Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Fond Farewell

It's time.  It's been time for awhile but I didn't want this to end.

This space has been sacred and significant.  It's been the place to chronicle our family's story of moving, exploring, relating, falling in love with a place and people, changing, growing, celebrating, savouring, grieving and then ultimately saying goodbye.

I thought I would use this space as a virtual photo album and place to jot down little anecdotes and notes about our experiences.  It's sometimes been that.  But it's been so much more.  I rediscovered how much I love to write and tell stories.  I learned that I can be anywhere at any time and see an image or hear an exchange that will leave me haunted until I sit down to write about it.  I know that simple things are layered and textured and that words on a screen can heal me.

This record of our last two and a half years has been one of the most unexpected but most cherished gifts.   Our family will always have this way of remembering our West Coast Adventure and for that, I'm so grateful.

But now we're here.   Our journey and our story looks and feels different.
And it's time for this to end.

Thank you for reading along as we fumbled along.  I was always amazed that anyone would have wanted to read about our daily lives and times.   I would have done it just for us, but it was fun to have some company on the ride.

If you know me, you'll know that it's no shock that I have more to say, and I'll keep saying it (though likely a little differently) at a new blog called  Hide and Seek.  Starting today, you will find me there.

To the beautiful west coast -
glorious and green.
With majestic mountain peaks and soothing salty waves.
To the people we met who embraced us,
made room for us at their table,
and changed us.
To four other Penners who were up for adventure.
Who grabbed on to it and held on for dear life.
Who were the best companions for this story I could have ever imagined.
A grateful and fond farewell, all.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Life As We Know It

I can't believe it's the middle of November.  In my mind, I had planned to wrap up this blog of our two year adventure on the west coast a long time ago.  But then life happened, as it always does.  I supposed the "post script" to our time in BC isn't a bad thing to have tacked on to the end.  It gives context and fills in the blanks of what it was like to reintegrate into prairie life and times.

There are times when it feels like we just got back and others when it feels like we never left.

Sometimes when I'm walking in a parking lot or am shopping I'll catch a glimpse of someone who I think is a person I knew in BC.  It's like I'm transported back.  I almost call out a greeting to them but then realize it's not who I think it is and I'm not where I believe myself to be!  I think this kind of thing must happen to anyone who has moved and transitioned.  It's all part of the grand adventure.

Life as we know it is busy.  Busy.  Busier than it's ever been.  I can't say I like that part.  But busy kids usually equals kids who are engaged and involved and so I'm grinning while I bear it.  This isn't the kind of "life" I thrive on.  But growing kids who have dreams and plans don't really have a lot of time to wait around for you to "feel it" before doing it.

Since returning to Winnipeg, Hannah has jumped into to her reality with both feet, at least up to her neck.  She is feeling increasingly more comfortable and at home at her school.  Being at a tiny school like Confederation Park for those two years and then coming back to a huge school with lockers, lots of teachers and tonnes of kids has been an adjustment.  She has found some things and people to no longer be the same as when she left them.  She has accepted this with an amazing amount of maturity and insight.   We often talked, before we returned, that her old friends won't be the only ones who were likely to have changed, but that she changed a lot too.  Life lessons early.

I love the way Hannah taken nearly every opportunity that has come her way.  She is part of the Middle Years Leadership Team, part of the Middle Years literary publication committee, in the vocal ensemble, the jazz band, and still takes piano and contemporary dance.  Her lunch hours are full of meetings and practices and her evenings are full of homework.  She's busy.  But she likes it that way.  She is learning to navigate life with a busy schedule and still find ways to preserve herself.  This is a lesson I'm still learning.  How to refuel, regenerate, and re-engage for more when what you really want to do is curl up in your bed with a book, shut your door and hide.  Hannah is a lot like me.  This occasionally makes for some interesting encounters of the "slamming doors" variety.

Ellie is Ellie.  If you know her, you know what that means.  She's quirky and silly and soft.  She likes school a lot, but would rather stay home if given the choice.  When she's had a hard day or has been though a rough situation she still likes to curl up in my lap and snuggle.    Physical touch is important to her.  She needs time at home to feel connected to her roots in order to go take on the world.  She has managed to reignite some of the friendships she's left behind and even create some new ones.  She has a giant hole in heart where her special friend Nikki took up space in BC.  There are moments and days when she starts talking about Nikki and then dissolves into a puddle of sobs and tears over the pain of not having her as a daily part of her life.  This is heartbreaking to see.

There are a host of other moments when Ellie looks more like this....

Ellie managed to snag the lead role in the school Christmas production.  She went through several auditions to end up with the part of "Cecelia" - a diva-like news anchor who is reporting on the Christmas story for the first time.  Ellie can play up a role like this with great skill.  She's got a thick script to memorize and she's well on her way.  She wanted to do jazz dance again this year, and has class on Tuesday nights and was asked to be part of the performance team which also rehearses Sunday afternoons.  I couldn't believe we were driving her to dance twice a week and then knew that it's just what you have to do.  Sometimes it's not about you.

Sasha still loves school.  Loves it to the point where she gets melancholy and down on Friday nights because the weekend means a break from the classroom.   I'm grateful she wants to be at school.  It was all new to her this year.  New building, new teachers, new classmates, new routine... all of it.  She is quiet and serious at school.  It often appears as though she's having a tortured time, but her reports tell us otherwise.  She skypes regularly with her beloved friend, Heloise, back in BC and still hasn't found a friend here who even measures close to what Heloise was to her.  Relationships take time, I tell her.  But I know it's hard to not have your one true comrade with whom you think you can conquer the world.

Piano makes the world go 'round for Sasha.  She loves to practice and eagerly anticipates her lessons on Mondays.  She has a teacher who makes music come alive for her and who builds her up and makes her feel special.   I don't think it gets any better than that.

Mike is a superhero.  Really, he is.  He is still biking to work downtown, even with all of the snow on the ground!  He gets up ridiculously early to get his gear on and then slaps on that safety vest and takes to the streets like a champion.  In Winnipeg, this is no small feat!  I just put together a tag for his vest that gives his name and says who to contact in case of emergency of accident.  Hopefully no one needs to look at the tag this winter, but in Winnipeg, you can never be too sure.

Work has been good for Mike.  He's loved being back at the Winnipeg office where he is known and connected and comfortable.  He's back in the role of Mechanical Department Head, and has been extremely busy with lots of good projects and people.  Even in the middle of all of that goodness, he still desperately misses BC.

As for me, well, you can find me in our van.  Driving around one girl or three.  I might also be waiting in a parking lot or getting groceries.  I'm also in a classroom at the Uof W as I started my Master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy this fall.  I love my course work and the time in the classroom.  The school experience feeds me and generates excitement in my soul.   I've connected with some amazing people who challenge me and help me realize I'm not as smart as I  like to think that I am.

I can also be found subbing at the girl's school in any classroom from K-12.  Subbing affords me the chance to say "no"when I need to.  The teaching part is ok, but mostly I like talking to the kids and making relationships with the kids at the school.  I already have a new little gaggle of friends in a few different grades that greet me in the hallways.  Hannah gets a serious and perplexed look on her face every time I go in for subbing and don't know the grade I'll be in yet.  She'd prefer that I stay as far away as humanly possible from the grade 7 classrooms, while Ellie would just hop right up on my lap wherever I am.  Sasha would like for me to not be so "friendly and embarrassing" when I volunteer or pop in to her classroom.

So, that's mostly our life.  In between all of those lines you might hear some Dan Mangan playing in the background, or maybe Tubular Bells or the new Tragically Hip album.  You might find a book by Jim Palmer lying around the house, or maybe some old-school Beverley Cleary or a copy of The Mysterious Benedict Society.    You'd probably see sketch books and pencils and drawing books out on the island counter top and Halloween candy wrappers lying around the house.  The toques are on, the boots are out, and the air is crisp.  That's life as we know it today.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I've got this friend.
This quirky, amazing, creative, friend who I am celebrating today.

I didn't see her today.
It was snowy, and Sunday, and she was hunkered down with her cat with the sound of her sewing machine whirring away beside her, singing her "Happy Birthday" with its own melody and rhythm.
She likely had a big glass of wine beside her, or maybe a gin and tonic, to toast in the new year of dreams and days that await her.

Funny, that she was sewing today, for it's because of her sewing that I met her in the first place.

It was about 6 years ago, and I had been passionately reading and watching everything on the genocide in Darfur I could get my hands on.  I was speaking about it, writing about it, and consumed by it.  Then one day I opened my Winnipeg Free Press and saw a picture of the cutest blond accompanied by the most amazing story of how she was doing something for the people of Darfur... on stitch on her sewing machine at a time.  She had started her own project of sewing the most interesting and artistic bags using up-cycled fabric, selling them on her blog, and donating 100% of the profit to feed people in Darfur through the UN's World Food Program.  She was just starting then, and the hype was building.

When I read about what she was doing my pulse quickened and I knew I had to meet her.  I also knew I really wanted one of her bags.  So I sent her an email and waited for her next set of bags to go up on the auction block and I snagged one.  I remember being so nervous  the night I was going to meet her to pick up my bag.  I already knew I loved her because I had read her blog.   I just wanted her to like me.

We sat and chatted with her friend Michelle, who is my friend now too!  (Funny how these things work.)  We connected.  I knew it.  And before long we were meeting for long and ridiculous conversations and sharing emails with sometimes only one or two lines from the trenches of where we were.

She became my Joycie, and now I can't imagine my world without her.

I had never known someone so eclectic and authentic.
Someone who gave herself away,
who made me laugh my ass off,
and who knew just what to say to get me to unlock my secrets.

That last one is a big one.  I don't unlock for just anyone.  But I opened up the vault for Joyce because I knew my secrets would be safe.

I have never found judgement in her presence.

I have never questioned her faithfulness.

I have never felt like "not enough" even when she is so much.

She shows up at my door with Sweet Chili Heat Doritos, Rhubarb Ciders, and sometimes even a fresh made lasagna.  These come when my chips are down.  So down.  Down so far I can hardly speak and only she knows.  And we don't have to say much, because we know.

We are cut from the same cloth, me and my Joycie.
There is no one like her.  Not even close.
And I can't believe she's mine.

This is a woman who has sewn her way to raise and give over $30,000 to the UN World Food Program ear-marked for Darfur since she began her Bags4Darfur project.

Who lives her life in the company of toddlers and children, serving spaghetti in a bag and not doing crafts with the best of them, wiping up spills, snuggling, listening to little voices and sometimes shaking her head.

Who is helping to create the four most interesting, unique, tender-hearted, and creative off-spring.

Who not only sees things outside of the box, but set up camp. made a permanent home for herself there, and even makes room for visitors.

Who calls me friend, picks me up, dusts me off, and locks arms with me as onward we go.

Happy Birthday, dear Joycie.
I like being your friend.

Friday, November 9, 2012

(Un)drawing the Line

Lines make things nice and neat.
Easy to understand and make sense of.
Tick off a box here and assign something to this category or that.
Safe and easy to say what or who is in or out.

But I don't live in a world of lines anymore.  I've erased some of them.  Some of them have simply faded away with time.  Some have been bulldozed down with great force and carnage.  I've taken a hack-saw to some of them, chipping away, bit by bit.  Others washed away with tears as though they were painted with watercolors in the first place.

I no longer choose a world of "us" and "them".
I can't be on the "inside" deciding who is "out".
I spent too many years compartmentalizing the world and people -
defining and lining up and assigning a title or label.

Sacred or Secular.
Of God or not.
Inspired or carnal.
Chosen, anointed, appointed, set up high, over....

...while I sit under.

"In whom we live and move and have our being."

That's what the verse says.

Inspiring, creating, advocating, loving, relating, learning, growing, living, feeding.
It is good.
Because it is from Him.  All of it.

That line is gone.  The one that divides what is sacred or secular.
I began to see this years ago in the most seemingly unlikely of places.

Like in the tattoo shop where I got inked for the first time by someone who had no claim to be on the "inside".  He drew the lines on my leg with precision and care allowing healing to enter my spirit along with the ink.   It was a sacred place - that bed in that shop.  It closed one chapter and opened another.

Or in the West End Cultural Centre at a Duhks concert several years back.  Sitting with Mike and watching tears stream down his face - overwhelmed with beauty and melody, rhythm and dissidence.

It was in a dark movie theatre on a Saturday night.  Watching Walk the Line sobbing and overwhelmed with the miracle of redemption.   Letting "story"change me.

It was at the Cultch in East Van at a square dance night.  A room full of strangers holding hands and spinning each other.  Laughing and smiling and stepping in time.  Simplicity and beauty.  Engaged and intertwined.

It was while watching Ellie push a beloved special friend on the swings.  Listening to shrieks and giggles.  Watching loving hands help her off, gentle words offered and hands held.

Up on the mountain - sun glistening over the inlet.  Riding on the chair lift with my family surrounding me.   Letting go and embracing fear.

It's in the story of my lesbian friend and her ability to live a life of courage, even in the midst of great fear and struggle.  Hearing her sacrifice to be honest about who she knew she was and exposing herself even when it might have cost her everything.

Sitting in a theatre seat listening to a spoken word artist weave a tale so raw and vulnerable you can hardly look up.  It's peppered with profanity and grittiness,  but nothing has ever sounded so pure and lovely and true.

It's in the way my friend gets up every single morning and mothers two little girls without their daddy.  Who takes them to visit him in the care home and comes home alone to an empty bed and does it all over again the next day.

Is the sacred.

When I open myself up
to feel
and touch
and notice
and hear
and become confounded with the sacred around me
I come alive.

I will not draw lines.
I will not limit God in whom I live and move and have my being.
I will not decide or discard or disdain.

That's not what I'm here for.
I am here to embrace it - all of it.
Allow its rough edges and nonconformity to transform me.

For I am swimming in a sea of sacred.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"It's My Turn Now" My Evening with Jian Ghomeshi

We all have a soundtrack to our lives. 
Music, words, stories, silence and melodies.

My soundtrack is full and rich.

One huge part of my soundtrack is made up of a voice who brings me questions, queries, laughter and banter, introspection, enlightenment and education.  

Until last night, I had never met the man behind the voice.
But last night, the man, the voice, and an adoring fan were united...

Every morning I'm home or driving, I spend my weekday mid-mornings with Jian.  
He's been my steadfast companion through the years.  
After the 10 o clock news I hear his familiar baritone intro Q and all seems well with my world.

It would be impossible for me to tell you why Jian Ghomeshi and Q are such an important part of who I am.  But that won't stop me from trying.

I've always loved politics and current events.  (Do you know any other teenage girls who sat in their parents basements on a beautiful summer day, crying their eyes out watching Jean Charest lose the leadership of the Conservative Party to Kim Campbell?)    From the age of twelve, I'd watch The National and The Journal every night before bed, developing talking points and opinions and interest that fed my soul.  When I got into radio at the tender age of fourteen, I felt like I'd arrived where I was meant to be.  I spent much of my teens covering news conferences, meetings, and reading the news at the top and bottom of the hour.   For the most part, I could talk most adults I knew under the table when it came to world events, human rights issues or Canadian politics.  The CBC played a pivotal role in shaping my awareness, my passion, and my dogma.

As I got older, I often hated being relegated to the conversations about recipes and baby barf.  I'd catch snippets of what some of the men were talking about - and want to yell across the room - "I know more about that than you do!  Let me contribute something to the conversation too!"  These were the years when the babies and sleepless nights and board books and squeaky toys sometimes felt like they were turning my brain to mush.  And in those days, when the radio was on during nap time I'd catch my hour of Q with Jian Ghomeshi and I felt alive again.  Alive, aware, more intelligent and definitely cooler.  Jian's got cool in spades, after all.

Later, when Q moved up the ranks at the Mother Corp to the coveted morning slot, I felt the world expand just a little more.   Now I got to spend nearly an entire morning with Jian!  He was clever, witty, sharp, cultured, generous,  and he seemed to love the same stuff I did.  Music, books, movies, docs, blogs, and more - it seemed I'd found my match and I happily settled onto the same page he was on.  Over the years Jian introduced me to more bands, artists, writers, politicians and difference-makers that found themselves on my "beloved" list than I would have ever discovered without him.  

Jian is fiercely proud of being Canadian.  Though is lives in Toronto, he has always championed the indie scene of our fair land with gusto and passion.  He finds the undiscovered and the fledgling and brings them into the spotlight to land a place on your player, coffee table, or conversation.   He goes deep, then digs even deeper and brings out the gritty, raw edge to who ever he's talking to.  Sometimes he just makes me laugh.  And many times he's left me in tears.

And yes, I can be honest.  As Rick Mercer likes to say, Jian does have the eyes of an Iranian princess.  But that's not all he has.  I feel the same way about Jian that I used to feel about Peter Gzowski during the Morningside years - and  he was a sixty-something, bespeckled, chain-smoking personality who had the same effect on me during our years together.  Substance trumps the outside every time.  This time is no different.

Just over a year or so ago, Jian told his listeners that he was writing a book.  Music to my ears, it was.  If you've ever listened to Jian's opening essays that start off the show, or read his contributions to mags or papers, you know that his writing is rich.   I couldn't wait.

So it was with great anticipation I picked up my copy of Jian's book 1982 the week it was released.  My anticipation only grew wildly when I found out he was coming to Winnipeg to do a reading and signing of his book at McNally Robinson, come October.  The night was marked on our calendar instantly and plans were made with our friends and fellow Jian-fans to catch an early dinner at McNally's on the night of the event to be sure we'd score a prime spot in the store.  

And, you know, I would have been happy with that.  Really happy.  But then last week Terry McLeod on Information Radio kept announcing a contest to win passes to a private "VIP Reception" with Jian before the event was to start.   It took me all of a few seconds to enter - not once, but twice - once with my name and once with Mike's.  I knew the odds were stacked against me, but hope abounded.  Imagine my surprise and shock last week when I got the call from the CBC letting me know that MIKE's name was selected and two passes for the reception with Jian were his.  (We all knew they were mine.)  I was giddy like a school girl and my mind began to flood with one million questions to ask my morning companion.

Saturday night arrived.  

I was nervous and jittery and anticipated something amazing.  

After dinner at Prairie Ink,  I checked to make sure there was no food stuck in my teeth, reapplied my lipstick and tried to breeze into the reception room like I belonged.  It was a small room - smaller than I thought.  This put the odds ever in my favor that I'd actually get some substantive one-on-one time with my Persian Prince after all.

I grabbed a glass of wine from the bar with my faithful partner and kind and indulgent friend and photographer,  (who's actually a big fan of Jian's too), Mike.  The special events coordinator got up to let us know that Jian's flight had been a little delayed and that he had almost no voice left from the gruelling speaking schedule he'd been on.  So we waited.

In the meantime, I had a lovely conversation with Terry McLeod from the morning show on Information Radio.  Terry is my early-morning companion, so it was only right that we chat up my love for the CBC before the moment I'd been waiting for arrived.

And then Jian swooped in.
My knees went weak while I tried to play it cool.
(That's hard to do when one of your creative heroes is standing just a few feet away from you.)

The next moment was so lovely.  Jian's sister Jila is actually a well-known linguistics professor at the University of Manitoba.  She and her young daughter entered the reception room and Jian's niece ran up to him as he instantly stopped what he was doing and gathered her into his arms for a squeeze.  He's just a man, after all.  A man who adores his niece.

I waited patiently as one of the other winners and her daughter had their moment with Jian.  I stood close by, hoping my time would come.  You've got be appear eager, but not too eager, you know.  There is an art to this madness.

As soon as he had his picture taken with the winner, I marched over to him and said "I'm going to be ridiculously aggressive and say 'It's my turn now'" to which he graciously laughed and gave me his undivided attention for the next five minutes of my life.

We talked about his book and the characters.

How it feels to expose hidden parts of who you really are to an audience....

We laughed a little.  (I did some finger pointing.)

He was thoughtful, engaged, patient, and so very kind.
(I was happy to discover he's taller than I thought).

In true "Karla fashion", our conversation ended with me expounding on how significant he's been in my daily life and what a great honor it was to meet and chat with him.  ("True Karla fashion" means there may have been some tears welling up in my eyes that could have possibly over flowed and then trickled down my cheeks).

Just in time for a shot of me and my friend, Jian.

Though I only had a chance to ask him a few questions, I passed him off to movers and the shakers at the reception and found our friends and a spot to listen to Jian's reading.

He spoke for a lot longer than I expected.  He began by telling the audience about the way the book began and then shared two passages from the book.  They were amazing.  He was gracious, energetic, hilarious and captivating. (Yes, I quite like him).  Afterward, he took questions from the audience, then proceeded to sign books for a huge line-up of loyal fans.

My tears took me by surprise as I thanked him.  I thought of it afterward.  Why would I have cried?

I'm quite sure it was gratitude.  Overwhelming gratitude for being part of my story, and for sharing his.  For offering his words and experience up to be woven into mine and so many others.
"Kind words" were the least I could give in return.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Home Sense

This is what our basement looked like on Saturday.  

There hadn't been a break-in, a tornado, or any other devastation.
Sometimes this is just what life looks like. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fat Girl Rescue

I remember it like it was yesterday.
If you'd take a stroll with me on the playground at the elementary school where I grew up,
I could show you just where I was when the words hit.   "You're fat.  Fatty."
I remember who said the words.  I still know their names.
All this from grade one and two and a lifetime ago.

In the most honest way, they were right.
I was kind of a fat girl.
Rolls and padding with "pleasantly plump" as my tag line.
Memories of crying in change rooms because there didn't seem to be any jeans that would fit.
Lying down on a bed to get the zipper done up.
The boys never had crushes on fat girls like me.
It was the stick-like girls with tiny frames and blond hair.
"Petite" is a much better tag line than the alternative.

Grade 7 came and then I grew.  It was like it happened overnight.
Long legs and lean body.
Maybe even skinny.
And I liked it.
Angular, bony and straight.
 I was right where I wanted to be.
I chased it and embraced it.
A gift put right into my hands.
Because I grew.

I always wondered when the gift would run out.
When skinny and angular would shift.
Desperately wanting to hold on for dear life.
Thinking that a lifetime trapped in a fat body would be worse than a chronic disease.
Hold in stomach.
Check mirror.
Curse softness.
Aspire to the stick figure with all you've got.
Plan ahead.
Preoccupied with fear of fat that would put me right back where I started from.

Babies came and left this body.  Weight with them.
"Will I ever be the same?  Will I be skinny again?"
Strut around in your jeans two weeks after giving birth like you just won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Badge of honor, they were.
Sigh of relief.  You did it.  You lost it.
No one can take that away from you.
Not even three babies.

Mom of girls.
Long legs, tall frames, strong and healthy.
No one calls them fat at recess.
And you secretly thank the body gods for saving them from the curse.
God, save them from the curse.
(After all these years, your thinking is still messed up.)

Youngest  daughter finds friend with glorious soft body.
Strong, ample, and full of life.
Heart full of space and room for that daughter of yours to find a place to rest.
Playing and laughing and exploring in the school yard.
When the voice makes its way from the mouths of the boys.
"You look pregnant.  You're fat.  Look at your belly."
Every.  Single.  Recess.

Your daughter relates the words like a story.
"I told them to stop", she says.
"I told her that it's OK.   Don't worry about it.   I like you how you are."
And I say, "Yes!  Yes!  She is OK.  More than OK.  Her body is beautiful."
And I remind myself to believe it because I know it's true.

No teacher was told.
And so today after school there will be a fat girl rescue.
I will "out" those voices that spill out of those boys mouths before they find their way into her mind.
If they haven't already.
Please let them not have taken up residence there.
I don't want her to be a woman with a memory as good as mine.