Thursday, December 31, 2009

Beginning 2010 with a word to inspire me

It was on my last flight that my word for the year came to me.  I'd just spent a week in a rental car, exploring various parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in between meetings with staff, volunteers, and supporters and now I was on my way home. After finishing the book I was reading, I closed my eyes and leaned back in my chair. As I began to drift to sleep, listening to the cacophony of sound in the plane, this thought punctuated my inner monologue like a flash of fireworks... OH HOW I LOVE THE JOURNEY!  I sat there feeling so blissfully content, so perfectly calm and relaxed, and I knew that this moment was about as good as it gets for me.

I love the journey. I really, really do. Planes, trains, automobiles, bicycles, boats, or even my own two feet - it doesn't matter - I just love the whole process. It doesn't matter if I'm going on a grand adventure to Africa or just driving to my favourite bookstore - I am almost always content when I am in motion, going somewhere, on a journey. With or without companions.

And that, my dear friends, is my word for the year. Journey. This year I'm not going to try to conquer any montains, face fear with bravado, or set grand goals for myself. There's a time and a place for all of that, but right now, for me, it's time to savour the journey.

It doesn't mean that I'm going to travel more (though that would be nice), or that I'm going to uproot myself or my family, it just means that I'm going to remember to savour whatever journey I'm on.

Here are some of my thoughts on what it means to focus on the journey:
1. I'm going to try to be in the moment more.
2. I'm going to learn to pack light and not weigh myself down with too much baggage.
3. I'm going to take time for conversation with interesting strangers, just like I did on that long train ride to Cleveland.
4. I'm going to let myself be inspired by the beauty that's right here in front of me.
5. I'm going to forgive myself for not accomplishing grand goals.
6. I might even manage to forget about the destination now and then and just focus on the process.
7. I'm going to be open to adventure around the bend in the road.
8. I'm going to stop and stare at the wonders of the world.
9. I'm going to take lots of pictures and tell lots of stories.
10. Mostly, I'm going to savour more. Really savour - like that long slow sip of chai latte that's got just the right mix of spicy and sweet.

Here's my dream board for the year.

And here's the painting I was working on this morning - about one of my favourite kinds of journeys, along the misty beach early in the morning as the seagulls are waking up.

And, just for fun, here's how I'll be starting the journey - with brown hair!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A year with a little less fear

A year ago, I was feeling the need to let go of some of the fear in my life. I claimed "fearless" as my word for 2009, and to kick it off, I made a little video about it...

It's been an interesting year. I took yoga for the first time, despite the fear of letting my clumsiness show. Yes, there was the odd time when I went left when the rest of the class went right and the teacher had to gently correct me, but I loved it none-the-less.

I took a watercolour class and fell in love with painting. In September, I went to Cleveland for a little more creative digging.  I practiced calling myself an artist. Next week, I'm starting a drawing class, and I CAN'T WAIT.

I entered an international photo contest and was named one of the runners-up, I won a Communicator of the Year award for taking some chances and launching some big ideas, and - when a film project started hitting the rails - I stepped in and took over much of the leadership.

I launched a new website, held a big launch party, and then got a bunch of interesting people to write guest posts for me. But then I realized that I'd bitten off more than I could chew and this really wasn't the direction I needed to take right now, so I swallowed my pride and shut it down. That probably took more courage than starting it in the first place.

It turned out, though, that the biggest lessons I had to learn about fearlessness were in the area of leadership.  I wish I could tell you that I've conquered that mountain, but I've still got lots of climbing to do.  And some of the climbing seemed to take me in the wrong direction.

There were a lot more leadership challenges this year than I'd anticipated.  Almost a year ago, with great intrepidation, I bared my soul to my team and challenged them to be more honest with me and with each other. It was scary, but there were positive results that made it worthwhile.  (I have the same retreat coming up in a couple of weeks again, and I'm approaching it with a healthy mix of hope that we've moved forward and fear that I'll fall flat on my face.) A little later in the year, I put forward a huge proposal to the board for more funds and more staff, and though there was resistance, it was approved and I could move forward. I've hit lots of roadblocks since then, though, and some days I wish I'd kept those big ideas to myself. Some of the resistance came from within my team, and oh... I just get so weary of having to drag people forward when they don't want to carry the vision. Plus, on top of all of that, there's a never-ending court case that I can't say much about, but that has caused a lot of stress (and way too many conversations with people who've heard lies about me) in the last 4 years. 

I got a little more hopeful in the fall, when I started hiring new staff, but I've hit some major roadbumps since then, so the hope seems a little questionable right now.

What can I say about trying to live more fearlessly?  Well... it has definitely opened me up to new experiences and new delights. I don't regret the new things I've tried, especially in the area of exploring more art.

But with each step we take toward courage, there's bound to be some force trying to push us back to where we were before. There's no doubt that I am a stronger, more bold leader than I was a year ago, but the journey to get here has been fraught with rough patches, challenging relationships, road blocks, and snarls. I'm feeling pretty beaten up by it all right now. There have been many moments this past year when I've wanted to throw in the towel and just find a job where I didn't have to carry the weight of responsibility.

But I will carry on, because, despite the challenges, I feel called to this role and I believe that I am making a difference.  Last week, in the middle of one of my hardest days, a co-worker stopped me in the hall to say "I believe you're doing the right thing." She has no idea how much those simple words have carried me since.  I believe I'm doing the right thing too, but it was so good, at that low point, to hear some affirmation.

For 2010, I'm chosing a word that results in less bruises. More on that tomorrow.

p.s. If you have a leader who's working hard to do the right thing, PLEASE stop them in the hall to tell them you're noticing. Leaders (especially middle managers) are usually the most under-appreciated, over-stressed in an organization. I speak from personal experience.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cousin time

Every year there is the pajama picture...

Followed by some variation on the theme... like maybe the Christmas tree? (minus the youngest member who'd run out of patience by this point)

And since they've been old enough, there's almost always been the pyramid...

Which generally tends to degenerate into the body pileup...

This year there was also the group hug for Grandma...

And a little gratuitous cuddle time now and then...

And, of course, at some point in the evening, there is a little dinner time silliness...

They see each other only a few times a year (as a group) and yet they seem to be rather fond of each other. I'm rather fond of them all too.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The winner of the giveaway... and a few other random things

First - the prize! So I figured it was high time I announced the winner of my little anniversary giveaway.  And the prize goes to... drumroll please... JANE STEEN  of the blog "Keep Going You Fool!" (isn't that a great name for a blog?) Jane, please let me know where I should send your prize AND go on over to this page and pick something you want for under $25. Have fun with that!

And now, the first unrelated random item: In other news, I just realized I have three dishes to cook for each of the next three days and I haven't given a single thought to what I'll be cooking, what ingredients I'll need OR when I'll find even a few minutes to shop for or cook said items. Oh to be one of those much-envied people with an organized brain who thinks of things IN ADVANCE!

Second unrelated random item: Speaking of my failings, while I was traveling last week, I read a delightful book I'd picked up in the discount rack called "Helping Me Help Myself". Oh - it was fun!  The author has the same love-hate (leaning somewhat more heavily toward the "hate/skeptical" side) relationship with over-hyped self-help books, gurus, etc., and yet she subjects herself to a full year of trying to fix her life with the help of 10 different self-help gurus. She's got so many of my "endearing" qualities - disorganized, slightly scatter-brained, not very good with money, inconsistent parenting skills - that I felt like I knew her. At the end of the book, I decided that my resolution would be the OPPOSITE this coming year - NOT subject myself to ANY self-help books and just try to be content with who I am.

Third unrelated random item: It's Wishcasting Wednesday over at Jamie's place, and I am wishing for one simple thing - some uninterrupted time in my studio.  I had to duck in there this morning to grab something on the way to work, and it tugged me and cajoled me and tried to hold me in its clutches. The art supplies were calling me, I swear it! Alas, I had to go because there is just too much "stuff" to do.  But next week when I'm on vacation?  Well, I may just have to do what I did when I took summer vacation and spend the mornings in the studio before the rest of the household wakes up.  I don't have any grand plans - I just want to play with paint again!

Fourth unrelated random item: I've signed up for a drawing class at the WAG starting in January. I'm a little disappointed they won't let Nikki take it with me. I was looking forward to learning to draw with my oldest daughter, but you have to be 18 to take the adult class. Perhaps because they'll have nude models?

Fifth unrelated random item: I think it's time to go make myself some tea.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chipping away at it

At first, I hesitated to share this picture from my travels last week, even though it's one of my favourite moments of the trip. Why did I hesitate? Because you can see just how much weight I've gained in the past six months, and... well... ugh. I hate that I've gained weight, but even more, I hate that it matters. Double ugh.

But here it is, none-the-less, because I like it, and it's beautiful, and I'm trying to move past those issues. Really - I am. Look closer at the picture - past the size of my imperfect body, up to my face, and you'll see a tiny smirk on my face. I was so happy in that moment - so full of what gives me pleasure in life.

This post is only partly about the weight thing. More than that, it's about chipping away at things. I was in the magical studio of Regina Coupar and she was teaching my friend and me how to chip away at glass and stone to make tiny sparkly tiles for mosaic art. None of them were symmetrical or perfect, but each piece was just right. Blended together, these imperfect, assymetrical pieces make the most beautiful works of art.

It's what I'm doing in my life too - chipping away at it. Trying to find the beauty at the centre of what looks like rough and ugly rocks. Trying to make the broken pieces into a work of art. Trying to trust the pain of the hammer and anvil. Trying to be brave enough to reveal what I've kept hidden under layers of protective covering.

I'm chipping away at what it means to be an artist too. Breaking off pieces of fear and hesitation. Revealing the shiny bits underneath. Taking chances and making mistakes. Trying new things. Risking failure. Learning from others... but in the end, trusting my own way of seeing and being.

This year has been full of so much "hammer and anvil" work. Chipping away at growth, change, pain, renewal, and fear. 

I am artist and I am art, all wrapped into one imperfect package. I strive to create beauty and trust my own beauty to shine.

Friday, December 18, 2009

There are so many reasons why I don't call myself a "mommy blogger"

About ten years ago, when I was the exhausted and overwhelmed (oh - I could add a LONG list of descriptors to that) mother of two very different toddlers (who knew kids would come with different personalities?), I remember asking a mother in my acquaintance, who had teenagers at the time, if she would consider being a motherhood mentor of sorts, or starting a support group for young moms like me to whom parenting felt like traveling in a foreign country without a guide. She looked at me with a terrified look in her eyes and said something like "that would suggest that I actually think I know what the heck I'm doing! Oh no - I don't feel capable of doing that AT ALL!"

I didn't understand what that was about until years later when I'd been a parent for almost as long as she had. Oh my gosh! She's right! It doesn't get much clearer, does it? Here I am, with nearly 14 years of experience at this, and I still mostly feel like I'm floundering in a dark cave without a flashlight!

So... when Darrah asked me some interview questions about parenting (because she's newly married and dreams of filling her home with the sounds of children some day), I had a similar reaction to the one I received.  What the heck? You actually think I have a CLUE what it takes to be a good parent? Gulp.

It took me a long time to answer these questions, but here I go... trying to hold out a tiny dim flashlight for other mothers coming after me...

1. How has being a parent changed you?
Hmmm... well, for starters, it whalloped me with a great big dose of self-doubt. Seriously. I was a fairly self-confident person up until then, but suddenly I felt like I didn't have a CLUE what I was doing and mostly I assumed I was probably doing it wrong. I've chilled out a lot since then (because, surprisingly, my kids aren't turning out half bad!), but I still feel lost a lot of the time.  What if I don't make them eat everything on their plates - will they die of scurvy? What if I DO make them eat it all - will they develop eating disorders? What if I don't make them go to bed before 10:00 - will they fail at school? Oh my gosh... the worry and fear and... well, you get the picture.

But there are also all those other things they tell you in the parenting books... Like the fact that you suddenly find yourself lost in a love so deep it feels like there's no bottom. Like the instantaneous realization that you are no different from a mother bear and you have little doubt that you could kill someone who threatens your child. Like the fact that the world feels bigger than you could ever have imagined it feeling. And then there are the moments when you're sitting around a campfire laughing with your partner and children and suddenly find yourself thinking "could there be any greater joy than this?"

And the funny thing is, as much as parenting contributed to my self-doubt, in a strange way it also made me a more confident person. It's hard to explain how it feels to have little people in your life who need you and believe in you in a deeper way than anyone ever has.

2. What have you learned from your children?
Oh my - it's hard to imagine all the things I've learned from them. For one thing, I became a leader shortly after becoming a parent, and I realized that I was a better leader because I'd learned some of my skills through parenting. For another thing, I learned just how different people can be. Each of my daughters is so unique that I've had to learn to relate to each of them (and discipline them) in very different ways.  Interestingly enough, I started to learn things about my own personality and my husband's when I started to see things that showed up in my kids. For example, I read a book about "raising your spirited child" (because I desperately needed it for my first, and then could have thrown it out when it came to my second) and there was something in there about "negative first response" that the oldest was doing that I also suddenly recognized in my dear husband. I was almost always ready to rush into new things, and here I was living with two people who made me stop and evaluate things first. It changed the way I approached things - made me slow down and learn to wait. AND I also came to realize that a tendency toward overstimulation was probably something that was inherited from me. I hadn't recognized it before I saw it in my daughter.

3. What do you wish you had known before you had kids, but learned the hard way?
That when you are a parent, you will have to answer approximately TEN MILLION questions a day and you will have to make approximately TWELVE MILLION decisions. The moment you walk in the door, expect to hear some age-appropriate version of the following: "Can I invite Jessica over for a play date? Do you know where my new mitts are? Can you buy me a pair of mitts, 'cause I can't find mine. Can we have chocolate ice cream for dessert? What time can Jessica come over? MOM - you PROMISED me you'd buy me some new pants, and NOW I have to wear the ones with the holes in them! Can I stay up late tonight, because there's a show I really want to watch. When are you going to help me with my school project? If we can't have chocolate ice cream, will you take me to the store for a Slurpee?" This can go on all night.

And your personal space - you know that space you used to guard so preciously, especially when you were tired or overstimulated?  Yeah, give it up, 'cause it will be invaded about as many times as you have to make a decision.  OH. MY. GOSH! I was not prepared for this.  The constant demands for answers and touch and decisions! Some days, I've threatened to put up a sign that says "Mommy is on strike until further notice. No more decisions will be made today. Don't even THINK about asking me if you can have another cookie!"

4. How do you juggle a career and THREE kids? It sounds super-human to me.
Oh yeah, I'm super-human, alright! Ha! Darrah, you're a peach for saying so, but I am SO not super-human and most days I feel like I'm not doing any good at either motherhood OR the career-thing.  And housework? THAT went out the window YEARS ago! You should see my laundry room or my refrigerator! You would very quickly retract that "super-human" comment!

The truth is, I couldn't do this without a great co-parent. Marcel and I really are partners in this, and often (especially when I'm traveling) he ends up carrying a lot of the load. It helps when you have a partner who balances off your weaknesses. For example, if it were only up to me, the kids would miss half of their soccer practices, music lessons, etc., because he's much more aware of what's on the family calendar and who has to be where at what time than I am.

Just for fun, here are a few of the things I've learned (and keep learning) that have helped me cope...
a.) You've gotta pick your battles. If you're exhausted and it just makes your life easier to say yes to that extra cookie, DO IT. The world will not come to an end. And your children will not become hardened criminals.
b.) Don't sweat the small stuff AND don't blame yourself for everything that goes wrong. If they happen to wear their clothes to bed instead of pajamas (because they can't find them or because they're too lazy) - it really doesn't mean you're a bad parent. At least they're sleeping at YOUR house and not a juvenile detention centre.
c.) Sometimes you've got to change your definition of success. If your kids are interesting, decent citizens who have respect for the adults in their lives and they have moments of genuine kindness now and then, does it REALLY matter if their bedrooms resemble pig-pens?
d.) That super-mom crap that the media shoves down your throat? Give it up, 'cause it will only lead to failure and stress. If you don't have time for home-baked goodies for the class party, the kids will be equally happy (maybe even more so) with Oreo cookies.
e.) Your kids will be better off in the long run if (within reason, of course) you don't set aside everything you hold dear in order to cater to their every need. Do at least some of the things that give you joy, and learn to ignore the whining (which is mostly manipulation on their part) when they act like they should be getting ALL of your attention. As much as I sometimes feel guilty about it, I don't think my kids have suffered from me doing the traveling I do. I think they've learned to be more self-sufficient and they've learned that it's okay to follow your dream/calling.
f.) Be there for the tough emotional stuff they have to deal with, but don't do everything for them. There's no reason they can't learn to pack their own lunches by the third grade or work through some of their sibling rivalry without you trying to keep the peace. Sometimes there's a tendency to get overly involved in every little minutiae of your child's life - avoid it. In the long run, everyone's better off if you do.

Sorry, Darrah, if I've scared you out of child-rearing. :-) It definitely comes with its challenges, but in the end, I wouldn't change it for the world. I could never have imagined just how much fun it can be to hang out with your own children. (Of course, I couldn't have imagined how much emotional stress it will cause you either, but this was supposed to end on a positive note! :-)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A few unrelated things

1. If you're interested in the continued adventures of Flat Madeline, check out Maddie's blog. I think the 3D Madeline is getting jealous of all of her grand adventures. I know I am.

2. I was interviewed by Connie over at Dirty Footprints Studio.  I really enjoyed doing the interview because it helped me work through some of the things I've been wrestling with lately.  If you want to know more about my work and why I've renewed my passion for it, check it out. Connie and I have been down similar paths lately, and it always seems that in the midst of my deepest wrestling, I get the most delightful emails from her.

3. I took a sick day yesterday. I was fighting a cold the whole week I was traveling, and though I didn't feel too bad then, I think it caught up with me yesterday.  Mostly, I just needed a day of rest.

4. Last night was the last "winter concert" with all three of the girls at the same school. Nikki and Julie thought they were done with concerts (normally they only do them up to grade 6), but this year the grade 7 & 8 bands participated. Next year, Nikki is off to HIGH SCHOOL! Gulp. (Side note... Seriously - if they're going to call it a "winter concert" and there's nothing to do with Christmas in the content, why can't they have it in January or February when our lives are a little less busy?)

5. Winter concerts always cause me a great deal of stress because I'm just NOT one of those organized moms who has nice little outfits picked out for each of the kids months in advance of a big event.  Every year I know it's coming, and every year I'm left scrambling to find the appropriate clothing. Oh it's black pants/skirts and white shirts this year? Hmmm.... does anyone HAVE black pants? Or a white shirt without a stain on it?  Last night's concert was preceded with a frantic visit to the thrift store for a pair of black shoes, followed by another frantic visit to the thrift store for a pair that FIT, followed by an equally frantic visit to the over-crowded mall for a black skirt, followed by a frantic mom hemming a pair of black pants. In the end, all were dressed and clean and we were even EARLY arriving at the concert! (But supper consisted of that evil entity known as "fast food".)

6. I have never EVER left my Christmas shopping to this late in the season. Oh dear. This may be the year of the gift cards.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Five years of Fumbling! It's my blog-iversary!

Exactly five years and 1000 posts ago, I dipped my toes in this big unknown world known as blogland. I didn't know what I was getting into, but I loved to write and I was curious about what it would be like to put my ramblings out into a public space. 

I started this blog as a way of processing my thoughts and feelings as I prepared to go to Africa for the first time.  I was excited about it, but wanted to process the impact it might have on me.

A lot of water has passed under that bridge since. Right from the start, I was "fumbling" and I've done a whole lot of fumbling ever since - for words, for truth, for hope, for relationships, for peace, for inspiration... you name it, I'm a fumbler.

I've blogged from Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, India and Bangladesh. I've traveled from coast to coast in Canada and into the States a few times. I'm made a lot of online friends and had the opportunity of meeting about half a dozen of them in person. I've worked through some fairly major life challenges in this space. I've watched my children grow and shared some of their stories online. I've been encouraged and inspired by the many bloggers I've come to count as friends. I've watched other bloggers come and go. I've tried new things. I've learned to Twitter. I've taken a lot of pictures, and started watercolour painting. I've wrestled with what it means to be a little more fearless. I've started calling myself not only a writer, but an artist - all-be-it a "fumbling" one. More than anything, I've tried to be authentic, honest, and approachable.

I'm going to keep on fumbling and I'm going to keep on talking about it on this blog. It's become such a big part of my life, I know I'd feel lost if I let it go.

Thank you, blog readers, for sharing these past five years with me (or at least the portion you've been around). I enjoy you immensely. You are my friends, my encouragers, and my fellow fumblers.

In appreciation of you - whether you've been here a long time, or just showed up today - I'm offering a prize to one lucky reader.  I'd like to give each of you gifts, but that might be a little out of my budget, so this will have to suffice.  One lucky reader will get all of this... (I tried to combine little pieces of who I am and what I like in the package.)

  • Three books - God is No Laughing Matter, by Julia Cameron (author of The Artist's Way), The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, and Echoes of the Remnant, by the amazing artist and writer I met last week in Nova Scotia, Regina Coupar
  • Two of my favourite photos, matted and ready to be framed
  • A funky pair of earrings from my favourite shop in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
  • A bar of fair trade milk chocolate from Just Us, a fair trade compnay in Nova Scotia
  • A box of "cashews tumbled in Costa Rican milk chocolate infused with Chai spice" - my very favourite treat from SOMA chocolatiers in Toronto... mmmm.... 
  • AND... here's the biggy (not pictured above) - a gift from my favourite fair trade global gift store, Ten Thousand Villages - you get to pick something from their Under $25 page (or a couple of things that add up to under $25)!
Here's how to enter:
  • Leave a comment. You can say anything you want, but I'd be particularly interested in a comment about why you showed up here and why you've kept coming back (if you've been around more than once). I'd love to hear from some of the people who've been lurking but never leave comments - you know who you are!
  • Follow me! If you show up in the "follow me" box on the right hand side bar, or if you're already there, you'll get one entry into the contest. If you follow me in some other RSS feed (Bloglines, etc.), let me know in the comments, and you'll be added.
  • Tweet or Retweet about this post (and include my tweet name, so I can track it - @heatherplett) and you'll get your name entered.
If you do all three of the above, your name will be entered three times!

Thanks for visiting! I hope you keep coming back!

Note: The draw will be held on the weekend.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fumbling toward Imperfection (guest post by Christine C. Reed)

I had the pleasure of meeting today's guest blogger when I went to Cleveland a few months ago for the Creative Dig Workshop. The first thing I noticed about Christine was her big welcoming smile that makes you feel like you will be safe with her.  Christine is a deeply spiritual person, and she shares her wisdom and her struggles over at BlissChick. Christine is on her own amazing journey this week, to a magical place called Kripalu where she's dancing and dreaming and following her calling.

For far too long, I have been trying to keep a lid on my soul's most precious dreams. This lid is sturdy, made of things like "practicality" and "realism."

To be more specific, this lid is made of stories about what I "should" want or "can" have.

The first thing I did to construct the lid, many years ago, was tell myself that as I age, yoga would be better for me than dance. I would be able to do yoga for my whole life. It would help me to age gracefully.

Who knew it would simply age me? I wanted to dance, and there is no substitute for your soul's work that will not age you. Your soul's work will keep you youthful and vital. Infinite, as you are meant to be.

The second thing I did to create and tighten this lid was to tell myself that I have always wanted to be a writer.

I am a good writer. I have an excellent relationship with that particular muse; she is generous with the ideas.

That does not mean writing completely fulfills me. Only your soul's work will truly fulfill you. Yes, you can do many other things, but your soul will still ache and cry out for what it needs.

Eventually, if you keep this lid screwed on tightly enough, your soul will shrivel and you will join the ranks of the Walking Dead. You know them. You've seen them in your daily life. Perhaps you see one when you look in the mirror.

Their eyes lack luster. They martyr themselves to the needs of others. They are exhausted all the time.

I have no idea by what Grace I was freed of this fate, but one day I danced and the lid popped off and my Soul got the fresh air she needed.

I have been dancing ever since.

I cannot not dance. No matter what, I know I would find a way to do this work.

There are days that I struggle, still, because I am human.

Yet...there is one giant clue that I am home, that I am finally free.

I am no longer encumbered by a desire for Perfection. I am in love with Process. I am in love with the day to day of dance.

My body tells stories -- true stories -- when I allow her to fumble and to falter.

When I loose the bridle of perfection that has kept me tied to a life of lies and settling, I shine.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Leaving the coast, going back to the prairies

I'm done. REALLY done. SO ready to be home. Tomorrow, after a couple of airplane rides, I'll be there, hugging my family. Not soon enough. I want to be there now.

It has been such a good, good trip. Every bit of it has been better than I could have expected. The art show, the speaking engagements, the meetings with people, the hours driving down roads that wind around coastlines, the moments of deep connections with beautiful people - all of it.

It was good, but I definitely reached a point of saturation today. I'd stayed 6 nights in the homes of people I mostly didn't know (at least not very well) before this trip, and though they were all such gracious, kind hosts who made me feel at home and welcome, I found myself desperately craving some alone time. So - instead of spending a second night at the home of my fourth and final hosts - I indulged the introvert side of me and booked into a hotel close to the airport. I'm so glad I did. I didn't realize just how much I needed this until I nearly burst into tears when I stepped into the room.

There are so many things that I will savour about this trip.
  • Making new friends with kindred spirits.
  • Eating the bounty of the sea - lobster, haddock, and scallops.
  • Shopping in a lovely little bookstore with a delightful name that was something like "A Box of Magic"
  • Being inspired by not one but TWO talented artists who made me believe that I really should make more art. And share it.
  • Hanging out with a friend who connects me on such a deep level of understanding that I walk away feeling known, loved, and strengthened.
  • Being introduced at a speaking engagement as someone who "is not easily intimidated... and does not easily intimidate others." Smile.
  • Visits to a few beautiful galleries, gift shops, and studios - especially the pottery studio/shop with the eccentric green-haired potter/artist.
  • Being offered simple kindness by the toll booth guy who wrote me an I.O.U. when I didn't have the right cash.
  • Hearing stories of humanity and compassion - like the people in a tiny community who get up early to sell fair trade coffee to raise money for hungry people.
  • A wintry walk in the woods.
  • A night out at a delightful community theatre watching "Bingo, the Musical".
  • Driving, driving, and more driving... oh how I love the road! Really.
  • Moments of sparkling belief that I am in the right job - inspiring people and living my calling.
  • Tonight. Quiet. In a hotel. Processing and preparing for the re-entry point.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Choices - sometimes there is no right or wrong (guest post by Sandy Dempsey)

Today's guest blogger, Sandy Dempsey (above left with Connie Hozvicka), is one of the kindest and most gentle people I've met online, and she's just as kind and gentle in person. I had the good fortune of spending time with Sandy in Cleveland and I consider her a dear friend. When she heard I was considering coming to Cleveland, but had to do it on a very tight budget, she offered to share a hotel room with me, even though it was outside of her comfort zone.

I met Heather online this past summer on Twitter. I followed her and she followed me. I was looking to connect with a group of artist when I discovered her. I loved reading about her personal journey and the many stories she posted and shared on her blog. She was creative, open, courageous and kind.

When I had the opportunity to meet her in person at the Creative Dig workshop in Cleveland in September I was even more impressed. She is a true artist. Her artist soul shines through in the way she dresses, holds herself, interacts with others, in her photography, her words and her ‘real’ art, such as painting.

When we talked I realized we were both in an ‘in-between’ place, struggling to find our own way, a way that allowed us to express ourselves more fully in our work lives while also meeting the obligations of our families and our selves. We talked about our jobs, working for ourselves and what each path meant to us.

Since September we have both gained greater clarity in our personal and professional lives. The one thing we have in common is writing about and sharing our journey and I watched as Heather’s unfolded.

As I moved away from my corporate job to begin working for myself, Heather found a new way of being in her day job and began to blossom. She is a creative, visionary leader with a heartfelt desire to make the world a better place. I’ve watched her. She does this on a small scale, with one person, one group, and on a big scale, in a large, non-profit organization that strives to bring awareness to issues and people from around the globe.

At first I though our paths had crossed and we had chosen different directions, but now I know that is not true. We are on similar paths, heading in similar directions, not opposite or opposing.

We both strive to authentically express ourselves every day, wherever we find ourselves and with whomever we are with. We care deeply about helping others and about making a difference.

I am choosing to do it by working for myself. This is the choice that works for me today, where I am. Heather is choosing to do it within the organization that she has worked for many years. It is a choice that works for her, where she is, today. Neither choice is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

Whether you choose to work for yourself, or to work for someone else, there still remains a very big opportunity to express your unique gifts and make a difference. You can make a difference in other people’s lives just by being you, just by interacting with others from a place of authenticity, respect and honesty. It begins with you, and flows out to your co-workers, then your customers, then your community, then the world.

You may decide to go out on your own, like I have. Or, like Heather, you may decide to redefine your role in your existing organization and go after what you want and do what you think needs to be done to make it better for you and those around you. You may decide to keep a less than ideal job because for now it provides for your family and your family is your number one priority. Or, you may decide to seek new opportunities; something that more closely aligns with who you are and what you want to do.

For example, you may be a single, working Mom. Your priority today may be working your ass off in a less than ideal job so that you can provide for your children. You express yourself by authentically being who you are day in and day out, showing up and doing the best job you can and by being there for your children, providing for them, loving them and raising them.

Or, you may go to work each day, treating others with kindness and respect, but escape in the evenings to write or to paint, selling your work on Etsy.com, or sharing your journey via a blog. Either way you are expressing and sharing your gifts with the world around you.

The point is, regardless of who you are, or where you are in life today, you can make a difference. There is no one-size fits all choice for any of us. We all have to show up, do the hard work, and do what is right for us. It is that simple and that difficult at the same time.

Sandy Dempsey is the founder and creative director behind the Dreaming Café, a free online resource dedicated to providing information and inspiration for people striving to live a creative life of self-expression based on their own personal vision. You can find her online at http://thedreamingcafe.com and via email at sandy@thedreamingcafe.com.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Perhaps it's time for a travelogue?

First there was the trip from Fredericton to Quizpamsis, New Brunswick, to meet my new friend Dale Cook, the artist responsible for the art show that was raising money and awareness for our organization...

Then there was the trip to Upham, New Brunswick to spend some time with Mariam, one of our board members who's an Anglican priest in a delightful rural parish...

While there, I found time for a lovely, solitary afternoon jaunt in the woods on a bright and snowy day...

When I returned from my jaunt, I discovered that a friendly cat had himself at home in my luggage...

The next day was a grey but still lovely trip to New Minas, Nova Scotia (in the Annapolis Valley)...

 In New Minas I'm staying with more delightful hosts (I've been very lucky on this trip!), Randy and Brenda (Randy volunteers for our organization.)

And as I've learned in the past, hanging out with Randy always means adventure, great conversation, and meeting some of the fascinating people he surrounds himself with. A morning with the wonderful artist Regina Coupar on the South Shore certainly didn't disappoint. We were gifted with an impromptu lesson in preparing tiles for the kind of mosaic art she's been working on lately... (I will probably write more about that visit in a future post - it was a truly inspiring few hours in the studio of an amazing artist and deep thinker.)

Then there was lunch in Chester with Randy, Regina, John, and our special guest, Flat Madeline...

That evening, there was a visit to the new bakery that will (when it's open) be selling a special loaf of bread as a fundraiser for our organization.

Today I've been gifted with a free day, since the journey to PEI did not materialize (due to bad weather). In the morning, we visited a magical local bookstore (for some local flair for my children's Christmas gifts) and a couple of other shops, and then had a leisurely lunch. Tonight my gracious hosts are treating me to an evening of live theatre.

Tomorrow I head back to New Brunswick for the final stop on my tour. I'll be spending some time with a new provincial volunteer, and then I'll be on my way home.

What a grand adventure it has been!  Who says you can't have fun on a business trip?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Interview #1 - Questions from Sheila

I'm having an AMAZING time on my trip to Eastern Canada!  It's been so full of goodness, I hardly know what to tell you. I'll write all about it at some point, but right now, in the middle of it, I'm getting so much enjoyment out of the people I'm spending time with, the roads I'm traveling down, the events I'm participating in (the art show was WONDERFUL!), and the sights I'm seeing that I have little time or energy for blogging after all is said and done. Right now it's after 11:00, and after 5 hours of driving (from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia), a delicious meal, and several glasses of wine with my hosts, I'm definitely ready for bed. But before I sleep, I thought I'd post one of the posts I prepared before I left home - answers to some interview questions.

Thanks to Sheila for providing the questions! Sheila blogs over at Studio Lakeside. One of my favourite things at her blog is "Ta-da Tuesday" where she invites people to celebrate the things they have accomplished, even if they are just small, seemingly insignificant things.

1) It being so near Christmas, everyone's thinking of giving and I wonder if you had JUST ONE absolutely PERFECT gift to be given - what would it be and who would you give it to?

Hmmm... that's a tough one. Being involved in social justice and having traveled in lots of developing countries, my altruistic response would be to give economic and political stability to my friend Pugeni in Zimbabwe, or to give freedom and justice and stable lives to the young girls I met in India who'd been rescued from sex slavery. But let's be a little less "Miss America Pageant" and say... I would LOVE to give my husband and daughters a month long, expense paid trip to an interesting and exotic place.  Maybe Brazil or Costa Rica. I've done so much traveling lately, and every time I go, my daughters ask "WHEN are you going to take US on a plane?" and always I have to say "someday, when we can afford it." I wish I could afford it RIGHT NOW! And while I'm at it, I'd bring along my extended family because I happen to like them a whole lot!
2) And in the impossible realm, I know, if you were granted one - well, okay, two - 'Do Overs', one you could change (and what would you change and why) and one that was just so fabulous the first time you'd like a repeat, what would they be?

I have a really tough time answering this question.  I've thought about it quite a bit since Sheila asked it.  The reason it's tough is that I tend to be a future thinker/dreamer (I'm told that's because of my "N" in my MBTI) and I don't spend a lot of time dwelling in the past. Sure there are some choices I'd make completely differently now than I did then, but that's because I'm older and wiser and have a different way of seeing the world and my place in it. The thing is - I have very few regrets and I like it that way. Even though some experiences were pretty shitty, each experience I've had has molded me and strengthened me and I can't imagine my life otherwise. Perhaps I would have chosen not to spend 2 years in a Bible college that didn't value women as much as I'd like (I had to be vice president in the student council because only a male could be president), but that experience enriched my life despite some of the ways it wouldn't fit the person I am now. Perhaps I wouldn't have spent as many years working for the federal government, but I did a lot of learning there, and really grew as a leader, and that was all worthwhile. I probably would have taken art classes earlier in life, but then maybe I wouldn't have appreciated them as much as I do now.  So I can't honestly say what I would do over.

As for a repeat? Almost any of the trips I've taken. Oh to spend a few more days at the magical resort near the Serengetti in Tanzania! Or to get the chance to hang out with my sister on a beach in the Mediterranean again! Or one more early morning kayak trip with my brother in the Pacific Ocean near Thetis Island! Oh... and another romantic weekend with my husband in Quebec City would be delightful! Oops... I was supposed to name just one... Maybe the very first time I flew over the ocean and the whole world opened up to me!

See that step right in front of you? Take it. (by guest blogger Darrah Parker)

Today's guest blogger is Darrah Parker, a delightful blogger and photographer whose blog (and tweets) just makes me feel happy and inspired.  She's been taking some bold steps lately, and I'm really inspired by her. When Darrah got married recently, I sent her a plaque that said "laughter", because I have a feeling that if you spend much time in Darrah's presence, you will do a lot of laughing.

Fumbling for words.
Fumbling for answers.
Fumbling for knowledge.
Fumbling for confidence.
Fumbling for hope.
Fumbling for trust.
Fumbling for joy.

When Heather asked me to be a guest blogger, I said yes immediately. I adore Heather and have enjoyed witnessing her journey. I admire her honesty, her authenticity, and her ability to express all of it with grace. What an honor it would be to be a guest in her home!

But when I sat down to write this post, I found myself unsure of where to begin and fumbling for words. I guess I came to the right place!

I recently embarked on a new life and took a leap of faith, quitting my job and starting a business. It is all very exciting, but if I’m completely honest, it is also frightening – like the “Holy crap. What have I done?” kind of frightening. I know I have made the right choice and that I have what it takes to live the life of my dreams. But for every thing I feel confident in, there are ten other things I don’t feel confident in. For every moment of victory and joy, there are just as many moments of uncertainty and fumbling.

This whole idea of “fumbling” got me thinking. After all, isn’t that what we are all doing? We think that everyone else has it together. Everyone else has it figured out. Everyone else knows more. Everyone else is two steps ahead. But guess what?

They’re all fumbling.

And if they’re not fumbling now, they were fumbling at some point in the past and they will certainly fumble again in the future. Just having the knowledge that I’m not alone in my fumbling makes me feel better. Breathe deeper. Go easier on myself.

So the next time you witness greatness and those “if only” thoughts start creeping in (i.e. “If only I could be that good at X” or “If only I had more time for Y” or “If only I knew more about Z”), remember that everyone had to start somewhere. Even the best of the best fumbled. But instead of crumbling under the pressure, they pushed through, they dug deep, and they succeeded. You want to know why?

They believed in themselves.

They believed in themselves even when the odds were against them. They believed in themselves even when they were scared. They took one step at a time and believed in themselves even when they knew there was a long road ahead of them.

So, fellow fumblers, it’s time we embrace fumbling as part of the process, trust that we have everything we need, and enjoy the ride! After all, nobody ever got from point A to point C without going through point B. And point B is a mighty juicy place to be.

Darrah Parker is a latte drinking, often giggling, Seattle lovin’ and livin’, creative path exploring, mac ‘n’ cheese eating, husband hugging, camera toting gal with a dream. She shares her photography and writes about living a creative life on her blog, artcetera.

Monday, December 07, 2009

we are all creative beings: a creative prayer (by guest blogger, Andrea Schroeder)

Andrea Schroeder, a creative artist and blogger who happens to live in the same city I do (though I haven't met her yet) was the first to answer my call for guest bloggers.  Andrea runs some interesting creativity workshops right here in Winnipeg, and one of these days, I'm going to sign up for one of them!

i relax into my heart, i relax into my self and i open up.

i open wide.

wider than that. i open up and i dive in to the delicious creative energy that surrounds me in every moment.

i am a creative being.

i am positively bursting with creative ideas. i know that every single act of creative expression, no matter how big or how small, is important and valuable and needed in this world. i know that my creative ideas and expressions are important and valuable and needed in this world.

so i take my beautiful creative ideas and i let them out, i share them with the world, i allow them to touch the hearts of other creative beings and inspire them to share their creative ideas more fully. we inspire each other, we nurture each other, and we all grow creatively together.

we are all creative beings.

together we create a world of creative freedom, of inspiration and delight. a world where each one of us is supported in creating lives that nurture and support our unique creative expression. a world where each person's unique creative expression is valued and honoured as a gift.

we create this world as we dive into the delicious creative energy together.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Ready, set, GO!

Laundry finished and folded so that the family can find clothes when I'm gone? Check.
Groceries bought so that the family can eat while I'm gone? Check.
Christmas tree up and decorated? Check.
Pants hemmed for Marcel & me? Check.
Rental car booked? Check.
Winter parka purchased for oldest daughter so that she doesn't freeze when the weather starts to drop? Check.
Funky bag picked up from Joyce and packed full of travel goodies? Check.
Underwear packed? Check.
All other necessary clothing items packed? Check.
Hostess gifts and orientation material for new volunteer packed? Check.
Passport picked up from the post office? Check.
Haircut? Check.
Book to read on the plane? Check.
Flat Madeline safely tucked in my carry-on luggage? Check. (By the way, if you're one of the gracious people who offered to host her, I'll be lining up some visits when I'm back from my wandering.)
Camera, cell phone, laptop, mp3 player, and all the necessary chargers, download cords, etc. packed? Check. (Well almost - I have to put the laptop in the bag when I'm finished typing this.)
Taxi booked for the morning? Check.
Guest bloggers and interview responses lined up and ready to post when I'm gone? Check.
Powerpoint presentations prepared for trip? Uhhhh... nope. Guess that one will have to happen on the plane.

Guess I'm ready to go. All that finished, and it's only 10:15! (No, I'm NOT staying up to midnight to work on the presentations that didn't get finished.)

Madeline takes the spotlight

When I threw out an invitation for interview questions, Connie, the delightful artist behind Dirty Footprints Studio, decided it would be fun to interview Maddie, the budding artist in our home.

Hi Maddie!! My name is Connie Hozvicka and I am an Art teacher, and the artist over at the blog  Dirty Footprints Studio.  Getting to know you and your art work is one of my favorite parts of your Mom's blog.  Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with me!

I call my studio Dirty Footprints Studio--that's where I do all my artwork.  Do you have a name for your studio as well?

I call it "I like Art Studio". It's kind of small. It's under a table.
What are your favorite materials to use in making art?

Crayons, paint brushes, paint, and paper. And scissors. Recently I made a flat person - I flattened myself to look like a pancake. I call it Flat Madeline. We were doing an activity at school where we were making flat people and I decided to make one at home. These are the materials I used for my flat person.

Who is your favorite artist and why?

Leonardo DaVinci. Because I like the Mona Lisa.

What is your favorite color?

Pink. And purple. And blue. And bright green.

What advice do you have for people just starting out making art?

Start by doing something easy and then work your way up to harder stuff. Start by going to the store to get some art supplies and then test them out.

What other fun things do you like to do when you are not making art?

Soccer and swimming. I like to play with my stuffed monkey, Joe Banana.

What piece of art work are you most proud of and why?

My painting that I made for my sister called "The Purse". I'm proud of it because it's good.

Thank you Maddie!!! I hope one day we can paint and make Creative Juicy ART together.  Big hugs!!

For more on the adventures Madeline the artist, check out her NEW BLOG! Yup, that's right, since she likes to steal the spotlight around here, we thought it was time she set up her own space. Go on over and visit! www.madelinemakesart.blogspot.com 

Friday, December 04, 2009

What a week!

Sometimes, it seems, everything shows up in the same week. Like this week. Board meetings, concerts, school events, church events, board dinner, new staff starting - and that's just the big stuff. In between there are kids to feed and deliver to soccer practices, flyers to help deliver, groceries to buy, etc., etc.

I survived. That's about all I have to say.

And somewhere in there I managed to squeeze in a very worthwhile visit to the Karsh exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It's worth the price of admission.

Plus I managed to finish reading "The School of Essential Ingredients" - a delightful read!

Oh... and the Jann Arden concert? Fabulous. I've seen her five or six times and she just keeps getting better and better.

One other thing... I may be one of the only women on the planet, but I did NOT sleep with Tiger Woods. My husband almost wishes I had so we'd be "in the money". But buddy, you're the only one who shares MY bed!

Just one more thing... my friend M is one of the least racist people I know, no matter who says otherwise. (You know I love you, M!)

Embracing my inner art-lovin' peace-lovin' hippie

It's been a full and exhausting week, but oh the good things that have come in the midst of all this craziness!  To cap off the goodness, I won the bid on this AMAZING bag from Joyce, and now I can truly embrace the peace-lovin' hippie in me!

How perfect is it that I'm buying a peace-sign bag from re-purposed fabric in support of justice and food for the people of Darfur!?! Everything about it just screams "this is meant to be Heather's bag!" I hope to have it in time for my east coast tour next week (Joyce lives a half hour from me), 'cause I'll be able to tell myself I'm just a free-spirited hippie out to convene with mother nature and a community of other hippies on the coast. Smile.

If you haven't checked out Joyce's Darfur Project yet, then WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! Go there NOW. Bid on a bag. (It's okay - go -  I'll still be here when you get back.) Bookmark it for future reference, and keep going back.  I kept forgetting to visit until it was too late to bid on the bags I wanted, but it turned out to be serendipitous, because I showed up at just the right time to buy the bag that is my favourite of the bags I've seen so far (and she makes lots of cool bags).

While I'm wandering the East Coast with my hippie bag, one of the coolest things I'll be doing is visiting the artist Dale Cook in New Brunswick. Dale is putting on an art show in support of the organization I work for (Canadian Foodgrains Bank), and some of her paintings are based on my photos from India and Bangladesh.  Here's one of my favourites from a photo I took in India. Isn't it beautiful?

I SO wish I could afford to buy it, but with kids who've suddenly outgrown winter coats and boots at the same time AND have this ridiculous expectation that they'll get Christmas presents (sheesh), that would prove to be a little difficult. Hopefully it will go to a good home. :-)  Check out Dale's blog here.

I've got lots of other fun things lined up for my trip, including lunch and a studio visit with another artist/writer in Nova Scotia (whom I've admired from afar since I learned about her a few years ago and I'm in awe that I get to meet her face to face), and a meal in a restaurant/bakery that's developed a special bread recipe that they're dedicating to the Foodgrains Bank (every loaf they sell will support the work of ending hunger overseas).  Plus I get to stay with my friend Randy (who gave me my triple spiral necklace on my last visit), and some other people that I really like (and expect to like once I meet the ones I've only spoken to on the phone so far) in three of the Atlantic Provinces.

It's a good life for a peace-lovin', art-lovin', bread-lovin', people-lovin', justice-lovin' hippie!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I hardly know what to say (but that never stopped me before)

I am just bursting with good energy today. BURSTING! I want to write a post and tell you all about it, but I’m having a hard time putting into words what has happened this week. I keep starting and stopping, typing and then deleting.

I think I need to stew over this one a bit – let it mellow - before I try to explain what good things have happened, and how some really challenging things have shifted into amazing possibilities.

For now, let me tell you a few things that have become more clear to me this week:
  • When I am authentic and vulnerable with people, more often than not, I will be supported in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
  • When I really trust my leadership gifts, I am capable of more than I could have dreamed.
  • When I recognize that I don’t have to do this alone, I am caught off guard by how powerful teamwork can be.
  • When I acknowledge the fear, but then go forward anyway, I surprise myself with my capacity for boldness.
  • When I slow down, value the time for contemplation and reflection, and ignore the people who would like to rush me, I am way better off in the long run.
  • When I trust my own vision and wisdom in an area I am immersed in, I am much further ahead than when I assume others have more expertise than I do.
  • When I get my ego out of the way, and let God guide me through rough waters, I don’t have to paddle so hard.
I feel a little like crying right now, but the tears would be good tears. They would be tears of relief, healing, and happiness.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A (virtual) party and a request...

glass of wine at Organicity

December 15th will mark a big day around here for the Fumbling for Words blog. It will this blog's 5th anniversary AND if all goes as planned, it will also be my 1000th post! That’s a lot of reasons to celebrate, so I’m cooking up some goodies to share (yes, there WILL be prizes) and a few things to inspire your creative juices.

In the meantime, though, I have to cram in a few posts between now and then to get to 1000. And next week I’ll be on the road, so posting opportunities will be slim. Soooo… I need your help with a couple of things…

1. Interview me! As I was looking over my blog archives, I came across a few posts where I’d answered people’s random interview questions and they were really fun to re-read. So here’s your chance – leave a comment on this post asking a question about whatever you’d like to know about me. I’m an open book, so go ahead and ask… My shoe size? My bra size? (Yes, I already posted about that, so if you dig hard enough, you’ll find it.) What’s my favourite childhood memory? What’s the hardest thing I’ve ever lived through? Just ask! (But don’t ask my kids’ favourite question – who’s my favourite daughter? If it’s Monday, it will be Nikki, if it’s Tuesday, it will be Julie, if it’s Wednesday, it will be Maddie – the rest of the days are free-for-all.)

2. I’m looking for some guest bloggers! With my busy travel schedule next week (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI – here I come!), I won’t get to blog much, so this is your chance to speak your mind at Fumbling for Words. The topic can be your choice, but I’d like it to be something fairly uplifting/celebratory/inspiring/creative in honour of my blog-iversary. Maybe you’d even like to write something about what has inspired you most at FFW? If you’re up for the challenge, send me an email at heatherpl at mts dot net. I’ll need all submissions by Friday, December 4th so that I can set them up to post while I’m away.

Thanks for being part of the lovely little community hear at Fumbling for Words!