Friday, February 27, 2009

Kids these days

The thing about having kids is - they keep you humble. If, for example, you should come home one evening and say "hey - guess what? I just found out I've won the Communicator of the Year award for our province!" they will have a delightful way of turning to you with a look that says "yeah, so what?" And then, while you stand there waiting for the overflowing accolades and the hugs of approval, they will proceed to say, "ummm... Mom, it's really not that impressive. I mean really - how many communicators do we know? One! So if nobody really knows any communicators and they pick you to be the best one, well that's not really that much of an honour, is it?"

Getting a little defensive at their bucket of cold water on your previously swollen and rapidly shrinking head, you'll say something like "yeah, but still - the best one in the WHOLE PROVINCE!" And they'll just keep pouring with, "oh sure, it's cool and all, but if you were the best SOCCER PLAYER in the province, then THAT would be something to brag about! You're not exactly the David Beckham of the communications world now, are you?"

Harrumph. Perhaps I should have picked a career my kids could marvel at. But then again, I'm pretty sure David Beckham's kids roll their eyes at him now and then too.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A few things I need to get off my chest...

Dear Mother Nature;
Come on REALLY?! Another day of -24 C? This isn’t funny anymore! Can’t we start talking about Spring? Crocuses? Buds on trees? T-shirts? Yes we’re hardy folk up here in Winnipeg, but you’re going a little too far just to prove it!

Dear Air Canada;
Didn’t you learn in Customer Relations 101 that it is not good practice to sell someone an airline ticket and then, when the passenger (who booked her ticket weeks ago) shows up at the airport, tell her you don’t actually have a seat for her and she’ll have to fly stand-by? Can you stop thinking about the almighty dollar and put an end to your policy of over-selling seats on airplanes? This is the second time it’s happened to me and I am not amused. It’s NEVER happened on West Jet and their flight attendants are SO much nicer, so you can guess whose plane I’ll fly on next time.

Dear friend who gave me and my colleague the free passes to the airport business lounge;
THANK YOU! I felt so pampered (after an intense couple of days) sitting in big-ass comfy leather chairs sipping free wine and munching on cookies while enjoying free internet (and feeling rather bourgeois and privileged all the while). Yes, I felt a little guilty participating in a system that perpetuates class distinctions, but the guilt passed by the second glass of wine.

Dear SAME friend who nominated me for communicator of the year;
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! You clearly did a good job of describing my accomplishments! I’m gonna owe you big time! May I buy you a glass of wine at the gala luncheon when I receive my award?

Dear friend who hung out with me over Indian food in Toronto;
It was a delight! Thanks for being my friend for 40 years! (Yes, we really have lived that long!) Thanks for trusting me enough to share your secrets. Thanks for being so damn likeable. And thanks for building all those lopsided teepees with me in the bush thirty some odd years ago.

Dear lovely B&B host;
You are a treasure! Thanks for giving me a home away from home in Toronto. I've been to all of the other lovely B&B's but yours is my favourite, partly because YOU are my favourite host. I will be back - you can bet on it. Thanks for saying cute things like "righty-tighty and lefty-loosey". Thanks for trying out your new recipe for coconut french toast for me. Thanks for pointing out the special towels "just for my feet". Thanks for not being one of those cookie-cutter hotels.

Dear people who participated in the two day workshop I organized;
Thanks for being so cooperative and appreciative and for not making a big deal over the fact that I screwed up the two days. You made me feel like a leader again. It was a pleasure spending a couple of days with you. I really, really mean it. It is so comforting to know you’re among good people who "have your back" – especially ones who have such like-minded passions and values.

Dear husband;
You are a good teacher. Why else would all of your daughters' friends beg you to be their substitute? Why else would you get calls from teachers saying that their students had INSISTED that you substitute for their class again? You will be a full time teacher some day, but for now you're doing a damn fine job of being a substitute.

Dear daughters who made it into the soccer teams you were trying out for;
Congratulations. I’m so very proud of you. You’ve both worked hard to develop your skills and I delight in your accomplishments and your drive. Here’s to another summer of sitting on the sidelines cheering for you.

Dear Mother Nature;
Can we get back to you for a bit? You know all those soccer games I’ll need to watch? Yeah, well, I was thinking… Spring? Could you make it a good one? Please?!?

Monday, February 23, 2009

The ups and downs of being human

I'm walking in downtown Toronto and I spot an art supply store. My heart does a little pitter-pat as I remember that I've been there before - it was one of my "stand and gaze and dream about being an artist" moments. I left the store with nothing. This time, feeling emboldened by my recent achievement, I walk in proudly, determined to buy at least a couple of tubes of watercolour. I feel like an artist as I peruse the shelves, looking for the right shades for my next project. I'm glowing with excitement as I lay my items on the counter and reach for my wallet. I feel powerful.

Then the cell phone rings. I find out that I messed up an important date - the facilitators I'd hired for a workshop on Wednesday are actually coming on Tuesday. I'd sent them the wrong date. Now I have a hoarde of people coming from across the country for a two day meeting, and the itinerary I sent out is all screwed up. And the handful of people who are coming (from the local area) just for Wednesday might not be able to come if their schedules aren't flexible. My mood drops. I've screwed up. My self-talk has taken a drastic turn and I'm not an artist anymore. I'm not a leader either. I am a failure.

Wallowing in self-doubt, I leave the store and wander down the street. I enter another store and meander through the sales racks. The store clerk spots my art supply store bag. "Are you an artist?" he asks. I pause for a moment, ready to say "no, I'm really not," but then something inside me rises up and I straighten my shoulders a little. "Yes, I am." "What do you do?" he asks. "Watercolour," I say. "So far." "I'm an artist too," he says. "Mostly I do Chinese form of art."

I leave the store, and though not entirely recovered from the phone call, I feel at least a little buoyed by my first opportunity to call myself an artist.

I am constantly amazed at how quickly self-talk can whirl in an about-face direction.

How do you define yourself today? Or break it down to this very moment? Artist or failure?

Friday, February 20, 2009

The year of living fearlessly - Chapter 5

I used to visit art supply stores and stand and gaze longingly at the rows and rows of paint tubes and brushes. I've done that for years. I wanted to paint so badly, but it was completely overwhelming for me. I had no idea what brushes to start with (what if I used the wrong one?) or which kind of paint did what (what's the difference between watercolour and acrylic?), and besides, I could barely draw a stick figure, so what made me think I could paint?

Friends would take up painting, and I'd be so jealous, but I never signed up for a course. "I'll probably fail," I told myself. "I'm not very artistic."

That was before my year of living fearlessly. This year, I knew I couldn't let those layers of fear and doubt stand in the way of something I've wanted to do since I was a child. This year, I would paint, even if I accomplished nothing more than a stick figure and a tree that looked like a 6 year old's fingerpainting. This year, I wasn't letting failure stand in my way.

I signed up for a class and started buying supplies. But every time I took my supply list into an art supply store, I got that overwhelming, choking feeling again. What was a #1 brush? Was I supposed to buy the paint in tubes or in little cakes like the kindergarten paints? I bought a few supplies, but put off most of it until the night before the class.

Then the worst happened - the night before the class turned out to be the night OF the class. I'd looked at the dates wrong. I had to rush to the only store within easy driving distance, grab whatever I could find, and show up at class 15 minutes late with only half of my supplies. My heart was in my throat. This was NOT the way to start something this scary!

The first 15 minutes of the class were horrible. Others had already started and I didn't get the instructions right. Plus I had to borrow a few things from my seat mate. If Marcel hadn't dropped me off and left me without a car, I might have packed up and gone home.

But then, when water mixed with paint and paint started hitting paper, a transformation began to unfold. The paper, the paint, the paint brushes - they all took hold of me, lifted me out of myself, and the stress began to seep out of my body drop by drop. How incredibly good the paint brush felt in my hand! How incredibly right! I almost started crying right there in that high school art room. This was what I had been waiting for all these years!

My very first watercolour painting

Even though we only painted in monochrome that night, and the result was hardly worth bragging about, I knew that I had fallen in love. For too many years this passion had been waiting for fear to loosen its grip so that it could be born - now it was time to let it see the light of day.

Five classes later (too quickly it passed), we were getting ready for the final class. "Bring in a picture to the second last class," she'd said. "Something that is special to you. You're going to paint your first masterpiece during the final class." I selected a few that I thought I was capable of (some easy landscapes and silhouettes), and threw in the one I really wanted to paint but doubted that I could - one of my favourite photos from Ethiopia. "These are easy," she said, flipping through the top of the pile, "you can paint these." Then she looked at the last one - the special one. "You want to paint that?" she said, a little incredulously. I felt the doubt rise again. Maybe she didn't like it. Maybe she thought I couldn't do it. Oh what was I thinking - of COURSE I can't do it! I nodded sheepishly. "Yeah, I think you could probably do that if you tried hard enough." Really? "You probably won't finish it in one day, and you'll have to do the sketching before the class so you use the time in class well."

Gulp. Was I really going to try? What if I failed? Would I want to come back for another class next session, or would I give up? Maybe I should just do the silhouette of the acacia tree from my Kenya pictures. It was so much easier.

But "easy" wasn't what I'd signed up for. I decided to try regardless of how it scared me. I did the preparation work and showed up at class early this time. I was determined. This was not going to be the end of painting for me. I was not going to let fear hold me back. I was determined, but nervous, and almost positive I would fail.

And then, the minute I touched paintbrush to paper, I entered that zen-like state and got lost in the painting all over again. The hours drifted away while I let the paint carry me. Bit by bit, I watched the art unfold. First grey sky, then the landscape. That was the easy part. Would I be able to paint convincing people? The first one turned out not bad. The second was even better. By the third one, I began to believe that I could actually DO this!

I didn't finish that night, but the next night, while Marcel was away and the girls got to watch a little extra TV, I finished the last piece - the baskets. When I was done, I stepped back and... well, it was GOOD! I had actually painted something I could be proud of!
Watercolour, sixth and final class

I have been on cloud nine ever since. Who knew I could paint? Certainly not me!

(If you want to see my progress throughout the classes, you can see all of my attempts in a slideshow here.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

When you're six

After losing two teeth in fairly quick succession, Maddie proclaimed, with great delight "I'm gonna get some BLING from the tooth fairy!"

Before I arrived home from work, she'd told her sister "I'm gonna fool mom and see if the tooth fairy is real. I'll keep my mouth closed all evening so she won't see that I've lost a tooth, and if there's money under my pillow in the morning, I'll KNOW it's not mom and the tooth fairy is real!" Yeah, whatever - she didn't last 2 seconds from the time I walked in the door. :-)

Photo compliments of her big sister Julie, one of the budding photographers in this house.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On the way home from a funeral

I sat at the back of the church at a little table reserved for the charity of his choice. I didn't know him well. My only contact had been a few shared meals and his annual visits when he'd picked up brochures for his Christmas charity drive. Oh how he loved to collect donations for people living with hunger! Every year, he'd sit at a table in the mall, and thousands of dollars would roll in because everyone knew that if this was an organization Randall believed in, it was worth supporting.

I didn't even think to bring kleenex, and mostly, I didn't need one. I listened to the obituary and the tributes, and was deeply moved by his children's and grandchildren's memories of him, but it made me smile more than cry. He loved sports, he knew everyone in the community, and over the span of his life, he'd volunteered for approximately 100 organizations (ours being particularly close to his heart). He was instrumental in starting a water co-op and a sugarbeet museum, and he'd served on the town council. He was well loved.

I didn't need a kleenex until they wheeled the casket to the church foyer where I was sitting and the family filed out on the way to the graveyard. I didn't need it until the moment - just before they closed the casket - when I saw his wife of 60 years nearly crumble to the floor as she leaned in to press her face against his just one more time. After 60 years of living with his enthusiasm, his vibrant energy, and his commitment to life and a myriad of worthy causes, she will wake up in a bed tomorrow morning all alone.

I left the church feeling sad and a little lonely. It seemed only fitting that the snow had begun to blow and the stark prairies were made even more stark by their melancholy lack of colour or sunlight. The tears began to flow again as I sat and gazed at the breathtaking yet painful and lonely beauty of the prairies that I love.
(If you want to see a few more of my prairie winter pictures, check out the slideshow here.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A bunch of random things about me

I got tagged by a couple of people on Facebook to come up with a list of 25 things about me, so I'm cross-posting here. You can decide whether a.) I'm an over-achiever, or b.) I was bored last night.

1. This Spring will be the 25th anniversary of my high school grad. I'm a little freaked out about that.

2. I do NOT feel old enough to have been out of high school that long.

3. I have three daughters, but have given birth four times. My son was born still. But don't feel sorry for me - I'm still a very lucky person.

4. I have a job that, most days, feels like it could not be more perfect for me. Lots of opportunity for writing and other creative things, travel to interesting places, a chance to make a difference in the world - what's not to like?

5. My husband is one of the funniest people I know.

6. I love frozen blueberries with milk. The milk turns all purple and slushy and my daughters turn up their noses at it. But I just laugh and enjoy the cold purple goodness. Mmmm.

7. I love getting published. I have another article coming out in the Globe and Mail next month.

8. My business trips have taken me to Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Bangladesh, Rome, Dallas, and almost every province in Canada. How cool is that?

9. I suffered from a severe case of bedbugs in a rather sleazy guest house in Bangladesh.

10. The photo of my bedbug-bitten legs is my most viewed photo on Flickr. Apparently, alot of people are searching for photos of bedbug bites. My sympathies go out to them.

11. My favourite phrase out of my youngest daughter's mouth is "can you imagine if..." She has a delightful imagination.

12. On the right hand side of my screen (while on Facebook) is a distracting ad for organic wrinkle reducer. I'm starting to get wrinkles, but so far, I have no desire to reduce them. I think there is beauty in aging gracefully. (I'm wondering if the ad is targeted for me because my profile puts me at over 40?)

13. There are many, many days when I long for just one more conversation with my father.

14. I just took Maddie to see Madagascar 2. It was fun, but at 6, she still hasn't learned to sit still in a theatre.

15. I have spurts of creative energy - like sometimes I'll sew for days on end, and then I won't do it for a year. Same goes for writing.

16. I'm going on a date to a French restaurant with my husband for Valentine's Day tomorrow. We don't usually make a big deal about Valentine's Day, but we've been wanting to check out his cousin's restaurant, and now seemed to be a good time to do it. (You can tell we've been married a long time when we plan to stop at Home Depot on the way to check out toilets!)

17. I have a fairly restless personality. If I don't have some change or adventure to look forward to, I get bored and listless.

18. I started yoga last month and I love it.

19. When I turned 40, I got my nose pierced and then jumped out of an airplane (with a parachute attached, thank goodness). Midlife crisis perhaps?

20. My oldest two daughters play alot of soccer and I love being a soccer mom. I'm really bummed when I have to miss a game.

21. I don't feel like a very interesting person, but sometimes when I look at a list of things about my life, I think "hmm... she sounds like an interesting person. I bet I'd like her."

22. I love to read. I have about 30+ books piled up on my nightstand and the floor surrounding it. It makes me feel sloppy and disorganized, but it also makes me feel cozy to be cocooned by books.

23. I'm a fairly messy and disorganized person, and sometimes I think that if people would see the inside of my fridge or my laundry room on a bad day, they'd never want to come back to my house and would probably try to come up with polite reasons why they couldn't be friends with me anymore.

24. I'm just a tiny bit obsessive. Like now, for example. I don't think I can stop this list before I get to 25.

25. I love riding bike and I can hardly wait to start riding again in the Spring. I have a beautiful green and silver Trek mountain bike.

26. I think people are often surprised when they find out how much an overweight over-40-year-old like me loves to ride bike. I usually ride about 22 kilometres a day, and yet, I will never have one of those sleek biker's bodies.

27. When my dad died in a tractor accident, I became a tiny bit obsessed with knowing every little detail of how he died. I'm not sure why - it just seemed important to know what his last minutes were like. My siblings and I went to the ditch where it happened and tried to recreate the details of the scene to figure out how and why.

28. I've just been nominated for a "Manitoba Communicator of the Year" award. I'm flattered, and, well... "Gosh, it's just an honour to be nominated..." (Just working on my rejection speech for when the hordes of media show up to ask me how it felt to lose out to somebody who helped cure cancer by their tireless efforts.)

29. I am slightly addicted to Nutella.

30. I love taking hot baths, but I only take time for them on the weekends because they cannot be rushed. Showers are for days when I have to rush off to work.

31. I don't have many regrets in my life. Either I have a bad memory, or I'm okay with living with my choices whether they turn out well or not. I think it's a little bit of both.

32. I worked for the federal government for 13 years, and though there was lots about it that I didn't love, I met some amazing people, learned alot, and got some great opportunities along the way. No regrets.

33. I should finish this list and go to bed.

34. But 34 doesn't seem like a very clean number to end at, so I need to think of one or six more.

35. I wish Cheryl Tiegs would stop staring at me and telling me I need her secret for looking young at the age of 61. Didn't I already tell you that I don't WANT organic wrinkle reducer?!?

36. I had too many Sour Patch Kids and Coke at the movie tonight. Didn't my hand and mouth and brain KNOW that I'm trying to lose weight? Sheesh.

37. My favourite body feature has always been my feet. I was more than a little disappointed when they started letting me down and I had to invest in orthotic footwear.

38. I just finished reading "A Long Way Gone", the memoir of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone. It is an amazing story that you really should read.

39. My kids like to make chocolate chip cookie dough just to eat the dough. I let them. Does that make me a good mom or a bad one?

40. I made it to 40. I'm going to bed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bits and Bites

  • Nikki is back home in the fold - safely returned from her week-long exchange trip to Quebec. She had a lovely time, and only let on to being homesick once. She's happy to be speaking English again, though she said by the end of a week living with a French family, she was actually starting to think in French.
  • Speaking of French, with Maddie being our third and final child to enter French Immersion school, I am fast becoming the only family member not fluent in French. I keep thinking I should learn it some day, but languages just don't come easily for me, so I get a little overwhelmed with the brain-work I'd have to put into it.
  • Facebook is a truly wierd world to be in. Some days I enjoy it (like when I get to interact with my daughter in Quebec, send her silly videos that her dad and I take, and then check out the pictures she and her friends post after the trip), but some days I just find it awkward and strange. Like... do I really want to be "friends" with that guy that I barely said two words to in high school? And should I or should I not be "friends" with staff-members who have to report to me? What about my daughters' friends? And don't even get me started about those people who collect "friends" like a high school popularity contest!
  • One of my co-workers became a dad last week - to a wee tiny 1.7 lb very premature baby. So far, he's doing well, but I know they'll have a rocky road ahead of them.
  • I'm glad I have a husband who stays on top of things - like the fact that Maddie needed valentines cards for the school party. I'm pretty bad at keeping my OWN life organized, let alone the lives of my children!
  • Speaking of my husband, his vast knowledge of Louis Riel facts just won him a t-shirt from CBC radio.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Sun, snow, and skates

This weekend we finally had the kind of magical winter weather that makes a person happy to live in a place with 4 seasons. We've had to suffer through alot to get to these few enjoyable days.

(Because we're all missing Nikki, we had to pick up an extra daughter to make our fun complete.)
Here we go!

Ali and Julie

Ali and Julie

(Yes, AP, I have to fight other family members for use of my hat. Luckily it was warm enough to go without.)

Sun descending

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The year of living fearlessly - chapter 4

Sometimes living fearlessly means letting your daughter go to a place far away from where you stand, so that she can take steps into her own fearless life.
There are many, many steps in this letting go thing, starting with the moment they slip out from the safety of your womb. Sometimes it's painful, sometimes it's beautiful, and most times it's a mixture of both.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


1. I'm in Calgary, sitting in a comfy reclining chair at my brother and sister-in-law's. I'll be flying home in a few hours. I just finished doing a round of interviews. Sadly, we're losing our Alberta staff and I have to hire again. Sigh.

2. After 8 interviews, I find it remarkable what different energy people bring into a room with them. Some bring an air of confidence, some aloofness, some boundless energy, and some calm comfort. I could almost always tell within the first few seconds what kind of energy the person was bringing and whether I would find myself drawn to that person or not. It made me wonder what kind of energy I bring to a room. I remember being told once, by a boss who became a really close friend, that the minute I walked into the interview, she knew she would like me and that we probably read the same kind of books. She was right.

3. My brother just brought me a Starbucks chai latte and it's yummy. I kinda like him.

4. In the interests of putting myself out there a little more, and maybe taking on a little more freelance work (it's what paid for my camera, so what's not to like), I made myself a website and my kind brother helped me upload it. Go check it out.

5. My sister-in-law is busy taking goofy pictures of her dog. A few minutes ago she was reading sections of a knitting book out loud to me. And when I arrived two days ago, she handed me a lovely wool hat that she'd knit. I kinda like her. (And now she turned the camera on me.)

6. I have to go catch my plane soon.