Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why I like to take pictures

Sometimes the eye aches for the things you have seen.
You open a forgotten photo
And the physical pain of memory and longing washes over you
The indescribable green of the rice paddy
The heat of the tropical sun beating on your unaccustomed face
The kindness of strangers with sun-blocking umbrellas
The faraway sounds of villages celebrating Holi day
The laughing children covered in mud
The grinning farmer and his shy daughter in their potato field
The dancing grandma with the red sari
The boats lingering on the canal
The face of the young boy catching the lingering rays as the sun descends
It all comes back to you in that instant

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


She rolls her eyes at yet another story of Africa. She cringes when she catches a hint of a social justice rant erupting from your lips. She doesn’t want to hear you talk about hunger or human trafficking or unfair trade rules. She gets embarrassed when you tell the sales clerk you don’t want a plastic bag and would rather carry your items out of the store in your hand. She’d rather go shopping than just about any other activity in the world, and she doesn’t want to know about the stuff that’s produced by child labourers in Bangladesh, or about the mountains of waste created by overconsumption. She gets annoyed when you insist she can walk to the mall instead of burning extra gas to run the car.

But then one day, she comes home and tells you “I’m doing a project for school about the political situation in Zimbabwe – about how Mugabe stole the election.” And then she adds, incredulously, “most of my friends don’t even know where Zimbabwe is!”

And then, another day, “Mom – do you want to watch this with me? Tyra Banks is talking about sex trafficking. Can you believe what’s happening to those little girls?”

And then there’s the day when you’re at the mall with her, and she tucks her new shorts into her purse and shakes her head no when the cashier offers her a bag.

And your heart does a little leap of joy, because despite her best efforts to ignore you and be as different from you as she can, some of it has gotten through.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

For the Birds

Our dishwasher has been broken for a few weeks, and though there's been a fair bit of grumbling at our house (have you SEEN how many dishes a family of five can produce?), there have also been a few blessings in disguise. For one thing, despite their protests, the girls are learning the fine art of washing dishes by hand. For another thing, as I learned with my own mother years ago, some great mother-daughter bonding can happen over a sink of dirty dishes.

My favourite blessing, though, has been the fact that spending more time over the sink means also spending more time at the kitchen window. There's an unruly hedge just outside the window and it's always been the gathering place of a myriad of birds. Until recently, however, I had no idea just how much variety there is in the types of birds that frequent our backyard.

Maddie spotted me gazing out the window one day, and she wanted to join the fun. Her and I have since become avid bird-watchers, digging out a bird book and trying to identify the species as they appear.

On Saturday morning, Maddie went out with a bowl full of bird seed and set up a bird restaurant on the old bench in front of the hedge. "It's called Birdie Buffet!" she said.
For the rest of the weekend, she and I would periodically tiptoe to the window to see what birds had come to dine. She named the first one that appeared after she ducked back in the house "Bravery." The others hovered in the hedge, waiting to make sure it was safe.
We managed to capture a few of them on film (or rather, the digital equivalent), but the most interesting ones (the blue jays, and the red-headed finch Maddied named "Finchie") were also the most shy and they quickly disappeared when we showed up at the window.
The little grey wrens with the yellow beaks were the most bold and apparently the most hungry. Maddie had to replenish her buffet a couple of times, and she was convinced that they'd gained weight by the end of the weekend.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


There's a song called "It might be hope" by Sara Groves that has come to mean a lot to some members of my family, especially my sister. A year ago, we had no idea whether we had reason to be hopeful or not. Her son Jack was waiting to be born, and with a tumour nearly the size of his head, we didn't know what the future would hold for him.

Most of you know the "rest" of the story. Jack was born healthy and beautiful, the tumour disappeared, and he is now a joyful, expressive and fun little boy. Nearly every Sunday in church, I get to hold him while he sleeps and I could hardly feel more blessed.

A few weeks ago, at his cousin's birthday, I took this picture of Jack. It struck me that this picture tells a story of Jack's place in our life - a story of hope and looking toward the light, even when it feels like fear will never loosen its grip on us.
Hope has a way of turning it's face to you
just when you least expect it
you walk in a room
you look out a window
and something there leaves you breathless
you say to yourself it's been a while since I felt this
but it feels like it might be hope

A few days ago, I decided to try my first attempt at painting a face. Jack's hopeful expression seemed like just the right place to start.

If I were to name this painting, I would call it Hope.
If you want to hear the song, check out the video my sister made for Jack's baby dedication. I'm warning you, though, have a kleenex handy.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Random thoughts looking for a home

Random thought #1... I had a lovely wisdom-sharing dinner with two friends last night. They are both wise women leaders who have mentored me in the past. One of them is turning 50 next month, and is celebrating the passing of time with a trip to Paris with her son. She carries 50 with beauty and strength. The other one is embarking on a new direction in her career. She told of how a massive de-cluttering for her team led to wonderful new doorways opening up for four of the people involved, including herself. I am blessed by the wisdom I carry with me from the women of integrity and authenticity (like these) who have shared in my journey.

Random thought #2... My elbow hurts from an embarrassing little tumble on my bike yesterday. It was one of those moments when you wish that you could hit the rewind button and make a different decision than you did thirty seconds before.

Random thought #3... Yesterday afternoon, Maddie was sick so I had to leave work to look after her. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we spent most of the afternoon painting together. I made little paintings of the Peggy's Cove lighthouse for the women I was meeting – women who have served as lighthouses for me in the past, guiding me toward safe passage when I didn’t know the way. Maddie painted a dolphin, and when I said “maybe you’ll be an artist when you grow up”, she looked at me in that long-suffering way and said “of COURSE I’ll be an artist when I grow up.”

Random thought #4... There’s just one thing I have to say to Madonna – we do NOT have 4 minutes to save the world. The world is not ours to save. Perhaps we have 4 minutes to stop participating in its destruction, but don’t think of yourself as the great salvation. Take the words of my wise African friend to heart, “you North Americans need to stop thinking you can FIX everything.”

Random thought #5... I have been blessed with good conversations this week. I met my friend Steve for lunch on Monday and left feeling inspired and invigorated. We talked about finding our calling, working toward authenticity, searching for beauty, and offering our gifts to the world. I love the clarity that comes from a good conversation with a like-minded friend.

Random thought #6... Happy Earth Day, everyone! Celebrate it by remembering that we are part of creation and we have been gifted with the opportunity to actively participate in the appreciation, sharing, and protection of the beauty of the earth.

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change things build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." Buckminster Fuller

Monday, April 20, 2009

In memory of my dad

Even though it snowed on me as I rode my bike to work this morning (arrgh!), the frogs still believe it is Spring! It was a most glorious ride home (making up for the miserable ride this morning), especially the part where I rode past the frog pond. I had to stop for a moment to listen to their chorus. It was the least I could do, in memory of my dad who taught me lessons in mindfulness by honouring the frogs every year on his calendar.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pieces of me

I struggled with whether to post this or not. It wasn't really written for public consumption because it is so deeply personal and drags up so many insecurities and hurts. But in my quest to be more authentic and open my journey up to others who might gather comfort and support from it, I'm offering it to you, begging you to be gentle with the wounded little child in me.

“Undress from the waist up and put this on. It opens to the front and is fragile at the shoulders. I’ll be back in a moment.”

Everything he says comes out like a memorized script. He’s been here so many times before. I’m just another woman, just another surgery, just another pay cheque.

When he returns, he flips open the front of the paper gown as casually as one might open the newspaper. A quick set of measurements, from neck to nipple. A grab, a tug, a lift.

“This one sags much lower. Definitely need a little extra work on this side.” He lifts them as he speaks. I nod. Of course I know that – have always known that. Have always been painfully aware of that every time I've had to find a way to surreptitiously tuck the bulges back in on the left side. “We’ll do an incision around the nipple, move the nipple and areola up a few inches, make a couple of incisions on the bottom, and cut the excess fat and skin from the bottom.” With his pen and finger, he makes the appropriate motions, then wraps both hands around one breast. “This is about the size they’ll be when we’re done. I’d also recommend a little liposuction under the arms.”

The tone of his voice hasn’t changed since I first walked in and he recited the list of risks and precautions that his legal advisory told him he had to. It sounds more like he’s preparing a cut of meat for tonight’s supper than handling something as sacred as my breasts.

Just a couple of pieces of meat. Not the pieces of me that make me a woman. Not the vessels that have nurtured my three daughters and carried the weight of grief and unused milk when they couldn’t nurture my son. Not the objects of so much shame, hatred, resentment and pain. Not the reason why I wear baggy clothing and can never find a bra that fits. Not the part of me that caused me some of the worst pain in my life when yeast infection threatened to interrupt breastfeeding. Not the parts of me that have been so lovingly caressed by my husband and have been the cause of both pleasure and frustration in the bedroom. Not the reason I can barely look at a picture of myself in a bathing suit. Not the source of back ache, neck ache, and deep shoulder indentation where the bra strap struggled to hold up the weight.

When he leaves, I pull on my double H bra, tuck in the left side, and wait for the nurse to tell me when to expect surgery. Nine to twelve months - lots of women waiting for the same thing.

Fighting the tears, I leave the medical office. The tears are not regret over my decision but sadness over the impersonal clinical feel of it all. Nobody has really bothered to ask why I want this done or questioned whether it’s for the right reasons. (What ARE the "right" reasons?) Nobody has tried to talk me out of it or wondered whether there’s something deeper than breast level that needs to be dealt with. Nobody has asked me about the years of agonizing struggle to come to this place. Nobody has asked about the shame, the insecurity, the ugliness, the sadness. Nobody has asked whether I can cope with the guilt over cutting off a piece of myself. I’m left to deal with that on my own.

Back at my own office, I pull a poncho over these pieces of meat and try to focus on the report I need to write for next week’s deadline. I lose patience with a few people and try to hold it together for the rest of the day. "Dealing with it" will have to wait for tomorrow.

This is the first and last time you'll see a picture of me in a bathing suit on this blog. I can barely stand to look at it, but for some reason, I feel compelled to share it. I remember the deep cringe of shame I felt at the time when I noticed Marcel pointing the camera at me. For obvious reasons, every other picture I've posted of myself does a fairly good job of disguising what I see when I look in the mirror every day.

Shortest blog post ever

I'm cranky. The end.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Saddle sore but lovin' it!

I'll probably be a little saddle sore tomorrow, but OH MY GOSH it was good to be back on a bike again this morning! We're having lovely weather around here this week (hopefully we've finally bid adieu to winter), so I took advantage of it to start biking to work again. Unless you've lived through a long hard winter, I don't know if you can understand just how good/refreshing/invigorating/like-getting-sprung-from-prison Spring can feel. Wow!

And all that exercise I've been doing all winter? All that exercise that felt like it was doing no good because I wasn't losing weight and it didn't seem to get any easier to run on the treadmill no matter how long I stuck with it? Yeah, well, apparently I'm in better shape than I thought, because I did those 11 kilometers without barely breakin' a sweat AND I did them 5 km/h faster than I usually do at the beginning of the season! Sweet!

Last night we were outside until almost 9:00 at night, and Maddie and her cousin were still in t-shirts. By the end of it, they were both soaking wet and sloshing around in rubber boots full of water (finding puddles that were a little deeper than their boots seemed like a good idea at the time), but, other than one unfortunate "swimming" incident, they were both deliriously happy, and when they climbed into bed together, they were in dreamland almost before I could leave the room.

I heart Spring.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Reach out

Last night, Maddy and I went to see Monsters vs. Aliens in 3D. What a delight it was to watch her sit on the edge of her seat in wonder, wearing her 3D glasses and trying to grab the things that came flying off the screen at her. At one point, she turned to me and said "you've gotta reach out, Mom! It's more fun!" So I did. I sat there with her, near the front of the theatre where everyone could see us, our arms stretched out in front of us, grinning from ear to ear. We didn't catch anything, but we sure tried.

That little piece of wisdom has stuck with me since then. "You gotta reach out! It's more fun!"

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Searching for authenticity

A few weeks ago, I was in Toronto for a three day workshop on leading remote teams. My staff is spread across the country, and that has been REALLY challenging, so I’ve been looking for inspiration on how to be more effective at it. Unfortunately, though, this was not the right course for me. Although I tried to make the best of it and struggled to find some takeaway knowledge that made the rather significant investment worth it, in the end I had to admit that it didn’t move me any further in my journey as a leader.

For one thing, it was targeted at leaders who are newer to it than I am (I’ve done this for 10 years already), and more specifically, leaders who work primarily in technical and production fields (task-oriented leadership - very different from my line of work). On top of that, throughout most of the course, “remote teams” referred primarily to teams that you’re leading in other countries because your company has chosen to outsource to places where there is cheaper labour. That was a particular struggle for me, because some of my work (and personal passion) involves seeking justice for some of those people providing that cheap labour who are unable to feed their own families. (The last day of the course, just before catching an early flight, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and let flow a fairly strong response when someone implied that ‘we are saving the poor downtrodden masses by giving them jobs and teaching them the value of OUR culture over their own’.)

As I sat and doodled my way through the workshop, I realized that there was a deeper reason that none of it was resonating for me. I just wasn’t connecting with the instructor. It wasn’t just that he’d spent most of his career in the technical field and spoke a different “language” – it was deeper than that. On the last day, it finally occurred to me – he just wasn’t raising my level of trust, partly because he seemed to have less leadership experience than I do, but mostly because he didn’t seem REAL enough to me. Most of his stories were about general leadership ideas – few of them were about his own grappling with tough situations. He hadn’t even written his own material for the course – he was regurgitating someone else’s work. The bottom line was that he lacked authenticity.

When I got back to the office, I found a package on my desk. The book I’d ordered (based on my friend Susan’s recommendation) had arrived… THE AUTHENTIC LEADER! How appropriate!

This past weekend, I devoured the book like an addict looking for a fix (or a frustrated leader looking for inspiration). It was EXACTLY what I needed. I can hardly describe what this book did to me. It fed those hungry places inside me. It inspired me, yes… but more importantly, I think, it affirmed me. It made me stop and realize that “Damn it – I’m on the right track after all! I don’t need expensive workshops to teach me new techniques! I just need to keep going deeper in my path toward authenticity.”

“Simply put, being an authentic leader is synonymous with being oneself. It is that simple, but it is also that difficult. When deciding to lead, be true to self. Being true to self is being in a most powerful place. The power in leadership is not in being right, but in being real.”

I’ve read a lot of leadership books, and I’ve used many of them in teaching leadership workshops, but this is one of the first that I’ve read that made me feel so affirmed while still inspiring me on to greater heights. Often, when you read a leadership book, at first you feel inspired and excited, but then reality sinks in and you realize “I can NEVER meet those unrealistic expectations! I’ll NEVER be an effective leader!” I remember teaching a workshop once, based on “The Leadership Challenge” (a great book, but with some REALLY high expectations), and saying to the participants “this part right here? Ignore it. It is basically impossible and unrealistic and borderline STUPID. Don’t even bother trying it because you will set yourself and your team up for failure. Set more realistic goals than this if you want to succeed.” The workshop participants breathed a collective sigh of relief. I don't think anyone had every told them to "ignore something the book/authority says" before.

This book is very different from that. It teaches that the road to more effective leadership is the road to authenticity. Spend LESS time trying to figure out the right techniques and skills for being a good leader and MORE time trying to figure out how to be authentic and how to inspire others to do the same. “An authentic journey is a path to finding your voice, to discovering your highest aspirations and purpose, to living an honest life, and to bringing your passions and gifts to the world in the form of service of others. ... We see the ultimate purpose of leadership as finding and following one's own authentic voice and then inspiring and supporting other people to find and follow theirs.”

This is the kind of book that everyone should read. If the term “leader” scares you, it shouldn’t. It’s not about positional leadership, but more about people who feel some kind of calling to inspire others and make a difference in the world. (One of the authors, David Irvine, has written another book called “Becoming Real: Journey to Authenticity”, which I assume is equally good and less about leadership, if that's what you're looking for. I’ve also read another book of his called “Simple Living in a Complex World”, which had a pretty profound effect on me 10 years ago.)

Though I recognized it at the time, it was good to have further affirmation that my bold step a couple of months ago was EXACTLY what my team needed. Now I just have to keep plugging away at it to make sure I don’t lose the momentum.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Carrying water

I didn't go to Good Friday service today. I'm not sure why - I guess I just didn't feel motivated to sit in a church "pew" for an hour. Instead I stayed home, had a hot bath, went for a couple of walks, made butternut squash soup... and painted.

I've been longing to paint ever since I finished my watercolour class, but it's hard to find uninterrupted time in this busy life. Marcel took Maddy to his Mom and Dad's for awhile, so it was a great opportunity to zone out and get lost in the watercolours.

I've wanted to paint this photo from my trip to Bangladesh since I finished my last painting. It actually fits in nicely with my last post, because the photo was taken within minutes of the two photos on the last post. As we were standing there on the bank watching the fish jump, I turned and spotted this woman walking home carrying her water jugs. It was a magical moment... silver fish jumping, a luscious green landscape, and a woman wrapped in her sari carrying one of those beautiful water jugs I kept wanting to take home with me.
As I painted, I went to that meditative place my mind always takes me when I pick up a paint brush. Gradually, the woman became for me the woman at the well to whom Jesus spoke. That's one of my favourite Jesus stories. In two simple actions - speaking to her (despite the fact that she was a woman who was a lower social status than him and conversation with her was taboo), and asking her for water (despite the fact that she was unclean and he should not have touched her let alone drink water from her jug) - Jesus did an amazing thing. He declared her to be worthy, beautiful, and of value to him. She was a sinful, shameful, disgraced woman who believed what she had always been told by the culture around her - that she was unworthy. Yet here was a man who swept all that aside, and asked her to follow her calling - to be of service and to believe in her own value.

Stories like this remind me why I am still a Christ-follower, despite my many questions and doubts. When I don't have all of the answers, I am reminded that I can live without them as long as I seek to live a little more like Christ. I want to be the kind of person who inspires and challenges people to believe in themself, be of service, and trust that they have value and beauty. I want to see the gem beneath the rough exterior and trust that the truth of that person is in the gem, not in the garbage that hides it.

On a somewhat unrelated note (though deeply connected), this makes me really sad. If Christ values the woman at the well, why would people who call themselves Christ-followers react in fear of people who are different from them? Why does it threaten their lives if other people simply want to live in peace with the ones they love? Christ didn't tell the woman she had to begin following some restrictive list of rules and codes of morality, he simply invited her to see her value. I wish that we could all do the same.

When I was almost finished painting, Maddy returned and wanted to join me. Because I'd had the blessing of some quiet time without her, I was agreeable. I was rather pleased with her lovely rendition of Spring...*******
And the category of "Spring is busting out all over" here are some fun Spring pictures I took today. Today's weather felt so hopeful. I hope it's not just an illusion.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Catching fish

There were fish everywhere. One minute the water was calm, reflecting the last rays of sunlight. The next minute the water erupted in a cacophony of glistening silver bodies leaping in the air, searching for freedom. The young men in the water, drawing the net together, grinned as the fish leaped past their faces.

When they’d formed a small circle at the edge of the pond with the net full of fish between them, they began to cull the fish. Only the biggest were good enough for the basket. The smaller ones were allowed to leap to the safety of the pond beyond the net.
Sometimes our ideas are like those little fish – not ready to be caught yet. Sometimes we have to be content to let them slip through our fingers. We’ll catch them the next time we visit the pond, when they’ve had a chance to grow.

I'm not always good at letting them slip away.

Photos taken in Bangladesh, March 2008.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Auntie Rose

I've been to the funerals of two of her sons, two of her brothers, both of her parents, and as of yesterday, two of her husbands. Some people get more than their fair share of grief.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Mini-vacation - come h*** or high water

Despite some lousy weather that made some naysayers urge us to stay off the roads (will this winter EVER end?), AND the fact that the flood is gradually making its way across the border from North Dakota to Manitoba, three stubborn women (my mom, sister, and I) packed up the kids and made our way south for our third annual mother-daughter (which now has to include one son, since Jack arrived) Spring Break mini-vacation.
We had to drive through a sea of water for about a mile on the I-29 on the way there, and take a detour on the way back when they closed the road, but it was worth it!

Swimming, soaking in the hot tub, relaxing in the hotel room, watching endless episodes of John and Kate Plus 8, playing card games, eating Grandma's delicious soup and buns while perched on beds and floor, shopping at Target and other stores that haven't made their way north of the border yet, "sneaking" away for an adult-women-only shopping trip to the nearby second-hand store (and scoring some smokin' hot deals!), eating cheap Chinese food, hanging out with some of our favourite people, savouring the delicious flavours of Cold Stone Creamery, drinking more pop than is usually allowed, eating more candy than should EVER be allowed... aaahhhh... it was all SO good!