Monday, December 22, 2008


I like going to a church where the youth can do a series of silly Christmas pageants where Mary gets to speak in hip-hop and sing opera, all while holding a black baby Jesus. After all those years of lily-white Caucasian babies in the manger, we could stand a few more black ones. (Incidentally, Mary was black too, but Joseph was white. Smile.)

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

More on Zimbabwe

When I read this piece about the abduction of Zimbabwean human rights defender Jestina Mukoko, my eyes filled with tears. I don't know her, but I wish I did. I want to know bold people who are willing to risk their lives for the sake of peace. I want to be inspired by them. I want to learn from them, even if the learning calls me out of my comfort zone.

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

It’s okay Mom, I’m in the back row

Christmas concert last night. (Well, "winter concert", actually.) A normal mom would have figured out a week ahead of time what each child was wearing, whether those clothes were clean, whether there were tights to match the dress, and whether the right shoe could be found that matched the appropriate left shoe. But not me – oh no, not me. It’s at those moments that I despair of EVER being a normal mom.

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

Happy, Merry

Happy Holidays. Merry Christmas. The pressure is on to be happy, merry, and bright. Shiny happy people all lined up in front of a sparkling Christmas tree.

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


Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
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

You think WE'VE got problems...

The political challenges we face in Canada (and even in the U.S.) pale in comparison to what they're living with every day in Zimbabwe. I just wrote a press release about a seven million dollar shipment of food we're delivering there. Unfortunately, it's a drop in the bucket because the UN predicts that 5.1 million people, nearly half the population of Zimbabwe, will require emergency food aid in the first quarter of 2009. On top of that, they're saying that they expect about 60,000 people to contract cholera before the outbreak is stopped. And meanwhile, Mugabe claims the outbreak is over. Can you really trust a man who's hacked off peoples' hands for voting against him?

This is the first time I can remember seeing the word quintillion used. Not even the U.S. bailout package uses numbers that big. My friend Pugeni once told me that when you go to the grocery store to pick up a jug of milk, the price has inflated before you can make it to the till.

Last night, I was watching the video clip (linked above) where Mugabe is talking and Maddie wanted to know who he was. She could hear the sadness in my voice when I started talking about the country he leads and the horrible things he's done to people. When I told her that he's the leader of the country where our friend Pugeni lives, her eyes filled with tears. "It's okay," I said, "I'm pretty sure Pugeni is alright. So far." I can't promise her the moon, after all.

From across the room, Nikki shouted, "Why doesn't somebody just shoot him?" And I said, "well, my dear, I'm surprised nobody has yet. But it wouldn't be the solution we'd want to see. Because we believe in peace."

We believe in peace. I have to repeat that like a mantra when my anger rails at a situation so beyond my control but so close to my heart because I grew so fond of our special friend in the short time he was here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Canadian Parliament, the Kindergarten Version

Just when the U.S. seems to be getting their act together, our government is falling apart at the seams. It seems to me we expect better behaviour from our kindergarten kids than we do from our government representatives. And with that thought, for the benefit of those of you from other countries who are even more confused than we are, I give you the kindergarten version of what’s happening in the leadership of our fine country…

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

I'm sorry to keep you all in suspense, but after an intense couple of days of board meetings and presentations, I kinda crashed. And then it was a busy weekend, so I didn't spend much time on the computer.

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

Moral dilemna

Here's the scenario: you're having lunch with 5 people. Two of them are members of the board of directors for the organization you work for. One of them is your boss. The other two are consultants that you have hired who've come to the board meeting to make a presentation on your behalf. You are the only woman at the table. One of the board members makes two statements: one of them essentially dismisses all of the work that you (and your team) do as inconsequential, and the other one dismisses all women (and especially younger women, and even more specifically younger women with degrees in literature - which you happen to have) as inconsequential. All of the other men at the table chuckle uncomfortably and most of them cast sideways glances at you.

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

Nothing much to say, but that never stopped me before

How foolish of me to admit that I’m writing a book, because wouldn’t you know it – those simple words had the powerful affect of sending the muse into hiding. I can no longer write. I simply sit in front of my computer screen and daydream. And pick my nose now and then. These few random thoughts are the best I can muster.

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.