Tuesday, March 27, 2007

That thing you're doing with your feet - what's that called?

Apparently nobody WALKS in downtown Dallas. Correction - nobody even goes outside! At first I thought I was just imagining things when I asked people if the b&b was within walking distance of downtown and they just looked at me incredulously like I'd just asked if I could bite their kneecaps. "You want to WALK downtown?" Hmm.... apparently walking is for sissies.

Not to be deterred, I walked anyway. And, in almost a Twilight Zone surrealness (I'm sure that's not a word, but whatever) I was stunningly alone on the streets. The first night, I chalked it up to the fact that it was Sunday evening and I was primarily walking through the business district. But even when I walked past hotels and rows of apartment buildings there was NO ONE outside. For most of the walk, for as far as I could look, I was the only pedestrian. Not surprisingly, in the first 10 minutes alone, two out-of-towners stopped to ask me directions because I was the only person they could see. Pity the poor Russian backpacker who was looking for a cheap hotel - he's probably still looking.

On Monday, I thought surely things would be different. But no - more of the same. Nobody. Anywhere. Okay, so perhaps it's because it's grey and rainy today. But Tuesday, when the sun came out, more of the same. I walked through the heart of the business district at lunch time, and you could have shot a cannon and not hit anyone. I sat by a fountain where there were hoardes of benches to sit on (the kind of place that would have been buzzing with hot dog vendors and office workers with cabin fever in downtown Winnipeg on a sunny Spring day), and I was all alone. Not a soul anywhere.

Where IS everyone? They make it LOOK like there are people downtown. There are lots of schwanky office towers and parking lots full of high-end vehicles, but there are no people.

At 4:00, when I walked back to the b&b, I thought "surely now, when people are going home, there will be few people on the street". But no, other than a few smokers, a couple of people who'd stepped outside to get better cell phone reception, and a few blue collar workers who had to take transit (gasp! practically unheard of around here), I was still alone. I have no idea how people get from the office to the vehicle - perhaps they have underground tunnels.

I headed for the area on the map that looked like the only green space downtown. Maybe in a park... Oops. No more park. Just a massive construction site. I guess they don't need greenspace if nobody goes outside.

Bizarre. Tonight, I finally found a little more buzz in the West Village (close to my b&b), the place where the well-heeled go to be seen. I found a lovely bookstore and another lovely restaurant, so I've had another refreshing evening. But I don't think I need to come back to Dallas again any time soon. At least not downtown. I prefer a place with a little more pulse. This place reminds me of a story I wrote in junior high about a space alien who arrives on earth and thinks that the vehicles are the earthlings because he never sees any people. GET OUT OF YOUR CARS PEOPLE - there's life to be lived! What a surreal contrast this has been to my last trip! In Ethiopia, in what seemed like the most remote place imaginable, you could stop the vehicle and within minutes be surrounded by people. Though that can get overwhelming too, I think I'm more at home there.

In other news - the conference was much of the same. A few mediocre speakers, a few really bad ones, and one or two that are worth remembering. Lance Armstrong is much better than I expected. I just thought of him as an arrogant s.o.b., but he's actually a passionate, inspiring, and easy-to-listen-to speaker.

I've lit my little candle, I've got some good music on, and I'm enjoying my last night in this lovely room. Tomorrow I meet my family in Minneapolis. Yay! Sweet dreams.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The good, the bad, and the... well, let's just say "the corporate"

My first hour in Dallas almost made up for a disappointing beginning. The bed and breakfast is delightful and proof positive that it pays to do your homework. Love it. LOVE it! The handmade quilt, the four poster bed, the wicker chaise lounge I'm currently reclining on - I can't imagine why anyone would choose a big box hotel over this place!
Bed and Breakfast in Dallas

And, just like I'd hoped, I found the perfect out-of-the-way restaurant that wouldn't have been on any "recommended restaurants" list in the conference handouts. Nikkolini's Organicity. Perfectly lovely. I almost cried when I sat down at the little round table under the tree and watched the trolley go by. It felt a little like God whispered in my ear "this is a gift to you - be refreshed." It was perfect - a folksy organic Greek restaurant that serves the most amazing food I can imagine tasting at a restaurant. (Liz - all I had to do was walk to the end of the street to find a place that serves amazing vegetarian food! No steak to be found!)
Nikkolini Organicity

By the end of lunch, I'd practically been adopted by Gino and Olina, the owners of the restaurant. When I came back later, after attending the first session at the conference, I walked in and Jeff, the very friendly waiter who embraces the world with open arms, shouted into the kitchen "Olina! Gino! Heather from Canada came back!" Gino came out and I said "Hey Gino - I'm tired and I just want to go back to my room to crash. Can you make me something quick and vegetarian to take out?" "Certainly!" Gino said, and disappeared into the kitchen. Five minutes later, he emerged with some amazing hummus and veggie wrap and what I think was polenta on the side. Oh my... all I can say is YUM!
Gino and Olina - owners of Nikkolini Organicity
(Gino and Olina in front of one of Gino's paintings)

I took the trolley downtown, and, just like I expected, the trolley driver was as about as perfect as could be. Charming, funny, and a fountain of information about all things trolley. And to think I would have missed it if I'd stayed in one of the conference-recommended hotels!

Trolley driver in Dallas

And the conference... well, let's see, what can I say... It's very big, very corporate, very American (no offence to my American friends, of course - but can you remind your country-mates that you are NOT the centre of the world?), and, um... well, let's just say it should have been sub-titled "How to manipulate rich people out of their money in ten easy lessons". So far, it has reminded me that I am not a "real" fundraiser - I suck at corporate networking, I hate doing "the ask", I don't want to spend time at fancy galas trying to impress rich people, and I don't golf. I don't even know the language these people speak!

AFP Conference

Future posts may be called "10 sure-fire ways to deliver a truly awful powerpoint presentation" and "why it's better to walk a mile in the rain than get stuck in a corporate networking event, even though the denim conference tote bag stains your clothes" (yes, Michele, denim) and "has every fundraiser in this @*&^%!! place forgotten the biblical principle of the widow's mite?" and "how you can feel more culture shock in a room full of people from your own continent than in Ethiopia".

Ah, but it's not ALL bad. Hearing Chip Heath speak was almost worth the price of admission. I would have bought his book, but it was sold out about half an hour after he presented. Craig Kielburger was a close second. Even Brooke Shields surprised me - she's pretty down-to-earth and she had some touching personal stories to share. Oh, and I had a wonderful moment when a woman looked at me with a familiar "deer in the headlights" look and said "oh my gosh - I had no idea how out of place I'd feel here! That exhibition hall terrifies me! They're vultures in there!" Yes, even here, there are kindred spirits.

I'd love to be out wandering right now (the b&b is in a lovely neighbourhood with lots of character), but it's raining and I got soaked when I ran screaming from the networking event. Okay, so I wasn't screaming, but I did have a mini panic attack after only half an hour of putting on a fake smile and introducing myself to a bunch of people who really didn't care who I was because I am of no corporate use to them. (It was a Canadian reception, and I thought it would at least be nice to be in a room full of people who didn't look at me with a blank stare when I said I'm from Winnipeg. Who knew I'd only last half an hour?)

I had no idea this post would be so long. Sorry. Guess I just had to unload a little.

Just one last thing... I think I'll give this place a pass - it might not look good on my expense acount.
Idle Rich Pub

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Still home

Cancelled flight. After three hours of sitting in the airport waiting. Groan. Won't get to meet Vicki. Boohoo. Have to get up at 4:00 a.m. to catch the next flight. Yawn. No stopover in Oklahoma. Bummer. Expecting a long day tomorrow. Good night.

Psst. Wanna know a secret?

There's something I haven't mentioned about my trip down south. Wanna know what it is? Okay, I'll let you in on a little secret.... Tomorrow, I get to meet Vicki! Yippee! Vicki's one of those people I just KNOW I'm going to love in person as much as I do online. I can't wait! Aren'tcha jealous? I have a feeling we're going to be doing a LOT of laughing. Our daughters, who have become penpals, are insanely jealous. But sometimes moms get to have fun too!

Gonna run now - got some packing and laundry to do.

Friday, March 23, 2007

No more boxes!

Something wasn't sitting right. I wasn't looking forward to this business trip as much as I usually do. Part of it was the fact that I'll be attending a fundraising conference, and fundraising is my least favourite part of my job, so I'm not expecting to be overly inspired. But there was something more. Whenever I looked over my plans, or clicked on the hotel website where I was booked, I felt this odd achey feeling that I couldn't quite put my finger on.

Then I had one of those eureka moments. I figured it out. I was accepting the status quo and this was shaping up to be one of those "big-box" business trips. You know the feeling you get when you've been shopping at too many big box stores and you haven't had a chance to see anything unique or original for a long time and your heart aches for the tiny grocery store or gift shop on the corner where you can have delightful conversation and pick up something that's handmade or fair trade or at least a little more original than what everyone has? You don't know that feeling? Well pay more attention next time you go shopping, because I'll bet you'll come home feeling different if you skip some of those big box stores next Saturday and visit at least one little Mom 'n Pop shop.

Back to my trip... That's the feeling I was getting when I considered this trip. I'd accepted the status quo. I didn't know anything about downtown Dallas, so I'd simply accepted the cheapest hotel on the list of recommendations from the conference. It was feeling like a piece of my soul was about to be sucked out through my corporate credit card. Like a good little corporate drone, I would shuffle from the airport box to the airplane box to the taxi box to the generic corporate hotel box to the conference shuttle box to the sterile conference room box to the chain restaurant box, blah, blah, blah. Stop, stop, STOP! I don't fit cleanly in all those boxes! I have to get out!

I used to do alot more of this kind of travel when I worked for the government. I'd go to conferences in big cities, stay in a generic hotel somewhere, spend my days in generic conference rooms and go home without ever feeling like my soul had breathed. To be honest, when you do nothing but visit big boxes, you could be in any city in North America and not really know the difference. Is this Toronto or Edmonton? I forget. Hmmm.... it's April, so it must be Toronto.

I don't usually settle for boxes anymore. Whenever I can, I do a little homework and find a unique local establishment, like a bed and breakfast or a restored country inn. When I'm there, I talk to the local propietor and find out the best local restaurants and funky shops that no corporate hotel would every recommend. That's why I had this uneasy feeling about this trip. I hadn't done my homework.

Now I'm happy to report, I did my homework and I'm tossing the box as far away as I can. I've found a bed and breakfast in a lovely restored inn in a funky neighbourhood. (No, I can't tell you exactly which b&b, in case you're a crazy stalker who's got a thing for overweight middle-aged white chicks from Canada.) It's not as convenient as the big box hotel I had originally booked, but the plus side of that is that I get to take the heritage trolley (for free!) from a block away from my b&b to within walking distance of my conference.

When I get there, I'll have a chat with the proprietor, and I'm sure I'll find some artsy shops and funky restaurants in the neighbourhood. At night, I'll snuggle under my handmade quilt in my cast-iron bed and I'll have sweet dreams. In the morning, I'll eat a big breakfast at the antique dining room table, and then I'll head out to catch my trolley. I might even chat with the volunteer trolley conductor who's passionate about trolley cars. And when I'm at the conference, I'll skip all the workshops that talk about how to maximize your charity golf game, or how to manipulate evil rich people out of their hoards of money, and instead I'll go to those that have words like "community" and "giving circle" in the title.

I'll tell you all about it when I get back. Woohoo! This is shaping up to be a good trip after all!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I'm feeling mightily uninspired lately, so I'm going to cheat a little and post a story I wrote for our newsletter at work. In the past year, I have had the pleasure of meeting several incredible African woman whose wisdom, boldness, and passion have inspired me. Fidelis is one of them.
Fidelis Wainana wishes that people from rich and powerful nations would stop trying to fix Africa. “What we’re asking for,” she says, “is for people to listen to us, not try to fix us.”

Wainana, a native-born Kenyan, was recently awarded the African Green Revolution Yara Prize for her work with Maseno Inter-Christian Child Self Help Group. She visited Canada as a guest of Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the Micah Challenge.

“North Americans shouldn’t assume that their solutions will work for African farmers,” she said while in Winnipeg, attending a deliberative dialogue where people had gathered to talk about the Green Revolution for Africa. “People are talking about the need to increase soil fertility, but in many parts of Africa, fertility is not the issue.”

Wainana works with families led by widows or orphans to help enable them to grow their own food in a sustainable way. She insists that development work must be rooted in relationships and community. Without relying on high-cost inputs such as chemical fertilizers, her organization has helped families harvest 10 bags of maize from the same land that previously produced only one bag. Sometimes, she says, it’s just a matter of teaching them how to use the resources they already have, like manure from their livestock.

By building relationships with people, helping them to recognize their own abilities, and encouraging the sharing of knowledge among the community, Wainana’s organization has been instrumental in eradicating malnutrition and increasing the average income in over 20 villages in Kenya’s Kisumu-Maseno region. “It’s important to see the link between spirituality, community, and farming practices,” says Wainana. “My faith has a significant impact on my work and in the work of our organization. We encourage people to see their own strengths and recognize the gifts God has given them and their community. Many times, they already have all the resources they need.”

At the end of her visit to Canada, Wainana had the opportunity to address the Federal Government’s Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. In her address, she urged the Canadian government to ensure that any increase to aid for agriculture should get into the hands of the grassroots communities. “Too much money has been wasted in activities that don’t reach the grassroots,” she said. “We appreciate the support of Canadians, but we want you to walk alongside us and not try to do it for us. Please remember to listen to the voices at the grassroots.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Going to Dallas

Early next week, I'll be spending a few days at a conference in Dallas. I don't have alot of time to do the tourist thing, but I should be able to at least escape for a few evenings of wandering around the heart of the city. I've never been there before, so I thought I'd ask... does anyone have any suggestions for some "must see" landmarks or "must eat at" restaurants in Dallas? I'm staying downtown (not far from the convention centre), and mostly I'll just be on foot, so keep that in mind.

If you had a free evening in Dallas, what would YOU do?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Growing up

My little butterfly turned five this weekend.

Happy Birthday, Maddie Monkey.

You're growing so quickly, it almost takes my breath away. Some day soon, you'll stop having baths with me, and you'll no longer beg for lie-with-me-night. Some day soon, you won't reach your arms up for me to lift you into the air. Some day you won't ask for "trouble" and then laugh as I toss you onto the bed. Some day you won't tell me funny stories about the little man in your toe who wipes his tiny little bum. Some day you won't want to play "would you rather" anymore. Some day, you won't pull out your little Fisher Price schoolhouse and ask me to play the teacher/mother while you play the child. Some day, you'll read your own story books and no longer care if I read them to you. Some day we won't build high towers out of Lego. Some day, you'll ride your own bicycle and no longer bounce around on the tag-a-long, singing and laughing. Some day I won't push you on the swing anymore.

When that day comes, I'm sure I will cherish the new moments that come with it, but a piece of me will wish that today had lasted just a little longer.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I'm sick of winter, BUT...

If you've never lived with winter, you've never had the privilege of seeing hoarfrost like we had this morning, and that would be a shame.
hoarfrost 3
hoarfrost 4
hoarfrost 2
hoarfrost 1

Friday, March 16, 2007

Five things ccap doesn't know about me

In the comments of the last post, my sister challenged me to come up with five things she doesn’t know about me, which is rather hard since she’s known me all of her life (I’m older, so I had three and a half years of living without her, but I don’t remember those years), lives five minutes away from me, goes to the same church as me, usually sees me twice a week, and then - as though we don’t see enough of each other - she went and married my husband’s brother. So she even knows about the stuff on the “other side of the family”. This is gonna be tough…

1. One of my favourite things to do when I’m sitting in my office deep in thought (or trying to avoid work), is to stare out the window and watch the group of pigeons who always huddle at the top of the chimney on the building across the street. I think perhaps they like the warmth coming out of the chimney. (I have a large window in my office, but the view is not that spectacular – just the tops of a bunch of office towers.)

2. I’m wearing mis-matched socks today, because I didn’t get the laundry done. They’re both black, but one’s a little more faded than the other one. (And now that I look down on them, in a much brighter room than the one I was getting dressed in, I’m thinking I’d better keep my ankles hidden today.) I’m actually a little anal about matching socks, so this is a little tough for me – but I was desperate this morning.

3. I have a sticker that says “”Unleash Infinity” on the filing cabinet beside my desk. I put it there to remind me of the possibilities and the power that is outside of me but always on my side.

4. (This one she might sort of know, but I’m telling it anyway.) One of my very favourite moments in my life was the moment I stepped off the ferry from England to Belgium and I saw my sister’s face in the crowd. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of months, and we were about to begin our back-packing journey around Europe. Talk about possibilities! (The part she probably doesn’t know though, is how proud I was of my bold and independent little sister, teaching English in Romania, and then trekking across Europe alone to come meet me.)

5. I like inukshuks. I have a small one in my bookcase at work – it’s currently functioning as a bookend. It was presented to me at a conference where I was a speaker 4 years ago. I’d like to have more inukshuks.

How’d I do, ccap? Learn anything new about me?

And, just for fun, a few things you might not know about my sister…
1. Of the four siblings in the family, she is the best one at maintaining her finances – both keeping accurate books and saving money. (Yes, bbb, I know you’re good at the first one, but I’m gonna have to say she’s got us all wiped at the second.)

2. She has a new photography business, and I helped design her website. She’s more talented than she usually admits.

3. She has way nicer boobs than me and I’ve always been a little jealous. Mine are more of the “saggy-baggy-elephant” variety. (Too much information?)

4. She may not have walked a 20 mile walkathon, but she DID walk home from school one day (6 miles) without telling my mom. Yes, she scared the pants off my poor mom when she didn’t get off the bus – especially since she'd decided to walk across country with her friend and couldn’t be found on the roads anywhere. (Oh, and the part about me being freakishly stubborn? Well, that’s a trait we happen to share. It was passed down through the generations on my dad’s side.)

5. Although I was proud of her the moment I stepped off that ferry, I wasn’t feeling quite the same way a couple of weeks later in Spain when we couldn’t find the beach, and we both chose the same moment to let our freakishly stubborn natures rear their ugly heads. Fuming, we stormed off in separate directions, but thankfully we got over it, and eventually ended up on the beach together.

And here’s the bonus point…
6. Some day, I hope to backpack around Europe with my sister again – this time with our daughters in tow.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Five things about me (or "just another post where Heather goes on and on about herself")

I got tagged by Kristin to come up with five things you might not know about me. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you probably know way more than you want to know about me, since I’m a bit of an open book and I have a tendency toward verbal diarrhea. But here goes anyway…

1. Even though my name is rarely mentioned, I have been “quoted” by hundreds of media sources all across the country and even in other parts of the world. As a professional communicator/media relations person, I’ve written lots of press releases and “media lines” about everything from mad cow disease to world hunger to the commemoration of D-Day. The next time you read or hear that politician or senior bureaucrat so-and-so said such-and-such about this or that, remember that there’s a good chance it was penned by some clever communicator who knows how to “voice-shift”.

2. I love road trips. (Well, almost any kind of trip really, but for now let’s focus on road trips.) I love to drive, even when it’s not a road trip to any particular destination. I could drive and drive for hours and not get bored. I used to go out driving sometimes when I needed quiet time by myself, but now I feel too guilty for burning fossil fuels selfishly. Once in awhile, though, when I’m on my way home from grocery shopping, I “miss” the turn-off and take the long way home.

3. When I was six years old, I completed a 20 (or 22 – I can’t quite remember) mile walkathon, just because I am freakishly stubborn and don’t like to quit. At 40, I am still freakishly stubborn, but I have less to prove, so I don’t know if I’d bother. On second thought, there’s a good chance that, if I got started, you wouldn’t be able to convince me to quit.

4. I don’t like phones. As my husband likes to point out “how can you be a professional communicator and NOT LIKE PHONES?” Weird, I know, but I really don’t. I’m SO happy I no longer need to have a cell phone attached to my hip. If I can avoid using a phone, I will either walk to someone’s office/house if it’s close enough, or send them an email. I’m a much better communicator when I can do it in person or in writing. I would rather talk in front of a room full of thousands of people than use a phone.

5. I once spent a summer dressed as a panda bear at the local zoo. (And you thought those were REAL animals in those cages. Pshaw!) When the pandas were visiting our city’s zoo one year, I got a summer job at the panda photo booth. Half of the time I was the photographer and the other half of the time I was the panda. It was depressingly hot that summer, and I was busy melting in a fur suit with people sitting on my lap. (Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this on another list on this blog, but it’s all I can think of this morning.)

And, because Robin asked, I thought I’d throw in a bonus point. (And, you know, there’s that verbal diarrhea thing.)

6. Robin wanted to know what I do for a living. So, because I am an open book (which you probably occasionally wish you could slam the pages on), here it is. I am the “Director of Resources and Communication” at a Canadian non-profit organization “working to end hunger in developing countries.” (That’s part of the mission statement I just helped re-write.) I lead the team responsible for all kinds of interesting things like public relations, community/church relations, media relations, fundraising, education, and public engagement. On the fun days, I get to travel to interesting countries and take pictures and tell stories of fascinating people who have to cope with hunger but often have greater joy and more interesting stories than many of the people I meet in “rich” countries. On other days, I develop material (brochures, website, posters, videos, press releases, newsletters, etc.) to help the organization communicate hunger issues. On the least fun days, I deal with human relations issues that come with having a staff of nine people. (This is where my phone albatross becomes a bit of a hindrance, because most of my staff lives in other provinces than I do.)

Here’s me on one of those fun days (well, except for the fly that's trying to crawl into my eye - it may be one of the 5 that committed suicide in my tea that afternoon):

(Kristin - by the way, that's me in Kenya. I threw that in because you mentioned Kenya in your list of 5.)

Now go ahead, tag yourself. Tell me something I don't know about YOU.

Monday, March 12, 2007

This is how parents spell "freedom"

Tonight Marcel and I went for a walk - JUST BECAUSE WE CAN! After eleven years of parenting, we have reached a new milestone. We can leave our children at home for short periods of time without a babysitter. Wow!

There were so many days in those eleven years when we felt like we would NEVER reach that magical day when the kids would be capable of staying home without us. All those nights when we dreamed of just going for a short walk together after a long day, and those weekends when we knew the best thing for our relationship would be date night but we hadn't thought ahead to book a babysitter - well, they're fading away and now it feels like barely any time at all has passed in between.

Just as we'd begun our walk, we passed the house of our neighbours M&J. Their drapes were open and we could see J trying on a new snuggli. M&J just gave birth to their first baby a few weeks ago. Marcel and I smiled as we walked past. Even though some days it felt like our kids would be dependent FOREVER and we'd never go for a walk alone again, other days it feels like just yesterday when we were in their shoes - trying on snugglis and rocking our new baby to sleep.

In the blink of an eye, it all changes and we enter a new stage in our lives. I love this stage just like I loved all the others. I don't want to go back to where M&J are, nor do I want to rush ahead to where Linda is. I will enjoy this moment while it lasts.

P.S. Speaking of our firstborn, if anyone feels so inclined, you could wander on over to her blog (yes, she's finally posted) and leave her a friendly comment - she's feeling pretty disappointed about not making the developmental soccer league. She's a pretty good soccer player, and (trying to be unbiased) I was a little surprised she didn't make it too. Even her old coach was sure she should have made it.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Pretty close to perfect

Last night was one of those nights. Lovely from start to finish. It started out with Winterlude at St. Vital Park, organized by the girls' school. Skating, sleigh rides, hot chocolate, and a big roaring fire in the fire pit. (Yes, I know that SOME of you live in climates that are way past the winter sports stage, but this is Winnipeg. We're still buried in snow with a solid ice skating surface on the duck pond.)

It was the perfect "end of winter" kind of night - with temperatures hovering around 0 celsius (freezing point) - pleasant enough to spend over two hours out of doors without having to chip the ice off your eyelashes. Nikki and Julie disappeared with their friends, Marcel went to do the "good parent" thing (volunteering to help serve hot chocolate, or something like that), and I hung out with Maddie while she skated/shuffled around the duck pond.

After awhile, when she'd had enough with skating, Maddie and I lined up for the sleigh ride. It was magical, sitting on the sleigh, listening to the tinkling bells on the horses' bridles, watching the children skate on the pond, while Maddie leaned comfortably on me. Straight out of a winter postcard! I breathed deeply when the smell of horses wafted across the air. I felt the old familiar longing to ride again. One of these days, I want to either own a horse again, or at least rent one for awhile. (When I told Marcel later that I liked the smell of horses, he looked at me incredulously and said "you like the smell of horse shit? Yeah, I guess he doesn't really get it.)

Towards the end of the evening, when most of the kids had grown tired of skating, I left Maddie in Marcel's care and put on my own skates. With few other people left on the ice, I skated round and round and round the duck pond. It felt SO good. I think I could have done it for hours if Nikki hadn't found me to report that she had a huge blister on her foot and was hoping I had some solution for her discomfort. (I didn't, but I had to at least sit with her and offer sympathy.)

When we got home from Winterlude, I ran a hot bath, lit some candles, made myself a cup of chai latte, brought a cd player into the bathroom, and climbed into the tub. I even locked the door and didn't let any children guilt me into opening it! Aaaahhhh... half an hour of uninterupted bath time! THAT'S about as close to perfection as any mother can get!

Before climbing into the tub, I tore open my new Andrew Norsworthy cd, which I got compliments of Jen Lemen. (Thanks Jen! Thanks Andrew!) It is purely delicious! Before the end of the evening, I'd listened to the whole thing twice. I think I have a new musician to add to my list of favourites.

After slathering myself in lotion, I put on my favourite luxurious pajamas (thanks AP - I still wear them), and climbed into bed, content.

Friday, March 09, 2007

An open letter to Dr. Dobson

Recently, I read the letter that you and others sent to the National Association of Evangelicals, urging them to step away from the issue of global warming, and to stop shifting “the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children.” I also read some of the rebuttals you received from people like Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren.

Dr. Dobson, this whole thing makes me heart-sick. It troubles me that a man of your influence cannot see that the “great moral issues” might also include the fact that over 800 million people in this world are still living with hunger. What about the fact millions of people are dying of HIV/AIDS? And what about the fact that, because of the greed and excessive consumerism in “developed” countries, global warming is having the most profoundly damaging effect on the poor and vulnerable?

I have read through the gospels several times, Dr. Dobson, and every time I do, I am reminded that one of the things that Jesus talks about the most is that we should care for the poor. Where does that fit into your “great moral issues”? If someone does not even have enough food to eat and has to put their child to bed hungry every night, how can you have the audacity to tell them that the only thing Christians should be concerned about are morality, abortion, and the evils of same-sex marriage?

Your letter goes on to say that population control is a dangerous issue that Christians should not concern themselves with because the only way population control can be achieved is “by promoting abortion, the distribution of condoms to the young, and, even by infanticide in China and elsewhere.” So, in other words you’re suggesting that your definition of morality should always trump the other issues in this world, like over-population in developing countries and the spread of HIV/AIDS? Might I suggest to you that if we first addressed the heavy burden of poverty, we might THEN be able to address the morality issues you’re concerned about? Take for example the situation where the men in the village need to leave the village to find work to feed their families. While in a foreign place, living with intense loneliness, they take up with prostitutes who infect them with HIV. They then return home and infect their innocent wives and children. Yes, you’re right of course, their immorality is wrong, but perhaps the whole problem might have been averted if the root of the problem – poverty – had been addressed in the first place. Preaching to them about the evils of immorality will not save their wives and children from death at the hands of AIDS or hunger-related illness.

Let’s go back to global warming. Not long ago, I visited a nomadic tribe in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Historically, this region faced drought every twelve years or so. Because they had sufficient rains in the years in between, they could usually survive the barren years and still maintain their nomadic lifestyles, following their cattle to drinking holes and grazing lands. But now, due to global warming, they face drought every 5 to 7 years, and their lifestyles are no longer viable. They can’t count on the in-between years to sustain them through the barren years, and most of them are living with extreme hunger. Add to that challenge the freak weather patterns that come along with global warming – like the flood that wiped out many of their roads and bridges last year – and you have millions of people left scrounging for food in desperate situations.

I saw the faces of the children, Dr. Dobson. I held their hands. I tell you that there is no way I could have preached to them about morality if I didn’t first offer them food and the promise that I would strive to play a smaller part in the global warming that is destroying them.

Dr. Dobson, I am neither a scientist nor a theologian, so I cannot “prove” global warming nor can I present a great theological argument about what I believe is our responsibility to respond. I can, however, tell you what I have seen and what is on my heart.

It is my prayer that the Christian church can someday set aside the divisions and together address what I believe are the great moral issues that you should at least consider adding to your list. If nothing else, Dr. Dobson, I wish you would at least consider Jim Wallis’ invitation to join him in a healthy debate on these issues. We all need to keep an open mind – myself included.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


The water's boiling for my tea, the house is quiet with the family all away at piano lessons, and I am curled up on my couch - home again. Another flight. Another magical lift-off moment. Another night spent in another hotel room. Another day spent in meetings and presentations (doesn't it just SUCK when your presentation falls into the 2:00 in the afternoon slot when everyone in the room is beginning to drift off to sleep?) Another taxi ride (no Ethiopian cab driver this time). It's good to go, but it's always good to return.

In my job, I often end up in meetings and conferences full of a variety of church leaders from a variety of denominations. As is still the case in WAY too many of them, today I was once again a tiny minority in a room full of men. The only other woman in the room was there with her husband - she worked as his administrative assistant. It makes me sad that so many churches are still missing half the wisdom, half the giftings, half the blessings, and half the opportunities to learn by not allowing or encouraging women to lead. If you'd asked most of the men in the room today, I'm sure they would have said "oh, of course we let women lead" and yet the room full of men tells a different story. It makes me weary.

But that's not a problem I'll solve today. The water boiled. It's time for tea.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Random thoughts from Regina

That's right - I'm in Regina. Just an overnighter this time. I have to make a presentation at an all-day conference tomorrow, and then I fly home in the evening. The kids will barely notice I'm gone. A few thoughts on this mini-journey...

No matter how many times I fly, I never get tired of that moment of exhilaration and amazement when the plane lifts off the tarmac. Give me any scientific explanation you want - it still feels like magic that a big hunk 'o metal can get off the ground.

My cab driver this morning was from Ethiopia. I'm not usually very chatty in taxis, especially at 6:30 in the morning, but I had a feeling he was from Ethiopa (his feature's told the tale), so I asked. It was frightfully cold in Winnipeg this morning. I wonder if his heart doesn't ache for the Ethiopian sunshine.

I've ordered room service twice since I've been here (late breakfast and late lunch) and BOTH times, they forgot something I ordered. Not a very good track record so far. (Note: I hardly ever order room service, as I normally love to wander around whatever city I've landed in and discover some lovely local restaurant, but the weather here is as miserable as it was at home and I'm stuck in one of those boring business hotels in a nondescript section of the city. I'd have to walk pretty far to find anything interesting.)

The second time the room service guy came to my room, Oprah was on TV and one of her guests was talking about diaphrams and masturbation (it was a show on women aging. Hmmm... what google searches will THAT bring to my blog?). The poor room service guy shuffled rather uncomfortably while I signed the check. He could hardly exit fast enough.

It's been extremely rare that I've watched any daytime TV since I've worked full time days all of my adult life, other than a few years in university and my maternity leaves. Oprah's program was mildly interesting, since I've tipped over the 40 line, but then Dr. Phil came on and I had to turn the TV off. Is it just me, or do you find Dr. Phil at least mildly annoying? I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something smarmy and just a tad arrogant about him. (Forgive me if he's your personal hero or spiritual guru.)

Lately, it seems, my favourite book choices have been memoirs. I've enjoyed the last two that I've read (Eat, Pray, Love and The Year of Magical Thinking), but I really think I need to look for some by people who lead less privileged lives and can't afford to jet all over the world on a whim. It's getting a little depressing. Any suggestions? Maybe something by and ordinary woman trying to juggle career, family, relationships, etc. Course, the publishing companies probably don't publish many of those, 'cause they're just not glamourous enough. (I just realized that the one before that was Left to Tell, by a woman who survived the Rwandan genocide - a decidedly less privileged life.)

That being said, both women (Elizabeth Gilbert and Joan Didion) said some brilliant things that will stick with me for awhile. I quoted Gilbert in a recent post, and I may quote Didion one of these days too. Her thoughts on grief have refreshed my memories of losing dad, and gave me more than just one epiphany.

Speaking of Joan Didion, her novel Democracy was one of my favourite reads in university. There was something delightfully refreshing about her writing style. I also remember the lovely little thrill I got when she introduced a country I'd never known existed (Kuala Lumpur). It had this great affect on my wanderlusting heart that there were places in the world that I hadn't learned about in high school geography classes that I could possibly some day explore.

I just saw a short report about two small kids (I think they're 2 and 4) who were being taught by their relatives to smoke pot. They have video clips of the grown-ups holding the joints in the kids' mouths. Seriously - were some people born WITHOUT BRAINS? Who DOES that? And do those kids have any hope of growing up reasonably well-balanced?

Who is Tara Grant and why has she taken over all the news programs? With so many millions of stories happening all over the world, and lots of them involving equal amounts of the mystery, tragedy and pathos, sometimes it baffles me which ones get picked for the media (and consequently the public) to obsess about.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Conversations with Maddie

Conversation #1 - after we'd made a hat out of magic noodles

Maddie: I just made wonderful stuff and I feel WONDERFUL!

Conversation #2 - when she was climbing into the bathtub

Me: Stop - there's a piece of toilet paper stuck to your toe.

Her: What!? How did that get there? (a grin breaks out on her face) Oh, I know - the little man in my toe was trying to wipe his bum!

Conversation #3 - in the bathtub

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Her: (again with the grin) A dog.

Me: How are you going to turn into a dog?

Her: Well, I'll go to the dog store and see if they have a dog-turner-into and I'll use it. (throws her head back and laughs)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Monkey mind

You know how sometimes you visit your doctor with a list of symptoms, she suggests a diagnosis and describes EXACTLY what you've been feeling and you say "YES! That's IT!" That's kind of how I feel about this paragraph in "Eat, Pray, Love":

Like most humanoids, I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the 'monkey mind' - the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl. From the distant past to the unknowable future, my mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined. This in itself is not necessarily a problem; the problem is the emotional attachment that goes along with the thinking. Happy thoughts make me happy, but - whoop! - how quickly I swing again into obsessive worry, blowing the mood; and then it's the remembrance of an angry moment and I start to get hot and pissed off all over again; and then my mind decides it might be a good time to start feeling sorry for itself, and loneliness follows promptly. You are, after all, what you think. Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.

Exactly. Those pesky monkeys have me as their slave.

Along with giving up meat, I've been trying to spend more time in meditation and prayer this lenten season, but my monkey mind keeps getting in the way. I've been trying a few new things to help keep my focus, like prayer beads and centering prayer, but, alas, the monkeys in my mind tease me as they hop from limb to limb. "Just try and stop us!" they taunt.

Perhaps if I could afford the luxury of three months at an ashram in India, like Elizabeth Gilbert, I'd learn how to quiet those monkeys. But there's laundry to do, lunch to be made, children to play with, floors to sweep, groceries to shop for... you get the picture. Guess I'll just have to live with the monkeys for now.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

You move me

Dear Martyn Joseph,

I don’t often write fan letters, but I’m making an exception today because I think you should know how much you moved me last night. I left your concert with a feeling of fullness – like I’d been given a delicious meal of succulent songs that fed the hungry places in my soul. Thank you for that. Thank you for writing such breathtakingly beautiful lyrics as “turn me tender again, mold me anew” and “my soul’s asleep now – wake me up” and – oh there are so many I can barely begin to list them. Thank you for giving of yourself again and again to us your audience. Thank you for taking risks. Thank you for baring your heart and soul and pouring your passion into the gift you offer us.

A few weeks ago, I was in Ethiopia. I traveled through some of the poorest regions of the country, visiting various food-related development projects. I visited people living in primitive huts made of mud and reeds. I watched labourers with picks and shovels painstakingly dig massive ditches to irrigate the parched land. I held the hands of children who weren’t sure where their next meal would come from. I walked past crippled or blind beggars sitting in the dirt next to centuries old churches.

Before departing on my journey, I downloaded my favourite music onto my daughter’s mp3 player. Music is so often my touchstone, my inspiration, and my solid ground and I knew that it would help me process and make sense of some of the pain and poverty I would see. Your two recent albums – Deep Blue and Whoever it was Who Brought me Here – featured prominently in my music selection.

Your music was just what I needed for that journey. You so beautifully reflected so many of my own thoughts – anger at the injustice, compassion for those in need, despair that there are so many hurting people and so little I can do about it, but always hope that there is a better way. Your words became my words as I traveled through almost incomprehensible beauty and equally incomprehensible pain.

I listened to “Yet still this will not be” over and over again and even shared it with my travel companions. More than anything, as I traveled through one of the poorest countries in the world, I wanted to believe that some day “the broken hearted shall indeed rule”.

One particular memory of my trip sticks with me. We stopped at the side of the road next to a rusty abandoned army tank leftover from one of the many wars that have ravaged Ethiopia. Passing school children, curious about our vehicles and our white skin, climbed onto the war machine to watch us. As I watched them, I felt a sadness settle into my soul. How could these school children have hope for the future when their path to school was littered with memories of war?
But then, high up on the hill above where the tank sat, a young girl called down to us. Giggling and waving, she shouted “salam!” (hello) She picked up one of the young goats she was herding and motioned for us to take her picture. In that moment, I felt my hope return. If there is any hope in Ethiopia, it is in this young girl, so full of life and joy.
As we drove away from the abandoned tank, the words of your song kept going through my head. Yet still this will not be. Yet still these tanks will not destroy Ethiopia. Yet still these ongoing wars will not destroy the spirit of this young girl. Yet still there is hope that some day the broken hearted will rule and the kingdom of the fool will be humbled and made low. Yet still there is within me the capacity to contribute to making the future a better place for this little girl and all those like her in this beautiful but broken world.

Thank you, Martyn, for coming with me to Ethiopia.