June 1, 2015 § 3 Comments
Tuesday would have been my father’s 93rd birthday. He’s been gone for 26 years but a surprise reminder occurred when my older brother, Bob Jr., delivered our dad’s rolltop desk from Canmore, Alberta, recently.
The old piece of furniture has endured a tough life. When I first grew up, it remained at the old farmhouse where my father was raised in North Rolla, B.C. It was moved into Dawson Creek, thankfully, before vandals burned down all the buildings at the farm.
Once at our house, the desk, probably more than 100 years old, proved to be a landing spot for my father’s paperwork. I think I inherited my lack of filing prowess from him.
My father willed the desk to Bob and I snapped up the opportunity to take it when my brother began downsizing.
I remember always being fascinated with the desk – its many cubby holes, the deep drawers, the handiwork behind the rolltop, and the solid oak structure.
The arrival of the desk was an opportunity to connect with Bob, my sister-in-law, Louise, and their son, Logan. I hadn’t seen my nephew in a few years and memories of my dad rushed back into my head.
I’ve been without my father almost as long as I had him – I was 28 when he passed away.
The desk is a reminder of my father, beyond its physical presence. It is strong. It has character. Its dark stain makes it appear stoic. My father had an enduring quality, though he passed away much too young at age 66.
Although it needs some tender loving care, the desk is reminiscent of my dad’s relentless drive to excel as a highways foreman, a position in which he rarely missed a day’s work, even when seriously ill.
Dad might have been called a workaholic though that term wasn’t used widely in his generation.
I believe we share a lot of the same qualities – caring, compassion, generosity, a sense of fairness and justice, and a wry sense of humour. He was shy until he got to know people. I am the same, though my career choice has found me coming to grips with public speaking and schmoozing upon occasion.
He preferred talking one-on-one to people, often workmates about a project. Through practice, I have learned to be comfortable in crowds, though I like smaller groups, talking about shared interests like sports or music.
I gained my work ethic from Dad but also learned the value of playing hard, something he was just figuring out how to do when he passed away.
Ironically, he died on the way home after watching his first NHL hockey game in person. I have been to many professional sporting events live along with going to numerous concerts, another love of mine.
Dad’s idea of going on vacation was to get from points A to B as fast as possible. I enjoy compiling hordes of information and then plotting out a general plan, with room to be spontaneous.
I’m thrilled the arrival of the desk provided a new opportunity to think about my father.
Happy Birthday, Dad. We’ll take good care of your desk and continue thinking of you often.
March 16, 2015 § 3 Comments
I’ve been back in Canada for nearly two months after my year long adventure through 14 countries on 5 continents. I’m having a hard time grasping that year, it’s almost as though it didn’t really happen, like I kidnapped myself from my surroundings for just a brief second and then inserted myself back into my life–but with one difference.
All that baggage I held on to for so long, a lot of it isn’t there anymore.
I’ve come home and Calgary feels different. As I lay in bed this morning pondering what it’s become, it occurred to me that it might not be the city that has changed so much, the Wendy who left for Bangladesh in January, 2014 is not the one who returned from Costa Rica in January, 2015.
Somebody (me) messed with my insides last year, or rather, cleaned them all up!
The woman who has returned is a sharper version of myself, and one who’s developed a knack for standing up for herself and not putting up with my bullshit.
The biggest piece of me that’s missing (not to say that I miss it), is the guilt of being the sibling who lived after the accident that killed my brother. I grappled with that for many months, in fact I still have a lot of emotion tied into moving forward, but that’s more sadness and remorse for my former self, that I let her suffer with that guilt for as long as she did.
I know I’ve made a change in the way I take on guilt because I’m not switching one guilt only to shoulder another. I allow myself to feel emotion and find ways to move through it, sometimes that’s journalling, sometimes it’s giving myself a pj and junk food day, other days it’s treating myself to exercise and as many vitamin-packed foods as I can handle.
It also took me some time to figure out my process of letting go. Moving past the guilt involved feeling it first, and I mean bringing it right up close to me and embracing every ounce of it. Those are not my favourite moments, I can assure you. What drove me at first to stick it out was just being fed up with the way I had set up my life, the lack of support I nurtured for myself and trying to make up for a life that held so much promise, but that wasn’t even my own. I didn’t know if where I was headed was any better, but I knew it would be different. That was enough.
I spent time watching what happens when I physically let go of something. I’d hang on to a pen from my bag and let it drop onto the table or the bed, just to give my mind a visual of what letting go looks like. It’s quite literally a decision to relax and open up.
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
– Mark Twain
Letting go in an emotional sense for me involves forgiveness, and has a lot to do with the tattoo I got in Bali last year. When I visited my step-sister, Laura, in Costa Rica, she shared a mantra that’s helped me take this further. She strives to simply meet people where they’re at, and wherever that is is just dandy.
Laura also shared a video interview of Wayne Dyer with me. The interview is about EFT tapping and has a lot of great points, but I found a different message in the video as Nick Ortner and Wayne Dyer talk about what emotion they’re beginning to release as they complete the EFT tapping:
Wayne Dyer: “I was thinking about someone else who has done some things that I’ve felt upset about…”
Nick Ortner: “You mean you still get upset at people?”
Wayne Dyer: “Absolutely.”
Nick Ortner: “I thought you had reached enlightenment.”
Wayne Dyer: “I have! Enlightenment is part of it.”
Woah, Wayne Dyer still gets annoyed with people? I drew a new conclusion and direction to my healing–and it’s made all the difference. Eradication of the emotion or the issue is not the way through. I will always have experiences that bring me happiness, sadness, guilt, pleasure and a plethora of feelings. But they’re just that, experiences to be lived through with as much of myself as I can muster and when they’ve ended, it’s time to let them go and to make room for more life to move through me.
February 23, 2015 § 3 Comments
The end of February is a favourite time of year. Winter is coming to a close and it’s a tradition in our family to watch the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Even Mica, our seven-month-old puppy, joined us this year, frequently gawking up at the TV with curiosity at the furkids running into our living room.
This year’s viewing was bittersweet. It’s a year ago later this week that we suddenly lost our beloved Jasper.
If there was ever an example of how much a pooch becomes part of the family, it was Jasper. I’ve written a few times about how Jasper thought he was a human.
My eyes welled up often as I watch the Dog Show as they described the role canines play in watching out for their families while providing amusements for adults and children.
It’s a cliché, but dogs really are humans’ best friends. They are loyal and don’t hold grudges. They’re always ready to make our day. They make you smile, even when you don’t feel like it. They provide comfort and are the best listeners, whether we have tales of woe or happy stories to share.
Shortly after we brought Mica into our home in September, a work colleague, Karry, shared the verse below by author Erica Jong. It perfectly describes what dogs mean to us:
Dogs come into our lives to teach us about love,
they depart to teach us about loss.
A new dog never replaces an old dog;
It merely expands the heart. If you have loved
many dogs your heart is very big.
Joyce and I have been married nearly 29 years and we’ve had a dog almost 27 of those.
First, there was Sammi. She was always nervous and traumatized from shoddy treatment prior to joining our family. She was smart-as-a-whip, the most patient big sister when Peter was a toddler, gnawing on her legs, and the most loyal dog ever.
Then there was Jasper, a golden lab/shepherd/mutt cross. He was once described diplomatically as rambunctious by a neighbour but he wanted to be everyone’s friend. His belief that he was a person was defined by taking up his full third share of our bed.
Mica, a Bouvier-Golden Retriever cross, is still forming her personality, which, much like her fur, is still trying to figure itself out – she was born completely black but now tufts of white are showing through.
Anyone who thinks dogs are just animals has never come home from a stressful day to a happy-faced puppy, wagging its tail, bounding up to greet you.
Here’s to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for reminding us of all the various breeds of these fine companions. And here’s to all the joy they bring my family and all the other furparents out there.
December 1, 2014 § Leave a comment
My countdown is on for one last trip this year. I’m two weeks out from a 5 week journey to Costa Rica. After nearly a year on the road living out of my backpack, I don’t think I’d be making this trek if it weren’t for the family involved.
Woe be me, I know, to be embarking on another trip this year. It’ll be my 14th country in 2014. I am incredibly excited (and grateful and fortunate) to take this voyage. It will be with my dad and step mother to visit my step sister and her family. They took a 6 month sabbatical to travel to Costa Rica with their 3 kids. I haven’t seen Costa Rica since I was 17 on a school trip.
It’s a family trip of a lifetime. An opportunity for memories I just won’t say no to. However, the yearning that sent me out the door around this time last year is now yearning for parts of the life I put on hold.
A lot can happen in a year. I look at the people I’ve met during my travels, the experiences and friendships I’ve forged, as well as the ways in which I will never be the same. When I left, I told people it was the perfect time to go. No house, no dog, no debt, no husband, no kids… nothing to answer to. And it was perfect. It was exactly what I needed.
But while I’ve been away, your lives have continued on too. You’ve met new loved ones, lost friends, made your way through your own happiness and sorrow. I’ve experienced your lives at a distance. While I wouldn’t trade this year for anything, I’m not looking to make the same exchange in the future.
A year is a long time.
It’s long enough to show me what kind of trade I’m making if I keep a completely nomadic lifestyle. Though there’s a balance to be struck somewhere I’m sure.
They say home is where your heart is. Mine lies in my connections. Although they are becoming scattered throughout the globe, they’re still concentrated most in one place.
There is nothing quite like the friendships and relationships I come back to in Alberta. It’s each of you who bring me home.
Doesn’t matter where I go
This place will always be my home
Yeah I’ve been Alberta Bound for all my life
And I’ll be Alberta Bound until I die
– Paul Brandt
October 16, 2014 § 1 Comment
Remembrance Day hasn’t meant as much to me in past years as it does today. I would pay my respects at a local ceremony, wear my red poppy on my collar, observe my moment of silence for those who’ve given their lives to give me mine… I knew in my head that it was a significant day, but my only connection to why came from textbooks in school, articles I read in newspapers or magazines or stories told through TV shows or movies. It’s difficult to grasp the heart of why we remember when it wasn’t something I had experienced first hand.
This morning, my first read was from Peter Mansbridge on why he remembers on November 11th. I thought about the many sites I’ve visited during my travels this year that have caused me pause.
In May, I spent two weeks in Malaga, Spain. One day, I took a walk out along the beach and followed the path on past the city limits and along the coast. After walking about an hour I looked up to see a sign that read “Paseo de los Canadienses.” It’s a promenade in tribute to the humanitarian aid Canadian Dr Norman Bethune provided during the Spanish Civil War in 1937.
In September, I found myself in Germany. A walking tour through Hamburg brought us to what had once been an impressive cathedral, now left in ruins after it had been hit by a bomb. We also visited a chocolate factory that was once the location where the gas for the gas chambers in the Nazi camps was made.
A week later, through the vivid storytelling of my tour guide Kate with Fat City Bike Tours, I visited the Berlin Wall and the Cold War era of Berlin.
The tour took us through the division of Germany and Berlin after WWII, the tensions between East and West that lead to the creation of the Berlin Wall in 1961, many of the stories of families separated and its unforeseen fall in 1989.
The Cold War is said to have ended in 1991. I never realized how close I came to growing up in a world entangled in another World War.
We also visited the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum, a concentration camp a short train ride outside of Berlin. It was a heavy day, retracing the footsteps of WWII prisoners, standing within feet of a gas chamber used in the last 80 years for mass murder.
In early October, I walked across a pontoon bridge in Antwerp with thousands of other Antwerpians. It was the 100th anniversary commemorating a pontoon bridge that was built that same weekend in 1914 to help the Belgian King and many of the city’s inhabitants escape invasion by the Germans in WWI. More than 1.5 million people fled the city–many thousands via that bridge, waiting in a lineup a lot longer than the one I was in to cross the 370 metre temporary flotation.
I imagined having to leave many of my belongings behind, not having the weeks to go through them that I had as I prepared to pack up my house and put what I wanted to keep in a storage unit.
Also in Antwerp, around the back of The Steen Castle, the oldest standing building in the city, I came upon a plaque commemorating the role Canadian troops played in the liberation of the city during WWII.
The plaque reads:
On 16 September 1944, 550 soldiers of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI), 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Denis Whitaker, DSO, advanced into Antwerp to prevent the enemy from destroying the port facilities. For the next three weeks the RHLI, supported by the Belgian Resistance under the command of Colonel Eugene Colson, fought a number of actions to secure the harbour’s vital equipment. Accompanied by the Resistance, the Canadians then began the advance to Woensdrecht and Zuid-Beveland (The Netherlands) as part of the overall offensive to free the approaches to Antwerp.
On 28 November 1944, a Canadian supply ship became the first vessel to steam up the river Scheldt into Antwerp harbour, bringing the essential materials that contributed significantly to the Allied victory. Of the almost 13,000 allied casualties in this campaign, 6,500 were Canadian.
4 September 1944-4 September 2004
When you turn a corner and find a tribute to one or many Canadians who’ve given their lives to impact that part of the world for the better; when you sit in a centuries-old cathedral that is nothing now but shattered walls and rubble and still wears the black marks from an exploded bomb; when you walk in the footsteps of people who only 100 years ago were fleeing a city under fire; when you encounter a wall that came down in your lifetime but you were too young to understand what was happening and what it meant at the time; or when you read the more recent headlines about the targeted attacks on Canadian Parliament and military, the reason why we remember becomes crystal clear.
I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the country in which I live, for every person who has stood up to protect the rights and freedoms that support the life I’m fortunate to lead and for the past and present roles Canadians play in protecting those rights and freedoms beyond our borders.
September 15, 2014 § 3 Comments
Some of my older friends and family are in the throes of determining how their futures should unfold. Often, they have been busy caring for others – children, spouses and elderly parents – and have never really carved out their own niche.
A few younger friends are also busy charting their own courses, trying to weigh all the possibilities and capitalize on opportunities. One young marketing and communications professional has a small business sideline. Another is employed in the restaurant sector contemplating how to parlay her post-secondary education into a relevant career. A third is exploring human resources related prospects in between positions.
I noted that while decades separate the people involved in these conversations, one thing is common – bucket lists include some similar themes: world travel, seeing favourite entertainers live and even pursuing new hobbies or interests.
This got me thinking of my own bucket list and I determined that in order to qualify, entries must be achievable – without intervention of circumstances such as lottery wins or acts of God – thankfully I don’t cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
For brevity, I have narrowed my list to 10 and there are some commonalities with friends, young and old. These are in no particular order:
- Bruce Springsteen is a favourite performer and I’ve seen him do a solo acoustic show but now I want to see him play with the E Street Band.
- Like my friends, global travel is on my list, but I will be specific: I want to travel to Belgium and Luxembourg – my grandmother and grandfather on my dad’s side were from those respective countries. I have no links there, but would love to see where the Olinger legacy began.
- I also want to travel to every region of Canada. I have yet to visit Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, and the Yukon so I have a great start.
- Now that I have begun going to the gym, I want to get rid of the pot belly.
- Eliminating my dependence on diabetes medication and pills for related afflictions, for that matter.
- To ride in a hot air balloon.
- For blogmate Wendy and I to complete a book(s) from the content of these blogs.
- My short story on my dearly departed furkid Jasper will be published as a book.
- Retirement to Vancouver Island. Joyce and I have travelled there four of the last five years and a few times earlier. It appeals greatly to both of us as a place that has it all.
- Finding another #furkid for our home. This is not just a matter of getting another dog. Both of our previous pooches and their personalities have been an integral part of our family life.
Now, of course, achieving any goal means setting realistic action steps.
In his Book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey referenced the second of these as: Thinking with the End in Mind.
Completing a book, for example, takes investments of time, money and courage – we need to be certain others will be as excited about our writing as we are. Similarly with Jasper tale, I have to take the necessary publishing steps, most importantly, completing the task of converting the short story into book form.
Committing to bring another dog into the home, likely a puppy, takes a lot of time and energy since we truly believe pets are part of the family.
Taking on diabetes with a plan of eliminating medications means a daily commitment to exercise, managing diet and controlling stress (the heredity factor is already there). Admittedly, the necessary dedication has not been there.
I must admit that health-related items really shouldn’t be on a bucket list. They should be musts to pursue. However, having them there helps to set priorities.
So, the question I have to ask myself or anyone else, what are you willing to do to cross items off your list?
Since most of us have multiple things we want to achieve, maybe we should view our bucket lists as an action plans.