Lori Knutson

Author

Decisions, Decisions

Right now, I’ve got a lot of decisions to make. When I think about it, though, I’d way rather have decisions to make than limited choices in life. Making decisions is hard, but it’s better to have choices than not.

For the past year I attended Simon Fraser University, taking their online Editing Certificate program. My courses were very challenging and very interesting. The year flew by, and soon I’ll be a certified editor.

Finishing up one thing and starting another means more decisions to make. But isn’t that the point of getting an education? An education should ideally provide more choices and open more doors. I hope mine will. We’ll see.

Choice is a privilege.

Because I’m privileged I have so many choices. I’m fortunate to have an education that I could afford to get. Nowadays, young students are typically guaranteed to be in debt for a very long time to get a post-secondary education.

I remember meeting a young lawyer back in Grande Prairie. She was about three years younger than me. But in that short span between our ages, the cost of a university education in Canada had sky rocketed. This professional woman, well employed within a local law office, was living with her parents so that she could pay down her student debt.

It’s possible she enjoyed living with her folks. It wasn’t my dream to live with my parents at 28 years old, and so I viewed her experience through my own biases, of course. To me, she seemed trapped by debt. Still, that debt gave her a fulfilling career and a good way to make a living.

She chose to shoulder debt to obtain the education she wanted, and that choice is a privilege.

Hard times mean limited choices.

From here my choices all look pretty good. I’m not between a rock and a hard place. “Lori, leap off this cliff or leap off that cliff. And, no, you can’t have a parachute, so stop asking.”

I’ve been in that uncomfortable place where I just had to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. At times, I’ve had no choice. I’ve done jobs I didn’t want to do and lived in less-than-ideal conditions so that I could escape situations I couldn’t stay in. Those were hard times. Everyone has them. Hard times show up differently in everyone’s lives, but if you’re born, you have them. That’s how it goes.

My choices are all good.

Going forward, I’ve got a lot of choices. My problem isn’t that I have no direction; my problem is that I have too many directions!

Now that I’m nearly finished my editing program, I’d like to work as an editor and writer. I want to help people make their projects the best they can be. I’d love this, but it means that I’ll need to start a business. That enterprise is chockfull of decisions.

I also miss being in the classroom and plan to substitute teach after Christmas. It will be fun to be with students again, but every job opportunity comes with decisions: whether or not to accept the offer, what to wear, what to pack for lunch.

Lunch and clothes might seem like small considerations, but I haven’t had to decide what to pack for lunch or what to wear to work for nearly a year! I can’t bring a gallon of jasmine tea and a handful of cashews for lunch, and I can’t wear yoga pants to work. Things will have to change.

Focus and quiet are wonderful.

As my life changes again, I’ll have to be careful not to get distracted by too many projects and too many activities. Over the last year I’ve come to appreciate focus and quiet. I’d like to maintain focus and quiet at least in some corners of my life.

That’s another choice. I can choose to work frantically, bouncing from one project to another, or I can choose to focus on one or two things and do them very well. But I have to decide to do it and be disciplined.

Given the choice, I’d choose choice.

There’s so much we can’t choose, so many decisions we’re not allowed to make. The chance to make decisions is a golden opportunity in a universe that decides much for us, from our place of birth to our genetic code. These are huge factors in determining how life will go, and we have no control over either of them.

I’ve been forced to make decisions because I’ve had the opportunity to make decisions. With freedom comes choice.

I was born into positive circumstances and in a war-free, wealthy country. I was born to parents who cared about education and born late enough in the world’s timeline to be allowed to get an education. The more I sit here and write, the more grateful I am for all the decisions I’ve made and all the ones I’ll need to make.

All this decision-making has led me to this conclusion: It’s hard to make choices, but it’s sure nice to have them.

The Great Escape Room

A little while ago I went with a group of friends to The Escape Squad in Camrose, Alberta. This series of escape rooms is an exercise in teambuilding. It’s a great reminder that we don’t get far in life or in escape rooms without the support of others.

In this case, our group completed (not quite!) the escape room for the fun of it, but I definitely see how this activity promotes teamwork in the workplace and how it can foster team building in any organization. Did I mention it was fun, as well?

Under Pressure

I’ll be careful here to not give away any escape room secrets. I think it’s safe to tell you that teams have a time limit of 45 minutes to make their way through the escape room. There’s a large countdown clock on the wall with a huge red digital display ticking away the precious seconds.

The interactive game was cleverly constructed, with hints and clues planted in the most interesting places. Some were obvious; most were not. The scenario of the theme room we chose was based on finding our missing grandpa who’d conveniently left us a trail of clues.

If our mission had been real, poor old Grandpa would still be out there somewhere alone because we fell twelve minutes short of locating the dear man. I thought that was pretty good for our first time through. Grandpa may feel differently. If his clues had been easier, Grandpa would be safe at home now. I’d say he’s got himself to blame for that outcome.

Life’s problems, life’s puzzles

Life is easier when we surround ourselves with people whose skills complement our own. More by luck than design, the five members of our team had very complementary skills. I’m useless at locks of any kind but, luckily, we had the Lock Queen with us. Who knew?

Other members were great at detecting well-hidden hints, while others were excellent at reading and relaying important information. Other team members were able to locate helpful tools and able to figure out how they work and why we need them. Every one of us was scrambling the whole time. There was always something to do, something to solve.

What was my job in this whole adventure? I was a bit of a Keyboard Queen. Surprising, right? Such an egghead.

Working together builds relationships

Going into the game, I’d had only briefly met some of my team members. I didn’t know most of them very well at all. Upon coming out of the game, though, they were my buddies, the ones I could count on. This group of sleuths had my back and I knew it.

There’s nothing like working together to bring us together.

Life inevitably throws problems and puzzles at us that require the help of others to solve. No one’s an island, and it’s most effective to get assistance to get through life. That just how life goes. That day, that interactive game at The Escape Squad proved it.

Live Dangerously

Not so long ago when I went to get my Twinrix vaccination, I received from the pharmacy what I call The Red Folder of Fear. In it was information about all the devastating things that could happen to me if I leave my house.

For your benefit, dear reader, I’ll share some of these with you here. You can find more information to keep you at home at or, at the very least, keep you afraid at Health Canada’s website.

After all, travelling isn’t about enjoying the world. It’s about enjoying safety precautions.

“Too much sun can be harmful, so be careful!”

Yes. Here’s a newsflash: Sun can cause sunburn and sun can cause us to age, just like life does.

“If you are in the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., [You daredevil!] wear long pants, long sleeves and a hat with a wide brim.”

Safe and attractive. Don’t go out after dark, either, because that’s unsafe for a whole heap of other reasons. That gives you two or three hours in the morning, and another two hours before supper to experience the paradise you flew five hours to see and the vacation you spent a month’s wages on.

What’s my recommendation for avoiding the afternoon sun? Find a shady bar or a lawn chair under an umbrella and keep hydrating with whatever they’re serving. Prefer not to sample the local beverages? Go for a massage. That’s pretty safe, and it will get you out of that ridiculous hat and those long pants.

For the sake of all that’s good in the world, even if that dangerous sun is shining, leave your hotel room.

Here’s a good one:

“Wash your own salad greens in a solution of six drops of chlorine bleach in one litre of safe water. Soak for thirty minutes, and then rinse with safe water.”

Is the water safe? How can you know for sure? This whole water scenario sounds risky to me.

“Lori, are you coming downstairs for a margarita?”

“No, you go ahead. I’ve got lettuce soaking in the bathroom sink and I still need to peel some vegetables. Also, I’m frightened of the sunshine.”

Yes, peeling your own vegetables (and nuts?) is also advised in The Red Folder of Fear:

“Peel your own fruits, vegetables, and nuts.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve peeled a nut. It might be fun to try that again.

“Beware of local buses. They are often overcrowded, poorly maintained, and in a hurry.”

Suggested interpretation: If it’s good enough for the locals, it’s not good enough for me.

Local buses can be your ticket to affordable adventure. Seriously. Local public transportation can take you places you’d never think to visit on your own. Riding the bus is a great way to tour and a good chance to rub elbows with the locals.

Sure, don’t lick your fingers after clutching the bar on the back of the seat in front of you. But why would you do that? You’re a world-travelling bus rider. You’ll wash your hands and then lick your fingers.

Why were you clutching the seat bar or the one above your head? Because, often, these buses are in a hurry, so hold on tight and enjoy the scenery!

Don’t leave home without it.

The Red Folder of Fear lists twenty-four handy items you could pack in your travel medical kit depending on a list of ten factors I’m not going to mention. I suggest antihistamines, a pain reliever, bandages, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, something for nausea, and sunscreen.

Within its comprehensive list of twenty-four items, The Red Folder of Fear suggests bringing:

  • A thermometer.
  • A first aid book.
  • Shampoo for treating lice and scabies.
  • Disposable gloves.
  • Disinfectant.
  • A Swiss Army Knife. (I love this one and so do the folks at airport security!)

By the end of this list, I’m wondering if I’m becoming less of a tourist and more of a serial killer.

I get the impression from The Red Folder of Fear that the only safe place to vacation is on my big red couch at home. If I stay there, I decrease my chances of illness and injury, of trauma during and following a wild bus ride, and of having any fun.

While that folder increases my chances of staying alive, it greatly reduces the chance that I’ll get to experience life at all.

Everything Changes

Generally speaking, I like change. I think this is because I’ve had the opportunity to decide to make changes. Change is so much easier when it’s within our control. Very often it isn’t.

I was out and about the other day, and I encountered three different people who were in the midst of changes of their own. Changes come in all shapes and sizes, and these folks I met up with gave me three individual examples of change.

Illness

Last week, a close friend had a mild stroke. (Related observation: A mild stroke is one suffered by someone else.) A stroke presents a lot of changes. When I popped in at the hospital, he told me about some of these changes, the things he would need to relearn. Change that results from illness is not easy.

Illness can be sudden, as in my friend’s case, or it can sneak up on us slowly. Either way, illness brings change. Most of us who are fortunate to live long enough will experience the changes brought on by illness.

Relocation

After seeing my friend in the hospital, I ran into a woman that I’d had a professional association with while I was still working as a teacher. I asked her what was new and she told me that her husband was finally happy in his work. To find work that made him happy, though, her husband moved to another province.

Her plan is to join him sooner than later, but right now, she has her own commitments to fulfill. Relocation is a big change that involves a whole truckload of little changes, details stacked upon details.

In this case, a change was made for the benefit of one half of a pair. When you love people and live with them, you sometimes find yourself changing with them.

Switching careers

It really was a great day for running into people I hadn’t seen in a long time. Before my excursion was done, I met another casual acquaintance. I asked about his work and he told me this story:

Awhile back, on a trip larger centre my acquaintance noticed a homeless man sitting in a park. My friend quickly assured me that he didn’t mean to think this thought. His own exhaustion made it automatically pop into his mind, and my friend confessed, “I envied the homeless guy’s free time.”

In that moment my friend knew he had to quit his current job. He’d need to find one that wouldn’t leave him feeling jealous of the freedom of folks who have to sleep outside. Now he has a job that moves at a saner pace and he’s happier.

Change is coming. You can’t escape it so you might as well embrace it.

But how do we greet change? It’s a pretty tall order to look change in the eye and open the door, inviting it right into our lives. When change knocks, our most natural instinct is to bar the door and draw the blinds. Nobody’s home, change. Come back later.

It helps to let go of the idea that we can control every situation. We can’t. (This is an especially challenging fact for me to understand, but I’m working on it.)

Here are three steps that we can take together in learning to accept change and to just deal with it:

  1. Be flexible. Sure, go ahead and make plans. That way some of the things you want to happen will happen. But don’t cling too tightly to your plans. Be prepared for your plans to change.
  2. Ease up on your expectations. High expectations lead to disappointment more often than not. To best face change, lower your expectations of how events should unfold. Just let them unfold. (That’s a hard one.)
  3. Take change less personally. Life happens to everyone. It can feel like we’re going through it alone, but we’re all traveling along that same forward trajectory. Time makes sure of that. The road is sometimes bumpy and sometimes smooth. Change is not targeting any one of us. We’re simply living lives in which change is unavoidable.

I have the three people I met that one day to thank for my renewed perspective on change. We all have a different experience of change, but as long as we walk the earth, change is inescapable.

Sometimes change is good and other times it is very difficult, but it’s guaranteed to happen. The best we can do is to accept change and move forward with it.

Thanks to Fear

I’m afraid of a lot of things and I’m glad.  I’ve got fear to thank for many of the things I’ve done. If I’d been born brave, I wouldn’t have had to conquer fears. I could’ve sat courageously back and let the world pass by my cold, unwavering gaze.

Instead, every day I have to face my fears or do nothing. I couldn’t bear not experiencing life and so my only choice is to tackle my fears daily.

Fear has barred me from action, but that hasn’t happened for a while. Years ago, I got tired of living on the periphery of life, of letting my fears rule me, and so I begin living despite my fears. I started living with my fears.

I was a nervous, anxious kid, shy and quiet. As a young adult, I was withdrawn and socially awkward. To say I suffered from low self-esteem would be a comical understatement. I was the target of ridicule, of others’ cruel criticism and of my own stinging accusations.

Yet, here I am. Despite my fear and anxiety, and maybe even because of fear, my constant companion, I’m doing all right. I’m holding my ground in this world. Somehow I made friends with fear. We used to be on opposite sides. Now we work together.

Some of my recent fears

Here are some of the things I’ve been recently afraid of and did anyway:

  • Getting my Twinrix vaccination.
  • Performing with the local drama group.
  • Setting up a new website.
  • Recording a podcast.
  • Quitting my job.
  • Returning to university.
  • Completing major assignments.
  • Checking my scores on major assignments.

These are the big ones. The smaller ones are too many to list. We’re talking pages and pages.

Nothing to lose

I know that talk of death can sound morbid, but the reality of death has really helped me face my fears. Whenever I’m particularly afraid to move forward or take action, I remind myself that I’ve got nothing to lose because when all is said and done, I’m going to be dead. I can’t take risks or act brave in the grave. So now is the time.

That which scares me hasn’t killed me yet

None of the things I fear have killed me yet. I’ve ridden a million roller coasters that were steep and scary. I’m still here.

I’ve submitted articles and manuscripts here and there and everywhere. I received a million rejection letters and rejection emails. I’m still here.

I’ve taken plenty of flights, and I’ve whispered a little prayer and clutched the arms of my airplane seat during almost every landing. I’m still here.

It’ll most likely be something I fear that eventually kills me, but I won’t die because I feared it. I’ll die because the something I feared is something that can actually kill me. The usual suspects include old age, illness and accidental death.

Bravery isn’t for me

I’ve discovered that doing things that scare me doesn’t kill me. Instead, doing those scary things encourages me to do more scary things. Even if I’m not more courageous about facing fears, I’m at least more confident.

I’ve learned to accept that I’m never going to be really brave, but I also know that I’m a chicken who’s going to keep moving forward into those situations that scare her. It’s the only way this chicken’s going to fully experience life. Thanks fear.

Tom Petty and the Heartbroken

Tom Petty helped me run down my dream. He still will.

A couple of online blogposts ago, I asked readers to give suggestions regarding what they’d like me to write about some time. One response I got was to write about someone who influenced me and helped to shape my life.

Today that’s easy because one of my big influences died recently.

What did I admire about Tom Petty? How did he influence my life and my work? After all, he was a rock star and I’m just me. And yet…

In the 2007 Peter Bogdanovich documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream, Tom Petty says:

I always liked the idea of the guitar because cowboys played guitars. It was very clear: Here’s a way out of this situation I’m in.

Home movie footage features a young Tom in a big cowboy hat running across a lawn in suburban Florida. Upon hearing the story of his childhood in that Bogdanovich film, I ached for that kid. I also really related to him. As a kid, I looked for a way out, too.

Most all my life I’ve wanted to escape from one circumstance or another. Tom Petty and I had that in common. We both wanted to leave this world for a while.

Oh, he was by far braver and so much more talented than I’ll ever be, but we shared a driving desperation. That’s why his songs spoke to me.

Not a romantic

Tom Petty didn’t write about romance. Good for him. There’s enough romance in music already. The quota’s been filled. Instead, Petty wrote about life as raw and sweet as it really is:

Every now and then I get down to the end of the day
And I have to stop and ask myself why I've done it.
It just seems so useless to have to work so hard
And nothin' ever really seems to come from it.

- from Here Comes My Girl, Universal Music, 1979

I get this way of seeing the world. I’m not a romantic, either. Please just serve me up real life on a bendy paper plate and let’s deal with it.

Qualities I’d be proud to have

When trying to explain to a friend my deep grief over Petty’s passing, I listed the qualities that the musician embodied:

  • Tenacity
  • Talent
  • People skills
  • Business savvy
  • Courage

These are all attributes I strive to have. While Tom Petty lived out these exemplary personal qualities, I can only try to. But he gave me this example to aspire to. His life was an inspiration to me.

I don’t want to die

Here’s another reason for my sadness. To me, anymore, 66 seems a really young age to die. I understand that a lot of people die a lot younger. I realize this, but I didn’t want Tom Petty to die, and I sure as heck don’t want to die at 66 years old! I don’t want to die at all.

I often tell the story of being 10 years old in August of 1977. I was in the sprawling backseat of my parents’ Chrysler when the news came on the radio, “The King is dead! Long live the King!” Elvis Presley had died at 42. In the front seat, Mom cried like I cry for Tom Petty.

At the time, I remember thinking, “42? That’s pretty old. Elvis was four times my age!”

The memory of it makes me laugh now. I’m glad I got to live to be old enough for this to be funny.

In Tom Petty’s end, I see my own inevitable demise as more, well, inevitable. He seemed invincible. He seemed immortal. In short, it simply sucks when your heroes die.

His legacy

Everyone dies. That’s the way it goes. Rock stardom or the safest, most serene life possible excludes no one from that shared fate.

The best I can do is to take the best of Tom Petty forward with me into the rest of my life. He made me understand the importance of running down my dream.

Now that I’m older, that dream is less about ambition and attaining a goal than it is about living authentically and in a way that matters to me.

Deep down, I know I’m no different than anyone else. Everybody’s had to fight to be free, and yet I feel that these words were written for me.

Life is a struggle, a beautiful woven tapestry of heartache and happiness. Throughout my life, because of the duration of Petty’s career, I’ve benefited from the experiences he set to music. Tom Petty put my pain and joy into words, and he dipped them in a melody.

For him, I am grateful.

My Opinion of Opinions

Over the years, I’ve found that expressing my opinion loudly is the best way to convince others of my point of view. It feels great to scream out what I believe into the faces of those who previously held a contrary belief. It’s delightful to see their faces light up with understanding as I bellow my truth.

When the exchange is over, I often think, “If only I’d loudly expressed my opinion sooner we would’ve seen eye-to-eye earlier.”

What? You’ve had a different experience upon expressing your opinion? It didn’t change minds? It irritated friends and family? Hmm. That’s strange. People love it when I express my opinion.

They say, “Tell us what you think, Lori, especially about religion and politics. You are so wise and we can’t get enough! And when you’re done that, would you please give us some unsolicited advice?”

Preaching to the converted is rewarding.

Even better than changing minds is sharing my truth with those who already accept it. They cheer without hesitating, nodding in agreement and spurring me on. I appreciate the reinforcement of my truth by the folks who are already as smart as me.

It’s great to meet people who think exactly what I think. I sure like them better than the folks who think differently than me. They’re much easier to relate with and I don’t have to go through the work of listening to what they say or trying to see their point of view.

Heck, we’re so similar that we don’t even have to really listen to each other. This makes me feel comfortable and it makes me feel right.

Opinions don’t convince. Opinions annoy.

In reality, I’ve only ever annoyed others with my opinions unless they happen to share my exact opinions. This doesn’t happen very often. Like never.

We’re complex beings with complex minds. We have our own ideas and our own life experiences. We are not going to agree on everything. Start with that premise.

Opinions are divisive.

Strongly-held opinions divide us as solidly as brick walls. This may feel good sometimes. Opinions can help us establish an identity, a belonging to a certain group. It’s nice to belong. It feels good to feel welcomed. We all want to be accepted.

But too close an association with one group can be limiting and stifling. And what if you develop a new opinion, a point of view that differs from the group’s view? Then shut up or get out. You’ve found a safe place within those walls. Don’t mess it up by thinking too much.

Talking is easy. Listening is hard.

I enjoy talking. It’s fun to sit around and chat about myself, what I think, what I’ve done and what I want to do. Just as I get going, though, someone else wants to talk about what they think, what they’ve done and what they want to do.

That’s fine. Their talking gives me a chance to decide what I’ll say next about myself. I’ll keep nodding and they’ll keep talking. When they stop, I’ll resume the important work of telling them about me.

Listening is difficult and it’s not natural. It takes intention and practice. We have to choose to listen and then work to do it. Where’s the fun in that?

I know there are drawbacks to social media and emails, but here’s a plus. Typing to others makes us slow down and read what they have to say – just like letters used to do. It’s the same idea.

In conversation, though, we’re not often focused on that moving stream of words. With our own ideas flowing through our minds it’s hard to concentrate on someone else’s thoughts. Listening is hard, but it’s one of the only things that can bring us closer.

Listening is powerful.

Listening can change the world. Hearing what others have to say isn’t necessarily agreeing with what others believe. It can be, but more importantly, listening opens the door to understanding.

“Oh, so that’s where she’s coming from! Her experience formed her opinion. I sure don’t agree with her perception, but I can see why she thinks that way. If I’d had that same experience, maybe I’d hold that opinion, too.”

Reaching an understanding about why people believe what they believe is a very good start to mending our differences. The only way to get there is through listening.

Spout tales, not opinions.

If we want people to listen, let’s say something worth listening to. Storytelling is engaging. That’s why all the best teachers throughout time have used storytelling to convey their messages.

Jesus and Buddha and Gandhi and Mother Teresa and Einstein did their best teaching through telling stories and by walking the walk. They gave us information based on their experience, and they gave us stories to help us understand those experiences.

I’m sure they all had opinions. We all have opinions and that’s okay. But opinions aren’t what these teachers used to change the world. Opinions would’ve slammed the door on our learning and they knew that. Opinions don’t change the world. They divide it.

The listening challenge:

I don’t think I’m up to changing my opinions this week, but I think I’m ready to sharpen my listening skills. I’ll take these baby steps:

  • When someone’s talking, I’ll try not to think of what to say next.
  • I’ll try to focus on the speaker’s words.
  • I’ll make an effort to understand the intention behind the words I’m hearing.
  • I’ll try to honour different life experiences and different backgrounds.

If you want to join me on this listening challenge, let me know how it goes for you. We can share our stories about how darn difficult it is to really listen. And on that, we can definitely agree!

Seasons

When I was gainfully employed, I swear it was easier to let go of summer. While working, I couldn’t enjoy the outside world at this time of year. Now that I can be out in these remaining days of summer, I’m so sad to watch them fade away. I didn’t know what I was missing in these last, sweet moments of the season. Now I do.

Now I have time to notice the changing colours and the tangy, cool edge of the morning breeze. I notice how the sky becomes a lighter, translucent blue and how the crows all get together to make travel plans.

I’m sad to see summer go, but I love watching her walk as she heads off down the road.

Time Passes Quickly

The passing of time speeds up as we get older. When I was young, I recall commenting how quickly time was going as I moved from grade to grade in school. The older folks responded, “You think time moves fast now. Just wait. It passes quicker and quicker the older you get.”

They weren’t kidding.

Appreciating Time

Time does pass more quickly as we age, but here’s the good news: growing older increases the value we put on time. When we know there’s less time ahead, we appreciate it more.

I squandered so much time as a young adult. All those moments spent daydreaming, pretending, and posing, I wish I had them back now.

But I also understand that in youth I was trying to sort out just who I am. Now I know, and that makes life a lot easier. I’m not stumbling around trying to identify myself. I’ve got a pretty solid idea of who I am, where I am, and where I’d like to go.

It wasn’t until my early 30s that I’d established this sense of identity. Then I got traction and found a couple niches into which I fit perfectly: writing and teaching.

There are people I meet in their late teens and early 20s who already have a secure sense of self and a confidence I never possessed. It’s a gift I envy. There’s no point, though, in comparing my rocky path to others’ journeys. Every life is unique and all lives are difficult.

Worthwhile Uses of Time

Now that I appreciate my time more, I’m reluctant to waste it. Days are too precious to view them as something to get through or as something to fill. I want to stretch time out, to live days deeply and fully as I can. I want to honour time.

In this part of my life, how can I best do this?

Work

I love working. I’m not as fast at it as I used to be, but I’m better at it, that’s for sure. I don’t work frantically anymore. These days, I’m slow and steady, and the products of my labour are much improved.

It’s not always possible, but I try to do work I enjoy. If I don’t enjoy it, I try to see value in the work beyond enjoyment. This strategy helps me to do my best when engaging in tasks that aren’t my favourite.

Genuine Relaxation

I also love lying around watching TV, but this isn’t what I consider genuine relaxation. Relaxation is best found in the moments we savour.

Our backyard is pleasant this summer, full of blooming flowers and fresh vegetables, and with birds and bees to watch. This season I’ve enjoyed taking my hot mug of tea or cold bottle of beer outside. I sit on the white garden bench and drink whatever I’m drinking slowly until my mug or bottle is empty.

Meditation is also genuine relaxation. It takes practice to empty the mind of thoughts, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it feels good! I’m kind of hooked on that feeling of mental spaciousness.

Real relaxation isn’t meant to fill up time or space; it’s meant to slow time down and hollow out a quiet space in our lives.

Learning

Learning new things is a good way to use time. The older I get, the more curious I am. I’m especially interested in learning more about words and the world. That’s why I like completing my editing certificate program courses and why I enjoy traveling.

Connecting

Connecting with people is a very positive use of time. Life is beautiful, but it’s also difficult. If we can bolster each other by connecting kindly, our relationships are meaningful and mutually beneficial. You can’t do much better than that.

Goodbye, Summer

Although letting go of summer is hard this year, I’m grateful for the chance to reflect on the change in seasons. The reason I don’t want summer to go is that I’ve spent more time with her this year and have appreciated her presence more. Getting reacquainted with summer has been a worthwhile experience, and there’s nothing wrong with missing a true friend when she’s gone.

Another One Like the Other One

As I walked through the cold countryside this morning, I tried to think of something new to write about. I came up with nothing. It seems I’ve already written about everything you’d be interested in reading.

Sad.

Travel adventure’s all been done before.

I considered writing about my latest travel adventure again, more blah, blah, blah about where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. Anyway, the most recent trip was regional, and so it wouldn’t appeal to you readers who don’t live around here.

Obviously not everyone wants to hear about Medicine Hat, Alberta; Havre, Montana; or the Cypress Hills of southern Saskatchewan. Who can blame you? They’re just places with great names full of compelling, murderous history and tasty food.

Food: Does it really matter?

I’d tell you about the food if I thought you liked food. Most people don’t care for it.

Why would you want to read about the best burger of my life in Havre, the one I’d marry if I could? And Indian food in Medicine Hat: not one morsel of meat in it and the most delicious food of its kind I’ve ever had. I thought I was going to die a pleasant death of physically bursting after eating an astonishing amount of Nan bread and chickpeas.

The tale of the world’s best cheese omelet and hash browns that I had for breakfast at The Resort At Cypress Hills sounds like all my other breakfast stories. It just tasted better.

Food is food, and booze is not worth writing about.

I suppose I could tell you once more about all the beverages we sampled, but what would be the point? They’re cold. They’re bottled. They’re delicious. I’ve said it all before.

There’s no need to go on about the cherry cider and grapefruit beer that we bought in the grocery store in Havre.

Here’s something Americans probably don’t know about us Canadians, not that there’re any Americans reading this: We love buying alcohol from your drugstores and grocery stores. It’s both thrilling and convenient. It feels a bit forbidden because in Canada, it is.

Why write about the exceptional fruit wine and tasty beer made right in Saskatchewan? It would just make you thirsty and make you want to head over to Saskatchewan. (The booze alone would be worth the trip to Maple Creek.)

Breweries in Medicine Hat? Who knew? I’d pass on the story of the Hell’s Basement taproom, but I don’t want to turn you off ever going to Medicine Hat. Let me just say this: The other people in there tried to talk to us.

One even approached my husband, saying, “Here, smell this beer.” Then another asked what he was drinking. A bunch of them were lined up along a tasting bar with their elegant sampling glasses, visiting and trying different beers.

I don’t condone this kind of activity, so I certainly wouldn’t write about it. I say, buy your booze and get out. There’s no reason to discuss it with the friendly locals who also enjoy it.

If you’ve had one Saskatchewan-made beer at The Resort At Cypress Hills, I suppose you’ve had them all. Another story about beer would just bore you, so I won’t delve into the Milk Stout produced in Swift Current, sweeter than mother’s milk and just as nourishing.

More history? Seriously?

History is so dusty by now because much of it is awfully old.

In the past, I’ve talked a lot about history. I apologize. You’ve probably heard enough about rum-running, Al Capone, illegal gambling, opium dens and prostitution in the tunnels beneath the streets of Havre, Montana. Who hasn’t?

The North West Mounted Police only hung around Fort Walsh for four years. Even they were bored by it. After the massacre of Nakoda elders, women and children by wolf hunters, and after sheltering the Lakota people who fled the south country following the Battle of Little Bighorn, the Mounties left Fort Walsh in 1882.

Another thing I can’t write about here is my pleasant visit with a charming one-armed man outside the walls of Fort Walsh. I don’t know where I’d fit it in among all the killing stories.

I told you. There’s nothing new to write about.

You see my problem? It’s the end of the piece, and I still haven’t thought of anything new or interesting to tell you.

It would really help me, dear reader, if you would share with me some of the things you like to read about. Then, the next time I don’t know what to write, I can refer to your suggestions. Thank you.

Out of Place

This morning, I scraped loose paint from the cedar siding on the house and garage, and applied primer. When that dried, I began painting.

Painting is nothing new for me. I like to keep the house and garage looking tidy and clean. A fresh coat of paint has that effect.

Only today was different because this is the day that teachers and school staff in this district attend their schools’ organizational staff meetings. For the last decade on this day, that’s where I was, taking notes and taking minutes.

This morning, after ten years on this last Wednesday in August, I was painting my house instead of sitting in a staff meeting.

It felt very strange.

Taking a Chance

I’d left work before but only temporarily.

Four years ago, I was granted a sabbatical during which I finished writing a couple of books. It was a great opportunity. I was out of the classroom for four months. I had the autumn to do my writing and I returned to the classroom in January. It was perfect.

During my sabbatical, I knew my job was waiting for me. I hadn’t lost anything. I hadn’t let go of anything for good. This time, I have. And today as I painted the house, this fact sunk in deep.

Taking a chance is both scary and thrilling, depending on the moment. Right now, it’s terrifying. That’s okay, though.

I’ve always liked change. Because I’ve made a lot of life changes, I understand that change is not usually comfortable. But taking a chance always brings something new. Unfortunately, we can’t predict what that something will be. That’s uncertainty.

The Downside of Change

There’s no guarantee that taking a chance will improve your life. It will change it, definitely, but improve it? Maybe, maybe not. It’s uncertain.

Change doesn’t feel consistently good. Making a big change is like riding a rollercoaster with its ups and downs and sudden turns. You can’t see what’s around the corner so you hold on tight and try not to throw up.

There’s comfort in the devil we know. There’s something soothing about walking through a familiar routine, moving automatically down the same old road. I’ve enjoyed daily routine. Pretty soon, though, my well-trod path became a rut. There’s a season for everything, and this is my season for change.

The Benefits of Change

Change keeps us sharp. Once you’ve made a life-changing decision, the road is unexplored. You’ve got to keep your wits about you to navigate new territory. Gone is the autopilot and there is no map. No one’s ever lived your life or traveled this exact route. Change keeps us anchored in the present and prepared for anything.

Change keeps us learning. Part of my change was returning to school, not at the front of the classroom, but as a student. This has been amazingly difficult and fairly fun. At fifty, there’s still a lot to learn. It’s not easy, but getting more education has been rewarding.

Where Will Change Lead?

People ask me all the time, “What will you do with your editing certificate?” and “Will you go back to teaching?”

I don’t know. This answer is not satisfying to them or me, but it’s the only honest one. I don’t know what I’ll do with my editing certificate. I might be a technical writer or a book editor or a website editor.

Will I return to the classroom? We’ll see. I can’t tell from here. This is another unsatisfying answer. There’s a lot I miss about teaching, but it was a big decision to leave my job so I must’ve had a good reason.

How to Make a Decision

Don’t rush. Take your time to make a big decision. When I was an impressionable youth, I used to make decisions in the blink of an eye. An idea would cross my mind and—bang!—I’d act on it immediately. I’m older now, but somehow I feel as if I’ve got more time to make important decisions.

I gave myself a year and a half to decide to leave my work and go to university. I was certain within a year that it was a good decision. Then I waited another six months to make sure.

Don’t look back. What’s done is done. The urge to look over my shoulder, with paintbrush in hand, was strong today. Instead, I just kept painting because when a change like this is made, there’s no going back.

Don’t fear being afraid. Change scares us. It’s natural. Fear is not a lion or a dragon. It’s not going to kill you, but it won’t feel good. We’re humans. It’s impossible to always feel good. Don’t let an unpleasant emotion keep you from making the changes you want.

Be strong, little marshmallow. Change gives us strength and resiliency. It stretches and bends us, reshaping our minds and our lives. You’ve got what it takes to make changes and to tackle challenges. Try it, if you’re ready. You might surprise yourself just like I surprised myself.

The Best I Can Do

This has happened before but each time it does, I’m still just as surprised and horrified.

As the day wears on, the sun starts to beat against the garden doors that face south. There’s an exterior blind that we lower in the summer to help filter the sun’s strongest rays. There’s a rod with a hook on one end and a crank on the other used to raise and lower this dark shade.

Over the years, tiny bats have enjoyed hiding and sleeping in the rolled up blind. Then when I lower the blind, my fragile little friends are squished and fall dead at my feet.

I don’t like this.

Yesterday afternoon I lowered the blind and plop! – a furry winged creature dropped from the blind and landed on the ground near the house foundation. There was blood on the screen, but the little bat was still alive, his pink mouth open in a silent scream.

I gently leaned a couple large Rubbermaid container lids against the foundation to shelter the injured bat from the glaring sun and to protect him from predators. When we checked around suppertime, the bat was gone.

No matter how we act and despite our best intentions, we sometimes end up hurting others.

I don’t like this.

Mostly, I move carefully through the world. Through years of experience, I’ve learned that people are easily hurt, that relationships are easily broken, and that words shot like arrows, can’t be put back in their quiver.

Still, I end up hurting others. This usually happens unintentionally as in the case of my winged friend. I go out of my way to avoid hurting others and yet I do. This happens too often.

I don’t like this, but I don’t know how to stop it without becoming a recluse. It seems that interacting with others at all means there will sometimes be pain.

I guess I’ll stay the course and move as gently as I can. On this fragile planet where people and bats are easily bruised, this is the best I can do.

Don’t Come To My Funeral

Years ago, I attended a friend’s 90th birthday party.  Her family intended it to be a celebration of this woman’s life. That’s what funerals are now sometimes called: celebrations of life. Only this celebration was held before the one we were celebrating had died. It was wonderful.

I loved seeing her glow as each eulogy was given. Some of the stories were touching and some were funny, and all illustrated a piece of her life. What a waste these tales would’ve been if she’d have been too dead to hear all the sweet memories folks shared about her.

Funerals are for the living

I do understand that funerals are for the living. They provide a chance to connect and a chance to accept the passing of a loved one. Mourning together is better.

Funerals affirm that, even in the face of death, life goes on. We’ll all die but for now, we are alive. Funerals are good to remind us of this fact.

I also understand why folks come out for funerals. At funerals you see everyone; all those old friends and relatives crawl out of the woodwork and come back home. They step out of their comfortable, full lives, and they come to mourn and visit and reconnect.

At funerals someone often asks, “Why don’t we ever get together like this when there’s not a funeral?” Good question.

A gathering where no one’s dead can be fun too

Now and then, I’ll invite people to events at which everyone is alive. Often my invitation is turned down cold. I can’t compete with funerals.

Next time I host a party, I’m going to call it a funeral just to see if more people come. Death more than simple pleasure seems to be worth making an effort for.

Don’t put off living

We’re all guilty of putting off a life that begs to be lived. We especially put off the pleasant things. There’s something in our culture that still esteems suffering while it diminishes enjoyment.

I had a great aunt who worked hard all her life at a mundane job that she disliked. She kept working and promised herself that when she retired, she’d finally travel and enjoy life. I loved and admired this woman. When she became ill and died before she got to travel, I paid attention.

Suffering is not more important than enjoyment

In our western culture, a high premium is placed on stoic suffering. I get it. When pioneers came to this land, stoic suffering was their only choice. Put your head down and work until you carved a life into this rugged nowhere. The strong survived and there wasn’t time to cultivate roses let alone smell them.

It’s different now. We can relax a bit and enjoy being alive. I won’t suffer in the hopes that someone will shed an earned tear at my funeral. I’d gladly exchange a tearful funeral for a joy-filled life. I wouldn’t even mind a bitter eulogy: “All she did was go around being happy and savouring life.”

I’m no martyr. The fact is, my suffering doesn’t improve anyone else’s life. It only makes me miserable and, in turn, I make the world more miserable.

It won’t kill you to go to the party

When someone calls you to go spend time with the living, try to go. I know. Life is busy and there are competing priorities. Keep in mind that it is far easier to visit with the folks we love, to hold them and be near them, before they are dead.

Life is short and enjoying it fully is more important than suffering through it. It’s respectful to attend the funerals, but it’s crucial to go to the barbeques.

Why History Is Important

Before the cemetery tour I led the other day, someone commented, “What’s your tour about? My daughter doesn’t want to go if it’s about dates and who was married to who.”

People have been turned off by history relayed through dry, dusty details. Too bad. History is rich and informative, and crammed with better stories than I could make up.

We could blame this dislike of history on the musty textbooks some of us remember or on the mandated memorization of dates and events.

In the Alberta schools’ curriculum (2005 by Alberta Education), the subject of history has been replaced with historical thinking. What’s that? According to Alberta Education, it’s this: “Historical thinking is a process whereby students are challenged to rethink assumptions about the past and to reimagine both the present and the future.”

Hmm.

A history component is included in the Alberta curriculum’s Social Sciences: “The social sciences 20-30 program is intended to complement the Alberta social studies program by encouraging increased understanding of ‘humans and their world.’”

This reads as if it’s written for aliens studying the habits of humans. Social sciences are elective courses, not core courses.

History is still important. Here’s why:

History brings the present into perspective

The past makes the present seem like not such a big deal. It’s easy to feel that our generation is the only one to have lived in turbulent times and to have seen so many changes. It’s easy to feel that no others have experienced what we’re experiencing.

History bridges that gap. When we hear or read the stories of those who came before, we recognize their pain and suffering, their successes and happiness. Sure, our ancestors lived in different times, but they experienced living through the same emotional lenses that we do.

No matter what we’re going through, someone’s been there before. Our lives are unique and our lives are similar. History teaches us that life is paradoxical. The road before us is well-trod, though others traveled it differently.

History makes us feel connected

We are connected to history by our shared human experience. Throughout human history, people have experienced joys and sorrows. People have had religion, chores and dalliances. People have raised children, raised crops and raised hell.

All those who came before are joined to us through our common life experiences. History shows us how to feel connected to those who lived before. In this way, history shows us how to feel a connection with those living now.

History can help us avoid repeating mistakes

Learning about past human follies can steer us toward reform. For example, we know now that colonization doesn’t end well for everybody, that war causes death and destruction, and that the earth’s resources and resiliency are not finite.

Where was I going with this? Right. History gives us the opportunity to learn from past mistakes. It does not guarantee that we will learn. In fact, history tells us that, typically, we do not learn from history.

History can help us avoid repeating mistakes if we choose to.

History encourages us with stories of triumph

History lifts us with stories of triumph. When life gets tough, we can look to the struggles and successes of our ancestors to keep us going. In the 1930s, my very pregnant grandmother ended up in a December snowbank when the horse-drawn cutter taking her to the hospital to give birth, tipped over. I think about this when my photos are slowly uploading to Facebook.

Years ago, I worked as a costumed interpreter at Heritage Park in Calgary. This job placed me in the role of my ancestors for eight hours a day. It made me think about the strength of those pioneers and the hardships they endured.

They persevered, breaking land, succumbing to influenza, bearing children at home, and chopping wood and hauling water. They lived through howling prairie winters in sod houses and swept those dirt floors during the summers. That interpreter job still makes me grateful for my washer and dryer.

With its stories, history reassures us that no matter what mountain we face, it’s been climbed before.

History is alive

Fortunately, history is alive and all around us. There’s plenty that any of us can do today to explore it. Visit a local museum. If you enjoy your visit, consider volunteering some time to share the past with others.

Read your region’s local history books. These are both informative and deliciously voyeuristic. Once you open it, your nose will be stuck for hours in that heavy book full of tantalizing details.

Did you like reading the history book? Visit your local library. You’ll find the unexpected there. I always do, and I’m always pleasantly surprised.

Do your own online research. Join one of those virtual genealogy groups or just Google topics of historical interest.

Lastly, talk to your older relatives. Ask them to show you photographs and to tell you the stories. Nothing makes history come alive better than hearing the tales straight from the source.

History is not dead. Let’s get to know it and discover what we can still learn from it.

Nothing More Than a Feeling

“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”
― Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

Last week, I went home again. Thomas Wolfe said you can’t and I know what he meant. But there are elements of home that can still be glimpsed, past butterflies that can be held for a moment in my hand.

Home is a feeling

Home, like everything else, is constantly changing. Buildings and people age. Structures and bodies arrive and depart. Home was only ever a feeling, and that feeling can be recaptured.

I caught that feeling of home when I caught a couple tiny frogs as they hopped in the grass by the barn. I felt the feeling of home when I cooked in my friends’ kitchen, a kitchen I’ve known more than thirty years. We drove down to look at the refurbished Green Island School, and I remembered the industriousness of the people back home.

I smelled home when I breathed in deeply the sweet scent of clover and flowering canola. This was very special because when I was a kid in Fairview, I was so allergic to pollen that those sweet smells meant suffering. But because I outgrew my allergies, I can enjoy the honey-like aroma of July in northern Alberta.

Home is new and old

When I go to Fairview, we always drive by the house I grew up in. It looks better now than it ever did. Our family maintained it well back in the day, but the new grey siding and new windows make it look like a little cottage. It’s a good feeling to see a place you loved being loved still.

During my visit home this time, I saw people that I have known all my life, but I also met new people and got to know some others a bit better. I was welcomed by all these people, those I knew and those I was beginning to know. At home, you’re welcome.

Home is memories

In Fairview, I love to see all the old haunts and tell their stories to anyone who’ll listen. At the empty east end of the schoolyard, I recount how the middle school burned to the ground one Saturday night. I was in Grade 7 and pretty excited. However, the diamond willow lamp I’d just finished making and my new gym clothes were in my locker. You win some, you lose some.

Going past the church, I tell about leading Sunday school, and about polishing the pews and piano and vacuuming the floors. I tell about the time my co-janitor and I heard doors closing and footsteps echoing upstairs in the empty building. When we discovered that neither of us was upstairs at the time but both working on the main floor in separate rooms, we ran.

Why, Thomas Wolfe?

So why do I, after all these years, feel the magnetic pull of home? I don’t know. All I know is that the years flow by like water and that once in a while, I like to return to the place where I was born and raised. The home that was nothing more than a feeling remains there where the clover blooms and the canola flowers.

  

Restaurants, Ribstones and Railroads

Last Saturday, we went on a local adventure. There were a couple of sights I’d wanted to visit since moving to this area twelve years ago: the Viking Ribstones and the Battle River Train Trestle.

Fueling Adventure

It’s never a good idea to head out on a big adventure on an empty stomach! We made our way to the neighbouring town of Hardisty and to the Little Brown Jug on Main Street. This cozy restaurant’s menu features homemade buns, bread, and pies, and you can also buy their baking to take home.

For Saturday’s lunch, I had the Little Brown Jug’s egg salad sandwich on freshly-baked brown bread. The restaurant doesn’t skimp on sandwich filling and the bread slices were thick. My husband had to finish my huge sandwich. This is our tradition as most restaurant meals are way too much for me.

The Little Brown Jug is licensed and offers a good selection of beer and wine. Its walls display artwork from Alberta artists. It was a perfect first stop on our local adventure.

The Viking Ribstones

Because I’m of Scandinavian descent, I was under the mistaken impression that the Viking Ribstones have something to do with Vikings. I discovered that the Viking Ribstones have nothing at all to do with Vikings. They are quartzite boulders into which representations of animal ribs were carved by this land’s First Nations people.

These boulder petroglyphs are monuments to Old Man Buffalo on whom the First Nations people depended for survival. First Nations folks still come to the ribstones located about 11 km east of Viking just off of Highway 14 to leave offerings.

On Saturday afternoon, we saw colourful fabric that visitors had tied to the metal railing surrounding the site. There was a large, bleached bone and a braid of sweet grass left near one of the carvings. On that same monument, there lay a cigarette (a tobacco offering) and a key. I’d love to know the story behind that key.

Visiting this sacred place reminded me of entering the Roman Catholic church in the town of Bucerias, Mexico. I always feel welcome there, but I also understand that some cathedrals hold a history and a significance that don’t belong to me. I can appreciate these sacred places and I am honoured to visit them, but their rituals aren’t mine and I can’t fully understand their importance.

Only nine of these ribstones have been found in Alberta, and two of them are located at this site. Take a drive and check it out. These rare rocks are beautiful and mysterious, and the views from the hilltop are breathtaking.

The Battle River Railway Trestle

From the Viking Ribstones, we headed east on Highway 14 toward Wainwright. We stopped in Irma and snooped around an antiques and collectibles shop on Main Street. Items were neatly displayed and reasonably priced. By the way, I also learned on this trip that the main street in all these small Alberta towns is 50th Street. Who knew?

At Fabyan, we turned south into the village and kept driving right through back out into the countryside. The road leading to the Battle River Trestle is not marked until you’re on the road leading to the trestle. This confirmation that you’re on the right road is apparently your reward for finding the right road. It’s easy to miss this right turn onto Township Road 45-2 when approaching it through Fabyan.

This railway crossing was constructed in 1908 by Grand Trunk Pacific and completed in time for the first train to cross in January of 1909. It is the second largest railway trestle in Canada. Lethbridge’s trestle is the largest.

There is a big parking lot at the site and benches along the edge of the river valley from which to view the trestle. Visitors over the years have created a path down to walk down closer to the trestle, but there are fences that make it difficult to get really close to the structure. We never went through the barbed wire fences, but I longed to touch that bridge and to feel its cool, rough steel.

It’s probably this bridge fascination that prompted the Canadian National Railway to put up a sign warning people to stay off the trestle. It’s still an active crossing and a busy one.

It was dangerous back in the day, too. Three men drowned in building the Battle River Trestle. We didn’t see the cairn erected in their memory at the site by their fellow railroad workers. If you get to the trestle, take a look for it.

No matter where you live, there’s lots to see and do right out your back door.

  

My Last Name

Let me tell you the story of why I've always been "Lori Knutson" even though I’ve had chances to adopt other names.

I grew up in northern Alberta near the Peace River. To travel anywhere south, we had the pleasure of driving through those river hills, right past Dunvegan Park and over the muted-yellow suspension bridge that majestically spans the Mighty Peace.

But for me, entering those gentle river hills meant one of two things depending on the direction in which we were traveling. Heading south meant adventure. Heading north meant heading home after the adventure. Each direction touched my heart. Driving south excited my heart while driving north soothed it.

One afternoon, our family drove south through those hills, and anticipation made me think new thoughts. I remember that I was nine years old. It's strange, though. I remember many pivotal experiences happening when I was nine. Some of these must've occurred before or after, and yet, it's nine years old that I recall.

I remember sitting in the backseat, thinking. Finally, I leaned forward between the seats and commented to my parents in the front, "Isn't it great that you two met each other, and you both had the same last name?"

What were the chances? You're a Knutson, I'm a Knutson. Let's get married! I was so pleased to arrive at this realization all on my own. This proud feeling didn’t last long.

Mom chuckled. "My name wasn't Knutson when I met your father." Dad chimed in, "She was a Hobden."

My jaw dropped. "A Hobden? Like Grandma and Grandpa?"

This was news. I’d never made the connection. A dark suspicion crept into my mind, and I asked my mom, "So what happened to your name?"

"I changed it when I married your dad."

Holy crow! What? You've got to be kidding me! Isn't your name who you are? Wasn't Mom devastated to lose that part of herself? What other injustices existed in the world that I didn't know about?

I could never bring myself to do it, but there are good reasons for taking another's name.

Some women have last names that they've been teased about all their lives and that they can't wait to unload. Others want to have children and for their family unit to share one name, typically dad's. There's also tradition and romance as reasons. I respect the choices people make in changing their names.

But I will always be Lori Knutson named after (no kidding) my cousin Laurie Knutson. No matter where it came from, it's my name and I like it.

A Dragonfly's Presence

This morning I was working in my sunny garden while the breeze was still cool. The bees buzzed in the raspberries, the flowers smelled sweet and the butterflies wore their prettiest gowns.

Lost in thought, stuck in the past

I didn’t hear the bees, smell the flowers or admire the butterflies. I was far away from the garden. I was stuck the past. I was reviewing a negative conversation that happened years ago.

With my thoughts, I was bringing a whole lot of unpleasantness into that very pleasant garden. What a waste of an otherwise perfect morning!

Luckily, I noticed what I was thinking and turned my thoughts back to the garden. Suddenly, the bees and the butterflies, the weeds and the raspberries were there all around me. Suddenly and in the present moment, the garden came to life.

A silver reminder

The apple trees needed to be watered so I made my way to the water barrel on the other side of the garage. I filled my bucket and as I turned to head back to the garden, I heard something big whir over my shoulder. Then I saw a flash of wings in my peripheral vision.

The wings belonged to a huge dragonfly. He landed on the fence nearby and rested there long enough for me to get a good look at him. He looked like he was wearing a large silver crash helmet, and his wings were so transparent that they were nearly invisible.

“Hello, Mr. Dragonfly,” I greeted him as he sat there on the warm cedar planks. His life is really short. Maybe he only has a few days left to live. Nobody knows.

Not caught in the past

You can bet that he wasn’t clinging to the fence and remembering some cutting, past remark another dragonfly had made to him.

Oh no. Not Mr. Dragonfly. He was living in the present moment. The dragonfly was feeling the sun on his long tail and feeling the breeze lift his wide wings ever so slightly. The dragonfly was right there in the here and now.

It’s dead. Bury it.

“Don’t drag that dead past around,” I remind myself. “It’s starting to reek, and it’s slowing you down.”

It’s true. Remembering the negative past takes away the sweetness of the present. Thoughts of the unpleasant past keep us trapped in a time that’s dead and gone. Like the telegraph office and the steam train, sweet or sour, the past ain’t comin’ back.

It takes a little practice, but we can notice when our thoughts turn to the negative, and we can bring our minds back into the present. We can choose not to be mired in the mud of the past.

Who’s running the show?

The presence of Mr. Dragonfly helped me remember that I can control what I think about. My thoughts don’t have to run my mind and rule my experience. I’m free to choose what I think.

When I let go of the past and bury the bitterness, I find myself in the sunny garden of the present moment. How sweet is that?

What’s Wrong with Linoleum?

The other day as I washed the pine boards of the kitchen floor, I yearned for the smooth resiliency of linoleum. It’s durable, easy to clean and it’s completely out of style.

During renovation and house hunting shows on TV, linoleum gets the same disgusted reaction as dog poo: “What’s that doing on the kitchen floor?” Yet lots of good people I know live surprisingly happy and full lives with linoleum floors in their homes. Vinyl floor covering has not deterred them at all.

When I bought this bungalow, my grandparents’ former home, 12 years ago, I installed wood flooring throughout the main floor. It’s nice and much cleaner than the old carpet that was in here originally. But now I would appreciate linoleum in the kitchen.

And what’s wrong with laminate countertops?

Stone countertops are gorgeous! Who can argue with that? What can be argued is the necessity of stone countertops. Who needs them? Some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten (my mom’s, grandma’s and auntie’s cooking) were prepared on laminate countertops.

Isn’t food preparation the main purpose of a countertop? Flat is really important. Smooth and clean are also good things in a countertop. That’s about it.

On renovation shows, a laminate countertop is treated like severe acne: “We’ve got to get rid of this as soon as possible.” I often hear prospective homebuyers say that a house isn’t ready to live in until the countertops (and the linoleum) have been replaced.

This is news to all the folks I know who live in unlivable homes, cooking their meals, raising their kids, hosting friends and family, and all in unlivable conditions. It’s an outrage really. Such joy in life should not be experienced in subpar houses. Such contentment is not deserved where granite is not present.

The lavender bathtub

Okay. It’s not beautiful and it doesn’t match any of the other bathroom fixtures, but it works. One nice thing about the lavender bathtub is that it’s quite small and fairly shallow. We have a big jetted tub downstairs and it’s great. But it takes forever to fill. I mean, you have to book a bath in advance and pencil it in on your calendar to make sure there are no scheduling conflicts.

A bath in the jetted tub takes time. It’s a serious commitment. The lavender tub takes moments to fill and seconds to drain.

Another nice thing about the lavender tub is that it’s metal. It’s very easy to clean a metal tub. I can get that bathtub gleaming in no time. After nearly 50 years, there’s not a dent or a chip in its purple finish.

To home critics, the old lavender tub would be viewed as a wart on the house: “This looks terrible! It must be removed at once!” But then we’d have to buy a new tub. I’d rather spend the money on travel. Love of travel is probably why we still have the lavender tub.

We don’t need fancy to be happy

Updated, renovated and brand new homes don’t matter that much unless they do to you. If a nice home is something you want and something you can afford, then by all means, go out and get it. Enjoy it, but don’t expect a beautiful house to make you happy forever. It won’t. It can’t.

The renovations and house hunting TV shows I enjoy try to convince me that a new or updated house will make me happy.  They’re fun to watch and fun stories to be part of, but their premise is not true.

Fancy houses don’t make us happy. Satisfaction with what we have makes us happy.

My family wanted to be crammed in here

During our recent 50th birthday party, I thought that my family – my dad, my brothers, their kids – would want to stay where there’s more room. I thought they’d prefer the luxury of beds, for example, to what they’d get here.

I thought they might want to stay in a hotel or stay with the relatives. Nope. They all wanted to stay at Grandma’s old house, stacked up in here like cordwood and tucked into every available corner.

We set up the tent in the basement for my nieces to sleep in. My brother brought along a single air mattress on which my nephew slept. My dad crashed here on the office floor about where I sit writing this piece. One brother slept on the couch, the other brother and his wife slept in the spare room, and our old family friends slept in our bed. We walked across the street and bunked in our neighbour’s fifth wheel trailer. Thanks, neighbours!

It was really fun, us all being here together like that. As a family, we don’t get together very often. Being under one roof meant a lot to us all.

It’s not the house that makes the home

Stone countertops and hardwood floors are beautiful, and someday I might have them. But for now, this humble house suits me just fine. It’s a place where I’ve spent happy times with friends and family. Equally important to me is the quiet solitude this little house has provided.

This house is a gathering place and an alone place. It has laminate countertops, a lavender tub and a ton of sweet memories. What more do I really need?

Mexico in June

Crabs in the pool

“What’s that in the pool?” It was a big crab. I wish I’d seen it before getting into the pool.

Being a helpful Canadian, I stopped the first person in uniform who passed through the pool area. “I just want to let you know that someone has taken a crab from the seafood buffet and thrown it into the pool.” I am a helpful Canadian who likes to give a story context. Honestly, I had no idea how the crab got there.

The pretty young woman smiled and nodded. She reassured me, “I will report that. Thank you for letting me know.”

I beamed. I’d done my job and now the swimming pool would be crab free forever. It was a satisfying, short-lived moment.

Within minutes, we noticed that there were crabs in all the pools by our building. Some were dead, but many were walking along the pool floors. Each morning, a guy with a net on the end of a long pole fished the crustaceans out of the water. No one threw those crabs into the pool! They jumped in by themselves.

We saw evidence of this later on in the week as we watched a crab amble sideways over the grass toward the edge of a pool. It was intercepted by the pool maintenance guy. Perhaps the crab would swim another day. Silly crabs.

The sweetest month

This was our tenth visit to Mexico, but it was our first June trip. I used to work as a teacher, and now I’m a student free to travel during that sweet month of June. What’s so sweet about it?

The hedges throughout the property at our resort in Bucerias were covered with bright orange flowers that attracted hummingbirds. Those hummingbirds were everywhere! Some were small and dark green while other were larger and red throated, like the ones we have here in Alberta. The tiny birds would fly all around us, right close by, unafraid and busy eating. I’d never seen hummingbirds in Mexico before. I’d also never seen crabs in the pool.

There were no biting bugs. During our July visits, invisible insects would sting us and cause wildly itchy welts. In July, there were also bigger bugs with pincers. They would bite and I’d think, “Hey! That didn’t even hurt.” Two days later, a crusty, pus-filled bump would form and eventually burst. Gross. I’d rather itch. I’d rather not be bitten at all. That’s why I like June.

During June, the ladies are still set up to give massages on the beach just steps from the resort. They are well-trained professionals. If you’re too shy to take off your clothes on the beach, please get over it. The massages are well worth any lost modesty and the therapists do keep you covered up. I beg you to do it if you can. Life is short.

Quiet streets, beautiful artwork

We visited a gallery while in Bucerias that featured some of the most gorgeous dishware, stoneware and sculptures I’ve ever seen. If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, check out JMB Gallery: http://bestofbucerias.com/product_jan_marie_boutique_235. It’s a visual feast.

In June, the snowbirds have mostly left the Puerto Vallarta area leaving it looking more like itself. There’s room to move and space to breathe. The restaurants and bars happily welcome you, and there’s time to chat with locals. It helps to know a few Spanish phrases, but it’s not necessary. Don’t be shy to try. People appreciate that you’re interested in speaking their language.

I met a couple nice snowbirds on a bus in Mexico last January. “We’ve been coming here for forty years. We never learned to speak a word of Spanish.” I liked them, but I don’t want to be like them. Dive in. You’re there anyway. Immerse yourself if you can. Spanish is a beautiful language and Mexico is a beautiful country – especially in June.

  

Better With Age

When I’m done my first couple assignments in the morning, I like to take a walk if the weather’s nice. Yesterday, it was warm and sunny with enough breeze to keep the mosquitos away.

As I walked, I breathed in the thick, sweet aroma of wolf willow and of the sugary pollen created by grasses and flowers to attract winged creatures…

POLLEN!

It wasn’t that many years ago that the scent of pollen would have sent me running for the house and a big bottle of antihistamines. I remember being a kid, lying in a darkened room with a cold facecloth covering my swollen eyes and my red nose. I just stayed there, like that, waiting for June and July to pass, praying for the pollen to end.

I’m exaggerating but only a little. My seasonal allergies were nearly debilitating for years. There were summers when I didn’t want to leave the cool basement. Medication helped ease the symptoms, but the tablets left me feeling foggy and groggy, like I was wrapped in cotton batten.

Improved Medication

A couple decades later, the medication improved. I stopped taking antihistamines and instead was prescribed a cortisone nasal spray to use along with stinging drops that constricted the blood vessels in my eyes. In combination, these two were so effective at relieving my teary eyes and runny nose that I could forget that I suffered from hay fever at all.

It’s because of this feeling of freedom that I think I just sort of stopped using any allergy medication. It was about four or five years ago during a walk in the countryside like yesterday’s that I realized grass pollen barely bothers me now. I hadn’t taken any medication and I was uncongested and happy. I mean, pollen can still irritate if I stand in a field of brome grass and brush my face up against the pollen-heavy plumes. But this happens rarely.

Good Changes

This improvement in my life over the course of time reminded me of other positive changes. For example, I used to care a lot more about the opinions of others. I have no prescription to relieve me of this, and yet the symptoms of caring about that which I cannot control have really eased up.

People still have opinions, of course. We’re all allowed to. Now I just don’t care what they are. I also spend much less time and energy expressing mine. People either agree with my opinion (nothing changes), they don’t care (nothing changes), or they are annoyed (I get punched in the nose).

I also care less about working. Yes, I still work hard, but that used to be reason enough in and of itself. These days, there had better be a good reason for blood, sweat and tears. I’d better enjoy the work and/or it had better lead to something that I’ll enjoy soon. In short, I care more about enjoying my life than about work for work’s sake.

Releasing Goals

I don’t give a hoot about success, whatever that is. I used to think I knew, but I’ve lost sight of it. Gone is the drive to accomplish yet another goal. I’ve already accomplished a lot. The thing about the goals I’ve set is that as soon as I reached one, there was a new one waiting right at the finish line. How irritating.

New goals popped up like dandelions, making me feel like I hadn’t done enough, like I was never enough. Around and around it went until this little hamster decided to step off the wheel.

Now when I’m done my first bit of school work for the day, I take a walk in the sunshine and the pollen. My eyes are clear and my nose is dry. If it rains, I head downstairs to the treadmill. No goals hound me and no one’s opinions (usually) bother me.

It’s nice to be mostly free from seasonal allergies and from a bunch of other stuff, too. It’s nice to see that some things get better with age.

Close to Life

Why do I wish I were the black toner cartridge in the office at the school where I used to work? Because every time I picked up a document from that printer, its tiny screen told me, "Black cartridge is close to life."

I want to be close to life too! Each time I retrieved a sheet of paper from the little printer, I was reminded that I spend a lot of time distant from my life. Unlike the toner cartridge, I’m not always close to life. Very often I’m taken away from the here and now, the only place in which real life exists.

Gone

I am removed from life by thoughts, by memories, by fantasies, by worries and fears. My anticipation of the future steals my present. Past regrets rob me of the precious moment, the one that’s right here. My wild mind keeps me away from experiencing all that is really happening.

Here I am on the red couch I love so much, a mug of lemon tea in my hand and a current book of ancient teachings on my coffee table. Outside the open window, sparrows, finches and a pair of mourning doves peck at the birdseed scattered on the ground beneath the feeder.

Life All Around Me

High above my front yard, there's a chalky white streak being drawn across the blue sky. A plane load of people is off to the Caribbean. Down the block, a child is learning to ride a bike and across the alley, a guy is building a huge birdhouse. All this activity is life in the present moment.

Here I am sitting in the middle of this dance of life and I am worried. There's some small problem over which I want control and so I fret. Next I fantasize. Here's the solution! I can solve this problem somehow someday if...

My Whirling, Worried Mind

Because of my whirling, worried mind I miss the birds, the airplane, the child on her bike and the industrious birdhouse-building neighbour. My tea grows cold and then when finally tasted, is barely noticed. The book lays closed and the comfortable couch is disregarded.

The moment has passed and I move on to some routine task which I don't appreciate, either, because I’m not focused on it. On and on it goes this way, with distractions running the show.

So What Is the Secret?

I want to know the secret that the black toner cartridge knows. One day soon I’ll ask that black cartridge about the message on the printer screen. "How did you get so close to life?" Maybe the answer I’ll see projected will be this: "I just stopped and paid attention to the moment. That’s how."

And then the trick will be learning how to do that.

Love In May

No wonder I first fell in love in May!

Walking down a village sidewalk yesterday, I breathed in deeply the sweet air and remembered falling in love that first time. The sky was a cloudless blue above me and against this background huge purple lilac flowers bloomed, apple trees blossomed and so did mountain ash trees. The perfumed air was full of birdsong and frog calls. Warmly and lightly, the breeze touched my face and the earth felt solid under each step I took. If you’re going to fall in love, May is a good month to do it.

The scented air and the soft breeze, the sounds of the birds and the bees, all reminded me of a day long ago and of a boy wearing a plaid shirt and riding a red horse. He had freckles across his nose, dark hair and bright blue eyes. I’d seen him around, but not like this. Suddenly, I really saw him.

The Church Picnic

It was easy to fall in love at that church picnic because of everything around me and in me coming to life that Sunday in May. It was the easiest, most natural thing in the world.

At this time of year, everything is calling out to each other. “Hey, I’m alive! Are you alive? Let’s make more life!”

Attracting Attention

Flowers and trees bloom to attract the attention of the butterflies and the bees. Robins and sparrows and mourning doves all sing their seduction songs. Frogs croak and insects hum and all for the same reason. “Time is short and May is wonderful! Let’s make more life!”

Young people are all dressed up and dancing and drinking intoxicating nectar. They might think they’re doing something completely different than the birds and the bees and the frogs and the trees. They aren’t. Those young bodies are propelled by exactly the same seductive forces. “Life is short and we are young!” And so they draw one another closer and continue life’s dance.

Savouring the Season

When I was differently employed than I am now, I missed much of May. Like the students who sat in their unyielding desks and wondered about the world outside the classroom windows, I wondered too. A bird’s shadow would flit past the windows or poplar fuzz would drift lazily by and we’d all turn to see what was happening out there where life was.

How we kept May at bay, I don’t know. She pressed at the windows and knocked on our classroom door. “Let me in! I’m alive! Are you?” We are, but we’re trying to keep a lid on it…

May is the time in this corner of the world when everything has finally thawed out and every living creature is seeking a mate with whom to continue and affirm life. I couldn’t help but fall in love. I was far too young to find a mate, but May was the perfect time to dip my toe in the inviting waters of love.

Cheering for Life

We’re all cheering for life. That’s why we love babies and sunshine and kittens and puppies. It’s why we enjoy springtime and why we enjoy love, and it’s why we love May. Of all the twelve months, May is the one cheering loudest for life and of all the months, it’s the perfect time to fall in love.

On Turning 50

Someone recently told me, “Women often feel embarrassed about their age. You seem proud.”

Darn right. I’m proud and happy.

A Very Strange Idea

Even though I grew up in this culture, it remains a very strange idea to me that anyone should feel ashamed of living long. What’s up with that? Are wrinkled women better off dead? Don’t aging women deserve to feel the wind in our hair and the earth beneath our feet? Should we just dig a hole and toss ourselves in, leaving those disappointed by our aging to cover us with dirt?

“Lori, you’re over-reacting. There’s not that much pressure to be young.” Then why do we allow doctors to cut into the tender flesh of our faces and insert foreign objects into our breasts? We’d rather be voluntarily-tortured than grow old. We’d rather pay big bucks to be mutilated than to let the natural aging process happen. That sounds like pressure to me.

Too Chicken to be a Rubber Duck

It’s not for me. I’m too chicken to be plastic. I don’t even like getting an immunization shot, so put away your gleaming knives, cosmetic surgeon. You’re barking up the wrong old tree. I can live with how I look and I’m frankly very happy to be aging. It means I’m not dead and that’s a good thing. I’m not going to be convinced otherwise. I’m not going to feel ashamed because I had the audacity to live beyond youth and to look like it.

I hope to live long and to die looking old. I apologize in advance to anyone offended by lined skin and a stooped skeleton. You’ll just have to shop elsewhere for your eye candy. I sat on that shelf long enough. I’m tired of it.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yesterday I turned 50. The great thing about it for me is that I have a lot of opportunities and many open doors ahead. I acknowledge that this is not the reality shared by everyone who is aging. But it is my reality and for me, 50 means good fortune.

In my 50th year I had the chance to leave one job and to train for another career. I’ve had the chance to travel to my beloved Mexico several times this past decade and look forward to visiting that country again. While I’ve had some health concerns and a couple scares, I’ve emerged unscathed and feeling better than fine. Most days, I am optimistic and my heart is cheerful.

Being 50 makes me think of my friends and family who fell ill or died suddenly before seeing this age. I remember them and feel especially grateful to get to say that I’m 50. I’m able to walk and exercise and study and write.

Freedom 50

At 50, I’m free as a bird. This freedom is partly due to choices I’ve made, but in larger part this freedom exists because of factors over which I have no control. My health is good because my genetics are mostly strong. I live in a vast, beautiful and free country. This is important and easy to forget. It’s so easy to overlook the advantages I have strictly because of where and when I was born, and to whom.

At 50 I feel allowed now to let go of many goals, to stop chasing after some vision of who I want to be. I’m there and I’m her. There’s nowhere to run to and no one to become. It’s a relief to stop striving and to just breathe. In these later years, I’ll give myself permission to move a little slower, to take my time and to savour the days. I’ll enjoy the journey instead of pushing myself along as if my precious life were nothing more than an ordeal to “get through.” Get through to what, the cemetery?

At 50, I have a supportive spouse and many great friends and family members. I have experience and the little bit of wisdom that came along with it.

If I’m lucky, my skin will wrinkle and my body will slowly slow down. If I’m lucky, I’ll get older. That’s what the first 50 years has taught me. It’s a gift and good luck to live even this long. I won’t be embarrassed to tell my age and I won’t submit myself to torture that makes turns me into a distorted image of my youthful self.

I can’t say I’m pleased with everything I’ve done and with every decision I’ve made along the way, but I can say that I’m really grateful to be 50. Why wouldn’t I be?

Lost Camera

On a recent trip to Mexico, I lost my camera. It wasn't an expensive camera. We bought it using accumulated Airmiles points. In this sense, it was almost free. Its focus capabilities were lousy. It was a point and shoot, but I had to point and shoot very patiently as this little gadget consistently took its time in capturing images, often blurring and focusing in on the wrong subjects. To teenagers, the technology of my departed camera would be akin to that of a telegraph machine.

But to me that camera was dear. It came with me everywhere, witnessing weddings and family reunions, books signings and mountain drives. That little camera brought me photos of friends and their children and their pets. It came with us and a taxi driver to a cemetery in Savannah, Georgia where it kept for me images of sad angel monuments framed by branches heavy with hanging Spanish moss. It helped me to remember the beauty of the Arizona desert and the simplicity of spring's first crocuses.

I almost lost my camera a time or two before. Upon exiting the train onto a downtown Seattle LRT platform, a loud shout drew the attention of everyone. "Camera! Camera! Someone forgot a camera!"

Instantly, I thought, "Who is the crazed lunatic and what is he shouting about?" In the firing of a synapse, I realized that he was not a crazed lunatic but instead a helpful train employee, and that it was my camera case he held up above the crowd for all to see.

Thanks to that kind (and somewhat annoyed) train conductor, that camera accompanied us on our 4th of July evening exploration of some of the best watering holes the fine city of Seattle has to offer.

How did I lose my camera, you ask? Well, speaking of watering holes, we had just returned from one in a neighbouring village. There we had each enjoyed a lime margarita the size of my head. We got off the bus at the side of the highway and walked through the jungle, down to the resort. My husband wisely headed to our room for a nap while I made my slightly wobbly way down to the ocean's side where I love to lie and listen to the waves.

There on the beach a server from the bar/restaurant would come by periodically and offer me an additional lime margarita. I accepted a couple of beverages before remembering that I was to meet some friends at the pool. The last pictures my camera took were of the gawky seabirds that strutted their ungainly stuff over the rocks and sand along the shoreline, and the graceful ones that skimmed the ocean's rippled surface.

I still feel sad and sentimental about my old Airmiles camera. I know it won't mean anything to anyone else in this big world. It's probably in a dump now somewhere, discarded and forgotten.

I also feel a tad irresponsible. That camera had served me well, had been a good travel companion. Did it use too many batteries when the flash was needed? You bet. Did I drink too many margaritas and forget it on the beach? Yes, I did. 

On the way home, we bought a new camera. I've taken two pictures with it. Impressive! It has a stunningly sharp and quick focus, and a million pixels. But it's too soon for me to feel any joy at the wonders of the new camera. I will, I know. After all, it's great.

But how can making a new friend replace the memory of an old one and all the things we did together? It simply can't. Not really. Goodbye, old friend.

Queen Cages and Bee Stings

It was long time ago but I still remember beekeeping as being my favourite summer job. Awhile back, someone asked me to tell him more about my beekeeping experience. This one’s for him and anyone else who’s ever wondered about getting stung and how to mail bees via Canada Post.

That summer of 1986, I had a nice office job all lined up. It was to be my initial summer job following my first year of university. Then suddenly, there was a change in local government and my comfy desk job evaporated.

To pay for my education, I needed a job so I didn’t wait around. I checked the help wanted ads in the newspaper and saw an interesting post. I photocopied a resumé and headed over to the college’s apiary. They gave me that beekeeping job on the spot. I would start the next day.

I was paired up with the only other female employee and she was an expert beekeeper, a tough lady with a ton of knowledge and experience. I donned my white coveralls, followed her out into the summer fields and into those clusters of supers surrounded by clover, alfalfa and canola.

The Truth Stings

Was I scared to get stung? You bet. And I did get stung pretty much every day. It’s funny. People said I’d get used to it and I would’ve never thought that was true until I got used to it. I never grew fond of getting stung, but receiving bee stings became a natural part of my days. With each sting, however, my body began to react. By the end of the summer, if I was stung near my knuckle, my hand would swell to the size of a boxing glove.

My favourite part of beekeeping was mailing the queen bees we raised down to Texas. I’d load up a queen along with six worker bees and a sweet glob of fondant into a small screened cage. I’d repeat the process eleven or fifteen more times and then bundle the even number of cages together, four in a row and three or four cages tall. This would make a tidy rectangular package of twelve or sixteen queen cages. On the side I’d place a sticker or two that read LIVE BEES.

The post office ladies cringed to see me coming with my buzzing parcels. They’d take a step back and tell me coldly, “Here. You put the stamps on it.” So I did and sometimes, I’d carry the buzzing bundle into the sorting room for them, as well, so they wouldn’t have to handle the bees at all.

Time-Sensitive Delivery

Looking back, I had a lot responsibility at that job. I remember one time having a tight time line in which to package up some queens and get them mailed off. I think we’d spent longer in the field that morning than expected, so I ran into a time crunch. I caged up those queens as fast as I could, affixed the LIVE BEES sticker and raced out to the post office. It was closed.

This was a time-sensitive delivery and so I chased the mail truck to the neighbouring town. But I just missed that Canada Post van and with it, the opportunity to ship the queen bees that day.

The boss wasn’t impressed, but the next day he apologized for his temper and acknowledged that I’d done my best. It’s true. I had, and it was the first time in my life that I remember feeling like an adult with grown-up responsibilities.

In the late summer and early fall, bees start feeling the press of impending winter as they rob from each other’s food supply and the drones are kicked out of the hives. The bees become a bit frantic and very protective of their homes.

The Last, Great Stinging

On my last day of work at the college apiary, we headed out to the fields. As we approached the group of supers near a stand of poplar trees, something felt different. The summer air was on edge. I put my veil on and got my smoker—used to calm the bees—ready to go.

The bees were much more active than usual that morning. Their buzzing made me feel uneasy. As it turned out, this unsettled feeling was warranted. We hadn’t been working for long when a tiny bee landed on my pinky and stung me so hard that he died right there on my finger.

Usually I got stung in the process of moving hives or replacing frames in the supers. These were accidental stings. You bump a bee and the bee stings you. It’s to be expected.

That afternoon’s stinging was intentional. My eyes filled with tears of pain and surprise, and my coworker, feeling unnerved, swore at my weakness. Then, as if drawn by that first vicious sting, a swarm of bees gathered and came at me. Three of them flew up under my veil and stung me in the throat. The veil was wrecked and had never closed properly at its base, but we never worried about it. Until that day, the bees had been docile.

The Recovery

That afternoon, I went home, took some antihistamine tablets and lied down on the bed in my dark, cool room. I thought I was going to die. For the rest of the afternoon and through the night, I was pretty out of it, but I recovered from the bee attack quickly. I haven’t been stung since.

Even after that last, great stinging, I still felt grateful to have had the opportunity to be a beekeeper. I learned so many skills that summer along with a great respect for bees and their place in our ecosystem.  Working with bees taught me that any new experience, when embraced, changes us. There’s no guarantee that we’ll be changed for the better and no insurance against being changed for the worse, but we will be different when the experience is over. Even with its stings, beekeeping was my all-time favourite summer job.

Confessions of a People-Pleasing Perfectionist

All right, fellow perfectionists and people pleasers, this one’s for us.

On my last editing course, I got 70%. It’s a passing grade, but it’s not the high score and dripping praise I’m used to. In fact, it’s downright embarrassing.

So why am I telling you? I’m sharing this because although the mark was disappointing, it was also very instructional. (Apparently, it was more instructional than the course.)

In receiving that score, I learned a truckload about myself. I was mortified and confused at the grade I got on my final assignment and then equally shocked and bewildered at how I completely overlooked submitting the last reflection piece for the course. What the…?

When I opened up the online campus website and received notification of my mark, I had a really strong, very unpleasant reaction. First, an ice-cold bolt of embarrassment shot up my spine and into the base of my skull.

Next, my mind started whirling. How would I redeem myself in the eyes of the instructor? How could I assure her that I am actually a pretty good person and not a bad writer? How would I rebuild my life and my reputation after receiving 70%?

Clearly, I over-reacted. At that time, though, I didn’t want to judge my reaction. That’s pointless. Instead, I wanted to know why I reacted this way, so strongly, like my body and mind were suddenly poisoned. What’s up with that? That was a question worth answering.

So I dropped the urge to blame myself or blame the instructor. (I really wanted to blame someone.) I avoided making excuses or creating justifications. (I had a million excuses ready to go.) I wanted to get at the reason 70% bothered me so much. (This was harder than blaming or making excuses.)

When I looked closely, the answer stared right back at me: I’m a people-pleasing perfectionist! Who knew? This information genuinely surprised me, but it’s the fact responsible for my humiliation.

I wanted to impress the instructor and I wanted to do the assignment perfectly. Neither of these things is always possible and they sure didn’t happen in this case.

It took me nearly half a century and a lot of wasted energy, but I think I understand. I really can’t please everyone all the time. Occasionally I’m going to try something and get the equivalent of 70%.

These facts are difficult to accept. They are also freeing. Until now, I thought it was just a saying: You can’t please everybody so you’ve got to please yourself. This songwriter wasn’t kidding. I really can’t please everyone. At times, I won’t make anyone happy. This is new and useful information. It’s kind of reassuring.

People-pleasing perfectionism is going to be a hard habit to break. If I succeed at freeing myself from this addiction, what will I do with all the time I spent trying to make people like and accept me?

I know! I’ll work on liking and accepting myself. I’ll live my own life without fearing what folks might think.

I can’t change others, but I can change how I love and support myself. Then, instead of chasing around after praise and adoration, I can walk out into the world comfortable in my own flawed skin with love to give. My actions won’t be perfect, but they will be genuine and maybe that’s what matters.