Bitchy Tuesdays and the 68 minute 20 minute drive.

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I swear I didn’t wake up this morning thinking this was going to be a bitchy day. I didn’t roll out of bed, snarl and crack my knuckles, ready to rumble. Hell – who takes on a Tuesday unprovoked?  I woke up and it was 26 below zero, crisp and clear and cold and beautiful and I was happy about that. I woke up happy, started my day calmly with coffee, a fuzzy bathrobe and a shower. I did the normal morning things that get me from horizontal (dreaming of hosting a huge dinner party in a Mexican farmhouse with no running water or electricity – no idea where that dream came from or why I remember it) to upright and mobile.

Leaving the house was where things started to go sideways a bit.  Sixteen year old girls and their mothers do not always move in blissful synchronicity. Sometimes, without warning, harmony and smiles turn to discord and gnashing of teeth, while the benign turns radioactive and toxic in a matter of seconds. Ommmmm.

So we left, we drove and we got to where the bus ought to have been but wasn’t. It wasn’t there, of course, because we were several pleasantry filled minutes behind the bus… (that was irony). From my home to her bus stop should be, with no traffic or red lights, a straight forward 18-20 minute drive. Of course that almost never happens. If she misses the bus, which has happened a time or two, we have a problem. The journey from the downtown bus stop to her school is an easy 7 minutes’ drive. The journey from her school back across the bridge to my office is, inexplicably, an agonizing 20 minutes on a good day. We’re talking bottleneck traffic jam backup swearing going nowhere late for work I guarantee it chaos like you just don’t see in a small city. There is a new roundabout, there is a new traffic light, there are 3 school zones and a two lane bridge to contend with, all leading out of a crowded suburb that everyone leaves in the morning to go… you guessed it, the same place as me.

This morning, there was also a car accident – a fire truck and a  flat bed and a couple of cars where they don’t belong…right in the intersection next to the two lane bridge just ahead of the roundabout. You’ve really not seen anything like it unless you’ve been on the Interstate 5 outside of LA at 5:15 on a weekday.  Every side road was bumper to bumper, and there was no getting out of there, period.

So the commute to work, usually a seamless 20 minute jaunt took me 68 minutes. Without coffee. But even that didn’t push me over the edge to bitchy… nah. Once the initial WTF are you KIDDING me happened, I kind of took it in stride. I got to work, told my tale and carried on.

The bitchy has come on by way of a few other things; small things, pissy little things and frightening large things that come with a separation and having teenagers and a new job and all of that real life. Many days I can surf on through it and emerge un-bitchy at the end of the day, but for some reason today those little things have sharp little barbs – they’ve been clinging to me. By the time I walked back into my place tonight I was about done with this day. It wasn’t done with me, of course – that’s how these bitchy days seem to roll.

But I have to thank you, big wide world of people I don’t know. This blogging (also known as utter self indulgence and naval gazing) has given me a new perspective. If I look at it differently, I’ve actually had a great day. I’ve been working on cultivating gratitude, and I’m learning it helps in situations like this. I have healthy kids, a great job, a car that can withstand -26 (it got to -27 as a matter of fact) and a pretty reasonable relationship with the husband from whom I am separated. I have a warm house with a fridge full of goodness and plenty of tea to calm my cranky old soul. My daughter had her moment of angst and anger where it was safe and appropriate…with me, her mom. I had my moment of cranky here, with people who can choose to listen or not (what a great freedom that is!). If I smeared anyone with my cranky today I can try to make it up to them tomorrow. If I sound Pollyanna now, that might just be what I need to fend off the bitchy Tuesday vibe.

Tomorrow is a Wednesday and we all know Wednesday is nothing at ALL like Tuesday. For one thing, it’s payday and that’s guaranteed to make me smile.  My car is plugged in and ready to take on the morning and there’s even a chance we’ll make that 20 minute drive in under an hour.

Here’s to Wednesday…

And They will Change the World

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I recently met a young woman who has, by the strength of her conviction and passion, challenged the way I see the world and my place in it.

At 22 years old, Morgan Wienberg is co-founder of  Little Footprints Big Steps.  She has created a safe place for street children in Haiti; a transitional home to help them reintegrate into their families when possible. She has worked with international donors to help these children find hope, safety, health and education. The families of these children are poor. Many were tricked into turning their children over to orphanages in order for them to have an education, a better life.  It seems the more starving children an orphanage can show to the world, the higher the income of the orphanage owner. In Haiti many orphanages are run by profiteers who abuse the children, pocket the aid and sell whatever goods are donated by international aid groups. Morgan saw this when she did an internship in an orphanage and it changed the course of her life.  She has now spoken at the United Nations, is legal guardian to several Haitian children and has had a profound impact on the lives she has touched…mine included.

When I listened to Morgan’s presentation a few weeks ago, I heard her words. I thought about her story. I was impressed by her poise and her certainty, her dedication to the children and families she serves.  Later I tried to tell the story to my daughter. Morgan’s words came back like a kick to my stomach when I tried to share them.  I couldn’t talk about the children whose stories she shared without tears. I still can’t.  I’ve found my mind wandering to the place she talked about, the people she described, the troubles she faces every day.  I find myself researching how to get to Haiti; researching visas, immunizations, airfares…  She told me the annual operating budget for her entire program; housing up to 50 kids, school fees, food, salaries for staff, even buying small plots of land for families to build homes is a mere $160,000 per year. That is less than the base salary for any CEO of any US or Canadian based charity.  I can’t get over how much she can accomplish with that meager budget, and yet she does, with grace.

At 47, there is a lot of stuff in my head, a lot of stuff in my heart. I am as busy as anybody else, with as little spare room in my schedule as ever but I can’t stop thinking about this. I can’t stop thinking that somehow some time I need to do something bigger than I’ve done. I’m very happy that Little Footprints Big Steps will now be receiving funding from the organization I work with, glad to see new relationships sparked from the presentation I helped organize, but I still feel compelled to do more, personally. I think a visit to Haiti is in my future. I genuinely have no idea what my presence could possibly do, how I could be of any use, but I’m guessing an extra pair of unskilled hands will come in handy at some point.

We hear so much about the bad, the lost, the directionless youth. There are so many young people doing so much good in our towns, our communities, across the globe. At the presentation Morgan did  recently at my workplace, the audience was packed with youth. Three local high schools brought students – Canada World Youth brought us eager young people from across Canada and Mozambique, eager to learn more and participate fully in their world. This is so exciting to me… it fills me with so much hope.

We can (and should) worry for the young people who are not participating, but we really have to celebrate people like Morgan Wienberg, young citizens like the students in the audience that day, intently listening, taking action in their very own homes after listening to her speak. We have so much to be proud of  and thankful for in these young people… they are amazing, and they will change the world.

Please visit Morgan’s site, and look at the work she is doing. She and the staff of Haitians she has been able to employ are currently caring for many former street children, providing them a safe house, an education, love and medical care. If you are moved to give, please do so. If you are moved to act for another cause, please do so. I am grateful to Morgan, grateful to anyone who gives so much of themselves.  Through them, I believe I can be better. I can do something big.

Body Armor and Good Shoes

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Today I am dressed for work. Really dressed for work; black pencil skirt, lovely drapey blouse, suit jacket, neutral pumps (understated and professional with a good dash of sexy). My hair is short and styled, my makeup is appropriate and my accessories complement without distracting. Pearls, actually.

If you look a bit closer at the outfit, the shoes, the hair and the look you’ll see the hidden rivets. The seams where the metal  of the breastplate meets the tasset show the dents of the club hammer and the effort that went into its construction. Those good shoes… they’re really a modern sabaton; protection, baby.

Don’t think for a moment that I woke up this morning and decided to dress like this because heels feel awesome, because I love panty-hose. These earrings were chosen mindfully and the necklace too. My clothes are my armor.

There are things in my life right now that demand my full attention. My energy has to be rationed and my strength shored up. I am not up to the challenge in jeans and a t -shirt; I need something external to let me know I can handle what I must handle. I need to look in the mirror and see someone who is competent, strong, determined and certain. At the moment I’m none of those things, so for that, I need a disguise. I need a costume. I need armor.

A friend observed that often when women separate from their partners they begin to dress better than they used to. He seemed to believe it to be a peacock preening kind of thing; a desire to strut, to appear attractive. I’m offering another possible explanation; it’s fear. It’s fear, dressed up to look like courage. It’s armor.

Look at me… I look great. I look strong. I look like I know what I’m doing.

I’m a jelly fish. A jelly fish in really good shoes.

So soon?

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A few weeks ago I gave birth to a magical little redheaded baby girl. She’s 20 now, but that is the way the heart massages time…the real passage is hard to measure in ordinary terms. To my arms, the weight of her baby self is still a recent memory, there is still an ache in my shoulders from pacing with her while she cried of colic. I still hum the only song that calmed her, and when I am stressed I remember how the sound of the vacuum was the only thing that soothed her mysterious fretting.

I left her in another city the other day, this baby child of mine. I left her in her own apartment surrounded with the trappings of a new life. No diaper pail, no stuffed rabbits or pastel blankies; instead pots & pans, thrift store dishes and school supplies clutter the space.

She is ready. She is ready to take on the world and be a shining beacon of newness, of hope and promise. She has the confidence, the kindness, the grit and the guts to tackle this new chapter. She is, after a few years of holding my breath, everything I knew she would be. I am the kind of proud there are no words for.

But I am now 5,385 kilometers from her forehead… the forehead I like to kiss goodnight. And it turns out I am less ready than she.

Just sit DOWN, woman!

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One recent morning I sat down at my kitchen table to savour my first cup of coffee of the day.

Yes, that is news. I sat down at my table. With coffee. To drink it. In one place. While doing nothing else but drinking my coffee.

As I sat there, uncharacteristically still, I realized I don’t remember ever doing that before. In the ten years I’ve lived in that house I don’t remember ever just sitting still to enjoy my coffee. As a rule, I grab my mug, race to shower, sip it while drying my hair, lose the mug when I go to the laundry room, find it again when I retrace my steps and finally throw it in the microwave to warm it, losing it again.

I’ll find the mug that night when I’m thawing something, or steaming some veggies. I discard the contents… two thirds of a mug full of a nasty, cold, bitter creamy brew.

I think this is something I need to work on. I have no excuse to be as busy as I am. I am sure there are many many working moms who find time to sit in calm reflection before they hit the ground running each day. No, that was NOT a joke… I’m sure there must be some out there somewhere….

Taking those few minutes each day to calmly begin, to contemplatively warm up my mind before I kick start my schedule has to be good, no? I am sure if I found time for that, I would be more creative & focused, kinder, with more patience and resilience.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaaaa!!!!!

Yeah RIGHT!

But at least my coffee would be hot ’til the last drop…

Sigh.

Impossible Loss

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The community I live in and love has been struck hard by tragedy in the last month. Two young families have lost their Dads…quickly, shockingly, unfairly. The two families have 5 children between them, all 11 and younger.

The two men, both dedicated outdoors men were friends. They worked together, shared similar passions and lived their lives with enormous intensity and capacity for joy. They died 3 weeks apart, separately, in two completely unrelated tragedies.

Last night on my flight home from a visit to the big city I brushed up close to that pain. I sat with the sister in law of the most recently lost husband, father, friend, Daddy. Her heart was in pieces, visibly. She was lovely. She was so sad, so worried for her sister, her little niece and the shell shocked boys. Their father died trying to save them from a river; them and the son of the woman sitting next to me for 3 hours. I felt…still feel, gutted. I am grateful that I was there, able to help her with her own young daughter, be a new face, a new ear, a new mirror to look in to see who she is now.  As she told me the story, my heart broke again and again.  At one point, she said, there were six people in the river, all drowning. Half were there to save, half were being saved. All were at risk of being lost. Too few safety measures afforded by the resort they were visiting, so many people, so much crying and fear and screaming, so little anyone could do. And so, one Daddy died. One husband is gone. So many lives are forever changed.

I wasn’t there. I don’t know the family personally, though I feel so connected to them. I felt that connection even before meeting this woman who has so much to try and block from her memory, so much to move forward from. I felt that connection because I am a wife, I am a mother.   I feel that connection so much more now, having had the little girl with the saddest face I’ve ever seen sit on me, play with my phone and take sad photos of herself. This little girl has just lost her Daddy; she is 3.

The two families, linked by friendship and interest and passion and love of the outdoors are now linked by sorrow, loss and tragedy.  I am now, forever, linked to their story. I will never erase from my  heart the sight of this woman, this heartbroken sister, the aunt of these children in shock. She almost lost her own son and father to the river, lost instead her brother in law, her sister’s joy and her own sense of security in the world.

She said it was so awful. So horrible. So unbelievable. She has touched my life forever.

Yukon, we have two families who need us terribly right now. 5 children who will need all the support we can provide. Two mothers whose worlds have just been turned upside down, and who haven’t even begun to measure what lies ahead. I want to do something. I wish I could do something.

We are genius.

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It has recently come to my attention that I’m a freakin’ genius. No, don’t laugh… seriously! I have mastered a set of skills so highly specialized that many people don’t even know they don’t share them.

You’d think I’d hoard this magic, keep these powers to myself, but you’d be wrong. I WANT to share. I have willingly offered mentorship to anyone who is interested. Sadly, so few are interested… in fact I can say with honesty that, to date, no-one has actually wanted to learn.

So I will remain, for the foreseeable future, one of an elite few. A member of an unarmed group of specialists who know one another on sight, and know impostors in a moment. We are all around you.

We are the brave. We are the powerful. We know how to change a toilet roll, replace a paper towel tube, fold towels, sweep under the edges of the cupboard, sort laundry, close cabinet doors and refill liquid soap dispensers. We know how to empty the lint tray, pull gunk out of the kitchen drain and put a new bag in the trash bin. We understand that milk lives in the refrigerator, that food left out overnight goes bad and that brown bananas taste better. We know how to cap the toothpaste and collapse a stroller. We can tell you where you left your blue jacket and which type of peanut butter you prefer.

We are mothers. We are legion. We are genius. We are tired.

Marketing Fail

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I love a good ad. I don’t mind being sold so long as the seller is creative, clever, honest and interesting. Humor is big too; make me laugh and I’ll remember you. I might even look for your product next time I’m in the market.

For the sake of argument , I’m going to post a few of my least favorite marketing ploys… I call them marketing fails.

Marketing fail #1

Flyers on my windshield.  All those flyers that people throw to the ground in disgust or laziness… now there’s LITTER with your name and phone number on it blowing in the wind. Fail.

Marketing Fail #2

Dancing sandwich board guys. Seriously. This sorry sucker bouncing up and down at the intersection is less likely to inspire me to want the pizza he’s stumping for than cause me to rear end the car in front of me. Distracting drivers is a BAD plan. Plus I KNOW he is desperately trying to make a living, but being paid under the table or minimum wage. Fail.

Marketing Fail #3

Cinematic, flashing, massive, hyper-lit crazy ass highway billboards. These things are bigger than my HOUSE, they flash, they whiz and zing and practically throw confetti at a never ending stream of drivers flying past at highway speeds. Add text and you’ve got a pile up on your hands. Never mind my cell phone, government… regulate THIS.  Fail.

Marketing Fail #4

Tits. They don’t sell me anything. Sorry. Got my own, thanks. If mine don’t inspire me to drop change, hers sure won’t. Tuck them back in and make me think or make me laugh. Those girls just make me uncomfortable, and that doesn’t make me spendy.  Fail.

Marketing Fail #5

Bullshit. My hair will not be 10x thicker in 2 weeks. My waist will not be 6″ smaller in 4 weeks. Don’t guarantee my money back, just tell me the truth, for pete’s sake. I’m not that stupid. Fail.

Marketing Fail #6

Minimizing the risk. 140 Happy Calories my big fat North American ass. Junk is junk is junk no matter how you fluff it up for the cameras. Soda, GMO food, high fructose corn syrup, it’s all garbage and it’s all bad for me. Don’t insult my intelligence by pretending it’s only “part of the big picture”. The big picture is it’s all bad for me and you’re lying. Marketing fail.

That’s my first shot at this. There’s more… I could go on and on. What about you? What do advertisers do that really knocks you flat?

I have a family, I have disposable income, I buy;  sometimes for good reasons, sometimes because I’m a sheep, and sometimes because some clever advertisers have done a good job of convincing me that I really should try their product.  If the ads were clever, honest, and the product really is all they said, I’ll become a customer. If not, I’ll just be annoyed,  I’ll tell my friends and I’ll keep my money, thank you very much.

My groceries terrify me.

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I live in the far north of Canada… the real, snowy, wintry  northern lights north. We have a few hardy farmers here who fight for every carrot, potato and head of cabbage they pull from the earth. Permafrost, harsh winters and shallow soil are only softened by summer days when the sun shines almost around the clock.

These farmers know what works here. They have learned what magic can be wrought with seeds, soil, compost, sun and loving care, and they want to protect what they’ve worked for. As an Agricultural organization they are working to ensure the Yukon remains GMO free, and have begun lobbying our government to enact legislation.  Our territorial government however, refuses to consider a ban, saying it’s not their place and that it’s up to individual farmers to decide.

Why? Why on earth would the government of this small territory refuse such a committed, dedicated group of farmers? Why, when nobody has come out strongly (or at all) for the GMO side. There hasn’t been a group of people out marching to promote the use of GMO seeds, though there have been marches against their use.

I think they’ve said no because the government is afraid of Monsanto. I know they’re afraid of big oil… refusing to ban fracking, refusing to ban oil exploration in a tract of protected wilderness. They’re afraid of some potential backlash, some theoretical future legal challenge by these huge companies. Especially now, as Monsanto attempts to PATENT produce.

It’s true, a lawsuit by Monsanto would cripple our territory, but is that where we are now? Do we have to allow any huge corporation who wants what we have to just come in and take it? Why? Does Monsanto have that much power? Is it real, or is it just the threat that makes governments quiver and bend over?

I don’t want to eat GMO food. I am terrified of what we are putting in our bodies. The Canadian Diabetes Association says “one in every three Canadians is projected to have either diabetes or prediabetes by 2020”.  That is the kind of statistic that’s almost unbelievable, and yet it’s true. Obesity rates through the stratosphere, heart disease rates soaring… can we please just stop this?

We know that messing with every single thing we put into our bodies is messing up our bodies. We’ve super-sized and enriched and new and improved and fat free’d ourselves into a situation we can’t escape from. Genetically modified corn, modified soy, modified canola in everything we eat. And we can’t avoid it.

Our family eats very little processed food, but as a working mother there are some products I’ve relied on. Canned or jarred tomato sauce, pureed or chopped tomatoes, corn niblets in a can, frozen vegetables, cartons of low sodium chicken broth, that kind of thing. I’m not talking hamburger helper and squirtable cheese, but real foods that I can use in my workday, weekday cooking.

But it’s all a minefield. Canned tomatoes… BPA in the cans, likely bionic tomatoes. This is even putting aside any worry about pesticides, just thinking about the NEW food terrorism being perpetrated against us by Monsanto and our governments. Just try to buy any vegetable oil that’s not certified organic; you won’t be able to find any corn, canola or other oil that’s not from a GM crop.

It’s a tunnel we’re halfway down, a wormhole we’re already through. Our food has been commodified, modified, & adjusted, with a sticker on every single apple produced. Lab created “Grapples”; apples injected with grape koolaid, nicely presented in plastic clamshells…so many levels of insult to our bodies, to our earth. The garlic is all grown in china, & those sugar snap peas in little plastic bags have more miles on them than I will by the time I die.

I don’t understand it. We have the capacity to produce everything we need, at least all the cold weather crops we need. I don’t mind that we ship mangoes… no mangoes are going to grow here, but sugar snap peas? Potatoes? Garlic?  What is the rationale? Our governments should be investing in farmers, in the agriculture association’s vision for a more sustainable local food economy. Food security… safe food grown close to home, should be our collective goal.

I envy people living in areas with year round markets, access to a full range of organic foods. I buy what I can find, glad I can afford it. I couldn’t always afford it, and that frightens me too…what damage have I already done to my own body, to my children’s bodies?

So I say power to the farmers, the brave farmers out there marching with signs held high demanding our government protect the food we eat. It’s not as simple as allowing each farmer to choose for himself, not as long as we have wind and honeybees, pollen and birds.   We have to insist. We have to demand. We have to march, and be equal to the power of the corporations with the way we wield our dollars.

If you want to know more about the situation in Yukon, please follow these links.

In the US (and eventually Canada), food labeling is worth fighting for. Have a look:

http://www.rodale.com/what-are-gmo-foods

So go on, go shopping. I dare you.