What Brings You Home?

December 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Flickr credit: Nicolas Raymond

Flickr credit: Nicolas Raymond

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


Still Searching For Home

November 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

Earlier this year, I entered the 2012 Clem and Muriel Collins Writing Contest through the Grande Prairie Public Library. As we used to say in my days working with the Ontario Lottery Corporation, I was a non-winner.

As competitive as I am, I actually don’t think of the outcomes – yet to place in three tries – as winning and losing. It really is more about how the theme resonates with me.

Firstly, although I’ve been a writer for 30 years, it’s only been the last few years where I have really explored my creative, non-journalistic, corporate side. Second, as with my story on Jasper, my dog, these entries can later be converted into a larger project – I continue to tinker with a book manuscript. Third, because I have this blog, I can always feature my work here, as I have with a couple of earlier submissions.

Lastly, I can take the topic in a different direction which is what I’m doing with this post.

The theme for this year’s competition was Home. Instead of pursuing some initial, more emotional thoughts about that word means to me, I tried my first-ever piece of fiction and wrote a baseball-related piece. I want to go back now and share what Home means to me.

When I first heard the theme, I began thinking of the quotable quotes that use Home, like: “Home is where the heart is” or “Keep the home fires burning” or “There is no place like Home”. It turns out that when I actually read the brochure as I started to compose my entry, all these quotes and others were used as examples of what Home might mean.

While those phrases do have some connection, especially for someone who’s been happily married for 26 years, I struggled to put any strong feeling around them. I was challenged to explain what was really on my mind. It was then my wife suggested I attempt writing something totally fictitious.

Now that I’ve given it some deeper thought, Home is a place of the mind – somewhere I continue to seek. I think this relates to an earlier blog where I wrote that I always think there is something more – new things to learn and higher levels of achievement, professionally and personally.

Who knows whether I’ll ever really reach home from that standpoint? It’s the journey that matters.

As I get more life experience and work toward more of that elusive balance people yearn to achieve, perhaps I’m getting closer to my definition of home. Heck, it was just three years ago that this blog was born and I can truly say there have been many more personal and professional achievements since then.

On the professional side, one of my proudest moments occurred earlier this month with the launch of the City of Grande Prairie’s Citizen Engagement Program, activateGP.

Interestingly, at the kick-off the meaning of Home arose. Some participants think of amenities or particular qualities of a community, like friendliness, that make a place feel like home.

Since Grande Prairie has doubled in size since 1991, many residents are from somewhere else. For quite a number, it is that former country or other part of Canada that is Home. Some are unsure yet whether their current location is home.

To me, home in that sense is where you are situated. I’ve found comfort in the places I’ve lived across the country and re-invested through volunteer activities in every community. I have always said, “Home is where you hang your hat.”

I was talking to my friend Nikki Thompson, the marketing co-ordinator for nine10 Incorporated in Grande Prairie, the other day. Her thoughts tie nicely into this piece.

Here is what she had to say: “In 2009, I was in college and I had the feeling I was constantly missing out on what the world has to offer. I thought, ‘What the heck does Grande Prairie have? Nothing, that’s what!’ I felt unsettled. However, I was heading to New York City with our marketing class at the start of the New Year. NYC would surely have what I was looking for as it’s the hub for everything new and exciting. I’d never miss out on anything. I got there and it was incredible but nothing worth leaving Grande Prairie for. It is hard to explain but my world becoming smaller had cured my need to experience everything first.”

“Home is where you feel settled mentally, where comfort and remaining opportunistic meet to keep one engaged in where they are – a sense of belonging with purpose.”

Where is home to you? Is it a specific place? Are you there?

Listening To Internal Voices?

July 23, 2012 § 2 Comments

My wife came home from a recent psychic fair to advise me the psychic told her that I’d been ignoring my internal spirit for the last 25 to 30 years. As someone who’s done a lot of self-assessment, I was intrigued by this.

In fact, I saw a strong connectedness with some other thoughts I’d had recently.

You see, I’d considered reflecting on a related topic for the Grande Prairie Public Library Writing Competition this spring in which the theme was Home. However, I chose a different tact and entered my first-ever piece of fiction. But I digress into a future topic.

This blog is an opportunity to explore both what the psychic said and my own sentiments about what the word home actually means to me.

Aside from the obvious clichés like, home is where the heart is, I’d originally thought about expressing my feeling in the writing competition about that word – a place I haven’t been yet in my life journey.

I’ve continually felt there’s always something more – knowledge and skills to gain, new accomplishments, higher personal satisfaction, deeper relationships, and more meaning in life, in general.

In my career, I’ve always recognized for myself that while you never stop learning, there can become a time where the potential to get flat outweighs the ability to grow significantly. As a result, I’ve explored several positions along a continuum in the communications world.

Away from work, there’ve always been additional volunteer opportunities, more places to travel to, new music to check out, and I could invest more time in rooting for my favourite sports teams. Co-writing this blog developed out of an interest in publishing a motivational/inspirational book(s) and I’ve entered three writing competitions.

I can also always strive to be a better husband, friend and father.

Will I ever have a sense of arriving home? I don’t know that I won’t feel driven on a personal or professional level, that there won’t be another “adventure”, as my wife’s cousin, Nancy McGuire, described it the other day in a Skype conversation.

So what about what the psychic said?

Like I mentioned earlier, I do think a lot – sometimes too much – so I’m very familiar with an inner voice.

Have I been ignoring mine, as the psychic said? If she is on to something, I would say it is more likely a case of not recognizing what the inner voice is saying.

Could it be that my continued thirst for knowledge and readiness for change are attempts to satisfy a voice I do not understand?

I mentioned this dilemma to a couple of people who know me pretty well for their thoughts.
Friend Hope Maurice said while I’m clearly not dissatisfied or lacking in contentedness, the psychic’s comments could mean that I don’t live enough in the moment as a result of constantly striving for something beyond today.

Hmmm. Interesting.

I truly do get fixated on a great hockey game and love to rock out at concerts. There’s nothing like hiking to a spectacular viewpoint.

I recognize I have yet to reach my full potential.

Although my motivation is always high, I don’t have long-range plans or specific goals to reach. Many people my age are already contemplating retirement and I continue to think that there are still many more possibilities – more to do.

Chelsea Lewis, a colleague at the City of Grande Prairie, says this contemplation I’m writing about is something she can certainly relate to – though she is just beginning her career.

She wondered: “Is this a case of “the grass must be greener on the other side” or perhaps a feeling that you deserve more than what you currently have – that you were destined to achieve something greater and won’t settle for less?”

Perhaps Hope is right, she says.

“Maybe it’s the fact that you can’t enjoy the moment enough because you are caught up in the ideal – the notion of self-realization/inner peace that hasn’t been achieved yet – that you don’t find the current moment fulfilling enough.”

Could all of these thoughts be partially right? Is it possible that I have simply not recognized what that spirit is saying? Are all these thoughts just a sign that I am still just trying to figure out everything?

Perhaps I really haven’t determined what I want to do when I grow up.

Maybe there are many competing voices in my head and it’s resulted in scrambled messages.

It could be that while I do have moments and enjoy them at the time, my mind is already conjuring up the next possibility.

What’s that you say, Spirit?

A quick thanks for traditions

October 12, 2010 § 3 Comments


Thanksgiving Turkey

Image via Wikipedia


They say that if you repeat something for three consecutive years, it qualifies as a tradition.

My Aunt Verna reminded me this year that it was my seventh consecutive Thanksgiving with them since 2004.  I think that more than qualifies my visits out near Swift Current, Saskatchewan as tradition.

For a while now I’ve been trying to find my place in an ever shifting family scene.  Wherever I can find a constant, I cling to it.  As it turns out, Thanksgiving with my dad’s family is a big one.

No major holiday is ever complete without a full spread of food.  From salads, to the main course, and then onto desserts, a Peters’ table is always full and a Peters’ stomach often left bursting at the seams.  Thanksgiving is no exception.  A turkey big enough to feed a dozen or more people and still leave leftovers, followed up with ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, carrots, at least five different kinds of salads and finished with six different kinds of pies (chocolate, banana cream, pumpkin, coconut, apple and lemon meringue), yes sir, nobody at that table leaves hungry.

We always spend a large part of Saturday preparing all of the food for Sunday’s big dinner.  Vegetables are chopped, salads are made, fresh buns make their way out of the oven.

Saturday evening, my cousins and I spend making turkey hats.  We started out with just newspaper hats that we painted one year and called Thanksgiving Hats.  We’re now on our fifth generation hat and each year we expand on the concept.  One year we even had real feathers.

A large part of the weekend is also dedicated to kittens.  Being that we’re out in the country, there are a few farm cats around and there are always at least a few kittens for us to track down and play with.  It’s a wonder I haven’t come home with any yet.

When Monday morning rolls around and it’s time to think about heading home, I get in line with my cousins for a share in the leftovers first.  We take turns dishing out what’s left of the food into containers to feed us in the coming days.  I even bring my own tupperware.

Tradition gives us something to anchor ourselves to, and another piece of life that we can begin to identify with.  For that, and for the people who are a part of my traditions, I am thankful.  Because each piece becomes a building block in my life, both to build from and to build toward.

What traditions do you look forward to?  And how do they help shape your life?

Sweet Memories Are Made of This – Food

September 27, 2010 § 8 Comments

I was talking to my friend Redawna Kalynchuk, a food blogger, sugar artist and gift basket designer from nearby Sexsmith, recently about how her writing about food preparation is working with two art forms at once.

Then I started thinking about how many wonderful memories are associated with food.

churchill’s roast beef and yorkshire pudding

Image by Joits via Flickr

Amongst my earliest recollections as an adult was the Sunday fare when I boarded with the Hunter family in Richmond, B.C. while attending college. What particularly stands out is the Yorkshire pudding that accompanied the roast beef and gravy.

Of course, that was just a precursor to the pecan pie! I’ve had a weakness for that sweet pastry delight ever since.

I boarded with the Hunters for three years and we’ve remained close friends – more like family – over the years. In fact, I just celebrated my 50th birthday with them.

It is 27 years this fall since Joyce and I started dating. At one of our first outings, I made a small wager for dinner. I won. Joyce made me Chinese food. I reciprocated with a spaghetti meal shortly after. Very nice memories of our first weeks of dating!

Over our 20 years in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, nearly every Christmas dinner was shared with Jeni and Jim Rice and their daughters in alternating years. Our kids are grown now and dispersed. We live three provinces away, but I can almost smell Jim’s rhubarb-strawberry pie baking as I type.

It was wonderful to share these many special occasions with another family when neither of us had relatives in the Sault.

Speaking of food and family/friends could not be complete without mentioning my sister-in-law, Louise, and the sumptuous carrot cake recipe she shared with me many years ago. It’s been the highlight of many gatherings in our home and in the workplaces Joyce and I have had over the years.

When I mentioned my idea for this blog, many friends ate up the idea of sharing their memories.
Here are a few:

Jackie Ostashek, Parkland County Communications Co-ordinator
My Baba (Grandmother) has mastered the art of making cabbage rolls. She makes them so tiny, they are barely the size of the end of your thumb – and sooooo delicious. She always makes them in this ceramic dish that is probably 50+ years old. I swear that is the magic behind the most spectacular cabbage rolls.

I was nervous about telling her I’d become a vegetarian. But my Baba, being the amazing lady she is, took it in stride. Knowing how much I love my cabbage rolls, she makes a point of making them, bacon-free, every time I visit.

This amazing and spectacular woman turns 98 October 1st. For a woman of her age, she is shockingly spry and modern in her thinking. I can only aspire to be half as amazing as she is. But no matter how much I try, I will never come near her talent in making her tiny, tender and amazing cabbage rolls – even if I inherit the old ceramic dish.

Alina Popescu, Principal, Mirror Communications, Bucharest, Romania
They don’t make bread like they used to!

I might sound like an old lady, but the statement is nevertheless true. The best bread I’ve ever had was while visiting my grandparents (from my dad’s side of the family) in a small village near the town of Ramnicu Sarat.

Getting the bread was quite an adventure. I’d take my tiny bike and ride it to the bakery, a trip that seemed to take ages, when it was actually a 10-15 minute bike ride, but time always flows a lot slower when you’re young.

I’d buy this huge, round bread, put it in my bag and go back home. I would just walk along the bike because the bread was way too heavy for me to be able to ride. I’d get home to an extremely warm and lively kitchen where my grandfather would wait for me with stories and smiles while grandma would bicker about the meal being ready for quite a while.

We’d place this huge, wonderfully smelling bread in the middle of the table and break steamy pieces out of it as it was too fresh to cut it.

Whenever I sense the smell of bread resembling that special type that I cannot find no matter how long I look for it, I am taken back to a place of extremely long days filled with wonder, where I never asked for any given day to be longer than 24 hours.

Grande Prairie businessman Brooks Hoffos

Shauna and I were in Cinque Terre, Italy. We hopped off a train and grabbing a lunch break in a quaint little restaurant.

We had a local Chianti wine and spaghetti and local fresh clams. Now, whenever we cook spaghetti and clams, it takes me back to that time and place. We shared a table with an Aussie and an American. We laughed. We drank. We ate. We bonded. It was a great experience. Italy also made us the cooks we are today. It was a life changing experience! Forever!

Debra Ward, Edmonton Communications and Professional writer
I can’t remember what we even ate but my family and I were in Christchurch, New Zealand having dinner at this really nice restaurant when we all had an attack of the “sillies”. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, made us laugh uproariously. …It was a memory moment.

The first Christmas back in Canada was the best turkey dinner with all the trimmings dinner I have ever had. It was special because it was our first “in Canada” Christmas meal after living overseas for so long and because it would turn out to be my mom’s last.

Dale Tiedemann, Youth Facilitator, City of Grande Prairie
Family Dinners at Grandma’s place were the best! Always delicious with home-grown vegetables (she had a market garden)! It’s always amazing watching her cook…no need for a recipe, just add a little of this and a little of that! Plus, you can’t forget about the home-baked goodies for dessert…chocolate pie with whipped cream! Yum! 🙂

Grandma doesn’t cook as often as when I was younger, but when she does … bliss!


So, what stories do you have where you and family and/or friends partook in some great food while forging wonderful memories? Want to share any special recipes?

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