Clara Hughes: The Story Behind the Spotlight

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.

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Watercolour Wisdom & Whimsy

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.

I painted those circles & they actually kind-of sort-of look like three-dimensional spheres. Maybe I’m not completely hopeless. A little direction, & instruction go a long way!

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!

My inspiration for the day.

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.

My first real watercolour piece.

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.




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An Evening with Eva Olsson

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? evaolsson
  • 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. 

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Paint Nite

Paint Nite events have been popping up everywhere lately, & they’re something that’s right up my alley. Friends, snacks, drinksmohpaint, & art? Yes, please!

Luckily, my amazing friends put together a surprise Paint Nite for my stagette with Alicia Doerksen from Art of a Country Girl &, without knowing, helped me check something off my 2016 bucket list at the same time. So perfect!  Alicia doesn’t advertise, & relies on word-of-mouth. So here’s my word-of-mouth endorsement: she was awesome!
We had a group of twelve ladies, ranging from my former hockey teammates to my future mother-in-law. It was low-key, & exactly what I would have picked if I’d planned the stagette myself.


We started with the background, creating a sunset of layered colours. Next, Alicia taught us a little trick to make the horizon line; wait for the paint to dry, stick a piece of masking tape across to create a straight line, then paint on your ocean. Voila!


I usually find painting really scary & anxiety-inducing because the idea of messing up & “ruining” my piece is floating around in the back of my mind. Luckily, Alicia gave great directions about how to put the paint on the brush, what type of brush strokes to use, & made me so comfortable that I went ahead & painted some palm trees into the foreground that don’t look half bad!


At first, I thought that at a Paint Nite, everyone’s pieces would be pretty much identical, but that’s totally not the case. I love how everyone’s finished painting is unique, & reflect’s their personalities.

We had so much fun, my Mom & I are now organizing a Christmas-themed Paint Nite with ladies from her family. At this rate, I might end up with a whole gallery of Kirsten originals!

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The Wheel- A photo essay

Growing up, I took hand building pottery classes at the Cultural Centre in Beaverlodge on several occasions. Our instructor was  a lady named Darlene Dautel, & her enthusiasm & patience provided an enjoyable first experience with pottery; when I look back on those classes I have nothing but warm memories. For a kid who was usually busy with sports, these classes were a chance to be creative. Once, Darlene even let us try the pottery wheel, fearing that clay would end up absolutely everywhere . . . & it did!

One of my goals for this year was to take an art class, so when I got an email saying that the Vermilion Pottery Guild was bringing in an instructor from St. Paul, Gladys Fleming, to teach a seven week beginner wheel class, I jumped at the chance. Each class was three hours, & it was wonderful to have such a large chunk of uninterrupted time carved out of my week dedicated to something tactile & calming. Working with clay is, for me, an antidote to stress & the disconnect that I sometimes feel from my body when I become busy. On the wheel, the clay does not lie; if you hold stress in your body, it will show up in the clay. Throwing on the wheel requires patience, letting go of the quest for perfectionism (I’m getting better!), &  learning to embrace happy accidents.

I chronicled my progress, week-by-week, by snapping a few pictures. I like that now, after the fact, I can use the pictures to remind me of the skills I learned, from throwing a simple cylinder, to glazing. It’s also a reminder of the investment of time, energy, & care that goes into creating a single piece of pottery. Appreciate those artists people!

Week 1


Week 2


Week 3


Week 4


Week 5


Week 6


Week 7bwcfinishedproducts

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Running Reads: The Best of Adharanand Finn

If you know me at all, you know I drive A LOT. Last summer I moved 700 kilometres away from where I grew up, & I make it a priority to visit friends & family at home regularly.

If you know me at all, you also know that when I’m training for a half marathon, I run A LOT. Usually I hit the gym after work at least 4 days a week to stick to my training schedule.

Cue my discovery of audiobooks (I also listen to a ton of podcasts, but those are a subject in themselves!). I’ve had a subscription to audible for a while now, where I pay a flat fee & get any audiobook of my choosing each month. They do wonders to help fill the long hours of driving & really help me to control my mind when I’m running; if my mind is busy & entertained, it’s not so worried about trying to convince my body that it should stop.


Recently, I stumbled onto a title by Adharanand Finn called The Way of the the Runner: A Journey into the Obsessive World of Japanese Running, which I voraciously devoured. In the book, Finn chronicles his families six-month adventure in Japan, where he goes to seek the secrets of Japanese long-distance running, especially the secrets of the extremely popular sport of ekiden (long-distance relay) running. What makes this story so fascinating is that Finn himself is an avid runner, & is always game to place himself into the story, making local connections & even running with the professional athletes whenever he has the chance. I also really enjoyed how the author goes beyond running, describing the challenges his daughters face as they attend a Japanese school & the families amusing miscalculations as they muddle, at first, their way through each day in a completely foreign society. One part travelogue, one part inspirational sports narrative, this story is woven together honestly & skillfully, & is the best of everything I enjoy about first-person writing. After reading (errr, I mean listening), I’m determined to visit Japan in the future & would love to take part in a recreational ekiden.


When I realized Adharanand Finn had wrote another book before The Way of the Runner, I downloaded it right away. In Running with the Kenyans: Discovering the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth, he relates his incredible journey, again with his wife & three young children in tow, to Kenya, where he explores what it is the really makes the Kenyans SO darn fast. If you’re looking for a magic formula, you won’t find it, but the real magic in this book is Finn’s story of training for a marathon in Lewa with a group of Kenyans, & his experience getting to know them & immersing himself in the Kenyan running culture. Again, with his wonderful sense of humour, Finn shares what the trip is like for his family. I have a feeling that this book will give me a much greater appreciation for the long-distance athletes in this summer’s upcoming Olympic Games.

If you love running, travelling, & reading, then I can’t recommend these books enough. Give them a read, or a listen, & let me know what you think!



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#7DayYogaChallenge with Sarah Beth Yoga

I’ve been considering trying some sort of yoga challenge for over a year now, but every time I go looking for one, they’re thirty days long! & to be honest, that seems really daunting. What if I’m tired one morning & want to sleep in? What if I’m on holidays & don’t have access to a computer or a quiet spot? Also, most are 30-60 minutes in length. I can usually make time for something like that once a week, but fitting that additional time in around running, teaching aquafit, keeping up with marking, & generally living seems so tough. I know myself well enough to realize I’m not quite ready for one of those yet.

Luckily, I came across a #7dayyogachallenge from SarahBethYoga. She has a playlist on her YouTube channel with 7, 15-minute long videos: one for each day of the week. They’re laid out from Monday-Sunday, but since I’m starting on a Friday, I’ll be starting with the Monday video. My day goes 100 x better (I deal with stress more effectively, am more thankful, & make healthier food choices) when I take the time for morning yoga, so I’m dedicated to crawling out of bed early for the next week.


Here goes! 

Day 1: Friday, June 10th

Today’s practice was a gentle vinyasa flow where each breathe was linked to a movement. I find that this pattern of breathing & moving gives me a different feeling of calm than hatha yoga does. I felt really connected to my body, energized, & ready to tackle the day. When I encountered a potentially stressful situation at work, I dealt with it right away without worrying too much, then was able to let it go & move on. I have a bad habit of dwelling on those sorts of things, so this was a major victory!

Day 2: Saturday, June 11th

Today’s practice was a heart-opening hatha yoga sequence focusing on opening up the shoulders, chest, and upper back. I slept in a little, so did the video a bit later than usual, around 9 a.m. I would definitely return to this video! Sarah Beth has included some amazing shoulder stretches that showed me I’m tight in places I didn’t even know existed!

Day 3: Sunday, June 12th

I started my Sunday bright & early with this power yoga session at 6 a.m. This had me sweating! It was incredibly fast-paced (almost too much so) & I often felt like my breathe was being rushed as Sarah Beth asked us to flow from pose-to-pose so quickly! I really like the feeling of matching one breathe to one movement, but I also like yoga because it usually makes me slow down & deepen my breathing. I had some trouble with balancing in airplane pose & warrior three and was falling down all over the place, but I did hold boat pose, & I came out feeling energetic.

Day 4: Monday, June 13th

Today, I did not want to get out of bed! Some parts of this practice were very challenging. But here’s the most important thing . . . I did it anyway!

Day 5: Tuesday, June 14th

I woke up feeling a bit sore & sluggish (I didn’t eat well yesterday)but made it onto the mat just the same. Today’s practice was a hip-opening hatha yoga routine. I’ve been looking forward to a video that focused on hip-opening, & was excited to give this one a try. Some of the hip openers (& chest openers) were pretty intense, but they worked well. The level of these videos continues to be a bit above my comfort level, but I make a few modifications & push on, listening to my body. After all, if you don’t challenge yourself, you’ll never get any better!

Day 6: Wednesday, June 15th

I’m starting to get into a routine now. Today’s practice was a strong & balanced power yoga routine. It felt good!

Day 7: Thursday, June 16th

I was very happy this morning to see that today’s video was for a slow s& restorative stretch. Sarah Beth’s videos have been great at pushing me out of my comfort zone, but I really love yoga because it connects me to me body & helps me to destress.


It feel great to have completed something I’ve though about doing for a long time! I definitely could see the positive benefits of this yoga challenge in my mental & physical well-being. While I’ve been practicing yoga here & there for a while now, this challenge has given me the kick in the butt to hit the matt at my local yoga studio come fall.

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Race #4: Pi Run

My fourth race for #16racesin2016 was Epic Races‘ Pi Run. The organizers host an event in Michigan, but also encourage virtual participants from all over the world to run 3.14 miles on or near March 14, which is Pi Day!

I did my run the week before Pi Day & it was my best 5 k time to date. I had motivating music pumping through my earphones at the gym, & a real sense of adrenaline. It felt amazing to go all out, pushing myself & working incredibly hard. You know those days where your legs, heart, & mind are all working together? This was one of those rare days. The feeling of accomplishment when I was able to look at a time just over 28:00 was incredible. (Okay, it was 3.12 miles. But pretty close!)



Things got even better a couple of weeks later when I picked up my mail. I was expecting a race medal to show up, but was really confused when I opened the package & found some crumbs. It turns out the awesome people at Epic Races had mailed me a legit personal-sized cherry pie! I also received a wonderfully soft T-shirt that has become one of my favourites, a finisher’s medal, & a happy, “Congratulations!” message.


Any race that means I receive a pie in the mail, all the way from the US, is a winner in my books. I enjoyed the pie as a celebration of being 25% of the way to my goal.


I think this one might have to become a yearly tradition! If you’re interested, the 2017 event is already posted on Epic Races’ website. I give this race a gold medal for the swag, & fun theme.

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Race #3: Molly Weasley Ugly Jumper Run

I discovered Hogwarts Running Club on instagram last fall & was really excited by what I found. They are a charitable organization that organizes virtual races with various Harry Potter themes. An “owl” is sent to your address with a race medal, you print off a race bib using your own printer, & whenever you have time, you can complete the event, then enjoy your new race bling.(Who doesn’t love race bling?!) Trying to fit 16 races into an already busy schedule is daunting, so I love the idea of a virtual race that is flexible in terms of dates.


When you register for an event with Hogwarts Running Club, you can select a house to run for, which is a fun extra perk. I decided to go all in, & took a pretty in-depth online quiz to find out which house the sorting hat would have put me in, had I ever received one of those elusive Hogwarts Letters. I was sorted into Ravenclaw & registered for the Molly Weasley Ugly Jumper Run benefitting One Warm Coat, an organization with the mission to provide anyone in need with a warm coat, free of charge.

On February 15 I got my butt out of bed & to the gym to complete this event; my first ever virtual race! At first, I felt a little silly wearing the race bib on the treadmill all alone on a quiet morning. One thing I really enjoy about entering races is the atmosphere & adrenaline that come from running surrounded by other people, but it was stress-free & fun to do a race on my own & I actually really enjoyed it.


A few weeks later, this fabulous medal arrived in my mailbox, courtesy of an “owl” from the running club. This organization is extremely well-organized & exists for a good cause. I will definitely be signing up for another one of their running events in the near future.

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SCUBA Training: Part 1

My new mantra: Write down what you want to achieve. Then, take steps to make those things happen. 

I’ve wanted to learn to Scuba dive for ages, but always put it on the “someday” list that I keep in the back of my head. This year, I’m following my strategy from 2015 of making a list of the things I want to accomplish, then taking concrete actions to make those goals a reality. With this in mind, I actually signed up for my Open Water Diver course from SDI in January!

“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”
― Jordan Belfort

Last Friday, I headed to Edmonton for the first day of my certification course at The Dive Outfitters. Cheryl & Ross, the instructors, were both extremely welcoming and helpful. We learned about the different pieces of Scuba equipment, and how to assemble them. At first, “O” rings, BCDs, & regulators were foreign and intimidating, but that quickly vanished. We had a quick break and reconvened at the NAIT pool for an easy 200 m swim test. Next, we donned the equipment for the first time and slipped into the pool’s shallow end. We practiced breathing through the regulators underwater (absolutely terrifying at first!) and removing & clearing our masks underwater.


Saturday began with a classroom session, then back to the pool. This time, we performed a 10 minute “float test” of treading water in the deep end, which wasn’t too difficult thanks to my years of lifeguard training. We partnered up with dive buddies (Thanks George!) & got our Scuba gear on standing up. Holy moly! The full BCD unit plus a tank of oxygen is heavy! We practiced stride entries into the water, then went through a series of practice drills. Then, it was back to The Dive Outfitters for a final classroom session on Dive Tables. They’re designed to help divers to calculate safe lengths & depths of consecutive dives. They were tricky at first, but I think I’ve got the hang of them now.

By Sunday, I was starting to feel more comfortable. We had a final classrooms session in the morning, and a final pool session at 11:00. We spent the majority of the time trying to achieve neutral buoyancy, and playing with our dive computers to achieve proper ascent/descent rates and equalization.

“To breath underwater is one of the most fascinating & peculiar sensations imaginable.”

-Tec Clark

We also practiced skills in a cold water hood & gloves, since all Scuba diving in Alberta lakes requires this equipment. Finally, we went back to The Dive Outfitters for a final review & paperwork.

I was terrified of breathing underwater at first, but by Sunday I was kicking around the perimeter of the pool, hovering only a foot or two above the bottom.


Now, I have six months to complete the outdoors portion. This calls for a trip to Jasper, the BC coast, or somewhere hot! Stay tuned.

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