This little light

Reflections on life and making it just a bit brighter

Kijiji is just another word for trouble…

My Sweet has no use for Facebook or social media in general except to glance occasionally from the seat beside me and ask “Who is that?”

It’s a bit like having someone read over your shoulder, actually it’s exactly like having someone read over your shoulder, and it drives me crazy. Sometimes I’ll tell him what’s going on if it’s relevant to him at all, but mostly I tell him if he wants to know what’s going on in the Land of Facebook, he needs to get his own account.

What he does like to do on the internet is scroll through the buy and sell sites like Kijiji. He likes to read what people advertise, specifically the titles of the ad because sometimes they’re amusing like the time my friend was advertising for ‘one night stand’. She was looking for a bedside table but that sure isn’t what it sounded like!

Two nights ago, he is happily scrolling through the ads when he looks my way and says in his most serious voice, “Don’t look. Just don’t.”

Which has the opposite effect because now all I want is to see is whatever it is he doesn’t want me to see. It’s childish, I know, but be honest – who out there doesn’t start saying, “What? What is it? Let me see.”

So he shows me.

It’s an ad for a dog, but not just any dog. It’s an ad for a six month old medium-sized Labradoodle puppy. It is exactly the kind of dog we have said we would get if we were ever to get another dog which we have many, many times agreed we will not be doing.

Just over two years ago, we lost our Molly. She was the sweetest natured chocolate lab and we miss her, both us of. We have also agreed that we aren’t really at the right place to have another dog: we’re travelling, we don’t want to have to rush home from town to let a dog out, we hate the thought of losing another dog…we have all kinds of reasons why having a dog right now is not the best idea.

No problem. We look, we agree it’s an adorable puppy, and if only we were at a different point in our lives it would probably be the right dog for us. And we move on.

The next day, we’re driving to town and I don’t think anything dog-related was even part of the conversation when My Sweet says out of the blue, “I can’t believe I’m the one having to be the hardass about getting another dog!”

Ummmm……what? Were we talking about a dog? I was under the impression we agreed, regardless of the fact that this was the perfect dog, we were NOT interested.

Apparently, one of us was mistaken.

This morning, I wake up and halfway through my first coffee, I make a critical mistake. I look at My Sweet and say, “You won’t believe it, but I dreamed we went and looked at a dog.”

How was I to know he was sitting across the table, silently scrolling through Kijiji ads?

He looks up and says, “The ad is still active.”

“What ad?”

I know. That was a dumb question.

“You know how we will know if it’s meant to be?”

“How what is meant to be?”

“If we’re meant to have the dog or not. We can send an email and if they reply, it’s meant to be.”

Do you see how subtly he has sucked me into this? Made me complicit? He started using the pronoun ‘we’. Oh sure, he’s a real hardass, my husband. Sheesh.

And somehow, suddenly, he is composing an email (normally my job) and he’s reading it back to me and editing it and he’s hitting SEND. And I’m speechless, slightly agog because now here we sit, waiting to hear back and I keep asking myself, “How did this happen? How did this get so out of control?”

You can fast forward about 24 hours. Think of the happenings in between like skipping the ads when you PVR your favourite show. It was mostly watching the email folder for incoming emails anyway.

Messages came in, but never the one we were waiting for. There still hasn’t been any reply and the ad has disappeared from Kijiji. Apparently, it wasn’t meant to be.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that. I have mixed feelings. When you’ve had pets for any length of time and then they’re gone, the house feels empty. No one greets you at the door, wagging with excitement. (I tried once for Phil’s sake, but apparently my efforts weren’t appreciated because he asked me not to do it again.) On the other hand, if we are in town and decide to stay late and have supper, we don’t have to worry about whether the dog will be ok in the house for another hour or if we’ll have to clean up a mess when we get there. That’s a joke. There’s no ‘we’ when there are messes to be cleaned. There’s just ‘me’.

I guess it doesn’t matter. The thing we had suddenly convinced ourselves that we wanted, well, we couldn’t have it.

That happens a lot in life. We set our hearts and minds on something, sometimes we work as hard as we can to get it, and despite our best efforts, it just doesn’t happen. We don’t get the job, we don’t get into the school we want, the other person isn’t interested. We are turned down, rejected, and we are disappointed.

And here is where you need to ask yourself one simple question: how badly do I really want this?

If you’re willing to accept that maybe the object of your heart’s desire isn’t so big a deal, you can walk away. But there are times when what looks like or sounds like a ‘no’, just isn’t acceptable. Maybe it’s just a detour, maybe you need to come at things from a different angle, maybe you need to dig a little deeper and work a little harder.

I have a friend who has been pursing a dream. She has had more setbacks and roadblocks than seems fair and yet she re-evaluates, reconsiders, and, like an off-track GPS, she recalculates. Sure, she gets frustrated and discouraged, but her persistence is astonishing and there is not a doubt in my mind that she will achieve her goal eventually.

So how badly did we want this dog? Not badly enough to phone instead of emailing. Not even badly enough to send a second email.

I guess we’re just not quite ready, but the fact that it got this far is telling and maybe the next time an opportunity arises, we’ll grab hold with both hands and fight for it a little harder.

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Summer nostalgia

It is a hot day for northern BC. The mercury is supposed to stop rising at 29 degrees Celsius. That’s 84 degrees Fahrenheit for those of you south of the border.

I know not everyone considers that hot, but here in the north, it’s hot. We don’t often break 30 degrees in the summer and the forecast this week is for hot and hotter.

We Canadians LOVE to talk about the weather and here in the north, we are inexplicably proud when we say, “Sure it’s -40, but it’s a dry cold.”

The same is true when it’s hot. It’s a dry heat. We’re a long way from water so the humidity is low. Today the skies are mostly clear with just the slightest haze from the wild fires that are still ravaging the southern parts of our province.

Days like this make me nostalgic which is why I’m sitting outside in the shade instead of enjoying the coolness of the basement. I want to be where I can hear the breeze rustle the poplar leaves and the buzz of bluebottle flies and the occasional wasp. I want to sit undisturbed and think about the things I loved and miss about my childhood.

I miss homemade popsicles that melted slowly because Mom put jello in the mix. I miss picking pineapple weed flowers for peas and caragana pods for beans and “cooking” them up in the kitchen of our playhouse. I miss bicycle rides around the neighbourhood which took all afternoon because it was northern Alberta where the roads are mostly perfectly straight, intersecting every mile, a 4 mile round trip, unless we went over the big hill which was slightly terrifying because there were no hand brakes on our bikes just the kind where you pushed the pedals backward to brake, or dragged the toes of your shoes (not a popular method with our Mom).

But my all time favourite summer activity was lying in the shade of the trees in our yard and reading; traveling through time and space, across dimensions and back in history. I had grand adventures in my mind until my little sister or my brothers had finally convinced Mom and Dad that it was too hot and we should go swimming.

Going swimming never meant going to the public pool in town with it’s clear, blue, chlorinated water. No. We would pile into the back seat of the old pickup, or sometimes into the box of the truck (I know, I know, it was dangerous, but not as dangerous as you think and besides that was part of the fun of it. Any misbehaving and we had to move inside the truck. I won’t tell you that depending on the vintage of the truck, we did that by climbing through the small, sliding window in the back.). Dad would drive slowly down to the creek where the road curved and two enormous culverts went under the gravel to let the water flow through. Years of spring run-off had hollowed out a big hole which never dried up in the summer. The edges were shallow, but there was a deep part right in front of the mouth of the culverts. I can’t tell you how deep because I only ever worked up the courage to dangle from the lip of the culvert. I could never quite convince myself to let go.

If you walked around the swimming hole on the rocks, you could climb into the culvert and walk down it, splashing in the small stream of water that flowed through it. I don’t know how big those culverts were. I know they look smaller now, but they’re probably 12 or 14 feet across and maybe 60 feet long. Plenty big enough to make the best echoes when you stood at the mouth and shouted down it’s length.

The water was warm and if you stayed in one spot for too long, you’d come out with big, black leeches clinging to your feet or legs. Easily taken care of because one of the things that always went into the bag with the towels was a salt shaker.

Mom would go in the water, but mostly it was Dad who would coax us into getting on his back or shoulders to go into the deeper part. He’d walk part way out into the pool and then without warning he’d sink like a stone as if the bottom had dropped out from beneath his feet. It scared the bejeezus out of me every single time. And yet, I kept doing it.

It’s one of the memories I look back on when I’m afraid and I need to remind myself that fear is just a feeling. I can be afraid and still do things.

We just put up a zip line in the yard for our grandkids. Our middle Little wanted to try but said he was too afraid. I told him it was ok to feel afraid and when he was ready I would help him. He went home that day without trying, but he was back the next day having made up his mind that he was ready to try. We started with my arm around him walking beside so he didn’t go too fast and he made darn sure I was sticking close to him. When he stopped sliding along the cable, he looked up at me with the biggest, proudest smile and said, “Again Grandma!”

So we went again. And again. And again.

He made dozens of trips down the zip line, each time with a little less support from me until I was giving him a push down the cable fast enough that he made it all the way to the end and could push himself back off the end pole.

I told him how proud I was that even though he was afraid, he still tried. It wasn’t really that hard to build his confidence, it just took a bit of time and patience and some encouraging words.

This isn’t the first time Little B has let me help him with something that scared him. He lets me help because he trusts me, he knows I’m right there with him if something goes wrong.

I knew that about my Dad too, that he would never let anything bad happen to me and so even though he scared me, I learned that sometimes feeling scared is just that…a feeling, not something we can control, but something that we can change.

Sometimes all we need is a little support and some well-placed words to give us the courage to try; once we try we take away the power fear has and we can try again, and again…

until we’re flying!

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Attitude is everything!

My Sweet looked at my feet a few days ago and said, “Don’t you think you should go see a doctor about that?”

“Ummm…no. No I don’t.”

What I preach about going to see the doctor and what I practice are often just slightly off-track. I may be a bit stubborn about stuff like that.

“Besides,” I told him, “I already googled my symptoms and I know exactly what’s wrong. I have extensor tendonitis.”

What’s that, you ask?

Well, that’s what happens when you walk roughly 65 miles over hills and crags, and across pastures and through the woodland of northern England in less than a week. (That’s only the trail walking and doesn’t take into consideration the distance walked from the trail to our accommodations, to wherever we were getting our supper each night, and around every Roman fort, museum, and landmark along the way.)

My Sweet and I just came back from walking the lion’s share of Hadrian’s Wall in England. It was a phenomenal experience and I highly recommend a walking holiday to anyone who thinks they might like to try one!

We walked a lot in preparation, broke in new hiking shoes, and researched as much as we could. England’s weather is a lot like the weather in Vancouver in the spring – sunny at times, but more often cloudy with light showers and the occasional downpour. We made sure we had good rain gear and I hoped and prayed for good weather. Apparently there were some very important lessons I needed to learn on this trip and the weather and landscape played an important role which is a hint that the weather may not have cooperated as fully as I would have liked.

We had a few light showers while we walked but the sun came out almost as soon as the rain had passed and dried us out pretty quickly. The third day though…well…I’ve never been that wet with my clothes on in my entire life! Even with rain gear, after a few hours of steady downpour the moisture still made it through the layers. My shoes were full of water too, squishing and sloshing with every step.

Naturally this also happened on the day with the most difficult terrain. We climbed up and down steep crags and hills all day. We slipped and slid down smooth stone trails, trying to keep our balance and our footing. I remember passing the marker that indicated we were at the highest elevation along the Wall and thinking how grateful I was that we had just climbed the highest hill (but not the last, not by far).

The health app on my phone tracked us at 26 373 steps, 18.2km, and 140 flights of stairs climbed.

Walking Hadrian's Wall; Housesteads; challenge; attitude is everything

This was such a long day!

I’m a firm believer in the power of 10. Counting to ten has been a standard practice for me in challenging situations. I once worked with a student diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). I can’t tell you how many times I counted to ten in my mind in an effort to thwart the attempt to tick me off which was the student’s intent. If they weren’t happy, nobody was going to be happy.

Counting to ten (or twenty or fifty or whatever multiple of ten was required for the situation) gave me time to stay calm, time to come up with alternate strategies, or just time to weather the storm.

Climbing the hills of Hadrian’s Wall required multiples of ten. Ten steps at a time because I was pretty sure I could take ten steps. Then ten more. Then ten more. Head down and one foot in front of the other until I realized I was at the top of the hill and could catch my breath.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Since we’ve been home and have told people about our trip, many have commented, “That must have been awful, walking in the rain like that.”

But it really wasn’t.

It should have been.

When I talk about it – the rain, the gusting wind at the top of the hills, shoes full of water, the blisters on both feet, the tendonitis – it doesn’t sound like fun. But I can honestly say that the entire day, in fact the entire walk, there was not one word of complaint from either of us. Not one cross word about our circumstances. And that in itself is a bit amazing as well.

We stood on top of those hills and looked out at the expanse of northern England and marveled at its remoteness and the beauty of its unique landscape. We looked beyond the rain and cloudy skies and were in awe of the men who packed enough stone by hand to build a wall 3 meters wide and 5-6 meters tall and 84 miles (135km) long, never mind the mile castles and forts along the way. Rarely have I felt such a sense of pride in an accomplishment as at the end of that day when we finally walked into our Bed & Breakfast and could peel of our rain gear and soggy shoes.

I can’t imagine there is a person out there who hasn’t heard the saying that attitude is everything. I think after our experience walking the Wall, I can say it’s true.

We had determined, long before we left on our trip, to enjoy every moment no matter what weather came our way or how difficult the walking was.

There have been few times in my life I think I have been so determined to do something. That may have been due in part to the looks we got from people when we told them what we were planning for our holiday. We don’t exactly look like long distance walkers and there is something very fulfilling in being able to accomplish something that others didn’t think you were capable of.

I would be lying to you, and to myself, if I said I didn’t have my own doubts before we left. But it’s okay to have doubts. What’s important is to set your doubts aside and try anyway. I don’t think you should recklessly charge ahead, but by all means, prepare, do your homework, challenge yourself, and do it. Don’t let doubt, or the doubts of others, stop you.

Set your mind. Direct your attitude. Think positively.

Whatever your goal is, whatever your dream is, how you approach it will be a huge factor in determining your success. Attitude is everything. It can stop you in your tracks or it can help you achieve things you thought were beyond your reach.

What’s your goal? Are you making progress? If not, maybe it’s time to check your attitude.

You are the ultimate authority on the tone of the thoughts that go through your mind every minute of every day. You decide what your attitude will be. Negative or positive, it’s up to you.

I wanted to be a walker, a hill climber, and now I am.

What do you want to be?

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Ordinary is never really ordinary…

On the outside, people generally look quite ordinary. For the most part, we dress the same, we comb our hair, and we go about the world in a similar way. Occasionally you will see a colourful character that stands out from the crowd like the man yesterday. He was seated at a sidewalk café opposite us looking very much like a 1960’s hippy Captain Jack Sparrow. Long-haired with ribbons and ornaments dangling from his locks, round hippy glasses, eclectic clothing…he was old enough that I doubt his look was experimental. He was clearly comfortable in his own skin. Our companion wondered what made someone get up in the morning and want to dress in such a way. I suggested the man probably wondered what would possess a man to put on a suit and tie.

People watching is fun. It’s one of the things we enjoy doing while we are visiting a large city. I love to see someone strut by making a bold statement with their clothing or their manner. It makes me wonder what their story is. Similarly, I wonder about the life and story of someone who dresses to blend in.

My Sweet and I are on a holiday in England. We spent the first week in the north, walking a portion (65 miles) of Hadrian’s Wall. It is a remote part of the country where you can stand on high hilltops and no matter which direction you look, you might only see a couple of farmhouses and a whole lot of sheep. Occasionally we would meet other walkers, some on the same path, others intersecting on other trails.

Each night we stayed in a local bed and breakfast where we had the opportunity to chat with other travelers. We met the most interesting people – a man near our age from Lichtenstein who had recently given up his job with the government and was walking alone while he pondered what his future might look like; a young man from Newcastle who owned a small deli on the quay and was running the length of the Wall in two days (it was meant to be a first date of sorts but the woman in question had backed out); and a widow who had lost her husband to cancer six months earlier and was walking with her two friends in preparation for a trip to Machu Picchu.

At one of our last B&B’s, we made the acquaintance of an older couple from the Isle of Mann. We enjoyed a late supper with them at a local pub and just a few simple questions led to the most interesting conversation. I’m guessing that they were near 80 in age; they were returning from a fishing holiday in Scotland. They had spent the majority of their married life in Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe. They raised four children, three daughters and a son, while living in Africa. Before the couple returned to the UK, two of the daughters married New Zealanders and the third married an Australian. The son was younger and came back to the UK as well, where he married and lives with his wife and child (but not very near to the parents). The wife asked if our parents were still living? I said yes, both my husband’s parents and my mother. She glanced at her husband, then with a sad and wistful look on her face, simply said, “Cherish them.” Both her words and the look on her face will stay with me for quite some time I think.

We met an elderly man walking with his daughter and a lovely collie who (the man not the collie) taught us to recognize the scent of gorse in bloom, a friendly couple on a transit bus who took one look at our bewildered faces and rescued us by shepherding us along on the right exchanges to get us to the train station we needed, and a Russian lawyer who had rebuilt her life after discovering that her traveling husband was keeping a second family in another country.

Each and every one looked quite ordinary, not so different from ourselves except in age and the accent of their spoken English. But beneath the surface was a lifetime of stories, experiences, and moments that made them all unique.

Every time a life’s story was shared with us there was also a lesson learned that was being passed along:
• The man from Lichtenstein who was between jobs and searching taught us that sometimes a bit of solitary contemplation is just what is needed to gain perspective on an uncertain future.
• The young man running told us that he used to be very shy until he opened his deli; the daily interactions with the public had opened him up and taught him how much he actually liked talking with people.
• The elderly couple reminded us to hold our loved ones closely because life passes more quickly than we think.
• The man with his daughter and collie taught us to stop and smell the flowers, and to pay attention to your surroundings.
• The people on the bus were a lesson in the kindness of strangers (this happened just one day after the bombing in Manchester).
• The Russian lawyer taught us that you are stronger and more resilient than you think, and that hard work and determination can take you farther than you dreamed.

Do you think your life is ordinary and uninteresting? I know I felt a bit that way when I walked away from some of the people we’ve met on this trip. I thought for a moment how regular my life is, how safe and predictable, but then I thought about where we were and what we had done – traveling around England, walking across miles of rugged and wild countryside, climbing to the top of castle ruins, and meeting all of these fascinating people – and maybe my life isn’t so ordinary after all. Maybe none of our lives are ordinary except in our own minds.

I know I’ve said this before, but apparently I needed reminding, that it is the people who come into (and out of) our lives that we remember and that have the biggest impact on us. Don’t be afraid to say hello to the stranger in the coffee shop, smile at the woman on the bus, or admire the friendly collie. These moments have the potential to enrich or even change our lives.

Ordinary is never really as ordinary as you think.

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Walking a different path…

There’s a German proverb that says, “Sweep in front of your own door and the whole world will be clean.”

That’s good advice. If we worried about taking care of our own dirty doorsteps (choices, lives, children…) we wouldn’t have time to worry about anyone else’s.

I had such an interesting chat the other day. I’d popped into a little shop to pick something up on my lunch break. The lady working there apologized because she’d had to bring her little daughter in to work with her; the babysitter was sick.

I didn’t mind. That tiny, little girl was adorable! She was only just over a year old and tottered around the store jabbering at me. Every now and again, she would tilt her head and give me a sparkling, mega watt, tiny chiclet, toothy smile. My heart melted. And when she put her arms out for me to pick her up…well I could have spent the rest of my day with that little angel.

Even though the mother looked close to my age, certainly old enough for this to be her last child, I asked, “Is she your first?” The answer was yes, she was the first and the only child.

Turns out that little angel was a gift sent from heaven…one mother’s precious miracle.

She was smiling a little wryly when she said, “You wouldn’t believe how often I get asked when I’m having another.” Oh, yes, I could imagine. I’m sure all kinds of people have asked her that question and then offered up all sorts of opinions on why every child needs a sibling.

She needs someone to teach her how to share her toys.
Your siblings are your first friends.
She’ll be spoiled without a brother or sister to give her a little loving competition.
When her mother and father are gone from this world, who will she have left?

Not one is a valid argument. Yes, her life will be different without siblings, but I’ve got news for you. That’s okay.

We actually had a lovely chat and I hope when we parted that she felt like at least one person out there wasn’t judging her choices. I don’t think she ever intended to only have one child. I’m sure when she was younger she probably envisioned a bigger family for herself. But, it didn’t happen that way. Life walked her down a different road and she seemed content and at peace with it. It’s too bad others can’t recognize that and let her be. Instead she feels as though she needs to defend herself.

Not long ago, I saw this quote.

Just because I’m not on your path, doesn’t mean I’m lost.

There’s a lot of truth in that simple statement.

There have been a lot of changes in my life over the past year. I feel like I’m in a state of growth and learning. I’m feeling less constricted by some pretty conservative and conventional boundaries that felt comfortable for a long time, but now…well they just don’t fit anymore, so I’ve opened them up to make room for new ideas. It feels good and it feels right.

Somewhere along the way, too many of us have gotten the idea that the only right path is the one we’re on and we tend to stand in judgement of anyone who walks a different path. I have been guilty of thinking that, and worse – behaving as though that were true. Sometimes I am a little ashamed of how judgmental I have been. The hope though, is that when you know better, you do better. I’m trying.

I’m trying to let those around me travel their own road and enjoy their own journey. I’m trying to keep my opinions to myself unless they are asked for. Even then, I am considering my words carefully.

Each and every one of us has our own path to walk and our own lessons to learn. Who am I to think that I know best for everyone? Who am I to think I have all the answers? Who am I to think that my way is the right way? I struggle enough with my own choices and the consequences that come with each decision I make. Besides, tying myself in knots because someone has made a decision that I don’t agree with only brings on unnecessary anxiety and sleeplessness.

What I can do is show love and compassion when decisions made have unintended negative and perhaps painful consequences. I can be there to help you get up again, dust yourself off, and encourage you to keep trying. I can be your cheerleader, your friend, your supporter.

I can also help you celebrate when things turn out well. I can say, “Wow! I wasn’t sure how that was going to work, but you did it!”

I can wave to you while I sweep my own doorstep, smile, and wish you well.

I can do that.

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Miracles happen

It is Easter Sunday. I’m tucked into my chair in the corner of the dining room where I can watch the birds at the feeder and the deer stroll through the yard on their quest for easy food. The sky is a little grey.

On a normal year, this would be the first big family gathering of the new year. Our ‘snowbirds’ would just be arriving home from a winter away in the south and we would be eager for a get-together. It would be loud and boisterous, big hugs in greeting, the smell of a roasting ham filling the air, a big bundle of pussywillows in a vase on the table…

But this is not a normal year. It’s our first big holiday without Dad and we are all dealing with that in our own ways. There won’t be any big gathering just yet. I think it will be easier if our first spring gathering happens next week or the week after when there isn’t the weight of a holiday to bear as well.

It’s painfully quiet in our house this morning. My Sweet is working the night shift so he’s sleeping, our youngest son is still laying in bed reading – keeping quiet so as not to disturb the slumbering one. And I am sitting and reflecting on Easter Sunday and miracles.

I had one the other day…a miracle…a visitation of sorts.
I’ve been a little melancholy the past week or so and it’s just dawning on me now that it’s likely because Easter was approaching and it’s the first milestone holiday without Dad. I was sitting in this same chair, gazing out the front window watching my front yard and feeling more than a little morose.
It started snowing Wednesday night and by Friday morning there was a foot of fresh, heavy snow covering everything and big, clumpy gobs of it continued to fall. Every living thing should have been looking for shelter from the storm.

But our yard was thick with birds. I’ve never seen so many birds in our yard at one time. The ground and the naked, leafless lilac bushes were covered with juncos. There were tiny red polls scattered among the juncos and blue jays swooped in. Robins started appearing, at least a dozen, their backs charcoal grey, darker than usual with the wet weather and rusty breasts standing out boldly against the white background. Two different kinds of woodpeckers perched on the feeder. Tiny, bright red house finches hopped among the other little birds on the ground. And most surprising of all, a stunning little falcon – a kestrel – perched up high surveying the scene below.
Even from inside the house I could hear them, cheerfully chirping while the snow continued to fall.

I sat and watched while the tears slid down my cheeks because all I could think was that Dad had sent them.

At one point in the day, my neighbour ventured over to drop off something. I watched her walk slowly up the driveway, stopping to look around at all the birds. When she finally got to the back door, she said, “What is going on with all the birds in your yard?!” So I knew it wasn’t just me that recognized something unusual was happening.

The yard was like that all day long, the sun had set and I could still see birds hopping around on the snow.
At times throughout the day, my heart was so full of love and gratitude I could barely stand it. I closed my eyes, overwhelmed, and said, “Thanks for the visit Dad. I’ve missed you. I love you.” And I could feel his hands on my shoulders, pulling me close for a hug and I could hear him say, “Love you too daughter.”

I’m sure lots of people will have lots of opinions and explanations for why our yard had so many birds. That’s fine. I know what I saw and I know what I felt.

Dad loved birds. As impatient and blustery as he was at times, he had the patience to sit outside in the cold with a bit of seed cupped in his hands not moving a muscle, until finally, the chickadees would get comfortable enough with his presence to sit and eat from his hands. It was something special to watch.

Maybe all those birds in my yard wasn’t a miracle. Maybe there really is a perfectly reasonable, rational explanation for it. Maybe I’m just fooling myself and trying to ease my grief. It doesn’t matter because I know what I choose to believe.

When I was 16, my Granny gave me a beautiful cross-stitched picture. It still hangs in my home. It’s a picture of a little blue bird with a red breast, wings spread below the branch of a pine tree. The verse reads, “If I keep a green bough in my heart, a singing bird will come.”

Practicing gratitude keeps that green bough alive in my heart. It brings a little bird who sings of love and hope. It brings joy even when there is sorrow. It is why I can see a miracle in a flock of visiting birds and still feel the comfort of a hug from my father.

I’ll hold my little miracle close for a long time, I’m sure. It will encourage me to keep tending that green bough in my heart and if I do, maybe the birds will keep visiting.

Love and light…

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Emotional apologies

A week or so ago, I was watching the news and a woman was recounting the story of a traumatic event. It was clear she was struggling with the words and when her voice finally broke and tears fell, she choked out two words…”I’m sorry.”

I thought, “What on earth does she have to apologize for? If I was in her shoes I’d be crying too.”

I watched a similar scene play out several times over the next week: someone feeling pain or sorrow, shedding a few tears, and promptly apologizing for crying. It made me realize something.

I am becoming very unapologetic for my tears.

Over the past few months of Dad’s illness and then his death, I have cried more tears than I knew I had in me to cry. I cried when someone tried to be kind to me at work. I cried when I saw Dad’s memorial card on the shelf. I cried when I noticed the Red Polls were back at the bird feeder and I couldn’t call Dad and tell him. I cried after a birthday party for my father-in-law when I realized there would be no more birthday celebrations with my Dad.

Before all this happened, if something made me sad enough to cry in public, I was just like the woman I saw on TV. I would apologize. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to cry.”

Why do we do that? Why do we think we need to bottle up those feelings and keep them hidden?

The short answer is we shouldn’t and we don’t.

Tears are a fundamental part of the grieving and healing process.

Do you know what tears are made of? I thought they were just salt water, but they aren’t.

Tears produced during emotional crying have a chemical composition which differs from other types of tears. They contain significantly greater quantities of the hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, Leu-enkephalin, and the elements potassium and manganese.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crying

Let me simplify that for you a bit. Your tears are filled with hormones, one of which plays a vital role in the effectiveness of our immune system, one is responsible for our feelings of stress, and the other produces a natural form of morphine to relieve pain.

Think of it this way: if you don’t cry when you feel pain, you can get sick, your stress level stays high, and the pain continues. If you allow yourself to cry, you can avoid illness, relieve stress, and reduce your pain.

Tell me again, why we should hold back our tears? And why should we apologize for doing something that will eventually make us feel better?

There is folk wisdom supported by scientific evidence that putting salt on a wound can help it heal.

One reason why salt water is widely used for wound healing is that it helps kill certain types of bacteria …. When these bacteria are killed, the wound site is cleaned… infection is inhibited, so that it will not spread into the other skin areas or getting worse. Killing the infesting bacteria also helps the new skin cells to grow faster and more properly. Once this proper growth is promoted, the wounded site will eventually heal. Decreasing the inflammation means reducing the caused pain. While putting salt water on the wound site will badly sting at first, it helps future painful sensation around the wound site, which is very helpful for numerous people.
http://woundcaresociety.org/salt-water-make-wounds-heal-faster

I think you can draw your own parallels between tears and salt water, a physical wound and an emotional wound, between bacteria and bitterness.

While my grief has been unwelcome, unwanted, and immensely unpleasant, it is also teaching me valuable lessons about myself and about life. I won’t apologize for shedding tears for a man I loved deeply and miss daily. Apologies are an offering of reconciliation when I have done something hurtful or harmful. My tears are neither and I won’t apologize for them anymore.

Maybe you shouldn’t either.

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Lessons in control from a squirrel

Sunday morning I was sitting in my chair working on a crochet project. The house was quiet, really quiet. My Sweet is working the night shift this week and so he sleeps during the day, or at least he tries to.

I’m keeping an eye on the cat because she’s been a little demanding lately, scratching at closed doors that she thinks need opening. I’m watching her because I don’t want her scratching at the bedroom door where My Sweet sleeps.

She jumps up onto the window sill which is actually at ground level (I’m in the living room downstairs). No sooner does she nudge the curtains over her head so she can see out, but her tail starts to twitch – a sure sign something worth hunting is in her sight.

Moments later a wild and furious chittering noise erupts from outside the window. A squirrel. A very angry squirrel.

I’m worried the noise will wake up My Sweet and he has a hard enough time sleeping during the day without that racket going on. I look out the window and that squirrel is glaring at the cat, like SHE is the interloper on HIS territory.

I go upstairs and open the front door to shoo him away. He must have sensed danger and darted under the front doorstep. The fact that he is safe from me does not deter him from continuing to chirp at me from his place of safety. Apparently I am also intruding on his territory.

That squirrel, thinking that he has every right to occupy the front yard, reminds me of someone.

Me.

A couple of weeks ago, someone I care about was talking about a decision they had made. It was a decision that would affect quite a number of people and not necessarily in a good way. There was so much potential for things to go wrong that I was worried.

But I didn’t just worry. No, I fretted and stewed and kept myself awake half the night worrying myself sick about the ‘what if’s’.

What if they can’t afford it? What if this isn’t what they really want? What if it is too much for their family? What if…what if…what if…

I concocted a dozen scenarios, each one increasing in its level of harm and affect until what I was imagining was wildly improbable. That didn’t stop my mind from running away with me and taking me on a very unpleasant and, quite frankly, terrifying trip. Once I’ve gotten on the mind-train to Nosleepforyouville, I can’t get off. I ride in circles until I am physically sick, emotionally exhausted, and hungover (of sorts) the next day.

I will always be the first person to say I have control issues. And I’m opinionated. I might not always say it aloud, but if there’s something going on I’ll have an opinion about it. Be fair, so do you. We all have opinions on things, we just don’t always voice them.

The trouble isn’t so much in having an opinion, it isn’t even in voicing an opinion. The trouble is in taking ownership of a decision that isn’t mine – just like the squirrel staking claim to the front porch and yard which don’t belong to him no matter how much he chatters about it.

So why do I do it? I wish I knew. Partly, I think, it’s because I learned the fine art of worrying from my Dad. He could overthink, worry, fret, and stew like nobody else and he held a Master of Disaster Studies from the School of Worst Case Scenario. If I carry on this way, it won’t be long before the student surpasses her master. The thing is, I don’t really want to. Struggling with worry and anxiety at 2 in the morning isn’t fun and it sure isn’t productive.

For the past year or so, I’ve been trying some new things to help me give up my quest to rule the world and solve all it’s woes. Breathing techniques and meditation have helped. Intentionally practicing gratitude has also made a significantly positive impact.

Believe it or not, the squirrel helped too.

He was a wonderful little reminder that just because I want to take control of a situation doesn’t really mean that I can, or should. And I should add that a single, simple conversation cleared up a lot of the concerns I had over the situation in question. Another reminder that having an open and honest conversation was far more productive than having an imaginary conversation on a runaway train.

Who knew you could learn so much from a squirrel?

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Love at the end…

I thought I knew about love.

I thought I knew about loss.

I did. And I didn’t.

What I am feeling now, experiencing now, is something I didn’t know about. This kind of love requires more than I knew I had in me to give.

We are having a long goodbye. Dad is so near to the end that every time he wakes, his disappointment is almost palpable. The awake times are lessening but the disappointment grows.

He has said goodbye to everyone, some of us more than once. We have begun to turn away visitors and well-wishers. No one, least of all Dad, has the strength for another goodbye.

Love at the end looks and feels different.

It is holding Dad’s hand in yours and then struggling to commit that picture to memory, to burn it into your consciousness, so you never forget; never forget the feel of his soft, warm skin, his hand curled gently around yours.

It is laying close beside him, stroking his arm and listening to his breathing, holding your own while you wait anxiously between his lengthening pauses. You hope and pray for another breath, conflicted by your hope and prayer that, please God, grant Dad’s prayer and let it be his last.

It is holding a cup near, so Dad can sip from a straw and then turning away so he won’t see the sorrow on your face because the effort of drinking is so taxing for him.

It is also finding a bag of fresh muffins hanging on the door, left by a neighbour who wants to help and doesn’t know what else to do. It is deliveries of lemon loaf, cut vegetables, and meat and cheese.

Love at the end comes in countless phone calls, offers of support…if you need anything at all…

It is sitting and going through old photo albums, sharing your memories, laughing, crying, and laughing some more.

It is watching our mother struggle with her own goodbyes, her own conflicted emotions, and her determination to fulfill Dad’s wish of dying at home.

It is realizing that you really have come full circle to where you are the strength your father needs, but no longer has; that you are the care giver, doing for him what he can no longer do for himself.

It is emotional transparency where there is no desire to hide your feelings. It is honest, heartfelt words about our true feelings; feelings we always knew were there, but didn’t always put into words.

It is finding a way to put yourself aside, not thinking of your own comfort, but only that of the one you love.

It is bone-weariness at times and emotional exhaustion.

It is a heart so full, the only way to stop it from bursting is to relieve the pressure with more tears, a seemingly bottomless well of tears.

I thought I knew about love.

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Practicing gratitude

At the end of December I started thinking about the New Year and what I wanted to accomplish and if I should try to set a resolution for myself. I tossed it around for a while because I don’t really like New Year’s resolutions. I have never been truly successful with them and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

About that same time, likely millions of other people on the planet were considering New Year’s resolutions. The cynicism on Facebook was evidence of this. The mocking memes of ‘New Year New Me” were everywhere. It wasn’t exactly encouraging and the inner cynic in me wasn’t disagreeing with the uselessness of resolutions. Useless for me – lots of people love resolutions and I’m fine with that, truly, they just aren’t for me.

What I have been successful with in the past though, are short term commitments. If you’ve been with me for a while, you may remember my Proust Questionnaire series that led me to write this blog. I began to consider a series of short term resolutions instead of one big resolution for the entire year.

I have been going through a bit (that’s an understatement) of a soul awakening over the past few months. I decided I needed to work on the inner me more intentionally. And while I don’t really like resolutions, I couldn’t get past the push in my mind that I needed to commit to something on January first, but what?

What happened was a lightbulb moment while I was scrolling through Pinterest. See – social media is good for something! I came upon a series of journal prompts for 30 Days of Gratitude. There is no shortage of articles or books about the importance of practicing gratitude and the positive effects it can have.

So I thought, “Why not?” 30 Days of Gratitude it is and because I need to be accountable to someone other than myself, I committed to posting every day on my blog’s Facebook page.

Today is Day 22.

I have done my best to dig deep and come up with thoughtful answers for the daily prompts. It isn’t always easy. I mean, have you ever considered what texture you’re grateful for? That was Day 12. Or what song you’re grateful for? That was Day 21.

I have noticed a difference in myself because of this exercise in intentional gratitude. When faced with something challenging, I find myself looking for something in the situation to be grateful for. I especially notice myself doing it at work when I am dealing with something difficult or challenging.

I don’t know if it has been helping any of the people who see the posts on Facebook, except for one person…my Mom. Until her internet went wonky, she was trying to follow each one and come up with her own responses. Finding things to be grateful for is a bit of a theme in our lives and our family right now.

My Dad is very near to the end of his life. Very near. That became painfully clear to me yesterday while I was with him. It was shocking because I thought my Dad would just live forever. Sometimes, forever is not as long as we thought.

21 days to build a habit, that’s what we are told. Yesterday was Day 21 of my gratitude project. It has maybe been one of the best things I have ever done for myself. Here’s why.

Yesterday, when I sat on the bed beside my Dad and he held my hand, we talked. We talked and we cried and we laughed and then we did all those things again. And in every moment, every heartbreaking moment, I found I could be grateful.

Grateful for our time together. Grateful for the life he and my Mom gave us. Grateful for his presence. Grateful for his love. Just grateful.

While Dad rested, Mom and I sat on the couch and we did the same thing. We held hands and we talked and we cried and we laughed. And I was still grateful. Grateful for her love. Grateful for her dedication. Grateful for her strength . Grateful for her unwavering faith. So grateful.

If I hadn’t been practicing an attitude of gratitude for the past few weeks, I’m not sure how I would have handled yesterday, but I think it would have been different. As hard as it was, I will be forever grateful, too, for that time yesterday.

There have been times when I looked at the prompt for the day and thought to myself, “Well that’s kind of silly.” And maybe some of them have been silly, but there has been something profoundly transformative in searching for gratitude in ordinary things, the things we are surrounded by every day and sometimes barely notice. There are wonderful blessings to be found in the things of daily life, the little things we take for granted.

If you’re looking for something that will make a difference in your life, in your attitude, in your approach to daily living, I would encourage you to try practicing intentional gratitude for 30 days. Put a pad of paper by your bed and before you go to sleep write down just one thing you were truly grateful for that day. Do it for 30 days. I can almost guarantee it will change you. I know it changed me.

Love and light to you all my friends…with gratitude…

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