Category Archives: Gratitude

And Then I Met Two Girls

Once Upon a Time.  We read those words so often as children, but I can’t say I have had the natural urge to use them in relation to my own life.  They conjure up visions of other worlds and fairytales.  Of times a little larger than life and utterly magical.

But I guess that is to say – I haven’t had the natural urge to use them for my own life … until now.

You see. Once upon a time … there was a place called Banff.

For those of you who have been to Banff you won’t question the validity of me using the much-coined phrase “Once Upon a Time”.  It truly is a natural wonder. And for those of you who have not only been, but have lived there, well, you will not only understand, but you will feel those words in your soul.

When I was 10 years old my parents saved up their money, piled us into a Ford LTD, with a trunk the size of my mudroom, and took us on road trip across Canada.  My father was a bus driver and my mother was a stay at home mom.  We didn’t have a lot of money but my parents were dreamers, and they saved and saved, and they made this 6 week road trip happen for us.  It was the best gift I ever received from them.  I will carry it with me forever.  I know this is where my passion for travelling began – but as I often say, that is another story.

The point of this one, is that one of our many stops across Canada was Banff National Park. While we were there my mom met a young woman from the Maritimes who worked in the town itself.  After chatting with her my Mom turned to me and said, with such conviction, “You can do that Karrie-Ann. When you grow up you can come here for the summers to work too”. I never forgot that. And when my university year ended and summer arrived, I high tailed it to Banff remembering being that little girl whose mother told her “you can”.

I remember getting off the plane in Calgary all those years ago. I knew no one.  As in nobody.  I was 18 years old.  I was 5000 km away from home and I was going to be gone for 3 ½ months. I was with no organized group or on any academic journey. I felt so alone that first day.

And then I met two girls. And that was that.  I wasn’t alone anymore.

Our summers were endless. They were those summers in between years of school and we were all just discovering who we were going to be in the world.  They were filled with parties and day trips and drama and boys and friendships. All of this set in the most breathtaking place you can imagine – with a backdrop of mountains too numerous to count and rivers and lakes so clear and blue you are entirely sure they can’t be real.

We worked on top of Sulphur Mountain and took a Gondola to work everyday. We worked above the clouds. Literally.  I mean come on.  We were kids from rural Nova Scotia and now we are working in the clouds. Yup.  We had the world by the tail.  And we knew it.  We lived every moment – and I do mean every moment – to the fullest until it overflowed. And when it did overflow we got up the next day and did it again.

There has never been a time in my life that can compare to Banff. It was possibly the only time in my life I ever remember having no real responsibility. My University experience was amazing – but there was still this weight and expectation of achieving something. I enjoyed high school very much, but high school seemed like such a small box we had to fit into. What was so unique about Banff was that there was no box. There were no expectations.  There was just this crazy mish mash of people who all shared a little quest for adventure, a little taste for travel and a shared desire to experience more than what was at our front doorstep.

But like every mish mash of people, there are those who rise to the top. And these two girls … well … they were my cream.

Fast forward 20 years to a weekend at a little cottage in a tiny place on the Amherst Shore of N.S. Fast forward through growing up, and broken hearts, and diplomas and degrees, and adventures, and marriages, and children, and opportunities that make you and challenges that break you.

Because there I was.

This past weekend.

Sitting with those two girls ….. because we will always be “girls” ….. reminiscing and laughing and catching up on decades of full, vibrant lives that have happened since our Banff adventure.

And in a way – to be honest – I thought we would be strangers.

But we talked like we did back then. With an honesty and a caring that happens when you have no choice but to rely on each other because you are so far from home for so long. Back when the world hadn’t taught us to filter our feelings quite so much.  Because when you are 18 it seems that all you have are ‘feelings’.  Feelings and emotions so raw and so overwhelming, bubbling to the surface you feel like you are going to explode.

Yes – there was something about the “realness” and easy-ness to the weekend that surprised me and that I treasured.

Our friendship began before cell phones, Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. Not once during the weekend while we were talking did any of us pull out a device during the conversation and check it.  What a gift that was.  How rare it is now I realize.  There was such respect for each other and conscious listening and sharing – of intimate and real things that had affected our lives over the years.  I couldn’t believe that comfort was still there after so long … after all … we didn’t even know each other as adults.

Being with them again was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

These girls reminded me of when I was fearless and young. They reminded me of a time when we seemed untouchable and invincible. Of a time when nothing seemed impossible and the only logical answer to any question was yes.

And I was reminded how some friendships are born – through necessity that turns into something more.

Banff gave me so many things. It helped me realize that the world can be as small as I want it to be or as big as I want it to be. That saying yes can pay off in ways you couldn’t dream of. It gave me a confidence and courage as a young person. It gave me an appreciation for nature and the beauty that exists in the world. It gave me a place to test my wings.

And it gave me these girls. These girls who I felt so uninhibited and real and safe with. Still. After all these years.

They say you can’t go back. I believe that. I do.  But this past weekend we didn’t go back.  We went to Amherst Shore.  And it was such a gift.

There’s a Corn Boil Tonight

As you may have gathered by now there are two kiddos in this world who I am proud to say share my DNA. As of a week and a half ago, neither of those kiddos are in elementary school any longer.

Doh!

How did THAT happen?

For some this is a monumentous time. A time of growing up and leaving innocence behind. A time of blazing new paths. Many mothers grieve these days as their children grow into preteens and teens – getting ready to test out new waters.

I grieve it too … I do … but my history and experience dictates a visceral need to be rooted in the present. To be thankful that we made it to this place together.

There is some sadness to them growing up – of course there is. But read that last sentence. They are growing up. What a gift that is to be celebrated in and of itself.
So my thoughts today aren’t with them per se or their new adventures. It’s with their alma mater.

Tonight their former elementary school is having their annual “Welcome Back Corn Boil” … and would you believe … even though I no longer have any children in that school … there was no engraved invitation for me this year? No red carpet? No skywriter sent? I am utterly shocked and disappointed.

I but jest.

But there is a part of me that has the tiniest twinge of envy today. And I’ve been trying to shake it and trying to identify it. And then I realized. This place – this tiny little school of … wait for it … barely 125 children … was more than just a school to me … it gave me something I have always valued in my life … the strongest sense of community.

I’m not from this area. I mean – I’m from the Valley – but not “this” part of the Valley … and in the Valley – trust me – it matters exactly where you are from.

So when we moved here nine years ago we knew no one. Literally no one. We moved when my daughter started Primary and we had a little added burden on us at the time – so getting out into the community was not only difficult, it was impossible. But we had LE Shaw Elementary School. That was our world. Home. The Hospital. And LE Shaw. If it didn’t happen at those three places we weren`t a part of it.

During those nine years we found everything we could have hoped for in a school. When you are small you can either focus on what resources you don’t have, or you can focus on what you do have and build on them. That’s perhaps what I appreciated most about that place. The school – I found – shared my worldview. They focused what they had – not what they didn’t. They took pride in what they were able to do – not got stuck in what they weren`t. And I`m saying “they” but I really mean “we”. Because I always felt a part of something there. I always felt welcome. From the moment I stepped in the doors I always knew my presence was welcome.

I’m also left thinking today about the friendships I made there. Alot of the friendships I have came from that school – from the parents – the shared experiences. And to be honest – and vulnerable – I think about whether or not those friendships will last. I know that sounds awful. Ideally what I should be saying is “of course they will”. But I am an “Optimistic Realist”. Friendships in these busy times of raising families are often based in convenience. Let’s be honest. They are. Our whole life is based in convenience. I hate that. Not a lot of people actually make much of an effort anymore if it’s not on facebook or at an extracurricular event `we happen to be at together“? It’s kind of true. I try and work hard for it not to be … but it often is.

But a sense of community is different from a sense of friendship. A sense of community is about something bigger – about a common purpose and a broader feeling. Of people coming together. People with different skills and knowledge and experiences – but all working toward the same outcome – in this case a goal so close to my heart – a positive place for our children to be raised while they weren’t under our direct care. A place where they could grow and develop and feel unique.

I am going to miss that so much. I am trying to cultivate it as we move on … I have a lot of hope this year. It is easier – more natural – in some places than others I think. But regardless, it takes work. I think it takes ALOT of work and consciousness and priority and leadership. But I’m ready to do my part. It may look different than it did. I’m not one who believes you can recreate experiences. But yes – I’m ready to do my part.

And finally, here’s the other thing about a “real” sense of community. I think that maybe it can stay with you. Because low and behold … didn’t that pretty cool Principal at a certain Elementary School call up both my kiddos and ask them to come and do childcare for the school after the corn boil tonight while Parent Orientation is happening …. and didn’t they STILL feel that sense of community.

So. It’s September 2014. There is a Corn Boil tonight … in a little tiny community … outside of a little tiny school … that gave my children, my family, and myself the most wonderful beginning. And for that … I am a little sad … for the changes … for the fact I won’t be setting up tables like last year … but I`m also whispering thank you … a hundred times over … for the beginning and the foundation it gave them in their lives.

There are Flies in My House Today

I am sitting inside as I type this. Which for this time of year for me is rare. On my front verandah this Spring I put out my old Papas an Chair – in which I snuggle up with my laptop and look out over my view breathing in the outdoor air which I love so much. (I am NOT an indoor air person).

But today I am inside. The laughter from the pool is not allowing me to concentrate and my vacation brain is not flowing as seamlessly as I would like it to.

So yes. I find myself strangely inside with the screen door open enough to hear if one of the three 13 year old girls giggling in my pool suddenly requires me to race down the stairs and give her CPR because she can’t stand up in the four feet of water that is my above ground pool. Sigh. What a mother.

But I digress.

As I have been sitting here for at least an hour – inside –as we have well established – I have spent the last 20 minutes of that hour annoyingly brushing away seemingly dozens of houseflies from the mere 4 square feet of space I am taking up in my living room.

I am senselessly trying to beat them into submission – or death – either one will do – with a Straw Corona Beer Cowboy Hat that was sitting within arm’s length of me … because I will not give them the satisfaction of getting up off my ass and having them interrupt my work.

Yes. I know. I’m a little touched. It’s widely accepted among my circle.

So I am sitting here like a fool allowing a dozen little winged creatures – that don’t even bite – drive me insane. And just when I’m about to throw my laptop at them thinking surely the sheer size and weight of it will kill at least one of them, I remember …

There are flies in my house today.

There are flies in my house today … because last night we had friends and families over all afternoon … all afternoon which turned into evening … which turned into night ….

There are flies in my house today … because there were eight kiddos and six adults running in and out and in and out and then back in and out of my house again … eating and laughing and talking and sharing and actively being present in each other’s lives.

There are flies in my house … because today three crazy, amazing, giggling, growing teenage girls are outside swimming in the pool and have been out and in all day for snacks and bathroom and my most favourite of all yelling for me to come take pictures of them.

There are flies in my house today …. because memories were… and are … being created.

And suddenly – just like that … the flies don’t seem quite as annoying as they were 10 minutes ago.

And no. This wasn’t the post I was planning on making today … but … there are flies in my house.

Life is good.

A Tisket A Tasket

Nearly two years ago I turned 40 … which makes me what society calls a middle aged woman.

During the year or two before this new decade of life, I was ofcourse confident that – on most days – I was not in fact “middle aged”. I scoffed at the ridiculous idea. Surely I was barely out of my 20s. But the year I turned 40 I somehow comfortably settled into the over used descriptive and have never looked back. I embraced it and have found that it fits me well. But that’s a conversation for another time.

I approached 40 at a time when there was a lot of talk about a concept called “bucket lists”. It was the buzz phrase of the year really. There was a successful movie released on the premise, talk shows dedicated to the subject, and water cooler talk was all a flitter with the “new” yet simple idea. That idea being this: put pen to paper and write down all the things you wanted to accomplish during the last half of your life. Then, ofcourse, go do them. Experts and underlings touted how making a bucket list would enhance ‘your time left on this earth’, give your life purpose, and encourage you to focus on the goals in your life.

To be honest I really liked the idea. I am very much a goal-orientated person. I tend to know what I want out of life in a very concrete way and go after it in a purposeful manner. Sure I’m not always successful, but creating goals for myself is something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. It’s a part of me. It’s like saying I have hazel eyes. My over organizing drives people crazy sometimes, but you see, I believe a great life doesn’t just happen. You go out and grab what you want from it. And for me, in order to know what I want, I need to think about a goal.

So when I turned 40 it seemed very natural for me to partake in this new ‘bucket list ritual’. A list of all the things I wanted to accomplish before I died. Yes … sure … the whole “before I die” part seemed a little depressing, but the concept in and of itself was very “me”. This was a logical next step on a bigger and broader level.

But as my birthday approached I realized something. There was no part of me – not a single little desire – that wanted to look at all the things I HAD YET to accomplish. Instead I felt this: a visceral need to put in writing all of the things that I had ALREADY accomplished. All of the things that I had been, had tried, had experienced, and had survived in my FIRST 40 years on this earth.

I wanted to celebrate the woman I had been and had become. I wanted to shout from the rooftops “look at all the amazing things that have made me this middle aged female living in this crazy world!! Look at all I have to celebrate!! Look at my life! It’s been so wonderful and hard and rewarding and fulfilling!! I’m still vertical and breathing and alive!! And I’m only 40!!”

(You’ll find I do a lot of shouting from rooftops … it’s kind of my thing … sigh …)

So. I gathered up my female friends and we went out to a winery to celebrate my last night of being in my 30s. I was surrounded by so many incredible women. There were 15 of us in total. It was one of the very best nights of my life. One I will never forget. As I sat there surrounded by them I shared my thoughts of having not created this seeming “right of passage” they were calling a bucket list. But told them instead of the list I had in my pocket of so many things I was proud to have ALREADY accomplished. I gave them each pieces of inconsequential pretty paper and a gel pen to take home to make their own list if they wanted. They smiled and nodded. If you could see cartoon air bubbles over their heads I’m sure they would have said “She’s soooo touchy-feely”. But the greatest thing is that those air bubbles would also have said “But we love her so much anyway!” I really do have the greatest friends and family! I don’t know if any of them ever went home and made their own list. Life is so busy and it’s not everyone’s thing. But I’m glad I did it anyway.

I never did share my list with them that night. The evening felt “too focused on me” already. But I’m going to share it here now … just as it was written two years ago. (Not an easy thing to do for this Private Extrovert by the way). Some things are seemingly pretty big … having explored Venice and the Isle of Capri or traveling through the clouds to work every day. Others are seemingly small … having experienced true deep friendship and falling head over heels in love. But the more I wrote the more it seemed the smaller things were in fact pretty damn big, and I was so proud and thankful to have experienced them.

Let me be clear. This wasn’t a list about the future. And wasn’t about the present. We talk a lot about the little things in life we are thankful for. But this list wasn’t even that. It was about more than whispering my gratitude. It was about taking stock. It was about celebrating and recognizing a life I had worked hard for up to that point. It was about things I was not just thankful for but also proud of. It was about acknowledging all of that at one moment in time. Some of those things I worked consciously for. Some I had fought hard for. Some were given to me. But regardless, by making this list it made me appreciate and recognize all of them.

Since those two years I have been able to put many more things on that list which perhaps I will share at the turn of another decade. Things I am proud of. Things I have failed at but have at least I have tried. But all of which have a made me who I am today for better or for worse.

This is not my bucket list.

This … is instead … my “basket” list.

 

 

Forty PLUS Things I Have Done BEFORE I was 40
Swam with dolphins. Took a gondola ride in Venice. Ate at the Plaka in Greece. Looked over Florence during sunset. Fell in love. Been interviewed for television, radio, websites and newsprint. Ziplined over a canyon. Spent summers working in Banff. Guided my son and daughter through childhood cancer. Rode the Cheetah Hunt Rollercoaster along with dozens of other thrill rides. Saw Cirque de Soliel. Had true friends. Hit on strangers in bars. Was hit on by strangers in bars. Took photos. Took more photos. Saw Oprah in person & went to a taping. Saw Michelle Obama in person. Played on the floor and in the dirt and on the court and in the pool and in the woods with my kiddos. Been to a U2 concert. Found my Dianna. Climbed a mountain in the Rockies. Made love at 7486 feet above sea level. Held a tarantula. Swam with and held Sting rays in the Ocean. Shopped at Harrods in London. Got chosen for the Wedding Game. Went on a Cruise. Said I Love You and meant it. Said I’m Sorry and meant it. Saw a rainbow above the clouds. Had a snowball fight in August. Put thought and effort into celebrating my Moms life at 65. Swam in four different oceans. Wrote an article that was published in the paper. Had the perfect wedding weekend. Married a man who loves me. Had an imperfect marriage. Worked hard at that imperfect marriage of which I am so proud. Learned every word to Barretts Privateers, Sonnys Dream and Home for a Rest. Appreciated music. Read, appreciated and made notes in good books. Took the perfect photograph. Won a photo contest on television. Went to my high school reunion. Pursued and purchased my dream of country living with a view. Was a good friend. Was a good Mom. Went Whitewater Rafting. Stayed at the Banff Springs Hotel. Stayed at a Dude Ranch. Whispered thank you countless times. Went whale watching. Owned and loved a horse. Slept in a mall. Slept in an Aquarium beside the Dolphin tank. Shot a rifle, shot gun and hand gun. Had my heart broken. Broke a heart. Went to the Calgary Stampede. Made out on the beach in the moon light. Enjoyed live theatre. Laughed until I cried. Cried until I laughed. Fed a giraffe. Watched a movie under the stars. Went to a Drive In. Forgave others. Forgave myself. Got “the” job for me. Let go of old friends. Held on to old friends. Had numerous and varied work experiences. Dated much older men. Dated somewhat younger men. Drank at Senor frogs in Mexico. Had family I could count on. Drove across Canada. Treasured my children at every age. Worked hard for a degree. Lived in four different Provinces. Wished on a shooting star. Swam under a waterfall. Climbed a waterfall. Kept a daily gratitude journal. “Made” moments happen for my family. “Recognized” moments when they happened “to” my family. Surrounded myself with photos of those I love. Surrounded myself with words and voices that gave me strength. Seized small things. Celebrated my Nannys birthday and Mothers day every year without fail. Volunteered and gave back to my community. Sent old fashioned mail. Remembered birthdays. Worked hard to make friends and family feel cared for. Told my children I loved them no matter what every night. Made mistakes. Made more mistakes. Chopped down a tree. Drove a stickshift. Owned a sports car. Recognized and appreciated my life … regardless of the circumstances.