Feeling Expansive Inside the Gift of My Growing Gratitude Practice.

Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving, a holiday tradition we Canucks celebrate every second Monday in October. My first thought upon rising was of the crazy, chaotic Thanksgiving meals that were a part of my old life. I felt grateful that I’m no longer caught up in that pressure and pretense, of how things look and the stress of trying to be perfect. I’m so happy to be living my life of authentic simplicity.

Thanksgiving in our villa on Salwa, 2018

What I do miss about holiday celebrations is my family and friends back home. Love is the greatest gift of all, but with Covid travel restrictions, I haven’t left Riyadh once in 2020. I take comfort in the knowledge that they are all engaged in their own traditions. I can trust in the process of life, that everything is occurring as it should. I may not be with them in our physical forms, but they are in my heart and my spirit, always.

I find myself going deeper into my awareness of what an incredible gift my life is. How blessed I am. I won the love lottery when I found Mister, and everything else is extra. I’m so full up with joy inside our love, there is no space for complaining or wanting more. I accept, with gratitude, what I have. I cherish the flow of a relationship built on open and honest communication and the trust that builds. Every day I appreciate being loved for exactly who I am and for loving him as he is, without judgment or criticism. It isn’t something I have to work at or compromise to feel. After almost nine years together, I still find myself thinking, pinch me, I’m dreaming.

As it is, there are so many layers of gratitude piled on top of the foundation we’ve built together. Big and small; there’s no need to measure. My heart expands every day Lola is still with me. How she still gets so excited to chase her ball for treats every morning and follows me around everywhere I go in our villa. It expands when I look out the office window as I write, greeted by the vision of green leaves and red flowers in the desert. It lights up when I’m at the kitchen sink, preparing gorgeous food, and I see our beautiful palm tree, home to all kinds of bird species who chirp merrily, cozy in their nests built inside strong fronds. I appreciate our space.

I’m over the moon with gratitude for the home Mister and I built together in Panama. I miss it. This year of no travel because of covid has been hard on that front too. But how lovely to have a place to miss? And to be able to relax in the knowledge it is being well cared for by our property management team. We will return, of this I am certain. Having things to look forward to, I’m realizing, is yet another aspect of a daily gratitude practice. 

This year, my gratitude cup is overflowing for the shifts in my dream-to-be-a-writer journey. I’m thankful for the serendipity that started with a chance conversation on the shopping bus with my friend Danielle. I told her I’d finished my first rough draft of my manuscript for The Healing and she shared her family friend’s contact information. Anne O’Connell, of O/C Publishing liked my query sample and we began a partnership. Having her as a mentor has been a huge gift. I’ve grown so much as a writer and regardless of the outcome, I’m proud of what I’ve created.

The plan is to launch The Healing in April of 2021, with the dream of a cross-Canada book tour. But with things as they are with covid, I may need to shift gears. I’m okay with whatever manifests, though, because I trust in the process of life. And I’m often wrong about timings. One thing I know, it will happen, sometime in the future.

I’m excited about my life. I’m jazzed about my future. I feel incredibly fortunate and full of hope. Even with all my challenges, of estranged relationships, my health and of course, covid. I wouldn’t want to change a thing, because I know that even the things that bring me the most grief are the lessons my soul needs to learn.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday or feel gratitude as a daily practice, whether you go big with huge social gatherings or small, with a few people you love, I encourage you to embrace being thankful. Turn your perspective to others, count your blessings and lift your spirits doing whatever it is in this life that lights you up.

From our home to yours, Happy Thanksgiving

To quote from one of my favourites, Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste… Speak your truth quietly and clearly… Be yourself… Nurture strength of spirit… With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

So yeah, I’m feeling expansive inside the gift of my growing gratitude practice.

Feeling Grateful on Canadian Thanksgiving for the Gift of Every Moment

In Canada we’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October, expressing gratitude for the harvest and other blessings, since 1879. Typically, traditions involve family feasts with a roasted turkey as the main attraction, as well as an abundance of other dishes such as mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing and ending with pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

As a self-proclaimed Foodie and a person who loves to cook, I look forward to this autumnal festival. I also appreciate the opportunity to express gratitude for the many blessings that have been bestowed upon me.

As an ex-pat living in Saudi Arabia, I have participated in large pot-luck dinners with our friends in the Canadian community and have hosted more intimate dinners as well. This year Mister and I decided to tone down on the preparations and focus on the gratitude, creating a romantic Thanksgiving dinner for just the two of us. We toasted our love and appreciation for one another, which for us is the greatest gift of all.

 

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Canadian Thanksgiving in our villa 2017

 

Counting your blessings and making space to acknowledge gratitude can be a rewarding experience that turns your perspective outward, onto others. It has to the potential to lift your spirits and have you feeling the grace of God at work in the world.

I use gratitude as a tool for discerning what my goals, values and intentions are and I create vision boards as a visual inspiration. I discovered this powerful ritual when I first watched The Secret, back in 2007, and have been making vision boards as part of my positivity practice ever since.

 

 

 

My vision board is a visual representation that shows clearly what matters most in my life. It reflects how much I value family, friends, and relationships, especially my partnership with Mister. It also focuses on my passion for writing and my goals of moving to Panama, learning to speak Spanish, and opening a restaurant. Interestingly, the word gratitude is featured prominently.

 

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my current  vision board

 

I’m a writer and a keeper of journals and I’ve been using the Sacred Journey Daily Journal for your Soul by Cheryl Thiele for many years now. Expressing gratitude is a part of each month’s exercises, along with affirmations, opportunities and goals.

I’ve seen people posting gratitude challenges on social media and how those challenges have the power to lift them up, creating feelings of joy and happiness.

There are several Ted Talks on the theme of gratitude. In his presentation, “Want to be happy? Be Grateful,”David Steindl-Rast posits that choosing to live a life of gratitude has the power to change the world. He argues that living in awareness that each moment is a gift is the opportunity and key to our happiness. He also suggests that even our greatest difficulties have the opportunity for us to experience gratitude by learning something through the challenge of overcoming them. His method for living gratefully is: stop (or at least slow down), look (open your heart) and go (take action).

 

 

There are also a multitude of books on the subject of gratitude. Words of Gratitude for Mind, Body, and Soul by Robert Emmons and Joanna Hill, A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank you Changed my Life by John Kralik and Gratitude by Oliver Sacks, are a few I’ve discovered. Google books about gratitude and you’ll be sure to find something that intrigues you.

You Tube has a long list of songs about gratitude including Kelly Clarkson’s Thankful, Celine Dion’s Thank You and Alanis Morissette’s gritty version, Thank U, my personal favouriteTake a listen and see what resonates with you in your list of things to be grateful for.

Actions speak louder than words, or so they say. For me, the most powerful experience of how gratitude has the ability to transform has been in witnessing how Mister engages with everyone he meets. Whether he is speaking to loved ones or with perfect strangers, he thanks them for their every effort. He thanks me, every single day, for everything, big or small that I do, never taking even the smallest thing for granted. His actions inspire me to be more mindful and I find myself emulating his example of expressing gratitude more often.

Ghandi urged us to be the change we want to see in the world. I believe that practicing gratitude daily, in every moment, is one way of being the change.

So yeah, I’m feeling grateful on Canadian Thanksgiving for the gift of every moment.

Feeling Inspired; Lifting the Weight of the World off my Shoulders by Opening my Heart to Love

I’ve been feeling the heaviness of the destruction, devastation, and darkness in the world. One day I woke up and felt so tired of feeling hopeless. And then the awareness returned to me, that I already knew, but had somehow forgotten. I needed to open my heart to all the love and light in the world. I set about searching and before long it was like an avalanche had been created with that simple intention.

It started with music. I decided to listen to some of my favourite inspirational songs while walking Lola around the compound. As I listened to Michael Buble crooning about a new day and A Great Big World telling me “You’ll be okay,” I felt the truth in the words and a spring returning to my step. I even noticed beauty in the self-described barrenness of the desert, in the vast blue sky. By the time India Arie reminded me, “There’s Hope,” I was beginning to blossom. A shift was occurring, not in the world, but in my perception.

 

I thought about the list of Affirmations I’d posted to our bulletin board and I took it down and read it. I was present to the many gifts and blessings in my life. Beginning with the love of Mister. He is an inspiring man to be in deep partnership with, his solid faith in God and in humankind demonstrated in his daily acts of integrity and character. His love for me has been my constant, his solidity a rock in which together we have built our foundation.

 

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I thought about how fortunate I am to have four beautiful children. The two eldest are already making change in the world with their passion and commitment. Scarlet has created Women’s Sacred Wisdom ritual and retreat to empower women and embrace the feminine. Tamara has developed her own website offering her gifts in massage, yoga, and art. She also continues to post spiritually inspiring blogs on Anuttara Tantra. The two youngest are still discovering their passions, but share their hearts and minds with courageous vulnerability.

I brought into my heart the loving memories of all of my family, those living and those who have passed. I was present to the gift of friendship, with my tribe here in Riyadh, as well as so many others here and back in Canada.

I continued to focus my thoughts on the positive. I made mental lists of the things I appreciate about my community, the country of my birth, and the world around me. By this point I was clear that I needed to allow myself to receive love and support and to put my energy into giving my light and love to others. I collected inspiration from an eclectic array of sources that I will share in the random order that they manifested.

Throughout my life the Bible has been a source of strength and confusion for me. While I can easily accept the basic premises, truths, and commandments, I get hung up on some of the smiting and punishing and judgment that appears, especially in the Old Testament. But, even there, in the very first words of Genesis, God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.”

I flipped through to the book of Matthew. Verse 28 states, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, I will give you rest.” It was so comforting to remember that I could lay down my cross and God would carry it for me.

Matthew goes on to list the commandments, revealing as the greatest, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… Love your neighbour as yourself.” I cried tears as I felt how I’d let my pain separate me from God. I’d been letting the darkness in the world turn me away from feeling love for my neighbour and for myself.

I was ready to “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on you own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5). I recognized that I don’t have the wisdom to comprehend the complexity of life and death, good and evil. And it’s okay because I can give it to God and relax in my faith.

I had just finished reading Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness. She wrote about the power of courage in the face of pain. About having a “strong back, soft front, wild heart.” She encouraged her readers to practice integrity and authenticity and to “believe in and belong to ourselves and to each other.”

I decided to log onto Face Book and scroll through, searching for positive posts. There were so many choices: Now This, mindful.org, The Mighty, Ted.com, Expand Your Consciousness, Good News Network. And of course, one of my favourites, Goalcast.

I chose Randy Pauseh’s lecture, Live the Right Way, to include in this blog, because listening to him speak brought tears to my eyes. He was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer with only months to live. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he was alive with the energy of spreading his message. To live with humility and integrity, to tell the truth, and to apologize sincerely when you are wrong.

Randy asked, “Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore? Tigger’s are energetic, optimistic, curious, enthusiastic, and love to have fun. I knew who I was at my core, even if I’d been traipsing around like a Moping Moper.

 

A few scrolls later I discovered another moving video titled Live Every Moment by Muniba Mazani. She described how she had been at the edge of despair after a devastating car accident left her with a spinal injury. She shared her healing journey of recovery, found partly through the act of painting. She said at some point she made a conscious decision to live her life for herself, and everything shifted after that. It started from within, and she went about making her dreams become reality.

 

I was surprised to find my next Face Book inspiration from an article posted in latimes.com. Featured was the humble and wise Dalai Lama in an article titled We Need an Education of the heart. He stated that to live together as brothers and sisters in peace, we must learn to practice compassion, mindfulness and justice. Furthermore, he postulated this emotional intelligence can be and should be taught as part of a global curriculum.

I set my phone down, and suddenly my feet seemed to literally carry me upstairs to my meditational room. I picked up Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and reviewed them, slowly and mindfully. Practice non-judgment. Wherever you go, whoever you encounter, bring a gift. Bring your choices into conscious awareness. Practice accepting all people, situations, circumstances and events. Release your desires to the Universe, trusting that life will unfold as it should. Allow yourself and the people around you the freedom to be as they are. And lovingly pay attention to the spirit within you. Wise words, but very challenging to practice consistently.

I sat on my pillow and gazed softly at my vision board. My eyes were drawn to the four agreements, which are a part of the Toltec wisdom. Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best. I hadn’t been following these basic tenets. I hadn’t been practicing love, intent, and faith.

To add another perspective, I thumbed through a pocket book I have with thoughts from the Buddhist monk, Pema Chodron. She begins by explaining that we are all born with bodhichitta, a Sanskrit word meaning noble or awakened heart, and it is this noble heart that heals us from the difficulties we face in life. She offered tools for being connected to our hearts: meditation, loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. She also urged us to be kind to ourselves, to recognize our kinship with one another, to rejoice in the smallest of blessings, to have no expectations, and to be kind.

My journey ended with yet another perspective, illustrated beautifully in Louie Schwartzberg’s Ted Talk, Nature. Beauty. Gratitude. A photographer, he shares the miracle and beauty of nature through his artful time-lapse photography, along with the wise words of Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast. As I watched my soul stirred. When he said, live this day as if it was your first and your last, I knew I had to do something different.

 

Clearly, I had all the tools I needed at my disposal. I had to stop complaining, focusing on the negativity, and living in the past. I was already present to my blessings, but I recommitted to keeping a gratitude journal. I knew I had to celebrate the gift of my life and live it. I felt a renewed energy coursing through my veins and sat down in my chair, ready to write.

So yeah, I’m feeling inspired; lifting the weight of the world off my shoulders by opening my heart to love.

 

Feeling Connected, Celebrating Life and Sharing Stories with Family and Friends

The Grand Ramadan Adventure Mister and I began on May 25 turned out to be such an incredibly epic experience, I’ve decided I need to continue the saga divided into two more blogs. As I sifted through the scrawling notes of my journal and realized I had written 55 pages about our cruise alone, I knew I had some serious paring down to do.

 

In part one I wrote about feeling certain of the depth, breadth and intensity of my love for my family, and that theme continued to the very end of our five- week journey from Vancouver Island back to Riyadh in steps across Canada and including a stop-over in Rome.

 

We flew out of Victoria airport on May 31, our destination Calgary. We were staying at my brother and sister-in-law’s home and I was looking forward to catching up. Doug and Laura had to work and Matthew had school but we still managed to make time in the evenings for deep discussions as well as some family fun, playing games and watching one of the Pirate movies. We had planned a dinner party that included my sister but her boyfriend gifted her with surprise tickets to the Faith Hill concert. We met up with a dear friend of mine from the days when I lived in Calgary and it was wonderful to hear her sounding full of positivity. Then on Saturday morning it was time to go with big bear hugs and traditional nose kisses goodbye.

 

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Calgary Peeps

 

Winnipeg was our next stop, home to Mister’s Mom and Dad. One of Mister’s brother’s lives just outside the city and another brother in Brandon made the drive with his large family to join in the fun. The highlight of our trip was a family backyard barbeque and pool party. It was a treat to witness how much the kids had grown and changed since our last visit and to catch up. My Aunt Linda and Uncle Ned hosted a family dinner too, and it was a wonderful opportunity to connect with my dad’s side of the family. We engaged in a variety of activities with Mom and Dad: pickle ball, lawn bowling, cribbage, and a scenic city walk. We exchanged stories of our lives in Saudi Arabia and our families lives in Winnipeg and of the good ole days as the long Canadian prairie summer days stretched into the night.

 

 

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Pool fun at the Family Party

 

 

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Connection with Ned, Linda & Ryan

 

 

While in Winnipeg a powerful opportunity for appreciation was gifted to me in the unlikeliest of situations. I had booked an appointment with an Aesthetician who turned out to be a native of Brazil. I couldn’t help but wonder how someone from Rio de Janeiro ended up Winnipeg. She shared with me that there is a high level of corruption, crime, materialism and pollution in her country so she and her husband researched for a safe place to live and determined that Canada was the place to go. They chose Winnipeg because they didn’t want to live in a big city, as well as for the affordable standard of living. When I asked her how she managed the cold winters, she replied it was only weather, you just had to dress for it and get involved in winter activities. It was a gratifying experience to hear such a positive perspective on my home and native land.

Our next, and final destination in Canada, was Toronto, where our youngest daughter lives, as well as our very close friend, Anne Marie. Kara greeted us with a huge welcome at the airport and after big hugs hello we climbed into a taxi and talked all the way to our Airbnb rental in the heart of the city. Over the next five days we got into deep philosophical discussions on the nature of being human and shared stories of our challenges and successes. We celebrated her 22nd birthday with her boyfriend Stu, a quiet affair of home-cooked Thai red curry followed by a spirited game of Catan.

For Anne Marie’s birthday celebration, we did it up in style, taking in a musical production and indulging in a five-course meal including wine pairing. I’ll write more about our culinary and cultural adventures in my next blog. We were fortunate to squeeze in a very brief catch-up with our good friends Lyne and Eric over lunch, feeling grateful for the effort they put forth into creating and keeping up connections.

We managed to balance out the excessive eating and drinking with a couple of work-outs at the condo’s gym, as well as a breath-taking 2- hour city walk that challenged our bodies and cleared our minds. It was beyond rewarding to bask in the positive energy of our peeps. I took pride in my daughter, who is rocking it, using a variety of skills and techniques she has learned, creating a life that makes her feel happier and taking steps toward discovering her purpose.

 

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In Toronto with Kara and Anne Marie

 

Mid-June we flew from Toronto to Rome where we were meeting up with my son, Kevin, and his girlfriend Susie. It was a spectacular setting for the four of us to get to know one another more intimately and there was a peaceful flow to our interactions. We found ourselves delving into deep discussions on many an occasion, sharing our views on topics like Brexit, Global communication, environmentalism, equality, and education, to name a few. After a day of touring around Rome we would settle into what we affectionately called the opium bed in our cozy apartment, pouring glasses of red wine and sharing our thoughts and feelings about what we had experienced. Evenings found us situated in one of the plethora of restaurants nestled in our little neighborhood, eating amazing Italian food, drinking gorgeous Italian wine, and telling more stories. We celebrated Susie’s graduation from Cambridge with toasts and sentimental expressions of gratitude. I noticed the many ways my son and I are the same, how we share common values, passions, and ideas and I felt full of bliss for the gift our deep communion over the four days of our Roman exploration.

 

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Me & Mister with Kevin and Susie at Eitch Hotel, Rome

 

Our Ramadan adventure concluded with grandeur as we boarded the Celebrity Reflection Cruise ship destined for an eleven day tour of the Western Mediterranean. After the abundant connection we shared with family and friends we were ready to immerse ourselves in reconnecting with one another. But before I share the magic of that experience, I want to share another unexpected opportunity that manifested.

I never imagined that I would be so impacted by one of the service providers on our cruise, but I was. Paulino, our stateroom attendant, was a constant beam of light and positivity every single day aboard the ship. He was always smiling, and his smile was huge, genuine, and contagious. The first day Paulino welcomed us, shaking our hands enthusiastically in greeting. He went above and beyond his duties, even attempting to repair Mister’s broken-down shaver. He spotted a butterfly on our balcony and informed us with delight that it was a sign of good luck. Paulino took attention to every detail for our comfort and kept our room meticulously clean. The day I dressed up in my red ball gown he saw us as we left our cabin and broke out in singing Lady in Red. He shared lovingly about his family back home without complaint of the hardship of being away, only gratitude for his opportunity to provide for them. On our last night we saw him and bid him farewell and told him how amazing our cruise experience had been and he said thank you but he was merely a cleaner. I assured him with frank honesty that he was so much more than that. I told him how much we appreciated his infectious, positive energy and the outstanding job he did of taking care of us. Tears formed in the corner of his eyes as he took both of our hands in his and thanked us.

 

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Elegant Chic @ Murano Restaurant on Celebrity Reflection

 

I said that my experience of the cruise ship with Mister was magical, and that was no exaggeration. I found myself time and time again feeling like Cinderella, over-joyed, over-the-top and over-the-moon. Every day we took time to express our thanks for the experience and our appreciation of one another. We fell into flow right away, engaging in deep, meaningful conversations, dreaming and imagining our lives together. We had the ability to share openly when we experienced sticky feelings and not take it personally or with judgment. We shifted gears calmly when things didn’t go according to plan. From holding hands as we walked along the decks to kissing as the sun set, we engaged in the art of intimacy, loving and accepting one another for who we are. One day as we sat contently on our balcony over-looking the beautiful blue sea Mister looked over at me and said, “Whether we are here on this ship, in Canada with family, in Rome or in Riyadh, it’s all beautiful because we are together.” I guess that pretty much sums it all up.

 

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Me & Mister in Monte Carlo

 

So yeah, I’m feeling connected, celebrating life and sharing stories with family and friends.

 

Feeling Certain of the Depth, Breadth and Intensity of my Love for my Family

Ramadan began on May 25, marking the beginning of a whirlwind five week adventure for me and Mister. We caught the red eye out of Riyadh to our connecting flight at London Heathrow, then on to Victoria via Vancouver. It took over thirty hours, crossing ten time zones. Despite exhaustion, the pristine beauty of Vancouver Island invigorated my soul and the lure of connecting and sharing stories with family had me tapping into a third or fourth wind.

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My mother, two daughters, son-in-law and grandson all live on Vancouver Island. I knew it was going to be a challenge to be with each of them in authentic communication within four and a half days, but I was committed. Inspired by Elizabeth Lesser’s Ted Talk, Say Your Truths, which I referenced in a previous blog, I vowed to create space for deep time or sacred awe to manifest. And it did.

We engaged in the usual traditions of preparing and sharing food together while engaging in deep discussions.

Re-connecting with my grandson was a gift to be cherished, from that first moment I peeked into his room and he shyly regarded me for all of a minute before crying out in delight, “Grandma!” and that final heart-wrenching kiss goodbye.

We established our motto, “party every day,” belting it out in an off-key version of The Black Eyed Peas, repeating the chorus frequently throughout our visit.

Our first day Mister and I took Em with us into Victoria where we picked up my mom (nana) and drove to Willows Beach. All the adults were enamoured with Em and we traipsed after him as he navigated the playground equipment with confidence. We ate ice cream and drew pictures in the sand with old driftwood sticks. We ate crispy-gooey-greasy pizza and engaged our imaginations in play. Mister pushed my Mom on the swing and me and Em on the merry-go-round. We dizzy-walked and fake crashed into the soft green grass. I felt present to expansive possibilities and the innocence of his loving young heart.

Driving back home we sang songs and told stories, Mister sharing a smash-up impersonation of Foghorn Leghorn, a character from the Looney Tunes of our youth and me giving my Southern accent version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Em revealed with the frank honesty of young children that my story was horrible because it was too scary. He loved Mister’s Foghorn vignette and kept asking him to tell it again.

The next day Mister and I took Em on a walk down by Fisherman’s Wharf in scenic Cowichan Bay. We spotted fish and looked for sea lions, holding hands and seeing the beauty and wonder of the world through Em’s eyes. We had a pirate pool party in their backyard and I relished the freedom to be childish.

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Whether he was busy being a boy, playing and chattering non-stop or snuggled up to me while I read him his bedtime stories, Em’s soft spirit spoke to me. My time with Em brought me back to my purpose, which as Mister identified, is simply to love.

I didn’t create as many opportunities to connect deeply with my Mom as I would have liked. However, it was a gift to witness her youthful, spirited energy as she interacted with Em. During one of our family dinners Mom shared a little of her Ancestry Circle. I felt honoured that she expressed her vulnerability. The day before we left she invited us to lunch at her place and while  I was in a bit of a muddle that day I gave her a big hug goodbye, managing to stay fully present, if only for a few moments.

Scarlet was at a workshop when I first arrived. When she got back early Sunday afternoon I was thrilled and ran to the door to wrap my arms around her. Tamara supported us in our desire to create one-on-one connection, looking after Em. Scarlet drove us to Mill Bay, to a part of the ocean we used to walk together when I lived nearby. We walked along the waters edge sipping our coffees and releasing all of our heaviness, baggage and updates.

When we reached a craggy boulder overlooking the ocean we spread out her yoga mat and settled into the space, holding hands and sitting in spiritual silence. Scarlet led us into deep and sacred communion. We were in deep time and the hours melted into moments where watches don’t exist and our heartbeats marked the passage of time. I felt like I was glowing, acknowledging the grace and gift from God that is my angel daughter.

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My time with Tamara was not as plentiful as I would have liked. I felt grateful for the time we shared together in Goa. We did manage to engage in a few open and honest conversations. I was able to hold and behold her.

On our last evening, after Em was all tucked into bed and the dinner dishes were tidied away, me, Scarlet and Tamara participated in a spiritual bonding ceremony, sharing our vulnerable hearts in deep connection with one another. I experienced some stickiness, but both my girls responded in their own individual ways to support me. My heart was filled with fiery hot pride of the strong women that my girls have become. At the same time, I was present to the approaching end of my visit and my heart was drenched in the tears of goodbyes.

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So yeah, I left Vancouver Island feeling a lot of things, but certain of the depth, breadth and intensity of my love for my family.

Feeling Inspired to Follow My Dreams

I admit that I enjoy scrolling through posts on Facebook. It’s something I take a few minutes to engage in each day, mostly over morning coffee and before tucking into bed. I appreciate the opportunity to stay informed and connected, and for the most part I feel disciplined to keep my time spent on social media within reasonable limits.

I came upon a video featured on Goalcast last week. It was brief but impacting. Taraji P. Hanson, a successful actress most recently known for her performance in Hidden Figures, shared a little bit of her story.

When Taraji became pregnant in college, the naysayers said she would never finish. But she did. She walked across the stage and collected her diploma with her son on her hip. When she announced that the was moving to California at the age of 26 to pursue her dream of acting, the naysayers said she was crazy, that she was too old to start up in that business. But she went, and now she is an accomplished actress. In her own words, at age 46, she is “just getting started.”

 

Taraji’s message is that your happiness is up to you. She encouraged me on my own happiness journey to follow my dreams. And she reminded me of my own inner courage. I decided that perhaps sharing my story could inspire others too.

Like Taraji, I became pregnant when I was young. Only I wasn’t in college. I was in my final year of high school. The naysayers told me I would never succeed if I kept my baby, that I would become a welfare dropout. They were wrong. Birthing my angel inspired me even more to be my best and reach for my dreams. How she changed my life is its own story, but I will share here the poem I wrote during my pregnancy.

 

Teenage Pregnancy

The sadness is the hardest part to bear. It sucks to hear we don’t want her at our school and she is a bad example. As I ride the bus to my new school, the one for girls like me, the old ladies across the aisle offer up their condemning stares. I hide my naked fingers beneath me. I cast my gaze downward and dream.

No joyful announcements slipped ceremoniously into mailbox slots. I’m told to hush, when all I want to do is blast away on my golden trumpet. As a pregnant teenager I’m required to take apart my trumpet and tuck it away in its velvet-lined case. I am not supposed to be happy about this. My feelings are supposed to be about shame. My happiness is not allowed to have its name.

I ask myself “why?” I don’t understand why my age and marital status are the only defining labels of my worth. Is the miracle of this conception less than any other? Is it not possible for me to be an excellent mother?

Before (and my life will now and forever be defined by before and after) I was drifting aimlessly, like a leaf being blown about by a playful wind. Now I have this baby growing inside me and a destiny that seems to embody the meaning and purpose of my existence.

I save my joy for the quiet moments alone in my room. I whisper to my little one, you are so wanted and I can’t wait to meet you.” I close my eyes and dream of counting ten tiny toes. I accept the sadness, but I don’t let it define my experience. For now, I keep the secret of my boundless joy between me and my precious unborn baby girl or boy.

 

I finished high school, walking across the stage to collect my diploma six months pregnant. I birthed my daughter in October of that year and brought her home from the hospital to my parents home. When I turned eighteen the following spring we moved into our first apartment together. I completed a year of college, then went onto University. I applied for and received student loans and grants. With the support of many, especially my parents, I earned my Bachelor of Education degree while raising my little girl as a single mom.

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After graduating in 1988 I went on to enjoy a successful and varied career as a teacher. I taught in public and private sectors. I taught kindergarten through grade nine. I taught in typical and special needs settings. I worked full time and part time. I loved teaching and the opportunities it gave me to engage with my students as well as devote myself to my family, which always came first. I married and had two more beautiful children. I was, and am, blessed with so much.

Still, there have been hard times. It would be dishonest and a disservice to brush over those. I struggled when diagnosed with Type I Diabetes and Hypothyroidism. I had challenges in my first marriage. I battled with depression. In 2011 my marriage fell apart. My children were adults and I was ready for a new chapter. That is also its own story, currently in the process of being written, titled Darkness to Dawn.

Now, in 2017, I’m still feeling full of optimism. I’m 51 and no longer teaching. I’ve always loved writing and now I’m dreaming of becoming a published writer. I’ll never give up dreaming. I know that fulfilling dreams takes hard work. So, I write every day. I send out agent queries every week, prepared for rejection, hopeful for affirmation. I remind myself, without comparing my aptitude with hers, that J, K. Rowling received 100 rejections before Harry Potter became a reality.

So yeah, I’m feeling inspired to follow my dreams.

 

Feeling Hopeful; Digging for Light in the Darkness with my Daughter in Goa, India

A few weeks ago I received a message from my daughter, asking me if I would consider coming to spend time with her in Goa, to hold and behold her. She had been living at an ashram and had decided to leave earlier than intended due to difficult experiences with her teacher. That is her story to tell. My story is about how my heart called me to be with her. I said yes.

 

 

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My daughter, Tamara Dawn

 

 

Stepping for the first time onto an Air India vessel was like stepping backwards in time several decades. Thin, faded retro carpet. Stained, damaged, upholstery. I took comfort in the silver lining that I was seated at the front of economy (extra leg-room) and the plane wasn’t booked to capacity (extra two empty seats beside me). My smoky-screened personal entertainment system was dysfunctional; with no power what-so-ever, but the cheery attendant happily moved me to the vacant seat directly adjacent on the opposite window.

I watched the movie Arrival, an interesting feature based in the future. It addressed the current movement of fear-based policy and politics that have humankind cocooning into their separateness, building walls around their countries, making choices from fear, misunderstanding, mistrust, and ineffective communication. The message of the movie was that for the planet to survive it is imperative that people focus their energy on building a global community.

I peered out my window as I approached the massive, sprawling city of Mumbai; a combination of the usual city spires and domestic architecture, as well as a heart-wrenching number of horrific slums, the aluminum structures propped precariously against one another in row upon row of human degradation. Tears flowed down my cheeks at the inhumanity of it all.

I’d worn my abaya throughout the flight, taking some solace of comfort in it’s protection. I felt vulnerable, a woman travelling alone in a patriarchal social milieu. But the heat and humidity were radiating in the arrivals terminal and so I removed my abaya and slid it into my carry-on. I quickly realized that in Indian culture women generally dress more conservatively than Canadian women. Clad in colourful, gauzy saris, they would never show their shoulders in public as I was, although curiously, they weren’t averse to having their tummies or mid-backs revealed. Interesting to observe, the nuances of culture.

I had six hours to wait in the Mumbai airport before boarding an even sketchier plane to Goa. As I boarded I couldn’t help but think of Airplane Disaster episodes I’d watched with Mister, where the investigations led to discoveries of faulty old parts in old planes. I pushed the negative thoughts from my mind, settled into my shabby seat, cranky with lack of sleep and intense air conditioning blasting down on me, to doze in and out until landing just over an hour later.

I collected my bag from the luggage carousel in the tiny airport and found my way outside the terminal where I spotted my beautiful daughter waiting for me, looking like a contrasting vision of vulnerability and fire. The hot wind blew a welcoming kiss across my skin and I felt alive with the hum of India as I embraced my daughter tenderly, ready to shower her with all the force of my motherly love.

It was dark, so all I could discern of Goa was the coloured twinkly lights and the smell of curry and waste and the sound of horns beeping, dogs barking, and chickens squawking as our taxi driver navigated the narrow dusty roads to Tamara’s apartment. We each carried one of my cases up the narrow winding steps, through the creaky iron gates. It was past midnight and as we’d connected on the hour and half drive, we flopped into bed, the fan purring above us.

Suddenly, it stopped. The fan died. The heat fell on us like a heavy wool blanket, suffocating and thick. Sleepily, Tamara informed me, yes, the power goes out sometimes. What to do? I thought perhaps I couldn’t breathe. I managed somehow to stay calm and keep breathing and when the fan started up briefly I lit up with joyful enthusiasm, pulling the sifted air deeply into my lungs, only to have it stop again as suddenly as it began. I fell asleep, despite myself, and awoke much later to discover the fan back on and felt the kind of gratitude only absence can induce.

Waking to a new day, I was present to my mission of loving, supporting, and being there for my daughter. We went about the task of preparing food and talked easily together, as well as with her roommate. Then we gathered our bags and left with the intention of viewing retreat options in the vicinity. Tamara had rented a scooter, and while she drove quite skillfully, I was tense with the lack of helmets and the crowded narrow roads and the hazards of wild dogs and cows appearing out of nowhere to dart dangerously across our path.

Our first stop was a quaint little set-up of white canvas casitas situated right on the beach. In hindsight, I wish I would have just trusted Tamara and said yes, but I was still unfamiliar with India, still transitioning, and I wasn’t ready to make a commitment without checking out a few more options. We decided to walk along the quiet little stretch of beach that sparkled in the sun just steps from the resort. We plunked ourselves down in the hot sand to let the sun soak it’s healing magic into our skin. Worried about my possessions, I declined joining Tamara for a dip in the salty blue-gray waters of the Indian ocean, preferring instead to sit in peaceful solitude.

 

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Tamara enjoying the Indian ocean in Goa

 

 

We talked and walked to a café and ordered mint lemonade and talked some more. We processed together some of the darkness that she experienced at the Ashram, remembering even in that space to also dig for, and acknowledge the light.  I urged her to allow herself to heal from her experience before taking on the responsibility of holding the Guru accountable. It felt like flow and it felt like love and it felt like it was good enough.

Later, we found a restaurant on a different patch of beach where the ocean lapped lazily in ebb and flow along the silky shoreline. We ordered traditional vegetarian Indian cuisine; eggplant and spinach and paneer in flavourful curries with rice and naan. We held hands, then drove back to her apartment, having somehow forgotten in our ebb and flow of connection to look for a retreat. I also forgot my commitment to be supportive and leave behind my own agenda. I allowed myself to be distracted by discomfort and put that into her space. I’m sorry.

The next morning, we hopped back onto her scooter to go investigate retreat options, as originally planned. We viewed the hotel Lalita, Goa’s apparent 5-star facility, but it was booked to capacity. We checked out a whimsical property called Dreamcatcher, but it didn’t have air conditioning. We ended up realizing the first place we’d looked at the day before, Blue Moon, was the perfect compromise and we recognized it was the sanctuary for healing we had been searching for all along.

Our healing journey expanded. Tamara knew of an establishment nearby that offered authentic Ayurvedic massage. I found myself drifting in and out of time and felt gratitude for the gift of deep pressure on my aching muscles. I hoped that Tamara’s body would receive the strength of our Indian masseuse’s talents too. Namascar.

We ate lunch together in an open-air café, drinking chai tea, which I would become slightly addicted to over the next few days. I savoured the crispy rice flour crepe stuffed with spicy mashed potatoes and a grated beet and carrot salad with peanut dressing. Then we gathered our belongings from her apartment and loaded them into a Tuk-tuk taxi to make the short journey to Blue Moon.

Situated at the edge of the forest, where the river and the ocean converge, sits a semi-circle of white canvas tent-style casitas each with a name of a planet, Neelchamp, or Blue Moon as I prefer to call it. With a bit of persistence in our negotiations with Sunil, a very friendly and accommodating member of the staff with excellent English, we booked the Venus, an air conditioned unit with a back-up fan powered by solar energy. The seven huts encircle the modest but attractive restaurant overlooking the ocean, where we consumed most of our meals over the next few days.

 

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Blue Moon, Goa

 

 

We deposited our bags inside our tent. Tamara left to spend some time meditating and practicing asanas by the beach while I indulged in a large glass of Italian red wine and a bottle of icy cold water on our porch, writing in my journal as the cool breeze from the ocean caressed me. Suddenly I felt a tiny pinprick of concern and I decided to go and look for her. I found Tamara sitting cross-legged on the beach, lightly dusted in sand; she was glowing and looked grounded in her centre. I looked in her eyes, smiled broadly, and said simply, Hello … welcome back.

 

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Me writing on our porch

 

 

 

We went for dinner at the restaurant, Earth. Sunil brought us the remainder of the bottle he had opened for me earlier; Tamara commenting leave it to you to find a good wine in India. I ordered Mariana Trench followed by bananas soaked in rum with ice-cream. The tastes and textures tantalized my tongue and I was finally at home in the vibrant, organic experience of India. In that moment, everything in my world felt exactly as it should be, or, rather, even more perfect than I could have hoped for or imagined.

We spent the next few days drenched in rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. We moved in and out of easy flow and challenging stickiness as we processed emotions in the present that triggered memories from the ashes of the past. At one point, watching three crows and a crab, the mysteries of the Universe seemed so simple and my muse was inspired to write a poem; something I hadn’t done in awhile.

At my favourite time of day, the time in-between day and night when the sun and moon converge in the sky and the air embodies a surreal quality, we took our yoga mats to the place where the ocean sand is greeted by a wall of forest. We practiced yoga asanas together, Tamara leading us in a tantric series with a gentle invitation to honour our bodies and relax into each posture with intention. At times, I found myself distracted by the barking of approaching dogs or the scuttling of crabs in the sand or Indian women walking by with their children, their bangles dangling merrily. I felt playful and patient, grounded and light.

 

Tamara on the beach in Goa

Tamara Dawn; namaste

 

 

The sun set on the drama and emotion, offering new beginnings, our relationship as complicated and as simple as the Universe. I prayed, as my brief time with my daughter came to an end, that she would find a way to integrate the lessons while being gentle and loving and supportive to herself inside of her vulnerability. I prayed for the insights she gained to be manifested and multiplied by the multitudes of people faced with similar situations, where vast spiritual teaching is corrupted and misused by Gurus and other people in positions of power. I prayed for my own courage, to let my daughter find her own way, remembering my purpose is to love.

So yeah, I’m feeling hopeful; digging for light in the darkness with my daughter in Goa, India.

 

 

Feeling Compassion About the Struggles Facing Humanity, Part II

After writing Part I, Mister and I decided it would be interesting to check out the latest documentary on the Venus Project website, The Choice is Ours. It was exhilarating to see ideas and concepts I have dreamed about being demonstrated, based on the principles advocated for by Jacques Fresco, of unification on a global scale. Fresco claims that we have the capability, technology and knowledge for global abundance for everyone if we shared all resources and knowledge as a global community.

https://www.thevenusproject.com/

As is often the case, one stream of visionary ideas seemed to open the door for more to come flooding into my awareness. I was jazzed to start writing Part II and chose as the topics for this blog: Education and Learning, Poverty, Population Growth, the Status of Women and Disease. I started googling and viewing Tedtalks and I was blown away by the plethora of information available. Clearly the choice is ours! We have the technology and the knowledge and skills. We only must put them into action on a global scale.

One of the most impacting videos I have watched on the topic of education was back in 2008 when I was teaching in a special needs setting. As part of our Professional Development we were shown a video by Ken Robinson, Changing Educational Paradigms. I was struck then by the vast difference between what we know about how children learn and how education is delivered through school systems, particularly public school systems. It became a sticking point for me. My value system had me attached to the concept of free, public education as an equalizer, but experience had shown me what many others knew, that public schools continue to manifest the status quo by providing inferior teachers, opportunities and resources to their private counterparts.

https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigm

Fast forward to 2017, and progress is still unfathomably slow. In her passionate Ted Talk, How America’s Public Schools Keep Kids in Poverty, Kandace Sumner outlines the same challenges of resource availability, particularly in relationship to the black and brown population, as she describes it. Of course, it isn’t about skin colour, it’s about poverty. But because of the history of black and white segregation, inequality and racial tension in the United States, there are far more poor black people than white

At present, there are more than 1 billion people in the world living in poverty. Our current value system perpetuates those in power. Greedy people prosper while the poor are enslaved. According to Jacques Fresco, our money system is a mechanism of corruption, deprivation and control where only the few at the top benefit. Higher ideals and aspirations can not be realized when there is poverty and lack of opportunities.

Andrew Youn presented an inspiring Ted Talk, Three Reasons Why We Can Win the Fight Against Poverty. Youn explains that most of the world’s poor are farmers, and most of them are women. They lack access to the tools and knowledge in existence and being used in the first world. So, delivery of tools and knowledge is key. Youn suggests that to accomplish this goal, every field of human development needs to expand to deliver resources. People like teachers and health care workers and farmers need to devote time and money. One Acre Fund currently serves 400,000 poor farmers; providing loans, equipment, and education. It’s a positive step in the right direction, we just need to expand and multiply these kinds of projects.

 

Population growth, or population explosion as I have often heard it termed, may not be as significant a factor as once thought. I read statistics on various cites. They don’t always agree about projections, but while the increase in world population was three times greater from 1900 to 2000 than the entire previous history of humanity, it peaked in 1962. In 1962 the world population increased by 2.1 %, compared to present-day where the rate is half that, at 1.1%. When you look at it closer, the rates vary, predictably, by regions. In the first world, where education rates are higher, the birth rate is lower. In developing countries, the birth rates are usually higher, but so is disease, starvation and poverty related mortalities.

In terms of population growth, what is important is education and empowerment. An educated and contributing population is valuable. Women need to be able to make choices around pregnancy. They need to know their options. Education for communities around safe sexual practices and birth control methods is vital. Wouldn’t it be a better world if every pregnancy was, if not planned, wanted and all parents felt supported to access appropriate resources to raise their children?

Which brings me to the topic of the status of women. The UN Commission on the status of women was held March 13 – 24 2017 in New York. The focus was on women’s empowerment, particularly economically. Women worldwide earn 23% less for work of equal value to their male counterparts. While women comprise 61.5% of the Services work force, only 4% of CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies are women. The world of work is changing fast, spurred by innovation, globalization and mobility. Yet women continue to face barriers of unequal pay, discrimination, and access. “They shoulder the enormous – economically essential – burden of unpaid care and domestic work.”

http://www.unwomen.org/en

The sad fact about deaths by disease is that most are preventable. Ken Silverstein, author of Millions for Viagra, Pennies for Diseases of the Poor, asserts that most of the deaths due to disease occur “in the third world (from) preventable, curable diseases (such as) malaria, tuberculosis, and acute lower-respiratory infections.” However, the number one condition causing death globally is Cardiovascular disease, which accounts for 30% of all global deaths. Of those, 80% occur in low and middle income families. Studies have shown that pollution and other environmental impacts increase the occurrence of cardio-vascular disease.

Clearly, once again, it is about the rich and poor divide. It is about increasing gaps instead of narrowing divides, between have and have-nots, rich and poor, healthy and sick, educated and illiterate, women and men.

The future can unfold in a myriad of different possibilities. Perhaps a total global systems approach will manifest, where global cooperation, a resource based economy and the use of sophisticated technologies create a model of existence based on abundance instead of scarcity, as Jacques Fresco envisions. Perhaps the future will have humans abandoning the Earth altogether in search of life on other planets, as depicted in movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Passengers.  Our imaginations are limitless, we need only the resolve.

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Change is possible – let’s make it happen!

And yeah, still feeling compassionate (and hopeful) about the struggles facing humanity.

 

Feeling a Sense of Belonging as an Expat living in Saudi Arabia

 

I arrived in Riyadh on May 21, 2015 and yet this feeling of belonging has only begun to manifest over the last few months. Anyone who knows me understands I am slow to transition. I’m not certain what event or combination of events led me to feeling like I belong in this community on Salwa compound. I didn’t even realize it was missing until I felt it.

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They say that home is where your heart is. Yet my heart has ties and bonds in so many places, with so many people. Since falling in love with Mister I’ve claimed that I could live anywhere in the world and be happy, if I was with him. That still holds true, but even an amazing relationship doesn’t replace all the other connections that create balance and a meaningful existence.

 

When Mister asked me how I felt about moving from Canada I had mixed feelings. I was anxious about leaving my children and grandson, my Mom and the rest of my family. I was uncertain about living in a foreign country, especially in the middle east, of which I knew little about other than from media and novels like Not Without My Daughter and Ten Thousand Splendid Suns. I had misgivings about wearing an abaya and not being able to drive. But the opportunities for growth and adventure, not to mention financial security for our up-coming retirement, were more compelling than my fears and I said yes. We agreed to give it a go and when asked what our long-term plan is, we simply say, “as long as we’re happy.”

 

So, I came, with few expectations and an open mind, never once imagining I would end up having so many fulfilling experiences nor meeting so many amazing people from so many different cultures. Here on the compound of Salwa I have met people from the UK, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Nicaragua, Kenya, and Poland. I’ve interacted with service providers from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. I’ve met the odd Saudi Arabian too, but due to restrictions around the public conduct of women, that hasn’t been as easy.

 

 

Since everyone on Salwa are expats living in a foreign country, we can relate to one another and offer support. Most of the people I have had the opportunity to meet are positive, and I consider myself fortunate to have acquaintances from a broad spectrum. Some have likened the experience of living on Salwa to living in a fish bowl. Granted, it is a small community and when you work and play with the same people, it can get a bit too familiar at times. For me, the positives far out-weigh the negatives and I’ve come to view my life on Salwa as my sanctuary.

 

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Entertaining friends in our garden

Salwa feels like a sanctuary for many reasons. In the almost two years since I’ve lived here I still feel uncomfortable in the world outside the walls of our compound. When I need a service or product in the city, which is typically once a week, the first challenge to overcome is how to get there. As I’ve mentioned, women aren’t allowed to drive here, so if my Mister is at work, I must arrange a driver. Drivers are in a competitive business, and many times I have had my driver call to cancel or rearrange at the last minute. For a hard-core planner, such as myself, this alone can be challenging.

 

Driver arrangements secured, the next challenge is navigating the traffic of Riyadh to arrive at my destination safely. I have vented about this before in earlier posts, so suffice to say that the combination of being in a big city with drivers who are distracted and self-focused creates mayhem in one form or another on a regular basis. I often find my heart in my throat, or in my stomach. As my friend Rhonda so wisely advised, it’s best not to look. Going on adventures into the city with friends is a highly advisable distraction.

 

Clad in an abaya, I feel like an imposter. I have also berated this aspect of living in a Muslim country, but it bears repeating. The abaya is a tripping hazard. When a scarf is adorned as well, you lose part of your peripheral vision, and when you already suffer from coordination issues, it can cause one to bump into things. When it is hot, which is most of the time, or when I am having a hot flash, which is a great deal of the time, the abaya feels like the weight of the world draped over my shoulders.

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The physical constraints of the abaya, however, pale in comparison to the emotional discomfort. To say I feel like an imposter may sound like I’m being a drama queen, but the truth of the matter is, I’m not Muslim, and to adorn myself in a garment that is part of that religion and culture feels hypocritical. Furthermore, I am a liberal and feminist thinker, believing in the equality of all human beings. I don’t have the knowledge to make an informed comment, but when I see an entire family out and about and all the men and children are dressed in designer fashions whilst the women are kept covered in drab abayas, it feels oppressive.

 

Driver and abaya aside, there are still a multitude of challenges once arriving at the destination. There are prayer times, language barriers, and products that are unfamiliar with ingredients listed in foreign languages. With food allergies, this can be a big problem. I have had occasion when shopping for groceries and prayer starts and the produce weighing stations close and the cashiers close and I have all my items, including perishables, but have to wait the half an hour until prayer is over. I have had occasions when I’ve arrived at a store to find the blinds pulled, the shop closed from noon to four. It is a first world problem, I admit, but frustrating none the less.

 

Enough of the bickering and complaining, though, and back to the developing sense of belonging…

 

I failed to mention Canada when listing all the countries whose natives populate our fair compound. It has amazed me how leaving your country of origin can inspire such patriotic feelings of love and appreciation. Canada truly is a country to be proud of and my fellow Canadians have provided huge support.

 

Me and Mister joined the Canadian Community of Riyadh, which offers members opportunities for socializing in a myriad of interesting ways. We had a wonderful time dressing up in Gangster attire for the casino night, then getting all decked out in ball gowns and tuxedos for the Red and White ball hosted at the British Embassy. The Canadian Embassy has been under construction since our arrival. Volunteers work countless hours and monies raised by such functions go towards supporting worthwhile causes, such as families of soldiers who have sacrificed their lives fighting for freedom and humanitarian causes.

 

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Red & White Ball with Matt & Elizabeth Kingsman

A less formal but equally engaging organization has been the ladies known affectionately as the Canadian Chicks. Someone with far more technical skills than I created a handy What’s App for us to communicate get togethers, ideas, frustrations and celebrations. It has been a great way to stay informed and connected and I appreciate being a part of such a vibrant and positive group of women.

 

My fellow Canadians are not the only people who I’ve come to grow fond of here of Salwa. Many women are here supporting husbands who work for BAE systems and are unable or choose not to work, but are incredibly enterprising and creative. I have dabbled in a variety of clubs that offer a diverse array of opportunities, including Crafty Ladies and Book Club. There is a huge array of fitness classes on offer by people with talent and training and I have enjoyed practicing yoga and belly dancing.  And there are many casual get togethers too; ladies meeting up for a walk around the compound, for lunch at the Kingpin restaurant, for coffee at Costa, or to lounge by one of the many community pools.

 

On top of these incredible opportunities in our community are the deep and meaningful friendships that have blossomed. I have bonded with several women here whom I trust completely and would do anything for. I share openly with them my fears and my dreams, and I hope they feel the same ability to share their hearts with me. They’ve had my back and supported me through the tough times, the times when the differences felt overwhelming and the fishbowl too constrictive. The times when events in my personal life felt too challenging to bear alone and I needed a friend to lean on.

 

I blogged about the experience I had in Bahrain, of feeling a growing sense of belonging to a human collective. At the that time, I had thought that feeling couldn’t possibly manifest here in Riyadh. Then, a few weeks ago, a small miracle of hope was given to me in the most unlikely and unanticipated circumstance. I was in line at the grocery counter in Carrefour, when a little girl, likely around one year old, in the aisle beside me caught my attention. Her joy and innocence were infectious, and soon myself as well as the two Saudi women scanning and packing my groceries were enraptured, cooing and smiling away. It was a brief and beautiful moment, where our differences dissolved. There were no religions or cultures or languages, only the sisterhood of women, of mothers. We all felt it, and we smiled genuinely at one another in recognition of what unites us; our emotions and our love of our families.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling a sense of belonging as an Expat living in the community of Saudi Arabia.

 

Feeling Reflective about the Year 2016

 

The end of the year that many are calling disastrous has arrived. True, there were natural, political and religious disasters of one kind or another. There were a lot of celebrity deaths. Life is an ebb and flow of contrasts, and Nature, left to her own devices, gravitates to balance. So, rather than focus on negativity, I feel optimistic.  What happens isn’t what matters, but how we, as a human collective, respond.

 

 

 

Looking back on my own little microcosm, there is a similar theme. I experienced many challenges this year. I blogged about my difficulties with my letting go journey. I hinted at some of my health problems. But I am proud of myself for behaving with integrity and character, for the most part. After all, it’s relatively easy to be a good person when life is proceeding smoothly and people are good to us. Suffering, on the other hand, forces us to find our inner strength.

 

 

 

I have been blessed this past week with one of those rare epiphanies when apparent random and separate events collide to create deep understanding. I achieved success on my letting go journey when I wasn’t searching for answers. In fact, I had few expectations of my brief holiday in Bahrain, other than an opportunity for adventure, relaxation and rejuvenation.

 

 

 

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take you with me to the beginning, when Mister and I embarked on our road trip to Bahrain.

 

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As road trips go, I can’t honestly classify the drive from Riyadh to Bahrain as epic. I was excitedly anticipating what was to be my first drive through the desert and enthusiastically tucked my journal and pen in a handy spot to chronicle my observations. Heading east on a paved three lane highway, barreling along at the posted speed of 120 km/h, I asked if we had left the city of Riyadh to which Mr. Vocabulary replied, “the city limit is rather nebulous.”  We continued past miles and miles of sandy landscape, broken only by the frequent spotting of camels and sheep and oil refineries. I felt like a rebel in the rubble.

 

 

 

Mid-way, the beige sand morphed to a warm burnt orange hue with tufts of green here and there, but soon enough it was back to the endless sea of beige. The monotony of the landscape reminded me of drives across the Canadian prairies. We passed the odd car carcass, a solitary Caterpillar tractor and, strangely, an abandoned Ferris wheel. It was all rather uninspiring.

 

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Three and half hours later, we arrived at the Persian Gulf. I could smell the salty air before it came into view, and I found my heart skipping around in my ribcage with delight as my body absorbed the timeless peacefulness of the open air on the sea. I had an intuition that Bahrain was going to be an impacting experience and I wasn’t disappointed.

 

 

After forty five minutes of waiting in lines and going through tolls and customs booths, driving over the causeway, we arrived in beautiful Bahrain. One of the officials asked David if I was his only wife. He replied yes, to which the official answered, looking over at me, “She has a pretty face, one will do. Me, I have three wives. I sleep well on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.” I must admit it gave me pause to chuckle and I marveled at his cheekiness.

 

 

 

We got a little lost, but soon enough we were at our hotel, Le Meridian, with smiling, friendly porters offering to unload our luggage onto trolleys and park our car. I quickly stepped out of my abaya, tossing it with gleeful abandon onto the trolley and entered the hotel lobby with my Mister. The hotel was decked out in lavish Christmas decorations and the hotel receptionist, Martha, joyfully welcomed us. A feeling of freedom enveloped me and I couldn’t help but feel a wave of gratitude wash over me.

 

 

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Me & Mister by one of the Christmas Trees at Le Meridian

 

 

 

 

 

We made reservations for the hotel’s famous Friday brunch the next day. The experience impacted me on many levels. From the moment we entered the restaurant I felt like Cinderella, it was pure magic. The entryway served as the monument to all things sweet, baked and delicious. Chefs had prepared a sensational assortment of culinary decadence. There was Santa on his sleigh being pulled by cookie reindeer, cakes and puddings, gingerbread houses, an iced snowman and a Christmas tree with bon-bon ornaments. It was a chocolate lovers heaven with at least twenty different varieties of truffles, not to mention a chocolate fountain. My mouth was salivating already and our dining experience had not yet begun.

 

 

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Yes, the reindeer are cookies!

 

 

 

 

 

The smiling waiter with his elf hat perched merrily on his head led us past the live entertainment and seated us at our table with aplomb, plucking my napkin up and placing it politely across my lap. We were brought still water and ordered a glass of champagne.  As I clinked flutes with my Mister I felt more gratitude and tears filled me eyes. Composing myself, I ventured amongst the vast array of food stations, hand in hand with Mr. Charming.

 

 

 

For our first course, several delicious cheeses made their way to our shared plate, including a strong and savoury blue that packed a punch, made even more delectable with the addition of a tart cranberry jam. We also waxed eloquently over the piquant and buttery French cheese, of which variety I have now forgotten. My senses of sight, smell and taste were tantalized, but something much deeper occurred for me as I felt the gift of being in connection with my husband amid the Christmas spirit all around us, surrounded by people of all cultures and religions, gathered together. In that moment, my heart-felt light and a world where peace is king and people respect one another felt possible. I wasn’t the only one with such a vision, as the following video testifies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a short rest and engaging conversation we moved on from champagne to red wine and decided to serve up our second course. We started at the carving station where the chef sliced us thick slices of roast turkey and Wagyu beef. In the line we made eye contact and smiled in greeting to a lady ahead of us who ended up visiting our table later on, a delightful woman named Sophie originally from Germany. We dished up small portions of savoury zucchini, parsnips and potatoes that were spicy and crisp on the outside while an observant server kept discreetly filling up our wine glasses.

 

 

 

Before heading for dessert, Santa Claus arrived. It was quite a hoot, as his black hair peeked out from his thin white wig and obviously fake beard all askew. No one was bothered, least of all the children, who all clamoured about him excitedly and posed with their parents for photos to mark the occasion. Everyone was festive and it touched my heart when a Muslim woman I passed by on my way to the dessert station smiled broadly at me.

 

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Our third and final course was dessert. I did over-indulge (yes, Carol, your Oink was appropriate!) tasting at least six varieties of creamy, velvety, smooth and luscious truffles. Three hours later, stuffed, (not quite like a pig) our experience was complete and we left to explore the shops in the attached City Centre mall.

 

 

 

Skipping ahead, my next impactful experience was our tour of the Al-Fateh Grand Mosque. My good friend Carol, and her husband Raimo, had invited us to join them. Neither Mister nor I had ever stepped foot in a mosque before, and we weren’t certain what to expect. I pulled my scarf discreetly over my blonde hair and lifted my long abaya as we ascended the steps to the entrance. We were ushered into a reception area and asked our nationalities and then asked to wait for our guide outside the shoe cubicle area.

 

 

 

Within minutes our guide, an Imam born in Kenya before settling in Bahrain, joined us. He was a gentle man, the kind of spiritual person for whom all of Life’s questions and answers are simple, for they are placed at the foot of God. For him, his faith was easy and pure and the path to salvation was available to everyone, including us. We merely had to make an oath that there is only one God and that Mohammed was the true and final prophet. Carol and I peppered him with questions about the role of women, about the five daily prayers, and about fasting over Ramadan. He urged us to set our minds and accept the way to a prosperous and happy life. He tried his best to convert us to Islam, but there was no judgement or condemnation expressed, only a sincere desire to provide us with an opportunity for salvation.

 

 

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Me & Carol in the mosque

 

 

 

 

 

The mosque itself was a beautiful structure, designed in an intricate geometric configuration of shapes that exuded a peaceful quality. The walls were covered in a special local stone tile that kept them cool in the hot weather. The ceilings were so high they seemed to stretch to the very heavens themselves. The door to the main prayer area for men, which we were not permitted to enter, was a tall, ornate structure, the handle at the height of my head and almost the same circumference.

 

 

 

Our guide led us up the winding staircase to the gallery viewing area and place where women can pray. We engaged in further discussion about the origins of Islam and Christianity and he shared how both religions had as their common ancestor Abraham, from Israel. Somehow the story had me feeling the unity of humanity, not the division, and I was moved.

 

 

 

We walked around the balcony ledge, carved of ornate dark wood, and peered above at the stained glass windows and elaborate chandelier of imported lamps. The call to prayer began and we took it as our time to depart. We thanked the Imam for his time, David taking his hand in his as a sign of appreciation, and I motioned to do the same before realizing with embarrassment the inappropriateness of my action. I felt flustered and perhaps even a little angry for the first time since arriving in Bahrain with the restrictions of being a woman in patriarchal Muslim society. 

 

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My journey continued when we chose to go and see the movie Passengers. I was excited by the opportunity as there are no movie theatres in Riyadh. Even the message of the movie, which was about letting go of how we expect our lives to unfold to accept what manifests, seemed so appropriate. I could almost feel God whispering me to make the most of each and every moment.

 

 

 

Last, but not least, was our romantic Christmas Eve Dinner at the Cut restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. Mister and I walked into an elegantly decorated hostess station and were shown to the elevator before being led to our intimate booth. Our seats boasted spectacular views of the bay through floor to ceiling windows and the red and white lights of Bahrain’s National Day twinkled in the moonlight. A duo of talented musicians provided us with the atmosphere, the young woman’s sultry voice reminding me of Dido, the man strumming proficiently on his guitar.

 

 

 

The waiter brought us two menus, one a la carte, the other the chef’s prix fixe with wine pairings. The four-course set menu was tantalizing, but I wasn’t sure if my food allergies could be accommodated. To my delight, our smiling server returned and assured me the chef was more than happy to make whatever revisions necessary for me to enjoy his creations.

 

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Mister & Me @ Cut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The presentation did not disappoint. The first course was prosecco with smoked salmon. Crispy on the outside, buttery and flaky inside, it was melt in your mouth delicious. Pasta was served next, and the chef wowed me with a serving of gluten-free spinach fettucine in butter with fresh parmesan, paired with a luscious glass of Chateau de Neuf. The main was the feature and the filet mignon was a perfect cut, perfectly cooked and infused with complex but complementary flavours of earthy mushrooms, savoury mustard sauce and crispy onions. The pairing was a peppery shiraz blend that was our favourite wine selection of the evening. The finale was as impressive, with the chef preparing me from scratch a gluten free yule log of cake and cream that looked equally divine to David’s traditional fare. In addition, was an apple poached tart with two quenelles, one vanilla bean ice cream and one mascarpone cheese. Dessert was paired with a silky port that was not too sweet, pleasing even our picky palates. Yes, it was over the top and we both felt full of food and gratitude when we climbed into our taxi three hours later.

 

That night we were treated to a FaceTime conversation with our daughter and grandson. We were thrilled especially because our FaceTime has not been working since arriving back in Riyadh after Haj. It was so touching to see his cute little face, full of excitement with the magic that Santa Claus was coming to town. In the morning, we enjoyed more connection with my Mom and brother and then with our youngest daughter. I realized how far I’d come on my letting go journey, from last year when my heart was grieving our separation from family so heavily. I still missed them, but I was grateful that I had a family I loved so much to miss. I was grateful for all the Christmas celebrations I shared with them in the past. And I was present to the gift of this Christmas with my Mister in Bahrain.

 

 

 

The myriad of experiences I had in Bahrain combined to create feelings of such deep love, peace and joy. I left feeling full of hope for the future, enthusiastic to discover what new adventures were in store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling reflective about 2016 and wishing everyone a Happy New Year