Friday, July 29, 2005

Come ride with me

As I've said before, riding my bike home from work has become my favourite part of the day. So I thought I'd share it with you. Hop on the back of my bike (if you're nice and small, you should be able to fit in the panier bags) and I'll take you along...

The Trek awaits departure (look at it - sitting there basking in the sun!) - and there are the panier bags where you can join the ride.The happy biker sets off (believe me, it's not easy taking a picture of yourself WHILE riding your bike!)
My bike may not be as cool as Brother Bear's but it works for me! (This is one of the 62 concrete "Bears on Broadway", a unique fundraiser for the Cancer Society)
I have to take a little detour to ride past this, but it's worth it. This morning there was a little bunny hopping past it. Made me smile.
Now THAT's what you call a log-jam! After a fairly lengthy rainy period, the river was quite flooded. As it went down, it deposited all these old logs on the shore - including the bike path leading to the Forks (fortunately, it doesn't affect my route at all).
Nature's way of obliterating graffiti...

Ah... work behind me, home ahead of me, and a peaceful river path in between... what a nice transition!

One of my favourite spots, especially in the morning when the sun peaks through the trees and I can often watch rowing teams out for an early morning practice on the river.

Are ya gettin' the picture WHY I enjoy this ride so much? Wildflowers, river, blue skies...

Some enterprising campers found a convenient, secluded, but illegal spot to pitch a tent. This morning when I rode past, the tent was dismantled (perhaps someone had told them to take it down) but I was rather surprised to see a woman sleeping under the folded tent.
The rear view (again - a little tricky to take this pic WHILE riding! Surprisingly, I managed to get the auto-focus to adjust to the mirror and not the ground - not all of them turned out that way.)
The view from the bridge... the Mighty Red. Still pretty high in its banks. It's been a WET year.

Another nice spot along the journey - riding beside the golf course. Fortunately, there's a fence between me and any stray balls that might come my way.

This was a wonderful discovery - a tunnel that helps me avoid a couple of very busy streets and a rather suicidal intersection.

Quiet please - you never know who might be sleeping in the tunnel!

Getting close to home now... I like the evergreens beside this trail.
True to form, Julie runs out to greet me when I arrive. Can't imagine a better home-coming!
Home! And there's Maddie peaking out the window.

Hope you enjoyed the ride! Of course, I only included the good spots. There are a few busy streets I have to navigate, but it was a little tricky getting those shots without risking my life.

What I love to do

One of the things that I've discovered in the last few years is that I love to facilitate workshops. I love getting up in front of a group of people and either helping them discover/learn something new or helping them brainstorm new ideas that will make their work more meaningful or effective.

Yesterday I had such an opportunity. We're undergoing a fairly lengthy and involved strategic planning exercise, and my boss has tasked me with getting us (staff, board of directors, stakeholders) through the process. That means lots of opportunity to brainstorm, facilitate workshops, and basically do what I enjoy doing. In between, there'll be a whole lot of grunt work (writing reports and workplans, setting up schedules, etc., etc.), but I'm rather excited about the possibilities.

Yesterday, as I cycled home after the session, I felt that old thrill of victory - the feeling and energy you get when you've just done something you enjoy, you know you've done it well, and you relish the increased insight into what makes you tick. I love discovering my giftedness, and I particularly love it when it surprises me. I love the fact that, at almost 40, I'm still finding out new things about myself. I hope that self-discovery never quits. I hope that, on my death bed, I have one last (or perhaps not last, if the after-life is what I imagine) grand "a-ha" moment.

Makes me think of a Bible verse... "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:14

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Not to be outdone by Anvilcloud...

I've got a few backyard bird pics of my own... (do you know how HARD it is to focus on a hummingbird?)

(Disclaimer - no, this is not in my backyard, but my in-laws.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The good stuff

Sometimes, the most ordinary evenings are the very best there is. Last night was one of those evenings - hardly anything worth writing about, yet about as close to perfect as you can get.

After supper, we set up the tent in the backyard. We hadn't used it in awhile (since we got the camper a few years ago) and are planning to use it this weekend, so we wanted to make sure it's still in good shape. The girls had fun playing in the tent, and were determined they were going to sleep in the backyard last night, but we couldn't find the pump to fill the air mattresses.

At some point, I remembered that I was supposed to visit my Mom's apartment while she's away to check her mail and water her plants. It was a beautiful evening, so I convinced the family to bike there with me. Again - nothing out of the ordinary - just a quiet family moment doing ordinary things.

Here are some of the extraordinary, ordinary moments:
- listening to Maddie have conversations with herself in the buggie behind my bike
- watching Julie and her Daddy race for the stop sign
- seeing the Red River and all its glory at dusk
- giggling with Nikki and Julie when we "stole" a coke from Mom's fridge
- watching the teenagers goof around on their mini-motorcycle (I think they're called "pocket bikes" - wacky and uncomfortable looking, but Nikki was rather fond of it)
- riding over the bridge, looking back and seeing my kids following me
- just plain old riding with my family - it doesn't get much better than that!

This sappy moment brought to you by Heather.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Random Summer Thoughts

I’m borrowing a page from Judy’s book and writing some Random Summer Thoughts. Because in the middle of summer, sometimes that’s the only way that thoughts come out.

1. We hung out at the library last night. It was rather funny to watch the three children. True to form, Julie soon had a stack of books and was asking if she could take home more than her usual limit. (Sure enough, she’d finished the first one before she fell asleep last night.) Also true to form, Nikki gravitated toward the magazines and was soon checking out the latest fashion and exploits of the rich and famous. (Anything that screams “pop culture” draws that kid in.) And not to be outdone, Maddie followed her heart, and gravitated to where the people were. First it was the teenagers on the computer – they decided they wanted her to be their little sister. Then it was the girl watching Arthur on the kids computer. Before we left, at least 3 separate people wanted to take her home.

2. Every once in awhile you see something that renews your faith in humanity. On the news last night was a documentary about a man named Chandrasekhar Sankurathri. His wife and 2 children were killed in the Air India bombing 20 years ago. Instead of letting bitterness control his life, he turned his energy to something good, returned to a very poor region of India where his wife grew up (they’d been living in Canada), and built a school and treatment centre for the blind. Amazing story. He named the school after his daughter and the treatment centre after his son. In that way, they still live on. Seems to me, if you have a little extra money that you’d like to put to something good, you wouldn’t go wrong sending it to his foundation.

3. But then there are some things on the news that have the opposite effect. They’ve made a movie of the life of Karla Homolka. What is it about sick and twisted criminals that makes people want to watch them on the big screen? Why would I want to sit through two hours of a movie watching this sad, pathetic, wretched woman join her husband as they rape and murder a bunch of young girls – INCLUDING HER OWN SISTER? My last post was about celebrating only the victor in a great race, but sometimes we do the opposite and celebrate the most depraved. What’s that about? I feel for the family members of the victims – knowing that thousands of people are watching a re-enactment of their daughter/sister/niece/granddaughter get brutally raped and murdered.

4. We put the camper up for sale yesterday. I’ll be sorry to see it go. We had some great memories in that camper. Like the first weekend we used it and we announced to our family that Maddie was going to born. But it’s time to let go. I’m trying not to let myself get too attached to possessions. I read on a blog yesterday that “every part of the soul that is filled by a possession is a part that is unable to love freely.” A camper is JUST a camper (even though I DID spend hours sewing curtains and cushion covers, painting walls and re-doing the floor. Sigh.)

5. This weekend we’re going to the Austin Thresherman’s Reunion. It may not sound like too much excitement to the average reader, but it holds a lot of memories for our family, so I’m looking forward to it. It was one of the only summer outing we’d go to when we were kids, and almost every year, we got to watch our Dad kick butt in the stooking contest. I think he won every time he entered, and each year he brought home a silver dollar as his prize. That silver dollar collection was one of the most prized possessions in Mom’s china cabinet.

6. One of the other things we’ll probably do this weekend is visit Spirit Sands – Manitoba’s “desert-like” region. When we told the girls we were visiting a desert, they looked at us incredulously and asked “are there starving people there? will we see lots of dead animals?” Hmmm… guess that’s what they picked up from TV.

7. I'm looking forward to hanging out with my family (brothers, sister, in-laws, mom, nieces, nephews - you get the picture) this weekend. We'll relive old memories, have a few good laughs, share food, play with each other's kids, probably mock each other a bit, and talk about Dad. We can't help but talk about Dad when we're in a place that holds so much of the best of him.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

To all the people in the Tour de France who are NOT Lance Armstrong...

Congratulations on a race well run! You fought to the finish, you faced the mountains you had to face, you pushed yourself to the edge and beyond - you finished well.

You may never wear the yellow jersey, you may never be Lance Armstrong (hard to imagine there could be more than one!) but you DID IT!

All those other people who accomplished such an incredible feat, and the only name we know is Lance. Too bad. But I guess life's like that - we don't celebrate the "ordinary", we only celebrate the "victor".

Today, my fellow bloggers, let's look beyond the victor and celebrate those who run well, cycle with heart, and live with grace and integrity.

I celebrate my children who cycled to church today. No, they're not little Lances, but they did well and I'm proud of them.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

When is it her turn?

My mom's husband is in the hospital. Again. It's the second time since they met in February. Something's wrong with his lungs this time.

I want so badly for my mom to be happy. I want life to be easy for her. It's her turn, I figure. Life was rarely easy when she was married to my dad. It was happy sometimes, but rarely easy. Now I want it to be easy AND happy.

I'm not sure what happiness looks like for my mom. We're very different, her and I, so for each of us, happiness has a different face. But there's one thing I DO know, happiness is not sleeping alone in the bed where her new husband spent over 40 years with his first wife while her husband is in a hospital more than 40 kilometres away and her children and grandchildren are hundreds of kilometres away.

I'm a little pissed off that God wouldn't make it easy this time around. Doesn't seem like too much to ask for a woman who has given up so much for so many people. Too much. Her whole life has been a sacrifice, now I want it to be sweet. God, if you're out there, just give her this. Please...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I couldn't resist

Across the parking lot from our office is a beautiful old church. I’ve walked by it lots of times, but never stepped inside. They open their doors at lunch time, and I’ve often been tempted to wander in, but always had some other destination or deadline.

Today, when I wandered past, I couldn’t resist going inside. They have instrumental music piped outside, and it was the music that drew me in. They were playing “It is well with my soul” and if you knew the history of that song and its connection to my family, you’d understand why I was drawn inside.

My dad loved hymns. Not that he liked ALL hymns – he was rather discriminate in his tastes - he loved hymns with depth and meaning and some thought put into the words. He loved hymns that came from some place of deep understanding on the part of the songwriter. He loved history and he loved stories. This particular hymn has all the right elements – good writing, depth of meaning, and a story behind it.

Sitting there in that magnificent church, gazing at the stained glass windows and fine architecture, and listening to that hymn, felt like a holy moment. It felt like Dad was sitting there right beside me, his head bent slightly over the hymnal.

We sang that song at Dad’s funeral two years ago. As we sang - the tears rolling down our cheeks - my family stood to our feet, united by our love for Dad and our belief that he would want us to say “It is well with my soul,” even in the midst of our tragedy.

Here’s the story behind the song…

In 1871, tragedy struck Chicago as fire ravaged the city. When it was all over, 300 people were dead and 100,000 were homeless. Horatio Gates Spafford was one of those who tried to help the people of the city get back on their feet. A lawyer who had invested much of his money into the downtown Chicago real estate, he'd lost a great deal to the fire. And his one son (he had four daughters) had died about the same time. Still, for two years Spafford--who was a friend of evangelist Dwight Moody--assisted the homeless, impoverished, and grief-stricken ruined by the fire.

After about two years of such work, Spafford and his family decided to take a vacation. They were to go to England to join Moody and Ira Sankey on one of their evangelistic crusades, then travel in Europe. Horatio Spafford was delayed by some business, but sent his family on ahead. He would catch up to them on the other side of the Atlantic.

Their ship, the Ville de Havre, never made it. Off Newfoundland, it collided with an English sailing ship, the Loch Earn, and sank within 20 minutes. Though Horatio's wife, Anna, was able to cling to a piece of floating wreckage (one of only 47 survivors among hundreds), their four daughters--Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie--were killed. Horatio received a horrible telegram from his wife, only two words long: "saved alone."

Spafford boarded the next available ship to be near his grieving wife, and the two finally met up with Dwight Moody. "It is well," Spafford told him quietly. "The will of God be done."

Though reports vary as to when he did so, Spafford was led during those days of surely overwhelming grief to pen the words to one of the most beautiful hymns we know, beloved by Christians lowly and great.

And here are the words to the song…

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dentist appointment (now there's a title that just screams READ ME!)

I had a dentist appointment today. I hate dentists. No wait - I should qualify that. I don't hate dentists. Most of the dentists I know are decent people and not worthy of my hatred. My own dentist is, in fact, a fine man and I hold no ill will toward him. He's handsome to boot. But I digress... what I really mean to say is I HATE DENTIST APPOINTMENTS!

There is nothing - absolutely nothing - that makes a person feel more vulnerable and passive than lying flat on your back in a chair with your mouth wide open. You are at the mercy of their instruments, you have no proper means of communication (unless you consider grunting inaudibly communication), you have nothing to do but stare up at the face poised inches from your own, the drool runs freely down your chin... need I go on?

But worse than the feeling of vulnerability is the feeling of shame. The moment I step into a dentist's office, my mind goes to that "I'm a failure at oral hygiene" place, and that's an ugly place. It's not unlike a visit to the confessional. "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It's been 2 years since I last flossed. I eat candy too often, and once in awhile, I even go to bed without brushing my teeth." Oh, the shame! "What can I do for absolution? Oh yes, I suppose I could start with flossing..." But then I go home from the dentist, floss once or twice, and revert very quickly to my old sinful habits. Only to face the shame again the next time I visit. I feel so stupid every time I have to answer that "did you floss" question with a pitiful "no". But I never mend my wicked ways.

Ah, but this isn't the end of this post... there's a lovely little bit of poetic justice I'd like to tell you about. In September, I'll be doing my first official (i.e. paid) consulting job. I'm facilitating a teambuilding/leadership retreat. And guess who my clients are. Yup, none other than a dental practice! Now isn't that a delightful piece of irony? A growing dental practice is hiring ME to serve as an expert for THEM! I get to be the smart one in the room - the one who has some expertise that THEY want to learn from! HA HA! It makes me want to giggle with glee!

I know it wouldn't be all that conducive to "teambuilding", but do you suppose I could turn the tables and make THEM feel like they're visiting confessional? I can almost hear it... "Forgive me Mother for I have sinned. I have treated the hygienists as less valuable members of the team. I skipped the teambuilding barbecue last summer. And no, I didn't really have sick kids - I was out golfing."

Ah, the devious part of my brain is delighting in the possibilities! Maybe I could build a practise out of "Teambuilding for Dentists". It would be like therapy for all those times I've sat in their chairs. Think I'll start making up my business cards...

(Oh, and by the way - guess what I was doing while reclined in the dental chair. Why, I was composing this blog in my head, of course. You really should try it. It's a great way to distract yourself from the fact that someone is wielding a sharp instrument in your mouth!)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Welcome to "Hair by Heather" - feel free to browse through the magazines while you wait

I played hairdresser this weekend. (Check out the look of concentration on my face!)

Nikki ended up with blonde highlights. And Julie's is kind of purplish burgundy. (The box said purple, but it's a little more burgundy than purple.)

Hey - I figure there are worse things they could want than funky hair. Julie's been bugging me for blue hair for awhile now, but had to settle for purple when that was all we could find.

It was kinda fun. Pulling strands of hair through a plastic hood sure beats picking lice out of hair. Yes, I've done that too (way more times than I like to admit - there was a scourge of them in their school a few years ago), and I'd choose THIS hands down.

Moody Manitoba Morning

I’m feeling blue today. Blue, blue, blue. Why? Well, do I really NEED a reason? Sometimes, it just sneaks up on ya for no particular reason. But yes, I do have a few that come to mind…

1. It seems everyone I care about is busy going on trips. Perhaps not everyone (yes, I tend to exaggerate), but at least enough of them to make it seem like a trend. My sister and her husband flew to New York City this morning. My mom and her husband are leaving for Alberta today. One of my closest friends left for Ontario yesterday, and another one is leaving later this week. It feels like a conspiracy. We’d hoped to go on a trip this summer, but we really can’t afford it. Yes, I get to travel quite a bit for work, and I’ve been more places than most in the past year (Africa, Rome, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Regina), but that’s all work related and what I really long for is a nice vacation with my family. Plus, the last time my sister was in New York was with me, and now I’m hugely jealous that she’s going without me. (I TOLD you I wasn’t always mature.)

2. It’s Monday morning. Isn’t that enough of a reason to feel blue?

3. While already feeling emotionally weakened by the above 2 reasons, I got some fairly negative feedback for something I’d produced last week. I’ve been writing and designing material for a long time (most of my career), so I’m used to getting edited and slashed, but it’s not always easy to take it when your defenses are down. Plus some of the editing came from someone who NEVER gives any positive feedback, but if something’s not up to their standards, BOY do they feel free to give heaps and heaps of NEGATIVE feedback. I felt fairly good about this piece, and was very hopeful I’d get it to the printer today, but now I have to go back to the drawing board. Makes me wanna cry.

4. I’m pretty certain someone I care about is going to move away. It won’t be for good reasons, nor do I believe it will be the best for this person. But sometimes painful things happen and all you can do is stand back and watch.

So much for my happy posts. Shoulda known it wouldn’t last.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Still happy

Guess I can stop my whining now. Marcel and the girls cleaned the house while I was at work, and I managed to clean the three piles of clutter off my desk. And the big project hanging over my head is going to the printer on Monday, so that's DONE! Who knew that writing an "if only" list would make all these little dreams come true!

Happy, happy, happy

I had a positively lovely and invigorating ride in to work this morning. Here are some of the things that made it so lovely:

1. It's 20 degrees this morning! Yay! A nice reprieve from the heatwave we've been having and a pure joy to bike in.

2. There were hot air balloons rising above the city. I LOVE hot air balloons!

3. The tunnel I usually go through to avoid a couple of busy streets is finally almost free of broken glass.

4. No cars cut me off this morning, nor did any transit buses elbow me into a corner.

5. I rode past a vegetable garden, green and lush with growth. The fragrance of fresh onions and dill filled the air.

6. I get to ride over 2 rivers on my way. The fork of those two rivers is where this city was built. Rivers give life and energy to a city. And being close to water calms me.

7. I like my bike. I look at the transit buses and I'm glad I'm not on them.

8. The sky was clear, bright blue. It's been dry for nearly a week now. No rain! Yay! No puddles to navigate around or splash through. No black line up my butt from splashing, dirty water!

9. I get to ride past the Bears on Broadway - they always put a smile on my face. Thank you to whoever was responsible for this brilliant idea! A nice bright spot in our city's downtown this summer.

10. It's Friday.

About the only thing that wasn't so good was that the path I usually take along the river for part of my ride is still under water. But hopefully, if this dry spell (yes, I know that 4 days without rain is too short to call a "dry spell", but I can be hopeful, can't I?) keeps up, it will be dry before the end of the summer. It's a great place to ride because it's right across from the rowing club and I get to watch early-morning rowing teams out practicing.

And now the words of Queen are running through my head... "I like to ride my bicycle..."

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Wish I could relive this moment...

Julie with my dad after a lovely train ride with the family. Aaahh... Pleasant memory.

True Confessions

Oh yeah, Gina and Suzanne, you're definitely not alone...

If, as you live your life, you find yourself mentally composing blog entries about it, post this exact same sentence in your weblog.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

If only

If only I could have an afternoon with no interruptions, I might get a chance to clean out my in-box.

If only I could wrap up this big project I could accomplish some of the other stuff I've been putting off.

If only I had some time to clean up my desk I might get a better handle on organizing my office.

If only I had some kid-free time at home, I could tackle some of the clutter that's taken over our home and threatens to choke us all in our sleep.

If only I liked cleaning more, I wouldn't fall so far behind all the time.

If only I'd been born with some of the organizational/cleaning genes that seem to be missing from my brain, I wouldn't have any reason to write this "if only" list, 'cause my office and house would be SPARKLING!

If only I weren't so easily distracted, I'd be getting some work done instead of writing this blog.

If only we could afford to hire a housecleaner again. (Hey - is there such a thing as an office-cleaner?)

If only I liked cleaning HALF as much as I like wasting time, reading, writing, cycling, talking, eating, sitting...

Ah shut up with yer whining and just GET SOME WORK DONE!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Sometimes, it's the little things

...like when you walk into your mother's bathroom, see the partial false teeth in a glass of water on the counter, and you just feel like flushing them down the toilet. There are not SUPPOSED to be a man's false teeth in a jar in your mother's bathroom. A little voice of insanity in your brain tells you that if you can only destroy the evidence, all of this will disappear and life will go back to normal.

I never said I was mature!

It's over

Every year, my sister, my children, and I make an annual pilgrimage to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. This was my 18th year in attendance. It is, in my mind, one of the greatest places on earth. What can be better than a weekend spent outdoors, listening to great music, being inspired by interesting conversations, eating good food, people-watching, hanging out with my sister and kids, and running into old friends I haven’t seen in awhile?

Here are a few of my thoughts after this year’s pilgrimage:
- one of my favourite moments was on Friday night when my sister, my brother, and I were hanging out on the tarp at the evening stage. I lay on my back for awhile and looked up at the wispy clouds. Someone was blowing bubbles not too far away and they were drifting into my line of sight. Dragonflies filled the sky, floating on iridescent wings. If I looked straight up, all I could see were dragonflies, bubbles, and clouds. With the backdrop of the music and my sister’s and brother’s voices, it felt like a perfect moment.

- every year, I end up with a new favourite musician. Last year it was Martyn Joseph. This year it was Catie Curtis. They’re always singer-songwriters who can spin words into magic.

- my sister is one of my favourite people. I love that we share this common passion for the Folk Festival. We have our own language to describe the many memories we share from 16 Folk Festival visits. We share a love for good lyrics and smart songwriters. I also love how attached she is to my children, and I look forward to holding her baby at next year’s Festival.

- my sister gave me one of the greatest presents for my birthday this year. Last year, for the 30th anniversary of the Festival, we’d both had poems published in the commemorative section of the program. For my birthday, she framed the two poems, along with a picture of her and I.

- I was so proud of my three daughters yesterday. It was hot and muddy, and I thought they might get cranky, but they were all in good spirits.

- my daughters are all unique individuals and I love discovering their personalities. Yesterday, I fell in love with them all over again. Something beautiful shone from each of them… here’s what it was…

- Nikki has an incredible sense of style, and I admire her courage to try something out that she thinks is fun and funky, even if it’s not necessarily the “in thing”. Every time I caught a glimpse of her yesterday, in her tie-died yellow skirt and top (that I got her in Africa), her funky green hat, and her unique mixture of necklaces, bracelets, and anklets, I thought “what a cool looking girl! Is she really MY daughter?” She bought a really funky ring yesterday – big and bold and beautiful on her.

- Julie has a beautiful generous heart. She’d saved her birthday money for the Folk Festival, and it was burning a hole in her pocket. She wanted to buy something for everyone, and she willingly shared whatever she bought for herself. She bought her sister Maddie an ice cream, because she knew I didn’t have extra money for treats.

- Maddie is bold and free-spirited. She has blind faith that the world will be good to her, so when she wanders off to play among strangers, she never looks back to make sure her Mom is a safe distance away. She is drawn to people, and she’d often wander over to complete strangers, strike up a conversation with them, and plunk herself down on their tarp or extra chair. She expects everyone to want to be her friend.

- It was fun introducing my niece Amy to the Folk Festival. She spent part of the day with us before flying home to Alberta. She’s getting so grown up and independent. I love to see the focus she has when she’s examining something that fascinates her, or when she’s constructing a work of art. She was quite disappointed in the craft tent when the volunteers wanted to do most of the work of the craft for her – she was quite capable of doing it herself.

- I have a lot of interesting friends, and it was fun to run into them now and then at the Festival. I didn’t spend as much time with some of them as I would have liked to, but it was nice to know they were in the crowd and enjoying the same things I was.

- My friend Ian Ross has become quite a celebrity, and it was fun to watch him in his element. After watching him do a storytelling thing at the kids tent, I hung out with him for awhile and met his daughter. He has a beautiful spirit and a wisdom that attracts people to him. I miss hanging out with him, because he has a feeling of home about him – a feeling that you are safe and cared for when you are in his presence.

- one of the greatest things about the Folk Festival is that so many people are nice to you there. People are relaxed and happy, and good music makes for good moods. It’s partly because people feel like they’re on holidays when they’re there, and partly because many of the people there are of the “social justice – share the love” demographic, but for whatever reason, it has a really good feel. People look out for each other, you can leave your stuff lying around without worrying about it getting stolen, people step aside to let you pass, your children are safe and respected – it’s just a barrel full 'a kindness!

- I love my husband for being patient and persevering every year at this time of year. The Folk Festival’s not his thing, but he never tries to stop me from going. He lets me disappear for three days without complaining, and he always spends at least one day caring for the kids so that I can go kid-free.

Only 362 days until next year’s festival!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

London and other places

It's incredibly horrible what happened in London. It's hard to find words to describe it. It shakes me to the core to think that there are people who feel they have the right, or perhaps even the duty, to take human lives for the sake of their cause. I don't understand any kind of radical fundamentalism that becomes so imbedded into the fiber of your being that you're willing to commit the ultimate crime against humanity just to make your point.

I don't want to take away from the horror of what happened - my heart truly goes out to all the families who have to live with the consequences of this act. But I just have to ask a question... did anyone pay attention the last time there was a suicide bomber in the middle east? Perhaps it happened again this week - does anyone know? And, while I'm at it... did anyone hear how many people were killed by the janjaweed in Sudan this week? No? I didn't think so. I don't know the answers to those questions either.

I guess my point is that in areas of the world where violence and terror have become commonplace, the media barely bothers to tell us about it anymore. And even if they DO tell us, we tune it out. Not only that, but you won't see the most powerful leaders of the world lining up in front of the cameras talking about the war on terror when it's Sudanese people dying by the thousands. But when it happens on our own soil, or the soil of those people that we most closely associate with, it's the only thing we can talk about.

Yes, it's horrible that someone bombed the subways and a bus in London. But let's not forget that there are other people dying needlessly in other parts of the world too. And some of them are dying at the hands of the countries represented by those powerful leaders lining up in front of the cameras. Perhaps, as we gather in mass outrage against the travesty in London, we can save some of our energy to consider the other travesties. Not only in London, but in Sudan, Iraq, and numerous other places in the world, mothers have lost their sons this week, babies have lost their fathers, and peace continues to remain illusive.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Ah, sweet nostalgia

I'm wearing my African dress today. Here's a picture of me wearing it in Africa. (I'm not as fully decked out today - I left the Maasai necklace at home.)

I love wearing it. It gives me those warm fuzzies... memories of the place I bought it. The Serengetti Stop-Over, a delightful place where we stayed in rondebels (round huts with thatched rooves), and sat sipping African wine (some was good, some was not) in the screened lounge watching the sun set over the Serengetti plains. Aahhh. Just indulge me for a moment and let me go back there in my mind...

It was a day of anticipation. The next day, we would cross the Serengetti. What we didn't know yet was that the next day we would see hundreds if not thousands of amazing animals - elephants, hippos, wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, lions, warthogs, gazelles, and - did I mention zebras? Thousands of zebras.

But sitting there in the Serengetti Stop-Over, wearing my new dress, I didn't know that yet. I only knew that it was a beautiful moment, that the air was warm and sweet, that I'd already fallen in love with Africa, and that I knew I still had much to anticipate in the coming week. Oh, and I knew that there was a delightful little gecko scampering up the screen door.

Lately, there's been alot of talk about how the G8 can or cannot help Africa address poverty. Nobody has the magic bullet. All I know is that, if you ever have a chance to travel there, I guarantee that it will change your life. It is the most incredible place I've ever been. Yes, the poverty is hard to see, but the people are remarkably strong, full of spirit and wisdom and grace. And they could teach us volumes about living in community and helping our neighbours. I believe that they will perservere and someday, we'll see Africa arise like a phoenix.

Note: If you want to see more of my pictures, you're welcome to check them out at heatherplett.com (yes, I have good intentions of having an actual site there someday, but for now it's just the pictures). Be prepared - there's LOTS of them.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Gradually, you let them go

I've heard it said that the moment you give birth, you gradually begin to let go of your child. One of those steps in the process happened today. We dropped Nikki and Julie off at sleepover camp for the first time (along with their cousin and friend). For three whole nights, they will live independently of any of the grown-ups who are normally attached to them (yes, there are other grown-ups at camp, but not THEIR grown-ups).

It's with mixed feelings that you let them go. You want them to become independent. You want them to try new things and not rely on you for their security all the time. You want them to begin to experience life on their own and to trust their own intuition and choices more and more. But at the same time, you're not quite sure you're ready for them to need you less. It's exciting and scary all at the same time. Every time the phone rings, a tiny part of you wonders "is it them? are they calling to say they're just too scared to be away?"

I know they'll be fine. They're smart and strong and independent. But I have to admit, this is a little tough, this letting go stuff. I miss them. I feel a bit of a lump in my throat.

Funny thing is, as long as I've had kids, I've had to travel for work, and, though I know it sounds a little callous, I hardly miss my kids when I'm away. I enjoy the chance to travel and I'm usually too busy to get lonesome. But now that THEY'RE the ones away and I'm at home, I miss them more than I'd expect.

Yeesh! If I'm this much of a sap already, how hard will it be to deal with an empty nest? I may need to come to some of you more seasoned parents for advice.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Menagerie of memories

The caption engraved on the stone says “Our beloved children – born, cherished, and always remembered.” In front of the stone is a locked sarcophagus. Inside are buried the ashes of hundreds of tiny babies. One of those babies is my son Matthew. Born September 27, 2000. Died September 27, 2000. Like all the other little babies who share his grave, he was born still and breathless. The only life he knew was inside the warmth of my womb.

There’s a little menagerie surrounding the grave stone. The families who love those little buried babies leave mementos – things that help them stay connected to the children they lost. There are stuffed toys, plastic angels, flowers, candles, toy cars, Barbie dolls - even a hockey puck. Some items are more personal – obituaries, poems penned by those left behind, and photographs. Each was lovingly placed by some trembling hand. Many were baptized by tears.

Two of the toy cars were placed there by my daughters on their brother’s second birthday. In their own way, they want to remember him too. They wonder what he would have looked like at 2, at 3, or at 4 years old. Soon it will be his 5th birthday. Would he have climbed trees and played hockey? Would he have teased his big sisters?

I love to visit that little menagerie. I feel connected while I’m there – not just to my son, but to all the other families who had to say good-bye before they were ready. Each of those people knows what it feels like to hold a dead baby in their arms. Each of those mothers knows the pain of breasts overflowing with milk that will never feed a child.

Sometimes I go there to think or to write. Sometimes I just sit and cry.

The objects on that stone are sacred. Most of them are weathered and worn. Usually I leave them alone – afraid that they may fall apart if I touch them. Sometimes, though, I spot a new toy or a new bouquet of flowers and I wonder if there’s been another burial.

There are some things I can’t quite resist touching, though. I read the poems if they haven’t been obliterated by the rain. I look at the pictures. Once there was a small heart-shaped memory box. Inside was a letter and a plaster mold of a tiny foot. The tears flowed as I returned the box to its spot in the menagerie.

Each of us who visit that grave want remembrance. We want our children to mean something. By leaving earthly toys for our heavenly babies, we cling to the belief that they are real and that their little lives had value. When you've touched the tiny little fingers of a stillborn child, you know that your life will never be the same again.

If only we could hold them again. If only we could introduce them to our friends.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Here comes the parade

If you knew Marcel's dad, you would know that, in his version of the world, IT JUST DOESN'T GET MUCH BETTER THAN THIS!!! This is the pinnacle, the epitome, the pi├Ęce de resistance (no, please don't correct my French) - he got to combine so many of his favourite things - riding his John Deere, building a float, AND showing off his grandchildren ALL IN THE SAME DAY! He was a happy, happy man. And we were all very glad that the rain stopped before the parade began.

If you look closely, you'll see that he even managed to add a little chrome to his tractor. Yeehaw!

If you want to see a little microcosm of small town prairie life, show up the day they have the parade - especially if they're celebrating their hundredth anniversary. It just felt so nostalgic and so filled with humanity. Make sure you bring a plastic bag, though, to collect all the candy that gets tossed at you from the people on the floats.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

This is for Paulina

Yesterday was white band day for the Make Poverty History campaign. Today, musicians all over the world are singing in honour of Live 8.

I'm wearing my white band, and I just watched Sting sing "Message in a Bottle" at the Live 8 concert in London. I think it's a great campaign and I hope it makes a difference. I hope people get energized to make a difference to even out the power structures in this world and give developing countries a chance.

But there's something that troubles me about all this. Earlier, I saw Bob Geldof introduce the young girl who'd survived the Ethiopian famine 20 years ago, and his statement was "Because WE did this - because WE had a concert 20 years ago, she is alive, healthy, and beautiful". Well, bravo Bob for energizing the world this way. You're inspirational and powerful and determined to make a difference and I admire that. But the trouble is - in some ways, these "you can make a difference" messages get converted into "they can't survive without us" and "we're powerful and rich and we need to lift them out of the gutter" mentality.

No, I'm no expert in international development. But I've been thinking about it alot lately, and I just wonder if somehow we could make sure that, in the middle of our charity and campaigns, we could keep sight of the dignity of the people we're trying to help. They're not just "poor Africans". They're beautiful, hardworking people, and they're trying hard to improve their lives. Yes, we need to support them, but let's make sure we honour them first. And let's keep in mind that charity sometimes translates into power imbalances.

According to Michael Maren in The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity, “The starving African exists as a point in space from which we measure our own wealth, success, and prosperity, a darkness against which we can view our own cultural triumphs. And he serves as a handy object of our charity. He is evidence that we are blessed, and we have an obligation to spread that blessing… Starvation clearly delineates us from them.”

In honour of Live 8, here's a story about my experience in Africa...

Paulina's Story

Her name is Paulina. She was wearing the traditional attire of Maasai women when I met her – layers of colourful fabric tied around her waist and shoulders, a beautiful (and no doubt heavy) variety of beaded necklaces around her neck, more beads wrapped around her drooping earlobe, a brightly coloured headscarf tied around her head… and a broad smile shining from her face.

She stood in front of her mud hut. At first, I approached her tentatively, not sure whether I had any right to impose on her. Her grin broadened as I neared, and she stepped forward eagerly, offering her hand. I started to ask whether I could see her house, but before I could speak, she’d gestured me inside. Others in my group followed.

She led us through the narrow hallway to her bedroom. Inside were 2 small beds where she and her husband slept. Between the beds was a primitive oil lantern on a small table. The only other thing in the room was a shelf over one of the beds where a couple of tin boxes held all of their personal belongings. She gestured for us to sit on the narrow beds made of rough sticks and ropes with thin mattresses covering the frames.

Next to her bedroom was another small bedroom (not a “bedroom” really, just a bed with a blanket hanging in front it). She leaned over the bed to open a flap in the wall to let the light through the small hole in the wall. This was where 2 of her children slept. The third child slept in another bed in the tiny kitchen. In the centre of the floor of the kitchen, not far from the bed, was a small fire pit. On the wall hung 2 or 3 cooking pots.

That was all there was to the house. The entire structure was smaller than my living room. She’d made it herself out of sticks she’d gathered in the forest, coated in cow dung left to dry to a concrete-like consistency in the heat of the sun.

What surprised me (and pleased me, though I didn’t recognize this until later) about this visit to a home so primitive I could not have imagined it before I traveled to Africa was that I didn’t feel pity for Paulina. The broad smile on her face, her eagerness to show us her home, even the way she leaned over her child’s bed to open the flap and let the light shine in – these things showed a woman who didn’t want my pity. She wanted my friendship. She wanted us to find a common sisterhood somewhere beneath the things that made us different. I wanted that too - longed for it.

Now, a few months after I returned from Africa, I can’t get Paulina off my mind. I miss her. I’d like to know her more. I’d like to share stories of motherhood and womanhood. I’d like to find the places where our feet stand on common ground. I’d like to welcome her into my home like she welcomed me into hers.

I don’t want to pity her. Nor do I want to paint a picture of someone who needs our pity. Yes, her life is full of challenges. They haven’t had enough rain to grow a decent crop in a number of years. She has to walk miles to get water. She doesn’t always have enough food to feed her children, or enough money to send them to school. All of these things are true, but pity won’t make her life better. Pity only serves to separate her further from me – it broadens the power gap and worsens the problems associated with global poverty.

Truth is, she could pity me too, for so many reasons. But I don’t want her pity either.

What Paulina and all of her African sisters and brothers (dare I say MY African sisters and brothers) need is not pity. What she needs is friendship. That’s what I need too – what all of my North American brothers and sisters need. If I am her friend, as I hope that I have the right to call myself after such a short visit, than I will remember her and long to find ways to bless her. If I am her friend, than I will allow her to bless me in return.

Pity is a one-way street. Friendship has well-worn paths in both directions. Pity builds power structures and walls. Friendship breaks down the walls and puts up couches and tables. Pity broadens the gap. Friendship builds a bridge.

What I long to do is find a way to build community with my new friends in Africa. I may not see them again. I may never get another chance to visit that beautiful continent. But even if I don’t, I want to serve them somehow. I want to honour their friendship. Within community, people serve each other toward a common good. In the short time we were together, Paulina blessed me greatly by welcoming me into her home and teaching me lessons in friendship, community, and simplicity. Now I want to take those lessons to heart and find a way to share them.

I am blessed with a wonderful community of friends. We share meals, we care for each other’s children, we wrestle with some of life’s tough questions together. Part of being a successful community means reaching beyond the boundaries of your community to welcome those around you – to offer them compassion and understanding. We’re getting pretty good at that. We serve soup and food hampers to those in the neighbourhood who can’t afford to eat. But we don’t just stand at the door and hand it to them – we welcome them in and we sit and eat with them. We honour their humanity. We acknowledge that they are of value to us just as we are of value to them.

This is what I want to share with my African friends. No, we probably won’t eat many meals together, given the vast ocean between us, but perhaps knowing them will impact my life enough that I will make decisions and try to live a lifestyle that doesn’t harm them further. If I can put my greed and consumerism aside and look for ways to level off the power imbalances, than I will have been true to our friendship. Perhaps, along the way, I can convince other people to do the same.

She's on his side

Despite the fact that there are FOUR girls in this house and only ONE guy, Maddie insists on arranging the toilet seats to suit her Daddy. She's forever putting the toilet seats up and saying, in her best pleasing-daddy voice, "Daddy, I put the seat up for you!"

Those two spend too much time together!