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Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

Make new friends, but keep the old,
One is silver and the other gold.
~the song we used to sing in Brownies.  It still makes sense.
I made a new friend today.
He gave me his car. 
First the backstory:
Four of us came together for a girls' weekend and informal ODPU reunion.
(here I need to interject that 'Odd Poo' stands for the former University of Calgary Outdoor Pursuits program and is the all-time worst acronym I've ever heard.  I refuse to use it except in very specific tongue-in-cheek situations.  It more aptly describes the way I feel after eating too much dairy, but that's another story.)
We were converging from east and west and planned to meet mid-way in Lake Louise.  A winter storm warning and terrible road conditions stopped us in Canmore.
In white-out conditions reminiscent of the Wapta ski traverse, we landed safely at the adorable, homey and kind Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge.
It featured cozy rooms, a fireplace and the all-essential hot tub.  Perfect.
Things really took off the following day as our fourth member met up with us after the storm.  We skied, settled in, giggled and caught up, perusing old school photos and sharing delicious preserves from the Okanagan (thank you for bottling up that sunshine Christin!)
We'd all been reading Ken Wylie's new book Buried.  As former students of Ken's, we discussed his courageous book at great length throughout the weekend.
He taught us much as an instructor in ODPU.  And I'm grateful that he's still teaching me with the brave words in his book.  I'm left considering the importance of heeding your intuition, speaking up when you know it to be right, regardless of the social implications, and that experience without reflection is for naught.
We stayed up late talking about these concepts, the world and our lives.
What a gift to gather with soul friends like these!

And this morning we woke up to -30.  It felt like -40.
LaHonda wouldn't start.  We tried everything.  We jumped the car, we harnessed the energy of a Nordic ski team to try for a push start.  We plugged it in.  We crossed our fingers.
Nothing worked.
Holly had a flight to catch back to Saskatoon.  The clock was ticking.  So our new best friend Pat, whose family runs the Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge GAVE US HIS CAR.
Mom, I swear I did not steal this car.  It was given to me.
It's an upgrade to say the least. 
For one thing, it starts.  And beyond that, it has SEAT HEATERS! 
We drove back to Calgary in luxury, filled with gratitude.
And remembering Ken Wylie's wise words about the importance of reflecting on experience, let me share a few lessons learned....
1.  If anyone travels with me, they must prepare themselves for a change in plans.  Because as hard as I try, it seems that something always goes a little teensy bit (or a whole heck of a lot) awry.  As we learned in ODPU, this is called a 'misadventure'.  Though I've been known to curse my misadventures as they are unfolding, without them:
  A) I'd have no new material for my blog (wouldn't that be a shame dear readers?) and,
  B) There'd be so much less excitement in my life  (which leads me to point #2)
2.  It is exactly these unplanned mishaps that bring great excitement and open me to new lessons and experiences.  I spent this morning upset and stressed and left this afternoon with a brand new friend and a great new car (I promise that I'll bring it back tomorrow Pat!)  It's when I've travelled with the least money that I've connected most deeply with new friends around the world.  I've stayed in their homes, eaten with their families, shared guinea pigs on my birthday.  When I have more resources and everything goes according to plan (don't worry, it's rare), I am somehow insulated against the exquisite and unplan-able (is that a word??) memorable moments that come from not knowing where I am, where I'll sleep that night, or whether my car will start...
And, ummmm.... lesson 3:  In Canada's chilly climes, it helps to plug your car in overnight....

Friday, 28 November 2014


Changing the food industry for the better.

It needs to happen.  And that's just what my friend Lindsey aims to do. 

From her little basement in Canmore, Alberta, she is changing our snacking habits one bite at a time.  Downstairs, with her little ones in tow, she whips up amazing healthy treats and calls it all Tasty Living.  Her two healthy, rosy-cheeked kids are more excited about hemp chips and delicious wow cacao energy bites than licorice or gummy bears.  Now that's what I call awesome.

And beyond awesome, it's essential.  Have you heard what lurks in some of our food these days?  Those long labels and indecipherable words hide many dark secrets.  Today I found out that beaver anal gland juice could be giving my conventional treats their vanilla or raspberry flavor.  Yes, you heard me right:


They call it castroleum to make it sound better.  Our poor Canadian beavers.

Luckily, most of us aren't beavers.  So why would we eat wood shavings?  Nicely disguised with the word 'cellulose', this is used as filler or texturizing material.  If you haven't already lost your appetite and want to find out more, check out the shady secrets here:

But let's get back to being awesome - and step up our snack selections.  If you want to give a little boost to a gal who's doing this for all of us, support Lindsey on Kickstarter.

You can play a part in shifting the food industry too!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Seeing Through New Eyes*

I've just had the pleasure of spending a week with a group of fascinating, engaged, accomplished, kind and humble new friends in the Canadian Rockies.

I took a week off from my amazing new job in municipal government (where I talk trash to kids every day by leading tours of our local landfills) to revisit the Rockies with Backroads on their premiere walking trip.  Every Backroads trip is amazing.  And this particular journey is really something to write home about.  I was in awe every day.  I am again reminded why I so often say that working as a trip leader is the best job in the world (and luckily for me, it sits in good company amongst one of the many 'best jobs in the world' that I have held.)

Spending this week introducing newcomers to Banff, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks helped me to view the area through new eyes.  I'll quote Marcel Proust here as he writes,

'The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.'

I owe a debt of gratitude to my new friends for helping me to open my new eyes each morning in the Canadian Rockies.  Though I've had the great privilege of travelling the world and experiencing many of the best things our earth has to offer, I am still most blown away by my own backyard. 

Our group of twenty shared conversations, daily hikes bringing us to ever more beautiful vistas and a dip in a mountain lake.  We smelled sweet pine sap on cool alpine breezes, marveled at thunderstorms over our gourmet meals and emerged from the richest desserts you could imagine just in time to see a double rainbow over the Rockies.

My co-leader Kenny (a generous, multi-talented man most noted for his hilarity and his cooking skills - seriously folks, check out Thai Cooking With Kenny!) toasted our week together saying,

'It is a special opportunity to spend a week in such a spectacular place with such a wonderful group of people - made more so by working alongside one of my best friends.' 

Kenny, I couldn't agree more.  And as far as best friends go, I am one lucky gal.  This one's for you.

Here I am, reading you a final morning poem.  I can put up photos of myself because it's my blog.  So there. 
Photo Credit:  Mark Weston
Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

from Dream Work (1986) by Mary Oliver
© Mary Oliver
*The title of this post was inspired by one of my mentors and a woman I see as a modern prophet, Joanna Macy.  For more on her work and seeing with new eyes, I highly recommend any one of her wonderful books, or her website: 

Saturday, 31 May 2014


Just a few lessons that I have to share from an epic hiking trip I took in Peru with friends in 2012.

First and foremost.  Go there.  Get to Choquequirao.  Though this was perhaps the most epic hike I've undertaken in the Andes, it was worth every sweaty step.  Choquequirao is hot, remote, expansive, mysterious and 100% magic.  Go there.  Did I say that already?

Now onto some lessons learned on a dusty, sweaty, major trek.

1. Take the long view.  I learned this way back in my university Outdoor Pursuits days.  Go figure, they were right.  Yes, you will hike up for 1.5 miles straight.  But you WILL get to come back down again.  Oh wait, that part's painful too.  Scratch point #1.

2.  Don't drag your baggage along.  Seriously!  How many times do I have to learn this one?  All you REALLY need is a Snickers bar in your pocket.  All those cucumbers and journals really start to weigh a girl down. 

3.  Things never go according to your expectations.  Ummmm....just ask my friend Carolanne, or anyone who's paddled Georgian Bay in 50km/hr winds.  And the point is - this is usually where the best memories and experiences happen.

4.  Why do we do this after all?  Remind me...  Some might say it's for the profound connections to nature and to one another.  Some like to get really dirty so that a shower 5 days later feels just that much more phenomenal.  I hold that it's for the discomfort that jerks you smack into the beautiful present.  Or so that we can eat more Snickers bars.  One of the two.

and 4.5 Break in your hiking boots first.  Right Karen?

Now get thee to Choquequirao, Peru.  Wow.  No other words will do.

2 Days in Purge-a-tory

It's spring.
And I just moved into a clean new home.
That means one thing and one thing only:  it's time to purge old possessions.
Goodbye old love letters.  Goodbye ancient, expired snack foods.  And good riddance old bills.
But it's SUCH an emotional process!  Painful, slow, and the LAST thing I love to do.

Yup, purging.  My worst nightmare.

All I can say is thank God for my mother.  She flew out to help me.  She's more patient than Job.  She's an organizational guru.  She's endlessly giving.  And endlessly forgiving when she ends up in the accidental role of whipping boy in my more emotional moments. (Sometimes, I am a very bad person)

My mom, the saint - providing snacks and smiling, even in the midst of my hell...

Obviously, I should have called in reinforcements.  One of the many friends or family members who love to declutter, throw out old junk - some of whom actually do it professionally.  Like, for a living.  I mean, check these gals out:  Room to Breathe (Incidentally, they were writing a piece on how to declutter your home AS I was doing it...)

The biggest problem I have is with paper - it just builds and builds...The number of coloured post-its and chicken-scratch-covered receipts that have passed through my home probably amount to at least 7 ancient redwood trees.  And that's not cool.  Not to mention that at times I feel that they are burying me alive.  Retribution from the redwoods for taking their children before their time I suppose.

It's just that I feel like I need to capture every thought I think.  Somehow catch these ephemeral moments in ink...I have scraps of poetry, snippets of screenplays, random 3am strokes of insight and an overwhelming amount of non-done to-do lists.  But thanks to my Mom, I have a few less now.  The struggle continues - if you can handle a stressed-out ginger, come on by and help out...
 (but anyone who knows me well will tell you that an angry ginger is not to be taken lightly)
**Months later, and I finally have recovered my wits sufficiently to write about it.  Trust me, it wasn't pretty - but now I'm so proud of my place that I'm inspired to post the whole place to Pinterest...

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Farming is Life

(the rest is just details)


I've fallen in love these past few days.

(what else is new? you may ask)

It's totally different this time!

When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a farmer.

Then I got older, worked in the mountains, sat in an office and forgot about the farm.

Until last week.

And now I want to be a farmer again.  Or at least marry one.
(I'm under no false illusions here.  I do recognize that farming - or loving a farmer - is probably one of the most demanding things a human bean (thank you SARK!) could choose to undertake.  And I am not excited about the idea of 4am wake-ups.  Or never taking holidays.  Or working all season only to have the weather destroy your crops.  But I do believe that knowing the land, learning how to live in harmony with our changing seasons and providing nourishment for our species - in a sustainable way - is one of the most noble, needed pursuits on the planet today.)

I spent the week with my seventh cousins thrice removed on their land near Clearwater, Manitoba.
I showed up like city-girl Paris Hilton on The Simple Life, only without the cute outfits (and showing less cleavage).  I arrived in nightclub boots and skinny jeans.  Like the wonderful people they are, my family welcomed me in with open arms (and a more farm-appropriate Carhartt uniform).  I vow to get one for myself now  (I mean, how can I possibly become a capable, resilient person without the right outfit?? Seriously...)

A calf literally fell out of its mother as Mom and I forced our compact rental car up the lane way. 

I named him Teardrop.  But don't tell Don.  Even I know that you're not supposed to name farm animals.
(But my parents' friends once made a pseudo-exception to this rule by naming their backyard cow 'Freezer Beef')
Within an hour I was driving a tractor.  And then I was holding a gun for the first time in my life.  I'd never imagined I'd see the words Winchester and Remington up close.  It was terrifying.  I can't believe my cousin Don trusted me to even hold the thing.  Thankfully, I'm a terrible shot, so the gophers of Clearwater have never been safer.

My family is absolutely amazing.  If there are more generous people on the planet, living with greater integrity, I have yet to meet them.  This land is their life.  Once upon a time they had fields yellow with canola.  Then they raised sheep.  And now cows.  When I asked Don why he switched from canola to cattle, he said that he didn't like what the crops were doing to the land.  He takes a holistic management approach to farming, mimicking nature's processes.  Allan Savory, who first conceived of this notion believed that, "only livestock can save us."  He believes that rotational cattle grazing can restore rangeland soil.  These restored grasslands are then able to sequester vast amounts of carbon dioxide, lessening our negative impacts on the atmosphere.

I only spent two days on the farm. 
But under these vast open skies holding a newborn calf in my arms, I had an epiphany.  This really is life.  In our cities, we remove ourselves from the cycles of life, death, weather and seasons, hiding out in malls and on freeways.  Here, out in the Manitoba wind, I was right next to my food, to my family and to the land - our lifeblood.  I think that this is what breeds resilience in people. This is an enormous part of what it truly means to be alive and human (thank you to Ken Low and Leadership Calgary for that concept).  And as Don reminded me, 'It's not the big things.  It's all the little things.' 

As we pulled away, I waved at Don in the tractor, his 3-year old grandson on his knee.  What a place for a kid to grow up.  This might just be what it takes for us to become free range humans again.  It's time, people.

Tonight I am grateful for:


For fresh wet calves,
Who stand a second after they're born.

For babies and boys
And Mom.
For the tractor
and Don
and Jan-Anne-Brayden-Mitch.

For the wisdom that comes from the fields,
for not letting skool get in the way of your education.
For resilience,
for sunsets.
For the generosity of strangers.
For family and farms and
Family farms.

For love and fresh food and pico de gallo. For twins and bottle-feeding and snowy white owls.
For a calf in wolf's clothing,
deep mud and 2-way radios.

For poetry and poets and
Even for iPhones.
For places without service.
And lives of service
And peace and
And Palestine.

I'm grateful for you.
And for me.
And for we.

And most of all, I'm grateful for this whole mad circle of life and for all the things that

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Houston Solution

I've found it!

The very simple solution to Houston hair = Houston hood.

Now I can go about having a great time.