Friday, May 29, 2009

May I take your picture please?

As you can see in the post below this one, I've returned from my short trip to Toronto with yet another folder full of photos. My camera has become so much a part of who I am - an integral part of the way that I interact with the world. I can get completely lost in the moment, wandering around a new place, or discovering newness in an old place, when I view the world through my lens.

On my office wall, I have a series of photos of people I have have had the pleasure of meeting in India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. If you were to visit me, I could tell you a story of each one of them. When I need a little distraction or creative breathing space, I stare up at my wall and get lost in the stories I've brought home - stories of girls dancing in the setting sun, a laughing farmer telling us how he'd survived a flood, strong women with the dirt of rice fields beneath their fingers - stories that have transformed the way I see the world.

One of my favourite blogs is Shutter Sisters, a space where many people who know what it feels like to be in love with a camera share their stories and favourite images. I have the honour of having a guest spot in that lovely space today. Go on over and visit if you want to learn the story behind this photo:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How to turn a business trip into a retreat

1. Ignore all those "big box" homogeneous business hotels perched on a strip of fast moving freeway close to the airport.
2. Find a quiet bed and breakfast or old restored inn in a quiet neighbourhood with lots of green space and plenty of character homes.

3. It's preferable if your B&B host is named James and he's one of the most pleasant individuals you've ever met.

4. It's even more preferable if James remembers you from the last visit and he prepares tea for your breakfast before you even ask. He might even throw a little coconut in your french toast because he remembers that you liked it last time he made it that way.

5. Avoid the temptation to turn on the TV. In some B&Bs they might help with that by not even providing TVs.

6. Wander. All over the place. Wander with a heavy dose of "wonder". Up and down quaint streets with interesting shops, through parks with flowering bushes, through art galleries and book stores, and down back alleys with brick walls lined with ivy.

7. If it's summer time, and your B&B has a luscious romantic garden, enjoy it. Soak in the scent of lilacs.
8. Take pictures of leaves. Let the colours work magic in your heart.
8. Read good books - preferably the kinds of books that will cause a shift somewhere deep inside you.
9. Write. Poems, journal entries, blog posts. Just write. Anything.

10. Eat good, wholesome food. Sushi, Thai... whatever your heart desires. Find a local hole-in-the wall with lots of character and cooks and servers that will delight in pleasing you.

11. Do lots of people-watching - on the subway, in the market, at the art galleries. Enjoy the beauty and diversity of the people you encounter.

12. Find water. Rivers, lakes, streams, fountains. Sit by it and let it replenish your spirit.

13. Just be. Quietly. Find nourishment in the stillness.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Do you want to see how lucky I am?

These three beautiful people call me mom.

And this man calls me wife.

Could I possibly be more lucky?

Friday, May 22, 2009


Things are blooming in Toronto

I am trusting… that the little pieces of me I am offering up to my friends will be held tenderly in their hands…that when I share my ideas they won’t be rejected… that reaching out is better than holding back… that my recent “stroke of inspiration” is worth sharing with the world when it is ready to unfold.

I am grateful for… the roses from my husband… the cd from my daughters… the concert tickets from my sister… the lovely little encouragement and generosity of my technogeek brother…the two conference call birthday songs from colleagues and consultants… the many birthday greetings from friends and family… two birthday lunches and one supper…a gentle, kind email from Ethiopia… phone calls from Holland, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Toronto, and places closer to home. I feel loved and honoured.

I am inspired by… an amazing conversation over lunch with a friend yesterday…the sharing of big dreams…the voice of the muse (and all of the other voices of writers, artists, bloggers, etc. who reflect what the muse wants me to learn) bringing all the rambling thoughts in my brain into one beautiful focused idea.

Inspired by TGIF at Ordinary Courage.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reflections on my 43rd birthday

1. I didn’t know 43 would feel so YOUNG!
2. I thought I’d be smarter by now.
3. No matter how old and comfortable in your own skin you get, it’s still always nice when someone remembers and wishes you a happy birthday.
4. It seems my daughters managed to pick up a little kindness along the way to teen-hood. The oldest two bought me the soundtrack for Slumdog Millionaire for my birthday.
5. It feels good to know that, at 43, I’m pretty close to where I’d like to be in my life. I live with few regrets.
6. Perhaps we should be in the habit of making birthday resolutions rather than New Year’s resolutions.
7. In my 44th year, I resolve to be kinder to myself and to the people I love (yes, that means you, Marcel.)
8. I resolve to give away more things.
9. I resolve to forgive myself for wasting time.
10. I resolve to be me and not wish I were someone else.
11. I think this might be the year that something big will be launched. I’m not exactly sure what it looks like yet, though.
12. My Brazilian friend wished me a Brazilian birthday wish for “everything that is good in the world”. I like it.
13. I really need to make a better effort to record people’s birthdays. A friend on the east coast phoned me this morning to wish me a happy birthday – I’d mentioned the date months ago, and he wrote it down and remembered. That’s classy.
14. A few years ago, I was working at a place where I wasn’t very happy and had few friends. Nobody wished me a happy birthday all day and I didn’t tell anyone it was my birthday. It was a lonely day.
15. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, several work friends know it’s my birthday today. It doesn’t feel as lonely.
16. I wish I’d made lunch arrangements with a friend today. A birthday lunch would be nice.
17. At 43, I guess I’m about halfway through my life. I think the next half is going to be the best half.
18. The first half’s been pretty good too.
19. I like being in my forties. It feels old enough to have gained a bit of wisdom, but young enough to still be foolish now and then.
20. The only problem is – I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up.
21. I just got a lovely serendipitous Skype call from one of my favourite people who’s in Holland right now. She didn’t know it was my birthday, but phoned me spontaneously none-the-less. It was a lovely birthday surprise.
22. In a second call from Holland, it was lovely to hear the harmonizing voices of my mom and her husband singing happy birthday to me.
23. I should be at home right now, reading a book. I just heard from a friend that there’s an old saying that “if you spend your birthday working, you will work every day of the year ahead.”
24. I have met a lot of really cool people in my 43 years.
25. I've been to a lot of really cool places in my 43 years.
26. After the 2 calls, I'm wishing I were in Holland right now.
27. Our consultants just sang happy birthday to me on a conference call. That's what you call "going the extra mile" as a consultant.
28. In another lovely birthday surprise, I've just been invited to participate in a fundraising art exhibit! Ach! The organizer couldn't believe I'd only started painting in January.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stop dabbling. Start doing.

"I didn't know you were a singer-songwriter," I said to my dinner companion after he told me he'd be meeting Vance Gilbert (whom I'd just mentioned) at the upcoming Folk Festival singer-songwriter retreat.

"Welllll..." he hesitated, "I dabble in it."

"Why is it that almost all artists I know don't admit to being artists - they 'just dabble in it'?"

He chuckled. "Okay... so let's try this again... I AM a singer-songwriter."

"Much better," I said.

And then, after telling him about my idea for a web space where "dabblers" can "own their wisdom and share it graciously", I said, "I once taught a creativity workshop, and overwhelmingly, the participants were all yearning for the same thing - permission to create and to call themselves artists."

"Creativity workshop?" he said, his ears perking up. "Tell me more."

And then, because we were both trying to be more bold and own our giftedness, I told him more, and by the end, he'd invited me to teach a day long workshop for his staff. And I went home with that dreamy look on my face.


A few years ago, I wrote this as my personal mission statement:

My mission is to inspire excellence in people, facilitate growth and the discovery of giftedness, and to serve as a catalyst for positive change.


Stay tuned. The bud is beginning to unfold in delightful ways.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ten things I've learned while trying to be more fearless

Prompted by a comment from Joyce, I thought it was high time I wrote another fearless post. If you're just catching up, you can find the video introduction to my "year of living more fearlessly" here, and follow-up posts here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

Here are the ten things I've learned (or keep re-learning)...

1. It’s not doing any good, this “hiding in the bulrushes” thing you try to do sometimes. You’re not doing anybody any favours by not putting your stuff out there. When you put your stuff out there, you might just win $200 in a photo contest. Or get something published.

2. Sometimes, when you try your best fearless growl, and you manage to send out a notice to several creative friends about a cool group you want to start, and then you’re met with stone cold silence by more than half of them, it probably doesn’t mean they don’t like you or think your idea is stupid. It might just mean they don’t open their emails very often. Try again. Maybe pick up the phone next time.

3. Most of the time, other people are just as fearful as you. There might be really good ideas they’re withholding because they’re afraid you’re smarter than them and already thought of those ideas.

4. When you’re on a film shoot with a bunch of big wig film producer and social marketing types (or somewhere else that’s outside of your element), and something just doesn’t sit right with you, it’s just not really a good idea to keep your mouth shut just because you assume they know more than you do. Somebody might roll their eyes just slightly, but when they re-do the shot, there’s a good chance you’ll all agree that it came out better in the end. Trust your gut.

5. About that photo shoot – you’re smarter than you think you are. If you’ve been to almost 20 countries, there’s a good chance you’ll know a little more about some of the clothes worn in those countries than the wardrobe person does. Own your wisdom and then share it graciously.

6. If you finally get off your butt and take a watercolour course after years of staring longingly at the shelves in an art supply store, you might just paint something that people will beg you to make prints of. Quit acting like it was an accident.

7. Sometimes, the answer is “wait”. Being fearless doesn’t mean you should rush headlong into something, or push people around in an attempt to get to your goal. Remember to be gentle on yourself and those you care about (or even those you barely know).

8. Yoga is amazing. You might even find yourself in tears after your first class because it feels so right. Why have you taken so long to try it? Maybe it’s time to give up this belief that you’re too uncoordinated for a class that involves body movement. Perhaps it’s even time to forgive yourself for that unfortunate jazz dance class experience and move on. (It was 20 years ago - get over it!)

9. Sometimes, the best way to succeed is to believe you have something worth sharing and then give it away freely and without reservation. Amazing things can happen when you let go of those things you’re too nervous to expose to the world, or you use your creativity to help someone else succeed.

10. It can really, really hurt when your best attempt at fearlessness is met with rejection or (perhaps worse) indifference. Let yourself wallow for a few minutes, learn from it, go do something else you know you're really good at for awhile, and then move on.

Note: the photo is of my niece, who's more fearless than most people I know.

A clean house and a prize - what more could one ask for?

Because all the crazy-making busy-ness I mentioned a couple of posts ago was stressing me out, I took yesterday off - just to clean the house. Between work, soccer games, and business travel, there is never enough time to decently clean our house. Marcel used to keep it in pretty good shape when he was in university, but he's been working almost full time, plus he's dealing with his dad's health and trying to be a support to them as much as possible.

I didn't go near a computer all day and just spent the day playing Suzie-homemaker. I cranked up some good music (have you heard U2's new album? Amazing!), and cleaned like a fiend - the kind of deep cleaning that my house only seems to get once a year or so. You know the kind - when you haul out the old toothbrush and bathtub caulking? Yeah, I know - I'm as shocked as you are that I am actually even CAPABLE of that kind of cleaning - but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

But it wasn't all cleaning - we bought new couches a few weeks ago, so I had to spiffy up the living room a bit to go with the couches. Throw in a little decorating with the cleaning and you've made me a happy girl. New cushion covers, some drapery accents, a few new candles, re-arranged furniture... aaahhh... it all looks so puurrrdy now!

And in other news... I was awarded as a runner-up in the World Association of Christian Communicators annual photo contest for this photo from Bangladesh (they were looking for photos that had a different take on gender roles). And a few weeks ago, I was contacted by the Wall Street Journal about another photo they wanted to use (unfortunately, I was away when they sent the note, so when I finally got back to them, they'd found another photo).

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Things I learned after a looooooong day at a film shoot

1. There is a lot of food available on a film set. A. LOT!

2. Imagine the number of people you'd expect to be on a film set. Double or triple it. It takes about 30 people to shoot a 90 second video.

3. Even though there are a lot of talented people on site (camera people, producers, wardrobe, make-up), only the actors are called "the talent" (even if they're amateurs).

4. It takes about 10 hours to shoot a 90 second video.

5. If you start the shoot at 8:00 a.m., it can take until 4:00 p.m. before you shoot the first take.

6. If you're the one paying the bills, everything will grind to a halt and start over again if you express even the slightest bit of dissatisfaction.

7. You could easily sneak onto a film set, pretend you belong there, and scam free food. Nobody knows who all the people are and why they're there.

8. Even if there are 29 other people on site, there's still some expertise I can bring that nobody else has.

9. You can make it look like people are anywhere if you shoot in front of a green screen. These people are actually standing in a field (or at least that's what you'll think when you see the finished product).
10. A seemingly minor problem (like a little irregularity on the rails that makes the camera wobble when it moves) can delay a shoot for about 4 hours.

11. If you ever have reason to be at a film shoot, be prepared for a whole lot of waiting. And when you're finished with the waiting? Just wait a little longer.

12. Did I mention the food? Even after you've eaten the equivalent of 4 meals plus snacks, don't be surprised if the caterer brings out freshly grilled sandwiches.

13. Everyone's a specialist on site. There's one guy whose only job is to run the playback when the director calls for it. I wonder what he tells his friends when they ask what he does for a living. "I'm the playback guy."

14. If you get a chance to go for a walk to stretch your legs (while they're fixing the rails), and you happen to find an "artisan chocolatemaker" among the funky shops in The Distillery and you buy some cashews tumbled in Costa Rican milk chocolate infused with Chai spice, your mouth will thank you again and again and you will dream about the flavour when you're not eating them.

15. You can hang out with some really cool people when you're killing time at a film shoot.

Note: for more photos of my very brief visit to Toronto, click here. I only had enough spare time for one quick walk down to the harbourfront.

Friday, May 08, 2009

How to make yourself crazy in eight easy steps

Things I've had to do or cope with in the last week that are a little crazy-making:
1. A father-in-law ends up in the hospital and every piece of news is a little worse than the piece we'd heard before.
2. Juggling three kids in soccer means trying to get them to 2-4 games/practices each per week. With only one car.
2. A daughter gets injured on the soccer field and has to get checked out at the sports injury clinic.
3. The sports injury clinic takes way too long, so I have to rush out of a management team meeting to relieve Marcel on parenting duty. Daughter ends up in a leg brace.
4. A six a.m. flight means that I have to climb into a cab at 4:30 in the morning. Yawn.
5. A poor choice in bed and breakfasts in Toronto means that I have to lie awake listening to the owners in a lovers' quarrel on either sides of a locked door for about an hour, when I've already been awake since 3:30 a.m.
6. The flight home the next day means that I climb out of the cab back at home at 12:00 a.m., after spending 11 hours at a film shoot. Plus the cab driver was rude and I was grouchy.
7. A major film shoot, that's a bigger investment than any project I've managed since I started in this job, is resting on my shoulders and I have to make all of the decisions and be prepared to justify them to staff and board.
8. The house is a mess because of all the juggling of soccer schedules and hospital visits and travel and we have an exchange student showing up in less than a week.

Not that I'm complaining - I have a good life all-in-all. But sometimes I reflect on what Linda Duxbury calls the "sandwich generation" (those people in the middle years of their lives who are coping with both ailing parents and dependent children) and I get a little stressed about coping with it all.

Remember back in junior high English classes when you had to write a "so much depends upon..." poem like The Red Wheelbarrow? Well, my whole life feels like a "so much depends upon" poem.

So much depends upon... the stressed out soccer mom who's also a manager who has to travel for her work in a non-profit organization.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Where to from here

We weren’t careful enough, talking in front of the children. We thought they’d heard it all before – that we weren’t really sharing new information. But what they hadn’t heard before was the worry that had started to creep into our voices. The possibility that this could be the beginning of worse things to come.

Marcel noticed Maddie first, sitting on the steps with her head bent. “Are you okay?” he asked. She said nothing. I sat down to hold her and realized the fear that she was beginning to carry along with the rest of us. She wept in my arms.

Her grandfather is sick. Marcel’s dad. There’s more wrong than we at first thought when he entered the hospital a week and a half ago. A lot of it is still unknown, but none of it looks good.

Throughout the evening, any time her Pépère was mentioned, the tears welled up in Maddie’s eyes. "I'm trying to think happy thoughts," she said, but the tears said otherwise. The rest of us are feeling a little numb – a little unsure how to feel. Her seven-year-old honesty is expressing what the rest of us are holding a little closer to our chests. We knew his health had begun to deteriorate, we knew he just wasn’t himself lately… we thought we were prepared for anything. But how can you prepare for the unknown?