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

Sunday, September 29, 2013

celebrating lives greatly full :: ali edwards

I had the pleasure of meeting Ali Edwards at the Your Story Retreat that I attended in Oregon back in June.  She was one of the four retreat leaders and, to be honest, she was the one I knew the least about.  I really had no expectations of what I would get out of her portion of the retreat.  I was not into memory keeping and had never even heard of "A Week in the Life". But clearly, many of the other retreat participants had. As an author of numerous books and a popular blog, as well as a digital scrapbook products designer, Ali is well-known to many in the scrapbooking world.

The wonderful thing about having no expectations of someone is that a space  is created - a wide open space - to simply meet the other where they are at.  And the Ali I met that week was funny, quiet at times, sharp, reflective and incredibly willing to be raw and honest. I was inspired by her storytelling... and our group discussion at her session created a profound shift in me that I am still processing.  I am so grateful to have met Ali, and to have her share her thoughts on gratitude with *the gratitude project: dare to be grateful*!  She has given me much to think about...

What are you grateful for?

Ah, gratitude. My old friend.

I’m obviously grateful for the beautiful basics of my life like my kids, my family, my friends and my home. I’m also really grateful for my work and for the many opportunities I’ve had to travel over the years both personally and professionally.  

But at the heart of it I’m actually really grateful for the mess.

Even when I’m knee deep in the messes of life I’m thankful for the opportunity to simply be alive - to learn and grow and make-it-through and be a witness to humanity and all the broken beauty it presents. I’ve been in that place where I was doubled over with sadness and fear and it’s tough to keep an eye on gratitude in those moments, but it’s possible. It takes practice and a commitment to coming back to it again and again even when I fail miserably.

Expressing gratitude is my lifeline. The process of identifying the things that I’m thankful for in the middle of the mess gives me so much perspective. It’s a tool I learned from my Mom. She’s awesome at practicing gratitude in the middle of it all. She writes handwritten letters, she calls to say thank you, she’s conscious of her blessings, she’s amazing at forgiveness and she’s so very real about it all and the struggles she encounters on her own journey.

One of the significant ways I practice gratitude in the middle of the mess is through memory keeping. I use photos and words to document my life and express gratitude as I live my story from one day to the next.  It’s through this process of documentation that I truly see (make visible to myself) all the things I have to be thankful for every day of my life.

Here’s to second chances, forgiveness, compassion, embracing imperfections and gratitude in the mess.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

celebrating lives greatly full :: katjana biljan-laporte

I met Katjana Biljan-Laporte several years ago through mutual friends.  I know her to be a strong woman living a spiritually-driven life.  It is only recently that I have had the chance to see her art first hand, and this has given me another glimpse into the colourful and flowing influences in her life.

I am honoured that *the gratitude project: dare to be grateful* has provided Katjana with a forum to share her deep and spiritually mature perspective.  She inspires me with her willingness to view her life - and all the challenges and limitations that come with it - through the lens of gratitude.  Thank you Katjana...
I have so much to be grateful for: the plethora of loving people in my life, living in one of the richest countries in the world, sustainable and fulfilling employment, a devoted and loyal spouse. It’s hard to choose just one thing/person I’m grateful for. However, I think the thing I am most grateful for is also the thing that’s killing me.

I have a complex congenital heart/lung disease that is now in its terminal stage. I can’t recall a time in my adult life when I wasn’t grateful for it. Perhaps it was when I was a child and didn’t understand the gifts of illness. Despite creating limits in my life, it also opened me up.
You see, because I wasn’t allowed to run around, play sports or even tag with other children, I was often sent to my room. Some children interpret being in their rooms as a punishment, but not I. That’s where I grew. My creativity flourished. I wanted to be and eventually became an artist. My sense of spirituality and sacred connection also developed. As well, I always wanted to help others so I used my art and creativity in vocation as a counsellor. With creativity I helped others find a voice. This is one of the many gifts that being “sick” gave me. Had I been born healthy, I probably would have been involved in sports, would have become a doctor but would be missing something very special that makes me, me: compassion towards others and a sense of humanity.
I didn’t realize this for a long time until one day someone remarked that had I not had this disease and been able to withstand medical school/staying up days on end, I would have made a good doctor. I instantly knew that had I not had this disease, I wouldn’t be who I am today and though I would have made a technically skilled doctor, I not have actually had the “bedside manner” (care) that is essential. My interest in (alternative) medicine, psychological and spiritual healing is a direct result of my disease. So though it’s now at its end stage, I am grateful for the person I became in learning to live with it. I would not be who I am today without it.
Sometimes the set-backs in life become our greatest gifts. It is because of my illness that I am who I am today, and that is why I am grateful for the one thing that will eventually take my life.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

celebrating lives greatly full :: kathrine v. switzer

K. V. Switzer (l.) and yours truly (r.)!
I am BEYOND excited to present today's grateful guest blogger - the amazing Kathrine V. Switzer. I first met Kathrine in 2010 at The Great Raisin River Footrace in Williamstown, Ontario.  She and her husband Roger Robinson were guests of honour at this delightfully small and intimate race.  This past August, they returned and my friends & I had the opportunity to spend even more quality time with them both.  At dinner, I gathered my courage, took a deep breath and told Kathrine about *the gratitude project: dare to be grateful*.  I suspected the message of gratitude might resonate with her and hoped she would be willing to consider my invitation to participate in this Sunday series. My heart did a little happy dance at the sound of her enthusiastic "yes"!

That history-making day in Boston in 1967 changed Kathrine Switzer's life... and it lead to changes in the lives of millions of women around the world.  (It still boggles the mind that, in my lifetime, women were not allowed to run marathons!) Today, her impact reaches well beyond the world of running.  And yet, with all that greatness and life experience to choose from, her sharing on gratitude tells of her humility. Of her values. Of who she is when the spotlight turns away. 

And that is what inspires me the most.

Thank you, Kathrine.  Here's to the next chapter: for you, the Story of 261-Fearless... and for me, my first marathon in 2014.

Yes, the marathon awaits.
What am I most grateful for?

I think most people would be surprised and how I, a history-making marathon runner, would answer this question.  For sure, I am grateful for excellent health, good running, a great family, wonderful friends and a dynamic life, even if it is, at times, over-stressful.  And I am extremely grateful that I was able to experience an unsettling and negative thing early in my life—when the race director of the Boston Marathon physically attacked me mid-stride in the 1967 competition and tried to throw me out of the race because I was a girl (the Boston Marathon was a men’s only event then)—and instead turn it into a positive force that has changed women’s lives everywhere.

However, all of those things would not feel so wonderful and so complete without the love I have for, and receive back from, my husband Roger.  I know, because I was married twice before. I had given up on thinking an egalitarian kind of love was possible.  I wasn’t sure when Roger and I agreed to marry, either, but I decided to give myself over to the total risk of love, to completely abandon myself to it.  As it turns out, that is what it takes.  It was hugely scary, like throwing yourself off a cliff.  And it worked. In our marriage, we strive for a lack of dominance. We try very hard to make things equal; not only in terms of money or household tasks, but in supporting and taking each other’s work and emotions seriously. I think in 25 years of marriage, we’ve had maybe two arguments! Every day the love grows.  I definitely am most grateful for this amazing love; it is the hub around which my life revolves.

Kathrine Switzer

Friday, September 13, 2013

gratitude and sunshine songs...

Playlist:  Sunshine Songs for a Cloudy Day*

*with MUCH gratitude to Facebook Friends who provided these suggestions as my sister and I were in the midst of a 14-hour road trip on a (you guessed it!) VERY cloudy, stormy day!!

Road conditions:

1. You are the Sunshine of my Life - Stevie Wonder
2. Walking on Sunshine - Katrina & The Waves
3. Here Comes the Sun - The Beatles
4. Sunshine on my Shoulders - John Denver
5. You are my Sunshine - Jimmie Wakely and the Sunshine Girls (a sentimental fave for many!)

    6. Soleil Soleil - Nana Mouskouri
    7. Si tu aimes le soleil - Art Richard
    8. Open Up Your Heart (and Let the Sunshine In) - Pebbles & BammBamm (for those of us who remember this version!)
    9. Quand le soleil dit bonjour aux montagnes - Marcel Martel & Renee Martel
    10. Ain't No Sunshine - Bill Withers
    11. Keep on the Sunny Side - Mother Maybelle & The Carter Sisters (a family fave!)
    12. Sound of Sunshine - Michael Franti & Spearhead (a new-to-me fave!)
    13. Sunshine of your Love - Cream
    14. Sunshine Song - Jason Mraz  (you had to know Jason would be on my playlist!)

    15. Sun is Shining - Bob Marley
    16. On the Sunny Side of the Street - Billie Holiday
    17. (The Sun Will Come Out) Tomorrow - from the movie musical "Annie" (1982)
    18. Good Day Sunshine - The Beatles (cartoon version!)
    19. Sunshine Day - The Brady Bunch (campier than camp!)

      ...and by the end of our trip, there it was!!

      gratefully yours,

      Sunday, September 8, 2013

      celebrating lives greatly full :: david blaikie

      I first met David Blaikie through my husband.  I have since grown to enjoy his company and that of his wife, Susan.  David's career was in journalism and communications, including 18 years as a Parliamentary Press Gallery reporter with The Canadian Press, The Toronto Star and Reuters. But I love that, until recently, even after knowing David for several years, I had no idea just how talented a writer and a poet he really was. It's as if his relationship with words, and his need to let them flow out of him, are simply part of his very being.  Like the colour of his eyes: very present, but not demanding of attention.

      I know David to be a humble man and he seemed genuinely surprised when I asked him if he would consider participating as a guest blogger in *the gratitude project: dare to be grateful*.  I am so glad that he agreed and hope you will enjoy his writing as much as I do.  You can revel in his words here.  And in his images, here.

      When Jo-Anne asked me to contribute to her gratitude project, I thought of my father, David Morrison Blaikie, who was born July 28, 1909, and lived all his life in the small Nova Scotia village of Upper Stewiacke, a good man who still inspires me thirty-seven years after his death.          

      He was named after his father, although everyone called him Morris, and I was named in turn after him. Scarcely a day goes by that I do not think of him and feel gratitude for his wise and patient counsel.

      On the last day I saw him, my mother took a photo of the two of us on standing at the corner of our house, just before I got into the car to head back to Ottawa. I can still see the two of them waving as I drove away. I keep that photo in a meditation corner and see it every morning as I look out through the branches of a towering silver maple toward the Rideau, a place he would have loved as much as I do.

      My father went to school in that village, graduated from Grade 11 in 1924 (a relative rarity at
      the time) and went to work immediately in the family sawmill, where he spent his life and in later years became the sole owner and operator. I remember him as he was in this photo, his hand on the lever, the big saw shrieking through endless logs, his hat forever flecked with sawdust. He worked there 44 years and never got over its closing in 1968.

      He married my mother, Eva Gray, at 33 and raised four children in a house where twice that many often crowded round the dinner table, including mill hands and anyone else who happened to be there.

      He put two spoons of sugar in every cup of tea and went driving every Sunday, never forgetting the way sugar and gas were rationed in the war. He played the organ for the choir at church, and had a violin. Our house rang with hymn sings that I hated as child, yet would give anything to hear again. He also kept a weird blue apron in a box and took it with him to monthly meetings at the Masonic Hall.

      A Liberal, he voted Tory only once, when Bob Stanfield entered national politics in 1967, and no Liberal ran against him, and even then he did it grudgingly, mainly to portray himself in political arguments as “a man who changes his vote.”

      He played the stock market, rooted for Montreal, chafed at unions, wanted Sonny Liston to beat Cassius Clay, and favoured Bob Winters over Pierre Trudeau in that memorable leadership campaign of 1968.

      He hoped I too would go to work in the mill but wished me well in journalism and held his tongue when I cheered for the Leafs, voted NDP and helped organize The Canadian Press. He never drank and never smoked and was not overweight yet died of heart failure March 3, 1976, on a winter holiday with my mother in Bermuda.

      My oldest sister still lives in the house he built at the corner of the Otterbrook Road. Every time I’m home I visit his grave.

      This poem appears in a chapbook, Farewell to Coney Island, published last year by Tree Press of Ottawa.

       * * * * *


      I see my father walking in dusty boots from the

      mill through piles of golden lumber row on row

      in the butter light of evening below the church.


      The air is cool and tinged with words that

      flow as fish in summer currents and seep to the

      dark embrace of the earth beneath his feet.


      Love is patient love is kind, amazing grace, unto

      the hills around do I look up. I breathe the scent of

      strawberries in a field and salt on red rut roads


      hear hymns that flit on swallow wings to waiting

      nests against the weathered barn.

      This is where I learned that truth is fluid and


      sings along the hydro wires from pole to silent pole

      and winters with the geese and lovely butterflies

      and never wears a ring or agrees to glint on


      anything but bottles cast by pilgrims into ditches

      on their way to Santiago. My father was a pilgrim

      in this village where he wandered through his days


      and he rarely knew a morning that was old

      or came to evening with an empty bowl.
      - David Blaikie

      Tuesday, September 3, 2013

      gratitude party...

      Ever been to a gratitude party??  Yeah. Me neither, until last week that is.  As a friend told me, it was a party that I just had to be at!  So I got in touch with the organizer at the Ottawa Art Gallery and kinda invited myself.  The response was an enthusiastic YES.  We'd love to have you!  And so I went.

      A lovely, simple event that was art-filled.
      And heart-filled. 

      See for yourself.


      gratefully yours,


      Sunday, September 1, 2013

      celebrating lives greatly full :: vivienne mcmaster

      I first "met" the beautiful spirit that is Vivienne McMaster through her online presence.  I registered for one of her online courses and was introduced to her gentle instruction and guidance.  This past June, I had the pleasure of meeting her in person and got to experience the full effect of her loveliness first-hand.   
      Vivienne is based in Vancouver and describes herself as a "photographer with a big heart and spirit of playfulness".  She invites us to cultivate self-love through self-portraiture (something I stayed away from for so long!).  Her series of workshops and online classes provide an amazingly supportive environment for creative exploration and self-expression.  I have just completed her Be Your Own Beloved class and I am so grateful for the experience!

      It's been such a pleasure meeting you, Viv - thanks for bringing your powerful story of healing to *the gratitude project*! 
      What PERSONAL EXPERIENCE are you most grateful for, and why?
      One of the things I’m most grateful for in my life is photography, but not just because it feels like something I’d like to engage in every day for the rest of my time here on the planet, but because of the way I discovered my love for it.

      Years ago, I went through a depression. The way my life was going wasn’t feeling okay and while I had no idea what else my life could look like, I knew the way it was going felt mediocre. I felt burnt out and empty and like I had no clue where I was going in life. So I surrendered to it. I cried for months, I let myself feel the emptiness and know that it couldn’t be filled by anyone else be. So I followed the breadcrumbs of things that felt like they might fill up that empty well.

      At that point cell phones were just beginning to have very basic cameras in them and I started to take photos with mine and I felt something, a filling up of that well. So I followed the trail of the joy I felt when taking pictures and 7 years later it has become my life’s work but not just that, it is still the way that I fill up my own well, still taking daily short strolls around the block to notice bits of beauty.

      So, I’m not just grateful for the way I found photography and photography found me, but I’m grateful for the lost too. Without being lost I wouldn’t have woken up to the feeling of being truly at home in my life. Life does take extra twist and turns of course and I learn from that big experience that when I feel lost again, to hold on because there will always be a feeling of found somewhere ahead and that it is worth it to show up for ourselves in the rough patches as well as the beauty.