Thursday, November 27, 2008

Not reluctant anymore

Three years ago, her report card said "Nicole is reluctant to speak up in class". She was tentative, never raising her hand, never sure enough that she knew the answer.

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.


We are settled into our new offices, and it's lovely, but I'm having to get used to the noise of the mall on the other side of my wall of windows. It's hard to resist the urge to people-watch when I should be working (or even blogging about people-watching when I should be working :-). Right now there's a crowd of school kids leaving the theatre that's just across the atrium from my office. They just passed the makeout bench (a place that's normally fairly secluded when there's nothing going on at the theatre so people seem to think it's an ideal place for making out - not realizing the people in the offices can watch them).

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

I don't get it

This morning I heard on the news that Barack Obama was encouraging the heads of the big banks to forego the big bonuses they usually get every year. Ummm.... duh?! Wouldn't that be a foregone conclusion? I thought the whole purpose of bonuses was to reward people for meeting or exceeding their target. Seems like $900 billion in debt is a little short of the target, wouldn't you say?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Child's play

With all my office packing done (and nothing for me to do at work, since my computer is wrapped in bubble wrap), I took the day off today and took myself out on a little artist's date to a local retreat centre. Mostly I was there to do some writing, but while there I also had some fun with glue, construction paper, and old magazines. When I'm trying to imagine a new project, it's fun to step away from it for awhile and let my artist-child come out to play. Sometimes great truths can be found when you're paging through old magazines looking for fun things to glue onto a collage.
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

The answers

Just what you were looking for...

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

Go ahead and ask

So... I feel like writing a blog post, but my mind is drawing a blank (something it's been doing quite frequently of late). This is where I turn to you, my few but faithful readers.

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

It's Thursday, right?

1. We’re moving offices next week, but I haven’t packed a single box. I’m mastering the art of procrastination.

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

Soccer injury

It's been an eventful week around here. Two visits to hospitals, one surgery, one broken arm, five presentations, one business trip, one head cold (mine)... too much.

I want to go back to uneventful.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The gift

“Bridge or ferry?” he asks me, as we prepare to leave the Island. “Ferry,” I say. “The bridge disappoints me with its high walls and lack of a good view of the ocean. I love ferries.”

“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.

She can hear me now when I whisper her name

And I hope that what I surmised earlier ends up being true - that the change in personality in the last year and a half - from precocious to tentative, from outgoing to shy, from bold to inclined toward anxiety - can at least partially be attributed to the reduced hearing she's been coping with all this time.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

All is well

Maddie had minor surgery this morning (tubes in her ears), and only a couple of hours later she is up and about and feeling fine (though the sounds she's now hearing are surprising her in their intensity). The same little girl who had a major panic attack (and took a few years off Mommy's life) a few weeks ago when she had to get blood taken was a brave little trooper today, practically bounding down the hall with the nurse, hanging onto Joe Banana and Lolly Lobster (who traveled back from the east coast with me specially for the event) looking forward to the watermelon-scented gas she'd soon be breathing in to put her to sleep. The procedure was so fast, Marcel and I barely made it to the cafeteria for coffee and chai latte before they were calling us back in to be with her when she woke up.

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 :-).