"For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes." - Dag Hammarskjold

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

madeleine & teiko...

On the Tuesday evening of my cross-Canada train ride, I was seated with a lovely young lady and her grandparents. Madeleine is from Toronto and was taking this holiday prior to starting an intensive summer class. She will be entering grade 12 in the fall. I loved how easily she spent time with her grandparents - I often saw her in animated conversation with them at various times throughout the trip. She also seemed very comfortable interacting with fellow travellers of all ages. She struck me as someone who will confidently make her way in life.

Madeleine was very intrigued and interested in the idea of *the gratitude project: dare to be grateful*. Like many people, one of her first questions was: how did I come up with this?? :-) Not only did she take a few of the project cards, but she and her grandmother agreed to answer my question: what are you grateful for?

Grandmother Teiko: Health. Without that, we have nothing.

Madeleine: Grateful people - people who make the world a happier place.

(I suspect Madeleine will be one of these very people.)

Another lovely encounter on my gratitude train!

gratefully yours,

Sunday, July 28, 2013

celebrating lives greatly full :: liz arocena

My first encounter with Liz was a virtual one; I "met" her through her photography on Flickr.  I became a fan of her street photography, which is based in one of the most fascinating (to me!) cities: NYC. We exchanged comments on each others photos quite frequently and I rallied up my courage to reach out and suggest a photo walk the next time I would be in NYC.  She was game!  So, in 2011, we met in person.  I loved that day!  She showed me parts of her world in Queens, NY and I was thrilled.  We have kept in touch since then and I continue to be a fan of her work.  I certainly predict a book or two in her future!  She's that good.

I am so grateful that Liz accepted the invitation to contribute a photo essay to *the gratitude project: dare to be grateful*.  Here's hoping you will enjoy a glimpse into her world as much as I do.  Thanks Liz... PLAY BALL!

When my friend Jo-Anne asked me to contribute to her "Gratitude" blog I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about.  First a quick back story, I fell in love with photography in particular street photography about the same time my son started playing little league baseball at the age of 6, he is now 11.  I learned the rules for both contemporaneously.  It seemed a natural progression to start photographing little league baseball in the same manner I approached my street shooting, that is by looking for that precise moment to help tell a story.

When my son started summer travel ball with this team and coaches in 2011, I shot through the links of the chain link fence and shared the photos with all the parents and coaches.  The following year, I was allowed dugout access.

I get to be in the thick of things with the team and I get to see all these little moments that are often missed and would otherwise only exist in the kids and coaches memories and I get to document them. 

The shots I'm sharing with you are untitled, just everyday moments of summer travel/tournament ball with the same team for three years now, though many of the players learned to play ball in the same Forest Hills league from age six and have known each other more than half their lives already.  I imagine they will be friends for years to come no matter where they end up.  They have been together so long that they can predict each others moves, they give each other hell as only good friends can, they pick each other up when the other is down and they play hard.  It is a beautiful thing to see as a mother and a photographer.  I think I'm pretty lucky to be able to do this and for that I'm grateful.
Liz Arocena





Thursday, July 25, 2013

jamie & gillian...

Jamie and Gillian are relative newlyweds at all of one year married. They are young and beautiful and fully aware of the blessings they have in their lives. My new friend Susanne & I shared a dinner table with them on the Monday evening, as we were hurtling through the Prairies. Truth be told, I picked their table deliberately because I was curious to find out what kind of adventure they were on. Turns out, it's quite the adventure!

This couple was traveling from Toronto to Vancouver by train, and would spend the next 62 days going back by bicycle. Carrying all their gear for camping along the way, they are conscious of leaving as small an environmental footprint as possible.  Jamie had just completed his nursing degree (way to go!!) and Gillian would be completing her university studies next year. They figured this was probably the last summer they could dedicate two full months to a cross-country bicycle tour, well, for a while anyway!

Jamie & Gillian enthusiastically agreed to contribute to *the gratitude project: dare to be grateful*! Here is what they answered to the question: what are you grateful for?

Gillian: grateful for health, fitness AND grateful for the gift of nature. Gillian expressed deep appreciation for the Earth.

Jamie: grateful for the time he has to do this biking adventure AND especially for someone to share it with.

Although they admit they are not bloggers, they created an online space to keep friends and family - and curious people like me - informed of their progress. You can see how their journey is going at Across Canada Bike Adventure. Their stories and images are inspiring!  I have been particularly moved by their experiences of spontaneous and unexpected kindness from strangers.  It's clear that this will be a life-changing journey for them...

Thanks to both Jamie & Gillian for their willingness to participate! Here's wishing them all the best on this adventure - and on the many life adventures that lie ahead...

gratefully yours,

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

grateful for growth...

I've been home from my West Coast Adventure for a whole 10 days now, and I am only now beginning to feel settled.  The first few days were challenging - I felt antsy and lost, neither here nor there.  I suppose it was to be expected, and I did leave myself several days before returning to work, but I didn't quite expect it to feel like it did.



lost in my own space.

My own home seemed foreign to me. I couldn't remember where I put things, or what it was that made me feel grounded here.  But, of course, I trusted that I would recover.

Even now, there is a part of me that wonders if the woman who left on June 15 is the same woman who returned on July 12. How have I changed? Because I know I have - I just can't articulate it yet.  I really liked the woman who travelled... the confident jag who sought out adventure!  And I'm not ready to say good-bye to her.  So...

how can I invite her to stick around?
how do I make space for this broader, bigger, braver... me?

At times, I am here. but I am not really here.
I am still travelling.


grateful for the growth,

Sunday, July 21, 2013

celebrating lives greatly full :: jack murta

I am honoured to share a post by Jack Murta today.  Jack is a fellow member of the World Community for Christian Meditation; I first met him at one of the local meditation groups.  I soon learned that Jack not only speaks of gratitude, he lives it. His has been a life dedicated to service on so many levels.  He served as a Member of Parliament for 18 years and now spends his "retirement" (ha!) focussing on those issues that are most dear to him.  

He quietly serves behind the scenes on many boards and, most recently, served as interim Executive Director of The Ottawa Mission.  He also serves his faith community in many ways, including serving as President of the National Prayer Breakfast and starting a christian meditation group at The Ottawa Mission. Add multiple marathons and half-marathons to the list and what you have is a man who inspires us to go the distance and serve our community in any way we can, with humility and love.  Thank you Jack, for your example... and for your contribution to *the gratitude project*!   

What DECISION am I most grateful for and why?  

The decision that I am most grateful for is the decision to say “yes” when a friend asked me to join the Board of Directors of the Ottawa Mission. It is always remarkable to me that the things we are most thankful for can start out by being the smallest acts of community service.    

A number of years ago I was asked to join the board of the Ottawa Mission which is a large men’s homeless shelter just a few minutes from Parliament Hill. While being on the board, I then volunteered 2 hours per week in the kitchen and helped to serve a noon meal (we provide 1250 hot meals a day). I was nominated to the position of Vice-President of the board, then President and finally to the position of interim Executive Director of the Mission. I have since stepped aside to go back on the Board since the Mission has now hired a permanent Executive Director. 

My time working as Executive Director with homeless men has truly been life changing.

Being with the poor and understanding that they have so very little to offer, has lead me to discover that I am also poor!

I find that I am poor when my defences get stripped away and I have nothing to offer except to just sit and listen, to be a friend, to say, “I don’t know the answer but I will be there for you”. That is when I begin to feel truly poor, truly humble.  

I find that as we go through life we all do so much posturing, always wanting to share our qualities and successes whenever we meet other people. It is interesting to note that when you share your weakness and difficulties, you are more helpful to others than by sharing your qualities and successes.   

I am grateful for being asked to work with the less fortunate because I have personally learned a great deal from them.

I believe that I have become a better listener; I try not to judge as quickly; I give advice more sparingly and I know that I have developed a deeper faith. 

Like so many people I have found that the more I give of myself the more I receive.

Who would have ever thought that my life would have been so enriched by being part of a homeless shelter?


Friday, July 19, 2013

grateful for heart songs...

What does your heart feel like singing about today?!
“Anything worth thinking about is worth singing about.”
Which is why we have
songs of praise, songs of love, songs
     of sorrow.

Songs to the gods, who have
     so many names.

Songs the shepherds sing, on the
     lonely mountains, while the sheep
          are honoring the grass, by eating it.

The dance-songs of the bees, to tell
     where the flowers, suddenly, in the
          morning light, have opened.

A chorus of many, shouting to heaven,
     or at it, or pleading.

Or that greatest of love affairs, a violin
     and a human body.

And a composer, maybe hundreds of years dead.

I think of Schubert, scribbling on a café
          Thank you, thank you.

 -          Mary Oliver


gratefully yours,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Claude was our train car attendant from Winnipeg to Vancouver. He was friendly, approachable and made sure I had all I needed to be comfortable.

Upon reading my t-shirt (what are you grateful for?), he shared that every night he is home with his kids, he asks them what they are grateful for from the day. If he happens to forget, they remind him and ask for "grateful time". It's something he has been teaching them from a young age!

Later on the trip, I overheard Claude helping new arrivals from Jasper to settle into their berths. (Berths are like bunk beds that open up directly into the passageway - they are converted to seating during the day.)

Guest: What about privacy?
Claude: Privacy? There is no privacy on a train Madame - people ride the train because they want to make friends!

Then, he reassured them that once the berths were set up for the night, they would have thick curtains for privacy. :-)

People ride the train because they want to make friends.

I like that. Merci Claude!

gratefully yours,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, July 14, 2013

celebrating lives greatly full :: kathleen wilker

Kathleen Wilker was one of the first people I met at the gratitude project's first community event back in May.  I distinctly remember her smile, her willingness to be one of the first to post on our gratitude wall, and her awesome bike!  Turns out that Kathleen is the editor of our community newspaper, Kitchissippi Times. She loves sharing stories about the amazing people who live in her neighbourhood.

You can follow Kathleen directly on Twitter (@kathleenwilker) or stay abreast of community happenings @Kitchissippi.  Thank you, Kathleen - meeting you is one of many unexpected gifts of this project!

What a great project and what a great question. I’m grateful about all kinds of things – health, happiness, being part of a fun and sweet family, kind neighbours and endless opportunities for fulfilling work. I love living close enough to bike to the swift waters of the Ottawa river, the hills of Gatineau park, the big skies of the farm and wherever else I’d like to go.
Almost every day there’s a moment that makes me feel grateful to live in a great community full of beautiful people who go out of their way to be warm and generous.
Just last month my kids and I were walking home when we passed a restaurant installing a new patio. I was thinking about how nice it would be to walk along the sidewalk in the summer with the buzz of conversation spilling out from the restaurant into the neighbourhood. My six-year-old son was enchanted by the cedar lattice frame at one end of the new patio.
“That is so cool! I’d like one at my house,” he told the carpenters installing it. They grinned at each other then told my son, “Come back tomorrow. Same time, same place and ask at the bar for your piece of wood.”
The next day, my son went into the restaurant by himself and asked for the wood. To our surprise, there wasn’t a little scrap of wood behind the bar but a beautifully crafted lattice piece – about the size of a chess board – that the carpenters had made especially for him.
I love that the carpenters took time to make something beautiful for a random six-year-old who happened to be walking along the sidewalk one day and liked their patio. For them to be so generous with their time was very moving.
Moments like this – of connection, conversation and spontaneous friendship – happen often in our neighbourhood and I feel grateful to share in them.
Kathleen Wilker



Tuesday, July 9, 2013


During my stopover in Winnipeg on Day Two of my cross-country train trip, I wandered over to The Forks Marketplace, almost by accident. After going for a lovely run along the river, I only had about 15-20 minutes left before boarding again.

I stopped by a shop called Generation Green; I was attracted by a series of funny and witty cards on the counter. The woman at the cash commented on my "what are you grateful for?" t-shirt... and a wonderful conversation ensued!

Turns out Sherry is the owner of the shop. And her answer to the question was simple: her health.

Having been without her health at one time in her life, she had been lead to make different choices for herself. She was now able to recognize that she was grateful for those difficult times. In fact, her shop - with its focus on helping people make healthy choices for themselves and for the planet - was a direct result of her experience. Without the one, the other would not exist.

Turns out Sherry and I are the same age and we also share an acceptance and an excitement about being healthy and active as we age. Bring on the 50s! (But not for a couple of years still... :-)) She, too, dreams of a solo journey to places unknown to her and is determined to make it happen.

I really enjoyed chatting with Sherry and was sorry to pull myself away. We agreed we could probably have talked all afternoon! She happily took some of *the gratitude project: dare to be grateful* cards (small cards and blank postcards) and promised to scatter them in her shop for customers to find.

If you are ever in Winnipeg, check out The Forks and be sure to stop by Generation Green and say Hi to Sherry! I know I will...

gratefully yours,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, July 7, 2013

celebrating lives greatly full :: lissa constantine

Lissa Constantine is an Ottawa-based graphic designer.  Oh, but wait! - she is much, much more... I met Lissa a few years ago at an event and have made a point of keeping in touch with her ever since. She is one of these women who inspire me to take a huge bite out of life! To me, she is a passionate creative with strong ties to her community.  She is a foodie, a stylista, a fierce, life-loving spirit!  A self-taught designer, she founded BirdDog Design in 1995 and went on to be one of the young business stand-outs in 2003, receiving the Ottawa Business Journal's Forty Under 40 Award. If you live in Ottawa, you have certainly seen BirdDog Design's work.

I am grateful that Lissa agreed to contribute to *the gratitude project* - her YES was instantaneous!   I love the story she has shared and the humility it shows.  No matter how outwardly successful we may appear to be, we can always be taught a lesson or two - sometimes from a most unlikely teacher.   THANK YOU Lissa!   

This winter a friend arrived at my door with  10 minutes notice a puppy in his arms. 

It had been 4 years since my 15 year old dog Ginger had died and I was NOT going to get another dog.

Being a single mom with a teenaged daughter and single — I had time on my hands. My freedom had been growing in leaps and bounds. Why on Earth would I saddle myself with a puppy?

Puppies come cute for a reason and this little black and white guy had certainly had been given his fair share.  He had been found outside alone in the freezing cold on February 25th. He was only 10 weeks old. 

Oddly, I didn't hesitate. "I'll take him" I heard myself say.

Most people, when adopting any pet, first make a decision to get one and then look for the right one. I spent the next week grappling with the decision I'd made wondering why I'd just decided to tie myself down for the the next ten to fifteen years with a dog.  On the fifth day I had resolved to keep "Odie" and committed myself to his care and training. My heart was already there.

I realized after a couple of weeks that Odie was helping me to practice ways of being that I had been internally struggling with.  Having Odie, I suddenly felt grounded where I had been feeling untethered for months. I had spent a lot of time running around taking care of errands and doing things that were not bringing me the peace I was seeking. Walking him several times a day in the beautiful area where we live was not a chore but a pleasure. 

I had been struggling with patience. Over the past 3 months, I have had to summon up patience daily, calmly redirecting Odie and encouraging him in the ways I'd like for him to behave, downplaying the misbehaviour. Oh and the repetition. Training a puppy is all about consistency, patience and repetition. It's a whole new world for me - someone who comes from a place where blame must be placed and wrong-doing must be pointed out. Because I've fallen in love with this dog, it's been more easy than hard. I don't want to hurt him. I want to encourage him and feel good about myself while raising him. As my daughter is now a teenager, this concept of patience and encouragement, gentle teaching and leading by example has sometimes fallen short when I've defaulted to freaking out by example. Yeah, Odie has seen that too. The wonderful part is the awareness and the growth. I can't change unless I can see what I'm currently doing. 

I am grateful to my friend for feeling I'd make a good dog mom, and I'm grateful to Odie for bringing out in me the things he needed most and the qualities I need to inhabit.

Who knew I could learn so much from a little abandoned pit pull?


Thursday, July 4, 2013


I met Paolo at the end of our first full day on the train. He pointed at my "what are you grateful for?" t-shirt: i love it!, he said.

me: well, what would you answer?!
he: oh my god, do you have half a day??
me: i have no where else i need to be!

But he was busy with other passengers (he is one of the amazing VIA Rail crew members) so I said I'd stop by again later.

And I did. Later in the evening as we ventured towards the sunset. There was no one else around, so I asked him:

What are you grateful for?

Turns out he had been thinking about it since our earlier conversation. The answers came spilling out. And since I wasn't taking notes, I did my best to pay attention. And to remember. He listed:

My mom.
My god-source.
My angels.
My gifts.
This train.
The people on the train.
THIS (as he pointed out to a beautiful sunset)!

I love how Paolo talked about his work on the train. He observed that the train ride was most often a metaphor for a deeper journey that people were on. As an attendant in the "bar car", he had been privileged to hear many stories. He understood that his role was to be fully present to do "the work" of listening and receiving. He understood that he had a gift of healing energy and that this was where he needed to be.

Paolo immediately embraced the idea of *the gratitude project: dare to be grateful*. He commented on my energy ("your aura is very clear") - the second person to do so in the same day. He wanted to help, so he took several small cards and blank postcards and promised to drop them off at his holistic health centre in Winnipeg.

I can't believe I didn't take a picture of Paolo.

I didn't see him again, as the crew changed the next morning in Winnipeg. I am grateful for this conversation and smile as I think of Paolo continuing his healing work as he rides the rails across this beautiful country.

gratefully yours,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, July 1, 2013

happy 146th birthday canada...

I can really think of no other place I would want to live.

Canada, you are not perfect, but you are the closest thing to perfection we can find on this incredible Mother Earth of ours. (But some might say I am biased. Which I totally am.)

Here are a few images from my travels over the past year:
The Maritimes...

Quebec & Ontario...

The Prairies...

The Mountains...

The West Coast...

What a beautiful country... Breathe it in.

gratefully yours,

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad