Like most other Canadians, I recognize Clara Hughes on TV because of her huge, tremendously vibrant smile, and she has always struck me as a sunny, positive, confident person, not to mention a world-class athlete.
Reading her memoir called Open Heart, Open Mind showed me that being sunny, positive, & confident doesn’t always come easy to Clara. There’s a world of struggle behind that smile. Hearing Clara speak in front of a sold-out audience in Lloydminster last week was even more affecting.
Clara speaks with so much passion & energy. She sounds like a spoken-word poet, delivering line after line of sincere, honest, evidence, attesting to her personal struggles with mental illness. She insists that while one in five Canadians suffer from mental illness in their lifetime, it is the five in five that really matter. We are all in this together. We all need community, & we all need to be willing admit it when we aren’t doing okay.
I was so moved by Clara’s passion and message, that I found myself openly weeping several times throughout her story. Most of all, I was moved by Clara’s incredible willingness to not just meet everyone who wanted her autograph, but to really connect with people and have a personal conversation with everyone she met. She laid out her huge collection of medals from both winter & summer olympics, and encouraged people to feel them, hold them, & even wear them in pictures with her. The ribbons of the medals were tattered, but so beautiful. If there’s anything I took away from meeting Clara, it’s that we are all a little tattered, but still so beautiful.
If you have the opportunity to see Clara speak, take advantage.
January was a difficult month. To be blunt, it sucked. While it was really tempting to continue to stew in the grief of loss, I needed to shake things up in February & inject some positivity, excitement, & wonder back into my life. I came up with the idea of challenging myself to try something new every day for the month of February.
“All too often we let the fear the unknown stop us. But pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones is actually good for us. Trying new things not only helps us to vanquish those fears, but it also allows us to expand our minds and learn—both about said new thing, and about ourselves.”
I didn’t stress over what my new thing would be each day. Sometimes it was obvious, & sometimes it was 10 p.m. & I hadn’t tried anything new yet, so I had to get creative. Regardless, it was challenging & enjoyable.
8.Made overnight oats (To make, layer the following in a mason jar & leave in fridge overnight: 1/2 cup quick oats, tiny bit of vanilla extract, sprinkle of cinnamon, 2 tbsp. almond milk, tbsp. of chia seeds [they’re optional], 1/2 cup vanilla greek yogurt, sliced strawberries)
9.Took my Gr.11s to the local Lodge to interview seniors for the “Gathering Wisdom” project
10. Took the Anthony Henday around the North side of Edmonton
I chronicled this challenge on instagram. To see my thoughts about the experiences each day, check out the posts below.
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If you’re in a rut & feeling frustrated, give this challenge a try. The new things can be big, or little. Either way, they’re a reminder that the world has plenty to offer, sometimes we just need to make an effort to look 💗Be curious & open to explore. It makes every day better, I promise.
Interested in giving this challenge a try yourself? Here are some additional ideas:
Try Tai Chi (check online for videos)
Check out an art show
Go for a backwards walk
New Pinterest craft
Play a new board game
Play a new card game
Walk to work or take a new route
Eat vegan or vegetarian for a day
Learn to change a tire
Creative challenge: take one object & take photos of it from 7 different angles
Have your palms or tea leaves read
Try shopping on Etsy
Watch a sunrise & a sunset in the same day
Have a tech. free day
Have a progressive meal
Order dessert first
Go to a live game of a new sport: hockey, basketball, baseball, football, etc.
Try a new workout (Rowing intervals or hot yoga anyone?)
Play a new sport (I tried squash!)
Learn a new style of dance
Workout at a new time (yup, try getting up early before work)
Go for a barefoot run
Ride a segway
Try a new food (the ethnic aisle at the grocery store is great for this one)
Cook a new food/dish (homemade icecream?)
Throw a dinner party or a murder-mystery party
Check out a new restaurant or shop at a new store
Donate to a new cause that you really care about
Write a letter to your MP or MLA about an issue thats important to you
Capture your day in pictures: try taking a photo every hour
Join a new gym
Learn to count from 1-10 in a new language
Try cake decorating
Attend a Paint Nite
Visit your local library
Watch a classic movie that you’re secretly ashamed you’ve never watched
Looking back at the list of books I read in 2016 is an interesting exercise in reflection & recollection. For example, when I see book no. 34, My Wish List, it takes me back to my honeymoon. I bought My Wish List in a small bookstore in Quebec City, with an itty-bitty english-language section and read it on the train trip back to Montreal. But the most important book I read was no. 26, The Happiness of Pursuit, because it made me realize that the #50bookpledge is more than a goal to encourage myself to read; it’s a quest for continual learning & personal growth. Inspired by the benefits of pursuit outlined in the book, I decided to turn my yearly reading goal into a life-long quest to complete the 50 book pledge for 50 straight years.
So, without further ado: my #50bookpledge list for 2016 (2 years down, only 48 more to go!)
Open Heart, Open Mind By Clara Hughes
They Left Us Everything By Plum Johnson
The Garden of Letters By Alyson Richman
Ballad of the Whiskey Robber By Julian Rubinstein
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules By Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
Remembering Forever: A Journey of Darkness & Light By Eva Olsson with Ron Jacques
Sugar Falls By David Alexander Robertson
The Steady Running of the Hour By Justin Go
Ellen Foster By Kaye Gibbons
All My Puny Sorrows By Miriam Toews
Code Talker By Chester Nez
A Rose for Her Grave By Ann Rule
Fatty Legs By Christy Jordan-Fenton
Pinnochio By Carlo Collodi
Introducing Shakespeare By Nick Groom & Pie
The Birds By Daphne Du Maurier
In Cold Blood By Truman Capote
Horse Sense By Tillen Bruce
The Way of the Runner By Adharanand Finn
The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life & Time’s of America’s Banana King By Rich Cohen
If I Should Die Before I Wake By Han Nolan
Precious By Sapphire
God Thinks You’re Wonderful By Max Lucado
Running with the Kenyans By Adharanand Finn
Bay of Secrets By Rosanna Ley
The Happiness of Pursuit By Chris Guillebeau
Adore By Doris Lessing
My Year of Running Dangerously By Tom Foreman
Little Bee By Chris Cleave
Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy & Hard Times By Jennifer Worth
Kingdom of the Golden Dragon By Isabel Allende
Call the Midwife: Shadow’s of the Workhouse By Jennifer Worth
The Mermaids Singing By Lisa Carey
My Wish List By Gregoire Delacourt
Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End By Jennifer Worth
The Undertaker’s Daughter By Kate Mayfield
True Crime Addict By James Renner
What Doctors Feel By Danielle Ofri, M.D.
The Midwife’s Sister By Christine Lee
The Wave By Todd Strasser
Animal Farm By George Orwell
Maximum Insecurity By William Wright, M.D.
Running Like a Girl By Alexandra Heminsley
Stuart Little By E.B. White
Maybe this Christmas By Sarah Morgan
Stiff By Mary Roach
Fun Home By Alison Bechdel
Julius Caesar: A Shakespeare Story By Andrew Matthews & Tony Ross
The Tempest: A Shakespeare Story By Andrew Matthews & Tony Ross
Modern Romance By Aziz Ansari
Interested in joining me for 2017’s pledge? Visit 50bookpledge.ca & get reading!
When my new friend, Amanda, asked me to sign-up for a fall art class waaaay back in June, I agreed right away. We picked a Friday/Saturday course called Watercolour Wisdom & Wisdom put on by Vermilion River Community Learning and taught by the talented Monica To, who teaches art at JR Robson School.
We spent Friday night learning a variety of different techniques. During Boxing Day sales last year, I picked up a watercolour set & have messed around with it a few times, not having much of a clue about what I was doing. Learning some actual techniques that I could take back home made the whole course worthwhile.
Like most of my artistic endeavours, this watercolour course provided a lesson in patience. Sometimes, I have a hard time paying attention to small details because I get really exited about the “big picture” or my goal for the finished product. Practicing adding depth when shading circles demanded patience, & I was forced to slow down & enjoy the process.
Saturday brought its own challenges. We started the morning learning about colour theory, & practiced mixing different colours together to create skin tones & other subtle effects that a regular palette cannot provide. Considering I never even took an art class in high school, (I totally regret this & that I didn’t take a second language in University) this was new & interesting information. At least I was a tiny bit familiar with colour wheels from my elementary art days back in grade 3. Thanks Mrs. Hauger!
Then, we were to chose an exemplar & email it to Monica, so she could print it off for us. We were going to create a “real” painting. Oh dear. I poked around on Pinterest, & picked this fall birch forest piece for several reasons. First of all, I love fall colours & the crispness of the air & the wonderful smell of rose hips & the promise of a new school year full of possibilities that all of those things signal. This piece seemed to capture that sense of possibility. Secondly, on Friday, we practiced a technique called scraping, where we dipped the edges of old loyalty cards in paint, then let them drag across the page. The result looked EXACTLY like birch trees, & I wanted to put this nifty little trick to good use.
We started by tracing out the exemplar onto our sheets. My visual-spacial skills are not exactly top notch, &, while this might sound silly, I actually found it difficult to tell what lines belonged to my trees or branches, & which belonged to the empty space in-between. It took a lot of concentration to get my background painted into the right sections. Next, I went to town scraping in my birch trees, & was quite happy with the results. Then came adding the leaves in the foreground. At this point, I was beginning to get tired, & frustrated. My painting did not seem to capture the same feelings the exemplar did, & every time I tried to paint the leaves on over top of the trees, they just looked really awkward & out of place. Perhaps mistakenly, I decided to use a splatter technique where you flick paint off of your brush. So much fun! Drawing on these techniques was going so well, I decided to try another that involved blowing paint through a straw. I thought the end result would look like a storm of falling leaves, but it just ended up looking like splatters & weird grass. Ahh, well. Perhaps I need to try an abstract piece next time. For a first try, my water colour career could have went much, much worse. &, as I have learned from 2016’s artistic forays, when they’re dry, & viewed from a few feet away through less critical eyes, they tend to look much better.
I left utterly exhausted by the whole thing. I forgot how difficult being the student, & not the teacher, can be. In addition to that role reversal, I learned that art is hard. It forces your brain to think in new ways. It challenges deep-held beliefs you have about the world, & yourself. It stretches your attention span & ability to concentrate. It deepens your appreciation of the work of others. Art is hard, but art is also beautiful, & worthwhile. It makes you grow in all sorts of directions. Art is good for me, & I’m going to stick with it.
My experiences training for half marathons, & completing my recent run streak, have involved many dates with the treadmill or the trail. Some runners are motivated by music, & while there’s definitely a place for a catchy song or two on race day (I have a weird love of Flo Rida & Nelly pump up music. Anyone else??), music just doesn’t entertain me for more than a mile or two during long runs. But . . . podcasts definitely do! My love for both learning & story telling make podcasts a perfect fit. Here’s my top 10 picks:
Stuff You Missed in History Class: I feel like hosts Tracy & Holly are my best friends, they just don’t know it! These awesome ladies publish two episodes each week, featuring little known, but important, historical events in an absolutely engaging & charming way. I’ve even incorporated several episodes into assignments for my Social classes.
Serial: Cause ‘duh! Season 1 > Season 2, but both are worth a listen.
Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids: This is possibly the funniest podcast on earth. Adults dig through their old writing, & share the most beautiful/honest/cringe-worthy pieces in front of a live audience. I once had to pull over on the highway because I was crying from laughing so hard. P.S. I read some of my own deep, dark secrets from an old journal at their Saskatoon show last spring, but, thankfully, they didn’t make the podcast episode.
Criminal: Phoebe Judge is an amazing host with an amazing voice. Every two weeks the good folks at Criminal publish a quirky new episode that looks at crime in totally unexpected ways. They’re also the creators of my favourite podcast episode of all time: “He’s Neutral.” It. will. blow. your. mind.
Invisibilia: Like Serial, Season 1 > Season 2. This podcast from NPR is all about the invisible forces that control human behaviour. This one makes you think, & think, & think . . . in the best way possible.
Death, Sex, & Money: Anna Sale is the bomb, & probably the best interviewer on the planet, at least in my opinion. She talks to celebrities & ordinary people about subjects that are normally taboo. This is the meaty stuff of real life.
Only Human: From WNYC, this is a show about the human side of health that doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations. Relatable & refreshing.
Revisionist History: If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s books, this one is pretty self-explanatory. If you haven’t, take a day off work, go directly to the closest Chapters, & emerge enlightened.
The Doc Project: As I’ve gotten older, my dream job has morphed from journalist, to teacher, to career counsellor, to English prof., to radio documentary creator, partly thanks to this show. Every episode is a unique look at a new subject, since the show is a collection of documentaries produced by a variety of individuals.
Someone Knows Something: This is pretty much the Canadian answer to Serial. Season 1 had me hooked, & the first episode of season 2 was just released & is just as intriguing, & perhaps even more so.
I headed into the final 15 day stretch of my October Run Streak Challenge feeling hopeful that my running habit would be solidified, & that it would become something that I could carry forward once the month ended. I am confident in saying that I have been successful on both accounts!
I hit the gym for days 17 & 18 with few problems, but faced a challenge on day 19. Having spent my evening helping with set-up for a grad fundraiser, & partaking in several delicious slices of the pizza we had ordered for the kids , I had to suffer through an extremely full mile at 9:30 at night. Days 20-26, went by without any significant hiccups, but day 27 brought another scheduling nightmare. I spent the day in Wainwright at a PD session, came home to change, rushed off to a special dinner meet holocaust survivor Eva Olsson (you can read about the amazing experience here), went directly from dinner to Eva’s evening presentation & then returned to the school to make sub-plans, as I was registered for another PD conference the next day! Whew! After all of that, I was emotionally & physically exhausted. I literally had not had a spare minute, but I made it to the gym at 10:00 p.m. & got ‘er done. I spent day 28 at a conference in Edmonton, then met up my Mom & brother, who came back to Vermilion for a visit. They drove along beside me as I took advantage of the beautiful weather for a night run. On day 29 we returned to the city, & I spent some time shopping with my Mom. Knowing I wouldn’t make it back home until after midnight, we measured out the distance in the Toys R’ Us parking lot, & I jogged 8 loops around the make-shift track in my mukluks. Having supportive people around really makes a huge difference because they help to hold you accountable to your goals, even in less than conventional circumstances! Days 30 & 31 were uneventful in comparison, & I enjoyed Halloween night, soaking in my sense of accomplishment for having completed my goal.
However, my feelings were obvious: I wasn’t quite ready to give up on my streak that easily. After all, I’d already ran for 31 days straight. Couldn’t I do a few more? So, I did. My streak officially came to an end on Day 40. While I was sad to see it go, I also felt an enormous sense of relief.
The streak taught me that excuses about lack of time & energy are just that: excuses. They aren’t valid. If you decide you want to pursue a goal badly enough, if you care about something deeply enough, if you are invested in something passionately enough, you can (& you WILL) find the time to make it happen.
The streak taught me that running is natural. A body in motion, stays in motion. Our bodies are meant to move. They are meant to carry us. They are meant to be strong. Running consistently feels so good because it’s what our bodies were built to do. It also helped me to maintain my weight without being constantly worried about the effects of indulging in snacks & sweets.
The streak taught me that movement is medicine. Running is a cathartic exercise. There is both immediate & lasting relief in the steady regularity of steps, & in the rhythm of heartbeats. I began to crave my uninterrupted tine to run each day because it was dedicated to ME. My wellbeing & my body were put first for those few minutes, & I would put on a podcast, & lose myself in the act of running, untangling the knots in the fabric of my life that had accumulated throughout the day. I almost always finished a run feeling better than when I started.
What does one do after running for 40 days straight? Well, I have a weight-loss goals to meet before the New Year, & I still have three races to complete to meet my goal of 16 races in 2016. The last six weeks of 2016 will see me continue to run consistently, I promise.
When I first met Brian, it was hard not to like him because he made everything fun. We could go grocery shopping together, or cook together, you know, things that are normally mundane, necessary tasks, & his energy transformed those ordinary experiences into the extraordinary. Three years later, he continues to bring joy into every single one of my days.
I am so lucky to have met the man who supports my quest for adventure unconditionally. He’ll drive two hours to surprise me at the finish line of a half marathon, then completely shock everyone by giving a 10 k a try himself. He’ll spend a cold, rainy weekend in Jasper helping me with my super heavy SCUBA equipment so I can accomplish my dream of becoming a certified open water diver, & he’s always game to help me practice my terrible Spanish. He’s the person who’ll jump in the boat beside me when I want to try ocean kayaking, & is a good sport when I decide we should hike through swarms of mosquitos. His support & unwavering confidence allow me to live life completely, richly, & with the confidence that I always have a teammate backing me up. He’s my best friend.
This summer, we began life’s greatest adventure – together. I can’t wait to see where this adventure takes us.
“A life of adventure is ours for the taking, whether we’re seven or seventy. Life for the most part is what me make it. We have been given a responsibility to live it fully, joyfully, completely, and richly, in whatever span of time God grants us on this earth.”
Last week, Holocaust survivor Eva Olsson visited Vermilion, giving talks at local schools. She travels throughout Canada & the United States, & has shared her message of peace & acceptance with thousands of students, teachers, & community members. Oh, & she just turned 92!
During her visit, I was presented with an incredible opportunity; an opportunity that won’t be available to the next generation. As a teacher, I was invited to join Eva for dinner before her evening presentation at Lakeland College. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
But how does one go about preparing themselves to meet someone like Eva Olsson? &, what does one say upon meeting her?
What does one say to a lady who directly suffered under the Nazi regime, a regime that you so passionately teach your students about, explaining that we must learn about history, & that we must pay attention to history, so that these events do not happen again?
What does one say to a lady who was not allowed to learn to read & write until she was a 20-something living in Sweden because of her fundamentalist upbringing?
What does one say to a lady who found acceptance & happiness with her husband, then had to stand by & watch him suffer for over a year before passing away, after being struck by a drunk driver in Ontario?
What does one say to a lady who is a real life, flesh & blood example of why your Grandfather joined the British Royal Marines all those years ago?
What does one say to a lady who possesses degrees of humanity, strength, & dignity that people of my generation cannot begin to imagine?
One says, “Hello, Eva. It’s so nice to meet you. Thank you for sharing your message with my students today.” Then, she will take your hand, & smile. You’ll drink tea, & hear about her grandchildren, & listen to stories about the students she has met in her travels, & the letters she has received from people who have been impacted by her actions. You’ll sing her “Happy Birthday” because she turns 92 tomorrow, & then you’ll share a piece of Black Forest birthday cake.
You’ll attend her presentation & hear her testimony. You’ll bear witness to a first hand account of horror, & cringe at the graphic images on the screen in front of you. You will never forget how her voice cracks when she says, “Every day is my Remembrance Day.” And you will remember why your job is so important.
“Geocaching is using multi-million dollar satellite technology to find tupperware hidden in the woods.” Such was the text of a meme I recently came across online, & it cracked me up . . . because it’s true!
I first tried geocaching a few years ago, & my most memorable find has been discovering a cache in the tiny Inuit hamlet of Kimmirut, Nunavut on my trip to the north in 2013. But geocaching isn’t just for remote locations. We spent some time in Nanaimo during Spring Break last year, geocaching our way around the harbour & on our honeymoon in Quebec City, we discovered a cache that was a cannon ball, fired into a tree hundreds of years ago! Geocaching gets you outside, walking, & exploring your surroundings, which is exactly why I enjoy it so much.
It makes the perfect micro-adventure too. Last winter, we spent our Valentines Day searching for geocaches & had the best time. It’s definitely not about the plastic toys & trinkets you are likely to find inside, although when I taught a day camp one summer, the kids loved the temporary tattoos they discovered. Instead, it’s about the thrill of the search, & the patience & teamwork that are required for that search to be successful. There’s also something really magical about knowing that just outside your door there are hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of these little treasures hidden just out of sight, & that you are one of the few people that even knows they exist. It’s strangely satisfying to find a cache that other people unknowingly drive or walk by everyday, missing out on this little treasure because of the busyness of everyday life.
Well, winter has come early to Alberta, & it has struck with characteristic intensity. It’s hard to believe that Halloween is still two weeks away, & I’m trying my hardest not to start thinking about Christmas. But every time I look out the window & see the snow, my mind turns to baking & decorating & warm fireplaces & . . . almost anything but running! When I started this run streak at the beginning of October, there was snow at my Mom & Dad’s, but not here, & I was able to enjoy one lovely night run wearing capris. Part of why I wanted to start the streak was to motivate myself to get out into the Provincial Park & enjoy the gorgeous fall colours. While those plans have been thwarted, I have finally been making use of my gym membership again (silver lining!) &, pausing to reflect on day 16, I am pleased with the streak so far. While I haven’t completed any runs of significant length, the obligation to continue the streak has helped me to rid myself of excuses & just get it done.
Last winter, while I was having a really difficult time adjusting to life in a new place, with a new job, & missing my friends & family terribly, going to the gym for a run to train for my second half marathon was such a welcome escape. Its nice to be back in a place that brought me so much comfort, & to settle into that routine again. With 15 days remaining of this October Run Streak Challenge, I hope that my running habit is really solidified, & is something that carries forward.