Beholding the Bliss … or … Missing the Moments??

The most nourishing part of my days is typically during in the darkened stillness of the pre-dawn morning. I wipe the sleep out of my eyes as I pour my coffee … and then … with the warm ambiance of battery-operated candlelight/twinkle lights, I nestle into the sublime solace as I wait for the sun to greet me through the picture window. Many years ago, the old boy switched out the teeny, tiny dining room window and replaced it with an extra large 9′ x10′ bay window that allows my eyes to effortlessly touch the world outdoors from the seated comfort of my reclining loveseat.

Yep. This is where/how I get centered for my day. For the past 325 days, I have been a student of A Course in Miracles and have listened to one lesson each and every day orated by Marianne Williamson. With a solid spiritual start to my day, I then follow it up with some journalling. Its been almost a year since I started meeting on the page in a private Facebook group with some very beautiful souls. We each share our answers to the monthly ‘journal prompt’ for the day. I found the questions on Pintrest. The connection and opportunity to engage with one another in such a deep and meaningful way has also become one of my most nourishing acts of self care.

At any rate, as I was typing up my reflections to the question of the day on Wednesday, November 3, 2021 … my eyes lifted … and I caught a glimpse of the most delicate stream of pink cascading across the ever brightening blue in the sky. My heart skipped a beat because I knew that what was visible to me from where I was seated was just a brief invitation to the magical gift that generated that colorful sky.

The magnificence of that moment came into fuller view as I drew closer to the window. I was so enchanted with it’s infinite expanse, I wandered upstairs to the balcony off my bedroom to capture a fuller appreciation of the glorious gift of this sunrise. I could see it continued beyond my field of vision so I went to the other side of the house … and … “Wow”. Those colors refused to be contained. They exploded exquisitely over the entire expanse of the Eastern sky.

I snapped a few photos of it with my phone. Something about those rich hues touched something deep inside of me … I can’t find the words to explain it, but I stood there, letting that delicious moment land fully within my awareness and completely capture my consciousness. I was so enamored by it that I posted this collage on Facebook so others could share in my delight!

Photo Credit: Karen Lanser

And then, before you know it … it was gone. Yep. Here is what it looked like just a few moments later.

Photo Credit: Karen Lanser

The fleeting nature of this divinely inspired artwork struck me in a way that it really never had before. I wondered how many times I might have failed to adequately appreciate these awe-inspiring offerings over my six plus decades on this planet?? And, that thought, inspired more curiosity within me around how many other beautiful, beneficent blessings are perpetually being bestowed upon me as I breeze unconsciously through the moments of my day? How many of these remarkable instances have been gifted to me that I never, ever even recognized … never mind made the time to fully unwrap and embrace??

I know that I don’t typically miss the really big and bold blessings that might be dropped along my path. I am thinking more about the ones that are not quite so glaring … the ones that unless one is wide awake and paying full attention might silently slip by without any fanfare. I am thinking about those instances when we might miss the chance to actually let them land in our hearts, minds and souls. I found myself questioning how many times I have robbed myself of being moved in a meaningful way. I reflected on how many times I might have missed a chance to co-create something glorious with the Universe in any given moment? I suspected there were oodles and oodles and oodles of them. As that truth became apparent, I felt a blush of regret wash over me.

Perhaps Mary Oliver is entirely and completely correct when she suggests:

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

Whoa?? What if? What if we are so mindlessly racing through our days that we are simply skimming the surface instead of living our lives to the absolute fullest? How many moments are we missing?

With deepest appreciation to Katharina Tina Rempel for this incredible capture. I adore her photography. She pays rapt attention … she is eager to be astonished … and she generously shares her experiences by posting many of her pictures with us on social media. Many years ago I asked for her permission to add some quotes to her photos so I could share them too. She graciously agreed. Thank you again Tina.

As we are rounding the corner towards two years since the pandemic began, it is tempting to get caught up in everything that is ‘wrong’ with our world right now. Covid-19 brought with it much more than a virus to darken our days. Fear has been the prevalent vibrational frequency since the start of this pandemic. And, sadly … it is almost impossible to escape that energy … even now … some 22 months into it.

But what if we countered the negativity in our space with more deliberate focus. What if we decided to look for moments of awe and wonder and kindness and compassion. What if we spent as much time sharing all of that benevolence as we do sharing the fearful memes that currently populate our minds and social media?

Rick Hanson PhD, a renowned psychologist and author, has written much about the neuroscience of lasting happiness. He reminds us that our brain is wired to notice the challenges, problems and issues. The ‘positives’ are expendable, because in terms of ensuring our survival, the ‘good stuff’ is entirely expendable. The ‘negatives’ however are never ignored by our neurobiology … and rather … become collected to the point where they can eclipse our perceptions of the favorable moments in our lives.

Hanson contends that positive experiences need to held in our awareness for at least 10 to 20 seconds for them to register in emotional memory … and … for the protein synthesis to activate neural growth. He, much like Mary Oliver, recommends that we:

Photo Credit: Karen Lanser

What if the magic of the moments can be multiplied and magnified simply by our conscious awareness? What if … a delight is truly doubled in the time it takes for us to simply take 10 or 20 seconds to simply soak it in and/or share it with others?

  • What might our days look like if we held tight to a random dot of light … and … let it brighten our path?
  • What if we really soaked in that a smile from stranger?
  • What if we curated our connections with more care, curiosity and compassion?
  • What if we kindled the kindness we extend/receive until we actually felt a swell in our hearts?
  • What if we really savored the next bite?
  • What if we leaned into our laughter just a little bit longer … until we could feel it warming our souls?
  • What if we mindfully let our lips linger beyond the customary peck? What if our hugs were less hurried?
  • What if we looked for what is right and good in each moment rather than what is wrong and bad?

What if we really paid more attention and consciously engaged with our lives just a little bit more intently and deliberately? I wonder what we would notice …

Photo Credit: Karen Lanser

With heartfelt determination to widen and deepen and mindfully shift my gaze … 🧡 Karen 💗

P.S. I noticed a hint of pink gently floating across the sky after I got home from work recently (November 20, 2021), I decided to heed Mary Oliver’s urgings. I chose to ‘pay attention’ to it’s call. I felt entirely awed and ‘astonished’. So, I thought I should also ‘tell you about it’ with a couple of collages.

Photo Credits: Karen Lanser
The palette of colors that unfolded over the hour I was witness to it … was nothing short of extra-ordinary!! 🙌

Morning Miracles … ✨

It has been nearly THREE years since the menacing Covid-19 virus invaded our lives! It completely upended and irrevocably altered everyone’s lives … at least as we had all naively come to take them for granted. A global sense of angst was running rampant in our psyches. We were locked down, isolated and disconnected from our loved ones to help prevent loss of life. Far too many people died anyway. The news sensationalized the risk and exacerbated our fears. There were daily briefings. It was a global crisis indeed. And not just physically. We were emotionally, mentally and spiritually assaulted. Many were terrorized. Others were nonplused. The polarization of belief became deeply damaging to the fabric of our families, communities and countries.

When it started … we all wondered how long it would take to be over. And then, the distressing days turned into precarious weeks which turned to ominous months and, ultimately, years of trepidation. At some point near the end of 2020, it became clear to me that coronavirus was not going away anytime soon.

I instinctively knew that I needed to regulate the fears that were chronically activating my own stress response. It seemed critical to find a way to mediate the energy of collective apprehension and global uncertainty that we were collectively marinating in on a chronic basis. I made a commitment to myself to start each day with some inspiring fodder for my spirit and soul.

So … I spent 2021 waking up with Marianne Williamson. She is a spiritual teacher and the author of 14 exceptional books including “A Return to Love.” I read this book over 20 years ago … it was absolutely life-altering for me. I even named my business “Miracles! Your Center for Well-being Inc” because I was committed to seeing the world through the eyes of love, rather than the eyes of fear … but I digress.

My Bestie and I took her online course “Mornings with Marianne: Daily Lessons from A Course in Miracles”. As a counsellor/therapist, it was such a rich way to ground myself. It was such a comforting way to remind myself that I can choose how I want to approach my days … regardless of what showed up in them. Every morning I would receive a video in my inbox. It made such a difference in the quality of my moments. It helped calm my nervous system.

Then, we turned the corner on 2022 … and … the damn pandemic came with us. 🙄 I determined it would serve me well to participate in another one of Williamson’s online courses. I signed up to receive an inspiring meditation delivered right to my inbox. Every. Single. Morning.

So, for the past year, as part of my morning solitude, I have been listening to short meditations (just 1-2 minutes each) from Marianne Williamson. I pay a little extra for my subscription in order to get the audio version of it, because I love hearing the cadence and tone of her calming and soothing voice.

As I listened to the message for today … Dec 6, 2022 … it occurred to me that I should share it publicly … in order to give others a sense of the empowering energy and loving intention of these meditations. With 2023 just around the corner, I thought maybe some of you might also like to start off the New Year off with a practice that would help shape your days in a meaningful way.

Each of the these ‘transform’ meditations comes with a beautiful graphic as well. Here is the printed form of one that arrived this morning:

Marianne Williamson

May I allow these inspiring words to shape the way I show up today, tomorrow … and … all the tomorrows after that. I’ve decided that in order to increase the propensity of doing that, I am going to sign up for another of her online offerings. I think I am still going to need this to counteract all the uncertainties that still warily and unwelcomely linger in the spaces of our lives.

Wishing you the warmth and joy of the holiday season … and … may we all experience an exceptional 2023, 🧡 Karen 🧡

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 TABLECLOTH

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: April 3, 2022 – What are you most grateful for … ?

I guess it depends on where I am setting my gaze, but there are so many, many, many things to be grateful for … on so many levels … micro, meso and macro. I don’t even think I could create a specific list that fully encompasses or adequately exhausts my appreciation for all the ‘beings’, ‘doings’ and ‘havings’ that shape my life and my experience of things.

I remember many years ago reading a couple of amazing books both written by M. J. Ryan focused upon the power of gratitude. “Attitudes of Gratitude” was an exceptional invitation to hone the lens through which I chose to see the world. I highlighted so much in that book that the pages were yellow. It was a game changer for me.

Another really lovely book filled with invitations to experience the world through lens of gratitude is “A Grateful Heart”.  It is a book of ‘blessings’ upon which to reflect as an evening ‘grace’ before meals. I didn’t use them in that fashion. I tended to use them as morning meditations … inspiring thoughts to underpin my days.

Anyway … I share this because maybe the thing I am most grateful for is that fact that I choose to look with grateful eyes. We typically find whatever it is that we are looking for. If we are looking for what is right, we will find it. If we are looking for what is wrong, we will find that too. I caught an episode of “Oprah” many decades ago in which she spoke about developing a daily gratitude practice. She stated that it had changed her life. I was inspired by that thought. I determined that if it was good enough for Oprah … it would be good enough for me.

So, way back in 1999, I bought a luxurious leather bound journal and started recording my appreciations into it. Every day I jotted down five things I was grateful for … and … I made it a rule that I could not say the same thing twice. So, at the risk of having to repeating myself, I noticed that I started consciously seeking things each day that I could record into my list the next morning.

It was the most amazing thing! I started to recognize all the things that previously escaped my awareness. I became far more conscious about the things that were going well and right, rather than the wrong and bad eclipsing my gaze. This shift in focus generated positive neural pathways for me that got myelinated each and every day. The more I did it, the easier it got.

I recorded my ‘gratitudes’ faithfully for years … and then … fell away from it for some years … and then came back to it again. As you can see, I had determined my 2020 vision was going to be set on “Seeing the Gifts.” If only I had known how difficult but necessary that was going to become ………..

Yes. I am most grateful for my gratitude practice and the way it has shaped my gaze. Even though I am not writing it down each day anymore, I find that my brain is still cued to notice the things that are going well, to see the gifts in my challenges and to bring light to dark … and even … to notice the things that I don’t want, that I don’t have. And, for all of THAT, I am most and ever grateful.

With heartfelt appreciation, 💖 Karen 💖

Better Because I accepted the 100 Days of Happiness Challenge … Again!

A video popped up on my Facebook memories on August 8, 2019 … a full five years after the last time I accepted the challenge … and … at first when I started watching it, I was put off by my own energy.  I thought I sounded really sappy and far too ooey gooey. I was tempted to turn it off, but then, as I focused upon the content rather than the delivery of my message, I was actually inspired to take The 100 Days of Happiness Challenge again! And … as I now come to the completion of another 100 days, I am exceptionally grateful that I did!!

As I mentioned in the video, this ‘challenge’ is not in the least bit frivolous, gratuitous or self-indulgent. It is not intended to be an opportunity to use social media to show off the great things in my life. It is, in no way, a self-focused effort to draw attention to myself and take up space on-line.  Rather … it is a deliberate attempt to rewire the brain.

Yes … we are neurologically wired to notice what is wrong … not … what is right.  And, as the most prominent neuroscientists are teaching us, we must make a conscious effort to wire our brains in the direction of honoring the things that are going right in our orbits.

Rick Hanson, PhD.

Its a great question to ask ourselves!  Where has your mind been resting over the past week or so?  I have experienced that The 100 Days of Happiness Challenge can actually shift where our mind is mainly resting!  It invites us to recognize, acknowledge and savour all the positives that already exist in our lives. Without our deliberate effort, many of these ‘good’ things would unwittingly go unnoticed … they would simply slide out of our awareness like an egg in a Teflon pan.

And … posting on social media is a way of deepening the experience!  It is a way of holding the ‘good’ in the brain for long enough for new positive neural pathways to be generated … and … for older ones to become more highly myelinated. The time it takes to find a picture and to write a little bit about what made you happy sustains your focus and prompts the protein synthesis for rewiring our neural networks.  It’s kind of like sitting around the fire on a cold night … if you want to stay warm, you need to throw another log on the fire!  With each and every positive that we hold in our minds for at least 10 seconds, it’s like we are tossing a log onto the fire of positivity in our internal systems.

The other magnificent benefit of taking on this project is that I instinctively find myself looking for what is ‘right’ as I make my way through the day. Metaphorically speaking, I am always looking for ‘the logs’ to add to my wood pile so my fire won’t fizzle out.  In order to be able to keep my public commitment to posting something on social media that makes me happy (on a daily basis for 100 days) means that I need to really pay attention to what is making me happy every single day … the big, the little and all the shapes and sizes in-between.  It effectively shifts my gaze from unconsciously focusing upon whatever is wrong to consciously noticing what is right. Because … both dark and light co-exist in our lives. Only always.

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated!

And, believe it or not, doing this ‘Challenge’ has shifted my focus so that I am deliberately seeking out that little dot of good, even on the most challenging days.  And, in doing so, the hard stuff (that is also concurrently going on in my life!) is just a little easier to bear.  The unwelcome stuff can’t take me down as far or as fast when it is being balanced by reminders of what is going well in my world. Perception is so powerful!!

And, it’s actually been quite interesting to recognize that as I have collected my ‘happy moments’ through the day, I rarely find just one. It’s fascinating to notice how ‘what you are looking for’ is actually shaping ‘what you see’!! And, there were quite a few day when it was really hard to narrow down my options in order to choose just one of them to post.  And, on a couple of occasions, I think I even posted a ‘part 2’. 🙂

Source Unknown

And so, I would also like to point out that, for me, making a public commitment to post my ‘happiness’ on social media is a conscious strategy to ensure that I keep looking for what is right and well with my world.  At the risk of mixing my metaphors, it’s a deliberate effort to ensure I throw enough logs on my fire … and/or … that I keep watering my grass. I am a person who likes to keep my word … so … I am far more likely to keep making the effort if I make a public promise to post for 100 Days. Otherwise, in all honestly, it would be pretty easy to get busy and simply let it slide off my radar for a few days.  And then, it wouldn’t be long before I simply stopped doing it.

Source Unknown

So, as I arrive at this 100th day of my second Happiness Challenge … there is a part of me that is actually reluctant to stop. I really appreciate the way this project has shifted my gaze and filled my spirit.  I like the way this project has obviated many of the things I tend to take for granted. I like the way this project has added a sense of lightness to my perceptions. I am grateful for how my brain is being rewired. I can literally FEEL the difference.

I have been so very grateful to the others who joined me over the past 100 days.  I thoroughly enjoyed all your posts too … and … even found myself searching them out if they didn’t show up in a timely manner in my Facebook or Instagram feed.  And, I very much enjoyed the comments from those of you who weren’t doing the challenge yourselves, but were engaging with me as I did mine! Thank you for meeting me on the page!! You made the whole experience even richer for me! ❤

And so, in all honesty, it is really tempting to just keep doing it.  But, I don’t really trust that I will unless I have made a public commitment to do so. The good news is that I will get to keep doing it for a while.  I had started a secret group on Facebook with a couple of people who wanted to try it, but didn’t want to do it so visibly. And, I am happy to say that we have agreed to keep doing it together for a while longer!

Lastly … I would never expect you to believe my experience. However, I would certainly invite you to consider taking the 100 Days of Happiness Challenge if you ever get a chance. You might be surprised by the gifts you might gain.

With much gratitude for my newest neural pathways, Karen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video

Thrive in Spite of It Healing Retreat

‘Thrive in Spite of It’ Healing Retreat

You CAN thrive in spite of difficulties, challenges and loss!

Join Kim Forchuk, M.O.M.; Brenda Berube, Yoga Instructor; and Karen Lanser, Counsellor/Life Coach for a day of inspiration, meditation, and healing! These three ladies each bring their knowledge, life experiences and healing energy to the day. Kim brings inspiration by sharing her story and shares how she has been inspired to thrive in spite of loss. Brenda brings nurturing and relaxation through her beautiful yoga to balance and ground the energy in the room. Karen brings her gift for creating a warm and safe space for all in attendance with her compassion and understanding of the human spirit.

Register early as space is limited. Minimum of 8 and Maximum of 10 participants. Your space will be confirmed and reserved once your payment has been received.

The cost is $149.00 for the day and includes lunch and snacks/

To register please contact Karen Lanser by text or phone (403) 317-1117.

Thrive in Spite of It Healing Retreat

The soul should always stand ajar …

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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 ❤

The Gift of Personal Renewal …

personal-renewal-jpeg

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.

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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.

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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.

carpet-the-world

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!!

calgary

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.

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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?

snow-angels

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.💚

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Neil and Jack

Olivia, Luka and Lyla

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Deeply. Truly. Sincerely.

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May we LEARN from these people.

May we LOVE these people.

May we BE these people

Deeply, truly and sincerely,  Karen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boundaries are Sooooo Tricky …

 

In this very short but compelling  video clip, Brené Brown discusses the notion of living a B.I.G. Life.  Her research has revealed that the most compassionate people are the most “boundaried” people. She begs the question of what Boundaries we would need to erect in order to live in Integrity and be the most Generous in our assumptions of others (i.e. believing that everyone is doing the very best they can in each and every situation). Makes perfect sense … intellectually. And, I’d venture to say we’d inhabit a world filled with expressions of compassion/empathy/good will if it were easier to actually do this in our day to day existence!

But, boundaries are so darn tricky to execute.  It is so much easier to erect a boundary once you are PISSED OFF.  There is NO second-guessing about putting up a boundary once you’ve been hurt.  We may not even think twice at that point … and then … we erect it angrily and often self-righteously.  But the problem with putting up boundaries in ANGER is that the meatiest part of our message gets lost in the perception of ATTACK.  When you put up a boundary with someone because you are feeling violated … they feel your anger … and may not be able to hear your justification for erecting the boundary.

In fact, many people who have been chronically wounded in their prior lived experience struggle terribly in their attempt to set boundaries … because – they often approach the boundary WITHOUT the assumption that people are doing the best they can.  Their perceptions that people in the present and future will be out to get them just like the ones in their past shift the energy and intent behind the boundaries.  And when we are coming from that defended space, our boundaries are like fences erected out of barbed wire … rather than compassionate reminders of how we need and want to be treated.

And so, we must learn to set the boundaries before we could shoot daggers out of our eyes …to  set them proactively … not … reactively.  We must learn how to set them kindly and firmly.  And then … lovingly hold them in place for the benefit of all of those concerned.

And to do so, we might have to sit in the discomfort of guilt rather than the self-righteousness of resentment.  This is the trickiest part to navigate.  Many of us are more comfortable living with the resentment directed at others than inhabiting the guilt we might feel in our own hearts if/when we have our own backs …before we get mad at another. BIG lives do not just happen … they are consciously and courageously created.

May we all commit to living BIG … Karen

 

 

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My Tributes: Better Because of You ...

Better Because I Can Forgive Myself …

I acknowledge that for much of the first 40+ years of my life, I hid behind a really beautiful mask. I might have looked like I had it all together but, as I shared in another blog, I was suffering in silence and was a pretty conflicted soul. I deeply and desperately wanted to create […]

All our Lives are Better Because of our Laudable Leah!

I started this blogsite with the intention of honoring the people in my circle for the ways in which my world was a better place because of them.  And, for the most part, I have acknowledged friends, family and colleagues.  The person I have chosen to honor today was an acquaintance of mine for many […]

Better Because You Spark So Much Light!

Can any of you guess who this bright-eyed beauty might be?? I’d sure love to know what she was thinking when this picture was taken. I adore the gentle glow that ever so delicately glimmers through her upward glance. I can also sense such a sweet and sensitive soul reflected through that precious smile! I’ll […]

An Advent of Love … Better Because I’m bringing You Home For Christmas Momma!

Those of you who read my “Better Because you Spared Me …” blog will already be aware that Christmas 2019 marks the 30th Anniversary of my Mom’s passing. You will also know that I didn’t even realize the loss of my Mom had remained so unprocessed … until the words, tears and unspoken grief spilled […]

Better Because You Spared Me …

Do you suppose this is true?? I am purposely pondering this possibility because … I don’t even know the man.  I do know who he is, though. And because we have lived in the same small, rural community for the past quarter of a century, I have seen him out and about every now and […]

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