Identity (another chapter in the tale of our move from Ontario to Seattle)

February 3, 2016 § Leave a comment

 

Moving to a new country, even one as similar in culture as Canada is to America, ripens the picking so to speak for checking in on the age old question of “Who am I? and Where do I belong?”

When our family agreed to embark upon a family adventure to the West Coast for a few years, it seemed exciting and new and I looked forward to the blank page upon which we would write the next chapter of our lives. For me in particular, it meant no expectations about who I was or how I would serve. I could choose my new opportunities to get involved freely, without my previous experiences or relationships swaying the selection.

I worried a little about the kids experience walking into a brand new school six times larger than their previous one.  I worried a little about my husband’s new job and how close of a fit it was for him. But I was not worried about me. Me? I’ll be fine.

I had greatly underestimated the presence and impact of isolation.

isolation

Photo credit: http://heartandsoulezine.com/impartations-wisdom-separation-vs-isolation/

Nobody knew me. When I encountered people, there was a polite smile, and done. My identity ceased to exist for a time. As time went on, people would begin to realize they had seen me before, or they would put together that I was the mom of one their kid’s classmates, but still, no one knew ME. They didn’t know my name, or that I love chai tea lattes, or that the lack of sunshine here in the winter was heavy on my heart. Who was I? Where do I belong?

Now that we are have been here a year and a half I am happy to report that the isolation has passed, but it sure did provide me with an amazing opportunity to assess who I was, and where I belonged.

I read an article recently that got me thinking about this very thing, entitled “The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce” by Tim Urban. He talks about the difference between our hardware (physical body and attributes) and our software (the belief systems that we have installed) and how if we are not the type of person to regularly self-reflect and evolve, we could still do our thinking with software installed by our grandparents:

“The person has lived a long life and has made it all the way to 2015, but their software was coded during the Great Depression, and if they’re not the type to regularly self-reflect and evolve, they still do their thinking with software from 1930. And if they installed that same software in their children’s heads and their children then passed it on to their own children, a member of Generation Y today might feel too scared to pursue an entrepreneurial or artistic endeavor and be totally unaware that they’re actually being haunted by the ghost of the Great Depression.”

 Ever heard someone say “That’s just the way I am” when they are describing themselves? Yeah, outdated software. Upgrade notification sent.

Urban goes on to talk about Dogma and Tribes and encourages us to realize the difference between conscious tribalism and blind tribalism:

With conscious tribalism, the tribe member and his identity comes first. The tribe member’s identity is the alpha dog, and who he is determines the tribes he’s in. With blind tribalism, the tribe comes first. The tribe is the alpha dog and it’s the tribe that determines who he is.

Fantastic fodder for exploring Who am I and Where do I belong, isn’t it?

When we make decisions, both for us and our children, how often do we examine where the criteria we are using came from? “No, you can’t go sell Girl Scout Cookies to the neighbors by yourself” <cause what if you get stolen or hurt, and the neighbors might judge me for letting you go alone>, quashing my daughters entrepreneurial spirit with my own brand of fear, and installing software in her that she will very likely pass on to her children.

And how often to do you stay in the same organization because that is what you have always done, and you feel pressure to stay because you don’t want to let down others or be judged for leaving? I had this gift of clarity offered to me since we moved as well. I had joined a women’s bible study group a few months into our arrival which felt great for the first year and filled a space in me I greatly needed during that isolated time. But then they decided to study Revelations for the next year, which makes me want to run screaming (try reading it, you’ll see what I mean), and suddenly I am torn. Nothing about me wants to study the Book of Revelations. But will I let down the ladies in the group? Haven’t I slapped a label on myself that says this is a group belong in? I stewed about it for a time, before finally gaining the clarity that the tribe does not determine who I am and where I belong, I do. I sent a very gracious email to the group thanking for them for the beautiful year I spent with them, and moved on to a very fulfilling volunteer role elsewhere that suits me very well.

With every new experience and exposure each of us are provided with an identity choice, as if the Universe is launching lob balls to us, saying “go on, figure it out”.

With my beautiful 20/20 hindsight I see, and am grateful for, the opportunity to examine this for myself, and for my husband and children to examine it for themselves too.

May the adventure continue!

 

The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

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What the world needs now….

December 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

Do you know that song?

I’m listening to that song, the one with the lyrics about the world having enough beautiful things, and what it really needs is love. I think to myself, there sure is a lot of that going on – wishing for more love, peace, and joy. In fact we currently are in the season that is famous for extending wishes for love, peace and joy. Christmas cards, social media status updates, ads on TV and radio. SO many wishes.

I have an alternative suggestion. Let’s not wish, let’s BE.

Having recently left my home province of 40 years and moved across the continent to a new country and city, I have become quite familiar with the feeling of longing.

I long for my family, for my friends, for my home. I long for the things I can no longer touch or see, largely because I can no longer touch or see them.

When we lose a loved one, we very quickly fall into the downward spiral of recalling every amazing thing they brought into our world, grieving their loss deeper with each recollection, and forgetting any annoying thing they ever tortured us with.  We search our minds for the memories, so we can feel closer to them, to feel like they are still with us. And we feel better. We feel love, peace and joy, at having shared those memories with them.

I recall my “old life” with similar fondness, like I am grieving, so much so that it becomes romanticized in the same way:

I miss the 600 metre driveway that I used to curse every time that it swallowed my vehicle in a snow drift while trying to get the kids from the bus stop. But how lovely the morning jogs were on that driveway while the sun was coming up. Breathtaking.

I miss the backyard that used to cause me hours, days, and sometimes weeks of sore muscles from landscaping and garden care. But the joy and fulfillment I felt upon completion of each flower bed, gazing upon them with a feeling of accomplishment.

I miss my family members whose Christmas gatherings were preceded by hours of grocery shopping, cooking and baking so my family of six would not show up without our contribution to the meal. But the soft place to land of being with loved ones who love you just as you are is irreplaceable.

I miss my friends who I often missed anyway during this season even when I was at home, cause the treadmill we were all on preparing for the holidays was frequently set to “sprint”.  But they were close enough to slip in a coffee date or a play date and enjoy the ease of conversation with a “bestie”.

The whole thing is distracting enough to miss the present moments currently being offered to us, moments full of new experiences and opportunities for expansion. Occasions to try new paths, gain fresh perspectives, develop treasured relationships. Gifts.

So let’s not wish for love, and joy, and peace. Let’s BE those things. Instead of offering wishes of love to someone, tell them instead what you love about them. If you are tempted to fall into the usual “sending joy to you” sentiment, wrap up a treat that you know they secretly fancy, and breathe in their delight when they exclaim “how did you know?!”. And when you intend to pray for peace, imagine yourself without the things that create peace in your world. Imagine them lost to you. Search your mind for the memories, so you can feel closer to them, feel like they are still with you, and then revel in the realization that THEY ARE STILL WITH YOU. Now share it. Live the gratitude. Be the love, peace and joy.

Right now.

From Contrast to Love: One Year Later in Seattle

November 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

So I spent some time on FB this morning catching up and realized I had missed a bunch of notifications. After adding a new FB friend, I enjoy going to my main page to look at it through the eyes of someone else. In no time at all I was deep into beautiful memories, missing home, loved ones and feeling the love.

My ego quickly stepped up and said “oh you poor thing, missing home, where there is security, and familiarity and people who love you, wallow here awhile, feel sad. It’s raining outside for the 14th straight day, just stay in your pjs, don’t bother with the shower, just sink”.

The remarkable part was, when I heard those words in my head, they felt SO strange. And the response, instead of pondering it, was “why the heck would I do that! All of this is love. Love at home, love in Seattle, love on FB. Every one of these pictures is evidence of love in my life. How could that ever make me sad?!”

Well THAT is refreshing!

I think back to almost exactly a year ago, when the rains in Seattle started and we had two weeks straight of no sunshine. Our first experience going so long without sun. Even in Ontario’s dead of winter, the sun reflects off the snow so brightly you have to wear shades to even see properly. I remember thinking to myself, “what have we done? We can’t make it until spring with no sun!” I watched how all my new friends and acquaintances in Seattle had already figured it out, booking their sunny holidays in the south months in advance of the mid-winter and spring breaks. I felt my mood sink into sullen, not going unnoticed by my husband who bought me a faux-sun “Happy Lamp” for Christmas in an attempt to help. I began romanticizing our home in Ontario, seeing it as an oasis, making plans for when we return.  Uncertainty set in, and I felt like I had a foot in each home, never really feeling grounded in either.

But then the sun broke through, and our prayers were answered.  We were gifted with what everyone described as an “unusually warm winter”. Unseasonably warm temperatures, sunny skies, and outstandingly beautiful blooms on the trees starting in January and continuing like a fireworks show all the way into spring. Each tree took a turn, in yellow, pink and white, shouting from their branches that ALL IS WELL!

cherryblossoms

Each person I discussed the weather with warned me “don’t get used to it! This is not normal”! As my spirit started to rebound I found myself responding “who cares? It is EXACTLY what we needed in our inaugural winter here. In this moment, it is perfect.”

So now I am faced with the exact same scenario one year later. It’s been raining so long my neighbour asked me this morning where the faucet was to turn it off. But something is different. Instead of uncertainty, I feel grounded. I feel like we are on this adventure, experiencing new things, and while I miss my loved ones at home very much, I am also excited by the new relationships we are cultivating here. And I am grateful at how different they are from the relationships we have at home. There is no replacement for celebrating the holidays with family, but it will be a cool new experience to celebrate the holidays with friends, cherishing the fellowship and warmth it surrounds us with.

I make a promise to myself to continue on this Rampage of Appreciation, and honour each new beautiful experience for the growth it offers. I AM grateful.

Snow vs. Rain

November 2, 2014 § 1 Comment

While it was hardly the driving consideration in our decision to move from Ontario, Canada to the Seattle area, it certainly does occupy much of the small talk with the new people we meet:

“So, Canada, *eh*, how are you adjusting?”

“Bet you get all kinds of snow up there, where is Ontario anyway?”

“You can grow watermelons there? Amazing!”

During our decision-making stretch, in considering the move to Seattle, someone said to us “It’s the most Canadian city in the US!”. That was a big selling feature for us. We’ve seen T.V. We know what the stereotypes of big US cities can be like. And we’ve also travelled to several of them, so we had some idea of what we *weren’t* looking to experience. And in all honesty, moving our family to the US, or anywhere for that matter, was not in the plan at all.

Nine years ago when we bought our dream home in the country, 10 minutes outside of a hopping small city, bursting with potential and talent in the hi-tech industry, we had zero plans of ever moving. We were raising our kids, we were close to our families; there was no inclination for anything else.

Not to say we hadn’t broached the topic several times during our marriage. My husband working with several large tech partners as part of his job, there were always the congenial offers: “if you’re ever looking to make a move…”. But we never were. We had four kids. And we had drank the kool-aid about the differences in health-care, teachers and education, the right to bear arms, etc. Canada is awesome. The US is nice to visit, but we are safe and familiar right here, thank you very much.

And then it happened (to borrow the title from one of my kids’ favourite book series).

We said “what if”.

What *if* we were to move to the US for a while? What would that look like? We’ve known several who have done it, and loved it. We knew others that were ex-pats internationally and raved about their experience. But none of them had four kids. True, but what a great adventure to expand their horizons, show them something different. True, but what about our house? Maybe we could rent it out instead of selling it. Turns out the company’s relocation package covers both angles. What about the kids’ education? Their school is fighting a second attempt to be closed – there is a good chance they are going to see transition of some variety shortly anyway. What about my husband’s current job? Turns out that company is at a turning point also – decision time regardless.

And so we found ourselves at a crossroads. Do we stay safe, comfortable, surrounded by the familiar, or do we take the family on an adventure? Taste what it’s like to live day-to-day near the ocean, near the mountains, and among new experiences our children might never come across in our fantastic, but little rural community.

Those who know my husband well know that he is not a spontaneous decision maker typically. He loves to research all the options, become an expert on the subject, and make the decision that will deliver the highest good.

So we did our homework.

We immediately started connecting with friends who made this type of move before, both years ago, and recently. What was it like, how did it change your lifestyle, how did the financials work, what would you have done differently, would you ever move back? We were relentless with interrogating these most helpful of advisors.

The really big decision was, if we moved, would it be permanent? We very quickly established that we did not want it to be permanent. We loved being close to family, felt at home in our community, but most importantly, we had a soul connection with our house (that’s another story too long to tell here, so for now you’ll just have to take my word for it). In addition, we had just launched into a project to overhaul the entire exterior of our house (window replacement, stucco upgrade, eaves & soffit replacement, and patio/deck replacement). This was a house in which we had always intended to stay, to raise our family and to host holidays for our grandchildren in our retirement.

With each person we spoke to, it was becoming clear that many people who had made the move out west, intended to return after a few years, but often did not. This concerned us. We wanted to return. We were becoming increasingly willing to embark upon an adventure for a few years, but not to move permanently.  We chewed on that for several days, the thought of whether or not to move permeating our daily activities. With each mundane task I would consider, what would this be like in a new home, in a new city, what would this look like if we were on the west coast, etc. It was never far from either of our thoughts.

After several days of wrestling with this aspect of the decision, tossing it back and forth between us, the fateful words came through me to my husband, “so what if we do decide to stay?”.

All resistance gone, I continued:  “If we stay, its clearly because we are thriving, and what’s so bad about that?”. The decision will always be up to us. The only commitment we were considering was to take our family on an adventure, expand our horizons and see what happens!

So we decided to do it.

And we are here: Washington, the greater Seattle area. 45 minutes from the mountains (and snow *if* we choose it!), a couple hours from the ocean, and living in a fabulous community that is close to everything but feels like we are in the country. Surrounded by greenery and hills, where everything grows SO fast, and it rains, a LOT. But the sun does poke through the grey every so often, drawing out of each of us an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. The contrast is therapeutic for the soul.

I woke this morning for the first time with a feeling of “newness” replacing my usual longing for home. And the universe in its uncanny design sent me several encouraging messages along my path today to practice “release”, loving the moment I’m in, and to be assured that all is as it should be, with great things in store.

Stay tuned for our next episode!

With trust, gratitude, and love.

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