Saturday, December 30, 2006

I resolve

I don't normally make New Year's resolutions, but here are a few I thought I could live up to...

I resolve to:
- eat chocolate when I feel like it
- play "would you rather" in the bathtub with Maddie until she outgrows it
- laugh
- read a few good books
- enjoy my husband's kisses
- write things that inspire me
- believe in people
- forgive myself for not getting the laundry put away
- dance in the rain again
- do at least one thing that scares me
- lounge around the house in my pajamas on Saturday mornings with my daughters
- listen to good music
- find new places to wander
- let the kids have coke and chocolate for breakfast on New Year's morning, like they've done every year since the turn of the century
- send a few things in the mail to special people
- go to the Folk Festival and discover a new singer-songwriter to fall in love with
- hang out in my favourite bookstore
- eat s'mores by a campfire
- play Settlers with Julie
- enjoy the company of friends
- walk to 7-11 for a Slurpee with my daughters
- gaze out the window of an airplane
- get a few more things published
- put highlights in Nikki's hair again
- make friends with a stranger
- savour good food
- listen to the birds
- keep doing "lie-with-me-night" until the girls don't want me in their bedrooms anymore
- paint something
- follow my calling
- write blog posts
- daydream
- read interesting magazines
- indulge myself
- show compassion
- pray
- waste time and enjoy it
- encourage my children in their giftedness
- go on a few dates with my husband
- stand up for someone
- eat a fresh mango
- give something away
- be bold
- sleep in late
- be kind to my mother
- ride my bike through the park
- eat popcorn at a movie with one, two, or three of my siblings
- stare into space
- let go of unnecessary things
- visit my dad's grave
- play with lego
- read blogs that make me laugh, cry, smile, cringe, or snort
- sit under an acacia tree
- let my kids stay up late once in awhile
- buy sour soothers and share them with my daughters
- be present for a friend who needs me
- find joy


We pulled out of B&S's driveway in Calgary at 7:08 yesterday morning. At 10:08 last night, we pulled into ours. After exactly 14 hours on the road (crossing over one time zone on the way), many many miles of prairie landscapes, dried out chicken sandwiches in the car, a few close calls where-in the arguing children almost got abandoned in the snow along the side of the road (just kidding - they did quite well), a passable meal at the Burger Baron in Regina, switching drivers whenever we tired of the other's music selection (the driver controls the airwaves), a station break when we found out Saddam had been hanged, and we are home.

I was planning to post some pictures, and I may do that later, but first there is laundry to do, grocery shopping to suffer through, unpacking and re-packing, a haircut for Maddie, a few hundred blog posts to catch up on (I'll try to visit soon) when the other members of the family allow me on the computer, and about a million other things I can't think of right now. In the meantime, if you want to catch a glimpse of just how much fun we had (it was possitively delightful), check out the slide show on my sister's blog.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Blogging in the dark

Because it's nearly impossible to blog or read blogs in a house full of eighteen people, I'm blogging in the dark in the middle of the night. There are sleeping people on nearly every soft surface in this house, including one on the couch beside me, and one on the floor at my feet. I can't turn on the light, nor can I walk very far without tripping over a body.

No, I'm not hiding out in an overcrowded bomb shelter - we're just celebrating Christmas the way we used to do it. With the whole family camped out under one roof for the holidays. It used to be that we'd all head to the farm and the first family to arrive got the best chance of getting an actual bedroom. Latecomers ran the risk of sleeping on the kitchen floor.

In the years since Dad died, Christmas has changed. Mom moved into an apartment in the city, and at Christmas time, those who lived outside the city showed up for a few days and spread out among the available homes in the vicinity. We got together for a meal or two and maybe a night of bowling, but it just wasn't quite the same without the challenges of shared bathrooms and the joys of late night games of Skip-bo.

This year, we finally took my brother up on his longstanding invitation to converge on his house in Calgary. All of the rest of the family are Manitoba-based, so we all loaded up our cars and headed west. It may not be the farm - there are no fresh eggs for breakfast and Dad won't come in from the barn cradling a small animal to delight the children - but this Christmas has held a charm and beauty all its own. There's nothing quite like the pleasure of sharing a few days of undivided attention with my siblings, their spouses and children, and mom and her husband.

There are games to play, loads of food to eat, movies to watch, jokes to laugh at, cousins to entertain the kids, and conversations to fill the hours. There's time for skating, time for hangin' out in the hot-tub, and time for wandering around the nearby lake.

Tomorrow, we head to Banff for the day, and then we begin the trek home. We'll be ready to sleep in our own beds by then, and the people in this house will be ready to have their soft surfaces free of sleeping bodies. In the end, we will be refreshed and reminded why there is nothing quite as good as family.

Sometimes I think that maybe those people who live in cultures where their extended families live under the same roof have got some advantages over the rest of us.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

To the ruined and the hurt

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’m preparing for Africa. Perhaps it’s a deep desire to understand the hearts of the people there. Perhaps it comes from working in an organization trying to end hunger. For whatever reason, I seem to have immersed myself in stories of African conflicts lately.

Two of the most recent movies I’ve seen are Hotel Rwanda and Catch a Fire. Both of them are based on true stories about the brutality of conflict in different parts of Africa. Both are about man’s inhumanity to man. Both are dark and depressing, yet thankfully in both, there is a redemptive character – someone who rises above the carnage to demonstrate love, grace, compassion, and incredible courage.

Last week, a journalist visited our office. He’d spent a month in Sudan, trying to follow our food shipment into Darfur, one of the most brutal places on earth these days. He had stories of corruption, fear, carnage, and despair. In the end, the food had to be diverted to another region of Sudan because the passage to Darfur was just too dangerous. According to the World Food Programme, people in Darfur have only enough food to last them until the middle of January. Who will provide for them when it runs out and the rebels don’t allow any more trucks to pass?

Nestar is a young woman who is spending a year working as an intern in our office. Nestar grew up in Uganda, where the ironically named Lord’s Resistance Army has been terrorizing people for most of Nestar’s life. She was displaced from her home at a very young age and has never been able to return to her village. The first week in Canada, Nestar’s host family took her camping. She said she lay in the tent in complete terror, not sleeping a wink all night. To her, sleeping unprotected in the bush was the equivalent of offering herself up to the rebels.

The book I can barely put down these days is called Left to Tell. It’s the incredible story of Immaculée Ilabagiza, a young woman who survived the genocide in Rwanda by hiding for three months in a tiny bathroom with seven other women. The bathroom was so small they couldn’t all sit on the floor at the same time. During her months in the bathroom, Immaculée’s mother, father, and two brothers were brutally slaughtered by the Hutu warriors. One day, while in the bathroom, she heard the killers murder a woman on the street in front of the house. The woman's child was left crying beside her body. All day the baby cried. At night, the crying ended, and then they heard the dogs come to tear the flesh from the bones.

I wish I had a conclusion to this post. I don’t. I don’t know where to go with all of this ugliness and hatred. Some days, it leaves me with such heaviness I can’t shake the melancholy. It’s hardly the way to start the Christmas season, but nonetheless I feel that I have to carry the stories of the people I’ve heard and find some way to honour them.

There may be no conclusion, because so much evil and brutality is still going on in many places in the world. There’s so little I can do about it. Even in Ethiopia, where I’ll be in a few weeks, there are always risks of uprising because of unstable political systems, injustice, and poverty. It’s not something that makes me afraid to go there, but it sits so heavy on my heart sometimes. How can people be so brutal to each other? What evil gets into their bones and drives them to kill?

With all of this weighing down my heart, I find myself clinging to my belief in redemption and hope. If there is evil in the world, than there is also good. There are people willing to risk their lives to save other people. There are people standing up to injustice and saying “no more”. There are people living out the call of Micah 6:8 to “love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly with our god.”

When the heaviness hits me, I turn to the things that breathe peace and hope into my soul. Sometimes it’s the Bible, sometimes it’s a quiet meditative walk, and many times it’s music. This week, it’s been the words of Martyn Joseph.

Yet still this will not be
Though all around is rage
The story getting darker
With each turning of the page
Yet still this will not last
This kingdom of the fool
Will be humbled and made low
When the broken hearted rule

There’s a journey that’s now calling
Towards the ocean’s heart
It’s an offering of mercy
Where we play the selfless part…
We’ll leave our treasure by the roadside
And our trinkets in the dirt
Giving back life and ruby riches
To the ruined and the hurt

In this context of hurt and ruin, I find myself with a few choices. I can rail against a God who lets it all happen and doesn’t rescue his children from torture and despair. I can abandon any belief that there really IS a God who could let this happen. Or I can choose to believe that God weeps weary tears as he watches his children tear each other apart, begging us to find a better way. I haven’t always made the same choice, but today I choose to the third.

Set aside all the trappings of Christmas, and I think that is what is at the heart of it. It’s God’s way of whispering to us “choose humility, choose peace, and choose hope.” The humble birth in a stable is a beacon pointing us to a better way – where power is turned upside down and the greatest way is the way of the child. Even among death and destruction, there is redemption and hope.

I conclude with Immaculée’s final words in Left to Tell. “The love of a single heart can make a world of difference. I believe that we can heal Rwanda – and our world – by healing one heart at a time.”

May you find peace this Christmas, and may you seek peace for those who have none.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Since I get to write at work...

I really don't have time for much personal reflection or posting these days, but since I'm contributing to my work blog right now, I thought I'd at least share what I wrote there. (You're welcome to visit there, but since I prefer to keep my work and personal life separate, I'd prefer it if you'd leave your comments here instead.)

I remember the first time I met Steve Bell. He’d visited the Foodgrains Bank office as a guest of his old friend Stu Clark. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen Steve (I’d been to several of his concerts), but it was the first time I’d shaken his hand or sat around a table chatting with him.

My first impression of Steve was “he is a man of humility”. Although he’d gained success in the world of music, was well recognized across Canada and beyond, and had won JUNO awards for his music, he did not carry himself with the air of a “celebrity”. His down-to-earth style and easy sense of humour made it quickly evident why so many people are drawn to his stories and songs. I knew, almost from the very first moment I met him, that we would become friends.

My second impression of Steve was “he is a deep thinker and an eager learner”. In our first conversation, it was clear that Steve wanted to engage. His visit to the Foodgrains Bank was not simply to shake a few hands or exchange pleasantries. He wanted to learn. He asked lots of questions about things like “food security” and “food justice”. His heart had been touched by the many people in the world living with hunger, and he wanted to know how he could get involved.

Over the next two years, a relationship began to develop between Steve Bell and the Foodgrains Bank. Periodically, we would sit down over lunch or coffee, and each time we did, his questions would reflect his ongoing learning and his desire to gain a deeper understanding of the many root causes of hunger. During that time, Steve was generous with his music, sharing songs for a few multi-media presentations. Last June, he addressed the board of directors, sharing some of his thoughts on how the Foodgrains Bank could grow and engage more and more Canadians in the fight against hunger.

Yesterday, we sat down with Steve and his wife Nanci to plan the newest and most exciting venture in the ongoing relationship. (This was the first time I’d had a chance to meet Nanci, and let me just say I knew almost as soon as I met her, that we would quickly become friends too. Nanci has a comfortable smile that draws you in and makes you feel that you have found a safe place.)

In January, Steve and Nanci and myself (Heather Plett) will travel to Ethiopia to visit a few of the projects supported by the Foodgrains Bank. A camera crew will follow Steve as he meets with people, visits their farms and villages, and learns about their lives and the challenges of living with hunger. In addition, one of Steve’s songs will be recorded for the production of a music video.

It’s hard to describe how exciting this project is for me. For one thing, I fell in love with Africa the first time I visited 2 years ago and I look forward to sharing that with Steve and Nanci. For another thing, I think the development of the resulting videos will be an exciting venture both for the Foodgrains Bank and for Steve. The combination of music and video will create a powerful opportunity for communicating the stories of the people who live with the reality of hunger.

Beyond that, though, it is exciting to travel with people who have deep and thoughtful hearts – people who know how important it is in our walk with God that we not only share generously with those who are hungry, but we get involved in their lives. Jesus paints a powerful picture when he shares the bread at the Last Supper, and that vision of sharing food around a common table is an important part of the work that we do.

Ending hunger is about so much more than sharing food. It’s about building relationships and partnering with those who are hungry. It’s about grappling with the causes of hunger and learning about how we can help change some of those circumstances. It’s also about being willing to make sacrifices and changes in our own lives so that there will be more balance in a world that seems so horribly out of balance. Steve and Nanci are willing to take some risks, ask some thoughtful questions, and get involved. We could hardly ask for better ambassadors or partners in the journey.

To learn more about the projects we will visit in Ethiopia, click here and here. To learn more about Steve Bell, visit Signpost Music.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

You're not supposed to cry while you're wrapping presents

There I was, sitting on the floor of my bedroom, surrounded by wrapping paper, tape, scissors, and a mountain of presents, and what was I doing? Crying. Go figure.

It started with the book I was wrapping for Maddie. Lighthouse by Robert Munsch. It's the story of a little girl who's lost her Grandpa. The first tears came when I realized how little the book will really mean to Maddie. She doesn't remember her Grandpa. He died when she was only a year old.

And then, because I was crying anyway, I shed a few extra tears for the little girl who was in the basement playing with Julie. Remember T? She lost her mom a few months ago and is now living with her uncle because her dad is out of the picture. She was at our house for a sleepover. I sat there on the floor crying for her, because this will be such a different Christmas for her.

Over breakfast this morning, I asked what she'll be doing for Christmas. "Well," she said, "we normally open our presents in the morning, and then we go to my Grandma's house." And then her voice faded away because I'm sure she was remembering that she doesn't have "normal" any more. This year, there will be a new normal, and who knows what that will look like?

I sat their crying because I feel so helpless to do anything for this little girl. I can't give her her mother back. I can't make Christmas happy. I can't give her a safe and happy place to land. I feel so limited, when all I can do is give her a friendly home to visit now and then. And even as I give her that, as we sit around the breakfast table, I feel a little guilty because we have our whole family around the table.

Christmas isn't just about joy. It's about sadness too. It's about loss and loneliness, and getting used to life without some of the people we love.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Making a list, checking it twice

No, I'm not talking about Santa's list. At this point, that's the least of my worries. I've got way too many other lists to worry about right now - I've got no time to give the ol' man in a red suit any thought.

I'm planning 2 very different trips in the next three weeks, and my brain is moving into operation overload. What needs to be done ahead of time? What needs to be packed? What errands do I still have to run? What do I have to organize for the people I'm responsible for? What am I forgetting to communicate? Okay, there's just no way around it. Time to plug some organization into my normally disorganized brain. Yup, I'm makin' lists.

First it's the Christmas trip to visit family. Let's see... what is there to think of? Gotta bring presents, clothes, sleeping bags, air mattress, stuff to entertain the kids in the car, that little magical machine that Marcel sleeps with that ensures both him AND I get a decent night's sleep (it's called a cpap machine - he's got sleep apnea - if we forget that machine, the whole household won't sleep for a week!), skates, a camera, and about a hundred other things that probably won't fit in the trunk of the car. But first I have to finish the Christmas shopping, make sure the girls have appropriate clothes to wear at their Christmas concert, make sure there's enough clean laundry for everyone to pack in their suitcases, attend a family Christmas party, and... oh I've got a headache already.

Then, a few days after our return, it will be time to pack for Ethiopia. Have I picked up my malaria pills yet? No. What about sunscreen? Nope. Packed gifts for our local hosts? Some. Bought extra memory cards for the camera? Yup - check that off the list. Oh but before I start packing there's a press release to write, more coordination with the travel agent, an orientation with the team, a conference call with the Ethiopian consultant, money to be picked up... somebody give me something for this headache!

Ah, but don't get me wrong - it's all good. I've got so much to look forward to that the stress feels more than manageable. Once I get my lists made and I can start putting checkmarks beside things, I'll feel much better. In the meantime, though, this blog will probably take low priority. Which, at this point, because Blogger is driving me crazy and won't let me (or anyone else) comment in most places, may not be such a bad thing.

For all those people on whose blogs I TRIED to comment, you'll just have to trust me that I'm still thinking of you. (Lucia, I've tried to tell you about three times that I hope you have a great trip!) And to those of you who sent me emails asking for an African postcard/blessing- THANKS! I look forward to the hunt for some interesting postcards.

For those who haven't sent an email yet... there's still time! I'm still in Canada (in relatively close proximity to a computer) until the end of the year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Be blessed

Last week, I got home from a busy day of board meetings to discover that my painting from Andrea had arrived in the mail. Ahhhh. What a refreshing touch of magic in an otherwise long and draining day! I was blessed. By colour, wonder, friendship, creativity, and connection. I’d already received blessings by visiting Andrea’s blog, so this was a further blessing of her personal giftedness with a paintbrush. She can paint better than I could dream of painting. Now that it’s hanging on my wall, I let her art inspire the art in me. Thank you Andrea.

Last night, after another busy day at work, I arrived home to discover two more blessings had arrived in the mail. What fun! Nowadays, too much of the mail that arrives at our house is either junk mail (will the Christmas flyers NEVER stop?) or bills, so it’s a rare treat to receive something personal.

The first blessing was a Christmas card from Vicki and her family. She has a beautiful family – just the kind of people who look warm and comfortable and open. I think our family could spend a fun Saturday afternoon hanging out with their family, if the distance between us were less. I have been blessed by Vicki through her card, her blog, her emails, and her visits to my blog. Thank you Vicki.

The second blessing I received in the mail yesterday was a beautiful little blessing book from Jen Lemen. Something had touched her heart, and made her think of me. Instead of letting the feeling pass without lending it energy, she created a blessing book especially for me. Her words touched a special place in me that was open to her blessing. “You are being held in perfect love even now.” “Your strengths are a gift. Your talents are a blessing. Use them now to bring light where there was darkness, hope where fear once reigned.” I am grateful that she was open to the nudging of her muse and that she took the time to reach out to me. If you read her blog, you’ll soon realize that Jen has an uncanny ability to recognize the need in other people, speak directly to their hearts, and breathe words of wisdom and comfort into the dark or lonely spaces. Thanks Jen.

All of these little blessings in the last week have made me contemplate how I’m living out the call that I, like everyone else, have to share my giftedness by showering blessings on other people. Because I believe, deep in my heart, that all of us are meant to reach out and touch each other. We are all gifted with something – the ability to make art, the gift of encouragement, the wisdom to offer good counsel, the strength to challenge systems that hurt people, the ability to teach, the courage to stand up for marginalized people, the gift of humour to lift people up, the compassion to know when someone needs help, the ability to communicate so that other people feel less alone – and these things are meant to be shared.

Sometimes, we take these gifts for granted. We underestimate our own power to touch other people. We think our gift is not worthy, or we assume that someone else could do it better. We feel the nudging to share the blessing of our giftedness, and instead of taking action, we brush it off because it feels like too much of a risk. We deprive each other of the opportunity to be blessed because we limit ourselves by our pride or low self-esteem. Sometimes it’s because we’ve been hurt and we don’t want to risk getting hurt again. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t been raised to believe in our own worthiness. Sometimes we’ve told ourselves so often that our giftedness is without value that we start to believe it.

I am so glad that Jen, Vicki, and Andrea took the risks to send little pieces of themselves to me. I’m so glad they didn’t let the little voices of doubt stop them from blessing me.

I wish that I could say that I always follow up on the opportunities and inspirations I have to offer blessings. I don’t. I have lots of good intentions, but I let them pass with the wind. I hope though, that even though I don’t always get things in the mail (this year’s Christmas cards, for example) I have offered some blessing to you through the words I write on this blog. Because that is one giftedness that, after nearly 40 years of telling myself I’m not really good enough, I’m willing to own. I may not be able to paint, but I can write. And this is my covenant to you, dear reader, I will continue to share this gift with you, and I hope that you will be blessed.

And, here’s another offering of blessing… I have a few days of down time in Ethiopia next month. I’m willing to share a little blessing of Africa with you. If you will send me your mailing address (my email address can be found in my profile), I will take the time to hunt down some postcards and send one to everyone who takes the risk to ask for one. It’s possible that I won’t find postage until I return to familiar soil, but I will commit to getting them out sometime in January.

I know how much I have been blessed by the gifts in my mail. Now please offer me the opportunity to bless you.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Whatever (in other words, I have no inspiration for a title)

1. In answer to some of the questions on the last post, I don't expect to have much opportunity for posting while I am in Ethiopia. At the beginning and the end, I will be in a hotel in Addis Ababa, and there's a chance there might be internet access there, but in between, we'll be traveling to pretty remote sites. I expect we'll be sleeping in mud huts, so the chance of electricity, let alone internet, is fairly slim. What I will do, however, is post my journals (and pictures) when I get home. I did the same last time I travelled, and if you're interested, you can find it all in February/March 2005. And if you want to see my pictures from that trip, you can find them here (at the site I keep meaning to build - one of these days when I manage to find a 36 hour day).

2. Sorry I can't bring any babies home. Joyce and Andrea's requests reminded me about Matthew, the little boy I fell in love with in an orphanage in Tanzania. It may have had something to do with the fact that he shared a name with my stillborn son, but this child was truly irresistible. We played with the children under the tent in the backyard, took some of them swimming, and mostly got our hearts wrenched out of our chests. Most of these children had been orphaned because of AIDS and some of them had contracted the disease themselves. Matthew was one of the lucky ones - he tested negative.
Matthew in TanzaniaHere he is modeling my sunglasses. I was happy to learn, after I returned home, that he was adopted by a Tanzanian family. You can read Matthew's story here. Warning to all those who desperately want a little African baby in their homes, visiting the orphanage's website can be hazardous to your health. I'm even wondering about the wisdom of letting my husband know where to find it, because he dreams of having a little African son like Matthew.

3. Just like the last time I was preparing to go to, I find myself poring over all things African. I was in a bookstore looking for the book Jen Lemen recommended, but couldn't find it. I may need to order it. I also watched a great documentary called Black Gold that I would recommend to anyone interested in learning more about the coffee industry and the way it impacts coffee farmers in Ethiopia. It is appalling that the coffee that costs nearly three dollars at Starbucks (for one cup!) doesn't provide enough income for the farmers to send their children to school, or even feed them sufficiently. There's just something seriously wrong with this world when the rich countries send aid to poor countries, but won't consider changing trade rules to protect them so that they can provide for themselves instead of relying on aid. Watch the movie, and you'll be lining up at the fair trade coffee stores instead of Starbucks.

4. On an entirely unrelated note... Let this be a warning to you: DO NOT make Vicki's Apple Cake recipe unless you have better willpower than me. If you make it, you will not be able to resist having seconds or even thirds. You will look for excuses to walk through the kitchen so you can nibble on the edges or run your finger along the side of the pan to lick the sauce. When you clear the table, you will have to muster all your willpower NOT to lick the dessert plates before putting them in the dishwasher. It's just that good. And I think Whippersnapper would agree, because she helped me eat it. Only I wasn't generous enough to send her home with any because, well, I wanted to hoarde it for myself. I may even hide the rest of it from my kids.

5. Today was an incredibly beautiful day here in the place others (who are disrespectful and don't deserve to live in our beautiful city) call "Winterpeg". So nice that I looked for excuses to walk to the store (or beyond). If I had one of those weather pixies like Hope, she would have been shedding the layers today and dancing in the sunshine.

6. I got my painting from Andrea this week. Yay! Being an art owner just makes me feel so happy, not to mention cultured and interesting! If I could, I would fill my home with art, and then I would spend hours just sitting and gazing at my lovely treasures.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Going to Africa again

In less than a month, I will stand, once again, on African soil. I will breathe deeply the scent of fragrant blossoms. I will lick the sweet nectar of mangoes from my fingers. I will embrace the people who welcome me. I will sit with stranger-friends and hear their stories. I will sleep on the rough earth and not even mind if goats or roosters keep me awake. I will marvel at the majesty of wild animals. I will let people touch me. I will walk through their fields and let them show me their harvests. I will let the tears flow when I see the needs. I will let the joy fill me when I see their compassion and grace. I will soak it all in and let my soul be moved.

Almost exactly two years ago, I started this blog because I was preparing for my first trip to Africa and I wanted a space to process my feelings and thoughts before that trip. My first post was called "Going to Africa" and in it, I said this:

I will listen and let them teach me. I will open my heart to the hope and the hurt. I will tread lightly on their soil and let the colours wash over me. I will allow the journey to stretch me and I will come back larger than before.

Now, two years later, I know that I did indeed come back larger than before. I was stretched beyond my expectation, and I fell in love with a place that I knew would draw me back. It's hard to describe how a place like Africa moves me in ways I've never been moved by any other country. It got under my skin and into my heart. It becomes somewhat addictive.

How very, very lucky I am to be going back. I work for an incredible organization that supports food-related programming all over the world. I will be visiting 2 of those programs in Ethiopia. The amazing thing about traveling with an organization like ours is that we visit places that no tourist will ever see. We see the way people live in the remotest parts of the country where little if any "modernization" has touched them. We'll visit a region where we've supported local efforts to build irrigation systems to grow better crops. While there, I hope to see Elizabeth again. She's an incredible young Ethiopian woman (only 23 years old) who manages a large team of engineers and other labourers in the development of irrigation ditches and model farms. She is a powerful force for positive change in Ethiopia and I am in awe of her strength and wisdom.

This trip will have the added bonus that I get to enjoy the journey with an incredible travel companion. Steve Bell and his wife will be joining us, along with a small crew who will produce a video for us while we're there. I'm very excited about this project. Steve is an amazing musician whose depth and wisdom shines through in his music. You may recall a post a few weeks ago after I attended his concert with the Symphony. I've enjoyed getting to know him over the past 2 years, and I know that his presence will make the journey even more exciting.

In the meantime though, there is much planning to do, and my mind is going a hundred places at once. Planning itineraries, booking flights, getting the necessary immunizations, writing story-boards for the video production, arranging conference calls for the team, etc., etc. On top of that, there are Christmas presents to be bought, the family Christmas trip to plan - oh, the list goes on and on. In a month, I will relax, eat injera and lentils, and let the sun warm my cold Canadian skin. But until then, I have to try to get everything done while remembering to live in the present, enjoy my kids, and let the wonder of Christmas fill me.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Thinking outside (or inside) the box

I just finished reading Augusten Burroughs' book Magical Thinking. In it, he describes magical thinking as his ability to think something into being. When he wanted a bestselling book, he just thought about it hard enough, and sure enough, it came to pass.

In my little world, magical thinking is the ability to turn an ordinary box into a television, a computer, or a car. Last night, when I climbed into bed with Maddie for lie-with-me night, she was curled up next to her dolly who was sitting inside a small gift box. "We're just watching TV," she said. "Do you want to watch with us?" Why, yes I did. And so, lying in front of a cardboard box with the lid leaning at just the right angle so all three of us (dolly, Maddie and I) could see it, we watched The Amazing Race. Then, when the cardboard version of the show was over, the box became a computer, and Maddie taught her dolly how to play games at pbs.org. Before I left the room, the box had transformed into a car, and it was time to drive dolly to her bed. And to think I almost threw that magical box away!

Tonight, when I went to tuck Maddie in, the box had been dismantled and has now become a bed for dolly.
Maddie and dolly
Imagine all that from a box! I want that kind of magical thinking.

And since we're on the box theme, did you know that a 4-year-old fits perfectly in the Christmas tree box? And if your little sister climbs in and closes the lid, you can sit on it and she can't get out.
In the Christmas box
The best part was that she ENJOYED being inside the box and actually WANTED her sisters to sit on it. I'm not sure what kind of magical thinking was at play in this case, but it didn't end in tears, which is more than I can say for some of the things her older sisters put her through.

For Christmas, she's getting a bunch of boxes in various sizes. Who needs more than that when you've got magical thinking on your side?

Weekend bits and pieces

- On Friday night, we celebrated my oldest daughter, Nicole. No, it’s not her birthday, but given the recent step in her journey toward womanhood, I thought it was fitting to celebrate her growth. I’d read about “menarche parties” and “red parties” and new agey dancing-naked-around-the-moon type ceremonies that would totally freak her out, but instead of doing something completely outside her comfort zone, she selected a few female friends and mentors, and we celebrated her. It was a low-key affair – just dinner out, complete with delectable desserts and good conversations. The event suited the girl – classy, comfortable, and quiet and not ostentatious or overboard.

- Was there any sanity involved in the creation of Crazy Frog? After they’d put up with my music selection for about an hour, it was the girls’ turn to make a selection. I let them play Crazy Frog on the condition that it would ONLY stay on as long as they were cleaning the house. The moment I found them slacking off, the cd would get banished (possibly even destroyed) and it would be my turn again. The motivation seemed to work, because they cleaned for much longer than normal, which meant that I was subjected to synthesizer hell for about 45 minutes. And of course, for the rest of the day, I had the annoying voice of the crazy frog repeating inane words like “the crazy frog is jumping” ad nauseum in my brain. I think the cd may go missing between now and next week’s housecleaning binge. For the parent who let their child buy this for Julie for her birthday - I'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER!

- Saturday was about as long as I could hold out in the “we’re not putting up the Christmas tree until December” plan. The girls have been bugging me to do it for about 2 weeks, but I stood by my rule (otherwise known as “buying myself some time”). On Saturday, after the house had been cleaned (that was the other motivation for the 45 minutes of cleaning time), the girls and I made our annual trek to Ten Thousand Villages for their new ornaments. I used to buy them Hallmark ornaments each year, but now I just take them to our favourite fair trade store and they get to pick out an interesting ornament from another part of the world. Our tree is delightfully eclectic, to say the least. Some day they’ll move out, take their decorations with them, and I’ll be left with nothing more than a few bows, a sparkly egg that says “our first Christmas together”, a dough creation of Santa flying an airplane, and the pregnant bear that says “mom-to-be”.

- I had told myself that, since we won’t be home for Christmas, I would only put up the tree and forget about all the other decorations around the house, but then the tree looked so lonely and I couldn't resist putting up the nativity scene, the garlands, the bows around the candles, the lights over the picture window, the nutcracker, the Father Christmas figurine – you name it. It’s beginning to look a LOT like Christmas.

- All those people who keep telling ccap “just you wait” about how challenging child rearing can get when they reach a certain stage (and of course the stages keep changing) can just shut up, because I’m lovin’ every stage. On Saturday, as I sat back and watched my tree get decorated without any effort on my part (except that I put the lights up), I quite enjoyed the fact that my kids are old enough to do it on their own without me having to reach the high branches and protect the breakable ornaments. The same was true on Sunday, when they decorated gingerbread men, and I could sit and sip my tea with the other adults and didn’t have to be forever fussing with icing and sprinkles. It’s not that I don’t enjoy doing it with them, but it’s quite lovely when it becomes less work and they can do much of it themselves. (Okay, so the truth is - I'm just lazy and I had kids so I could make them my slaves!)

- Marcel spent most of the weekend watching the Liberal leadership race, because that's his idea of a GOOD TIME. I was interested too, because I want to know who might possibly lead our country one day, but the result is about the only information I really needed to know. I don't know if they made the right choice, but I do know I'm glad Ignatieff didn't win. He left a bad taste in my mouth.

- I finally got around to watching Hotel Rwanda this weekend. It’s one of those movies I’ve been meaning to watch for awhile now, and I think I actually rented it once before but had to return it before I got a chance to see it. On Saturday night, Marcel was out with his siblings, the girls were watching something else on TV, and I crawled into bed with a cup of tea and the portable dvd player that the girls won last year, and I watched the movie. It’s heartbreaking but beautiful. I love movies that show the beauty and grace of otherwise flawed people in the midst of ugliness and hatred.

- Have you ever seen a chicken explode? On Sunday, we invited friends (Yvonne and George, for those of you who know them), and family (ccap and her boy and girl) over for supper and we cooked a chicken. I’m not sure if it was because I put it in the roaster upside-down, but when I opened the roaster, the centre of it was blown open - almost like a small explosive device had gone off in the chest cavity. My first thought was “of COURSE the chicken blew up – it’s because I’m a lousy cook and even worse host”, but then when I was finished channeling my mother, I invited everyone into the kitchen to see the spectacle. I was a little nervous of feeding it to guests, for fear that I might inadvertently be subjecting them to salmonella or some other horrid form of food poisoning, but we all ate it, and as far as I know, no-one got sick. Whew!

- It’s a good thing I’m going back to Africa next month (more on that later) because I used my very last Kenyan tea bag last night. I thought I’d used them all up months ago, but then I discovered a small box I forgot I had. Yesterday, I pulled the last bag out and threw the box away. Sigh. I don’t know if it’s REALLY that much better tasting than the other stuff from the store, but I just like the fact that it connects me with my African experience every time I take one out of the box.