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 Motivated, Ready to Empower Myself to Achieve my Goals

I was feeling in a bit of a slump, impatient that my goals were not manifesting in the way or the time I envisioned, when I happened upon a Goalcast compilation- “The Top 5 Speeches That Will Set You Up for Success.” After watching, I discovered I had morphed from feeling burdened by the heaviness to feeling incredibly uplifted. It was that powerful. I shared it with Mister and he felt it too. So, I’m writing this blog to share the love with my readers.

 

 

  1. Count Your Blessings by Rudy Francisco

Rudy is a poet, and his passion provided the perfect opening. His message was about surviving the hard things in life, about not giving up and focusing on your blessings. He gave examples of people who had survived incredible hardships and challenged us to do the same, to be grateful for the lives we have been given and to lift ourselves up. “You are still alive – so act like it.”

My daily gratitude practice is one of the tools I use to help me stay on track, especially during the difficult times. I have discovered that when I stay focused on my blessings and gifts, when I stay present to the abundance in my life, the positivity grows. Feeling gratitude is one of the things that motivates me to do my best and to pull myself up when I’m down.

 

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Mister & Me, one of my biggest blessings

 

2. Change the World by William McRaven

McRaven is a member of the Navy Seals who starts his speech by making the simple suggestion of making your bed every day. His premise is that if you set the intention of completing that task, it will lead to the next and the next task, creating a small sense of pride. He laughed as he conceded, that even if you had a miserable day, at least at the end of it, you achieved that one bit of success. He stressed that the little things matter, the power of hope, and the difference of one person. “Nothing matters but your will to succeed and to never, ever give up.”

Sometimes I get so caught up in the big picture of my long- term goals and dreams, I forget that the pathway is made up of all the little steps along the way. I’ve been dreaming so long of being an international bestselling author, to not even have one book published at the age of fifty -three was feeling like a huge failure. But I have taken steps. I have had successes. I started this blog. I published four articles for DQ Magazine. And even though I haven’t found a publisher or editor for the three books I have written, I wrote them. Those are accomplishments to be proud of and McRaven is right – I’ll never give up.

 

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3. Inspire. Empower. By Inky Johnson

That is the catchy title of the third segment. This one was a tear-jerker. Yet somehow, I didn’t feel pity for Inky, who suffered from a hugely debilitating injury at the beginning of his professional football career. Instead, I was blown away by his commitment to himself and the process of living his best life. The main message was “don’t let a circumstance or situation define your life.”

Seeing someone whose physical challenges far exceed my own had the power to have me stop feeling sorry for myself. I’d been feeling frustrated with a frozen shoulder and injured hip-lower back and thigh that happened back in January. I still haven’t fully recovered. I was feeling overwhelmed by an oral health problem that doctors haven’t been able to diagnose and treat. But when I listened to Inky’s kick-ass attitude, I knew I had to buckle down and give it everything I’ve got, regardless of the challenges.

 

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4. Redefine Yourself by Rock Thomas

This one had me tearing up too. It was emotional, watching Rock recall the pain of his childhood, where nothing he ever did was good enough for his father. He didn’t gloss over it, but he found the silver lining. You see, in his quest for approval from his father, he developed a phenomenal work ethic. Through the support of his mentor, who he gives credit for transforming his life, Rock was able to rise above the trauma of his youth and create a new identity of himself. He learned how to reprogram his brain to see himself in a new way through work with daily affirmations. His bottom line: “how you describe yourself is a powerful force. I am…”

I don’t get to my mat or my altar every day. But I go there often to sit in silence. I meditate. I pray. I repeat daily affirmations that are positive and uplifting, that focus on wellness and that acknowledge my gifts and talents. I speak my intentions as though they’ve already happened, using I am. After listening to Redefine Yourself, it is clear I still have more work to do, and I’m taking my inspiration from Rock who said, “say it a thousand times a day or more.” I’m going to up my affirmation game, starting now.

 

I shall not live in vain

I shall not live in vain

 

5. Change the World by Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold has five rules that he attributes as his secret to success. The first is to find your vision and follow it. The second is to never think small, but instead, shoot for the stars. The third rule is to ignore the naysayers. The fourth rule is to work your ass off. And finally, number five: don’t just take, give back. In his speech Schwarzenegger gives examples from his life of how these rules motivated him. He was only fifteen years old, living in Austria, when he decided he wanted to become Mr. Universe and star in American films in Hollywood. Everything he did supported his vision and he, like William McRaven, never gave up.

I have to admit, none of these rules were new for me, but certain nuances in Arnold’s story caught my attention. I know my vision and I even created a vision board. But I’ve struggled with thinking big. Some small voice in my head is the strongest naysayer of all, the voice that asks what right do I have to dream of being a New York Times bestselling author? The voice that tells me to be realistic. And while I’ve certainly put in a great many hours towards achieving my goal, I can’t honestly say I’ve worked my ass off. I don’t train for five hours a day.

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my vision board

When the video was over I sat in silence for a while. I found myself wondering, what’s stopping me? I haven’t quite discovered the answers, but I’m working at it. I’m making my bed. I’m exercising every day. I’m writing every day. I’m taking the steps, pushing myself each day to do a little more than the day before. And I’m never, ever, going to give up.

So yeah, I’m feeling motivated, ready to empower myself to achieve my goals.

 

 

 

 

Feeling Called to be Courageous Through the Practice of Vulnerability

Last week I watched Brene Brown’s much-anticipated event, the Netflix presentation of The Call to CourageIt ignited my inspiration. I feel not only called to be courageous, but called to live big, to get into the arena, and embrace vulnerability even more than I ever have before.

 

I’ve been a fan of Brene Brown’s for several years now. I’ve read many of her books and watched her Ted Talks. In the process, I have discovered a great deal about shame and vulnerability and courage. Brene is a gifted storyteller that has a knack for taking academic research and language and transforming it in a way that hits you in your heart. You feel the truth of it. She artfully weaves in humour and sadness, sharing real-life stories of trauma and resilience with integrity and passion.

I was impacted in so many ways, I hardly know where to begin, so I’ll just dive in.

Brene shares how devastating it was after her Ted Talk on vulnerability went global. While the accolades were many, the criticism she received felt overwhelming. She was in a rough space, but then she describes how she had this “total God moment,” after reading a quote by Theodore Roosevelt.

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives vigilantly; who errs, who comes short again and again… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

That was the moment when she chose to live in the arena, to have the courage to be vulnerable. Because the thing is, you can’t speak up without discomfort. If you’re not in the arena getting your asked kicked, she’s isn’t interested in your criticism. And neither am I.

Vulnerability is the key to whole-hearted loving.” I am so jazzed about being in full-on, authentic connection. I learned at a very young age how being vulnerable was a key part of creating the space for others to trust being open and honest with me. Loving whole-heartedly has brought me more joy and bliss in my life than anything else. In fact, creating deep, meaningful relationships is my life purpose.

“You have to be vulnerable to be brave.” In all honesty, I have never considered myself to be a brave person. I’m just doing what feels natural for me. When I listen to Brene, though, I get it. Being vulnerable creates the opportunity for deep love, joy and a sense of belonging. But it also opens the door for heartache. The pay-off has just always felt greater for me than the risk.

Vulnerability is the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” This is the part that I struggle with; controlling the outcome. It has been the nemesis in my entire letting go journey. Especially when it comes to my kids. I know they are adults. I know they are capable, wise and resilient. Still, I intervene and advise when it isn’t my place. I worry that the path they are on could possibly lead to an unfavourable outcome. It turns out it not only takes courage to let yourself be vulnerable; it takes courage to allow the people you love to do the same.

In a Call to Courage Brene Brown posits that time is our big, precious, un-renewable resource. I have to agree, because it is only after a precious moment is gone that we feel the weight of what we didn’t accomplish. The truth is, sometimes we rock it out of the park, living our lives with energy and enthusiasm and accomplishing great things. At other times we are shut down, emotionally or physically, mentally or spiritually, and time seems to just slip by. And it’s all good. Our best has to be good enough, no matter what that looks like. When you get knocked down in the arena of life, you need some recovery time. The important thing is to get back in.

According to Brene, one of the magical sentences that can help you to deconstruct the obstacles in communication and relationship is, “the story I’m telling myself is…” We all have stories we have created that get in the way of seeing one another and being seen, a critical component of vulnerability. For example, when our partner or friend or colleague is tuning us out, instead of being curious and asking why, we tend to make assumptions based on our stories that it is something about us. Usually it is not. We have to be brave enough to question.

Practicing gratitude is a powerful tool towards joyful living. Pausing to be grateful for the ordinary moments fuels joy, love and a sense of belonging. When we are grateful for the gifts we have been bestowed, we develop healthy self-esteem and we don’t have to look outside ourselves or change ourselves. In fact, if you’re changing who you are, you aren’t achieving belonging, you’re just trying to fit in.

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Many movements have been springing up recently that are supporting this courage to be vulnerable, to speak up in the face of discomfort. The #Me Too movement opened the door for millions of people, mostly women, to tell their stories of abuse. They stepped into the arena. Their bravery has incited criticism from those privileged enough to feel uncomfortable. But the tough conversations have to be had. Change is never easy.

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We, as a global community, need to excavate the myths that get in the way of progress and change. We need to elect brave leaders who are committed to equality and boot out those who are corrupt, greedy, and unethical. We have to be willing to make mistakes and to say the wrong thing. We have to get into the arena. We have to speak up.

As for me, I’m feeling affirmed in my vulnerability journey, ready to continue being open and honest with my heart and my mind. I’m feeling grateful for my life, especially for my Mister, who creates space for me to be my authentic self and loves me unconditionally, who not only supports me to be vulnerable, but embraces it. I’m inspired to continuing risking rejection, submitting my queries to agents and dreaming of being a published writer. I’m going to speak my truth through the platform of my writing.

So yeah, I’m feeling called to be courageous through the practice of vulnerability.

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 Fortunate for Healthcare in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

When I moved from Canada to Saudi Arabia I never imagined that the quality of health services would be at a similar standard, let alone superior. Unfortunately, the lack of health care professionals combined with increasing government cuts to health care budgets in Canada has impacted access and delivery dramatically. In Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, it appears that both financing and trained health professionals are in abundance.

 

I have two chronic autoimmune diseases, diagnosed in my twenties. The first disease, Type I Diabetes Mellitus, is usually juvenile onset, but may occur at any age. It occurs when the body’s own immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. The second, Hypothyroid disease, is a condition in which the thyroid gland is considered underactive. I had no known relatives with Diabetes, and although Hypothyroidism runs in my family, I wasn’t aware of it at the time.

 

Diabetes treatment

 

Having a chronic illness like Type I Diabetes is manageable. There is no cure, nor is it easy to try and mimic what the pancreas does automatically, but insulin therapy is available. To manage it well requires diligence and hard work. The support of health care professionals, particularly a skilled and knowledgeable endocrinologist, can be very helpful.

 

I’d like to say I’ve had amazing support from the health care system as a Canadian, but that would be a lie. I happen to be one of the fortunate people who, when initially diagnosed, had health care coverage from both my husband’s employer and my own that rendered my insulin, test strips, and other diabetes supplies free. Other people aren’t so lucky.

 

When, for other health reasons, I had to stop working, I had to pay for all my prescriptions until I reached a deductible of $2500. I managed, using money I’d saved over the years.  I’ve met other people less fortunate who don’t fare so well. They end up choosing not to test regularly because they don’t have coverage and with each test strip valuing at a dollar, testing frequently can soon become a financial burden.

 

The biggest challenge for me has been in receiving supportive care. When I moved to Victoria from Calgary, it was almost impossible to find a general practitioner, whom you need to see first to procure a referral to any specialist. There was only one doctor accepting new patients, and once I met her and had to endure her patronizing, unprofessional attitude, it became clear why she had vacancies. I had no other choice. She made the referral to an endocrinologist and it took over four months just to book an initial consultation.

 

At the time, I was having considerable difficulty achieving what has been determined to be a healthy range of blood sugar, or A1C. Upon reviewing my health journal, the endocrinologist in question made a few suggestions to alter my regimen and dosage of insulin shots. There was no discussion involving diet or exercise what-so-ever. None. Lucky for me I have the self motivation and initiative to research nutritional recommendations on my own, but the information available is highly diverse and often conflicting. I felt alone, confused and unsupported.

 

I have felt chastised for my lack of achieving blood sugars within goal instead of helped to improve them. Some doctors referred to me as noncompliant, which confused me more. After all, who is to benefit from good control and who is to suffer the complications if not me? I have battled on with my own unwavering determination, pretty much on my own.

 

In December of 2012 I started to suffer from a range of debilitating symptoms. I was teaching in a new position that was very stressful, which I’m certain contributed to the problem. I fainted during yoga and proceeded to have various vasovagal episodes. I had an infection in my knee that required intravenous antibiotics followed by an oral dosage, for a total of three weeks. I started to experience chronic fatigue and generalized weakness. Holding my arm above my head to write on the chalkboard became impossible and writing up report cards on my computer caused deep pain in my hands.

 

I made an appointment with my general practitioner, the one I described earlier. She intimated that it was all in my head, that I was a hypochondriac. When the blood tests revealed high levels of cortisol, she suggested I might be developing another autoimmune disease, perhaps lupus. And when she informed me the referral to a rheumatologist would take four months, she told me it was just as well because I would only be put on a regimen of extreme pain killers for the rest of my life anyway. She completely missed the result indicating I had a urinary tract infection and it was left untreated for over two weeks.

 

Within a few weeks, I had to go from teaching full time to part time and a few weeks after that I had to, somewhat stubbornly, resign. At this point, I decided I had to take matters into my own hands. Since there wasn’t an alternative western doctor in Victoria to choose from, I took it upon a recommendation to seek help from a doctor in Nanaimo who practices integrated, functional and alternative medicine at his clinic. It was tedious driving the two hours each way, once a week, for IV infusion treatments for high levels of mercury and lead in my bloodstream, but at least I was finally hopeful.

 

My challenges persisted. Eventually I was diagnosed with Lyme’s disease. Even that diagnosis was fraught with difficult to determine blood testing and medical doctrine in BC suggesting that chronic Lyme’s disease did not exist at best, and if it did, there was certainly no cure. It took determination and a miracle, but I ended up in the care of a doctor who practices Homeopathic and Naturopathic medicine. After two and a half years of intense and expensive treatment, not covered by health care, I am cured of Lyme’s disease. I’ve started taking my life back, living each day with greater vitality and overwhelming gratitude.

 

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/under-our-skin/

 

Which brings me back to my current feelings of being fortunate.  Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, I was required to undergo a thorough, in-depth medical, including a battery of tests and forms. Upon arrival, I had to have another medical, in Riyadh, before being issued residency. My Mister introduced me to the Medical Clinic on our compound right away, and the level of service ever since I arrived has been nothing short of exemplary.

 

A few months back Mister and I were packing up to leave on holiday when I started having spasms in my leg. The clinic was closed and we were leaving in a few hours. I couldn’t imagine having to endure the long flights with the pain I was in. Mister called the emergency line and the nurse on call agreed to come by and have a look. He came to our home and examined me, then gave me a shot of magnesium to relax the muscle, along with several pain medications and a detailed prescription of how to follow a successful pain management regimen. It made our trip doable and I was beyond grateful.

 

Earlier that year I developed a severe pain in my tooth. It was a Friday, the religious day when the dentist and medical centre are both closed. But again, the nurse on call met us at the clinic and gave me some temporary pain medication. I called my dentist at Smile Dental and could get in immediately. Upon examining me it was clear I needed a root canal. I had to follow a week of antibiotic therapy for the infection, and right away I was scheduled for the procedure. My dentist, a pleasant and professional Saudi woman, did an amazing job and I was thrilled with the result.

 

 

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Smile Design professionals

 

 

When I need to make an appointment to see one of the two doctors practicing at our clinic it usually takes a day or two to get in to see them. If I have an issue that requires a specialist, they make a referral, and the appointment is scheduled within a week or two. All my supplies are free, either given to me at our clinic, or purchased at a pharmacy in Riyadh and then reimbursed directly to Mister’s pay. I have seen a gynecologist from Greece, an ophthalmologist from Jordan, and I’m going to see an endocrinologist from the UK in a few weeks.

 

What really blew me away was the access to diagnostics. I’ve been having difficulty with pain in my neck and shoulder, including numbness in my right arm, for several months now. When I asked my doctor if I could be referred to a Chiropractor, she agreed, but suggested I get an MRI first to properly diagnose the situation. I was stunned. I called Kingdom hospital and was given an appointment for the next week. And so I had my first MRI and the results were emailed to me the next day. Meanwhile, back in Canada, people like my mom and mother-in-law are waiting four to six months to receive an MRI for chronic and painful conditions.

 

 

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MRI @ Kingdom Hospital Radiology Department, Riyadh

 

 

I don’t know enough about the politics and regulations of each country to quote cold, hard, facts. I can only speak of my experiences, then and now. I guess what has impacted me most, besides the superior service, is the feeling of being treated with respect. The medical community here assumes I am doing my best and that I want to be as healthy as I can. They support me in achieving my health goals without being authoritarian. We work together, as a team, to review my observations and discuss possible treatment. The care I have received has been thorough and my concerns have never once been dismissed.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling fortunate for the health care I am receiving in Riyadh, 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

 

Feeling Blessed for the Gift of my Relationship with my Mister

It was bound to happen eventually. I think my last blog featuring my sentimental feelings for Lola opened the floodgates. That, and I’ve been having a hard time of it lately, and in such times, I tend to lean on my Mister, who is my rock. So, without further ado, I shall share my story of falling in love and perhaps a few words of wisdom along the way.

 

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Me & Mister

 

In the beginning, I wasn’t looking, but there he was. In fact, when I met my Mister, I was enthusiastic about exploring the world as a single person. I was open to meeting new people and sharing experiences, but I certainly had no inkling of making a pledge, far less a commitment.

 

I had left Calgary after thirty years and my marriage of twenty- two years in October of 2011. My eldest daughter was ill at the time, and she and her husband were on a healing journey abroad. They were looking for someone to sublet their home in Cowichan Bay, BC, and I was the lucky candidate. I fell in love with the healing aura of the land, home to the first nations people, a place where nature unfolds in abundance. Little did I know, I was about to fall in love again.

 

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Me & Mister in Panama

 

My daughter’s good friend, an amazing and talented social worker like herself, as well as a cupid it would be revealed, took me under her wing when I arrived. In February of 2012 she called me to say that the father of one of her past clients was in town to support his daughter, on compassionate leave from Saudi Arabia. He didn’t know anyone and since I, not having found employment, had oodles of free time, she wondered if I might show him about a bit. I was more than happy to make a new acquaintance so she gave me his contact information and we set up a lunch for the three of us to meet.

 

Our lunch was rather hurried as they had an appointment following, but I enjoyed both of their company. Mister paid the bill, his treat. It was my first experience of Mr. Generous, and being of a similar generous minded heart, I suggested we meet again so that I could return the favour. We made plans to meet at a new restaurant in Duncan, just the two of us. From the moment I arrived to the moment we left together, I felt an ease and flow, like I’d known him forever. We talked nonstop in a fluid exchange of ideas on a wide range of topics. Time seemed to lose it’s hold and before we knew it three hours had passed. Our spirits recognized the connection between us, but it took a little longer for our hearts and minds to catch up.

 

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Me & Mister in our first rental in Victoria

 

 

We met up next for a dinner which included my mother who was visiting from Calgary. The three of us experienced a fluid, joyful connection, where once again, it felt like we were all old friends. At one point my mother started rubbing her arms, asking us did we find it a bit chilly? Mister excused himself politely, went out to his car, and returned carrying a sweater that he placed gently over her shoulders. I found out later he had only purchased said sweater that afternoon. Mister earned his first and most enduring nickname, Mr. Charming Pants.

 

We decided it was time for another date, just the two of us, as both of us recognized some feelings were budding. We met at a pub in the area. During our conversation, I casually asked him if he knew what values were most important to him in life. He thought about it for a few moments, as is his way, and then he replied, “Open, honest, integrity and character.” I almost fell out of my chair. I had just spent considerable time reflecting on my values and had created an authenticity outline. The first two, and most important values I identified were open and honest! I could feel the electricity of synchronicity in the air. It was so palpable, that as he went on to explain how he felt open and honest communication was vital to building trust, I interrupted him to ask him to kiss me. Rather than be offended at my rude behaviour, he knew it was my heart impatiently opening to him and he obliged.

 

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Me & Mister in our garden in Riyadh

 

Recently I was looking over old emails and I discovered it wasn’t long before we knew we were in love. At one point, we both were suffering from horrendous colds, but still couldn’t be kept apart. Mr. Charming Pants arrived at my door with the classic chocolate and wine, along with the not so classic tissue and Tylenol. We snuggled on the couch and watched a movie, our sea-lion coughs erupting every time we laughed. My good friend Virginia noted my high praise and accolades, along with the serious amount of time we were spending together, and referred to Mister as “your Saudi Prince” and “Super Dave.”

 

When Mister had to return to Saudi Arabia for three weeks at the beginning of March we started using the love word with one another in our email communication. I still hesitated on offering a commitment, preferring somehow a pledge. I admitted my feelings rather candidly to the cashier at the grocery store, when I was rushing to pay for my purchases before closing. I apologized for my tardiness, explaining that I was too busy falling in love to get my chores done and she swooned right along with me.

 

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Me & Mister @ Noowick

 

As time went along we became deeper in love and soon knew we were destined to be a couple. Mister earned new nicknames along the way, including Mr. Taking Care of Business, Mr. Five Hands, and Mr. One-ups. I’ll leave the circumstances of those titles to imagination. I had a few nicknames of my own, but the two most popular were Ms. Bossy Pants and Ms. Sensitive Pants. We often spotted two deer together when we were driving back and forth to Victoria. When I googled deer wisdom, I discovered that if a deer crosses your path they are helping you walk the path of love with full consciousness and awareness. Deer teach us gentleness, the ability to listen, the power of gratitude and giving, and the beauty of balance. How appropriate.

 

Two mule deer bucks with velvet antlers interact

I had the pleasure of meeting Mister’s mom and dad, as well as his brother, in Vancouver that May. His mom walked over to me, took my hand in hers, and with a beaming smile proclaimed, “It is a pleasure to finally meet the sun in my son’s life!” Her loving acceptance of me seemed to seal the deal, and that July we decided to move in together, along with his daughter, in Victoria. Many people warned us it was too early and we were jeopardizing our relationship, but it only strengthened our pledge to a commitment. At the same time, I fell in love with Kara. But that is another story for another blog.

 

Christmas of 2012 Mister’s mom and dad flew in from Winnipeg to join us in Whistler for a family Christmas. As we drove from the ferry, the boys up front and us girls in the back, Julie took my left hand and sang, “If he liked it then he shoulda put a ring on it.” I couldn’t help giggling at her precocious gesture. On Christmas day as the family was gathered around our tree opening gifts, I was passed a parcel from Mister in the shape of a ring box. All eyes were on me and the tension was thick. I opened it, my heart pounding, to discover a beautiful set of silver hoop earrings. Mister never once considered I might think we were about to get engaged. Two days later, when our company had departed and we were alone together, he produced a second ring box, this time with a ring inside, and proposed. I accepted without hesitation and we were married just a few weeks later.

 

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Me & Mister on our wedding day

 

It was and is a whirlwind love affair. We have been together now for almost five years and I still feel as over-the-moon in love as those early days. My Mister is my best friend. We enjoy one another’s company more than anyone else’s. We rarely argue. Me being be and him being him naturally suits us. We don’t have a desire to change anything about each other. Some of that is the wisdom of being older. Most of it is the blessing of a union that feels heavenly blessed and Divinely orchestrated.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling blessed for the gift of my relationship with my Mister. And by the way, it turns out the name David means beloved.

Feeling Warm-hearted for my Loyal, Furry Companion, Lola

Anyone who is a dog lover will likely relate to the sentiments expressed in this blog. I apologize in advance to those readers who don’t understand how some of us dog owners can become so attached. But for everyone who has met her, there can be no doubt that there is something special about Lola.

 

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Lola

 

Lola came into my life ten years ago. She was born into a litter of six pups at Pooch Palace, a dog breeding facility just outside of Calgary, Alberta. A friend who had purchased her sweet-natured dog from the Palace had recommended them. From a humanitarian perspective, I know the better choice would have been to check out the local animal shelter but I can’t in all honesty express even a drop of regret when it comes to the circumstances that led me to adopting this lovable creature.

 

We went to the Palace with open hearts and met so many adorable puppies, we thought at first it would be a difficult decision. Then we saw Lola. She was only five weeks old, not old enough to leave her mother, and no larger than a compact box of tissue. I picked her up, attracted by her caramel brown fur and white tuft at the forehead, and she snuggled into my chest like she belonged there. I fell in love with her in that moment, her tiny puppy heart beating next to mine.

 

It was quite the procedure to bring Lola home. We had to be approved, and to do so required filling in an extensive application that outlined our commitment to owning a dog and making the time required in our schedules to train her properly. She wasn’t ready to be weaned until she was ten weeks old, so every weekend for five weeks I made the hour drive, often with one or two of the kids in tow, to go and visit with her. While we were waiting there were purchases to be made of dog food, grooming supplies, and stuffed toys. Choosing a name was another ordeal that involved a computer spreadsheet of possibilities generated by each family member and a democratic vote.

 

Finally, the day arrived and the whole family drove with excited anticipation to pick her up. It was a chilly November day in Calgary and we bundled her up in cozy blankets.

 

When we got her home we immediately took her outside in our backyard to begin the process of training her. I never anticipated how fast those short little legs could go, nor did I judge how large the opening between our fence and the culvert was. In mere minutes Lola, had escaped into the neighbour’s yard. I heroically jumped the fence, a stunt I’m sure I would have difficulty replicating, scooped her up and brought her home amid a flurry of kisses and admonishments. Immediately I found an old piece of lumber to wedge into place, blocking the escape route. It wasn’t long before Lola picked up on the procedure. It has been a perk to have a dog who not only knows to do her business outside, but prefers to make her deposits in locations outside of her own yard’s boundaries.

 

Lola developed a variety of skills over the years. At puppy school, she was extremely motivated to perform any trick that involved receiving a treat. She learned how to sit, lay down, leave it, and her most impressive, give a kiss. She has an uncanny knack of discerning the sound of a cheese package being opened. When I attempted to teach her how to use her nose to ring a bell on the wall to indicate she wanted to go outside, it was a colossal fail as she only saw it as an opportunity to gobble down the chicken strip that was the treat given for ringing it and proceeded to ring the bell all day, regardless of her need to go outside. Even after we took the bell down she would go over to the place on the wall where it had been hanging and bump the wall with her muzzle in hopes of chicken treats. Silly dog!

 

Lola accompanied our family on numerous camping trips across Canada over the years. She didn’t like to join the other dogs frolicking in the lakes or ocean tides for sticks, having an aversion to being cold and wet. But she did and does love to roll around in anything stinky, including dried up old fish corpses on the beach or bird poo littering the grass. Not one of her more endearing qualities, I admit. Despite not liking her bath, her frequent rolling tendencies require that she have one often and her good nature has her accepting her fate with a somewhat sad look of resignation.

 

Lola was my loyal companion when I suffered a deep episode of depression. She never questioned my mood swings or abandoned me when I was irrational. She loved me unconditionally, her tail wagging enthusiastically in greeting when I returned from the hospital. She would lay in bed with me when I had no energy to face the world and alternatively accompany me on my long brooding walks through the ravine.

 

When I left my ex-husband and my comfortable suburban life in Calgary, moving with what I could fit in my sporty red Mazda 3 to start over on Vancouver Island, Lola was with me. Driving through the mountains with the explosion of fall foliage all around us, the sun-roof open and Michael Buble crooning “It’s a new life,” Lola sat on my lap and took all the changes in stride. When I arrived in the Cowichan Valley, alone and on my own for the first time in thirty years, Lola was again my faithful friend, accompanying me on walks through the orchards and down to the pebbled beaches and curling up on the end of my bed at the end of each day.

 

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Me and my faithful companion

 

Not long after we moved to Longwood we met Tom and Virginia and their dog Bobbi Jo, who became dear friends of ours. They invited us over for Halloween festivities. The adults visited one another, comfortably seated on lawn furniture around a roaring fire, drinking wine or hot rum while children came and trick or treated. A local was giving me a hard time for having Lola on a leash and said maybe in the city such things were necessary, but in the valley, she ought to be let free. I should have known better, but let myself be influenced and wouldn’t you know it, shortly after being set free Lola ditched the party. I was a mess of tears and heart-racing anxiety, scouring the dark streets with a flashlight and praying she wouldn’t be found hit by a car. Luckily a member of the search team found her. She had followed a couple of trick or treaters home, upgrading to a warm and cozy house and in fact was found cuddled up on their couch with the kids, likely thinking herself a clever dog.

 

When I met my Mr., he was of the non-dog loving crowd. Being of an open and honest nature, he never tried to conceal his dislike, but I knew right away by the way he quickly went to wash his hands after she licked them enthusiastically in greeting. As mentioned above, Lola was used to sleeping with me at the end of my bed, so on the occasion of our first sleepover it was all a bit awkward. I attempted to have Lola sleep on her bed in the office, but confused, she kept coming in and whining to get up. I snuck her in on my side, feigning surprise in the morning, but soon confessed and her spot on the bed was accepted. I wondered if it was going to be a deal breaker, but the more we fell in love, the more Lola’s magic transformed him. Mr. has not only developed a fondness for her, I tease him that he is the dog whisperer as he has become so attuned. He often predicts accurately when a sniff means a roll or business and when a bark means someone is at the door or let’s play and he takes very good care of her. Air heart!

 

Therapy dogs are a new phenomenon that is having great success in a variety of settings, and Lola most surely would be a fantastic candidate. As mentioned previously, her unconditional love was a special part of my recovery. She also formed an immediate and inseparable bond with my daughter Kara, allowing her to tote her around and scoop her up for cuddles whenever it was required.

 

When I made the decision to move to Riyadh, there was no question that Lola would be accompanying me. The stack of legal documents that I needed to procure for her entry into Saudi Arabia was almost as thick as my own, and included documents from our local veterinarian certifying her health, documents from the provincial veterinarian society supporting the validity of our veterinarian and documents from a notary certifying all the documents enclosed in the application.

 

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Lola & Me

 

The day of our departure arrived. We were taking off from Toronto Pearson airport, where, for a small fee, I could store Lola in her carry-on bag under the seat in front of me. It was a nine-hour flight to Frankfurt and I was anxious that she might have an accident, so I lined her carrier with absorbent pads. Surprisingly she made it, but then at the airport in Frankfurt she refused to use the pad to relieve herself in the washroom, despite my efforts to demonstrate the procedure for her. After a five hour lay-over it was time to board our plane to Riyadh for another seven-hour flight. Miraculously, that dog held her bladder for the entire duration, including the long line-up through customs. In total, she went over 21 hours and earned her new nickname, Ms. Iron Bladder.

 

I’ll admit, neither one of us was impressed with the desert relocation at first. In May in Riyadh the temperature often reaches forty-five degrees Celsius, and neither one of us appreciated the feeling that we were being roasted in a convection oven each time we ventured outside. The first time I tried to walk her mid-day and she started lifting her paws I tossed aside my flip-flop and discovered the fry-an-egg-on-it heat of the sidewalk, then had to carry her the rest of the way home. It took some adjustment for her to transition from a dog walk that skirted along the ocean and through the rainforest of Vancouver Island to the sand and rubble of the desert. Fortunately, our compound is a virtual sanctuary and the gardeners have created beautiful patches of grass for her to roll around in, not to mention outings to the Diplomatic Quarters and into the desert camping out with her Holiday Mum.

 

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Mr., Lola and me at the Diplomatic Quarters in Riyadh

 

Most days Lola is a low maintenance, low key and mellow addition to the family. She isn’t fussed if we miss a dog walk here and there, especially during the hot months. She likes to gobble down treats as frequently as they are offered, completely oblivious to her expanding waistline. Often it is a simply a matter of moving from laying on one piece of furniture to another. Lately she’s taken to laying around on my meditation pillow while I’m writing in the office, even when her own puppy bed is sitting vacant right beside it. Oh, Guru dog, if only you could talk and share with me the secrets of the universe!

 

It would seem that dogs, like people, can adjust to their surroundings and new situations and, in fact, Lola did so with far less drama than me.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling warm-hearted and grateful for my loyal, furry companion, Lola.