Falls brings on nostalgia

Fall has always been my favorite season. My creativity soars in the fall, and this is when I wrote my first NaNoWriMo novel (National Novel Writing Month) P1030254sitting at the table in our cottage. The leaves were falling all
around the cottage, and the air was crisp and clean.

I find solace walking in the woods watching the leaves gently float down and carpet the ground with a burst of red, orange or yellow. I relish the sound of crackling leaves under my step as the colder air nips at my ears and fingertips.

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My camera captures some of the moments where the sun kisses the colorful leaves or the gust of wind tears them away from their tree. The flutter of chickadees and bustling of workaholic squirrels remind me I am not alone in this space.

It is a magical time when every changing hue of bright color seems to infuse my mind with touches of inspiration for new writings, poems and photos.

Along with the increased creativity comes the increased nostalgia. Perhaps it’s a wish for a simpler life without so many electronic distractions grabbing our attention at all times of the day. Perhaps it’s the search for a quieter time when schedules lighten and free time is abound. Perhaps it’s simply the beauty of nature begging for our attention during its last act before its curtain call.

P1030270I allow myself to be lulled into this magical season and I feel blessed to live in a part of the world that provides me with such a colorful show. Each day is different, each walk is new and each glance provides me with a new act of this beautiful nature play. Soon the curtain will fall only to replace this radiantly rich chromaticity with  bland depleated tones but until then I will relish each day of this beautiful season.

A day at the library

Fiction, mystery, romance, biography… any book will catch my attention, and this since the tender age of six. Books were my friends when I was young as there were very few kids of my age in my neighborhood.

I had no favorites, all books were a treat to me. During the summer months we had an extra treat as a book bus traveled every two weeks in our area. In those days, we were allowed to borrow as many books as our age. Given my voracious appetite for reading, I felt this wasn’t enough for me, even at the age of seven.

I spoke to my Dad about it, and he suggested we visit the local library lady (as I called her) to see if we could get that limit increased. I remember feeling quite nervous as we entered the building but I felt confident walking in with my father. She sat in her large wooden chair as we stood in front of her waiting to be acknowledged.

Dad explained that I had a very special request to ask of her. She took off her glasses and motioned us to sit down. I nervously explained to her that I felt the book limit was too low for me as I usually finished my allocated amount within the first week and I was left with nothing to read until the book bus would return the following week. As coached by my Dad, I mentioned the fact that I returned all my books on time and in good condition.

She listened carefully, and after a short pause, she asked how many books I wanted to borrow. I had decided that since I was seven, I would be brave and ask for an additional book to my allocated limit. I hesitated and at that very moment, she asked if ten would be enough.

Imagine my surprise and joy at that beautiful number: TEN! I was so excited as I watched her write the number “10” on a small piece of paper, adding her signature and pasting it to the back of my library card. My father smiled and we both thanked her and shook her hand. I quickly headed to the children’s section to pick out ten new books for me to read.

Decades later I would constantly travel for my work often staying in one city for months. If my project was a lengthy one I would always locate the closest library and get myself a card. Never would I be short of reading material and over the course of fifteen years of travel I accumulated more than twenty out-of-town library cards.

Today I own an e-reader but nothing can replace the look and feel of a physical book. I relish the thought of walking into a used bookstore and wander about, feeling and smelling old books. No matter what the challenges are in my life, I know there is always the pleasure of escaping with a new tale, an old familiar story or a good biography.

Long live books!

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A very special hat

DSC_0934It has been in my possession for decades. In itself, it speaks to someone’s career in the Royal Canadian Air Force. I imagine it was part of quite a career. It was retired along with its owner in 1966 and now, even though the fabric is somewhat fragile it is to me a symbol of a great man.

I often wonder what secrets it must hold, privy to endless amount of sensitive and secret information, strategic conversations and important decisions. It was part of daily rituals along with its ever-so-well-pressed uniform. The uniform is long gone but we have all its adornments including two medals.

Syls DadFor me, however, it’s a symbol of the man who was my father. The man who took the time to read the comics to me while I sat on his lap fresh out of the tub and in my pajamas. I was too young to read at the time but we would pretend I could as I made up words and sentences that I thought were appropriate for the pictures.

I remember one night when I spotted a centipede running across my bedroom floor. I screamed in horror and Dad ran up the stairs and asked what happened. When I told him about the bug, he looked under my bed, and asked for a crayon. I gave him one and he mumbled a few things, then popped up and said “There, I wrote “dead” on his back and he won’t bother you again” – an explanation that at my young age of 6 seemed logical to me.

When I did learn to read I became a voracious reader. My father used to tuck me in bed, and I was allowed 15 minutes of reading before sleep. He played our “reading” game with me. He would come up, kiss me goodnight and turn off my light. At which point, upon his departure I would take out my flashlight and read another 5 minutes. Knowing I was doing this, he would walk back up, take away my flashlight and kiss me goodnight again. I would then stand up on my bed, and for a few more minutes read by the glow of the street light. Once again he would come up, always with a smile on his face and finally take my book away, leaving me with one final kiss goodnight. This was our daily  “reading” ritual.

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Dad passed away at a young age; a mere 45 years of existence ended abruptly, leaving my mother and 5 children to cope with an incredible loss. I was only 9 years old when this happened. I miss growing up with him by my side, I miss living all the important days of my life with him by my side.

I feel his energy and soul has never left me, but I still long for his physical presence. His hat is physical reminder of who he was, and although I try not to be materialistic, this is one item that I cherish with all my heart.

He was a great man and I am blessed to have had the chance to know and love him, even though it was a very short time. He will forever live in my mind and in my heart.

The Power of a Song

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“Perhaps it is how we are made; perhaps words of truth reach us best through the heart, and stories and songs are the language of the heart”
― Stephen R. Lawhead

Music and songs have always been an integral part of my life. I can figure out where I was and what I was doing when I used to listen thousands of songs. Working midnight shifts gave me ample opportunity to listen to music. My memory is strong with notes, words, cadence and rhythms. Some songs can bring me to tears, such as “Wishing you were somehow here again” from the Phantom of the Opera, “Amazing Grace” sung by Carrie Underwood and “Nessun Dorma” interpreted by Luciano Pavarotti.

Some songs make me stop and dance such as “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees and many of the bluegrass songs my husband introduced in our lives.

Last week, I heard a song that moved me in ways none had done before. It was played at my nephew’s funeral and although it is not the typical type of song I have in my current repertoire, it certainly is now. My nephew Michel loved his music, and he enjoyed playing so everyone could share its sounds. As pictures streamed giving us so many glimpses into Michel’s life, this music gave me shivers, shook me to the core. I grasped most of the words but the overall music is what grabbed my every brain cell. Perhaps it was a combination of the high level of emotions everyone in the room felt, or the flashback to my high school days of Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. Whatever it was, it stayed in my mind.

Later on, I downloaded the song and the words and really gave a an attentive listen and I was moved by the words, and the song took an even bigger place in my mind. I wanted to share this with you as I know many of my immediate and extended families not to mention friends and acquaintances are going through some very challenging times. This may not be something you enjoy, or appreciate, and I respect this. But perhaps, just perhaps, it gives you a 9 minute pause in your busy day to think of something else…

I took the liberty of adding the words to this blog – and if you are so inclined, the link to the music. I do want to mention the song is rock-blues… far from a ballad, but it certainly has found a place on my ipod.

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The song can be heard at Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE197vnfQF8

Michel, your influence continues on… May you look over those who love and care for you.

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A gift from the heart

It was during our annual siblings birthday party and the time came to open our presents. We’ve been doing this for more than a decade, saving all our siblings’ birthday gifts for this one day. It was handed to me and I immediately thought it might be a book, however, something was moving inside the harder cover giving me doubts about my first guess.

I gently removed the wrapping and found a hard box protecting a book. I pulled it out and immediately felt a small tug at my heart as I glanced on the cover and noticed the beautiful art; poppies! As many of you know, poppies mean so much to me now, as they were one of my sister’s favorite flowers, and I titled my last Camino as “The way of the poppies” in her honour and her memory.

The next thing I noticed was the title of the book “Life from an optimist’s point of view”. “Ah, a book about optimism” I thought, which fitted me well since I consider myself a true optimist. Then it hit me “Wait, that’s my website’s main title.
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It still hadn’t sunk in until my dear sister Monique said “Read the inside cover”.

“This book was specially created for my sister Sylvie Hanes for our sibling annual birthday party August 2014. It is full of my favorite of her blog entries from August 2010 to May 2014. My favorite is the entry “I leaked” from May 17, 2011″

At that very moment the tears came a’flooding! How ironic her favorite entry is about me crying! I could not believe I held in my hands a compilation of some of my blog entries so beautifully arranged with both original pictures and some of her choice. I felt humbled, incredibly touched and amazed that someone though enough of my writing to put it together this way.

So many people have blogs, and we write for many reasons. My first ever blog states “This medium will allow me to share experiences, thoughts, questions and of course, my pictures.” Little did I know back then that four years later, I would still be leveraging this medium. Writing to me, from an early age, has always been a way for me to express myself. When I would have misunderstandings with my mother, I would revert to writing a follow up (most of the time, an apology) and reasoning behind my actions or behaviors. I’ve always favored my English or French classes for the joy of writing be it fiction or research work.

However, even though I know some folks read my blog, I don’t stop to think anyone really pay much attention to my words, with the exception of when I get comments or feedback; both of which always seem to surprise me. This book gave my words flight and a place to land (other than the web) and a physical reminder of my sometimes wild imagination, deepest thoughts and random chatter. The fact that anyone would take the time and effort to make such an amazing book touched me to the core.

You have encouraged me once again to put words to virtual paper. I seldom go back and read my entries, and I am going through each and every page of this wonderful book and remembering each and every moments that brought me to write those entries.
What an honor and a privilege to receive such a gift. To you, my dear sister, a huge heartfelt and sincere “Thank you”.

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Even after 44 years

I tell people I live a charmed life. I have a strong sibling family, I am mother to two beautiful and loving daughters, I am a wife a giving and wonderful the man who stayed at home with the girls and provided them with stability at home (when it was very rare to see a man stay at home) and I lived a very unusual professional life with a its final day some three years ago.

My husband and I travel often to many amazing locations in the world. I have had the privilege to walk in Spain on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage that people have been doing for more than thousands of years. We made cast-in-stone decisions that allowed me to retire at the tender age of 50. We have a humble home in a very nice neighborhood and we have many great friends and loads of acquaintances and our life is amazing… I am so grateful for this, and all the beauty I have experienced in my life.

dad 3But, there is a hole in my heart. No due to a failed romance, bad professional moves or terrible investments or wrongful acts… My hole in my heart belongs to my father. It belongs to the decades of living without a fatherly influence, a fatherly embrace each evening, a fatherly stern concern about a potential decision on my part… It belongs to the little girl who was but 9 years old when life took him away from us. It belongs to the many decisions I’ve had to do with only one parent, or at times, no parental thoughts, advice, or concern. It belongs to those days when having a male parental figure in my life to guide me along was needed. It belongs to those special days such as my wedding day (I have the most considerate brother who walked me down the aisle), the birth of our two girls, or my retirement.

I live my life in a frozen state – that of a child not being able to ever experience her father in a mortal way. I live my life not having gone through the stage of finding my father to be old fashioned, out of touch or unaware of the progress of technology. I live my life in a stage where my father is nothing short of perfection – for I am, and will always be, adult or not, in a mind’s child of 9 when it relates to my father.

Each father’s day, I rejoice in the recognition that my husband has always had a very strong presence in our family. What joys can my daughters have to continue to get to know their father with new eyes each year on what makes him so amazing and unique. What incredible experiences they have each day in even the most mundane situations. What joy and simple but touching moments they can have with him each and every day. And in the bottom of my heart, I miss this.

Growing up I remember thinking that this would be easier with time… this constant missing of my father’s presence. There were years where I thought that years of maturity of age would make his absence easier. There were years when I thought my sheer anger would help me through the moments of void. There so many times when I would fall asleep at night, hoping that somehow I would be able to dream of him. My belief system is such that I feel he is with me at all times.

However, not in the way I want him to be. I would give almost everything to have one more day with him, one simple time to be able to, as a adult, to be with him. But life had other things in store for me, my mother and my siblings.

On father’s day, I truly celebrate my beautiful husband’s presence in my daughters’ lives. It is a true gift to all be together and to honor someone’s presence which will forever be an influence their lives.

And quietly, when everything has been put away, when dishes have been cleaned and dried, when leftovers of a good meal have been put away, I have my moment… of missing a hug, a smile, a cuddle, an advice, a stern word, a caring action…

They say time heals all wounds… but I can honestly say, time does nothing to help a heart that has a hole, a girl/woman who misses her father. Even after 44 years.

Renewed focus on returning to my Camino

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESEverything was set; my backpack was as light as could be, my plans were open enough to allow for changes, but focus enough to get my end goal accomplished. Although my first two Camino weeks were challenging in many ways, nothing was set to prepare me for a halt… not just a halt for a few days, but the complete halt of my third Camino.

For the past fifteen years or so, my sleeping habits had taken a toll for the worse. A byproduct of a corporate traveler’s life, my hours of work were very high and my hours of sleep were low. Along with this were less than stellar eating habits; late evening dinners consisting of whatever was left in the office kitchen, in my hotel room or rented apartment, late dinners with clients, airport food and grab-and-eat moments… Exercise? mostly running from one meeting to the next or trying to catch that late flight. Years of such a lifestyle took its toll on me. When I retired, I counted more than 7 daily medication going into a very tired and out of shape body.

My goals upon retirement were three fold; First to wean myself off the too frequent medications, second to get back to an active lifestyle and third (and hopefully as the byproduct of the active lifestyle) to get to a healthier weight. Well, one byproduct of my not so healthy lifestyle of the past was the need of a CPAP machine to help me sleep… oh, and actually not die IN my sleep due to obstructed airways. I’ve been on the machine for almost 3 years, and although I’ve made progress with some of my goals (down to two meds, both low dosage) and a much more active lifestyle, I still have some way to go for a healthier weight.

Last summer, I completed my Camino and chose not to bring my heavy CPAP machine with me. I managed to make it through with less than optimal sleep, but no other consequences. This year, thinking I would do the same and I headed out without my CPAP. Compared to last year, I was in a bit stronger body taking less medications.

After walking more than 160 km (averaging 20 km per day) I woke up in the middle of the night with strong cheat pains and problems breathing. I panicked, woke up the pension owner, and grabbed a cab to the nearest hospital. Turns out, after a few tests and some resting time, that the doctors discovered my body had gotten used to the CPAP and no longer could do without, and because of the exhausting walks, my body no longer could wake itself up without putting undue stress on my heart and lungs. I needed to return home immediately to deal with this challenge.

Rest assured, I realized how lucky I was to wake up – severe sleep apnea can cause a person to simply not wake up enough to get breathing again… but I still am upset that I am at this stage. The good thing, it CAN be reversed! It really can, and the solution is simple. I didn’t say EASY, I said SIMPLE! When I get to my healthy weight, I will no longer need this CPAP machine that has allowed me deep sleep for the past 3 years. However much I appreciate what it has given me, I do not want to be slave to this machine. Therefore, my focus is SIMPLE and anchored… and I will get there by what I like to do best, WALKING!

After all, walking is what I was doing on the Camino de Santiago – – I got to Burgos from Pamplona, and now will virtually walk my way to Santiago and will focus on doing everything to get me ready to return to my Camino in late summer of 2015.
The focus is set, the tools are in place (water for swimming, treckers for walking, music for inspiration).
My feet are walking feet, and from this point on, my focus to get those feet back on the Camino!
Happy trails!

The smallest of gift can be the best of gifts

pinIt never ceases to amaze me how many gifts we receive on the Camino. The gifts range from the intangible, such as a feeling of well being, a sense of a higher presence, a calmness in a busy day, a glimpse of the past, and an appreciation of what is ahead.

The gifts can also be tangible such as a piece of chocolate when you are hungry, a glass of water when you are thirsty, a direction when you are lost. Yesterday, at kilometer 21 of 23.5, on a side road, I saw a van driving slowly towards me. As it got closer, the driver handed me a bottle of water, and told me this was from an albergue down the road. This came at the most appropriate time as I had finished all my water a few kilometers earlier.

Likely my most amazing gift came in the evening, when I explained to my newest pilgrim friends from Quebec that I had a slight unfortunate happening earlier in the morning. Although I´ve only been walking a week now, I did notice that my appetite had lessened and I had to cinch my backpack strap a wee bit. That morning, I was reaching for something in the overhead bunk and my pants slipped down… yes, to my knees!

This is something I look forward to experiencing; typically my treking pants have elastic sides that adjust as my weight changes. In this case, my pants are not with elastics, and although they fit losely beforehand, that morning, they just didn´t stay up. “Whohoo” was my first thought, and “Oh my!” was my second. I actually would have to buy a belt or at the very least, a rope! I still have lots of walking to do!

After a few smiles, my pilgrim friend Rene reached into his pocket and handed me a blue top pin, but not just any pin. “This one” he explained “will not open and end up causing you some issues” and he showed me the locking tip.
Doesn´t sound like a big deal to most, but at that moment, it was exactly what I needed.

The gifts of the Camino are endless, and at times, may seem so trivial, but as I have learned over the last few Caminos, each and every one of them come to us at the EXACT time we need them.
Ah, the magic of the Camino!
Cheers

Too many mice in the cage

In college I completed a two year introductory program in Psychology. Among the many classes I took, one delt specifically on the sociological aspects and behaviors of people. I recall the teacher stating ¨when too many mice are in a cage, their behaviors turn towards aggression.¨

I have felt, over the past few days, that the Camino has become the cage with too many mice. Those who know me know that I have a great respect for the Camino and what it brought to me over the past few years. I looked forward to spending this Camino time really reflecting on my sister Denise´s life with us. I have experienced amazing moments of true compassion and support, but I must admit I have seen more negative behaviors that lead me to believe the overcrowding of pilgrims on the Camino has become detrimental to a peaceful journey…

I speak solely of the Camino Frances, and this comes as no surprise to those who have traveled this road in the past years. Incrementally we have seen the journey of walking and connecting and discussing become slowly more of a race to the next bed. I am aware that the current infrastructure is not enough to address all the current needs. Perhaps this is only an issue during the months most popular such as May and June in the summer, and September in the fall.

Last year I noticed a large increase in the number of pilgrims on the road and in the albergues. However, most times there was still a sense of respect for the individual, understanding of the conditions and patience shown by all.

I have only been walking for 4 days now, and in this short period I have seen behaviors that would, in the past, solicit from my parents a hard time out and loss of priviledges. Awful outbursts of anger and impatience at subtle small things, not just the lack of spaces in albergues.

Yesterday morning, EARLY morning, a pilgrim got up and started to go through her many groceries and plastic bags (the ones that really make noise) and upon multiple requests of pilgrims asking her to stop and move her items below in the foyer, she flew into a range and cursed at many of us. In passing, it was 5:05 in the morning!!

A few days ago, a pilgrim and I arrived by foot in a small village with only two small cafes to provide food and drinks. Parked beside one of the cafe was a huge bus full of tourists who were having a snack break. There must have been at least 30 of them, lined up in both small cafes. We stood in line for more than 20 minutes when we realized we no longer could wait for the crowds to dissipate. One of the pilgrims asked me how far I was walking that day, and I responded about 20 km. He then let me know that this group of pilgrims walk 2 hours per day, then retire to the local hotel. I have no issues with tourists being on the Camino, but in these cases, perhaps there could be measures taken to ensure the stops are in villages that CAN accomodate larger groups at once… leaving the smaller ones to be available to those who are walking most of the day.

And probably the most shocking behavior yesterday was seen in this beautiful church in Logrono. A group of 4 pilgrims were visibly upset and almost shouted at the small and timid nun. They were complaining about the fact the church had been closed in the afternoon, and they were quite strongly stating that this resulted in them having to return downtown to visit the church at a later time, which apparently was quite the inconvenience to them.

I was shocked and taken aback. I approached the nun and thanked her for being there to answer questions, and apologized for the previous group´s awful behavior. She noded and actually said she has noticed a change in attitude over the past few years.

Have this Camino become the proverbial overcrowded mice cage? It seems to me that we are all aware of this new challenge, but where does this allow for bad behavior? We are all tired by the time to get to our albergues or abodes. We are all a bit frustrated when faced with full albergues, limited room on the clotheslines and line ups for registrations. BUT let´s not become so impatient that the beauty of the Camino is lost…

I wonder if this will be the norm from this point on, until the masses travel through and we can see a lower number of pilgrims wandering the Camino? I am holding back on any conclusions, but for my short 4 days of experience, what I am seeing is not pleasant…
I will focus on the beauty there is here, on the kindness of others and try to ignore the nasty… if this is at all possible…

This Camino is too amazing to let this happen and perhaps with some open and frank discussions, we can turn this around…
I have hope…

The countdown begins

Three weeks from now I shall be heading to Spain to begin my third Camino de Santiago journey, walking in honour of my oldest sister Denise who left us after many years of struggling with health challenges. When I walked my first and second Caminos, Denise followed my every post with much support and a touch of envy. She always said she traveled vicariously through my many escapades, and my Camino adventures were her favorites.

DSC_4956 She especially enjoyed my poppies pictures as these, along with sunflowers were her favorites flowers. She listened with much attention to my many stories and she often asked many insightful questions about my journeys. She was quite interested in the mysterious events or moments that lacked logical explanations which pilgrims often share only with their closest ones. She enjoyed hearing me describe Spain’s varied landscapes and its gastronomical treats. She enjoyed looking at my pictures and shed some tears when we both watched the movie The Way.

But oh, my poppy pictures… Those were the ones she asked to see multiple times. She mentioned they would make a great calendar. I planned on making her such a calendar but never got to it and I wish I had.

When her son called me to let me know I should come to her hospital room the very next day in order to say our last goodbyes, I quickly modified one of my credentials document to include a picture of her so that I could share it with her and let her know she would be with me on my next Camino. Alas, I never got to do that since she left us before I had a chance to see her.

I have the strong belief that even though one leaves one’s earthly body, the spirit, the soul, the essence of the person remains with us forever. I feel she knows and is aware of everything we say and do. In fact, when I was looking through my many pictures to select those of Denise, I saw on my computer screen, right in the middle of the many rows of pictures a bright macro photo of poppies and I heard in my head “Oh, I so love poppies”. This is when I knew I would walk the Camino in prime poppy time. When I looked back at my screen the poppy picture was not there… Was this a sign or my imagination? Either way, it was the deciding moment for my change of dates.

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I am undertaking this journey in a very different approach than my previous Camino journeys. I am leaving everything to the moment. I will arrive in Madrid on May 19th and at that point in time, I will decide in which city to start my Camino. I have no set plans other than being in Madrid again on July 18th for my flight back to Canada. I will live in the moment, every day. I will revel in the large fields of poppies and remember all that Denise brought to my life.

“The way of the poppies” is what I am calling this very special, unique and magical journey both Denise and I are about to undertake. She will be with me every step of the way; this I believe with all my heart. I know there will be many tears, many heavy heart moments, moments of anger at her absence, but mostly, days and days of remembering amazing times and lots of gratitude and love for the years we spent together.

The Camino is a special place that healed and soothed my soul as well as opened my heart and my mind. I am ready for this journey and what it will bring and I will savour each day, each hour, each minute and each moment.
I am ready…

Poppies in Spain

Poppies in Spain