • a really good, deep stretch in yoga class
  • stemware filled with a nice red blend in front of a warm fire
  • a book that is so good you don’t want it to end
  • a heartfelt and meaningful apology
  • flannel sheets in January
  • inspirational quotes that find you ‘sighing’ with deepest understanding
  • slippers … and … elastic waist bands
  • empty space on the calendar
  • glimpsing the twinkle in someone’s eye
  • a grandchild’s enthusiastic greeting and warm embrace
  • old photos of people you love
  • polar fleece jammies
  • twinkle lights
  • waking up rested
  • the anticipation of something really good
  • warm homemade buns with the butter oozing over them
  • exceptionally great service at a restaurant
  • the peace in our hearts when we can see the other side of the coin
  • being awakened in the night with the solution to the problem
  • feeling protected
  • watching a flower blossom
  • homemade borscht … hot, ready and waiting in your slow cooker for when you get home from work
  • a warm day with no wind
  • a great golf shot
  • a fabulous series on Netflix
  • knowing you made a difference for someone in your day
  • artistic creativity
  • the ‘dusted fries’ at the Kingsmen Ale House in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
  • a nice long walk in the sunshine
  • a 24 Cribbage hand
  • no longer being ‘lost’
  • when the gravy turns out
  • anything made with barnboard
  • finding money in your pocket
  • getting through security at the airport
  • spicy appetizers on fancy skewers
  • mutual understandings
  • fresh picked veggies out of the garden
  • a savings account with some money in it
  • children who are no longer sick
  • finding a decent parking spot at Costco on a Saturday in December
  • being able to donate to a worthy cause
  • watching your grandchildren’s extra-curricular activities
  • remission from a diagnosis
  • Lucy’s chocolate cake
  • listening to one of your favorite songs
  •  being delayed in traffic but still arriving ‘on time’
  • getting a needle threaded on your first attempt
  • flossing something out that was stuck between your teeth
  • chocolate … in all its luscious incarnations
  • purchasing something at 75% off

What stirs your soul?  Can you help me fill in the blanks?  ❤ Karen ❤

Believe in Yourself … You Can Achieve Anything!

Yes, you can be brainwashed into believing in yourself and thinking you can achieve anything … until you walk into a staff meeting at work on a seemingly regular Tuesday … and … you get fired. Yep. After 21 years of dedicated service, you get handed your walking papers. No notice. No cause.

And, for just a split second, because you cannot even fathom how this could be happening to you … you question your belief in yourself. You wonder if you would have been better off to have stifled your soul and silenced your spirit in order to save your job. But, you realize, even more quickly … that you could never have lived with yourself if you had not stood up for what you believe in. And, you remind yourself that if you had it all to do over, you wouldn’t change one darn thing, except of course … the outcome.

But, worst of all, your heart aches deeply, for all of your prior counselling clients. It is the beautiful souls you have been gifted to work with that are paying the biggest price in all of this! And you wish you could reassure them that you would never, ever in a million years, have chosen to abandon them in this way.

And you ache for any pain they might be feeling. You know that you get to move on by simply expanding your private practice and embracing all the possibilities that come with that liberty. And for you, it feels very exciting. But you know very well that this is not just about you.

And, you wake up in the night wishing you could reach out to each and every one of your people because you have been connected in the most meaningful ways. Because you know them and respect them at the deepest level. Because they trusted you. Because you knew they felt really safe with you ………. well, until now.

But you can’t instigate contact with any of these precious souls to help them make sense of any of this. You were not permitted to speak to them on your last day of work as you were escorted out of the building and for ethical reasons regarding ‘solicitation of business’ in your Standards of Practice as a social worker, you can’t initiate any personal communication with them now. And so, the silencing sucks … but you deeply respect and honor the integrities of your profession.

And so … you pray that they will know you still hold them with deepest regard. You pray that they will trust your character enough to recognize that things are not always the way the seem. And, you hope they will sense your heartfelt regret and the powerlessness you feel to honor and alleviate any of the ways they may be feeling unsupported in these moments.

And, you send compassion and courage through the ethers to each and every one of them … trusting that they will powerfully find their way through this unexpected blindside. And … you hope they feel your abiding commitment, despite your unforeseen absence in their circle of support.

And, although you are at the age where you could simply ‘retire’ right now, that option does not appeal to you because counselling is your passion … because supporting others is what your heart longs to do.

And you know that you will rise above the outrage of the circumstances … because, yes … you’ve brainwashed yourself into believing in yourself and thinking you can achieve anything.

And … you want to take this opportunity to remind your clientele – past, present and future – that they can do the same. Yes. Yes, they can.

❤ Karen ❤

A Slow Burn … and … The 2016 Christmas Chronicles!

It was such a slow burn.  It was so slow that it was almost imperceptible for years.  At times, I could vaguely feel the heat and on occasions I certainly sensed some scorching … but generally, I didn’t take much notice. I simply fanned all the flickers firmly out of my awareness.

It was an implicit and somewhat insidious pattern of behavior that developed so early on in my life.  My gaze was focused outward … my attention turned towards others. I was perpetually hurrying and scurrying to warm others … to make sure they were happy … endlessly endeavoring to earn their love and affection.  And I unwittingly thought that my efforts were keeping me warm too.  And, I guess they did … to some small degree … but those flames were also singeing the edges of my soul. Parts of me were slowly burning out.


As a child growing up in a pretty dysfunctional home, I had erroneously assumed that if I could ensure that others were warm, cozy and happy (only ALL of  them) … they in return, would keep me warm and cozy too.  It didn’t always turn out that way. In fact, for the most part, for the better part of my recollection …  very few folks have actually noticed if/when I was left shivering. Not that anyone knew how I really felt. I always put a smile on my face regardless of how I was feeling. It might have been wiser to simply ask for help … but then again … the ‘strong’ ones don’t tend to admit when they we are cold.  No, we’re “fine”.  Arghhhhh.

Source unknown

As I discussed in another blog, part of the problem was A Tragic Misunderstanding on my part, but it’s always harder to see the picture clearly when you are inside the frame … even if you are a master’s level counsellor. Gah!! After decades of discounting, deferring and/or dismissing my own needs, I got to the point where I could no longer ignore the unfavorable build up of cold ash that was slowly stifling my spirit and snuffing out the bright light of my internal flame.  I was doggone depleted. And my usual efforts to toss another log at my internal flame flicker were simply not enough to re-ignite it anymore. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to warm anyone unless I took time to rekindle the embers of my inner spark.

Yes … as some wise soul pointed out … ‘you can burn yourself up trying to give light to others.’ And so … I decided I needed to take a break from my usual way of showing up in the world … both professionally (as a counsellor and life coach) and personally (as a wife, mother, daughter-in-law, friend etc).  I needed to take some time away from tending to others (in general), and instead, focus upon finding more ways to warm my own charred spirit. I decided to call it my ‘sabbatical’ … because a sabbatical is when you take time away from your usual responsibilities in order to focus upon something else or learn something new.  I spoke about it more specifically in another blog entitled  The Gift of Personal Renewal.  Yes. I seriously needed to unlearn my default pattern of putting myself last.

In my profession, we are schooled about the increased probability of “burnout”, “compassion fatigue” and/or “vicarious trauma”  As a result, I have always protected myself from these potential perils by ensuring I get enough sleep, eating nutritiously (well — mostly!),  exercising my body (walking, yoga) and other forms of ‘self care’ (massage and reflexology and solitude) …  but it had gotten to the point where the drains on me personally from 2015 through 2016 were reducing the benefits of these professional safeguards.  Ultimately, they were no longer adequate nor sufficient to nourish my soul.

So, for my sabbatical, I opted to amp up my own self-care considerably. And, in an effort to optimize my efforts towards personal renewal, I also decided to opt-out of doing things that had  typically become my responsibility.  That included Christmas! Yes. I decided to surrender the extra responsibilities, obligations, expectations and work load that had become an inherent part of the Season for me. If I am going to be totally transparent, I recognized that over the past 20 years Christmas had been losing its luster for me. I was feeling increasingly burdened by the duties I put upon myself to deliver a delightful Christmas experience for my family. And, even more than that … I was seriously wondering what it be like to have Christmas magically unfold before you.  Yes … I was aching to have someone else doing all the fussing and bothering in order to make it merry and bright for me.

I explained myself and asked my husband to take a turn and do what I do every year. It felt like a bold move … but I reckoned that it wasn’t entirely unreasonable for him to shoulder the responsibilities … for just this one time … out of our 40 Christmas celebrations together.  And, if the whole truth be known … part of me needed the break, but another part of me wanted him to get a serious sense of how much time and energy it takes to make it all jolly every year. In fact, I laughed out loud when I read the following on Pintrest because it pretty accurately described my hubby’s level of involvement as, year after year, Christmas magically (i.e. easily and effortlessly) rolled out before him.


After my mom and dad split up when I was twelve, my mom did the very best she could on our welfare budget … but I always dreamed of enjoying those Hallmark holiday celebrations that I was convinced all the two parent kids were having.  And so, year after year, I have been wholeheartedly invested in creating the kind of Christmas for my family that I had always most wanted myself. Yes, I was determined to make my dreams for the ideal Christmas come true for them … year after year after year. 

And so, over the years, I had developed numerous heart-warming traditions for our little family. I joyfully adorned every corner of the house and decorated the tree with unparalleled zeal and stuffed all the stockings for our daughters (and eventually their partners) … each with their own special color/pattern of Christmas wrap. I carefully selected and wrapped gifts for each of the teachers with oodles of ribbons and bright, beautiful bows. I took the lead role in organizing our effort to anonymously deliver gifts to the doorstep of someone we chose for the 12 Days of Christmas. I also mailed out five or six dozen handwritten and personalized Christmas cards on our family’s behalf. I spent hours dipping hand-made chocolates (both dark and milk) in a variety of flavored fondant (peppermint, almond, coffee, maple walnut, rum & butter, peanut butter, etc) along with Olympian cremes (rolled in toasted coconut or chopped nuts) as well as  soft, chewy caramels and licorice toffee individually wrapped in red or green foil too. I boxed them and wrapped up the lids in festively colored paper and completed the presentation with a legend identifying all the flavors. And they were deelicious!!  I artistically iced, at minimum, 12 dozen homemade Gingerbread cookies (in various Christmas cutouts) for sharing in our annual cookie exchange. And, every year, I made a double batch of the shortbread recipe that became our family favorite (from the cookie exchange!).  I often bottled up home-made Baileys and, for many years, I created huge shortbread wreaths to give out as tokens of my appreciation to honor my friends.  Sheesh … I even have an old pic of those yummy gems!


It was also very important to me to spearhead my daughter’s understanding of the true Christmas spirit as one focused upon ‘giving’ rather than just ‘receiving.’ To that end, I helped and encouraged them to fill ‘Shoe Boxes’ for the less fortunate.  And, in an effort to pay it forward from my own childhood memories, I always faithfully donated to ‘Toys for Tots.’ I always tried to get things done early in the season (October  or November) because I had to commute 80 kilometers/50 miles (often on crappy winter roads) to the nearest city.  And … I had figure out how to surreptitiously purchase all the gifts with my three little gals in tow (childcare was not an option). Somehow I pulled the wool over their eyes so the ‘believers’ didn’t catch on … year after year after year.

I also remember navigating the shopping mall chaos and standing as patiently as possible so our sweet little girls could leave their requests with Santa.  I will never forget the year that my two daughters both changed their minds (at the last minute!) about what they wanted for Christmas!!  It was during the Care Bear craze of the early 1980s and perhaps all the advertising had finally gotten to them. No one was more surprised than me when they unexpectedly asked Santa for Care Bears. What??  Unfortunately, by that point in the season, there was not a Care Bear to be found in any store anywhere on this planet!  So what was a doting momma to do??  I ended up purchasing an official Care Bear pattern and spent hours sewing up two facsimile bears … a ‘Cheer’ Bear for Tiana and a ‘Tenderheart’ Bear for Sherisse. I hoped they would look authentic and real enough to pass their inspection.


Yep.  I clearly nailed it. The sheer delight on Tiana’s face tickled my heart clear down to my toes. We still have both those blessed bears in our grandchildren’s toy box. The years have not been kind to them … but for the very best of reasons.  I don’t think they get much, if any, attention anymore. I’m guessing our grandchildren think they are downright ugly … but …  I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them! And, although they were just homemade imitations of the store-bought Care Bears … there is no doubt that those ‘replicas’ certainly became real in my daughter’s hearts.  As Margery Williams stated in The Velveteen Rabbit:

[Real is something] you become. It takes a long time … Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes don’t see as well and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.”


Oh my … the sweet riches of making Christmas’s past as merry as possible cannot be denied. I mailed off special care packages (dutifully heeding the Canada Post deadlines for delivery) filled with small tokens of love for my father and step-mother … usually a banana loaf or some homemade cranberry fudge … some hand-crafted ornaments … and maybe some pics of our growing girls to add to their grandparent’s ‘Brag Book’ (we had no internet/social media connections back then).  I made the annual wife-saver (eventually two of them – one savory and one sweet) preceded by warm gooey cinnamon buns (fresh out of the oven) on Christmas morning. I have typically hosted Christmas Day at our house for the last quarter century … ever since my Aunt Mil passed away … and so I’ve roasted the bird and/or the ham with all of the fixings.

We always spent Christmas Eve with my in-laws because it was my mother-in-law’s birthday. I leaned in to help as much as I could on Christmas Eve too because my mom-in-law was disabled and the bulk of the work fell upon her only daughter.  And, of course, the annual Christmas tasks were not complete until the turkey carcass was simmering in the crock pot and the homemade TV dinners were assembled into pie shells with all the leftovers (the brilliant idea of my sweet sister-in-law!). And then … I typically led the charge in cleaning it up … always grateful for whatever support was offered.  As I itemize all the ‘work’ I’ve invested in the Christmas preparation and execution, I have to concede that it has not been without a strong element of martyrdom sneaking in over the last two decades. And so, when I saw the following sign on a Facebook page of a young millennial, I could clearly relate … and … realized that it wasn’t just me that often felt this way.


Little by little, over the decades, I have stopped doing most of it. We’ve grown in numbers and it’s just so much harder to ensure everyone is warm and happy. I have continued to fill all the stockings and decorate the house, make the meals and be attentive for when I needed to put out trays of appetizers.  These days, my husband roasts a Prime Rib in the smoker and my grown daughters contribute to the meal preparations and my sons-in-law help with the clean up and my oldest grand-daughter helps me prepare the ooey-gooey cinnamon buns.  And so, of late, my biggest concern has been that I’m typically bouncing up and down during the Christmas morning gift opening (to tend to things that needed doing) that I feel like I miss out on witnessing the joy as my family unwraps the gifts I have invested my heart into getting for them.

So, in 2016, I was eagerly anticipating simply sitting back and let it all unfold effortlessly in front of me.  There was a part of me that delighted in the thought that because Christmas was ‘on him’ this year, my hubby would have the opportunity to invest countless hours and oodles of energy into making it a Hallmark kind of Christmas for me.  I suspected that I would deeply savor the experience.  Yes.  I had a lot of hopes riding on switching things up. Ha. Ha. I can hear you all wisely wincing at the ‘set up’ I created for both him and me.

That said, I do hold some very special memories of Christmas past where I was on the receiving end of the fussing and bothering. One of my all time favorite memories was during the era that we were hand-making our gifts for each other (to resist the commercialization of the Season).  Anyway, I was reduced to tears the year that our daughter Sherisse handcrafted stockings for her dad and I!!  And then … she and her sisters filled them with gifts for us … so we could join them in our annual stocking opening!  It still remains one of the kindest and most meaningful gestures I can remember.  We continue to use those stockings and my heart secretly smiles with warmest recollection of their thoughtfulness every time I see them.

Another one of my other most favorite Christmas memories of the Season being made merry and bright for me is when my husband loaded up our little girls and drove 20 miles to pick out a fresh, live tree that easily reached our 10 FOOT ceilings.  It most majestically replaced the scrawny little five foot fake one we had been using!  Honestly, I remember it being the most extraordinary tree I had ever seen!!  The scent of spruce filled our home!!  I even had to make a whole schwack of red and white bows out of some ribbon I happened to have on hand because I simply didn’t have enough ornaments for a tree of such magnitude!  It was beyond my wildest dreams!


And well … I dug up an old photo so I could show you.  All I can say is that the picture does not even remotely do any kind of justice to just how much that tree warmed my heart and nourished my spirit!!! I get toasty all over again just thinking about it. ❤

At any rate, it was quite interesting to turn the baton entirely over to my husband and wait for him to commence the merry making. Staying out of it and keeping my mouth shut was more challenging than I expected. He picked out the tree on the first weekend in December (as per our usual) and got it standing up in the house on the 6th.  It smelled quite beautiful.  I was heading out of town on the 8th and 9th … and … I fantasized that I would return home to a brightly lit and beautifully decorated tree. But …  no such luck.

I could have decorated it myself, but remember … I was on sabbatical.  And … I knew that if I did that I would have really resented my husband (for my martyring actions) because we had agreed it was his turn to make it merry around here.  So, as excruciating as it was to let it stand there dark and naked for over another week, I forced myself to dwell in the discomfort until he decided to do it.  And, I noticed … he chose not set himself on fire in order to meet our long-standing traditions and/or my expectations around timelines.  It was finally decorated 10 days before Christmas. christmas-tree-2016

He got it done while I was enjoying some sabbatical self-care  … I was getting a pedicure.  He really did a beautiful job of decorating it. And … he commented on how many marvelous memories came back to him as he dressed the tree with all the ornaments we have received from our girls and/or picked up over the years along on our travels.  Our tree really did look quite lovely!  It does not escape me though, as I write this, that the tree that most warmed my heart (with all the red and white handmade bows) was not anywhere near as ‘pretty’ as this one.  I guess it’s really true what they say … looks aren’t everything.

Our tree is in the living room, but we gather in our family room (near the fireplace) to open gifts on Christmas morning.  As you can see from the pics below, my idea of “decking the halls” is a little different than my husband’s.  I have to concede that his lack of interest in decorating the family room irked me a bit.  I really missed the lights … BUT … it was really interesting for me to observe, once again, that because he was very busy at work, he was not inclined to set himself on fire tending to things that I have always thought were essential.  In fact, for the first time in over 20 years, he also opted NOT to put up outdoor lights on the front of the house.  He did get some up in the backyard, though, and they looked gorgeous twinkling in the moonlight.


Once again … keeping my mouth shut and letting him do Christmas his way was much harder than I expected. Yes, with boxes of decorations left undisturbed in the basement, our tree was the SOLO sign of the Season in our house until December 21st … when the decorations unexpectedly doubled!!  We received a gorgeous glitter dusted poinsettia in a beautifully spirited ‘pay it forward’ exchange that one of our next-door neighbors inspired in our cul-de-sac.  Thank you for that Mandy!



While I could have tendered this task over to my hubby, I jumped at the opportunity to savor the Christmas spirit tucked into that neighborly invitation myself.  I got directly into the car and headed downtown to pick up a little something to take over to the neighbor to our ‘right’.  Honestly, it felt so good to be doing something Christmassy.  And, as luck would have it, while I was at it, I ended up tripling the decorations in our home (and fueling my Christmas spirit!) by purchasing a Christmas wall hanging (that was 50% off!!).  The message completely captured my heart!  Fa la la la la … la la la la.


Yes. It was becoming clearer and clearer to me that many of the joys I usually experienced during the Season were clearly tucked into the spaces between the holiday tasks and toilings!  And, I must share that watching my husband delegate the holiday tasks to others was also very eye opening for me!  He had no problem enlisting my three grown daughters to help with his stocking shopping. I actually felt a bit guilty because I certainly didn’t mean for their workload to go up because I had surrendered mine.  They reassured me, however, that they had quite enjoyed helping him out.

I did, however, secretly worry that their compassionate efforts to help their dad were somehow going to sabotage his appreciation for how much time and effort I actually invested in the annual merry making. I didn’t want them to make it too easy for him! I also suspected that daddy’s little girls might rescue the old boy with the cooking and kitchen duties too!  But, as it turned out … my three sons-in-law stepped right up to the plate and helped out immensely with ALL the cooking and cleaning.  I played games while they slaved away.

I had to silence the critic in my head that niggled at me relentlessly … suggesting I should get up and help. I reminded myself that I was supposed to be on sabbatical. And so, I tried to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself throughout the whole season. I did, however, pick up the donation for Toys for Tots. I didn’t want to risk it falling off my husband’s radar. I also printed out the sticky cinnamon bun recipe as well as the wife-saver recipe for him. As it turned out, though, he opted to make a full breakfast of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs and pancakes instead.  It was absolutely scrumptious, and although it meant much more work and clean up on Christmas day, the boys did it the way they preferred.  And, guess what?  I just sat back and thoroughly enjoyed all their fussing and bothering and kept my mouth shut about how much quicker the clean up would have been with just one pan each from the wife-savers!

I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, at one point however.  I felt obliged to remind my husband that he also needed to purchase gifts for our eight grandchildren.  I’m not sure why that task caught him by surprise, but it did. Ultimately, he met up with a couple of his daughters  and they helped him choose some gifts that were really big hits with the grandkids!

Yes, he was doing Christmas his way.  Perhaps my biggest surprise was when he told me he was going to pick up some gift certificates for our son-in-law’s stockings for fancy hot shaves from Tommy Gunns.  He added, quite nonchalantly, that while he was at it, he might indulge himself in a hot shave himself.

Whattt???  The voice in my head balked loudly!How on earth was he ever going to appreciate how much effort goes into making it merry and bright if he was going to find ways to enjoy and nourish himself while he was at it??”

Yes. I know. It does not escape me just how ridiculous that sounds as I say it out loud. Bah. Humbug. I wasn’t sure whether to be cranky … or … to simply recognize that I was being seriously schooled in how I could very well have been seizing more peace and joy for myself all of these years!  Here I had been hoping he would get a deeper sense of how much elbow grease it takes to put smiles in the hearts of others … and instead … I was learning, over and over, that you are not required to set yourself on fire to warm others.  Gahhh.

All in all, though, I think he did gain a better idea of how challenging it could be … in the long run. There was a bit of a snafu with his efforts to stuff the stockings.  Because it had been so frigidly cold here, I had packed up a big bag with all my winter weather wear to keep in the car while traveling.  I’ll spare you all the details, but I discovered that my toque and mitts had been earmarked as stocking stuffers!  It was so darn tempting to not alert him of this error … to simply let the chips fall … and let my daughter find some of her mother’s old winter wear gifted to her in her stocking.  But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut on this one. I felt compelled to save him. Nonetheless, it’s a faux pas that will go down in history!

And … when it finally occurred to my hubby that maybe he should be stripping the beds and laundering the linens for our extra 13 overnight guests, it only took him a few seconds to reckon that the sheets couldn’t be that dirty since the last time our family stayed over.  Once again, I observed how he was not catching himself on fire to keep others warm. And, you know what?  Everyone slept fine … in those sheets that had not been freshly washed and dried and tucked with crisp hospital corners around the mattresses.

And so … I started to question myself: “Maybe … just maybe … I never needed to do all the fussing and bothering that I believed was such an essential part of Christmas??  Was it possible that I had been burning myself up unnecessarily?

And, in all honesty, I also have to concede that my lack of involvement was just not as nourishing as I thought it would be.  It is simply not my nature to watch from the sidelines.  And … I also recognized, just as the plaque I bought suggested, that much of the Christmas spirit is tucked into the moments between completing all the tasks.  I did offer to help my husband wrap everything … 64 gifts in all … 54 stuffers (9 for each daughter/son-in-law), 8 gifts for the grand-kids and one gift exchange item for each of us. It would have been torture to watch him fumbling with the gift wrap by himself with his fat sausage fingers.  It ended up being quite enjoyable … we cranked up the Christmas tunes and sipped on a nice Cabernet-Sauvignon while we cut and taped and chatted about Christmas’s past.

And then, a day or two later, I literally jumped at the invitation to travel into the city and help my busy daughters wrap their children’s stocking gifts.  I also toted them all home so our grandkids wouldn’t catch sight of any of them in transit to our house. It’s getting harder and harder to uphold the spirit secret of ‘Santa’ as they grow older.  In fact, my bright little 5 year old granddaughter reluctantly but earnestly admitted to her mother “I don’t trust you fully” as she skeptically questioned the whole notion of Santa. It was just no longer adding up for her.  It was an interesting year for my eldest grandson too. Even though, at eleven, he had already given up ‘believing’ … he became suspicious this year when he and sisters each received an iPad equivalent from ‘Santa’.  He reckoned that Santa might indeed have to exist after all.  As he shared with his mom, “I know you and Dad would NEVER get these for us!” Ha ha.

And so, in 2016, a believer becomes a doubter  … and … a doubter flirts with becoming a believer.  Yep.  These are all the priceless moments that catch your heart and make your spirits soar!  And … during my sabbatical, all of my perspectives were being challenged too. It was becoming so clear that the joys that are tucked ‘in-between’ all the toiling and tasking are part of what makes it all merry and bright. And I was learning that it was possible to do so … without catching yourself on fire.

I learned so very, very much during my sabbatical! “In the final analysis” (as I fondly recall my father often saying) … I learned that I was absolutely right: If I didn’t  fuss and bother to do it all, it wouldn’t get done ……… at least not the way I thought it should.  Truth. But … I also learned that perhaps it wasn’t all necessary in the first place.

Yes.  “In the grand scheme of things” (another dad~ism) …  I came to recognize that the multiple and myriad ways I had martyred myself over the years … with the intention of making it merry for others … was pretty much misguided and somewhat unnecessary.  Who knew you could have a completely marvelous time unwrapping gifts in an entirely undecorated room?  Ha Ha. And, although no one baked the annual shortbread cookies … we ended up enjoying all kinds of baking that had been gifted to my eldest daughter. She brought them home for us to share. And, it turned out that my youngest daughter ended up making the ‘Melt-In-Your-Mouth Eggnog’ cookies I had tasted at our staff Christmas luncheon.  These cookies might even de-throne the traditional shortbread as the best cookies for Christmas consumption.  Deeelicious!!!.

Recipe Source: Pintrest … slightly adapted from allrecipes.com and inspired by Parent Pretty

And, what became most evident to me during my sabbatical was that the things that make the season truly merry and bright showed up … our children and their children. Yep. Everything that was essential and important was present.  And, no one had to set themselves on fire to feel the warmth and peace of the holiday.   Oh … and by the way … the clean up is a snap when you most of your decorations are still in the boxes downstairs.

And so, another year has passed by so quickly … and … I am happily back in the ‘make it merry’ saddle again for Christmas 2017.  And, I am realizing that I need to put up lights in the family room because I LIKE LIGHTS.  Not because of some notion that they will brighten Christmas for my family.  I am recognizing that I need to do the things that nourish the spirit of the Season for me … and … drop all the rest.  And … I am, once again, thoroughly enjoying the ambiance created by the lights in the family room this year.

Yes.  My ‘sabbatical’ taught me a whole lot and was deeply transformational for me in terms of the way I am approaching Christmas this year.  I had hoped some of the lessons learned during my sabbatical would be for my husband … and … I think there were some of those too.  But, I see that the greatest ‘ahas’ were for me.  And,  for the first time in many, many years … the preparations don’t feel like a weighty, daunting task. I am greeting them with renewed enthusiasm and zeal.  I am realizing that there is absolutely nothing that MUST be done in any particular way.  And most importantly … I really like the way it feels to fully embrace the notion that I am not required to set fire to myself to have a very delightful Christmas.

And … I am reminded, as 2018 waits eagerly around the corner, that I can show up in a way that keeps me from shivering.  I can ask for help … I can let some things go … I can give myself and my own needs some priority. And not just at Christmas … but the whole year through.

May all our hearts be warmed during the 2017 merry making  – without any singeing of our souls  …  ❤ Karen ❤

































The Gift of Personal Renewal …


I knew it was time.  I love, love, love my work, but could feel that my usual level of enthusiasm was waning in the mornings.  2016 was a particularly challenging year for me … both in terms of managing other people’s needs/crises/calls for care and also in some deeply personal ways that I may speak about in another blog … some other day.  All in all, by the beginning of September 2016, I was feeling hard pressed to do what I normally do with my usual sense of passion and pleasure.  I can generally force myself to push through feelings of fatigue in order to get things done … so that I can cross all the shoulds/musts/oughts off my ‘to-do’ list … but this malaise felt very different. I sensed with certainty that I could not keep soldiering on without generating some dire consequences. I had to concede that I was wilted and withered and pretty much depleted in terms of my own emotional reserves.


As a counsellor, I am prone to invite folks to be more compassionate with themselves … to make more time for self-care … to be a little kinder to themselves and give their own needs highest priority for a change.  And so, as my enthusiasm increasingly waned, I knew it was imperative for me to attend my own lecture and amp up my ongoing efforts towards personal renewal. I knew that my clients would be short-changed if I did not pay special attention to the emptiness of my own bucket.  They deserve the best ‘me’ that I can offer them.  And, the very best me is one who is well rested and adequately nourished (emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually) so that I can be fully present when I am seated before them. And so, I was inspired to take care of me so I could continue to take care of my clients.  It has always been especially important to me that “my being communicates the energy, enthusiasm, respect, love and joy” that my clients deserve “because it will give a hundred-fold power to every act and word” we exchange during their sessions with me.

Some wise soul once said that ‘we can only teach what we have to learn’ and I have to admit that I am far more comfortable giving to others than tending to myself.  In fact, although I am a bit embarrassed to own it publicly … I can very easily gravitate towards martyrdom. Yes. I can be an A+ martyr. But then, one chilly morning as I was driving to work, I heard that still small voice within me say “You need to take a sabbatical.”  

What??  My understanding of a sabbatical is that people take an extensive period of time away from their regular duties in order to study and/or learn something new.  It initially sounded like utter nonsense to me … but by the time I pulled into the parking lot at my office, it had occurred to me that perhaps I needed time away from the ‘giving’ that is my usual way of showing up in the world (both personally and professionally) and, instead, carve out some space to nourish my own soul through ‘receiving.’ Maybe my sabbatical would be about learning to focus a little less on others and listen more compassionately to the whispers of my own soul.  With that insight, I could feel the faintest but most unequivocal squeal of delight escape from somewhere deep in my heart … and … I noticed the corners of my lips involuntarily turned upward.


So, I walked into my office, switched on my computer and immediately booked my ‘sabbatical.’ I knew I had better act immediately upon my intuitive wisdom … before my head talked martyr me right out of it. Slow but sure, I rescheduled all my commitments for the entire month of December 2016 … except for a mammogram.  I had already rescheduled three times … and … I reckoned that was a form of self-care that I should not delay once again. And when my mother-in-law passed, I stepped up and offered my assistance with a full and open heart … but other than those times, my preference was to start each day without an agenda.  Even before my sabbatical officially commenced, I consciously committed to ‘doing’ less for others and simply ‘being’ more present, aware and attentive to my own needs, wants and desires. I suspected it would be a bit of a challenge to sit in the discomfort these changes would generate and reckoned I needed as much practice as I could get.

One of my first steps leading up to my ‘self-care’ sabbatical emerged when I got brave enough to publicly share a blog I wrote exploring my life long pattern of suffering in silence.  I gave myself permission to speak up on my own behalf about how I had been neglecting my own inner pain. It was deeply cathartic to give myself voice, but at the same time, I felt so incredibly exposed that I experienced quite the vulnerability hangover after I published it.  I had been quite courageous in calling a spade a spade and I expected some people might judge me harshly.  Perhaps some did … but much to my surprise,  I ended up feeling so profoundly touched and generously supported in the ways people kindly and compassionately reached out to me (both privately and publicly).  Yes, sharing my truth so transparently had led to some very meaningful connections.

And speaking of connections, somewhere around the same time, I listened to Glennon Doyle Melton’s “Love Warrior” on Audible. This extra-ordinary memoir fortified my intention to drop the “representative” (the person I feel safe sending out in the world to appropriately ‘represent’ me – the one who typically silences me) and step into more truth-telling, transparency and authenticity (honoring the scared, and vulnerable soul hidden behind the representative).  The book has since been chosen for Oprah’s Book Club … and … as people resonated with the juicy joys of this conversation I received inquiries/suggestions from many hoping I would offer a book study.  I didn’t have it in me at that time to run a group, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to keep this type of discussion alive in my world.  So, I gifted myself with a chance to meet very informally with just a select few strangers who had specifically reached out to me when I posted my blog.  I didn’t really know them, but I sensed that they might be ‘my people‘  and wanted to get to know them better.  It has been entirely refreshing … and … very nourishing for my spirit!  It’s funny how you can feel so at home with people you don’t even know. I thank myself for being bold enough to ask them to come over and chat a couple of times as I was gearing up for my sabbatical.

Given that my sabbatical officially commenced in December, my husband agreed to shoulder all the responsibilities of Christmas for the first time in our 40 years together.  I can’t even explain how much it delighted me to think that someone else was going to fuss and bother in order to make the season merry and bright for me. And, in the spirit of truth-telling, I have to acknowledge that it didn’t really turn out the way I had imagined … but … it was a very rich experience in countless other ways that I never expected.  I share more about the joys, challenges and learning that came with surrendering this responsibility in another blog entitled “A Slow Burn and the 2016 Christmas Chronicles”.

In order to best honor my self-care intentions during my sabbatical, I resisted any and all urges to attend to any and all things that could be handled by others.  I attended a couple of meetings at work, but only because I really wanted to connect with my colleagues.  They are amazing souls and being with them nourishes me.  I especially enjoyed sipping my coffee in the dark, quiet of the early mornings … savoring the solitude and stillness. It’s always been my favorite part of the day. I also started a 40 day practice inspired by the teaching of A Course in Miracles and compiled into a book called May Cause Miracles: A 40 Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness.

One if the assignments is to schedule specific mantras called “miracle moments’ into your smart phone that will regularly alert and remind you to shift away from our habitually negative mindsets (judging, worrying, fearing) into a more love-based perspective (compassion, generosity of spirit, acceptance). More often than not, we cause ourselves unnecessary suffering because we spend so much energy judging things that have already happened … things that we have no power to change.  The ‘miracle’ lies in learning how to be more accepting of the flow of the Universe … even if/when we don’t agree with what is happening. This is not a passive stance … but rather, a significant shift in how we choose to respond to the situations, events, circumstances and people occurring in our lives.


Yes,  we always have the power to choose how we are going to respond.  Like … for instance, with my mammogram.  It was scheduled for December 9th in Calgary (3 hours from here).  In order to turn that undesirable  experience into something more fitting of my intentions for personal renewal, my bestie agreed to accompany me. We had planned to give each other the gift of time for our birthdays (and maybe a hike in the mountains in June or July) but life had gotten too busy for us to actually do it.  So, we opted to leave for the big city a day early and spend three days and two nights away where we could celebrate our birthdays and generously feed our hearts, minds and bodies! And that we did!!


A nice little selfie … taken in the lobby of our hotel!

There were so many marvelous moments:

  • If you ever have a chance to go to the Stillwater Spa in Calgary Alberta Canada … DO IT!  I received an absolutely phenomenal 90 minute relaxation massage.  The facility is spectacularly nurturing and calming … and … my insurance covered the entire cost!!  And, while en route to Calgary, we discovered the Trip Advisor‘s #1 rated  Vietnamese Restaurant in Okotoks, Alberta.  It’s called Pho Hoai !  If you ever get there … be sure to have the Chicken Sate!!  It’s not on the menu but they kindly made it for me anyway! Deeelish!!
  • And, one evening, after taste-testing the reduced price ‘happy hour house wine’ at supper … we opted not to settle.  We realized that we tend to ‘make due’ more often than not. We treated ourselves to something that delighted our palates instead.  It cost more, but we determined that we were worthy of the extra investment. It was a simple but meaningful opportunity to be more kind and loving to ourselves.  And, as we savored our sips, we high-fived each other for indulging our own preferences in that moment.
  • And … because we always love to take long walks/hikes together, we capitalized upon something called the ‘Plus 15′ connecting all the buildings in the downtown core of Calgary, Alberta.  We would normally have walked outdoors, but the temperatures (with the wind chill) were dreadfully cold.  The Plus 15 or +15 Skyway  network in  Calgary, Alberta, Canada is reported to be the world’s most extensive pedestrian skywalk system … with a total length of 18 kilometers (11 miles) and 62 bridges. The system is apparently so named because the skywalks are approximately 15 feet (4.5 meters) above street level.  We put a lot of miles on during those few days!!

  • On our last day in the city, we wandered into the fragrance department in Holt Renfrew.  I had never before experienced the kind of ‘high-end’ energy we experienced as when Viktor offered to assist me in finding a new fragrance to replace my old favorite (it’s not available anymore!).  We came home with a bag full of samples and gifts that he kindly packaged up for us! And, guess what?  We were very good receivers. 🙂
  • Oh my … and we howled with laughter every time we heard the ‘miracle moment’ reminder that we had cheekily recorded onto my smart phone.  Imagine the looks on all our faces as the sales clerks and fellow shoppers heard (on each and every hour): “We are playful, spontaneous bad asses out on the town.”  And, if you knew how far removed those adjectives are from our conscientious, responsible, reliable, well-behaved, social worker personas, you’d have a deeper sense of the hilarity of it all.
  • And, at the suggestion of a very sweet soul and colleague, we finished off the weekend by each having a Tarot Card reading by ‘Carl’ at The Divine Mine This new-age store front offers a plethora of divinely inspired services.  I’d never had my cards read before and am happy to report that it was a very rich experience. It was also very affirming. It was uncanny how accurately the reading reflected things that were going on in my life.  I look forward to taking another road trip with my three daughters and re-experiencing the mystery and magic of it again with them!

During my sabbatical, I also had the opportunity to catch some morning television .  Ever watched The Marilyn Denis Show?  It’s a Canadian talk show and it’s entirely entertaining! I thoroughly enjoyed the various segments on home decor/design, fashion musts/mistakes/makeovers, food, drink and fun and frolic!! I really think I would like to be Marilyn’s friend.  I mean it.

And speaking of friends … I knew it would be nourishing for my soul to book some time together with two of my favorite friends.  Our opportunities to connect have diminished over the years, but on this day, we sipped some Malbec, chuckled, snacked on some nice appys, chuckled, and then had a tasty supper together and chuckled some more. We might have shared a tear or two as well. Yes. We shared some smiles, opened our hearts and even posed for a few selfies!!  I so deeply appreciate these glowing souls.  If you would like,to get to know them better, you can read more about them in a blog I wrote a few years back which pays tribute to them.


Deb, Robin and Karen … and … Karen, Robin and Deb

Speaking of refreshing … despite the sub-arctic  temps, my bestie and I bundled up and hit the walking trail several times over the course of my sabbatical.  On one particularly frigid -25 degree Celsius day, we even made some snow angels in the undisturbed blanket of fresh fallen snow.  When was the last time you made snow angels?  As I reflect upon the moment, it strikes me that this experience makes a great metaphor for humanity:

Beneath all the layers we hide behind to protect ourselves … we are just angels in the making … aren’t we?


I also used my sabbatical to tap into my creative spirit and created some fabulous photo collage blankets for my daughters.  There was a Cyber Monday sale (heard about it on one of those daytime talk shows!) that got me inspired to do this!! What fun it was to lose myself into the years and years of pictures of my eight cherished grandchildren. Deep, deep, deep delight. I was going to give them to my girls for Mother’s Day but they are made of Sherpa Polar Fleece … a little to heavy for May … even in Alberta.  I stuffed them into their Christmas stockings instead.💚


Neil and Jack

Olivia, Luka and Lyla


Hailey, Trad and Talaya

And since my mother-in-law just passed away in October, it was to be our first Christmas without her … and … her birthday was Christmas eve.  Her absence would be deeply felt because my daughters were so very close to her.  And so … in order to honor her importance in their lives, I created a heart-shaped picture ornament of her for each of them … so she might adorn their Christmas trees forevermore.


Nell Lanser … December 24, 1928 – October 9, 2016.

I also decided to gift myself with a picture ornament of her.  And … in the spirit of honoring my own losses, I created one of my mom and my dad (who have long since passed as well). They remain forever in our hearts  and it sparked so much gratitude in my spirit to see each of them lovingly gracing our tree in the antique looking gold paper and pearl beaded picture holders.  I look forward to seeing them again next year … and … all the years after that.


Muriel Pauline Star Johnson (Edlund) … April 13, 1925 – December 25-27, 1989                        William Norman Bland Johnson … December 7, 1928 – July 12, 2009

I also enjoyed a juicy and emotionally nourishing FOUR HOUR long distance telephone conversation with my grade school friend Sari.  We’ve been friends for over 50 years but we don’t get to connect very often because we live hundreds of miles apart so it’s not uncommon for us to have lengthy chats, but I think this set the record for a phone call. It takes a special relationship to survive thrive despite the lack of attention ours gets. I’ve also written about what makes Sari so endearing and special to me.  

I rarely go to the theater anymore, but while I was on sabbatical, my hubby and I went to a matinée of Collateral Beauty. I highly recommend you see it.  We sat in a unique place near the front where we could rest our feet on the railing behind the seating area for the disabled.  We finished off the gargantuan popcorn (mostly)with gusto and without apology … even before the show began.  The story line was so compelling … and honestly … so very consistent with where I have been residing in my own emotional self-development.  I shall carry its meaningful message with me as I move through the minutes, days, weeks and years that are yet to come.  In fact, some of the ‘collateral beauty’ I noticed in making the blankets and creating the Christmas ornaments was all the memories that were stirred as I turned the pages on ALL our photo albums.  As reflected in the photos, there has been such extraordinary beauty tucked into my life. Really. Even in the hard times. And, I remain grateful. And, I am inspired to keep shifting into the next best expression of who I can be in the world.

Yes.  Enough martyrdom.  More joy.


I spent the last two days of my sabbatical in my pajamas.  Never got out of them once.  It was such a comfy, cozy and caring way to conclude my time tending to me …and … to reflect upon the whole process. And, as I made my way back to work I was sensitive to all the . invitations to resume all my ‘regular’ responsibilities I found myself wondering what parts of my ‘sabbatical’ journey I could ensure I took that I could take with me. I must concede that I really enjoyed the slower and less scheduled pace.  I was really antsy at first, but I got to a place where I could feel a softness in my spirit that disappears when I’m running myself ragged with the shoulds, coulds and oughts. I learned that some of the balls I’ve been juggling can fall.  And, I might not need to pick them up again. I’ve learned to hold some stronger boundaries.  I really enjoyed sensing the smile sparked in my own soul by answering its call more frequently.  I really need more time for me in my agenda. I really need to treat myself with more love and kindness and compassion.  I’ve learned that not only my clients deserve the best me I can be … but … so do I.


What if …?  What if I ensured that the loving and caring and nurturing I gave to others was not at expense to myself (as it does for most martyrs) but rather, was offered from the overflow? What if I made filling my own heart a priority … so full that it might overflow onto every other soul along my path.  What if I shared myself more transparently so others were aware of what I am going through?  What if I gave myself more space in my conversations?  What if I dared to ask for what I needed more often?  What if I quit soldiering on when I am tired? What if …?

Perhaps the most important thing I have taken away from this experience is this: I don’t really want the energetic resonance I enjoyed in my sabbatical to end.  And, maybe it doesn’t have to end.  Maybe there are ways I can continue to savor this vibrational frequency for always!

And before you know it … and before I have even published this blog … we are nearly all the way through 2017!  I am happy to report that I have been more conscious of the way I fill my day-timer though.  I wanted this to be the year where my own personal renewal was not reduced to a yearly event penciled in as a ‘sabbatical’ … but rather … become a daily, weekly and monthly investment in nurturing my own tender, precious spirit. It didn’t always turn out that way.  We experienced 3 deaths in our family over a period of 10 month … so … there were times when self-care took the back burner again.  But … I have learned that our investment in our personal renewal is an essential gift we must give to ourselves.

And, I must perpetually endeavor to remember that “This must not be a footnote, but the main body of my life and my work”  …  Karen

























Suffering in Silence …


We can never really know when those moments of ‘awakening’ will happen.  When all of a sudden something comes into full view that was prickly and palpable but just a bit too blurry, obscured and covert to detect really clearly.   One of the most poignant ‘ahas’ that I’ve had in a long time popped up very unexpectedly (nearly two years ago) after I received a distressed call that my mother-in-law had been rushed to the hospital … again.  My very beloved in-laws (Oma, now 87 and Opa, now 91) had been enduring storm after storm of medical crises (for several years in a row) …  with countless trips to the ER … numerous hospital stays … and many lengthy and lonely convalescences. We had been desperately craving some calm … not just for them but also for us.

But on that particular day, with no sunny skies in sight, I dropped whatever I was doing and made another 45 minute commute into the ER because no one should be alone in a storm. My heart sank as I saw Oma stretched out on the gurney and the man who had been her husband for over six decades was pacing and perturbed and clearly paled by his powerlessness to protect her.  The energy in the room told me this foreboding squall was not going to blow over quickly.

Yes, it was dire. And Oma was done. She was begging us to let her go this time… to find a way to end her suffering.  She was pleading with me … with us … in barely discernible whispers to “please” make it stop.  It had been too long.  She’d spent too many fractured years bravely overcoming one hurdle only to find herself promptly propped up against another one.  It was clear that she was not one bit interested in soldiering on through the pain of helplessness and subsequent hopelessness that she had so long been feeling.  She wanted it to be over.

I had seen her flirting with defeat before … but never like this. For many years prior to my arrival in the Lanser family some 40 years ago, Oma had already been an “invalid” (her term, not mine) … she could not brush her own hair or cut her own meat or wipe her own bottom.  And aside from lamenting that “It’s always something”… she really didn’t much complain. We knew she had her bad days, but I was invariably inspired by her attitude and the good-natured grace from which she courageously coped with her discouraging decline and undeniable debilitation.  And, I bore witness to the depth of her determination as she willed herself to persevere and to endure the surgeries and the long and tedious recoveries and the endless hours in physiotherapy in hopes that she could optimize her mobility and/or, at the very least, retain what little autonomy she still had left.  She laboured so hard physically and I intuitively knew she had to work just as hard psychologically to ensure those gloomy daily battles didn’t take her down emotionally.

But in the ER on that particular day … it was clearly all too much.   She wanted it to stop and begged us to spare her of more misery. When Opa’s eyes met mine, I could see him uncomfortably scouring his soul … how he could ever even consider letting her go? My heart ached deeply for both of them.

When the physician finally arrived to assess her condition … Oma compliantly shifted into ‘good’ patient mode and tried with muffled effort to answer the doctor’s questions. I had to help translate because she has a strong Dutch accent and was slipping in and out of English.  At one point, she offered a half-hearted smile in response to the something soothing that the doctor said and eventually she mustered enough strength to defeatedly but clearly declare, “I don’t want to be here.”

The doctor was kind and caring and thought Oma meant she didn’t want to be ‘here’ in the hospital … not realizing she actually meant not ‘here’ in her life.  When the doctor compassionately responded that she’d try to get her “out of here” as soon as possible, the floodgates opened. Oma didn’t want to go home, she wanted to go HOME. Her suffering cascaded down her cheeks in torrents of anguish.  And although it was absolutely agonizing to see her in such a state of despair, I was not prepared for happened next.  As soon as the doctor had left, Opa leaned in toward Oma and told her with a very stern and almost scolding tone: “You had a smile for the doctor. You can have one for us.”

I was stunned.  Whatttt? I could not even fathom what I was hearing.  It took me a minute to recover and recognize that this was Opa’s own angst and terror talking. He was entirely overwhelmed himself and couldn’t bear to witness the weight of her woundedness.  He needed a reprieve … even if it was at her expense.  And so he took it the only way he knew how … he ordered it.

And with his words … I watched her eyes become vacant and a solemn stare washed over her face. She then closed her eyes while she obediently retrieved any and all expression of her agony and she buried it somewhere deep inside her.  She lost her tears and became stoic, stalwart and completely silent.  I stood there, dumbfounded by the depths of sheer despair I could hear screaming out of her … despite her sobered silence.  And I sensed from her rapid response to his request that this was not the first time she had been required to put her pain away … to keep it out of sight.

And I understood, in that very telling exchange, that part of her survival story was to repress whatever she sensed was not welcome to express.  Oma had learned to silence her suffering in order to spare others. There was a time to stop feeling sad and find a smile instead. AND, in the transparency of that blatant shushing of my ‘invalid’ mother-in-law … her pain was rendered absolutely ‘in-valid’.

I instantly felt appalled and ashamed that for all these years I, too, had unwittingly perpetuated this discounting of her despair by applauding her admirable attitude.  I had misinterpreted her smiles as strength. I saw them as an absence of suffering … rather than a stoic and stalwart silencing of it.  It sickened me to the core of my being.


Though not a word was spoken … the dissonance was deafening.  It was all too obvious to me now. What we were seeing on her outsides was not necessarily what she was feeling on her insides. This reckoning stirred up something deep in my soul that resonated with the pain of betraying one’s inner truth. How had I been so obtuse?  How could I not see in her what was all too familiar to me?  How had I missed this for so long??  I, too, had learned long, long ago how to muzzle my misery and quietly repress any wounding, pain or hurt that I was experiencing. Phewwwww.

In one sense I knew that I had been doing it, but like the twist of a kaleidoscope … I was seeing the same pieces of my life through different eyes.  A new picture was emerging that left me squirming uncomfortably. Seeing a ‘silencing’ so blatantly imposed upon someone else brought forth a recognition that I had been covertly but completely complicit in a lifetime of dismissing my own heartache … silencing my own pain … and pretending everything was ‘fine’ even when it wasn’t. And, sadly, I had become really good at it.


Source Unknown

And once you ‘see’ something, you can’t not see it anymore! Like rocks in a landslide colliding within my consciousness, I was instantaneously bombarded with memories of moments where, time and time again, I had forced myself for various reasons to also suffer in silence. I was so grievously saddened as I started sifting through all the evidence my heart had been holding. It became all to apparent that, over the years, I had morphed into a most magnificent martyr.

I could see as a child, how I deliberately silenced my pain in order to spare myself the shame … my alcoholic father, my mother’s multiple medical issues and diagnosis of manic-depression (Bipolar) … her subsequent addiction/abuse of opiates and benzodiazepines … her stays in the psyche ward … my parent’s divorce … my time in foster care … the neglect and lack of nurture … the feelings of abandonment … the deep desire to ‘fit in’ to something you could be proud of … the longing to feel appreciated and approved of and maybe even respected.  And so … as a child, I opted to put a smile on my face and pretend everything was fine.  I have spoken to this more fully in a previous blog.  My pain was fully and completely silenced … even from myself … for many, many years until it was innocently and unexpectedly awakened in a mother’s group I was attending after we had children. You can read more about that here.

And so … about motherhood. For me, it was another long season of  harsh and heartless silencing.  I learned that what I really wanted to acknowledge was not culturally appropriate. New mothers are not supposed to discuss how horribly hard it can be to give your life over to a child.  Apparently, it was the best time of my life and it was going to go by so quickly that I should longingly adore it all completely. Every. Single. Moment.

I feel compelled in this moment to reassure all of you that I truly feel blessed to have been a mother. I absolutely do. From my humble perspective, motherhood is not a binary experience … it’s not good or bad … it’s not an either/or, but rather … it is an integrated both/and.   From where I am looking, it’s the ultimate in both agony and ecstasy.  I deeply cherish my opportunity to be a mother and the years did indeed fly by … but some of those days were the longest and most demanding in my whole life.

You see, I have been married for 39 years to an old fashioned, traditional, hard-working male … and from the generation from which he was looking, parenting was “women’s work.”  I had no mom, mom-in-law or sisters to lean on, so I was in the trenches alone. There was no real interest in sharing the load because, at the time, I don’t think he actually believed it was a load or even ‘work’ for that matter.  He erroneously assumed that because I ‘got’ to stay home, he was the only one working. He realizes now that he was the only one being paid for his work, but back then my efforts to explain my discontent were often met with quizzical looks and/or discomfort and/or frustration and/or a deaf ear.  And from what I could tell, other women seemed to be content with this binary set up. So, I learned to silence my grrrrrrrrrr.  Aside from one other friend and confidant, I had no where safe to put that authentic conversation, so I buried my pain and put a smile on my face.  I acted like nothing was wrong, pretended that it was all perfect and soldiered on.  And, I hid it all so masterfully, that no one else was the wiser about how deeply fractured I felt or how deeply alone and unsupported I really felt in the parenting arena.

And it made matters worse that we had moved to my husband’s home town … so he could go back to farming. It was a very small, rural town, but I had reasoned with myself that I could be a wife and mother anywhere. I clearly had no effing clue just how arduous that would actually end up being.  But I couldn’t wouldn’t let myself complain … because I had willingly agreed to go and didn’t want him to feel guilty.  No one had told me, though, that the good and kind people who live in a small town already have their circles of belonging.  They don’t have any need to make friends with the ‘new girl’. They are more likely to gossip about her long blonde hair and her jewelry and her purple eye-liner than invite her for coffee.

I could not have been prepared for how my cosmopolitan roots were going to generate so much ostracism. Unfortunately, I’ve got oodles of examples to draw from … but the worst of it … was probably when my mom died at Christmas in 1989 (almost a decade after we moved to that little town). I had deliberately silenced my grief within my home because I didn’t want to worry my daughters by crying in front of them. So, I took my pain for some long walks around our small town thinking I could hide the torrents of my tears behind my sunglasses.  I learned later that I had been nicknamed “crystal ass” … and then … my daughter came home one day and said her friend’s mom had declared I was a “slut.” Oooouch.

Apparently some of the locals had determined I was “pedaling my ass around town.”  It was agonizing to be so misunderstood. I got self-righteous and brave one day and tried to address it with the mother of my daughter’s friend. I wanted her to look right into the eyes of the person that her disparaging comments were hurting. I wanted her to defend the pain she was so cavalierly causing me. Let’s just say it didn’t go well.

I suspected I was just making it worse in a community where I was the ‘outsider,’ so I ended up downplaying how deeply isolating and hurtful my experience had been. I just tried to rise above it. I pretended everything was fine … even though … I ached to put a huge sign up on the post office bulletin board … calling them all out name by name by name … and … telling them all to shove their mean-spirited judgments right up their own miserable asses.  But ……………………….. I didn’t.

It became clear that taking a sanctimonious shot at any of them would not have served the greatest good in the situation. And so I hid all my pain again.  I was am a master at it.  I have been practicing my hiding since I was a wee child. I wonder, though, how often I looked like Oma did when I, too, lost my tears, retrieved all expressions of my pain, buried them deep down inside and pasted a strong and convincing smile on my face instead. I’d gotten so damn good at repressing my hurt by then that I am sure people believed my sunny disposition was an honest reflection of my idyllic life.  Eventually, I did make some very good friends … and for them I am eternally grateful, but I’m guessing very few, if any of them, had any real clue about the deep ache in my heart.


And, I have to admit that I do look happy. Even to this day, I think most people believe my life is filled with clear blue skies, bright sunshine and lots of lollipops. I’m guessing that perception exists because it is really quite rare for the people I know to sincerely inquire “How are you doing?”

In their defense though, why would they ask … I always look like I AM just fine. And so, for the most part, people tend to connect with me when they need to lean in … when they need support.  And, I am so deeply honored to be invited into people’s hearts (both personally and professionally) and trusted with the most fragile parts of their souls.  It is both my most passionate pursuit in life and my most nourishing purpose. So, please, please, please don’t get me wrong here. I treasure the opportunity to be of service but I’d also like to feel people’s efforts to connect with me are sparked by their affection and interest in me, not just their need of me.


There are a few people in my circle who do inquire … and for them … I am eternally grateful. And, as I share that, I realize I’d be remiss without sharing that I’ve also felt the need to stifle all the embarrassment I feel for being such a ‘fun sucker.’ It’s always been a challenge for me to simply ‘let loose’ with my husband and our daughters and my grandchildren. As I shared in a prior post:

The shame and neglect of my early years has shaped my overly ‘anxious mind’ and unfortunately, it takes a whole schwack of energy to manage the various worries, uncertainties, reservations, doubts, qualms and fears that persistently and unpredictably pop into my awareness.  When uttered in the past, my husband would shake his head in stunned disbelief as my neurotic ramblings effectively sucked any potential for joy out of the moment.  Pretty soon, I just quit sharing them out loud …

The anxious mind is so bewildering for people to comprehend.  It’s not rational at all.  Not even to me. So how could it make any logical sense to others?  How I wish I could just “relax and have fun” within the cacophony of noise and chaos and dangers that my acutely sensitive spirit and highly-kindled brain is on high alert for when the house is filled with of all of us. It sounds so reasonable … and yet … is always a struggle for me. So I do my best to manage my jacked-up amygdala and try not to suck all the fun out of the space when the alarm bells are going off unnecessarily in my head.

I know I have chosen to silence myself on many occasions because I truly am a “Highly Sensitive Person” I am acutely aware of the energy in a room.  I can sense when people are hurting and then I worry that maybe I have done something to upset them. Gah. It’s tough, because I do not wish to harm anyone with my words, thought or deeds. If it would seem that my perspective would be uncomfortable or unwelcome in a situation, I have often muzzled myself.

That said, and while I will not hesitate to introduce ‘hard conversations’ in the counselling room or the coaching domain, I refrain from doing so in my personal world without an invitation.  And it would be completely outside my character to publicly unleash any un-tempered anger … even when doing so would protect me from victimization. I can think of at least three times that has happened in my professional career. Arghhhhh. Double Arghhhhh.

It does not cognitively escape me that there comes a time when protecting others becomes injurious to oneself. And yet, I am forever checking to ensure that the things I am about to say will improve on the silence.  Is what I need to say kind, true, necessary or helpful?  If it appears not, I have voluntarily silenced myself on many occasions when I actually have had a whole lot I could say!!  And, sadly, it often comes at great expense to myself that I will stifle a whole conversation because I just don’t want to hurt others. I’ve even considered deleting parts of this blog because I worry that I have cast some of my loved ones in a bad light. My amygdala is on high alert right now because of the words I have shared here. Yes, all the second guessing is brutal … and … prickly … and … sometimes excruciating.

And so, in that split second,  in that ER room with my precious in-laws … I had some clear insight into the unhealthy nature of the patterns that have been chronically, quietly and subconsciously running my life.  The truth is that I have resisted giving myself permission to bleed in public … it’s seems way too vulnerable. Far too risky indeed.

In fact, the more I am hurting, the quieter I will usually get. It’s become a habit … even though it is not always adaptive.  I am far more willing  to discuss my pain once it’s been healed and the lesson from my wounding might be of service to another. Yes. I am more comfortable speaking from the scar.  It just feels so much safer … it is so much tidier. Yes. It is wiser to speak from the scar.

However, I am sensing that in some contexts, I need to change this because it is not working all that well for me anymore.  I think a part of me has always known I need to transform this well entrenched pattern of behavior, but I have effectively silenced that awareness too.  It seems so very scary to stand before someone … naked in your pain-filled truths … before there is enough scar tissue to protect you.  I’m not yet great with sharing my vulnerability.

But … I keep getting nudges from the Universe telling me I don’t have to keep suffering in silence.  Maybe I don’t have to keep doing the hard parts alone. Maybe I shouldn’t expect myself to weather the storms alone any more than I expect Oma should go through them alone.

I certainly don’t expect my clients to do that. I don’t expect my friends or children to do that either. Maybe I need to start giving to myself what I most love to give to others … a soft, compassionate and safe place to bleed … a tender touch on an open wound … a safe place to heal the pain. I hope I can be brave enough to keep doing this because I still have some things to say … some things that still have tears attached to them. Yes. There is more unspoken suffering to yet work through.

And so, if you are still here reading … after I have taken up so much of your time with this very long 3550+ word oration. Thank you for staying with me. Thank you for not ducking out because I have been so incredibly long winded.

Thank you for holding a safe space for me …  Karen

P.S. My mother-in-law survived that storm on that particular day … and since then … has gone on to endure many more.  Sadly, she and Opa are struggling once again.  We are hoping they will soon find themselves enjoying fairer weather.  Cross your fingers for them okay?

P.P.S. Oma did not survive that last storm. She left this physical plane on October 9, 2016. We honor her strength and cherish memories of our times together.

P.P.P.S Opa held on for another seven months after Oma left us, but he was not at all happy here without her. He was more than ready to join her when he passed over on May 22, 2017.

May they both rest in peace.
















I Put Up a Wall …

two people

Source Unknown

I put up a wall to keep you out … because I am wounded and fragile and afraid you will hurt me.

You see my wall and feel rejected.

You perceive my wall as a judgment or criticism of you.

The space between us becomes large and ominous … and … keeps us from truly seeing each other.

It keeps us from truly loving each other and meeting each others needs … which we could do and would do … if we weren’t looking at exactly the same thing and seeing something totally different.

If only we could see through the wall.

If only we could feel each others vulnerability.

But we don’t.

And so we both suffer … needlessly.

Source Unknown

There are times when we need to wall up,  but … not all the time, Karen

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