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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Better Because of “The Vow” … By Debbie Ford

Perhaps 2018 is the year for us to make this impeccable vow to ourselves and for ourselves. 

In this short 4 minutes … Debbie Ford invites each and every one of us to stand in the best expression of who we can be in the world.

We are all so much better for the legacy of courage, faith and love that you brought to our hearts … Karen

P.S. If you have not yet read the book that contains “The Vow”, I highly recommend it.

 

Better Because of Our 13 Days …

Geraldine Fay Lindquist Johnson

She’d been in my life for 43 years.  For much longer than my own mom … who died when I was 31.  I remember when she excitedly extended her hand to show me her rings. I had travelled 1195 kilometers to visit with her and my dad. Sick. I felt entirely sick. She never said a word, but her eyes were twinkling as brightly as the diamonds perched prominently on her left ring finger. It took everything within me to bite back the tears in order to feign ample and appropriate enthusiasm. Seriously … how could they get married without even telling me??  I never asked. Some things feel better left unsaid.

And so, I always spoke of her as “my dad’s wife”. However, some 15 or 20 years (!!) later, I actually came upon the truth. She had no idea I believed they were married. It was all a complete misunderstanding. The truth was that she had been working on him relentlessly … begging for matrimony … for years!  But for reasons known only to my very stalwart father … he steadfastly refused to remarry. I could sense the pain of rejection in her heart because as she said … for a woman of her generation … it would be particularly shameful for her to die an “old maid”or “spinster”.  And so, to spare herself any public embarrassment, she adopted his last name and wore her wedding rings very proudly.  I got it. 

All she ever wanted was to be a wife and mother.  But my dad died unexpectedly without ever officially saying “I do” to her.  And, although she had also pressed me to call her “mom” … I’m not sure I much embraced her as a parental figure. I guess the whole decades long belief that they had been ‘wedded without me’ had made her his ‘wife’ in my eyes, but certainly not my ‘stepmom’. Instead, I opted to affectionately call her“Ger” instead of Gerri … and … she fondly called me “Kar” instead of Karen.

In addition to my own little family, I was all Ger had left after my dad died.  And, at 82, she was still living on her own.  We had looked into alternate spaces, but it distressed her terribly to think of leaving the home she had shared with my dad.  I had finally convinced her that she needed to wear a Life Alert because she was getting less stable on her feet and had fallen a couple of times.

Celebrating her 82nd birthday …

Ger’s health had always been tentative … and she had regularly experienced days when she was laid up … feeling “punk”.  Usually it was because she had bitten off more than she could chew … trimming branches on trees, moving furniture, shampooing the carpets etc – by herself.  Yes.  I said by herself.  When she got an idea in her head, she had no patience to wait for help to arrive.  And so, she often overdid it and paid the price.

But, the malaise that preceded her landing in ER on July 31, 2017 had persisted for nearly three weeks.  When I got stern with her – questioning her reticence to call her doctor – she admitted she was scared about what he might have to say. She had a stint put in some years ago, carried nitroglycerin in her purse and took baby aspirin regularly. Perhaps her ticker was acting up again?

It appears that she was very intuitive indeed …  something was, in fact, very wrong. 

When she got out of bed the next morning … she took a few steps and collapsed.  Thank goodness for her Life Alert button!  And so … we found ourselves in the ER … utterly dumbfounded … staring at each other … in wide-eyed disbelief. The sun had barely peeked over the horizon on that fateful Monday and the day had already taken some very unexpected and unfavorable turns. There would be tests and more tests.

And may I say that for as long as Ger has been part of my life, she has always caught me up short by hastily forging head-first into foreboding territory.  She always dives in long before I am emotionally prepared to tackle any such precarious terrain.  I am far more tentative and reflective about everything in my life.  I prefer to tip-a-toe in tentatively and get a sense of things before I move forward with unfettered conviction. But not Ger … she has always preferred to swoop into action … immediately.

It was the same when my dad died very unexpectedly during a summer BBQ on July 12, 2009.  He had just filled his plate … and enthusiastically declared “This is great!”  And then … he was gone.

Ger needed to be ‘doing’ things to help her process her grief.  I, on the other hand, needed time to simply ‘be’ with the loss before I could think about making decisions or taking actions that could not be undone.  It definitely created some emotional tension for both of us as we mourned the loss of the same man. Nothing wrong with either approach … but … this particular Monday was proving to be no different.

She needed to know, right then and there … and … did not hesitate to ask the attending ER physician just how long she could expect to live. I expected him to defer by saying it would be premature to guess until the prognosis had been officially confirmed.  But, much to my chagrin, he responded:

“Maybe two months.” 

Whoa. What??  My mind frantically raced for some way to process this blindside.  Yesterday was just a normal Sunday.  We had a conversation on the phone.  I was looking forward to having this particular Monday off work so I could nibble away at my ‘to-do’ list. And, in all honesty, I was still trying to process the death of my father-in-law (who had died just two months prior) . And his passing was fairly hot on the heels of the death of his wife … my mother-in-law (just 7 months prior to that).  We were already knee deep … maybe chin deep … into the grieving process. I instinctively resisted.

“We can’t be certain Ger.  At this point, it’s all just speculation.” 

But she was already making plans.  I respected the gravity of her situation enough to know that if this was going to be the last leg of her journey … I needed to honor her desires to do it her way.  And so, in order to keep up, I opened a new tab in my Wunderlist  App … and labeled it “Gerri”.  I started making notes as she determined, discussed and directed what she wanted taken care of before she, too, departed this earthly plane.  I left the hospital late in the evening, in utter disbelief … hoping that ‘tomorrow’ would be a better day.

On Tuesday morning, August 1st, I returned bright and early … and … Ger was still making plans. I promised to take her cat, Scamper, home to live with me. She gave me her banking pass code and asked me to update her bank book.  I’m not sure why her finances were important in THAT moment, but she needed to be sure that OAS had given her the increase she was expecting. Can do.  And … she reckoned that one of the family best take and use the expensive silky cover off her built-in vacuum hose. She’d paid a pretty penny for it … no sense leaving that gem for a renter. Okay.  And … she wondered about how she would die … would she suffer? Would she suffocate, would she choke … would her heart take her? Gulp.

I compassionately searched deeply into her eyes and asked if she was scared. She confirmed that if she let herself think about it, she felt frightened. She looked down for a moment and then pensively uttered,“What if … what if I am denied entry at the pearly gates?”

For a split second, I could feel the weight of that worry hanging heavily in her heart. And then, with her next breath she moved quickly past that uncomfortable query and determined that her electric fireplace  would look great on a particular wall in the spacious bedroom of her grand-daughter’s new house. Agreed. She was delighted that another of her grand-daughters could use the stand up freezer. Excellent. And the desks … she wanted me to have her antique desk and tea cart. For sure.  I was squirming internally as she so casually discussed such things.

I told her it felt entirely awkward, inappropriate and insensitive to be discussing the dispersal of her belongings. Some things feel better left unsaid. She assured me that it pleased her so very deeply to know that her legacy would live on in the belongings that would be enjoyed by those she loved. And, she declared that she didn’t want a funeral. Okay. She wanted us to have a nice family dinner and just talk about her instead. Fair enough.  But, I found myself offering an alternate perspective:

“Ger, let’s wait until they do more tests.  They could be mistaken.  The mass they spotted in your lung might not be fatal.”

How does one even begin to integrate such news  when the big “C” was never ever … not for one moment … a prior concern in one’s eight decades of life.  They did more tests. And more scans.  They needed to consult with the oncologist and the lung specialist.  She reminded me to take her ashes, her mother’s ashes and my dad’s ashes to a specified place. We ordered her a TV so she could keep up with The Young and the Restless.  It occurred to me that we’d need a schedule so we could take turns watering her lawn and feeding Scamper while she was in hospital.

Wednesday, August 2nd … they did a biopsy on the tumor and were going to do a brain scan when her heart acted up again.  They ended up losing her at one point. Gone. Her room was empty when I arrived to visit. After a bit of panic … they sympathetically told me that my ‘mom’ had been moved to ICU. I never corrected them. They used the paddles to revive her. It was shortly after that they got the results of the biopsy and they discovered she also had MRSA.  It’s a super bug  … an infection that is highly resistant to treatment. It seemed prudent to get the Power of Attorney signed. It was entirely surreal … and … unraveling far too quickly for me.

Thursday, August 3rd … the doc came in to confirm the diagnosis. Yes. Cancer. Stage 4.  A small cell type that spreads quickly.  They believe it started in her lung about six to 12 months prior and confirmed that it had already spread to her adrenal glands and her liver. It had also metastasized into her lymph system and likely into her bones.

No emotion or tears on her part.  Just more action. She decided to sell us her car so it wouldn’t get caught up in probate. It occurred to me that I should probably take her purse home for safekeeping.  I reckoned I should bring her slippers. She thought maybe an ice cream would taste good. Funny where the mind goes in a moment like that.

When the oncologist arrived for rounds, she asked again: “how long”?  Perhaps two months … unless it was in her brain. She slipped up and later told someone she had two weeks.  I corrected her.  No Ger … the doc said two months. She second guessed me by asking if I was sure about that. Yep. I was sure. The tests had confirmed it was not in her brain.

Hmmm. She was sure she had about two weeks. The oncologist was gentle and kind and recommended palliative care. And she started planning again.

Because of the contagious nature of MRSA, visitation was counter-indicated for many.  We had to mask-up, glove-up and gown-up completely to be in her presence.  A few of the family came to visit, but for the better part of her hospitalization … it was mostly just me and Ger.

Monday, August 7th … Myrna (Ger’s late brother’s wife) made the long trip from Saskatchewan.  I could sense Ger’s delight with her arrival. They had remained very dear friends. And, she seemed tickled with our three-way conversation.  At one point … in true “Granny style” (as my girls would fondly suggest)  Ger looked at both Myrna and I and fervently exclaimed:

” After all of this … if I don’t die … I’m going to be really pissed off!”

We all burst into laughter at the paradoxical nature of her comment.  I suggested that maybe instead of having a dinner after she passed, maybe she could join us in a family feasting when she moved into Palliative Care whereby she could “eavesdrop” on our conversation about her.  Well, she thought that would be okay … but … could we have a dinner in her honor afterwards, too?  Of course. And we’ll be sure to serve Lucy’s famous chocolate cake!  Lucy is my son-in-law’s lovely mother … and … her chocolate cake recipe has become a family favorite!

Tuesday, August 8th … we talked about the things she could do to decorate her new home in palliative and make it feel like home.  The white shag carpet.  Perhaps an armchair … if there was space? Maybe we could sneak Scamper in for a final visit?  Maybe we could smuggle in a ‘go cup’  filled with her favorite Royal Red wine … aka “Granny’s swill” ?  She hastily put the brakes on that idea.  She was entirely averse to getting evicted from palliative care before she got settled in.  We laughed … and yet … there was something sobering about the absurdity of all that we were so casually discussing.

Her decline was rapid. The very next day, she unexpectedly lost some lucidity.  She told Myrna she was quite sure she had died at 2:17pm.  And, by the following day, she was unable to speak with any comprehensive coherence. And, it was becoming more and more difficult for her to breathe.  They cancelled her transfer to palliative.

And so, true to form, even in her dying … Ger wasted no time. Once again … her pace was far too fast for me to process comfortably.   And ultimately … she was right. It wasn’t two months. It wasn’t even two weeks.  It was 13 days …

At some point during our last 13 days together, Ger told me that she came into the world alone … lived most of her life alone … and … expected to die alone.  In that moment, my heart ached for her … because in so many ways … she was right.  Her father had been murdered. Her mother could be quite abusive.  My father – her spouse – was emotionally disconnected. She had limited contact with her brother before he died young of melanoma. She had endured a whole lot of trauma and abandonment in her life. The stories she recanted broke my heart.

And … I could not deny that I, too, had contributed to her sense of loneliness. I was often too busy to make her a priority. It takes 1.5 hours round trip to get to Ger and all our family from where I live … so a quick pop-in every now and again was just not possible.  I had gone back to school as a mature student to complete my BSW as well as my MSW … and …  was also employed  as a counselor in my community along with running a small private practice of my own on the side. I have one husband, three daughters and eight grandchildren …  so … the pulls for my attention are/were persistent and plentiful. In addition to that … within the last three years … the demands on my time had become increasingly intensified as my aging and ailing in-laws health deteriorated and their medical needs and chronic crises eclipsed any predictability in our lives. I am also a landlord with four rental properties. In all honesty … I had been struggling to keep all those balls in the air and had become entirely depleted trying to do so.

That said, I did my best to ‘be there’ for Ger … but … I always knew my best wasn’t nearly as much as she wanted and/or deserved in terms of my time and attention. And, in all honesty, it troubled my heart to know I was falling short of her expectations. And so, with an ache in my heart for my inability to make the days of her life less lonely … I committed myself to being there ‘with’ her and showing up fully ‘for’ her … during her final journey home. I let her know I was “all hers” for the duration.

I spent some long days with her at the hospital. I really didn’t want her to be alone when she passed. The staff knew me as her ‘daughter’ and referred to Ger as my ‘mom’.  I never corrected any of them. Some things feel better left unsaid.  In fact, I could feel Ger’s heart swell with these new terms of reference in the space. And, in all honesty … it felt really good to me too.

As it turned out … she waited until I had gone home for the night on Saturday, August 12th. The nurse called me, just a couple of hours after I left, to say that my mom had taken her last breath while they were making their rounds and tending to her comfort.  I was surprised by how hard it hit me. I thought I was prepared …

It was to be our 40th wedding anniversary the next day. I didn’t feel like celebrating. So we didn’t. And, although it does my heart good to know that she wasn’t actually ‘alone’ when she passed because she had the nursing staff with her … it still struck me that Ger was being a bit of a ‘stinker’ for not letting me be there when she transitioned. My daughter suggested that perhaps she waited until I was gone because she, in fact, didn’t want to leave me alone when she passed. Hmmmm … I still tear up when I think of it that way.

We hired a Life Celebrant  (thank you Shelly Bassett!)  who met with us in advance to gather our recollections … and … she composed a beautiful ‘life story’ honoring Ger/Granny. Shelly orated this meaningful tribute to her as we gathered in a large circle in our back yard on a very warm, sunny day.  Our celebration was complete with all of Ger’s very favorite things … including taco in a bag!  Her grand-daughters and I wore pieces of her favorite jewellery and we toasted her with her ‘swill’ and some Japanese ‘sake’ that she had liked to share with her grandsons.  It turned into far more than just the conversation she wanted us to have about her. I recorded it … and … we have a printed copy of the ‘story’ of Ger/Granny and all she meant to us.

Ger took great pride in her home and took such impeccable care of things.  I have updated my own space with so many beautiful things of hers.  Her energy is now present in each room of my house.  By the way, I discovered a number of ‘spreaders’ in her kitchen drawers.  I took three of them home with me and passed the others on to my daughters. I figured if she had more than one, they must be good.

Well … I am not sure how I lived almost 60 years without one!   Who knew they would make such a culinary difference!   I bought new ones for all my daughters!  I even bought one for my bestie!  If you don’t own one … or … haven’t tried one … I highly implore you to allow Gerri’s legacy to touch your life too, in this small way.

As I was going through her belongings, I came across something in her most precious memorabilia. Many years ago, one of the ways I attempted to combat the commercialization of  Christmas, was to have us make homemade gifts for one another and attach a meaningful affirmation to each other. I discovered she had saved them. And  … I share one year of our affirmations of her with you here because they offer a beautiful snapshot of just who she was to all of us:

And, I absolutely sobbed when I came across one she had kept that my dad  … the man who refused to marry her … had written:

THAT she was.  My dad’s life was irrefutably better because of my step-mom. His prior lived experience had carved some pretty sharp edges into him … but she loved him unconditionally … even during the times when he could be pretty darn difficult to love. And, she cared for him tenderly and compassionately during the most fragile and unbecoming moments of his own journey with cancer.  And, she tended to him with her whole heart … and … she never failed to make him her utmost priority in life.  Ever.

And, I must also add, that Ger’s life was undeniably better because of him.  He offered her more safety and security than she had ever experienced within her family of origin. And that doesn’t mean their relationship was all roses and sunshine. No.  A union of two wounded souls cannot be without its darkness. But, in all honestly … I could see that they were unarguably, the answer to each of their prayers.

Ger and I had eight years together after my dad passed, but … I can honestly say that our last 13 days became a cherished time of deeper connection for us.  We were able to  meet each other in that sacred place beyond the accidental hurts, misunderstandings and unmet expectations that sometimes prickled between us.  And instead … we embraced a felt sense of the unconditional parts of the love that we also held for one another.

With the deepest of reverence, I came to appreciate her idiosyncratic way of being in the world … not as my dad’s wife, but as my step-mom. Yes. It was truly a blessing to be gifted with that space and time … a divinely orchestrated opportunity to ‘be’ with each other in deep, unfettered and meaningful ways.

And so Ger …  I really want to “thank you” for launching promptly into action even before they could confirm your diagnosis. Were it not for that, I would never have been so aware of all your wishes.  And, I remain committed to honoring each and every one of them … except one.

Please accept my sincerest apologies  … but I didn’t bring Scamper home with me the day you died … as I had promised.  Through an amazing turn of events, I became aware of a youngster who really, really wanted to have him.  And I suspect you will forgive me, because as I look at this picture of the two of them together, it appears to be a match made in Heaven.  That said, I am wondering … if perhaps … you somehow had a hand in orchestrating this sublime alternative for your furry feline.

And ultimately … I need you to know Ger … I have been shifted and stretched to a better version of myself as a result of our precious 13 days together.  You taught me that there is something deeply transformational about sitting with the dying. I erroneously assumed that being with you was going to be my gift to you … but … I can see now that … the gift was mine.

I feel so very blessed to have shared that sacred space with you and I remain humbled by the love and energy in our final moments together. Thank you for loving me … like every good mother would do. Always. In your own special way. And thank you for caring so deeply about me … as your only daughter.

My home is filled with reminders of you … and … I will carry so much of your spirit in my heart as I greet all the days yet to come. I hope I can bring some of your feisty energy with me into our family celebrations.  Your generous heart will be missed in more ways than you can imagine.

Thank you again Ger … I am truly so much better because of your presence in my life … and especially … because of our precious last 13 days together,  ❤ Kar ❤

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Teresa – A Fond Tribute to your Spectacular Sparkle and Gregarious Grit!

The last time I saw her was a few years back.  We had been waiting in line for quite some time and were just being seated at our table at the IHOP that had recently opened in Lethbridge. Teresa had already eaten and was just leaving … but after enjoying one of her big warm embraces she slid into our booth for a quick catch up. We ended up chatting for about an hour before we even ordered … annoying the heck out of our waitress … but it was so good to see her again!! I remember she recommended the Red Velvet Pancakes! 😊

I met Teresa some 30 years prior in the small, rural town of about 900 people where we were both living at the time. Aside from the fact we were going to be on the same ladies slow-pitch team we seemed to have very little in common.  I’m not exactly sure what drew us together because Teresa was single and I was married.  She had no children and I was the mother of three daughters.  She was strong, athletic and more tom-boyish.  I was a bit scrawny and entirely, totally and completely a girly-girl.  Teresa was more earthy … a sweat pants and t-shirt kind of gal.  I, on the other hand, was more likely to show up at ball practice wearing purple mascara (it was all the rage three decades ago!) and a color-coordinated outfit complete with some ‘sporty’ accessories.  She was small town savvy with a warm and welcoming spirit. I was a transplanted big city girl more rooted in the cosmopolitan energy of my urban upbringing.

I was the consummate people-pleaser and Teresa was all about telling it like it is.   She also didn’t mind making a little mischief and pulling a few pranks every now and again. Such antics made me a bit nervous.  I was such a goody two shoes … always worrying about doing whatever was appropriate.  No one could string together a bold, bright and bodacious list of cuss words like she could!  She did it so effortlessly and exuberantly and with such delightful flair.  Ha Ha.

I just can’t help but chuckle as I reflect back on her most delightful mix of spectacular sparkle and gregarious grit.  Our connection clearly transcended all these more superficial differences.  Maybe she saw clear through to the insecurity tucked safely behind my I’ve got it all together’ mask.  Maybe I saw through to the hurts hiding behind her cheeky and mischievous grin. Yes.  I think it’s fair to say our hearts spoke clearly to one another.  I remember sharing some tender and intimate conversations about life and love and our ‘maybe one day’ dreams.  And, of course there were oodles of loud laughs.  I will never forget her contagious and very unabashed propensity to push the boundaries until we howled with laughter!

As I shared, the first time I met Teresa we were putting together a ladies slow-pitch team.  We called ourselves the Hayden’s Hosettes.  Somehow we thought it apropos to name ourselves after the infamous ‘hoser’ routines inspired by the renowned Bob and Doug McKenzie.

Meet one iteration of the Hayden’s Hosettes!  Given the look on Teresa’s face (far right), I am guessing she said something cheeky (or entirely inappropriate) that really struck me funny (second from the left). I see from the caption that we took the trophy for first place in 1987!  I could be wrong but I think we claimed that honor for a few years.

Speaking of trophies … Teresa engaged her creative artistry one year at our year-end team party. We ‘roasted’ each other lovingly and Teresa made me an exceptional one-of-a-kind trophy!! I was the pitcher and always wore shin pads to protect myself from the line drives coming right back at me.  So, anyway, Teresa fashioned up a ‘shin-pad’ trophy made from two long, winged, thick and super absorbent maxi pads! To say it was priceless is a complete understatement. Words alone cannot do it justice! Sadly, I can’t find my picture of it … but I KNOW I had one! So, if anyone of you Hosettes out there still has a picture of it, I’d sure appreciate a copy!!  Anyway, here is a verbatim copy of what Teresa said when she presented me with her artistic masterpiece!

Teresa was always full of surprises. One year on my birthday she told me she would like to take me for lunch.  I could not believe my eyes when we arrived at Nonna’s Pizza and I discovered she had organized a surprise birthday lunch for me!  The tables were filled with my team-mates … and … my heart was filled with humble and deep gratitude. ❤

Yes.  Teresa was one of a kind.  Whenever she’d get a twinkle in her eye and that mischievous grin crossed her face we knew were were in for some good ole fashioned fun and frolic!  There was a lot of that whenever she was around.  She and I partnered up and played a season or two of wally-ball together too! Yes … we spent many a Friday night in the racquetball courts behind Fishers Pharmacy playing four-person co-ed volleyball using the walls on the court!  I don’t think we won any trophies, but we certainly shared some smiles as we bounced those balls back and forth.

Teresa touched so many people in so many meaningful ways!  In fact, so much so, that three times as many people as were expected arrived to pay our respects and celebrate how much she impacted our lives!  Although Teresa moved away from our little town to the city some 25ish (?) years ago, she never moved out of my heart.  We didn’t see much of each other after than geographical shift, but her exceptional presence stayed etched in my heart.

My life in that little town was infinitely better because of you Teresa Ann Ternes.  And, although you have left this earth long before anyone ever anticipated, you have not left our hearts. A piece of your spirit will stay with me always.  Thank you for accepting me … for lovingly scoffing at my various foibles … for compassionately seeing beyond our superficial differences … and … for sharing your heart so generously. You were such a special gift to me.  You always will be.

And the beauty of your special soul forever lingers ❤ … Karen

 

 

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The Days are So Much Better when they Start With a Smile …

My husband has been working out of the town for the last couple of weeks. He is an oilfield consultant and heavy equipment operator.  He loves his job.  Sometimes I tease that he gets paid to play in the dirt! He doesn’t just move dirt … he creates works of art.   His approach to his construction work reminds me of that age old question …

Source Unknown

Source Unknown

He is exceptionally gifted at what he does … every dust molecule, gain of sand and patch of earth is a canvas for his imagination.  In order to create the metaphorical cathedral he has in his mind’s eye, he’s been rumbling around on some big piece of equipment (annoying the gofers!) … carving out of the borrow pit (dirt lingo!) … filling in low spots … and … outsmarting the frost in order to fulfill someone’s vision of a road. I expect they will be well pleased when he is complete.

Each morning, while away, he has sent me a little text to start our day.  I didn’t get one this morning because he was home last light. We had a brief verbal exchange this morning before he hit the road, but in all honestly, I kind of missed starting the day with our text exchanges. This is the one I received a couple of days ago …

Well, auto-correct had it’s way with my response!  It changed my wording from ‘wonder’ into ‘wonderful’ but … the grammatical error just added a few more chuckles to the whole exchange!!

And then on an other early morning, we shared his view of the sunrise together:

sunrise

Yes. I am reminded that we can make our days more beautiful by what we choose to put into them.  Only always. Whether it be text or face to face … we must always ask ourselves … am I just laying bricks with my moments today … OR … am I building a cathedral?

May we all be wowed by the ‘wonders’ and/or the ‘wonderfuls’  we find along our paths today and tomorrow and all the tomorrows after that … ❤ Karen ❤

 

 

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Dwayne and Cheryl … So Many Moments Were So Much Better Because of You!

built-on-alcohol

Yes!  Over the years we shared oodles of shenanigans, a dash of sarcasm, a wee bit of inappropriateness and possibly a drink or two!!

You came to mind yesterday.  Again.  I can’t even begin to tell you how often I think of the times we shared in that little town.  I’ll never forget the day you moved in … across the street on the other corner … kitty corner to our house.  Your kids found our kids outside and they played together while you unpacked.  I remember inviting you into the house when you came to collect Chris and Alicia.  I fondly recall Alicia introducing you to Brittany as her “best friend”.

alicia-and-brittany

I found this pic of them … weren’t they cute?!?!

You’d been unpacking for hours.  I thought you were probably hungry.  I asked if you wanted to stay for pizza.  Dwayne responded, “What kind is it?”  Initially, Mr. Hill, I was a bit thrown by your unapologetic transparency.  If the shoe had been on the other foot, I would have forced myself to be polite to the strangers and eat the pizza … even if it had mushrooms and peppers on it … but not you.  As I so fondly recall the moment, you said you really liked peppers but they didn’t like you.  And, I remember we laughed at your candor.  It was the beginning of a very honest, authentic and true friendship.  It was such a gift to us … you both were such a gift to us.  We’ve shared so much over the years.

John and Dwayne even shared a birthday!  I’ll never forget the year that Cheryl very patiently put my perfectionist self in place when we were preparing a nice birthday supper for the birthday boys.  She had arranged the cheese on the plate … which I re-arranged  … just slightly.  When I told her the peas were done, she nodded her head and then kindly double checked with me about whether I had ensured each of those peas were strategically placed and symmetrically arranged into the serving dish. Bam. I know I blushed.  And we laughed. And Cheryl has the most contagious laugh.  We spent a lot of time laughing. Thanks for tolerating my most unbecoming foibles Cheryl.  ❤

Speaking of birthdays … remember we had a surprise party for John’s 40th birthday?  Everyone came dressed as old people … so he could feel young.  Dwayne was camouflaged perfectly into the couch!!  I had filled balloons with water to enhance the look of my sagging bossom … and of course … someone popped them. We all howled with laughter. I was a wet mess. It was such a fun night.  Look at you two old farts!!!  Ha ha.

Yes, we shared some very fun shenanigans/parties over the years.  I found some pics of our New Years Eve Beach Bash in 1990.  I think it was frightfully cold outside … but we were all sporting our summer finest!  Yep. Lots of laughs as we fantasized about playing in the sunshine while welcoming the New Year!

beach-party-1990

Oh gosh … and remember all the fun we had on a real beach!  Well … not actually a five star kind of beach … but the best beach we could find on the prairies in Southern Alberta Canada!!  We did have loads of fun during our impromptu days at Lake Newell!  When the weather was perfect, we’d gather everyone who could come … throw together a pot-luck of food and drink … and off we would go.  We always liked to be away from the resort area in a more remote and secluded spot.  Remember getting stuck in the sand … ??

lake-newell     That’s you Dwayne … on the bottom right walking away from the water … in the pink hat!

And Cheryl, remember the years we attended “Stitch and Bitch” together … on Wednesday mornings if memory serves me right.  Didn’t we crochet Easter baskets using left over margarine containers? I might even still have one of those kicking around the crawl space!  🙂  And … I’ll never forget the year that you were laid up and made oodles of plastic mesh Christmas ornaments. I think I stole a few off your tree.  You made me some of my own when you noticed they were missing!!  It was hilarious! My heart still smiles in fondest recollection when I place them on our tree each year.

And that reminds me of the years we attended Ladies Time Out.  Remember the Christmas Cookie Exchange we did every year with that wonderful bunch of women?  I found a pic of us getting together at my house for Christmas … our hair had no grey in it.

ladies-time-out                   There you are Cheryl … on the end … looking beautiful in black and white!

Oh … and what about all the fun we shared on the ball diamond!!  We spent a lot of time catching balls and swinging bats and running the bases!  We played both the Mixed League on Friday nights … and … Cheryl and I played on our ladies team.  Three cheers for Hayden’s Hosettes … aren’t we looking stylish in our pink and mint green uniforms.  Tee Hee.

haydens-hosettes

And, oh my goodness, Dwayne … remember our ongoing hockey rivalry?  You being a staunch Calgary Flames fan and us all about the Edmonton Oilers!!!  I remember awakening one morning to find a gigantic sign that you had stapled to our fence  … you were unabashedly and blatantly mocking our team!!  We couldn’t let that go unanswered … so we retaliated by ‘changing’ the sign slightly and placing the strategically re-worded sign right uptown on the community bulletin board.  Oh gosh … what good-natured banter we always had with you!!!!!

hockey-shenangigans-with-mr-hill

And, of course … some of my very fondest memories are of the multiple years we went house-boating together as families.  Remember our first year out on the lake together? I will never forget the look on Chris’s face when he arrived on board and noticed our bin of beer!! Ha. Ha.  Still makes me laugh. To date  it is still one of the best family holidays we have ever taken.  It inspired years of ‘let’s do that again’.

houseboating-with-the-hills

Yes, we had so many good times on both the water and on the shores of those Shuswap Lakes!!  Remember when the girls were playing Scattegories on the upper deck and some part of their game blew off?  It all happened so fast … but I remember the shock on all of our faces as Chris instantaneously performed the most magnificent dive off the top deck and most chivalrously retrieved the missing piece before it sunk out of sight!  Yes he did!  Chris was the lone boy (aside from the dads) on a boat loaded with estrogen. He certainly was the hero that day!

Oh … and remember when we limped our way back to the main dock in a storm … because our toilet system was firmly plugged?  We were holding both our bladders and our tempers in those delicate moments!  Didn’t we hear on the radio that someone’s TV had fallen off the wall on another boat because it was so rough out there?  And … we were also worried about the well-being of a couple of our kids who had gone off on a jet ski before the storm suddenly hit! Yikes!!  Fortunately, they found their way to shore … and eventually  … we found our way to them.

Oh yeah … and then there was the year that we refused to stay on the party beach!  We’d endured enough sleepless nights with our rowdy teenagers and we needed a good night’s sleep so we docked across the lake.  A couple of our teenagers (who shall remain nameless here) were determined to get over there … was it a Canada Day Celebration or something?  I don’t recall for sure … but they threatened to swim across once the rest of us were asleep.  Dwayne and John figured they could scare them into staying put  … so they hid in the bushes … in the pitch dark waiting to intercept them.  They growled so fiercely as those teenagers unwittingly passed before them!!  And boy oh boy … they really believed it was a bear!  Those two bolted like a couple of  terrified deer! We were just lucky they didn’t get hurt in their panicked flight of escape.  Ultimately, though, they opted to stay on shore with us.  Well done Dads!

Oh gosh … and I remember every once in a blue moon (while on a houseboat or in our little home town),  Dwayne would get a twinkle in his eye and say “I can feel a run-a-way coming on.”  Yep … we enjoyed, endured, experienced and even escaped just a few of those over the years.  I remember the worst of which never involved Dwayne!  Remember the fondue??  Poor John – yes, that is one that sure did get away on him!  We knew he was in deep trouble when he headed west on foot from your house on his way home.  The problem was that we lived just south east from you.  Yes … it was a really rough ending for him.

Somehow, though, he still enjoys his scotch!  Just recently he indulged himself with a pricey specialty bottle called “Battle of the Glen.”  Apparently it is one of only 4500 bottles.  Me thinks … in honor of your mutual love of scotch … he should wait until he can crack it open and share it with the two of you!!   I, on the other hand, will be happy sipping my vino.

dwayne-and-cheryl

I could say so much more … but let me end with this: I think of you both so often!!  I can even remember your phone number. And it saddens my heart that our paths just don’t cross anymore.  I miss sharing time with your special souls. I miss the shenanigans.  I miss the inappropriate hee haws.  I miss so many of those moments.  I hope that perhaps 2017 will welcome an opportunity for us to reconnect. The years have flown by and I’m sure we have so much to catch up on!! 🙂

In the meantime … I just wanted you to know that so many moments of my life were infinitely better because of you!!!  Thank you for enriching my minutes, days, weeks and years.  I love all our memories and I love you.

With so much gratitude for who you are and all you have meant to me, Karen

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[GUEST POST]: Township Environment

We are often inspired to support those less fortunate than ourselves. This Better Because of You Tribute is dedicated to Jim and Janet Jamer for their selfless efforts to bring more hope, light and love to the incredible souls trying to thrive despite the unfathomable hardships they must endure whilst living in the townships in South Africa.

We were so sadly sobered when we saw for ourselves the plight of so much of our humanity. It has been one of our deepest pleasures to provide just a wee bit of support.  I hope you will spend a few moments taking in the magnitude of both strength and strife that is reflected in these pictures and words. And, if you are so inspired, please feel free to contact Jim or Janet and see how you might be able to add your heart to this project!

AND … most importantly …

THANK YOU” Jim and Janet for being such amazing light workers. Our humanity is so much better because of you!

With deepest respect and appreciation for your hearts, Karen

Iizidima

IMG_2055 Knysna township

There are few days when we are not reminded that there is plenty to be thankful for in life. Given what we do in South Africa, we would need to be blind, in a physical and emotional sense, to not experience this sentiment. The living conditions and depth of poverty experienced by so many Africans, while in close proximity to areas of affluence and abundance, is jarring. Imagine visiting another planet each day,

DSCN0752 Shacks which will be demolished to allow for construction of government-provided homes

Similar to most of our supporters, we grew up in proper homes, a safe neighbourhood, raised by educated, employed parents, who provided us the material necessities of life. We attended good schools. Our friends and families lived similar lives.

IMG_2039 Temporary government-supplied, single-room wooden homes for former shack-dwellers awaiting construction of government-provided concrete-block houses (subject to a means-test).

We can’t recall a day as a…

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A Precious Penny …

You know the old saying … ‘a penny for your thoughts’?  Well, I’d like to switch it up  and offer my ‘thoughts about a penny’.  A very precious Penny.  I’m not even sure how many years we’ve been doing it, but it’s become a very important tradition for us to sit and sip a little coffee together before the hustle and bustle of our workdays begins.

And, honestly, it’s become one of my favorite parts of the day. There is something so sublime about intentionally carving out a sacred space for some candid, honest and transparent sharing  … creating a conversational container to humbly honor our challenges and/or our curiosities.  And we have many of both … we are women and wives and mothers and daughters and friends and colleagues and travelers and theorists and philosophers. We have passions and fears and joys and sorrows and infinite wonderings about unknowable things. And, since we are both well ‘over the hill,‘ we have more than 1/2 of a century to reflect upon … ❤

Over the years, we have thoughtfully pondered the perplexing particulars of current events and politics and relationships and religion and parenting and social media and, perhaps the most daunting topic of them all, the unfamiliar terrain of our own internal landscapes. We’ve queried the quandaries about why things are the way the are … and … why they aren’t the way they aren’t … and … how we think they ought to be. And, although we’ve conceded that we’d make lousy CEOs of the Universe … we’ve definitely got oodles of ideas that might be worthy of consideration in the grander scheme of living and loving and learning.  Just sayin … 🙂

And as I reflect upon all of that, one of the things I most appreciate about you Penny is your absolute candor.  You truly are ‘so effortlessly yourself’ in a world where authenticity is often tucked tightly behind the social masks we don on a daily basis. So many of us stay veiled behind beautiful but culturally sanctioned masks … desperately yearning to tear them off on one hand, and yet on the other hand, achingly afraid to remove them for fear of being rejected, ostracized or shamed for who we really are under the polished veneer.

The world doesn’t make much room for us to speak straight up from our hearts … unless we comfortably conform to the norms of our spaces.  That is why it is so refreshing to spend time with you Penny.  You invite people to be real … to be authentic … to be true.  And, you create a safe and welcome space for us to do so.  And, I savor these moments of genuine transparency. It is rare to find such places in the world where one can unabashedly embrace their own uncertainties.  It is unusual to find such intimate spaces of discussion where a commitment to compassionate curiosity (for what we can’t personally understand) overrides snap judgments of others and/or uninvestigated biases. I value and admire your cautious, considerate and thoughtful efforts to honor differences without sacrificing honesty.

And, as much as I deeply respect your integrity and courage to speak about things that are so often silenced in our culture, I absolutely admire your uncanny capacity to frequently wrap such queries and/or observations with enough humor to leave us doubled up in laughter. It happens a lot!  And, in this moment, I am recalling one especially delightful conversation … pertaining to a particular kind of “fall out.”  The exchange left us howling ’til our sides hurt. I’d attempt to re-tell it here but 1) I’d never, ever do it justice and 2) I think you had to be there to really capture the hilarity of that moment!  This is why I loath to miss out on our early morning coffee date … there are so many conversations that just can’t be replicated. They are often precocious, invariably priceless and inevitably unrepeatable … in more ways than one!  🙂

Oh my … reflecting on those conversations reminds me to thank you for enriching my vocabulary with all kinds of exciting new expressions … words like ‘gob-smacked’ and ‘wanker’ (did I spell that right ?? … can I say that here??).  And, of course, along with your British accent, your breadth of experience and extensive world travel adds a very welcome and atypical flavor to our conversations. I revere your willingness to twirl perceptions about and tease them out gingerly before arriving at conclusions.

And, over time, our conversations have run the whole emotional gamut  … from wails of laughter clear through to some tears. I have fond memories of tender times between us … when the challenges of daily living left me feeling fragile and alone.  But you were there.  I have learned I can really count on you to be solid and supporting … even checking in on me later (via Facebook message, or a rap on my office door, or simply a knowing glance and smile).  Thank you, Penny, for holding me so safely and kindly and  compassionately when I have been feeling vulnerable and frail and weak and uncertain.

All in all, I hope you are hearing how much I treasure the depth of our relationship Penny. Its such a blessing to be able to embrace all the aspects of myself in your presence … both the desirable and undesirable, the acceptable and the unacceptable, the good and the bad. I can drop my mask in your presence Penelope Hopkins. And for that I am so truly grateful.  There are not very many people one can do that with … so the value of that gift is not at all lost on me. I know my life is better … because of you, because of our friendship … and because of who you welcome me to be in your presence.

Thank you for being such a precious part of my world … Karen

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My Heart Smiles More Because of You Jack!

My heart smiles more … because of you Jack – Jackie – Jackson!  And I thought that today, on the occasion of your birthday, would be a good time to honor and acknowledge a few of the ways that my soul is tickled by your exquisite existence.

While the light in your soul is always on and ever twinkling … my heart smiles a little bigger on the mornings I arrive to work and see the light on in your office too.  The soft glow beaming from your window is so inviting … beckoning me to enjoy all the ‘little touches’ of heart and humanity that grace your office … tempting treats on the table, birthday balloons honoring your colleagues, coffee station thoughtfully re-stocked, and attention to various other details too numerous to mention.  All of this, along with your warm smiles, richly reflects the benevolent beauty of your spirit.

And so, often before the sun is up,  there we are  … sipping coffee while I enjoy my daily eggy sandwich … deliberately delaying the inevitable clamor of the daily workload and very purposefully disrupting the chaotic pace that often impedes our capacity to connect with each other at more meaningful levels. But for me, connecting heart-to-heart like that is one of the most nourishing ways to fortify a firm foundation upon which to build and balance the rest of my day.  So, thank you Jack for bringing so much ‘light’  to my world … both figuratively and literally!

My heart also smiles more because you are so deeply committed to exuding love and fostering kindness in this world!  And I see you achieving that goal in the manner that Gandhi so very sagely suggested … you are being  the change you wish to see in the world!  I know I am not alone when I say that you are one of those unique individuals that people feel truly blessed to have in their circles. I can feel you holding others with such tender care and compassion. I can see you stretching your heart to gently cradle people’s fragile spirits and/or tend to their wounded souls.  And, personally, I always feel deeply nurtured in your presence … and … for that I am truly grateful.

And, in keeping with that, my heart smiles more because you are so incredibly intuitive!  It seems you can somehow tap into the wisdom of the Universe. You instinctively sense things that most people don’t notice.  You tune into things that most people might not recognize.   And, you can see into people’s ‘inner being’ in such a unique and empathic way.  And, by doing so, you awaken a sense of security and safety for those in your midst.  And that  is such a delightfully rare gift to our humanity. And so, on behalf of so many of us, I thank you for that deep knowing.

And my heart smiles more when I see your social work studies inspiring your determination to hold hands with those who have lost their way and to stand in solidarity with those who have lost their voices.  And I love that we can share in the passionate pursuit of social justice … finding more space in our hearts for recognizing the challenges that people may be enduring, and investing more energy into resisting the dominant places where power and privilege can unfavorably continue to marginalize and oppress so many ‘others’.  Your altruistic intentions are a genuine blessing to so many.

And my heart smiles more  … often inspiring laughter until my cheeks hurt … because somehow you are adeptly able to juxtapose your thoughtful and wise ways with the most phenomenal sense of humor.  You never cease to amaze me with your quick wit and clever comebacks. You are just so darn funny!  There is no denying that much of the levity and laughter and light in our workplace is often fostered by you … 🙂

So Jack … let me be crystal clear … my heart smiles more because of all that you are  and all that you bring to our planet. I could say so much more … but please know that I am so grateful our paths have crossed. I look ever forward to the moments we get to amble along this journey with each other … knowing that the story of my life would not be as rich or rewarding without you in it!  Its all made so much better because of you …

And so, my heart is smiling even more today because it is your birthday!!!  And, I am hoping you can let these sincere sentiments land comfortably in your beautiful heart. May this little note expressing my fond appreciation add to the joys and delights and blessings of your celebration today! Happy, happy, happy birthday beautiful one!

With much love and heartfelt gratitude for your birth, Karen

P.S. Get ready to spend some time embracing your awesomeness … I’ll explain later!  ❤

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Some things are just better … with a nice bottle of wine!

wine

“Even though I know how to use a smartphone, I’d still rather go dancing than watch television, and I find nothing more satisfying than singing with my friends next to a fire.  We are here so briefly that missing a single opportunity to connect with people seems a crime.  That’s why we drink wine – it softens the hardness of the day, and loosens our tongues so that we may confide in a friend, share the day’s events with a spouse, or sparkle with a lover over a romantic dinner.  This is why we are alive – to be together.”   (Celia Ramsay)

A few years ago at an exceptional wine tasting in the heart of Tuscany, Italy … we were very sagely advised:  “if the wine doesn’t tell a story, it’s just business.”   We’d never before thought of it that way, but ever since then, we are always hoping to discover a great story on the label of an unfamiliar bottle. 

I received a bottle of RAMSAY for my birthday.  We’d never tried it before.  It is a very lovely Merlot from California and it might be one of my all time favorites in terms of the beautiful ‘story’ it told (as quoted above). I resonated so deeply with its message… well, except for the singing.  I do love a roaring fire, but I’m not much of a songbird.

And, not too long ago, we attended a wedding where the ‘story’ told on the bottles of wine provided on each of the tables was brilliantly incorporated by the mother of the bride into her extraordinary speech honoring the matrimonial couple.  The story that she created from the ‘story’ on the label stirred our sentiments and took our ‘toasts’ to an even more meaningful level.

But, not to worry if you are popping the cork on a bottle of vino that is “just business”. You can always create a meaningful story of your own with the memories you are making while you are sipping it with others.  As some wise but unknown soul once said: “Friends don’t let friends wine alone.”

Cheers … K 🙂

P.S.  We shared my birthday bottle of RAMSAY with our very good friends over a most delightful and delicious meal one Sunday night. And we unanimously enjoyed it’s flavor and fullness. The food and the friendship was exceptional too.  As always.  And we played cards (as we often do) … and … I think I won (as I often do).  Okay … as I often HOPE to do.  Nonetheless, as I recall on this particular evening, our typical game of Hearts became a real nail-biter. Nerves were clearly jangled as I pulled off some real ‘power’ moves … with a poker face and absolutely NO table talking. Well, okay … maybe a little table talk and probably some trash talk.  I remember one hand in particular being so well executed that I think I left them all speechless!  No, wait … maybe that was the time that I flubbed up so royally that we were all laughing hysterically. Well, whatever … the exact details aren’t all that important, because this is the ‘story’ I am telling about that night with our good neighbors and that lovely bottle of Ramsay.  🙂