Evolution of my self

OM Times Magazine states that personal evolution is a change of perspective. How one’s beliefs, self-image and self-knowledge affect us emotionally, mentally and spiritually is determined by testing new knowledge through experience and turning it into wisdom.

This said, this past year I’ve been going through a lot of re-evaluation of so many things in my life. Never as often as this summer, where I had some beliefs take a complete turn on so many subjects. I spent many hours with acquaintances and friends this summer, and many of them offered some interesting view points.

I also had the opportunity to have very deep philosophical conversations with priests and one brother who came to Moratinos to be part of a chaplain program. I posed some very tough questions, and the conversations that ensued put my beliefs in need of re-evaluation.

I also found myself trying to understand certain reactions I had to people’s ways, looks and habits. I deliberately took notice of my attitude and found myself aware of preconceived notions that turned out to not be as sound as they may have seemed 10 or even 5 years ago.

A big one for me is the concept of aging.  I met a man who was 79 walking the Camino with is 19 year old (wait for it) … SON. Yes, his 19 year old son. This man didn’t look 79, and he was fit and had so much energy and was a joy to get to know. I met a woman who was 85 who still gardened every day, who walked 5 km a day and swam in the ocean every week of the year! So what is aging? One of my misconception was regarding grey hair. In my own mind, I was ok with having loads of wrinkles, but somehow, couldn’t accept having grey hair. I’m fine with anyone else having silver strands, but I refused to let mine show… Until now.

I had a very vivid dream where a toddler (that I knew somehow was my grandchild) was playing with my long curly beautiful silver hair. IT looked fabulous! Soon afterwards, I had another dream where a voice told me “Your body or your hair do not define you. Be your authentic self – and don’t worry about what others think.”

Today, I took the first step to adding authenticity for my self. I made the first pass at letting my hair be its real colour. It will be a multiple step effort, but from this point on, I will embrace who I truly am… and let my ACTIONS, attitude, my “joie de vivre” define me.

with my new lighter hair

with my new lighter hair

Walking down the Camino memory lane

During the last 4 years, March has been  a month of preparation for my Camino journeys. Three times have I found myself packing, repacking, shopping for new items, retiring older items and dreaming about the upcoming magical journey that is the walking on the Camino de Santiago.

This year is a stay-at-home year. My last Camino journey, in honour of my fallen sister, was cut short due to a medical issue, but I never once thought that would be my last Camino. In fact, my plan is to continue to live the Camino life as often as health and providence allows.

I will however relive my Camino memories through a challenge I opted to take, that of blogging from A-Z during the month of April. This challenge requires us to write a blog entry focused on each letter of the alphabet, on a daily basis. The subject is totally up to our choosing, and I decided to dedicate my challenge to my Camino memories. I have over 5,000 pictures taken during my 3 Camino adventures, and I decided to combine text and picture to share my experience with readers.

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Most of my blog readers are not pilgrims, but most have let me know they enjoyed experiencing the Camino through my photographs and stories. In honour of the Camino and all it has brought to me, I dedicate my challenge to it. I will post 4-5 pictures each day and in choosing my photos this weekend, I opted to aim to give a less traditional view into my journeys.

I looked for pictures that perhaps were not obvious of the Camino, but pictures that still to this day stir my soul and makes me long to return once again on Spanish soil.

I hope you enjoy this 26 day photographic essay and if you prefer the convenience of receiving updates as part of your emails, you can sign up on any of the pages of my blog and updates will be delivered directly to you.

I have received much more than I could ever give back to the Camino and I hope that for pilgrims, this brings back great memories and for non-pilgrims, I hope you discover a new side of what can be while walking the Camino de Santiago.

Of Poppies, Denise and Joy

April the 5th next month will mark the one year of my sister Denise’s passing. Much has happened since then, and although we’ve managed well through the various celebrations, all with much remembering, some tears and many smiles, there are still days that pull me into the grieving bubble.

I feel it’s a bubble because it encases me completely and for anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours, my thoughts and emotions are focused on Denise. It sometimes manifest itself because of someone or something that we shared is part of the moment.

Of late, a few strange things have been manifesting themselves, and to some, they could be called coincidences, to others, they could be call totally unconnected unrelated events, and to myself, and others, manifestations of Denise’s essence.

I believe they are manifestations and they bring me joy. They bring on tears but that’s part of the beauty of missing someone, tears of longing. They bring on deep thoughts, and challenge my belief system. They bring me ribbons of memories that are vivid and multisensed – the sound of her voice called me “kiddo”, the sight of her face, the sense of her presence.

Recently, I’ve been hearing lots of Neil Diamond songs, and this is expected as Neil Diamond is actually giving a concert tonight in our city. Denise loved Neil Diamond, and I shared this admiration for the singer. She and I saw many concerts of his and I cannot help but think of her when I hear him sing. Giving his concert, the local stations have played many of his hits, but it’s still strange that I seem to hear them each time I drove to work, and around town.

Denise loved poppies. I named last year’s Camino Journey “the Way of the Poppies” in honour of her. She always praised my poppy pictures from the Camino, and she used to tell me this would be the part of the Camino walk she would most like to experience – to see fields and fields of wild red poppies in real life. I’ve seen at least 5 sightings of Poppies in the last week alone.

Am I paying more importance to poppies as the date gets closer to April 5th? Perhaps. But, could it be something else inciting me to see these poppies?

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After all, I changed the dates of my Camino last year, after I spotted a picture of huge red poppy amongst the many pictures of Denise I was gathering for her memorial. That picture somehow mysteriously disappear from the group of pictures, and I just considered this a manifestation of Denise’s essence.

Late last week, My daughter Lisa told me about a series of painting workshops called Paint Nite. You buy a ticket for the evening, and an instructor walks you through painting a pre-chosen piece of art. I decided to select one, and I picked the week of early April. And wouldn’t you know, the chosen art piece for April 7th…

poppies paint

This brings me lots of Joy, and happy memories of Denise. I am sure that as I am painting these poppies thoughts of Denise will envelope my creativity. This will be a wonderful evening.

 

Keeping his spirit alive

Syls DadJanuary 21, 1970 – I don’t remember much about the actual day other than my brother Paul and I were in our big bed with my sister Monique who was asked to tell us about Dad’s passing. I can’t remember if Mom was in the house, or at the hospital but I remember the actual moment the three of us sat on the bed. My brother was 5, my sister 16 and I was 9.

This was 45 years ago today. Growing up with out a father was difficult and challenging. There is a special relationship that daughters have with the first man in their lives and the relationship I had with my Dad was far too short of time. Not one special occasion went by without my thinking of him and wondering how that event might have been with him there.

The more important events certainly made me miss him even more, but over the years the grief made room for remembrance. I still have moments where tears appear and the yearning to have just one more day with him, as unrealistic as this may be, becomes a dream.

I have a very strong belief that when we die our essence-spirit-core is still present, not in a human mortal way but in other less obvious ways. A gentle wind that brings on the faint smell of Old Spice, the feel of his crisp Air Force shirt on my cheek or the warmth of his big hugs. Memories, no doubt, that come on for no special reason but to remind me of him.

Today I was going through some quotes about grief, trying to find one that resonated with me. Pages and pages of quotes just didn’t seem to mean anything to me until I read this one:

“When those you love die, the best you can do is honor their spirit for as long as you live. You make a commitment that you’re going to take whatever lesson that person was trying to teach you, and you make it true in your own life… it’s a positive way to keep their spirit alive in the world, by keeping it alive in yourself.”  – Patrick Swayze

I couldn’t have said it better… My father has always been, and always will be alive in me, in my heart, and in my soul.

Dad Christmas time

The Ripples of our Actions

butterflyPerhaps you have heard of the butterfly effect The name of the effect is derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a hurricane (exact time of formation, exact path taken) being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier.

I truly believe that our actions create reactions, and we often know little of those reactions or consequences. Although many find the word consequence to be of a negative connotation, a consequence is simply a result or effect of an action or condition.

I try to think of the consequences of my actions, but I am well aware that I have no idea of the breath of depth of these outcomes. I take pleasure in reading stories of a pay-it-forward type of action that trickles down and affect dozen, hundreds or many even thousands. A simple one that I read about of late was an unbroken chain of pay-it-forward coffee chain at a local Tim Horton’s coffee shop. The “I’ll pay for a coffee of the next person behind me” action lasted almost the entire day shift! What a fun and encouraging event.

Our words have immense consequences, both positive and negative. A genuine compliment, a kind uplifting comment or an encouraging statement can change someone’s day in a matter of minutes. Conversely, a insulting comment derogatory words can negatively impact someone’s self confidence. All our actions have the possibility of uplifting or bringing down people.

This past week I was privy to an action that created nothing but anger, disappointment and a lot of head shaking. I participated in one of the city’s largest craft fair, offering my handcrafted folded fabric ornaments. I take pride in my work and ensure that only the best quality ornaments are offered to the public. I carefully measure each piece of fabric that is used, and I constantly check for accurate creation of the end product.

As we were setting up for the 6 day fair, a letter was circulated that informed us artists of a certain group of women who would be having lunch outside the craft fair area, and would  then visit the various kiosks. When I chanced outside the craft area I was privy to admire the many women that were dressed with class and affluence. There was an air of sophistication that could be felt as I watched them mingle drinking unique cocktails and chatting away. BCF 2We were asked to consider giving a donation to the group. Knowing a bit about this group and some philanthropic activities, I opted to donate a Breast Cancer ornament whose profits are returned to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. I felt this was an appropriate donation given these were women and the likelyhood that most knew someone who had been affected by this disease.

A few days later, I was told that my ornament was in the back office, and it wasn’t used for the networking event because it’s value was far below the expected $100 value. I stood there in utter shock. None of us knew of this arbitrary expectation of donation value. I’ve run events and when there are donations that are of lesser value, we bundle them up to create a combined prize, therefore, the fact the donation was of lower value did not negate its potential for a nice combined gift.

I felt quite insulted that someone based on their own judgement deemed a donation to lack worthiness for their event. Giving it back seemed to be akin of a virtual slap in the face and a pure dismissal. Somewhat like leaving a penny tip to a waiter – worse than not leaving a tip at all, a penny tip is a loud and clear statement of unworthiness. I discussed this situation with many of my neighbor artists of the craft fair, and each and every one of them (men and women) felt this was appalling, insulting and devoid of compassion and gratitude.

It is unfortunate that the actions of one sole person who had the task of managing the donations tarnished the reputation of the entire group. In reading the profiles of some of the group’s leaders, I don’t doubt that most would not have acted this way, however, the only action we were privy to experience was that of the outright rejection of a valid albeit less expensive gift, and one associated with a cause, no less!

A few hours later, the rejected beautiful ornament (I may add as per all the feedback I received) was rightfully bestowed as a gift to someone who battled breast cancer and was now in remission. This person will appreciate this small token as a true gift of caring for what this recipient has gone through to win her battle. This gift would  not be looked upon as lacking a set value of X dollars, or a well-known label of X name.

ripplesWe can recognize that the power of our actions, immediate or delayed affect others. Perhaps if we consciously take a moment or two before making our decisions, we might recognize that like the beating of the proverbial butterfly wings, our actions will have rippled effects… hopefully positive ones!

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.

dad 3

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.

run roses grow

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.

pink rose

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.

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