Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: friendship

A Tribute To Life And Gratefulness, And To Making The Most Of Each Day

Originally published as a column in CFJC Kamloops Today and Armchair Mayor News on March, 13, 2017.

‘I wave bye bye
I pray God speed
I wish lovely weather
More luck than you need
You’ll only sail in circles
So there’s no need to cry
No, I’ll see you again one day
And then I waved bye bye…’ (Jesse Winchester, I Wave Bye Bye)

It was almost tangible, the first breath of spring. Almost. Yet Friday morning arrived dressed in a white coat draped over the thick one from the day before. Still winter then. Grumbling ensued. We’ve all had enough of shoveling, enough slipping, and wiping out. I miss warmth and sunny green days too, but over the years, through ups and downs, I’ve learned this one thing: make the most of the day you have. Snowy or not, it only comes once.

So I greeted the day the way I do every day: pup and I hit the trails. We’ve walked those trails at length, yet the feeling of being there is as crisp and fresh as the day itself. There’s a new song every day, the cacophony of life sounds jumping out of nowhere one second only to disappear the next. As if you’re witnessing the world breathing.

We made it up to the plateau. There was no sky; all was white, trees growing on the ground as they did in the sky. So much beauty it melts thoughts into one: gratefulness.

For our natural world that offers so much, every day, no matter how snowy. For the gift of seeing it all and have time stop for a bit, for that simple yet joyous feeling of walking through fresh snow and having yield under your feet, for the sweet memories of summers past, now present as graceful dry grasses balancing small clumps of snow on their heads. There’s no room to grumble here. There are no sidewalks to shovel, or patches of ice to slip on… Here you can be breathing winter in and letting it kiss your cheeks, and your steps are steady. No need to argue with it. For even a few minutes, you can be away from all that seems bothersome.

There were deer and coyote tracks and the pup’s nose was hard at work sniffing every swift air current that danced around its nose carrying bouquets of smells. Not to me. The scent world is mostly available to pups and their powerful noses. More to wonder at. More to be grateful for.

Somewhat reluctantly, we headed home, to warmth and boys waking up. Come midday, the sun pokes his face through clouds and sprinkles brightness all over. I take the boys and pup to the wonder place that stole my heart in early morning. ‘You got to see, it’s so beautiful it brings you to tears…’. Faces squint wrestling with sunshine, cheeks are red as we hike, and slippery downhills cause cascades of laughter as we try to avoid wipe-outs. Time together becomes yet another story unfolding on a bright winter day when we forgot to miss spring.

The evening brings the sad news of a dear friend’s passing. During his life, Richard Wagamese carried much grace and much pain, and most of all courage to balance both as he went on. He acknowledged his own lack of gracefulness at times, and that brought forth others’ courage to acknowledge theirs. He had an infectious laughter over the silliest of things that would come up in a conversation, and he had an immense love for music. He shared both heartfully.

He had gratefulness, but his demons cared for no such things. Life had not been kind to him and that left marks that showed. They showed in how he told not only his own story, but stories of old that would have you sit and listen. He drummed those stories and he talked of how they remind you of your mother’s heartbeat in the womb, if only you closed your eyes long enough to be able to listen and feel.

Gratefulness becomes the ribbon I now tie all those memories together.

There’s no room for grumbling in a day that reminds of so much. Reminds of life, of its increments of wonder we can choose to open our hearts to or let them fall on the ground only to step on them and say things should be better if we are to be grateful. It reminds of the short time we have to make it all count.

On a day when you see overwhelming beauty in snow-clad old pines, when children’s belly laughs and silly jokes add more precious pages to your life book, when you find yourself broken-hearted and in tears upon losing a friend… it all melts and becomes but ink in which you dip your pen in to keep on writing. Written words or not, relating our stories as we go, with gratefulness, sorrow, and a never-ending sense of wonder, that might just take away what we perceive as ugly bits.

Life is never about the dark clouds that crowd overhead every now and then, but about the light that stubbornly pushes its way through no matter what. Because it does.

Rest in peace, Richard, the stories will keep on rolling. Gratefulness abounds.

 ‘Oh, how many travelers get weary

Bearing both their burdens and their scars,

Don’t you think they’d love to start all over

And fly like eagles

Out among the stars…’ (Johnny Cash, Out Among The Stars)

Kamloops From Up Close – The Things I’ve Learned So Far

Originally published as a column in CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on January 16, 2017. 

Five years ago when my family and I relocated to Kamloops someone told me that unless you’ve been here a couple of decades or longer, you’re just not ‘Kamloopsian’ enough. It made me feel a bit uneasy and it made me look twice at the people I met, wondering who is Kamloopsian enough and who isn’t.

Fortunately, that did not last too long. It was the end of summer and the farmer’s market was in full swing. As soon as we made our way to the market and said the first hello things started unfolding. I started talking to people and sharing stories only to realize that many of us take the same route when immersed in a place: we reach out and share life bits, regardless of whether there is a family history tying us to one place or another.

Fall brought a newspaper column to write, more people to meet and, often times someone I just met turned out to be a friend of a friend. A small world indeed is what I said every time and still do.

Then again, Kamloops is not exactly a small lost town either. There are over 80,000 people living here and almost 100,000 if you count the areas surrounding the city. Funny enough, there’s rarely a day when I don’t bump into someone I know. That is not where it ends though.

Over the last few months I have been involved, as a volunteer, with a project that culminated in an exhibition that opened on Saturday night at the Kamloops Art Gallery (the BMO open gallery near the library). The topic is sustainability and the people featured in it are local people who go the extra mile when it comes to leaving a smaller energy and consumption footprint. If you have the time, please consider yourself invited.

During the months of bringing this project to fruition (and prior to it during my many engagements with other projects or get togethers), I got to meet many people and I cannot help but be amazed at how much that changed my perspective from those first couple of weeks after arriving to what appeared to be a dusty, hot city where you had to be born and raised here to count. If that ever was Kamloops back in the day, that’s a reality that no longer stands.

In the five years spent here, I’ve met people from all walks of life and though backgrounds are varied and colourful when it comes to professions and personal opinions about the world around and more, the wealth I’ve accumulated by swapping stories and working together with some of them has greatly endeared the very place to my heart.

I am aware that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. Nobody is really. But life is like that; uniqueness is what keeps us curious and able to complement each other, if willing. If working from home and homeschooling also may seem confining (neither has to be), bringing up uncomfortable topics can push one in the untouchables corner.

Yet what I came to realize is that every place, whether big or small, has groups of people that have at least one common denominator, whatever that might be. Yet no one, unless you’re part of a Hollywood happy story, will likely come to your door and present you with an agreeable crowd to hang out and feel comfortable with. Truth is, it takes a bit of reaching out.

It also takes some learning to listen, to speak up and yes, sometimes it takes learning to doubt less and trust that things will turn out OK simply because there is at least another person that cares and shares a common goal. Another thing I’ve learned is that you become more of a place and the place becomes more of you when you lend yourself to it through various actions.

Whether meeting people and working on projects that culminate in highlighting some of the local sparkling spirit, or taking myself out to the hills for a hike and an opportunity to ponder, I’ve come to realize that caring about a place is done through connecting. To the place itself and to the people.

Each of us carries ideas and frustrations and we’re each hardened by life’s small or big mischiefs. There is no perfect person to be with and there is no perfect place to be. Yes, there might be a better place out there. For the time being, and during the time I will spend here, I simply refuse to think that there is any rejection mechanism that keeps people away for not being part of a multigenerational Kamloops dynasty.

While not all circles are opened to everyone and each of us is more accepting of a group over another, that is what keeps things thriving in all directions. But here’s something I’ve learned in the last five years spent here. That if you put your hand out someone will shake it and things will unroll in a good way from there. One mention though: good is never perfect.

A Dog Named Ringo

20160220_152251I am not good at delivering bad news. So the other morning when I showed up looking rather serious in the boys’ bedroom and said ‘I have sad news’, merely confirmed my lack of skill in the area.

One of my best friend’s dog died. Oh, you’ll say, that. Yes, that, but he was not ‘just a dog’ and I will tell you why. You see, having been through my fair share of losses of people I loved dearly since the age of six I know death well enough to know it reeks of helplessness. I accept it but I will never just shrug and say ‘Life is like that’ because I cannot say that with a straight face or I’d be lying.

This dog named Ringo was the reason I met my friend you see. A couple of days after we moved to Kamloops almost four years ago we were at the river where the sand is fine and sparkly, and the river laps ever so gently over your feet if you approach the water line. It’s the dog beach, my favourite in town (as long as you avoid the mid-summer madness.) Dogs have it good and I don’t mind because they can appreciate water and beaches.

That day we were four strangers on a pretty sandy beach trying to make sense of our new surroundings. A golden retriever was running in and out of the water, happy as happy can be. I don’t know if dogs ever laugh, but he was doing it right then and there.

I watched him, his joyful puppy face and his big golden frame dripping with water. He made me smile. The next thing I know I was talking to his owner. She and Ringo were to become our first friends here. A few days later when her and I met for a walk by the river, he spotted me coming from afar and ran to greet me. He jumped and gave me a kiss on the side of my mouth. Boundaries you say? Well, I took it as a compliment.

‘He’s not usually doing that…’ my bemused friend explained. We nicknamed him Lips and our friendship grew richer since because he was in it.

There is no obituary I can throw here without sounding melodramatic. That’s not what I want either. The morning I told the boys that Ringo died unexpectedly I choked though and my voice was teary. Because he was such an important part of our life here you see.

We’d take him for walks, or he would come to our place for the day. We would have him in the car on the way to some hills for a hike, lodged in between the boys and he would always put his big furry head on my armrest. I’d pet him in between the eyes and he would close them gently.

He always made sure the boys were close by when we hiked and if they got too far he ran to check on them. I hugged him often, checked him for cacti and ticks when needed and felt his soft fur with my feet when my friend and I sat for tea on the sofa and he lay on the floor under the coffee table, not bearing to be out of the conversation. We joked that he should have his own cup of tea too.

We once went to a lake and kayaked and he swam alongside the kayak, amazing me with his strength and determination to keep up with us. We kayaked up a stream to where the woods were mysterious and a bit frightening and I felt safe because Ringo was with us. His tracks and ours were left scattered on a sunny beach that already had imprints of bear paws.

that dayHe was gentle and even gentler if you asked him to, and he knew how to lay his head on my knee when a tough day would find me in my friend’s kitchen sipping tea and unraveling life’s complicated threads. He knew. That’s why he was not just ‘a dog’.

The boys’ eyes welled up when I told them the news, and mine teared up often during the day and then again the next day and the next. For the little boy, Ringo’s death was the first he experienced up close. Though Ringo was big, little boy always asked to hold the leash during walks because he knew he could trust him to listen. He did listen. And for all the times he didn’t, we loved him just the same.

Just like my dog many years ago, Ringo goes with bits of life I shared during evening walks on back alleys. One particularly bright evening this winter we left tracks on the new thin layer of snow and I was grateful for so much as I looked behind us and saw them.

Grateful for the gift of companionship my friend was sharing with me by sharing Ringo, and grateful that I could have my boys taste the heart-melting feeling of having a friend who makes you feel so utterly loved without needing any words to do so.

three boysTwo weeks ago we took him to the river. He tried to coax us to throw sticks in the water but we couldn’t. He had a dinner invite that evening which clearly stated ‘dry dog’ so I could not let him follow his impulses that one time. But we sat and watched ducks and geese waddling on the river shores and I laid my head on his in consolation. He accepted it and gently nuzzled me. I loved that. I will miss that.


MagicSo you see, his presence was more than just a dog’s presence would be. He was our friend in a way that will stay memorable and sweet. We will miss him and will always say his name with an extra happy note attached to it because he made it so. And I will always be grateful that I learned of that extra dimension of closeness that my friend gifted me by sharing Ringo.

Of Bees and Life. A Story of Boundaries

GreyThe day starts foggy and grey. You don’t feel like stopping by the farmer’s market but how about the people selling goodness by the pound, or jar or bagful? They woke up to the same fog, the same heavy sky and they showed up. So you have no excuse.

Buy potatoes from the South American lady. She always smiles. Everything she sells, from eggs to potatoes to pies, has the same roundness as her words. Some accents are that mellow and warm on a day like today. Colorful beans, two-pound bag, too colorful to miss. Fall and earth colors. To eat.

Then parsley, both root and green bushy stalks. You shake hands with unknown gardens when you hold up a bunch. The lady says they’re good, you can make a parsley puff. How? Here’s how, she tells you. You say why not. Change is good. Challenge for little people’s taste buds.

Then the honey table. You have to buy a jar. Good, golden, thick, local. You must. The lady sells jars of golden and fragrant bee’s wax.

There’s someone else there, an elderly gentleman you’ve never met. You know, he says, we were just talking, the bees had it tough this year. The wasps were vicious, attacking bees, killing entire hives. You frown. How unfair. On top of everything else that tangles their invisible dance lines, you think.

It’s like that, the honey lady explains. A somewhat cyclic sorrowful bee event; the wasps sneak in and kill. Won’t waste a drop of golden honey ever, you promise yourself. Such hard work and danger. The bees who made this honey faced peril. They prevailed. Seven dollars a jar.

You buy a basket of tomatoes from the elderly Italian farmer you always buy from. “Last ones, eh…very sweet.” A thick bunch of chard on top, and not enough arms to hold them all. He laughs, you laugh. Like a good grandpa, he helps. He holds a big bag to fit them all in. “There you go, you cook a good dinner, eh?…” He chuckles, you smile. “See you on Saturday!” He’ll be there and you’ll buy tomatoes again, and eggs. They’re always fresh.

The afternoon passes with more grey to chew on, to walk on, to breathe in. You walk with the friend who challenges you to keep your voice above the humming of everyday life, to not give up. Walk under yellow-leaf trees, sit on pink benches, celebrate life once again. “Look, an ice cream sky!” Sunset sky, scoops of kindness. Being alive is never a lesson in grace, but you knew that.

Later, as you cook dinner, you think of the bees. The jar of golden on the counter, all that work… The bees had it tough this year... The wasps go inside the hive through the opening, you remember the lady saying. Hmm, just like words and facts of life you find aggressive and mean. Scary. They find openings, they get in. They hurt thoughts, hopes, they raise fear, trying to kill dreams… Life is full of analogies, you know that. You need boundaries to survive and to thrive. You find them, again.

Because not all the bees have to die, the lady told you today. You make the hive opening smaller, so it’s gets tricky for the wasps. Boundaries…

It’s no small feat, you know that. To set boundaries that is.

You’ll never be infallible but you’ll be better protected. Your thoughts, like bees, in their home of sweetness. Afraid at times, but alive. Daring again tomorrow. And then again. Alive is a gift. Days blossoming into joy, golden and ripe, reminders of past seasons, celebrating today’s bounty and the reality of all that we are: sweetness to taste, hard work, dancing over sunny fields, fear of dying, fear of all that could hurt, courage to go out and do it again. Daring, because of the sky, the fields, the swaying trees and all the rainbows you could never see unless you fly free.

Parsley puff for dinner. The kids have learned to say “not my favorite but I’ll eat some” when dinner has too many shades of green and earthy flavors. Dinner, laughing, some food-bursting-out-of-your-mouth toilet jokes (how rude and necessary!), day falling asleep on the table…

Bedtime soon. Be grateful. You’ve learned a lot today.

Half A Napkin. A Tribute

HeartJust like a lake and its floating green hearts… If the lake would be covered in waterlilies, you will not see the sparkling water holding the green hearts. You might miss the hearts, the clouds holding them, the water, the wonder of it all…

Overcast on a day when you wish for sun seems like punishment. Or a good excuse to hide in a coffee shop and find your way. Again. Life is like that. It likes tumbles when you don’t.

But that’s when you sit at a table in a coffee shop, your basket of life happenings by your side and your friend on the seat next to you. You take those life happenings, rags and all, and put them out on the table. They were all one piece a few days ago, you tell her. She knows. This needs no explanation.

A few sun rays escape through the clouds and land on the table. Life happenings. Yours, hers. You both know life would be no good without all of them.

Sulkiness does nothing. But you sulk until you know that. It takes a while. Years sometimes. Until you learn to use those rags life leaves you with and make a nice warm quilt and colorful skirts to taunt the rain and overcast days with…

You get bruised, you learn, you get up and walk again. Right? You ask, she nods; for a moment there you want to look dignified enough so she won’t think you don’t have it together. But she is not after that. Being proper has no place in a friendship. You are real, that comes first.

You peel words, raw as can be, off your bare soul and she’s there to lay them all in a pile that will later be used to patch the very wounds you speak of. It’s like chain mail. Everything holds together because you leave no piece behind. And why would you? It’s your life. Friends remind you of that. You know, the old “you are what you are because of all that’s happened along the way.” Don’t run away, you’ll have to come back to the same place. Only a lot more tired.

Friends help you see that. Own your life, your thoughts, yourself. You do that when you’re accepted in all that you are.

You are accepted by those you resonate with. Not a whole bunch of them, because you can’t really resonate with too many. The resonance in itself is a gift. You can’t abuse it or attribute it to just about anyone. You’d be dishonest. To them, to yourself.

If you have to cry, do it. Let go of holding your heart like a stiff bouquet of flowers. Sometimes you’ll tear up and look sideways because being vulnerable is still not your favorite place to be in. But you have to, she says. You’re not alone. She talks, shares, you listen. Her eyes become wells too. Life is often unkind, there’s many shared paths you walk on. Words fail where tears appear. Redundancy is forbidden. You don’t look sideways anymore. She picks up the napkin off the table, right from the sun puddle. Warm. She rips it in half. For you.

You just got someone’s heart, trust and half a napkin. Laughter plops its chubby feet into the sun puddle too. You laugh, you cry, you are alive.

By the time you leave the coffee shop the overcast will be done with. It will be either sunny and raining. The air will be lighter nonetheless. You’re lighter, and half a napkin richer.

You may forget to say thank you. Joy can be a wicked clown. Never mind, your soul spoke for you. But you know that. Your friends do too. Mine do.

 Just like a lake, you… If you had too many people to crowd the surface, it’d be hard to let your depth be seen…


Skipping, Smooth Side Down. And Sauvignon Blanc. Chilled

The day is shiny and plump. The boys and I drive to Point Roberts. The beach there is one of a kind. Lips of round rocks pucker up on the shore with each wave and if you’re patient and staring you see seeds of dolphins planted in the garden of water spread in front of your eyes.
I sit down in the sun with a book and think of lizards. They invented basking, they must have. The boys find a fort and gather weapons for a war to happen soon. They talk, run, jump. Stop. I take photos. They crouch down.

I take photos of them and yellow flowers and think of how deliciously wild they all are. You have too many weapons, Sasha. But I need the bow, I found it. OK, then each arrow counts as a weapon. No. Yes. No! Mooom! He can’t have that. Yes I can.
Have five weapons each I suggest while hanging onto the words in my book like a spider does to its web as it flies away. No, not enough. OK, seven then. Mooom! Then stop asking for my input. Back to my book.
Moooom! Sasha hits with all his might, we can’t have a war like that.
Clearly. Well, don’t hit hard then.
And back again. No, no, no dagger allowed. Oh, bugger. No reading then. Words scamper off the page like rabbits. Boys should come with volume knobs. They’d still be loud and wild on camera though. I pick up the very machine and click away.
I stop and look. Lie down, listen to sounds and the humming of boys. They play, jump, they run. Laugh. That’s a nice war indeed.

Could I have your camera for a bit? I had noticed the man, the woman and their umbrella since we sat down here. You should have a photo of the three of you he says. Yeah, it’s the kind of picture I like. Smile. Smile? Sasha takes his time to warm up to strangers. They both do.

Glass of wine? Sauvignon blanc, chilled and smooth. The breeze invites to irreverence. Donna and Bill and I. We laugh, talk parenting, fishing dogfish off of old wharfs, the dangers of raising children thinking they are good at everything. Yeah, what’s a participant ribbon anyway? Wrong, the three of us agree. They know about children, they have two grown ones. They speak with love but with good measure. I learn. The boys ask for a sip. Nah, not this year. How come you do? That question again. You’ll get there, don’t hurry. Donna laughs, she’s heard that before.

Here’s a good skipping rock, Bill says. He calls on Tony to skip together. He explains the swaying of the wrist and how to hold the rock the right way. Smooth side down he says while his thumb is feeling the upper rougher side. Skip. Four times. Tony does two on his second try. His smile skips all the way to me. Sasha paints on rocks with ocean water. Sprinkle sand on top, done!

We sip, talk schools and how they miss the beat at times, the genius of Isaac Asimov and the miracle of the printed word. Why so great, Tony asks? Oh, but you know, the wonder of knowledge that’s where it all starts. Ideas.

Skip some more. Donna tries her luck too and her enjoyment of this place is charming. Sasha brings me seaweed in a cup. For you, mom. I snack on it, it freaks them out still, but they’ve seen it enough times to get used to it. Salty and chewy, I like it. Tony’s rock skipped three times. Bill finds a good rock. Use it proudly. Tony walks and skips royally. It makes a boy taller, this skipping thing. You gotta hold the rock just so… He knows. Sasha finds a crab shell, rocks. He stuffs his pants and then holds onto them amused. They fall down otherwise, mom, I have too many rocks.

Donna and Bill put the umbrella away. Time to go. It’s almost eight. We will see each other again, we will. There’s so much to talk about. The sun has curled up in our car the whole afternoon and it bursts out when we open the doors. We drive home listening to “How to train your dragon.” Chuckle. Mom, isn’t Toothless funny? Yeah… I wish for toothless days that would leave my boys’ laughter crisp and whole. At home I make French toast with fruit and chocolate milk. Mouths full, laughing over spilled milk. Irreverence. Tickling has been proclaimed a sin tonight. Skip then. Sigh. Hug and good night.

Open Arms and Rocking Chairs

Walk through the woods with a friend I haven’t seen for a year or so but feeling as close as one can. The sun throws handfuls of warmth and brightness at us through tall trees. We take photos, share bits of life and laugh so hard our cheeks hurt. She tells me about the rocking chair. The way someone wise told her on that day of tough decisions when the sky seemed irreparably broken in a million pieces of darkness. “Many years from now you’ll be sitting in a rocking chair and memories will come sit on your lap like old pets. I want you to ask yourself which things you’ll regret the most, the ones that happened to you or the ones you did not let happen because you did not dare listen to that little voice inside?”… There’s withered dead leaves everywhere and then there’s new ferns growing on trees in shades of green bright and bold…

Open arms. You know when it happens. It’s like this: you take a deep breath and drop a bomb (life truths as you feel them) and the arms are there to hug you. No questions asked. Just arms, wide open and there. And you take two steps back and shake your head and think it cannot be, because you see, the life things you’re spilling out are not necessarily the ones that are most pleasant to chew on. For you or others. They come in challenging flavors, they are wrapped up in fear and uncertainty. They shake you and make you reconsider the things you had already accepted as comfortable politically/socially-correct universal herd truths, the ones that we generally accept because. But real life is a few steps away from that. Real life is the rain pounding on you from all directions, it is the umbrella that was supposed to keep you dry but the wind broke it in half and it is the hot sun that wraps around your head singing crazy beautiful songs until you fall flat on your back, you splash away and start laughing. That’s real, you say it as it is, you put yourself on the line and there are open arms to hug you. Don’t question them. I did, but no more.

It’s a gift. Open arms. They know who they are, the people with open arms in my life. The ones I could call at this late hour when I should be sleeping instead of writing and they’d pick up the phone and make sure they’d hold the phone between shoulder and ear so that the arms are free to hug me whether they are thousands of miles away or just down the street. And I do the same. I always did. Open arms and all. But here’s the catch. It is only recently that I’ve learned this great secret. It is as much a gift to offer the open arms as it is to receive it. It means trust on both sides. It means being vulnerable and still dancing, crying and laughing and peeking out from behind heavy curtains of fear. It means not being afraid of yourself, of who you are today and who you’re trying to be tomorrow. It means feeling grateful.

So I figured it’s time to thank the open arms in my life and the big hearts they grow from. Acknowledge yours too. And do know that syrupy posts like this come but once in a blue moon. Rite of passage. So there. The walk home took us through tunnels of cherry trees dusted with sunshine. At home I made coffee.

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