Colouring outside the lines

Remember colouring books from when you were a child? The crisp white pages with pictures of everything from gingerbread houses and Santa claus to trucks and princess, all outlined in thick black ink. When we first started to colour as toddlers or preschoolers, we were mostly colouring over the drawings, with little attention to the lines or picking appropriate colours even! But as we got older, our colouring skills got better and we learned to stay within the lines, we learned to pick the “right” colours according to the real world. For some reason, purple trees ceased to exist around age 8 or 9! We learn how to fit inside the lines, what the expectations are for us and how to meet them.

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But along with the expectations for ourselves, we also learn to divide the world up: good drawings and bad drawings, we divide by gender and age and interests and yes, even race and class. We learn that everything and everyone should fit into a cookie cutter box in order to be “right” or “perfect.”

Well life isn’t perfect, is it?

When we don’t meet the expectations we’ve set for ourselves or our people, we feel like we’ve failed. I remember when I would work really hard on a picture from a colouring book and then, I’d make a “mistake” and some of my colouring would go outside the line. I have always had a hard time getting past what I saw as a glaring mistake on the paper. Usually I would end up crumpling the drawing up and throwing it away, rather than seeing the mistake in front of me. I always preferred that the “failure”, the imperfection in my eyes at least, to be hidden from me and everyone else. I couldn’t get past this imperfection. I still have a hard time with that today.

We’ve had a rough month, my family and I. And I’ve had to deal with a lot of failure and imperfections, in myself, my family, my choices, and the Canadian legal system which is ANYTHING but perfect. I hadn’t wanted to share anything about this online until it was completed in court… you simply never know who will stumble upon this blog and use things I’ve written against me!

We were going through a legal battle in order to have the right to relocate to Ottawa for employment purposes with our two oldest children. Their legal father was fighting me in court to prevent this move from taking place. Our legal counsel, and indeed everyone we talked to and all the research we had done, indicated that we would have no problems with being successful in this endeavour. The law was on our side, we had followed it to the letter, and we were good parents who had done nothing wrong… we fully expected success and had moved forward with plans based on this, incurring thousands of dollars in relocation costs, not to mention legal bills.

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T and I, outside Surrey Provincial Courthouse on day 1 of our trial, before everything went horribly wrong!

Unfortunately we were not successful for a whole hosts of reasons which I will not get into at this point in time. On September 8, the judgment was handed down that my 2 oldest children could not leave the Lower Mainland, leaving me in quite the quandry. My wife and daughter were in Ottawa and we had invested a significant amount of money to relocate our family there. Plus there was still the issue of a lack of employment here in BC for her, who had always been the primary breadwinner in our family! Initially we decided that we would continue to live separately, Momma T and Miss D in Ottawa while myself, Mr. T & H remained in BC as we were legally required to do, and then we would restart a relocation process in 9-12 months, if our situation had changed sufficiently to guarantee success. We had been advised that an appeal would be $25-$35K, had a low chance of success, and could result in us being required to pay the opposition’s court costs on top of our own! We chose not to appeal.

Further complicating matters, it seemed that I had a battle ahead to regain custodial guardianship of my children, of getting them back into my full time care, as they had always been and where it is in their best interest to live. I was being prevented from doing so by their father and had to pursue legal means to return them to me. To say that it was a stressful and difficult time would be an understatement.

On September 14, I was able to get them back into my care. It was an extremely difficult, emotional and stressful situation for all of us, and everyone who helped me and listened to me that week! (A huge thank you to all of you… and you know who you are!) And at that moment, after I had the kids back in my custody and I was holding them, still sobbing uncontrollably in the back seat of the car, everything became clear. My family needed to be reunited in BC. Work, housing… all of that would fall into place in the long run. But, for our children and our own mental health, we all needed to be together again, as a family. As the family we had been since T&H were 3 years old and Momma T moved to BC to be with us. We have been moving forward with our plans to reunite in Burnaby mid-October and we are all excitedly counting down the days to that reunification!

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The emotional rollercoaster of the last month has been extremely difficult… to put it mildly. The judgment really threw me for a loop. We have been working towards the Ottawa relocation for approximately 9 months and had been reassured at every step of the process that we had an open and shut case, that all the facts were in our favour, and that there was no reason to suspect we wouldn’t be successful. And so being unsuccessful hadn’t crossed my mind, except briefly once or twice, and certainly more throughout the actual trial when the judge showed significant bias against my side from the outset! Hearing that our relocation was denied simply shattered me to unrecognizable pieces and I broke down into a bitter, angry, and deeply wretched shell of a person. All I could see were the pieces of my life scattered on the floor in that judgment. I was so angry that my ex would be so vindictive that he would destroy my family, without so much as a conversation with me, and ultimately hurting our children deeply in the process, all out of fear of losing love. After the judgment came down, I felt caught with an impossible choice between my wife and daughter in Ottawa, and my two sons in BC. Hearing the words that we had lost, I couldn’t breathe and sobbed uncontrollably, filled with ugly blackness and anger, yelling “why?” at their father, and who knows what else I said?! My arms and legs weakened and I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t catch my breathe, and couldn’t understand how I ended up at this point in my life where everything was destroyed and unrecognizable. I don’t remember what I said, but I do know that I was angry and hateful. I didn’t understand why my counsel couldn’t tell me when the kids would be back in my care, but I suspect he was scared of me that day… I was a little over the top with craziness! I was eventually led out of the courtroom and home for the night. Later a good friend came over, bringing alcohol, Haagen Dazs ice cream, and distraction in the form of Settlers of Catan. I got very drunk, ate a lot, and won the game… it was a good distraction but I was still feeling raw with emotion.

There is nothing like almost losing everything that is most important to you in life to realize how important these things are to you, and really how lucky I am. And I am very lucky with great richness in my life.

Focus-on-the-goodSince that horrible weekend I’ve been trying to focus on the positives, which is difficult to do! Particularly when you are living in a spare bedroom of a friend, are being denied access to your children, have no income, and are living far away from your family! I was focusing on where I had failed, on the mistakes, on the imperfections in my life, and on how I was not measuring up to my own expectations. I was focusing on where my crayon had gone outside the lines and ruined the picture perfect drawing of my life.

So instead, I focus on the positive things, and on the things I can control. And I am learning to have faith, like Peter I am learning to trust in God and have faith that I will be supported as I take a risk and walk on the rough waters of my life. (Matthew 14:22-33) If I choose to stay in the boat, I’ll never walk on water.

There is much I have learned from this process. We have all been transformed by it, and transformation is sometimes a painful, raw, and emotional process. But without the storm, we cannot have the rainbow. And without the rainbow, we will never reach the pot of gold. So as strange as it may seem, I am going to give thanks for the opportunity for growth and learning I’ve had by losing this legal battle. I am choosing to focus on the rainbow and the pot of gold that is my family, rather than the storm I’ve left behind. Here’s to the next chapter!

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Wasn’t THAT a journey?

Momma T’s journey in Barcelona, on El Camino, and onto Portugal

 

It’s been a rough month here at home, which is why there haven’t been any posts for awhile! There simply hasn’t been enough time for blogging!

There have been some incredible highs and some devastating lows, but through it all we’ve journeyed together as a family and made it to the other side of the mountain… our legs might be shaky and we are pretty tired, but we’ve made it!

This post will be all about Momma T’s journey towards, on, and beyond El Camino in Spain. In looking back at the photos that she sent while she was away, it seems like the journey was about experiencing the culture through good food, good friends, and good spirits!

It was fitting then that before she left, we had a wonderful evening out at Vij’s, a restaurant that we’ve wanted to visit for several years and just never had the time to get there. We are thankful to family who babysat Miss D so that we could have a meal out together.

Momma T left Vancouver on Saturday April 22, traveling via London, England (9 hour flight) and then onto her final destination of Barcelona, Spain. She met her travelling friend A at a restaurant in Heathrow airport and they made the last leg of the journey together.

Day 1 – Barcelona, 14,912 steps

Today they took the subway and then train to find their way to Montserrat, a Benedictine monk mountain retreat about one hour north west of Barcelona.18057018_10155016792106343_1938256115001047943_n (1)

 

Day 2 – Barcelona, 17,644 steps (13.7 km)

Today Tracy and A explored the Barcelona waterfront and were excited to find that there was a Mexican tall ship in the harbour, which was inviting tourists on board to view and have photos taken with the uniformed crew! The two women also visited the Sagrada Familia basilica

After exploring some of the waterfront (and boarding a Mexican tall ship, with military crew present!), we then meandered the streets to the Sagrada Familia basilica, a beautiful Roman Catholic church designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.

The inside of this amazing place of worship is made of  all different stones, and designed so that you feel like you are in a forest, with carvings of a leaf-like ceiling, and then stained glass windows that make you feel like the light is seeping in through the forest walls.

Day 3 – Leaving Barcelona, 17,305 steps (11.6 km)

The weather this morning was rainy and windy, which meant that a planned boat excursion was cancelled. Instead they did some window shopping and visited the Barcelona History Museum on their way to the train station and the 12 hour trip to Sarria where their Camino walk would begin!

Day 4 – Sarria, 12,798 steps (7.9 km)

Momma T and A arrived in Sarria at 9am on a brisk, sunny morning (4 degrees!), after a rough night with just a little sleep on the train. They gathered their things and walked to the hotel. You know the city is behind you when you lie on your bed, wind blowing in, no car motors, and you hear the cock-a-doodle-do of the roosters all afternoon. Welcome to the country-side!

Later that eventing the 10 women that formed their tour group met at the hotel to have an orientation meeting, then we walked to a local restaurant for a great meal. This Camino adventure is about to begin! We got to know each other in the group. There are two (60+) women from Arizona (AKA “the Arizona’s”), Marcia in early 50’s, Momma T and her friend A, and then 5 Hispanic women from LA, who are 60+ years… all the women are fiercely daring and have lots of spunk and life in them. 

Day 5 – Sarria to Portomarin, 36,177 steps (25.8 km), 7 hours of walking

Tracy and her friend were excited to finally start their Camino today! The tour guide walked with them for about an hour before leaving them to walk at their own pace.

The path was much more hilly than anticipated and T was pretty tired at the end of the day. She is rapidly learning to like Spanish wine… particularly since it is less expensive than pop or even water in many places! And so refreshing midday and with her meal at the end of the walk!

Day 6 – Portomarin to Palas de Rei, 42,241 steps (33.2 km)

Today’s elevation gain was substantial (see photo below) and daunting!

In the words of Momma T:

“Today it was hard to get those muscles going again, but after a light breakfast (smoked meats, cheese, and hard boiled eggs), we were off. By 10:30am we had walked 11km and made a cafe stop for a second breakfast. We weren’t even halfway!! We basically average 4km/hr, depending on the number of hills. I’m very thankful to be using poles, takes some pressure of my knees/legs and builds the strength in my arms too. Saw a couple of churches, and it was a cool, sunny day. At 2:30pm, with about 5km left, it was time for a break and we discovered this amazing “lemon beer” — OMG!! Delicious!!”

Today was an important day as T recognized a dear friend who had passed away in the last year. Before she left on this journey, Mr. H had asked Momma T to take a special stone and his photo of our dear friend and to leave her in a special place on the path, so that “God would help her find her way to heaven.” Today Momma T found that place: an old stone cross beside a centuries old chestnut tree. T spent a few moments in prayer and thinking of our friend and her family. Before leaving on the trip, T had called this family to tell them of Mr. H’s request. Our friend told T that it had been their plan to walk the Camino themselves, before Marlene had taken ill.

 

Day 7 – Palas de Rei to Castaneda, 38,579 steps (26.6 km)

Not exactly the weather forecast that you want to wake up to when doing El Camino…

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And it didn’t get much better! The hikers faced every kind of weather this day: snow, hail, thunder, lightening, rain, and yes, sunshine! What is a hiker to do when facing this? Dress in layers and use socks as mittens in a pinch!

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In the words of “Scaredy Squirrel”… this was NOT part of the plan!

Day 8 – Castenada to ? (TBC), 29,661 steps (20.8 km)

Momma T hit her wall today and had a super hard day of walking. After slogging through 15 km in pain, dragging feet that felt like they were cement blocks and calf muscles that kept seizing up, she took a ride for the final 7 km. She is super disappointed in herself but I believe she has nothing to feel bad about… she made the best decision she could in that moment and truly, the only decision that would preserve her strength for the remainder of the trip. I’m super proud of her! It’s hard to make that decision!

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Photo taken early in the day, while she could still feign a smile!

Day 9: — to Santiago, 31,631 steps (22.6 km)

Knowing that they would be arriving in Santiago today was a good motivating factor on the road. There was a steady climb upwards at one point that stopped just at the boundary of the airport. They then walked around the airport, amazed by the planes taking off and landing right above us.

After they got away from the airport there was a chance to stop of a small bite to eat. Most of the walking at this point was on gravel or paved roads/paths. T put her poles away as they were walking mostly on roads rather than the gravel and the sound of the poles on the road was quite loud, intruding on the sacredness of the journey. Sadly, T didn’t realize the full benefit of of poles until she was much closer to Santiago, when she started to get substantial knee pain. She believes this was due to the pressure on her knee with every steep descent and then climbing up and up… unfortunately the pain has continued well past the end of the trip and will result in several physiotherapy appointments, along with icing every day!

Day 10 – Santiago

Happy Birthday to Miss A, traveling companion of Momma T! Today they enjoyed massages and a lot of relaxation around the village of Santiago.

Day 11 – Santiago to Porto, Portugal

Today, Momma T successfully got her official “Compostela” or certificate, showing that she has completed El Camino. They then travelled just 4 hours via bus to Porto Portugal, finding their AirBNB accommodation and relaxing the remainder of the day.

Day 12 – Porto

Today, T and A took a boat tour of the Douro River.

The Douro River is a major waterway that flows from Spain and across the entire Douro River Valley in the Northern Portuguese countryside. It is known for its quiet tranquility, showcasing Portugal’s stunning river-based cities, from vibrant Pinhao to old world Porto, a city that has been deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. 18199395_10155049974346343_2164052668611786299_n

Day 13 – Porto to Sintra, via Lisbon

Today Momma T finally saw a castle,, which she’s desperately wanted to see for years!

They travelled by train to Sintra, a picturesque community set in the cooler hillside of Portugal. The cooler climate was attractive to nobility in by gone eras and so there are many castles, beautiful gardens, and extravagant homes to view.

Day 14 – Porto to Lisbon

Momma T said good-bye to her friend A today, but met up with a friend that she’d met earlier in the trip… J! T and J shared the Air BNB accommodation that T had booked and together they took in the tourist sights of the next few days.

T and J started their time in Lisbon with a “Hop On Hop Off” open air bus tour. With T’s knee still bothering her, walking any distance was a challenge. Much time was spent enjoying the local cuisine as she rested comfortably in cafes! They did see some great sights while in Lisbon though including a tile museum, and an art museum.

Day 15 – Lisbon

Final day of the holiday and T said good-bye to J, enjoying some time to just relax in quiet solitude before the long journey home again!

 

Good food along the way:

Momma T enjoyed much of the cuisine in Spain and Portugal, thankfully documenting much of it for us to live vicariously through her!

Here are some of the meals & “tapas” that she experienced… in no particular order!

 

And so we can see that T’s time in Spain and Portugal definitely had more highs than lows, new experiences and friends, and delicious tastes!

… Coming soon: “While you were gone”… tales from the rest of the family while T was traveling! Perhaps not as exotic as castles, boat cruises and pilgrimages, but just as life altering for us all!

 

Finding our Way

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About a year ago, possibly more like 18 months ago, Momma T and I watched a movie one Saturday night called “The Way”, and starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. The movie we watched followed Martin Sheen as he walked a path that his son had planned to walk but unfortunately died before completing it. While walking this path, he travels through some jaw dropping scenery, suffers through extremely difficult circumstances, grieves the son he lost and the difficult relationship they endured while he was still living and ultimately, he undergoes a personal transformation.

Halfway through the movie, T pressed pause and looked at me, saying “I want to do that.”

“That” is El Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

El Camino is one of many Christian pilgrimages in the world.Thousands of Christians undertake a pilgrimage every year from their homes, to Santiago de Compostela, walking the “Way of St. James” as it is known in English. Legend has it that the remains of St. James were carried by boat and donkey, from Jerusalem to Northern Spain, where he was buried in what is now known as the city of Santiago de Compostela. Annually more than 200,000 Christians make this same pilgrimage in whole or in part, as a spiritual journey or as a personal challenge.

Today we drove Momma T to the airport where she left on a flight heading to Spain and her own Camino pilgrimage. She is walking the final 120 km of El Camino with her best friend as part of a celebration of a milestone birthday, and with the support of a touring company which will carry the majority of her luggage for her. She will carry only what she needs during the day and not all her food, clothing, sleeping, and cooking equipment! She is also doing some touring of Spain and Portugal while in the region.

The journey seemed simple enough when she began planning for this journey 12 or so months ago… however life has a way of interfering with the best laid plans. As T often will say, “Want to make God laugh? Make plans!”

Despite the obstacles that were in front of us, it was high priority to us that T make this pilgrimage this year. For one thing, it was mostly paid for when everything else came up so there was no reason to NOT go ahead with it, unless we were willing to lose most of the funds that had been put towards it. But more importantly, at least in my mind, is that this was such an amazing opportunity for life changing, transformational, eye-opening, soul searching, personal development… despite all the obstacles and challenges I’ll be facing over the next 19 days there was no way that I would ever consider standing in T’s way to make this happen! I know that she will come back as a stronger, more vibrant, and much revived individual who will be ready to embrace our next journey of life! She deserves this journey and I cannot wait to hear all about it.

And while T is making her journey through Spain, I’ll be walking my own transformational path here at home in Canada! I will have sole responsibility for the care and feeding of three small to medium sized children. Not to mention holding down employment and a half (I’m doing some contract work on the side), packing up a household and preparing us for a cross Canada move in 6 weeks!

Perhaps my journey is not as ‘sexy’ as T’s El Camino de Santiago journey, but I have no doubt that it too will be transformational, life changing, eye-opening and full of soul searching and personal development opportunities!!! Much like T, at the end of it I will be able to look back with pride and say “I survived!” and “I did that!”

Of course, I should probably get a full night’s sleep!

Before I go, here is T’s itinerary so you can follow along:

April 23 – Arrive Barcelona, Tour the city

April 26 – Taking overnight train to Sarria, meeting Tour company there

April 28 – Walk from Sarria to Portomarin (23 km)

April 29 – Walk from Portomarin to Palas de Rei (25 km)

April 30 – Walk from Palas de Rei to Arzua (29 km)

May 1 – Walk from Arzua to Arca (20 km)

May 2 – Walk from Arca to Santiago de Compostela (19 km)

May 3 – Tour Santiago de Compostela

May 4 – Travel to Porto, Portugal

May 5 – River boar and train tour in Porto, Portugal

May 6 – Travel to Sintra, Portugal

May 7 – Travel to Lisbon, Portugal

May 8, 9 – Tour Lisbon

May 10 – Fly home!!!

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