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November and Hockey Night in Canada

November and Hockey Night in Canada

NOTE: before we get to my blog, I feel the need to comment on the disastrous results of the flooding in the Lower Mainland.

I wrote this blog in early November while thinking about my upcoming birthday on November 17th. I have extraordinarily fond and fuzzy warm feelings for this time of year, and I wanted to share those memories with you. Unfortunately, since first writing my blog, there have been recent catastrophic events in regard to the unprecedented heavy rains we have experienced locally. Therefore, I ask that while reading this blog, you keep in mind that my thoughts expressed here are unrelated to the disastrous flooding. My heart goes out to the many people, farms, businesses, and animals that have been affected.

November is my favourite month of the year. It indicates the end of Autumn and the prelude to winter. The 11th month of every year brings late sunrises to the morning and early gloominess to the evening.

Some people get the blues and find November to be dismal and gloomy. Yet, I feel cocoon-like, hopeful, safe, and content. If a social gathering is cancelled due to inclement weather, I am relieved, as in, ‘Good, I get to stay home!’

Wherever we live, we choose to either struggle or breeze through whatever the seasons have to offer. Sometimes we are reluctant and find ourselves persevering. But eventually, we get a handle on it and hold our own when it comes to external conditions, especially in November. We often reason it out,  thinking ‘Time passes so quickly, and a new calendar year is just around the corner.’ Thus, we can sum up how life will again bring forth environmental awakenings— budding trees, blooming flowers, clearer skies—and if we can just get through the cold, dark months of November, December, January, and February, we will be okay.

My theory is to accept my surroundings, forge through the atmospheric conditions, dress for the weather, and nestle into the inevitable, sometimes clobbering of winter.

However…

In life, many people depend on rain for their livelihood, and much more. Although rain can cause happiness for some, there are also times when this phenomenon can cause distress to others. I want to acknowledge that some people suffer from seasonal depression, also known as (SAD) Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a type of depression related to changes in the seasons. For most people with SAD, their symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping their energy and making them feel moody, or unfortunately, even worse, as each situation is unique and different for everyone. More personally, my mother displayed shifts in her moods, and some thought it was due to the weather.

Alternatively…

When winter is looming, you may consider yourself a snowbird, jetting off to another country where the harsh snow or rain are not a concern. Or perhaps where you live, the climate is somewhat seasonless, and you perpetually wake up to bright, warm sunshine coming through your window, or an eye-popping sunset that offers not warmth, but glorious eye feasting colours in the night sky.

The weather is different where I live…

Vancouver, British Columbia, especially in November, has the most rainfall of any other province in Canada. Residents here in this coastal city experience rain and dampness that comes in all forms, from a light mist and mild drizzle to gentle sprinkles, or some days a burst of heavy showers that evolve into a downpour of cold, sideways-blowing rain. I recently heard someone describe the highways and byways as atmospheric rivers that pop up throughout the lower mainland and all over British Columbia.

More recently here in the Lower Mainland, we have experienced first-hand how disastrous a menacing tirade of unceasing water can be. My condolences and prayers to those who are struggling with extreme loss and hardship. My praise also for the heroes who are stepping up to the plate, offering their time and effort to ease the severe circumstances of many.

On a lighter note…

On many occasions, the wind turns umbrellas inside out, and blows hoods and hats from our heads. Puddles splash up on our pantlegs when cars drive by, and soggy wet leaves disintegrate into nothing from the smashing down of our footsteps as we rush about looking for coverage.

In Vancouver, Gore-Tex can be worn as business casual. Umbrellas are found propped in hallways, on coat racks, scattered in the backseat of our cars, and jammed into various bags, ready to use at a moment’s notice.

Gumboots sit by the door, and reflective wear, headlamps, and safety vests are nearby and highly recommended.

A popular local joke is that instead of getting sun-tanned, Vancouverites rust!

Here on the coast, we love to say things like…

It is raining cats and dogs out there.

Nobody knows how to drive in the rain.

The roads are the slickest in the first half-hour.

The plants are going to love this.

I sleep better when it’s raining.

This weather makes me want to stay at home and curl up with a good book.

More notably, our four-legged friends often loathe the rain—specifically my Chihuahua, Steven. He digs his heels in and refuses to go outside when the weather is anything but dry. He would much rather stay in bed!

I have always rooted for the underdog. So, could that be why I like the most disliked month of the year? Or perhaps the reason is this…

Hockey Night in Canada

Hockey Night in Canada is primarily associated with its Saturday-night NHL broadcasts that began in 1931, first on the radio, and then on television in 1952. In 1970-71, the Vancouver Canucks joined the NHL, therefore, growing up in North Vancouver, you can only imagine the excitement in our home on Saturday nights, especially when our home team, the Canucks, were playing.

Rainy days and nights always remind me of hockey games on television.

I can still hear the announcer’s voice, although, ironically, I was not wrapped up in the game like my family was. But the sound of the commentator’s voice brings back fond memories of my family oohing and awing, cheering and yelling at the television during every game.

My older sister was missing from the family dynamics around Hockey Night in Canada because she chose to be out riding horses. If the TV was not available for her western shows, then undeniably, hockey was not my sister’s cup of tea.

I was the little sister, so I had no choice.

Announcer comments 101

He shoots. He scores!

Coast to coast, like butter on toast.

He’s threading the needle, or nice thread.

If that post hadn’t been there, that would have been a goal.

We’re going to take them one game at a time.

If you can’t beat them in the alley, you can’t beat them on the ice.

Win the fight and lose the game.

The goalposts are a part of the goalie’s equipment.

When you put the puck on the net, good things happen.

That was a goal-scorer’s goal.

We’ve got to score those dirty goals.

We need to get more traffic in front of the net.

We need to give 110 percent.

They are a lunch pail crew.

We really didn’t give the goaltender any support.

Will you look at that Spinarama!

The fourth win is the hardest to get.

Our goalie bailed us out.

And of course, the excitement mounted when the popular term “the gloves are off!” was stated in the most emphatic way.

The Bottle Rocket was rare, but it was the most fun for me. This is a term that refers to when a goal breaks the goalie’s water bottle. There were many instant replays when this occurred, and my father always called me over to sit on his lap and watch it all in slow motion.

Hockey lingo is a language of its own, with phrases and terminology that only a hockey player or a faithful fan would understand.

Many of us grew up with favoured commentators such as Jim Hughson, Chris Cuthbert, Rick Jeanerette, Ron Maclean, and Mike “Doc” Emrick. Of course, all of them are popular and cherished in their own right, but to some people like me, just the sound of their voices was (and still is) comforting.

For me, the rain, comfort food, and staying indoors were the gateway to Hockey Night in Canada.

My dad and grandpa

Visualize this…

Hard-hitting rain pelting the windowpanes and darkness terminating outside play by 4:30 p.m. Steamed up windows from my mother’s savoury meals.

One can still taste the hearty, delectable meals such as roast beef, root vegetables, and creamy mashed potatoes with gravy; rich, brothy stews, accompanied with fluffy biscuits that were golden brown on the outside, pull-apart goodness on the inside; apple crisp with sweet, crunchy brown sugar crumble on top and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

And don’t forget our beloved Jello.

While she was cooking, my older brothers, father, and grandfather cheered from the living room. Their animated faces, camaraderie, and scoffs could be heard a mile away. My mother often left the kitchen to rush in and join in the festivities because she, too, was a fan.

I was there, but not front and center. Instead, I felt the presence of family and fun from the sidelines (no pun intended).

There I would sit with puzzles permanently set up at the family’s card table. Disney colouring books and Crayola crayons were strewn about. Board games such as Trouble, Sorry, Monopoly, and Snakes and Ladders were stacked nearby, ready to play. Sometimes I would help my mother with the meal by making dessert in my Easy Bake oven. I delighted in churning out sweet sugary masses of chocolate discs for my family. The turning of those small knobby dials on my etch-a-sketch would keep me busy designing modern art. Light Bright, “making things with light,” Battleship, “hey, you sunk my battleship!” and Rock em Sock em Robots, “I can beat any kid on the block, oh no, my block was knocked off!”

Whatever happened to the Etch A Sketch?

And this…

My parents purchased season tickets to attend the Vancouver Canuck hockey games at the Vancouver Coliseum. I will never forget being taken to my first live game at the age of ten. It was a huge deal, just my dad and me, driving over the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge (at the time, it was called the 2nd Narrows Bridge), and pulling into the parking lot as my father steered our car towards a uniformed parking lot attendant who was waving his flashlight at us. Upon entering the stadium, the smell of overly salty, buttery popcorn permeated our nostrils as my little-girl eyes widened in delight! Hotdogs glistened and rolled on the rotisserie, waiting for their place in a soft white, doughy bun. When my father said, “Two please,” my heart skipped a beat. Upon receiving my own pleated white cardboard container, my dad taught me the finesse of filling and smothering my hotdog in ketchup, mustard, relish, and raw onions.

Money was tight, but there was always enough for a hotdog and a coke.

Settling into our seats in the vast arena was mind-boggling to all my senses. Taking small bites from my hotdog to make it last longer, my gaze lingered on the fans. And then my father pulled out the binoculars! So much for the eyes to see! I marvelled at the faces, families, and what others were doing. And then, while encased in my viewing pleasure, I instantly covered my ears at the earth-shattering eruption of screams. I had no idea what was happening…

In a daze of bewilderment, fear gripped me because I thought an atomic bomb had gone off. Then, gazing up into my father’s face and seeing his wide-open grin, I said, “What happened, daddy? Is everything okay?”

The fans had erupted into cheers, shouts, and applause as our team scored a goal! Completely taken aback, my dad laughed out loud at my question and fearful look. He then reassured me that our team had just scored a goal, and that’s what happens when the fans get excited.

I can still hear him repeatedly telling the story of my first live hockey game.

“All hockey players are bilingual. They know English and profanity.”

-Gordie Howe, also known as “Mr. Hockey.”

Me and Gordie Howe at his 80th Birthday party, I will save the story of this event for another time.

Gordie Howe

Born March 31, 1928, at Floral Saskatchewan

1071 Career Goals

1518 Career Assists

2589 Career Points

Inducted into the Hall of Fame 1972

In loving memory 1928 – 2016

For me, November is a time of hunkering down, settling in, nesting, taking life a little slower and reminiscing about days gone by.

The weather does that to us. Furthermore, we often use the topic during awkward moments. Talking about the weather is a great way to fill in the space when the conversation is lagging. People tend to light up when the subject of climate comes up. We love to talk about the cherry blossoms in the spring, the overly hot, sticky summers, the crisp fall mornings and how quickly the leaves might be turning. And when the rain is coming down, we like to say, “Wow, it sure is coming down out there.”

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

-Vivian Greene

A November day is like any other, until the rain falls and becomes a bother

We lay low in the hearth of the home, and soon the sun will make us roam…

-Karen Harmon

If my blog brings up some of your fond memories, please share them in the comments below.

Are You in Search of Memory Lane OR Are You Looking for a Detour?

Are You in Search of Memory Lane OR Are You Looking for a Detour?

By Karen Harmon

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But also tear you apart.

– Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore)

WARNING; this blog contains some hard questions that may be beneficial to your health.

F.A.Q.: “I have read your books, and I marvel at your memory. How on earth can you remember so much from your childhood?”

Answer:I was taught storytelling from my father, but it was not until I started writing down my memories that my past became much clearer.  The more I wrote, the more I remembered.”

When thinking about your childhood, do the memories bring on warm fuzzy feelings and fond thoughts of days gone by? Is walking down memory lane a gentle stroll that invites you to meander peacefully? Do recollections of your mother’s embrace, swimming at the lake, or graduating high school make you smile and fill you with gratitude for a life well-lived?

OR

Do you experience an adrenaline rush of nameless panic, terror, and despair? Are your recollections foggy, few, and far between? Does your past appear like a hard shove into yesteryear, with doors slamming and windows that are dismal and murky? Do recollections of a hurtful word and an embarrassing moment engulf you with debilitating shame? Perhaps flashbacks of an angry parent, a harsh teacher, and toxic relationships cause you to block out parts of your life and establish a habit of avoidance when thinking of the past?

My thoughts and opinions on this subject are just that, my own. But since I have been working on myself (for what seems like forever), my views might interest you.

So, here goes…

The actions that others inflicted upon you were not your fault, and quite frankly, had nothing to do with you. An instruction manual was not attached to your bottom when you were born. Your parents were often flying by the seat of their pants, as their parents had done before them.

More times than not, an eclectic version of days gone by can be readily accessed by all of us, unless those memories are buried and locked away, too painful to access. Sometimes it is out of fear, or maybe you sum up the past as just a form of life lessons?  Perhaps you think I am not that person anymore. So can we please just move on?!

Remembering is not easy.

While perusing social media, it has come to my attention that Facebook pages, Instagram posts, Twitter accounts, and Subreddits showcase looking back as a significant pastime. I am sure you have seen them too, titles such as, Remember the 80s, The Psychedelic 70s, Bring Back the 60s, or Meanwhile, Back in the 50s…

All groups seem to profess the same thing—their era was the best and the most fun, with common phrases such as “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and various memes like “To all of you that still listen to 80s music, cheers”  or “Sometimes I wish I could just rewind to the old days and press pause… just for a little while.”

The whimsical collection of reminiscent anecdotes and humorous illustrations state each era’s childhood or teenage years were the easiest to get through, the grooviest, and simply the best time in their lives. Often these groups feel sorry for people from other eras and other groups. Or they gloat and boast in a comedic teasing and taunting sort of way.

My point remainsmany of us can find joy in reminiscing, whereas many find only pain.

Meanwhile

Medical journals that promote health and well-being, acclaimed by physicians, psychologists, therapists, counsellors, analysts, advisers, life coaches, and even some gurus, express that we often suffer extreme consequences by not addressing the root cause of our pain. For example, it has been proven that carrying around past hurts and trauma can lead to addiction, depression, and other health issues.

Consequently, problems at work, at home, and in our relationships will arise if we cannot access those bad feelings and skeletons in our closets.

When a harrowing experience is recorded as a memory, the emotional charge of that memory makes it so potent that our brain sometimes sends false signals, warning us that specific thoughts and reflections are detrimental. We just might perish if we stir things up. The agony may feel unbearable. As a result, we block it out, push it down, reach for a drink or a cookie, take a pill, or smoke something other than a cigarette, or perhaps both. Which in turn numbs the pain while still being socially acceptable. However, these stimulants do not take the pain away.   Rather, each in turn prevents us from remembering and sharing our past.

What if the same amount of acceptance was given to our fears and tears, as to our happiness and joy?

Stop crying, or I will give you something to cry about. Many of us were raised with this demand. Therefore, we learned early on to stifle our tears, to trap and lock down our pain, leaving it to eventually fester and implode.

We try to bury and forget the bad stuff, but for some reason, through the hands of time, the ticking of the clock, the turning page of each calendar year, the icky parts have a way of reappearing and surfacing in one way, shape or form. We become triggered by the world around us and specific acts of others—someone cutting us off while driving; the way a sales clerk looks or doesn’t look at us; a waiter who takes longer to bring our food; a crying child, a barking dog or a person sitting next to us chewing food loudly. And the list goes on. We may snap back at the individuals or share what a jerk they are or how this one incident ruined our entire day.

Perhaps there is a reason why we struggle with topics of current prominence in our society, because they do act as triggers. Why do people not get my point? we might think.

Is it simply the actions of others that set us off and annoy us, bringing our past hurts and early trauma to the surface? Maybe their patterns are clashing with our patterns?

Mental health oppression at its core is the suppression of emotions.

What if the same amount of acceptance was given to our fears and tears as to our joy and happiness? I am repeating this, as it is worth repeating.

The by-product of remembering is the feelings that arise. 

Through conjuring the memories of my past hurts, I have learned a lot about myself.  Unequivocally, my personality can be a tad quirky, sometimes eccentric, and some say, “witty, kind, and empathetic.” Relatable to some and comical to others. The road I have walked, my past experiences, and the path I chose or accidentally fell onto, consequently have (obviously) made me who I am.

I have grown to like myself, and hopefully, it shows. However, the process of remembering and working through the complex parts of my past was not initially all feelings of happiness, contentment, and joy.

The following thoughts are hard to admit…

It’s not over yet, the healing and growing part. But my fear has subsided immensely, and now I look forward to and anticipate the bumps along the way—or the potholes from my past. For those who know me, I have always avoided adversity and confrontation, at all costs. But, for the record, I am starting to welcome it—sort of…

The first time I went for counselling, I thought I would fix a struggling and broken marriage. What I ended up working on was the aftermath of the death of my father and my mother’s mood swings. That old “layers of the onion” routine.

Some of MY tricky bits

Growing up, our home was sparsely decorated. My mother did not sew or profess to be a Suzy-Homemaker type. I was not deliberately taught life lessons, but was rather told what to do, and never why. When I was four, my mom had me practice printing my name on the back of an envelope that contained the heating bill, as we were flying out the door to kindergarten. One time she smashed a whole stack of dirty dishes on the kitchen floor in a state of frustration. She often stated to anyone within earshot that I was horrible at math and not athletic. She wore floral print house dresses with wadded-up Kleenex in her pockets, while all my friend’s moms looked considerably different. Sometimes she even wore a wig that looked like a helmet with curly hair sprouting from it. My mom never hugged me or said I love you. I was the youngest of four.

At first, these memories hurt and made me feel sad, until I investigated further.

I wrote my story and took the plunge by walking down memory lane, no matter how dark it sometimes got. In doing so, my mother’s love became crystal clear.

Sometimes we discover good in the not-so-good.

The bad memories brought good ones. I saw my mother’s eyes shining with admiration every time I spoke. I felt my mom’s intolerance towards my teachers when many of them stated there was no use in Karen going to university. I had visions of a kitchen chair dappled in flour, with me standing on it next to my mother as my tiny arm stirred while she measured ingredients. She always left just enough on the wooden spoon, the beaters, or inside the mixing bowl for me to taste the cookie dough. She was always very frugal. On one occasion, we made baking powder biscuits and cornbread for my Grade four class because the teacher asked for volunteers. I beamed with pride when Mrs. Macleod complimented me on how perfect they were.

When my dad took my brothers fishing, my mother and I went to movie matinees over town. During these flashbacks, I was reminded that our car ride was filled with chatter between my mother and me. Her heartfelt stories entertained me and gave me a window into how it used to be in “the olden days.” Swimming lessons and skating lessons were a constant, and so was the memory of my mother sitting on a hard bench, nose in a book, rarely looking up to cheer me on. But she was there.  Sharing salty crinkle french fries from the concession stand after the lessons made everything worthwhile. I can still see my folks holding hands, going on fancy dates and vacations. They set an example of how a relationship could be. They rarely argued and always laughed at each other’s jokes. I gained a sense of humour from my parents.

My mother’s love was hugely evident once I could get past the ambiguity of sorrow. These fond memories (that accompanied the bad ones) appeared like magic. I discovered my mom was the best mom for me, and I would not trade her for the world. The good feelings are more robust now. I weeded out the bad ones and mowed them down.

Ultimately my recollections and writing about them have brought me tremendous healing, and therefore, peace.

All in all…

The past can feel like a scary, foreign country; they do things differently there, but it is worth the journey back. I know you will not regret it.

What about you?

Can you evaluate yourself and pinpoint a time from your past that was painful, upsetting, and even life-changing? Maybe it hurts way too much to think about. If that is so, may I just say, “Please try. You won’t be sorry. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and if you can bring yourself to venture in, I will encourage you on with a ‘Way to go!’”

Here is your Assignment

Share one hard memory with a close friend or a counsellor. NOTE: Being a good listener is essential when receiving someone else’s truth, blow-by-blow, and version of their story. I highly recommend you choose to share your difficult, scary memories with a person who does not interrupt you but rather JUST LISTENS. Better yet, before sharing, set the stage by asking the person if they have time and space to listen and then you will do the same for them. Explain before you do the exercise that advice and a solution to your past hurts are not required, but just to listen, please.  

Summing up, I say, “dust off the cobwebs, dig deep and expel the whole jarring ordeal to a trusted, tried and true friend or counsellor.”

The by-product of remembering is the feelings that arise.

We remember

We survive

We heal

We are

We

WE are all unique and wonderfully made and in this together.

R.I.P.

Mary Frances Lillian Bonner

1921 – 2007

Judging a Book by its Cover

Judging a Book by its Cover

“People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish…but that’s only if it is done properly.”

-Banksy, Wall and Piece

Street Art, also known as Graffiti, is a controversial topic. Even though Banksy, a pseudonymous street artist based in the UK, is a political activist, film director, and world-renowned, many people frown and negatively think of his graffiti as NOT art. Others look to him as an inspirational trailblazer and mentor.

I am told that wherever you are in your writing journey, you should anticipate and embrace controversy.

The word controversy is from the Latin word controversia, which means “turned in an opposite direction.” In the twentieth century, we are more apt to say that controversy is a prolonged public dispute or debate, usually concerning a matter of conflicting opinion or point of view.

Here’s where I come in

As a person who dislikes controversy and steers clear of disputes, arguments, and rocking the boat, the title for my next book seems out of character and unlike anything I would ever say. It may be controversial to some, upsetting to others, thought-provoking and yet relatable to many.

Even though controversial topics such as global climate change, evolution, capital punishment, and marriage equality are considered some of the most debated issues, I feel like my life has had its fair share of controversy too. Primarily based on bad decisions I have made and regrettable things that I have done.  

People who know me see me as calm and at peace. I laugh easily and smile freely. I am mainly agreeable and try to see all sides to the point of view. However, sometimes my empathy for others is unbearable and causes me great distress.

Yet, as I go about my day-to-day activities, it feels ironic that my past had many ups and downs. My mother struggled with mental health, and my father experienced extreme poverty and despair. He came from a broken home and was abandoned. They both tried to cover up their pasts and did so quite well, but small remnants crept out of hiding when I least expected.

Meanwhile, my struggles brought me where I am today, and strangely enough, even though I used to wish for a different life, now that I am older, I would not change a thing.

I recently learned that unbeknownst to me, my older sister had her fair share of strife too. But I will get back to her in a moment.

Conclusively, we ALL have a story to tell. We have personal experiences and knowledge of places and topics. Moreover, when writing about our harrowing adventures or humorous escapades, we can portray ourselves as wise and seasoned; we can walk the walk and talk the talk because we “have been there, done that.” Or perhaps we are still battling the demons that haunt us, and we are smack dab in the middle of figuring things out, consequently blocking out our past hurts and trauma. Therefore, we are not ready yet to look at what shaped us or share with anyone about our sleepless nights and what it is that plagues us.

What about this…

If you could give your life a title, like a book title, I wonder what it would be? One thing I do know is that it would belong to you and be relative to your story.

Your journey is unique, and your title would be meaningful and reflective of who you were then or who you are now.

If you were to publish a memoir, the telling of your story could bring you and others tremendous healing. But this makes me wonder, would your book be suspenseful and dramatic? Poignant and powerful? Intriguing, informative, and inspirational? Would you share the bold truth, or a peripheral narrative that was eventless and mundane? Only you can answer that question. In one way or another, your options are vast and endless as to what your book would contain and what the title might be.

Controversial or not, telling your story and the version you write about is entirely up to you.

Back to me…

Many of my followers and readers have expressed how my books have brought clarity to their struggles. I have been told that my past recollections remind the reader of their past. Some find my historical moments in time educational and interesting—the references to music, people, places, and things memorable and notable. My black and white photos are said to be haunting or heartwarming.

Opinions of my memoirs vary from reader to reader.

Above all else, in my books and blogs, I bring to the forefront that everyone is unique and diverse, yet we share similarities.

Without sounding boastful, but rather spoken more like a parent, I genuinely love my first and second books, separately, for entirely different reasons.

How my book titles came to be

My first book Looking for Normal, was published in 2018 and was an experimental first attempt to try my luck at being a writer. It was also meant to record my family’s history, warts and all—unvarnished, up-front, and honest.

I chose the title based on an Erma Bombeck quote, “Normal is just a setting on your dryer.” Combined with the title of her book The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, to me, both quotes emphasize that there is no such thing as normal. Not one person is perfect, nor is one single family free of adversity.

Ultimately, family history is just that, a record of yesteryear—a remembrance of days gone by and a road map as to how people coped and found their way in amongst hardship and misfortune, joy and sorrow.

By learning about our ancestors, sometimes we can dissolve the old road map and create a new one. For example, twists and turns our relatives took could be changed into a much smoother path for us, based on learning from the mistakes they made. Thus, we can change the narrative of our life.

My second book, Where is My Happy Ending? A Journey of No Regrets was published in 2020 and holds a title that was much trickier for me to come up with. I needed a title that captured the non-truth of fairy tales, harlequin romance novels, and movies from the Hallmark television channel. I noticed that many women shared the sentiment of my title, —as in, where is my happy ending?

But, honestly, where is it?!!!!

Oprah Winfrey called this way of thinking a Cinderella Complex.

In 1981 Oprah had author Colette Dowling on her show. She wrote a book called, The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence. Dowling theorized that women are traditionally conditioned from birth to depend on others, particularly men, for their emotional, financial, and physical safety. Dowling used the analogy of the fairy tale character Cinderella, who cooks and cleans for her abusive stepmother but ultimately is rescued and cared for by “Prince Charming.” Her book and appearance on Oprah’s talk show brought her book title worldwide public attention.

Rightly so!

For example, as a child, I dreamed of moving out and getting a boyfriend. From my teens and well into my twenties, I was perpetually searching for Mr. Right and, on more than one occasion, ended up with Mr. Wrong.

I wrote this book for anyone who may have had similar thoughts and trials as me.

The title, Where is My Happy Ending? could have changed many times over, yet the elements for the book would have stayed the same.

“I no longer believe in happy endings, but I do believe in happiness and working towards no regrets. Same-same but different.”

“Same-same but different.”

This famous Thai quote conveys vagueness towards something both the same and yet different, and therefore neither the same nor different. More personally, I first heard about this quote from my daughter while she was travelling around Thailand with her best friend—they branded themselves with matching tattoos of the famous quote “same-same but different”  Of course, since little girls, they used this term while chatting about something or other, followed with a shrug, a tilt of their heads, and a giggle, while in unison they chanted same-same but different” when asked their thoughts on any given topic.

Controversial? There’s that word again. A meaningful, artistic ink drawing, a tattoo, is open to question but not to everyone. Some may have a difference of opinion or feel that a tattoo is okay for someone else but not for them. All three of my children and my husband have one or more tattoos. My skin is void of anything permanently pictorial, decorative, and symbolic. However, I have secretly always wanted one.

But wait…

Here it is, 2021, and my next book will be published this year.

Why?

Because my sister asked me to write her life story.

Combined with her request were messages and reviews from my readers wondering when my next book was coming out. Both inquiries propelled me forward to churn out my third book.

I said, “Yes, let’s do it!”

Writing a book for someone else proved to be easier said than done, but still enjoyable, nonetheless.

To get the ball rolling, my sister and I started talking on the phone once a week. We laughed and cried at how remarkably different our lives had been. Yet, we were open-minded as to how we barely knew each other. We combed through foggy memories and relished them, becoming more transparent as we spoke. We both took notes during these calls. From those notes, my much older sister wrote and sent me beautiful handwritten letters telling me about her adventurous and often challenging life.

And boy oh boy, does she ever have a story to tell!

We communicated this way for one year and significantly looked forward to our time together each week.

I would write and write between phone calls and letters—kind of like a homework assignment from an overseas teacher.

As the manuscript came together, I started to anticipate what my readers would think. Would the story be relatable like my other books had been? Would my sister’s obstacles be well received? Would it make people who read it laugh, cry and grieve? I hoped and wondered.

I have received over one hundred positive ratings and book reviews on my first two books, so I did not want to disappoint with my third.

Those reviews always seemed to be heartfelt, encouraging, and endearing. A common theme has been that my life story, complete with controversial issues, caused feelings to come up and flashbacks to occur for my readers, which is every writer’s dream.

The comments encouraged me to keep writing. Concurrently the reviews caused me to become ill in a good way, rather like being lovesick with a tremendous case of “the writing bug.”

Here is an example:

Thank you, Amazon Customer and the many others who have contacted me. It has all been a heady experience, both flattering and rewarding.

Circling back…

When choosing a book, we look to the title as the first introduction of the book. Then, we select a cover that grabs our attention. A good book title should be both memorable and unique. Identifiable and unforgettable.

As a writer, I know the title is my reader’s first impression, essentially judging my book by its cover.

With that being said…

I want to show you the cover of my next book. The introduction at the beginning of the book brings light to the title. They go together like P.B. & J, Coffee and Cream, salt and pepper, Captain and Tennille, rock and roll and so on…

Without the introduction, the title might not make sense. Conversely, the introduction would fall flat and not be as impactful without that specific title. Thus, a good title is crucial.

If my title appears controversial to you, I ask that you dig a little deeper. Read the introduction, contemplate what the book is about and consider that maybe, just maybe, my sister and I were going for a bit of controversy. As unexpected as that may sound coming from two nonconfrontational sisters, we wanted to shake things up, bring awareness, hopefully enlighten, and most importantly, challenge you, the reader.

Even though my third book is about my sister, I kept you in mind while writing it. I considered what you told me. Your likes and dislikes. Your life. How your past has shaped you and how you have tried to move forward.

Stay tuned for the whole meaning of my title when the book becomes available in the Fall of 2021

Patience is a virtue.

Some may think three published books a major feat or a dream come true. On the contrary, (to me) I see it as a lot of work that has been highly therapeutic and life-changing. Rewarding and a sure-fire way to reach others who may have had similar struggles as me. And my sister.

Okay, okay, I’ll admit it, it is a dream come true and a significant feat—especially something not to be taken lightly.

From your comments, ratings, and reviews, I am learning we are together on this planet, but we often feel alone, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Stay tuned as the estimated time of arrival for Fat and Beautiful – A Story of Love, Pain and Courage will be sometime in the Fall of 2021.

And if you haven’t done so yet, I would be honoured if you looked up my first two books Looking for Normal and Where is My Happy Ending? – A Journey of No Regrets

You can find all my books online or in person at the Chapters in Kamloops, B.C.

Alternatively, go on the internet and order from the following sites:

amazon.ca amazon.com amazon.uk

Chapters/Indigo

Barnes and Noble

And many other places where books are sold.

Looking for Normal

 by Karen Harmon

Where is My Happy Ending? A Journey of No Regrets

by Karen Harmon

You Are What You Eat – You Are What You Read

You Are What You Eat – You Are What You Read

You Are What You Eat—You Are What You Read

As a Fitness Expert, I have been instructing exercise classes since 1980. I know that must make me sound old, but as the saying goes, with age comes wisdom. So, as it stands with every flip of the calendar, I am much wiser.

During the course of my career, I can honestly say that I have heard every diet, weight loss regime, and strategy in the book for losing weight; all enlisted for the betterment of good health internally and externally.

My observation is this: striving for balance is the key to longevity and happiness in life.

However, everyone needs to figure this out for themselves. If it is weight loss you are looking for, change your eating habits, exercise, and burn more calories than you are consuming. Alternatively, you can take in fewer calories and work at becoming stronger.

Both concepts are basically the same and are scientifically proven to work.

Let it be known, I am a firm believer of not depriving yourself, so eat, drink, and be merry!

Health tip: calories in the food we eat provide energy so our bodies can function. Therefore, we need to eat a certain number of calories to sustain life. If we take in too many calories than we are utilizing, we will gain weight. BUT not all calories are the same. As a comparison, a regular chocolate bar is one hundred and fifty calories, coincidentally the same as thirty cups of lettuce.

If we understand what a calorie is and why we count them, we can make better dietary choices, with “choice” being the keyword in all aspects of our lives, not just with the food we eat. Freedom of choice is a big deal that we often pride ourselves on having.

This brings me to the second part of my blog’s title.

You Are What You Read

I started reading memoirs and biographies in my 20s. They became my go-to genre and first choice in reading material. Personal histories and self-portrayals intrigued me.

I picked books that were on Oprah’s book list, in addition to referrals from friends, and as it turned out, almost every book I read was a memoir. Fast forward 40 years later, and with two memoirs written and published, now under my belt, and a third one coming out soon, I still prefer to read anything and everything that is non-fiction.

Through self-discovery, trial and error, I discovered that I know what I like, and I like what I know. I am fascinated by how others tick. I love to learn and find great pleasure in other people’s lives and the choices they make.

Therefore…

I am not embarrassed to say that memoirs and biographies round out my entire reading list. Unless of course, my Book Club suggests otherwise, the women from my group and their choices in reading material have taught me a lot. For this I am grateful.

I have tried to read other genres, and what comes close to my taste are fiction books about families and family dysfunction, even if they are not true. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano are two great examples of books that I thoroughly enjoyed, both being written in the context of fiction. Sometimes, I find myself secretly pretending books such as these are non-fiction, and in reality, are accurate accounts from someone else’s life, somewhat like a memoir incognito.

Yet, many people do not share my likes and dislikes, and I understand this. Of course, to each his own. Differences are what make the world go round and so on… I respect and appreciate that we cannot like the same reading material as the next person. It would be silly, boring, and rude to think otherwise.

When I first realized that memoirs are not everyone’s cup of tea for “getting lost in a book,” it boggled my mind. It was hard for me to fathom that others did not enjoy delving into a true story about unique, eclectic lives brought together by pain and sorrow, joy and success; individuals who have conquered and gotten through trauma and tragedy; stories and blow-by-blows about people like myself, who have come out better on the other side of their struggles, or perhaps worse.

I found this out the hard way after my second book was published. After writing about the intimate details of my life, overall, the feedback was remarkable. I received a lot of five-star reviews and an award. I felt accomplished and was proud that my goal to help others who share similar struggles was realized. By the many reviews and book sales, I felt that I was reaching others.

However, eventually, my bubble was burst, and my self-esteem plummeted when two people shared their distaste for my story. This felt crushing, and as I assessed their comments in bewilderment, I wondered how they could find fault with my story since it was just that—my story.

Essentially, I took their thoughts and opinion far too personally.

As it stands, they did not care for my book, period. Which does not mean their disheartening and unnerving reviews reflected who I am as a writer or human being. This, I sincerely hope is true.

Those two negative reviews became a turning point for me. We all know the old saying, “We can’t please everyone,” even if it is in our nature to want to please most people most of the time.

I say this in pleasantry as I continue to move forward, writing, unravelling, and healing from my past and finding incredible empathy for others who write and divulge the secrets and mysteries behind their lives. Their true accounts of drama, humour, hard times, good times, and more, can be absorbing and helpful.

Now, I understand a bad review

All in all, I can completely grasp why someone would not care for the harsh reality that only a memoir brings. It might dredge up the pain, hurt, and even annoyance of their own past lives. It possibly sounds like minutiae and someone droning on about the injustices in life, grief and healing, and how people have wronged them.

Some might read a memoir and say in their head, blah, blah, blah or yada, yada, yada followed with…

Really? Do we always have to be learning something? And, who cares?

Can we not just get lost in science fiction, horror, mystery, or a Harlequin Romance once in a while?

I say a wholehearted yes!

To each his own, we all have choices, and I embrace that. The bottom line is to read.

My mother was an avid reader and said to me once, “I don’t care what you read, just read something!” With that being said, as a youngster, I chose Archie comic books. Every other Saturday, my mother took me to the comic bookstore in North Vancouver, where I lived. Sometimes I traded my comics in, and sometimes (if I were lucky, or she was in a good mood), I would get a brand new, crisp, never-before-read comic book. I can still smell the old worn books and see the colourful, encased plastic sleeve of the new ones. The experience of having an avid comic book enthusiast behind the cash register freely offering wisdom and know-how is still etched in my mind.

Eventually, I became obsessed with Betty and Veronica and wanted to look just like them. But I will save that topic for another blog…eye-rolling emoji here.

If you enjoy memoirs, you might like to read mine.

OR CHECK THIS OUT…

I was asked to choose and review five of my favourite books. You know, the book that you never wanted to end. Or the characters that stay with you, and their circumstance pops into your head periodically—sometimes, we feel so connected to them that we often wonder how they are doing now.

If you click on the link below, you will find a creative new way to read reviews, and you can see my five choices.

“Shepherd is a book discovery website that is like wandering the aisles of your favourite bookstore. Along with little notes from authors pointing out their favourite books.”

-Ben, creator

https://shepherd.com/best-books/mental-health-addiction-and-families #reading #books

These five books have inspired me, educated me and caused me to continue writing with the best storytelling visuals I can muster. Click on the link to view them.

AND guess what?

One of the books in my recommendations is not a memoir.

I Hate the Term “Less Fortunate”

I Hate the Term “Less Fortunate”

I Hate the Term “Less Fortunate”

By Karen Harmon

With the recent cold snap promised for Vancouver, the city where I live, I am reminded of what my husband does for a living. He manages a homeless shelter.

As part of his job, he checks the weather daily, if not hourly, to predict the outdoor elements for people living on the streets. The weather is often a topic of conversation in our home, in addition to the growing number of impoverished people, consequences of living outdoors, and possible solutions.

So far, in our at-home discussions, we have not been able to figure out any quick fixes, Band-Aids, or a perfect medley of remedies.

We have noticed there seems to be more overall awareness— how can one not see that the numbers keep increasing? We can all agree that when we drive or walk past a street person, we are reminded of just how dismal and unmanageable the homeless situation has become.

Vancouver B.C.

In 2010 I was asked to teach a marginalized fitness class for people in my community. I was hired by a Community Center that shared a vision with a Pastor of a local Church.

Some might call this Church an inner-city church with a mission to help those who might have fallen on hard times. I call this Church a saving grace and a genuine example of loving others unconditionally.

The number one definition from the dictionary for the word marginalized reads like this: placed in a position of little or no importance, influence, or power.

To that definition, I want to say, “Excuse me?!” Perhaps it is an accurate summary, but why does it sound so heartless and mean? I suppose that is the purpose of a dictionary. They give us the facts and only the facts.

With his vision, the pastor believes that everyone has a right to mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, and financial health and well-being. Sounds very factual to me.

So, he started a group called Coffee Time.

No Strings Attached

Coffee Time is a warm place where people are welcomed in, greeted with a friendly face, a cup of coffee, and a snack. They can listen to a user-friendly sermon that offers a gentle message of hope and kindness. They are not judged. Everyone is given a ten-dollar grocery voucher and asked if they need prayer, a friend, or someone who can listen and hear them. Maybe they need assistance with their income tax, a place to stay, or a pair of shoes. The needs can be endless when a person is marginalized. Volunteers from the church offer support.

Once a week on the same day, one hour before Coffee Time, individuals are offered an exercise class taught by me. It is called the Active Living Program—a free 45-minute exercise class intended for people who cannot afford gym fees, or better yet, would not feel comfortable or even accepted in such an environment.

My class provides a non-judgemental place to socialize, stretch, strengthen, and feel welcome, with uplifting music and explicit basic instruction interspersed with encouragement. Each lesson consists of easy to follow, functional exercises, concluding with a 20-minute stretching and relaxation component with positive, relaxing visualizations and deep healing meditation.

During the warmup, when catchy tunes are playing, participants have been known to break away from the routine to dance with one another. These carefree actions are a testimony to the fun element that is inspired. Conversely, during the relaxation segment, some individuals seemingly take a moment for a well-needed cat nap.

A sense of community has developed with the participants over the last ten years.

Everyone who attends this program has seen results and changes mentally, emotionally, socially, and physically.

I have witnessed immense healing, gratitude, increased self-esteem, and confidence from a community of well-deserving people.

However…

Undoubtedly all of these people, at some point in their day, experience judgement, rudeness, averted eyes, fearful glances, annoyance, and people wondering why they do not get jobs, clean up their act, or get off the streets.

Coffee Time, Me and Pastor Dave

I have walked in their shoes

When I was thirty-two years old, I was on the verge of being homeless. Thankfully, I had love and kindness displayed to me, and I was instilled with hope and courage from an early age. I was not abused physically, mentally, or emotionally. However, things could have turned out differently for me, much worse and more detrimental to myself and my children. The excerpt below describes my first day in low-income housing and on the threshold of collecting welfare.

Where is My Happy Ending? – A Journey of No Regrets

CHAPTER 1
Starting Over
1992
“I looked around the cluttered living room, assessing the damage, until I spotted the soft curls on my four-year-old daughter’s head as she sat with her little sister in an empty packing box. Both were contentedly colouring: Jessica carefully trying to stay in the lines while Emma, sitting as close to her big sister as possible, was eagerly scribbling.
Pondering their sisterhood with a full heart, I gazed at my daughters as if I was a bystander, lingering and wondering what would happen next. I felt like I was a person not wanting to leave the movie theatre, hanging on until the closing credits had scrolled off the screen, eventually emerging from the darkened cinema to face brilliant sunlight or perhaps a dreary evening rain.
For the last thirty-two years, I had watched the movie of my life unfold, and it seemed as though I was unable to control the course or path. Before I had arrived, the script had been written and the actors cast. As the story took on twists and turns, plot changes, and various climaxes along the way, I sat idly by, watching the series of events unfold.
Thankfully alive and seemingly unscathed, I decided that nothing was regrettable, everything was memorable, and I could learn from it all. Like any other moviegoer, I had sat patiently, waiting for the plot to thicken or the knight in shining armour to arrive. Comedic interludes were just as prevalent as the nail- biting cliff-hangers. Perhaps the happy ending was not meant to be, or maybe this, right here and now, was the happy ending, and I could not see it yet.
I was pleased with what a beautiful little girl my oldest daughter, Jessica, had become, not just outwardly but on the inside, too. Her spirit was soft and gentle, especially toward her two-year-old little sister. I realized now that she had become more of a mother to her younger sibling than I had been.
I looked deeper at Jessica’s bowed head as she filled the pages of her Cinderella colouring book, and I felt her determination. I was filled with compassion and reminded of how she worried about me, silently asking if I was okay. It was evident and showed in her constantly furrowed brow and ever-present look of concern as she stared into my eyes and pleadingly searched my face for answers. I would do my best to respond, interjecting and interrupting her deep, brooding thoughts. My father always told me that laughter was the best medicine, so as often as I could, I would engage my girls in stories, jokes, and silliness, even if it was the furthest thing from my mind.
The first thing on my to-do list was to find some semblance of order amongst the stacked boxes, furniture, and garbage bags full of clothes. I was looking forward to my new beginning, our new beginning, and a fresh start in our unfamiliar home—subsidized housing for marginalized people.
Receiving a lucky break and chosen from a long list of applicants just as needy as I was, it had only been two weeks since I had started praying, and now here we were in a two-bedroom, low-income townhouse unit, myself and two little girls. We were alone, the three musketeers, all for one and one for all.
Today I would finish unpacking, and tomorrow I would be applying for welfare. I was relieved to be free.”


Less Fortunate, but Less Fortunate than whom?

The definition from The Urban Dictionary of what the term “Less Fortunate” means is as follows…

A term used to label people who make poor decisions in life and are quick to blame those who have succeeded or have wealth. Less-fortunate is the opposite of fortunate, which is defined as “lucky; enjoying good luck,” and therefore, someone who is less-fortunate just has bad luck. Example: Katie has been divorced three times and has eight kids and cannot support them with her minimum wage job. She is less-fortunate than Sally, who studied in school, got a valuable degree, an above-average salaried position in marketing, and is happily married.


This definition is not so factual, and maybe we should erase the term entirely.

The Outside Wrapper


Remember when our mothers would tell us, “beauty is only skin deep; it’s what’s inside that counts?


As a fitness instructor, I have gone through a certification program, and I have taken various courses and classes to stay abreast of different fitness trends. I can save your life with my C.P.R. and First Aid training if you trip and fall or, heaven forbid, instantaneously go into cardiac arrest.

When I am upfront during my traditional exercise classes, I am professionally dressed, and my running shoes are pristine and clean. My microphone is securely in place. My ponytail is perfect. I have been known to wear lipstick to showcase an encouraging, friendly smile. My music is correctly uploaded from Apple Music or iTunes, and my routine is carefully planned out; the 20, 30 or 40 participants see me as their BCRPA fitness leader.

Not one single person in the class knows that I once collected welfare.

When I look out at my participants, equally dressed in their Costco Spandex, Mountain Equipment Co-op leggings, or Lululemon fashionable exercise gear, I can only see their exterior. Sometimes facial expressions or heavy shoulders can be a slight indication of what’s inside. Still, from their outside wrapper I cannot see their profession, how they were raised, or if they are lonely and hurting, on the brink of bankruptcy, or going home to an abusive situation.

I smile warmly, tell a joke or two, and offer sixty minutes to sweat, burn calories, and strive for buns of steel or washboard abs.


However, my Active Living fitness classes are different. I choose to dress more casually, move slower, be gentle and offer undivided attention. I take my time and greet each person individually. I thank them for attending and tell them how happy I am that they are there.


These participants are not striving for whittled waistlines and toned arms. They are joyous, kind, and happy to be in a community of like-minded people. They have grown to care for one another. When they pass each other on the street, they wave and smile.

My goal is to meet people where they are at.

The Active Living Program


Sometimes I think I get more out of helping others, than perhaps they get from being helped.


My point is, I see you too.

“Everyone has untold stories of pain and sadness that make them love and live differently than each of us.”

We do what we can…


We try to see past the differences of others—appearances, behaviours, and sadly, those who are impoverished, addicted and physically, mentally, and emotionally unwell. I like to think that we are all looking and striving to see inside.


We Do Our Best


We volunteer at food banks, shelters, give to the homeless, and try our best not to judge. We pray and hope for change. We are advocates. We picket, write letters, and get involved. We are annoyed at bureaucratic policies and wealthy politicians. We vote and follow the rules and protocols.

We worry, worry, worry and…


We feel fortunate to have a roof over our head, food on our table, a job, shoes, and at least one person, if not a handful of people, who love us, and we reciprocate that love.

We inhabit this earth with other humans.

Can we say we are all in the same boat?

No, probably not.

Some of us are on big cruise liners. Others take speed boats, rowboats, kayaks, or a little rubber dingy. Maybe we are floating aimlessly around in a life preserver. And sometimes, we are flailing around, about to go under with nothing keeping us afloat at all.


It is hard to live on this planet without feeling guilty or getting angry. Sometimes our empathy causes us great pain and sorrow.
We try to do what is expected of us, and often we go above and beyond.
It is not easy to follow the rules and do the paperwork when sometimes even getting out of bed and brushing our teeth is hard.

But what if…
What if we were poorly treated and abused as a child, had mental health issues, were physically disabled, had PTSD, or suffered a tremendous loss? Imagine waking up every morning soaking wet and freezing cold. Alone.

And now, imagine each of the above-described people filling out their income tax, making a dentist appointment, getting a job, or walking into a coffee shop for a piece of pie to check Facebook on their iPhone…

Perhaps my analogy makes the crisis of homelessness a little easier to understand. Life is hard. And yet, way harder for others.
By no means am I trying to guilt-trip us or make us feel bad in any way.
I know we are mostly good, and we are trying.

We care.
We are gentle.
We are kind.

Sometimes we are afraid.
I feel safe and confident in saying that I am describing you.
When we genuinely love people, we must meet them where they are, not where we think they should be. We must give them what they need, not what we think they need.

Karen’s writing comes from life experience. She grew up in a home where there was much love and joy. But, there were also mental health issues. She has attended Al anon and A.A. meetings and worked at The Maple Ridge Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center. She went to college as a single mom living in low-income housing and graduated from Douglas College as a Special Needs Teaching Assistant. Since Covid, Karen’s marginalized fitness classes have been put on hold; she volunteers weekly teaching zoom fitness classes for residents at a senior home and reads to them.
Karen has written two award-winning memoirs and writes blogs about family issues, alcohol addiction, trauma, grief, and trying to find the good in people.

For more information on Karen’s Blogs and Books go to; karenharmon.com

“If laughter is the best medicine, then crying is an important vitamin.”
-Karen

I welcome your comments

They Said Don’t Do It!

They Said Don’t Do It!

By Karen Harmon

If I Can Write a Book Then You Can Too!

In 2009, an unexpected event took place. A business that I had been working very hard on dissolved. It was a successful company six years in the making. It did well until it stopped doing well.

Then my mother died.

After the collapse of my career and my mom’s unexpected death, I packed up and moved away from the small town I had lived in for twenty years. My daughters were grown and succeeding independently, so I uprooted my eleven-year-old son and moved to an entirely different community. My marriage was on the rocks, and everything felt impossible.

Why I started writing

After moving away from friends and family, broken dreams, and what felt like wasted blood, sweat and tears, I found a place to live and enrolled my son in a new school. Much to my dismay, my husband and I temporarily separated.

The place we moved to was in a forested area on a hill overlooking the city. Every morning after dropping my son off at school, I went back up on my hill, wrapped myself in a blanket and sat outside in the back yard on my favourite lawn chair. It was late Fall. There I rested. I pondered, prayed, and weeded out the tangled gnarly bits in my brain and began the process of healing, taking some time to breathe.

We had two cats who marvelled at their new surroundings. I loved watching them explore. Sometimes brown bears would venture into our yard from the forest and sun themselves. I went inside during these times, but I took great pleasure in watching them frolic in their natural habitat, which just happened to be my back yard.

Eventually, I needed to work, so I applied and started teaching fitness at two local community centers. The exercise and oxygen to my brain assisted in helping me form new-found happy thoughts. I also began working for the school district as a teaching assistant.

Employment gave me a livelihood and a vocation gave me purpose.

As I sorted through the problematic aspects of this current disarray, I felt the insistent nudges of new beginnings. I began telling my son colourful and exciting stories about his grandfather, my dad, who had died before my son had a chance to meet him.

My father ran away from home during the Great Depression in the 1930s. At the age of thirteen, he rode boxcars to a different province. Tales of his adventures enamoured my son, and we grew closer through the storytelling. One day he said, “Why don’t you write a book, mom?” My response was, “Okay, I will.”

My Writing Process

We all know that writing a book is easier said than done.

I chose not to look at the big picture. The enormity of such a project could surely be overwhelming. I instead decided to write a story. One simple three-paragraph story. I wrote what I knew, my dad’s decision to run away. I dissected how a thirteen-year-old boy might feel, and then went on to describe the setting and his appearance. I enthusiastically researched the life and times in the 1930s. Times of poverty, hopelessness, and panic.

Before long, my three-paragraph story turned into what could be an entire chapter.

Initially, the purpose of my writing was to create a keepsake for my three children—a gift and a history lesson of where they came from. Never professing to be a literary genius, I threw all caution to the wind and kept writing.

Side Note—I did not think of myself as a writer. I disliked school, and through insecurities and low self-esteem, I assumed that I was not smart, at least not academically. Everyone in my age group, my grade, seemed brighter than me. However, I did not dwell on this observation because I had something else—I could be fun and funny, and because my father told me his life story many times over, I became an avid storyteller. The gift of imagination is a beautiful child-like quality. This was instilled by my father and has served me well.

Continuing with the process, I wrote and wrote. My computer skills were not the greatest. Everything about technology frightened me. Hence, those old feelings of not being smart arose. In sharing this with a dear friend, a woman who had already written and published a book, I was given some excellent advice. She said, “E-mail me.” I started to E-mail her all of my writing; she encouraged me and made suggestions, but mostly her reassurance is what propelled me forward.

Eventually, I learned how to make attachments and save my work. However, I needed to write all the steps down on a piece of paper, which I kept next to my computer as a reminder.

The writing process became therapeutic. My memory grew. Therefore, my recollections expanded. Sometimes I was driven to tears and, other times, laughter.

I felt a closeness to my lovely deceased parents. I cherished my time with them, telling their story. Surprisingly, I grew to relish life’s complexity, family dysfunction, nostalgia, trials, tribulations, and most of all, the healing aspects of self-discovery through my writing.

Overall, writing recharged my batteries and gave me a zest for living. Instead of watching television at night, I could hardly wait to get to my writing.

In the midst of this beautiful time, my husband and I were able to work out our differences and get back together.

How I Published

Being a novice writer and “not a literary genius,” I had no clue how to get my work published. Optimistic and somewhat naïve, I assumed I would send my manuscript off to Penguin Books, Harper Collins, or Simon and Schuster.

Not so fast…

After I wrote and wrote about my father, before I could even think about publishing, I realized the content was not enough. I needed more material. So, I delved into my mother’s struggle with mental illness. Subsequently, I healed some more.

In the meantime, my son became YouTube famous. I will save that story for another time, but practically overnight, he became a world traveller. This was all to enhance his YouTube career, meet fans, dance, make videos, and create brand deals.

Only thirteen years old, he needed a chaperone. Of course, I as his mother, was the perfect person for the job. We travelled, he performed, and I continued writing.

On a trip to Santa Monica, California, he had meetings to attend and much to my trepidation, he asked if he could go by himself. Other YouTubers had invited him to film and network, so I said yes. He was older by then. I gathered that no fifteen-year-old wants their fifty-year-old mother traipsing after them in sensible shoes and a bedazzled backpack.

Therefore, I had a lot of time on my hands. Instead of accompanying my son, I ventured out to various coffee shops and set up my laptop alongside cool hipster people drinking coffee, and I kept on writing. Alone, surrounded by strangers, I convinced myself that I was ready to publish.

Having no idea about Algorithms and how the vast arena of search engines work, I started to get advertisements on my iPhone, primarily on Facebook and Instagram, about self-publishing. This, to me, was like divine intervention. How remarkable, I thought; seemingly mystical in the theme of, “Wow, publishing my manuscript is meant to be, look at all the signs!”

Since then, I have discovered how the internet can be a friend, foe, and wealth of information. It is often confusing and sometimes scary. Falsehoods and too much information can certainly be a deterrent when trying to make a decision. Now I laugh about those sneaky Algorithms.

Yet, in that Santa Monica coffee shop, sipping a cinnamon-laced Latte, there came a dull roar in my brain that chanted, go for it, publish, publish, publish.

Advertisements for Tellwell Publishing kept appearing, asking me if I wanted to fill out a questionnaire. No strings attached, just a form to see if I was a writer in the making and someone capable of possibly publishing a book—with their assistance, of course.

I liked the idea. It reminded me of those quizzes some of us filled out from magazines when we were younger—questionnaires designed to help us discover personality traits, career paths, or if the man we had chosen was the right one.

Shortly after completing the extensive form, I was emailed a response. It stated that my story is worthy of being published by the information that I submitted. I was asked if an agent could contact me to discuss my options. I instantly became wary. But I said yes to a phone call.

After the phone call, the representative emailed me a list of three publishing packages without any expectations or pressure—the cost of each and what they all entailed.

There was an option for a monthly payment plan, and what stood out most was their promise of step by step publishing assistance and support. A design team would help me with the front and back cover. Also included was the interior and exterior layout, an ISBN and a marketing plan. They pledged to answer my questions in a twenty-four-hour time frame. I was ensured they would list my book on all the major bookselling sites.

Choosing the cheapest package, I told no one about my endeavour. I said yes, and the book publishing process was set in motion.

I recommend choosing two people you highly trust, mentor types to share your thoughts and publishing plans with. I went at it alone for fear of being judged. Now I say, who cares what people think.

There will be naysayers along the way. There always is. These are the people you might want to steer clear of when sharing your hopes, desires, and dreams. They will only squelch you. Wise, supportive people are best. And try to narrow it down to just a few. No sense in spouting off all your book writing ideas to every contact on your email list. At least not right away.

Why You Should Get an Editor

The best source of guidance came from my editor. Please do not think of publishing your book without one.

Looking back, I could not have written and published two award-winning books without her. I would never have made all of my invested money back, which did eventually happen.

The difference between hiring an editor and not hiring an editor is, in my opinion, monumental. An editor will ensure that your book is readable, professional, marketable and acclaimed. Plus, they pick up things we as astute over-zealous writers may miss.

For example, would you hire a plumber to clean your teeth? No, of course not! A plumber is needed to fix a drain, among other things, while an editor is required to improve a manuscript.

I visualized my book as a beautiful house I was building, my dream home. My editor was the city planner that said, “This needs to go here, and that needs to go there.” She also became an interior decorator and a housekeeper. Without her expertise, I am sure my home would not have been presentable and may have been reduced to rubble.

Your manuscript is your baby. Just like you would interview different daycares for your child, make sure the editor you choose is the right fit. Tell them your vision and be open to their suggestions. Professional editors know what to do, and they will not lead you astray. But as I said, it is your story, so do not be afraid to speak up.

Stop Thinking and Write It!

My best advice is to try what I did. Think back to a memory or an idea you have and plan to write three paragraphs about it. That way, you will not overwhelm yourself. Start with a topic you are familiar with. Afterwards, go back and add detail.

You may want to write a memoir, fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi, children, self-help…your options are endless.

Libraries are still an excellent source for research. They are inviting and somewhat forgotten in this age of Google, Reddit, YouTube and various other sites. The library near my home smells of books and coffee. They have comfy chairs and proper desks to work at.

My favourite place to write is in my bed with my dog curled up beside me. I usually write on Sundays. Pick a day and time that works best for you.

You have to start somewhere. Break it down and do not look at the big picture. At least not at the beginning.

When my daughter Emma was a little girl, she had a terrible time cleaning her room. She would look at the mess and give up even before she got started tidying.

I came up with a strategy. Breaking down all the room cleaning tasks, I wrote every job on slips of paper. Put books away, pick up barbie dolls, fold clothes, bring dirty dishes to the kitchen, make your bed, dust, etc.…We then folded up the pieces of paper and put them in a hat. One at a time, she took out a piece of paper, read the task, did what was written on the paper. Voila, in less than an hour, her room was spotless.

The first piece of paper I would put in your hat would be, open up your computer and write three paragraphs.

Sometimes I am over the top optimistic, but I genuinely enjoy helping others, so please feel free to check out my social media sites, website and email me. I would like to hear your story, and I am willing to offer you suggestions and encouragement that may help you bring your writing dreams to fruition.

I know you can do it. Happy writing!

Looking for Normal and Where is My Happy Ending? A Journey of No Regrets

karmon70@gmail.com

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I Married an Alcoholic

I Married an Alcoholic

I Married an Alcoholic

By Karen Harmon

January 1, 2021

“A person who drinks too much on occasion is still the same as they were sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same person at all. You cannot predict anything about them except they will become someone you never met before.”

-Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

My wedding day, April 10, 1987

He was sweet, a little bit shy, and handsome, reminding me of my dad. I adored my alcoholic husband. I did not know he had a drinking problem when we met. We were in our early twenties then, and as young people, we all liked to party, having drinks on the weekend, listening to music, and hanging out with friends.

When I walked down the aisle to marry him, I suspected that he might overindulge from time to time. There were signs, but I loved him. All I wanted was a husband, a baby, and a home.

In a sense, my father walked me down the aisle as if he was unknowingly dropping me off to spend my life with a stranger, someone that I should be fending off rather than joining in wedded bliss. If I could have predicted the future, I might have chosen someone else. But in retrospect, it was best that I did not know what the future held.

I tried very hard to fix my husband throughout our marriage, to change him and make him into the man I wanted him to be. I cried, pleaded, and begged for him to quit drinking. I thought that once we were married, life would be different. If we had a baby, he might choose to curb his appetite for liquid libations. When that did not work, I hoped that another baby would do the trick.

Our two little girls became my joy, but I was struck with terrible sadness and disappointment within, which I carried underneath a radiant smile and motherly duties.

The grass always seemed greener on the other side of the fence. I continuously looked at other families and longed to be more like them.

I was young and had not yet learned that everyone had skeletons in their closets. Not one single person on earth is perfect, and most people have secrets that are kept under lock and key, certain hush-hush and veiled mysteries never divulged. Only those living under the same roof can see the realities of what lies within.

Some refer to alcohol addiction as the elephant in the room, a metaphorical idiom that refers to an enormous topic or controversial issue that everyone knows about. Still, no one mentions or discusses it because it makes them feel uncomfortable. Or perhaps it is personally and socially embarrassing, far too contentious to mention.

Unlike an elephant, alcohol was more like an evil force that invaded and engulfed my husband. Its claws dug in deep to his body and soul and would not let go. It seemed impossible for him to get free. Even though he tried, he could not eliminate the sinister force that stole him from our children and me. The addictive qualities tormented him, changed him until he was no longer the man I knew.

But before all of that, we moved into a log home my father had built. We upgraded it, and my new husband put in a beautiful flower garden.

It was not until years later, when everything had ended, that I found out he did his best drinking while gardening. The proof was in the empty whiskey bottles hidden amongst the geraniums and cherry tomato vines. Like land mines and time bombs, the empty liquor bottles appeared as shrapnel, jagged and pointy like thorns on a rose. Evil and good, pain and pleasure, nestled in the flower bed I had come to love.

As a gifted and avid gardener, he took great care of the lilac tree and the yellow rose bush that my father had planted for my mother way back when they were first married. My dad had died six months after we got married, so I treasured those plants—aromatic blossoms that brought memories of my dad back to life, along with memories of his love for my mother. My husband’s watchful attendance to these flowers from my past warmed me.

I asked for red geraniums and window boxes. So he built, planted, and nurtured them and helped them grow.

My red geraniums, dad’s yellow roses, mom’s lilacs and Dale’s tomatoes. Artwork by Mackenzie Harmon @sonofvincent

How relevant all his hiding was, almost like a rite of passage. People have been doing it for years and still practice the art of camouflage to this day—places to hide their guilt, shame, and problem drinking. His was the garden. Other people find cupboards, the garage, under beds and in drawers; golf bags, gym bags, and the toilet tank. The options are endless. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The lengths of the alcoholic’s desperation is heart wrenching. The very thing they are hiding and trying to protect us from is what rips us all apart. But, the best protection of all is stopping and getting help. Many try, some succeed and conquer, while others become conquered.

Our beautiful garden was a decoy for my husband’s addiction.

Family photo at the side of the house 1988
Dale watering my flowers

I left pamphlets around the house about alcoholics anonymous; brochures about treatment centers and magazine articles about the devastation alcohol abuse has on a family. I made appointments with doctors and therapists. I arranged an intervention with family and friends. I prayed and prayed until there were no more prayers left in me. And worst of all, I dished out ultimatums.

When none of my attempts to make him quit drinking worked, I tried the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality, thinking, how bad could it be? At least we would be on the same page, in the same headspace, but then I realized we could hardly afford HIS drinking let alone me jumping on the bandwagon. Besides, I did not have the stamina. Late-night drinking and hangovers were not a part of my original plan.

As a fitness instructor, I ate, drank, and breathed good health and fitness. On top of that, I was a mother, and with that came responsibilities and work to shape and mould our precious little people.

Throughout my whole life, I wanted to be a mother and a wife, which was not an easy feat, because in the 1980s, a liberated woman would never admit to this as a goal.

Crabbing in Sooke, 1986

I eventually cracked the code to my unhappiness. It was the most challenging work I have ever done. It took years of self-discovery, healing, and grieving. In the ‘90s we called it ‘Tough Love’, whereas some referred to it as looking out for number one. The best term and action that worked for me was setting up personal boundaries.

Setting up boundaries is a valuable life skill that helps define a person by outlining safe and permissible ways for people to behave. Having boundaries also helps us respond when someone passes those limits. It is not mean or hurtful to work towards clarity and ways to control incoming and outgoing interactions between people.

How did I know it was time?

I had been invited to an afternoon get together. You know, the kind where mothers gather with other mothers. Their children play out in the yard while the moms chat and share their thoughts on work, family, politics, news, fashion, favourite recipes and tv shows. We might have a potluck lunch or dinner, a few might have a glass of wine and then coffee and dessert at the end. Everyone parts ways and drives home clean and sober.

Before arriving at the party, I decided to take the hostess a bottle of wine as a gesture.

Pulling into the parking lot at the cold beer and wine store, my eldest daughter, four years old at the time, started crying. Not just tears but sobs and outright wailing. Before I could stop the car and figure out what was wrong, she said, “No, mommy, we can’t go here; this is where daddy goes.”

My heart instantly broke.

Their father, who did handsprings in the yard, backflips on the trampoline, and played the guitar for hours, often went to this very same liquor store while leaving our girls in the car. They were small, but their feelings were big and real. They knew.

Looking into the eyes of my daughter, I had to say something. She was inconsolable. So, I made it simple, yet I validated her distress and fear. I said, “If you were to eat ten chocolate bars at a time, it would probably make you very sick. Alcohol is the same. One drink periodically would not be so bad, but what if someone had five or even ten, one after the other? It would make them very sick. If they did it every day, then their body and mind would not work very well anymore”.

She accepted this. I did not go into the liquor store that day.

My life had been highjacked by his consumption of beer, Southern Comfort, and a few joints daily. I asked myself if I could get my daughters out from under the affliction that was killing their father and sabotaging our marriage. A little voice inside my head struggled to come out, but when it did, it said, “Yes, you can.”

Leading up to the day of my chocolate bar analogy, I had been going to AL anon meetings, reading self-help books, and going for individual counselling. I also found a group of women to cycle with, or rather, they found me. I looked for spirituality in a local church and had contemplated leaving my marriage, but it was the tears and distress of my little girl that shook me to attention and gave me the strength to go.

I was thirty-two and had worked at saving my relationship and primarily the man in it, for ten years. Most of us spouses and partners have learned that it is up to the individual to get help. I eventually realized that nothing I could say or do would make him quit drinking.

After leaving, I was proud that my daughters no longer overheard our arguments, experiencing my tears and their father’s silence.

My oldest daughter is now thirty-two, the same age I was when I chose to leave, which is not the solution for everyone. I do not profess to have all the answers. Should you stay, or should you go? Will they recover, or won’t they?

Alcoholism does not look the same for everyone. Some people may drink every day, while others only drink every three months. When drinking alcohol begins to interfere with our lives and relationships, it’s most likely an addiction.

People do not get out of bed in the morning intentionally wanting to hurt others. As children, we do not dream of one day growing up and becoming an addicted person. We are born. We are held and nurtured, or maybe we are not. Our needs are met, or perhaps they are not, and even so, something happens to us along the way. The once clean slate or empty canvas of our perfect state-of-the-art human self becomes imprinted with the language of our life experiences.

Standing in front of the log home, me and the girls, 1990

So, what happened?

Some of us had parents who raised us to the best of their ability, and their parents before them did the same. But they often lived their lives based on their environment, past hurts, and patterns, and sometimes too much meaning was put into the poisonous things.

I learned that I had no control over my alcoholic, and there was no way to stop him from drinking. My safety, mental and emotional health, and that of my children became my priority. Everything had become unmanageable. The disease is progressive, and my children needed one healthy and sober parent, and that was me.

There is no clear road map or a magical crystal ball that tells us why the people we love become addicted. Or why they cannot stop. As hard as this sounds, we need to take care of ourselves. We can still love them. I still love my ex-husband, my children’s first father. But for me, I had to let him go to save us.

I have been a special needs teaching assistant for twenty-eight years, a fitness instructor for forty years, and in the last two years, I have written and published two books. Looking for Normal and Where is My Happy Ending? – A Journey of No regrets.

My journey has been one of no regrets. I permitted myself to think that way because here I am. My struggles and successes are what have made me who I am today.

Emma, Karen and Jessica – Low-income housing 1993

Remembering, both Hurts and Heals

Remembering, both Hurts and Heals

“You’re everywhere except right here, and it hurts.”

-Rupi Kaur

My father died when I was twenty-seven years old. I felt grown up at the time and yet like a little girl wanting her daddy, mostly devastated from losing him and unable to think of my life without him.

He never met my husband or my three children. He was absent from my adult struggles and never saw my tears of disappointment when things did not go my way. He did not see who I grew up to be or the work that I have done, and the countless people I have helped over the years.

I have finally accepted that he will not ever be here to cheer me on and witness the dreams and goals I have yet to accomplish.

Unless he is floating up above me or his spirit is twirling around with the breeze on a windswept night, I have not seen or felt his presence in thirty-three years. I often hope that a fluttering butterfly or sunspot on a photo is a sign, a message, or an indication that he is always with me.

I wonder about heaven and the afterlife, the Promised Land, immortality, and the man upstairs. I so want there to be a land of milk and honey and seventh heaven. I fantasize seeing him again and visualize running into his arms at the Pearly Gates.

It helps me to think this way.

Remembrance Day has passed. November 11 marks the end of World War I At 11:00 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, two minutes of silence is held to remember the people who have died in wars.

The poppy is described in the famous World War I poem “In Flanders Fields.” The red poppy is a symbol of both remembrance and hope for a peaceful future. The poppy is a well-known and well-established symbol that carries a wealth of history and meaning.

The daffodil is another flower with meaning. It is the symbol of the Canadian Cancer Society. It represents strength, resilience, courage, and life. It survives Canadian winters to become one of the first flowers to bloom in spring. My dad died of Cancer.

My father’s favourite flower was a Pansy. Kind of funny for a construction worker, farmer, man’s man, and rugged type. He liked the little face imprinted on the petals.

Now, the petite, sweet blossom reminds me of my dad and how he appreciated the little things in life—flowers that bloom, a silly joke, or the game of Charades; nature and his garden with tomato plants growing up along the back wall of our house; pickled beets and canned pears. He loved working and building, helping and creating.

My dad came from meagre, impoverished beginnings and vowed to my mother when they first met that he would never yell or show anger towards their children. My mother was in agreement.

Us kids consistently came first. As my parents struggled, we still had bicycles, toys, trips, and lessons of every kind. My mother said if there were a particular movie we all wanted to see, we would eat ground beef for a week just so we could afford to go.

My dad and his brother 1919
My handsome dad, Vince Bonner 1967

Without bragging, I like to think that I am like my father. He was kind and humorous, witty and smart. But he was also a worrier.

I did not know until years after his death, when my mother told me, that my dad had internally fretted over pretty much everything; their four children (my siblings and I); money and food, not having enough; health and happiness, ours and his. And yet on the outside, he displayed nothing of these worrisome thoughts that tormented him.

He was never one to sing the blues or show how much he agonized over all of these things.

How do we keep our loved ones who have passed away current in our minds? We might reminisce over old photos and videos. As it may be, something often reminds us of them—a place, a smell, or running into an old friend. In my case, it is a flower.

I like to tell stories and reflect on memories in remembrance of the good old days, my past, and the people who have left me, and this world, far too soon.

If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still see his smile, hear his loud, boisterous laugh, and almost feel his bear-like hugs. I understand his worry now that I am older and wiser. I carry with me many of his same worries. Perhaps we all do…

Imagine having one more day with someone who has finished their time on this earth. Not a day when they were sick in bed, but a day when they were well, a time years before they tragically or suddenly left us. What would you do? What would you say?

If I could be who I am now and was given twenty-four more hours with my dad…

I would get up early, and he would be in my kitchen making bacon and eggs. We would sit down to eat and have an instant coffee together as he stoked the fireplace. Then I would walk out to his garden with him, and he would show me around. While we were walking, I would tell him how happy I was that he was my dad. I would ask him questions like, “What’s your favourite food?” or “What did you think when you first saw me?” or “What are you worrying about today, Dad?” I would then introduce him to my three children and my husband, and we would all play Charades together. He would admire my husband for the work that he does with the homeless. He would be astounded at how my oldest daughter looks like me, how my middle daughter is an adventurous world traveller. And lastly, he would be impressed with my son’s artistic talent and how handsome he is. He would tell me that all three of my children have beautiful smiles and how happy he is that they take care of their teeth. He would then tell me how proud he is of me and how sorry that he left me.

Where is My Happy Ending? – A Journey of No Regrets, Page 278

Reflections of a Limo Ride

“It felt glamorous, but wrong, to be enjoying the luxury of black leather seats set in a U-shape formation, with a minibar lined up behind the driver. The sunroof was open, allowing a warm September breeze to ruffle my hair. At one point, my brother’s girlfriend suggested we stand up through the sunroof above us. The driver said that was completely out of the question for safety reasons. None of us wanted to do it, anyway, except her.

As we exited Lonsdale Street and turned onto the Upper Levels Highway, the route reminded me of all the times I had ridden with my father as a little girl in his work truck. My treasured childhood memory, combined with the new experience of being in a limo, brought a lightness to the event, and for a brief moment, I was absurdly happy. Catching myself, I struggled to find balance and teetered between pain and euphoria. For once, my mother’s mental health issues seemed to be making sense.

The Capilano Crematorium had standing room only. Aside from myself, a great number of people in the community had adored my dad, and it seemed like all of North Vancouver had come out to pay their respects. Not everyone could fit inside the room, and many had to wait outside until it was over. It was the end of a long warm summer, so thankfully, the doors were kept open.

I sat next to my mother, and she held my hand. I first thought she laced her fingers in mine because she was reaching out to calm me, to let me know that she was there for me, but when I felt the soft wadded-up Kleenex balled up in her palm, I realized she was holding my hand for her own sake. I did not mind, as the last time she held my hand was when I was a little girl at the grocery store.

My oldest brother had prepared music, a mixed tape of my father’s most loved songs—”The Tennessee Waltz,” sung by Patti Page, and “Put Your Sweet Lips a Little Closer to the Phone,” by Jim Reeves. We had an open microphone, so people were able to come up and share their memories, thoughts, or heartfelt feeling”.

Page 279

Stepping outside into the glaring sunshine, several people stood around laughing at the telling of old stories or perhaps funny memories they had shared with my dad, while others timidly glanced over at me with downcast eyes, not knowing how to act, what to say or do.

I wanted everyone to be weeping, to holler out how unfair it was, to shake their fist at the sky, and to demand answers. Their laughter felt wrong and unnerving. I yearned for someone to gallantly take my father’s place, climb into the oven, and become reduced to ashes, professing that they should be taken from this world instead.

In the days and weeks afterward, grief consumed me. I felt unbelievable heartache and melancholy that I carried everywhere with me…

My writing has brought me tremendous healing.

I work hard almost daily in wonderment, battling my unanswered questions and missing my dad, even now, after all these years later.

But, if truth be told, sometimes I forget to remember.

I had a dream a few days after my dad died. In the dream, he called me on the telephone, the old-fashioned kind attached to the wall. He told me that he was happy and well and for me not to worry, that everything was going to be okay. He asked how my mother was doing.

The song He’ll Have to Go by singer-songwriter Jim Reeves reminded my dad of my mom. When they first met, they were both on blind dates with other people, so this song turned into their song.

“Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone

Let’s pretend that we’re together, all alone

I’ll tell the man to turn the jukebox way down low

And you can tell your friend there with you he’ll have to go…”

-by Jim Reeves

My best advice is never to stop remembering and telling stories. And never feel guilty if your loved one slips your mind for a time. It is okay. Even if they never told you, I am telling you, those that have passed would want us to have a great big beautiful life.

Remembering is healing, and so is moving forward and living life to the fullest.

Me and my dad 1982

He’ll Have to Go by Jim Reeves

Hanging Out With Old Friends

Hanging Out With Old Friends

Hanging Out with Old Friends, Saying

“Remember When…”

As we grow older and everything around us is changing rapidly, our long-time friends remind us of who we are. They know a lot about us, and everything feels comfortable. They offer us a sense of family without pressure. They know how to make us feel better, even if we think we are okay. Our past struggles do not seem so hard with someone who knew us way back when. If they are still in the picture, they are a person who loves us unconditionally.

When I first met my best friend Mary, we were in Grade Two. We both loved Miss Cook, our teacher at Queensbury Elementary School in North Vancouver, B.C.

Looking for Normal “Miss Cook was classy and glamorous, with a bee-hive hairdo, matching skirts and jackets, go-go boots and frosted pink lipstick. She could have been a model in the Simpson Sears or Eaton’s catalogue. She spoke softly and was very kind. I was shy and overly obedient.”

Mary was not shy at all; she was the “pick me, raised hand, bottom out of her seat” kind of student. She rarely got picked, which only made her try even harder the next time.

Looking for NormalEyes fixed on the Queen every morning with her ruby red lipstick, pleasant smile and sideways pose. Singing God Save the Queen, followed by the Lord’s Prayer until it was engrained into our pint-sized heads. These segments and flashbacks of elementary school are unforgettable.

I lived two blocks from the school and went home for lunch every day. Mary stayed for lunch at school because she lived too far away. Besides, her mother had five children and a job outside the home, so it would have been much too confusing for Mary to eat lunch at home. Therefore, we got in the habit of Mary coming over to my house to eat lunch with me. 

In 1966, our favourite lunch was Campbell’s Tomato Soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. Sometimes we were given Swanson’s Chicken Pot Pie, the individual kind, and if my mother was in a rush, then it would be Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup that came in an envelope in a red box. We loved the tiny noodles. Crackers were smashed, crumbled, or dipped as an accompaniment.

When Mary came home for lunch with me, we were always late going back to school. Talking, laughing, and playing took up most of our time. School always came second, especially to Barbie dolls.

Me and Mary 1966

I moved away in Grade Nine to Mission, British Columbia, and Mary and I lost touch. 

When I moved away and left Mary, I had no friends in my new community. Although I lived with my parents on a hobby farm, in a log cabin which my father built, I felt completely alone out there. I had a horse, chickens, pigs, and an above-ground swimming pool.

Looking for Normal – “Starting Grade Nine in a new school made me think that perhaps I might be more popular. Maybe my grades would get better, and just maybe I would become thinner, prettier, and less shy.”

Climbing aboard the school bus in 1973, I was filled with anxious excitement. I was starting fresh, beginning something new; fearful and yet joyful. 

Making my way to an empty seat on the school bus, a friendly voice, and an even friendlier face invited me to sit with her. She had thick blonde hair, a slight overbite, and braces. Her name was Barb, or Barbie to her family, and Barbara to my mother. But I started right off the bat, calling her Barb.

We liked each other instantly. By the time we had arrived at school, we had already made plans to hang out together that same day after school.

With Barb, I went shopping at the mall and enjoyed attending her Scottish Dancing recitals. We both had first boyfriends at the same time. We relished our time horseback riding and cruising the strip in my parent’s car. Eventually, the inevitable arrived, our high school graduation.

Barb and I hit the disco floor in our late teens when we moved to Palm Springs together. Even though we got into some sticky situations, we sure laughed about our many adventures and shared fiascos.

Where is My Happy Ending? – A Journey of No Regrets – “We discovered in 1979, the drinking age of twenty-one was not closely monitored, and that two fresh-faced Canadian girls could cause quite a stir in this swanky, upscale town.

After entering the nightclub on our first attempt, we cruised through unnoticed. Feeling empowered, we gave each other a half shrug and a knowing glance. Surprised but not showing it, we were thrilled to have gotten in past the tinted glass doors with just a coy smile directed towards the bouncers.

Karen and Barb (Sara) Newport Beach, California, 1979

When we arrived home in Vancouver, we got jobs and began looking for Mr. Right. Shortly after that, Barb moved away. 

I met Dawna, another best friend, at one of my first jobs. She was clad in a spandex leotard, leg warmers, and a headband. It was 1980 at The European Health Spa in Vancouver.

Where is My Happy Ending? – A Journey of No RegretsI enjoyed my first two days of work just fine, but on my third day, I was informed that I would be teaching the next day’s aerobics class. I felt panicked and unsure of how I would pull off an exercise class that I had no experience in teaching.

As I pondered my dilemma, out of the Sales Office bounded a tall brunette girl, about my age and dressed as I was in a black leotard and high heels with a badge that read Dawna – Head Girl. Her bouncy shoulder-length permed hair set off her dynamic personality. I was captivated by her enthusiastic voice and was all ears as she began to explain how easy it would be for me to teach a thirty-minute aerobics class.”

Soon Dawna and I rented an apartment together and began adventurous endeavours of teaching fitness, skiing at Whistler, staff parties, night clubs, and working on the Alaska Highway.

Above: Dawna and Karen working on the Alaska Hwy 1982. Below: Karen and Dawna 2012.

Several years passed, and in my early twenties, as the saying goes, “it’s just like riding a bike,” Mary and I reconnected. It was like no time had passed. We were together again, best friends; Lucy and Ethel, Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern, Laverne and Shirley.

Karen as Lucy, Mary as Ethel
Karen and Mary now

Catching up, bringing each other up to speed, sharing our heartbreaks and disappointments and then reminiscing about our past… Babysitting jobs that had gone sideways, science tests we failed; mean teachers, nice teachers; boys we liked, boys we disliked; sleepover parties and all those lunches we had together.

Barb and I stayed in touch and have had many visits in person over the years, and long-distance phone calls. Facebook messages and photos of children, pets, and grandchildren have been consistently shared. Last year we went on a trip together.

Dawna and I have a relationship mostly on What’s App, but when she comes to town, we always connect in one way or another.

Three friendships that span over fifty-four years.

We will all change, but our old friends remain guardians of our memories. We can take stock of our life journey with regrets, or we can work towards no regrets. And figure out what we learned. 

We see how we have evolved with old friends, what was once painful, what mattered, or what we have wholly forgotten.

Remembering what it was like to be someone different from who we are now is indispensable to our growth and integrity. To be with old friends can be warming and comforting.

Over the years, I have strived to keep in touch with Mary, Barb, and Dawna.

Sometimes I see one best friend more than others, but I hold them all close to my heart. Our lives have changed, evolved, and grown, occasionally in different directions and paralleling from time to time. We listen, we talk, we learn. We share mishaps and feats, struggles and strengths, grief and healing, fear and courage.

As an added note, your best friend does not have to be with you 24/7 or think and act like you. Despite all the changes a person goes through in their life, a best friend will stick by you and always accept you for who you are.

Honourable mention…

I recently connected with my grade five best friend Elizabeth from Queensbury, Lee-Ann from Mission high school, and Carol, my dear friend from Maple Ridge. 

Six amazing women from my past are now a part of my present. And don’t get me started on all my NEW friends!

“A friend is the hope of the heart.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

You’re My Best Friend

Song by Queen

“Oh, you’re the best friend that I ever had

I’ve been with you such a long time

You’re my sunshine, and I want you to know

That my feelings are true

I really love you

Oh, you’re my best friend

The Old Lions Gate Hospital

The Old Lions Gate Hospital

North Vancouver B.C. – The City of My Beginning

“And the seasons they go ‘round and ‘round. And the painted ponies go up and down. We’re captive on the carousel of time. We can’t return. We can only look behind from where we came. And go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round in the circle game.

-Joni Mitchel

When they tore down the hospital that I was born in, I took it personally. I was shocked, taken aback, and saddened. Out with the old and in with the new, or so the saying goes.

Living on the West Coast of Canada, we are warned continually, “The big one is coming!” Earthquake drills, safety kits, water, and granola bars—“Are you ready?” they ask.

Built in 1929, the first Lions Gate Hospital on 13th Street in North Vancouver, B.C., met its fate a few years ago, and I suppose it was inevitable. Many older brick and mortar buildings are either being reinforced, or the wrecking ball is called in to demolish them before they crumble and are shaken free from becoming historical monuments. 

When I first noticed the boarded-up windows and fenced barricades, I panicked. I wondered how they could close down the building of my birth, where thousands of babies had started just like me—new beginnings, new mothers, and decades of memories, both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

This particular building was a collection of archaic rooms, narrow hallways and outdated systems in desperate need of costly restoration, or perhaps a more practical and frugal approach was to dismember this dinosaur of my youth.

I took note and began watching daily. Whenever I drove past the dilapidated hospital, I felt the pull, like a magnet attached to my heart. “Look to the left between St. Georges and St. Andrews Streets,” my brain told my eyes. And there it was, trapped and surrounded by portable fencing. It spoke back to me, “I am tired, old, and frail.” Helpless and forlorn, it called out to me as I continued past. If the walls could talk, I could only imagine what they would say.

Much to my dismay, they began tearing down the monumental hospital in September 2016,

I must have shared my concern and plight with my husband and son one too many times because they gallantly, heroically (some would say foolishly) snuck in through the temporary fencing one damp night and snatched me a brick. How sweet and romantic, I thought. The moment bonded them.

Writing about the place where I was born has made me a hopeless romantic, a nostalgia junky and a lover of the past. So much so that I enjoy the Group Facebook sites that one must join to share stories and photos of days gone by. There we can catch up with old friends and meet new ones that share a common theme. The same town, school, experiences, and memories. Clicking the Like button or commenting engages us in the lovely walk down memory lane with others.

When I see the shared photos and stories of my townspeople, friends, strangers, and those of us linked by the city where we once lived, I often think of my parents, now deceased, and how they arrived here first; it is because of them that I am here in North Vancouver.

They instigated my life, and now I am flooded with these sweet memories.

Trekking through forests and mucking about in creeks; roller skating at Stardust and swimming lessons at Mahon Pool; bike riding and skateboarding through friendly, well-kept neighbourhoods; from rocky beaches and sandy French fries to mountains, ski lifts, and picturesque views; coke floats at Steadman’s five and dime, and afternoon matinees at the Cedar-V movie theatre.

Our parents have similar stories to each other, but different from those of us grown-up kids. Sometimes they gave us a glimpse into their pasts and how they got here, arriving by boat or train, working, struggling, and coping. Their memories became a road map for us, the ones left behind.

My father’s journey west – excerpt from Looking for Normal

Vincent Alphonse Bonner

The train chugged and steamed along, emitting smoke and soot as it huffed and puffed towards the mountains, heading west. After the night on top of the boxcar, thirteen-year-old Vince woke from a fitful sleep. As daylight approached, Vince was lost in the epic scenery. A towering, majestic backdrop were these fearsome Rocky Mountains that he had only heard about and never seen. How grand that a poor boy from a small prairie town could experience something so breath-taking. In a dream-like state, Vince Bonner found solace in the picture-postcard scene that was unfolding before him.

The grandiose beauty was a welcome distraction from the shaking and rattling of the train. Vince felt as though his limbs would come loose from the constant sway and jostle, and from holding on for dear life. With his eyes burning from the putrid stench and his head pounding from lack of food, he was still able to find hope knowing that he was fleeing a desperate situation. Soon, young Vince would be in beautiful British Columbia, the land of opportunity. He just knew that his dreams would all come true once he made it to Vancouver.

My Mother’s journey west – excerpt from Looking for Normal

Mary Frances Lillian Gervais

Thinking back to her recent journey from Taber, Alberta, immediately brought back fond memories. The warm cozy berth and thick wool blanket were a comfort to Frances. Never having travelled west before, the Rocky Mountains took her breath away, majestic and surreal as the train passed through Banff, Alberta and on to Golden B.C. Photographs did not do justice to the towering, jagged razor blades of rock jutting out of the mountainside—powerful long-horned sheep grazing not far from the tracks, massive moose looking up to the passing locomotive, brave, bald-headed Eagles soaring high, searching the landscape for their next prey.

Excited to be arriving in Vancouver after a long train ride, Frances was not prepared for the dark skies and what seemed like endless rain, now understanding the term, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

Regardless of the weather, she had made it, relieved and excited about the unknown. A big city, a fresh start, adventure, romance and the beginning of something new.

Frances and Vince meet, married, and set up in North Vancouver, the city of my beginning.

In a way, we are all like old buildings. Some of us have weathered the years, whereas others have developed a hard outer shell, which, if not treated well, will develop cracks and become unstable. If we can be restored, we are able to live on for many years; if left alone, we will crumble.

We all become a little worn over the years, and yet, if we stay connected and lend an ear to each other, we can learn and treasure the memories of days gone by. Let us keep sharing our history with each other, offering years of wisdom, hope, and love.

If we continue to remember, the structures from our past will always be with us.

Joni Mitchell – The Circle Game

Click the link to have a listen