Better Because of Our Mornings Together …

And my heart SUNK … as the reality of the situation landed in my awareness.  Something must have happened, out of obvious sight, in the dark of the process. I clearly underestimated the potential hazards inherent within the ‘normal wash’ cycle of my built-in Whirlpool.

Well okay … that’s not entirely true.  I must admit to losing the odd wine glass, but I’ve always known full well that I was taking a calculated risk when placing my stemware into that unsupervised environment!  However, I had absolutely no ‘fragility’ concerns in this particular case. Not. Even. One.


I’m scratching my head to comprehend how it even happened. Was it a relentless barrage … or … was it simply one nasty, defining moment? I’ll never know, but what is done is done. And most unfortunately, our mornings together are now reduced to memories.

That said, I don’t even specifically recall the last occasion we greeted the day together.  I might have lingered over it just a little longer if I knew it would be our last.  But, then again, our early A.M. trysts were always good. Yes. Over the years, we’ve shared countless hours of quiet, reflective, nourishing mornings together … sip to sip to sip to sip.

grams-mug-2

I know. I know. I know ….

It does not escape me that it was “just a mug.”  BUT… that mug was one of my favorites.  Not only because of the heartwarming messages handwritten upon it, but because I am a very pragmatic individual and that mug was so darn functional.  It eliminated any confusion about whose mug was whose on the mornings when Papa was home.  In addition to that, it was also the perfect size. There was no fiddle farting around to get the ratio just right: one good slosh of 18% cream + two packets of Splenda = the perfect proportions to please my palate!  Yes. Pure deliciousness! Every. Single. Time. My anxiously oriented mind just loves that kind of certainty … 🙂

As well, I always appreciated how that mug’s smooth, white, glossy handle slid so comfortably into my grip. I have quite a small hand and many mugs tend to tip over when I try to hold them with one hand.  But, not this one! It was a perfect fit. Good job that“Santa” tucked this gem into my Christmas stocking in 2011 …

And, this unfortunate occurrence means that Papa’s mug will now be relegated to the ranks of mismatched and alone in our cupboard. And, I am left to warily wonder whether his mug should now be handled with more care … i.e. washed by hand.

Well, all I tell you in that regard is this: Papa’s mug remained at risk for quite some time because although some extra TLC was entirely possible, it was not particularly probable in our house.  May I remind you of my lack of effort with the wine glasses … 

grams-mug-3

I expect, however, that as I attempt to temper my regret by stealing moments using Papa’s mug instead … my heart will be re-filled with fondest recollections of it’s mate. No doubt about it: Our sorrows are so inextricably entwined with our joys. As Kahlil Gibran so sagely suggests:

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Absolutely.  And so, of course, I seriously considered glue. My hubby assured me it would do the trick.  And I was briefly enthused by his solid conviction, but then my highly kindled amygdala promptly derailed those hopes by emphatically declaring that it would be far too precarious. When comes to scalding hot coffee … it’s better to err on the side of caution !!  And so, there would be no gluing.

And with that decision, my rational mind reminded me that there is no point arguing with reality.  There comes a time when there is nothing left to do but accept an unfavorable and ugly outcome … just as graciously as humanly possible. Yes. One of life’s hardest lessons is learning how to make peace with our losses.  And so, in my effort to do that, I just needed to jot down these words  … to overtly honor that many of my mornings were made better because I got to greet them with that mug.  And for that I am grateful.

With both a smile and tear for that which has been my delight …  ❤ Karen ❤

P.S. Papa’s mug is much less at risk now. We got a new dishwasher.  It even has slots for wine glasses. Life is good.

 

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Better Because You Moseyed on Over …

Its YOUR Birthday Hutch! Welcome to the sixties!  It’s tempting to poke fun at your age, but considering that you just caught up with me, I shall refrain. In fact, to the contrary, your buddy and I would like to dedicate this day to celebrating YOU … and … all the ways our lives have been richer because you moseyed on over to our place almost 20 years ago!  You might want to get comfortable, because I’m about to get long-winded. Hey! I can hear your thought wheels turning! No wise cracks from the birthday boy!  In all seriousness, your buddy and I have so very much to thank you for Hutch that I’m not even sure where to begin!

First, and foremost, because of you  Hutch … we found life long friends!  Not just the kind of friends that you visit with because you are neighbors. But rather, the kind of friends that hold a very special place in our hearts.  The kind of friends that you can count on … to be there … through thick and thin. The kind of friends who take an interest in your children and your grandchildren … and … your cat.  The kind of friends that you look forward to seeing because it’s always so nourishing and comfortable to be in their presence. The kind of friends that accept you fully … so that there is no need to edit oneself! The kind of friends who you can kibitz around with … and … enjoy some really big belly laughs!  The kind of friends who you can share smiles with as you clink glasses to celebrate the joys in life … and … who extend both hand and heart through the inevitable challenges. The kind of friends that you rap on the door once and then just walk in because you know you are always welcome.  The kind of friends that are incredibly rare and very precious! Yes … because of you Hutch, we have THOSE kind of friends! Yep. You guys are a rare gift to us … and … because you wandered our way, we have enjoyed so many magical, meaningful moments together!

Yes. THAT is what you started  Hutch … when you moved into 46A Street and moseyed across the cul-de-sac with a couple of brewskies to see what my hubby was up to in the garage.  And since that time, you boys have spent considerable time in our garage.

Yep … your buddy (aka my hubby) has been refurbishing and restoring his ‘other’ love for the past 20+ years. So … he spends a fair bit of time in the garage with his 1968 Firebird … which he affectionately calls his ’68 chick’ I, on the other hand, being 10 years older than his flashy red muscle car … hold the respected position of being his ’58 chick’.  I know … I know … I know what you are thinking Hutch … but this is no time to discuss the fact that I, too, could benefit from a little refurbishing! THIS blog is about YOU! Yes. So, let’s just leave it at that, okay?  I hope you are nodding your head. 🙂

Because of you Hutch … we have enjoyed more succulent, scrumptious Sunday suppers than we ever could have imagined!  It’s been no less than a dietary blessing that you’ve kept renewing your subscription to Canadian Living!  We have certainly reaped the rewards of you thumbing through the pages of that palate pleasing publication. Yep. Your culinary skills are hard to beat Hutch! Right now my memory banks are flooded with recollections of barbeques and fondues and salads and prawns the size of my fist and appy buffets and crab cakes and chicken and ribs and tacos and kabobs … and oh … even breakfast!  I’ll never forget the year that John was away and you even cooked up a birthday breakfast buffet for me!  I think my beautiful bestie was your talented and terrific sous chef that day!  Thank you again for doing that!

And, because of you … we have also enjoyed exploring some incredibly delicious drinks and creative cocktails! As you know … I’m not much of a drinker … well … unless of course, there happens to be a nice Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon or Chianti or Merlot or Syrah or Tempranillo or Grenache or even a nice red blend … like Bodacious. Mmmm. Mmmm. Mmmm. Aside from that … I’ve always had a pretty picky palate when it comes to alcoholic beverages!

But … you sir … invited my taste buds to some unexpected places!! How about the Halloween when you spooked up your house with fuzzy spiders and other ghostly décor and invited us over for ghoulish drinks and some ghastly looking appys … !

EEEEEGADS … look how YOUNG you look Hutch!!!

And while those eyeball martinis were not a flavour favorite for me … sometime later … you did win me over with your seafood Ceasars!  I wasn’t sure I’d like the texture of the scallops – but you sautéed them to perfection. Yep. Nothing short of extraordinary! Just look at all that delectable and spicy goodness!! Deelish! And so exquisitely presented too!!!

Just looking at them makes my mouth water with fond recollection!

Cheers to good friends … and … the artistic aptitude of the bartender/chef!

Yes, and I owe you big for nudging me even further out of my fermented grapes comfort zone while we were in San Antonio. It was so unbearably hot … and let’s face it … red wine is just not compatible with that kind of heat. No. Just not satisfying at all.  BUT those margaritas that you introduced me to were SO refreshing!  Especially when we got them ‘to go’ on the water taxi!  And, it was soooo darn thoughtful mischievous of you to ‘cool’ me off between the shoulder blades with your icy cold cup!  But, then again, I should have known better! I’ve learned it’s always wise to keep an eye on you! 🙂

Yep, were it not for you, I never would have developed an appreciation for the divine deliciousness of Tequila!  But not just any tequila. No, no, no! Remember the one we were sipping on at one of the local pubs while the four of us were playing Hangman on my tablet. Although I believe the Lanser duo won the game that time, the tequila was sure no winner on that occasion. I think I left my margarita on the table. Or maybe someone else drank it. I can’t quite remember … but … because of you, I have learned I’m a top shelf girl. And no worms. I make no apologies for being a bit uppity like that.

And, I’m not sure if we have sufficiently thanked you and my bestie (aka the “Margarita Queen”) for subsequently purchasing one of those Margaritaville Machines! Because of that wise investment, we need only make the long arduous trek across the cul-de-sac to savor an icy, frosted and salted margarita on the hottest days in our neighborhood!

Cheers!!

OR … we now have the option to just take the makings for marvelous margaritas with us when we travel. Of course we’d only do so as a purely preventative measure. In case it gets hot. For example … it was a darn good thing we had it when we spent the night in the roaring metropolis of Pincher Creek! Nothing like a little slushy goodness to pick up the pace and perk up the spirits at a Ramada Inn located in the middle of nowhere!  A much better option than watersliding! Clearly … 🙂

We ended up staying in that remote rural locale because your wife and I were running in the Buffalo Runners 10km race … across the scorching hot prairies. And, lucky for us, you fine fellas came along to support us. It made it even more fun. Although, in this picture … your buddy looks like he was up to something sneaky, doesn’t he??

That said, this seems the perfect time to acknowledge you Hutch for all the ways you have supported your wife over the years.  You’ve been there to clap and cheer her on … whether she is running a race, or getting an academic degree or hiking a mountain or making her own makeshift Camino by walking 100km along the side of the highway right here in Alberta! Yes. We honor and admire you so much for being that kind of guy!

And, because of you Hutch … we have enjoyed some great trips together! In fact, were it not for you, John and I would never have ventured to San Antonio, Texas!  And were it not for you … I’m not sure how long we would have loitered in the airport trying to locate our luggage.  Remember the shocked looks on our faces when we discovered our connecting flight in Denver had been cancelled!! Gah!  And so,  in order to get us to San Antonio … our luggage had to take a different plane … arriving at a different time! We’d never before heard of Frontier Airlines … but somehow you figured out where to look … and the lost was found!  And remember our fun evening at the Howl at the Moon Saloon!  Those dueling pianos were fabulous!

In addition to San Antonio, we’ve shared some great times in Waterton Lakes National Park I’ll never forget getting drenched in an unexpected downpour while kayaking on the previously peaceful and placid Cameron Lake.

And then there was the Opera in Calgary! If memory serves me correctly, we had to turn back in the middle of a snow storm on our first attempt to experience such a fancy and cultured night of entertainment. And, when we eventually claimed our rain check, it seemed like John and Marie enjoyed the arias, but alas … didn’t you and I prefer a little less polish?  I think we preferred listening to the live band at the Irish Pub afterwards.

And we had a great time in Kimberley … we even took a tour of the …. uhm … I don’t remember what it was called.  Something about mining and trains, right??  There is no shortage of adventures to behold when we are travelling together!  It was really very fascinating!  And … it’s important to do what interests you boys too … at least on rare occasion … right?

Speaking of more ‘manly’ adventures … John just reminded me of the time you guys took the ’68 chick for it’s maiden voyage … after the main body work was completed … only to have the lug nuts come off of the rims … while you were cruising down the highway!  I think you should know he’s blaming you for that whole debacle … saying that somehow you must have “jinxed” it. Uhm … okay.  And, I bet it was ‘your’ fault, too, when you boys barely limped home after golfing in Cardston and the old girl was only running on seven cylinders. Gah. Yeah … I’ve had plenty of wild rides in that ’68 chick myself! I remember running out of gas … ‘cuz apparently the fuel tank was not connected properly and it only appeared that we had a full tank. Yep.  She’s always full of surprises. Nonetheless, your buddy sure loves her! 🙂

Where to next, Hutch?  Nashville maybe??  How good do you think we would be at karaoke?  Or … maybe we can just listen to the famous country crooners?  And, if its hot, we could probably find some top shelf margaritas?  If not, I bet they have a lovely red wine. Or beer?  Not that beer appeals to me … but the three of you could enjoy a nice tall cool one while we soak up some sad, ‘she stole my heart and wrecked my car’ country ballads.  It might not be Roy Orbison or Jerry Lee Lewis … but  … I bet they’d get our toes tapping!  Or maybe, in the midst of all that talent, we’d cut a rug and do some two stepping! You just never know.  I’m up for another adventure somewhere… but, let’s not take the firechicken.

Speaking of great talent … well … because of you Hutch, I have been humbled at cards. I must publicly concede that you are very savvy and skilled when it comes to playing Hearts.  It’s true.  In fact, more often than not, you are entirely heartless! Pun intended!!  And, because you are so dang good at the game, it’s no wonder I have to gloat … incessantly and most obnoxiously … whenever I beat you.

Scores like those just never get old for me.  Look … even way back in 2015 … I took you down … a few times. I sure had fun!!  And … you’re always a good sport about it! Yep. You take it so well.

I guess its a good thing you have other fingers to fall back on when you are in a card slump.  Your thumb, for example.  There is no denying that you have the greenest of green thumbs!  Your yard and garden are always so impeccably tended. And … because of you … we get to enjoy the finest fruits of your labor!  I’ll never forget the first time you wandered over in your bare feet … toting a beautiful bouquet of handpicked flowers. My hubby razzed you … speculating “what will the neighbors think?” about you bringing your buddy’s bride some flowers!  But, it never concerned you … it’s just your nature to generously gift the goodness and grace of your gorgeous garden! Thank you so much for my annual bouquets!

And, speaking of annual joys … there is nothing quite like transforming some of your vegetable harvest into our annual borscht making extravaganza!  We started off making one mega pot full.  Now we do four at a time … yielding oodles of containers for our freezers!

The chopping and cutting is always more fun when we do it together … and then while its cooking … we get to play some cards. Oooops. Sorry Hutch. Didn’t mean to bring up that sore spot again!  I know it’s been a bit of dry spell, but I bet you’ll win again …………… sometime. Really. Don’t let yourself lose at hearts heart. LOL. Oh dear … I sense I’m getting obnoxious again, aren’t I??

Okay. Maybe we best get back to discussing your skills in the garden!  I mean … how does your garden grow? Prolifically!  Sheesh … just look at those gargantuan carrots!!

And, this picture so fondly reminds me of times when our kids and grandkids have been home during the summer months.  And, you will wander over with handfuls of fresh dug carrots for our grandchildren. And sometimes you’ll take the kids back over to your house so they can dig them up themselves.  And wasn’t it  because of a trip to your garden that Trad discovered carrots grew in the ground before they ended up on the grocery store shelves?

Yes, your generous love for children has always been so apparent … even long before you became a grandpa yourself!  You’d thoughtfully deliver your enormous metal Tonka “diggers” and/or simply play with our grandkids and/or have merciless water fights with them and/or tease them in the most affectionate way! It was so cute how you and Luka developed such a special bond when he was a toddler. He’d often arrive at our house and the first thing he’d say was “Where’s John?”  Yep. You stole his heart. And so, because of you Hutch … my grandchildren have always had way more fun when they come to visit!

Our grandkids have always felt so welcomed to exist in your presence.  You have such a meaningful way of making them feel significant and special. In fact, they have been known to arrive at your door to visit … without us knowing … and with no invitation from you … and with no sense that they might have been overstaying their welcome! Thank you for sending them back to tell us when they are going to be playing at your house!  🙂

In fact, you have cultivated such a wonderful relationship with all of our family members. Even with my in-laws … when they were still alive. I found this great picture of you and Opa sharing a chuckle … during one of our pig roasts, I think. Thank you Hutch for holding such a caring and compassionate and supportive place for all of our family.  It means the world to us … and … we know how much they always enjoy time shared with you. 

And most certainly, this tribute to  you and for  you would not be complete without acknowledging and honoring the precious relationship you also embraced with my beautiful Skruffi!  There was no doubting how much she adored you.  You’d barely get in the door and she’d insist upon getting up onto your lap.  Yes.  And, because of you … we were able to enjoy some extensive travels, secure in the knowledge that you’d be making sure my beloved kitty never got too lonely. Thank you for leaving the comforts of your own home and coming over to watch TV with our kitty … not just once … but every time we went on vacation!! Yes. Skruffi always had a soft spot for you too Hutch!  Well … actually, I think the feelings were mutual … ❤

Skruffi – 2000 to 2015

And … I’m not even going to hold it against you that you also stole our other cat’s heart – so much so that she left us and literally moved in with you. Yes, its true. Because of you … Dharma (aka Dharmee)  had a better life at your house than she ever would have had at mine.  May both their precious spirits rest in the sweet peace of knowing how much they were loved.

Dharma — 2000 to 2017.

And, I have yet to mention what an exceptional father and grandfather (aka: “Papa”) you are. It is nothing short of sublime to bear witness to the joy in your eyes and the full swell of your heart as you interact with your sweet little grand-daughter. I’m guessing their aren’t too many “papas” who are as tight with their grandbaby as you are Hutch. It is completely unarguable … your sweet little Miss Aubree adores YOU!  Once again, its obvious that the feelings are mutual.

And look at you breaking out those moves Hutch!!  🙂  Yes … there is no denying you are such a gift to your entire family. You’ve created a family of deep value Hutch … which … you clearly value so deeply.  It is a joy to spend time with all of you!

Okay … I’m not done yet!  This tribute would not be complete without acknowledging that, because of you … New Years Eve is always such a great time … with a bevy of appetizers and some cards and, of course, the five questions.  And … although the five questions are not your favorite part … we’ve been known to surprise ourselves, year after year, by staying up way too late … with frost in our hair from hot-tubbing in sub-zero temperatures – ringing in the New Year with loads of laughs and countless chuckles …  and …  a wee bit of bubbly. Oh … and angel making!  Well … one of us remains without halo … but I won’t mention any names!

Oh … and that reminds me … thank you for choosing your wife.  I love her too!  Yes. Good thinking Hutch!  I think we are both so much better because you chose her!   ❤ ❤

We are so grateful for the happy hours we get to spend with you two … relaxing around the fire pit in the summer … and … cozied up in front of your fireplace in the winter.  Yes. Those times always make us happy!  And, for some reason as I say that, I am reminded of the time we ended up making paper airplanes … complete with a small competition for whose would fly the furthest!  I remember you had a special plan … for a bomber … that bombed.  BUT … when it was all said and done, I think your aircraft emerged victorious! Yes. There were a lot of noses bent out of shape during those shenanigans … but only the paper planes!

And so … I have only highlighted a smattering of all the ways in which our lives are better because of you Hutch. And, we eagerly anticipate many more moments to come that will be infinitely better because of you. And … as you join John and I in the sixth decade of your life … we hope that your days are filled with multitudes of moments that are magical and meaningful and magnificent and memorable!  We want to wish you all the very best that an old guy can manage … and … I, for one, might even be happy for you to win a game or two of Hearts.

But maybe not tonight …  😉

We look forward to seeing you later Hutch!  Your buddy is cooking  … and … Marie and I will be there to supervise his efforts!  May the quantity of our celebration and the quality of the cuisine be fit for a queen!  Maybe the queen of spades!?!  Sheesh … I just can’t stop myself! 🙂

What I meant to say is this:

May this day and all the days hereafter be fitting for a birthday boy of your calm .. caring .. considerate .. compassionate .. capable .. clever .. candid .. confident .. creative .. conscientious .. comical .. captivating and charismatic calibre!! 

Happy, happy, happy SIX ZERO … from your buddy and his ’58 chick!  We raise our glasses to you … with the utmost appreciation and reverent regard for all the ways our lives are better because of you!

With 60 Cheers and much love … ❤ John and Karen ❤

P.S.  A post birthday celebration UPDATE:  We enjoyed a fabulous paella … Hutch’s favorite cheesecake … and … two rounds of hearts!  And low and behold … it went both ways!  And, I shall say no more about it! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Better Because of You … and … my 20 plus 2 years with FCSS!

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

I was scheduled to receive my 20 year long service recognition award at an agency function on Saturday, January 12 … but … because I won’t be at the gathering, I had arranged for my colleagues to accept it on my behalf.  They agreed to record the moment, so that I too, could listen to my “acceptance speech”. The whole idea made my heart smile.  Unbeknownst to me, however, I learned plans had changed, and it was supposed to be presented to me during our monthly staff meeting instead. And so, being one who can typically fly by the seat of my pants, I agreed to accept the award, at the meeting, with about 10 minutes advance notice.

Well … it had been quite an unusual staff meeting – leading to all kinds of unexpected moments.  I was still feeling a bit rattled, and so, when it came time for me to offer a few words, I kept it really short and simple. I remember briefly acknowledging my heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to my colleagues – with some slightly gushing but entirely genuine generalities.  In retrospect, I regret that I hurried my words … and … I recognize that I didn’t do justice to the fullest expression that actually fills my heart space when I looks back over my time with Barons-Eureka-Warner Family and Community Support Services [FCSS].

Now that I’ve had more time to gather myself and collect my thoughts, I would like to use this “Better Because of You” space to more deeply honor the folks that have framed my remarkable two decades as an employee of FCSS.  Because, after all, it is not the walls that define one’s experience in a workplace, but the people within them. Each and every one of them. And, believe it or not, our agency has not seen much staff turnover over the past 20 years. I wish I had more photos right now … so I could picture everyone, but unfortunately, I do not.

Staff Retreat January 2017

 

Christmas Party …. 2014

I remember my interview, way back in 1993, for one of the six “Parent Programmer” contract positions that were being filled. We would be allotted 20 hours/month to support families in our communities … with the most noble job on the planet … parenting. I was up against one other applicant … a woman who had some shiny credentials and fancy letters behind her name.  I had neither of those.  And then, during the interview, when they asked something about my own childhood, my ‘got-it-all together‘ demeanor was unbecomingly betrayed by some tender tears trickling down down my cheeks.  Argh. There I was, trying to be my best professional self … trying to put my best face forward … and … my cheeks were wet with tears. Who cries in a job interview?? Double argh!  I am usually really good at managing, hiding my emotions.

No one was more surprised than me when I got the call to say I got the job!  They did suggest … however … that I might also want to get some counseling to help me work through my own family of origin stuff.  Fair enough. And, that framed my beginning with an agency that clearly looked beyond academic credentials.  I must humbly concede, however, that I never hastily heeded their sage suggestion that I seek some support.  Instead, I eagerly and enthusiastically immersed myself in my brand new responsibilities as a ‘parent programmer’!

I loved, loved, loved my work for a couple of years.  But then … as my unhealed wounds from the past caught up with me, I ran into some significant challenges with raising my own three daughters. It got to the point where I no longer felt credible enough to presume I had any business trying to help others with their parenting concerns. And so … I quit my job.  And, I recognized that I best seek out that counseling that my employers had so earnestly recommended when they hired me.  And so, I did.

The irony of it all was that my childhood dream was to become a counselor . But … there I was, calling a counselor instead of being one. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.  And so … a couple of years of healing later, when an opening emerged in the Parenting Program  I initially resisted applying for it.  But then, I received an unexpected call from my prior supervisor … asking me if I was going to apply.  I was convinced that my own personal failings  experiences in the parenting trenches would prevent other parents from respecting anything I had to offer in that professional role … but she indicated that management was hoping to see my application in the pile.

Encouraged by their faith in me, I submitted my resume and started back with FCSS in September of 1997. And … guess what?  It turns out that parents find you even MORE credible when you can relate to their stumbles and struggles. It turns out, you are even more approachable and believable when you have endured some humbling parenting moments yourself.  Yes, it turns out that parents who are looking for support don’t feel as comfortable with professionals whose parenting journey sparkles with too much perfection.

And so … was the second beginning of my employment with FCSS … and … the 20 consecutive years that preceded the presentation of my long service award. There have been both blessings to behold and challenges to be championed over my time with FCSS.  In the early years, I was so timid and shy that I blushed every time I spoke up in a meeting … which was rare (the speaking – not the blushing!).  I am such an introvert and really need time to process things before I speak. And so, by the time I had integrated the conversation and knew what I wanted to say … the discussion had already moved on.  So I often said nothing.  These days, I am more likely to interrupt and ask if we can circle back to the prior conversation … so I can add my two cents.  I think my colleagues are getting used to that  … :-).

I can honestly say that I am so much better, both personally and professionally, because of my time with FCSS.  It really grew me as a person.  I found a deeper sense of faith in myself. I have discovered that my heart can be trusted and my instincts are reliable. I have learned to claim my voice and to stand behind my convictions.  I’ve always had a compassionate heart … but as Joan Halifax has so eloquently stated … in order to ultimately serve the greatest good …. we need to approach our experiences with a “soft front” and a “strong back”.  Yes. I’ve learned that well.

I don’t talk about it much, but I experienced some of the most critically challenging times in my life while working with FCSS.  At the worst point, about 15 years ago, I was being shunned in my multi-disciplinary workplace … by the bulk of my colleagues … who believed some misinformation circulating about me.  I opted to take the high road.  I thought it best to not get into the muck with the perpetrator (another colleague) by defending myself against such twisted ‘truths’.  I hoped my actions would outweigh her words.  But … as the gossip increasingly fueled my ostracization, it got to the point where I could barely force myself through the doors to face the hostility I felt in their scathing but silent condemnation.

And , I just kept turning the other cheek … thinking that  response was the most noble thing to do. I told myself that she was wounded … and … reminded myself that “hurt people hurt people”.  And while I still believe that to be true, I was fooling myself to think it was more spiritually enlightened to simply let it continue to happen. I didn’t realize, at the time, that despite one’s understanding of why people might be behaving badly … it is not kind nor altruistic to continue to allow them to do so.

I needed to find my back bone. I was being bullied and no one was coming to save me.  Not even me. No. With my silent stoicism, I was actually enabling someone to hurt me.

When I received a disdainful email from said ‘hurt person’ in another blatant effort to further diminish me … I couldn’t take the seemingly ‘high road’ anymore.  I found my back bone.  And … as I learned to stand strong in my own integrity, things eventually corrected themselves.  And my colleague finally found herself being held accountable for her words, actions and deeds.  And then, one day, she was gone.

I vowed to myself, at that time, that I would never let that happen again … to me or anyone else. I vowed that when I saw injustice or harm being perpetrated upon another … I would not step over it.  I would speak up and stand up … not with any intention to cause harm to them, but with the intention to help the situation.

 

And for the better part of my years with FCSS, we were blessed with an Executive Director who was an exceptional visionary.  He stretched us to places we never would have gone without his leadership. We became a cutting edge agency … partnering with the highly-esteemed leaders of the Neuroscience department of the University of LethbridgeBryan Kolb and Robbin Gibb became part of our FCSS family. Under Greg’s initiative, we were also gleaning new direction by rubbing shoulders with incomparable thinkers like Bruce Perry. Collectively, their bodies of work and expertise informed and underpinned our practices as we sought to support individuals and families in our communities. Greg was also inspired by the renowned Mary Gordon and her foundational work with Roots of Empathy and Parent Link Centres.  Mary came to Alberta and helped FCSS introduce these remarkable supports so that children could to get off to the very best start in their lives. Oh my … I can’t begin to list it all … but Greg’s legacy is long and lives on in the hearts and souls of so many who were lucky enough to be touched by his vision.

And, his staff rose to the occasion.  He told me once, he hired people based upon their attitudes not their credentials.  Some might scoff at that … but … he indicated that you can teach people skills, but you can’t transform their hearts as easily. I agree with him.  And … the people he chose to fill positions within FCSS … aka my colleagues … are people of incredible heart and unparalleled zeal and exceptional passion. Together we braved all the unknown territory our Director invited us to venture towards. And we formed an incredibly tight family that was often the expressed envy of other agencies and organizations.  Staff morale was high and so was staff retention.  We felt valued and acknowledged and appreciated … not simply seen as a means to an end … but rather he regarded his staff as exemplary catalysts creating a better and brighter future for those we sought to serve. And, we didn’t want to let him down. And, we never left a meeting without him sincerely acknowledging our efforts with a “thank you for all that you do”.

Thank you Greg Pratt, for your insight and intention.  Thank you for creating a work space that no one wanted to leave.  May you rest in peace.

Almost 15 years ago, Greg allowed me to reduce my hours so I could resurrect my dreams and go back to school.  He certainly had no obligation to grant my request. I will never forget him compassionately responding, “Karen, I would never want to stand in the way of anyone’s dreams”. People first.

And ultimately, I got the credentials that allowed me to land my dream job.  And … as it happened, I was even able to remain employed at FCSS while doing it. I surrendered my duties and responsibilities within the Parenting Program and claimed a space that opened up within the Counselling Program.  It has been the most rewarding time of my life.  So much so … that … I am in violation of the number of  vacation days I am allowed to accrue.  True story.  I was informed that I need to use up my vacation time in order to be in compliance with policy.

But, even the dreamiest part of my job has not been without challenges … and/or … opportunities to keep a soft heart and exercise a strong back.  Once again, about five years ago, FCSS was the backdrop to another of the most challenging times in my life. And, even when I was threatened with a law suit … a potential end my dream career … I was committed to standing strong.  I had taken heartfelt exception to what I was seeing and simply could not stand idly by and watch vulnerable people get harmed … however unwittingly by their well-intended but oblivious and cavalier perpetrator. I had to take the risk. Strong back, soft front. Fortunately … the individual opted to retire.

And, I know I could not have made it through those challenging times, were it not for the support and encouragement I received from my management team and my cherished counseling colleagues at FCSS. Yes. Management stood behind my decision and that helped fortify my resolve. I owe tremendous thanks to them for having my back … on that occasion and many others.  I also applaud them for gently helping me to shift my gaze, if and when, I needed correction.  The blessings of solid, predictable management over the past 20 years cannot be understated.

And, my counseling colleagues at FCSS have become my safe haven. They are among the few people in the world who I invite into the most tender parts of my heart space. And, they have handled the most fragile parts of my soul with such impeccably compassionate understanding.  I have grown immeasurably because of the support of these folks.

And, because we work in different departments and different communities at FCSS, I don’t see everyone all the time … but I hold the deepest regard for each of the staff at our agency.  And that doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye on things. We don’t. And we’ve had some prickly times as a result. But, as I shared with someone recently, “From where I am looking, its not the bumps that ultimately define us, but rather, it’s how we decide to move through them.”  And, it cannot be argued that despite any differences we may hold, we share an unfailing commitment to serve the constituents of our communities … to the very best of our capacities. People first.

I must also take this moment to pay due respect to our administrative staff.  Your impeccable skills and unfailing expertise provide such a secure foundation upon which the rest of us have come to depend.  Your energy, effort, enthusiasm, encouragement and support are second to none.  Thank you for holding us together with such dignity and grace … despite our messed up time sheets (among other things!)

And, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the Boards of Directors we have seen over the years.  Their dedication to keeping FCSS funded and recognized in our communities has been essential.  We have been led by some incredibly inspiring individuals. Thank you for spearheading our services and gifting us with the best supports you could provide.

And, as I write this, I am leaving for the weekend to celebrate my 60th birthday … which is officially in a few weeks.  And … as I am honored for my 20 years of commitment within FCSS, it strikes me that I have spent a full ONE THIRD of my life working within this agency. And, I am so proud of who we have been and who we have been invited to become.  Strong back … soft front … people first.

At our last staff meeting, we were invited to reflect upon our journeys as employees of FCSS.  I, once again, found unexpected tears trickling down my cheeks. I am not prone to such emotional expressions during meetings … but … in that moment, my heart was flooded with all the amazing moments and memories that I have collected over the last couple of decades. And, it is difficult to put into words … just how transformational it can be when people have believed in you and invited you to soar.  It is rare to work in a space where people have honored your presence and valued your being. My time at FCSS has been such a gift …

And … so … it is from the most humble place in my heart, I thank all of the bright and beautiful spirits that make FCSS a workplace where priority is given to the souls that we serve … not just the statistics we are required to collect. I honor you all for keeping your eyes on our mandate’s most precious commodity … it’s humanity. I applaud each of you for the tireless hours you invest into the care and support of those who might have minimal resources and/or may be struggling in isolation to find their way.  I admire your capacity to keep your own hearts soft … despite many invitations for them to get tough.  I respect your courage to stand in the truth or your own beings. I adore your authenticity and sincerity and genuineness of spirit.  I love being a part of this impeccable group. I am proud of who we represent and what we are capable of creating when we put our hearts and spirits together in the name of FCSS.

Thank you … truly … deeply … immeasurably … for shaping my days with this agency.  I am so much better because of you … and my twenty plus two years with FCSS.

Yes … this is what I wished I would have said at our staff meeting  … Karen

 

 

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