Cake for Breakfast

In our house, the first day of school calls for cake for breakfast.

Breakfast Cake 2011

Every year until this one, it was only me that had to deal with sugar laden kids all morning on that first day.  My boys have always been home on the first day as it was always our first day of homeschooling.  We would have our cake and discuss what we were excited to learn about this year.  The boys could throw any topic out there they were interested in and we would work it into the curriculum in the following months.

This year is a major change for us.  While the cake was still the main course this morning, shortly after we filled up on sugar, I left with Ben to bring him to his new school.  This is the first year he has ever gone to full time school.

Homeschool 2007

After settling him in and meeting his teacher I walked away knowing that it would be an exciting day for him……And then I cried like a baby.  I know many parents do this when they first bring their child to Kindergarten so I guess I had 6 years worth of tears to shed.

Ben is happy to go to school and it was really me that had to struggle with the decision.  It is a letting go of control for me to have the bulk of his education in someone else’s hands for the first time.  I am used to planning all his Language Arts lessons, picking novels for the year and teaching him math with a curriculum that I felt suited his learning.  We embarked on the journey together every year, and now he is embarking on his own.

Homeschool 2009

It really is the best decision for us all right now.  I am back working full time and the work load of three kids home schooling would be too much.  Noah is still attending the Stony Creek program and is home schooling three days a week. I am truly looking forward to the extra time with just him.  He is such an enthusiastic learner and excited about so many things that it spills over to me as an educator.

Did I say alone with Noah?  Well, Sam is just as enthusiastic.  He takes just as much planning as his brother as he refuses to be left out.  So really, we are still homeschooling two!

Breakfast Cake 2010

So now I sit with my coffee, ready to start off the homeschool year minus my oldest.  I miss his presence and miss the dynamic of the three, but know that this year will bring many new learning adventures for us all.

Homeschool 2010

Homeschool 2006 Canopic Jars

Homeschool 2006

Homeschool 2006

Keeping the End in Mind

Last night I stayed up late to watch Jack Layton’s funeral.  During the day I did see pictures and read the Eulogy on line and the many Tweets from Canadians as the funeral was taking place.  I figured I probably didn’t need to sit and watch the event itself  but am very glad I did.

There were many amazing tributes about Jack’s life that touched me, but the one thing I woke up thinking about this morning is the fearlessness with which Jack approached his death.

When his cancer came back, Layton sat down with his wife and his pastor, Brent Hawkes,  and planned out his funeral.  Not, as Hawkes said, because he was giving up or because he was ready to die, quite the opposite.  But he wanted to be ready for the end, whenever that would come.

 “Jack was in good spirits and said, ‘I am going to fight this cancer, I am going to beat it, but we need to have plans in place, just in case,’” said Hawkes, pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church.

Not everyone can look at their own mortality and acknowledge it as a real part of life and only a matter of time.  When faced with the possibility of death due to illness I have seen people respond in several ways.  I have seen those who spend their last days angry, or bitter and resentful and I have seen the opposite.  People who embrace the end and do all they can to express their love for those around them.

What does that mean for me?  That’s what I woke up thinking about today.  We will all die, and even those of us who are in good health have the possibility of sudden death through accident or
tragedy.  None of us knows how much time we truly have left.

This reminded me of Stephen Covey’s line to “Begin with the end in mind”.  Covey speaks of this in terms of remembering your goals and if you keep the end in sight it gives you the courage to keep striving for them.  It does however apply to the end of our lives as well.  To keep the end in mind, the fact that I am mortal and only have a limited time to my life, keeps me focused on what really matters in my life.

To wake up each morning and acknowledge that the day stretched before me is a gift……that is the way I want to live my life.  To keep in mind the end.  That I don’t really know how many days like today I will have.  So if I am stepping over toys, wiping up spills, and dealing with yet another unhappy patient at work, I can be grateful that I am here.  Thankful that I am able to help that patient, wipe my child’s tears, kiss the hurts and referee the fights.

Being able to look my own mortality in the face keeps me grateful. And I believe that gratefulness is the root of happiness.  I cannot be truly thankful for my life without being happy.

Living the Space

I learned a valuable life lesson this summer.

The past four months have looked like this: Trying to sell a house, rent a house, find a house, then not moving.  Giving up my job, then working.  Kids homeschooling, then going to school, then a mix of both.  Packing up the house, then unpacking into the same house. Saying goodbye, then reconnecting.

With life turning upside down so much I have definitely not been myself.  I have been more emotional, more prone to moodiness and less steady than I normally am.  In circumstances where I usually have a well of patience, I have found myself running dry.  In moments where I should be thankful and experiencing joy, I have found myself less touched.  And while I am coming out of the fog as life is settling down I am realizing that the experience of upheaval has taught me a few things about myself.

There have been many causes or stimulus prodding my feelings.  And they have at times taken me over.  I have felt surrounded and covered over at those times, unable to crawl out from the feelings that have been created by circumstance.  Or at least it felt that way.

What I have learned though, is that I have a choice.  While it is important not to deny feelings or bury them in an unhealthy way, I also have the choice on how I respond to them.  I can choose to let them sweep me away or I can choose to acknowledge them and be proactive in how I deal with them.  For feelings almost always lead to action.  And action affects other people in my life.  

So, between the stimulus, which spurns my feelings, and the action I take, there is a space. The space where I need to stop. To remind myself that it is just a feeling and feelings pass.  That if I wait an hour, or even a day, I may feel differently.

I have been working on living in the space.  Not staying stuck in the feeling nor jumping into action.  Just staying in the space in between for awhile.

And I will admit that there are times where living in the space is not enough and I need to be deliberate about pulling myself out.  This is where I will use something concrete like music.  Here is the music I have gone to lately when I’ve needed a boost out of the darkness, and a reminder that I really do have a good, good life.

Her Name Was Alice

I had a patient once.  Her name was Alice.  Alice was in her mid-thirties, diabetic, had chronic pain, high blood pressure and was an alcoholic.  She lived on Kuper Island which was just a short ferry ride from the small pharmacy I managed in Chemainus.  Alice would come in every month or so to see me for her medication, go over her blood sugar results, take her blood pressure.  Most times Alice was sober and sometimes she wasn’t.   When she was sober I would encourage her and she seemed hopeful.  But eventually, the wagon would tip and she would be drinking again.

One such time Alice came in to see me after a night of drinking.  I came out from behind the dispensary counter and sat next to her in the waiting room chairs.  I put my hand on hers, looked into her face and asked her why.   Why did she go back to drinking?  She knew it could someday kill her.  We had discussed often the risks involved in drinking with her medication.

She looked at me and said, “Carlene…..too much pain.  So much pain. …it’s too much”

Alice was a survivor of the Kuper Island Residential School.  And while I had studied about residential schools in University and knew that most of the Aboriginal population around Chemainus had been affected by this tragedy, it was a different thing entirely to sit with a woman who had survived such pain in her life.  The alcohol helped her forget.  The community was rife with it.  No amount of convincing, referral or compassion from me could change that.

Alice was unable to overcome her addiction and shortly after that conversation died of a stomach bleed.  A consequence of the alcohol and her pain medication.

It was one of the first losses I experienced in my early years of practice on Vancouver Island, but there would be many more. At times I would be overcome with frustration when I felt unable to reach people steeped in pain. But other times I was personally challenged as a young health professional to overcome my own preconceived ideas and personal judgements.

Those years taught me the value of stepping out from behind the counter; that sometimes I need to let down my own guard and be open to being challenged in order to reach people where they are at.  Some days I am better at it than others, but patients like Alice have been and continue to be my greatest teachers.


*Alice’s name and certain details have been changed to protect privacy.

The Gathering Place

In 1982 my Mom and Dad took a leap of faith.  They didn’t have a lot of extra money for luxuries, and it was a time when interest rates sat around 20% making credit expensive.  Despite that, they decided to take a risk and purchase a cabin at the lake.  From that point on, every summer of my life, I have spent time at the family cabin at Emma Lake.

The Kusch cabin at Emma was not only a place to relax and enjoy the summer but also a place to connect.  From that very first summer my parents openly welcomed family and friends to stay with us.  The cabin was often so full we slept on couches, floors, anywhere we could get a spot.  The amazing hospitality of my parents allowed us as children to connect with aunts, uncles and cousins and taught me the value of working hard for these connections.

I use the term work because it’s not an easy task to have 15 or so people under one small roof for days at a time without city amenities close at hand.  And still today, almost 30 years later, my parents continue this work so my siblings and I and our children have a place to gather and reconnect. And while I reconnect with my siblings I am also reconnecting with my past.

My boys now swim at the same beach where I first braved the diving board.

When I go for my morning run I pass the place where I had my first kiss.

My children now climb on the top bunk and reach for some of the same books and games that I did as a child

As I drove home last week from my time at the cabin I was filled with gratitude for the many months of work my parents undertake to upkeep the cabin and prepare for our large gatherings.  They continue to show by example that tradition and connection are worth working for.

I know one day it will end.  Mom and Dad will no longer be able to manage the cabin and my siblings and and I are too geographically scattered to take it on.  But the values gathered, lessons learned and memories will last a lifetime.

Are We Meant to Be?

Often this question is asked when we are searching for a love interest, a partner, someone to share our lives with.  However, there have been a few times in my life where I met someone and I just knew down to the core that this person was meant to come into my life and would somehow become an irreplaceable part of it.

One of these moments occurred when I was a 22 year old new pharmacist and embarking on a new phase in my personal relationship with a man who recently left the priesthood and moved out to Vancouver Island to be with me.  We attended a CORPUS  conference in Victoria and at one of the keynotes, a couple walked out to address the group.  Looking at the female part of this team, a woman in her fifties, a former Catholic nun married to a former Catholic priest, I just knew, with complete clarity, this woman would be linked to my life.  There was no doubt in my mind that it was essential for me to get to know her.
It didn’t take long before Connie was an integral part of my life.  She became in the truest sense my mentor.  Sir Ken Robinson says in his book “The Element”:
[Mentors] take a unique and personal place in our lives.  Mentors open doors for us and get involved directly in our journeys.  They show us the next steps and encourage us to take them.
Connie has since been my mentor, my friend and my guide.  She has walked me through healing of past trauma and she and her husband presided over our marriage ceremony. We’ve been on retreat together, built communities together, and Connie continues to this day to be a steady guide when I encounter rocky shores.   Sometimes, it is just meant to be.

Welcome to my blog

My name is Carlene Oleksyn.
In my professional life I am a pharmacist practicing in the Edmonton area.
I am passionate about knowledge and personal empowerment in health care. I believe that the more knowledge a person has about their own body, how it works and how to keep it healthy, the better choices they are able to make.  I carry this belief in my professional practice and strive to enrich every patient I encounter with a deeper understanding of their own health.  My interest in health information technology naturally flows from the desire to engage patients in their own care.

On the personal side, I am passionate about living an examined life.  I believe that reflecting on life’s experiences leads to a happier, more fulfilled life and is also an avenue for personal growth.  One of the ways I reflect upon my life is to write about it.

Action Reflection Cycle

I have a deep love of music with an eclectic taste running the gamut of musical genres. Whether playing the piano or plugging into the ipod, I surround myself with good music as much as possible.

I am an avid runner and continue to set personal goals for myself.  Running is not only part of what I do for my physical health but also helps clear my mind and focus my energy.

I love good literature and a good novel just as much! Medical journals, blogs, health IT sites….I constantly have articles and several books on the go.  Continual learning is part of my nature.

I have, in the past seven years, either full time or part time home schooled my three sons.  This has given me invaluable time with them and incredible insight into how they learn.  It also keeps me challenged and engaged in their learning.  I am involved in Alternative Education as well as the Public school system and have a deep respect and love for the field.

I am a prairie girl who married a prairie boy who continues to inspire and challenge me. I still find awe in the blooming canola and wide open sky and love the freedom of the endless landscape.

Thanks for stopping by.