Saturday, December 22, 2007


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


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...
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


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.