Love at first sight

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November 16, 2016 marked the 20th anniversary of the day I met my husband. It was a chance meeting. Neither of us was planning to be at the place we met on that particular day. I was standing in line to use the washroom. He was chatting on a payphone (remember those days?). It sounds ridiculous, but our eyes met. And just like that, my life was forever changed.

When we met, I was already mama to a beautiful boy. He and I opened our circle to include one more in our tiny family. Then one wedding and a few years later, we added a daughter into the lovely mix and a year after that, another one. Bliss. This was everything I had ever wanted. 

Twenty years later, I’m still very grateful for that random meeting because the result has become the the epicentre of every single thing I value and love. But like anything worth cherishing for a lifetime, it’s complex and exquisite with parts that are breathtaking, parts that are bruised and parts that are yet to be discovered.

This love of ours has been an adventure from the very beginning and it’s certainly never been boring. We’ve made our way along epic pathways, overcoming obstacles, slaying the occasional dragon and high-five-ing when we’ve arrived at success points. All relationships are multifaceted, no matter how they happen to begin. Ours is woven through with golden moments, complex threads from the lives that came before our meeting and also many everyday ‘what is your problem?’ irritations that do their best to chip away at what’s good. There has been much joy and there has been darkness, loss and debilitating stress. There have been huge wins and also heartbreaking wakeup calls urging us both to do things differently as partners, as parents and as people.

In a weird way, I’m as grateful for the challenges as I am for the gold. They’ve led to many defining moments in my life with my husband. Like Joseph Campbell said, “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.” For whatever reasons, the two of us don’t live life skimming the surface, which is too bad, because it looks so peaceful. Nope, we ‘go there’ to the deep, messy, raw and precarious experiences of life that most rational people neatly avoid. Each of us did this before we met and we continue to do it as partners in life, as parents and in our professional and personal endeavours. It’s exhausting and exhilarating but out of it comes the truest sense of trust, tenderness, connection and certainty in who I’ve chosen to love for my lifetime.

‘Love at first sight’ is such a trite phrase, I know. But once in a while, it is just the truth. I’m not sure why, but the guy I met while standing in line for the bathroom in a place I didn’t even intend on being while he chatted on a payphone in the very same place in just as unlikely a scenario … this man was meant to be my partner. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been right. 

Happy 20 years to him. Here’s to many more decades ahead.

Down here on the ocean floor


Buoyed by courage, we will rise.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve written a blog. Life’s been rather tricky lately, making it hard to pinpoint what I’m for.

Brené Brown, one of my current inspirations, refers to my ‘rather tricky’ as a messy middle, the space where “You’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light.

Not seeing the light means it’s dark. I don’t love it here. I feel like I’m walking alone on the ocean floor. My ears are rendered deaf by the pressure, my eyes glued shut. Everything down here scares me. My heart races and my stomach twists. Breathing underwater is pretty tough as well.

When I described this feeling recently to an empathetic listener, she encouraged me to stop a minute and open my eyes. Look around. Take a really good look. Get perspective. Stare down those sharks. It’s the only way to gather your resources and figure out what you need to make your way up and toward the shore.

Easier said than done, but I’m trying. I’m afraid of this water and its dark mysteries. Yet, I know that opening my eyes is the only answer. If there’s light beckoning me to the surface, I’ve got to open my eyes to find it. Besides, I can’t hold my breath forever.

There is another light, too. Steady, pulsing beams of it coming from another source: people are sending it directly into this darkness. They encircle us. Their wide-open hearts shoot warm beams of hope into our abyss. Their loving hands extend, ready to carry us upward when we’ve learned what we need to learn down here. I feel the energy of all of this LOVE. I thank them ALL for the waves of good thoughts they offer. I’ve braced myself for judgement, but none comes. If there is any, it doesn’t reach me. It’s neutralized by the enormity of human kindness that winds its way through to steady my vulnerable heart. I will know evermore that Sylvia Rossetti was right – Genuine kindness is no ordinary act, but a rare gift of beauty.

I’m not here alone, so I won’t disrespect the people or the story with details. I do feel compelled to share that things are hard right now. I feel like it’s ok, because maybe things are hard for you, too. Maybe you’re in your own abyss. Maybe knowing that I am, too, will bring you comfort. 

We can hug it out on the other side. We’ll high-five each other for having the courage to open our eyes under water. Having shared the truth of our stories, maybe we can empower each other to feel a little stronger, a little braver and a little more courageous when the next ‘messy middle’ inevitably presents itself again. 

And together, buoyed by this courage, we will rise.

The Pure Joy Of Singing

Among the things I’m for, it’s definitely making music. I’m also for Mark, one of my most favourite people.

Mark Boogieman

Kathy Matkin-Clapton is the choral conductor for the U of L Conservatory of Music Choirs-Children’s (6-10), Youth, (11-16) and Incanto (16 & up.) If you’ve lived in Lethbridge for any length of time and had kids that liked to sing, there’s a good chance they experienced the joy being in one of Kathy’s choirs. (Both my kids did.) Kathy was the vocal director for a couple of shows I’ve done and we’ve shared the stage for a few as well. It’s always a better experience when Kathy is part of a project. Not only does she bring her expertise to the benefit of those around her, she is a consummate pro on stage. In between rehearsing scenes we’ve had many great talks both of a serious nature and of the rather inane. I’m not sure I’ve laughed harder than in a rehearsal for A Little Night Music. We were listening…

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Totally doing this.

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Political stances are popping up like crazy beans in my newsfeed these days as our October 19th election draws ever closer. I’ve become acutely aware of how offended I feel when those stances blindly ridicule the party I’m most aligned with. I’m also acutely aware of how delighted I am when someone does the same to the party I’m least aligned with. Double-standard much, KMC?

So, when I put my own politics aside in favour of being a reasonable, open-minded human who wants the best for everyone and who knows she is incredibly lucky to live in this amazing, democratic nation, here’s what I’m left with.

I am NOT for:

  1. Fear-based politics that slander or deride a party. Period.
  2. Rumour, innuendo and rhetoric that throw gas on the fire of ignorance. It’s a disservice to every political party and candidate and it is a disservice to our country.
  3. Pressuring others to bend to a certain kind of political will. Stop it already.
  4. Not voting. Because not voting is silly. Period.

I AM for:

  1. The facts. Because that’s how important decisions should be made.
  2. Genuine inquiry. Because asking questions with an open mind actually opens the mind a little more. And so on. Etc.
  3. Talking to people with opposing views about politics who don’t try to change my mind and who are willing to do the same for me. Because it’s interesting. And somewhere in that middle ground, there’s an enormous opportunity for cooperation and change.
  4. Gaining new perspectives. It’s the heart and soul of empathy and the antidote to nasty judgement that polarizes us on important issues.
  5. Voting. I’m not going to lie. I have been emotionally moved every single time I’ve voted. Which has been in every single municipal, provincial and federal election since I was 18.

There is no political stance in this little rant-a-roo. Not a shred. Just a human stance and a deep belief that democracy is a gift. I love gifts. Don’t you?

Act of kindness.

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Sometimes a gal gets thirsty. Thinking she simply needs a quick sip of water, she approaches a well. It’s dry. Hmmm. A little thirstier now, it’s on to the next well. Also dry. Alrighty then … at the next well, instead of water, up comes something that looks and tastes suspiciously like toxic goop. Not one to give up and kind of dying of thirst, she moves on to what looks like a well. It even offers water. Hallelujah! But wait … before she knows it, the well is telling her how dry it is and the dang thing turns around and drains her.

Huh. Where does a girl have to go to get a clean, sweet uncomplicated drink?

Life isn’t always like this for me or anyone, of course. But it certainly is sometimes. And when it is, here’s what I absolutely know is true: it feels really bad.

Bad enough that I try never to do it to others. I fail at this frequently, but since one of my core values is that I don’t want people to walk away from me feeling bad, unheard or unseen, I genuinely work at it heart-to-heart engagement when I interact with people on a personal basis. If I fail, I reflect on it and then I try harder next time.

While I’m always for reciprocity in relationship – as in I’ll meet your needs and it would be great if you could meet mine – sometimes life just doesn’t work that way. If people are like wells, I need to know which one to turn to and when. I need to learn to simply accept that, like me, people will succeed and fail in meeting the needs of others.

As that ancient storyteller Mr. Aesop once wrote, ‘No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.’ I don’t offer this as yet another trite, Tumblr-ized, platitude. I do believe that listening – really and truly listening – is one of the most exquisite acts of kindness we can extend to our fellow humans. Really listening, to me, means validating someone’s experience. It gives me the chance to know someone’s heart just a little bit. And when I am truly listened to and heard, it is one of life’s cleanest, sweetest and most uncomplicated drinks.

Who’s not for that?

it’ll shine when it shines.

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I didn’t know that ‘It’ll Shine When it Shines’ was one of my brother’s favourite songs until after he passed away in 2011. Since that time, I’ve listened to the song many times. I understand why he liked this tune so much. Just like my brother, it’s ‘shoot from the hip’ on the surface. But, if you care to have a look, there are layers and layers of elegant truths that sit just beneath that surface.

My brother was far from perfect, but I think that posthumous reflection should stray toward the ‘best of’ side of people. There is no peace to be had in focusing on imperfection.

He was an enormous man with a gruff exterior. But then you’d see him smile. Chances are he’d take your hand, say ‘Hey brother/sister’ and maybe even pull you into a bear hug. If you looked closely, if you accepted him as he was, you’d see the love literally spilling out of his eyes. If you gave him more than 10 seconds, looked beyond the obvious, what you got was gentle, tender and incredibly good.

He held my babies in his enormous, gentle hands and wept at the sight of each of them. As they grew, he loved them fully, just as they were. His face would light up whenever he saw them and he saw only the best in each of them, even when I couldn’t. He always got up to hug us hello, even when his body ached. And he never failed to say ‘I love you’ at every departure.

In his own way, he was always in pursuit of peace. He’d seek it in his relationships with those he loved and through quiet time spent tinkering (he called it ‘Louis-ing’). He’d look for it in stashing cash, finding bargains and in showing up for people when it counted. An avid fisherman, he also sought it on the banks of rivers and lakes, his rod in one hand and a can of beer in the other. 

Life didn’t always go the way he hoped it would, but he lived it with a simplicity that I find myself longing for lately. A true ‘it’ll shine when it shines’ philosophy that goes something like this: ‘Get out there, live with your heart wide open. Look for goodness in the little things and stop getting bent out of shape about the things you can’t do anything about. Just be. It’ll shine when it shines.

Thinking on all of this, I totally get why my brother loved the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and their sweet, philosophical tune. There is an exquisite truth to their poetry that’s got me feeling pretty reflective. There are a great many things in this life that are rip-out-your-heart hard. These are things I can’t do anything about. Things that happen to me or to the people I love. There are much bigger horrors that happen every day and in every corner of our world. Things I can never understand or control.

What I can do is live my life fully. I can be kind and grateful for all of the goodness I get to experience from dawn til dusk. I can be accepting. I can be forgiving. I can let love flow in all directions. I can be still when life hurts and trust that all will be well. It will shine when it shines.

Bit of an aside before I wrap ‘er up. A couple of weeks ago, my daughter and I bought ukuleles. Playing and singing together every day is the most fantastic thing for me. The first song we’ve tackled is in honour of ‘Uncle John’. This means that I get to experience ‘It’ll Shine When It Shines’ with my beautiful girl every day. I’m not a very good ukulele player and we forget the words and we’re out of tune and don’t always know which chord to play. But, as my brother might have said, it’s all in the experience of living, loving and letting things be what they are. The Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ spin on this is:

It’s in your heart, not your head. And you’ve got to sing and sing and sing.

And so I shall.

p.s. If you haven’t ever heard the Ozark Mountain Daredevils perform ‘It’ll Shine When It Shines, have a listen here. It’s pretty sweet stuff.

woman of a certain age 2 (thoughts on being 50)

I made a promise to myself around this time last year that I would not allow negative stereotypes about being a middle-aged mama frame my future revolutions around the sun. I can say that promise felt 100% doable on the day that I turned 50. And not so easy in the year I spent actually being 50.

I’ve had to work harder than I’d thought I would at keeping this promise to myself in the past year. Societal ageism has snaked around the corner in unexpected ways despite my determination to smite that nasty little sucker. My own biology waged war on me for months. My natural Pisces sensitivity morphed into rapid-fire crankiness at the strangest times. My usual ‘live and let live’ demeanour was stealth-shadowed by a ‘come at me, bro’ attitude, followed by a chaser of regret/fear that I wasn’t ‘nice’ anymore. I was also surprised to experience with some intensity the growing perception that I was quickly moving into past-my-prime time.

All of this in a year? Yup. It’s been an interesting journey. It was a struggle at times to keep my head above it, to find the silver linings. Now – at 51 – I can look back and recognize a few lessons I’ve (re)(re)(re)learned during my year of being 50.

1. Don’t go there.
I believe that we teach people how to treat us. So when I make fun of my various wrinkles, achy joints, flabby this and greying that, I am telling people that it’s okay to laugh at my vulnerability. So I’m really trying not to go there because it just sets me up to feel shame. Instead, I’ve been working on the self-affirming practice of taking a like in the mirror. When it works, it’s a beautiful thing.

2. Go ahead and wear purple. Add some pig tails while you’re at it.
Jenny Joseph wrote a poem a while back called Warning that included a great line about wearing purple and rocking red hats. What has this meant for me in the past year of ‘being 50’?  To stop wasting time on what I think other people might be thinking. ’Cause they’re probably not thinking anything at all. If they are, I try to practice #4 below.

3. Protect this house.
This is what happens at middle age’. More than one health-care practitioner said this to me with great sympathy in the past year. The implication is that I need to accept that there will be a train of ailments chugging by, doling out arthritis, osteoporosis, frozen shoulders, failing vision, hotter flashes, mood swings, weight gain, etc. Gah. Get OUT of here. You won’t see me waving the white flag. Geez, I’m only 50! I can live vibrantly. I will exercise, eat well, hydrate and push myself out of my comfort zone. Not while I can, but because I can.

4. Let.It.Go.
I simply do not want to ruminate on things that I can’t control or that truly have nothing to do with me. So I’m working on practicing loving detachment every day and in every part of my life. Let it Be (thank you, Beatles) and Let it Go (thank you, Frozen) are mini-mantras that remind me to focus on what matters and, more importantly, to be a better version of myself.

5. Shoulda-coulda-woulda can take a hike.
There’s very likely more road behind me than what lies ahead. This caused me to feel THE PANIC rise around all of the things I could/should/would have done with all of that lovely road. Gentle self-reflection has (re)assured me that regret of this kind is pointless. Who knows what’s ahead? In the absence of a crystal ball, I might as well believe that it’s going to be sweet.

The most important truth that has come to me is that happiness is an active choice. It isn’t waiting for me to arrive at a certain age. It’s something I get to choose every day. It’s something I want to choose every day. It’s what I’m for, always.

Take a like in the mirror: selfie-reflections on beauty

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I took these photos this summer, trying to capture an especially heartfull moment with my daughter. We were in Wateron Lakes National Park, truly my favourite place on this earth and possibly one of the windiest places on the planet. It was so windy that my nine-pound pup was in a continual state of lift-off. We were walking head-first into gusts that were easily 100+ km an hour. Even the trees were groaning. We could hardly breathe. It was ridiculous to be outside in that weather but we couldn’t stop the laughter. It was THE awesome.

My heart was bursting with it all. I hadn’t had a lot of those kinds of moments with her in the past year or two. I wanted to hold onto its sweetness, put it in a bottle and cherish it. In the absence of a bottle, however, I used my phone. I took these selfies. Joy captured on a  4-inch screen. Hilarious, wild, perfectly happy, savour-it-forever joy.

In the weeks that followed, I would occasionally look at the photos and smile at the memory. From my phone screen, they were the loveliness to me. I loved our smiles, our squinty expressions bringing back the memory of the wind that burned our eyes and took our breath away. I was moved by our mother-daughter similarities. I loved everything about it.

A few weeks after that, as fall settled in and I felt myself longing for the easy days of summer, I decided to make one of the Waterton photos my Facebook profile pic. But on a 15-inch screen, the image evoked a different feeling. Instead of joy, I felt shock. And these thoughts:

Ack! Look at the wrinkles! And the bags under my eyes. The chins!
What’s happened to my face? I don’t want anyone to see this.
Think! Quick! Delete! Delete! Delete!

I quickly swapped in a different photo as my profile pic, but before I could delete the McWrinkled version of me, people had ‘liked’ it. They were commenting on it, offering really lovely words. How could I delete this monstrosity now? Oh, balls. 

How could this photo, which moments before had made me smile now fill me with such utter embarrassment? Instead of seeing our similarities and remembering our joy, I saw only evidence of my daughter’s obvious beauty and confirmation of middle-aged, wrinkled me. Now instead of wishing I could hold onto that moment forever, I was cursing myself for sharing it.

Sounds incredibly vain, I know. Forgive me. I was a little disappointed in myself, too.

What was all this self-inflicted shame about? I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m 50. I’m good with it. Right? It’s just a number. Blah-dee-blah-blah. Based on my vain reaction, I obviously am not as good with it as I’d thought. Crap.

As I reflected on all of this, I was reminded of a program I’d listened to years before on CBC Radio. The interviewer had spoken with women at various decades in their lives, from their 20’s to their 70’s. All of them, without exception, admitted that when they looked back on photos of themselves taken in the previous decade, they saw their unmistakable beauty. Whereas when they’d looked at the same photo when it had been taken, they’d wanted to burn it or bury it at the bottom of a trunk somewhere. 

The pearl of wisdom for me at that time was how important it is to appreciate your beauty as a woman today, right now at whatever age you are. This is clearly easier said than done. But the truth is, I do look back at photos of myself that had filled me with confidence-busting doubt at the time and think, ‘Wow. You were really pretty back then.’ Back then. Isn’t that sad?

So I have decided to turn this whole photo she-bangness into something I’m for rather than something I want to delete from the annals of my digital footprint forever. I also want to model something much healthier for my daughters, who are already looking at themselves in the mirror and telling themselves that they are either too much or not enough. 

We may live in a looks-obsessed and ageist society, but I don’t have to embrace it. This starts with telling myself a different story about myself. I want to go beyond looking in the mirror. I want to go beyond acknowledging my superficial appearance. I want to look in the mirror (or at a photograph) and recognize in myself what is easy for me to see in others: beauty. And I want to like it.

I want to make it a daily practice to say ‘Hello beautiful’ when I see myself rather than ‘Ugh. What’s happened to you, you wrinkly old broad?’

I think I’ll call it liking in the mirror. It’s going to take work, but I’m totally for it.

she to we to me

While there are times when I need a pretty good nudge to see the best in my kids, on the balance of my days, they positively delight me. Some days, they absolutely blow me away. Such was the case for me this past weekend with my youngest offspring.

She started at a new school this year – a change that has been remarkably good for her. Even still, she is missing lots of things about her former school. One of those things is the ‘Me to We’ program that she participated in for 3 years. Her new school doesn’t offer this program. To her credit, she’s been trying to find other ways to stay involved with Me to We. In particular, she has developed a burning desire to attend the annual event called We Day.

I  know she’s been giving it a lot of thought, but I really had no idea how much. And this is where my mind was blown. Without asking for my help, she sat down and wrote an email to send to the organizers of the event, expressing her desire to be a part of it. I was aware that she was working on it for the better part of the day but decided to leave her alone and let it simply be hers. When she finally showed it to me and asked for permission to press ‘send’, she got an immediate thumbs-up from her teary-eyed Mama. I’m proud of this kid every day because she’s an awesome human being. But this email she wrote is too sweet not to share. Here goes:

Reflections on and hopes for We Day by an 11 year old fan

Dear We Day Team,

Hi! my name is … I am turning 12 years old exactly 17 days after We day, and I love Me To We and doing what I can to make this world a better place. About 3 years ago I joined a school club that focused on different issues across the world such as hunger, child labour, poverty and many more that I want to help put a end to. We had the chance to address certain issues by taking on certain projects and then studying them to share what we have learned about the issue. Some people did projects like girls education, or free the children, and others did projects to raise money to build wells in Africa. And I decided to do Local Poverty. Of course I wanted to do something like building wells or helping raise awareness for girls and their education, but to get there I needed to start small. I didn’t have much hope because I was just one little girl trying to do something for local poverty. 

So I sat and I thought. I thought for along time. I thought about the struggles people must have. How they must miss their homes and their families. And for the people that can barely pay for food and for their homes, I can’t imagine how it must feel.

About a month later, the teacher who ran the club read the other kids and I a blog written by a woman who’s life just seemed impossible to live with. The first blog post was the woman telling us that it was April and the last time she had been to the grocery store was in February. She was a single mom who had two kids and could barely afford for her house. In the second blog post she described how embarrassing it felt for her to be in a food bank collecting food. This was hard for me to think of, because my family and I visit the grocery store weekly. And for someone else that hasn’t been to a grocery store in 3 months … this did not feel right at all. 

And then I realized, this was what I was looking for in my heart, to connect that final piece and to understand that feeling and to get my mind in the right place. This was when I knew that I had to do what I could put an end to this issue. Up until this year I continued to be in the club. I would be ready for every single meeting. My mom, before I was born and it was just her and my brother, she had a hard time affording things like his back to school supplies, or new clothes. So, when we were buying my back to school supplies this year, she was telling me the stories of when her and my brother would go shopping that it was hard to afford, it reminded me that this wasn’t only for people like my mom who had struggled, but for many other families too.

Every year, the grade 6 class gets to go and attend We day. I have been looking forward to doing that since I first joined Me to We in grade 3. I switched schools this year, and sadly at this school we don’t have a Me To We club. I plan to talk to some of my teachers about starting one and when that would take place. I searched up how to get We Day tickets and it told me that you can’t buy tickets, you earn them through service. I talked to my mom about it, and she said that I should try and tell you my story and about how passionate I am about Me to We. I would like to attend We day this year. It would be amazing and a dream come true if I could come and hear all the speakers and their stories. If there is any way I could do something to show you that I am devoted and how much I respect and look up to Me To We, and how much I would be honoured if I could come and be a part of that day. 

I just want to thank you for opening my eyes. For showing me the way, and how to help who needs it the most. Me to We does something more than help people, it changes people. It shows them a way to live fair, respectful, and to do what you love to do. You help show the world that instead of looking at someone’s plate and wondering if that person has more than yourself, it’s much kinder and more helpful to look at a someones plate and wonder if they have enough. It’s like looking at a glass half full, not half empty. You create idealists, with thoughts of what is right. You also create optimists, to help people look for the best in everything. Without you, I would just be a lonely realist, thinking that my goals in life are impossible with no hope. You help people’s dreams to help become reality. Without you, lots of people wouldn’t be as devoted to helping others and knowing about the issues. We wouldn’t have the dreamers living their dreams no matter how impossible they seem. No matter the challenge, no matter the journey, no matter the pain, everything has a silver-lining. 

The response. Less than 24 hours later from the We Day team:

Hi there,

Thank you very much for the note and for sharing your story with us. We would love to have you attend a We Day event this Fall. Can you please let me know where you are located so we can provide tickets for a city nearby?

In my journey as a parent, I’m exceedingly clear on what I’m for. And that is to raise our kids to be decent people who respect others, live with compassion, practice empathy and go for their dreams. This email written by my daughter … well, I’m for all of it. And I’m for her engaging with the world in a way that ‘instead of looking at someone’s plate and wondering if that person has more than yourself, it’s much kinder and more helpful to look at a someone’s plate and wonder if they have enough.’

My heart is full. What more could a mama hope for from her almost 12-year-old kid?