Monday, December 22, 2008
I went to see Burn After Reading with my brother this weekend. What a hoot! Just the last 5 minutes alone is worth the price of the movie (especially if you go to the cheap theatre, like we did). But then again, the last 5 minutes wouldn’t be worth anything if it weren’t for the hour and a half before that.
Why oh WHY, after exercising regularly for almost a year, do I still feel fat and lazy and tired most of the time?
How could any one person, no matter how smart he is, be worth $54 million a year? ESPECIALLY when the company he’s running is busy taking a nosedive into the crapper?
I’d be happy if Christmas were over, and we could just settle into a nice quiet week of family time. Whatever the “Christmas spirit” is, I don’t seem to have any of it this year.
Friday, December 19, 2008
I emailed my friend Pugeni a few days ago (after writing this post) and his reply haunts me. I would like to share it with you, but the last thing I would do would be to risk his safety by publicly posting words that could potentially get him into trouble. Just know that it is both heartbreaking and passionately inspiring. One of the stories he told was of a woman who sold her last cow to buy food for her family. It took a week to get payment, and by the time she was paid, the value had deflated so much that all she could afford was a small bag of sugar. (If you'd like to read more about what he said, feel free to email me.)
It feels so impossible to know what to do in light of these incredibly big problems. Some of you expressed those sentiments on my last blog post about this. I wrestle with this every day and I don't know the answer. But because we can't just sit on our hands, let's try to do SOMETHING. Here's a little start:
1. Go to this human rights site and send the email they have posted to demand the release of Jestina Mukoko. Will it do any good? I have no idea, but at least it feels like something.
2. Visit sites like this to learn more about peace activism in Africa.
3. Find good organizations that are at least doing a pebble's worth of good. We can't solve all of the world's problems, but at least we can make sure a few people in Zimbabwe get food. You're welcome to make a contribution to the organization I work for. If you designate it to Zimbabwe, there's a pretty good chance my friend Pugeni will be involved in the work of distributing it. I can promise you that few people have as much integrity as he does and he will do everything in his power to get the food to people who need it.
4. If you believe in a higher power, pray, pray, PRAY. "Pray the Devil Back to Hell."
5. Consider sending letters to your government to urge them to seek peace for the people of Zimbabwe. We can't just let this happen. Surely there must be some kind of global voice that would have enough influence that Mugabe would have no choice but to step down. The Canadian government has already issued a statement about their concern for Zimbabwe, but maybe we need to push them to do and/or say more.
I feel an ache in my heart to go to Zimbabwe, even if all I could do would be to throw my arms around Pugeni and say "Courage, my friend. Courage."
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The concert starts at 7:00, we have to leave the house by 6:15, and I get home from work around 5:30. With no clue what my kids will wear to the concert. Given the fact that nobody in our house ever dresses up these days, anything that resembles a dressy outfit is either buried at the bottom of a Rubbermaid box somewhere, or hanging at the back of the closet of the child who outgrew that particular outfit two years ago.
The oldest two kids fend for themselves (and Nikki wasn’t going to the concert anyway, since she’s outgrown it), so I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that Julie was wearing jeans (at least they were black – a little more dressy, right?) and orange plaid runners to the concert. But Maddie – what would Maddie wear? In a rare moment of forethought earlier in the week, I’d at least bought a new pair of black tights, thinking that I’d find a dress somewhere in said Rubbermaid or closets. But um… wouldn’t you know it – this is the week Julie finally got around to thoroughly cleaning her room (because we had a home inspection for an upcoming exchange student visit) and emptied the closet of all the dresses she’d never wanted to wear in the first place – and there was no dress to be found. Except the sparkly silver one that Maddie refused to wear because it had long sleeves AND it itched. The best I could do was the too-short black dress that Maddie had worn as play clothes a few days before that was now at the bottom of her laundry bin (and that I believe she wore to last year's concert). In my desperation, it seemed clean enough, so we slapped it on and accessorized with one of my beaded necklaces. And shoes – well, we managed to scramble through the right Rubbermaid and found fancy black shoes that fit. Unfortunately, the tights turned out to be about a foot too long, so she had to walk around on huge lumps of folded tights in her shoes.
It wasn’t until we got to the school and I was helping with her shoes that I realized just how dirty the little black dress was. Was that snot all over her sleeves? Play doh? Sigh.
“That’s okay Mom – I’m in the back row anyway. Nobody will see it.”
And so we survived another Christmas concert. And my children have one more story to share with their therapists.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
One of my sisters-in-law is coping with the reality of a mother suddenly hospitalized with lots of pain and talk of major surgery. Another sister-in-law is preparing for her recovering-from-a-stroke mother to move into her home and change the fabric of their family. One of my employees is preparing to bury his father this Christmas season, and hopes that his brother will make it to the New Year. An old friend, on top of having a way-too-young husband in a care home because of MS, has been off work for a year because of thyroid problems and major depression.
Happy and Merry probably won’t be in their vocabulary this Christmas.
None of these are really my sadnesses to bear, and yet I feel a little heavy this morning. I'm looking for an alternative greeting for "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays". Maybe just "peace".
Monday, December 15, 2008
It seemed an impossibly archaic legalistic rule
Back on the farm when Mom and Dad napped on Sunday afternoons
Even on bright sunny days late in the harvest season
When crops needed to come off the fields.
Nobody worked on Sunday. Period.
The only work you were allowed was the feeding of people and animals.
Instead, you visited, shared food, and napped.
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy
I sit impatiently in church, thinking of all the tasks I need to do today.
At home, I start sorting laundry before digging through the cupboards
To find something to feed the children.
Then I settle in to wash yesterday’s dishes.
Before I’ve even had a chance to eat something
I rush out the door to drive the first 2 family members to where they need to be
On the way home, I stop at the store for a few household items
Then rush home to pick up the next 2 family members.
I drive them to the mall where they’re meeting friends.
The first 2 family members are ready to be picked up
So I drive them home and return to the mall.
Their shopping done, I drive the friends to their respective homes
And then return home to sort more laundry.
A quick supper, eaten mostly between vacuum strokes and laundry loads,
I rush out the door for an evening meeting
Where we plan a long list of activities for visiting exchange students.
Meeting done, I’m back home, folding laundry. Sorting. Piling.
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy
At ten thirty at night, I toss the last load in the dryer
Crawl into bed. Spent.
Exhausted. I need to sleep
Because tomorrow I go back to “work.”
I wish I could figure out how to reclaim the Sabbath
Because I think God is smarter than I am.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
There’s a guy named Stevie who’s been trying to take control of the sandbox for a few years now, but every time there’s a vote, the kindergarten kids only give him less than half of the sand (called a minority) and tell him “you can run the sandbox, but you have to play nice with the other leaders so that you’ll get enough support for the things you want to change.” Well, Stevie doesn’t like this very much, because he really wanted the WHOLE sandbox, so he starts playing the bully by taking the sandtoys away from the other boys and telling them they have to listen to HIS rules because he controls the most sand. Needless to say, the other boys in the other, smaller parts of the sandbox, Stephie (not to be confused with Stevie), Jack, and Gilly aren’t too fond of the way that Stevie is pushing them around. Even though they’re usually too busy fighting with each other to notice, this time they all stop what they’re doing, get together for a little chat with some of the older boys from Grade 5 who used to play in the sandbox, and they decide “hey – if we put our sandbox pieces together, it adds up to a bigger piece than Stevie’s got and then WE could take control.”
Meanwhile, back in Stevie’s corner, he’s getting pretty ticked off at the other boys for not playing the way he wants them to play. First he says “okay then – I’ll give you a FEW toys back if you’ll still let me lead.” Well, that’s not enough to keep them happy – they want ALL of their toys back. And they want him to come up with a plan for getting more sand in the sandbox and not letting any of it leak out around the edges. Stevie gets even more mad, so he tells everybody that the Stephie and Jack are stupid because they’ve made friends with Gilly who’s really just disguising himself as their friend when what he REALLY wants is to take his portion of the sand and build a whole new sandbox somewhere else. But nobody listens to Stevie’s whining, because a few years ago, Stevie did the very same thing – made friends with Gilly to try to take control.
Stevie starts getting really nervous that he’ll lose control of the sandbox, so he runs to the Kindergarten teacher, Ms. J., and says “the other boys – they’re not playing fair! I’M the one who’s supposed to be running this sandbox and they’re trying to take over!” And then, because he knows that Ms. J. will be impressed with big words, he asks her to “prorogue” the sandbox – which in kindergarten-speak just means shut it down for a few weeks until he can figure out how to take charge again.
Ms. J. doesn’t feel like she has much choice (she hasn’t been given a lot of power in the playground), so she agrees and Stevie gets his way. The sandbox is closed and all the boys have to find something else to do for six weeks. Stevie thinks this will be just enough time for the other three boys to remember that they really don’t like each other and don’t want to work together to overthrow him.
The problem is, though, that over in the other side of the sandbox they’re not sure who should take leadership of their new partnership (otherwise known as a coalition), because Stephie owns the bigger piece, but none of the people he shares it with think he’s doing a good enough job of leading it. So Mikey and Bobby start fighting with Stephie because they think they should have dibs on that corner of the sandbox and they start working out a plan to push Stephie out so that eventually they can push Stevie out. It looks like Mikey’s winning, but Bobby gets mad and says “but Mikey didn’t let everybody else vote!”
And meanwhile, all of the other kids in the playground are saying “Hey – what about all of our sand that nobody’s looking after while you guys are fighting? It’s leaking out that big hole in the side of the sandbox (called a “recession”) and nobody seems to be paying attention!”
Stay tuned for the next edition of Kindergarten Wars, Parliament Style.
Monday, December 08, 2008
What I did was mostly D with a little bit of E thrown in just because I'm human and SO not perfect. I calmly but firmly said to him "No, I don't believe that the problem with most non-profits - and the reason they have trouble getting the word out - is that their communicators and educators are mostly young, female, and have nothing but a degree in literature, I believe that the problem is that these young talented individuals are not given enough respect by the leaders of these organizations (that's the passive aggressive part - I meant HIM). The problem is that their work is valued less than the work of the programmers."
And then the next day, because I realized I was giving it too much brain space so it clearly still bothered me and was important enough to follow up, I sent him an email outlining why it concerned me and how I wished he would be able to offer me and my colleagues enough respect so that we could work together on a more equal playing field. And I cc'd it to my boss and the chairperson of the board, because I wanted him to take it seriously and not just brush it off as just another whiny female who's got her knickers in a knot.
Now I'm back at my computer and there is no reply from anyone. And the suspense is now killing ME!
I've worked in enough fields where I'm one of the only women at the management or board table that I've gotten used to holding my own when it comes to the odd bit of chauvinism. It's really not that prevelant anymore and what does exist is so marginalized by the honourable men in the room that I can brush it off. Just like in parenting though, you've got to pick your battles. I figure when the chauvinism masks a bully underneath, then it's worth standing up to.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
What do you do?
a.) Sit demurely and let him heap on the insults?
b.) Blast him with both barrels and call him out for being an ignorant, narrow-minded, sexist old fart?
c.) Wait for one of the other less-bigoted men at the table to come to your rescue?
d.) Calmly and respectfully put him in his place and point out the error in his statements?
e.) Take the passive-aggressive approach and find underhanded insults to throw at him?
I'll come back later to tell you what I did.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
My new office makes me feel happy. For the first time since I started this job (4 ½ years ago), I feel like I’ve really taken ownership of my space. The first office in the old place was big and square and always felt a little awkward. I never got the desk in a position I liked it, and never got around to hanging some of the things I wanted on the walls, so it never quite felt like my space. Then I got down-sized (because we were running out of space and two people needed to share my big office) and I didn’t really have enough room in the new office to make it look pretty or even un-cluttered. Plus the walls were a dull shade of beige and seriously in need of a paint job. This space is different. I love my orange wall, and my wall of windows and I’ve hung a bunch of my favourite photos of people I’ve met in Ethiopia, India and Bangladesh. Plus I’ve got some gauzy fabric draped over my bookshelf and windows. Some of my colleagues are still working out of boxes and few of them have anything on their walls yet. They stop by my office and gaze in envy and admiration at my pretty space.
The photo that’s hanging directly above my computer screen is the one below of Dilip Arong who lives in the Sundarban Islands in India. I love LOVE this picture. We met Dilip and his family on the second last day of our trip, when we’d spent a near perfect day on a rickety old boat putt-putting along from island to island, visiting people who’d lived through a horrible flood the year before. Dilip’s amazing smile and contagious sense of joy reminds me of the beauty and resilience of the people I’m working for.
I’m meeting my friend and mentor Gisele for lunch today. Gisele will always hold a special place in my heart. She was the first person who hired me to be a manager and over the years she has taught me a lot of lessons about trusting that people will give you their best if you give them enough encouragement. The last time we had lunch, her parting words were “it feels a little like our roles have shifted and you’re starting to mentor me.”
At lunch time one day last week, I ran across the street to pick up some pictures just before 1:00. Half an hour later, I was eating in the lunch room when someone came in and said there'd been a shooting on the street and police had taped off the bus stop in front of our building. It turns out someone got shot in the bus stop just moments after I walked past.
The fourth anniversary of this blog is coming up in a few days. My how time flies. Back then I was preparing for my first trip to Africa (to Kenya and Tanzania), and now I’ve got pictures of people I’ve met all over the world hanging on my wall. Lucky me.
Two of my favourite employees gave their notice recently (for health reasons). I’m seriously disappointed. They’ll be tough to replace. (On the bright side, B&S, it will mean I'll have a trip or two to Alberta in the coming months. Hope, if it brings me to your neck of the woods, I'll look you up too.)
Some years (like the year I lost my dad, my uncle, and my grandma in a three month period while working at a job I seriously hated) feel like they are just one excruciatingly long dark night of the soul. Pain upon pain is heaped upon you and all you can do is try to keep your head above water. This year feels like the opposite of that kind of year. It feels like contentment.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Today, at parent teacher conference, we heard words like "confident, leader, self-assured, contributes willingly to class discussion, mature beyond her years, raises her hand for almost every question, and consistently does exceptional work." The word "reluctant" never came up.
And I got a little choked up.
Christmas is in full swing in the mall, and so it's a little noisy. To help me shut it out, I'm listening to Ani DiFranco. These words just caused me pause. I suspect some of those people wandering beneath me in the mall could relate to these lyrics.
what kind of paradise am i looking for?
i've got everything i want and still i want more
maybe some tiny shiny key
will wash up on the shore
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I've done this activity at leadership and teambuilding workshops sometimes. It's rather delightful getting a bunch of business people down on the floor, throwing some old magazines around the room, giving them scissors and glue and telling them "get creative, imagine the future, and then tell me what surprises you find in your collage."
Here are a few clues about what I'm working on.
If, by looking at those little cryptic messages, you guessed "she's writing a book!" then you would be correct! If you guessed that it's about art and life and passion and reimagining truth, then you'd also be right. For more clues, you could check out answer #4 in the blog post below this one.
It feels a little scary to admit it, but there it is, out in the open. Now that I said it, I guess I'll have to actually live up to it and produce something one of these days, or you'll all call me a liar.
Take a deep breath... and here we go...
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
1. How do you put up with 2 kids that are puking AND whining and not just climb back into bed and lock them out of the bedroom?
Ha! If I had the answer to THAT, I could write a parenting book, make millions, and then hire you a nanny so you could lock the bedroom door for a few hours.
Seriously, just like every other mom I know, I just muddled through (and continue to muddle through) and gritted my teeth through the really rough spots.
2. Your life seems very full - you have kids, work, craft, travel....how do you find time for just yourself? What do you do to relax?
Yeah, my life sometimes seems impossibly full, but despite that, I'm actually fairly good at finding time for myself - partly because I have pathetically low standards for some of the things other women excel at, like cleaning house and actually putting the folded laundry back into dresser drawers. (That's what laundry tables are for - just line everything up in piles for every member of the family and let them fend for themselves.) Part of the reason I'm quite fond of my business travel is that it allows me guilt-free time to do some of my favourite things, like wandering, reading, taking pictures, and spending uninterrupted time in a bookstore. The other thing that helps me find time for relaxation is the fact that I have a really cool husband who is very much an equal partner on the home front - he does most of the cooking and lots of the cleaning and stays more on top of things like what forms are due at school and who has a soccer practice each night - and who sends me out the door when it's clear that I need some "me time". One of the other things I do, when the world seems to be unraveling, is take my journal to my son's grave and write whatever comes to mind. (Sometimes I wish my dad's grave were closer so I could do it there too.)
3. You've traveled all over the world, but where's one place you haven't and would love to?
Here are the countries I've been to: Canada, U.S., Mexico, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, India, Bangladesh, England, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Greece, France, Holland, and Spain.
And a few of the countries I want to visit some day: Brazil, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, Kuala Lumpur (I know that last one is kinda random, but I loved the book Democracy by Joan Didion and that was the first time I ever heard of Kuala Lumpur. I've been intrigued ever since.)
4. What do you love to write about most?
Funny you should ask - I've been working on building my own website lately (because I want to build up my freelance career in writing and leadership consulting) and I've been wrestling with trying to find my "unique voice" so I know what I most want to sell myself as. I've done alot of different kinds of writing (poetry, drama, essays, research articles, lots and lots of business writing, and I've even written a novel), but I think in recent years, my favourite thing to write would fit in the category of personal essay. If I were to narrow that down even further, I think I would say essays about issues such as social justice, leadership, experiences in other cultures, and unique approaches to spirituality. (I'd love to turn this question around, though - what do YOU most like about what I write?)
5. In your experience, what are most important ingredients necessary for a creative writing workshop?
Ooo... Stephanie, you ask GOOD questions! I think some of the most important ingredients are:
- enough freedom to write in the voice that's most comfortable, but enough challenge to test voices outside of your comfort zone
- trust among the participants and instructor - that they can respect each other's unique perspectives and world views
- unique, outside-the-box writing exercises (one of my favourites was a brown bag exercise where each participant was given a brown bag with a few things inside that they had to incorporate into a piece of writing)
- an instructor (or facilitator) who knows the "rules" but is confident enough to know the right time to break them
- an instructor who provides some constructive ideas for how to use/share your writing and challenges people to get good writing out into the world
6. What I want to know is, how does having a cold or allergies affect that nose ring?
The nose ring really has little affect on my life, even when I have a cold. Once you get used to it, it's pretty easy to blow your nose, wash your face, etc.. Now and then you have to pick the boogers off the little curved wire in the inside (is that too much information?), but it's really not a big deal. I've never regretted it, and the only time it has caused me discomfort was the time shortly after I got it that I caught my ring on it while washing my face in the shower. Ouch.
7. You have a nose ring?
Why, yes... yes I do! I got it on my 4oth birthday (2 and a half years ago) just for fun. I'd wanted to get one back in my twenties, but chickened out because I didn't think I had the right nose for it (my friend had a lovely regal nose and just seemed to suit it so well) AND I was much too concerned about what people thought of me back then. By 40, I was much more comfortable in my skin and no longer cared as much about what my nose looked like or what other people thought, so I went for it. Call it delayed gratification. :-) (Julie is trying to convince me that at 50, I need to get a tattoo. We shall see.)
8. Who's your favourite sister-in-law?
Well, it's ccap, don't ya know? :-) (For those who don't get it, my sister is also my sister-in-law, and since I only have one sister, that seemed like the most politically correct choice.) Truthfully, though, I'm rather found of all of them, INCLUDING YOU, ACCIDENTAL POET/HOUSEWIFE/CANDLE CARVER/BEAUTIFUL WOMAN WHO MARRIED MY TECHNOGEEK BROTHER! (Yes, you're beautiful, despite what my bumbling 15 year old self once said to you!)
9. Who's the favourite man in your life?
Why that would be YOU, Mr. Anonymous, a.k.a. Studmuffin Husband!
That was fun. Any more questions?
Monday, November 17, 2008
Ask me something. Anything. It's your chance to find out some bit of information you've been dying to know about me. Or to find out my opinion on some topic you've been ruminating about lately.
Go ahead - make my day - throw a few interview questions at me. I'll try to answer them as truthfully as possible.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
2. Julie is – true to her nature – delightfully stubborn about what she can accomplish with only her left hand (she’s right handed and that’s the one she broke). She climbed into the tub the other day and I said “call me when you want me to help wash your hair”. A few minutes later, she climbed out of the tub, hair successfully washed and rinsed and no water on her cast.
3. It sickens me that in some parts of the world, little girls have to fear being sprayed with acid on their way to school. We may have come a long way, baby, but collectively, we’ve still got a long way to go.
4. I’m mightily uninspired today. Here I am at #4 and I can’t think of anything else to say.
5. I want to go to Afghanistan, just to sit with those girls with the burnt faces. Just to tell them that other people in the world lament their suffering.
6. I like the word lament. I think we should use it more often. I’m on a one-woman campaign to increase its use – I include it in almost all of my presentations. We need to lament the injustice in the world, and then do something about it.
7. While in Afghanistan, I’d stop in and say hello to Melissa Fung (a woman I haven’t met but have spoken with over the phone in the past). She seems like a calm and courageous woman.
8. I’m so glad that media the world over had enough respect to keep Melissa’s kidnapping a secret until she was released. Despite what we sometimes suspect (at least when it comes to paparazzi), there really IS some honour among journalists and media outlets.
9. I’m feeling much better today, but oh-so-tired.
10. I think Barack Obama will make a fine leader, but I wonder how disappointed all of his hero-worshipers will be when he makes his first mistake. With the huge expectations that have been raised the world over (apparently something like 95% of people outside the U.S. wanted him elected), I can’t imagine the weight he’s got on his shoulders.
11. I’ve read 2 great books lately, The Lemon Tree and The Year of Living Biblically. They’re very different books, but the authors share a common and rare ability to write with an open mind and remarkably little judgment or bias.
12. In answer to darien’s question a few posts ago, yes I saw the three churches in Mahone Bay. (Actually, I’m told there’s a total of 5 churches – if you look further into the distance, but three are most prominent along the shore.) I nearly got trapped in a thorn bush when I climbed a barrier to snap this picture. Those branches may look innocent enough, but they're covered in thorns.
13. My new office has an burnt orange wall (lovely). And I have a huge window that overlooks a shopping mall (weird). I’ll get to watch people do their Christmas shopping. And they’ll get to peer up my skirt if I sit too close to the window.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Thursday, November 06, 2008
“I like the way you think,” he grins. “Ferry it is.”
After a hearty farmhouse breakfast the next morning, we set off for the ferry that will take us from Prince Edward Island to his home in Nova Scotia. As always, the ferry ride across the great span of rolling grey water delights this prairie girl’s heart. “I’ve always had a connection to water,” he tells me, as he gazes across the expanse. “Me too,” I smile in response. “I can’t get enough of it. Everywhere I travel, I try to spend at least a little time by a waterway, even if it’s just a little creek that the locals have forgotten in downtown Dallas.”
As we travel, a new friendship unfolds like the petals of a flower. We talk of common faith journeys, road bumps and mountain tops. He tells of the pain of a failed marriage and the beauty of new love. I tell of losing a son and finding hope. Each mile brings a new story and a new petal unfolding. We talk of life partners whom we both love dearly and who help us follow our dreams. We talk of our stumbling relationships with the church and the God it represents. Along the way, we also talk about the work of ending hunger, a cause that has brought our paths to this common intersection.
We take a detour along the South Shore, both of us reluctant to leave the ocean behind. We meander along inlets, stopping to photograph quaint villages and austere churches. He points out the home of his wife’s parents and, down the road, the home of the two women who fell in love against all odds and asked him to perform their wedding ceremony. We laugh at deer bounding behind a bush – the same place he’d seen them with his wife weeks earlier.
In Mahone Bay, we stop for a lunch of scallops (pronounced “scullops”, I’m told, when my accent belies the fact that I “come from away”) and French fries. We toast over beer, a drink I rarely consume unless I’m in a new place and want to “do like the Romans”.
In the pewter shop near the Pub, he points out the earrings he once bought, thinking his wife would love them, only to be told the next time they visited the shop together (before she’d received the gift) how ridiculous the earrings looked (“like ET!” she’d laughed). Come Christmas, he’d given them to her anyway and they’d shared a laugh. “It’s how our relationship works,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
Over racks of pewter ornaments, earrings, and wall hangings, I tell him of my quest for a triple spiral, a symbol that has intrigued me recently. It’s a symbol that has been attached to many meanings over the years – the “three realms” (land, sea, and sky), the three trimesters of a woman’s pregnancy, and the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “It also seems like a beautiful representation of my three daughters,” I explain, “spiraling out from the centre that my husband and I have provided.” No triple spiral to be found in the shop, I settle for a pair of raindrop earrings.
In the next shop, he stops at the desk to inquire about a ring he's having re-sized for his wife, while I once again scour the room for the illusive triple spiral. None to be found, we leave the shop and begin to make our way back to his home in the Annapolis Valley.
At his home I meet his wife, and know almost instantly that she too is a kindred spirit. We talk of books we’d read recently, we laugh over our shared propensity for killing plants, we dine on fresh lobster and spinach salad, and we toast with homemade wine.
After the meal, he brings out a plastic bag and his wife laughs at him for re-purposing a bag from a mega-store he refuses to visit because of his commitment to social justice. Pulling a chair up next to me, he begins to pull gifts out of the bag. “I'm honored to present you with a membership into the Order of Good Cheer. On behalf of the Province of Nova Scotia, I welcome you to a 400 year old order whose only expectation is that you have a good time while you visit us,” he says as he presents me with a certificate. “And this is a book that your children will enjoy – about the Pumpkin People who populate our town every Fall.” He pulls out a colourful children’s book, and I think instantly of Maddie and her Happy Pumpkin Man.
Thinking he’s done, I thank him for his generosity, but he pulls one more item out of his bag. The expectant look on his face tells me that there’s a reason why this is the last item. “Here’s a little something special I think you’ll enjoy.” As I open a tiny packet, a dawning realization comes over me. There, lying in my open hand, on a fine silver chain, is the longed-for triple spiral! Somehow, in the span of a 10 minute visit to a gift shop, he has found the one item I overlooked – the one item that has eluded me in the months I’ve searched for it.
I am overcome, not only by his generosity, but by his ability to know me in a such a deep and compassionate way in the span of about 24 hours. “I feel so blessed!” I say as I embrace him. A lump in my throat prevents me from saying much more.
The next day, over breakfast, I tell them both how much the short visit has meant to me and how much the gift overwhelmed and inspired me. “It feels like you have blessed a place deep in my heart,” I say. “There’s something I’ve been working on – a piece that builds on a poem I once wrote called ‘The God of my Understanding’ – that’s been on the back burner for awhile. Something about this gift makes it feel like I’ve received the blessing that will encourage me to carry on and finish the project. Thank you for that.”
“There’s something bigger than you and I at work here,” he says. “Go home, wear your pendant, and be blessed in your work.”
Before heading to the airport, he takes me to visit the magnificent stone church he pastors. While I stand in its grandeur, I reflect on all of the people who’ve come through these doors who’ve been blessed with the presence of a great man who knows how to reach into a person’s heart and make them feel valued and known. Without a doubt, I know that his generous and perceptive heart has found its calling.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
In other news, I am back from a few delightful days spent in PEI and Nova Scotia. It was a mini "speaking tour" (doesn't that make me sound all important?) with three speaking engagements in one day, and then some time spent with our new volunteers in the region. I'll be back soon to tell you a little story about some new friends, a lovely serendipitous moment in a magical gift shop, and one of the most wonderful gifts I've every received. Add all of that to a few amazing meals of fresh fish, scallops (pronounced "scullops" by the locals), and lobster, and I was a happy, happy girl.
For now, though, I must spend a little time cuddling with my brave little girl (who just came to ask me if there were any restrictions against eating Halloween candy after surgery :-).
Friday, October 31, 2008
This morning I told her that I was suspicious that Happy Pumpkin Man might have snuck out and partied all night. He's got such a short life, after all - wouldn't you want to live it up while you still can?
Monday, October 27, 2008
I'm so proud!
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Twenty years from now, when my children are grown, it’s what they’ll talk about. “Remember the costumes mom used to make? The sheep? The monkey? The fairy princess complete with gossamer wings? The elephant? The Campbell’s Soup can?” “Yeah, she was a little crazy/obsessed/single-minded two weeks before Halloween, but MAN did we have good costumes!”
It’s what I do. I make good costumes. Once a year, I get to rock their socks off. Dig deep into my psyche and you’ll probably discover that it’s really about me trying to compensate for all of my other failings as a parent, but I’m not about to visit a shrink to find that out. I’ll just sew. And glue. And cut. And then send them off into the streets to wow their friends and beg for candy.
Truthfully, I didn’t think the glue gun would become a once-a-year tool. I used to spend a lot of time creating things – all kinds of things from leather moccasins to dried flower arrangements to hand-painted Christmas ornaments – before I had kids. When I started having kids, I thought I would be one of those moms who would forever be hauling out paints and feathers and little bits of fabric and spending many magical afternoons creating things with my fanciful, imaginative children. That was before reality set it. It turns out I’m not really very fond of the mixture of children and paints and feathers and little bits of fabric. It turns out that it’s an awful lot of work to create – and more importantly clean up the messes – with your children. And it turns out that a full time job on top of motherhood doesn’t leave a lot of time for magical art-filled afternoons. Some days just keeping them fed seems beyond my capacity.
Nope – I didn’t live up to my own expectations. It’s not that I never do art projects with them, it’s just that I haven’t been as committed to it as I’d anticipated. But what I still do, despite the years it nearly led to a nervous breakdown, is make good costumes. And sometimes, in this obstacle course called parenting, there’s such a thing as “close enough”.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
So I need to take a page from one of my favourite bedtime books, and think happy thoughts. Here goes…
- Nothing was seriously damaged by the water in the basement.
- Despite this big repair bill, I managed to get at least slightly caught up on some of the other bills hanging over our heads. AND I cleaned up that pesky stack of papers and bills and envelopes cluttering the top of the microwave.
- I have a great job that I still love after 4 years and that won’t likely be put in jeopardy by this economic downturn.
- The new indoor soccer facility is only 10 minutes from my house! Yay!
- I managed to rearrange my next business trip so I won’t miss Halloween after all. Plus I get to visit a part of the country I don’t get to very often.
- I’ve made my way back to the gym and I’m enjoying it again.
- Thanks to the gym, I was the only family member who got to have a warm shower this morning.
- My kids think I rock because I make Halloween costumes that make their friends jealous. There are few words more sweet than “you ROCK mom!”
- On Friday night I had the most lovely time with one of my newest friends – enjoying a Margaret Atwood lecture and ending the evening with some yummy dim sum.
- There’s a little girl who wakes up too often during the night (especially when she’s sick), but when she wakes up, it’s me she comes looking for. Me. I get to be her mom. I get to be the one to sooth her and cuddle her and chase away the monsters. Just for a little while until she grows up and learns to chase away her own monsters. For this moment, I don’t want to overlook how lucky that makes me. Especially since I don’t get to chase away her brother’s monsters.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
- you miss not one, but TWO buses on the way to work;
- you trip over air in your driveway and gracefully plant yourself face first on the concrete; AND
- somebody swears at you when you step off the bus (just because you turned to wait for a colleague and got in her way).
And that was only what happened before you got to work...
I should have stayed in bed.
My body aches from its encounter with the pavement.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
("Tonight I am the Wind" by Kerri Woelke)
Update: In case you're wondering about the places in the video, here's a list:
Clip 1 - on the highway between Winnipeg and Arden, my home town
Clip 2 - the farm where I grew up (this is the back view where you can see the dilapitated buildings that used to be my dad's barns. The front view of the house is no longer visible because the trees my mom and brother planted have grown so big they've obscured the view.)
Clip 3 - the pasture that used to hold my dad's sheep, where his sign is still leaning against a hydro pole
Clip 4 - driving through downtown Arden, past the post office, the grocery store, and the municipal office
Clip 5 - walking across the White Mud River on the swinging bridge in Lansdowne Community Park in Arden (where we spent many a happy summer afternoon and where my siblings and I were all baptized)
Clip 6 - my dad's grave in the Arden cemetery, perched on top of Arden Ridge (he's got the best spot in the cemetery, next to some of the only trees in the cemetery)
Clip 7 - my dad's grave
Clip 8 - the ditch where my dad died, crushed by his tractor and bailer
Friday, October 10, 2008
Thursday, October 09, 2008
I gulped and hoped they wouldn’t lay hands on me. They didn’t. Nor did they for the other woman who made a presentation about her bookstore ministry. Though it was probably an indication of deep-rooted sexism, I was willing to let that one go.
My presentation fell flat. The Pastor hadn’t managed to get my powerpoint to work (or hadn’t even tried, I’m not sure which), so I had to tell the stories without the pictures. As I talked about Aghnia in India who suffers from not only hunger but injustices that we have some responsibility for, I realized that people were only half listening. They’d been more engaged when they’d heard about how Jesus had transformed the poor of their city into Bible-thumping-praise-Jesus evangelists and prophets.
They were good people in this church, seeking goodness in this world. But they’d come to church this Sunday morning to hear about what God could do for them, not about what they should be doing for Aghnia in India. If Aghnia repented of her sin and raised her hands toward Jesus, perhaps then her story would be worth listening to.
The presentations over, the Pastor got up to preach. I’d dared to hope that the presentations were meant to replace the sermon, but I’d underestimated the drive of a fired-up-Pentecostal-capital-P-Pastor who feels called to lay the word of Jesus on the hearts of his (big H or little h?) followers. I remember little of what he preached about, but I know there were loudly expressed words about sin and evil and salvation and healing. I thought back to the comment I’d heard not long before about why television preachers always sound so angry. (“Imagine hearing the same tone of voice from someone advertising a mattress, or a friend telling you about their new love interest,” the person had said. “You’d wonder what was making them so pissed off.”)
I wanted to be judgmental about the lack of intellectual thought in the sermon, or the emotional “uh-huhs” and “praise Jesus” in the crowd. I wanted to cast it off as irrelevant and even damaging. It didn’t fit my questioning/grappling/over-thinking approach to faith. But… is it a bad thing if some people find an emotional doorway to God while others of us seek truth through more intellectual routes?
After the sermon, the Pastor invited those who needed healing to join him in the front. “If you haven’t received healing yet, it’s not because God is doing something wrong, it’s because YOU ARE NOT BELIEVING it will be done,” he shouted. I cringed.
One by one, people shuffled to the front of the church, crying out to God for release from whatever ailed them. A bent over old man, a tall elegant middle-aged woman – people of many races and walks of life.
My eyes came to rest on the young father who carried his small boy to the front. Was the healing for himself? His son? I didn’t have to wonder long. The Pastor laid his hands on the boy. Trustingly, he reached out and the Pastor scooped him into his arms. When they turned in my direction, I could read the story written on the young face. He was clearly living with Down’s syndrome.
I didn’t hear the prayer (there was a loud din of people praying by this point), but I assume the Pastor was asking God for a release from Down’s. My heart ached for the little boy. What did he believe about himself? That he was broken? Sick? In need of healing? What would he believe tomorrow when the prayer was not answered to the satisfaction of the grown-ups in his life? Would he beg God to help him have more faith? Would he curse himself for his otherness? What about the young father? Would he wonder what sins of his past had been visited upon his son?
I wondered if the healing that is needed is not for the young boy, but for those of us who view him as “different” or “incomplete”.
I try to accept the different roads our faith takes us down. I try to live with a “generous orthodoxy” and accept that God looks different to different people. But I can’t help but wonder about the collateral damage - people whose lives are tainted by the dark side of faith. Not just their version, but mine. The little boy who will grow up believing God made a mistake or his parents didn’t have enough faith. The old woman in India whose hunger is less important than her salvation. The young man who’s attracted to a person of the wrong gender. The young woman who can't live out her passion and calling to serve as a leader.
Is there an approach to faith that will make a difference for them?
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
"Girl, I like the way you think," I said and grabbed my camera while she hopped on her bike.
As the fading light stretched shadows across the fallen leaves, we journeyed, each doing what we love to do. The bittersweet knowledge that these carefree t-shirt-wearing journeys are slipping away with the seasons lingered with me while I snapped the pictures.
(Full size versions of the pictures available here.)
Monday, October 06, 2008
Friday, October 03, 2008
2. While Julie is thrilled with the prospect, Nikki’s comment was “I’d be too distracted to buy books, because Chapters is SO CLOSE to Garage, and Stitches, and all those other cool clothing stores!”
3. Julie promised to pick out some good biographies for her older sister.
4. Nikki found out recently that she gets to go on a French language exchange program, which means she’ll be spending a week in Quebec. I’m excited for her but… Yikes! 2300 kilometres away, for a whole week! Gulp.
5. When I asked if she wouldn’t be just a little nervous about spending a week with a family she doesn’t know, she practically scoffed at me when she said “No!”
6. My risk-averse daughter is growing up and getting bold.
7. Maddie will be going for surgery soon (tubes in her ears). I don’t like to watch the tears well up in her eyes every time someone says the word “surgery”.
8. I spent about an hour last night flipping channels between the American debate and the Canadian debate. I’ll venture a guess that most of you south of the border didn’t even know we were HAVING a debate, let alone an election. (No offense meant or taken – it’s just interesting how much more fascinated we – or at least our media - tend to be with you than vice versa.)
9. The American debate was more interesting, but the Canadian debate had its moments.
10. Sometimes I wish there were a better alternative than partisan politics. I get sick of everyone having to prove how right their party is and, more frustratingly, how wrong everyone else is.
11. Why do we put up with worse behavior (name-calling, lying, passive aggressive jabs) from our politicians than we do from kindergarten kids?
12. When I hear about leaders slashing arts programs in favour of bolstering the economy, it seems to me it’s a little like a doctor deciding to cut out a heart in favour of the muscles.
13. I am so uninspired by any of our leadership candidates this time around, although I found Elizabeth May a little intriguing last night. (Ha! I’m picturing my big brother chuckling when he reads this and considers his tree-hugging little sister voting Green. Though I didn’t say that’s what I would vote, just that I liked some of the things she said.)
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
One of my favourite writers recently has been Brian McLaren. He's a refreshing voice in a world in which we've heard too many people talking about a version of Christianity that gets too caught up in a couple of narrow issues and turns a blind eye to some of the bigger problems in the world. I interviewed him for the program we've launched, Fast for Change, in which we're inviting people to spend World Food Day, October 16, fasting and praying about the great imbalances in a world in which over 800 million people are still hungry, and our neighbour to the south is busy bailing out a 700 billion dollar "mistake" made by the filthy rich.
Find out more at www.endhungerfast.com.
(By the way, it's an audio podcast, not a video. Don't be fooled by the image.)
Saturday, September 27, 2008
(Bet ya don't get to ride a combine on your business trips!)
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I've got lots of pictures, and I'll get to them soon, but for now I thought I'd share some of the "coming home" shots. I had a window seat and the most amazing light, so I managed to snap a few aerial shots that I'm rather fond of. The first one (above) shows the sun reflecting on the lake through the mist. The third one shows the lovely patchwork of the prairies in harvest season.
Monday, September 15, 2008
But when it comes to social justice in my own back yard, I admit, I falter. When it comes right down to it, I don’t like to trip over a drunk man sleeping off his demons in my office doorway. I don’t like my bus-stop solitude to be interrupted by the young man trying to bum a cigarette or a few bucks for food. I don’t like to be inconvenienced by the poverty in my own neighbourhood. I know it sounds self-centred and uncompassionate, but it’s true.
So when my friend Steve handed me the book Bent Hope and told me I would love it, I was skeptical. How could I possibly love a book full of the stories of people living on the street? How could that be an uplifting experience that would leave me feeling anything other than guilty about my lack of compassion?
I took the book along on our recent weekend at the lake none-the-less. So far, I’ve never gone wrong reading something Steve recommended, so I thought I should at least give it a try.
What can I say? Steve was right. This book is nothing short of brilliant. You should ALL read it. Really. It will change you. It will change the way you look at the “drunk” sleeping in the office doorway or the “punk” trying to bum a cigarette. It will make you want to sit down beside someone on the street and listen to their story.
Tim Huff has an uncanny way of bending words into incredible stories and undeniable wisdom. More than that, though, he has an uncanny way of seeing through the dirt under the fingernails, the smell of yesterday’s alcohol, and the bitterness of a life gone off the rails to the nugget of truth and beauty underneath. He doesn’t sugarcoat life on the streets – no, it’s raw and real and ugly – but what he does is recognize the tiny light of hope – even if it’s badly bent out of shape and barely recognizable - shining through each person he meets.
Here’s the thing – more than just a powerful set of stories, this book renews my desire to believe in God. This book reminds me that if we set aside the many failures of the church, the messed up legalism and hate disguised as "WWJD", the narrow-mindedness and judgementalism – if we set all of that aside and look to the pure and unadulterated message and life of Jesus, we will find what we’ve all been aching for – hope. Tim Huff is out on the streets trying to live out that message of hope in a way that few pastors, televangelists, or social justice soap-box shouters have ever done. Not only that, but he’s letting the light of hope shine through the stories and lives of messed up people to teach those of us who’ve let cynicism blind us that it really is okay to dream of a different future.
Bent Hope will give you hope.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
You’ve gotten lost in the mire of too many petty arguments.
Too many “why didn’t you wipe the counter?”
Too much “when are you EVER going to fix the couch?”
Too often focusing on the reasons why he annoys you.
Too few moments when you say “thank you” and mean it.
Worn out, you whisper a little prayer.
“Please god. Help me to remember why I love him.”
But you don’t expect the answer.
Because the next morning it’s the same.
And soon it feels like the only words that come out of either of your mouths
Are words most meant to hurt. To pay back.
You try to remember the words you were taught to say
At that long ago marriage retreat.
“You are not my enemy.”
But they get stuck in your throat.
And then one day
You’re sitting by a waterfall.
You lift your eyes from your book
And you see him climbing off a rock.
Abandoning his fishing rod.
Wading through icy water.
Pausing to help a stranger untangle her fishing line.
You can’t help yourself.
Your eyes fill with tears.
Because you remember.
This is why you let him into your heart.
This is why you said “I do” fifteen years ago.
This is why you decided the risk of “forever” was worth it.
This easy kindness to strangers.
This interest in other people’s lives.
This belief in the value of other people’s stories.
This willingness to pause for the untangling.
The same effortless friendliness
That makes waitresses feel special
And lost boys from single-parent homes remember that they have some value.
And more than that
That when this same kindness, this same interest,
This same willingness
Is extended to you
Too often you turn it away, reject it
Or stubbornly misinterpret it
Because it wasn’t spoken in the language you thought you needed.
And though you know that someday
You’ll get caught in the mire again
You will remember
And say thank you.
Happy (belated) anniversary, buddy.
Thanks for a lovely weekend.
Friday, September 12, 2008
What version of the Bible do you have to read to believe that torture is validated? What happened to turning the other cheek?
Will I ever be caught up with the laundry? Will the clothes ever end up in drawers again instead of in baskets or on the laundry table?
What if a politician ran a campaign on a “kindness” platform and determined never to slander their opponent or say any mean things? Would any of us listen?
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Oh... and then there's my poem that came out in the most recent edition of Rhubarb. I think if you click on the image, you can probably read it.
And in today's edition of the Globe and Mail (a national newspaper in Canada), an essay by yours truly. You can read it here (at least for today - it might not work tomorrow.)
I have one other magazine piece coming out soon, but I'm not sure when.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Monday, September 08, 2008
So-and-so wouldn’t have wasted an hour watching mindless television last night (especially when it was a re-run she’d already seen) and certainly wouldn’t have left 2 loads of clean laundry unfolded for the children to rifle through this morning.
So-and-so doesn’t have a months-old pile of bills gathering dust on top of the microwave – she would have sorted them all and filed them away in crisp neat colour-coded folders. And none of the bills would ever be paid late.
So-and-so wouldn’t have forgotten to go through her daughter’s school supply list one last time, sending her to school without the paper towel, paint shirt, and ziplock bags.
So-and-so would have put the slow-cooker on HIGH on Sunday morning, so that when it was time for potluck, the potatoes in the stew would have been “al dente” rather than rock hard.
So-and-so wouldn’t let her children go to bed with their clothes on – she would ALWAYS have clean, folded pajamas lined up in the appropriate places in their dresser drawers.
So-and-so doesn’t show up at soccer games on rainy days without an umbrella or rain jacket. In fact, so-and-so would probably have extra umbrellas in her car for all the other poor slobs who’d forgotten theirs. Plus a couple of blankets to keep the players warm on the bench. And at the end of the game, she'd pull out rice krispie squares for all the players, with a few extra for their younger siblings.
So-and-so wouldn’t just have good intentions, she’d actually follow through and phone those people who are sick or lonely. She’d probably also bring them a casserole. And wash their floors for them.
So-and-so always stands up to bullies, speaks her mind even when it means risking her reputation, and never hears the words “avoids confrontation” on a performance review.
So-and-so never runs out of money before the end of the pay period, even in September when she has to buy school supplies and new indoor runners for three kids, pay lunch fees, pay soccer registration fees, and pay for music lessons with one pay cheque right after a family vacation. She would have been prepared and stashed money away for just such a rainy day.
So-and-so never feels awkward in a crowd and always knows how to make other people feel comfortable and relaxed. She can start a conversation with anyone and never hurts anyone’s feelings because they think she’s stuck-up and ignores them.
I hate so-and-so.
Saturday, September 06, 2008
And if you see Maddie emerging from a hole in the ground while you're there, Sarah, be sure to send her home!
Friday, September 05, 2008
Maddie: Today me and my friends tried to dig to China. We didn't make it to China, though. We made it to water. Pause. Tomorrow, I think we'll make it to China.
A few minutes later...
Maddie: But... what if we make it to China, how are we going to get back to Canada?
Me: I don't know. What do you think you should do?
Maddie: Well, I guess we'll have to build a REALLY long ladder.
A few minutes later...
Maddie: Once we get there, I think we'll organize field trips for all the other kids.
Me: So... why China? Why not some other country on the other side of the world, like India or Afghanistan?
Maddie: Duh, Mom. China is COOL!
Thursday, September 04, 2008
2. Here he is, just as the sun was rising over his "happy place" - his favourite fishin' hole in the world. We've been visiting this place for about 16 years by now (since before we got married).
3. Speaking of which, we celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary while we were on vacation in August. We're finally getting a chance to celebrate it for real in a few weeks with a romantic getaway in a cabin that's so close to his happy place, we'll probably spend some time fishing there again. But not at 5:00 a.m., or it won't be MY happy place!
4. I like fishing, but it's mostly because Marcel is fairly tolerant when I let him look after both of our fishing rods, and instead I do a couple of my favourite things - reading and wandering around taking pictures. I only managed to reel in one tiny fish, and then I passed the rods on to him. (Oh don't I just look so wide awake? I can hardly believe I'm showing you this picture.)
5. Here's me doing one of those favourite things after catching my token fish:6. If you're looking for a good read, try "Twenty Chickens for a Saddle". (Thanks, AP!)
7. And here's one of my favourite pictures from the day of "fishing" - just before the sun burned off the morning mist:
8. In other excursions, in the last weekend of the summer, we finally managed to squeeze in a visit to my brother's place (about 2 hours away) for pizza night. No trip to their house is ever complete without the cousins putting on a little parade after a visit to the dress-up box.
8. Why is it that EVERYTHING has to start up again in September? After a relaxing August, I'm just not ready for the crazy schedule of soccer games, music lessons, homework, and a little business travel thrown in for good measure. Can I go back to that lovely island off the west coast again?
9. Maddie's comment after seeing one of her friends after a summer apart. "So, L has some blue hair now. It's not every day you see someone with blue hair."
10. The first day of school was fairly uneventful and relatively low stress in our house. Except for a minor meltdown over a forgotten pair of indoor shoes, and a tiny bit of stress over not knowing if a combination lock would work, the kids are all quite content and relaxed. Whew.
11. Why are there so many blasted mosquitoes around these days? Shouldn't they have hibernated... or DIED... by now?!?
12. If I can't get wife of the year, can I at least get mom of the year for watching soccer games on nights that are so blasted cold my fingers can barely function enough to zip up my third layer of jackets?
13. Okay, so I'm probably not wife of the year or mother of the year, but you can't deny that I'm pretty darn lucky to be the mom of these three unique and beautiful girls: (First day of school photos, and I actually got all three of them - or at least the one that normally chafes at group photos - to cooperate long enough for a few pictures!)