Saturday, February 25, 2006

I just have to say...

Canada ROCKS!!!

TWENTY-FOUR medals! Woohoo!

To my American friends, yes, I know you still beat us by one, but you've got about ten times the population, so you'll have to let us enjoy this - as close as we've ever come to matching your powerhouse.

A nice lead-in to 2010 in Vancouver, I'd say. Congratulations to all the athletes - you make us proud. Especially our home-town girls, Cindy Klassen and Clara Hughes.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Taxes are done, we're getting money back, AND I didn't get an aneurysm!

It's all good!

Now if only this head cold and PMS would go away.


There's nothing worse than doing your taxes - at least if you're a disorganized, form-illiterate, numbers-handicapped numbskull. Like me.

Oh wait.

There is something worse.

Sitting down to do your taxes, while an approaching head cold is threatening to drive a truck over your sinuses and PMS is playing racquetball with your hormones. That's worse.

Wait, there's more.

You load the tax software, and when it tells you to restart your computer, you click "OK", the computer powers down, and then, because your computer has decided that wreaking havoc with your life is more fun than helping with the taxes, it sticks out its tongue and says "Nyah, nyah, nayh, nyah, nyah, nyah." (Otherwise translated as "Non-system disk error") You think, "Oh, it's just messing with me" and so you power down and try again. And again. And all that happens is more taunting. And the T4's and T3's cluttering your computer desk start to dance a dance of glee to the tune of your computer's nasty taunt.

I wish I could say I handled it maturely, walked away, rose above my tribulations, and instead decided to catch up on the laundry. But that would be lying.

No, instead I disappeared into my room, closed the door, climbed under my blankie, and cried. It didn't solve my problem, but at least I got to indulge in a good old-fashioned pity party.

Yes, I did eventually figure out that I was getting a disk error because someone had left a floppy in the drive. Whew. I was beginning to have nightmares of the cost of computer repair, and that just made me cry harder. Any money I was HOPING to get back on taxes would quickly be drained.

But now, instead of going back to the taxes, I'm killing time blogging. Any tax-energy I'd managed to build up has been destroyed by my emotional meltdown. Sigh.

Why couldn't I have been born with the "good at doing taxes" gene?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

My dearest Nikki

Ten years ago
you made me a mother
Ten years ago
after hours and days of pain and waiting
you joined your Daddy and me
and made us a family

In the wee hours of your first night on earth
after my body had stopped shaking
and my eyes had re-gained their focus
I tip-toed into the nursery just to gaze at you
because I missed the movement of you
in my body
In that moment
I fell in love

I should have known that
your reluctant entry into this world
would set the stage for
your approach to life
and that time would see you struggle through
so many more reluctant entries

Life is not always easy for you
my child, my firstborn, my thinker
You wrestle with things bigger than yourself
and in the end, victory comes with a price
You are wise beyond your years
and as deep as the ocean

Now, ten years into life,
your age is finally catching up with your mind
You’re more rested these days, relaxed,
knowing that some of your questions have answers
and you have the knowledge to find them
You don’t have to waste as much energy
on the unknown

Some answers may never come, my dear one
I think you know that
and it seems it’s becoming easier to accept
with your ten years of accumulated wisdom

You are beautiful
my child, my firstborn, my gift
you opened up my life
and showed me things I’d missed before
Your perspective
is so different from mine
and so delightful to be alongside

How rich my life has been
since you came

Monday, February 20, 2006

A walk down memory lane

A variety of newspapers cross my desk every day. I cast a cursory glance at most of them before I toss them into someone else's inbox. Today, this article caught my attention, and sent me on a little trip down memory lane.

It turns out that the Arden elevator is for sale. If it's not sold, it may face demolition. Why is that significant? Well, I grew up in Arden, a tiny town in Manitoba. In fact, this picture is taken from a spot just down the street from my elementary school, my church, and the community centre - all places I spent many hours of my youth attending. Many, many times, I've driven past this elevator - most recently to visit my Dad's grave just a few miles north. In most of the classrooms of our elementary school, we could sit and gaze out the window at it. In the green space at the front of the picture, we would hunt for crocuses - the first sign that Spring had arrived in the prairies. I remember running out of church on Sunday mornings, trying to be the first one to spot a crocus. Arden is known for its crocuses - Manitoba's provincial flower.

There are so many memories this photo conjures up in my mind. I'm sure my siblings (who all read this blog, by the way) are by now almost as nostalgic as I am. Remember walking past the elevator on the way from school to the curling and skating rinks? Remember the rare occasions when we'd get a note from Mom that we could walk to McCamis general store at lunch time? Remember the excitement around town when the annex (the part of the building nearest the photographer) was built? That was my first experience with catcalls from a construction site! Remember putting pennies on the railroad tracks in front of the elevator? Remember sneaking under the train cars to take a shortcut, hoping the train wouldn't start to move just as we climbed underneath?

Ah, sweet nostalgia. Apparently, this is one of the last remaining woodframe elevators in the province. It really would be a shame to see it disappear. Arden would never be the same without its sentinel standing guard at the centre of town.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


This is the week that I celebrate the births and lives of three very important people in my life. From three different generations. My Dad's birthday was yesterday (sadly, he's no longer here to celebrate with us, but we remembered him none-the-less). Today is Marcel's birthday. On Tuesday, it will be Nikki's birthday.

So it was a busy weekend. It started with a pool party on Friday night with Nikki's friends. She's got great taste - I like all of her friends.
After the pool party, the girls came over for pizza, cake, and a sleepover. Since I have a bit of an aversion to goodie bags filled with plastic trinkets that will end up in landfill sites, BUT I still find myself giving in to the pressure to send the kids home with SOMETHING, I try to find something a little more creative and less disposable. Well, as I've confessed, before, I'm one part creative and three parts crazy - I always end up with these grand ideas that develop lives of their own and result in me losing at least a little sleep the night before. This time it was cushion covers I sewed Thursday night, and then on Friday, while the girls partied, I printed pictures of them (taken earlier at the pool) on iron-on transfer paper and ironed them onto the cushion covers. It was a hit with the girls. My only concern after I pulled it off was that I hope I haven't now set a new standard in "goodie-bag alternatives" and created undue pressure on the other parents to come up with something comparable. That wasn't my plan AT ALL.
Then on Saturday night, we held a family celebration for Nikki, Marcel, and one of our brothers-in-law whose birthday is also this weekend. Marcel's whole family and about half of mine were here (except for the Alberta portion - we missed you!)

We had extra transfer paper, so the girls decided to put their picture on a t-shirt for their Daddy for his birthday. He's wearing it right now. I didn't take a picture of it, but here's the picture that we put on it. Aren't Daddy's girls beautiful?

I gave Marcel a fondue set for his birthday, so tonight, we had a more intimate (immediate family only) celebration and tried out the fondue pot with a cheese fondue. It's kinda fun being at a stage where all three girls can be trusted with sharp objects and fondue parties are fun and relaxing rather than challenging and dangerous :-)
And now the weekend's over, the celebrations have ended, the girls are in bed, and I'm ready to call it a night too. It's been fun. I'm a lucky, lucky girl with a family like this. My life is blessed by so many people, but this week I'm especially grateful for my Dad, my Husband, and my Daughter. Happy birthday to them.

Oh, and I also have a great friend whose birthday was this week too - Happy Birthday Michele! I'm blessed by her too.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Nothin' says Valentine's Day better...

... then a heart-shaped pizza, candlelight, and a couple of glasses of wine sitting on the table when you climb out of the cab and walk into the house after 2 days away in Toronto.

I'm not much for Valentine's Day gimmicks, but it was nice to walk into the house and feel loved. And you know what said it better than the pizza, wine or candlelight? The clean house, the well-cared-for children, and the patient support despite the fact that I travel more than he'd like.

Thanks Buddy. My measly little box of chocolates paled in comparison.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Buying Bananas in Kenya

Despite my earlier discouragement, I keep reminding myself I have one of the BEST jobs on the planet. I get to travel to interesting places, I get to work for a cause I'm passionate about, I get to do some fun creative writing and design projects (and get PAID for it!), I have a great relationship with my boss, I work with lots of people I like, as a leader I get to have some influence toward positive change, and I get to do the kind of work that fits my skills so well. Yay! Lucky me!

As I said, one of the perks for me is the opportunity to write creatively. Here's one of the stories I wrote recently. (I know, I know, some of you are tired of my Africa stories. But I have to think and write about it on a regular basis at work, so I thought I might as well post some of it.)

Buying Bananas in Kenya

“We grow and grow, and the prices are still low.” Those are the words of Lois, a Kenyan woman who makes her livelihood growing and selling bananas. She stands in front of a group of Canadians in the upstairs room of a deteriorating building that used to house the local bank. Through the open window behind her, we can hear the sounds of the market on the street below.

“It’s difficult,” she says, “to make enough money from our bananas to feed our families. We sell the bananas, but we can’t get good prices for them. We try to sell them to dealers from the larger towns and cities, but the roads are bad so the trucks don’t come through. We can’t compete against the big corporations,” she says, “because they have access to the markets, and they have access to the fertilizers and labour to grow better bananas.”

Lois is a member of the Highbridge Banana Association, a co-operative of farmers working together to try to improve their market opportunities. We’re in the village of Maragua, Kenya. We’ve been brought here by Esther, a representative of Resources Oriented Development Initiatives (RODI), an organization that supports and advocates for the rights of small-scale farmers. We’re in Kenya to learn how local projects, which receive support from the Canadian agency I work for, are working toward increasing people’s access and right to food.

After our discussion in the upstairs room, Lois and the other members of the co-op take us down to the street to show us their stall in the market where they sell bananas and other fruits and vegetables. Behind the colourful crates of produce, the women stand together, all dressed in their uniforms of yellow blouses and green skirts. The colours of the uniforms represent the bananas they grow. A member of our group buys a bunch of bananas and we stand on the street sampling the sweetness of the local harvest.

Leaving the marketplace, we climb onto our bus and head down a bumpy dirt road. A few of the women join us on the journey. Along the way, excited children trail behind the bus on their bicycles. A few miles from the town, we turn into a driveway. “This is my farm,” says one of the women.

Beside the driveway is a half-finished brick structure. “This is the house we’re building,” the farmer tells us, proudly. I’m puzzled by the look of it. The grass growing in the centre of the structure tells me no one has worked on it in quite some time. “We started building it five years ago,” she continues, “but we haven’t had the money to finish it. Some day, we will finish it.” There is still some measure of hope in her voice, though I can’t help but feel a pang of empathy. I wouldn’t want to wait more than five years for a home that would make my life better. Perhaps I’m too accustomed to living in a world of instant gratification.

Beside the unfinished structure is the mud hut the family will continue to live in until the money can be saved for their new home. The farmer and her husband lead us past the two structures, past the small open shelters housing their few cattle and a donkey, and into the banana field. We walk down the path under banana trees hanging under the weight of large bunches of nearly-ripe bananas.

Beneath the banana trees grow a variety of other plants – maize and cassava and beans. They’ve learned to integrate various crops to maximize on the small plot of land they farm. They can’t survive on the sale of bananas alone.

Later, we tour another farm, owned by Samuel and Agnes Njiba, also members of the banana co-op. This farm is impressive in its diversity and innovation. One of the first things that catches our attention is the large over-turned barrel floating in what looks like a brick-lined pit of liquid manure. Samuel explains how he captures methane gas from cattle manure to use as household fuel. Not far away, several women are cooking our lunch over a fire fed by the methane gas. Towards the back of the farm is a small pond where the farmer is experimenting with aquaculture. We see an occasional ripple where fish break the surface of the water. Near the house is a water pump that’s operated by stepping on what looks a lot like a stair-master. All of this innovation paints a picture of a creative, resourceful, and hardworking farmer.

When we sit down for a lunch of ugali (a porridge-like dish made from ground maize), goat meat and cabbage, the farmers talk further of their challenges. The prices are low, big corporations have so many advantages over them, the roads are poor, they can’t afford fertilizers or irrigation systems – the list goes on and on.

As I listen, I’m struck by the familiarity of what I hear. Much of what they say could have been said by my own father who struggled most of his life to make a living on a small-scale farm in Canada. Though compounded by so many other factors here in Africa, like the growing prevalence of HIV and AIDS, the instability and corruption of governments, the threat of armed conflicts, and the lack of access to adequate education and training, some of the basic challenges are the same all over the world. My parents could always provide enough food for us to eat, but I remember the time when the phone was cut off because they couldn’t afford to pay the bill.

I look around me at the women proudly wearing their yellow and green uniforms. They tell us of how their co-op has improved their lives. Together, they can improve their access to better markets and better prices, they can share the workload of selling their produce in the local marketplace, they can advocate for fair trade, and they can pool their resources for things like transportation and the rental of market stalls. Besides the obvious financial gains, however, it is clear that their co-op also provides social value – they all belong to something and they wear their membership proudly. Their community is strengthened by the partnership. Everyone in the village knows that the women dressed in yellow and green support each other.

Across the courtyard, a teenage boy sets up a table and lays out a variety of handicrafts. We’re invited to buy the items he has displayed. On the table are small boxes, pictures, and jewelry. All of the items are made from banana leaves plucked from the fields and dried – another sign of the resourcefulness of these people. The local youth group makes and sells these products as a fundraiser for their activities.

After our lunch, we pack up our bus and head back toward Nairobi. On the way, we try to visit a large-scale banana farm owned by a multinational corporation. The gate is closed and we have no access. Still on our bus, we sit outside the boundary and gaze upon the lush, green, well-groomed acres and acres of banana trees. It’s not hard to imagine how disheartening this massive field is to the struggling small-scale farmers down the road.

When I return to Canada a few weeks later, the story of the banana farmers stays with me. I wish my dad were still alive so that I could share their story with him and find out how his common experience might give me insight into what changes might make the world more fair for small-scale farmers.

I find, as I reflect upon it, that there are very few easy answers. I resolve to find out more about fair trade and unfair policies. I don’t stop eating bananas, but every time I do, I think about the women dressed in green and yellow. Perhaps their co-op has helped them make a better living for themselves. Perhaps they’ve improved their access to markets and fair prices.

I wonder if the roof has been put on the farmer’s house. Perhaps some day I'll go back to enjoy another meal at her table.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A happy girl in a happy room

At long last, here are some pics to show you our Christmas holiday project - Nikki's new room! It's fun, it's a little crazy - it's four colours! Green, blue, yellow and orange. And check out the funky chair - it's an old 70s chair (I think they call it "shaker style") that we rescued from Marcel's parents' basement, painted white and sewed a funky new cover for. I like it so much, I want to steal it for MY room! We also painted the dresser and bed white - we needed SOMETHING to be neutral in such a wild room! (I was going to make her clean up her bed for the picture, but didn't want it to look TOTALLY unnatural!) The only things still missing are the Calvin and Hobbes pictures her Dad is making for the walls.

Monday, February 06, 2006

oh yeah, THAT'S what I needed

Just when I thought things couldn't get worse, I came home, hoping for some comfort, and at the supper table, Maddie announced that she wanted a new mom. Yup, I needed to hear that.

AND, it gets worse. Not only does she want a new mom, but she's already got one picked out - her daddy's 22 year old university friend. Oh, now there's a shot to the ego every mom needs.

Let me just say it was no 22 year old university chippy who baked her cookies and tucked her into bed tonight. Nope, it was this 39 year old mom, and this is the BEST SHE'S GONNA GET!

(No, don't worry, I didn't take it too personally. Maddie delights in the reaction her little make belief stories will get around the supper table - sometimes she invents new sisters, sometimes she proclaims that she is no longer Maddie, but some girl named Patty who lives down the street. Last week she wanted a new dad. Today it was my turn. I'll get over it, 'cause at the end of the day, she's mine and I get to hear her giggle. No other mom is gonna take that away from me.)

Why did I get out of bed today?

I'm having a discouraging day today (see post below). It seems like I'm accomplishing so little on the grand scheme of things. I'm spending most of the day reminding myself of all my failings - I'm an ineffective leader, I haven't made any significant impact on this organization even though I've been here nearly 2 years, I don't seem to be able to figure out how to build a team, I feel like a dog barking in the wind speaking to people who rarely listen, I haven't figured out how to work effectively with the "difficult people" on the team, I'm letting people's opinions affect me too much - oh, the list could go on and on. Every time I THINK I'm taking a step forward, I'm forced to take 2 back.

How do you combat discouragement? I have no idea. I've prayed, I've tried to remind myself of the things I've done right, I've reached out to encourage other people hoping that the reaching out would lift my own spirits, I've vented to listening ears, I've gone for a walk to try to clear my head. Oh, they've all helped a little, but none of these things is sufficiently lifting me out of my mood.

At lunch time, I went for a walk and ended up where I often end up when I need a little comfort. No, I didn't head to a bar to order a stiff drink, nor did I go to the food store for a junk food fix (though, I admit, it was hugely tempting). No, what I did was head to the bookstore. Few things clear my head and help me think more clearly better than books.

I didn't find anything revolutionary or particularly mind altering. I browsed a little, picked up a few things that looked interesting (like a book on spiritual labyrinths and mazes - seemed like an intriquing idea), but didn't really find anything that helped. I walked back to the office with my spirits still fairly low.

When I got back to the office, I found myself still in a funk, unable to focus clearly enough to get any real work done. So I started browsing through my "looks interesting, find some time to read later" file, again hoping to find some written word that would lift my spirits.

This is what I found.... the speech that Bono delivered at the National Prayer Breakfast recently. (If you go to the link, scroll down the page to find "Bono's best sermon yet". It's worth the read.)

Well, I'm not entirely out of my funk. I STILL don't know how I'll solve all my team leadership problems. Bono didn't help me figure THAT out. But... I'm once again renewed and refreshed in my desire to be part of something bigger than myself - an effort to make the world a better, place, where the poor have a voice, the rich countries of the world are willing to share their power, and justice is available for all. I know, it sounds like a pipe dream, but everyone needs to have a dream. And we need to be part of something.

Here's a rock star who could be resting on his laurels, enjoying the "good life", kicking back on the French Riviera with his friends, and instead, he's daring to ruffle some feathers, get in their faces, talk to people in power, and make a difference. There is so much I admire about him, but one of the things that intrigues me most is his ability to get people to listen to him. Not just rock music enthusiasts, but Kings and Presidents and Corporations. And, according to an article about him in Time magazine, he's done it by speaking the language they can relate to. When he speaks to fundamentalist Christians (like the current administration) he quotes the Bible, when he speaks to big business, he uses economics, when he speaks to liberals, he uses justice language. There's something to be said for someone who can reach people where they are.

I may not be a rock star, but I can continue to try to use my voice to support those whose voices are never heard. It may not always be the easiest place to work, but I have an incredible opportunity to be part of an organization that's supporting the poor, and for that I am grateful.

To sum it up, here's a quote from Bono's speech:

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it. I have a family, please look after them. I have this crazy idea...

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.

Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.


After several years of being a manager, I know these things to be true:
- no matter how many leadership or coaching books you read or courses you take, people are still people and you can't mold them into the shape you want them to take
- even bosses need some positive re-inforcement now and then - if you have one, make sure she/he doesn't just hear criticism all the time
- you can't make a group of people act like a team if they don't want to be a team
- conference calls are a waste of time if only one or two people do all the talking
- no matter what good idea you have (or another person on the team has), someone will pour cold water on it
- some people DELIGHT in pouring the cold water
- it's nearly impossible to lead people who don't think they need to be lead

Sometimes I wonder why I still do it. Today, I'd rather be working all alone with just a computer screen to keep me company. But instead, I steel myself to lead yet another waste-of-time conference call that I keep insisting we have because it's the only way I can imagine we'll begin to build a team out of a bunch of "I'll do things my way" people spread across the country.