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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Stuff

If you haven't seen this yet, you should.

I think we need to heavily tax "planned obsolescence". And "perceived obsolescence" too. You'll get what I'm talking about if you watch the video.

It's a good thing to watch at Christmas-time.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Five

Okay, time to move that grumpy post down beneath the fold. I’m really not THAT miserable. Just worn out and not very motivated. But here are a few things that made me happy yesterday:

1. When I got home from work yesterday, Marcel and the girls had done some of the housecleaning PLUS Marcel had moved the furniture in the basement so that we can tear out the last of the 70s carpet and finally (hopefully) finish renovating. I might get my Christmas wish after all.

2. Julie had to bring cookies for her Christmas party at school today, and she very capably made them herself. And cleaned up after herself too. (I am very fond of this capable and independent stage my oldest two daughters have reached.)

3. I came up with a very simple, very tasty, and very pretty offering for the Christmas potluck at work today. Tortilla wraps with cream-cheesy goodness (some with cranberries and feta cheese, others with goat cheese and pears). Some tortillas are spinach and others are sun-dried tomato, so they look downright Christmasy sliced up on a plate.

4. Did I tell you I’m going to India and Bangladesh in the new year? Yeah, lucky me. The plans are starting to fall into place.

5. Nikki is back in action. Turns out the “fracture” was really just a bad sprain and she can start playing soccer again, with a brace on her ankle. Happy girl, happy mom.

And, because it’s Christmas, the weather outside is not-so-frightful, and my mood is much more delightful, here’s a bonus:

6. Today’s the last day of work before 11 days of holidays. What’s not to like? AND, I get to see some of my favourite people soon – my brothers, sisters-in-law, and nieces and nephews. Ah, I’m feeling that warm glow comin’ on…

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thirteen signs you're lacking Christmas spirit

1. You go to the annual Christmas concert at school with a very bad attitude and you leave feeling the same way.

2. Not even the kid who baaas like a sheep in the middle of the Twelve Days of Christmas can cheer you up.

3. You disappear with your family for two days of frolicking in a waterpark and sleeping in a hotel rather than deal with Christmas preparation.

4. Your biggest regret is that you didn’t stay in the hotel one extra night so you could have missed the annual Christmas concert.

5. You don’t put up much of a fight when your oldest daughter begs to go to the soccer party rather than the Christmas concert.

6. Instead of subjecting yourself to the dreariness of Christmas shopping, you hand all of your kids money and say “Merry Christmas – knock yourselves out.” And then you sit back and relax as they shop with reckless abandon.

7. You make no attempt to send out Christmas cards.

8. When you finally dig out the Christmas decorations, you let the kids decorate the tree and leave everything else in the boxes for another time.

9. A week later, you take the boxes back downstairs because you know you won’t get around to using anything else.

10.You dream of escaping to a tropical paradise and returning when the Christmas craziness is over.

11. Not only do you NOT do any Christmas baking, you don’t even open a cookbook for fear of the guilt it might induce. You can’t even come up with anything to make for the annual potluck at work and you consider skipping it.

12. You forgo your usual habit of buying a glossy Christmas magazine and flipping through and admiring the pictures of fancy Christmas baking, gingerbread houses, and handmade ornaments. You avoid glancing at them in the checkout aisle for fear that it might bring on that “I am SO not Martha Stewart” angst.

13. The only thing you want for Christmas is a clean house. And a basement that’s not stuck in a renovation holding pattern.

Friday, December 14, 2007

psst - this just in...

Maddie went to visit Santa’s village with her kindergarten class yesterday. She told me in a conspiratorial whisper yesterday “Mom – Mrs. Claus isn’t real. She wears a wig!” “And Santa Claus?” I asked, “Does he wear a wig?” “Nope. He’s real.”

So there you have it – Santa’s real, but he’s married to a FAKE!

Somebody pass me a soapbox

I know I'm probably messing with a sacred cow, but can I just say that I'm really quite sick of that Band Aid song? You know the one that's been on the radios every Christmas since 1984? Do they Know it's Christmas Time? Perhaps it was slightly appropriate for the 80s when Ethiopia was in the middle of a famine, and I'm sure it was meant in the right spirit and probably raised scads of money for a good cause, but pay a little attention to the words and you'll realize it's one of the most patronizing, ethnocentric songs around.

Walk with me through the lyrics...

It's Christmas time
There's no need to be afraid (Really? ‘Cause even at Christmas time, lots of people have reason to fear.)
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade (Oh c’mon. If that’s the case, then why are there so many suicides at Christmas time? In rich, comfortable
North America, that is. Not in "poor destitute" Africa.)
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy (Does plenty REALLY equal joy? I have my doubts. Sometimes plenty DESTROYS joy.)

Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time (long arms!)

But say a prayer

Pray for the other ones (The OTHER ones? Isn’t that a little patronizing?)
At Christmas time it's hard, but when you're having fun (What if I’m NOT having fun? What if all this craziness that Christmas has turned into has thrown me into exhaustion and near depression and I can barely cope?)
There's a world outside your window (So… inside my window there’s “fun” and outside my window, not so much?)
And it's a world of dread and fear (Always? Isn’t that generalizing it just a little? You know, I saw a whole
LOT of joy in Africa and probably less dread and fear than I often see in North America.)
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears (Ugh.)

And the Christmas bells that ring there (If they don’t know it’s Christmas, WHY do they have Christmas bells?)
Are the clanging chimes of doom (Wow. That’s dark. Is their ONLY hope that they might be rescued by benevolent, rich, patronizing North Americans? Some of the smartest, most hardworking and hopeful people I know are Africans.)
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you (Oh yeah – cause we’re SO much better than them, aren’t we? Again – a little patronizing. Not to mention not particularly grace-filled. Because God really does bless
America? And only America?)

And there won't be snow in
Africa this Christmas time (Umm… I don’t think they necessarily regret that.)
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life (Well, that’s not really OUR gift to give is it? Let’s drop the “Great White Hope” angle here, puh-lease.)
(Oooh) Where nothing ever grows (Hello!? I saw PLENTY of things growing in
Africa. Let’s drop the meaningless generalizations. A lot of the problems in Africa are more about unfair markets and the exploitation of people by rich countries, not necessarily about things not growing.)
No rain nor rivers flow (Again – have you BEEN to
Africa? Lots of rivers and sometimes even too much rain. Yeah, I KNOW this was originally written in response to a drought and resulting famine, so I'll allow you a little leeway with this one.)
Do they know it's Christmas time at all (Do they care? Some of them are Muslim or Animists, etc. – they might not be particularly interested in our ethnocentric version of Christmas.)

(Here's to you) raise a glass for everyone (Lucky us – we get to sit in comfort and drink our wine and look down on “the other ones”.)
(Here's to them) underneath that burning sun (Ah – that warm African sun. What I’d give for a little of that right now! Oh – that’s not what you meant?)
Do they know it's Christmas time at all

Feed the world, feed the world, feed the world (Yeah, okay, I’m not so very fond of the “feed the world” language. Perhaps “share food with them” or “improve the systems so that they can access their own food”, but “feeding” sounds more like something you do for animals or children. Let’s try to treat them more like our equals.)

Let them know it's Christmas time again (So… what’s to say our version of Christmas is better than theirs? Perhaps, instead of claiming superiority, we could build relationships with them and learn from each other. Many of my African friends know a lot more then I do about supportive communities and a spiritual approach to Christmas that is more about honouring the birth of Christ than it is about the excessive consumerism and self-centredness that North American Christmas is often reduced to. Somebody pass me a soapbox to stand on!)

Feed the world (Sigh. Didn’t we cover this already?)
Let them know it's Christmas time again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again (Again? Let’s drop it already. Maybe somebody could write a new song?)


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


(Why do I have this feeling that I'm opening myself up to the wrath of sentimental people all over the internet?)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Beauty

Do you ever have those moments when you know there is something powerful and awe-inspiring at work in the space where you are? Something beyond yourself that makes you catch your breath with its beauty or power or inspiration? Something that gives you a tingly feeling because you know you were blessed to be there at that moment?

It’s not necessarily a big moment – sometimes it’s something very small and seemingly insignificant – but it’s usually a moment that changes you in some way. Sometimes it’s just a song that fills you with inspiration and hope. Sometimes it’s the glimpse of your child at play. Sometimes it’s a deep inexplicable knowing that there is goodness or beauty in the world.

I’m not sure what to call those moments, nor how to accurately define them. Words just don’t seem to suffice. I heard someone describe them as moments in which you “experience the sacred”. Others refer to them as “spirit-filled” moments. Probably for each of us, a different definition holds some measure of truth.

I had one of those moments on the train last week. As I gazed out the window at the passing scenery, I found myself mesmerized by the beauty of snow. Snow painting the tips of evergreen trees. Snow melting into droplets on the window. Snow crushed by the tires of a car. Fluffy white blankets of snow with just the hint of day-old footprints cutting like giant quilting stitches through middle. Snowflakes falling gently from the sky and mingling with the millions already on the ground.

Just then, a song started playing on my mp3 player. These were the opening lyrics: “Look out your window on a winter's morning, your breath is steam and there's frost falling, and the sun casts a spell upon the road. A thing of beauty is not a thing to ignore.” Wow. What a moment! This was not just some random snow-covered landscape. This was a thing of beauty. This was a gift from God for my hungry eyes.

While I sat there in awe of the snow and the song and the presence of God, the train rounded the corner and the vista changed. There spread in front of me was the great Lake Ontario in all its cold blue wonder, capped by white icing on the edges of the waves, blending into the blue, green and grey of the sky. The second verse of the song came on…“And the water does a dance upon the stones - I sit and listen, I will not ignore.” My eyes filled with tears at the pure wonder of it. I think I was shaking a little, feeling the indisputable presence of the sacred.

It is impossible to accurately capture these moments in words or even in pictures. Even the memory of it doesn’t do justice to the power of the moment. I am so grateful, though, that I was there and that I was open to encountering God.

Here’s a video that someone put together using the song as background. It’s quite lovely to watch. Be inspired.





Thing Of Beauty
Hothouse Flowers

Look out your window on a winter's morning
Your breath is steam and there's frost falling
And the sun casts a spell upon the road
A thing of beauty is not a thing to ignore
Great song of beauty

Stand by the river on a moonlight evening
Lovers are loving and grievers are grieving
And the water does a dance upon the stones
I sit and listen, I will not ignore

A thing of beauty is not to be ignored
Can't you see (can't you see)
It in the secrets of the dawn? (thing of beauty)
Can't you feel (can't you feel)
Can't you feel it in the place that you come from? (thing of beauty)

Face up to morning
Face up to day
Face up to reality
And face up to your ways

There is so much to breathe, see, know, understand and do
And I believe in things of beauty
Do you, do you?
Can't you see
Can't you see it in the secrets of the night? (thing of beauty)
Can't you feel
Can't you feel it in the wonder of a birds first flight? (thing of beauty)
Can't you see, can't you see it
See it in the gentle falling of the snow?
Can't you feel, can't you feel
Like a mother feels when she knows her child has grown?

Come to conclusions
I believe we all do
To look around us and the taste of the fruit
Set free your morals
It should be written on every door

A thing of beauty is not a thing to ignore
Can't you see (can't you see)
It in the magic when a boy meets a girl? (thing of beauty)
Can't you feel it, can't you feel it
In the wonders of the changes of the world? (thing of beauty)
Can't you see (can't you see)
It when right comes out of wrong? (thing of beauty)
Can't you feel (can't you feel)
It as it goes on and on? (thing of beauty)
Can't you see (can't you see)
It in what's left beneath the ground? (thing of beauty)
Can't you feel (can't you feel)
It in the mystery of sound? (of sound, thing of beauty)
Can't you see
Can't you see it in the glory of the sun? (thing of beauty)
Can't you feel, can't you feel it in the wonder of the one...
One
Can't you feel one and only?
One and only
Can't you feel it, can't you feel it, feel it
Thing of beauty?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sidelined

I should have been on the sidelines of the indoor soccer field last night, watching my agile, long-legged, beautiful daughter sprint across the field after the ball, doing her skip-step whenever she kicks it into high gear, weaving in and out of the opposing players with awe-inspiring skill (yes, I'm proud of her - how can you tell?), adding another goal to her growing total for the season. Oh how I would have liked to have been there.

Instead, I sat in the emergency room all evening, watching my agile, long-legged, beautiful daughter sitting in a wheelchair looking bored, disappointed, and uncomfortable.

Nikki fractured her ankle yesterday. For the next month or two, instead of sprinting across soccer fields, she’ll be limping along with crutches and a cast. It’s rather disappointing timing, with fun Christmas plans that include a trip to a waterpark, probably some bowling, a soccer tournament that she was invited to join with the developmental team, and lots of playing with visiting cousins, etc.

She’s a trooper, though, and she’s handling this all surprisingly well. She’s tough and independent. She hurt herself playing soccer in gym class at 9:30 yesterday morning (“Mom, I think I heard something snap”), limped around school all day, and didn’t even call me until almost 3:00 in the afternoon. Then, because it was too late for me to go get her, she managed to get herself home on the school bus.

She’s pretty determined not to ask for much help for anything either. When I dropped her off at school this morning, her teacher said “I’ll get the other kids to help her out with stuff.” And I said “good luck with that. She won’t very easily admit she needs their help.”

She was in a reasonably good mood this morning on the way to school, but I'm a little afraid that tonight, once the novelty of wearing a cast wears off, she'll be a very sad girl.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Home again

After 2 nights in Montreal (well, one was only half a night, since I got there really late, after a couple of mishaps at the airport delayed the flight, and then the cab driver got lost in Montreal), a train ride to Toronto, and then a few hours in Toronto, I am home.

- The meeting in Montreal was good. People were gracious and kind. They even laughed at my attempt to be funny, and they lapped up the free prizes and even applauded me. There was simultaneous translation for the workshop, so I spoke in English and some of the people heard "me" in French. And vice versa for the questions. I am in awe of anyone who can hear one language and speak in another language at essentially the same speed as the person delivering the message.

- The train ride was lovely. I wrote a bit, slept a bit, listened to music a bit, and stared out the window a lot. Purely delightful.

- I am really not very good at shopping. I know that sounds lame - shopping shouldn't take any particular skills - just go into a store and buy something. But I wandered around downtown Toronto for a few hours, thinking I'd get a good start on Christmas shopping, and I came home with nothing. I just kept finding myself back in the bookstore or coffee shop, seeking solace from the craziness of Christmas shoppers.

- I got home late last night, long after Maddie was sleeping. This morning, she was pleasantly surprised to find me in bed. She crawled under the covers with me and said "the country where you went on your trip must be a warm country, because you're nice and warm." Smile.

- Fortunately I had better luck today when I went shopping. I managed to complete almost all my Christmas shopping with one trip to Ten Thousand Villages. Yay for fair trade.

- There is a lot of snow in Montreal. Downtown, with its sparkly Christmas lights and mountains of snow looks like a winter wonderland. (Maybe I'll get some pictures downloaded tomorrow.)

- I've had enough business trips for awhile. Fortunately, the next one will be to a much more exotic place than the last ones have been.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Light at the end of the tunnel

All I have to do is survive this week and next week, and then I can FINALLY catch my breath. Just a few more meetings, one short business trip, a couple of presentations, a few concerts where I have to be the smiley person working at the information booth, at least one project I have to make some serious progress on, and then I can relax.

Oh how heavenly that word "relax" sounds to my ears right now!

After next week, I'll have two and a half weeks in which I only have to work three days! Woohoo!

In those two and a half weeks, please PLEASE do not ask me to commit to anything unless it involves some serious eating, sleeping, laughing, playing, reading, or relaxing. In those two and a half weeks, "NO" will be my favourite word for anyone who asks too much of me. I promise.

On January 3, 2007, I flew to Ethiopia for an exciting adventure. Little did I know that adventure would continue long after I landed back on Canadian soil. This whole year has been an adventure of new programs, new partnerships, new ideas, new challenges, new staff, new structures... oh the list goes on and on and now I'm TIRED.

There will still be lots to do when I get back after my two and a half weeks, but it can wait. I need a rest.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The person in the room

Whenever I facilitate a workshop or do public speaking, the energy of the people in the room can make or break the quality of my performance. It’s a give and take thing – if they give out positive energy, I’ll give it right back to them. The opposite is true too - if I’ve got good energy going in, I’m feeling confident, and they’re receptive to it, their energy picks up and we feed off each other.

Sometimes there’s one person in the room who wields too much power. Sometimes – especially if I’m feeling a little vulnerable or insecure – one person can suck the energy right out of me. Once, when I was speaking in church, I caught sight of a person near the back who sat with his arms firmly crossed shaking his head in disapproval while I spoke. It completely threw my concentration and I ended up fumbling my way through the rest of my talk and rushed to the end just to get it over with.

It’s even worse when I’m facilitating a workshop, and it’s not only negative body language I pick up, but negative comments and a resistance to feeding into a positive group conversation. I’m not talking about people who throw in ideas or thoughts that run contrary to mine – I can handle constructive disagreement and relish a healthy debate. I’m talking about those people whose negativity comes out in little jabs and passive aggressive undertones. Like the woman who once said under her breath, when she thought the discussion was pointless “I’m going outside to bang my head against the wall.” (My reply to her “a comment like that is not constructive to the process we’re engaged in. If you have a frustration, please voice it to the group.” That was the last passive aggressive comment she made.)

Fortunately, there are usually other people in the room who recognize the destructiveness of that kind of energy, and sometimes, with a little help from them, I can turn things around and not let it destroy the process. But on those days when I’m feeling a little vulnerable and insecure, it’s really hard to get past it and not let it destroy my confidence.

I have to make a presentation on Thursday in front of a group that I anticipate may be less receptive than many of the groups I present to. I’m trying to think of a few ways to liven up the energy a bit. I’m lousy at telling jokes, so I rarely bother with that, but I might need to think of something funny or light-hearted to start with. And I think I’m going to throw a few prizes into the mix – it’s a little manipulative, but sometimes I stoop to whatever lengths I need to for at least a few smiles in the room.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Good news!

1. Joe Banana has been found! (Daddy wins the prize for the best Dad ever for finding him.) At this very moment, he is curled up in his bed with his very best friend. There's a little reunion conversation going on in there, and I'm a little tempted to sit outside the door and eavesdrop, but I will resist. (By the way, if you were one of the nice people at the retreat who showed concern about Joe's disappearance, you can't imagine how touching that was. You can tell you hang out with a cool community of friends when they take an interest in a five-year-old's stuffed monkey.)

2. While half of the family was gone to a church retreat, Nikki got called up to play with the developmental team. (A real game this time - not just a practice.) Her first game with a more competitive team and... SHE SCORED THE FIRST GOAL of the game! So it wasn't only a mother's bias that she was good enough - she rocks! My only regret is that I missed her big moment.

Friday, November 30, 2007

All points bulletin

Joe Banana is missing!

If anyone should see a small, friendly, furry little monkey wandering past your home, looking a little lost, PLEASE let me know. There's a sad little five-year-old girl in our home, who's having trouble falling asleep at night without her buddy.

And if he isn't found... well, then the present the older sisters bought for the five-year-old for Christmas just won't be of any use.

Here's a picture of Joe in happier times, before he wandered off to places unknown. I'm getting a little choked up just looking at his smiling face. (Okay, I AM pathetic - I'm feeling all sad for a lost stuffed monkey.)

Maddie and Joe on the boardwalk in Duluth
Oh Joe, where did you go?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thursday Thirteen

(Because if Krista can do it, I can too.)

1. I was running out at lunch time to meet with someone, and on my way there, a blind man with a white cane asked “is this Graham Street”? “Close,” I said. “Just another 20 feet and you’re there.” I turned away, but he called out, “where is the bus stop?” “Well, there isn’t one on this block, you’ll have to go to the next block.” “Have I crossed Graham yet?” By this time I realized he was quite disoriented and I hoped he wouldn’t get hit by a bus. “No, you still have to cross Graham.” “Am I at the corner where I can cross?” “No, not exactly.” Giving up my effort to get to my meeting on time, I asked “do you want me to lead you to the bus stop?” “Yes,” was his simple reply. And so I lead him, helping him to avoid the places where ice and snow have already accumulated. And yes, I’m glad I was willing to be late for the meeting – it was worth it.

2. Don’t worry – not every item on this list will be as long as the last one.

3. Yesterday I fasted for End Hunger Fast. Leaders (and others) in churches across Canada fasted too. It felt like a nice way to be connected to people across the country – through the common grumbling of our tummies. (It was also kind of fun to know that an idea that was birthed in my little ol’ brain while I was brushing my teeth inspired people all across the country to give up food for a day.)

4. Speaking of ideas, I came up with another great idea to put together a quilt to present to our government as a way of communicating our concern that farmers in Africa are “taking the heat” when it comes to climate change. We hadn’t gathered enough quilt squares from people, and we’re running out of time (before the big Bali conference on Climate Change), so I thought it wouldn’t materialize. But now a bunch of university students have decided to run with it and I couldn’t be more happy.

5. I’m tired. It seems to be a constant state these days. No, I am NOT pregnant.

6. Speaking of being pregnant, I love ultrasounds, and I’m glad Krista shared hers. When I was in the hospital with Matthew, I had at least 15 of them (twice a day for at least 20 minutes each time), so I got pretty good at reading them.

7. Nikki had her second practice with the indoor developmental soccer team yesterday. Afterwards, one of the coaches said to her, with a smile of encouragement, “Good work Nicole. You’ve got speed, girl. And if you keep kicking like that, we’ll have to get a bigger damage deposit.” I think she grinned all the way home. It's true, I wouldn't recommend standing in front of her when she's kicking a ball. And I would NEVER challenge her to a race. Bravo to the coach for encouraging the new girl.

8. I cleaned up all the piles in my office last week AND I got to the bottom of my in box. Woohoo!!

9. I don’t know if I’ll make it to thirteen. I’m floundering.

10. Even my boss told me I’m looking tired these days. He’s not the most perceptive person around, so it must be serious. I think I need a two week vacation in a warm place.

11. Yesterday, for our day of fasting, I organized a little contemplative “worship” thing for our staff. It was quite lovely. I spoke about justice, mercy, and compassion (read Isaiah 58 for inspiration) and everyone was invited to light a candle (to symbolize their acceptance of a call to do justice), take a sip of water (the call to be merciful), and hold a handful of split peas (compassion). Some people took the burning candles back to their desks. I felt all warm and fuzzy (though a little hungry) for the rest of the afternoon, with a candle burning on my desk.

12. It’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy these days. It’s frickin’ cold outside. I’m not ready for winter.

13. We’re planning a very delightful pre-Christmas surprise for our girls (well, it’s for us too, but we won’t be surprised). I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Action Sandwich?

I stopped at the mall last night to pick up some pictures, and on my way through Chapters Bookstore, I heard some familiar music playing and decided to investigate. Alan Frew from Glass Tiger was doing an old familiar tune, and because I was once a bit of a Glass Tiger fan (I saw them perform live back in the early 90s), I hung around a bit to try to figure out why Alan Frew was in a bookstore.

Turns out he's written a book. "The Action Sandwich - a six-step recipe to success by doing exactly what you're already doing." Huh - isn't that handy - I can do EXACTLY what I'm already doing and end up successful?

I haven't read the book, so I suppose I have no right to be judgmental, but I just can't help myself. Does the world really NEED another self-help/motivational book about six easy steps to success? Especially one from a rock star?

I enjoyed this quote from an Amazon review of the book... "During a reminiscence of meeting and singing with Rod Stewart, Frew states "Who'd believe it?" and goes on to declare, "The Action Sandwich would!", referring to the action sandwich as a person." Hmmm... gotta get me one o' those ACTION SANDWICHES! Maybe I can sing with Rod Stewart! Or not.

If you've picked up one of these books for me for Christmas, better ask for your money back.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Three unrelated things about the weekend

1. Saturday night after dinner, we were sitting in our living room when we saw a limo pull up in front of our house. We weren't expecting any celebrity guests, so naturally our curiousity was piqued. Out of the limo stepped these three young men with their very special cargo. Sadly, that is not the Grey Cup - nope, that will be heading to Saskatchewan tonight. Instead, it's the Vanier Cup. Our University of Manitoba Bisons won it on Friday. One of these fellows is our neighbour. They were looking pretty beat, but still quite happy to pose for just one more picture.
2. On another note, today I had a speaking engagement at a seniors' home in Steinbach. Given that my family roots are in the vicinity of that very Mennonite part of the province, I knew I would be subjected to the "Mennonite game" wherein nearly everyone in the room would try to figure out who my parents and grandparents were and which of the people in the room I was related to. (I didn't grow up in that area, but both of my parents did.) Sure enough, I was not disappointed. What I didn't expect though, was the woman who pulled me over to tell me, with a bit of a giggle, that she'd once dated my dad, back in the day. He'd taken her for a drive in the country and had tried to teach her to drive. At one point, they'd come upon a herd of pigs, and she'd become flustered and had just taken her hands and feet off of everything. I guess that was the end of the driving lesson.

3. Speaking of my dad... when we were growing up, Sunday was a sacred day. Other than preparing meals, washing the dishes, and making sure the farm animals got fed, there was no work done on the farm. Even if it was beautiful weather in the middle of the harvest, my father refused to break the sabbath. Back then, I thought of him as a little legalistic. Now I'm starting to think he was on to something. We have slowly let ourselves step away from "remembering the sabbath and keeping it holy," and it has become just another day to get the laundry done, go grocery shopping, you name it. Today, after I got back from Steinbach, I took a nap and allowed myself to be lazy for most of the day. It was good. I think I need more sabbath-keeping.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Moving too fast

I have another whirlwind business trip coming up in a couple of weeks. To Montreal and Toronto again. Two cities in two days. Two sets of meetings in two different corporate boardrooms with two very different audiences in two cities in two provinces in two days. Too much.

The only thing I'm looking forward to? A train ride from Montreal to Toronto.

How can you tell your life is moving too fast? When the thought of 4 or 5 hours of uninterrupted daydreaming, reading, staring out the window and contemplating the meaning of life gives me no end of delight.

I love trains.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Losing their way

1. She was cute and cheerful with sparkly eyes and a cherubic face. Before I had children, I used to play with her and her sister at the annual Christmas party where we'd decorate cookies and hang them on the giant Christmas tree. This week, I heard that she's been caught in the schoolyard of the high school she graduated from - selling drugs to students. It seems she's lost her way.

2. I remember when he was born. We held him and cooed over him. Marcel and I were dating at the time, and it was the first time I realized my husband-to-be was baby-crazy. He didn't want to put the baby done. A few days ago, we found out that that baby has grown into a high school student who's belligerent and disrespectful and was caught stealing when his class volunteered at the local food bank. "If the poor people can have that stuff, why can't I?" He's losing his way.

3. She was beautiful and gifted and seemed so highly capable when she started working with me, several years ago. The future ahead looked bright and should have been. Today I heard that she's carrying a sadness with her, and has become so self-limiting her potential seems wasted and almost dried up. Is she losing her way?

4. Two little girls with friendly smiles and nervous giggles. They've been to our birthday parties and played in our backyard. Both of them seemed fearless and bold and full of spunk. One of them could shimmy up the monkey bars and walk across the top like a tight-rope walker when she was still too tiny to go to school. The other one came with us to Ballet in the Park and would wander off into the crowd like she was afraid of no-one. Now they're ten years old and looking for love in all the wrong places. Getting their eyebrows waxed, dressing like show-girls and bragging about kissing boys. Both had mothers whose pregnancies cut short their youth. Will they lose their way?

I have no conclusion for this post. No wise words or happy endings. Just a bit of sadness for the stories of people who've been in my life at some point and have since faltered along the path.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The legacy continues

Alternate title: Since I'm bragging about my kids anyway...

Many, many years ago, when I was about 5 or 6 (or I might have been a bit older, I don't remember - perhaps my sibling-with-the-amazing-memory can help me out?), I walked 22 miles to become the youngest person in our community to complete the walk-a-thon.

Yesterday, Julie did me proud. She climbed 29 flights of stairs for Conquer the Globe: StairClimb for Clean Air 2007 and was awarded the "Youngest Achiever Award". She came home quite proudly waving her new MP3 player award in the air. Yay Julie!

She completed the climb in 7 minutes and 47 seconds. I think I would have only made it up about 4 flights of stairs (huffing and puffing) in 7 minutes. Nikki made it in 5 minutes and 47 seconds. (She was the second-youngest achiever, but there was no award for that.)

I better start getting into shape, because next year they're determined I do it with them.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Scouted

Last Spring, Nikki suffered a major disappointment when she didn't get selected to play on the developmental level soccer team. Several of her friends got chosen (or at least got chosen to serve as back-up - kind of like the 'farm team'). If you saw Nikki play, you'd realize that it was clearly an oversight. No, I'm not just being a biased Mom - all the other parents who watch her were as incredulous as we were.

Nikki is passionate about soccer. P.A.S.S.I.O.N.A.T.E. Even though she could only play at the recreational league level, she poured her heart and soul into it every chance she got. All through the spring and summer, she worked extra hard, determined to improve her skills so she'd be selected next year. She went to a soccer camp in the summer, and her skills got even better.

This year, for the first time, both her and Julie are playing indoor soccer. (They wanted to last year, but our budget was a little tight.) Nikki started the season with a bang - scoring the first goal for her team - and has been knockin' em dead ever since (highest goal-scorer so far). She is a force to be reckoned with. (I really love watching her. There's this little skip-step that she does just before she kicks it into full throttle. It's a thing of beauty.)

And yesterday it paid off. We weren't aware of it, but there was a coach from the developmental team watching her game, looking for a possible back-up player for their team. After the game (in which Nikki scored 2 out of the team's 3 goals), he pulled Nikki's coach aside, and then he pulled Nikki aside. They want her to come out for practices and be available to play whenever one of their players can't make it. (She was the only one from her team selected.)

She's not a full-fledged member of the team (yet), but it's a start. And it sure is good to see that smile on her face.

Friday, November 16, 2007

C'mon people, have you learned NOTHING?!

Two years ago, I wrote a post about all the things you should NOT do if you're applying for a job (at least if you're applying for a job where I'll be your manager). I just finished reading through 57 resumés, and I hate to tell you, at least half of those people did NOT BOTHER TO READ my very helpful post. C'mon people!

Telling me that you were "led by the Spirit" to apply for the job is not going to guarantee that I am "led by the Spirit" to hire you! And including a picture on your resumé? Unless you're applying for a job at Moxies or Hooters, I can't imagine when it would EVER be advisable to add the picture. And if you ever think that six pages of fine print wherein you brag non-stop about how wonderful you are is going to be read with delight - guess again. 57 resumes is a LOT of reading to do, and you've just guaranteed yours will be barely skimmed through.

Just one other thing... don't EVER, under any circumstances, include phrases such as "do you really want to pass up the opportunity to meet with me?" Or "Look no further!" Or "I am confident you've found the right person in me." Let me be the judge of that!

Monday, November 12, 2007

My sister

There have been lots of cheesy things said about sisters - in Hallmark and Blue Mountain Art cards and plaques and all manner of cheap token gifts. I'd never buy one of those for my sister - not because I don't like her, but because we share a disdain for schmaltzy, overly sentimental clap trap.

This is my own version of "why I like my sister":

She is the best traveling companion EVER. We have the same interests, we skip the same overly-popular tourist traps in favour of out-of-the-way local flair, we seek out similar versions of "beauty", and we like to make fun of OTHER tourists. (In fact, I'm a little jealous of her friends and husband lately, because they've had more chances to travel with her than me and that sucks.)

She has been an incredible presence in the lives of my daughters from the day they were born. She spoils them, she encourages them, she treats them with great respect, she honours their individuality, and most of all she loves them.

She is sarcastic and opinionated - in an endearing kind of way. If she feels strongly about something, she doesn't mind voicing her opinion, but she's equally open to hearing other people's opinions. She loves a good argument, and it was one of the things our dad admired most about her.

She is way more organized and dependable than me. But she doesn't rub it in my face or get really annoyed when I forget about something or my disorganization gets in the way of success.

She can throw a party like few people I know. I am in awe of her hosting skills. She doesn't want to be the centre of attention, but when you see her in action at a party she's hosting, it is a thing of beauty.

She lets herself be vulnerable with people she cares about deeply and who have gained her trust. If you happen to be lucky enough to be within her circle of trust, you will be deeply rewarded. She'll admit her weakness and trust you to handle them tenderly and with respect. She will treat your weaknesses the same way she hopes you'll treat hers.

She knows me better than almost anyone in the world. There are times when we are in a room full of people, and we hear a comment made, we just need to glance at each other across the room and we can communicate our response to the comment without anyone else in the room knowing what's passing between us.

She knows my hurts. She's the first person I tell when I get those familiar pangs of missing dad or I have to deal with some of the transitions our family has been through, because I know that she will respond with the kind of compassion that only someone with the same hurts can respond.

She loves Folk Festival as much as I do and even went as far as arranging her wedding around it. I love her for that.

If she believes in something, she commits herself wholeheartedly. She has been part of the most incredible Children's ministry team at our church for a long time and she has poured a whole lot of herself into caring for, teaching, and encouraging our children. Many, many children have been blessed by her.

She doesn't like cell phones any more than I do.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Gulp

More than 60 percent of young women in high school express dissatisfaction with their bodies.

In college, it's 80 percent.

The obsession with weight starts early - 42 percent of girls in first to third grade express a desire to be thinner.

According to published research, 15 percent of women would sacrifice more than five years of their life to obtain the weight they desire. (REALLY? Yikes!)

There are at least eight million sufferers of life-threatening anorexia nervosa (reported in girls as young as eight years old), bulimia, and other associated eating disorders in America; 90 percent of these are women.

Since 1992, elective cosmetic procedures have risen a dramatic 198 percent.

Between 1990 and 1999 the number of facelifts in the US increased sixfold.

The diet industry has grown to a $40-billion-a-year business.

Popular women's magazines contain 10 times more diet-promoting articles and advertisements than comparable men's magazines. One out of every 3.8 advertisements sends some sort of message encouraging women to acquire a body that is "barely there".

Somebody PLEASE tell me how we're supposed to raise healthy daughters in this culture?!!?

(Information source: "Eve's Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body")

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

On birth and busy-ness

There have not been alot of words making their way onto my blog lately. The reasons are both simple and complicated. The simple reason is that I'm still crazy busy these days. Most of the busy-ness is work-related, but there have been other things. Like facilitating another leadership workshop, making Halloween costumes, dealing with indoor soccer schedules, and then all those other things that show up unexpectedly. Throw in a little business travel, and I'm just about maxed out.

The complicated reasons aren't so easy to explain. Maybe one of these days I'll come on here and explain a little more about what's going on, but for now let's just say it's a bit of a personal spiritual journey, combined with the birthing of a new creative "baby".

This figurative birthing process has made me reminisce about my literal birthing experiences - the three that resulted in my beautiful daughters, and the one that resulted in my beautiful, though lifeless, son. The memory that's been with me today is that of my coming into motherhood experience.

Nikki had a really difficult entry into this world. I still find myself - nearly a dozen years later - getting a little emotional when I remember the intensity, pain, frustration, worry, seamingly endless agony, and yet ultimate joy of that experience (and a whole lot of emotions in between). It started out with me being induced because a fetal assessment showed (rather incorrectly) that she was a little on the small side and that my fluids were getting low (a week after she was due). Inducement led to hours of waiting for something to happen, followed by nearly 36 hours of labour (there's the "endless" part), three hours of heavy duty pushing, followed by an urgent call to the only obstetrician in the city who could do the necessary procedure to to deliver her without a c-section, lots of tearing and stitches, and then finding out that she had to be rushed away from me to be treated with antibiotics because there was a risk of infection.

When she was finally born, after all those hours of pushing, I had gone almost completely (though thankfully temporarily) blind. It turns out the agony of pushing for that long can mess up the muscles around your eyes so badly your vision gets messed up. They put my baby on my chest, but I had to rely on Marcel's description of her and the touch of my fingers to know anything about how she looked.

Not long afterwards, she was whisked away, and because it was late and we all needed rest, I was returned to my room and Marcel and my mom left the hospital.

The memory that has been clinging to me today has been not so much about the delivery but about what happened later that night. I awoke in the middle of the night and was suddenly filled with the most intense body-aching loneliness I had ever felt. My family had gone, and the baby that had moved in my womb for the last nine months was way down the hall behind nursery room glass. I'd given birth to her, gone through nearly unbearable pain to introduce her to the world, but I didn't even know what she looked like.

My eyesight had returned and I knew I HAD to see her. I knew it with the deepest longing imaginable. But I was in so much pain, I couldn't even figure out how to shuffle my body up in the bed in order to reach the call button to get the nurse.

But there is little that can get in the way of a mother who needs to see her child. I struggled for what seemed like an eternity, but I somehow managed to get my body up off the bed and down the hall. The nurses looked up in amazement as I passed them and entered the nursery. I'm sure there was a rather desparate look in my bloodshot eyes.

I found my baby. And I wept at her loveliness. She looked so tiny and vulnerable, hooked up to all kinds of wires and hoses, lying nearly naked in an incubator. Truly, she was not a beautiful baby - after what she went through to get into the world, it's hardly surprising - but she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

I reached out and touched her skin and knew that I had fallen completely and irreversibly in love.

I'm not sure why this is on my mind today, but I'm sure it has something to do with this creative birthing process. Some of it is painful, and it's possible that what comes of it may never "live", but at this point, I have to believe it will be beautiful.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

This is the best I've got

Because life seems to be overwhelming me a bit these days, and because Maddie had a wee tiny (yeah right!) meltdown when it was time to dress up for Halloween, I didn't manage to take any pictures last night. Instead, I "stole" one from my sister, so I can at least show off the cuteness of the two monkey cousins. (And this is your opportunity to ooh and aah about the monkey costume I made for Nikki. Don't look too closely at the ears, though.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Warm fuzzies

When I got home from work today, the girls came running toward me.

Julie: "Mom - come see the brownies I made!" Sure enough, a fresh pan of delectable brownies greeted me in the kitchen. Just because she felt like it. I think I'll keep her.

Maddie: "Mom - come see the playhouse I made!" In the basement - in the big empty space that's still awaiting floor finishing from the renovation-project-that's-sucking-the-life-out-of-me was an imaginative play-world, complete with a princess who was attending her first day of school, assorted stuffed animals who were in the playroom at daycare, a computer made of a discarded box, and several other rooms that all had unique purposes. I think I'll keep her.

Later tonight, Nikki was telling me what songs she'd uploaded onto her new iPod. "This Crowded House song is on there because it reminds me of Grandpa." That seemed a little odd, since I can't ever imagine my dad listening to Crowded House. "It was on the radio when we were on our way to the farm when we'd found out that Grandpa died. I'll always remember that." I think I'll keep her.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Women

Yesterday, I attended a “Gender in International Development” workshop where I heard stories of how, in times of crisis such as the tsunami that rocked the world, women are often doubly vulnerable. Not only do they lose their homes, families, and often their sources of income, but they fall victim to sexual predators, slave traders, etc. On top of that, they have to deal with aid organizations that are often paternalistic and exclusionary.

A few days before, I read the article about how, in the sports world, wife abuse is tolerated more than animal abuse.

A few weeks before that, I read Infidel, the story of Ayaan Hirsi Ali who grew up in a paternalistic, abusive, violent culture where abuse of women is not only tolerated, it’s expected. She is now speaking out against the discrimination of women in the Muslim world, and consequently she can no longer go anywhere without armed protection.

Around the same time, I heard of a local Christian church that has decided to take a step backwards and move away from allowing women to lead. I also heard stories of how frighteningly prevalent wife abuse is among Christian pastors. Some of the perpetrators feel their faith justifies their actions.

A month before that, I heard Ato G's story about some of the young girls we met in Ethiopia who have since died from female genital mutilation.

Today, I feel a deep sadness for all the women who lack freedom, security, hope, and peace – simply because they are women. I feel especially sad that far too frequently religion plays a role in propagating and/or justifying the abuse.

We still have a long way to go.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

We've come a long way, baby... or have we?

Just when you thought the women's movement had done its' job and you could quit burning your bras, you read a story like this. It seems there is more tolerance for wife abuse than there is for animal abuse - at least in the sports world. I'm thanking my lucky starts I'm not married to a professional athlete.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thirteen good moments in the last 48 hours

1. 4:30 this afternoon. Two days of chairing meetings - done.

2. Receiving a heartfelt compliment from someone who's generally critical of my work.

3. Feeling the energy in the room when, more than once, someone dared to say "What if..." and then proceeded to share a "blow your mind" good idea.

4. Introducing Steve Bell at the banquet and calling him "friend".

5. Listening to Steve tell stories of Ethiopia and sing the song.

6. Walking to the grocery store for milk in the drizzly rain after all was said and done and I could relax.

7. Eating the amazing food prepared by some of my favourite people who also happen to be the best caterers for miles around.

8. Realizing, at the end of a meeting with my team (the first of the two days of meetings), that it was the best meeting we've had since I started this job.

9. Watching the people I've hired since I started in the job and realizing I've hired well.

10. Being greeted at the door by two of my daughters doing a Charlie's Angel routine.

11. Words of encouragement from someone I admire.

12. Knowing I'd handled the talkative person in the room as graciously as possible when I had to tell her to "wrap it up".

13. Realizing I've developed some meaningful friendships with some people in this group of "business associates".

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

No title and basically no content either

I have very little brain-space for blogging these days, but I thought I'd at least come on and tell you I'm still alive and mostly happy and I haven't decided to ditch you for another set of blog readers on the other side of the proverbial fence. Here are a few random things you may or may not care about:

- I took Maddie to the cardiologist yesterday. She still has a slight heart murmur, which means she has a hole the size of a pin in her heart, but they assure us it will never have any significant impact on her life and there is no reason to worry. I felt a little guilty walking out of the heart clinic - most of the kids in there were regular visitors who really DID have heart problems (one had even had a heart transplant, and another had just gotten his wish from the Children's Wish Foundation and all the nurses were doting on him) and here I was with the healthy kid who didn't need to come back.

- There are about 30 people descending on me from all parts of the country this week, and I have to host them for two days of meetings and an evening banquet. I am SO not prepared. I feel completely scattered and disorganized. Fortunately, I've been doing this long enough that I'm pretty good at wingin' it and I have enough "back-story" to remember that it's often when I feel least in control that the results are the most positive and memorable.

- I helped put together a powerpoint for Rob's mom (Michele's mother-in-law) who died last week, and even though I hardly knew her, it was quite lovely going through her pictures and imagining what she was like as a young woman. She had the most beautiful, open, bold face in her youth. I think she would have been alot of fun to hang around with.

- I may live to regret it (if people start posting the kind of things on my wall that Joyce is collecting - yeesh!), but I joined Facebook. Okay, is it just me, or does it make you feel like you're back in junior high when you have to ask people to be your "friends" and then you sit and wait to see if they'll walk past your locker at recess and say "hi" even though they're one of the cool kids and you're SO not? I mostly joined so that I could hook up with the End Hunger Fast group that's linked to our new website, and now I'm trying to figure out what all the hype is all about.

- Today is World Food Day. If you are so inclined, take a moment today to prayerfully consider the over 850 million people in the world who do not have enough to eat. Approximately every 5-8 seconds, there is someone in the world dying from hunger-related illness. It's too much for the brain to comprehend, but as Mother Theresa said "if you can't feed 100 people, then feed just one."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fumbling

Today was a "fumbling" kind of day. I made mistakes. I communicated poorly. I might have jeopardized an important business relationship because I treated someone rather brusquely before I realized what I was doing. On top of that, I had to have a couple of tough conversations with people who work for me. Feelings were quite probably hurt.

The mantle of leadership felt too heavy on my shoulders today. It was the kind of day that made me wish (at least momentarily) that I could throw off the mantle and just count widgets for awhile. Maybe just for a day or two. At least then I wouldn't have to make decisions or walk tenderly around relationships - I'd just count. Counting I can do. In fact I'm quite competent at it. 1. 2. 3... This leadership stuff... I'm just not feeling quite as competent today.

A few days ago, when I was cleaning up a corner of the basement for "the renovation project that will see my hair turning grey before it's finished", I came across an envelope addressed to me in my father's unmistakable handwriting. I think there were only two or three times I ever got anything in the mail from my dad. I wrote about another one of those times here. I could never throw any of them out, but I don't quite know what to do with them, so they have a way of popping up now and then when I'm cleaning. When I got home from work today, I re-read the one I'd most recently found. I needed it.

On a little pink scrap of paper (something that had been discarded from the Auction Mart where he worked - my dad was into recycling long before it was trendy), was this very brief note.

"The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him." Proverbs 23:24

I don't remember what preceded this note. The postmark says 1999, but I can't remember if there was something significant that happened that year that made my dad send me a note that, in his own way, said "I'm proud of you. You are a wise child." Perhaps I'd accomplished something that he wanted to honour me for. Or perhaps it was a time when I was filled with self-doubt and he thought I needed to hear that I was capable and that he believed in me.

I don't remember how it made me feel to get that simple note in the mail. I'm sure it choked me up a little. I only know how it felt to find it this weekend, four years after he died. And I know how it felt to read it again after a day that left me feeling anything but "wise".

I think I'll frame it and put it on my desk. Tomorrow when I go back to work, I'm going to need a little boost to help me move forward. If my dad believed I was wise, then who am I to doubt it?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Not-so-fun Monday

Pamela asked to see our October view for Fun Monday, and I had every intention of wandering around the neighbourhood today looking for the perfect shot to entice all of you to visit and to prove that Winnipeg is NOT the arm-pit of the nation, but it rained all day long AND I was stuck in the basement working on the "renovation project that just won't end". So you'll have to be satisfied with these slim-pickins'.

I stepped outside in the drizzle and snapped this. You can see that most of the leaves have been released from the trees.
This is along the side of the house - I snapped this a couple of days ago before the rains came.
I don't have a particularly inspiring view from my kitchen window, but when autumn comes, I like to watch the myriad of colours changing on our unruly shrub.
Here's a close-up view of that shrub. There seem to be a variety of plants that have managed to assert themselves in what is supposed to be a "shrub" bordering our property.

And here's a fairly common view in our backyard.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Check it out!

I don't normally post twice in one day, but I'm just SO excited that I can't resist. You just HAVE to check this out. It's the website for the new program I've been pouring a lot of passion, sweat, and a few tears into the last 10 months or so.

Go ahead - go there. Sign up on our "get connected" page. Watch the 2 videos I "executive produced" from my trip to Ethiopia with Steve Bell. Join our Facebook group. (If you want to make a donation, though, you may want to wait a few weeks - we're still working on streamlining that part of it.)

And then come back here and tell me you LOVE it - because quite frankly, that's ALL I want to hear. :-)

Okay, I'm a little giddy. This is a pretty big moment for me.

Cauliflower and milk

As I tried to relax in the bathtub last night, I heard this conversation:

“Who put the cauliflower on the shelf where the milk is supposed to be?”

“Not me!”

“I did! Because SOMEBODY had stuck the cauliflower where it got in the way of closing the door!”

“Well don’t blame ME!”

“Why would you put the cauliflower THERE?! That’s a stupid place for cauliflower!”

“Why are you always blaming ME for EVERYTHING?”

“Well where am I supposed to put the milk now?”

“That’s YOUR problem! I cleaned my share of the table!”

Sigh. Is it just me, or does your family also enjoy arguing so much that they can fight over cauliflower and milk? If you’re one of those really evolved families that calmly discusses everything and ALWAYS settles disputes without any raised voices, please walk away now or I may have to hurt you.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Autumn

“I know how to say red in French”
chirped Maddie
fresh from kindergarten
“It’s rouge.”

This morning
biking past the railway bridge
I stopped and stared in awe
at the brilliant leaves
still tenuously clinging to the vine

“I know how to say red,”
I thought
“with no words at all

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A two wheeled WHAT?

This morning, as I watched someone ride past on a bicycle, I wondered for a moment about the person(s) who invented the bicycle. What reaction must they have gotten the first time they rode through town on a self-propelled two-wheel contraption? Thank goodness they were bold enough to do it, even though they were almost certainly mocked a little for it. Imagine how many great inventions may have been missed throughout history because the inventor wasn’t bold enough to risk ridicule.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

What a week

It has been a full and rather intense week - the kind of week that feels like ideas and events and experiences and emotions are tumbling over you so fast you barely have time to process it all and give meaning to it. Here are a few of the highlights:

- It was really wonderful meeting Brian McLaren in person AND spending a delightful evening and plane ride home reading his new book "Everything Must Change". If you've been struggling with how your faith connects with the really big issues that are going on in this world - climate change, poverty, war, unfair trade, etc. - you really should read this book.

- Marcel and I attended the 25th anniversary celebration for our friends Steve and Nanci. I traveled to Ethiopia with Steve and Nanci (and produced a couple of videos with Steve, which I'll link to soon) and it's been really cool developing a friendship with them. There was great music being played at the social that night, the highlight of which was the reunion of Steve's old band "Elias, Shritt, and Bell". Their harmonies are truly amazing - kinda like Simon and Garfunkel or Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

- This week marked the seventh anniversary of the birth and death of our son Matthew. In what is becoming a family tradition, we celebrated the place he holds in our family's story by visiting his grave and making a trip to Dairy Queen for some birthday ice cream sundaes.

- I attended this concert and saw part of the related art exhibit. About all I can say is "Wow!" If you're in Winnipeg and you can take in the exhibit, you really should do so. It's incredibly moving.

- I got to chat with Bob Bennett and tell him how much his songs "We are the Kings" and "We were the Kings" have meant to me. It was a brief conversation and I didn't get a chance to tell him the story of how those songs served as a touchstone for me in Ethiopia when I found out my best childhood friend Julie's father had died and I couldn't be around to mourn with her. Perhaps another time.

- I also had a brief opportunity to talk to Carolyn Arends and let her know how her music had been my constant companion in the hospital during the three weeks leading up to the birth and death of Matthew. When she sang "We've been Waiting for You", I wept, because that was the song that was the most closely connected to our waiting and longing for Matthew. She got a chuckle out of the story of how I listened to her music on the Fisher Price tape recorder a friend had brought to my hospital room.

- After being gone for most of the week, I took Friday off and hung out with my kids. We did a little shopping and went out for lunch. They're at such a great age right now - they're truly fun to hang out with and don't require a lot of "caring for them" energy. We've had some great laughs this weekend, like when Marcel showed his age by referring to MySpace and/or Facebook as "My Face".

- I had some of the greatest conversations with people this week. Some of them happened in Toronto, as I mentioned in my last post, but some of them happened closer to home. It was really fun connecting with a new friend - the mother of one of Nikki's best friends - on her front yard. A conversation that started with the kind of sandals we both love wandered from there to fair trade, life changes, and the impact of losing a son. (Joanne, if you're reading this - WELCOME!)

- I spoke in church this morning - something I truly enjoy doing. You know what they say about public speaking being one of the most common fears among people? Yeah, well I'm an exception to that statistic. It gives me energy.

- With all of these incredibly inspiring things swirling around me, the muse has visited and I've gotten inspired with a few writing and work-related ideas. I can hardly wait to get started. Now if only I can find the time.

I think I need a quiet day in a retreat centre just to process all of this.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

So good

If you want to know where I am (or where I'm about to leave, since I'm currently sitting in the airport), you can find all the clues you need here. Unfortunately, those pictures were taken on the only evening I had a chance to wander. The rest of the time, I was stuck in a boring hotel in the industrial wasteland near the airport. (Sorry Karla – no chance to hook up this time.)

But it’s been good. So good. Surprisingly good.

I’m at a Christian charities conference, and the last time I came to one of these, I felt like a fish out of water. As much as I make a continuous (or perhaps I should say repeated and sometimes sporadic) choice to be a person of faith, I do not speak the language of religion well. In fact, I wouldn’t even say that I “do” religion well. I’m a bit of a faltering Christian without the same sense of a box in which to place my faith as many people seem to have. Especially people who tend to gather in a place like this. The shape of my faith is a little less like a box and more like a loosely woven basket. (I know some of you are smiling right now, because you’ve got baskets too. And some of the holes are even bigger than you’d like, right?)

So when I’m in a context surrounded by hundreds of people for whom the language is as natural as breathing, I get a little antsy and often feel inclined to run from the room. Sometimes I envy them their boxes and their common language, but I just know it doesn’t work for me. (Like, for example, the guy who delivers the “spiritual challenge” – a mini-sermon – each morning, who says “God bless you” every time he steps out of the elevator. I seem to share an elevator with him every time I go to my room. I don’t know how to respond. “Um – yeah thanks?” Good thing he hasn’t noticed that I’ve managed to skip the “spiritual challenge” part of the morning every day since the first day.)

You can see then, why a place like a “Christian charities conference” leaves me feeling a little like an impostor. And an alien. A stranger in a strange land.

But this time, it’s been different. Not because I’ve conformed to the box or learned the language – quite the opposite. I’ve been having the most amazing conversations. I have found lots of other baskets in rooms I assumed were full of boxes. I’ve had pleasant surprises. I’ve had to readjust my perceptions of people. I love that. With one person in particular, whom I’ve known for a couple of years, a person who is a leader in a Christian relief and development agency – someone you’d assume almost certainly fits in the box category – I’ve had a couple of truly remarkable conversations. He’s faced the same doubts, the same anger at organized religion, and the same shaking of a faith he thought was fairly secure. He’s had to climb out of the box too, and is still trying to figure out the shape of his new faith. He is now my friend on a very different level than he was two days ago. What a lovely surprise!

And I’ve gotten to attend two sessions with one of my favourite writers, Brian McLaren. And after each workshop, I got a chance to chat with him one on one. He’s even more cool in person than in his books. Definitely a basket kind of guy. A basket guy who doesn’t pretend he’s got a box. My kind of guy. I’ve even got an advance copy of his new (not even released yet) book that he’s asked me to pass on as a surprise to a mutual friend of ours (but I get to read it first on the airplane on the way home). How cool is that?

There have been other great sessions too. I’ve definitely been refreshed. And I have some great ideas floating around in my grey matter.

I never expected I’d be this glad I came.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Time to put the lawnchairs away

In the summertime, our lawnchairs are always in the trunk of the car. Whether it's a soccer game, a family barbecue, a church picnic, a visit to the beach, or a camping trip, those lawnchairs get a lot of use. If you look closely at the photo, you'll see that the one on the left is falling apart. We've had that particular chair since shortly after we got married. It has been sat on hundreds of times by dozens of butts.

This morning, we watched the last outdoor soccer game of the season. It was a disappointing 1-0 loss for Julie's team in the semi-final round of the city championship (b-side). It's over. The end of another season.

It's time to put the lawnchairs away. Today didn't feel like summer was over - it was a beautiful day. But the leaves are changing, and we've already had the furnace on once or twice in our house.

Fall has arrived.

In other news, I'm sitting in a stinky hotel room. No funky bed and breakfast this time - it was just easier to stay where the conference is being held. I'm stuck in one of those rather boring corporate hotels close to the airport where there isn't even an interesting place to walk, and unfortunately I booked a little late and there was nothing left but a smoking room. Bummer. Plus I just had a very disappointing greek salad from room service, so this isn't shaping up to be a particularly memorable place to stay.

Oh well. At least the bed is comfy. And I have a new book to read, so I'm going to curl up with it right now. I took Lucia's advice and picked up Infidel in the airport. It looks interesting so far.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thirteen things currently spinning through my head

(yes, I’m feeling spinny today)

Alternate title: A day in the life of my brain at work

  1. Should I order more newsletters, or will 18,000 be enough?
  2. Did I catch all the mistakes on the design proof of the brochure, or will someone point out a glaring error the moment 10,000 of them arrive in my office from the printer?
  3. Is there something I committed to doing tonight that I’m forgetting?
  4. What should I take along to read on my trip next week?
  5. When will I find the time to prepare my speaking notes for Monday’s meeting? On the airplane?
  6. I hope the band they hired for the conference I’ll be at next week won’t be the same country gospel one they had at the last conference I attended. (Please don’t hate me if you happen to like country gospel – it’s just not my thing.)
  7. When will I get the first phone call from a disgruntled supporter saying that we shouldn’t have mentioned the connection between fossil fuel consumption and climate change in our newsletter?
  8. Do they REALLY want 29,000 copies of the brochure? Just how many trees did that kill? Can I use recycled paper?
  9. How will I replace one of my key staff members who gave his notice this week? Yikes!
  10. Will we be ready to launch our big new program by early next month? Will I have an aneurysm before then?
  11. After three years of monthly conference calls with my team, WHY haven't I learned to ask the questions so that I'm not met with stone-cold silence almost every time I ask for feedback on something?
  12. Oooo… the new website is going to look SO lovely! Why didn’t I get this done years ago?
  13. Will the designer hate me when he gets my email for 35 picky little changes to the document?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Babysitting Abby

The laundry didn’t get folded last night,
but I sat and rocked a little girl to sleep for the first time in about three years

I didn’t get started on the wall that needs painting,
but I watched my oldest daughter change her first poopy diaper and I marveled how quickly she has gone from the “pooper” to the “changer”

I didn’t sweep the floor or wipe the dirty fingerprints off the fridge,
instead I dutifully obeyed every time my 22 month old niece said “Hah-her come” (after all, when someone learns your name, how can you resist letting her wrap you around her finger?)

I didn’t pay the bills or change the sheets,
but I sat and read “Good Night Little Sheep” to an appreciative audience when it was nearly time for bed

I didn’t “accomplish” anything last night, nor did any of my children,
but for a short while we played the roles of doting auntie and cousins and we let our world revolve around a little girl who’s got a firm hold on our hearts.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

At least there are some names that I DO know

I think hearing Ato G.'s story of dying girls left me feeling a bit of survivor guilt.

There's something about the nature of the type of travel I do in developing countries that makes me feel a little voyeuristic. I wander from village to village, get access to their homes, their schools, and their farms, they let me take pictures of their lives, I take a few notes for some stories and for my journal, but then I return home to my comfortable North American life, and they are left with the pain that I cannot share.

A lot of times - like the case of the young girls in the Afar region - I don't even get a chance to ask many of their names. It all happens so quickly and many of them don't speak English, so I leave feeling like I haven't really learned who they are. I am an observer. A watcher. I take back their stories, and I try to honour them the best way I know how, but I can never really be part of their pain.

While I was sitting with that thought yesterday, a little gift fell in my lap - just the kind of moment I needed to remind myself that I am doing the best I can, and that sometimes real connections do happen.

Daniel has recently arrived from Kenya. He's working in our office as an international intern this year. He'll be traveling across Canada, connecting with youth in schools and churches and sharing his story of growing up with hunger. You only need to look at his grin to know that it is not hard to fall in love with Daniel. He's got a bright light shining in him and I'm lucky to be close enough to be touched by it.
Daniel sat in my office yesterday, and I showed him my pictures of Kenya. In earlier conversation, I'd found out that he'd grown up in one of the regions I'd traveled in a few years ago. As I flipped through the pictures, his eyes lit up when he spotted familiar landmarks and even some faces that he recognized.

Then we got to this picture, and he burst out laughing.
"THAT'S MY SISTER!" he nearly shouted. Sure enough - this is his younger sister Agnes.

I remember Agnes. We were sitting at the table under the acacia tree on the farm where we'd tented the night before. It was the afternoon, between outings, and I'd found a shady spot to rest. I remember how she approached me and, in a bold yet quiet way, sat down close enough to brush her shoulder up against mine. It was clear that she wanted to be my friend.

The older women were busy cooking food for us on the open fire pit, but Agnes and one or two other young women clearly had other ideas in mind. They wanted to befriend these Canadian visitors. She sat down and we talked. For nearly an hour. She told me about her life. She was a school teacher, teaching in a village some distance from her family. She boarded with another family in the village. She talked about her family, and I'm sure she even told me about Daniel, though I had no inkling at the time that I'd meet him some day.

I am so glad that I remember Agnes, and that I can learn of her life two and a half years later. I cannot name the other girls in my last post, but somehow, remembering Agnes makes me feel a little less sad.

And I am even more glad that I get to spend the upcoming year getting to know Daniel.

Friday, September 14, 2007

They may be dead now

We had a visitor in our office yesterday. Ato G. from Ethiopia. A gentle yet bold man who's responsible for the project we visited in the Afar district, where a water diversion project has transformed the community and dramatically increased the food security for hundreds (maybe even thousands) of people. He brought pictures and stories of lives transformed, new crops growing, and a bustling and growing village. When we were there in January, the people boasted that the village school which had had only 1 student 3 years earlier had grown to 64 students. Now, merely 8 months later, Ato G. tells us that it has now grown to 250 children, and 40 % of them are girls. Women have increasingly greater responsibility in the community, especially since it has been recognized that they possess many of the skills required to move the village forward economically.

When we were there, we visited the second project that Ato G's staff are overseeing. At least a hundred workers bustled around a busy work site carrying rocks, mixing concrete, hauling water, and digging trenches. He tells us that that water weir has now been completed and they are enjoying their first crops. There is renewed hope in the community. Access to water means access to life in arid regions like the Afar.

Ato G. came with some sad stories, however. Last year's flood in the region set the communities back and meant that thick silt had to be removed from their new canals. We watched a man on a video tell us how he'd lost his farm when the flooding moved the river about 150 metres from the original riverbed. He stood looking over the rushing water and said "this used to be my farm."

The piece of news that Ato G. brought that haunts me the most, however, is the story of the young girls. "Remember all the girls you watched carrying loads of rocks in their sacks to help build the water weir? They made up a large part of our work force there. But many of them are dead now."
Female genital mutilation. That's what's killing them. The community comes together for the coming of age celebration once a year or so, and with a single contaminated blade, 50 to 100 young women lose a little piece of themselves. In the weeks that follow, many of them lose their lives.

I can't get that out of my mind and my heart. We watched these young woman work. We watched them dance in the setting sun. We watched them walk their livestock home from the fields. We watched them cast subtle flirtatious glances at the young men - the same looks you'd catch in any country of the world when young people gather.

But many of them are dead now. And those that aren't dead have been violated. And they've lost their friends.

Sometimes the work of international development feels like one step forward two steps back. The community has changed, they have access to water and more food. There are even woman serving in key roles in the community. That's all good news. But their young women are dying.

Today I am sad for those hopeful young women who danced in the evening sun. My hope and prayer is that those who survived will rise up and be strong, and that some day, when it is their turn to step into whatever leadership roles they are afforded they will say "this is enough. We will not watch our daughters die."