Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Interview with Girl Warrior Karen Cooper.

Karen 2 (1)

Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, the wise and wonderful Karen Cooper, entrepreneur, artist, yoga teacher and spiritual guide. A courageous risk-taker, Karen first hit the local scene with her business On Canvas Art Gallery, which was the perfect setting for her Stretch Yoga Studio. It was here that she fostered a loyal, and ever-growing, following of wisdom seekers and creative devotees.

What makes you a Girl Warrior?

I have learned that if I fall I can and will get up and I do.  I have found that I can choose, that I am strong, that I will find a way to get up no matter what happens, I have learned to trust myself.  I can be flexible; I will make the best of whatever is. I know that there is help and support all around me.

You worked in the fast-paced competitive business world for years. How did you get from that to yoga teacher, spiritual guide and fine artist?

My sister died of breast cancer, she was 40, and I was 39.  That was when I chose to live life on my terms, for me, for those I love.  As a result of that choice, I found the right books (which I think really saved my life), I quit smoking (that’s when I found out that I had strength), I spent a year in India (that changed my view of the world and, opened my mind), then I found yoga and spiritual practice (and that opened my heart my mind my body my spirit) and I have never looked back.  It’s been a process, a journey, an amazing ride. It doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes or get scared, it just means that I find a new way to move. I will again take one step then one more and one more.

What has been your biggest challenge so far – personally or professionally?

I believe that my biggest challenge in life has been finding my self-worth, learning to believe in myself, to trust myself and finally to love myself unconditionally.  It’s taken a long time with lots of experiences and just as many mistakes, the key is learning from them.

In my younger years I never forgave myself for any mistake that I ever made and I spent my energy and time trying desperately to never make another.  I was so hard on myself.  I remember thinking that if I quit or lost my job as a District Sales Manager that no one would ever hire me again, they would surely find out that I was a fake.

What obstacles have you overcome and misconceptions have you overthrown?

I have learned to breathe, to be still, and to listen to the whispers of my heart.  This has been a huge undertaking.  My Father (God bless him) believed that a knight in shining armor would come by, one for each one of his daughters, and care for them for life, that we need not worry.  My Mother (God bless her) taught us girls how to be independent so we could rely on ourselves. As a result I had one foot in each thought process. Not to mention that I have lots of energy, and sitting still to listen long enough to hear the stirring of my own heart to find my own answers, to find my own truth, to see what is a misconception and let it go.

What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?

Please sweetheart, be kind to yourself, don’t be so hard on yourself, you are worthy, you are lovable, you are enough.

What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?

Dear Girl Warriors, please above all else be kind to yourself, love yourself for all that you are with loving kindness and compassion, Live well, Love well, Be well. Find your gifts and give them, you do have gifts; remember this, with love.

Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s)?

My friend Karin, has survived 2 rounds of brutal cancer which has left her disabled and yet she is thriving with joy and gratitude.

Boo King, I have watched you over the years, get up from the fall, you do what needs to be done, you look after your loved ones and still manage to inspire us by living your passion.  You do the work!

My sister Sandi and my girlfriends whose love and support never fail me, who make me want to be my best self, to stand tall in this life.

My friend and yoga student Elizabeth Wellburn who has stood by and supported me all these years and has done the same for so many, who gets up from all the falls and keeps going and lives her passions and supports her community living what she believes in.

What’s next?

In November I am going to Spain for 3 weeks with my sister and brother-in-law, a trip of a lifetime.  When I get back I am planning my next big risk and challenge and adventure. I have no idea what that is at this moment but I trust it will come to me and I look forward to it.  Food and shelter for all is a big deal for me, I’d like to do some work in that area.  I believe there is a reason for everything and what we are doing in our lives right now is helping us to learn and prepare for whatever comes next.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

In 5 years I hope to still be alive, living my passion, walking my talk more deeply, continuing to learn and grow, to be curious and look up.

What’s your personal mantra?

My mantra, to walk more softly on this planet, to learn and grow all the days of my life, to be a light, to share my gifts.  My favorite quote, by John O’Donohue sums it all up, “May you experience each day as a gift woven around the heart of wonder.”

 

 

 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Sunday Morning.

418146_10150588726116644_1592281773_n-1

Hey E Baby

I was thinking about that Sunday morning

Just after we bought the house

It was November and the rain

Was pelting on the window

All dark and dreary outside

So you put our first log in the fireplace

I made coffee just for the two of us

You were hanging photos of the family

Framed in black and white

And all those paintings from the artists

Who had passed through our lives

My Barbara Lewis CD was playing

Baby I’m Yours

The sweet soulful sounds

That have the power to break your heart

You took my hand

And we danced around our new living room

You sang the chorus into my ear

While I cried into that soft spot

On the side of your neck

Hey E Baby

I think those were

The best two minutes of my life.

 

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: The Fine Art of Courage and Sunflowers.

Ma’s Sunflower painting wide and open.

I love sunflowers.  They are such a cheerful good natured flower.  If they were people they would be the kind with the wide open faces and big toothy grins.  You know the sort.  The ones who always see the sunny side of things. The good. The optimistic. The hopeful.

Little back story: My love affair with this blithe bloom actually began as a seed.  As much as I loved the flowers, it was nothing compared to my love for the seeds.  Not the healthy versions that you buy in health food stores or in the bulk food section at the grocery store.  I’m talking about the ones you buy in the chip aisle or at your neighborhood corner store, the depository for all things so good tasting yet so bad for you.  I’m talking the super salty variety in their shell.  The ones that you suck, crack open, chew, swallow, wash down with soda.  One bag of Giants and your mouth is begging for mercy.  This is my idea of the perfect sunflower seed.

One summer The Old Man and I planted sunflowers all around the perimeter of our back yard.  They grew tall.  And confident.  And winsome.  They were magnificent.  I loved them.  The Old Man Loved them.  Ma loved them. The birds especially loved them.  Everyone was happier that summer.  Sunflowers have a knack for bringing out the best in all.  Perhaps that explains their popularity.

Ma wasn’t a gardener.  She left that to The Old Man and me.  Ma was an artist. I didn’t really appreciate her artistic abilities until she turned sixty.  Not that Ma suddenly became Picasso or even Grandma Moses on her sixtieth birthday, and then we all took note.  It’s more that Ma’s creative talents weren’t so clearly defined, at least not to me.  An “Artist” by my limited definition, was someone, most likely bohemian in nature, who had abstract paintings in uptown galleries, SoHo cafes, coffee table books or at the very least was someone like the quirky art teacher in my high school.  Not my mother.  But her domestic talent was always present, manifested in everything she touched.  From the one-of-a-kind clothes she sewed for me to her scrumptious baking and homemade pasta and bread.  Everything she made with her expressive hands was a work of art.  A masterpiece.

At sixty Ma went back to high school.  At night.  To study art.  Oil and charcoal.  I can only imagine the bravery it took to embark on such an endeavor.  What a personal challenge it must have been.  But also what an adventure.  What a magnificent obsession she must have had.  I say this because she was so painfully shy and timid.  Her voice, at times was barely audible.  You had to really listen to Ma when she spoke or you would miss all the good stuff.  The wisdom. The gems. The humor.

Off she went. Courage mustered. Heart full.  Audacity emblazoned. Once a week she headed out to my old school where she studied fine art.  Drawing and painting.  Life and landscape.  People and places.  Her imagination was set free.  She was firing on all cylinders and having the time of her life.  She was in bliss.  Cloud Nine.  Heaven.  And yes, it was oh so fine.

Ma’s life as an artist could have started much earlier than age sixty.  Raising a family, time commitments, financial struggles, shyness and fear aside, there was something far more sinister holding Ma back.  She told me a story once that both broke my heart and made me angry.  When she was a young girl in grade school she drew a picture.  I think it was of a cat.  Proud of her drawing, she showed it to her teacher.  Instead of praise and encouragement she was met with accusation and shame.  The teacher accused her of tracing the cat, berated her, saying that she couldn’t possibly have drawn it so accurately without having cheated.  Needless to say, this crushed Ma.  Her spirit.  Her talent.  From that moment onward she kept her artistic dreams a secret.  Locked away inside her precious little-girl heart for decades.

I have no idea what the catalyst was for her change of heart, for the unearthing of her secret desire.  I don’t know what made her push the fear and shame aside in favor of following her dream.  It seems that one day she just did it, as if out of the clear blue.  She had a notion and acted on it.  And I’m so glad she did.

Ma had many many joyful years of painting.  In particular, she liked to paint flowers. I remember towards the end of her life, when she was in her late seventies, I asked her to paint me some sunflowers.  By then, she had pretty much abandoned her easel, canvases and paints.  She simply stopped.  Almost as quickly as she started. For no apparent reason. Another notion perhaps.  Again I had no understanding of why.  It was all a mystery to me.  The enigma of Ma.  The request for the sunflower painting was my vain attempt to coax her back into doing the one thing in life that brought her such joy, that had nothing to do with raising kids or managing a home, taking care of The Old Man.  It was just Ma’s.  Uniquely hers.  I also really wanted a painting of sunflowers for my living room wall.  But she kept putting it off.  Said she’d “get round to it one of these days.”  Then I dropped the subject.  She was getting old.  Then she had the heart attack.  And everything changed.

After Ma’s funeral, on a cold February night in a small town in Northwestern Ontario my siblings and I visited the home where we all grew up.  This would be the last time I would ever step inside this place.  It was cold outside but even colder inside.  It struck me that without Ma, there was no warmth.  This was now just a small wartime house in the west end of nowhere.  I visited each room for one last time, collecting little mementoes and treasures that once belonged to Ma.  My siblings did the same.

Upstairs in the room that was once occupied by my older brothers, then by me, and was one of the places where Ma liked to paint, I found the most resplendent keepsake of all.  The sunflower painting.  There it was.  Waiting for me.  Even after she had moved on, she was still giving me gifts.  Suddenly the room grew warmer.  My heart was light.  My face open and wide.  My grin big and toothy.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Every Girl Needs A Room Where She Can Dream

The Dreamer.

I have a room of my own.  Virginia Woolf would applaud this I’m sure. I’ve been blessed much of my adult life to have had such a space, a little sanctuary to call my own.  In this room, I get to be me.  Or at least the me, I imagine myself to be.  I’m a self-proclaimed dreamer.

Little back story.  Growing up I shared a bedroom with my older sister.  Not only did we share a room but much of the time we shared the same bed.  A double, which slept two rather comfortably.  Sometimes we were strange bedfellows but mostly we were amiable, considering our 8-year age difference.  The room we shared was downstairs next to our parents.  My two older brothers occupied one of the two upstairs bedrooms. The other room was our “spare” which was cold in winter but a fun place to play, and hang out with Ma while she sewed. By the time my sister moved to the West Coast and my two older brothers were both married, I had moved upstairs to their old room.  I finally had a room of my own. It was divine.

There were four things I especially liked about this room.  The slanted ceilings, the small attic door next to the closet, the brick chimney next to the door, and the wooden vent on the floor that you could peer down and see into the living room. There was something enthralling about these four details that captured my imagination.  I loved to poke around in the attic which was dark and musty and contained the usual things like Christmas ornaments, dance costumes, childhood artwork, old toys and a broken lamp or two.  But what was most beguiling was the possibility that buried deep within all this family memorabilia and junk was some mis-placed and forgotten treasure.  The vent was both scary and practical.  Scary because there was the possibility (although slim) of falling through it and practical because I could drop little notes down to Ma while she was sitting on the couch watching Ed Sullivan. I don’t recall what these messages to Ma said but most likely they were requests for food or drink.

Ma always made our home look lovely.  She didn’t have much to work with financially but what she lacked in cash, she made up for in imagination.  She just had a knack for this sort of thing and like most women of her time took care of “the decorating.”  I use this term loosely because no one spoke that way back then, at least not regular folks like Ma and The Old Man.  Decorating meant Ma made things for the house – curtains, table cloths, pillows.  She sewed and embroidered.  The furniture and appliances were bought on time at Sears or Eaton’s.  We weren’t poor but we were also a few miles from the middle of middle class.  Everyone in our neighborhood was, so it didn’t really matter.  At least not to me.

When it came to my room, Ma graciously handed over the decorating torch and without any strings attached either.  I was given free rein to do whatever my heart desired.  So I did.  I plastered the walls with rock posters and my kitschy-coo personal art.  The Old Man painted the chimney white which became the perfect blank canvas for my poetry, lyrics from folk musicians like Dylan and Leonard Cohen, pithy quotes by the pop psychologists of the day.  “If you love something set it free.  If it comes back, it yours.  If it doesn’t, it never was.”  I somehow found this to have deep meaning back then.  It just baffles me now.  Somehow we came into possession of an over-stuffed antique maroon velvet tub chair that had worn arms and smelled bad.  We put this in the corner for me to curl up in and read.  I had a desk that overlooked our driveway and stared directly into our neighbors upstairs window.  Thankfully they kept their curtains closed allowing us both the privacy we needed and me with the added blessing of natural light. I also had a record player, and by then a fairly decent collection of LPs which I played continuously.  Everything from The Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Dylan and Joan Baez.  From Rock to Folk, Motown to Blue Eyed Soul. This music comprised the soundtrack of my life.  It was the fire beneath my dreams and it fueled my creative passion.

It was in this little room at the top of a wartime house in the middle of small blue collar town where my dreaming wanderlust began.  I read books and dreamed of becoming a novelist.  I played rock music and dreamed of becoming a musician.  I made my own clothes and dreamed of becoming a fashion designer.  I scribbled poems on brick chimneys and dreamed of becoming a poet. I danced in my pajamas and dreamed of becoming a ballerina.  I doodled on albums and dreamed of becoming an artist. I gazed out at the stars and dreamed of flying.  I cuddled a dog named Sugar Miettinen and dreamed of becoming a mother. I had a typewriter and dreamed of using words to transform lives. I looked down at the street below and dreamed of a life outside of this room and wondered how I would get there.

And here I am.  Thousands of miles and many years away.  In this room, I write novels and blogs.  Play my guitar and write songs.  I sing to myself and dance like a wild woman. I gaze out the window at a sweet little pond and a garden full of Garry Oak trees, and I am in awe.  Full of wide-eye wonder and gratitude. I’m eternally grateful to Ma and The Old Man for giving me that first room and for allowing me a place to plant the very seeds that my dreams were made of.

Here in this room, I am becoming the woman of my dreams.