From the desk of...


As last year was winding down and I wrote my advent reflection on love I was a little bit surprised at how many moments were influenced by the word/idea I had chosen to guide my yearlong evolution…  The process was so good at making me come back to what was essentially important, even as life got dark and overwhelming in places.

 Over the last week of December I gave a lot of thought to a word for this new year that could be as inspiring and representative of the journey I am taking.  Unlike last year, when I knew that Iove was my word instantly, I needed to think a while this time.  So many words were suggested by friends and family but the one that kept coming back to me, the one that was perfectly simple and incredibly complex, the one that made me feel a spark inside was… light.

 Such a simple word but filled with so much meaning.   To lighten up, to tread lightly, to bear light, to light the way…

 A quick dictionary search tells me that the root word “light” is part of at least two hundred fifty other words in English alone. (Delighted! Enlightened!  Lighthearted!) Defining light, though, is often easier done by stating what it is not: not heavy, not dark, without burdens, difficulties or problems.  Or more philosophically: a source of illuminating grace and strength.  Can I be those things?

Looking back through the photos I have taken recently I see light represented over and over – I find myself drawn to it like a moth.    

Thinking back even farther, I remembered that light has long been a theme in my favourite books (Epiphanies!) and an underlying current in my regular writing…  It seems I am trying to write light into my life like a photographer captures its imprint on film.  This year, I hope more than ever, will be about light.  And more than ever I am looking forward to sharing it!

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.” (Edith Wharton)

Ready to take flight… 

From the desk of...

Thoughts About Heaven…

My littlest one has been asking questions a lot lately about heaven.  He is curious and thoughtful about what happens after we die, and as we have told him that we will go to heaven he is curious and thoughtful about that too. 

Every day he has a new thought or question about heaven, and his own thoughts have inspired me to think more about what I believe and how it can make sense in the world I see around me…

Everything I see around me in nature makes me wonder at the complex beauty of  it all.  Each leaf and petal is more complex in design and execution than any of my most profound thoughts…

And yet it is through the honest and unaffected questions of a preschooler that the most profound ideas find their way:

“Is heaven part of earth?

Is heaven all around us?

Are we standing in heaven right now?
When we’re both in heaven, how will we find each other?”
This last question makes me cry even now.  I am moved by the great big loving heart my little one has, and his worry that we might be separated from each other in a place too great to comprehend…
“Does heaven ever end?
Why is heaven forever?  How long is that? Why is it so long?  
Why isn’t this life as long as that?
How do people go to heaven?  How long will it take us to get there?
Will we need to have wings?  Will our things be with us?  How will we live without anything?
Once you’re in heaven can you come back to earth?”

His questions are so human.  They remind me that there is more in life that I don’t know than what I do, and that maybe, like him, I should make the most of every moment as it happens.  How long is life?  I can’t say.  But this moment we have together today is a tiny piece of heaven for me… and I plan to hold onto it with all my heart.

From the garden...

How Does Your Garden Grow? (Volume 2)

After a long winter we are just now venturing out into our much neglected garden…  The greatest thing about it is that the garden grows in spite of us!  Each little spot of green is a moment of hope for the new season…

My mom has always loved her garden – I have great memories of her trucking in dirt and digging up holes – but I never knew the joy of the garden until Mr.Martini and I bought a house with a large yard and began to plant our own.  We have been at it for well over a decade already, and still somedays I look out and wonder when we will ever be close to filling up the space.  Patience, the garden whispers.

“A garden is a grand teacher.  It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.” (Gertrude Jekyll)

Plant by plant the garden starts to grow into the light.  First there were the snowdrops…


…and then came the crocuses…


“First a howling blizzard woke us,
Then the rain came down to soak us,
And now before the eye can focus —
Crocus.” (Lilja Rogers)

Next came the daffodils…


…followed by flower after flower in a tumbling symphony of colour and light.

“Spring makes its own statement, so loud and clear that the gardener seems to be only one of the instruments, not the composer.” (Geoffrey B. Charlesworth)






“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke)




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“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” (Anne Bradstreet)



“Every spring is the only spring — a perpetual astonishment.” (Ellis Peters)







…and gorgeous double cherry blossoms (hand grafted to wild cherry stock by Nonno – the garden whisperer…)


“April is a promise that May is bound to keep.” (Hal Borland)

…and my favourite (of course!)… the tulips:

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The way the dirt smells, the way the wind blows, the way the garden creatures begin their scrambling explorations of the  hidden garden places… all these things inspire me and remind me that the garden grows green and new each spring – and so can we.  (Patience!)

“Hope is a roving gypsy
With laughter on her tongue,
And the blue sky and sunshine
Alone, can keep her young;
And year by year she lingers
Under a budding tree…”
(Dora Read Goodale, “The Chorus,” in Country Life in America: A Magazine for the Home-maker, the Vacation-seeker, the Gardener, the Farmer, the Nature-teacher, the Naturalist, April 1902)

Places to Go

Queen Elizabeth Park – Bloedel Conservatory…

Vancouver is a beautiful city… the grey wet winters sometimes cloud our vision but the promise of early spring makes up for it every year.  One of my favourite sights – inherited from my grandmother – is the moment the cherry blossom trees burst forth with wild, reckless abandon.  They are a symbol of life and optimism that can’t be ignored…  as if their personal motto is “why do it when you can overdo it?”


There are a few places in the lower mainland to hang out with the blossom trees… This year we went to see them at Queen Elizabeth Park.  On such a sunny, temperate late winter day we weren’t the only ones with that idea – the park was filled with locals, tourists and countless cameras.  My photo taking was mild by comparison; there were photographers everywhere!  Still, we found a few quiet places to enjoy the flowers and sunshine.

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The view down to the quarry garden is gorgeous – even at this time of year when not much is blooming.  I was instantly reminded of many many visits to the park and gardens as a child with Oma and Opa – this was one of their favourite places to visit.  We would come on sunny Saturday afternoons to marvel at the flowers and the colourful wedding parties visiting the park for photographs…

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The north facing view over Burrard inlet and toward the mountains is also lovely.  Notice there is no snow on those mountains.  No snow!  What a year.

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At the top of the hill is the Bloedel Conservatory.


This space like dome is the home of some incredibly beautiful birds and flowers – with half an hour left on our parking ticket we gladly spent the 15$ for our family of four to tour the garden inside…

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The birds roam free through the garden and are quite tame – they are comfortable with the visitors and we were able to observe them eating and grooming at very close range!


Who are these crazy birds?

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Something about birds makes them seem so human.  They have a way of looking right at you as if they’re thinking “Yes, I’m beautiful. Of course, I’m intelligent. I’m a bird.  Don’t worry, silly human, you can be intelligent and beautiful too – you just have to work a little harder.”  I’m afraid I have my work cut out for me – I feel this spring may be a transformative moment.

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” (C.S.Lewis)

Outside the fountains of my childhood still burst forth in celebration of the coming spring too:


Are you starting to feel it too?

Places to Go


This one is for Ms.K and Ms.J who, in spite of their own busy lives and to-do lists, took an hour to wander the streets and see the sights with me.  (They may be the only people besides my own family who are patient enough to put up with my constant camera use…)  As we were in the city with some “free” time we walked through Vancouver’s historic Gastown neighbourhood.


Gastown was Vancouver’s first downtown core and is named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton – a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain and barkeep who arrived in 1867 to open the town’s first saloon.  (You know a city is fun when the barkeep is important enough to name a neighbourhood after…)


The statue commemorating Gassy Jack stands on another historic spot:


There is no shortage of history or character in the area.  Between the historic buildings and the interesting shops (art, fashion, furniture, etc.) there is a lot to look at:

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Vancouver’s own flatiron building…


Every town built around a bar is going to need a jail…

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My favourite sign…


(because Ms.K pointed out the back side…)

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This one functions as a self portrait…just realized I can see my picture taking self in the window reflection…

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The local businesses are interesting too – my favourite Vancouver shoe legend John Fluevog has returned to Gastown where his Fox and Fluevog shoe business began decades ago, and architects, galleries and studios mix with the restaurants, clubs and street people.  Gastown has always been an artsy fringe area, which makes it  interesting but not always neat and tidy… There are many stakeholders and often disagreements about how the area should be developed (or not).  The tensions between new and old, business and social development or government and culture have always seemed a part of the local character.

A riot between the hippies and the police in 1971 over marijuana has become legendary – the incident is commemorated in a grand way with an art installation by Stan Douglas on the site of the old Woodwards building.  (I’m expecting real life anecdotes from those of you who were there in the comments…)

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These old Woodward’s signs get me every time… we have a lot of family history tied up with that store… (Mimi?  Comments?)

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Sentiment aside, Gastown is a great “wander”.  The mix of old architecture and modern life never fails to entertain.

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The traditional favourite place to stop in along the way is the Cordova Street store Salmagundi West…  My mother brought me here when I was young and I have returned over and over again.  The store hasn’t really changed, but it is always different…

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Everything you never knew you wanted… (taxidermy bear, anyone?)

On the corner of Cambie and Water Street stands Gastown’s beloved steam clock.


The clock was built in 1977 to cover a steam grate as a way to harness the steam and to prevent street people from sleeping on the spot in cold weather.  (Again, long history of tension!) The original design was flawed and after a breakdown the clock was powered by electricity.  However it has become a major attraction in the neighbourhood and so, with the financial support of local businesses, the clock was temporarily removed and completely restored.


I have to admit I’m a sucker for that Westminster chime…

Thanks to my lovely companions for the time to reminisce and explore – it reminded me (once again!) how lucky I am to live in such a colourful, interesting, evolving place…


Places to Go

Bowen Island…

Bowen Island is a special place.

My grandmother moved to Bowen in 1934 – just after her wedding  –  and raised her first three daughters in a tiny house with no luxuries or modern amenities.   Both my grandparents are on the island still – their ashes were left on the beach below the tiny house they lived in for the first 20 years of their married life…

These days when I visit the island it is with love in my heart for the family history that unfolded there, but also to show my own children how different life can be in other places, even a short distance from our own home.  it takes us less than an hour to get there from our house, including the very short ferry ride, but it is like entering another place and time completely.

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The Bowen Island ferry leaves from Horseshoe Bay – just outside of downtown Vancouver at the bottom of the Sea to Sky highway…  it is the only ferry I know that you can walk on and walk off right into the village proper… no car or other transportation required.

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Even on a (sort of) drizzly day we loved the very short ferry trip for the view and the wind!

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The village of Bowen Island is completely walkable – you can get off the ferry and wander up the hill past boutiques, artists studios and restaurants as you go.  I always take a picture of the Union Steamship sign to remember Papa Lawrence and his time in their employ…

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We wandered for a bit before stopping for lunch at the Ruddy Potato…


By this time we were ready for eating (having spent all of our hunting and gathering energy on the slight climb up the hill…) and so we ordered just about one of everything from the café.  Thai seafood chowder, grilled cheese and turkey sandwiches and hot cocoa all around (plus banana bread, because it looked delicious…) – well received by all:

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Finished just in time to run back down the hill and catch the ferry back to the mainland…

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Places to Go

Granville Island (Volume 2)

Just over a year ago I wrote about a family trip to Granville Island so I am thinking enough time has passed to post some new photos… Of all the places to go in this city Granville Island is one of my absolute favourites.  I have many many childhood memories of wandering through the market stalls and shopping for farm fresh fruits and veggies interspersed with crafts, soaps, honey, flowers, trinkets and treasures of every imaginable sort.  It has evolved over the years, I suppose, but all of the character and creativity that inspired me as a child is still intact.  I love to visit today as much as ever. This trip was on a busy, sunny Sunday afternoon so we parked at the east end.  This painted wall next to the parking lot greeted us as we got out of the car: IMG_5252 (Side note: my friend Rose inspired me to take up the #oneword challenge on Twitter on New Year’s Day – my chosen word for 2015 is love.  I have been seeking and sharing love as often as I can, and am always thrilled to find it in environmental print… thank you Granville Island!) We walked down Railspur Alley toward the market, stopping for the occasional photo op… (Hard to tear artists away from giant paintbrushes…) IMG_5255 …chatted with the locals… IMG_5258 …and then stopped to marvel at the artwork decorating Ocean Construction.  My kids think the best thing ever is their painted cement mixers… see the one that looks like a giant strawberry? IMG_5264 IMG_5265 Next stop was the longhouse where Clarence Mills and his apprentices have totem carving underway in various stages… IMG_5278  IMG_5272 …after which we stopped to watch two talented tap dancers show off their moves.  My two young tappers were suitably impressed; maybe one day they’ll make enough money busking to pay me back for all those tap lessons? IMG_5277 Next up: into the market.  Since my childhood the gorgeous stacks of fruits and fancies have been a thing of beauty.  I still love to wander up and down the aisles admiring all the wares, and this time I managed to take some photos worth sharing!  I hope you like them: IMG_5281 IMG_5283 IMG_5284 IMG_5285 IMG_5286 IMG_5287 IMG_5288 IMG_5289 IMG_5290 IMG_5292 IMG_5300 IMG_5301 IMG_5302 IMG_5304 IMG_5305 IMG_5303 In spite of wishing for one of everything we managed to stay focused and only bought two big bags of apples for pie.  (After the black bear jumped our wall and ate all of ours – from two trees – in the fall Mr. Martini has been craving apple pie ravenously…)  All the sightseeing had given us great appetites so we ordered lunch from the Mexican booth and ate out on the patio with the best view ever and musical accompaniment: IMG_5294 IMG_5293 IMG_5295


After lunch we walked back to the car, first through the loft with it’s many wonderful stores (one entirely dedicated to hats)… IMG_5306

…and then through the Children’s market… IMG_5307

…and lastly past the old yellow crane, standing sentry since the 1920s… IMG_5310

…already thinking of our next visit… (Do you have any childhood market memories that live on?)

Places to Go

Museum of Anthropology…


Our love for family field trips has taken us to many places but somehow we hadn’t ventured across the city to the Anthropology Museum at the University of British Columbia.  Lucky for us, a friend gave us a coupon to coincide with a long weekend and we made the trip at the last minute.  So glad we did!  Sometimes we hesitate to go into museums – having young children makes it nerve-wracking – but this museum lends itself completely to a family adventure.  In addition to the visual displays, statues, sculptures and paintings in every direction, there are seemingly endless drawers of cultural objects from all over the world. There is more to see than we could pack into one day – but we tried!

We started off in the main gallery where the objects on display reflect local aboriginal culture and art…











The sculptures are wild and regal at once – they fill the grand hall with fun and fierceness.

Next stop for us was the European ceramic arts gallery…  this was reminiscent of our summer in Europe as many of the objects seemed so familiar.  The entrance to the ceramic gallery has this sculpture to greet the guests:




…and then case after case of lovely ceramic art from all over Europe, any of which I would have been thrilled to bring home as a souvenir…



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So lovely!  These are the things I hunt for at garage sales and flea markets all over the world – sadly for me the museum hunters are out there too.  Our next stop was a gallery of modern art photography from Nairobi called “Pigapicha!” – the Swahili word for “Take a picture!”  (This could be the working title of my autobiography – I’m a pigapicha kind of girl…)  The photos were striking – we could see the evolution of culture over the hundred years represented:





Just outside is one of my favourite sculptures of all time… Biil Reid’s “Raven and the First Men” which brings the Haida Gwaii creation story to life.  I have photographed it from every angle over and over and still marvel at the softness and strength within.  Also, it makes me laugh. (Hard not to when looking at little wooden bums squirming backwards out of a big clamshell…)



If you haven’t seen Bill Reid’s work I highly recommend it to you.  One of his sculptures is at the Vancouver Aquarium and another is at the Vancouver International Airport (and also on our 20$ bill!)  Each piece has a spirit of its’ own, and they have done great work as ambassadors for culture around the world…

Of course there was so much more to see.  We stopped for lunch at the gallery café (perfect) and then headed back through the countless displays of textiles, sculptures, jewelry and art from almost every continent.  Here, for you, is a random sampling!

Great plains artifacts for Mimi to covet…

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So many crazy masks…

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So many religious artifacts…


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Including Saint Veronica from the sixth (my favourite) station…

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And many more gorgeous global arts and crafts…

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We explored the gallery until we could not possibly open another drawer or inspect another artifact, and then we went outside to enjoy the view and explore the grounds…

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“But why had we come, if not to depend upon our own resources and in so doing, discover more about them?  There are circuits and juices in every person that are the heritage of millions of years of evolution and survival in wild country.  They need exercising – add a twinge of fear and wonder, and they can bring the world into focus with astonishing clarity.”
 ~ James Baldwin


For this day, for this world, for the people in it and especially the ones I love most dearly – let me be truly grateful… for they are more precious than silver or gold…

“There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.”
 ~ William Stafford

Places to Go

Festival du Bois …

Hard to believe, but we have come to the beginning of another “festival season” – kicked off with the great French Canadian traditions showcased at Festival du Bois.  We shared our family visit last year in cold and slushy weather, but this year we were lucky enough to spend a sunny almost spring day hanging out for the music, food and cultural celebration… Ironically,  two of us spent the night before at Sam Roberts’ concert (speaking of French Canadian culture…) so this sunny afternoon was kind of an extension of that experience for the junior set… Let the games begin!



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Of course the frog hats (and the plaid shirts) are the traditional attire of the francophones…

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We didn’t arrive in time to see our friends in Alouest, but we did get a chance to see the Will Stroet Band live – and to rock out on stage with the band.  Woo hoo!  That level of excitement requires a certain level of sustenance – fortunately there was a sugar shack on site…


Suitably refreshed we wandered through the park to see the historical displays…

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…and then across to Place des Arts …

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…before heading home from Notre Dame de Lourdes…


…already looking forward to next year!  Today’s bonus: some fantastic photos from Mimi’s camera.  (She has the patience to wait for the perfect moment.  Must come from trying to photograph grandkids and pets so often.)  Enjoy!

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We are so glad to be part of such a fantastic community with so much culture!  We are already looking forward to going next year…

From the desk of...

#CECVAN – Reflections…


I started this writing/sharing journey a year ago, which coincided with our annual CISVA Educator’s Conference.  I was inspired by what I had learned and excited to continue making connections…

A year later I still feel like I am at the beginning, and it is still such an exciting place to be!  Every day is an opportunity to put it all together or to try something new.  More than ever, I am grateful for the companions on the journey – you are enriching my life in so many ways: by reading, by sharing, by asking great questions and by pushing me to be better!

The CEC is usually inspiring, even if just for the opportunity to see old friends and make new ones.  This year, though, there were two speakers (one on each day) who really cemented some ideas I have been working on myself.  Here are my highlights – let me know if they resonate with you too!


Dean Shareski

How do we have more moments of (real) engagement?

What is the definition of engagement? Are you fascinated by it?  This is what it should feel like more often.

How do we get real engagement in the classroom as a teacher?

1.  Be interesting.  Use your “unfair” advantage.

2.  Wonder.  What fascinates you?  Read the book The Wondering Brain.  (For me this connected to ideas I have been hearing repeatedly over the last year – “cognitive disinhibition”, “cognitive flexibility” – more on this from me soon…)  Watch this video about the responsibility to awe.

3.  Play.  Play!  Here is a fantastic (and often mis-attributed quote from Neville Scarfe: “All play is associated with intense thought activity and rapid intellectual growth.  The highest form of research is essentially play. Einstein is quoted as saying, “The desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of a vague play with basic ideas. This combinatory or associative play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.”

4.  Just do it.  (Jump in with purpose and intent.  Don’t be afraid to try and fail!)  “Failure is free, high-quality research, offering direct evidence of what works and what doesn’t.  Cheap failure, valuable as it is on its own, is also a key part of a more complex advantage; the exploration of multiple possibilities.”  Clay Shirley

(Sometimes joy doesn’t have to have a purpose.  Joy is a purpose.)

5.  Gratitude!  Thoughtfully and intentionally multiply gratitude.  What is a tiny thing to you could be a big deal to someone else.  Say thank you!

Look ahead, live in the moment.  Adults need to have fun so children want to grow up.


Dr. Robert Wicks

There are life-altering things and life-changing things and then there are also the little things.  Remember which are which when putting things into perspective.  It is easier to put on slippers than it is to carpet the world.  When we have respect we are opening a circle of grace.  When people are with you, how do they feel?  What do they experience?

(This reminded me of one of my favourite quotes from Mother Teresa: “Spread love everywhere you go.  Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”)

Be honest.  See what you’re believing.  Sometimes we believe stupid things.  Don’t engage with destructive people.  Don’t let others take your joy.  It’s not the amount of darkness in the world – it’s how you stand in the darkness.  In the darkness, we truly deepen.

“Courage comes and goes.  Hold on for the next supply.” (Thomas Merton)

Take two minutes every day to pray and to wrap yourself in gratitude.  We need this to keep perspective.  It will come with accepting, understanding, embracing, living.  Prayer is the portal to perspective.  What good things are you doing in your life?  What quiet walks to you take each day?  What happens in your silence?  What we model is essential.

Friendship is essential.  Each of us needs to have people in our lives who fill these roles:

1.  the prophet – who is guiding us?

2.  the cheerleader – who is celebrating us as we grow, so that in the process we can see our own goodness?

3.  the teaser – who keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously?

4.  the inspiration – who calls us to be all we can be, without embarrassing us for being who we are?

“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”  (Robert Frost)

We must keep a spirit of “unlearning” to teach us about hope.  There are two kinds of suffering.  One is avoidable – avoid it.  The other we must face, but we must do so with hope.  Hope is in community.  You can’t lose hope as long as you are making friends.

Take responsibility.  If you give away the blame, you give away the power to change.  Read scripture like your identity is on the line, so that when you ask what it is saying it asks back ‘who’s asking?’  You can do nothing for others if you are not fully aware that you are deeply loved.  If you sit in darkness in quiet contemplation with humility, add knowledge and you will get wisdom…


Inspired?  Me too.  If you read my ignite story last week you know these themes have been on my mind a lot lately.  Stay tuned – I am wrapping myself in joy and gratitude, inspired by new ideas, and planning the next adventure…

Sky Photographs – Late Winter Evening, Vancouver