Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Einstein, the sheep, and the witch

Doesn't quite have the same ring to it as The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, but everyone had their own ideas about costumes this year, so it was a fairly motley crew of trick-or-treaters at our house tonight.

halloween 2006

I love Halloween, even on a cold snow-covered night like tonight. I like the cheerfulness of children on the street, I like opening my door to neighbours, I like sneaking peeks into other people's homes (who knew that our bachelor neighbour played the organ?), I like costumes, I like jack-o-lanterns, I like candy, I like wandering around outside with my kids, and I like the momentary feeling of community on our block.

The children are growing up, though. Nikki and Julie made plans with their friends (which included roaming the richer neighbourhoods because they give out better loot), so it was only Maddie and I making our way around the block. Nonetheless, it was a treat walking around with her, listening to her chat happily to everyone she met on the street and remembering to say Thank You (and then proudly reporting to me "Mom, I remembered my manners at FOUR houses in a row!")

Some days, I think my heart will burst with love for these children I've been entrusted with.

Monday, October 30, 2006

All these little pieces

There’s a little piece of you in me.
There’s a little piece of my third grade teacher who gave me a sparkly pink change purse when I won the spelling bee.
There’s a little piece of my best childhood friend who lived a mile down the road, just close enough to get to by bike or horse, even though we had to sneak quietly past the skunk house.
There’s a little piece of her dad who used to tickle me on the couch with the two remaining fingers on his hand.

There’s a little piece of you in me.
There’s a little piece of the boy who used to call me “mighty heif”, with a hint of admiration, because I acted like a tomboy at recess time.
There’s a little piece of the girl-bully who yelled at me when I missed the ball in the outfield and blamed me for losing the game.
There’s a little piece of my best friend in high school who called me “hez” in a best-friend kind of way.

There’s a little piece of you in me.
There’s a little piece of all the children I used to baby-sit, and their parents who paid me my first real money.
There’s a little piece of my high school physics teacher who knew how to “slap ‘em into moles” and make science come alive.
There’s a little piece of my brother who gave me two hundred dollars to go on a high school band trip to Toronto because my parents couldn’t afford it.

There’s a little piece of you in me.
There’s a little piece of the mean boss in Banff who made fun of anyone who couldn’t make a sink sparkle or fold a towel with precision.
There’s a little piece of the friend who told me that God is like a mountain, and might look different depending what side you’re standing on.
There’s a little piece of the professor who told me he looked forward to meeting me again in the writers’ circuit some day.

There’s a little piece of you in me.
There’s a little piece of the man who raped me in my bed and then climbed back out the window through which he’d come.
There’s a little piece of the seventy-something woman my sister and I met in Switzerland, who still backpacked the world and was climbing the mountain to find a campsite.
There’s a little piece of my husband’s grandma who bought me a new sewing machine and came to see my play at the Fringe Festival.

There’s a little piece of you in me.
There’s a little piece of the boss who mentored me and gave me my first shot at management because she believed I could do it.
There’s a little piece of my sister who stood up to the mean nurse at the hospital and wouldn’t leave my side in the middle of the night.
There’s a little piece of the grown-up girl-bully from Ottawa who belittled me for releasing a report to the media, even though it was the right thing to do.

There’s a little piece of you in me.
There’s a little piece of my son, who cuddled with me only from the inside and never got to call me mom.
There’s a little piece of my husband, who made me laugh so hard the first time I met him, I think I snorted coke out my nose. (As in coca-cola.)
There’s a little piece of my dad, who used to sing “Like a bird” at the top of his lungs, and always ended with “bonk-i-bonk-bonk”.

There’s a little piece of you in me.
There’s a little piece of my daughters who make me get up in the middle of the night to clean up puke, but always seem to make it feel worth the effort.
There’s a little piece of the stranger on the street who stopped to hug me when the pain of a toothache seemed too much to bear.
There’s a little piece of the friend who told me she knew, the minute we met, that we were meant for friendship.

There’s a little piece of you in me.
There’s a little piece of the bishop I met in Tanzania, who shared his bread with me and told me the greatest downfall of the western church is rock-n-roll music.
There’s a little piece of my friends from church who showed up to stuff envelopes when few other people would make the time.
There’s a little piece of the first editor who told me my work was worth publishing, and then sent me a cheque.

There’s a little piece of you in me.
There’s a little piece of the first person who visited my blog and made me feel like I’d found a new home.
There’s a little piece of the “real” writer who dismissed nearly everything I pour my heart into, and left me feeling like a bruised child.
There’s a little piece of my mom who showers her love by feeding me delicious things and caring for my children.

There’s a little piece of you in me.
A million little pieces from a million different friendships and chance encounters.
All sharing space inside me to make me
Who I am.
Thank you for giving your piece.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

No more death please

Nine year old Julie has three close friends at school - R, T, and C. All three of them were at her camping birthday party in June. All three of them were planning to join Julie at tonight's costume party at our church. All week at school, they'd talked about the costumes they'd wear and the fun they'd have. That was until the world changed for little T.

On Thursday, T was pulled out of class by her aunt. Her friends all knew it had something to do with her mom who'd been sick lately, with breast cancer. On Friday morning, the teacher told the class that T's mom had died and T wouldn't be in school for awhile.

Our home is full of sadness again. Julie is our compassionate little girl who does things like buy all her friends and sister (and half the kids in her class) treats at the bake sale at school yesterday, because she wouldn't want to enjoy them alone. Her little heart is broken for her friend. And my heart is broken for both Julie and her friend. Not only does T not have a mom anymore, she doesn't have a dad in the picture either. According to Julie, his departure has something to do with drugs. Unfortunately, we don't know the family enough to know if there's a strong support system around T and her brother and sister. I wish I knew. If not, I wish I could find that little girl, take her into my home, and protect her somehow. But, because T has left her family home and is apparently with her uncle right now, we don't even know where to find her.

I hate it when I know there is a little girl hurting, and Julie would do almost anything to comfort her, and we can do nothing. I tried to phone the school yesterday to see if they had contact information, but by the time I thought of it, the office was closed.

Last night, I crawled into bed with Julie, and we cried and prayed, and cried and prayed some more. It was all we could do. Unfortunately, it didn't feel like enough.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The things I have on my desk

For lack of anything better to write, here’s a list of the little treasures on my desk (and bookshelf and filing cabinet) and the little stories that go with them:

- A pottery figurine of a child lying on the floor leaning on an open book and gazing at a globe. This was a gift from my sister ccap, because she understands things about me and shares a common love of both reading and traveling.

- A Russian matryoshka doll which my brother Dwight and sister-in-law Lorna brought back from Russia. I love nesting dolls, and it is particularly significant to me because I once wrote a play (and had it produced) called “Wooden Dolls” which is about the various versions of ourselves we keep hidden inside the polished exterior.

- A magic eight ball. Ask a question, shake it, and the answer will appear. I bought it for fun when ccap and I were in New York City. I wanted some simple answers to my many questions.

- A black and white picture of me and my girls.

- A mini wooden artist's model, because I've always dreamt of being an artist some day.

- A carved wooden bowl that has an elephant leaning over as if to drink from the centre of the bowl. I bought it in Tanzania and I use it as a candy bowl.

- A family picture that's a few years old and should be replaced. Maddie's still a baby in the picture. All three girls are wearing the matching purple dresses I made for them one Christmas. That's the last time I sewed them matching outfits.

- A small translucent globe. I got this as a parting gift when I left my last job because they knew I was coming to work for an organization involved in international development and that I would do some globe-trotting.

- A small yellow cab, also bought in New York City, just because I loved all the yellow cabs in that fascinating city.

- A squeeze toy, also shaped like a globe. (Are you sensing a trend here?)

- A couple of plants that I’ve managed to keep alive for 2 and a half years (nearly a record!) One is actually a whole collection of plants in one pot – it was sent to me by a friend of mine on my first day of work here and it is still looking quite healthy.

- An inukshuk that was presented to me as a thank you gift for speaking at a communications conference. I spoke about crisis communications after my experience with communicating about SARS (I managed media relations at the lab where it was tested). Just recently, I met someone who’d been at that conference and she actually remembered something I said, so at least I made an impression on one person.

- An orange squishy toy/stress ball that my friend Jo-Anne gave me when she left work to start a new job. She was hoping for less stress in her life.

- A goofy-faced toy that speaks when you slam it against something. It usually says “You’re bothering me!” Maddie loves to play with it when she visits my office.

- A small plastic monkey. My friend and colleague Kelly gave it to me when we got through the huge challenge of communicating to the public that the lab was beginning to use monkeys to test deadly diseases like AIDS and SARS (we had to call them “non human primates” in all the communication material, because it sounded more scientific and less like cute fuzzy animals).

- A beautiful carved gourd that I bought in Africa. It has designs and animals (elephants, rhinos, and zebras) carved all around it. I bought it when I went to the market in downtown Nairobi with my friend C-L. To me, it holds memories of Africa.

- A pottery bowl that I made when I was learning how to use a pottery wheel (sadly, I never became proficient). It’s full of lentils and beans and rice, and for me it represents a begging bowl. Buddhist monks use begging bowls to go out into the streets of the village to beg for their daily portion of food. It represents their commitment to living simple lives and asking for only what they need and no more. It’s also about having trust that they will be provided for. I strive to live more like that, so I have the begging bowl to remind me.

I love all these little treasures gathered around me because each one of them tells a little story of my life and many of them are connected to special people. Sometimes I use them for ice-breakers when I facilitate workshops - each participant is asked to pick out an object and explain to the group how that object represents their life. It always seems to open up interesting stories.

What's on YOUR desk?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sometimes the words of a song say it best...

I've seen a lot and a lot I've seen
Hope I never stop dreaming if you know what I mean
Sometimes it all ends in disarray
Sometimes I feel myself slipping away

My soul's asleep, so wake me up
My body's fading, so wake me up
My soul's asleep, come on and wake me up

Baby its subtle and it does it well
I just walk on through underneath that spell
Flashing lights and jamboree
I try to stay awake but I'm drifting away

I've seen a lot and a lot I've seen
Sometimes I fall through the gaps in between
And then the world it begins to sway
Pretty soon I can feel myself slipping away
Wake me up.

- Martyn Joseph

Call it restlessness, call it a "god-shaped hole", call it "a longing for heaven", call it "not ready for winter" blues, call it pms, call it depression, call it a sudden impulse to cry in the mall, call it "losing it over chapstick", call it a deep sadness over an evangelical festival that seems to forget that God is a god of peace and redemption and not just judgement - call it whatever you like - my soul feels asleep these days.

It will wake up soon - it always does - but for now I guess it needs to sleep.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Always waiting

Life is good. I have a great job. I might even call it my dream job. I get to do creative things like writing and designing and brainstorming new ideas. I get to meet lots of interesting people – both here in Canada and in other parts of the world. I am in a position of some authority, so I get to make decisions and have a real impact on the organization and the work we do. I work in a non-profit organization whose mission is to “end hunger” – what better goal could there be than that? I even got to create a new blog - on work time! (It's here - not my writing, just my design.) I get to feel good about doing philanthropy and I get to tell stories of the people whose lives we’re impacting. I get to travel to interesting places. In February, I’ll probably make my second trip to Africa – and this trip will be primarily for the purpose of writing stories and taking pictures – how dreamy is THAT?

I have a great marriage to a compassionate funny man. Three of the most beautiful girls in the world call me mommy and make me feel loved unconditionally. I have a comfortable home with enough food to eat, plenty of clothes to wear, a car in the driveway and a shiny bike in the garage.

So many of my dreams come true on a regular basis, it hardly seems fair. Not only do I have a great job, but I also get to do some fun freelance work on the side. My writing gets published fairly regularly now, I have a few opportunities to facilitate interesting workshops in leadership and creativity, and I get to do some public speaking now and then.

Life really is good. I could hardly imagine a more bountiful, complete life.

But then… why oh WHY am I always waiting for the next good thing to come around? It seems I am almost always restless, dreaming of something bigger and better and more adventurous. Beautiful things surround me, and yet I long for more beautiful things. There is always something I am dreaming of – another trip, another freelance opportunity, another adventure, another job, another room in my house, a bigger kitchen, another country to live in for awhile, more time for creativity, less responsibility to a 9 to 5 job, more time to take art classes, a beautiful office space that I can decorate to inspire me, a family vacation, and on and on and on.

Restlessness is so much a part of my nature, I probably wouldn’t recognize myself if I stopped being restless. When the thing I’m dreaming of arrives, I revel in it for awhile, feel blessed and refreshed for a brief time, and then I turn my back and start dreaming of the next good thing.

The teachers in school used to call it “daydreaming” and yes, I am very guilty of staring out the window and daydreaming. When I was growing up, I daydreamed about moving to the city, getting a good job, flying somewhere in an airplane, and having lots of adventures. Then I grew up, all those dreams came true, and soon I was staring out the window again.

Perhaps it’s in the nature of every creative person to have a restlessness like this. Maybe it’s good to always have a dream. Perhaps that’s the only way I’ll move forward – reaching for the things ahead of me.

But sometimes, I wish I knew how to be content. At least for a little longer. I think I could learn a lesson from the Buddhists who find contentment in mindfulness. Or the apostle Paul for that matter, who wrote these wise words: "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." Sigh. I wish I knew the secret of being content.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I need a maid

Yesterday, I lost it over a tube of chapstick. Totally lost it. The kind of “mamma’s gone around the bend” losing it that sends the children scurrying into safe places far from my wrath.

Julie and Maddie were fighting over chapstick. “I want it.” “But it’s MINE.” “But I found it!” “It’s MINE!” “Then why did you leave it lying around?” “Why did you take it if it’s not yours?” “GIVE IT TO ME!” “BUT IT’S MINE!!!”

I spun around from where I was taking cups out of the cupboard, slammed the cupboard door shut, and shrieked, in an evil “mamma’s possesed by a demon” voice, “GIVE IT TO ME!” And when it wasn’t offered up immediately, I shrieked louder, “I SAID GIVE IT TO ME RIGHT NOW!” Defiantly, Julie clutched it, daring me to snatch it from her hand. “But it’s MINE and Maddie took it.” “I didn’t ask whose it WAS. I said GIVE IT TO ME. NOW. If you fight over something, you lose it.” And then I snatched, opened the cupboard again, and stashed the offending chapstick on the highest shelf.

Fuming, I stormed out of the room, and did the only safe thing I could think of – gave myself a time-out in the bedroom. With the door closed, and the pillow squished against my face to hide the seething anger and overflowing tears, I took a few deep breaths.

The thing is, I wasn’t really angry at the girls. Oh, I was plenty annoyed with the constant bickering, but that didn’t really warrant the spinning, shrieking, and snatching. I was just annoyed in general, and because they were there adding to the annoyance, they reaped the wrath of Mommy.

Sunday often seems to be my grumpy day, especially if I haven’t gotten enough done, the housework is piling up, and I feel like resting but can’t justify it until I’ve done 6 loads of laundry and cleaned for a few hours.

Our house has fallen into disarray again, and that always makes me grumpy. I’m having a bit of trouble adjusting to Marcel’s full-time school schedule. When he was home, he kept up with most of the housework, and I did laundry and some of the deeper cleaning on the weekends, and it usually seemed bearable. Now that he’s at school full-time and usually has to study in the evenings and weekends, everything is falling behind. It makes me really cranky. It makes me do stupid things like blow up at my kids over some chapstick.

I need a maid. When Marcel and I were both working full-time, we had a housecleaner come in every second week to whip our house into shape, and it was a delight. We could keep up with the day-to-day stuff as long as someone did the deep cleaning every couple of weeks for us. It was downright dreamy coming home on those days when she’d been there. I’m far from a clean-freak, but a clean house always makes me happier.

Yesterday was just too much. I was tired and really wanted to nap, but I knew laundry and cleaning needed to be done. On top of that, Nikki was bugging me to work on her Halloween costume (she’s never happy with the last minute stuff I’m usually guilty of), Maddie really wanted me to look through her memory box with her, and Julie wanted to play games, etc., etc. So I lost it. And then, because losing it is not healthy for my family, I picked myself up and got myself out of the house. I spent an hour thrift-shopping, bought myself a new winter wardrobe (2 sweaters and 3 shirts) and some juice glasses for a grand total of $14, and then came home much more refreshed and ready to tackle the mountain of laundry.

Thankfully, my family caught on that Mom needed a little help (or therapy - take your pick), so everyone did their assigned cleaning, Marcel tackled the kitchen and entrance way (so at least it LOOKS reasonable should anyone enter), and by the end of the afternoon, the house was at least presentable and the laundry was almost caught up. I still seem to be stepping on squishy things on the basement floor, but I can ignore that for now.

I actually managed to relax at the computer and watch a little TV at the end of the day. I didn’t get a nap though. And I still need a maid. And perhaps some therapy. Or maybe just a vacation.

Oh, and I think I need to apologize to my daughters tonight.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Friday, October 20, 2006

Potty talk

In response to Jenny's post about the photo her friend sent her of an ancient potty-training chair, I found myself rooting around for this photo from my trip to Africa: Look inside that open door. Notice anything missing? Yes, you got it - a toilet seat. Or even a wooden bench with a hole in it. This, my friends, is what we "affectionately" referred to as the "squatty potty". You just hike up your skirt or shorts, squat down with your butt hanging over the hole, and do your business. With practice, you can actually get everything IN the hole instead of beside it - or worse, on your foot. After one of our travel companions, while trying to get used to the squatting position, dropped a few shillings down the hole, we started referring to our "business" as "dropping shillings in the hole".

When you're doing the kind of travelling I did in Africa (visiting remote villages, staying far from any tourist attractions), you have to get used to dealing with squatty potties. Not all of them were this bad - in some of the nicer establishments we stayed in, they looked a little more like this: See the shower head on the wall? In this particular hotel, the squatty potty doubled as the drainage for your shower. And, if I remember correctly, you were supposed to gather as much of the water from washing and showering in that bucket as possible, so that you could save water by using that for flushing.

Are you tempted to go to Africa yet? When I shared these pictures with Jenny, she said she was going to kiss her toilet. (I'm still waiting for the pictures of THAT!)

I love travelling, and I look forward to going back to Africa, but I have to admit, washrooms provided the greatest challenges for me. One never feels particularly clean when you have to squat over a dirty hole in the ground and only occasionally find a water source close enough to wash your hands. And (guys, you may want to skip the next sentence), if you have your period, like I did during my trip... well, you can guess how "lemony fresh" I was feeling. Add the oppressive heat and the dust, and the lack of showers in some of the places we stayed, and you have the makings of a fairly stinking bunch of travellers stuck in a bus together for hours on end.

One of my bleakest moments in Africa happened in a washroom. Thankfully, this was one of the few places with a western-style toilet, because I spent much of the night on it, doubled over in nauseous agony. In my sickly stupor, I glanced up at the concrete wall in front of me, and there perched a happy little gecko munching on his night-snack - a very large cockroach. Ugh.

The truth is though, I can't wait to go back. Africa is amazing, the people are fascinating, the experiences are exhilarating, and the scenery is incredible. I want to fuel my soul with their stories again. I want to be touched by their hospitality. I want to hear the joy in their singing. I want to listen to the wisdom of the community elders. I want to watch the children dancing in the village gathering-place. I want to be humbled and honoured when they share a meagre meal with me. I want to relive that breath-taking moment, watching the uniform-clad school boys dash off to school singing, while the sun rose over the accacia trees. Once in awhile, in this efficiency-obsessed western world, it does us good to squat over a hole in the ground for awhile. Sometimes, in the giving up of conveniences and the acceptance of simplicity, we find ourselves more connected with the earth and the people who walk on it with us.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

All is well

Double by-pass plus valve replacement. He's in recovery. It's a wonder what they can do nowadays.

Not much else to say today. The girls and I attended movie night at school. Got to see Over the Hedge again. That's one of my favourite kids' movies of late. I LOVE Hammie's slow motion scene. It was worth it just to see that scene again.

Coming out of the school tonight, gentle snow was falling. It's hard not to like snow when it comes down so soft and gentle and the children dash outside to try to catch it on their tongues. The seasons of time are just as they should be, covering the ground with white so that it can rejuvenate and recover in time for another Spring.

Perhaps my father-in-law will be out in his garden again, come Spring. I can't imagine him without his garden and his John Deere lawn tractors.

For now, though, Fall has settled in, and just like Hammie with his nuts, it's time for the long rest.

Right now

My father-in-law is lying on an operating table with his heart sliced open.

Thank God for the gifted hands of surgeons.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

And while I'm busy making people feel jealous, this one's for Michele...

Tonight, in the dark recesses of my cupboard, I discovered that I still have some of this...
So, picture me, sitting here in front of my computer, enjoying a hot cup of chai latte, in my favourite Laurel Burch mug. Aaahhh...

Wanna come over for some?

This post is solely for the purpose of making my brother jealous

This afternoon, I took my corporate credit card, walked down the street, and bought the following toys:

So the next time I go to Africa (which will probably be in January or February), I get to lug this baby around and snap me some real good pics! Jealous yet?

I'm just trying to catch up for the whole year of jealousy you caused me back in 1991.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Please God, don't let me die in a place like that

For centuries, people have been designing magnificent churches. They've also been designing beautiful and comfortable homes. Nowadays, companies spend millions to design beautiful stores and shopping centres. My question is - with all these gifted designers in the world, WHY hasn't anyone figured out how to design a decent hospital emergency room???

I've been in quite a few emergency rooms, and I have NEVER been in one that is designed well. They are the most depressing, ugly, cluttered, disconcerting places I have ever seen. Why? This is the place where people face fear, pain, death, loneliness, and all sorts of crazy emotions, and yet they're forced to spend time in a space that does absolutely nothing to make any of those emotions easier to bear.

There are so many things wrong with emergency rooms. The waiting rooms are cramped and ugly, with the most uncomfortable utilitarian chairs in the world. The only things adorning the wall are public health posters warning you of the infectious diseases you might catch to add to the pain you're already going through. The nurse's desk is designed purely for function (and badly at that), with no attempt at making it friendly and comforting.

When you get past the nurse's desk, through the horrific institutional doors that make you feel like you've stepped into prison, it gets worse. Beds are lined up against the wall with thin pastel curtains between them. There are tubes and wires everywhere. The nurses and doctors have to work in tiny cramped spaces. The walls are some nondescript colour that does nothing to soothe or comfort you.

In the portion of the emergency room we were in today, someone had made a feeble attempt at making the space more welcoming. They'd taped hundreds of calendar pictures all over the walls in a haphazard manner. It was enough to make your eyes dizzy, with splashes of unrelated colour in images everywhere you looked. It was a very sad attempt at redeeming an ugly space.

That's just the SPACE. Don't get me started on hallway medicine, where people have to spend hours and sometimes days lying in beds in the middle of hallways because there are not enough spaces for them elsewhere. More than once, I've had to lay on one of those hallway beds for several hours.

I could go on and on, but to tell you the truth, this rant is probably just my lame attempt at masking the real reason why I'm a little out of sorts tonight. We were in an emergency room tonight. Marcel's dad is back in the hospital. His heart is deteriorating. He needs surgery, but it's taken too long for them to book it, so he ended up with another heart attack. This time, they probably won't send him home again until they can manage to schedule his surgery. Between by-passes and valve replacement, they practically have to rebuild his heart.

There is so little I can say about this. It's not really my story to tell, since I am the in-law. But I can tell you that it hurts. No one wants to lose him, but nobody can change the way he has chosen to live his life. Nobody can hold him here. They can try to rebuild his heart, but they may not be able to ensure that it keeps beating.

Monday, October 16, 2006

These things are completely unrelated, but I feel like writing them anyway

I am no domestic diva. Not even close. Tonight, it was nearly 6:00 by the time the girls and I got home from dropping Marcel off at university and everyone was hungry. For supper we had spring rolls, scrambled eggs, and raw veggies. Odd combination, but it worked and the girls loved it. In my defense, at least the spring rolls were hand-made, bought from a farmers' market.

I am quite proud to be friends with Linda and Michele today. They show up to help out with all kinds of things I ask of them - they've catered meals, helped with some writing projects, babysat my kids when we were in a jam, and today they helped stuff envelopes for a massive mailing we're doing at work. Not only were they gracious enough to show up, they're the interesting and fun kind of friends you love to introduce to your coworkers to prove what a cool person you really are for having friends like that. (I'm quite fond of their sister Yvonne too, but she wasn't there today.)

My children are upstairs fighting when they're supposed to be clearing the table. I'm choosing to ignore it. Here's hoping no blood is shed.

My new favourite show is Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I watch very few other shows with any kind of regularity (except maybe Amazing Race and occasionally Corner Gas, the greatest Canadian show on TV), but I'm totally hooked on this one. It has some of the smartest writing I've seen in a long time, the actors have the amazing ability to be both funny and serious on the same show, Matthew Perry has great comic timing, they have cool guest appearances (Sting!! Does it get much cooler than that?), and they actually treat Christianity with respect with a strong and funny character who reflects the kind of fun and real Christianity I want to be part of. For one of the best monologues in recent television, check out the following clip...

One of my favourite lines... "There's always been a struggle between art and commerce. And I'm telling you - art is getting its ass kicked!"

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Your mission, should you choose to accept it...

Rather ironically, shortly before this whole deception thing blew up on my blog, I made a succesful pitch to Cahoots magazine for an article on blogging and how meaningful relationships can be built on blogs. I haven't given up on the story, even though it will now include a short section on how, just like in real life, some relationships can be precariously built on deception.

I already have the centrepiece of the article, but I need a few supporting quotes and ideas from people who have found that their blogs have helped them build meaningful relationships with people who show them compassion and support. I'm particularly interested in how blogs might help you work through difficult experiences or phases in your life - like tragedy, mental illness, postpartum depression, rough parenting times, etc.

So here's what I'm proposing - if you're interested in providing a response, I'd like you to answer a few questions (either as a post on your blog, a comment here, or in an email to me). I can't promise I'll include all of you - if alot of people jump in, I'll have to pick and choose the quotes I need to support the article. But whether or not I use what you write, I'm still very interested in reading it.

Here goes with the questions: (Feel free to answer all or just one or two.)

1. Why did you start blogging?

2. Do you feel that you've developed meaningful relationships on your blog? If so, tell a story or two of a relationship that made a difference to you. How are these relationships different and/or similar to your in-person relationships?

3. Have you used your blog as a place to work out tough situations in your life? If so, what was the situation/challenge, and how did the blog help?

4. Were there people you met through blogging who helped you through those tough situations? What did they do that helped?
5. Were there ever things that you felt you could talk about on your blog to "strangers" that you couldn't tell your flesh-and-blood friends and family?

6. Do your family and "in-person" friends read your blog? Why or why not?

7. Have you ever regretted admitting really personal things on your blog? Why or why not?

8. Have you come into conflict with anyone on your blog? Did it destroy a relationship that you valued, or was it someone you didn't care about?

9. Do you ever think about quitting blogging? Why or why not?

10. Any other interesting stories that might be applicable?

Thanks in advance. If you write something, please leave me a comment or send an email so I know about it. Also, I'd appreciate knowing if you're willing to share your real name for the article and the address of your blog.

And I'm going to have to assume, for the purpose of the article, that you're telling the truth! :-)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Liar, liar, pants on fire

So, according to Doc, Laura's a big ol' faker. Too bad. I quite enjoyed her blog and she seemed like an interesting person. Laura, if you're reading this, and you really are a faker, perhaps you should consider writing novels - you create some very convincing characters and you write well. And when you get your novel published, come back and tell me so I can go buy it, 'cause I'd read your writing any time.

The thing is, though, I really don't know if Doc's telling the truth. Perhaps Doc's the faker and Laura's an innocent "victim". Who knows? Or maybe Laura is Doc's alter-ego and they're one and the same person. We just never know, do we? Come to think of it, for all you know, maybe Michele's really MY alter-ego and deep down somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, I've hidden my inner dog-lover and gardener. (Although, her last few posts make the "dog-lover" part seem a little questionable.) If you believe my version of the truth, though, Michele is REALLY an amazing, smart, funny and compassionate person who's one of my best friends - in real flesh-and-blood life.

Yeah, it's true that we really don't know when we're being deceived online. But is that really any different than real life? I've been lied to in my real life too - by people I thought were friends. I used to have a friend (notice the past tense?) who was a pathological liar who concocted all kinds of stories about the classes she was taking, the friends she hung out with, the hard-luck stuff she'd lived through, etc. Mostly I just ignored it and chalked it up to a desperate bid for attention, but then the lies got personal. The deal-breaker was the rumour she spread that Marcel's breakdown and subsequent suicide attempt had something to do with the demise of our marriage and possibly even an affair. That was no longer ignorable.

I also knew a woman who got engaged to a man she thought was a gift from God. He treated her like gold and she was blissfully happy - until, by pure fluke, she discovered that he had a double life with a wife and kids. Big ol' liar.

Despite the knowlege that there will always be liars around, and some of them may even hurt me now and then, I much prefer to approach life with the assumption that most people are good people who tell the truth most of the time. I may get duped now and then, but I think life is happier if you don't live with paranoia and distrust.

And when it comes to blogs, well I'm just going to keep assuming that most of you are telling the truth. And if you're not - well, that won't really affect my life too deeply. If you're a good writer, and you enjoy creating an alternative universe, go for it. It's not really the end of the world. I think it's a little wierd and probably even a little sad, but who am I to say?

I think most of us are smart enough to realize that blogs are a form of entertainment and not really a replacement for real life. I never really understood all the hub-bub over "A Million Little Pieces". So what if it was all fabricated? Don't you read a book mostly for entertainment? It seems like lots of people were entertained (I never read it, so I couldn't really say), so was it the big travesty some people made it out to be? Now if he had been selling himself as a journalist for a reputable news service, then it would have been a different thing.

Yes, I have to admit that now and then I get a little nervous of having kids online, but even that doesn't worry me too much. My oldest daughter is one of the most cautious people I know, my second daughter would rather get lost in a book than a computer, and my youngest is still playing Elmo games. So I don't live in paranoia that they might fall into the hands of a predator online. We talk about it lots, and so far I don't see any reason for worry.

I'm not going to stop making blog friends just because some of you may be fakers. And those of you who are truly genuine people, thanks. You renew my faith in humanity. There are lots of truly wonderful people out there in blogland, just like there are in real life. Take the amazing Karla, for example - she's gone out of her way to help me fix my blog template. She's my new techno-hero, and she's nice in real life too.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Can I ask you a few questions?

1. When you open my blog, does the background come up as black with brown text? A couple of people have complained that it's hard to read, but it's SUPPOSED to be a light tan colour with black text. I have no idea why it looks different for some people. If you have any ideas, let me know.

2. Why is it that just when you've whipped your budget into shape, finally gotten to a place where you're not living pay cheque to pay cheque and actually have a small but growing emergency fund, your computer monitor starts screeching, smoke starts pouring out the back, and then suddenly Gina's blog shrinks to a tiny peephole in the centre of the screen? (Sigh. Guess the good news is that the small emergency fund at least afforded us a nice flatscreen that I'm quite enjoying.)

3. Has anyone heard from Laura? Her blog disappeared and she's not responding to e-mail. I'm starting to miss her, and so is Liz.

4. Should I be nice to the deliquent graphic designer whom I turfed and who has now come grovelling?

5. How long does it take for a ruptured eardrum to heal? 'Cause I'm getting kinda sick of yelling at Maddie who's nearly deaf these days.

6. Do you tell the truth on your blog? 'Cause MJ's post makes me wonder who's truthful and who's making it all up. I suck at lying, so it's hard to fathom people who would concoct a completely fabricated persona. Just so you know, I can tell you that ccap, michele, linda, ap, pamero, corrie, and krista all tell the truth, because I know them - in person. And now that I've met karla, I'm pretty convinced she tells the truth too (at least that lump in her stomach sure doesn't look like a pillow). Ask any one of them, and I'm pretty sure they'll vouch for me too, 'cause I ain't no liar (though I might embellish for effect now and then).


Yesterday I saw two little boys who will grow up without their daddy.

Yesterday I saw a little girl who searched the room for her favourite uncle, and looked at her mom with a puzzled face when she couldn't find him.

Yesterday I hugged a man whose brother won't come around anymore, revving his Harley and looking for fun.

Yesterday I watched a woman overcome with emotion as she stood by her son's new grave.

Yesterday I hugged countless friends who can't imagine a world without their friend "Bordelo".

Yesterday I saw Marcel chuckle when someone mentioned Brad's favourite nickname for him - "Dirt".

Yesterday I remembered our favourite story about Brad - how he once packed his dirty dishes in a suitcase to take home to his mom and her dishwasher.

Yesterday I watched a community grieve.

Yesterday I heard stories of the imfamous trip to Grand Forks, the pet scorpion Brad was proud of, the pranks he would play on his friends, the many times he made people laugh, and the joy he found coaching his sons' hockey teams.

Yesterday I saw how many lives Brad had touched.

Yesterday I cried.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

On navigating parenthood

You all know it as well as I do. Sometimes, parenting is a crapshoot. No - scratch that - A LOT of times parenting feels like a crapshoot. We all make about 10,000 decisions for our kids every day (Mom, can I have a piece of cake? Mom, can I watch TV? Mom, can I go play in traffic?) and approximately 99 percent of the time, we're at least a little uncertain whether the decision we made is the right one. Sometimes, it really doesn't matter (a piece of cake here or there isn't going to kill them or render them useless adults some day), but then there are the bigger decisions where we agonize over whether or not we are stinting their growth, negatively impacting their emotional maturity, or just basically screwing them up real good. Will they need counselling some day if I never let them play with little Billy? Will they be fat lazy adults if I don't sign them up for soccer and hockey and gymnastics and swimming? Will their brains turn to mush if I let them watch too much TV? Will their boredom at school turn them into trouble-makers if I don't find a more challenging (read: expensive) private school where they are more intellectually stimulated?

One of the biggies for us is whether or not to let them drop out of some activity. We've faced it a couple of times already. Nikki developed a phobia at ballet lessons a few years ago and wanted to quit, but I made her suffer through until the end of the session because I didn't want her to think she could drop out of everything that scared her. Julie, on the other hand, didn't mind going to running club but didn't want to run in the track meets. I let her skip them, 'cause I'm not sure competition is really necessary anyway and at least she was getting the exercise.

The latest issue I agonized over was piano lessons. Towards the end of last year, just after we'd finally gotten a real piano moved into our living room, Nikki asked if she could quit piano. When I probed for a reason, it came out that she was afraid of her piano teacher. She said that every Thursday, when she knew she had a lesson in the evening, she would worry herself sick at school all day. She practiced diligently - mostly because she lived in terror of making a mistake and having her teacher reprimand her.

So... what to do? I knew that the piano teacher wasn't a horrible ogre and I was pretty sure Nikki was exaggerating when she said she "yelled" at her. At the same time, though, she was an older woman, with a fairly strict approach, who didn't like it if students wasted her time with a lack of commitment. Should I force Nikki to confront her fears and stick with it? Or was it more important that she enjoy music and practice for the joy of it rather than the fear?

This time around, I think we made the right decision. We switched piano teachers. I found a new one through a friend who sends her kids there. This one is young and hip and fun and says it's important to enjoy music. Tonight, after the lesson, Nikki told me she was glad we switched. She said she'd only thought about her lesson once today, and didn't worry about it. We have to drive a little further, but if it means that music is a pleasure instead of a duty, then I'm willing to do it. The girls are both more musically inclined than me, but Nikki in particular has always had music running through her veins. Even now, I can hear the sounds of the music drifting from her room as she falls asleep with it on. I think she started singing even before she could talk.

Whew! Every once in awhile, in this crapshoot, we play our cards right. I only wish I were more certain more of the time. Because with this decision behind me, I know I'll be faced with another one tomorrow that will throw me into another cycle of doubt and agonizing.

PLEASE tell me I'm not the only one who hasn't figured out how to do this parenting thing right. Or perhaps I missed that day when they were offering the "how to be a perfect parent in ten easy steps" workshop? If you were there, can you give me your notes?

Bold or mediocre?

The cursor is hovering over the send button. I’ve re-read the e-mail about 4 times, tweaking it here and there, trying to make it sound less judgmental and more friendly. How do you write a friendly “your services are no longer needed” e-mail?

After a frustrating few months of way too many delays, lack of phone calls to warn us of delays, poor communication, etc., I find I need to end a working relationship with a graphic designer. He does good work, but unfortunately, he is completely unreliable. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a project that he promised to finish before I left for Toronto, and I never saw a thing or heard from him about why it wasn’t ready.

I hate ending relationships, even when they’re working relationships which shouldn’t really impact me personally. But sometimes it needs to be done. I’ve let this one go on for too long already. Now I just have to work up the courage to hit the send button.

As I was flying back from Toronto, after a somewhat disappointing meeting with my national staff, it occurred to me that part of my problem – part of the reason why I’m less effective as a leader than I could be – is that I lack boldness. Like the cowardly lion in the wizard of oz, I need more courage.

It’s true. I know how to ACT courageous, by jumping out of airplanes and such, but more often than not, deep down, I’m a coward at heart. I cower from confrontation, I accept mediocrity from my staff because I’m afraid to challenge them, I let little conflicts simmer beneath the surface during team meetings because I’d rather not drag them out into the open, I don’t challenge my boss even though I’m sure there are some bold moves he’s avoiding which could make this a more effective organization, I don’t produce my best work for fear that it might not be accepted, and I allow the status quo to rule me because pushing the boundaries would be too uncomfortable.

A couple of things happened last week that revealed my lack of courage. One of them was the staff meeting, where mediocrity was the rule of the day because I failed to challenge the team or force them to confront their own resentments and reluctances. Another was an opportunity I let slip by because I was afraid of the consequences of taking action. Someone I know and respect wrote an article in a journal that questioned some of the things that we do as an international development organization. I sent him a personal e-mail, supporting what he said and expressing my heart. He wrote back and suggested that I send a letter to the editor of the journal as a response from me personally and the organization I represent, suggesting that he might be at least somewhat right in his critique. I declined his suggestion, because doing so would raise the ire of not only my boss but some of our major supporters. I had good reason for not doing it, but when I searched my heart, I knew that part of my reason was fear. I didn’t want to risk losing my job and ticking off the big donors. I shrunk away like the cowardly lion.

On Friday, riding the bus home from work, I almost burst into tears when it occurred to me that perhaps I am limiting my own potential and that of my organization’s by letting fear hold me back. If I were bolder, I’d stand up for what I believe in. If I were bolder, I’d challenge mediocrity.

Somehow, I need to find the boldness in me to confront my fears and speak up when things are not right. I’m starting with small steps. The first one will be to hit the send button. (Perhaps if I were truly courageous, I’d pick up the phone instead, but I’ll let myself get away with baby steps for now.) Mediocrity is not acceptable in people who provide service to us. I will strive for excellence in the people I hire.

I’m not sure what my future steps will be, but I know that this is something I need to confront in myself. I will confront mediocrity more often when I see it among my staff. I will confront it in myself. I will even try to confront it in my boss and perhaps among our major donors. I don’t want to be the cowardly lion any more.

If I can jump out of an airplane, surely I can be bold enough to slap mediocrity in the face.

Monday, October 09, 2006

It worked!

After wasting way too much time trying to create a new template, I finally succeeded! Yay! Using the generic ones was starting to make me twitch. It was kind of like settling for the cheap waxy chocolate when what you REALLY want is the good stuff.

It's not perfect, but I'm not going to obsess about it any longer.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

And then there were three

They called them the four horsemen. Marcel and three of his friends were inseparable as kids and teenagers. They played hockey together, rode their first motorcycles together, and when they were old enough to leave home, three of them shared a house and the fourth was a frequent visitor. I started dating Marcel around this time, the others also started longer term relationships, some moved to different cities, and as friends do, they drifted apart.

One of the four horsemen died yesterday. He crashed into a tree on his brother's motorcycle. He leaves behind two young sons, similar in age to our children.

He was the wildest of the four horsemen - always living life close to the edge. He knew how to have fun, kept the music loud and the party hopping. He was alot of fun to be around, with his energy and zest for life. When he stood up to speak at the open mike at our wedding, half of the room groaned for fear that he would roast Marcel with wild stories that would make his new in-laws cringe. He was respectful though, despite the temptation I'm sure he fought.

Brad will be missed by those who knew him - the other three horsemen and all his other friends and family. Today Marcel's dad, who manages the cemetery in their small town, had to meet with Brad's parents to arrange for a burial plot. Parents shouldn't have to bury their forty year old son.

And it gets worse. When Marcel phoned his cousin to tell him the bad news, he found out that another person he'd grown up, a neighbour and relative, was killed while crossing the street in Virginia. He was a long distance truck driver. He'd stopped his truck and was walking across the street to visit a convenience store.

Another family has to bury their son in the same small town this week. Another burial plot for Marcel's dad to arrange for.

Two funerals in one week is too much for one small town.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Seeking sanctuary

silence is my friend today
silence that’s wrapped in the gentle noises of other people’s lives
I chose it, this silence
because it feeds me
gives me nourishment for the rest of my noisy life
I walked away from busy streets
and found this sanctuary of silence
a walk through the cemetery
soft moss beneath me on concrete steps
a duck floating on the pond
children laughing at the donkey eating a carrot
a girl with funky jewellery in animated conversation
young girls running through the grass
the big docile dog on a leash
venders selling carrots, apple juice, and buckwheat honey
trees shedding yesterday’s leaves
an abandoned plastic halloween mask on the bench beside me
remnants of other noisy lives
searching for sanctuary in this green and sacred space
here in this silence
I am not failure or coward
I am not mother or boss
I am not tripping over my mistakes
I am not forgetting to be compassionate
I am not foolish or incompetent
I am only
the woman with the notebook
sitting alone
keeping company with silence

I'm home!

So glad some of you missed me a little. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

The trip was good. Mostly. There were a few times I wanted to whack somebody up-side the head (like last night when I almost didn’t get a flight home because they’d over-booked the flight), but there were a lot more times when I wanted to hug somebody, so the good out-weighed the bad.

Mostly, I wanted to hug Karla, but because I was suffering from a whopper of a cold, I resisted for fear of infecting her with whatever bug has been dragging my body through the mud. Karla is just what I imagined, proving that you CAN get to know someone in a genuine way in cyber-space. She is gracious, smart, kind, funny, and compassionate. She has a deep soul that makes me want to know her more. I can’t wait until the next time I am in Toronto to see her with her baby, because I KNOW she will be an amazing mom. Thanks for making time for me Karla! I’m glad I can call you friend. (Perhaps I’ll post a blogger-meet-up photo later, once I get around to downloading the pics.)

What else did I do in Toronto? Mostly meetings (and I won’t bore you with the details of those), but I managed to find some good quality time for wandering. Almost by accident, I stumbled on Riverdale Farm which was quite close to my bed and breakfast. It did this farmer’s daughter’s heart good to see cows and horses and pigs and chickens in downtown Toronto. By lucky coincidence, the weekly farmer’s market was happening the day I stopped by, so I sat and enjoyed a cup of freshly squeezed apple juice and a delicious home-made pecan square.

I also got together with my old and dear friend Laurel, which was a treat. Laurel and I didn’t see each other for years (probably more than 10), but then when I was in Toronto last year I reconnected with her, and it was one of those reunions that you hope for, when all the missed years slip away and you are once again in the comfortable presence of a well-loved soulmate. Laurel has one of the greatest, heartwarming laughs that makes the room sparkle. Except for the unfortunate bird poop that landed in her hair while she cycled to meet me, it was a perfectly delightful time.

Another highlight of the trip was staying at this lovely bed and breakfast in downtown Toronto. I slept in a beautiful room that had a Tibetan feel to it, with rich orange and gold tones and photos and textiles to match. The hostess was everything a bed and breakfast hostess should be, and the breakfasts were treats for the taste buds.

Unfortunately, Maddie got even more sick while I was away, and ended up with a ruptured ear drum, so the trip was not without its moments of Mommy-guilt. Fortunately, I knew she was in good hands with her daddy, so I didn’t let it ruin the trip.

Perhaps this weekend I will find the time to drop in at your cyber-homes and catch up on all the posts I missed while I was away.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Don’t miss me too much (but miss me a little)

I’m leaving on a business trip to Toronto tonight, so I’ll drop out of sight for a few days. I’ll be staying in a lovely bed & breakfast in downtown Toronto in a turn-of-the-century character home, so I don’t expect I’ll have internet access. Last year I stayed in a similar B&B on a business trip, and after that I’ve been determined to skip the boring corporate hotels as often as I can and find interesting B&B’s instead.

I like business trips, as long as they’re not too long (this one’s 3 nights – about the perfect length), I have a bit of free time wherever I’m going, and the destination is a reasonably interesting place. There’s always good and bad in every trip. Here’s what I’m looking forward to and not looking forward to on this particular trip:

Looking forward to:
- The plane rides. I like flying.
- People-watching in airport lobbies.
- Sleeping through the night (hopefully) without any kid interruptions. (I had to change sheets AGAIN last night.)
- Wandering.
- Seeing my friend Laurel. She’s one of my oldest (by that I mean longest, not that she’s old) friends and we have a whole lot of history together. We built teepees in the bush behind our house when we were kids, rode horses, went trick-or-treating on her Halloween birthday, went back-packing in the mountains together when we were all grown up, were roommates twice (in Banff and Winnipeg), and a whole lot in between. Then she moved out East and we haven’t seen each other much since.
- Getting to meet Karla. Yay!
- Going to a Famous People Players show (part of a staff retreat).
- Reading a book uninterrupted.
- Eating in restaurants.
- Some quiet space for just me. Rejuvenation.

Not looking forward to:
- Too many meetings.
- Two of them are full day meetings which I have to facilitate. Sometimes I enjoy that, but sometimes it feels like it’s too much responsibility. This is one of those times.
- My agenda’s too full. There’s not enough time for wandering and meeting people. (Sorry Dale – maybe another time.)
- Being “the boss”. One of the meetings is an annual staff retreat with all of my national staff. Sometimes that feels too heavy for me.
- One particular discussion that has to happen but I know in advance that nobody will agree on it. Blech.
- I’ve been sick for the last 4 days and I’m still coughing and feeling like my head might explode. Flying might not be so much fun after all.
- I’m tired. I hate starting trips already tired. But Maddie has been even more sick than me and consequently, I’ve had rotten nights for about a week now.
- Missing my family. Maddie has been rather cuddly since starting daycare, and I know she’ll miss me more than usual since she’s still adjusting to the change.

Bye for now!

Sunday, October 01, 2006


First of all, why don't you wander on over to my daughter's blog to see the medal her team won for the district championship for soccer? It was an exciting game to watch, and I'm proud to say that my daughter has the strongest kick on the whole team. And I'm not just saying that because I'm biased. She's the designated kicker - whenever there's a corner kick or penalty kick or free kick, the coach calls on her to do her magic. Yes, I'm a proud mom, and I'm going to miss watching her run across the soccer field. It's a thing of beauty.

And since we're talking about other blogs, why don't I introduce you to some of my new friends?

I stumbled upon Joyce, over at Chronicles of Blunderview, but clicking on one of her clever comments at someone else's blog. When I started perusing her blog, I spotted a picture of her and one of her sisters and realized that I knew her. Joyce was also working in Banff the summer I learned to fold a perfect towel. But don't visit Joyce just because I know who she is - visit her because she knows how to turn a phrase. She turns pain into beauty with her words and she'll keep you coming back for more. The first time I read her writing I was in awe.

I think I visited Amber's blog because of the name - Crazy Bloggin' Canuck. She's a fellow Canadian, but she's living in the States with her hubby and kids. Amber can turn ordinary events in life into brilliant, funny little vignettes. And I've got blog envy, 'cause she has one of those unique, attractive blogs instead of a plain old generic template.

Gina turned me on to Wordgirl over at Half of the Sky. Gina said she was a great writer, and she was right. She knows words and she knows how to string them together. Sometimes I read one of her sentences and I wonder if I should bother ever writing again.

I want to be Laura's friend. I think she'd be a hoot to hang out with. She is just so likeable, and honest, and smart - all the things I look for in a friend. And she's a great writer too - she'll make you weep some days and laugh out loud other days.

Oops. I forgot to update J's blog on my bloglines, so now it looks like I have some catching up to do. She's just created a new attractive space and it's worth visiting for the attractive look, the great writing, and the great recipes. This girl knows food and my mouth waters at some of her recipes and restaurant reviews.

What can I say about Melissa from Waking Up? She will draw you in almost as soon as you step into her blog home. She is one of those rare writers who dares to (figuratively, of course) cut open her chest and let you see deep into her soul. She's refreshingly honest, and the fun part is, she throws in a whole truckload of sarcasm to keep you laughing.

In case you think I spend WAY too much time on blogs (like my husband is starting to think), I'd better stop there. If you didn't make it onto the list, it's probably because I consider you an "old" friend instead of a new one. :-)

p.s. I am SO sick of these blogger templates, but I don't have the talent or the time to create my own. If anyone knows any "blog templates for dummies" tips to pass my way, let me know.